pageok
pageok
pageok
A Peculiar Use of "Anti-Semitism":

As I've noted before, friends of Israel sometimes use overwrought charges of anti-Semitism to try to silence critics of Israel. That's undeniable, and regrettable.

Equally undeniable, and regrettable, is when a friend of Israel criticizes critics of Israel, and then gets accused of calling everyone who criticizes Israel anti-Semitic, even when the author never mentioned anti-Semitism, and even, oddly enough, when the author has explicitly disclaimed any intention of suggesting that the individual he criticized is anti-Semitic. I've lost count of how many times commenters on this blog have written something along the lines of "there goes Bernstein again, claiming that legitimate criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism," when accusations of anti-Semitism were never leveled, and even when they were explicitly disclaimed.

Consider how Matthew Yglesias (note: who, for the record, I think is neither anti-Semitic, nor even "anti-Israel", but is far too kind to those who are, perhaps under the "an enemy of my enemy [Bush foreign policy] is my friend" theory) portrays the recent AJC study on leftist Israel-hating Jews, who, according to the study, are playing into the hands of growing genocidal anti-Semitism in the Muslim world by engaging in highly inflammatory rhetoric criticizing Israel in terms normally reserved for brutal dictatorships. Yglesias sums it up as "AJC's 'Jews who have different political opinions from ours are anti-semities' [sic] essay."

A commenter responded:

Yeah, except that isn't what the essay says.

Just as when you said Abe Foxman branded Wesley Clark an anti-semite, only except for where Abe Foxman expressly stated he wasn't.

Just as when you criticized Leon Wieseltier for calling Tony Judt an anti-semite, only except for that part where he explicitly wrote "Tony Judt is not an anti-semite." You know, for someone in the midst of a crusade against rhetorical sophistry re: Israel & anti-semitism, & someone who defended Clark's inartful expression against accusations of anti-semitic conspiracy theory, you seem to have a nasty habit of misrepresenting other's views re: Israel/Jews. In the Matthew Yglesias equation, the rules are turned completely on their head; anyone who criticizes another commentator for treating the subject of Israel & the Jews in a manner, to quote Wieseltier "Icily lacking in decency" is accused of anti-semitism baiting.

Unfortunately, Yglesias is hardly alone.

So on the one hand, we have friends of Israel who are too quick to label others anti-Semitic, though I believe that this phenomenon is declining, as it has received increasing scrutiny and criticism. On the other hand, we have critics of Israel who try to portray anyone who defends Israel as a hysteric who sees anti-Semitism everywhere. This seems to be on the rise. And the most vociferous critics of the former phenomenon tend to be the most egregious participants in the latter.

Observer:
"So on the one hand, we have friends of Israel who are too quick to label others anti-Semitic, though I believe that this phenomenon is declining, as it has received increasing scrutiny and criticism."

All it takes for this phenomenon to accelerate again is for Israel to engage in another attack--bombing Lebanon or a Palestinian high-rise full of women and children, for example. Whenever people criticize things like that, the claims of anti-semiticism rise dramatically.
2.3.2007 1:26pm
ngh:
The issue is that for all that some may disclaim accusations of anti-semitism, they still use the same rhetoric they would use for people they said were anti-semites, just without the word "anti-semite" itself.

Saying "Oh, I would never accuse you of X" and then going right on to imply and suggest X in every way possible without saying it is quite an old and common trick. Disclaiming the use of one specific word in accusations is nothing when you still use all the other words that imply it.

