Israel’s anti-Semitic friends

3 November 2009

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Michal Kaminski, who opposes Poland apologizing for the massacre of hundreds of Jews in a Polish village in 1941, on a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. (ECR)


There can be few supporters of the Palestinians, still less anti-Zionists, who haven’t, at some time or another, been accused of “anti-Semitism.” Accusations that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism have become little more than a ritual exercise in defamation. The danger in making such accusations is, to quote the former Director of the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, Antony Lerman, that it “drains the word antisemitism of any useful meaning.” Moreover, its purpose is to discourage criticism of Israel and support of the Palestinians or risk being labeled as anti-Semitic. As I wrote two years ago, “If you cry wolf long and loud enough, when anti-Semitism does raise its head no one will bat an eyelid.”

The European political establishment, like its American counterpart, has taken to the idea that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are indistinguishable. According to the European Union’s Working Definition, anti-Semitism includes: denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination (e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor), drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, and holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel. It is ironic that the EU’s definition of anti-Semitism is itself anti-Semitic!

But the idea that “Jewish people” wherever they live, form a nation separate from the people they live amongst, because that is the meaning of self-determination, is itself an anti-Semitic concept. What is really being stated is that Jews form a race, not a nation.

Moreover, if drawing comparisons between Israeli policies and the Nazis is anti-Semitic, then the late Marek Edelman, the Commander of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, must have been an anti-Semite. In 2002, Edelman stated publicly that Palestinian resistance fighters in the second intifada were the inheritors of the Jewish Fighting Organization of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Similarly, since holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the Israeli state is indeed anti-Semitic, what then is one to make of the actions of the Board of Deputies of British Jews? On 9 January 2009 the Board of Deputies held a rally under the title “Community to Show Support for Israel at Trafalgar Square Rally.”

Zionism held that Jews were strangers in other peoples’ lands and that anti-Semitism was the natural, if not justifiable, reaction to an alien presence among them. It was but a short step from this to an acceptance that anti-Semitic characteristics and caricatures of Jews were essentially correct. Indeed, the conflation of anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism is yet another irony, as historically, it was non-Jewish support of Zionism that was seen by Jews as anti-Semitic. What anti-Semites and leading Zionists said about Jews were almost indistinguishable. As A.B. Yehoshua, one of Israel’s foremost novelists, stated in a lecture to the Union of Jewish Students: “Even today, in a perverse way, a real anti-Semite must be a Zionist.” And from Pinhas Felix Rosenbluth, a leading German Zionist, to Arthur Ruppin, head of the Jewish Agency, Zionists have not hesitated to employ anti-Semitic rhetoric to further their cause.

This is not so strange, because what one is talking about are in reality two entirely different forms of political philosophy with the same name — anti-Semitism. Contrary to received opinion, there is nothing in common between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Certainly the Zionist movement has deliberately confused the two, but the former is a form of anti-racism whereas the latter is a form of racism. There can be no blurring at the edges or overlap. One is either an anti-Semite or an anti-Zionist. One cannot be both.

Therefore, it is not surprising that today, with the growth of far right and neo-fascist parties in Europe, that almost without exception they are pro-Israel. Thus, the very people who criticize anti-Zionists and Palestinian supporters as anti-Semitic are rushing to hold the hands of Zionism’s far-right supporters.

For example Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom Ron Prossor was more than happy to share a platform at the Conservative Friends of Israel with Michal Kaminski of the Polish Justice and Freedom Party. Kaminski is notorious in Poland for openly opposing the call for an official apology for the 1941 massacre of hundreds of Jews in the Polish village of Jedwabne.

Last month, Israel’s Ambassador to the European Union, Ran Curiel, paid the first visit by an ambassador to the Kaminski-chaired European Conservatives & Reform (ECR) Group in the European Parliament. As quoted in a 13 October news post on ECR’s website, Curiel told the assembled audience that “ ‘After years of “megaphone diplomacy” between Israel and Europe, an open dialogue is the best thing we can do now.’” Furthermore, “He highly appreciated the support of the ECR Group for the two-state solution to the ‘peace process’ which would fully ensure the security of the State of Israel and respect the border of national states.”

