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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Israel: shouting match « Previous | |Next »
November 9, 2004

There is a post over at Crooked Timber by Henry Farrell that addresses the difficulty of having a debate as opposed to a shouting match on the Israeli-Palestinian question.

Despite the commonality of position ---a two-state solution, a fudging of the Jerusalem issue, and some compensation for the taking of land--a civil argument is virtually impossible. That has been my experience.

What I have found from my postings on the issue is that the major strategy that the pro-Israel groups use is one that equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Often the charge is that the left equates Israel with Nazi Germany.

It is anti-Israel criticism that offends the pro-Israel groups, not anti-Semitism. This is clear from the way the distinctions routinely made between Jews, Israelis, and Zionists are ignored; the campaign against Hanan Ashrawi to prevent her from giving the 2003 Sydney Peace lecture; the campaign in US campuses to force universities (eg., the Joseph Massad case at Columbia University) to abandon proper academic procedure in evaluating scholarship and to clamp down on critical opinions about Israel in the classroom; and the lack of Israeli criticism of Christian fundamentalist anti-Semites who seek to convert Jews but who support Israel.

Consequently, the pro-Israeli charge is that criticism of a Likud Government is equivalent to a criticism of Israel, because a Likud Israel is the Jewish people.

After Arafat? What then? Will new spaces open up? Should the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, show political courage and say that he recognizes the Palestinian right to statehood, and that he will negotiate with any successor to Arafat who shows equal recognition of Israel?

In the US it is the Christian fundamentalists who are going to pose a significant but not insurmountable challenge to achieving a fair, just and lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Update:10 November

A paper by Joseph Massad, entitled 'The legacy of Jean-Paul Sartre', can be found here. The legacy is Sartre's failure to see how European Jews who left Europe as holocaust refugees arrived in Palestine as armed colonisers. The article then tackles French intellectuals Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Pierre Bourdieu, Etienne Balibar, and Slavoj Zizek for their failure to acknowledge a change in the status of European Jews.

Massad, wearing the hat of a public intellectual, argues that these intellectuals still represented the Jews as holocaust survivors in Europe. He says:


"The status of the European Jew as a coloniser who has used racist colonial violence for the last century against the Palestinian people is a status they [the Parisian intellectuals] refuse to recognise and continue to resist vehemently. Although some of these intellectuals have clearly recognised Israeli Jewish violence in, and occupation of, the West Bank and Gaza, they continue to hold on to a pristine image of a Jewish State founded by holocaust survivors rather than by armed colonial settlers."


That argument is hardly a reason to be fired from Columbia, or denied tenure. The issue here is not what Massod is arguing--he very well may be wrong.
I for one do not understand what Massad means by an 'anti-Semitic Israel.' But academic freedom means that Massad has the right to make these critical arguments.

From my experience in these debates it is Massad's claim that Israeli is a colonizing power, which uses racist violence against the Palestinians, that offends the pro-Israeli groups. They view Israel as a democracy--the only one in the Middle East.

Academic freedom means that Massad's view that Israel is a racist Jewish state founded on colonial violence can be stated and should be debated and contested. That is what liberalism stands for.

Another paper by Massad. The Campus Watch Report is here.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:31 AM | | Comments (12)
Comments

Comments

You can only have a debate....or even a civilised discussion for that matter....when TWO rational, civilised, intelligent persons engage. When you have one rational, civilised intelligent person and one blinkered pro-Israeli, anti-palestinian screamer, you might as well look elsewhere.

Sharon has never shown the slightest interest in neither the formation of a co-existing Palestinian state, nor the so-called "roadmap-to-peace" put forward by the Bush regime (obviously a tongue in cheek gesture). Given US tactics in Iraq, its obvious Bush has taken his cue from Sharon.

Niall,
you can also have a pro-Palestinian,anti-Israeli screamer and one rational,civilised intelligent person.

Max,
I'm inclined to agree. Sharon has a track record of supporting the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

But Sharon has acknowledged defeat on the Gaza strip and is pulling back. Military realism? The settlements cannot be defended? Or it is not worth it?

At this stage it looks as if Sharon will continue to force the disengagement plan through, even if it busts up his Coalition with the National Religious Party (NRP) leaving. Sharon now depends on tacit support from the Labour Party.

