By Mick Hume, April 22, 2002
A few months ago Daniel Bernard, the French Ambassador to Britain, caused a
storm when he was quoted as saying that the problems thrown up by the
Middle East were the fault of “that shitty little country, Israel”.
It now appears that his alleged opinion is shared by a global coalition
incorporating governments, intellectuals and everybody else from Islamic
fundamentalists to anti-capitalist protesters and poets.
As one who has long sympathised with the Palestinian cause, I feel increasingly
suspicious of what is behind the anti-Israeli turn in Western opinion. The
newfound discomfort with Israeli aggression looks less like a response to events
in the Middle East than a symptom of the West’s loss of conviction in itself.
It is becoming clear that, while the Israelis stand accused of a brutal crackdown
in the Palestinian refugee camp at Jenin, there was no massacre of civilians.
Yet last week leading institutions and commentators were quick to give
credence to the wilder claims of war crimes and secret mass graves. Those
who suggest that the horrors of Jenin are unique in the annals of the
Arab-Israeli conflict have short memories.
Instead, Israel is now being widely condemned for the sort of
‘anti-terrorist’ action that might have been tacitly condoned in the past. The
new mood is strongest in Europe. Yet even in America the Israeli lobby is on
the defensive, its columnists and Congressmen making shrill demands for
support that would once have been unnecessary. Jewish groups boycotted the
LA Times last week after an article compared Ariel Sharon to Slobodan Milosevic.
The reaction against Israel is not old-fashioned anti-Semitism, Even prominent
Jews are coming out as anti-Israeli. The leading Labour MP Gerald Kaufman – a
veteran Zionist – has branded Israel a pariah state and suggested that Sharon
might be a war criminal.
“Every Jew needs to sob their heart out,” says a spokeswoman for one
Washington peace group: “We need to build healing mechanisms.”
In the eyes of many today, Israel’s crime is to be the most forceful expression
of Western values. The Israeli state is seen as a beachhead of Western
civilisation in a hostile world. That used to be its greatest asset. Today,
however, Western civilisation has fallen into disrepute even within its own
heartlands, and Israel’s image has suffered accordingly.
Israel has never been able to accept completely such trends as political
correctness, relativism and self-doubt. If it did so, the Israeli state would be
finished. Today, however, Israel’s unambiguous attitude of ‘we’re right and
you’re wrong’, and defence of national sovereignty against the intrusions of
international bodies, are embarrassing reminders of the kind of conviction that
Western elites no longer feel able to express.
The Israeli defence of its actions in Jenin: “at least we sent our men in
to fight, instead of flattening everything from 50,000ft”, is likely to have
touched a raw nerve in Washington and Whitehall.
In Britain, the Chief Rabbi has expressed shock at commentators questioning
the right of Israel to exist.
These people are not rerunning legitimate historical debates about sovereignty.
They are indulging a contemporary fantasy that, if only Israel could somehow
be made to disappear, everything would be all right, since surely nobody would
have reason to hate the West.
While Western leaders turn their backs on their old ally, their enemies turn on
Israel as a scapegoat for the world’s ills. Israel and the Jews have become the
targets of a sort of ersatz anti-imperialism.
A global consensus against Israel has taken shape among all those who
hate the values of Western society, an unholy alliance of Islamic
fundamentalists with fashionable anti-capitalists. The 50 Western
demonstrators who turned up at Yassir Arafat’s besieged Ramallah compound
bizarrely included Jose Bove, the French farmer famous for smashing up a
A century ago the German socialist August Bebel denounced attacks on ‘Jewish
capitalism’ as “the socialism of fools”. By the same token, many of the
criticisms of Israel today look like the anti- imperialism of idiots. Attacking the
Israelis has become a way to vindicate any petty prejudice. It unites my German
friend’s right-wing grandmother, who has waited 50 years for an excuse to
criticise ’the Jews’, with left-wing protesters who imagine that the Palestinian
struggle is on a par with them vandalising a burger bar.
Sympathy with the terrible plight of Jenin is no reason to endorse the
anti-imperialism of idiots. Populist anti-Israeli rhetoric is cheap, but offers no
solutions to the long-suffering peoples of the Middle East. And climbing on the
backs of the victims to strike moralistic postures is just, as the diplomatic
French might say, merde.