Summary of the discussion April 6th 2017
“Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you” said Jeremiah. “They are deluding you. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord”. (Jeremiah 23:16). Apparently “fake news” was a problem in his day as it is in ours. Today few politicians, journalists or internet bloggers claim to speak “for God”, but the question “what is the truth” is as vital now as it was then.
So who was responsible for the chemical attack in Idlib, Syria? Was it Assad and Putin, or someone else? There was enough doubt about the 2013 Damascus attack to deter Obama from taking military action, instead forging an agreement with Russia intended to remove chemical weapons from Assad’s armoury. Russia became involved, but with what motive? To test the resolve of the USA and the West? Or to deal with the perceived threat in Central Asia (Russia’s southern borders) of the Salafist version of Islam promoted by elements in eg Saudi Arabia and Qatar- countries with which the West is in close alliance because of its dependence on oil?
Whatever the motivations, what is now the right response? To threaten military action (an empty threat if not then carried out), or to do nothing and let people suffer? [We were discussing this on the day before President Trump ordered the missile attack on Syria].
When Hitler sent troops into the Rhineland in 1936 Britain and France did nothing, though Hitler would have backed off rapidly if they had. That success won him enthusiastic support in Germany (and so overwhelmed any potential internal opposition), encouraged him to annex Austria and Czechoslovakia and invade Poland, which led to a far worse conflict than Britain and France had feared in 1936. But the “lessons” of history are not always the best clue to right action in the present.
Ken Livingstone was accused of anti-Semitism for saying that Hitler dealt with the Zionists in 1933. The facts were correct, but presented in a way that ignored Hitler’s intention (stated clearly in “Mein Kampf”) to drive all Jews out of the Reich. It is nonsense that Hitler only later “went mad” and persecuted Jews- his agreement with the Zionists was a temporary expedient in his plans.
Anti-semitism has been dominant in Europe for centuries: in the Middle Ages (and in Martin Luther) because Jews refused to convert to Christianity; in 19th century Germany because they were seen as an “alien” group (in fact only 1 percent of the population) who did not belong to the “Volk”; in Vienna because of the numbers of Jewish refugees from the pogroms in Russia, who often appeared to support the socialism that most Germans feared, especially after the 1917 Russian Revolution. It was this anti-Semitism which provoked the Zionism which looked for a secure homeland for all Jews in Palestine. Perhaps it is true to say that the Palestinians are the last victims of European Christian anti-semitism.
Accusations of anti-semitism can be used to suppress any criticism of Israeli policies (for example on the building of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories). But it can also be seen as anti-semitic to deny Israel the right to defend itself against attacks or to create a secure homeland for Jewish people.