Thursday, October 11, 2007

David Goldberg on anti-Semitism

Madness this way lies

Accusing the morally upright Archbishop Desmond Tutu of anti-semitism shows how a knee-jerk defence of Israel can make us lose sight of reality.

David Goldberg - CiF.

Nahman of Bratslav (1772-1811) was a revered leader of the Chasidic movement in Judaism. He used to tell a parable about some courtiers who brought their king distressing news. The harvest had been gathered in, but whoever ate of the crop became mad. No other food was available. What should be done - eat of the food and go mad, or die of starvation? The king decreed: "We all must eat of this crop, but a few of us must remember what the effect will be, to remind us that we are mad."

It is time to remind my fellow Jews that in our knee-jerk defence of Israel and enthusiasm to accuse anyone who dares criticise the state of being anti-semitic, we are in danger of going mad.

The latest, barely credible example comes from Minnesota, where the Catholic University of St Thomas has rescinded an invitation to the Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, after pressure from the Zionist Organisation of America accusing him of anti-semitism. The university's vice-president explained: "We had heard some things he said that some people judged to be anti-Semitic and against Israeli policy ... he's compared the state of Israel to Hitler and ... making moral equivalences like that are hurtful to the Jewish community."

BlogRush advertNow I have had the privilege of meeting Archbishop Tutu a couple of times, and he certainly doesn't need me to defend him against this vile allegation. But it is worth examining the words that gave so much offence, in a speech he delivered in Boston on April 13, 2002. The context is important. It was during the harsh siege by the Israeli army of Jenin refugee camp, in response to the appalling atrocity two weeks before when Palestinian terrorists had killed 29 and wounded 150 celebrants at a communal Passover meal in Netanya.

Unlike, I suspect, many of Tutu's detractors, I have actually read his speech. In it, he paid tribute to Jewish support in the apartheid struggle; reiterated Israel's right to secure borders; voiced his distress at Palestinian suffering; called on the Israeli and Palestinian peoples to live together in peace based on justice "because it is God's dream"; mentioned that to criticise Israel in the US was immediately to be dubbed anti-semitic, because "the Jewish lobby is powerful - very powerful" and continued "Well, so what? This is God's world ...We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosovic and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust."

That is the extent of Tutu's "moral equivalences", for which he is branded an anti-semite. Nelson Mandela fares little better. He was trashed recently by a Jewish Chronicle columnist who plays the role of Anglo-Jewry's Richard Littlejohn - only without the class [editor: Richard Littlejohn has class???] - for having said that aspects of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians reminded him of apartheid. When a highly regarded Israeli journalist also used the A-word, he was disinvited from giving the keynote address at the Zionist Federation's annual conference in London because he had "encouraged the demonisation of Israel and the Jewish people".

But the worst crime a critic of Israel can commit is to suggest that there is an Israel lobby in the US. Of course there is, as there is a gun lobby, an Irish lobby, pro and anti-abortion lobbies, and hundreds of others. Lobbying is as American as apple pie. It is extraordinary to watch large, powerful and effective Jewish organisations such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), lumber into action to have meetings cancelled, invitations withdrawn, and smear campaigns initiated against those who claim there is an Israel lobby, protesting all the while that no such lobby exists, and anyone who says it does is therefore anti-semitic.

A typical example of this process is the Mearsheimer and Walt case. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt were two obscure American academics who wrote a lengthy essay last year about the negative influence on American foreign policy of the Israel lobby. As it happens, I thought it was a poor piece of scholarship, long on generalised speculations, short on facts. Be that as it may, it created a furore on both sides of the Atlantic. The non-existent Israel lobby was combat-ready and turned the pair into instant anti-semitic celebrities. Thus encouraged, they expanded their thesis into a book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, which was published by Penguin at the beginning of September.

Anthony Julius, the distinguished lawyer, was wheeled out by the Jewish Chronicle to pass judgment. He stopped short of calling Mearsheimer and Walt outright anti-semites, but found them to be a new strain of the virus - "proto-anti-semites", who gave aid and comfort to the real ones and perpetuated "the Jewish conspiracy myth".

Surely a more sensible strategy from Israel's zealous defenders would have been to engage with Mearsheimer and Walt's argument, rebut any factual inaccuracies, and counterattack that, on the contrary, Israel is America's staunchest ally in the Middle East (whether it is in Israel's best interests to be so closely tied to America's apron strings, is another question).

But that is the problem when you eat of the madness-inducing crop. In the obsession to find anti-semites lurking under every stone, you can no longer differentiate between the important work of supporting Jewish students intimidated on campus by Muslim and far-left groups, resisting the pernicious proposal to boycott Israeli academics - or gratuitously insulting, in the name of Jewry, the brave, decent and morally upright Desmond Tutu.


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