Fisking a Guardian terror apologist’s rhetoric

Cross posted by A. Jay Adler at the Algemeiner


Glenn Greenwald

Apologia in the rhetorical tradition is not a common apology, in the simple sense of “sorry,” though it may fulfill that purpose. It may decidedly not. Apologia is a defense against accusation. Plato gave us Socrates’s Apology, which was not. In the religious tradition, apologia is known as apologetics. Apologetics are a defense of doctrine, certainly not an apology for it. One of the features of apologia as a rhetorical form is its variety of type, from outright apology to outright rejection of any need for one.

In between we may see explanation or justification, evasion of responsibility, minimization of the offense, and more. One tactic of the apologia seeks to draw convoluting distinctions, or conversely, to eliminate clarifying distinctions, in order to redefine the terms of the offense so as to rationalize it away.

The post 9/11 era has been a veritable golden age of terrorist apologia. Of course, we have always had it. “Let them eat cake,” in the context in which it was purportedly said, even before the French Revolution, is a form of terrorist apologia: it seeks, as one type, to reduce the offense. And today’s golden age stands on the shoulders of the classical age of Marxist-Leninist apologia. Got a problem with dictatorship as a form of terror? How about bourgeois dictatorship to justify the supposed proletarian replacement for it?

“The most democratic bourgeois republic is no more than a machine for the suppression of the working class,” said Lenin at the First Communist International.

It is the “no more” that is really rich. One tactic of terror apologia, the muddying of distinctions, attempts to turn the solid ground of complexity into the swamp of confusion. Terror apologia does this in order to erase the useful meanings of the words that can be used against the source of the terror. So Marxists attacked the meaning of democracy. They defanged the threat of dictatorship. Slavoj Zizek authors a book entitled Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? in defense of – guess. Now, whereas Marxists in their revolutionary ascendance championed revolutionary terror, terror apologists frequently argue that the word, used these days against the interests they defend, has no meaning.

Events of recent weeks – the Boston bombings and the savage murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in London – have delivered a new round of rank and ill-reasoned apologias for terrorism, offered in the same low and recognizable style that took shape immediately after 9/11. They provide a source for some rough notes toward a rhetoric of terror apologia. As it happens one source readily serves to provide much of these early notes. England’s Guardian, apparently intent on establishing not only that it has hit the bottom of the barrel in its political commentary, but is determinedly scraping it, hired away from Salon Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald is that terror apologist who has yet to encounter the hackneyed thought he will not think or the trite articulation he will not utter. A former civil liberties attorney, he refers to himself these days as a writer, but surely that is only in the mechanical sense.

Any nascent rhetoric of terrorist apologia has to begin with the key term itself.

“Terrorism” is a meaningless term

Greenwald and his confreres assert this regularly. Last year, in his final column for Salon, Greenwald wrote,

That is what Terrorism is: a term of propaganda, a means of justifying one’s own state violence — not some objective field of discipline in which one develops “expertise.”

He concluded by affirming,

It is a telling paradox indeed that this central, all-justifying word is simultaneously the most meaningless and therefore the most manipulated.

Greenwald was writing there about what he and others refer to as a “terrorism expert industry.” He was drawing on the work of his favorite scholar on the subject, Remi Brulin, who has studied the use of the word terrorism post World War II and particularly beginning with U.S. counter-insurgency efforts in Central America in the 1980s under Reagan. Brulin also ties this development to Israeli adoption of the term after the Six-Day War to refer to Arab – well, excuse me, but I cannot find a more accurate word – terrorism against it.

As recently as last week, as part of a back and forth with Andrew Sullivan over the murder of Rigby, Greenwald claimed that

it is difficult to devise a definition of “terrorism” that encompasses this attack while excluding large numbers of recent acts by the US, the UK and many of their allies and partners.

Later in the same piece, Greenwald referred to the work of another scholar, Harvard’s Lisa Stampnitzky, whose book

makes the argument indicated by its title: “Disciplining Terror: How Experts Invented ‘Terrorism’”. The functional meaninglessness of the term “terrorism” and its highly manipulative exploitation are vital to several political agendas.

We see in these quotations, two of the primary tactics of terror apologia. The first is to muddy the waters so as to render the term terrorism ineffective in designating the barbarisms of contemporary Islamists and of other movements, such as the Iraqi and Taliban insurgencies and the Second Palestinian Intifada, that utilized for instance, the tactic of suicide bombing and, in some cases, beheading. By asserting that the term is misapplied, even purposely misused, and by repeating programmatically that it is thus meaningless, the intent is to render it just that.

