April 07

Zionism, Anti-Semitism, and the Boundaries of Dissent: Round 2 of the Alvin Rosenfeld Debate
by Shaul Magid and Paul Bogdanor
p. 2 of 3

Dissent or Hatred?
Paul Bogdanor

When prominent Jews demand to know why Israel should continue to exist, are they mere “critics of Israeli policy?” When they denounce Israel for apartheid and ethnic cleansing, ignoring tyrants and terrorists who really do practice these horrors, are they “speaking out” for justice and human rights? When they advocate the disappearance of a democratic country without regard to its people’s wishes, defame its elected representatives as war criminals, and initiate boycotts of its academics, are they serving the cause of “tolerance,” “pluralism,” and “open debate?”

To ask these questions is to pierce the sanctimonious aura enveloping so many “progressives” who begin their public attacks on fellow Jews with the words “As a Jew…” Still, analysts of such utterances can expect to be vilified, as Alvin Rosenfeld has been vilified, as being practitioners of “Stalinist tactics” (NPR discussion). [1] They should know that their work will be dismissed as “a shocking tissue of slander” (editorial in The Forward). [2] They may even be diagnosed, as Alvin Rosenfeld has been diagnosed, with a new mental illness, “the Amalek Syndrome” (columnist in the Jerusalem Post). [3] Or perhaps they will be paired (by Shaul Magid in this issue of Zeek) with the religious fanatics who blame Jews for the Holocaust. Reasoning with “critics of Israel” who insist on immunity from criticism is certainly a frustrating task.

That is not surprising. To oppose the existence of a democratic country because it is Jewish, to start boycotts of academics because they are Israeli, to contend that the victims of pogroms and gas chambers were nobler and safer when they were homeless and defenseless, is to assume a heavy burden of justification. For Shaul Magid, that burden is easy to discharge: it is enough to recall the destruction of the American Indians and to pontificate about “the context of a globalized world.” Others, observing the fate of minorities in Sudan or Iraq, may think that these are not very persuasive arguments for dismantling the Israel Defense Forces in today’s Middle East. Nor is it obvious that Jews made a mistake leaving Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union; that Jews would have been happier dwelling in Arab dictatorships after decolonization; or that hundreds of thousands of men, women and children of the Yishuv would have been better off staying in Europe on the eve of World War II.

None of this seems to matter to the anti-Zionists. The defects in their ideology are matched by the repeated lapses in their honesty. Investigate the writings of Israel’s most persistent Jewish detractors and you will discover a litany of falsehoods. Can Jacqueline Rose defend her claim, in a book issued by Princeton University Press, that Herzl and Hitler were inspired by the same performance of Wagner? [4] (Of course not: it won’t appear in the paperback edition.) [5] Is Ilan Pappé still disseminating the hoax of the 1948 massacre in Tantura? (With difficulty: the grad student who invented the tale was disciplined for research fraud.) [6] Has Noam Chomsky really shown that Israel obstructed the Red Cross in the 1967 war? (Hardly: his source says the exact opposite.) [7] Can Tony Judt really keep a straight face when he describes Israel’s leader as a “fascist” bent on “alienating” our friends in Iran? (I suppose anything is possible if you can write in favor of a one-state “solution” but tell an interviewer that you support two states.) [8]

Shaul Magid unwittingly contributes to the genre when he recycles the fiction of Benjamin Netanyahu campaigning “in front of” a Nazified poster of Yitzhak Rabin. That the Likud politician was nowhere near the offending image, that its creator was a government agent provocateur, are well-established facts. [9] In this context, it is intriguing to encounter the charge that Israel’s enemies are the victims of misrepresentation. Jacqueline Rose, it seems, may not share the sentiments that she approvingly quotes in her own book! If she uses an admission that early Zionists were considered mad to affirm that Zionism is collective insanity – it is also “bloody,” “cataclysmic,” “dangerous,” “deadly,” “defiled” and “demonic” – then she is just paraphrasing! And since Judaism, without being “racist,” is infested with “racialism,” it is grossly unfair to condemn Michael Neumann, who boasted of “encouraging vicious, racist anti-Semitism!” So what if he wrote this in correspondence with a group of neo-Nazis? [10]

