Opinion

John Lloyd

The less well Muslims and Jews actually know each other, the more hatred grows

John Lloyd
Aug 7, 2014 15:26 UTC

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In the small town of San Dona di Piave near Venice last Friday, an imam, Raoudi Albdelbar, asked Allah to, “Kill them all (the Jews), down to the last one; make poison of their food; transform the air that they breath into flames, and put terror in their hearts.” The imam was so proud of his sermon that he made a video of it and posted it on his Facebook page — from where it went viral. Earlier this week, Italian antiterrorist police showed up and arrested the imam on charges of inciting violence, and began the process of expelling him to his native Morocco.

There’s a doleful, five-century-old parallel to the iman’s prayer. In his “Trials of the Diaspora,” Antony Julius, a polymath British lawyer, has taken Shylock’s trial in the Merchant of Venice as the ur-trial of diaspora Jews, seeing in it a subtle re-imagining of the old blood libel. In Shylock’s pitiless pursuit of a pound of flesh cut from the merchant Antonio’s body, Julius detects another instance of Jews seeking Christian blood.

Shakespeare gave Shylock a speech that seemed to challenge the dehumanization at the heart of anti-Semitism – “Hath not a Jew eyes. … If you prick us, do we not bleed?” — even as the play drove inexorably to the ghastly humiliation of the Jew. But Shakespeare did not know any Jews; they had been expelled from England in 1290 after centuries of oppression and were not readmitted till the 1650s. Shylock was a composite, born of the normal anti-Semitism of a Christian Englishman but softened by the sympathetic insight of one who recognised common humanity even as he assumed uncommon Jewish malignancy.

For the imam of San Dona di Piave, there is no such generosity. For him, the trial of the Jews should conclude with a mass death sentence — found, as a race, collectively guilty of creating a bloodbath in Gaza, where the victims this time were not Christians but Muslims.

Some among his audience, when later interviewed by a Corriere della Sera reporter, sought to excuse the imam’s remarks. “I understood [his sermon] this way,” said a man named Ali. “There was a massacre of children in Gaza and he prayed to Allah to punish those who did the killing. It’s normal, it seems to me.”

Gaza war may just be a taste of what’s to come

John Lloyd
Aug 4, 2014 11:03 UTC

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The existential vise in which the state of Israel lives is tightening as the civilian body count and property destruction in the Gaza Strip mount. The latest war between Israel and Hamas is further testament to the historical fact that Israel’s forefathers had to conquer the land that today’s Israelis dwell in and ferociously defend. What hope is left of finding a lasting settlement with the Arabs?

In his My Promised Land, Haaretz journalist Ari Shavit repeatedly and poignantly poses his country’s most pointed questions: How to live as free and moral people on the ruins of a dispossessed people? How to assuage the wounds inflicted on the expelled Arabs? And how to cherish the nation-fortress so dearly bought?

“Israel is the only nation in the West that occupies another people,” writes Shavit. “On the other hand, Israel is the only country in the West that is existentially threatened. Both occupation and intimidation make the Israeli state unique. Intimidation and occupation are the twin pillars of our condition.”

As Israel attacks Gaza, Jews elsewhere feel an impact

John Lloyd
Jul 16, 2014 20:37 UTC

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As the death toll in Gaza rises, so does anger against Israel — and sometimes, by extension, Jews — in Europe and elsewhere.

We should mark how unique this is. There’s a very large, and often very rich, Russian community in London — and there are no attacks on Russians or their mansions, restaurants or churches because of the Russian seizure of Crimea and sponsorship of uprisings in eastern Ukraine. 

People from Sri Lanka didn’t live in fear when their government was pounding the Tamil Tigers into submission, with thousands of deaths. Chinese visitors are undisturbed by reaction to their government’s suppression of dissent in Tibet and its jailing of dissidents. And quite right, too. Who knows what Russians, Sri Lankans or Chinese abroad think about their governments’ actions?

Searching for serenity in Israel and Palestine

John Lloyd
Feb 13, 2013 13:57 UTC

After Asher Susser, an Israeli scholar and one of his country’s foremost experts on Middle Eastern affairs, gave a talk in Oslo a few years ago, an audience member asked him a question: How soon, once a Palestinian state is created, will Israel and Palestine unite to form one country? “Twenty-four hours!” Susser said he replied. “Twenty-four hours after Norway and Sweden unite into one Scandinavian state!”

Susser, with whom I spoke recently in London, told the story to illustrate the fact that, as he said, “people value their ethnic and national identities much more than many wish to believe. Norway and Sweden are similar and friendly societies, but a merger would be unthinkable. Why assume it would be different with us?” (Norway, once united with Sweden under a Swedish king, achieved full independence in 1905.)

