Guardian

The ‘utilitarian’ Zionism of the Guardian’s Giles Fraser


Giles Fraser’s April 5 column in the Guardian about Zionism in the context of the recent rise of right-wing antisemitism in Hungary includes the following passages:

Regularly, on the Hungarian football terraces, a familiar nursery rhyme is chanted, with the words adapted to “the train goes to Auschwitz”.

Budapest may have Central Europe‘s largest population of Jews, but some of them are now asking themselves if it is time to leave. A month after the Israel match, a prominent leader of the Jewish community was beaten up by thugs in the street who screamed at him “rotten filthy Jews, you will all die”. The Holy Crown radio station – registered in the US, and thus protected by their freedom of speech laws – defended the attack as “a response to general Jewish terrorism”. And last November, the leader of the far right Jobbik party, the third largest party in the Hungarian parliament, called for influential Hungarian Jews to be catalogued and assessed as a national security risk. Elsewhere, Jewish graves are being desecrated and, encouraged by the government, statues are being erected to Nazi ally Miklós Horthy. With a failing currency, sky-rocketing unemployment and government credit rating reduced to junk status, all this is frighteningly reminiscent of the past.

Fraser then pivots to Zionism:

Which is why re-reading Theodor Herzl’s The Jewish Question in a Budapest cafe, opposite the astonishingly beautiful Dohány Street Synagogue, feels, once again, so topical. Herzl was born in 1860 in the house next to the synagogue and had his bar mitzvah there. Later he left for Austria and went on to become the founding father of modern Zionism.

Herzl’s sense that even assimilated Jews are not always protected by their integration with surrounding society was well made.

Indeed.

Fraser then proceeds to explain the following:

I am a Zionist

He then adds the following disclaimer:

[I am] not an Israel right-or-wrong type of Zionist. Not a supporter of the settlement movement type of Zionist, and absolutely not a supporter of the shameful treatment of Palestinians type of Zionist. Tragically, the left-leaning universalist idealism of the likes of Herzl feels increasingly like a thing of the past in modern Israeli politics.

Fraser adds:

But for all Israel’s political blunders and military brutality, the place to look for the necessity of the state of Israel is not in Israel itself but in places like Budapest.

Fraser’s Zionism, as with many who similarly fancy themselves more ‘enlightened’ Zionists, seems based not on the Jews’ right to national self-determination, but on the state’s usefulness to European diaspora Jewish communities – a Jewish state whose continued existence, it would follow, is primarily ‘justified’ by virtue of the safe haven it provides for persecuted Jews throughout the world.

Whilst it is of course true that one of Zionism’s moral missions pertains to the Jewish state’s role as (what Herzl termed) ‘Guardian of the Jews, the nation, now established, no longer needs any further justification.  The rights of the modern Jewish state – now re-established – are not forever in a state of limbo awaiting the results of an ongoing assessment – or periodic review – tasked to affirm or deny its value.  

A nation’s rights – as with the rights afforded to individuals – which are in any way contingent upon the benevolence of others are not rights at all, but would more aptly be described as ‘privileges’.

For thousands of years European Jews were subjected to the whims and wishes of non-Jewish rulers – required to accept that whatever political liberties or physical safety they may have temporarily enjoyed in their ‘host country’ was always precarious, and often continually required that they demonstrate the usefulness of their presence.  A truly liberal case against antisemitism – expressed towards Jews as individuals and as a nation – would necessarily include the rejection such utilitarian arguments for Jewish freedom.

Nobody, argued Israel’s late foreign minister Abba Eban, “does Israel any service by proclaiming its ‘right to exist’ – a right, he added, “like that of the United States, Saudi Arabia and [every] other state”, which is “axiomatic and unreserved”.

The Jewish state’s inherent right to continued political independence is not a reward it must earn, a favor to be granted or a privilege to be bestowed. 

49 replies »

  1. I think you’re being harsh on Fraser here.

    Whilst it is of course true that one of Zionism’s moral missions pertains to the Jewish state’s role as (what Herzl termed) ‘Guardian of the Jews‘, the nation, now established, no longer needs any further justification.

