Breaking the Seals

The Z-Word Blog (guess what the Z stands for) is, if anything, more focused on the intersection between anti-Zionist and anti-Semitism than I am. Which is why I think this post is important — it not only affirms that “It is possible to be very critical of Israel and its actions without being antisemitic” in the abstract — but pulls out a specific piece by a Spanish columnist as an example, one who writes that “We all agree that the response of the Israeli army [in Gaza] was disproportionate and that the massacre of the Palestinian civilian population, with emphasis on the children, was unspeakable and unforgivable even by God.”1

That is quite a severe critique — needless to say, the Z-Word bloggers probably would disagree with the characterization. But the point isn’t to parse whether they or I agree with this columnist’s views or not; the point is that a very prominent pro-Zionist blog is publicly and demonstratively saying “yes, you can level critiques like this without being anti-Semitic”. Even as a gesture of trust-building, I think it’s an important step. And the columnist, for his part, couched his criticism by also firmly condemning the anti-Semitism he’s observed ripping through Spain, often “justified” as anti-Israel sentiment. That obviously enhances his credibility when he makes statements like the above.

I don’t know if this is a new development or I only just started noticing it, but of late I’ve observed that folks who are trying to argue that certain criticisms of Israel are anti-Semitic always preface with “of course, one can criticize Israel without it being anti-Semitic. But….” This affirmation hasn’t had much of an impact on people who believe that one can’t engage in such criticism without being tarred with the brush; I assume it’s because they think that the caveat is completely theoretical and that no critique (at least, that isn’t completely mealy-mouthed) will ever pass muster. The fact that Z-Word went beyond theoretical affirmation and was willing to say this article, though we might disagree with it, is a harsh criticism of Israel that is nonetheless not anti-Semitic hopefully will help dissipate some of that mistrust.

  1. The column is excerpted and translated from the Spanish — not speaking Spanish, I can’t read the whole thing to get a feel for the whole article beyond what they’re translating. []
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60 Responses to Breaking the Seals

  1. 1
    chingona says:

    The column focuses almost exclusively on the record of modern antisemitism in Spain, with a few lines very critical of Israel. The news hook appears to be a recent poll by the Pew Research Center that finds Spain to be the most antisemitic country in Europe. The columnist then ties this back into the antisemitism he has seen on prominent display at Palestinian solidarity rallies in Spain. He condemns the Israeli attacks on Gaza in the terms you quote above, but then asks his fellow leftists and countrymen what on Earth some Jewish person in Madrid or Paris or Mexico City has to do with what’s going on in Israel and asks why Palestinian solidarity should go hand-in-hand with antisemitic rhetoric. He also reminds Spaniards that Franco persecuted communists and Jews together. The columnist is a leftist, and he’s reminding his fellow leftists of their historic ties to Jews.

    I don’t know if Z-Word read the entire thing in the original or picked up their excerpt from somewhere else. I think their characterization of the column as a not-antisemitic criticism of Israel is not accurate. It’s a condemnation of antisemitism, particularly in the Palestinian solidarity movement, that includes a criticism of Israel.

    I certainly don’t object to the column, but in order for Z-Word to do what you say they should do, I think they would need to go a bit further and find an example of a piece of writing that focuses almost entirely on criticism of Israel that they would not consider antisemitic.

  2. 2
    Gar Lipow says:

    You know that is not the primary thing I need to feel heard. What I need from someone who is discussing antisemitism in the context of criticizing Israel is the acknowledgment that there is a lot of false accusations of antisemitism out there. Barry pointed that out too. There are a lot groups, including AIPAC who simply accuse anyone who criticizes Israel of being antisemitic. And AIPAC is always ready to say that there is such a thing as robust criticism of Israel that is not antisemitic. It is just any actual critics who are antisemitic. The Z word is taking a step by pointing to an example they don’t think is antisemitic. But they are still claiming a fairly unilateral right to decide who is an antisemite and who is not. Do they acknowedge a reprical right of crticis of Israel to decide who ia racist against Palestinians and who is not? So I think if you are going to theorize, you need to start with acknowledging that there are a lot of false charges of antisemitism out there. A person theorizing about race or about feminism does not have than circumstance. False charges of racism are peripheral; most charges of racism are true. Most charges of male dominance/patriarchy are true. (The rightwingers in comments will freak hearing that, but it remains true.) But false charges of antisemitism is a longstanding practice in U.S. debate. I still remember conservatives charging that “neoconservative” was antisemitic term where “neo” meant “Jewish”.

    So if you are going to theorize about antisemitism in regard to the debate about Israel, you need to consider that false charges of antisemitism are a big part of U.S. political discourse, something you would not have deal. with theorizing about race or gender or GLBT issues. You can ignore or deny this if you want, but if you do your theory will have little value.

  3. 3
    David Schraub says:

    I was wondering about that (I didn’t know if the article was predominantly about anti-Semitism in Spain or if that was the part they excerpted to emphasis the columnist’s distancing himself from anti-Semitic activity). I also wonder if on second read, they talking about the person, rather than the argument (i.e., this columnist has demonstrated that even though he is a harsh critic of Israel, he is not personally anti-Semitic). Which is also a valuable development, but a different one.

    Perhaps this post at Harry’s Place (which is closely tied to the Z-Word), relating to this article by Ed Husain (I commented on it as well when it came out) fits better?

    Tangentially related, I’ve been wondering for awhile now whether a “default of acknowledgment” — basically, a norm that in any new conversation where “strangers” are likely to be listening in (so most public deliberations), we should preface by acknowledging the various concerns and injustices faced by both sides (but particularly the “other” side, if there is one — i.e., if I’m defending an Israeli military operation, acknowledgment of Palestinian grievances) would be a positive development in discussions of Israel/Palestine (I think I first talked about it here). This column was not such a case because apparently the main point was talking about anti-Semitism, and the criticism of Israel was tangential. But one can imagine this person writing a column more fully focused on critiquing Israel’s Gaza operation that still could come prefaced with a shorter form of this sort of acknowledgment.

    The advantages are that it would signal inclusion and understanding, and hopefully dissipate the feeling that folks are glossing over (or worse, endorsing) one party or another’s pain, fear, and oppression. The disadvantage is that it can come off as pro forma and it can feel very burdensome and patronizing to perpetually have to make such affirmations. I’m still undecided, but I’m moving a bit more in favor.

  4. 4
    David Schraub says:

    Gar: I’ll just say this flat: I think that the majority (not all) of allegations of anti-Semitism in global discourse today are “valid” based on the definition I provided earlier (made in good faith as response to what was genuinely felt to be an expression of hate, marginalization, prejudice, or erasure). I think the rate of false negatives is far higher than rate of false positives; I think refusing to engage with valid claims of anti-Semitism is a more serious problem today than giving too much credence to invalid ones. If you think that makes my theory worthless, that’s your prerogative, but it’s a point you’ve already expressed on several occasions and I’m not sure if it will be productive to keep reiterating it.

    To take your example (I note, incidentally, that this debate is thus far entirely anecdotal, which to my mind makes it even more problematic to adopt a presumption against engagement). I’m no fan of neo-conservatives, but I have observed a lot of times when they have been framed in ways that at least raise the specter of anti-Semitism. Elevating and stressing the importance of the Jewish representation in it and presenting them as a sort of cabal, referring to it bluntly as a “Jewish movement”, arguing that they (particularly the Jews) were really more loyal to Israel than America (despite the fact that Israel was ambivalent, at best, to the Iraq war — preferring the devil they knew…) . I’m not saying that happens all the time or that any mention of “neo-conservative” is an anti-Semitic dogwhistle, but these sorts of things have happened enough so that I’ve noticed it, repeatedly. Yet, unsurprisingly, you categorically dismiss the idea that there could be any anti-Semitism going on here. That, to my eyes, is a clear case of a false negative, and is indicative of why I think that’s the bigger problem here.

  5. 5
    chingona says:

    David, reaching back into the earlier threads, I suspect the reason Gar keeps trying to make this point is because you have not really acknowledged what he is saying. I can’t tell you what to put in your theory or leave out, but I do think you need to be careful, as you construct it, to ask yourself what position you put anti-Zionist Jews in by casting certain types of arguments as antisemitic. And I think you do need to at least listen to what he is saying. Did you read his comment toward the end of your Taking a Theory post? What about “Palestinians are people, too” is antisemitic or self-hating? What he is describing does happen. If you think accusations of antisemitism are usually real in the sense that the speaker actually feels marginalized or othered, why does an expression that Palestinians are people too make a Zionist Jew feel marginalized or othered?

    As for neoconservatives, I have seen them referred to in ways that I think are antisemitic – that sort of cabal, run everything idea – but to take that and say that anyone who refers dismissively to neoconservatives is a secret antisemite is … well, not fair. Both of those things happen. I’ve heard both types of arguments made. They’re both wrong.

    As for prefacing arguments, I do tend to think that if writers/speakers want to be taken in good faith and they are making particular types of arguments, it would be better to be very clear about what they mean. Certain types of arguments are more problematic than others. By which I don’t mean criticism/opposition to Israel versus support of Israel but more certain lines of argument. I, personally, appreciate it when someone is very clear exactly what they mean when they say Israel shouldn’t exist. I think someone making an argument that the bombing in Gaza was justified has an extra obligation to acknowledge Palestinian suffering/humanity. But I think such things can be so pro forma as to be meaningless or even condescending if every single discussion about Israel/Palestine has to include professions of the writer/speaker’s lack of animus toward the other side, and this would be particularly insulting to Jewish activists who oppose Israel. If what we’re talking is rhetoric as opposed to arguments, my own opinion is that the rhetoric needs to come down a notch or two period and both sides need to very strongly call out and condemn racism/antisemitism on their own side, but I don’t anticipate that happening any time soon.

