Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sheridan in Love 4

"Second only to the US, Israel is the most acute object of the hostility to the West that flourishes in Western intellectual life... [because] it is capitalist, Western, an ally of the US and uses military force when necessary to maintain its security. It rules, if temporarily*, over an occupied Arab population and despite its own racial diversity is a mostly non-Arab population in a predominantly Arab region... But there is another factor... and this is Israel's role as the homeland of the Jewish people... but which also gave full political, civic and human rights to all its citizens regardless of their religion or racial background... Israel's role as the Jewish homeland, when Jewish civilization was nearly wiped out by the Holocaust, gives it a special place in the estimation of those who love and admire Jewish culture... But it is the central reality for those motivated by anti-Semitism... Israel is called an apartheid state... Increasingly, anti-Israel demonstrations in the West include direct references to Jews as well as to the state of Israel... Every American Jew who supported the US intervention in Iraq was suspected without evidence, of doing so because of considerations for Israel, thus reviving the old canard that Jews cannot be loyal citizens of the state they live in because of their over-arching loyalty to Israel. Even when hostility is directed specifically at Israel rather than at Jews, when this hostility is extreme and beyond reason, it affects the social atmosphere for Jews." (Israel still looks good, warts & all, Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan, The Australian Literary Review, 6/5/09) [*42 years of occupation notwithstanding]

Sheridan here airbrushes Israel, the Jewish state which discriminates in law against its non-Jewish citizens, misrepresenting it as a warm and fuzzy "Jewish homeland," a mere repository of Jewish "civilization" and refuge in troubled times. Notably absent is any reference to what Israel actually is or does. He then goes on (after a long discussion of classical anti-Semitism, which I've omitted) to claim in effect that virtually ALL criticism of this "Jewish homeland" is either anti-Semitic in motivation or encourages and promotes anti-Semitism.

Mike Marqusee's recent (2008) memoir If I Am Not for Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew is only one of many critiques of the Zionist project which refute this canard. Given the comprehensive nature of his refutation, however, he's worth quoting at some length: "The European Union Monitoring Committee on Racism and Xenophobia has published a 'working definition' of anti-semitism which declares that 'anti-semitism manifests itself' in 'drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis' as well as 'denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour'. Former Israeli minister Natan Sharansky defined 'the new anti-semitism' by applying what he calls the '3D test': 'demonization' (comparing Israelis to Nazis), 'double standards' (measuring Israel by different yardsticks than are applied to other countries), and 'delegitimization' (denying the Jewish right to a state)... Irwin Cotler, the Canadian Justice Minister, claimed that acceptable criticism of Israel ends and anti-semitism begins when critics deny the Jewish people's right to self-determination, when they 'Nazify' Israel, or when they 'single out Israel for discriminatory treatment in the international arena'." (pp 24-25)

Regarding the issue of double standards and singling out, Marqusee points out that in determining a "single standard of human justice, it is necessary to engage in the process of analogy. And on this the Zionists place a priori restrictions. Israel demands exemptions: on refugees' right to return or compensation, on seizure and settlement of land acquired by military conquest, on torture and assassinations, on the indiscriminate use of violence in densely populated areas, on nuclear proliferation. These exemptions are embodied in hundreds of US vetoes on Israel's behalf at the Security Council. So who is really doing the 'singling out'?" (p 25)

"Of course," he continues, "Israel is not the only offender in today's world... But if no protest against a particular crime is to be admitted unless all crimes are equally and presumably simultaneously protested against, then there will be no protest at all, against any crimes. This is an acute form of moral relativism masquerading as its opposite. The upshot is to minimize or relativize Israel's crimes and to attempt to delegitimize those who would judge Israel by universal standards of human decency." ( pp 25-26)

