Tuesday, April 04, 2006



David Hirsh on fire at Comment is Free:
It was all too predictable that when this paper came under heavy criticism, the supporters of this type of conspiracy theorising would try to present Mearsheimer and Walt as courageous victims of the same "lobby", now allegedly acting to close down academic freedom with a malicious cry of "anti-semitism".

Saturday's leader (subscription needed) in the Financial Times makes exactly this case. I want to nail one particular element of the FT argument, although this does not mean that I accept the rest. I will focus here on a claim that is made again and again: people are morally blackmailed into silence, claims the FT, by "the fear that any criticism of Israeli policy and US support for it will lead to charges of anti-semitism".

Only a person that has never thought seriously about the relationship between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism could possibly be silenced by this fear.

Think about it. Have you ever heard anybody claim that "any criticism of Israeli policy..." is anti-semitic? Sure, you've often heard it said that "the Zionists" make this claim, but have you ever heard a "Zionist" actually do it?

Now think about it again. It would be transparently ridiculous for anybody to claim that criticism of Israeli policy is anti-semitic. Wouldn't it?

This FT editorial appeared on April Fools Day. The best April Fools jokes are the ones that seem plausible - but when you discover that you've been had, you realise that you ought to have been able to work out for yourself that this was a hoax. You didn't need to know that it was a hoax because if you had been thinking clearly, you'd have guessed. This one, however, is no joke. The claim, that critics of Israeli policy are silenced by the malicious cry of "anti-semitism" appears routinely. It is propagated by people who have thought about it carefully. It is propagated by people who say they want a license to criticise Israeli policy for various reasons: either because they want to demonise, to sew hatred, to push "Zionist" conspiracy theories, or to single out Israel for a unique pariah status.
There's even one in the comments on a previous Comment is Free piece of his:
Has anyone watched the comedy 'Little Britain'? One of the characters is a gay man called Daffyd living in a Welsh village. Now Daffyd is very concerned about homophobia and sees it everywhere. However, the inhabitants of the village are actually very tolerant (to the extent that old women buy dildoes for their gay grandchildren in village fetes). Still, Daffyd inists on seeing homophobia where it doesn't exist and most jokes and comic scenes are based on this.

This is the same thing with those who see anti-Semitism everywhere. Like Daffyd in the show, they use more and more contorted arguments to 'prove' it exists where it doesn't, and make the rest of us laugh out loud.
It's worth reading some of the arguments that unfold in the comments - people do seem to have a difficulty accepting that certain views are inherently antisemitic and should be called such. Likewise, those that call others on those views have not been shown to describe all criticism of Israel as antisemitic. Indeed, the person to whom the comment above was probably directed went as far as to say:
Still, Israel did not help matters by starting settlements on the West Bank and especially Gaza. The sooner it evacuates the settlements the better it will be for all concerned.
which strikes me as a form of criticism of Israel in itself.

The issue here is not that Israel is innocent of all accusations thrown against her. It's the fact that she is frequently singled out and receives more attention from certain critics than other countries in which far greater crimes have been or are still being committed.

The popularity (or infamy, depending on your outlook) of David Hirsh's column on Comment is Free compared to other contributors' is partly down to his knack of knowing how to kick off a debate, but also due to the fascination that many have with Israel above all other nations.

There's nothing wrong with being interested in a country halfway round the world. It's when that interest turns to criticism singling out that particular country, whilst turning a blind eye to similar offences occurring elsewhere, that we have a problem.

Not that some can see that. From the comments to Hirsh's original piece:
I boycott Israeli products for the same reason I boycotted South-African products during the Apartheid regime and if I had lived in the 1930's I would have boycotted German products too.

If you talk about "SINGLING OUT Israel for special treatment"... it is precisely what all western goverments are doing. Despite Israel consequently ignoring UN resolutions they keep receiving billions of dollars in aid. Compare the international pressure on Iran for wanting to develop nuclear technology and the so called reason for invading Iraq, whereas no one cares a hoot that Israel has nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Talk about special treatment!
All after Belsizepark (I'm sure I recognise that commenter's style from somewhere...) had just made my point so well:
Oh how dull a lot of this gets. People should realise that there is a difference between criticising Israel and SINGLING OUT Israel for special treatment.

If someone is arguing for boycotts of hundreds of countries that they thnk are oppressive to minorities so be it. However those arguing for a boycott of Israel are not arguing for a boycott of other countries.

What needs to be determined is why is the only country they are singling out for sepecial traeatment the Jewish State?

If we look at all the Muslim states in the world.. The treatment of minorities is far worse. Even under the new Afghanistan regime there has been a story in the press this week of a Christian carrying a bible and for that horrendous sin the punishment seems to be death.

Hang on a second..There are lots of Muslims living in Israel and they all get a vote. There are Arab political parties and the list goes on.

There is a Hamas charter that states the following -

"The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. "

There is an Iranian President who denies the Holocaust occurred and argued that Israel should be wiped off the map and at the same time wants nuclear weapons.

With all of this going onin the world, why is it that the only country that some in the Church of England have tried to boycott is the State of Israel?
"Well you would say that, you accuse anyone who criticises Israel of antisemitism" is cowardly and untrue.

Hats off to David Hirsh for exposing this straw man.


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