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Israel The Political Animal

A Misguided Argument About Anti-Semitism

This is not class warfare.
This is not class warfare.

(This essay originally appeared in the Algemeiner on February 11, 2014.)

In the Wall Street Journal of February 3, Harvard’s Ruth R. Wisse published an Op-Ed titled “The Dark Side of the War on ‘the One Percent.” In the article, Wisse argues for a “structural” connection between “anti-Semitism and American class conflict.” First tracing the rise of nineteenth century European anti-Semitism in the accusation that Jews took “unfair advantage of the emerging democratic order in Europe, with its promise of individual rights and competition, in order to dominate the fields of finance, culture and social ideas,” Wisse proceeds to find like grounds for potential anti-Semitic outbreak in President Obama’s and American progressives’ “sallies against Wall Street and the ‘one percent.’” She warns, therefore, against “[s]toking class envy” in a “politics of grievance directed against ‘the rich’” for fear of igniting a “politics of blame directed specifically at Jews.”

Wisse’s argument is both grievously mistaken and dangerously misguided. It is mistaken because it mischaracterizes the connection between anti-Semitism and class conflict, and it is misguided because the argument is, contrary to its concern, actually detrimental to Jewish interests.

First, when Wisse speaks of a “structural connection between a politics of blame directed specifically at Jews and a politics of grievance directed against “the rich,” she is mistaken in her use of the word “structural.” What is structural isinherent, part of the makeup of a thing. To claim that aggrieved attention to any perceived excess accumulation of wealth in a society will inevitably lead to Jews and an outbreak of anti-Semitism is oddly, inadvertently, actually to accept the anti-Semitic formulation of Jews and wealth. In any contemporary Western society, attention to wealth will at least as likely, in far greater numbers, lead the attentive to Christians, atheists and many other groups. The choice of the anti-Semitic to focus on Jews only or particularly is thus selective, not structural, a development contingent on the genuine social and psychological causes of anti-Semitism, not on a true measure of Jewish wealth and power.

Ironically, Wisse is herself selective, seemingly constructing a necessary entailment of reasons and conclusions, leading from progressive concern with gross income and wealth inequality to the incitement of anti-Semitism. Yet, just as Wisse shapes her argument by her choice of the word “structural,” so does she by her use of phraseology such as “class envy,” a “war on the one percent,” and a “politics of grievance.” The problem might well be otherwise expressed and the argument, then, otherwise viewed. Ever did those people with consider any peep of objection from those people without to be an unseemly display of envy and resentment. The Bourbons of France and the Romanovs of Russia also thought themselves set upon and, like Tom Perkins, the victims of “class warfare.”

The Bourbons and the Romanovs themselves, however, were engaged in no class warfare: they were just a feature of nature, like the course of the sun, the divine-right hand of God, or the invisible hand of the free market. (See for this last the recently passed Farm Bill.) It is not “class warfare” or envy that is stoked when state governors, like that of Wisconsin, funded by two of the wealthiest brothers in the United States, campaign (to invoke more military vocabulary) to revoke the labor rights of public employees and to set private employees with their dwindling 401k’s enviously against public-sector employees, who often enjoy the genuine pensions the resentful should wish for themselves and not seek to take from their fellows in a “politics of grievance.”

The language shapes everything. It molds the argument the writer develops. It directs the understanding of the reader to whom the argument is made. If we speak, with less bile, as I did, not of envy and grievance but of “concern with gross income and wealth inequality,” perhaps we invoke less frightening ill will. If we recall James Madison, from Federalist No. 10, who advised that “the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property” and that the “regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation,” then perhaps we sound less alarmingly revolutionary, or at least revolutionary in a reassuring and founding American way.

Yet while Wisse is mistaken in the language she employs, and her argument misshapen by that language, she is also misguided in the implications to which she leads by this argument.

The force of Wisse’s argument is to drive American Jews self-interestedly away from “progressivism.” This would be, to echo Wisse, a “dangerous” development. To clarify how, we must briefly attend to language again.

The term “progressive” like so much political nomenclature, opens a broad umbrella. It may, depending on individual usage, cover everyone on the left from moderate Democrats to full-out liberals to socialists to postcolonial culture warriors to recalcitrant Marxists. The farthest left of these, like the far right, have ugly histories with Jews. In the anti-Zionism of some today, they are no friends to Jews now. But among those who was also called progressive was the Republican President Teddy Roosevelt.

Roosevelt was the trust busting conservationist who dramatically expanded the national parks and signed into law the first federal food and drug legislation. In that spirit, it is American progressivism that gave birth over the twentieth century to the full range of labor and economic and social safety net protections on which Americans have come to rely almost as if they are – to choose a word – structural features of reality, though, of course, they are not. They are social enlightenments born not of envy and grievance, but of the progressive belief that the quality of a life – the inherent value of it – should not be measured by the quantification only of what that one life can earn for itself in the free market. It is American progressivism that brought us the civil rights era, with its continuing and expanding benefit in access and human dignity to so many different minorities, including Jews, for it is only that era that brought to a close, for instance, the Jewish quota at Wisse’s Harvard, and ensured, similarly, that I might be admitted to graduate school at Columbia University on merit and not denied entry by reason of my Jewish birth because of longstanding quotas there.

Progressivism made the America in which Jews may feel so secure. To think that American Jews should fear progressive interest in economic justice, progressive belief in what Madison gave us as the proper “regulation of these various and interfering interests” that arise from and expand “the various and unequal distribution of property” is to counsel Jews most unwisely against their own interests. For an America committed in belief and in policy to serving equity and justice will remain for Jews a secure home.

More strategically, with regard to the profound American-Jewish interest in Israel, Wisse’s misidentification would only exacerbate a problem that has indeed developed in the farther left reaches of Western progressivism. It is visible for all to see that Marxist-inspired post-nationalism has joined with postcolonial analyses of culture and power to fixate perversely on Israel and Jewish nationalism as the exemplars of what they oppose. The true current danger is that this irrational, though fashionable misunderstanding is leaking toward more moderate quarters of progressivism. We see this in the growing attention in academia, for instance, to the BDS campaign.

This growing tendency requires a response. It needs to be combated. One way to do that is to clarify both what true progressivism is and what Israel is, which is, in the latter case, despite the pressures of seven decades of conflict and of internal theocratic forces, a nation that has been from the start and remains, socially, astonishingly progressive. Israel’s enemies are enemies of all that is progressive. They are among the most retrograde and increasingly regressive societies in the world, and true progressives should be among Israel’s most natural allies.

But it is true, too, that the political desire to moderate, rather than amplify, systematically arising economic inequities will remain a defining feature of progressive political philosophy. Grossly mistaking and mischaracterizing that profoundly moral commitment as a danger to Jews would work to drive a wedge where one already needs to be removed. Israel and Jews need to work to maintain and recover allies whose sympathies should naturally be theirs, not to sever those ties by declaring those allies’ highest ideals a danger to Jewish interests.

That misguidance would be the danger to Jews.

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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The Political Animal

A Campaign of Willful Blindness on Terrorism

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This article first appeared in the Algemeiner on May 2, 2013.  

On April 15, 2013 at 2:49 p.m. two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Most of us know the details, more or less – the three dead, 264 wounded and maimed, the days of fear, of investigation and pursuit, the two Chechen brothers, one a radicalized Muslim now dead, the other apprehended.

The very next day, time unknown, Tim Wise, “anti-racist essayist, activist and educator,” posted to his website “Terrorism and Privilege: Understanding the Power of Whiteness.” Fewer than twenty-four hours after the bombs went off, Wise had written 1002 words stating three lessons of the event.

That violence is unacceptable stands out as one, sure. That hatred — for humanity, for life, or whatever else might have animated the bomber or bombers — is never the source of constructive human action seems like a reasonably close second.

The third lesson was “a lesson about race, about whiteness, and specifically, about white privilege.”

Wise included 53 links to details of deadly “terrorist” attacks by white people over the past seven decades. That was a lot of research over the twenty-four hours, the very immediate aftermath of first events, or the names and links had already been collected. Either way, it is a lot of concentration, too, a lot of focus, on a theme without much knowledge of events.

The same day, within the same twenty-four hour period – at 1:24 EDT to be exact, so only 21.5 hours after the explosions, David Sirota published at Salon.com “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American .” Sirota’s general theme was the same as Wise’s. In fact, he quotes Wise’s essay of the same day, which means that Wise published even earlier than 21.5 hours after events, or that the two were in communication about their publishing intentions.

Wise and Sirota were not even first off the line. Salon.com had actually published, by Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon’s political reporter, on the very day, “After Boston explosions, a scapegoat emerges on the right.” The subhead read,

Following the New York Post’s lead, a belief is affirmed: The Boston explosions must have been done by Muslims.

The piece is even time stamped 4:36 PDT, which would be an hour and thirteen minutes before the explosions. Hildy Johnson’s got nothin’ on Alex Seitz-Wald.

It is clear that nearly instantaneous with the Boston bombings, there was a segment of the political spectrum invested in the idea that among the lessons to be learned, “[t]hat violence is unacceptable stands out as one, sure,” but that even if the attack was perpetrated by Muslims, the greater lesson to be learned would be about white people.

Coincidentally (?) that same day as Wise and Sirota published, the Huffington Post published, by Egyptian-Belgian writer Khaled Diab, “A Brief History of Western ‘Jihadists.” Also that day fromHuffington Post and Sonny Singh, “musician & social justice educator,” we got, only twenty-one hours after the attack, “Prayers for Boston and for an End to Racist [sic] Backlash.” From “neuroscience researcher, blogger, atheist” Vlad Chituc at Huffington Post, we had on April 17, “Even if It Was a Muslim, So What?” We had moved in fewer than forty-eight hours, during which it was almost immediately claimed a racist, scapegoating backlash had swept over the country, from let’s hope it’s a white man, whose whiteness is rich with meaning, to so what if it was a Muslim – that means nothing.

By two days later, anti-Semitic website Mondoweiss was publishing “Boston Marathon bombings unleash a new wave of Islamophobia.”

In what should make for discomforting symmetry, two days later still, on her Sunday MSNBC program, Tulane Professor Melissa Harris-Perry opined,

Given that they’re Chechen, given that they are literally Caucasian, our very sense of connection to them is this framed up notion of, like, Islam making them into something that is non-white.

Added Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson, “We want to demonize the other. We have to distance it from the dominant culture.”

Again, the impetus behind this concerted flipping of the script on the Boston bombing was to deflect attention away from Islamic beliefs, behaviors or radical ideology as any kind of particularly identifiable source of indiscriminate, terrorizing violence in the modern world, and to draw it instead – even when the violence can, in fact, be directly tied to Islam’s role in the lives of the perpetrators – to white, Western, even Christian culture, which, in remarkable contrast to the proposed non sequitur (“so what?”) of Islam, according to these arguments, can be readily invested with all kinds of connective meaning.

As we see, this effort to deny the implications of violence originating from individuals or groups espousing radical Islamic beliefs was pursued both in anticipation of and after discovery of the bombers’ motivations. This was actually the second part of a two-part effort. The first part involved hyping any indications of prejudicial backlash against American Muslims.

All over the internet and other forms of media, participants in the creation of this preemptive narrative drew attentions to the same handful of public incidents, instances of yellow journalism, and inflammatory public comments.

Singh, who was already “praying” for the end to an already existent “racist backlash” – wrote,

We have to worry about being attacked because of the color of skins, the turbans or hijabs on our heads, the beards on our faces. I pray that people in the United States and beyond have learned something in the last 11 and a half years. I pray that the collective response to yesterday will be drastically different from the knee-jerk racism that pervaded the days, weeks, months, and years after 9/11/01.

From Singh to Chituc to Mondoweiss to UK Progressive to the anonymous Islamophobia Todayonline news aggregator to Chloe Patton at openDemocracy, we read about the New York Post’ssensational and erroneous tabloid reportage. We read of the Murdoch empire’s further fear mongering on Fox News. We read of comments by the predictable crack pots, such as Alex Jones and Erik Rush, and by the usual suspects of incitement, from Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and Glenn Beck to Laura Ingraham, Steve Emerson and the always bizarrely quotable Dana Rohrhacher. The same two incidents – attacks on a hijab-wearing Palestinian woman in Massachusetts and on a Bangladeshi man in the Bronx – were reported in account after account as evidence of a “wave of Islamophobia.” From a left perspective, politically misguided and even hateful counter programming can be expected from these sources on any issue. Yet this strikingly miniscule selection of examples has been used to manufacture, in its own right, the sensationally fabricated storyline of anti-Islamic fervor and activity in the United States after the Boston Marathon bombings.