    Obviously you agree with Fraser on the first point. Otherwise he’s just saying that it’s a good thing for victims of anti-Semitism outside Israel that the latter exists.

    In this case, I think you’re trying too hard to pick a fight with the Guardian – and possibly with Fraser in particular because he is a critic of the West Bank settlements.

    Fraser’s Zionism, as with many who similarly fancy themselves more ‘enlightened’ Zionists, seems based not on the Jews’ right to national self-determination, but on the state’s usefulness to European diaspora Jewish communities

    You yourself say that the existence of Israel no longer needs any further justification. I see nothing in Fraser’s article that says otherwise.

  2. Fraser went out of his way to disassociate himself from actually Israelis before defending the state’s utility. Further, he never indicated an appreciation for the fact that the only reason why Israel remains a safe haven for Jews in the diaspora is because of the everyday sacrifices that actual Israelis (the nation’s citizens and political and military leaders) make to keep it safe in the face of fierce and determined opposition to its existence.

    • Fraser went out of his way to disassociate himself from actually Israelis

      Really?

      As for your second point: his article is specifically about e.g. the diaspora.

      Fraser’s article was IMO not just reasonable but very welcome (as Commentary101 says below).

      Sadly many of the BTL comments are, of course, anything but that.

      • No. What gets Adam’s (and my) goat here is the snobbery . Fraser is classing himself above so-called “riff-raff” Zionists to make his point. He is saying : “I am a traditional good old Herzl type of Zionist. I am not one of them!”

        • Really ? Have you borrowed Adam’s magnifying glass ? What do you think of people who class themselves above “so-called” leftist Zionists by referring to them as self-hating Jews, fifth columnists, traitors, etc, etc ? The “snobbery” of the super-patriots ?

  3. In the context of today’s Guardian, though I agree with your premise, I would however assuage Fraser’s oversights, and, concur with Pretz’s observations in this case.
    Fraser’s article is a rare sight on CiF; whereat hatred of Israel is a sine qua non for ‘progressive’ credentials, his is a lone, sane voice in otherwise ghoulish surroundings.
    So, despite many reservations(as you point out), I would still thank him for what he has written. The situation in Hungary is worrying; the EU’s silence on that — though expected, hypocritical — is also a sign of the helplessness of the case, and if someone in that soulless crevasse known as the Guardian can still highlight such issues and not be reflexively opposed to Israel’s very existence, it’s a marvel, and quite a welcome one, at that..
    (Beats having Musa Abu-Marzuq or Haniyeh any day, I’ll tell you that!)

    • Commentary:
      You don’t understand: there has to be something wrong with the article if it appeared in the Guardian and our man Adam is ever-vigilant with his giant magnifying glass. I’m surprised that he quoted (shudder) a left-wing politician (Abba Eban) to prove his point ….. 🙂

      • Your presence here, “external”, is unclear to me. If you really don’t know how many times the Guardian has published clerical fascists, like Hamas spox. then I suggest you consult the archives here; or the many times its “contributors” have called for ridding the world of Israel, of declaring its very existence a blight on humanity…
        If you don’t like what’s written here, you know how to exit this place
        (And Eban today would have been considered a Right-wing, “settlerist”[sic], “ZioNazi” on the Guardian).

  4. … the place to look for the necessity of the state of Israel is not in Israel itself but in places like Budapest.
    Fraser should have been more honest:
    … the place to look for the necessity of the state of Israel is not in Israel itself but in places like Budapest, the chambers of the UK Parliament, the offices of the Guardian, the conferences of some British trade unions and the British courtrooms.
    Undoubtedly in Hungary the situation of the minorities (not only the Jews but especially the Roma people) is catastrophic, but I wouldn’t compare it to the oh so righteous Western Europe. In Hungary the instigators of today’s antisemitism are the uneducated, the losers, the football hooligans, the neo-Nazis (financed by Iran) who are tolerated and exploited by some voter hungry and unprincipled right wing politicians. The vast majority of the intelligentsia and the whole of the left are strongly against it. In Hungary if a representative called for international investigation of Israeli organ harvesting or gave a warm hug for Quaradawi then everybody would know who they are, what they want and what is their agenda. Not so in Western-Europe where mainstream socialist politicians participate in demonstrations where the mob chants “Jews to the gas”, where well known internationally renowned leftist professor suggests to learn from the Protocols.
    Somehow i don’t remember any article in the Guardian writing about the Norwegian TV personality who mourned the fleas and lice on Holocaust victims and the Norwegian government’s resistance to condemn it or the socialist mayor of Malmo in Sweden who can’t protect the city Jewish minority against violent attacks until they won’t condemn Zionism and Israel.. The mainstream left Hungarian media don’t promote anti-Semite incitement about any number of Jewish children,
    don’t give forum for murderous Jew hating terrorist leaders and don’t allow to publish “Deborah Orr style antisemitic tropes.
    The situation in Hungary is very bad – only a slightly better than in Western Europe.

