More than a cartoon: What Jews talk about when they talk about antisemitism

The Gerald Scarfe Sunday Times cartoon controversy has followed a familiar pattern, with some arguing that the depiction of the bloody trowel wielding Israeli Prime Minister torturing innocent souls – published on Holocaust Memorial Day – evoked the classic antisemitic blood libel, while others (including Guardian contributors and cartoonists) dissented, claiming that Scarfe had no racist intent and was merely critiquing the policies of a head of state who happened to be a Jew.

In response to some who have noted, in Scarfe’s defense, that he had previously depicted Syria’s Assad using a similar blood motif, Stephen Pollard of The JC aptly noted: “But there’s never been an anti-Alawite blood libel, and the context matters. The blood libel is central to the history of antisemitism.”

Though Scarfe may have indeed possessed no antisemitic intent whatsoever, Pollard is stressing that the effect of the cartoon simply can’t be ignored, and that historical context matters.

When we talk about antisemitism at the Guardian and ‘Comment is Free’ on this blog we’re not claiming to possess some sort of political mentalism – a piercing moral intuition which grants us access to the souls of their journalists and contributors.  Similarly, we’re not suggesting that we can ever tell with any degree of certainty that, when we argue that criticism of Israel crosses the line to antisemitism, the writer who’s the focus of our ire is necessarily haunted by dark Judeophobic thoughts.

Rather, many of us who talk seriously about antisemitism are skilled at identifying common tropes, narratives and graphic depictions of Jews which are based on prejudices, stereotypes and mythology and which have historically been employed by those who have engaged in cognitive or physical war against Jews.

Though I’m now an Israeli, an apt analogy on the moral necessity of understanding and being sensitive about the racist context of seemingly benign ideas can be derived from my experience growing up in America.

Those who grew up in the US and inherited not the guilt but the moral legacy of slavery and segregation intuitively understand that we owe African-Americans an earnest commitment to strenuously avoid employing the linguistic, cultural and political currency of racism’s tyrannical reign.  Though race relations have matured immeasurably by any standard, and codified bigotry all but eliminated, there are, nonetheless, unwritten prohibitions against language which, even though often unintended, hearkens back to the past, evoking the haunting memory of the nation’s past sins.

In America, comedians avoid black-face routines, in which white performers create a stereotyped caricature of a black person.  A mainstream newspaper wouldn’t publish a cartoon depicting an African-American as lazy and shiftless, nor would any publication present a black public figure (in any context) as  a boot licking  ‘Uncle Tom.  And, someone using the N-word (in public or private) would be rightfully socially ostracized or at least stigmatized as crude racist.

Such political taboos in America have developed organically over time in response to a quite particular historical chapter, and are recognized by most as something akin to an unwritten social contract on the issue of race.  White Americans can not ever fully understand black pain, the learned cognitive responses from their collective consciousness, but it is reasonable of them to expect that we not recklessly tread, even if without malice, on their sacred shared memory.  

Further, whites who honor this implied covenant – and avoid evoking such narratives and imagery – by and large don’t bemoan the so-called “restrictions” placed on their artistic or intellectual expression, or complain that African-Americans are stifling their free speech.  Rather, such unwritten rules, social mores and ethical norms about race are typically understood to represent something akin to a moral restitution for a previous generation’s crimes.  While in the US, the First Amendment affords legal protection to those who would engage in anti-black hate speech, it is largely understood that responsible citizenship often requires self-restraint – the greatness of a people measured by what they are permitted to do, but decide not to in order to preserve national harmony, what’s known in Judaism as Shalom bayit.  

When Jews talk seriously about antisemitism they are asking those who don’t wish to be so morally implicated to avoid needlessly poisoning the political environment which Jews inhabit.

They are appealing to the better angels of their neighbors’ nature by asking them not to carelessly conjure calumnies such as the “danger” to the world of Jewish power or conspiracies , Jews’ “disloyalty” to the countries where they live, that Jews share collective guilt for the sins of a few, that they’ve come to morally resemble their Nazi persecutors, or that Jews intentionally spill the blood of innocents.

In short, we are asking that decent people avoid employing canards which represented the major themes in Europe’s historic persecution of Jews, and which, tragically, still have currency on the extreme left, the extreme right, and, especially, in much of the Arab and Muslim world today.

The Scarfe/Sunday Times row is about more than the cartoon itself, and it is certainly not about the “right” to offend. It’s about sober but passionate pleas by a minuscule minority that decent people not afflict the historically afflicted, and to recognize their moral obligations to not provide aid and comfort to anti-Jewish racists.  

We are asking genuine anti-racists to resist becoming, even if unintentionally, intellectual partners or political fellow travelers with those who trade in the lethal narratives and toxic calumnies associated with the resilient Judeophobic hatred which has caused us immeasurable pain, horrid suffering and indescribable calamities through the ages. 

Awaiting Hillary’s ‘robust’ condemnation of offensive cartoon

A Guest Post by AKUS

cartoonI am an admirer of both Hillary and Bill Clinton, and not only because both have been supportive of the American Jewish community and Israel. 

Bill Clinton worked tirelessly trying to bring a peaceful resolution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Hilary Clinton may go down as one of the most successful and influential Secretaries of State the US has known and has also worked hard – and as fruitlessly – to try to bring some closure to that conflict. Their daughter is married to a Jewish man, son of friends of theirs.

But this week, they and the branch of the US administration that Hillary heads have failed the Jewish community in the UK, and, indeed, around the world.

When some Muslims rioted across the world following the 2005 publication (in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten) of Mohammed cartoons, Bill Clinton was swift to respond, and absurdly compared cartoons depicting Mohammed to deadly anti-Semitic cartoons depicting Jews:

[Former President Bill] Clinton: “Totally Outrageous Cartoons Against Islam”

DOHA (AFP) – Former US president Bill Clinton warned of rising anti-Islamic prejudice, comparing it to historic anti-Semitism as he condemned the publishing of cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper.

“So now what are we going to do? … Replace the anti-Semitic prejudice with anti-Islamic prejudice?” he said at an economic conference in the Qatari capital of Doha.