From a counter foundation of fear mongering, that of some impending or already actual wave of “racist” Islamophobic attack,  was then offered the argument in demonstration, repeatedly, that while no relation between Islam and terrorist acts committed in its name could be meaningful ascribed, almost any group characterization related to the West, the U.S., Christianity, or Jews is empirically justifiable.

An outstanding example not on American media radar was the April 25 Patton diatribe atopenDemocracy. In contrast to the insular nature of American media and policy discussion, openDemocracy is well reflective of a cosmopolitan and internationalist left engaged in a broader discourse. In the aftermath of Boston, Patton’s piece warned in its title to “beware the multi-million dollar Islamophobia industry.” The article went on to hit many of the markers noted above, claiming that

the US Islamophobia industry has seized on the bombing to bolster its campaign of misinformation and fear-mongering, and we would do well to pay careful attention.

The evidence is abundant, however, that a counter force of apologists “seized” on the Boston bombings beginning on the very day of their occurrence “to bolster its campaign of misinformation and fear-mongering.” Seeking to expose the “Islamophobia industry,” Patton wrote,

A Centre for American Progress report found that between 2001 and 2009, [Steve] Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism organisation, along with Daniel Pipes’s Middle East Forum, Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy, the David Horowitz Freedom Centre, the Clarion Fund, Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch, the American Congress for Truth, and the Counterterrorism and Security Education and Research Foundation received over US $42 million from just seven major foundations.

Who knows how readers responded to this account of supposedly massive funding of extremist anti-Islamic organizations, but it is unlikely they knew that amidst the rich and rich panoply of American public policy and political organizations of every leaning, the progressive Center for American Progress itself, in 2010 alone, had a budget of US$36 million.

In the course of paying special attention to Emerson, Patton informs that he is “warmly received by the Christian Right and the pro-Israel lobby.” She later notes that “the threat that cashed-up conservatives pose to democracy cannot be ignored.” In marked contrast, the threat that ordnance-bearing Islamist fanatics pose to democracy, and to every humane Enlightenment liberal value, should not be articulated.

Diab, in his diversionary Huffington Post blog, and much in the embarrassing form of Brian Levin, director of the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism, during his appearance on Bill Maher’s Real Time, sought to deflect attention from Islamists in the twenty first century by citing “Western Jihadists” in any other century. If you hadn’t yet read modern Islamism excused by resort to the example of the famously obscure Guy Fawkes, and the Gun Powder Plot of 1605 to blow up the English Houses of Parliament, you know of it now.

The post Boston effort to erase from memory the record of contemporary Islamic terrorism, and the meaning of the beliefs that give rise to it, and to replace it with a narrative of typical and defining white, Western “racial” prejudice against Muslims has actually been long underway. Characteristic was Murtaza Hussain in Al-Jazeera last December warning of “Anti-Muslim violence spiralling out of control in America.”

What is the actual record of such violence?

According to the FBI compilation of hate crime statistics in the U.S., drawn from between eleven and fifteen thousand participating federal, state, and local agencies, since and including 2001, hate crimes against Muslims in the United States have averaged about 2% of all reported hate crimes each year. In contrast, hate crimes against Jews have averaged about 12.5%. Typically over those years, hate crimes against Jews have constituted 65-70% of all crimes with a religious basis. The total of all hate crimes against Muslims beginning with the recent peak year of 2001 through 2010 is 1608. During the same period, the total against Jews is 9470. Even when adjusted proportionately, the U.S. Muslim population being today about 40% of the Jewish, hate crimes against Jews are far more than double. In 2001, hate crimes against Muslims reached a height of 481. If we believe that these crimes are concentrated in a regrettable aftermath of prejudice post 9/11, then they were concentrated in a less than four month period. Yet that sad record quickly altered, for as soon as 2002 there was a drop to 155 reported crimes, and that number steadily declined to just over 100 until a 60% uptick in 2010. In that year offenses against Muslims rose to 160. Against Jews in that year the number was 897.

The point here is not for Jews or any other group to be in competition for most offended against and criminally attacked. The point is what the empirical realities are and what the narrative is being spun around those realities, for Muslims and for Jews, who as common and particular targets of Islamic anti-Semitism and Islamist genocidal threat and terror attack should have special interest in honest acknowledgement of international and local currents and the policies devised to cope with them.

Before 9/11, given the small size and recency of an American Muslim population, few Americans had had much experience of Muslims or knew or thought much about Islam, which is outside the historic experience of the nation and its culture. In contrast to the long black-white experience in the United States, originating in slavery, there is no long history to, or historical inherence of, anti-Muslim bigotry. Yet the effort is clearly afoot in some leftist ranks to incorporate purported culturally natural bias against Muslims into a general practice of white, dominant discrimination, even very pointedly to the point of spreading like a rash the misnomer of anti-Muslim racism. Thus, when thoughts arise of Islamist agency on the occasion of a terror attack, the urgent counter-claim is made within twenty-four hours that those very thoughts give expression to “racism.” They are a by-product of “white privilege.”

The sad slander of white privilege as a concept is its origination in, yet departure from, a profound truth – that, generally speaking, Westernness and whiteness in the world, like being American at this time in history or speaking English, or being tall or good looking, well rather than poorly educated, rich rather than poor, a smooth, easy talker instead of slow and halting are all natural or historically contingent bases for advantage in life. Some advantages, like the rewards of education, may seem eminently reasonable and fair, others, like those of good looks and height self-evidently not. To be a white male of the Western world, ah, there’s a long tale out of history, but it doesn’t tell very much the story of the coal miner or the cabbie, or the son of a cabbie who earned or learned his own way to an elevation in life that others may wish – judging just by appearance – to attribute to privilege.

An advantage may land in a roll of the dice; a privilege is in the power that loads them. The lord who preserves the manor lives a long way from the journeyman whose mother once dropped him near the verdure. The choice of white privilege as the denominator in this idea is a decision to accuse, not just of advantage or even immunity, but also of the due expectation of prerogative, and thus to charge with complicity, to impugn the natural moral consciousness, against proof to the contrary, of those so designated, simply by the color of their skin. Inviting resentment and ill feeling, the term generalizes, confronts, and makes defensive merely on the basis of skin color and it is, quite simply, on that basis alone, racist itself.

The resort to this sinking moral high ground is made by people properly concerned with the human ill of racism, but so preemptively concerned with it that they now layer that racial consciousness over the evidence of other features of reality. There may now be a contemporary world-historical crisis in the relationship between Islam and the liberal democratic legacy of the Enlightenment, but since that clash is between the inheritors of an historically tainted white European civilization and cultures readily otherized – orientalized – in multiple ways, western liberal democracy need be literally disarmed of aggressive defense by being intellectually neutered of any justification for it. Despite, then, the extensive record of the deep roots and long tracks of Islamist extremism, from Sayyid Qutb through the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and onward, from pre-9/11 terrorism to post-9/11 terrorism, elements on the American left, like those internationally, believe they can rhetorically erase weak public memories of the source and nature of Islamic terror much as similar tendencies attempt to obscure the historical record of Arab rejectionism of Israel and the reasons for Palestinian statelessness.

They reduce the mere suggestion of it to racist ignorance of white privilege.

Even the rare complex and subtle consideration, such as that by Wilson Brissett and Patton Dodd at the Atlantic (online), follows the trend. Drawing from a well of reference on religion as a personal psychological and cultural phenomenon, including William James and his Varieties of Religious Experience they tell us,

Fanaticism is not religion pushed too far. It is tribalism without a tribe. And it can be a particular risk with the geographical and cultural dislocation attending the American experience of immigration, whether for the Wielands of Saxony or the Tsarnaevs of Dagestan.

But of course, with the increase of migratory movement throughout the world, we see these stresses elsewhere, particularly now in Europe, which has less experience of it than the U.S. Still, the authors or Atlantic editors choose to title their article “The Boston Bombing: Made in the U.S.A.”

“Piety is the mask,” James, wrote, “the inner force is tribal instinct.”

Brissett and Dodd conclude,

For most of American history, this ressentiment has hidden behind a Christian mask of piety. The new mask of piety for the American fanatical killer is Islam.

Well, not only, or even much, actually, the American fanatical killer. Mostly Islam is the mask for the non-American fanatical killer. But the one question so many otherwise thoughtful people no longer care to ask, among the so many others they entertain, is why Islam.

That is the most astonishing characteristic of this movement – its willingness, the active effort, to intellectually disable itself, even as it seeks to disable the arguments of those who might critique Islam by finding in it, and not the West, a source of contemporary intolerance. Recall Chituc’s “Even if It Was a Muslim, So What?”

So what. There is the disarmament. In feigned intellectual apathy and dumbness, contrary to the most fundamental human developments of empirical and rational thought, to evidentiary detail, which is the very rightful charge made by the left against rightwing antiscience extremism. Yet as recently as May 1, this drift was evinced on the left, on this subject, on the Rachel Maddow Show, as Maddow reported on the charges brought that day against three friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

I admire Rachel Maddow. I declare this not to offer polite respect to excuse abashed criticism, but actually to emphasize the critique. Amid the minimal quotient of entertainment snark, she offers on her program some of the finest left – good – broadcast journalism. Not a straight news broadcast, her program presents what are really journalistic essays with a clear point of view, loaded with the evidence of good reporting and the insights of Maddow and her producers into the pretexts and subtexts of the conservative agenda and its policies. Maddow thinks, she perceives, she sees into things.

After Jared Lee Loughner shot Rep. Gabby Giffords and 18 others, for instance, killing six, there was much angry contention between gun control and gun rights advocates over whether politics and culture might fairly be ascribed any responsibility for the shooting, given Loughner’s mental illness. Many conservatives were outraged at the suggestion that culture might bear any of the burden of the products of it. Maddow argued otherwise on her program, running through a history of mass shootings just during Loughner’s lifetime. She said,

Given that, each new American gun massacre is both singularly horrific in its own way and it is insane not to acknowledge that it is part of a very clear, very frequently repeating pattern.  Every time this happens, we look for answers and explanations and lessons in the specifics of the particular case.

In this case, the potential mental illness of the alleged shooter, the effort to try to find some political coherence, and what appeared to be his beliefs, the effort to find out whether it was his beliefs that note investigated the shooting, what exactly this killer was armed with, how exactly he was stopped, whether this could have been foretold by anything in his life—we look to these details.

That was then.

Now, apparently, Maddow has decided not to see into things, she has decided that making connections is, well… so what.

If one was attentive throughout the Boston arrests segment, a segment purporting to deliver rather straight news, one could pick up, from the very start, not Maddow’s clear point of view on the story, but her own subtext. The subtext rose closest to the main floor lobby during her interview of ex CIA and FBI terrorism expert Philip Mudd.

you have talked about the difference between an ideological association with a group like al qaeda and an operational association. an operational association would be the sort of thing we think about with them being kind of activated as a cell, them being directed to do something, trained to do something, and then they follow through. an aspirational or inspirational link would just be what they had in their heads when they were acting on their own accord. is that division between those two different kinds of relationships important in terms of whether or not we think about this as a terrorist attack versus a crime? should we care all that much about what these guys were thinking about if nobody told them to do this, if nobody trained them to do this, they worked it out on their own? [Emphasis added]

“Should we care all that much about what these guys were thinking?” So what. Don’t think, don’t make connections, abjure insight.

Like Brissett and Dodd, Maddow is advancing a new argument. Wrote the first two,

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar may have sought ties to other Islamic militants, but their actions do not appear to have been a centrally planned statement from a larger organization.

Maddow noted to Mudd, above,

you have talked about the difference between an ideological association with a group like al qaeda and an operational association. an operational association.

And a mere ideological association, “what these guys were thinking,” now that is something that we, in contrast, should not be thinking about.

Now, the champions of Galileo against the closed Christian mind, the inheritors of Darwin, the advocates of the scientific method that studies anthropogenic global warming have become the epiphenomenalists of terrorism: there are the hateful ideas and the violent acts. Make no connection between them, (unless it is to American culture, white people, “cashed-up conservatives” or the “Israel lobby”) and certainly do not think that the ideas produce the acts.

Do not even care. If one does not care, one doesn’t have to see. One can choose not to see.

There’s a term for that.

AJA

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The Political Animal

The Boston Marathon Bombing and The Faith Privilege

This article first appeared in the Algemeiner on April 23, 2013.  You can read the follow up there now: “A Campaign of Willful Blindness on Terrorism.”

The Boston Marathon bombing provoked enactment of what has emerged, since 9/11, as a ritual of political theater refined even beyond its long history of performance. Even while law enforcement authorities were still early in the search for unknown and unfathomed wreakers  of violent and deadly terror, the players were scripting the drama to play out as they preferred instead to witness it.

