Tag Archives: Zionism

So progressive: alt-left anti-Israel activists find common ground with the alt-right

In the aftermath of the US election, proudly progressive Israel-haters have been happy to tell everyone who’d listen that they have been right all along – alt-right, to be precise. About a week after the election, Ali Abunimah informed his Electronic Intifada readers that Trump might be “bringing ‘white Zionism’ to the White House.”

aa-white-supremacy-zionism3

In order to explain what “white Zionism” is supposed to be, Abunimah cited the – in my view well-deserved – criticism of Steve Bannon’s leadership role at Breitbart, which has been denounced for regularly publishing “materials designed to stoke fears about African Americans, Latinos, Muslims and other groups, and to explicitly normalize white nationalist and white supremacist beliefs.” Abunimah then declared triumphantly: “This so-called alt-right ideology has been described by one of its key promoters as a form of ‘white Zionism.’”

Well, to Ali Abunimah it must have seemed like a golden opportunity: when half of America was in shock about Trump’s unexpected election victory and appalled by the prospect of an empowered alt-right, why not seize the moment and come up with a spin that might convince all these people that Zionism was just as bad and despicable???

But Abunimah was by no means the only one to demonize Zionism as the Jewish version of white supremacism: at the hate site Mondoweiss, Phillip Weiss accused renowned Holocaust scholar Deborah E. Lipstadt of “advocating a double standard” if she was denouncing “white nationalism as a white supremacist ideology” without condemning “Jewish nationalism” in the same terms.

A more recent post at Mondoweiss gloats about the widely reported failure of Hillel rabbi Matt Rosenberg at Texas A&M University to respond to alt-right leader Richard Spencer’s claim that Jews refused to assimilate and thus remained “a coherent people with a history and a culture and a future,” and that he just wants the same for whites. As Mondoweiss contributor Jonathan Ofir concludes, “Spencer masterfully put Rosenberg in a checkmate” by exposing “how Zionism and white-supremacy in fact dovetail.”

It’s good to know that alt-left anti-Israel activists would feel so elated to have their demonization of Zionism validated by the ‘masterful’ leader of the alt-right… The intellectual depth displayed here reminds me of Rania Khalek’s excuse when she was caught linking to a Holocaust denial site and then claimed it had just been “an error,” insisting at the same time that the book she had recommended from the site was “completely factual.” As I wrote at the time, Khalek was apparently convinced that a site devoted to minimizing Nazi crimes and defending people “not believing in the existence of gas chambers” can be trusted to feature a “completely factual” book that presents Zionist Jews as Nazi collaborators – which is obviously an idea that deserves as much ridicule and contempt as the notion that a white supremacist site would be a good place to find a “completely factual” book on blacks.

What anti-Israel activists who feel that the alt-right’s supposed affinity for Zionism validates their own “anti-Zionism” really tell us is that their view of Zionism has little to do with realities in the world’s only Jewish state.

Let’s look first at what Spencer means by “White Zionism”. This is how he put it at an alt-right gathering in 2013:

“For us ‘immigration’ is a proxy for race. In that way, immigration can be good or bad: it can be a conquest (as it seems now) . . . or a European in-gathering, something like White Zionism. It all depends on the immigrants. And we should open our minds to the positive possibilities of mass immigration from the White world.”

More recently, Spencer told the notorious alt-right gathering in Washington D.C. something very similar as he told Hillel rabbi Matt Rosenberg at Texas A&M University:

“The Jews exist precisely because they were apart, precisely because they had, maybe you could say, a bit of paranoia about trying to stay away — please don’t quote paranoia,” Spencer said.”

Right, let’s not quote “paranoia” – it’s perhaps not the best word to describe the results of more than a thousand years of antisemitism…

But in any case, others at the gathering agreed that the Jews provided an excellent example for white nationalists. As one participant put it:

“The opposition to intermarriage. The creation of their own state. The recreation of their language. This is the greatest triumph of racial idealism in history.”

So let’s start with intermarriage (and leave aside that I’m writing this as a naturalized non-Jewish Israeli citizen who “intermarried” with a Jew). While the alt-right hopes to be able to mainstream their ideas under President Trump, they presumably know that Trump’s daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism and married a Jew. So if white nationalists want to emulate Jews, they’ve surely developed some ideas about how non-Whites can convert to being white? And another interesting question: what language do white nationalists plan to recreate?

Anyway, to clarify things a bit more, I thought white nationalists might find it useful to contemplate this image before praising Israel for any supposed “greatest triumph of racial idealism in history”…

idf-diversity

Mhm, you think this is how white nationalists would want their army to look? And, incidentally, how do you think white nationalists would feel if they knew the story of former Israeli president Moshe Katsav, who was found guilty of sexual offenses and sentenced to a lengthy prison term by a well-respected Christian Arab judge? If white nationalists see Israel as their example, maybe we should expect that they’ll have well-respected Black Muslim judges in their state?

