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Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, November 30, 2003

Anti-semitism speech-chilling campaign: latest sally

It needs no conspiracy for supporters of Sharon government policy to spot that the accusation that opposition to that policy is per se antisemitic successfully exploits a weakness in the American polity, and to add their two cents to the fun.

Last week, Sharon was making the argument himself (November 24): in the Guardian yesterday, the dreaming spires of Oxford chimed in - in the form of Emanuele Ottolenghi [1]. He's Italian, but has a sound grasp of the English-language formulae favoured in this branch of propaganda [2].

After an opening feint - he begins with
Is there a link between the way Israel's case is presented and anti-semitism?
but never addresses the question - he states the opposition view:
Jewish defenders of Israel are then depicted by their critics as seeking an excuse to justify Israel, projecting Jewish paranoia and displaying a "typical" Jewish trait of "sticking together", even in defending the morally indefensible.

As with the attack on Rep James Moran [3], a key element is the allegation of the use of Jewish stereotypes - which in itself is, it seems, to be taken as evidence of antisemitism. The fact that these critics - unnamed, natch! - would suggest that any behaviour by Jews was typical is thus a black mark against them.

(As a piece of scholarship, Ottolenghi's piece - isn't. No footnotes. No sign of the use of quantitative methods in support of allegations covering the generality of the opposition to Israeli policy. Not so much GE Moore as Michael Moore.)

He makes the ritual assertion that he is not suggesting that criticism of Israeli policy is anti-semitic per se:
There is no doubt that recent anti-semitism is linked to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And it is equally without doubt that Israeli policies sometimes deserve criticism. There is nothing wrong, or even remotely anti-semitic, in disapproving of Israeli policies.

Reminiscent of the old line, Some of my best friends are Jews, but...

He says
Jewish defenders of Israel...are concerned about the form the criticism takes.

Shylock may have his pound of flesh, providing that he spills no blood in getting it. Neat, huh?

If Israel's critics are truly opposed to anti-semitism, they should not repeat traditional anti-semitic themes under the anti-Israel banner.

It's the sleazy old trick of the missing article: some critics no doubt use anti-semitic themes - but the sense of they applies to all such critics. And, while the clause is in form a mere apodosis, in substance it is a statement that all critics use anti-semitic themes.

(It's not, I think, a trick available in a language like French, where the article - des or les - distinguishes references to the whole of a class from those to part only.)

And, just to make sure we're all on the same page, he gives examples:
the Jewish conspiracy to rule the world, linking Jews with money and media, the hooked-nose stingy Jew, the blood libel, disparaging use of Jewish symbols, or Christian anti-Jewish imagery

Again, note the sleazy way that stuff that is simply untrue -
the hooked-nose stingy Jew
- is thrown in with stuff that may indeed be true -
linking Jews with money and media

Only this week, we have had the example of John Updike's New Yorker piece in which he used the expression rich Jew - and got himself an apoplectic rant (I suppress the G-word at this point) from the New York Observer for his pains. In my piece, I had the temerity to mention the Bronfman family as being rich. Antisemitic.

The hooked nose is meant to add a veneer of plausibility to a thoroughly meretricious argument, by by-passing reason and pressing the emotional hot buttons.

He mentions Labour MP Tam Dalyell's assertion that was a Jewish cabal at work influencing HMG's foreign policy in the same breath as an Italian cartoonist. Dalyell said he was referring not to British but American influence - in other words, much the same as James Moran was saying.

This allegation may not stand in its simplest form. But, as I suggested in relation to Moran, it might well be qualified in such a way as to make it factually accurate. Ottolenghi and other defenders of Israel (Jewish or not) will not take the risk: any statement on the influence of Jews on the foreign policy of USG or HMG, however qualified or supported by evidence, must be delegitimated ab initio as anti-semitic.

Then, he complains that Israel is held to a higher standard of behaviour than other countries, and implies that that, too, is anti-semitism at work:
Singling out Israel for an impossibly high standard not applied to any other country begs the question: why such different treatment?

(If Israel is singled out, it may be for several reasons: that Israel (with DOIs) singles itself out, for one, as the only democracy in the Middle East - as well as the claim for the uniqueness of the Holocaust. Or because Israel has long been the US's most significant recipient of defence aid and diplomatic support - such that it has been allowed to flout UN Security Council Resolutions for decades. Or even because others think that the self-described Chosen People ought to act better than the rest of us.

But, to draw any conclusions on world opinion on the matter, one would clearly need to do a great deal of research. Not a commodity that appears to inform Ottolenghi's piece at all...)

He goes on with more sleazy selectivity:
...some of Israel's critics use anti-semitic stereotypes.

At last, a partitive! We should be grateful, I suppose.

But then
their disclaimers frequently offer a mask of respectability to otherwise socially unacceptable anti-semitism.

