Tag Archives: Nazi Germany

Free speech and antisemitism: Max Blumenthal’s Goliath [updated]

When the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) released its 2013 list of the “Top 10 Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel Slurs” at the end of December, Max Blumenthal reacted with scorn and ridicule when he found himself included in the category “The Power of the Poison Pen.” As if to prove SWC’s assessment, he posted a drawing by the cartoonist Carlos Latuff, who, for good reason, had himself been included in the SWC list for 2012.

Blumenthal Hier cartoon

According to the SWC, it was his recently published book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel and his efforts “to equate Israelis with Nazis” that earned Blumenthal a place on the list.

But Blumenthal’s book also had its defenders, most notably perhaps James Fallows, a veteran board member of the prestigious New America Foundation (NAF) who is widely regarded as “a highly acclaimed author, journalist, editor, and media commentator.”

Writing at the Atlantic, Fallows described Blumenthal’s Goliath as a book that “should be discussed and read” and dismissed criticism of Goliath, asserting that it amounted to “flat mischaracterizations” when critics denounced the book as “bigoted propaganda” that is “so anti-Israel it is effectively anti-Semitic.” Fallows also defended the controversial decision to provide Blumenthal with a platform to promote his book at the NAF in early December, arguing that it “was the right call on general free-speech principles” to ignore critics of the event.

Blumenthal certainly appreciated Fallows’ endorsement and promptly posted an excerpt on his Amazon page for Goliath.

But there was another endorsement for Goliath that Blumenthal appreciated greatly – and it arguably makes a fool of Fallows, because it documents that Blumenthal indeed wanted his readers to understand his book as “so anti-Israel” that critics who denounced Goliath as antisemitic can only feel fully vindicated.

Blumenthal made it abundantly clear what he wanted readers to take away from his book when he recommended a “brief but thorough review of Goliath” to his more than 27,000 Twitter followers, explicitly thanking the blogger who had posted the review for the “praise.”

Blumenthal Goliath review1

Here are the relevant quotes from this “brief but thorough review:”

“You’d think Jews, […] of all people, would react viscerally […] against the notion of their state would [sic] come to create their own Gestapo (Shin Bet), build concentration camp (Ketzlot, for African refugees), emphasize racial purity while demonizing miscegenation (rationalized as the ‘demographic’ problem, but more significantly given religious and racial expression in groups like Lehava), using the police state, not just against enemies, but to crush dissent and ghettos (the walls are sprouting up all over Palestinian towns in the West Bank and, of course, there’s always Gaza). Even Kristallnacht was recreated by what amounts to an officially sanctioned anti-immigrant pogrom in Tel Aviv, in May of 2012.

Yes, you’d be mistaken. Reading Goliath, the similarities between Nazi Germany and today’s Israeli regime are impossible to avoid. […]

As I read Goliath, one thought […] kept cropping up throughout: Apart from the specific group, it’s [sic] flag, and all the other trappings of a national mythos and its veneration, are the aims and methods of the ‘pure’ Zionist state so very different than those of the ‘pure’ Aryan one?”

It is often difficult to show antisemitic intent, but Blumenthal makes it easy by endorsing this review – as well as others that offer similar “praise” – thus leaving no doubt how he wanted his book to be understood. Inevitably, this means that Blumenthal and his admirers actually agree with his critics that Goliath presents Israel as an utterly evil state that can only be compared to Nazi Germany. Even though there is considerable controversy about the question when hostility to Israel should be defined as antisemitism, Blumenthal’s single-minded effort to portray Israel in an extremely biased way in order to promote comparisons to Nazi Germany that would justify political campaigns aimed at eliminating the Jewish state qualifies even under the most stringent criteria.

In a paper entitled “Another Milestone for the Mainstreaming of Antisemitism: The New America Foundation and Max Blumenthal’s Goliath” that has just been published by the Louis D. Brandeis Center, I have also provided extensive documentation that Blumenthal’s book, or the material he published earlier and then recycled for the book, has been praised on all the major sites popular among conspiracy theorists, Jew-haters, racists and neo-Nazis: from Stormfront to David Duke’s site, Rense, and Veterans Today. In addition, Goliath was of course celebrated by outlets such as Mondoweiss and the Electronic Intifada, which cater to activists devoted to promoting boycott campaigns against Israel and maligning the Jewish state as illegitimate and uniquely evil.

Even if the hate-filled material promoted by these sites is considered “protected” free speech, few would argue that it is a violation of the principles of free speech that mainstream outlets usually shun this material and no respectable think tank would consider featuring it.

So what to make of the fact that a prestigious think tank like the NAF and a prominent commentator like James Fallows insist that it was entirely appropriate to promote a book written with the intent to depict Israel as the Nazi Germany of our time? What to make of the accusation that opposing the promotion of a book like Blumenthal’s Goliath violates “general free-speech principles?”

As Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin rightly argued:

“By claiming that this book requires our attention, he [Fallows] is asserting that Israel’s existence and the right of its six million Jews to self-determination and self-defense is debatable. The answer to Fallows from those of us who were offended by NAF’s decision to embrace Blumenthal is to say that these notions are no more debatable than the positions of the Klan, apartheid advocates, or those of al-Qaeda. Blumenthal’s book belongs in the category of those things that are offensive, not because he is critical of an imperfect democracy but because his purpose is to advance the cause of its dissolution.”

Fallows noted at the end of his defense of the NAF event for Goliath that if Blumenthal is wrong, “his case should be addressed in specific rather than ruled out of respectable consideration.” That means in effect that Blumenthal’s critics are supposed to make a convincing case that Israel is not like Nazi Germany and that the world’s only Jewish state should perhaps be allowed to continue existing, even if some of its citizens, officials and politicians have views that are no better than those held by reactionaries in Europe or the US.

The bigotry inherent in comparing Israel to Nazi Germany has been often demonstrated. Among the most memorable examples is perhaps the 1961 debate at Montreal’s McGill University between the famous British historian Arnold Toynbee and Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Yaacov Herzog. Toynbee had been willing to believe in the 1930s that Hitler had only limited ambitions, but he was alarmed by Zionism, which he considered “demonic.” During a lecture at McGill in January 1961, Toynbee questioned the right of the Jewish people to a state and claimed that Israel’s conduct in the War of Independence was morally equivalent to the Nazis. In the subsequent debate, Herzog forced Toynbee to concede that if Israel’s actions during a war of self-defense justified the comparison to Nazi atrocities, every nation’s conduct in war – and certainly the conduct of the Arabs, who had threatened the fledgling Jewish state with a “war of extermination and momentous massacre” – would have to be denounced in the same terms.

It would be easy to repeat the same exercise with Blumenthal’s Goliath, but since the bigoted comparison between Israel and Nazi Germany has remained fairly popular for more than five decades, it is arguably time to acknowledge that continuing to debate this calumny as if it had any merit might only serve to legitimize and perpetuate the underlying bigotry. As Tobin argued, there are ideas and ideologies that don’t deserve to be debated, and few would suggest that the ideas of Max Blumenthal’s admirers on David Duke’s site, Stormfront, Rense, and Veterans Today need to be seriously debated in order to be refuted. Yet, this is exactly what Blumenthal wants us to do, as this tweet he recently sent to me illustrates:

Blumenthal Stormfront Zionism

In the post Blumenthal links to, a Stormfront member advances the “controversial and extremely radical proposition” that White Nationalists in Europe and the US should support Zionism and even a “mandatory expulsion of Jews” to Israel in order to reduce the “excessive influence” of Jews “over both the media and economics.” As far as Blumenthal is concerned, this “proves” that anti-Israel activists like him are right to claim that Zionism is not only racism, but also a pernicious form of antisemitism that supports a “Juden raus” policy by establishing and maintaining Israel as a Jewish state.

James Fallows may think all this is worthy of debate, but as Twitter user Sol Robinson demonstrated with his reply to Blumenthal, there isn’t really all that much to debate when someone “cannot understand the difference between Jews wanting to get away from racists, and racists wanting jews gone.”

Blumenthal Stormfront reply

Assuming that Blumenthal really “cannot understand” this difference is arguably the most charitable take, particularly in view of the fact that Blumenthal himself  advocated a “Juden raus” policy for those Israeli Jews who would refuse to “become indigenized” in the Arab state that Blumenthal hopes will replace the Jewish state in the not too distant future. To put it bluntly: there is precious little difference between what Stormfront members would like to see happen in Europe and the US and what Max Blumenthal would like to see happen in the Middle East.

