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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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Monday, November 24, 2003
 

Sharon weighs in with a anti-Likud = anti-semitic rant


As flagged here many times before, a key element of neocon propaganda in support of the PNAC/NSS strategy for the Middle East is to assert as loudly and often as possible that opposition to the policies of Ariel Sharon's Likud government in relation to the Palestinians and its sovereign neighbours is an expression of anti-semitism.

The purpose of this assertion is to chill opinions in opposition to those policies, and thereby create a climate conducive to governments - above all, USG - having no political interest in opposing those policies, and every interest in supporting them.

(The sensitivity of media and politicians in the US to the most inconsequential remarks which might conceivably have antisemitic undertones is illustrated most recently in the farrago concerning Gregg Easterbrook and his review of Kill Bill [1].)

Now, we have Sharon on record on the subject in an interview with EUpolitix.com published today [2].

An example of the rhetoric:
Question: Mr prime minister, in Europe there is an attempt to distinguish between an anti-Semitism that should be condemned and a legitimate criticism toward Israel's policies. Furthermore there are those who think that Israel utilises anti-Semitism as a shield from criticism directed at her.

Ariel Sharon: Today there is no separation. We are talking about collective anti-Semitism. The state of Israel is the Jewish state and the attitude towards Israel runs accordingly. This anti-Semitism is fundamental, and today, in order to incite it and to undermine the Jews' rights for self-defence, it is re-aroused. These days to conduct an anti-Semite policy is not a popular thing, so the anti-Semites bundle their policies in with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


So, it seems, the new propaganda tool is collective anti-Semitism. The spinners are afraid that to call opposition to Likud policies antisemitism tout court would not carry conviction: people are sure they know what antisemitism is - pogroms, death-camps and the like - and know that opposing Likud comes nowhere close.

But so powerful an icon is the word antisemitic that it must be brought in at all costs: some sly qualification must be found that melts away in the presence of the white heat of the principal term. Veteran readers may recall the speech of Clinton Treasury Secretary, and now President of Harvard University, Lawrence Summers in October 2002 in connection with the then hot topic of university disinvestment from US companies trading with Israel, in which he was pleased to allege that
Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent.

The re-education efforts of Pol Pot and Mao Tse-tung could scarcely have included a more mischievous concept; or the vagaries of Jim Crow etiquette set a more puzzling challenge for the unwary Negro.

What Summers then, and Sharon now, are about is, in its intention, much the same as informal Jim Crow: by vague and uncertain formulation, by establishing a large penumbra of doubt about the scope of the 'rule' being laid down, they seek to cause those to whom the rule is directed to be doubtful whether their intended conduct might constitute a transgression. Since the consequences of transgression (of the antisemitism and Jim Crow rules) are liable to be serious (but, in any case, exacted capriciously, without due process), and avoided at the trifling cost of a modicum of humiliation and sacrifice of integrity, those to whom the rule is directed will be inclined to comply. When in doubt, say nothing. Except, Yassir!, naturally [3].

Of course, most Europeans will not take much notice of Sharon's exercise in applied sophistry. Just as he takes little notice of their governments.

The key audience is in the US: in particular, opinion-formers who are disturbed by Israeli policy on the Wall-aka-Fence, settlement expansion and so on, and are tempted to express doubts about that policy. They will fear - not without justification, given Easterbrook, Moran and the like - that the mere accusation of anti-semitism will see colleagues and friends edging away, institutions will play it safe and cancel lectures, leave book options un-taken-up, fail to grant tenure: the whole Joe McCarthy shtick.

Our putative opinion-formers don't need to see actual cases of this happening: just the fear of it will make them play it safe.

If I were Sharon, and had at my disposal as powerful a Pavlovian tool of behaviour control as the potential allegation of anti-semitism against a US pol, academic or journo, I'd use it to the max, too.

Just so long as we're all clear that that's what he and his friends are about.

  1. Work back from October 21 piece.

  2. The English is pretty shaky - though I assume the questions were asked in English, and answered by Sharon in Hebrew. The site is bilingual, but the link to the interview from the French summary page is the one linked above in English.

  3. It's an analogy - I'm not comparing Sharon to the KKK, or any such nonsense. The analogy goes just so far as one is comparing two extra-legal systems of social control, enforced by a combination of informal sanctions and supported by a general tendency to conformism.

    I mentioned conformism, and other stuff of potential relevance in my piece of March 12 on the Rep James Moran affair. I linked to a piece drawing on the description of the arcana of Jim Crow rules - varying from county to county - in Charles Johnson's Growing Up in the Black Belt (1941).


MORE

The main point about the Sharon interview picked up by the rest of the media seems to be his mention of the Moslem element of the population of Europe; though he talks about educating the Moslems about antisemitism, his suggestion, I think, is that European governments, in formulating their Middle East policies, are pandering to Moslem sentiment for electoral gain.

But, as I've said, talk between Sharon and European governments is a dialogue of the deaf. Again, the real audience is in the US:

A trope of the literature of the US South - I'm thinking here more of Woodrow Wilson's favourite, Thomas Dixon [1], than William Faulkner! - distinguishes between the examples of the Good Nigger (loyal to the Masser) and the Bad Nigger (monomanically bent on ravishing white women). The former is rewarded, at the minimum, with a noble death, while the latter meets a distinctly stickier end.

Similarly, Sharon wishes to distinguish between the Good of USG's Israel policy and the Bad of European governments', not in any hope of influencing the latter but to raise their Badness as a living example for the purpose of keeping the former on the straight and narrow.

Collective anti-semitism may be a difficult concept to grasp: the ugly mug of Chief Weasel Jacques Chirac, on the other hand, is easily burnt in effigy.

  1. Dixon, according to this , was a classmate of Wilson's at Johns Hopkins University. His The Clansman and The Leopard's Spots - which, from a brief sampling a few years ago, made Anthony Hope look like Marcel Proust - were the basis of DW Griffith's The Birth of a Nation - which scholar and Carolinian Wilson famously referred to as like writing history with lightning (or words to that effect).


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