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Vol. 25 No. 1 · 2 January 2003
Poem

On Being Dealt the Anti-Semitic Card

Tom Paulin

The first answer is Beckett’s
in another context – to ‘Mr Beckett
they say that you are English?’
he answered ‘au contraire’
– he didn’t say ‘I am not dot dot’
which plays their game
– in this case the ones who play the a-s card –
of death threats hate mail talking tough
the usual cynical Goebbels stuff
so I say the same
and say that peace it must be talked
re Palestine and re Iraq
– Israel has got the bomb
but that’s not why
no one in their right mind
says Israel should be swept into the sea
– historic guilt
is and must be always with us
– it knows the railway line to Auschwitz
went unbombed
it counts the refugees turned back
and sees that Nacht und Nebel track
they called the Himmelfahrt
the long unthinkable – must be always thought –
– go back
see England and Ireland
force the Jews out
watch the Crusaders
those mailclad terrorist invaders
making rivers of blood
in Palestine
(not Virgil via Enoch Powell)
recall the Dreyfus case
anti-semites packed
in Austria-Hungary and Poland
Croatia the Ukraine
– the list is endless
it turns one’s bowels
and must be made in every generation
as we count the sinister 15+ per cent
of Le Pen French
– but they hate black people Arabs
and constantly attack them
the Battle of Algiers they’re still fighting
they want the guillotine brought back
in a culture built on comme il faut
and quite unwilling
to admit its faults
– so taste the deep uneasy darkness
in our Enlightenment
savants and philosophes going down the rungs
of that tight unsteady Aufklärung
back into that bony stinking ragshop
whence they sprung
(we mustn’t though be mastered by De Maistre
who in his manner sees what’s wrong)
as Berlin – Isaiah – shows
who dying called
for fairness to all those
– those Palestinians
he never named them
who suffered Nakba
(catastrophe in 48)
and still suffer it
– the refugees it’s now their turn
to have that human right – return
sold at Oslo down the river
by Arafat that double-ditherer
– artless arkless Arafat
but all this guilt
– guilt that stings
is now fitted to a programme
– Christian fundamentalist
born again into that Zion
we all are touched by
– are spitted on
(when Israel went out of Egypt
the House of Jacob from a people
of strange language – the hills
saw this and leapt
they leapt like lambs
– I harken to it
to that liberation text
Milton set in Greek and English verse
before it got twisted)
the programme though
of saying Israel’s critics
are tout court anti-semitic
is designed daily by some schmuck
to make you shut the fuck up
– so keep your head down
in the sands
or police the Index
of what can and cannot be said
and don’t utter a word
or a single sound
and if you do you won’t be heard
authors take sides on spain
Beckett answered Auden’s question
with ¡Up the Republic!
and went on to fight the Occupation
– no talk of Beckett’s Croix de Guerre
only cricket scores and mouldy Wisdens
authors take sides on palestine
where was that piece?
where do we stand?
on a career path
where darlings pass from job to job
ignoring who’s been robbed
ignoring what the British did
decades back in Palestine
we must create
who was it in the 20s said
another little Ulster*
now watch those darlings as they glide
over shifting sands
lost in the dark
or bowing their heads
below those guilt-inducing wands
waved like flags
above the Shankill Road
so the Palestinians they’re forgotten
– robbed dying wrecked
the victims of the victims
out on a severed a dying limb
waiting for the next Nakba
when they’ll be pushed out into Jordan
– this is Sharon’s plan
soon as Bush and Blair they hit Iraq
– now as the reed sea bends
– collusive sensitive in two minds
granting the settlers squatters’ rights –
it parts to let yet more soldiers through

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Letters

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.

Peter Pulzer
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.

Paul Seabright
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.

Caryll Faraldi
Luxor

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