Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Can one say "the Jews"? (part 2 of many)

The Association of Argentinian Residents in the United Kingdom (AARUK) plans to sue the Imperial War Museum (IWM) for libel. At the center of the conflict is the portion of the IWM's website devoted to the Falkland Islands War, which contains the following paragraph:

The Argentinians invaded the Falklands on 2 April 1982. Britain responded by sending a Task Force 8,000 miles to the South Atlantic to recapture them. A seven week naval, air and land campaign resulted in a British victory.

In a recent press release, the AARUK explained its decision:

In making explicit and unqualified reference to "the Argentinians," the IWM seems to forget that only a handful of soldiers invaded the Falklands/Malvinas; that not all Argentinians supported the invasion back then, or approve of it now in hindsight; and that the decision to invade was made by a military regime unrepresentative of the Argentinian people.

We can see no other reason behind the IWM's blanket generalization than a desire to create mistrust and hostility towards Argentinians and, in particular, towards those of us legally residing in the UK. The Association of Argentinian Residents in the United Kingdom will not tolerate this display of Argentinophobia, and will file suit for libel unless the Imperial War Museum corrects its webpage before Monday, 11 May.


There's no such entity as the AARUK, and even if it existed, the average Argentinian is not as paranoid as to find second, third and fiftieth meanings behind any printing of the word "Argentinian." More to the point, even if they suffered from that kind of persecution complex, they would be discouraged by their PR advisors from displaying it, lest they irreversibly ridicule themselves.

Not all people, however, show a comparable degree of sanity. Enter the Zionist critics of Caryl Churchill's play Seven Jewish Children, which, as we already discussed in our previous post, describes indoctrination as inflicted by Zionist parents on their children. According to such critics, SJC is antisemitic not only because it's a blood libel, a concentrate of Jew-hating tropes, a vicious assault on Israel's right to exist, etc., but also because it alludes to Jewish children. This, according to Zionist zealots, is the smoking gun. As the Irish Times reported:

The spokesman of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Mark Frazier, told the Jewish Chronicle: “We knew the play was going to be horrifically anti-Israel because Caryl Churchill is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.”

He added that the title – Seven Jewish Children, rather than Seven Israeli Children – “pushes it beyond the boundaries of reasonable political discourse”.

My emphasis.

I would say "bullshit," if it were not that I'm lately liking better the British term "bollocks." Mr. Frazier tries to convince us that SJC is wrong, but he would be fine with SIC. That is not true, of course, and it's evident he would trash the play all the same if "Israeli" were substituted for "Jewish" in the title.

But does he have any kind of a point? Would the former be a better or more logical title than the latter, given the play's contents?

Hardly so. In the first place, the play does not depict all Israelis, but Israeli supporters of Israel's wars, which are Jewish, not Arab, Israelis.

In the second place, the brainwashing depicted in the play is not confined to Israel, but it's also vastly prevalent in the Diaspora. While it's true that a lot of very coherent and articulate Diaspora Jews oppose Zionism, they speak as individuals, not in the name of their communities. All representatives of Jewish communities around the world, by contrast, stand solidly behind Israel. It's not like the forces of anti-Zionism will take over the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the American Jewish Congress, the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France or the Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas anytime soon.

Of course, even if all representatives of a group agree on something, it can be argued that one can't generalize because it's unfair to the contrarians within that group. But with all the generalizing on in the world, why are only generalizations about the Jews singled out as hateful? Why can one say "the Chinese invaded Tibet," or "the Americans tortured Abu Zubaydah," or "Kielce's murderers were Poles. Their language was Polish. Their hatred was Polish," but one can't say "the Jews uproot olive trees in the West Bank"? As if it were Israeli Druze or Samaritans who do the uprooting.

Are we antisemitic in making such a generalization? No, because we're not criticizing the Jewish representatives' Jewishness; we're criticizing their Zionism, and the crimes, felonies and misdemeanors that are part and parcel of it.

Dead-enders will insist that, in that case, the title of the play should have been "Seven Zionist Children." But it would be inaccurate, because the children are not born Zionist. That's precisely the reason why, in the play (as well as in real life), they're indoctrinated; only with time will they become Zionists. Or hopefully, if reason prevails, they will not.

(See here the first installment of this series.)


Anonymous said...

2 million Argentinian children weren't gassed 60 years ago.

andrew r said...

Heh, you had me going until 'Argentinophobia'. Kill your darling, darling.

Ernie Halfdram said...

