Monday, 19 January 2009

Israeli Super-Emetics, Part II

If last week’s “pro-Israel” demonstration was not a powerful enough demonstration of Israel’s latest-generation emetics, Elizabeth Wurtzel has graced the pages of Britain’s Guardian newspaper with an embarrassing display guaranteed to propel your most recent meal out of you at speeds approaching the sound barrier.

It appears that the Guardian, which once appeared to be a quality paper – has deemed it appropriate to offset the attack on the defenceless civilian population of Gaza with one of the more mawkish expressions of American Jewish self-pity in our young millennium.

The headline to Wurtzel’s piece reads: It is not Israel's action, but the vitriolic reaction to it that has been disproportionate. There's only one explanation: antisemitism [sic]”. Certainly, writers do not always have the last word on the headlines that accompany their work, so it would be unfair to assume that Wurtzel herself feels that this is an accurate summary of either the situation or of her piece (or, come to that, that she is unable to spell anti-Semitism correctly). It is neither. Wurtzel’s piece is long on emoting, but short on anything else, and does not even attempt to show that the worldwide response to Israel’s attack on Gaza is due to anti-Semitism.

Her argument, to the extent that one is discernable, is as follows: It is “artificial” to distinguish between opposition to Zionism and anti-Semitism:

[W]hen there is more than one Jewish state, the world's hatred of Israel might become no different from its exasperation with any other country, but since Israel is the only homeland, and really it is nothing more than six million Jews living together in an area the size of New Jersey, I can't pretend that the problem with Israel is that it's a poorly located country that happens to be at odds with its neighbours and only coincidentally happens to be Jewish. The trouble with Israel is the trouble with Jews. (emphasis supplied)

Never mind that Zionism, as an ideology, has never garnered unanimous Jewish support (which would seem to me a reasonable prerequisite for equating Zionism with Jewry). Never mind that one does not even need to be anti-Zionist to oppose the idea of a Jewish state (a matter that remains contentious amongst the various political tendencies that make up what we know collectively as Zionism). Never mind that (as Wurtzel herself points out later on) it is in fact entirely possible to be Jewish and Zionist and be utterly disgusted with Israel’s policies toward the indigenous Palestinian population. Never mind that Israel is indeed more than “six million Jews living together in an area the size of New Jersey” – 20% more, to be precise, as fully one fifth of Israel’s citizens are not Jewish. Israel is the only state that defines itself as Jewish, and thus “the trouble with Israel is the trouble with Jews”. QED.

Iceland is the only Icelandic state. I think Iceland’s policy of requiring naturalised Icelandic citizens to adopt Icelandic names is absurd. Therefore, I must have a problem with the entire Icelandic people, rather than merely with a law made by people claiming to represent them.

Lest one think this novel idiocy, it is worth recalling that Wurtzel is essentially reiterating the positions taken by both Hitler and Stalin. (1) There is no distinction between the people and the state, (2) National Socialism/Stalinist “Communism” is the national will of the people, as expressed by the policy of the state, (3) THEREFORE, criticism of Nazi/Stalinist policies is an attack on the people. Dr. Freisler would approve.

Wurtzel, it turns out, is “profoundly uncomfortable”. Any attempt to discuss the issue of Israel with anyone “rightminded (and left-leaning)”, we are told, lays bare “the purest antisemitism [sic] since the Nazi era”. Instead of providing examples of such interactions, she goes on to lament that comparisons of Israeli policy with (often strikingly similar) Nazi policies are “de rigueur” (she might add that they are quite commonplace in Israel, particularly amongst proponents of those very Israeli policies).

She is also quite upset that Europeans see “the experience of the Palestinians as a form of ethnic cleansing”. She might have added that the Europeans might have got the idea that the Palestinians are being ethnically cleansed from the fact that leading Israeli historians and policymakers throughout the political spectrum say so quite openly, with Benny Morris, for example, lamenting only that the ethnic cleansing was not seen through to the end.

