Monday, April 12, 2004

The Nation: "Israel and the New Anti-Semitism: An Exchange"

“Israel and the New Anti-Semitism: An Exchange,” The Nation, April 12, 2004

Gidon D. Remba


In this 1,200-word essay published in the Nation, I respond to Oxford scholar Brian Klug’s “The Myth of the New Anti-Semitism.” While I agree that advocacy of anti-Zionism and binationalism is not inherently anti-Semitic, and describe conditions under which binationalism could be consistent with the basic political and human rights of Israeli Jews, I take Klug to task for his failure to recognize the pervasiveness of anti-Jewish racism that today underlies much of the anti-Zionism and anti-Israel invective in the Arab world and on the European left.

I maintain that much binational advocacy among Palestinians, Arabs and the Western left represents a species of political rhetoric which would, if coercively realized in a unitary “democratic” state, result in an arrangement whereby Palestinians will form the majority and Israeli Jews at best a tolerated, subjugated minority, recapitulating the tragic fates of failed multi-ethnic polities like Lebanon, Bosnia and Yugoslavia. As a form of anti-Jewish discrimination, it thus satisfies standard definitions of anti-Semitism, directed against Israeli Jews. I believe that a binational Palestinian-Israeli polity will have a reasonable likelihood of respecting the human rights of Palestinians and Israeli Jews only if it arises by mutual consent to confederate two working liberal democratic Israeli and Palestinian states. Any other approach to binationalism is at best naïve and impracticable, at worst apt to sweep Palestinians and Israelis down to the next rung of the raging Middle Eastern inferno.

This essay has been reprinted in various places and was translated into German and published in Europe. It prompted a three-page attack in a new book by political scientist Virginia Tilly, The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock (University of Michigan Press, 2005). Tilly, who regards Israel an “apartheid state” which “still relies on ethnic cleansing for its preservation,” and who unashamedly places all blame for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on Zionism and Israel, egregiously misreads my arguments.

Israel and the New Anti-Semitism: A Reply to Brian Klug

Gidon D. Remba

As Published in The Nation, April 12, 2004

Recent writings on anti-Semitism by a number of prominent authors have suggested that Jews are confronting a new brand of anti-Jewish vitriol and violence that is distinct from classical anti-Semitism because it cloaks itself in the increasingly acceptable politics of anti-Zionism. Evidence that much anti-Zionism, and rhetoric which demonizes Israel, is anti-Semitism in disguise, and the sense of panic that pervades much of the writing on this subject, seem to have so irked Brian Klug (“The Myth of the New Anti-Semitism,” Feb. 2) that he rejects out of hand the idea that Jews are confronting a new wave of anti-Semitism.

Klug is right to take issue with one claim made by many commentators on the “new anti-Semitism.” Advocacy of anti-Zionism and binationalism vis-à-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not inherently anti-Semitic. Both can, and have been, advanced in ways that acknowledge the intense need that many Jews, both in Israel and around the world, feel for a strong, secure Israel—for example, in proposals for a binational confederal regime which might evolve by mutual consent from two working democratic states at peace, Israel and Palestine, modeled in some respects on the European Union. But in his zealous effort to reject the logic of the “new anti-Semitism” writers, Klug refuses to admit the pervasiveness of anti-Jewish racism that today underlies much of the anti-Zionism and anti-Israel invective in the Arab world and on the European left.

In Klug’s eyes, neither the anti-Zionist rhetoric nor the attacks of recent years on Jewish synagogues and individuals in Europe and the Middle East stem from “racist stereotyping” of Jews. Rather, they are directed, albeit misguidedly, at Jews as representatives of the State of Israel. Klug points out that Israeli leaders, inspired by the Zionist premise that all Jews are members of the Jewish people, have made every effort to portray Israel as an expression of Jews worldwide. So it should come as no surprise, the argument goes, that some in the Arab and Muslim communities who take offense at Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza would take Jews personally to task, even targeting them for violent retribution. Klug informs us that when anti-Jewish, anti-Israel attitudes are motivated by a predominantly anti-Western, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist political perspective—even invoking “general principles of justice and human rights”—such animus towards Israel and Jews does not reflect “anti-Semitic prejudice.”

There are several problems with this picture. First, there is a centuries-old legacy of anti-Semitism motivated not mainly by religious, ultra-nationalist or fascist prejudices and myths, but very largely by political, social and economic competition, by a lofty adherence to universalism and equal rights, to anti-clericalism and anti-capitalism, among some portions of the nineteenth and early twentieth-century left—an anti-Semitism of the left, “the socialism of fools.” This strain of modern anti-Semitism owes its provenance as much to some of the Enlightenment’s founders as it does to animosities unleashed by the emancipation of European Jewry, the integration of Jews into the economic and political life of the European states.