  6. 6
    Gar Lipow says:

    I will try not to be repetitious. But for you to say:

    >I note, incidentally, that this debate is thus far entirely anecdotal,

    What the heck have you offered but anecdote? You have proceded almost entirely via story telling. That is the method of dialog you have encouraged. Anecdote that supports your points good? Anecdote that opposes it bad?

    More new points.

    1) You think that a majority of accusations of antisemitism are valid. Do you really include AIPAC in that.

    2) You think a majority of accustations are valid (which you define differently than true). Incidentally does “made in good faith” really make a false accusation of antisemitism OK? IF a majority of accusations are false then they still consitutute on heck of a poisoning of the environment of discussion, even if the people making the accusation believe them.

    3) OK, let’s make the presumption you make that
    a majority of accusations of antisemitism are made in good faith, and that good faith is enough – the accusation does not have to be true. How big a majority. Because if 1 in 4 accusations are made in bad faith, that still is pretty damn negative for discourse.

    4) In the case of neoconservatism you seem to be arguing that if any criticism of the neoconservative movement has ever been antisemetic that makes the general association of the term with antisemitism an OK thing to do. Not that all use is antisemitic, but that if someone makes the accusation it should be presumed to be in good faith until proven otherwise. The term was invented by neoconservatives. I remember learning in Freshman College political Science back in the 70′s, and there was no association with antisemitism. Yes, I’ve encountered antisemities who blame neoconservatism on Jews, but there is no negative phenomena antisemites won’t blame on Jews – including Hitler. If you are arguing that if you criticize anything antisemites have blamed on Jews, you are open to good faith critiques of being antisemitic/self-hating that sounds like a bad faith argument. I hope I’m misinterpreting you.

    Even leaving that aside, I have encountered plenty of accusations that most critiques of neoconservatism are antisemitic, and I really doubt that anything like a majority are. Do you really want to argue that any statement that the use of the term neoconservative is antisemitic must be accepted as valid?

    Incidentally many of the Christian Zionists who support Israel do so not only out of religous conviction that is strongly antisemetic, but with a secular goal of never having peace in the Middle East so that ultimately Israel is destroyed in a nuclear was, which is part of the road to the rapture and their religious goals. So are conservative Zionists who accept this alliance self-hating?

    Let me ask this. A common critique is that Zionism is inherently racist. (I don’t think all Zionisms are racist; I think there are definitely versions of Zionist ideology that are racist, and definitely some that are not . I don’t think Israel should have been founded, but once founded accept its right to exist. By some definitions, that makes me a Zionist.) So do you think that this criticism if made by nationalities that have personally suffered from attacks by Israel is inherently valid? Must criticism that Zionism is Racism be accepted as valid if made by a Palestinian or a Lebanonese?

    4) The more I think about it the less I like your acceptence of any “good faith” accusation of anti-semitism as valid. The reason we expect people to “chill” about being described as racist or sexist is A) most such accusations are true, not just offered in good faith but true. B) Generally the accusation is made by women against men, or by people of color against members of the dominant ethic group. There is a presumption that that they are in a better position to recognize sexism or racism. But a lot accusations of antisemitism against critics of Israel are made by Christians who are Antisemites in many aspects of their lives. (Actually I’d include their support of Israel in this.) And when someone accuses me of self-hate, hey I’m Jewish. I have the same qualification my accuser has. I don’t have any gentile privilige. In general, I’d say if you accuse an African-American of supporting white priviledge or a woman of support the Patriarchy, the burden of proof is stronger than the same accusation against a white male. It can be valid, but the burden of proof is on the accuser.

    6) Bottom line: of course antisemitism is in every part of American Society and of every society in the world. (There may be some small hunter-gatherer nations who have never heard of Jews. Not an important exception.) Any movement supporting people Israel is oppressing will attract some antisemites. Any people oppressed by a Jewish state is likely to see their antisemitic tendencies flourish. That is not the same thing as saying the majority of opposition to such oppression is antisemitic.

  7. 7
    David Schraub says:

    Calling someone else a self-hating Jew or akin terms (without some unbelievably strong reason) is a wretched thing to do, and I know how painful it is (a few weeks ago, a blogging colleague of mine — a middle-aged Jewish lesbian woman — said that by affiliating with J Street I was supporting a group “that wants to see the Jews and Israel destroyed”). During the campaign, a largely Jewish crowd booed Barack Obama for saying that we should all look forward to a day when “Israeli and Palestinian children can live in peace.” (Jimmy Delshad, the Persian Jewish mayor of Beverly Hills, bristled. “Palestinian? It’s like he has to throw that in our face.”). These are horrible things.

    But there are reasons why an expression like “Palestinians are people too” might make a Zionist Jew feel marginalized or othered — or at least set off some alarm bells (I’m abstracting from the specific event this happened, since obviously I wasn’t there — I’m trying to think of all possibilities where I might come across that statement where it could set off my antennae):

    1) They might be upset at the implication that they don’t affirm the sentiment. I’m a Zionist Jew, which to many means ipso facto I don’t think Palestinians are people too. Insofar as the sign isn’t meant to just be descriptive but also say “and the people on the other side of the police line don’t believe that”, that will yield a hostile reaction amongst the people who do think that and resent the implication otherwise.

    2) They might wonder if it’s tied to other, more extreme viewpoints. I’m not saying that it’s true that “Palestinians are people too” is most likely to be the socially acceptable way of saying “and we should wipe out the Zionist scum crushing them.” But in situations of conflict one is primed to think of things as binaries, which means that the sign-holder is going to be cognitively associated with everything on the other side, particularly its most threatening elements. This, of course, is more likely if the guy next to the signholder is carrying his own sign with “IsraNazi” on it. The feeling of otherization is an emotional one, hence, it is as likely (if not more so) to be triggered by these sort of cognitive associations as it is by dispassionate reflection.

    3) If it’s being used to dismiss — e.g., if I was writing about a brutal terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, and someone came over and said “Palestinians are people too — why aren’t you talking about the occupation?”, it would feel as if the statement was less designed to affirm the political point, and more to insure that we never were able to acknowledge Israeli suffering.

    4) They might think that the Jewish signholder is cynically leveraging their Jewishness as a way of receiving enhanced standing (rules 3 and 4) and consequently devaluing the opposing view as one that has to be engaged with qua Jews if one is serious about intergroup engagement (a very common way of dismissing something that I find problematic as a Jew vis-a-vis Israel is the claim that “not all Jews agree with you — look at this group of people”). I think regrettably a lot of these sorts of things do devolve into a race for authenticity — the pro-Israel side says it’s the “real” Jewish position because most Jews agree, the anti-Israel side says that they represent the real/pure Jewish position and the majority has been corrupted by bad actors.

    Now here’s something I want to stress. When I reject labeling these as “false” accusations, I’m not saying I endorse them either — that they are the right and proper way to react, and thus we should accept them uncritically. I think they stem from a lot of mutual mistrust and feelings of vulnerability, and those are rarely good instincts for getting productive stuff done. So observing these reactions should be a signal that someone is feeling mistrustful and/or vulnerable, and we should explore why that might be and how it might be mitigated.

    But I don’t think it follows that they’re false reactions in that they’re facades, nor do I think they are utter disconnected paranoia. They are stemming from something “real” — there are people who think that by virtue of being Zionist, I necessarily don’t care about Palestinian lives, there are people for whom affirming Palestinian personhood is part of a larger political project which is expressed through violent anti-Semitic acts, there are people who use the oppression of the Palestinians to dismiss any bad acts that happen to Israelis, or Jews for that matter, anywhere else, and there are people who use the existence of anti-Zionist Jews as a reason to avoid engaging with Zionist Jews qua Jews (and their opinion as one that flows out of their Jewishness).

    I think by affirming that these reactions aren’t just shrill craziness, but flow out of something real, we can also take important steps to avert the causes and hopefully channel the reactions to where they’re most productive/necessary. As I said in the first post, the less these factors are socially clear, the more the otherized feeling will be rendered inchoate, which lends itself to lashing out blindly. But if they’re laid out in the open, we can reduce the cases where they are misconceived.

  8. 8
    David Schraub says:

    On neo-conservatives: “I’m not saying that happens all the time or that any mention of “neo-conservative” is an anti-Semitic dogwhistle, but these sorts of things have happened enough so that I’ve noticed it, repeatedly.” I was pointing out that there is a strand of left-wing discourse on neo-conservatives that is rather clearly anti-Semitic, which doesn’t mean that every time we say (much less critique) them is anti-Semitic. I think your radar is on overdrive here.

    >I note, incidentally, that this debate is thus far entirely anecdotal,

    What the heck have you offered but anecdote? You have proceded almost entirely via story telling. That is the method of dialog you have encouraged. Anecdote that supports your points good? Anecdote that opposes it bad?

    And here’s another example. No, I’m saying that if all we have is anecdote, it’s an illegitimate step to say our default assumption is “these accusations are false” (however defined). Which is what it means to say “this debate is thus far entirely anecdotal, which to my mind makes it even more problematic to adopt a presumption against engagement”. I don’t deny I’m being anecdotal too, I just think the implication of an anecdotal debate counsels a default towards assuming good-faith. If we had nothing to go on, I’d say we should assume good-faith, because I think good-faith is the baseline which one justifies deviating from. Anecdote isn’t good enough justification to legitimize the departure.

