Review of “A State Beyond the Pale” by Robin Shepherd


This is a guest post by Jonathan Hoffman

No-one who takes even the slightest interest in the world around them can have failed to notice the poisonous nature of some – on occasion, much – of the discourse about Israel from people whom the spin doctors call ‘opinion leaders’. Here are just two examples (both of which are too recent to be mentioned by Robin Shepherd). In August a number of public figures criticised the award by Barack Obama of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson, the former Irish President, because she had presided over the UN’s Durban Conference against Racism in 2001 which gave a platform to some profoundly antisemitic comments by some NGOs. Robinson’s response was not to defend her record but to bizarrely accuse her critics of ‘bullying’: “There’s a lot of bullying by certain elements of the Jewish community.”  Ben Bradshaw – then a UK Health Minister – said much the same thing in January: “Israel has a long reputation of bullying the BBC… The BBC has been cowed by this persistent and relentless pressure, and they should stand up to it.” (He was rewarded by Gordon Brown with promotion to the Cabinet, as the Culture Minister).

Both these statements are patently ridiculous and defamatory. The word ‘bullying’ implies the successful use of force upon a weaker person to achieve an unjustified result. What ‘force’ is it that ‘elements of the Jewish Community’ used on Mary Robinson (and on Desmond Tutu who she also mentioned)? And did Israel surround Broadcasting House with tanks?

As Robin Shepherd correctly observes, such statements speak volumes about what he calls the ‘pathology’ of Europe and nothing about the Middle East:

I mean, even when Israel deserves censure, even when there are good grounds for protesting at Israeli behaviour, isn’t it blindingly obvious that the use of ridiculous and defamatory analogies with Nazism or apartheid, the repetition of entirely distorted renditions of the historical context, and the making of casual and reflexive denunciations of criminality gives Israel a free pass to ignore all criticisms, including the reasonable ones? Which school of political campaigning did these people go to?

Robin Shepherd is eminently well qualified to discuss the reasons for the degradation of Israel discourse in Europe. He is now Director of International Affairs at the Henry Jackson Society. Previously he was in charge of the Europe programme at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. He speaks Russian, French, Slovak and Czech and has also served as Moscow Bureau Chief for The Times. As I wrote in the Jerusalem Post (1 August) Shepherd

has paid a price professionally as a result of calling for a more sober and less hysterical approach to Israel. Having written an op-ed on the subject in The Times in January 2008, he was subjected to fierce intimidation from the powers-that-be at Chatham House. It eventually led to his departure.

For those of us who have watched with growing disbelief the spread of anti-Israel falsehoods and misrepresentation from the fringe into parts of the mainstream in Europe, Shepherd’s book strikes many chords. His key insight is that the atrophy process says little about Israel or the Palestinians – but everything about Europe.

Shepherd observes that ‘multiculturalism’ has resulted in Europe throwing out the baby – the preparedness to defend liberal democracy and other Western cultural norms – with the bathwater – the colonies and the negative aspects of nationalism. The atmosphere is “depressingly anti-intellectual”. “Denial is the order of the day. … Belief has given way to relativism; passion to apathy; resolve to appeasement.” This makes Europe the virtual antithesis of Israel, the democracy under fire which has a national religious culture. Europe is – for the moment – able to “dissemble about the true nature of Islamist terrorism” whereas Israel “has no choice but to confront it”. Europe is contemptuous of using military power to defend liberal democracy but “for Israel it is an existential necessity”.

The book is full of other insights as well, for example about the roots of the opposition to Israel post-1967 in what Shepherd calls the ‘radical Left’. With the realisation that the Western proletariat was not going to be an instrument for change, attention turned to liberation movements outside the West – for example, the PLO. Israel was simply ‘on the wrong side of the barricades’. I also found Shepherd’s taxonomy of antisemitism very useful. He divides it into the ‘subjective’ and the ‘objective’. The former applies to those who hate Jews and use Jewish manifestations – most obviously, Israel –  to express that bigotry. The latter refers to the ‘object of attack’ and describes instances of antisemitism where the perpetrator does not hate Jews but comes to the same irrational and bigoted conclusions as the former.

The final chapter is entitled “Contagion: Is America Next?” Shepherd enumerates the reasons why the quality of the Israel discourse in the US has not deteriorated to the same extent as in Europe, though warns that it could. Having seen Walt and Mearsheimer present their appalling apology for a book (‘The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy’) at Chatham House – where Shepherd was employed until only recently – one surely has to be alive to the risks.

Robin Shepherd has written a profoundly important book. It is hard to think of anyone who would not take something from it: those interested in international affairs certainly but also policymakers, legislators and those working in the field of community cohesion. It is beautifully written with many examples to support the thesis, but not so many as to draw attention away from that thesis. The research is meticulous with every reference sourced.

Many times in the book Shepherd laments the anti-intellectual quality of much of the discourse in Europe about Israel.

But happily his book is the antithesis of ‘anti-intellectual’.

27 comments on “Review of “A State Beyond the Pale” by Robin Shepherd

  1. Good analysis, Jonathan.

    “..Europe is – for the moment – able to “dissemble about the true nature of Islamist terrorism” whereas Israel “has no choice but to confront it”. .

    I think that Shepherd (and you) have hit the nail on the head with this. In the UK dissimulation is the name of the game primarily on the part of Islamists to which this government gives too ready a welcome and also on the part of the loony left, either because they cannot bear to confront the notion that they may have been wrong about the dangers to western democracy from Islamism or because they genuinely do not recognise those dangers for what they are.

    Apart from 9/11 and 7/7 and subsequent attempts (all horrifying) no-one in the UK or the USA can have any idea of how it feels to be almost constantly under fire (as in Sderot) or in danger daily anywhere in one’s own country from people whose beliefs can be warped and twisted and manipulated by handlers to turn them into human bombs.

    Israel is very well aware and has the temerity and courage to confront them. The west and the Arab countries are still not used to the notion of Jews who can defend themselves and dare to do so.

  2. Thoughtful review – I’lltry to get a copy of the book. Your discussion of “bullying” is very interesting. It ties in nicely with what I see as one of the key objections to Israel – that its a small country, and therefore should obey the bigger countries.

    People like the Mary Robinson whom you mentioned – and a former French Foreign Minster – are furious that this “little country” (he added an expletive) should not heed the demands of bigger countries – in a strange way, it then gets turned around, and the little country – with the conspiritorial help of its Jewish supporters outside Israel – becomes the bully!!

  3. Yes AKUS – there is Monsieur Daniel Bernard on page 54 of the book (he was the French Ambassador in London; it happened in 2001).

    I heard that when his remark was publicised, he tried to rewrite history by suggesting that he said ‘Chi chi little country’ !

  4. If anyone is in London on 21 October – Robin will be speaking about the book and signing copies. Details on ZF website.

    There is a similar event in Manchester in December (5th I think), I will post the details.

  5. AKUS, you are right that the “bullying” accusation gets turned around but it is more as a result of projection by Israel’s detractors than anything else. This is a common feature on CiF and an equally common feature there and elsewhere is the unconscious psychological splitting associated with it.

    In fact, at http://www.think-israel.org/barron.yungianhasbara.html is an exploration of the bullying of Israel although I think that its references to Israel’s poor use of hasbara are out of date now.

  6. And then there’s the same possibility about Hitler and Ahmedinajad – and the Guardian’s house Jews – desperately trying to be more gentile than the gentiles:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/6256173/Mahmoud-Ahmadinejad-revealed-to-have-Jewish-past.html

    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad revealed to have Jewish past

    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s vitriolic attacks on the Jewish world hide an astonishing secret, evidence uncovered by The Daily Telegraph shows.

  7. So let’s get this straight: Shepherd lost his job for not being “on the right sight of the barricades”, and those who belong to the camp that made sure he lost it complain of being bullied — nice, isn’t it?

  8. Shlomo Sharan wrote an interesting paper in 2004 about the sort of Jewish antisemitism which characterises many of the house Jews on CiF:

    He talks of it in terms of three types of assimilation:

    1) Assimilation as acculturation, without a sense of abnormality.

