The antipathy displayed by many on the Left towards Israel is not an example of anti-Zionism morphing into anti-Semitism, but a sign that anti-Zionism is caused by anti-Semitism, the distinguished British historian Simon Schama argued in the Financial Times Friday.
Schama noted the escalation of anti-Israel events in the UK in recent months. Most notably, former Israeli intelligence chief Ami Ayalon’s speech at the Kings College London Israel Society was “violently interrupted by a chair-hurling, window-smashing crowd.” The resulting atmosphere of intolerance towards Israel prompted Alex Chalmers to resign as co-chair of the Oxford University Labour Club, saying that the student Left “have some kind of problem with Jews.”
Schama observed that some on the Left, such as Guardian columnist Owen Jones, have made efforts to “confront this demon head on.” However, “criticism of Israeli policies has mutated into a rejection of Israel’s right to exist.”
He cited a number of examples. French Jews can’t walk outside wearing a yarmulke without fear of assault; Holocaust memorial posters have been defaced; Former MP George Galloway declared in 2014 that his district was “an Israel-free zone.” These incidents exemplify what the professor Alan Johnson called “anti-Semitic anti-Zionism.”
Schama observed that the terrorist who killed four Jews in a Paris supermarket last year didn’t ask if their victims supported the Israeli government, “because in the attacker’s poisoned mind all Jews are indivisibly incriminated” as oppressors of the Palestinians. The international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement disregards any Israeli claim of self-defense and singles out Israel for its outrage. But they remain silent about the Russian destruction of Syria.
After presenting the examples, Schama asked, “why is it so much easier to hate the Jews?”
Historically, Israel was a necessity because of the “centuries-long dehumanization of the Jews.” Jews were subject to blood libels throughout history in England, Italy, Poland, Syria, and Russia. And even once Jews had their own state, Arab leaders repeated such charges: Former Syrian defense minister Mustafa Tlass wrote a book accusing Jews of using blood to make matzos. Raed Salah, the head of Israel’s Islamic Movement, made similar charges last year. Salah had once been invited to Parliament by current Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn as “an honored citizen.”
Jews sought a homeland of their own to escape institutional hatred. But those hostile to them saw them as imposing a colonial presence on the Palestinians, who were “penalized for the sins of Europe.”
Schama rejected this view, writing:
None of this unbroken history of Jews and Judaism in Palestine is likely to do much to cool the heat of the anti-colonial narrative of the alien intruder, especially on the left. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the retreat of Marxist socialism around the world, militant energies have needed somewhere to go.
The Left’s passion fighting inequality has found a new target, Schama wrote: “its prize whipping boy, Zionism.” And with Zionism, the Jews.
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