At the same time, a covert counter effort is being pursued. When Greenwald says that “it is difficult to devise a definition of ‘terrorism’ that encompasses this attack while excluding large numbers of recent acts by the US, the UK and many of their allies and partners,” such a declaration aims at multiple effects. One is that terrorism is effectively disempowered as a meaningful designation of the automobile, hacking and beheading attack on Rigby. A contrary effect is that the referenced U.S., U.K. and allied war activities now become stuck with the term.

What are they talking about? the not unsympathetic reader of Greenwald thinks – look at those invaded countries, those dead children from Western air attacks. They’re the terrorists.

(Greenwald accompanied this commentary with, of course, a photograph of dead Afghan children. A whole other, visual rhetoric is developing around the use of dead children images.)

A third possible effect, no less possible because self-contradictory, is that the pure sense of the terrorizing nature of such acts as those by Islamists is diminished, the force of moral censure lessened – aided, additionally, by that claim that Islamist acts are “blowback” – even as the conviction grows that Western acts are themselves terroristic, and original, in nature. The definitional challenge, then, is actually quite a clever stratagem: to employ a chess metaphor, it is a move that sacrifices a rook (any claim to meaning for the word terrorism) with the prospect not only of capturing the Queen (loosening the connection to Islamist acts) but of checkmating the King as well (strengthening the connection to Western actions).

These are rhetorical strategies. Can we sight a true field of contest behind the screen of maneuvers? Yes, we can. Despite the efforts to obfuscate understanding of a concept and the distinctions among actual events to which a concept might apply, we can distinguish a clear concept – a meaningful definition – from faulty application.

Note, for instance this curious self-refutation. Greenwald’s go-to scholarly sources on the corrupted nature of terrorism as a concept aim their critiques specifically at expert “invention” and maintenance of the idea. Stampnitzky’s book is subtitled “How Experts Invented ‘Terrorism.’” Brulin, too, has focused his research on the role of experts in the modern development and promulgation of the idea. Greenwald titled that last post at Salon, “The sham ‘terrorism expert’ industry.

Now, what has Greenwald done in response? He has called in his own “experts” to offer a counter history and narrative.  Well, fine, that is what intellectual discourse involves, in addition to the quality of the arguments and the raw evidence – the testimony, and its quality, of experts in a field. The deciding factors in any intellectual debate will not be derisory quotation marks around a word or the sham character of the experts, but the sham character – if that it be – of the arguments.

Experts that Greenwald and his sources disapprove make one set of arguments. Greenwald and his own experts make theirs. What we want to consider, particularly with respect to argument over a word and its meaning, is the coherence of the concept being considered. One of Brulin’s particular areas of focus, and his very special objection, is to the disqualification, as part of the meaning of terror, of  state terror in application by those he believes manipulate its use today. He pays pointed attention to that U.S. support in the 80s for the regime in El Salvador, with its death squads, to which I add the U.S.’s material support for the Guatemalan government’s genocidal program against Mayan peasants during a similar period. Brulin argues that the one-sided application of the concept of terrorism only to non-state actors, in favor of the state institutions of power, diminishes the credibility of those who work with so slanted an application.

I agree. To the degree that anyone’s definition or application has been so slanted, it does diminish – fatally, I aver – that person’s credibility on the issue. Terror is terror, whoever inflicts it. “Terrorism is terrorism,” Brulin himself declared in Foreign Policy.

Ah, but according to Greenwald, that word “is simultaneously the most meaningless and therefore the most manipulated.” Notice, too, that Greenwald, crawling very far out on the phantom limb to which he is regularly drawn, does not say that the word is meaningless because it is manipulated – the common critique from his quarters – but manipulated because it is meaningless. The word, according to Greenwald, simply has no meaning. Yet even Brulin does not claim that.

In a 2010 interview with Greenwald, Brulin commented on the historical significance, in developing the contemporary understanding of terrorism as a concept, of the Israeli Jonathan Institute, named after Jonathan Netanyahu. In response to a question from Greenwald, Brulin offered,

Actually, it’s interesting, because they did come up with a definition which is more or less similar to one that you mentioned earlier in one of your pieces, meaning the one from the State Department, and it’s a very basic definition – I’m trying to find it here, yeah, it’s right here – “terrorism is the deliberate systematic murder, maiming and menacing of innocents to inspire fear in order to gain political ends.” So there is nothing that is controversial about that definition; it is very broad. It is nonspecific.

