" Israel is a Wall"

Die Presse (01/19/05)

Post-National Europe Has a Problem with the Nation of Israel
Anne-Catherine Simon and Norbert Mayer

The philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, warns of a multicultural Europe and of a new form of anti-Semitism.

Die Presse: "Hatred of Israel" is the title of your lecture. Who are those who hate?
Alain Finkielkraut: One must establish a connection between anti-Semitism and what I call hatred of Israel. Those who hate Israel today are not anti-Semites in the strict sense of the word. They are proponents of humanity and democracy. Israel breaks with this ideal of the equality of all people in their eyes. Israel is a nation, which one believes to have been founded upon ethnic criteria. But at the same time, one also believes that Israel oppresses the Palestinians. In other words, the hatred for Israel gets its energy from anti-Racism. That is the great paradox of our time: - anti-racist anti-Semitism.

Such anti-Racism is the domain of the Left, not the Right. The relationship is, thus, turned upside down.
Yes, there is a big misunderstanding between the Left and the Jews. Today one owes the Jews everything as victims, but one owes them nothing as a nation. The result is a highly strange situation, particularly in France: On the one hand, we are kept extremely on the alert against classical anti-Semitism. (The French radical Right) Le Pen created a giant scandal when a newspaper quoted him as defending collaboration and playing down Nazi crimes. A number of days before a well-known French cabaret artist ranted about the Zionist arrogance. The renowned actor, Jamel Debbouze’s, comments on the matter were that the cabaret only said out loud what everyone else was thinking to himself. Those are two types of anti-Semitism. The racist type is on the decline and creates general commotion; the other is young and strong and is thriving and left fully unpunished.

Regarding the latter of the two, is the term, anti-Semitism really justified?
I’m not clamouring after this word, it is clear, however, that today it is not about the politics of a country. The Jews are denounced, generally speaking as being racist, unless they condemn Israel. But not in the form of criticism of particular actions by Israel’s Prime Minister Sharon. One is asking for more: The anti-racist anti-Semitism is celebrating Jews today who compare Israel with the Nazis. The Israeli film maker, Amost Gitai, made an exceedingly brutal film about prostitution whereby Israel depicted not only the country of the temple desecrator but of the panderer. A critic writing for the newspaper, Le Monde, called the film extraordinary. In particular he emphasized a scene whereby the young prostitutes from Estonia and other Eastern European countries are brought to a room filled with showers which reminded one of the gas chambers. That’s what is today being asked from the Jews.

Where does this change of paradigm come from?
The growing lack of understanding for Israel has something to do with the post-national development of our society. In earlier times cosmopolitan Jews were pushed to the edge of the nations. Today it is Jewish nationalism, which is being evermore ostracized in the post-national societies. Today’s democratic movement knocks down more and more borders – and Israel is a wall. What makes the life of the Jews so fragile is the additional appearance of a brutal Islamic anti-Semitism. Today it is very difficult to teach about the Shoa in France. There are more and more students who express their rejection with negative comments or jokes.

Can one find any comparative tendencies in French intellectuals?

Islamic anti-Semitism has somewhat resonated among the intellectuals in the sense that a portion of them doesn’t refrain from attacking Israel’s "racism." At the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Intolerance and Xenophobia in 2001, Israel was attacked and stigmatized over and over again. This showed what modern anti-Semitism looks like today. It was here that a movement formed which one could characterize as Islamic-Progressive. That is a very alarming alliance.

Is the criticism of Israel’s politics only legitimate when it is expressed within Israel?
What I expect from European media and governments is the attempt toward a just discourse. Without Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the majority of West Bank, no peace will be possible. Sharon hopes perhaps to keep a large part of the West Bank territory. One must say clearly that this hope is unjustified and impossible. But one must also speak fairly in regard to the Palestinians and not only to them but also about them. The latest suicide attacks in the Gaza Strip have proven that the idea that terrorism is growing out of a lack of hope is not true. The lack of hope doesn’t come from the occupation itself, but from the perspective of a compromise. The role of European journalists would be to hold up a mirror in front of both sides. That is not done with the Palestinians in France.

You criticize Europe for only looking forward, and masking its past. Will Eastern European enlargement change anything?
I don’t think so. One sees it in the discussions about EU membership of Turkey: If Europe were to look at its past, if it were to commit itself to its history, then this question would never arise. Europe turns its back on its history in order to be the Europe of human rights.

Should one dream of a multicultural Europe, including Turkey and perhaps also Israel, or are you giving a warning like Samuel Huntington of such a mixture?
After World War II Europe decided to lose its identity and recognize only universal norms. Ulrich Beck once said that Europe is a form of cosmopolitism on the move which consists not of substance but of procedures. Multiculturalism is a frightening dead-end street.