Saturday, July 22, 2006

On anti-Semitism (1)

The Israeli state's on-going attack on Lebanon has resulted to date in hundreds of dead civilians and hundreds of thousands of ordinary Lebanese displaced from their homes. An entire nation continues to be terrorized by Ehud Olmert’s “No one is exempt” policy. At this point, in fact, Lebanon has indeed been set back twenty years, if not more, fulfilling in its smashed infrastructure and traumatized population the obscene boast of Israeli officials.

Were we talking about any other nation than Israel, we could simply have the debate. Not all would agree with my characterization of the conflict, above. Some might call it incomplete, badly phrased, antagonistic, over-simplified. That's fair enough: I can defend my position, and the discussion, in any case, is not likely to end anytime soon.

Were the country in question France, or New Zealand, though, one could make such comments without being labelled "anti-French" or "anti-Kiwi." The obvious difference between government policy and the people make such notions absurd to the feel. Even at the height of Stalin's atrocities, for example, I can find no references to his critics being called "anti-Georgian."

But Israel is different. Phil McNeely, the Ottawa-area MPP who dared to utter criticisms of that country's current adventures in the Middle East, has learned this to his cost. Rather than engage him in debate, the Canadian Jewish Congress immediately demanded that he "retract" his statements. The Ontario Premier expressed "serious dismay and disappointment." The Ottawa Citizen is full of angry letters today, accusing McNeely of everything from anti-Semitism to mental illness. Against McNeely's statement that it is dangerous for critics of the Israeli state to speak out, one writer argued that this very claim indicated "an insidious old-fashioned anti-Semitism." Ironically, the correspondent nicely made McNeely's point for him.

For commenting perhaps too bluntly about the human cost of Israel's two-front adventure, I myself have been accused of anti-Semitism. This is the vile comment in full:

Welcome to the "reality-based" world of the Left. A reality where the only Jew is the Eternal Jew.

To his considerable credit, Mark Collins, the writer of the piece where this comment later appeared, has asked the author to apologize. But I won’t hold my breath. Welcome, everyone, not to the "new anti-Semitism," but to the new McCarthyism. Look around. It’s everywhere.

Over at Small Dead Animals, none other than the Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, stands accused. "Scratch a socialist," Kate McMillan states, such insouciant slander being the current stock-in-trade of much of the Right, "and underneath you’ll find an anti-Semite." Somehow, in the pretzel logic that passes for thought in some quarters, the al-Qaeda bombing of Spanish trains, causing terrible loss of life, led straight to anti-Semitism.

Zapatero, according to a scurrilous article in Ynet News, is guilty on two counts, or maybe three. Our suspicions are aroused by the fact that the charges made in this badly-translated and often incoherent rant appear nowhere else, other than in screechy right-wing blogs whose commentary inevitably leads back to this one source. Here, in any case, is the bill of account:

First, Zapatero had the effrontery to put a "Palestinian kaffiyah" around his neck when the object in question was handed to him by a student—putting me in mind of the old joke, here paraphrased: "My mother made me a Palestinian." "If I give her the yarn, will she make me one too?" Through sympathy, at least, many "Palestinians" are indeed being made these days. But takes more than a scarf to make an anti-Semite.

Secondly, it took too long, says the writer, to shut down a Hizbollah television channel, Al Manar, that was broadcasting in Spanish to Latin America by satellite. (More on that here.)

Finally, the biggie:
Mr. Zapatero and his wife were having dinner with the distinguished Jewish Bennaroch family, and proceeded to abuse their hospitality by

claiming what Vidal Quadras, member of the European Parliament, described on the radio as "a tirade of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. By the moment the Benarroch couple had left the table to express their regrets, Zapatero was explaining his lack of surprise about the Holocaust: according to the people present, Zapatero claimed to understand the Nazis.”

Now we know this precisely how? This incident, which allegedly occurred last December 5, is not recorded anywhere else but in that illiterate Ynet article. Such a thing, of course, would have been front-page news had it really happened. Instead it comes to us third-hand, courtesy of one Vidal Quadras. Who is this Quadras, anyway?

