Bistro anti-Semitism is different. Bistros are fashionable restaurants where academic leftists will typically go to eat, talk, discuss, and debate. And I think that bistro anti-Semitism is very slippery, very elastic. It basically tries to be anti-Semitic and deny that it is anti-Semitic.
You often hear people saying, “It’s not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel,” and absolutely, it’s not. If somebody says, for example, “I think Israel should be more restrained in its bombing operations in Gaza,” well, we might agree, we might disagree, but that’s not anti-Semitism. But I think somebody who says, “Israel is the inheritor of Nazi Germany” – that we as Jews have become exactly the same as the people who murdered us – that’s open anti-Semitism.
Years ago, Rabbi Meir Kahane blamed some of the world’s anti-Israel sentiment on Israel’s failure to annex the territories. He wrote, “If something is really yours, you leap upon it, you proclaim it so and you take every step possible to insure that it will be yours forever. If you do not, then your pious speeches about ownership will be met with doubt and disbelief. And on the other hand, when the other side – the Arabs – daily, hourly, and loudly, shout and proclaim that the land is ‘Palestine,’ what the world sees is an apparent choice between Arabs who claim that the land is theirs and who fight and die for it, and Jews who keep a ‘status quo’…. What do we expect from an objective person?” Do you think Rabbi Kahane had a point?
Look, let me just say generally, I’m not a Kahanist, and I reject what Kahane stood for. I’m against any kind of theory of collective responsibility. I try to see the world in a nuanced way. I don’t want to talk about “the Arabs,” “the Jews,” “the Iranians.” There are differences of opinion within all these groups. And I don’t think we do ourselves any favors by attacking all Arabs or all Muslims collectively. I think the threat is bad enough without having to engage in our own demonization….
I think had Israel annexed the West Bank in 1967, the other side would still be claiming it, so I don’t think the act of legal annexation would have removed the issue of the Palestinians from the world agenda, and I actually think it was very wise that the Israelis didn’t do that. I think it’s good that they kept their options open.
Moving to the U.S. and its actions during the Gaza conflict: Jewish Press columnist Aaron Klein last week quoted an Egyptian official who complained that Secretary of State John Kerry “acts more like a first-year college student taking a course on the Middle East than a diplomat who knows what’s going on.” How do you explain Kerry’s actions?
I think the first point to make is that this administration is the most difficult Israel has had to deal with since Jimmy Carter. The warmth that previous administrations felt toward Israel and the appreciation of previous administrations of the strategic relationship with Israel is pretty much absent here.
So I think the question is: Why is that the case? Now, a lot of people say the Obama administration does not have a vision for the Middle East – and that’s typical of its foreign policy generally. It’s very reactive, it makes policy on the hoof, and it doesn’t think three or four steps ahead which you need to do when you’re doing foreign policy.
To an extent, all of that is true. But I think it actually slightly underestimates what this administration is doing. I think the key point to remember is that since 1979 a key assumption of the United States has been that Iran is an enemy. I think what’s happened under Obama is that that has been transformed. They’re basically saying Iran is a state we can do business with. And that’s going to significantly impact relations with Israel for the worse….