Clear-Thinking from the Left: What Else Explains this Uproar but…?

Although the Guardian is one of the more obnoxious papers when it comes to Israel, it occasionally posts something thoughtful. Of course, just look at the more than thousand comments, and it’s clear that the Guardian’s readers are against her piece 9 to 1 (and I assume the many deleted comments are also against her).

Standing against a tide of hatred
It is not Israel’s action, but the vitriolic reaction to it that has been disproportionate. There’s only one explanation: antisemitism

Comments (1131)

Elizabeth Wurtzel, Friday 16 January 2009 10.00 GMT

Is it good for the Jews?

If you were so inclined, you could ask that question about the Madoff mess, the Gaza offensive, the latest screed from Alan Dershowitz – or about a new recipe for angel-food cake. Which is to say, if you are looking for antisemitism, you can find it anywhere, even in a dessert cookbook. But if even paranoids have enemies, I think it’s fair to say that these are tough times for Jews.

While I would prefer to equate the fate of the Palestinians with that of Israel – meaning, I’d like to believe we’re all on the same side – I think that might be a difficult political fiction to maintain at the moment. And while I’d like to artificially separate anti-Zionism from antisemitism, like most American Jews, I’m not willing to make that false distinction: when there is more than one Jewish state, the world’s hatred of Israel might become no different from its exasperation with any other country, but since Israel is the only homeland, and really it is nothing more than six million Jews living together in an area the size of New Jersey, I can’t pretend that the problem with Israel is that it’s a poorly located country that happens to be at odds with its neighbours and only coincidentally happens to be Jewish. The trouble with Israel is the trouble with Jews.

This situation makes me profoundly uncomfortable. As the kind of left-leaning liberal who tends to agree with the positions taken by The Nation in most instances, I hate having to differ so completely on the Israel issue with many I otherwise would align with. As it is my good fortune to be American, I live in the only country that as a matter of policy is pro-Israel regardless of party allegiance; Democrats and Republicans equally unite behind the blue-and-white. But to communicate with anyone I think of as rightminded (and left-leaning) in any other part of the world is to experience the purest antisemitism since the Nazi era. In fact, in Europe right now, it is de rigueur to liken the current regime in Israel with the Nazi party, and to view the experience of the Palestinians as a form of ethnic cleansing. Hamas and Hezbollah are thought by the French and British to be social welfare organisations, and Israel is viewed as a terrorist state. Here, we honor the linguistic discoveries of Noam Chomsky and otherwise experience him as a quaintly brilliant crank, but in the bookstores in London there are entire sections devoted to his political thought – and he is read as if the distinctions between Leninist and Trotskyite philosophy had genuine consequence in today’s world.

Excepting a business trip I took to England, Scotland and Ireland in early 2002, I have not been to Europe since 9/11. It’s become an unbearable place to be, as the anti-American feelings in light of the Iraq war have mingled with antisemitism to a point where they are indistinguishable, the new phobias of the First World. Because I like taking the occasional trip abroad, especially now that even the Euro is sinking, I am doing my best to understand the European perspective, or somehow excuse it. After all, beyond being a Jewish homeland, Israel is also a geopolitical actor with nuclear weapons, and it might be construed as fair to criticise the actions the country has taken as a very well-armed American client that is dropping bombs on Hamas targets, to the terrible detriment of the civilian population. It’s impossible not to feel sorry for the plight of the Palestinians, and it’s even more impossible to imagine how any Palestinian could feel anything for Israel but animosity. I can see the problem.

But I think it is this very fact – my attempt to understand both sides – that disturbs me the most. Because trying to see all sides, such an instinct is particularly Jewish. The most vehement critics of Israel and champions of the Palestinians – hello, Professor Chomsky; greetings, Norman Finkelstein – are always Jews: we are always trying in our even, level, thoughtful way to see reason in the behaviour of those who are lobbing rocket grenades at us. As a people, we are hopeless Talmudists, we examine all the arguments and try to sort out an answer. What is both strange and difficult for Jews to watch in the case of Israel is that, as a nation surrounded by enemies, it does not make such calculations; it does not have the luxury of rationality that is eventually irrational. Israel fights back, which is very much at odds with the Jewish instinct to discuss and deconstruct everything until action itself seems senseless. Israel, hell-bent on survival, has learned to shoot first – or, at least, second – and blow away the consequences. Whereas it actually hurts my feelings when someone says something nasty about Israel, or even the United States, for Israelis, this is just the way of the world: they probably manufacture their flags to be flammable.

So, it is quite difficult to be Jewish, on the sidelines of this international crisis. Or maybe it’s just difficult to be Jewish. Before his death, the literary philosopher Jacques Derrida described the experience of living in the Jewish ghetto in Paris during the Nazi occupation: because Jews were not allowed to work or attend school, but had always been the most brilliant professors and teachers, this shtetl existence was gloriously intellectual and incandescent – the only problem was that they were stuck, imprisoned by their Jewishness. This, Derrida explained, is what it’s like to be Jewish: to know everyone around you is gifted, and to wish you could find a way out. Jews pride themselves on the over two hundred Nobel Prizes the group has won; and Jews pride themselves on being told: “But you don’t seem Jewish.” Or better still: “You certainly don’t look Jewish.”

