No conspiracy, no surprise.

Right wing journalist Peter Oborne’s comment piece on his Dispatches programme on the pro-Israeli lobby said :

“It is important to say what we did not find. There is no conspiracy, and nothing resembling a conspiracy.”

Why say this unless he had pre-conceived ideas ? Did he expect to find a conspiracy , did he look in vain for one ? Or maybe Oborne is a conspiracy theorist.

More “problematic cliches” about Nazi Israel at the Guardian

Mark Gardner from the CST discusses a change made in a recent Comment Is Free piece. Changes have been made before,such as when a piece originally titled “McCain’s pander to Jewish voters”, by Richard Silverstein was changed to “McCain’s play for pro-Israel voters”.

More “problematic cliches” about Nazi Israel at the Guardian
Mark Gardner

It is neither CST’s role nor wish to enter the often overheated debate as to whether or not criticism of Israel in the Guardian – and its highly successful online variant, Comment is Free (CiF) – is fair, balanced or proportionate.
Nevertheless, there are far too many occasions when the anti-Israel sentiment of Guardian and CiF contributors comes to our attention: this is not so much because the content might be misconstrued as explicitly antisemitic, but rather because it employs loose, crass and offensive langauge that should have no place in as influential an institution as the Guardian. (An institution, moreover, that claims to uphold the highest of moral and editorial values).
There are numerous examples of Guardian and CiF excesses in CST’s latest antisemitic discourse report, and another depressing example occurred on 18 August in an article by Slavoj Zizek that featured in both the print edition of the Guardian, and online at CiF. Zizek’s article accused Israel of taking over Palestinian territory: and in its original CiF version, stated that the land would be “Palestinian-frei”. Two days later, on 20 August, CiF amended this to read “Palestinian-free”, just as the actual print copy had read in the Guardian.
To some, this may appear a moot difference, but “Palestinian-free” is not the Nazi-themed term that “Palestinian-frei” is. After all, the Nazi Holocaust was designed to leave Europe “Juden-frei”, and the gate at Auschwitz read “Arbeit Macht Frei”. This is not to say that the Guardian and CiF should be accusing Israel of ‘ethnic cleansing’, far from it, but in this world of very small mercies, “frei” is clearly a Nazi slander, whereas “free” has no particular Jewish connotation.
CiF has tried hard in recent years to improve its moderation policies regarding comments upon the site, and in particular against the upsetting and hateful screeds that so often follow Israel and Jewish related articles. Their attitude to the accuracy and content of actual articles (rather than comments) has not always been so apparent, but CiF has explained their welcome decision to alter “frei” to “free” (see the foot of Zizek’s article) as:
“Due to an error, an edit to the print version of this article was not made to the online version. In print, the term “Palestinian-frei” was changed to read “Palestinian-free”. This edit has now been applied to the online version, as of 20 August 2009.”
It is not 100% clear from this explanation whether or not “Palestinian-frei” originated from Zizek’s original transcript, but this seems by far the most logical reading of the sentence. So, CiF’s alteration is certainly a welcome one and it leaves the article not quite as gratuitously offensive as it originally appeared to be.
I say ‘not quite as gratuitously offensive’, because the actual paragraph in which “Palestinian-frei” originally appeared is itself quite disgraceful. The paragraph is shown below (in its original “frei” form):
“Palestinians often use the problematic cliché of the Gaza strip as “the greatest concentration camp in the world”. However, in the past year, this designation has come dangerously close to truth. This is the fundamental reality that makes all abstract “prayers for peace” obscene and hypocritical. The state of Israel is clearly engaged in a slow, invisible process, ignored by the media; one day, the world will awake and discover that there is no more Palestinian West Bank, that the land is Palestinian-frei, and that we must accept the fact. The map of the Palestinian West Bank already looks like a fragmented archipelago.”
So, according to Zizek, the Palestinians’ “problematic cliche” of Gaza being “the greatest concentration camp in the world” is “dangerously close to the truth”. Israel, one presumes, is becoming the new Nazi Germany, and Palestinians are becoming the new Jews. Furthermore, this moral and historical perversion of Holocaust imagery is nothing more than a “problematic cliche” that is, anyway, now coming to fruition.
Zizek’s assertion that “one day, the world will wake up and discover that there is no more Palestinian West Bank, that the land is Palestinian-frei…” is not so much immoral as simply ludicrous. Are we to believe that one morning, the world will wake up and suddenly realise that Nablus, Hebron, Jericho, Bethlehem and countless other places have no population remaining? How will this occur? Will a Guardian journalist call room service in their Ramallah hotel one morning and receive no breakfast? And if so, will this journalist also fall prey to the extraordinary phenomenon whereby this enforced mass depopulation was somehow an “invisible process, ignored by the media”?
There is more than one “problematic cliche” in Zizek’s article, and in its publication by the Guardian and CiF. The most egregious part of one of those has been belatedly taken care of, but how many more “problematic cliches” will the Guardian stable keep chucking at us?

