Independent: Rankin’s snapshot of antisemitism today

Cross posted from the blog of the CST

[Yesterday’s] Independent carries an interview with celebrity photographer, Rankin. He inadvertently provides a brilliant snapshot of the paradox that underpins so much of today’s antisemitism.

Rankin speaks as “a humanitarian”, so presumably is no antisemite. Nevertheless, he repeats antisemitic conspiracy theory. That is the snapshot. It shows how modern (and old) antisemitism is about conspiracy theory, rather than race theory. As so often, the focus is against American Jews.

This is what it boils down to:

Jewish zealots…so powerful…kind of extreme Judaism…They will blacklist you…pro-Palestinian? F**king forget it…

Single names tend to denote Brazilian footballers, famous dead Russians, or really cool people – Rankin is the latter, a leading British photographer of fashionistas and luvvies.

Entitled “Rankin and a new take on why Scarlett quit Oxfam“, the Independent article by Jenn Selby quotes him as saying that Scarlett Johansson chose the Israeli company SodaStream over Oxfam because:

in America, the Jewish zealots are so powerful. Especially in the entertainment industry…what they could do to her career

Selby interviewed Rankin at length. In her article, she writes of his concerns, because apparently “the power of a far right pro-Israel lobby within the US makes it increasingly tough for creative artists to take the ethical high ground in favour of Palestinians“.

Actually, nowhere is Rankin actually quoted as saying “far right pro-Israel“. This appears to be Selby’s paraphrasing or interpretation of his remarks. Did the Independent notice this? Did Selby? It all shows how permeable the boundaries are. Rankin is also quoted as saying:

The main problem for me in all this is that kind of extreme Judaism.

What is this “kind of extreme Judaism“? He continues:

That extreme belief that this [ie Israel / Palestine] is their homeland and those people [ie Palestinians] are worthless to them. That’s very powerful in America. They will blacklist you. Its worse than McCarthyism. Are you pro-Palestinian? Forget it?

(The website version goes further than the print version, quoting, “You are pro-Palestinian? F**king forget it“.)

Of course, we can presume that Rankin is no antisemite. He tells us he is “fascinated from a humanitarian perspective” and is “just about human beings“. Nevertheless, here he is aping the blatant antisemitic smear about Jews running the media and Hollywood. It is all so typical of what Brendan O’Neill recently described as:

not a resurrection of old, explicitly racial fears of the Jews, but rather the mainstreaming of the [antisemitic] conspiratorial imagination

The antisemitic conspiratorial imagination is amplified by Rankin’s explanation of how this all supposedly works:

People have said to me that if you go to Palestine you will be put on a list and it doesn’t matter if you’re a humanitarian. You will be put on a list…I’m just about human beings.

Note the opener, “people have said to me…You will be put on a list“. And that is the conspiracy done.

Like all good photographers, Rankin has captured the essence of things.

Rankin names nobody. Not Steven Spielberg, not Aaron Sorkin and certainly not Woody Allen. Had he done so, perhaps the Independent’s lawyers would have stepped in on libel grounds. Instead, we can join the dots:

Jewish zealots…so powerful…kind of extreme Judaism…They will blacklist you…pro-Palestinian? F**king forget it…You will be put on a list.

Finally, it is deeply depressing to see this in the Independent. Any newspaper that regularly publishes Howard Jacobson’s stunning deconstructions and analyses of antisemitism cannot be simply dismissed as unknowing, far less as antisemitic. Similarly, its recent articles on French antisemite Dieudonne have been amongst the most impressive of any UK media outlet…and yet, it still photoshopped and published this repellent snapshot.

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Would the UK media normalize anti-black racism like they do with antisemitism?

Imagine if you read the following passages – an interview with politically conservative actor Jon Voight – in the New York Times culture section:

So why do affirmative action policies continue to be pervasive at university admission committees, in the procurement of government contracts and even at Fortune 500 companies? According to the acclaimed conservative actor Jon Voight, the power of black groups within the Obama administration makes it increasingly tough for there to be a rational discussion on the issue.

“I considered campaigning against affirmative action myself,” he told The New York Times.  But, he said he was informed by others that choosing to do this could have a bad impact on his livelihood.

“I think the reason that even the Republican Party doesn’t actively challenge the status quo on minority set-asides is because blacks and the politics of black victimhood exerts a suffocating grip on our political culture“, he said. 

The main problem for me in all this is that kind of black radicals. That extreme belief by blacks that they are entitled. They will label you a racist if you resist such an idea. It’s worse than McCarthyism.

Then, imagine, in such a hypothetical scenario, if the NYT culture critic responded to Voight’s words by dryly adding:

Hurt’s comments could stoke controversy.

Impossible to imagine, isn’t it?  

