Avnery on Arabs and Anti-Semites
- Uri Avnery:
"Take Your Bag and Get Out!"
Years ago a French anti-Semite asked to meet my friend Issam Sartawi,
Yasser Arafat's special emissary in Paris. He offered him the help of the
anti-Semites in the fight against Israel. Sartawi interrupted him: "Sir," he
said, "Take your papers and get out!"
"The guy disgusted me," he said when he told me about it the next day.
I remembered this the other day, when I read the statement by the Arab
intellectuals, who convinced the Lebanese government to cancel a meeting in
Beirut of Holocaust deniers from all over the world. Among the signatories
were Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian national poet, Edward Said, the
well-known Palestinian-American professor, Adonis, the great Lebanese poet,
Elias Sanbar, the Palestinian historian, and other esteemed figures from all
over the Arab world.
It was a resounding slap in the face for the anti-Semites. They would
like to adopt the Palestinian cause, because since the Holocaust,
anti-Semitism is not longer respectable, while the Palestinian struggle for
freedom is respected by decent people around the world.
On the Palestinian side, the temptation to accept the offer is great.
"The enemy of my enemy is my friend," says the old adage. The anti-Semites
fight against the Jews, the Jews support Israel, Israel oppresses the
Palestinians. The conclusion seems obvious - but is manifestly false.
Because, objectively speaking, anti-Semitism is the worst enemy of the
The whole Zionist movement came into being as a reaction to
anti-Semitism. The notorious Dreyfus affair drove Theodor Herzl into writing
"Der Judenstaat", the founding document of the movement. It was
anti-Semitism, which had become the hallmark of all national movements in
Europe, that prevented the assimilation of the Jews in the modern nations and
convinced them to form their own, separate, Jewish national movement. Without
anti-Semitism, there would have been none of the great waves of Jewish
immigration to Palestine.
The Holocaust did not create the Zionist enterprise, but it gave it an
immense impetus. Without the (belated) awakening of world's conscience, the
State of Israel would not have come into being at the time and in the form it
During the last few years we have witnessed another great wave of
immigrants from the former Soviet Union, largely prompted by Russian
The historian Isaac Deutscher compared our conflict to a man jumping
from the window of a burning apartment and landing on the head of a passerby.
If the Jews had not jumped from the burning European apartment, they would
not have landed on the head of the Palestinian people.
In this respect, the Palestinian struggle differs from any other fight
for freedom. When the blacks were fighting for their rights in South Africa,
the whole world detested the racist apartheid regime. All the peoples who
revolted against colonial oppression could rely on the sympathy of
well-meaning people around the world. But the Palestinians had to fight the
victims of the Holocaust, who enjoyed world sympathy. As they themselves like
to say, they are "the victims of the victims".
All Israeli governments have exploited the memory of the Holocaust in
order to gain sympathy in their fight against the Palestinians. Begin called
Arafat an "Arab Hitler". Even today the Holocaust is being used to prevent
any criticism of Israel in Europe. Every foreign dignitary who comes to
Israel in order to preach against its treatment of the Palestinians is taken
to "Yad Vashem" and shuts up.
No wonder the Palestinians see the Holocaust as an instrument directed
against them, and many of them view it solely in this light. That may be
understandable, but it is not wise.
Edward Said has said that the Palestinians will never understand
Israel's actions if they do not study the history of the Holocaust. That is
very wise counsel. Without knowing about anti-Semitism in general, and the
Holocaust in particular, Israeli behavior cannot be understood - much as
without knowing about the expulsion and ongoing occupation, Palestinian
behavior cannot be understood. Of course, the expulsion of hundreds of
thousands cannot be compared to the murder of millions, but disaster is
disaster and pain is pain.
It's good that the Arab world has told the Holocaust deniers, as Sartawi
told his guest: "Take your bag and get out!"