[Marxism] Filthy hasbara department
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Sun Oct 28 11:25:36 MDT 2012
NY Times October 27, 2012
The European Left and Its Trouble With Jews
By COLIN SHINDLER
LAST week, Twitter shut down a popular account for posting anti-Semitic
messages in France. This came soon after the firing of blanks at a
synagogue near Paris, the discovery of a network of radical Islamists
who had thrown a hand grenade into a kosher restaurant, and the killing
of a teacher and young pupils at a Jewish school in Strasbourg earlier
this year. The attacks were part of an escalating campaign of violence
against Jews in France.
Today, a sizable section of the European left has been reluctant to take
a clear stand when anti-Zionism spills over into anti-Semitism.
Beginning in the 1990s, many on the European left began to view the
growing Muslim minorities in their countries as a new proletariat and
the Palestinian cause as a recruiting mechanism. The issue of Palestine
was particularly seductive for the children of immigrants, marooned
Capitalism was depicted as undermining a perfect Islamic society while
cultural imperialism corrupted Islam. The tactic has a distinguished
revolutionary pedigree. Indeed, the cry, “Long live Soviet power, long
live the Shariah,” was heard in Central Asia during the 1920s after
Lenin tried to cultivate Muslim nationalists in the Soviet East once his
attempt to spread revolution to Europe had failed. But the question
remains: why do today’s European socialists identify with Islamists
whose worldview is light-years removed from their own?
In recent years, there has been an increased blurring of the distinction
between Jew, Zionist and Israeli. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the
militant group Hezbollah, famously commented: “If we searched the entire
world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche,
mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew.
Notice I do not say the Israeli.”
Whereas historically Islam has often been benevolent toward Jews,
compared to Christianity, many contemporary Islamists have evoked the
idea of “the eternal Jew.” For example, the Battle of Khaybar in 629,
fought by the Prophet Muhammad against the Jewish tribes, is recalled in
victory chants at Hezbollah rallies: “Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, the army
of Muhammad will return,” and the name Khaybar sometimes graces
Hezbollah rockets aimed at Israel.
Many contemporary Islamists see little difference between the Jewish
opponents of the prophet in seventh-century Arabia and Jews today.
Importing old symbols of European anti-Semitism — depictions of Jews as
enemies of God or proclamations of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy — has
helped cement such imagery. If there is a distinction between Islamic
anti-Judaism and modern anti-Semitism, it has been lost on French Islamists.
The fear of Jewish domination of the Middle East has become a repetitive
theme in the Islamist media — which has become more influential as
religious parties have gained ground in the wake of the Arab Spring.
This is a factor in the general refusal of the militant groups Hezbollah
and Hamas to publicly meet members of the Israeli peace camp — a far cry
from when Palestinian nationalists willingly negotiated with dovish
Israelis before the 1993 handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir
Arafat on the White House lawn.
The old left in Europe was forged in the struggle against local fascists
in the 1930s. Most of Europe experienced a brutal Nazi occupation and
bore witness to the atrocities of the Holocaust. The European left
strongly identified with Jewish suffering and therefore welcomed the
birth of the state of Israel in 1948. Some viewed the struggle for
Israel in the same light as the fight for freedom in the Spanish Civil War.
But the succeeding generation of the European left did not see things
this way. Its frame of reference was the anticolonial struggle — in
Vietnam, South Africa, Rhodesia and a host of other places. Its hallowed
icon was not the soldier of the International Brigades who fought
against Franco in Spain, but Che Guevara — whose image adorned countless
student bedrooms. Anticolonialism further influenced myriad causes, from
America’s Black Panthers in the 1960s to Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian
revolution in Venezuela today.
It began with Israel’s exclusion from the ranks of the nonaligned
nations more than 50 years ago, when Arab states refused to attend a
1955 nonaligned conference in Indonesia if an Israeli delegate was
present. The Jewish state was snubbed in favor of such feudal kingdoms
as Saudi Arabia, Libya and Yemen. And Israel’s collusion with imperial
powers like Britain and France during the Suez crisis the following year
cemented its ostracism.
