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Top Five Ways to Be Critical of Israel without Sounding like an Anti-Semite

1. Don’t equate Zionism with racism. Zionism is a national aspiration to cultivate and encourage Jewish life, literature, culture, and politics. It is designed to encourage group interests in the same way that any political, religious, or cultural group cares about its preservation. It is an ideology of inclusion, not exclusion. The racism charge is a hammer used to harm people. True enough, that the politics of Israel are complex and Israel national identity can disadvantage other groups (see #2 below). But this is not racism in any accepted sense of the term; it’s not an intentional ideologically based system of discrimination. Israel protects and perpetuates its own self-interest like any other nation state – and I repeat that this sometimes disadvantages other groups – but it’s nothing different than the United States does when it asserts itself in the affairs of other countries. The UN resolution #3379 to this effect in 1975 was an example of how easy it is to organize enough of Israel’s critics to pass UN resolutions. The resolution was revoked in 1991 and is typically recognized as an embarrassing moment in the history of the United Nations.

2. All criticism of Israel requires some nuance, complexity, and context. This may sound obvious but there is the sting of anti-Semitism when some issue is presented without context. For example, Israel is unfairly criticized for responding to violence against the state such that Israel appears to be perpetrating violence against a weaker population when in fact it is “protecting” itself and responding to violence. Recognizing some complexity and nuance is always important in any political conflict but anti-Semitism rears its head when Israel is criticized without seeming understanding of the issues. Israel does not engage in profligate violence and terrorism simply to achieve a political goal. Again, the charge of “terrorism” is a rhetorical tactic that does not characterize policy. Israel regularly complains about visual images of Israeli tanks or soldiers that make them appear aggressive when in fact they are responding to antecedent aggression. It does not mean that Israel’s policies are always correct and not subject to criticism, but such a discussion must take place in the context of facts and political reality.

3. Don’t refer to “the Zionists” as a collective noun. The public relations arm of Israel’s enemies have been successful at distorting the word Zionist to imply plots, conspiracies, racism, and insidious designs to oppress the Palestinians and engage in secret manipulations of segments of society. Referring to “Zionists” when you really mean Israel is an inappropriate lumping together of issues that justify anti-Semitism and suggests secretive and manipulative Jews pulling the puppet strings. Zionism does not mean that Jews and Israelis believe they have rights to “take what they want” in the interest of historical justice. On the contrary, original Zionist aspirations would be to cultivate Jewish life within a proper social and political context. That is, Zionists sought “a place among the nations” for Israel.

4. Don’t equate Israel with Nazi Germany or South Africa. The purpose of the Nazi Germany comparison is simple: it is a vicious and stinging comparison designed for nothing more than inflicting pain. It is a rhetorical strategy that capitalizes on the ironic charge that one group has become what its enemy was before. As with the comparison to apartheid in South Africa, the close and clear application of political theory and history (see #2 above) demonstrates how unjustified such a comparison is. All comparisons to Jewish historic enemies (Christians, Nazis,) and nefarious practices (blood rituals, money manipulation, Christ killers) will mark you as ignorant, anti-Semitic, and someone not to be taken seriously.

5. Learn important terminological distinctions and historical trends. Don’t blend the word “Jewish” with “Israeli”, at least not completely. It is true that the two complement one another, and the Zionism incorporates the symbols of Judaism, but realize that one can be Israeli without being Jewish (yet an issue still debatable by some) and, of course, Jewish without being Israeli. Judaism refers to a religious cosmology and Israel is a nation-state political entity. Make sure you know the difference between “Palestinians” and “Israeli Arabs” or if you prefer “Palestinian Arabs” and be able to describe the distinctions and political markings of each. Know something about the ethnic and historical identities groups in Israel; that is, the distinction between the Ashkenazi and Mizrahi traditions as well as other cultural groups. Be able to describe Israel’s democracy which is a viable democracy but not a liberal democracy quite like the United States.

