Sharon's Best Weapon
The left must confront anti-Semitism head-on
by Naomi Klein
In These Times magazine, May 27, 2002
Something new went on in Washington in the middle of April.
A demonstration against the World Bank and International Monetary
Fund was joined by an anti-war march, as well as a demonstration
against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. In the
end, all the marches joined together in what organizers described
as the largest Palestinian solidarity demonstration in U.S. history,
75,000 people by some estimates.
On Sunday night, I turned on my television in the hopes of
catching a glimpse of this historic protest. I saw something else
instead: triumphant Jean-Marie Le Pen celebrating his new found
status as the second most popular political leader in France.
Ever since, I've been wondering whether the new alliance displayed
on the streets of Washington can also deal with this latest threat.
The convergence that took place in Washington last weekend
was long overdue. Despite easy labels like "anti-globalization,"
the trade-related protests of the past three years have all been
about self determination: the right of people everywhere to decide
how best to organize their societies and economies, whether that
means introducing land reform in Brazil, or producing generic
AIDS drugs in India, or resisting an occupying force in Palestine.
When hundreds of globalization activists began flocking to Ramallah
to act as "human shields" between Israeli tanks and
Palestinians, the theory that has been developing on the streets
outside trade summits was put into concrete action. Bringing that
courageous spirit back to Washington, where so much Middle Eastern
policy is made, was the next logical step.
But when I saw Le Pen beaming on TV, arms raised in triumph,
some of my enthusiasm drained away. There is no connection whatsoever
between French fascism and the "free Palestine" marchers
in Washington (indeed the only people Le Pen's supporters seem
to dislike more than Jews are Arabs). And yet I couldn't help
thinking about all the recent events I've been to where anti-Muslim
violence was rightly condemned, but no mention was made of attacks
on Jewish synagogues, cemeteries and community centers. Or about
the fact that every time I log onto activist news sites like indymedia.org,
which practice "open publishing," I'm confronted with
a string of Jewish conspiracy theories about September 11 and
excerpts from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
The globalization movement isn't anti-Semitic, it just hasn't
fully confronted the implications of diving into the Middle East
conflict. Most people on the left are simply choosing sides. In
the Middle East, where one side is under occupation and the other
has the U.S. military behind it, the choice seems clear. But it
is possible to criticize Israel while forcefully condemning the
rise of anti-Semitism. And it is equally possible to be pro-Palestinian
independence without adopting a simplistic "pro-Palestinian
/ anti-Israel" dichotomy, a mirror image of the good-versus-evil
equations so beloved by President George W. Bush.
Why bother with such subtleties while bodies are still being
pulled out of the rubble in Jenin ? Because anyone interested
in fighting Le Pen-style fascism or Sharon-style brutality has
to deal with the reality of anti-Semitism head-on. The hatred
of Jews is a potent political tool in the hands of both the right
in Europe and in Israel. For Le Pen, anti-Semitism is a windfall,
helping spike his support from 10 percent to 17 percent in a week.
For Ariel Sharon, it is the fear of anti-Semitism, both real
and imagined, that is the weapon. Sharon likes to say that he
stands up to terrorists to show he is not afraid. In fact, his
policies are driven by fear. His great talent is that he fully
understands the depths of Jewish fear of another Holocaust. He
knows how to draw parallels between Jewish anxieties about anti-Semitism
and American fears of terrorism. And he is an expert at harnessing
all of it for his political ends.
The primary, and familiar, fear that Sharon draws on, the
one that allows him to claim all aggressive actions as defensive
ones, is the fear that Israel's neighbors want to drive the Jews
into the sea. The secondary fear Sharon manipulates is the fear
among Jews in the Diaspora that they will eventually be driven
to seek safe haven in Israel. This fear leads millions of Jews
around the world, many of them sickened by Israeli aggression,
to shut up and send their checks, a down payment on future sanctuary.
The equation is simple: The more fearful Jews are, the more
powerful Sharon is. Elected on a platform of "peace through
security," Sharon's administration could barely hide its
delight at Le Pen's ascendancy, immediately calling on French
Jews to pack their bags and come to the promised land.
For Sharon, Jewish fear is a guarantee that his power will
go unchecked, granting him the impunity needed to do the unthinkable:
send troops into the Palestinian Authority's education ministry
to steal and destroy records; bury children alive in their homes;
block ambulances from getting to the dying.
Jews outside Israel now find themselves in a tightening vice:
The actions of the country that was supposed to ensure their future
safety are making them less safe right now. Sharon is deliberately
erasing distinctions between the terms "Jew" and "Israeli,"
claiming he is fighting not for Israeli territory, but for the
survival of the Jewish people. And when anti-Semitism rises at
least partly as a result of his actions, it is Sharon who is positioned
once again to collect the political dividends.
And it works. Most Jews are so frightened that they are now
willing to do anything to defend Israeli policies. So at my neighborhood
synagogue, where the humble facade was just badly scarred by a
suspicious fire, the sign on the door doesn't say, "Thanks
for nothing, Sharon." It says, "Support Israel ... now
more than ever."
There is a way out. Nothing is going to erase anti-Semitism,
but Jews outside and inside Israel might be a little safer if
there was a campaign to distinguish between diverse Jewish positions
and the actions of the Israeli state. This is where an international
movement can play a crucial role. Already, alliances are being
made between globalization activists and Israeli "refuseniks,"
soldiers who refuse to serve their mandatory duty in the occupied
territories. And the most powerful images from Saturday's protests
were rabbis walking alongside Palestinians. But more needs to
be done. It's easy for social justice activists to tell themselves
that since Jews already have such powerful defenders in Washington
and Jerusalem, anti-Semitism is one battle they don't need to
fight. This is a deadly error. It is precisely because anti-Semitism
is used by the likes of Sharon that the fight against it must
When anti-Semitism is no longer treated as Jewish business,
to be taken care of by Israel and the Zionist lobby, Sharon will
be robbed of his most effective weapon in the indefensible and
increasingly brutal occupation. And as an extra bonus, whenever
hatred of Jews diminishes, the likes of Jean-Marie Le Pen shrink
right down with it.