Curiel’s visit followed an earlier visit by Kaminski to Israel with the European Friends of Israel organization. It was Kaminski’s first visit to a non-EU country as Chairman of the ECR. According to a 25 September post on the Conservative Friends of Israel’s website, at a dinner held by the organization Kaminski explained that Israel was deliberately chosen as his first trip so that he could “ ‘deliver the message that there is a group in the European Parliament that will be a true friend of Israel.’”

Similarly in the UK, Kaminski’s Zionist allies rushed to his defense last month. As the Jewish Chronicle reported on 15 October, several members of the Jewish Leadership Council were outraged when Board of Deputies President Vivian Wineman wrote a letter to David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, questioning the Tory alliance with Kaminski and his far-right Justice and Freedom Party in the European Parliament. Andrew Gilbert, one of a number of deputies who believe the letter to Cameron ill-judged, stated that “ ‘Nobody in the Jewish or political community did enough research either to say that Michal Kaminski or Roberts Zile have suspect views, which means we should shun them, or to clear them.’”

Nor is the Conservative party alone in embracing Israel’s fascist allies. The British National Party is a growing party, with more than 50 local councilors and two members of the European Parliament. On 22 October 2009, its leader, Nick Griffin, appeared on the BBC’s premier program Question Time, to a wave of protests. How did he explain away his anti-Semitism and support for holocaust denial? By explaining that though he might not be too fond of Jews, he was a strong supporter of Israel, stating that “there are Nazis in Britain and they loathe me because I have brought the BNP from being frankly an anti-Semitic and racist organization into being the only political party which in the clashes between Israel and Gaza stood full-square behind Israel’s right to deal with Hamas terrorists.”

As the Guardian reported in April 2008, Board of Deputies spokesperson Ruth Smeed let readers know that “The BNP website is now one of the most Zionist on the web — it goes further than any of the mainstream parties in its support of Israel.”

But Kaminski and Roberts Zile, of the Waffen-SS supporting Latvian Freedom and Fatherland Party, are not the exceptions. Dutch far-right anti-Islam politician and Member of Parliament Geert Wilders is another figure who combines virulent racism with Zionism. As reported in the Israeli daily Haaretz on 18 June, Wilders claimed that “Israel is only the first line of defense for the West. Now it’s Israel but we are next. That’s why beyond solidarity, it is in Europe’s interest to stand by Israel.”

Wilders is facing criminal charges for inciting hate by comparing the Quran to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. After winning five seats in June parliamentary elections, Wilders’s Party of Freedom is now the second largest political party in the country. Wilders has also found common cause with the right-wing openly racist political party of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Of Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, Wilders explained that “ ‘Our parties may not be identical, but there are certainly more similarities than dissimilarities, and I am proud of that,’” (Haaretz, 18 June 2009). He added that “ ‘Lieberman’s an intelligent, strong and clever politician and I understand why his party grew in popularity.’”

Indeed, the only far-right party that I could find whose anti-Semitism is disguised as anti-Zionism is Jobbik, the Movement for a Better Hungary, a descendant of the pro-Nazi Nyilas. During World War II, Nyilas was responsible for the deaths of some 50,000 mainly Budapest Jews. Leaders of the party were executed by the Hungarian state after liberation. This is the party that the BNP, which “opposes anti-Semitism,” is joined with in the European Parliament.

Therefore, when Israel’s Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz claims that Judge Richard Goldstone is an “anti-Semite” and that it is possible for a Jew to be an anti-Semite, he is right: the history of Zionism is indeed full of such examples!

Tony Greenstein is a trade union activist, a member of UNISON, Brighton & Hove Trades Council and Secretary of Brighton & Hove Unemployed Workers Centre, where he works as an employment adviser. He runs a socialist, anti-Zionist blog, www.azvsas.blogspot.com.