There is clearly more to these issues than described above but it remains the case that anti-Semitism and ignorance walk hand-in-hand. The individual who cannot make the distinctions above, or who purposely draws on them in order to injure a rhetorical opponent, will be categorized immediately as repellent and easily rejected. None of this will further the interests of problem solving.

Published January 22, 2013

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Next Week in Jerusalem

orthodox-jew

Next week on February 7th I arrive in Israel for a five month stay as a Lady Davis Fellow associated with Hebrew University. The inaugural definition of this blog was devoted to the Middle East and Israel and even though it remains that way I do admit to adjusting course after Donald Trump floated to the top of the pool of presidential candidates. His candidacy and his victory as President is so unnerving and shocking that I could not help but devote more time to try and understand what happened. Trump has to be the crudest and least prepared president in history and I’ve been warning that this is going to be a wild ride. The first 10 days of his presidency certainly has lived up to my expectation.

But over the next few months I’ll post more about Israel – even though there are probably more readers interested in Trump – and I will try to provide some sort of real-time value-added insight as a result of my presence on the ground. Still, I’m sure there will be times when I simply will not be able to shake Trump from the tangle of international relations, identity politics, his oppressive populism, or my tolerances for outrage.

Israel is not quite the same country or culture it once was. The Israeli founding narrative (an invincible democratic and moral Jewish state–holding a righteous sword– and mightily reasserting itself in the face of historic anti-Semitism to reclaim its ancient homeland) has broken up and does not echo the emotional and historical resonances it once did. The long and corrosive battle with the Arabs has depressed the nation and unleashed an unhealthy tribalism and nationalism. Much of the talk between Arabs and Jews is we-they talk that treats the other as a member of a binary opposite group along with attributions that explain deficiencies and problems in the culture by referring them to the particular “nature” of the culture. Still, Israel is a complex multicultural society full of the old and the new.

Listen to Bret Stephens explain the political and social conditions of the Arab world. I might not hold such analysis against lesser journalists but Stephens is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the Wall Street Journal. Stephens is familiar with Israel, bright and knowledgeable about the issues but he remains committed to various prejudices and distortions when it comes to Israel. In the video Stephens explains how it is anti-Semitism that prevents Arab economic and political progress. He has teamed up with one of the most agenda-driven conservatives (Dennis Prager) to produce this short video, which has some defensible claims, but is so overstated and exaggerated as to render it unusable. The video capitalizes on the racist assumption that Jews are intellectually superior because when they were driven from Spain, or Germany, or Czarist Russia there was a decline in these cultures. A simplistic analysis if there ever was one. It is of course beyond the confines of this posting to offer more comprehensive historical and economic analysis but the notion that the loss of Jews in these populations is responsible for their decline sounds like just the sort of thinking he claims characterize Arab countries. I certainly don’t deny that a preoccupation with anti-Semitism is real enough and an unproductive distraction but is only one affect among an entire nexus of effects that explain problems in the Arab world.

Moreover, most Arabs critical of Israel would tell you that is Zionism and not Judaism that they object to. This may be a modern form of anti-Semitism – and I believe that argument can be made – but it still challenges the centrality of anti-Semitism as Stephens explains it. Israel is changing because it lives in an environment of constant threat that it has been unable to untangle itself from. 70 years of violence and aggression hasn’t worked very well for either side. Maybe it’s time both sides extend their hands palm down. I will explore the various possibilities in the next few months.

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The Joys of Hate

hate

The noted cognitive scientist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman introduced the concepts of System 1 and System 2 or fast and slow thinking. System 1 is fast, instinctive, and emotional. System 2 is slower, logical, and deliberative. System 2 came later in our evolutionary development. System 1 thinking is intuitive and uses quick judgments that we rely on for most decisions. It is also the process that leads to far greater biases in judgment. System 2, our more deliberative thought processes, can be used to dampen the negative effects of our intuitive judgments. System 1 or fast thinking is reptilian and automatic. It has evolved from deep in our evolutionary history. So we respond quickly and easily to sexual associations and danger. System 2 is thoughtful and cognitive. It requires slower thinking and patience.