“Hamas and Hezbollah”, she continues, shunning any supporting evidence, “are thought by the French and British to be social welfare organisations, and Israel is viewed as a terrorist state.” While it would be nice to see some actual figures on how many of “the French” and “the British” hold these views, it is worth noting that those who do see Hamas and Hezbollah as social welfare organisations likely do so because both Hamas and Hezbollah are known for providing schools, sanitation, health care, social assistance, nursing homes, and other much needed social services. Nor would she need to go as far as Europe to hear people say that Israel is a terrorist state. Thomas Friedman just recently praised Israel for using what constitute terrorist tactics under the standard legal definitions (attacks directed at the civilian population in order to achieve political goals). If a terrorist state is a state that routinely engages in terrorism (as defined by applicable law), then Israel certainly qualifies, and the assault on the people of Gaza is a perfect example.

Credulity is further stretched by her bizarre pronouncement that “Here, we honor the linguistic discoveries of Noam Chomsky and otherwise experience him as a quaintly brilliant crank, but in the bookstores in London there are entire sections devoted to his political thought – and he is read as if the distinctions between Leninist and Trotskyite philosophy had genuine consequence in today's world.” There are two possible explanations. Either she has never read Chomsky’s work, and is too lazy to read even a synopsis of one or two of his recent works, in which case she is at best unqualified to comment, or, she is sufficiently familiar with Chomsky’s work to know that most of it concerns US foreign policy and the US corporate media and intellectual culture, with scarcely a single word devoted to distinguishing between Leninism and Trotskyism, in which case she is a liar. In any case, it is interesting to note that she considers political ideologies that were at the centre of much of the history of the twentieth century to be of no contemporary interest.

For those who remain only mildly queasy after the shameful display Wurtzel has treated us to thus far, she decides to shift into high-gear, transitioning seamlessly from American Jewish self-pity to American Jewish self-adulation:

But I think it is this very fact – my attempt to understand both sides – that disturbs me the most. Because trying to see all sides, such an instinct is particularly Jewish. The most vehement critics of Israel and champions of the Palestinians – hello, Professor Chomsky; greetings, Norman Finkelstein – are always Jews: we are always trying in our even, level, thoughtful way to see reason in the behaviour of those who are lobbing rocket grenades at us. As a people, we are hopeless Talmudists, we examine all the arguments and try to sort out an answer. What is both strange and difficult for Jews to watch in the case of Israel is that, as a nation surrounded by enemies, it does not make such calculations; it does not have the luxury of rationality that is eventually irrational. Israel fights back, which is very much at odds with the Jewish instinct to discuss and deconstruct everything until action itself seems senseless. Israel, hell-bent on survival, has learned to shoot first – or, at least, second – and blow away the consequences. Whereas it actually hurts my feelings when someone says something nasty about Israel, or even the United States, for Israelis, this is just the way of the world: they probably manufacture their flags to be flammable. (emphasis supplied)

One might note that there is little evidence in Wurtzel’s piece of any “attempt to understand both sides”, and that, after her shamefully dishonest non-treatment of the assault on Gaza, she attempts to take credit for Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, one of whom she has already completely misrepresented, and both of whom have written things that she has already called “the purest form of antisemitism [sic] since the Nazi era”. One might also note that Israel’s survival has not been in question for decades. The only true danger to Israel’s survival is the lethal combination of Israeli militarism and U.S. enablement. The Palestinians, on the other hand, have been pushed ever closer to the brink of subsistence, in hopes that they might realize, in the words of Moshe Dayan, that “we have no solution. You will live like dogs, and those who wish to leave, can leave.” We are no longer, as the old Jewish partisan song goes, a volk zwischn falendige wend (a people standing between walls caving in); the Palestinians are.

I recently mused that the most anti-Semitic slogan in the world today would have to be “Israel is the state of the Jewish people”. Wurtzel’s piece, which seeks to erode justifiable distinctions between our people and those who commit crimes in our name, is a strong runner-up.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Don't be ashamed you're Jewish - Be ashamed THEY are!

