Wednesday, May 26, 2010

We Do Not Live in Normal Times: Britain's Best and Brightest Stage a Pogrom

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By Barry Rubin

Although two stories—the first regarding the U.S. policy handling of Turkey and Brazil’s relationship with Iran; the second, this one, on anti-Israel hysteria in the United Kingdom—are totally different, they reflect the two parts of our current crisis.

These are the ideological and policy derailment of Western governments, on the one hand and, on the other hand, the collapse of the fail-safe systems for key public institutions, especially academia and media. To understand the crisis in both sectors—the greatest perhaps since the end of World War Two—these two halves of the puzzle must be assembled.

Regarding anti-Israel hysteria, it can only be called—in spirit and worldview—Medieval in the worst sense of that word. Two British newspapers, the Guardian and Independent, are accusing Israel—on the basis of a new book—of offering to sell nuclear weapons to apartheid South Africa.

When you get through all the passionate hatred, distortion, and incited hysteria what is the basis for this accusation? There is a South African document saying that the government would like to buy missiles from Israel. There is a discussion between the South African Defense Minister P.W. Botha and Israel’s then Defense Minister Shimon Peres on the topic. Peres says that Israel has large, medium, and small warheads.

That’s it. There’s no mention of nuclear weapons. No evidence that Israel ever sold issiles to South Africa. No evidence even that the South African government ever began negotiations to buy missiles.

So how was this fantasy created? By dishonestly claiming--with no basis in fact--that "large," "medium" and "small" were codewords for nuclear weapons, and that a totally noncommital conversational remark constituted a serious offer. By the way, Peres, a man with a lot of credibility, and Pik Botha, who is well respected senior South African official at the time, have denied the story. And here's former President de Klerk pointing out that South Africa was never interested in nuclear weapons from Israel because--precisely as the documents show and the Guardian knew--it was developing them for itself.

Yet this has been built into a major campaign to prove that Israel is evil. And this is not carried out by the most sensationalist newspapers but the supposedly most respectable and intellectually oriented ones.

Any sober evaluation would conclude that there is nothing to this story, as is the same with so many stories slandering Israel, like the alleged Jenin massacre for which no evidence was ever presented.

For those of you under a certain age, let me explain how newspapers, at least those not disdained as sensationalist, used to work. The journalist would try to be as balanced and fair as possible. If the story did not hold up, he was not supposed to submit it. Different viewpoints were sought and represented. His own personal opinions were to be kept out. Those who did not adhere to these standards were fired.

The second line of defense was an editor who was supposed to do the same thing. And finally, if the story proved to be inaccurate, the newspaper would quickly provide a correction and learn something from the experience.

But instead what now exists in certain contemporary European newspapers on certain issues is a combination of hatred, hysteria, an abandonment of journalistic and intellectual standards, a disinterest in facts, and the deliberate use of institutions to create a lynch mob mentality.

And here’s what it reminds me of.

It’s a beautiful spring day for a fair, May 8, 1886, the festival of Saint Stanislav the patron saint of Dolhinov in the Russian Empire’s Vilna province. Among those walking around in the crowd and enjoying the food and festivities is the Krasovsky family of Gabytatsya village. Somehow, their 12-year-old son, Stanislav wanders off or perhaps his parents—dazzled by the splendors around them, relaxed by drink or tending their other children—lose track of him.

He’s never seen alive again. Five days later, his body is discovered deep in the forest and many miles away, covered with tree branches.

There was no evidence of what had happened to him. But the rumor spread that a Dolhinov Jew named Rubin, one of my ancestors, had murdered him to use his blood in a Jewish ritual. According to the story then told, the Jews had a barrel studded with nails. The child was dropped into the barrel, which was then rolled, so the nails pierced him in many places and drained out the blood.

And so on Easter Thursday, June 12, many peasants arrived in town well fortified with copious amounts of homemade vodka, and set off to find and kill the evil Rubin. Armed with poles, stones, and even sheep-shears, they ran across the central square, smashing and looting Jewish shops as well as destroying the inside of the near-by synagogue.

Accounts vary on how many Jews were killed or injured.

This is the level that all too many within academia and media, especially in the United Kingdom, have reached. Of course, they speak not of barrels and nails but nuclear weapons, not religious but political crimes, not a league with the devil but with South Africa. The main difference is that this modern equivalent of irrational hatred is not carried out by illiterate, half-starved peasants but by the self-proclaimed best-and-brightest who view themselves as thoroughly modern and sophisticated.

Fundamentally, though, it is the same thing.

Here is an account of this whole new atomic affair by two leading experts on nuclear weapons and Israel's policy on these issues that shows the baselessness of this new accusation. But how to keep up with the dozens of such slanders generated on a daily basis?

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). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; The West and the Middle East (four volumes); and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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