Marc Tobiass (of proche-orient.com) talks with Pilar Rahola.
Marc Tobiass: Why did you feel the need to write "In Favor of Israel"; to participate in the publication of this book?
Pilar Rahola: Since the start of the second intifada, the Spanish press, on the right as well as the Left, has taken a particularly aggressive approach toward Israel, an approach that leaves out the reasons for Israel's actions and tends to ignore the Israeli victims in this conflict. In this situation, a small minority of intellectuals, public personalities—sensitive to the Jewish question in general and to Israel particular—felt deeply touched by this problem. Outraged by the return of Judeophobia in Spain, we, each in our own way, began to write articles; to use the media to condemn this situation. And then Oracia Vasquez Real, an important writer in Spain, suggested that we coordinate our activity; that we collect into one work the vision of the Middle East conflict held by fifteen well-known intellectuals.
Marc Tobiass: For whom did you write this book, and with what objective?
Pilar Rahola: Fundamentally, this book is addressed to the anti-Jewish school of thought in Spain. The goal of our book is to launch a debate about Judeophobia in Spain. We are convinced that the current view of the conflict, so Manichaean—with the good, always the Palestinians, and the evil, always the Israelis—has deep roots. It comes from an ancient anti-Jewish feeling that exists in Spain and that also explains the history of Spain. This feeling softened slightly after the Franco era [translator's note : post-1975], but today there is a virulent resurgence of this savage feeling to the point where one can find genuinely anti-Semitic expressions in the Spanish press. In essence, this is a provocative book in the face of totally pro-Arab thinking in Spain, that is completely uncritical of the mistakes of the Arab world in general and of the Palestinians in particular. We want to counter this flagrant imbalance.…
Marc Tobiass: This imbalance is not specifically Spanish, nor, for that matter, is the Judeophobia. You rightly recall in your piece the troubling remark of Hermann Broch [translator's note: Austrian anti-Nazi novelist, 1886-1951] denouncing the indifference of Europe as the worst of the crimes in the bloody madness of the Hitler era….
Pilar Rahola: Yes, I think that Europe was indifferent on the surface because it felt guilty within. I believe that this indifference unquestionably comes from Judeophobia. And in the ultimate paradox, the Jewish soul is part and parcel of Europe. Europe cannot be explained without its Jewish soul, but it is also explained by its hatred of the Jews. Thus, all the repeated attempts of Europe to get rid of its Jewish soul are, in fact, a kind of suicide.
After the Holocaust, after Auschwitz, that is, after the ultimate stage in the destruction of the Jewish soul—a process which lasted for centuries in Europe—Europe is shattered, many of its elements are dead, but it also has a bad conscience; it knows it is guilty. Since then, Europe has looked for and found in the Palestinian cause the expiation for its guilt. It is from this that the uncritical and Manichean attitude toward the Palestinian cause emerges—it is, primarily, the last heroic (European) adventure. Further, the more the Jews are presented as being the evil party, the bad ones, the less difficult it is to carry the responsibility and the guilt. This is a process of collective psychology. From such a perspective, there essentially is no difference between France, for example, and Spain… It is unbelievable how Europe continues to hate its Jewish soul, even after it has expelled it!
Marc Tobiass: According to you, it is this Judeophobia that explains the "pro-Palestinian hysteria" that exists in Europe.
Pilar Rahola: I am sure of it….There is undeniably of late a very serious effort at disinformation about everything to do with the Middle East. There is a kind of madness that excuses all the crimes, abuses, and errors of the Palestinian side, and, at the same time, there is a historical predisposition that condemns any single error of the Israeli side—and this to the point where the Palestinian victims are given maximum attention and the Israeli (victims) are ignored. It is as if the Jewish victims didn't exist, on the pretext that they were responsible for their own deaths!
The worst thing is that there is also a problem of terrorism in Spain, but when the crimes of ETA [translator's note : the Basque terrorist group] are mentioned, one speaks of terrorism, while when the crimes of Hamas are mentioned, one speaks of militants, activists, resistance, struggle…When one mentions the Palestinian victims, one speaks of children, civilians, innocents, but when one mentions the Israeli victims, one speaks of people without a name, as if to suggest that they are only soldiers, members of the army. There is a distortion in the presentation of the conflict, a dangerous manipulation that feeds the hatred and the anti-Semitism.
Marc Tobiass: Your remarks add up to an indictment of the European media.
Pilar Rahola: What I want is to launch an appeal to the collective European way of thinking, and especially to the intellectuals and journalists, because, from my point of view, they are in the process of creating a collective reality that is Judeophobic. Today one must prove oneself to be on the left ; it is necessary to be anti-Semitic to have credibility. Things have reached the point where, for instance, Sharon is always guilty of being guilty, while Arafat is seen as an honest figure, innocent, a tireless old resistance fighter, a heroic figure, a kind of Gandhi—in brief, a person gussied up in romantic finery, when in reality he is head of an oligarchy that has so much blood on its hands.
Israel is not (just) a country that is trying, for better or worse, to survive for fifty years, but it is reduced to one sole image: a country that occupies the territories and whose vocation is to make life miserable for the poor Palestinians. The history of the Holy Land is being reinvented. Everything takes place as if there were instructions: Never recall the faults and errors of the Palestinians, never recall their alliances with dangerous countries such as Iraq, in order to heap more shame on the United States and Israel. The profound reasons for this war are never made clear, never discussed.