I could go on, but I agree with Gilead Ini’s recent remark on Twitter: taking the alt-right’s professed admiration for the world’s only Jewish state seriously, and trying to show how insincere and uninformed it is, may not make more sense than countering other libels by  “arguing that Zionism isn’t Nazism or that Jews don’t drink blood.”

But the alt-left’s eagerness to embrace the alt-right’s fantasy of Israel as a validation of campaigns aimed at eliminating the world’s only Jewish state shows how alike both fringes are: the alt-right wants a white state without Jews, the alt-left wants a world without a Jewish state – and if their respective visions were to come true, the alt-right couldn’t care less about the fate of Jews in the diaspora, while the alt-left couldn’t care less about the fate of Jews in Israel.

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A previous version of this post was published at EoZ.

Ali Abunimah, the Zionist and the hijabi

When an ardent BDS supporter found herself seated “next to a Zionist” at a BDS event, Ali Abunimah rushed to express his sympathy for her predicament:

 BDS smalltalk1

BDS smalltalk2

Now let’s imagine that the “Zionist” had tweeted:

“Sitting next to a hijabi at Loyola’s open forum. Why me”.

If Ali Abunimah had seen such a tweet, he would have rushed to write yet another Electronic Intifada post expressing his disgust at this example of Zionist racism, supremacism, apartheid, Islamophobia and what not.

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.”

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?

Defending Judith Butler in the Ivory Tower

The controversy that erupted when it became known that the prominent American post-structuralist philosopher Judith Butler will be awarded Frankfurt’s prestigious Theodor Adorno Prize has already resulted in a large volume of writings. The website of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East provides a long list of critical commentaries; if you’re looking for voices defending Butler, one place to go to is Mondoweiss – a site that, for good reason, has often been criticized for publishing antisemitic material and views. Yet, Judith Butler chose Mondoweiss to publish her first response to the critics of her Adorno award, and since then, the blog has been quoted by highly respected sites, including the publisher of Butler’s recent book, Columbia University Press (CUP). This illustrates in a nutshell some of the major problems that the defenders of Butler – prominently among them her fellow-academics – are trying to ignore or downplay.

Imagine for a moment that there was a controversy about a prominent academic who just published a book with CUP, and she would choose to respond to her critics on a site that is single-mindedly focused on the failings of the Muslim world and is known to often publish material that can be legitimately described as bigoted against Muslims. Would CUP happily link to the site?

Unfortunately, it seems fair to assume that Butler chose to have her response to her critics published on Mondoweiss because she knows the blog and agrees with its view that the world would be a better place if there was no Jewish state. Indeed, according to the advertisement for her new book Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, she “affirms Edward Said’s late proposals for a one-state solution within the ethos of binationalism.” Moreover, Butler also offers the “startling suggestion” that “Jewish ethics not only demand a critique of Zionism, but must transcend its exclusive Jewishness in order to realize the ethical and political ideals of living together in radical democracy.”

It’s indeed a “startling suggestion,” but of course Judith Butler is entitled to her own interpretation of Jewish ethics. At the same time, her critics must be entitled to point out that when Butler claims to merely “criticize” Israeli policies, she does so within the context of her view that Israel shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state.

While Butler seizes every possible opportunity to fight the popular straw-man argument that thanks to Israel’s mindless defenders, anyone who dares to criticize Israeli policies risks being denounced as an antisemite, she ignores the very real problem that her views about the illegitimacy of a Jewish state are not only shared by the Mondoweiss crowd, but also by bizarre Jewish fringe groups like Neturei Karta, and of course by Islamist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, whom Butler once described so controversially as “social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left.”

To be sure, Butler makes her case for a “world without Zionism” in very different terms than the “anti-Zionist” Jew-haters in the Middle East and elsewhere, but she also seems strikingly unwilling to wrestle with the fact that she advocates a vision cheered and shared mostly by people who justify their views with blood-thirsty Muslim texts and ideas that reflect a Nazi-like demonization of Jews.

Given Butler’s apparent lack of concern about the motivations of those who will be thrilled that a prominent Jewish intellectual and academic lends her prestige to the cause of doing away with the world’s only Jewish state, there is little justification for Todd Gitlin’s view that in the controversy about the Adorno prize, Butler is a victim of the “gotcha habit of seeking the author’s clumsiest, least defensible moments and waving them in the air like chunks of raw meat.”

Indeed, when it comes to Judith Butler’s views on Israel, the real challenge is arguably not to find the least defensible moments, but to find defensible ones.

To pick just one of the many particularly indefensible “moments,” let’s consider some of the implications of the idea that Israel’s Jews should give up their state “in order to realize the ethical and political ideals of living together in radical democracy.” It may not matter in the post-structuralist Ivory Tower inhabited by Judith Butler, but in the real world, the Middle East’s ancient sectarian and ethnic hatreds continue to make the region one of the most dangerous conflict zones in the world.

