The looking-glass world of the modern ‘progressives': anti-Zionist trends within the British left – Brian Goldfarb

To get to my starting point, I need the following preamble. I have always considered myself to be ideologically motivated, to possess a strong political philosophy through which I interpret the world. This happens to put me on what is conventionally called the left, a designation I’m happy to acknowledge, albeit one that someone who runs a blog in Israel (and is as conventionally right-wing as I am left-wing) called “part of the sane left”.  However, events over the last decade or so have made me consider myself the very model of moderation, rationality and, indeed, pragmatism, compared with those I’m going to be talking about and who are supposed to be on the same “side” as me.

Let me start with a quote from a hero of mine, Nick Cohen, because it indicates the topsyturvy world we live in. This is from one of his Observer columns (15 July 2012). He says “Is opposition to reaction reactionary? Or a loathing of religious bigotry, bigoted? To slam ‘Islam as oppressive of gay and women’s rights’, said a Guardian columnist last week, is to manifest the ‘progressives’ prejudice’. True liberals did not criticise illiberal religion. They denounced criticism of prejudice as prejudiced.”

Truly, we have gone through Alice’s “Looking Glass” into a parallel world, except that it is, as was hers, the mirror-image of the one we thought we lived in. It used to be, not very long ago, that illiberalism, wherever it came from, would be routinely condemned by the Left. This meant that even those in the Third World who breached human rights would be condemned for such activities. Now, at least some on the Left want us to understand that there are different, and acceptable, standards of human rights in the Third World. I coined a phrase (probably not original, however I can but hope) for one website comment, that an attack on academic freedom anywhere was an attack on it everywhere. Just substitute ‘human rights’ for academic freedom, and you will understand exactly what I mean and where I’m coming from.

Allow me to illustrate this further with another passage from Nick Cohen, this time from 27 May 2012 (also in The Observer). It dates to a time when Tony Blair was still Prime Minister (2007) and still able to appear as a good liberal, in the widest sense of that word.  He was being interviewed by John Humphrys, and Blair refused to concede to Iran a different notion of democracy from the one we take for granted. Thus, the following brief exchange is instructive (I’ve edited it even more than Cohen did):

Blair: “There is a global struggle in which we need a policy based on democracy…”
Humphrys: “Our idea of democracy?”
Blair: “I didn’t know that there was another idea of democracy…”
Humphrys: “If I may say so, that’s naive…”
Blair ”…democracy [means] you can get rid of your government if you don’t like them.”
Humphrys: “The Iranians elected their own government…”
Blair: ”Hold on, John, something like 60% of the candidates were excluded.”

I’m not trying to suggest that John Humphrys believed what he said about democracy: he was (and is) a journalist doing his job, but his words are indicative of what too many on the Left are, these days, prepared to say. And Blair put up a fair defence of representative democracy: note his comment that he “didn’t know that there was another idea of democracy”.

So there you have my starting point: the first quote from Nick Cohen, which sums up the thesis of his book “What’s Left?”, asserting that part of the Left, which used to be the proud defender of everyone’s human rights and a doughty fighter for freedom and equality, being prepared to suggest that, really, just about everything is relative. This is confirmed by John Humphrys, who is merely repeating an attitude increasingly common on this side of the political divide.

How has this happened, and where does it lead? Many argue that this change in the Left (to the extent that it is a change) began to happen after Israel had the temerity to successfully defend itself from what it saw as the threat of annihilation in 1967. Many who had, until then, been staunch defenders of Israel began to change their tune now that Israel appeared militarily secure. This is reflected in a Guardian article written by Michael Frayn at the time which argued, tongue in cheek on his part, that if only Israel had lost, the world would have been so sympathetic… I would want to argue that it might not, actually, be that much of a change: we have this aphorism, attributed to August Bebel, 19th century German Social Democrat, that “antisemitism is the socialism of fools”.

In turn, this leads to the astonishing sight of some British trade unions attempting to promote boycotts (probably in contravention of British equality laws) of what, under Tony Blair’s approach, is a democratic state, a member in good standing of the United Nations, for alleged breaches of human rights, while being prepared to ignore, or even condone, far worse breaches by other states. And, of course, to fail to even realise that this is what they are doing.

This first came into sight for me when my then trade union (the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education) started to pass resolutions calling for a boycott of Israeli (and only Israeli) universities, back in about 2000. It didn’t really help when a colleague of mine, then on the National Executive, argued that I should have seen what the resolution looked like before amendment: I suggested that this was about as comfortable as African-Americans felt when confronted by so-called US liberals: they were the ones who would hang you from a low branch! It only got worse when my union amalgamated with the Association of University Teachers to form the Universities and Colleges Union.  The attitudes generated are typified for me by the following: on 27 July 2007, the online version of the British Medical Journal held a poll on whether to boycott Israeli universities or not. Tom Hickey, a long-serving member of the UCU Executive wrote the following, in support of the boycott: “In the case of Israel, we are speaking about a society whose dominant self image is one of a bastion of civilisation in a sea of medieval reaction. And we are speaking of a culture, both in Israel and in the long history of the Jewish diaspora, in which education and scholarship are held in high regard. That is why an academic boycott might have a desirable political effect in Israel, an effect that might not be expected elsewhere.”

Note the, hopefully unconscious, conflating of Jews and Israelis, which is an antisemitic trope in itself, as well as the potentially racist assumption that only Jews and Israelis really care about their children’s education. Despite his attention being frequently drawn to it, Hickey has never re-visited, explained or apologised for this.

We also have a respectable British political party, The Greens, deciding that the European Union Monitoring Commission on Racism working definition on antisemitism should be dropped from its statement of principles. This definition stated, inter alia, that it was for the person who was allegedly discriminated against to say whether this had happened or not, not for some third party to decide for them. As an aside, this is, of course, just the starting point for any further action. The Green Party decided, however, that its Executive knew better than any alleged victim whether this had happened or not. Substitute “racism” for antisemitism, and see whether this makes any sort of sense. Or, come to that, whether they would have dared to even think in these terms. UCU has now, also, dropped the EUMC working definition.

Further, we have that bastion of the “progressive left”, Ken Livingstone, literally embracing someone like al-Qaradawi, a noted homophobe and misogynist (to say nothing of being antisemitic) and claiming that he is supporting progressives in the Middle East. You have to understand that I am a recidivist Labour voter: I continually re-offend. However, I am far from ashamed that I have voted, twice, for Boris Johnson and that I didn’t vote for the Labour candidate in the last general election: she was (still is) the Assistant General Secretary of Unison, which had recently passed a boycott motion. There was no way I wanted her for my MP. Perhaps we might talk later of the so-called “Livingstone Formulation” (a term coined by David Hirsh, founding editor of the website Engage, formed to fight the academic boycott of Israeli universities).

The situation on the left is further muddied by the existence of groups such as Jews for Justice for Palestinians (JfJfP) – a bit like being againstsin, something we’re all in favour of – and Independent Jewish Voices, a group of which the author and journalist Linda Grant said, having perused the list of signatories in The Guardian, The Times and The Jewish Chronicle, and noted their claim that they were denied a voice by the Jewish establishment (whatever that meant and whoever they were), that “many of [the signatories] are but a phone-call away from an op-ed in The Guardian or The Independent”. What these groups do, intentionally or otherwise, is to allow Left anti-zionists to argue that there are these voices on the Jewish left who say these things, so it’s alright for them to say the same.  This attitude ignores, of course, the fact that any and every survey taken of British Jewry shows overwhelming support for the right of the State of Israel to exist, most often in a two-state situation.

