Comments: A Helpful Clarification

It's international antisemitic world conspiracy.

Posted by abb1 at February 21, 2009 04:12 PM

To be fair Howard Jacobson is a great novelist. Coming from Behind is superb academic satire.

Posted by Seth at February 21, 2009 09:19 PM

I dunno about superb. It has its moments. It struck me as a kind of low-rent Lucky Jim.

Although I did like the protagonist's opinion of symbolism. "Why can't it just be a fucking whale?"

Posted by RobWeaver at February 21, 2009 09:43 PM

I just re-reread it for about the twentieth time and it is chock-full of hilarity.

Jacobson's book Peeping Tom is equally hilarious.

Posted by Seth at February 21, 2009 11:00 PM

The other thing is that Howard Jacobson is talking about British anti-Zionists, whom I suspect do tend to be more anti-Semitic than the American variety, whom I generally take at their word.

American leftists at least have the position that they are paying for Israeli policy, hence they are responsible for it and are acting on their sense of responsibility. I respect that position and largely share it.

The European and British left exercise themselves about Israel because it makes them feel better about who they are and it is easy to do it. It has no consequences. Show me the British Norman Finkelstein.

There is a strain of miserablism akin to pietism that inflects the discourse of the left. A sense that the West is evil, therefore the Other is good. I don't buy it. Evil is everywhere.

Posted by Seth at February 21, 2009 11:12 PM

Jacobson is talking about British anti-Zionists, whom I suspect do tend to be more anti-Semitic than the American variety

"More" antisemitic, eh? Glad we got that settled.

I just recalled that one particularly hilarious! part of Coming from Behind is how the gay leftist friend of the radical feminist, who has, for reasons that I fail to recall, an antipathy to the protagonist, takes his revenge on same by anonymously leaving leaflets about Israeli atrocities on the protagonist's desk. The protagonist has expressed no opinion on the Palestinian issue, but he is Jewish, hence the nasty lefty thinks this is a good way to get at him.

Apparently Jacobson's being playing this schtick for a while.

Posted by RobWeaver at February 22, 2009 03:10 AM

Well it's his perspective.

You remember the book well! Walter Sickert Fledwhite.

Posted by Seth at February 22, 2009 04:46 AM

I just recalled that one particularly hilarious! part of Coming from Behind is how the gay leftist friend of the radical feminist, who has, for reasons that I fail to recall, an antipathy to the protagonist, takes his revenge on same by anonymously leaving leaflets about Israeli atrocities on the protagonist's desk. The protagonist has expressed no opinion on the Palestinian issue, but he is Jewish, hence the nasty lefty thinks this is a good way to get at him.

And this came out when, in the mid-eighties? Clearly Jacobson has many varied, wide-ranging interests.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at February 22, 2009 07:41 AM

"There is a strain of miserablism akin to pietism that inflects the discourse of the left. A sense that the West is evil, therefore the Other is good. I don't buy it. Evil is everywhere."

I tend to agree with this, but sometimes "the left" is accused of this merely because it spends more time on Western atrocities than on those committed by those resisting Western atrocities. But that said, some lefties do fall into the trap of thinking that if one side is bad, the other side is good. It's a natural thing to do, I suppose. It probably happens less often when there's no Western involvement or any other ideological motive at stake. I don't know too many Westerners who pick one armed faction or the other as "good" in discussing Sri Lanka, but maybe I don't read enough.

I'm suspicious of the claim that British lefties are more antisemitic without evidence. Maybe some are, but then anyone who reads Robert Fisk on the one hand or that rightwing lunatic Melanie Phillips on the other knows full well that just as here, "anti-semite" is often a technical term meaning "someone who is harshly critical of Israel's human rights violations". Fisk criticizes atrocities and lies where he sees them, which is all over the Middle East, yet he still gets accused of anti-semitism because, of course, he is a harsh critic of Israeli atrocities and lies.

OTOH, it would not surprise me if there is both more antisemitism in Britain and also more open and honest and non-anti-semitic criticism of Israel in Britain. A lot of liberals in the US can't or won't make the distinction between the two phenomena.