This passage from an article Ramzy Baroud wrote in 2007 sheds considerable light on why anyone would come to say, ‘The Jews poisoned the well’: http://www.palestinechronicle.com/view_article_details.php?id=12612
‘…we would turn all lights off in anticipation, my parents would take their positions to open the door as quickly as possible once the loud banging at the door commenced; once the Israeli jeeps’ engines were turned off, it was the matter of a few seconds before it all began: a fury of pounding at the door; “who is it?” my dad would ask, as if he suspected anyone else but the tormenting soldiers: their reply was always the same, always as confident as it was terrifying; “Yahoud”, they would reply.
‘I grew up making the association between “Yahoud”, the Arabic word for “Jews”, and the horror my family and had experienced. When my cousin Wael was shot dead in his teenage years, while on his way to study with me- it was the “Yahoud” who killed him. When my childhood friend Raed Munis was shot repeatedly as he dug a grave for a neighbor of ours, shot just an hour earlier, he was killed by the “Yahoud”. When my mother was struck in the chest repeatedly by the butt of an Israeli soldier’s machine gun, a beating that led to her untimely death 50 days later, that too was carried out by the “Yahoud”.
‘Palestinians in the Occupied Territories ascribe all of these practices to the “Yahoud”, simply because this is how Israel wishes to define itself, a Jewish state. As a child, in my many many terrifying encounters with the army, this is, without exception, how they chose to address themselves. Thus, every inch of land that was stolen from Palestinians in the last 40 years of occupation was done in the name of the “Yahoud” and their security; every settlement erected on a poor Palestinian farmer’s orchard, every life that was taken, every brick of every wall that was built and continues to be constructed over confiscated Palestinian land in defiance of international law was also done in the name of the “Yahoud”. Palestinians, thus - most Arabs and Muslims and others as well - hold the “Yahoud” responsible for their plight, not out of their ingrained and inherent anti-Semitism, as some so shrewdly or naively choose to believe, but because on the basis of its Jewishness Israel excused all of its inexcusable actions. If someone is to blame for this, it is Israel, not its detractors. It’s as simple as that. ‘
Apologists for Israel claim that Israel is the state of all Jews, having enacted the Law of return to provide legislative cover, and acts on behalf of all Jews. Without blinking an eye, they can then condemn out of the other side of their mouth anyone who dares to hold Jews responsible for Israeli actions, a position that has now found itself incorporated into the EU Monitoring Commission’s Working Definition of ‘antisemitism’. This is damning evidence that Zionism is itself inherently anti-Semitic in its own terms. It’s astounding that the hasbarists manage to pull off this astounding propaganda feat. (http://bureauofcounterpropaganda.blogspot.com/2007/04/eu-slams-gandhi.html)
If we’re going to defeat hasbara, I think it’s imperative to get right to the bottom of things and achieve considerable clarity. Part of this is an understanding what a Jew is. The hasbarists exploit the polysemy in the word. On the one hand, a Jew is an adherent of the Jewish religion, Judaism. On the other, a Jew is a descendant of such people, whether they practice Judaism themselves or not – you can inherit ‘Jewishness’ without practicing Judaism. Confusion arises not just because we use the same noun to denote members of both groups, but also because the groups overlap considerably. Practically all those who practice Judaism are Jewish by birth. I haven’t managed to find statistics on converts, but I’m fairly confident they would comprise less than 1%. Furthermore, in statistical collections, ethnic Jews seem to have a propensity to use questions about religion to identify their ancestry, even if they don’t actually practice Judaism.
The 1970 amendment of Law of return defines ‘Jew’ in halakhic terms – ‘a person who was born of a Jewish mother or has become converted to Judaism’, muddying the waters further. It also extends ‘The rights of a Jew under this Law and the rights of an oleh under the Nationality Law, 5712-1952’, to’ a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew, except for a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion’ – roughly the same population defined as Jews under the Nazis’ 1935 Nuremburg Laws.
As I read it, the 1952 Nationality law provides for ‘Israel nationality’. And yet, we have Chief Justice Shimon Agranat’s 1971 ruling:

‘The courts have consistently upheld this position. In 1971, for example, when an Israeli Jew petitioned the Supreme Court to have his nationality changed from Jewish to Israeli in public records, Chief Justice Shimon Agranat rejected the application, arguing:
If there is in the country today – just 23 years after the establishment of the state – a bunch of people, or even more, who ask to separate themselves from the Jewish people and to achieve for themselves the status of a distinct Israeli nation, then such a separatist approach should not be seen as a legitimate approach.’
To be honest, I find this situation confusing myself, but I think it’s clear that some tension exists in Israeli law between citizenship and nationality that the English translations I’ve been relying on may not capture.
It’s mistaken to assert that it’s not valid to say, ‘the Jews poisoned the well’ because it’s not all Jews who are culpable. Nobody has any difficulty saying, ‘The cops bashed me’, even if it was just the one cop who did the deed. But it’s just as offensive to say, ‘A bunch of Jews poisoned the well’, or even, ‘Those Jews (i.e. actually pointing at them) poisoned the well’. The reason it’s ok to blame the cops for what one cop does is that he or she bashed you up AS a cop - in their capacity of being a cop – it’s something cops do.
The reason it’s considered ok to say, ‘the Chinese invaded Tibet’ is different. There’s a convention that you can speak of the rulers of a country by using the same word you would use for the inhabitants. I think this arises from the inimical commonsensicality of nationalism whereby rulers are supposed to represent those they rule. The myth of democracy exacerbates this. You can also speak of the rulers of a country by using the name of the capital city.
When someone says, ‘The Jews poisoned the well’, they buy into the hasbara fiction that what Israeli Jews do to Palestinians, they do AS Jews, on behalf of all Jews, in the interests of all Jews. That’s what the settlers who poison wells think and that’s what they want everyone to think and that’s why I’d prefer just to say, ‘The fucking settlers poisoned the well.’