Any liberal NYT journalist who encountered such bigotry would surely not let it go unchallenged. Further, in such a scenario, Voight’s views on the ‘corrupting influence of African-Americans in the US’ would likely be the story’s lead, and surely not be downplayed or minimized.  It’s also likely that the liberal media would – quite justifiably – be abuzz with news of the Republican actor’s racist meltdown. 

While the exchange above was obviously fictional, the following (Rankin on Scarlett Johansson’s SodaStream advert: Why Hollywood stars can’t afford to be linked to Pro-Palestinian causes, Feb. 13) was actually published at The Independent:

So why did the actress [Scarlett Johansson] with the cleanest PR track record in Hollywood opt for the latter and part ways with [Oxfam]? According to [Rankin] the acclaimed photographer and director – who has not only worked with Johansson on a number of occasions, but has also shot for Oxfam in the Congo and in Kenya – the power of a far-right pro-Israeli lobby within the US makes it increasingly tough for creative artists to take the ethical high ground in favour of Palestinians.

“I asked, actually, Oxfam if I could go to Palestine because I’m interested in what happens in Palestine,” he told The Independent. But speaking of his desire to shine a light on the plight of the Palestinian people, he said he was informed by others that choosing to do this could have a bad impact on his livelihood.

I think the reason that she has not backed down is because in America, the Jewish zealots are so powerful. Especially in the entertainment industry… What they could do to her career,” he added, admitting he had “negative views” on SodaStream’s West Bank operation.

The main problem for me in all this is that kind of extreme Judaism. That extreme belief that this is their homeland and those people are worthless to them. That’s very powerful in America. They will blacklist you. It’s worse than McCarthyism…

The Indy’s Jenn Selby then merely added the following:

Rankin’s comments could stoke controversy, judging by the reaction to Seth McFarlane’s performance hosting the Oscars last year, when his character Ted suggested that only Jewish actors would be able to get jobs in Hollywood.

Has antisemitism become so socially acceptable within the media and among the cultural elite that most don’t blink an eye when a political figure, journalist or artist explains social or political problems by evoking the specter of powerful, malevolent Jewish forces in Hollywood and in Washington?

Whilst there is of course nothing wrong with the Indy publishing the interview – odious bigotry and all – we can’t help but be disturbed by the banality of the manner in which it was contextualized, indeed normalized.

As we’ve continually documented, narratives regarding the injurious influence of powerful Jews - previously relegated to the margins of the far right – have become increasingly acceptable within left-wing political discourse, and is often packaged as ‘progressive’, anti-establishment commentary. 

The continuing failure of otherwise sober and putatively enlightened voices to unequivocally condemn such rank expressions of anti-Jewish racism represents, at the minimum, an appalling moral abdication.

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Chas Freeman, “Fifth Columnists” and the ‘Guardian Left’

chasWhile observing the commentary at ‘Comment is Free’ over Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Defense Secretary, it’s difficult not to marvel at the dynamics at play by which a conservative Republican has engendered support from the Guardian Left due primarily, it seems, to the (pro-Israel) political orientation of some of the nominee’s opponents.

Indeed, for some on the Guardian Left, the narrative advanced about many political debates in Washington could be reduced to ‘the enemy of the ‘Israel lobby’ is necessarily a progressive political protagonist’.

To CiF’s Michael Cohen, for instance, the fact that the largest pro-Israel lobbying groups (most notably AIPAC) have stayed away from the Hagel row is no obstacle to framing the debate along this binary lobby/anti-lobby paradigm, and condemning Hagel’s opponents – in a manner similar to Glenn Greenwald - for engaging in a “McCarthyite” smear campaign.  (Chuck Hagel’s Senate hearings: A discredit to all concerned, ‘Comment is Free’, Feb. 1)

Cohen – whose views towards Israel are such that he recently suggested that more Israeli fatalities as the result of terrorist attacks would actually help the peace process – criticizes the control the “Jewish lobby” has over the process, thus:

“As we saw during the GOP primaries last year, the new apparent litmus test for being a foreign policy-maker in the US government appears to be the extent to which you offer unconditional support for basically everything that Israel does,

Ted Cruz tried to link Hagel to a speech given by Chas Freeman, a former US diplomat who has been publicly critical of American support for the Jewish state, and in particular, the domestic lobbyists that defend Israel.

When Cruz could not identify an obvious link between the two men, he backed off. But the moment was chilling because the implications of Cruz’s questioning wasn’t hard to deduce: simply having a relationship with Freeman and his controversial views on Israel would have been enough to indict Hagel.

This is quite frankly modern-day McCarthyism: guilt by association with those who hold differing views. It was the low point of the day in which the depths of practically every valley of squalid foreign policy discourse was plumbed. That a hearing on the fitness of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense was dominated by a discussion of a country that is not even a military ally of the United States – and which, in the just the last three months, has taken actions on settlement construction that run precisely counter to US policy – offered compelling evidence of the disproportionate and unhealthy role that Israel plays in US foreign policy debates.”