    The reason I think “good-faith” is a better definition than “true” is two-fold:

    1) As we’re seeing, the basic definition of what actually is anti-Semitic (improperly marginalizing, alienating, erasing, threatening towards Jews) is contested. Those things I find alienating as a Jew, you clearly don’t (presumably there’s some vice versa). Since I don’t think there is a “true” definition floating out there that can be objectively “found” (as opposed to anti-Semitism being socially constructed and subject to pluralist interpretation), I don’t know what it would mean to demand that the accusation refer back to some mythical metaphysical reality that I don’t think actually exists. That’s an astronomically high burden to leap under the best case. Worst case, it simply makes anti-Semitism impossible to ever allege under any circumstances except where those empowered are willing to accede to it.

    2) Even if such a reality of anti-Semitism is “out there” somewhere, there is no consensus on what it is, nor is there any objective way of evaluating whose definition is right. But since everyone thinks there definition is right, and there is no way to prove otherwise, effectively the “true” standard boils down “anti-Semitism accusations are valid only when I agree with them”. That’s a useless definition. And all it does is make “anti-Semitism” an empty vessel which can be filled by the empowered classes — those who have enough power to fiat their definition as correct.

    By contrast, the good-faith standard rejects the idea that we need a full-blown hearing to “prove” that someone’s feelings of aggrievement are sufficiently linked to the “real” as to render them worthy of our engagement. Instead, it recognizes that otherization is highly situated, and it’s better to try and find out why someone is upset than it is to look for ways to derail listening. The good-faith standard also avoids a zero sum situation where in order to engage with a “candidate” for a valid anti-Semitic claim, I have to affirm it as true, which necessarily requires me to condemn its target. I think it’s far preferable (and certainly far less combative) to separate the two. Good-faith means I can recognize the validity of the charge as something worthy of my time and concern as a threshold matter without being forced to cast any judgment on whether the target of the charge should be vilified. Since I think it is far more important to provide remedy to those who are victimized by anti-Semitism than I do to punish its perpetrators (particularly because I think that anti-Semitism can wreak much of its damage without identifiable or morally culpable perpetrators), I’m perfectly willing to trade a broader front-end recognition (recognizing more claims as valid) in exchange for stricter protections at the back end (being more careful about tagging particular people or whole argumentative streams as anti-Semitic).

    I’ll also just repeat something in my last comment:

    Now here’s something I want to stress. When I reject labeling these as “false” accusations, I’m not saying I endorse them either — that they are the right and proper way to react, and thus we should accept them uncritically. I think they stem from a lot of mutual mistrust and feelings of vulnerability, and those are rarely good instincts for getting productive stuff done. So observing these reactions should be a signal that someone is feeling mistrustful and/or vulnerable, and we should explore why that might be and how it might be mitigated.

  9. 9
    Abby Spice says:

    To answer your first question: zucchini?

  10. 10
    DSimon says:

    I was hoping it was “zombies”.

  11. Gar, you wrote:

    So if you are going to theorize about antisemitism in regard to the debate about Israel, you need to consider that false charges of antisemitism are a big part of U.S. political discourse, something you would not have deal. with theorizing about race or gender or GLBT issues. You can ignore or deny this if you want, but if you do your theory will have little value.

    I don’t remember David ever saying that he wanted to theorize about antisemitism in regard to the debate about Israel; rather, that he wants to theorize about antisemitism, period. Such a theory, of course, will need to account for how antisemitism and charges of antisemitism–true, false, valid, invalid, or otherwise–play out in the debates about Israel, but David should at least be able first to lay out his theory and explain how he accounts for the complexity that arises–and it is a real and difficult complexity–when antisemitism and ant–Zionism (of all sorts) and Zionism and the policies of the Israeli government get thrown into the mix.

  12. 12
    Jake says:

    I am about to ask a very serious question. I do not mean this in any way ironically, or snarkily, or any other way except in the most straightforward of ways. I DO NOT HAVE ANY POLEMICAL PURPOSES HERE AT ALL.

    My question is this–does the author believe it is possible not only to criticize Israeli policy, but question the validity of Israel’s very existence, and not be an anti-Semite?

    Let me explain why I ask, with a bit of personal history. My family was forced off its farm in the Galilee at gunpoint by Zionist terrorists in 1947– our whole village was stolen. They moved to my mother’s family’s place, near Jenin. I was born there in 1957. In 1968, that farm was taken away by the Israeli military. Now there is a settlement there, filled with Israeli settlers. (Note, of course, that though 20 % of Israel’s “citizens” are Palestinians, none of those 20% are allowed to be settlers in these West Bank enclaves of Israeli power). Most of my family moved to a camp nearby. My nuclear family, however, managed to get to the United States by a very bizarre sequence of events.

    I personally think Israel has no right to exist. It is just another example of Europeans colonizing other people’s homes. The country is built on theft and murder. Furthermore, every Israeli solder is a terrorist– he or she participates in the deliberate murder and oppression of women and children.
    Still further, Israel qua Israel is necessarily and intrinsically racist– when Israel stops being racist, it will stop being Israel, “the Jewish state.”

    But here’s the thing– my brother married a Jewish woman from New York. He converted (not as big a deal as Americans are led to believe– Islam is intrinsicially ecumenical, as the Quran teaches that Jews, Christians, and Muslims as well as unspecified others are all recipients of God’s message and all will wind up in paradise if they merit it). I have four nephews and nieces who are raised Jewish– three have been bar or bat mitzvah’ed so far, one to go next year. My brother’s mother-in-law is one of my favorite people on this earth. My brother is very careful not to let anyone at his synagogue know he is Palestinian– it helps that he, like me, has blue eyes and fair skin. Judaism, the beautiful monotheistic faith, has nothing to do with Zionism, the ugly decision to take the Almighty and Universal God and turn Him back into a tiny little tribal deity/real estate agent.

    So there it is. I think Israel as a nation has no right to exist whatsoever. It would have been nice if all those European Zionists in the early 20th century had come to Palestine to join us in creating the country we were struggling to create at the time the Ottomans fell, but instead they came to take it away. Maybe some day their descendants will stop being xenophobic racists who call Palestinians cockroaches and we can either live together in a democracy instead of the current Israeli ethnocracy, or maybe not. God only knows. But Israel, as it currently exists, is a crime.

    Do you consider me an anti-Semite?

    I ask purely out of curiosity.

  13. Jake:

    First, I want to say that I am sorry for what happened to your family and for all the Palestinian pain and suffering that was caused by the founding of the State of Israel. As well, I feel for the difficulties and complexities of your brother’s situation. To feel that one has to pass, as he clearly feels he has to, is to have to turn on oneself in deeply painful ways.

    Edited to add: I also want to thank you for being willing to post here. I would understand entirely why you might think this could easily turn into a place where your perspective might not be welcome.

    I am not going to speak for David, but I would say this: If you hold all states founded by colonization, etc. to be illegitimate, criminal and without the right to exist, including the United States, then no, I don’t think you are being antisemitic. If, on the other hand, you hold this opinion solely in regard to Israel–which is not to deny your obviously strong personal stake in the specific situation of Israel–then, yes, I would say the position is antisemitic, because it would be singling Jews out in a way that very clearly expresses a double standard.

  14. 14
    PG says:

    Jake,

    That is a terrible thing to have happened to your family, and while I also wouldn’t speak for David, I know that he has expressed often that the settlements into the West Bank and Gaza need to stop.

    But as Richard says above, unless you apply the same standard to all other countries that you do to Israel, you’re by definition discriminating between Israel and other countries. Notably, you don’t seem to be concerned that you and your brother, with your blue eyes and fair skin (i.e. people who can pass as “white”), came to the United States, which also is a nation born of colonizing land already occupied by other people, and effectively enacting a state-supported genocide against those people. Where is your concern for the natives of this land on which you could now be considered part of an illegitimate and criminal occupation?

  15. 15
    Sailorman says:

    Er, in fairness to Jake:

    You don’t need to have the same view of all countries. You might, for example, have a general or universal standard of time (Israel is recent) which allows you to dislike Israel and yet avoid getting into discussions of things which are older by centuries or millennia.

    This is the same logic which allows black leaders to claim a historic connection to Harlem, although there were Dutch there first (haarlem) and although it was NA land originally. nothing wrong with it: we all make our own cutoff points for analysis.

    Jake can do it too, and WWII is a reasonable a cutoff as any.

    Also, he’s not obliged to fight your battles. There is nothing wrong with selectively opposing Israel.

    It’s not antisemitism because he is doing it for reasons other than the fact that Israel is occupied by Jews. He is damn well able to object to personal mistreatment in an enormous and telling sense without being forced to either (1) dilute his opinion by dragging along the baggage of every anticolonialist out there, or (2) being accused of antisemitism.

    If Group X kicks you out of your house and you oppose them, you are by no means automatically X-ist. Any theory of antisemitism which fails to account for that reality is fundamentally flawed.

    There is a logical disconnect here.

    You cannot simultaneously

    1) expect antisemitism to carry any negative weight, i.e. to make it a comment which implies wrongdoing, fault, or something to be avoided,

    and

    2) use the term to describe feelings which are completely justified, such as “I hate the country which took my home away and kicked my family out.”