When blood libel becomes part of ‘kultur’

Petra Marquardt-Bigman reflects on the appearance (about which we posted previously) of an old libel in the Kultur section of a Swedish newspaper, and considers thinkers and writers who try to make the Israel-Nazi comparison respectable.

“It was doubtless a coincidence that on two consecutive days, two major publications in two European countries gave out the message that Israel deserves to be compared to the Nazis – but it was arguably a revealing coincidence.”

Read it all.

Update: David T discusses on the origins of the organ theft story and, despite being unfounded, observes it taking hold.

Blood libel in mainstream Swedish newspapers

Top Swedish Newspaper Aftonbladet says IDF Kills Palestinians for their organs. The original article is here.

Below is a guest piece on EISCA by Arieh Kovler of the Fair Play Campaign Group. Since this piece was written, the editor of Aftonbladet has fallen back on the Livingstone Manoeuvre saying that anybody who criticizes Israel risks being accused of antisemitism.

Recycling Old Libels. By Arieh Kovler.

The Blood Libel is one of the oldest antisemitic charges against Jews: the accusation that Jewish people conspire to kill non-Jews for nefarious purposes. The most common formulation of this lie is that Jews kill a Christian boy in order to use their blood for a ritual of some kind. But many of the earliest recorded blood libels level a slightly different accusation.

In 1909, Prof Hermann Strack of Berlin University wrote The Jew and Human Sacrifice – the first serious scholarly work devoted to exposing the Blood Libel as a dangerous historical lie. It is, unfortunately, still relevant today. Talking about the earliest Blood Libels, he notes (p174):

“In several cases, always assuming the credibility of the tradition, it would be a matter of popular -medical belief … According to the Marbach annals, the Jews of Fulda (when tortured, of course), confess in December, 1235, that they had murdered the miller’s children, ut ex eis sanguinem ad suum remedium elicerent – in order to obtain their blood for medical use“

Strack also highlights the account of Thomas Cantipratanus, a monk writing in about 1270. Thomas claims that all Jews were inflicted with some sort of hidden medical condition as a punishment for killing Jesus:

“A very learned Jew, who in our day has been converted to the [Christian] faith, informs us that one enjoying the reputation of a prophet among them … made the following prediction: ‘Be assured that relief from this secret ailment, to which you are exposed, can be obtained through Christian blood alone’. This suggestion was followed by the ever-blind and impious Jews, who instituted the custom of annually shedding Christian blood in every province, in order that they might recover from their malady.”

In these early Blood Libels, the Jews were accused of killing non-Jewish children to use their bodies for medical reasons.

750 years later, this particular varient of the Blood Libel lives on. On the 17th of August, Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet published an article by Donald Boström under the title “Palestinians accuse the Israeli army of stealing body parts from its victims”. The article strongly suggested that Israel has been stealing organs from Palestinians and both using them to supply Israeli transplant patients and selling them internationally.

The piece presents lots of facts: Many sick people in Israel need organ transplants. In 1992, then-health Minister Ehud Olmert led a drive to encourage Israelis to become organ donors. Some New Jersey Jews are being investigated for their role in an organised crime syndicate, which allegedly includes the buying of human organs from voluntary donors. Palestinians who are killed by the IDF are often autopsied.

