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The 'Left' and Anti-Semitism

Fiamma Nirenstein- Thursday 31st Jul 2003

(This speech was delivered by Italian journalist Fiamma Nirenstein on April 14, 2003 at a conference on anti-Semitism at the YIVO Institute in New York City. Ms. Nirenstein is the Jerusalem correspondent for the Italian newspaper, La Stampa, as well as for the magazine, Panorama.)

In 1967 I was a young communist, like most Italian youngsters. Bored by my rebellious behavior my family sent me to a Kibbutz in the upper Galilee, Neot Mordechai. I was quite satisfied there; the kibbutz used to give some money every month to the Vietcong. When the Six Day War began, Moshe Dayan spoke on the radio to announce it. I asked: "What is he saying?", and the comrades of Neot answered: "Shtuyot", silly things. During the war I took children to shelters; I dug trenches, and learned some simple shooting and acts of self-defense. We continued working in the orchards, but were quick to identify the incoming Mig-im and the outgoing Mirage-im, chasing one another in the sky of the Golan Heights.

When I went back to Italy, some of my fellow students stared at me as somebody new, an enemy, a wicked person who would soon become an imperialist. My life was about to change. I didn't yet know that, because I simply thought that Israel rightly won a war after having been assaulted with an incredible number of harassments. But I soon noticed that I had lost the innocence of the good Jew, of the very special Jewish friend, their Jew: I was now connected with the Jews of the State of Israel, and slowly I was put out of the dodecaphonic, psychoanalytic, Bob Dylan, Woody Allen, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Philip Roth, Freud shtetl, the coterie that sanctified my Judaism in left-wing eyes.

I have tried for a long time to bring back that sanctification, and they tried to give it back to me, because we desperately needed each other, the left and the Jews. But today's anti-Semitism has overwhelmed any good intention.

Throughout the years… I've been called a cruel and insensitive human rights denier who doesn't care about Palestinian children's lives. A very famous Israeli writer told me on the phone a couple of months ago: "You really have become a right-winger". What? Right-winger? Me? An old feminist human rights activist, even a communist when I was young? Only because I described the Arab-Israeli conflict as accurately as I could and because sometimes I identified with a country continuously attacked by terror, I became a right-winger? In the contemporary world, the world of human rights, when you call a person a right-winger, this is the first step toward his or her delegitimization.

Jews born after the Holocaust learn a very clear message: evil has come to Jews mostly from the Right--from the church during a large part of its history, and certainly from Nazism and Fascism. The history of the Holocaust placed evil on the Right. And because the Jews are the living torches of how bad the Right can be, they legitimize the Left by their mere existence. The Left blessed the Jews as the victim "par excellence"… In return for being coddled, published, filmed, considered artists, intellectuals and moral judges, Jews, even during the Soviet anti-Semitic persecutions, gave the Left moral support and invited it to cry with them at Holocaust memorials. Today the game is clearly over. The left has proved itself the real cradle of contemporary anti-Semitism.

When I speak about anti-Semitism, I'm not speaking of legitimate criticism of the State of Israel. I am speaking of pure anti-Semitism: criminalization, stereotypes, specific and generic lies which have fluctuated between lies about the Jews (conspiring, blood thirsty, dominating the world) to lies about Israel (conspiring, ruthlessly violent) starting most widely since the beginning of the second Intifada in September 2000, and becoming more and more ferocious since operation Chomat Magen ("Defensive Shield"), when the IDF reentered Palestinian cities in response to terrorism.

The basic idea of anti-Semitism, today as always, is that Jews have a perverted soul that makes them unfit, as a morally inferior people, to be regular members of the human family. Today this Untermensch ideology has shifted to the Jewish state: a separate, unequal, basically evil stranger whose national existence is slowly but surely emptied and deprived of justification. Israel, as the classic evil Jew, according to contemporary anti-Semitism, doesn't have a birthright, but exists with its "original sin" perpetrated against the Palestinians… The caricature of the evil Jew is transformed to the caricature of the evil state. And now the traditional hook-nosed Jew bears a gun and kills Arab children with pleasure.

On the front pages of European newspapers Sharon munches Palestinian children and little Jesuses in cradles are threatened by Israeli soldiers. This new anti-Semitism has materialized in unprecedented physical violence towards Jewish persons and symbols, coming from organizations officially devoted to human rights. Its peak occurred at the United Nations summit in Durban, South Africa, when anti-Semitism officially became the banner of the new secular religion of human rights, and Israel and Jews became its official enemy.

[Jews]have been caught unawares, and have failed to denounce the new trend of anti-Semitism. Nobody is scandalized when Israel is accused daily, without explanation, of excessive violence, of atrocities, of cruelty. Everybody is tormented about the necessity of painful attacks against terrorist nests, often located among families and children. Still, every country has the right to defend itself. Only the Jews in history have been denied the right of self-defense, and so it is today… Is it not anti-Semitism, when you act as if Jews must die quietly? Why is Israel officially accused by the human rights commission in Geneva of violating human rights, while China, Libya, Sudan, have never ever been accused? Why has Israel been denied a fixed place in regional groups in the UN while Syria sits in the Security Council? Why can everybody join a war against Iraq except Israel, despite the fact that Saddam has always threatened Israel with complete destruction?… Israel is an "unterstate," denied the basic rights of every other state, to exist in honor and peace. The Jewish state is not equal…

The Jews that survived Nazi-fascist persecution, the persecution of the Right, created a socialist state inspired by the values of the Left, work and collectivism, and by doing so, again sanctified the Left as the shelter of the victims. In exchange for this, the Jews were granted legitimization… The people of Israel were a living accusation of the anti-Semitism that marked the Shoah, the Nazi-Fascist anti-Semitism; and now they were building collective farms and an omnipotent trade union! To some degree, this absolved Stalinist anti-Semitism, or gave it a much smaller importance than it really had. The Jews became indispensable for the left: look at the passionate and paternalistic tone of the Bologna professors, as they seem to plead: "Come back, our dear Jews. Be ours again. Let us curse Israel together and than take a trip together to the Shoah memorials".