On the issue of Jewish self-determination, Marqusee points out that "anti-Zionists, of course, do reject the idea that there should be a Jewish state in Palestine. In so doing it's said we are 'singling out' Jews by denying their rights to the statehood that others enjoy. Here the Zionists move from objecting to inappropriate analogies to insisting on analogous status with other national groups. A rejection of that particular analogy, and the preference for other analogies - other readings of history - is ruled anti-semitic, either in motive or effect." He asks, "Were those who opposed national self-determination for Afrikaaners... in post-apartheid South Africa 'singling out' [this] ethnic group by denying [it] this universal right?... Their claims were universally rejected by liberal and left opinion. [It was] recognized as [an] undemocratic, exclusivist nationalism... seeking to establish ethnic privileges. In the end, the bulk of the South African population decided that only majority rule across the country, not separatism, could guarantee minority rights. World public opinion was in complete accord, yet to advocate that self-same solution for Palestine is deemed - officially - anti-semitic." ( p 26)

He deftly underlines the uniqueness of Israel's position as a self-styled Jewish state, a real self-singling out if ever there was one: "There are currently no Protestant or Catholic or Hindu or even Muslim states that legally privilege members of those religions in the way that the state of Israel privileges Jews. There are Muslim states that give privileges to Islam and to Muslim citizens, but there is no Muslim state that offers all Muslims worldwide a homeland, or that endows foreigners with full (indeed privileged) citizenship, simply because they are Muslims. While religion may affect citizenship rights, it is not the determinant - which is birth or long residence within the borders of the state. Paradoxically, although the Jewish state is said to belong to Jews everywhere, it does not define Jewishness by religious observance. It claims to be a secular state, unlike those Muslim states that require public observance of specific forms of Islam." (p 28)

When it comes to adjudicating the world's many nationalisms, Marqusee insists on the application of the principle of "the democratic content of the national demand... In many situations it is unclear where the balance lies. But in the case of Zionism the verdict is dramatically stark: Zionism involves, unavoidably, a denial to others of democratic and equal rights. It is an obscurantist claim dressed in the garb of secular modernity, underpinned from the beginning by naked power... Critically, even in the most clear-cut claims for national self-determination, there is no right to build a state on land already inhabited by others, or to sustain an ethnic majority in a state through the dispossession of others. It is here the Zionists make for Israel an exceptional claim among the nations. Their case cannot be sustained by analogy, so they deligitimize the process of analogy. However, there is, even here, one analogy they do claim: that between Americanism and Zionism. Like Palestine, North America was a land without people for a people without land. Both Americanism and Zionism are settler-colonial ideologies infused with utopianism - and racism. Both the Israeli and the US state are presented as embodying extra-territorial ideas. The 'city on the hill' is an outpost, and in latter days an embodiment, of white European civilization. American exceptionalism and Israeli exceptionalism are mirrors and partners. Like the Zionists who founded Israel, the Protestant settlers who founded the USA were fleeing from and supported by an empire. They dispossessed the indigenous people while declaring them the beneficiaries of their good intentions. Among the charges the declaration of Independence makes against King George III is that he has blocked 'new appropriation of lands', failed to encourage migration from Europe, and sided with the 'merciless Indian savages' against the 'inhabitants of our frontiers', namely, the white settlers seeking to expand the colonial domain. The American Revolution, like the Zionist struggle against the British mandate in 1945-47, was partly a response by settler-colonialists to imperial restrictions on their right to dispossess natives. I've heard this analogy used to justify the Nakba, the Palestinian 'catastrophe' of 1948: terrible things happened to the Native Americans but these are the casualties of progress, and cannot be undone. Every people acquires its land, at one point or another, by conquest, so why should the Jews be any different? But that raises the less comfortable case of another settler-colonialism, white South Africa. When it comes to the apartheid analogy, what's decisive is not Carter's legitimizing of it but the fact that it arises, spontaneously and irresistably, to the lips of black South Africans visiting the Occupied Territories. What they see there - the Jews-only roads, the confinement of Palestinians in camps and villages, the checkpoints, the harassment, the second-class citizenship based on ethnicity - reminds them graphically of the system they suffered under and struggled against. The Afrikaaners were immigrants from Europe with a religious-nationalist consciousness whose racist assumptions about their right to the land were underpinned by superior European technology and weaponry. White settlers acquired control of the state thanks ultimately to British imperial power, with which, like the Zionists, they were often nonetheless in conflict. There is at least one major difference between Israel and South Africa, though it's not one that favors the former. Under apartheid, the dominant whites used the black population as a source of cheap labor. In contrast, Zionism has aimed to remove the Palestinian population, to replace Palestinians with Jews. And this has been evident from what Zionists called 'the conquest of labor' in the 1920s (when Jewish settlers campaigned for the non-employment of Palestinians), to the Nakba of 1948 and its aftermath, to the current calls within Israel for 'transfer', the final expulsion of the bulk of the Palestinian population." (pp 29-31)

