Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor
Antisemitism is a powerful sentiment. It has been a fashionable and successful phenomenon in many parts of the world for generations. Despite many attempts to expose its hideous roots, the underlying ignorance and the brute lies that are spread about Jews, antisemitism has survived all attempts to curb it. It is a resilient and ugly form of racism that has direct implications for Jews throughout the world. One of the images that are closely associated with Jews is of a person who packs his bag, takes his stick and moves from one place to another. This is the image of the Wandering Jew. Indeed, Jews have been wandering the world, often
as they fled from persecution, pogroms and harassment.
In the nineteenth Century, a national movement called Zionism emerged. Its goal was to establish a home for the Jewish people, a place where Jews could live free of antisemitism and violence. After some debate as to where this home should be, the Zionists set their eyes on Palestine as the place that could unite Jews. Understandably, Jews wished to return to the birthplace of their forefathers, to Eretz (Land of) Israel. This was the only place on earth to which Jews from different corners of the world feel affinity and connection. The early Zionists recognised that the journey would not be easy, that it would be rife with challenges and obstacles, but they wanted to stop the constant wandering. They wanted to lead their lives as free people, sovereign and independent.
The Zionist idea was to inhabit the land of the Jewish ancestors and to create there a new Jew (Sabra), who is able to lead his life freely, practice his religion and culture with no bigotry and without apology; able to defend himself against antisemitic violence; cultivate his own land, and be productive and social. Zionism demanded a significant personal sacrifice and a radical change in one's life: leaving one's home, one's country; travelling afar to a distant land; often changing one's profession; getting accustomed to a new, rough environment; adopting for many a new language, Hebrew, which at that point in time was confined only to religious studies, not used in one's daily life. Zionism attempted to establish Jewish communal life at the expense of personal bourgeois comfort and the good life of the individual. Collective goals were held superior to individual ambitions. Indeed, Zionism as a revolutionary movement was about individual and social redemption and emancipation, the gathering of exiles, and the creation of a new person, of a new society, in the old land of the Bible. David Ben-Gurion wrote:
The meaning of the Jewish revolution is contained in one word--independence! Independence for the Jewish people in its homeland! Dependence is not
Ben-Gurion further explained that Jewish independence would be shaped further by the conquest of labour and the land, by broadening the range of the Hebrew language and its culture, by perfecting the methods of self-government and selfdefence, by creating the framework and conditions for national and political independence and creativity. This was the essence of the Jewish revolution.
Ben-Gurion thought that exile was an insult, that exile ruined Jewish character and life. Exile negated Jewish historical past and Jewish moral mission. Thus, Jews had to return to their homeland and revive the Hebrew language. Ben-Gurion continued the missionary vision of Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism. Both men understood that Jews would be able to transform into people of character only if they left Europe and migrated to a new land. In The Jewish State Herzl wrote: “The Jews have dreamt this kingly dream all through the long nights of their history. 'Next year in Jerusalem' is our old phrase. It is now a question of showing that the dream can be converted into a living reality”.2 The Zionist movement was fortunate to have two giant leaders who had the vision and the courage to pave the way for the significant revolution against immense odds.
In this well-written and well-researched book, Rusi Jaspal rightly asserts that for Theodor Herzl, Zionism offered the only plausible solution to the ominous, lingering problem of antisemitism. Herzl recognised that in exile Jews would continue to face enmity and persecution. Herzl wrote:
Anti-Semitism increases day by day and hour by hour among the nations; indeed, it is bound to increase, because the causes of its growth continue to exist and cannot be removed. Its remote cause is our loss of the power of assimilation during the Middle Ages; its immediate cause is our excessive production of mediocre intellects, who cannot fi an outlet downwards or upwards – that is to say, no wholesome outlet in either direction. When we sink, we become a revolutionary proletariat, the subordinate offi of all revolutionary parties; and at the same time, when we rise, there rises also our terrible power of the purse.3
1 David Ben-Gurion, “The Imperatives of the Jewish Revolution”, zionism- israel.com/hdoc/Ben-Gurion_Jewish_revolution.htm
2 Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State (New York: Dover Publications, 1988): 40, gutenberg.org/files/25282/25282-h/25282-h.htm
3 Ibid., 41. The Zionist movement has been a successful national, revolutionary movement. In 1948, the goal was achieved when the State of Israel was established. However, the goal of achieving security was not achieved. Antisemitism has not been relaxed. A new racist phenomenon has emerged, anti-Zionism, that has supplemented and bolstered antisemitism. The birth-pangs of the Jewish state were exceptionally painful as the less-than-one-day country was immediately attacked by its neighbours that did not wish to come to terms with its sovereign existence. The Arabs in Palestine did not wish for Zionism to materialise. They did not accept any attempts at compromise over the land as offered by the UN and other intermediaries. The 1947 Partition Plan was rejected tout court. Israel's War of Independence is termed Nakba (literally “catastrophe”) by the Palestinians. The Jewish desire for salvation from violence and constant persecution meant a catastrophe for the Arabs of Palestine.
