Saturday, March 10, 2007

Antisemitism

When I was kid, antisemitism meant something.

It was a deadly serious charge, reserved only for those that demonstrably and provably hated Jews and promoted such hatred though words and deeds. People like Jim Keegstra, Ernst Zundel and Wolfgang Droege. Groups like the Klan, the Heritage Front and the Church of the Creator.

Accusing someone of such a serious charge was not something taken lightly as it often resulted in social marginalization, and could destroy a person's life. It was therefore not done without serious considerations and only with plenty of evidence. A charge of antisemitism was a powerful weapon and a label reserved only for those that truly were dangerous and deserved it.

But something happened. At some point in the mid-80's it became fashionable to label opponents of Israeli policy as antisemitic. Questioning Israeli treatment of Palestinians became antisemitic. Questioning the expense of US financial and military support for Israel became antisemitic. This was done for political reasons, because it was realized that such a powerful accusation would immediately stop debate, as no one but true antisemites would want such a label. So these stances were not about human rights or fiscal prudence anymore (even though that is exactly what most of them were), they were about hating Jews and being lumped in with neo-Nazis and skinheads.

And this tactic was successful. No one in the US, let alone in government questions whether the billions sent to Israel is money well spent, or whether kidnapping, bulldozing of houses and extra-judicial killings are things that democracies and free societies engage in. To do so makes you a Nazi. Proper, rational and sensible debate was, and still is, stifled and forbidden.

This new political weapon has been used with more frequency and with candor, as recent events in the blogsphere show. A new, McCathyist political correctness has sprung up such that even single sentences, taken out of context and which run counter to thousands of other statements are enough to condemn someone as an antisemite. An accusation of antisemitism is now used to smear political opponents, to gain political advantage for oneself and one's political party and to remove from the debate people or arguments one dislikes.

And that practice is nearly as dangerous as antisemitism itself. When the charge of antisemitism is used so cavalierly and against people who are not antisemitic, the true power and meaning become watered down and lose their meaning. If everyone is antisemetic then who really is? When it becomes so easy to be antisemitic, then the phrase has lost all meaning. And when it loses meaning because of this, it will loose its much vaunted power and it will be ignored. That means that true antisemites will go unnoticed and their views, rather than being properly marginalized, will be associated with the smeared moderates, not the other way around. It will give the antisemite's views power and legitimacy and attract people. Antisemitism will be so misused that it will not matter any longer and perhaps even become acceptable and 'cachet'-politically-incorrect, a point of pride.

That will be the worst tragedy of all because it will empower those that anyone who truly cares about antisemitism are trying to fight, the real antisemites.

Of course, by merely stating this, I will likely be labeled as antisemitic myself.

Never mind 8 years in good standing as a member of the Bloor JCC during the 90's.

Never mind years of fighting the neo-Nazi and far-right resurgence while at Carleton and in while living in Toronto.

Never mind a clear record of standing up for human rights - all human rights - in this very blog and elsewhere.

No, I'll be called an antisemite because of this post.

I'll be called an antisemite because I think that Israel's misadventure in Lebanon last summer was wrong, despite sharing that view with a sizable number of Israeli citizens.

I'll be called an antisemite because I think that if Iran can't have the bomb, then neither should Israel (who has about 400, apparently).

I'll be called an antisemite because I think "the wall" is a gross violation of human rights and international law and is nothing more than a land grab, despite the fact that, again, many Israelis agree, as well as most of the world and the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Frankly, if I am an antisemite for any of these things, its already too late. If that is the case, we have already disarmed ourselves and the true antisemites have won.

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36 Comments:

At 2:20 PM, Anonymous April Reign said...

Well stated.

 
At 2:36 PM, Anonymous Canadian Observer said...

We would take a broader definition of anti-Semitism as we think it really is a structural phenomenon. However like all broad deeply embedded social structures the only way to defeat it is with education and reasoned debate.

The sad consequence of all this abuse of the meaning of anti-Semitism to our mind is that (a) as you have pointed out it debases what is real problem and (b) is being carried out for the furtherance of domestic political agendas, which have next to nothing to do with a concern for Israel or Jews or anti-Semitism.