Concert pianist Anton Kuerti recently said that “Israel’s behaviour makes me ashamed of being a Jew.”

I personally don’t think much of being proud (or, come to that, ashamed) of being something that one is by birth. I am neither proud nor ashamed of being Jewish or a U.S. citizen; neither fact is due to any achievement or failure of my own. Both are merely accidents of birth.

But Kuerti’s comment reminded me of an oft-quoted line from Wallace Markfield’s novel You Could Live if They Let You: “Never, never, never be ashamed you’re Jewish, because it’s enough if I’m ashamed you’re Jewish.” The behaviour – which I personally had as little to do with as with the fact of my being Jewish – does not make me ashamed that I am Jewish; it does, however, make me ashamed, or perhaps rather disgusted, that I share that background with the likes of Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, Alan Dershowitz, Joe Lieberman, Thomas Friedman, and the rest of Israel’s criminals and their apologists in the media and academia.

It is hard to escape the fact that we Jews - though certainly not only us - are in some pretty unenviable company. We’re reminded of it every time we turn on the TV to see ourselves represented by yet another another thug (Peres, Olmert, Livni, Sharon, Kissinger), sycophant (Friedman), goniff (Madoff), liar (Foxman), or all-round schmuck (Dershowitz, Lieberman). Let’s admit – even if it’s just to ourselves – that it is not a pretty sight. In fact, it’s damned depressing to see some of the most prominent products of the culture that once brought forth (to name just a few) Viktor Frankl, Hannah Arendt, Kurt Tucholsky, Heinrich Heine, Albert Einstein, Maimonides, and Noam Chomsky (even if - alas! – it will take some of us another fifty years to realise why he belongs on the list). Anyone wishing to theorise about vast anti-Semitic conspiracies could have a field day just looking at the people who claim to speak for us all!

And yet, for the most part, we put up with being represented by these people. Some of us even go so far as to jump down the throat of anyone who criticises them even mildly. The rest of us hear the likes of Foxman and Dershowitz and the Israeli government claiming to be our representatives – even going so far as to claim occasionally that it is anti-Semitic to distinguish between us and our purported representatives – and wonder why we always end up being held responsible for what Israel and our other avowed representatives say and do.

In response to criticisms that his many brilliant essays on the German judiciary took the worst judges as representative of the entire group, the Weimar-era essayist and satirist Kurt Tucholsky had the following to say:

My work does not say that the basest member of a group is its representative; he is no more a representative of the group than the most elevated member that the gentlemen would want to have mentioned to their credit. I said that the basest member is characteristic for the standard of a group: the member that the group just barely tolerates. For example:

If a German physician rapes an under-age female patient, and these facts and the perpetrator’s criminal liability are proven beyond doubt, the entire medical profession will distance itself from the man. Even more – they will remove him from their ranks. Thus, the group cannot be judged based on this member. The group cannot help that he was once one of them. They do not tolerate him, they throw him out.

If a German judge takes a bribe, the group will react immediately – all members will want the man kicked out; the ethics hearing would be a mere formality in this case. Thus, the judge who takes bribes is not a prototype of the German judge.


And as long as the group of judges do not demonstrate against this type of judge, even if it is merely in the form of serious opposition, as long „the“ judiciary, out of a false sense of collegiality, takes the side of the overrated expert against the “layman” – I will continue to call a German judge a German judge. And I would like that to be understood in the way that a proletarian would understand it – remembering the reports of the Nazi trials [here: trials of Nazis in the 20s and early 30s for political murders and coup attempts, for which they were either acquitted or received absurdly lenient sentences] – when he stands before these judges.