Marginalizing such views as despicable bigotry that doesn’t deserve to be dignified by serious debate is not a violation of free speech. Max Blumenthal may fervently believe that the Middle East’s most democratic and pluralistic state is the Nazi Germany of our time and should be treated accordingly, but anyone who agrees that this is a proposition worthwhile debating would have to explain why other hate-filled bigotries that are popular among Blumenthal’s fans at Stormfront and similar sites are generally not regarded as worthy of debate.

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First published on my JPost blog and at Harry’s Place.

Update: In the meantime, I’ve written another related post published on the blog of the Louis. D. Brandeis Center, where I address the spurious claim by Judith Butler and Rashid Khalidi that BDS advocates like them suffer from “accelerating efforts to curtail speech, to exercise censorship, and to carry out retaliatory action against individuals on the basis of their political views or associations, notably support for BDS.”

As I argue there, one important point to keep in mind is:

“When prominent tenured academics like Butler and Khalidi worry about the ‘intimidation’ of BDS advocates and proceed to call on their colleagues to oppose this alleged intimidation, it is arguably time to point out that students who oppose the BDS goal of doing away with the Jewish state and view the comparison of Israel and Nazi Germany as anti-Semitic have plenty of reason to feel much more intimidated. Highlighting a research paper on ‘Antisemitism in the Contemporary American University,’ the eminent anti-Semitism expert Robert Wistrich noted three years ago that ‘it is a deeply troubling fact that anti-Semitism (often in the form of anti-Zionism and hatred of Israel) has become a significant part of intellectual and academic discourse.’”

Another crucially important point is that, as Britain’s former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has argued, “an assault on Jewish life always needs justification by the highest source of authority in the culture at any given age.” A widely praised new study based on some 14,000 hostile messages sent to the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Israeli embassy in Berlin by Monika Schwarz-Friesel provides plenty of evidence that contemporary antisemitism is often expressed as “anti-Israelism” and that it is promoted primarily by “the social mainstream – professors, Ph.Ds, lawyers, priests, university and high-school students.”

Another libel in the making

While anti-Israel activists currently keep themselves entertained with their annual “Israel Apartheid Week” spectacle, there are apparently some who feel that just slandering Israel as a state that is guilty of practicing apartheid isn’t good enough. In an attempt to “improve” on the demonization of the world’s only Jewish state, some activists are now trying to spread the idea that Israel is the Nazi Germany of our time. As I have recently documented in detail, Max Blumenthal’s book Goliath is entirely devoted to this purpose, and Blumenthal’s message is not only appreciated by anti-Israel activists on US campuses, but also by the fans of David Duke, Stormfront and similar outlets catering to conspiracy theorists, racists and neo-Nazis.

For the Jew-haters at Stormfront, Max Blumenthal is “great,” and his relentless demonization of Israel is appreciated as proof that “not all jews are assholes.” (See documentation here (pdf)). But beyond garnering praise for himself, Blumenthal also managed to demonstrate that the racists at Stormfront have their priorities: while they would usually not show much sympathy for the plight of African migrants and refugees, they won’t ignore it when somebody claims that Africans in Israel are treated so badly that one can only compare their fate to what happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany.

Israel’s supposedly Nazi-like treatment of African migrants and refugees is a major topic in Goliath, and for some of the related material, Blumenthal collaborated with David Sheen, a Canadian-born Israeli who describes himself as a “documentarian & designer.” A few months ago, Mondoweiss – a site that has been frequently accused of publishing antisemitic material – announced that Sheen was writing “the first book on anti-African racism in Israel,” and currently, Sheen is on a month-long speaking tour in the US and Canada to tell everyone who’s willing to listen that his fellow citizens in his adopted country treat African refugees and migrants like the Jews were treated in Nazi Germany.

Max Blumenthal helpfully tweeted a picture showing one of the slides from Sheen’s presentation that illustrates what a great job he’s doing – because obviously, if there is an employment office in the Israeli detention center for African migrants, this is reason enough to compare the facility to Auschwitz and the cynical “Arbeit macht frei” slogan at its entrance gate.

Sheen Arbeit macht frei

To be sure, in Auschwitz the sign indicated “another form of genocide that the Nazis called ‘extermination through work,’” but for “journalists” like Max Blumenthal and David Sheen, this is apparently an irrelevant detail.

Among the material Sheen is presenting to make his case is also a video with the juicy title “Israel’s New Racism: The Persecution of African Migrants in the Holy Land.” The fact that more than 600 000 people have watched this clip so far should probably not be taken as a sign of widespread interest in the plight of African migrants in general; indeed, it is safe to assume that few of the people who watched the clip noticed that right at the beginning, the narrator says: “As Europe closes its gates to asylum seekers, Israel became the next best option.”

This seems to be a glitch that really shouldn’t happen to professional Israel bashers. It certainly shouldn’t happen to David Sheen, who, after all, is working on a book in which he intends to make the case that the plight of Africans in Israel

“has huge implications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Because if Israeli policy is not based on equal treatment regardless of ethnicity, but on ensuring that as few as possible non-Jewish people remain in the country, then that would go a long way towards explaining Israel’s actions vis-a-vis the Palestinians for the last 66 years. Perhaps the source of the conflict isn’t Arab anti-Semitism, or even competing land claims, but as distasteful as it sounds, a drive by Israeli political and religious leaders for racial and religious purity.”

Now we only have to find out why “Europe closes its gates to asylum seekers”… or why some would talk about “America’s deportation machine”…

Of course, anti-Israel activists couldn’t care less about refugees and migrants outside of Israel. If they did, they would have to realize that the kind of books Blumenthal and Sheen produce could also be written on the US and most European countries. A recent report entitled “Fortress Europe: How the EU Turns Its Back on Refugees” explained that the “expectations of refugees who come to Europe often go unfulfilled. Many must struggle through long asylum application processes or fight against ingrained local prejudice. In some countries, they endure appalling living conditions in refugee camps; in others, they end up on the streets.” Recently filmed footage from an Italian “reception center” for refugees showed scenes that inspired widely reported comparisons with concentration camps;  a report on “Europe’s Deepening Refugee Crisis” described “a cycle of degradation faced by thousands of African refugees living in Europe today;” refugees in Germany complain that they are treated like criminals; in the Netherlands, scores of asylum seekers facing deportation have committed suicide in the past decade and many more have tried to kill themselves; and the way some asylum seekers are treated in Britain has led critics to conclude that they are not even seen as human beings.

And just imagine how popular this slide show would be if it was about Israel…

Sheen uninteresting deportations

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

 

Cheering a new ‘I Hate Israel Handbook’ [updated]

Coinciding with last weekend’s 75th anniversary of the “Kristallnacht” pogrom by the Nazis, several institutions in Berlin, including the Jewish Museum, organized an “International Conference on Current Phenomena of Antisemitism in Europe.” Given that the focus of the conference was supposedly on “current” manifestations of antisemitism in Europe, it was not at all promising that the keynote speaker – Oxford University philosopher Brian Klug – has made a name for himself by arguing that the demonization of the Jewish state is not “necessarily anti-semitic.” And while Klug has spent much energy opposing the notion that there is a “new antisemitism” that targets Israel, he seems eager to embrace the relatively new concept of “Islamophobia.” 

When critics of Klug published a dossier detailing their objections to his views, the Oxford professor immediately hinted that he might take legal action, because his “attorney…confirmed that the dossier is defamatory.” That left me wondering if Klug (and his attorney, of course!) feels there is anything “defamatory” about the fact that he is being enthusiastically defended and cheered on by a site like Mondoweiss, which has often been accused of publishing antisemitic material.

In recent weeks, one of the biggest stories at Mondoweiss was the publication of a new book by Max Blumenthal, one of the site’s heroes. As one critical reviewer elsewhere noted, Blumenthal’s “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” is really a “I Hate Israel Handbook” brimming with implicit equations of Israel with Nazis, which “could have been published by the Hamas Book-of-the-Month Club (if it existed) without a single word change once it’s translated into Arabic.”