 
At 3:06 PM, Blogger Antonio said...

bravo

 
At 3:19 PM, Blogger Dr.Dawg said...

Nicely done.

 
At 4:33 PM, Blogger catnip said...

Well put.

Just one quibble:

No one in the US, let alone in government questions whether the billions sent to Israel is money well spent, or whether kidnapping, bulldozing of houses and extra-judicial killings are things that democracies and free societies engage in.

There are many voices of reason in the US that do speak up about these things. They just get drowned out by the "support Israel regardless" crowd.

When I first joined Daily Kos in 2004, the silence over the I/P issues was absolutely deafening and that was on a Democratic blog. Apparently, that's finally changed over there but the debates are fast and furious, from what I understand, and the battle lines are clearly drawn by those who consider criticism of Israel's policies to still be taboo.

No one should be afraid to have an opinion based on fact on any country's human rights record and no one should be trying to stifle that debate with overheated, emotional rhetoric - and it is definitely the emotional aspect that fuels those who want to silence the critics. (That was extremely obvious in Kinsella's NP article which he started with a tale of tears flowing).

You're quite right that identifying everyone as "the enemy" serves no one. Thanks for writing this post.

 
At 4:38 PM, Blogger janfromthebruce said...

Mike, that is great. Of course, to turn back the Kinsella tide, would require the progressive blogasphere to do an about face, showing solidarity for justice, forgetting about partisan politics for a moment and doing the right thing.

 
At 6:02 PM, Blogger Mike said...

catnip,

I should have said "allowed to question" because you are quite right, there are voices of sanity. Not nearly enough of them are in the mainstream however and there was a time when those that did speak out were "the fringe".

Thanks everyone for the support on this...its been in my queue for a few days and I was unsure if I should post it.

 
At 7:37 PM, Blogger catnip said...

Well, many people who do speak out are still considered to be on "the fringe", unfortunately.

I enjoy reading the articles over at Ha'aretz which I check out almost daily. They give me an idea of the pulse in Israel itself.

 
At 7:59 PM, Blogger Psychols said...

A good read. When I was younger, the term anti-Semitic invoked feelings of anger, revulsion, regret, guilt and perhaps an emotional need to exact revenge upon the individual who had been identified as anti-Semitic. Those days are gone. So freely has the term been used that it has lost affective connotation. It is fast becoming little more than an insult disguised as intelligent debate.

 
At 11:07 PM, Blogger Steve V said...

mike

Well said!!

 
At 12:36 AM, Blogger Annamarie said...

Excellent post, and well said by all of you. I had a lengthy 'debate' several weeks ago this issue after I had put up a post about U of T anti-Israeli apartheid week events.

Many of the commenters jumped all over me labelling me anti-semitic. Some comments were so ugly and vituperative that I deleted them. However, as the 'debate' progressed, I did manage to clarify my views which reflect yours and that criticism of Israel's policies does not equate with anti-semitism. Gradually, the comments became less confrontational and more of a dialogue.

Like you, I am a supporter of ALL human rights -- hence opposed to anti-semitism in its real meaning, not the faux politically-correct usage.

I think it is good to have more people voice concerns over this grave misuse. The Brits have been having interesting discussions about this issue, especially amongst the British Jews on several of their blogs. It's too bad that we in N. America are too afraid to do likewise for fear of being labelled anti-semitic. I, for one, am not afraid, and I can see that you are not either.

btw, if I don't already have you on my blogroll (separate from the small ProgBlogs button link which makes individual sites harder to find), I will put you on there now. You have very worthwhile, interesting posts.

Annamarie
http://verbena19.wordpress.com

(the blogger comment link only takes you to my old site. For some reason, I'm unable to comment on blogger sites without using my old Google acct.)

 
At 8:51 AM, Blogger Alison said...

Well done, Mike.

 
At 12:03 PM, Blogger Nastyboy said...

Well done Mike. The terms anti-semetic, racist, fascist, mysoginist and homophobic get thrown around so easily in what passes for intelectual debate now a days can be laughable at times.

