September 12, 2006
By Norman G. Finkelstein
Download the Word doc original here.
A central thesis of my book Beyond Chutzpah is that whenever Israel faces a public relations debacle its apologists sound the alarm that a “new anti-Semitism” is upon us. So, predictably, just after Israel faced another image problem due to its murderous destruction of Lebanon, a British all-party parliamentary group led by notorious Israel-firster Denis MacShane MP (Labor) released yet another report alleging a resurgence of anti-Semitism (Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into Antisemitism, September 2006). To judge by the witnesses (David Cesarani, Lord Janner, Oona King, Emanuele Ottolenghi, Melanie Phillips) and sources (MEMRI, Holocaust Education Trust) cited in the body of the report, much time and money could have been saved had it just been contracted out to the Israel Foreign Ministry.
The single novelty of the report, which mostly rehashes fatuous allegations already disposed of in Beyond Chutzpah, is the new thresholds in idiocy it breaks. Consider the methodology deployed for demonstrating a new anti-Semitism. The report defines an anti-Semitic incident as any occasion “perceived” to be anti-Semitic by the “Jewish community.” This is the school of thought according to which it’s raining even in the absence of any precipitation because I feel it’s raining. It is the dream philosophy of paranoids – especially rational paranoids, for whom alleged victimhood is politically serviceable. The report includes under the rubric of anti-Semitic incidents not just violent acts and incendiary speech but “conversations, discussions, or pronouncements made in public or private, which cross the line of acceptability,” as well as “the mood and tone when Jews are discussed.” The wonder is that it didn’t also tabulate repressed anti-Semitic libidinal fantasies. In the category of inherently anti-Semitic pronouncements the report includes “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” (only comparisons of contemporary Arab policy to that of the Nazis are permissible) and “theories about Jewish or Zionist influence on American foreign policy” (even if Jewish and Zionist organizations boast about this influence).
Much of the evidence of pervasive British anti-Semitism stretches and strains credulity. The lone item listed under the ominous subheading “The Blood Libel” is a Syrian television series “that would be possible for viewers in the UK to see…if they had suitable satellite receiving equipment.” The report also notes the unreferenced “case of a Jewish university lecturer who was subjected to an anti-Semitic tirade from a student in the middle of a lecture and subsequently asked to explain to the university authorities why he had upset the student.” Is it anti-Semitic to wonder whether this is a crock? And then it cites the warning of the London Assembly Conservative Group that “there is a risk that in some political quarters ‘views on international events can, almost subconsciously, lead to subtly different attitudes to, and levels of engagement with, different minority groups.'” The new anti-Semitism business must be going seriously awry when British conservatives start sounding like Lacan. Finally, it is anti-Semitic for student unions to advocate a boycott of Israeli goods because this “would restrict the availability of kosher food on campus.” Maybe Israel can organize a “Berlin airlift” of gefilte fish.
Although claiming that, in the struggle against anti-Semitism, “none of those who gave evidence wished to see the right of free speech eroded,” and “only in extreme circumstances would we advocate legal intervention,” the report recommends that university authorities “take an active interest in combating acts, speeches, literature and events that cause anxiety or alarm among their Jewish students,” and it registers disquiet that “classic and modern anti-Semitic works are freely available for ordering on the Amazon.com website,” and that “the United States in particular has been slow to take action” in closing down “anti-Semitic internet sites.” It is at moments like this that even the least patriotic of souls can take pride in being an American.
1. The report’s statement that “we received no evidence of the accusation of anti-Semitism being misused by mainstream British Jewish community organizations and leaders” (para. 79) perhaps speaks more to the selection of the witnesses than the reality.
2. Report, para. 3; cf. para. 73.
3. Quoted phrases from Report “Summary.” The police data on an increase in anti-Semitic incidents in itself proves little because, as the report concedes, the spike might be due to more incidents being reported and a coarsening of British life generally, as well as the “spillover” from the Israel-Palestine conflict (Report, paras 28, 29, 59, 64, and Beyond Chutzpah, pp. 81ff.). In addition, there is little evidence of “organized,” “politically motivated” anti-Semitic attacks; there is no evidence that perpetrators of anti-Semitic attacks were disproportionately Muslim; and most of the suspects in the incidents were adolescents (Report, paras. 55, 56, 58, 151). For 2005 the report cites a couple incidents that were “potentially” life-threatening (para. 61). It cites no comparative data for other minorities in Britain, although tacitly acknowledging that “the level of prejudice and discrimination by Jews in Britain remains lower,” a considerable understatement (para 17). On a related note, it deplores that “less than one in ten [anti-Semitic] incidents reported to the police resulted in a suspect becoming an accused” (para. 69), but cites no comparative data indicating whether this ratio is aberrant.