The bulk of what one says speaks louder than any disclaimers. Look, for example, at what you just wrote. For all that you included a disclaimer acknowledging that friends of Israel use overwrought accusations of anti-semitism, it's clear that isn't your real concern; your real concern is people criticizing Israel and friends of Israel, and that's what you use the bulk of your writing on.
2.3.2007 2:28pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
NGH: Thanks for providing further evidence for my point.
2.3.2007 2:35pm
PersonFromPorlock:
May I be a heretic and suggest that for most of us, pro-semitism, anti-semitism and anti-anti-semitism are profoundly boring issues? Yes, all three conditions exist. So what? The world is an imperfect place.
2.3.2007 2:35pm
Elliot Reed:
I think you're overestimating the importance of disclaiming the charge. If I imply something, saying it's not what I believe doesn't necessarily change the fact of whether or not I implied it. In fact implying something while explicitly disclaiming it is a common disingenuous technique. For some particularly egregious examples, see, for example, Holocaust denial ("we're not defending Hitler"), "intelligent design" ("we're not saying the Designer is the Christian God") and the once-common "I'm not racist, but. . ."
2.3.2007 2:36pm
Elliot Reed:
I should add that ngh's example of "[s]aying 'Oh, I would never accuse you of X' and then going right on to imply and suggest X" as an instance of the same phenomenon. The fact that it's explicitly denied doesn't change the fact that it's implied. You have to look at the overall message conveyed and not just at the disclaimer.
2.3.2007 2:40pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
But people who are not anti-Semitic can engage in inappropriate, inflammatory rhetoric. At times this rhetoric can (as Jimmy Carter's, for example, has, in suggesting that Jewish groups were preventing him from speaking at college campuses for free) play on traditional anti-Semitic themes, even if unconsciously or inadvertantly. It should be possible to point this out without accusations that you are willy-nilly accusing everyone who disagrees with you of being an anti-Semite. If someone, for example, makes the absurd claim that Israel is worse than Nazi Germany, it is by no means unreasonable to suggest that this individual is engaging in inflammatory rhetoric that is encouraging the anti-Semites of the world. The proper response to this suggestion would be to either defend the original statement, or explain why using this inflammatory rhetoric is appropriate despite the obvious dangers (e.g., "I think Israel is the greatest danger right now to world stability, and anything that helps make people aware of this is worth the price." Or as __ Nuemann has argued, (paraphrase) "Anti-Semitism is no longer a danger, no one in their right mind confuses criticism of Israel with criticism of Jews, so I don't worry about my rhetoric.") Since none of these positions is logically supportable, these folks instead say, "How dare you accuse me of being anti-Semitic, you hysteric."
2.3.2007 2:44pm
Jason J. (mail):
ngh is exactly right, despite Bernstein's ridiculous claim that his comment somehow proves him right. Take, for instance, this idea that Foxman wasn't accusing Clark of antisemitism. Yes, Foxman said he didn't think Clark was an anti-semite; then he went on to accuse him of buying into "conspiratorial bigotry" and compared him to David Duke.

Foxman et. al. aren't absolved of the charge that they accuse critics of Israel of anti-semitism simply because whenever they make such accusations, they throw in disingenuous disclaimers that they're not doing exactly what they are doing.

If I say, "I'm not accusing you of anti-semitism, but boy, your arguments wouldn't be out of place in Mein Kampf," then despite my protestations to the contrary, I am accusing you of anti-semitism.
2.3.2007 2:57pm
ReVonna LaSchatze:
On the other hand, we have critics of Israel who try to portray anyone who defends Israel as a hysteric who sees anti-Semitism everywhere. This seems to be on the rise. And the most vociferous critics of the former phenomenon tend to be the most egregious participants in the latter.

You have a cite for this Mr.B,
or is it just observations in your circles? If the former, please provide evidence. If the latter, please tell us where you gleaned these facts (here on the blog, or what personal circles you hang in.)

Cluster bomblets in Lebanon:
I suspect you are going to see a lot more criticism of Israel, now that the Holocaust memories are not so fresh and there is less incentive to holler "anti Semitism" toward anyone who criticizes American support of Israel's policies. Long time coming...
2.3.2007 3:02pm
eeyn524:
One has to concede that taking purely on the facts, you are correct and Yglesias is wrong. Just like when you pointed out to me once that you'd specifically blogged that Juan Cole is not an anti-semite.

On the other hand, suppose someone took out an ad in the local paper, headlined "John Smith Is Not A Child Molestor". The fine print would go on to state that after reviewing what is known of Smith's relationships with children, there is no evidence so far that anything he has done rises to the level of child molesting. Substitute your own name if you don't see what's wrong with this. Unless John Smith had already been subject to lots of public accustations, the ad is clearly an attempt to cast suspicion.