From these facts, Boström suggests a massive and macabre international conspiracy in which Israelis and Jews harvest organs from Palestinian victims for gain and profit.

This is an incredibly serious and sickening charge to make. Not only does it recall the blood libels of the past, but it is also a form of the Nazi Card. The dehumanization of Jews by the Nazis was one of the worst features of the Holocaust; The Nazis treated Jews as raw materials rather than people, to be worked, killed or experimented on. The accusation that Israel would use the Palestinian as living organ banks is an inversion of this aspect of the Holocaust thrown back at Jews.

So it’s surprising that David Boström – like the accusers in the Blood Libels 0f old – doesn’t even pretend to offer any real evidence for his claim. Speaking to Israel Radio, he said:

“It concerns me to the extent that I want it to be investigated. But whether it’s true or not – I have no idea, I have no clue.”

Donald Boström is not the first to revive this contemporary twist on the old Blood Libel. He claims rumours of organ theft are common among Palestinians. Perhaps one reason for these rumours is the Iranian TV series Zahra’s Blue Eyes, broadcast in late 2004 and later dubbed for an Arabic audience. The plot involves the IDF conspiring to harvest Palestinians’ eyes for transplant into blind Israelis.

But Aftonbladet is a mainstream left-wing newspaper, not an Iranian propaganda outlet. It has the largest daily circulation of any paper in the Nordic Countries. Nearly one in six of the Swedish population reads it. It is majority-owned by the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, which has input into its editorial line. The paper’s editorial staff read this article, and felt that it was appropriate to run it anyway. Asa Linderborg, an editor on the relevant section of Aftonblade, told Ha’aretz that the newspaper “stands behind the demand for an international inquiry” of Boström’s claims. She also said:

“We had many discussions on whether to publish the article or not, and to the best of my knowledge, there are no facts there that are incorrect.”

And so a major European national newspaper ran a story that is extremely similar in both form and content to a medieval antisemitic slander.

CST Antisemitic Discourse Report 2008

Dave Rich from the CST writes :

CST has long been known for recording and analysing antisemitic hate crimes: the physical assaults, desecrations, racist abuse and hate mail that make up a quantifiable measure of antisemitism. But just as, in recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that antisemitism is not restricted to the activities of street thugs and bar room racists, so it has become necessary to chart that other sort of antisemitism: the ideas, images and language that occasionally pollutes public discourse.

Read the whole piece Here.

Download the full report Here.

Why I read The Independent with surgical gloves

See Harry’s Place. It’s not the first time The Independent have mingled their ‘Israel lobby’ stuff with racist references to malign Jewish power.

Update: Mark Gardner writes about this on the CST blog, plus follow-up.

When the CST say “Seven Jewish Children” is antisemitic, it is time to take the charge seriously

The Community Security Trust (CST) is a serious organisation.  It organises security for the Jewish community.  When you see security people standing outside synagogues or outside other Jewish events, they are CST volunteers.  They are well trained and they do a good job.  Only the most convinced antisemitism-denying antizionists would claim that there is no need for security outside Jewish communal events.   The CST keeps an eye on antisemitic behaviour and discourse in Britain and it collates information on antisemitic incidents.  The CST works closely with the police and it trains law-enforcement and communal agencies around the world in best practice.

The CST is an official, sober, experienced and serious organization, with roots in all parts of the Jewish community in Britain.  It is not a politically motivated organization – it is at the forefront of British Jews’ collective response to antisemitism.

When Dave Rich and Mark Gardner of the CST say that Caryl Churchill’s play “Seven Jewish Children” is antisemitic, and when they carefully explain why, people should take them seriously.   They don’t have to agree.  But to dismiss such criticism as dishonest pro-Israeli propaganda will not do.  Such a response exacerbates the antisemitism of which they are accused, it does not address it.

This piece, by Dave Rich and Mark Gardner, is from Comment is Free.

