Battling antisemitism from a Muslim podium – Winston Pickett

It was always a safe bet that after months of preparation and hype that President Barak Obama’s ‘New Beginning’ speech to Muslims around the globe was going to make a splash. Unfortunately for America’s telegenic and hyperactively ambitious chief executive, most of the reaction from the pro-Israel advocacy sector and commentariat was less than enthusiastic. No sooner had the White House zapped the 6,000-word text of his speech out on the Internet than everyone from analysts to armchair policy wonks began parsing his words with all the avidity of daf yomi readers.

Obama’s speech was deemed weak on specifics, utopian in its vision, simplistic in its characterisation of the Israel-Palestine conflict and dangerous in its hints at moral equivalence with America’s civil rights movement and the South African struggle against apartheid.

What the punditocracy failed to recognise is that President Obama hadn’t crafted his presentation exclusively for their consumption. No sooner had the cameras captured this living embodiment of an emergent American multicultural exceptionalism stepping up to the podium of Cairo University than the White House’s dispatched the text in 13 different languages, in millions of text messages and made available via Facebook and other new media tools to some 20 million Muslim internet users.

It is precisely this framework that made Obama’s words on antisemitism stand out.

As readers of Obama’s Dreams from My Father will corroborate, a sizeable measure of Obama’s identity struggle and formation was forged from a battle against negative stereotypes, be it white, Black, Muslim or American. Thus there is a ring of authenticity to his plea – early in his Cairo speech – to ‘fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear” and similarly to call on Muslims to refrain from reverting to ‘crude anti-American stereotypes”.

This theme reached its climax when Obama focused on Jews, Israel and Holocaust denial – the most hard-core, virulent and insidious antisemitic stereotype of our age.

Why was his choice of themes critical? Because behind every canard that Jews ‘manufactured’ the Shoah, collaborated in a Holocaust ‘hoax’ or – by way of a conceptual off-shoot – that Israel and its supporters are ‘behaving worse than the Nazis’ today – resides a latent desire that the Jewish state not exist at all.

Obama understands this invidious logic, exemplified by his almost brutal formulation: “Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong…”

That is also explains why Obama declared he would visit Buchenwald the next day – to bear witness to an ineluctable fact and to direct his message at Iran’s leadership and everyday Muslims who are drip-fed the belief that the course of Israel’s history or trajectory of Jewish nationalism (Zionism by any other name) are an outright lie.

The next day, at one of the gates to what eyewitness Alexander Donat once referred to as the ‘Holocaust Kingdom’ Obama’s words were more pointed still. He referred to his visit as “the ultimate rebuke” to the claim that the Holocaust never happened and “a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history.” (Note the use of the possessive pronoun: our history).

Were Obama’s words on antisemitism paradigm-shifting? Perhaps not to Western ears. But on a rhetorical level – and as a future marker by which to measure America’s global commitment to counteracting the world’s ‘oldest hatred’ – they were welcome indeed.

Winston Pickett is the former director of the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism

29 Responses to “Battling antisemitism from a Muslim podium – Winston Pickett”

  1. Obama’s Cairo Speech « Greens Engage Says:

    […] Winston Pickett on Obama’s stand against negative stereotyping. […]

  2. Closer to home Says:

    the prblem for jews doesn’t spring from the left (jewish or otherwise). the problem for jews springs from the right (jewish or otherwise. this website is willingly ignorant and ignores completely the real source of danger for jew and israel. time to grow up and wake up you dis-engaged kidos:

    • Karl Pfeifer Says:

      Mr. Silverstein ignores history. I remember very well, when in Prague 14 communists were hanged. 11 were Jews. And I remember the state attorney saying about Slansky that he has a “typical cosmopolitan face”
      And I also remember the USSR campaign against the Jewish doctors in 1953.
      I also remember the antisemitism in Poland when in 1968 many Jews were driven out of their country. And Mr. Silverstein it started already during the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement when more than 1000 German and Austrian communist – many of them Jews – were transferred to the Gestapo.
      And I read the declarations of the darling of left-. and right extremist Norman Finkelstein.
      So antisemitism is also found on the left. Enough to observe the boycott movement in the UK and to read counterpunch, to see that antisemitism is also rampant on the left.

