antisemitism,  The Left

John Pilger and the enabling of antisemitism

Cross-posted from Lerterland

To find journalist-ideologue John Pilger ranting about “the criminality of the Israeli state” and “the murderous, racist toll of Zionism” is all too routine. (Hat tip Oliver Kamm.) What’s new is this: Pilger trots out “the expatriate Israeli musician Gilad Atzmon” as a representative good Jew, emblematic of “the heroes of Israel” and “the moral courage of Israeli dissidents.” Either Pilger is fool enough to be unaware of Atzmon’s vicious anti-Jewish bigotry, or he has consciously praised an apologist for the Third Reich, who has declared: “One of the things that happened to us was that stupidly we interpreted the Nazi defeat as a vindication of the Jewish ideology and the Jewish people.”

And: “Carpet bombing and total erasure of populated areas that is so trendy amongst Israeli military and politicians (as well as Anglo-Americans) has never been a Nazi tactic or strategy.”

For more on Atzmon’s record of Holocaust revisionism, here. I won’t waste further time documenting Atzmon’s hate, because he continues to document it for us time and again.

As for John Pilger’s excuse, I’d love to hear it. And if Amy Goodman, who frequently greets Pilger as an eminence on her program Democracy Now!, weren’t a hack posing as a toughminded media critic, she would ask Pilger about his high regard for Atzmon next time she has him on.

I’ve said it often and I’ll do it again: the familiar complaint that critics of Israel are being silenced or cowed by charges of antisemitism is in some ways the reverse of the truth. It’s people who call attention to antisemitism, and the enabling or papering over of antisemitism so vividly illustrated by Pilger’s rant, who are being dismissed as Zionist agents, Arab haters, people who can’t possibly be arguing in good faith. We’re not opposing bigotry, the logic goes; we’re employing “the usual tactic,” as Caryl Churchill said of Howard Jacobson when he condemned her ugly play Seven Jewish Children.

The “tactic” charge has a long history. In 1972, Huey Newton, sounding very much like the communist functionary he aspired to be, wrote:

We realize that some people who happen to be Jewish and who support Israel will use the Black Panther Party’s position that is against imperialism and against the agents of the imperialist as an attack of anti-Semitism. We think that is a backbiting racist underhanded tactic and we will treat it as such.

In other words, we categorically refuse to discuss or acknowledge antisemitism, and we will greet anyone who attempts to do so with unthinking hostility. This attitude dies hard.

Today, in a very different political context, the debate has flared up in an epic, nasty and long-brewing exchange between Leon Wieseltier and Andrew Sullivan, which is way too labyrinthine to deal with here. But one thing that struck me was Glenn Greenwald’s reaction, which included the argument — also familiar — that reckless accusations of antisemitism pose an “obvious danger.” “[C]heapening the charge of anti-semitism through frivolous and politically manipulative uses,” wrote Greenwald, “weakens the ability to combat actual, real anti-semitism, which does still exist.”

Well, Mr. Greenwald, here’s your chance to combat actual, real antisemitism, which does still exist. Will you call out John Pilger, your fellow frequent guest on Democracy Now!, for praising an avowed antisemite?

Imagine if John Pilger, in the pages of The New Statesman, praised someone who had said: “Stupidly we interpreted the defeat of slavery as a vindication of black ideology and black people.” Greenwald would have piped up immediately, no?