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Hate speech, Israel’s legitimacy and the “war” on Andrew Sullivan

By Sophia

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
–George Orwell

On Tuesday Gabriel posted a piece about restoring Israel’s legitimacy. I’ve been thinking about it since. When I saw this piece about Tamimi it kind of crystallized some ideas.

Israel’s existence or legitimacy shouldn’t be a question, period– unless one will similarly question the legitimacy of all the other nations on this planet. Not one came into existence simply as the pure blossoming of a flower. Many – maybe most states in the world – reflect migration or immigration or imperial patterns. Many modern states were created, like Pakistan, specifically for religious reasons and disrupted the lives of millions and millions of people – including vast “ethnic cleansing” and population transfers – yet nobody questions their legitimacy or their morality, let alone their continued “right to exist.”

Other nation-states are guilty of gigantic crimes – such as starting world wars and the genocide (actual murders) of millions of people. They remain members in good standing on the global stage.

Israeli policies toward the Palestinians are definitely an issue – but this works both ways – and it isn’t just Palestinians who have engaged in war against Israel.

Rather it has always been a broadly based movement, and one could argue it even involves the UN, whose policies toward the Palestinians are unique in the world and whose “human rights” condemnations of Israel are also unique, especially given the scope and horror of conflicts around the world. Indeed the special UN treatment of the Palestinians including their unique hereditary “refugee” status, their ability to claim such status after only two years residency in the Mandate (1946-1948) and the agency dedicated to the Palestinians whereas the rest of the world’s tens of millions of refugees all share one lone agency, speaks volumes about the world’s view of the Jewish state.

Among the Arab League states alone, human rights violations are extreme– for example in the Sudan but also against women, gay people and, in some states, dissenters.

Yet, Israel is the “illegitimate” entity.

It’s clearly possible to argue that Israeli reactions to terrorist attacks can be considered overreactions. I personally would have chosen a different direction with Gaza (I think). But then I haven’t been picking up body parts or hiding my kids in bomb shelters. Nevertheless I and many people like me continue arguing with our fellow Jews, including friends and relatives in Israel, to be “more open” to the Palestinians, to open their hearts, to learn more about Arab culture, to continue striving for peace, to empathize with the suffering Palestinians because we ourselves have suffered and because they are abused and treated as “others” throughout the Arab world as well as at our hands.

However well-intentioned though, these arguments offer no solutions to the core problem – fundamental rejection of Israel in any shape or form – and the attacks and wars have gone on for decades.

One can argue that Israel is not moral anymore and Jews should return to being the well-loved people who died in the Holocaust, but this is both offensive and ridiculous, as discussed here on Harry’s Place. In the immortal words of Cllr. Kelly:

“Force them to act as they once did; when their treatment under the Nazis won them the respect and affection of most of the world…”

Alas, this view of Israel’s immorality, versus the suffering Jews and supposedly more moral Israelis of yesteryear, is cited by the famous blogger Andrew Sullivan as a reason for his apparent turn against Israel, which has included some dreadfully OTT comments recently.

More about Andrew Sullivan anon.

Suffice it to say for now that Israel was attacked on the very first day of her existence, back when Jews and even Israel were supposedly moral, and that all those moral Jews were wiped out not just by the Nazis but over and over again in Europe and the Middle East. Whether or not Jews, or Israel, are particularly moral or “legitimate” is a straw man argument to begin with.

The portrayal of Israel as a “goliath” or “Nazi” etc is part and parcel of antisemitism, and I see it as part of a war against the Jews that wiped out most European Jews only 60 years ago, but which alas was preceded by many, many massacres, expulsions and disasters in the past.

This movement crosses political and even religious and regional lines. But I think its always had religious aspects that, particularly in the Middle East, we’ve underestimated. Increasingly the line against Israel appears to be specifically Muslim vs Jew, with hecklers of Ayalon and “peace demonstrators” even in the US chanting “Kaibar! Kaibar!” in remembrance of the destruction of Jewish tribes by Mohammed. But there are Christian anti-Zionists as well, and Eastern Christian misojudaism can’t be underestimated. This impacts Greek-Israeli relations and probably has contributed more to Arab rejection of Israel than we might suppose.

Regardless, inciting violence against Israel and Israelis and trying to convince people that this democratic nation-state has no right to exist or even to determine its own character is what is illegitimate. I don’t see people “criticizing” Germany or Britain or France or Canada regardless of past or present “crimes” or “morality” to the point that people are demanding their destruction and the crushing of their people.

