We Europeans must never forget that we created the Middle East conflictRevisionist, self-flaggelating pseudo-reasoning like "we are responsible for the crisis in the Middle East" is usually bearing a German hallmark, but if it's opportune, an Englishman and, notabene, historian and Oxford don, happily takes up the whip as well should the circumstances call for it. And they do. BOY do they do!
Justified criticism of Israeli policy needs to be informed by a sense of our own historical responsibility
Timothy Garton Ash
Thursday July 27, 2006
When and where did this war begin? Shortly after 9am local time on Wednesday July 12, when Hizbullah militants seized Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev - Israeli reservists on the last day of their tour of duty - in a cross-border raid into northern Israel? Friday June 9, when Israeli shells killed at least seven Palestinian civilians on a beach in the Gaza strip? January this year, when Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections, in a backhanded triumph for an American policy of supporting democratisation? 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon? 1979, with the Islamic revolution in Iran? 1948, with the creation of the state of Israel? Or how about Russia in the spring of 1881?
Yet observing European responses to the current conflict, I want to insist on Europe's own strong claim to be among the earliest causes. The Russian pogroms of 1881; the French mob chanting "à bas les juifs" as Captain Dreyfus was stripped of his epaulettes at the École Militaire; the festering anti-semitism of Austria around 1900, shaping the young Adolf Hitler; all the way to the Holocaust of European Jewry and the waves of anti-semitism that convulsed parts of Europe in its immediate aftermath. It was that history of increasingly radical European rejection, from the 1880s to the 1940s, that produced the driving force for political Zionism, Jewish emigration to Palestine and eventually the creation of the state of Israel.
Of course, this [the development of modern Zionism] is only one thread in perhaps the world's most complicated political tapestry; but it's a very important one. I don't think any European should speak or write about today's conflict in the Middle East without displaying some consciousness of our own historical responsibility. I'm afraid that some Europeans today do so speak and write; and I don't just mean the German rightwing extremists who marched through the town of Verden in Lower Saxony last Saturday, waving Iranian flags and chanting "Israel - international genocide centre". I also mean thinking people on the left, contributors to discussion threads on Guardian blogs and the like. Even as we criticise the way the Israeli military are killing Lebanese civilians and UN monitors in the name of recovering Ehud Goldwasser (and destroying the military infrastructure of Hizbullah), we must remember that all of this would almost certainly not be happening if some Europeans had not attempted, a few decades back, to remove everyone called Goldwasser from the face of Europe - if not the earth.
Let me be very clear what I mean. It does not follow from this terrible European history that Europeans must display uncritical solidarity with whatever the current government of Israel chooses to do, however violent or ill-advised. On the contrary, the true friend is the one who speaks up when you're making a mistake. It does not follow that we should sign up to the latest dangerous simplifications about a "third world war" against "an Iran-Syrian-Hizbullah-Hamas terrorist alliance" (according to the US Republican Newt Gingrich) or a "seamless totalitarian movement" of political Islamism (according to the Conservative MP and journalist Michael Gove).
It does not follow that every European who criticises Israel is a covert anti-semite, as some commentators in the United States tend to imply. And it certainly does not follow that we should be any less alert to the suffering of the Arabs, including the Palestinian Arabs who fled or were driven out of their homes at the founding of the state of Israel, and their descendants who grew up in refugee camps. The life of every single Lebanese killed or wounded by Israeli bombing is worth exactly as much as that of every Israeli killed or wounded by Hizbullah rocket attacks.
Does it follow that Europeans have a special obligation to get involved in trying to secure a peace settlement in which the state of Israel can live in secure frontiers next to a viable Palestinian state? I think it does. To be sure, since Europeans have one way or another affected almost every corner of the earth, such an argument from history could in theory take us everywhere - the legacy of European imperialism providing a universal moral excuse for European neo-imperialism. But the story of the Jews driven from their European homelands, and in their turn driving Palestinian Arabs from their homeland, is unique. Even if you don't accept this argument from historical and moral responsibility, Europe's vital interests are plainly at stake: oil, nuclear proliferation and the potential reaction among our alienated Muslim minorities, to name but three.
Yet the issue here is not just changing the realities on the ground in the Middle East. How Europeans speak and write about the position of the Jews in the region to which Europeans drove them is also a matter of our own self-definition. We should weigh every word.
The core deceit of this embarrassing, patronising history lesson by a man who surely knows better are two myths.
Myth number one is that Israel was founded because of the Holocaust, which is not true and easy to debunk:
In 1947, when the UNO decided to split up what little was left of Palestine (the bigger part had been already taken by the Hashemites and we know it as Jordania today), very little of the extent of the Holocaust was known.
Myth number two is that this was done at the cost of the Palestinian Arabs, which is a whopping lie but still needs a slightly more elaborate debunking effort. Alright, here is goes:
I wasn't a wave of strange European death camp survivors that had drowned Palestine post-1945 and ousted the Arab population. When the partition was declared (and rejected by the Arabs) there had been a functioning quasi-governmental infrastructure for the for a long time already under the authority of the Jewish Agency. The Brits had tried to encourage the Arabs to set up a similar governing body in preparation for statehood, but the Arabs were either unwilling or unable or both to do so. Had the Arabs not rejected the partition plan then, there would be nothing to fight over today.
So what about the European domination of the state of Israel, that strange body foisted on unsuspecting Arabs in the region?
The majority of Israel's Jewish population were and are Sephardim kicked out of the Arab countries and Iran. The property looted from these Sephardic Jews in those countries has been estimated to be worth $30 billion of which not a penny has ever been compensated. The entire considerable considerable Sephardic Jewish population of Iraq, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and other Arab countries (and Iran) "vanished" somehow after 1948 and was absorbed by Israel. No doubt, that was all because of Hitler and the European Holocaust.