Why is it that it is only Jews who are to be denied a state of their own, when no-one questions the right of there to be something like 30 Moslem states, let alone however many there are that claim to be Christian? Or, as Maureen Lipman noted, in a brief discussion on Radio 4‘s Today programme with fellow actor Roger Lloyd-Pack concerning the Habimah Theatre production of The Merchant of Venice at The Globe, “It’s always the Jews, isn’t it”.

Brian Goldfarb

38 Responses to “The looking-glass world of the modern ‘progressives': anti-Zionist trends within the British left – Brian Goldfarb”

  1. N. Friedman Says:

    Brian,

    You have written an excellent article. I might suggest that the attitude of the racism of lower expectations has been explored by others, most notably the great historian of Islam, Bernard Lewis. He commented, in a well known article titled The Revolt of Islam:

    Another example of this double standard occurred in the Syrian city of Hama and in refugee camps in Sabra and Shatila. The troubles in Hama began with an uprising headed by the radical group the Muslim Brothers in 1982. The government responded swiftly. Troops were sent, supported by armor, artillery, and aircraft, and within a very short time they had reduced a large part of the city to rubble. The number killed was estimated, by Amnesty International, at somewhere between ten thousand and twenty-five thousand. The action, which was ordered and supervised by the Syrian President, Hafiz al-Assad, attracted little attention at the time, and did not prevent the United States from subsequently courting Assad, who received a long succession of visits from American Secretaries of State James Baker, Warren Christopher, and Madeleine Albright, and even from President Clinton. It is hardly likely that Americans would have been so eager to propitiate a ruler who had perpetrated such crimes on Western soil, with Western victims.

    The massacre of seven hundred to eight hundred Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila that same year was carried out by Lebanese militiamen, led by a Lebanese commander who subsequently became a minister in the Syrian-sponsored Lebanese government, and it was seen as a reprisal for the assassination of the Lebanese President Bashir Gemayyel. Ariel Sharon, who at the time commanded the Israeli forces in Lebanon, was reprimanded by an Israeli commission of inquiry for not having foreseen and prevented the massacre, and was forced to resign from his position as Minister of Defense. It is understandable that the Palestinians and other Arabs should lay sole blame for the massacre on Sharon. What is puzzling is that Europeans and Americans should do the same. Some even wanted to try Sharon for crimes against humanity before a tribunal in Europe. No such suggestion was made regarding either Saddam Hussein or Hafiz al-Assad, who slaughtered tens of thousands of their compatriots. It is easy to understand the bitterness of those who see the implication here. It was as if the militia who had carried out the deed were animals, not accountable by the same human standards as the Israelis.

    I might note that your interpretation of Antisemitism – one that has proponents on this website – is one of semantics and is thus kinetic explanation rather than truly explanatory. Which is to say, you mechanically note generalizations made and characterize them as prejudiced. I do not know how one can discuss anything without generalizing. So, I am doubtful of this theory. You would do well to consider this interesting article by Professor Lewis.

    • N. Friedman Says:

      I should have used the term “kinematic” rather than kinetic. Sorry about that. I still think you guys are misinterpreting Antisemitism as being about word choice instead of what lays behind words. And, that leads to harping on trivia instead of focusing on what is really worthy of your effort.

      I would think that one might, rather than focusing on words that may or may not have been well expressed, instead focus on those things which have traditionally made Antisemitism so much worse a thing than mere prejudice. Comments that imply efforts by Jews to control the world come to mind, as do views that Jews are an evil people, etc., etc. The mere assertion of this or that bit of small insult nastiness does more, I submit, to alienate those who might side against Antisemites than it does to expose Antisemitism.

      I am not quite sure why you called out some generalizations as being per se bigoted. I have in mind this comment you made:

      Note the, hopefully unconscious, conflating of Jews and Israelis, which is an antisemitic trope in itself, as well as the potentially racist assumption that only Jews and Israelis really care about their children’s education.

      .

      The takeaway from your above quoted comment to outsiders is that any comment about Jews or Israel is off limits. Now, this is not to say that you are wrong in either what is in the hearts of those who so speak or in the politics of such manner of speaking. In fact, you are likely correct. But, the evidence is just so weak from such a comment as to open you up to the view that all comment is off limits. My suggestion – if you care – is that objection is due where the party asserts things which are reasonably beyond dispute. There is more than enough of it, after all.

      Anyway, that’s my thought on the matter. Your post, overall, was extremely thoughtful. So, take my criticism in stride. It is about the periphery, not the heart of what you wrote.

      • Alex Says:

        As I see it, while the underlying prejudice (or otherwise) is an important topic to investigate, the key fight at the moment, and it is what I think is universal among the actions Brian notes, particularly around repudiation of the EUMC definition, is to get certain “anti-racist” groups to note that the victim of a racist act (including words) is the primary arbiter of whether an act was racist. Not the UCU exec. Not the Green party. Not the perpetrator. The victim.

        That these “anti-racist” groups buy the argument (or even sell the argument) for other groups, but single out the Jews as uniquely unable to honestly determine whether they are the victims is, in itself, an incredibly racist act. (Not mitigated in the slightest by the “some of my best friends are Jews” routine, or the “this Jew says it is ok, so they can legitimately speak for an entire people” routine.)

        • N. Friedman Says:

          I think that branding as racist every minor generalization you or I may not like does more harm than good. It does not make people who hate us become our friends. It does not prevent anyone from presenting their views – views which they will assert require bravery to assert, thus helping their cause. And, we are casting a wide net that captures possibly offensive but not really Antisemitic comment.

          Now, this is not to suggest that there is no Antisemitic comment being made. There certainly is. I am inclined to think that, taken in its entirety, the anti-Israel advocacy is largely Antisemitic in character and has potential to become much like what occurred in France during the Dreyfus affair.

          A bit of historical perspective is in order here. Conflating Jews with Israel may offend someone but it is certainly not, taken by itself, racist or Antisemitic. And, it is a mistake to take that approach.

          Consider: being called a racist makes a one’s blood boil. So, the arch goes up, as the saying goes. An enemy is made with the allegation. That is not something we should be aiming towards. Rather, we should be free to point out the obvious, that the sum total of what is occurring – some coming from real Antisemites and some coming from ordinary people who are being misled by Antisemites – is Antisemitic.

          Professor Lewis makes the important point in the article I posted that people have, in history, had sharp dislikes of other people without being racist. And, they have employed nasty vocabulary about other people without being racist. What distinguishes Antisemitism is its politics, the assertion that Jews, by their horrid nature, stand in the way of some great good and/or that Jews carry some great cosmic evil in their hearts, etc., etc., requiring a political remedy. That, to note, is what is being asserted about Israel and it is a campaign no different from other Antisemitic campaigns over the course of history. It employs gross exaggerations (apartheid, being in fashion in some Antisemitic circles), obsession (e.g., like the coverage in some newspapers), false allegations of unique evil (as in some of the allegations about the mistreatment of the Palestinians while China is destroying Tibetan civilization in its entirety and Turkey is settling Cyprus, etc., etc.), among other things.

