Monthly Archives: February 2013

Invitation to a Talk I’m Giving on Sunday, March 3, 2013 in Newton

The Addiction of the Western News Media

To Lethal Narratives about Israel

And its Disastrous Consequences for Everyone

Richard Landes, PhD, Presenter

Kenneth Levin, MD, Discussant 

Part of the Series, Rising Antisemitism: The Need to Respond


Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 11:00 AM

Palestinian cameramen produce an endless line of items that Dr. Landes terms Pallywood. B-roll Pallywood is basic background for the Palestinian-David vs. Israeli-Goliath story frame: rock throwing, ambulance evacuations. A-roll Pallywood blames Israel for deliberate murder of children. These “lethal narratives” inspire loathing among Westerners and hatred and a desire for revenge among Muslims. This film production would not have much of an impact outside of the captive audience of Palestinians, were it not for Western journalists who repackage these accusations as actual news, flooding our information systems with such weaponized fictions. This lethal journalism prolongs and aggravates the conflict, and tears at the very fabric of the civil society in Western countries whose media embraces these narratives.

Dr. Richard Landes is a professor of history at Boston University.  Trained as a medievalist, his academic work focuses on millennial movements from the origins of Christianity to global Jihad in the 21st century. In 2005 he launched a media-oversight project called The Second Draft with dossiers on Pallywood  and the Muhammad al Durah Affair. He blogs at The Augean Stables.

Dr. Kenneth Levin is a clinical instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and has a PhD in history from Princeton. He has written extensively on the issue of anti-Jewish bias, including in academic settings, and its impact on its victims. He is author of The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People under Siege. Kenneth is on the Board of Directors of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) and The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), and a member of the Board of Advisors of the International Free Speech Society.

Congregation Beth El-Atereth Israel   561 Ward Street, Newton Centre

“Apartheid” and the Economic-Cultural Gap: Peel Commission on Arab vs. Jewish Culture in 1937

I am working up my 2002 essay on Anti-Semitism, Medieval, Modern and Post-Modern for publication, and in searching out the footnotes, I came across the following passage from the Peel Commission Report of 1937. Aside from the use of the word “race” rather than “culture,” the contrast remains salient today (as in the UN Development Report on the Arab World, 2002).

7. With every year that passes, the contrast between this intensely democratic and highly organized modern community and the old-fashioned Arab world around it grows sharper, and in nothing, perhaps, more markedly than on its cultural side. The literary output of the National Home is out of all proportion to its size. Hebrew translations have been published of the works of Aristotle, Descartes, Leibnitz, Fichte, Kant, BergsoIl, Einstein and other philosophers, and of Shakespeare, Goethe, Heine, Byron, Dickens, the great Russian novehsts, and many modern writers. In creative literature the work of Bialik, who died in 19×5, has been the outstanding achievement in Hebrew poetry, and that of Nahum Sokolov, who died in 1936, in Hebrew prose. A number of Hebrew novels have been written reflecting the influence on the Jewish mind of life in the National Home. The Hebrew Press has expanded to four daily and ten weekly papers. Of the former the Ha’aretz and the Dauw, with circulations of about 17,000 and ~5,000 respectively, are the most influential and maintain a high literary standard. Two periodicals are exclusively concerne with literature and one with dramatic art. But perhaps the most striking aspect of the culture of the National Home is its love of music. It was while we were in Palestine, as it happened, that Signor Toscanini conducted the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, composed of some 70 Palestinian Jews, in six concerts mainly devoted to the works of Brahms and Beethoven. On each occasion every seat was occupied, and it is noteworthy that one concert was reserved for some 3,000 workpeople at very low rates and that another 3,000 ‘attended the Orchestra’s final rehearsal. All in all, the cultural achievement of this little community of 400,000 people is one of the most remarkable features of the National Homeland.

George Galloway and the Politics of Auto-Stupefaction

Recently George Galloway embarrassed – no, humiliated – the anti-Zionist forces by walking out of an Oxford debate with a (non) Israeli, because (he thought) he was Israeli. The audience, normally spoon-fed their anti-Zionism, booed Galloway’s exit and cheered the young man, Eylon Aslan-Levy.

