There was a thoroughly dispiriting piece in last week’s Spectator by Simon Wilder, who writes as if he is both sensible and likeable. He says that he is being driven away from London by anti-semitism. He regards “right-thinking people” as increasingly guilty. It is a relief to find that by right-thinking, he emphatically does not mean right-wing. “These days, people in the Labour party all too often say things about Jews having big noses, or controlling the media, or somehow engineering the attack on the World Trade Center. Israel is behind Isis, they say.” If that is so and the moral detritus of the 1930s is now infecting right-on North London lefties and their dinner tables, the Labour party is in an even worse mess than one realised.
Marx wrote that anti-semitism is the socialism of fools. Later, anti-Americanism took over. If Mr Wilder is correct, today’s Labour party embraces both. Perhaps we should conclude that Corbynism is the socialism of fools.
But then Mr Wilder forced this reader to part company from his argument. “They say they’re just ‘anti-Zionist’ but to be anti-Zionist is to be anti-Semitic. No one is anti- any other country. No one questions, say, Iran’s right to exist.”
Here, our author is guilty of historical ignorance, or of intellectual dishonesty, or of both. He does not seem to be aware that Zionism is an elusive concept which has changed its meaning over the years. At the beginning of last Century, its exponents were idealists who advocated the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, in the spirit of that age-old invocation: “next year in Jerusalem”. They were not demanding the whole of Palestine.
Any Jewish state would always have been problematic, and the problems were not solved by the Balfour declaration. It endorsed the creation of a Jewish state, but without undermining the position of the Palestinians. That would always have been virtually impossible to achieve. So early Zionism involved plenty of difficulties.
But it could have worked. By 1967, largely because of Israeli valour, the basis existed for a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine. There would have been an Israeli state and a Palestinian state. With massive amounts of American aid, that just might have succeeded, with prosperity assuaging bitterness. It would not have been easy. As Prince Hassan of Jordan often reminds everyone: “We all live in a dangerous neighbourhood”. But there would have been grounds for cautious hope. Now, that has virtually ceased to be the case, because of the new Zionists. They do not want a Jewish homeland or a single-state solution. They want to grab the whole of Palestine, right up to the Jordan. They have no concern for the rights or interests of the West Bank Palestinians.
There are only three ways in which that could be made to work. First, the mass expulsion of millions of people; second, apartheid and continued oppression; or third, the humane option. That would involve emancipating the Palestinians and granting them full Israeli citizenship. That would also mean the end of the Jewish state.
So you are wrong, Mr Wilder: the critics of the new Zionists do not favour the destruction of Israel. In the spirit of Herzl, Weizmann and Ben Gurion, they wish to ensure the continued existence of a Jewish Israel. Moreover, it is perfectly possible to criticise a state’s territorial claims without opposing the existence of that state. Those who think that Russia should not be in the Crimea do not seek the destruction of Russia; those who opposed the Indonesian occupation of East Timor did not wish to destroy Indonesia.
Israel’s real enemies are not those who criticise its policies on the West Bank (which is true of many Israelis and other Jews). It is the new ultra-Zionists who urge their fellow countrymen to disregard both justice and security, to wallow in arrogance, to rely solely on force, never on compromise. They are sowing the whirlwind. Israel could reap a terrible harvest.