    You just can’t.

  16. Except, Sailorman, that Jake is not just disliking Israel, but claiming that Israel has no right to exist. More to the point, he is locating his claim not in current Israeli policy, but in the colonialism of the original Zionist (i.e., Jewish settlers). In other words, his is not simply a personal response to what happened to his family and his people at the hands of the specific Jews who kicked his family out, etc., and I would not describe Jakes hatred of Israel as antisemitic, for precisely the reasons you suggest that it is not. But when he is in his comment on some level in fact talking about Jews as Jews, and he is talking about Zionism as a European Jewish ideology, and so it does matter whether or not he singles out Jewish nationalism/colonialism from other nationalisms/colonialisms.

  17. 17
    PG says:

    There’s a big difference between personal, emotional sentiment, like “I hate Israel because it hurt me and my family personally,” and using that sentiment to justify a political stance: “Israel as a nation has no right to exist whatsoever. … Israel, as it currently exists, is a crime.” I personally found Japan an uncongenial country, and I should be able to express that without being accused of animus toward Japan or the Japanese. If I start using my emotional response to Japan as a rationale for how the U.S. ought to treat it in trade negotiations, however, I think people reasonably can ask whether I have such animus.

    This is the same logic which allows black leaders to claim a historic connection to Harlem, although there were Dutch there first (haarlem) and although it was NA land originally. nothing wrong with it: we all make our own cutoff points for analysis.

    So far as I know, black leaders who claim a historic connection to Harlem aren’t denying that the Dutch and Native Americans predated a black community on that land, nor are the Dutch on the one hand calling for the black community to be removed from the land while on the other hand ignoring their own imposition on the NAs.

    Suppose we do draw Sailorman’s arbitrary chronological line and stick to nations created post-WWII: how does Jake feel about the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, “Land of the Pure,” and whether it’s an “ethnocracy”? (Considering that Israel accepts people who practice Judaism but who are not “ethnically Jewish” as Jews, the ethnocracy claim seems wrong on its face — Jews are found among almost every genetic grouping on earth.) Does Pakistan also have no right to exist? Is its existence a crime?

  18. 18
    chingona says:

    I’m more inclined to take Sailorman’s position here. While I agree that there is a difference between having a feeling or emotional position and using that feeling to back up a political position, and while I agree that singling out Jewish nationalism as a worse kind of nationalism than others is problematic, it seems absurd to me to ask someone who has suffered direct, personal harm from another group’s particular political project not to single out that political project for opposition. For the sake of argument, let’s say that Jake does believe on an intellectual level that all colonialist/nationalist ventures were/are illegitimate and criminal, including the United States, but he has no visceral feeling about it like he does with Israel. Is he still okay? Or must he also have the same level of animus toward all colonialist/nationalist projects as he does toward the one that actually harmed his family?

    This is NOT to say that any anti-Jewish/anti-Israel statement is automatically okay because it comes from the mouth of a Palestinian (see Hamas).

    I suppose in analyzing whether a political position is antisemitic, I would be inclined to look at what policy prescriptions flow from a particular political position. (And I think this goes both ways. If someone believes that it’s good that Israel exists as a Jewish state, I don’t consider that a racist political position, but if some says it’s good that Israel exists as a Jewish state and to keep it that way we should ethnically cleanse all the Arabs from Mandate Palestine, that is definitely racist.) In the case of “Israel has no right to exist,” if someone goes from there to say that Jews living in Israel now should be removed from there, I would consider that antisemitic. A fourth-generation Israeli is “from” Israel, the same way I’m “from” the United States, no matter how illegitimate this county’s founding.

    Jake says:

    It would have been nice if all those European Zionists in the early 20th century had come to Palestine to join us in creating the country we were struggling to create at the time the Ottomans fell

    and

    Maybe some day their descendants will stop being xenophobic racists who call Palestinians cockroaches and we can either live together in a democracy

    This is not “throw them into the sea.” While I am personally skeptical that a one-state, bi-national solution would “work*,” I don’t think advocating for it or preferring it to a two-state solution is antisemitic.

    *By “work,” I mean not dissolve into a bloodbath worse than anything that has happened yet.

  19. 19
    chingona says:

    And a word, if I may, about comparing Israel as illegitimate/criminal to the United States as illegitimate/criminal.

    There are a number of things I find really irritating and borderline useless about using this comparison, the main one being that in the United States as it exists today no one who is not actually native has anything remotely on the line in their answer to this question.

    Most Americans will go their entire life without knowing a single Indian, except maybe someone who has “a little Indian” in him or if they frequent a casino. Advocacy aimed at rectifying the raw deal native people have now mostly focuses on tweaks here and there to the current system, getting more money for Indian programs, changing certain laws with regard to tribal lands, protecting gaming rights, etc.. The absolute most I will ever have at stake in this is maybe paying a little more in taxes.

    So when people say “Well, of course I think the founding of the United States is a crime,” it makes me want to roll my eyes, even though I basically agree, because the Tohono O’odham aren’t shooting missiles at Tucson from the San Xavier District or blowing themselves up in front of coffee shops on Fourth Avenue. Apache raiding parties aren’t going after Greyhound buses on Interstate 10.

    At the same time, I find it interesting that people who oppose Israel and who claim to also consider the U.S. illegitimate hardly ever say “Those Israelis are so evil, they’re acting just like we did,” whereas you hear much more frequently that Israel is just like Nazi Germany. This is not to say that no Israeli policy might bear some resemblance to a policy enacted by Nazi Germany, but that it seems to me that comparisons to the United States in the 19th century in course of fulfilling its Manifest Destiny are much more apt. Which leads me to believe that 99 percent of comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany are aimed solely at hurting Jews, while professions that someone isn’t antisemitic or even just singling out Israel for criticism because they also think the U.S. (or Canada or Australia) is illegitimate are basically meaningless.

  20. 20
    David Schraub says:

    To answer Jake’s question from my own perspective.

    Directly: No, I don’t think you’re anti-Semitic. I think it’s really important to delink calling an argument or practice anti-Semitic, and a person such (this is related to my front-end/back-end distinction, bottom of comment 8).

    Do I think the argument is anti-Semitic? I think it does in some ways depend on what PG and RJN are talking about (and this is yet another reason why I think “truth” is a bad metric here). Distribution matters — if 20 robbers are arrested, 10 Black and 10 White, and I only charge the Black ones, it’s no defense to say they “truthfully” deserved to be charged. A major stream of protest by Jews against how Israel is criticized is that it’s disproportionate or out of sync with how other countries are treated. Over the past half-decade, for example, the UNHRC has devoted more attention to Israel than any other country, including more than devoted to Sudan and Congo combined (places with 6 and 7 figure death tolls, respectively). Even if every single criticism the UNHRC made was individually meticulously fair, the distribution is akilter in a disturbing way.

    I dare say every country’s creation has come wrapped in a shroud of pain and death — Israel is no different from America, Spain, China, Iraq, or Pakistan (or, for that matter, the eventual Palestine) in this respect. It is reasonable to request that Israel be treated the same as these other places with regard to the wrong. When it isn’t, it is reasonable to wonder why.

    But. Jake’s statement also reiterates why I think it’s really important to hold to this good-faith over “true” distinction as the threshold for a belief can reasonably demand our attention and fair hearing. It is obvious that Jake’s belief here is in “good faith” — it flows out of a very real and visceral experience his family had with Zionism. The belief itself (that Zionism is colonialist racism), I obviously can’t affirm as “true”, and there are a lot of parts of your narrative I find very problematic (the whitewashing of non-European Jews, the conflation of European colonial impulses [domination for the mother country] and Zionist motivations [seeking refuge from oppression]). But it would be perverse for me to use those concerns of mine to say “this isn’t worth discussing”, when the reason why you hold the beliefs isn’t “I don’t care about Jews” but “my experience with this ideology was that my family was forced to flee for its life at gun point”. We shouldn’t have to resolve whether Zionism really, truly is inherently racist, colonialist, imperialist, or whatever in order to say emphatically (and empathically) that the proximate cause of Jake holding his belief is something horrifying and terrible, and his anger flows from something “real” and worthy of our attention and concern.

  21. 21
    Julie says:

    1) You think that a majority of accusations of antisemitism are valid. Do you really include AIPAC in that.

    If we’re using “valid” to mean “in good faith,” then yes, I think we do have to include AIPAC in that. AIPAC is a bad organization because its members are deluded, solipsistic, short-sighted, and racist. But viewing them as a cabal that spends its time tossing around accusations that it knows are false – see the poster David posted a few days ago – is just a new form of the Bad, Powerful Jew vs. Good, Exceptional Jew trope that’s been around for centuries. I think that many – or even most – members and supporters of AIPAC think they’re seeing real anti-Semitism, and it’s much more productive to address the root causes of that than to write them off as evil liars (see my review of Avraham Burg’s new book here).

    Also, to be perfectly frank, I’ve come to see many comments trying to get Jewish bloggers to affirm – strenuously and ad nauseum – that false accusations of anti-Semitism exist to be a particularly derailing assertion of gentile privilege. I don’t think that’s what they’re intended to be, but for God’s sake, who on these blogs doesn’t know it by now!? When will we get permission to talk about something else?

  22. 22
    Ampersand says:

    Julie, I don’t think you’re being fair. If you look at “Alas” for the past month, there have been a lot of posts and discussions related to antisemitism that have been “about something else.” Did the subject even come up on any of Richard’s threads, for example?