  3. Absolute Observer Says:

    Interesting comment kiddo,

    Unfortunately, both personal experience and empirical evidence do not bear out your assertion. However, I do appreciate that looking only to the right is often quite reassuring for the uncritical.

    (In this context, one can only assume that your link to the Silverstein is ironic.)

  4. NIMN Says:

    If you expect Engage to “defend” racists because they are Jews English, American, Israeli_ you are barking up the wrong tree. If you expect Engage to “defend” racists because they are Muslims you are barking up the wrong tree. If you expect Engage to “defend” racists because they are from the left, you are barking up the wrong tree.

    Perhaps, you need to inform those who think that Jews are “different” from others (normally, the moral brigade) of the link, for the rest of us, we harbour no such romantic image. There are nice Jews and not nice Jews, there are racist Jews, non-racist Jews and anti-racist Jews; there are left-handed Jews and right-handed Jews, there are omnivore Jews and vegetarian Jews; there are Zionist Jews and anti-Zionist Jews, there are left-wing Zionist Jews and right-wing Zionist Jews, etc. etc.

    Disappointing isn’t it?

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      And there are Jews who ride bicycles, as well. Go and find the joke for yourself, closer to home (actually, now isn’t _that_ a misnomer?).

  5. timid Indsra Says:

    Ah, Richard Silverstein;

    “White supremicist” kills Jews at the Holocaust Museum – antisemite; unjustifiable

    “Islamic [sic] terrorist” kills Jews in Mumbai – “anti-zionist”, understandable.

    Cute, real cute.

    As for the notion that Jews are dangerous for Jews………Someone phone Alan Sugar quick! He’s Jewish, he has been appointed to the Brown administration, racists shout about Jewish influence on/in the administration, pump up the volume on antisemitism – Sugar becomes the Jews’ worst enemy.

    Emmanuel Rahm is making my life so difficult!
    Let’s petition him to resign now, quickly, we don’t want any trouble. After all, it has been said that the Jews are keeping Obama from being in touch with his old friends. If only it was George Wasp who was chief of staff, that would make me sleep easier.

    So, advice to Jews (Israeli and eslwhere)
    ssssshhhhhhh, keep your heads down, change your name, keep out of the public eye, they may not notice you!

  6. Stan Bantu Says:

    Nimn, You forgot that old standby on Engage: “self-hating Jews”

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      Rubbish. Engage doesn’t call people self-hating Jews.

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        I know people like to conceal their identities behind pseudonyms, sometimes for good reason, but why does somebody come up with a stupid nom-de-plume like bantustan with the last syllable first? Either they _really_ don’t know any history and think it’s cute, or they think they’re making a cute political statement. If the first, they demonstrate their ignorance, if the second, the statement’s so cute it goes right over my head – and no Stan, unlike you, I’m highly politically educated: I even know what a bantusatn was – see below.

        Either way, it’s a stupid pseudonym and an insult to Black South Africans forced to live in Bantustans, prior to the rise of the rainbow nation.

  7. NIMN Says:

    “Stan Bantu”.

    Thank you for your comment. On the top-right hand of this page, you will find a “search” for all comments, posts, etc. made on Engage. Please type in “NIMN” and “self-hating Jews”. Let me know what you find?

    As Mira note,s I am not aware of a accusation of “self-hating Jews” on Engage. Maybe “Stan Bantu” could find them for us (i.e. type on “self-hating Jews” in isolation) You have raised the allegation, now provide the evidence.

  8. Stan Bantu Says:

    Nimn….took me about 3 minutes….unfortunately do not have time to reseacrh more:
    [Anthony Julius at Bar-Ilan Conference, 2006 referring to Jewish boycotters]
    (c) It has given specific meaning to the lives of alienated Jews – Jews who were born Jewish but who have not found a way of identifying themselves as Jewish. And it is a mistake to simply dismiss them as self-hating Jews. It allows them to be proud to be ashamed that they are Jewish. The boycott movement has given them, so to speak, their heart.

  9. David Hirsh Says:

    I’m trying to work out what the term “old standby” means.

