Frontpage Interview’s guest today is David Solway, the award-winning author of over twenty-five books of poetry, criticism, educational theory, and travel. He is a contributor to magazines as varied as The Atlantic, the Sewanee Review, Books in Canada, and the Partisan Review. His book, The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and Identity, was a Canadian bestseller. A former leftist, he abandoned the political faith after 9/11. He is the author of the new book, Hear, O Israel!
FP: David Solway, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Tell us about this new collection of essays.
Solway: Hear, O Israel! is not so much a collection of essays as a sequence of chapters connected by what I might call subdural links, not always evident to the external eye. The arrangement is intended to build a sort of intuitive momentum. Also, when I use the word “Israel” in the title, I’m referring not exclusively to the country of Israel but the peoplehood of Jews, whether in Israel, Canada, the U.S., or wherever they may be found–in Nunavut or on Mars, if it comes to that.
In other words, I’m asking not the country but the nation to listen to the seismic rumble of antisemitic feeling becoming ever more prominent, and adapting the Shema, the “Hear, O Israel” from the famous invocation in Deuteronomy 6:4 and Mark 12:29, to a different purpose. The Shema is a declaration of God’s unity, but I am trying to direct attention to the world’s increasing unity in marshaling its enmity and resources against the Jewish people.
FP: Why the hatred of the Jew?
Solway: As I write in the book, hatred of the Jew is the perpetual vestige of Western resentment and vexation against its own civilizing imperative. This too was Winston Churchill’s understanding of Jew-hatred, which he described as Western civilization’s revolt against its own central values as manifested in art, science and political and religious institutions. It is no exaggeration to say that the Jew is the test case of a civilization—a test we appear to have failed.
The spectacle we are observing today—the reluctance to deal adequately with terrorism, the political contriving against our own best interests, the serpentine efforts to exculpate the enemy, the relativizing of moral principle, the Left’s betrayal of its own liberal culture, the renewed “treason of the intellectuals,” and especially the mounting acerbity toward Jews in the court of public opinion and the isolation of Israel as a pariah state—is merely the modern instantiation of this long offensive against our very survival.
FP: How do you see the role anti-Semitism plays today in the Left’s agenda?
Solway: Well, as you yourself convincingly argued in your recent book United in Hate, the Left has always been enamoured of grand historical schemes and demagogic models of social and political salvation, wedded to the Arcadian hallucination of a universal détente, perpetual dialogue and peaceful coexistence with sworn enemies devoted to our destruction.
The Left has invested in the illusion of the radical perfectibility of human nature and the consequent creation of a universal utopia which, naturally, will be governed by a privileged class of overseers, like Plato’s Philosophers and Guardians in The Republic. (Shades of Iran’s Republican Guard.) Thus it made common cause first with the soi-disant Dictatorship of the Proletariat and now, from all appearances, with the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate.
Evidence for this liaison was provided by Cairo’s Al Ahram Weekly in May 2007 which commented approvingly on the close relations between “the anti-global left and Muslims,” congratulating the Left for “finally overcoming its traditional resistance to the cultural conservatism of Islam” and concluding that “likewise Muslims are reaching out to the left.” The ad-hoc collaboration between the international Left and the Islamic Right, or Islamofascism, is the salient feature in today’s political landscape, as we witness the rise of yet another form of the politics of fascism. As Bruce Bawer pointed out in While Europe Slept, “the multicultural elite [is], almost without exception, allied with the Islamic right…”
And this is how antisemitism plays into the Left’s dystopian agenda—for that is what it really is. Islam and the Left are united in their onslaught against the global power of America which they perceive as an obstacle to their common aspiration. And this global power is, from their warped perspective, controlled by the Jewish Lobby, Jewish money and the pro-Israeli Jewish media (what a joke!) supposedly conspiring to achieve world domination.
In effect, the Jew must be targeted not only as an ever-convenient scapegoat but, more profoundly, as a proxy for our own bad conscience, that is, to hide our complicity with evil from ourselves. The Jew provides “cover” as the readily available source of a false justification. The great Okefenokee philospher Pogo said, “We have seen the enemy, and it is us.” The Left has revised this aphorism to read: “We have seen the enemy, and it is them.” In this way the Left absolves itself of its treasonable behavior.
FP: What is the state of anti-Semitism today and what threat does it pose to Israel and to Jews?
Solway: I sense that things have deteriorated since The Big Lie came out in 2007 when I first addressed the issue. Antisemitism has made seven-league strides in the last two years, culminating in Richard Goldstone’s skewed and tendentious UN report singling out Israel for condemnation in Operation Cast Lead while effectively giving Hamas a free pass. The situation in which Israel finds itself—and not only Israel but diaspora Jews as well, especially in Europe—grows ever more dire by the day and must be recognized and confronted if we are to prevent a repeat of the 1930s. My book is an effort in this direction.
FP: Your thoughts on Iran and what to do about it?
Solway: As for Iran, it is that much closer to getting the bomb, and indeed a leaked IAEA document indicates that Iran is now capable of producing a nuclear warhead, which it has threatened to launch against Israel. No other country, not even North Korea, has been so explicit about its intent to initiate a nuclear first strike.
We know, too, that Iran has perfected solid-state fueled missiles that bring the major European cities within range. What to do about this? It should be obvious by this time that sanctions will never work. The latest negotiations which envisage Iran shipping its nuclear materials for controlled enrichment to other nations looks like nothing but another stalling maneuver, setting the timetable back by perhaps a year or two.