    Also, your final paragraph seems to imply that no one on this blog has ever dismissed the silencing aspects of unjustified accusations of antisemitism, or suggested that this is an rare problem. I don’t think that’s true.

    You’re right that this argument comes up again and again, and there’s a good reason for that: It’s a genuinely contested area.

    Finally, I assume — like you — that most of AIPAC’s critiques are made in good faith. (Really, for all I know, I’d agree with most of AIPAC’s critiques. It’s not like I’ve read up on every single criticism of antisemitism they’ve ever made; for all I know, many or most are extremely valid, but never become controversial because they’re not something most people disagree with.)

  23. 23
    Julie says:

    You’re right – that was an unfair generalization. I apologize.

  24. Pingback: Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Suheir Hammad, A Poet Whose Work You Should Probably Know

  25. 24
    Sailorman says:

    I really think the time thing is key.

    Remember when Saddam invaded Kuwait? Whether or not they supported the U.S. war in Iraq, pretty much everyone agreed that “acquiring dominion over Kuwait through force” was a bad thing, and that returning Kuwait to the Kuwatis (whoever it was that would do it) was preferable.

    But on the other hand, I have absolutely no stake in whether or not certain of my forbears’ property was acquired through a brutal war with the Visigoths. It’s just too old.

    So just as an interesting study, we have here a wikipedia list of national. boundary changes since 1914.

    I’m going to look at post-WWII ones, though of course that’s as arbitrary as any.

    Israel was in 1948. That is seriously disputed, to this day.
    China took over Tibet in 1950. That is seriously disputed, to this day.
    Cyprus, and Turkey, are still issues, I believe. I don’t know all that much about it to be honest, but then again I don’t think there’s an ongoing war there either.
    Kuwait, of course.

    Mind you, I am personally in favor of Israel’s existence. But from my perspective the situation in Israel can be classified as a “modern” problem, and it does not necessarily seem to be getting disputed in a manner which is disproportionate to (a) its modernity; (b) the comparative openness of its society, as opposed to the information clampdown coming out of Tibet; (c) the ongoing military actions which keep it in the news; (d) its status as a U.S. ally; and (e) the particularly obvious nature of the problem: ‘stuck behind walls in Gaza’ is easier to understand and relate to than ‘prohibited from praying at a particular temple’.

    OTOH, I think attempts to link Israel to 1492, or 1776, or whenever, are more than a bit strained. It’s not that it’s wrong exactly (yes, we did plenty of bad shit) it’s just that we don’t know what to do.

  26. 25
    Matt says:

    Out of personal curiousity, does anyone actually know of a case where AIPAC complained that something was antisemitic? It’s my impression they don’t put out those sorts of releases.

    (On a different matter, Eamonn McDonough is quite fluent in Spanish. He often blogged and sometimes still does blog about antisemitism and Argentina at his blog El Nuevo Pantano, before he joined Z-Word. Z-Word itself is sponsored by the AJC. The primary blogger, Ben Cohen, is from an Iraqi Jewish background and lives, I think, in England – despite the A in AJC.)

  27. 26
    Sailorman says:

    Well, my post got lost. Bummer.

    Here’s the very short, non sweet, version:

    1) I support Israel’s continued existence.

    2) But nonetheless, I think it is appropriate to compare Israel more to “Kuwait” or “Tibet” than it is to the U.S., the Visigoths, or the Mayan conquests.

    3) And in fact, if you look at fairly recent forcible acquisitions of land in this handy Wikipedia summary of boundary changes since 1914, you may agree with me that #2 is correct.

    4) So then, let’s compare the treatment of Israel to three recent biggies: Kuwait, Tibet, Cyprus.

    a) Cyprus. Er, embarrassed to say I don’t really know squat about this one way or the other. But I won’t duck not knowing ;)

    b) Kuwait. Whether or not you supported Desert Storm, pretty much the whole world agreed that taking Kuwait by force was bad, bad, bad. Anyone want to disagree there?

    c) Tibet. Similar to Israel in that it gets a lot of national press. Less similar in that nobody wants to piss of China, and it would be a stretch to attribute that difference to antisemitism and not take into consideration the military, political, trading, and economic might of China. Also, there isn’t a serious war going on. Also, China is much less open than israel, so there’s an information/news deficit. And finally, the chinese repression is harder to identify because it’s not “get a lot of Tibetans and put them in a walled enclave.”

    5) So, when people either state that israel is alone in getting condemned (while ignoring iraq/kuwait and Tibet, for example), and/or they state that Israel is like the U.S., Visigoths, Romans, or any other non-recent history… it doesn’t make much sense.

  28. 27
    chingona says:

    On a different matter, Eamonn McDonough is quite fluent in Spanish.

    Re-reading the top to the post on Z-Word, I don’t think he’s necessarily mischaracterizing the column. The way that he wrote it is general enough that one can take the meaning David took from it without that being the exact intended meaning, and it would all be an innocent misunderstanding, and actually a pretty minor one, as long as we don’t ask that one blog post to do too much heavy lifting.

    I think David’s take in comments may be the more accurate reading of McDonough, and it would be a fair conclusion to draw from the column, that the writer is not antisemitic himself, though he is a harsh critic of Israel:

    I also wonder if on second read, they talking about the person, rather than the argument (i.e., this columnist has demonstrated that even though he is a harsh critic of Israel, he is not personally anti-Semitic). Which is also a valuable development, but a different one.

    The conversation on this post has ranged rather far afield, but I wanted to acknowledge that since I provided the summary.

    As for AIPAC, I think it’s getting used as a shorthand for a certain way of thinking about Israel/Palestine and debate thereof. It may not be the best shorthand. I think Abe Foxman from the ADL has made some problematic accusations, but as Julie and David are saying, he may well believe what he’s saying. I don’t know.

  29. 28
    Maia says:

    Julie – Gar Lipow has identified as Jewish in previous threads.

  30. 29
    Matt says:

    “As for AIPAC, I think it’s getting used as a shorthand for a certain way of thinking about Israel/Palestine and debate thereof. It may not be the best shorthand.”

    If it is functioning that way, I think it’s pretty problematic. A sort of collectivization probably not too much better than “The Jews” or “World Jewry.” Or, for that matter, “The Israel lobby.”

    (As for Foxman, I don’t think he’s that great, but I also think he’s unfairly hated. As I recall, he once left his synagogue because his rabbi was comparing Palestinians to Nazis. Whatever I disagree with him on, I think he’s both more consistent and more sincere than people give him credit for. I’d suggest Morton Klein as a bogeyman.)

  31. 30
    chingona says:

    Well, AIPAC is the Israel lobby. Or at least a prominent member of it.

    Let me rephrase what I said about shorthand. I mean that it’s a shorthand for a specific group of organizations that lobby for specific policies, and AIPAC is one of those groups and the most prominent, though in reality it may not be the worst offender*. It may also stand in for some people who yelled at you that you were self-hating at a protest because it’s easier to say AIPAC than to catalogue the five different times you were called self-hating. We’ve also been talking a lot about “antisemitism on the left,” which is a really broad term that depending on who is using it could include stuff it really shouldn’t include or that other users of the same term might object to including. I think it’s potentially problematic like that – over-generalizing and unclear – but not problematic like “the Jews” do this or that is problematic.

    *A quick trip around their Web site doesn’t turn up any recent press releases making problematic charges of antisemitism, but I feel like I’ve seen their representatives on talk shows and quoted in newspaper articles making charges of antisemitism that I disagreed with. I don’t have it out for them in particular, so if I’m wrong, I’m wrong, and I will never refer to AIPAC that way again.

  32. 31
    Matt says:

    Well, AIPAC is the Israel lobby. Or at least a prominent member of it.

    Let me rephrase what I said about shorthand. I mean that it’s a shorthand for a specific group of organizations that lobby for specific policies

    Well, the Israel lobby, according to Mearsheimer and Walt is a “loose coalition” of organizations that often don’t argue for the same specific policies or behave in similar ways. J Street meets every criteria they set out to describe whether something is part of “the lobby.” In fact, they’ve been criticized because “the lobby” is like Borges map that was so large it was the size of the kingdom — in which case “the lobby” has the potential to slip around and act just like a phrase as general as “The Jews.” See for example, this critique: “In fact, one of the infuriating aspect of the book is that the “the lobby” they attack is such a “loose coalition” that it changes shape from page to page.” So, even though in particular instance it might not be that bad, I really think it’s worth avoiding, even as shorthand.

  33. 32
    PG says:

    Sailorman,

    Why ignore my example of Pakistan, particularly as it’s the item just above 1948 Israel in the chronological list of Asian land boundary changes in the Wikipedia article you linked? They’re much more similar scenarios than the examples you present:
    1947 August – The Partition of India as India and Pakistan are given independence from Britain
    1948 – The British Mandate of Palestine is dissolved, Israel by sections of the mandate’s territory while other sections are given to the Arab population to form a state of their own.

  34. 33
    chingona says:

    Matt @32

    I should probably just stop talking at this point, but when I said AIPAC is the Israel lobby, I didn’t mean in the sense of Walt and Mearsheimer’s “Israel Lobby.” I should have seen that coming, and I just want that to be clear. I meant, they are the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. They lobby for the American government to adopt a pro-Israel foreign policy. You can hardly click on a page on their Web site without seeing a quote that calls them “the most important organization affecting America’s relationship with Israel.” Of organizations that lobby on Israel, they are the most prominent.

