The London Review of Books (LRB) has long been notorious for publishing demonising rhetoric against Israel and, at times, Jews qua Jews. This record includes their decision, in 2006, to publish the ‘erudite’ antisemitism of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer alleging the existence of a pro-Israel Jewish cabal in Washington controlling US foreign policy.
A report by the now defunct media monitoring organisation Just Journalism showed that “LRB consistently portrayed Israel as a bloodthirsty and genocidal regime out of all proportion to reality, while sympathetic portraits abounded of groups designated as terrorist organisations by the British government such as Hamas and Hezbollah”.
Mary Kay Wilmers, LRB’s editor from 1992 to 2021, once wrote that she was “unambiguously hostile to Israel because it’s a mendacious state”.
Most recently, LRB posted a blog piece (“The Safety of Others”, April 5th) by three Jewish, pro-BDS, anti-Zionist academics – Sara Roy, Eve Spangler and Elsa Auerbach – which not only argues that Israel has no right to exist, but that Zionism is in fact antisemitic.
They begin their argument that one Jewish state in the world is one too many by citing the fallacious accusations of ‘Israeli apartheid’ by NGOs like Amnesty International, as well as by Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories since 1967, whose report, CAMERA demonsrated, included antisemitic tropes and gross distortions of international law.
They then move on to the crux of their argument:
Zionist organisations argue that Jews need a safe haven; as such, Israel must be a Jewish state – a state that enshrines in law the rights of one group of people at the expense of another. As Benjamin Netanyahu said when he was prime minister, ‘Israel is not a state of all its citizens... Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and only it.’
First, like Amnesty, which used the same truncated Netanyahu quote, the LRB authors are being supremely dishonest. Here’s what the then-Prime Minister actually said about the nation-state issue, responding to a social media post by Israeli actress and model Rotem Sela:
Dear Rotem, an important correction: Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the Nation-State Law that we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish People – and them alone. As you wrote, there’s no problem with the Arab citizens of Israel – they have the same rights as us all and the Likud government has invested in the Arab sector more than any other government. (emphasis added)
That is, to indict Israel as apartheid, the LRB authors omitted the next line of Netanyahu’s post, in which he made it clear Israel is not apartheid, and that Arab citizens do have equal rights.
Roy, Spangler and Auerbach, having misquoted the former prime minister in a way leading readers to falsely conclude that he was admitting Israel is an apartheid state, leverages that lie to label Zionism a form of “supremacy” that’s incompatible with democracy:
This overt supremacy is a form of racism that is incompatible with democracy, and to justify it in the name of Judaism is itself antisemitic.
First, the claim that Israel isn’t in fact a democracy would be news to the widely respected international human rights monitoring organisation Freedom House, which consistently ranks Israel as the Middle East’s only free and democratic state. Even the Economist, whose reporting about Israel is often extremely biased, in their most recent annual Democracy Index, ranked Israel’s democratic score 23rd overall in the world, higher than Italy, Spain and the United States.
Regarding their demonisation of Israel as a “supremacist” state, the Community Security Trust wrote that the idea of ‘Jewish supremacy’ “has a long-standing antisemitic usage”.
As we’ve argued previously, anti-Semites often use the term to suggest Jews believe themselves to be racially or ethnically superior to non-Jews – and therefore must dominate them. It’s a slur associated with neo-Nazis like David Duke, who wrote a book using that very term in the title, and published a Ph.D dissertation titled “Zionism as a Form of Ethnic Supremacism”. “Israel”, he writes on page 208 of the dissertation, “lives as a testimony to the…supremacist nature of…Zionism”.
The term “Jewish supremacism” is also used frequently in the writings of notorious anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon, and, as Anti-Defamation League (ADL) documented, the US far-right employ the term in their vilification of George Soros. The use of the term is especially pernicious in the context of the amplified debate about the threat posed by white supremacy, a universally despised ideology which the term “Jewish supremacy” evokes. The suggestion that Zionism is a form of supremacism, in effect, accuses the overwhelming majority of the world’s Jews of embracing an intrinsically racist ideology.
The LRB post, not content with merely demonising Jews, then proceeds to, in effect, legitimise Palestinian terrorism targeting Jews.
If Ukrainians who resist and defend themselves are called heroes, why are Palestinians who resist and defend themselves against occupation and land seizures called terrorists?
Though we’ve refuted the intellectually unserious comparison between Ukrainians and Palestinians previously, to address this specific quote, we’ll add that the Palestinians are “called terrorists” because – unlike Ukrainians, who are defending their country from an unprovoked invasion – they target Jews in the service of an antisemitic ideology that doesn’t differentiate between pre and post 1967 boundaries or between civilians and soldiers.
While it’s outrageous, though not surprising, that Roy, Spangler and Auerbach – all of whom have previously shown themselves to be terror apologists – are trying to frame violent fanatics, like the Palestinian who killed three civilians in Tel Aviv last week, as akin to social justice activists, perhaps the most appalling part of their post is as follows:
It is precisely because we are Jews and the children of victims of Nazism that we feel it is our responsibility to challenge the harm being done to Palestinians in our names and in the names of our parents.
First, let’s remember that six millions Jews were murdered in WWII because, unlike Jews today, they didn’t have a national refuge. Further, of the estimated 400,000 Holocaust survivors still alive, the country with the largest concentration of survivors (180,000) is Israel.
Those cynically evoking the Holocaust to undermine Israel’s right to exist must reckon with the inconvenient fact that, following the Nazis’ murder of one out of every three Jews on earth, the largest remnant that survived chose Israel as their home. They decided that the nascent Jewish state, with all its daunting economic and military challenges, was the polity most likely to ensure their safety and that of their descendants.
You see, Zionism isn’t, as it was before independence, an aspiration, idea or abstraction to be debated. It’s a living, breathing state, the realisation of two thousands years of Jewish yearning to be a free people in their land, one where 45% of the world’s Jews currently live, a nation that, in addition to its role as a safe-haven for persecuted Jews worldwide, is, by any measure, thriving to a degree nobody could have imagined on May 14th, 1948.
Israel’s legitimacy – it’s fundamental right to exist – is, like all nations, paraphrasing Abba Eban‘s admonishment of the anti-Zionist bloc at the UN, axiomatic and unreserved, and it is most certainly not suspended in mid-air awaiting the confirmation of the intellectual jackals who fancy London’s LRB salon.