The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall, anti-Semitism, and the “Arab street”


“He Who is Compassionate to the Cruel Will Ultimately Become Cruel to the Compassionate.” – Biblical Midrash

If there was a professional license for journalists with codified moral standards similar to physicians’ Hippocratic Oath, one which instructs those engaged in the polemical arts to, at the very least, do no harm, Simon Tisdall would have had his revoked the day he penned a passionate apologia for Sudan’s President, Omar al-Bashir – in a diatribe attacking (as racist and Islamophobic) those in the West who dared to hold Bashir accountable for the atrocities committed against the non-Arab black population in Darfur.

Such a moral inversion, of course, is nothing new, and indeed informs much of the ideological orientation of the Guardian Left.

But, Tisdall’s post-Colonial politics must be at least broadly understood to properly contextualize his framing of the Egyptian political upheaval, and the broader policy implications for the U.S. and the West –Out of Egyptian Protests a new Obama doctrine is born“, CiF, Feb. 11th.

In Obama’s support for Egyptian protesters, and his abandonment of Hosni Mubarak, Tisdall applauds what he sees as the end of a policy where “America has largely turned a blind eye to repression in pursuit of wider security…interests” – suggesting, I suppose, that there are nations in world who don’t act out of concern for their own national security, and failing to acknowledge that the political divide in the Middle East is rarely between dictators and democrats, but between secular autocrats and Islamic extremists.

Turning to Israel, Tisdall notes:

“Israeli leaders, too, are alarmed. They never quite trusted Obama. And repression of the Arab masses by Arab autocrats suited them quite well for, by and large, the Arab street has always been more hostile to Israel than the Arab elites.”

I ask that you read this passage a couple of times to really let the malice sink in.

The repression of the “Arab masses”, we are informed, is a desired outcome for Israeli leaders when, of course, what Israeli leaders are concerned about, as even the most casual observer must surely understand, is the fate of the peace treaty with Egypt, and the possibility that yet another extremist movement dedicated to their destruction will arise – adding another border state governed by a regime hostile to its very existence.  The mind spins at the capacity of those predisposed towards such hostility to frame even Israel’s desire to maintain peace with its neighbors in a negative light.

But, the last passage of the above quote, where we are instructed that the “Arab street” is more hostile to Israel than the ruling elite, is where the intellectual tick of his illiberal anti-Imperialism is mostly clearly revealed.  The “Arab street” he refers to has an overwhelming and unfiltered antipathy towards Jews (no, not just Israelis) that’s quite, let’s say, unenlightened. A Pew Global Research Poll in 2010 showed that anti-Semitism is nearly universal across the Middle East – with a staggering 97% of Jordanians, 97% of Palestinians, and 95% of Egyptians (for instance) openly expressing animosity towards Jews.  Tisdall’s authentic Arab street is more reactionary, it seems, in its level of tolerance towards the Jewish minority than its slightly more pragmatic despotic leaders.

But, saving the worse for last, Tisdall – clearly relishing the role of nurturing such “authentic” Arab enmity towards Israel – casually takes aim at the Jewish state’s clear advantage in the region in every measurable political and social category, by framing the nation as merely one which “hitherto” could “pose as the region’s only real democracy”, before warning that even this supposed advantage “is slipping.”

And, here is Tisdall’s moral confusion expressed is in its most acute form.  As with any rigid ideology, inconvenient political realities – ones which threaten the edifice you strive constantly to maintain – are merely rhetorical challenges to be dealt with.  Israel’s parliamentary democracy, free press, independent judiciary, and progressive mores concerning sexual and religious minorities which are on par with, and sometimes exceed, that of other Western democracies, are, as stubborn democratic parts, quite resistant to his assault. But, as a broader amorphous whole Israel’s democracy can be contorted to suit the abstraction that the Jewish nation-state has become for the Guardian Left.

Tisdall’s enmity towards Israel, like his romanticism of the mythical Arab street – as with all bigotries – robs its object of its uniqueness, its particularism, its fierce and undeniable reality.

His soft bigotry which denies moral agency to malevolent extremists is ultimately informed by the same intellectual currents which allows him to deny liberal democracies their moral advantage – a malady on full display in Tisdall’s fantastical musings on heroism and villainy in the Middle East.

14 comments on “The Guardian’s Simon Tisdall, anti-Semitism, and the “Arab street”

  1. That really is vicious.

    By the same token, ‘the Arab street’ ethnically cleansed the Arab world of its ‘Arab’ Jews, mostly to Israel i.e. ‘the Arab street’ was always more anti-semitic than the regime.

  2. But it makes perfect sense if one believes, as is clear that this person as well the rest of the Guardianistas believe, that Jews are not quite human. After all, if Jews are not a part of humanity they can be denied human rights at will, and any an all villainies can be ascribed to them. And, it follows, that anything created by Jews,
    such as a country, can be dismissed as illegitimate, and any murders of Jews, whether in a Jewish state or elsewhere are acceptable if these unworthy subhumans are found to be an annoyance to their betters.

    The only exception(s) to this, oddly enough, are those inventions or discoveries of the Jews which are of practical value to non-Jews. The BDS believers, who are willing to starve to death every Jewish child in Israel still allow themselves to use the medicines, medical equipment, cellphones, computer technology etc, devised by Jews. Isn’t it amazing that those particular things are not tainted by their origin, even while their creators are despised?

