Twenty years ago Dr.Gerstenfeld interviewed Dan Segre, reading it today shows his great analytical capabilities. This was published in three parts on Israel National News, this is part one, published here with the author’s consent.
This is the first part of an interview which was published in Manfred Gerstenfeld’s book, Israel’s New Future, in 1994. The book was republished in 2013 by RVP press under the new title, Israel’s New Future- Revisited).
Can Israel Ever Trust Europe?
Dan Segre Interviewed by Manfred Gerstenfeld
Dan Segre was born in 1922 into an assimilated Jewish family in the Italian village of Rivoli, where he grew up on his mother’s family farm. His father was the country’s youngest mayor in the village of Govone.
After Mussolini enacted anti-Jewish legislation in 1938, Segre fled to Palestine, without any Zionist awareness. He has described this period in the bestselling first part of his autobiography, The Memoirs of a Fortunate Jew, which has been translated into nine languages. Segre has started work on a sequel, which will cover the post-World War Two period.
He served in the British army during World War Two, and later became a paratroop officer in Israel’s War of Independence. Soon thereafter, he became cultural and press attaché at the new Israeli embassy in Paris.
In 1952, he graduated in law from Turin University. Next, he studied political science at Sciences Politiques, and oriental languages at the Sorbonne, both in Paris. He served in various functions at the Israeli Foreign Ministry until 1967, when he accepted a senior research fellowship in Middle Eastern studies at St. Antony’s College at Oxford. From 1967-1969, he also was Ford Visiting Professor of Comparative History at MIT.
In 1972, he became a full professor of international relations at Haifa University. Later, he assumed the post of Reuben Hecht Professor of Zionism. After his retirement in 1986, he was Visiting Professor at Stanford University for several years. He has written a number of books in a variety of fields, most recently a biography of the Italian general, Amedeo Guillet.
Segre’s other books include Israel, Society in Transition (1970), The High Road and the Low, Technical Cooperation and African Development (1974) and Israel and Zionism, A Crisis of Identity (1980).
Along with his teaching activities, Segre has always been involved in journalism. For many years he was the Israeli correspondent of both Le Figaro and Corriere della Sera. In 1974, he became a co-founder of the Italian daily, Il Giornale.
“In order to understand how future links between Europe and Israel can develop in a more harmonious way,” Segre says, “I prefer to look at how the roads of Europe and the Jews have crossed in the past.”
The European position toward Israel has changed substantially over the decades. After Israel became independent in 1948, he explains, many Europeans were enthusiastic, because they saw in it the realization of an ideal state. They thought that it was a replay of the American revolt against Britain that led to US independence. A second, not less important, reason for the positive attitude of many Europeans toward Israel derived from the shock of the Holocaust.
So why did this attitude change? Segre sees four reasons. The dream of the ideal state, unrealistic from the beginning, had to break down. Israel refused to be the only vegetarian state in a world of predators. To this came the sudden increase in Arab wealth as a result of the inept way the West handled the oil crisis in 1973. A third factor was the conjunction of Arab and communist propaganda against Zionism. A fourth factor was Israel’s ties with the United States or, in leftist propaganda terms, American imperialism.
For Segre, the central thread running through European attitudes toward Jews – and today toward Israel – consists of long-held historical prejudices, complexes and frustrations. “Anti-Semitism has not disappeared,” he says. On the contrary, Segre states that it has been broadened to include anti-Zionism.
Segre sees in today’s not-so-united Europe a modern version of the Holy Roman Empire, in which Jews always were strangers: first because they were different but not pagans, later because they were not Christians.
This European perception of the Jews as outsiders took different forms: traitors who opened the door of Spain to the Moslems; carriers of the plague in the 14th century; “quislings” for the Turks who threatened to lay siege to the Italian city of Ancona to help the Jewish community there; African slaves for Voltaire; dangerous revolutionary agents for Napoleon; liberal bourgeois, communists and capitalists; and “just bacteria” spreading social and racial contamination for the Nazis and their followers.
To many Europeans, Jews remain strangers to this day. To be an American Jew today is a legitimate way of being an American even if it is perhaps not the best way to be so in the eyes of that country’s majority. For the Europeans, the perception of the Jew has remained that of a stranger, but more so after World War Two and the creation of Israel.
Segre maintains that the predominant historical stereotype of the Jew in the eyes of the modern European is that of anti-Semitism, a word invented in 1874 by Wilhelm Marr, a German journalist and parliamentarian. This European attitude has profound motives. Jews have on many occasions been the test case of failed Europeans ideas and ideals. The Dreyfus case, ending with the condemnation of the innocent French officer simply because he was Jewish, both symbolized and demonstrated the failure of the European enlightenment.
Segre contends that Jews also symbolize the European left’s failure. They have shown its ideology’s inherent contradictions as well as those between ideology and practice. For some of their precursors in the 19th century, such as the Frenchmen, Proudhon and Fourier, the Jew and the banker are the same. According to a popular syllogism, since the Jew has the money and money dominates the world, the Jew dominates the world.
In the first version of Das Kapital, which was changed after his death, Marx wrote, “all merchandise is intimately circumcised Jewish money.”
The second International and Lenin officially rejected anti-Semitism, but that didn’t change the rank and file prejudice against Jews in the communist camp as shown, for instance, by the 1952 Slansky trial in Czechoslovakia and the “doctors’ plot” engineered by Stalin in 1953.
Segre has no doubt that Marxist anti-Semitism has had a profound impact on the European left. “It accepted the principle that Third World peoples were by definition proletarian, while Israel was an imperialist stooge,” he says. “Communism, which claimed that it had immunized itself against anti-Semitism, did not raise its voice against the delegitimization of Israel as a state by the Palestinian National Charter.”
It did worse than that, he notes, when it used the whole arsenal of anti-Semitic weaponry against Zionism. “Thus, it upheld the principle, wrongly attributed to Hegel, that when facts do not agree with ideology, they should be discarded.”
The left and its opponents each had contrasting stereotypes: on the one hand that of the rich Jews, on the other those of the subversive anarchists, God’s killers and world conspirators.