Quantcast

D.D. Guttenplan | The Nation

D.D. Guttenplan

Author Bios

D.D. Guttenplan

D.D. Guttenplan

D.D. Guttenplan, who writes from The Nation's London bureau, is the author of American Radical: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

Articles

News and Features

Europeans opposed to war in Iraq are united by a deep distrust, even fear, of America.

A specter is haunting the Jews of Europe: the specter of anti-Semitism.
A synagogue is firebombed in Belgium; three more are burned in France,
where Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front attracts millions of votes. In
the town of l'Union, near Toulouse, a man opens fire at a kosher butcher
shop, and in Berlin the police advise Jews not to dress in a conspicuous
manner. Here in Britain two Orthodox Jews were attacked outside Harrods
in broad daylight, and a synagogue in North London was desecrated only a
few weeks ago. Britain's broadsheet newspapers agonized over whether the
French ambassador's reference to Israel as a "shitty little country" was
anti-Semitic or just anti-Israel, and Rupert Murdoch's Sun, a
tabloid more famed for its topless page 3 "stunners" than for its high
moral tone, ran a full-page editorial assuring readers, "The Jewish
faith is not an evil religion." In Europe, argues Washington Post
columnist Charles Krauthammer, "it is not safe to be a Jew."

Something is happening. I've had more conversations about anti-Semitism
here in the past six months than in the previous six years. Last autumn,
after listening patiently while a friend wondered whether American
support for Israel wasn't in some sense to blame for September 11, and
seeing a writer who'd never expressed an opinion on the Middle East
denounced as a "Zionist," I organized a panel on anti-Semitism and the
press at London's Jewish Book Week. So if I say that Americans
who argue it is time for Europe's Jews to pack their bags are either
fools or rogues, it isn't because I'm looking at the situation with my
head in the sand. When I went to synagogue in Florence with my older son
on the last day of Passover this year, I was glad to see the Italian
soldier standing guard at the door.

But the big danger in Florence that week was to Americans, who were
warned by the State Department to stay away from public places. More
Jews died in the World Trade Center than in all of Europe's anti-Semitic
outrages of the past two decades put together. What's missing from the
current furor over European anti-Semitism is any recognition that the
whole world is now a dangerous place--and not just for Jews.

Some historical perspective might also be nice. It was widely reported
here that Asher Cohn, rabbi of the vandalized synagogue, is himself the
son of a rabbi who fled Germany after his synagogue was torched on
Kristallnacht--the kind of coincidence journalists find
irresistible. But the damage to Cohn's synagogue was repaired within
days--by volunteers who included a Labour Cabinet minister and a member
of the Conservative shadow Cabinet. The rise of Austria's Jörg
Haider and the murdered Dutch maverick Pim Fortuyn are often depicted as
heralds of a fascist revival. Haider is an anti-Semite, whose talent for
racist double-entendre prompted Austrian journalist Eva Menasse to
wonder why the foot in Haider's mouth always seems to be wearing a
jackboot. Yet overt anti-Semitism has no place in either Freedom Party
propaganda or in the program of the Austrian government. Hitler had a
militarized state, a genocidal ideology and open contempt for democratic
norms--a combination not found anywhere in the current European
political landscape.

What Europe has instead is xenophobia. Since September 11 a wave of
hostility to foreigners has swept over the Continent. Some of this has
come out as anti-Semitism, particularly on the neanderthal right in
Germany and among the marginal but mediagenic British National Party.
Knee-jerk anti-Americanism has also seen a revival: in Greece, where
left- and right-wing nationalists momentarily united in stressing US
culpability after the World Trade Center bombings, and on the wilder
shores of British and French Trotskyism. But the primary target of
xenophobic rhetoric and xenophobic violence has been Europe's Arab and
Muslim inhabitants. Fortuyn labeled Islam a "backward" religion and
campaigned on a platform opposing Muslim immigration. (Fortuyn also came
up with a new variation on the "some of my best friends" defense,
assuring a Dutch television interviewer he had "nothing against
Moroccans; after all, I've been to bed with so many of them!") The
British government has resisted calls to broaden laws against incitement
to racial hatred, which currently protect Jews (as an ethnic group) but
exclude Muslims. Yet Richard Stone, who serves both as chair of
Britain's Jewish Council on Racial Equality and chair of the Commission
on British Muslims and Islamophobia, is in no doubt: "There is much more
anti-Muslim than anti-Jewish prejudice in this country." When Italian
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi proclaimed the superiority of "our
civilization," he didn't mean superior to Jews. From isolated incidents
in Denmark and Ireland to Holland, where a mosque has been burned, to
Germany and France, where a steady stream of anti-Islamic violence has
swelled to a flood, Europe has become a great deal less safe for
Muslims.

