The Baltic States and Israel

July 15, 2010

By Leonidas Donskis
What is the relationship between the Baltic States and Israel? Obviously, it is different from that between  Old Europe and Israel. There is hardly anything surprising in that. Israel has become an inescapable part of anti-American discourse, due to its perception in the world as a staunch friend and ally of the United States, even if it goes at the expense of good relations with Europe. The U.S. and Israel have become part of the new hate discourses that legitimized themselves over the past twenty years as politically correct and sensible forms of the fight for the well-being and freedom of the oppressed, dispossessed, or underrepresented peoples.

Incredible as it sounds, New Europe is increasingly becoming closer to Israel than Old Europe, to use the phrase coined by Donald Rumsfeld. True, the ancient and worn-out forms of anti-Semitism are much stronger in Lithuania than, say, in Great Britain or France, yet on a closer look it appears that the Baltic States, like other Central European states, are much more pro-Israel now than Western European countries.

For the former republics or satellite states of the Soviet Union, Israel symbolized a small and stubborn foe of the monster. People in Eastern or Central Europe may have been anti-Semitic, yet they secretly kept their fingers crossed for Israel and admired its historic victory in the Six-Day War. Soviet foreign policies were unthinkable without a fiercely anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli stance, accompanied by the support of the Arab countries and their terrorism; hence fascination for the foe and adversary.

At this point, things were different in Western Europe. Whereas anti-Semitism of the Far Right totally discredited itself there after World War II, new forms of anti-Semitism emerged from the Radical Left over the past decades. They tend to masquerade as sympathy and compassion for the underrepresented and dispossessed communities and peoples, like the Palestinian Arabs, yet the fact is that the Radical Left never condemned nearly zoological hatred of the Jews and Israel in the Arab world and in Iran, including the wide use of Nazi cartoons that have been remade, even taken straight from Der Sturmer.

The same applies to Muslim fanaticism and the hatred of the modern world, whose most ferocious forms have rightly merited the term “Islamofascism,” yet which have never been dealt with by the European Left in a principled way. George Orwell once made an insightful remark in his “Notes on Nationalism,” suggesting that such political and moral ambivalence of the Left results from their secret admiration of successful violence.

Violence is never tolerated in the West, and rightly so, but once it occurs elsewhere, strong attempts are made to justify it as a form of the struggle for independence and freedom or as legitimate resistance to the domination of the West. Terror and violence are, therefore, not ruled out or otherwise dismissed as a method of political fight; instead, they are relocated to the ideological and political rivals of the West.

Needless to say, many forms of ideological anti-Semitism exist nowadays. In fact, some of them come from the Left. They originate from and bear some family resemblance to such prominent thinkers of the Left as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Eugen Karl Duhring, and Karl Marx himself who, according to the Latvian-born British political theorist and historian of ideas Sir Isaiah Berlin, was a self-hating Jew and an ideological anti-Semite. All in all, it would be naive to reduce anti-Semitism to the far Right, whose anti-Semitism was totally discredited a long time ago. Yet the Left produced a potent anti-globalist and anti-modernist sentiment, which successfully blended with anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment.

It is too obvious to need emphasis that we would be naive dismissing this sentiment on the grounds of the fact that the Left is allegedly immune against hate discourses and hatred. Otherwise, we will never explain where the mad idea of the boycott of Israeli students and academics comes from. It is a form of intellectual segregation and a shameful symptom of collective punishment of people, many of whom are critical of their own political class.

This is not to say that we have to describe fair and justified criticism of Israeli policies, not to mention the occupation, settlements, or the blockade of Gaza, as just another face of anti-Semitism. What I am strongly against, however, is a propensity of some European leftists to employ such terms as “a Nazi state” or the “Holocaust of the Palestinians” when dealing with Israel. Such phrases and pearls of wisdom not only subvert and trivialize history. Far from innocent, they indeed are nothing other than a kind of sophisticated anti-Semitism in disguise, a sort of postmodern anti-Semitism and hate discourse masquerading as sensitivity and compassion for the victims of the “fifty-first state of the U.S.” and of the West in general.

Or take, for example, the numerous attempts to boycott Israeli academics and universities in the UK or the recent attempt to ban an Israeli movie in France, which are instances of madness, censorship and shocking barbarity. Even in the former Soviet Union, not to mention its successor state, that is, present day Russia, and China with their methodical extermination of journalists, critics and dissenters, were never treated like that. Everybody believed at that time, as we continue to do now, that culture, people and academics are our hope for the future, and a potent alternative to misguided politics of their respective states.

I can hardly believe that any sober- and fair-minded person would oppose this. Let me repeat it over and over again that to dismiss fair and legitimate criticism of a democratic state, such as Israel, is the last thing we should do. Yet we cannot tolerate the attempts to single out Israel, demonizing it in a time when the massacre of half a million people in Darfur, or the genocide of Chechens in Russia, went almost unnoticed in the world.

The Baltic States and Israel seem to have become a litmus test case of modernity with its recent fixations, obsessions, and forms of indifference. Nobody is faultless and perfect in this world: the Baltic States, although they do not quite compare to Israel at this point, are young democracies, so they will have to tackle many challenges and to learn many lessons ahead of themselves.

To sum it up, the inescapable right of a small people to have a state and political existence, even if it challenges the Realpolitik of some major powers, will always be justified by the commitment of the new actor to democracy and human rights. The question is whether the new entity increases the number of democratic states in the world, or decreases it, thus dealing a blow to democracy and putting forward the grim alternative to it posed by authoritarian capitalism or, even worse, a blend of corruption, terror and violent politics.

Leonidas Donskis, Ph.D., is a Lithuanian Member of the European Parliament.  

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