While the at times comical misuse of the word “McCarthyism” by some on the left to characterize legitimate criticism and debate within a democratic framework is, in itself, an under-explored topic, it’s remarkable that Cohen defends Chas Freeman, who has, himself, engaged in ugly, racist smears of American Jews.

Joe McCarthy – the former US senator whose politics during the Cold War inspired the term ‘McCarthyism’ – is largely known for the fact that, in the 1950s, he led hearings into the “un-American” activities of those who he (often falsely) accused of actively working for the communist party or even being agents of the KGB.  While the threat of Soviet infiltration into the upper echelons of US government during the time was indeed real (as the Venona papers have proved) McCarthy’s notoriety is derived by the fact that he recklessly imputed disloyalty to many who were completely innocent – all of which brings us to Chas Freeman.

Freeman was forced to withdraw his name from consideration to be chairman of the U.S. National Intelligence Council in the Obama Administration, in March 2009, due to his vitriolic attacks on Israel (which, he had argued, was a “catalyst” for the attacks on 9/11), his close ties with the Saudi government, and comments he made which were sympathetic to China’s bloody crackdown of pro-democracy activists at Tiananmen Square.

After the nomination row, Freeman was even more explicit in his attacks on American Jewish supporters of Israel, and published a postat the extremist anti-Zionist blog, Mondoweiss, where he argued that Zionism was worse than S. Africa.  His post included the following passage:

“[At least] South Africa’s whites did not have a dedicated cadre of coreligionists or ethnic kin abroad who labored to protect them from the consequences of their deviance from the norms of humane behavior as defined by Western civilization at large.  Nor, despite open sympathy for South African whites in the American South and among ardent anti-Communists, did apartheid enjoy international ideological support outside the neo-Nazi fringe.  Israel’s policies are supported morally, politically, and financially by large Jewish communities…”

So, just how dangerous are these “large Jewish communities”?  Helpfully, Freeman further expanded on his concern about the influence of Jews during a speech he delivered in Russia on Dec. 1:

 …I would like to put forward some thoughts about the control of narrative and the manipulation of information as an essential element of modern warfare. The Israelis call this ‘hasbara.’ Since they are without doubt the most skilled contemporary practitioners of the art, it seems appropriate to use the Hebrew word for it. And, since Israel’s most recent war (against the Palestinians in Gaza) sputtered to an end just ten days ago, I’ll cite a few examples from that war to illustrate my main points.

In some countries, like the United States, Israel can rely upon a ‘fifth column’ of activist sympathizers to amplify its messages, to rebut and discredit statements that contradict its arguments, facts, and fabrications, and to impugn the moral standing of those who make such statements.”

In case there was any doubt who Freeman was referring to as “fifth columnists”, he went on to “name names” – imputing guilt to members of several Jewish organizations (and at least one American rabbi).

To be clear, “fifth columnists” refers to a group of people who clandestinely seek to undermine a nation from within.  It declares people “disloyal–enemies of their own country”, often due to their ethnic or race-based loyalties, and the use of such a charge against Jews has represented one of the more popular antisemitic narratives.

Historically, even before the birth of the modern state of Israel, Jews stood accused of not possessing sufficient loyalty to the nations where they resided. One of the earliest examples of this fusion of “excessive” Jewish power with ‘dual loyalty was the suspicion in parts of medieval Christian Europe that Jews were in league with some Muslim powers.  The charge of dual loyalty manifested itself in the Dreyfus Affair through the Nazi’s rise to power – and, indeed, this notion in large measure underlay the failure of European emancipation more broadly.  In the 1920s Henry Ford published The International JewThe World’s Problem where it was asserted, along with other calumnies, that disloyal Jews were pushing the United States towards war – a charge which resurfaced in the political aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq, and in the current framing of a possible US war with Iran.

 Explicit characterizations of Jews as “fifth columnists” has an extremist right pedigree (David Duke highlighted Freeman’s recent charge against Jews on his website, per screenshot below ), so it seems that genuine anti-racists would be troubled that Guardian Left commentators such as Cohen and Greenwald are not only evidently not outraged by Freeman’s antisemitic (and McCarthy-style) attack on Jews, but consider him a victim.

duke

Increasingly, many on the far left (certainly on the Guardian Left) explain, in a tone of exasperation, that they’re tired of false accusations of antisemitism which, they often add, make people less sensitive to “real” antisemitism.  Yet, it seems, when confronted with a competition for their sympathy, foes of the Israel lobby (no matter how crude, unenlightened and Judeophobic their rhetoric) seem to win out over a historically oppressed Jewish minority every time.

A ‘left’ which can’t condemn, passionately and without qualifications, the hideous charge that American Jews are corrupting the body politic, and are working to undermine the nation, due to an unhealthy ethnic loyalty, are simply not worthy of the progressive mantle to which they so hubristically lay claim.