Wednesday, May 29, 2002
Paul Berman is one of the smartest, most liberal souls around - liberal in the best sense of the word. I have been stumping for him for quite a while on the strength of an essay he wrote for The New Republic about Joschka Fischer. Anyone who wants to understand Fischer and what has become of the handful of decent souls among Europe's radical left needs to read Berman's work.
Now, he has a new and important essay in the Forward (a publication I had largely abandoned) which I strongly encourage everyone to read. Berman has correctly identified a profound change that has gripped the world since the fall of the Barak government. We are seeing the rebirth of real anti-Semitism, of every variety: religious, racial, the whole gamut. People who consider themselves friends of Israel casually make assertions that undermine or deny the legitimacy of the Jewish State. People who have been leaders in interfaith dialogue casually adopt tropes and principles that deny the validity of Judaism or even assert the essential perfidity of the Jewish people. People who consider themselves merely critics of Israel actively work to abet and excuse murder and work for the destruction of the only state that represents the Jewish people, and avowed enemies of the Jewish state, who nonetheless purport to work from liberal or progressive premises, stand shoulder to shoulder with people who chant for the murder of Jews, who call the Jews the killers of God, who call Israel worse than Nazi Germany and who proclaim that Judaism is an evil religion. As Berman says, this is new. This was not happening two years ago.
Berman is at pains to argue that this phenomenon transcends left and right, but I can't help but notice that all his examples come from the left. The right has in fact been quite supportive of Israel and the Jews in their time of trial. Not universally of course; there are still David Dukes and Joerg Haiders out there. Moreover, some support has come from dubious premises. In some quarters, support for the Jews is really an expression of the new opinion on the right that Israelis are white people - they are in the club, and the Arabs are out. This is why, for example, Jesse Helms has been so supportive of Israel since the 1980s. In other quarters - Le Pen is an example, as is Pat Buchanan - saying nice things about Sharon is a way of rebutting legitimate accusations of anti-Semitism. A broader phenomenon is Christian Zionism, which is in part an expression of religious support for Jews as the bearers of a covenant with God - and, as such, unobjectionable - but which is also, in some cases, an expression of expectation of the imminent End of Days that none of us should encourage, and that is potentially quite dangerous, to Jews most of all. But by and large, the democratic right has been the strongest and most reliable source of support for Israel and the Jews, and the most vigilant about opposing anti-Semitism. And it is on the liberal, Socialist and radical left that there has been an explosion of anti-Semitism since the collapse of Oslo.
Why? Berman doesn't say. My own theory is as follows. Israel had become an embarrassment to a liberal mind because it is an unabashedly national state, and the liberal mind increasingly associates nationalism with evil, as against the combination of multiculturalism and transnational or nongovernmental institutions. Moreover, Israel got it coming and going, because it was a national state apparently founded on the principle of denying another nationalism, that of the Palestinian Arabs. In entering into Oslo, Israel embraced the left-liberal solution: accept that both sides are right, that the PLO is as legitimate as Israel, and compromise. The more "forward-thinking" on the left looked forward to the end to Israel as a Jewish state and the embrace of a "New Middle East" where borders would mean nothing and identities would be fluid. They saw Oslo, in other words, as the beginning of the non-violent dismantling of Israel and of Zionism - and, ultimately, the elimination of the Jews as a distinct people. This was not undertaken as a sinister project. These same people want their own cultures to wither away in favor of a multicultural salad of quaint customs and beliefs united under a bland and characterless but maternal state. In a way, these left-liberals were asserting the same thing that many of Israel's right-wing supporters assert: Jews are white people now. If, to some right-wingers, that means they deserve support, to the left that means they should properly disestablish themselves and usher in the glorious muticultural future.
But Oslo failed. It failed dramatically and obviously, as the Palestinian leader walked away from an unprecedented offer by the Israeli Prime Minister and after unprecedented attention by the American President, walked away without making a counter offer or even responding concretely to the Israeli offer, and walked away to pursue a war of terrorism and murder against all of Israeli society. Oslo failed because Yasser Arafat's PLO, like Hamas and Hizballah and the other Palestinian groups that actually possess power, do not want to coexist with Israel in a happy common market of states with fluid borders. They want to annihilate Israel, kill or expel its inhabitants, and build either an Islamic or a Palestinian national state (depending on whom you are talking to) on its ruins. This is obvious to any dispassionate observer of events since 1999; the only real room for disagreement is over what to do about it.
Now, you would think that this would cause the liberal left to turn against the terrorist groups that dominate Palestinian life and politics. Good liberals and progressives should stand against murderers and for the side that pursued peace and compromise, who embraced their vision of the future. There are indeed people on the left who have done exactly this. Benny Morris, the "post-Zionist" historian is one. Dennis Ross, Clinton's peace-processor, is another. But they are the exception, not the rule, because for most folks on the left accepting that Oslo failed requires rethinking everything. It would require them to accept that officially oppressed groups can also be evil. It would require them to accept that force is acceptable in self defense. It would require them to decide whether, in fact, Israel - or any Western society - has a right to exist, a right to defend itself. After all, their premise is that their own culture is evil and should vanish. They would prefer it to vanish peacefully, but if it is evil how can one defend it passionately, even against another evil? Far easier to take another step in the direction they were already going, and openly assert that it is wrong to kill terrorists who claim to represent an oppressed group, and that it is right for such terrorists to murder babies, old women, anyone in any numbers in order to destroy that which should never have been permitted to exist. And far easier, if the Jews refuse to surrender, to explain their stubborn determination to live, and live as Jews, as part of a unique Jewish perfidity rather than as a normal, healthy, moral response of a society under attack.
The global left is now an objectively anti-Semitic force. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the primary enemies of the anti-globalization "activists," the European Union bureaucrats, the United Nations, the Anglican church heirarchy, the major human rights groups, etc. are the Jewish state and the Jewish religion. These people may have Jewish friends and relations; some of them may be Jews themselves. They are as surely enemies of the Jewish people as, say, the Jewish-born members of Christian mobs in 4th century Alexandria who massacred professing Jews and burned their synagogues.
There are many Jews who, for both very good reasons and less good reasons, orient themselves on the left end of the spectrum. There is no reason why the current anti-Semitism of the left should change these convictions. They are not discredited by association. But this is a time for choosing, for separating from organizations and movements that have been fatally compromised by anti-Semitic elements and for expelling those elements from organizations and movements that have not yet been so compromised. In the charities, political organs and social groups that we are active in, we have to do with anti-Jewish elements what America's unions nobly did with Communist elements in the 1940s: throw them out or, if this cannot be done successfully, leave the organization and found a competitor.