Iranian Moves in Syria Threaten Israel
|Jewish Political Studies Review 15:3-4 (Fall 2003)
The Passover Haggadah recounts that the Lord brought us out of bondage in Egypt “Beyad chazaka” (with a clenched fist) and “Uvezroah netuya” (with an outstretched arm). In today’s parlance, the Haggadah would speak of the stick and the carrot as instruments of diplomacy.
Role of the Non-Governmental Organization on the Political Scene
Over the last three decades, traditional international and intergovernmental relations have been supplemented by the contribution of civil society through an increasingly vocal actor on the political scene: the non-governmental organization (NGO). The numbers of NGOs are growing exponentially, reflecting every imaginable interest, agenda and ideology.
The largest NGOs have a membership in the millions, a budget greater than that of several sovereign states, and an acknowledged consultative status in the United Nations, its specialized agencies, and other such regional organizations as the Council of Europe, the African Union, or the Organization of American States. The Boards of such NGOs glitter with celebrities, their consultants are former diplomats, political, and ecclesiastical leaders, and their top officials have access to the corridors of power.
Many of the major Jewish organizations share the above characteristics, attending UN meetings in good NGO standing, but, apparently, holding mixed views on the priority-level of consistent interaction with the NGO world. In the main, they attend sporadically, rather than maintaining a constant presence in preparatory committees where the outreach, election bargaining, and agenda mortgages are negotiated.
Few seek representation in NGO forums beyond the UN system, but it is, for example, the regional meetings of the World Social Forum (WSF) that provide a global apparatus for recruitment, opinion-molding, agenda-setting, resource-seeking, and image-building. Thus it is the Palestine Social Forum, which convenes in Ramallah just before the European Social Forum, through which the Asian, African, and American Social Forums coordinate the heavily Palestinized program they bring to the WSF in Porto Alegre.
Participating NGOs professionally exploit the Internet, the campus, the churches, and the media to craft approaches that respond to each sector’s needs, grievances, and predispositions. They vie for attention by evoking strident arguments, subscribing to the common denominator.
They know that the World Social Forum is deliberately held simultaneously to the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF) of global corporate and political movers and shakers.
The WEF seeks the human factor through NGO input (what it calls CSOs – Civil Society Organizations). The WSF is aware that the most outspoken of its NGO actors will be next year’s guests at Davos: i.e., their “gentrification” allows the wealthy North to be opportunity-photographed with the radical-chic South. To keep their “victim of globalization” credibility, some of these NGOs send bifurcated delegations to both Porto Alegre and Davos. However, this process inevitably grants greater acceptability – if not endorsement – to NGOs known for a radical worldview that can, arguably, include antisemitism.1
The NGO arena should be considered a vital space, at once a battlefield and a network. To quit the field leaves a vacuum for adversaries to occupy and to hold; absence from the start grants them a victory by default.
For example: In November 2001, at the UN Human Rights Commission Special Conference on Religious Discrimination held in Madrid, I was shocked by the statement of the Syrian Ambassador: “There are present, in this hall, representatives of an arrogant self-elected faith that defines itself as divinely chosen. They have no place here!” “His Excellency” was mistaken, there was only one such representative present. I turned to the other human rights NGOs and appealed to them to respond to such hatred by leaving the hall with me. They refused, so I walked out – noisily and demonstratively. I then waited three minutes and strode back in, because I could not leave them to their victory, or miss the game.
The New Antisemitism
This essay will address the new antisemitism born of Durban, its globalization (with a focus on the role of Europe), the anthropologization of the Holocaust as a contributing factor, and, finally, return to the NGOs when seeking to modulate “the clenched fist” to “the outstretched arm.”
Only three years ago, in the millennium spirit of soaring stock markets and hopeful peace processes, the Jewish condition seemed almost messianic, a normalized welcome into the community of nations, equal status in international bodies for the Jewish state, and an “Am Levadad Yishkon” (“a people that shall dwell alone”) that could emerge as an “Or La Goyim” (“a light unto the Nations”).
Then came the intifada, Durban, and a new global threat to Jewish survival.
It was at the UN World Conference on Racism (WCAR), in September 2001, that antisemitic propaganda reached its post-Holocaust peak. Durban, in fact, became the new baseline for the metastasis of antisemitic malignancy throughout the global organism. In Durban, terms such as “genocide,” “Holocaust,” “ethnic cleansing,” and even “antisemitism” itself were distorted and turned against their Jewish victims.2
After the conference, the South African NGO Coordination in the WCAR NGO Forum International Steering Committee (SANGOCO)3 drafted a ten-year program distilled from the Durban Plan of Action.