Second, racism is commonly defined as prejudice or wrongful discrimination against a racial or ethnic group, fed by false stereotypes; anti-Semitism as unwarranted “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group” (Merriam- Webster Dictionary). It follows that anti-Semitism is a form of racism towards Jews, whereby unwarranted hostility or wrongful discrimination, based on false, vilifying beliefs, is aimed at Jews as a group, or towards individual Jews as members of that group. That the primary source of these beliefs and practices lies in their adherents’ economic and political interests or cultures in no way vitiates their anti-Semitic character.

The reductio ad absurdum of Klug’s characterization of anti-Semitism becomes apparent in his idiosyncratic insistence that acts widely regarded as anti-Semitic hate crimes are not anti-Semitic simply because they are prompted in part by anger over Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. Klug maintains that “the evidence suggests that the perpetrators of the anti-Jewish attacks in France were animated by political outrage, not bigotry. According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry itself, most of the incidents were a protest against inequities in the occupied territories.” European Commission President Romano Prodi is only the latest of many EU leaders, including five European Interior Ministers, who have publicly affirmed that they view such acts as anti-Semitic. Klug seems to want to have his cake and eat it too. He admits that anti-Semitism “without a doubt … would not be spreading within Muslim communities in Europe were it not for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” but then denies that anti-Jewish attacks by Muslims in Europe are anti-Semitic.

If Klug is right, EU leaders are mistaken in outlawing politically motivated violent acts against innocent Jews and Muslims as instances of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim racism. They should presumably treat such acts as nothing more than breaches of the criminal laws of assault, battery, arson, which happen to be animated by political passions. Klug’s constricted view would instantly redefine as merely “reprehensible, but not anti-Semitic” the hatred many nineteenth-century Europeans harbored towards Jews on the basis of the generalization that Jews were rich bankers and exploitive money-lenders. This hatred inspired anti-Jewish pogroms, quotas and restrictions in employment and education, and political support for anti-Semitic political parties in various European states. Yet Klug’s linguistic legerdemain would define it away at the stroke of a pen. And wasn’t the stereotyping of Jews in Europe—which “exceeded the evidence,” but did not rise to an “a priori prejudice,” in Klug’s idiom—rooted in the actual prevalence of Jews in trade and finance, much as the faulty inference that all Jews are responsible for Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians is rooted in the fact that Israel defines itself as the Jewish state, and in the solidarity that most Diaspora Jews—even those who dissent from the policies of Ariel Sharon—feel towards that state and its people?

Klug tries to show that some element he identifies as essential to classical anti-Semitism (“a priori prejudice”) is missing from those species of anti-Zionism and anti-Israel invective that are held up by many Jews as paradigm cases of the new anti-Semitism. Yet this ignores the real question: whether the “new anti-Semitism” shares enough features with its classical progenitor to be characterized as “anti-Semitism.”

Klug’s willingness to sanction all forms of anti-Zionism and binational advocacy—to deny that any species of this rhetoric is inherently anti-Jewish racism—sweeps under the rug two overriding, and deeply troubling, facts. First, Arab and Palestinian anti-Zionist binationalists, and their fellow travelers on the Western left, often propose, with overweening optimism, a unitary “democratic” state as an alternative to a two-state formula. In this arrangement, Palestinians will inevitably form the majority and Israeli Jews at best a tolerated, subjugated minority, most likely recapitulating the tragic fates of multi-ethnic polities like Lebanon, Bosnia and Yugoslavia. Much binational advocacy, among Palestinians, Arabs and the Western left, is thus malign and coercive, a fig leaf for depriving Israeli Jews of their basic civil and human rights in a new Arab state. In this regard, it is anti-Jewish discrimination, satisfying standard definitions of anti-Semitism as a form of racism against Israeli Jews.

Second, in those cases where Western leftists advocate a vague, naïve anti-Zionist binationalism—where their intent is not to subordinate Israeli Jews in an Arab state but to express an idealistic commitment to egalitarianism and post-nationalism as a practical program for Jews and Palestinians here and now—the real-world effect of their beguiling fantasy is to lend aid and comfort to coercive binationalism. Their blandishments stoke the frenzy of resistance to genuine two-state peace efforts, accelerating the transformation of Israel into a pariah state, fueling the campaign to realize a malign binationalist nightmare. Such misbegotten noble intentions will help pave the road to perdition, bolstering the Israeli right, feeding Jewish fear and paranoia, and Arab chauvinist triumphalism. If successful, they will sweep Israelis and Palestinians down to the next rung of the raging Middle Eastern inferno, engulfing them in the great and intimate flames of civil war.

The writer, President of Chicago Peace Now, the Illinois-Indiana Chapter of Americans for Peace Now, is a political analyst on the Arab-Israel conflict.

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