    I think you meant that we, on Engage, use the term “self-hating Jew” routinely, is that right?

    And you come up with one example. Only one.

    It is an example from four and a half years ago, January 2006.

    It is from a report of a speech given by Anthony Julius, who is not an Engage writer.

    In that speech, Julius argues that the term “self-hater” is not useful and not appropriate. He argues that it does not capture what is important about Jews who legitimate or license antisemitic rhetoric, tropes or exclusions.

    So your evidence, Stan, does nothing to show that what you said was true, does it?

    Or perhaps you meant by the term “old standby” that the term appeared once on Engage, years ago, in a report of a speech in which the term was mentioned in order to argue that it was not appropriate.

  10. Richard Says:

    Stan Bantu

    So you can’t find anything.

    They always run out of time when pressed.

  11. Stan Bantu Says:

    David Hirsh: I would suggest that a more nuanced reading of Julius, whose work does appear regularly on Engage, would allow that Jewish boycotters are not JUST self-haters, but that boycotting “allows them to be proud to be ashamed that they are Jewish. The boycott movement has given them, so to speak, their heart.” Julius is hardly stating that the term is, as you put it, inappropriate.

  12. Richard Says:

    Here’s my prediction. Stan can’t back up what he accuses Engage of (the old stand-by of self-hating Jews). So he’ll desperately try and find something (with a tenuous link to Engage). He’ll then say he’s short of time (he’s already done that). He’ll try again and fail. In the end he’ll claim that other commenters on ENgage are being abusive in their comments to him. Oh and also accuse commenters of making adhominem attacks (that old stand-by of those who can’t back up what they say). Then he’ll vanish into thin air never to be seen again.

  13. David Hirsh Says:

    So, Stan, firstly you accept that there is only one mention of the term “self-hater” on Engage. Over five years, hundreds of thousands of words, you accept you were wrong to claim that it was an “old standby”?

    Further, you accept that the term has not been used by anybody who was writing specifically for Engage.

    And the one case which you adduce, is the one in which Anthony Julius says: “…it is a mistake to simply dismiss them as self-hating Jews…”

    He says you shouldn’t characterize antisemitic Jews as self-haters, doesn’t he? He says such a characterization misses what is significant, in his view, doesn’t he?

    You invent and capitalise the word “JUST”. But it isn’t there in the original, is it?

  14. Stan Bantu Says:

    I could just as easily have used SIMPLY, which is Julius’ actual word.
    Clearly the term “self-hating Jew” has shifted to “anti-semite” on Engage. That’s so much less tricky and all embracing isn’t it.

  15. NIMN Says:


    To help you in your claim that, “[I] forgot that old standby on Engage: “self-hating Jews””, I include a definition of the term you yourself used.

    “old standby”
    “One that can always be relied on, as in an emergency.
    A favorite or frequent choice.
    One kept in readiness to serve as a substitute.”

    I do think, however, that offering one quote that, itself, dismisses the term itself as “simplistic” and of no use, before moving on briefly to indicate the wider context of questions of contemporary “Jewish identity” as it relates to Israel and the diaspora, meets the criteria you yourself set.

    I look forward, as no doubt you do, to when you have “more time”.

  16. zkharya Says:

    As a matter of interest, Stan Bantu, are you Ben White?

  17. David Hirsh Says:

    “Clearly the term “self-hating Jew” has shifted to “anti-semite” on Engage.”

    No Stan, your claim has shifted. You started by saying that “Self-hating-Jews” was a term which was an old standby for Engage.

    You then discovered that it has never been used by any Engage writer.

    In other words, you discovered that your claim was absolutely false.

    So instead of admitting that you were wrong, and apologizing, you changed your claim.

    Now you say what?

    That there are no antisemitic Jews?

    That a Jew cannot be antisemitic?

    That a Jew cannot employ antisemitic language or tropes?

    That a Jew cannot support an antisemitic exclusion from campuses?

    That a Jew cannot attempt to license or legitimise, “as a Jew” antisemitic behaviour?

    That if a Jew supports antisemitic movements or claims, or if a Jew tries to whitewash antisemitic behaviour, then it is illegitimate to say so?

