A rant about anti-Semitism

I don’t know why some particular groups in society seem to attract conspiracy theories: for example, Jews, Cathars, Masons, Opus Dei…to name a few. I never heard anyone say “I want to kill that Presbyterian”, or of an allegation that there is a Taoist plot to control the world.

An issue which has been eating away at me for the past few weeks is the growing friction between religious groups. I have had difficulty writing this post, because I find the issue so depressing and upsetting. However, when I saw in the paper that Mel Gibson had been sentenced for his drink driving episode, I was reminded again of my proposed post, and I’ve decided to have another shot at it. My particular concern is what I perceive as a rise in anti-Semitism in the wake of the recent Middle East conflict. I am not Jewish myself, but I have a very strong dislike of anti-Semitism.

Gibson was arrested for drink driving on 28 July this year, and reportedly asked the arresting officer if he was Jewish, and then said, “F**king Jews, the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” He has since issued two apologies for his behaviour. But is this a case of in vino veritas as far as Gibson’s views are concerned?

Ten years or so ago, the only time you saw overt anti-Semitism was in far right groups such as the Citizens’ Electoral Council. Unfortunately, in the wake of Islamist terrorist attacks, it seems to have become acceptable to be blatantly anti-Semitic in mainstream contexts. I read an article in The Times the other day describing the routine of an Australian comedian at the Edinburgh Festival, Steve Hughes. Hughes apparently said that kids should stop playing Cowboys and Indians and play Nazis and Jews instead (to which an audience member called out “Throw them in the oven”). Hughes then said, “I want to bash Condoleezza Rice’s brain to bits and kill that f**king Jew Richard Perle.”

Why is Perle’s religion relevant? Is Hughes suggesting that Perle is an eminence gris manipulating Bush behind the scenes? With a comment like that, Hughes is intimating that evil Jews are manipulating United States foreign policy. In fact, as always, the reality is far more complex. Some of the biggest supporters of the state of Israel and the Republican government are in fact evangelist Christians (who ironically, as Michael Gawenda points out, are also major supporters of Gibson’s film, The Passion).

I wonder if, secretly, a number of people agree with Gibson and Hughes on some level. I have heard one person say, “Why didn’t they [the Jews] take Uganda when England was going to give it to them? Then we wouldn’t have all these problems with the Muslims now.” (ie: If the State of Israel hadn’t been created, we wouldn’t be worrying about terrorists now, so terrorism is the fault of the Jews.) This is a more nuanced version of the sentiment which was behind Gibson’s outburst.

So, my theory is that the current mainstream anti-Semitism arises out of a belief that tensions in the Middle East have provoked Islamist extremism and hatred of the West. Terrorists often refer to the creation of the state of Israel and the Israel/Palestinian conflict as a motivator behind their actions. They also refer to US support of Israel and US and British invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Osama bin Laden has even cited Australia’s support for the liberation of East Timor as a reason for reprisals against Australia. So does this mean we should just swallow the cant of these terrorists without question? I am suggesting that we should not let fear blind us, and we should not adopt anti-Semitic rubbish.

I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with foreign policy pursued by the United States or Israel, as long as the criticism is reasoned and fair. But I do think people should be aware that a number of terrorist organisations have adopted anti-Semitic propaganda wholesale and are regurgitating it as fact, so one should be cautious of uncritically accepting their explanations for their actions.

What I do have a problem with?

  1. Suggestions or inferences that there is a worldwide conspiracy by Jews (or Israel) to control the world (through office in particular governments, through banks or through the media). This reeks of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, a text which purports to detail Jewish plans to obtain world domination through control of the press and finance. It was used as propaganda in Nazi Germany. It has been exposed as a fake emanating from tsarist Russia, but it is still cited as “proof” of Jewish plans for world domination by organisations as diverse as the Citizen’s Electoral Council, Hamas and Hezbollah.
  2. Suggestions that the Holocaust is a “made up” event designed to engender sympathy. Such suggestions have recently been made by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The implication to be drawn from this is that the UN granted Israel to the Jews on false premises. This is simply vile. It is a fact that millions of Jews (and gypsies, homosexuals, political dissidents, communists and others) were killed in concentration camps. I think that anyone who doubts the Holocaust should read Primo Levi’s If this is a man, a personal account of the author’s survival in Auschwitz. Levi was a physicist and his account of Auschwitz is written in a scientific and clear manner which makes the horror of his subject matter all the more terrifying.
  3. Suggestions that “the Jews” (or Israel) are actually responsible for the World Trade Centre bombings. You think I’m kidding about this? Unfortunately not. A friend of mine received an e-mail from a workmate making this very allegation (and he quickly sought to set the sender of the e-mail straight). The suggestion is notorious enough to be cited on the “Snopes” Urban Myths website and on the US Department of State website. Another conspiracy theory which has been advanced is that the US military arranged the attacks to justify a war against Islam, and that the recent arrests of terrorists in Britain has the same motive.

I have heard some people offer excuses for comments of the above nature on the basis that the conduct of Israel towards Palestinians is unfair. This is like saying “Well, it’s okay to spread all kinds of lies about that boy Peter, because we had a fight last week and he beat me.”

Some people go further and say that Israel should not exist at all. My personal belief is that Israel has a clear right to exist. A point which is often overlooked in this debate is that existence of Israel was validly mandated by the UN (although, obviously, there are still disputes as to its present borders). The manner in which Israel should and does respond to threats to its sovereignty and people is a different and difficult question. One could argue for days on the rights and wrongs of the Israel/Palestinian situation, or the rights and wrongs of the recent conflict in Lebanon and not come to a resolution. I think a realistic view of the situation would concede that all parties have done things which have not been right, and that there is no easy solution.

I strongly believe that you have to take every person as you find him or her. I do not think it is fair to impose a stereotype on a person just because of their religion, race, gender or sexual orientation, or to make generalisations about a particular group. However, the anti-Semitic notions above are more than just stereotypes or generalisations (for example, “anti-Christian” or “Islamophobic” sentiments). Why? Because they are not just “anti-Jewish” statements. They are falsehoods, some of which have been used in the past to justify genocide. This makes them particularly poisonous. These topics are no joking matter. I don’t care who makes the suggestions and what the political agenda is. There are no excuses for anti-Semitism.

Postscript re Islamophobia

I should make it clear that our response to terrorism should not be to become anti-Muslim. That just replaces one ill with another. Again, you have to take every person as you find him or her. Dean Jones’ “joking” comment that South African cricketer Hashim Amla (a devout Muslim with a full beard) resembles a “terrorist” is offensive and equally deserving of criticism. The comment looks particularly unfunny in light of the recent arrests in Britain for alleged terrorist plots to blow up airlines. I feel sorry for decent Muslims who have to endure anti-Muslim feeling because their religion has been used as a justification for the violent actions of extremist organisations. But I also believe that Islamist extremism must be recognised by Muslim communities, and not excused or ignored.

For an interesting and intelligent comment on an appropriate response to terrorism by Muslim communities in Britain, I recommend having a read of an article in The Times by Shahid Malik, Labour MP for Dewsbury. The leader of the London Tube bombings was a member of his constituency.

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9 Comments

Filed under islam, judaism, middle east, politics

9 responses to “A rant about anti-Semitism

  1. KY

    Agree with your blog but thought I might note an interesting side phenonmenon.

    Most of the time, generalisations are not true at all (eg Muslims being inclined towards terrorism, Jews wanting to control the world, Americans being ignorant and uncultured, Australians having kangaroos as pets). There are times, however, when generalisations about a particular group of people may well carry a grain of truth, but the characterisation of that generalisation is completely wrong. These “generalised” characteristics tend to be the results of certain underlying factors rather than the inherent qualities of that particular group (which in turn leads to racism/sexism/religious bigotry etc). However it is almost always easier to generalise by way of outward identities (eg race/religion) than by underlying characteristics.

    Let’s tackle three of these myths as examples:

    A. Hong Kongers’ generalisations about Mainland Chinese people

    In Hong Kong it is popularly believed (indeed sometimes I fall into this trap) that mainland Chinese people are in some way less “civilised”. This is because Hong Kongers tend to see mainland tourists being ill-behaved (eg throwing rubbish everywhere, urinating in open areas of shopping centres, spitting, pushing and shoving rather than queuing, generally being rude etc). In addition when one visits China there are constant issues with hygiene, whether products are real or fake (sometimes with fatal consequences, as with cases involving fake milk powder), all too pervasive tales of corruption etc. It is easy to generalise about mainlanders in that way. But one must not forget that:

    (a) the mainland tourists one sees in Hong Kong tend to be of the nouveau riche variety – their speaking loudly, boastfulness and general tackiness stem from that and not from the fact that they are from Mainlanders per se. One may recall that Hong Kongers used to be considered in such light by Canadians when they bought up many parts of Vancouver. Similar, British tourists to Bonn during the 19th century were notorious for their desecration of Beethoven by stealing items from his memorial and buying tacky souvenirs. That’s just part of being nouveau riche because one hasn’t learnt as yet how to deal with new-found wealth apart from showing it ostentatiously (which is an innate human instinct as it may connote power and influence).

