LONDON - Informed, honest debate on the Middle East has been stifled because of a fear of being accused of anti-Semitism, according to the participants in a discussion hosted by the Islam Channel in central London on Thursday. The broadcaster is the largest Islamic television outlet in Europe.
The discussion, titled: "Why anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism," was filmed against a backdrop reading "Zionism: The cancer at the heart of international affairs."
The discussion was chaired by Alan Hart, a former ITN and BBC correspondent whose latest book, "Zionism: The real enemy of the Jews" was recently published. He said, "The anti-Semitism card is something the Zionists have exploited to suppress debate."
He said the mainstream media had concealed "the truth of history" out of fear of offending Jews and thanked CEO Mohammed Ali of the Islam Channel for "his courage in widening the debate."
Hart said the assumption is that "Zionism and Judaism are same thing, therefore criticism of Zionism is anti-Semitism, but Zionism is the nationalism of some Jews, a tiny minority."
"The propaganda they use, the Melanie Phillips version [a Jewish journalist for The Daily Mail], is that Israel faces annihilation and fears being pushed into the sea," Hart said. He said this was a myth.
"The truth about 1967 was that [then-prime minister Levi] Eshkol and [chief of General Staff Yitzhak] Rabin didn't want war, the hawks pushed them into it as wanted to portray Eshkol as weak and [there] was unfinished business from 1948, which was to form a greater Israel," Hart said.
Three Jewish anti-Zionists sat on the panel, including a representative of the haredi Natorei Karta, along with Palestinian scholar Ghada Karmi.
Ilan Pappe of the University of Haifa's political science department, a revisionist historian at the forefront of calls for a boycott of Israel, said that to divorce Zionism from Judaism it was necessary to refrain from using Zionist terminology. For example, you should not talk about a Jewish Diaspora. "The only diaspora is the Palestinians, therefore there is a need to adopt new language," he said.
The Natorei Karta sect was represented by Rabbi Ahron Cohen, who was a member of the delegation that went to Iran to offer support to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in March following his comments that Israel should be wiped off the map.
Cohen said, "Zionists imposed a secular faith state on the Palestinians, this is immoral and the underlying cause of the strife. Zionism and Judaism are incompatible concepts. Many Jews do not approve of Zionism but they cannot say this publicly."
"In Judaism, the land of Palestine was given, but under certain conditions. There must be high moral, religious and ethical standards. These have not been met, so the divine decree is that Jews must live in other countries. We believe in the peaceful dismantling of the Zionist state," he said.
Karmi, a research fellow at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter University and a former consultant to the Palestinian Authority, said the mistreatment of the Jews was a European affair that had nothing to do with Palestinians. "Why were we dumped with this problem?" she asked.
She offered her own interpretation of Zionism. "The Europeans did it to atone for their sins and guilt but the Jews who arrived in Palestine were not the Jews we knew, they were complicated and miserable and the problem is that they're still there."
"Israel has been a total disaster for the entire Arab world, nothing positive or beneficial has come from it," she said.
The last member of the panel was Hajo Meyer, a German-born scientist and Holocaust survivor. Now living in the Netherlands, Meyer is a member of the board of Another Jewish Voice, which is part of the European Jewish Alliance for a Just Peace. He has frequently said Israel was "treating the Palestinian people in the same way the Nazis treated Jews during the Second World War."
"Zionism is a child of nationalism and colonialism forced to be a cure for anti-Semitism, but [it] has become the main cause of anti-Semitism," he said.