Given the deep remorse for the misdeeds of colonialism, it was easier
for the New Left of the 1960s to identify with the emerging Palestinian
national movement than with the already established social democratic
Israel. This deepening hostility toward Israel was present in Europe
before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and before the rush to build
settlements on the West Bank.
AMID this rising hostility toward Israel, the French philosopher and
political activist Jean-Paul Sartre advocated a different way forward.
He was scarred by the memory of what had happened to France’s Jews
during World War II — the discrimination, betrayals, deportations and
exterminations. He understood the legitimacy of Israel’s war for
independence and later commented that the establishment of the state of
Israel was one of the few events “that allows us to preserve hope.” Yet
Sartre also strongly supported Algeria’s fight for independence from France.
This double legacy of supporting Israel and the Algerian struggle
symbolized the predicament of the entire postwar European left. Sartre
argued that the left shouldn’t choose between two moral causes and that
it was up to the Jews and the Arabs to resolve their conflict through
discussion and negotiation. Sartre tried to create a space for a
dialogue, lending his name and prestige to private and public meetings
between the two sides such as the Comité Israël-Palestine in the 1970s.
His approach reached its apogee with the many quiet meetings between
Israelis and Palestinians in Europe that eventually led to the Oslo
accords. But Sartre’s vision was stymied as Israeli settlements
proliferated after 1977, strengthening the left’s caricature of Israel
as an imperialist power and a settler-colonial enterprise. Some
prominent voices on the European left have mouthed time-honored
anti-Semitic tropes in their desire to appear supportive of the
Palestinian cause. Ken Livingstone, a former newspaper editor and mayor
of London, has a long history of insensitive remarks about Jews — from
publishing a cartoon in 1982 of Menachem Begin, then Israel’s prime
minister, in Gestapo uniform atop a pile of Palestinian skulls to
likening a known Jewish reporter to “a concentration camp guard” 20
years later. Today, he contributes to Press TV, the English-language
outlet for the Iranian government.
Sometimes the left distinguishes between vulnerable European Jews who
have been persecuted and latter-day “Prussians” in Israel. Yet it is
often forgotten that a majority of Israelis just happen to be Jews, who
fear therefore that what begins with the delegitimization of the state
will end with the delegitimization of the people.
Such Israelophobia, enunciated by sections of the European left,
dovetailed neatly with the rise of Islamism among Palestinians and
throughout the Arab world. The Islamist obfuscation of “the Jew”
mirrored the blindness of many a European Marxist. Despite the
well-intentioned efforts of many Jews and Muslims to put aside their
differing perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the
offensive imagery of “the Jew” has persisted in many immigrant
communities in Western Europe. Islamists were willing to share platforms
with socialists and atheists, but not with Zionists.
The New Left’s profound opposition to American power, and the
convergence of reactionary Islamists and unquestioning leftists was
reflected in the million-strong London protest against the invasion of
Iraq in 2003. It was organized by the Muslim Association of Britain, the
Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party and the Stalinist Communist Party of
Britain. When some Muslims voiced apprehension about participating in
the protest with non-Muslims, the M.A.B. leadership decreed that it was
religiously permissible if halal food was provided and men and women
were given separate areas. Such displays of “reactionary clericalism,”
as the early Bolsheviks would have called it, were happily glossed over.
Sartre understood that the conflict was not simply between Israelis and
Palestinians, but between those advocating peace on both sides and their
rejectionists. This conflict within the conflict is something that many
on Europe’s left, as they ally themselves with unsavory forces, still
fail to comprehend.
Instead, the swallowing up of both the Israeli and Palestinian peace
camps by political polarization has accelerated the closing of the
progressive mind. And static fatalism has allowed the assailant of
synagogue congregants and the killer of young children to fill the vacuum.
An emeritus professor at the University of London’s School of African
and Oriental Studies and the author of “Israel and the European Left:
Between Solidarity and Delegitimization.”
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