Ridout on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

T. A. Ridout has recently written a piece for the Huffington Post called ‘Emotion, Reason and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’.  His main contention is that people who criticise Israel are accused of being either antisemitic or self-hating:

Kerry’s efforts will undoubtedly unleash a vitriolic debate in the United States and abroad. Unfortunately, there is a tendency for some who are vehemently pro-Israel to brand as anti-Semites anyone who may question the policies of the Israeli state. Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, and President Jimmy Carter are a few notable recent victims of such attacks.

As the Huffington Post Monitor observes, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer certainly don’t attract accusations of antisemitism for simply ‘question[ing] the policies of the Israeli state’.  I’d also note that you don’t have to be ‘vehemently pro-Israel’ to find their views troubling.  Mearsheimer, for example, has endorsed the work of Gilad Atzmon, someone who has been accused of antisemitism by Ali Abunimah, hardly a zealous Zionist.

Ridout goes on to assert that that:

Many also label Jewish people who criticize Israeli policies as “self-hating Jews”.

This seems an exaggerated and potentially quite misleading claim.  Yes, I’m sure sometimes the term is flung around inappropriately (and it could reasonably argued that it’s never a particularly helpful expression), but it is usually triggered by something rather more than simply criticising Netanyahu. He goes on:

Dr. Michael Austin argues that “One of the difficult things about anger is that it can cloud our judgment. Our reason can be overcome by anger, such that we think we’re motivated by justice when in fact something less noble is our true motive.”With these pitfalls in mind, it is important to distinguish between Israel and Jewish people. It is also important to distinguish between the policies of the Israeli state and the existence of the state itself. Careless talk can elicit the kind of anger and fear that lead to accusations of anti-Semitism. Likewise, those who would accuse others of anti-Semitism must be careful, lest they engage in slander and libel.

There’s an odd disjuncture in the logic here I think.  Austin’s quote could be taken to imply, in this context, that some critics of Israel are motivated by antisemitism.  That seems borne out by Ridout’s next sentence, on the importance of distinguishing between Israel and the Jewish people.  But then we get that rather weak phrase ‘careless talk’, which may in turn cause ‘anger and fear’, eventually leading to accusations of antisemitism.  The implication here, I think, is that those identifying antisemitism are irrational, driven by emotion to make (dubious?) ‘accusations’. That anger which can cloud our judgement, referred to by Austin, seems to be a problem which anti-racists, rather than racists, need to deal with.  The final sentence is odd because the word ‘likewise’ implies we are going to get some turn to a new topic or line of argument.  Yet it’s really just a continuation of the original scenario, except with an added reinforcement of the point that accusations of antisemitism may be false, even dishonest.

Ridout’s injunction that we must indeed condemn genuine instances of antisemitism is immediately followed by a return to the problems with Israel:

Jews have endured persecution for centuries. The Holocaust was a heinous crime against humanity. We must always keep these things in mind and acknowledge Jewish suffering. We must also be vigilant against genuine anti-Semitism and efforts to persecute Jews. But Jewish people are not the only ones who suffer persecution, and the Israeli government — like any government — is capable of perpetrating injustices.

By seeming to gloss or explain anti-Semitism as ‘efforts to persecute Jews’ Ridout makes me think his threshold for ‘genuine antisemitism’ may be a little high.

It’s interesting to contrast this piece with his recent post on Islamophobia in the wake of the Boston attacks. It’s an eloquent and engaging article.  I agree with his argument that anxieties about extremists should not be used to stop us tackling Islamophobia, or employed as some kind of counterweight to soften or even undermine our concerns about bigotry.  But I wish he could have demonstrated the same clarity about racism and prejudice in his post on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

