Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Anti-Semitism Is Never Solely About the Jews

Anti-Semitism Is Never Solely About the Jews

Radical Islamists attack Jews as the handiest target in a campaign to destroy the free societies that jihadists abhor.

By RUTH R. WISSE

The security of free and open societies depends increasingly on intelligence services. To find the sources of terror attacks originating in the Middle East, investigators track recruits back to their leaders in mountain or desert lairs. The intelligence agencies have become good at their work—though never good enough—but so far they seem not to have focused on the trail leading to the ideology that set terror in motion.

The Times of Israel offers a promising line of inquiry in its report on events in Paris last week under the headline, “First They Came for the Jews, Then They Came for the Cartoonists.” This echoes the famous words of Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller, a victim of the Nazis during World War II who connected the dots between the successive targets of his attackers.

Like those who came for the cartoonists, those who came for the pastors in the 1940s had been after the Jews. The unspecified “they” of back then and now locate in the Jews the handiest target on the way to subjugating the free and open society that is their ultimate foe.

These links through time also exist across contemporary time zones. The terrorist attack on the Har Nof synagogue in Jerusalem in November killed four Jews, just as the attack at the kosher supermarket in Paris killed four more. Since the start of this millennium there have been attacks on Jewish houses of prayer in Düsseldorf, Brussels, Minsk, Mumbai, Istanbul, London and Caracas. There are fewer than 4,000 Jews in Mumbai, about 9,000 in Caracas, more than 170,000 in London, and a half-million in Jerusalem. Disparate local factors cannot account for the single-minded choice of targets.

ENLARGE
GETTY IMAGES
If we mistakenly imagine that this is “about” the Jews, however, we fall into the trap that anti-Semitism sets for us by deflecting attention from perpetrators to victims. The trail of terror leads not to the Jews but from those who organize against them. Fingering the Jews—in their homeland or elsewhere—is a pretext. In every case, Jews are convenient targets standing in for the liberalizing aspects of individual freedom, democratic governance and modernity complete with its anxieties. Anti-Jewish politics aims at the tolerant societies in which Jews flourish.

One of those societies is Israel. Adjusting our sights, if we follow the trail of Middle East terror back, past its current practitioners—Islamic State, al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and various offshoots and affiliates—we arrive at the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The PLO was founded in 1964—three years before the war launched by the Arab states from which Israel emerged in possession of some disputed territory on the west bank of the Jordan River. Until 1967, the PLO and its offshoots had existed in Jordan but been suppressed; after the war, as the PLO focused its terror exclusively against the Jews, money began to flow to the organization from the Arab states. A pure product of ideological anti-Semitism, the PLO and its terrorism formed but one weapon in the Arab war that was failing to destroy Israel by other means.

Here we reach the heart of the matter. Opposition to Israel was the unifying feature of an otherwise splintered Arab League that found in anti-Zionism the same ideological energy that Europeans had found in anti-Semitism. Other ideologies pit left against right; religious against secular; reactionaries against progressives. Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism unite otherwise contentious parties against a common target.

After World War II, Arab leaders in Syria, Egypt and elsewhere welcomed fleeing Nazi officers for their military, technological and political expertise. The radical differences between the two cultures did not preclude collaboration in a unified strategy focused on the same Jewish target.

Those Arab leaders made a poor choice. With their countries almost unscathed by the war, they might have concentrated on regional improvement, following the lead of Jordan’s King Abdullah I, who was prepared to settle for the lion’s share of Mandate Palestine. Instead they found in Israel a scapegoat and, in the Palestinians, a pawn whom they condemned to perpetual refugee status as a pretext for their own perpetual belligerence. No doubt they believed they could control potential domestic unrest by channeling popular anger at a foreign “invader.”

But deflecting dissatisfaction does not arrest it. Ignoring crises does not eliminate them. Appeasing terror does not defeat it. Arab leaders would have done better to resist the temptations of anti-Semitism and follow the Jews’ example. The recovery of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel showed, and continues to show, the possibilities of creative renewal. Who knows what Arab societies could accomplish if they likewise had the confidence to look inward and undertake serious reform?

For their own safety, those already living in free societies have to hunt down the terror cells to destroy them. But beyond them, what needs to be confronted is the ideology that brought terrorism into being. Only the incubators of this fatal hatred can accomplish that. The rest of the world can help by refusing to join the diversion of condemning Israel and by urging Arab and Muslim leaders to make up for seven lost decades of blame.

Ms. Wisse a former professor of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard, is the author of “Jews and Power” (Schocken, 2007) and “No Joke: Making Jewish Humor” (Princeton, 2013).

http://www.wsj.com/article_email/ruth-r-wisse-anti-semitism-is-never-solely-about-the-jews-1421366930-lMyQjAxMTE1OTE4OTExMTk5Wj