From the occupation to incitement
As long as it conducts this or that form of occupation, Israel deserves clear-headed European intellectuals getting up and criticizing it. But Jose Saramago is not such an intellectual. The things he said on Monday in Ramallah were not clear criticism of the occupation. They were an ugly incitement against the Jews.
First a clarification: Israel should not be there. Not the tanks around Ramallah, and not the checkpoints around Ramallah and not the settlements overlooking Ramallah. Israel should not be in the refugee camps nor in the refugees' homes.
Another clarification: As long as Israel is besieging Ramallah, and as long as Israel makes a habit of occasionally going into the refugee camps, Israel is responsible for the inequity. As long as Israel finds itself shooting at doctors and cutting off electricity to hospitals, it is doing wrong and deserves criticism. As long as it conducts this or that form of occupation, Israel deserves clear-headed European intellectuals getting up and criticizing it.
But Jose Saramago is not such an intellectual. The things he said on Monday in Ramallah were not clear criticism of the occupation. They were an ugly incitement against the Jews. They were not merely foolish, nor only a statement of groundless historical fact. They were a form of bloodletting. For if Ramallah is Auschwitz - and that's the parallel Saramago drew - then Israel is the Third Reich. It deserves extinction. Maybe not all its citizens should be killed, but its sovereign institutions should be smashed. And if Ramallah is Auschwitz, then Tel Aviv is Dresden. Burning it would not be a war crime. Massive killing of its women and children would definitely be allowed.
Thus, the things said by the Portuguese Nobel laureate are significant. They did not add anything to our understanding of the crooked moral problematics inherent to the Israeli occupation, but they contributed tangible proof of the profound moral distortions that have taken over not insignificant portions of enlightened Europe.
For many years, native-born Israelis regarded European anti-Semitism as something that had passed from this world. Maybe they were right. It could be that the horrors of Auschwitz, for the 50 years after the crematoria were extinguished, made Europeans suppress anti-Semitism. When it turned out that the black plague of the European soul was indeed capable of murdering millions, efforts were made over two generations to wipe it out. But in recent years, particularly the past year, there are growing signs that, like tuberculosis, anti-Semitism is back. There are signs that the black plague is spreading through the heart of Europe: in the newspapers, TV stations and foreign ministries, among academics and intellectuals and even among Nobel prize laureates.
Israelis must not use that ancient European pathology to whitewash their own stains. As long as the occupation continues, the Europeans cannot be denied the right to criticize it, indeed condemn it. And Israelis should not be blind. It is impossible not to see that by coming to discuss the sins of the Jews, quite a few European moralists suffer spasms that are difficult to explain, with tendencies whose roots are very deep.
From that perspective, Saramago's statement is a milestone. When the entire world hears that such an important author suffers from such grave problems with his eyesight while looking around in Jesus' land, the question must be asked what cast such a dark shadow over his field of vision. What made such a well-known European humanist defame the Jews that way. To defame the Jews again.
Thanks to Jorge Saramago, from this Pesach on, Israelis won't be able to avoid that question. The question is now on the map. It is a factor in shaping reality. And maybe thanks to Jorge Saramago, from this coming Good Friday, maybe Europe, too, won't be able to avoid the question any longer. From Easter 2002, Europe also must demand from itself an answer.