The sustained anti-Israel de-legitimization campaign is a corollary of the millenarian obsession with the Jews in the Christian and the Muslim worlds. Since Israel is the world's only Jewish state, and since Zionism is the Jewish people's national liberation movement, anti-Zionism-as opposed to criticism of specific Israeli policies or actions-means denial of the Jewish right to national self-determination. Such a discriminatory denial of this basic right to only one nation (and one of the few that can trace their corporate identity and territorial attachment to antiquity) while allowing it to all other groups and communities, however new and tenuous their claim to nationhood, is pure and unadulterated anti-Jewish racism, or anti-Semitism as it is commonly known.
By any conceivable standard, Israel has been an extraordinary success story: national rebirth in the ancestral homeland after millennia of exile and dispersion; resuscitation of a dormant biblical language; the creation of a modern, highly educated, technologically advanced, and culturally and economically thriving society, as well as a vibrant liberal democracy in one of the world's least
democratic areas. It is a world leader in agricultural, medical, military, and solar energy technologies, among others; a high-tech superpower attracting more venture capital investment per capita than the United States and Europe; home to one of the world's best health systems and philharmonic orchestras, as well as to ten Nobel Prize laureates. And so on and so forth.
Why then is Israel the only state in the world whose right to exist is constantly debated and challenged while far less successful countries, including numerous "failed states," are considered legitimate and incontestable members of the international community? The answer offered by this article is that this pervasive prejudice against Israel, the only Jewish state to exist since biblical times, is a corollary of the millenarian obsession with the Jews in the Christian and the Muslim worlds.
On occasion, notably among devout and/or born again Evangelical Christians, this obsession has manifested itself in admiration and support for the national Jewish resurrection in the Holy Land. In most instances, however, anti-Jewish prejudice and animosity, or anti-Semitism as it is commonly known, has served to exacerbate distrust and hatred of Israel. Indeed, the fact that the international coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the libels against Zionism and Israel, such as the despicable comparisons to Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, have invariably reflected a degree of intensity and emotional involvement well beyond the normal level to be expected of impartial observers would seem to suggest that, rather than being a response to concrete Israeli activities, it is a manifestation of long-standing prejudice that has been brought out into the open by the vicissitudes of the conflict.
Anti-Zionism or Anti-Semitism?Of course, it has long been a staple of Israel bashers to argue that they have never had anything against Judaism or Jews but only against Zionism and Zionists, and that their criticisms are to be understood as an expression of frustration with Zionism, not with Jews or Judaism. Yet, for all their protestations to the contrary, opponents of Zionism and Israel have never really distinguished among Zionists, Israelis, and Jews, and often use these terms interchangeably.
"I really can't see that there is any kind of way of dealing with the Zionist question except by a massacre now and then," wrote the Freya Stark, the noted British Arabist and anti-Zionist during a 1943 mission to the United States to promote Britain's Palestine policy. "What can we do? It is the ruthless last penny that they squeeze out of you that does it... the world has chosen to massacre them at intervals, and whose fault is it?"
When in June 1967 the Israeli government ignored a French warning against preempting the imminent pan-Arab attack, President Charles de Gaulle lambasted the Jews-not the Israelis-as "an elite people, self-assured and domineering." Seven years later, the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. George S. Brown, vented his ire at Israel's supposed stranglehold of US foreign policy in no less indiscriminate terms. Making no distinction between Israelis and American Jews, he bluntly claimed that "they own, you know, the banks in this country, the newspapers, you just look at where the Jewish money is in this country." And Anis Mansur, one of Egypt's foremost journalists and a one-time confidant of President Anwar Sadat, put the same idea in even blunter terms: "There is no such thing in the world as Jew and Israeli. Every Jew is an Israeli. No doubt about that."
The truth of the matter is that since Israel is the world's only Jewish state and since Zionism is the Jewish people's national liberation movement, anti-Zionism - as opposed to criticism of specific Israeli policies or actions - means denial of the Jewish right to national self-determination. Needless to say, such a discriminatory denial of this basic right to only one nation (and one of the few that can trace their corporate identity and territorial attachment to antiquity) while allowing it to all other groups and communities, however new and tenuous their claim to nationhood, is pure and unadulterated racism. Yet it is precisely because it has been tacitly construed as epitomizing the worst characteristics traditionally associated with Jews that Israel could be portrayed in so lurid a light, and its destruction-as a redress of a historical anomaly rather than the genocidal act it actually is.