The first five years (2001-2006) of this program was to be an eight-point plan to isolate Israel as “the last bastion of apartheid.” The solidarity movement of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s against South Africa was to be reconstituted for educational campaigns, legal suits for crimes against humanity, a Law of Return for all Palestinian refugees, an economic boycott, sports / telecommunications / academic / scientific / cultural / tourism embargoes (on the model of the 1980s Sullivan program), the rupture of diplomatic relations, and measures against states that would refuse to totally ostracize Israel.4 The campaign included a focused involvement of the churches, universities, the Internet, NGOs, and all United Nations agencies.
The second five years (2006-2011), with a Palestinian state in place, the focus would shift, in the language of the Iranian ayatollahs, from the “little devil” (Israel) to the “great Satan” (the United States) for a campaign against its crimes of globalization and reparations for slavery. This would climax with the Durban WCAR II in 2011.
The eight-point plan was next invoked at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August 2002. Before arriving, the Wiesenthal Center tried to contain the damage by contacting 180 Green NGO participants and urging them “to address the issues of the summit – water, health, agriculture, biodiversity, and poverty – rather than lose the occasion to political extremism and distortion that would serve unrelated agendas.” There were over two dozen supportive responses from Burundi to Brazil, from Hungary to Nigeria, but denigration of the United States and Israel remained the subtext of the conference.5
Antisemitism and the World Social Forum
The antisemitic expressions that now permeate international NGO gatherings were histrionic at the third annual World Social Forum (WSF) on the evils of globalization that took place in Porto Alegre in January 2003. Of the 70,000 accredited representatives of 5,500 NGOs from 126 countries, many had been active in Durban. At the opening rally, groups with diverse agendas and grievances carried banners that read: “Nazis, Yankees, and Jews – No More Chosen Peoples!”
In December 2002, the Palestine Social Forum brought 500 members of regional forums to Ramallah to prepare their WSF campaign. A new Palestine solidarity movement with branches in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa, through the regional WSF apparatus on each continent, was announced from Porto Alegre. Adopting the anti-globalization cause, the Palestinians have taken over the agenda with such supporters as U.S. academic Noam Chomsky, French farmers’ union militant José Bové, and British-Pakistani writer Tariq Ali.
Antisemitic imagery and language were pervasive. At a session on “Fundamentalism and Intolerance,” Jews were labeled as “the true fundamentalists who control U.S. capitalism and the Iraq war agenda,” “responsible for the 9/11 attacks,” “the American Jew, Robert Zoellick, now in Mauritius for the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, is an agent of U.S. infiltration for the re-colonization of Africa to support Jewish fundamentalists in Israel and the U.S.”
José Bové, who had just returned from a stay with Arafat in Ramallah, said, “Israel is a reductio ad Hitlerum, so Jews can be accused of being racists if they support the Jewish state….Indeed, Israelis are perpetrating antisemitic acts in France, as it is they who profit from the crime.” This invective led to a physical assault on some twenty local Jewish students holding banners declaring: “Two Peoples – Two States: Peace in the Middle East.”
The Wiesenthal Center lodged a protest with the WSF secretary-general and the mayor that a flood of posters at the airport and around the city showing “a Jewish soldier shooting Arab women and children” created an atmosphere that endangered Porto Alegre’s small Jewish community. In the stadium over 50,000 young people from some 120 countries screamed “Viva the Global Intifada!”
A prominent wire agency reporter contended that this was not a story for him, as Jews should know, a priori, that the WSF is inherently “not Jew-friendly.”
The WSF was founded four years ago in Porto Alegre by an Israeli immigrant to Brazil, Oded Grajev, who became a major sponsor of recently elected Socialist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Grajev was quoted as comparing globalization to a river’s free flow for goods, technology, and ideas. When it overflows, its “production” threatens man and nature. “The means of production must be controlled. Neo-liberalism is a policy of death. Third World debt must be cancelled as it has been paid many times over through colonialism.”
