It is hard to believe that someone as bright as Naomi Klein gets it wrong so many times.

This is a guest post by Absolute Observer.

New Voices in an Interview of Naomi Klein.

Reading I thought, yup, she nicely sums up the BDS campaign in a few words. Then, you realise that she is not talking about the anti-Zionists, but Jews! (I like also the way NK takes the latest anti-Zionist view (see the President of Iran) and projects the Israel – Holocaust link onto the Jews, as if that is the only way Jews think about Israel.

“There’s a way in which we want to exclude Israel from the world and say it is so special, so different, that no analysis except for one specific to the Jews and the Holocaust is allowed to have any place in the discussion. For so many Jews, there’s a deep defensiveness around Israel, a profound desire to see Israel as an exception in every way. I get letters from people saying, I agreed with you about everything in the book, but you lost me completely on Israel.'”

Then there’s this gem……….Here it is Klein herself who can’t seem to break the link with Jews and their experience in Germany (all 250,000 them!) which she then universalises. Apparently, it is “shocking” for Klein, that Jews “of all people” can be “right-wing economists” bearing in mind, not their experiences in Nazi Germany, but in Weimar!

“Of all people”??

Whilst someone once asked, “Will Jews never be forgiven for the Holocaust?”; Klein now asks, will Jews ever be forgiven for the economic conditions that may, assuming other factors being equal, give rise to “Fascism”?

“One of the most disturbing reactions that I got to the book was when I presented it in Germany. Some of the right-wing economists I’m writing about are Jewish, like [Milton] Friedman. Talking to German journalists who were essentially accusing me of anti-Semitism was a really unique phenomenon. I never make an issue in the book of Friedman being Jewish, but I can tell you on a personal level that I find it shocking that Jewish economists, of all people, knowing the history of the conditions in the Weimar Republic that created the rise of fascism, willfully shocked economies and created conditions where tens of thousands of people were suddenly thrown into poverty.”

Looks like that on this question, the German journalists understood the point Klein was making better than she did herself.

17 Responses to “It is hard to believe that someone as bright as Naomi Klein gets it wrong so many times.”

  1. Comrade T Says:

    Gosh, she sure knows a lot about Weimar.

    Not a word about a lost war, anti-semitism, Revolution, Freikorps, punitive reparations, etc. etc..

    And, why is she not so “shocked” about the “Catholic” “right-wing” economists “of all people” in Spain, Italy, Chile, Argentina, etc. etc.. Maybe it’s because they were part of the machine that actually killed and disappeared people, rather than those who suffered fascist brutality.

    Seemingly, only the victims of oppression are under a political and moral obligation to act like saints.

    A Rose by any other name.

  2. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    The notion of the dominant ideology, as found in capitalist parliamentary democracies, is most often interpreted to mean that those on the right “take it for granted” that their view of the world is plainly the only possible sensible one. It thus follows that those with an opposing ideology are, to put it politely, mistaken in their view of any alternative ways of intepreting the world. (detailed sources available, Anthony Lerman please note)

    This mind-set is what Marx meant when he introduced the notion of “false consciousness” to explain, inter alia, the failure of the proletariat to rise up and seize power in their own interests.

    Thus, it should hardly be surprising that those who have benefitted from capitalism will, generally, be inclined in favour of it. Why, pray, Ms Klein, should Jews be any different in societies which permit their material advancement? Why should anyone be surprised that many UK Jews, having made significant fortunes in capitalist Britain, or being the offspring of such people, support the Conservative Party, even in its Thatcherite mode?

    It’s really odd that the concepts of the dominant ideology and false consciousness get used by anti-Zioists on the left to (yet again!) attack Jews who, out of enlightened (or even unelightened) self-interest persist in supporting Israel, all it stands for, and who reject any blame for the Holocaust, let alone analogies between Israel and the Nazis.

    And we _do_ mean useful idiots like Naomi Klein, with their witting or unwitting provision of aid and comfort to those who believe in Bebel’s “socialism of fools”.

  3. NIMN Says:

    Needless to say, also, that many right economists throught they were actually combatting the rise of nazism seems to have dipped below Klein’s “Jewish” radar. But, that would mean understanding the gap between intention and how it play out.

  4. Harry Goldstein Says:

    Klein is wrongheaded and dangerous on a number of counts, not only the implied antisemitism of ‘how could Jews of all people…’. There is also the suggestion that taking a different position from hers is not only wrongheaded (which I suppose we all believe of those who disagree with us) but actually immoral.

    Thus in Klein’s world it is clearly inconceivable that Friedman (or any other ‘right-wing economist’) might seriously, sincerely and with good intentions come to a view different from her own. It is inconceivable that his views might be considered part of the legitimate democratic debate. There is indeed no sense that there is such a thing as a legitimate democratic spectrum within which opposing views can be treated with respect.

    I don’t hold any brief for Friedman myself. I’m a Labourite and an instinctive Keynesian. But I understand that far from ignoring Weimar, Friedman’s views were strongly shaped by the German inflation of the 1920s and its destructive effect on German society (which did indeed help pave the way for the Nazis).