          That someone conflates Jews and Israel is too trivial a point to be of concern, not to mention that Jews have no imaginable reason not to be associated with Israel, a country with a strong moral case for most – not all, but most – of what it does and for its role in providing Jews with a refuge and with the ability to defend themselves in response to all the enemies of the Jewish people. So, I am hard pressed to understand objecting to such speech on grounds of it being racist speech. I think it a mistake of the first order.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      I was about to say “thank you”. And then I read the last paragraph! I suspect the appropriate phrase might be “damning with faint praise”. I wish I’d included as an epigraph the comment below, which explains the provenance of the piece, and which is as delivered to that audience, and not rewritten for this site. I might add that a 20 minute presentation was followed by an hour’s discussion, which was actually a conversation between us all.

      Not that necessarily changes anything you might otherwise have said. Which is, at all times, your privilege: and that’s not meant to be derogatory.

      • N. Friedman Says:

        Brian,

        I really meant the praise. I had in mind the discussion of double standards. That is, to me, a very important topic.

        On the other hand, the conflation of Jews with Israel, which you bring up, strikes me as a trivial matter, not to mention that most Jews (and most other people, I should add) think of Israel as the Jewish state, which makes the conflation not unreasonable, at least in the abstract. If we focus on stuff that is trivial, then we are viewed as trivial.

        So, I note that my praise was real.

  2. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    I should explain that this is the text of a talk I gave at Cambridge (but not to either students or at the University).

  3. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    “…the conflation of Jews with Israel, which you bring up, strikes me as a trivial matter” Oh, N. Friedman, if only it were. [BTW, until you give us a first name (given that you use our first names quite freely and, indeed, correctly), I shall henceforth refer to you as Friedman.] In practice, the conflation of Jews with Israelis is far from trivial, it is, in practice, the witting use of an antisemitic trope. This is exactly what Tom Hickey does in the passage quoted, to claim that Jews and israelis are one and the same.

    In fact, while I am a Jew and, as is quite obvious, a Zionist, I am not an Israeli. To conflate the two is to ascribe the qualities, real or presumed, of the one to both. Do you (or anyone) assume that all Muslims think, act and believe the same? That, therefore, what, for example, Mahmoud Ahmanedinejad says is indicative of what all Muslims would say, given a pen, keyboard or microphone?

    Further, I’m not sure (unless you’re being a troll, which I doubt) why you single out this conflation, especially the phrase concerning education. After all, Hickey quite specifically argues that Jews “in the long history of the Diaspora” (not just Israelis, yet Israel and the boycott of Israeli universities is the focus of that article) care most deeply about the education of their children, so why should a boycott of Israeli universities have a desirable effect on non-Israelis? Further, why is it only Jews who care? Not Chinese? Not Zimbabweans? Not Saudis? Or Germans? Or…?

    So tell me, how is Hickey not being antisemitic? Or the SWP? Or the STWC? or the whole of the BDS movement?

    All in all, I don’t see how you refute my general argument that significant parts of the British Left (specifically, the far Left) have become, in effect, not just anti-Zionist or anti-Israel (their privilege) but actually antisemitic. To be more specific, how is it that the Habimah Theatre of Tel Aviv, Israel, is an agent of the Israeli state, because it receives subsidies from that state, when the Royal Shakespeare Company, or the National Theatre, or the Tate or the…isn’t an agent of the British state when they, too receive subsidies from the British state (or the Arts Council – same difference)?

    I still finish with Maureen Lipman’s comment that it’s always the Jews. After all, when is it always the Christians, or the Chinese, or the…?

    So, Friedman, how do you respond to this? Other than with trivialiities, that is?

    • N. Friedman Says:

      Is there a reason for not posting my reply? I do not understand. I said nothing remotely inappropriate. And, I went out of my way to post something which addressed the issue you raised.

      This is pretty shocking.

  4. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    I’m not involved in any way in the moderation of this site, so I can’t help. But I’ve had posting just vanish into hyperspace, with no assistance from the moderator. Try reposting: I’m personally interested in any response you might have.

    Sometimes, though, the moderator judges that I’m not advancing the debate/discussion, so doesn’t post it.

  5. N. Friedman Says:

    I’ll try again. I responded by noting, with respect to the conflation of Jews with Israel, that there was something of a slight misunderstanding between us. Your comment, as worded originally, included the words “in itself” – as in merely conflating Jews with Israel is Antisemitic. To me, that is a bridge too far. If you read back to what I wrote to Alex, you will see that I, in fact, made clear that I had in mind conflating Jews with Israel, taken alone. It certainly, depending on the circumstances, be part of an Antisemitic comment or harangue

    Your response was that “To conflate the two is to ascribe the qualities, real or presumed, of the one to both.” My response is that it is impossible to address a topic without generalizing. However, what is missing are the things which, as explained by Professor Lewis, distinguish Antisemitism from mere nasty generalized talk that always goes on between nations and ethnic groups. In particular, what is missing from such a conflation is the cosmic evil aspect, which is the central distinguishing feature of Antisemitism. Instead, it is merely a nasty remark of, to me, trivial importance. I linked to a rather brilliant article by Professor Lewis, written in my initial post – it is the second link in that post. I would also recommend, if you have not read it, his brilliant book, Semites and Anti-Semites. While he plays down hatred of Jews in the Islamic regions, the book is surely one of the best on the entire topic.

    I also noted what I said in Alex’s post, which I shall not repeat. Suffice it to say that I think I provide in my response to Alex practical reasons why it is a mistake to assert Antisemitism except in unusual circumstances. However – so that you know exactly where I stand on these matters overall – I reiterated (quoting myself) that I think the attacks on Israel are, taken in their entirety, Antisemitic and have the air and direction of the Dreyfus Affair. And, we have actual Antisemites along with those who merely go along with the Antisemites – which is another reason, I might add, to not always assert Antisemitism unless it is grotesque, namely, that those who are not really Antisemites might be persuaded to return to the light from the dark side of the force – ala Darth Vader at his death. Think about the conversion against Antisemitism by Bernard Lazare. It is possible to change people’s minds, but not if you call them Antisemitic or racist. That only makes people dig in.

    I also made the point of suggesting that you embrace the conflation in responding to Hickey, as Israel is a source of pride, a country which literally rescued and rehabilitated the Jewish people and that is has, overall, been a force for good in the world and that his allegations are wrong headed and foolish and cruel. While I did not state it before, I would tell him, whether or not I believe it, that, while surely not his intention, he is playing a role in advancing the cause of Antisemites, which is the demise of Jewry.

    I also noted that people call me “En” – written “N.” Feel free to call me what you like. My last remark was to indicate that I really did like your article; except where you engaged in what I termed being the “thought police.”

  6. The silencing of Israeli voices on British campuses | Anne's Opinions Says:

    [...] In this respect I found a very interesting article in Engage Online, the website of an organization fighting the anti-racist campaign against Anti-Semitism, written by Brian Goldfarb (who comments on this blog occasionally)   that sheds some light into the  anti-Zionist trends within the British left. [...]

  7. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    With apologies to the moderator for such a long response, and only in part, too!

    N, let me start my response by returning to one of those Bernard Lewis articles you link to (the second, from “The American Scholar”). He says, near the beginning, “Unfortunately, hatred and persecution are a normal part of the human experience. Taking a dislike, mild or intense, to people who are different in one way or another…is part of the normal human condition.”

    Not in my opinion, especially when there is an elision between “…hatred…” and “…taking a dislike…”

    Relatively few people who do not already have an ideology of hatred are prepared to conflate the part and the whole. I am antipathetic towards Islamists and Jihadists (let us, for the moment, leave aside Hamas and Hezbollah), not least because they threaten my life-style, as well as my life, because I am not prepared to be like them (in this context, that I am Jewish is irrelevant: the same would true were I a Christian, or even a secular Muslim). However, I do not conflate them with all Muslims. To the best of my knowledge and belief, the overwhelming majority of Muslims residing in Britain are neither Islamist nor Jihadists, but wish to live their lives in peace and security while practising their religion but with no wish to make me also practice it. What groups and their members such as the BNP & EDL believe and practice is their problem, not mine.

