TO cross the Atlantic to America, as I did recently from London, is to move from one moral universe to its opposite in relation to Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza. Fury over Palestinian civilian casualties has risen to a fever pitch in Europe, moving beyond anti-Zionism into anti-Semitism, often a flimsy distinction—(“often a flimsy distinction”—the author questions or simply ignores rather disingenuously the fact that there are many solid anti-Zionists whose fides cannot be doubted, including Orthodox Jews, direct descendants of Holocaust victims, like Norman Solomon, and leading intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, etc. Indeed, not everyone can or wishes to be an Oprah-pleasing courtier like Elie Wiesel). Attacks on Jews and synagogues are the work of a rabid fringe, but anger toward an Israel portrayed as indiscriminate in its brutality is widespread. (“Portrayed”? -this word injects doubt into the adjective “indiscriminate”, which, considering the history of this glaringly lopsided assault so far, is actually correct.) For a growing number of Europeans, not having a negative opinion of Israel is tantamount to not having a conscience. The deaths of hundreds of children in any war, as one editorial in The Guardian put it, is “a special kind of obscenity.”
In the United States, by contrast, support for Israel remains strong (although less so among the young, who are most exposed to the warring hashtags of social media). That support is overwhelming in political circles. Palestinian suffering remains near taboo in Congress. (Where the level of political prostitution is the highest and most revolting.) It is not only among American Jews, better organized and more outspoken than their whispering European counterparts, that the story of a nation of immigrants escaping persecution and rising from nowhere in the Holy Land resonates. (Here RC regurgitates the Zion/Hollywood myth, not fact.) The Israeli saga — of courage and will echoes in American mythology, far beyond religious identification, be it Jewish or evangelical Christian. (Again more embellished but historically edited prose-leaving out the murders and violence, not to mention sheer highhanded illegality implicit in the creation of the modern state of Israel).
America tends toward a preference for unambiguous right and wrong — no European leader would pronounce the phrase “axis of evil” — and this third Gaza eruption in six years fits neatly enough into a Manichaean framework: A democratic Jewish state, hit by rockets, responds to Islamic terrorists. The obscenity, for most Americans, has a name. That name is Hamas.
James Lasdun, a Jewish author and poet who moved to the United States from England, has written that, “There is something uncannily adaptive about anti-Semitism: the way it can hide, unsuspected, in the most progressive minds.” (Via Lasdun, RC subtly insinuates that a fair number of those now hostile to Israel are really closet anti-Semites. They are just cunningly adapting to the new political climate. While this is undoubtedly true, the assertion smears everyone with the stain of doubt, including those who never were nor are antisemitic.) Certainly, European anti-Semitism has adapted. It used to be mainly of the nationalist right. It now finds expression among large Muslim communities (how could it not?). But the war has also suggested how the virulent anti-Israel sentiment now evident among the bien-pensant European left can create a climate that makes violent hatred of Jews permissible once again. (Which is in this case, and from the outset, Israel’s own doing, as she has by now utterly squandered the good will gained as a result of the Holocaust.)
In Germany, of all places, there have been a series of demonstrations since the Gaza conflict broke out with refrains like “Israel: Nazi murderer” and “Jew, Jew, you cowardly pig, come out and fight alone” (it rhymes in German). Three men hurled a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue in Wuppertal. Hitler’s name has been chanted, gassing of Jews invoked. Violent demonstrations have erupted in France. The foreign ministers of France, Italy and Germany were moved to issue a statement saying “anti-Semitic rhetoric and hostility against Jews” have “no place in our societies.” Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, went further. What Germany had witnessed, he wrote, makes the “blood freeze in anybody’s veins.” (This only proves that there are windbags and Israeli lobby-sensitive politicos on both sides of the Atlantic, not surprising in an age of abject kow-towing to Washington.)
Yes, it does. Germany, Israel’s closest ally apart from the United States, had been constrained since 1945. The moral shackles have loosened. Europe’s malevolent ghosts have not been entirely dispelled. The continent on which Jews went meekly to the slaughter reproaches the descendants of those who survived for absorbing the lesson that military might is inextricable from survival and that no attack must go unanswered, especially one from an organization bent on the annihilation of Israel. (This is simply insidious. The “attacks” come from a Palestinian people reduced to the state of utter desperation and sub humanity by Israel’s constant encroachments, vilification, and brutal attacks. Noted journalist Jonathan Cook, summed up the situation well,
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has argued that Israel was dragged into a war of necessity. Barack Obama echoed him: Israel had a right to defend itself from a barrage of rockets fired out of Gaza. Later the pretext became Israel’s need to destroy the “terror tunnels”.
