As I am swamped, I leave you this wonderful little j'accuse from Dissent Magazine. I dont agree with all of it, but it deserves to be read in full:
Israel and the New Anti-Semitism
by Shalom Lappin
Since the collapse of the Oslo peace process and the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has generated an increasingly hostile view of Israel throughout Western Europe. Much of this reaction consists of sharp criticism of Israel's conduct in suppressing the Palestinian uprising in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. To the extent that this response is directed at Israel's actions and policies, it is legitimate comment on the behavior of a state and its government. The severity of the criticism can, in part, be attributed to the fact that Israel is a relatively strong, developed country that is using its army to sustain the occupation of a large Palestinian population that is politically dispossessed and suffering economically. As the current violence has become increasingly brutal on both sides, the asymmetry of power between Israel and the Palestinians and Ariel Sharon's determination to entrench the occupation through settlement expansion while forcing the Palestinians into virtual capitulation have seriously undermined European support for Israel.
There are, however, good reasons for doubting whether all the hostility directed at Israel can be construed simply as opposition to its policies. The obsessive focus of European journalists and opinion makers on Israel's war with the Palestinians contrasts sharply with the relative indifference of (much) liberal opinion to other recent, as well as ongoing human rights violations on a significantly larger scale. Slobodan Milosevic's bloody campaigns in Bosnia and Kosovo attracted little if any organized protest in Europe until the United States initiated a NATO bombing campaign to force the Serbian army out of Kosovo in 1999. At that point, European peace groups launched a series of large protests against the intervention. The fact that many European Union countries actively collaborated with the Milosevic government during the Bosnian War and did virtually nothing to stop its onslaught produced no apparent outrage among most purveyors of progressive politics in these countries. While the mass murder of more than six thousand Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica shocked some people, there was no demonization of Serbia, no calls for academic boycotts of Serbian universities. The International War Crimes Court in the Hague is prosecuting indicted Balkan war criminals, Milosevic foremost among them, while popular opinion in Europe, particularly on the left, has remained largely detached from the events that led to the court's creation.
Russia's unrestrained assault on Muslim separatists in Chechnya has been met with little more than occasional censure from human rights activists. It goes largely unreported and causes little if any concern in Europe. In both the Balkans and in Chechnya the level of violence and severe human rights abuses has been, to date, far higher than in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although this doesn't justify Israel's actions in the territories, it does raise serious questions concerning the motivation behind some of the current hostility to Israel. Both the Balkans and Russia are natural areas of European interest. They are close to home and involve countries with which Western Europe is closely involved. Why, then, is there such a stark contrast between the relative calm with which the Balkan and Chechen wars have been received on one hand and the intense reaction to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the other?
One explanation for the current European view of Israel runs as follows: Israel was established as an act of compensation to the Jews on the part of Western countries burdened with the guilt of the Holocaust. This guilt allowed them to disregard the cost that Israel's creation inflicted on the Palestinians, who were innocent of the Holocaust. Now that several generations have passed and Israel has become a regional superpower, the Europeans no longer wish to relate to Israel as a nation of victims. They insist on redressing the dispossession of the Palestinians.
The historical claim on which this view is based is incorrect. The United Nations partition plan of 1947 that established Israel was adopted largely because of American and Soviet support. Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union suffered Holocaust guilt in 1947, nor should they have. They, together with Britain, were responsible for destroying Nazism and ending its genocide against the Jews. Stalin was staunchly anti-Zionist but supported the creation of Israel as a way of gaining political influence in a strategically important region still dominated by Britain. Truman remained undecided about partition until shortly before the vote, with both the State Department and the Pentagon split on whether or not to support the plan. Although historical and moral considerations seem to have played a role in Truman's decision, the desire to deepen American influence in the Middle East, displace Britain, and block Soviet penetration was probably the decisive factor in determining his position. Britain, the other major player in the partition debate, did its best to prevent the emergence of a Jewish state in Palestine. After the war it took the view that Jewish Holocaust survivors and refugees should be repatriated to the countries from which they had come. This included Polish Jews at a time when postwar pogroms were taking place in Poland against returning survivors. Britain blocked the immigration of Jewish refugees to Palestine right up until the end of its mandate in 1948. It abstained from the UN partition vote, and it actively supported the Jordanian Legion in the 1948 war. It changed its policy and supported Israel only in the early 1950s. The idea that the creation of Israel was the product of Western guilt over the Holocaust is, then, largely unfounded.