If this is not enough to illustrate the fact that the Middle East is not really a good place for minorities, let alone for a newly disempowered Jewish minority that has to play the guinea pig for some bi-national experiment in radical democracy, one could also consider the poisonous effects of the endless glorification of terrorism that has long been a regular feature of Palestinian political culture.

Since Butler will receive the Adorno prize on 9/11 – the birthday of Adorno – it is perhaps most appropriate to recall in this context the PEW surveys that monitored Muslim views of Osama bin Laden for several years, beginning in 2003. The specific survey question inquired “how much confidence you have in [X – from a list of named leaders] to do the right thing regarding world affairs.”

Throughout the surveys, it was the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank that expressed the highest confidence in bin Laden, starting with an astonishing 72 percent in 2003, and ending with a hardly less remarkable 34 percent in 2011. When bin Laden was killed, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the left-wing progressive social movement Hamas in Gaza, condemned “the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior,” adding: “We ask God to offer him mercy with the true believers and the martyrs.”

A commentary in the German publication taz anticipated sorrowfully that the controversy about Judith Butler’s Adorno prize could ultimately mean that Butler will suffer the same fate as French philosopher Michel Foucault “after his undifferentiated jubilation about the Iranian revolution in 1979” – that is to say that Butler could no longer expect to be taken all that serious as a political thinker. As far as her views on Israel are concerned, that would certainly be a well-deserved fate.

* * *

This article first appeared in The Algemeiner.

By way of an update, I would like to note that this evening, the Jewish Museum in Berlin is hosting a discussion with Judith Butler on the problematically formulated question: “Gehört der Zionismus zum Judentum?” – literally: Is Zionism part of Judaism? Obviously, this slants the playing field in favor of Butler, because it’s easy to argue that you can be a religiously observant Jew without being a Zionist.

According to a related post on the popular German blog Die Achse des Guten, the Jewish Museum will NOT allow questions about Butler’s views on Hamas and Hezbollah. Don’t ask, don’t tell, Judith-Butler-style, I suppose.

So here’s something that should cheer up Butler’s critics: The always very angry Angry Arab recently had a short post where he noted:

“A reader sent me a quotation by Adorno on Israel after the 1967 [war]. This brilliant man sounded like Abraham Foxman when he talked about Israel.”

And no, the very angry Angry Arab of course doesn’t mean that as a compliment – after all, in his calmer moments, he considers the director of the Anti-Defamation Leaguethe clown of the 20th century.”

Needless to say, the Angry Arab has a cozy place in the Ivory Tower.

Last but by no means least, anyone who wants to read up on the Butler controversy should check out the bibliography at the blog of Richard Landes.

 

Targeting the Jewish State: the kind of culture BDS loves

As part of London’s Globe Theatre World Shakespeare Festival, Israel’s Habima Theatre will perform The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew on Monday and Tuesday of this week. A Palestinian theatre company from Ramallah has already given a performance of Richard II.

Unfortunately, it seems that so-called pro-Palestinian activists didn’t have much time to take pride in the Palestinian performance, because they have been terribly busy with an unsuccessful campaign to pressure the Globe Theatre into cancelling the Habima performance.

This campaign is part of the broader BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) efforts that have targeted Israel for quite some time in the hope to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state.

While BDS advocates usually like to present themselves as defenders of Palestinian rights who only oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, most of them actually oppose Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

A good example is anti-Israel activist Ben White, about whom I have already repeatedly written (there is also a recently posted list of some of his more openly antisemitic views at Harry’s Place).  In April, White penned a piece published in the New Statesman, where he attempted to explain “Why a cultural boycott of Israel is justified.”

White notes in this piece that “a common objection to cultural boycott (or BDS in general) is some version of ‘Why Israel’s musicians and not China’s?’” His response to this question is simple: “Boycott is a strategy, not a principle.”

So here we have it: BDS happens to be a “strategy” that singles out the Jewish State – supposedly because of the occupation of the West Bank, but in reality, as Ben White’s own writings illustrate so well, because activists like him want “a world without Zionism.”

While White himself may be too sophisticated to shout this out loud, many of his fellow-BDS activists are more outspoken.  Here is London BDS ranting about the upcoming Habima performance:

“Zionism is a murderous, parasitic political doctrine and what the apartheid Zionist state is doing to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank is monstrous. Apartheid Israel is trying to whitewash their crimes by sending cultural representatives to these shores that include the Jerusalem Quartet (disrupted in London and Brighton), The Jerusalem Trio (picketed), the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (performance ‘enhanced’) and now – Habima.