There are, then, of course, those who inflame every developing circumstance and wage jihad against jihad. Just as extreme and inflammatory, just as adept at playing to a contrary animus, yet offered by many a greater grant of legitimacy, there are those who write,

As usual, the limits of selective empathy, the rush to blame Muslims, and the exploitation of fear all instantly emerge.

Among the more foolish and widely discussed reactions to the bombing, in the midst still of the search for its perpetrators, was that of David Sirota at Salon.com bidding, “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.” Sirota’s hope arose from his recognition of the reality of white privilege. Among its features, according to Sirota,

There is a double standard: White terrorists are dealt with as lone wolves, Islamists are existential threats.

Now, one can recognize very real truth in the notion of white privilege and still see that it is a finer insight than the dull blade Sirota wields, beginning with the recognition that unemployed factory workers and low-wage Wal-Mart “associates” enjoy it rather less than white people like, say, David Sirota. Or, for another instance, the person from whom Sirota drew his argument, Tim Wise, the self-advertised “Anti-racist educator, author and educator.” Offered Sirota, from Wise,

“White privilege is knowing that even if the bomber turns out to be white, no one will call for your group to be profiled as terrorists as a result, subjected to special screening or threatened with deportation,” writes author Tim Wise. “White privilege is knowing that if this bomber turns out to be white, the United States government will not bomb whatever corn field or mountain town or stale suburb from which said bomber came, just to ensure that others like him or her don’t get any ideas. And if he turns out to be a member of the Irish Republican Army we won’t bomb Dublin. And if he’s an Italian-American Catholic we won’t bomb the Vatican.”

Before we turn momentarily to Wise himself, we do have to take note of the lack of integrity in this argument so far. However one may wish to challenge components or all of the post 9/11 so-named War on Terror, if Wise has evidence that any corn fields or mountain towns anywhere in the world have been bombed “just to ensure that others like him or her don’t get any ideas,” he is welcome by all, I am sure, to present it. So far he has not.

One observes, too, that while they were Saudi nationals who led the 9/11 attacks, the United States did not bomb Riyadh. Many terrorists have received training and direction in Pakistan; the U.S. has not yet bombed Islamabad. I believe the Italian-American analogy Wise invokes should more properly lead to the bombing of Rome, but, of course, he seeks to slip in a Western white religious preference in the substitution of the Vatican, so, no, please note, the U.S. has never bombed Mecca either.

At Wise’s own website, he attempts to bolster his case, which purports selective focus and generalization about Islamist terrorism, by offering an exhausting if not exhaustive list of white (presumably non-Muslim) American terrorists. He ends it with everyone’s favorite fallback to colloquial snark, “Ya know, just to name a few.”

A curious thing about the list if one, ya know, actually examines it is how very quickly it begins linking to accounts of crimes dating back not only to the pre 9/11 1990s, but even church bombings from the 1960’s civil rights era and lone bombers from the 1940s and 50s. How very quickly one may find on it, reportedly, mentally unstable people with long criminal records who can only be described as, you should pardon the expression, lone wolves.

Those who argue as Wise does are those who attempt to turn the subject to that of whiteness as a correlative to Islamic faith. With the one hand they grasp at greater historical culpability on the part of white people – white privilege – while with the other hand, they swat away any suggestion of greater contemporary culpability on the part of Islam. They do this by equating an acquired system of belief with an inherent physical characteristic while claiming any imbalance of greater criticism toward either as a bigotry.

What we have here is someone committed to making a case, just not the case itself. The necessity is to understand what the real nature of this commitment to the case is, commitment even in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

On Friday, the political comic everyone loves to disdain when he is bluntly, often crudely hammering shibboleths too close to home – Bill Maher – received as his first guest on his Real Time show the California State University San Bernardino professor Brian Levin, director of the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism. When, at the start of the interview, Maher focused his attention on Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s Islamic extremism, Levin was moved to interrupt in order to object.

Could I just interject? Look, it’s not like people who are Muslim who do wacky things have a monopoly on it. We have hypocrites across faiths, Jewish, Christian who say they’re out for God and end up doing not so nice things.

Maher called this “liberal bullshit” and tried to focus, again, on contemporary extremist and violent currents in the world. Levin’s immediate response was to tar Maher with a likeness to Pamela Geller and the implication of “Islamaphobia.” That is, any attempt on Maher’s part to argue that all is not one and the same, but that there are historical and empirical distinctions to be made was met not by critical argument, but by critical ad hominem.

LEVIN: Here’s my difficulty with your premise here, Bill, and that is look at how religions over history have had things done in their name that have been terrible.

MAHER: Absolutely. But we’re not in history. We’re in 2013.

For several hundred years, Christianity, after playing its role as equal participant in the God is notlove follies of the Crusades, was ideological support for the trans-continental genocidal terror committed against much of the world’s indigenous populations. White Christian Europe engineered the centuries-long barbarity of the African slave trade. “Anti-racists” like Wise, Sirota, and Levin encounter no mental bar to perceiving those empirical distinctions. When challenged, however, by contemporary empirical reality, Levin can only smear Maher.

LEVIN: If I may, though. You are making an error in that Islam has over 1.4 billion adherents. There’s a heterogeneity to it. Are there extremists who are horrible people who would slit your throats? Yes. But there are also folks that are fine, upstanding people.

MAHER: Of course.

LEVIN: And I’m very worried you have a national audience where we’re promoting Islamic hatred.

But the anti-racists are not, by their own focus on white racism and disallowance of other sources of bigotry and hate, promoting white or Christian hatred by managing to distinguish only the identifiable crimes of European and Christian civilization? Or are only whites and Christians capable of distinguishable levels of social and political deviance? And if one were to claim as much as that, would that not be a kind of racist assertion to be made by an anti-racist? (Can one be anti-racist without the professional label? Let’s hope.)

Maher was a remarkably better thinker in this argument than the professor. He clearly and fundamentally distinguished between analysis of a subject over time, with historical periods and phenomenon perhaps of little relevance and application to current circumstance, and certainly not representing  it, and analysis of the current situation. Levin, a purported expert in the study of hate and extremism was readily empirical in labeling types of, and motivations for, hateful extremism, but he suffered under an intellectual disability to apply the conceptual – ideas derived under the aegis of empirical observation and analysis – back, in turn, in any applied manner to empirical circumstance. According to him, the best we can achieve from the study of hate and violence is the insight that all people and peoples are capable of it, a feckless product of research that would seem to justify any arch anti-federalist’s desire to cut federal funding of the academy.

What we face in this weak-mindedness is an ideologically determined humanistic commitment to opposing group hatred that disables objective consideration of the evidence. Boston University professor Richard Landes has identified the complex of intellectual constructs that manifest this disability, from “liberal cognitive egocentrism” to “masochistic omnipotence syndrome” to “human rights complex.” There is, too, a nexus of action and reaction that further enacts the disability. Hateful rightwing extremists like Geller, and countless of her type on social media, quickly, objectionably express themselves immediately upon the occurrence of an event like the marathon bombing, and a certain type of leftwing voice finds it more important to establish the Gellers as mistaken and beyond the pale than to respond directly and with clarity to the primary offense.

That is one source of the commitment to the case that diverts any lucid analysis of the case. A second source is the faith fallacy.

The faith fallacy exhibits itself in the pious profession that people’s faiths, even if they are not shared, should at least be respected. The faith fallacy is committed on the basis of granting the faith privilege.

The faith privilege is granted on the basis of the meta-level faith-teaching that affirms that all faiths, whatever their historical, theological, or doctrinal differences, are expressions of our deep need for connection with God and God’s love. Since most people consider these needs definitive of the human experience, and since we acknowledge the spiritual and emotional commitment of our faiths to be among the dearest and most necessary human beings may make, we grant a privilege to faith, an acceptance of the notion that all faiths are to be respected.

However, this privilege is granted not only from our common regard for fundamental human need and expression; in liberal democracies, it arises, too, from principles and traditions of tolerance. Liberal democracies seek to accommodate, as a definitive expression of their own systems, the multiplicity of what are actually, on close inspection, mutually exclusive faith doctrines.

What you believe is not what I believe, but you believe it piously, profoundly, and in love and devotion. I honor that. I bow down, not in my belief, but in respectful recognition of your piety.

That is the idea. That is the privilege. From that is committed the fallacy. One way to challenge the privilege is through aggressive assertion of the truth of one’s own faith and objection to the truth of another, but this is the disagreeable history humanity seeks to overcome. The other way to make the challenge is from the standpoint of agnosticism if not atheism. One must be able to disengage from the conviction of faith in order to acknowledge a faith doctrine as just another system of ideas subject to intellectual evaluation no less than any other.

Most of the current challenge to the faith privilege comes from what are sometimes called the new atheists. The late Christopher Hitchens was one. Sam Harris is another. Richard Dawkins is, too. A characteristic of the new atheism is that it is assertively so. It is not simply a personal determination as to the nature of the universe and spiritual being, but a determination to influence others and to oppose the influence of faith in the world. One may share the new atheism’s criticisms of faith while still recognizing that its aggressive proselytizing and unimaginative response to human spiritual nature provocatively engenders its own response.

One thing these new atheists have not shied from doing is what Bill Maher, a fellow atheist and an admirer, did, which is to assert that while all theisms are objectionable to them, at this time in history, one, Islam, plays a more problematic role on the world scene than do others. Very recently, with Hitchens now deceased, it is Harris and Dawkins who have been attacked from the same precincts on the left as were our focus earlier. Because Harris and Dawkins, not unlike Hitchens, are provocative, they lay themselves open in the manner that those who do not traffic in agreeable pieties will. Harris was recently roundly attacked by Glenn Greenwald, author of our initial quotation above. Various articles have been written now attacking the new atheists as flirting with Islamaphobia or for being already, perhaps, Islamaphobic.

In England, where domestic Islamic radicalism is more prominent than in the U.S., Landes’s  human rights complex has been more vocally reactive, and recent pronouncements, including on Twitter, by the abrasive Dawkins have generated a particular response from those who cry Islamaphobia. Harris has offered a longer refresher on the integrity of his reasoned arguments against the systems of ideas called faiths and shorter responses to the name calling against him from Greenwald.

There is no such thing as “Islamophobia.” This is a term of propaganda designed to protect Islam from the forces of secularism by conflating all criticism of it with racism and xenophobia. And it is doing its job, because people like you have been taken in by it.

It requires only slight capacity for empathy to imagine that the past nearly twelve years have composed the lives of good people of Islamic faith in the United States with difficulty, uncertainty, and even self-consciousness. Americans have felt reasonable apprehensions, apprehension does not reason, and there are low, mean elements who will draw out the greater darkness loitering in any shadow. But to argue that those conditions, rather than the current problematic stage in the development of Islam, is the danger we face presents a case of willful blindness.

As it happens, whatever David Sirota wished, the people behind the Boston Marathon bombing do appear to have been motivated, apart from sheer human dysfunction, by the kind of Islamist extremism that robs its adherents of the most fundamental human sympathy.

As it also happens, there was an interfaith service held last week to salve the wounds of the Boston community. President Obama attended. The Imam originally invited to participate, representing Islam, from The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, was later disinvited when Massachusetts Governor Duval Patrick was reminded of the center’s affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood founded Muslim-American Society, which has a record of anti-Semitic statements and statements advocating jihad.

This also happens to be recorded, in the FBI’s 2012 report on hate crimes in America. For 2011, the tenth year after 9/11, the FBI recorded 6,222 hate crime incidents involving 7,254 offenses. Of those, 18.2 % were religiously-based. Of the religiously-based hate crimes recorded in the United States in 2011, 13.3 % were against Muslims. In the nation outside of Israel widely judged to be the most welcoming to Jews of any in the world, 62.2% of recorded anti-religious hate crimes were against Jews.

We can all judge, amid the general human capacity for bias and hate, what is the state of any Islamaphobia in the United States. You might judge it, with me, all things considered – and in contrast to the Jewish record of terrorism over the past decade – remarkably low.

The first sentence of the second paragraph of the U.S.  Declaration of Independence begins,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

How many single sentences have ever contained such wisdom? Still, there are many who have and will misconstrue it. During battles over the civil rights derived from human equality, there have always been those who point out the unequal apportionment of ability amongst human beings, mistaking the equality of human dignity and worth – regardless of physical difference – for human capacity. The “pursuit of happiness” is a wondrous and open phrase, coming right after liberty, expressing all of the existential uncertainty and freedom of a life to make of itself what it can. All of the specifically enumerated rights of the U.S. Constitution have one general purpose – to support that pursuit of happiness, over and over again in every individual life. Every individual holder of a life gets to choose, how he or she will, for good or ill, the ideas that will motivate and direct that life toward happiness, however the holder may perceive it – ideas including those of faith. The all men are created equalphrase – equal whether white or black or yellow or red, tall or small, brilliant or dull, swift or slow – is not an all ideas are created equal phrase. Neither the U.S. Declaration of Independence nor human reason self-evidently affirms that equality.