Some of the WSF grievances are clearly legitimate, but many of its acolytes are simply provocateurs, regardless of the cause. Their self-declared instruments or “class breakers” are football, music, Palestine, and anti-Americanism, i.e. global common denominators. Their language was explained as anti-information, i.e. the root of the word information is form, which implies structure/order such as, for example:
Following this discipline is viewed as subjection to a colonial logic. Breakdown is encouraged, offering alternative presentations, deconstruction of the normative where all is neutral and equivalent, no universal standards of right and wrong, no absolute truths, i.e., black = white, terrorism = human rights.6
WSF-style anti-Americanism is not new, but it has become refined as the focal point of a political transvestitism where extreme right, extreme left, post-Communists, ecologists, pacifists, church liberals, human rights and anti-death sentence activists, asylum seekers, migrant groups, Islamic militants, and traditional antisemites converge, especially in Europe, with the legitimization of certain governments, legislatures, intellectuals, the campus, and the media. Strange bedfellows march together:
Though the link between anti-Americanism and antisemitism is opportunistic, Chomsky and Edward Said provide an intellectual credibility to a nexus, later rephrased as slogans twinning “two Chosen Peoples” who aim to dominate and exploit the world in the spirit of the Protocols; two vampires sucking the life-blood of their victims. The result is, at best, contempt and the legitimization of a hatemongering long considered distasteful, if not criminal. At worst, it links the American and the Jew in a shared pariah status.
Of course, anti-globalization is not new. From the end of World War II (post-war until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989) it was a function of the Cold War. The end of the Soviet Empire had a ripple effect. In “almost Judenrein” countries where the Holocaust had succeeded, the state’s instrumental policy of antisemitism was replaced by its privatization as a means of nationalist expression. It became an antisemitism that was directed not at “the genetic Jew” but at “the generic Jew”: the CIA, the International Monetary Fund responsible for the pain of central economy withdrawal to the market economy, the hidden hand behind the Mafia, the new rich, modern technology, pop music, and human rights. This is a phenomenon that I have called “the phantom pain syndrome” – a limb was amputated (i.e., there is no more Jewish presence), but the body still tries to scratch the spot!7
Another post-Wall consequence was the ineluctable imperative to transparency, moving ever westward and shattering the given myths of national collective memories. The opening of archives of the KGB, STASI, Swiss banks, and Argentine war criminal files, led to painful withdrawal crises for France – the resistant, Austria – Hitler’s first victim, Swiss neutrality, Nazi gold, and Holocaust looting. It was a healthy cognitive dissonance for some, but the hardening of revisionist/denial positions for others.
The psychological crisis is, however, more acute in Western Europe, which bears conscience pangs and an obsessive guilt too painful for direct expiation for its two historic crimes: colonialism and complicity in the Holocaust.
Relief became available for both perpetrator and bystander nations via a projection mechanism of role reversal through the use of Holocaust language to address the Middle East. Its quintessence is the multiple versions of the caricature of the Warsaw Ghetto surrender photo of the child’s raised arms under Nazi guns. A “keffiyah” placed on the child’s head and Stars of David on the German helmets subliminally nazifies the Israeli and Judaizes the Palestinian.
The anonymity of Brussels emitting directives to an ever enlarging European Union exacerbates a crisis of faith and atavistic nostalgia for national expression, militating against the globalized homogenization of the high street, the mall, fast-food, music, and the Internet. The reactionary becomes more so, as does the radical, as does the stranger in our midst who seeks out the reassurance of his own cuisine, language, dress, religious appurtenances, and group solidarity.
The vacuums within the vacuums in the slum peripheries of European cities are the battlegrounds for the venting of frustrations and alienation – the mutual rejection of assimilation by both the host society and by the second-generation immigrant himself. The young North African, untouched by Louis XIV and Napoleon but too Westernized for repatriation to the Maghreb, is an easy recruit to incendiary “Jihadist” prayer halls.
Satellite television and websites inculcate added hate for the host culture with the authentication/socialization of hi-tech. It is no longer a case of it must be true: “I saw it in black and white, ” or “I saw it in living color on the television.” Today, the less than five percent of Moslem youth that access the Internet are a secular clergy that legitimizes a new true gospel, messengers of the Divine cyber-word. There, they buy the twin conspiracy messages of anti-globalization: the crimes of the old rancid capitalist wine in new U.S. multinational bottles, and the ubiquitous and hidden hand out of Zion that manipulates global banking, industry, cinema, and media.