Take the repeated calls by Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Israel to be "wiped off the map." On one level, it is refreshing to see a politician who, unlike many of his Western counterparts, does not consider high political office and plain speaking as mutually exclusive. On the other, the sight of a head of state openly advocating the extermination of an existing state, which has done his country, from which it is separated by nearly a thousand miles, no wrong whatsoever, cannot but be absolutely terrifying.
Or can it? No sooner had the Nazi extermination of European Jewry become public knowledge than the nascent Arab League proclaimed (on December 2, 1945) an official boycott of "Jewish products and manufactured goods." Two years later, on October 11, 1947, as the UN General Assembly deliberated the creation of a Jewish state in part of Mandatory Palestine, the league's secretary-general Abdel Rahman Azzam threatened that such a move would unleash "a war of extermination and momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Tartar massacre or the Crusader wars."
Such rhetoric has been used by a long line of Arab and Muslim leaders. During the 1950s and 1960s, it was Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser who led the call for Israel's destruction. After this goal was frustrated by the Jewish state's astounding victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, the baton passed to a new generation of aspiring pan-Arab champions, notably Syrian president Hafez Assad, Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein, and Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. For his part, Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, Ahmadinejad's revered spiritual mentor, had emphasized the need to obliterate the Jewish state well before coming to power in 1979; and during his reign, the destruction of Israel evolved into a foremost tenet of the Islamic Republic and has long outlived his death in June 1989.
And let us not forget the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), whose publicly stated goal since its creation in 1964 has been the destruction of the state of Israel. In June 1974, it introduced a new phased strategy enabling it to use whatever land Israel surrendered as a springboard for further territorial gains until the "complete liberation of Palestine"-that is, Israel's destruction-"could be achieved." Yet in November 1974, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat became the first non-head-of-state to address the UN General Assembly; and in 1975, the year Israel suffered the ultimate indignity of the Zionism-is-racism resolution, the PLO established another precedent when it was invited to sessions of the UN Security Council on the same basis as member states. In 1980, just weeks after Fatah, the PLO's dominant constituent group, had reiterated its objective of liquidating Israel, the European Community issued the Venice Declaration that called for the PLO's "association" with the political process.
Small wonder, therefore, that despite their official commitment to peace with Israel within the framework of the Oslo process, Arafat and his PLO successors have never abandoned their commitment to Israel's destruction. Instead they have embarked on an intricate game of Jekyll-and-Hyde politics, constantly reassuring Israeli and Western audiences of their peaceful intentions while at the same time denigrating the peace accords to their Palestinian constituents as a temporary measure to be abandoned at the first available opportunity. Neither this duplicity nor the war of terror launched by Arafat in September 2000 seems to have discredited the PLO as a peace partner in the eyes of the international community.
Against this backdrop of six decades of international acquiescence in constant calls for Israel's destruction, Ahmadinejad must have felt that he had been singled out a bit unfairly when his genocidal incitement was roundly condemned by world leaders and organizations. Yet while this uncharacteristically harsh response is certainly welcome, one wonders whether it was motivated by real concern for Israel's safety or by the West's growing frustration with Iran's dogged drive toward nuclear weapons.
That this may well be the case is evidenced by the continued tolerance of more subtle forms of malignant incitement such as the Palestinian insistence on the "right of return"-the standard Arab euphemism for Israel's destruction through demographic subversion. Worse, during the past decade or so, the actual elimination of the Jewish state has become a cause célèbre among many educated Westerners. The "one-state solution" (or a "bi-national state") as it is called is a euphemistic formula proposing the replacement of Israel by a state, theoretically comprising the whole of historic Palestine, in which Jews will be reduced to the status of a permanent minority at the sufferance of the Arab-Muslim majority. Only this, it is said, can expiate the "original sin" of Israel's founding, an act built (in the words of one critic) "on the ruins of Arab Palestine" and achieved through the deliberate and aggressive dispossession of its native population.
"I don't find the idea of a Jewish state terribly interesting," American Arab academic Edward Said told the Israeli daily Haaretz in August 2000. "I wouldn't want it for myself. Even if I were a Jew, I'd fight against it. And it won't last.... Take my word for it.... It won't even be remembered." Making his own vision of the future explicit, he added: "[T]he Jews are a minority everywhere. A Jewish minority can survive [in Arab Palestine] the way other minorities in the Arab world survived."
"Knowing the region and given the history of the conflict, do you think such a Jewish minority would be treated fairly?"
