Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Israel and Europe’s shared anti-semitism

Jonathan Cooks's blog
18 DECEMBER 2014

Here’s a telling comment from the leader of a Swedish far-right party that throws a little light on the real reason early last century the great colonial power of the time, Britain, sponsored – through the Balfour Declaration – Israel’s creation.

Bjorn Soder, leader of the Sweden Democrats party, has demanded that Jews drop their Jewish identity and assimilate if they want to live as Swedish citizens. (I don’t speak Swedish so I can’t check the original story, but the Guardian’s headline suggests Soder’s problem is with Jews in Sweden having a religious identity, which seems improbable. The text of the story indicates that he objects to Jews in Sweden having a Jewish ethnic or national identity. In his view, presumably, this would conflict with a Swedish national identity and raise issues of dual loyalty.)

Here’s what he says to critics who accuse him of being anti-semitic: “Those who know me when it comes to Jews know I have long had a very strong commitment to both the state of Israel and the Jewish people.”

I don’t think he’s being disingenuous here. This attitude towards Jews was one common in Europe last century (and, as we shall see, lingers to this day, especially among Israel’s supporters).

Soder’s concerns were shared by the European elites of the time, including the British cabinet ministers who devised the Balfour Declaration. Britain’s solution was to encourage Jews to migrate from Europe to the Middle East. To export the “problem”, as they saw it, to the colonies. Other European leaders, most notably Adolf Hitler, would eventually settle on a more extreme solution: the genocide of the Jews in Europe.

In other words, the logic of Israel’s creation and of the extermination of the Jews was intimately related – flipsides of the same deep-seated European racism. Both assumed that Jews were unassimilable, potentially disloyal outsiders who needed either to be expelled or to be killed.

The Zionists both exploited this racism for their own ends (the creation of a Jewish state) and mirrored it, adopting the same ideas as the racists of an identifiable Jewish nation (identified through blood or religion) and one that needed to live apart from other nations.

Zionism, the movement for creating a Jewish state and one that succeeded only when it agreed that such a state would be built on the Palestinians’ homeland, precisely depended on claims of chosen-ness and Biblical entitlement to territory. Where Europe’s racists believed the Jews should be contained or quarantined in the Middle East, the Zionists believed the Jews should create an ethnically pure national fortress.

This is why the idea invented by Israel of a “new anti-semitism” – one distinguishable from historical anti-semitism because it supposedly infects only the left and is marked by criticism of Israel – is so laughable. The true anti-semites have always been the devoted followers of the Zionist movement, the Israeli elites and their many diehard friends in European capitals.

Soder and his tinpot racists are small fry compared to that crowd.

A Swedish reader, Kristoffer Larsson, clarifies Soder’s thinking and makes an important additional point. In the tradition of ethnic nationalists, Soder is trying to insist on a distinction between Swedish citizenship and Swedish nationality, suggesting that there is a deeper Swedishness that one achieves only by identifying exclusively with an imagined Swedish nationality.

Larsson writes:

Björn Söder, who’s one of the leading Sweden Democrats (but not its leader), makes a distinction between citizenship and nationality. He said that Jews, Kurds, Laplanders and other minorities can hold Swedish citizenship without belonging to the Swedish “nation”. His belief is that you can hold several citizenships but only belong to one nation (e.g. Swedish, Jewish, Arab, Kurdish). Hence, if an immigrant wishes to adopt Swedish nationality he must abandon his other nationality/-ies. The problem, he argues, is when there are too many nations in one country; he says it’s preferable if the country’s geographical boundaries are in conjunction with the spread of the main group’s members.

You will, of course, note the similarity with how things work in Israel: one may be a citizen of the Jewish state without being of Jewish nationality (le’om). So the Jewish community leader mentioned in the Guardian article will condemn Söder for his statement but would adamantly defend Israel even though it has actually implemented this very distinction between nationality and citizenship (likely one of the reasons why Söder supports Israel). I say “would” because no journalist would ever ask her about it, probably because they don’t understand the situation in Israel.

In response to my post, Moshe Machover, an Israeli philosopher teaching at London University, makes a similar point more bluntly:

Note that the far-right Swedish politician not only admires Israel, but implicitly concurs with Israel’s leaders who claim that Israel is the nation state of all Jews. It would follow that Israel, not Sweden, is the nation state of Swedish Jews.

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