The Palestinian people are undergoing a slow-motion genocide courtesy of Israel. Their land is being stolen, homes bulldozed and movement controlled. Palestinians who peacefully protest are met in force by Zionist soldiers and settlers who don’t hesitate to shoot on sight – and Israelis who maim or kill Palestinians are rarely punished. Not long ago, Palestinians who had no weapons other than their own bodies went on highly publicised hunger strikes to protest Zionist barbarity.

Zionists in turn are gnashing their teeth and wailing that any disruption is wrong and call those who take action, “cultural terrorists.” That is how the mind of the Zionist thinks; they accuse others of being racists and terrorists, but as their words and actions last Tuesday in support of racist Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman prove, they themselves are the most hateful people imaginable.

[…]

Habima’s performance was supported by a few unenlightened has-beens seeking publicity, the most well-known being Maureen Lipman and Howard Jacobson. One has to ask if Lipman and Jacobson, along with their fellow do-gooders, would have supported the Nazi-sponsored Berlin Philharmonic’s concerts in pre-war London or embraced performances funded by the racist apartheid South African government.”

Is there any antisemite out there who wouldn’t whole-heartedly agree with this vicious rant?

 

A professor holds forth on Israeli paranoia

Peter Beinart, author of the widely discussed – but apparently less widely read – book “The Crisis of Zionism,” can’t be held responsible for what his admirers write in their reviews. However, if an author tweets a review and highlights its complimentary character, I think it’s fair to conclude that he welcomes this review.

The review in question is published in the June issue of The New York Review of Books (NYRB) under the title “Israel in Peril.” It is written by David Shulman, Professor of Humanistic Studies at the Hebrew University;  as Shulman’s biographical note at NYRB adds, he is also “an activist in Ta’ayush,” a group that describes itself as “a grassroots movement of Arabs and Jews working to break down the walls of racism and segregation by constructing a true Arab-Jewish partnership.”

Shulman begins his review by ridiculing Israel’s response to a planned “Air Flotilla”  organized by various supposedly “pro-Palestinian” groups adamantly opposed to Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Ignoring the fact that the “Air Flotilla” organizers were hoping to bring some 2000 activists to Ben Gurion airport, Shulman asks why “a handful of harmless demonstrators” should “elicit so severe a reaction” and he then proceeds to answer his own question by claiming that there is a “logic—that of the endless war between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness—[that also] underlies Netanyahu’s constant dwelling on the Holocaust in relation to Iran.”

Shulman then goes on to claim:

“Like many Israelis, he [Netanyahu] inhabits a world where evil forces are always just about to annihilate the Jews, who must strike back in daring and heroic ways in order to snatch life from the jaws of death. I think that, like many other Israelis, he is in love with such a world and would reinvent it even if there were no serious threat from outside.”

So here you have it, from a professor of humanistic studies, no less: Those Jews – at least most of those Israeli Jews – are paranoid idiots who just love to imagine a world full of terrible threats that allows them to fantasize about their “daring and heroic ” defense against these threats. Moreover, in their stupidity, those paranoids don’t realize that it is their own policies – specifically the capital O Occupation of the West Bank – that pose the greatest peril for Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish state.

To be sure, I largely share the concerns about a one-state scenario that Shulman professes to have. However, it is not entirely clear if Shulman’s enthusiastic activism for Ta’ayush really reflects his commitment to a two-state solution. According to the organization’s own website, “Ta’ayush” is the Arabic word for “living together” and the group was founded in the fall of 2000 – that is to say at the beginning of the so-called Al-Aqsa intifada, about which I could find as little on the group’s website as about Palestinian terrorism and rejectionism in general. Indeed, it seems that Ta’ayush believes that its supposed goal of “constructing a true Arab-Jewish partnership” is best pursued by focusing exclusively on denouncing Israel’s policies in the West Bank, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the group also counts among its supporters an extremely controversial activist like Neve Gordon.

There is absolutely nothing on the Ta’ayush website that would contradict the conclusion that “the walls of racism and segregation” which the group wants to “break down” are all Israel’s fault. It should thus hardly come as a surprise that most of the Palestinians presented by David Shulman in his NYRB piece are helpless and destitute victims of Israel’s “malevolent campaign” to make their lives “as miserable as possible.” NYRB readers encounter a desperately poor “Palestinian widow with nine orphaned children” who, on a “freezing, rainy day,” is left “standing barefoot, still shocked and traumatized, in a neighbor’s tent” because Israel cruelly demolished her “ramshackle hut.” Then there is a cave-dwelling friend of Shulman, who – thanks to “benevolent” and generous European donors whose projects are opposed by Israel – gets to use a light bulb in his cave. According to Shulman, this prompted him to declare gratefully: “For the first time in my life, I feel like a complete human being.”

The message is clear: Palestinians are wonderful, simple, innocent people whose struggle to eke out a meager living is cruelly sabotaged by a malevolent Israel.

