Categories
The Political Animal

Discrediting Arguments on the Iran Deal

Argument and persuasion are not the same thing. An argument is a series of statements, or premises, arranged and propounded to entail a conclusion – to support a claim. Persuasion is the attempt to influence and change minds. Ideally, the former plays the major role in the latter, but in politics and policy, as in life, this is not always so. Armed robbery is an act of persuasion. The barrel of a gun makes a weak argument that its holder is entitled to your wallet, but it makes strong case that you should hand it over. At the point of a gun, one is persuaded to give up the goods.

Negotiations are persuasion, not argument. Around the negotiating table, people may seem endlessly to argue, in order to prove the justness or necessity of their positions: people need to justify themselves and they sometimes play to a public. What negotiators really do is attempt to develop in the minds of their opponents the conviction that failure to accede to demands will produce in the opponents the state of being sorry. When a negotiated settlement is reached, both sides will have, to a degree, formed this conviction with regard to the other side’s demands, traded off against their own. In this conviction, and to justify their efforts and the end result, they will present the agreement to their constituencies in just this way. No negotiating team returns to those it represents with the report that a better deal was possible, but that the team decided to settle for less.

Sometimes constituencies accept this claim, sometimes they do not. Negotiated agreements are sometimes rejected, both for good and for ill. The proof is in the further pressure applied to the other side, succumbed to in time or not, and what is lost in the process.

A negotiating team needs to persuade its voting constituency to accept the deal. It makes an argument for the agreement it reached with the other side. This argument may, and should, consist of propositions regarding the detailed substance of the agreement and how it reasonably meets the demands and needs addressed in the negotiations, all things considered. To the degree that the constituency is satisfied with the agreement, and arguments in support, on its face, there will be need for little more.

Opposition to the agreement changes everything. In the real world, opposition degrades argument. It may degrade argument in two senses, both of them manners of discrediting the argument. In one sense, argument is literally degraded in quality, as the various vested interests turn from argument proper to naked persuasion. Common to this persuasion is the effort to discredit the argument by discrediting the opponent. Poisoning the well and ad hominem attack are both fallacious forms of argument that pretend to discredit the position by attempting deceptively to discredit the person instead. There can be legitimate arguments to the person, and we see them in the debate over the Iran deal when the expertise and authority of individuals to evaluate various technical areas of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is challenged. However, mere argument to expertise is superficial, and ultimate authority is to be found in the intellectual substance of the argument.

The basest attempts to discredit the person in the arguments over the Iran deal can be seen in charges that President Obama is an appeaser or even, most vilely, antisemitc. The President and those supporting the JCPOA have been no less base in tarring opponents as war mongers, neocons, or dual-loyalist Jews. Just as supporters of President Bush, in advance of the invasion of Iraq, challenged the patriotism of those who opposed the war, supporters of President Obama, in putting forth the JCPOA, are attacking opponents’ honesty and patriotism.

Currently, New York Senator Chuck Schumer is being subjected to the lowest kinds of disreputable sliming, including from the most well-known voices for President Obama. An even lower example actually appeared in Foreign Policy, penned by Jeffrey Lewis, resorting to attacks on Schumer’s dignity as a human being.

There is another, legitimate way to discredit an argument – the actual argument, and not those offering it – and that is to discredit a fundamental premise of the argument. Next, I will attempt to discredit the single most prominent defense of the Iran deal, made by every supporter of it.

AJA

Categories
Israel

Practicing Anti-Semitism, in Theory

Just over a week ago, on August 17, the Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB) published a review of Deconstructing Zionism: a Critique of Political Metaphysics, a collection of essays edited by Gianni Vattimo and Michael Marder. Vattimo is the Italian philosopher who, during the current Israel-Hamas conflict, has made clear once again his sympathy for Hamas and expressed his desire to “shoot those bastard Zionists,” who he considers “worse than Nazis.” His anti-Semitic tendencies are on record (a reevaluation of the claims of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion). The collection brings together the less and the more well-known voices who theorize anti-Zionism and make of the Jew, among all ethnic, racial, and religious groups a generic and cultural category of thought, so that one may speak of them, in contrast to Estonians or Hindus, let’s say, in terms not of what they empirically are or choose to be, but what, symbolically and thematically, some collection of philosophers and professors of literature theorize they should be.

LARB has become, since it’s inception two years ago, a varied and vibrant addition to the American literary scene. Among all of the review’s riches, I had hoped to see in any coverage of Israel-Palestine something different from the standard Israel-centric critique found at the New York Review of Books. This has not turned out be the case, and when LARB assigned its review of Deconstructing Zionism to David Lloyd, a leading member of the organizing collective for the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, I felt compelled to comment. What follows below is the full exchange (as of this writing) between me and Jonathan Hahn, LARB’s executive editor, and Tom Lutz, LARB’s editor-in-chief. For a very different kind of review of Deconstructing Zionism, see the review by Gabriel Noah Brahm at fathom journal.

***

the sad red earth • 5 days ago

How unfortunate that LARB, which conceives itself an alternative point of departure from that of NYRB, follows now the same backslapping intellectual fashion, travels irresponsibly the same facile political current, not of anti-nationalism, but of irredeemably racist anti-Zionism. Faced with the job of reviewing a collection of essays that attack the very legitimacy of Israeli nationalism among all others, LARB’s editors choose for the task not some critic who might challenge the foundations of the book’s agonistic ideology, but one of the few people who might actually find the volume wanting in its efforts to deconstruct Zionism, judging them both – Zionism and deconstruction, as it were – too Jewish, the collection, in the end, insufficiently Palestinian. Who criticizes the book for mimicking the “creative contortions” of “liberal Zionist critiques.” (If Lenin did not actually say, after Dick the butcher, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the liberals,” he surely did it.) Who bemoans the editors’ perceived “anxiety” – despite their “robust anticipation” of them – over charges of anti-Semitism. Who thinks the editors, therefore, too apprehensive before the prospect of truly essentializing Jewish racism, in what is “a singularly Jewish political philosophy and enterprise.” Who finds of the marker “Jews of Conscience” (“good Jews”) only that it is “somewhat polemic.”

Not enough that LARB should consider this production an expression of its mission, but that it should offer it, too, without any acknowledgement of its provenance – that its primary editor champions and wishes militarily to support an expressly, by covenant, anti-Semitic and genocidal organization. That he has wished publically for the deaths of Israelis, and that he has professed to change his mind about the truth of the notoriously fraudulent and anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The reviewer thinks these realities, no doubt, too genuinely praximatic to include informatively amid the theorizing. LARB’S editors find it unnecessary to append.

Instead, we find entertained and performed the usual diffuse, vatic logorrhea by which, through persistent metaphorical fallacy, a body made a bomb is thought to enact freedom and a person sitting at a bus stop is conceived as committing violence. (Imagine here a parenthetical reference to Adorno or Gramsci, a neologism scraped and dusted out of etymology, a new obscure infinitive.)

  • JonathanHahn Mod  the sad red earth • 4 days ago

    Dear Sad Red Earth,

    We appreciate you posting your concerns, and understand that Dr. Lloyd’s views as expressed here are controversial. We are committed to airing the important debates of our time, and they cannot be aired without allowing people on very different sides of the debate to have their say. The views Dr. Lloyd expresses here do not represent our magazine, nor do the views of any of the many writers we have published on the Middle East, whether they be controversial or not. Our mission is to engage our readers in conversation, and this essay is one part of that effort. We are glad you took the time and effort to share your views.

    Sincerely,
    Jonathan Hahn, Executive Editor, Los Angeles Review of Books

    • the sad red earth  JonathanHahn • 3 days ago

      Dear Mr. Hahn,

      Thank you for your reply. Of course, one should not presume the views of individual writers to represent those of the journal publishing them. However, publications make editorial decisions. These individual decisions are choices among multiple possible alternative decisions, all of which, compiled, may or may not offer evidence of a perspective on the part of the journal, a shaping inclination toward a subject. What does available evidence seem to show about LARB?

      An unscientific but not, algorithmically, random survey by Google search of “Los Angeles Review of Books” and “Israel” turns up the following among the first three pages of results. Foremost, we find the March forum entitled “Academic Activism: Israelis, Palestinians, and the Ethics of Boycott,” in which eight participants, four pro and four con, offered their views on an academic boycott of Israel. As your introduction attested, “We facilitated this forum at the urging of David Palumbo-Liu, a supporter of the BDS movement, in the hopes that it would engender a more informed understanding on these and many related questions.” Why did Palumbo-Liu urge such a forum? What was the “more informed understanding” he sought? Only he knows his mind and motivation, but as a leading academic activist against the State of Israel, and in support of an academic boycott, he could hardly have hoped that such a forum would lower the profile of his cause. In a nation overwhelmingly supportive of Israel, in its origins and struggles, any broader publication of anti-Zionist argument, even against opposing voices, could only, rather, raise the profile of the boycott cause. LARB provided that opportunity. As it turned out, too, only one of the eight participants availed himself of a rebuttal, a last word – Palumbo-Liu.

      Of the nine additional results clearly identifiable as political in nature, three – unflattering depictions of Israel all – are among a series of essays by professed anti-Zionist Ben Ehrenreich. One is by Alex Kane, an assistant editor of the rabidly anti-Zionist and profoundly anti-Semitic website Mondoweiss. One is a review of Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land : The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, written by Omri Boehm, who has charged the IDF, among the world’s militaries, with immorality and who attacks Israel on the basis of reinterpreting the seminal Jewish myth of Abraham’s binding of Isaac for sacrifice. One is a Marginalia Channel essay opposing the Presbyterian Church USA’s divestment vote against Israel for no better reason than the author’s Jewish identification with Israel – and while nonetheless expressing sympathy for the Church’s complaints against the country. A second Marginalia Channel essay offers that it was Israel’s founding – and not, say, to choose two relatively modern examples, the genocidal anti-Semitism of Haj Amin al-Husseini or Sayyid Qutb – that “increasingly turned the concepts ‘Arab’ and ‘Jew’ into fundamental and irreconcilable opposites.” Then, to close, the one objective piece on Israel related matters, serving only to report, without favor to Israeli or Arab, is an account of – the MLA debate on an anti-Israel measure.

      Needless to point out that among these entries one will find no evidence of “very different sides of the debate” or of a “conversation.” What is normatively controversial and what is prejudicially beyond the pale of respectable debate – such as, one might wish, the singling out of one only among the world’s peoples, in their existing nation-state, as undeserving of self-determination – is a status to be mediated by innumerable human decisions and indecisions, such as the invisibility of any writing presenting an alternative view of the Arab-Israeli conflict. And then there was the choice of David Lloyd to review a collection of essays on deconstructing Zionism.

      A. Jay Adler
      Adjunct Professor of English; California State University, Dominguez Hills
      Lecturer in English, El Camino College
      Professor of English, Emeritus; Los Angeles Southwest College.

      • JonathanHahn Mod  the sad red earth • 3 days ago

        Dear Prof. Adler,

        We have published over 75 pieces, or an average of one every two weeks since founding LARB three years ago, related to Israel. The simplified algorithmic research you’ve relied on here of course does not reflect the scope of what we have published, but the pieces we’ve published that have caused the most talk — those that were pushed up in the Google ratings by the amount of readership, comment, reposting, citation, etc. It is entirely unsurprising that those pieces are the most hot-button ones, the ones that extreme partisans either champion or decry.

        We are always looking for subtle and nuanced analyses, and these are the kind of pieces that don’t tend to shoot up in the Google rankings: pieces that approach these issues in less direct ways — as in reviews of novels, for instance, or interviews with poets — that again, we feel are important, and yet you will not find these in the first three pages of Google results for your search. In fact, the first three pages that result from that search only include 4 pieces from LARB — the rest are posts (from The Jerusalem Post, for example, or sites called holylandprinciples, worldpoliticsreview, etc) where people are reacting to a small selection of our pieces. Using Google the way you do doesn’t prove our bias, it shows the bias of internet chatter.

        Your moniker in your first post — “the sad red earth” — references the blood spilled on that ground, and it is the history of violence and the ongoing violence that compels our attention, of course. As we all know too well, the loudest voices speak past each other, and we have attempted in various ways — as in our special series in which Jewish and Arab, Israeli and Palestinian poets spoke to each other, and in the forum on the academic boycott — to engage as many sides as possible in dialogue. In most cases these attempts fail, but we continue to try.

        You ask why David Palumbo-Liu urged a forum on the boycott. He is an activist, and obviously he wanted to argue for his position to our audience. But he did not choose the other participants or exercise any editorial control. And there is not a single publication that has brought together four such powerful voices against the boycott as we did. We also had four voices in favor. It is a shame, we think, too, that only Palumbo-Liu availed himself of our invitation to all participants (and to others) to respond to the other participants. But as a movement that has made large strides in institutional validation in a short time, we thought it was worthy of sustained attention.

        One of the reasons, of course, that people don’t always respond to arguments like those made in the forum — that is, one of the reasons the other participants didn’t respond further — is because the very language different sides use seems to make discussion impossible. For instance, to call Mondoweiss a “profoundly anti-Semitic” website as you do here — how can one respond to this? Founded by Jews, edited from “a progressive Jewish perspective,” with an emphasis on “Jewish American identity” — whatever one thinks of its politics, to call it profoundly anti-Semitic is simply to use the kind of rhetorical overkill that makes true conversation impossible. Does saying that imply agreement with Mondoweiss’s politics? No. Anti-Zionism, too, takes many different forms, in some cases based on a desire to eliminate Israel, yes. But for none of the writers you mention in your note is this the case: for Ben Ehrenreich, Alex Kane, Omri Boehm, and many other writers in our pages, it is based on a desire to stop the killing, or a desire to find a lasting resolution — a desire, in other words, for peace. Your charge that there is “an invisibility of any writing presenting an alternative view of the Arab-Israeli conflict” is, in fact, true only in that the majority of voices we have published on Israel are, in fact, Israeli and Jewish, and we have not published any piece by representatives of neo-Nazi parties, of Golden Dawn, of the Muslim Brotherhood, or other such parties that are anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist, and dedicated to the destruction of Israel. This is true of absolutely none of our writers.

        To that end the argument you are making here is a real disservice to the 75 writers we have published whose work revolves in some way around Israel, and who are not interested in hitting hot buttons, not trying to forward a particular political agenda, but instead are offering pieces of considered scholarship on the Middle East and its ancillary issues, pieces of engaged literary criticism, and personal, essayistic reflections. Your calculus of our bias takes a huge rolling pin and drags it over these writers, all of whom have worked with their full hearts and minds to produce the best work they can. While flattening out that work into a simplistic pro- or anti-Israel rubric may be exciting to some, it is not of interest to us: it does not represent our writers, nor our magazine, with any accuracy, nor is it informative to any reader who wants a true picture of the kind of magazine we’ve been, still are, and will continue to be.

        We say this knowing full well — we can read the argument in your comments here and in many pieces we have published in our pages — that for certain people to critique the idea of Zionism (or to critique Israel’s defense forces or government, or to support the right of the people of Gaza to self-determination) is akin to arguing for the destruction of Israel. We have pieces critiquing ideas of American exceptionalism, American foreign policy, American war policy, and American racism and yet we do not, by doing so, suggest the destruction of America. We treat none of this lightly; we enter this fray with our eyes open, and know very well, as we edit political debates, that we are editing the words of people who have buried their own parents and children, killed at the hands of others. We never forget this as we let writers have their say, and make their arguments. And perhaps we are naïve, holding to the belief that writing can have some force in human affairs, that the conversation, as we too easily call it, can make a difference — but we do.

        Sincerely,

        Tom Lutz, Editor in Chief, Los Angeles Review of Books
        Jonathan Hahn, Executive Editor, Los Angeles Review of Books

        • the sad red earth  JonathanHahn • a day ago

          Gentlemen,

          I am content to leave your properly fuller presentation of LARB’s engagement with the subject of Israel to answer my own, and to have the two provide together the picture that others might regard. Except.

          Except you endeavor to fill out the picture I paint with reference to “pieces that approach these issues in less direct ways — as in reviews of novels, for instance, or interviews with poets.” Herein lies a distinction I sought to make in culling from my search only those articles I thought clearly political, or what turned out to be, as you described them, hot button in nature. It is the heat that concerns us here – Zionism’s deconstructors and the BDS advocates, and those, like me, who seek to fight the fire they fan. For a life well lived, or at least examined, you and I fully agree on the value of reviews of novels and interviews with poets, and discussions about and among them. However, what these approaches represent on such a subject as Israel – political and hot button in itself to those roiled by the very fact of its existence, and because of how it has had to exist thus far – is, to appropriate a term from Foucault, a kind of soft humanism. The humanizing transformations of literature, when they come, are long in realization; the political coup, in contrast, may be swift and brutal, as would be, for instance, the advent of Hamas, on Israelis and all Jews, upon its being released from its containment. Poetry makes nothing happen, Auden told us in praise of Yeats, with some measure of irony, thought not enough irony to stop an Iranian missile smuggled through the Rafah crossing from being fired. One may bemoan in soulful outreach with one’s nominal enemy, in that soft human way, as writers and other artists may do, our common afflicted humanity and still, politically, seek “solutions” that entail the end of a nation-state for Jews. Soft humanism often accommodates that disjunction from politics in practice. Or if not, the prisons and the unmarked graves of history have been filled aplenty with literary folk who conceived it enough to raise themselves up alone above the strife of peoples and nations.

          There is a different frame for soft humanism, one probably closer to what Foucault had in mind in identifying exemplars in Stalinism and Christian democratic hegemony. One may find it here in Lloyd’s review and the tendency it represents. On the one hand, this tendency critiques through a postcolonial analysis that is focused on the operations of power and the conditions of oppressed marginality. On the other hand, it draws, in its appeals and sanctions, from the same Judeo-Christian originated humanistic well of moral righteousness as do many other ideas of human organization. So near the end, we have Lloyd citing favorably Judith Butler about “undoing sovereignty” and invoking, in Lloyd’s words, “the parameters of living with and in difference that Butler describes as cohabitation.” This represents the culmination of a strenuously theorized evangelical mush that spoons up a stupefying banality – that in seeking to rise above “the post-Westphalian formation of territorial states and sanctioned violence” we all need (who’d a thunk it) to love one another and treat each other as we would wish to be treated. And not to put too fine a point on it, but in that risky leap of faerie faith, Jews go first.

          Yet what more pernicious operation in its own right underlies this prophetic injunction to dwell all together in cohabitation? The sacrifice of the Jews. The sacrifice of the Jews in which “the effect of Zionism’s destruction of Judaism is to make of the Palestinians the Jews of the present, dispossessed, forced into exile… subjects of a continuing diaspora…. The singularity of the Jew transfers to the Palestinians…[.] in the ‘privileged’ critical position, that is, once occupied by the European Jew.” Whereas the more common contemporary anti-Semitic gesture is to shame Jews with the Holocaust by likening Israel and Zionism to Nazi Germany, applying the language of ghettos and concentration camps and genocidal holocaust and racialist supremacy to Israel and Jews – so that some presumed moral authority gained by suffering the ultimate historical victimization is bluntly used as a cudgel with which to beat – the anti-Zionist BDSing deconstructors will rather refine through theory so much special recognition of historical identity away, and deliver it over, even, to the Palestinians. What is left for the Jews? Butler will give them the supreme honor of enacting the moral high ground of eternal exile, as, in Zizek’s words, “the immediate embodiment of universality,” so as to symbolize the undoing of sovereignty.