Nonetheless, the idea that Israel was created through Holocaust guilt has gained widespread currency in Europe. This idea is used to impose moral conditions on Israel that are not generally applied to other countries. If Israel was created as an act of expiation for crimes against the Jews, so this reasoning goes, then its legitimacy depends upon its not oppressing other people. The idea of Israel as a conditional concession wrung from the West through Jewish suffering in Europe goes some way toward explaining the glee (relief?) with which Israel's more strident European critics insist on comparing its treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazi persecution of the Jews. The obvious perversity and inappropriateness of the comparison is the source of its attraction. Not only are the victims of the Nazis transformed into the oppressors, but the basis of their collective legitimacy is undermined. The power of the comparison has not been lost on Arab nationalists and Islamic fundamentalists, who invoke it regularly.
More significant than Holocaust fatigue in shaping European responses to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, I suspect, the fear that militant anti-Western sentiment in the Islamic world will bring large-scale terrorist violence to Europe, as it did to the United States on September 11, 2001. With the end of the cold war and the creation of a more integrated European Union in the 1990s, West Europeans embraced a vision of prosperity and human rights promoted through an expanded framework of international institutions. The shock of September 11 and the Bush administration's aggressive, often unilateral "War on Terror" have replaced this optimism with a profound fear that Europe will once again be drawn into bloody ethnic conflicts that it thought belonged to its past. This danger is not only external. The existence of large communities of Muslim immigrants in Europe, where Islamic activism flourishes, turns this into a local issue. To the extent that Israel has become the focus of a massive wave of Islamic anger, many Europeans have come to see it as a major liability. They hold the country responsible for the terrorist threat that they wish to avoid. Intense European criticism of Israel is, in part, aimed at heading off this danger and purchasing security by deflecting Arab and Islamic hostility.
Israel as a Jewish Polity
But even granting the role of Holocaust fatigue and fear of Islamic terrorism as important factors in conditioning the current European reactions to the Middle East, there is another element that surfaces with increasing frequency in the discussion of Israel. That is a general discomfort with the notion of Israel as a Jewish polity. Even when Israel's right to exist is affirmed, a common complaint among both European and Arab critics is that Israel's characterization of itself as a Jewish country is exclusionary and racist. Although this criticism has always been raised by the anti-Zionist left, it is now often expressed as a mainstream view in the European media. We should consider it carefully.
Laws and institutions that reserve rights and privileges for one ethnic group while excluding others are indeed discriminatory and incompatible with liberal democratic values. Unfortunately, discriminatory legal structures do exist in certain parts of public life in Israel, specifically in the use and development of land owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which accounts for most public land in the country. These restrictions date back to the pre-state era, when the JNF was the instrument through which the Jewish community in Palestine acquired land for settlement and development. Arabs are still excluded from leasing and building on this land.
The Law of Return is a more complex case. It grants the right of residence and citizenship to Jews (and immediate non-Jewish family members) from abroad. This law recognizes as extra-territorial nationals Jews living in the diaspora. It has approximate parallels in the nationality laws of other countries (China, Japan, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Germany) that confer the right of citizenship or residence on people connected to the country by culture or descent. Unsurprisingly, the Palestinian Liberation Organization Charter proposes a similar law of return for Palestinians in the diaspora. For both Israeli Jews and Palestinians a law of return is regarded as a legal instrument for rehabilitating a nation of refugees in its national home. In general, laws that establish special rights for Jews derive from the formative period of the country when it was in the process of absorbing Jewish immigrants. Many Israelis of the liberal left who are committed to the existence of Israel as a Jewish country support the abolition of all these laws, with the possible exception of the Law of Return. Most Israelis regard the latter as still necessary for the protection of Jews living in unstable or repressive countries.
