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Saturday, 29 August 2015

Anti - Zionism and Anti - Semitism

I avoid certain topics on this Blog – ones I feel are too important or ones where anyone who ventures into them risks ( sometimes wilful) misunderstanding. Or both. Anti-semitism is one of those topics.

But there comes a point … I am tired of the  untruth, endlessly recycled by people who seem to be paid not to think, that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-semitism or even anti-semitism itself. It isn’t. Full stop. Go back to your PR drawing board. Your current strategy sounds like the last refuge of scoundrels.

It’s true that anti-semites are generally anti-Zionists, though not always: in the past there were anti-semites who thought it a jolly good idea that all the Jews should take themselves off to Israel and hopefully get lost in the desert. Indeed, in the early days some Zionists tried to drum up support for the Zionist project from serious anti-semites. Every little helps. The Zionist Avram Stern (of Stern Gang fame) even put in an approach to Hitler. After all, they both had a common enemy, Great Britain, which had been awarded a League of Nations Mandate to run Palestine in 1918. Stern was very happy to make life uncomfortable for the British in Palestine and that, in the context of World War Two, was his gambling chip with Hitler. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Endorsement of the Zionist project initially came from conservative and nationalist gentile politicians, like the Conservative British politician A J Balfour, whose famous 1917 declaration in favour of a Jewish homeland had at least something to do with the background thought that Zionism meant that the Jews would go elsewhere: they would stop coming from Eastern Europe (and its pogroms) to London and Dublin, where of course they encountered some anti-semitism but less intense than in the bloodlands of eastern Europe.

 But even if it didn’t matter very much to the British that the newcomers were Jews, it did matter that they were migrants - and, well, as we all know, you can only take in so many migrants. If a big migrant group tell you they would rather go elsewhere, why discourage them? Why not give a bit of help?

In short, you could argue that sympathy for the Zionist project among Gentile politicians allowed a little anti-semitism and a lot of anti-migrant sentiment to be expressed in a nice way. This viewpoint is probably not a majority one: historians generally see the Balfour Declaration very much as a move designed to increase American and Russian enthusiasm for the Allied cause in World War One.

The United Nations decision (that is, the decision of the victorious Allies) to create a Jewish homeland after World War Two also had less reputable motivations. That old anti-semite, Stalin, liked the idea and the Soviet Union hurried to be first to recognise the state of Israel. The other allies were keen too, though the British arguably had in mind a fairer solution than the one eventually arrived at by force and, as the history books tell us, tried to restrict Jewish migration to Palestine, more or less to the end of the Mandate.

I think it’s true that one reason that the Allies settled for the idea of  Israel is that it promised a partial solution to the Jewish Problem - the problem that mainland Europe at the end of World War Two was home to a large displaced population of traumatised Jews, many or most of whom did not want to return home or had no home to go to. Most of them wanted to get out of mainland Europe with first preference destinations in Great Britain and the United States and Latin America, with some happy to go to South Africa ( a popular destination earlier in the century) or Australia. Anywhere – understandably – except mainland Europe.

 (Anne Frank’s Diary is instructive: to begin with, exiled from Germany, she dreams of making her new home, after the war, in The Netherlands. She’s a fan of the Dutch. Towards the end she wavers as it becomes clear that the Dutch are losing their courage).

The Zionist project offered a destination which had the unique advantage that Jews might become a majority in the population. That was attractive to many Jews, even if they weren't Zionists. And it was a solution which promised to reduce the financial and administrative burden on the Allies of traumatised people in displaced persons camps, hospitals and so on.

The burden was shifted to Palestine, where there was, of course, already a large Jewish population willing to support new arrivals. And there was a Zionist movement willing to force the Arab population to make room for them. When it came to ethnic cleansing, the Zionists showed in the 1940s that they could do it too.

For a long time, into the 1990s, I suppose I thought that things might work out well in the end. 

Lots of Jews in Israel held progressive – liberal, socialist – political beliefs. Many of them were cuddly kibbutzniks. In the end, they would come to some kind of acceptable deal with the indigenous Arab population, Muslim and Christian by religion, mostly semitic by race. Social solidarity would win out over ethnic or religious or cultural divisions. Zionism, with its inherent racism, would become a bit of an embarrassment. It would become History.

Nope. It didn’t happen. And things went from bad to worse, let’s say after the assassination (by a Jewish religious extremist) of Yitzhak Rabin.

Cuddly kibbutzniks have been consigned to the dustbin of history. Now we have aggressive religious fundamentalist settlers. In the cities, we have mafia with the upper hand rather than liberal intellectuals. We have fairly typical second and third generation nationalism. The majority of new migrants since the 1990s are not refugees fleeing persecution. They are often just unpleasant people no different from very pushy people anywhere, who see Israel as a land of golden opportunity for pushing and shoving.

Not to like these people is not about being anti-semitic. It’s about not liking religious fundamentalism (what is there to like about any religious fundamentalism?). It’s about not liking settlers and colonists who force indigenous populations off their land. It’s about not liking rule by mafias. It’s about suspicion of narrow Nationalism which is doing well not only in Israel but all over mainland Europe (Poland,  Russia, Ukraine …) and always ends up with some group (Jews, Roma, homosexuals, Muslims, Arabs … ) the victim of some kind of persecution.
I read the books about the history of the Jews in 20th century Europe (and review them on my book Blog, I read the books by the Jewish critics of Israel. 

I have absolutely no enthusiasm for Judaism or Islam or Christianity or racism or persecution or firing missiles at poor people’s homes from a safe distance. My toes curl when – in the course of my work - I hear someone make an anti-semitic remark (as people still do).

 I’ve more or less had it with Israel and certainly with this propaganda blast which paints me as an anti-semite because I don't think Benjamin Netanyahu the greatest show on earth and also don't think that a very long time God marked some wretched part of the earth's surface as a Jewish homeland and then more or less forgot about it until fairly recently reminded.

1 comment:

  1. Zionism means different things to different people so, if you take up a position on it, you should start by defining what you mean by the term.