Finally, Marqusee tackles the Nazi/fascist analogy, and makes the telling point that "the prime culprit here... is not the left. In my lifetime, every US military action, from Vietnam to Iraq (and now the threat against Iran), has been justified with analogies drawn from World War II. Every enemy is a new Hitler (Qadaffi, Noriega, Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Mugabe, Ahmadinejad), every call for peace is Munich-style appeasement, and every challenge to Israel is an existential threat akin to that posed by the Nazis - from the days of Nasser down to Hamas and Hezbollah. Of course, the Nazis and the holocaust represent an acme of inhumanity, an evil so enormous that any comparison seems dubious. Yet if we remove them from history and treat them as sui generis, we debar ourselves from learning and applying the broader lessons. When the world discovered the extent of Nazi barbarism in the wake of World War II, the cry was 'Never again!' We cannot turn that cry into a reality, we cannot ensure that nothing even remotely like this happens again, unless we are permitted to draw appropriate analogies from the experience. Where there is Nazi-like behavior, a Nazi-like idea or a Nazi-like threat, then it is right that the comparison is noted. Is it permitted, however, to compare anything to the holocaust? Its industrial and ideological nature and scale seem to make it unlike anything in the annals of genocide. But even these salient features occur only within the broader phenomenon of imperialism, racism and colonialism. That's where the story of the extermination of European Jewry belongs and it does not in the least belittle or relativize the magnitude of its horror to say so. (pp 31-32)

And Sheridan's poor, misunderstood American Jews, who supposedly supported the invasion of Iraq because they thought it was the right thing for America to do at the time without being in any way influenced by the sabre-rattling of Israeli politicians, Israel-friendly American neocons in and out of the Bush administration, and the Israel lobby, and who therefore came under suspicion of dual loyalty? Even assuming the reality of such straw men, the very fact that Israel presents as a Jewish state, and that Zionists routinely conflate Judaism and Zionism, is bound to lead to such suspicions. As Norman Finkelstein has pointed out: "In some quarters anger at Israel's brutal occupation has undoubtedly spilled over to an animus toward Jews generally. But however lamentable, it's hardly cause for wonder. The brutal US aggression against Vietnam and the Bush administration's aggression against Iraq engendered a generalized anti-Americanism, just as the genocidal Nazi aggression during World War II engendered a generalized anti-Teutonism. Should it really surprise us if the cruel occupation by a self-declared Jewish state engenders a generalized antipathy to Jews?... [I]f many Jews themselves repudiate any distinction between Israel and world Jewry, indeed, if they denounce such a distinction as itself anti-Semitic; if mainstream Jewish organizations lend uncritical support to every Israeli policy, however criminal, indeed, abetting the most virulent tendencies inside Israel and muzzling principled dissent outside Israel; if Israel defines itself juridically as the sovereign state of the Jewish people, and Jews abroad label any criticism of Israel anti-Jewish - the real wonder is that the spillover from antipathy toward Israel to Jews generally hasn't been greater" (Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism & the Abuse of History, 2005, pp 81-82)


Anonymous said...

Maher take a rest you will will get high blood pressure...

MERC said...

Will will who?