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Ernie, when Jewish settlers poison wells they do it in the name of Jewish interests, under the protection of Israeli soldiers and with the condoning of all Israeli and Diaspora leaders.

When such conditions are met, the settlers' crimes become the responsibility of the whole Jewish people.

Of course, there exists a resistance to the notion that there can exist such thing as a collective Jewish behavior, for a variety of historical reasons, one of them being the Jews' traditionally vulnerable position the the societies in which they have lived.

But that makes it no less true that there exists a leadership that represents the Jewish people, and that that leadership condones and in fact encourages the dispossession of the Palestinians through a variety of criminal methods.

Ernie Halfdram said...

The leaders you write of are as representative of Jews as the Mufti was of Palestinians. That said, the banal or zealous Zionism they profess and prosecute really does reflect what I see as the overwhelming opinion of Jews, at least Jews in the US, Canada, Britain, and Australia. Most banal Zionists would doubtless object that poisoning wells is going too far. But I think the logic of their support for Jewish colonisation of Palestine over Palestinian resistance ultimately leads there. The well poisoners’ principal objective is to ‘redeem land’, but for them, it’s an intended or unintended bonus if it instigates anti-Semitism, which they believe will impel more Jews to aliyah, as well as vindicate the fundamental assumption of Zionism. But just because Zionists deliberately provoke anti-Semitism doesn’t make it any less anti-Semitic. There’s nothing inherent in being a Jew that makes you into a well poisoner, or an advocate or apologist for well poisoning. If there were, then I’d be doing it. But there is something inherent in being a colonist that does lead to poisoning wells.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

I must take issue with your view that only government actions are usually attributed to whole peoples. For instance, the Kielce pogrom is often described as a Polish pogrom. Of course, those who describe it thus don't mean to say that perpetrating pogroms of Jews is a Polish national trait, and nobody understands the description in that way. In other words, there's nothing inherently racist in such generalizations.

Also, I don't understand your dismissal of the important fact that, of all elected and unelected representatives of world Jewry, 100% stand behind the land grab in the West Bank and the necessary violence that accompanies it. The Jewish voices that oppose it are not perceived by the non-Jewish world, by a majority of Jews or even by themselves as representing the wishes or the sentiment of the Jewish people.

Ernie Halfdram said...

Take issue, by all means, but it’s not my view. What I was trying to convey was that it’s a form of synecdoche to attribute a government’s actions to the people it rules. You might read something along the lines of, ‘Washington/the US/The Americans/The US governent favour(s) a military response to the Iranian threat’, all of which are pretty well equivalent. When used in this way, I don’t think you can attribute it to racism, although as I said, you can attribute it to nationalism.

In the article you link to, I wouldn’t hesitate to characterise it as racialisation of Poles.

I agree that the level of support for the dispossession of the Palestinians among Jews or most stripes is an important fact, or would be, if it really were a fact. There are leaders of Jewish organisations – marginal ones, I admit – like the International Jewish Antizionist network, or even Jewish Voice for Peace, that don’t fit your mould. And I think it’s crucial to your argument that it is 100% and not, say, 99.9%.

More importantly, I agree that those of us who oppose the land grab of 1967, and even the one of 1948, are not seen as representative. But why is that? Could it be that the Jews who support it have absorbed the hasbara narrative that the home demolishers, wall builders, and even well poisoners are doing what they do on behalf of all Jews, to prevent ‘another Holocaust’ and all that crap? If what you’re saying is that it’s important for Jews to stand up against the crimes committed purportedly on our behalf, well, I thought that was what I was doing. But it seems like you’re rather saying that it doesn’t matter – Jews are responsible for what’s done in our name, whether we derive any actual benefit, or support it, or not. Even if you can make a case that there is a genuine parallel between ‘The Jews poisoned the well’ and some analogous expression that is not racist, it would still feed the fundamental hasbara conceit, which in my view contributes to racism.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Et tu, Ernie!

That is the kind of argument a Zionist would use. An argument that involves a confusion (deliberate, in the case of the Zionists) between two distinctly separate concepts, namely individual and collective responsibility.

