#9 / Editorial: There and Here

It is difficult to know whether the cycle of Israeli-Palestinian violence that began this week is a repetition of those that preceded it, or whether its features make it unique and even more serious. The clashes that have occurred in several cities in Israel, where the Jewish and Arab communities are intertwined and linked one to the other in the same political community, give the events a particularly dramatic and worrying twist. On another level, however, we find the familiar scenario: Jerusalem is, as usual, the trigger; the rockets fired from Gaza, ever more numerous and with a longer range, constitute the fuel; and the bombardment of Gaza by the IDF prolongs a conflict that is ultimately asymmetrical and awaits a truce. In this scenario, the truce only comes when both parties judge, according to often indecipherable calculations, that a sort of point of equilibrium has finally been reached. In short, we are in the presence of an armed conflict that does not have peace as its horizon, but at most a relative calm that everyone knows in advance is precarious. 

Its repercussions on international public opinion, particularly in Europe, are more likely to be foreseen. For more than any other, the situation is apt to inflame the spirits. It is as if Europe were caught up in a conflict whose distant, complex and opaque character is cancelled out in one fell swoop for all those, many of them, who have already decided on the allocation of blame, assured in advance of the division of the good and evil camps. With regard to this conflict, moreover, nothing can be circumscribed that closely resembles a “European Jewish public opinion”. Positions are distributed across the spectrum. Nevertheless, there is one point on which enlightened opinion should be able to agree: the singular ability of this conflict to arouse a passionate interest is not solely due to a concern for justice, the right of peoples to self-determination, or humanitarian reason. If it were otherwise, let us recognize that other distant conflicts – the period is not lacking in them – would logically attract, in an equal or only comparable proportion, the general attention. But this is clearly not the case.

Why is this so? Obviously, this conflict and no other brings Europe back to its demons, to its problems with itself, and therefore necessarily to its relationship with the Jews. It is a fact that Zionism and the State of Israel proceed more or less from the construction of a “Jewish problem” in modern Europe. And it is also a fact that with the exploitation of themes linked to decolonization, which feeds the perception of Israel as the last avatar of European colonialism, Europe finds itself caught, if not in a vice, at least in a dilemma whose terms it struggles to analyze. Through the event, it is simultaneously confronted with the Jewish problem in Europe, which it has created, and with the treatment it has reserved for formerly colonized populations. It is not surprising, then, that the repetition of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict bears the stigma of another repetition: that of the malaise of European Jews, deepened and reiterated on each occasion.

It should be noted – to introduce the first of the articles that K. is proposing this week – that this uneasiness takes significantly different forms depending on the place. France and Britain contain the largest Jewish communities in Europe, yet the two cases contrast sharply. In France, the wave of anti-Semitism that has risen since the 2000s has not reached Britain in the same way. The Jews of Great Britain have not been put under pressure, they have not been forced into the internal and international migration that France has experienced. But a bad wind has been blowing for many years, especially in academic circles, and the Labour Party of Corbyn and Livingston, long called “the [political] home of the Jews”, has become increasingly hostile to Jews. This wave was fueled by a generation of leaders who took over the party after Blair’s New Labour ran out of steam. Less focused on class struggle and the rebuilding of the welfare state than on Third World internationalism and its internal translation into “identity” politics, it projected onto the state of Israel all the evils of imperialism, colonialism and racism, calling on Labour to purge itself of “Zionists” in the same way that the Eastern Bloc had once purged the party of its Jews. While this drift has been halted, some of the intellectual elites, for whom “Zionist” is an insult, remain entrenched in this kind of certainty, probably perpetuating this atmosphere on Britain’s campuses for many years to come. That the INRHA definition of anti-Semitism is a target there will come as no surprise. This is what David Hirsch tells us in a striking way in his long account of the “David Miller affair”, named after this professor of sociology at the University of Bristol, for whom “the British public sphere has been taken over by the State of Israel and its defenders” and who has been at the heart of a controversy for a few weeks now, which allows us to return to the question of anti-Semitism that has been plaguing part of the British left for years.

The other text published by K. deals with shehita, the Jewish ritual slaughter of animals for consumption, in Europe. Here too, the question arises as to whether the cause of animal welfare is not coupled with two other, broader explanatory contexts. First, the relationship between Europe and the Jews, whose customs are curiously excluded from the European heritage, even though the Jewish presence there goes back to the dawn of time. Secondly, a desire on the part of European states to tighten Muslim customs, whose prescriptions concerning slaughter are similar to those of the Jews – measures which, in this case, are not directly aimed at the Jews, but which nonetheless involve collateral damage, perhaps fatal to the Jewish presence in Europe. David Haziza asks this question in a long article that we will publish in two parts.

According to Bristol University Professor David Miller, ‘Britain is in the grip of an assault on its public sphere by the state of Israel and its advocates’. His outburst has led to outraged calls for his removal but also fulsome messages of support from the academic left. David Hirsh, author of ‘Contemporary Left Antisemitism’, explores the wider meanings and deeper roots of the controversy.

A marginal or minimal problem for some, a barbaric custom that should be modernized for others, ritual slaughter is one of the pillars of Jewish life. Requiring the stunning of animals prior to killing is not contrary to the law, the European Court of Justice concluded in a recent ruling. Is ritual slaughter compatible with Europe? David Haziza asks this question in an essay published by K. in two parts.

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