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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

April 11, 2003

Israel and the New Anti-Semitism

If, as some posts below suggest, we have to worry about growing Islamic fantaticism, we have also to concern ourselves with a growing anti-semitism from the Left and from the various people of Europe. Shalom Lappin in Dissent traces the growth of this virulent anti-semitic strain and its connection to a strong anti-Israel bias. A fine piece of writing.
[...]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.