Now Galloway has a comment on his Facebook page that… says it all (HT/A. Ostrovsky).

Me and the Palestinian cause: A number of questions have recently arisen I need to deal with. Firstly if people want to talk to the Palestinians they need to contact the Palestine Liberation Organisation. This is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and has been for many decades.

A bit out of date, but consistent.

Secondly, an organisation calling itself “BDS” does not own the words or the concept of boycott, divestment or sanctions. They are entitled to their own interpretation of these words but they don’t own or control me. I will make my own interpretation. And it is this – no purchase of Israeli goods or services, no normal contacts with individuals or organisations in Israel who support the existence of the racist Apartheid creed of Zionism. That’s what I mean by boycott. That’s what I do. Israelis who are outside of and against the system of Zionism are comrades of mine – like Prof Ilan Pappe. My opponent at Oxford University did not meet this test. The organiser of the event momentarily lionised by the liberal as well as the conservative establishment needs to know this, especially as he is a medical student. To compare Israeli Zionism to “Vegetarianism” is like a doctor not knowing the difference between a pimple and a tumor. Apartheid Israel is a cancer at the heart of the middle-east.

Because Israel is surrounded by liberal and tolerant democracies who assure everyone (including women and religious minorities) of full rights. Talk about a pimple on a pox-ravaged face.

Only it’s replacement by a bi-national democratic state from the Jordan River to the sea will cure this. That is what I am fighting for.

George Galloway MP

House of Commons


And just who in this neighborhood, other than the Zionists you won’t talk to is either committed to, or capable of, establishing and maintaining a democracy? The Syrians? The Egyptians? The hapless Lebanese? The endangered Jordanians? Oh, I know, the “democratic” Gazans.

It’s hard to imagine a more foolish political agenda. But the benefits – free rampaging racism and anti-Semitism in the form of Schadenfreude-indulging lethal narratives – are just too delicious to renounce.


Nous n’avons pas de leçons à apprendre: The French React to American “Can Do.”


Today’s NYT/IHT has an article by Liz Alderman that gives a brilliantly illuminating insight into the dynamics of honor-shame culture and the degree to which it inhibits economic growth in France (HT/J and EF). The main characters are the French government, the French unions, the French media (including blogosphere). The title of my post comes from a common French expression that encapsulates their attitude nicely, and suggests a kind of stubborn pride that guarantees a flatter learning curve than one even they might hope for. I’ll intersperse the article and my comments with sections from an article in the Telegraph by my journalist friend, Anne-Elisabeth Moutet.

Quel Brouhaha! A Diatribe on Unions Irks the French


Published: February 20, 2013
Michel Spingler/Associated Press A Goodyear plant in Amiens, in northern France, is slated for closure.
PARIS — “How stupid do you think we are?”

With those choice words, and several more similar in tone, the chief executive of an American tire company touched off a furor in France on Wednesday as he responded to a government plea to take over a Goodyear factory slated for closing in northern France.

“I have visited the factory a couple of times,” Maurice Taylor Jr., the head of Titan International, wrote to the country’s industry minister, Arnaud Montebourg, in a letter published in French newspapers on Wednesday.

“The French work force gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They have one hour for their breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three.”

“I told this to the French unions to their faces and they told me, ‘That’s the French way!’ ” added Mr. Taylor, a swaggering businessman who is nicknamed “the Grizz” by Wall Street analysts for his abrasive negotiating style.

Shades of France2 authorities from Charles Enderlin and Didier Epelbaum, when confronted with footage of Palestinian cameramen shooting clearly staged footage, responding, “Oh yes, well, you know, they do that all the time.” Public secrets are about things that are shameful on the public stage, but “everyone” knows they’re done “all the time,” and are willing to admit to them “off the record.” On record, it’s “how dare you impugn the impeccable journalistic integrity of Talal abu Rahma?” when he’s really a hack who, off the record (or in this case, on the record in Arabic) considers his profession a platform for waging war, or “how dare you accuse French workers of being slackers?” when they are. French media are masters of the public secret.

The real problem comes in when the privately confessed (wink, wink) truths emerge in a framework (in this case economic reality) where they are clearly not acceptable. In an honor-shame culture, the response is aggression.

