Con­sis­tent in­con­sis­tency

Su­san Lin­field takes a look at eight in­tel­lec­tu­als who have ad­dressed the ques­tion of Zion­ism and the Left

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - BOOKS - • COLIN SHINDLER

Many who write about the in­ter­na­tional Left tend to fo­cus on an­tisemitism rather than anti-Zion­ism. US aca­demic and jour­nal­ist Su­san Lin­field reme­dies this im­bal­ance in The Lions’ Den: Zion­ism and the Left from Han­nah Arendt to Noam Chom­sky, and looks at eight in­tel­lec­tu­als who have ad­dressed the ques­tion of Zion­ism and the in­ter­na­tional Left – Jews and non-Jews, Zion­ists and anti-Zion­ists. In this well-writ­ten, ab­sorb­ing book, Lin­field demon­strates that a con­sis­tent feature is in­con­sis­tency and a ret­i­cence to face a chang­ing sit­u­a­tion. She also finds it in­cred­u­lous that mul­ti­tudes of de­cent peo­ple who wish to re­pair the world un­think­ingly ac­cept chap­ter and verse handed down to them from on in­tel­lec­tual high.

Lin­field is thus ex­co­ri­at­ing about the views of Noam Chom­sky, who framed an im­agery of dic­ta­tors in the Arab world seek­ing peace while Amos Oz was deemed to have op­posed it. An op­po­nent of the Oslo Ac­cords, Chom­sky is charged by Lin­field with the char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion of his op­po­nents, nu­mer­ous in­ac­cu­ra­cies and the pro­jec­tion of “a crip­pling ide­o­log­i­cal rigid­ity.”

As she points out, Chom­sky is hardly quoted by aca­demics in Mid­dle East Stud­ies, ig­nored in Is­rael, lit­tle known in the Arab world, but em­braced in mes­sianic trib­ute by many in Europe and North Amer­ica.

Lin­field cred­its Maxime Rodin­son, a fore­most aca­demic writer on Is­lam – the son of Rus­sian Jewish com­mu­nists in France – for

forg­ing today’s anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist ar­gu­ments af­ter 1967 and thereby in­flu­enc­ing the post-war gen­er­a­tion of the Euro­pean Left. Rodin­son be­lieved that Sad­dam, As­sad, Qaddafi were “pro­gres­sives” – yet he spoke Ara­bic and could eas­ily ac­cess opin­ion in the Arab press.

In­ter­est­ingly, Rodin­son ar­gued that left­ist Is­lam did not ex­ist as a co­her­ent ide­ol­ogy and even de­scribed the Ira­nian revo­lu­tion as “fas­cisme ar­chaique.”

Rodin­son was blind to Stalin’s crimes and im­plied that Jewish com­mu­nists such as Karl Radek and Ru­dolf Slan­sky, ex­e­cuted af­ter show tri­als, were less than in­no­cent. Lin­field’s com­pre­hen­sive dis­sec­tion of Rodin­son, how­ever, omits the shock­ing fact that he will­ingly went along with the no­tion that the Jewish doc­tors, in­ter­ro­gated, tor­tured and tried in the Doc­tors’ Plot in Jan­uary 1953 were de­servedly guilty.

Rodin­son’s par­ents were de­ported from France and per­ished in Auschwitz. Yet he con­tin­ued to ar­tic­u­late the anti-Zion­ism and fer­vent Stal­in­ism of his up­bring­ing de­spite leav­ing the Com­mu­nist Party. Lin­field sug­gests that this was “a frozen fidelity” – a means of keep­ing faith with the be­liefs of his mur­dered par­ents.

An­other ma­jor fig­ure fea­tured by Lin­field is Isaac Deutscher, the bi­og­ra­pher of Trot­sky, who – like Rodin­son – es­caped the fate of his par­ents by for­tu­itously be­ing abroad, sent by his pro-Zion­ist pa­per, Nasz Przeglad, to Lon­don in 1939. A child prodigy in Tal­mu­dic learn­ing, Deutscher suf­fered a life­long tug-of-war be­tween his ide­o­log­i­cal be­liefs and the lessons of Jewish his­tory. A vis­i­tor to Is­rael as his sis­ter lived on a kib­butz, he ar­gued that Is­rael came into ex­is­tence not as “a sub­lime ful­fill­ment of his­tory’s cy­cle, but as an act of Jewish de­spair” – the off­spring of West­ern civ­i­liza­tion’s auto-sui­cide.

Deutscher’s fa­mous es­say, “The Non-Jewish Jew,” de­picted Jewish rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies as liv­ing be­yond the bor­ders of the com­mu­nity and in­stead oc­cu­py­ing the in­ter­stices be­tween na­tions – a uni­ver­sal­ist ver­sion of Ju­daism where “God ceased to be Jewish.” Lin­field con­cludes that Deutscher was not ac­tu­ally a non-Jewish Jew, but in­stead “a deeply con­flicted one.”

Although she writes about no­ta­bles such as Han­nah Arendt and Al­bert Memmi, it is the non-Jewish Bri­tish thinker Fred Hal­l­i­day, who emerges as a po­lit­i­cal hero in her eyes.

Hal­l­i­day was a “68-er” – a vet­eran of the stu­dent re­volts of 1968. He was highly in­volved in the protests against the Viet­nam War in Lon­don and a mem­ber of the Black Dwarf pe­ri­od­i­cal col­lec­tive. Yet un­like many of his con­tem­po­raries, he rec­og­nized that many of the idols of the anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist Left were in fact au­thor­i­tar­ian re­ac­tionar­ies who cared lit­tle for demo­cratic norms and hu­man rights. The New Left of the 1960s fo­cused on anti-colo­nial move­ments abroad that of­ten prac­ticed vi­o­lence against civil­ians rather than the de­mands of its own pro­le­tari­ats – a dis­tinct change from the Left of the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion.

A flu­ent speaker of Farsi, Hal­l­i­day was as­tounded to hear tens of thou­sands chant “Death to lib­er­al­ism!” in the streets of Tehran dur­ing the Ira­nian revo­lu­tion. His col­leagues at New Left Re­view lauded this spec­ta­cle and were happy later to de­fend Ah­madine­jad. Hal­l­i­day had a dif­fer­ent vi­sion for the Left – one where rad­i­cal­ism was syn­the­sized with lib­eral demo­cratic prin­ci­ples, where Ha­mas and Hezbol­lah were dis­par­aged as cler­i­cal throw­backs and where Ed­ward Said’s be­lief in “ori­en­tal­ism” was de­posited on the rub­bish dump of his­tory. In do­ing so, he lost many friends on his jour­ney, but re­main­ing a so­cial­ist, he never took the easy route to the Right like so many oth­ers.

This in­tel­li­gent polem­i­cal book en­light­ens, en­gages and ed­u­cates the reader. It should be re­quired read­ing for those who de­sire a deeper un­der­stand­ing of this sub­ject be­yond the usual clichés and slo­gans.

(Ma­jed Jaber/Reuters)

NOAM CHOM­SKY is ac­cused by the author of nu­mer­ous in­ac­cu­ra­cies and the pro­jec­tion of ‘a crip­pling ide­o­log­i­cal rigid­ity.’

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