“In Europe, most of the struggles we’ve had in the past 50 years have been to fight prejudices against Jews, to fight against anti-Semitism,” he said.

Clinton described as “appalling” the 12 cartoons published in a Danish newspaper in September depicting Prophet Mohammed and causing uproar in the Muslim world.

“None of us are totally free of stereotypes about people of different races, different ethnic groups, and different religions … there was this appalling example in northern Europe, in Denmark … these totally outrageous cartoons against Islam,” he said.

The (George W. Bush-era) State Department also weighed in on the Europeans’ cartoon controversy. It too hastened to reference anti-Semitism and claimed equivalence with the horrendously anti-Semitic cartoons that appear daily in Arab media:

Bush Administration on 2006 Danish Cartoons: “We Certainly Understand Why Muslims Would Find These Images Offensive”

The Muslim world erupted in anger on Friday over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published in Europe while the Bush administration offered the protesters support, saying of the cartoons, ”We find them offensive, and we certainly understand why Muslims would find these images offensive.”

… The State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, reading the government’s statement on the controversy, said, ”Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images,” which are routinely published in the Arab press, ”as anti-Christian images, or any other religious belief.”

Still, the United States defended the right of the Danish and French newspapers to publish the cartoons. ”We vigorously defend the right of individuals to express points of view,” Mr. McCormack added.

When some Muslims rioted over a film made by an Egyptian born Copt living in America that mocked Islam, Hillary Clinton showed understanding for their anger:

HILLARY CLINTON: Anti-Muslim Film Is ‘Disgusting And Reprehensible’

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday called the film that helped provoke protestors to riot “disgusting and reprehensible.”

“Let me state very clearly — and I hope it is obvious — The United States government had nothing to do with this video. We absolutely reject its content and message,” Clinton said in a statement at a State Department.

Clinton said that the video’s intended purpose seemed to be inciting violence.

So now I ask – where is the condemnation from either Bill or Hillary Clinton or the US State Department that Hillary heads over the rabidly anti-Semitic cartoon that appeared in the UK’s Sunday Times on no other day than Holocaust Memorial Day?

Even if we agree that the concept of freedom of speech means that Scarfe can create and the Sunday Times publish anti-Semitism, why has Bill not found time to say something like this?

“None of us are totally free of stereotypes about people of different races, different ethnic groups, and different religions … there was this appalling example in Europe, in Great Britain … this totally outrageous cartoon directed at the Jewish people.”

Why hasn’t the State Department’s issued a statement with criticism such as this?

”We find the Sunday Times cartoon offensive, and we certainly understand why Jews would find these images offensive … anti-Semitic images are unacceptable.”

Why has Hillary not found the time to “absolutely reject” Scarfe’s cartoon as “disgusting and reprehensible … with the intent of inciting violence”?

Hillary – if it takes a village to raise a child properly, what does it take in our global village to get your attention to the increasing anti-Semitism that has become such a staple of European media and as weighty a condemnation of this “typically robust cartoon” by Gerald Scarfe” as Bill, you, and the State Department have found for other cartoons and a poorly made and initially widely ignored film promo?

British “Intelligence” and Zionist Nazi analogies

In Douglas Murray’s latest piece for The Spectator, he asked whether Jews should leave Britain, a question prompted by a piece written by Israeli journalist Caroline Glick, which she wrote after participating in an Intelligence Squared debate about Israeli settlements.

The resolution they debated was titled: “Israel is destroying itself with its settlement policy. If settlement expansion continues Israel will have no future.”

Glick and Danny Dayan, outgoing head of the Yesha Council, were pitted against William Sieghart and Lord Levy’s son, Daniel Levy (one of the founders of J-Street).

The resolution passed by a ratio of 5-1.

Murray wrote the following:

“As Glick notes in her bitter farewell to London, the audience was so hostile towards her argument that when she even mentioned the matter of Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini and his involvement with the Nazis during World War II she was booed down by the audience. They – having been presented to her as open-minded – turned out to be so close-minded and partial that they would not even hear a historical fact about a Palestinian figure who was an actual Nazi.”

However, there was actually some applause from the audience in response to the following Nazi reference made by an audience member. (I edited the full video, which can be seen here).

The dilemma in responding to such a grotesque inversion – the insidious and intellectually bankrupt assertion that Israeli Jews are the practitioners of a Nazi ideology, a charge for which many “sophisticated” Europeans, weary of Holocaust guilt and increasingly hostile to Israel, seem to enjoy as a bit of moral Schadenfreude - is whether to dignify it with a response.

Murray, who didn’t mention that particular question from the audience, strikes the correct tone in his broader reply when he contextualized the tenor of the Intelligence Squared debate by citing MP David Ward’s evocation of ‘Jewish atrocities’ during his putative commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day, as well as the cartoon by Gerald Scarfe.

Murray wrote the following:

“There is absolutely no connection between, for instance, the liquidation of hundreds of thousands of Jews in the Warsaw ghetto and the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank. There is absolutely no connection between the situation in Gaza and the herding of six million Jews into concentration camps. The wonder then is not over Scarfe or Ward’s sense of timing, but why at any point in any year they would be so keen to spread lies and to bait Jews by comparing the actions of the Jewish state with those of a genocidal doctrine of Nazism which sought to annihilate the Jews.”

While Glick’s gloomy and definitive prediction that there is no future for Jews in England seems a bit too glib, Murray’s slightly more restrained conclusion and haunting final question certainly seem sober, well-informed and depressingly apt:

“Glick’s question returns. What sort of future is there in Britain for Jews? I would submit that there is a future. But what is becoming increasingly clear is that the price of that future is that Jews will increasingly be expected to distance themselves from Israel. There is a fair amount of evidence from the Jewish community suggesting that this process is already underway. Once it is complete then those ‘good’ anti-Israel Jews will be able to proclaim victory. But the same force that they encouraged to come for their co-religionists will then just as surely come for them. And then where will they hide?”

A place where Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell can find “real” antisemitism

On the ‘Today programme on BBC Radio 4, Tuesday 29th January, there was a debate between Stephen Pollard of the Jewish Chronicle and Steve Bell, political cartoonist for the Guardian, over the Gerald Scarfe cartoon in the Sunday Times published on Holocaust Memorial Day – depicting mangled, tortured bodies being buried over with bricks laid by the bloody trowel of a sinister Israeli leader.

