Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Kill Arabs, Cry Anti-Semitism By Norman G. Finkelstein

A central thesis of my book Beyond Chutzpah is that whenever Israel faces a public relations debacle its apologists sound the alarm that a "new anti-Semitism" is upon us. So, predictably, just after Israel faced another image problem due to its murderous destruction of Lebanon, a British all-party parliamentary group led by notorious Israel-firster Denis MacShane MP (Labor) released yet another report alleging a resurgence of anti-Semitism (Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into Antisemitism, September 2006). To judge by the witnesses (David Cesarani, Lord Janner, Oona King, Emanuele Ottolenghi, Melanie Phillips) and sources (MEMRI, Holocaust Education Trust) cited in the body of the report, much time and money could have been saved had it just been contracted out to the Israel Foreign Ministry.[1]

The single novelty of the report, which mostly rehashes fatuous allegations already disposed of in Beyond Chutzpah, is the new thresholds in idiocy it breaks. Consider the methodology deployed for demonstrating a new anti-Semitism. The report defines an anti-Semitic incident as any occasion "perceived" to be anti-Semitic by the "Jewish community."[2] This is the school of thought according to which it's raining even in the absence of any precipitation because I feel it's raining. It is the dream philosophy of paranoids - especially rational paranoids, for whom alleged victimhood is politically serviceable. The report includes under the rubric of anti-Semitic incidents not just violent acts and incendiary speech but "conversations, discussions, or pronouncements made in public or private, which cross the line of acceptability," as well as "the mood and tone when Jews are discussed." The wonder is that it didn't also tabulate repressed anti-Semitic libidinal fantasies.[3] In the category of inherently anti-Semitic pronouncements the report includes "drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis" (only comparisons of contemporary Arab policy to that of the Nazis are permissible) and "theories about Jewish or Zionist influence on American foreign policy" (even if Jewish and Zionist organizations boast about this influence).[4]

Much of the evidence of pervasive British anti-Semitism stretches and strains credulity. The lone item listed under the ominous subheading "The Blood Libel" is a Syrian television series "that would be possible for viewers in the UK to see...if they had suitable satellite receiving equipment."[5] The report also notes the unreferenced "case of a Jewish university lecturer who was subjected to an anti-Semitic tirade from a student in the middle of a lecture and subsequently asked to explain to the university authorities why he had upset the student."[6] Is it anti-Semitic to wonder whether this is a crock? And then it cites the warning of the London Assembly Conservative Group that "there is a risk that in some political quarters 'views on international events can, almost subconsciously, lead to subtly different attitudes to, and levels of engagement with, different minority groups.'"[7] The new anti-Semitism business must be going seriously awry when British conservatives start sounding like Lacan. Finally, it is anti-Semitic for student unions to advocate a boycott of Israeli goods because this "would restrict the availability of kosher food on campus."[8] Maybe Israel can organize a "Berlin airlift" of gefilte fish.

Although claiming that, in the struggle against anti-Semitism, "none of those who gave evidence wished to see the right of free speech eroded," and "only in extreme circumstances would we advocate legal intervention,"[9] the report recommends that university authorities "take an active interest in combating acts, speeches, literature and events that cause anxiety or alarm among their Jewish students," and it registers disquiet that "classic and modern anti-Semitic works are freely available for ordering on the website," and that "the United States in particular has been slow to take action" in closing down "anti-Semitic internet sites."[10] It is at moments like this that even the least patriotic of souls can take pride in being an American.

* * *

1. The report's statement that "we received no evidence of the accusation of anti-Semitism being misused by mainstream British Jewish community organizations and leaders" (para. 79) perhaps speaks more to the selection of the witnesses than the reality.

2. Report, para. 3; cf. para. 73.

3. Quoted phrases from Report "Summary." The police data on an increase in anti-Semitic incidents in itself proves little because, as the report concedes, the spike might be due to more incidents being reported and a coarsening of British life generally, as well as the "spillover" from the Israel-Palestine conflict (Report, paras 28, 29, 59, 64, and Beyond Chutzpah, pp. 81ff.). In addition, there is little evidence of "organized," "politically motivated" anti-Semitic attacks; there is no evidence that perpetrators of anti-Semitic attacks were disproportionately Muslim; and most of the suspects in the incidents were adolescents (Report, paras. 55, 56, 58, 151). For 2005 the report cites a couple incidents that were "potentially" life-threatening (para. 61). It cites no comparative data for other minorities in Britain, although tacitly acknowledging that "the level of prejudice and discrimination by Jews in Britain remains lower," a considerable understatement (para 17). On a related note, it deplores that "less than one in ten [anti-Semitic] incidents reported to the police resulted in a suspect becoming an accused" (para. 69), but cites no comparative data indicating whether this ratio is aberrant.

4. Report, para. 84, 119; cf. para. 148. On a related note the report expresses worry that "the use of language and imagery of the Holocaust has become increasingly widespread in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" (para. 93). Of course, what's new about such imagery in the West is that it's no longer only used against Arabs.

5. Report, para. 99.

6. Report, para, 101.

7. Report, para. 104.

8. Report, paras. 203, 204.

9. Report, paras. 74, 75.

10. Report, paras. 183, 189, 220.