The Politics of Anti-Semitism

ISBN: 1902593774

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A Review of: The Politics of Anti-Semitism
by Nicholas Maes

The essays in The Politics of Anti-Semitism are assembled from Counterpunch, a newsletter/website that prides itself on "muckraking with a radical attitude." Some of the contributors are well-known figures of the radical left-Norman Finkelstein, Robert Fisk, Edward Said, Michael Neumann-and, as one might expect of a muckraking' enterprise, all without exception view Israel in the same condemnatory light.
The first two essays in the volume set in place a central theme. Michael Neumann and Scott Handleman write at length on the nature of anti-Semitism, how the term has come to encompass (through the machinations of neo-cons, various Jewish organizations and Christian fundamentalists) any criticism of Israel's (alleged) brutalization of the Palestinian people. Champions of Israel, Neumann and Handleman argue, want to have their cake and eat it too: they wish to expand the semantic reach of anti-Semitism in aid of a (repressive) Zionist political agenda, AND they wish the term to retain its former moral force when it refers exclusively to overtly hateful acts against Jews. It is on account of such chicanery, therefore, that honest commentators need merely question the excessive influence of the US Jewish lobby, the legitimacy of West Bank settlements, or the killing of stone-throwing children (cold-blooded in the contributors' view), to be labelled anti-Semites and to endure the fury of the pro-Israel establishment, in the form of slander, censorship and threats. (Robert Fisk, Alexander Cockburn, M. Shahid Alam and others describe their ill-treatment at the hands of pro-Zionists-never mind that Fisk and Cockburn seem to relish a good scrap).
Even as anti-Semitism's range has been stretched in recent days, Neumann and others go on to argue, anti-Semitism as a lethal menace to Jewish existence has disappeared. Apart from the rare act of vandalism, the odd insult, the occasional beating, Jews are nowhere threatened with the systemic persecution they experienced in times past. The days of restricted beaches and clubs, pogroms, forced conversions and deportations are gone. Indeed, a point Belanger, Brenner and Avnery each emphasize, if the Muslim world still adheres to anti-Semitic antics of old, or if the anti-Semitic snake is to rear its head in future, it is (or will be) only because Israel provokes such resentment through its ongoing persecution of the Palestinian population.
Once the logistics of anti-Semitism have been explained, the book's contributors embark upon their criticisms of the Jewish state in earnest. Israel is an ethnocracy and practices apartheid. Zionism is racism. Indeed, the blatant racism of successive Israeli governments has led to multiple war crimes and shapes the foundation of a genocidal program. Jews control the US media and exercise this authority monolithically, with the result that they control the US Congress as well. Not only were Israelis complicit in the destruction of the World Trade Centre (they were aware of the impending attacks and kept this information to themselves), but a Jewish scientist possibly disseminated anthrax spores (to besmirch the reputation of US Muslims) and various Jewish lobby groups (whose members clearly have dual loyalties) prompted the Bush administration to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein.
Given this deplorable record, one that tarnishes US relations with the rest of the world, Americans should seriously reconsider their close economic and political ties with the Jewish state (Blankfort and the Christisons argue at length). It is not in America's interest to compromise its partnership with one billion plus Muslims, as a means of guaranteeing security for Israel, especially when such security' is newspeak for regional dominance'. Universities should divest their holdings from any company with ties to Israel, US representatives whose support for Israel exceeds a consideration of national interests should be outed', and the US should use its disproportionate influence in the region to end the occupation and bring about a single, secular bi-national state.
While The Politics of Anti-Semitism is a useful compendium of contemporary leftist impressions of the Middle East conflict, and here and there serves as a corrective to certain pieties pro-Israel organizations have occasionally indulged in to excess, it does present very glaring weaknesses. As the charges fall thick and fast, the reader is often given the impression that systematic argumentation has been left to one side, and that a vast number of facts have been deliberately ignored to create the semblance of an open and shut case.
