The months since 7 October have seen a shift in my reading habits from novels to non-fiction, particularly relating to antisemitism and Israel, as well as the ideology of the radical left. I’m currently reading Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder. Snyder writes about the Anschluss, the German unification with Austria (really an invasion). In the run-up to the invasion, Hitler pressured the Austrian Chancellor, Schuschnigg, to unite the countries. Schuschnigg tried to outwit Hitler by proposing a referendum, which he thought he could win (legally or otherwise) for Austrian independence. As part of his propaganda effort, the word “Austria” was painted on pavements in Vienna.
The referendum never took place, as Germany invaded. The next morning, Jews were rounded up and forced to scrub the word “Austria” off the pavements while non-Jews looked on and jeered. These non-Jews were not just Nazis and far-right types. Moderates, former Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, put on Nazi pins and watched to try to deflect attention from themselves.
This is what Snyder writes:
Standing by during the “scrubbing parties” was thus by no means a neutral position or a simple act of observation. The very act of spectating communicated the new group boundaries and assigned blame for the past. We watch, they perform. The Jews were responsible for Austria, for that old order, not us. Their punishment now is proof of their complicity then. Our separation is proof of our innocence.
Something similar seems to be happening with current anti-Israel protests. The terms thrown at Israel (Jews) are so inappropriate to the situation in Israel, but redolent of the dark past of Western culture. Israelis are called “colonists,” even though Jews are indigenous to Israel and have no homeland or “metropole” to which they export raw materials and from which they import finished goods as per European colonialism. It is accused of “imperialism” even though the territory it rules is smaller than Wales and it has surrendered far larger and more valuable land (the Sinai Peninsula) for peace. Israel is accused of “white supremacy” and “apartheid” even though most Israeli Jews are not white and non-Jews in Israel, including Arab Israelis, have full civil rights and can, and do, attain high levels of success in all walks of life. Israel is accused of “genocide” even though it takes great care to avoid civilian casualties, as many impartial observers with military experience (not ignorant journalists with an axe to grind) have attested.
Yet colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy, apartheid and genocide are things that have come to the forefront of the Western consciousness in the last ten years as the legacy of Western colonialism and imperialism as well as American slavery has been rediscovered and weaponized by the radical left.
The protestors seem to attack Israel as a way of cleansing their own middle class white guilt. They create an effigy of “Israel” out of their imagination, based on all the worst aspects of European and American history, often making overt comparisons with the ethnic cleansing of the Native Americans, black segregation in the American South and European colonialism in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Then, by “burning” their effigy of Israel, they “prove” to themselves that they would not have collaborated with the sins of their forefathers, cleansing their guilt over the privileged lifestyles that they live compared with both non-Western societies today and societies in earlier eras of history, while handily not having to actually sacrifice anything tangible in the present.
Meanwhile, the Jewish state performs the same function the Jews have served in Western thought for 2,000 years: the symbol of absolute evil, the destruction of which brings the promise of salvation for the rest of mankind.