    Such a conflation is exactly what, for example, Tom Hickey does in the piece quoted from and linked to. He is a believer in the need (if that’s the right word) to boycott, etc, Israel. So be it, even if in so doing he chooses to actually distort reality, misuse words and demand that his fellow citizens actively break the law of the land. Note that there is a huge distinction between what individuals like Hickey choose to do with their own purchasing patterns and what they demand everyone else does. That is his democratic/freedom of speech right.

    However, when he deliberately (and I use the word advisedly) conflates the 80% of the population of Israel who are Jewish with the rest of the world-wide Jewish population, then he oversteps the mark, and indulges in the use of antisemitic tropes.
    This is so whether he realises that this is what he is doing or not, although I suspect that he knows full well what he is doing, not least because despite his attention being constantly drawn to this, he has never revisited, reconsidered, explained, let alone apologised for, this passage.

    It is also disturbing that Hickey (and here I am using him as a cipher for the totality of the UK BDS movement) would not dream of conflating all residents of China with the Chinese government’s actions in, inter alia, Tibet; nor would he dream of conflating all Zimbabweans with the actions of the Mugabe regime, let alone dare to draw comparisons between the actions of the Zimbabwe regime of Robert Mugabe and the presumed attitudes of all residents of the African continent south of the Sahara.

    It is also disturbing that UCU, along with the Green Party, has decided that it knows better than the (former) EU Monitoring Commission on Racism as to the applicability of the Draft Definition on Antisemitism, so that their respective Executive Committees know better than the recipients of alleged antisemitic actions whether such things might have happened.

    In this context, allow me to note that from the date of the Sharpeville Massacre, in 1960, until the release of Nelson Mandela from detention in 1991, I never wittingly bought any South African goods. While I would tell anyone who asked why, I never saw it as part of my duty, civic or political, to demand that others do the same. And South Africa could hardly have been called a democratic parliamentary regime, as Israel is. Yet, other, and worse, regimes are ignored by the likes of Hickey and his allies. I have my beliefs as to why this is, but that’s, as they say, another story.

    I am aware that I have attempted to respond to only part of your comment(s), but I believe it to be the most important part (please see that third “I” as underlined), and I return, as so often, to Maureen Lipman’s closing comments in the Radio 4 exchange: “It’s always the Jews, isn’t it”. Yes, Maureen, it is, and we both know why, don’t we.

  8. N. Friedman Says:

    Brian, you have written a thoughtful and, frankly, very moving response. In appropriate context, I agree that the conflation of Jews with Israel certainly can be Antisemitic. And, that may well be what lurks in the thinking of Mr. Hickey. My issue, however, was first and foremost alway your assertion that the context of the conflation does not matter (i.e., when you write: “Note the, hopefully unconscious, conflating of Jews and Israelis, which is an antisemitic trope in itself.“). In other words, my concern related to taking your point too far. In fact, in that 95+% of all Jews worldwide are supportive of Israel – and most are very, very supportive -, I do not think it would be Antisemitic for someone to write: “Jews support Israel.” That would be a reasonable and fair comment. Do you disagree?

    I am not, as I trust you realize, from the UK. Where I am from, the US, people are not all that squeamish about generalizing. You raise the example of Muslims. In the US, we have, among other groups, Iranians, Pakistanis, Lebanese, Egyptians, etc., etc., and, in my experience, such people hold themselves as being Iranian or Pakistani, not as being Muslim. So, when most Americans I know speak about Muslims, the speech is usually, at least in an internal US context, not so much about all persons who have or had Muslim believers in their family tree but about those people who wish to hold themselves out as “Muslims” rather than as Iranian or Lebanese.

    The closest we come, internally speaking, to the usage you speak of would be with the use of Latino to define Americans from any Spanish speaking country in the Western Hemisphere – which is something that has it roots in politics, not in the national background of those so identified. More specifically, the idea is that there is more political impact in a lot of Latinos than a few Columbians, a few Venezuelans, a few Cubans, etc., etc. I suspect that people in your country who speak of Muslims as a group of people are conflating its Pakistanis and other nationalities where there are people of nominally Muslim background under one heading, as has occurred in the US for Latinos.

    Now, the Islamist movement is, in its way, a way to gather under one political tent Pakistanis, Iranians, Egyptians, Lebanese, etc., etc. Those who buy into such thing want everyone of nominally Muslim heritage to be labeled as Muslim. I was once a student of religion and have considerable knowledge of classical Islamic belief. I think that most people do not have sufficient knowledge of the religion to speak – and this goes with equal shares to those on the Left who defend Muslims as believing in a religion of peace as it goes to those who assert that the religion is a violent political sect (as the Islamist would want all Muslims to be). It is neither and both of those things and many more contradictory things.

    The Islamists tend to have a political agenda that employs the traditional religio-political language that the Islamic tradition provides. In this regard, one should carefully read Prof. Lewis’ book, The Political Language of Islam. One might also read his book, The Muslim Discovery of Europe, which both provide very clear explanations of the use of language which, today, has been taken up by the Islamist movement. I suspect that you are correct that most people of nominally Muslim background do not, at least in the West, wish to join the Islamist’s crusade, violent or even non-violently, although most people who were raised Muslim would, unless they mere slept through religious school training, recognize as Islamic most, albeit not alll, of the political language being used by the Islamists to advance the political cause of the Islamists. The part that is not Islamic owes its origins to the national socialist movement of the Nazis. I trust you have read Prof. Herf’s book, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, which outlines the origins of quite a bit of Islamist propaganda.

    You are certainly right to hate the Islamist cause. Historically speaking, it arose out of the demise of the Caliphate and blames Jews for either twisting Attaturk’s decision to eliminate the Caliphate or claims that he was a secret Jew. So, we are, even apart from Israel, in the cross-hairs of the Islamist movement. And, there seems little doubt that the the Islamist movement, if it follows it ideology, is directed at ridding the world of Jews. So, it is a very, very scary political movement. And, while it does not quite own the Arab regions, so to speak, it certainly commands the allegiance of a substantial group – perhaps, a majority in at least those regions.

    I am still having difficulty why you do not wish to be conflated with Israel. You call yourself a Zionist. To assert that conflating Jews with Israel is itself Antisemitic is to communicate, not directly but as a sub-text, the idea to the world that there is tainted about being associated with Israel. I find that an extraordinary way of defending against Antisemitism. In my mind, you have this exactly backwards. While Mr. Hickey may well have offensive, Antisemitic intentions, why do you think it better to reject the association of Jews with Israel than to embrace it and tell him that you are proud to be part of a great movement and to support a country which is an extraordinary force for good in the world. I reiterate, to be a Zionist – something that, I bet, 95+% of all Jews would identify as being – is to be conflated with Israel. It does not mean you support every decision made by the Knesset or that hold the views of either Labor or Likud or further right or left than those groups. It means that you support liberation of the Jewish people which resulted in the State of Israel, a state which has been a source for good in the world.