Critics of Israel who object to its identity as a Jewish state are, for the most part, not exercised by the fact that Iran and Saudia Arabia define themselves as Islamic states. They may reject their governments as theocratic and reactionary, but they do not regard these countries as illegitimate. They do not, in general, have problems with the religiously based partition of the Indian subcontinent between Pakistan and India, which took place at the same time as the creation of Israel. The implementation of this partition was accompanied by intense political violence that produced hundreds of thousands of refugees on both sides, most of whom have never returned to their homes. Most significantly, they have no difficulty whatsoever with Arab states that purport to be both secular and Arab. They see these states as natural political frameworks for the national groups that constitute their populations. The obvious question, then, is why they have such difficulty with a country that provides for the political independence of a Jewish population.
Assume the following utopian scenario. An enlightened liberal democratic government comes to power in Israel and reaches a peace agreement with the Palestinians: a full withdrawal to (the equivalent of) the 1967 borders and the establishment of a Palestinian state. This government then proceeds to eliminate all discriminatory legislation and institute a full separation of religion and state. It implements reforms to integrate the Arab minority into the social and economic mainstream of the country. Israel would still be a Jewish country in that it would have a decisive (80 percent) Jewish majority, its culture and history would continue to reflect the experiences and concerns of this majority, and its first language would remain Hebrew.
I suspect that many of its critics would continue to object to Israel in this fully democratized format. These are the same people who reject as racist the proposal advanced by some on the Israeli left for a partition of Israel/Palestine along demographic lines; that is, that Israel should return as much territory as possible to the Palestinians, including areas currently within the green line that contain large numbers of Israeli Arabs. Many reject a two-state solution and favor a single country, "a secular democratic state of all its citizens." In fact, as they must know, such a state would either dissolve into civil war or become an Arab country with a subordinated Jewish minority. What lies behind their critique is less a concern for secular democracy than a deep hostility to the very idea of a Jewish state, even when it is cast as political independence for a large Jewish population under conditions of genuine democracy for all and equality for the non-Jewish minority. The objection to a Jewish polity of any sort in the territory of Israel/Palestine lies at the heart of Arab nationalist and Islamic hostility to Israel. It also informs much of the more extreme criticism of Israel that has recently entered the mainstream of political discourse in Europe.
The sense that much of the Arab and Islamic world simply cannot accept a Jewish political presence under any conditions has driven many Israelis to despair. After Oslo had raised hopes of a final peace agreement and reconciliation, the virulence of Palestinian and Arab hostility have persuaded a not insignificant part of the Israeli population that peace is impossible whatever concessions they make. This has produced a dangerous sense of helplessness and victimhood that effectively paralyzes the electorate into acquiescence in the brutal, expansionist policies of the right, even when most Israelis reject these policies. The specter of widespread European complicity in this challenge to Israel's basic legitimacy has further intensified its sense of isolation and reinforced de facto support for a disastrous right-wing adventure.
The rejection of a Jewish polity is closely related to a refusal to recognize the collective legitimacy of the Jews as a people who are entitled to a place among the nations of the world. This idea is deeply rooted in both European and Islamic sources. It has assumed a variety of religious and political forms in the past, and we may well be witnessing the emergence of a new version of this traditional theme.
Messianism and Replacement Theology
Late biblical and rabbinic Judaism introduced the idea of a messianic age in which peace and justice would be established for all humanity in real historical time. The concept of the messianic age is the result of a remarkable evolution from the demand for a national savior to deliver the people from external oppression (as in the period of the judges and the kings) to a universalist vision of a redeemer who ushers in a just social order. The messianic idea animated Jewish resistance to Roman occupation and sustained the Jews for centuries in the diaspora.