    Should the Arabs overrun Israel and, as they have promised so often, slaughter the Jews, does anyone believe that the great European humanitarians will accept the fleeing Jewish refugees into their countries? If you do, I have a nice line in available bridges to offer you, cheap.

    Isn’t that just like a Jew, always thinking about money?

  3. The reason that the Arab street has such an anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli bias is because they have been systematically led to those attitudes by the elite and their leaders. That has led them to one disaster after another as the leaders found they were expected to live up to the verbal attacks on Israel by actually attacking Israel.

    To claim that Israel prefers or likes these leaders is absurd.

  4. “The reason that the Arab street has such an anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli bias is because they have been systematically led to those attitudes by the elite and their leaders.”

    Arab society has had the same strategy as the had Russia’s Okhrana and the USA’s KKK: The wealthy elite seek to keep the lower class “in its place” by turning lower-class dissatisfaction upon an innocent and helpless minority, as a scapegoat — Jews in the case of Russian and Arab society, blacks in the case of racist southern US society.

    And, just as psychological elements caused the southern US lower class (“white trash”) to be infuriated at the concept of having to treat a black as an equal or authority in power, so the Arab proletariat is infuriated at the idea of the Jew as no-longer-subjugated equal or victor.

  5. ‘I am more worried today about Israel’s future than I have ever been, because I think that at time of great change in this region – and we have just seen the beginnings of it – Israel today has the most out-of-touch, in-bred, unimaginative and cliché-driven cabinet it has ever had.’

    With that I kind of agree.

  6. That doesn’t change the fact that Tisdall’s equation of Israel with oppression of the Arab masses i.e. they are enslaved to Israel is a vicious myth, that is very dangerous for millions of Jews.

  7. MTC

    Another great article by Tom Friedman in the NY Times:

    After reading the article I would say a bit otherwise:

    Another great heap of laughable and deluded bullshit by Tom Friedman in the NY Times:

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4028189,00.html

    His best is this:

    Friedman argues that Israel will ultimately have no choice but “to make peace with 80 million Egyptians” when a democracy is established in Cairo.

    As we all know that the Egyptians are longing to be the friends of Israel but we insist to the “cold piece”, our secular spiritual leaders want to burn Egyptian books, our director of the antiquites authority is not ready to allow Muslims to pray in ancient mosques, our Journalist Union isn’t allow Israeli journalists to report from Egypt and our secular liberal leader of the opposition wants to renegotiate the Camp David agreement.

    To make a long story short the article is nothing else but witless Israel bashing and extremely stupid even in Friedmann’s and NYT standards.

  8. Peter:
    So David Horowicz and Natan Sharansky are engaging in “witless Israel bashing and [are] extremely stupid ??? Read the article again –

    “I thought the one Israeli figure who totally got it right was former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, who, in a long-interview with the Jerusalem Post’s editor David Horovitz last Friday, said, according to Horovitz, “that partnerships with dictatorships are unsustainable – that people cannot permanently be repressed, that they will push for freedom the moment they sense weakness in their tyrannical leaderships. In his assessment, Israel and the West are fortunate that this Arab revolution is unfolding in countries still closely tied to the West, in societies yet to have been battered into an overwhelming retreat toward Islamic fundamentalism.’’

    As Sharansky put it in his own words: “If the free world helps the people on the streets, and turns into the allies of these people instead of being the allies of the dictators, then there is a unique chance to build a new pact between the free world and the Arab world.” “

  9. MTC

    The problem is that the above quotes have nothing to do with Friedmann’s totally incoherent crap. Why don’t you comment on this?
    Friedman argues that Israel will ultimately have no choice but “to make peace with 80 million Egyptians” when a democracy is established in Cairo.

    As I understand you are an Israeli so you certainly know how this stupid slogan is disconnected from the reality.

    No normal politician (and Netanyahu is one of them even I’m totally opposed to his politics and worldviev) would prefer to be a partner of dictators and not a democracy. The government of Israel obliged to represent the national interests of Israel and to keep a non-hostile relation with the rulers of Egypt be it a dictator or the Egyptian people, their sitting on the fence was the only reasonable behaviour in this case.
    That Egypt really will become a liberal democracy is yet to be seen, but Freedman the bullshitter simply forgot that at the moment it is ruled by a military junta who abolished the constitution and one of the leaders of the secular opposition called for the renegotiation of the Camp David accord.

    Friedman says, the Israeli government frantically called the White House telling the president he must not abandon Pharaoh – and “used the opportunity to score propaganda points: ‘Look at us! Look at us! We told you so! We are the only stable country in the region, because we are the only democracy.'”

    How does he know this? Is he sitting in the phone exchange of the WH or simply fabricating imagined events? No doubt that the latter.

    He says: The US is disgusted with Israel – Let’s turn it around Israel is disgusted with Friedmann and his fellow Israel bashers of Jewish origin who know better what Israel should do, but in case of a new war with Egypt not they or they beloved have to sit in the tanks or to eat the dust in the Sinai.

  10. Pingback: Simon Tisdall’s “Arab Street” in Action Outside a Synagogue in Tunis | Solomonia

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