The experience of hate is I think a System 1 cognitive process but we often try to treat it with System 2 solutions. In other words, the bigot, anti-Semite, and the racist are typically confronted with System 2 rational thinking as if the person is simply experiencing unjustifiable beliefs and misinformation. We try to change the person or educate him by presenting facts, correcting errors, and revealing logical inconsistencies. Curiously, we are dumbfounded and dismayed when this doesn’t work. When our attempt to reason the other person into correct thinking is useless we are chagrined.

The truth is that bigots and racists and anti-Semite’s don’t want to hear it. They are immune to the closed fist of logic that characterizes reasoning. Also, even though it’s a little bit counterintuitive, these people enjoy the experience of hating. It’s a powerful biologically-based experience of information that doesn’t require much from them and is sensually pleasing psychologically. The System 1 experience of emotional engagement for the racist and anti-Semite is fun! The quick and automatic conclusions of System 1 thinking are enjoyable and require little of the hater.

The person’s beliefs are firmly established and foundational to the experience of hating. There’s no questioning or insecurity. Anti-Semites stand sure in their beliefs and the power and pleasures of self-righteousness, condemnation of others, and sense of intense kinship with those who think like them is climactic in its joy.

Just look at the joys of hating:

  1. That anti-Semite gets to compare Jews to Nazis. What an orgiastic pleasure it is to take the group you hate most (Jews) and compare them to the great symbol of evil Nazis. Hatred is a purifying experience and perhaps the height of its titillating pleasure is the sense of superiority it confers on one. The bully (think Trump), the self-righteous, the judgmental, and the ignorant are all soldiers in this army of those who feel superior. The expressions of their beliefs are immediate and instinctual. And since they have little cognitive analytic sensibility and are incapable of genuine information processing, they don’t even see themselves as anti-Semitic.
  2. The racist who feels his group is superior transcends the pleasures of superiority and can think of himself as “morally” purified. Everywhere he looks he sees evidence – the confirmation hypothesis at work a System 1 heuristic – of his group’s moral clarity. The history and traditions of the outgroup are the subject of propaganda and deceit as any “good” in the outgroup is automatically attributed to the environment rather than the group thus maintaining the racist’s own sense of purity.
  3. The instinctual and exaggerated language of the hater quickly categorizes the other and relieves him of the burden of real moral scrupulousness. So one can accuse Israel of violation of human rights or colonialism without doing the hard analytical work of defining and understanding these ideas. These pleasures extend to the Westerner who hates Islam as well. His sense of political supremacy and rectitude produces the same gut feeling that Islam is backward and tribal, thus reproducing his own moral superiority.

Deliberative and thoughtful exchange about others is slow and plodding. It requires correction and revisiting of attitudes and beliefs that must be modified or discarded. The scrupulous attention to cognitive errors and misinformation is evolutionarily new and we are not yet so good at it, especially when deliberation has to compete with the reptilian joys of hate.

First posted 2/24/2014

The Klinghoffer Opera and History

 

distorted historyWe have become so committed to the fluid and malleable sense of history that the existence of facts or truth has lost its moorings and, more than that, you are considered unreconstructed if you believe in such things. This is especially true in academia where the “social construction of reality” rules the day. History is considered to be the result of myths, subjective narratives, flawed memory, social construction, or written by the victors with all of their self-serving perspective.

I’m thinking in particular about the Klinghoffer Opera currently being staged at the Metropolitan in New York. This is a controversial opera by John Adams called “The Death of Klinghoffer” which has generated protests in New York and demonstrations in front of the Met. These protesters take serious objection to the portrayal of the Palestinian terrorists who killed Leon Klinghoffer on the cruise ship Achilles Lauro. Note: I have not seen the Klinghoffer Opera but I’m not writing about it as if I had. You can read some background on the controversy here.

Very briefly, in 1985 Palestinian terrorists hijacked the cruise ship Achilles Lauro and singled out Jewish passengers. One passenger was a wheelchair bound Jew by the name of Leon Klinghoffer. The terrorists shot Klinghoffer in the head and threw him and his wheelchair overboard. It has always been considered a vicious act of murder, terrorism, and anti-Semitism.

