If you read just one thing online this week, please read the article by Shalom Lappin that I linked to on Saturday, from the inaugural issue of Engage's new journal. It's long, so you need to set aside some time; but it repays close reading. It is a powerful synthesis of some worrying, but unmistakeable, recent trends. An excerpt:
Regardless of what one thinks of Zionism and the creation of Israel in historical terms, Israel is a country that has existed for close to sixty years, and it now has a population of 6,869,500. Of these, 5,529,300 (80%) are Israeli Jews, who constitute a clearly recognizable national entity characterised by a language, shared culture, and common history. Using the rhetoric of anti-Zionism to criticise Israel’s repression of the Palestinians in the occupied territories is, in most cases, a device for rendering the call for Israel’s elimination palatable. By reducing an entire nation to an ideology, one gives the appearance of calling for a change of political regime when one is, in fact, advocating the destruction of one country and its replacement by another.
The radical uniqueness of this stance becomes apparent when one considers that no parallel movements exist for dismantling other countries, even when these were created by territorial partition in response to religio-ethnic strife, as in the case of Pakistan and India (established at the same time as Israel), or through colonial conquest and ethnic cleansing, like Australia, Canada, the United States, and most Latin American countries. The fact that, in general, the damage done to the indigenous populations of these countries remains unaddressed has not undermined their international legitimacy, which is never brought into serious question.
Anti-Zionism is also widely used in the current debate as a means of criticising the overwhelming majority of Jews who support Israel's existence, while avoiding direct reference to Jews as such. In this context "Zionist" has been emptied of its original historical and political content, and turned into a term of abuse that is used as a rough paraphrase of expressions like "racist" and "colonialist".
In a more sinister vein, it is employed to suggest a powerful, quasi criminal political and financial lobby working from within the Jewish Community, in league with the Unite[d] States, to promote Israeli and Jewish interests by controlling the press and pulling levers of international power. It is in this mode that current anti-Zionism blossoms into full blown anti-Semitism.
These distinct strands of anti-Zionism frequently blend into each other, and they often become closely intertwined in extreme anti-Israel discourse, despite their conceptual differences. The effect of this toxic mixture is that a line of discussion that may start out as reasonable, if forceful criticism of Israeli policy can quickly escalate into an assault on Israel as a country, and then graduate into transparently racist charges of Zionist control of the press and the political process.
Mainstream journalists frequently invoke the activities of a powerful Zionist or pro-Israel lobby attempting to control the media's handling of news on Israel... Strikingly, advocacy of Palestinian, Arab, or Muslim interests is not generally treated as illegitimate lobbying, even when pursued in a systematic and professional manner by well funded political organizations or by Middle Eastern governments. Of course, there is no reason why it should be, given that it is part of normal public debate and political action. The obvious question is why activity on behalf of Israeli concerns, even when limited to protesting boycotts or objecting to imbalanced reporting in the press, is so often stigmatised in this way. The [e]ffect of this stigma is to deligitimise not only Israel but large sections of the Jewish Community and its institutions.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty that the Jewish Community encounters in the current situation is its comparative isolation. It has no obvious allies in the political domain. Much of the left now serves as an impresario for the hostility that it faces. The centre and the moderate conservatives are largely indifferent, and the far right is a deadly threat. Islamist groups are shaping opinion within Muslim communities, while non-Muslim immigrants that share common concerns with Jews, like Indian Hindus and Sikhs are not in a position to offer substantive assistance, given their own vulnerable position in the cross fire between Islamism and anti-immigrant racism. Jews continue to be seen as privileged, excessively influential, and so in no need of assistance on one side, but irreparably foreign on the other. The unwillingness of major public figures to take up the issue of rising hostility to collective Jewish concerns leaves the Community quietly under siege.