[Marxism] Filthy hasbara department

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Oct 28 11:25:36 MDT 2012

NY Times October 27, 2012
The European Left and Its Trouble With Jews


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 
between identities.

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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