Call it a doctrine, a philosophy, a theory, a dialectic, an enlightenment, an ideology or a faith – it is a set of ideas, which may be the basis of acts in the world, subject to reason and evaluation, to acceptance, indifference, or rejection. No one who rejects a set of ideas on a reasoned basis, including a faith, should be calumnized as a bigot or hater the way we would condemn those who hate because of nature. Those who do simply fail to make their case in every way. They name call instead of reason. They substitute smugness for the product of reason.

Typical of the convention, the piety, the privilege, President Obama, the day the manhunt was brought to a close, praised the nation as one in which “we welcome people from all around the world — people of every faith, every ethnicity, from every corner of the globe.” Well, this is true and good, but once again it grants the privilege; it lumps ethnicity, an immutable state of nature, with faith, a voluntary state of mind. We should welcome the people, but we need not welcome the ideas. Each of us is free to pursue happiness holding to whatever set of non-threatening ideas may please; each of us is free to tell the other that he is wrong and to tell him how and why.

No faith, as a system of belief and a practice of living, is automatically deserving of respect just because others commit their lives and pray to it. Ideas, whatever label we affix to them, including that of faith, must earn our respect and not be granted the privilege of unthinking and uncritical acceptance.

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Uncategorized

Response to Judith Butler at Brooklyn College

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This commentary first appeared in the Algemeiner on February 15. 

Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti

The ironic and the disingenuous are kin. Their commonality resides in a gap, which is the distance between what is said and something else. With the ironic, the distance is between what one says and what one means. With the disingenuous, the distance is between what one says and what one has reason to recognize as true.

Judith Butler is not an ironist – not intentionally so, or perhaps only once, when she opened her remarks at Brooklyn College by referring to the controversy surrounding her appearance with Omar Barghouti at the Students for Justice in Palestine BDS event as a Megillah: “What a Megillah!” By these words Butler sought to wrap her appearance and the destructive impetus of BDS in the comfort of traditional Jewish experience – a tedium, like the tedium of all that Jewish disputation over the millennia, but by that fact merely a part of Jewish experience, just oystaynenzikh over coffee and some rugelach, and not thereby an outlier, something to fear or be rejected. No more than a variation on the time-honored tendency to hakn a tshaynik among the mishpucha.

Butler knew, however,that what she is about is not a comfort, that it would unravel the wrap, and that the arguments against her are so far from a tedium that she would spend all her words to misrepresent and seek to counter them.

Butler closed her remarks – it is the next to last sentence – so:

We can or, rather, must start with how we speak, and how we listen, with the right to education, and to dwell critically, fractiously, and freely in political discourse together.

She had opened her remarks by saying,

I would like personally to thank all those who took this opportunity to reaffirm the fundamental principles of academic freedom.

This of an event that was closed to the general public, to which the press was barred, and from which voices presumed to be dissenting were ejected.

What an ironist. How disingenuous.

Academic Freedom: What We’re Talking About

The Brooklyn College political science department claimed that to sponsor the event was not necessarily to endorse it. Much of the controversy surrounding the event has hung on this point even while missing it. It is a fine point still lacking – from the Brooklyn College political science department and anyone else who has written on the matter – an effective distinction.

To sponsor is to take responsibility for or to financially underwrite. To endorse is to express support or approval. To take responsibility for is one form of support. To financially underwrite is also a form of support. When the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine sought co “sponsorship”of the event by the political science department, SJP did not, according to department chair Paisley Currah, seek and receive financial support for the event. Financial support raises other issues, but since there was none, they need not in this instance be addressed. Without funding from the department, what could the meaning of “sponsorship” be? Other than the college’s stating what it claims sponsorship is not – endorsement – what is it?

With no other practical purpose, sponsorship can only signal some form of endorsement.

But endorsement of what?

A university can stand in three relations to an idea. One is to agree with and promote it. Most people would argue that this is not the role of a university, but obviously, when one considers it, universities do agree with and promote the idea of free inquiry – academic freedom – and, arguably, a liberal education.

A university may represent ideas as worthy of intellectual regard. This is its primary role. In political philosophy, students learn of utilitarianism, Marxism, liberal democracy, anarcho-syndicalism, Plato’s enlightened autocracy. The university will serve as advocate for none of them, but moderate, instead, students’ encounter and engagement with these ideas.

A university will not represent all ideas as worthy of intellectual regard. It will not so represent Nazism or racism (not just the behavior, but a belief in racial superiority) or pederasty as an acceptable model of adolescent development. It is the precise role of the university, however, to acknowledge, in the appropriate context, all ideas and clarify them for educational purposes. In the appropriate classes, students will and should learn about Nazism, what it advocated and what it was. One can imagine the wavering commitment of many, though, were a branch of the Ku Klux Klan to establish a student group on the Brooklyn College Campus and invite David Duke (both a racist and anti-Semite) to speak, while also seeking the “sponsorship” of the political science department.

If Brooklyn College’s sponsorship was not fully of BDS as a position, an advocacy of it, the sponsorship was at least, then, of BDS as a morally respectable idea, so that a university would be fulfilling its proper role not only in acknowledging the idea’s existence and clarifying it for educational purposes, but actually in promoting the idea as worthy of our consideration and our moral intellectual regard and not beyond the pale.

However, when one rejects bias and discrimination and corrupt historical revisionism, such as Holocaust denial, one does not only reject them as supportable practices, but as ideas worthy of our serious engagement. The role of the university is to permit students who are led to engage an objectionable idea to so engage it, even, where appropriate, to educate them in its nature. In that is the academic freedom. Academic freedom does not require that the institution place an imprimatur of sponsorship upon an extra-mural event, an imprimatur that has no other, practical meaning but the symbolism of the sponsorship. The choice to provide such an imprimatur can only reasonably be interpreted as a signal that the ideas to be presented at the event are worthy of consideration. This Brooklyn College, in mischaracterizing the nature and responsibilities of academic freedom, disingenuously fails to acknowledge, as does Judith Butler, who actually does endorse BDS.

An Unreliable Narrator

“That there is no final or adequate narrative reconstruction of the prehistory of the speaking ‘I’ does not mean we cannot narrate it; it only means that at the moment when we narrate we become speculative philosophers or fiction writers.”

Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself

Still prefatory to her actual attention to Israel, Butler felt compelled to acknowledge the Brooklyn College event’s most vocal and high profile critic, stating that it had been asserted that

no one can have a conversation on this issue in the US that does not include a certain Harvard professor, but that spectacular argument was so self-inflationary and self-indicting, that I could only respond with astonishment.

No doubt, the audience was amused by this deflationary poke. Of course the gibe was at Alan Dershowitz, who it is my understanding is capable of offering his own defenses, but we learn something from the specific claim of the criticism. Here is what Dershowitiz actually said to this point:

The event shouldn’t be cancelled, but the political science department should withdraw it’s [sic] support, or alternatively the political science department should invite me or someone else that represents an opposing point of view and give equal endorsement.

Dershowitz’s focus, we see, was on the political science department’s sponsorship of the event, and he considered it sufficient merely for the sponsorship to be withdrawn. Alternatively, he offered himself or anyone else who could represent the opposing view to participate in the sponsored event.

If Butler cannot accurately represent in a single sentence the content and the rather simple alternative proposal of one single other sentence, how may she be trusted to offer an account of matters so complex and profound as the history and nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

In the same paragraph, Butler had asserted,

If BDS is hate speech, then it is surely not protected speech, and it would surely not be appropriate for any institution of higher learning to sponsor or make room for such speech.

She attempts to refute the two proposed claims – Dershowitiz must speak and BDS is hate speech – by presenting them as contradictory.

So in the [case of hate speech], it is not a viewpoint (and so not protected as extra-mural speech), but in the [other] instance, it is a viewpoint, presumably singular, but cannot be allowed to be heard without an immediate refutation. The contradiction is clear, but when people engage in a quick succession of contradictory claims such as these, it is usually because they are looking for whatever artillery they have at their disposal to stop something from happening.

In the two quotations above, Butler makes three additional misstatements. First, it may be that in the rhetoric department at U.C. Berkeley hate speech is not protected speech, but in the United States of America, it is protected. It is also, wherever it may direct its hate, a viewpoint. It may be an ugly, emotion laden viewpoint, but it takes a view, and it has a point, and not infrequently in our contentious activist world, movements are constructed around those points.

A ” quick succession of contradictory claims” is surely inimical to informed discussion and debate. So, too, is the inability to accurately describe reality in even a single sentence.

Butler sets next on refuting claims that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic. She asks,

[W]hy would a non-violent movement to achieve basic political rights for Palestinians be understood as anti-Semitic?… [W]hy would a collective struggle to use economic and cultural forms of power to compel the enforcement of international laws be considered anti-Semitic?

She introduces her summation of this rhetorical display, with

For those who say that exercising internationally recognized rights is anti-Semitic….

The level of disingenuousness in these loaded questions and distorted characterization is truly remarkable. It is the first demonstration of a fair and critical mind, capable of stepping outside the frame of its own narrative, to be able to represent its interlocutor’s argument in the opponent’s own terms. The challenge then is to refute the terms of the opponent’s argument and offer one’s one own terms in rebuttal. Yet when Butler, a believer in narratives, calls in her closing for us all to “dwell critically, fractiously, and freely in political discourse together,” she is so opaque to herself that even when she assumes the rhetorical stance of stating her opponent’s position, she cannot, even to the level of a lone introductory phrase, represent it honestly, so as to attempt the refutation honestly.

All the preceding is sufficient to demonstrate Butler’s level of reliability as an interlocutor in debate. (There is far more of this kind of inaccuracy and mischaracterization in her five thousand words than is accounted for here.) At Brooklyn College she had two major points to make about Jews, and the first continued this pattern of misrepresentation, but at this stage, in the critical matter of Butler’s own special concerns, more subtly.

Only if we accept the proposition that the state of Israel is the exclusive and legitimate representative of the Jewish people would a movement calling for divestment, sanctions and boycott against that state be understood as directed against the Jewish people as a whole. Israel would then be understood as co-extensive with the Jewish people.

….

The second point, to repeat, is that the Jewish people extend beyond the state of Israel and the ideology of political Zionism. The two cannot be equated

This argument is both obtuse and a straw man. No significant party, if any, claims that Israel is “the exclusive and legitimate representative of the Jewish people” that Israel is “co-extensive with the Jewish people,” or rejects the manifest reality that the “Jewish people extend beyond the state of Israel and … Zionism.” No more than is France the exclusive representative of the French people or Russia of the Russian people. People of French ethnic origin, like any other, may, and do, live in other nations, may engage French cultural practice, may feel a sense of French identification even while preferring to live elsewhere, may criticize French society or government, may even give up their citizenship for another, while remaining ethnically and even recognizably “French.”

Of course, Jewishness, serving as both ethnicity and religious faith offers conceptual complications for nationality. So does all of human history. The French pied-noir of colonial North Africa found themselves after Algerian independence no longer acceptably Algerian and not comfortably French. Unlike most other nations, nationality in the United States has nothing to do with ethnicity. In contrast, no one expatriating to Russia and gaining Russian citizenship would ever, nonetheless, be considered “Russian.” Those of Irish descent in the U.S. frequently feel very strong identification with Ireland, as during the long conflict in Northern Ireland. Nonetheless, they remained American in citizenship and in equally strong identification. They criticized one side or another in Ireland, yet if a grandparent was born in Ireland, are automatically eligible for Irish citizenship. These complexities of social organization are the rule. The question is whether we generously accommodate them – in honor of the impulse toward affective association that leads all peoples, Palestinians, too, to wish to dwell together in commonality –  or we choose one anomaly among others as the reason for prejudicial exception against Israel and Jews, under the pretense that there is any kind of categorical consistency to nationality.

One atypical feature that Butler exploits regarding Israel is the apparent lexical distinction, in English, between the words “Israel” and “Jew.” This is unlike the obvious relation of “France” to “French” and “Russia” to ”Russian.” The apparent verbal separation seems to provide an opening for making just that argument of separation between Israel and Jews. On the contrary of course, etymologically, Israel, or Yisrael in Hebrew are the descendents of Jacob, who have struggled with God, the Hebrew people – Jews.

Why are not citizens of the United States called United Statesians? What crisis of authority in representation– if voluntarily accepted – does this present? Would the likeness to other national identifications be easier to recognize if Israel changed its name, to suit the modern lingua franca, to Jewland?