          And it is all so highfalutin that one can persuade oneself of a disjunction between it and all the singling out that went historically before it for the Jews.

          In this light, the “engaged literary criticism, and personal, essayistic reflections” LARB publishes, of deep human value, are not a counterweight to the political warfare, disguised as intellectual critique, currently underway to undo a nation-state and a people’s self-determination. You believe you read in my comments here perspectives that do not, in fact, apply to me. I will not belabor this further comment by addressing that issue. This is not about me, but about what the true range of widely held and still compelling perspectives is on these issues. You do use the phrase to “critique the idea of Zionism,” which is vague enough in its application and import, and which does raise the question of special treatment of Jewish nationalism only. You appear to believe that anti-Zionism may be understood as not to entail the elimination of Israel – a phrase that in itself should strike the conscience terribly. That is a peculiar understanding. You aver that such a desire does not inhabit those writers I referenced last time. But at least as long ago as 2009 Ehrenreich published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times entitled, “Zionism is the problem.” In it Ehrenreich quotes supportively Lessing J. Rosenwald, when the latter declared Zionism “the concept of a racial state — the Hitlerian concept.” The society Ehrenreich conjures in the piece is clearly not a Jewish state – not Israel. And as recently as March 20 of this year, Philip Weiss, founder of Mondoweiss, declared in a post at that site, “Israel is a blot on civilization.”

          About Mondoweiss, here we may well focus our disagreement best of all. You charge of my labeling it “profoundly anti-Semitic” that the label is “the kind of rhetorical overkill that makes true conversation impossible.” I think you read some overkill just above. I have been observing Mondoweiss for five years. I have written about it at my blog, the sad red earth (also my Twitter handle). I and other active defenders of Israel against the campaign of vilification against it know it well. You appear to think that because it is operated by, now, three Jews, and that it labels itself “progressive,” this is defense against declaring it what it manifestly is. Its closely moderated comments section, with which the principals engage, is profuse with demonization of Israel – of Zio-Nazi’s and Zio-supremacists – and of Judaism. Many of its published comments are indistinguishable from what may be found at Veteran’s Today or Stormfront. Its editorial direction is not ill represented by the words of Weiss above. Further, particularly in its early days, its founder was prone to revelatory posts evincing psychodramas of maternal, familial, and ethno-cultural discomfort and rejection. He is almost as interested in what he deems excesses of Jewish power in the United States as he is the blot on civilization.

          That Mondoweiss has been mainstreamed in some so-called progressive circles is as indicative of the problem that drew my initial comments as was the choice to assign David Lloyd to review Deconstructing Zionism. In an era in which every other kind of racism is being analyzed at degrees of depth and in ranges of complexity far beyond a simple slur or stereotype, institutionally and intersectionally, it is the very problem itself that only anti-Semitism is regularly reduced in the same quarters to nothing more than the time-honored tropes and preposterous libels, in a concerted refusal to recognize its modern and sophisticated mutations. One of the great embarrassments of the modern civilized world was the 1975 U.N. resolution declaring Zionism a form of racism – a resolution promoted by totalitarians states and supported by a slew of the world’s common dictatorships and overtly anti-Semitic Arab governments. So embarrassing was this stinking rose in the garden of human rights that in 1991, the U.N. was compelled to remove it. Now, in academic and progressive circles throughout the Western World, it is the height of intellectual fashion to make the same claim in theoretically abstruse prose or in cant political terminology and to dismiss charges of anti-Semitism with the same disdain for reaction to their racism as once emitted by bulbous sheriffs on torn Mississippi streets. When Daniel Patrick Moynihan delivered his grand and justly famous denunciation of U.N. resolution 3379, he scorned the “obscenity” of the U.N. declaration in part by the reductio ad absurdum of tracing the U.N.’s own faulty attempts to define racism, including as a form of Nazism, thereby providing grounds to call Zionism a form of Nazism. This is a claim that would fail to trouble many of Israel’s hyperbolic critics today, and it filters through the interstices of meaning from all the fancy critiques of Zionism that denounce it as racialist. See Ben Ehrenreich quoting Lessing J. Rosenwald.

          Quite simply, it should have been obvious that there was a whole world of true conversational challenge – different sides of the debate – that might have been brought to bear in a review of Deconstructing Zionism other than assigning the book to a shades of gray treatment over the genuineness of its deconstructive mode.

          Finally, a last word about the sad red earth. You extended the blog title and Twitter handle’s reference metaphorically in a direction I certainly find fitting. I found it so as well during my travels in Indian Country when people thought the name called our attention to that sad ground we walk upon. In fact, the phrase is from Kerouac’s On the Road. Sal Paradise walks the streets of Denver one dusk after a futile effort by Dean Moriarity to find his father. Says Paradise of his walk, “I felt like a speck on the surface of the sad red earth.” As are we all. That is the focus I try always to maintain in my own humanism and in the tension between it and the often monstrously grinding wheels of history and ideology.

          Sincerely,

          A. Jay Adler

Categories
Israel

The Third Narrative: Not So Third, Not a Narrative, Not New

ttn-title4 (1)

(This essay originally appeared in the Algemeiner on April 3, 2014.)

I regret to say that a fair number of people I respect (and some not so much) have signed on to a statement about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that, evince as it may the best of intentions, is nonetheless, in truth, very considerable twaddle. I speak of the statement of principles of the Third Narrative Academic Advisory Council. The council, we are told,

[w]ill function as an advisory body to The Third Narrative (TTN), facilitated by Ameinu.  The Council will seek to create a unique, middle ground, organizing space at TTN for progressive academics and will engage academics from across North America.

The statement goes on to list varied activities all of which relate to the promotion of academic freedom. This focus suggests that a pivotal organizing impetus for the formation of the council, perhaps even the conception of a “third narrative,” has been the recent and growing movement toward academic boycotts directed at Israel. That is a vital concern, and along with that concern the council promotes, essentially, empathetic evenhandedness (the “third” narrative) and the two-state solution. Plenty of people have made claims to the latter beliefs, so, again, it seems apparent that the particular motivation for the formation of this council of academics is the current growing threat to academic freedom by the BDS movement, which, not by the way, the council statement never mentions by name. Thus, since the statement of principles begins its introduction averring that

[s]cholars and academics should play a positive role in asking difficult questions, and promoting critical thinking, about the Israel-Palestinian conflict,

I am going to offer a little of that difficult question asking and critical thinking promotion.

The opening sentence of the introduction states,

We are progressive scholars and academics who reject the notion that one has to be either pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian.

Well, no, one does not have to be either of these two given alternatives, but such a formulation suggests that in order to be pro one an individual must by logical entailment be anti the other, as ifpro-Palestinian were the conceptual complement of anti-Israel instead of a historically contingent pairing that is the consequence of political choices. To put a fine point on it, one may well be, as many people long have been, pro-Israel and still be a supporter of the two-state solution – and thus feel “empathy for the suffering and aspirations” of Palestinians and be not anti-Palestinian – as well as an opponent of academic boycotts, as most everyone also has long been. In other words, this is not a new position to take.

Still, the founders and members of this council felt prompted to form it and to frame what they chose to call a “third narrative.”

The listed principles (a-g) are seven. They are on their face unobjectionable to reasonable people, though the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one, historically, that has seen, even until today, very large numbers of unreasonable people. The principles are almost all couched in the evenhanded vocabulary of “both sides.” Almost all.

Principle c) avows,

We believe the Israeli occupation of the West Bank not only deprives Palestinians of their fundamental rights, but is also corrosive to Israeli society and is incompatible with the democratic principles upon which the State of Israel was founded.

Now, certainly the framers of this principle know that elements of it are disputed. Some people – one will presume among them those signing onto the statement – might call any dispute over the wording of “occupation” to be disingenuous caviling. Others will call it the making of meaningful distinctions. But the council does here take a clear position that it is not. Okay. Fine. Being evenhanded and balanced and all that, with “empathy for the suffering and aspirations of both peoples” does not mean not having any point of view at all, and here, obviously, on this point, it goes against Israel. Being evenhanded and balanced and all that, one presumes that elsewhere among the principles or in the statement one will find articulated some expression of specifically blameworthy Palestinian behavior – not because one should make some up, so to speak, just to pretend to be fair, but because there is actually blameworthy specifically Palestinian behavior to perceive?

Apparently not.

Principle f) asserts,

We reject the all-too-common binary approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict that seeks to justify one side or the other as all right or all wrong, and sets out to marshal supposed evidence to prove a case of complete guilt or total exoneration. Scholarship and fairness require a more difficult and thoughtful approach.  As academics we recognize the subjective perspectives of individuals and peoples, but strive to apply rigorous standards to research and analysis rather than to subsume academic discipline to political expediency.

Yet, those  rigorous standards of research and analysis, when applied in principle e), to “rhetoric used by both sides [emphasis added] offer no specific acknowledgement, as with Israeli “occupation,” to the institutionalization of anti-Semitic rhetoric within organizations and concerns run or funded by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. In principle d), where the council “cannot condone the use of violence targeting civilians,” but names no national names, its rigorous standards fail to detect over the organizational, terrorist history of the PLO and its constituent members, and in the onslaught of the second Intifada, and in Hamas missile and rocket attacks on Israel a purposeful policy of violence targeting citizens of which there is not the remotest like on the part of Israel.

The call, in the interests of peace, is that one show to both peoples a balanced “respect for their national narratives.” This is not to say – it does not say – intellectual recognition of a narrative. It does not say, as part of the reality of negotiating some resolution to conflict with foes,accommodation in an acceptable way of a foe’s narrative. It says “respect” for it. The anti-Semitic narrative, the “settler-colonial” interloper with no ancient history on the land narrative. The rejectionist narrative. Respect for it. And this would be “to apply rigorous standards to research and analysis rather than to subsume academic discipline to political expediency”?

While I know specifically that it is not so for many of the individuals who have signed the Third Narrative Advisory Council Statement, the statement, as a joint product, does give off a whiff of something. It has the odor of sweaty discomfort to it. The rotten BDS movement has made unnerving advances into academic terrain, and these scholars recognize how awful and frightening that is. Yet, though BDS is clearly opposed elsewhere on the Third Narrative website, omission of any direct reference to it in the advisory council statement, and to BDS’s provenance, is glaring. The unwillingness, despite all the conspicuous rhetoric of balance, to specifically cite Palestinians for wrongful behavior in any instance, while showing no such reserve about Israel, feels telling.

The Third Narrative has the odor of offering people a way to take a stand, in the current moment, seemingly supportive of Israel, but while holding their noses. If you want to oppose academic boycotts, but you don’t want to call yourself pro-Israel or specifically criticize Palestinians for anything, you now have a statement you can endorse or even sign, and when you do sign it, you may notice something about all the other names of people supporting a “third” narrative and its “unique, middle ground”: they are almost all Jewish names, without a recognizably Arab name among them.

AJA

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Indian Country Israel The Political Animal

Academic Boycotts and Re-Colonization by Theory

(The full text of the following essay was published by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.)

from “Academic Boycotts and Recolonization by Theory” 

As a matter of international justice, however, conceptually distinguishing and crucial in consideration of what constitutes an indigenous people have been the following characteristics, developed for the Working Paper on the Concept of “Indigenous People” prepared for the U.N.’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations:

  • Priority in time, with respect to the occupation and use of a specific territory;
  • The voluntary perpetuation of cultural distinctiveness, which may include the aspects of language, social organization, religion and spiritual values, modes of production, laws and institutions;
  • An experience of subjugation, marginalization, dispossession, exclusion or discrimination, whether or not these conditions persist; and
  • Self-identification, as well as recognition by other groups, or by State authorities, as a distinct collectivity.

It is obvious that Jews wholly match the distinguishing characteristics.  They do so no less or more so in any one respect than another, yet one may say that in the historically outstanding nature of Jewish survival during an unparalleled, near two-millennium Diaspora, “voluntary perpetuation of cultural distinctiveness” and “self-identification” have played especially important roles. I note this to emphasize the self-identification component offered by the international community in thoughtful respect to the self-determination of indigenous peoples.

It is the case, given the politics of indigeneity among host nations, that nations will often challenge the indigenous claims of their internal populations. Most notable in recent times, four nations – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States – did not originally vote in favor of adopting the 2007 U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The reasons for this reluctance were not difficult to fathom. All four nations had profound histories of conquest and significant indigenous populations whose claims – original, political, and economic – are supported by the Declaration. Ratification might also entail a difficult social and political coming-to-terms with disturbing historical truths, a process still not advanced in the United States. (Australia, by contrast, in 2008 issued a public apology to its indigenous population, delivered by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in a nationally televised address before the Australian parliament, with all but one living former prime minister present.) In the United States, Native American claims of territorial and sovereign rights are regularly resisted. The Pamunkey Tribe of Virginia, for instance, of such history as to be famed for Pocahantas and its contact with John Smith and the Jamestown colony, and occupying, still, the oldest reservation in the country, predating the country, does not enjoy the benefits of federally recognized status. The Lakota actually won a 1980, 8-1 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court over the theft, in violation of two Fort Laramie treaties, of the Black Hills of South Dakota. Still, while the Court offered the Lakota financial compensation – which the tribe did not want and has refused – it did not offer the Lakota what it is they do want and still demand,  the return of their sacred Hills.

In contrast to these national challenges to indigenous claims, what one will not find is the international community – that is to say, the international legal regime and the left social justice movements that are so much that regime’s support – challenging those indigenous claims by aboriginal populations.

One will not find challenges to these claims, that is, except in the case of Jews.

Anti-Semitism and the Denial of Jewish Indigeneity

Fundamental now to the radical left assault on Israel’s legitimacy are fierce anti-historical falsehoods denying the indigeneity of Jews to the ancient land of Israel. Palestinians and their left Western supporters, as part of the campaign to delegitimize Israel, regularly challenge and even deny the historical origin of Jews in Israel. This is their challenge to the distinguishing criterion of “priority in time.”

The variations on these delegitimizing tactics are many, from genetic denial (Ashkenazi Jews are really converted Khazars) and misidentification (Jews are Europeans), to differing counterfactual claims: ignoring the unbroken presence of Jews in Palestine (the Old Yeshuv) and ignoring in the European claim that the majority of current Israeli Jews are actually Mizrahi and Sepharidic Jews.

Only for Jews, then, is the sensitive and respectful “fundamental criterion” of self-identification attacked by every kind of scientific, historical, and rhetorical fraudulence. With respect to Jews only does the ideological left challenge the integral identity in difference of an indigenous people. Whereas, according to the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples, “in almost all indigenous languages, the name of a group simply refers to ‘people,’ ‘man’ or ‘us,’” often with some indicator of place, such as “here” – thus distinguishing “the people” from those who are outsiders, those who are not “the people” – only with respect to Jews is the otherwise respected self-separation in “cultural distinctiveness” and difference misrepresented and traduced by some who would call themselves “progressive” as an ideology of racist superiority. In this gesture of disdain and, indeed, cultural superiority, does a so-called progressive dominant world view mimic the condescension with which European peoples conducted a genocidal assault on the resistant cultural and religious otherness of the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere and Oceania.

Only now it is against Jews that such a campaign of cultural genocide is waged, not this time on the basis of a Christian slander of deicide or of Nazi physical extermination, but of a selectively post-nationalist secular religion and by a blind progressivism that begins to mirror its opposite.

It is now “theory,” the most highfalutin conceptualizing and rhetoricizing of the intellectual left, that moves this third great movement of Western anti-Semitism. It is NAISA’s own purported professionalism in indigenous studies that constructs the irony of this campaign against the Jewish state, and, as an exploitative by-product, the re-colonization by theory of other indigenous peoples.

Re-Colonization by Theory

The ILO’s and U.N. Working Group’s criteria include as one of those distinguishing characteristics of indigeneity the “experience of subjugation, marginalization, dispossession, exclusion or discrimination, whether or not these conditions persist.” Of course, now, for Jews, in the establishment of, and in a Jewish state, those conditions do not primarily any longer persist. Yet in this qualifier – offered, clearly, against any distinction – postcolonial and culture theorists working from counter-constructs of power and the ethical standing of powerlessness nonetheless find  excuse to recast Jews as oppressors based on their recovery from powerlessness.

Still, we might pause to wonder, as any clear thinker would be driven by obvious questioning to wonder – but why, for NAISA, Israel and Jews?

Where are the NAISA resolutions in support of boycotting Brazilian universities, in protest of the destruction of the Amazon homelands of the smallest and most powerless of all indigenous tribes? Where is the resolution against Indonesia for the 1963 conquest and subjugation of the 250 indigenous tribes of West Papua, New Guinea, which those people still resist today? Where was the resolution, closer to home, to boycott Yale University prior to 2010, during the near century that it reneged on the deal with Peru to return the Quechua artifacts of Machu Picchu? Closer still, where were the resolutions against American universities in protest of the fourteen-year Individual Indian Trust Fund lawsuit, and of the Tribal Trust Fund suit, litigations against the U.S. Department of the Interior over the misappropriation of hundreds of billions of dollars held in trust for scores of tribes and hundreds of thousands of individual American Indians since 1887? Where are the resolutions in protest of the inadequacies of the Indian Health Service, of state and local violations of the tribal sovereignty offered by the federal government? Where is the resolution to boycott any law school that does not call for the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn Johnson v. M’Intosh, the 1823 decision by which the Court legally enshrined the conquest of Native America by right of European discovery?

We will not find them.

What we find instead, driven by the fashions of academia, the prevailing winds of cultural theory, and the shape shifting of anti-Semitism is the exploitation of the indigenous cause, and one more time, of indigenous peoples, only for the purpose of expropriating the terms of those peoples’ histories to be used not in the interests of the indigenous, but as rhetorical weapons against Jews. The political fashionistas of the Middle East and Orientalist theorizing – in support of Palestinian rejectionism, which is in order to oppose Jewish empowerment in Israel –  do not care about indigenous peoples. They merely use them, adopting the modern history of indigenous victimization as a banner to fly in the campaign against Israel. Worse, in this abuse, they attempt, in ideological solidarity, to draw in to a conflict not their own the very indigenous peoples these progressives pretend to champion as allies. Think of the French and Indian War in North America. How the British made promises to the Iroquois to protect the Ohio River Valley from European settlement. How the French must have whispered the music of mutual alliance into Algonquian  ears. How Omar Barghouti and some Americanist from a state university protesting settler-colonialism in Palestine play, by the mere utterance of a verbal truth-to-power badge, as if they stand in solidarity with West Papuans.