What I find most odd is the odd alliance between the religious right wing in America and the religious right wing in Israel: between those who wear Crosses and those who have kipas on their heads.

I thought that buried within the US evangelical Christian's right wing’s support of Israel is the desire to Christianize the people of Zion. Or has that faded?

This is satire, right?

"the major strategy that the [unnamed] pro-Israel groups use is one that equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism....Christian fundamentalist anti-Semites who seek to convert Jews but who support Israel."

You say that in your experience, "a civil argument [about Israel] is virtually impossible." I wonder why that could be? You obviously take great care you take to confine your criticism to particular targets, and carefully avoid broad criticisms of entire groups that people might take the wrong way. So obviously you aren't to blame for the difficulties you've had in finding a civil conversation about Israel. Truly, it is a mystery.

The solution to Niall's dilemma is pretty clear, though. He should avoid conversations with "blinkered pro-Israeli, anti-palestinian screamer" types, and stick to discussions with supporters of Israel who don't engage in screaming and name calling.

Ragout,
In the past I've been happy to turn over this weblog over to a discussion on the Israeli Palestinian question. I did a number of posts so that it could happen drawing on material from commentary in Israeli newspapers.

The aim was to try and sort through the arguments, given the loosely defined common ground of a two-state solution, a fudging of the Jerusalem issue, and some compensation for the taking of land.

That debate never really happened. It was fiery polemics of people shouting at one another.

In my post I described the difficulties I had encountered with public opinion being a lefty blog ---that my criticism of Israel (under the current Sharon Likud Government) was treated as anti-Semitism.

In my post I argued against that charge to say that it is really the anti-Israel bit that matters in this conflict, not the anti-Semitism.

Therefore, (I will spell out the conclusion) criticism of Sharon was treated as criticism of Israel by the pro-Israeli groups. The assumption here is that the Israeli right in Israel is equated with Israel per se. that means Israel is a Jewish (ethno-nationalist) state.

You ignore the argument in the post that seperates anti-Israel from anti-Semetic. You do even bother to say where it goes wrong: ie., which bits are right or which bits are wrong.

You're contribution is to say that I see myself as pure white when I'm bigoted/prejudiced etc etc and so none of the fault for the shouting match is mine.

And you do this by linking two statements from completely different paragraphs that are designed to make different points.

How about addressing the argument?

How can I possibly address your "argument." You say that posters on your blog (or is it "pro-Israeli groups?") have equated criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. I will take your word for it, although you provide no link so that I can judge for myself. What contribution can I make other than to point out that your hostile tone invites hostile criticism?

You imply that critics of Hanan Ashrawi have accused her of anti-semitism, and here you provide some links. I clicked on your first two links, seached for the word "semit" and didn't find it on either page. So, it sounds to me like you are making unjustified and unsupported accusations.

Finally, I just have to laugh that you don't see the irony in (1) complaining about unjustified charges of anti-semitism from "pro-Israeli groups" while (2) throwing around such charges yourself.

You seem to be claiming either that Christian fundamentalists are anti-semitic or that "who seek to convert Jews" are anti-semitic. From context I'd guess you mean fundamentalists, but because I've heard this argument before, I'm guessing that you mean proselytizers, which would include most Christians and Moslems. Perhaps you could clarify just which group your charges of anti-semitism are aimed at.

Ragout
There were a lot of assumptions in that post. This unpacks some of them.

try this for previous posts on the Israeli/Palestinian on public opinion.Check out the comments.

For a recent expression of the anti-Semitic argument in Australia see this.

The reference to Hanan Ashwrai was to remind Australian readers of the political campaign against her, wherein Cohen's view was expressed as a taken for granted position. In Australia Cohen's right wing view is very common. It acts to stifle the debate.

The reference to Ashrawai was more a link to her lecture to get people to read it, to see what she was saying about violence on both sides. Another attempt to break out of the circle of racists shouting.

For the record my understanding of anti-semitism is that it is a racist ideology directed against the Jews with old roots. If anti-Semitism was a product of the 19th century,then the foundations were laid with Christian anti-Judaism of pre-Enlightenment Europe. The anti-semetic mentality involves hatred of Jews as a race of people. Jews are defined by both race and religion.

When we switch today to the political right in the US, I have in mind the fundamentalist Christians, those who take the Bible literally and especially those who believe that God's promise to Abraham is still valid.