The logic is deeply flawed. Israel is occupying and besieging Gaza, conferring on its inhabitants a right under international law to fight for their freedom. How does the oppressor, the lawbreaker have a right to self-defence? If Israel objects to being scratched and bruised, it should stop choking its victim. (See J. Cook, Eyeless In Gaza, Bold mine)
MAIN ARTICLE BY COHEN CONTINUES—
A strange transference sometimes seems to be at work, as if casting Israelis as murderers, shorn of any historical context (it is precisely the historical context, set forth impartially, that condemns Israeli actions; the actual history of Israel is not really taught in Israel, and is certainly not touched on the American media. The ordinary Israeli citizen carries as much disinformation about his nation’s origins in his head as the American about US foreign policy), somehow expiates the crime. In any case it is certain that for a quasi-pacifist Europe, the Palestinian victim plays well; the regional superpower, Israel, a militarized society through necessity, much less so. [This is pure hokum, as Israel did not need to become a militarized power. It chose that road by its policy of territorial aggrandizement and apartheid from the very beginning. It is not an accident that Israel is also the state with the most UN resolutions condemning its actions, near unanimous votes it has ignored thanks to the unswerving support of the United States, making the duo a pair of lawless states with contempt for the opinion of mankind, however badly expressed by a UNO that has been deformed and deviated from its original mission by Washington’s own attacks and perverted policies.]
Anger at Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is also “a unifying element among disparate Islamic communities in Europe,” said Jonathan Eyal, a foreign policy analyst in London. Moroccans in the Netherlands, Pakistanis in Britain and Algerians in France find common cause in denouncing Israel. “Their anger is also a low-cost expression of frustration and alienation,” Eyal said.
Views of the war in the United States can feel similarly skewed, resistant to the whole picture, slanted through cultural inclination and political diktat. It is still hard to say that the killing of hundreds of Palestinian children represents a Jewish failure, whatever else it may be. It is not easy to convey the point that the open-air prison of Gaza [well said, Roger!] in which Hamas has thrived exists in part because Israel has shown a strong preference for the status quo, failing to reach out to Palestinian moderates and extending settlements in the West Bank, fatally tempted by the idea of keeping all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
Oppressed people will respond. Millions of Palestinians are oppressed. They are routinely humiliated and live under Israeli dominion. When Jon Stewart is lionized (and slammed in some circles) for “revealing” Palestinian suffering to Americans, it suggests how hidden that suffering is. (Indeed, a journalistic scandal of the first order.) The way members of Congress have been falling over one another to demonstrate more vociferous support for Israel is a measure of a political climate not conducive to nuance. (Elegant way to call this abject bunch what they really are, cowardly whores to the Israeli lobby.) This hardly serves America’s interests, which lie in a now infinitely distant peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and will require balanced American mediation. (It’s high time America’s foreign policy was informed in substance not just in rhetoric by some morality, instead pure cold-blooded “pragmatic” calculus anchored in power.)
Something may be shifting. Powerful images of Palestinian suffering on Facebook and Twitter have hit younger Americans. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that among Americans age 65 or older, 53 percent blame Hamas for the violence and 15 percent Israel. For those ages 18 to 29, Israel is blamed by 29 percent of those questioned, Hamas by just 21 percent. My son-in-law, a doctor in Atlanta, said that for his social group, mainly professionals in their 30s with young children, it was “impossible to see infants being killed by what sometimes seems like an extension of the U.S. Army without being affected.”
I find myself dreaming of some island in the middle of the Atlantic where the blinding excesses on either side of the water are overcome and a fundamental truth is absorbed: that neither side is going away, that both have made grievous mistakes, and that the fate of Jewish and Palestinian children — united in their innocence — depends on placing the future above the past. That island will no doubt remain as illusory as peace. Meanwhile, on balance, I am pleased to have become a naturalized American.