    Your claim has changed Stan, what is it now?

  18. NIMN Says:

    Dear Stan,
    Glad you have the time after all.

    For something to “shift” to something else, it has to be in use in the first place; a claim that remains unsubstantiated by yourself.

    As to the term “antisemitic Jew” that is a perfectly legitimate term.

    Unlike the term “self-hating Jew”, “antisemitism” is an “objective” phenomenon; i.e. it has specific, recognisable contours and content. If you again search the pages of Engage, you will find that some (and by no means all) who claim to “speak” “as a Jew” push antisemitism – for example, Michael Cushman posts an article that claims Zionists have taken control of the Labour Party, that, Gilad Atzmon pushes the protocols.

    As I noted in my original comment, Jews come and have come in all varieties. They even appear as antisemites. Indeed, the “antisemitic Jew” is hardly a new phenomenon, but can be found from the earliest days of the modern era (if not before). It point of fact, the term “antisemitic Jew” is a valid a description of a “Zionist Jew”. It is merely a description of the political stance one takes.

    However, perhaps you can think of a more appropriate term for someone who identifies with being a Jew and then who makes antisemitic comments in that name?

    Alternatively, you may think psychoanalysis is a better way forward to explain political choices (as in “self-hating Jew”), for my part, I think that is rather silly.

    Needless to say, if, when you have the time, you would like to find where the term “antisemitic Jew” has been applied to those Jews supporting a boycott in general (rather than those individuals who use antisemitic ideas and rhetoric to do so), please feel free to do so.

    Disappointing, isn’t it?

  19. Stan Bantu Says:

    The challenge from Nimn and Mira was to give an instance of the use of the term “self-hating Jew” on Engage. I did that.

  20. David Hirsh Says:

    Brilliant Stan. You win. I apologize.

  21. NIMN Says:

    “As Mira note,s I am not aware of a accusation of “self-hating Jews” on Engage.” (ouch, apologies for the typos)

    Actually, I referred to “accusation” and not an “instance of the use of”. And, as we have seen, the “instance of the use of” was actually a refutation of an “accusation”. But, hey, what the heck!

  22. zkharya Says:

    Surely NIMN’s challenge was to find an instance of NIMN’s using it.

  23. zkharya Says:

    Surely Bantustan’s (Ben White’s? ‘just curious) challenge was to find an instance of “that old standby on Engage: “self-hating Jews””

  24. Karl Pfeifer Says:

    Why is the term self-hate not permitted?
    There are not only Jewish self-haters, like for example. Otto Weininger. We know in Austria also Slovene self-haters, who joined the extreme right and are abusing Slovenes.
    Engage is right not to try to confront antizionists with psychological explanations. However antizionists are using such explanations when trying to explain, why Zionism was successful.

  25. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Actually Stan Bantu, you have failed to respond to the point of “self-hating Jews” being an old standby on Engage. You have cited one example, and it was a report of what someone said, not a commissioned piece here – as some are. Most articles are, outwith the Engage Journal, linked to by the editors of engageonline, not commissions – David H. has told you that in no uncertain terms.

    So, how do you justify your use of the phrase “old standby”? In my view, David H’s apology was ironic (tho’ only he can tell us if he was, actually, being serious), and therefore unnecessary.

    Oddly enough, I can give you another example of the phrase. Way back in May 2008(?), Engage held an anti-boycott meeting in Friends Meeting House, Euston. Anthony Julius was one of the invited speakers. During his comments, he noted that the phrase “self-hating Jew” was inaccurate. Actually (he said, more or less, I recall from memory) that it was their parents (these wrongly ascribed) self-haters hated: they loved themselves.

    Clearly a witticism and not to be taken seriously: not even to be seen as a phrase from a man in search of laugh. Actually, he’s much wittier than needing to strive for a laugh: it comes naturally to him.

    Most importantly, you didn’t search very hard, Stan, did you?: unless since deleted, it’s still there on the old Engage website as a video clip.

    So, you still owe the editors and commenters here an apology. However, given your responses so far, the words Hell, until, freezes and over come to mind as the time we’ll have to wait for _that_.

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