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Yasmin Alibhai-Brown | The Independent | 17 July 2006
Hugh was so right, tragically so. Hugh Blaschko was one of the greatest men that ever lived. He and his wife Mary gave me shelter, became my surrogate family from 1972 to 1978 when I had to cope with the loss of my old homeland, Uganda. Born in Germany, Hugh was from one of those cultured, intellectual Jewish Berlin families crushed by Nazism. He escaped to Britain in the late 1930s to become a world-class scientist. Israel would bring out the worst in his people, he always said, and I argued with him. Survivors of the Holocaust, I believed, were on the side of the angels. "No, my dear," he would respond, "the Jewish state will make us nationalists, and will one day make us racialists." I am glad he is not alive to see his prophetic words turned flesh.
As we witness the bombardment by Israel of Lebanon and Gaza – a grotesque over-reaction - and, as the death toll of Arab civilians mounts, you have to ask how the Israelis can do what they do. My only answer now is to conclude that it is racism. No political or territorial struggles can convincingly explain or excuse the maddened onslaught by the Israeli state.
Hizbollah and Hamas kidnapped some Israeli soldiers, thus setting off the present crisis. These factions are permanently excited by a state of conflict with no end. But yet, I cannot accept the Israeli justifications claiming the right to make rivers of blood and mountains of debris for the kidnap of their soldiers - soldiers, remember. No ancient fears of annihilation can make adequate sense of the actions either. After all, Israelis have made a kind of peace with Europe which burned and gassed millions of Jewish Europeans.
By contrast, the politicians, generals and soldiers on this mission, and their supporters, are consumed with burning revulsion for all their non-Jewish Semite neighbours. Serbian killers who turned on Muslims in Bosnia were similarly hate-filled, as were the Hutus who massacred Tutsis in Rwanda, and the murderous Muslims who want to destroy every Jew on the planet. In 1935, Goebbels said: "Many intellectuals are trying to help the Jews with the ancient phrase, 'The Jew is also a man'. Yes, he is a man, but what sort of man? The flea is also an animal!" Today, Semites treat the Arab brother as the flea, or the "other". I have heard and read Zionist fundamentalists panicking over the breeding rates of Arabs, expressing their disgust for their hygiene, debating their brain sizes, their inherent barbarism, their genetic inferiority which makes them and their states forever failures.
The extreme Zionist impulses of Ehud Olmert's government are dishonouring its own excruciating history. And noxious anti-Arab prejudices are evident too among a number of Jewish friends of Israel in the United Kingdom, not only firebrand loyalists, but nice, good, funny people. Speaking on BBC 1's This Week on Thursday, that national treasure Maureen Lipman responded thus when asked about the disproportionate reaction of Israel to Hamas and Hizbollah provocations: "What's proportion got to do with it? It's not about
proportion is it? Human life is not cheap to the Israelis. And human life on the other side is quite cheap actually because they strap bombs to people and send them to blow themselves up".
I can understand how with a diminishing world population so long hated and punished, the death of one Jew feels like the death of a hundred. But that is not what Lipman is saying. Brutally straight, she sees no equivalence between the lives of the two tribes. Imagine the reactions if she had said: "All this gun crime in London, well it is a black thing. Human life is quite cheap for black people, they go in for shooting each other."
Hardened Islamicists, loaded with anti-Semitism, hate the Jews they kill, rejoice in the murders of the dehumanised enemy. I do not hesitate to call them racists. But hardened Zionists are unmoved by photos of dead infants in Beirut, tearful young evacuees fleeing that wonderful city because "they" don't feel pain and death like the rest of us. Alter one word in that plea by Shylock and ask: "Hath not Arabs eyes? Hath not an Arab hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?"
It would be easy to despair if it wasn't for Jewish people of conscience who can see how this debases the very essence of Jewishness. A talented professional classical musician and friend wrote me this e-mail on Saturday after he had been at a Palestinian Solidarity Society meeting: "I am the son of Holocaust survivors. I loathe what Israel is doing to Palestine and Palestinians. For that reason, I have always refused to visit Israel. I am so frustrated by events in the Lebanon."
He described the large number of Jewish campaigners at the meeting, some wearing T shirts saying "I'm a Jew but not a Zionist". Various boycotts organised by academic, artistic and other British Jews take these actions at great cost to themselves. Rabbi David Goldberg in his recent book, The Divided Self, explores this strain between militant Israel and the Jewish psyche. He must have brought down the wrath of the zealous followers of Abraham for his honest warnings: "Sixty years after the Holocaust, Israel can no longer claim 'special case' status to justify the repression of Palestinian national aspirations or 'historical right' (whatever that means) to defend retention of biblical territory captured in war ... since 1967, [Israel] has been a Herrenvolk democracy, a term used to describe South Africa under apartheid, in which one group of subjects, the Israeli citizens, enjoys full rights while a disenfranchised group, the Palestinians, enjoys none of any significance."
Goldberg has here used that other unpalatable word - apartheid – to describe Israel's arrogance and behaviour. Apartheid in South Africa was built on twin pillars - a committed belief in racial hierarchies and an equally fervent belief that whites were gifted preferential treatment by God. The Boers, and whites in general, claimed to be the chosen ones and regarded black and brown people as bestial, destined for servility and control.
Israel espouses the same ideology, religious self regard and policies to control Arabs today. True, the country has many enemies wishing its destruction, but racism and apartheid are still unacceptable, even more so for a country with such a history.
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a Senior Researcher at the Foreign Policy Centre who writes a weekly column in the Independent. She is a leading commentator on race, multiculturalism and human rights and also writes regularly for the Guardian and the New Statesman and broadcasts on radio and television. She is the author of numerous books on these subjects including the groundbreaking Foreign Policy Centre pamphlet “After Multiculturalism”.