Interview: Sorting Out the Good Guys and Bad Guys in the "War" Over Zionism

Aaron Howard,
Jewish Herald-Voice, Houston,
November 1, 2007

When you're in the thick of a savage battle for survival, you want a few fighters on your side whose aim is true. The enemies of Israel are fighting an ideological war of politicide against the Jewish state. That would be enough, except that some of Israel's worst enemies are Jews, say Edward Alexander and Paul Bogdanor. Co-authors of the book, The Jewish Divide Over Israel (Transaction), Alexander and Bogdanor are in the trenches. In addition to Israel's typical accusers - classic anti-Semites, Arab extremists and the radical left - what has changed, they acknowledged in a phone interview with the JH-V, is the strident voices of Jews in the human-rights movement, in the left wing and among secularists who argue for the removal of the state of Israel.

Alexander and Bogdanor will discuss Israel's accusers at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 4, at the 35th annual Jewish Book and Arts Fair.

Alexander is professor emeritus of English at the University of Washington in Seattle. Bogdanor is a journalist who lives in London. The authors name Israel's Jewish accusers - those who demonize Israel precisely as Jews. Their list includes Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky, Tony Judt, Meron Benvenisti, Amos Oz, Judith Butler, Steven and Hillary Rose, Marc Ellis, Michael Lerner, Joel Beinin, Seymour Hersh, Jerome Segal, Martin Jay, Tanya Reinhart, Israel Shahak and Thomas Friedman.

"Anti-Zionists have a variety of motives," Bogdanor said. "At one extreme, there are the ideological fanatics of the radical left, who feel no concern whatsoever for Jewish tradition or Jewish survival. They invoke their Jewish identity solely as a polemical weapon. These are the pseudo-intellectuals of the anti-corporate and anti-globalization movements who advocate sanctions against democratic Israel and oppose the embargo on totalitarian Cuba. They denounce America, Britain and Israel as the 'real Axis of Evil,' while their followers march alongside supporters of Hamas and Hezbollah. They care nothing for freedom, justice or human rights. They are driven by hatred and resentment, arising from an inner awareness that their ideology is dead.

"Sometimes overlapping with the first category, there is the class of anti-Zionists who often are identified as self-hating Jews, but should be more accurately described as Jewish anti-Semites. They give themselves a sense of power and importance by attempting to beat the enemies of the Jews at their own game. In the book, we offer examples of well-known anti-Zionists, including American and Israeli professors, who allege that Judaism is based on greed and that religious Jews worship Satan; who collaborate with Holocaust deniers or deny the Holocaust outright; who justify terrorist massacres of Israeli civilians and, in one case, the destruction of Israeli cities.

"The most influential category of anti-Zionists consists of those Jews, predominantly left-liberal academics and journalists, who profess to be deeply pained "as Jews" by Israel's violations of human rights and international law. The Jewish ethical tradition, according to them, runs in a straight line from Mount Sinai to the UN General Assembly. They are the authors of pseudo-scholarly essays and books arguing that a Jewish nation-state in the Middle East is an "anachronism," that Israel was "born in sin" and should apologize to its enemies for the crime of existing. Their motivation is twofold: First, there is the unbreakable commitment to left-liberal political dogma, which holds that the world is converging on a cosmopolitan secular civilization in which all disputes can be resolved by concessions and dialogue, and in which peace and human rights are upheld by NGOs and international tribunals. The second motive is, quite simply, personal cowardice. Their left-liberal colleagues despise Israel. Rather than renounce their colleagues, they join in the demonization of Israel. Hence, their frequent references to the embarrassment and shame that Israel's latest actions have caused."

For the authors, the creation of the state of Israel has been the single most important act for the Jewish people in modern times. For Jewish intellectuals who otherwise are alienated from all things Jewish, anti-Zionism is an opportunity to establish their "Jewish credentials" - primarily to attack Israel, ideologically. Outsiders to communal institutions, they complain that the Jewish establishment stifles their voices. "Rarely has a stifled voice been heard by so many millions," Alexander responded.

What's at stake in this ideological battle, Alexander said, is nothing less than Israel's survival. The question of "what makes us Jews" or "why should we remain Jews" is secondary to the question of whether Jews will come to the defense of the beleaguered Jewish state, he said.

"The choice - when we still live in the shadow of Auschwitz - between opposing the destruction of the last remaining large concentration of Jews outside the United States, and acquiescing in or encouraging it, is not primarily a choice between two ways of self-definition but between decency and cowardice, honor and dishonor. Jewish identity plays a role here - but not, I think, the decisive one. It is, no doubt, an irony that Israel's Jewish defamers are more dependent on the continued existence of Israel for their Jewish "identity" than are its defenders. But it's not the crucial matter. The main point is that preservation of the Jewish state is the chief business of this generation of Jews, whatever it may prove to be under the aspect of eternity."

[Bogdanor said:] "Young Jews should not fall for the delusion that anti-Semitism would disappear if they were powerless and stateless. Charges of dual loyalty, fantasies about Jewish conspiracies, stereotypes of Jewish power and greed hardly began with Israel's Declaration of Independence. The libels against Jews are not the result of anything the Jews have done, but of the fact that Jews exist. In recent years, we have been told, sometimes by the same people, that the Mossad warned thousands of Jews to stay away from the Twin Towers on 9/11 and that Israel provoked the terrorists who perpetrated 9/11. We have been informed that a Jewish cabal [- which] dominates all the think tanks in Washington, both Houses of Congress, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party and all the major US media outlets [-] determine[s] US foreign policy and drive[s] the US to war. To imagine that such irrationality can be cured by a sufficiently grotesque display of Jewish self-abasement - such as dissolving the world's only Jewish state - is to gamble with the lives of millions of Jews."


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