12 May 2009

Fair-Weather Supporters and Armchair Fans

If there’s one thing I like more than niche opinions, it’s niche opinions with absolutely no sense of perspective or self-awareness whatsoever. So I was delighted to stumble on “National Socialism for Jews”:

That’s their real logo, by the way. And as far as I can tell they mean it. I actually rather like it, from a purely aesthetic point of view. Understated, nice Israel-blue swish, tasteful use of font effects; somewhere, there’s a talented graphic designer going to waste. But despite probably being a colossal embarrassment to Jews and National Socialists alike, they still made one very interesting point, putting them just behind a stopped clock:
The Jewish people have never had a friend in both fair and foul weather. Our allies have betrayed us, deserted us in our hour of need, and killed us in unprecedented numbers using crematoria and poison gas. To be Jewish is to know that wherever you go, you'll always have to watch your back.

I can’t really argue with that, especially if you look on it from the National perspective these Kahanist Nazis undoubtedly do. America promised liberty and justice for all, but when the pursuit of happiness involved a round of golf, it was often rather tricky for Jews. France was one of the first countries in Europe to offer full citizenship to the Jews, but then came the Dreyfus affair. Nineteenth-century Germany was so liberal towards Jews for its day that Herzl envisioned German as the language of Israel, Czech Jews came under fire for being too German, and one Jewish writer even claimed that all Jews were basically Germans. Then look what happened. And the Arabs and Muslims which we so often stereotype as virulent anti-Semites were, throughout the Middle Ages, more tolerant than and not nearly so pogrom-happy as Christendom.

But if you start to chop things up by ideology instead of country (as is often done by sensible people who don’t think Hitler had the right idea but the wrong race), it doesn’t hold quite so well. Historically, though naturally with a fair few exceptions, it has been the Left, the progressives, radicals and Socialists of their times that have defended and campaigned for and alongside the Jews for emancipation. So much so, in fact, that Jews were often characterised as agents of radicalism and left-wingers in turn as their stooges.

Israel has lots of friends at the moment. Lots of friends who claim to be sticking up for the Jews. Israel also seems to have a lot of enemies, who all seem to get accused of anti-Semitism, apology for anti-Semitism, or apology for the apologists of anti-Semitism. What’s unusual is that, apart from the seriously deranged, definitely very anti-Semitic Islamist groups, these enemies tend to be liberals, socialists, pacifists and internationalists. Groups typically known to defend multiculturalism and official tolerance, groups which, along with civil libertarians of all streaks, have historically been close allies to Jewish emancipation movements, and groups which you can’t really imagine Hitler making friends with. Though, of course, the Left isn't entirely behind Israel at the moment.

But let's look at some of the people Israel has backing it. The religious right, military supremacists, and a good handful of ultra-nationalists and self-affirmed “patriots”. These are generally not the groups who were good friends to the Jews before they got their own country. Historically, these are not the types who stick up for the rights of ethnic and religious minorities in their own country. Israel’s allies now include BNP members and, tacitly, its Holocaust denying leader, even Neo-Nazis who don’t bother pretending not to be Neo-Nazis. I’ve even seen a staunch ally of Israel, Bill O’Reilly, use the Promised Land as a stick to beat American Jews with.
Bill O'Reilly knows [Chanukah is part of the American festive tradition] and doesn't like it one bit, as evidenced by his response to a Jewish caller last December who said that he found O'Reilly's views on Christmas objectionable. O'Reilly told him to "move to Israel."

A while back, I read that Bismarck used to refer to Disraeli as the “little Oriental”. It seemed absurd to me. Not absurdly offensive, just absurd to see a British Jew as part of the “Orient”, when we now see even Israel’s Mizrahi Jews as part of the West. You see, something very weird happened in 1948. Suddenly, the Jews went from being a hated and abused minority to a constitutionally-protected majority and the dominant military power in the region, with a host of powerful allies. Sixty years is a short time to go from David to Goliath, and a lot of Israelis have maybe not fully adjusted just yet. The West definitely has. Now the Jews live like us, govern like us and, most importantly, fight like us, well, standing by them while they accidentally blow up Oriental civilians is as easy as supporting any other accident-prone act of imperial aggression. Jews who think the world has only sided with them because of what happened with Hitler and that their enemies hate them solely for who they are should be wary. Just as the left like to think of ourselves as champions of the oppressed, right-wingers do love to back a winner. How much is sympathy for Israel sympathy for the Jews and how much is it sympathy for a powerful state smashing a stateless people? Like I said, wary.

Now, I’ve heard a few of its supporters claim that Israel only has to lose one war on its own soil and it’s screwed, which I can well believe. But let’s imagine this scenario in a bit more detail. If the Jews of Israel got driven into the sea, some lucky ones would (hopefully) get on boats and escape elsewhere. Basically, we’re talking a large-scale return to the Diaspora, and not just the descendants of former Europeans and Americans, but also those of Jews expelled from Arab lands, who have maintained a lot of their cultural values. Now I’m confident that any sympathy for their adversaries on the mainstream Left would evaporate the moment Jews started drowning, despite some quiet and rapidly condemned mumblings about just deserts. Do Israelis really believe their new-found friends’ sympathy for the Jewish people wouldn’t evaporate the moment Jews stopped mowing down bad guys with their state-of-the-art weaponry? Have they noticed what the armchair Zionists in the British press usually have to say about immigrants and asylum seekers? Who do Jews think will be their friends, should they ever stop being an outpost of the civilised West in the savage Orient, and start being an outpost of the savage Orient in the civilised West? Should our image of modern Jewry ever change from muscular, Uzi-wielding heroes in olive-drab to boatloads of terrified refugees with missing papers and broken, accented English, I hope they don’t think Bill O’Reilly and Nick Griffin will still be the guys to turn to.

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