Socialist Worker

Unreserved judgement

by Mike Rosen
Issue No. 1786

I guess readers of this paper were delighted to read that 50 reservist Israeli army officers had refused to serve in the West Bank. They have signed a petition saying, 'We will not fight beyond the Green Line [Israel's 1967 border with the West Bank] in order to rule, expel, destroy, blockade, assassinate, starve and humiliate an entire people.'

If you were a Zionist then you could explain this petition as the work of anti-Semites. What a disgusting slander, you'd say, to suggest that Jews would want to destroy the entire Palestinian people! This, you'd add, is part of a new and dangerous tendency. On the one side there is the whole Muslim world describing Jews in much the same way as the Nazis described Jews 70 years ago.

On the other, there are the middle class intellectuals gleefully climbing on the bandwagon of criticising Israel as a cover for their real loathing of the Jews. There is of course a slight problem-explaining away the fact that the petition was written by Israeli Jews. How can Jewish Zionists, as these reservists probably are, be anti-Semitic?

Well, there is always the fallback position of saying that they are (1) political pawns of the Israeli Labour Party and so are just stirring up trouble for Sharon's Likud Party, or (2) they are 'self hating Jews'. The purpose of this argument is that you don't have to deal with the content of the petition.

Most of this would just be a row inside Israel if it weren't for the fact that the word 'anti-Semitism' rightly causes a tremor across the Western world.

The Holocaust is not just simply a matter of horror. It's also a question of shame. How could it be that civilised Europe could conduct genocide against one of its peoples? Though people find this question hard to answer, the main result of asking it has been that liberal thinking people have felt wary of saying anything that could be taken as being anti-Semitic.

But suddenly the Zionists are saying repressed and hidden anti-Semitism has bubbled up everywhere. Any kind of racism is a terrible danger to life and society. The problem with this new Jewish alarm is that it's all wound up with the issue of Israel. Anthony Julius in last week's Guardian claimed that anyone who attacked Jews' right to 'national self determination' was anti-Semitic, because they deny Jews the right to have what most liberals are prepared to give others.

Nice try, this. But what even liberals can see is that when we say everyone has the right to self determination that doesn't include denying it to others. When Hitler asked for the right of Germans in the Sudetenland, Danzig and the Tyrol to self determination, in itself this wasn't an illegitimate claim. The crunch came in what he did with any non-German within and surrounding those territories-a mixture of forced emigration, enslavement and genocide.

My view is simple. As long as the Jewish establishment tells the world that Jews are Zionists, then they can only expect criticism of Zionism to sound like criticism of all Jews to them.

What the reservists have shown is that a Jew's first loyalty doesn't have to be to the Israeli state right or wrong, or even to Jews right or wrong, but to a set of values that apply to all peoples. That's one of the starting points for real freedom for us all.


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Sat 9 Feb 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1786
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