Unsurprisingly for those of us who are less sophisticated about antisemitism than Brian Klug, there is a big market for a new “I Hate Israel Handbook.” The Israel-haters at the Electronic Intifada jubilantly announced that the book was at one point “the number one seller on Amazon.com in the category of Israeli history.” So perhaps we can imagine that just as Brian Klug shared his thoughts on “Current Phenomena of Antisemitism” with his audience at the Berlin conference, some Mondoweiss (and Brian Klug) fans and other Israel-haters were savoring Blumenthal’s screed – and perhaps they even happened to read the chapters on the Israeli-run concentration camp and the Israeli-perpetrated Kristallnacht?

Blumenthal Goliath

It is arguably no coincidence that a site like Mondoweiss would champion both Oxford philosopher Brian Klug and anti-Israel propagandist Max Blumenthal. Indeed, the fairly impressive endorsements Blumenthal has been able to get for his screed could be seen as the fruit of Klug’s endlessly repeated mantra that there should be precious few red lines when it comes to criticizing Israel. In one of his first articles on this subject Klug wrote some ten years ago:

“In his book, The Case for Israel, Alan Dershowitz argues that when criticism of Israel ‘crosses the line from fair to foul’ it goes ‘from acceptable to anti-semitic’.

People who take this view say the line is crossed when critics single Israel out unfairly; when they apply a double standard and judge Israel by harsher criteria than they use for other states; when they misrepresent the facts so as to put Israel in a bad light; when they vilify the Jewish state; and so on. All of which undoubtedly is foul. But is it necessarily anti-semitic?

No, it is not.”

Let’s imagine for a moment how Professor Klug would feel about this version:

“when critics single Islam out unfairly; when they apply a double standard and judge Islam by harsher criteria than they use for other religions; when they misrepresent the facts so as to put Islam in a bad light; when they vilify the Muslim religion…[this] undoubtedly is foul. But is it necessarily Islamophobic?

No, it is not.”

Of course, one could try this with Blacks, Roma, gays, or whatever other group or entity one would like to vilify while claiming the authority of Oxford philosopher Brian Klug to argue that none of this means that one is “necessarily” bigoted.

However, as we all know, the Klug-definition for bigotry is considered acceptable only when it comes to Israel. So Max Blumenthal and many others can apply double standards and judge Israel by harsher criteria than any other state; they can misrepresent the facts so as to put Israel in a bad light; and they can freely vilify the Jewish state without risking to be denounced as “necessarily anti-semitic.”

Now let’s have a look at some of those who were happy to endorse Blumenthal’s “I Hate Israel Handbook.”

The top editorial endorsement featured on the book’s Amazon page is unsurprisingly from The Guardian: “Goliath…shows in forensic detail the reality of the Israeli mainstream’s embrace [of] blatant racism against Arabs and Africans.” It is noteworthy that The Guardian is saying here that the vast majority of Israelis are blatantly racist: the rightwing is racist by definition (certainly by The Guardian’s definition), and since the mainstream is also racist, only a small minority of far-left Israelis are perhaps not racist. It’s also safe to assume that The Guardian is only talking about Jewish Israelis here – so at least Arab Israelis may not be racist…

Ironically enough, another warm endorsement for Blumenthal’s screed comes from The American Conservative (TAC), nicely illustrating that when it comes to the evils of Israel, a supposedly “progressive” publication like The Guardian and a paleoconservative publication like TAC can see eye to eye.

Then there is an endorsement from Stephen Walt – with his full institutional affiliation: Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Walt praises Blumenthal’s “[b]rave reporting,” adding: “Makes me wish he wrote for the New York Times.” Given that earlier this year, Walt served as guest contributor for the Hamas mouthpiece MEMO, it is arguably not surprising that he would happily endorse a book that “could have been published by the Hamas Book-of-the-Month Club.”

Another high-profile academic endorsement for Blumenthal’s screed comes from Rashid Khalidi, though the Columbia professor apparently didn’t want his institutional affiliation displayed. Khalidi praises the book because he feels it “lifts the carefully maintained veil concealing the reality of Israel as it actually is today” and he deplores that this reality “is elided in most reportage from the region.” Obviously Khalidi has a point: with all the bad press Israel is getting, the ‘unveiling’ of its concentration camps and Kristallnachts is still something that is usually found only on the lunatic Jew-hating fringes.

Needless to say, Blumenthal also made sure to collect endorsements from some well-known Jews. Charles H. Manekin, Professor of Philosophy, Director of the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center of Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland, likes to describe himself as a “cultural Zionist” – that is to say, a “Zionist” who cares about Jewish culture but not about a Jewish state (– and non-philosophers might think that makes him an anti-Zionist…). His enthusiasm about Blumenthal’s “I Hate Israel Handbook” was such that he professed: “I would like to send a copy…to every Jew I know.”

In addition to these endorsements from academics, there is much praise from writers who work or worked for influential publications: Glenn Greenwald, who has just left The Guardian, apparently found it “stunningly insightful” to read about Israel’s concentration camps and Kristallnachts; David Hirst, also affiliated with The Guardian, worries that Israel will be destroyed by the “virulence of a cancer, both institutional and popular, which [is….] essentially of its own racist and colonialist making;” award-winning former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges considers Blumenthal’s screed one of the most “fearless and honest books ever written about Israel;” and long-time Ha’aretz columnist Akiva Eldar also couldn’t help feeling impressed by Blumenthal’s relentless demonization of Israel.

Naturally, Blumenthal’s “I Hate Israel Handbook” was also warmly praised by his trusted comrades from Mondoweiss and The Electronic Intifada. And unsurprisingly, Blumenthal’s work is also much appreciated by the Jew-haters at  David Duke’s website:

“Blumenthal’s writings and videos are extremely valuable in the study of Jewish extremism, as he is not shy about using his Jewish name and looks to gain access to Jewish extremists in order to document the ugliest side of Zionism…as it pertains to Israel.”

While this is an endorsement Max Blumenthal chose not to quote on his Amazon page, I think that this is exactly the company the people who praised Blumenthal’s screed deserve. But I have no illusions that any of them would feel embarrassed by the fact that a propaganda tract they endorse is also praised by far-right antisemites. Moreover, even those who have prestigious academic positions know that, thanks in part to efforts like those of Oxford philosopher Brian Klug, there is no price to pay for cheering the vilification of the Jewish state – and therefore inevitably the Jews who sustain it – in ways that would be completely unacceptable if any other group with a long history of persecution and discrimination was the target.

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First published on November 14, 2013 at my JPost blog.

Update:

More well-deserved praise for Blumenthal’s book comes from Gilad Atzmon, proud author of “The Wandering Who? A Study Of Jewish Identity Politics.” In case you are lucky enough to never have heard of Gilad Atzmon, here is a succinct description by Jeffrey Goldberg:

“Gilad Atzmon is a jazz saxophonist who lives in London and who has a side gig disseminating the wildest sort of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. He is an ex-Israeli and a self-proclaimed ‘self-hater’ who traffics in Holocaust denial and all sorts of grotesque, medieval anti-Jewish calumnies.”

Writing at Veterans Today – a website that according to the Anti-Defamation League regularly “features anti-Israel and Holocaust denial materials [and] offers a platform for numerous columnists who promote anti-Semitic 9/11 conspiracy theories” – Atzmon concludes his review by declaring:

“I really want Blumenthal’s book to succeed and be read widely.  Being a theoretician, I do not have the time for any kind of field work. I establish a conceptual and intellectual framework with the hope that some would […] gather the necessary evidence to support my theses.  Whether Blumenthal understands it or not, this is exactly what he did in his latest book. He brilliantly though unwittingly managed to produce a pretty impressive journalistic account in support of my criticism of Jewish identity politics and tribal supremacy.”

And now it turns out that the supposedly progressive New America Foundation is planning to host an event promoting Blumenthal’s book on December 4. The invitation to the event reportedly describes the book as “an unflinching, unprecedented work of journalism which depicts a startling portrait of Israeli society under siege from increasingly authoritarian politics.”

I would suggest there’s no reason to hold back: why not invite some of Max Blumenthal’s most ardent fans like Atzmon and the writer from David Duke’s site to the New America event?

The art of politically-correct Holocaust commemoration in Germany

This past Friday, people in Cologne had the chance to participate in a unique “performance” sponsored by the “Impulse Theater Biennale 2013:” mimicking Israeli practice on Yom HaShoah, people in Cologne were invited to observe “Two Minutes of Standstill” in order to “pause and think about the history and our future. About what it means to be German today, what it means to live in Germany as an immigrant, what the consequences of the Holocaust and its instrumentalisation are today.”