The opera “The Death of Klinghoffer first appeared in 1991 and it was accused of sanctioning blatant murder and rationalizing and legitimizing the terrorism that took place on the Achilles Lauro. The play apparently was sympathetic or at least asked the audience to consider its sympathies for the Palestinians. The opera has since been edited with scenes removed and is being re-staged at the Metropolitan Opera. John Adams, the composer of the opera, and the librettist Alice Goodman have been accused of portraying false moral equivalence between the historical plight of Jews and that of the Palestinians. Adams talks about his work in the opera here.

The Klinghoffer daughters stated that the opera “perverts the terrorist murder of our father and attempts to romanticize, rationalize, legitimize and explain it. The political approach of the composer and librettist is evident with the opera’s disingenuous and dangerous juxtaposition of the plight of the Palestinian people with the coldblooded, terrorist murder of an innocent disabled American Jew.” The arts are central to the full expression and comprehension of political issues, but the Klinghoffer Opera does not critically examine world events; rather, it rationalizes violence and manipulates the historical truths that make up the Palestinian narrative.

History As a Lump of Clay

History can be changed and molded and even if it isn’t particularly easy, over time, and with systematic efforts, what was once true can now be false. The campaign against Israel and the redefinition of Zionism and the historical plight of the Jews is relentless. Even the Holocaust, which is associated with Jewish particularity and the primary stimulus for the creation of the state of Israel, of which there is reams of evidence, is chipped away at, challenged, denied, and ultimately turned back on the Jews. The Palestinians now blatantly claim that they were put in internment camps by Israelis and suffered the same Holocaust.

These issues remain difficult because a committed group of people can always be relied on to daze and confuse others. And they will always be successful with at least some group of people. Part of the answer is to become more rigorous about language. We must continue to try and recognize the distinction between narrative and flagrant manipulation. Of course, the hell of it is that we will never be completely successful at such a distinction. But we must try.

The Reptilian Sensuality of Hate

The noted cognitive scientist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman introduced the concepts of System 1 and System 2 or fast and slow thinking. System 1 is fast, instinctive, and emotional. System 2 is slower, logical, and deliberative. System 2 came later in our evolutionary development. System 1 thinking is intuitive and uses quick judgments that we rely on for most decisions. It is also the process that leads to far greater biases in judgment. System 2, our more deliberative thought processes, can be used to dampen the negative effects of our intuitive judgments. System 1 or fast thinking is reptilian and automatic. It has evolved from deep in our evolutionary history. So we respond quickly and easily to sexual associations and danger. System 2 is thoughtful and cognitive. It requires slower thinking and patience.

The experience of hate is I think a System 1 cognitive process but we often try to treat it with System 2 solutions. In other words, the bigot, anti-Semite, and the racist are typically confronted with System 2 rational thinking as if the person is simply experiencing unjustifiable beliefs and misinformation. We try to change the person or educate him by presenting facts, correcting errors, and revealing logical inconsistencies. Curiously, we are dumbfounded and dismayed when this doesn’t work. When our attempt to reason the other person into correct thinking is useless we are chagrined.

The truth is that bigots and racists and anti-Semite’s don’t want to hear it. They are immune to the closed fist of logic that characterizes reasoning. Also, even though it’s a little bit counterintuitive, these people enjoy the experience of hating. It’s a powerful biologically-based experience of information that doesn’t require much from them and is sensually pleasing psychologically. The System 1 experience of emotional engagement for the racist and anti-Semite is fun! The quick and automatic conclusions of System 1 thinking are enjoyable and require little of the hater.

The person’s beliefs are firmly established and foundational to the experience of hating. There’s no questioning or insecurity. Anti-Semites stand sure in their beliefs and the power and pleasures of self-righteousness, condemnation of others, and sense of intense kinship with those who think like them is climactic in its joy.

Just look at the joys of hating:

  1. That anti-Semite gets to compare Jews to Nazis. What an orgiastic pleasure it is to take the group you hate most (Jews) and compare them to the great symbol of evil Nazis. Hatred is a purifying experience and perhaps the height of its titillating pleasure is the sense of superiority it confers on one. The bully, the self-righteous, the judgmental, and the ignorant are all soldiers in this army of those who feel superior. The expressions of their beliefs are immediate and instinctual. And since they have little cognitive analytic sensibility and are incapable of genuine information processing, they don’t even see themselves as anti-Semitic.
  2. The racist who feels his group is superior transcends the pleasures of superiority and can think of himself as “morally” purified. Everywhere he looks he sees evidence – the confirmation hypothesis at work a System 1 heuristic – of his group’s moral clarity. The history and traditions of the outgroup are the subject of propaganda and deceit as any “good” in the outgroup is automatically attributed to the environment rather than the group thus maintaining the racist’s own sense of purity.
  3. The instinctual and exaggerated language of the hater quickly categorizes the other and relieves him of the burden of real moral scrupulousness. So one can accuse Israel of violation of human rights or colonialism without doing the hard analytical work of defining and understanding these ideas. These pleasures extend to the Westerner who hates Islam as well. His sense of political supremacy and rectitude produces the same gut feeling that Islam is backward and tribal, thus reproducing his own moral superiority.

Deliberative and thoughtful exchange about others is slow and plodding. It requires correction and revisiting of attitudes and beliefs that must be modified or discarded. The scrupulous attention to cognitive errors and misinformation is evolutionarily new and we are not yet so good at it, especially when deliberation has to compete with the reptilian joys of hate.

First published at HartfordFAV

Movie Stars, War Criminals, and Criticism of Israel

Once again we are confronted with monstrous contradictions, ideological ignorance as well as inconsistency, and an oppressive and unfair singling out of one group (Israel) that certainly smells of anti-Semitism if nothing else. It’s another one of those moments when the world seems less than sane. Israel a vibrant democratic market economy surrounded by less developed political cultures is targeted by a fringe anti-Israel movement called BDS or boycott, divestment, and sanction.

Daniel Schwammenthal wrote in The Wall Street Journal Europe about how the BDS crowd  might as well label Scarlett Johansson a war criminal of all things because she works for and supports SodaStream a highly successful sophisticated soft drink company. SodaStream is a model of coexistence, sustainability, peace, and corporate responsibility. They make a tasty fizzy drink and the company is operated by the Israelis and Palestinians together including Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze. The company is known for its environmental sensitivity and complete equality between Israelis and Israeli Arabs. There are no discrepancies in compensation and the Arab employees average more income than other Israeli Arabs. Again, the factory is an example of cooperation and what future relations could look like between Israeli Arabs and Israelis.

SodaStream has numerous factories but one of them is in the West Bank. That was all it would take for BDS to get fired up and target Scarlett Johansson and Sodastream as war criminals and violators of human rights. Never mind that if Israel is going to create factories and jobs that include Israeli Arabs than the West Bank is probably going to be implicated. I’m sure BDS’s slick public relations arm was drooling at the opportunity to use Ms. Johansson’s celebrity to magnify their own media presence.

Never mind again that this is pseudo-activism designed to keep pressure on Israel along with a constant flow of criticism without paying any attention whatsoever to issues and analysis. The location of the factory would probably end up in that portion of what is now the West Bank that will be the new state of Palestine – someday one hopes. Additionally, the economic infusion and stimulation provided by SodaStream is not insignificant and makes for considerable economic benefits to the local community. It seems as though BDS is more interested in boycotting the factory and subjecting it to inflamed media criticism than it is the well-being of the 500 Palestinians and their families that work in the factory.

But BDS must be taken seriously because they have convinced more than a few governments and organizations to withdraw investments from Israel. The EU is on the verge of preventing funding that benefits anything related to the West Bank. The pressures on Israeli banks that have relationships with settlements is preventing EU investment money from helping various communities. Once again sanity seems to elude these people and their organizations. It will not be long until Iran is one screw turn away from a nuclear weapon but the sanctions imposed on them don’t seem to be very bothersome. Democratic freedoms of all sorts including gay rights struggle amidst Israel’s neighbors but the EU turns a blind eye. Mahmoud Abbas continues to pay salaries and ignore terrorism.