Honor Shame Readings: Week IV – Envy

In response to Dionissis’ request, I post some of the reading I’ve assigned to my students in my Honor-Shame class. Dionissis, you might be particularly interested in the Walcott readings on ancient Greece.

I also append some of the notes I took while preparing for and during the discussion. I welcome comments. Will post earlier readings over time.

Envy, Jealousy and the Politics of Scarcity (Zero-Sum)


Schoeck, Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior, chap. 1,

Schoeck, Envy, chap. 3

Schoeck, Envy chap. 5 (Envy and Economic Underdevelopment)

Schoeck, Envy, chaps. 7, 11. (Envy in Social Science (7), in Philosophy (11). Interesting material on Nietzsche, who clearly inspired important parts of Schoeck’s thinking.

Schoeck, Envy, chap. 22 (Envy in Human Societies)

Walcott,  The Greeks and Envy chs. 1-3, and

Walcott, The Greeks and Envy chs. 7-9

George Foster, “Anatomy Envy


Douglass C. North, John Joseph Wallis, and Barry R. Weingast, “The Natural State: The Political-Economy Of Non-Development

Landes, The Emotional Logic of Game Theory

Some of the issues raised:

Definition: Envy is an emotion that is essentially both selfish and malevolent. It is aimed at persons, and implies dislike of one who possesses what the envious man himself covets or desires, and a wish to harm him. Graspingness for self and ill-will lie at the basis of it. There is in it also a consciousness of inferiority to the person envied, and a chafing under this consciousness. He who has got what I envy is felt by me to have the advantage of me, and I resent it. Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, ed. James Hastings, (Edinburgh, 1912) vol. 5, p. 322.

Envy is classic zero-sum. Your gain is my loss; your success robs me of my sense of value; admiration for you is humiliation for me.

Envy is malevolent: If you have something that makes me envious, I’d rather harm you than get the object. “I wish Boris’ goat were dead.”

Envy is a ferocious policeman of conformity: any tendency to step out of the conforming group brings retaliation. Key dimension of early social solidarity. Schoeck almost argues that envy is what permit the levels of functioning software of solidarity that first enabled homo faber/sapiens to peel off from the hardwiring of instinct.

Envy is a form of vengeance: retaliating against someone who has robbed you of… (honor, prestige, sense of self-worth, property).

Resentment at another’s success: the desire to do harm

Schadenfreude: joy at another’s failure: To what degree do news media become  Schadenfreude-mongers? “If it bleeds it leads.”

Malignant envy and shame: the invisible force field that inhibits people from seeking success: Crabs in the basket – if we’re all here together it’s somebody else’s fault (the aristocracy, the man,  phallo-logocentric partriarchy, the 1%); if you get out, then I’m at fault (lazy, cowardly, lacking in the necessary qualities).

Envy aims at equals: the narcissism of small differences; but in matters of “human dignity”, everyone is given the right to consider themselves equal, therefore, to be resentful of anyone.

Honor and Envy

Honor a great good: in principle expandable (somewhat); in practice (through envy) zero-sum

Sharing the spotlight: honor/glory a self-limited good: honor of a millionaire in Hollywood or in Welsh village

Aristotle: those who love honor are more envious

The importance of honor – more precious than life: among other things driven to it despite the assault of envy it elicits.

Glory as the ultimate: people remember you when you’re no longer alive

Philotimea (love of honor) is difficult and most productive of envy

Paradigms of Justice:

pre-modern (h-s, prime divider): “my side is always right.” invidious cognitive egocentrism: I envy all better than me, and assume that all worse than me envy me. A world in which one assumes malevolence as the norm. Denial of responsibility and projection of guilt the norm.

modern (integrity-guilt, civic polity): “whoever is right, my side or not.” liberal cognitive egocentrism: i do not wish others ill and presume, at least as an initial default, that others do not wish me ill. Benevolence the norm. Self-criticism and acceptance of responsibility (among other things for failure) necessary.

post/hyper-modern (masochistic omnipotence, hyper-self-criticism, cultural suicide): “their side right or wrong.” Progressive cognitive egocentrism: if I blame myself for everything, others will forgive me and like me, and I can fix anything. Complete denial of envy (and of self) in order to posture as the most moral.

