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Per Ahlmark: Anti-Semitism, Anti-Americanism, Anti-Zionism: Is There a Connection?

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Anti-Semitism, Anti-Americanism, Anti-Zionism:
Is There a Connection?

By Per Ahlmark

Speech at the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Annual Meeting
Washington D.C.
Wednesday, May 5, 2004

As you know, David Harris is often analyzing crucial tendencies which many of us might have sensed but not grasped. Step by step he makes us understand future threats that we have to resist. That is part of David's genius as writer, speaker, thinker and leader. His formidable talent for seeing the gathering dangers is one of several reasons why the voice of the American Jewish Committee is indispensable for world democracy and for Jews and non-Jews everywhere.

I remember the first time I heard David talk about Jan Karski - in Jerusalem, not long after Karski's death. Some of us were deeply moved that day by David's moral approach to our almost obscene talent for forgetting Karski's heroic and historic role.

However, any award linked to Karski I do not deserve. I am more than grateful for this enormous honor, and I thank David Harris and all of the AJC. But I never lived up to it. The most important part of Karski's greatness was his courage. He was ready to risk his life, again and again, in order to see with his own eyes what the Germans were doing to the Jews. And then he crossed Nazi-conquered Europe and the Atlantic to tell those in power in Washington, with his own voice and appearance, that things could still be done in order to save hundreds of thousands of European Jews.

Being ready to risk one's own life. I never risked my life, for anything. I am not one of those sacred men and women who have been ready to die for others. Let me tell you something about my country.

I was born in Stockholm in 1939, just before the outbreak of WW2. Remember that Sweden has now lived in peace for almost 200 years. We happened to be spared by both Hitler and Stalin. Not because we defended ourselves—we did not, we were "neutral"—but because others did the job for us. Who are those "others"? The soldiers from the United States of America.

They defended us first from Nazism and later from Soviet Communism. You Americans saved us from slavery and terror and from being forced to live on the totalitarian planet. Thank you, America! Thank you for your idealism, your strength, your military, your leaders and your dedication to democracy not only for your own country but for hundreds of millions of people in a large number of other nations around the world. Thank you, America!

I know, gratitude is not the dominant force in European foreign policy today. But individuals are different and I belong to the species which you may think is facing extinction in Western Europe. But we are still there, millions of us who are convinced that dignity and contemporary politics should to a large extent be based on our gratitude to you for rescuing us and others from tyranny.

Born in 1939—at the beginning of the Holocaust. A privileged non-Jew in maybe the most privileged country on earth. Also sheltered from contacts with the real world. I did not meet a Jew until I was eighteen years old. That was still possible in Sweden in the 40s and 50s. My first journey to Israel was sort of a revelation, the first of eighty visits.

I suddenly started to understand that anti-Semites of different centuries had always aimed at destroying the then center of Jewish existence. Hence, the Jewish religion was the usual target for a very, very long time. When Judaism did not surrender, Jews were expelled or killed.

In the nineteenth century, when "race" became the word of the day, the Jews were attacked as an evil race.

And today, when the Jewish state has become a center of identity and a source of pride and protection for most Jews, Zionism is being slandered as a racist ideology.

Anti-Zionists accept the right of other peoples to national feelings and a defensible state. But they reject the right of the Jewish people to have its national consciousness expressed in the State of Israel and to make that state secure. Thus, they are not judging Israel by the values used to judge other countries. Such discrimination against Jews is called anti-Semitism.

Anti-Zionists question the very existence of Israel. This means that millions of Israeli Jews have to be fought and probably killed. Deliberately suggesting mass murder of Jews—openly or in vague formulas—has always been the most extreme form of anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionists, who advocate the destruction of the Jewish state, should be put in a similar category.

Sometimes anti-Zionists claim that they are not against Jews but "only" against the Jewish state. Suppose that someone said: "I am only against the existence of Great Britain but I am not anti-British!" Or if somebody told me that "I love Swedes, but Sweden should be abolished." No one would take such statements seriously. It is hard to love or respect a people and hate their state.

So they now focus on the collective Jew—the State of Israel. Such attacks spark a chain reaction of assaults on individual Jews and Jewish institutions.

We certainly could say that in the past the most dangerous anti-Semites were those who wanted to make the world Judenrein. Today the most dangerous anti-Semites might be those who want to make the world Judenstaatrein.

The links between anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism are more complex. The background, I think, is a kind of blindness in West Europe today in combination with a very strange mixture of alienation, guilt, and fear toward both Israel and America.