13 Responses to “Ridout on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”

  1. Absolute Observer Says:

    Love the distinction between ‘classical’ antisemitism and……..what exactly? Since if it ain’t ‘classical’ then apparently does not exist but becomes nothing more than false claims by irrational, damaged Jews (no doubt, irrational and damaged by ‘centuries’ of ‘classical antisemitism’). If this is right, then, you can’t believe what Jews today say about antisemitism because, erm, they have been victims of antisemitism. Cake and eating it!!
    I also despise the implicit idea of the recognition that in the period of ‘classical antisemitism’ (a concept that is meaningless if it is said to go back ‘centuries’) allegations against Jews were all lies (controlling the press, governments, irrational and devoid of reason (what used to be called ‘Jewishness’)) etc. etc., but now, not only are they true (Walt and Mearsheimer and Ridout himself), but also any one who dares recognise them as antisemitic myths are…………….irrational and devoid of reason!
    And as we all know, even in the stages of ‘classical antisemitism’, newer expressions of it (for example, the shift from ‘racial’ from ‘religious’ antisemitism) were always accompanied by its proponents with the rider that, ‘of course, the old reasons of Jew-hatred were silly, but here, in our work, which has nothing to do with that nonsense – is the (malevolent) truth about the Jews, but the Jews will try to stop us telling the truth, because, well, because they are afraid of the truth; that is why they label us as Jew-haters, so to stop us telling the truth.
    I also find the idea that Jews are too irrational to talk about Israel (especially those who oppose BDS and associated demonisation of Israel) not only racist (the return of ‘Jewishness”) but also a way of silencing their opponents.
    And the writer of this post is surely right when she notes the ‘straw man’ thesis that all critics of Israel are labelled antisemitism tout court; as if writing a 600 odd page book on how ‘Zionists’ control and determine US foreign policy is nothing by ‘criticism of the Israeli government!
    Maybe one day, sanity will break out; and when it does, then, no doubt, this era will be included in the period of ‘classical antisemitism’ and (to be pessimistic) in no way comparable to what people are then saying about the Jews.

  2. Absolute Observer Says:

    You missed this gem out!

    ‘There is evidence that Israel’s subjugation of the Palestinians is fueling a rise in anti-Semitism around the world because many wrongly view Israeli policies as representing Judaism instead of the interests of a nation-state. For example, one recent OSCE study found that anti-Israel attitudes fueled anti-Semitism in Norway.

    Israel does not speak for the Jewish people as a whole, but its actions appear to have negative consequences for Jewish people everywhere, whether or not they support the policies of the Israeli state. It is hard to imagine a more tragic irony.’

    ‘Tragic irony’ – oh ffs. It is not a ‘tragic irony’ – it is the oldest (or should that be the most ‘classical) ‘get out of jail card’ used by antisemites there is ‘If only the Jews (were not so exclusive, were not so avaracious, did not treat the Palestinians so badly) then there would be no antisemitism – and, of course, I don’t mean all Jews; after all, it would be wrong to identify all Jews with religious Jews, capitalist Jews, Israeli Jews, but, really, it is there behaviour that is making to bad for all the others; indeed, for bringing antisemitism in the world in the first place.

    It is a pity that for Ridout the problem is not only the Israelis who are continuing to occupy the West Bank, the check points, the ID papers, to continue settlements on someone else’s land, etc., but also non-Israeli (i.e.American) Jews who refuse not to call out antisemitism when they think (sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly) when they see it.

    Seems like it is Ridout who, despite his pious platitudes, cannot tell the difference between Israelis and the majority of Jews. He sees both as responsible for the failure to not only attain justice in Israel and Palestine, but even to talk about it in a meaningful, sensible and rational way (damn those ‘damaged’ Jews!). Now that is the tragic irony!

    • Anti-racism 101 Says:

      I look forward to the new anti-racist slogan to be held high at anti-racist demos.

      ‘Unite and Fight Against Racism/Islamophobia/Antisemitism*: Make Blacks/Muslims/Jews* Behave!’

      *delete where and if appropriate.

    • Jacob Arnon Says:

      “There is evidence that Israel’s subjugation of the Palestinians is fueling a rise in anti-Semitism around the world because many wrongly view Israeli policies as representing Judaism”

      T. A. Ridout is very wrong about this, and is especially wrong about the example he offered:

      “For example, one recent OSCE study found that anti-Israel attitudes fueled anti-Semitism in Norway.”

