Thursday, July 03, 2003

Losing Our Way or From Gaza to Warsaw via Harvard and Ground Zero ( Published in Ha'Aretz, Letters to the editor, on July 14, 2003 ) In response to " Losing the war of the words ", by Yair Sheleg, Ha'Aretz, June 12, 2003 ( and to " From Oslo to Ground Zero ", by Ruth Wisse, Jerusalem Post, July 18, 2002 ) Not knowing enough of professor Wisse's personal history, I have no idea where her serious issues with the Left in general originate, nor why her animosity towards Israeli intellectuals appears to be aimed exclusively against those intellectuals who can be found on the left side of Israel's political spectrum. In her fury and frustration she gets a little carried away, though. Interestingly enough, many elements of the commentaries on the Arab-Israeli conflict in Jewish conservative circles in the United States and Israel have had their influence on - or one might even say their parallels in - the way in which some members of the Western Left ' deal with ' the subject. In searching for analogies between the Arab-Israeli conflict and Europe before and during World War II, Ruth Wisse finds herself in the company of not a small number of American-Jewish conservatives. With their often hysterical and mostly unhistorical references to the Holocaust - such as the equation of the anti-Semitism witnessed in the Arab world and in Europe today with that of Nazi Germany, the talk about the likelihood of " a second Holocaust ", or the comparison of discussions in Jewish intellectual circles in Israel and pre-Holocaust Europe, men and women such as Ron Rosenbaum, Nat Hentoff and professor Wisse trivialize the Holocaust. Because of these ' Jewish references ', opponents of Israel and some of the critics of the country's policies in the territories - many of whom already could not be blamed for having qualms about using Holocaust analogies lightly - feel even less restraint when it comes to introducing Holocaust-related imagery and comparisons into their discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Thus, when two British MPs returned from a visit to the Gaza Strip and publicly compared the situation of the Palestinians in Gaza to that of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, few eyebrows were raised. The unwarranted use of the term ' Holocaust ' within the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict is an insult to the memory of both those who were murdered by the Nazis and the victims of today's Islamist and other forms of terrorism. It also shows a lack of appreciation for the work of all the brave men and women who have been defending Israel's security and fighting that terrorism, in Israel and abroad. The mere existence of the state of Israel and of the IDF should be enough to deem any comparisons between today and the years 1933-45 inappropriate, no matter how difficult the situation in which we find ourselves these days. The fact that anti-Semitism - whether it wears the coat of Islam(ism), Palestinian nationalism or anti-globalization - still haunts us should not surprise us, it has always been and probably will always be part of our history. That should not be a reason not to fight it. Nevertheless, by crying wolf when it comes to real, alleged and imagined anti-Semitic motives of Israel's critics and enemies, conservative advocates of the Jewish state have diminished the value and power of the word ' anti-Semitism ', in a way not dissimilar to the manner in which they contributed to the trivialization of the Holocaust. That anti-Semitism forms a central part of the motivation of many of our opponents does not exonerate us from our obligation to introspect, nor does it mean that all that Israel does is just, legitimate and in self-defense. One of the tasks of Israel's intellectuals is to question absolute truths. Absolute truths may be comforting, but they are and should remain mainly the domain of extremists. Here we come to another sphere where professor Wisse and her fellow conservatives meet what I would call the Western ' New Left '. Just as Wisse and others believe in the absolute justice of everything that is done in the name of Israel's security, the motives and methods of the Arabs in general and of the Palestinians in particular are hardly ever questioned by those in Europe who call themselves supporters of the Palestinian cause/people. Whereas the latter blame Israel unilaterally for most if not all of the Palestinians' woes, professor Wisse and others find it hard to believe that Israel has any responsibility whatsoever for Palestinian ( or Jewish ) suffering. If she was genuinely convinced of the absolute righteousness of Israel's policies, professor Wisse might not have been afraid of the questions asked by intellectuals here. As an American, she also should be aware of the fact that one image of a feeding bottle and children's shoe taken from a scorched car that carried a Hamas terrorist, his wife and their two very young children does scores of times more damage to Israel and the country's image than ten books or hundred articles written by some ' self-hating ' Israeli intellectual. Yet instead of asking herself questions and raising doubts in order to confirm certain truths, Ruth Wisse prefers to attack and blame " Israeli intellectuals " for a major part of Israel's hardship and adversity, as well as for " betraying the concept of truth ". In doing that she finds herself joined by many on the Israeli Right. Still, by directly accusing Israel's intellectuals and other Oslo supporters of culpability for September 11, 2001 professor Wisse goes further than any spokesman of the non-fringe ( Jewish ) Right has gone before.

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