This one-dimensional view betrays not only hostility towards Israel, but also a profoundly patronizing attitude towards the Palestinians. A story posted by Shulman on the Ta’ayush website in April provides an excellent illustration.  After a detailed account of a day spent helping Palestinians to challenge Israeli restrictions on the use of land near a settlement, Shulman concludes his post by describing an encounter with some “village boys:”

“We linger in the wadi together with the sheep and the village boys. […] The village boys are into theology. “What’s your name?” they ask me. “Da’ud,” I say. “Named for the Prophet Da’ud! Are you a Muslim?” “No, I’m a Jew.” “Do you know how to pray?” “Maybe a little.” I can recite the Fatiha, the opening to the Qur’an. This makes a positive impression. “Sing it,” they say to me, “like the Mu’ezzin does.” I try. They correct me. It’s not so easy to get my voice to the upper register you need for the second phrase, but they seem happy with my efforts. “So why don’t you become a Muslim?” they ask me. “I don’t want to,” I say; “I already told you I’m a Jew.” “But on the Day of Judgment, yaum al-qiyama, only Muslims will go to Paradise, Al-Jannah, Firdaws; the rest will be burned in fire.” “I like the fire.”

They laugh. This has to be put to the test; they borrow a cigarette lighter and hold it to my finger. I fail the test. “Well, maybe we Jews won’t be thrown into the fire,” I say. “Maybe it will be cold there in Hell.” “No way!” They’re very certain. “Fire means fire. The believers and only the believers don’t get burned.” “OK,” I say, “but couldn’t a Jew also be a believer of some sort?” “Absolutely not.”

Now again: “So why don’t you take on Islam?” I’m having trouble explaining, in halting Arabic, the rationale of my choice. […] One thing we can all agree on: on the Day of Judgment, the settlers will be sent to the fire. The boys laugh again in the relief that certainty brings. Sinners are sinners, and God knows right from wrong.

I hope He does, though sometimes I’m not sure. Or maybe this is the definition of God, which we’ve arrived at together, gently teasing one another on this hill of rocks and thorns. It’s midday: a fierce sun offers a slight, still bearable taste of hellfire. I promise them that, infidel that I am, I’ll be back here next week or the one after.”

Just imagine what Shulman would write about an encounter with a group of Jewish village boys who would be “into theology” the same way these Muslim village boys are… Well, actually, there is no need to imagine much: if the boys came from a village in Judea or Samaria, Shulman already agreed with the Muslim village boys that “on the Day of Judgment, the settlers will be sent to the fire.”

That should count for something, coming from the Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies at the Department of Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University…

It’s really a pity that the readers of Shulman’s piece in the NYRB will not know that this fierce critic of Israel reacts with amusement – and even seems enchanted – when he meets Muslim village boys who “are into theology” and are absolutely certain that non-Muslims deserve to burn in hell. Outside the Ivory Tower, many understand that millions of Muslim youngsters are brought up with this certainty, and that this has grim implications for minorities in the Muslim world and the well-documented endemic Muslim hostility towards Jews.

In stark contrast to Professor Shulman’s baseless assertions about the supposed eagerness of many Israeli Jews to indulge into paranoid fantasies about living in a hostile world, most Israelis dream of the day when Muslim youngsters will be brought up to accept Jews at least as believers “of some sort” who don’t deserve eternal hellfire.

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Ranting against Israel at The Economist

At the Economist’s blog on “Democracy in America” – which is supposedly about American politics – one of the respected magazine’s correspondents identified by the initials M.S. has published a post under the title “Israel, Iran and America: Auschwitz complex.”

The post seems to have been written in a fit of debilitating rage.

Right at the outset, the writer quotes Netanyahu stating to Obama that he views it as his “supreme responsibility as prime minister of Israel…to ensure that Israel remains master of its fate.”

Everyone knows what this means in the relevant context of the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran: given America’s vastly superior military capabilities, the US can wait with a strike much longer than Israel to see how far Iran will get with its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

But the Economist’s correspondent seems oblivious of this widely noted issue.

Instead, s/he plays (?) dumb and, in an attempt at sarcasm, picks up on the notion of being master of one’s fate:

“News flash: Israel is not master of its fate. It’s not terribly surprising that a country with less than 8m inhabitants is not master of its fate. Switzerland, Sweden, Serbia and Portugal are not masters of their fates. These days, many countries with populations of 100m or more can hardly be said to be masters of their fates. Britain and China aren’t masters of their fates, and even the world’s overwhelmingly largest economy, the United States, isn’t really master of its fate.”

Oh well, then, it seems that for this writer, no country is master of its fate, we are all interdependent, etc. etc.