In this regard also, Israel is unique – and I think there’s really only one explanation for it: it is Jewish.

Am I wrong?

Although Muslim and Christian viewpoints about Israel receive wide sympathy, Jewish spiritual connections to the Land of Israel are mocked.

In other words, Christian and Muslim narratives are important and legitimate, but Jewish narratives and religious beliefs have something wrong with them.

Especially since Durban, this has become cloaked in the language of progressive anti-racism. That is ironic considering the nature of Jewish history and anti-Jewish bigotry. It’s reached the point that anti-Semitism – the very word – has been flipped upside down by people like Joseph Massad to mean “anti-Arab”.

Thus, history itself is being re-invented.

Now – let’s leave Israeli or Jewish morality or “legitimacy” and arguments like Massad’s aside for a for a moment here and be practical.

Even if one has a strongly anti-Israel point of view– or for that matter thinks Australia, the modern American states, Turkey and the countries of North Africa are illegitimate because they’re all “settler states”– we’re talking about millions of human beings and an established culture, state and economy in Israel.

As far as I can see this state and these lives are being directly threatened by hate speech hard and soft.

This threat is becoming increasingly respectable, whereas Israeli speakers aren’t allowed to talk. Jewish people in general are on the defensive. Increasingly we are accused of practically supernatural powers (again) such as Running the Government, The Media, And Causing Earthquakes and Tsunamis. Israelis/Jews/The Israel Lobby are generally blamed for anything and everything that goes wrong especially in the Middle East, from the wars in Iraq even to suicide bombings in Israel. (I’ve actually read comments on American political blogs claiming that Israelis bomb themselves to get sympathy.) Anything that happens in the Middle East or to Middle Easterners is automatically Israel’s fault, even plane crashes.

As you can read from the above, some Arab and Muslim intellectuals speak out against this kind of thing but far more people incite hatred and even violence and perpetrate myths, even on the university level and in governments – e.g. Jenny Tonge – and at its very mildest there is a stereotyping of Israelis with a special emphasis on The Settlers, that doesn’t reflect any kind of subtlety or complexity at all. This is a type of bigotry in and of itself. Added to the history of anti-Jewish bigotry it has the potential to be catastrophic.

Don’t we need to ask, not if Israel is legitimate but rather, what is the nature of the arguments against her? And what can we do – realistically – to help the Palestinians without inciting violence against the Israelis or Jews worldwide?

In the US, the 9/11 “troof” movement has specifically antisemitic and anti-Israel elements. At the very least, American support for Israel is blamed for the attacks, which until recently bin Laden himself didn’t claim.

Some Jews have internalized this to the point of attacking other Jews, i.e. the “good Jews/bad Jews” paradigm. This is echoed by (alas) powerful bloggers like Andrew Sullivan who gets millions of readers every day.

This has become an issue now as The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier has brought it out in the open in a couple of strong pieces that are nevertheless being misinterpreted as claims that Sullivan is antisemitic, whereas they are actually pointing out that he is flirting with antisemitic memes – and he does in fact either support the Mearsheimer/Walt view of an ultra-powerful “Israel Lobby” in the US, or simply doesn’t see what’s wrong with their point of view.

This piece followed some outrageous comments by Sullivan equating support for Sarah Palin with support for AIPAC, or vice versa, and claiming that AIPAC’s (and thus Palin’s) foreign policy is per se violent and warlike.

Here’s Sullivan’s response to Wieseltier. And here is Wieseltier’s response to Sullivan’s response (This could go on for years, which might be entertaining in some respects – but which is tragic because it’s come up at all).

Finally, we have this piece by John Judis, who proclaims, “I’m No Big Fan of The Israel Lobby, But..,” in which, sadly, he finds himself once again having to state the obvious: that Israel didn’t send the US to war in the Middle East.

This just reveals the power of the antisemitic memes that attack not only Israel but Jews around the world. And it makes the inability of intelligent people to understand the noxious aspects of Mearsheimer/Walt, let alone Tamimi or Tonge, even more difficult to understand.

Meanwhile, the problem of not allowing free speech in universities is becoming a problem in the US as well as in Britain and on some Canadian campuses, specifically when it comes to Israel and/or pro-Israeli speakers, audience members and students/faculty.

Yet, CAIR is defending these anti-freespeechniks on the basis of their First Amendment rights, which is positively Orwellian.