Posted by Donald Johnson at February 22, 2009 09:18 AM

It's like Chomsky always says-it is very satisfying to point a finger at crimes that someone else is responsible for. So American liberals fulminate about Tibet or Darfur because these are noncontroversial.

I agree that there is legitimate nonantisemitic criticism of Israel. I would never suggest that Robert Fisk is antisemitic-that is not in question. However, it is an independent fact that England has a long and deep history of casual and acute antisemitism that is substantively more pervasive and less challenged than it is here.

Just because Abe Foxman goes around screaming about antisemitism doesn't mean that there isn't real antisemitism.

Incidentally, Howard Jacobson writes widely about British culture and is not a crazed defender of Zionist expansion.

Posted by Seth at February 22, 2009 10:50 AM

A sense that the West is evil, therefore the Other is good. I don't buy it. Evil is everywhere.

Another straw man successfully constructed and destroyed. Good job, Seth!

Posted by SteveB at February 22, 2009 11:09 AM

Everybody is both good and evil, that's how humans are, and only a fool will judge someone's actions by guessing whether this person is good or evil.

The real question question is whether one's actions are justified, just or unjust; and that's why this particular application of ad hominem is known to be logically fallacious.

People criticizing Israel may or may not be antisemitic; and even if some of them are, it's irrelevant. Similarly, Israel's apologists may or may not be guilty of philosemitism, which is just the other side of the same coin.

Posted by abb1 at February 22, 2009 11:57 AM

I agree with you about the philosemites. Most diehard Zionists in the USA are Christians. They obsession with Israel serves its own perverse end.

When I have suggested to people that the US should stop funding Israel, it is always Christian Republicans who react with total outrage. Most of the Jews I know are generally indifferent to the subject.

Most Zionists are Christian.

Posted by Seth at February 22, 2009 12:39 PM

"Most Zionists are Christian."

I don't know about "most". It might be true. I know some Christian Zionists and they are pretty rabid--this is how I heard of Melanie Phillips. Two conservative Christians I know were reading her stupid book "Londonistan". I read the chapters on the I/P conflict and knew that if I wanted to learn anything about radical Islamists in Britain, I would need to find a more reliable source.

But anyway, I don't know how most American Jews feel about Israel, but its most rabid defenders are a combination of Christian Zionists and some Jews. And then there are also the liberals of varying religious or nonreligious conviction who have imbibed the notion that to be anything more than slightly critical of Israel's settlement policy is to be anti-semitic.

Posted by Donald Johnson at February 22, 2009 12:51 PM

That last sentence wasn't clear. I meant that in respectable liberal company you're allowed to be critical of the settlements, but not to go beyond that.

Posted by Donald Johnson at February 22, 2009 12:54 PM

"American leftists at least have the position that they are paying for Israeli policy, hence they are responsible for it and are acting on their sense of responsibility."
Financial responsibility not only trumping moral responsibility for Seth, but essentially replacing it.
After all this time, meaning since at least 2001, it's now possible to approach the topic in public with enough discernment to be able to say "Here - anti-Semitism, there - anti-Israeli-government-policy-ism." Without being automatically dismissed as a bigot.
And yet there's still the sense that this was available all along, in fact was being said all along, in fact, why is it even being said now when it's common knowledge, when it's been there all along - but of course it hasn't.
And it's still not enough.
By adopting a distinction that isn't clear, and pretending it is, the thrust of moral indignation is blunted, and falls short of its target, which is injustice, a thing that exists, by itself, without any ethnic characteristics.
Does Sheldon Adelson distinguish between Israel, and official Israeli policies, and something he conceives as "the Jews" and "their" interests?
Does Abe Foxman?
Alan Dershowitz?
And umpteen other loud and prominent figures.
These men are not "Israelis" and they don't present themselves as "Israelis", nor do they argue their points from within a context of being "Israelis".
Do the settlers laughing and dancing at the sight and sound of destruction in Gaza think of themselves primarily as Israelis, or as Jews?
If there is confusion, between official Israeli government policies that result in atrocities and grotesque and continuing injustice to Palestinians, and something that can accurately be called Jewish racism, it doesn't begin with thoughtless leftists and their dupes. It's a confused reaction to a confusion that's already in place.
There are no functional accurate names to describe what's happened and what's happening, none. Jew, Israeli, neo-con, each term unfairly accuses the innocent and leaves unaccused too many of the responsible.
The fog is generated from within the fog.
It's a semantic trap, and it's a very effective one.
As far as Christian Zionists go, isn't it past time to look at how much of that militant vicious ignorance is a Jewish construct, in its origin and in its effect? Remove everything Jewish from Christian Zionist dogma and ideology and what do you have left?
Vapor. Fog.

Posted by roy belmont at February 22, 2009 03:14 PM

It's not that confusing, really; it's all about Zionism, that's all. Not Jews, not Israel - Zionist ideology.

There was plenty of support for Nazism among non-Germans as well, for various reasons: its anti-communism, its fascism, its racism. There was father Coughlin and many others, so what. It doesn't make Nazism any more complicated. People don't normally confuse Nazism with Germans or Germany; not anymore anyway.

Posted by abb1 at February 22, 2009 04:01 PM

I'd be willing to pay for an aircraft carrier group to sit in the Med to defend any AMERICAN INTERESTS that may or may not be there. I just don't want to pay Israel to defend those interests that may or may not be there. That way if ANY shelling needs to be done WE can drop OUR own bombs and fire OUR cannons ourselves wherever WE want. I feel the Israelis and Palestinians have abused OUR largesse and generosity. (REMEMBER, AMERICAN JOBS FOR AMERICANS)

Posted by Mike Meyer at February 22, 2009 04:39 PM

"As far as Christian Zionists go, isn't it past time to look at how much of that militant vicious ignorance is a Jewish construct, in its origin and in its effect? Remove everything Jewish from Christian Zionist dogma and ideology and what do you have left? "

Well, I know this stuff from the inside, since I believed in it as a teenager for a few years . Christian Zionism mostly comes from the end times theology that's so popular with many evangelicals (not all). That in turn comes from a 19th century brand of Protestant fundamentalist biblical interpretation called dispensationalism, or so I gather--I never read that much about the 19th century origins, but certainly it wasn't Jewish scholars who came up with this stuff. Anyway, they think Israel's emergence in the 20th century was a miracle and part of God's countdown to Armageddon and the Second Coming and so on. The only relationship this has with Judaism is that some of the apocalyptic theorizing comes from Old Testament books like Daniel and not just from New Testament sources like Revelation. So it comes from Judaism in the same sense that all versions of Christianity trace back to Jewish roots, but that's it. And of course Jews who are fanatical supporters of Israeli expansionism cynically welcome the support they get from any quarter.

Posted by Donald Johnson at February 22, 2009 04:42 PM

OH you rascally Jews! Always pissing everybody off. *wags finger*

Posted by tim at February 22, 2009 05:29 PM

Yeah, I don't understand what kind of influence Roy imagines Jews to have had on Protestant theology.

Sometimes you don't have to pretend that people are imagining grand conspiracies. Sometimes people really are having such fantasies.

I think that isolationism is the most honest mainstream foreign policy America has had in the last hundred years.

