Ghada Karmi

Al-Hayat     2003/05/24

Anti-Semitism: Israel's Most Powerful Weapon

Ghada Karmi     


Israel's story from its inception 55 years ago in 1948 has been one of unparalleled success. Neither war with the Arabs nor Palestinian resistance in all its forms, starting from the establishment of the PLO in 1964 through to the armed struggle and then to the Intifada has defeated or even weakened Israel. The present Intifada is a case in point. It has been raging for over two years now. The death toll amongst Palestinians, which keeps rising daily, is well over 2000, with a further 20,000 wounded. Between May 1 and May 3 alone, the Israelis killed 25 Palestinians and Colin Powell the U.S. Secretary of State had scarcely left Israel before they invaded the Rafah refugee camp and killed another three Palestinians.

Everyday life for Palestinians is a nightmare of curfews, sieges, destroyed livelihoods, poverty, and ritual humiliation at the hands of Israeli soldiers, often young and often out of control. Nor is it only Palestinians who have suffered at the hands of the Israeli army. Last November an Israeli sniper killed the head of a UN project in Jenin, Ian Hook; two weeks ago, a British cameraman, James Miller, was shot dead in Gaza by the Israelis and just before, Tom Hurndall, a young British peace activist was also shot in Gaza and is now in a coma; earlier this year, another peace activist, Rachel Corrie, was buried beneath an Israeli bulldozer. Israel has neither acknowledged nor apologized for these killings. Its occupation of Palestinian territory, soon to be 36 years, is the longest in history and remains effectively unchallenged. If another state had been guilty of the human rights abuses against a civilian population that Israel stands accused of, or of the utter illegality of all its actions in the occupied territories the it would have been a pariah long ago, universally condemned, isolated and subject to international sanction - and may have even been invaded by Bush and Blair.

Yet none of this has happened in Israel's case. Any suggestion that Israel has been weakened by internal division and economic difficulties is wishful thinking. The U.S. underwrites all its economic losses and its diplomats, ministers and personalities still enjoy a friendly reception in most parts of the world, even now. Its sensitivities and interests are scrupulously taken into account. Britain, which has been assiduous in helping the investigation into the recent suicide bombings carried out by British citizens in Israel, has not demanded a reciprocal Israeli response over the shootings of British subjects there. Colin Powell, who completed a visit to Israel for talks over the 'Peace Map' last week, got nothing out of Prime Minister Sharon. Even the minor concession of lifting travel restrictions on the Palestinians that Sharon offered, was reversed within hours of Powell leaving. Tony Blair has on several occasions played genial host to the same Ariel Sharon, despite the latter's responsibility for a campaign of assault on the Palestinians going back to the 1950s.

The Roadmap is heavily weighted in Israel's favor, since it requires the Palestinians to immediately end their armed resistance against occupation in return for minor Israeli actions. Sharon has said he will do nothing until the Palestinian side shows it is restraining 'the militants' and has also now demanded that they give up the Right of Return. This cynical ploy can do nothing except frustrate the whole process and ensure its failure, since it requires that the occupied give up resisting their occupiers, while that occupation continues, as well as demanding they agree to abolish the very basis of their case. Previous Middle East peace proposals have foundered for such reasons, and the current one will be no different

Yet, no one calls Israel to account, on this or on any other of its misdemeanours - at least not in the West. Although in recent times public support in Europe has shifted away from Israel and its previous special status has been called into question, yet it retains much of its inviolability from attack. Much of this impunity derives without doubt from the skilful exploitation of allegations of anti-Semitism employed by Israel and its sympathizers. This is aimed at both East and West. Arab rejection of Israel is imputed to irrational hatred of Jews rather than anything else. This cuts no ice with Arabs but has proved a most effective weapon against even the mildest Western criticism of Israel and has obscured the distinction between 'Israeli' and 'Jewish' As a result, any adverse comment about Israel draws forth vociferous accusations of anti-Semitism, and such is the fear of this slur that critics shy away from speaking out. This is most marked in Germany, where I have just completed a visit, for obvious historical reasons, people will tell you. Although the Second World War ended sixty years ago, the guilt and remorse of Germans is as fresh as if it had been yesterday. Few Arabs understand I think the strength of this feeling, or how it imposes an instant mental paralysis on Germans as soon as Israel is mentioned, such that all critical faculty deserts them.

Though not as powerful, the feeling in other northern European countries is similar. Americans, who had no responsibility for the killing of Jews in the war, have also been coerced to follow the same path. Hence, a culture of silence has developed about Israel amounting to what can only be termed a form of intellectual terrorism that has intimidated many people from criticizing Israeli actions or even of thinking coherently about the issue. One man, who has decided not to be intimidated however, is Tam Dalyell, the longest-standing British MP and Father of the House - meaning that he is the oldest member of the House of Commons. In a recent interview to the American magazine, Vanity Fair, he spoke about a 'Jewish cabal' that drives U.S. and British policy towards the Middle East. He specifically named his fellow MP, Peter Mandelson, Foreign secretary, Jack Straw and Lord Levy, Tony Blair's special Middle East advisor. When pressed, he said he was referring to advisors in the U.S. who had adopted the Sharon/Likud agenda. He pointed out that of the seven hawkish policy advisors to Bush, six were Jewish and were urging a strike against Syria.

Factually, Tam Dalyell was quite correct. The U.S. policy advisors of the likes of Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, are not only Jewish but, more to the point, ardent supporters of Israel. Pro-Israeli influence over the U.S. Congress and the decision-making process in the American administration is well documented. Many have raised the issue of how far Bush was influenced in his decision to attack Iraq by his pro-Israel advisors, since it was apparent that the party with most to gain from it was Israel In Britain, Peter Mandelson, whose father is Jewish (and as such would make him eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Israeli Law of return), is a log-time supported of Israel. Lord Levy was a donor to Ehud Barak's election campaign and his son worked in the former prime minister's office in Tel Aviv.

Whatever all this might signify is debatable. But it is a proper subject for comment and inquiry - what would have happened if, say, the people in question had all been Arabs or Muslims? Is it possible to imagine that such a phenomenon would have gone unquestioned? Yet, the charge of anti-Semitism followed swiftly on Dalyell's comments, with strong rebuttals published in Britain's leading daily newspapers. No one paused to consider the content of his remarks for their truth or validity. They were immediately dismissed as wrong or prejudiced. It is a tribute to his courage that he rejected this pressure and chose to speak his mind. If more people in Europe and America were prepared to do the same, then Israel's stranglehold on truth might be ended, and the blank cheque that gives it limitless political credit might be cancelled. For us in the Arab world, it serves as a reminder that the battle against Israel is complex and will have to take this dimension into account.

Ghada Karmi is a Palestinian academic and writer who lives in London She is the author of a recent memoir, In search of Fatima (Verso Press).