he goal that Cockburn
and St. Clair’s collection of essays aspires to achieve is
quite ambitious: “To lift [the] embargo” over “criticizing
Israel.” This provocative collection only partially achieves
this aim; moreover, I am uncertain that their volume is
actually conducive to a more rational and open debate over
U.S. policies toward Israel.
contributors decry a powerful Jewish lobby in the U.S., and
perhaps elsewhere, that automatically tars anyone who dares
to criticize Israeli policies toward Palestinians as being
motivated by ugly anti-Semitism. In this dogged and dogmatic
way, the vigilant lobby manages to control the public debate
and channel it in a way that make it literally impossible to
voice any criticism of Israel, constructive or otherwise.
All these contributors concur that a clear and legitimate
distinction between criticizing Israel and being
anti-Semitic needs to be drawn if a genuine productive
dialogue is ever to arise which may lead to a just solution.
This line of argument seems to me to be quite valid and
should indeed be pursued and put into action.
essayists, however, come perilously close to suggesting that
a blanket hostility not only toward Israel but toward Jews
generally is to some extent justified. This disturbing
stance apparently is adopted because Israeli leaders
proclaim, without much visible dissent, that they represent
Jews everywhere, and so therefore implicate them. In these
instances it’s as if the “universal Jew” has been
resurrected, only under a very different proprietorship.
Consider that organizations such as AIPAC that unequivocally
back harsh Israeli policies in the occupied territories
likewise assert that they represent “Jewish opinion.” In
this misshapen context it is rather easy to see why many
people would blame all Jews as responsible for upholding and
maintaining an ongoing instance of grave injustice. Hence,
the worrisome recent resurgence of anti-Semitism.
authors’ claim is that this powerful lobby successfully
speaks as if it represents Jewish opinion and in this way
implicates the entire community. Moreover, they find that
this lobby is even able to push different U.S.
administrations, particularly the current one, to pursue
policies that support Jewish/Israeli goals rather than U.S.
ones. The aim of the book is to expose this lobby and
thereby reduce its unjustified punitive use of the label of
anti-Semitism as a disciplining device.
Uri Avnery, Linda Belanger and Norman Finkelstein offer
persuasive essays to open the hearts and minds of the
public—and of the Jewish community in particular—to a more
critical debate of Israel’s behavior toward the
Palestinians: mainly, by pointing out very affectingly that
the Holocaust legacy ought to instruct us that cruel
practices associated with the occupation of the West Bank
and Gaza are immoral by any standard. There is no need to
imply any offensive equivalence between the immorality of
the Israeli occupation and the evil of the Holocaust; the
Holocaust should have taught us all (including
Anglo-American forces in Iraq) that there are irreducibly
decent ways in which people should be treated. The Israeli
occupation, as they argue, is a gross violation of these
standards of decency. I believe that the book would have
been far more forceful for an audience outside the “already
convinced” if such constructive trails were blazed.
authors provide sound arguments why supporting Israel
uncritically is in the long run profoundly
counter-productive for all parties. Scott Handleman, for
example, suggests that blind support of Israel will
ultimately backfire badly because the injustices of the
Israeli policies will eventually become so clear that the
American citizenry will blame the Jewish community for the
awful situation in the Middle East and for obliging U.S.
policies that resulted in undermining U.S. interests. He has
a point. On the other hand, essayists Cockburn and Avnery
assert that the war in Iraq was almost exclusively initiated
by senior Jewish officials in the Pentagon and other upper
tiers of the administration. Their claim is echoed by
Sunderland and the Christisons. The underlying accusation is
of dual loyalty because the 2003 invasion was rhetorically
justified on the grounds that it is necessary for achieving
U.S. security but was actually pushed by people who care
foremost about Israel’s security.
accusation of dual loyalty is an example of how this
collection, instead of searching for ways to open up debate,
probably distracts from what ultimately unites the writers,
namely, opposition to Israeli policies in the occupied
territories. It would be more fruitful if the cases these
authors formulate would have shown how this war would serve
neither American interests nor (probably) Israel’s.
Sunderland asserts that different congressmen went to Israel
and advised Israeli officials to ignore American pressure to
agree to a two-state solution or conduct peace talks. This,
he suggests, was treasonous. I would suggest that although
this sort of behavior exemplifies bad judgment and bad
politics, it is not treason. If Israeli politicians asked
the U.S. instead to place more pressure on Israel to end its
occupation he probably would not label that gambit as
writers suggest that, on occasion, Israeli intelligence
services deliberately withheld vital information that might
have saved thousands of American lives. Again, it seems to
me that bringing up unproven claims only undermine the
credibility of the rest of their case, which ought to be
heard. The final two essays by Yigal Bronner and the late
Edward Said seem perhaps least relevant to a book titled
The Politics of Anti-Semitism inasmuch as this phrase is
not mentioned even once in them. Yet, they are the most
powerful contributions as, in their distinct ways, they
vividly convey the hideousness of the Israeli occupation and
in this way stress the urgency of mobilizing the world wide
public to demand that the U.S. and other major powers work
to put an end to Palestinian suffering and, as I strongly
believe, an end to Israeli suffering as well.