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Stephan Grigat, Israel’s Solitude: Zionism, the Israeli Left, and the Iranian Threat

Filed under: Europe and Israel
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review
Volume 29, Numbers 1–2

Stephan Grigat, Die Einsamkeit Israels: Zionismus, die israelische Linke und die iranische Bedrohung (Israel’s Solitude: Zionism, the Israeli Left, and the Iranian Threat). Hamburg: Konkret Texte 64, KVV Konkret, 2014, 184 pp.

Stephan Grigat on Zionism, the Israeli Left, and Iran

Sometimes books achieve predictive power. Certainly, with the growing transatlantic rift between America and its European allies on what to do about Iran, this book by Stephan Grigat, a German political scientist and currently academic director of the Stop the Bomb initiative, has acquired such a predictive capacity. Die Einsamkeit Israels is an important contribution to the overall debate on the Middle East, and it was published just in time, given the backdrop of the nuclear deal with Iran and the European political class’s unwillingness to realize that it was a gigantic policy failure. As now often happens in European Union affairs – whether regarding monetary policy, efforts to come to terms with migration, the future of democracy in European institutions, and so on – apparent errors are hardly corrected, and there is no end in sight to this problem.

Grigat dispels the current European euphoria about the Iran nuclear deal and the so-called “breakthrough in Lausanne” and illuminates the many darker sides of the agreement, which was finally signed in July 2015 in the Vienna Palais Coburg on Theodor Herzl Square in the Austrian capital. This reviewer is of the opinion that, particularly in view of the special historical responsibility of Continental Europe, a careful reconsideration of the realities created in Lausanne and signed in Vienna and of the considerable role played by the EU foreign policy machinery is required, and that the other side in the dispute – the side of Israel – should also be heard.

Former U.S. President Obama was quoted by the BBC as saying that the United States and its allies had reached a “historic deal” with Iran. Without Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist and with a remaining 5,060 uranium centrifuges in operation in Iran even after the deal, that is not a comforting perspective. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu correctly said that on this basis Israel’s survival is at risk. The Israeli left shares the same assessment as the Israeli government: the Iranian mullahs’ regime does not harbor even a shred of Western rationality, and for them the destruction of Israel is “not negotiable.”

Grigat’s main, provocative thesis is that at the global level the anti-Semitism of the left is more evident today than ever. Hatred of the “collective Jew” has now become hatred of the state of Israel. That the anti-Zionist fantasies of the destruction of Israel have not become reality is solely owed to the power of the Israeli security apparatus.

In Die Einsamkeit Israels Grigat analyzes the history of the Jewish state from its beginnings to the present day (Chapter 1); the history of the Israeli left, especially the extreme factions within and outside the Communist Party (Chapter 2); the European reactions to the Middle East conflict and what Grigat refers to – in Germany and other countries – as the radicalization of the center and the “Augstein left” (i.e., the mainstream Left, named in his book after the former editor in chief of Germany’s leading weekly magazine, Der Spiegel) (Chapter 3); and the issue of Iran (Chapter 4).

With commitment and passion, Stephan Grigat shows that the “moderate forces” in European and Western foreign and security policymaking would do well to reconsider their positions on the nuclear deal. Some have boasted that the deal is a culmination of European statesmanship. A leading expert on European foreign and security policy, Oliver Meier of the Berlin-based Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (which is Ms. Merkel’s official advisory think tank), asserted that the agreement would constitute a confirmation of European and German policy, that it offered an opportunity to strengthen cooperative approaches to nonproliferation policy in favor of effective multilateralism, and that the EU’s handling of the nuclear conflict with Tehran was a complete success story!

Grigat’s book is an important and timely critical counterweight to such exaggerated claims. He provides an inventory of the threats that Israel still faces, which include military as well as diverse ideological threats and the hatred of Jews in the Islamic world. Grigat’s passion for the relevant quotations from too many leaders in the Muslim world is a great help to the research community, which hopefully will make use of his book; but the lack of an index (unfortunately very typical for German-language publishing houses these days, which are always struggling with financial constraints and limited markets) makes the finding of who said what to whom, when, and why after one has finished reading the text an enormous task.

For this reviewer, who considers himself a data-oriented empirical social scientist, it is clear that global opinion surveys by such institutions as the Washington-based Pew Research Center by and large confirm Grigat’s hypothesis of the growing isolation of the state of Israel. Even in key Western countries, the proportion of people now saying that Palestinian rights and needs cannot be fulfilled as long as Israel exists comes to 10 to 20 percent or even larger; and we find equally alarming evidence of Western hard-core minority support for former Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who went on record with repeated Holocaust denial and calls for the Jewish state’s destruction.  In the countries of the former Soviet Union and in the majority of the Muslim world, these percentages are even higher.

Grigat, who is also a lecturer at the Universities of Vienna and Graz, has published other important studies in German, and he was coeditor of Der Iran: Analyse einer islamischen Diktatur und ihrer europäischen Förderer (Iran: Analysis of an Islamic Dictatorship and Its European Promoters) (Studien Verlag, 2008) and Iran im Weltsystem (Iran in the World System) (Studien Verlag, 2010). The current book can be considered an important contribution to critical theory in the tradition of Adorno and Horkheimer, where Grigat’s scholarly work is clearly located. His doctoral thesis, Fetisch und Freiheit: Über die Rezeption der Marxschen Fetischkritik, die Emanzipation von Staat und Kapital und die Kritik des Antisemitismus (ça ira-Verlag, 2007), was devoted to the analysis of anti-Semitism in the critical-theory tradition. His basic position on the current regime in Iran is that every success in business entails a further step in its global jihad against Emancipation and Enlightenment. As Iran develops the technology for a nuclear bomb, its agenda must be understood as a political program of annihilation. If liberal and radical leftists want, Grigat says, to be serious about Adorno’s imperative as formulated in his Negative Dialectics – that in the state of humanity’s unfreedom, thought and action must be pursued in such a way that Auschwitz may never repeat itself – then they must do everything to prevent the Iranian regime from realizing its murderous ideology.

Amid the transatlantic controversy on how further to deal with the Iranian threat, Grigat’s book has gained renewed importance. It is to be hoped that the author will increasingly offer his research results in English to leading book publishers and peer-reviewed journals in that language, and that his well-founded critique of Islamist radicalism will be made available to global audiences.