This “performance” was the idea of award-winning Israeli-born artist Yael Bartana, whose work “challenges the national consciousness … propagated by her native country Israel.”

But not everyone is impressed with Bartana’s record as an artist and her awards: writing in “Die Welt,” Alan Posener observed sarcastically that any Israeli artist in search of a business plan that can work irrespective of talent should consider Israel-bashing as a safe choice. What irked Posener in particular was Bartana’s entirely predictable attempt to employ all sorts of worn-out slogans and clichés to endow her project with a supposedly deeper meaning.

Thus, Bartana explains in the official announcement of her project for the Cologne event:

“the Third Reich and the Holocaust are not just historical events – they also have long-term global chain effects that reach into the present day. Not only is the founding of the State of Israel based on a UN-decision such a consequence, but so is the Palestinian “Nakba” in 1948. As are escape and expulsion in Europe and the Middle East […] This history is written, but the future depends on our acting.

 And so, “Two Minutes of Standstill” is not only commemoration and performance but also a challenge to change the present. It is a proposal for a wide-reaching debate in Cologne and beyond, about what active remembering should look like today. A day of protest against violence and injustice today and tomorrow.”

Bartana also repeatedly highlighted the murders and other crimes committed by a small terror group that called itself “National Socialist Underground” (NSU). The group may have had a handful of supporters, but it consisted of only three known members and seems to have been active between 2000 and 2011, when two of the terrorists killed themselves as they were cornered by police after a bank robbery. The group’s only surviving member turned herself in and is awaiting trial.

Bartana apparently considers the NSU a part of “the chain of effects caused by the Second World War.” When asked in an interview if there wasn’t “a danger of relativizing the crimes and horrors committed by Germany during the NS-regime when you connect them this way with other events such as the murders of the NSU,” Bartana replied:

“It seems that for some people in Germany drawing a line between the NS [Nazis] to the NSU is politically incorrect. Just as it seems to be impossible to commemorate Jews, Roma, homosexuals together as victims of National Socialism. Maybe it’s true, and each group needs its own memorial. And of course this will continue to be an important discussion: How to commemorate without relativizing. But also without exclusion. After all, it is not about numbers. The NSU is an active fascist movement in today’s Germany. So we are talking about an ideology that still is alive.”

Of course you have to argue that “it is not about numbers” if you want to claim that a terror group consisting of three people and perhaps a few dozen supporters constitutes “an active fascist movement in today’s Germany” and represents “an ideology that still is alive” – even if two of the terrorists are dead and the third one is in custody awaiting trial. To be sure, the fact that the terror trio could carry on for years and commit a series of murders targeting mostly immigrants reflects a spectacular failure of German law enforcement and security agencies. But the existence of such a small group in a country of some 80 million people does not indicate that Nazism and fascism are “alive” in Germany.

However, there are other reasons for concerns about the legacy of Nazism in Germany – which can of course be conveniently ignored by somebody like Bartana who isn’t interested in numbers. Consider for example the findings of studies showing that at least 20 percent of Germans harbor antisemitic attitudes, and that more than 40 percent of Germans endorse antisemitic “criticism” of Israel such as comparing Israeli treatment of Palestinians with the Nazi treatment of Jews.

But anyone really concerned about Nazi-inspired hatred that “still is alive” today would have to bring up the pervasive Jew-hatred in the Middle East. As the renowned expert Robert Wistrich has argued:

“Islamic antisemitism is by far the most dynamic and threatening form of antisemitism existing at present in the contemporary world. It combines the scourge of Islamist terrorism, the spread of jihad, hatred of the West, Holocaust denial, and the genocidal “anti-Zionism” which is state-sanctioned in Iran. The dramatic triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the alarming growth of militant Salafist movements across the Arab Middle East have greatly increased the level of threat worldwide.”

Commenting on the historic connection between European fascism and Islamism, Wistrich has pointed out:

“The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, had a radical totalitarian vision of societal transformation, a leadership cult, and visceral hatred of Jews not so different from that of fascism and National Socialism. Moreover, the charismatic founder of the Palestinian Arab national movement, Haj Amin el-Husseini, was a fanatical genocidal anti-Semite who actively collaborated with Adolf Hitler during World War II. This “annihilationist” tradition of Jew-hatred has continued in the Palestinian Hamas movement (an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) to this very day. Its Sacred Covenant is one of the most nakedly anti-Jewish texts of the entire post-Holocaust era.”

While much has already been written about Husseini’s collaboration with the Nazis, a new book on “Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East” by Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz will be available early next year, offering “new insight on the intertwined development of Nazism and Islamism and its impact on the modern Middle East.”

Nazis and Islamists

Admittedly, it wouldn’t be a good career move for Yael Bartana to incorporate this important subject into any of her future projects in Germany. It’s so much easier to offer a glib “Holocaust for all” which – as a critical article in the taz puts it – transforms the Nazi genocide into a “European feel-good project.”

However, Bartana’s “performance” in Cologne was also attended by a few people who didn’t feel so good about it. As initiated by blogger “Tapfer im Nirgendwo” (Brave in the nowhere), they sang Hatikva and some carried Israeli flags – which led some high-school students who had been sent by their teachers to attend the “performance” to respond with shouts of “Viva Palestine!”

If I could have joined “Tapfer im Nirgendwo”, I would have played the famous recording of survivors of Bergen Belsen concentration camp singing HaTikva shortly after the camp’s liberation in April 1945.

* * *

First published on my JPost blog on June 29, 2013.

 

Good Jews, bad Jews, and the ugly writings of Columbia University Professor Joseph Massad

In early May, The Algemeiner published an article in which I documented that several Al Jazeera op-eds by Columbia University Professor Joseph Massad on Zionism and Israel included material that was hard to distinguish from the kind of antisemitic texts one can find at a site like Stormfront [article cross-posted below]. About ten days later, a new op-ed by Massad caused a huge outcry – which apparently prompted Al Jazeera to remove the piece a few days after it was published. Anyone who wanted to read Massad’s piece after Al Jazeera had removed it could still find it on Stormfront – or on Ali Abunimah’s blog at the Electronic Intifada…

For some reason, it was featured there with an image of the Nazi-publication “Der Stürmer” in the background.

Massad on EI

However, the saga continued when Al Jazeera eventually decided to re-publish Massad’s piece on May 21, together with a short note from the editor who claimed that Al Jazeera had neither succumbed to any pressures when it pulled the piece nor when it decided to re-publish it:

“Al Jazeera does not submit to pressure regardless of circumstance, and our history is full of examples where we were faced with extremely tough choices but never gave in. This is the secret to our success.”

Oh well… Perhaps they were ultimately swayed by Liam Hoare’s argument, who wrote on his blog that the removal of Massad’s article was “exactly the wrong thing for al-Jazeera to have done” because “denying people the right to read this disgraceful, unlettered essay also denies people the right to find out just what a horrible little man Joseph Massad is — which is a useful public service for al-Jazeera to be engaging in.”

In any case, to wrap up this installment of the Massad saga, I cross-post my own two commentaries below, with some minor modifications [as indicated].

However, a few additional points should perhaps be highlighted.

First, it is hard to convey just how bizarre Massad’s piece is. He started out with the preposterous claim that Nazism and Zionism were both antisemitic and then proceeded to demonstrate that he himself was perfectly able to distinguish between good Jews and bad Jews: according to Massad, most Jews were anti-Zionists (and therefore of course good) because just like Massad, they realized the evils of Zionism right away… Unfortunately, however, these good Jews were all killed by the antisemitism of the Nazis, while the bad Jews were saved by the antisemitism of the Zionists – or, as Massad puts it:

“While the majority of Jews continued to resist the anti-Semitic basis of Zionism and its alliances with anti-Semites, the Nazi genocide not only killed 90 percent of European Jews, but in the process also killed the majority of Jewish enemies of Zionism who died precisely because they refused to heed the Zionist call of abandoning their countries and homes.

After the War, the horror at the Jewish holocaust did not stop European countries from supporting the anti-Semitic programme of Zionism. On the contrary, these countries shared with the Nazis a predilection for Zionism.”

So no, it’s not your fault if you can’t make sense of this. Indeed, Massad’s bizarre “reasoning” reminded me that Walter Russell Mead once noted that antisemitism usually indicates the “inability to see the world clearly and discern cause and effect relations in complex social settings […] Anti-Semitism isn’t just the socialism of fools; it is the sociology of the befuddled.  The anti-Semite fails to grasp how the world works, and that failure condemns him to endless frustration.” Sarcastically, Mead added: “Naturally, this is the fault of the Jews.”