What Brulin means – what he should be meaning – when he says this definition is not controversial is that it is not political. It is not at all, as he claims, broad and nonspecific: it is clearly distinguishing of behavior and purpose, without ideological tendency, a characteristic of the definition with which both he and Greenwald should be pleased. Somehow, they are not. The distinguishing terms “deliberate,” “systematic,” and “innocents” are nonetheless vital to this definition.

Brulin then goes on to speak about how the term was politicized at the 1979 conference of which he speaks, and at a second in 1984. However, this raises the distinction once again, which Greenwald is always at pains to smear, between definition and application. It is not a distinction that, Noam Chomsky, for instance, in so many respects in sympathy with Greenwald and Brulin, fails to recognize. Well before 9/11, in 1991, Chomsky contributed to a collection, Western State Terrorism, the essay “International Terrorism: Image and Reality,” in which he began by observing, in different words, this distinction.

There are two ways to approach the study of terrorism. One may adopt a literal approach, taking the topic seriously, or a propagandistic approach, construing the concept of terrorism as a weapon to be exploited in the service of some system of power.

The “literal” approach is toward a clear, accurate, and unbiased elucidation of a concept.  The “propagandistic” approach is political, in the determination to corrupt the definition by restricted application. Chomsky’s further, explanatory “exploited in the service of some system of power” is entirely gratuitous. Exploitation of a concept in service of a biased end requires no system of power, merely an exploitative actor of any kind, like a columnist for a British daily. That addition is Chomsky’s own ideological bias irresistibly distorting his pretense of explanatory clarity. Still, the  point is made again: misapplication of a concept, distortion or manipulation of a concept, is distinct from the absence of a meaningful concept. To misuse a word by restricted application is not to rob the word of meaning, unless, that is, some people will grasp at the opportunity to achieve that end, for their own purposes.

Brulin’s purpose, in part, joined by Greenwald, was well summed by the latter in that final Salon post.

From the start, the central challenge was how to define the term so as to include the violence used by the enemies of the U.S. and Israel, while excluding the violence the U.S., Israel and their allies used, both historically and presently. That still has not been figured out, which is why there is no fixed, accepted definition of the term, and certainly no consistent application.

This description serves several ends. Again, though the distinguishing language of “definition” and “application” appear, Greenwald is incapable of holding them in his mind in clear and distinct relation to each other. More, since the purpose of this exposition is to establish the role of Israel and of “neocons,” in creating the current ideologized understanding of terrorism, there is also the subtle contribution of asserting of this role that it “still has not been figured out” – a clear call to those inclined to nefarious conspiracy mongering, which, of course, inevitably leads to this

Most importantly for this consideration, the description returns us yet once more to that apparent effort to render the word and the notion of terrorism meaningless. There is, Greenwald will repeatedly declare in differing formulations, “no fixed, accepted definition of the term.”

Is there, then, one wonders – just to choose a comparative example – a fixed and accepted definition of so profoundly important a word as “justice,” which is not yet to address any “consistent application of the concept? Just try attaching the word “social” to the notion of justice and see the arguments that ensue.

Yet the 1979 conference organized by the Jonathan Institute did arrive at a clear definition – a definition, I assert, that is the one most people, encountering or using the term, more or less have in mind. Has such a definition not been fairly applied in some quarters, and by institutions of power, to all the various manifestations of terrorism in the world? Fair and trenchant criticism. But, then, what is the goal of this criticism? To perform a balanced corrective or to, in actual effect, reverse the charge?

If we review that answer Brulin gave Greenwald on the definition of terrorism devised at the ’79 Jontahan Institute conference, we see that Brulin claimed that it “is more or less similar to … the one from the State Department.” However, this is the U.S. State Department definition:

premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.

Note that the State Department definition does, in the manner objected to by Brulin, Greenwald, and many others, restrict the understanding of terrorism to violence perpetrated by non-state actors. By this definition, the Stalinist purges (“The Great ‘Terror’”), China’s Cultural Revolution, the Argentine and Chilean disappearance campaigns of the 1970s and 80s under the Generals and Pinochet, the Killing Fields campaign of slaughter by the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, the wide array of genocidal campaigns against the world’s indigenous populations could none of them be labeled terrorism. The State Department’s definition is clearly formulated to focus attention on one kind of terrorism and away from state terror. Noam Chomsky’s description, we saw, was pointedly directed in an opposing manner, toward (“systems of power”) state terror only. The Jonathan Institute conference definition erred in neither of these directions. Yet Brulin and Greenwald quickly dismissed it.

Recall that Glenn Greenwald, in sympathy with many like him, wrote just days ago that

it is difficult to devise a definition of “terrorism” that encompasses this attack while excluding large numbers of recent acts by the US, the UK and many of their allies and partners.