    2) Assimilation with a sense of abnormality and a search for normality.

    3) Assimilation with a sense of abnormality and with rejection of, or antagonism toward, Jewry, Judaism or Israel. This latter type is called self-hatred or Jewish antisemitism, the two terms being interchangeable (Demakovsky, 1978; Gilman, 1986).

    Sharan argues that Type 1) assimilation above is a natural state of affairs which occurs over time, but that 2) and 3) cannot occur without it.

    Type 2) assimilation comes about in Jews who believe that their fellow Jews or the Jewish people are abnormal in some way, and because these Jews have accepted/introjected the antisemitic stereotypes from the wider society. Embedded in this is what Sharan calls “the pathological search for normalcy.”

    Type 3 assimilation, according to Sharan is the manifestation of Jewish antisemitism and self-hatred, but importantly he argues that

    “..Assimilation does not entail self-hatred unless it is accompanied by denying, negating, denouncing, or otherwise expressing rejection of: a. Jewry’s national character, b. its cultural-religious heritage, c. one’s relationship to either or both of them…”

    He goes on:

    “… The term “self-hatred” can mislead people into thinking that it is an emotionally charged state in which someone deeply and vehemently despises other Jews, the nation of Israel or the Jewish religious-cultural tradition. Beyond its relatively obvious and vulgar manifestations, Jewish self-hatred often adopts sophisticated forms. Intellectuals or scholars often display what sounds like “rational” ideas with no hint of emotional vehemence ordinarily associated with the word “hatred”. But however muted the tone or intent in expressions of “self-hatred”, the anti-Semitic message remains indisputable: The Jews, Jewish tradition and Israel are inherently unworthy of survival. Jewish self-haters have frequently formulated that suicidal message in sophisticated theoretical language…”

    But of course others, who are scarcely scholastic in outlook (and no prizes for guessing whom) are scarcely sophisticated either.

    (For the full paper see http://www.acpr.org.il/English-NATIV/03-issue/sharan-3.htm ).

  9. I won’t comment on the Shepherd book as I haven’t read it but would like to comment on the Sharan paper.

    On the subject of being ‘normal’. It is certainly true that Jewish history is unusual – with no centre of power from which to preserve and develop their institutions or even protect the people – this suggests a strength and inner unity of which no-one should be ashamed. The so called crypto Jews blended in outwardly while retaining their Jewish identity , religion and customs in order to save themselves – who can blame them? Others assimilated either by choice or coercion – many died refusing to do conform. Although not quite unique in this respect is is admirable.

    The Roma people – also without a homeland – have, certainly in Bulgaria, often adopted either Christian or Turkish names in the community while preserving their Roma identity at home – as do the Druze.

    I have often wondered how Judaism would have developed had the Jews not been scattered – we can only speculate of course – but perhaps the intense discussion within the community is happening because Israel is trying to sandwich national development and identity into a few short years as opposed to the centuries it has taken other nations . The European nations all had their dtractors and critics – many still have — from within their own people as they struggled for an identify – all produced repression, martyrs – many false starts along with much that is good and worth preserving.

    The paper touches on the subject of human emancipation – there is no reason to suppose that this cannot happen within a framework of diversity – any would be all embracing ideology, such as communism. is bound to fail.

    The paper gave me lots to think about – I disliked the idea of abnormalcy as presented therein – unusual yes – abnormal, with the associated idea of psychpathology , no. The stuation of the Jewish people was unusual – their responses to it were adaptive rather than abnormal.

    Leni

  10. Irish, I, too have difficulty with labelling, “normal” or otherwise, but it’s surely not usual or helpful is it to turn against one’s own kind?

    It should give pause for thought as to why people exhibit such an animus. My sense of this is that it is not about the alleged shortcomings of the society to which that animus is directed – rather that something within the hate-driven person that makes him/her express it against his/her own people.

    I contend that going into print with articles calculated to stir up hatred of one’s own people is certainly dysfunctional if not pathological. It certainly cannot be called socially adaptive, can it, since the result is the inevitable ostracism of the person who does it?

  11. Hello Yvonne

    I sense we may disagree here.

    Criticism frm within a community does not necessarily mean rejection of that community – often it springs from a desire to improve it. The improvements/changes may be seen as wrong headed, damaging even, by the majority but if made in good faith, cannot be judged dysfunctional – leaving out monomaniacs and such like obviously.

    It has generally been the self reflective activists who have changed things and improved their societies from within – often after a lot of criticism and marginalisation.

    Leni

  12. “Criticism frm within a community does not necessarily mean rejection of that community”

    Criticism from within a community, of an obsessive nature, published in a foreign language in a foreign journal dedicated to an agenda of maligning, defaming, and culturally and politically cleansing an entire people (the Jewish people), is definitely pathological, if not immoral and evil.

  13. Irish

    Criticism frm within a community does not necessarily mean rejection of that community – often it springs from a desire to improve it.

    and…

    It has generally been the self reflective activists who have changed things and improved their societies from within – often after a lot of criticism and marginalisation.

    From whithin? In a foreig language hostile paper published in a foreign land!?
    What is your estimate about the number of Israelis reading the Guardian?
    You are confusing these intellectual gnomes with real journalists like Levy and Hass. I don’t agree with these but they write for the Israeli public and not for the Jew haters of CIF.

  14. Conspicuously missing from the Sharan article ( unless I missed it ) is the example of Theodor Herzl. A man who wanted Jews to become a normal people through having a nation of their own. Herzl, as is well-known, had strong assimilationist tendencies and no positive sense of his Jewishness.
    His ideal mission would have been to serve Israel as foreign ambassador in Vienna.

    Some Jews long so much to be respected by their gentile friends and acquaintances that they look down on their own heritage. The same thing could be said about Freud, I suppose. Of course, neither Herzl nor even Freud, lived through the worst days of the Shoah, and today the world is still polluted by antisemitic discourse, especially from Muslim countries.
    Under these circumstances, normality seems a long way off….

  15. I think we do, Irish, mainly because I believe that you may be missing the point, which PetertheHungarian makes very ably subsequently.

    Particularly in respect of “..Criticism frm within a community does not necessarily mean rejection of that community”

    Irish, no matter how many impossible things I am asked to believe before breakfast I cannot for the life of me believe that the likes of CiF’s house Jews/pet Israelis such as Seth Freedman are motivated by anything other than spite and malice against a country which doesn’t listen to the negative, often hate-filled, invective they level at her .

    People like Freedman are not “self-reflective activists” as you call them – in fact I can’t think of any Israelis who write for CiF who qualify for that description (with the notable exception of Petra Marqardt-Bigman).

    If CiF’s Israeli stable really cared about their own country they would be writing for Israeli newspapers such as Ha’aretz which would allow them to disseminate their views, however half-baked and ill-thought-out, within Israel itself instead of doing the equivalent selling out their country by writing for the equivalent of a comic-book hate site like Comment is Free.

    Fairplay, I agree with your post above and particularly with the final paragraph. We see it in the antics of Independent Jewish Voices.

  16. Thanks Jonathon

    “…..The book is full of other insights as well, for example about the roots of the opposition to Israel post-1967 in what Shepherd calls the ‘radical Left’…..”

    Opposition to this group of modern day leftist who cloak their hatred of Israel (Jews, in general, for many) in human rights is important. The vitriol coming from the “radical” left used to be associated with the “radical” right, but that’s no longer the case. Their hatred extends beyond Jews as well. Many are also anti Christian bigots.

    While I am an admirer of what “liberalism” has brought to western society, the modern manifestation of “leftism” is a “sellout” to human rights.

    The term “radical” left suggest a fringe portion of the population and implies small in numbers. Soeren Kern writes “….Anti-Semitism Sweeps Europe in Wake of Gaza Operation…”, January 17, 2009:

    “….But myriad polling data show that all across Europe, the fine line between valid criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism has been dangerously blurred. An opinion poll in Germany, for example, shows that more than 50 percent of Germans equate Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians with Nazi treatment of the Jews. Sixty-eight percent of Germans say that Israel is waging a “war of extermination” against the Palestinian people. In terms of Europe as a whole, another poll shows that the majority of Europeans regard Israel as the greatest threat to world peace….”

