One hears clear indications of anti-Semitism*, in which Jews are singled out for hatred merely on account of their being Jews.
Anti-Zionism of course, is based on the idea that Jews are "different" from other people, so, as Martin Luther King pointed out, it is a basically anti-Semitic position, even if it is held by people who do not think of themselves as Jews.
Mussolini's fascism glorified the state as the ultimate human being, for whose sake individual citizens - the parts - would heroically sacrifice their resources and their lives. Hitler's version combined this notion of the state with that of the Aryan race. Both saw warfare and imperialism as "an essential manifestation of vitality" (Mussolini's phrase), through which the state or race would constantly exercise and re-establish its superiority. The driving force of economic development, on the fascist view, was to be neither the egalitarian motive of socialism nor the free-market competition of capitalism, but rather the bloody competition of perpetual warfare, in which alone humanity could realize its full heroic potential.
Parts of the Arab world have begun to show tolerance for bearers of fascist ideology. One hears clear indications of anti-Semitism*, in which Jews are singled out for hatred merely on account of their being Jews.
Formerly, the Palestinian national movement took care to make distinctions, confining its criticisms to Zionists - for Zionism drags with it, inevitably, a racist attitude toward the Palestinian people. But now we hear expressions that arouse concern. The official PA daily, al-Hayat al-Jadida, publishes a denial of the holocaust by Hiri Manzour entitled, "Marketing Ashes". An Egyptian columnist writes: "Thank you, Hitler, that you did part of the work for us. What a pity you didn't finish the job!" (Ahmad Ragheb in the Egyptian government daily, al-Akhbar, April 29 - cited by the Israeli daily, Yediot Aharonot, on April 30.) Lately the tendency has shown up in the Arab world's most influential newspaper, Al Hayat, which is funded by the Saudis and published in London. On April 2, Al Hayat published on its front page an article by its literary editor, Abdo Wazzen, with the following lead:
What a happy coincidence! It seems that the great American poet, Ezra Pound, had a son named Omar, who is a poet in his own right. Omar has written poems about the Palestinian intifada under the title, "The Sacred Earth".** Ezra Pound (1885-1972) was known for his "anti-Semitic" tendencies. These led him to oppose the Allies in World War II and migrate to Fascist Italy, escaping from Roosevelt and his Jewish "advisers" (the bankers, as he calls them). Omar Pound demonstrates his pro-Palestinian tendencies when he adopts the issue of the intifada, seeing it through the eyes of its fighters.
Thus the article begins, and one reads on, expecting some qualification, some "putting-of-distance" between the position of the father and that of the son - but none such follows. The "coincidence" remains a "happy" one. We go from Ezra's "anti-Semitism" (whatever the quotation marks may mean) to Omar's pro-Palestinian tendencies in a single breath, in the spirit of, "A chip off the old block! The apple does not fall far from the tree!"
What are we to make of this? And what are the readers of the influential Al Hayat to make of it? The message that emerges between the lines goes thus: "The father was not only a great poet, but an anti-Semite and a fascist, supporting Mussolini and Hitler. All this is to his credit, and now we have the son taking up the good cause, which in our time is that of the Palestinian Intifada - bravo!"
To call such a coincidence happy, to link the fascism of the father - via the son - to the fight against Zionism, is an insult to the Palestinian people. Its struggle appears here as a continuing chapter in the persecution of the Jews - and not as what it is and must remain: a struggle for liberation against a colonialist movement called Zionism, which seized that people's land and resources.
A week after publishing the Pound piece, Wazzen came out with an article praising Pablo Neruda, the great Chilean poet and Nobel Prize laureate. Neruda, a Communist, was also a great political poet, committed to the interests of the working class and of oppressed peoples throughout the world. Where then does Al Hayat's literary editor stand? Is he a nationalist? A fascist? A socialist? Or is he simply an opportunist, taking from anyone who will lend support, never mind the motives? In an age where careful distinctions are necessary, the eclectic opportunist is dangerous.
As for Al Hayat, it is not merely the most influential Arab organ - it is also the one most frequently cited and emulated by local papers such as al-Ittihad (the journal of the Communist Party in Israel) and Fassel al-Makal (the paper of Azmi Bishara and his party, "Balad" - the National Democratic Alliance). When the highly respected Al Hayat glorifies a fascist anti-Semite - without a word of qualification - linking him via his son to the Intifada, it sends a confirming message of legitimacy to such anti-Semitic impulses as may lurk within Arab public opinion.
On April 10, the local Communist paper al-Ittihad reprinted (with credit) the Al Hayat article on Neruda. On April 13, Fassel al-Makal, Bishara's paper - nationalist and anti-communist - re-printed the Al Hayat piece on the Pounds without a word of qualification. Bishara's paper neglected to credit the source and author, thus giving the impression that the item was its own. Yet the same Azmi Bishara was one of fourteen Arab intellectuals who signed a petition asking the government of Lebanon to cancel a scheduled conference of Holocaust deniers. (See below.) In sending such contradictory messages, intellectuals like Bishara only increase the lack of clarity surrounding the question: Who is the enemy?
Opposition to the conference came not only from the West and the Zionist movement, but also from fourteen Arab intellectuals, among them Edward Said, who petitioned the Lebanese government to cancel it. Alloush and his colleagues attacked the intellectuals, especially Said. How is it possible, they asked, that Arab intellectuals, knowing the severe limits on freedom of expression in the Arab states, would lend their voices to banning a conference? Under this pressure, Said withdrew his signature.
