February 26, 2009
By LARRY DERFNER
First we left the Gaza Strip in bloodied ruins. Then we raised up a politician who, with his appeal to racism, militarism, fear of alien “subversives” and the yearning for a strong leader, fits the classic, textbook definition of a fascist.
And now, what is the talking point for our hasbara (spin) campaign? The surge in global anti-Semitism.
It’s hard to avoid the impression that for the champions of Israel Right or Wrong, the surge in global anti-Semitism – which is real enough – came as a godsend. Finally, Israel and its lobbyists could get off the defensive about civilian casualties, white phosphorous and Avigdor Lieberman, and go on the offensive against synagogue firebombings, chanting mobs and boycotts.
I’m not saying Israel and its cheerleaders are happy that Jews are coming under increasing attack in Europe and elsewhere. Environmentalists aren’t happy about oil spills – but oil spills are a godsend for their cause. I’m saying that the chorus of condemnations of anti-Semitism from Israelis and pro-Israel nationalists has a dual purpose – to fight anti-Semitism, which is good, and to neutralize criticism of Operation Cast Lead and the spread of Israeli fascism, which is cynical and morally deadening.
THE CLAIM we hear is that anti-Semitism today is worse than it’s been since the 1930s. That may be true, but it overlooks one little thing that’s different about the Jews of today compared to those of the 1930s: power. The Jews back then had none, or at least none that could protect them, while Israel, the focus of today’s rise in anti-Semitism, has awesome power. Incomparably more power than its enemies have, including the anti-Semites, who are legion.
In the 1930s, Jews didn’t do anything to provoke anti-Semitism. They were weak while their persecutors were strong. But today? Today’s surge in anti-Semitism began with a war in which the Jewish state killed its enemies at a ratio of 100-to-1, then made a political giant out of a former bouncer whose campaign slogan was “Only Lieberman understands Arabic.”
To compare Israel’s predicament today with that of the Jews of the 1930s is disingenuous in the extreme. Today’s rise in anti-Semitism was provoked not by Israel’s weakness, but by its abuses of power, first against the Gazans, then against Israeli Arabs. The difference is night and day.
It’s also disingenuous to imply, as hasbara does, that the entire wave of anti-Israel sentiment in the world is tainted by anti-Semitism. (To pro-Israel lobbyists, it’s fair and acceptable to acknowledge that Israel is not perfect. Anything beyond that is suspect.) There’s a great deal of moral outrage at Israel, some of it fair, some of it not. On the far side of the unfair is the anti-Semitic.
In the 1930s, only anti-Semites were incensed at Jews. Today, while there are certainly masses of anti-Semites who are incensed at Israel, they’re not alone. Today the world is filled with people who are not anti-Semites yet who are incensed at the things this country has been doing. Lots of them, myself included, are Jews.
I UNDERSTAND very well that Israel is by no means to blame for most of the anti-Semitism in the world. We are not to blame for Islamic fundamentalism, or the irrational Third World Left, or the age-old anti-Jewish instincts of much of Europe and Latin America. No matter how good, how fair we are to the Arabs, the reservoirs of anti-Semitism in the world are not going to dry up.
But since this country’s actions were responsible for the recent surge in the level of those reservoirs, I think there’s a way of at least bringing that level down, a way that might work as well if not better than stepping up the hasbara: Let’s stop fighting immoral wars. Let’s stop laying siege to a tiny, destitute country. (That might stop Gazans from firing rockets at us, too.) Let’s stop holding 10,000 Palestinian prisoners. (That might also help us get Gilad Schalit back.)
And finally, let’s stop electing fascists to the Knesset. And if this is too much to ask of ourselves, let’s at least have the decency not to bring them into the government. And if even that’s beyond us, if we’re going to have fascists as cabinet ministers, if we go so far as to have one for finance minister or foreign minister, then let’s not complain about the next surge in global anti-Semitism, because we will have provoked that one, too.
This is not the 1930s. We, the nation of Israel, are far from being powerless, and we are far from being innocent.