Thursday, April 06, 2006

The following article appeared in the latest issue of The Jerusalem Report. I wrote it more than a year ago, when the Livingstone-Finegold affair started, but then the magazine's opinion editor was unable to publish it before the subject disappeared from the headlines. One good thing about Ken Livingstone is that he always finds new ways to make those headlines, which is why one year later the JerRep's opinion editor was more than happy to publish a somewhat updated version - with only minor changes - of the original piece.
Code Red or Orange?
Through some of his far from kosher remarks Ken Livingstone, mayor of the city of London, has exhibited an unhealthy obsession with many things Jewish and Israeli. One might say that somehow he got lost within the twilight zone between legitimate criticism of Israel and an utterly anti-Semitic version of anti-Zionism. If he did, that in itself is not surprising, 'Red Ken' would be in the good company of many anti-globalists, Bush-bashers and others, who easily use words like 'ethnic cleansing' or Nazi-era associations when criticizing Israel or the US while somehow ignoring perpetrators of crimes far worse than the ones that they ascribe to Israel's leaders and to George W. Bush. Still, automatically denouncing him – and other critics of Israel – as an anti-Semite is wrong, unwise and counterproductive. It keeps fascinating me how much the 'new Left' – mostly in Europe but elsewhere as well – has in common with Israel's rightwing extremists and with some of the Jewish (neo)conservatives in America when it comes to trivializing the suffering and memory of the millions of Jews and other murdered by the Nazis. For several years each of these three groups has been easily using analogies between the years 1933-45 and 2001-6, making often hysterical and always unhistorical references to the Holocaust in whatever context they saw fit. The anti-Semitism witnessed in the Arab world and in Europe today, Israel's policies towards the Palestinians or towards the settlers, there are no limits to what these people think can bear comparison with the Nazi-crimes in Europe. American-Jewish conservatives such as Ruth Wisse, Ron Rosenbaum and Nat Hentoff, have spoken about the likelihood of " a second Holocaust ", and compared discussions in Jewish intellectual circles in Israel with those in pre-Holocaust Europe. In recent years Israeli settlers and their supporters have frequently used symbols and terms that are related to the Shoah, in order to express their anger and frustration about different aspects of government policies regarding the settlements. 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 three years ago 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 ( non-Jewish ) eyebrows were raised. The unwarranted use of the term ' Holocaust ' within the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict is an insult to the memory both of those who were murdered by the Nazis and of the victims of today's ( Islamist ) terrorism. It also shows a lack of appreciation for the work of all the brave men and women who have been and still are defending Israel's security and fighting that terrorism, in Israel and abroad. For Jews and Israelis, 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. In a way not dissimilar to the manner in which Jews in Israel and abroad contributed to the trivialization of the Holocaust, a number of supporters of Israel has emptied the word 'anti-Semitism' of its powerful emotional and historical content. The fact that anti-Semitism - whether it is the 'classical' racist version or 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 too often crying wolf when it comes to 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 ' and of its derivatives. We would serve our national interests and honor the survivors and the memory of the victims of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis and their collaborators, if we used the A-word only in truly relevant cases, and if we ourselves stopped providing our enemies with the tools to turn the suffering of millions of Jews into something commonplace, viewed as perfect reference material for nearly all that is wrong and unjust in today's world.

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