Saturday, March 20, 2010

Flags, holidays and anthems

The same document that we critiqued in our previous post presents a very common Zionist argument regarding the national symbols of the State of Israel:

The crux of the accusation against Israel is encapsulated in the often-repeated charge that the racism of Israel “is symbolized most clearly in Israel’s Jewish flag, anthem and state holidays.” The accusers have not a word of criticism against the tens of liberal democratic states that have Christian crosses incorporated in their flags, nor against the Muslim states with the half crescent symbol of Islam. For a Western state, with Jewish and Muslim minorities, to have Christmas as a national holiday is permissible, but for Israel to celebrate Passover as a national holiday is somehow racist. For various Arab states to denote themselves as Arab Republics is not objectionable, but a Jewish state is racism and Apartheid.


Arguments by analogy are notoriously weak because before we can determine if the argument is sound we must first check if the analogy is valid. In this case it's clearly not, since the author is comparing apples that are unquestionably apples with other apples that look, taste and smell like oranges.

As with most Zionist arguing, the paragraph quoted above makes a petitio principii, also known as begging the question, in that it assumes that people who criticize a country are obligated to write a treatise on all other countries that behave similarly. This is patently absurd.

More to the point, even if we criticized the Western countries that have crosses in their flags or celebrate Christmas, the criticism would have to be of a very different nature than the one directed against Israel, and for multiple reasons.

The flags that contain crosses were created at a time when the notion of equality between all citizens (or subjects, as they were called back then) of a country was not firmly established. Also, at the time that they were created the cross actually reflected the reality of homogeneously Christian nations. Furthermore, these nations had evolved over a long period of time before adopting their flags.

While it can be argued that Denmark --for instance-- would do well to drop the cross from its flag out of respect for its non-Christian citizens, there are also a number of arguments that can be presented against this idea. In the first place, there exists a long tradition of the Danes using the same flag, which was adopted in the 14th century. In the second place, the cross in the flag is a desemantized symbol (i.e., it has lost its meaning). The people see it and don't think of Christianity, among other reasons because it's in a horizontal, rather than vertical, position. This is also true of all crosses in Western national flags, none of which looks very much like the cross that you see upon entering a church. Thus, the cross in the Greek flag has its horizontal arm longer than the vertical one; that in the Swiss flag has equal-sized arms; and the British flag presents a mix of straight and diagonal crosses. These are crosses based on the Christian religion, but they don't remind you very much of the faith.

None of this is true in the case of Israel. The country was created from scratch in 1948; i.e., there was no tradition to uphold. It was by no means religiously homogeneous. The principle of equality between citizens had already been established as a requisite for a democracy. The flag with the Star of David was adopted in the full awareness that a significant percentage of the population rejected it, without consulting that segment of the citizenry. Its religious meaning was reinforced by the menorah being adopted as the country's coat of arms. Accusing Israel's critics of not criticizing the crosses in Western flags is, thus, like accusing Saudi Arabia's critics of not criticizing Britain or Spain, whose heads of State are as unelected as King Abdullah.

We have the same problem with regard to Christmas. While it is true that it's a Christian holiday, its celebration is, once again, desemantized. There are no legally enforceable rules that apply to it. In Israel, on the other hand, the holiday of Pesach (to give the author's example) is regulated by the chametz law, whereby all people living in a Jewish-majority town, even if they're not Jewish (for instance, an Arab baker) are forbidden from showcasing leavened bakery products.

The author also wants us to criticize the Arab countries that append "Arab" to their names. This is hardly the same as Israel defining itself as Jewish. Anyone can become an Arab by learning Arabic, because Arabness is a linguistic, not religious, concept. This is not true of Jewish identity, which is defined by rigid criteria and can't be acquired by, say, an atheist. There's a world of difference between an inclusive identity, that can be added to your previous one (I can become an Arab while continuing to speak Spanish with my children), and an exclusive one like Jewishness, which forces you to abandon your previous convictions.