Barring regime change, and/or an absolutely ironclad agreement that Iran’s nuclear program will be devoted to peaceful purposes, reinforced by frequent inspections with teeth, there is no doubt in my mind that Iran’s nuclear installations must be taken out. We do not have the luxury of allowing the mullahs to determine the future.
FP: Obama and Israel?
Solway: The United States under Obama’s administration has clearly faltered in its support of Israel as Obama reaches out to propitiate the Islamic world. Of course, since the founding of the Jewish state in 1948, the relationship between Israel and the U.S. has always been somewhat elastic, with the inevitable tensions, the highs and lows, the pullings apart and the subsequent rapprochements.
Eisenhower’s intervention in the 1956 war, for example, which he later regretted, is a prime example of the unreliability of the U.S. as a staunch ally that could always be depended upon. With Obama in power, Israel is once again in the American doghouse. Obama postures that he knows what is best for Israel, just as he presumably knows what is best for America.
But the beneficiaries of his wisdom will suffer greatly as they swallow or are force-fed his nostrums and panaceas. Actually, my doghouse metaphor may be doubly appropriate since Israel is like the West’s unappreciated sniffer dog: it locates the weapons caches and shipments and nuclear installations in the region and is then returned to the kennel on short rations. Which, to mix my metaphor a bit, seems to leave it no choice but to break free and complete the job its “handlers” have thus far failed to carry out.
Obama is turning out to be a disaster for Israel. As I wrote in a previous posting on FrontPage, we should not be surprised that he awarded the prestigious Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson who, as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presided over the infamous anti-Israel hatefest at the Durban I conference on racism. We know that Obama sat for twenty years beneath Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s Jew-bashing pulpit. We recall that he was friendly with former PLO operative Rashid Khalidi whose oeuvre is devoted to delegitimizing the Jewish state. It is probably no accident that two of Obama’s closest affiliates are Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, Jews who give every indication of regarding their own community with disfavor. They are nothing less than shtadlans, Yiddish for Court Jews and panderers.
Obama’s much-touted “summit” of Jewish community leaders at the White House in July 2009 privileged groups critical of Israel like the Israel Policy Forum, Americans for Peace Now and the fringe J Street, but excluded conservative pro-Israel groups like the Zionist Organization of America, the Jewish Institute for National Security and the Lubavitcher movement.
It is also curious, to say the least, that the American President has stated categorically that he does not wish to meddle in the affairs of other nations or dictate solutions to their internal problems, yet this has not prevented him interfering aggressively in Israeli affairs and imposing his prescription to resolve the so-called settlement controversy. One may be pardoned, perhaps, for suspecting a certain duplicity at work.
We recall, too, that Obama’s friends and advisors included intensively anti-Israel figures like Zbigniew Brzezinski (who in a recent interview suggested that American fighter jets engage Israeli warplanes should Israel attack Iran), Susan Rice, Merrill McPeak, Brent Scowcroft, Samantha Power, Robert Malley (who resigned when his outreach to Hamas came to light), Anthony Lake and pro-Palestinian activist Ali Abunimah (the founder of the The Electronic Intifada website). And we know that that the president of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas has balked at returning to the negotiating table, hoping that pressure from the Obama administration “will gradually force Netanyahu out of office” (Washington Post, May 29, 2009).
FP: Can you talk a bit about Jewish Collaborators?
Solway: There are two classes of Jewish collaborators. First, that swelling cohort of Jewish apostates, renegades and smug tergiversators, the apikorosim, or “wicked sons” (and daughters), of Jewish public life who have turned against their own and made common cause with the legion of antisemites proliferating all around us. I call these perjurious specimens Theobald-Jews. According to the Benedictine monk Thomas of Monmouth in his The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich (1173), it was an apostate Jew, a certain Theobald, who swore that Jews had killed twelve-year old William, a tanner’s apprentice, to fulfill their “Passover blood ritual” in the fateful year of 1144—the first recorded such episode in a long line of murderous defamations. The world is teeming with Theobald-Jews who are ready to betray their own people to serve what they regard as their advantage, or as an expression of their own self-loathing, and in the process cater to the ammoniac hatred of the current brood of crypto-antisemites posing as anti-Zionists.
And second, those whom I ironically call the “good Jews” (in scare quotes, or scary quotes) who want only to keep a low profile and cower in a delusion of anonymity and security. This latter group consists of those who say “Don’t rock the boat,” not realizing that the boat is already riddled with leaks and sinking fast. Rather, I argue that the time has come to plug the leaks and bail with a vengeance—or better, retrofit the boat as a Dolphin-class submarine. The time has come to resist, not to appease. Indeed, if these fearful Jews could somehow be transposed to the sixth century B.C.E., Judaism would not have survived the Babylonian captivity. There would have been no Ezra, no Nehemiah.
FP: Eric Hoffer wrote in 1968 that what happens to Israel eventually happens to all of us. What did he mean by that and what are your thoughts on the meaning?
Solway: Hoffer was right. If Israel is attacked and Jews continue to be targeted, none of us will be safe in the long run. The invisible subtitle to Hear, O Israel! is Hear, O World!
History tells us that what starts with the Jews doesn’t end with the Jews. We may not like to admit it, but the world is implicated in the fate of Jewry. As Hoffer put it in that famous 1968 article for the Los Angeles Times, “as it goes with Israel, so it will go with all of us.” This is as true today as it was before, but in a way that Hoffer could not have imagined. For if Iran launches a nuclear strike against Israel and Israel retaliates in kind—as it would have every right to do—the world will be shaken to its foundations. None of us will escape. Let us keep this in mind, otherwise the day may yet come when all we have to show for our moral obliquity, ignorance and pusillanimity is fruitless regret.
FP: David Solway, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.