Saturday, December 16, 2006


The most common defence used by many anti-Semites on the left is that they are not anti-Jewish but anti-Israel, that criticism of Israel is not the same as hatred of Jews. In principle, of course, they are right. Many Jews are critical of Israel, and non-believing Jews are often critical of Judaism. There is no automatic connection between anti-Israel feeling and anti-Semitic sentiment. And yet it often feels like that. Anti-Israel activists on the left often come perilously close to conflating these two attitudes, particularly when their 'criticism' of Israel passes the limits of vigorous political discourse and emerges as hate speech. It is a real conundrum for leftists to get caught in this particular dichotomy. As leftists and liberals, they are committed to anti-racism and the promotion of the rights of all people to self-determination. The left has had a long and honourable history of fighting anti-Semitism, and many liberals today still combat it, especially when it's far-right anti-Semitism they have to deal wth.

But many more — a majority, it seems to me — find no trouble in so identifying with the Palestinian cause that they turn a blind eye to the virulent anti-Semitism that chokes Palestinian society, Arab society in the surrounding states, and the Muslim world in places like Iran or even secular Turkey. They never speak out against it, as they certainly would do if it were anti-Semitism of the BNP or Le Pen variety. Now, I find this both curious and frightening. If they are unaware of Middle Eastern anti-Semitism, they must be staggeringly ignorant of the region. You don't have to be able to reads Arabic or Persian to grasp what goes on: you just need to look at newspaper cartoons, TV shows (including children's television), or the imagery used in school textbooks. If they do know about it and don't speak out, they have clearly jettisoned their leftist and liberal principles. They might as well join in the calls for a second Holocaust.

But it's not just the manifest anti-Semitism or left-wing support for it that demeans anti-Israel activists. It's the way in which so many of the accusations they make about Israel or the pro-Israel lobby follow in a straight line from anti-Jewish diatribe throughout the centuries. When they claim, as so many do, that Israel lobbyists control the media or exercise a controlling influence in the politics of Western countries, or that wealthy Jews back Israel (as if this is particular to Israel, and not to many other countries, notably the Saudis and other oil-rich states), or that Israel is the greatest threat to world peace, or that Israelis target Palestinian children, then they are simply echoing many of the standard anti-Jewish accusations of the Third Reich and earlier. The grasping Jew, the Jewish cabal, the sacrifice of Muslim or Christian children are now incantations of the left, masquerading as criticism of the Jewish state.

When Georgetown professor Hisham Sharabi says 'the Jews are getting ready to take control of us', he would be more at home in pre-Nazi Germany than the United States. When Jewish students are specifically and often rudely excluded from conferences or expelled from classrooms, that is no longer political debate, that is anti-Semitism. Here's what a University of California students had to say about her experiences when campaigning for a student union post: 'People spit [sic] on me and said "Zionist" and kept on walking. I was spit [sic] on a couple of times. I was called a conservative Zionist bastard, a f**king Jew. There was another girl helping me out who happened to be Catholic, `and a guy said "Hey, are you a Jew girl?"' Left-wing pro-Palestinians or the world's new brownshirts? My sentiment here is echoed in the following statement by Laurie Zoloth, a former Professor of Jewish Studies at San Francisco State: 'I cannot fully express what it feels like to walk across campus daily, past maps of the Middle East that do not include Israel, past posters of cans of soup with labels on them of drops of blood and dead babies, labeled "canned Palestinian children meat, slaughtered according to Jewish rights under American license", past poster after poster calling out "Zionism=racism" and "Jews=Nazis". This is not civil discourse, this is not free speech, this is the Weimar Republic with brown shirts it cannot control.'

Here's Professor Norton Mezvinsky of Central Connecticut State University: '[Jews believe] the blood of non-Jews has no intrinsic value'. This, he says, allows Jews to consider that the killing of non-Jews does 'not constitute murder according to the Jewish religion'. 'The killing of innocwent Arabs for reasons of revenge is a Jewish virtue'. Criticism of Israel? I know exactly how any Jewish readers of this blog will be feeling as they read those words. Here is part of a letter by emeritus professor Helen Cullen in the University of Massachussetts student paper: 'Judaism and Jewish identity are offensive to most human beings and will always cause trouble between the Jews and the rest of the human race'. Neither Mezvinsky nor Cullen has been arrested for a crime of hate speech. As Tobin, Weinberg and Ferer put it: 'The fusion of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism inevitably takes one beyond the borders of Israel and im[plicates any Israel supporter, group of supporters, and Judaism as a religion.'

It seems to be a fact that the current growth in anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence is in part fuelled by anti-Israel sentiment and the demonization of Israel. Were this to be a plain political argument (as we might argue about a Kurdish state, or Tibetan or Xinjiang independence, or the situation in Northern Ireland), it would be unlikely to cross over into racist statements, slogans, or physical abuse. If I were to attend an anti-Israel rally and kept my mouth shut, I would suffer no abuse. If an orthodox Jew wearing kippah, pe'ot and tzitzit turned up, I rather think he would be sworn at or worse. But I support Israel, and he might not.

I have just been reading Tobin, Weinberg and Ferer's book The Uncivil University, from which I have taken many of the examples above. It makes frightening reading. I recommend it, above all to those of you on the left and centre who do not yet understand how closely anti-Israelism is linked in the minds of many. Some, particularly those within the Muslim community, are aware of the link and do not think it matters. Others, I imagine, may feel uneasy at times, but may exclude the anti-Semitism from their thoughts because they feel that, in their hearts, they are not anti-Semites, or sense that their left-wing views preclude anti-Jewish feeling. Thinking like that, however, makes it all too easy not to see that denial of the Jewish right to a homeland (and only the Jewish right) is itself a manifestation of anti-Semitism. Yet others may not see any of this. They may think their votes against 'occupation', 'Israeli apartheid', and 'Zionist conspiracies', or their support of Palestinian s right or wrong, even their recreation of Palestinian terrorists as 'militants' or 'freedom fighters' all add up to nothing more than a rigorous protest against a rogue state. They need to think again. And the last two groups need to ask themselves a hard question: if anti-Israelism is, in fact, a substitute for the oldest hatred in the world, if it really echoes the views and expressions of the Third Reich, if it allows Arabs to kill Jews because they are Jews — then what am I doing here, holding this placard, printing this leaflet, cheering this Hamas speaker?

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