In 1988, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak published a landmark essay in postcolonial studies entitled “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Its status was established by the nature of its insights, variously welcome and unwelcome by its intended audience, and by the extent of its influence on the field. That influence has been, all depending on one’s perspective, both profoundly positive and negative. Among Spivak’s important insights and warnings (Spivak’s Marxist and deconstructionist theorizing is the kind that seeks to problematize a field, to interrupt a discourse) was the caution against first-world political radicals producing “essentialist” conceptions of the third-world subaltern powerless, i.e. conceiving of them as if they are all, from their varied cultures and histories, the same in their difference – representing them as possessing an essential, common otherness from those Western Subjects who make objects of them through study. This might mean, very simply, constructing homogenous postcolonial others out of Cherokees and Palestinians.

Another of Spivak’s warnings, significantly unheeded in practice, was against perpetuating in the radical postcolonial critique of imperialism the same Western power structures – the hegemony of Western modes of knowledge and discourse – that upheld imperialism. That is to say that Western theorists and radicals speaking on behalf of the subaltern is not the subaltern speaking. Rather it is a substitution of the same dominating institutional and historical discourse for – and here Spivak quotes Foucault – “a whole set of knowledges that have been disqualified as inadequate to their task or insufficiently elaborated: naive knowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, beneath the required level of cognition or scientificity.”

What is the history of Western colonialism for indigenous peoples, beyond the physical onslaught, if not a history of the West’s disqualifying as inadequate “naive knowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, beneath the required level of cognition or scientificity”? How do we not see, even more than in the theory and its jargon, in the postcolonial activism itself – by exploiting the jargon in an effort to refashion reality from it, through vague verbal posturings in boycott resolutions by professional intellectuals – Western radicals this time, imposing, again, their own, alien historical discourse and conceptions, their own positive and negative self-regard, their own agenda on indigenous peoples?

Read more at: http://spme.org/spme-research/academic-boycotts-re-colonization-theory/16769/ | SPME

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Culture Clash Israel The Political Animal

Helen Thomas and Oedipus

tech3On the CNN’s Reliable Sources this morning, new host David Folkenflik hosted three female journalists, including Judy Woodruff and Candy Crowley in considering the career and legacy of Helen Thomas. The entire discussion addressed Thomas’s groundbreaking career and generous influence on young women journalists like Woodruff and Crowley. Just before the end of the discussion, Folkenflick asked one question about Thomas’s career ending anti-Semitic comments. Woodruff characterized these comments as Thomas letting her views slip into her work. Thomas’s work over the last thirteen years of her career was, in fact, commentary, so the letting slip was not of her views, but of a kind of view.

That was all. That was the coverage of the rank anti-Semitism that Thomas propounded and ignorance she demonstrated on multiple occasions after the initial videotaped comments that brought her career crashing down.

CNN bills Reliable Sources as “one of television’s only regular programs to examine how journalists do their jobs and how the media affect the stories they cover.”

Utter nonsense in this case. There was no examination of journalism here, only journalists praising their own and themselves. There was no consideration of “how the media affect the stories they cover,” only the media affecting the story by gross and conscious negligence of a crucial human element of the story.

On ABC’s This Week and NBC’s Meet the Press the story was no different. Journalists allowed their personal relationships to the subject to distort their obituary coverage, which they turned into inside clubhouse praise of a teammate. George Stephanopoloous made reference in a phrase to “controversy.” David Gregory actually quoted President Obama stating of Thomas that she would “ask tough questions and hold our leaders to account.” Gregory actually, embarrassingly followed that comment with an “Amen.”

Would these be like the tough questions that Gregory and others asked about Thomas’s anti-Semitism, like their holding her to account? What if she had been an office holder expressing the views she did?  Rank anti-Semitism covered up by rank cronyism.

In a month in which Yahoo tech reporter Virginia Heffernan brought low the literary mind by comparing it, as she confessed her lightheaded creationism, to mystical flakiness ungripped by reason, it serves as a tonic to recall the lesson of Oedipus and of all Greek tragedy, about the full accounting of a human life, about the significance of endings and of what, in classical tragedy, are known as hamartia and hubris.

Hamartia is an error in judgment. It is the hero’s tragic flaw. Hubris is the overweening pride that compounds the flaw. Oedipus did more of estimation in his life than even Helen Thomas: he saved Thebes by solving the riddle of the Sphinx and freeing the city from the Sphinx’s curse, for which he was rewarded with its kingship and the hand in marriage of Jocasta, its dowager queen. But Oeidpus was blind to his rash and proud nature and willfully refused the counsel of the differently blind seer Tiresias. He brought about this own demise and more tragically than might otherwise have needed to be the case.

Helen Thomas did not make one error, which sometimes may even justly be enough. On multiple occasions she denied the Jewish heritage in Israel, greater, actually than that of most other peoples in their homelands, and told them to “go back” to the European nations that had committed genocide against them. She spoke of Jewish control of finance, of Hollywood, of government – all the classic anti-Semitic demonization. Judy Woodruff sought to minimize, even disappear these sins by characterizing them, unspoken, as the product of Thomas’s Lebanese heritage, another one of those disingenuous maskings of anti-Semitism as only Mideast anti-Israel politics.

Oedipus was a king. He did great things. He ruled a great city. We do not remember him without remembering his end. He is as defined by his tragic end as anything. It is actually the value of his life, that it reminds us that we are accountable to the end.

As the closing chorus tells us:

You residents of Thebes, our native land,
look on this man, this Oedipus, the one
who understood that celebrated riddle.
He was the most powerful of men.
All citizens who witnessed this man’s wealth
were envious. Now what a surging tide                                     1810
of terrible disaster sweeps around him.
So while we wait to see that final day,
we cannot call a mortal being happy
before he’s passed beyond life free from pain.

That is unless you have friends in the media to cover for you.

AJA

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Israel The Political Animal

A Second Look: The Uncanny John Mearsheimer

tech3The weekend found me in my cyber perambulations encountering greater than the usual concentration of anti-Semitic eruptions from the maw of the uncivilizing world. We withdraw from the end of history. It produced my own ironic rants in twitter eruption, first on Saturday, again on Sunday. Some meditation on the nature of that ur-hatred that is anti-Semitism has to follow. This put me in mind to republish a post from near a couple of years ago in which John Mearsheimer was just the carrier of the moment of that contagion that, if not literally airborne, seems always in the air. There seems something uncanny in the nature of its eruption, like a parasitic alien, I write below, its head bursting finally out of the host body. Here, then:

The Uncanny John Mearsheimer

Popularly understood as something eerie, strange, and supernatural, the uncanny in Freud retains that sense of the strange, yet adds to it the contrary feeling of the familiar. This clash of contrarieties is profoundly unsettling.

[T]his uncanny element is actually nothing new or strange, but something that was long familiar to the psyche and was estranged from it only through being repressed.  The link with repression now illuminates Shelling’s definition of the uncanny as ‘something that should have remained hidden that has come into the open’.

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, we should recall of the novel, in contrast to the movies, Frankenstein is Dr. Frankenstein, the creator of the monster, and not the monster himself, who is a nameless dread, like a repressed element seeking to break through to the surface. In the novel, the monster and his creator are alternately in pursuit of, and flight from, each other, seeking in that exchange of positions both to know and to deny, to destroy, themselves.

I am not performing a psycho-blog-analysis of John Mearsheimer, anymore than Shelley analyzed the doctor. I merely note Mearsheimer’s creation, with Stephen Walt, of the past few years, and the emergence of the “something that should have remained hidden that has come into the open.”

Adam Holland brought to our attention Mearsheimer’s back-cover blurb-endorsement of the latest book by the notorious Jewish anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon. (We might think Jewish anti-Semitism, like the light-skinned “black” passing for “white,” a kind of ur-form of the uncanny – “something that was long familiar to the psyche and was estranged from it only through being repressed.”) Jeffrey Goldberg drew further attention over several posts to this latest development from the co-author of The Israel Lobby, and so did, Walter Russell MeadHarry’s Place over several posts, and others. Mearsheimer offered an unyielding defense of himself at Walt’s blog at Foreign Affairs. The defense, like the blurb, is a curious creature, an Alien bursting from the chest of John Hurt, strange and horribly disturbing, yet looking like very much like our own intestines, now headed, and headed somewhere, ultimately for us.

Mearsheimer’s first Maginot line of defense is that his blurb was for the one book only and not an endorsement of Atzmon’s anti-Semitic ideas in general. This is the argument of a country ready for conquest.

I am only endorsing this one work by (Vlad the Impaler, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Robert Mugabe, David Duke, Ratko Mladić), not what he stands for in life altogether, and the fact that I feel no discomfort associating myself with him, linking our names together in the indelible record of history, has no import to any understanding of who I am as person, and nothing should or can be made of it.

This is a most flimsy argument to make. Perhaps recognizing, while not acknowledging, this position’s bursting seams – perhaps feeling, even as he writes, his own entrails busting like an inner demon through the shell of his skin – Mearsheimer proceeds to do a most curious thing. Despite claiming that his blurbed endorsement was limited only to the current book, he proceeds to defend Atzmon against the most devastating charges against him, and of which there is abundant and damning evidence – that Atzmon is a Holocaust denier and a trafficker in the vilest anti-Semitic tropes and traditions. It is like watching a Jekyll become Hyde before one’s eyes.

Let me now turn to the specific claim that Atzmon is an “apologist for Hitler.” Again, I am somewhat reluctant to do this, because this charge forces me to defend what Atzmon said in one of his blog posts.

Are there no mirrors in Mearsheimer’s home? It wasn’t Goldberg’s charge that forced him to defend anything. It was his own careless disregard for the entailments of that for which he has come to stand, and extend through Atzmon, that apparently compelled him to further bring into the open what should have remained hidden.

One of the characteristics we see in a certain kind of modern critic of Israel – the kind who is not merely critical of settlement policy, let us say, but who is clearly unsympathetic to the state itself, and to the historical record and truth of its travails – is a defensive belligerence against the counter charges to the critic’s claims. The critique of these individuals seems inevitably to extend beyond Israel to a whole nexus of Jewish power and influence that is said to sustain Israel against what should be, these critics argue, the more natural opposition to what Israel really is, and how it has come to be harmful, along with its network of Jewish support, to host nations of that dangerous element with separate loyalties.

No entry into contemporary intellectual life more characteristically has represented this kind of criticism than Mearsheimer’s and Walt’s The Israel Lobby. The two have since demonstrated all of that characteristic defensive belligerence to their own critics. This is not an unusual response to criticism, one might say. Nothing necessarily telling in that. Except…except…some of these critics are drawn by the fury of the debate – to employ a term of current domestic politics – to double down on their position. They become – compelled, it does seem – to poke the beast of anti-Semitism, to see how far they can disturb the animal while still claiming they were just out for a walk in the woods meaning no harm to any Jew.

It is almost too perfect that an author of The Israel Lobby has associated himself with Gilad Atzmon, and now even defended him. It confirms all his critics have claimed, while he has locked himself in the laboratory determined to create bastard life from spare parts and electricity. What remains to be seen is whether he will pursue, in belated recognition, the monster all the way to the Arctic reaches, and if he too will die on the ship, the monster come for him.

AJA

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Israel

They of All People

.

(Updated)

It has been a fascinating week in anti-Semitism, but then they all are. The more I witness it, the more persuaded I become of the identity of the purer, more direct forms and the ignorant forms. After all, much ignorance – lack of knowledge and sophistication – is open with wonder and without prejudice, like that of a child, so ignorance is not the explanation or an excuse. I begin to think the ignorance a cover, conscious or not, for the hate, and the hate need not be virulent, but only casually alienating, marginalizing, and dehumanizing. This is true of all racism, but anti-Semitism has its longer unified and coherent history.

Mainstream English culture and politics do anti-Semitism well, which is to say more publically and unashamedly, so in addition to the Guardian, which, additional to other roles, is a functionally anti-Semitic rag, we have the academic union UCU, which former member Ronnie Fraser is suing for being “institutionally anti-Semitic.” This week alone we got British MP David Ward issuing the latest “they of all people” slander and the Sunday Times publishing a cartoon with a new iteration of the “blood libel” slander. Both initially and secondarily and arguably tertiarily resisted acknowledgement and apology, and both, when succumbing to pressure, issued disingenuous apologies. Ward apologized for “unintended offence.” This is where a form of ignorance arises, of the nature of a pathology, like the self-delusion of the alcoholic who denies his problem: of course, Ward intended to offend. That was the whole point of his comments. They are deeply critical remarks – particularly in their invidious nature and timing – that have no other possible effect, even if one fools oneself into thinking it is tough love.

A twitter exchange I had was akin to the response and unreserved apology, finally, of the Times that appears, actually, to be somewhat reserved. Unlike some allies, I do not tweet to engage in 140 character argumentation, especially with hateful people who would only waste my time, but sometimes – many tweeters offering a black box of identity – I’ll engage a little to probe the box and satisfy a curiosity. One response to my tweeting the Times cartoon was

 isn’t that what Israel is doing though? Maybe the wrong day for said cartoon, but not anti Semitic, is it??

This purposely chirpy tweeter over a few tweets went on to characterize the cartoon as “criticism,” which I, in closing, corrected to lie. The cartoon, in the manner of similar dishonest characterizations of the separation barrier, ignores or misrepresents the conditions of its origin. And even if one believes an argument can be made for the barrier’s problematic effect on some Palestinian lives, there is no manner whatsoever in which its construction or even its maintenance was or is the product of physical harm to Palestinians, much less mortared with their blood, by even Benjamin Netanyahu, who was not in office when the barrier was constructed. One need not know the history of the Jewish blood libel to recognize this one, even merely locally, as a libel. One need not know the history of Jewish caricature and demonization to recognize demonization and to know that demonization is dehumanization. To criticize, one must address facts; everything in the cartoon, without exception, is a lie.

It is finally meaningless to refer to the mind that looks at that cartoon and calls it true – “what Israel is doing” – and simply call it ignorant. It is the ignorance of a man who beats a woman and tells himself he did it because she misbehaved or in some way deserved it – he believes that, doesn’t he, as Ward and cartoonist Gerald Scarfe believe the Israel and Jews, for Ward, warrant the attack on them?

One has to hate, however so in denial, to form prejudice out of ignorance.

Not to focus on the English unfairly, though, even as I have been composing this post, information arrived that the Brooklyn College political science department does not think it prejudicial directly to sponsor a BDS event on campus – claiming sponsorship is not endorsement – and refuse to permit counter voices to participate.

And the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, funded by the European Union, the United Nations Development Program, and UNESCO, publishes this:

“[The Jews] feel inferior to the nations and societies in which they live, because of the hostility and evil rising in their hearts towards others and for their plots and schemes against the nations who know with certainty that the Jews are the root of conflict in the world, wherever they reside.”

“[Jews are] outcasts in every corner of the earth, and not one nation in the world respects them… but Allah’s curse upon them and his fury at them cause them to continue with their transgression.”

“Allah has stricken fear in their hearts and decreed humiliation and degradation upon them until Judgment Day.”

The mind must simply reel at the pervasiveness of open anti-Semitism in the Muslim world and the pervasiveness today of covert anti-Semitism in the Western world. Here is how reminiscent the atmosphere is.

JNS.org posted a fascinating piece a couple of weeks ago about “How the press soft-pedaled Hitler” in the period after he was elected to the Chancellorship of Germany.

A law passed on April 7 required the dismissal of Jews from all government jobs. Additional legislation in the months to follow banned Jews from a whole range of professions, from dentistry to the movie industry. The government even sponsored a one-day nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses, with Nazi storm troopers stationed outside Jewish-owned stores to prevent customers from entering.

Nevertheless, in July 1933, nearly six months after Hitler’s rise to power, the New York Times ran a front-page feature about the Fuhrer that presented him in a flattering light. For Hitler, it was a golden opportunity to soften his image by praising President Roosevelt as well as a platform to deliver lengthy justifications of his totalitarian policies and attacks on Jews.

The article, titled “Hitler Seeks Jobs for All Germans,” began with Hitler’s remark that FDR was looking out “for the best interests and welfare of the people of the United States.” He added, “I have sympathy with President Roosevelt because he marches straight toward his objective over Congress, over lobbies, over stubborn bureaucracies.”

The story was based on an interview with the Nazi leader by Times correspondent Anne O’Hare McCormick. She gave Hitler paragraph after paragraph to explain his policies as necessary to address Germany’s unemployment, improve its roads, and promote national unity. The Times correspondent lobbed the Nazi chief softball questions such as “What character in history do you admire most, Caesar, Napoleon, or Frederick the Great?”

McCormick also described Hitler’s appearance and mannerisms in a strongly positive tone: Hitler is “a rather shy and simple man, younger than one expects, more robust, taller… His eyes are almost the color of the blue larkspur in a vase behind him, curiously childlike and candid… His voice is as quiet as his black tie and his double-breasted black suit… Herr Hitler has the sensitive hand of the artist.” [Emphasis added]

Contrast to this: in the Guardian about a year ago ran a feature titled “My Worst Shot,” in which prominent photographers commented, surprisingly, on just that – a photograph of theirs presented as one they chose to meet that description. Among the photographers was Platon who presented a photograph that was controversial on its first publication, of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Here is Platon’s account of the photo:

‘In 2009 I photographed around 110 world leaders at the UN. Ahmadinejad was the biggest surprise. That day, he made a speech that was one of the most controversial ever given and a large proportion of the auditorium walked out. I was expecting to get that dictatorial menace but he suddenly realised that, not only was he about to sit for the most intimate portrait of him ever taken, a crowd of his supporters was watching. They were all cheering; he lost his composure for a second and started to laugh. What I got was him trying to regain his composure. It’s the most sinister leer I’ve ever caught on film. It was a missed opportunity, in the sense that he was trying to gather himself. On the other hand, it gave me something I would never have expected. No one thinks of Ahmadinejad as a man with a hint of a smile.’

Platon never actually calls this photo his worst or offers reason for its being so. His comments implicitly only, for those who already know, recall the controversy over the image. Beyond that, despite Platon’s renown and acknowledged mastery, notice how his account of the image he produced is directed toward Ahmadinejad and entirely away from his own craft and artistry, his own intention and selection.

Wrote Chas Newkey-Burden, who is not Jewish,

Put aside for a moment that the “oppression” which proponents of this argument are accusing Israel of committing is usually imaginary. When directed by gentiles towards Jews, the “they-of-all-people” argument is in its very essence so fundamentally ill-judged and unjust, and voiced with such a breathtaking lack of self-awareness, that my spirit flags when I hear it.

….

I contend that, as a result of the Holocaust and what preceded it, it is we gentiles who should know better. The Holocaust followed centuries of slander, persecution, violence and murder committed by gentiles against Jews. So it is not you who have an increased responsibility to behave morally, but us.

….

Let us strip the “they-of-all-people” argument down to its very basics: gentiles telling Jews that we killed six million of your people and that as a result it is you, not us, who have lessons to learn; that it is you, not us, who need to clean up your act. It is an argument of atrocious, spiteful insanity. Do not accept it; turn it back on those who offer it. For it is us, not you, who should know better.

(Update:

 

AJA

 

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Israel The Political Animal

Two Epistemic Closures: The GOP and Israel-Critics

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(This commentary originally appeared in the Algemeiner on January 25, 2013.)

