The Boys Who Cried the Boy Who Cried anti-Semitism

Cross posted from A. Jay Adler’s blog, the sad red earth.

One of the salient features of the evolving massively networked media environment is the readier production than ever before of manufactured realities. Enough people simply assert something to be true, enough people virally lift the assertion across the MNM and write about it as true, and the idea takes almost unshakeable hold in the minds of a sufficient number of people so that the manufactured reality is now a feature of reality itself – a contention, a belief that clings to circumstance and becomes a part of it. No situation in the world produces more of this than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Last week, as an example, Paul Krugman, in an almost classic apophasis extended over three very brief paragraphs, managed, while pretending not to address the conflict – “But I have other battles to fight, and to say anything to that effect…” – to invoke as many as three of these manufactured realities. The first, announced in the title of his column, is that there is a crisis in Zionism. It has been said by some that if there is a crisis in Zionism, it is, in fact, a crisis in liberal Zionism, not Zionism per se. It might also be characterized that if there is any kind of crisis in Zionism, it is a crisis produced by those declaring that there is a crisis in Zionism. Said the man with the gun in his hand, “Don’t you understand – this is a life or death situation!” Well, if you say so.

But such perceptions, or their contrary, may merely be a matter of temperament.Okay, you deal with the crisis. I’m going fishing. Or, okayyou deal with the crisis – I’ll go deal with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran.

Next, while Krugman was feigning apophasistically (oh, I like that) not to address the crisis of Zionism in a column he titled “The Crisis of Zionism,” he also claimed of Israel that

the narrow-minded policies of the current government are basically a gradual, long-run form of national suicide

and that

to say anything to that effect is to bring yourself under intense attack from organized groups…..

This is a pretty common – hell, this is a constant complaint of critics of Israeli policy: that they criticize Israel, quite dramatically and severely in many instances, and that – oh, my God – they get criticized quite dramatically and severely back. What the hell is going on around here?

This sentiment was echoed in an “open-letter” of encouragement to Krugman from that very sensitive dear, Jeremy Ben-Ami, who declared,

As the President of J Street, the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby, I am followed closely by my own personal buzzsaw.

The last time Ben-Ami supped with Barack Obama and George W. Bush he was heard to cry out, “You guys just have no idea.”

In the face of this brutal rhetorical assault, the likes of which has not been seen since way back during the pre-modern days of the last Rick Santorum anti-Obama ad, Krugman felt compelled – even though he really didn’t want to talk about all this stuff – to proclaim Peter Beinart “brave,” and Beinart’s book, titled, wouldn’t you know, The Crisis of Zionism, a “brave book.”

It is near impossible to measure the magnitude of the courage it takes to stake out a position on Israel basically that of the editorial board of the New York Times and of nearly every one of the regular international columnists of that paper. From Mearsheimer and Walt to Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk, Charles Freeman, Norman Finkelstein, Gunter Grass, Haaretz, the Guardian, many of England’s major unions, many scores or more of left campus organizations, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, the World Council of Churches – may I stop now? It’s a lonely world out there. It’s a no man’s land, brother. The courage, the courage.

And what they suffer once they speak out – what they suffer.

What do they suffer?

Other people disagree with them. Vehemently. Why?

Says Beinart of Israel, it is

an entity of dubious democratic legitimacy

that is

sweeping the two-state solution into history’s dustbin.

More,

we should call the West Bank “nondemocratic Israel

for it is guilty of

systematic oppression.

Beinart had previously written,

Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral

while

 in Israel today, this humane, universalistic Zionism does not wield power. To the contrary, it is gasping for air.

And get this:

Hebrew University Professor Ze’ev Sternhell is an expert on fascism and a winner of the prestigious Israel Prize. Commenting on Lieberman and the leaders of Shas in a recent Op-Ed in Haaretz, he wrote, “The last time politicians holding views similar to theirs were in power in post–World War II Western Europe was in Franco’s Spain.”

I think I’ll stop there. My aim here is not to argue any of these claims. My aim is to call attention to their nature. Their severity is hard to surpass without criminal accusation – hardly unusual against Israel in these confused times – and some of them even imply it. Yet these critics, such as Beinart and almost all like him, and now from behind a rhetorical device, Paul Krugman, take umbrage, cry foul, that people who feel and think just as deeply as they, but against their positions, argue back at them with just as great severity. Followed the contention between American Democrats and Republicans lately – from the Affordable Health Care Act to gun rights to contraception to who’s a card-carrying communist to who’s a war criminal? Strong views, strong language.