Judaism will be enmeshed in pride and shame for as long as it endures. But to endure as a country, Israel must shun both these tendencies.

I watch the pro-Palestinian rallies that have been staged in capitals across the globe, and I try to tell myself that these people are not against me, or even Israel; that they just are dismayed with all the violence. I tell myself, as Jean Renoir pointed out with such pellucid irony in The Rules of the Game, that everybody has their reasons. But here is what I finally know: with all the troubles in the world, with the terrible things that the Chinese do in Tibet, and do to their own citizens; with the horrors of genocide committed in Darfur by Sudanese Muslims; with all the bad things that Arab governments in the Middle East visit upon their own people – no need for Israel to have a perfectly horrible time – still, the focus is on what the Jews may or may not be doing wrong in Gaza. And it makes people angry and vehement as nothing else does. The vitriol it inspires is downright weird. But that makes sense, because antisemitism itself – creepy, dark, ancient and insidious – is, more than anything else, just plain weird.

UPDATE: How quickly things happen in the Wikipedia world. There’s already a fairly snarky paragraph added to Wurtzel’s entry on this article which, among other things, attributes to her what was in fact a quote from Derrida and draws a rather striking conclusion. I wonder how long it will be up.

Wurtzel has also claimed that the only reason for criticism of Israel’s actions in Gaza, which left over 1000 dead, is antisemitism. She is also a proponent of Jewish Supremacism, saying that to be Jewish and among Jews is “to know everyone around you is gifted”. Her emotional reaction to the conflict in Gaza is in stark contrast to her indifference to the September 11 attacks.[1]

The footnote links to a site that, although it discusses accusations against Wurtzel for plagiarism, has nothing to do with this paragraph. I have posted the following at the discussion page of Wikipedia:

this is a highly contentious account of wurtzel’s guardian article, which argues that nothing can explain the virulent reaction to gaza, not criticism per se; and it misrepresents her as saying what she quoted Derrida as saying, in order to derive the bizarre conclusion that she’s a jewish supremacist. hopefully it will be corrected by someone without a chip on his or her shoulder. RIchard Landes

3 Responses to Clear-Thinking from the Left: What Else Explains this Uproar but…?

  1. Michelle Schatzman says:

    Kol hakavod for Elizabeth Wurtzel.

  2. oao says:

    we are always trying in our even, level, thoughtful way to see reason in the behaviour of those who are lobbing rocket grenades at us.

    that may well be in general, but thoughtful and reason in chomsky and finklestein? please, give me a break.

    Israel fights back, which is very much at odds with the Jewish instinct to discuss and deconstruct everything until action itself seems senseless.

    the problem is that israel used to fight back, but does not anymore. it essentially tries to get away with air bombardment in the hope that it will scare the jihadis enough to dissuade them from jihad. that is a hopeless exposure of being in denial about what the jihad is for islam.

    Judaism will be enmeshed in pride and shame for as long as it endures.

    a distinction ought to be made between this and the arab honor/shame.

    The vitriol it inspires is downright weird.

    absolutely not if you are aware of and not in denial about the vitriol with which muslim children around the world are indoctrinated since kindergarden. it is reinforced by the monster envy instilled by the success israel has achieved under huge duress vs. the utter failure islam has brought upon the ummah. specify, please, one modern, civilized, democratic, successful muslim state!

    I have posted the following at the discussion page of Wikipedia

    for each of a comment like yours there will be tons of comments like the one you tried to debunk. the voice of reason is now overwhelmed by unreason.

  3. JD says:

    “As a people, we are hopeless Talmudists, we examine all the arguments and try to sort out an answer.”

    Except for the ones she’s mentioned. They are monomanical. Chomsky, he’s been an apologist for Marxism forever and I think he knows his plap is a gimmick. He is a master of using collective guilt.

    They are the exact opposite, and from a Marxist culture. Soviet prestige and their weapons failure in 1967 triggered an anti-Zionism campaign that still rattles around Western Europe, not all of Europe.

    And the protests are smaller in the past. That they are bigger is a projection in the mind of the Western leftist.

    What’s different is their insanity in more intense. This is a crisis in anti-Semitism because they have to defend the worst of the worst, Hamas. Anti-Semitism doesn’t allow weighing. Jews are always wrong, they must be controlled, pinned in, and they cause all strife. These are a shade of old Christian world beliefs, recycled via an authoritarian cult, Marxism. An anti-semite cannot say, well, Hamas deserved some of it. There can be no contextualization. For example, the very interesting quietude, even criticism, from the Arab governments about Hamas is wholly absent in Western liberal discourse.

    Also, they are victims of Palestinian myths of identity and played out in media representations. Their massacreology is not merely to falsely gain sympathy, but ritualistic representations of their mythic national founding, hiding a blunder. It is culturally unacceptable to admit they did not flee because the Israeli Army forced them, but they fled because they feared the Israeli Army would do to them what the Arab armies said they would do to the Jews had the Arab side won. The fleers were wrong, there were no massacres, and 20% of Israel proper is Arab.

    The idea of pinning massacres to Jews such at Shatilla is not merely war reporting, it attempts to validate their core national myth.

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