There was a time when the Left could simultaneously support Israel and the fight for Algerian independence. Not any more. So what has changed?
Part of the answer lies in a rich and thoughtful New York Times article, “The European Left and its trouble with the Jews” by Colin Shindler, emeritus professor at the School for Asian and African Studies (SOAS) in London. Professor Shindler has made a specialism of studying the Left, and in particular, its attitude to Israel.
The article’s starting point is that Jews in France have recently been the targets of vicious and, in Toulouse, lethal anti-Jewish hatred. Shindler charges that the European Left has been reluctant to take a clear stand when the anti-Zionism of Islamist extremists spills over into anti-semitism. To cement the ‘red-green’ alliance on Israel, the Left has had to compromise its liberal principles on women, gays, minorities – a worldview light-years removed from their own.
The 1956 Suez adventure in collusion with Britain and France, and later, its dependency on the US, tarred Israel with the brush of imperialism. Since 1967, the conquest of the West Bank tarred Israel with the brush of colonialism, with the Arab side pointing out ad nauseam the injustice of building ‘Jewish settlements on Arab land’.
There is much worth reading in Shindler’s article, but some aspects I disagree with. Firstly, the point at which anti-Zionism spilled over into anti-semitism dates back, not to the rise of Hezbollah, but to the 1920s, when the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, instigated riots in Palestine. Secondly, Arab supporters of accommodation with Jewish self-determination were sidelined not 10, nor even 20 years ago, but in the first half of the 20th century. The real schism between Arab moderates and extremists took place as the Mufti consolidated his hold over his rivals in Palestine. Later, he was to exert influence on Arab leaders to the point when ridding Palestine of the Jews became a pan-Arab cause.
The Mufti ensured that Jew-hatred was not limited to Palestine: he incited anti-semitism in Iraq, culminating in the 1941 Farhud pogrom in which some 180 Jews were murdered. The Mufti kept in close touch with Hassan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, and whose supporters attacked Egyptian Jews and Copts from the 1930s. This fact alone should have woken the Left up to the reactionary nature of Nazi-inspired Islamism.
Nazi-style anti-Jewish hatred was imported from Europe to become the central plank of Muslim Brotherhood philosophy. Such anti-Jewish hatred never fell into disrepute, because, after World War ll, the Allies failed to discredit the Arab-Nazi alliance by trying the Mufti as a war criminal. Today, the hatred of Jews among Arabs is a hundred times worse.
With Islamist parties in the ascendant following the Arab Spring, their brand of anti-Jewish hatred, drawing also on Koranic sources of anti-semitism such as Mohammed’s defeat of the Jewish tribes at the battle of Khaybar, has once again turned the conflict with Israel into a religious war. In spite of a ‘rebranding’ of the Palestinian cause in the 1960s as a dispute over rival claims to the same land, the heart of the conflict has always been ideological – Arab and Muslim rejection and ostracism of the Jewish state – and not a struggle over acreage or settlements.
The second trope favoured by the Left – that Israel is a colonial-settler state – is one that even Jews don’t bother to refute. They should. Yes, Ashkenazi Jews came from Europe to settle in Israel, but the Jews, unique among ancient peoples, have through the centuries maintained their separate ethnic identity, religious, cultural and linguistic Middle Eastern roots, and links with their ancestral homeland.
And how do the fifty percent of Israel’s Jews – the Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews who were forced by Arab anti-semitism to relocate to Israel – fit into the colonial-settler paradigm?
They don’t. Indigenous Jews of the Middle East, whose presence pre-dated Islam by 1,000 years, can plausibly argue that it is they who were colonised by Muslim conquerors, exploited as vassal/chattels (dhimmis) with limited security and rights. Jews deserve national liberation from Arab/Muslim rule as much as Algeria deserved independence from French colonialism in 1962, and as much as other native peoples of the region – Kurds, Berbers, Maronites. The question of land ‘stolen’ from the Palestinians pales into insignificance compared to the mass dispossession of almost a million Jews in Arab lands.
It is a distortion eagerly espoused by the Left – and Colin Shindler, regrettably, believes it – that historic Islam has often been benevolent toward Jews compared to Christianity. According to the eminent historian Bernard Lewis, this was a 19th century myth spread by Jews themselves. “When it was good it was good. When it was bad it was awful”, is how Professor Paul Fenton describes the horrors and humiliations which could afflict the ‘dhimmi’ Jews under Muslim rule.
The Left has been hoodwinked. Time to take off the blindfold.