    2. As for other supposed bad manners, ruthlessness (eg corruption, fake products etc): again it’s got nothing to do with them being mainland Chinese. It’s got everything to do with the fact that those with some affluence in China now grew up during or have endured the cultural revolution. I have no doubt that anyone who lived through that sort of thing (no matter what race/culture they’re from) would have their personalities scarred in a similar way.

    B. Jews being miserly

    Funnily enough, people used to say the same thing about the Chinese in Malaysia/Indonesia. Again it’s got nothing to do with race. Consider this: you are an unwanted minority in a place. You are shut out of political power and public rights. The only way you can make a living is by commerce. If you are lucky, you become relatively well-to-do due to your industriousness. But then the majority becomes jealous. At all times there is real fear that pogroms against you could happen at any time. Wouldn’t you not spend too much money on a place lest 1. you become too attached such that it becomes hard for you to leave if you need to; and 2. related to 1., need money to start a new life somewhere else if necessary?

    C. Old conceptions about women not being as smart as men

    At least in the western world that is (relatively speaking) fading away (hopefully). But whether in its old form in the west or in current form in developing countries, that generalisation may be superficially attractive given the lack of women in power/high places/higher educational institutions etc. Again, it was (and is) always the underlying historical and institutional forces at work that reinforces this stereotype (the obvious ones being educational opportunities, job promotion prospects, etc).

  2. afp763389

    hmm… ‘didnt choose my nationality… or citizenship…
    nevertheless still appreciating efforts in a gentle research for the justice…

    take care & nice day

  3. Legal Eagle

    KY, I think your comments are very pertinent. Do people behave in a certain way because they are treated in a certain way and the cycle continues ad infinitum? It’s a circular kind of thing. Underlying social motivators may lead to certain kind of actions.

    So does this mean you can create terrorists by the way in which you treat people? I have heard of a study which draws a link between occupation and terrorism – ie, that places such as Northern Ireland, parts of Sri Lanka, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq are occupied by another nation and this produces terrorism.

    It seems to me that this is a little too glib – Australia itself is formed by occupation but there are no Aboriginal terrorists. Partially, I think this is because terrorism is not sanctioned by Aboriginal culture (thank God!). What about Tibet? I never heard of a Tibetan terrorist, and I presume that the Dalai Lama would never sanction one.

    So, I think you also need a culture or a mind-set which validates violent action in pursuit of a cause, even if innocent people are harmed. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. As we’ve discussed in other contexts, I am very loath to accept that the ends justify the means.

    Further, it can hardly be said that the London Tube bombers were in occupied territory – they were born and bred in the UK – it was more that they were reacting against perceived injustices occurring elsewhere.

    As I have said in another blog forum, it is a bit like taking a tiger off the leash – once you validate the use of terrorism for your cause, it’s loose and ready to be appropriated by all sorts of people – and it’s impossible to get back on the leash again!

    On this point, and in relation to the Lebanon-Israel conflict, I have noted that the other Arab states have not been vocal in their praise of Hezbollah – presumably they don’t want unrest of this kind in their own nation! – but the tiger has already been let off the leash…

  4. Legal Eagle

    Seems like I’m not imagining it that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have risen…

    http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,20192233-5007132,00.html

  5. KY

    Re Legal Eagle’s comment on the lack of tibetan/aboriginal terrorism: I am not sure that it’s just a particular cultural context.

    It might also have something to do with:

    1. the degree to which the oppressed peoples congregate together. In both the Tibetan/Aboriginal examples, we are talking about a small group of people (both in absolute and relative terms) disbursed amidst very large areas of land. Villages/settlements are not relatively close to one another compared with, say, Cambodia or Phillipines. Hard to bring discrete bits of anger into a localised critical mass (which can then spread), I suspect.

    2. The places that have turned to terrorism have either had a dominant “golden eras” in the past which have now faded away (such as various Middle Eastern groups or even the Tamils in Sri Lanka when one considers the Tamils as a wider group including Southern Tamil Indians), or have seen peoples near them with similar histories achieve “successes” in their self-determination objectives (Kurds, Northern Ireland).

  6. Legal Eagle

    Someone has pointed out to me that Primo Levi was actually a chemist, not a physicist – a typo on my part…

  7. Shaheen

    Hi!
    good read! But i do oppose what u think Anti-Semitism is. Besides all the conspiracy theories everyone who has good observation can analyze what is happening in the world.

    http://shaheenvision.wordpress.com/2007/03/23/anti-semitism/

  8. Pingback: More on the Middle East and Anti-Semitism « The Legal Soapbox

  9. Pingback: Middle Eastern Misery « The Legal Soapbox

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