What has broken the taboos on such blatant expression of hate? The Middle East on real-time TV and the Internet? The globalization of the anti-Israel campaign (from sporadic to well-coordinated and well-financed)? The growth and radicalization of Moslem immigrant communities? The internalization of Jewish leadership and incestuous closing of community ranks to demonstrate inner solidarity? Palestine-chic as opposed to Jew-fatigue? Holocaust-overdose (i.e., too much restitution campaigning) plus enough of Jewish suffering? A heightened need for the all-purpose scapegoat? Vested interests of bystanders seeking Arab patronage, business, votes, and investments (versus Jews as liabilities = boycott)? Intimidation of people not ready to stand up and be counted?
Herein lies an information paradox: despite the voluminous information sources, knowledge of history is down. Is this a rejection due to mass media surfeit and the comfort of the superficial, compounded by grandparent-induced memories and parental prejudices? Is it the impact of competitive martyrdoms matched as equal crimes of both sides by a politically correct-based moral equivalence, as in Germany and Belgium, Turks versus Kurds; in Britain, Turks versus Greeks, Indians versus Pakistanis; everywhere, Arabs versus Jews? Is the teaching of the Holocaust as an anti-fascist instrument, especially in France, leading many to fear the de-Judaization of the Holocaust?
Antisemitism and the De-Judaization of the Holocaust
Some examples of what I would painfully call the “anthropologization” of the Holocaust:
What then do the immense efforts achieve? The curricula and the movies, the foundations and the museums, the trials and the books? A generation immunized against hate, xenophobia, and antisemitism?
The Holocaust cannot be uncoupled from Jewish victims of today, for that is a new form of revisionism, and creates, by attrition, a climate of tolerance for antisemitism. Tolerance of antisemitism is in no nation’s self-interest, for “what starts with the Jews.”
If the Holocaust is to become an instrumental pedagogy and is to be used as the touchstone for anti-racist and human rights sensitization, then I believe that its commemoration and application must include a deprogramming responsibility by returning to the touchstone itself, that is antisemitism as the most enduring paradigm.8
This permits a focus upon the possible, successful models for the containment of antisemitism. Such positive examples of good practice have won for the Wiesenthal Center the “Honorable Mention of the 2002 UNESCO – Madanjeet Singh Prize for Tolerance and Peace Education.” An international conference that the Wiesenthal Center coorganized with UNESCO, in May 2003, on “Educating for Tolerance: The Case of Resurgent Antisemitism” highlighted the impact of models such as:
The ENAR example of successful Jewish outreach is a model for replication in other international arenas, especially in Geneva. This is demonstrated by the events that took place at the Parallel Conference on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which met on 4 December 2001, to censure Israel for the human rights violation of occupation. Le Monde reported the Palestinian physical attack to which I was subjected, and the distribution in the conference hall of tee-shirts emblazoned “Apartheid over Palestine.” The Swiss conveners of the meeting indirectly complied in de-legitimizing my UN NGO credentials, by what they called their policy of “proactive neutrality,” i.e. their passivity in the face of my situation. Le Monde noted my appeal to such witnesses as Amnesty International, the International Federation of Human Rights, and the International Commission of Jurists to leave the hall with me in protest – a call met with a stony silence. I was, in fact, expelled from the Conference.10
Antisemitism and the UN
While the European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia has acknowledged the recent spike in antisemitic incidents, it withheld its official report as two member-states rejected the identification of perpetrators as Arab/Moslems. The UN, however, is still in denial.
At the fifty-ninth session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva in March 2003, there was a quantitative and qualitative imbalance in the presentations of the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Mr. Doudou Diène. Quantitatively:
Equality and human dignity would have rendered a report showing several commonalities in the current insecurity of both Jews and Moslems around the world, thus assisting in mitigating the relations between those respective Diaspora communities.
The Wiesenthal Center presented protests to the Libyan Chairperson of the UN Human Rights Commission and urged the UN General Assembly to suspend acceptance of Report E/CN.4/2003/24 until it was adequately corrected in a balanced treatment of the scourge of resurgent antisemitism. The Wiesenthal Center also expressed its readiness to assist the Special Rapporteur to confront this challenge.
In September 2002, a new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, was appointed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. This High Commission oversees a well-staffed Anti-Discrimination Unit established to implement the Durban Plan of Action of the WCAR intergovernmental conference. The previous High Commissioner, Mary Robinson, officially rejected the parallel NGO Forum Plan of Action, inter alia, for its antisemitic hatemongering.