But unsurprisingly, Israel is quickly presented as a very special case:

“Israel has even less control over its own destiny than Portugal or Britain do. The main reason is that, unlike those countries, Israel refuses to give up its empire. Israel is unable to sustain its imperial ambitions in the West Bank, or even to articulate them coherently. Having allowed its founding ideology to carry it relentlessly and unthinkingly into what Gershom Gorenburg calls an “Accidental Empire” of radical religious-nationalist settlements that openly defy its own courts, Israel is politically incapable of extricating itself. […] Countries facing imperial twilight, like Britain in the late 1940s, are often seized by a sense of desperate paralysis. For over a decade, the tone of Israeli politics has been a mix of panic, despair, hysteria and resignation.”

So here we seem to have a writer who regards him-/herself as a seasoned observer of Israeli politics – even if s/he is condemned to write for the Economist about “Democracy in America:” note the claim about the “tone of Israeli politics” in the past decade, and the somewhat more subtle insinuation that Israel’s mighty West Bank “empire” – that entitles the tiny Jewish state to comparisons with former imperialist powers like Portugal or Britain – results from Israel’s “founding ideology”, i.e. Zionism.

The ridiculous comparisons, the insinuations about the pernicious nature of Zionism and the total disregard for historical context – like the fact that the West Bank was conquered in a defensive war and that Israel has relinquished all other territories won in this war – would seem to indicate that this writer has all the qualifications to contribute to some of the more unhinged anti-Israel blogs out there.

Indeed, the rest of this post only serves to reinforce this conclusion. The reader is not only told that during his tenure as prime minister in the late 1990s, Netanyahu “did more than any other Israeli leader to destroy the peace process,” but there are also truly mind-boggling assertions like these:

“Violent clashes and provocations erupted whenever the peace process seemed on the verge of concrete steps forward; the most charitable spin would be that the Israelis failed to exercise the restraint they might have shown in retaliating against Palestinian terrorism, had they been truly interested in progress towards a two-state solution.”

The reader is left to guess who should be held responsible for the “eruption” of “violent clashes and provocations,” but there is probably a hint in the formulation that it would be “the most charitable spin” to blame the Israelis just for failing to exercise restraint in the face of the bloody terrorist campaign of the so-called Palestinian Al-Aqsa intifada. Every reader is invited to fantasize what a less “charitable spin” would mean…

Next up is a bit of psychologizing:

“Having trapped themselves in a death struggle with Palestinians that they cannot acknowledge or untangle, Israelis have psychologically displaced the source of their anxiety onto a more distant target: Iran. An Iranian nuclear bomb would not be a happy development for Israel. Neither was Pakistan’s, nor indeed North Korea’s. The notion that it represents a new Holocaust is overstated, and the belief that the source of Israel’s existential woes can be eliminated with an airstrike is mistaken. But Iran makes an appealing enemy for Israelis because, unlike the Palestinians, it can be fitted into a familiar ideological trope from the Jewish national playbook: the eliminationist anti-Semite.”

So here you have it: “the eliminationist anti-Semite” is simply “a familiar ideological trope from the Jewish national playbook” – Jewish lore that is now cynically manipulated to avoid dealing with what those Jews Israelis have brought on themselves: their “death struggle” with Palestinians.

Those who up to now have been patiently waiting for anything to do with America finally get treated to a few crumbs when Netanyahu is berated for giving Obama a copy of the Book of Esther – which triggers another bout of psychologizing:

“Mr Netanyahu is less attractive than Esther, but he seems to be wooing Mr Obama and the American public just as effectively. The American-Israeli relationship now resembles the sort of crazy co-dependency one sometimes finds in doomed marriages, where the more stubborn and unstable partner drags the other into increasingly delusional and dangerous projects whose disastrous results seem only to legitimate their paranoid outlook.”

I’m tempted to characterize this post simply by quoting a few adjectives from this paragraph: crazy, delusional and paranoid.

If you think this is too harsh, read Walter Russell Mead’s recent post on “Obama’s Iran Dilemma” to appreciate what a level-headed and knowledgeable analysis on this subject looks like and just how far the Economist’s correspondent has gone off into the loony “it’s-all-Israel’s-fault” -territory.

While it is probably unfair to expect a coherent argument from a writer who is so consumed by hatred, it is also noteworthy that the post starts out by claiming that it is preposterous if Israel wants to be “master of its fate,” but it then goes on and on to argue that Israel has only itself to blame for its problems. Neither the Palestinians nor Israel’s Arab neighbors nor the wider Arab and Muslim world – including Iran – have anything to do with the threats Israel is facing, and “the eliminationist anti-Semite” is just “a familiar ideological trope from the Jewish national playbook.” That’s probably why the post is entitled “Auschwitz complex.”

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

UPDATE:

Several other writers have commented on this hate-filled outburst:

Under the title The Economist’s Pathetic “Auschwitz Complex” Mark Gardner writes on the CST blog:

“The Holocaust, Jewish history and religion are crucial to the Israeli national psyche and the decisions of its leaders: but this is not a serious article on that multifaceted subject. Instead, this article’s lack of accuracy and sensitivity make it little more than an abuse of the Holocaust and Jewish religion in order to stick two fingers up at Netanyahu.”