The problem that many groups with legitimate critsism for many Isreali policies have is that real anti-semites blend in with the crowd. And at times they ally themselves with people of dubious motivations. I did a post on that last year. It's the third item down.

http://themsfightinwords.blogspot.com/2006_08_01_archive.html

I do think that real anti-semitism is on the rise in North America. Check out the documentary, The Protocols of Zion.

 
At 2:39 PM, Blogger Red Jenny said...

Nice post. Clear, concise and accurate, I'd say. Sure, there's antisemitism out there, just like there's misogyny, racism, and many many other forms of bigotry.

Racism etc is more than sentiment and statement - there are systemic forms of discrimination. It gets complicated...

Unless the minority groups bring it to their attention, the privileged people in a society generally don't even realize discrimination exists - can these people be considered racist, for example, if they have no individual negative sentiments towards discriminated-against groups? If those groups aren't "on their radar" let's say, because their lives don't interact, they may not have any feeling one way or another. But yet they live in a position of privilege, basically because of NOT being part of one of these groups.

In other words, it's not just about how an individual FEELS about a particular group that matters.

In regards to Jewish people, systemic discrimination was once a problem: for example, Mount Sinai hospital exists because Jews weren't aloud to practice as doctors, so they made their own hospitals. Now, though, do you think systemic anti-Semitism is a problem, or has it changed?

 
At 7:04 AM, Blogger Jose said...

It seems like every time you see polemic vitroil such as you are describing here the shrill accusations speak more for the character of the accuser than the accused. The people who cry about anti-semitism at the drop of a hat are usualy myopicaly racist themselves.

Donohue that League of American Catholics head thinks that Hollywood is controlled by a cabal of secular jews with an agenda. Oddly enough he doesn't get any flack from the religious right about being an anti-semite. Apparently you can promote the idea of a jewish conspiracy so long as you support Bush's foriegn policy.

 
At 9:56 AM, Anonymous Jeff said...

Cheriak says it best:

"In this world, there are many countries that defy human rights. We know that suspected terrorists are tortured in Syria. We know that Tibetans are punished in China. We know that Palestinians are denied true political rights in Jordan. Why, then, is Israel singled out by the United Nations every year? I have nothing against pointing out the human rights flaws of other countries, but I do have a problem with singling out one country each and every year. How can you justify that?"

Fact is, the left continues to single out Israel among many countries that they could concentrate their energies on. How do they justify this? Is this not anti semitic?

 
At 10:13 AM, Anonymous Jeff said...

.....also, I don't believe the assertion that the power behind the label of antisemitism is diminished because many voices condemn Jews rather than a few (as was perhaps the case in the 80s). Perhaps there are just more antisemites around today due to media and institutional brainwashing.

 
At 10:16 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Jeff that's Bullshit.

"The left" (whom ever that giant amorphous group might be) also criticizes Mugabe, the rulers of Sudan for the actions in Darfur, the Chinese in Tibet, and even Canada's treatment of Natives just to name a few. Its not "just" Israel at all.

There is more than the UN. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Medicins San Frontiers just to name a few. These groups issue reports year after year. Cherniak conveniently forgets all of those.

Are some of the countries that bring up Israel in the UN doing so for anti-Semitic reasons? Of course. But the UN does not just concentrate on Israel - the UNHRC also investigates things like the atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo (both sides). And that does not mean that some of the actions of the Israeli government are not worthy of criticism and being brought before the UN or reported in an Amnesty report.

It is not antisemitism to say that Israel should not torture prisoners, since we also hold the US, Syria and most other countries to that standard.

It is not antisemitism to say that Israel should not build a wall to grab disputed land, since we held the Communist bloc to that standard not very long ago.

It is not antisemitism to say that Israel should not invade other countries on shaky insufficient grounds, since we held Iraq to that standard in 1990.

Its not antisemitism to say the Israel should not conduct extra-judicial killings and assassinations since we also held El Salvadoran and Nicaraguan governments to those standards in the 80's.

Its not antisemitism to say that Israel should not treat its Arab citizens and those Arabs under its control in the West Bank and Gaza to different laws ans restrictions based on their nationality and ethnicity, since we held South Africa to the same standards for 40 years until Aparthied was abandoned.

