Dissent or Destruction?

Edward Alexander is the author of Irving Howe: Socialist, Critic, Jew (Indiana University Press, 1998), and The State of the Jews: A Critical Appraisal (Transaction Publishers, 2012).


A recent addition to the ever-burgeoning genre of books instructing Israel on the most suitable method of ceasing to exist (one-state solution, no-state solution, final solution) is adorned by the following from Noam Chomsky:

Constance Hilliard raises very critical issues…and unless those who call themselves ‘supporters of Israel’ are willing to face these moral and geopolitical realities, they may in reality be supporters of Israel’s moral degeneration and ultimate destruction.

It is commonplace that moral passions are far more imperious and impatient than self-seeking ones, and who could have a stronger sense of his own moral rectitude than a man who has been an apologist for Pol Pot in Cambodia, a collaborator with neo-Nazi Holocaust-deniers in France, and a cohort to anti-Semitism-deniers everywhere?

“Anti-Semitism,” Chomsky has declared, “is  no longer a problem, fortunately. It’s raised, but it’s raised because privileged people want to make sure they have total control, not just 98% control; That’s why anti-Semitism is becoming an issue…” Beautiful and touching words, but words by no means unusual in the parlance of those who deem Israel uniquely evil  and, with help from its “supporters,” responsible for every misery on the planet with the (possible) exception of global warming.  (Here reality outpaces my rhetorical flourishes: Clare Short, a member of  Tony Blair’s cabinet until 2003, charged that Israel is “much worse than the original apartheid state” because  it “undermines the international community’s reaction to global warming.”)

Chomsky is generally and mistakenly identified as “a critic of Israel.” But he is by no means the only beneficiary of the flagrantly euphemistic redefinition of “criticism” where Israel and its numerous enemies are concerned. Examples, in fact, abound. A Vassar professor (writing in Judaism Magazine, no less) referred to the second Intifada, during which Palestinian Arab suicide bombers, pogromists, and lynch mobs slaughtered a thousand people (most of them Israeli Jews) and wounded thousands more, as “a critique of Zionism.” A Panglossian writer in the Chronicle of Higher Education assures readers that “calls to destroy Israel, or to throw it into the Mediterranean Sea…are not evidence of hatred of Jews,” but merely “reflect a quarrel with the State of Israel.” Some critique, some quarrel. When questions were raised in November 2003 about the indecency of Harvard and Columbia honoring and playing host to the Oxford poetaster, blood libel subscriber, and London Review of Books regular Tom Paulin after he had urged that Jews living in Judea/Samaria “should be shot dead” and announced that he “never believed that Israel had the right to exist at all,” his apologists in Cambridge and Morningside Heights defended his right “to criticize Israeli policy.” But the prize for redefinition of the term “criticism” should probably go to the Swedish Chancellor of Justice Goran Lambertz who, in 2006, ruled that repeated calls from the Grand Mosque of Stockholm to “Kill the Jews” by dispatching suicide bombers to Israel and other Jewish population centers, was not racial incitement to murder. Rather, ruled this Solomon, they:

Should be judged differently and therefore be regarded as permissible because they were used by one side in an ongoing and far-reaching conflict where calls to arms and insults are part of the everyday climate in the rhetoric that surrounds this conflict.

Just what, then, does “criticism” mean? The Victorian poet and critic Matthew Arnold defined criticism (by which he did not mean merely literary criticism) as “the attempt to see the object as in itself it really is.”  Writing in 1865, he believed he was still living in the shadow of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, but also in the new age of science. He wanted criticism to model itself on the disinterested observation of  science and not the fierce political partisanship that derived from the Revolution. Like science, criticism should espouse no party and no cause except the cause of truth. Its proper aim is to see the object as it really is, not to destroy the object. Dickens, a few years earlier in Tale of Two Cities (1859), had encapsulated the murderous aspect of French politicide by mocking its two favorite slogans: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity—or Death” and (Chamfort’s version) “Sois Mon Frere, ou Je Te Tue.” (Be my brother, or I’ll kill you.)

