“Except for two periods when Palestine was its correct political title it has usually been called the Land of Israel, the Promised Land, the Holy Land. It was called Palestine from the second Jewish War with Rome to the conquest, when it formed the province of Palestina, and the second time during the British Mandate Arab for Palestine.” (Whose Land? A History of the Peoples of Palestine by James Parkes)
To the first generation of fair minded people who came after the Second World War the Shoah proved the wisdom, not just the need for a Jewish safe haven. It is therefore all the more ironic that it was the United Nations with its 1975 General Assembly Resolution equating Zionism with racism that signaled the first volley in a relentless assault on Jewish legitimacy (and a stepped return to organized anti-Semitic bigotry). Then, Jews and their Christian supporters may not have missed the message but by dropping their guard they certainly neglected the long-term threat which eased the infiltration of Islamists and their neo-McCarthyist collaborators on the political Left into every aspect of public life.
McCarthyism was anti-internationalist in tone which naturally led it into antisemitic territory by virtue of accusations often leveled at Jews for dual-loyalty and their ‘cosmopolitan outlook’. Soviet antisemitic vitriol usually came with a reference to cosmopolitanism, a meme everyone understood to be synonymous with Judaism. Again this is ironic, given communism’s claim to an egalitarian communalism and its international efforts for cross border legitimacy. Today, Islamic and neo-McCarthyist radicals use classic antisemitic tropes to silence any criticism of their own history and their contemporary use of past antisemitic tactics.
For example no-one questions from where Arab-Muslim and radical left-wing funds originate, particularly when they are used to assault ‘Zionists’ and Jews who may be suspected of having Zionist sympathies. But Rothschild conspiracies and the ‘undue influence’ of any Jewish donors are oft-repeated accusations leveled against the Jewish community here in the UK. The press will often publish articles that skirt and even cross the border between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, very rarely publishing a retraction when found to have erred. Debate around the influence of Islam and its obvious literary impact on antizionism as antisemitism is banished as Islamaphobic.
The extreme left’s antisemitism has been debated within the right-wing British press since Jeremy Corbyn notoriously became leader of the Labour opposition in the British parliament but even then that debate is very much circumscribed within parameters set by examining the Corbyn phenomena in British politics. Little, if any examination is provided to the Left’s antisemitic origins or its contemporary racist bedfellows.
If Zionism and Judaism are forces for good they must be able to explain themselves in a world that is simultaneously inundated with and at war with a world of competing ideas. Zionism, as a Universalist and utopian Jewish idea is attacked by Muslims for denying Arab Particularism and its conquest narrative yet another victory but also Zionism is attacked because the State represents living proof of Islam’s failure to dominate all geographical areas with its exclusive Universalism.
Persistent attacks by Muslim and fascist proponents of an end to the Jewish National Homeland have rendered the gains made by advocates of Jewish autonomy subject to doubt and questioning which is unprecedented with respect to any other community. Moreover, the negative reinforcement of anti-Zionist and antisemitic Western propaganda has assailed Jewish self-confidence as perhaps never before in history. As a way out, it has never been easier to cease to be Jewish.
Zionism has been a support for Jewish faith. It has also been a weapon that antisemites use to bludgeon the ignorant and to assault Jewish faith. The current crisis in Jewish identity has much to do with the bad press that Israel and the established Jewish communities failed to fight against with adequate vigor.
Identity, nationalism and religion are all weighty and conflicted subjects that so many of us do not want to discuss or even to define. And yet a state of all its citizens must retain characteristics that give it an identity which differentiates it from its neighbors; unless of course we are all to be subsumed by a singular, neutralized identity, devoid of personality and character. Ze’ev Maghen pointed out in an essay in “New Essays on Zionism (2006)” that “We all love preferentially.” Preferential love is equal to sociocultural diversity; universal love is the death of intimacy without which all the great questions are without relevance. An identity is crucial for self-expression; you cannot reach for the stars if you possess no passion for engagement. Our identity drives us to search for, to demand answers to the questions we have seen the urgency to ask.
Nora Sternfeld has written that Universalism is generally attributed to the majority society – both within its own paternalistic discourses and amongst a large proportion of its critics. She continues that it is possible to offer another perspective on this: the appropriation of a strategically universal perspective from the marginalized side, a perspective that steps out of the position of the victim and the object, and that takes pride in its capacity to act in solidarity with others.
However, choosing one minority position of oppression over another creates its own oppressive dialogue. Just because we view a minority as disadvantaged it does not have to follow that their cultural tradition is worth supporting. Not all cultural narratives are equal in validity.
There is a reason that the Muslim world has a history of despotism and malevolent dictatorship. To question is to engage with the divine. In the practice of a religion of submission one can only acquiesce. In the fourteen hundred years that is the lifespan of Islamic history there has only ever been exploitation by rulers who profited from those to whom submission as an article of faith meant unquestioning acceptance of a ruler’s fiat. But at least according to Islamic theology, it also follows that even the most impoverished Muslim is superior to the Christian, Jew, or ‘other’ in their midst. And that creates painfully dissonant questioning as to why the superior race is not in charge.
Therein is the origin of many conspiracy theories and hate filled diatribes against ‘a smart but perfidious enemy’ whether that enemy is Zionism, Capitalism, America, Israel, Western civilization, Crusader (Christianity) or Judaism!
If fear has meant that minorities failed to stand up to their persecutors, the last five years have signaled an end to any accommodation that non-Muslim minorities thought would keep their tormentors from oppressing them. Islamic State (or Daesh) has nothing to do with either an Israel-Palestine conflict or Zionism, unless we now explain away the Arab Spring as inspired, not by Arab despotism, but by the success of Jewish self-determination (as expressed in the political independence of the nation-state of Israel).
The Christian Middle East is in full flight. There are no safe-havens for any non-Muslim (non-Arab) minority, excepting in Israel. A Jewish state is of greater importance in the Middle and greater Near-Eastern region than at any time in history.
Democracy and human rights are not universally cherished. Israel’s status as the Jewish nation is continuously questioned by ‘liberal’ exponents of secular republicanism. They argue for separation of synagogue and state as a means of providing focus for a more inclusive (de-Judaised) national identity. But that is something they would never dream of demanding from any other religious faith.
If modern Israel arose out of the moral disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, the catalyst to its integration into global society was not the Shoah but what preceded it, at the end of the nineteenth century. Large scale Jewish immigration encouraged a similar wave of Arab immigration. Legitimacy for one means legitimacy for both. But this right is one the fascist left is unwilling to grant to Jews. If as Ruth Gavison claims, changing circumstances affected the balance of legitimacy in favor of Jewish self-determination, a history of Arab persecution of Jews and denial of Jewish rights in the land of Israel were and remains the principle impediment to the realization of universal autonomy.
I began this blog with a quote from James Parkes. A Jewish right to live in peace in the Land of Israel is what Ruth Gavison calls “an elemental point of religious belief”. She argues for a justification outside of religious belief in order to avoid “a pointless clash of dogmas that leaves no room for dialogue or compromise.” The most important of the universal values of any society is the right to live one’s life without fear. On this one factor in human existence everything else pivots. Israel stands in contradistinction to every Arab, to every Muslim state. This and this alone is the justified Zionist product that is Jewish secular nationhood. (New Essays on Zionism – 2006)