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Criticising the Israeli government or anti-Semitism?

By Dave Smith - posted Thursday, 14 May 2009

On Friday, April 24, Australia Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, addressed the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, and referring to the recent speech given by Iranian President Ahmadinejad at the Durban conference on racism, said:

The inflammatory remarks of President Ahmadinejad of Iran at the conference are unacceptable and underlined the Australian Government's decision not to attend the conference. The Australian Government condemns the continued campaign of anti-Semitism on behalf of the government of Iran.

That statement really upset me, and it leaves me in a very uncomfortable position where I find myself critical of Kevin Rudd - a man I deeply admire - for his attack on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - a man I seriously dislike. Even so, to accuse the government of Iran of anti-Semitism is out of line, especially if “our Kevin” was basing his accusation on Ahmadinejad's speech at the Durban conference.


Anti-Semitism, as I understand it, is a form of racism that discriminates against Jewish people (and perhaps against all Arabic people, as they are all technically “Semitic” ). It is a similar in form to racial prejudice. Ahmadinejad's vitriolic speech was targeting governments and the ideologies that support them. Whether his criticisms were valid or invalid is open to question, but there was nothing racist in his remarks as far I could understand it.

Did the Australian Prime Minister actually read the speech? I don't think he did.

Mr Rudd spoke of the way Ahmadinejad “singled out” Israel for criticism when, from my reading of the speech, the Iranian President reserved his most trenchant invective for the USA. At any rate, even if we dislike Ahmadinejad and his speech and his government, the question of whether or not he was being anti-Semitic is still another question altogether and should be treated as such.

The problem is that it has become politically fashionable to equate any criticism of the government of Israel with anti-Semitism, and this serves as a convenient mechanism for deflecting valid international concern about the way the Israeli government treats its Palestinian population, and Mr Rudd should know better than to buy into this.

Ahmadinejad's thrust was that the ideology of Zionism, which drives so much of Israeli politics, is itself a form of racism and that statement is hard to dispute. The United Nations General Assembly reached the same conclusion on November 10, 1975, stating, in resolution 3379 "that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination".

That the current Israeli government discriminates between people on the basis of race is no secret. More water in Israel is given to Jewish citizens than to Palestinians; jobs are more plentiful for Jewish citizens than for Israeli Palestinians; Jewish citizens are not subjected to torture while in prison; only Israeli citizens and Jewish settlers are allowed freedom to travel throughout the Holy Land; non-Jewish Israelis cannot buy or lease land in Israel, and so on.


The Zionist ideology of the current Israeli government is similar, in many ways, to the Apartheid ideology that was until recently the scourge of South Africa. To point this out is to do no more than did former US President Jimmy Carter did in his book of November 2006, Palestine, Peace not Apartheid.

Of course, former President Carter has also been accused of being “anti-Semitic”, but the truth is that Carter's critique pales in comparison with the condemnation that the Israeli government has received from any number of Jewish commentators and academics from around the world - people who surely can't be accused of “anti-Semitism”.

Professor Ilan Pappe, a Jew, and chair of the Department of History at the University of Exeter, wrote on April 22, 2009:

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First published as "Shame Mr Rudd" on Father Dave's website in May 2009.

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About the Author

Father Dave Smith is Parish Priest, professional boxer, human-rights activist and father of four. He was part of the Mussalaha (reconciliation) delegation to Syria in May 2013. Join Dave's mailing list via his main website - - and read his updates on Syria on

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