October 29, 2007

Nonsense and hypersensitivity

Here's a classic post to the Engage site. It's a whinge about the Financial Times running a review of the book, the Israel Lobby, by Messrs Hitler and Himmler. Woops, not Hitler and Himmler, I mean Mearsheimer and Walt. The FT review is titled Cents and sensitivity. First up, check out what the reviewer of the review, Kathryn Benjamin, said:
Saturday’s Financial Times carried a lukewarm review of Mearsheimer and Walt’s “The Israel Lobby” by Harvey Morris, the paper’s UN correspondent, here.

What really stood out was the headline appended to the review. In a clumsy allusion to Jane Austen, the FT’s sub-editors managed to combine two antisemitic canards – Jewish financial power and Jewish self-righteousness – into the headline, “Cents and Sensitivity.”
As it happens the review is indeed lukewarm and it makes some points that I'm sure Engage would approve of among some that they clearly don't approve of. Take this:
Mearsheimer and Walt concede the lobby is not a homogenous institution ' noting Jewish groups critical of Israeli policy ' and accept that its activities are legal. They contend, however, that the powerful American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), which identifies itself as 'America's pro-Israel Lobby', has used its $40-60m annual budget to push policies it perceives benefit Israel, to the detriment of US national interests.
That's some serious money. That's a relevant point. I mean if the Lobby doesn't influence American foreign policy, why spend between $40 million and $60 million every year? But money is an "antisemitic canard" so it shouldn't be mentioned in any discussion of the influence (or not) of the Israel lobby. And as for sensitivity, this bit could have been written for Engage:
The histrionics with which the lobby responded to the original article appeared to reinforce the authors' argument that America's pro-Israel activists were intent on stifling a rational discourse about Israel's intimate relationship with the US.

They were accused of anti-Semitism, a catch-all condemnation that elements of the lobby all too readily throw at everyone from declared racists to those mildly critical of Israeli policies. Where appropriate, critics are dismissed as self-hating Jews.
Everyone recognises these "histrionics." Should they be denied? Are they being denied?

Anyway, here's the rest of the review of the review:
In some ways, this demonstrates how easy it is to interpret the Mearsheimer and Walt thesis in an antisemitic manner. And the casual reader – one who might have skimmed the review, missing some of Morris’s trenchant criticisms of the book – could easily come away with the impression that the lobbying for Israel in the United States involves rich Jews doling out cash rewards (“Cents”) while simultaneously raking over Jewish history so as to smear their opponents as antisemites (“Sensitivity”). Indeed, some people, like David Duke, think exactly that.

More immediately, one has to ask how a headline like this can filter through the elaborate editing process of a respected global newspaper. Would a profile of Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, make it to the printers with the word “inscrutable” in the headline? Would Mike Tyson, who beats people up outside the ring as well as inside, be called a “savage”? One hopes and assumes not. These obvious and objectionable ethnic stereotypes have been purged from the lexicon of journalism. They are easy to spot.

By the same principle, centuries-old caricatures about Jewish power should also be easy to spot. But in this case, it was either not spotted or was regarded as a perfectly legitimate way to introduce a discussion of a book which focuses on Jewish political activity in the United States. Whichever, the FT has got some explaining to do.
Now on balance I didn't really like the FT review but there really wasn't anything to offend Jews as Jews. But one paragraph that should have had zionists cringing with shame is this:
The lobby, the authors note, is not purely Jewish. In one of the more bizarre alliances in politics, Israeli politicians have accepted support from a powerful US 'Christian-Zionist' fundamentalist Christian lobby despite many of its adherents' belief that Jews must accept Christ on the day of judgment or be eternally damned.
Now you would have to do some hasty skim to miss the fact that M & W are saying that the Israel Lobby is not a Jewish lobby. You might skimmed it so quickly as to notice only the title. If you read the title only, remember, Cents and sensitivity, and thought "hello? this is about Jews" then you must be antisemitic yourself. Hmm, zionism and antisemitism, I wonder if they are by any chance related?


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