The “critics of Israel,” who deny its right to exist and threaten it with destruction if it fails to dance to their tune, may be dishonest, despicable, consumed with blood-lust, but let us not deny them their triumph. In the war of ideas, they have beaten us at almost every turn — and by “us” I mean those for whom the foundation of Israel was one of the few redeeming acts of a blood-soaked and shameful century. A widely-publicized 2007 BBC poll of 28,000 people in 27 countries shows Israel as the “least-liked” country in the entire world. Among Europeans polled, Israel was most disliked in Germany.  Yes, in the very country where the Jews’ “right to live” was once a popular topic, Israel-haters outpolled Israel-admirers by 77% to 10%. And still greater triumphs than those in the war for public opinion may yet await these “critics.” Their threats to Israel are not idle ones. On their own, the Chomskys, Paulins, Norman Finkelsteins, Tony Judts and Alexander Cockburns of this world cannot visit upon Israel the terrible fate they think it deserves. But they know they have a powerful ally named Iran, which is under the leadership of someone bent not merely, on politicide (like the “critics”) but on genocide; someone who daily promises to “remove Israel from the map” and watches with glee as the international noose tightens around Israel’s throat and the umbrellas go up in Europe and Washington.

Edward Alexander is the co-author, with Paul Bogdanor, of The Jewish Divide over Israel: Accusers and Defenders (Transaction Publishers).

  • rako

    It's so obvious that all the liberals want Israel to be a democratic, peaceful, nonracist state for everyone. I hope you will try to fulfill this, rather than an Old-Testament theocracy, which you don't want anyway.

    Life is hard.

  • rako

    Did you ever stop to think that maybe having peace with neighbors, respecting minorities, and following international law was actually in Israel's interest? Maybe people who criticize Israel do so like the prophets because they want it to live and live right?

    Shalom = Peace.

  • A SainInfidel

    Dear Mr. Alexander,

    How nice it is to finally read what I consider a realistic response to all the psychobabble and BS social consciousness espoused by these so called educated authors in so many articles relating to these poor, poor Arabs.

    If you declare me your enemy and want to destroy me, my family, my home and my friends and you (the Arabs) initiate an unsuccessful war (1948 and subsequent wars), lob rockets and send suicide bombers in an attempt to accomplish your goals, you’re my enemy. To those who preach turn the other cheek I refer to them by name; dead people.

    The Arab brethren have no interest in taking care of their own or this issue would have been resolved some 60 years ago. Hatred amongst themselves along with early bigoted religious teachings of their children, the hateful rhetoric espoused by their adults, religious and political leaders breed hatred not only of the Jews but all infidels.

    Part 1 of 2

  • A SainInfidel

    While all these philosophical and psychobabble writers espouse their crap in the comfort of their homes and easy chair the cancer has already slowly spread to the Western Civilizations in Europe. Then they can write how these wonderful peace-loving peoples of the Koran also aren’t interested in France or England; they just want to eliminate the infidels that live there too.

    The world closed its eyes to the genocide of WWII, Cambodia, Rwanda, Iraq, Darfur etc., etc. but “Never Again” for the Jews or Israel. We’ll no longer be the scapegoats for the bigotry, intolerance and hatefulness of those lacking any respect and civility toward others and in turn I shall defend myself, my family, friends and my country with my life if necessary. Please careful note my use of the word “defend” as opposed to those of our enemies.

    A SainInfidel

    Part 2 of 2

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Underzog Underzog

    This is bad news. ____They talk about Mubarek's son, but a lot of people had high hopes for Bashir Assad after his father, Hafez, he of Homa massacre fame, passed away. Bashir Assad cannot really govern and his brother-in-law calls the shots with Syria's radical and dangerous policies.____With Mubar

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Underzog Underzog

    Shoot! That above comment went through when I didn't really enter it.

    Be that as it may, the above topic with Mr. Alexander is most worrisome. Opposition to Israel and the Jews these days is not simply hostile; it is primal as in a primal scream session.

