Drip-drip Delegitimization of Israel

The British newspaper The Guardian has had a long and illustrious association with Jews and Zionism. The original owners, the Scott family, befriended Chaim Weizmann and its editorial writer, Herbert Sidebotham, was a powerful advocate of the Zionist answer to the Jewish problem at the beginning of the 20th century.Within weeks of Turkey’s entry into World War I, C. P. Scott facilitated Weizmann’s introduction to both Sir Herbert Samuel and David Lloyd-George. The Guardian therefore has a just claim to being the midwife of the Balfour Declaration.

The paper thereby attracted a considerable readership of liberally-minded British Jews who were grateful that there was a champion of the underdog and the return to Zion.

Yet fast-forward nearly a century and this relationship has evaporated. There is a chasm of undisguised hostility between a probable majority of the Jewish community in Britain and the newspaper. And much of this criticism of The Guardian comes from Jewish liberals who can distinguish between unpalatable news and biased news about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

There were signs of the paper’s new direction well before the onset of the current intifada.

For example, in 1996 it published a half-page advertisement by Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran on the occasion of the hajj, where he implied that there was “Zionist” control of the media.

In January 2001 an opinion piece appeared under the title of “Israel simply has no right to exist.”

The politics of irritation has forced many Jews to read other newspapers. Others prefer to label The Guardian anti-Semitic. Such throwaway comments tend to come from non-Guardian readers and non-British Internet surfers.

Moreover, there is an almost symbiotic relationship between advocacy groups who see The Guardian as the source of all evil and the Israeli far Left, who are delighted at the newspaper’s perceived assault on the policies of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government. Both ignore inconvenient aspects of the British Left which puncture such a simplistic approach.

DAFNA BARAM in her informative book Disenchantment: ‘The Guardian’ and Israel – published and promoted by The Guardian itself – suggests that the paper merely reflects the European Left’s recognition that Israel has changed dramatically since 1967.

This may indeed be the case, but it is not the whole story. Baram and the Israeli far-Left views the British Left today – as distilled via The Guardian – through Israeli eyes and Israeli problems. The blurring between attacks on the Sharon government and questioning the legitimacy of the state is calmly glossed over.

More important, Baram does not recognize that the Left has also changed – not simply as a reaction to the Israeli presence on the West Bank and Gaza since 1967, but as a reaction to the very idea that the Jews have a right to national self-determination.

What appears in The Guardian is not rampant anti- Semitism but a drip-drip delegitimization of the state – a return not to 1967, but to 1948.

It was said that in 1948, the further Left you went in Britain the greater the support for a Jewish state. Aneurin Bevan, who established the National Health Service in Britain, threatened to resign from the Atlee government because of its policies in Mandatory Palestine.

The New Left, which came of age in the 1960s, did not have the same experiences as Bevan’s Old Left. They did not struggle with the Jews against fascism, live through the Shoah, or witness the rise of Israel.

There was profound ignorance about Jewish history and the raison d’etre for Zionism – and, unlike their predecessors, they did not emerge from the ranks of the British working class.

The political agenda of the 1960s had moved on to decolonization. In the age of Vietnam and the fight against apartheid, the Palestinian cause could more easily be identified with other third-world struggles against colonial powers.

The Jewish national Left, which did retain a deep memory of the Jewish past, found itself at odds with the New Left.

Israel’s conquest of the West Bank and Gaza entrenched the New Left’s support for the Palestinians, but its ideological opposition to Zionism appeared before the Six Day War.

When British Jews appealed to the nascent New Left on the eve of this war to support Israel in its struggle, such words fell on deaf ears. The objection of the British Left is not simply to Sharon and the settlements; it goes far deeper, representing a throwback to a lack of understanding of Jews per se by the European Left in the 19th century.

Unlike the past, the Left in the Labor Party is today bereft of any intellectual leadership. It has allowed the far Left to displace it and to fill the ideological vacuum.

Thus the huge protest on the eve of the invasion of Iraq was staged by a coalition of the Stalinist Communist Party of Britain and the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party. They were joined by the Islamist Muslim Association of Britain, which insisted that a major slogan be “Freedom for Palestine.”

Almost one million people turned out for this demonstration in the center of London.

Although The Guardian reflects the different opinions of different journalists, the views of the far Left now tend to permeate the opinion pages.

The views of outside contributors mirror, on the whole, rejectionist, black and white views of the Israel- Palestine struggle. Indeed, the views of one leading Guardian journalist tend to uncannily reflect the mindset of those unreconstructed communists who hanker after the good old days of the Soviet Union. Support for a two-state solution is acceptable, but only if the “right of return” of the Palestinians is instituted. The resulting state might be called “Israel,” but it would not be one where the Jews have a right to national self-determination.

Those who cut their political teeth in the 1960s and 1970s now occupy positions of importance in the British media. They carry forward the inheritance of the New Left into old age – and The Guardian faithfully reflects their antagonism, confusion and distortion on Israel and Zionism.

Jerusalem Post 24 October 2004

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