Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Hour of the Hanging Judges: Demonizing Israel and Pretending It Is Ordinary Criticism

By Barry Rubin

This is getting to be a pretty common kind of story. The mayor of Frankfurt invites an intellectual whose family left Germany in 1932 to speak on the anniversary of Kristallnacht. The problem is that this man, Alfred Grosser, is a ferocious critic of Israel.

Incidentally, while this has not been reported in the media I have it from an impeccable source that Grosser converted to Catholicism during World War Two when this was made a precondition for his being hidden in a monastery. I will leave the psychoanalysis on how this decision affects his judgment to analyze it but I think this has a serious effect on his behavior today.    
Grosser claims the Gaza Strip is a concentration camp (possibly true, but if so it is a concentration camp owned and run by Hamas); calls for ending Israel as a Jewish state; urges Germany to be more critical of Israel; and blames Israeli policies (rather than the deliberate lies about them) as being responsible for increasing antisemitism (isn’t that what George Soros said?)

All of this is interpreted by the Christian Science Monitor, and many others, as merely rejecting:

“…the notion that criticism of Israel is synonymous with anti-Semitism. If Germans want to criticize the blockade of Gaza or treatment of Palestinians, they should be able to without guilt, many say.”

This is the usual absurd response.

But one can criticize Israel’s “blockade” of Gaza (I won’t explain here why it is needed and, no doubt, the people who criticize it have never read these reasons) without calling it a “concentration camp,” which implies deliberate mass murder.

But it is possible to criticize Israel without calling for its extinction—since that is, in fact, what abolishing the existence of a Jewish state means.

But one can say that Israeli policy is an element in growing antisemitism while also listing other elements, including the lying demonization of Israel so prevalent today. Of course, one would then have to talk about all the concessions and risks Israel has taken on behalf of peace in the last twenty years.

And when someone systematically uses such exaggeration, obsessively promotes such hatred, seeks such extreme solutions, sympathizes with those using violence to murder Jews, and leaves out so many facts…it is possible to speak of antisemitism as an element in that overall approach, isn't it?

At times, I reflect, one hears echoes in such rhetoric and activity of a brave, new slogan: Kill the Jews! They really deserve it this time!

Often, however, this kind of talk is actually a result of naiveté and ignorance. This is equally true for Jews who say such things. Being Jewish doesn’t make them experts on Israel. But there is also a strong element of opportunism in taking such highly rewarded positions. No Jew need ever starve since he can always make a career bashing Israel.

Yet there is also a remarkable detachment from the facts on the ground.

In an interview, Grosser explains:

"The Palestinians are despised, are occupied and I think that the majority of Israel's citizens despise Palestinians….The central theme of my book [is] that any human being should be respected….As a Jewish boy in a Frankfurt school, I was despised, and even beaten. I can't understand how Jews can scorn others.”

But does this have anything much to do with the way Israelis think and behave? Israelis don’t “despise” Palestinians in the way Grosser means. Nor are Palestinian (Israeli Arab) students set on and beaten in school or insulted in the streets. On the contrary, such an idea wouldn't even occur to any Israeli but the tiniest minority of most extreme people, who are themselves pretty despised by other Israelis.

What is happening here is that Grosser (and many others) imagine how Israelis behave, then attribute that behavior to them. Often, this means imagining that Israelis behave like Nazis, even though there is no evidence that this is true.

Obviously, there is a decades-long war between them and most Israelis don’t love Palestinians (though a remarkable percentage goes out of their way to seek peace and conciliation). Yet compared to other countries at war with each other, Israelis sentiments are definitely at the lowest part of the spectrum concerning hatred or despising.

Anyone can easily ascertain that there is no despising or hating being taught in Israeli media—TV, radio, newspapers, films—or in schools, or in government statements or in the armed forces. Such statements can be found from individuals or at the political extremes, sometimes by radical rabbis, yet it is far less common than the level of despising in a country like Germany against immigrants there or racism in America, or many other such cases. And when incidents of hatred do appear they are widely and officially denounced.

Of course, people like Grosser never consider the behavior of the other side, the relentless, official hatred and despising of Israel (and often Jews) which appears in almost all the media, all the statements of politicians, all the sermons.

Speaking of Gaza as a "concentration camp" this is an appropriate place to mention how the relentlessly anti-Israel Sydney Morning Herald in Australia pubished an article about how wonderful the Hamas regime is in Gaza and extolling its new luxury prison. But buried in it is the following passage about a prison there that the author just let slide by:

"[Prison director Naser] Suleiman is quick to absolve his own institution of such practices. `'We do not practice any torture here,'' he says. `That takes place at the interrogation centre, before people are convicted.'''

Moreover, the one-sided focus on Israel worsens real oppression, hatred, and bloodshed by giving the terrorists and extremists an excuse. The above-mentioned article's author actually blames any mistreatment in Hamas prisons on Israel:

"Just as Hamas struggles to keep order in this restive strip of land of 1.5 million people, Mr Suleiman is trying to do the same inside Gaza's prisons. And just as Israel's blockade of Gaza stunts economic growth and curtails the ambitions of everyday Gazans, it also impairs Mr Suleiman's ability to operate prisons."

Talking about how the terrible nature of the opposition (in Hamas's case, openly antisemitic and preaching genocide against Jews; practicing terrorism; deliberately targeting civilians, etc.) isn't intended to excuse any shortcomings in Israel, but one has to have some way to measure the potential level of hatred and despising going on.

If your enemy is intent on using civilians as human shields and massacring all of yours, this sometimes requires different measures for self-defense. And if the other side is projecting 90 percent hate and Israel 5 percent—the numbers are somewhat arbitrary but also reasonable—that conveys something important. It's funny that Israel is accused of "excessive force" but not credited for its proportionately low level of hatred.

When, for example, two Israeli reservists lose their way on the West Bank and are torn apart (literally) by a Palestinian mob and there is not a single case of retaliation or incitement to violence among Israelis that tells something. Now multiply that by ten thousand incidents.

Western media, academics, and activists often act as if even a single incident by a single Israeli (even if denounced by other Israelis and punished) somehow “proves” that Israel is demonic and worthy of execution. Even the deity only demanded that ten good people out of many hundreds need be found to spare wicked Sodom and Gomorrah. Israel’s critics reverse the equation and think finding ten bad ones condemns seven million others.

Of course this doesn’t mean Israel is perfect but that’s precisely the point: it is unreasonable to expect perfection and once that standard is jettisoned Israel’s record can be seen to be remarkably good given the conditions it has faced or even how other democracies have responded to far lower levels of threat.

Come to think of it, when it comes to being “despised” and “scorned,” Israel and Israelis aren’t the perpetrators, they are on the receiving end.

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