Anyone who tries to tell you that any of this is antisemitic is trying to stifle honest debate or trying to use the "antisemitism" boogey man for personal or domestic political gain.

 
At 10:27 AM, Blogger Mike said...

"also, I don't believe the assertion that the power behind the label of antisemitism is diminished because many voices condemn Jews rather than a few (as was perhaps the case in the 80s). Perhaps there are just more antisemites around today due to media and institutional brainwashing."

Well, I'm not sure what that really means. But look at it this way - The Boy Who Cried Wolf. If everyone screams antisemitism all the time, they will not believed when the real antisemitism rears its ugly head.

As for the assertion that there are more anti-semites, I think that is completly false. There are more accusations to be sure, as I stated in the post and for the reasons I stated, not because there are actually more.

And be careful who you side with in this. Peter Rempel made a great point at his blog. You may like the idea of the 'antisemitism whirlitzer' taking down a person you consider your political enemy or opponent, but that whirlitzer can easily be turned on you, for any reason. It won't be much fun then. That's the danger.

 
At 7:23 PM, Anonymous Jeff said...

""The left" (whom ever that giant amorphous group might be) also criticizes Mugabe, the rulers of Sudan for the actions in Darfur, the Chinese in Tibet, and even Canada's treatment of Natives just to name a few. Its not "just" Israel at all."

That may be, but Israel sees the lion's share of condemnation. A disproportionate amount when you add it all up...


"And be careful who you side with in this. Peter Rempel made a great point at his blog. You may like the idea of the 'antisemitism whirlitzer' taking down a person you consider your political enemy or opponent, but that whirlitzer can easily be turned on you, for any reason. It won't be much fun then. That's the danger."

I agree that that is the danger 'with blogs' and it always has been. People tend to say things they wouldn't normally say in day to day discussions. It really leads to the inevitable question: Should these kinds of discussions take place on an internet forum? I know for myself, I can change my mind on a subject within the matter of 10 minutes. Words written down on a blog are preserved for eternity ( or until the blog owner erases them). A tough circle to square.

 
At 1:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is is not Anti-Semitism to accuse (nay ACCEPT and CHARGE) Israel of:

"illegal land grabs, torture of prisoners, invasion on shaky grounds, control of seperate states, etc.,"

Based totally upon the reports and observations of a group with an admitted and open goal of detruction of that same state and/or group of people ?

Again, as a libertarian, should you not promote those countries with a truly democratic belief over those without?

Just asking?

 
At 1:23 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Anon,

No, because it is based on the reports of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Medicins San Frontiers, The International Court of Justice in the Hague, CNN, AP, Haaretz, and many other groups and information outlets that don't advocate the destruction of Israel. Some of them are in fact, Israeli.

So nice try at guilt by association, but no cigar.

And as a libertarian (and an anarchist don't forget!), I don't care about "promoting" any country or state, I care about promoting the individual rights and freedoms of everyone. That means Israelis and Palestinians. I side with the individuals who merely want to live free and in peace, no matter who they are. So when a state - any state - tries to take away those freedoms, I'll stand up for them. I've done that not only with Israel, but with the US, Canada, the UK, Russia...well you get the picture.

Honestly, I don't think you even know what a libertarian is.

 
At 3:55 AM, Blogger Ron said...

Mike: excellent post.

anonymous: Israeli errors and excesses provide invaluable propoganda to Israel's enemies. There are few things as dangerous and damaging as bad arguments for good ideas--and Israel badly undermines its ability to survive as a positive influence in the Middle East by making important mistakes when it comes to individual rights and human freedom.

That's the second best reason for Israel to clean up its act. The first is simply because wrong is wrong.

I'm not trying to speak for Mike here, but I think I'm pretty much libertarian (and, as it happens, I also know I am neither anti-semitic generally, nor anti-jewish specifically).

 
At 5:47 PM, Anonymous jeff said...

Wrong is wrong, indeed. Suicide bombing and openly advocating the desire to "wipe Israel off the face of the Earth" is wrong, ney, punishable by force.

