How to kill peace

Earlier we linked to this Harry’s Place guest post by Shlomo Yosef –  ‘How to kill a movement over a weekend‘.

The piece is an example of boycotters working to entrench conflict and condemn peace-makers as collaborators. The boycott campaign depends on this, Harry’s Place has always been in the forefront of highlighting examples, and that is just one of the reasons we value Harry’s Place.

However, as our follower Ben White correctly pointed out on Twitter, the piece is also a good example of anti-boycott rhetoric going beyond what is acceptable. Ali Abunimah has never called himself “the mullah from Chicago”, nor has he issued anything he described as a “fatwa”. How does this language serve an anti-boycott cause? It does not. What it does is risk hostile, perhaps sub-conscious, connections being formed between Muslim and boycott. It was wrong to bring Islam into this, we don’t want to go there, neither should Shlomo Yosef, and neither should you. We hope that disrupts any such association.

Read the piece with that in mind, take from it an example of boycotters wrecking peace, and note that just as it is possible for criticism of Israel to be antisemitic and criticism of Margaret Thatcher to be misogynistic, it is also possible for criticism of people with Muslim names to contain anti-Muslim bigotry.

27 Responses to “How to kill peace”

  1. conchovor Says:

    Totally agree with this.

  2. Bella Says:

    Are you asking us to purify our language in response to Ben White, the apologist of the likes of Raed Salah ( No thank you, I think I’ll take my own counsel on that. When I see Islamist and Palestinian solidarity converge as they do among Hamas supporters (flotilla anyone?), I will not hesitate to say so.

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      Bella, it doesn’t matter who’s doing the pointing out, as far as i’m concerned.

      • Comment is not free Says:

        If a point cannot be made without recourse to racist rhetoric or racism then either one is making a right point wrongly (i.e. in a racist manner) or making a wrong point wrongly (making a point that is and can only be racist).
        Simple as that.

      • Bella Says:

        Yes, of course I agree with you and, on consideration, I think it was your presentation of Ben White so neutrally that made me very angry. I don’t think he deserves any respect from this site — which, by the way, saved my sanity 2 years ago when I first started reading it — and has caused great harm by crossing the line between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism on a regular basis. BTW, I very much enjoyed reading Hussein Ibish on Ali Abunimah, someone who has never been squeamish about letting the world know what he thinks about Jews (sorry, Zionists).

    • Bill Says:

      Opponents of antisemitism are to rise above everything. Its apologists can be expected to rise above nothing. We know our lot in life, Bella. While our street cred relies on us being professional and “collegial” (my favorite) they can pretty much say anything, overlook anything, excuse anything, and of course “understand” anything, and their purity for the cause erases any sins and misdemeanors. Israel Double Standard Time is a 365(6) thing.

      And as Mira points out, the eye on the ball needs to be the typical demonization of moderate two-staters by E-I. And Mira’s right to continue to post the news with the caveat. People who are working on such initiatives (at risk in some cases, mind you) need support, and those try to squelch them (like EI), and squelch the news of the squelching (like White) need to be outed.

  3. Tweet tweet. Says:

    Hi Ben,
    Thanks for this.
    Can we assume you are tweeting this as well. After all, when it comes to Israel, everyone knows you are nothing but even-handed.

  4. vildechaye Says:

    It does matter who is pointing it out. When a racist calls something racist, that doesn’t make it so. I’m not sure I would have used the term “mullah” to describe the EI publisher, but whatever term I would have used would probably have been as or more unpleasant. Ditto fatwa. If only those so implacably opposed to anything Israel had even 1/10 of your scruples.

    • Richard Gold Says:

      I agree with Mira. You have to judge things on their meaning. For sure, Ben White has form, whether it’s his understanding of why some people are antisemitic or his use of a book by the holocaust denier Garaudy in his recent book., but i’d like to think that at Engage we are serious in being opposed to both antisemitism and Islamophobia.

    • Thomas Venner Says:

      Even though Ben White was the one who pointed it out, it’s still a valid observation. A stopped clock is still right twice a day, so to speak.

  5. Comment is not free Says:

    So Engage rightly recognises that “criticism of Palestinians and pro-Palestinians” can bleed into Islamophobia (although I am not sure that link to the article at HP should remain).

    If only Ben White adopted a similar position when it comes to “criticism of Israel” and its occasional lapses into antisemitic ways of thinking.
    But he doesn’t, not a bit of it,
    (Just how silly Ben White is can be seen in this little gem,”Comparisons between the Israeli government and the Nazis is unwise and unsound, since the Israelis have not (at the time of going to press) exterminated in a systematic fashion an enormous percentage of the Palestinians.”)
    And here is a comment or two on Ben’s commitment to the fight against those moments that criticism of Israel bleeds into antisemitism,
    No doubt others can add to Ben’s sincerity in ensuring that all forms of racism – antisemitism and Islamophobia – are eradicated when it comes to Israel and Palestine.

