May 13, 2012

Shindler's dissed

David Osler has what looks to me like a good but quirky review of Colin Shindler's book, Israel and the European Left, subtitled, Between Solidarity and Delegitimisation. I haven't read the book myself but going from various Shindler articles I have read, I think the review is fair though Osler makes some off piste remarks I cannot agree with.  I do like his focus on the hasbara buzz word, delegitimisation.

Here are a few chunks from the post itself:
THE allegation of ‘delegitimization’ is a particular shapeless charge to find oneself having to plead against. Yet as the subtitle to this book indicates, such is the broad brush accusation facing all sections of the European socialist movement over the last century, with Colin Shindler making the case that leftists have been in the business of delegitimizing the state of Israel even before the state of Israel came into existence.
Now personally I don't think there's anything wrong with delegitimising Israel given the manner of its founding and of its continued existence and its self definition as a state for Jews but Osler seems to feel that the charge of delegitimisation isn't always fair:

It is of course true that some of those in the dock do have form. Even so, I must direct any fair minded jury to acquit the bulk of the defendants.
This volume is largely written backwards from the final chapter, which documents the peculiarly British – and not, to my knowledge anyway, Europe-wide – alliance between some socialist traditions and offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK, which has often been accompanied by anti-semitic rhetorical flourishes.
Aha! So Osler seems to be trying to say that the question of delegitimisation carries with it the charge of antisemitism.
But his definition of ‘delegitimization’ is never spelt out. 
And I think we know why but Osler doesn't spell out that Shindler's task appears to be the conflation of anti-zionism, condemnation of the State of Israel and antisemitism.

We then have some specifics of what it is Israel does that rankles with many of its critics:

There are the illegal settlements on the West Bank, the blockade of the Gaza Strip, the war crimes witnessed during Operation Cast Lead and the ‘separation fence’, to name just a few of the ignominies perpetrated by successive administrations. Professor Shindler seemingly doesn’t like to mention these things: for the left to leave them out of the equation would be an unforgiveable dereliction of duty.
Nor does it ‘delegitimize’ Israel to insist that the specific circumstances of its birth necessitate its reconstitution as a binational secular state. Israel exists and has the right to exist: what it does not have is the right comprehensively to dispossess Palestine.
Can anyone imagine a State of Israel without the comprehensive disspossession of Palestine?  Well, as Osler notes, apparently Hannah Arendt and Martin Buber could but they were very marginal in the zionist scheme of things.

The Stalinist tradition, of course, could save the court’s time by at once entering a guilty plea. The evidence against it, from the Slansky Trial and the Doctors’ Plot on to the purges that swept Poland in the late 1960s, will be all too familiar to anyone who has read, say, Paul Lendvai’s instructive ‘Anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe’.
Another aha! Delegitimisation does mean antisemitism.  The Stalinists supported the establishment of the State of Israel but they undeniably resorted to antisemitism when it suited them.  Delegitimisation of Israel and antisemitism are not so easy to conflate.  Stalinist regimes took to condemning Israel and supporting its victims and enemies but they did not question the legitimacy of the state.  Indeed the antisemitism of various Polish Stalinist governments had them harrassing Polish Jews into relocating to Israel.  In the 1950s the transfer of Jews to Israel was carried out in cohoots with Israel.  Far from being a campaign of delegitimisation of Israel, official antisemitism in eastern Europe dovetailed with zionism.

Osler goes on to raise more objections to what he sees as Schindler's surplus of polemic over scholarship including various swipes at the SWP, of whom Osler himself is no fan (no longer anyway):

But most of all I object to the obviously silly claim that Britain’s revolutionary socialists would have collaborated with Nazism had Britain been conquered by Germany in 1940. This nonsense is advanced in the very opening sentences of the foreword, presumably to set out the idea that these people were irredeemably tainted by anti-semitism.
The track record of Communists and Trotskyists in this regards compares favourably with that of the Stern Gang, which actually did propose alliance with the Nazis, and Rudolf Kastner, who came to terms with Hitler’s representatives, albeit under duress.
Let us not forget that the left led the resistance to fascism in occupied Europe, and many comrades bravely laid down their lives to that end. Frankly, they do not deserve to have the likes of Shindler spit on their graves for the sake of catchpenny advantage in British Zionism’s contemporary bust up with the SWP.
All in all I liked the review though there appears to be a circle that Dave Osler wants to square but can't and that is the idea that there can be a legitimate State of Israel.  Also, simply knowing the form of many hasbaraniks, the expression "delegitimisation" has to be vague because it does become clear that what is being hinted at is antisemitism.


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