This is a guest post by AKUS (who for those that don’t know is a recently banned “below the line” pro-Israel commenter from CiF)
There are many aspects of the Guardian’s treatment of Israel, via its “Comment is Free” (CiF) website, that are troubling, but the most odious is the way it attracts articles and postings that deal with Israel, Jews, or Judaism that use analogies drawn from or related to Nazism.
A few examples I collected just from the thread on David Cesarani’s The Vatican must search its soul over Jews from May 13, 2009 dealing with the visit of the Pope to Israel demonstrate the issue with startling clarity:
“The only conclusion to draw is that these people believe their suffering is somehow more significant than other people in the rest of the world.” Gondwanaland 13 May 09, 10:55pm
“I am sick and tired of all this Jewish rancor [pure Hitler/Goebbels/Aryan brotherhood]. To be amenable to what? To Israel? A State that resembles so much the Nazis?” Brunomex 14 May 09, 12:52am (deleted comment)
Comment deleted, but the point at issue is the way the site draws someone like this – who would normally confine his comments to some kind of antisemitic hate site.
“Almost every religion, race, belief etc in existence gets articles here at the Guardian criticising them except for the people of Judaism. The Guardian’s impartiality will be under question while they maintain such a policy of exceptionalism, it’s not like there is a dearth of historical evidence for terrible historical deeds committed by Jews” 56000xp 13 May 09, 9:50pm (deleted comment)
Almost, but not quite, funny, considering the Guardian’s obsession with Jews and its multiple attacks on Israel every week (typically a dozen articles a week on CiF and the main pages about Jews, Israel and Judaism, almost always negative, and a few weeks ago reaching a new high of about twenty six articles in one week).
Jonathan Hoffman documented dozens of examples in his submission Antisemitism on Guardian “Comment is Free”.
So, on the one hand we have a moderated site where some effort is made to remove particularly odious comments, but on the other hand there is something about this site and its choice of topics and contributors that attracts authors and commenters who frequently compare Israelis to Nazis, come close to holocaust denial, and demonstrate all the symptoms of classic antisemitism.
One might wonder why the Guardian’s obsession with Jews, Israel, and Judaism exists. Perhaps it is best explained by this excerpt from an Interview with Robert Solomon Wistrich, Antisemitism Embedded in British Culture in which it is stated:
“In the UK the anti-Zionist narrative probably has greater legitimacy than in any other Western society. Anti-Semitism of the “anti-Zionist” variety has achieved such resonance, particularly in elite opinion, that various British media are leaders in this field. Successive British governments neither share nor have encouraged such attitudes-least of all Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. They have shown concern over antisemitism and the boycott movement and tried to counteract them. However, Trotskyites who infiltrated the Labour Party and the trade unions in the 1980s have been an important factor in spreading poisonous attitudes. The BBC has also played a role in stimulating pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli attitudes over the years.”
Anyone who doubts that similar throwbacks to the 1930’s have infiltrated the Guardian need only read a few pieces by Seamus Milne or John Pilger at the Guardian’s site. This attitude lends itself to the use of familiar tropes from that period – condemnation of Israel as a “colonialist” or “imperialist” enterprise (where is the Israeli mother country or empire?), as a “fascist”, i.e., “Nazi”, state, the attempt to define Gaza as a “concentration camp” (an indirect form of holocaust denial by diminution of the real nature of the actual concentration camps) and so on and so forth. Aided and abetted by the bizarre left-wing attempt to reconcile its values with those of Islamic extremism and harness both to the attacks on Israel.
A notable example of the automatic use of Nazi analogies that pass unnoticed by the editorial staff was in the recent article by Slavoj Zizek that included the phrase “Palestinian-frei”. This brought one of the few retractions we have seen on CIF or by the Guardian:
“This article was amended on 20 August 2009. The online version originally referred to “Palestinian-frei”, while the print version had been edited to say “Palestinian-free”. This editing change should have been applied to the online version. This has now been done.”
The other hidden memes in Zizek’s article, especially the description of Gaza as a concentration camp and the smooth transition to “Palestinian-frei”, were brilliantly dissected by Judy of Adloyada in August where she points out:
“Routinely, the words “concentration camp” refer to the concentration camps run by the Nazis either directly or indirectly for the purpose of imprisoning and either preparing for or directly exterminating the Jews and the other designated groups the Nazis set out to murder or otherwise do to death. …
For a start, no concentration camp anywhere, ever, at any time has had inmates who are armed with military hardware. Let alone armed with machine guns, grenade launchers and rockets. Let alone regularly having an organised externally independently financed regime which has forces which use those arms to launch attacks on the nation supposedly imprisoning them, as well as on their own opponents. …
Because Professor Zizek then goes on to state that, by what he claims are processes of stealth, the West Bank (not, you note, Gaza) “will become Palestinian-frei”. What is this German-derived neologism but an unmistakable analogy to the Nazi policy of eliminating in its entirety the Jewish presence in any area it controlled, which it termed making it “Judenfrei” or “Judenrein”?”
But the greatest trick the Guardian has up its sleeve is the establishment of a stable of five or so “house Jews” eager to demonstrate that they, “unlike all those other Jews”, are really on the “right side” of the I/P conflict by frequently contributing articles attacking Israel. These special Jews, including a few Israelis, claim to carry the flame of Jewish Universalism which represents “true Jewish values” and which particularly requires putting an end, one way or another, to the existence of the State of Israel. They claim to speak “As-a-Jew”, therefore presenting a position unassailable by charges of antisemitism, and giving implied authority to the Guardian’s positions.
