Mel Gibson, Israel and the war on Lebanon

Condemning Israel is not the same as anti-semitism, writes Marcus Strom.

Mel Gibson's anti-semitic rant while drunk and under arrest will not come as a surprise to anyone who has seen The Passion of Christ. The film, which has grossed more than $US620m at the box office, repeats the lie that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus Christ, the Christian and Muslim saviour-cum-prophet. And while Mel Gibson's views on Judaism may be reprehensible, what is most shocking about them is that they express a view held by many conservative Catholics.

In the United States, it is the fundamentalist Protestant sects and their frothing-at-the-mouth enrich-yourselves proselytisers that have an unholy alliance with Zionism. The formation of Israel is confirmation of their apocalyptic interpretation of Revelations. In January, Baptist televangelist Pat Robertson claimed that Ariel Sharon's illness was possibly retribution from god for his recent drive to give more land to the Palestinians.

The Catholic church's explicit alliance with fascism in Spain, Italy and Croatia in the first half of the last century and its implicit apologia for the Jewish holocaust for much of the rest, is just one more stain on that bloody institutions brutalising history. The Vatican issued a number apologies to Jews at the turn of the millennium, but tellingly only acknowledged sins by those acting in the name of the church, not by the church itself or those who have served as pontiff.

Much of the hype around Gibson's rant suggests his "career is over" in Hollywood. While this is pretty unlikely given his wealth and power in Tinsel Town, that it is even raised will add to the fires of Gibson's paranoid worldview of Jewish conspiracies.

At one level, what goes on in Gibson's fetid imagination is of little consequence. But it does show that anti-semitism is alive and well in the world.

It is more serious when it leads to political violence. On Sunday July 30, the synagogue at Parramatta in Sydney's west was attacked. According to police a block of cement was hurled through the glass doors of an attached residence and the windows of two cars on the property were smashed. Australian Jewish News reports anti-semitic graffiti daubed on three Sydney synagogues, three Melbourne synagogues and two Jewish schools.

Such attacks are indefensible. Our war is not on Judaism or on Israelis. On the contrary, it is only by winning Israeli Jews to a democratic and secular settlement for the Middle East that lasting peace can be won.

That is why the slogans and direction that the anti-war movement takes are so important. The collapse of secular nationlism and mass socialist consciousness in the Arab world has led to the growth of the Islamic movement and the reactionary-idealist vision of the reborn Caliphate. It is clear that the reactionary anti-imperialism of Hezbollah and Hamas has mass support and a social base. By no sane analysis can these organisations be considered "terrorist" in the classic sense. As well as a reactionary vision of the future, they also undertake social programs to counter the corruption and failure of the central state. Hezbollah won 12 per cent of the vote in the most recent Lebanese elections. Hamas is the government in the Palestine authority.

Many secular socialists believe that there is something progressive in any anti-imperialism. This is frankly bonkers. And because of this, they dampen its criticism of the anti-semitism of the likes of Al-Qaeda, the Iranian government and the like in order to pursue a political alliance with the mosque. This approach led to the left's support for Khomeinei's murderous rise to power in Iran on the backs of the slaughtered socialist movement.

This muting of criticsim on the crimes of political Islam is the basis of George Galloway and the SWP's Respect party in Britain. Subordination of democratic principle for a convenient alliance. The very definition of opportunism. It led to writers in the SWP's newspaper, Socialist Worker, claim that the veil and the regime in Tehran "has not stopped Iranian women playing an active role in all areas of public life" and imply that the Taliban enforce separation between men and women and put women in the veil for their own good. “The Taliban’s treatment of women reflects both the underdevelopment of the villages the Taliban had come from and the trauma of the war years. Like every other guerrilla group [sic], they were composed of men who had spent years in fighting units. Taliban leaders feared that their soldiers would behave as some previous mujahadeen groups had on taking a city. The war years had seen repeated abuse and rape of women. They said that forcing women into seclusion was a means of protecting them.” (Socialist Worker UK, October 6, 2001)

This leads into very murky waters. Fundamentally it means a call for the destruction of Israel from outside its borders; for an Arab war of annihilation on Israel. John Rees, leader of the British SWP, admitted this much to me during the Rifondazione Comunista congress in 2001 where we were both international delegates.

"Freedom for Palestine" on its own is just too broad a slogan on which to build a democratic anti-war movement. It can be supported by Christian liberals, socialist opportunists, neo-Nazi boneheads and Osama bin Laden.

For sections of the secular left, "Freedom for Palestine" means unity of Arab and Jew in a single, democratic secular state of Palestine. Of course, this sounds like a supportable ideal. However, concretely this denies the national rights of Israeli Jews who wish to have their own state. The right to self-determination of nations is for all nations, not just oppressed nations. Without grasping this fact, we merely reverse the poles of oppression. And in the Middle East, denying Israeli Jews their national rights is akin to the old slogan of "drive them into the sea".

The formation of Israel was a crime against the Palestinian people. Until the Israelis recognise this, there can be no settlement with the Arab world. However, just as the formation of Australia, New Zealand and the nations of the Americas were crimes against the indigenous people of those places, no one suggests that Australia, New Zealand or the US does not have the right to exist.

The continued bloodshed in the Middle East is a daily reminder of the failures of the socialist and communist movement in the 20th century. We cannot repeat our failures by failing to take up a democratic program for Israel and Palestine and the Arab world. Without such a program, we leave the running to the reactionary zealots of Islam and the imperialist attack dogs of Zionism.

The 20,000-strong demonstration in Sydney on July 22 against Israel's war on Lebanon was a tremendous reaction to a brutal campaign of collective punishment by the Zionists in Tel Aviv. That Jews launch such brutal collective punishment on a people is a sick irony. The anti-war movement in Australia and globally must demand the right of a democratic, free and secular Palestine, but it must also aid the minority in Israel that campaigns for a democracy, freedom and secularism in that country, too.

Sheikh Taj Aldin Alhilali, the mufti of Australia based at the Lakemba mosque, immediately condemned the attack on the Parramatta synagogue. However, we cannot leave it to Muslim leaders to condemn such acts. This is the business of the whole movement. The anti-war movement must be won to a democratic program to unite the millions of Australians outraged by this war.

Our revulsion at anti-semitism and our condemnation of reactionary anti-imperialism does not make us lose sight of the fact that it is imperialism that is the main enemy of the people of the Middle East; Arab and Jew. It is the failure of the US-Israel blueprint for the region that is behind this barbaric war on Lebanon.

However, the Israeli government and its most vociferous Zionist supporters say that any criticism of Israel is anti-Jewish. To hide behind the holocaust is an outrage; to put any criticisms of Israel in the same bracket as Mel Gibson's anti-semitic rants is to desecrate the memory of six million slaughtered Jews.


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