Alloush and several other Jordanian intellectuals then took a counter-initiative, proposing to hold a conference in Amman on April 9 on the topic: "What happened to the revisionist historians' conference in Beirut?" As an appendix to the invitation, Alloush included a piece of his own, called "Revisionist Historians for the Arabs: A Preview." In it he surveys the views of the Holocaust deniers with approval. Here, for example, is an excerpt from the second point of his article:
"Do revisionist historians deny that Jews died in WWII?
"Revisionist historians do NOT deny that Jews died They say, however, that hundreds of thousands of Jews died along with the forty-five million who perished in that war. The revisionist historians used hard sciences like physics and chemistry in proving that the so-called gas chambers were not used to exterminate Jews systematically, but to burn the corpses of people from different nationalities (after their deaths) to circumvent plagues."
Alloush's conference about the cancelled conference never took place. Four days short of the event, the Jordanian police banned it.
Ever since Jordan signed the peace treaty with Israel, Jordanian groups such as the Writers' Union and Alloush's Association have done important work in spearheading opposition to the "normalization" of contacts between the two countries. Yet these opposition groups have never established red lines, nor formulated a political program. As a result, they have isolated themselves unnecessarily on many issues - for example, on the question, With whom is it acceptable to meet? Not, it turns out, with a Jew, even an anti-Zionist Jew. But with an Arab supporter of Oslo? Sometimes Yes, sometimes No.
Two years ago I visited Jordan and interviewed several of these intellectuals, among them Fakhri Qa'awar, chairperson of the Writers' Union. I presented my view that the struggle should focus on those Oslo supporters, both Jewish and Arab, who are helping Israel to penetrate the Arab world in order to dominate it economically and culturally. Oslo, I said, must be the focus, because Israel and the US have used it to split the Arab world. We must not put all Jews in the same category: in doing so, we divert our struggle from its proper course. The struggle is class-based: it is between those whom Oslo benefits and those whom it does not. It must not be sidetracked into a narrow nationalism that would delude the Arab refugees and workers into thinking they are in the same boat with the bourgeoisie. Qa'awar answered that the number of Jews on the Left who oppose Oslo is so small that, practically speaking, he sees no reason to change the position against any relations with Jews.
Given their lack of political clarity, the Jordanian opponents of normalization have adopted an anti-Semitic Arab chauvinism. The fact that Israel exploits the Holocaust in order to justify the Zionist project has led them to take a counter-position, downplaying the extent of German fascist crimes. It is as if they acknowledged that the Holocaust would justify the existence of Israel - and so they must show it didn't happen!
Such logic does these Jordanian intellectuals discredit. Not only do they fall into the trap of connecting the Holocaust to the establishment of Israel, but they also link themselves to a bunch of quacks who are trying to rewrite the past in order to pave the way for a return of fascism.
As for Zionism, it is a colonialist movement that arose decades before the Holocaust. It exploits the murder of six million Jews in order to justify a project that is itself inherently racist. The Palestinian case is strong enough - without the need for Holocaust deniers.
The Arab leaders, and above all Yasser Arafat, promised their peoples economic prosperity, provided they submit to American domination and the capitalist ideology. Today they find themselves at a dead end. Not only has Oslo collapsed, but capitalism itself has entered a deep economic crisis. In the absence of progressive socialist support, Arab nationalism is in danger of falling into the waiting arms of fascism. The Arab world is not ready to confront the US and capitalism, because until now no true opposition-movement has arisen from within it. Given the vacuum, nothing is easier than to blame everything on the Jews while supporting fascist forces in the US and in Europe, looking to the latter to "purify" the Arab world of the Jewish "parasite".
For the Arab regimes, above all the Saudi funders of Al Hayat, anti-Semitism is preferable to a confrontation with the real enemy: American capitalism and its agent, Israel. As long as the latter are strong, after all, they guarantee the survival of the dictators. These prefer to see the people going after Jews rather than attacking their own corrupt regimes.
When Holocaust deniers convene in Arab capitals, they are not adopting the Palestinian cause for its own sake, but rather exploiting it as fertile ground for their ideas. In this way they degrade the struggle - originally political, ideological, and conscious - to a more nefarious level. When Arab leaders join hands with them - as did the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who sought support from Hitler - they betray their cause.
Fascism is not just the enemy of the Jews, but of all humanity - and especially of the organized working class. The only way to fight such a trend is to warn against its consequences and to establish a socialist program. The vital prerequisite of such a program is to keep the real enemy in focus. The enemy is not an ethnic or religious group. It is the combined forces of American capitalism, Zionism and the reactionary Arab regimes.
*Editor's note: We are aware that the word "anti-Semitism" seems doubly problematic in this context: first, because Arabs too are Semites, although the usage applies only to Jews, and second, because Arab anti-Jewish feelings - as distinct from the European example - began with experiences of Zionist colonization. Whatever the causes, however, the distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism must be maintained. We shall abide by ordinary usage, meaning by anti-Semitism the hatred of Jews as Jews.
** Translated from the Arabic of Al Hayat. We have not been able to find the precise English title of the collection.
[This article originally appeared in Challenge's sister-publication in Arabic, al-Sabar.]
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