Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Europe’s “Good Jews”

From Commentary by Emanuele Ottolenghi (follow the link for the full article with references) ...

It is common knowledge that anti-Semitism in Western Europe has been on the rise for the last five years. ...Of course, Jews in Europe have not been deprived of property, expelled, or deported; but they have been subjected to physical violence, insults, libelous attacks in the press and in intellectual circles, accusations of disloyalty, and much else besides.

... factors include the open hostility of some European governments to the state of Israel and their active sympathy with the Arab and Palestinian “cause,” even to the point of justifying Arab terrorism against civilian Israeli Jews; the felt need on the part of European elites to accommodate the often murderous anti-Semitism within the immigrant Muslim community; and the alignment of European leftist and “progressive” opinion behind the idea of Israel as the new Nazi Germany, according to which those European Jews who support Israel are relegated to the category of racists until proved otherwise.

... it is held to be solely an expression of disagreement with particular policies of the Israeli government. To draw a parallel between this and past variants of European anti-Semitism, especially of the Nazi type, is thus dismissed as a species of moral blackmail.

...I want to focus here on a particular feature of the new European anti-Semitism that has been less commented on. This is the crucial role played by some European Jews themselves, mostly intellectuals or academics, who have responded to the latest assault on the Jewish people by excusing it, justifying it, and in effect joining it.

In October 2002, a number of leading European authors discussed Israel’s conduct in the pages of the London Independent. For one of these writers, it was plain that Israel had “adopted tactics which are reminiscent of the Nazis.” ...this great sickness is alleged to have returned in the lurid form of present-day Israel, throwing the whole world into turmoil and disturbing the hard-won tranquility of post-nationalist Europe by inflaming the passions of its rising Muslim population.

...Europeans have seized upon the Palestinian intifada, or rather upon Israel’s determined response to it, as an opportunity at last to turn the moral hold not themselves but the Jews to account.

The Italian columnist Barbara Spinelli...called upon world Jewry to undertake act of contrition should start in the Diaspora, where so many Jews live a double and contradictory loyalty. . . .

This call to Europe’s “good Jews,” as they might be called, has in fact been answered. For the most part, those answering it have been not the long-term, all-out, rabid haters of Israel of the Harold Pinter or (in American terms) Noam Chomsky stripe, who need no excuse and waste no pieties in reviling the Jewish state. .... Most “good Jews” are of a somewhat different complexion. Not only do they tend to speak more circumspectly but...they cloak their hostility to ...(...Israel) in the mantle of solicitude for, precisely, the good name of Jews and Judaism.

Thus, writing in Britain’s weekly Spectator earlier this year, one Anthony Lippman issued just such a mea culpa as Barbara Spinelli may have dreamed of. Himself the son of a Holocaust survivor...he averred that the “little band” of Holocaust survivors in Europe
has a terrible responsibility—to live well in the name of those who did not live and to discourage the building of walls and bulldozing of villages. Even more than this, they—and all Jews—need to be the voice of conscience that will prevent Israel from adopting the mantle of oppressor, and to reject the label “anti-Semite” for those who speak out against Israel’s policies in the occupied territories.

Similarly responding to the claims of an awakened Jewish conscience has been the British academic Jacqueline Rose. In her book, The Question of Zion (2005), Rose undertakes to save Judaism itself from the curse of its movement of national liberation....Can the disease that is Zionism be cured? Yes, Rose and others assure us, but only by a thorough-going renunciation.....

...In the August 8, 2002 Guardian, 45 Jewish signatories, in a widely hailed act of public abjuration, repudiated their right of return to the Jewish state on account of its racist policies. Since the statement’s original publication, it has been signed by over 80 more individuals from around the world. One of the organizers subsequently explained that what motivated him to act was the “pitiless violence” of his “blood relatives,” i.e., the Israeli people—the “violence,” as he put it, of the “traumatized former victim, clinging to past wounds from generation unto generation.”

The publicity attending this and similar initiatives by European Jews, abetted in some cases by their Israeli counterparts, has been very great. There was tremendous excitement in Europe over the declaration by 99 Israeli academics that their government was planning an imminent “full-fledged ethnic cleansing” of the Palestinian people (a charge that was not withdrawn when the alleged genocidal atrocity failed to occur), and again over the refusal of a few hundred Israeli army reservists to serve in the administered territories. There was even greater excitement when several European Jewish academics turned up among the instigators of a movement to boycott Israeli academic institutions, and yet again when a number of Jewish politicians called for the boycott of Israeli commercial products.