4. Report, para. 84, 119; cf. para. 148. On a related note the report expresses worry that “the use of language and imagery of the Holocaust has become increasingly widespread in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” (para. 93). Of course, what’s new about such imagery in the West is that it’s no longer only used against Arabs.
5. Report, para. 99.
6. Report, para, 101.
7. Report, para. 104.
8. Report, paras. 203, 204.
9. Report, paras. 74, 75.
10. Report, paras. 183, 189, 220.
I find it interesting that when somebody says
something ‘against’ a particular race or color of
person, they are considered ‘Racist,’ *unless* it is
aimed at the Jewish in which case it becomes
Anti-Semitism. . . as if somehow being jewish makes
one so much better than everyone else.
Every ‘race’ or color of people have their good and
their total asswipes. . . jewish included. . .
Balance is Life,
(Rev. J Shaffer)
Dear Professor Finkelstein
In your comments about the report of the All-Party Inquiry into Anti-Semitism you quoted the report as saying – “we received no evidence of the accusation of anti-Semitism being misused by mainstream British Jewish community organizations and leaders” . This statement is a sheer travesty of the truth . The organisation to which I belong – Jews for Justice for Palestinians – submitted an official submission highlighting (amongst other things) the apparent misuse of anti-semitism by the jewish community in Britain who use the claim of anti-Semitism as a weapon to fend israel’s policies . I myself submitted an unsolicited submission to the Inquiry into Anti-Semitism which was never acknowledged by the Chairman – Denis MacShane. As a result I sent the gist of my submission to the international website of Media Monitors Network (www.mediamonitors.net who published it under the title of my submitted article: New Anti – Semitism – a Reality or a Misused concept? I (4 may) also included some of my points in my review of your book – Beyond Chutzpah – which was published in the summer 2006 issue of International Socialism Journal under the title Israel’s Advocates in the Dock. Likewise, I included a number of the submitted points in my recent article in the Morning Star (23 August 06) about New Anti -Semitism. When the report of the Inquiry into Anti-Semitism came out I again tried to make my points public by sending letters to the national press in Britain but , unfortunately, none of them published my letters. For your information, I enclose the main points of my submission which could be found on the website of the MMN.
“In the course of my work with peace organisations in Britain I encountered , along with my colleagues, the phenomenon of reversed , or, “inside-out Anti-Semitism” – namely, being blamed for being anti-Semite by Jewish groups and individuals who could not tolerate the fact that a Jew, or an Israeli like myself, is prepared to advance the case of the Palestinians. Like many Jewish peace campaigners I am listed on a defamatory S.H.I.T list (Self-Hating Israel-Threatening jews) issued by an extremist Jewish website in the States (www.masada2000.org) which includes the most sickening slurs against thousands of jewish activists.
In the light of my experience I felt compelled to make the following points in an unsolicited submission to the All-Party Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism which was set up by the British Parliament in November 2005 :
* – For historical reasons Anti-semitism is referred solely to the Jewish race. Yet, anti-semitism as a modern phenomenon may have direct links to, or implications for, other religious and ethnic groups. An inquiry into Anti-Semitism ought, therefore, to be concerned with the manifestations of hatred and abuses inflicted on all religions – i.e. Muslims, Christians Sikhs, etc. ,and consequently embrace a much wider agenda.”
* – In light of the British Government’s policy, and its strategy document – “Working together – Cooperation between Government and Faith Communities” – any working definition of Anti-Semitism should equally apply to other religions or ethnic groups. This will also fit in with the British Government’s plan to set up a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights.
