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Jewish World Review Dec. 30, 2002 / 25 Teves 5763

Sam Schulman

Sam Schulman
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This 'man of letters' never met a terrorist cause he didn't respect |
The English novelist A.N. Wilson has long loathed Israel and the Jews whose homeland it is. That's his little intellectual folly, and G-d forgive him for it, because his feelings come from very dark and cruel sources - he's never been able rationally to explain them.

This year, Mr. Wilson is upset about the situation in Bethlehem. The Israeli authorities have tried to avoid last year's bloody and blasphemous charade in Bethlehem, in which armed terrorists took over the Church of the Nativity and held a variety of priests and civilians hostage - to the applause, and to some extent the complicity, of the European press. After several attempts over the past year to negotiate a cease-fire that would allow civilians to live in peace, all of which were violated by Palestinian authorities, the Israelis have been forced to impose a curfew on the city, which is otherwise at the mercy of armed gangsters. It is greatly inconvenient for the residents of Bethlehem, most of whom might have been willing to live peacefully - but there was no alternative.

The spectacle of peace, so sadly imposed, sets Mr. Wilson's blood a-boil. What terrorism could be worse than such as curfew, he asks, confident that there can be only one answer.

Of course, there is more than one answer, and last year's situation in Bethlehem was definitely worse - especially for Palestinian civilians caught - deliberately - in the crossfire. This year, many will be inconvenienced, but few if any will die - who do not have a weapon in their hand or a bomb taped to their body.

But Mr. Wilson, caught in the grip of his loathing, doesn't like that. In fact, he becomes so excited at the thrill of killing peacekeepers - and ordinary Jewish men and women - that he erupts, in London's "Evening Standard," into a hymn of praise for killers in conflicts thousands of miles away from the Jews he despises. First he bubbles up in praise of a highly fictionalized version of Nelson Mandela - who was, indeed, put in prison for advocating violence against the South African "apartheid" regime, but who was released and triumphed because of his decision to renounce violence. And then, most bizarre, he hails the gunmen and bombers of his own country's IRA, who tried - and nearly succeeded - in imposing a ruthless dictatorship on a population, Protestant and Catholic alike, who rejected it again and again at the ballot box. But in Wilson's mind, it is to the terrorists to whom the people of Britain owe what he calls the state of "comparative peace" and "comparative justice" (which of course was the status quo ante, the condition of peace and civil order that any citizen of a country ruled by law is entitled to.)

But Mr. Wilson asks, in his own eyes rather "daringly," this question: "Do we really believe that the Irish situation would have reached its present state . if the Republican cause had been armed with nothing more than goodwill and the ability to sing "We shall overcome" in public places? Of course, we all know that it was the limited use of violence - the threat of attacking civilian targets - which concentrated the minds of the politicians. "

It's a good lesson to realize how quickly war-weariness turns into the worship of force. Orwell observed this of pacifism before World War II. But this is something different. It's not real war-weariness, mind you, because Mr. Wilson is generally somewhere else when the trigger is pulled, but a feeling of boredom at how often one hears about dreary - but of course innocent - people being deliberately killed. The Nazis, the Fascists, the Bolsheviks, and our own native terrorists, the KKK in its heyday - were all political minorities who used violence against defenseless enemies because they could persuade no one of the justice of their cause. And in each case, their enemies were enemies because of their religion or their "class-origin" - not any action that they took or crime they committed.

Mr. Wilson's worship of force deprives him of any way to make a moral or political distinction between good killers - the Palestinian and Irish terrorists he admires - and bad ones. (In his besottedness with violence, he's even willing to throw poor Nelson Mandela on the bonfire - even though he doesn't belong there).

In any case, he can comfort himself that everyone he admires and everyone who used the same tactics as those he admires had one thing in common - hating Jews, loathing Israel, and a dedication to the undoing of the Jewish state and all the delightful Jew-killing that the undoing of that country would necessarily entail.

People often tell me that to oppose the policies of Israel's government is not the same thing as being anti-Semitic, and I tell them it is certainly theoretically possible for this to be true. Then one must ask other questions - such as whether the same person would think it remarkable that any other country than Israel should carry out the same policies when its citizens were being attacked.

But A.N. Wilson doesn't fall into this trap. For him, anyone who uses terror against civilians is likely to be his friend. And anyone who opposes terror - the parliamentary governments of Britain and Ireland who lost thousands in the fight against the brutal IRA, the democratic government of Spain in its fight against the ETA, the German republic which fought against the Nazis, von Trott zu Solz's uprising against Hitler, Kerensky in Russia, the U.S. federal government against the KKK, Trudeau against the separatist terrorists in Quebec - must have been as wrong, as bloody, and as illegitimate as Israel is in Mr. Wilson's eyes.

For Mr. Wilson, the mere fact that some men take up arms against civilians to advance a cause persuades him that the cause is probably just. I can think of no belief that is more precisely the horrible opposite of what Christ -- or Rabbi Hillel -- taught, and less suited to thoughts of Bethlehem at Christmas-tide.

Sam Schulman Archives

JWR contributor Sam Schulman is a New York writer whose work appears in New York Press, the Spectator (London), and elsewhere, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University.You may contact him by clicking here.


© 2000 by Sam Schulman