Posted by Seth at February 22, 2009 05:31 PM

Donald, this isn't twitter, but it does have some constraints toward brevity, which I honestly do try to manage within.
I was deep enough in the Christian tradition as a youth as to have spent some time in a seminary. And the rancid backwash of fundamentalism in its more unthinking undergroundy activist forms is something I've experienced far more closely, and painfully, than as a merely curious bystander.
I should say that my personal views of what's there, in the Book, in the peoples of the Book, is as wide and impossible of judgment as my regard of humanity itself. That gets down to the granular individual as well.
That said, there's some built-in connections that are bizarrely refuted in a lot of the more rabid Ch. Zionists, illogically, and seemingly made up from whole cloth.
The one common narrative, of the Chosen People, the reverence for the narrative itself, the sudden turnaround and shift of focus, the equally sudden end of divine revelation, the refutation of the message of compassion and mercy and its replacement with sadistic bitterness and cold-hearted judgment, there's a lot that can easily be seen as co-opted force, and scam and con. And reworked documents.
Anytime I start to look at it too critically though there's people like Wendell Berry and Jimmy Carter, and a lot of inspirational men and women I've known personally, standing before me. Not accusing, just standing there being steadfast and moral and human.
But here we are. Silence doesn't seem to be an option, for me anyway.
And the anti-Semitic Ch. Zionists look like duped idiots from here. By whom is another question entirely.
That "cynical welcome" has deep roots.
Something that doesn't come up much is the possibility that historical persecution of Jews has probably tended to filter out some of the best, the most true to the real thread, if there is one, and I think there just might be, in the metaphysic.
Just as there's a strong and consistent element of noble and militant compassion in Christian tradition. And serious persecution of same.
Unlikely as it may seem, it's them I'm trying to protect, or at least defend, with the truth as I can find it.
Which means pretty much getting hit from all sides, most of the time.
-
Abb1, substitute "Aryan" for "German" and your point evaporates completely.
You can't reconstruct Zionism as an unconnected sui generis phenomenon. Though it does make it a lot more comfortable as a target for criticism. Same as isolating "Israeli" from "Jewish" does.
Some of these things are like spells, cast easily in an earlier time, grown up with the inevitablity of human progress - like language, shaping thought by shaping the inevitable necessity of speech.
Our adaptive strength can be used against us, because we grow up into the world as it is, especially now, with the long lines of folk tradition severed almost everywhere. We learn to accept a lot of things as solid and permanent that were totally arbitrary in origin.
Knowing that inevitablity beforehand, and having the skills to set the spells, would be a powerful and fairly invisible instrument.
Rastafarian "War Inna Babylon" doesn't proceed directly from the US invasion of Iraq, it sounds absurd even to say they're connected, but they both come out of the same experience, the same Book, the story of the same people.
You'd have to have a pretty firm grasp of the history behind it to see an element of revenge there, and hardly anyone does, so it looks odd, and marginal, to suggest it. Nonetheless, there it is.


Posted by roy belmont at February 22, 2009 05:43 PM

Why, "Aryan" was just their imaginary ideal genotype. I don't know, but I suspect there must be something like that in Zionism as well, as in every racial/ethnic nationalist concept; a purebred image, a picture of what the ideal Jew should look like. This is just a minor detail.

Posted by abb1 at February 22, 2009 06:34 PM

"People don't normally confuse Nazism with Germans[Aryans] or Germany[Aryan race]; not anymore anyway."
My understanding is the actual Aryans were from around ancient Persia. How that got to be the Teutonic roots/racial ideal I don't know.
The Nazis may have imagined it, or misunderstood it, but "people" do confuse them today, esp. with it showing up in contemporary whatever those guys are movements etc. Say "Aryan" to someone and check their associative reflexes.
Zion is at the heart of the Matrix as well, yah?
And those Rastas - they're all over it. Jimmy Cliff has a beautiful tune called "Bongo Man" that arcs directly toward someplace called "Zion".
Where is the dispute here?
Zion begins as a Jewish term for an idea of Jewish origin. How other people use it or conceive it isn't the point.
Its validity, accuracy, the ethnicity of it as currently avowed, wasn't what I was talking about.
All those preachers and misleaders amping up the hate, lumped together as Christian Zionists aren't Jews, but that's where the term and the idea originates.
You can't argue that the settlers, or more accurately the fervid Orthodox Jews empowering the settlers, don't claim it as proprietary.
This is not a simple, easily defined and dismissed with thing here.

Posted by roy belmont at February 22, 2009 08:13 PM

I'm struck by Howard Jacobson's repetitive use of "pure and simple".

Yearning for purity and simplicity generally brings trouble.

Posted by Nell at February 22, 2009 08:15 PM

No, you don’t have to be an anti-Semite to criticise Israel. It just so happens that you are.

I have read this and seen the light of this revealed moral clarity. The unfolding path of God's chosen people is irresistable. I feel like one of those nazis at the climax of "Raiders of the Lost Ark".

I can never look at shrimp the same way again, ever.