So, either Tony Judt had been subject to lots of accusations (which would prove the general point, even though Yglesias' specific complaint is false), or the piece was intended to smear.

As another example, it's hard to find any high-level US officials stating that Saddam Hussein ordered the 9/11 attack. They just happened to mention him and 9/11 together, over and over again, and after a while a substantial percentage of people just assumed there must be some connection.
2.3.2007 3:05pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Foxman said that Clark was buying into conspiracy theories that used to only circulate in David Dukeish circles. That's not the same as saying Clark is an anti-Semite, but it is suggesting that he's picked up an meme with its origins in anti-Semitic circles. I'd be the first to acknowledge that the not-so-subtle distinctions between those who are truly anti-Semitic (or racist, etc.) and those who utter a prejudiced thought or make an unflattering remark about a group has or absord prejudiced themes from broader discourse largely been lost in public discourse, but we can lay that at the hands of the P.C. crowd that has intentionally obscured these differences. But given that I've publicly campaigned against this on these "pages," and have stated, for example, that I don't think even figures like H.L. Mencken and Harry Truman who made very bigoted statements about Jews were "anti-Semites," I'm not in any way bound to the modern p.c. trope that anyone who makes an insensitive or inflammatory or even bigoted comment is a racist, anti-Semite, etc., and I think that people should feel free to point out such comments without being accused of claiming that speaker is a racist, anti-Semite, etc.

In short, what Foxman was saying is that I don't think Wesley Clark is hostile to Jews, but I do think he made an unfortunate comment that reflects themes that have been injected into public discourse by anti-Semites like David Duke. Here's the whole quote from Foxman: "While we know [Clark] is a good friend of Israel and is not an anti-Semite, he still engaged in inappropriate language by talking about how Israel and Jewish money will move this country to war on Iran," Foxman said. "At a time when Jews are being accused of bringing about the war in Iraq, that's very disturbing. We know this is not the real Clark — but he said it. We're worried because these ideas seem to be moving into the mainstream. It's not just David Duke anymore."
I don't think accusing someone of "inappropriate language" is remotely the same as accusing them of anti-Semitism, especially when you disclaim that accusation in the same breath. Given that Foxman's job is head of the "Anti-Defamation League," his basic job is to point out rhetoric that he thinks steps over the line. He's paid to be if anything overly vigilant about it, but again that goes to the merits of whether Clark's rhetoric stepped over the line, and not whether Foxman was accusing Clark of intentionally engaging in anti-Semitism.
2.3.2007 3:19pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Eey, because Foxman is the head of an organization that is known for combatting anti-Semitism, if he didn't disclaim that he was accusing Clark of being anti-Semitic, he'd be accused of it. Because he did disclaim this accusation, he's also accused of it. Tell me how he's supposed to win this game?
2.3.2007 3:21pm
La Rana (www):
Until you distinguish the tactic in which one rejects a word while asserting that word's definition, your protestations fall on deaf ears.
2.3.2007 3:24pm
eeyn524:
PersonFromPorlock: May I be a heretic and suggest that for most of us, pro-semitism, anti-semitism and anti-anti-semitism are profoundly boring issues? Yes, all three conditions exist. So what? The world is an imperfect place.

But Prof. Bernstein's post today is actually anti-anti-anti-semitism, which is somewhat original.
2.3.2007 3:24pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Actually, I think it's anti-anti-anti-anti-Semitism.
2.3.2007 3:26pm
eeyn524:
Sorry! Lost count.

Clark is "not" an anti-semite, Foxman is anti-anti-semite, Yglesias is anti-anti-anti-semite, and today Prof. Bernstein is anti-anti-anti-anti-semite.
2.3.2007 3:27pm
eeyn524:
Eey, because Foxman is the head of an organization that is known for combatting anti-Semitism, if he didn't disclaim that he was accusing Clark of being anti-Semitic, he'd be accused of it. Because he did disclaim this accusation, he's also accused of it. Tell me how he's supposed to win this game?