Naturally, Massad’s fans also knew whom to blame for Al Jazeera’s decision to remove his column. As the “Angry Arab,” Massad’s colleague As’ad AbuKhalil put it, the decision was “due to pressures from Zionist hoodlums.” And there were momentous implications: “The Qatari ruling dynasty is now at the feet of Zionists.”

* * *

Stormfront Material from Columbia University Professor
Joseph Massad

[First published at The Algemeiner]

In one of his recent columns for Al Jazeera, Columbia University professor Joseph Massad holds forth on the topic of “Israel and the politics of boycott.” He casually claims in this piece that “the Zionists…were pioneers in their use of boycotts to effect racial separatism,” while “the Nazis would be latecomers to the tactic.” In other words, the Nazis were just imitating “the Zionists”…

No doubt the politically correct thing to do is to regard Professor Massad as just another Israel “critic.” But one of Massad’s older Al Jazeera columns offers an excellent example of the professor’s methods and the kind of “intellectual” company he gets to keep as a result.

Some two years ago, Massad penned a bitter complaint about the contrast between a supposed western indifference to any suffering by Arab/Palestinian children and an eagerness to sympathize when Jewish children are in danger. Reflecting his obsessive hatred of Zionism, Massad devoted one section of his article to “Zionism and Jewish children,” where he claimed that “Zionism did not always show similar love towards Jewish children, whom it never flinched from sacrificing for its colonial goals.”

The “evidence” Massad produced to support his vicious claim is a quote of David Ben-Gurion, who, according to Massad, rejected a generous British offer to take a few thousand Jewish children from Germany to Britain in the wake of the so-called “Kristallnacht”-pogroms in November 1938. The quote reads:

“If I knew it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them to England, and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel), then I would opt for the second alternative, for we must weigh not only the life of these children but also the history of the people of Israel.”

As noted in a relevant section on “Ben Gurion and the Holocaust” in a longer post by CAMERA, “so-called ‘post-Zionists’ and anti-Zionist radicals” love to insinuate that the Zionists happily collaborated with the Nazis in order to promote immigration to Palestine irrespective of overall Jewish interests and the survival of Europe’s Jews.

But in late 1938, it was already clear that precious few countries were willing to take in Jewish refugees. Indeed, Germany’s Nazi government gloated in the wake of the Evian Conference in the summer of 1938 “how ‘astounding’ it was that foreign countries criticized Germany for their treatment of the Jews, but none of them wanted to open the doors to them.”

That is the context for the Ben Gurion quote presented by Massad – but of course, Massad prefers to ignore this context. (And needless to say, his interest in the rescue of Jewish children from the Nazis doesn’t include the Jewish children whose rescue was sabotaged by the Palestinian leader who became notorious as “Hitler’s mufti.”)

Massad’s Ben Gurion quote is taken from a debate that focused on Britain’s decision to deny the Jewish children from Germany entrance into Palestine, giving rise to the concern that the British offer to instead take these children to Britain would only help to undermine the idea that British Mandate Palestine should serve as a safe haven for Jewish refugees, which would ultimately leave many desperate refugees without any place to go.

Yet another piece of context-free “evidence” produced by Massad is an incident from November 1940, when – according to Massad – “the Zionists responded to the British-imposed restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine, long demanded by the Palestinian people, by blowing up a ship with Jewish civilian passengers in Haifa – killing 242 Jews, including scores of children.” Triumphantly, Massad concludes: “For Zionism, Jewish children are as expendable as Palestinian and Arab children, unless they serve its colonial goals.”

However, very different from what Massad suggested, there was of course no intent to blow up the ship – named Patria – that carried almost 2000 Jewish refugees from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. The sinking of the ship was due to a tragically miscalculated explosive charge that was placed on board to damage the Patria in order to prevent it from sailing to Mauritius, where –bowing to Arab pressure and violence – the British authorities intended to deport and intern the refugees.

Now, do you care to guess where else the kind of “evidence” marshaled by Massad is popular for very much the same purpose?

Yes, indeed: at Stormfront – the neo-Nazi “White Pride World Wide” hate site.

Massad Stormfront1

Massad Stormfront2

Clearly, the “Friend of Stormfront” who posted this would appreciate Massad’s use of the Patria incident.

But there is much more: scroll down a little bit on this same page, and you’ll find a text that is sourced as a quote from David Duke’s notorious “minor league Mein Kampf” – and as it happens, it’s pretty much identical to what Columbia University professor Joseph Massad wrote in his Al Jazeera column.

Stormfront isn’t a site I would normally link to, but there is arguably no longer a point avoiding such sites if their offerings are mainstreamed on Al Jazeera English by a professor from a highly regarded American University. So here is the link and an image of the David Duke text that includes the Ben Gurion quote and the Patria incident.

Massad Stormfront DDuke

So should we conclude that this is where Professor Massad looks for his “evidence”? Or is it perhaps just a case of not so great minds thinking alike? After all, former Klansman David Duke uses the Ben Gurion quote to argue that if “Israel’s first prime minister’s regard for Jewish life was such that he would rather see half the Jewish children of Germany die than be transported to England instead of Israel, how much value could one expect him to place on the life of a Palestinian child?” And Professor Massad uses the same quote for an article asking “Are Palestinian children less worthy?” And then both David Duke and Professor Massad go on to mention the Patria incident… Ah, what a coincidence!

But lo and behold, there are more examples of David Duke and Joseph Massad thinking alike: both like to talk about “Jewish Supremacism” – and needless to say, the fans of White Supremacism at Stormfront agree that this is a very worthwhile topic. Similarly, both David Duke and Joseph Massad are adamant that the Jewish state is inherently racist – and when it comes to Israeli racism, even Stormfront fans are of course appalled!

To be sure, Massad is far too sophisticated to engage in the fevered antisemitic conspiracy theories that come natural to David Duke. At the same time, Massad is not too sophisticated to keep repeating utterly misleading claims about how “helpful” European antisemitism and Nazism was for the Zionist project.

When it comes to one of Massad’s favorite topics – the efforts of German Zionists to facilitate the emigration of German Jews to Palestine by collaborating with Nazi authorities – he would probably claim to rely on Francis R. Nicosia’s book on “Zionism and Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany.” But while Nicosia emphasizes that, given the historical context, it would be completely unjustified to suggest any moral or political equivalency between the Nazis and the Zionists, Massad keeps insinuating exactly such an equivalency.

Massad writes about this issue as if history had not vindicated the Zionist conviction that Jews urgently needed a homeland as a safe haven – and of course, he also ignores that the expulsion of Jews from their ancient communities in the Arab and Muslim world provided yet another vindication for Zionism.

The result is that it’s not easy to tell if you read Massad or Stormfront. Try for yourself – with these Massad-style-cherry-picked quotes [updated version, from my JPost blog, cross-posted below; correct answers below]:

1) “Nazism was a boon to Zionism throughout the 1930s.”

2) “For all intents and purposes, the National Socialist government was the best thing to happen to Zionism in its history.”

3) “In Germany, the average Jews were victims of the Zionist elite who worked hand in hand with the Nazis.”

4) “Hitler could have just confiscated all the Jewish wealth. Instead he used the ‘Haavara Program’ to help establish the State of Israel.”

5) “Between 1933 and 1939, 60 percent of all capital invested in Jewish Palestine came from German Jewish money through the Transfer Agreement.”

6) “In fact, contra all other German Jews (and everyone else inside and outside Germany) who recognised Nazism as the Jews’ bitterest enemy, Zionism saw an opportunity to strengthen its colonisation of Palestine.”

7) “Zionists welcomed the Nazis’ anti-Semitic policies. Like the Nazis, they believed in race-based national character and destiny. Like the Nazis, they believed Jews had no future in Germany.

8) “the Zionist Federation of Germany […] supported the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, as they agreed with the Nazis that Jews and Aryans were separate and separable races. This was not a tactical support but one based on ideological similitude.”

9) “Zionism […] developed the idea of the first racially separatist planned community for the exclusive use of Ashkenazi Jews, namely the Kibbutz.”

10) “The Zionists were afraid that the ‘Jewish race’ was disappearing through assimilation.”

