05 April 2009

Anti-Semitism? Politics and Cartoons

Cartoon © Pat Oliphant (25 March 09).

It is anti-Semitic to treat Jews in ways one would not or does not treat those who are not Jews. Is it automatically anti-Semitic to criticize the State of Israel? No. Is it anti-Semitic to assume that, unlike other people - whether as individuals or as a group - Jews can do no wrong, that literally nothing is forbidden in the name of defending Israel's right to exist? Yes. Why not treat individual Jews and the State of Israel just like one treats other individuals and states? That is, why not treat individual Jews and the State of Israel as worthy of praise or condemnation in just the way we might praise or condemn other people and political entities?

The cartoon I've lifted above, in which Pat Oliphant criticizes Israeli policies toward Palestinians generally and Gaza in particular - has prompted charges of anti-Semitism - predictably from Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. Foxman identifies virtually any criticism of Israeli policy as anti-Semitic. He thereby insidiously identifies the state of Israel, Israeli government policy, and all (meaning each and every) Jews. Foxman screams anti-Semitism almost by instinct. Here is how Eric Alterman* characterizes Foxman in the wake of his recent, incredible accusations against Bill Moyers who, like Oliphant, had the temerity to criticize the Israeli invasion of Gaza.
To delve deeply almost anywhere into the arguments over the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is to invite an overload of irony, but let us focus for one moment on a fracas caused by Abe Foxman, national director of the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation League. Irony No. 1 is that a "league," as such, does not exist. Foxman is it. (When asked, for a New York Times profile, whom in the organization besides himself a reporter might interview, Foxman "couldn't think of anyone.") Irony No. 2? Under Foxman, "antidefamation" is not really the ADL's line; defamation is.
Foxman pretty clearly lacks all credibility. And it is important not to presume that his often groundless tirades offer a basis for sound or fair assessment. As Alterman notes in his defense of Moyers:
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, the celebrated author and patriot David Grossman termed the Gaza operation "just one more way-station on a road paved with fire, violence and hatred," and added, "our conduct here in this region has, for a long time, been flawed, immoral and unwise."
Do such remarks make Grossman anti-Semitic? By Foxman's lights they surely must, although as Alterman notes, old Abe apparently hasn't got the chutzpah to attack Grossman. And that is predictable enough.

The reason I raise all this is to call attention to this essay by Anthony Lerman in The Guardian. Lerman, I think, does a good job of sorting out the offensive and the ineffective from the 'anti-Semitic' in discussing Oliphant's cartoon. I think invoking Nazism, is generally not useful in politics. I've said as much here before. I think the analogy Oliphant is drawing here is unhelpful. But I also think the same goes for automatically characterising any criticism of Israel or its policies as anti-Semitic. One may find the implication Oliphant is drawing (or perhaps warning against) discomfiting, even extremely so, but that - windbags like Foxman notwithstanding - hardly makes either he or his cartoon anti-Semitic.
*"The Defamation League," The Nation (28 January 09).

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I agree that some pro-Israel groups use anti-Semitism as a tactic to brush away fair criticisms of Israeli govt. policies, there are all too many human rights groups, academics, and leftists, who have a Pavlovian reaction to anything that involves Israel. That, I think, is also a serious problem.

I also think knee-jerk accusations of anti-Semitism would have less credibility if the same folks who criticize Israel criticized Islamists in equal proportion. Just a week or so ago, Afghanistan's parliament passed a bill that essentially legalizes rape. Where were all the protesters, who march in the streets with their Hamas banners? No where to be found, of course. It appears from the outside that the only "human rights" concern they have is the one that involves Jews.

05 April, 2009 15:45  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

D ~ Agreed. Jim

05 April, 2009 19:50  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

PS: I was going to say that my focus here is on the pronouncements of Americans on the Western media; but you are obviously right that that silence of commentators in the US on the Afghan outrage is something that is condemnable too.

05 April, 2009 19:53  
Blogger Alejandro López de Haro said...

Hi Jim:
Since Israel have been using Gaza as a “killing field” (to paraphrase Chris Menges Oscar Winning Film Cinematography) no longer the accusation of anti-Semitism has the same ring (At least outside the USA). Hence, Israel has become just another Middle East nation that applies the same policies the USA uses on War on Terrorism to advance their racial agenda and religious dogmas in their own country (and sphere of influence); being the Palestinian just a collateral damage.

13 April, 2009 10:09  

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