How little Greenwald pays attention, even to himself. The Jonathan Institute definition referred to “the deliberate systematic murder, maiming and menacing of innocents.” However much some may think the U.S. and others screwed the pooch in Iraq or misapplied themselves at some point or other in Afghanistan, do they truly wish to argue that just as Al Qeada and its varied Islamist affiliates and sympathizers, and just as the Iraqi insurgency and the Taliban today, these Western nations engaged or are engaging in “deliberate,” in “systematic” attack on innocents? (Does Glenn Greenwald wish to claim that the images of dead children he exploits for the purpose of ideological contest in a daily newspaper were the victims of “deliberate, systematic murder”?) Well actually, some people do. We know that. Some people do argue that.

In which case, well and clear. We can argue that instead and for real, or, in some cases not – standing, we recognize, at uncorrectably cross purposes to one another. But let us not pretend, then, that the difference is over the meaning of the word terrorism. Let us not pretend that the disagreement is fundamentally definitional, linguistic, or rhetorical. There is, indeed, a rhetorical war in progress. But to reverse Clausewitz, as politics can be the continuation of war by other means, rhetoric is a continuation of politics by other means. Among its varied uses, it can smoke the battlefield and screen our movements. Some people blow a lot of smoke.

Let us be clear, instead, about where we stand, who we stand with, or against, and what we stand for.

(Next time: more notes, more rhetoric, more nonsense.)

Guardian deletes ALL reader comments from Glenn Greenwald’s Woolwich related posts (Updated)

A CiF Watcher recently informed us that every one of the comments beneath the line of Glenn Greenwald’s two Woolwich terror attack related commentaries disappeared without warning.  

Greenwald’s posts (‘Was the London killing of a British soldier ‘terrorism?’, May 23, and ‘Andrew Sullivan, terrorism and the art of distortion, May 25) both elicited an extremely large volume of comments, all of which at some point disappeared, prompting Greenwald to write the following beneath the posts.

For reasons I’ll let the Guardian explain, all of the comments to all of the columns and articles posted on the London attack were deleted, and the comment sections then closed. I hope that won’t happen to today’s column here, as the topics discussed here are not really about the attack but the broader debate about terrorism. But it’s possible that it will happen again. Those wanting to post comments should be aware of this possibility before spending your time and energy to write one.

Additionally, the comment function seems to have been turned off on every other Woolwich related commentary we could find at CiF, even beneath a post by the Guardian’s readers’ editor Chris Elliott which addressed the paper’s coverage of the attack.

Below Greenwald’s brief explanation, the Guardian has added the following:

Comments have been removed for legal reasons. Further explanation of UK law around active court cases here

The link takes you to a post by Bella Mackie, from over a year ago, titled ‘Why we sometimes turn off comments‘, which cites the Guardian’s director of editorial legal services, Gill Phillips.  Here is his explanation:

As publishers we are legally responsible for all the output that we produce whether it be news stories, comment above or below the line, and our tweets etc. This applies equally to matters of contempt as it does to matters of defamation.

Section 1 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 states that it is a contempt of court to publish material that creates a substantial risk of serious prejudice in proceedings from the period that a defendant is arrested to the date that they are sentenced or found not guilty of an offence. This is known as the active period. This provision is designed to ensure that people get a fair trial and applies once anyone has been arrested. Section 1 creates a “strict liability” offence, so intent is irrelevant.

Legally speaking, charging a suspect has no particular significance in terms of what can or cannot be reported because the active period starts on arrest. Practically speaking however, it can be said that the risks of adversely affecting a trial increase once someone has been charged, particularly with a serious offence because (i) you know there will be a trial; and (ii) you know that the trial will be before a jury; (iii) and you know that the trial will take place sooner rather than later. The closer the trial gets, arguably the greater the risk because matter will start to stick in the minds of potential jurors.

The sort of matters that traditionally have been held to be in contempt include (i) publishing anything that suggests the defendants are in fact guilty or prejudges the outcome; (ii) publishing “bad character” material or previous convictions about them; (iii) publishing derogatory matter about them; (iv) publishing any material/evidence which it is possible the jury would not be told about.

We have to be particularly cautious about tweets and about “below the line” discussions of matters which are not pre-moderated and where we cannot expect members of the public to know the subtleties of the law of contempt.

