Manifestations of anti-Semitism have indeed been on the rise in France and throughout the world: swastikas on tombstones, explosions at synagogues, and attacks on individual Jews. These are not Israel’s main concern, however. What truly worries it is the growing chorus of writers, artists and scientists, including Jews, who criticize its behavior toward the Palestinians. Some call on Israel to cease defining itself as a Jewish State and to cancel discriminatory laws in order to include both peoples on an equal basis.
Seizing the opportunity afforded by the current surge in anti-Semitism, Israel and its defenders seek to de-legitimize the critics by categorizing them with defacers of tombstones. They try to spread the stain.
Among Israel’s defenders is Lawrence H Summers, President of Harvard University and former Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton Administration. On 17 September 2002, Professor Summers said: ‘Profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities. Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent.’
Responding in the London Review of Books, Professor Judith Butler of UC Berkeley wrote that Summers’ approach amounts to denying the right to criticize, especially since ‘we are not given any criteria by which to adjudicate between vigorous challenges that should be articulated, and those which carry the ‘effective’ force of anti-Semitism.’ She points out a further danger: if every criticism of Israel is met by the cry ‘Anti-Semite!’, we shall no longer be able to identify real anti-Semitism when it occurs. Butler calls on Jews to ‘widen the rift between the state of Israel and the Jewish people in order to produce an alternative vision of the future… to secure an independent Palestinian state or to re-establish the basis of the Israeli state without regard to religion so that Jewishness would constitute only one cultural and religious reality.’ (‘No, it’s not anti-Semitic’, London Review of Books, Vol. 25 No. 16, 21 August 2003)
Where are the Arabs?
When progressive anti-Zionists talk about re-establishing the basis of the Israeli state such that both Jews and Arabs can live together peacefully, what do Arab writers have to say? Very little, it turns out. The tone is set, rather, by people who sabotage the possibility of a new discussion. Dr Ibrahim Aloush denies the Holocaust, while journalist Ahmad Ragheb thanks Hitler for ‘doing part of the job for us’. (Al-Akh’bar, 29 April 2001) Although such views are not representative, the fact remains that in the face of them, the vast majority of Arab intellectuals keep silent. They stand by while The Protocols of the Elders of Zion sells like hotcakes on Arab streets.
When Arab intellectuals like Aloush and Ragheb preach the formula ‘Judaism = Zionism’, maintaining that every Jew, by the mere fact of being Jewish, is a Zionist and therefore an ‘enemy’, they play into the hands of those who would label any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitism helps Israel to justify its existence. In particular, in its current debate with the academics, Israel needs to identify anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. If Zionism and Judaism are one, as Aloush and Ragheb maintain, then so are anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
Why do these Arab intellectuals fall into such extreme positions? One reason is political regression in the Arab world, which has opened the way for the rise of Islamic fundamentalist currents. These view the conflict in terms of religion (Jews vs Muslims), rather than in terms of nation (Zionists vs Arabs) or class (colonizers vs the colonized). The growing bitterness in the Arab world, however, stems not just from the conflict with Israel, but from broader economic and political problems. By taking an anti-Semitic position, intellectuals like Aloush and many fellow Arab anti-Semites avoid coming to grips with these problems. They are unable or unwilling to present an alternative to the Arab regimes.
Because Israel purports to represent Jews in general, the hatred it arouses is readily extended to Jews in general. Yet not so long ago, we should remember, the attitude on the Palestinian street was different. Through the period of the first Intifada, most Palestinians were careful to distinguish between Zionists and Jews, because they related to the conflict as a political one as opposed to a religious or racist one. Palestinian criticism of Israel focused on the issues the Oslo Agreement failed to resolve but which are vital to Palestinians (refugees, sovereignty, Jerusalem, settlements, land and water, and open gateways). When no further progress was made, the diplomatic process collapsed and the present Intifada broke out.
To criticize Israel, however, is not to downplay the disastrous effects of the positions taken by Aloush and his ilk. Instead of destroying Israel’s monopoly on defending Jews against this blight, these Arab intellectuals flirt with it. As a result, the Palestinian cause, inherently just, is in danger of slipping into a bog of fascist and anti-Semitic tendencies.
The anti-Semitism that now appears in the Arab world is a relic imported from Europe, complete with stereotypes and lies. It answers a need which stems, broadly speaking, from the dashing of Arab hopes for a better life within the new American order, and specifically, from the abominable conditions of Palestinian life since the signing of the Oslo Accords. The new-old anti-Semitism is nourished by leaders and opinion makers as a cover for their impotence. By resorting to the stereotype of the conniving, wealthy, string-pulling, demonic Jew, they can explain the military and economic superiority of Israel, blurring the responsibility of their own regimes.
Because they lack a progressive political program, Arab anti-Semites are blind to the opportunities offered by the current discussion in the West concerning alternatives to global capitalism. By treating Jews in general as the source of their misfortunes, they lose allies in the struggle against occupation – not just the occupation in Palestine, but also the one in Iraq.
Rather than make common cause, Arab intellectuals and activists have kept their distance from Jews. They ignore the many Jews of conscience, both within Israel and outside, who believe in an internationalist solution to the conflict.
The Isolation of Israel
Since the start of the second Intifada in September 2000, more and more people have been searching for a solution outside the framework of ‘two states for two peoples’. The Intifada has left Israel without a strategy. The Oslo concept – that Israel could continue the occupation indirectly through a Palestinian partner – has collapsed. Israel has found itself again in charge of the whole land west of the Jordan river, where the Jews will soon be the minority. (See ‘Disengagement and the Death of the Two-State Solution’, Challenge, No 86, July-August 2004. (http://www.hanitzotz.com/challenge/86/panel.htm )
The ‘demographic danger’ frightens both the Israeli Right and the Left. Both want to preserve what they call the state’s ‘Jewish character’, but both also know that the world will not accept such an entity unless it is democratic. To stay both Jewish and democratic, Israel must maintain a Jewish majority. If it continues to rule over the 3.5 million Palestinians in the Territories – together with the 1.1 million Arabs in Israel itself – then the Arabs (who have a higher birth rate) will soon outnumber the Jews (now 5.5 million). One Israeli response, we have seen, is to try to increase Jewish immigration by playing up fears of anti-Semitism elsewhere. Another is to close Israel off to non-Jews.
In the case of self-closure, the measures Israel takes are illegal, immoral and unacceptable to the rest of the world. One such is the separation wall, Israel’s answer to Palestinian suicide attacks. The wall imprisons the Palestinians, but it also ghettoizes Israeli Jews – not just physically, but morally.
Another method of self-closure is the intended disengagement from Gaza. Much of the world, including the Israeli Left, has not yet perceived its immorality. But Sharon’s plan does not entail true disengagement. After a true disengagement, Palestinians would have the right to enter or leave Gaza as they wish. Gaza would have a port, an airfield and an open border to Egypt – all without Israeli control. In this sense, Sharon will never leave Gaza. It will continue to be a prison.
The separation wall and the disengagement plan smack increasingly of apartheid. As Israel marches toward pariah status, it labels the people who oppose these measures ‘anti-Semites’. One can play the ‘anti-Semitic card’ for just so long, however. One can spread the stain just so far.