Pollard advanced an argument similar to the one he made so eloquently in The JC today, arguing that the cartoon slips into antisemitism because it invokes the blood libel, and while papers should always have the right to publish offensive material, possessing such freedom to offend doesn’t mean that it is always the correct decision to do so.

Bell disagreed, and argued as follows:

“Apologising for this cartoon – for once it wasn’t a bad cartoon – I think Stephen Pollard invokes terms like “the blood libel” and kind of ‘genocidal hate rage’…. he’s attributing this to a cartoon which is actually … it’s sort of like a mirror image of the cartoon Scarfe did the week before … President Assad clutching the head of a baby … not a squeak about that …

The problem with the State of Israel and the Zionist Lobby is that they never acknowledge the crime of ethnic cleansing upon which the State was founded …”

Bell’s fictitious history of Israel’s founding is as characteristic as it is malicious, as it was the tiny Jewish state which was forced, a couple of years after the Holocaust, on the day of its founding, to defend against five invading Arab armies intent on extinguishing their presence from the river to the sea.  Bell’s revisionism also excludes the shameful episode after Israel’s founding, in which hundreds of thousands of Jewish citizens of Arab countries were punished for the crime of Israel’s continued existence by being systematically expelled – that is, ethnically cleansed – from land where their ancestors had lived for hundreds of years.

Also during his debate with Pollard, Bell the historian also warned against using “the term ‘blood libel’ loosely and ridiculously”, and then added:

“Extraneous notions like ‘blood libel’ are dropped in and sensitivities are talked up .. the very word ‘antisemitic’ becomes devalued .. ‘they’ throw it around with such abandon, if there really is antisemitism it’s actually getting ignored.”

So, what does Steve Bell know about “real” antisemitism? My guess is that he doesn’t know too much. 

While Bell was all too willing to publish a cartoon (during Israel’s military operation in Gaza) depicting weak, cowardly British leaders being controlled like puppets by a powerful Jewish leader, when has he ever employed such graphic agitprop to mock “real” antisemites who occupy the landscape of the Arab Middle East?

Did the “populist” liberal satirist ever fancy the idea of caricaturing Egypt’s President Morsi, for instance, who characterized Jews as descendants of apes and pigs, and who told his fellow citizens to nurse their children on Jew hatred?

Additionally, has he ever thought to ridicule Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for engaging in Holocaust denial?

Finally, has it ever occurred to Bell to mock the ubiquitous commentators and clerics in the Arab and Muslim world who still peddle in the most bizarre Jewish conspiracy theories, such as the charge that Jews use the blood of non-Jewish children to bake their ‘Sabbath’ bread? 

If he ever decided to do so, Bell could have used text from an actual poem by a radical and quite well-known Islamist preacher – demonstrated in a UK Immigration Tribunal ruling on Feb. 8, 2012, to be a clear reference to the antisemitic blood libel - which included the following: 

“We have never allowed ourselves, and listen carefully; we have never allowed ourselves to knead the bread for the breaking [of] fasting during the blessed month of Ramadan with the blood of the children.  And if someone wants a wider explanation, then he should ask what used to happen to some of the children of Europe, when their blood used to be mixed in the dough of the holy bread.”

Of course, if Bell did decide to direct his righteous ire at those who engage in such “real” antisemitism – and perhaps even at arrogant, hypocritical media groups which have actually championed the cause of such crude and unrepentant racists – he’d be hitting just a wee bit too close to home.

A ‘Comment is Free’ essay by the extremist who evoked the “real” medieval blood libel cited above, Raed Salah, was published on April 19, 2012, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial day.

salah

Outrage over a cartoon…and yet no one died

Cross posted by Raheem Kassam, Executive Editor of The Commentator

Only on a BBC radio call-in show in Britain could you have heard listeners phoning in to express how the West would get what it has coming to it for a peasant-like film being uploaded to YouTube by some anonymous character in the United States. 

But that is precisely what I heard, when as a guest on the BBC Asian Network last year, I was asked to take part in a phone-in discussion with listeners about the “Innocence of Muslims” film. 

At the time, protests in Pakistan, Libya and other Muslim countries terrified pusillanimous Western leaders into apologising for the freedom of expression, or freedom to offend. The fallout was the death of an American ambassador and diplomatic staff, although the links to the protests in this case are spurious.

The same of course can be reflected upon of the firebombing of the Charlie Hebdo office in 2011, and of the response on the streets of Britain when a Danish newspaper published a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed. Hundreds died. Property was burned. Unknown numbers of people were injured.

Against this backdrop, I have been assessing the implications of the Benjamin Netanyahu cartoon over the past 48 hours. 

The Commentator, as you know, first reported the extraordinarily offensive cartoon on Sunday morning, noting the invocation of the long-standing blood libel against the Jewish people. Many have argued, that the cartoon depicting a big-nosed, blood-loving Netanyahu is nowhere near as offensive as depicting Prophet Muhammed as a terrorist, or similar.

I would argue that actually, the Netanyahu cartoon was worse. Not for ‘criticising’ the Israeli leader, but rather, for invoking the Der Stumer-esque view that the Jews have big noses and dabble in the blood of Arabs or Muslims. This is outright racism. The Mohammed cartoons, were (distasteful) parodies against a singular religious figure, not the demonisation of an entire people.

But even if you don’t buy that – and really, I understand if you don’t because it’s quite a fine line – then upon taking the two incidents as equal, and asserting that the freedom to offend should remain paramount, I would tend to agree with you

The fact is, the Sunday Times exercised its right to offend this past Sunday, on Holocaust Memorial Day, thus making its blood libel doubly, trebly, quadruply more offensive. And indeed, the appropriate levels of offence were taken.

But you didn’t see rioting in the streets, or the calls for the beheading of the perpetrators of the cartoon. You may have heard moans of the decline of Western civilisation, but you never heard encouragement towards it. In fact, the response to the Sunday Times cartoon was quite the opposite of what we’ve seen in recent years when religions take offence.

There were articles, quotes, comments, letters, political interventions and more. But never did the outcry overspill, and only ever was there a call towards more civility, not less.

Now, to be clear, we know full well that Muslim communities around the world, by and large, were not rioting and inciting violence after Mohammed was depicted in a provocative fashion – but it is these ‘moderate Muslims’ who must work to bring their house in order, casting out the crazies, expunging the extremists, declaring vehemently and repeatedly, “Not in my name.” 

It is these demons that Muslims in West still have to overcome – and until they do, they can claim no moral high ground over offences they feel are perpetrated towards them. 

Matt Seaton’s caricature of courage

The highly criticized cartoon published in The Sunday Times on Holocaust Memorial Day – depicting mangled, tortured Palestinians being buried over with bricks laid by the bloody trowel of a sinister Israeli leader – was defended by  in Haaretz on Jan. 28 as “grossly unfair” but “not antisemitic”.

Here’s the cartoon by Gerald Scarfe that we posted about yesterday, and which The Sunday Times editor has since defended as “typically robust“.

content_photo-2

While much has been written about the cartoon – and the timing of its publication – the Haaretz contributor offers a dissenting view, one which, though I believe to be misguided, is nonetheless clearly thought through, well-informed and serious.

However, one particular word used by a Guardian editor on Twitter to characterize Pfeffer’s defense of Scarfe’s work caught my eye.

Here’s the Tweet by Matt Seaton, the Guardian’s editor of the US edition of ‘Comment is Free’.

Seaton’s Tweet, suggesting that it took ‘courage’ for Pfeffer to defend Scarfe, represents a good illustration of the moral conceit often displayed by such contrarians – those whose opinions about Israel, antisemitism and other issues place them outside the mainstream of Jewish opinion and thus must face some level of opprobrium for their views. 

However, whether we’re discussing Peter Beinart’s advocacy for boycotting Israeli companies across the green line, Ben Murane struggling with the ‘chauvinism’ of Jewish particularism, or even Antony Lerman’s polemical assaults against the very right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, the truth is that such Jews can confidently dissent from mainstream opinion with impunity.

Similarly, the only penalty that the contributor for the leftist Israeli daily will have to face for arguing that Jews, and others, are mistaken in their characterization of the Scarfe cartoon as antisemitic is, of course, dissenting opinions from those who take issue with his view.

Writers who trade in unpopular ideas within the political safety net that liberal, democratic societies provide them shouldn’t be so thin-skinned as to expect that freedom of speech requires freedom from criticism, and so vain as to fancy themselves, or their political fellow travelers, courageous for having to withstand such critiques.

Guardian travel tip – a 2-for-1 opportunity for the “Guardian Community”

A guest post by AKUS

This little travel tip popped up alongside an article on the Guardian’s website.

1

Yes – if Auschwitz if not enough for one day – visit the fabulous salt-mines nearby for extra value! Make sure to send this great travel tip to all your friends:

1

After overcoming my uneasy feeling at the casual juxtaposition of these two tours, and the advertising pitch urging you to save by enjoying both in one package, a quick search on Google turned up numerous similar offers. There is apparently a thriving tourist business in and around Krakow (with several companies like Krakow Discovery competing for the tourist Euro) offering tours with experienced drivers to make sure no-one gets left at Auschwitz and, it seems, a low-cost way to overcome the impact of the concentration camp experience by viewing the famous salt mine, a UNESCO Heritage site in one day at one low price.

This is a strange example of “the banality of evil” – who in Auschwitz could have imagined that their death camp would one day be coupled with a money-saving offer to visit a famous underground World Heritage Site? What is next – a money-saving day trip to a Rwandan massacre site coupled with a safari, with experienced drivers?

But perhaps the Guardian should be a little more selective in allowing its readers to offer such ‘exciting’ and ‘valuable’ opportunities to its “community”?

How one British paper decided to depict living Jews on Holocaust Memorial Day

H/T to Raheem at The Commentator

In my 2010 report published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs about antisemitic cartoons, I noted that political cartoons often have more of an immediate impact in reinforcing negative stereotypes than a lengthy essay.  They express ideas which are easy to understand, and thus represent an efficient way to transmit hate and prejudices, including antisemitism.

While the largest output of antisemitic cartoons nowadays comes from the Arab and Muslim world, some “respectable” European papers have published graphic depictions of Jews evoking classic Judeophobic stereotypes.

Some of the core motifs of antisemitic cartoons are Jews as absolute evil; imagery equating Israel with Nazi Germany; Jewish conspiracies; Zionists controlling the world; and variations of the blood libel.

While mainstream Western papers avoid explicitly promoting the blood libel, variations of this theme – suggesting in cartoon and in prose that bloodthirsty Israeli Jews intentionally kill innocently Palestinians (often children) – have been published at popular sites.  For instance, one of the most popular news sites in the Anglo world, The Huffington Post, posted a cartoon in 2012 by notorious antisemitic cartoonist, Carlos Latuff, which clearly conveyed the idea that the Israeli Prime Minister was murdering Palestinian babies to gain votes in the upcoming election, suggesting that baby killing was supported by the Israeli public.

A similar motif of infanticide appeared in a 2003 cartoon by Dave Brown in the progressive British daily The Independent. The cartoon shows Sharon eating the head of a Palestinian baby and saying, “What’s wrong? Have you never seen a politician kissing a baby? It won Britain’s 2003 Political Cartoon of the Year Award.

The following cartoon was published at The Sunday Times (the largest-selling ‘serious’ British national Sunday newspaper) today, Jan. 27, International Holocaust Memorial Day.

content_photo-2

In case you didn’t notice, the text reads ‘Will Cementing Peace Continue?’, an apparent allusion to Israeli construction across the green line.

However, the Sunday Times cartoonist decided to depict such building as not only injurious to peace, but (as the bloody, mangled bodies being buried over with cement, laid by the bloody trowel of a sinister Israeli Prime Minister) as a sadistic act of violence against innocents in order to gain votes in the Israeli election.  

In light of the Sunday Times’ decision to publish a cartoon on Holocaust Memorial Day depicting a blood-lusting Jewish leader, as well as recent comments by British MP David Ward suggesting that, on Holocaust Memorial Day, Jews should learn to stop “inflicting atrocities on Palestinians”, as well as other routine debasements of Holocaust memory, here’s a simple, if counter-intuitive request to those who believe that the Holocaust means anything at all:

Spare us your Holocaust pieties, your monuments, your memorials, museums and days of remembrance, and consider that, instead of honoring Jews murdered over 65 years ago, you may want to begin, instead, to honor Jews who are still among us.

There are many ways to show reverence for a tiny minority which has somehow survived despite the best efforts, past and present, of practitioners of homicidal antisemitism. However, the especially morally righteous among you may wish to gain a basic understanding of the precise manner in which Jews have been caricatured, vilified, demonized and dehumanized prior to pogroms, massacres and genocides, studiously avoid advancing narratives or creating graphic depictions which evoke such antisemitic imagery, and righteously condemn those who do so.

You can not undo the horrors inflicted upon six million souls, but you can live your life with a steely determination to never again allow lethal, racist narratives about living Jews to go unchallenged, and to assiduously fight efforts to reintroduce such toxic calumnies into the “respectable” public discourse. 

The Guardian’s Michael Cohen & terrorist atttacks which ‘help’ the peace process

While reading Israel related reports and commentary at the Guardian and ‘Comment is Free’, as an Israeli citizen, I’m often struck by the fact that that the narrative which is often advanced about the Jewish state has little, if any, resemblance to the place I live.

The Guardian’s analysis of the Israeli election, for instance, got it almost totally wrong, with claims made by their Middle East editor, Jerusalem correspondent, and other journalists of that ‘inevitable’ dangerous right-ward shift never materialized. Additionally, Arab voter turnout was significantly higher than predicted – with 58% of Israel’s Arab citizens participating in recent election, a percentage which is actually a bit higher than the overall US voter turnout in the 2012 Presidential elections.

Moreover, typically, Guardian reporters and commentators completely misunderstand what the term “right” even means in the Israeli political context. Unlike in the US, for instance, where “right-wingers” are typically “right” (conservative) on issues such as healthcare, abortion rights, gay rights, and gun rights, in Israel there is universal healthcare, the overwhelming majority of women seeking to end unwanted pregnancies are legally free to do so, Israel is one of the most progressive countries in the world in legislating equality for sexual minorities, and has a comparatively low rate of civilian gun ownership.

While there are indeed political divisions in Israeli society, such as the religious-secular divide, and differences on the desired level of social benefits, the increasing political consensus on national security issues – particularly on the Palestinian issue – is often cited as proof that the electorate has moved right.

Such a rightward shift on this vital but narrow issue includes skepticism about the wisdom, efficacy  and political logic of the Oslo Peace Process formula – an increasingly belief, based on the Palestinian terror war of 2000-2004, the failure of Israeli withdrawal from S. Lebanon to weaken Hezbollah, the thousands of rocket attacks launched by Hamas upon Israel’s unilateral retreat from Gaza in 2005, the PA’s refusal to accept Israeli offers in both 2000 and 2008 of Palestinian statehood, and a Palestinian culture which promotes antisemitism and incitement.

As polls indicate, it’s not at all that Israeli have lost their desire to one day achieve peace but, rather, most citizens have developed a healthy degree of skepticism regarding the ‘land for peace’ formula – political calculus which represents conventional wisdom within the mainstream media and the Guardian, and yet is almost never critically scrutinized. Indeed, when it comes to the chimera of a peaceful two-state solution, the views of Palestinian – who increasingly side with Hamas on such issues - are rarely explored.

Not only is this Israeli political dynamic – which, based on the stubborn reality of the last 20 years, increasingly eschews grandiose, idealistic ideas for peace which assume Palestinian best intentions – typically ignored, but commentator hostile to Israel are increasingly heard confidently claiming that Israel, in fact, doesn’t know what’s in its best interest.

Many citizens of the Jewish state understandably chafe at the hubris of Americans, Brits and others not invested in the political outcomes of proposals they are suggesting, which inspires a belief – by virtue of their sophistication, or academic pedigree – are in fact more clear-eyed and rational than Israelis when analyzing vital national security issues.

The latest ‘Comment is Free’ piece by Guardian columnist Michael Cohen ‘Israel’s election leaves slim opportunity for Obama to push two-state solution’ represents a perfect example of the enormous disconnect between ordinary Israels and foreigners who claim they are looking out for the state’s best interest.

Cohen argues that, despite the unexpected outcome of the Israeli elections, and a new Knesset which will lead a bit more to the center, there still is no significant hope that “Obama” will be able to successfully “push a two-state solution” on an intransigent Jewish electorate  - and suggests, per the ubiquitous pre-election coverage, that Israel is sliding towards the political abyss.

While Cohen’s over 1800 word essay characteristically all but ignores the role Palestinians play in the putative peace process – as denying moral agency to those perceived to be victims increasingly represents leftist de rigueur – an even more striking example of Cohen’s seemingly complete lack of empathy towards Israeli Jews can be seen in the opening passages, where he writes the following:

More than a decade ago, the Israeli government began construction on what is today known as the separation barrier – a 430-mile long planned construction project of fences, guardposts and checkpoints that provides, literally, a buffer between Israel proper and the Palestinian residents of the West Bank….

While the fence’s effectiveness in curbing terrorism is more perception than reality, Palestinian attacks inside Israel have decreased significantly since the early 2000s, when bus bombings and suicide attacks were weekly, even daily occurrences. Thus, for Israelis correlation became causation.

One might be inclined to believe that this more peaceful situation would make Israelis more inclined to make difficult choices for peace. With security improved, peace could then follow; or so the argument went.

And yet, the barrier – and the general improvement in security within Israel – has had a perverse opposite effect. Free from fear of attack when sending their children to school, or getting on a bus, or meeting friends in a café, Israelis decided that the status quo was pretty good. Rather than seek the uncertainty of peace, they could just as easily maintain the occupation of the West Bank without risk of greater terrorism.

So, instead of increasing the likelihood of a peace agreement with the Palestinians, the fence helped to decrease its possibility. The false sense of long-term tranquility it fostered has become, in part, the foundation of the mass delusion in Israeli society that the current status quo of Palestinian disenfranchisement can continue ad infinitum.

From that perspective, the results of Tuesday’s Knesset vote in Israel can, tortured analogy aside, be considered the “separation barrier election”….

Beyond Cohen’s erroneous suggestion that the security fence may not in fact have reduced Palestinian terrorist attacks, the subsequent text in the passages cited are truly astonishing in their failure of both logic and basic human empathy.

Cohen’s arguing that any reduction in the number of violent attacks on Jewish civilians initiated by groups hostile to Israel’s very existence, has an injurious impact on the peace process.  In addition to the fact that he ignores Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, and Ehud Olmert’s offer to the Palestinian of a contiguous Palestinian state with eastern Jerusalem as their capital – both of which occurred after terrorism has dramatically declined as the result of the fence and other security measures – the necessarily corollary of his argument is that suicide bombing, sniper fire, and rocket attacks, and other such murderous acts committed with impunity, would have helped the peace process!

The degree of Cohen’s malice, or at least callous indifference, towards the lives of Israeli men, women and children is only matched by the risible political logic. He’s suggesting that only with a gun to their collective heads – and the necessity of burying more of their dead – will the obstinate Israelis take leaps of faith necessary for an agreement with the Palestinians.

In addition to the astonishing moral callousness, the speciousness of Cohen’s broader logic, and implicit political assumptions, is remarkable.

Contrary to his obviously “sophisticated” inference, despite the reduction of terror attacks in Israel, citizens of the Jewish state have noticed that the relative diminution of deadly assaults doesn’t mean that terrorists haven’t been doing their best to carry them out.  For instance, since 2000, there has been over 8000 rocket attacks from Gaza since Israel unilateral disengagement from the territory in 2005, and more than 1400 in 2012 alone.  Further, the IDF’s ability to thwart terror attacks emanating from the West Bank doesn’t mean that terrorists have stopped trying. In 2012, according to the Shin Bet, there were 578 attempted terror attacks in the West Bank and 272 in Jerusalem. Additionally, an increasing number of attacks involved firearms and explosives.

Much of Israeli reluctance to withdraw from more territory in the absence of iron-clad security arrangements, is motivated by the understandable fear that the absence of IDF forces, and territorial buffer zones, which would be necessitated by the creation of Palestinian state, would inevitably empower terrorists in the nascent state to launch more and deadlier attacks on its citizens.  Israeli don’t have the luxury, as Cohen does, of blindly assuming Palestinian best intentions, that statehood will result in a serious decrease in antisemitism and a culture of martyrdom, or simply hoping that an Islamist terrorist regime won’t one day assume power in the West Bank (and possibly eastern Jerusalem) in a manner similar to Hamas’s ascendancy in Gaza.

Israel’s hesitancy in trusting the Palestinians is one nurtured by a clear analysis of recent history, and a sober understanding of the motivations of our enemies.

Finally, just as those living in the Jewish state are reluctant to trust that Palestinians who today are preaching hate and violence in mosques, schools and in the media will suddenly become doves and promote co-existence between Arabs and Jews once a Palestinian state is created, we are also increasingly find it difficult to take leftists like Cohen seriously when they assure us they have our backs while simultaneously suggesting that perhaps some new Jewish bloodletting is what the Israeli body politic requires to save the peace process.

Turn David Ward’s vile charge on its head

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As CST and others have reported, British MP David Ward (Liberal Democrat, Bradford East) recently decided to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, observed internationally on Jan. 27 (the day, in 1945, that Auschwitz was liberated), by grossly debasing Holocaust memory.

On his website, there is an entry with the following title: ‘Bradford MP condemns Israel for treatment of Palestinians on the day he signs the Holocaust Memorial Day Book of Commitment’.

It begins thus:

Sunday January 27th will mark the 68th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi concentration and extermination camp which is the site of the largest mass murder in history. In the weeks running up to the day, the Holocaust Educational Trust placed a Book of Commitment in the House of Commons, giving MPs the chance to honour those who were persecuted and killed during the Holocaust and encouraging constituents to work together to combat prejudice and racism today.

Then there is a quote from Ward himself:

Having visited Auschwitz twice – once with my family and once with local schools – I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.

While some have rightfully focused on the morally obscene comparison between casualties as the result of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the Nazi extermination of six million Jew, there’s an element of Ward’s quote which is even more disturbing. It is the “they-of-all-people” argument: the suggestion that Jews, having faced unimaginable persecution, should know better than anyone not to be oppressors.

As Howard Jacobson argued, the argument leaves the Jewish people doubly damned: to the Holocaust itself and to elevated moral scrutiny as a result of it.  By this logic, Jacobson argued, “the Holocaust becomes an educational experience from which Jews were ethically obliged to graduate summa cum laude, Israel being the proof that they didn’t.”

Further, as Chas Newkey-Burden so eloquently argued, those who employ the “they of all people” argument are, in essence, saying that it is Jews, and not the antisemites, who have lessons to learn – that it is Jews, not the antisemites, who need to clean up their act. 

Newkey-Burden:

“The Holocaust followed centuries of slander, persecution, violence and murder committed by gentiles against Jews. So it is not you who have an increased responsibility to behave morally, but us.

For instance, something that we gentiles should know better than to do is lazily accuse Jewish people, or the Jewish state itself, of any misdemeanour. We have seen what centuries of slander against the Jewish people led to during the 1930s and ’40s. We see the hatred, heartbreak and bloodshed that such anti-Jewish libels continue to provoke, particularly in the Middle East.

Yet much of the world still continues to delight in damning Israel with indecent haste. From Al Dura (the false claim that Israeli forces murdered a boy in Gaza) to Jenin, from the Goldstone Report to the Gaza flotilla; time and again the world has found Israel guilty of a particular crime before all the evidence was available. When the full picture emerged and exonerated Israel it was too late to undo the damage. We gentiles, of all people, should know better.”

Newkey-Burden’s urgent moral plea to resist those who would so debase Holocaust memory ends thusly:

“Let us strip the “they-of-all-people” argument down to its very basics: gentiles telling Jews that we killed six million of your people and that as a result it is you, not us, who have lessons to learn; that it is you, not us, who need to clean up your act. It is an argument of atrocious, spiteful insanity. Do not accept it; turn it back on those who offer it. For it is us, not you, who should know better.”

Turn David Ward’s vile charge on its head!

Postcard from Israel – Almond blossom

The wild almond trees are already in bloom in Israel – just in time for the holiday of Tu B’Shvat which begins this evening. Wishing all those readers celebrating a happy and tasty holiday! 

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Wild almond trees overlooking the Hula Valley

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Wild Almond blossom

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Wild almond tree

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Wild almond blossom

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Cultivated almond trees in bloom on the Gilboa

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Cultivated almond groves

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Wild almond trees on the Israeli – Lebanese border, near Malkiya

What the Guardian won’t report: Israel’s thriving, liberal democracy

Our friends at CAMERA wrote the following, in a post titled ‘Where’s the coverage? Israel the Only Free Country in the Middle East, Jan. 23, the day after yet another free and fair Israeli election.

Maybe they were too busy bemoaning the state of Israel’s democracy to do any actual reporting, but the mainstream news media [as well as the Guardian] completely ignored a report by Freedom House, an independent watchdog group dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world, that rated Israel as the only free country in the Middle East.

As we noted in a post on Jan. 22, predictions by Guardian journalists, analysts and commentators that Israel’s democracy was in decline – and that the Jewish state was lurching towards an extreme right political abyss – were proven wildly inaccurate.

CAMERA continues:

In the 2013 edition of its annual report, “Freedom in the World,” the organization wrote: “Israel remains the region’s only Free country. In recent years, controversies have surrounded proposed laws that threatened freedom of expression and the rights of civil society organizations. In most cases, however, these measures have either been quashed by the government or parliament, or struck down by the Supreme Court.”

In other words, Israel’s democracy works. By contrast, both Gaza, under Hamas, and the West Bank, under the Palestinian Authority were rated “Not Free,” as was Jordan. Lebanon and Egypt ranked as merely “Partly Free.”

To look at a map of world freedom, click on this link. You’ll have to enlarge it quite a bit to see the sliver of green freedom that is Israel in the sea of yellow (“partly free”) and purple (“not free”) that is the Middle East and North Africa.

Here’s a snapshot of the Freedom House political freedom map, with a red arrow pointing to the sliver of democracy in the Middle East.

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CAMERA adds:

Given the hyper-focus on Israel by the press, one might expect news outlets to at least mention this positive evaluation of the Jewish State. However, although Israeli and Jewish outlets reported the Freedom House study, CAMERA could not locate any mainstream news media that covered it. More embarrassing still, even Egypt’s Daily News wrote: “Egypt is now one of six countries in the Middle East that is classified by Freedom House as “partly free”. Eleven are classed as “not free”, while Israel is the region’s only “free” country.

A newspaper in a country that has only recently been upgraded to “partly free” covered Israel’s “free” ranking but news outlets in “free” countries did not.

One has to ask, why the hesitancy to report something positive about Israel’s democracy? 

While there are many factors which explain why the Guardian ignores evidence of Israel’s clear democratic advantages in the region, one of the most central is the ideological orientation of the Guardian Left which typically reduces complicated political phenomena down to a binary David vs. Goliath paradigm.

Such framing nurtures coverage of the region which routinely characterizes Israeli leaders, even in the context of fair and free democratic elections, as extremely “right-wing”, while avoiding such pejorative depictions of even the most reactionary Palestinian leaders.  

Indeed, as Simon Plosker observed, such a political orientation inspired the Guardian to describe Mahmoud Abbas, in one editorial, as the “most moderate Palestinian leader”.  Abbas is similarly framed as a “moderate” by Guardian journalists and CiF commentators despite the fact that the Palestinian President is currently serving the 8th year of a 4 year term, has engaged in Holocaust denial, and leads a government which promotes martyrdom and antisemitic incitement, and severely oppresses women, gays, religious minorities, critical Palestinian journalists and political opponents.  

Further, it simply strains credulity to imagine that a new independent Palestinian Arab state in the West Bank would be truly democratic, any more liberal, or nominally respect the human rights of its citizens. 

However, as long as Israeli politics are myopically viewed through the ideologically skewed filter of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, even the most intuitive evidence regarding the extreme right political center of gravity within Palestinian society on one hand, and the Jewish state’s liberal, democratic advantages on the other, will continue to be downplayed or ignored.

‘Comment is Free’ editors finally suspend user privileges of white supremacist

On Jan. 16 we posted about a Guardian reader whose commenting privileges were not suspended despite the fact that he made racist remarks, including the promotion of Holocaust denial, beneath a Guardian story about Holocaust education in the UK.  We additionally noted how peculiar it was that his user profile remained at ‘Comment is Free’ despite the fact that it contained a link to a white supremacist site called ‘British Resistance‘.

We identified the right-wing extremist – who uses the online moniker of ‘CorshmCrusader’ – as Mark Kennedy, a Nazi sympathizer who is actually the deputy editor of ‘British Resistance’, and asked CiF Watch readers to consider contacting ‘Comment is Free’ editors to inquire why he hadn’t been banned.

Today we finally learned that ‘CorshmCrusader’s profile has indeed been removed by ‘Comment is Free’ editors.

Here’s what you see when try to open the user’s link:

profile not available

Many thanks to those of you who responded to our request, emailed CiF editors and helped us get this extremist removed from the Guardian.

 

Guardian editorial on Israeli vote ignores their own erroneous political predictions

While we’re quite accustomed to Guardian reporters and commentators completely re-writing Israeli history, an editorial on the results of the Israeli election re-writes their own history by ignoring their entire body of work on the subject prior to the Jan. 22 vote.

The official Guardian editorial, Israel: the new normal, is, to be sure, characteristically imperious and hubristic towards the “truculent” Jewish state, but also concedes – based on the likelihood that Netanyahu will be forming a centrist coalition – that “the Israeli voter rejected “the far right”.

However, the editorial also briefly touches on those political observers who didn’t for a second believe that the Israeli center would hold:

“In the end, the crown prince of Israeli politics was not the dotcom millionaire who would annex 60% of the West Bank. He was neither of the far nor the national religious right, as many had confidently predicted.”

So, who precisely were these arrogant prognosticators who got it so terribly wrong?

Here’s a graphic look back at the headlines and passages published by the media group which they may be referring to.

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‘Comment is Free contributor, Rachel Shabi

2

Guardian’s Middle East Editor, Ian Black

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Ian Black

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Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent, Harriet Sherwood

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Ian Black is Gloomy and Inaccurate

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Observer’s foreign affairs editor, Peter Beaumont

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Again, Harriet Sherwood

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Harriet Sherwood cites a piece by the New Yorker’s David Remnick,  to confirm Israel’s rightward shfit

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Guardian journalist, Jonathan Freedland

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Jonathan Freedland asks why the Israeli move right – which didn’t in fact happen – was happening.

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Freedland also cites wisdom of ‘New Yorker’ contributor on Israel’s “endless” move right 

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Once again, Harriet Sherwood

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Guardian’s Middle East ‘Live’ Blog post edited by John Henley 

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Guardian publishes two letters from readers affirming Guardian analysis of Israel’s move to the right

As Adam Garfinkle recently observed, in a thoughtful piece about coverage of the Algerian hostage crisis, much of the media often sees what they expect to see, and thus ignores all evidence that “does not fit with [their] framing of the situation”.

Whilst I’ve been following the Guardian far too long to be so foolish as to expect anything resembling a mea culpa from their editors in response to such an egregious misreading of the Israeli electorate, it would truly be a gift to their readers if they were to even briefly acknowledge the limits of their capacity to interpret Israeli political phenomena unfiltered by their preconceived, ideologically inspired, conclusions.

‘Comment is Free’ contributor claims 1967 Six Day War was act of Israeli aggression

Raja Shehadeh is a Palestinian Arab who’s the former director of the Palestinian NGO Al-Haq, a radical group which has characterized Palestinian terror attacks as legitimate “resistance” and is currently being led by Shawan Jabarin, a Palestinian with alleged ties to the PFLP terrorist group.

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The Guardian posted a video on Oct. 9, 2012 of an interview with Shehadeh in which he casually suggested that Israel’s goal was to ethnically cleans Palestinians, so his latest “analysis” on Palestinians’ views about yesterday’s Israeli election, ‘Israel’s elections mean little to most Palestinians – with good reason‘, ‘Comment is Free’, Jan. 23, should come as no surprise.

Shehadeh didn’t waste any time contextualizing what he characterized as Palestinian indifference to the particular results of the Israeli election by evoking the political parallel of disenfranchised blacks under South African apartheid, and soon pivoted to the following additional fiction:

“Since the beginning of the occupation more than 44 years ago, no Israeli government has indicated willingness to accept that its status is that of an occupier of territory acquired through a belligerent war, and consequently been willing to withdraw from these areas and hand them over either to the surrounding Arab states or to a newly created sovereign, independent Palestinian state.”

The idea that Israel acquired territory in June 1967 though a “belligerent war” is a gross historical lie.

The Six Day War was instigated by Arab leaders who explicitly stated that their aim was nothing less than the annihilation of Israel, while Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol did everything possible to avoid a military confrontation with the much larger Arab forces.

In the weeks leading up to the war, Egypt’s President Nasser had ejected UN peace keeping forces from Sinai and Gaza, closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, and contributed the bulk of forces to a combined Arab army – much of which was amassed along Israel’s porous borders – consisting of 500,000 troops, more than 5,000 tanks, and almost 1,000 fighter planes.  Threatening rhetoric coming from Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad included the following by Nasser on May 27 and 28, 1967:

“Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight . . . The mining of Sharm el Sheikh is a confrontation with Israel. Adopting this measure obligates us to be ready to embark on a general war with Israel.”

“We will not accept any … coexistence with Israel. … Today the issue is not the establishment of peace between the Arab states and Israel …. The war with Israel is in effect since 1948.”

Additionally, while the Soviets had begun supplying the Arabs with arms in the build-up to the war, France, Israel’s major arms supplier, had issued a complete ban on weapons sales to the Jewish state.

Israel – which, in 1967, wasn’t in control of one inch of Arab territory – was facing total isolation, and the realistic prospect of complete annihilation, when the IDF launched a successful strike on the Egyptian Air Force on the morning of  June 5, ‘officially’ beginning a war which would result in a swift Israeli victory and the acquisition of Gaza and the Sinai, from Egypt, and the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem from Jordan.

Further, contrary to the duplicitous claims made by Shehadeh, in the immediate aftermath of Israel’s victory, Arab leaders, much to the surprise of Israeli leaders, maintained their belligerence and refused to enter into direct peace talks with the Jewish state.  Instead, at a meeting of the Arab League in Khartoum in September, they pledged to continue their struggle against Israel, and insisted on no peace, no negotiations, and no recognition.

Israel would subsequently withdraw from the Sinai, in the context of a peace treaty with Egypt, and leave Gaza unilaterally.  

However, Israeli offers to withdraw from nearly all of the remaining territory held since ’67, and offer statehood (within geographically contiguous boundaries) to Palestinian Arabs – who were never offered sovereignty under Egyptian and Jordanian rule – would be rebuffed by Yasser Arafat in 2000.  The Palestinian President responded to the peace offer by initiating a bloody terror war which would last over four years and claim over a thousand Israeli lives.  (Interestingly, in 2002 Shehadeh characterized Arafat as “admirable” for not having “betrayed” his people by accepting the Israeli peace offer.)

Another offer of Palestinian statehood, which included the equivalent (with land swaps) of 100% of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and eastern Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, was rejected by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2008.

Palestinians, like Arab leaders in ’67, have continued to say no to peace and recognition of the Jewish state.

While Guardian reporters and ‘CiF’ contributors are free to be as hostile to Israel’s existence as they wish, allowing such pro-Palestinian activists the right to engage in such polemical malice, and egregious misrepresentations of history, by characterizing the Six Day War as a Zionist ‘war of aggression’ more befits a Palestine Solidarity Campaign propaganda flyer than the virtual pages of a “serious” newspaper.

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