Finally, although the author reports the anti-Zionist mention of Israel's anthem as another tool to segregate the Arab population, for some reason he fails to address the charge. Maybe because it's kind of difficult to spin the lyrics of Hatikva:

As long as deep in the heart,
The soul of a Jew yearns,
And forward to the East
To Zion, an eye looks
Our hope will not be lost,
The hope of two thousand years,
To be a free nation in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

How can Arabs be expected to love the country that forces them to say they're Jewish is beyond my comprehension. (Incidentally, the anthem is also discriminatory of Oriental Jews, who, however, don't take offense, busy as they are hating the other Arabs, the ones with the wrong religion.)

Israel's exclusionary Jewish nature is evident in all aspects of the country's business, but the national symbols are unquestionably evidence A.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

This article is so full of patent absurdities and demonstrable falsehoods that it is hardly worth responding to in depth. It stands out as truly a case study in the flimsiness and idiocy of the opposition to Jewish self-determination in the State of Israel. One can only exclaim somewhat breathlessly as I did "WOW WAS THAT WEAK!"

The idea that "Arabness" is linguistic rather than ethnic is utterly and obviously baseless, and can be disproved by looking into any dictionary and encyclopedia.

The idea that the Jewish State was "created from scratch" in 1948 rather than being one of the oldest ideas in history based on the existence of Judea and Israel during the Roman times is equally absurd.

The one benefit of the article is to show how easy it is for cowards to attack the only flag with a Jewish symbol while giving a pass to the dozens of flags with crosses and crescents on spurious and badly argued grounds.

p.s. The argument from analogy has a venerable history dating back to Aristotle. But it is clear from his Swiss cheese arguments that "Ibrahim" (no he's not an "Arab" despite his pseudonym) has never read the Logic.

Anonymous said...

When it comes to Israel, the analogical argument is absolutely devastating to Israel's critics, by showing what extreme hypocrites they are. Because when you start comparing Israel to just about any country on earth it stands out as one of the most morally upright of nations. That's why Israel bashers feel the need to attack the very notion of analogy itself!

It is helpful to recall in this regard one of the key points in the EU's definition of antisemitism: "Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation." I.e. one must compare what Israel's critics say about identical or worse behavior in other countries in order to identify their antisemitism.

andrew r said...

Zzzzzzz...

Yitzchak Goodman said...

Particular religious and linguistic identities do involve the possibility of feeling excluded or being excluded. On the other hand, we often think of such things as enriching the world. There are some aspects of Italian identity which I will never participate in and certainly its prevailing religious identity is something I want no part of. Nevertheless, if Italy and Spain and France were to be replaced with a single state of Esperanto-speaking atheists, I would feel as I had personally lost something. Your post often proceeds as if we all agree that national and religious identities are bad things although England has more excuses for them than Israel does.
And by the way, begging the question involves treating what is to be proven as already proven. I can't tell from what you wrote that you really understand how to define this fallacy and identify examples. Isn't it sometimes legitimate to point out double standards?

Anonymous said...

Strong argument you got there, Andrew. Real Yiddishe Kop -- musta got that from your dad (not).

Yitzchak Goodman said...

Anyone can become an Arab by learning Arabic, because Arabness is a linguistic, not religious, concept.

We call it linguistic as a way of distinguishing it from other sorts of nationalist concepts, but there is clearly more to Arabness than having learned Arabic.

andrew r said...

I note how you weren't pulling out the wisecracks when I explained Arthur Ruppin's racism against Middle Eastern Jews.

Gert said...

Anon(s):

"Because when you start comparing Israel to just about any country on earth it stands out as one of the most morally upright of nations."

I've just come back from a debatette with some Zios who took exception to my mentioning of the existence of some Jewish supremacists. Thanks ever so much for making my case for me!

Claiming one's country is the 'most morally upright of nations' is a bit like an imbecile who claims he's 'the greatest lover in the world': after several minutes of loud hilarity the lover usually droops off, schlong between his legs...