The problem is not that Israel is not a Middle eastern country, the problem is that those Middle Easterners are Jews.
The Jews were not exactly imposed on the Arabs at any stage of history. Jews had always lived in the Holy Land "since time immemorial". The immigration from Jews from Eastern Europe started as early as the mid-to-late 19th century. They bought land at highly inflated prices from absentee Arab landowners. (B-O-U-G-H-T it! Land, mind you, nobody wanted and nobody cared for until the Jews bought it. Mark Twain's "Innocents Abroad" is quite an eye-opener here for those willing to see.
But hey, there HAD been many alien Ashkenazim immigrants from Eastern Europe driven by modern Zionism, hadn't there? What WAS the matter with those Jews from Eastern Europe? Why would "Europeans" want to settle in the swamps and deserts of Palestine?
The truth of the matter is that Jews were never treated as Europeans while they lived in Europe, but always as second-class foreigners (at best) or targets for genocide (at worst), even if they had been living there for a millenium or longer. There had been a short time of seemingly perfect Jewish "assimilation" to German society and we all know to what that had lead.
One can hardly have it both ways and call those Jews "Europeans" as soon as it suits one's agenda, when they have never been considered "Europeans" while living in Europe.
But, as we all know, antisemitism is a self-service shop.
The misconstrued responsibility Garton Ash claims is taken as a tool and an outlet for what the Sociologist Wolfgang Pohrt in a similar context said about similar and similarly embarrassing German attempts of dealing with the past. Pohrt dubbed it the "Michel Syndrome". The Germans, as former perpetrators, so Pohrt, feel that it is their duty to "stand with praise and censure at Israel's side as ethical probation officer to keep the victim from committing a second offence."
With their obsession with responsibility (Verantwortungsfimmel), Germans resemble "a convicted child molester who thinks he is specifically qualified for a job as kindergarden teacher", as Pohrt scathingly put it. "Gerade wir als Deutsche", "specifically we as Germans" is always the overture to one of those obnoxious attempts of sticking their meddlesome collective nose into things that shouldn't concern them, as if that past, of all things, had entitled the Germans with some specific qualification to lecture the world about all things human, good and noble.
Obviously, the "Michel Syndrome" is catching. So let's hand over to Garton Ash a whiff of what he is looking for, namely responsibility?
The Brits are not doing too badly as far as co-responsibility for the Holocaust goes, and even though they never got the opportunity, like other European countries, to deliver their Jews FOC railway loading bay to the eastbound trains, they DID refuse to bomb those railway lines because it might have cost them precious resources they couldn't be bothered to waste on Jews. They didn't bother to bomb the death camps themselves either because (listen good!) that might have "killed people". The fact that they sent back the pathetic boats with survivors of the German death camps to a grim fate in a concentration camp or to drown in the Mediterranean makes an excellent point in the case of "European responsibility", doesn't it, Garton Ash?
I know that isn't quite the way you wanted it, but now you're having it, what are you going to do with it?
Not too surprisingly and as any good little revisionist historian would do, you are turning that very accountability into a nice pretext for the same disgusting responsibility fixation from which the Germans are notoriously suffering. Its precondition is that there is a situation of equality in the Middle East conflict and that "we as Europeans" are therefore somehow not just responsible for the conduct and good manners of the Jews, but for the treatment of the Arabs, "victims" AS the Jews and OF the Jews, as well.
If we as Europeans, and specifically we Brits and Germans, are responsible for anything, it is for having fed and furthered Arab antisemitism since before WWII and having armed even the most repulsive dictatorships in the region ever since.
But hey, don't let's forget that particular British resposibility for the abysmal management of the Palestine Mandate and specifically for the betrayal of the Jews when the Brits left Palestine and handed over the strategically important places to the Arabs, against all agreements and fully aware of what the Arabs were going to do to the Jews.
Here you are, Garton Ash! YOUR VERY OWN LITTLE BIT OF RESPONSIBILITY!
Now why isn't this Oxford don with impressive credentials in history, who can hardly claim ignorance as an excuse, grovelling about THAT?
Why isn't he whining about other parts of the world where European colonialism, for the most part that of the British brand, has left a host of angry Muslims? What about Pakistan? What about Indonesia and the Phillipines? Africa? Why doesn't he condemn Europe for their monstrous lack of interest that led to one million dead in Rwanda?
Go on! Do what you do so well: Grovel, cringe and squirm!
To cut things short, Garton Ash and big-mouthed, pompous phonies like him give an aviating fornication for the people in the Middle East, Jews and Arabs alike (or any other people, for that). It is just that any call for "responsibility" and hint of guilt is always handy for triggering off bitter resentment against the victims. That is a sad, but very real human mechanism and the comments following his drivel at the Al Guardian (are we amazed?), bear witness of it.
Why should he do that?
He says so himself. Weren't Europe experiencing such a colossal rising of Muslim influx, slimeballs like Garton Ash, who believe that the ogre Islam will devour them last if they behave like the nice little cowards they are, wouldn't dream of bothering us with such patronising and sanctimonious revisionist excrement and keep their antisemitism where it belongs -- at the dinner table.
And to make things easier, Mr. Double Barrel is even obliging enough to start his article with the long-busted Hamas lie about "Friday June 9, when Israeli shells killed at least seven Palestinian civilians on a beach in the Gaza strip" and thus removes the last doubt about where he stands.
Thanks at least for that!
Hat tip to Liza who provided me with the article and additional food for thought.