    If Jews merely play defensive, we cannot possibly defeat the Antisemites. Politics is not merely labeling speech. It is finding an effective response. It is to present a counter-story of, say, a persecuted people who built, out of swamp land – the very worst land in historic Palestine -, a vibrant democracy, notwithstanding being surrounded by people who, during WWII, were led by leaders who joined the cause of those persecutors and who have not – as demonstrated by the continued use of the very same propaganda used by the Nazis (in fact, in some instances, written by them) – changed that view since. The alternative is to be told over and over again how evil Israel is for not ceding, without a peace treaty, land for its hostile neighbors to use to continue their crusade to rid the world of Israel and all other Jews. Instead, what I see from Engage is concern that people are using offensive language to advance their cause when, in fact, what should be said is that their cause, however expressed, is hateful and wrong because the truth about Israel is very different than its detractors claim.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      N., re your first paragraph, that’s not the point I’m making, and it is, to me, abundantly clear that this is so. I hope that Hickey, as a cipher, as I note, for the whole UK BDS movement, is being unconscious in his motivations, but I increasingly suspect that he (they) is (are) being entirely witting.

      I note that I am both slightly shifting my ground and certainly making a much firmer stand in what follows.

      Would Hickey, would the UCU Executive Committee, would the Green Party, dare to conflate all Zimbabweans, let alone all Africans south of the Sahara, with the Mugabe regime? Would they dare to conflate all Chinese people with the actions of the Chinese regime in Tibet, to name but one area? Would they (all three, plus any other supposedly left-wing organisations) dare to replace their own definitions of racism, or sexist behaviour, for those put in place by the UK government? Yes or no? (Simple enough option).

      If the answer is anything close to “of course not”, then why the Jews? Why only the Israelis? I am increasingly tired of those who proclaim that “this is what I’m concerned about, I can’t be concerned about everything”. That I accept. But why Israel? Why the only Jewish state, when Israel’s neighbours clearly display behaviour which knocks Israel’s into a cocked hat. Why are they prepared to hold Israel (and thus Jews) to a higher standard than anyone else? That’s hardly a left-wing position. At least, not one as understood by the democratic left throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, at least until Israel had the temerity to successfully defend itself and survive a 3-front war. All of a sudden, Jews and Israelis become unworthy of the attention of good anti-racists – or at least some of the more “left-wing” ones.

      With respect to your second paragraph, okay, I fully understand the melting pot thesis: I’m a sociologist educated and trained in the early to mid 1960s. And your point is?

      “I am still having difficulty why you do not wish to be conflated with Israel. You call yourself a Zionist.” Here you begin to twist (misinterpret, if I’m being polite, but I’m not feeling polite this evening) my words, I’m sorry to say. My objection is to those who decide to conflate all Jews with Israel in order to attack Israel. It’s not me who has the problem, it’s the likes of Hickey, again, as a cipher. I am more than happy to call myself a Zionist: I believe in the right of Israel to exist in peace and security; I reserve the right to criticise (ineffectively, from outside) the policies and actions of Israeli governments, as I do those of the USA, Russia, and, of course, my own government here in the UK. What I find distasteful as conflation is someone on these pages (and I could find it, but it’s a long way back) asking me what I thought of “my army’s” activities in Gaza (during Operation Cast Lead), when it was (or should have been) crystal clear that I’m a UK citizen and the IDF is not “my army”.

      To put it more bluntly, I’m not an Israeli. I have zero influence over Israel, although when I go there, I’m in the position of the person going home: the place where, when you go there, they have to let you in. Of course I bloody object to beoing conflated with Israel, when this is the case. It’s antisemitic. If you can’t see that, then you and I have serious issues, N. And your being an American resident, and presumably citizen, does nothing to reduce those issues. If, further, you are as you’re family name suggests, then we have further issues.

      This should be enough to spark further exchanges between us, but if there are other issues in your latest comment I haven’t addressed, please say what they are.

  9. Noga Says:

    Brian said:

    “I am antipathetic towards Islamists and Jihadists (let us, for the moment, leave aside Hamas and Hezbollah), not least because they threaten my life-style, as well as my life, because I am not prepared to be like them (in this context, that I am Jewish is irrelevant: the same would true were I a Christian, or even a secular Muslim). However, I do not conflate them with all Muslims.”

    From my point of view, this is a disturbing analogy that plays right into the hands of antisemites or whatever else one might choose to call them. It in effect draws a kind of equivalence which makes me tremble with anxiety. Israelis are compared to Jihadists and Jews to Muslims. So just as one expects (good ethical) Muslims to disavow the Jihadists, so would one expect the (righteous) Jews to disavow Israelis, In other words, turn against the Zionist project. The intention on the part of antisemites (of the Acrobatic Left) is to create a bad smell around Jews who support Israel by turning Israel into the sum of all evil. Of course nobody wishes to be known to associate with, or support, evil. The natural inclination is to distance yourself from such moral stench, to join the “good guys” by otherizing the Israeli Jews. When you call the conflation of Jews with Israelis antisemitic, you are conceding, de facto, to that malevolent camp of ideological antisemites that Israel is evil and genuine Jews should not be caught around it.

    It’s complicated, and yet it is simple. Jews should learn to truly love Israel without feeling obliged to apologize for its very existence, the same way siblings love each other for all that they are fully aware of each other’s flaws, even when others would try to drive a wedge between them by nudge/wink to the one: come and be with us, you are more like us than you are like that brother/sister of yours who is so arrogant, or rude, or whatever. Yet you know your brother/sister, and you know how appearances, slanders, are manufactured and can lead to mortal danger.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Noga says “So just as one expects (good ethical) Muslims to disavow the Jihadists, so would one expect the (righteous) Jews to disavow Israelis,” By whom? Not by Jihadists or Islamists, plainly, but presumably by other Muslims, Christians, those of no faith, and, probably, the “as-a-Jew” group.

      However, I am not, will not and cannot be, responsible for what others think and do, only for what I think and do. If people are prepared (often wilfully) to misinterpret the Zionist Project, then the tendency to conflate Jews and Israelis takes on great importance. It isn’t in the article above, but at the discussion after talk, the very question if how to criticise Israel, should one wish to do so, without being antisemitic came up, and I was able to refer people to the article below titled “How to criticise Israel without being antisemitic”, which had been published on Engage that very morning (10 December 2012). If we don’t take this on board, we are in danger of entering Anthony Lerman territory. He is the man, a highly educated social scientist, who was, twice, appointed the Director of Jewish Policy Research Unit (JPR). The second time, a row broke out, and he was unappointed. He is on record as arguing that if only British Jews would be less supportive of Israel, then antisemitism in the UK would decline. I find it astonishing that such a highly qualified social scientist (and I’m one myself – a social scientist, that is) can so blatantly be guilty of “blaming the victims” – a well-known social science syndrome – and I have said so, on more than occasion in these columns.

      Incidentally, I got into trouble (i.e., I was attacked) for not having heard of Salo Baron and his comments on “lachrymose Jews”. Oddly enough, just last Monday, at Jewish Book Week, Simon Schama offered a very different interpretation of this notion to that offered by Lerman, and he is someone who is, I suspect, much better qualified to know than the person who attacked me.

      Noga, when you go on to say “Jews should learn to truly love Israel without feeling obliged to apologize for its very existence,”, I don’t think there is any real difference between us, as I try to show in the article and in my comments above. Indeed, my point about “conflation” is that it is those who hate Israel who do it. Those who don’t, even if they have reservations about what israeli governments do, would never dream of doing what the likes of Hickey do. Do you think you might have misread my intent? Please see my latest reply to Friedman (if it gets posted).