It's a difficult game, and as demonstrated above, easy to lose count. And actually, on the quote you give above, I'd have to say Foxman did pretty well, which is why on this one you're right and Yglesias is wrong.
2.3.2007 3:48pm
AF:
The AJC essay does accuse Jews of anti-Semitism:

[O]ne of the most distressing features of the new anti-
Semitism [is] the participation of Jews alongside it, especially
in its anti-Zionist expression.


[L]et us review the reflections on Israel and present-day anti-Semitism of Michael Neumann, a professor of philosophy at Trent University in Canada and author of What's Left: Radical Politics and the RadicalPsyche.


The extreme anti-Zionism exhibited in the quotations above is not driven by anything remotely like reasoned historical analysis, but rather by a complex tangle of psychological as well as political motives that subvert reason and replace it with something akin to hysteria.


Like so much else in Farber's book, this theatrical gesture of solidarity with "the oppressed" reduces "progressive" political thinking to the level of the perverse and aligns it with the thinking that drives the new anti-Semitism.


The fact that anti-Zionism—understood as the rejection of the long-established right of Jews to a secure national homeland in Israel—shares common features with anti-Jewish ideologies of the past either eludes or fails to trouble Jews who identify with these political tendencies. That is more than just a pity—it is a betrayal. Over the decades, elements within the left stood as principled opponents of anti-Semitism and fought against it. To witness some of their heirs today contributing to a newly resurgent anti- Zionism that, in many ways, recalls older versions of anti-Semitism is dismaying as well as disheartening.
2.3.2007 4:12pm
Antonio Manetti (mail):
Of course, all that energy spent arguing whether or not someone is an anti-to-the-nth power semite or merely an anti-zionist saves us the trouble of considering Israel's policies at all.

Similar tactics have been used in an attempt to silence Catholics protesting against abuses by the church hierarchy.
2.3.2007 4:54pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
Sort of reminds me of this one time when I was playing a club in L.A. I'm on break hanging out with the bass player and singer (both of whom are black), when a guy (who's white) approaches us and starts trying to pick up on the singer. He ogles her a bit, tells her how "hot" she is, then proceeds to close the deal, like so: "Now, I don't hate ni**ers."

Which, when you think about it, is a pretty "explicit" disclaimer. Guess we'll just have to take him at his word, then.
2.3.2007 5:14pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Q and others: So if you say someone is anti-Semitic, you mean he's anti-Semitic. If you say someone is not anti-Semitic, you are also saying that he's anti-Semitic, but only if you also criticize his views on Israel. Lovely.
2.3.2007 5:30pm
mcf:
If Foxman was not referring to anti-Semitism, what was he referring to by using the term "bigotry"?
2.3.2007 5:31pm
Michael B (mail):
Jimmy Carter is not an anti-Semite, but he is certainly an anti-Israel bigot.
2.3.2007 6:06pm
Q the Enchanter (mail) (www):
DB, my tale was only meant to make the narrow point that an express disclaimer isn't dispositive as to the attitude disclaimed.
2.3.2007 6:20pm
Pokey:
Um, why in the world would anyone pay any attention to what Matthew Yglesias says?
2.3.2007 7:01pm
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
So let's see if I've gotten this straight: if one speaks, say, of the enormous power of "New York money people" over US policy--as Wesley Clark did--then it's completely unjustified to impute any real or implied anti-Semitism to that statement. If, on the other hand, one criticizes such a statement--even if one explicitly denies calling it anti-Semitic--then it's completely justified to impute an implicit accusation of anti-Semitism to that criticism. Have I understood that correctly?

So far, I have yet to hear one person say, "what Clark said was outrageous, it's true, but it's unfair to call it anti-Semitic." Overwhelmingly, those who object to the accusation of anti-Semitism are in fact objecting to any complaint about Clark's statement at all--presumably because (like Yglesias, for instance) they agree with it, and think any criticism of it to be entirely unfair. That's why every criticism of it is exaggerated into an accusation of anti-Semitism: it's exactly the same tactic that its users accuse their opponents of, except that it's directed against Jews and their defenders, rather than at Jew-haters and their supporters.

