Magazine article Tikkun

Israel and the Politics of Muslim Identity

Magazine article Tikkun

Israel and the Politics of Muslim Identity

Article excerpt

In October2005, at aTehran conference on "The World Without Zionism," Iran's new hard-line president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, declared that Israel "must be wiped off the map." The reaction in the Muslim world was silence. This raises the question: why the obsession with Israel? Is antiIsrael sentiment confirmation of ancient ethno-religious hatred? Or is this proof of the persistence of Muslim anti-Semitism? The evidence suggests a compelling alternative interpretation.

Generally, when Muslims comment on Israel they invoke its human rights record for their moral censure of the Jewish state. Given the persistence of this theme, they appear to be suggesting that Israel is the worst violator of human rights in history. The problem with this position is that it is both factually inaccurate and morally dishonest. Yes, when judged by international human rights standards, Israel's record leaves much to be desired and has uniquely egregious features, but in truth, Muslim regimes have a more deplorable human rights history. If human rights are the standard, why not condemn the human rights disasters afflicting fellow Muslims in Darfur or Chechnya? Why the double standard? The answer lies not in Muslim antiSemitism but primarily in the enduring legacy of European colonialism and Israel's perceived connection with this legacy.

For much of the Twentieth century, opposition to European colonialism has been the most powerful organizing theme in the Muslim world. No topic can galvanize the masses more than the issue of national independence. Such sentiment has dominated the politics of many Muslim societies for decades and has sunk deep roots within Muslim political culture.

Muslims perceive Israel fundamentally as a European settler state formed on the ruins of Palestinian society. The ongoing Occupation of the West Bank, with its escalating settlement construction and human rights violations, serves as a constant reminder of the imperial impact on the region. In other words, the conflict in Israel/Palestine today is perceived by Muslims as inyour-face colonialism not from a bygone era, but of the present.

The impact of colonialism also explains why there is widespread sympathy for the plight of Palestinians in much of the developing world. Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans instinctively relate to Palestinian victimization because of its similarity to their own colonial/imperial experiences. The tacts that the final borders of Israel/Palestine remain to be determined, that most of Israel's political leaders have been European, and that Israel is generously supported by a superpower, give the Israel-Palestine conflict the decidedly colonial spin of powerful Europeans versus impoverished natives. …

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