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Sharon's best weapon
Naomi Klein, Canada
April 24, 2002
Something new happened in Washington DC last weekend. 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 merged into what
organisers described as the largest Palestinian solidarity demonstration in
US history (75,000 people by police estimates).
On Sunday night, I turned on my television in the hope of catching a
glimpse of this protest, historic in North America if not in Europe. I saw something else instead: triumphant Jean-Marie Le Pen. Ever since, I've been
wondering whether the new alliance displayed on the streets can also deal
with this latest threat.
As a critic both of the Israeli occupation and of corporate-dictated globalisation, it seems to me that the convergence that took place in
Washington last weekend was long overdue. Despite easy labels like
"anti-globalisation", 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 organise their societies and economies, whether that means
land reform in Brazil, or producing generic Aids drugs in India or, indeed, resisting an occupying force in Palestine.
When hundreds of globalisation activists began flocking to Ramallah to
act as "human shields" between Israeli tanks and Palestinians, the theory
developing outside trade summits was put into concrete action. Bringing
that courageous spirit back to Washington DC, 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). Yet I couldn't help thinking about the recent events I've been to where anti-Muslim
violence was rightly condemned, Ariel Sharon deservedly blasted, but no
mention was made of attacks on Jewish synagogues, cemeteries and community centres. Or about the fact that every time I log on to activist news sites like Indymedia.org which practise "open publishing", I am confronted with a
string of Jewish conspiracy theories about September 11 and excerpts from
the Protocol of the Elders of Zion.
The globalisation 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 and in the Middle East, where
one side is under illegal occupation and the other has the US military
behind it, the choice seems clear. But it is possible to criticise Israel while
forcefully condemning the rise of anti-semitism. 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 of President Bush.
Why bother with such subtleties while bodies are still being pulled out
of the wreckage in Jenin? Because anyone interested in fighting Le Pen-style
fascism or Sharon-style brutality has to confront 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 Ariel Sharon, it is the fear of anti-semitism, both real and imagined, that is the weapon. Mr 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 disguise all aggressive actions as defensive ones, is the fear that
Israel's neighbours 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 a safe haven in Israel. This leads millions of
Jews around the world, many of them sickened by Israeli aggression, to shut
up and send their cheques, 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, sabotage all international attempts to get at the
truth of what happened in Jenin.
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. 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.
It works. Most Jews are so frightened that they are now willing to do
anything to defend Israeli policies. So at my neighbourhood synagogue,
where the humble facade was badly scarred by a suspicious fire recently, 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 globalisation activists and
Israeli "refuseniks"—soldiers who refuse to serve their mandatory duty in the
occupied territories. The most powerful images from Saturday's protests
were rabbis walking alongside Palestinians.
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 and abused by the likes of Sharon that the fight against it must be reclaimed.
When anti-semitism is no longer treated as Jewish business, to be taken
care of by Israel and the rightwing Zionist lobby, Sharon is 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.
Naomi Klein is a columist for The Guardian newspaper, London. She is the author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, published by HarperCollins in 2000.
From London's Guardian, April 24, 2002. Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited.