Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On the power of complaining II

Yesterday, I put up a picture - showing an ADL jackboot stomping on a Christian Church, it reads "Hate Crimes Legislation is Just a Ruse for Censorship" - to illustrate a post, and got two comments asking where it came from. I first found it from a post at Judeosphere (unfortunately, now retired from blogging), called "Progressive" Website Posts Neo-Nazi Cartoon. It appears to come originally from the website

It is, of course, a major theme in antisemitic conspiracism that Jews control the media. The meaning of this is, I think, often understated today. It means Jews have a special ability to reach into American livingrooms with Judaizing hypno-rays, but that's a mocking description. A great deal of less unreasonable thought from the Left as well as genuinely necessary scholarship, can feed into the view that this is possible. Chomsky not only argues that the elite manipulate the ideas common people have by determining the "legitimate" field of debate, but also that the phrase "conspiracy theory" is a ruse of the elite (not that I want to pick on him here). So I don't think the idea that Jews control the terms of debate - whether stated in blatant far right terms, in relatively sophisticated pseudo-post-modern language, or in milder forms such as what I quoted - can be so easily divorced from antisemitic conspiracism.

Now, the individual I quoted is as far from a Neo-Nazi as could be. He is, in fact, a left-Zionist of the sort with which I would generally agree. He does argue that antisemitism has played a large part in the debate over Israel (though certainly not that it is the only relevant bias), and so I don't think he himself would argue for including more blatant antisemitism in the debate. A big part of the reason I didn't cite that person or link to the quote was to avoid conflating him with the sort of people who would post the picture I showed without embarrasment. But I think it does show how common this view is that Jews control the terms of debate over Israel by disingenuously charging antisemitism.

I'm probably pretty radical in refusing to accept any claim that Jews silence debate. I've seen far too often that this charge silences Jews (including me). And, frankly, I've looked at a lot of examples offered by others and generally found there was a real reason to talk about antisemitism. One example that stands out in my mind was a conversation between Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch and the New York Sun, published in the paper as a series of letters. Roth, himself an observant Jew and child of Holocaust survivors, was accused of writing "a slur on the Jewish religion itself that is breathtaking in its ignorance." In fact, Roth had written a variation on the phrase "an eye for an eye," calling it "primitive" and implying that this was the basis of Israeli policy in it's war with Lebanon.
Mr. Bell's distortions do Israel no service. Israel could have maintained the moral high ground if it had responded to Hezbollah rocket attacks by targeting only Hezbollah military forces. Instead, whether by design or callous indifference, Israeli bombing has killed hundreds of Lebanese civilians and left much of the country's infrastructure in ruins. Yet Mr. Bell's see-no-evil defense only encourages more such slaughter. An eye for an eye - or, more accurately in this case, twenty eyes for an eye - may have been the morality of some more primitive moment. But it is not the morality of international humanitarian law which Mr. Bell pretends to apply.
I do think the Sun editors were right that this is a breathtakingly ignorant slur on Judaism. Further, it implies that observant Jews today are primitive. What's especially strange is that Roth should know he was misinterpreting the phrase as it's understood in Judaism, as a way of determining the amount of monetary compensation in certain confusing cases.

But allowing that there may be cases here or there where people are unjustly silenced by being called antisemitic, and allowing that such cases may even rise to a level of significance on occasion - Morton Klein of the ZOA is a notable idiot - it is still important that a response be measured. It is not remotely acceptable that criticism of figures like Klein should be scattershot so as to silence Jews generally. It is necessary that such criticism should be distinguishable from conspiracism. And that does mean being more careful than to use constructions like this:
the organized Jewish community quite often does try to shut down debate over Israel, and often employs the accusation of anti-Semitism to do so.

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