Posted by bobbyp at February 22, 2009 09:18 PM

So. When is the cinematic adaptation of that famous story "Little Big Jew" coming to a theater near you? Uris was simply historically premature.

Admitting your inner anti-semitism is an unparalleled emotional moral release.

Posted by bobbyp at February 22, 2009 09:26 PM

"Admitting your inner anti-semitism is an unparalleled emotional moral release."

This guy would agree with you. I urge the braver hearts among the readership to scan this piece and consider again the relative facetiousness of bobbyp's remark.

http://www.conspiracypenpal.com/columns/color.htm

Posted by Seth at February 22, 2009 09:54 PM

Seth,

It is 100% facetious, relatively speaking.

Cordially,

Posted by bobbyp at February 22, 2009 10:00 PM

And here we go again. Even if every critic of Israel were an anti-semite, Israel would still be the aggressor, and would still be in the wrong. I don't think I'm an anti-semite, but who cares? The accusation is a distraction to begin with. Anyone who uses it is simply waving around his or her bad faith.

Posted by Duncan at February 22, 2009 10:25 PM

I actually agree this time: the article's ridiculously judgemental. That said, I think Roy's quote:

"As far as Christian Zionists go, isn't it past time to look at how much of that militant vicious ignorance is a Jewish construct, in its origin and in its effect? Remove everything Jewish from Christian Zionist dogma and ideology and what do you have left?"
Could be construed as anti-semetic. I myself am confused by this quote.

Posted by Jenny at February 22, 2009 10:41 PM

This discussion is growing tiresome. And in several instances, somewhat unwholesome.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at February 22, 2009 10:49 PM

Why, yes, Jon, it is tiresome. Not as tiresome, probably, as it would be to be Palestinian and living in Gaza or the West Bank. (Or as unwholesome as being killed by Israeli missiles or armed thugs.) The only good news, it seems to me, is that more and more Americans (since we are paying for so much of the horror) are refusing to be intimidated by the anti-semitic ad hominem.

It is a drag to keep going over the same material over and over again, and having to refute the same old tired lies. But what can one do?

Meanwhile, have you seen this article? Pretty good, I thought:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/20/israelandthepalestinians-israeli-elections-2009

Posted by Duncan at February 22, 2009 10:59 PM

All right,All right, I was just confused, sorry.

Posted by Jenny at February 22, 2009 11:21 PM

Jenny, what is "Christian Zionist dogma"? (I'm almost afraid to ask.)

On a side note, it's my impression that the definition of Zionism seems to have shifted over the years, and not just because it means different things to different people, and is clearly a pejorative in some quarters.(Myself, I don't know what to think.)

Posted by Tiffa at February 23, 2009 01:54 AM

Roy-
So, some of your best dead friends are Jewish...?

I'm not trying to be obtuse, but what is the point?

Posted by Seth at February 23, 2009 03:06 AM

Zionism is simply a species of political ethnic-nationalist movements. I'm sure a movement like this exists in every conceivable racial/ethnic group. There are probably hundreds of thousands of people in the US who are gravely concerned about the fate of the "white race", for example, it being diluted, rendered powerless, destroyed. But these people have little power; they are mostly harmless.

This is a way to address anxiety and alienation in groups of people. Some seek class-based unity, others national unity, yet others still crave ethnic unity.

Once in a while a movement like this takes over a powerful state, and then it's a trouble and it's difficult to stop. Other states, of course, see it as an opportunity to achieve their goals; the western powers in the 1930s, for example, tried (unsuccessfully) to incentivize the Nazis to march east and crush the Soviets. Dangerous game.

Posted by abb1 at February 23, 2009 03:27 AM

"There are probably hundreds of thousands of people in the US who are gravely concerned about the fate of the "white race", for example, it being diluted, rendered powerless, destroyed. But these people have little power; they are mostly harmless."

Yeah, they only control a handful of Senate seats and the legislatures of only a handful of states, with only a handful of nationally televised pundits to call their own.

These concerns about the "white race" are precisely why immigration, reproductive control, affirmative action, and so on are at the top of the Republican Party agenda, abb1.