      He is wrong because to blame current antisemitism on Israel he would have to explain historic antisemitism in Norway which led to the deportation of Jews to death camps with the help of Norwegians. In the 30’s and 40’s there was no Israel, so how would he explain its presence in Norway at that time?

      But still, I would like to assume for the sake of argument that Ridelout is right.

      He would still have to explain why so many Europeans bother to blame Jews while not blaming Chinese people for the much worse exploitation of Tibetans, or the Turks for the oppression of Kurds.

      I doubt he would be able to do so without appealing to historic antisemitism in Europe.

      Again, let’s assume that Israel is responsible for the presence of antisemitism in Europe today. If so the meaning and consequence of antisemitism in Norway today is very different from its meaning in earlier times. It’s different because Jews can fight back, it’s also different because Jews have a country to go to if the level of hatred is as strong as it was in the 1930’s.

      Given this fact Rideout needs to ask Jews if they would rather face antisemitism with the presence of an Israel in the background or without it. Given that more than half the Jews in the world live in Israel they have already given him the answer.

      Finally, many Israelis are working for a two state solution to the conflict and many many more are working towards making Israel live up to its democratic promise. This is more than many countries in Europe (vide: Hungary, Greece, Russia, Sweden with its recent riots, etc.) can boast of.

      All in all another good article by Sarah.

  3. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    This notion that all Jews who appear to back BDS or who criticise Jews who support Israel (although not necessarily uncritically) are labelled ‘self-hating Jews’ is more than somewhat annoying. At one level, Anthony Julius had it spot on when he suggested that such people are by no means self-haters: “It’s their parents they hate” (think about it!).

    Along with others, I have criticised fellow Jews without ever thus labelling them. More than once I have noted Anthony Lerman’s propensity to suggest that if only British Jews were less whole-heartedly pro-Israel, then antisemitism in the UK would decline. As though the behaviour of the despised out group ever had the slightest effect on the attitudes of the oppressors. Does anyone honestly think that any change in the behaviour of members of ethnic minority groups in the UK would have the slightest effect on the BNP et al? And this is from a distinguished social scientist who was, twice, the Director of JPR.

    One would have thought that Lerman would have been well acquainted with the concept of ‘blaming the victim’.

    But that has been the extent of my criticism of him: I have never gone beyond that, that is, never done more than suggested that his grasp of social science concepts in this area might be a trifle faulty. Not that it stopped one commenter on these pages accusing me of an ad hominem attack on Lerman.

    It is plain that the likes of Ridout clearly misunderstand this whole area. One wonders what they would be saying were the object of their interest not Israel and Jews but various other ethnic minorities; would they adopt the same approach to their critics?

    Unsurprisingly, that last question is meant to be seen as rhetorical.

    • Ben Says:

      You’ve commented very accurately about the legion failings and overall incompetence of Mr. Lerman. I’m not surprised that he has some apologists trying to spin his contradictory/factless views, but let me put it this way: one can polish manure but it’s still a pile of shit.

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        Thanks , Ben1 I love your last half sentence. Indeed, you’ve just lost copyright on it, and I intend to shamelessly steal it as appropriate.

  4. Absolute Observer Says:

    And to complete the famiilar cliches of his article we have accusations of Jewish ‘exceptionalism’ and claims of Jewish ‘privilege’.

    First we have, ‘The Holocaust was a heinous crime against humanity’.
    Then he says, ‘But Jewish people are not the only ones who suffer persecution’.
    Then he says, ‘But Jewish people are not the only ones who suffer persecution, and the Israeli government — like any government — is capable of perpetrating injustices.’

    Actually, the Holocaust was a crime committed against the Jews.
    Jews were murdered not because they were ‘humans’, but because, and only because, they were Jews. Legally, it was only after the event that this crime against the Jews and other peoples by the Nazis was framed under a more general rubric of ‘crime against humanity’.
    Even in the face of this fact, the ‘Jewish people’ have never said they are the ‘only ones’ who suffer persecution’, although many, and not only Jews, recognise the special place that the nazis allocated them.
    But Ridout’s (dog whistle) idea is, of course, that Jews (non-Israeli Jews) who ‘label critics antisemites and self-hating Jews’ and who ‘defend Israel’ do so unscrupulously and dishonestly by claiming that because Jews and only Jews have suffered then ‘they’ (Israeli Jews) can do no wrong; that Jews exploit their own suffering (while denying others) to defend their co-brethren.
    As I said, ‘accusations of Jewish ‘exceptionalism’ and claims of Jewish ‘privilege’.’