They define Jews in religious terms and seek to convert them as salvation is found solely though faith in Christ. They are not known for their religious tolerance.The fundamentalist mentality interprets the book of Genesis to hold Jews as a race are decendent from Satan.

Now I'm not going along with Joseph Massad's views on this.

The question is:'when does religious bigotry become anti-Semitism? At what point does Christian religion get associated with race? I would suggest at the point where salvation salvation comes through race and grace. This is what I had in mind.

What I also had in mind was the Christian rights calls to make America a Christian nation implicitly assumes that Jews and other non-Christians are second-class citizens.

However, the point of my remark,

"and the lack of Israeli criticism of Christian fundamentalist anti-Semites who seek to convert Jews but who support Israel"

was to suggest that the pro-Israeli groups do not criticise the anti-semitic fundamental Christians because these Christians are also pro-Israel. Therefore, the concern is with anti-Israel views not with anti-Semitism per se.

It was an attempt to move away from the charges of anti-Semitism that are thrown around by both sides in a political conflict.That was the point of the post.

Gary,

You write "For a recent expression of the anti-Semitic argument in Australia see this." But once again the link does not support your case: You accuse Barry Cohen of equating criticism of Israel with anti-semitism. But Cohen does not call anyone an anti-semite in anything you quote.

I more or less see the point you were making about Christian fundamentalists now. My apoligies; I assumed that you were making Massad's argument.

BTW, any fundamentalist who "interprets the book of Genesis to hold Jews as a race are decendent from Satan," is in a tiny minority among fundamentalists.

I have no idea if there is much Israeli criticism of the christian right, although I suspect there is plenty. There is certainly plenty among supporters of Israel in the US. Peter Beinart, the editor of the strongly pro-Israel New Republic has argued that Israel should shun Christian fundamentalists [requires subscription]. How have you determined that there is a lack of criticism of Christian Fundamentalists in Israel?

And of what relevance is this? We're all different people. Even if there are many people who only criticize anti-semitism when it's convenient, that doesn't mean that all who criticize anti-semitism are hypocrites. Even if there are just a few hypocrites doesn't mean that any particular person isn't one.

Ragout,

you need to read the full text of Cohen's article to understand why it raised the hackles of myself and others. My post was premised on people reading the article, which created a bit of a stir.

Most of the historical stuff about how European Jews, Europe, and holocaust refugees is uncontentious. What is absent from this history is the impact of Zionism on the Israeli state. However, the relevant and questionable section is this:


"The war on terrorism and the war on Iraq have given the left a new lease on life.But this time it has a new twist, a distinctly anti-Semitic one. It surfaced immediately after September 11 and was summed up in comments by Sydney Morning Herald columnist Alan Ramsey, who suggested that the cause of September 11 was America's Middle East policies and their failure to rein in the Israelis. This has been repeated ad nauseam by one left/liberal commentator after another."


The criticisms of Left liberal commentators of US policies in the Middle East are deemed to be anti-Semetic because they failed to reign in the Israeli's.

I presume the failure to reign the Israeli's refers to the Likud Israeli Government and its military incursions into the occupied territories eg., Gaza.

The Cohen "nails" the left-liberal "argument" with this refutation:

"Israeli scientist Haim Harari nailed this nonsense in a speech earlier this year: "The millions who died in the Iraq-Iran war had nothing to do with Israel. The mass murder happening right now in Sudan, where the Arab Muslim regime is massacring its black Christian citizens, has nothing to do with Israel. The frequent reports from Algeria about the murders of hundreds of civilians in one village or another by other Algerians have nothing to do with Israel. Saddam did not invade Kuwait, endanger Saudi Arabia and butcher his own people because of Israel . . . The Taliban control of Afghanistan and the civil war there had nothing to do with Israel. I could go on and on."

Who said they did say that? I presume that what is being referred to here is the reasonable claim that the Palestinian/Israeli conflict needs be settled as a necessary preconditon for a just and fair peace in the Middle East.

Cohen is using a straw dog used to silence the left with the charge of racism. He does not distinquish between the different voices on the left. Nor does it engage with the criticisms of the policies of the Sharon Likud Government, and its the support for the settler movement and their ‘Janus-faced’ Zionism, which poses simultaneously as a national liberation movement and a colonial settler movement.

It is the Likud Government's policies adn those of the rightist Zionist settlers that are at issue. Criticising those policies does not equate to anti-Semitism.


