Cases in Point

Norm has already blogged on two incidents in the last few days that, for me, summed up particularly well where we now are.

The first concerns a speech by the South African Deputy Foreign Minister, Fatima Hajaig

“They in fact control [America], no matter which government comes in to power, whether Republican or Democratic, whether Barack Obama or George Bush,” Hajaig was heard saying.

She also said: “The control of America, just like the control of most Western countries, is in the hands of Jewish money and if Jewish money controls their country then you cannot expect anything else.”

Where could Hajaig have learnt these openly anti-semitic ideas? Could it be a product of her involvement in an organisation which goes by the name of  Call to Islam? Might she have picked it up while she was attending university in Hungary in the 1960s? Or perhaps it was at Princeton that the realisation that Jewish Money controls most of the Western world hit her. Who knows.

Here’s the second example:

The convener of a conference on justice for Palestine, to be held at State Parliament tomorrow, has apologised for making anti-Jewish comments despite having earlier defended them as “private conversation”.

Maqsood Alshams, who formed a lobby group called the Asia Pacific Human Rights Institute, organised the conference with three universities to discuss the possibility of Israel being prosecuted by the International Court of Justice.

The Bangladesh-born asylum seeker, who was once nominated for the National Human Rights Award, wrote in private emails obtained by the Herald that Israel had overshadowed the Holocaust in its treatment of Palestine and that God hated Jews.

“The simple answer is that you the Jews are real motherf—– bastards,” he wrote in an email to Richard Benkin, a human rights activist based in Chicago.

“You guys are simply assholes … Stop playing the bloody victim games.”

In another email, to a Sydney management consultant, Anna Berger, Mr Maqsood said Israel’s actions in Gaza were more serious than the Holocaust, comparing the conflict with Hitler’s treatment of Jews.

Asked about the emails, Mr Maqsood initially defended his right to a private argument. “Is it anything wrong to have a private conversation? That is not my public view … I am not an anti-Semite at all. I have many Jewish friends.”

But late yesterday Mr Maqsood apologised and withdrew the remarks. “I am ashamed to say they were made at a time when I was intoxicated and angry,” he said. “Of course, there is no excuse for such remarks.”

In discussion on Harry’s Place yesterday, a regular commentator – Mike of Medialenswatch – offered the following opinion:

It is striking, though, that instances given for anti semitism are almost entirely linked with the issue of Israel these days. The vast majority of examples given are usually a) over the top criticism of Israel, b) people singling out Israel, c) unfair comparisons of Israel with Nazi Germany or other racist states, d) people criticising the power and influence of the large lobby group that promotes Israeli interests in the west.

They are all directly related to the the Israel issue, and the vast majority of people doing the criticism are either the anti racist far left or Muslims that obviously see themselves as linked with their ‘Muslim brothers’ in Palestine, not Christians upset about the Jesus thing.

The anti semitic discourse around in Europe before WW2, which promoted conspiracy theories about Jewish influence on business and popular culture, is practically non-existent. I never hear of see this any of this in normal society – though views that would be considered Islamophobic do come up. WW2 and the holocaust led to generations of people growing up knowing anti semitic ideas are wrong, which has all but removed it from the western mindset. Most younger people these days wouldn’t have a clue about it – you just don’t hear people damning ‘the Jews’ because they couldn’t get a job or got laid off.

The closest thing to anti semitism is the idea among sections of the left that Zionists have large influence in the media, but again, this is ultimately about Israel and not anti semitism as such, though it can cross the line and is always disturbing. But it is a minority view of some politically minded people, not a general cultural attitude amongst people toward Jews.

This is very good news that I think Jews should be happy about.

Mike doesn’t generally detect anti-semitism within the Israel/Palestine debate. I agree that explicit statements of Jew hatred by prominent public figures are rare, at present, but they’re becoming more common.

What is endemic, and increasing, is neutrality to anti-semitism. At first, Islamist anti-semitism was an embarassment, to be explained away in ‘context’ or ‘understood’ as part and parcel of the ‘liberation struggle’. Now, it is quite acceptable for the Dutch socialist MP, Harry van Bommel, to march down an Amsterdam street in a crowd that is chanting “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas!”.

Hajaig won’t resign, of course. Maqsood Alshams’ conference will go ahead, with the support of Australia’s most prominent Universities.

What protects racists, and makes it possible for them to express their views freely and without consequences, is that they can tie in their rhetoric to the Israel/Palestine conflict. The notion that Zionists are controlling Western governments has been made very respectable by Mearsheimer and Walt. Intemperate language and strong views on the subject is increasingly respectable, and – in the eyes of many – necessary. Sometimes, that language may ‘cross the line’: but then when the speaker is a member of Hamas, or even a Bangladeshi-Australian, or a veteran of the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, “understanding” is shown.

That is because, as Mike’s post illustrates, it is really about the conduct of Israel, and not about hatred of Jews.

Anti-semitism, historically, has never been about hatred of Jews. It has always appeared rational at the time.

Jews were hated in Germany because they were seen as too powerful in business and the professions, and for all sorts of other rationalisable reasons. I remember Lady Diana Mosely, the widow of the fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosely, explaining on a BBC documentary:

“We didn’t hate the Jews. Its just that the Jews wanted war, and we were against that”

When people believed in scripture, the Jews were being punished for rejecting, and then killing Christ. Or for rebelling against Mohammed. None of this was irrational. It was simply a statement of how the world worked. Even Jews would have explained their own dispossession and debasement in theological terms.

The mistake that those who are blind to anti-semitism make is that they immediately cling to any reasonable explanation for an upsurge in racism against Jews, and discount anything that makes no sense to them. Therefore, although the ‘Jewish control’ theories of a South African government minister are perhaps so close to the Protocols that they ‘cross the line’, perhaps she was really thinking about the Mearsheimer and Walt thesis: the work of respectable academics whose ideas should be seriously discussed. And if a prominent Australian human rights campaigner says that God Hates Jews: well, he was in his cups, wasn’t he?

It can’t be that some people really really hate Jews, and are increasingly happy to say so?

The intellectual elites of the post-Christian West have developed their own set of attitudes towards Jews. Many of them echo religious themes: particularly that of Jewish dispossession, but also of the Jew as the controller of governments, the Jew as corrupter, and so on. Their similarity to traditional anti-semitism is seen as merely co-incidental and fortuitous.

Moreover, the thought that  anybody might have a religiously derived reason for hating Jews – even activists in theocratic political movements – is almost never acknowledged, and when it is, will usually be explained away as mere rhetoric, rather than recognised as a deeply held belief. Because many Western liberals do not believe in God, they cannot imagine that anybody else might: or that religious doctrine might shape the worldview of much of the world.

Some people will get this. Others never will.