As Rosenfeld argues, more than a few “progressive responses” to Jewish sovereignty are equally mindless displays of hatred. For journalist Esther Kaplan, Israel “should absolutely become a pariah state.” For the poet Adrienne Rich, the Zionist project “needs to dissolve before twenty-first century realities.” [11] For Jacqueline Rose, suicide bombing is “an act of passionate identification,” creating an “unbearable intimacy” between terrorist and victim. [12] If these self-styled guardians of the Jewish conscience believe that Egypt, Pakistan or any other country on the planet should “dissolve,” or that mass murderers deserve empathetic psychoanalysis when their targets are Arabs rather than Israelis, I see no sign of it.

Prominent Israel-haters, Rosenfeld points out, actually worry that they are too soft on the object of their loathing. Harvard researcher Sara Roy laments that “within the Jewish community it has always been considered a form of heresy to compare Israeli actions or policies with those of the Nazis.” [13] Noam Chomsky fears that “Hitler’s conceptions have struck a responsive chord in current Zionist commentary” and that Israel intends a “final solution from which few will escape.” [14] Some of their colleagues can scarcely glance at a keyboard without indulging their addiction to intellectual pornography. Theologian Marc Ellis announced that “what the Nazis had not succeeded in accomplishing… we as Jews have embarked upon.” [15] And the late Israel Shahak went even further, proclaiming that “there are Nazi-like tendencies in Judaism” – which presumably accounts for his prior disclosure, in the house journal of the PLO, that “Jewish terror is very kosher in the USA.” [16]

Sometimes, the search for Nazi atrocities in Israel means belittling the genuine crimes of the Third Reich. Noam Chomsky famously declared that “I see no antisemitic implications in denial of the existence of gas chambers, or even denial of the holocaust.” [17] British activist Paul Eisen has taken up the cause of neo-Nazi Ernst Zundel; the Swiss journalist Shraga Elam has written to David Irving to explain that “Hitler was no part of the project Auschwitz”; and leftist participants in a Haifa University discussion group have even exchanged views on whether the Fuhrer should be exonerated altogether. [18]

It will be said that these figures are unrepresentative, that their statements are taken out of context, that other “critics of Israeli policy” have deeper insights to offer. But there is the case of Tikkun magazine, which has long promoted itself as a source of reflective Jewish “dissent.” During the Iraq debates, Tikkun published an essay suggesting that the power of neoconservatives was enough to encourage belief in an “industrial sized grain of truth” in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and remarking that the neoconservatives “are, to listen to what their proud parents must be saying in private, practically the Jews Who Run the World.” [19] Tikkun also has played host to Norman G. Finkelstein, whose website reports pro-Israel activism under the headline “Elders of Zion to Meet in Brussels Graveyard,” and whose books castigate Jewish leaders as “caricatures straight from the pages of Der Stuermer.” [20]

Since anti-Zionists win few admirers by fabricating Israeli war crimes, defending antisemites and questioning the Holocaust, they have perfected the art of posing as hapless victims of a powerful Thought Police determined to “stifle” and “silence” them. “The Jewish community here is deeply totalitarian,” protests Noam Chomsky. [21] “The atmosphere is hysterical, verging on McCarthyism,” warns Michael Lerner. [22]

But if proclaiming your message in the lecture theaters of Columbia University or the op-ed columns of the New York Times or the global broadcasts of the BBC is to count as being “silenced,” then the ACLU’s free-speech attorneys will have their work cut out for them.

