Monday, January 7, 2008

Antisemitism and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict

Via Engage, the first chapter of Matthias Küntzel's book Jihad and Jew-Hatred is available at the New York Times:
important representatives of the Arab world of the day supported the Zionist settlement process. They hoped that Jewish immigration would boost economic development thus bringing the Middle East closer to European levels. For example, Ziwar Pasha, later Egyptian Prime Minister, personally took part in the celebrations of the Balfour Declaration in 1917. Five years later Ahmed Zaki, a former Egyptian cabinet minister, congratulated the Zionist Executive in Palestine on its progress: "The victory of the Zionist idea is the turning point for the fulfilment of an ideal which is so dear to me, the revival of the Orient." Two years later the Chairman of the Zionist Executive, Frederick H. Kisch, travelled to Cairo for talks with three high-ranking Egyptian officials on future relations. These officials "were equally emphatic in their pro-Zionist declarations", noted Kisch in his diary. All three "recognized that the progress of Zionism might help to secure the development of a new Eastern civilization." In 1925 the Egyptian Interior Minister Ismail Sidqi took action against a group of Palestinians protesting against the Balfour Declaration in Cairo. He was at the time on his way to Jerusalem to take part in the opening of the first Hebrew university.

Twenty years later scarcely anything remained of this benevolent attitude. In 1945 the worst anti-Jewish pogroms in Egypt's history were perpetrated in Cairo.
According to anti-Zionists, it was the Zionist project - the goal of building a Jewish state, that turned the Arabs, including Palestinians, against the Jews of the area. No, that's just bad history - as is the entire anti-Zionist narrative. That doesn't mean that the traditional Zionist narrative is pure as the driven snow, but anti-Zionists who insist that everything we ("we" means "The West" and fails to distinguish between Jews and gentiles) know is "the Zionist narrative" (as if powerful Zionist "rulers" were able to foist propaganda on an unknowing populace, as if the gentiles didn't form their own, gentile narrative) have simply replaced a flawed narrative with another narrative that's even worse. As Küntzel has put forth in papers and talks before, a major strain in the contemporary Arab narrative that views Israel as unremittingly aggressive is largely based on Nazi propaganda.

Now, let me take a moment - Often it's said that Zionists point out that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was a Nazi in order to demonize Palestinians and justify human rights abuses. Some people have done that in campaigns similar to the current antisemitic, anti-Zionist campaign - if my enemy is truly evil, then anything I do is justified - but that's not the story I'm telling here. Just to point out that the Arab/Palestinian narratives are full of their own myths (just like every act of remembering serves the remehemberer and holds facts hostage). To the extent that contemporary Arabs rely on such myths (as that Jews have repeatedly started wars against their neighbors - tricking the rest of us into thinking that the Arabs only pretended to start these wars - to achieve a "Greater Israel," and therefore the genocidal aims of Hamas and Hezbollah fall under just war theory) we must reject such propaganda. These myths do not promote peace; they only promote antisemitism. We are not forced to choose one narrative in toto over the other, but we can recognize a more complex set of facts, including elements of both. Both sides are human and have included individuals who weren't nice. That doesn't mean that either narrative is completely invalid.

Further, as Shalom Lappin pointed out in an article Jeff Weintraub mentioned Sunday:
settler states were invariably created through the deliberate dispossession of native populations that were treated as devoid of rights. There were certainly elements of the Zionist movement who regarded the Arab residents of Palestine in this light. They were not the mainstream in the formative period of the Yishuv and the creation of the State. One can accuse the leaders of the Yishuv of naïveté and insensitivity in their dealings with the Palestinians. One can criticize them for not handling certain conflicts with Arabs in a wise or reasonable way. There is no basis for portraying them as Jewish conquistadors who came with the intention of sweeping the country clean of its native population. The Zionist left proposed a variety of models for a binational state. The mainstream of the Yishuv opted for partition, first accepting the Peel Commission's recommendation in 1937 for a Jewish state in 20% of western Palestine, and then endorsing the 1947 UN partition plan that assigned Israel 55% of the land.
The anti-Zionists who insist on painting Israel as a racist state built upon a foundation of ethnic cleansing (the ones who refer to "Zionists" en masse and without distinction in the same way some on the right refer to "Muslims" without any subtlety as they discuss terrorism) do so by remembering those events through the lens of Nazi propaganda.

There are better arguments to support the Palestinians that aren't antisemitic. The most powerful, to my ears, is simply that the Palestinians are humans who deserve all the same rights (including the right to self-determination upon which Israel was established) that Jews or any other people have.

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