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The Latest Outrage from France: The Screed from Stephane Hessel

So where does Mr. Hessel sees today’s major threat emanating from in the world? Is ithe danger of a nuclear Iran something that concerns him? Not a word. Is North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and the danger of the rogue regime using it in actual warfare a concern? Not one word. Does he see any danger in the policies of China, still under Communist Party control, and the fear that rampant nationalism could influence its leaders? Not one word.

Well here, dear readers, is Hessel’s answer: “Today, my strongest feeling of indignation is over Palestine, both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.” In other words, the Israeli Jewish leaders “are forgetting the fundamental human values of Judaism.”  Simply put: Israel is the danger in today’s world. There is no doctrine of radical Islam, and the threat it poses, that has been so amply written about by Paul Berman and by Jeffrey Herf in their various articles and books.

As Hessel sees it, Israel from the start, of which of course he pretends to be a supporter, was guilty of original sin when it drove 750,000 Palestinians from their home in 1948 and 1949. He repeats, in other words, what Sol Stern has called “The Myth of the Nakba.” As for Gaza today, he calls it “an open-air prison for a million and a half Palestinians.”  The Gazans, he writes, are patriots who have “love of the ocean and the beach,” they have “laughing children.” They ingeniously deal with the shortages imposed on them by Israel. They “make bricks” for homes without cement. He advises people to read the notoriously unreliable and biased Goldstone Report to learn of Israel’s many sins.

Of course, Hessel has to deal with Hamas lobbing rockets into Israel week by week, month by month. Why did they do this? For that he has great sympathy. Hessel writes: “I am well aware that Hamas…was unable to avoid the launching of rockets into Israeli villages in response to the situation of isolation and blockade in which the Gazans find themselves.” That too was Israel’s own fault. Yes, he says, “terrorism is unacceptable.” But then, he adds in what is a justification for it: “[W]e must recognize that when a country is occupied by infinitely superior military means, the popular reaction cannot be only nonviolent.”

He is, he assures us, a believer in nonviolence, a follower of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Only non-violence promotes hope. He does not excuse terrorists who throw bombs, he writes, but qualifies this with the admonition that “we can understand them.” So he explains this in the following paragraph:

Did it serve Hamas’s interests to launch rockets into the town of Sderot? No. It did not serve their cause, but the gesture can be understood as coming from the exasperation of Gazans. In this notion of "exasperation," we have to understand violence as a regrettable consequence of an unacceptable situation. Terrorism…is a form of exasperation….It is understandable; I would almost say it is natural.

It is only bad, however, not because it is immoral, but “because it does not allow people to achieve the results that hope can achieve.” Nevertheless, he cannot condemn it. It is regrettable, but if it takes place, it is the fault alone of Israel, not of those who engage in terrorism. Israel is to be condemned for finally, after months of rocket forays into its land, taking action against Hamas for the attacks. But Hamas is to be let off the hook for launching the rockets. And of course, Israel’s response is to be condemned as out of proportion, as if any response Israel made would be proclaimed as anything but that by Hessel or Goldstone.

It is not surprising to find, as Charles Glass reveals, that Hessel, to support those who favor self-determination and independence, “has endorsed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to sever economic collaboration with Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.” What the BDS movement favors is not what Glass says, but rather, opposition to the very existence of Israel itself and to the entire concept of a Jewish state, which, in its eyes, is based on the stealing of Palestinian land and hence is completely illegal.

The French expert on antisemitism, Pierre-Andre Taguieff, writes the following in response to Hessel: “Certainly he could have ended his life in a more dignified way, instead of inciting hatred against Israel, thus adding his voice to the worst of anti-Jews. Even old age doesn’t make someone impermeable to vanity, or kill the appetite for applause.” To this Hessel replies : “I feel that I am completely in solidarity with Jews in the world, because I know what it is to be a Jew. I’ve seen what it is, I am myself of Jewish origin, and therefore I can only be fully in support of the idea that the Jews, after all they’ve suffered, need a country where they are at home. I shouted my joy when Israel was founded. I said, ‘At last!’ ”

Sure. That is why he wants to boycott Israel, have investors withdraw their investments or stop investing in it, and have the world to put sanctions on Israel. He claims to have experienced joy when Israel was created -- although he repeats myths about its very founding -- and now writes in essence that Israel has no legitimacy in today’s world. It is as if he says in one breath: “I favor a Jewish state where the Jews have a home; but they no longer deserve that home, since they are oppressors of the Palestinians, and deserve to be destroyed.”

Only in France, where a previous best seller after 9/11 explained the terrorist attack as the result of a Bush conspiracy, would a screed such as Hessel’s assume such importance and be seen as a fountainhead of wisdom. Only in a world now ganging up against Israel would a book like this find a welcome reception. Shame on The Nation for publishing it here. At least only that puerile leftist rag saw fit to print Hessel, and he did not get the major publisher his backers in France hoped to obtain.

I hope Americans have more sense than to copy the French and make it a best-seller in the United States.