Thursday, January 15, 2009

COMMENT: Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism ...

I've been impressed with the work of British sociologist Frank Furedi ever since I saw him speak at a symposium on Enlightenment values organised by the (right-of-) Centre for Independent Studies last year.

Furedi is hard to pidgeon-hole. He skirts around the edges of liberal, conservative and libertarian. Perhaps the best way to describe him is independent. He doesn't treat issues like so many cultural warriors do - as if every issue has to be treated as a choice between binary opposites, as spectators in some kind of ideological footbal match where one must barrack for one side or the other. At least that's my assessment in the brief time I've been following his work.

I don't agree with Furedi on many issues, but I can't also help noticing him often displaying the kind of consistency that can pierce through layers of rhetoric and popular hysteria. This is on display in his most recent column published in The Australian today.

Anyone who follows this blog will know that in the current crisis between Israel and HAMAS, my sympathies are firmly with civilians of both sides. I believe the greater aggression is being committed by the Israeli Defence Forces, and Israeli spin-doctors are lying through their teeth.

But how should we respond? Do we automatically assume criticism of Zionism or Israel's actions necessarily represents anti-Jewish sentiment? I agree with Furedi when he writes:

I HAVE always criticised the tendency of some Zionist commentators to dismiss all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.

Such a defensive knee-jerk reaction simply avoids confronting the issues and undermines the possibility of dialogue.
If all you can do is place labels on those who disagree with you, it's obvious you aren't terribly interested in dialogue. However, we also need to recognise prejudice wherever it is found. We need to call a spade a spade. If Israeli racism toward Palestinians (where it exists) is evil, so is racism toward Israelis and/or bigotry toward Jews.

In fact, the very notion that the actions of Israel necessarily reflect the sentiments of those who tick the "Judaism" box on their census forms is grossly offensive, even if it is something which some unconditional defenders of Israel regard as an article of faith.

Supporters of the Palestinian cause need to recognise and root out anti-Semitism wherever it exists on their "side". Similarly, Zionists must root out anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and/or anti-Palestinian prejudice where it exists on there "side". When it comes to fighting racism and bigotry, there must be no sides.

So it should be of great concern when someone as independently-minded as Furedi writes paragraphs such as these:
... in recent years, especially since the eruption of the latest conflict in Gaza last month, anti-Israeli sentiments often mutate into anti-Jewish ones. Recent events indicate that in Europe the traditional distinction between anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish feelings has become confusing and blurred.

During a demonstration earlier this month, the Dutch Socialist Party MP Harry van Bommel called for a new intifada against Israel. Of course he has every right to express this political standpoint. However, he became an accomplice of the anti-Semites by choosing to do nothing when he heard chants of "Hamas, Hamas, all Jews to the gas" and similar anti-Jewish slogans. Many people who should know better prefer to keep quiet when they hear slogans such as "Kill the Jews" or "Jews to the oven" at protest demonstrations.

At a demonstration in London, such chants provoked little reaction from protesters who otherwise regard themselves as progressive anti-racists. Nor did they appear to be embarrassed by the sight of a man dressed up as a racist Jewish caricature - wearing a mask with a long, crooked nose - pretending to eat babies.

Increasingly, protesters are targeting Jews for being Jews. The demand to boycott Israeli goods in practice often means a call to boycott Jewish shops ...
And in case you thought this was limited to some crazy Muslim types, consider this:
European anti-Semitism is not simply a rhetorical act confined to a minority of Islamists or pro-Palestinian protesters. In Britain, Jewish schoolchildren have been castigated for belonging to a people with "blood on their hands". Their elders sometimes encounter intimidation and regularly report having to face verbal abuse ...

There is no doubt that the conflict has intensified the frustration and anger of supporters of the Palestinian cause. But it is important to note that the rise of European anti-Semitism is not a direct outcome of the fighting between Israel and Palestinians.
Muslims themselves are not immune from this, often hiding it as anti-Israel feeling.
During the past two decades, and particularly since 2001, anti-Western feelings among European Muslims are often expressed through the language of anti-Semitism. Denunciations of the US are frequently accompanied by the targeting of the Jewish lobby's alleged influence. Such attitudes have gained momentum throughout this century.

For example, one survey carried out in 2002 indicated that 25 per cent of German respondents took the view that "Jewish influence" on American politics was one important reason why the Bush administration invaded Iraq. The association of Jews with business, finance and the media has encouraged current anti-consumerist and anti-modernist sentiments to regard the influence of "these people" with concern. Is it any surprise that last year there was an explosion of conspiracy theories on the internet which blamed Jewish bankers for the financial crisis?
Muslims don't like it when people make up generalisations about them. It is true that some of those generating prejudice against Muslims are themselves of nominally Jewish heritage, including those behind the Obsession DVD that was distributed during the last US elections. But how reflective are these people of mainstream Jewish opinion? And if it is reflective (something which I strongly doubt), does that mean Muslims should replicate? How effective is it to fight prejudice with prejudice?

Around 50% of Gaza's population are children under 18 years. Some 80% live below the official UN poverty line. But before you get angry at Israelis, remember the name of Amira Hass. And before you become angry at Jews, consider all the millions of Jews who refuse to openly support this bombardment.

A seventh century Arab Sage named Ali bin Abi Talib once remarked:

A believer is your brother in faith. A non-believer is your brother in humanity.

A Jewish Sage named Hilel who lived just before the time of Christ once remarked:

If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I care only for myself, what am I?

The wise ones of either "side" are in fact on the same side.

UPDATE I: I hope Furedi can also find a few paragraphs to comment on the disgraceful and racist words and conduct of the people shown in this video ...

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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