Posted by Picador at February 23, 2009 11:40 AM

Sure they have some influence, but the system is generally stacked against them, they have to work around.

Posted by abb1 at February 23, 2009 12:34 PM

Dershowitz and Foxman are Zionists. I dunno, I am not aware of any significant political Judaism.

Obviously some of the religious Jews happen to be Zionists too. Nevertheless, this notorious ultra-right Avigdor Lieberman guy is notably, conspicuously anti-religious; this is why Russians are voting for him. They like pork.

Posted by abb1 at February 23, 2009 05:36 PM

These concerns about the "white race" are precisely why immigration, reproductive control, affirmative action, and so on are at the top of the Republican Party agenda, abb1.

Probably so. We can show you Bill O'Liely openly attacking enemies of the white male power structure in America (his words). Though he would doubtless feel genuinely outraged if you called him a racist, because he's not one of those low-class Southern Klansmen.*

A lot of this has to do with fear of a dangerous world, which leads me to think we may be too harsh on Jacobson. RobWeaver mentioned one of the guy's characters showing dislike of his protagonist "by anonymously leaving leaflets about Israeli atrocities on the protagonist's desk. The protagonist has expressed no opinion on the Palestinian issue, but he is Jewish, hence the nasty lefty thinks this is a good way to get at him." More than one person claims this has basically happened to them, in real life. I don't know how many of the stories involved "leftists", but I recall recently made claims of violence and attendant criticism of Israel from college students, after some Jewish organization poked their heads into an unrelated grad-student labor dispute. Stories and experience like this might drive Jacobson a little crazy, and I think that has more to do with his ethnic-nationalist movement than religion does. (Not just for him, but in general.) I've seen otherwise reasonable people talk as if they thought the state of Israel helps to protect Jews elsewhere.

*Perhaps Israelis who talk about the need to "kill and kill and kill" feel this way about some of the settlers.

Posted by hf at February 23, 2009 07:38 PM

As a Zionist Jew I say "Yes , I want to see the Chosen People living in the Holy Land." As an American Taxpayer I say "I don't want to pay the rent for it."

Posted by Mike Meyer at February 23, 2009 09:11 PM

Of course it's not religious. It was an ordinary, low-popularity nationalist movement, and then things happen in 1930s and 40s. Not just the holocaust, more significant (in a sense) was that in the 30s basically every country in the world refused to give them refuge.

I mean, if you're running a little nationalist movement - this is it, there is no stronger way to demonstrate your point. And this is how it happened, plain and simple. Dershowitz was born in 1938, he must've been psychologically traumatized when he was a child.

Posted by abb1 at February 24, 2009 02:32 AM

What complexity?

Posted by abb1 at February 24, 2009 12:14 PM

I wrote this post an another blog, to ask a question. Let me repeat it here (forgive its length:=):

"My question is this–does the author believe it is possible not only to criticize Israeli policy, but question the validity of Israel’s very existence, and not be an anti-Semite?

Let me explain why I ask, with a bit of personal history. My family was forced off its farm in the Galilee at gunpoint by Zionist terrorists in 1947– our whole village was stolen. They moved to my mother’s family’s place, near Jenin. I was born there in 1957. In 1968, that farm was taken away by the Israeli military. Now there is a settlement there, filled with Israeli settlers. (Note, of course, that though 20 % of Israel’s “citizens” are Palestinians, none of those 20% are allowed to be settlers in these West Bank enclaves of Israeli power). Most of my family moved to a camp nearby. My nuclear family, however, managed to get to the United States by a very bizarre sequence of events.

I personally think Israel has no right to exist. It is just another example of Europeans colonizing other people’s homes. The country is built on theft and murder. Furthermore, every Israeli solder is a terrorist– he or she participates in the deliberate murder and oppression of women and children.
Still further, Israel qua Israel is necessarily and intrinsically racist– when Israel stops being racist, it will stop being Israel, “the Jewish state.”