The fact that conditions are worse for Europe's Muslims--particularly in
those countries where they have not been allowed to become
citizens--does not, of course, mean that Jews should remain silent when
we are attacked or even offended, just that we should retain a sense of
proportion. The British Crime Survey, for instance, counts well over
100,000 racist incidents in each of the past three years. The number of
racial incidents actually reported to the police, a much lower figure,
has risen from 23,049 in 1999 to 53,842 in 2001. During this same period
the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported--a category that includes
anti-Semitic leafleting and verbal harassment as well as violence
against persons or property--went from 270 in 1999 to 405 in 2000 to 310
in 2001. As of May 22 the total for this year was only 126--hardly
indicative of Cossacks riding through Hampstead.

Yet one of the most striking things about the panic supposedly stalking
Europe's Jews is how much that panic seems to be centered in Britain--a
country where Jews are a very small (about 250,000 out of a population
of 59 million) and very well-established minority. "What has been
challenged is our comfort of having a foot in both worlds," Jo Wagerman,
president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told the Israeli
paper Ha'aretz. The 240-year-old board is probably the oldest
Jewish lobby in the world; Wagerman, whose own family came to Britain
under Oliver Cromwell, is the group's first woman president. In the
years after World War II, she said, British Jews enjoyed "a kind of
golden age...[but] recently, Britain isn't the same." Melanie Phillips,
a columnist for the right-wing Daily Mail, who was heckled by a
BBC studio audience for claiming that Israel was a democracy, wrote that
"the visceral hostility toward Israel and Jews displayed...by the
audience is representative now of much mainstream British opinion."

The connections between events in the Middle East and in Europe are
complex, fraught with the potential for misunderstanding and
manipulation. Only the statistics are straightforward. In London, says
Metropolitan Police spokeswoman Miriam Rich, anti-Semitic incidents went
"up in April because of what happened in Jenin, and are down again in
May. Each month is a direct reflection of what is happening in the
Middle East." If you plot the national figures on a graph, says Michael
Whine of the Community Security Trust, "and superimpose them with
another of incidents in the Middle East, you see one following the
other." The same correlation can be seen in France, where, unlike
Britain, a growing proportion of the attackers come from that country's
disaffected and marginalized Arab minority.

To Jews, such incidents may feed a sense that the whole world is against
us. The tendency--understandable if not justifiable--to let any act of
violence against Jews on European soil conjure up images of the
Holocaust also inhibits clear thinking. Anthony Julius, the lawyer who
acted for Deborah Lipstadt against David Irving, and a scholar of
British and European anti-Semitism, ridicules the "diaspora narcissism"
that leads British Jews to exaggerate their difficulties. And while
Julius is careful to distinguish between anti-Semitism and criticism of
Israel, not all of Israel's friends are so scrupulous.

Indeed, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that many of those shouting
loudest about the danger in Europe care more about retaining occupied
Palestinian land than about the welfare of diaspora Jews. The BBC, the
Guardian and the Independent--all news organizations with
a clear editorial commitment to Israel's right to exist--are continually
fending off accusations of anti-Semitism for simply reporting the
day-to-day dehumanization inflicted on Palestinians. Whether the French
ambassador's remark was a crime or a blunder, by making it at the home
of Barbara Amiel, wife of Daily Telegraph (and Jerusalem
Post
) owner Conrad Black, and herself a staunch defender of Ariel
Sharon, he put a weapon in the hands of those who argue, with Amiel,
that "super-liberalism led to suicide bombers and intifadas in Israel."

Sometimes anti-Zionism really is a cover for anti-Semitism, and we on
the left need to be clearer about that. Jews who view Israel's existence
as the necessary fulfillment of their national (as opposed to civil)
rights have grounds to be suspicious of those who grant Palestinian
national aspirations a legitimacy they withhold from Jews. Most of the
time, though, the line is pretty clear, and Jews of all people should be
wary of using a double standard as a bludgeon. Or conjuring up specters
in the cause of ethnic unity. If it is racist to suggest, as the New
Statesman
did recently, that "a Kosher conspiracy" inhibits
criticism of Israel, then what are we to make of former Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Barak's claim (in the New York Review of Books,
reprinted here in the Guardian) that Palestinians "are products
of a culture in which...truth is seen as an irrelevant category"? The
non-Zionist world has every reason to resent it when the moral odium of
anti-Semitism is used to discredit those who object to the brutality of
Israeli occupation, or when the tattered mantle of Jewish victimization
is draped over policies of collective punishment and murderous reprisal
that, as the Israeli press was quick to point out, are modeled on the
tactics used to crush Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto. If more
Jews expressed outrage at these policies, and at the way our tragic
history is demeaned by being used as a gag, we would be in a stronger
position to demand not sympathy but solidarity.