"It is helpful to recall in this regard one of the key points in the EU's definition of antisemitism:"

It's a 'working definition', i.e. a work in progress. Britain e.g. hasn't adopted it yet. It's a ridiculous 'definition' of racism.

We will fight it's adoption tooth and nail. What's needed is a comprehensive and clear definition of racism, tout court. Antisemitism should not have special status.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Your post often proceeds as if we all agree that national and religious identities are bad things although England has more excuses for them than Israel does.

This is not an honest way of representing my argument. I'm not saying that religious identities are bad; I'm saying that privileging one of them over others, as Israel does, including in its national symbols, is wrong.

The Zionist response is why don't I say a word about Britain which has several crosses on its flag. I answer that the British flag wasn't adopted in the awareness that it would be offensive to part of the population; that its design does not immediately evoke the cross as a religious symbol (it's not that the flag has a crucifix with a bleeding Jesus on it, in which case there would probably be a strong popular movement to change it); and that it doesn't form part of a combo of Christian-inspired symbols that are blatantly insulting to non-Christians. Thus, the similarity between the British and the Israeli flags is superficial; it's like claiming "both Saudi Arabia and Belgium have unelected chiefs of state."

And by the way, begging the question involves treating what is to be proven as already proven.

Which is what Zionists do. They say "anti-Zionists are bigoted because criticizing a country's behavior while not criticizing other countries that behave similarly is a form of bigotry." But the latter proposition has never been proven!

Anonymous said...

as always I feel humbled by the breadth and depth of Fake Ibrahim's knowledge
like in the statement that the Danes don't perceive the cross in their flag as cross - I don't know anything about Danish perceptions but would assume that kids get taught in school the legend of their flag's "design".

statements like that convince me that he is having access to higher knowledge, inspiration, revelation or whatever
- do heavenly voices talk to him, or does he have access to the wisdom of shamans, does he learn it from Tarot cards or other divining tools or does he do it by imbibing some potent stuff - there are mushrooms who are said to be really helpful

It would be nice to know under what influence he is while typing out his wisdoms
Silke

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

"Ibrahim" (no he's not an "Arab" despite his pseudonym)

And the magician David Copperfield is not a character from a Charles Dickens novel. Sue us both.

For the record, I'm an Argentinian of Arab descent, but it has nothing to do with my ideas on Zionism.

Anonymous said...

This is really the weakest article you've written in a long long time. Come to my neck of the woods and then tell me that Christmas is desentimentalized. That must be why Congress recesses for Christmas, but not for Passover.

You're totally off your rocker if you think you can "become" an Arab by speaking Arabic. My Iraqi friend just told me that no one would ever consider a Jew who speaks Arabic an Arab, and that no Arab would ever say such a thing.

Are you Arab, Ibrahim?

Anonymous said...

And of course you forgot to mention how Muslim holidays are also "desentimentalized" in Muslim countries. Of course, in that case, it's their culture, we have to abide by local traditions.

In the case of Jews...

What do you have against Jews?

Yitzchak Goodman said...

But the latter proposition has never been proven!

Having an argument that involves some unproven assumption is not begging the question although that may be why the argument is flawed. Begging the question occurs when the claim itself is regarded as already proven. An example would be "Why should we put that murder-suspect n trial? Murderers don't deserve a trial."

Gert said...

desemantized, not 'desentimentalized', Anon(s)...

You're not addressing Ib's core points at all.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Yitzchak, I'm afraid you're doing a lot of hair-splitting here. All arguments based on a premise that hasn't been proven boil down to begging the question, but in the particular case of the "working definition" of antisemitism, the petitio principii is clear: "Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation." This regards as already proven the claim that demanding from one nation what is not demanded from others is a double standard. But that claim has never been proven.

BUT ALSO there's another, implied claim, namely that applying a double standard against Israel is antisemitism. That has never been proven either; and it's another instance of begging the question.

Yitzchak Goodman said...

