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The Jew Who Turned the Left Against Israel

A new book shows how Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky was the ancestor of the Jews who now serve in the hate-Israel movement

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(L to R) West German social democratic leader Willy Brandt, Israeli opposition leader Shimon Peres, Austrian chancellor Bruno Kreisky and Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat meet at the Vienna chancellery for unofficial talks on the Middle East situation. (AFP/Getty Images)
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After this, Meir sought a meeting of the Socialist International at which she confronted the party leaders, eight of whom were then heading governments: “Not one inch of your territory was put at our disposal for refueling the planes that saved us from destruction.” Meir’s complaint was on moral grounds and on the presumed sense of solidarity among Socialists. Amazingly, no one replied, and in the silence Meir reports that a voice behind her said: “Of course they can’t talk. Their throats are choked with oil.”

While most of the socialists were embarrassed, Kreisky saw the situation as a welcome opportunity. “We cannot ignore the political consequences of our clear dependence upon essential reserves vital to Europe’s energy economy,” he wrote later. “As a result of the shock of the oil crisis I achieved a breakthrough with the Socialist International.”

The breakthrough consisted of a decision to create a fact-finding mission to the Middle East under Kreisky’s chairmanship. The Arab-Israel conflict was, however, neither new nor obscure; all of these leaders and their parties had been dealing with it since its inception. So it is hard to understand what “facts” they may have lacked. Had they nonetheless wanted a genuine probe of the subject they would have chosen someone neutral to head it, whereas Kreisky, who had proposed the mission, had already carved out a position as the leader of the International least friendly to Israel. His role, then, was to run interference for the others as they shifted away from their longstanding support for Israel in deference to their newly-felt need to win Arab favor. That Kreisky was of Jewish background was a bonus. By allowing him to lead the way, they shielded themselves against charges of anti-Semitism.

Their report blamed the lack of peace in the Middle East squarely on Israel although not a single Arab state had yet expressed any willingness to accept Israel’s existence nor had the Arab League altered its 1967 summit resolution, pledging “no peace … , no recognition … , no negotiations.” Nonetheless, the report concluded airily that “Israel would be totally unchallenged in her existence” if only she would “take into account developments in the Arab world and adjust … her future political aspirations to this area.”

In 1979, Kreisky took a further step, hosting Arafat in Vienna for talks with himself and West German Chancellor Willy Brandt on behalf of the Socialist International. The three leaders issued a joint communiqué blasting Israel, and at a concluding press conference, Kreisky likened the Palestinians’ situation to his own Swedish exile during World War Two, thereby, as Carl Gershman, the U.S. representative to the International, put it, embracing the PLO’s claim, that its “campaign against Israel [was] analogous to the European resistance against the Nazis.”

David Into Goliath

The summit with Arafat paved the way for a shift in Europe’s relations with the PLO. Until then, Western Europe generally mirrored U.S. policy that made diplomatic contact with the PLO conditional on its willingness to accept Israel’s existence and to renounce terror. Now, however, Europe began to open its arms to the PLO in the hope that moderation would come later.

Eventually, too, the International admitted Arafat’s party, Fatah, into membership. The Socialist International had once described itself as democratic socialist, with an emphasis on the adjective. But, with the rise of the Third World, the members of this organization felt increasingly embarrassed at belonging to a club of the white skinned and prosperous. In atonement, they began to admit various parties in the developing countries that preached socialism without practicing democracy. It was no barrier that Fatah had never even given lip service to democracy in the Western sense, nor for that matter, socialism. Meanwhile, Israel’s Labor Party, once the most accomplished member of the International, was dropped from the rolls for non-payment of dues.

In later years, after Israel itself recognized the PLO in the 1993 Oslo accords, Kreisky was credited by his admirers (and himself) with having been ahead of the curve. But at Oslo, the PLO made a historic change: it agreed to accept Israel and live in peace with it, renouncing violence. To recognize the PLO once it had done this was entirely different from recognizing it and granting it legitimacy while it was still sworn to Israel’s destruction and practicing terrorism. Had Israel and the U.S. followed Kreisky’s position, that is, had they not insisted that they would deal with the PLO only if it made the concessions that it finally did at Oslo, who knows if it would ever have signed on for compromise and a peaceful solution?

Like his approach to the Middle East conflict, Kreisky’s whole attitude toward Jews and Arabs, exhibited a double standard. He despised one Israeli leader after another often in overtly anti-Semitic terms. In Meir he noted mannerisms “so characteristic of Jews from Eastern Europe.” Menachem Begin, he said, was a “political grocer … a little Polish lawyer,” adding, “they think in such a warped way, these Eastern [European] Jews.” Kreisky accused Begin’s successor, Itzhak Shamir, of being so cynical as to welcome anti-Semitism because “it makes Israel the last and only refuge of the Jews.”

In contrast, he developed an abiding affection for Arafat and he found Egypt’s Anwar Sadat “impressive, fascinating, elegant, open, prophetic.” Sadat, of course, won many admirers thanks to his bold initiative of peacemaking with Israel. But this was precisely the part of Sadat’s record that Kreisky did not like, and he denigrated the Camp David accords that Sadat entered into with Begin. In addition, Kreisky courted Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, hosting him for a four-day state visit in March 1982, and later praising Libya’s “advances in water management and … remarkable development projects.” He also expressed admiration for Syria’s Hafez al-Assad, whom he called “an outstanding personality … very ‘European.’ ”

In his memoirs Kreisky justified his relentless animus toward Israel:

What is happening presently in Israel is so abominable and repugnant that it is really difficult for me to remain calm about it. And why should I? I have always utterly detested violence and injustice and have combated them wherever they appeared, and I feel it to be a moral duty to take the same attitude towards Jews who commit or defend such wrongdoing.

This bit of self-admiration was, if not a plain lie then delusional. Arafat, Assad and Qaddafi committed grave abuses of their own citizens, and each was also was stained with the blood of other Arabs, not to mention Israelis, but there is no record of Kreisky’s having “combated” or voiced “detest[ation]” of any of this. At bottom, Kreisky nursed, as he admits in his memoirs, a “critical attitude towards the existence of the state of Israel.”

Bruno Kreisky was the ancestor of the Jews who now serve in the front ranks of the hate-Israel movement, using their ethnic “authenticity” to lend weight to their attacks on the Jewish state. But few have matched the impact of Kreisky, who stands alongside DeGaulle as the foremost leaders in undoing Europe’s sympathy for Israel and its people.

Excerpt from Making David Into Goliath: How the World Turned against Israel by Joshua Muravchik. Copyright © 2014 by Joshua Muravchik. Used by permission of Encounter Books. All rights reserved.

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The Jew Who Turned the Left Against Israel

A new book shows how Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky was the ancestor of the Jews who now serve in the hate-Israel movement

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