The Jewish festival of Passover celebrates the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the land of Israel. The festival begins with the seder, when Jewish families gather around the dining table and the story is retold by the adults to the children, who are encouraged to ask questions throughout.

There is a moment in the seder when the whole family recount the names of the ten plagues visited upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. As each plague is named, all present dip their finger into red wine – unmistakably reminiscent of blood – and spill a drop onto their plate. The Guardian chose a photograph of this scene to illustrate its online production of Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children.

The association of blood with Jews is a well-established antisemitic tradition. It is embodied in the blood libel charge, which first appeared in 12th-century England and quickly spread. The accusation was that Jews murder non-Jewish children to use their blood in religious rituals, especially at Passover. Ironically, when Jews spill their wine at the seder, it is to remember with sadness the pain of the Egyptians, not to celebrate their loss. Nevertheless, so many Jews died in blood libel massacres at Passover, that a rabbi in 17th-century Poland ruled that Jews could use white wine, not red, during the seder, lest antisemites mistake the red wine for Christian blood.

Seven Jewish Children is not a play about Israel. It was written by Churchill as a “response to the situation in Gaza in January 2009″, but it is a play explicitly about Jews. Her response to Gaza is to accuse Jews of having undergone a pathological transformation from victims to oppressors. The play comprises seven brief scenes, of which the first two are generally taken to represent the Holocaust, or perhaps pogroms during an earlier period of antisemitic agitation; in other words, they take place in Europe, before Israel even existed. It is Jewish thought and behaviour that links the play together, not Israel. The words Israel, Israelis, Zionism and Zionist are not mentioned once in the play, while Jews are mentioned in the title and in the text itself. We are often told that when people talk about Israel or Zionists, it is mischievous to accuse them of meaning Jews. Now, we are expected to imagine that a play that talks only of Jews, in fact, means Israelis.

In the first two scenes, it is Jewish “uncles” and “grandmother” who are killed, despite approximately one and a half million Jewish children having perished in the Holocaust. Whereas it is elderly Jews who are killed, the Jews’ victims are overwhelmingly depicted as children: there are two mentions of dead adults, namely “Hamas fighters” and “policemen”, but seven of dead children: “the boy”, “the family of dead girls”, “babies” and “their children covered in blood”. The play lands its blows in the final two scenes, culminating in a monologue of genocidal racist hatred: “they’re animals … I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out … we’re chosen people.”

A spokesman for the Royal Court Theatre, where the play was first performed, defended it with the formulaic argument that:

“While Seven Jewish Children is undoubtedly critical of the policies of the state of Israel, there is no suggestion that this should be read as a criticism of Jewish people. It is possible to criticise the actions of Israel without being antisemitic.”

The anti-Zionist conceit that, as long as you are talking about Israel, you can say whatever you want about Jews, is laid bare here. It is not even possible to discuss whether or where this play crosses a line from criticism of Israel into antisemitism, because the play does not present us with a specific criticism of an Israeli policy or action. The Guardian’s illustration of a Jewish family seder table is far more appropriate than a photograph of the Israeli cabinet table would ever have been.

The dishonesty and amorality of the adult voices in Seven Jewish Children is striking. Nowhere are right and wrong considered, when deciding how to answer their children’s questions. Never does an adult in the play consider whether their suggested answer is true or not, nor whether this should have any bearing on which answer is given. Their only thought is which answers will best shield Jewish children from difficult moral questions. It is as if Jewish children are brought up in a moral vacuum, with Jewish power and vulnerability the only things that matter.

Michael Billington, the Guardian’s theatre critic, noted that the play “shows us how Jewish children are bred to believe in the ‘otherness’ of Palestinians”. Howard Jacobson described this as an example of “how easily language can sleepwalk us into bigotry.”

Billington’s use of the word “bred” should have shaken Guardian readers and editors from their slumber. After all, if used in connection with black or Muslim children, then the racism alarms would sound loud and clear. In fact, wittingly or not, Billington used exactly the right language to describe the message of Seven Jewish Children.