But [how] can you cry with the survivors for Jews killed by Nazis when the living Jews are accused to be Nazi themselves? Somebody on a European radio program said that after the diffusion of the images of Muhammed al Dura, Europe could finally forget the famous picture of the boy in the Warsaw ghetto with his hands raised. The meaning of this statement, often repeated in other forms, is obliteration of the Holocaust through the overlapping of Israel and Nazism…

As a journalist, I must mention the significant contribution of the mass media to this new anti-Semitism. Since the beginning of the Intifada, freedom fighter journalists, grown in the Guevara and Fedayeen campus, have given the Israeli-Palestinian conflict one of the most biased coverage in the history of journalism. Here are the main problems that lead to distorted reporting of the Intifada:

1) Lack of historic depth in attributing responsibility for its outbreak. In other words, failure to repeat the story of the Israeli offer of a Palestinian state and of Arafat's refusal which, in essence, is a refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state, and which continues the almost 70-year-old Arab rejection of partition of the land of Israel between Arabs and Jews as recommended by the British in 1936, decided by the UN in 1947 and always accepted by the Jewish representatives.

2) Failure…to assign responsibility for the first deaths to the fact that, unlike in the first Intifada, in the second the IDF faced armed fighters hiding in the midst of the unarmed crowd.

3) Failure to recognize the enormous influence of the cultural pressure on the Palestinians from the systematic education in Palestinian schools and mass media, vilifying Jews and Israelis and idealizing terrorist acts of murder and mayhem.

4) Describing the death of Palestinian children without identifying the circumstances… The equating of civilian losses of Israelis with those of the Palestinian, as if terrorism and war against it were the same …

5) Using Palestinian sources to certify events… I am thinking of Jenin, of the unconfirmed reports that passed to printed pages or TV screens as absolute truth. In contrast, Israeli sources, which are very often reliable, are seen as subservient, prejudiced and unworthy of attention…

6) Manipulation of the order in which the news are given and of the news itself. The headlines give the number of Palestinians killed or wounded in most articles, at least in Europe, before describing the gunfights and their causes, and linger on the age and family stories of the terrorists. The purposes of the IDF actions, such as capturing terrorists, destroying arms factories or hiding places and bases for attacks against Israel, are rarely mentioned…

7) Manipulation of language, taking advantage of the great confusion about the definition of "terrorism" and "terrorist"… The press has learned this very well: the occupation is the cause of everything, terrorism is called resistance and does not exist per se. Terrorists [are] called militants, or fighters. An act of terrorism is often "a fire clash", even when only babies and old men are shot inside their cars on a highway. It is also interesting to note that a young shahid is a cause of deep pride for the Palestinian struggle, but if you ask how a child of twelve can be sent to die and why young children are indoctrinated to do such acts, the answer is: "come on, a child can't be a terrorist…"

This is perhaps the most crucial point: given the fact that there is a ferocious debate on the definition of terrorism, it is widely accepted that terrorism is a way of fighting. This is a semantic and even substantial gift of the new anti-Semitism, where it is natural for a Jew to be dead. Namely, intentionally targeting civilians to cause fear and disrupt the morale of Israel is not a moral sin. It doesn't raise world indignation, and if it does, it hides in its folds some or much sympathy for the terrorist aggressor….

8) The media have promoted the extravagant concept that the settlers, including women and children are not real human beings… Their deaths are almost natural and logical events. In a way, they asked for it. On the other hand, when a Hamas commander is killed, even though he obviously "asked for it", an ethical, philosophical debate arises, on the perfidy of extra-judicial death sentences. This would certainly be a licit debate, were it not for the grotesque double standard on which worldwide press bases it.

9) Not to go overlooked is that censorship and corruption within the PA and the physical elimination of its political enemies is hardly ever covered.

The points listed above all point in one direction: Durban. Here, the human rights movements that we will later find on the streets demonstrating against the war in Iraq chose Israel as their primary target and enemy… A Left incapable of confronting the capitalist globalization system, decided to appoint the state of Israel as its main target. In a word, the Left decided to make Israel pay for what they think America should pay…

This kind of anti-Semitism, unlike Nazi anti-Semitism, is more like the older theological anti-Semitism, for it gives the Jews the option to renounce the devil (Israel, or sometimes Sharon). Whoever declares a sense of revulsion towards Israel's conduct, is allowed to set foot again in the civil society, the one of common sense, civilized conversation, groups of good people full of good will that fight for human rights…

All the theories that claimed classic anti-Semitism would abate with the creation of the state of Israel…have been destroyed. Furthermore, Israel has actually become the sum of all the evil, the proof that the protocols and the blood libels were right. The Palestinians are turned into Jesus, crucified; the war in Iraq or in Afghanistan waged by the U.S. is part of the Jewish plan of domination. Jews all over the world are threatened, beaten, even killed to pay the price of Israel's existence.

Israel and the Jews have today only one certainty: now that Jews have their own means of defense, a new Shoah is no longer possible. Still we have to pass from the idea of our possible physical elimination, to that of possible moral elimination. The only way to face this threat is to fight fearlessly, on our own terrain, using all the historic and ethical weapons that Israel possesses… The watchword of the Jews should be "Jewish pride," in the sense of pride in our history and national identity, wherever we are. Jewish pride means that we have to claim the unique identity of the Jewish people and its right to exist. We must act as though it has never been acknowledged, because today, once again, it no longer is…



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