 

***************

 

1) Massad  2) Stormfront   3) Stormfront    4) Stormfront    5) Massad    6) Massad    7) Stormfront    8) Massad    9) Massad    10) Stormfront

 

From Al Jazeera to Columbia University:
Joseph Massad’s obsession with Israel

[Cross-posted from my JPost blog]

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

Al Jazeera has deleted Massad’s op-ed “The Last of the Semites” from its website.

According to a furious post by Ali Abunimah at the Electronic Intifada, “Massad told The Electronic Intifada that he had ‘received confirmation’ from his editor at Al Jazeera English that ‘management pulled the article.’”

[But as noted above, the article was later re-published.]

* * *

Columbia University professor Joseph Massad has been at it for years, but for some reason, his latest op-ed for Al Jazeera finally made many people sit up and pay attention to Massad’s relentless efforts to taint Israel and Zionism with preposterous Nazi-comparisons and claims of Nazi-collaboration.

Popular columnist Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted sarcastically: “Congratulations, al Jazeera: You’ve just posted one of the most anti-Jewish screeds in recent memory.”

Goldberg on Massad AlJaz

While a lot of people agreed with Goldberg and either retweeted him or posted similar tweets, it is debatable if Massad’s latest Al Jazeera column was really so much worse than the many others that reflect his obsession with Israel. As I have documented only recently, Massad’s writings on Israel can easily be confused with material from the neo-Nazi “White Pride World Wide” hate site Stormfront – and at least in one case, he actually did write a passage that closely resembles a Stormfront post that is taken from David Duke’s notorious “minor league Mein Kampf.”

It was therefore arguably long overdue that people finally noticed that Massad was using his Al Jazeera columns to spread his vicious views on Israel and Zionism. In his latest lengthy and rather incoherent screed, Massad tries once again to resurrect the “Zionism is racism”-equation with the added twist of insisting that Zionism is really Nazi-like racism. This brings Massad to the utterly ridiculous conclusion that

“Israel and the Western powers want to elevate anti-Semitism to an international principle around which they seek to establish full consensus. They insist that for there to be peace in the Middle East, Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims must become, like the West, anti-Semites by espousing Zionism and recognising Israel’s anti-Semitic claims [i.e. Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state].”

Furthermore, according to Massad,

“the Palestinian people and the few surviving anti-Zionist Jews […] are […] the heirs of the pre-WWII Jewish and Palestinian struggles against anti-Semitism and its Zionist colonial manifestation. It is their resistance that stands in the way of a complete victory for European anti-Semitism in the Middle East and the world at large.”

It is almost amusing that Massad insists that “the Palestinian Authority and its cronies” are not part of this oh-so-noble tradition of opposing the kind of antisemitic Zionism that is the product of his fevered imagination. But of course, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Columbia University professor Joseph Massad clearly share a fondness for the “historical narishkayt” that there was some sort of cozy “relationship between Zionism and Nazism before World War II.”

Indeed, Massad – who works at Columbia University as an expert on “modern Arab politics and intellectual history” – faithfully reflects the antisemitic demonization of Israel that is so commonplace in the Arab media and that keeps poisoning Arab politics.

In reaction to Massad’s latest screed, many on Twitter dismissed his vicious views as proof of his ignorance, and a widely recommended post by Liam Hoare opened with the verdict that “Joseph Massad’s op-ed, ‘The Last of the Semites’, demonstrates above all that the Columbia professor knows very little about not a lot.”

But while Hoare does a good job demonstrating that Massad’s views amount to “a total perversion of Jewish history and what Herzl actually thought and wrote,” it’s safe to assume that Professor Massad thinks of himself as a foremost expert on Zionism and Israel. Indeed, his Al Jazeera columns on these subjects usually include a reference to his book on “The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians,” and it turns out that this spring semester, Massad is also teaching a course that covers some of the very subjects he knows so “very little about.”

Massad course

Unfortunately, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Massad’s students are likely to learn how to present Zionism as “a total perversion of Jewish history and what Herzl actually thought and wrote.”

Whether the resulting ideas are articulated in a Columbia University classroom or on Al Jazeera or Stormfront makes little difference as far as their substance is concerned. I tried to illustrate this point in my recent post on Massad with some quotes that are either from Massad or from Stormfront – see if you can tell them apart [quiz posted above].

[…]

Needless to say, Massad and his admirers who enthusiastically endorsed his recent column – among them Max Blumenthal of Mondoweiss, Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada, and the “Angry Arab” Professor As’ad AbuKhalil  – would all insist, just as Massad claims in his Al Jazeera piece, that their staunch anti-Zionism means quasi by definition that they can’t be antisemitic, even if they propagate the same perverted tropes that are popular on Stormfront.

 *************************

 Update:

I just saw that Massad’s column on “The last of the Semites” is being shared and debated at Stormfront.

Massad latest Stormfront

 

Arab Jew-hate and the western media

As much as the media like to report and opine on Israel, they usually do so in a way that presents Arab and Muslim hatred for the Jewish state as an ultimately understandable reaction to Israeli policies. The intense hatred for Jews that is so prevalent throughout the region is a topic that is rarely broached, leaving western audiences oblivious to the fact that in today’s Middle East, antisemitism is as acceptable – and perhaps even more popular – as it was in Nazi Germany.

However, it seems that the usual reluctance to report on Arab and Muslim Jew-hatred was deemed untenable when MEMRI recently posted some video clips from 2010 that showed Egypt’s current president Morsi delivering antisemitic rants.  But while this story has by now been widely covered, initially nobody was really eager to report it – as Jeffrey Goldberg highlighted when he entitled a related blog post “Egyptian President Calls Jews ‘Sons of Apes and Pigs’; World Yawns.” Goldberg also linked to a fascinating Forbes story by Richard Behar, who actually took the trouble to monitor how Morsi’s remarks were (not) covered in most of the western media for several days.

As Behar rightly notes, “the demonization of Jews is commonplace and de rigueur in the Arab media (although most Americans wouldn’t know that because they are not being made aware of it).” Behar tried to do his part to counter this lack of knowledge late last November, when he published an article highlighting the “continuous, venomous stream of hate messages disseminated by the PA [Palestinian Authority] through its media and social and education systems.”

In a follow-up to his recent story on the media’s reluctance to report Morsi’s antisemitic rants, Behar notes that eventually, even the White House got around to condemning Morsi’s vile views, and he suggests that this might justify the hope that “the media world (and Washington) may be waking up from its collective stupor–specifically, the timeworn and tiresome routine of ignoring anti-Semitic hate speech by Islamist officials as if it’s to be expected of them, and thus not newsworthy.”

While I don’t share Behar’s optimism, I sure wish he was right, because this would certainly be a most welcome development that would enable many people around the world to have a much better understanding of the Middle East and the reasons for the lack of peace between Arabs and Israel.

This point was emphasized in a related post by Walter Russell Mead, who observed:

“Morsi’s anti-Semitic views are not surprising in themselves; indeed they are completely mainstream and unobjectionable in the Egyptian context. Not many people in Egypt would disagree with the statements in question, and Morsi is more likely to be attacked for being too soft on Israel than for venting his spleen. But these statements, and the widespread support for them, should remind everyone just how slim the chances are for real peace between Israel and its neighbors.

There are a lot of illusions out there about how the exercise of power will moderate the Muslim Brotherhood and similar groups. To some degree, Morsi’s record in office shows a pragmatic willingness to maintain a treaty he deeply loathes with the ‘sons of apes and pigs.’ But we would do better to think of this as caution rather than moderation. If a real opportunity presented itself to destroy the Jewish state, there can be little doubt that Morsi and the members of his movement would think it their duty to act.

For Israel, the lesson is obvious. For the foreseeable future it must depend upon strength rather than trust if it intends to survive.”

Since I asserted above that in today’s Middle East, antisemitism is as acceptable – and perhaps even more popular – as it was in Nazi Germany, let me close with two recent examples that illustrate this point.

The first example comes from the speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to mark the recent anniversary of Fatah commemorating the group’s first terror attack against Israel on January 1, 1965. As rightly noted in an analysis of this speech by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Abbas used this opportunity to espouse a radical political doctrine:

“Abbas reinforced his uncompromising message with a pledge to continue the path of struggle of previous Palestinian leaders, mentioning the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, who forged a strategic alliance with Nazi Germany, and heads of Palestinian terror organizations who were directly responsible for the murder of thousands of Israeli civilians, including Halil al-Wazir Abu Jihad (Fatah), Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (Hamas), Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi (Hamas), Fathi al-Shikaki (Islamic Jihad), George Habash (Popular Front), Abu Ali Mustafa (Popular Front), Abu al-Abbas (Arab Liberation Front), and Izzadin al-Qassam (leader of the jihad war against the Jewish Yishuv and the British in the 1930s).”