    Thus I can disagree strongly with Friedman (Just as I can regard much of Freud as nonsense, say) without regarding him as an enemy, or evil, still less being in any way ashamed of him as a Jew.

    In short, Klein’s antisemitism is not an aberration in an otherwise good progressive, but part and parcel of her overall totalitarian outlook.

  5. Matt Says:

    It’s that false consciousness model that leads me to promote cultural studies articles like this:

    ‘Hall proposed that leftist intellectuals should not answer that question by assuming that working-class conservatives have succumbed to false consciousness: “It is a highly unstable theory about the world which has to assume that vast numbers of ordinary people, mentally equipped in much the same way as you or I, can simply be thoroughly and systematically duped into misrecognizing entirely where their real interests lie. Even less acceptable is the position that, whereas ‘they’—the masses—are the dupes of history, ‘we’—the privileged—are somehow without a trace of illusion and can see, transitively, right through into the truth, the essence, of a situation.” ‘

    I think a big part of the problem with Klein is that her arguments are monocausal, top-down in the manner Hall was criticizing. Though she’d hate to charcterized this way, in the end, she becomes elitist and condescending.

  6. zkharya Says:

    No Logo becomes the consumerist Logo.

    And I never got why an mall rat obsession with logos is worse for the third world than a simple desire for cheap clothing regardless of logo.

    But I am sure she addresses that in her book which, some day, I dare say, I will look at.

  7. zkharya Says:

    I see a South Park episode in the offing.

  8. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Harry Goldstein notes, above, that “There is also the suggestion that taking a different position from hers is not only wrongheaded (which I suppose we all believe of those who disagree with us) but actually immoral,” and then proceeds to show that this ain’t so, whatever Klein might say and do, by showing an understanding of where and why Milton Friedman was coming from. He still doesn’t agree with Friedmanism, but that is far from labelling it madness, as Klein implies for those who disagree with her.

    Thank you, Harry, for undellining my point about dominant ideologies and the effect they have on independent thought.

    And then there’s Matt. Following the link’s people put up is an education in itself. Who (at my stage in the life-cycle) needs the University of the 3rd Age? Just read Engage and follow the links! His reminds me that much of what cultural studies aims to do was pioneered by Karl Mannheim and his Sociology of Knowledge movement in the 1920s and especially 1930s, and which became more widespread after his exile from Nazi Germany to Britain. Brutally simplified, this explored the notion that ideas are, perhaps inevitably, socially rooted: their acceptability or otherwise may well have little to do logic and even falsifiability. This study was even extended into the world of “natural” science.

    Stuart Hall is a great sociologist of knowledge, whatever the label placed on him, and Naomi Klein is a dreadful social commentator because she has no grasp of the social rootedness of ideas. Indeed, were she to have such a grasp, she would be unable to continue to plough the furrow she does plough.

  9. Lynne T Says:

    Klein may be a successful writer and have a university degree or two as bona fides, but I wouldn’t confuse that with her being “bright”. She’s a strident ideologist who omits facts that don’t fit in with her one-size-fits-all theory.

    Her recent effort to demonize and isolate Israel via a boycott of the Toronto International Film Festival’s special event City-to-City Tel Aviv is typical of Klein’s “think”. Romanian Canadian filmmaker Simca Jacobovici chewed her up and spat her out in fine little pieces on CBC Radio’s Q on Sept. 11 (of all dates!)

  10. Comrade T Says:

    “that no analysis except for one specific to the Jews and the Holocaust is allowed to have any place in the discussion”.

    Funny, I thought that was Scottish PSC with their reading of Perdition on Holocaust Memorial Day or the President of Iran that links Israel to the Holocaust and nothing else, as if Zionism was born in 1945 and was not part of a general call for national self-determination by all opporessed peoples that emerged in the latter part of the 19th century.
    Needless to say, on this as well, she is wrong,

    But Klein is now pushing the “Zionists exploit the Holocaust line” as if the State of Israel is the only state in the world that has recourse to a founding myth (but, which in the case of a Jewish homleland, is actually not that mythical).

  11. NIMN Says:

    Well, that debate pretty much was two people talking past each other.

    What was interesting though was Klein’s last words…………

    She claimed that one has to be brave “to speak out” – as if an anti-Israel line is somehow beyond the pale.

    Why does one have to be “brave”; of what does the bravery consist?
    What terrible consequence is going to come your way in speaking out.?
    What terrible power to the Zionists have that makes one brave?

    (She mentions a headline in a paper attacking Fonda but, she didn’t say what paper – an Israeli paper, a Jewish paper, a US paper? a right-wing paper? a left-wing paper? or doesn’t that matter; and if not, why not?)

    The self-congratulatory epitet of “brave” hides something rather unsavoury and sinister, but, nonetheless recognisable (even if those who repeat it do not realise it).

  12. vildechaye Says:

    Real bravery would consist of telling Islamists things they don’t want to hear, because of the ever-present threat of violence. In contrast, criticizing Israel and/or Jews might get you to be the subject of a nasty article or two. Some bravery!

