Thursday, February 14, 2008


Zionism used to be one of the great left causes. It seems strange to write this now when it is the Palestinian cause that is so fashionable. Today, questioning the assumptions and motives of some anti-Zionists can be uncomfortable and Terry Glavin has become the latest target of their ire. He took on one of the most egregious examples this week in his excellent Vancouver Sun column. It has caused quite a stir amongst the usual unsavoury types. These days, as I look out at left anti-Zionism I see a landscape shrouded by the shadows of crematoria, and I shudder.

There is an urgent case for justice for the Palestinians. It is the case articulated in various ways by peace movements both inside and outside Israel. The dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees has never been addressed, neither has the Palestinian State, as envisaged in the 1947 UN partition plan, been created. The occupation continues. The argument for a two state solution is overwhelming. Yet somehow all this is obscured by a determined, dangerous and futile attempt to question the legitimacy of the State of Israel, rather than support the search for a settlement.

How did some of the left fall for this, especially as they seemed so oblivious to the Palestinian case before the 1970's? Part of the answer lies in the successful re-branding of the PLO as an oh so fashionable anti-colonial national liberation movement. This enabled the romanticisation of Palestinians as the vanguard of a new revolutionary class in the developing world, promoting the seductive call for a "secular, democratic state of Palestine", a piece of sophistry in reality meaning the abolition of Israel.

There was, however, a logical flaw in their position. If Palestinian nationalism constituted a progressive national liberation movement, what of Zionism? Is it not the national liberation movement of the oppressed Jewish people, as an earlier left had viewed it? Is it not progressive too? The process of the denial of legitimacy was an answer to this dilemma.

I have waded through a lot of this unimpressive guff - Zionism as racism, colonialism, apartheid etc.; Zionism being illegitimate as it was a diaspora nationalism - the justifications for denying Israel's legitimacy were varied and, above all, political. There was a subtext, but it remained buried.

Then something else that Terry mentions was added to the brew. In 1976 Arthur Koestler published a contentious book, The Thirteenth Tribe. The Khazar myth was reborn. Koestler's reputation as a great writer had been established by Darkness at Noon and so the book received considerable publicity. However, by now he was dabbling in the paranormal and was attracted to outlandish theories. This one, that European Jews were not descended from the original Hebrews but from the Turkic Khazars, provided a bridge from anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism. Now it was possible to oppose Israel not just on political grounds but on ethnic ones too. The subtext could come to the surface.

Ethnic de-legitimation began to merge with European conspiracy theory. If Jews had no ethnic claim to their state how could they be anything other than the dark creatures of anti-Semitic myth? After all had they not usurped the legitimate Semitic inhabitants? Why had they come to steal the land? Surely it was a part of a plan for world domination as the shadowy Jewish lobby began to control American foreign policy. This insane and sinister 'logic' infected the left and the growing Islamist movement. Their alliance was just one sign of a left distaste for Israel and for Jews. Anti-Zionism was a device for articulating, whether consciously or unconsciously, an anti-Semitic discourse.

The justified demands of the Palestinian people for their national rights require engagement with the politics of mutual recognition, with compromise as well as restitution, and acting in partnership with Israel whose permanence and legitimacy is fully accepted. Instead, the left anti-Zionists offer the politics of annihilation. It is a politics that could drown the Middle East in blood. It offers the Palestinians the chimera of victory and the certainty of a catastrophic defeat. Such a disaster would, of course, reinforce the smug self-righteousness of those convinced of Israel's intrinsic wickedness.

When will this left wake up and abandon these dangerous fantasies? When will they engage with the wishes of the Palestinian people and support the peace movements and peace process? When will they jettison their alliance with Jihadi organisations? The moment they do we can start to recover a left that can speak for the rights of all, as well as a left that wishes to defeat fascism rather than cuddle up to it.


Anonymous said...

The idea that Jews are not the real Jews has been central to the far right "Christian Identity" movement in the US. As they claim Jews today are imposters , it is not antisemitic to hate them.

Anonymous said...

"The idea that Jews are not the real Jews has been central to the far right "Christian Identity" movement in the US. As they claim Jews today are imposters , it is not antisemitic to hate them."

Can anyone feel me in with details of this? or where I can read up on it? Thanks

Transmontanus said...

Oi Pete.

You're grand.

". . .a landscape shrouded by the shadows of crematoria."

Beauty. Just this morning Eamonn McDonagh popped in my place and I was reminded of his Normblog profile, his favourite poem, Patrick Kavanagh's The Great Hunger, this bit:

The hungry fiend
Screams the apocalypse of clay
In every corner of this land.

You're a beauty, Pete.

Anonymous asks for a quick read on the Khazar legend. For its origins, some commentary on poor auld Koestler (a Zionist, by the way), and its recent bully-purpose as regards Jews and Israel, just google: steven plaut khazars .

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reference. It is much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I don't usual link to Wikipedia but this is quite good for an understanding of Christian Identity

Anonymous said...

Ihaven't read Steve Plaut on the Khazars, but I did listen to a lecture given by a Russian-born Israeli professor who touched on the subject and I have also read about the Khazars in The Atlas of 4,000 Years of Jewish Civilization by Josephine Bacon with maps by Sir Martin Gilbert.

Some Khazars, a Turkic tribe living in a southern region of the former USSR --primarily members of the nobility, converted to Judaism in the middle ages, but to suggest that all Ashkenazic Jews are descendents of the limited number of Khazars who converted is laughable

JR said...

The anti-Israel stance of the "hard" left is not based on a rationally defensible position. It is used as a device to attract supporters to a single-issue campaign who can then be mobilised as foot soldiers in the greater cause - international socialism. The issue itself is a shibboleth. Its promoters are not aiming to change the situation in Israel-Palestine and are unconcerned at the racism that their tactics exploit and promote.

Anti-Zionism is a non-racist ideology that promotes racism. Its proponents cannot be drawn into meaningful debate because the ideology itself is a cypher.

unaha-closp said...

What jr said.

And to point out that the racism produced is two-fold. The Arabs are forever weak, easily manipulated and incapable - childlike.