As it happens, it's not that difficult to track him down. He's a conservative opponent of Mr. Zapatero, and he writes a blog with entries like this one, soberly entitled "The lunatic Spain of Zapatero." Kate McMillan ought to link to him. Even with his evident pith and vinegar, though, and his undoubted connections, the best Quadras could muster in the way of planting this juicy piece of gossip was one squib in Ynet News, which then, as noted, oozed through the usual pipelines into the blogosphere.

All this is eerily similar to the hatchet-job that was attempted this past January on Hugo Chavéz, the popular president of Venezuela. The charge of anti-Semitism this time was sparked by a Christmas Eve speech given by the president. Here's the original, followed by the translation:

El mundo tiene para todos, pues, pero resulta que unas minorías, los descendientes de los mismos que crucificaron a Cristo, los descendientes de los mismos que echaron a Bolívar de aquí y también lo crucificaron a su manera en Santa Marta, allá en Colombia. Una minoría se adueñó de las riquezas del mundo, una minoría se adueñó del oro del planeta, de la plata, de los minerales, de las aguas, de las tierras buenas, del petróleo, de las riquezas,pues, y han concentrado las riquezas en pocas manos: menos del diez por ciento de la población del mundo es dueña de más de la mitad de la riqueza de todo el mundo y a la...más de la mitad de los pobladores del planeta son pobres y cada día hay más pobres en el mundo entero.

The world is for all of us, then, but it so happens that a minority, the descendants of the same ones that crucified Christ, the descendants of the same ones that kicked Bolivar out of here and also crucified him in their own way over there in Santa Marta, in Colombia -- a minority has taken possession of all the wealth of the world, a minority has taken ownership of all of the gold of the planet, of the silver, of the minerals, the waters, the good lands, oil, of the wealth, and have concentrated the wealth in a few hands: Less than 10 percent of the population of the world owns more than half of the wealth of the world and … more than [half] the population of the planet is poor, and each day there are more poor people in the whole world.

Certain right-wing commentators seized upon the reference to the crucifixion of Christ. It was a classic "gotcha" moment, accompanied by incomplete references to
Chavéz' association with a wonky old crank named Norberto Ceresole, who, as it happens, was the genuine article--a real anti-Semite. (In fact, Chavéz gave the old fool the boot right out of Venezuela in 1999, for, among other things, precisely that.)

Now, in context, it is rather obvious that the Venezuelan populist was referring to rich elites in general. No Jews, so far as I am aware, had a hand in mistreating Bolivar. 10% of the world's population is not Jewish. What is far more interesting, however, is the anti-Semitic assumptions underlying the very accusations of anti-Semitism levelled against
Chavéz. To read anti-Semitism into his Christian-socialist utterance, we would have to have already in our minds an image of Jews collectively responsible for the death of Christ, rather than a rich elite in complicity with the Roman occupation. You won't find any of that in his words, but you'll find it in the mouths of his accusers.

More recently,
Chavéz has come under fire again, this time--no surprise here--for being critical of Israel's current actions in the Middle East. He makes a crucial distinction, however, that all of us would be wise to make ourselves:

The flame of war is once again ignited over there in the Middle East, and whose fault is it? We cannot say it is the people of Israel, we cannot say that is the people of Palestine, no. It is the North American empire’s fundamental fault, it is the empire that has armed and supported the abuses of the Israeli elites, which invade, abuse, challenge the United Nations since a long time ago.

The "Israeli people," versus the "Israeli elites." When one writes about Israel, to what is one referring? The people, the state, the territory? It is not always clear, and when one tries to be clear, once again one runs the risk of being called--well, anti-Semitic.

But, of course, there is more to all this than unclarity in the use of terms like "Israel" and "Israeli." The elephant in the room, which I shall address directly in my next post, is Jewish.

(To be continued)

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