 
At 7:32 PM, Blogger Mike said...

"Suicide bombing and openly advocating the desire to "wipe Israel off the face of the Earth" is wrong,"

Indeed. Now what exactly does that have to do with the subject of this post?

 
At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Jeff said...

It relates in that many on the left fail to recognize Israel's right to defend itself. Why do they feel this way so strongly?

 
At 12:27 PM, Blogger Mike said...

As far as I know everyone on "the left" recognizes Israel's right to defend itself against aggression. That has little to do with criticizing Israel government policy in regard to Israeli Arab citizens, Palestinians and Lebanon, which are often seen as acts of aggression, not defense, even by Israeli citizens themselves. It is holding the Israeli government to the same standards of behaviour as any other government.

But thank you for merely proving my point - silly accusations of antisemitism launched at ones political enemies merely stifles legitimate dissent and debate and waters down the real meaning of antisemitism to where the word is meaningless.

 
At 12:53 PM, Blogger Balbulican said...

Just wondering. Is this the same "Jeff" who attacked for his alleged "antisemitism", then was forced to back down and apologize when unable to point out even a single instance?

 
At 6:49 PM, Anonymous Jeff said...

Mike, I'm not sure what you mean by "real" antisemitism as opposed to "false" antisemitism.

Balbulican, who pissed in your cornflakes?

 
At 6:52 PM, Anonymous Jeff said...

Btw, is this the same balbulican that accused me of calling him antisemitic but could not provide a single instance to back it up?

 
At 7:29 PM, Anonymous Jeff said...

"It relates in that many on the left fail to recognize Israel's right to defend itself. Why do they feel this way so strongly?"

Never mind. I just found the answer:

http://www.answers.com/topic/new-antisemitism

 
At 10:18 PM, Blogger Balbulican said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 12:46 AM, Anonymous Jeff said...

Thanks Balbulican.

 
At 9:23 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Balb's earlier post, edited to remove Jeff's full name, in accordance with our previously agreed to understanding:

" Jeff said...

"Btw, is this the same balbulican that accused me of calling him antisemitic but could not provide a single instance to back it up?"

No, Mr. Jeff xxxx. This is the same balbulican who said the exact opposite, in this thread:

http://ianism.com/?p=403

You don't remember, Mr. xxxx? Let me help. I said:

"Jeff, you never called me a holocaust denier: sorry, my sentence WAS confusing. I said that “A” - i.e., Anonalogue - did. You didn’t."

To which you responded "no problem."

Honest, lad, have the brains not to lie about something that's still online. I thought Ian had shut down that particular line of stupidity, but I see you're attempting a revival.

10:18 PM "


Gents, we can have a heated discussion on this without resorting to behaviour we all know caused many of us great problems not long ago.

 
At 11:50 AM, Blogger Balbulican said...

No problem, Mike. Sorry to cause you the hassle.

I just don't like being lied about.

 
At 5:22 PM, Blogger John said...

Excellent, excellent post! Here in the UK the powers-that-be are doing their utmost to ensure that the 'anti-semite' label sticks firmly to those who are defending the vulnerable in Palestine and speaking up about the crimes against humanity committed by Israel.

Shockingly, the NUS (national union of students) conference has in fact just voted for a motion that equates anti-semitism with anti-zionism.

The implications of this are yet to be seen but it is clearly an attempt to silence genuine debate and crack down on political activity on campuses across the UK - since the invasion of Iraq, UK students have become highly politicised and this has in turn led to them being far more informed of the plight of the Palestinians, who are without a doubt one of the most subjugated people in existence today.

It is totally Orwellian that the expressing of horror about a country's brutality can possibly result in you being termed an anti-semite.

It must surely be one of the lowest and most transparent forms of politically motivated smears in the world today and as you say it is a huge insult to progressives everywhere who have spent their whole lives fighting against racism and injustices.

One of the most dangerous aspects of it though, as you rightly point out, is the severe watering down of the term anti-semite.

And if I had relatives that had died during the Holocaust at the hands of what were REAL anti-semites, I would be livid at this sleazy, blatantly politically motivated misuse of the word today.

 

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