At Harry’s Place, Professor Alan Johnson of BICOM points out:

“Israel is wrestling with an excruciating real-world dilemma not acting out a psychological complex. And not only Israel. The entire region would experience a nuclear arms race should Iran get the bomb. […] Cheap psychologising of Israel is not a serious response to the looming danger of the Iranian nuclear bomb. That the Economist thinks otherwise is a real cause for concern.”

HP adds that the writer of the blog post might be “Matt Steinglass, a Jewish journalist who writes for the Financial Times on the Netherlands.”

Indeed, it turns out that on his Twitter profile, Steinglass links to the Economist’s “Democracy in America” blog.

On National Review Online, Victor Davis Hanson describes the Economist post as “one of the most ignorant articles in recent memory.”

UPDATE 2:

The Commentator has a piece by the always excellent Daniel Schwammenthal who notes that  the Economist has now changed the original headline “Auschwitz complex” to “Masters of their fate?”

But Schwammenthal notes, rightly in my view: “In some ways, this half-hearted retreat makes matters even worse. The editor in chief himself takes a second, careful look and still finds nothing objectionable with the body of the text. The Economist now truly owns this gem.”

 

 

Reflections on the invention of peoples

When I recently challenged Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine about his response to Newt Gingrich’s controversial statement about the “invented” Palestinian people, he responded that his “semi-critique of nationalism is equal opportunity” and he suggested that I check out two of his relevant articles. (Twitter exchange Ibishblog – WarpedMirrorPMB December 10; the exchange began when I took issue with Ibish’s argument that “there was no Israel and no such thing as an ‘Israeli people’ before 1948. So the idea that Palestinians are ‘an invented people’ while Israelis somehow are not is historically indefensible and inaccurate;” in response, I pointed out that the “Land of Israel” as well as the “Israelites” are concepts dating back to biblical times.)

I have by now read several of the relevant articles written by Ibish, including the two he urged me to read. In my view, there is no doubt that Ibish’s thoughts on the subject are sophisticated and make for very worthwhile reading; but, for reasons I will explain below, I’m not convinced that his critique of nationalism is as even-handed as he claims.

The first article Ibish recommended to me is entitled “Fetishizing nationalism.” Living up to his claim of being an “equal opportunity”-critic of nationalism, Ibish argues right at the beginning of this piece: “All contemporary nationalisms are based on constructed and imagined narratives about history, geography, culture, ethnicity and religion.” In his concluding paragraph, Ibish again emphasizes:

“The analytical challenge is to recognize that while not all nationalist claims are necessarily equally valid (they may speak on behalf of very few people, for example, and not really have the constituency they claim), in some important senses they are, however, all equally invalid. Championing one’s own nationalism as self-evidently ‘authentic’ at the expense of a well-established, deeply-rooted and much-cherished rival identity is a particularly lowly form of self-delusion, chauvinism and fetishism.”

That last sentence has a seemingly solomonic quality, since it can be read as addressed to Palestinians and Israelis alike. Unfortunately, in the context of this particular article, it seems more likely that Ibish was admonishing those who subscribe to the “traditional Zionist narrative” that Ibish breezily summarizes in a previous paragraph.

The second article Ibish recommended is entitled “Mr. Mileikowsky and the ‘seal of Netanyahu’: the perilous encounter between modern nationalism and ancient history.” Again, at the outset of the piece, Ibish appears to be very much the “equal opportunity”-critic of nationalism he claims to be when he argues:

“the nationalist identities of Egypt or China are not more authentic or legitimate because they claim direct descent from ancient civilizations and kingdoms than is the American one which celebrates its non-ethnic, sui generis (at the time of its founding anyway), and ideological self-definition. All three are equally the products of a set of developments in global history that produced them in their present form at the current moment. The American version of nationalism based on adherence to political principles and a kind of US civic religion can’t be privileged over ethnic nationalisms either, and is also very much grounded in myth, legend and historical fantasy.”

Ibish then proceeds to take on the notion “that there is a hierarchy of legitimacy of nationalist claims and that the Israeli one is simply and obviously superior, older, more ‘authentic’ and more deeply rooted than the Palestinian one.” Continue reading

Highbrow Israel-bashing is hard

Named after Israel’s country code, the +972 site promises “Independent reporting and commentary from Israel and the Palestinian territories.” As far as I can tell, the site’s contributors all seem to agree that this basically means joining the already crowded Israel-bad-Palestinians-good-camp.

Currently, +972 is featuring several articles debating the question whether there is such a thing as “liberal” Zionism. One of the contributions focuses on the question how Zionism differs from other forms of nationalism.