In appropriating the Jewish messianic vision Christianity sought to replace the Jews as the heirs of the covenant with God within which this vision was defined. In order to achieve this expropriation it was necessary to portray the Jews as perverse nonbelievers who had forfeited their right to the covenant through their refusal to accept the Messiah. Jews were offered the choice of giving up their Jewish identity and joining the church in order to enter the New Covenant, or existing as a despised religious minority excluded from the social mainstream. It is important to recognize that orthodox Christian doctrine accorded the Jews a recognized role as an outcast community, in contrast to heretics, who were not tolerated at all. The marginality of Jews in the traditional Christian world was intended to emphasize the stigma that attached to their rejection of the new messianic order. The price for acceptance was, then, a total renunciation of Jewish life. The intensity of Christian anti-Semitism was due in part to the persistence of self-affirming Jewish communities in the midst of Christian societies, for these communities testified to the failure of the Christian messianic enterprise to displace its predecessor and so complete its universal project.
Islam also began its history with a failed overture to the Jews. Initially it received a positive response from Jewish tribesmen and rabbinic authorities in Arabia, who recognized the close affinity between the Prophet Muhammad's robustly monotheistic teachings and traditional Jewish belief. However, conflict soon developed when the Jews refused to give up their Judaism to embrace the new religion. The Jews, together with the Christians, were assigned the status of el dhimmi, a protected religious minority living on the fringes of Islamic society. Islam understands itself as incorporating the religious insights of both Judaism and Christianity while superseding them. Unlike Christian Europe, the Muslims did not regard the Jews as a threat to their hegemony, nor did they subject them to systematic, large-scale violence. However, the price that the Jews paid for refusing to accept Islam's messianic project was, again, existence in a marginalized community. Although their situation was far better than the one that they endured in the Christian world, there are obvious parallels between the positions that each society assigned them.
While traditional Islam does not recognize the legitimacy of any non-Islamic political power, the ongoing competition between Islamic and Christian empires that played out from the Middle Ages into the modern era forced pragmatic acceptance of non-Muslim rule in formerly Islamic territories such as Spain, Greece, and the Balkans. By contrast, the Jews never had collective political power at any point in this period, and so the question of accommodation with a Jewish political entity was not an issue. Similarly, Christian Europe had no need to deal with Jewish military or political power, and therefore the idea of a Jewish polity simply did not arise. In both Christian and Muslim domains the Jews were understood entirely as a dependent minority defined by its refusal to disband and join the new majority order.
Secular Messianism and the European Left
With the emergence of secular civil societies in Western Europe following the French Revolution, Jews were offered the possibility of social and political emancipation without explicitly renouncing their Judaism. However the conditions of this offer required that Jews enter the new social order on a strictly individual basis and abandon their view of themselves as constituting a people. The ideal recommended to them was full assimilation. Reconstitution as a religious denomination on the model of Christian churches would be tolerated. But to the extent that Jews insisted on retaining a connection to a collectivity, they would be stigmatized as an obstinately atavistic group clinging to an unwelcome foreign identity. Count Stanislas-Marie-Adélaide de Clermont-Tonnerre provided a particularly clear formulation of this view of the Jew in a civic society in his "Speech on Religious Minorities and Questionable Professions" delivered to the French National Assembly on December 23, 1789.
We must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation and accord everything to Jews as individuals. We must withdraw recognition from their judges; they should only have our judges. We must refuse legal protection to the maintenance of the so-called laws of their Judaic organization; they should not be allowed to form in the state either a political body or an order. They must be citizens individually. But, some will say to me, they do not want to be citizens. Well then! If they do not want to be citizens, they should say so, and then, we should banish them. It is repugnant to have in the state an association of non-citizens, and a nation within the nation.