Note the quantifying word frequently. That implies he has some evidence of frequency - is it 10%, or 30% or what? On the basis of what research is he making his quantitative assertion? Answer, of course, comes there none.

And then
Many equate Israel to Nazism, claiming that "yesterday's victims are today's perpetrators":

Is that many of Israel's critics as a whole; or many of the some of those critics who use anti-semitic stereotypes?

On this point - Glory be! - the man has evidence: a quote - just the one - from a novelist, Louis de Bernières [4] who apparently said
Israel has been adopting tactics which are reminiscent of the Nazis.

He's not content to put the man's assertion to the test of actual evidence (Ottolenghi seems allergic to actual evidence, to judge by his piece): it must be damned out of hand as antisemitic.

That's one solitary example he's volunteered in 430 words of rant (up to that point).

Then, he says
Others speak of Zionist conspiracies to dominate the media, manipulate American foreign policy, rule the world and oppress the Arabs.

Again, are these others amongst the some, or amongst all critics of Israel? He's not a numbers man, clearly.

By describing Israel as the root of all evil, they provide the linguistic mandate and the moral justification to destroy it.

There are three suggestions here, then:
  1. some assertions are intrinsically antisemitic, and therefore illegitimate, even if (in some form) true;

  2. though these assertions are not made by all critics of Israel, nevertheless all such critics are associated with them; and

  3. all critics, thus vicariously responsible for the wildest allegations of the anti-Israeli camp, are to be held to invite the nation's destruction.

Dishonesty on this scale, if applied to financial matters, could well yield its author a long vacation with Club Fed!

The Patron of the blog, in his wise pre-war position on slavery, was attacked in very much the same manner: in the Fourth Debate (Charleston) of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, on September 18 1858, he said, in reply
...I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied every thing. I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. My understanding is that I can just let her alone. I am now in my fiftieth year, and I certainly never have had a black woman for either a slave or a wife. So it seems to me quite possible for us to get along without making either slaves or wives of negroes.

It was ever the cry of the defenders of slavery, and then of Jim Crow, that anyone proposing reforms to benefit the Negro - in voting rights, say - was really advocating Miscegenation.

(Ottolenghi's innuendo is that anyone who opposes Israeli government policy hates Jews.)

He then gets on to anti-Zionism: I should have thought (I wouldn't state it as fact, because, unlike Ottolenghi, I would be embarrassed to make such a sweeping assertion without evidence) that most white opponents of Israeli policy would not oppose the existence of Israel. Yet he seems to suggest that opposing Israeli policy entails opposition to the idea of their being a Jewish state at all.

He invokes a stereotype of his own - of the Jew as a passive bearer of suffering - to suggest that anti-Zionists are happy see Jews suffering singly, but not standing together as a nation.

Again, it's all assertion and no evidence.

He concludes with a Rambo-style burst of fire from the hip:
Israel errs like all other nations: it is normal. What anti-Zionists find so obscene is that Israel is neither martyr nor saint. Their outrage refuses legitimacy to a people's national liberation movement. Israel's stubborn refusal to comply with the invitation to commit national suicide and thereby regain a supposedly lost moral ground draws condemnation. Jews now have the right to self-determination, and that is what the anti-semite dislikes so much.

He starts off the graf still castigating anti-Zionists. Then enters No Man's Land - from whom, exactly, does
Israel's stubborn refusal to comply with the invitation to commit national suicide
draw condemnation? Anti-Zionists alone? Or critics of Israeli policy generally?

And finishes with a reference to
the anti-semite.
- as undefined and unquantified as when he started.

Ottolenghi's bio shows a list of 14 peer-reviewed articles (I recognise the names of a couple of the journals). One can only hope he was held to a rather more stringent standard in those than is evident in his Guardian piece.

The aim of such a piece is clearly not to inform. Nor is it to provide arguments in favour of a policy.

The piece is what Ottolenghi protests it is not: an attempt to persuade the academic or journalist [5] - in particular, in the US - to think twice before even entering the debate on Israel and the Middle East. The field of academic and journalistic endeavour is limitless: why take a risk with a promising career? Who will it help to tackle an Israel-related topic, with the danger of being drawn into statements which can be twisted into anti-semitism? Who will be impressed by such foolhardiness?

Better far to pass by on the other side!

  1. Whose bio describes him as
    Non-stipendiary Research Fellow, St Antony's College.
  2. For which I have yet to see an apt identifier; anti-anti-semitic will hardly do.

  3. Work back from March 21 piece.

  4. Best known for Captain Corelli's Mandolin.

  5. I thought for a few milliseconds of adding politician here; but, of course, few politicians would be tempted to deviate from the AIPAC-approved line, except with pretty good electoral body-armour. On a 2000 Israel solidarity vote that comes to hand,the US House toed the AIPAC line by 365-30. Kucinich voted no, Gephardt did not vote - just for the record.

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