Put differently, as long as members of a group do not clearly shun fellow group members for engaging in a particular sort of conduct, it is reasonable for a person standing on the outside to assume that the group as a whole condones - or, at the very least, does not condemn - that conduct. Unless followed by immediate and public condemnation, a Palestinian might reasonably assume, for example, that Alan Dershowitz is speaking for us all when he calls the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians "a fifth-rate moral issue", or that Tzipi Livni speaks with our overall approval when she threatens Palestinian citizens of Israel with expulsion ("You should seek your future elsewhere."). Nor can the hypothetical Palestinian be blamed for assuming group approval when he sees Abe Foxman and the Anti-Defamation League launch a campaign on behalf of the Turkish government to deny the Armenian genocide, eliciting no condemnation (or even notice). Unless we truly wish such behaviour to be taken as representative of our community, we must act immediately to make it clear that the offending party is acting on his or her own and does not speak for us.

Recent events suggest that at least some of us have begun taking Tucholsky’s words to heart. We are not eternally bound and indebted to the Israeli government and its apologists, nor should we, in a false sense of “ethnic solidarity”, feel obliged to waste our breath defending the indefensible. When we defend – or deny – Israeli crimes and Palestinian suffering, we are doing ourselves no favours. Ultimately, we are merely telling the world that this – be it the assault on the defenceless population of Gaza, the ethnic cleansing of 1948, the use of torture, the various attacks on Lebanon and other countries – is the sort of behaviour we tolerate in members of our community. By defending such crimes, we are in reality telling the world that they meet our minimum standards of acceptable conduct.

Open repudiation of the indefensible conduct of our avowed representatives is the only way to avoid being held personally responsible for it. It is also the only way that justice – without which any “peace” is merely violence by other means – will ever be achieved in the Middle East.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

"Pro-"Israel demonstrators demonstrate the latest weapon in the Israeli arsenal - the ability to cause vomiting on command

Jewish demonstrators in New York at a rally in favour of Israel’s eventual self-destruction (what is known, absurdly, as the “pro-Israel” camp) were interviewed for today’s edition of Democracy Now by journalist Max Blumenthal. The views expressed by the demonstrators are nothing short of nauseating.

In my Jewish education as a child, I remember hearing quite a bit about the values held dear by Jewish tradition, among them justice (tsedek) and acts of kindness (gemilut hasadim). As far as I can recall, mindless, proto-fascist jingoism was not amongst them. Alas, this latter value was quite heavily on display at this week’s “pro-Israel” demonstration, which was awash in bluster about Israel’s (US-provided) arsenal and considered declarations of principle such as “Jews kick butt”.

If this had been the only view expressed by the demonstrators, dayenu. Sadly, there was more. One woman described Palestinians as a “cancer” to be excised, while another declared that “the fighting must go on until we’ve wiped them all out.” Others expressed agreement with these re-cast Nazi slogans; if any of the participants dissented, they kept quiet about it. Clearly, "Never Again" means different things to different people.

Another, younger, demonstrator opined that we are witnessing a “repeat of the Holocaust” (I should note, for clarity’s sake, that she was calling the actions of the Palestinians a new holocaust). While I have studied the Nazi holocaust in great detail, I seem to have missed the part where the ZOB fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto were armed with white phosphorus, cluster bombs, Apache attack helicopters, tanks, and F-16 fighters and the SS fought desperately with nothing but ineffectual improvised explosive devices. I’m sure the likes of David Irving and Ernst Zündel will happily sign on to such a declaration.

Our young friend was not given pause, in her invocation of the Nazi holocaust, by the openly genocidal rantings of her comrades. The capacity to recognise irony, it would seem, is not equally distributed throughout the population.

If this is a remake of the Nazi holocaust, it would seem that Central Casting has decided to switch up the roles a bit.

Fortunately, these are no longer the only Jewish voices being heard on the matter. There appears to be a rebellion of sorts afoot in the Jewish community in Israel and throughout the world. Statements are appearing on almost a daily basis, from the US to South Africa, from Jews who are no longer willing to let “Jewish” organisations that have become little more than Israeli PR agencies create the false impression that all Jews are united, Kim Il Sung-style, in support of every atrocity the Israeli government has committed in our name.