Where European liberalism insisted that Jews give up their involvement with a religiously defined collectivity as a condition for acceptance in the new civic democracy, the mainstream of the revolutionary European left refused to accept a culturally autonomous secular Jewish proletariat committed to class struggle alongside the working-class movements of other nations. The Jewish Labor Bund was persecuted by the Bolsheviks and then by Stalin. Trotsky and his followers also rejected it.
In contrast to the Zionists, the Bund did not seek the creation of a Jewish state, nor did it endorse a territorial solution to Jewish oppression in Eastern Europe. It envisioned the emergence of autonomous Jewish communal and cultural institutions within a socialist society. The Bund enjoyed widespread support in Poland and the Russian pale of settlement, where three to four million Jews constituted approximately 13 percent of the population. It argued that the Jewish population in Eastern Europe was an oppressed national minority that should be permitted to take its place among other peoples in the struggle for a just society.
The left's problem with the Bund was not one of accepting a religious community in a secular society. The Bund's heresy was neither territorialism nor unacceptable ideas on the nature of socialism, but its demand that Jews be recognized as a people and permitted to sustain their language and their cultural institutions. The revolutionary left claimed to respect the rights of all peoples to self-determination and defended the rights of national minorities in other cases. Its refusal to apply these principles to Jews who sought to participate in the revolutionary movement as Jews exposes its thoroughgoing inability to cope with any form of Jewish collective life.
In effect both classical European liberalism and the revolutionary European left offered the Jews a secular version of the traditional Christian choice: either discard involvement with the Jewish people and achieve individual acceptance in a new liberated era or suffer stigmatization and marginalization as perverse holdouts against the mainstream. The choice expressly excluded the possibility of existing as a free nation among other nations.
Given that the view of the Jewish people as an illicit nation is so deeply ingrained in both religious and secular European culture, it is not surprising that assimilation failed to eliminate European anti-Semitism. Most Jews who adopted variants of this strategy soon found that their attempts to sever connections with collective Jewish life generated the suspicion that they had not fully renounced their forbidden loyalties. They were all the more threatening for having receded into the limbo of non-existence imposed upon them by classical liberals and revolutionary socialists. The issue was not simply Jewish collectivity but Jewish visibility. Leon Pinkser's critique of assimilation (Auto-Emancipation, 1882) as a means of escaping oppression proved to be entirely correct.
A large part of the contemporary European left has inherited the liberal and revolutionary antipathy toward a Jewish collectivity, with Israel becoming the focus of this attitude. While acculturated Jewish intellectuals and progressive Jewish activists are held in high esteem, a Jewish country is treated as an illegitimate entity not worthy of a people whose history should have taught them the folly of nationalism. The current intifada is regarded as decisively exposing the bankruptcy not so much of a policy of occupation and settlement, but of the very idea of a Jewish polity, which could not but do otherwise than commit such misdeeds. These underlying attitudes are clearly expressed in Perry Anderson's extended editorial article "Scurrying towards Bethlehem" (New Left Review, July-August, 2001). Anderson is at pains to show Zionism as a nationalist movement begotten in the sin of collaboration with European colonialism and sustained by continuing involvement with American imperialism. He envisages the de-Zionization of Israel as a necessary condition for a reasonable solution to the conflict. Interestingly, the fact that Arab nationalism and the various states that emerged from it were also deeply involved with European colonialist ventures plays no part in his story. Moreover, he does not regard Palestinian nationalism in particular and Arab nationalism in general as problematic phenomena. The former is understood solely as the engine of a progressive movement for national liberation. It seems, then, that the reasonable demands for graduation to a postnationalist politics and for a critique of historical myths apply exclusively to Israeli Jews. Palestinians and other Arab nationalists are exempt from these requirements as their national movements are inherently progressive, even if occasionally misguided in their formulations.