A translation of the relevant passages of the speech by MEMRI shows that Abbas named Husseini – widely known as “Hitler’s Mufti” – as one of Palestine’s “pioneers.” Given that Abbas has faced much criticism for his Ph.D. thesis that questioned the Holocaust and claimed collaboration between the Nazis and the Zionist movement, he surely knew what he was doing. (And presumably Germany’s Social Democrats know what they are doing when they declare that they have “common values” with Fatah.)

The second example illustrates how this kind of nonchalant embrace of prominent Nazi-collaborators is reflected and amplified on popular social media sites: the Facebook page of “Palestine News” boasts more than 425,000 “Likes,” and when I checked it out just now, it registered “86,142 talking about this.”

A few days ago, this image with a supposed quote from Hitler was posted on the page:

Palestine News Hitler

This posting garnered 1853 “Likes;” the accompanying text is basically the same as a purported Hitler quote provided in a popular “Hitler quotes” app:  “I could have killed all the Jews in the world, but I spared some of them so you know why I killed the rest.”

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Update:

The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reported yesterday that during an interview with a Beirut-based TV station that is affiliated with Hezbollah and Iran, Palestinian President Abbas was asked about allegations that he was a Holocaust denier. Reportedly, Abbas responded with an apparent reference to his dissertation, saying that he had “70 more books that I still haven’t published” about the alleged link between the Zionist movement and the Nazis, adding: “I challenge anyone to deny the relationship between Zionism and Nazism before World War Two.”

However, a spokesman for Abbas later denied that Abbas had talked about a link between Zionism and Nazism, and the remark about the “70 more books” certainly seems bizarre.

The SS-headache of Carlos Latuff

Among “pro-Palestinian” activists, the cartoonist Carlos Latuff is a widely admired artist.  Like most of his fans, Latuff expresses his support for the Palestinian cause with an intense hatred for Israel, which is reflected in his large output of images comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. Unsurprisingly, Latuff’s achievements also include a winning entry for the 2006 Iranian “International Holocaust Cartoon Contest.”

The fact that comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany are generally regarded as antisemitic doesn’t seem to bother Latuff and his fans – quite the contrary: for them, it’s apparently just another reason for ridicule and amusement.

This flippant reaction was well illustrated when Latuff responded to his inclusion in a list of this past year’s “Top Ten Anti-Israel/Anti-Semitic Slurs” compiled by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Tweeting his “Thanks to Rabbi Marvin Hier and @simonwiesenthal for the award for my toons on #Gaza slaughter,” Latuff attached a cartoon depicting himself being “awarded” a third-place medal by Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Wiesenthal Center.

Latuff Wiesenthal SS1

As you can see in the screenshot of Latuff’s cartoon above, there is an unmistakable SS-symbol next to Rabbi Hier’s head. When I noted this in a tweet, Latuff quickly responded, claiming that I was wrong and that the “bolts are cartoon representation of headache.” To support his claim, he linked to the following picture:

Latuff headache

For comparison, here is the SS-symbol:

Latuff ADL SS

Since Latuff immediately blocked me, he didn’t have to face up and respond to the evidence showing just how flimsy his “headache”-explanation looked.

After all, for somebody like Latuff who works with images, it is hardly credible to claim that he was unaware of the obvious SS-reference in this cartoon. How about this very similar “headache” in an undeniably antisemitic cartoon from 2006?

Latuff SS headache

Screenshot showing part of a Russian cartoon from a report by Tom Gross on anti-Israeli and antisemitic cartoons published in the international media in the summer of 2006

It is also noteworthy that Latuff didn’t link to any of his own images to illustrate his claim that an SS-symbol look-alike was a common cartoon representation of a headache. But his claim is most severely undermined by the fact – illustrated here – that he has made it something of a specialty to work Nazi-symbolism into his cartoons relating to Israel. He now has only himself to blame if it seems that this has become second nature to him.

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Shoddy history and the anti-imperialism of fools

Under the title “The Professor’s Shoddy History,” James Kirchick argues in an excellent essay in Tablet that “Berlin’s Jewish Museum gave Judith Butler and Germans permission to indulge dangerous political impulses.” Kirchick offers not only interesting observations about German ambitions to show off a principled pacifism to prove that the country learned the right lessons from its terrible Nazi-past, but he also touches upon the role of fashionable “anti-imperialism:”

“[Günter] Grass’ fundamental conceit—that Israel, and not the countries threatening to wipe it off the map, will be responsible should war erupt once again in the Middle East—is the same as [Judith] Butler’s. Both rely on naïve and simplistic conceptions of “imperialism” and “anti-imperialism” and on a belief that power inevitably leads to oppression. […] Butler—who, as a Jew, is uninhibited in what she can say about Israel in Germany—has said what Grass declared in his poem: Israel is the problem. The Israeli “state violence” she complains about exists in a vacuum; Iran’s march to nuclear weapons does not concern her, and the violence of Hamas and Hezbollah is all but ignored.

[…]

Following World War II, many Germans internalized pacifism as a fundamental political value, and it is this central belief—as well as the ability to sit in judgment of the Middle East from comfortable, prosperous Europe—that informs much of German attitudes toward Israel. Joschka Fischer, the erstwhile left-wing student activist who rose to become Germany’s first Green Party foreign minister in 1998, used to say that there were two principles that formed his political consciousness: “Never Again War” and “Never Again Auschwitz.” But when the possibility of genocide returned to the European continent during his tenure, in the form of Serb ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, these mantras came into conflict. If preventing another Auschwitz on European soil required war, the breed of German leftists embodied by Fischer argued, then it was the duty of the German left to get over its aversion to force and support war.

As the Iranian regime, which denies the Holocaust while promising another, continues its nuclear weapons program unabated, the German penchant for peace may once again be confronted by reality and historic obligation. […] An irony of Germany’s admirable confrontation with its horrific past is that many Germans have learned their history so well they have learned the wrong lessons—and Judith Butler validates their grave misinterpretation. That Berlin’s Jewish Museum lent a platform for such views betrays precisely the history it is meant to impart.”

As my own post on this issue illustrates, I fully agree with Kirchick’s criticism of Berlin’s Jewish Museum. The only minor point I would raise here is that, when he says that both Grass and Butler “rely on naïve and simplistic conceptions of ‘imperialism’ and ‘anti-imperialism’ and on a belief that power inevitably leads to oppression,” one should perhaps highlight very clearly that, as far as Grass and Butler are concerned, it is of course only Western power that is seen as so inevitably oppressive.

While this is already implied when Kirchick points to their “naïve and simplistic conceptions of ‘imperialism’ and ‘anti-imperialism,’” it is crucially important to understand the patronizing attitude that hides behind these supposedly “naïve and simplistic conceptions:” Only the West has agency and the power to do evil, while the non-West is reduced to passivity and the role of the victim.

It’s equally important to understand that this notion is also very popular in the Middle East – indeed, it arguably feeds much of the chronic sense of offense that prevents the region from developing a much needed capacity for self-criticism. Michael Young tackled this issue in a recent op-ed under the almost blasphemous title “When imperialists happen to be Muslim,” where he wrote:

“It never ceases to amaze how Arab eyes are forever on the lookout for some manifestation of Western hegemonic intent or condescension toward the Arab world, and how this vigilance seems to breaks down whenever it involves non-Western states behaving the same way. […]

Iran has never hidden its sense of neo-imperial entitlement in the Middle East, despite its claims to speak for the oppressed of the earth and to represent a bulwark against imperialism. Leaders in Tehran look upon their country as a natural regional dominator, and such thinking helps explain why they feel that they have a right to develop nuclear weapons […]

The Middle Eastern lexicon today fails to properly express that the impulse for regional domination is as strong among non-Western Muslim states as among Western states, if not more so. How odd, given that most of the empires ruling over what would become the modern Arab world were native to the region – Egyptian, Sassanid, Umayyad, Abbasid and Ottoman, to name the more obvious ones.”