Marc Tobiass: There is a comment in your text that sent shivers down my spine. You say that Judeophobia is, in the final analysis, the common denominator between Europe and the Palestinians.
Pilar Rahola: It's true that there are in Europe non-Jews who are sensitive and respect the Jewish soul, which is also part of the foundation of Europe, but they constitute a minority. The majority, the unconscious European collective, does not understand, does not absorb, nor accept, the Jewish phenomenon. And it is there that the essential meeting point between the European and the Palestinian takes place. Palestinian identity is not just a recent phenomenon, but it is, above all, built on hatred of Israel, hatred of the Jews.
If Europe can be explained by its Jewish component and by its hatred of the Jews, as if they were two sides of the same coin, Palestinian identity can essentially be explained only by its anti-Jewish component. It is for this reason that the Palestinians have such difficulty putting an end to their violence.
If the Palestinians renounced their hatred of the Jews, they would at the same time lose a significant part of their identity. To get beyond this violence, they would have to get beyond the hatred and thus change their identity. In other words, they would have to reinvent themselves. It is on the basis of this hatred that the Palestinian meets and agrees with the European. Often, this takes place with people of the Left, which is a veritable calamity for people like myself, as we are of the Left. We are Europeans, but we do not accept Judeophobia, just as we do not accept the anti-Zionism that justifies and nourishes the anti-Semitism of the Spanish Left today.
Marc Tobiass: Isn't this legitimization of hate the true obstacle to peace?
Pilar Rahola: Without doubt. I believe that Europe is directly responsible, and not only for the conflict. In the final analysis, who, if not Europe, created the Jewish problem in the world? In a certain sense, one can even say that Europe is the actual founder of the State of Israel. Europe expelled its Jews—its Spanish Jews, its Russian Jews, its French Jews, and its German Jews. It expelled them from its body, even though these Jews felt themselves to be European to the core….
Marc Tobiass: You describe yourself as being on the Left and, for you, being a leftist is above all an existential position toward life, toward society. Yet, you yourself say that when this position turns into ideology, at times it becomes an excuse for channeling uncritical dogma, a simplistic Manichaeanism, indeed racism. You, who were a parliamentarian of the Left, how can you handle this contradiction?
Pilar Rahola: Those on the Left in Spain have a real problem. In some respects we are the heirs of the French Revolution ; we have been influenced by the great ideologues like [Jean-Paul] Sartre and [Albert] Camus, and also by May 1968. That is to say, the overall thinking of the Spanish Left comes from France. Now, France is fundamentally anti-American…from which (comes) our anti-Americanism, that at times borders on the pathological, an anti-Americanism which is also anti-Semitic. This explains why to a certain extent the Spanish Left is anti-Semitic. Obviously, people like myself have great difficulty with this state of affairs.
I believe that if the Left has failed as a great world ideology, it is because the Left did not succeed in breaking with the worst of its dogmatic thinking. The Left can be very progressive, but it can also be very dogmatic. Unfortunately, the Left became infatuated with such infamous dictators as Pol Pot, Mao, and Stalin, and now it is in love with Arafat. The Left should be critical, and in the first place, self-critical.
Marc Tobiass: And what is the dogma that worries you the most today?
Pilar Rahola: The most absurd thing is to watch leaders of the Left today greet and celebrate Arab leaders, even when they are fundamentalists. For example, in the debates that followed the attacks of September 11, we heard an anti-American discourse here, pooh-poohing the victims, something which is in and of itself terrible! And there were those who tried to downgrade—with that tawdry third-worldism which characterizes some circles of the Left—the danger embodied in individuals like bin Laden, who is, in fact, an authentic fascist. I believe that for the moment the world remains blind to the biggest totalitarianism of the twenty-first century, which is Islamic fundamentalism. Now we must prepare ourselves seriously to face this danger: For me, this totalitarianism is without any shadow of a doubt comparable to Stalinism and Nazism, the biggest scourges of the twentieth century.
Marc Tobiass: To finish this interview, Pilar Rahola, I would like to cite a sentence from your text: You say that to be "in favor of Israel" is the most intelligent, rational, prudent, and honest way to be in favor of Palestine.
Pilar Rahola: First of all, I do not accept the use of defense of the Palestinian cause as a pretext for a new epidemic of anti-Semitism. If Europe had had a critical discussion that did not hesitate to condemn the grave and permanent mistakes of the Palestinian side; if Europe had been more critical of the Palestinians, we would be closer to a solution today. But Arafat enjoys support and legitimacy in Europe which allows him to never miss an opportunity for missing the opportunity of peace. I believe that if Europe had been more critical toward Arafat, toward the different aspects of Palestinian violence, if Europe had been tougher in its statements, the Palestinians would have been compelled to step back from the violence and the suicide attacks.
A sense of justice calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state next to the State of Israel, but not in its place. Yet, at its core, Europe is ill at ease with the existence of Israel, and one can even say that the existence of this state provokes resentment and anger on the European left. Even if this is not acknowledged, many Europeans contend that a Palestinian state must replace the State of Israel.
But for those of us who support Israel, who are in favor of good neighborly relations—for coexistence between the State of Israel and a Palestinian state—our way of saying YES to a Palestinian state is also a way of saying YES to the existence of the State of Israel.
(Translated by David A. Harris.)