There is a defence to contempt for “fair and accurate” court reports that protects us for example in terms of reporting the Leveson inquiry, providing we do so “fairly and accurately”. Often below-the-line comments do not simply “fairly and accurately” report what was said as opposed to passing comment on it so, as we have responsibilities as the publisher of all the material on our website (whether above or below the line), we do have to be very careful about allowing comments on Leveson pieces that touch on or refer to anyone who has been arrested. Generally speaking therefore, given that we would not want to run the risk of prejudicing someone’s right to a fair trial, it is sensible for us to maintain a situation where we restrict comments on pieces once people have been arrested because of the dangers of people posting prejudicial remarks.”

Mackie then adds additional possible reasons why CiF may turn comments off, none of which seem to apply in this case.

So, did the Guardian remove all of the comments beneath Greenwald’s commentary – and turn off comments for the other Woolwich related CiF pieces – for fear of prejudicing the future trial of Michael Olumide Adebolajo and the other suspects?

Greenwald has been uncharacteristically silent about the matter on Twitter, but we’ll do our best to try keeping you updated on this strange decision by Guardian editors as more facts become available. 

UPDATE: ‘Comment is Free’ editor Natalie Hanman just posted an explanation why comments were turned off for the Woolwich related commentary. Here it is:

There has been some confusion from commenters as to why we have turned off the ability to comment on Comment is free articles about the Woolwich attack. In an ideal world, we would allow our readers to debate all of the articles we run on the site, but we felt it was sensible for us to restrict comments on these pieces because once people have been arrested there is a risk of contempt of court if users post prejudicial remarks about the case. Following consultation with our lawyers and community moderators, we will endeavour from now on, where resources allow, to have one premoderated thread on the topic open each day. Today’s article from Boya Dee is here.


‘Comment is Free’, “Neocons” and attacks against a much maligned Abrahamic faith

There have been countless reader comments about Jews at ‘Comment is Free’ far more hateful than the following, which appeared  beneath Glenn Greenwald’s latest post, ‘Who paid the Log Cabin Republican anti-Hagel NTY Ad?’, but the language used is quite instructive in several respects.

This reader comment hasn’t been deleted by CiF moderators at the time this post was published.


The interesting thing about this comment is that, despite its risible rhetorical excesses, much of it is in almost complete alignment with the dominant leftist narrative about the injurious effect of the Israel lobby on American politics.  In fact, the passage concerning the Israel lobby’s power, money and purchase of US politicians pretty much represents conventional wisdom within a segment of the American left, as well as at the Guardian.

Further, the word neocon – which refers to new conservatives who moved right due to a disenchantment with liberalism’s ideological excesses and what was perceived as its domestic policy failures, and now support conservative social policy and a US foreign policy which promotes freedom abroad –  has become one of the more popular forms of polemical abuse.  

Often it is a euphemism for Zionists (and sometimes Jews), and anyone who believe that the US should aggressively oppose the rise Islamism around the world, and (even when not used in a bigoted context) commentators such as Greenwald often use the term to paint a broad brush over all who believe the US should continue to support Israel. 

His characterization of opponents of Chuck Hagel’s possible nomination for Defense Secretary as neocons represents classic Greenwald.  

Typical is this passage from his CiF commentary:  

“…a favorite tactic of neocons – who have led the smear campaign against Hagel – is to cynically exploit liberal causes to generate progressive support for their militaristic agenda.”

As is the case with most bigoted and simplistic commentators who impute ill motives to their political opponents, Greenwald is unburdened by political nuance and thus employs the word neocon to attack Hagel’s opponents even though some of the most prominent groups who opposed the possible nomination are clearly not of the neocon persuasion.

For instance, there was significant opposition to Hagel’s nomination by decidedly liberal Jewish groups such as the American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League.  

Similarly, liberal US political leaders such as Congressman Barney Frank (one of the most prominent openly gay members of the House of Representatives) and Senator Chuck Schumer have expressed strong opposition to Hagel.

In addition to Frank, some gay advocacy organizations – which are very liberal on most issues – have similarly expressed opposition to Hagel (or at least have expressed serious reservations).

Fierce opposition to Hagel has also come from the influential liberal activist, and founder of Daily Kos, Markos Moulitsas – who has launched a campaign against the nomination.

While much of the Jewish opposition to Hagel has indeed been motivated by concerns over comments he has made thought by some to be antisemitic, and his opposition to aggressively confronting Iran, gay advocates have expressed concern over homophobic comments Hagel has made, while liberal activists like Moulitsas oppose Hagel for the simple reason that he is a staunch conservative whose views are fundamentally at odds with those of liberal Democrats.

Despite the fact that much of the opposition to Hagel’s nomination has come from those who would never identify with the values of neo-conservationism, decrying an alleged “neocon smear campaign” is an easy way of imputing sinister motivations to such opponents – by suggesting that they’re motivated not by what’s best for the US, but, rather what’s best for Israel, and that such “Israel-firsters” are willing to defame anyone who stands in their way.