Last but by no means least, I’d like to quote here Michael Totten’s excellent post on Judith Butler’s “Anti-Imperialism of Fools,” where Totten concludes:

“Hezbollah is notoriously hostile to every social value liberals and progressives hold dear, from women’s rights to gay rights, with one exception. Hezbollah says the United States and Israel are the Great Satan and the Little Satan. That’s it. That, all by itself, is enough to get a socially retrograde totalitarian terrorist organization labeled ‘progressive’ even by a professor who adheres to non-violent politics.

But the city of Frankfurt can give her a prize if it wants, and it can do so on September 11. Supporting European fascism is a crime now in Germany, but supporting the Middle Eastern variety is apparently fine.”

Shana Tova from Berlin’s Jewish Museum

Last Saturday evening, the Jewish Museum in Berlin hosted a “debate” on a question that you could translate from German either as “Is Zionism part of Judaism?,” or, perhaps more sensibly, “Is Zionism part of Jewish identity/Jewishness?”

The answer of the museum’s guest of honor is well-known: the American academic Judith Butler – who, just a few days earlier, had received the Adorno Prize in Frankfurt in recognition of her work on gender, sexuality, critical theory and moral philosophy – has most recently published a book entitled “Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism.”

Butler is also a well-known supporter of the BDS-movement that targets Israel with campaigns calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions with the ultimate goal to delegitimize the Jewish state and pave the way for Israel’s dissolution in a bi-national “Isratine.”

As I have pointed out previously, Butler’s support for the BDS movement means in practice that her political statements can be found on a website frequently criticized for antisemitic content and that she would refuse to lecture at Tel Aviv University, but be perfectly happy to visit Birzeit University, which has a well-earned reputation for fostering extremism and glorifying terrorism. Indeed, in the acknowledgements for her recent book, Butler mentions Birzeit University as one of the places where she “learned from students and faculty.” Hopefully, these students didn’t include those that attended a festive event on the university campus to honour the terrorists released last year in exchange for Gilad Shalit.

While Butler thus helps to make the case that BDS really stands for “Bigoted Double Standards,” there is no question that “anti-Zionists” everywhere appreciate her academic celebrity status as the “reigning queen” of Queer Studies – which was only reinforced by the Adorno Prize – as a great asset.

There is also no question that the Jewish Museum in Berlin was fully aware of the problematic political implications of Butler’s views. Yet, the organizers of the event apparently preferred a “debate” that excluded questions to which Butler obviously has no good answers.

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post – which noted straightforwardly that this seems to have been “the first anti-Israel event held in the Jewish museum since its opening in 2001” – the organizers allowed only “written audience questions” and made clear that any questions on Butler’s widely criticized views about Hamas and Hezbollah would be ignored.

But judging from media reports about the event, the audience had anyway come to cheer Butler – as one German newspaper put it: “The audience was dominated by the typical ‘Butler-Groupies’: people with an academic education between 20 and 30.”

Butler’s debating partner, the liberal German Jewish professor Micha Brumlik, found apparently little favor with this audience, and his attempts to argue that Butler’s professed enthusiasm for a merely “cultural” Zionism were neither grounded in Jewish tradition nor realistic clearly made much less of an impression than Butler’s response that somebody had to stand up for utopian ideals. Indeed, several of the German language reports end by quoting Butler’s relevant remarks, and the Berliner Zeitung concludes by asserting that a utopian quality was after all an essential characteristic of philosophy.

If we “translate” what Butler is saying here (noting that her new book includes reflections on “Ethics, Politics, and the Task of Translation”), it turns out that she simply wants to have her cake and eat it, too. On the one hand, we are supposed to appreciate that it is the core business of a philosopher to come up with noble utopian ideals that are above mundane criticisms questioning how realistic they are; on the other hand, Butler clearly wants her political views to be taken serious and lends her prestige as a philosopher to one of the most controversial causes of our time.

The bottom line of Butler’s argument is that the most ethical resolution of the Arab conflict with Israel requires Jews to realize that Arabs and Muslims were right all along when they insisted that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state. Butler is obviously aware that with this view, she has a lot of really bad company, and she has taken to emphasizing her opposition to all forms of racism, including antisemitism.

In the controversy about her nomination for the Adorno Prize, she also tried hard to market herself as a fearless fighter against the popular straw-man argument that anyone who dares to criticize Israeli policies risks being denounced as an antisemite.

But the “debate” hosted by Berlin’s Jewish Museum illustrated once again that in a climate where it is regarded as legitimate to assert that it would only be ethical to do away with the Jewish state, antisemitism is never far away.

Reporting on the event for the Jüdische Allgemeine, Fabian Wolff notes that the debate moderator Andreas Öhler limited himself mostly to telling a few stories about his Jewish and Israeli friends. At one point Öhler mentioned how amazed he was to realize that despite Israel’s policies, there were so many nice Israelis who were interested in culture and music…

Sounds somehow familiar? Well, it should: whether Öhler was aware of it or not, the staff of Berlin’s Jewish Museum can certainly be expected to realize that this remark unmistakably echoed the popular stories about Nazi or SS officers as lovers of classical music, which have become part of movies like Schindler’s List and The Pianist.

Without this background, it is hard to explain why Öhler should have been so amazed to discover that there are many really nice Israelis who love culture and music.

It is noteworthy in this context that studies show that some “40% of Germans are critical of Israel in ways […] deemed anti-Semitic. The commission regarded anti-Israel critics as having crossed a line, for example, when they compared Israeli treatment of Palestinians with the Nazi extermination of Jews in death camps. Among the […] findings cited in the report: More than 41% of Germans believe Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.”

In view of these findings, it is all the more dismaying that moderator Öhler reportedly opened the event with Judith Butler by declaring everyone’s resolve not to be frightened – meaning, presumably, not to be frightened of accusations of antisemitism in a “debate” intended to establish that Israel’s existence as a Jewish state violates crucial ethical norms. But in a country where some 40 percent of the population believes that, when it comes to the Palestinians, Israel’s Jews are the Nazis of our time, there is actually plenty of reason to be frightened when the Jewish Museum decides to give out the message that, done properly, it is intellectually and ethically noble to “criticize” Israel for the evil of existing as a Jewish state.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog; also posted on Harry’s Place.

Quote of the day

“Since 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has designated the last Friday of Ramadan “Al-Quds Day,” leading worldwide protests calling for the destruction of Israel. In that spirit, over 1,000 protesters […]  marched through downtown Berlin on Saturday denouncing Israel and praising Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy army in Lebanon.

Unlike the neo-Nazis rocking out to “white power” music in a secluded cornfield [during a NPD event at a remote location a week earlier], the Islamists calling for the destruction of the Jewish state in the heart of the German capital did not stir the consciences of the country’s major political parties. As opposed to the 2,000 people who trekked out to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern [to protest the NPD event], only 300 or so anti-Islamist protesters, the majority of them affiliated with Jewish organizations, held a separate counter-demonstration, where the only political figure to speak was a former member of the German Bundestag.

In a free society, extremists ought to be able to say whatever they like. But a graver issue was highlighted by last Saturday’s open support for Hezbollah. The European Union, unlike its allies in Australia, Canada and the United States, refuses to treat the faction as a terrorist group, allowing it to organize and raise funds. The New York Times describes Germany as “a center of activity” for the group.

[…] Sixty-five years after the end of World War II, it’s reassuring to know that Germany has “no place for Neonazis.” A more pressing question is why it has room for those carrying on their legacy.”

James Kirchick in a Ha’aretz article entitled “A perverse quid pro quo.” This title (which may well have been chosen by Ha’aretz editors) refers to Kirchick’s argument that “European governments have fashioned a perverse quid pro quo whereby they permit a foreign terrorist organization to operate on their soil, provided that its targets are Israeli, not European.” However, this point is arguably secondary to Kirchick’s much more important argument that both German officials and the German public can be counted on to take a firm stand against German neo-Nazis,  while remaining apparently oblivious to the Nazi-style antisemitism that is so openly championed by the Iranian regime and its allies like Hezbollah.

Reading through any list of statements by Iranian officials on Israel will quickly reveal that, just as Nazi propaganda relentlessly repeated the slogan “Die Juden sind unser Unglück!” – i.e. the Jews are our misfortune –, Iranian regime officials relentlessly incite hatred and revulsion against the Jewish state.  Yet, supporters and allies of this regime can freely march through Germany’s capital to celebrate a day dedicated to anticipating the annihilation of the world’s only Jewish state.