Here is a voice that might clear the fog at Morningside Heights and introduce a few honestly debatable propositions that could help save the sinking flagship. It is that of Daniel Sibony, an unusual “French” intellectual born into a modest Jewish family in Marrakech. He came to Paris at the age of fourteen as a mathematical whiz kid, and went on to become a respected mathematician, philosopher, practicing psychoanalyst…and insightful commentator on current events in general and the Arab-Israeli conflict in particular.
Ever since I read Les Trois monothéismes (Seuil 1992) I have been hoping to see Daniel Sibony’s work reach an English-speaking audience. I translated some of his articles, but no American publisher has yet published The Three Monotheisms or subsequent works in his perceptive ongoing study of the relationship between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Daniel Sibony’s interpretations of the Arab-Jewish conflict are not frivolous exercises in psychoanalyzing foreign affairs. He reads the Qur’an in Arabic and the Bible in Hebrew, brings psychoanalytic depth to his understanding of the symbolic level of collective human dilemmas, and applies deep learning to the tangled confusion of human affairs with a mixture of mathematical clarity and humane consideration. He certainly deserves a place in the worldwide panel discussion on the Middle East.
In a recent lecture at Columbia, Professor Mark Cohen of Princeton “reminded his audience [that] anti-Semitism, as such, came to the Arab world in the nineteenth century largely via Christian Arabs and French missionaries in the Levant. Until then Jews had not been persecuted qua Jews, but simply as one disfavored minority among others.” Well, that is debatable!
Daniel Sibony explores anti-Semitism from the origins of Judaism to the present day in his latest work, L’énigme antisémite. In the place of the mush of “Abrahamic faiths” we learn volumes about the sources and mechanisms of anti-Semitism generated by Christianity and Islam, the two major offshoots of Judaism, an anti-Semitism that is, according to Sibony, inextricably connected to Muslim scripture. The Qur’an is composed of selected excerpts from the Bible, with a penchant for passages in which God and the prophets scold the Jews. Jewish prophets, like Catholic saints, are not honored in the Qur’an; they are expropriated. They become Muslims. And the Jewish God is replaced by Allah, a divinity who wants nothing to do with God’s chosen people or, more exactly, the people who chose God.
The ingathering of the Jewish people with the rebirth of the State of Israel is a frontal shock for the Arab world but, says Sibony, it can be the mechanism for its deliverance. The Jews, who were kicked out of their sacred text by the Qur’an, return in flesh and blood as a sovereign nation that has resisted all military and terrorist attempts to destroy it. The people of a Bible that is always scolding them confronts the people of a Qur’an that tells them that they are the One and the Only and no Other has a right to live.
Sibony wryly admits that if the accusations made against the Jews and the State of Israel were only true, the problem could be solved by the elimination of this small nation that, according to some surveys in Europe and some professors at Columbia University, is the Absolute Troublemaker in international affairs. However, it is not true, and the disappearance of the Jews would not solve anyone’s problem. Acceptance of the Jews as a sovereign nation reestablished in their homeland in the State of Israel would go a long way to curing Islam of its impossible cohabitation with Others. An impossibility, Sibony hastens to add, that weighs heavily on the majority of Muslims who would never act on the murderous injunctions of a text that they often ignore but are unable to modify or truly reject.
When public opinion, Arab powers, and European foreign policy encourage the Palestinians in their suicidal terrorist strategies, the day of reconciliation is constantly retarded, and days of reckoning rain down with tragic monotony. This interpretation helps us understand the absurdity of accusations made against the Jewish State while offering a more intelligent and ultimately hopeful way of understanding Palestinian suffering. If the Palestinians are being used by the Arab world to express its rejection of the sovereignty of a dhimmi people, the solution is not for the civilized world to gang up on Israel, force the Jews back into dhimmitude, and restore the Middle East to its untainted dar al Islam purity. The solution is to say “all of us Others refuse the sacrifice of Palestinians on the altar of a theological impasse.”
It is hardly surprising to note the increasingly virulent irredentism on American college campuses, precisely when the death of Yasser Arafat has opened a window of opportunity for some kind of peaceful coexistence, temporary, fragile, and in many ways ill-conceived but perhaps a breathing space that could allow for one small step in the direction of a hopeful reconfiguration of the conflict. “Pro-Palestinian” movements on campus (U. of Wisconsin, Brown, UCI, Columbia, etc.) are coming out squarely for the one-state solution, pushing for divestment, planning Palestinian “solidarity” conferences. These apologists for terrorism have integrated the refusal of the Jews which, far from being a peripheral, accidental, borrowed detail of Islam and its history, is the fatal flaw that is threatening it with self-destruction.
After hearing SIPA Dean Lisa Anderson explain that she encourages her students to look at all sides of the question by positing two viewpoints for discussion--e.g. Israel is an apartheid state versus Israel was wrongfully accused of racism at the UN conference at Durban—I wondered if she would be open to some new input.
Forget about the apartheid state and try a Daniel Sibony proposition:
Israel is inhabited by the love of Zion that poured out of Jewish hearts during 2000 years of exile; it is “possessed,” it can’t be repossessed. Versus? The greatest barrier to the creation of a Palestinian state has been the determination to destroy the Jewish state.