"I worry about that. The history of minorities in the Middle East has not been as bad as in Europe, but I wonder what would happen. It worries me a great deal. The question of what is going to be the fate of the Jews is very difficult for me. I really don't know. It worries me."
Said at least took the trouble to feign concern for the fate of yet another six million Jews who were to be ethnically cleansed and their thriving state destroyed to make room for his envisaged "bi-national state"-though this did not lead him to reconsider this genocidal idea. New York University professor Tony Judt (himself a Jew) made no such effort. As far as he was concerned, there was "no place in the world today for a 'Jewish state,'" and the idea of Jewish statehood was "not just an anachronism but a dysfunctional one." "Today, non-Israeli Jews feel themselves once again exposed to criticism and vulnerable to attack for things they didn't do," he wrote in 2003. "The increased incidence of attacks on Jews in Europe and elsewhere is primarily attributable to misdirected efforts, often by young Muslims, to get back at Israel."
Anti-Semites, of course, have never been short of excuses for assaulting and killing Jews, and infinitely larger numbers of Jews were exterminated shortly before the founding of the state of Israel than in the sixty-four years of its existence, not to mention the millions massacred in Europe and the Middle East since antiquity. Neither did European Jew haters await Israel's establishment to unleash on the remnants of the Holocaust. Anti-Semitic sentiments remained as pronounced as ever, especially in Eastern Europe, which witnessed a few vicious pogroms shortly after the end of World War II. Even in Germany, Jews found themselves attacked and abused in public with sixty percent of Germans condoning overt acts of violence against Jews. Yet this bleak record did not prevent Judt, a student of European history, from falling for the canard that Israeli actions are the cause, rather than the pretext, for the worst wave of attacks on Jews and Jewish targets in Europe since the 1930s.
If it were not so appalling, one could even marvel in the irony that seventy years after being forced to wear yellow stars so they could be targeted for persecution, German Jews are being instructed to hide any signs of their Jewish identity for their protection!
Palestine Is Not the ProblemBut let us assume for the sake of argument that Israel and the PLO-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) were to sign a formal peace treaty. Would this stop the effort to delegitimize the Jewish state campaign or eliminate anti-Semitism from the European scene? Hardly-for the simple reason that the Palestinian question has next to nothing to do with either of these. Though anti-Zionism has been the core principle of pan-Arab solidarity since the 1930s-it is easier, after all, to unite people through a common hatred than through a shared loyalty-the Arab states (and the Palestinians' international champions) have shown far less concern for the well-being of the Palestinians than for their own interests.
For example, it was common knowledge that the May 1948 pan-Arab invasion of the nascent state of Israel was more a scramble for Palestinian territory than a fight for Palestinian national rights. As the Arab league's secretary-general Azzam once admitted to a British reporter, the goal of King Abdullah of Transjordan "was to swallow up the central hill regions of Palestine, with access to the Mediterranean at Gaza. The Egyptians would get the Negev. Galilee would go to Syria, except that the coastal part as far as Acre would be added to Lebanon."
From 1948 to 1967, when Egypt and Jordan ruled the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the Arab states failed to put these populations on the road to statehood. They also showed little interest in protecting their human rights or even in improving their quality of life-which is part of the reason why 120,000 West Bank Palestinians moved to the East Bank of the Jordan River and about 300,000 others emigrated abroad. "We couldn't care less if all of the refugees die," an Egyptian diplomat once remarked. "There are enough Arabs around."
Not surprisingly, the Arab states have never hesitated to sacrifice Palestinians on a grand scale whenever it suited their needs. In 1970, when his throne came under threat from the PLO, the affable and thoroughly Westernized King Hussein of Jordan had no qualms about slaughtering thousands of Palestinians, an event known as "Black September." Six years later, Lebanese Christian militias, backed by the Syrian army, massacred some 3,500 Palestinians, mostly civilians, in the Beirut refugee camp of Tel Zaatar. These militias again slaughtered hundreds of Palestinians in 1982 in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, this time under Israel's watchful eye. In the summer of 2007, the Lebanese army killed hundreds of Palestinians, including many civilians, in the northern refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared. None of the Arab states came to the Palestinians' rescue. Worse, in the mid-1980s, when the PLO-officially designated by the Arab League as the "sole representative of the Palestinian people"-tried to reestablish its military presence in Lebanon, it was unceremoniously expelled by President Assad of Syria.