What do Tuesday’s election results remind us of?

They should recall the result of November’s U.S. elections.

Against all evidence – and here I do mean all evidence – Mitt Romney and Republicans of every stripe, from Tea Party to establishment, genuinely believed that they were going to win. Strictly speaking, this was not a case ofepistemic closure. It was more a case of confirmation bias, of false-consensus bias. Against consistent evidence of how most Americans view their nation and the role of government, in the face of polls that all year had shown, however marginally, Barack Obama invariably leading Romney across the broad swath of polls, Republicans convinced themselves that the electorate favored Romney.

Because conservatives had for decades succeeded in the rhetorical and perceptual warfare that had slanted voters’ reception of the vocabulary of liberalism, conservatives persuaded themselves that the United States is a center-right country. All that was ever required was to pay attention to what Americans want from their government, and for their own lives under the purview of that government, to know that the U.S. is actually a center-left country. Americans, as do the citizens of most developed nations, want a social-welfare foundation and safety net; they want protection of their individuality, and for their variant personal and group identities, in how they live their lives. Conservatives’ inference for themselves, from their own first principles and rhetorical arguments to others, that the nation is center-right constitutes the epistemic closure.

What did the Israeli election results show?

Western liberal Israel-critics persuaded themselves that the Israeli electorate was moving, if it hadn’t already so moved, in a far right – even, hysterically,fascist or theocratic – direction. Israel-critics persuaded themselves that the evidence demonstrated this.

Whom do I designate by “Israel-critics”? Anyone who criticizes Israel? No. Israel-critics are liberals who are neither, at the farthest extreme, open or barely concealed anti-Semites, nor, somewhat less vilely prejudicial, anti-Zionists, nor “peace and justice” frauds who, pretending to critique Israeli policy and governments, are actually advocates of the Palestinian cause and Palestinian victory rather than of negotiation and compromise.

Israel-critics are otherwise mainstream liberals who have been epistemically seduced and corrupted by the ideological distortions of postcolonialism. Their first principles in regard to concepts like power, marginality, race, and geopolitics direct their reading of history and events so that they dramatically invert the history and confuse the causality of the events. They have persuaded themselves – against all evidence – and repeat to insanity in light of that evidence, that the settlement project, however misguided, however much an irritant and an excuse, is the cause of intractability in the Israeli-Arab conflict, when the history, like the polling for President Obama, makes manifest that it is not even remotely so.

From Walter Russell Mead:

The story as far as we’re concerned is the spectacular flop of the West’s elite media. If you’ve read anything about Israeli politics in the past couple weeks, you probably came away expecting a major shift to the right—the far right. That was the judgment of journalists at the NYTWSJBBCNBCTime, ReutersGuardianHuffPoSlateSalonAl Jazeeraand countless others. The most shameful piece of journalism that got furthest away from the facts was David Remnick’s 9,000-word feature in last week’s New Yorker, detailing the irrevocable popular rise of Israel’s radical right.

That didn’t happen. The ultra-right lost big time, while the centrists gained significant ground—so much so that Bibi now has the option of forming a coalition government without the ultra-Orthodox Haredim. While Bibi can certainly form a traditional right-wing government, there’s a strong possibility for a broad centrist government comprised of Likud, center-left Yesh Atid, and center-left Hatnua.

How did the MSM get this so wrong? TAI editor Adam Garfinkle noted that the media is prone to a simple psychological fallacy: “We see what we expect to see, and we disattend (pardon the jargon) what does not fit with our framing of the situation. . . . If we’re sure that our range of expectations excludes a particular outcome, we will not see evidence of it until too late.”

Edited: Overzealous intern now living in house of pain.

Wrote Remnick:

Meanwhile, Israeli politics continues its seemingly endless trek to the right. Every day, the Web carries the voice of another leader of the settler movement who insists that the settlers are the vanguard now, that the old verities are to be challenged, if not eliminated. Early last year, Benny Katzover, a leader in the settlement of Elon Moreh, told a Chabad paper, Beit Mashiach, “I would say that today Israeli democracy has one central mission, and that is to disappear. Israeli democracy has finished its historical role, and it must be dismantled and bow before Judaism.”

Of course, the epistemic error in Remnick’s piece began with his decision to profile Naftali Bennett and not the man who turned out to be a greater story of the election, Yair Lapid. This error by Remnick, however, arises from a prior error, inferences post Camp David and Taba that boggle the understanding of those who recognize their gross distortion no less than the GOP’s Romney delusion is a marvel to those who could see it. Wrote Yossi Klein Halevi,

Centrists want to be doves but are forced by reality to be hawks.

In response to Remnick and all the others like him, Josh Block wrote,

Last night, a centrist country, rooted in liberal, Western values identical to our own, gave its vote to parties clustered around the political center. Those who predicted a different outcome will now have to ask themselves which of their assumptions, or their agendas, led them so far astray.

We know from the reaction of the GOP since November and from the long world history of political delusion that no partisan of any mistaken set of ideas “will have to ask themselves” anything. The truth may set you free, but it is also often another country not easily reached. The greatest challenge is for those who have a foot in only one of these two countries. They need to do some high steppin’.

AJA

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Israel The Political Animal

The Hagelian Dialectic

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This commentary first appeared in the Algemeiner on January 4. Today, President Obama announced his nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense.

The Chuck Hagel trial balloon has been aloft for weeks now, not to burst or land – since its lofting was never officially acknowledged – until either he or someone else is officially nominated for Secretary of Defense. What conclusions may be drawn without tendentiousness?

Above all, we see a pattern, oft repeated, of charge and counter charge between supporters of Israel and critics of Israel and American policy toward Israel, using the same language each time, making similar tenuous accusations and identical unsubstantiated claims. It is a fake dialogue – because no genuine interchange is intended – that cannot reach a synthesis because on neither side is the true, greater argument sufficiently the focus of attention.

In detail, first, even if one is both a strong supporter of Israel and of President Obama, even if one is generally admiring of the President’s foreign policy and holds no doubt of his commitment to the security of Israel in even the ultimate circumstances, nonetheless, the weakest part of that foreign policy has regarded Israel. About Israel, the President has demonstrated the tinniest of ears and spoken with the most recurring hiccups. Even if, ultimately, he nominates someone other than Hagel, the very idea that Obama considered him will have served only to foster greater mistrust among the already mistrustful.

Gil Troy, writing at Open Zion, has done the best, most balanced writing on this subject. Perhaps overstating the case in both directions, Troy has nonetheless noted a schism in the President’s foreign policy inclinations, between McGovern and Kissinger.

The question of where Obama stands regarding Israel has often pivoted on this deeper question of which Obama shows up when doing foreign policy. His conjuring up of an American-Muslim heritage in Cairo, his dithering before supporting Iran’s Green Revolution, his historically sloppy comparisons between Palestinians and African-Americans, and his occasional “tough-love” approach to Israel, all expressed his inner McGovern—revealing how a position that appears lovely and idealistic often becomes morally myopic. But supporting Israel militarily, endorsing Israel’s defensive war against Hamas missiles, and backing Israel in the U.N., have all expressed his inner Kissinger—sprinkled with a dash of nobility and idealism worthy of Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Given Obama’s difficulties with the Jewish community, some unwarranted, others clearly created on his own, and there being no upside to a Hagel trial balloon and even greater downside to his actual nomination, one can only wonder, “What was he thinking?”

Second, there has been excess, as there often is in these cases, in the reaction to Hagel. Once again, the dispute has been unnecessarily and uncertainly personalized and driven by identity politics.

Let us observe, as the evidence seems clearly to suggest, that Israel and even Jews hold no special place in Chuck Hagel’s human sympathies and affections. So? How much does any randomly chosen American, Israeli, or Jew care about Ghanaians? Or the Aymara Indians of Bolivia? Everyone need not care all that much about Jews or Israel. That does not make anyone anti-Israel or even an anti-Semite, even if the occasional politically incorrect, clumsy locution escapes his lips. Yet as is often the case, some Jews and other supporters of Israel have responded to an unsympathetic political actor like Hagel with tenuous charges of animus and even anti-Semitism. This serves only to focus the debate on identity politics and group influence rather than on profound and outstanding principles.

The outstanding instance of this tendency occurred where such misbehaviors can be frequently found, somewhere in the vicinity of Bill Kristol, whether at the Emergency Committee for Israel or The Weekly Standard, which early headlined the threat of an anonymous senate aid,

Send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite.

The ugliest manifestation of that quote, beside its anonymity, is the charge of anti-Semite brandished as black mail threat: no honest commitment to exposing anti-Semitism just on its virtues, but only as a threat of character assassination to gain the upper hand in political warfare. Proud work, that – work that honestly earns the counter-charge of “smear” otherwise flung so carelessly and ignorantly by Israel’s programmatic Western foes.

However, in any widespread contention, there will be people who behave badly. There is no party discipline in public debate. The greater empirical truth is that such cheap resort to name-calling has been relatively rare, and most of it, if one investigates, from minor figures. Troy in his own searches discovered what I did, that when searching the Internet for “Chuck Hagel” and “anti-Semite” what one finds in overwhelming abundance are links to writing objecting to Hagel being called an anti-Semite rather than the few mostly unknown figures who have actually called him that.

This leads to a third point in detail – the nature of the response, whenever these affairs arise, from those whose program it is to criticize Israel and object to American support of Israel. First, they will decry the influence of the Israeli lobby – influence and support they wish they had themselves. Second, in the manner of the arch smear monger himself, Glenn Greenwald, they will accuse critics of someone like Hagel of smearing him, when they themselves have little understanding of, or concern for, the easy distinction between a smear and a criticism. Third, in the most extraordinary cases, such as that of Charles Freeman over three years ago, and now Hagel, portions of the foreign policy and journalism establishments will rise in defense of their now current standard bearer – this last even when, as now, it produces the incongruity of firm liberals providing very weak evidence in support of a very conservative figure they would otherwise vigorously oppose.

That incongruity, however, points us to that true, greater argument that should always be the focus in these debates, not the question of Jews and who loves them or hates them, or whether “they” have too much influence. Chuck Hagel did not need to be the second Jewish senator from Nebraska. One need be no anglophile to recognize England as a proper ally, or sacrifice one’s peeves with the French to know we would back them, again, against an intolerant aggressor. No less the South Koreans, the Aussies.

In his recent series of posts on Hagel, Steve Clemons of the Atlantic posed the following questions to a collection of experts almost universally supportive of Hagel’s foreign policy views on Israel:

Others argue that Hagel has been supportive of Israel’s interests but in a way that doesn’t make a false choice between Israel and Arab states and doesn’t compromise core US national security interests.  Do you think his views on US-Israel relations are disturbing, unconstructive and disqualifying?  Do you believe that Hagel is an enemy of Israel?  Or do you find his views, if you are familiar with them, constructive and realistic takes on US-Middle East policy?

These are all the reasonable or currently relevant questions to ask.

The suggestion itself that there is a “false choice” between Israel and, generally, the Arab States is the essential reason – and not philo or anti-Semitism – that Hagel is the wrong choice, and the defense of him mistaken. Is there a false choice between democracy and autocracy? Between modern liberalism and, often, medieval religious fanaticism? Is the there a false choice between the Enlightenment and a belief in the personal integrity of the individual – in human and civil rights on the one hand, and on the other, nations whose cultures frequently remain infected by misogyny, homophobia, and the vilest forms of anti-Semitism? The very idea that fundamental alliance with either Israel or the Arab states presents a false choice, and that such are the terms on which defenders of Hagel might offer their defense is reason alone to reject his nomination. Was it a false choice between Western Europe and the Soviet Bloc? Between South and North Korea? Kosovo and Serbia?

There is, indeed, an American foreign policy culture that has long excused the sins of the Arab world and minimized its stark differences from the Israeli state. They have had their economic or cultural reasons, or a commitment to foreign policy “realism.” But there is no reason that supporters, not only of Israel, but of all those Enlightenment and liberal democratic virtues should welcome as Secretary of Defense a man who in his policy stances has not sufficiently recognized the stark differences in this choice, or who garners his defense from others who similarly fail to recognize them.

When we hear spoken the idea that support of Israel might “compromise core US national security interests,” we must ask how it compromises US security interests to align the nation always with liberal democracies against undemocratic and repressive states. When, in the history of the United States, would anyone advocating for a cabinet position have wished to argue that the U.S. had been wrong, and had compromised core security interests by supporting allied democracies against surrounding undemocratic, repressive, and intolerant states that threatened them? Should we not now be supportive of Poland against potential threats from Russia? Australia against a terrorizing China? Which advocates of American foreign policy would deem these “false choices”?

All of these questions culminate in the proposal by Clemons that Hagel’s views might constitute “constructive and realistic takes on US-Middle East policy.” Realistic and constructive to oppose terror designation for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard? To oppose urging the EU to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization, as the U.S. has done? To oppose economic sanctions on Iran, leaving only the choices of either, ultimately, armed conflict or dangerously naive faith in the possibility of negotiated settlement without coercive influence?

It is easy to argue that Hagel misperceives the nature of contending forces in a crucial geopolitical area. His advocacy of ending sanctions against Cuba is empirically well-founded. His refusal as a senator to acknowledge the Armenian genocide (facing none of the practical exigencies of a president, perhaps, to demur), suggests a similar realism ill-founded in a commitment to historical truth and humane international values, and this curiously aligns him in the current uproar with elements of the left critical of Israel for supposedly inhumane treatment of Palestinians. But then foreign policy realism contradictorily married to an agenda other than self-interest will always produce contradiction. Thus many Israelis and supporters of Israel had no difficulty criticizing the Obama administration for not fully supporting the Mubarak tyranny even in the face of a full popular uprising against it – even as Israel rightly touts its commitment to democratic values. Thus many on the left now run to the Republican Hagel’s defense – even as they oppose nearly everything else for which he has stood.

It is not only easy to argue that Hagel is wrong on Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; a strong and coherent argument can be made, on the historical evidence and the merits, that his misperception of the Middle East has broader implications worldwide. The argument can be made on its merits. To support Israel is to support democracy and liberal values. To support Israel against the repressive, intolerant, and often inhumane regimes that have hatefully and violently sought to destroy it even before its birth is to support all the virtues for which the American and Western democracies are supposed to stand – for which Western and American liberals are supposed to stand. The choice could not be starker, the implications in a post 9/11 world could not be bolder, the failure of vision through the wrong choice could not be greater.

What those committed to a wise and broad American foreign policy vision need care about is that nominees for foreign policy positions share this vision.  That is the ground, the honest and sufficient ground on which the battle should be fought. All the rest is a distraction or a cynical manipulation to other ends.

AJA

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Israel

When Is an Open-Air Prison a Terrorist Camp?

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(This post originally appeared in the Algemeiner on December 11, 2012.)

It is a term we hear a lot in the twenty-first century anti-Israel propaganda storm, flung wildly against the truth – that Gaza is an “open-air” prison. We hear it not only from Arab and Muslim anti-Semites and the committed anti-Israel ideologues, but from well meaning people on the left who speak out of compassion. They know of a densely populated land area with significant poverty, an area the borders of which are controlled by third parties – Israel and Egypt, though most of these people purposely or ignorantly neglect to remember Egypt – and they are moved by what seem to be longstanding and intractably oppressive living conditions. It is simply inconceivable to them that these conditions – the density, the poverty, the external controls – are conditions that the people who live in them, in fact, choose for themselves rather than opt to alleviate . Who would act so against reason and manifest self-interest? An alternative historical narrative is thus required to render such hateful self-destructiveness more comprehensibly as pitiable oppression.

Overwhelmingly, the facts refute two of the three themes of this contemporary narrative of Gaza. Truly, any poverty anywhere is a misfortune to be assisted and overcome. The fact is, however, according to the CIA World Fact Book, that 45 nations of the world have higher percentages of their people living in poverty than does the Gaza strip. Among these nations are most of Africa, including Kenya and South Africa, and most of Central America, including one of the two closest neighbors to the United States, Mexico.

It is commonly affirmed, as a second theme of the story of Gaza, that Gaza is, in the very words present right now at the website of the storied and esteemed BBC News, “one of the most densely populated tracts of land in the world.”

In fact, of sovereign states and dependent territories, Macau, Monaco, Singapore, and Hong Kong are all considerably more densely populated than Gaza, the first two nearly five and four times as densely populated. Of the top 49 densely populated cities of the world, all are more densely populated than Gaza, the first, Manila, ten times more densely populated, the forty-ninth, Malé, capital of the Maldives, still four times more densely populated than the Gaza strip. Even the island of Manhattan in New York City, which has a nearly identical population to Gaza, yet is one fourth the size, is thus four times more densely populated than is Gaza.

The claims of wretched poverty and oppressive population density in Gaza are quite simply among the great lies of contemporary world affairs, and, so easily disconfirmed, are, as reportage, among the most scandalously incompetent or malign.

Thus we come to the third theme, the control of Gaza’s borders, which, woven among these first two themes, leads so many to adopt the “open-air prison” metaphor. That is, indeed, what the term is, and what all who even dare to use it forget that it is – a metaphor.

After all, we know it is not an actual prison, do we not?

In what kind of prison do the inmates hold elections to choose a government, and within the bounds of which prison that government exercises complete control?

In what kind of prison do we find not gangs, but a genuine military force, arrayed against no force of guards policing the inmates’ lives in “the prison”?

What kind of prison is it in which the inmates possess a force of thousands of rockets and missiles smuggled from sovereign nations and actually fired beyond the prison walls, in the hundreds and more per year, into the surrounding civilian population?

What kind of prison is it in which the prisoners hold the keys to their cells? In which the prisoners themselves, on a schedule of their own choosing, might convene a parole board and make what declarations and commitments as to future behavior are required to gain their almost immediate release? And failing to have done so on any one day, might simply choose to do so on the next, and the next, under the conditions of an open-ended, never concluded parole hearing, with no fear ever of finally serving out their terms till death against their will?

Does this seem absurd? Does it seem that I am too literal here? Do I seem to make mockery, by ridiculous comparison to the actual conditions that govern real prisons, of the intent of the metaphor?

But what is the intent of the metaphor? Is it not to deceive the judgment and manipulate the moral imagination of those addressed by it so that they will conceive Israelis truly as brutal jailors, while the Gazans, never duly convicted through any process of law, are drawn falsely as unjustly imprisoned?

What those who believe the metaphor forget, but those who concoct it ever recall, is that the goal of political metaphor is to refashion reality, which is to say lie about it but bury the lie. They bury it in metaphorical equivocation. I happily fancied that I had myself discovered this logical fallacy, which I reasonably conceived as the metaphorical fallacy (or the fallacy of transference), only to discover that just three months ago, Bryan Caplan of George Mason University had held the same vain hope for himself, where upon he discovered that two philosophers at Brock University in Canada had got the drop on us both by two years.