Peoples can and do hold collective responsibility for their leaders' actions. The Germans are collectively responsible for the Holocaust, even if individual Germans are not personally responsible for the genocide.

Similarly, the Jews are collectively responsible for the dispossession of the Palestinians, even if some commendable but unrepresentative Jews like Finkelstein or yourself oppose the land grabs and hold, thus, no personal responsibility.

Ernie Halfdram said...

No. I'm not confusing individual with collective responsibility. I reject collective responsibility outright. Clearly that is where we differ. I recommend you give serious consideration to where attributing collective responsibility leads.

andrew r said...

But who has greater collective responsibility for Israel, AIPAC and its local soviets, or Lockheed-Martin? Which means the Americans.

Holding the German state responsible for the genocide of many makes more sense. Institutions usually don't change their fundamental mission; people come and go.

There are many institutions through which Jews express support for Israel. The class of Jews who take part may be responsible, but you can't say 'the Jews' are.

Also, anti-Zionism is supposed to reject Israel as representing Jews and Judaism and reject Zionism as an appropriation of Jewish identity for a racial supremacist movement. How can 'The Jews' exist when the Jewish state can't even tell me what a Jew is?

If anything, subscribing to collective responsibility along ethnic lines only validates the idea among Israel supporters that they are 'the Jews' and Israel is their homeland. Well, you aren't and if you don't live in Israel already, it's not, nor should it be until the Palestinian refugees can return.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

I reject collective responsibility outright.That is a good point.

But it's rather irrelevant, since we live in a world that believes in collective responsibility, and my contention is that applying such a widely-accepted concept to a particular people can't be seen as bigotry.

Ernie Halfdram said...

There are two problems with that, Ibrahim. For one thing, you appear to be arguing that if everybody does it, it’s not racism. Did you really think I was going to buy that? Ultimately, if you reckon it’s ok to hold me responsible for the pogrom in Gaza because I’m a Jew, you’re going to have a hard time arguing that it’s not ok for the Israelis to hold Gazan children responsible for Qassam fire.

The other problem is, as Andrew wrote, that you are identifying as ‘a particular people’ the same group as the hasbarists do, and with the same consequences.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

I think we could argue about the true meaning of collective responsibility. But first I would like to ask you: do you agree with the Zios that the fact that the play's title is Seven Jewish Children rather than Seven Israeli Children or Seven Zionist Children proves Caryl Churchill is antisemitic?

Ernie Halfdram said...

As I read it, not all of the children discussed in the play are Israeli, so I don’t think you could really call it ‘Seven Israeli chldren’. Nor would it make much sense to accuse little kids at the age the parents seem to be talking about of being Zionist. In answer to your question, no, I don't perceive anything antisemitic about calling it 'Seven Jewish children'. Of course it’s not about children at all. But she could call it ’18 green unicorns’ or ‘Macbeth’, as far as I’m concerned.
I’m assuming that you’re serious about trying to work out when it is racist to speak of ‘Jews’.

I’m assuming that you’re serious about trying to work out when it is racist to speak of ‘Jews’. In my view, it is not always, as those attacking Churchill seem to think, or never, as you are suggesting. Like most linguistic phenomena, you can’t really define it by demarcating its boundaries. Whether it’s anti-Semitic to denote or describe people as ‘Jews’ or ‘Jewish’ depends upon whether there’s any implication of essentialising Jews as a race and attributing essential traits to individuals. Generics are therefore pretty well out, but not when referring to people who practice Judaism, e.g. ‘(The) Jews pray three times a day’.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

"I’m assuming that you’re serious about trying to work out when it is racist to speak of ‘Jews’. In my view, it is not always, as those attacking Churchill seem to think, or never, as you are suggesting."

Well, I'm not suggesting that saying "the Jews" is never antisemitic. I'm just saying it certainly isn't when the four criteria that I proposed are met.

What I'm fighting is, basically, the position of those who, unlike you, believe in collective responsibility, but find the concept bigoted only when it is applied to the Jews.

Anonymous said...

this was very interesting...I see how even tho the jewish poster ernie halfdram is not a zionist or in favor of israel he is still seen as having 'collective responsibility'. the anti isreal jews always get stuck on this one...its like they don't see its really about hating jews, not helping palestinians the way many pretend.
and no the germans are most certainly not collectively responsible for the holocaust. most germmans were not alive then, and germany has taken steps to move away from hate and prejudice.
there have been no german cafes bombed by jews.
no german leaders killed. no it would be wrong.
this thread thought me it is about the jews, not israeli's.....not zionists.
and J Street, Not in My Name and Tikkun Olum are anti settlement, anti war.
I remember when the founder of Tikkun Olum was forbidden to speak at an anti war rally hosted by a Muslim group...for being a Jew....very interesting.
sad, but interesting to see.

Health Blog said...

This, according to Zionist zealots, is the smoking gun.