    Whether Israel should be destroyed or Jews should "get a bigger oven," the hatred for Jews and a Jewish state the size of New Jersey assumes theatre of the absurd qualities.

    • WesternCiv

      "…the hatred for Jews and a Jewish state the size of New Jersey assumes theatre of the absurd qualities. "

      Having watched the development of this hatred of Israel over the past decade at least, I have truly come to despair over the human species. The optimism, after World War 2, that Jew-hatred was finally abating, has come to nothing. There is evidently some deep hole in the human psyche that makes mankind unable to stand the human condition without having a scapegoat. The Jews are once again filling that role. It is a sad, obscene commentary on the human race.

      • http://www.boycottscotland.com Eddie

        As we know from the UN and "progressive" national Socialists, the worst crime against humanity is that the Israelis are NOT the unarmed Jews of WW2 nazi filth infested europe.

  • Insecticide

    There is no such thing as a non-racist anti-Zionism. Anti-Zionism is today the worst form of racism on the planet. Leftwing anti-Zionism differs little from Nazism – see Counterpunch magazine for proof.

  • Robert Annable

    When I read the posts by Israeli's about news articles in Israel I am appalled. The hatred the Israeli's show towards the Palestinians is extreme. The far right and ultra-
    orthodox have taken over Israel and increasingly talk about driving all Palestinians into the sea. The arrogance and religious fanaticism of Israel has brcome scary. I am as scared about Israel having the bomb as Iran getting one. Israel's actions are delegitimizing it, not it's critics. Israel is well on it's way to being a "pariah" state and if
    moderate Jews continue to support it, anti- semitism, sadly, will increase world wide.

  • http://soul-wisdom.blogspot.com Constance Hilliard

    I regret if the provocative tone of Noam Chomsky’s comments about my latest book may have led you to misunderstand either its intention or its tone. But please allow me the opportunity to clarify what "Does Israel Have a Future? The Case for a Post-Zionist State," is really all about. I set out to show (and believe that I did so convincingly), that Western anti-Semitism is at the root of the current Arab-Israeli conflict. After the tragic events of Kristallnacht in November 1938, Jews intensified their efforts to flee Germany. But the Western nations slammed their borders shut.

    Even after the west learned of the slaughter of six million Jews in Nazi gas chambers, the best it could offer the emotionally-exhausted survivors of the Holocaust was resettlement in a former British colony in the Middle East, exploding with Arab rage.

    I advocate a Post-Zionism Israel, not because I accept anti-Semitic bigotry. Quite to the contrary, I believe that the West — by dumping Holocaust survivors in an already Arab-enraged Palestine, and locking their own borders to European Jewish immigration — set the ultimate trap for the Jewish people.

  • http://soul-wisdom.blogspot.com Constance Hilliard

    Having closed their borders to Jewish refugees, before, during and after World War II, Americans should have engaged in deep soul searching when the war was over in regard to its own deep-rooted anti-Semitism. But, the shock of discovering the extent of the Nazi's genocidal lunacy, precipitated an amnesia so impenetrable, that any second-degree culpability the Allies may have felt on account of their own locked-borders disappeared from their collective memory.

  • Jacob

    Hello, Mr. Hilliard:

    The problem with your thesis that, after WWII, the Western nations of the world "dumping" Jews in what was to become Israel is merely a reflection of their own cynical antisemitism (a sort of "Well, we don't want them" mentality) is that the Jews themselves DESIRED this state since at least 1882. And, especially after the Holocaust, the Jews who emigrated to Israel had decided to tell the world, "Thanks, but no thanks: we're not going to rely on your 'kindness' any longer."

    There is no doubt in my mind that some of the politicians of some of the Western nations that voted for the 1948 UN Partition Plan harbored antisemitic demons and therefore wanted a solution that would make their countries virtually Judenrein — but I don't think that the vast majority of them felt this way. And even if they did, all that speaks to is an even stronger need for Jewish self-determination (both then as well as now); not some politically correct "Post-Zionist" polity whereby Jews are expected to suppress (and possibly even deny) their Jewish identity.