Wednesday, March 08, 2006

ON DAVID CLARK AND INTELLECTUAL THUGGERY

Writing recently in the Guardian, David Clark posits the view that:
Accusations of anti-semitic chic are poisonous intellectual thuggery.
and that:
Attempts to brand the left as anti-Jewish because of its support of Palestinian rights only make it harder to tackle genuine racism.
OK. Speaking up for Palestinian rights is not by itself antisemitic, although I wonder how regularly the likes of David Clark criticise those in the Palestinian Authority or armed groups who regularly abuse their own people's freedoms, whether that be executing supposed collaborators with Israel or the roughing up meted out to journalists who go against the party line.

My guess is "not very often" - David Clark fully agrees with Cherie Blair's views on suicide bombers and seems more preoccupied with setting up straw men to demolish in his attacks on the war on terror than considering that the corrupt nature of the PA may have something to do with the state many Palestinians find themselves in today.

Moving back to his article in the Guardian, Clark writes:
A more subtle argument accepts that Israel is open to criticism, but complains that it is singled out to an extent that reveals an underlying anti-Jewish prejudice. Or to put it another way: "Others get away with it, so why can't Israel." Despite its cynicism, this argument deserves an answer, and it is provided, as it happens, by Israel's staunchest supporters.

Israel, we are rightly reminded, is a democracy. Is it not legitimate, therefore, to expect it to uphold the democratic values we share in common? Far from being held to a higher standard, as its supporters often protest, Israel seems to operate with a greater impunity, and to do so with western acquiescence. This is the real reason why the issue is felt so deeply on the left and why unofficial boycotts are emerging to fill the moral void left by our feeble leaders.
This is all rather reminiscent of the rather unconvincing argument put forward by Richard Kuper a couple of months ago that was countered magnificently by both Norman Geras and Eve Garrard (Kuper then replied, then Geras and Garrard replied to his reply, so to speak).

The problem is this: were Israel to renounce democracy, presumably David Clark and his fellow travellers would have less of a problem with human rights abuse in Israel or illegal settlements than they do now. Which is plainly ridiculous.

Eve Garrard made near enough the same point in her rebuttal of Kuper's piece:
It looks as if an implication of his view is that we should cut much more slack to countries which are unashamedly oppressive and tyrannical, and be far harsher to countries which explicitly endorse liberal values. (And indeed quite a few of those who think it's OK to single out Israel for criticism do appear to be acting on that principle.)

This is a quite astonishing prioritization of the vice of hypocrisy (which Israel is supposed to possess above all others - itself a highly dubious claim which Kuper makes no attempt to support) at the expense of ignoring the rather more terrible vices of tyranny and mass murder.

It may be that Kuper is appealing to an unspoken assumption that we should only judge polities by the standards which they themselves respect. But this is an even more unattractive view: it would sink any hope of appealing to human rights in the face of killing and torture.
It looks like I'm not the only one who has a problem with Clark's article.

Over at Engage, David Hirsh notes:
One of David Clark’s big errors is to accept the terms of the attack on the left from the right. Some on the right claim that the left is antisemitic. Clarke responds with a defence of the left: “no, the left is not at all antisemitic”.

But reality is more complicated than either of these positions. Firstly, while some on the left negligently allow their hatred of Israel to fuel antisemitism on the left, there are others that oppose them. And Secondly, anti-Zionist antisemitism is not confined to the left, but is also a phenomenon of the centre, of the right,of the Nazi right, of some in the Churches and of political Islam.

Many on the left share this picture too. It is commonly argued by anti-Zionists that to support Israel’s right to exist, or to oppose anti-Zionist antisemitism, defines a person as being on the right. The demonization of Israel is held to be a pre-condition for membership of the left. Indeed, many Jews have the experience of being quizzed on their attitude to “Zionism” before being acceptable in left circles. And it is claimed too that people that are on the left must understand talk of left antisemitism only as a cover by “Zionism” for the crimes of Israel.

All this nonsense needs to be challenged. Democrats and leftists support Palestinian independence and oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Indeed, few people anywhere defend the Israeli occupation. Even within Israel, there is currently a huge (if fuzzy and precarious) electoral consensus for ending the occupation.
Shalom Lappin, Jon Pike and Anne Summers all have a go too - you can read their letters to the Guardian here. Shalom Lappin's is particularly good:
Clark informs us that it is reasonable to single out Israel for criticism while ignoring more massive crimes of other nations because Israel is a democracy.

Setting aside the obvious paternalism involved in exempting non-democracies from civilised conduct, one infers that a common standard of criticism applies at least within the class of democratic countries.

If so, perhaps he can clarify why Israel is subject to boycott calls and vociferous delegitimisation, while neither the US nor Britain inspire such campaigns, despite their occupation of Iraq and their associated human rights abuses. And why is it common in large swaths of the left to offer apologetics for suicide bombing against Israeli civilians, while objecting to such attacks in Europe and the US?

Mr Clark's sloppy, self-serving rant is an embarrassment to anyone who is committed to a coherent progressive politics.
Read them all.

To finish, if David Clark is right that we ought to single out Israel because it claims to be a democracy, he ought to have a word with Yvonne Ridley. In a recent address at Imperial College London she stated:
"Israel is called a model democracy - ­ I don't see any great signs of democracy in Israel".

"Israel is a vile little state. It's propped up by America. It cannot survive without American money".
Using Clark's warped logic, shouldn't she be focusing her attentions elsewhere?

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