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Book Review: Stephan Grigat on Zionism, the Israeli Left, and Iran

Stephan Grigat, Die Einsamkeit Israels: Zionismus, die israelische Linke und die iranische Bedrohung. Hamburg: Konkret Texte 64, KVV Konkret, 2014. Pp. 184.

Die Einsamkeit Israels: Zionismus, die israelische Linke und die iranische Bedrohung (Israel’s Solitude: Zionism, the Israeli Left, and the Iranian Threat), by the German political scientist Stephan Grigat, is an important contribution to the overall debate on the Middle East, and it was published just in time, given the background of the Lausanne negotiations with Iran. Grigat dispels the current euphoria about the “breakthrough in Lausanne” and illuminates the many existing darker sides of the Lausanne deal. The present reviewer is of the opinion that, particularly in view of the special historical responsibility of Continental Europe, a careful reconsideration of the realities created in Lausanne and the considerable role played by the EU foreign policy machinery is necessary and that the other side in the conflict—the side of Israel—is also being heard.

President Obama was already quoted by the BBC as saying recently that the United States and its allies had reached a “historic deal” with Iran. Without Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist and with a remaining 5,060 uranium centrifuges in operation in Iran even after the deal, all this is not a comforting perspective. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu correctly said that on this basis Israel’s survival is really at risk. The Israeli Left, which was defeated in the recent elections in Israel, shares the same assessment as the Israeli government: the Iranian mullahs’ regime does not share even a single piece of Western rationality, and the “destruction of Israel” for them is “not negotiable.”

Grigat’s main, provocative thesis is that globally the antisemitism of Left is more evident today than ever. Hatred against the “collective Jew” has now become hatred of the state of Israel. That the anti-Zionist fantasies of the destruction of Israel have not become reality is solely owed to the power of the Israeli security apparatus.

In Die Einsamkeit Israels, Grigat analyzes the history of the Jewish state from its beginnings to the present day (chapter 1); the history of the Israeli Left, especially the extreme factions within and outside the Communist Party (chapter 2); the European reactions to the Middle East conflict and what Grigat calls the radicalization of the center and the “Augstein left” (i.e., the mainstream Left) in countries like Germany (chapter 3); and the analysis of Iran (chapter 4).

With commitment and passion Grigat shows that the moderate forces in European and Western foreign and security policies would do well to reconsider the Lausanne positions once more before the deal is finally ratified, among others, in the European Parliament and in the U.S. Senate. There are already voices boasting that the deal is a culmination of European statesmanship: a leading expert of European foreign and security policy, Oliver Meier, from the Berlin based Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (which is Ms. Merkel’s official advisory think-tank), said recently that the agreement would be a confirmation of European and German policy, and that it is an opportunity to strengthen cooperative approaches to non-proliferation policy in favor of effective multilateralism, and that the EU’s action in the nuclear conflict with Tehran is a complete success story!

Grigat’s book is an important and timely critical counterweight to such claims. Grigat delivers an inventory of the threats that Israel still faces: military threats as well as diverse ideological threats and the hatred of Jews in the Islamic world. Grigat’s passion for the respective relevant quotations by too many leaders in the Muslim world is a great help for the research community, which hopefully will use Grigat’s book; but the lack of an index (unfortunately very typical for German language publishing houses these days) makes the finding of who said what to whom, when, and why after one finished reading the text an enormous task.

For this reviewer, who considers himself a data-oriented empirical social scientist, it is clear that recent global opinion surveys by such institutions as the Washington based Pew Research Center by and large confirm Grigat’s hypothesis of the growing isolation of the State of Israel. The percentage of people saying that the “rights and needs of the Palestinian people cannot be taken care of as long as Israel exists” even in key Western countries is nowadays 10 to 20 percent, or even larger; and equally we find an alarming evidence of Western hard-core minority support for Iranian former President Ahmadinejad, who went on the record for his repeated Holocaust denial and the desire to “wipe out” the Jewish state. In the countries of the former Soviet Union and in the majority of the Muslim world, these percentages are even larger.

Grigat, who is a lecturer at the Universities of Vienna and Graz, is certainly not an impartial observer. In 2007, he co-founded the initiative STOP THE BOMB, and he currently is its scientific director. He was co-editor of Der Iran: Analyse einer islamischen Diktatur und ihrer europäischen Förderer (Iran: Analysis of an Islamic Dictatorship and Its European Promoters) (Studien Verlag, 2008) and Iran im Weltsystem (Iran in the World System) (Studien Verlag, 2010).

The current book can be considered to be an important contribution to critical theory, in whose tradition Grigat’s scientific work is clearly located. Already his doctoral thesis on Fetisch und Freiheit: über die Rezeption der Marxschen Fetischkritik, die Emanzipation von Staat und Kapital und die Kritik des Antisemitismus (published with Ça Ira in 2007) was devoted to the analysis of antisemitism in the critical theoretical tradition. His central thesis on the current regime in Iran is that every success in business means a further step in its global jihad against emancipation and enlightenment. With the pursuit of a nuclear bomb technology in mind, its agenda has to be understood as a political program of annihilation. If liberal and radical leftists want, Grigat says, to be serious about Adorno’s imperative, as formulated in his Negative Dialectics—i.e., that in the state of humanity’s unfreedom, thought and action must be arranged in a way so that Auschwitz may never repeat itself—then they should do everything to prevent the Iranian regime from realizing its murderous ideology.

It is to be hoped that the author increasingly presents his research results in English for leading English-language book publishers and peer-reviewed journals, and that his well-founded critique of Islamist radicalism becomes available to a global audience.

Arno Tausch is Honorary Professor of Economics at Corvinus University Budapest, Hungary, and Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Innsbruck University, Austria.

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