Or would such an alteration only highlight all the more the true issue at the core – the objection by Butler that there be a land for the Jews?

Before Butler got to that central conviction, however – her objection to the existence of a land for the Jews – there was one more logical stumble to make on the way to her lurching conclusion. It is easier to dispense with Israel if one can argue that Israel deserves to be dispensed with.

If Israel is to be considered a democracy, the non-Jewish population deserves equal rights under the law.

Now certainly all true democrats will acknowledge that every proclaimed democracy faces the moral compulsion to pursue complete and perfect democracy. The United States pursues that so far elusive goal too. But the “if/(then)” conditional Butler puts forward commits the “all or nothing” variation on the fallacy of false dilemma. In full context, she is claiming that Israel is discriminatory toward its non-Jewish citizens. (Butler chooses to say “population” rather than citizens, perhaps because that in itself would speak well of Israel and would raise the inevitable contrast with Lebanon and Jordan, where Palestinians citizenship and rights have been dramatically and increasingly problematic.) Her all or nothing claim is that if Israel has deficiencies in its equal extension of rights to all of its citizens, then, by dint of that imperfection, it is not a democracy at all, and is clearly a deserving target of its critics. We would find by this fallacious logic that probably nary a democracy in the world is actually a democracy, including certainly the United States during the long period of African slavery, the longer period of female and Indian disenfranchisement, and even until today, when LGBT Americans do not enjoy fully equal rights.

Butler’s continuous forays into illogic are not ultimately a difficulty in her arguments against Israel, though, since Israel should not exist to begin.

The Exile of the Jews

The essential argument against BDS that Butler sought to refute is that it is discriminatory, hateful, anti-Semitic, even destructive.

I am only seeking to make the case that BDS is not a destructive or hateful movement.

Butler claimed that she does not agree with all expressions of the BDS movement, yet she chose to appear with Omar Barghouti. Omar Barghouti expressly seeks the end – the destruction – of  Israel and of a Jewish state.

While I firmly advocate nonviolent forms of struggle such as boycott, divestment, and sanctions to attain Palestinian goals, I just as decisively, though on a separate track, support a unitary state based on freedom, justice, and comprehensive equality as the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli colonial conflict.

Butler also offered a risible protest against the abuse of Holocaust and Nazi analogies by defenders of Israel, when anyone conversant with the contemporary contours of this debate knows that such comparisons, of Israel to Nazi Germany, in word and in image, have become a nearly daily commonplace from foes of Israel – even from Omar Barghouti.

Avishai D. Don, writing for the Harvard Crimson almost exactly a year ago on the subject of BDS and Barghouti’s book Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, said,

But the BDS movement hides its ultimate goal of dismantling the Jewish state behind its public rhetoric.

….

Utilizing the vocabulary of international norms, the movement actually systematically attempts to undermine the international consensus that recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

This is what Butler did disingenuously at Brooklyn College, first, by appearing with Bhargouti, and second, by failing to acknowledge at that college, that educational setting, that she, too, does not merely seek to correct Israeli policy, but actively opposes the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. She did hint at her position, though.

When Zionism becomes co-extensive with Jewishness, Jewishness is pitted against the diversity that defines democracy, and if I may say so, betrays one of the most important ethical dimensions of the diasporic Jewish tradition, namely, the obligation of co-habitation with those different from ourselves.

Butler does not explain why the Frenchness of France or the Japaneseness of Japan are not so “pitted against the diversity that defines democracy” that the existence of their states, too, need be opposed. However, she does manage to misrepresent the truth in yet another sentence. Butler refers to one of the “ethical dimensions of the diasporic Jewish tradition, namely, the obligation of co-habitation with those different from ourselves.” What shall we say of thinking that characterizes as an ethical obligation what was actually an existential necessity, a necessity that met its ultimate failure in the Holocaust – a failure that should have served irrefutably for all as the irresistible historical peroration of the necessity of the Jewish state? But Butler has stated on more than one occasion that she does not, in her public utterance and advocacy, feel compelled to seek accordance with reality.

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

Butler wrote those words in Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, and it is in that work that she fully makes the case for the “ethical dimensions of the diasporic Jewish tradition.” Alan Johnson sums the argument in his Fathom review of the book.

Dispersion, for Butler, must be thought ‘not only as a geographical situation but also as an ethical modality.’ By returning to the diasporic experience we find a ‘Jewish route to the insight that equality must be secured for a population regardless of religious affiliation’ and a means to effect ‘a displacement of the nation as the exclusive framework of ethical relations.’

Words on a page, their reception by the eyes, the scanned processing in rapid succession, for immediate comprehension, of the ideas of a text may not always deliver their full effect. Sometimes what has been said needs to settle, to descend deeper into comprehension with the full weight of meaning and implication, and in some cases, the effrontery of its claim upon the world. Butler argues not only that Jews drew from the Diaspora, their long exile in often and ultimately almost always hostile foreign lands, the experience and insights of an expanded and deeper moral nature. Butler is arguing, too, that this exilic nature has finally actually become the Jews: consigned to exile, Jews should now be condemned to it, for clearly there are millions of Jews who do not wish it. This is of no concern to Butler, for whom impossibility is no bar to reason, like labeling as a “solution” the kind of proposal that millions would fight and even die to prevent.

Jews, for Judith Butler, are to become the symbolic sacrifice on the ideational alter of post-nationalism, for their renewed exile will represent “a displacement of the nation as the exclusive framework of ethical relations.” The God of Abraham and of Moses would let his people go. Cyrus the Great would release the Jews from captivity in Babylon. But Judith Butler will exile them forever.

Who today would theorize that the African Diaspora, having been stolen from their homes and submerged in the depths of servitude had actually – look at the riches of culture they have produced out of their pain and endurance in so many nations – found their true and greater natures in an ethic of selfless service, to which perhaps they should return? Who would philosophize that the indigenous populations of the world – those whom Butler and her allies continue to abuse by co-opting the vocabulary of their cause as a weapon against not Israel, but Jews – who would argue that in their centuries of conquest, abuse, and loss, their alienation from spiritual relation to their lands, indigenous peoples have been transformed by history into a moral exemplar, and that only through their continued disconnection and their yearning for reconnection can they serve to lead us away from materialism and back to a purer relation to the earth?

But Jews should be returned to exile from the land that was, and is again, their own in order to model “a displacement of the nation as the exclusive framework of ethical relations.”

Butler  finds difficulty with the term ant-Semitic. She argued repeatedly at Brooklyn College against its use and applicability to the selective and discriminatory policies she promotes. It has become, to her mind, a term subject to “radical misuse.” Here is another term, then, to describe her convolution of Jewishness, perhaps fresher and more forceful to her mind. It is an obscenity.

AJA

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Israel

They of All People

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(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

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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(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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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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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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Playing Politics with Jews

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This post previously appeared in the Algemeiner on August 1, 2012.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), in his best Captain Renault form – which includes being entirely insincere and unconvincing – is shocked, shocked to discover that there is politics going on in the U.S. of A. Never played any of that sort of thing himself.

Though, actually, feigning shock at the discovery of politics going on right there in the city of the Casa Blanca is, well (cover the children’s ears) an act of playing politics.

Reported The Hill (and everyone else covering the jerk-my-chain political beat), Cantor,

said in a statement Sunday that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) suggestion Jewish voters were “being exploited” was “deeply insulting” and “patronizing.”

Cantor, who is Jewish, was responding to comments Pelosi made during an interview during which the Democratic leader suggested Republicans were trying to unfairly depict President Obama as having a strained relationship with Israel to further their domestic agenda.

“It is both patronizing and deeply insulting for Nancy Pelosi to suggest any Jew is ‘exploited’ for their political beliefs or that support for Israel is somehow an ‘excuse’ for anything,” Cantor said. “Such thinking diminishes the importance of issues affecting Jews everywhere.”

Oh, dear. That Cantor, such a sensitive one.

Politics – that’s politics, not policy – is about wrangling votes. Everyone knows this. That is, all but those whom the politicians – excuse me, policy makers – believe are innocent or ignorant enough not to know. The electorate is made up of constituencies, economic, ethnic, racial, geographic, religious, and interest-based constituencies to which it is the task of politicians to appeal. Go for the gun owners, appeal to the farmers, empathize with Hispanics, curry favor with Jews. That’s the way it is done, and this is why we write and read without pause about who has what percentage of one group or another in the polls.

Professional campaign managers and communications directors seek every advantage and develop every opportunity to increase an old or gain a new voting bloc. Speak Spanish even though your party opposes any policy but deportation for illegal immigrants? Habla, amigo, y rápido. Think many Jews, who vote overwhelming Democratic, care about nothing more than the certainty of the U.S. commitment to Israel? Think there may be an opening? Then it’s time to recall that old joke from the 1980 presidential campaign:

“What’s flat and glows in the dark?”

“Iran after Reagan takes office.”

(Turned out to be very far from the truth, too.)

The far left and some liberals are sadly misguided in relation to Israel and Obama made some diplomatic errors right from the start. The Israeli left collapsed and Likud governs in Israel. So, increasingly, support for Israel is identified with political conservatism. That is, then, a political opportunity. Tell the children Republicans don’t seek to exploit it. Don’t say that to the adults. In contrary circumstances, so, too, would the Democrats.

However, only one definition of exploit is “to take selfish or unfair advantage.” The other meaning is to “use or develop something in order to gain a benefit.” We exploit natural resources, and we should. To make good productive use of a thing is to exploit it as well.

The task for the knowledgeable, the sophisticated voter in any instance is to determine which kind of exploitation is taking place. Pelosi made her case:

But [Republican Jews] have to know the facts. And the fact is that President Obama has been the strongest person in terms of sanctions on Iran, which is important to Israel. He’s been the strongest person on whether it’s Iron Dome, David’s Sling, any of these weapons systems and initiatives that relate to Israel. He has been there over and over again.

It is regularly repeated in U.S. and Israeli security circles that despite diplomatic missteps and the lack of rapport between Obama and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the security relationship between the two nations has never been closer or stronger. Would you believe Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, just two days ago?

But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.

It is in response to this reality that Mitt Romney and his supporters are forced to ever newer and higher levels of bellicosity. Soon, the only place to go in addition to denying the actual record will be a call to bomb Iranian nuclear reactors yesterday.

Let us, for clarity, examine the example par excellence of just the kind of exploitation to which Nancy Pelosi referred. Let’s look at the Emergency Committee for Israel. Exploitation often begins with alarmist language.

Emergency, indeed. Is it 1948, 67, 73?

Sound good, though. Draws the blood up.

The Emergency Committee for Israel is just two years old, 2010 being, apparently, when the emergency arose, and it exists for one reason, to defeat Barack Obama. William Kristol, a founding board member, says it was inspired by J Street. By their models, viewed even in the mirror, ye shall know them. Even AIPAC, for Kristol, is too moderate. Why? Because it cooperates with the Obama administration. Which sounds like a good thing to do if what one is interested in is aiding Israel, and to judge by Ehud Barak doing a pretty fair job of it. But not if one’s greater, more immediate interest is the domestic political one of unelecting Barack Obama. However, that would be exploiting Jewish concerns for political ends, and that would be, according to Eric Cantor, insulting and patronizing even to allege, never mind actually do.

The ECI website is sparse. There is an Issues page: Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Iran, all very relevant to concern for Israel. Click on their links: nothing. There are, in fact, only two items on the Issues page – the most recent eighteen months old. Return to the Home page, though, and the raison d’etre for the ECI is quickly apparent. There is one item opposing Ron Paul by board member Gary Bauer – most recently found defending Chick-Fil-A’s anti-Gay advocacy in a very un-Israeli-like fashion. All of the remaining nine items are anti-Obama.

Ehud Barak says, “President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.”

Gary Bauer says the Obama administration is “the most anti-Israel administration in the history of the United States.”

Whom to listen to. Tough choice.

Tellingly, at the height of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, ECI produced a putrid and cynical video ad, the purpose of which was not to dispute the beliefs or claims of Occupy protesters or respond to any, um – emergency – for Israel. ECI scraped up, from months of demonstration footage, seconds of video of only two different people making anti-Semitic remarks and edited the footage to make the bigoted speech appear more plentiful. ECI did this not even to take a stand against OWS, but in order to try, then, to connect the anti-Semitism to OWS and OWS to President Obama and Nancy Pelosi, and thus, by clear implication – well, need I?

