‘Tribune’ on Jews, Israel, and “left” antisemitism

June 11, 2012 at 4:52 pm (anti-semitism, history, islamism, israel, labour party, Middle East, reblogged, socialism, stalinism, zionism)

Book review from Tribune:

Prophets against profits and rebels versus kings

Israel and the European Left: Between Solidarity and Delegitimization by Colin Shindler Continuum, £17.99

by David Harounoff
Monday, June 4th, 2012

Few issues have divided the European left as much as its attitude towards Zionism and the state of Israel. Professor Colin Shindler of the School of Oriental and African Studies has unravelled many of the complexities that beset that relationship. He believes that socialism, Marxism and social democracy have a magnetic attraction for Jews, perhaps because of a “desire to repair and perfect the world, in accordance with Judaic teachings and Jewish experience. A desire to imitate the prophets who rebelled rather than the kings who ruled.” Shindler contends that the left, as far back as the French Revolution, has preferred its Jews assimilated rather than separated by national self-definition. Clermont-Tonnerre in his celebrated Speech on Religious Minorities in 1789 held: “We must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation and accord everything to Jews as individuals”. Leninism adopted much the same position.

Stalin’s anti-Semitism and subversion of Marxist theory placed Jews and Zionism as not only ideological adversaries, but also a legitimate target for racial and national de-legitimisation. Shindler believes this hostility had a pernicious effect on mainstream left, as well as far-left, attitudes to Israel.

Stalin’s show trials in the 1930s emphasised the Jewish origin of many of the defendants; Nazi atrocities against the Jews were played down after the Nazi-Soviet pact in 1939; Soviet policy embraced Arab nationalism, recognising the pro-Nazi regime of Rashid Ali in Iraq, while maintaining that Jewish nationalism was a tool of British, and later United States, imperialism.

After the Second World War, Stalin was incensed that Jewish Red Army soldiers who had fought all the way to Hitler’s bunker now wanted to fight for Israel. They were vilified as “rootless cosmopolitans” and “proxies of US capitalism”. In 1949, he ordered the arrest and execution of Jewish writers and intellectuals including Solomon Lozovsky, a deputy foreign minister and colleague of Lenin. AJP Taylor wondered dryly whether Lenin really had an “infallible gift for choosing traitors and counter-revolutionaries”.

Soviet propaganda, right up until the Gorbachev era, denigrated Israel as an “apartheid” state in stark contrast to the democratic socialist stance in Western Europe. As early as 1922, following a visit to Palestine, Ramsay MacDonald described Zionism as the “inspiration of Jewish labour”. The Labour Party and Tribune were at the forefront of calls for unrestricted Jewish immigration to Palestine. Hugh Dalton told the party conference in 1944 that it would be “morally wrong and politically indefensible to impose obstacles for entry to Palestine. The Mufti and the mainstream Palestinian Arab leadership had actively been pro-German during the war”. Michael Foot and Richard Crossman condemned any attempt to limit migration as a “crime against humanity”, and Aneurin Bevan, who contrasted the “semi-Medieval institutions of the Arab nations with progressive, socialist Israel”, was the  staunchest of Zionist supporters.

Shindler contends that Labour support for Israel had much to do with Gamal Abdul Nasser in Egypt recruiting former SS and Gestapo officers to assist in his planned war of extermination against the Jews.

Arab opposition to Israel underwent a marked shift in tone in the 1980s. Greater emphasis was placed on Palestinian dispossession during the wars of 1949 and 1967, and the need for Palestinian self-determination. Calls for the eradication of Israel, although still prevalent in Arab media, now emanated mostly from more extreme sources in Iran and Pakistan. This change in strategy found a receptive audience among the European left. Israeli arguments that it was the Arab states which rejected the United States Palestine partition plan in 1947 and that more Jews were ethnically cleansed from Arab lands than vice versa fell on deaf ears. Shindler identifies far left hostility towards Israel as indistinguishable from racist acts committed by the far right. He cites the attempted bombing in 1969 of a Jewish cultural centre in Berlin commemorating Kristallnacht and the justification that “the Jews who were driven out by fascism have become fascists themselves”. The hijacking of an Air France jet to Idi Amin’s Uganda in 1976 saw German and Palestinian leftists separate Jews from non-Jewish passengers who were subsequently released. This exposed the falsity of the claim that the Palestinian struggle was not being directed at Jews per se.

Although he writes from a social democratic perspective, Shindler remains highly critical of mainstream leftist personalities and publications. An entire sub-chapter is devoted to Ken Livingstone’s history of gratuitous and boorish attacks on Jews generally and, specifically, those who identify with Israel. Likewise, he presents evidence that The Guardian appears incapable of reporting on Israel without appearing to be waging a jihad on the Israeli state.

Shindler’s message is that Zionism and Israel have been given a raw deal by sections of the left. There is a failure to appreciate that Arab and, in particular, Islamist animosity toward the Jews is as old and as uncompromising as antiquity itself. It will probably remain so, even if every restitution is delivered to every dispossessed Palestinian.

H-t: Dave K

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