The double edge of envy: emulation and excellence? Or resentment and sabotage? Partly depends on the self-confidence of the person. Looking at the successful and wanting to learn and imitate/adapt reflects self-confidence; feeling inadequate and wanting to tear down and do damage reflects fear of failure (one of the plagues of h-s cultures, since failure is so often punished).

Chinese vs. Arab responses to the West (and to Jews)

Ubiquity of envy: institutions only tell you how a culture manages, not whether there’s envy.

Managing envy, the public secret.

Envy as a brake on economic development (Schoeck, chap. 5): if the headwinds of envy are gale force, few ships will leave harbor of conformity to try innovation.

Bangladesh and the West: The Problem of News Media Silence

Nick Cohen has an excellent article in today’s Observer (HT/ES). In his discussion he goes into (ancient history) about the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan in the 1970s and the  massacres carried out by Pakistani troops and their Islamist allies. He does not mention the even greater massacres perpetrated by a previous generation of Muslims against the Hindus who happened to inhabit Western Bengal (which went to East Pakistan [later Bangladesh] in the aftermath of the partition of Bengal at the creation of India and Pakistan in 1949: according to one study, over half a million Hindus were murdered, and 3-5 million of them fled to India.

The agonies of Bangladesh come to London
Shahbag protests in Dhaka are reflected in the demonstrations in London

Nick Cohen

The Observer, Saturday 16 February 2013

Three men stand in Bangladeshi national colours in Shahbag square. Photograph: Kazi Sudipto/ Demotix/Corbis

The Shahbag junction in Dhaka has become Bangladesh’s Tahrir Square. Hundreds of thousands of young protesters are occupying it and raging against radical Islamists. Even sympathetic politicians cannot control the movement. The protesters damn them as appeasers, who have compromised with unconscionable men.

Theirs is a grassroots uprising for the most essential and neglected values of our age: secularism, the protection of minorities from persecution and the removal of theocratic thugs from the private lives and public arguments of 21st-century citizens.

Anti-Judaism, Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism

In the last thread an issue came up that I think worth its own discussion. I have a brief discussion of this at Reflections from the Second Draft that tries to distinguish various kinds of Judeophobia, using definitions that I think are more valuable in thinking about our current predicament than the current discussion of anti-Semitism as racist and anti-Judaism as religious. Those definitions are below.

As for the discussion to follow, I’d like to lay out the following ground rules:

1) no ad hominem arguments.

2) try and avoid long disquisitions. say what you have to say as clearly as possible without invoking big names. (if you want to append a reading list alright, but if you’re presenting a thought articulate it to us in your own words.

3) don’t assume chasms where they appear to be.

4) accept and explore the chasms when they actually appear.

5) “The sail of thinking keeps trimmed hard to the wind of the matter.” (Wittgenstein)

And in this case, the “matter” is figuring out why we’re being walloped by Islamists in a cognitive war that progressive/liberal/civic forces should be winning hands down.

On Judeophobia

Much confusion surrounds the discussion of hostility to Jews and Judaism, especially since the phenomenon goes back millennia. Suggested below are some guidelines for thinking about these complicated issues from a medievalist who, following Gavin Langmuir, distinguishes between anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism in a significantly different manner from modernists (who emphasize the question of race).

ANTI-JUDAISM: Anti-Judaism is a dislike of Judaism based on zero-sum relationships: in order to feel good about myself, I need to feel bad about Jews. We (Christians, Muslims, seculars) are better because you are worse; we are right (e.g. about the sacred text) therefore you are wrong; our faith is true because we rule (triumphalism); we have honor because you must lower yourselves before us; we have replaced you as the true Chosen People (supersessionism/replacement theology). When Augustine worked out the theology of the Jew as humiliated and wretched survivor, bearing witness to the Christian Truth, he embodied this honor-shame anti-Judaism. When Muslims worked out the Dhimmi laws, systematically disadvantaging Christians and Jews, they gave this emotional need a legal expression.

