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.

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