But here’s the thing– my brother married a Jewish woman from New York. He converted (not as big a deal as Americans are led to believe– Islam is intrinsicially ecumenical, as the Quran teaches that Jews, Christians, and Muslims as well as unspecified others are all recipients of God’s message and all will wind up in paradise if they merit it). I have four nephews and nieces who are raised Jewish– three have been bar or bat mitzvah’ed so far, one to go next year. My brother’s mother-in-law is one of my favorite people on this earth. My brother is very careful not to let anyone at his synagogue know he is Palestinian– it helps that he, like me, has blue eyes and fair skin. Judaism, the beautiful monotheistic faith, has nothing to do with Zionism, the ugly decision to take the Almighty and Universal God and turn Him back into a tiny little tribal deity/real estate agent.

So there it is. I think Israel as a nation has no right to exist whatsoever. It would have been nice if all those European Zionists in the early 20th century had come to Palestine to join us in creating the country we were struggling to create at the time the Ottomans fell, but instead they came to take it away. Maybe some day their descendants will stop being xenophobic racists who call Palestinians cockroaches and we can either live together in a democracy instead of the current Israeli ethnocracy, or maybe not. God only knows. But Israel, as it currently exists, is a crime.

Do you consider me an anti-Semite?

I ask purely out of curiosity."

I still wonder what most people think here. The furthest I have ever seen anyone go in American discourse is to say it is OK to criticize Israel's polices, but it seems beyond the pale to criticize Israel's very existence as a "Jewish" state.

Yet that is what I do.

Posted by Jake at February 24, 2009 01:34 PM

Picador and Jake, thanks for the excellent comments. You both make some very good points. And Jake:

The furthest I have ever seen anyone go in American discourse is to say it is OK to criticize Israel's polices, but it seems beyond the pale to criticize Israel's very existence as a "Jewish" state.

I've criticized it and I've seen others do it as well, and I agree that the notion of Israel as a Jewish state is "necessarily and intrinsically racist." Of course, that goes to the heart of the question of what it means for Israel to be a Jewish state—is it an ethnic, religious, or national identity? Which is an ambiguity that's strategically manipulated by Israel's apologists.

I'd be interested to hear what others think as well.

Posted by John Caruso at February 24, 2009 02:44 PM

Jake, I have no idea whether you're an anti-semite, and I don't see that it matters. (For what little it's worth, though, "Some of my best friends are..." is not the best evidence.)

It's not anti-semitic to say that the nation of Israel has no right to exist. No nation has a right to exist, including Palestine. So it's only worthy of note when someone insists that Israel has this right, alone of all the nations.

What Israel has, like other nations, amounts to no more than squatters' rights. We're here, get used to it. But squatters' rights do not, as far as I know, include the right to burn down the houses next door, or to kidnap, torture, and murder the people who live there.

I'm glad, incidentally, that you put the word "back" into "take the Almighty and Universal God and turn Him back into a tiny little tribal deity/real estate agent." For, if we look at the Torah, that is just what he originally was, like most gods. Almighty and Universal, though? Never. I always liked Morton Smith's description of Yahweh as he appears in the Torah as "a north Arabian mountain god who traveled in thunderstorms and liked the smell of burning fat." (The sweet smell in which he delights!)

Posted by Duncan at February 24, 2009 02:46 PM

Jake: Figure it, Brother, YOU are Americans now. YOU can say whatever YOU like about Israel, it ain't against the law to be racist here. (yet)Although, from YOUR story YOU have a really solid case in point. Say YOU could get the old family farm back today, would YOU, personally, move back there? Or would YOU stay here?

Posted by Mike Meyer at February 24, 2009 03:30 PM

For what little it's worth, though, "Some of my best friends are..." is not the best evidence.

I've never agreed with that maxim. When someone is accused of being an X-hater there's really no way to prove it's false, which is why it's such an effective smear tactic. But if having friends of type X isn't the best evidence (such as it is) that the accusation is false, I don't know what else could be.

I agree with you that anti-Semitism is usually beside the point in arguments like these, though, which is why I called its use an ad hominem; as someone observed in another thread, two plus two still equals four even if a Nazi says it.

Posted by John Caruso at February 24, 2009 07:29 PM

But if having friends of type X isn't the best evidence (such as it is) that the accusation is false, I don't know what else could be.