Well, somebody should say it: when you claim that "New York money people" control US foreign policy, you're making a flagrantly anti-Semitic statement. And the fact that somebody, somewhere may once have lobbed an unjustified charge of anti-Semitism at some critic of Israel doesn't change the rank anti-Semitism of Clark's statement--or of most of the people who have jumped to its defense.
2.3.2007 9:38pm
Roy Haddad (mail):
Why bother? Given that talking about your opponent's bigotry is useless in a logical argument even if you are correct...
2.4.2007 10:53am
Public_Defender (mail):
Another misuse of the term "anti-semitism" is when an anti-Jewish Arab says, "I can't be anti-semitic because I am a semite, too." The answer should always be, "OK, but you are a bigot."

An equally unpersuasive argument is when some Jews claim that Jews can't be "racist" against Arabs because Arabs and Jews are not from different races. Again, the answer should be, "OK, but you can still be a bigot."
2.4.2007 12:32pm
MnZ (mail):

Um, why in the world would anyone pay any attention to what Matthew Yglesias says?


I don't know if I would go that far since Yglesias is right most of the time. However, when he is wrong, he tends to undermine himself by sticking to his guns. Moreover, he tends make the same mistake when he defends people that he views as his allies.
2.4.2007 2:26pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Um, why in the world would anyone pay any attention to what Matthew Yglesias says?


Because he writes with the same level of seriousness as a fourteen year old girl writing poetry about love, angst, and misery?
2.4.2007 5:54pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Why bother? Given that talking about your opponent's bigotry is useless in a logical argument even if you are correct...


Or rather that more and more people have wised up and realized that calling someone some type of "bigot" is simply a way of trying to end the debate.
2.4.2007 5:59pm
Bleepless (mail):
The "logic" goes as follows: Israel performs some action. People accused of being anti-Semites criticize it, and people not accused of being anti-Semites do, too. Therefore, there is no such thing as an anti-Semite. Can those of you defending yourselves or others against the charge of anti-Semitism name any living Americans or Europeans who are anti-Semites? Are there any?
2.4.2007 9:52pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Can those of you defending yourselves or others against the charge of anti-Semitism name any living Americans or Europeans who are anti-Semites?


Since when is the burden on the accused to disprove the charge rather than on the accuser to have to prove them?
2.5.2007 10:54am
Michael B (mail):
"Or rather that more and more people have wised up and realized that calling someone some type of "bigot" is simply a way of trying to end the debate." TW

Instead of employing generalizations, let's take a specific example, an example from Jimmy Carter, who is ever and always and earnestly advancing himself under the rubric of Sunday School Teaching, Home Spun Decency, as if those who call him out and seek a more informed and more transparent discourse are somehow less than decent.

In his recently published, anti-Israel harangue Carter suggests the West Bank security barrier would be better categorized as a prison wall (such reflects his summarily dismissive tone, vis-a-vis Israel, throughout the book). But let's take a look at some salient, specific facts which better inform the subject of the security barrier. Avoiding generalizations and labels, let's take a more empirical/rational look at the security barrier on the West Bank.

1) The barrier is occasionally criticized for its imposing height. (During some stretches it is a wall, during other stretches it is a fence, together with a trench which forecloses penetration by vehicles.) However, the primary reason the barrier is an imposing wall for some stretches is due to the fact that Arab refugees ("Palestinians") have positioned themselves as snipers in multi-story buildings, firing upon civilian pedestrians and automobile drivers moving parallel to or adjacent to the security barrier. The height of the wall prevents these snipers from successfully firing upon (Jewish and Arab) Israeli civilians. (Appx. 22% of Israel's population is Arab.)

2) Empirically the security barrier has been hugely successful. The first (of three) section of the barrier was completed at the end of 2003. Prior to completion and covering this particular stretch of the border, 135 Israelis were killed and 632 were wounded during the twelve months preceeding completion. During the six months following completion of this section of the barrier 19 were killed and 102 were wounded in the general vicinity of the barrier, with zero killed and zero wounded in the area immediately adjacent to the barrier. This success has continued.

