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The Wages of Hate By: Andrew Sullivan
AndrewSullivan.com | Wednesday, October 23, 2002


A student-written article in the Yale Daily News last week, the paper for the elite American university, was typical fare. It was a piece by a precocious first-year student criticizing what he regards as the anti-Semitism tolerated at the U.N. The response, however, was far from typical. He'd touched a nerve. In the comments section, posted online next to the article, a torrent of anger was unleashed. Here's one respondent's comments: "I recently attended a forum focusing on the Israeli/Palestinian issue. Both sides made very valid points but there was a moment of heated exchange when the pro-Israel side initiated the "anti-semite" slur and completely ended it for me. I am sick and tired of Jewish people always smearing those that merely disagree with their views as "evil". I never thought I'd say this but a lot of what the so-called "white supremacists" are saying are proving to be more accurate than I feel comfortable admitting." Sympathy for the arguments of "so-called white supremacists"? At Yale? The comment was not anonymous. Now there's always scope for nut-cases venting on the web. But the tenor of the discussion on a Yale website was certainly something new.

Then there was the recent "Not In Our Name" rally in Cental Park, demonstrating against a potential war against Iraq. Many of the speeches to the crowd of around 10,000 were full of classic anti-war boilerplate. Some of them, given that the demo was organized by such extremist groups as the International Action Center, were predictably more outlandish, demanding no action whatever against Iraq and condemning the U.S. for everything from Robert Mugabe to global warming. (One of IAC's officials has written that "no one in the world ... has a worse human rights record than the United States.") But around the edges of the rally, copies of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the classic forged document of nineteenth-century anti-Semitism, were being sold. According to a report in the New York Sun, this peddling of anti-Semitic tripe was not entirely accidental. One protestor told the Sun, "There are interest groups who want Israel to dominate Palestine. If Bush goes with them and is too critical, he might lose [their] support ... the international financiers have their hooks in everything." Ah, those international financiers. Remember them? Then there was this comment from another self-described "peace activist": "Bush is more Israeli than the Israelis themselves. He is a puppet of the Zionists [who] control the media, the government and the economy. The Jews' book 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' explains how they control the world and how they make people fight against each other."

America's anti-war movement, still puny and struggling, is showing signs of being hijacked by one of the oldest and darkest prejudices there is. Perhaps it was inevitable. The conflict against Islamo-fascism obviously circles back and back to the question of Israel. Fanatical anti-Semitism, as bad or even worse than Hitler's, is now a cultural norm across much of the Arab Middle East and beyond. It's the acrid glue that unites Saddam, Arafat, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Iran and the Saudis. They all hate the Jews and want to see them destroyed. And if you're campaigning against a war against that axis, you're bound to attract some people who share these prejudices. That is not to say that the large majority of anti-war campaigners are anti-Semitic. Of course they're not. But it is to say that this strain of anti-Semitism, hovering around the edges of that movement, is a worrying and dangerous sign.

In American history, it's also not new. One of the major strains in anti-war sentiment in the 1930s in America was anti-Semitism. The America Firsters saw war as something that would only enrich the "international financiers" who controlled the banks and arms industry. European Jews - and their American counterparts - were trying to snare the U.S. into a European conflict it would do best to avoid. No surprise then that, alongside the far left, the far right in America is also now a part of the anti-war movement. Patrick Buchanan's new magazine, The American Conservative, is full of such anti-war bromides. Buchanan has long flirted with anti-Semitism, and it must surely somewhat embarrass the "progressives" fighting a war against Iraq that he is now, as his forefathers were in the 1930s, their ally.

The biggest faultline around this issue, however, is now on America's campuses. Earlier this year, a movement sprung up calling for universities to withdraw any investments in Israel, just as they once did in South Africa. A petition, begun at M.I.T. and Harvard, attracted hundreds of signatures from faculty, students and alumni. Similar initiatives were pursued at 40 other colleges. It was answered by another M.I.T./Harvard petition opposing divestment, which has garnered many more signatures. The controversy was further stoked by Harvard president Larry Summers' statement last month. He claimed that "serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent," in reference to the petition. "Where anti-Semitism and views that are profoundly anti-Israeli have traditionally been the primary preserve of poorly educated right-wing populists," he went on, "profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities."