  35. 34
    Julie says:

    Julie – Gar Lipow has identified as Jewish in previous threads.

    Again, my apologies.

  36. Pingback: Soler Redux: Criticizing Israel and Antisemitism at Z-Word Blog

  37. 35
    Sailorman says:

    PG Writes:
    February 18th, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Sailorman,

    Why ignore my example of Pakistan, particularly as it’s the item just above 1948 Israel in the chronological list of Asian land boundary changes in the Wikipedia article you linked? They’re much more similar scenarios than the examples you present:
    1947 August – The Partition of India as India and Pakistan are given independence from Britain
    1948 – The British Mandate of Palestine is dissolved, Israel by sections of the mandate’s territory while other sections are given to the Arab population to form a state of their own.

    Why, other than the fact that it’s not what I was talking about? And other than the fact that you are saying “Pakistan! Pakistan!” without actually explaining why you think it is relevant, and taht you’re asking me to pop over to your subject without addressing any of the comparisons I raised?

    If you want to draw a parallel with Pakistan and Israel, go ahead. There are obvious parallels, insofar as they are both founded as religious countries.

    However, the establishment of Israel was (unlike Pakistan) a land grab made by a group of third parties, not assented to by the majority residents of the territory in question. The question of how Pakistani Muslims-who were already in Pakistan and who constituted a majority of the population-treated Pakistani non-Muslims who were also already there is an interesting question. But it’s not all that different from the question of how any other majorities treat their minority populations.

    Your fellow citizens can do a lot of horrible things to you, but they by definition are not an occupying force.

  38. 36
    PG says:

    Sailorman,

    The creation of Israel and the Palestinian Territories out of the Palestinian Mandate area by the British imperialists is FAR more similar to the creation of India and Pakistan out of the India colony by the British imperialists, than it is comparable to an invasion of previously sovereign territory (Kuwait) by another sovereign country (Iraq). You’re very clearly loading the dice with your comparisons in order to posit Israel as an aggressor from the get-go. That’s why I won’t address your comparisons.

    In both the Palestine Mandate and the India colony, there were two competing religious groups (Jews/Muslims; Hindus/Muslims) who did not feel they could live peaceably together but who wanted independence from British rule. In both, the British attempted to draw lines through the area and make one part Jewish (or Hindu) and the other part Muslim. In both, the partition was not successful inasmuch as there has been continued fighting over the territory for the last 60-odd years. In both, the minority Muslims living in the majority Jew/Hindu country have been mistreated by the majority but also have been shown respect for their minority religion (e.g. both Israel and India allow Muslims to operate to some extent under their own traditional family law).

    The main difference is that the Muslims in Palestine, unlike those in Pakistan/ Bangladesh, were not able to establish a functional nation because the other Muslim nations in the Middle East declared war on Israel twice, leading to Israel’s taking what should have been the Palestinian Territories. Notably, what you call “a land grab made by a group of third parties” grew out of wars in which Israel was NOT the aggressor.

    I personally think it sucks that the Palestinians are suffering for the stupid things other Muslims (particularly Egypt and Jordan in the 1967 war) have done, but your efforts to paint Israel as an aggressive, invading force like Iraq into Kuwait or China into Tibet simply indicate your own bias.

    Now, please explain why Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait is actually way more similar to the creation of Israel than the creation of Pakistan/India was.

  39. 37
    Sailorman says:

    PG Writes:
    February 19th, 2009 at 7:51 am

    Sailorman,
    You’re very clearly loading the dice with your comparisons in order to posit Israel as an aggressor from the get-go. That’s why I won’t address your comparisons.

    Bullshit.

    I am (1) a Jew, (2) who supports the continued existence of Israel, and (3) who is willing to grant Israel considerable latitude in protecting its existence. This is, perhaps, one of the very few issues on this blog where I have argued against those people claiming antisemitism.

    Yet even with that history you are trying to say that my point isn’t even worthy of a response because it comes from a perspective which appears (to you) to be too biased against Israel. This is madness. It is a perfect example of the non-argument that passes for argument, which is the subject of the thread. You didn’t try to tag it as anti-semitic, but it’s basically the same thing.

  40. 38
    PG says:

    I said that your comparisons all posit Israel as an aggressor. Do you agree or disagree with that? I asked you to explain why you think Israel is like Iraq in the invasion of Kuwait (an aggressor) rather than like India or Pakistan (new nations created by the British). Instead of providing such an explanation, you apparently would rather complain about how you’re “basically” being called anti-Semitic. This is your idea of sound argument?

  41. 39
    Sailorman says:

    In reply to the second part of your post:

    In both the Palestine Mandate and the India colony, there were two competing religious groups (Jews/Muslims; Hindus/Muslims) who did not feel they could live peaceably together but who wanted independence from British rule.

    That’s not the focus. The Palestine mandate was driven less from a desire to be out from British rule, and more from a desire to create a jewish state and compensate the Jews for the WWI atrocities. The Palestinian mandate was driven largely by forces external to Palestine.

    Similarly, although India and Pakistan obviously didn’t want to be colonies of Britain, that affected their desire to be independent states, not their desire to split from each other. The split and creation of Pakistan was driven by forces internal to the area.

    Yes, the actual splits were technically accomplished by the British. But they are quite different.

    In both, the partition was not successful inasmuch as there has been continued fighting over the territory for the last 60-odd years.

    You are referring to Kashmir, I assume? I don’t know enough about that to discuss it in detail, but that’s a fairly small portion, and (unlike Israel/Gaza) appears to based more on military posturing and less on having a huge effect of the citizens of the country.

    In both, the minority Muslims living in the majority Jew/Hindu country have been mistreated by the majority but also have been shown respect for their minority religion (e.g. both Israel and India allow Muslims to operate to some extent under their own traditional family law).

    Are you implying that Muslims were a minority in Palestine pre-split?

    The entire issue revolves around that to some degree. Pakistan was the movement of a majority-Muslim group to secure independence for itself. Israel was the imposition of a ruling party to benefit the minority group at the expense of the majority residents.

    The main difference is that the Muslims in Palestine, unlike those in Pakistan/ Bangladesh, were not able to establish a functional nation because the other Muslim nations in the Middle East declared war on Israel twice, leading to Israel’s taking what should have been the Palestinian Territories.

    I don’t see that as the main difference at all.

    The main difference is that Pakistan is reasonably viewed as a (problematic) action stemming from a desire for separatism. Israel is different.

    Palestine was about 60% Muslim in 1945. Sure, there were Israel-heavy areas. But there’s no necessity for a country to agree to let a minority section of its population secede. Israel is a bit as if the U.S. decided to enforce Quebec separatism.

    Notably, what you call “a land grab made by a group of third parties” grew out of wars in which Israel was NOT the aggressor.

    Since i was referring to the initial partition, that’s not true.

    I personally think it sucks that the Palestinians are suffering for the stupid things other Muslims (particularly Egypt and Jordan in the 1967 war) have done, but your efforts to paint Israel as an aggressive, invading force like Iraq into Kuwait or China into Tibet simply indicate your own bias.

    STOP accusing me of anti-Isael bias. Fucking stop it. Right now. because you’re not only wrong, but you are wrong enough that it’s fairly offensive.

  42. 40
    chingona says:

    Without wading into the whole discussion, I think you are wrong about this:

    You are referring to Kashmir, I assume? I don’t know enough about that to discuss it in detail, but that’s a fairly small portion, and (unlike Israel/Gaza) appears to based more on military posturing and less on having a huge effect of the citizens of the country.

    I’m not an expert here either, but I believe the dispute over Kashmir has had a huge effect on the people who live in that area (in that the Indian army functions rather like an occupying force there, with a lot of negative impacts on the civilian population), and there are relatively frequent terrorist attacks in major cities in India, most of which ultimately go back to the ongoing hostilities between Pakistan and India. There have also been several wars between India and Pakistan, not fight-to-the-death/conquer your country kind of wars, but wars nonetheless.

  43. 41
    chingona says:

    And PG, if you go back to Sailorman’s first comment, he’s not really using the examples to posit Israel as the aggressor so much as to suggest the reason Israel/Palestine is disputed is because it is recent. While Pakistan’s right to exist isn’t disputed like Israel’s is, we might speculate that 200 years from now Kashmir will not be a disputed issue. (Or it could be like the Balkans, where 800-year-old wrongs still carry political weight – that would argue against recentness being such a key factor.)

  44. 42
    PG says:

    Sailorman,

    I didn’t say that you had an “anti-Israel bias.” Once again, as with your “basically anti-Semitic” construction, you’re overstating. For the 2nd time: I said that your comparisons all posit Israel as an aggressor. Do you agree or disagree with that? You’re comparing Israel to nations that were aggressors (China in Tibet, Iraq in Kuwait) rather than to nations that were attacked and were so militarily successful that they were able to take territory from the parties that attacked them. If you don’t see Israel as an aggressor, why are you comparing it to countries that were?

    The Palestine mandate was driven less from a desire to be out from British rule, and more from a desire to create a jewish state and compensate the Jews for the WWI atrocities.

    I have no idea what you’re talking about here. What WWI atrocities were perpetrated against Jews in particular, for which they needed to be compensated? If you mistyped and actually meant WWII atrocities, the Mandate of course predates WWII; it functionally existed when the Brits defeated Ottoman forces in the area in 1917 (and the Brits’ intent to create “a national home for the Jewish people” was stated in the Balfour Declaration of 1917), and was formally approved by the League of Nations in 1922.