Finally, the following passage in Greenwald’s essay is especially illustrative of the anti-neocon persuasion. 

“As it so often does, the [neocon] tactic has worked magically…as numerous progressives who do actually care about gay issues – from Rachel Maddow to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force – dutifully popped up to attack the neocons‘ number one public enemy. Andrew Sullivan is right that this is a classic technique of the neocon smear campaign – recruit progressives to their cause with exploitation of unrelated issues.” 

To commentators such as Greenwald, even those opposing Hagel who clearly aren’t neocons simply could not have reached their conclusions independently but, rather, as the result of being cynically manipulated by neocon trickery.    

Guardian-Left anti-neocons such as Greenwald – and their army of supporters below the line – are increasingly identified as much by their intellectual laziness, convoluted casuistry and a remarkably facile understanding of the world as they are by a willingness to trade in antisemitic calumnies. 

On CiF Watch and the fight against anti-Semitism

I was interviewed recently, on contemporary anti-Semitism and the role CiF Watch plays in combating it at the Guardian and Comment is Free, by Daniel Vahab, a freelance writer who’s currently conducting research for a book he’s writing on anti-Semitism.

He published an edited version of my response in his newsletter

DV: What is CiF Watch?

AL: CiF Watch is a media monitor focused on monitoring and exposing anti-Semitism in the UK Guardian newspaper blog known as “Comment is Free” (commonly known as CiF). As CiF Watch has evolved, our mandate has expanded to more generally combat the assault on Israel’s legitimacy in both Comment is Free and in the Guardian’s online edition.

The Guardian newspaper and its blog, Comment is Free, are renowned for promulgating both anti-Semitic and anti-Israel narratives and have been singled out by the Community Security Trust (the ADL equivalent in the UK) as one of the major purveyors of anti-Semitic discourse in the UK.

As the only media monitor singularly focused on the Guardian’s assault on Israel’s legitimacy, since the nearly 2 years from its launch, CiF Watch has become the leading website combating delegitimization in the UK.

CiF Watch hired me as their managing editor in July, 2010.   Professionally, my background included working for the ADL and NGO Monitor and an evolving expertise in anti-Semitism in the progressive mass media.

DV: Please describe some of the correlations you encountered with antisemitism. And do you see antisemitism as increasing?

AL: First, traditional correlations are often no longer valid. While most anti-Semites in the past in the US were on the Right, data demonstrates that today it is more prevalent on the Left. And, whereas conventional wisdom would suggest that those who are poorer and less educated would be more inclined to be anti-Semitic, today there is evidence to suggest that that also is no longer the case. Other than paleoconservatives (such as Pat Buchanan), the most popular anti-Semitic tropes in the US (such as the “injurious effects” of Jewish power and the “Dual Loyalty” charge) are more often found on the left: Popular leftwing bloggers such as Glenn Greenwald, who blogs at, and Andrew Sullivan who blogs at Daily Dish.While in the UK, and much of Europe, you can, as in the US, easily find tropes about Jewish power and dual loyalty, the hostility toward Jews and Israel far exceeds what’s found in the US. One of the drivers of this phenomenon is the influence of Islamist anti-Semitism. The connection between Islamist anti-Semitism and liberal non-Muslim anti-Semitism is sometimes a complicated one. Islamists are often able to argue against Israel using the language of human rights, democracy, anti-imperialism, and anti-Colonialism.

However, it’s important to put American and European anti-Semitism in perspective.  As such, there is simply no comparison between antisemitism in the US, or Europe, and antisemitism in Arab and Muslim countries. Credible empirical date demonstrates that, in much of the Middle East, Jew hatred is normative behavior.

To answer your question, anti-Semitism is increasing. Driven, in large measure, by hatred of Israel, anti-Semitism in Europe has indeed increased over the last 20 years. In the Arab world anti-Semitism has reached epidemic and dangerous proportions. In the US, though there are some worrying trends within the activist left, and intelligentsia, by and large anti-Semitism has clearly decreased over the last 20 years.

DV: For argument’s sake, if one compares Israel to Nazi Germany and Israelis to Nazis or to Apartheid South Africa, what can be said to counter those antisemitic statements?

AL: Comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany have been codified as anti-Semitic by the EU working definition of anti-Semitism.

