By EDWARD ALEXANDER, NEW YORK POST, February 18, 2007TOO many writers and pundits today are obsessed, almost pathologically, by the conviction that Israel is the most evil country that ever has existed, and that its removal from the family of nations is a precondition of world peace.
Such lethally utopian dreams are not strictly the playground of anti-Semites, but also the common coin of much liberal Jewish writing and speechifying about Israel. As Brit George Steiner put it, "Might the Christian West and Islam live more humanely, more at ease with themselves, if the Jewish problem were indeed 'resolved' (that is, endlosung or final solution)."
In his recent study, " 'Progressive' Jewish Thought and the new Anti-Semitism," published by the American Jewish Committee (www.ajc.org), professor Alvin Rosenfeld demonstrates how licentious references to Israeli "apartheid," "racism," "colonialism" and "Nazism" have become "part of standard discourse among 'progressive' Jews."
Although much that Rosenfeld describes is familiar, his study has touched a raw nerve among its targets, especially following a Jan. 31 New York Times article about Rosenfeld's conclusions.
Hysterical denunciations of Rosenfeld quickly followed in major publications including the London Observer, the Jerusalem Post and the Forward.
One accusation against Rosenfeld was that he ripped quotations out of context. But just what context could perfume such utterances as Noam Chomsky's of 2002: "Anti-Semitism is no longer a problem. . . . It's raised, but it's raised because privileged people want to make sure they have total control, not just 98 percent control."
Or Professor Michael Neumann's 2003 comments: "If an effective strategy [to help Palestinians] means encouraging reasonable anti-Semitism, or reasonable hostility to Jews, I . . . don't care. If it means encouraging vicious, racist anti-Semitism, or the destruction of the state of Israel, I still don't care."
Of course the hoary cliché about equating "criticism of Israel" with anti-Semitism has been invoked ad nauseam against Rosenfeld. To my knowledge, no one has ever been identified who really made this equation. On the other hand, countless liberal-left Jews have applied the euphemism "criticism of Israel" to all the following: demonization of that country as the center of the world's evil; calls for its destruction; economic and academic boycotts of its citizens.
In September 2002, after then-Harvard President Lawrence Summers deplored the upsurge of anti-Semitism around the globe - physical assaults, destruction of holy places, making Israel the one country deserving pariah status - he was roundly attacked.
In an essay called "No, It's Not Anti-Semitic," Judith Butler, self-styled member of Berkeley's "progressive Jewish community," charged Summers with dealing "a blow to academic freedom" by silencing "criticism" of Israel.
When the BBC's Tom Paulin recommended that Jews living in the West Bank "should be shot dead," his Jewish defenders at Harvard and Columbia called his remarks "criticism of Israel" and "not over the line."
Vassar professor Andrew Bush called the second Palestinian intifada, during which Arab suicide bombers and lynch mobs killed 1,000 people and wounded 10,000 more, "a critique of Zionism."
Rosenfeld charitably suggests that Israel's Jewish accusers may be ignorant of the extent to which they regurgitate ancient anti-Semitic canards. Ignorant they may be; innocent they cannot be.
When people like NYU's Tony Judt, the most vociferous and self-righteous of Rosenfeld's critics, issue their monthly calls for politicide in Israel, which they demonize as the sole "anachronistic" state in an otherwise progressive multicultural world, don't they sense, even subconsciously, a potential kinship with the genocidally inclined (and not-at-all progressive) president of Iran? In law, such kinship is called "accessory to murder."
Edward Alexander is co-author, with Paul Bogdanor, of "The Jewish Divide Over Israel: Accusers and Defende