Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bernard-Henri Levy

The Delirium of Anti-Zionism

Last week many were quick to hail the United Nations conference on anti-Semitism as a hopeful step forward. The fact that just 37 of the 193 UN member states even bothered to send delegates should be demonstration enough of just how little many countries care about the modern-day revival of global Jew hatred. There was, however, one moment in the proceedings that particularly stood out. During his address to the conference, French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy identified demonization of Israel as key component of contemporary anti-Semitism, referring to what he termed “the delirium of anti-Zionism.” It was a particularly satisfying irony to hear these words spoken in a chamber that has so often played host to the worst trashing of the Jewish state. And yet the international consensus, as well as the consensus in the West, is largely deaf to that irony. Most still fail to see the extent to which anti-Zionism is the primary expression of hostility against Jews today.

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Last week many were quick to hail the United Nations conference on anti-Semitism as a hopeful step forward. The fact that just 37 of the 193 UN member states even bothered to send delegates should be demonstration enough of just how little many countries care about the modern-day revival of global Jew hatred. There was, however, one moment in the proceedings that particularly stood out. During his address to the conference, French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy identified demonization of Israel as key component of contemporary anti-Semitism, referring to what he termed “the delirium of anti-Zionism.” It was a particularly satisfying irony to hear these words spoken in a chamber that has so often played host to the worst trashing of the Jewish state. And yet the international consensus, as well as the consensus in the West, is largely deaf to that irony. Most still fail to see the extent to which anti-Zionism is the primary expression of hostility against Jews today.

That the United Nations has long provided one of the chief forums for castigating Israel can hardly be in doubt. The current General Assembly session (2014-2015) has so far passed 20 resolutions against Israel, and just three against events elsewhere in the world. The unhinged obsession with condemning the Jewish state is plain enough for all to see. And yet what even those world leaders who do speak out against anti-Semitism still often refuse to see is that those 20 UN resolutions against Israel represent the modern expression of an age-old Jew hatred.

Shortly after the Paris attacks, Natan Sharansky was interviewed by the BBC in his capacity as the head of the Jewish Agency. When asked about the rise of anti-Semitism Sharansky attempted to refer to the liberal circles in Europe where Israel receives almost uniform hostility. At that point the BBC anchor interjected, surely Sharansky did not mean to equate those who are “very critical” of Israel with anti-Semites? That would be a “dangerous” comparison the BBC man asserted. When Sharansky then attempted to clarify the distinction between reasonable criticism and the tendency to treat Israel unfairly the BBC presenter dismissively responded that he didn’t want to get into a discussion about Israel.

But for those who still can’t–or won’t–understand this phenomenon for what it is, and who would subsequently find Henri-Levy’s reference to anti-Zionism during a conference about anti-Semitism puzzling, perhaps they might direct their attention to another event that took place in New York last week. Anyone wishing to see the delirium of anti-Zionism in practice need only refer to Thursday’s storming of a New York City Council session by anti-Israel activists during a commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz.

As the 40 demonstrators were being made to exit the public gallery one young woman hatefully screamed into a recording camera: “Palestinian lives Matter!” Well, quite. But try telling that to Hamas. And besides, however much Palestinian lives do matter, what on earth has that got to do with commemorating the Holocaust? This was in fact another theme picked up by Henri-Levy during his address: the phenomenon of both Holocaust denial and resistance to the Holocaust’s commemoration.

In 1975, when the UN infamously declared that Zionism is a form of racism, Daniel Patrick Moynihan defiantly stood before the General Assembly and informed the delegates that the UN had just granted “symbolic amnesty” to the murderers of the six million Jews. The increasingly common accusation that Israel is in some way replicating the crimes of Nazi Germany is certainly in part an effort to give that same amnesty, as well as to belittle the Nazi crime itself. This effort by anti-Israel activists to hijack Holocaust commemorations with an anti-Zionist message is of course a vicious–albeit clumsy–attempt to invalidate Israel’s very right to exist. These people inhabit a historically illiterate narrative in which they wrongly believe that the world powers simply handed the Jews someone else’s country as an afterthought following the Holocaust. By distracting from Nazi atrocities against Jews while accusing Jews of equal crimes against Palestinians, they seem to believe that they are nullifying the Jewish claim to statehood.

It is a similar ignorance about the history of anti-Semitism that allows everyone else not to see how this is nothing less than the latest manifestation of an ever-mutating Jew hatred. This malady has an unending appeal because of the way it always promises to liberate mankind, in one way or another, by “solving” the Jews. It was with great optimism that a former minister of the Dutch government recently expressed the opinion that transferring all the Jews from Israel to the United States would herald a new era of world peace. Of course, by the same logic it is the selfish Jews clinging to their state who bear ultimate responsibility for entrapping mankind in the ongoing horrors of war.

Anti-Semitism always expresses itself through the prevailing value system of the time. In Nazi Germany it was pseudo race-science, and in the Soviet Union Marxist doctrines, that were employed against the Jews. In the Middle Ages it was the teachings of the Church that fulfilled this role. Today, as human rights and international law are being hijacked to demonize the Jewish state, the UN is assuming a similar role to the one that the medieval papacy once had. It was encouraging then to hear Bernard Henri-Levy denouncing the delirium of anti-Zionism from the General Assembly chamber, voicing a truth that is all too rarely expressed.

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JCall and the Distress of European Jewry

The new European group JCall raises a disturbing question: how could pro-Israel intellectuals like Alain Finkielkraut and Bernard-Henri Levy support a venture that is simultaneously anti-Israel and intellectually incoherent?