The metaphorical fallacy is first a kind of  fallacy of equivocation, because it misleads through the use of a term with more than one meaning, performing a semantic shift. That is the very nature of metaphor, which is an act of transference, transferring the quality of some object – a bird let’s say – to my real subject, some guy I’m talking about, whom I call “flighty as a bird.” That formulation I have used is a simile, which is a kind of metaphor, which is itself a kind of analogy. The clarity of the “as” or “like” constructions in simile is in making plain that metaphor is a special form of analogy.

In typical straight political analogies – “another Vietnam,” “another Munich,” “it’s the Cold War all over again” – we understand that two distinct phenomena are claimed to have sufficient similarity as to make one understandable according to our knowledge of the other.  The fallacy of false analogy is committed by analogical overreach: there may turn out to be, with scrutiny, many potentially significant points of comparison, with too few among them demonstrating true similarity, thus making one phenomenon a poor standard by which to asses the nature of the other.

The metaphorical fallacy is, second, a form of false analogy. As I said, metaphor is by definition an equivocation. If I turn my simile of “he’s as flighty as a bird” into a pure metaphor, I would say, “he’s a flighty bird, that one.” I say this, perhaps, because he is erratic in his behavior. A true “flighty bird” hops and skips around a lot, taking off and landing often and rapidly. I conjure that quality in the metaphor and transfer it to the man of whom I speak. I do this for effect, a rhetorical effect. I do not literally mean that the man hops and skips around or that he flies, and even if he is physically prone to something like the former – and not quite – he certainly does not do the latter. When I says “he’s swift as a tiger,” well – not really that fast. If I call him “a lion” in the boxing ring, well, you know, notactually a lion. We are equivocating in the application and acceptance of the transferred quality, which is to say, literally speaking in two voices, pretending to be literal in order to make the imaginative leap, but in the end, and even in the beginning, not being literal at all.

If I said ten years ago that Afghanistan would be “another Vietnam,” I would not have intended to fool you into believing that Afghanistan was itself Vietnam, that is, identical to it. I would just have intended a useful comparison. However, to attempt what is not political analogy, already itself a risky enough proposition, because so often questionable and faulty,  but political metaphor is to begin in the wrong, at fault and deceptively, because I would be pretending accurately to describe circumstance by use of inaccurate, ambiguous, words –  because political reality is concrete, not rhetorical: there is not rhetorical genocide or rhetorical invasion, rhetorical rocket attacks or rhetorical economic recession. And when, through the magic of words, we create these things nonetheless, they are metaphorical only, not concrete and politically “real.”

The pressing questions I posed above about the metaphorical comparison of Gaza to a prison would have to annoy any proponent of the term because he would be compelled to insist that I was missing the point: obviously, Gaza is not an actual prison, like San Quentin. The point, he would argue, is that Gaza is like a prison because of the deprivation and the close quarters and its borders, its boundaries, are controlled by people other than those who live inside them, with passage in and out similarly controlled and limited, just like a prison – and school buildings, and military bases, and movie studios, and the White House.

Those are the points of comparison, the only points of comparison, and as we focus now on that last point of comparison, we need to consider why those boundaries are controlled. We need to think about what a blockade is, and why it was put in place, and remains in place, and how a blockade – and a legal one, too – is not like a prison.

“But don’t you get it – it’s a metaphor.”

And the purpose of the political metaphor, employed and repeated, and accepted by the well meaning but soft headed and the BBC, like the narrative of Gazan poverty and the refrain of its population density, is to beguile the listener into forgetting it is a metaphor – an abjectly false and slanderous metaphor – and then to accept it and repeat it as literally and shamefully true.

Then there is the matter of the terrorist camp.

AJA

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Israel The Political Animal

Reflections on the Spirit of Resistance

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Paul Newman’s 1967 film Cool Hand Luke, the apex of journeyman Stuart Rosenberg’s directorial career, imbued popular culture with many iconic scenes and memorable lines. (“What we have here – is failure to communicate.” “Sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.”) Among the famous scenes is that of the prison camp boxing match between George Kennedy’s alpha prisoner (the role that won him an Oscar and made him famous) and Newman’s smaller Luke.

As expected, Kennedy’s “Dragline” beats Luke good. But Luke will not stay down. He is woozily staggering with every blow, even knocked down by some of the head shots, but each time, against cries from his fellow prisoners and advice from Dragline finally to stay down and put an end to his whupping, the unconquerably recalcitrant Luke keeps rising up for more. Finally, Dragline just walks away, defeated in victory, and Luke has earned the heroic worship of all.

In addition to its inherent quality as a film and the quintessential, natural, non-hipster cool of its leading man, Cool Hand Luke was a film for its time. In an age of defining cultural rebellion, the film exalted the spirit of resistance against crushing, inhuman authority – in the film itself, the sadistic authority of a chain gang, for the culture that received it, any presiding force that would quash individual autonomy and personality.

The valorization of resistance as a human attribute is longstanding. From the slave rebellion of Spartacus and Masada to democracy creating revolutions and the Warsaw uprisings, the human spirit is stirred and encouraged to persist by the spirit of resistance. Most commonly since the Enlightenment, we see an ultimate expression of human nature in the natural uprising against oppressive forces.

In the United States, on Thanksgiving, we celebrate a story of resistance. That is not how most people think of the day, but that is one perspective on the story. We say we honor some congenial meal in which surviving Pilgrims of the Plymouth colony feasted with Massasoit and his men. But celebrations of survival, too, are testaments to resistance – resistance to the elements, to the forces of nature and circumstance, to those who may be aligned against us. We resist defeat in many ways.

Native America has a different perspective on the Thanksgiving holiday. That attendee of the first Thanksgiving Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag, engaged in his own resistance. He resisted over his lifetime as best he could the encroachment of the colonists on Wampanoag land and attempts to convert the Wampanoag to Christianity. Massasoit and all those who came after him lost in their resistance.

A lesson in this is that resistance, for all we exalt its spirit, neither endows any instance of it with justice, nor ennobles the goal in the service of which it stands its ground and refuses to bend. Neither victory nor loss are determinants of justice. The spirit may be willing, but the cause is weak. In the United States, the Mafia has resisted American law and its enforcement. In Mexico, drug cartels resist even the government’s militarized effort to stamp them out. During the Iraq War, there was an Iraqi insurgency – a resistance movement – and those even who claim to promote social justice who supported it and cheered the idea of it.

In the world today, many of the values of the international regime of laws, of human rights evaluation and critique, and of ideological sympathy are misguided by just such a disjunction between the spirit and the flesh – the actual substance of justice. The rules of a legal and human rights superstructure – the products of millennia of moral development – are abstracted from their substantial existence in the free, democratic nations that haltingly advance them and, in reality, often used as weapons against these very embodiments of the spirit.

Even honesty in itself is an empty shade if it is not in the service of a good. Shall we honestly express every critical and even accurate opinion of every potentially hurtful kind to those around us whom we love?

Resistance in itself is nothing. In the name of what – what ideas, what dream of human relationship – do we resist? Against what do we resist?

No honest consideration of ongoing conflict between Hamas controlled Gaza and Israel, between any anti-Semitic or Islamist culture and Israel, can take place without addressing these questions.

An anecdote:

Just over ten years ago, I was present at a large show and party at my wife Julia’s relatively new gallery – before, after that night, we both understood that security would always be necessary. I was alerted midway through the evening that a man none of our friends knew had been obnoxious to several women. None of the women had complained or made a scene, however, and there seemed no overt basis on which to take any action.

At the end of the evening, while saying goodbye near the door to some last visitors, I was told by a good friend that back in Julia’s office, where a few close friends were gathered privately, this man was present and refusing to leave. I went back to speak to him. He was beside Julia. I politely, regretfully advised him that the show was over and that we needed visitors to leave. He ignored me, asked a personal question of Julia, who uncomfortably declined to answer it, and when I saw that, though I was standing right in front of him, the man would not even look at me, I told him, at the point that he reached for Julia’s arm, that if he did not leave, I would have to call the police.

“How fast can you get to the phone?” the man replied, and lunged at me.

Taken by surprise, I was backed against a wall, where I began to struggle with the man. Two male friends quickly jumped in and the four of us tumbled to the floor in a heap of grappling bodies.

We have probably all seen video of men apparently very high on a drug who display extraordinary strength and require multiple police officers after very great effort and struggle, to restrain them. This man was such a man. He seemed high and irrational. One person who vaguely knew him thought, on the contrary, that he might actually be off his meds. Regardless, though all four of us were of roughly equal size, it took all the effort that three of us could muster to gain control of the man and restrain him on the floor, where he never ceased his resistance. Any let up by any one of us saw the serious attempt by the man to throw that person off him. Any one of us would have been beaten by him. Even two of us would not have been able to control him.

Others present called the police. In the meantime, for the twenty minutes it took the police to arrive, there was no let up for the three of us in exerting ourselves to retain control. We told the man many times that if he calmed down, we would ease up on him. He only fought back harder in response. Sometimes one of us might feel exceptionally angered by the man’s ferocity and exert himself, arguably, too forcefully, and the other two would check him. The man all this time, whenever his face was positioned to do it, would spit on us, until we had to expend ourselves to assert even more control and hold his face pressed to the ground so that he could no longer reach us with his spit.

More naturally violent people than we, of whom there are many, would not have been satisfied with controlling the man’s violence and would have brutally ended the conflict with what would necessarily have been a very violent beating. Indeed, were there no police to come to the rescue, there would have been no alternative to that violent beating, and there would have been much bodily and other physical damage all around.

When the police finally did arrive, the scene they found was one of four bodies so entwined on the ground that in taking control of the situation they had actually to touch arms and legs and ask to whom each one belonged. Certainly, the entangled circumstance into which they walked told no obvious story, though it would have been easy to conclude that three men had ganged up on a fourth.

Everyone present confirmed the same account, however, and our troubled gallery goer was escorted to a cell.

That’s my account anyway, the only one you have. You have to believe me, and if you think you have some reason to mistrust me, perhaps some ideological dispute, you may think I have slanted or even entirely misrepresented elements of the story. I think I am a fairly swell guy, but wouldn’t you know that there are people out there who, on the basis of things I have written, have had some not very nice things to say to me?

Of course, there are some events and histories that have considerably greater public and evidentiary records than my wrestling match just off the boardwalk at Venice Beach. Oddly, for some people, that does not make a difference.

People resist the truth, too.

AJA

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Not So Random Questions, Facts, & Observations about Gaza & Israel

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If forces in Mexico – drug cartels, for instance – were firing rockets and missiles into an area roughly covering 25% of the United States this is what it would look like.

If the U.S. equivalent of one million Israelis were under threat of this bombardment on a daily basis, running for cover, hiding in bomb shelters, suffering damage to their homes, roughly 45 million Americans would be victims of this terror.

Imagine the reaction of the American people. Imagine the political and national defense requirements of the U.S. government in response, even if no one had yet been killed.

The United Nations categorizes 48 nations, with a population of 832 million – nearly 1 in 8 people on the planet – as “least developed countries.” Neither the West Bank nor Gaza, since they are not countries, is on this list. However, according the CIA World Factbook ranking of the percentage of national populations living in poverty, in which Gaza is included, Gaza ranks 46th, with 38% of its population living below the poverty line. That is, 45 nations of the world have higher percentages of their people living in poverty. The list of these nations, including a very large number of African Nations, is close to identical to those on the U.N. list, but not quite. Among those nations not categorized by the U.N. as least developed nations, but with higher percentages of their populations living below the poverty line than Gaza are Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Bolivia, South Africa, Kenya, Nicaragua, and Belize.

Unlike with Hamas in Gaza, Israel is not now engaged in armed conflict with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Why is that?

If the armaments directed by Islamists in Gaza against Israel are, in fact, incapable of inflicting significant damage to military purpose – if they are so ineffectual to any practical material end – why do the extremists fire them? What is their immediate goal? What is their ultimate desire?

If, in return, Gaza periodically – now, a fourth year cycle – sustains physical destruction and casualties from Israel far beyond what Islamists inflict, why do they persist? What did they materially gain the last time? What prospect of material gain is there this time? Why (to choose a phrase) in the name of humanity do they do it?

Bibi Netanyahu is said by his critics not to be truly committed to negotiations and two states. Let us accept this for present purposes as true. It is true, too, that after more than sixty years (which is not to discount centuries) of mind-bendingly complex conflict and historical entanglement, simply affirming a commitment to anything and mouthing a willingness to negotiate are clearly not in themselves representative of a true or impending path to resolution of the conflict. This is what, in fact, Bibi Netanyahu has done, and his critics discount it. They simply do not believe him. Whatever creative thinking, diplomacy, and policy initiative might be required to break open the uncrackable nut of this problem, they have not issued from the brain trust, the intellectual think tank of the Netanyahu government. Okay. Agreed.

It is also true that there is no easier, so slicker, no more tendentious form of argument than to ground one’s arguments on the indemonstrable inner beliefs and passions of participants to the argument. Disputing arguments to the unseen is like attempting to prove a negative.

Has the pronounced position of the Benjamin Netanyahu government, every day of its administration, been that it is willing to negotiate unconditionally? I will answer that question.

Yes.

Has it been the pronounced position of the Palestinian Authority on any day of Benjamin Netanyahu leadership of Israel that it is willing to negotiate unconditionally?

No.

Has Benjamin Netanyahu publically declared his willingness to seek a two-state solution?

Yes.

Is Hamas willing to commit to a two-state solution?

No. (Hamas wishes, rather, to kill all Jews. Or simply rule them in the culminating world caliphate. Theologians, robed and unrobed, dispute this.)

Those who claim that if only Benjamin Netanyahu were Ehud Olmert, or Ehud Barak (good Ehud Barak, before he was bad Ehud Barak), or even Yitzhak Rabin or Shimon Peres, there would be a chance for peace need to point to anything ultimately accomplished by any of these Israeli leaders – in the face of Palestinian rejectionism – that substantiates that belief.

More Americans died after the United States went to war against Imperial Japan subsequent to the Pearl Harbor attack than were killed before. Does that mean the U.S. was wrong or even simply mistaken to engage the conflict? Maybe it should simply have accepted the damage thus far and not made things worse? And Germany had not even attacked the United States. Was the U.S. declaration of war against Germany, then, aggression?

Did the allies during World War Two worry, in bringing the war to Japan, that they were creating more Kamikazes? Did they consider that if perhaps they simply ceased their aggressive defense, the Japanese would alter their own aggressive designs?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not remotely comparable to the Irish Troubles. This common analogy is a weak, warm brew (or one dunk only of a Lipton’s tea bag – take your pick).

Protestant Irish are the lineal or political descendants of invaders, with no original claim to the land of Ireland.

Both Palestinian Arabs and Jews are original inhabitants of Israel-Palestine.

Nonetheless, most observers and people of good will were of the belief in the twentieth century that the Protestant Irish had long since roots in Ireland deep enough to warrant certain political claims, among which claims, considering Catholic-Protestant enmity, was autonomy (in Union with Great Britain) in Northern Ireland. A “two-state solution” had already been effected for Ireland in 1921. Palestinian Arabs rejected their two-state solution in 1948.

Rather than an internal minority rising up in violence against the State of Northern Ireland, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (more fully, historically, the Arab-Israeli conflict) is the product of an external majority’s unwillingness to acknowledge, or seeking to destroy, a separate state.

For all the enmity between Irish Protestants and Catholics, Unionists and Republicans, neither was committed by charter or theology to the genocidal destruction of the other.

The Belfast Agreement of 1998 required first a ceasefire and was predicated on IRA disarmament.

Whatever compromises were reached, the IRA was required to abandon its goal of uniting Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.

Those who put forth this analogy generally articulate their case from the standpoint of human conflict as the product of misunderstanding and mistrust, however overlaid it may be with webs of historical, religious, and political complexity. In such presentations they do not acknowledge the reality of any kind of essential hate, of arrogance and absolutism. With enough patience and communication, human miscommunication can be overcome, they believe. Problems can be solved. We can all come together.

The indigenous peoples of the world – as that category was identified by the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations – Native Americans in the United States, First Nations peoples in Canada, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, the many Indigenous cultures of Latin America all wait for the First World nations’ recognition of the reality of absolutism, arrogance, and condescending hate. But those peoples already lost, to conquerors who were merciless in their conquest and are unrepentant in their rule. Fortunately for the New World’s ruling cultures, their indigenous peoples are not supplied with rockets by Syria and Iran. Fortunately for Israel, it does not have to focus on what the past week would have been like were the circumstances reversed, though it can never afford to forget.

AJA

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Israel The Political Animal

The Dangers of Golden Dawn – and National Public Radio

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Where do we find the licensing body for the journalistic profession? Who are the determinants of journalistic malpractice?

There are none. Sanction for malpractice can be found only in the response of the audience. What price will National Public Radio pay for the following travesty, aired this morning and, of course, disseminated widely, such as here, on Minnesota Public Radio, where you can listen to the audio version? For it demonstrates gross malpractice by its author, Joanna Kakissis, and the editors and producers who let her reporting on the rise of Greece’s fascist and neo-Nazi party Gold Dawn, pass muster.

Kakissis does not simply report on the rise of Golden Dawn and its growing levels of hateful violence. She does not only describe its fascist character. Just as does The Business Insider to very different effect – as one random, less esteemed counter example – Kakissis and NPR offer an extended and explicit Nazi analogy.

The protesters compared the situation to Nazi Germany’s brutal occupation of Greece during World War II, when more than 400,000 Greeks died. But investigative journalist Dimitris Psarras hears other echoes of the past. “The economic crisis that Greece is facing today is similar to the one faced by Weimar Germany,” he says. “Just as Germany struggled to pay reparations imposed by the victors of World War I, Greece is now struggling to pay off giant debt racked up by its own corrupt political system.” Even Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has used the reference. In Weimar Germany, paramilitaries from the far right and far left fought in the streets. Germans struggled through head-spinning economic and political crises. Then, in 1933, after parliamentary elections that gave the Nazi Party the biggest share of the vote, Adolf Hitler came to power. Now Greece may have its own version of the Nazis, Psarras says, the Golden Dawn Party….

Party On the Rise Golden Dawn members say they are nationalists and strongly reject the Nazi label. But at rallies, party members chant, “Blood and Honor” — a slogan adapted from the Nazis — and they wear black T-shirts with a swastika-like ancient Greek symbol called a meandros. Last month, Golden Dawn supporters also attacked theatergoers before a performance of Corpus Christi, Terrence McNally’s controversial play about a gay Jesus. The leader of the mob, Ilias Panagiotaros, shouted homophobic and xenophobic obscenities at the terrified crowd. Panagiotaros is one of 18 Golden Dawn members elected to Parliament last June. The party won support by promising to kick out illegal immigrants and jail all corrupt politicians. They have also promised to erase household debt for low-wage earners and the unemployed. “Every day we are growing,” Panagiotaros says. “And very soon we’re going to be ruling this country, and laws are going to be enforced.” Indeed, Golden Dawn is rising in opinion surveys and could win as many as 36 seats in the 300-member Parliament, were elections held today.

