In Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz, Jan Gross discusses the bleak and violent fate of Jews who tried to return to Poland after the Holocaust. It’s a thorough condemnation of Polish anti-Semitism and historical denial, and a reminder of how the climate after World War II encouraged the rapid emigration of European Jews to Israel just as anti-Semitism had encouraged centuries of Jewish ghettoes before. Flagellating ourselves for our past is useless. But forgetting it is worse.
I believe in Israel’s right to exist, not because of the Bible (it makes clear God, not Britain, decides when Jews get their promised land back, and I know the difference between the two), but because it already does. Believing in Israel, however, doesn’t make me forget the place where it is now was a British mandate where European Jews fleeing persecution bought land from the natives, received land on the British partition (which worked beautifully for India, Pakistan and Bangladesh too!) and then won more land in defensive battles against the natives and neighbours.
Israel’s right to exist doesn’t let me forget the R-word. Funny how little ‘racism’ comes up in the context of our media’s coverage of the Middle East when it’s such a big part of how we think. Israel exists as it does because of European racism and anti-Semitism. Why do I insist on reminding us of this when we can’t go back in time and change that single greatest tragedy of the 20th century? I insist because Europeans and Americans made the decision that supporting the state of Israel would be easier than having so many Jews around after the second World War, and not having so many Jews around was a good reason to help them deal with the hostility and land claims of a bunch of brown people with funny music and veiled women who lived in the place the Jews wanted to go.
But again, in a world where we can’t turn back time, what the fuck does it matter? It matters because our refusal to deal with our racism and its consequences lets our leaders ask us to unquestioningly support Israel – even when in the space of weeks it blows up hundreds of civilians, stifles a budding democracy, kills nine Canadians, imprisons one of our academics without charge and gives every indication of having purposefully attacked the United Nations. It allows us to make the value judgement that Israel’s right to defend itself in any way it sees fit trumps the human rights of the inhabitants of the West Bank, Gaza, and Lebanon, because those inhabitants are part of a group we’ve been historically trained to see as even less human than Jews.
What is happening to Lebanon is Israel’s revolting political reality, in which a weak and unproven parliament is employing vicious, murderous populism. Any other country doing such things would be subject to international identification, condemnation and punishment. The fact this situation is the natural product of the historical racism of Europe and North America has stopped too many countries from identifying, condemning and punishing Israel's crimes. It shouldn’t. Israel was a lousy way for our forebears to shove their racism under the carpet. Supporting it now in its present abuse of the Lebanese isn’t making up for our mistakes; it’s perpetuating our cover-up and the racism itself.