    • Not so in Western-Europe where mainstream socialist politicians participate in demonstrations where the mob chants “Jews to the gas”, where well known internationally renowned leftist professor suggests to learn from the Protocols.

      Details?

      • You must be confusing me with your research assistant, but good to see your total and absolute ignorance on the subject of European anti-Semitism you are commenting about frequently with complete self confidence.
        Re: jews to the gas
        http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/dutch-mp-i-never-heard-gaza-protesters-shouting-jews-to-the-gas-1.268152
        http://www.jta.org/news/article/2012/11/19/3112306/protesters-chant-hamas-jews-to-gas-in-antwerp
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_van_Bommel
        and a lot more links

        Re: well known internationally renowned leftist professor suggests to learn from the Protocols.
        From wikipedia:

        Johan Galtung (born 24 October 1930) is a Norwegian sociologist, mathematician and the principal founder of the discipline of peace and conflict studies.[1] He founded the Peace Research Institute Oslo in 1959, serving as its director until 1970, and established the Journal of Peace Research in 1964. In 1969 he was appointed to the world’s first chair in peace and conflict studies, at the University of Oslo. He resigned his professorship in 1977 and has since held professorships at other universities. He was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1987
        ….
        Galtung was accused of antisemitism in May of 2012 (a charge he denies) by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz for: (1) suggesting the possibility of a link between the 2011 Norway attacks and Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad, (2) maintaining that “six Jewish companies” largely control the US media, (3) identifying what he contends are ironic similarities between the banking firm Goldman Sachs and the conspiratorial Elders of Zion and (4) theorizing that although not justified, anti-Semitism in post–World War I Germany was a predictable consequence of German Jews holding influential positions. As a result of such statements, in May 2012 TRANSCEND International, an organisation co-founded by Galtung, released a statement attempting to clarify his opinions. On August 8, 2012, the World Peace Academy in Basel, Switzerland announced it was suspending Galtung from its organization, citing what it posited were his “reckless and offensive statements to questions that are specifically sensitive for Jews

        • You must be confusing me with your research assistant

          Ha ha. I bet you’re the life and soul of any party.

          Well, once everyone else has slashed their wrists with the sole plastic knife.

          • This is for you too pretzel – fresh from today’s Jerusalem Post:
            BERLIN – The Social Democratic party of Sweden – the country’s largest political party – has been accused of failing to confront anti-Semitism within the party’s ranks.
            Omar Mustafa, chairman of the Islamic Association in Sweden who was recently elected to the governing board of the Social Democratic party, was on Monday the subject of an expose in the Swedish anti-racist magazine Expo for questionable ties to documented anti-Semites.

            • You talk about my “total and absolute ignorance on the subject of European anti-Semitism”.

              Which makes you – and the mental midgets supporting your post – a rather sad joke.

  5. PeterTheHungarian-interesting comments, can you provide some further information about Iran financing neo-Nazi groups in Hungary

  6. This article points exactly to the reason for the extreme anti-Semitism in Europe – they simply cannot stand the fact that Israel exists and that Jews will no longer bow to them. The only way the Europeans are comfortable is with dead Jews (Oh, the Holocaust was terrible, if only we had known!) or living, subservient ones. The idea of free Jews, in charge in their own country, is more than they can stand.