I'm not saying that religious identities are bad; I'm saying that privileging one of them over others, as Israel does, including in its national symbols, is wrong.

So every country with a religious symbol on its flag, according to you, is doing something wrong. It is only that England and other countries have excuses that Israel doesn't. What about flags of countries founded recently, such as Pakistan, bearing a Muslim crescent? What about flags with the hammer and sickle?

This whole topic requires some thinking about what real diversity in the world involves. Particular identities are always exclusive to some extent or another. The Catholic Cajuns of south Louisiana are the big exception to Anglo Saxon Protestant domination of the "Bible Belt" part of the United States. Louisiana has Parishes instead of Counties. It actually makes the southern US a more diverse place than it would be otherwise, but it seems that you are only able to think in terms of the Protestant in New Iberia who might object to living in something called Iberia Parish.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for diversity. I like to sip a bitter green beverage called maté; I like to eat grilled cow bowels; I like to play a game called truco with a playing deck that has golds, goblets, swords and batons instead of hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades; I like to speak Spanish using the archaic pronoun vos (thou) instead of the standard (you); I like to greet my male friends by kissing them in the cheek. In other words, I celebrate that Argentina is different from the rest of the world in these and other aspects and I don't want that to change.

But the problem in Israel is not one of diversity. It's one of supremacy. In Argentina, when the state builds homes, it builds them both for cow bowel eaters and for vegetarians; both for Catholics and for Jehova's Witnesses; both for Spanish-speakers and for citizens raised in a foreign language. National identity does not supersede equality.

In Israel, however, the state builds homes for foreign Jews but not for locally-born Arabs. I think it's not that hard to understand there's something very wrong with that policy.

Yitzchak Goodman said...

Yitzchak, I'm afraid you're doing a lot of hair-splitting here. All arguments based on a premise that hasn't been proven boil down to begging the question,

If you are going to use this terminology, use it correctly. You aren't.

This regards as already proven the claim that demanding from one nation what is not demanded from others is a double standard. But that claim has never been proven.

It's a matter of definition. What do you think a "double-standard" is?

BUT ALSO there's another, implied claim, namely that applying a double standard against Israel is antisemitism.

That's also a matter of definition.

Anonymous said...

Gert:

"Antisemitism should not have special status."

It should and it does and the EU, US and UN all realize that. Because it is entirely a different phenomenon from racism -- in fact in many ways the opposite phenomenon.

Gert said...

"in fact in many ways the opposite phenomenon."

Try and explain that to me.

Yitzchak Goodman said...

But the problem in Israel is not one of diversity. It's one of supremacy.

You go on to talk about housing policy. It doesn't help your argument about national symbols. Is the Middle East enriched by its long-standing Jewish presence, which now mostly consists of Israel?

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

You go on to talk about housing policy. It doesn't help your argument about national symbols.

In fact I have sufficiently defended my argument about national symbols, but you keep moving the goalposts to the issue of diversity. Succinctly:

1) Crosses in European flags are not distinctively THE Christian cross, which is in an upright position, with the vertical arm longer than the horizontal one, and with this shorter, horizontal arm closer to the top than to the bottom.

2) Religious holidays in Christian countries are devoid of meaning. Good Friday is a holiday in Spain, but nothing prevents you from openly selling meat on that day. By contrast, Jewish religious festivals, as well as the Shabat, get a special treatment in the Israeli legislation, which imposes superstition-based restrictions both for Jews and non-Jews. The chametz law is a case in point.

3) The Israeli anthem speaks of Jews, and only of Jews, in a country where 20% of the population is not Jewish. This is unique among all democratic nations.

Therefore, it is wrong to compare religious symbolism in Western nations, mostly a relic from the past, with that in Israel, which is highly significant in the context of the country's internal ethnic conflict.

Yitzchak Goodman said...

1. I don't exactly see what you think you are proving by pointing out that crosses on flags are stylized in different ways. We all know what cross is being represented.

2) Religious holidays in Christian countries are devoid of meaning. Depends on what, depends on where. I grew up in the southern US.