Do you find any reference curiously missing from so direct a comparison between Weimar Germany and current-day Greece, to the detailing of homophobic and xenophobic attacks? Not to dismiss any of the legion of Nazism’s barbaric dehumanizations, but which is the atrocity for which it is most infamously known? You can search every word of Kakissis’s report and not find the word Jew mentioned once.

Is this because remarkably – what would be, really, historically – we have in Greece and Golden Dawn a neo-Nazi party that, for all the similarities, does not target Jews? Of course not. And it is not as if NPR is unaware of prevailing criticism of its coverage of such issues.

Here is JTA reporting just twelve days ago that “As Golden Dawn gains popularity, Greek Jews strategize on how to combat neo-Nazi party.”

Here is Jewish News One reporting on “Greek Jews tackling Golden Dawn’s anti-Semitism.”

Here is an anti-Semitic hate site supportive of Golden Dawn reacting to that very Jewish News One video above.

Here is Jewish News One, again, reporting just two weeks ago on a Golden Dawn member of the Greek parliament reading aloud before the parliament from the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

An elected politician and spokesperson for the racist Golden Dawn political party has read out an extended passage from the anti-Semitic text the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in the Greek parliament.

Despite reading a text created as a hoax by anti-Semites to create a destructive image of Jews, the speech by Ilias Kasidiaris shockingly went unchallenged by other members of the parliament.

Here is Golden Dawn’s leader Nikos Michaloliakos, interviewed by Greek journalist Stavros Theodorakis this past May, engaging in Holocaust denial and defense of Adolf Hitler.

Our intellectual dangers are broadly two, what we think and how we think. Of course, the latter shapes the former. The culturally reactionary and science-denying American conservatism put to rout in last week’s presidential election offers a twofer of intellectual misconception, misguided both in what and how it thinks. Neo-Nazis, fascists, and xenophobic racists certainly standout for what they think. And NPR in such an instance? We give it benefit of the doubt on the what. But the how?

At the crossroads of more than one early twenty-first century crisis of thought and international relations is anti-Israel sentiment and the growth of dramatically renewed anti-Semitism barely concealed beneath that political cover. Among the many agents fueling the growth of this crisis is, at worst, the active anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic sentiment of multiple journalistic organs, most prominently left oriented and of which there is no greater example than England’s Guardian. At best – which is very bad, indeed – there is the gross negligence of such reporting as this from NPR, by which the general public is profoundly misinformed and, finally, misled.

By which a whole current culture of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish disinformation and distortion is provided the atmosphere in which to grow and sustain itself, and for which real people pay a price every day.

It is incompetent and irresponsible reporting for which NPR needs to account and that it needs to correct.

AJA

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Israel The Political Animal

Maureen Dowd and her Critics

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A couple of interesting comments from Noga and David on my post, “A Political Hall of Mirrors,” prompts these further considerations on the reaction to Maureen Dowd’s neocon puppet master column. I don’t think this is a subject in which people need necessarily hold hard positions unwaveringly and completely opposed to differing views. Of course, I had read the Jeffrey Goldberg post that David directed me to, and what Goldberg does very well in it is demonstrate the deep history of “puppet master” as an anti-Semitic trope. But Goldberg himself says more than once that he does not believe that Dowd was drawing on that history – had intended to invoke it and thereby evoke an anti-Semitic feeling in the reader. That is why I end in the ambiguous place I do in my last post and title it as I do – considering the multiplicity of lenses and perceptions.

If one has the sense that Dowd was not herself being anti-Semitic, even though she employed a term that can succor anti-Semites, then that raises questions about the vociferous response to her column. It is one thing to believe that a writer, in a particular context, made an ill-advised choice of words; it is another to roundly attack her as if she were being, actually, anti-Semitic in her views. Much of that attack (though not all – just as not all neocons are Jews) came, in fact, from conservatives and neocons, just the people who would wish to invalidate Dowd’s attack on them by trailing the red herring of any actual anti-Semitism. It is true that much anti-Semitic sentiment and parlance has become routinized among segments of the left, which now offer ugly mockery of anti-Semitic concerns. It is also true that there is a very bold and unattractive right that aggressively seeks to exploit this current weakness of the left in order to fully align support of Israel, and identification with Jewish concerns, with conservatism. Many on the right view this as a historic opportunity – and they are right to do so – to alienate Jews from their long, historic liberal leanings. The reaction to Dowd was an opportunistic attack on a facile representative of liberalism.

Why, then, do I seem to come around a bit, on this topic, in my response to Andrew Sullivan’s commentary? First, because Sullivan makes it so easy. Israel is one of those subjects on which he is completely emotive and unsubtle in his thinking, driven by animus and entirely injudicious.

David makes the following point, drawn from Goldberg responding to a sympathetic, but nonetheless divergent James Fallows:

I think his most telling point consists in pointing out that James Fallows can recognize that Newt Gingrich’s referring to Obama as “the food-stamp president” is a racist dog-whistle, in spite of Gingrich having made no explicit reference to race, while claiming that Dowd’s “neocon puppet master” cannot be an antisemitic dog-whistle because Dowd made no mention of Jews, Israel, or religion.  What is sauce for the goose (and properly so in the case of Gingrich) is sauce for the gander.

“Food stamp President” and “puppet master” are not equivalent code terms. They operate differently as verbal signs. No one has argued – no one can – that “puppet master” cannot be used without anti-Semitic reference. All one need do to clarify that point is use the term in a context in which there are no Jews. It can be used that way, is used that way, and retains a full charge of meaning without reference to Jews. It is only in a context with Jews that the possibility of anti-Semitic reference arises. This is not so with “food stamp President.” The complete history of that term is in a context in which racist coding arises: there is not context in which the term has ever been used in which it did not offer the possibility of racist coding. With Barack Obama – a black president – there is not even the possibility of the “not all neocons are Jews” argument. There is only one President and he is black.

Then, too, there is the context of common usage by the speaker of the term: just in the past couple of years we have had Newt Gingrich referencing Obama’s “Kenyan, anti-colonial” world view, and Obama’s pursuing the dreams (of his father) of a “Luo tribesman,” a “philandering, inebriated African.”

Why would anyone think that Gingrich has concertedly sought to identify Obama with black Africanness, with a primitive threat to civilization and the moral social order? Why?

If there is a comparable personal vocabulary and context for Maureen Dowd, I have yet to be presented with it.

What we see, then, is the contrast between purposeful messaging and message enabling, but this last is why I end, finally where I do on Dowd. The attack on her, from some, offered just the vile opportunism imputed to her, but it also enabled the likes of Sullivan and Mondoweiss, which also cheered her on for its own reasons, not hers, and that is why the language she used, in the context she used it, always needs to be called out, if not called a crime.

AJA

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Israel The Political Animal

A Political Hall of Mirrors

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Puppet Master (franchise)
Puppet Master (franchise) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bob from Brockley writes (from Brockley, I presume) to offer compliment and commentary to my last post on Maureen Dowd. Bob and I are usually in close alignment on such issues as have arisen from Dowd’s recent column on the neocons. In this case not. Bob (whom, if you don’t, you really should be reading over at BobfromBrockley) thinks, like other of her critics, that Dowd used problematic language in a subject that seems to touch on Jewishness. Contrary to my more common thoughts on these matters, I think Dowd’s critics got it all wrong this time. And then again…

I have to say that I do not read Dowd often. I find her brand of snark far too facile and empty of nutrition. Sort of like Cheetos, which have their place, mind you. So I don’t know if Dowd has a history here. I suspect not, though others are welcome to enlighten me. I think history, context, matters. For the sum of Dowd’s offense in this instance is that she used the term “puppet master” in relation to behind-the-scenes necons influencing the foreign policy pronouncements of international neophyte Mitt Romney; her editor adopted the word “slither” from Paul Wolfowitz, used against the Orthodox Barack Obamawitz, for the title of Dowd’s column, back against the neocons; and as we all know, a pretty fair number of influential neocons – by no means all, including some very influential figures – are Jewish.

Absent any history on Dowd’s part, and considering that there is nothing even close to a Jewish reference in her column – despite the gross distortion of some, like Dylan Byers, in reporting on Dowd’s column – I find this an attack (and it was swift and serious) to have been very misguided. It is misguided because, I think, wrong, and because it tends (mistakenly) to confirm the common dismissals these days of all those lined up against Israel of unfounded charges of anti-Semitism. It is very much to the point that many (not all) of the most damning critics of Dowd are representative of the kind of foreign policy positions she was decrying, American politicos deeply invested in devising an umbilical tie between support of Israel and the most conservative, jingoistic expressions of American foreign policy.

It seems apparent to me that Dowd was incensed – as we all should be – that American neocons are still part of any foreign policy discussions in our politics, just as Romney-Ryan are running on the similarly failed GOP plutocratic economic policies that failed just as miserably under George W. Bush and before. The anger comes through very clearly, if the brief particulars are not deeply thought out. Dowd’s neocon opposition is as extreme and simplistic as are neocon ideas themselves. The Jewishness of some neocons is entirely incidental to the column, and even that incidental nature is never even alluded to – unless, of course, it is now considered to be so that the very use of the terms “puppet master” and “slither” conjures up Jews. That is an ill-considered destination.

James Fallows has written an excellent post on the issue, all of which should be read, and that makes the essential points quite well.

– For what it’s worth, I know that the term “puppet-master,” which Dowd uses about the likes of Paul Wolfowitz and Dan Senor, fits some anti-Semitic tropes. But it also is a normal part of English that has nothing necessarily to do with anti-Semitism. I remember hearing a college lecture about Iago’s role as “puppet-master” of Othello; one biography of J. Edgar Hoover had the title Puppetmaster. As a kid I read a Robert Heinlein sci-fi novel of the same name. The very ugliest term in Dowd’s column, the statement that a certain group was “slithering” back into control, was something that Paul Wolfowitz had said about President Obama! No one is identified by religion, Jewish or otherwise, in what Dowd wrote.

I agree exactly with what Kevin Drum said:

There’s nothing anti-Semitic in Dowd’s column. She just doesn’t like neocons, and she doesn’t like the fact that so many of the neocons responsible for the Iraq debacle are now advisors to Mitt Romney’s campaign.

People who are not members of a certain minority group should be careful to avoid terms that that can do harm. But we all have a stake in keeping discussion as free and open as possible. In my view Dowd, with whom I often disagree, was making a valuable point [about the resurgence of the neocons]

Well, there I stand – except I just caught a glimpse of the politics of all this in a mirror, and there is another mirror reflected in that mirror, and some fun-house distortions begin to appear.

Bob commented on my last post a second time, to direct us all to Andrew Sullivan’s post on the matter, from yesterday. It’s getting to where you can begin to term this sort of thing “pulling a Sullivan.” It’s about how one gets to be un-PC and wrong at the same time.

Sullivan does not just defend Dowd, unsurprisingly – he actually manages to upend my argument and confirm the currents in American politics that Dowd’s critics feel. I don’t think it confirms anything in the least about Dowd – but offering a bat to someone  likely to use it for bashing someone else over the head ought to give one pause. Of course, if Dowd’s column had been allowed to pass without the attack, the likes of Sullivan would not have had the opportunity on one day to show himself, and we ought to see him clearly.

What did Sullivan do and say?

To begin, there is in the post title, “Another One!” and the photo of Dowd with a Hitler mustache, and the mockery of concerns over, and charges, of anti-Semitism. This kind of thing is common today, in quarters, too, where the denizens would be outraged by a like display showing Dowd with a KKK conical hat and mocking concerns over anti-Black racism. Or anti-Latino or, in many instances, anti-Muslim. An observable reality is, too, that whenever resentment of, for instance, charges of anti-Black racism are expressed, anti-Black resentment itself, indeed, is not often hard to see. So it is with Sullivan regarding Jews.

In the obverse action of Dylan Byers, distorting Dowd’s column in order to criticize her, Sullivan performs the identical distortion in order to promote an anti-Israel argument that Dowd did not make.

Dowd wrote a column in which she noted how Greater Israel fanatics run the Romney campaign’s foreign policy (which they do), and their neoconservative bubble is part of what explains Romney’s nasty and divisive attempt last week to politicize the recent flare-up of violent anti-Americanism in the Middle East.

Dowd wrote a column noting no such thing: Dowd makes no even implied reference to “Greater Israel fanatics” or the issues that would follow from such a reference. This is all Sullivan: Sullivan confirming, indeed, that when a Maureen Dowd writes what she did, there are people like Andrew Sullivan who will always see the Jew in it.

So many mirrors.

AJA

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Israel

(Updated) Impenetrable: The Hollow Rhetoric of Judith Butler

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(Update) Tomorrow, September 11, 2012, the birthday of Theodor Adorno, and only chronologically coincident with the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attack, Judith Butler is set to receive the triennial Adorno Prize, awarded by the city of Frankfurt. Resonant with the themes addressed in the commentary below, originally posted last week at the Algemeiner, is this reporting, yesterday, from Deutsche Welle’s DW website. The now long-noted rise in anti-Jewish sentiment and ideas, on the left, in Europe, and recently, most disturbingly, in Germany is subtly reflected in the DW report.

What is the headline of the report? “Adorno Prize for Judith Butler irks Jewish groups.”

Irk. To annoy. To irritate. That is all this gross insult and dangerous intellectual manifestation is said to amount to: an annoyance. Get over it.

Throughout the report, Butler is referred to as an “Israel critic.” Consider how this innocuous terminology – it’s all healthy intellectual exchange, right? – dangerously misrepresents the  truth. “Critic” suggests analysis and fault finding: the evaluation of weakness within and against an integral whole. The book, film, music, art critic finds flaw – as well as source for praise – in an artistic endeavor, an endeavor honored in principle. Rarely does the book critic state that the book never should have been written, and not just because the book is so bad, but because the very idea of the book was illegitimate.

Do critics of the United States, of England, of Russia, of China, argue that those nations should not, should never have existed?

When did “foe,” when did “enemy” become critic? The leadership of Iran uses destructive tropes, intellectuals like Butler use ideologized tropes, but the challenge to Israel’s legitimacy is the same, the goal of its elimination as a Jewish state and homeland identical. This single term fully represents the fundamental dishonesty at the core of the campaign against Israel.

Throughout the report by Helen Whittle, the “criticism” of Israel by Butler is never adjectivally characterized; her defense of herself is called “spirited.” Once again, as frequently since its publication on August 26, a newspaper report in the Jerusalem Post on the Jewish reaction to the award is itself characterized, as if it were an editorial, as “scathing.” While Butler’s anti-Israeli activities are not placed in the context of repeated acts and attacks of their kind, the objection to her award is specifically identified with the reaction to Günter Grass’s abominable attack on Israel in faux poetic form, “What Must Be Said.” And the reaction to Grass is described as “vicious.”

“Amid the uproar,” we are told, “Grass expressed his frustration that criticism of Israel is often equated with anti-Semitism.”

Impenetrable: The Hollow Rhetoric of Judith Butler

That title appears a contradiction. We think of the impenetrable as dense, so thick and compacted it cannot be pierced. But what is hollow is also impenetrable, differently, for there is nothing to pierce. The projectile, the probing argument, successful, smashes into density and destroys some part of it, alters the rest. In a hollow space, the molecules part like an undulation in air and reform themselves, after the traceless passage, around the same space. Nothing is changed.

Such is the rhetoric of Judith Butler, and are the ethics that are the product of that rhetoric, that are – in the language of that rhetoric – essentiallyrhetoricized. Butlers’s enmity toward Israel, and the argument she makes to justify that enmity, must be understood as another empty wind in the greater hollow space in which it blows. Butler writes in defense, in fact, not of her argument, but of herself – a telling distinction – that while many criticize her, with her impending Adorno Prize, for support of BDS, she is criticized from the left, on the contrary, for rejecting violence.

It is true: I do not endorse practices of violent resistance and neither do I endorse state violence, cannot, and never have. This view makes me perhaps more naïve than dangerous, but it is my view. [Emphasis in the original]

This is not merely a pathetic defense, but a contemptible one. A grown woman, an internationally honored scholar who thrusts her ideas challengingly into world political debate, defends herself on the basis of not just naiveté, contritely, but of self-conscious naiveté, willingly. Of innocence, naiveté’s younger sibling, Graham Greene once wrote, in an ironically, historically counter political context, in The Quiet American:

Innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.

As naiveté claimed by one so well-schooled, it is more the leper having thrown the bell away.

So distinguished a mind cannot, apparently, conceive herself naïve and dangerous, dangerous because naïve, even as she resists the obvious recognition that someone such as she has no right to be naïve. So distinguished a mind retreats to naiveté, makes manifestly no argument, and declares, like one entirely unschooled, simply: “it is my view.”

As if Butler might simply, credibly hold to such a declaration as a position irreducible and unchallengeable. But why be surprised? In her latest book, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, she writes,

It may be that binationalism is an impossibility, but that mere fact does not suffice as a reason to be against it.

So Butler recognizes in her thought and in the political programs she advocates none of the compulsion of the possible, of reality. One may simply advocate ideas without the obligation to contemplate their effect on reality, for if they are, indeed, impossible, they are impossible for reasons: reality rejects them, and if reality rejects them, there are consequences to the rejection. Many people, living in the world beyond the hermeneutical and hermetic enclosure of rhetoricized reality recognize what those consequences might be. But as Richard Landes notes,

Butler and her post-modern, non-violent performers, however, cannot [commit the violence]. They can only empower the forces that seek, openly, to do so violently. They can only identify with aggressors. Would she intentionally stir up genocidal forces against her people? God Forbid! Would she do so in practice by signing petitions and writing denunciations of that allude to a comparison between Israel and the Nazis, and by hanging with people like the gang at Mondoweiss, who have no problem making the analogy? Yes. But as long as it’s not an intentional murder, her hands are clean.

Not surprisingly, so solipsistic a moral approach to the real world of people, expresses itself with striking self-absorption. In her essay of 2000 words, “I” appears 50 times, often followed by irrelevant (but apparently not to her) personal information. The consequences of her deeds, what Summers referred to as the effects of her performance on her own people, apparently carry no weight in her moral calculus. Her good intentions absolve all accidental sins, defend from all criticism.

To the point, an earlier book of Butler’s, of moral philosophy, is entitled Giving an Account of Oneself. Not an account of one’s ideas, of the occurrences in the world that one enables, but of oneself. Of course, the title emerges from Butler’s whole project of accounting for the nature of subjectivity, of the “I” that stands in relation to itself and in moral relation to others, but it would hardly become the critical theorist who is Butler, ever examining the self that is constructed of – and imposed upon one – by language to dismiss the implications of the language she uses.

The opening sentence of Giving an Account of Oneself is

I would like to begin by considering how it might be possible to pose the question of moral philosophy, a question that has to do with conduct and, hence, with doing….

There is thus an apparent recognition of the obvious purpose of ethical consideration, to enable real, right action and not merely produce ideologically whole but detached theorizing (the fact of impossibility does not suffice…). Pages later, much to the fundamental point of Butler’s general post-structural theorizing, she writes,

When a universal precept cannot, for social reasons, be appropriated or when – indeed, for social reasons – it must be refused, the universal precept itself becomes a site of contest, a theme and an object of democratic debate. That is to say, it loses its status as precondition of democratic debate; if it did operate there as a precondition, as a sine qua non of participation, it would impose its violence as a form of exclusionary violence.