    Pakistan was the movement of a majority-Muslim group to secure independence for itself. Israel was the imposition of a ruling party to benefit the minority group at the expense of the majority residents.

    Wrong. Muslims were a minority in pre-Partition, Imperial India; they were only a majority in the areas that later became Pakistan/Bangladesh. There was a much stronger sentiment in favor of partition among Muslims than among Hindus (many of whom saw the division of “Mother India” as almost unholy), precisely because of Muslims’ fear that they would be oppressed by the Hindu majority if the British simply withdrew from the subcontinent and left it to the people who lived there to govern themselves.

    But there’s no necessity for a country to agree to let a minority section of its population secede.

    There’s no “agreeing” about it when you live under imperialism. It didn’t matter if Hindu majority was unhappy about having the minority Muslim section of the population “secede”; the British drew the maps. (There’s a comic-tragic Auden poem about this.) The same went for the non-Jewish majority of Palestine: there was going to be Jewish state carved out whether they liked it or not.

    Since i was referring to the initial partition, that’s not true.

    If you’re referring to the initial partition, how in God’s name is that more comparable to China’s invasion of Tibet or Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait than it is to a historical event actually called Partition?

    And PG, if you go back to Sailorman’s first comment, he’s not really using the examples to posit Israel as the aggressor so much as to suggest the reason Israel/Palestine is disputed is because it is recent.

    Which is fine, but when I noted that there have been other creations of new nations by imperialist powers, specifically Pakistan out of India, he ignored that in favor of raising examples of the invasion of a sovereign nation by another sovereign nation.

    While Pakistan’s right to exist isn’t disputed like Israel’s is, we might speculate that 200 years from now Kashmir will not be a disputed issue. (Or it could be like the Balkans, where 800-year-old wrongs still carry political weight – that would argue against recentness being such a key factor.)

    I really hope that Kashmir won’t be a disputed issue in 200 years. Unfortunately, the increasing terrorist attacks in India by people purporting to be supporters of Kashmiri Muslims and so forth are only strengthening India’s stubbornness in this regard. Again, this actually looks pretty comparable to the Israel situation: while Pakistan and India have not had a hot war in many years, any more than there has been a hot war between Israel and most of its neighboring nations for many years, that source of violence has been replaced by non-state actors.

  45. 43
    chingona says:

    that source of violence has been replaced by non-state actors.

    In comments here and elsewhere, Eurosabra has referred to geographic dispersion and ideological concentration (in the hands of the most extremist elements) of the means of violence and how very, very difficult that makes it to move forward, compared to dealing with state actors.

    I know I said I wasn’t going to weigh in, but … I agree with some of the parallels you are drawing between Partition and I/P, but while there always have been Jews in Palestine, the historic communities weren’t the ones pushing for a Jewish state, and the large increase in the Jewish population was from recent immigration. So while there was a Jewish population in place that was a minority in the entire territory but a majority in some areas (like Muslims in pre-Partition India), this sense of “outside actors” or “third-parties” is not just pulled from thin air. In some ways, I think if you look at the Middle East as a whole, as opposed to the nation-states drawn up at the end of the colonial period, the flight/expulsion of Arab and North African Jewish populations to Israel and of Arab populations from Israel/Occupied Territories, also has some similarities to Partition.

    So if your point is why don’t people question Pakistan’s right to exist, then your example works in some ways and not in others (which I’m sure you understand – I’m not trying to be condescending, just segueing). Certainly Israel is held to a higher standard, and some of it is, at the very least, political posturing if not actual antisemitism, but Zionism is fundamentally different than most other nationalisms in that the Jews were seeking to return to a historic homeland that other people were living in, as opposed to seeking to create their homeland “in place,” so to speak. And to counter that, you have some very legitimate reasons for the Jews to not want to remain “in place.” All of which adds up to no comparison being quite right.

    If we want to be really uncharitable, perhaps we could compare them to all those Anglos that flooded into Mexican territory, then decided they didn’t want to be Mexican. You’re a Texan, right? I don’t know what your education was like, but I came out of Texas public schools thinking Santa Ana was right up there with Hitler, Stalin and Attila the Hun in terms of evilness. Then I got to college and studied Mexican history from a less biased perspective, and it turns out it was, like most things, complicated.

    At the end of the day, as someone – I forget who – said on one of these threads, Israel has the right to exist because it does exist. That’s pretty much how we determine which countries have the right to exist (not by the justice or fairness of that country existing), and Israel has met that test.

  46. 44
    PG says:

    chingona,

    I agree that the India/Pakistan : Palestin/Israel example is highly imperfect, but I’m just pointing out that it probably is the most salient comparison, especially when contrasted with comparisons like Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait or China’s of Tibet.

    but Zionism is fundamentally different than most other nationalisms in that the Jews were seeking to return to a historic homeland that other people were living in, as opposed to seeking to create their homeland “in place,” so to speak.

    Right, but India’s Partition by its very nature couldn’t entail just a homeland “in place”; the reason at least half a million people died and more than 12 million became homeless is that 25 million people felt the need to move to where their group’s majorities were because they didn’t feel safe as minorities. Yet these “homelands” were essentially false for them because of Indians’ double identity, i.e. that of both religion and ethnicity/ subculture (where subculture is most easily tagged through language/dialect). Hindu Sindhis, for example, no longer felt safe in Sindh, which was assigned to Pakistan, once Urdu-speaking Muslims poured into the area with stories of the Hindu atrocities they had faced. But Hindu Sindhis also had no “homeland” in various Indian states where no one shared their language and culture (as opposed to somewhere like Punjab, which was split between India and Pakistan).

    I completely agree with your description of how Texas public schools teach about Santa Ana and the takeover of Texas generally by Anglos, and I agree that this was a morally problematic process (albeit to the extent that the then-Spanish government of Texas did give Moses Austin a land grant and permission to bring 300 settlers because they wanted to encourage settlement, they probably should have seen this coming — though that itself is further problematized by the Spanish and then mostly-white Mexican government leaders not seeing the land as “settled” if there were just a buncha Caddo natives there — they felt themselves to have much more in common with fellow whites, even Anglos, than with inhabitants of Mexico who were mostly or entirely of native blood).

    At the end of the day, as someone – I forget who – said on one of these threads, Israel has the right to exist because it does exist. That’s pretty much how we determine which countries have the right to exist (not by the justice or fairness of that country existing), and Israel has met that test.

    I agree, but the original disagreement arose from Jake’s comment that Israel *didn’t* have the right to exist, and RJN and I questioning whether Jake feels that way about other nations, and Sailorman saying it was entirely reasonable to make a demarcation about whether a nation has a right to exist based on how recent the country’s creation was. Which is why I brought up Pakistan, created just a year before Israel, and was annoyed that instead of addressing that comparison, Sailorman instead brought up sovereign nations’ invading each other (e.g. Iraq into Kuwait).

  47. Pingback: Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » Breaking the Seals, Part II

  48. 45
    chingona says:

    I agree, but the original disagreement arose from Jake’s comment that Israel *didn’t* have the right to exist, and RJN and I questioning whether Jake feels that way about other nations, and Sailorman saying it was entirely reasonable to make a demarcation about whether a nation has a right to exist based on how recent the country’s creation was. Which is why I brought up Pakistan, created just a year before Israel, and was annoyed that instead of addressing that comparison, Sailorman instead brought up sovereign nations’ invading each other (e.g. Iraq into Kuwait).

    Right. I understand that. And I think Sailorman had specific points to advance that legitimately don’t match the Pakistan/India example. And I think this is one of those things where the conversation moves in a zig-zag and not everything is tied back to the original point.

    Sailorman believes in Israel’s right to exist, perhaps more affirmatively than I do. My statement that Israel has a right to exist because it does exist reflects both my opinion and the way I understand political reality. Jake may well disagree, and that probably would center as much on how he defines “right” as on his family’s experiences.

    I guess I think on some level the question of Israel’s “right” to exist is somewhat semantic, and its significance/relevance to today lies in what sort of wrong you think was done to the Palestinians in the creation of Israel and what the fair/just/realistic way is to redress that wrong. The less “right” Israel has to exist, the more you think Israel owes the Palestinians, perhaps up to the point that the current state should be dissolved and it should be reconstituted in some other form. And I feel like those issues are so context-specific that the ways in which I/P is different from other conflicts may matter more than the ways it is similar.

  49. 46
    Matt says:

    The less “right” Israel has to exist, the more you think Israel owes the Palestinians, perhaps up to the point that the current state should be dissolved and it should be reconstituted in some other form.

    I think this may be where David was heading with his post on rights. Emma Goldman used to chastise anarchists who argued against Zionism on the grounds of property rights.

  50. 47
    PG says:

    And I think Sailorman had specific points to advance that legitimately don’t match the Pakistan/India example.

    The only point he seems to have advanced is that Israel’s creation/ existence is no more criticized than Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait or China’s takeover of Tibet. Unless one sees Israel’s creation/existence as Israel’s aggression against a sovereign state, I don’t see how his examples make sense. Sure, X is no more criticized than Y, but if X is “the treatment of the Hindu minority in Pakistan since 1948″ and Y is “the treatment of the Jewish minority in Germany 1935-1945,” then it seems obvious that the grotesquely more inhumane Y *ought* to be criticized more than X (even if X also sucks a lot). A nation that is the aggressor against other sovereigns *ought* to be criticized more than a nation created alongside another nation under imperialist direction.