And all this time the EU continues to support Palestinian communities even though their record of development is poor. They support the Palestinian right to ignore serious peace treaty attempts and encourage them in numerous unproductive ways. Everyone knows, for example, that some sort of compromise is going to have to take place in which Israel keeps selected settlements in exchange for giving up others. Moreover, there will have to be adjustments and compromises on all sorts of issues pertaining to refugees, borders, and the definition of each state. And, yes, Israel too must make some changes, but the EU does not work with Palestinians in a pragmatic manner designed to move them toward solutions. The EU does not communicate or use its position as an honest broker to properly direct Palestinian attention.

Roger Waters of Pink Floyd: Seeker of Social Justice or Just Another Prick in the Wall

Pig w star of david

The musician Roger Waters of the rock group Pink Floyd floated a balloon that was a giant pig with a Star of David on it at a recent concert in Belgium. The image is above. You can also watch the concert video. The offending object hovered over the crowd festooned with symbols of various authoritarian governments. Waters is a known Israel hater who has tried to encourage other performers to boycott Israel and has openly espoused the flimsy old Apartheid charge. But his clownish and offensive behavior does not stop here. Waters performed holding a machine gun replica and wore black clothes with an armband reminiscent of Nazi uniforms.

Of course, the most well-known song of Rogers Waters and the rock group Pink Floyd is “Brick in the Wall.” It’s actually an excellent song and the primary refrain “you’re just another brick in the wall” has acquired cultural capital with respect to life as a machine-like authoritarian structure where individuality is blotted out. It is a metaphor for an interesting piece of social commentary. But Waters should stick to music because when he moves into serious political analysis he falters. Still, who is this guy and what should we think of him?

Waters hides behind the freedom of expression defense, which is his right, but does he make legitimate criticisms of Israel or is he just a rank anti-Semite? Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center says Waters is dangerous and an “open hater of Jews.” You can read about Waters and his exchange with the good Rabbi here. Moreover, as blatant and crude as Waters is he holds himself to be a defender of peace and a seeker of justice. When the Rabbi points to his anti-Semitism about all waters can respond with is the old tired cliché about how “some of his best friends are Jewish.” This response would be laughable if it were not so sad.

Waters defends himself by claiming that many religious symbols were used in the show and he is trying to redefine the symbolism of the pig. It, according to Rogers, represents evil and the ill will of a misguided government. In his show Rogers tells the audience that he is going to give the symbol to them as a gift and they should destroy it. The audience then orgiasticly consumes the evil. He then goes into a fierce criticism of Israel referring to it by every anti-Semitic term he can muster.

Clearly, Waters has a right to this performance and although he is mostly just passionate – not to mention pretty uninformed – it turns out that Waters is one of those undereducated disorderly minds who just blurts out opinions without much nuance. In one of Waters’ defense of himself he accuses Rabbi Cooper of being “inflammatory and unhelpful.” For Waters to claim that anybody is inflammatory, as if it were some defect he is not guilty of, belies the imagination. He is certainly guilty of unjustified moral equivalencies. Calling terrorists groups “freedom fighters” or justified political responses, or comparing Israel to South Africa or any number of violent authoritarian groups, is based on false equivalencies that ignore political, cultural, and historical explanations and accounts.

Waters defends himself by saying he uses crucifixes, crescents and stars, hammers and cycles, the Shell Oil logo, the dollar sign, and McDonald’s sign in his shows. I rest my case. This is a mushy and haphazard conglomeration of corporate images and symbols that are supposed to represent oppression and regimentation. It is fine as red meat for the masses but what am I supposed to do with comparisons between the dollar sign and the hammer and sickle. Or, how are Islam and Christianity linked arm in arm in their stance against whatever Waters is resisting?

Israel is not a functioning theocracy nor is it even close to an Apartheid state. The Star of David on a pig is highly offensive and inflammatory and counterproductive for anything other than blatant attack on the other. It is consistent with the modern trends in anti-Semitism which is to single out Israel and ignore other considerations.