  10. Alex Says:

    N., I think you have misunderstood the point about conflating Jews and Israel (or else I have). Making a statement like “Jews support Israel” Does not conflate Jews and Israel. Making statements such as “Jews do (insert generalisation/stereotype that may/may not be antisemitic anyway) so Israel woud suffer if we did (insert action related to stereotype)” does conflate Jews and Israel (e.g. Jews value education so boycotting Israeli academic/universities is a good tactic). Similarly, holding Jews responsible for the behaviour of Israel conflates Jews and Israel (e.g. Israel did… so British Jews are a legitimate target).

    • N. Friedman Says:

      Alex, my issue are, I suppose, twofold.

      On the one hand, I do not think – and I think you acknowledge as much – that conflating Jews with Israel is, in the abstract, problematic.

      On the other hand, I think that being conflated with Israel is an honor, something that Jews should not run away from because running away suggests that there is something wrong – when there is nothing so wrong with Israel that Jews or anyone else should be ashamed in any way. This does not mean there is absolute agreement with everything the Israeli government does or does not do. It means, rather, that the country is a decent country that does the sort of things that countries do, most of which are above board and honorable.

      Hickey wants to suggest a problem with Israel and that Jews should be ashamed of their association. I think he should be told that his allegations against Israel are garbage – which is what they are. And, he should be told that he stands in a long line of people who find objectionable in Israel and in Jews what they would accept with respect to any other group of people and any other country. And, I would add, just to rub the point in, that we stand with Israel and thank him for honoring us by means of association with a great country which has helped rescue the Jewish people.

      I am not saying that

  11. James Mendelsohn Says:

    This is a great post, thanks Brian

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Thank you, James, I appreciate that.

      Please feel free to get involved. It’s a free-for-all here on Engage!

  12. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    N., you, and others, are missing my major point, which I believe is abundantly clear in my article, and is further articulated in my comments. The audience in Cambridge had no difficulty in understanding this point.

    And that point is that conflating Jews and Israelis, or all Chinese people and the Chinese regime, or all Africans living south of the Sahara with the Mugabe regime, or all Muslims, whatever the particular denomination of Islam they belong to, with Islamists and Jihadists, especially to denigrate all Jews, Africans living south of the Sahara, etc, etc, is, to say the least, suspect. And that is exactly what Hickey does, it’s what many supporters of BDS do, it’s what many anti-Zionist Jews do (or at least those anxious to keep in with their supposed left-wing friends). If you need further evidence for that the latter part of that last sentence, look no further than Colin Shindler “Israel & the European Left: Between Solidarity & Delegitimization”, where he shows how so many far-left Jews (especially in Russia and in the various European Communist Parties) forced to choose between their Jewish identity and their political ideology, chose the latter, and turned into anti-Jewish Jews. Isaac Deutscher, in his book of essays “The Non-Jewish Jew”, shows he managed, just, to avoid this fate.

    Why is not abundantly clear that it is the motives of the conflater which is at issue here, not whether I am or am not a Zionist? Why are you taking me to task for calling out not just anti-Zionists (to be an anti-Zionist is, after all, their privilege, even if it is a doubtful one), but those who use anti-Zionism to perpetrate antisemitic tropes and even outright antisemitic statements? And why, Noga, are you suggesting that I’m effectively demanding that those who don’t wish to be conflated are therefore expected to denounce (or at least distance themselves from) Israel? Where have I said that?

    Anyone who takes any of these positions has clearly failed to follow my contributions to this website, mainly in the comments threads, over the 8 years or so since its establishment (I’m proud to regard myself as a “founding commenter”) but also in the two or three articles I’ve posted here, including this one.

    N., you say in your reply to Alex that”Hickey wants to suggest a problem with Israel and that Jews should be ashamed of their association. I think he should be told that his allegations against Israel are garbage”. We’ve being doing that for years, here on Engage, and on many other sites (I do it a lot, for instance, over on “simplyjews”). I said as much just above in the previous paragraph. I have got into endless arguments on this site for continually telling the nay-sayers how wrong they are, with evidence as well as, I hope, logical argument. At one level, it’s a pity that we have been so good at it that many of them no longer show up here: they know that they can’t win, so they go back to talking just to themselves. Noga, on her own site, The Contentious Centrist, annoyed the “opposition” so much they got her site taken down for a while (you should visit it: it’s worth it). And, BTW, Noga, I repeat my offer of support in future if the crazies attack again.

    So, again, that said, where do we disagree? From the sentence or two at the end or your response to Alex, in not very much, would appear to be the honest answer. Or am I wrong? If so, how?

    • Noga Says:

      “Why are you taking me to task …”
      That’s not at all what I was doing, Brian. And you are not reading carefully what I’m trying to tell you, and other engagees, here.

      Let me quote myself: From my point of view, this is a disturbing analogy that plays right into the hands of antisemites or whatever else one might choose to call them. It in effect draws a kind of equivalence which makes me tremble with anxiety. Israelis are compared to Jihadists and Jews to Muslims. So just as one expects (good ethical) Muslims to disavow the Jihadists, so would one expect the (righteous) Jews to disavow Israelis, In other words, turn against the Zionist project. The intention on the part of antisemites (of the Acrobatic Left) is to create a bad smell around Jews who support Israel by turning Israel into the sum of all evil.

      ______

      If you want to make an argument about the conflation between Jews and Israel being antisemitic, you can do so but you will have to find another kind of explanation to the one you are offering. If you say, however, that “conflating Jews and Israelis” is like conflating “all Chinese people and the Chinese regime, or all Africans living south of the Sahara with the Mugabe regime, or all Muslims, whatever the particular denomination of Islam they belong to, with Islamists and Jihadists… is, to say the least, suspect.” and then continue to insist that Israel is an ethical normal country. Mugabe is a genocider, the Chinese regime imprisons people for speaking their mind and has TIanamen Square on its record, Jihadists kill at will, behead people and commit unspeakable atrocities. It is indeed slanderous to conflate all Chinese people with the Chinese Regime or all Africans with Mugabe or all Muslims with jihadists. Why is it slanderous to conflate Jews with Israel? It may not be accurate or reflective of the situation, but why do you make the argument that it is inherently antisemitic? I’m looking at this issue from the point of view of an Israeli, and I’m wondering why it is that you or anybody would suggest that being friends with me is a moral taint? Can you say it is not a a moral taint to be friends with JIhadists? With Mugabe? See the problem?

      Our friends on the Contortionist Left understand this very well and they know they have backed you into a corner because you in effect unwittingly admit what they are suggesting: that Israel is a criminal identity and that righteous Jews would keep their distance from it; failing to do that means … they are complicit with the criminality of Israel.

      • Noga Says:

        Some Correction and clarification:

        If you say, however, that “conflating Jews and Israelis” is like conflating “all Chinese people and the Chinese regime, or all Africans living south of the Sahara with the Mugabe regime, or all Muslims, whatever the particular denomination of Islam they belong to, with Islamists and Jihadists… is, to say the least, suspect.” and then you go on to insist that Israel is an ethical normal country, then you are not being perfectly coherent. It does not explain why the conflation is antisemitic, if we take antisemitism to be something that offends, slanders and threatens Jews.

        Consider our perpetually-enraged friend from the West Shore. He insists that he is not antisemitic. He refers to all Jews who defend Israel, do not malign Israel or are not slanderous enough against Israel than suits his absolute principles as “Zionists”. That leaves him with 5 or 6 Jews he knows who follow his lead on this and it is enough to exonerate him of the suspicion of being an antisemite. He would agree with the formulation that you advance about the conflation of Israel with Jews being antisemitic. He often makes that distinction on his blog, even if “Jews” for him are only those 5 or 6 Jews who do agree with him. Again, I ask, do you see the problem?