When you compare Israel to Nazi Germany you’re saying, in effect, that, like Nazi Germany, Israel is morally beyond the pale and therefore has no moral legitimacy and no right to exist.  It’s a way for those who seek her destruction to morally and politically justify their stance. Moreover, being asked to respond to such a hideous charge is not unlike asking the US to respond to charges by Iran that America is the great Satan.

In other words, such a charge against Israel is not a morally or intellectually serious argument, and it really shouldn’t be dignified as if it’s a serious charge. It’s simply abuse. The fact is that, by any measure (such as the annual country reports which are published by the highly reputable human rights monitoring organization, Freedom House), Israel is, by far, the nation with the best human rights record in the Middle East.

As far as the Apartheid slur, again, the main point of such a charge is to morally delegitimize Israel. The fact is that Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy full civil rights (in housing, education, voting, etc.) which South Africa’s blacks were denied. There are Arab Israelis in every sector of Israeli society—and their rights are protected by an independent judiciary.

In fact there is a Christian Arab on the Supreme Court, and Arab parties in the Knesset. In South Africa under Apartheid, Blacks weren’t permitted to live in White neighborhoods, go to White schools, or even date (or marry) Whites. There is no policy in Israel which even approaches such prohibitions.

The related charge that Israel “ethnically cleanses” its Palestinian/Arab/ethnic minority population are easily contradicted by population growth of every major religious/ethnic minority, both in Israel proper, and in the disputed territories.

DV: What are the best ways to combat antisemitism? What can the average person, Jew and non-Jew, do to combat antisemitism–that is, aside from becoming an activist?

AL: The best way for someone not involved in professional advocacy to fight anti-Semitism is to speak out against it online—on Facebook, Twitter, and in comment threads of online newspapers/blogs. In other words, what the average person should do who is committed to fighting anti-Semitism is not that dissimilar to what we do. The social media is a place best suited to waging this war as it involves one’s own community (or virtual community).

Further, for those who don’t wish to have their name associated with a particular position regarding Israel, but still wish to defend Israel and speak out against anti-Semitism, the talkback threads at online publications allow users to remain anonymous by using user names (monikers) which have no similarity to their email address or real name.

Also, those committed to fighting anti-Semitism and defending Israel should spend time reading up on the issues. With the internet there’s no shortage of free sites with contain information on Israel, Israeli history, Jews, Jewish history, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.  While there are way too many to cite here, the one I would highly recommend as a great all around reference is Jewish Virtual Library.

DV: What are some of the ways Cif Watch combats antisemitism?

AL: CiF Watch has become a leading innovator in combating delegitimization. CiF Watch’s unofficial mantra is to delegitimize the delegitimizers and that the best form of defense is offense. This manifests itself in the following ways: publishing multiple exposes on specific anti-Israel writers (which, among other things, results in impacting Google searches on these writers that are targeted), utilizing Twitter to directly engage and attack Guardian writers, producing YouTube videos focused on delegitimizing anti-Israel writers and the Guardian, initiating a Press Complaints Commission complaint against a Guardian anti-Israel writer, publishing anti-Israel comments of Guardian readers to demonstrate the kind of discourse that is being generated, and publishing articles which arm CiF Watch readers in waging the battle of ideas against the delegitmizers.

-CiF Watch highlights the anti-Semitic discourse dressed up as “anti-Zionism” of certain anti-Israel writers that is published on Comment is Free. The accusation of anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry is one of the most potent weapons at our disposal. Since most of the Guardian writers are left-leaning, they pride themselves on being anti-racist and therefore the accusation of anti-Semitism is something which they take a strong exception to and vigorously refute. At the same time, the anti-Semitism of the type engaged in by these writers is much more sophisticated in that it is often dressed up in anti-Zionism to shield the writer from accusations of anti-Semitism.

-CiF Watch ridicules the Guardian. The Guardian is more than just a passive actor – it commissions articles from anti-Semites providing them with a mainstream media platform to spew their bigotry; it focuses a disproportionate amount of editorial space to the subjects of the Israel/Arab conflict, anti-Semitism, and Judaism, with the vast majority of articles carrying an anti-Israel or anti-Jewish bias; it knowingly encourages flame wars in its comment threads on Israel-related subject matter in order to generate internet traffic, and it uses its position of influence to deflect any criticism of the Guardian by employing the so-called “Livingstone formulation” (the Jews use the charge of anti-Semitism to suppress valid criticism of Israel).

DV: What are some of the things CiF Watch accomplished so far?

AL: Demonstrable reduction in anti-Israel output of the Guardian. While the Guardian continues to adopt an anti-Israel stance, the number of anti-Israel articles in Comment is Free has reduced by over half when comparing 2010 to 2009. Regular anti-Israel columnists have disappeared from the Guardian which we attribute to our campaigns to name and shame and publicly expose the anti-Israel animus.