As I wrote then, in “’Emergency’ Committee for Israel Uses Israel as a Wedge Issue,”

the true purpose of the ECI video distortion is not to identify a new source of anti-Semitism. Kristol, Bauer, and company are not trying to warn the good people of OWS off a bad element in their midst. They actually could not be more delighted to find it there. They are, merely by the way, identifying that element as if it were itself the character of OWS, but even that is not ECI’s true purpose. The video, as I indicated, takes a further, more clearly pointed step in identifying President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and other well-known Democrats with OCS (sic), which ECI has by that point in the video smeared with anti-Semitic accusation. Thus, so, too, are Obama and the Democrats smeared.

That is the kind of exploitation to which Nancy Pelosi referred. And, at the same time, it is “deeply insulting” and “patronizing,” as Eric Cantor chose the terms for unbecoming behavior toward Jews. They form together a kind of trifecta in crass political opportunism.

I have no doubt Eric Cantor is outraged.

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The Political Animal

Alexander Cockburn: Remembering the Dead

Alexander Cockburn. Photo: screenshot via cspan.

Cross posted at the Algemeiner.

It really is the ultimate sentimentality.

That concern with how we will be remembered, or how those for whom we care will be treated in the minds of others, or who is saying what about whom now gone. It is too obvious to say we will never know the reputations we will have: that we project, we project. Every thought about the future outside of the most simple heavenly fantasies is a projection. We cast our wishes into the coming times and imagine that a reality that will not be ours is one that can make a difference to us. Good people have had their heads cut off, noble people been tortured in and into obscurity, infants murdered. What matter if some people think you a philanderer, a schnorrer, a charitable woman, a nice guy when you are gone? You know you take a secret self with you. They are anyway bound to get you wrong; for sure, not entirely right.

Certainly we would prefer not to leave a foul or evil reputation, at least for the benefit of those we care about, still living. There was a Greek fall not just for Oedipus and Joe Paterno, but for their families, too. Still, the big falls, the little ones, we can’t control them. Maybe Donald Trump has no idea how quickly his name will fade, even from the building facades that bear it, a name that will stand for grandiose buffoonery the way a doctor’s name was Mudd.

Still, we try to project our egos into the after-here. We are not, no we aren’t, wholly rational creatures. Strange, then, the effort of Alexander Cockburn, or for him, of some who claim to admire him. Cockburn died on Friday, and now the first final assessment begins. As for any person, there are those who loved him and who thought him good, and more. There are others – plenty – of radical left and contrarian temperaments, who think his journalism was groundbreaking and worthwhile.

"The Politics of Anti-Semitism" by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. Photo: AK Press.Many others, in contrast, will point out as long as necessary that Cockburn made a career of trafficking in every bitter, unsubtle and self-defeating excess of far left thought, to which he later added the same from the right. More, he was one of the voices on the Western left who introduced the incoherence of promoting oneself as “anti-racist” while simultaneously mocking and scorning the oldest grounds for anti-racism our woebegone civilization has produced: anti-Semitism.

It is inconceivable, of course, that any form of racism could prevail in any culture, nation, or region of the earth without the proper focus of unremitting attention, labeling, and combat from the left. With a modest swell of anti-Muslim feeling in the United States since 9/11, the left has joined with those combating anti-immigrant sentiment and the long-presiding, even institutionalized racism against African-Americans. Yet with the entire Middle East region and much of the Islamic world steeped in the vilest manifestations of anti-Semitism, the labeling of that racism has become just that ground for rejection and mockery that Alexander Cockburn helped establish.

You will not hear a voice on the left – as you will from the right – deride accusations of racism against Blacks. You will not encounter on the library shelves, books by longstanding writers of The Nation entitled The Politics of Racism, though Cockburn, who was that Nation contributor, did co-author and co-edit The Politics of Anti-Semitism, with such contributors as Cynthia McKinney, Robert Fisk, and Norman Finkelstein. If the calculations of justice and the moral equation in the Middle East, and for Jews, became garbled in only the second thirty years after the Holocaust, producing garbage, Alexander Cockburn was a journalist who played a prominent role in that outcome.

Given an easy opportunity to provide evidence of an unprejudiced mind – a typically bilious column piling on the mean, small-tongued Don Imus when the broadcaster finally went too far on his radio program – Cockburn found words to name every group-victim of Imus’s sewered mind but Jews.

Said Marc Cooper, once a colleague of Cockburn’s, “He forfeited becoming a very influential writer in favor of becoming a mud-throwing polemicist.”

At best, I say. But others will say differently. Jeffrey St. Clair, the longtime colleague and friend who co-edited with Cockburn the journal CounterPunch, which Cooper saw as a “rhetorical and intellectual dead end,” plans in that publication a series of “tributes to Alex from his friends and colleagues,” so there will be that effort to determine how Cockburn is remembered. But as I suggested, St. Clair made a strange choice to begin with.

In the two sentence paragraph lede, St. Clair announced over the weekend:

Our friend and comrade Alexander Cockburn died last night in Germany, after a fierce two-year long battle against cancer. His daughter Daisy was at his bedside.

The effort at memory setting begins in the next paragraph:

Alex kept his illness a tightly guarded secret. Only a handful of us knew how terribly sick he truly was. He didn’t want the disease to define him. He didn’t want his friends and readers to shower him with sympathy. He didn’t want to blog his own death as Christopher Hitchens had done.

Among the notable features of Cockburn’s life was his earlier friendship and later falling out – politically and personally – with Christopher Hitchens. Connor Simpson at the Atlantic rather overstates the case when he writes that:

most of all, [Cockburn] will likely be remembered as Christopher Hitchens’ foil.

Though maybe not, in light of that odd swipe, from grave to grave, at the manner in which Hitchens lived his final days and did his own last work. It is hard to imagine, under the circumstances, that Cockburn would not have discussed with St. Clair the manner in which the former’s death would be announced in his own publication. Cockburn did write his own unsparing epitaph for Hitchens on the occasion of that death. Either way, the rancor, among the first words in memory after Cockburn’s passing, marks a petty and graceless public, if not private, exit. Let the remembering begin.

AJA

 

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Israel

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in a Single Conversation

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The following is a partial transcript of a “discussion” on Democracy Now between Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin and Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada. In this brief exchange we see all of the essential characteristics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Tobin makes the point that regardless of any opinion regarding the settlements, peace can be had. Legal settlements can be sacrificed for peace just as illegal might be. Abunimah fails here, as everywhere else, to be an honest interlocutor. Rather than respond to that idea, he dismisses it as a “talking point.” And even if it were? What about the idea behind it? However, Abunimah is not a man of ideas, but of postcolonial jargon. His rhetoric in a single brief conversation represents in nature the actions of the Palestinian and greater Arab world going back to 1947: refusal to engage and accept, a rejection of reasoned discourse just like rejection of a Jewish state. He slings historically and conceptually false lablels like slurs and stones: “settler colonialism,” “apartheid,” “indigenous Palestinian people.” In his final dishonesty, he snows the sympathetic mind with reference to “Jim Crow tyranny,” as if two peoples in conflict over land and competing nationhoods are the equivalent of discrimination within a single nation.

But, ah! That’s the point. Abunimah’s unspecified solution in equality to his manufactured inequality is an unarticulated but implicit single nation – which isn’t Israel. Tobin, less driven and riven by hate and mental hackery, is too smart for him, and does not leave the inference unexpressed. Then Abunimah is reduced to scurrying into all the corners of his dishonesty to deny the implications of language.

Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Read.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn to a statement made by Israeli President Shimon Peres. He spoke out Tuesday against settlements in the West Bank. He said, quote, “Israeli settlement in territories densely populated by an Arab population could bring about a threatening demographic change; that is, it could endanger the Jewish majority in Israel. It is doubtful that a Jewish State without a Jewish majority can remain Jewish.” Jonathan Tobin, can you comment on what Israeli President Shimon Peres said?

JONATHAN TOBIN: That’s a position that many Israelis hold. But it shouldn’t be conflated with the question of their legality. The problem here is that people like the people from The Electronic Intifada don’t really recognize legitimacy of Jewish life anywhere in the country, including inside the Green Line, including the settlement Tel Aviv. The problem here is that it’s not a question of whether they’re legal or not, because if the Palestinians wish to make peace, if they wish to compromise, if they wish to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn, they can do so, and Israel has approved it will withdraw from territory, if offered peace. The problem is, the Palestinians won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, the legitimacy of Jewish life anywhere in that country. That’s why this is—the talk of war crimes, the talk of it’s criminal—Jews are not foreigners in the land of Israel.

The problem is, the Palestinians don’t wish to share. What we have here is a question of disputed territory. Both sides have rights. All the rights are not on the sides of the Palestinians. Jews have rights, too. If the Palestinians wish to have peace, if they wish to have the Palestinian—independent Palestinian state that they were offered three times and rejected three times in the last 12 years, they have to start dealing with the reality that the Jews aren’t going away. And if they do, they’ll find that Israel is willing to withdraw from most of the settlements, whether they—whether they consider them legal or not. Let’s not conflate these two issues. Peace is possible if the Palestinians are willing to make peace. It’s not possible if they focus on fantasies about throwing the Jews out. Even the Obama administration, which has been the most sympathetic to the Palestinian of any in recent—in any recent light, understood that many of the settlements are going to stay. That’s what the talk about territorial swaps was about last year. So, to focus on the illegality of things, of places that everyone knows are going to stay Israeli, and where Jews have the right to live, is just a fantasy that breeds more terrorism and more rejection of peace, which is what we get from The Electronic Intifada.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Well, if—

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah.

ALI ABUNIMAH: I mean, yeah, I see that Mr. Tobin studied the talking points very well this morning. Of course, let’s bring things back to basics. This isn’t a question of Jews. Jews have lived in Palestine since before the Zionist settler colony was imposed on Palestine. It’s not a question of Jews living there. It’s a question of settler colonialism, of apartheid, of the assertion that Jews have a right to superior rights than the indigenous Palestinian people and have a right to just bulldoze— literally bulldoze—their way onto Palestinian land and steal it for their own benefit. Frankly, I mean, I’m not surprised Mr. Tobin doesn’t care a jot about international law—

JONATHAN TOBIN: Jews are the indigenous people there, too. Jews are not foreigners.

ALI ABUNIMAH: —but you would think—you would think that Commentary, a conservative publication, would care at least about private property rights and the fact that vast tracts of these Jewish-only settler colonies are built on private Palestinian land, stolen by force by Israel’s Jewish sectarian militia known as theIDF.

Now, back to Shimon Peres’s statement, which was your original question, of course, his statement calling Palestinian babies a so-called demographic threat really reveals the Jim Crow-like racism at the core of this Zionist ideology that views the mere existence of Palestinian babies in their own native land as a threat to Israel. How can Palestinians ever possibly recognize or give legitimacy to an entity which views their mere reproduction as human beings as a mortal threat? It’s time for Mr. Tobin and all the fans of this apartheid, racist, Jim Crow tyranny to make good on their claimed liberal and progressive values and oppose Israeli apartheid and accept the inevitable, which is, just like in the Jim Crow South, just like in apartheid South Africa, one day there is going to be equal rights for everyone between the river and the sea, and all of this nonsense that Mr. Tobin is trying to sell us will be absolutely forgotten.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn to the U.S. response to the commission’s report. The Obama administration criticized the findings of the report. Speaking Monday, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said, quote, “The U.S. position on settlements is clear. Obviously, we’ve seen the reports that an Israeli Government appointed panel has recommended legalizing dozens of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts.” Jonathan Tobin, can you respond to that?

JONATHAN TOBIN: Well, of course the administration isn’t going to—hasn’t recognized that position. It opposes it. But it also tacitly agrees to the fact that the Jews aren’t going away. I mean, what we heard from my colleague on the show was the Palestinian fantasy that some day Israel is going to be destroyed. All the calumnies, all the slanders about apartheid—

ALI ABUNIMAH: I never said that. I didn’t use those words.

JONATHAN TOBIN: Yes, yes. That’s what—

ALI ABUNIMAH: I said that the system of racism and apartheid is going to be ended.

JONATHAN TOBIN: That is exactly what you are talking about.

ALI ABUNIMAH: And that will happen.

JONATHAN TOBIN: It is not an apartheid state. It is the only—

ALI ABUNIMAH: But don’t substitute your words with mine.

JONATHAN TOBIN: It is a state where Arabs have equal rights, serve in the parliament. And that—that is exactly what they are talking about. They’re talking about the destruction of Israel, and which is why this whole discussion—

ALI ABUNIMAH: Your words, sir. And it’s your fantasy.

JONATHAN TOBIN: It is your meaning. Don’t try to—

ALI ABUNIMAH: Your fantasy is the destruction of Israel.

JONATHAN TOBIN: Don’t try to—don’t try to lie your way out of it.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Was Jim Crow the destruction of Alabama and Mississippi?