3) The barrier being addressed in the security barrier in the West Bank. In Gaza there is also a barrier and excepting for situations where the Gaza barrier has been circumvented it has been 100% effective. The recent homicide/suicide attack in Eilat was committed by a resident of Gaza, but he circumvented the barrier by first entering Egypt and only thereafter coming back into Eilat where he detonated himself and murdered three Israelis.

4) Both Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis (again, roughly 22% of the population), with hardly an exception, approve of the security barrier. Not only have snipers and suicide/homicide bombers been effectively thwarted, but petty crimes (theft, vandalism, etc.) as well have been hugely reduced and relative peace and quiet has been restored to neighborhoods.

Given those salient, "existentially meaningful" facts, none of which are addressed by Carter, the label of anti-Israel bigot is all too apt.

Labels are substantive to the extent they reflect real content.
2.5.2007 4:55pm
Michael B (mail):
Btw, Abe Foxman, for one, is an anti-Christian bigot as well, that's another label that can be amply documented; though it's a different, far more socially acceptable bigotry, thus a more "rhetorically invested" subject, more intractable still and less given to serious reflection.
2.5.2007 5:00pm
Michael B (mail):
Yet more on Carter and his current volume.

Carter fills his pages with a combination of narrative and policy prescription. Empiricism and rationality, throughout, are given short shrift while Carter's insinuating, blinkered Feel-Good-Authority™ is the single constant. The incurious and the complacent are lulled, talking heads talk, both pre-modern and post-modern tribal instincts are aroused - and the Arab refugees aka "Palestinians," the only multi-generational "refugees" on the face of the planet, are given yet more encouragement to hope for and actively work toward the destruction of Israel and the elimination of Jews. Those are general statements, though it can all be further substantiated and none of it reflects any exaggeration, not an iota, not a jot, not a tittle, none of it - even to the contrary. As narrative Carter's present volume is an ahistorical, counter-factual seduction; prescriptively and morally it's a diffusive, wastreling mess that will serve dissolution and tragedy and rationales in support of war, not peace.

Too, this is far from the first time Carter has offered his now trademark, truncated analyses and naive prescriptions. Carter's counter-productive attempts include North Korea (where he advised us to trust Kim Il Sung's promises concerning North Korea's nuclear ambitions, promises which the Clinton admin. proceeded to formalize and which North Korea immediately proceeded to violate with a clandestine nuclear program in Kumchangri), they also include the Saddam/Kuwait war in 1990, the first Gulf War, though other examples still could be provided. Douglas Brinkley is an authorized biographer, following is Brinkley's description of Carter's initiative in the Saddam/Kuwait situation:
"[Carter] urged ... influential world leaders to abandon U.S. leadership and instead give "unequivocal support to an Arab League effort, without any restraints on their agenda." If this were allowed to occur, Carter believed, an Arab solution would not only force Iraq to leave Kuwait but at long last also force Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories."
Such is credulity writ large, such is naivete and self-regard as policy prescription and such is the very same style and method Carter brings to the present volume. Such historical examples are one vantage point from which to view Carter's present volume.

Serving as stark contrast, Amir Taheri provides a fruitful, productive, realist view. His closing, summary graph:

"It is this: with the exception of Israel and with the partial exception of Turkey, the entire Middle East lacks a culture of conflict resolution, let alone the necessary mechanisms of meaningful compromise. Such a culture can only be shaped through a process of democratization. Only democracies habitually resolve their conflicts through diplomacy rather than war, and only popular-based regimes possess the political strength and the moral will to build peace. This is why, unless we mean to consign the Middle East back to the "swamps" from which the United States, its allies, and the region's reformers have been seeking to extricate it, democratization remains the only credible strategy in and for the "arc of crisis," and the only hope for its suffering inhabitants."

Bingo. Taheri gets it right.
2.6.2007 12:37am
Michael B (mail):
Seems some people don't want to engage a more serious polemic after all. My two-star Amazon review of Carter's current volume.

Two or three qualities dominate among those who applaud Carter's debased, anti-Israel offering: intellectual laziness, emotive and similar superficial appeals and thirdly, in cases such as Finkelstein and others reflect, an ideological animus against Israel, essentially a feel-good leftish and more decided Left-of-center ideologically based animus.
2.6.2007 3:29pm