I've known too many bigots who had close friends of type X to see it as evidence, let alone the best. Often they'd cite their friend as the exception that proved the rule of the iniquity of X in general. At other times they just didn't recognize their bigotry, like a straight friend of mine who kept making these antigay/homophobic outbursts. (Eventually, as he swung right after 9/11 in other areas, I asked myself why I was putting up with the bigotry and the accusations of supporting Al Qaeda, and cut him off.) And some of my best friends are Christians, but I'm definitely anti-Christian. So I don't think "Some of my best friends are X" is evidence that one isn't anti-X.

Posted by Duncan at February 24, 2009 10:12 PM

Just because a Nazi knows how to add doesn't make him less of a Nazi.

Getting back to the discussion of contemporary fiction, I picked up a few Charles McCarry novels. They aren't bad. However I really do not think that he compares with the master, the eminence grise of the espionage novel, John Le Carre.

Formally, psychologically, belle lettristically, politically, John Le Carre ranks with any other living novelist. He is capable of representing ambiguity like no one save Henry James perhaps.

The most radical reader of this website could not fault Le Carre's deep humanity and his sympathy for the world's oppressed. I note that his post 9-11 novels have been harshly critical of the War on Islam and have centered largely on Muslim protagonists.

Read him!!

Posted by Seth at February 24, 2009 10:36 PM

Regarding the "some of my best friends are..." argument, recall Himmler's notorious speech at Posen (which was recorded), where he spoke to Waffen SS troops and praised their courage and hardheartedness in doing something that was beyond all normal bounds.

He said (roughly)-"If we were less ruthless, everyone would bring out their favorite Jew, and we could never get started."

Look it up-it is amazing.

Posted by Seth at February 24, 2009 10:46 PM

"Judaism, the beautiful monotheistic faith, has nothing to do with Zionism..."
"...some of my best friends are Christians, but I'm definitely anti-Christian."
Unfortunately for the sake of a unified field I'm unable to take the pathetic fallacy as far into my heart as Duncan is into his.
When I'm anti-something I'm all up against it.
Loyalty to good friends refutes bigotry absolutely.
Other people may choose to call me an anti-Semite, their choice, their problem - but then if they're in charge of that determining, then I guess I'll have to be one. To them.
But if it's up to me - and it's clearly not the case that I'm trying to "pass" by denying my "truer" feelings so that I won't be vulnerable to the charge - I'm not.
The word, and the knee-jerk generalizations behind it, does not apply.
There's a degrading aspect to even having to respond to it at all, and I honestly feel I demeaned the friendship a little by holding up my friend's heroic act, and the fact of my friendship with him, as some kind of evidence against some kind of charge.
But enough's enough.
-
Jake-
In the world where Zionism has nothing to do with Judaism, pigs can fly.
Whereas in this one they most definitely can't.

Posted by roy belmont at February 24, 2009 11:32 PM

I've known too many bigots who had close friends of type X to see it as evidence, let alone the best.

I said "such as it is", indicating that it's not perfect, but if you don't think it's the best evidence—then what is?

Note that "best" doesn't imply "perfect" or "reliable" or even "good"; it just means that there's no other evidence that's better. Like I said, there's no way to definitively disprove such a charge. But regardless of the imperfection of "some of my best friends are...", I don't think most white supremacists are palling around with black guys, y'know?

And some of my best friends are Christians, but I'm definitely anti-Christian.

Same here, but there's a big difference between disagreeing with aspects of someone's ideology or beliefs and disliking them specifically for their identity.

Posted by John Caruso at February 25, 2009 12:42 AM

One other thing: I suspect that by "anti-Christian" you really meant "anti-Christianity", right? I'm definitely the latter but could never be the former; I know and know of far too many Christians I like and respect, despite their views, to conclude that what's putting me off is the Christians themselves rather than their silly belief system.

Putting it another way: anti-Christianity (like anti-Islam) is a reasonable expression of a rational/atheistic viewpoint, but anti-Christian (like anti-Muslim) is a genuine form of bigotry.

Posted by John Caruso at February 25, 2009 01:19 PM