JONATHAN TOBIN: You are fantasizing about the end of the Jewish state.

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Israel

The Arguments against Israel: Indigeneity

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Outside of war, no modern state has ever been subject to such an attack on its legitimacy and existence as has the state of Israel. Indeed, the concerted transnational political challenge to Israeli legitimacy – given the longstanding open-ended conditions of military and other violent conflict against Israel – may be truly conceived, to invert Clausewitz, to represent politics as a continuation of war by other means.

It is a truth of conflict between peoples manifested in history that groups in conflict will hold to genuinely differing – which is not to say equally true – perceptions of the grounds of their conflict and that most members of warring groups will demand, up until some point of human and political exhaustion has been reached, that the conflict be maintained until the ascendancy of their claims has been achieved. Outside parties will commonly remain uninvested. Non-state actors, such as expatriated descendents embedded in other cultures, may feel, and even at times act on, sympathies with one group (Irish-Catholic supporters of the IRA in the U.S., for instance), and allied states may materially support their sides in unexhausted conflicts that promote an interest of the ally, but overwhelmingly it is the case, and enunciated position of almost any outsider, that whatever terms of settlement to the local conditions of conflict are acceptable to the warring groups themselves – the invested parties – are certainly acceptable to the outside world.

All the rest of us just want peace – so glad you two could find a way to get along.

One of the conditions that muddies consideration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, and now raises profound obstacles to its settlement, is the purposeful, strategic masking of hostile intent among outside parties – in attitudes unsympathetic to Israel’s founding and to its historical conditions of conflict, and that are actually directed at the state’s dissolution – under the guise of peace and justice politics. Of contemporary political charlatanry there is no greater representation.

This simple bad faith, then, stands as a first condition in analyzing arguments over the nature and possible resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – that while some disagreements are inherent in the conflicting perceptions and demands of the parties to the conflict, some are actually developed and maintained by outside interests that, while pretending to seek resolution, actually seek to advance the conflict to a point of victory by the Palestinian side. In this manner, in fact, many ideologically-driven outside agents and their supporters, while draping themselves in the moral finery of peace and justice and elaborately and insistently articulating its vocabulary, actually serve as proponents of the conditions – the disputes – of continued conflict. Then, when that conflict periodically becomes heightened and armed, these fake advocates of peace will blame Israel and, in extraordinary gestures of more heightened bad faith, fail to perceive, certainly acknowledge, their own responsibility. The Palestinians and Israelis are, in a sense, supposed to be, in the very nature of their uprising in conflict, angry and unyielding with each other – until the point of some hoped for compromise. Empathetic nannas from the U.S. and U.K. and human rights champions all over the world, on the other hand, are supposed to be calling for compassion compromise and an end to the belligerence, not spraying one fighter’s face in the corner and whispering in his ear, “You can win this thing.”

One of the first signs, a blaring announcement, of a third party’s promotion of continued conflict is in its perpetuation of the historical argument. We know the path to resolution of international conflicts is not by reaching agreement, or winning the argument, on the historical origins of a dispute. That resolution is known as argumentum ad baculum ( the appeal to force) and is generally reached through war. Such is the only promise of continuing disputes about original claims and offenses in history. Nonetheless, as the basis for mischaracterizations of contemporary conditions, ongoing historical dispute forms the foundation of left anti-Israel campaigning, and postcolonial ideology draws it all together.

The postcolonial prism perversely distorts the creation of Israel – the return of political and national autonomy to the oldest continually oppressed and persecuted minority in the world – as a Western colonial enterprise. In order to make this claim, however, it is necessary to deny the Jewish historical connection to the land that became Israel. But while the consequent fraudulent claims about Jews, so common to Jewish history – such as that Ashkenazi Jews are really the descendents of the Khazars and not the Jews of ancient Israel at all – are many, the contrasting historical evidence of Jewish origins, such as multiple genetic studies, is overwhelming. Still the denial of Jewish origins is common, though as a direct lie, more commonly by Palestinians and other Arabs. The Western left representation is more rhetorical, more of a piece with a broader ideological scheme, and more devious. Increasingly, left anti-Israel activists – against the recent historical phenomenon of Ashkenazi Jews retuning to Israel from Europe, and thus superficially characterizable as outsiders and colonizers – label the Palestinian population, in contrast, as indigenous.

In international policy, the definition of an indigenous people is so controversial that the U.N. will not label as an actual definition those identifying characteristics that its Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has established as explanatory of the concept of indigenous people – even though the establishment of a class and the identification of distinguishing characteristics for a subset of that class is the functional practice of developing a definition. The third and fourth characteristics, then, note the following:

Indigenous peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems.

Manjusha S. Nair has observed that

territoriality is premised on originality, since original inhabitants have more claims on a territorial space… Hence, indigeneity becomes a field of contestation. Some are born with it; others imagine it as an ethnic belonging. Empirically, the claim of indigeneity is always contested since few human groups inhabit a space from the beginning. The groups that claim indigeneity associate themselves with the original inhabitants in quite imaginative ways though they exist many generations later. [Emphasis added]

Obviously, by these parameters, both Jews and Palestinian Arabs have indigenous claims to make. European, Ottoman, and other empires traded colonial rule of the Middle East for two millennia while Jews and Arabs throughout, like all subjects of imperial conquest, suffered under the rule of others. Surely there is no active contestation of indigeneity that reaches farther back in time than the one in which these two groups engage. Surely, too, however one may reasonably characterize an ongoing effort to deny the claim of either, it cannot be as one directed at conflict resolution and peace. Yet beyond the unsurprising, belligerent claims of some Jews and more Palestinians that the claim of the other is false, the like claim by some on the far left, dressed in the postcolonial vocabulary of corrective justice, is as ideologically-driven an intellectual fraud as has been foisted on the field of human rights since the collapse of the communist world. Further, it is a political abuse of the conquered and dominated peoples postcolonial theorizing purports to champion.

It is an unfortunate truth that many indigenous peoples around the world were fooled for that second time or saw history offer its second repetition as long ago, let’s say, as when the Spanish ordered in 1599 that every surviving male of the Acoma Pueblo who was over twenty-five be punished for his resistance by the loss of his right foot. The iterations of deception over the centuries since represent nothing less than the nightmare of history. There is no degree of distrust, no contempt for Western acculturation that might be begrudged any indigenous people conquered in, but still surviving the colonial onslaught. This is the fundamental historical precondition from which to draw a postcolonial theory. It takes little imagination to appreciate how such theorizing would attract politicized indigenous men and women to the full range of far left and postcolonial political perceptions, including – professed and politicized as it now manipulatively is in the rhetoric of colonial dispossession and difference – that of Israel-Palestine. The crueler truth is that the whole maneuver stands one more time for the same exploitation, the colonizing by Western ideologues, for their own entirely different propaganda purposes against Israel, of the true politics of indigeneity, pursued on behalf of peoples who do not already have 21 states of their own.

So manipulative, confused, and incoherent is the appropriation of the language of postcolonialism and indigeneity to the propaganda war against Israel that its perpetrators fail to recognize the inner contradictions of it. They focus almost exclusively in their manufactured colonial construct on the Ashkenazi returnees to Israel from Europe, ignoring the land’s persistent Jewish population and that from surrounding Arab territories and nations. The long Diaspora is used, practically and conceptually, to alienate Jews from their own territorial origin, their own indigeneity. See, for instance, the ignorant example, easily repeatable, of Helen

Thomas calling for Jews to “return” to Poland. In the historical imagination of the anti-Israeli and the frequently anti-Jewish, the long sojourn from home for the Jews has entailed the loss of their claim to that home. Note, then, below, the exceptional identification by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, of who exactly constitutes a Palestinian refugee.

The operational definition of a Palestine refugee is any person whose “normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”

Palestine refugees are persons who fulfil the above definition and descendants of fathers fulfilling the definition. [Emphasis added]

Recall from the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues above the identifying focus on “ancestral territories” and the preservation of “ethnic identity.” Consider how Nair referred to the common practice for peoples claiming indigeneity to claim it even though “they exist many generations later.”

The Palestinians claim a right of return even for descendents who never lived on the land. Why should it be different for Jews? How many generations would need to pass before Palestinian Arabs would relinquish their identification with the land, their claim of an ancestral home, and a right of return? If the condition of conflict exiled Palestinians from the land and their autonomy for a thousand years, for two thousand, as history so long exiled Jews from theirs, would they accept their claims as forfeited?

Why should it be any different for Jews?

One may call those falsifiers of Jewish historical identity and claims many things – those propagandists of postcolonial rhetoric and exploiters of the true history of indigenous colonization – but one may not call them honest. And they are not proponents of peace and justice.

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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Israel

Institutional Antisemitism

For Americans unfamiliar with it, Britain’s University College Union (UCU) might be thought of as a higher ed American Federation of Teachers (AFT) or National Education Association (NEA) combined with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). It is a union and a professional association. It has a membership of 130,000. After years of obsessive political attention to that crucial British educational issue, Israel, and ever growing resignations by its Jewish members, who cite a hostile and persecutory environment, one Jewish UCU member is now calling a spade a spade. From Engage:

Ronnie Fraser, a Jewish UCU member who has been bullied, scorned, ridiculed and treated as though he was a supporter of racism and apartheid for ten years,  is going to sue the UCU His letter to Sally Hunt, written by Anthony Julius, says that UCU has breached ss. 26 and 57 (3) of the Equality Act 2010:

That is to say, the UCU has “harassed” him by “engaging in unwanted conduct” relating to his Jewish identity (a “relevant protected characteristic”), the “purpose and/or effect” of which has been, and continues to be, to “violate his dignity” and/or create “an intimidating, hostile, degrading humiliating” and/or “offensive environment” for him.

The letter alleges a course of action by the union which amounts to institutional antisemitism and it gives examples: annual boycott resolutions against only Israelthe conduct of these debatesthe moderating of the activist list and the penalising of anti-boycott activiststhe failure to engage with people who raised concerns; the failure to address resignationsthe refusal to meet the OSCE’s special represenative on antisemitismthe hosting of Bongani Masukuthe repudiation of the EUMC working definition of antisemitism.

The Equality Act 2010 codifies our society’s rejection of racism even in its subtle and unconscious forms; it is one of the most important victories of the trade union movement and of antiracist struggle.  The Equality Act is our Act, passed by a Labour government, a weapon designed to help antiracist trade unionists to defend workers who are subjected to racism.

More from the letter by Julius, one of the foremost experts on the history of and current British Antisemitism:

You will see that I complain, among other things, about the UCU’s year-on-year anti-Israel boycott resolutions (and the conduct of the debates on those resolutions), the moderating of the on-line forum for UCU members, the penalising of anti-boycott activists, the failure to engage with Jewish and non-Jewish members’ concerns regarding these matters, the failure to address the resignation from the union of many of those members, and the rebuffing of the OSCE’s special representative on anti-Semitism.

Conditions for the generality of Jewish members have only deteriorated since then. Further boycott resolutions have been passed; further incontinently anti-Semitic comments on the “Activists’ list” have been posted; there have been further resignations from the union by Jewish members. And if I add to this sorry list the union’s welcoming in 2009 of Bongani Masuku (and its 2010 endorsement of that welcome) it is only because the UCU’s hospitality to a confirmed anti-Semite makes for such a pointed contrast with its inhospitality to its own Jewish members.

The scandal is thus a long-standing one. It is continuous with the history of the union (indeed, it reaches back into the histories of the predecessor unions, the AUT and NATFHE). From its inception, the UCU has been inhospitable to Jews. It persists in its inhospitable conduct – indeed, intensifying it year by year, piling fresh insults upon accumulated insults to its Jewish members.

The recent resolution repudiating an internationally-accepted working definition of anti-Semitism (Resolution 70 / 2011) is among the most recent of such insults. It was a telling development, however.

Unable to defend itself against the charge of institutional anti-Semitism, the UCU sought instead to legislate anti-Semitism itself out of existence.

This indecent, discreditable resolution was passed in active disregard of the feelings of Jewish members – a disregard amounting to a kind of inflamed contempt for all Jews other than that minority among them ready to abet a degraded and obsessive “anti-Zionist” activism.

My client has had enough. He believes that the UCU’s conduct, over so many years now, has limited his options to either resigning or suing. He has chosen to sue. Unless I hear from you confirming that the UCU will meet his proper demands, as set out below, he will make an Equality Act claim to the Employment Tribunal. He expects to win, and in winning, to perform a service not just to his fellow Jewish UCU members and ex-members, but to the cause of decent, principled trades unionism.

One can find at Engage, a site dedicated to the coverage of British Antisemitism, longstanding and continuing coverage of the UCU disgrace.