    When radical, or fringe becomes mainstream, its a very dangerous movement.

    The book appears well worth reading. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    I also think that Leni makes some good points, and is entirely right about most columnist/critics, but its a matter of when a critic is motivated by destructive rather than constructive criticism of their own country. When Nimer Sultany (in his recent column on the Guardian) made the comparison of Israel to South African apartheid, their could be no doubt that he was motivated by destructive criticism – a propaganda piece in my opinion written to appeal to the “radical” left.

  17. Yvonne – People like Freedman are not “self-reflective activists” as you call them – in fact I can’t think of any Israelis who write for CiF who qualify for that description (with the notable exception of Petra Marqardt-Bigman)

    Very true.

    One wonders which of Petra Marqardt-Bigman’s posts never see the light of day because somehow she doesn’t ‘conform’.

  18. Yvonne, TomWonacott, I totally agree.

    Irish, et al.

    You all miss the point. Calling someone mad for being critical of Jews or Israel etc is a bit like the use of “anti-Semite” whenever someone criticises us; it is a label which explains nothing anymore, it is so overused.

    Shepard has written a whole book addressing the point of REASONED criticism, and defining what that is.

    Nevermind the Guardian. “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” IS regurgitated anti-Semitic diatribe from “The Protocols…”, given Obama’s hostility to Israel at the moment, his behaviour simply disproves the book. Also, the book has been argued against, very convincingly, by leading academics.

    This brings to mind Saul Bellow’s writing in his book ‘To Jerusalem and Back’ when he stated something along the lines of when ETA set off bombs in Spain, or the IRA in Northern Ireland terrorise, no one is questioning the right of Spain or Britain (respectively) to exist.

    Indeed, considering the amount of times Osama bin-Ladin and his ilk have mentioned the Muslim’s supposed grievances for “US Foreign Policy”, Mersheimer & Walt’s book adds oil to the already massive fire of endemic, religious anti-Semitism within Islam and culturally, in Europe.

    Israel is such a small country, and the Jews are very few in the world (racially and especially religiously) it would be callous and just as damaging to state that such an unreasoned and defamatory thesis should be given the time of day.

    I absolutely reject the Hasbara article’s Jungian idea that “Israel is becoming more conscious of itself”. Israel is absorbing the vibes from Europe and America, which in turn is absorbing the visceral hatred of Jews from its increasingly large Muslim constituents.

    If we are going to talk ‘psychology’, seeing as Osama bin-Ladin’s father was killed in a plane crash, it is more than evident bin-Ladin, as most psychotics do, wish to transfer their pain and trauma onto others. So too with the Islamisation of the West, must the extremists transfer hatred of Jews to Europeans and Americans in the form of the clever lie that US Foreign policy (which is controlled by Jews let’s not forget), is causing all the Muslim’s anger, and thus terror.

    A cry I’ve heard increasingly is “Why should our soldiers have to die in World War III for Israel?!”

    As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks concluded his book ‘Future Tense’: “the Jews, although separated from their homeland and dispersed throughout the world, managed to survive and hold on to what they believe. Against all the odds, against all the persecutions and hatred. Why?

    …they survived because they didn’t internalise that hatred…”

    Until now.

  19. Good points, Caped Crusader. Read Bellow’s book recently and was amazed at so much of what he wrote in the 70s being apposite now. Like your tribute to Sacks too. In another book (Letters to Children – leaflet) he also speaks of us not only surviving but doing so with our ‘sense of humour intact’.

    As always we act as a mirror to our host countries in the Diaspora and the reflections in the UK and Europe are less than flattering at present and are only likely to get worse. The Guardian is guilty of unspeakable hypocristy and illustrates the terrible damage that can be done by moral relativists.

  20. Pingback: The Ozi Zion Blog » Blog Archive » Robin Shepherd’s “A state beyond the Pale” is well worth reading

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