Maybe it should be different, but it’s all around us. For me to be called “shoeshine boy for Hitchens” is a penny found on the street. “Jew hack” is stronger stuff. And though readers who even recall might think that after this, this prime specimen had burrowed back into a wall post, I’ve spared him the attention of letting readers know that he occasionally likes to write and try to post comments calling meJudenrat. Worth knowing about him, more – for there’s a point in it – is that his was the voice that narrated The Goldstone Report video along with Ken Loach and Arundhati Roy. That is how it mixes together in the cauldron of Jewish modernity.

What contemporary critics of Israel are doing in their constant whining that the defenders of what they criticize are playing too rough – poor babies – calling them names, and it shouldn’t be allowed, is engaging in a form of special pleading. They want an exception made for critics of Israel. They get to say that Israel is losing its democracy and an acts as an oppressor, that Zionism is in a downward moral spiral, that Israel’s government bears comparisons to Franco’s Spain, but that their opponents, who believe all of these charges to be utter, slanderous crap, don’t get to slam these critics back just as hard. Why would these various voices think themselves so special – that they should be spared the equities of rhetorical combat?

For the actual anti-Semites amongst them – for the John Mearsheimers blurbing for the Gilad Atzmons – the meme of fierce, crushing retribution from the Zionists is just a continuation of the classic conspiratorial slander: speak out against the powerful Jew and his forces will rise up foully in repressive reaction. The well-intentioned critic of Israeli policy speaking nonsense – Krugman writing of “the narrow-minded policies of the current government” as if this protracted history of Arab enmity and rejectionism began only with the facilely-conjured bogeyman of Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009 – repeats the same meme (“to say anything to that effect is to bring yourself under intense attack”), and the blind alliance between the vile and the vain further poisons the atmosphere. Wherein lies their vanity? They are so convinced of the moral valor of their stand that they are astounded that the universe does not deliver to them a dispensation from the return volley. How brave they are to say shitty things about Israel; how simply awful and unfair that Israel’s defenders will say shitty things back.

The culminating appeal, the bathetic cri de Coeur is against a charge of anti-Semitism. Krugman, in his not writing about the crisis of Zionism, finds words to repeat this manufactured reality too, complaining of

organized groups that try to make any criticism of Israeli policies tantamount to anti-Semitism.

You will, of course, find people making stupid, reflexive charges of anti-Semitism and self-hating Jew. There are enough bloggers and comments sections out there to allow any little teapot to pop its lid. The woodwork delivers up critters who squeal “self-hating Jew” in letters and emails just as it does those who squeak “Jew hack.” It is not, all that often, a very attractive world. What you will not find, however, is any record of his legitimate critics calling Peter Beinart anti-Semitic. I had the idea, but of course I was not the first, so when I Googled “Beinart” and “anti-Semite” together, among the hits I made on the first page was this from Jewlicious:

Search on any internet search engine for “Peter Beinart antisemite” or “Peter Beinart antisemitic” or “peter beinart antisemitism” as I just have and at least in the first pages of the search (I didn’t have the patience to go deeper, sorry) there were no articles or blogs, certainly not from any reputable sources, where Beinart is called anti-Semitic. In fact, you find supporters of his position and reasoned articles, pro and con, about his book.

What you may, indeed, find more of than anyone actually calling Peter Beinart or other mainstream liberal critics of Israel anti-Semitic is people, rather, objecting to critics of Israel being called anti-Semitic. At least in the public internet records of this debate, discussions of the prospect of the charge, and expressions of objection to the charge, are far more likely to be found than any actual leveling of the charge.

Jews have a long history of coping with manufactured realities. It isn’t over yet.

AJA

Soupy One – glad for the Rev Stephen Sizer

Rev Stephen Sizer has undertaken to be more careful about antisemitism in future. Soupy One comments.

Why things are this bad

Shalva Weil – contested histories of the Ashkenazi Jews

Despite the common knowledge of the possible Khazar extraction of the Jewish people, Shlomo Sand’s internationally best-selling book ‘The Invention of the Jewish People’ has resurfaced as something new. Hebrew University Anthropologist  Shalva Weil attributes this to a will to delegitimise Israel, a movement which supporters from quarters such as The Foundation for the Advancement of Free-Market Thinking, finds helpful to their own projects.

100 years of world cuisine

“Ten casualties. Ten million casualties. Our understanding of conflicts is often nothing more than a handful of digits, the more precise, the less meaningful. The anchor’s tone remains the same when talking about major wars or isolated outbursts of violence. The horror lays hidden beneath the rigidity of numbers. Figures give us knowledge, not meaning. “

For individuals under attack, hierarchies of suffering are callous in the extreme – a death is a death, a mutilation is a mutilation. But what shapes the decisions and priorities of far-away activists and advocates?

100 Years of World Cuisine is data art visualising 38 million deaths in 25 conflicts from 1915 to the present.

visualisation of death toll of C20 conflicts

That’s a little less than a quarter of the total.