Waters turns out to be just another “prick in the wall.”

Top 10 Anti-Semitic Slurs: Anti-Semitism or Legitimate Criticism of Israel

Below is the list of top 10 anti-Semitic slurs for 2012 from the Simon Wiesenthal Center. All but one of these contributions for the year concerns me. I always look at the statements and spend a moment chagrined and admittedly a little shaken that such discourse actually characterizes the consciousness of certain individuals and groups. But that aside, the slurs bring up the tension between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. This is a fine interpretive line that speaks to the issue of Israel as a legitimate target of political criticism, and the use of such criticism as an anti-Semitic tool. Moreover, it’s an excellent example of the distinction I like to make for students between perspective and bias. Top 10 Anti-Semitic Slurs.

Look at #9 by Jakob Augstein who is a contributor to Spiegel online. There is currently a bit of a fury in Germany over the decision by the Wiesenthal Center to list Augstein here. Augstein is a respected journalist and surely doesn’t belong in the same categories as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, the Golden Path, and Farrakhan. Moreover the issues of Israel’s nuclear arsenal, powerful political lobbying, and conservative trends in the society are legitimate issues worthy of discussion and argumentation.

One can be a respected journalist raising legitimate issues and still be quite misleading, exaggerated, and uninformed. I do not think these comments by Augstein rise to the level of anti-Semitism and do not think he should have been lumped in with the likes of the other 9 contributors. His words and style are inflammatory and certainly lacked nuance. Comparing traditional observant Jews to the sort of “Islamism” that is triumphalist in nature and promotes violence is a silly comparison based more on exaggerated rhetorical strategies rather than fact. An unfair and unjustified moral equivalency is typically the rhetorical strategy used by those characterized more by bias than perspective. The same sort of exaggeration applies to the claims about the undue influence of the Jewish lobby. It is true that the Jewish lobby in the United States is effective and strong but it does little more than successfully defend its interests in a democratic manner. There is a Saudi lobby and a Pakistani lobby and on and on. The Jewish lobby engages in the democratic process and does so successfully. But the argument that Jewish influence distorts foreign-policy is based on the assumption that there is a “correct” foreign-policy that is being subverted. If a group wants to counter the influences of the Jewish lobby then organize and come up with better arguments.

Again, I think Mr. Augstein is critical of Israel and does not do a particularly good job of defending such a position – and there is plenty to disagree with – but the charge that the statement in #9 is anti-Semitic is unjustified. Jews and Israelis who are overly sensitive to the potentialities of anti-Semitism must also work to make the distinction between a perspective based on legitimate issues critical of Israel and anti-Semitism. Staining someone with the charge of anti-Semitism, when it is only a knee-jerk response and not clearly justified, shuts down legitimate debate about Israel as a political entity and strangles the communication process.

We have to do the hard work and make the distinction between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel on the basis of argument and substantive issues. Sure, some critics of Israel are blatant anti-Semites. Showing movies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is clearly anti-Semitic; the vacant eyed whack job surrounded by guns holed up in a mountain cabin somewhere who blames the Jews for the world’s problems is anti-Semitic; comparing Israel to Nazi Germany is anti-Semitic. Even the apartheid comparison is problematic. A careful and considerate comparison between Israel and South Africa, on the basis of the best political theory and history, does not justify in any way such a comparison even though there are issues of difficult population concentration.

But making civil rights and political arguments about occupancy of the land, the status of Palestinians after their dispersal in 1948, refugees, borders, settlements, and security considerations is not anti-Semitic. These issues are not treated seriously when they are viewed as manifestations of racism and anti-Semitism. And sometimes anti-Semites attach themselves, like barnacles on the bottom of the boat, to those making legitimate criticisms of Israel. They attempt to move the discussion from quality argumentative confrontation to “delegitimization” of Isreal. Sometimes the difference between anti-Semitic intentions and fair criticism is difficult but it is a difficulty we must continue to grapple with.
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