The original text of the play (pdf) does not specify the actual number of actors, nor who speaks which lines. There are no distinct characters: any Jew can speak any of the lines, in combination with any of the other lines, without distorting the narrative. This homogenising is bad enough, but the Guardian’s production goes a step further. By presenting the play with just a single performer, speaking every Jewish voice in each time and place, the Guardian distils the play into an internal conversation inside the head of every Jew – the increasingly manic neuroses of a screwed-up people.

Howard Jacobson identified this as “a fine piece of fashionable psychobabble that understands Zionism as the collective nervous breakdown of the Jewish people”. All the “tell her/don’t tell her” answers in the play are really attempts to answer one simple question: what do those Jews learn as children that they behave like this as adults? The end result of this “psychobabble” is to slander Jews as being psychologically compelled to become the new Nazis. Not so much a blood libel perhaps, but certainly a deadly new libel for a new millennium.

In the play’s concluding monologue, presumably set during the Gaza conflict, the Jewish speaker declares: “… tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel? Tell her all I feel is happy it’s not her.” What are we to make of the “all” in that sentence? This nameless Jew, seemingly representing any and every Jew, who cannot escape the pain of the Holocaust and the shame of Gaza, can now feel nothing for the other, dead, non-Jewish child, covered in its own blood.

Jews, children, blood and, for the Guardian at least, the Passover seder: this mixture has a murderous antisemitic past. The virus of antisemitism is easily transmitted by those who are not aware they are carrying it. Churchill almost certainly does not intend it, but her play culminates in powerful antisemitic resonances. The Guardian’s online production further amplifies them. People sometimes ask when does anti-Zionism become antisemitism. Here is a rule of thumb: when people describe Israel with the same language and imagery that antisemites use to talk about Jews, the difference between the two disappears.

Dave Rich and Mark Gardner work for Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors antisemitism and provides security for the UK Jewish community

This piece, by Dave Rich and Mark Gardner, is from Comment is Free.

“Antiracists” think Ahmadinejad was right

“…Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s UN speech on 21 April struck many as obnoxious, but in terms of understanding the 1948 roots of the Middle East conflict he was spot on. Vilifying him may feel good, but it is a diversion form the real issue.”

Ghada Karmi, Author, Married to Another Man: Israel’s Dilemma in Palestine

“However we may deplore the tone of President Ahmadinejad’s speech at the UN conference on racism, it is difficult to deny the principal facts that he presented…”

Geoff Simons, Author, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

Karmi thinks Ahmadinejad was “spot on” in his understanding of the roots of the Middle East conflict.

Simons agrees with the “principal facts” that he presented.

Neither stops to wonder why it is they agree with a genocidal anti-Jewish racist on the central question concerning Jews in the contemporary world.  Perhaps it is just a coincidence?  A stopped clock is right twice a day?

But perhaps there are other lessons to be learnt from the fact that they agree with Ahmadinejad.

And why is the Guardian printing this support for the understanding and analysis of the world’s most powerful antisemite on its letters page?

If people don’t understand what is racist about holocaust denial then they should make use of Deborah Lipstadt’s magnificent website, which is an excellent resource, Holocaust Denial On Trial.  http://www.hdot.org/

Holocaust denial is antisemitic firstly because denial was part of the crime itself.  Those who were murdered were told that nobody would ever believe that this happened and that nobody would ever know that they even existed.  Denial is not a response to the Holocaust but it is part of the Holocaust.

Secondly because Holocaust denial necessarily assumes that the Jews are sufficiently powerful and sufficiently evil to have invented such a horrible lie and to have made believing it a precondition for acceptability in public life.  It is antisemitic conspiracy theory.

John Strawson

John Strawson

UPDATE – John Strawson adds:

Karmi and Simons rely on ignorance of history  in order to make their case: a case that Ahmadnejad is able to trade on.

“Their” history is that Western guilt for the Holocaust meant that the Jews were given Palestine in order to make amends.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Reading the United Nations documents that led to the partition plan – debate in the General Assembly May through November 1947 and the report of United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) – there are no Western expression of guilt whatsoever. The only speeches that linked the creation of a Jewish State to the Holocaust were from the Soviet Union and Poland.