Since then, Israel's existence has been contested time and again. More wars ensued. Anti-Zionist sentiments intensified. Zionism has been tagged a form of racism. While two of Israel's neighbours conceded to come to terms with the Zionist-Jewish state and signed peace treaties with Israel – first Egypt in 1978 and later Jordan in 1994 – the two other neighbours, Syria and Lebanon, have yet to come to terms with Israel. Peace with the Palestinians remains a desire. More than 60 years after the establishment of the State of Israel, its geographic boundaries are still contested. Israel does not appear on the maps of some of its rivals. Israel is yet to be accepted as a legitimate entity, part and parcel of the Middle East, by many countries, near and far.
Rusi Jaspal's thoughtful and thought-provoking book is intended to provide an understanding of the social and psychological motivations and processes underlying antisemitism and anti-Zionism. It examines these forms of prejudice in two specifi case studies, Iranian Muslims and British Pakistani Muslims and the responses to these forms of prejudice among Israelis and British Jews. It also investigates the inter-relations between historical events and their social psychological meanings for groups and individuals. The psychological framework consists of Social Representations Theory, Identity Process Theory and Intergroup Threat Theory.
Combining theory with painstaking empirical analysis, Jaspal shows that the Iranians resort in their publications to a delegitimisation campaign which consists of three inter-dependent components: contesting the legitimacy of Israel; describing the “malevolent” processes whereby the Jewish State was established and is currently maintained; “problem-solving” by demanding the destruction of Israel. By analysing the 2006 International Holocaust Cartoon Contest, designed to deny the Holocaust, Jaspal explains the methods by which Zionism has been transformed into a new form of Nazism. In the crude political cynicism and irony, masterminded by Tehran, the Jews who survived the most comprehensive and vicious campaign to annihilate a people the world has ever known, were said to have “in fact” invented the Holocaust and adopted the ideology of their arch nemesis. By endorsing this contest, Jaspal rightly notes, the Islamic Republic of Iran sought to “normalise” Holocaust denial (that is, antisemitism) as a legitimate
At the end of his empirical study, Jaspal highlights the general importance of both Jewish ethno-religious and Israeli national identities among the Israeli Jews who were interviewed. Most of them regarded their Jewish and Israeli identities as inextricably entwined, and perceived anti-Zionism as a form of antisemitism. Both forms of prejudice threaten their Jewish and Israeli identities. Jaspal also interviewed British Jews and found that Israeli and British Jews construed antiZionism and antisemitism as a fundamentally Muslim, rather than European, phenomenon. Psychologically it is more comfortable, or less disturbing, for people who choose to lead their lives in Europe to associate these forms of prejudice with a religion rather than a continent that has been rife with Christian stern hatred for the Jews for many generations.
Theodor Herzl, who was aware of the malicious continental antisemitism, was a man of vision, a dreamer and a doer. In The Jewish State, Herzl wrote:4
But the Jews, once settled in their own State, would probably have no more enemies. As for those who remain behind, since prosperity enfeebles and causes them to diminish, they would soon disappear altogether. I think the Jews will always have sufficient enemies, such as every nation has. But once fixed in their own land, it will no longer be possible for them to scatter all over the world. The diaspora cannot be reborn, unless the civilization of the whole earth should collapse; and such a consummation could be feared by none but foolish men. Our present civilization possesses weapons powerful enough for its self-defence.
For the time being, the vision has been more optimistic than real. Israel still has enemies, and Jews are scattered all over the world. Jews continue to wander, looking for happiness and security. Zionism must fi a way to integrate into the Middle East and to garner acceptance especially among the nations surrounding Israel. Then Israel will be more attractive to Jews who may consider making aliya (immigrate) to Zion but are cautious not to substitute one form of insecure living with another.
Herzl concluded The Jewish State by the following statements:5
We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes.
The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, magnified by
4 Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State gutenberg.org/files/25282/25282- h/25282-h.htm
5 Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State gutenberg.org/files/25282/25282- h/25282-h.htm
powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.