The second round of France's presidential elections was billed as
"l'escroc" (the crook) versus "le facho" (the fascist). In
the event, incumbent President Jacques Chirac got the kind of majority
usually associated with the heads of one-party states. "As always in
times of difficulty, France rallied around what is essential," said the
man even many of his supporters dubbed "the Superliar" as he claimed his
victory.

It was precisely the history of France's response in "times of
difficulty" that led Europe to hold its collective breath on May 5. Like
his reference to the Holocaust as "une détaille" and his
proposal that illegal immigrants be held in "transit camps," Jean-Marie
Le Pen's claim to be "socially left, economically right, and nationally
French" was a deliberate echo of the fascist past--in this case the
pre-war fascist slogan "Neither left nor right--French!" The evident
relief in the faces of the African and North African immigrants on the
streets of Paris as the scale of Le Pen's defeat became apparent was a
reminder of just how high the stakes had been. But Le Pen polled nearly
6 million votes--300,000 more than the total for both far-right parties
in the first round--despite being condemned by a pantheon of national
heroes, from Charles Aznavour to Zinedine Zidane.

Not exactly cause for celebration. Instead, some sobering reflections.
First, that history matters. A great deal of attention has been paid to
Le Pen's anti-immigrant, anti-European Union rhetoric. Other far-right
parties, singing from the same hymnal, have made recent gains all across
Europe. But Le Pen also can claim the mantle of a tradition with very
deep roots in French soil, embracing the clerical absolutism of
Action française, the anti-Semitism of Vichy collaborators
like Robert Brasillach and the provincial bitterness of Pierre Poujade.
(Perhaps the oddest moment in the whole campaign was when Le Pen, who
got his start in politics in Poujade's 1956 shopkeepers' revolt, found
himself disowned by his former mentor.) France is not the only country
where nostalgia for fascism has crawled out from under its stone. The
right wing of Silvio Berlusconi's government in Italy carries a torch
for Mussolini; the leader of the British National Party, which won three
seats in local elections recently, decorates his office with German
flags. Pim Fortuyn's assassination on May 6 has left the Dutch far right
leaderless--but may also have furnished the movement's first martyr.

Second, that it isn't just "the economy, stupid." Prosperity didn't save
Lionel Jospin any more than it did Al Gore. To a labor force
increasingly threatened by globalization, Jospin's approach may have
seemed less dirigiste than laissez-faire, but his positions on
workers' rights were still rooted in social democracy. Yet working-class
voters preferred Le Pen to Jospin. The true balance of forces won't be
known until the parliamentary elections in June. Mainstream
conservatives have already agreed to run as a coalition, the Union for a
Presidential Majority. A chastened left has also promised to unite, but
the Socialists have been decapitated, the Communists polled just over 3
percent in April and the Trotskyists are, as usual, split. If the
National Front vote holds at May 5 levels, the far right could become
the main opposition party in the next French Parliament.

For the left outside France, the lasting aftershock of these elections
is the re-emergence of identity as a political problem. For more
than two decades periodicals on the left (including this one) have been
deriding "identity politics" as a suicidal strategy blamed both for the
left's demise after the1960s and for its failure to capture blue-collar
workers supposedly alienated by excessive attention to the concerns of
women and minorities. Instead, we have been urged to limit ourselves to
the language of economic self- (or class) interest. As the pundits who
dismissed Le Pen never tired of pointing out, he barely had an economic
program worthy of the name. Challenged on television to explain his plan
to abolish income tax, he answered that he had other people to do the
figures for him. What he did offer voters was a sense of
identity--crude, nationalistic and defensive, but for many the only
apparent alternative to a mainstream politics offering little more than
the local management of global capitalism. The left may have progressed
beyond such appeals, but if Le Pen is any indication, a right-wing
politics of identity is still very much alive and dangerous.

The divergence in British and US views on the Middle East has become acute.

Europe and the United States have begun to follow diverging scripts on the war.

London's new mayor is Thatcher's old nemesis. Is he also a leading indicator?

"This trial," said the plaintiff, David Irving, "is not really about what happened in the Holocaust." Opposing counsel agreed: "The essence of the case is Mr.

Blogs

  Though the punters (that's you, dear reader) aren't usually let in on the secret, it is a truth universally acknowledged among...
  In my new biography of I.F. Stone, legendary investigative journalist and one-time Washington correspondent for this magazine, I...
Dear Nationistas, I can't honestly say that covering the G20 from the inside was fun or that I wish you'd all been there, cooped up (if not...
So there we were, two Americans summoned to 11 Downing Street to advise the movers and shakers of British culture on the lessons to be...
The British press seems to have finally recovered from President Obama's supposed "diss" of Gordon Brown. Instead, today's papers...