3. You've surveyed all the national anthems?

Anonymous said...

Ibrahim Buster
as you are a linguist you will have no trouble understanding this (reading it through your Weltbild made me wonder why the feminist international is not up in arms against it - maybe because it happens to be quite beautiful)

Silke

"Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit für das DEUTSCHE Vaterland"
---
"Blüh' im Glanze dieses Glückes,
Blühe, DEUTSCHES Vaterland"

Yitzchak Goodman said...

Proposed new national anthem to make Ibrahim happy (to the tune of "My country tis of thee" or "G-d Save the Queen"):

Oh Zionist Entity
Land of Plurality
Of thee I sing
Land of the Olive Tree
And Uri Avnery
For every LGBT
Let freedom ring

In every glade and bower
Land that speaks truth to power
Thee I extol
Restored** felafel balls
O grand Al-Buraq wall
Whenever Gideon Levy calls
Exult, my soul

**Restored to their true Arab inventors--justice for felafel!

(There are only two verses, but find me anyone anywhere who knows the second verse of his national anthem.)

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

We all know what cross is being represented.

I have a proposal for you. You'll come to Rosario one day and the following week I'll come to Los Angeles. In both cities, we'll randomly stop people in the street and show them the British flag, the Pakistani flag and the Israeli flag.

Then we'll ask them what they think the flags represent.

If they answer "the Pakistani flag represents Islam; the Israeli flag represents Judaism; and the British flag represents Christianity," I'll buy you a dish of kreplach at a kosher restaurant of your choice.

But if they answer "the Pakistani flag represents Islam; the Israeli flag represents Judaism; but the British flag, I have no idea what it represents," you'll buy me a dish of grilled cow bowels at a parrilla of my choice.

In either case, the loser will also pay for the other's plane ticket.

Gert said...

I've gotta say that I've never associated the Danish and Swiss flags with Christianity. The Union Jack? A very clever symbol representing the union of Scots and Englishmen, the start of Great Britain as a new Nation State and the beginning of a new British Nationalism.

But I would associate the Pakistani flag with Islam, also because I know a priori that the founding fathers of Pakistan wanted to create an Islamic republic.

Yitzchak Goodman said...

But if they answer "the Pakistani flag represents Islam; the Israeli flag represents Judaism; but the British flag, I have no idea what it represents," you'll buy me a dish of . . .

It won't prove anything. Most people can't tell you what AD stands for. I use CE myself because I am Jewish, but if someone started a public campaign to do away with AD, I wouldn't support it.

Coathangrrr said...

Which is what Zionists do. They say "anti-Zionists are bigoted because criticizing a country's behavior while not criticizing other countries that behave similarly is a form of bigotry." But the latter proposition has never been proven!

That's an ad hominem not begging the question. In fact, it is entirely possible for someone who is antisemitic to say that Israel is a racist state. It doesn't make them antisemitic just because they are right, nor does it make them wrong because they are antisemitic.

pangloss said...

I like a lot of your posts, but I have to say this is a pretty weak argument. "Arab" is in a sense a linguistic category, but it is nowhere near so fluid a one as that. If I learned Arabic, I would not become an Arab in any commonly recognized sense. And Jews needn't be religious Jews to call themselves Jews. There are many atheist Jews, Leonard Nimoy for example, one of my heroes.

You also didn't at all address the point about Arab and Muslim countries and their national symbols. The Star of David isn't even explicitly Jewish. It's a common motif in Muslim artwork too.

I guess this is the biggest difference I have with you. I'm critical of Israel, but I'm not actually anti-Zionist. I think Jews have the right to a Jewish state, with ethnically Jewish national symbols, just as Arabs have the right to Arab states and the French have the right to a French state. I think it would be healthy for "Israeli" to make the kind of evolution from "Jewish" that "French" has from "Gallic," but the two will continue to be intertwined even as the state becomes more inclusive and I think that's an important part of the right to self-determination.

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