I knew it was coming.
“The Zionists have all the money.”
So said Ghayth Armanazi, the Syrian former head of the Arab League, sharing a panel with former British ambassador to the United States Peter Jay, Workers International activist Tony Saunois, and me. Hosted by conservative British radio personality Nick Ferrari, the debate was on Press TV in London for broadcast in the month of December and the topic was the future of the world under Obama. Press TV is the Iranian English-language television station in London. Many American and British colleagues were astounded that I, a “Zionist neocon,” had agreed to be on the panel, but my inclination is that Ahmadinejad’s station needs to hear my kind of voice. If the Battersea-based broadcaster is gracious enough to invite me, deliver me to and from in a beautiful limousine with a driver infinitely more courteous than your average London minicab operator, ply me with gorgeous food — and I am still alive — and provide a mostly friendly audience and production crew, I am game for the challenge.
Getting back to Armanazi’s observation: this had arisen from a question about the new Obama administration’s attitude towards the “Israel-Palestine” situation. He wanted to make it abundantly clear to the mostly youthful, Muslim audience that the Jews control everything and that Obama got to this place with Zionist money! What an irony: As I explained with barely contained apoplexy, immensely rich “Zionists” (sic) like George Soros were the kind of Jews who wanted Bush out of office by any means possible. I reminded Mr. Armanazi and the nearly 100% Muslim audience that 77% of American Jews are reported to have voted for Obama and that traditionally 87% of American Jews support the Democratic Party.
This did not help. The audience and panel were worried sick about another dangerous “Zionist,” (sic again) Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff-designate. My contribution to this heated assertion was to remind the assembled panel and crowd that “Zionist cohorts” (sic) are not about to take over the world. There was a murmur in the crowd whenever Emanuel’s name was mentioned — almost a groan — reflecting the apprehension already afoot in the British and Arab media about “son of Irgun fighter” Emanuel. (It should be noted that Frank Furedi, who appeared on a BBC Any Questions? panel with me in August, is also the son of a Zionist warrior but happens to be the founder of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Great Britain.)
The very upper-crust Peter Jay made an assertion that one hears at every fashionable London dinner party: the Palestinians have been living in one giant concentration camp for decades and their land was taken from them sixty years ago. His contempt for me and for the Zionist cause was barely containable when I ventured to counter this calumny. (In this month of December, MPACUK, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK, is using this latest mantra in a vicious piece: how dare the Jews still bang on about the Holocaust when they have created one of their own making in Palestine?)
What was interesting about this broadcast was the contribution made by Tony Saunois, the aforementioned international secretary of the Committee for a Workers’ International. I had expected him to launch into a tirade about the fascist state of Israel but to my astonishment he asserted that Israelis also suffer, endure poverty, and have difficult lives under attack from hostile neighbors.
Even more intriguing was a comment made by a young Muslim audience member to me after the broadcast had finished. It is a view that is widely held by a significant spectrum of Britons. He said, “You do appreciate Israel is the only nation on earth created by a people seeking a state based on one religion.” Foolishly I reminded him of the Holocaust and the fact that Israel had emerged out of the ashes of Auschwitz. I should have known better than to bring in the Shoah, because it is a red rag to a bull in many circles. Its mention provokes cries of “so why did the Arabs have to suffer displacement and slaughter because of something in Europe that had nothing to do with them?” — sure, nothing to do with the Arabs who flocked to the grand mufti’s call to join the SS — and declamations of “it is racist that Jews only allow Jews to emigrate to Israel.” (Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries are advertising for Christian, Jewish, and Hindu immigrants, or haven’t you been paying attention?)
The panel’s Peter Jay reflected a major proportion of British public opinion: that Israel was born out of land stolen from Arabs, that the rampaging Jews massacred vast swathes of Arab enclaves, and that the religious Jewish nature of Israel is an impediment to the peace of the region. The young audience member who challenged me about the religious nature of Israel ought to have been taught that Pakistan was born out of the determined and obsessive demands of Mohammed Ali Jinna, but as we are hearing that 82% of Muslim schools in Britain are running a radical curriculum, I am not surprised by his notions. The British media obsession with Israel is never accompanied by a companion story about the creation of Muslim Pakistan, the partition of which resulted in one million deaths in India and in the new Islamic nation.
The Iranian TV production was recorded in the same time frame as an “alternative carol service” written by an “anonymous Jewish parody writer” was performed at St. James’s Church Piccadilly on November 26 and sponsored by Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods. Organized by Deborah Fink, a near-maniacal Jewish critic of Israel, the event caused a storm of controversy across the British religious world; its juxtaposition with my appearance on Iranian television left me wondering if there is anyone out there who supports the continuing existence of the tiny Jewish state. Compounded by the carol concert was a piece by the British novelist Jeanette Winterson, who in an article about the Christmas story in the Times of December 12 lumped Israel with the Taliban and al-Qaeda: “The likes of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, Sarah Palin and apocalyptic evangelism, that George W. Bush calls himself a Christian, and that Israel as a nation state believes as fervently in armed conflict as it does in the omnipotence of God, makes religion of any brand seem foolish and dangerous.”
Inasmuch as the Syrian on my TV panel, Mr. Armanazi (no jokes, please, about “IamaNazi”), feels Washington is controlled by Zionists and that American Jews have all the money — well, not after Bernie Madoff with their cash — and Jeanette tells the Times readership that Israelis are foremost in the world in God-worship, perhaps she would like to live in Saudi Arabia for a few days and see how far she gets as a Christian.
As 2009 dawns it is a stunning commentary on the European and British media that despite the existence of scores of huge Muslim and Arab countries, the belief that Jews and Zionists run America and the world, and that Israel is a giant sore on the face of the Middle East, continues to be perpetuated. Nine years ago, Keith Graves of Sky News stood on the Golan Heights on New Year’s Eve holding up a bottle of Israeli wine and expressed his hunch that, all being well, next year in this time this would be Syrian wine. Nine years on and still drinking award-winning Israeli wine, I am glad I had the opportunity on, of all places, Iranian television to state the case for Israel and to de-demonize American Jewry.
I wish Barack Obama luck in “rebooting” Muslim-American relations. We all hope he can take up the thankless task of doing good deeds for their ungrateful countries, as did George W. Bush. In turn I hope a well-meaning Obama does not end up getting someone’s boots thrown at him, too.