Sunday, February 13, 2005

Ian Buruma on attitudes to Israel worldwide

Rootless cosmopolitan - and my second favourite journalist - Ian Buruma writes on perceptions of Israel, America and the relationship between the two in the NY Times magazine. As ever, Buruma's probably the only person who, as an ex-Far Eastern Economic Review culture editor, ex-foreign editor of the Spectator, prolific journalist and Anglo-Dutchman to be able to draw links across so many cultures and understand the ways in which very different cultures misunderstand each other.

Earlier this year, Representative James Moran, a Democrat, said that ''if it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this.'' In Britain, Tam Dalyell, a longstanding Labor member of Parliament, expressed a similar view. Tony Blair, he opined, was listening too much to a ''cabal'' of Jews around President Bush that included Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; an under secretary of defense, Douglas Feith; Richard Perle, a member of the Defense Policy Board; Elliott Abrams, director of Middle East Affairs in the White House; and the former presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer. ''Those people drive this policy,'' Dalyell said.

Dalyell was ''worried about my country being led up the garden path on a Likudnik-Sharon agenda'' by British Jews close to Blair. He included among them Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, a Christian, whose rather distant Jewish family connections are very unlikely to make him a Likudnik.

The fact that James Moran had to apologize immediately, while the British M.P. was under no compulsion to do so, shows a profound difference between the United States and Europe, or indeed anywhere else in the world. Although Moran's opinion may be shared by other Americans, it is not something mainstream politicians can vocalize. Even legitimate criticism of Israel, or of Zionism, is often quickly denounced as anti-Semitism by various watchdogs. In European political discourse, not only is anti-Zionism quite acceptable, but so are vague allegations of too much Jewish influence in public life, especially across the Atlantic. And in the non-Western world, it's not even necessary to keep such allegations vague.