Israel, Zionism and anti-Semitism

From the archive (legacy material)

Oren Medicks | Redress | 7 July 2002

“The anti-Semites will become our most loyal friends, the anti-Semite nations will become our allies.” (The Diary of Theodor Herzl)
As an Israeli peace activist, I believe that Israel’s future depends on our ability to promote a just and lasting peace with our neighbours, primarily with the Palestinian people. Given the huge inequality in all aspects of the balance of power between the Israeli and Palestinian societies, only effective external intervention can prevent Israel from continuing its oppressive policies towards the Palestinians. Although these are common ideas, the paralysing fear of being labelled an anti-Semite prevents many from acting effectively or even raising a voice.
This paper is an attempt to rebuff and unmask the cynical exploitation of anti-Semitism and European guilt as a political tool by Israel and Zionist leaders of the Jewish Diaspora.
As these lines are being written, some 100 emissaries from Israel are in France, trying to convince 30,000 French Jews to leave France and make aliyah (in Hebrew, to “ascend” or to immigrate to Israel). Their message is simple yet quite frightening: “Leave France now and come to your real homeland – Israel. France is no longer a safe place for Jews. Jews must remember…”
This message harmonizes very well with anti-Semitic venom: “Jews, leave our country and go to yours, Israel. After all, is this not why we helped you create it?”
This example shows in a nutshell how anti-Semitism may be the bitter enemy of the Jew and at the same time a powerful ally of the Zionist. This view may be confusing because many regard the terms “Zionist”, “Jewish” and even “Israeli” as almost synonymous. Actually, this confusion is not surprising, as Zionist leaders, the Israeli leadership and Jewish communities worldwide all take part in blurring the distinctions between these terms and they certainly have their own reasons for doing so.
The Zionist movement
The identification of the Zionist movement with the Jewish people gave this Jewish nationalist movement the legitimation it needed so badly in its early days. If it were not for the “Jewish” brand label, it is very doubtful that the world would have accepted a nationalistic ideology based on replacing the indigenous Palestinian population with newcomers from Europe.
Israel has made the greatest contribution to this confusion and possibly has the most to gain from it. Here are some of the ways in which Israel contributes to the ambiguity of identities:
The most obvious factor is the definition of Israel as a “Jewish democratic” state. Israel has not yet succeeded in resolving the inherent contradiction therein (Jewish state – belonging to the Jewish people, democratic state -belonging to all its citizens). One thing that many people do not know is that Israel recognizes a “Jewish” nationality, but not an Israeli one.
My ID card gives my nationality (as opposed to citizenship) as Jewish, not Israeli. The nationality of non-Jewish citizens of Israel is defined as Arab, Russian, Turkish and so on but, again, the Israeli nationality is not among them.
Many Israelis, Jews and Arabs, mostly belonging to the peace camp, have submitted several appeals demanding the state’s recognition of an Israeli nationality, but on 23 May 2004 the Israeli Supreme court once again ruled against them. Defining itself as a Jewish state gives Israel a pretext for discriminating against non-Jewish citizens. This discrimination is practised at most levels of daily life, as will be described later.
The ambiguity in identity does not stop at the legal level. The Israeli public and political discourse, especially on the right of the political spectrum, often blurs the distinction between Israeli and Jewish. Ordinary people and political leaders alike say “Jews can settle anywhere on this land”, or “The Arabs hate us just because we are Jews”, etc., etc.
By mixing these terms, Israel is actually saying that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a national/political one between Israelis and Palestinians, a conflict that can be resolved by political means, but an ethnic-religious conflict between Jews and Arabs/Muslims. As Haim Hanegbi, an Israeli journalist, said about this policy: “Wherever a Jew and an Arab stand, a border is stretched between them.” This, of course, is an extremely dangerous concept and should be opposed because it pushes us all towards a dreadful and senseless “clash of civilizations”.
The Jewish Diaspora
The contribution of the Jewish Diaspora to this amalgam is not cynical like the previous two, but tragic. The Jewish Diaspora was deeply traumatized by the Holocaust. One third of the Jewish people had perished along with their culture, traditions and even language. What had once been a strong religious and cultural opposition to Zionism turned into wholehearted support for it and it’s physical manifestation – the state of Israel.
In the Jewish collective mind and identity, the Israeli-Zionist “new Jew” – tall, strong and proud – fully replaced the weak, pale and wandering Jew who went to his fate without a struggle. Through Israel, Jews could regain their pride and confidence. With the power and protection of the mighty Israeli army, Jews will never again be at the mercy of a treacherous Europe. This identification, loyalty and even gratitude of the Jewish Diaspora towards Israel often leads to full and blind support of Israeli policies, regardless of their nature. This blurring of identities is the cornerstone of Israel’s strategy, which uses the anti-Semitic demon as a shield for its oppressive policies.
Just as pictures of exploding buses evoked sympathy for Israel and the suffering of its people, images of bulldozers uprooting thousands of olive trees and flattening hundreds of houses caused a surge of revulsion towards Israel throughout the world. The blurred and confusing identity of the Israeli, together with the heat of emotions, caused the rage and criticism to shoot off in all directions. Some of the resulting attacks were directed at Jewish communities, others at the Zionist ideology, but the majority of these attacks were aimed directly at Israel and its oppressive policies. This scattered attack was labelled by Israeli propagandists “The new “Anti-Semitism”.
Jewish Diaspora leaders responded to these attacks with the instinctive fear brought about by centuries of persecution. Rather than taking a close, honest and hard look at the events and their causes, they hit the “anti-Semitism” panic button without realizing that this new wave of anti-Semitism is clearly connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, therefore, the remedy should be looked for in the context of this conflict
Israel immediately understood the great potential of this “anti-Semite” shield and, rather than dealing with attacks on a political level, chose to hide behind its ambiguous Jewish identity and further inflame the Jewish panic about anti-Semitism.
