Sunday, August 23, 2009

Understanding "progressive" Antisemitism: The West's New Israelophobia and Judeophobia

By Barry Rubin

The largest Swedish newspaper publishes an article accusing Israel of murdering Palestinians so it can sell their body parts. The largest Dutch newspaper publishes an article accusing Satan-worshipping Jews of creating swine flu and other diseases to murder large numbers of people. The newspaper of the British elite publishes an article by a well-known philosopher calling Israel a Nazi state.

How does the Swedish newspaper’s editor respond to complaints about this sort of thing? Jan Helin complains:

"It's deeply unpleasant and sad to see such a strong propaganda machine using centuries-old anti-Semitic images in an apparent attempt to get an obviously topical issue off the table."

But what is the “strong propaganda machine” that is manipulating antisemitic images as an excuse to get “obviously topical” issues off the table?

The answer is not, as Helin would have it, an Israeli-Jewish propaganda machine. Since media coverage is so extremely anti-Israel--often breaking the rules of proper journalism to smite that country--it couldn’t be all that powerful.

In fact, the propaganda machine is that of the other side: both Middle Eastern Arab nationalists and Islamists or their European leftist allies. These forces produce a constant barrage of anti-Israel stories which make big headlines and then are never proven to be accurate. During the last decade, there has been not a single proven case of any war crime by Israeli forces. Yet how many millions of people are convinced otherwise by irresponsible and propagandistic media coverage?

Actually, Helin himself reveals this situation. The first question he should ask is: Are the facts in this story correct and are the claims reasonable? But instead his response is to choose sides. The fact that both the article’s author and the editor who published it are anti-Israel activists should make him wary of whether this story was a reasonable thing to publish.

Moreover, Helin’s justification for why the story is legitimate is in itself antisemitic. Let me explain. Helin points out that an American Jewish man has been arrested in New York and is charged with illegal organ sales. There is no hint of Israeli involvement or of murder.

Helin’s chain of reasoning is this: since a Jew has been arrested, Israel can be accused of involvement without proof. If a Jew anywhere in the world has been arrested, Israel’s government can be accused of official involvement in murdering people without any evidence.

And this is also how antisemitism always worked. A Jew is accused of a crime, falsely or otherwise, and all Jews are guilty. A Jew is accused of an illegal commercial transaction and this justifies accusing what amounts to the whole Jewish community anywhere in the world of systematic murder. This is how antisemitism has worked going back to the Middle Ages.

If a Swede, or a Muslim, or an African person was accused of a crime would that justify, without evidence, accusing an entire country or people of an even worse crime? There’s a popular word for that today: it’s called “racism.”

This story is particularly personal for me because 120 years ago one of my ancestors was accused of ritual murder in Dolhinov, Russia, and a mob set out, unsuccessfully, to lynch him. A young Russian boy was found killed. My ancestor was said to have done it, using a “Jewish tool,” a barrel stuck through with nails for draining the blood to make matzoh.

Similarly, the Dutch story is an update of the Jews poisoning wells, worshipping money, and seeking world domination.

And the British story is an update of the idea that the Jews pose as victims but should be denied sympathy are really criminals equivalent to the worst evil people in the world.

Anyone who cannot see the relationship of that historical ritual murder charge of a people supposedly obsessed with money to its modern-day version is either not paying attention or is seeking the historical goal of antisemites: slandering the Jewish people in order to destroy them.

Some years ago, I did a study of the PLO and antisemitism, The PLO between Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism, which demonstrated how that group handled the issue. It simply took traditional antisemitic themes and changed the word “Jews” to “Israel.” The Islamists of Hamas didn’t even do that.

For years, the main themes of Palestinian propaganda may be described generally as: the Jews are inferior; we will never make peace with them. We must defeat them and drive them into the sea.

Not surprisingly, this never had much appeal in the West. At some point, though, this was altered to the following framework:

The Israelis say we are inferior and that they will never make peace with us. They oppress our human rights and want to drive us into the sea.

This worked better.

A massive number of stories and tales are generated daily by this, to borrow Helin’s phrase, “powerful propaganda machine” aimed through a cooperative media to Western governments and public opinion. Some of its stories are not so successful in the West, perhaps in part because they are more directed at the local audience: Israel distributing poison candy or aphrodisiac chewing gum, for example.

Many are more on theme: Jenin massacre; Gaza war crimes, the deliberate murder of Muhammad al-Dura, and so on, which succeed better.

We hear about it when one of the visibly crazy stories—Israel’s government orders Palestinian killed so it can profit on their organs—gets attention. But it’s really the more “credible” stories that do the most harm. Read the Associated Press, Reuters, or Agence-France Presse any day and you get these productions or at least the associated slant.

What should the media, governments, and human rights’ groups look for? Simply what it is supposed to look for in every story: evidence. Until there is some proof, stories shouldn’t be reported.

Here’s a little example. In Gaza, Palestinians charged Israel used white phosphorus weapons. Amnesty International had a report about the horrendous consequences. The problem is that while Palestinians claimed to have seen strange wounds, there were no medical records, no photographs, and no interviews with those who were so wounded.

The Jenin massacre, which became a huge story, was pretty much based on the claims of one hitherto unknown (and afterward never seen again) ordinary Palestinian. That was enough to set the world howling about murderous Israelis.

Why not have simple fact-checking and balance?

Of course, what fuels this kind of thing is a double standard. Not a double standard of demanding more of Israel than other countries—though that also exists—but a double standard about proof.

There are two underlying assumptions here by media, human rights’ groups, and governments. First, Israelis are capable of anything so you can believe any evil of them. This is an old staple of antisemitism. Would any other democratic government be accused of murder to obtain organs? Is it credible that instead of seeking to win a war Israeli soldiers were fixated on killing civilians for fun?

Second, due to hatred of Israel, leftist ideology, and plain old antisemitism (which has been defined out of existence when it comes to Israel), a lot of people are prone to believe things which are either unproven, illogical, or obviously propaganda plants. Thus, if you are a crackpot—like the authors of the Swedish and Dutch articles—you can get published on Israel saying things that would get you thrown out the door regarding any other subject.

Actually, its worse. A lot of the reporters on the scene, or UN officials, or supposed experts have become collaborators in fabricating and distributing such lies.

In regard to this, of course, Jews and Israelis in particular are the only people not covered in the worldwide campaign against racism, discrimination against any group, acceptance of the “other,” self-censorship to avoid offending anyone, and all the other blessings of Political Correctness.

And if you want a nice little illustration, here’s an appropriate one. The Swedish government, which now claims to be a defender of free speech when it comes to the blood libel in his country’s leading newspaper, shut down the Internet servers and tried to repress anyone in Sweden daring to publish the Danish cartoons about Islam’s founder.

Again, though, what is so horrifying is not just these extreme cases of obvious antisemitism but the daily slanders and conveying of anti-Israel propaganda that is done a bit more carefully. To put it another way, they might laugh at the forged “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” as they gleefully churn out the new version of the Protocols of the Crimes of Zionism.

Note: A version of this article was published in Pajamas Media, August 23, 2009 under the title "Accuse First, Ask Questions Never: Mainstreaming Anti-Semitism"

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog.

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