  51. 48
    chingona says:

    Unless one sees Israel’s creation/existence as Israel’s aggression against a sovereign state, I don’t see how his examples make sense.

    I think there were problems with some of the examples he used, so I’m not trying to defend his entire argument for him. He can come back and discuss it some more if he wants to. But to what extent Jewish Zionist settlers/residents of Palestine could be understood as external aggressors is what I think he saw as missing from your example of Pakistan. That’s what I understood him to be getting at, and I think there’s some validity to that. Since all of this started with Jake’s example, if his family has been on that land for some number of generations, and some European-born Jews show up with guns to demand the farm, that could be understood as a foreign aggression. If you think there is no validity at all to viewing it that way (and no, it’s not exactly like a sovereign nation invading another one, but it’s not exactly like anything), we may just have to agree to disagree on that.

  52. 49
    PG says:

    Were there any Jews at all living in what the British marked as Palestinian Territory? Were they forced by the majority group to move to the territory marked as Israel, or were they wholly safe and secure living as the minority? How about Jews in Egypt, Jordan, etc., particularly after the Six-Day War? It’s my understand that non-Jews were forced out of areas marked as “Israel,” and Jews were forced out of other places (and of course the British didn’t intend any of this … “But we *said* that ‘nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country’!”)

    While the person who is forced to move naturally will be focused mainly on his experience of oppression (as the Hindu Sindhs still kick up a fight over admitting that Sindh is Pakistani now), in a partition there almost certainly will be forced movement on both sides:

    The same historical process that dispossessed Palestinians of their property, lands and national-political rights, was linked to the dispossession of Middle Eastern and North African Jews of their property, lands, and rootedness in Muslim countries. As refugees, or mass immigrants (depending on one’s political perspective), we were forced to leave everything behind and give up our Iraqi passports.

  53. 50
    chingona says:

    As I said before, I agree that there are a plenty of parallels with India/Pakistan and looking at a broader time frame that brings in the Arab Jews strengthens those parallels. In fact, I’m glad you brought it up, because I have thought in the past there were parallels but I never see anyone compare them, and since I’m not an expert on that event, I’ve been hesitant to use it. I just think there is an extra piece, an extra twist, an extra complication – that the Zionist project involved European Jews moving to Palestine in the 50 years leading up to the creation of Israel, changing the demographics in the period leading up to partition as opposed to changing the demographics as a result of the partition. And I think that is one factor (not THE factor, just one factor) in why it remains very contested.

  54. 51
    PG says:

    chingona,

    A very good point: I think if anything matters in terms of chronology, it is not the newness of the country, but the newness of some people’s being there. European Jews were not Middle Eastern, yet they sought to be in the Middle East. They had no shared culture with the people there except for sharing Judaism with the Arab Jews. That’s where there may be a sense of “invasion.”

    However, for the people who live in the area, outsiders’ sense of chronology doesn’t have much to do with it. Muslims showed up in India in medieval times and ruled most of the area until the East India Company and British Raj displaced their authority in the 18th century. But Hindus are still bitter about the destruction of temples and allegedly forced conversion, and a substantial and politically powerful group of Hindus consider Islam foreign to India and Muslims therefore as either invaders or traitors. The hostility toward Islamic conversion has persisted as a general paranoia about any kind of conversion; state governments have attempted to ban religious conversion, Christian missionaries have been killed by mobs and the Bnei Menashe (supposed “lost tribe of Israel” in India) who immigrated to Israel had to be converted when they got there, as the Indian government opposed mass conversions on Indian soil. Hindus remain much more bitter toward Muslims and the legacy of their rule than toward the British.

    Attempts to base the soundness of an objection to the existence of a country on chronology, therefore, appears to be mostly a post-hoc rationalization.

  55. 52
    Sailorman says:

    I’ve only got a moment but will continue tomorrow.

    The palstinian mandate obviously predates wwII. And it is true that part of the original mandate included creating space for the jews. However, functionally speaking it was not until post WWII that the split was really enforced.

    PG Writes:
    February 19th, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    chingona,

    A very good point: I think if anything matters in terms of chronology, it is not the newness of the country, but the newness of some people’s being there. European Jews were not Middle Eastern, yet they sought to be in the Middle East. They had no shared culture with the people there except for sharing Judaism with the Arab Jews. That’s where there may be a sense of “invasion.”

    If that is what you think then we may not disagree.

    I would say it like this:

    1) If you’re a citizen, you cannot invade or occupy areas controlled by citizens of your own country. You can treat a minority of the country like shit; you can take their land and/or personal property without agreement or compensation. It may be horrible; it may properly be termed apartheid. But if you do it under cover of governmental authority AND if you’re already a citizen then you are neither invading or occupying.

    2) However, if you come to a country with the intent to take people’s land and/or personal property without agreement or compensation, then you can be correctly classified as an invader and/or occupier.

    3) The issue of recent immigrants is a gray area, whether those immigrants are the minority or majority.

    In my opinion, the first example is more similar to Pakistan, and the second example is more similar to Israel. I view this as an important distinction which helps to explain why third parties view the Israel/Palestine situation as fundamentally different than India/Pakistan.

  56. 53
    David Schraub says:

    The palstinian mandate obviously predates wwII. And it is true that part of the original mandate included creating space for the jews. However, functionally speaking it was not until post WWII that the split was really enforced.

    That’s not quite true. The first split in the original mandate came in 1922, when Britain partitioned Jordan off from what is now Israel (even today, it appears that a Jew is legally barred from citizenship in Jordan). Several other partition plans were forwarded in the intervening years before the UN vote.

  57. 54
    PG says:

    2) However, if you come to a country with the intent to take people’s land and/or personal property without agreement or compensation, then you can be correctly classified as an invader and/or occupier.

    Muslims came to India “with the intent to take people’s land and/or personal property without agreement or compensation,” and Hindus certainly regarded them as “an invader and/or occupier.” The waves of Muslim invaders hardly could be regarded as citizens. Does one automatically gain citizenship for one’s children in a land one has invaded if they are born there?

    Moreover, I disagree with your claim that European Jews came to Israel with the intent to take land and/or personal property without agreement or compensation. As I understand the Ottoman Empire, all land was owned by the ruler and his aristocracy (which would have been mostly Turkish) and there was no Magna Carta type assurance of private property rights within that. Nonetheless, the Jewish National Fund was established with the explicit purpose of buying up land in Palestine, though being able to do so under the Ottomans often required bribing bureaucrats.

    Baron Rothschild donated money that Jews used to purchase land from absentee Turkish landlords who had had Arab tenant farmers working there. Those tenant farmers never owned the land, but as often happens with absentee landlords who have as tenants generations of the same family, many of the tenant farmers felt a sense of ownership for their homes and the land. Hence the 1936-39 Arab revolt protesting the removal of workers from the land. In 1939, the British placed restrictions on both Jewish emigration and on the purchase of land by Jews from Arabs — the latter restriction would hardly be necessary if Jews were just taking land without agreement or compensation.

    Even David Ben-Gurion came to Israel with the belief that the JNF’s scheme of buying up land could continue until it owned the territory it wanted. So I’m skeptical of your claim that European Jews came “to a country with the intent to take people’s land and/or personal property without agreement or compensation,” particularly prior to the Holocaust.

  58. 55
    David Schraub says:

    As I understand the Ottoman Empire, all land was owned by the ruler and his aristocracy (which would have been mostly Turkish) and there was no Magna Carta type assurance of private property rights within that. Nonetheless, the Jewish National Fund was established with the explicit purpose of buying up land in Palestine, though being able to do so under the Ottomans often required bribing bureaucrats.

    Baron Rothschild donated money that Jews used to purchase land from absentee Turkish landlords who had had Arab tenant farmers working there. Those tenant farmers never owned the land, but as often happens with absentee landlords who have as tenants generations of the same family, many of the tenant farmers felt a sense of ownership for their homes and the land. Hence the 1936-39 Arab revolt protesting the removal of workers from the land.

    This has been a gap in my history that I’ve long wanted to see remedied. I read pro-Zionist history that says the immigrants bought the land, and anti-Zionist ones that say it was appropriated without compensation. My gut instinct seems to have been verified — the land was purchased from absentee landlords, the longstanding tenants were kicked out and didn’t really care about the technicality of who owned the deed under Turkish law (and I’d feel the same way if I was in their boat), the Jewish purchasers feel like they’ve demonstrated their commitment to justice and their distinctiveness from colonialism by paying for the property rather than stealing it, lots of anger ensues.

  59. 56
    PG says:

    David,

    I’d caution that that was true only up to about 1939: as the outlines of the Holocaust as more than just the harassment that Jews had suffered for a couple thousand years became clear, coinciding with the British clamping down on Jewish emigration and land purchasing, radical attitudes spread and the sentiment that if Jews weren’t allowed by the Brits to buy the land, they’d just take it, began to spread. Definitely once the partition was made and non-Jews were abandoning their property, in many cases because they felt their safety was threatened (as with Jake’s family’s original move in 1948), the effort to buy up the land was less prominent than the use of force.

    I just was disputing Sailorman’s claim that this was the intent all along — it wasn’t. But on the other hand, Jews didn’t end up being superhuman compliers with property law once they felt that they could not depend on the rule of law to give them any protection whatsoever (as the Holocaust made very clear they couldn’t). They then used force toward the goal of ensuring they had their own space.

  60. 57
    David Schraub says:

    A good distinction.