      • Why should anyone (except with patheteic “anti-Zionists”) read something written by a failed politician who after losing a democratic election and being unable to control his narcistic fury left his country and makes a living out of turning against it?
        I would suggest to Irit that if she wants to click on your link – she should do it with an empty stomach…

        • Brilliant reply … just what I would expect from you. Why are you so afraid to read it ?
          Do you also refuse to read articles written by the endless stream of failed narcissist right-wing politicians, e.g. Effie Eitam, who publicly stated that he believes that God sent him to save the country … ? So much for your “patriotic” politicians who are leading the country on a sure path to disaster. BTW. the article has nothing to do with Israeli politics.

          Isn’t it amazing how many self-hating fifth-column Jews get into positions of power in Israel ?

          • Why are you so afraid to read it ?
            There must be a serious misundersatnding here.
            My fears have nothing to do with reading articles. I simply don’t waste my time for Burg-like nobodies..
            Do you also refuse to read articles written by the endless stream of failed narcissist right-wing politicians, e.g. Effie Eitam, who publicly stated that he believes that God sent him to save the country …
            Yes I do. The difference is that I never wasted my time for Eitan.
            So much for your “patriotic” politicians who are leading the country…
            So much for your ignorance. Eitan left politics for good years ago and he has nothing to do with “leading the country”.
            …on a sure path to disaster.
            Your worries about our fate is simply sob-inducing.

        • Peter, thank you, I know who Burg is and what he says. I would never click on any link given by someone of that ilk, because one cannot trust that it would not be linked to viruses or worse.

      • Burg is entitled to his opinion, whether I agree with it or not. Or do you, like other anti-Semites, imagine that all of World Jewry is entitled to only one opinion, and you should be the one to decide what that is? Too bad for you, we don’t kowtow to the likes of you anymore, and if you don’t like it, tough.

    • The only way the Europeans are comfortable is with dead Jews

      Ah, go fuck yourself. Really. What an appalling thing to say.

      • You have been on this site for a long time so I don’t understand why you are surprised at this type of comment.

        Read the Avraham Bug article (link posted above). He provides an interesting analysis of the mentality behind statements like that.

        • You’re saying that Europeans in general like to see Jews dead – and also that they like Atzmon.

          Libel!! And a transparently pathetic one at that – not least because only about 1% of people in Europe will even have heard of the man.

          You should be ashamed of yourself.

          • … not least because only about 1% of people in Europe will even have heard of the man.
            Pretzel I suggest you to look up in a vocabulary what the expression “and co” means.

            • And I suggest you stop being such an arrogant prick in what is not your native language.

              And what “truth” anyway? That you’re a bare-faced liar? Europeans like to see Jews dead? What a load of bollocks.

              • As usual – your ability to confront with facts is extremely limited I would say nil. When you don’t have any counterargument then comes in the “you are a barefaced liar,” “what a load of bollocks” etc.
                Thanks for proving again my point regarding your ignorance and cluelessness.
                BTW that Europeans like to see Jews dead is a proven fact. Or the Holocaust was only an unconvenient and tiresome but necessary step? Maybe it happened in Oceania?
                Yes pretzel bollocks…and naturally I’m a bare faced liar as well.

                • BTW that Europeans like to see Jews dead is a proven fact.

                  Me and you are European for starters!

                  God I feel sorry for you, living in your sad deluded little world that.

                • The opposite pretzel. I’m very happy to be a fair distance from the graveyard of six million Jews called Europe. And for starters I’m an israeli and Israel is not in Europe.

                • @ peterthehungarian

                  Like it or not, you’re European.
                  Me too. And I have as much to do with the Holocaust as you do.

      • I would tell you, du Miststück, to do the same, but I doubt very much whether you are up to the job, on yourself, or anyone else.

  7. Is there a point to this article ? If there is (which I doubt) it is probably based on this shameful passage:

    [I am] not an Israel right-or-wrong type of Zionist. Not a supporter of the settlement movement type of Zionist, and absolutely not a supporter of the shameful treatment of Palestinians type of Zionist. Tragically, the left-leaning universalist idealism of the likes of Herzl feels increasingly like a thing of the past in modern Israeli politics.

    What is so terrible about that, Adam ? Why are you so upset and indignant ? Let’s see ….