That is to say, when a universal value is judged inappropriate to a local, i.e. not a universal, social context, and is thus rejected, it is no longer a universal value.

That is to say, with application to Israel-Palestine, that the liberal democratic values by which some might wish to judge the historical and contemporary records of the parties to the conflict are invalidated because others, Butler among them, have constructed an inverted ideology of power that renders the universal short-circuited. You are on 120 volts, as it were; they are on 240. Butler is limning Theodor Adorno in these lines, but the foundation for argument is hers.

Do not trouble yourself about the logical coherence of this assertion. As Butler’s prose goes, the excerpt is actually rather lucid, and already we see that when one is able to pierce the smokescreen of impenetrable jargon, one finds nothing there. Confronted by real world application the critical theorizing explodes in contradiction and self-negation – on the very basic level of upholding real justice and not merely advancing ideologized constructs of it.

Butler’s notoriously obscure and awful writing is only among the worst examples of a common malady – theory-talk that when it descends in hawk-like gyres to the ground of reality reveals its predatory nature: Jean Baudrillard, after 9/11, writing of the “twin-suicide” of the towers of which everyone had dreamed; Slavoj Zizek, welcoming the United States to the “Desert of the Real.” When Butler similarly descends to political defense and apologetics, and attempts actually clearly to communicate, a different kind of empty cant reveals the hollow vessel that delivers it.

Butler is at pains to do three things in her Mondoweiss defense: argue against charges of anti-Semitism, defend herself against accusations of praise for Hezbollah and Hamas, and reassert her social justice bona fides. She fails on all three counts.

I do not mean on the first count that Butler is manifestly anti-Semitic. She is not, and the question is never one of knowing another’s heart. However, to the degree that Butler makes any genuine argument at all in her defense, and it is a low degree, her attempt, as is now customary for her, is to coopt the history and nature of Judaism, and its meaning – limiting it, for instance, to Disaporic rather than national Judaism – so that she may embrace the Judaism she prefers, reject the other, and excuse herself, she thinks, of the anti-Semitic charge.

Such is Butler’s presiding strategy throughout her theorizing. She rhetorically disappears difference by analyzing it as a product of language and performance. The social problems engaged by political feminism are for Butler the product not of any actual human difference, but of the social constructs of the feminine and masculine. Queer is not a challenge to the oppressive power of the normative – as the original politicized embrace of the term declared; for Butler, it is a subversion of the very idea of normativity. Normal and queer are constructs too. Similarly, the problem with Israel is not that it is Jewish; the problem is that – by method of Judith Butler’s critique and theoretical disappearing act – it is, voila, not Jewish. So saith Judith Butler.

Then there is the fact that Butler chose to publish her defense at Mondoweiss, a blog that, in the psychodrama of its originating authorship, and in much of its commenting community, is deeply, personally and politically anti-Semitic. Does Butler think that because she steers clear of Stormfront she is all right, or is it that Stormfront is on the right, and Butler, from Mondoweiss to Hamas, cannot perceive anti-Semitism on what she conceives to be the left?

Writes Butler of the anti-Semitic charge,

The charge refuses to consider the view, debate its validity, consider its forms of evidence, and derive a sound conclusion on the basis of listening to reason. The charge is not only an attack on persons who hold views that some find objectionable, but it is an attack on reasonable exchange, on the very possibility of listening and speaking in a context where one might actually consider what another has to say.

We see here and throughout that when Butler permits herself to be readily understood, she is preposterous and dishonest. Refusal to consider and debate? An attack on reasonable exchange – on listening and speaking? Butler knows full well that there are almost countless numbers of people – intellectual and scholarly peers and others – who consider and debate hers and like ideas regularly, who listen and speak in response, and refute, and who would argue with and debate her and the ideas she promotes without hesitation. Her accusation of silencing dissent is a completely insupportable, cant response, because she has no better. The charge of anti-Semitism is both separate and the same, and it is made, when it is made, for preceding cause, not in order to preclude debate.

Butler’s defense against the accusation of praise for Hamas and Hezbollah is the usual weasely evasion, most reminiscent, currently, of her political opposite, Todd Akin’s “I used the wrong words in the wrong way” when referring to “legitimate rape.”

What she said then:

I think: Yes, understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important. That does not stop us from being critical of certain dimensions of both movements. … So again, a critical, important engagement. I mean, I certainly think it should be entered into the conversation on the Left. I similarly think boycotts and divestment procedures are, again, an essential component of any resistance movement.

What she says now:

My remarks on Hamas and Hezbollah have been taken out of context …. I was asked by a member of an academic audience … whether I thought Hamas and Hezbollah belonged to “the global left” and I replied with two points. My first point was merely descriptive: those political organizations define themselves as anti-imperialist, and anti-imperialism is one characteristic of the global left, so on that basis one could describe them as part of the global left. My second point was then critical: as with any group on the left, one has to decide whether one is for that group or against that group, and one needs to critically evaluate their stand. I do not accept or endorse all groups on the global left.

Little of what Butler now claims is true. Her remarks were not “merely descriptive.” The two organizations she described not just as left, but as, actually, “progressive,” and Butler called it “important” to so understand them. (And why, anyway, would she cede public and valued political designation of two violent terrorist organizations to the organizations themselves?) She did not offer the choice of support for the groups – and why endorse even the choice? – but called understanding Hamas and Hezbollah as progressive, left social movements to be a “critical, important engagement.”

A fascinating feature of the moral imagination is that even the brilliant manufacturer of abstruse ethical theory will, when cornered by natural and acculturated conscience, seek to escape the mirror she finds there. The extended “as-a-Jew” recitative that opens her defense, and that culminates with that term, is followed by the announced imperative, for Butler, “to speak out against injustice and to struggle against all forms of racism,” as “someone who wishes to affirm a Judaism that is not identified with state violence, and that is identified with a broad-based struggle for social justice.”

“All forms of racism,” “state violence,” broad-based “struggle for social justice.” All meaningful terms representing real ideals, except for when they are reduced to cant – to trite formulations that drop from the tongue, as they do among her fellows, like ritualized epithets. Butler ends her account of herself by attempting to substantiate the “all forms” of racism and the “broad base” of the struggle for social justice, but the effort is a fraud, a gross misapplication of terms. Demonstrably, she does no such thing – for where are her critiques of broad-based Arab anti-Semitism, her supportive attendance at conferences opposing misogyny and homophobia in the Muslim world?

State violence? Where in the world is there not state violence? Where is Judith Butler vocalizing in support of the self-determination of the Kurdish people against their violent suppression by Iran, Syria, and Turkey? On what basis does one choose one’s commitments, and how will one verbally scurry to mask that basis?

When Butler was ridiculed in 1998, chosen by the journal Philosophy and Literature to receive First Prize in its Bad Writing Competition, she wrote what was an earlier defense of herself in a New York Times Op-Ed. In it, she commits a telling confusion of terms. She argues that “ordinary language” is expressive of “common sense,” common sense itself too often (always?) representative of hegemonic and oppressive power structures. So, conveniently, a theory is defended by which impenetrable language is the marker of radical critique. Intelligible language is confused with ordinary language, the complex with the obscure, clarity of expression with common sense. By just such a rhetorical strategy is the reality of who one is, and what one really stands for, disguised.

But there is no hiding in plain sight. In plain sight, when Judith Butler comes into it, we see right through her.

AJA

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Israel

The Palestinian Failure

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Munib al-Masri

Some nations are lucky in their leaders. For decades now, academic historians have downplayed the significance of the leader – the “great man” – in the understanding of historical epochs and focused their attention elsewhere. Still, you cannot study the early American republic without renewed appreciation for the role of George Washington. How lucky was the U.S. again for Lincoln in his time, FDR in his, England for Churchill at the same time, Israel for David Ben Gurion. The French were not so lucky at the time of their revolution. The Palestinian Arabs, too, have had no Ben Gurion. They had Yassar Arafat.

A couple of weeks ago, Munib R. al-Masri, a storied figure among Palestinians and considered to be the wealthiest of them all, published an Op-Edin The New York Times. al-Masri is quite a moderate Palestinian, who is currently seeking a third way, beside the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and trying to construct avenues toward peace with Israeli counterparts. Still, he must operate in the Palestinian environment created over the past sixty-plus years, and there are party lines he chooses to follow. He claimed, for instance, as the title of his Op-Ed read, in response to the well-publicized comment by Mitt Romney, that “Occupation, Not Culture, Is Holding Palestinians Back.” My point is not to comment on Romney’s observation, but al-Masri’s – that it is any Israeli “occupation” or other activity that has held Palestinians back. In fact, I don’t need to make that case. Seven years ago, in David Samuels’  lengthy “In a Ruined Country,” for the Atlantic, al-Masri made the case himself.

The money [Arafat] spent to buy the loyalty of his court, al-Masri gently suggests, could easily have paid for a functioning Palestinian state instead.

“With three hundred, four hundred million dollars we could have built Palestine in ten years. Waste, waste, waste. I flew over the West Bank in a helicopter with Arafat at the beginning of Oslo, and I told him how easy we could make five, six, seven towns here; we could absorb a lot of people here; and have the right of return for the refugees. If you have good intentions and you say you want to reach a solution, we could do it. I said, if you have money and water, it could be comparable to Israel, this piece of land.”

Samuels expanded.

For those at the top of the heap the rewards were much larger and more systematic. The amounts of money stolen from the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people through the corrupt practices of Arafat’s inner circle are so staggeringly large that they may exceed one half of the total of $7 billion in foreign aid contributed to the Palestinian Authority. The biggest thief was Arafat himself. The International Monetary Fund has conservatively estimated that from 1995 to 2000 Arafat diverted $900 million from Palestinian Authority coffers, an amount that did not include the money that he and his family siphoned off through such secondary means as no-bid contracts, kickbacks, and rake-offs. A secret report prepared by an official Palestinian Authority committee headed by Arafat’s cousin concluded that in 1996 alone, $326 million, or 43 percent of the state budget, had been embezzled, and that another $94 million, or 12.5 percent of the budget, went to the president’s office, where it was spent at Arafat’s personal discretion. An additional 35 percent of the budget went to pay for the security services, leaving a total of $73 million, or 9.5 percent of the budget, to be spent on the needs of the population of the West Bank and Gaza. The financial resources of the PLO, which may have amounted to somewhere between one and two billion dollars, were never included in the PA budget. Arafat hid his personal stash, estimated at $1 billion to $3 billion, in more than 200 separate bank accounts around the world, the majority of which have been uncovered since his death.

Contrary to the comic-book habits of some Third World leaders, such as President Mobutu Sese Seko, of Zaire, and Saddam Hussein, Arafat eschewed lurid displays of wealth. His corruption was of a more sober-minded type. He was a connoisseur of power, who used the money that he stole to buy influence, to provoke or defuse conspiracies, to pay gunmen, and to collect hangers-on the way other men collect stamps or butterflies. Arafat had several advisers who oversaw the system of patronage and theft, which was convincingly outlined in a series of investigative articles by Ronen Bergman that appeared during the late 1990s in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. The PLO treasurer, Nizar Abu Ghazaleh, ran the company al-Bahr (“the Sea”) for a small number of wealthy shareholders, including Arafat’s wife, Suha. Al-Bahr set the price of a ton of cement in Gaza at $74, of which $17 went into Arafat’s private bank account. One of Arafat’s favorite bagmen, Harbi Sarsour, ran the General Petroleum Company, which established a monopoly over all the gasoline and fuel-oil products sold in the West Bank and Gaza. A company called al-Sakhra (“the Rock”), run by Fuad Shubaki on behalf of Fatah, profited hugely from an exclusive contract to provide all uniforms and other supplies to the Palestinian security forces. Official monopolies on basic goods and services had exclusive suppliers on the Israeli side. These profitable contracts were made available by Arafat to companies associated with former high-ranking members of the Israeli civil administration and the security services in the West Bank and Gaza.

The genius behind this system was Muhammad Rachid, who became Arafat’s closest economic adviser. A onetime protégé of Abu Jihad, Rachid was a former magazine editor who became involved in the diamond business. He came to Arafat’s attention because of his keen talent as a businessman, and because he was an ethnic Kurd—which meant that he was safely removed from the family- and clan-based politics that always threatened to disrupt the division of the spoils.

In their cities and villages Palestinians were subject to the extortion and violence of Arafat’s overlapping security services, which competed among themselves for payoffs, arbitrarily arrested people and seized their land, and forced citizens to pay double or triple the price for everything from flour and gasoline to cigarettes, razor blades, and sheep feed. The fact that nearly everyone in Palestinian political life had taken something directly from Arafat’s hand made it hard to criticize him; it was easier to go along. In 1991, at the low point of Fatah’s finances, Ali Shahin, one of Arafat’s earliest allies, wrote a secret report lambasting Fatah’s “inconceivable moral degradation,” for which he blamed the excesses of a leader whose true interests were “the red carpet, the private plane of the President, free rein to spend money.” Shahin became the minister of supplies in Arafat’s government and was notorious for selling spoiled flour and making truckloads of chocolates sit at the Erez checkpoint in the heat in order to help out a friend who owned the only candy factory in Gaza. The economy of the Palestinian territories, which had enjoyed startlingly high growth rates after 1967, when it passed from Jordanian and Egyptian control into the hands of the Israelis, stagnated and then went backward. In less than a decade Yasir Arafat and his clique managed to squander not only the economic well-being but also the considerable moral capital amassed by the Palestinian people during two and a half decades of Israeli military rule.

Samuels later gives us Gazan human-rights activist Iyad Sarraj.

“Palestinians have lost the battle because of their lack of organization and because they have been captives of rhetoric and sloganeering rather than actual work,” he says. “I believe that the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians in one way or the other is between development and underdevelopment, civilization and backwardness. Israel was established on the rule of law, on democratization, and certain principles that would advance Israel, while the Arabs and the Palestinians were waiting always for the prophet, for the rescuer, for the savior, the mahdi. Arafat came, and everyone hung their hats on him without realizing that there is a big gap between the rescuer and the actual work that needs to be done. This is where the Palestinians lost again the battle. They lost it in ’48 because of their backwardness, ignorance, and lack of organization in how to confront the Zionist enemy. They lost it when they had the chance to build a state, because the PA was absolutely corrupt and disorganized.”

There probably has never been a people more ill-served by a greater lack of leadership, a greater financial and moral corruption of leadership, than the Palestinian people. And there is a lot of competition.

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Uncategorized

Anti-Labor, Anti-Free Press, Anti-Gay, Anti-Israel

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Some people never get the point. Some people once got the point, or claimed to, claimed to see it – there it is, over there – and then they got their hands on the point and stretched the point, to make a point, turned it inside out, inverted and perverted the point, developed a string theory of the point, and later conceived an alternate universe of the point.

From Eric Lee, examining the role of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre on the contemporary history of left anti-Semitism:

This may be news to some, but what is today commonplace was once quite rare. I’m referring to anti-Semitism on the far Left — and am reminded of what some of us saw as a turning point back in 1972.

For a quarter of a century following the defeat of Nazi Germany, anti-Semites everywhere were laying low — especially in the West. The Soviet leadership was growing increasingly anti-Jewish and anti-Israel, and anti-Semitism was rife in the Arab world, but in countries like the USA, it was quite rare for Jew-hatred to be expressed openly. And certainly not on the Left.

….

Accusations of Jew-hatred are today greeted with a shrug.

What was so shocking 40 years ago — that a socialist organisation would identify somehow with a brutal terrorist attack on innocent people if those people happen to be Jewish — is commonplace now.

From the The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), a global union federation of over 600.000 journalists in 134 countries, on August 2:

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today accused Hamas security forces of harassing elected officials of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS) in Gaza. In a letter to Ismael Haniyeh, Prime Minister in the Hamas government, the IFJ President said that journalists’ leaders in Gaza have been subjected to a campaign of intimidation and threats designed to force them to stop their union work. Some of them are now facing charges of illegal activities and a travel ban after they refused to give in to pressure.

“We consider the accusations against our colleagues of illegal activity and theft of the union identity a malicious accusation which should be dropped immediately,” said IFJ President Jim Boumelha in his letter. “They should be allowed to work without restrictions and the travel ban imposed on them must be lifted.”

The IFJ says that the campaign against the PJS board members in the Gaza strip started in March, after their election. It included the raid organised by supporters of Hamas who took over the PJS offices in Gaza with the help of security forces and evicted the staff and elected officials.

The harassment has recently escalated in targeting of individual members who were bullied into stopping union work. According to PJS, its Vice President Tahseen Al Astal and a colleague are being investigated by Hamas Attorney General and have been banned from travelling. The investigation was launched shortly after the two officials defied the order to cease their activities in the union, the PJS says.

Said TULIP (Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine):

The contrast could not be clearer: in Israel, independent trade unions that sometimes cooperate with, sometimes confront the government. In areas controlled by the pro-Iranian Hamas, unions under the thumb of an authoritarian regime.

And then there is the Death Star of of the lost point point, the inverted point, what’s the point pointlessness of “pinkwashing,” which combines the subversion of every pillar of human dignity: personal and political liberty and human and civil rights. From Jonathan Miller:

Israel’s commendable gay rights record should be a cause for the American Left to celebrate.  But in the Orwellian dystopia that is our political discourse today, the Israel-is-always-wrong crowd has used Israeli publicity of its proud LGBT culture as yet another reason to criticize the Jewish State.

Borrowing a term coined by the breast cancer prevention community to describe companies that claim to care about the disease but at the same time sell carcinogenic products, the anti-Israel crowd has redefined “pinkwashing” as Israeli propaganda designed to hypnotize American liberals into ignoring Israel’s transgressions in the disputed territories.

The most quotable advocate of this terminology is CUNY English Professor Sarah Schulman, who  described her objective as trying to frame the Palestinian cause with simpler language, “like in the kinds of magazines you read in the laundromat.”  (Perhaps “pinkwashing” is supposed to remind laundromat users of the infuriating consequences of leaving a red shirt in a white washload?)

Schulman’s proof of Israel’s nefarious, designs?  She quotes a Tel Aviv law professor who claims that “conservative and especially religious politicians remain fiercely homophobic.”  A comment that’s about as probative and relevant as a “Yo Mama” joke.

Indeed, the explanation is so simple, it’s hard to imagine any alternative reasoning.  It’s called capitalism, or more precisely, tourism promotion: Israel brags about its extraordinary LGBT culture in order to encourage gay and lesbian people from all over the world to visit the Jewish State and bring their tourist dollars. Considering the subject matter, it’s a remarkable and heartening development:  I can only dream of a time when my home state of Kentucky would launch advertisement campaigns to encourage gay and lesbian people to visit our beautiful state parks.

And what’s the alternative?  Should Israel hide its vibrant LGBT culture so as not to offend the senses of radical anti-Zionists?  Doesn’t this call to the closet run precisely counter to the extraordinarily effective strategy launched by gay-rights martyr Harvey Milk, who presciently argued that when people learned that their family, friends, and neighbors were gay — that gay people too can do “heroic things” — they’d understand that homosexuality was not “abnormal sexual behavior”?

