LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
Lessons from history
Apologists for Israel's militarism are drawing perverse lessons from the Holocaust and the wider history of anti-semitism.
Nothing to be proud of: A destroyed village in south Lebanon.
AS a Jew, I've been asked if I'm ashamed at what Israel has been doing in Lebanon. And the answer I give is that I am disgusted, I am angry, I am appalled, but, no, I am not ashamed. Why should I be? I bear no personal responsibility for this criminal activity except, of course, in so far as I fail to take whatever action I can to stop it. The problem for me and for many other Jews is that Israel undertakes and justifies its actions in our name. It murders civilians in Beirut, Qana or Gaza ostensibly because such violence is necessary for the safety of Israel, and Israel is necessary for the safety of the Jews, worldwide.
The real danger
The reality is that nothing exposes Jews to danger so much as Israeli policy. It is Israel's barbarous behaviour that turns the Jews unjustly, but unsurprisingly into targets of wrath, even in places with no significant history of anti-semitism.
The Chief Rabbi of Britain sees it differently. In late July, at the end of a week that saw the calculated destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure and the killing of at least 300 Lebanese civilians, he declared: "Israel, you make us proud."
Now that I did find sickening, and shameful, but the Chief Rabbi does not speak for me and he does not speak for all Jews in Britain; in fact, an increasing number of the people he claims to speak for profoundly disagree with him.
The whole question of collective pride or shame is wrapped in a fog of dubious metaphysics. I cannot see why, as a Jew, I should take credit for Einstein, Freud or Bob Dylan; what contribution did I make to their genius? Conversely, why should I take the blame for Ariel Sharon or Ehud Olmert?
Of course, if a whole people have been made to feel ashamed of their very existence as were African-Americans or Dalits over many centuries then a corrective collective pride is necessary; it's the only means of shaking off the imposed collective shame. However, that is not the situation facing Jews today. The world's largest Jewish community, in the United States, is by and large wealthy and respected, its members eminent in nearly every field of public endeavour (and in every part of the political spectrum). The problem for the Jewish community in the U.S. and also in Britain, is not that it suffers from collective shame, but from a widespread and at times wilful blindness to what is being done in its name.
Coming to terms with the present
When a people have a long history as victims of persecution, it's difficult to make the readjustment in self-perception necessary to come to terms with the present, in which victims have become perpetrators. That is precisely why the demagogic dishonesty of the self-declared Jewish leadership in the diaspora is so reckless and inexcusable.
For example, the Chief Rabbi actually had the chutzpah to state: "For 58 years Israel has done everything a nation could do in pursuit of peace, and it has been rewarded instead with violence and terror."
Thus, with a tone of absolute certainty and the stamp of religious authority, the Rabbi throws a cloak over the history of our own times. It appears that the ethnic cleansing of between half a million and 7,00,000 Palestinians in 1948 a process facilitated by racist atrocities such as the massacre of unarmed civilians at Deir Yassin did not occur. Nor did Israel's invasion of Egypt in cahoots with the British and French in 1956, a flagrant attempt to reimpose colonial authority and repossess the Suez Canal. Nor did the 39-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the seizure of land and water and the construction of illegal settlements in the occupied territories, the attempt to entrench this land grab through the erection of the "security fence", more accurately referred to as the apartheid wall, the targeted assassination of Palestinian political leaders, the demolition of tens of thousands of Palestinian homes, the detention without charge of tens of thousands of Palestinian people, the high-tech assault on Gaza which over the past month alone has killed 170 Palestinians, including 40 children, and wounded more than 650... In the world according to the Chief Rabbi, none of this happened.
Nor, it appears, is there any record of previous Israeli aggression against the Lebanese. Long before Hezbollah was even a rumour, Israel was crossing the border and killing Lebanese civilians. It mounted large scale military assaults in 1978, 1982 (during which Ariel Sharon supervised the wanton massacre of unarmed refugees in the Sabra and Shatilla camps), 1985 ("Operation Iron Fist"), 1993 ("Operation Accountability"), and 1996 ("Operation Grapes of Wrath"). Since its formal withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, it has according to UN observers engaged in near daily cross-border incursions, principally by fighter aircraft, but also by ground forces acting as hit squads, most recently in May of this year, when a Hezbollah ally was killed by a car bomb widely believed to have been planted by Mossad operatives.
Israel's claim that its actions in Lebanon are in self-defence is unsustainable. Prior to the recent Israeli assault, Hezbollah forces had not targeted Israeli civilians for over a decade. A 2002 U.S. Congressional Research Service report noted that "no major terrorist attacks have been attributed to [Hezbollah] since 1994". The abduction by Hezbollah of Israeli soldiers that precipitated the latest invasion was a grave wrong, but it did not threaten Israel's existence, and did not represent a significant escalation in the log-simmering border tensions. Only after Israel began bombarding Beirut did Hezbollah launch its rockets on Haifa.
Israel demands respect for its own borders but shows none for the borders of others. It rightly insists its citizens live free from terrorism but unleashes terrorism repeatedly, wantonly, unapologetically on the citizens of other lands.
Rabbi, if Israel's record makes you proud, then you have either forgotten or perhaps never really absorbed traditional Jewish ethical teachings. In their place you have embraced the racism and neo-colonialism that have turned the Zionist dream into a global nightmare. When you say that the Israelis "have taken a desolate land and made it blossom and bear fruit," you deny the very existence of other peoples who lived in and cultivated Palestine for generations before the arrival of the first Zionist colonists in the 19th century.
It seems to me that the Chief Rabbi and others who speak as he does have drawn a tragically perverse lesson from the holocaust and the wider history of anti-semitism. They appear to believe that this history has endowed Jews or rather those claiming to represent Jews with special prerogatives denied to others: the prerogative to invade and occupy other lands, to deny others elementary human rights. For me, the lesson of our Jewish history is quite different: it's that when any group of human beings are subject to persecution and injustice, all human beings must stand in solidarity with them.
There also lessons in the Jewish experience for Palestinians and Lebanese: that you must not allow the fact that unspeakable things have been done to you to become an excuse for forfeiting your own sense of human decency, your own respect for human life, whatever religious, ethnic or national guise it might wear.
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