    I went to the same elementary school that Naomi Klein did, albeit many years earlier. She correctly observed that many of the students there — and their parents — were racist (you know, schvarzes, shiksas, all that). But she very incorrectly assumed that this racism was somehow different from how non-Jewish ordinary, middle-class people view the world. As a grownup, she and her husband Avi Lewis view the world through a leftist/Marxist lens and are incapable of veering from that ideological line regardless of what the subject is. For instance, she failed to notice that her “shock doctrine” applies not just to capitalists but to whomever is in power or seeks power. Socialists are just as likely to exploit a catastrophe to push their agenda, but Klein only cares about the capitalists. It’s the same line that only cares about deaths that can be attributed to America, Israel or the West in general. If you want to see something really pathetic, google hubby Avi Lewis’ interview with Hirsi Ali, where he mocks this dignified woman, compares excesses in the U.S. to the worst of Islamism, and generally makes a complete jackass of himself. I know you can’t blame the wife for the sins of the husband, but does anybody really believe, given her track record, that she would have handled the interview any better?

  13. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    From Comrade T’s link above: “The history of Zionism is, in other words, neither an aberration nor a tangent — it is an unbroken trail that begins in the ruins of the Temple and runs without a break into our own day, when it appears as Binyamin Netanyahu shaking a fist before the Knesset. The Holocaust demonstrated the need of the nation, and increased its urgency, but beneath that tragedy was always the older story, which can never be expunged or denied, for it is the DNA of the people.”

    What else is there to say? Not that that will stop the boycotters from saying it.

  14. NIMN Says:

    “She correctly observed that many of the students there — and their parents — were racist (you know, schvarzes, shiksas, all that)l ). But she very incorrectly assumed that this racism was somehow different from how non-Jewish ordinary, middle-class people view the world.”

    Not only different – as if somehow Jews should be free of the “sins of the world” of which they are a part, but also to be measured according to a higher “ethical” standard; and why? because the nazis wiped out virtually every European Jew.

    Klein and those who thiink of her have such an absurdly romantic image of Jews and Jewish history. One would have thought that “of all people” (i.e. an academic” she would know better.

  15. Lynne T Says:


    Assuming you mean the Klein-Jacobovici debate, to be brave is to be a Palestinian, Lebanese or Iranian speaking out against the totalitarian ideology of Hamas, Hezbollah or the Islamic Republic of Iran.

    Denouncing the Israeli government or the IDF is something done daily by Israelis and Jews everywhere.

  16. Harry Goldstein Says:

    NIMN, I agree with everything you say, but I suspect that something like Klein’s ‘absurdly romantic view of Jews’ is more deeply rooted in the Jewish community itself than you might think, and predates the holocaust. Nor is it just the province of marxists.

    Progressive Judaism in the 19thC had the project of eliminating ethnic, nationalist components of Jewish identity and substituting a rational, ethical monotheistic belief system which would make Jews English, or German, or whatever, citizens of the Jewish religion. Naturally this ideology brought progressive Judaism into sharp conflict with Zionism.

    However, they had a problem, because others (Christians, assimilationists) pointed out that these ethical beliefs were now the common property of all civilised people, in which case what need was there for a separate Jewish identity?

    Progressive Judaism responded by adapting the concept of ‘chosenness’, now defined as a God-given ‘mission’ to bear witness to these beliefs. This ethical mission thus formed the whole justification for continued Jewish existence.

    Thus even when progressive Judaism did come to terms with Zionism, it took a grudging, conditional form: ‘OK, we accept a Jewish state, but it had better be a light unto the nations.’

    This theology really does generate a double standard. After all, if the Jews’ role in the world is to be a light unto the nations, it is more reprehensible for them to transgress these values than it would be for others. I think this theology underlies the American magazine Tikkun, for example. In my experience, many British Reform rabbis (though not most of their congregations) would also go along with it.

    Hence I find that in my own (north London, Reform) synagogue the rabbis, and some others who regard themselves as the intellectual leadership, tend to be dismissive of the threat of antisemitism, and to my involvement in Engage (although most ordinary members are very supportive). And I have met some surprising resistance when I have put forward the simple (and to me obvious) notion that judging people differently according to their ethnic origin is racist by definition.

    Sadly, this tendency tends to give cover to people like Klein, even praising them as a sort of latter-day Jewish prophets, telling the truth to a community which is too bigoted or ignorant to understand its higher role.

  17. NIMN Says:

    Thank you for this post.

    It is interesting that earlier antisemitism took the form of an attack on the so-called “legalism” of Jewry which, if I understand you correctly, is associated with the Orthodox, but new forms of antisemitism, attack the so-called want of “ethics” by Jews; an impossible ethics, the standard of which is said to be set by the Progressive’s spearation of Jewish ethics from Jewish law (or some aspects of Jewish law). As you say, this would explain Tikkun’s and other Progressive attitude to real-life Jews.

    So, in short, whether you’re orthodox or progressive, one still falls short of yje judgements others pass on you.

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