        • Brian Goldfarb Says:

          Noga, that comment about being taken to task, etc, was not aimed at you, but at N. As for conflation, the whole argument is aimed at those who declare Israel to be one or more of (or guilty of) the following things: being an apartheid state (see Benjamin Pogrund in these pages); committing genocide on the West Bank (where are the mass graves, the death camps); or that Gaza is like the Warsaw Ghetto (I’m not even going to start on that), and then proceed to produce nothing resembling evidence, let alone argument, and when challenged, keep repeating the same words. Or, like Hickey, refuse to even notice that they’ve been called out. Worse, they then rope all the Jews outside Israel as equally guilty of whatever Israel is supposed to be doing wrong, unless they abjure Israel (like the “as-a-Jew”s of Independent Jewish Voice or the anti-Zionists of, e.g., Jews for Justice for Palestinians). How is such conflation not antisemitic?

          In contrast, I don’t ask (let alone demand) that all non-Jihadi or non-Islamist Muslims openly abjure these groups; rather, the onus is on me not to conflate them. It’s the old legal saw: innocent until proven guilty, and this must apply to all groups which might be lumped together. I ask again, why is it only Jews are expected to abjure those Jews who live in Israel, or else we’re lumped together.

        • Brian Goldfarb Says:

          If posted, this is meant to go below the one timed at february 28 at 6:47 pm, so please read that one first! Thanks

          Noga: I missed this in your last comment: “Our friends on the Contortionist Left understand this very well and they know they have backed you into a corner because you in effect unwittingly admit what they are suggesting: that Israel is a criminal identity and that righteous Jews would keep their distance from it; failing to do that means … they are complicit with the criminality of Israel.” You may believe that I am backed into a corner, but that isn’t my feeling. Nowhere do I concede this let alone feel it. You need to excavate my comments both here and elsewhere which show that, time after time, I have asserted Israel’s right to exist in peace and security; time after time, I have argued the “progressives” attempts to label Israel an apartheid, as having no legitimacy, etc, ad nauseam. I have attacked those who try to argue this here. Please don’t tell me that you know what I think and feel better than I do. That begins to sound like Jacqueline Rose: on;y Israeli (or Jewish) nationalism is somehow a psychological illness, whereas no other nationalisms are. Perhaps you’d care to read the comments under this article (http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/05/18/shalom-lappin-therapists-to-the-jews-psychologizing-the-jewish-question/) – the important one of mine (to me that is, and this discussion – is the 8th one down – and tell me if I suffer the condition you suggest. And I can find and link to others if you so desire.

  13. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    I’d like to add the following comment to my previous comment. I don’t agree with much that he wrote or writes, but here, I’m right with Sharansky, when he wrote in a 2004 essay, “Seeing Anti-Semitism in 3D,” that:

    “…whereas classical anti-Semitism was seen as being aimed at the Jewish religion or the Jewish people, the new anti-Semitism is ostensibly directed against the Jewish State. Since this anti-Semitism can hide behind the veneer of the legitimate criticism of Israel, it is much more difficult to expose.”

    Just about sums it up, I think.

    • N. Friedman Says:

      I am directing this to both of your replies.

      First, where we stand together. I certainly think we agree upon more than we disagree upon. We certainly agree that the BDS movement is vile and Antisemitic. And, I am inclined to believe that a great many – perhaps, the vast majority – of those involved actually do hate Jews, whether or not they admit so. And, I agree that one can find hints of that hatred in the language they use. I suspect that we agree on quite a bit more but the above, I think, seems readily apparent from what you have written

      Second, the less agreeable N now speaks. I do not agree with the anti-racist theory. I think it is a major cause of the ability of Antisemitism to find an audience and a language to communicate hatred. So, I look very critically at how the theory is applied. I agree with, if I can quote someone from France, Alain Finkielkraut:

      But I think that the lofty idea of `the war on racism’ is gradually turning into a hideously false ideology. And this anti-racism will be for the 21st century what communism was for the 20th century. A source of violence. Today, Jews are attacked in the name of anti-racist discourse.

      So, given that you are a regular on Engage, you likely have a sharp disagreement with me. I think that Engage is engaged in a fool’s errand and that it cannot extract the anti-racist movement from its intellectual morass.

      In your comment, there is the critical concern about insulting language. I do not share that concern and think that the hypercritical excavation of essentialist language is a spur to, rather than a constraint on, Antisemitism. I think one of the consequences of the hypercritical approach to essentialist language – making it suspect hate speech – is that it precludes all rational discussion of any pet topic that has a sufficiently wide audience – something those of us who are friends of Israel lack. For us, we see the generalizations about Israel to be troubling – and I do not deny that they are. To others, the issue is any generalizations about Islam, which is confused by anti-racist analysis with a discussion about Muslims.

      The impact is that people on the Left have not the foggiest idea what Islam or Islamist is about – and Islam, at least, is a complex and interesting religion, just not the religion that anti-racist speech permits to be described. Moreover, people have not the foggiest idea what Israel or Zionism is about because, due to the restrictions on speech, the very notion that there is an ideological war against Israel and Zionism and Jews by a great many Muslims; the hatred of Israel that is endemic in the Arab regions and greater Muslim world – a view that basically owns that part of the world -, a deep visceral hatred, is denied as a racist notion when, frankly, it is a fact, whether or not all Muslims hold that view or not.

      Third, on the specific topic at issue… I do not dispute that what Hickey has written can be described as hateful and Antisemitic. My comment was directed to the notion that it is always wrong to conflate Jews with Israel. I think that overstates the matter dramatically. I think that Jews should ignore such comments and embrace the conflation with Israel, including with its government – which is doing nothing all that different from prior Left wing governments. Moreover, I think that if Jews do not start embracing Israel and stop wasting their time thinking the issue of the day is the settlements – while the Arab regions are burning with hatred of Jews (and Christians, I should add) and, in any event, in such turmoil that were there to be a peace agreement – something about as likely as the sun stopping in place for an hour overhead -, it would not stick in practice. And, to note, a major reason why people are unable to think through the matter is the anti-racist movement, which has made honest discussion of events more and more difficult.

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        “So, given that you are a regular on Engage, you likely have a sharp disagreement with me. I think that Engage is engaged in a fool’s errand and that it cannot extract the anti-racist movement from its intellectual morass.” Your privilege to so think, but to fail to attempt this is to surrender the pass to the barbarians, and this I will not do. I’ve been battling them all my adult life (and for part of my adolescence, too), although I’m fortunate that I have only intellectual, not physical, scars to show for it. Anyway, I don’t believe that we are engaged on a fool’s errand.

        And even if we are on a fool’s errand, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” (Edmund Burke). As good people, we don’t intend to do nothing. What else would you suggest we do? But that’s a rhetorical question.

        You also say that “I do not agree with the anti-racist theory.” I fail to understand this: what does it mean. That we shouldn’t fight racism? That we should accept that people believe that other, identifiable, groups are different and inferior (or even threatening) and that it is acceptable to treat them differently and worse, when they are no threat to us. Not only is Finkielkraut not saying this, his actions do not demonstrate that, therefore, he is going to give up fighting antisemitism. Otherwise we’re back to the barbarians storming the the halls of modern civilisation. Further, the whole of 20th century liberalism (and I use the lower case “l” advisedly) is predicated on not accepting this and fighting to make such behaviour unacceptable. It is what the Civil Rights Movement was all about, it is what the anti-discrimination legislation in the UK was all about.