Cohen labels as anit-semitic Columnist Alan Ramsey's argument that the "cause of September 11 was America's Middle East policies and their failure to rein in the Israelis."

A few days after 9/11 Cohen wrote a column titled "America's Chickens Come Home to Roost." This column, blaming American policy for 9/11 was inflammatory and incoherent, so it's no surprise that it generated heated criticism. I'm sure that Ramsey intended to provoke outrage: complaining that he achieved his objective is just whining.

The bulk of Ramsey's column is devoted to discussing "the irony of American aid and comfort over two decades to militant Islamic nationalism [in 1980s Afghanistan], in the name of "freedom fighters" opposing communism."

But then he says: "At no time, ever, has Washington given legitimacy to Islamic interests, be it in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, or wherever. Or, of course, in what the Israelis have made their country, by whatever means, at the expense of what used to be Palestine and its dispossessed people."

This is the bulk of what he has to say about Israel. His column isn't devoted to criticizing Israel, it's devoted to criticizing US foreign policy, and claiming the Americans have only themselves to blame for 9/11.

At best, the reference to Israel is completely gratutitious. Cohen makes no argument at all that US support for Israel had anything to do with 9/11, merely asserts it as a truism. This is what Cohen labels anti-semitic: blaming Israel without making a reasoned argument.

I think Cohen makes a good case, but I'd go farther. Ramsey's article is so incoherent that there are many possible interpretations of what he's trying to say. One is that he's claiming US foreign policy is manipulated by Israel, which is even more anti-semitic than the claim about 9/11.

Ramsey says that the US doesn't give legitimacy to "Islamic interests" in various middle eastern countries. I don't think his complaint is that the US puts its own interests above the Islamic interest -- of course it does -- I think he's saying that the US puts Jewish interests above Islamic interests, and that's why 9/11 happened.

Perhaps this is not what Ramsey really meant. But if so, it's easy to misinterpret him as saying this. He should have explicitly disavowed this interpretation, or just written a less vitriolic and incoherent column in the first place.

Ragout,

I'm not defending Ramsay in criticising Cohen. Nor am I addressing Ramsay's argument that the cause of September 11 was America's Middle East policies and their failure to rein in the Israelis.

What I'm doing is picking up on the use of anti-Semitism where it is not warranted. Consider your parargraph:

"His [Ramsay's} column isn't devoted to criticizing Israel, it's devoted to criticizing US foreign policy, and claiming the Americans have only themselves to blame for 9/11.

At best, the reference to Israel is completely gratutitious. Cohen makes no argument at all that US support for Israel had anything to do with 9/11, merely asserts it as a truism. This is what Cohen labels anti-semitic: blaming Israel without making a reasoned argument."

Blaming Israeli without making a reasonable argument is antiSemitism. It is racist, in other words. That is your defence of Cohen.

Is this the case with Cohen? Three points.

What you ignore is the slide in Cohen's article from Ramsay to one left-liberal commentator after another contained in the sentence "...the cause of September 11 was America's Middle East policies and their failure to rein in the Israelis. This has been repeated ad nauseam by one left/liberal commentator after another."

So we are talking about left liberals now.It's now a new discourse: the culture war against left liberalism.

Secondly Cohen's article was not about US policy it was all about Israel, the awful suffering of European Jews, the shift in the left liberal view of the Israeli nation-state and the anti-Semitism of left-liberals, especially those in the Australian Labor Party.

My response to Cohen is to say that the left liberals did make a reasonable arguments eg. the ones about the expansion of Isareli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, the land grap by the security wall, and the Greater Israel thesis of the religious right in the settler movement.

These are fairly standard adn well known criticisms. And note--this is my htird point--- what they say--they refer to the practices of specific Israelis--the settler movement, right wing Zionists and the Likud Government. They do not talk about Israel or Israeli's in general.

Now Cohen does not address these arguments. Nor did he do so on ABC radio after the article was published.Instead he uses the term anti-semitism, which means racist.That is what I'm objecting to.

The left liberal arguments about the settlers, right wing Zionism and the policies of the Likud Government may well be flawed. If so they should be addressed, not evaded under the smokescreen of racism.

The weakness of Ramsay's argument about 9/11 --eg., its incoherence and inflamatory nature---is another matter altogether.It is a different issue.