    Fraser went out of his way to disassociate himself from actually Israelis

    So am I correct that you think that the only “real” Israeli is one who is a “supporter of the settlement movement ….. and … a supporter of the shameful treatment of Palestinians ….” ??

    • I won’t reply to your non-sequitur, but just add more to what I’ve already written. My nation’s “right” to exist is not based on the utility we provide to Jews outside of Israel, nor on whether we pass an ongoing test as to our virtue, but, rather (like every other state in the world) is unreserved, and needs to justification.

      Further, the language Fraser uses in defending Israel would never be used in discussing any other country. Try sounding this out: “What is the necessity of Pakistan?” It doesn’t even make sense, does it? It’s strange that none of the 50+ majority Muslim states are ever asked to justify their continued existence. I wonder why that is.

      • Fraser’s article discusses Theodor Herzl’s “The Jewish Question”, written in 1897 in Hungary, and its relevance today, considering the rising anti-semitism there. The language used is Herzl’s, not Fraser’s. The “right to exist” is questioned by Israel’s opponents, not by Fraser. I am left speechless by your absurd twist of logic here. What really is Fraser’s sin – that he posted his article in the Guardian or that he dared mention “Israel’s political blunders and military brutality” ??

        • Fraser didn’t commit a sin. I took issue with his reasoning, and his moral condescension.

          • No, you took issue with Herzl’s 1897 pre-Israel reasoning and projected it onto 2013 Israeli politics.

            With regards to “moral condescension”, you have dedicated this site to judging everybody from your self-proclaimed position of moral authority. Pot calling kettle ?

            • We’re not in 1897 anymore, nor 1937. The Peel Commission has adjourned. Israel is about to celebrate its 65 birthday, and no longer requires justification. If antisemitism were to vanish from the planet sometime in the future, and Jews no longer needed to take refuge in Israel, the state would have no less ‘right to exist’ than if antisemitism was rampant. That’s the point.

            • Now you are avoiding the issue. Do you agree that Fraser was discussing Herzl’s views, written in 1897 ? Herzl wrote for a pre-Israel readership, selling a new idea to Europe’s Jews – a practical form of Zionism – and naturally he had to “justify” his vision and program. I’m sure that you are aware that his ideas were the direct result of the anti-semitism that he encountered in Budapest, Vienna and Paris. 115 years later Mr Fraser visits the same city and reflects on what Herzl wrote in the light of the current rise in Hungarian anti-semitism. He reaches the same conclusion. So what exactly are you criticising ?? FFS – he wrote this article while reading Herzl’s book !! What is so complicated ???? Did you expect him to criticise Herzl ?? So you don’t like one specific sentence in a long positive article – is that a reason to write this embarrassing nonsense ?

              • I agree with Pretz and Commentary that Adam has been unnecessarily harsh on Fraser, and I am delighted that this article has appeared in the Guardian (though devastated by the circumstances Fraser describes).

                But, external, I disagree that Fraser is discussing Herzl’s 19th century views when he refers to “the necessity of the State of Israel”. In that passage he is clearly giving his own views.

                For the record – I agree both with Fraser, that Israel plays an important role as a “shelter” for oppressed Jews (see Operation Magic Carpet etc), and with Adam that it is distasteful and unconscionable that Israel (and only Israel) has to consistently justify its own existence.

                • I agree both with Fraser, that Israel plays an important role as a “shelter” for oppressed Jews (see Operation Magic Carpet etc), and with Adam that it is distasteful and unconscionable that Israel (and only Israel) has to consistently justify its own existence.

                  Exactly.

              • The exact quote is:

                the place to look for the necessity of the state of Israel is not in Israel itself but in places like Budapest. “I shall now put the question in the briefest possible form: are we to get out now and where to?” asked Herzl back in 1897. For some people, that question remains.

                So Fraser has a personal view of Zionism that differs slightly from Adam’s – big deal, we all disagree on the details in one way or another. What we agree on is that this particular difference of nuance, i.e. “pilpul”, is not worth wasting our time on.

                I think that Adam should read the CiFWatch mission statement again to remind himself who he should be attacking.

              • “…selling a new idea to Europe’s Jews”
                Neither selling nor new, as one has to know before making an ass of one`s self.