Friday, June 11, 2010

Anti-semitism: something old is new again

Everybody but anonymous bigots, it seems, has by now backed away from Helen Thomas' "Jews out of Palestine" remarks, including Thomas herself, though too little too late. But I'm one who would have been willing to cut an 89 year-old woman some slack on this (if only we could get back even some of the ridiculous amount of slack she'd been given for years previously). Because I think she just inadvertently blurted out something that major portions of the contemporary left in particular really do believe, however unthinkingly. That is, what underlies not simple criticism of Israeli policies, but the increasingly over-the-top, one-sided, and hysterical attacks on Israel -- almost all of which emanates from the left -- is just plain, old-fashioned anti-semitism. A good bit of that hysteria, it's clear, stems just from a steadily rising frustration that Israel persists in existing at all. I know, of course, that there are also not a few gentle souls -- Lennon-style "dreamers" -- who would just like to see everyone getting along, as, for that matter, would we all. But even such bien pensant naifs will tend, reflexively, to attribute any failure to get along to Israel, and to "understand" any viciousness on the part of the Palestinians. It's become impossible to avoid the conclusion that the only way to understand and explain so blatant a bias is to see that beneath the cover of unremitting hostility directed at the world's only Jewish homeland lurks an age-old anti-Jew bigotry. It's the scapegoat all over again, this time in the more convenient form of a nation-state.

Which, ironically, points out the value of Helen Thomas' brief assertions. Just the mention of Poland and Germany, I think, was enough to make anyone with a shred of decency pause in their routine denunciations of Israel's acts of self-defense -- e.g., the blockade against arms-smuggling. In Europe, sadly, the discrimination seems little abated, but on this continent it does appear that her toxic comments have administered a kind of shock to the political environment surrounding Israel, and at least for a time, hopefully, the rhetoric will be dialed back a little.

The point is that the left, for complex historical and cultural reasons, has become soiled itself by contamination with a long-standing evil temptation. But it needn't have, doesn't have to remain so, and can and should take the opportunity of Thomas' "Kinsley gaffe" to clean itself up on this.

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