And if portraying the world’s only Jewish country as a demonic source of evil, campaigning for its destruction, or blaming its existence for antisemitism while making excuses for real antisemites are to qualify as “legitimate dissent,” then perhaps we really should be concerned for our collective sanity.


[1] On Point, NPR, February 6, 2007.

[2] Infamy, Editorial, The Forward, February 1, 2007.

[3] Samuel Freedman, The Amalek Syndrome, Jerusalem Post, February 8, 2007.

[4] Jacqueline Rose, The Question of Zion (Princeton University Press, 2005), pp. 64-5.

[5] “… the story about Herzl and Hitler attending the same performance of Wagner is indeed apocryphal and chronologically impossible… I have been happy to remove it from the forthcoming edition.” – Jacqueline Rose, A Question of Zion: A Reply to Shalom Lappin, Democratiya, Winter 2006. See also Shalom Lappin’s rejoinder in the same issue.

[6] See Yoav Gelber, Appendix III: Folklore Versus History: The Tantura Blood Libel in Palestine 1948: War, Escape and the Emergence of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (rev. ed., Sussex University Press, 2005), pp. 319-27.

[7] See Paul Bogdanor, “The Devil State: Chomsky’s War Against Israel,” in Edward Alexander and Paul Bogdanor, eds., The Jewish Divide Over Israel (Transaction, 2006), p. 97.

[8] Tony Judt, Israel: The Alternative, New York Review of Books, October 23, 2003; Gaby Wood, The New Jewish Question, The Observer, UK, February 11, 2007.

[9] See, e.g., Uri Dan and Dennis Eisenberg, “A Slanderous Tongue,” Jerusalem Post, October 10, 1996; Uzi Benziman, “Did Rabin Know?” Ha’aretz, November 14, 1997; Jack Golbert, “Two Years After Assassination: Soul-Searching on the Left Could Heal Israel's Wounds,” J.: The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California, November 14, 1997; Sarah Honig, “Another Arlosoroff Affair,” Jerusalem Post, November 3, 2005.

[10] See Jonathan Kay, Trent University’s Problem Professor, National Post, August 9, 2003.

[11] Quoted in Alvin Rosenfeld, “Progressive” Jewish Thought and the New Antisemitism, pp. 16-17, 19.

[12] Jacqueline Rose, Deadly Embrace, London Review of Books, November 4, 2004.

[13] Sara Roy, “Living with the Holocaust: The Journey of a Child of Holocaust Survivors,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1, Autumn 2002, p. 11.

[14] Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians (rev. ed., Pluto Press, 1999), pp. 208, 469.

[15] Marc Ellis, Israel and Palestine – Out of the Ashes: The Search for Jewish Identity in the Twenty-First Century (Pluto Press, 2002), p. 156.

[16]Interview, The Link, Vol. 28, No. 2, May/June 1995; Israel Shahak, “Human Rights in Israel,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 4, No. 3, Spring 1975, p. 170.

[17] Private letter to William D. Rubinstein, quoted in Rubinstein, Chomsky and the Neo-Nazis, Quadrant, Australia, October 1981.

[18] Paul Eisen, The Holocaust Wars, Zundelsite.org, May 20, 2005; Karl Pfeifer, message on “Academia” discussion list hosted by Ben-Gurion University, March 12, 2003; Shraga Elam, Tony Greenstein and Yael Korin, exchange on “Alef” discussion list hosted by Haifa University, November 21, 2006 et seq.

[19] Paul Buhle, “The Civil Liberties Crisis and the Threat of ‘Too Much Democracy,’” Tikkun, Vol. 18, No. 3, May/June 2003.

[20] Norman G. Finkelstein, The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (2nd paperback edition, Verso, 2003), p. 253.

[21] Interview, Shmate: A Journal of Progressive Jewish Thought, Summer 1988.

[22] Roger Cohen, “Jews and Evangelicals Find Common Political Ground,” New York Times, February 10, 2007.

Next Page: Shaul Magid's response to Paul Bogdanor