What is one to make, for example, of the authors' categorical assertion that the mass media is in Jewish hands and therefore seriously distorts the perspective of any story about Israel? It is a simple matter of record that the New York Times, ABC, CBS and other major media organs have reported in great detail stories that have been highly embarrassing to Israel (Sabra and Shatila, the Baruch Goldstein killings, the Massacre on the Mount', the Jenin Massacre (later discredited), etc.). The allegation of genocide is puzzling too when one considers that population figures for the West Bank and Gaza Strip have exploded over the last thirty years. If Zionism is racism (as Brenner, Belanger, Avnery and others assert) why did the UN itself come to renounce its notorious resolution to that effect? And how does the US Jewish lobby system work, when US Jews generally support Democratic candidates and have produced from its ranks numerous critics of Israeli policies (as Finkelstein, Handleman, Neumann, Avneri and Brenner themselves demonstrate)?
More troubling, however, are not statements that basic common sense calls into question; instead, it is the near total silence on conflicts in other parts of the globe (ones much more violent than the Israeli occupation) and, more to the point, on Palestinian shortcomings and Muslim aggression. To read The Politics of Anti-Semitism, one would conclude that Israel's harsh treatment of the Palestinians is the only manifestation of violence in the Middle East for the last fifty years (excluding the recent US invasion of Iraq). The contributors make no effort to describe a greater context, as if Assad of Syria, the ayatollahs of Iran, Saddam Hussein, past Egyptian and Jordanian governments, and the Palestinian themselves have been irrelevant or blameless agents in this drama. This is not to suggest that a consideration of Palestinian terrorism in recent years, or the rampant corruption of Arafat and his cronies, or Hamas' ideological drive to destroy the Jewish state, whitewashes Israel of all charges of wrongdoing; it must, however, provide a rationale for SOME of Israel's actions, even its more questionable ones, and allows, down the road, for a more cogent plan of disengagement, one less recklessly aggressive than the divestment campaign or a bi-national, secular state (a disastrous scenario) that various contributors insist is the best way to proceed.
The volume's greatest weakness, however, is that it is just as manipulative in its view of anti-Semitism as it accuses supporters of Israel to be. Any commentator who defends Israel against charges of genocide-a term whose semantic range has been preposterously stretched-is someone who believes any critic of Israel is a vicious anti-Semite, according to the paradigm Neumann and others have established. By hinging their polemic against Israel on the question of whether or not their observations are anti-Semitic (it being understood that only unreasonable, paranoid types would conclude such opinions to be indeed anti-Semitic), the book's contributors invite their readers to forego a lengthy analysis of each accusation and the careful weighing of evidence (which is conspicuously absent) to fume over the rhetorical excesses of the Zionist lobby. In other words, the question of anti-Semitism is a smoke screen. The real issue, of course, is whether one's assertions are accurate, well-documented and made in good faith. The contributors to The Politics of Anti-Semitism too often fail on all three counts; their tactic of choice consists of brazen sloganeering or the recitation of hollow truths' (the Jenin massacre, Israel and 9/11, neo-con control of the Bush administration), as though mere repetition will obviate the need for more solid evidence or hard argumentation.
While there is good reason to suspect the intentions of critics-who hold Israel to a higher standard than other nations, who launch accusations that cannot be supported with facts, or who view the Jewish reaction to the Holocaust as an exercise in rapacity and self-exoneration-whether their motivation is anti-Semitic or not is possibly irrelevant. In the end it is the soundness of their arguments that matters. Do they construct a rational argument and invite their readers to prove them wrong. The contributors to the Politics of Anti-Semitism do not. One either shares their scathing view of Israel, or one is beyond the boundaries of acceptable discourse, in a domain crowded with imperialists and mass murderers.
If there is ever to be stability in the region, it will not be a product of the heated, unhelpful antagonism of a Michael Neumann. The author might lay claim to the boast that some of his best friends are Jewish; the problem is a Michael Neumann considers the majority of Jews to be his worst enemies as well.

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