This is a guest post from Mark Rogers of the Anglican Friends of Israel
My text is taken from Mr Anthony Lerman’s article, The pro-Israel lobby and anti-semitism, in The Guardian, 20 November 2009: “Unfortunately, Israel’s actions and incidents of violence in the Israel-Palestine conflict do provoke some incidents of antisemitism.” It is supplemented by remarks which Rabbi David Goldberg made to Mr. Peter Oborne in the latter’s programme about the Israel Lobby, to the effect that of course there are those who attack Israel out of antisemitism, and they must be set apart and dealt with differently, on their own, because it is an attack motivated by antisemitism.
It is an article of faith amongst those who attack (‘criticise’) Zionism/Israel/the policies of the Israeli government that they are not being antisemitic – except, of course, as Rabbi Goldberg noted, when they are. Virtue belongs to the critics – except when it doesn’t. But how tell them apart ? The implications of this ethico-logical problem are avoided, but let me give a graphic instance of the confusion.
On the first anniversary of the Sabra and Chatilla massacre, the Labour Campaign for Solidarity with Palestine organised a march through central London. The National Front turned up to join in, and it looked as if there was going to be a ruckus. The police, on realising that the NF had not pitched up for a fight, but were there to remember the slaughter and protest against Israel, just as the original protesters were, announced that either the march be abandoned as likely to cause a breach of the peace, or the NF be allowed to join in. A compromise was reached : the original antisemites – sorry, the critics of Israel – were allowed the road with their banners, while the critics of Israel – sorry, the antisemites – marched alongside on the pavement side. As the newsletter of the Labour Campaign moaned in its next issue when reporting the march, this meant that the public, uninstructed in the niceties of motive, would have received only the NF literature – and the problem was, the reporter agonised, given that the NF’s views on the matters in hand did not differ from those of the march’s sponsors, the public would not have been able to tell the difference!
Indeed. Or what of the fact that in 1982, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon to vanquish the PLO (which used Mein Kampf as one of its indoctrination training manuals (see, Jillian Becker : The PLO : The Rise and Fall of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Weidenfeld and Nicolson/St Martin’s Press (both out of print)]), The Guardian, knowingly taking full advantage of the Jewish appearance of Menachem Begin, the Israeli Prime Minister, published cartoons that could have come straight from the pages of Streicher’s Der Sturmer?
This has been going on a long time – ever since Soviet propaganda first dubbed Zionists Nazis, and culminating in the UN Durban conference on racism with assembled delegates chanting ‘Jew ! Jew ! Jew !’ at the Israeli delegates…
Israel is under attack from the armed militants of antisemitism in the Middle East, those brought up on a diet of the Koran, the Hadith, Nazi propaganda and the Protocols; it is their acts that determine Israel’s responses. There is no mystery about this, and no controversy either: those who deny it are simply choosing to look the other way. Hamas and Hezbollah and the Iranian regime are quite explicit that it is Jew-hatred that inspires their deeds. The PLO, as noted above, used Mein Kampf as a training manual; Egyptian state television broadcast a dramatisation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a multi-part series; Arabic newspapers are full of cartoons that would have found a home in Der Sturmer just as The Guardian’s would; the first modern Palestinian Arab political leader was a Nazi ally who founded a Bosnian Muslim death squad … and so on. Why do the Israel-vilifiers deny this?
Ah, but perhaps they don’t. Look again at what Mr Lerman says: “Unfortunately, Israel’s actions and incidents of violence in the Israel-Palestine conflict do provoke some incidents of antisemitism.”
Israel’s actions (in defending itself against the militant attacks of antisemites) do provoke some incidents of antisemitism. That the incidents of antisemitism are the rocket attacks from south Lebanon and Hamas-controlled Gaza, that in both instances the rockets come from Iran whose president has vowed to eliminate Israel from the map because it is Jewish, that were it not for these incidents of antisemitism Israel would have no cause against its Arab neighbours – none of this gives pause for thought to the Lermans and the Goldbergs and the Obornes and the Rusbridgers, as in ‘criticising’ Israel, while she attempts to defend herself against incidents of antisemitism, they give comfort to her murderous opponents.
And another problem with Lerman’s formulation gives rise to a disturbing question: has he not read Mein Kampf? For there Hitler, in its early pages, tries hard not to be an antisemite – not in so many words, but his drift is this: in his childhood and youth, why ! he didn’t even know what a Jew was, as far as he knew he’d never even seen one, certainly had borne them no ill-will. Then there was the mysterious Jew at his school in Linz, whom it took him a while to realise was a Jew. His eyes opened, he began to take note of their actions…. And, in time, the scales fell from his eyes, one couldn’t help taking against them, because of their actions. They’d brought it upon themselves, you see.
Which brings us to the crux of the matter. Lerman’s assertion that Israel’s defence gives rise to antisemitism is problematical because on his, and his co-thinkers showing, we do not really know which is worse, the actions or the antisemitism. The opponents of Israel are irritated at being called ‘antisemitic’ because, as we all know, ‘antisemitism’ is an evil. If so, why should it not be responded to, defended against ? Accepting for the moment Lerman’s argument at face value, the correct response would be: so what if, in defending herself, Israel’s actions give rise to antisemitism? Why, given the tenacity of antisemitism in human history, should we be surprised and what do we expect the Jews to do? Follow Rabbi Goldberg’s advice? Indeed, it has been tried, and doesn’t work.
There is a certain vanity at work in the Lermans et al: that they are so sure they know what they would do (even if that certainty is no more than not doing what the Israelis are doing) if they were in Israeli policy makers’ and military commanders’ shoes. It might surprise them that over the decades those policy makers and commanders have often thought as they do, that they could work through conciliation, compromise, unilateral offers… but circumstances changed their minds. Instance: the Palestinian Arabs finally get their own state in Gaza, and what do they do? Smash its economic infrastructure; pound Israel with Iranian-supplied rockets; and start a civil war amongst themselves. As Golda Meir once put it when asked when the conflict between Arabs and Jews was going to end: when the Arabs start loving their children more than they hate the Jews.
It is hard, in fact, to know what antisemitism is, given the positions of the ‘critics of Israel’. It is almost as if it is a Platonic form, existing in a pure form such that the readers of the Guardian can hate (or ‘criticise’) passionately, without it ever needing to touch them. Or on the contrary, they can declare that they are philosemites, it’s just that they don’t like these particular Jews or their actions…
Malcolm Muggeridge once opined, after one of the Israeli victories, that he didn’t care for this audacious business of Jews standing up for themselves and fighting back; he thought on the whole he preferred the Jews when they were being persecuted….. so much more amenable to one’s condescending regard. That probably sums up what is wrong with the Israel vilifiers.
This is a guest post from Mark Rogers of the Anglican Friends of Israel