In support of his arguments, the post’s author Sean Lee (described as a Beirut-based American blogger and academic) provides several references to academic works; intentionally or not, this creates the impression that he is well-read and knowledgeable about his subject.

However, Lee proceeds to offer a rather jumbled argument. He starts out by noting that nationalism “implies an in-group and out-group; citizen and non-citizen; us and them.” Therefore, Lee confesses to being “sympathetic to the idea that nationalism is inherently illiberal by the very act of creating this distinction.” Yet, in his view, it should not be overlooked that “Western 21st century nationalism has come a long way from its 19th century origins. Today, American and French nationalism […] are fundamentally political categories that no longer have an ethnic component.”

The most obvious problem with this argument is that both in the US and in France (and everywhere else, for that matter), there is still a difference between citizens and non-citizens.

Less obvious is the misleading claim about the supposedly modern elimination of an ethnic component in the US and France. Let’s dispense with the name-dropping and just turn to Wikipedia, where we find the following under the relevant entries on Jus soli (i.e. right of the soil, or birthright citizenship) and Jus sanguinis (i.e. right of blood):

At the turn of the nineteenth century, nation-states commonly divided themselves between those granting nationality on the grounds of jus soli (France, for example) and those granting it on the grounds of jus sanguinis (right of blood) (Germany, for example, before 1990). However, most European countries chose the German concept of an “objective nationality”, based on word, race or language […] opposing themselves to republican Ernest Renan’s “subjective nationality”, based on a daily plebiscite of one’s belonging to one’s Fatherland.

In other words, the developments of American and French nationalism that Lee describes as recent praiseworthy achievements go back all the way to the beginnings of nationalism.

Importantly, however, the idea of birthright citizenship was originally associated with the assumption that a person who grows up in the country s/he was born will naturally identify with this country’s laws, customs and values, which is reflected in the notion of “a daily plebiscite of one’s belonging to one’s Fatherland.” A contemporary expression of this for modern ears awkwardly phrased notion is found in United States Oath of Allegiance that must be taken by all immigrants who wish to become United States citizens.

Interestingly enough, Sean Lee has written an error-riddled blog post on the debate about an Israeli loyalty oath, where he registered his support for the loyalty oath, “not because it’s right, but rather because I think it helps illustrate the distasteful ideology on which Israel, as an officially Jewish state, is based.”

But back to Lee’s +972 post and the relevant Wikipedia entries that explain:

Many nations have a mixture of ius sanguinis and ius soli, including the United States, Canada, Italy, Israel, Germany (as of recently), Greece, the Republic of Ireland and others. Apart from France, ius sanguinis still is the preferred means of passing on citizenship in many continental European countries.

A long list of countries that “provide immigration privileges to individuals with ethnic ties to these countries” can be found here.

But never mind the facts if the highbrow purpose is to single out Israel’s Law of Return – which Lee mistakenly refers to as “right of return”:

Israel […] is explicitly a state for one category of its citizens: Jews. In both theory and practice, the Jewish state accords certain rights and privileges to Jews that it does not to non-Jews. This is seen most dramatically in the right of return, which states that anyone who has one Jewish grandparent (ironically the same criteria used in the Nuremberg laws) is automatically eligible for Israeli citizenship. Conversion is a little more complicated, but generally speaking, converts to Judaism are also accorded the right of “return.” On the flip side, a Palestinian citizen of Israel from Haifa or Jaffa, not only cannot give Israeli citizenship to his or her spouse in Ramallah or Bethlehem, but the latter cannot even enter Israel so they can live together.

I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure why it is “ironic” that a persecuted people would adopt a law that reflects a deadly historic experience, but maybe my sense of irony isn’t sufficiently developed.

But let’s get to “the flip side.” Indeed, Lee’s flip side example is very interesting, involving “a Palestinian citizen of Israel from Haifa or Jaffa” who would like to pass on his or her citizenship to a “spouse in Ramallah or Bethlehem.”

The citizenship of the “Palestinian citizen of Israel” is obviously Israeli, and if his or her prospective spouse was a non-Jewish person holding e.g. American or European citizenship, the “Palestinian citizen of Israel” would face exactly the same bureaucratic procedures as any other Israeli citizen who plans to marry somebody from abroad and wants his or her spouse to have Israeli citizenship. In other words, it’s not about Jewish privilege, as Lee implies.

Moreover, Lee may not know it, but in most countries, foreign spouses cannot claim a right to citizenship and must instead apply for naturalization – which usually also means that they must meet certain conditions, such as, to quote one particularly shocking (!!!) example, “that the applicant not endanger the internal or external security of Switzerland.”

A final note: In an attempt to do some comparative research to find out how many things Lee gets wrong when he writes about Arab or Palestinian nationalism, I only found out that he seems to prefer to write about Zionism. No doubt this is a terribly important subject when you live in Beirut.