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Culture Clash Israel

The End of Memoir II: Allison Benedikt and Life before Thinking

(Yesterday: The End of Memoir, part I)

Though he did it not well, Jose Antonio Vargas, in “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant,” had a compelling reason to write. He is not merely affected by illegal immigration: he is, individually, a story of illegal immigration. He has lived the subterfuge, the fiction, and the uncertain future and present of being an illegal immigrant every day since childhood – and he lives it at a status in life that might be surprising to many. Along with his homosexuality, the recesses of his illegal life were a second closet out of which he longed to walk. He wanted to be liberated from fear and falseness. He thought that telling his story might play some small role in altering the reality of illegal immigrant life in the country. This is all very easy to get.

But why did Allison Benedikt write “Life After Zionist Summer Camp”? Peter Beinart, with whom, as Jeffrey Goldberg put it, “I don’t agree with … so often anymore,” but seemingly, these days, a right sympathetic audience for Benedikt, wrote in a tweet,

I found this uncompelling. It’s insular….

Uncompelling is the word. A writer, outside of a journal, and particularly on public issues, needs a compelling reason to write, compelling not simply for her – as she, the writer, is inwardly compelled to write – but compelling to others. How compel? In that the likeminded may agree and feel, so, confirmed and self-satisfied? Well, there is that. Truly compelling, however, means, perhaps, that you have some outstanding first-person account, or some expertise on the subject, or that you have, actually, something – original, remarkable, dramatic, unique, insightful – to say on the subject.

No doubt, Benedikt felt some of these attributes applied to her, at least for her. To others, I think, not so much. Insight? In reply to Jeffrey Goldberg – the primary, incendiary respondent to Benedikt – Benedikt wrote,

I wrote the piece to record what I experienced, not to analyze it, and definitely not to talk policy or really even politics. It’s a personal essay about growing up in a bubble, not questioning because you don’t even realize there is anything to question, and then slowly coming into contact with a wider world, and range of opinions, until you must face that you’ve been fed–and accepted–an incomplete or even false narrative about an issue that is more than just an issue but also a huge part of your identity. If I come off as naive (or, as “faux-naive”), it’s because I was trying to convey that I WAS naive. If I come off as conformist, well, there again, I was–and to think that’s anything but the norm for a kid growing up is to not be honest about adolescence. [Emphasis added]

Mind you, this is Benedikt’s defense of herself. Confirming what I observed yesterday, Benedikt was so self-absorbed – “insular” was Beinart’s term – that she believed no analysis of her experience was necessary to make it a worthwhile read for others. Her experiences (“what I experienced”) are so innately interesting to other people, so compelling a representation of reality and inherent a commentary on life, simply in the record of them, that no thought about them, at least on her part, is required. When Yaacov Lozowick challenged her in a tweet about alterations she makes to the hagada during Passover dinner –

you make up your own hagada? who in the world do you think you are?

– Benedikt’s response was

I am Jewish, you mother fucker. And I’m not unique

Indeed, she’s not unique – she meant in her Jewish discomfort with Israel and aspects of Jewish religious tradition, but neither is she unique in her Jewishness. There are about 13 million Jews in the world. What reason did she offer for why anyone should take time for her account of her Jewish life and her relation to Israel – a mere unconsidered record of her experiences – over the time no one could devote to the other 12 million plus? Because she had the chutzpah to presume that  her not very extraordinary experiences – when her intent, she says, was not to consider policy or politics (“I wrote the piece definitely not to talk policy or really even politics”) – were an inherently meaningful commentary on an inherently political subject, inseparable from issues of policy?

In truth, so dishonest is Benedikt’s essay that it is not what it pretends to be and not at all what she claims it to be, neither a mere record of experience nor non-political. It is not written in some neutral, observant voice aspiring to Flaubertian objectivity. And it is not unconcerned with politics. Even as the essay fails to consider politics in any open, intellectual, or honest way, even as it pretends to be just one Jewish woman’s sad and disgusted record of her alienation from Jewish nationalism, the essay is manifestly, manipulatively political right from its lead-in photo. The essay is offered as a kind of public Jewish coming out: this is my experience as a Jew. How best, then, to head that statement of Jewish experience – from all the images of Jewishness and Israel that might be chosen to begin – than with a photo of Israeli soldiers on the ground in their fatigues taking target practice. This is Israel.

But we’re not talking politics.

The essay begins,

It starts at a very young age.

What starts at a very young age? Clearly enough from the first few paragraphs, it is the indoctrination. Why the very idea of Zionist summer camp itself, of course, and Israeli flags, and actual Israelis, and being taught to be proud of Jewish intellectual culture – tikkun olam – and watching Raid on Entebbe. What a brainwashing. As if all cultures do not acculturate their young and seek to inculcate historic and national, even militaristic pride – George Washington minus his slaves and Saving Private Ryan and “La Marseillaise”!

Goldberg writes,

The whole piece is written in a kind of faux-naive, I’m-so-lost voice that I found a bit grating.

That’s only the half of it, because it’s not the naïve, but the faux that really counts. Contextualized – including the opening photo; life after not just Zionist summer camp, but Zionism; all that follows in the essay; and the attitudes of the likeminded – that naïve voice ironizes everything.

There are real live Israelis at camp every summer. They have awesome names like Michal and Eyal and are rock stars with their rolling Rs and Israeli scout uniforms. They make me nervous.

Because we know what they really are, how they really behave. See photo above.

The counselors talk to us about “tikkun olam,” which roughly translates to “repairing the world”—this is something that Jews do very well because we are very good people.

Snicker, snicker.

In her mock naiveté, Benedikt is the thoroughly Americanized Jew encountering Jewish otherness. She is from Youngstown, Ohio and her camp friends’ “lives are more Jewish than mine.” Then later, at a camp for older kids, in Upstate New York,

This is my first real brush with East Coast Jews. I am no longer considered cute, and those that are remark on my “Ohio shoes” and my flat accent. I don’t have Umbros; they do. And they’ve all already been to Israel! They know how to speak Hebrew!

But right from the start, on first attending camp, she observes,

Weird names like Jabotinsky and Herzl float through the air.

Jewish names, she means – European names. This is an experience that many half-assimilated second generation children of immigrants may have, of any ethnicity or nationality – the foreignness, the strangeness of the first generation relatives with their heavy un-American accents, their different names, and their odd customs. A contemplative, analytical authorial voice might mediate the relation, the difference, between childish discomfort and a fuller adult reality. But in Benedikt’s pedestrian, childlike voice (Israeli campers are “awesome” when she is a young girl, her sister’s children are “awesome” when she is an adult) that unworldly childhood perception of strangeness – that difference – is allowed to stand in itself as commentary.

What follows for Benedikt in the essay is the passage in seeming passivity from Zionist socialization to her husband’s loathing for Israel, and to what she later tells Goldberg is not her own hate so much – she self-corrects in writing, which is to say publically – as rage. But the essay, we are to understand, was just a record of experience, it did not, its author avers, seek to consider policy or politics, and its profound dishonesty lies precisely in its cowardly flight from genuine intellectual engagement with the politics even as it attempts emotionally, tonally to sucker the reader into a political stance.

Benedikt’s having presented the essay as one Jew’s lament over Jewish identity has led discussion of the essay, beginning with Goldberg, to be rather insular itself. It’s been mostly Jewish inside baseball: a Jew’s responsibility to Jewish community and what, if any, are permissible alterations of the hagada, with Rabbi Andy Bachman and Adam Holland interestingly weighing in. But every time someone like Benedikt provokes that kind of discussion, they both confirm themselves to themselves and the now active prejudice of so many non-Jewish opponents of Israel and Jewish nationalism: all the Jews care about, it persuades them all over again, is themselves, their chosenness and their own insularity. But this is too narrow. The issue is greater than that.

Allison Benedikt is not wrong as a Jew, behaving as a Jew toward other Jews about a Jewish issue. She, just like her husband, who is not Jewish, is simply wrong – intellectually, morally, and politically wrong. Because she had not the courage to defend intellectually her “hate” and her “rage” toward Israel, and her temerity, to begin, to put her memoir out there – a political attack on Israel disguised as a matter-of-fact memoir of changing identity – she has brought this reaction not upon her ideas, because she offered none, but upon herself.

AJA

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Israel

A Lesson in Slanting on Israel & the Palestinians

Matthew Yglesias posted the briefest of responses to the just released Pew poll on various international and Mideast matters, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a pearl of a primer in slanted language and presentation – all in two sentences. I commented on it at Yglesisas’s blog. I told him he packed as much slanting into two sentences as a Soviet-era joke. (The joke? In a two car race between a Soviet car and a U.S. car the Soviet car finished second. The U.S. car came in next to last.)

Along with an intervening graph, Yglesias posted these two sentences:

New Pew data confirms that the Israel lobby’s strength in Congress is built on the solid foundation of widespread American lack of sympathy for the Palestinian cause:

I note again that the actual trend here runs counter to the popular media narrative, which I think overweighs the opinion of very politically engaged progressive Jewish writers rather than the broad swathe of Americans.

The Pew summary language characterizes the results comparatively.

Nearly half of Americans (48%) say they sympathize more with Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians while just 11% sympathize more with the Palestinians; 15% volunteer that they sympathize with neither side.

Converting comparative results into absolute language entails the use of perspective, which is not to say that the perspective is merely relative or without truth value. In the joke above the phony Soviet reporting is not inaccurate. It is a matter of the perspective one both takes and offers to others. One has to be assertively biased or astonishingly blind to one’s own inclinations to rephrase Pew’s comparative language in an opening sentence that spins the findings negatively toward the Palestinians. Yglesias’s language: “lack of sympathy for the Palestinian cause.”

Why does this matter? Because like the next-to-last-place finish that was also, in fact, first, or the half-empty glass that is also half full, it avoids stating the positive: Americans sympathize with Israel.

Then, of course, the Pew summary says nothing at all about the Israel “lobby.” The polling attempted to measure respondents comparative sympathy for Israel against that of their sympathy for Palestinians. It does not reference the influence or success of an Israel “lobby” anymore than it does Palestinian “propaganda.” It does not “confirm” anything about the strength of the pro-Israel organizations. Why does it not, rather, much more simply suggest the responsiveness of American legislators to the attitudes of their constituents?

Imagine the applicable part of Yglesias’s sentence rewritten minus just the reference to “lobby.”

New Pew data confirms that Israel’s strength in Congress is built on the solid foundation of widespread American lack of sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

That is what one might most directly conclude from the poll, though further polling might probe the relation. From where did Yglesias get confirmation of lobbyist influence? Not from the poll.

Why, further, does the poll not suggest, rather than the implied undue influence of a lobby, the natural alignment between Americans and Israelis because of like political and moral cultures, and the lack of same between Americans and the Arab world in general? Imagine the sentence further adjusted for absolute and positive reference to Israel rather absolute negative reference to the Palestinians.

New Pew data confirms that Israel’s strength in Congress is built on the solid foundation of widespread American sympathy for Israel

Like the language of the joke, same facts, all accurate – very different perspective. Perspectives and their presentation can be honest, and they may not be. That is just one sentence.

Then there is the second sentence in which the phrase “popular media narrative” (measured in popularity by whom?) is introduced in reference to growing critical views of Israel. Note the use of “media” here, like “lobby” above, to suggest a professionalized force shaping reality (the “narrative”) rather than the presence of an actual aspect of reality. Yglesias here opines that the views of “very politically engaged progressive Jewish writers” are given excess weight compared to ordinary Americans in developing this narrative of increasingly anti-Israel (and, indeed, anti-Semitic) trends – a narrative we are now to understand from the poll, according to Yglesias, as false. However, these claims, shall we say (rather than “narrative”) of increasing anti-Israeli attitudes are, first, not made exclusively about Americans – in fact, mostly not. Second, about Americans, what does the poll also show?

At the other end of the ideological spectrum, just 32% of liberal Democrats sympathize more with Israel while 21% sympathize more with the Palestinians.

That is the lowest level of support, along with the religiously “unaffiliated.” So maybe the “narrative” is not a narrative, but a supportable claim?

Finally, with the attribution of the narrative to “very politically engaged progressive Jewish writers” – among whom we would have to number Yglesias (and me, I modestly add) – who gets the blame for creating this now supposedly (but based upon the poll, we now see, clearly not) false narrative? Not the U.N. Human Rights Council, not the BDS movement and the flotilla fools, not the purveyors of occupation, apartheid, Gaza concentration camp, colonial settler vs. indigenous peoples historical newspeak and liberation movement propaganda.

It’s the Jews!

That is an astonishing amount of slanted convolution for a mere two sentences. And quite a lot of intellectual damage.

AJA

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