Indeed what is striking is that despite many anti-Semitic remarks, not one Western country rises to object. The partition plan itself explicitly stated that it was plan for the future of government of Palestine and not a solution to the “Jewish question” – the latter formulation being a reference to the survivors of the Holocaust in displaced peoples’ camps.  Far from guilt there is indifference bordering on callousness.  The Jewish population of between 600,00-650,000 (and 18,000 in detention in in Cyprus) [UN figures]) were of course in Palestine in 1947.

They constituted a clearly constituted a national community.  It is this national identity that the Karmi et al wish to deny. Modern anti-Semitism mainly takes the form of discrimination against Jews as national community – something that the Durban II statement reinforces when it places anti-Semitism between “Islamaphobia” and “Christianophobia.” (draft article 10)

John Strawson

Independent Idiocy (& another Livingstone Formulation) – Mark Gardner

Adrian Hamilton’s dreadful article in the Independent’s 23rd April edition is worth noting, even by that newspaper’s standards.

The article is an attack on the walkout at the UN Geneva anti-racism conference by Western ambassadors during Iranian President Ahmedinejad’s speech. Hamilton quotes the UK ambassador saying that Ahmedinejad’s first mention of Israel was his cue to exit. Hamilton then asks:

“But what basically was our representative trying to say here? That any mention of the word Israel is barred from international discussions? That the mere mention of it is enough to have the Western governments combine to still it?”

Hamilton is aware of Ahmedinejad’s track record, but thinks the President wasn’t so bad in front of the UN. After all, he even remembered to say “Zionist” instead of “Jew”:

“In fact, Ahmadinejad’s speech was not anti-Semitic, not in the strict sense of the word. Nowhere in his speech did he mention his oft-quoted suggestion that Israel be expunged from the map of the world. At no point did he mention the word “Jews”, only “Zionists”, and then specifically in an Israeli context. Nor did he repeat his infamous Holocaust denials, although he did reportedly refer to it slightingly as “ambiguous” in its evidence”.

Next, Hamilton contextualises Ahmedinejad’s narrative (including “Zionist take-over of  Western politics”) as standard stuff in that part of the world:

“Instead, he launched the time-honoured Middle Eastern accusation that Israel was an alien country imposed on the local population by the West, out of its own guilt for the genocide; that it was supported by a Zionist take-over of Western politics and that it pursued racist policies towards the Palestinians.”

Then, Hamilton has his cake and eats it – if there is a “Zionist world conspiracy”, it is a rubbish one; although Western academics are now agreeing with the Muslim world that the American branch of the conspiracy (suddenly recast as “pro-Israel lobby”) is apparently doing brilliantly:

“Now you may find these calls offensive or far-fetched (if there is a Zionist world conspiracy, it is making a singularly bad job of it) but it is pretty much the standard view in the Muslim world. Western support of Israel is seen as a conspiracy, and it is not just prejudice. There are now books by Western academics arguing that the pro-Israeli lobby wields an influence in the US out of all proportion to its numbers. If the Western walkout in Geneva did nothing else, it rather proved the point.”

You can read the whole article on-line, where the sub-heading is the same Livingstone Formulation that the Independent’s headline team plucked out to put in bold letters in the print edition. Namely:

“What are we trying to say? That any mention of Israel is now barred?”

We are sadly used to the Independent and others alleging that anti-Israel “criticism” is branded as antisemitic – but “any mention is now barred?” goes much, much further.

The shift from mere “criticism” to “any mention” is bad enough, but in the context of Hamilton’s article it implies that the supposed antisemitism accusation conspiracy has now ensnared the highest levels of Western diplomacy. Yes, there is still a question mark hanging at the end of the sentence, so it remains more of a barbed rhetorical question rather than a statement of fact. Nevertheless, what is more likely to remain with Independent readers: the narrative, or the question mark?

Mark Gardner, Communications Director, CST

Geras deals with Seumas Milne’s trivialization of Ahmadinejad

Here.

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