-Improved comment moderation at the Guardian. As a result of CiF Watch’s exposure of anti-Israel hate in comment threads of Israel related articles during 2010 the Guardian limited below-the-line commenting of Israel related articles from 9-6pm UK time so as to ensure full-time moderation. It is notable that comment threads of non-Israel related material are open 24 hours a day.

On “Jewish Privilege”, and the unlikely midwife to such a hideous idea

“There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.” – George Orwell

Before I  moved to Israel and began working for CiF Watch, I worked for the Anti-Defamation League – an organziation which fights anti-Semitism, but also promotes diversity education and multiculturalism – largely through a program called A World of Difference Institute (AWOD). Though I have a lot of respect for my former colleagues and naturally support AWODs stated goal of “recognizing bias and the harm it inflicts on individuals and society,” some of the rhetorical discourse, and ideological currents, which lay at the foundation of AWOD often caused me concern.  An especially egregious example was one of ADL’s recommended readings for AWOD educators: Peggy McIntosh’s “White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack.” (The recommended reading list isn’t available on their website, but this ADL sponsored conference demonstrates the group’s endorsement of McIntosh’s views). McIntosh, associate director of the Wellesley Center for Women, in the essay, says:

In my [white] class and place, I did not see myself as a racist because I was taught to recognize racism only in individual acts of meanness by members of my group, never in invisible systems conferring unsought racial dominance on my group from birth.

Disapproving of the systems won’t be enough to change them. I was taught to think that racism could end if white individuals changed their attitudes. [But] a “white” skin in the United States opens many doors for whites whether or not we approve of the way dominance has been conferred on us. Individual acts can palliate, but cannot end, these problems.

To redesign social systems we need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions. The silences and denials surrounding privilege are the key political tool here. They keep the thinking about equality or equity incomplete, protecting unearned advantage and conferred dominance by making these taboo subjects. Most talk by whites about equal opportunity seems to me now to be about equal opportunity to try and get into a position of dominance while denying that systems of dominance exist.

It seems to me that obliviousness about white advantage, like obliviousness about male advantage, is kept strongly inculturated in the United States so as to maintain the myth of meritocracy, the myth that democratic choice is equally available to all. Keeping most people unaware that freedom of confident action is there for just a small number of people props up those in power, and serves to keep power in the hands of the same groups that have most of it already.

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Playing With Fire

This is a cross-post by Lee Smith at Tablet Magazine

When the comments on the blogs of Stephen Walt, Andrew Sullivan, Philip Weiss, and Glenn Greenwald turn ugly, who should be held accountable? Plus: A Jew-baiter’s lexicon.

Last week this column [1] argued that major media organizations were mainstreaming the opinions of anti-Semitic commenters in the hopes of boosting traffic on their websites. Some of my critics mistakenly believed that I was accusing specific journalists and academics—Stephen Walt, Andrew Sullivan, Philip Weiss, and Glenn Greenwald—of being anti-Semites. Some also charged that I had smeared these writers by incorrectly holding them accountable for the hate that appears in the comments section of their blogs.

These detractors missed the point of my article, which had nothing to do with the indiscernible beliefs of individuals; rather, I was instead illustrating that these pundits, their audiences, and the major media companies hosting their blogs, are complicit in the common work of mainstreaming the kind of anti-Semitic language, ideas, and discourse that were once confined to extremist hate sites on the far right.

Let’s start with a very recent example: After I contacted Foreign Policy’s Editor-in-Chief Susan Glasser for comment before publication of last week’s column, quickly excised dozens of the most egregiously anti-Semitic comments that stuck to Walt’s posts. Perhaps they should have also vetted some of the links that Walt himself embeds for the edification of his readers. Consider this recent post [2] where Walt has inserted a link under the name Ariel Sharon, which leads to a 2002 article [3] on the Media Monitors Network website:

The name Safire, as in William Safire of the New York Times, is a name they recognize well at the State Department. He is one of the high priests of Sulzberger’s New York Times empire which has a franchise to dictate terms to the State Department. Of course, it is Safire himself who appears to be taking in dictation work these days from his old pal, Ariel Sharon. Before you read on, note that the Boston Globe is also a publication owned by Sulzberger. Is there a civil war breaking out among the Yiddish Supremacists? Or is Sulzberger trying to deflect some of the damage that is bound to come his way as a result of transforming his media empire into just another corner of the Israeli Lobby? Who cares? Let Sulzberger explain his shadow government’s antics.

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