Friday, June 11, 2010

Gaining Arab Respect

There is a vast literature of denigration and denunciation of the Jews published in Arabic, ranging over the whole of Jewish history from remote antiquity to the present day and including all kinds of accusations culled, in the main, from European anti-Semitic literature. Paradoxically, Arab authors appear to show more respect for Israel and Zionism than for Jewish religion and history. Discussions of the former are occasionally serious and factual; on the latter they rarely rise above the level of uninformed polemic and abuse, drawn partly from local stereotypes but relying very largely on such typical products of Christian anti-Semitism as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. (Bernard Lewis, "The Anti-Zionist Resolution" pg. 56.)

This goes against the standard narrative of Arab anti-Semitism, where anti-Semitism is seen simply as a result of Zionism. In the extreme version of this argument, Neturei Karta members justify embracing the likes of Ahmadinejad on account that he is not really out to kill Jews, he only wishes to destroy "Zionists." We only need to show him that not all Zionists and his opposition to Jews will disappear. What particularly interests me about Lewis' line of argument is that he changes the narrative over from one of hatred and opposition to one of respect. Lewis does not deny that the Arab world is out to defeat Zionism and destroy the State of Israel. As he sees it, though, Arabs at least respect Zionism to the extent that some sort of dialogue might be possible. I think the reason for this is that Zionism is a political movement. Judaism without Zionism has traditionally been, by definition, outside of the political discourse. Why should a non-political entity ever be taken seriously in a political world?

So what is more important to us, gaining Arab tolerance and convincing them to not try to kill us or gaining their respect so that even if they try to kill us they should at least do so from the perspective of seeing us as human beings, who are part of the political discourse? What might the implications be for the peace process if conducted under a respect model? Under a respect model, how relevant would issues of Palestinian human rights, a State or a right of return be?

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