JCall presented a petition to the European Parliament this week that asserted that Israel’s future “depends upon” peace with the Palestinians, so the European Union must “put pressure on both parties.” Then, abandoning the pretense of even-handedness, it added: “Systematic support of Israeli government policy is dangerous and does not serve the true interests of the state of Israel.” There was no comparable warning against supporting Palestinian Authority policies, some of which clearly endanger Israel.

Asked to explain this disparity, founder David Chemla told the Jerusalem Post, “As Jews tied to Israel, we speak to the Israelis. So this is a call to the Israelis.”

That is obvious nonsense: if JCall really wanted to address Israelis, it would petition the Knesset — not the virulently anti-Israel European Parliament, which just two months ago backed the Goldstone Report’s allegations of Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza. The U.S. Congress, by comparison, denounced the report as hopelessly biased.

And that contrast highlights the more serious intellectual incoherence in JCall’s position. JCall, like JStreet, on which it is self-consciously modeled, opposes “delegitimization and boycotts of Israel,” Chemla told Haaretz. But America could reduce support for Israel in many ways short of boycott/divestment/sanctions. Europe can’t.

Unlike the U.S., the EU doesn’t vote against anti-Israel UN resolutions, give Israel financial aid, serve as a major Israeli arms supplier, and publicly defend (or at least refrain from condemning) Israeli counterterrorism measures. Indeed, it makes only one major contribution to Israel’s welfare: it’s Israel’s largest trading partner.

So when you urge European “pressure” on Israel, you’re effectively urging BDS. The EU has no lesser pressure mechanisms left.

Chemla nevertheless insisted that JCall is “actually helping Israel’s image in Europe” by showing that the Jewish community is “not monolithic.” How Europeans’ image of Israel would be improved by learning that prominent Jews also deem Israel the conflict’s main culprit remains a mystery.

But it’s no mystery how that might improve Europeans’ image of European Jews. On a continent where opinion polls consistently show Israel to be widely loathed, even implying that Israel isn’t solely to blame makes you suspect. But if you urge the EU to withhold support from Israel’s government, yet not from the PA; if you even declare that this serves Israel’s “true interests,” so Europeans need suffer no qualms of conscience, then you’ve restored yourself to the European consensus. You’ve showed, to quote JCall’s petition, that you, too, hear “the voice of reason” — at least as Europe currently defines it.

It’s hard being a Jew in Europe today. So it’s understandable that some would seize on anything, however irrational, that labels itself “pro-Israel” while not violating the European consensus. But their Israeli and American brethren must remind them of the truth: being “pro-Israel” in Europe today requires emphasizing Palestinian guilt, which Europeans routinely ignore, rather than reinforcing their “blame Israel” reflex. And it requires lobbying against “pressure” that can only be manifest through BDS.

The new European group JCall raises a disturbing question: how could pro-Israel intellectuals like Alain Finkielkraut and Bernard-Henri Levy support a venture that is simultaneously anti-Israel and intellectually incoherent?

JCall presented a petition to the European Parliament this week that asserted that Israel’s future “depends upon” peace with the Palestinians, so the European Union must “put pressure on both parties.” Then, abandoning the pretense of even-handedness, it added: “Systematic support of Israeli government policy is dangerous and does not serve the true interests of the state of Israel.” There was no comparable warning against supporting Palestinian Authority policies, some of which clearly endanger Israel.

Asked to explain this disparity, founder David Chemla told the Jerusalem Post, “As Jews tied to Israel, we speak to the Israelis. So this is a call to the Israelis.”

That is obvious nonsense: if JCall really wanted to address Israelis, it would petition the Knesset — not the virulently anti-Israel European Parliament, which just two months ago backed the Goldstone Report’s allegations of Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza. The U.S. Congress, by comparison, denounced the report as hopelessly biased.

And that contrast highlights the more serious intellectual incoherence in JCall’s position. JCall, like JStreet, on which it is self-consciously modeled, opposes “delegitimization and boycotts of Israel,” Chemla told Haaretz. But America could reduce support for Israel in many ways short of boycott/divestment/sanctions. Europe can’t.

Unlike the U.S., the EU doesn’t vote against anti-Israel UN resolutions, give Israel financial aid, serve as a major Israeli arms supplier, and publicly defend (or at least refrain from condemning) Israeli counterterrorism measures. Indeed, it makes only one major contribution to Israel’s welfare: it’s Israel’s largest trading partner.

So when you urge European “pressure” on Israel, you’re effectively urging BDS. The EU has no lesser pressure mechanisms left.

Chemla nevertheless insisted that JCall is “actually helping Israel’s image in Europe” by showing that the Jewish community is “not monolithic.” How Europeans’ image of Israel would be improved by learning that prominent Jews also deem Israel the conflict’s main culprit remains a mystery.

But it’s no mystery how that might improve Europeans’ image of European Jews. On a continent where opinion polls consistently show Israel to be widely loathed, even implying that Israel isn’t solely to blame makes you suspect. But if you urge the EU to withhold support from Israel’s government, yet not from the PA; if you even declare that this serves Israel’s “true interests,” so Europeans need suffer no qualms of conscience, then you’ve restored yourself to the European consensus. You’ve showed, to quote JCall’s petition, that you, too, hear “the voice of reason” — at least as Europe currently defines it.

It’s hard being a Jew in Europe today. So it’s understandable that some would seize on anything, however irrational, that labels itself “pro-Israel” while not violating the European consensus. But their Israeli and American brethren must remind them of the truth: being “pro-Israel” in Europe today requires emphasizing Palestinian guilt, which Europeans routinely ignore, rather than reinforcing their “blame Israel” reflex. And it requires lobbying against “pressure” that can only be manifest through BDS.

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