  6. Absolute Observer Says:

    If for Ben White Engage, a site dedicated to fighting antisemitism, is a “hasbara” site then, according to that “logic” a site pushing antisemitism is by definition an anti-Zionist site – no wonder he hates the EUMC definition – it cuts his thinking in half just where he can least afford it.

    • conchovor Says:

      It is the essentializing quality that is something like a racist generalization, his essentializing HP or Engage as his construct ‘hasbara’, similar to his construct ‘Zionist’ or ‘Zionism’.

      I just noticed this in his old book;

      “Israel is the self-proclaimed state of all Jews worldwide [no it isn’t. Then he quotes a hostile, anti-Zionist source] ‘Israel is the state of all the Jews; all Jewish persons are by definition citizens of Israel'”

      None of this is true. Yet he has to essentialize Israel and Zionism as though it were true. Israel is the Jewish state (as UNSCOP, which he pretends to support, called it), but that does not mean that every Jew is a citizen. By right of return, any Jew may +become+ or +apply to be+ a citizen. Just like ethnic Irish can apply to be citizens of the Republic of Eire.

      It is this need to negatively essentialize the Other, as one’s own negative construct, that is something like what racism against Jews has become today.

      White also quotes

      “no other country ‘claims to be the sole representative of the faith’ or ‘grants citizenship to people solely because of their religion (without regard to place of birth or residence)'”

      Israeli Apartheid, p. 109.

      First “no other country ‘claims to be the sole global representative of the faith’ is untrue because Israel does not claim that (it is antisemites who claims that Israel represents all Jews globally). As to “‘grants citizenship to people solely because of their religion (without regard to place of birth or residence)'”, Jewish identity is ethno-religious, so the main criteria are those of birth, just as they are for ethnic Irish abroad. Because my mother was Irish, I can apply for fast-track Irish citizenship.

      The other odd thing about “no other country ‘claims to be the sole global representative of the faith'” is that that is precisely the gripe of Neturei Karta, or some of them. NK did use to claim sole or chief representation of the Jewish people i.e. Israel in the land. It was the birth of Zionism, the Yishuv and state that took that representation from them, in their eyes.

      But Israel does not claim to be ‘the sole global representative’ of Jews worldwide.

      It is antisemites who do that. Which begs the question, Why does White feel it necessary to put it into Israel’s mouth, or his cipher construct ‘Israel’?

  7. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Re Comment is not free and “I am not sure that link to the article at HP should remain”, yes, I can see what you mean, sort of, but…I feel that it is incumbent on Engage and those of us who might regard ourselves as “engageniks” to keep the rules of engagement (no pun intended) clear. Thus those whom we might dub collectively as “the BDS crew” should not be, ever, vilified, not even when their language and (if they do) their use of antisemitic tropes makes it oh so tempting. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be “called out”; it doesn’t mean that their continued use of assertion, their lack of evidence, their failure to mount a logical and/or rational argument, or, of course, their use of antisemitic tropes, shouldn’t be constantly pointed out. It _does_ mean that beliefs they plainly don’t have shouldn’t be assigned to them; it does mean that they shouldn’t be labelled as Shlomo Yosef apparently labelled Ali Abunimah in that Harry’s Place article, and so forth. If nothing else, it weakens “our” arguments. We’re the good guys, after all.

    However, they can still be insulted if they plainly do something silly or stupid, or if they insult us: but, in my view, that should be a last resort, so that they can’t display injured innocence, because it is obvious that this is the nth time they’ve done it. Anyway, as the old phrase has it, revenge is a dish nest eaten cold: if they been rude, etc, enough times and we haven’t yet responded, it means that when we do, it should be devastating. If, of course, they’re clever enough to recognise just when the verbal knife has been slipped in between the ribs into the heart, of course. (Which is an example of the sort of insult I’m talking about.)

    So that’s why I think the link to Harry’s Place should remain: as an object lesson in what we shouldn’t be doing. Let _them_ break all the rules of civilised discourse: in the long run, they’re the ones who will be the losers.

  8. vildechaye Says:

    Calling pontificating extremist rejectionist a “mullah from chicago” is hardly hate speech…. saying that said pontificating extremist issued a “fatwa” when he did in fact issue a call to reject yet another peace group and advocates strongly and incessantly for BDS etc. (a fatwa if i ever saw one) bears no resemblance to all the “nazi” “apartheid” spew we routinely hear from the likes of him. When your reaction to the Ben Whites of this world is to bend over backward, don’t be surprised if they take advantage of your position to screw you where the sun don’t shine. I suppose that’s offensive too. oh well.

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      Vildechaye, Ben White doesn’t have anything on Engage. He made a rare valid point, and we acted. And we aren’t overreacting to these casual and irrelevant religious slurs. When you’re on the receiving end of them it’s clear they sow hurt and mutual mistrust.