Whether it is painting swastikas in a Jewish cemetery in Rome, criticizing the demolition of Palestinian homes, assaulting a rabbi in Paris or denouncing Israeli extra-judicial assassinations – all acts and declarations are shoved into one box labelled “anti-Semitism”.
The “munitions” for Israel’s war on “anti-Semitism can be found in an official booklet entitled Fighting anti-Semitism that was issued by the Israeli government recently. The text defines four characteristics of anti-Semitism:
1. Demonization of Israel and the Jewish people.
2. The use of religious hate themes against Israel.
3. International double standards.
4. Denial of Israel’s right to exist.
Before focusing on each argument and the counter-arguments, it is interesting to note how the text uses the terms “Jewish” and “Israeli” almost as synonyms.
“Demonization of Israel and the Jewish people”
Attacking Israel is altogether different from attacking the Jewish people. While Israel, like any other state, should be criticized for its wrongdoing, the Jewish people have no common policy and any attack on the Jewish people is, therefore, aimed at what they are and not at what they do.
Comparing Israel to the Nazi regime or Israeli soldiers to Nazis could be considered as the demonization of Israel only if the Nazis are considered to be demons. This is clearly an anti-Nazi accusation and not anti-Semitic.
These comparisons, politically foolish as they are, are a misguided accusation:
“You, who were once victims of the Nazi beast, are becoming like the beast.”
Jeshaya Leibowitz, a renowned religious Israeli thinker who coined the term “Judeo-Nazi”, and was very far from being an anti-Semite.
“The use of religious hate themes against Israel”
This argument was largely answered in the previous section. I would like to stress once again: a state cannot be based on an ethnic-religious ideology and complain about being attacked with religious hate themes.
Israel itself practices many forms of discrimination on an ethnic basis, both towards its own Palestinian citizens and especially towards the 3.5 million Palestinians who are under occupation and deprived of even the most basic civil rights. Here are some examples.
Owing to a long-established Israeli policy of land confiscation, Israeli Palestinians own only 3 per cent of the land, while constituting 20 per cent of the population.
The Arab education system, separate of course from that of the Jews, lacks thousands of classrooms.
Since the creation of Israel not one new Arab village has been built to cater for population growth, while hundreds of Kibbutzim, villages and towns have been built for Jews only. Actually seven shanty towns were built – to herd the nomad bedouins together and prevent them from living their traditional life.
“International double standards”
Of course there are International double standards where Israel is concerned! But the double standards are mostly in favour of Israel. If that were not the case, Israel would probably never have been created in the first place, and would certainly not enjoy such powerful US support. Ironically, a fair share of the double standards in favour of Israel is heavily contaminated with anti-Semitism, like the support of the US Protestant extreme right.
No other state could have gotten away with violations of over 180 UN resolutions, some of them binding Security Council resolutions. This was made possible by Israel acting not as any other state, but as the “Jewish State”, which enjoys great privileges based on either anti-Semitic fear of the wrath of “The elders of Zion”, the wish to gain their support or deep guilt towards the Jews.
Be that as it may, it is curious that Israel enjoys the advantages of all these double standards and condemns them at the same time.
“Denial of Israel’s right to exist”
This is the fourth attribute of an anti-Semitic expression according to the booklet issued by the Israeli government. In considering this, we must remember that in March 2001 the entire Arab world, – 22 states, including Iraq – offered Israel full peace and recognition in return for its withdrawal to the “Green Line” [pre-1967 war border] and the creation of a Palestinian state. Israel did not even bother to answer and devoted itself to supporting Bush’s war on Iraq.
So what does this argument really mean?
Well, very little, unless we add the words “as a Jewish State”. So why did the writers of the booklet omit these words? Probably because it is becoming increasingly difficult to defend the idea of a Jewish state, as it turned out to be. The wish to turn Israel into a multicultural, democratic, secular state is shared by many, including a fair number of Israelis. Many of us believe that Israel cannot forever maintain the contradictory identity of a “Jewish democratic state”; we also believe that the interdependent world of the future will not tolerate states based on ethnic superiority and ethnic or religious discrimination. The opponents of the state of Israel as a Jewish-Zionist state include several Jewish religious groups, such as Satmar and Neturei Karta, who cannot be accused of being anti-Semitic.
Furthermore, Jews of the Diaspora must ask themselves if they should support a political system they would never have accepted in their own country. How many Jews would accept a “Christian-democratic” state in which they would be discriminated against on account of being Jewish? How many Jews would accept a “democracy” in which Jews are not permitted to purchase state land?
If Israel is really concerned about anti-Semitism, this is what I would suggest it does:
1. Declare that anti-Semitism, together with all other forms of racism and discrimination, is a global disease and that Israel itself will stop immediately any practice of discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnic origin or gender.
2. Declare that the conflict in the Middle East is not a religious-ethnic conflict between Arabs/Muslims and Jews, but a political one which should be solved by negotiations based on international law, rather than on advantages of power.
3. Start an immediate process of true and deep reconciliation with the Palestinian people in a serious effort to reach a just and lasting peace between the two peoples.
4. Start building a new vision of bridges between neighbours rather than separation walls. Israel is in a unique and extraordinary position to change the course of events in the world, from the clash of civilizations it is currently promoting, to a new model of partnership and generosity. In this, the Jewish communities of the world, most of whom have enjoyed the privileges of living in prosperous democracies for many decades, can offer vital help. Actually, this is the best form of help the Jewish world can offer Israel and itself at the same time.