(Once on the page click on the image until it doesn’t get any bigger.)

We welcome Israel’s national theatre

Some letters responding to the ‘dismay‘ of Richard Wilson, Caryl Churchill, Emma Thompson, Mike Leigh, Mark Rylance and other boycotters who hope to wipe Israel off the stage of The Globe Theatre, where Israeli company Habima have been scheduled to perform the Merchant of Venice in Hebrew.

One letter, We welcome Israel’s national theatre,

We are delighted to see the Globe theatre welcoming Israel‘s national theatre, Habima, to perform The Merchant of Venice in London (Letters, 4 April). Founded in the early 20th century in Moscow, Habima is one of the first Hebrew language theatres, and is a symbol not just of the cultural success of the state of Israel, but also of the resilience of a people who have united to overcome continued persecution throughout their history. Habima itself encountered persecution under the Soviet government as well after the Russian revolution. Now, as then, there are those who wish to oppose their work, seeking to delegitimise the state of Israel and its success, the Jewish people, and even the Hebrew language itself.

Habima’s productions have always explored the challenges faced by the Jewish people, and its presentation of The Merchant of Venice on the London stage continues that important mission. Those who wish to hijack the artistic and cultural work of Habima for their own narrow political aims simply remind us of the vital importance of such work. No artists should attempt to silence the expression of other artists simply because they are Israeli. By trying to suppress the cultural exchange of ideas they demonstrate the continued persecution of Jews and Israelis even occurring in 21st-century Britain. We condemn the acts of cultural terrorism that some may try to carry out during Habima’s performances. We welcome Israel’s national theatre to London as another fine example of the UK and Israel’s many shared values.

Arnold Wesker, Ronald Harwood, Maureen Lipman, Simon Callow, Louise Mensch MP, Steven Berkoff

And another – For artists … it is an act of self-harm

If there is one justification for art – for its creation and its performance – it is that art proceeds from and addresses our unaligned humanity. Whoever would go to art with a mind already made up, on any subject, misses what art is for. So to censor it in the name of a political or religious conviction, no matter how sincerely held, is to tear out its very heart.

For artists themselves to do such a thing to art is not only treasonable; it is an act of self-harm. One could almost laugh about it, so Kafkaesque is the reasoning: The Merchant of Venice, acted in Hebrew, a troubling work of great moral complexity (and therefore one that we should welcome every new interpretation of), to be banned not by virtue of itself, but because of where the theatre company performing it had also performed.

But the laughter dies in our throats. With last week’s letter to the Guardian, McCarthyism came to Britain. You could hear the minds of people in whom we vest our sense of creative freedom snapping shut. And now we might all be guilty by association: of being in the wrong place or talking to the wrong people or reading the wrong book. Thus does an idée fixe make dangerous fools of the best of us.

Howard Jacobson

Boycotters of Israel’s artistic and cultural bodies fail in their stated aim on behalf of Palestinians. The boycott is badly conceived, discriminatory, badly targeted activism which abandons a sober look at how Israeli society and politics works and instead lashes out at Israel’s little guys – who are (and there may be a weird psychology at work here) often the ones in Israeli society most likely to share the boycotters’ view of Palestinians as subjected to grave injustice. Does anybody seriously believe it likely that those little guys will suddenly start refusing state money – taxpayers’ money, their livelihood – and hold their government responsible for their ill fortune rather than the boycotters who are most immediately responsible for harming them and the various genocidal entities dotted round their regional neighbourhood, who threaten to? Seriously? And if they do, where is the mechanism for Palestinian emancipation or a change of heart in the Israeli electorate? And it goes without saying that the boycotters don’t offer them any compensation or alternative support, which is the ultimate chutzpah. Refusal to join in with this weird boycotting game is the only dignified response. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which itself exists in a very unstable Middle East context, and a very oppressive world, obviously needs a different approach – creating reasons to cede ground and power.

And in the absence – over the decade-long lifetime of this particular incarnation – of any gains on behalf of Palestinians as far as I can see, boycotting Israel has counter-productive side effects. Paradoxically in the case of the cultural boycott the fabrications and authoritarian pieties of boycotters represent a new orthodoxy which brings out many people’s instinct for transgression. The trouble is, even if the boycotters of Habima aren’t themselves harbouring antisemitic beliefs (and maybe some of them are) their hostility, closed-minded bias and heroic self-image are midwife to a much more intentional antisemitism of a ruthlessness they can’t or won’t imagine, where the stakes for those who resist it will be far higher. So the renovated far right Harts, Atzmons, Eisens of this world gain ground, slipping onto programmes and campuses where they would never have been invited before boycotters started making out out that attacking Israel was the same as speaking truth to power.

The Globe Theatre deserves credit for refusing to participate in laying that ground.

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