Among the latter group was the British parliamentarian Oona King, who in June 2003, comparing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza with the Nazi treatment of Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, spoke of her personal “shame” as a “Jewish person” (her father is Jewish). A year later, Gerald Kaufman, another member of the British Parliament, called for a boycott of Israeli goods on similar grounds, as, in South Africa, did Ronnie Kasrils, a government minister: “As a person who was born Jewish, I am morally obliged to speak out against what is being done by the Zionist state of Israel to the Palestinian people.”

Many others have likewise seen it as their specifically Jewish duty to denounce Israel. ...

The assertions of Jews like these are often buttressed by a particular narrative of the history of Zionism...According to this reconstruction of the past, the achievements of Zionism involved, for the Jews, a fatal loss of moral and historical innocence. In order for the state of Israel to be born in 1948, unspeakable crimes were committed against the Palestinian people. Zionist leaders then entered into a conspiracy of silence to conceal these awful events from the Jewish public. Not until the 1980’s did a small, intrepid band of scholars—Israel’s so-called New Historians—emerge to uncover the evidence and expose the hidden truth.

Zionism’s precipitous descent, from the noble liberal vision of Theodor Herzl to the obloquy of mass expulsions and worse, was characterized in 1988 by Benny Morris.... If... Israel was born tarnished, besmirched by original sin, then it was no more deserving of that grace and assistance than were its neighbors.

“Grace,” “purity,” “original sin”—Christological vocabulary of this kind recurs frequently in the rhetoric of certain scholarly and journalistic discussions of Israel’s birth. Avi Shlaim, for instance, has mocked those who persist in conceiving of Israel’s War of Independence as a struggle against Arab aggression. They hold, he writes with savage sarcasm, to the idea of “an immaculate conception.”
Worse, they do so perfidiously, for both material and moral gain, thus aspiring to the roles of Judas and Jesus simultaneously....

...But, if the brutality with which Israel is charged was indeed inherent to the project that led to its creation—as the notion of original sin suggests—how can it possibly be made good? That European Jews should wash their hands of the Jewish state goes without saying. But what is required of Israel itself? For this there is an answer as well. Both logically and, as it were, theologically, the only remedy lies in the political equivalent of conversion.

For Israel, in this analysis, entrance into a new life of grace is contingent on shedding its identity as the Jewish national state. Instead, it must agree to a unitary, binational arrangement with the Palestinians. Only thus might the state of the Jews yet wash away the stain of its original sin. The signatories of the 2002 letter in the Guardian were explicit on this point. No mere condemnation of Israel’s allegedly brutal behavior would satisfy the demands of their Jewish conscience. What was necessary was the dissolution of Israel itself, its place to be taken by a new entity that would no longer be ruled by Jews but in which Jews and Palestinian Arabs would at last live together peacefully as equals.

Of course, this is absurd—a fancy-dress re-wording of longstanding Arab propaganda about the illegitimacy of Israel’s national existence. It is also hypocritical: Europeans who expend such vast quantities of energy lecturing Israel on its supposed hypernationalist instincts give no thought whatsoever to ridding the Arabs of their own, rather more vivid, forms of nationalist sentiment.

...This is not 1930’s-style anti-Semitism; in that narrow sense, anti-Israel Europeans are correct in protesting that they are not anti-Semites. Nevertheless, it is an age-old form of anti-Semitism, and one that has always called forth a typical pattern of response on the part of the Jews under scrutiny.... finding favor and reward by exerting every effort to assimilate themselves to whatever is required of them, including to the point of publicly dissociating themselves from their people’s history and fate. As ever with such maneuvers, exculpatory rationalizations must be found, and are readily at hand.

Unlike the case in pre-Enlightenment Europe, present-day anti-Semitism does not expect Jews to abandon their religion... What the enlightened sector of today’s Europe would like Jews to do, in exchange for fully approved membership in the circle of approved opinion, is to renounce a core component of their identity: that is, their sense of Jewish peoplehood as expressed through their attachment and commitment to the democratic state of Israel and to the Zionist enterprise.

What remains constant is that, as in both pre- and post-Enlightenment Europe, today’s European elite has its good Jews and its bad Jews. There are the Jews whom it embraces, encourages, and celebrates; and then there are the Jews whom it chastises and condemns. For the former, there will always be a place of honor in the European sun. On the latter, today’s officially pluralist and tolerant Europe has turned its back. Is it any wonder, then, that some “good Jews” have chosen to live in the light, stopping only to burnish their qualifications by noisily joining the chorus that has consigned their fellow Jews to the dark?

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