* – The all-embracing definition of Anti-Semitism, as well as that of other religiously-motivated abuses, should be tightened up in order to prevent it being exploited as an emotional term which may trigger outrage and highly-charged statements by some interest groups (e.g. the Jewish community and Israel’s lobbyists on one hand and Muslim groups on the the other hand). That is to say, that the definition of Anti-Semitism and of other religiously-motivated abuses ought to be closely related to the existing Race-Relations Act which has been long seen as an integral part of the British society and its legal and law-enforcement bodies
* – The monitoring of Anti-Semitism and other religious-hatred incidents should be conducted in an objective and methodological way. Therefore, it has to be defined by precise categories referring to the type and severity of the abuse – i. e, hatred-inciting public utterances as compared with, malicious damage, arson and violent attacks against individuals. A public body should, therefore, be set up to monitor and record all religion-hatred abuses rather than to leave it to partisan groups which are set up by the community in question. Thus, reports published by the national media ought to refer to the (statistical) records issued by a public body rather than to inflammatory accounts issued by certain interest groups – which carry the danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy (an example for such an emotionally-charged statement could be found in the recent Leader of Jewish News proclaiming – “and while the numbers detailed differed slightly, the CST statistics for 2005 confirmed that in Britain incidents of Jew-hatred were indeed down… But let us not be deceived. However we seek to interpret the statistics, the reality is that the world and UK still suffer from the scourge of anti-semitism” (2nd February 2006). Moreover, religious-hatred incidents, such anti-Semitism, or Islamophobia, should be considered in relations to the rise in violence in the host society and not be regarded in isolation from the present political, social and economic circumstances (e.g. hostility towards asylum-seekers which may ignite hatred towards Muslim refugees ,and the volatile situation in the Middle-East which triggers hostility towards both Muslims and Jewish people).
In conclusion, the above points highlight an aspect which should be recognized and acknowledged by any pluralist democratic society – that is, a multi-racial and multi-faith society ought to have a coordinated and consistent policy whereby no ethnic or, religious, group, should be considered in isolation from other such groups. Thus, an All-party Inquiry into Anti-Semitism which singles out one particular religion may constitute an unwelcome precedent that may lead to undesirable, if not harmful, effects”. (4 May).
I hope that the above -stated principals will indeed guide the future action of the newly- established British Commission for Equality and Human Rights
Dear Professor Finklestein
There are some truly suspect definitions of anti-semitism and the authors/sponsors of this would have done well to read “Beyond Chutzpah” to ensure this exercise does not go the same route it has across the pond. I will say though that the UK Jewry have seemed to me to be a far more moderate than the bunch that ive been reading about in your books and on your site. I think a Dershowitz or an Abraham Foxman would be given short shrift here; on the whole most UK Jews seem to be more sympathetic towards the Palestinian issue and were more vocal in their opposition to the invasion of Lebanon, with notable exceptions of course. The BBC for example was regularly accused of being anti-Semitic in its reporting on the war which i thought was nonsense.
You have to remember though that the Muslim population in Britain have elements within it that do support violence against Jewish people and have been so brainwashed in their hate that discussion is impossible. There are many who are disenfranchised and others from second generation middle class families looking for meaning in their otherwise miserable lives and finding the wrong answers. I personally do not think these groups are the main source of any increase in what i call real anti-semitism (violence and verbal abuse). These groups have the means and if they wanted to inflict harm they probably would have caused serious damage by now; rather this is directed at the US as we have seen in the recent attempt to blow up transatlantic planes. There is however another group: the rag tag, anti-globalization mob who have, in consort with some British Muslims, high-jacked the ME issue. Although their hearts are, for the most part in the right place, they find it difficult to engage in debate without becoming irrational or violent. And then there is of course the problem of alcohol. Having lived here for 10 years and knowing as I do the propensity of English people (esp in london) for serious drinking, its not hard to imagine someone watching the bombing of Qana, then consuming half of bottle of whisky (not necessarily in that order), walking down the street on a friday eve and thumping the face of the first frumadik he sees. The Orthodox community in Stamford Hill referred to in the report live cheek by jowl with Muslim communities (not far from me and incidentally less than a mile or so from the infamous Finsbury Park Mosque) and relations seem to have been good in the past. But I wont deny they have of late become targets for abuse and Ive seen this myself on the tube one evening when some drunk kids launched into an unpleasant political tirade at a man with his 2 children. Although i agreed with their general sentiment I felt ashamed afterwards that i did not stop them. Its a complicated business being Jewish and angry at Israel’s actions.
I dont think this report is timed to quell critisism of Israel because many of the signatories are openly opposed to Israel’s policies. So totally disagree that its a public relations stunt. In the area or physical and verbal abuse its a response to a real issue but one that I dont think should be blown out of proportion nor used by Zionist groups for their own ends.