Some of the “pinkwashing” logic has been so stained by the BDS spin cycle that that it verges on parody.  Professor Jasbir Puar, who teaches women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University, argued at an April 2012 New York forum that the Israeli occupation “is one of the most contentious issues in queer organizing today.”  When questioned about the Gaza government’s treatment of gay and lesbian people, she retorted that “it doesn’t take away from the fact that there is an occupation.  We can’t judge a country by its attitudes towards homosexuals.”

Get the point?

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The Political Animal

How Fast, So Furious, the Grim-faced Libertarian Falls in the Forest

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Lost amid the attention to the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the Affordable Care Act was the House vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress – the first sitting cabinet member to be so cited in the history of the United States. Maliciously partisan Republicans went ahead with this vote on Thursday even though the previous day Katherine Eban had published in Fortune a Pulitzer Prize worthy expose of the gross media misreportage and congressional misrepresentation of the facts of the Fast and Furious ATF program. Holder has been cited for contempt because of his responses to a congressional investigation of a federal law enforcement scandal that is a fiction. Your tax dollars at work, frugally wasted by the GOP.

Just the Friday before on Bill Maher’s Real Time, as I discussed in Pride of a Partisan, libertarian lion Nick Gillespie had grimly chastised Rachel Maddow and other liberals for claiming that the Fast and Furious hearings were now primarily motivated by conservative conspiratorial craziness: lunacy postulating that the non-existent program to sell firearms to Mexican drug cartels was intended to frighten the populace with rampant gun sales and deaths that would then better support an Obamian campaign to restrict Second Amendment gun rights. (One experiences a minor loss of mental stability simply describing this convolution of mind.) More, the cranky libertarian insisted, there were clearly signs of wrongdoing that justified the Fast and Furious investigation. Gillespie made these claims with a humorless yet insouciant aplomb, like Pierrot juggling: see how I toss the softboileds lazily over my shoulder, dip at the knees, glance back sadly and extend my hand. See the egg all over my face.

It is not that often that the confirming stink of having talked shit is wafted so rapidly into the general atmosphere, but in this case Gillespie went full potty on a Television City sound stage.

Moving from Congress to cranky to creepy, readers may have noticed the first comment to my post of a few days ago, Massacre of the Cheyenne. Reilly and Rob, who responded to him, and all others, may be interested to know that this is the same ill-delivered correspondent who has been writing me for nearly a year now. I wrote about him twice before, in Anti-semitism, the Ur Hatred and Anatomy of an Anti-Semite. He has moved from calling me first, “Jew hack” to, in multiple expunged comments, “Judenrat”, to, now, “kikey little fart academic.” (I really despise being belittled as an academic.) David, here, continually conceives new names, email addresses and mock websites via which to evade junk comment moderation. Occasionally, as in this instance, when he went for the known and overt anti-Semitic insult, I think it valuable to expose him to public scrutiny.

In David’s apparent earlier semblances, he has hated by the name of Ross Vachon, a claimant, previously, to a marginal Hollywood career in which Vachon also hung tight to Native American actor connections. Ross Vachon, dear readers, is a voice over journeyman who wrote long ago for Counter Punch, and whose greatest claim to ignominy is having provided narrative voice, along with Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Ken Loach, and Mairead Maguire to the film version of Goldstone Facts, supporting the notoriously biased, poorly investigated and since repudiated report of Richard Goldstone on the Gaza conflict of 2008-09. From such twisted antagonism to Jewish nationalism is sponsored unavoidably the utterance of the Ross Vachons, who will protest and deny their race-hating contortions of humanhood until, at last, “kikey” erupts from the throat like an alien head bursting out of its hosted entrails.

I’m done.

AJA

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Israel

“What Must Be Said” Is Nothing

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I have heard it said – better, I have read it in a tweet – that Gunther Grass could hardly have been expected, at 17, to resist recruitment into the Waffen SS. That odd, indirect defense of the sham poetry Grass did not write but typed up to attack Israel delivers an unexpected enlightenment: how a defense of the now usual calumny against Israel draws in, by slinking, slithering nexus, the casual rationalization of Nazism and its monstrous Holocaust. Thus the world falls, dizzyingly, back into the chasm of its amoral purgatory, fingers forever slipping from the precipice of its imagined ascent. The motive is to affirm what Grass says of Israel. It is played out in two movements. The first ratifies Grass’s judgment. The Second, accordingly, seeks to restore his moral authority, by excusing the sin of his Nazism and his sixty-year silent deception in hiding it.

The anti-Israelism is the quackery of the age, the traveling medicine show of far left politics peddling post-colonial miracle elixirs and the good doctor’s tonic of the internalized other. Out in the audience, standing wide-eyed or glancing one to the other with wondrous grins at the staged revelations, are the political rubes getting suckered one more time by the missionary charlatans who sold them before, at every frontier stop along the way, the same snake oil under different doctor’s names: Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Fidel and Ho Chi Minh. Stand once more with authoritarians, autocrats, misogynists and homophobes, even religious absolutists; bring down the blade one more time on the liberal, the democrat, the politically and fashionably incorrect, the Jew.

Then there is the human life, lives, which pile up like accumulated history, like mounds of the dead, lost in the thousand-fold layers, from which surviving voices crawl out like wounded children; there are those voices, other voices, speech acts, political acts, poems. Why a poem? Martin Earl, at Harriet, the blog of the Poetry Foundation, considers the poem less as political act than as a poem, as poetry.

It’s no wonder no one at Harriet has broached the subject. It’s embarrassing, not only the poem itself but what it’s doing in a leading European newspaper, the Süddeutschen Zeitung. After all, a poem—of whatever quality—usually doesn’t ask us to agree or disagree.

This is to state first the obvious, which is not the less important for it, so that it may lead us deeper. Earl cites Heather Horn’s translation from the German, at the Atlantic, better, he thinks, than other early attempts, and how it renders a key word in the first line.

Why do I stay silent, conceal for too long
What clearly is and has been

Conceal.

Only if we consider revelations in the author’s personal history do we begin to understand the gradations of concealment revealed.

By describing one layer of silence Grass provides a running commentary on another one, namely the fact that he neglected to tell the world that, as a young man, he volunteered for and served in the Waffen SS, the combat unit of Hitler’s special paramilitary force charged with (and indoctrinated in) the annihilation of European and Russian Jewry.

This is to draw from the text what the author may not have intended but what it offers nonetheless. Earl goes further still, to challenge not only Grass, but in an opposing gesture, poetry.

Literary critics across the board are refusing to learn from the poem itself as a published artifact grounded in currently unpopular notions of poetic instrumentality. That a poem could be written for its social usefulness, its ability to leverage a message, is simply beyond the pale.

My “A Günter Grass Manifesto” opposes instrumentality. I am, then, a populist. But when we consider the question that Earl tells us has already been raised – why a poem, this poem, so clumsy and drearily discursive, why not, more obviously, an essay – we question not just the usefulness of the form, but Grass’s use of the form. Why did he, against all reasonable expectation of how his message might be received in that form, choose that form? Because he has concealed himself again, or sought to. He has draped himself and his disgrace, his shamelessness in refusing to bear his disgrace, in the sober finery, the ethical armature of art. Were it one more essay by one more Left European falling through the vortex of the New Anti-Semitism, the sheer polemic, the rancidness of its source, would have been so apparent and more easily dismissed. But in the sententious poem of “What Must Be Said,” the artist, the great artist, the Nobel Laureate brings another offering from the Mounts Olympus and Zion both: it is not dismissible as mere polemic because it draws with it along its train, announces itself with heralds, the high seriousness, the Value Added, of Art. This is no mere writer. This is the poet. He speaks, like the blind singer of songs around campfires, the tragic tales of nations and men. Listen.

Except in Grass’s unmemorable lines, there is only one man, him, and the vainglory of breaking a burden of silence. If Grass were to be excused by age or the threat of death for serving in the SS, then the Holocaust and all mass murder, and all wrong would be excused. Are the awful, fateful confrontations with human responsibility and our inevitable ends meant to be easily faced, lightly borne? They would be neither awful nor fateful. There would be no responsibility. Ends would exist for others, but not for us. Let many millions die, Jew, Gypsy, homosexual, infirm, but not me. My life is of a higher value. Let a Holocaust occur, but let me not die, or my neighbor, who will feel rightfully the same, and his neighbor. So Holocausts do happen,

Let us not forget, we forget every day, that our world is full of people of courage, people who meet wide-eyed their fateful moments. Think what you will of the Iraq War in itself: men and women served in it who were willing to subordinate their survival to ideas they held dear of something greater. Thousands of them sacrificed sixty years of literature.

But, yes, we are not all physically courageous. We are, many of us cowards. We will save ourselves, and in saving ourselves must meet the face of consequence, the consequentiality of our acts in the world. Will we bear any burden of responsibility for who we are and what we do, accept the consequences of our acts, or will we live in bad faith all our lives. Millions died, and for his own participation in the apparatus of death, his life continued, Grass could not offer up the price of confession, admission at least of what he had done, and live in the light of that act.  He could not, conversely, accept the burden of silence. How many Jewish lives would need to be extinguished, and generations unborn, for Günter Grass to accept with contrition and humility the weight of the smallest possible burden, and live out his life without ever passing judgment on a Jew.

The dead are dead forever, but six years only since he acknowledged who he was and is were too much for Günter Grass merely to be silent. The writer lives in the rush of his words, the burbling upstream of these fishes of words, the rivers flowing through him of fishes, like poems and plays and novels. How should he be silent, this force of nature? The others are dead so long ago. They are not real, they are shadows. But my words, the writer’s, are real. The dead are become, worse, a discourse of guilt, a tired refrain. How long must we be burdened with the Jews and their Holocaust. Goddamn Israel!

For nearly seventy years survivors and thinkers have pondered how to speak about the Holocaust, how to write about it. Did not any rendering diminish it, the scope, the monumentality, the horror of it? Yet now we politicize it, deny it, diminish it in tweets. Heather Horn, prefacing her Atlantic translation of “What Must Be Said” described Grass, the ex Waffen SS, as having a “complicated” relationship with Israel. She writes of Grass’s “denouncing Israel’s nuclear program and aggression toward Iran.” No mention of his writing falsely of Israel’s “alleged right to first strike/ That could annihilate the Iranian people.” Annihilate – a holocaust. How to speak of the Holocaust? Appropriate it, turn it back on its victims, obscure it in journalism. And all this talk because Grass is a literary man, who took permission, issued on papers by the ministry of Literature, to strike, near the end of his life, as he did near its beginning, at Jews.

Famously, in The Third Man, Orson Welles’s Harry Lime standing in the shadows of post-War Vienna says,

“You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

We know, too, that the Nazis even amid the carnage, still loved their Mozart, their Beethoven, their Shubert. To which a film professor of mine long ago offered in reply, to Harry Lime and to the Germans,

Well, then, take back the Fifth.

AJA

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Israel

“How the Left Turned Against the Jews”

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Nick Cohen at Standpoint writing, in “How the Left Turned Against the Jews,” about Colin Shindler’s new book, Israel and the European Left:

But in a strange manner few discuss, the death of Communism has freed far-Left ideas from the cage of the Cold War. When the far Left was a global force, the mainstream liberal Left had to draw dividing lines and defend itself from its attacks. Now that the far Left threatens no one, the borders have gone. The media would hound from public life any conservative who shared platforms with members of a neo-Nazi group. But respectable leftists can now associate with those who would once have been regarded as poisonous extremists — and no one notices. What applies to personal alliances applies equally to ideology. Foul ideas flood past the unmanned border posts, with disastrous consequences for Jews and Arabs.

I wrote earlier in the month, in “The Internationalist Cover for Anti-Semitism,”

One of the consequences of the fall of Communism has been a kind of analytical disjunction in recognizing ideological continuities on the far left. Communism as a significant modern organizing ideology of nation states came to an end, so the focus it provided for a host of Western political parties and tendencies was lost. Too often since, the far left in its alliances and antipathies has been spoken of by liberals and social democrats as a shocking ethical outlier. But it has ever been thus. Nothing has changed.

One line of continuity is seen in left manifestations of anti-Semitism. On the far right, as an active strain, anti-Semitism is almost always outspoken. The hate is expressed and the tropes are freely figured. The far left has always been anti-Semitic in the bad faith of denial. This contrast is historically represented in Nazi Germany and Soviet era Communism. For the fascist or reactionary, the Jew is a stateless, cosmopolitan subverter of the true, the ideal, culture of the volk. In the twentieth century, from the Bolsheviks on, such cosmopolitan internationalism – in Marxist consciousness – was the very contrary ideal. The Marxist ideal was the transcendence of nationalism, of factionalism, of particularity in identity beyond the proletarian. Thus, for the Marxist-Leninist, theoretically, Jews too often clung irredeemably to their identity as Jews. The Bundists were the perfect example of this resistant clinging to particularity, wishing, even as socialists and secularists, to remain and be recognized as Jews. On the far left, then, as far back at least as the Bolshevik Revolution, Jews identifying as a Jews were criticized for their failure to be international, for espousing – to use an anachronistic term– identity politics.

The recognition, then, is there, of how transgressive tendencies flitted about the boundaries between the far and liberal left and how the fall of the communist states and the disappearance of that Marxist nomenclature has made it easier for the transgressions to slip through the trees, almost unnoticed, across the borders. And the Jew, both as this remarkable historical case of ineradicable, distinctive identity in difference and as idealistic advocate of the eradication of difference, has been there, and been a victim, from the start. Writes Cohen,

The movements for Jewish self-determination and Russian Communism were twins separated at birth. The First Zionist conference met on August 27, 1897, to discuss the escape from anti-Semitic Europe to Palestine. The General Jewish Labour Bund held its first conference in Vilnius on October 7, 1897, to organise the Russian Empire’s Jews in a united socialist party. The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, from which the Bolsheviks split, held its first conference in March 1898. Naturally, the Bund sent delegates. For liberal and left-wing Europeans of the late 19th century, no regime was more repellent than Tsarist autocracy, and nothing better symbolised its reactionary nature than its anti-Semitic pogroms. Jews responded to the terror by keeping their Jewish identity and joining Jewish socialist movements, such as the Bund, or by becoming entirely assimilated Communists, as Trotsky and many others did.

The coincidences of history do not end there. On November 2, 1917, Arthur Balfour sent his declaration to Baron Rothschild that the British Empire would allow the Jewish people to find a home in Palestine “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”. On November 7, 1917, the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace.

The Jews and the Left were entwined. Many who went to Palestine were socialists determined that the New Jerusalem should be in Jerusalem. Others saw a New Jerusalem rising in Moscow.

The historical record is clear that Bolshevism, Stalinism, Soviet and Eastern Bloc communism turned on the Jews – if differently in manner and scope – no less clearly than the Nazis. For the fascist the racial hatred was explicit; for the far left there has always been the ideological overlay, the denial, the bad faith. From Cohen:

Three features of the old Left‘s racism feel contemporary. Naturally, Communists could not say that Jews were members of a “Judaeo-Bolshevik” cabal. They had to recast the conspiracy as a right-wing plot and substitute “Zionist” for “Jew”. When Stalin put Rudolf Slansky and other Czech Communists on trial in 1952 the authorities announced: “The whole worldwide Zionist movement was in fact led and ruled by the imperialists, in particular the US imperialists, by means of US Zionists. For US Zionists, who are financially most powerful and politically the most influential Zionists, form part of the ruling imperialist circles of the USA.”

This is what we call “ripped from today’s headlines.” The new offense is always different though, always unrecognizable to itself, and for the same reason.

These critics defend [themselves] because they believe that this time it is true. They believe that this time… there really is a cadre of Jews exercising excessive, secretive power while aggressively attempting to suppress any exposure of it. And like all their reactionary forebears (like every GOP reactionary today who plays the card of nationalist loyalty) they forget that the belief they cling to is the belief to which purveyors of anti-Semitic tropes of Jewish power always hold fast – it’s the essential marker of the tradition – that what they believe is true.

For far left Jews since, as for the Bundists originally, the tension has always been there, between the utopian ideological commitments – Marxist, anti-imperialist, postcolonial – and the historical and cultural reality of Jewishness. More Cohen:

Western Communists of Jewish origin rushed to prove their loyalty by supporting [Stalin’s 1952 Czech leadership] pogrom; not out of fear of physical violence, for no one could threaten them in the West, but out of fear of the ostracism that would follow a falling out with the Left. Maxime Rodinson, a French Communist who defended the purges, later said that he could not face “the most obvious facts” about the fascistic nature of the Communists because of his “visceral need not to renounce a commitment that has illuminated one’s life, given it meaning, and for which many sacrifices have often been made”.

Ever since there have been loyalty tests and demands for left-wing Jews to speak “as a Jew” as Howard Jacobson puts it, and announce their shame of and contempt for Israel.

As-a-Jewism is rampant today, as is the ideologically inverted bad-faith anti-Semitism that produces obscenities like Sarah Schulman’s upcoming CUNY Graduate Center “Homonationalism and Pinkwashing” gathering, an academic conference primed to take its place in the sordid history of far left perversions of principle. Schulman, however, is a fringe player, whereas The New York Times, which recently gave her a forum, is more identifiably the problem. It goes back to where we started here, the erasing of that border that the communist states previously marked off, and over which the high liberal Times now provides a bridge.

Among non-right anti-Jewish tendencies, there have always been varied strains. There are the bitterly, passionately personal such as Norman Finkelstein, the uncanny erupters like Mearsheimer & Walt, the cracked pots of fiercely animated but incoherent commitments in which such as Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Greenwald reside. But it is the mainstream liberals like Peter Beinart who are crossing the border. Or Amnesty International regularly providing space in its London offices for conferences led by known Islamists. It is in such as they that the greater threat resides.

Cohen ends,

Now as then, nothing makes the sterling Left’s spittle flow more freely than mention of the state of Israel. They may not know it, for they know very little, but the origins of their Pavlovian response lie deep in the terrible history of the 20th-century Left.

Where once the far left and its misguided liberal allies had the U.S.-Soviet proxy wars to focus their attention – in Latin America, Africa, and Asia – now the Marxist states and their contentions for power are gone. Now, the substitute is Israel. All of the ideological apparatus and vocabulary – colonial, imperial, indigenous, other, apartheid, racist, Nazi, fascist – has been brought to bear on the fabrication of a new false Jewish narrative to take its place in magnitude with all those that came before it. Now instead of the Soviet Union or China or Cuba with whom to mis-ally, it is reactionary Islam and Arab and Persian despots, the worst kinds of illiberal misogynists and homophobes and anti-Semites. There is not even dream of the utopian state anymore, but only the intellectual construct erected against the perceived enemy of that state.

Now, at this exalted height and debased low of political development, the focus of Puritopian animus lands once more and crucially on Israel, and the Jews. It is a battle that will take up at least the remainder of the century’s first quarter, maybe much more. And an irony, a pitiful irony, is how much it will empower the right.

AJA

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