Millions of Europeans do not want to admit that Israel is a country fighting for its survival. Israel could not afford to lose one major war, as it would mean the end of the Jewish state.

The disaster here is that all Arab countries are non-democracies, ruled by varying degrees of harshness, but never by free speech and free elections. It has never happened in human history that a democracy has gone to war against another democracy.

By not acknowledging this nucleus of the conflict you fail to understand the tragedy. You easily fall victim to TV images of Israel as overwhelmingly strong while the Palestinians are always seen as the underdogs.

Huge numbers of Europeans feel there is something fundamentally wrong with the Israelis. They never compromise. They always seem to prefer military actions in order to solve political problems.

Something similar is also the case in the European attitude to the United States. I very much believe in the relevance of Robert Kagan's book On Power and Paradise. What we are fed with in Western Europe nowadays are pretentious self-portraits of the maturity of our own countries. Look at Europe today, they say, we have eradicated wars, dangerous nationalism and dictatorships. Instead, we created a peaceful European union, now an entity of 25 member states. A new Europe has emerged.

We do not go to war, the European rhetoric claims, we go to the negotiating table. We do not exhaust our resources by spending hundreds of billions of euros on weapons. We have changed our world. Now the rest of the planet should learn from us how to live together without terrorizing each other.

As a Swede, I have heard this boasting all my life: our country is sort of a moral superpower. Now this bragging has become part of the EU ideology. We are the moral continent. In a way we now experience the Swedenization of European attitudes to other regions.

This is not a caricature of European self-glorification. And it is partly true. Yes, the European Union of today is a miracle for a continent where the two huge totalitarian movements of last century were born—Communism and Nazism—and where rivers of blood have drenched the soil for so many centuries.

But what Europe forgets are two other parts of our history. Without the US Army, Western Europe would not have been liberated in 1945. Without the Marshall Plan and NATO, it would not have taken off economically. Without the policy of containment under the American umbrella, the Red Army would probably have strangled the dream of freedom in East and Central Europe for maybe another century.

And West Europeans today especially forget that there are areas in the world where freedom has never been seen, where proliferation of doomsday weapons and torture chambers are the rules of the game. Any attempt there to start negotiating the European way—without any military power to back up the diplomats - would be highly pathetic.

Instead of supporting those who fight international terrorism, many Europeans try to blame the spread of terrorism on Israel and the US. That is a new European illusion. And the other one is the Spanish lecture in modern day appeasement à la Munich. First, let the Islamist killing decide your election! And when elected, just accept the first demand of the killers: withdraw the Spanish troops from protecting Iraqi democratization.

Assume that Spain and Europe instead in unity had reacted the opposite way, saying this: "We hereby promise that because of the mass slaughter in Madrid we will double the support for stabilization in Iraq by sending twice as many troops, experts, engineers, teachers, policemen, doctors and billions of euros in support of allied forces and their Iraqi co-workers." The triumph of the terrorists would then have been transformed into a triumph of the war on terror.

The embarrassing question is: which European country could you rely on if a similar tragedy happened there? Which nation would not appease the murderers? If the Eiffel Tower were destroyed – would Chirac unite his forces with Britain and America? If the new Reichstag building in Berlin one morning looked like being exposed to another Kristallnacht—this time carried out by foreign terrorists—would Schröeder finally realize that Germany is part of the same struggle as Israel and America, are already involved in?

I doubt it. My guess is: there might be just two European countries which, if attacked, would react cleverly and with responsibility: Britain and Poland.

The European self- glorification pretends that the US is obsessed by its own military might. Certainly, the US was attacked on 9/11 but, Europeans often think, American hubris was triggering terrorist assaults.

Now, compare these images of Israel and America respectively! Then just turn on the distortion a little more - and you have the political climate for some very ugly bias. You have the Great Satan and the Small Satan. America wants to dominate the world, exactly the allegations made in traditional anti-Semitic rhetoric about the Jews. And in modern anti-Zionist agitation: Israel wants to dominate the whole Middle East.

And suddenly these ideas are reflected in European opinions polls claiming that Israel and the United States are the most dangerous threats to world peace.

Ian Buruma, the British writer, claims that this European rage against America and Israel has to do with guilt and fear. The two world wars led to such a catastrophic carnage that "never again" was interpreted as "welfare at home, non-intervention abroad." The problem with this concept is that it could only survive under the protection of the US. And Israel's struggle to survive is being misinterpreted by many Europeans as a sort of repetition of their own colonial past.

