The Lebanon Invasion and the theory of Jewish collective responsibility

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was quite obviously an action that all socialists should have energetically condemned. However, it brought to the surface the ways in which the Left ascribes collective guilt to all Jews—for zionism in general and the Israeli government in particular. This was perhaps seen most clearly in the newspaper Big Flame—precisely because it was prepared to respond openly to criticisms made of its editorial policy.

Big Flame in its editorial of October 1982 stated that the massacres at Sabra and Chatilla "cannot fail to spark off acts of revenge through-out the world". By "acts of revenge" is meant, presumably, the bombings and other attacks on Jewish institutions and individuals that occurred throughout the diaspora, following the invasion. What is remarkable is that Big Flame seems to think that these are 'natural' or 'inevitable'. The paper seems to consider that Jews who were bombed in, for example, Sydney Australia were legitimate targets—as if by being Jewish they were somehow responsible for what was happening in the Lebanon. It would be interesting to know why Big Flame doesn't think that acts of revenge were inevitable against Christians—given that the Phalangists were at least as responsible as the Israeli government for the massacre. It does explain, however, the complete silence of Big Flame in response to the actual attacks made on diaspora Jewry—they were never mentioned.

Once Jews everywhere are assigned a particular responsibility for what happened in the Lebanon, then other horrific assumptions follow. In particular, it is assumed both that Jews are under a greater moral obligation than anyone else to speak out against the invasion and also that we have to speak out against it explicitly 'as Jews'. Why should we be obliged to speak out 'as Jews' about what is happening in the Middle East any more, for example, than Italians should speak out 'as Italians'? To be accepted as 'good' Jews apparently, the onus is on us to make public disavowals of zionism. Occasionally another hypocrisy creeps in; Jews 'of all people' should know better because of the history of our own oppression (Big Flame editorial, Sept. 1982). This is the ultimate double-standard. Jews are now expected to be on a higher level of morality than anyone else because of the oppression inflicted on us; but if we act immorally, or if any one Jew misbehaves, then we also have to apologise more than anyone else and make public penance. In fact, the theory that our own suffering should have cleansed our souls owes more to the gospels than to Marxism. What our suffering points to is the need to combat anti-semitism. It is no advertisement for the purity of our morals.

The entire Left described the Lebanon invasion by invoking the language of the 'holocaust' and the 'final solution'. This use of language is itself anti-semitic. This is not because the invasion was not murderous. It was. It is not because the slaughter of the Palestinians has not reached the number of Jewish people massacred by the Nazis—numbers are irrelevant. There is no scale of injustice as far as murder is concerned. The reason why the use of language such as 'holocaust' and 'final solution', when applied to zionism, is anti-Jewish is because these words are no longer neutral or objective. They have a particular political significance. They refer to Jewish people. In fact they refer to all Jewish people—because it was the genocide of all Jewish people that was contemplated in the final solution.

It is because these words have this precise political significance, a significance well understood by Jews, that they reinforce the idea all Jewish people everywhere are responsible for the invasion and the massacres. Words used to describe the collective predicament of Jews now prescribe the collective guilt of Jews. The September Big Flame in responding to criticism, said that in describing bloody events

"One's language can all too easily become looser, using terms that fall into the hands of the oppressor. With Israel this is particularly the case".

It is difficult to know whether this is meant as an apology. It doesn't even begin to explain why the actions of the Israeli government should "particularly" reduce the Left to anti-semitism. Should we now expect a racist analysis the next time a government of black Africa operates in an oppressive way?

It is seen later that the ultimate trap placed in front of Jews by the Left is that Jews themselves are responsible for anti-semitism. The anti-semites are correct—everything is our own fault! This is the destination to which the theory of collective responsibility leads. Sometimes it is expressed quite explicitly. Big Flame (October, 1982) stated that:

"zionism is the monster that is doing most to fuel anti-semitism in the modern world".

This stands reality on its head. The crime of Begin, Sharon and the rest of the Israeli government was the attempted destruction of the Palestinians as a nation. This is why they are to be condemned—and not for any consequences their actions may have had on diaspora Jewry (namely 'revenge' which Big Flame seems to see as rational). Neither Begin nor any other Jew, zionist or otherwise, is responsible for anti-semitism. This is solely the responsibility of anti-semites. Big Flame did apologise for this statement in its following issue, but attitudes such as this are not simply 'mistakes'. They are intrinsic to the way sections of the Left hold the entire international Jewish community responsible for the actions of one, or some, or many, Jews.

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© 1984 Steve Cohen, edited and produced by Libby Lawson and Erica Bunnan.
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