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How do they get away with it?

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  • ummyakoub
    THE SILENCING OF DISSENT - - How do they get away with it? Paul Eisen As the onslaught on the Palestinian people continues and the hundred-year conquest of
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 23, 2003
      - How do they get away with it?

      Paul Eisen

      As the onslaught on the Palestinian people continues and the
      hundred-year conquest of Palestine enters what may be its final
      stages, efforts by the Israeli, Zionist and Jewish establishments to
      silence any remaining criticism of Israel and Zionism intensify. At
      the centre of these efforts is the claim that anti-Zionism equals
      anti-Semitism. Critics of Israel are warned that whilst like any
      other democratic state, Israel is open to criticism of its policies,
      any criticism of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state is, by
      definition, anti-Semitic.

      First, it is not true that we are free to criticize Israeli policies
      since so many perfectly legitimate criticisms of Israeli policy are
      blanketed as attacks on Israel's right to self-defense and therefore
      as attacks on Israel's right to exist and, therefore themselves as
      anti-Semitic. But what of the core argument that, since all other
      peoples are entitled to statehood, to deny to Jews that which is
      granted to everyone else is discriminatory and, therefore, anti-

      There are of course some who really do want to "push the Jews into the
      sea", and there are certainly those who say that Jews are not a
      nation, but a religious group. There are others who undoubtedly would
      deny the right of Jews to establish a state anywhere. These people
      can fight their own battles. For my part, if Jews say they are a
      nation, that's fine and if Jews want to wear blue-and-white, wave
      flags and set up a state on some piece of uninhabited and unclaimed
      land, although I won't be joining them, that's also fine. The problem
      is when this state is established on someone else's land and
      maintained at someone else's expense.

      So what is this state of Israel, this Jewish state, whose existence we
      are forbidden to question? Founded on the expulsion and exile of
      another people, and defining itself as for Jews alone, Israel
      officially and unofficially, overtly and covertly, discriminates
      against non-Jews. Is denying Jews such a state denying them that
      which is granted to all others? One may agree or disagree with any of
      this. One may argue for or against Jewish nationhood, the need for a
      Jewish state, the right of Jews to have a state in Palestine, and
      even, post-Holocaust, the justification for Jews to establish that
      state at the expense of another people. One can agree or disagree
      with any of this, but is such agreement or disagreement necessarily


      The anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism argument amounts to this: If you
      do not agree with the right of Jews to go to Palestine, settle there
      en masse against the wishes of the indigenous population, expel this
      population from 75% of their land and then, for the next fifty years
      and more, continue this assault on the remaining land and population,
      then you are an anti-Semite. Similarly, if you do not support the
      existence of an ethnically based state which defines itself as being
      for Jews only and discriminates officially both inside and outside
      its borders against non-Jews, then, again, you are an anti-Semite.

      This would be laughable if it came from any other group of people, yet
      coming from Jews, even though not always agreed with, it is still seen
      as legitimate. So how do they get away with it? No-one else does, so
      what's special about Jews?

      Whether there is anything special about Jews is not really relevant.
      What is relevant is that a large part of the Western world, even the
      most secular part, seems to believe that there is, or, if they don't
      believe it, are not confident enough in their disbelief to say so. The
      Western world seems at times almost obsessed with Jews and Jewish
      life. Stories of struggle from the Hebrew Bible, such as the Exodus
      from Egypt, have become paradigms for other people's struggles and
      aspirations. The emigration of Jews from Eastern Europe into their
      Golden Land in America has become as American a legend as the Wild
      West. Jewish folklore and myth, stereotypes of Jewish humour, food
      and family life-all are deeply woven into the fabric of Western,
      particularly American, life. Yet these preoccupations are complicated
      and often ambivalent.

      Despite our present secularity, Christianity still occupies a central
      place in Western culture and experience, and Jews occupy a central
      place in the Christian narrative, so it is no surprise that Jews and
      Jewish concerns receive a lot of attention. But Christian attitudes
      towards Jews are themselves complex and contradictory: Jesus was born
      a Jew and died a Jew, and yet, traditionally, His teachings supersede
      those of Judaism. Jesus lived amongst Jews, His message was shaped by
      Jews yet He was rejected by Jews and, it has been widely believed,
      died at the behest of Jews. So, for many Christians, Jews are both
      the people of God and the people who rejected God, and are objects of
      both great veneration and great loathing. This ambivalence is
      reflected in the secular world too where Jews are widely admired for
      their history and traditions and for their creativity and success yet
      are also held in some suspicion and dislike for their exclusivity and
      supposed feelings of 'specialness'. Jews seem either loved or hated
      and, now since the Holocaust, publicly at least, they seem loved or
      at least if not loved, then certainly, indulged.


      The establishment of the state of Israel in May 1948, coming just
      three years after the liberation of Auschwitz in January 1945, marks,
      for Jews, the transition from enslavement to empowerment. This
      empowerment of Jews took place not only with the establishment of
      Israel, but also continuously, from the mass emigration of Jews to
      the West in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to the
      present day. Today in the West Jews enjoy unparalleled political,
      economic and social power and influence. Jews are represented way
      beyond their numbers in the upper echelons of all areas of public and
      professional life-politics, academia, the arts, the media and
      business. But even more than the political and economic power which
      Jews possess, is the social power. Jews have a moral prestige derived
      from their history and traditions as a chosen and as a suffering
      people. In these more secular times, however, especially since the
      Holocaust, it is as a suffering people that Jews occupy their special
      place in Western culture.