The European fear, Buruma says, is that Europe will be dragged by Israel and the US "from our fool's paradise into the nightmarish world we thought we had left for ever."

And Mark Lilla has underlined the crisis in Europe today regarding "the nation state, and the related concepts of sovereignty and the use of force." The European confusion here has profoundly changed its attitude to the Jewish state. "Once upon a time, the Jews were mocked for not having a nation-state. Now they are criticized for having one."

Alvin Rosenfeld confirms how extreme anti-Americanism and Anti-Israelism are actually merging. The so-called peace poster "Hitler Had Two Sons: Bush and Sharon", displayed in European anti-war rallies, combines the trivialization of Nazism with the demonization of both the victims of Nazism and of those who defeated Nazism.

This is a repetition of the perverse Soviet propaganda parallel between the Nazis and the Israelis. It nowadays grows from a subconscious European guilt feeling related to the Holocaust. Now the victims, and children and grandchildren of the victims of the Holocaust, are doing to others what was done to them. By equating the murderer and the victim we wash our hands.

This pattern of Anti-Israelism and Anti-Americanism returns again and again. "The ugly Israeli" and "The ugly American" seem to have been born in the same family. "The ugly Jew" becomes the instrumental part of this defamation when the so called neoconservatives are blamed both for American militarism and Israeli brutalities, and then named: Wolfowitz, Perle, Abrams, Kristol etc. This is a new version of the old myth that Jews are ruling the United States.

We all remember that the then French ambassador to Britain described Israel as "that shitty little country." Michael Gove in the Times of London has brilliantly summarized "Yankee-phobia" and "Judeophobia": "Both America and Israel were founded by people who were refugees from prejudice in Europe. Europe's tragedy is: that prejudice has been given new life, in antipathy to both those states."

And Andrei Markovits has reminded us that "Anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism are the only major icons shared by the European extreme left and far right, including neo-Nazis."

In Commentary this year, we could read a most subtle analysis by the great German publicist Josef Joffe. Like Jews, Americans are said to be selfish and arrogant. Like Jews, they are in thrall to a fundamentalist religion that renders them self-righteous and dangerous. Like Jews, Americans are moneygrubbers who know only the value of money, and the worth of nothing.

The summary of this worldview is, according to Joffe: "America and Israel are the outsiders—just as Jews have been all the way into the 21st century."

So there is not only a connection but several links between anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism. In the long run they may further poison the foreign policy debate between the Middle East, Europe and America.

My last point: I cannot resist the temptation to be Cassandra in another scary area: Iranian nuclear weapons. IAEA—the UN Agency supposed to prevent illegal production of atomic bombs—in November last year made a sensational statement. We have been deceived by the Iranians for 18 years, El-Baradei wrote in an official report. During that time Iran has secretly built "a practically complete front end of nuclear cycle, including uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, heavy water production", etc.

The Israelis have for years tried to make us understand that this sophisticated Iranian uranium enrichment industry, with thousands of forbidden centrifuges in combination with increasingly advanced missiles, constitute a deadly threat to Israel, to all nations in the Middle East and soon to certain parts of Europe. And in the hands of terrorists, close to the ayatollahs, it is a disaster scenario also for the United States.

I am not at all surprised that Iran successfully cheated the IAEA for 18 years, as this conspiracy happened to coincide with the period when Hans Blix was head of this UN agency. He is one of the most easily gullible guys I ever met. He never understood that a totalitarian regime could terrorize its own citizens and at the same time smilingly fool international inspectors.

Blix indicated that Iran was an open society. His mistake has now made Iran one of the most dangerous spots on earth.

I urge my American friends: do not trust the new leadership of the IAEA even though they seem to be a little more ambitious than the previous one. They might fail again to find and dismantle the thousands of centrifuges which enrich uranium.

And don't believe that the Europeans, even when they are well meaning, will be strong enough to destroy the hidden nuclear factories in Iran. And, for heaven's sake, do not compare these many locations for centrifuges buried deep, deep down with the Osirak reactor which was openly displayed on the sand outside Baghdad, the reactor which was so successfully destroyed by Israel in 1981.

Eventually the duty to prevent Iran from going nuclear might fall on the remaining superpower. And in spite of what I said about the disgusting lack of European gratitude, there still are tens of millions of Europeans with you. We share your fear when rogue states try to make their own atomic bombs.

And if the US has to intervene sometimes in the future in order to protect the human race from an unprecedented catastrophe in Iran, we will again say to the world: Thank you, America!