In the course of his article Anderson makes the important observation that Israel is unique as a settler state because its immigrants had no mother country in whose colonial interests they were dispatched. This insight should have alerted him to the important difference between the historical reasons that brought Israel into being and those that produced other immigrant-based settler countries, and hence to the inapplicability of a simple-minded analogy between Israel and these products of colonialism. Instead, he suggests that the power of Jewish economic and political influence in America has transformed the United States into an effective mother country for Israel. "Entrenched in business, government and media, American Zionism has since the sixties acquired a firm grip on the levers of public opinion and official policy toward Israel, that has weakened only on the rarest of occasions. Taxonomically, the colonists have in this sense at length acquired something like the metropolitan state-or state within a state-they initially lacked."
The specter of a Jewish-Zionist lobby/conspiracy that controls state power and the media, particularly in America, has become a significant theme in the writings of left-wing political journalists in Europe. So, for example, Robert Fisk ("I am Being Vilified for Telling the Truth About Palestinians," Independent, December 13, 2000) and John Pilger ("Why My Film is under Fire," Guardian, September 23, 2002) insist that a powerful Zionist lobby operating in Britain but directed from America is working with considerable success to suppress all objective reporting and critical discussion of Israel. The January 14, 2002, issue of the New Statesman ran two articles on the Zionist lobby. The cover of the issue featured a large golden Star of David piercing the center of a British flag over the caption "A kosher conspiracy?" The first piece, by Dennis Sewell, concluded that the lobby, to the extent that it exists, is largely ineffective in stemming the tide of hostile reporting and comment on Israel. But the second article, by Pilger, repeated his claim of Zionist power in the British government and the press. It also included the comment that "Blair's meeting with Arafat served to disguise his support for Sharon and the Zionist project." For Pilger, then, Sharon's appalling policies are only derivative problems. The real target is the country as such, reduced to an ideological slogan as "the Zionist project." Peter Wilby, editor of the New Statesman, apologized for the offensive cover in an editorial that appeared in the February 11, 2002, issue. He explained that it had been innocently intended to attract attention on the newsstand. He did not address the obvious question of why a venerable publication of the Labour left should choose to use an image clearly reminiscent of Nazi iconography to promote its sales. It is too facile to dismiss this incident as a passing mistake of judgment. Sneering chatter of a powerful international Jewish lobby, once the stock and trade of fascist propaganda, has now become a staple of left-wing comment on Israel in the British and European press. By contrast, the activities of Arab, Muslim, and pro-Palestinian advocacy groups in the media and public discussion of the Middle East have gone largely unremarked. It is generally assumed, quite reasonably, that such groups have a natural role to play in debates on conflicts that concern them directly. Oddly, these assumptions do not extend to Jewish and Israeli advocacy groups.
The contrast between Europe and North America in this matter is clear. While by no means free of anti-Jewish prejudice, North America defines itself as an immigrant society in which ownership of the country is not the preserve of a single native group. Jews function like other immigrant communities, most of which have succeeded in developing hyphenated personae, easily combining their ethnic identities with their active presence in the mainstream of American life. It is not surprising, then, that public Jewish visibility and the notion of a Jewish polity seem to pose less difficulty in America than in Europe and the Middle East.
Although much of the criticism directed against Israel in the past two years of the intifada is legitimate if not always accurate, the growing hostility to the country stems, at least in part, from acute resistance to a Jewish polity and general difficulties with Jewish collective life. These attitudes are deeply rooted in the histories of both Europe and the Islamic world. The problem of distinguishing bigotry from reasonable opposition is difficult, given that in Israel the Jews are no longer dispossessed, but citizens of a powerful country with a large army that is now being used to sustain the occupation of another people. When considering the critical response to Israel it is reasonable to insist that it be accorded the same legitimacy and judged by the same principles as other countries. To require less of Israel is to allow it to claim rights that are denied to others. To demand more is to invoke a unique set of standards motivated by traditional prejudices. Both positions are unreasonable and must be resisted.
Shalom Lappin is a professor in the Department of Computer Science at King's College London and is an active supporter of Peace Now in Israel. He has been involved in social democratic and labor organizations in Israel, Canada, and Britain.