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Smearing opponents as anti-semitic

A favourite tactic of die-hard defenders of Israel is to smear critics of the country’s policies through guilt by association, lies, and decontextualised quotations.

I have come to know this latter strategy quite well. Based on short extracts, or even a single sentence, from two out of the 100 plus articles I’ve published, I have been accused of ‘understanding anti-semitism’ and ‘defending’ Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial.

The first claim, that of ‘understanding’ anti-semitism, comes from a short piece I wrote in 2002. It was, in fact, my second published article, written when I was 18 years old. I am happy to admit that it is not very good, but, as others have noted, there is “nothing” there that “amounts to a defence or promotion of anti-Semitism”.

The article was trying to look at causes for contemporary anti-semitism. Funnily enough, whenever the smear-merchants cite this piece, they miss out one of the reasons I propose, namely the “history of anti-Semitism” in European culture “that has been, and probably still is, embedded in collective consciousness”. I note that “its roots can be traced, at least to some extent, to the shameful teachings of many in the Church”.

But decontextualisation is what it is all about, as this particular case demonstrates. If someone seriously wanted to know what I thought about anti-semitism, they could look at other examples from my published writing. Then they would find when I condemned seeing Jews in general as complicit with Israeli actions as “inexcusably hateful and stupid”, affirming that there is no “contradiction between opposing anti-Semitism and supporting equal rights for Palestinians”.

They might also read the ‘JustPeace60’ declaration, which I co-wrote and organised with my friend and film-maker Philip Rizk for the anniversary of Israel’s creation last year, and its recognition that “for many, this landmark powerfully symbolises the Jewish people’s ability to defy the power of hatred so destructively embodied in the Nazi Holocaust”.

If they took the time to actually read my book, they would find where I stress that “racism that targets Jews, like all forms of racism, must be condemned and resisted”, and that “to describe Israel in terms of apartheid is not to dehumanise Israelis”. Rather, “the struggle for a just peace in Palestine/Israel emerges from insisting on the humanity of both Palestinians and Israelis”. Most of the latter, I wrote, “have been born in the land that they have every right to call home”.

The second claim made against me is that I have defended Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial. This is again based on one article, written in January 2006. The piece was critiquing the mainstream analysis of some recent remarks by Ahmadinejad, and the politicised context in which they were being framed. But I make no bones about it – Ahmadinejad is either a Holocaust denier himself, or cowardly encourages those who are (and probably both).

As Dana Goldstein observed earlier this year, Ahmadinejad wraps “his Holocaust-denial in a series of legitimate criticisms of present-day Israeli policy”, a disturbing “mixing of fiction and fact”. Ahmadinejad’s anti-semitism is morally despicable, intellectually vacuous, and of no benefit to the people he purports to be supporting (or rather, exploiting), the Palestinians. He is also, of course, ruthless in his approach to dissent, and has the blood of his own people on his hands (as I noted in both that 2006 article, and more recently, this interview with an Iranian journalist).

Israel’s apologists don’t actually want to have any meaningful discussions – just slanging matches and absurd accusations. They prefer often bizarre personal attacks, and most concerning of all, the cry of anti-semitism. In claiming that someone who wants equality for Palestinians is motivated by ‘Jew-hatred’, it devalues the term anti-semitism, and risks damaging the fight against its very real contemporary manifestations.

* * * * * * *

But then that doesn’t seem a problem for some people, if it’s all in the name of shielding Israel and its denial of basic Palestinian rights from serious scrutiny. I discovered this afresh in recent weeks, as my book was launched in the UK at two events in London.

At the first meeting, held in the Houses of Parliament, one man repeatedly shouted during my presentation, deliberately disrupting proceedings. I later discovered this man was Jonathan Hoffman, co-vice chair of the UK’s Zionist Federation. He had form apparently. The second event was organised last week by the charity War on Want, who themselves support Palestinians on the ground. They banned Hoffman from the event, having heard of his disruptive behaviour in other previous meetings.

Ludicrously (though almost predictably), this was immediately spun as an ‘anti-semitic’ ban, a feeble charge some have even repeated. The meeting was attended by Jews who came to support Israel, and Jews who campaign for Palestinian rights. For some, however, the event itself was deemed anti-semitic.

When it comes to protecting Israel, self-proclaimed champions of human rights and opponents of ‘hate speech’ are happy to let all kinds of vicious rhetoric pass. On the American Jewish Committee’s ‘Z-Word’ blog, you can read comments (which all have to be moderated) like:

And I wonder whether White sees himself as the reincarnation of Goebbels?
White deliberately incites hatred against Jews.
Ben White is now the most disgusting example of the fresh faced antisemitism seen creeping up in Europe again.

Closer to home, Harry’s Place posted guest pieces by the likes of the Jonathan Hoffman, attracting similarly hateful comments. At theend of one post is this contribution from ‘666’ – “It’s time we took a lead from Group 43. Fight fire with fire”. The 43 Group was set up after World War II to physically disrupt and attack British fascists; as one veteran put it, “we made a lot of people A&E cases”.

Thankfully, most people are not convinced by exaggerated smears and vindictive bullying – in fact, as people commented to me after the Houses of Parliament event, those who come to shout their defence of Israel are their own worst enemy.

Sadly, it is to be expected from some – but what’s a shame is the position of apparent liberals on both sides of the Atlantic – Progressive Except for Palestine. As the penny drops for more and more people, it seems the backlash is set to worsen.

First published in Liberal Conspiracy.

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