What importance must we assign, in the Arab-Israeli struggle, to anti-Semitism—more specifically, to the profound and special hatred of Jews that goes beyond normal political conflict, beyond even the normal hostilities and prejudices that arise between different peoples, and attributes to them a quality of cosmic and diabolic evil?
More specifically, how far and in what ways does anti-Semitism affect the policies, tactics, and discourse of participants in the conflict, as well as of outsiders? The discussion of this question is independent of the rights and wrongs of the Arab-Israeli conflict, or the merits and demerits of the various cases and claims that are put forward.
Two persistent myths may be set aside immediately. Among Arabs and their supporters, it is sometimes said that Arabs cannot be anti-Semites since they themselves are Semites. This statement is meaningless. anti-Semitism has never been concerned with anyone but Jews, and there is in any case no such thing as a Semite. Like the Aryan, he is a myth, and part of the same mythology.
Among Israelis and pro-Israelis there is another common myth which equates enmity to Israel or to Zionism with anti-Semitism and depicts Arafat as a new and unsuccessful Hitler and the PLO as the present-day equivalent of the Nazi SS. This is a false equation. The Arab-Israeli conflict is, in its origins and its essence, a political one—a clash between peoples and states over real issues, not a matter of prejudice and persecution.
But while the Arab-Israeli conflict is in many ways an example of normal conflict, it has certain unique abnormalities which arise from the continued refusal of all but one of the Arab states to recognize Israel or to meet face to face in negotiation with its official representatives. This refusal is still maintained after nearly forty years of Israeli existence, and after a succession of Arab political and military defeats. Lebanon, which negotiated and signed a direct agreement with Israel in 1984, was compelled to abandon it, and the Lebanese government was not permitted to enter into political contact with Israel even to arrange the orderly liberation of its own territory. Egypt, which unlike Lebanon possessed sufficient strength to take an independent line and enter into such a relationship with Israel, was execrated by almost all the Arab states; most of them broke off diplomatic relations with Cairo and for a while placed Egypt in almost the same kind of isolation as Israel herself. Perhaps most striking is the symbolic, one might almost say the magical, destruction which is constantly repeated and reenacted at the United Nations and its various agencies—a kind of prefigurement of what the Arab states hope ultimately to inflict on Israel.
Even the bitterest of conflicts—between France and Germany over Alsace and Lorraine, between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus and the Aegean, India and Pakistan, or Iraq and Iran—have never involved total nonrecognition of one side by the other, the total refusal of dialogue, the declared intention not merely to defeat but…
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Copyright © 1986 by Bernard Lewis