      That Jews have suffered is undeniable. But acknowledgement of this
      suffering is rarely enough. Jews and others have demanded that not
      only should Jewish suffering be acknowledged but that it also be
      accorded special status. Jewish suffering is rarely measured against
      the sufferings of other groups. Blacks, women, children, gays,
      workers, peasants, minorities of all kinds, all have suffered, but
      none as much as Jews. Protestants at the hands of Catholics,
      Catholics at the hands of Protestants, pagans and heretics, all have
      suffered religious persecution, but none as relentlessly as Jews.
      Indians, Armenians, Gypsies and Aborigines, all have been targeted
      for elimination, but none as murderously and as premeditatedly as

      Jewish suffering is held to be mysterious and beyond explanation.
      Context is rarely examined. The place and role of Jews in society -
      their historical relationships with Church and state, landlords and
      peasantry - is hardly ever subject to scrutiny, and, whilst non-Jewish
      attitudes to Jews are the subject of intense interest, Jewish
      attitudes to non-Jews are rarely mentioned. Attempts to confront
      these issues are met with suspicion, and sometimes hostility, because
      of a fear that explanation may lead to rationalization, which may
      lead to exculpation, and then even to justification.

      The stakes in this already fraught game have been raised so much
      higher by the Holocaust. Is the Holocaust "The ultimate mystery,
      never to be comprehended or transmitted" as Elie Wiesel would have us
      believe? Are attempts to question the Holocaust narrative just a
      cover for denial or even justification? Was Jewish suffering in the
      Holocaust greater and of more significance than that of anyone else?
      Were the three million Polish Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis
      more important than the three million Polish non-Jews who also died?
      Twenty million black Africans, a million Ibos, a million Kampucheans,
      Armenians, Aborigines, all have perished in genocides, but none as
      meaningfully as the six million Jews slaughtered in the only genocide
      to be theologically named and now perceived by Jews and the rest of
      the Western world to be an event of near religious significance.

      Jews have not been just passive recipients of all this special
      treatment and consideration. The special status accorded to Israel's
      behaviour in Palestine, and Jewish support for it, is not something
      that the Jewish establishment has accepted reluctantly. On the
      contrary, Jews and Jewish organisations have demanded it. And at the
      heart of this demand for special consideration is the demand that the
      whole world, recognising the uniqueness of Jewish suffering, should
      join with Jews in their fears about anti-Semitism and of its

      Anti-Semitism in its historic, virulent and eliminationist form did
      exist and could certainly exist again, but it does not currently exist
      in the West in any significantly observable form. Jews have never
      been so secure or empowered, yet many Jews feel and act as if they
      are a hair's breadth away from Auschwitz. And not only this, but they
      require that everybody else feel the same. So soon after the
      Holocaust this is perhaps understandable, but less so when it is used
      to silence dissent and criticism of Israel and Zionism. Jews,
      individually and collectively use their political, economic, social,
      and moral power in support of Israel and Zionism. In their defense of
      Israel and Zionism, Jews brandish their suffering at the world,
      accusing it of reverting to its old anti-Semitic ways.


      Is a Jewish state acceptable in this day and age? Are the Jews a
      people who qualify for national self-determination, or are Jews a
      religious group only? Post-Holocaust, does the Jewish need for a
      state of their own perhaps even justify the displacement of the
      Palestinians? Are Jews who wield power to serve what they perceive as
      their own ethnic interests and to support Israel, to be held
      politically accountable? What is anti-Semitism? Is anti-Zionism anti-
      Semitism? All this and a great deal more could and should be debated.
      What need not be debated is this: that every complexity and ambiguity
      of Jewish identity and history, every example of Jewish suffering,
      every instance of anti-Jewish prejudice, however inconsequential, is
      used to justify the crimes of Israel and Zionism. Every possible
      interpretation or misinterpretation of language, and every kind of
      intellectual sophistry is used by Zionists to muddy the waters and
      label the critic of Israel and Zionism an anti-Semite. Words and
      phrases become loaded with hidden meanings, so that even the most
      honest critic of Israel has to twist and turn and jump through hoops
      to ensure that he or she is not perceived as anti-Semitic.

      And the penalties for transgression are terrible. For those who do not
      manage to pick their way through this minefield, the charge of
      anti-Semite awaits, with all its possibilities of political, religious
      and social exclusion. No longer a descriptive term for someone who
      hates Jews simply for being Jews, 'anti-Semite' is now a curse to
      hurl against anyone who dares to criticise Jews and, increasingly
      against anyone who dares, too trenchantly, to criticize Israel and
      Zionism. And for those Jews of conscience who dare speak out, for
      them there is reserved the special penalty of exclusion from Jewish
      life and exile.

      Marc Ellis's 'ecumenical deal' which translates also into a political
      deal, says it all. It goes like this: To the Christian and to the
      entire non-Jewish world, Jews say this: 'You will apologise for Jewish
      suffering again and again and again. And, when you have finished
      apologising, you will then apologise some more. When you have
      apologised sufficiently we will forgive you, provided you let us do
      what we want in Palestine.'

      As hard as it may be, for the sake of us all - Jew and non-Jew alike,
      do we not now have to break free?


      Paul Eisen is a director of Deir Yassin Remembered and is on the
      Executive Committee of Sabeel UK.

      This article is based on "Speaking the Truth to Jews" which will
      appear in a forthcoming book, "Speaking the Truth about Israel and
      Zionism", edited by Michael Prior and published by Melisende in March




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