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Bad Arguments About Israel

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Oh Roger Cohen, please stop.

Last month, a co-chairman of the Oxford University Labour Club, Alex Chalmers, quit in protest at what he described as rampant anti-Semitism among members. A “large proportion” of the club “and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews,” he said in a statement.

Chalmers referred to members of the executive committee “throwing around the term ‘Zio’” — an insult used by the Ku Klux Klan; high-level expressions of “solidarity with Hamas” and explicit defense of “their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians”; and the dismissal of any concern about anti-Semitism as “just the Zionists crying wolf.”
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The zeitgeist on campuses these days, on both sides of the Atlantic, is one of identity and liberation politics. Jews, of course, are a minority, but through a fashionable cultural prism they are seen as the minority that isn’t — that is to say white, privileged and identified with an “imperialist-colonialist” state, Israel. They are the anti-victims in a prevalent culture of victimhood; Jews, it seems, are the sole historical victim whose claim is dubious.

What follows is the classic cherry picking from bad campus newspaper articles and student statements used time and time again to generate worry about what the kids are doing on college campuses. Guess what? College students sometimes stay stupid things! News at 11. But worse is that Cohen then has to make dubious defenses of Israel that are as anti-Palestinian as the statements he decries are anti-Semitic.

What is striking about the anti-Zionism derangement syndrome that spills over into anti-Semitism is its ahistorical nature. It denies the long Jewish presence in, and bond with, the Holy Land. It disregards the fundamental link between murderous European anti-Semitism and the decision of surviving Jews to embrace Zionism in the conviction that only a Jewish homeland could keep them safe. It dismisses the legal basis for the modern Jewish state in United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947. This was not “colonialism” but the post-Holocaust will of the world: Arab armies went to war against it and lost.

Wow, I was unaware that colonialism and “the will of the world” were somehow mutually exclusive? And I was super unaware that Israel’s creation was the will of the world? Were the Palestinians part of that will? The Egyptians? The Jordanians? Or in the postwar massive ethnic cleansing of Europe, were the Jews simply given land that was away from Europe to start their own colonialist project? I don’t think any of this denies why Jews decided to embrace Zionism and move to what became Israel. It’s perfectly clear why they did that. It’s equally clear that the project was based on ethnic cleansing and the creation of an apartheid-like state that has only become more oppressive in the 21st century. Personally, I’d like to think that different peoples can learn to live together, but that won’t happen in a state founded upon ethnic cleansing that continues to define itself as a racially-based state in the present.

The Jewish state was needed. History had demonstrated that. That is why I am a Zionist — now a dirty word in Europe.

Ah yes, History is a thing when someone wants to make an dubious argument that is based upon oppressing others. History shows this to be true! Well, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust were true enough, but “History” doesn’t show the present that there was only one answer to a problem, an answer based upon its own version of racism.

I’ve said this before and I will say it again. If you aren’t OK with Jews living in ghettos, you can’t morally support the treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and especially Gaza and you can’t support the settlements. It’s not OK because of what happened in 1944. You don’t get a moral exception because of terrible things that happened to your ancestors.

What’s interesting is that Cohen admits most of this. He recognizes the injustice the Palestinians face, yet he defends the project that oppresses them and demonizes those fighting for justice in Palestine or supporting those fights on the left today.

Anti-Semitism is a real thing and it needs to be fought like any other form of racism or prejudice. But you can’t take a few idiotic comments by a few random students here and there and then create a huge scare about it in a major newspaper. I’m sorry but there’s no “demonization of Israel” on the left that is worth discussing. BDS has plenty of Jewish supporters, among other things. It is actually a reasonable argument that Zionism is racist as practiced, but that doesn’t mean that Israel should be eliminated. It means that Israel needs to treat the Muslims within its borders as human beings.

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