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).