Summers' argument was a simple one: why has Israel been singled out alone as worthy of divestment? Supporters cite its continued occupation of the West Bank. There's no question that Israel's policies in that regard are ripe for criticism, and to equate criticism of that with anti-Semitism is absurd and despicable. Similarly, it's perfectly possible to argue against Israel's domestic policies without any hint of anti-Semitism. But to argue that Israel is more deserving of sanction than any other regime on earth right now is surely bizarre. Israel is a democracy; it is multi-racial; Arab citizens of Israel proper can vote and freely enter civil society; there is freedom of religion and a free press. An openly gay man just won election to the Knesset. In any other Middle Eastern country and the Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank, he'd be in jail, executed or crushed under a pile of rocks. There is simply no comparison with apartheid South Africa, where a tiny ethnic minority denied the majority any vote at all. Compared to China, a ruthless dictatorship which is now brutally occupying Tibet, Israel is a model for democratic governance. And, unlike China's occupation of Tibet, Israel's annexation of the West Bank was undertaken as a defensive action against an Arab military attack. Or compare it to any other country in the Middle East, from Syria's satrapy in Lebanon, to Mubarak's police state, to Iraq's barbaric autocracy or Iran's theocracy, and it's a beacon of light. To single Israel out for condemnation and divestment, while ignoring all these others, is so self-evidently bizarre that it begs an obvious question. What are these anti-Israel fanatics really obsessed about? Where are the divestment campaigns for China or Zimbabwe?

The answer, I think, lies in the nature of part of today's left. It is fueled above all by resentment - resentment of the West's success, resentment of the freedom to trade, resentment of any person or country, like Israel or Britain or the U.S., that has enriched itself by means of freedom and hard work. Just look at Israel's amazing achievements in comparison with its neighbors: its vibrant civil society, its economic growth, its technological skill, its agricultural miracle. When you think about all Israel has achieved, it is no surprise that the resentful left despises it. So, for obvious reasons, do Israel's neighbors. If they had wanted, the Arab states could have made peace with Israel decades ago, and enriched themselves through trade and interaction. Instead, rather than emulate the Jewish state, they spent decade after decade trying to destroy it. When they didn't succeed, rather than seek reasons for their own backwardness and failure, rather than engage in the difficult task of reform and renewal, the Arab dictators and their pliant propaganda machines simply resorted to the easy distractions of envy, hatred and obsession. Al Qaeda is the most dangerous and nihilist manifestation of this response. Hezbollah is a close second. But milder versions are everywhere. And what do people who most want to avoid examining their own failures do? They look for scapegoats. And the Jews are the perennial scapegoat. Now that the Jewish people actually have a country to themselves, the anger and hatred only intensifies.

This attitude isn't restricted to the Middle East. In the West, parts of the left, having capitulated to moral relativism and bouts of Western self-hatred, have seized on Israel as another emblem of what they hate. They're happy to have Saddam get re-elected with 100 percent of a terrified vote, happy to see him develop nerve gas and nuclear weapons to use against his own population and others. They're happy to watch Syria's rulers engage in regular massacres; or the Saudis subject women to inhuman subjugation. This they barely mention. After all, these countries form part of the "oppressed" developing world. But Israel's occasional crimes in self-defense? They march in the streets. Telling, isn't it?

Ask the average leftist today what he is for, and you will not get a particularly eloquent response. Ask him what he is against, and the rhetorical floodgates open. That tells you something. Similarly, ask the average anti-war activist what she is for with regard to Iraq, what exactly she thinks we should constructively do, and the stammering and stuttering begins. Do we just leave Saddam alone? Do we send Jimmy Carter to sign the kind of deal he made with North Korea eight years ago? Will pressuring the Israelis remove the nerve gas and potential nukes Saddam has in his possession? Will ceding the West Bank to people who cheered the destruction of the World Trade Center help defang al Qaeda? They don't say and don't know. But what they do know is what they are against: American power, Israeli human rights abuses, British neo-imperialism, the "racist" war on Afghanistan, and on and on. Get them started on their hatreds, and the words pour out. No wonder some have started selling the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in Central Park.

This negativism matters. When you have a movement based on resentment, when you have a political style that is as bitter as it is angry, when your rhetoric focuses not on those who are murdering partiers in Bali or workers in Manhattan, but on those democratic powers trying to defend and protect them, then your fate is cast. A politics of resentment is a poisonous creature that slowly embitters itself. You should not be surprised if the most poisonous form of resentment that the world has ever known springs up, unbidden, in your midst.



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