The American Jewish Congress (AJC) ad seemed innocuous enough: A heading, "This is Israel," accompanied photos of three Israeli women -- the Supreme Court president, the speaker of the Knesset and the deputy prime minister and foreign minister. The idea was to tell American feminists about successful women in Israel. The AJC decided to buy space for its message in Ms. magazine.
In November, Ms. refused to publish it, creating an argument that's still raging. According to Harriet Kurlander of the AJC, the editors claimed the ad was so controversial it would "set off a firestorm" among readers. The Ms. executive editor said the real reason was that Ms. accepts only advertising promoting causes such as women's equality and non-violence. This ad didn't meet the criteria--and, worse, "implied that women in Israel hold equal positions of power with men."
One AJC official said that if an organization submitted an ad saying "This is Canada," with pictures of three powerful women in Canadian politics, Ms. wouldn't have questioned it. That seems likely to me.
Ms. has lost the influence it once wielded and some of its old readers may be surprised to learn that it still exists. But its present editors know well that left-wing feminists have turned against Israel and would be offended by seeing their views disputed.
There's nothing important about that incident in itself, but it's part of a troubling international pattern. The news from Israel has been especially bad in the last two years but sometimes the news about Israel's status in the West seems even worse. On university campuses in Europe and North America, no lie about Israel is considered too outrageous. We often hear of Jewish students being silenced when they try to defend Israel. In recent years campus activists have made the term "Israeli apartheid" the Big Lie of choice, equating Israel with the discredited old regime of South Africa.
That crazy notion doesn't withstand even superficial examination. Nevertheless, it has spread around the world, and the recent Israeli Apartheid Week at the University of Toronto was only one of dozens held in various countries. Alone among universities, so far as I know, McMaster in Hamilton has made a symbolic gesture of opposition to this widespread nonsense. The McMaster administration asked the anti-Israeli campaigners to take down one banner that said "Israeli Apartheid."
Supporters of the campaign, always yearning for victim status, have predictably screamed with rage. "Our Movement Will Not Be Silenced!" says Canadian Dimension -- traditionally one of the dumber leftist magazines -- calling the request a "shocking decision" and an unprecedented attack on the right to free speech, academic freedom and the right to organize. Canadian Dimension also says that the Zionist movement has launched a campaign of "intimidation and repression" against students. They have put full-page ads in newspapers! Worse, the Israeli ambassador organized a public forum! Zionist groups held public meetings! Repression is everywhere.
Any outsider who attends an Israeli Apartheid meeting, as I have, soon realizes that the participants know as much about Palestinians as they know about Patagonians. What they know for sure is that they hate Israel and want it destroyed. Since that's beyond their abilities, they want it embarrassed. They invite one or two Palestinian radicals who show up to explain that the Palestinians are right about everything and the Israelis wrong. No one questions these assertions, no one discusses anything. These are pep rallies, not conferences. We who consider free speech sacred may be made a little nervous by McMaster's action. On the other hand, what it mildly discouraged wasn't so much free speech as unexamined groupthink.
Like the Ms. incident, the campus eruptions over nonexistent "apartheid" raise again a painful question: How has the argument over one sliver of land in the Middle East created such a storm of anger? Even if you accepted every word ever said against Israel, and every word said in favour of the Palestinians, this would still be only one of many contested regions in the world.
Anti-Semitism explains some but not by any means all of this phenomenon. It seems likely to me that success is Israel's unforgivable crime. Most of the region is a pathetic failure in economics, politics and culture. But Israel, despite titanic problems, runs a successful economy, admirable universities, a free judiciary and a free press. Leftists, committed to the view that the West is responsible for all the failures of the Third World, even including endemic dictatorship, find it impossible to tolerate such a stinging rebuke to their arguments.