        So what are you saying that is different to this?

        Further on, you say “My comment was directed to the notion that it is always wrong to conflate Jews with Israel.” Allow me to cross-quote myself (from my latest response to Noga: “As for conflation, the whole argument is aimed at those who declare Israel to be one or more of (or guilty of) the following things: being an apartheid state (see Benjamin Pogrund in these pages); committing genocide on the West Bank (where are the mass graves, the death camps); or that Gaza is like the Warsaw Ghetto (I’m not even going to start on that), and then proceed to produce nothing resembling evidence, let alone argument, and when challenged, keep repeating the same words. Or, like Hickey, refuse to even notice that they’ve been called out. Worse, they then rope all the Jews outside Israel as equally guilty of whatever Israel is supposed to be doing wrong, unless they abjure Israel (like the “as-a-Jew”s of Independent Jewish Voice or the anti-Zionists of, e.g., Jews for Justice for Palestinians). How is such conflation not antisemitic?” It’s long and I repeat myself, but that saves you searching another comment for it.

        As for the rest of your comment, I have to admit that I do not understand what it is about or what point you are trying to make. It appears to me that you are beginning to deconstruct pinheads (and I apologise if that comes over as an insult: it’s not meant to).

  14. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    BTW, I notice that no-one has seriously addressed the question I posed in my first substantive comment at the head of this thread: “how is it that the Habimah Theatre of Tel Aviv, Israel, is an agent of the Israeli state, because it receives subsidies from that state, when the Royal Shakespeare Company, or the National Theatre, or the Tate or the…isn’t an agent of the British state when they, too receive subsidies from the British state (or the Arts Council – same difference)?” Is it because those who broadly agree with the substance of the article see no need to (they would like an answer to the same question), while for those who have serious problems with the thesis find the question somehow uncomfortable – and not a sign of my weakness, or whatever?

    As Maureen Lipman said: “It’s always the Jews, isn’t it?” If I ever see her again walking her dogs in that big public park near where we live, I fully intend thanking her for that. It’s a killer comment.

  15. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    I further note that this, to me very important, question, has not been answered by those unhappy with my article and/or elements within it: “Would they (all three, plus any other supposedly left-wing organisations) dare to replace their own definitions of racism, or sexist behaviour, for those put in place by the UK government? Yes or no? (Simple enough option).

    If the answer is anything close to “of course not”, then why the Jews? Why only the Israelis?”

    The “they” refers to the Executive of UCU, and the Executive of the Green Party.

    Are there any answers? Or am I met with silence?

  16. Noga Says:

    gain, Brian, I wrote “you”” but did not mean you-you but a more general you, representing a certain mindset one can find on Engage (and even in my dear friend Bob from Brockley) with which I have had a problem since whenever. The approach that criticizes Israel supposedly from deep within Leftist theories and accepts much that the Contortionist Left is alleging about Israel while complaining about antisemitism. I don’t know how I can explain it again without making you feel I’m attacking you. I’m just quibbling over a point of perspective here and how these allegations of antisemitism are received by the antisemites. I do not dispute with you that these people are antisemites. What I’m saying is that the rationale you (and others) provide for explaining why you think they are antisemites (conflating Jews with Israel) does not appear to be effective while it serves to undermine Israelis’ good names.

    What you wrote earlier is instrumental:

    “As for conflation, the whole argument is aimed at those who declare Israel to be one or more of (or guilty of) the following things: being an apartheid state (see Benjamin Pogrund in these pages); committing genocide on the West Bank (where are the mass graves, the death camps); or that Gaza is like the Warsaw Ghetto (I’m not even going to start on that), and then proceed to produce nothing resembling evidence,”

    In that case the argument should be simple and blunt and unapologetic, that the Rancid Left is antisemitic because it is antisemitic to define Israel as an apartheid state committing genocide on the West Bank or that Gaza is like the Warsaw Ghetto.

    The Rancid Left has to be attacked as antisemitic on the grounds of its allegations about Israel. When it is attacked on the grounds that it conflates Jews with Israel, the Rancid Left is satisfied that it is correct about Israel.Guilt by association may be grounds for criticism, but it does not remove the apriori fact that the party with whom one is associating is indeed guilty of something.

  17. Noga Says:

    .Correction: Guilt by association may NOT be legitimate grounds for criticism, but this does not remove the apriori fact that the party with whom one is associating is indeed guilty of something.

  18. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Noga, fair enough, I accept that “you” doesn’t mean me, but is meant to be “those”.

    However, when you quote my comment beginning “As for conflation, the whole argument is aimed at those who declare Israel to be one or more of (or guilty of) the following things: being an apartheid state…”, you omit the follow-up, which begins”… they then rope all the Jews outside Israel as equally guilty of whatever Israel is supposed to be doing wrong, unless they abjure Israel…” and ends “How is such conflation not antisemitic?” This is especially pertinent, because you go on to state that there should be an attack on this part of the left because “…the Rancid Left is antisemitic because it is antisemitic to define Israel as an apartheid state committing genocide on the West Bank or that Gaza is like the Warsaw Ghetto.”

    You’ve been reading Engage long enough (I was persuaded to start reading your blog because of the link you left when commenting here) to know that this is what I have been doing since this site began. I have been constantly telling the Rancid Left/Contortionist Left (your terms) to provide evidence of their assertions, and providing evidence to the contrary. Given this, are you telling me that I’m not, in fact, doing this – evidence please, and I have loads of what I consider counter-evidence, of course, or are you telling me that I’m doing it wrong?

    “In that case the argument should be simple and blunt and unapologetic…” which is what I’ve been doing all along: please just read my exchanges with various anti-Zionists on this site, via the log they keep.

    If you’re making a general, rather than a specific, point, then I apologise for the overemphatic nature of this response

  19. Noga Says:

    Well, Brian, this is not really about you. In my comments I’ve been trying to point out what I think is structurally wrong (or flawed) in the logic of the argument that conflating Jews with Israel is antisemitic. It is an argument I’ve been making, in different ways, ever since I first began to read Engage. And it is one reason I suspect my comments were often deemed unsuitable to be posted by the moderators. I was admonished more than once to internalize the fact that Engage is NOT a Zionist website but an anti-racist, NON-Zionist one.

    Jews have no reason whatsoever to feel insulted or slandered when they are “suspected” of being supportive of Israel.

    I won’t repeat my own argument which is clear enough. I was NOT by any means attacking your credentials as a supporter of Israel.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Actually, I took you as suggesting that my efforts to admonish the Rancid Left (you’ve lost copyright on that, Noga, it’s too good a term not to be more widely used) were insufficiently robust. I never took you as suggesting that my credentials as a supporter of Israel were in doubt. That said, I might have fallen into the position of being one of those people of whom it is said “with friends like this, who needs enemies”.

      Less self-centredly, your note about Engage being a non-Zionist site comes, I suspect, from David Hirsh, as founding editor, wishing to avoid being branded from the outset as just another Zionist. A reading of the Euston Manifesto (hopefully found via the search box, top right of each page) would underline this view. Not that it did any good: this site is dubbed irredeemably Zionists by the nay-sayers.

      Those commenting here who are not pro-BDS, etc, tend to be Zionists, not just believers in the right of Israel to exist in peace and security, although there are any number of _those_, who also believe in the rules of logic and evidence.


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