Poem: ‘On Being Dealt the Anti-Semitic Card’
[*] Sir Ronald Storrs, the first British governor of Jerusalem, wrote of British support for Zionism that Palestine would be ‘for England a “little loyal Jewish Ulster” in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism’.
Vol. 25 No. 2 · 23 January 2003
In his poem ‘On Being Dealt the Anti-Semitic Card’ (LRB, 2 January), Tom Paulin doesn’t ask whether the card he is handed has any connection with the cards he himself deals. Is he simply the victim of such accusations in order to make him ‘police the Index/of what can and cannot be said’? No doubt there has been an escalation of intemperate rhetoric on both sides, to which Paulin has been no mean contributor. The notional ‘Index’ may not specify what can be said, but it does give some guidance on how to say it. Or is he the target of fatwas because he denies the legitimacy of Israel as a state, which is to imply that all peoples may have nation-states, with just one exception? Most likely, however, it is because of his – and others’ – predilection for likening Israeli soldiers to the SS and West Bank settlers to Nazis. To criticise the actions of such persons is one thing – half the Israeli press does it on a daily basis; to equate them, in grotesque defiance of all proportionality, with the Jews’ worst oppressors is a deliberate insult. Long poems deploring Auschwitz, Kristallnacht, Dreyfus and the Crusades do not tip the scales against that. The anti-semitic threat today comes not from dead white Jew-haters but from the Middle East, where Egyptian television beams out the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Syrian Defence Minister repeats the ‘ritual murder’ libel and Ayatollah Khameni is the keynote speaker at Holocaust denial conferences. When Paulin publicly and explicitly denounces these developments, without prompting and with no ifs and buts, his bona fides will become more credible.
All Souls College, Oxford
Vol. 25 No. 4 · 20 February 2003
Peter Pulzer (Letters, 23 January) puts his finger on a difficult point when he writes that for Tom Paulin to deny ‘the legitimacy of Israel as a state … is to imply that all peoples may have nation-states, with just one exception.’ Is there no room then for a point of view that would deny any peoples as such the entitlement to a nation-state, which sees nation-states as owing duties to their citizens without preference based on ethnicity, and which sees ethnicity as an appropriate basis for other forms of community than the nation-state? One need not be naive about the difficulties of implementing secularism, or about the character of many of Israel’s neighbouring states, to feel that theocracy and ethnicity as pillars of statehood are not a promising foundation for world peace in the 21st century.
University of Toulouse
Whether or not Tom Paulin chooses to respond to Peter Pulzer, there is no need for him to ‘publicly and explicitly denounce’ the broadcast on Egyptian television of a historical drama series partly based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This has already been done by numerous Egyptian politicians, academics, critics and journalists.
The episode has, however, had one beneficial outcome, in that many more Egyptians are now aware of the true nature of the Protocols than they were before November’s broadcast. In fact, external censure is usually counter-productive in Egypt; the backtracking by Egyptian state television in this case was the consequence of internal Egyptian criticism. The controversy caused many informed Egyptians to watch a series that otherwise they may well have not watched; and hundreds of academics and intellectuals subsequently wrote letters of protest to President Mubarak. However, the last word appeared in an article by President Mubarak’s chief political adviser, Dr Osama El-Baz, published in Arabic in Al-Ahram – an abridged English translation was published in Al-Ahram Weekly.