This history of Arab leaders manipulating the Palestinian cause for their own ends while ignoring the fate of the Palestinians goes on and on. Saddam Hussein, in an effort to ennoble his predatory designs, claimed that he would not consider ending his August 1990 invasion of Kuwait without "the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Israel from the occupied Arab territories in Palestine." Shortly after the 1991 Persian Gulf war, Kuwaitis set about punishing the PLO for its support of Hussein-cutting off financial sponsorship, expelling some 440,000 Palestinian workers, and slaughtering thousands. Their retribution was so severe that Arafat was forced to acknowledge that "what Kuwait did to the Palestinian people is worse than what has been done by Israel to Palestinians in the occupied territories."
If the Arab states have shown little empathy for the plight of ordinary Palestinians, the Islamic connection to the Palestinian problem is even more tenuous. It is not out of concern for a Palestinian right to national self-determination but as part of a holy war to prevent the loss of a part of the "House of Islam" that Islamists inveigh against the Jewish state of Israel. In the words of Hamas's covenant: "The land of Palestine has been an Islamic trust (waqf ) throughout the generations and until the day of resurrection.... When our enemies usurp some Islamic lands, jihad becomes a duty binding on all Muslims."
In this respect, there is no difference between Palestine and other parts of the world conquered by the forces of Islam throughout history. To this very day, for example, Arabs and many Muslims unabashedly pine for the restoration of Spain and look upon their expulsion from that country in 1492 as a grave historical injustice. Indeed, even countries that have never been under Islamic imperial rule have become legitimate targets of radical Islamic fervor. This goal need not necessarily be pursued by the sword; it can be achieved through demographic growth and steady conversion to Islam. But should peaceful means prove insufficient, physical force can readily be brought to bear. As illustrated by the overwhelming support for the 9/11 attacks throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds, this vision is by no means confined to a disillusioned and obscurantist fringe of Islam; and within this grand scheme, the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians is but a single element and one whose supposed centrality looms far greater in Western than in Islamic eyes.
The Public War against the JewsIf there is so little genuine concern for Palestinian wellbeing, why have they been universally cast in the role of the ultimate victim to the total neglect of far worse human tragedies and atrocities? Because they have served as the latest lightning rod against the Jews, their supposed victimization reaffirming the latter's millenarian demonization. Had the Palestinians' dispute been with an Arab, Muslim, or any other adversary, it would have attracted a fraction of the interest that it presently does.
Few if any in the international community pay any attention to the ongoing abuse of Palestinians across the Arab world from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon, which deprives its 400,000-strong Palestinian population of the most basic human rights from property ownership, to employment in numerous professions, to free movement. Nor has there been any international outcry when Arab countries have killed Palestinians on a grand scale. The fact that King Hussein of Jordan killed more Palestinians in the course of a single month than Israel managed to do in decades was never held against him or dented the widely-held perception of him as a man of peace. As the supposedly pro-Palestinian journalist Robert Fisk put it in his memoirs, King Hussein was "often difficult to fault." Kuwait's 1991 slaughter of thousands of innocent Palestinian workers passed virtually unnoticed by the international media. By contrast, any Palestinian or Arab casualty inflicted by Israel comes under immediate international criticism.
Take the blanket media coverage of Israel's military response in Lebanon (2006) and Gaza (2008-09), but not of the original Hezbollah and Hamas attacks triggering it, in stark contrast to the utter indifference to bloodier conflicts going on around the world at the same time. On July 19, 2006, for example, 5,000 Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia in what Addis Ababa claimed was an action to "crush" an Islamist threat to its neighbor's government. A month later, Sri Lankan artillery pounded territory held by the rebel Tamil Tigers resulting in mass displacement and over 500 deaths, including an estimated fifty dead children following the Sri Lankan air force's bombing of an orphanage. But neither of these events gained any media coverage, let alone emergency sessions of the UN Security Council, just as the ongoing bloodbath in Iraq at the time, with its estimated 3,000 deaths a month by Hezbollah-like militants, sank into oblivion while the world focused on Lebanon.
And what about the-then long-running genocide in Darfur, with its estimated 300,000 dead and at least 2.5 million refugees? Or the war in the Congo, with over 4 million dead or driven from their homes, or in Chechnya where an estimated 150,000-160,000 have died and up to a third of the population has been displaced at the hands of the Russian military? None of these tragedies saw protesters flock onto the streets of Moscow, Montreal, Sydney, London, Dublin, Copenhagen, Berlin, Bern, Paris, Stockholm, and the US cities of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston (to give a brief list) as was the case during the Lebanon and Gaza crises.
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