His central thesis, which he says will be revealed once more in all its dreary inevitability when President Barack Obama meets Israeli and Palestinian leaders next month, is that there is no hope of a successful negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians. Structurally, psychologically, culturally, politically, they cannot agree. So better not to try. 

Getting away from the ‘Arab Street’

John Lloyd
Nov 19, 2012 22:14 UTC

The Tunisian Foreign Minister, Rafik Abdesslem, visited Gaza last week to give a speech. Abdesslem, who spent many years in exile studying international relations at the University of Westminster in London, is an intellectual with little adult experience of the rougher side of the Middle East.

His speech condemned Israel, of course, while not mentioning that the Gazans had launched many rockets over the past few days – a few of them, for the first time, hitting the major centers of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. As foreign policy intellectuals do, he sought to put events into a geopolitical framework. He pointed to what he believes is the underlying truth of the time: “Israel should understand,” he said, “that many things have changed and that lots of water has run in the Arab river.”

In the two pioneer countries of the Arab Spring, Islamists have been elected as the major political force, and provide the government. As Rami G. Khouri pointed out in his column in Lebanon’s Daily Star, these new governments “more accurately reflect the sentiments of their citizens vis-à-vis the Palestine issue… which will increase the political pressure on Israel.” Egypt’s President Mohamed Mursi and Tunisia’s President Moncef Marzouki are Islamists, with (especially in the first case) a well-documented detestation of the Jewish state. They are constrained to be cautious, but their decision to send high-level emissaries to Gaza – more are scheduled to go – gives the Hamas government there both a shield and an encouragement. Were an Egyptian killed in a bombing raid, the resulting outrage could mean, writes Eric Trager in The Atlantic, a breaking of Egyptian diplomatic relations with Israel, even a renunciation of the peace treaty. The “Arab Street” would be roused.

To laugh or not to laugh

John Lloyd
Jul 3, 2012 17:43 UTC

For most of the world, the memory of the slaughter of the Jews, pursued with such disciplined ferocity to the bitter end, demands respect. It gets it, not just in the thousands of records of the event, but in art, too. Primo Levi, the Milanese Jew who survived Auschwitz itself, wrote memoirs (If This Is a Man; The Truce) and novels (The Wrench; If Not Now, When?) that have the power of understated horror and serve as a kind of standard for all others. Films – Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (2002) and Stephen Daldry’s The Reader (2008) – two of the better known of the past decadeare somber, tragic affairs, the subject matter with which they work precluding anything approaching a happy ending.

There are exceptions, and, oddly, they are very funny ones. The earliest is the Ernst Lubitsch comedy To Be or Not to Be, released in 1942 and starring Jack Benny as a Polish actor who, through a series of comic turns, plays an SS Officer, Colonel Erhardt, in an ultimately successful escape bid. At one point, the real Erhardt, speaking of the concentration camps, snaps – “we do the concentrating, the Poles do the camping” – a line that still gives a start, though written and spoken when what the camping meant was still genuinely unknown by most. There are more, of course: Mel Brooks’s The Producers and Roberto Benigni’s 1997 La Vita e Bella, most memorably. Neither was uncontroversial, but what controversy there was has largely died, and they’re mostly seen as classics.

Now the Holocaust has a new creative frontier. In a ceremony that seemed as if it were made for another Mel Brooks movie, Hava Hershkovits won the Miss Holocaust Survivor contest in Haifa, Israel, last Friday. The organizer, Shimon Sabag, director of Yad Ezer l’Haver (Helping Hand), an institution that aids poor Holocaust survivors, said that the contestants “feel good together. They are having a good time and laughing at the rehearsals.” In the published pictures, Hershkovits, at 78, looks radiant and is wearing the victor’s tiara.

What if the Israeli doves are wrong?

John Lloyd
Feb 16, 2012 17:58 UTC

Those who know Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, say he likes to test his opinions against robust argument, often at length. This column is an account of one such — imagined — conversation.

Netanyahu tends to see issues through the prism of the Holocaust, and the deep well of anti-Semitism it plumbed. On the part of the Nazis, of course, but also elsewhere in Europe — in Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic States, Hungary, Romania and France. After the war was over and the facts of the Holocaust became known, returning Jews were attacked and killed in the Polish countryside, and Stalin embarked on a murderous anti-Semitic program which — had it not been for his death in 1953 — seemed set to result in at least some major pogroms, if not another mass killing on the scale of the Nazis’. This realization, for anyone Decent, is at least sobering. For a Jew, it raises the specter of an eternal horror that can rarely be wholly dismissed.

Just as Anthony Eden, the British prime minister, viewed Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser as an Arab Hitler when Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, so Netanyahu tends to see Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the same reincarnation. That means that the Iranian president is, in the Israeli’s mind, not just a fanatical anti-Semite, but one who will pursue his fanaticism at all costs – including causing great damage to his own people.

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