High Commissioner Vieira de Mello expressed a sensitivity to the stigmata of Durban engraved in the memories of Jewish NGOs.11 At the first of the regional Durban implementation meetings, held for Latin America in Mexico City, the Anti-Discrimination Unit convened, as panelists, noted experts on racism, rather than states – parties and NGOs who, characteristically, would have politicized and hijacked the proceedings. Absent from the Mexico City conference was the antisemitism that serves as an instrument of discourse and the common denominator for politically transvestite agendas, repressing debate on the legitimate grievances of so many parties who find their right to free expression subsumed to the targeting of the Jew.
On 19 June 2003, in Vienna, at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Conference on Antisemitism, this author made the following comment to the plenary:
Antisemitism in Old and New Europe
This has been a European perspective on a global problem and, in the lead-up to the Iraq war, much has been heard of “Old Europe.” Indeed, the Europe of Western liberalism and human rights, led by the French trinity of liberty, equality, and fraternity, is now viewed in Eastern and Southern Europe as the recalcitrant and reactionary nostalgia for a colonial/economic suzerainty that was intolerably taken over by the remaining super power. An ancient Greece to the American ancient Rome – stagnant, paralyzed in appeasement, feeding the crocodile with the hope of being eaten last, with one self-satisfying solace, that America, like Rome, must inevitably and surely follow in its decline.
It is in Old Europe that – from cocktail chatter to cocktail Molotovs – antisemitism is resurgent. There is also a New Europe, ironically, in the emergent post-Communist neophyte democracies, which are virtually Judenrein and keen to enter NATO and the EU. But they are U.S.-groupies, latter-day market economy partygoers (for memories of the central economy die hard). They are eager for globalization, terrified of Old Europe’s appeasement of the Russian bear, and suspicious of German “pacifism” as a cover for regional revanchism (e.g., the Sudeten “Heimat” club that met in Vienna with the PLO on the platform “Return for All Refugees!” or the neo-Nazi mid-1990s antics of the Bundeswehr in Croatia).
It is in New Europe that antisemitism is currently on limited hold and seen as a liability on the road to Washington (i.e. a true “rear-view mirror” antisemitism in its healthy respect for the Protocols of Zion). Indeed, at Durban, it was the Eastern European NGOs that led a petition campaign against the WCAR irregularities.
From 6-12 October 2003, during the Italian presidency of the European Union, the Peoples United Nations convened in Perugia with a “March” to Assisi on the role of “Europe in the world.” Latin American, Arab, African, and Asian anti-globalization delegations were there, but most of New Europe was not. It is at these meetings that the big lies are replicated and disseminated to campuses, boycotts, lawsuits, and media campaigns. The field must not be left to the hatemongers. To be present is to engage the shifting configurations and political mortgages. Some NGOs cannot be allies, but there are many eager to prevent politicization and hijacking. There is also the responsibility to redeem, whenever possible, the human rights and anti-racist movements and get them back on track, reminding them of their charter commitments to their own constituencies. Their members are often aghast when they learn of how their funds are disbursed or their positions misrepresented.
Survival requires both the sword and the ploughshare. Likewise, the battle in the diplomatic and NGO arena necessitates a calculated mix of the clenched fist and the outstretched arm.
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Dr. Shimon Samuels was born in England. He came to Israel in 1963 and received a B.A. in Political Science and History from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, returning to England for his second degree, an M.Sc. (Econ.) in International Relations from the London School of Economics. He earned his doctorate in a combined program with the University of Pennsylvania and the Sorbonne, Paris, and then served as Deputy Director of the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at Hebrew University. Dr. Samuels then was appointed European Director of the Anti-Defamation League based in Paris, and later became Israel Director of the American Jewish Committee. He is the Director for International Liaison of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, based in Paris, and also serves as Honorary President of the Europe-Israel Forum.
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1. Explanation of the spelling of antisemitism: The Wiesenthal Center/ UNESCO 1992 conference on antisemitism was the UN acknowledgement that the term refers to hatred exclusively targeting Jews. Yet a concerted campaign persists – from a Moscow trial on the Protocols, to the Durban conference – to de-Judaize “anti-Semitism” and redefine it as a form of “Arabophobia,” due to Arab “Semitic” ancestry. To combat the political ramifications of this semantic theft and reassert the Jewish “copyright” to the intent of the man who created the term, Wilhelm Marr, the Wiesenthal Center no longer hyphenates “antisemitism.”
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