  9. Absolute Observer Says:

    You may be willing to adopt the language of racists. Engage is not.
    And if you don’t know why such speech is problematic, then you evidently do not understand any of the posts on Engage nor what it stands for.
    End of story.

    • vildechaye Says:

      Indeed. Silly me. “Adopting the language of racists.” How could I fail to see that a throwaway remark like “the mullah from Chicago,” — aimed specifically at a pontificating dullard from that city — was somehow equivalent to “jews to the gas,” which, it should be mentioned, said “mullah” and the raconteur of the grave infraction have a great deal more tolerance toward. Again, silly me. I bow to your superior intelligence and understanding of the posts of Engage and what they stand for.

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        So, given that Ali Abunimah actually said those things, this is what he should be assailed over, not labelling him with deniable labels that divert attention from his real offences (if offences they be). As I argued above, “we” shouldn’t play their game as far as vilification is concerned. If we keep at the task of exposing the use of antisemitic tropes (where employed), demands for evidence of their assertions, and so forth, they’ll do the job for us.

  10. conchovor Says:

    I agree with Mira, though there is something creepy about the way White uses a Hebrew word, ‘hasbara’, constantly as a pejorative construct on virtually any view sympathetic with Israel or Zionist. In the end, ‘hasbara’ just means something like ‘explanation’, but for White it means just about any explanation which shows Israel or Zionism in an other than imperfect light.

    Likewise he uses ‘Zionism’ and ‘Zionist’ in much the same way the Church Fathers or the Nazis used the word ‘Judaism’, ‘Jew’ and ‘Jewish’ i.e. as something fundamentally illegitimate, if not wicked, the antithesis of his Christian anti-Zionism, which is his gospel.

    • conchovor Says:


      ‘but for White it means just about any explanation which shows Israel or Zionism in an other than NEGATIVE light.’

      I am not suggesting that Zionism is ‘perfect’.

  11. conchovor Says:

    “no other country ‘claims to be the sole representative of the faith’ or ‘grants citizenship to people solely because of their religion (without regard to place of birth or residence)’”

    Saudi claims to be something the Islamic holy land, the most holy after Baghdad and Al Quds. Only Muslims may become citizens there, whereas manifestly non-Jews may be citizens in Israel.

  12. Absolute Observer Says:

    Hi conchover,
    In one of the links in an earlier thread, “hasbara” is given the meaning of “propganda” in this context. So White and others who use this term believe (surprise, surprise) that Engage does nothing more than spout Zionist/Israeli propaganda.
    Fits in perfectly with your reading of him.

  13. conchovor Says:

    In the light of White’s recent conduct, this of his is somewhat ironic (Israeli Apartheid, p. 109-110):


    “Undeniably, you can find racism in Israeli society. But why don’t you condemn the hate-preachers and racists in Palestinian society as well?”

    “Of course, there are some [!] Palestinians who hold to racist views, and this is entirely condemnable. Sometimes [!} this can be specifically anti-Jewish racism, which is also unacceptable, even taking into account the fact that Palestinians continue to be occupied, dispossessessed and killed by a state that deliberately identifies itself as Jewish, and claims to act in the name of Jews everywhere [no it doesn’t].

    So while any kind of racism is to be opposed and challenged, there is an important distinction to be made. Some people are content to highlight the loud-mouthed bigots that can be found in both Israeli and Palestinian societies, blaming them for preventing the ‘moderate’ majority from reaching a peaceful agreement.

    In reality, while there are individual racist Palestinians and Israelis (like any society), an enforced Jewish superiority is intrinsic to the very fabric of a Zionist Jewish state in the Middle East. As detailed in Parts I and ii of this book, ethnic and religious exclusivity are written into Israeli laws, and expressed every time a bulldozer blade cuts into a Palestinian home. It goes much deeper than the reprehensible beliefs of a few ‘extremists'”

    (me, Conchovor) As a brief observation, White chooses to characterize only Israeli Jewish society as essentially racist, while Palestinian Arab Muslim and Christian society is racist on an ‘individual’ basis. Presumably Salah was one such ‘individual’.

    Oddly, in a book which purports to tell the history of the I-P conflict in a 100 pages or so, not once is the ‘individual’ Haj Amin Al Husseini mentioned; nor any Palestinian Arab named in his historical narrative in Part I, though ‘individual’ Zionists are named aplenty.

    By his telling, you’d never have known that Palestinian Arab Muslims and Christians had Resisted Jews existing in the land since the late 19th century in other than the tiny numbers to which imperial Christian as well as Islamic apartheid had accustomed them for centuries.

    By White’s telling, you’d have to conclude they were a nation of saints and priests who had only been most welcoming to Jews, so long as they were not ‘Zionist’.

    Truly a Ben Whitewash.

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