At its mildest, anti-Judaism, like any other dislike of a religion or tradition, is a common phenomenon that it is hard to get too indignant about. There’s no arguing about taste, and most people succumb to the temptation to think they make themselves look bigger by making others look smaller.

At its worst, however, anti-Judaism is a compulsive discourse of superiority that needs to see and feel the domination over Jews in order to be satisfied, a religious imperialism. Violent manifestations include bullying, humiliating rituals (kissing a pig’s ass on Good Friday, not walking in the rain lest dirt washing off from the Jew render the Muslim impure), and the occasional pogrom. Jew-hating often serves as a form of scape-goating drug that cuts the pain of suffering (by making Jews feel even more pain), inflicted by the very people who suffer at the hands of those who manufacture and feed them their Jew-hatred. In the world of hierarchy where everyone gets dumped on by those above, and dumps on those below, having someone for everyone to dump on becomes a psychological and social necessity.

ANTI-SEMITISM: Whereas anti-Judaism tends to stay in the realm of “normal” if lamentable reactions of envy and resentment, anti-Semitism expresses a deeper paranoia. People drawn to this kind of discourse feel that the very existence of the Jews threatens “us” with annihilation: “exterminate them or be destroyed ourselves.” In order for us to breathe, you must be eliminated.

We Have Become a Nation of Wimps

Went to the bus station at 8am to go to NYC. They had shut down (all of them) at 1am this morning (without telling anyone). Pathetic.

UPDATE: Obama, “If I had a son I’d think long and hard about letting him play football.”

Scarfe, Ward, Lethal Frames, and the Unbearable Lightness of Simon Kellner

posted recently about the problem of lethal narratives circulating in our information system, vicious and hate-mongering accusations laundered of their malevolent (and dishonest) origins and presented to the public as “news,” a process I think well designated as DurahJournalism. In that essay, I mentioned both David Ward and Gerald Scarfe as examples of the unthinking adoption of a Islamist narrative frame in which Israel was the global Dajjal (Antichrist). Now Simon Kellner explains why this sewage in the public sphere is not really a problem – indeed the objections from his fellow Jews rather embarrasses him – and, here’s the killer, if only everyone were as indifferent to this kind of stuff as he, the world would be a better place. It would be harder to ask for a more obvious case of moral narcissism.

Rupert Murdoch, Gerald Scarfe, and why – as a Jew – I’m dismayed by the Jewish lobby’s outrage This cartoon was provocative and grotesque, but an assault on my religion? No way

It was Woody Allen, appropriately enough, who best articulated my relationship to the Jewish religion. “I’m not a real Jew,” he said, “I’m Jew-ish”.

Although I was born Jewish, my parents were not so much liberal as permissive when it came to religious observance, and I have never really regarded my faith as part of my identity. I always remember the late writer and journalist John Diamond being interviewed about his Jewishness. “What does being Jewish mean to you?” he was asked. “Well,” he responded, hesitantly, “I suppose it’s about being funny and clever.”

So wait. Simon doesn’t have a religion. He has a vague identity as someone who’s funny and clever, but no knowledge of, or interest in, Judaism. And he – as a Jew – is in a position to tell people what is and isn’t offensive to Judaism (i.e., “his religion”)? This raises an interesting problem. Is Simon serious? Or is this an Onion piece?

Bill Maher, High Priest of rekaB Street

UPDATE: Ben Smith has a fine analysis of just how bad Maher’s performance was.

Watching Bill Maher with Cory Booker, Eva Longoria (!) and Jackie Kucinich discuss matters. “The Republicans have disappointed me this week, which I never thought could happen.” How? By giving Hillary Clinton a hard time last week and then Chuck Hagel this week. Maher then proceeded to give a potted, bowdlerized version of who Chuck Hagel is, that didn’t give a clue as to why anyone might object. So why did they do it?

“Apparently Obama’s cooties are so bad that when Obama picks you, even when you’re a Republican now all the Republicans hate this guy.”


And Maher is supposed to be one of the more intelligent commentators on TV. And he’s surrounded himself with people who, also intelligent, are essentially yes-men and yes-women for whom the easy funny answers are just fine… cooties? seriously?