Sunday, May 27, 2012

Bad reporting. Bad rhetoric.

Baroness Jenny Tonge, recently resigned from the Liberal Dems after she refused to apologize for her antisemitic remarks, has been invited by a group of English students at York University to speak on party processes and censorship in the British Parliament. I assume she will speak on the need for more Nazis in positions of power.

A google search -- unsurprisingly, the activities of student groups are often deemed less than newsworthy -- reveals very little about the talk. There's basically this nearly unreadable piece at the Jerusalem Post. The remarks over which Baroness Tonge was forced out of the Lib Dems, however, were widely reported. For instance, this piece, from the BBC. (A search for Tonge reveals similar coverage or worse from the Beeb.) The sub-headline reads:
A Lib Dem peer has resigned from the parliamentary party after saying Israel "is not going to be there forever".
A lovely photo of a smiling Tonge is captioned
Baroness Tonge said she was disappointed with [leader of the Lib Dems] Nick Clegg's response [asking for her apology]
Even a fairly careful reader would have difficulty understanding what the hubbub was about. It would certainly seem to suggest to many what Baroness Tonge had previously suggested:
The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips.
The BBC article doesn't mention this previous outburst (and also doesn't mention when she blamed global warming on the Israel lobby), though it does mention that she had previously not been asked to resign from the party:
...after she claimed Israeli troops sent to Haiti after the earthquake there were trafficking organs
...after she said she "might just consider becoming" a suicide bomber if she was a Palestinian.
Only later in the article are her most recent remarks reported more fully:
She added: "One day the United States of America will get sick of giving £70bn a year to Israel to support what I call America's aircraft carrier in the Middle East - that is Israel. One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough. It will not go on for ever. Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown."
Reading the article, you wouldn't know that her figure of £70bn a year is off by over 2,300%. Or that the actual amount is a fractional percentage of the US budget that could hardly be a priority or even a tertiary concern for deficit hawks. Only a close reader would consider that she has implied that the American support for Israel is against the wishes of the American people and comes only because of the "financial grips" of all-powerful Jews. Unfortunately, the reported response from Nick Clegg clarifies absolutely nothing:
These remarks were wrong and offensive and do not reflect the values of the Liberal Democrats. I asked Baroness Tonge to withdraw her remarks and apologise for the offence she has caused. She has refused to do so and will now be leaving the party. The Liberal Democrats have a proud record of campaigning for the rights of Palestinians, and that will continue. But we are crystal clear in our support for a two-state solution.
And so, it is no surprise in this miasma that the student group should publish this piece accusing Jews of being overly sensitive:
There is also a particular sensitivity in both the UK and the US regarding any comment that has the potential to be (mis)interpreted as anti-Semitic. While this is clearly an important concern, with obvious historical justification, there is a question mark over the extent to which this is also driven by the pressure to get re-elected. In the States, in particular, it is a commonplace that no President will be elected without the ‘Jewish vote’. While this is not so apparent in Britain, might there be a case for seeing the support of Israeli lobbyists in terms of election politics? That Tonge’s recent comment about the historical inevitability of political change in the Middle East was interpreted by some as anti-Semitic reveals the hyper-sensitivity regarding this – undoubtedly sensitive – issue. On the other hand, the current inflammatory situation in the Middle East means such comments are perhaps likely to risk mis- or over-interpretation, and this is something of which politicians should be aware.
This is lousy rhetoric, the sort for which York University should publicly flog its English students. It's also blatantly untrue that American presidents cannot be elected without the support of the Jewish vote. Every Republican president since Coolidge won without the Jewish vote.

Surely, some of my lines will have made some readers positively apoplectic. If I am being overly sensitive and falsehoods about the power of Jewish voters are merely "(mis)interpreted as anti-Semitic", then it is simply the voice of reason that demands an apology from me. But at the core -- poorly reported here by the august BBC, which should find it easier to report on politics in its home country, and shamefully repeated by our future rhetors -- is the same old conspiracy theory about Jewish power. It is, in fact, the idea which uncontested made the Nazi genocide inevitable. If neither the BBC nor the newest crop of English students at one of the world's best universities can even recognize the main points of contention in a debate, then the same ideas will remain uncontested.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

At the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, eleven members of the Israeli team were murdered. For forty years their families have asked the International Olympic Committee to observe a minute of silence, in their memory. Please help us by signing our petition.
I am the wife of Andrei Spitzer. My husband was killed at those Olympic Games in 1972.
I am asking for one minute of silence for the memory of the eleven Israeli athletes, coaches and referees murdered at the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich. Just one minute — at the 2012 London Summer Olympics and at every Olympic Game, to promote peace.
These men were sons; fathers; uncles; brothers; friends; teammates; athletes. They came to Munich in 1972 to play as athletes in the Olympics; they came in peace and went home in coffins, killed in the Olympic Village and during hostage negotiations.
The families of the Munich 11 have worked for four decades to obtain recognition of the Munich massacre from the International Olympic Committee. We have requested a minute of silence during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics starting with the ’76 Montreal Games. Repeatedly, these requests have been turned down. The 11 murdered athletes were members of the Olympic family; we feel they should be remembered within the framework of the Olympic Games.
Please, read on and sign.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Why "The only democracy"?

It's a phrase that's been criticized plenty, rarely as underestimating the rest of the ME, sometimes because of what Peter Beinart calls "non-democratic Israel," and often because Israel (limited to its actual citizens) often fails to live up to the ideals we have for democracy. Of course, so does every democracy come up short, and we should be careful about whether Israel is being singled out. (Particularly, when Israel is singled out for things it hasn't done. Israel is the only non-US nation I know of that regularly gets international press when a bill is merely introduced in the legislature!) But a peculiar charge is often used to justify increased attention: Israel is singled out precisely because it makes the claim of being "The Only Democracy in the Middle East." The charge is hypocrisy, which is somehow always worse than mere failure. It's absurd to me that hypocrisy should be judged so harshly, but that's certainly not unique to Israel. On the other hand, I've been thinking about how the position of Israel is unique. Created by the UN, Israel is the only state which owes its creation and continued existence in large part to international perception. Regimes in Iran or North Korea are pariahs, and the Korean peninsula might someday be unified, but this doesn't compare to the way people talk about the mere existence of Israel. To many, it is unjust. And Israel is in a position where it is forced to defend its very being rhetorically in order to support its physical defense. So we get TODitME. It's exaggerated, perhaps, but I don't think it's reasonable to force Israel to defend its existence and then criticize it for exaggerating.