    So Ridout’s argument is nothing but the familiar,
    Jews are damaged and irrational.
    The Jewish state is responsible for antisemitism
    Jews exploit the Holocaust and deny other peoples their history of persecution to whitewash and defend Israel’s wrongs and silence Israel’s ‘critics’ [sic].
    (Here I will not even mention the fact that, contrary to what Ridout and others think, that no matter how much they flatter themselves, Jews are more than the antisemitism that has been directed toward them at various times in the past and actually have a history distinct from it – gasp!)

    But, of course, since he is only a ‘critic of Israel’ and since to note the similarity between his ‘criticism’ and standard antisemitic ways of seeing things, means I am nothing more than an exploitative, irrational, angry, damaged, over-emotional Jew.
    Interesting,the way that those who claim to have been silenced spend their time trying to silence or, at the least, delegitimise all those, who disagree with them. Beats dialogue and the listening that dialogue demands.

    (I also remember when the same argument as Ridout’s was commonly used against feminists decades ago.
    I think it is called ‘classical sexism’ and, as we all know, since it never ever ever happens any more sexism is nothing more than a distant memory, or should we say, has the status as ‘classical’!).

    • Lynne T Says:

      For Rideout et al, what Jewish exceptionalism means is that “well, your people stayed away or were kept out of Israel for so long, that along with the Roma perhaps, you just need to reconcile yourself to permanent statelessness and get on with it.

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        Absolute Observer’s comment, from “So Ridout’s argument is nothing but the familiar,
        Jews are damaged and irrational…” to the end of the piece brings to mind the thought that Ridout is trespassing on Jacqueline Rose’s territory. She argues that Jewish nationalism (and only Jewish nationalism), in its desire for a homeland to call its own is somehow (my word: Rose sees no trace of ‘somehow’ anywhere: no room for doubt for her) symptomatic of a mental illness. As already noted, this is, by implication or worse, not true of anyone else’s nationalism, only Jewish nationalism.

        With co-religionists like this, who needs anti-Zionist enemies?

  5. Warped Mirror PMB Says:

    Just one point: The fact that Ali Abunimah has denounced Atzmon (and the Free Gaza crowd) as antisemitic is absolutely meaningless and shouldn’t be taken as a “proof” for anything. Abunimah does this occasionally for purely strategic reasons — NOT because he has something against antisemitic views. In his Electronic Intifada, Ben White has written as the in-house expert on what’s antisemitism; and Abunimah admires a number of other people who are busy mainstreaming antisemitism — e.g. Joseph Massad, who loves to compare Nazism and Zionism which, in his view, are more or less equally antisemitic….

  6. Noga Says:

    This is a very good presentation by Lesley Klaff on the theme of Holocaust reversal employed by so-called “Human Rights” activists to demonize Israel and Jews.

    “Lesley Klaff is senior lecturer in law at Sheffield Hallam University, England, and an affiliate professor of law at Haifa University, Israel. She is a reviewer for English Legal System and Skills texts and Jurisprudence texts for Oxford University Press and Pearson Longman publishers and associate editor and book review editor of the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism (JSA).Ms. Klaff serves on the Advisory Board of The Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (BICSA) – See more at: http://jcpa.org/researcher/lesley-klaff/#sthash.uBM0i3Za.dpuf

  7. Lynne T Says:

    Of course to TA Rideout, there is absolutely no connection between decades of the European media blackening Israel’s reputation by promolgating such false or exagerated tales as the IDF’s alleged gunning down of Mohammed Al-Dura or the Jenin massacre and the notion that Israel’s existence is responsible for anti-Semetic attitudes.

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