An example of the Guardian’s use of Jews to defend the indefensible analogy between Israel and Nazism is the article by Antony Lerman to explain why the Pat Oliphant cartoon that Lerman himself describes as follows is not antisemitic:
“The cartoon shows a headless Nazi-like, goose-stepping, jackbooted figure, with one arm raised and outstretched, holding a sword, and the other wheeling a head in the form of a Star of David – one side of which is a wide-open mouth, equipped with vicious teeth, about to devour a very small, fleeing refugee-like female figure holding a baby. The word “Gaza” is emblazoned on her cloak.”
Twisting and turning through a page of rather incoherent justifications and attacks against the ADL and Abe Foxman, and with a tip of the hat to another well-known fiercely anti-Israel IJV contributor to CIF, Brian Klug, he finally tries to claim that this cartoon, which he has so graphically and accurately described, is anything but antisemitic, and those claiming that it is makes it harder to defend against unspecified “genuine instances of anti-Semitism”. What else could this cartoon be but antisemitic, when Lerman himself recognizes the attempt to conflate Israel and Israeli with Nazi Germany and Nazis?
As nauseating as this attempt either to curry favor or willingness to be used as a useful idiot may be, what is worse is that these house Jews provide some of the worst examples of the use of Nazi imagery which even the Guardian would remove if written by other than a Jewish author (see the retraction relating to the Zizek article, above).
Since Seth Freedman is probably the worst offender in this respect, and also has claimed to be under contract to the Guardian (which promotes his two poorly selling books on their web site), it’s worth examining some of the excesses evident in his articles, though he is far from alone. The Guardian publishes one or two of his articles a week without removing the Nazi imagery they often contain.
Freedman’s articles demonstrate either apparent ignorance of the provenance of some of his nasty comments and the horrifying historical baggage they carry with them or, worse, the deliberate use of Nazi imagery to attract the attention he apparently craves to whip up the anti-Israel mob.
For example, in an article last week purporting to support the release of Gilad Shalit from his cruel captivity by Hamas, he uses a loaded phrase to say that Hamas can justify the cruelty of Shalit’s captivity due to Israel’s behavior – a claim he would never make in reverse:
“If Israel’s behaviour is whiter than white, it will be far harder for Palestinian radicals to justify their own illegal acts of war.”
The phrase “whiter than white” goes back to old advertisements for Persil, the laundry powder developed in the early 1900’s and its use in this sort of analogy has a long and ignoble history.
One use is connected to Nazis, perhaps buried in Freedman’s subconscious after hearing it used by adults as he grew up due to its prevalence after WW II. When Nazis were being smuggled out of Germany to work in the US or the USSR, a clean file – a “Persil” or “Persilshein” that washes everything clean – was created for them – a faked file or identity that was “whiter than white”. “Persil Germans” were rehabilitated Germans. Jokes about “Persil” have been also long been used by racists in the USA to denigrate African Americans and can be found on many racist web-sites.
Freedman’s use of Nazi imagery to describe Israelis has been common and more blatant in his other contributions to CiF. Some prior examples of his Nazi imagery whose provenance he must surely recognize are:
- the reference to Israelis ” having to don jackboots and maraud across the West Bank ” he used to compare Israeli soldiers to Nazis (Israeli soldiers of course wear no such footgear, as he well knows from his brief military service in the IDF);
- comparing Israeli immigration policy to the Hitlerian creation of a category of “untermenschen”:
“Mirroring Hitler’s assertion that anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent was to be considered untermenschen”;
- adopting the Hitlerian description of Jews having a special disease or being a virus or cancer, and transferring it to references to Israeli Jews. Change the word “Jew” to “Israeli” in the following from “The Roots of Nazi Psychology: Hitler’s Utopian Barbarism”, Jay Y. Gonen and then compare it with the two examples below:
“The discovery of the Jewish virus is one of the greatest revolutions that have taken place in the world. The battle in which we are engaged to-day is of the same sort as the battle waged during the last century, by Pasteur and Koch. How many diseases have their origin in the Jewish virus! .. We shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jew.” Adolph Hitler, Hitler’s Secret Conversations
“the malignant disease coursing through Israel’s psyche” Seth Freedman, The immeasurable toll of war
“Because that way lies a sickness as virulent and destructive to society as any strain of cancer” Seth Freedman, Two Tier Israel
The impact of this imagery, now “permitted” since it can be traced to a Jewish source, rather than an obvious antisemite, can be seen by its adoption by some who comment on the threads that accompany the articles CiF commissions or chooses to publish on request. Here is an example from the promising and quite balanced article by Ziad Asali, If you build it, the state will come, where a commenter on the associated thread compares Israeli settlers to a “tumour” and then adds in by association the common attempt on CiF to brand the IDF as “thugs” or worse and Israel as an apartheid state:
“I wish the Palestinian people well, but Netanyahu will encourage more settlers, masquerading as “natural growth” (more like a tumour!) in the West Bank. Then there are those apartheid roads that out-apartheid white-ruled South Africa, check posts, IDF thugs.” Teacup 04 Sep 09, 10:44am
While I am sure the Guardian would immediately remove the Hitler quote, the fact that it leaves Nazi imagery and phrases like “whiter than white”, or “malignant disease” and “virulent sickness” or Teacup’s “tumour”, or initially permitted Zizek’s “Palestinian-frei”, cannot be coincidental. It is reasonable to ask, therefore, if the use of these analogies is either a deliberate attempt to slip in antisemitic memes under the guise of protesting against Israeli policies – which, as is often done in Israel itself, could be legitimate without the use of these hidden memes – or is so deeply ingrained in the psyche of some contributors, commenters and editors that it passes unnoticed – except as a kind of bait that attracts and authenticates those wishing to draw the obvious false parallels such words create between Israel and Nazi Germany.
Whatever the reason, it is time for the Guardian to do something about it.