May 30, 2009

A tale of tu quoques

Actually it's more than two. There are a few things that sparked off this post. First up, there was an insanely racist post at Harry's Place titled Explaining it to Michael Rosen. It was by Lucy Lips's male alter ego, David Toube. I kept meaning to post on it but I kept forgetting. Well next there was another nutty post at Engage, following the Universities and Colleges Union Congress passing an endorsement of BDS, denouncing a Jewish chap called Mike Cushman for celebrating the "fact" that there were no Jews at the Congress that he was at.

You see what David Toube's post was patronisingly and hypocritically explaining to Michael Rosen was something about racism but because of Mr T's, at best, cavalier approach to such things he managed to be racist himself. Hang in there, I'll explain in a bit.

Ok, fast forward (or maybe back or sideways) to a post on Gert's blog and a post on the mysterious banning of the exquisitely polite Hasbara Buster from Harry's Place and we get this:
I know HB to be a committed anti-Zionist but also a strict anti-racist, a sharp reasoner and always respectful, even in the face of the worst kind of bile pro-Zionist commenters at Harry's Place throw at him (and me). Endless distortions, straw man arguments, tu quoques, anonymous commenting and the most horrific forms of ad hominem (I comment there too and 'Gert's landlady' once suggested I 'clean out my basement of SS porn') are what any dissenter faces over at HP, in particular when the subject matter turns to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
I had to look up "tu quoques" and when I clocked the meaning I was reminded of Engage and Harry's Place again.

So what did Michael Rosen say that he needed David T of all people to explain racism to him?
I know Jews (perhaps you do too) who a) think of themselves as part of ‘a’ or ‘the’ ‘chosen people’. I know Jews who believe that there is a plot of land that belongs to them because a) they are the chosen people (ie they are fulfilling the word of God and no one else is) and b)their covenant with God entitles them to that land - and this is written down in sacred texts.

Following from this thesis, such Jews (not all Jews - I’ll return to that), believed they were entitled to expel or terrorise the inhabitants who lived on that land. Ever since this tragedy (do you think it’s a tragedy, John?), there has of course been conflict. Some Jews have nothing better to offer this situation than - tough shit, the ‘arabs’ can go and live in Jordan, they aren’t a ‘people’ like us, the land isn’t theirs, etc etc. Every single conflict since then has been about this issue and indeed about the further taking of land that the people living there thought was theirs.

The Jews who created this nation state and the many Jews all over the world who support those who created the state and those who defend that state take part in the myth of the ‘chosen people’. They may or may not sign up to every clause in the deal, but it’s part of what coheres this ideology.

I have not a scintilla of a problem with a playwright who takes the combination of ideas that I’ve expressed above and turn it into something that someone says in a play.
This was part of an exchange with a chap called John Meredith. Now see David T's "explanation":
Here is an analogy that I hope Michael Rosen will find helpful, in deciding whether he supports or opposes racism.

In my neighbourhood, there are a number of women working as prostitutes, on the street. I don’t have a profound problem with people selling or buying sex, but streetwalking is a little anti-social. Therefore, I attend a local meeting at which a campaign to end street prostitution is being set up.

When I arrive at the meeting, I discover that the central committee of the Neighbourhood Watch have produced an anti-prostitution poster. The poster shows a prostitute being assaulted by her pimp. The pimp is black. The slogan reads:

Irony: This Descendant of Slaves is Now Sexually Enslaving White Women

The irony here is that David T must know that the "chosen people" idea is quite a central concept in Judaism and that it also informs a lot of modern colonial enterprises even if he won't admit the extent to which it informs both religious and secular zionisms and that it is also a central concept among so-called ultra-orthodox anti-zionist Jews, though they tend to speak of the "inherent holiness" of the Jewish people. He will also know that if you identify yourself as Jewish you are more likely than not to be a descendant of people who believed in the chosen people idea. That is not to say that most or all Jews believe anything of the sort but it is a concept taken seriously, murderously seriously in some quarters, by many Jews. He won't admit, but again he must surely know, that a lot of mealy mouthed apologetics goes into explaining away the concept, the chosen people.

How then does he believe it to be a safe analogy to invoke some imagined black man's propensity to assault white women or pimp off of the earnings of prostitutes? Where is the black or predominantly black state that embodies that idea? This, of course, is without getting into the self-serving nonsense that Jews equate with blacks anyway. Does it really have to be explained that black gentiles can become black Jews whereas white Jews cannot become black Jews though we can convert out of being Jewish? That suggestion that Jews are the same as blacks is irritating. Clearly Jews have choices about identity that black people simply do not have. Nazis and zionists may disagree (no, not with each other) but they are wrong.

As it happens, the example of anti-black racism that he gives is indeed racist. But as it is such a bad analogy it is not analogous, as DT is saying, to the invoking the Jews as chosen people idea. Oh, just in case you need telling, Harry's Place is part of the huge concerted campaign to smear Caryl Churchill as an anti-Jewish racist over her play for Gaza, 7 Jewish children. That's what David T is "explaining" to Michael Rosen and making a complete hash of it.

But what I am trying to explain is that by equating the idea of black men having a propensity for assaulting white women to the idea that many people (Jews and non-Jews) believe Jews to be some kind of chosen people, he is being racist, albeit by being cavalier and ignorant of issues relating to black people rather than any malice on his part, not towards blacks anyway. Reds, yes; greens, yes; blacks, no.

But then we get to the comments and, admittedly, skimming them, it's amazing that I think only one HP regular points out DT's fau pas and typically DT ignores him. It's an Argentinian settler in Israel who curiously calls himself Fabian from Israel (he prefers that to An Argentinian in Palestine):
The correct analogy (which will not work, I know) is whether black men have consensual sex with white girls (a wonderful occupation which some view as wrong, just as Israel being a country is viewed as wrong) and sometimes rape white girls (which is bad, and it would be comparable with Israel behaving badly).

Then, and only then you can deploy your generalizations about black men’s sexual behaviours.

Now I assume this was levelled at DT. He didn't respond. Fabian may have thought better of undermining DT because his next comment was a contrived swearing fit at Michael Rosen.

Michael Rosen too, that is the Michael Rosen that the HP post "explain[s] it" to, had David T running for cover in the comments. He (Rosen) posted some lengthy quotes on the "chosen people" idea from prominent sources. This short comment responding to a lot of "distortions, straw man arguments, tu quoques, anonymous commenting and the most horrific forms of ad hominem" will give you an instant idea of what was being said:
..meaning, Mod, that I’ve known Jews who believed those things (no anecdote provided, so it wasn’t anecdotal) but I backed it up with evidence of articles where people have stated those views. John Meredith, you’ll remember seemed incredulous that people could hold those views. Perhaps he should get out and about in the ‘Jewish community’ a little more.

Sabato, I’ve explained to Tevya that the ‘Israel The Chosen People’ piece is not by me. It’s by a zionist who believes that zionism does indeed rest on the platform of chosen-ness. That’s not my argument, it’s theirs. And Sabato, nice try on the Haredi front. We’re not talking about the Haredi who are anti-zionist. We’re talking about ’some’ zionists. So ’some’ zionists doesn’t mean anti-zionist Haredi.

Sorry this is dragging but if the zionists are going to lie by saying that the chosen people idea is somehow nothing to do with anyone on their side and that therefore it can only be antisemitic to invoke it then it is only right that their sheer dishonesty be exposed, even if their use of bogus id means they themselves can't usually be exposed. So here's another short comment from Michael Rosen:
No conspiracy theory intended at all. GWB makes a statment one year ago in the Knesset. As far as I remember it was uncontentious at the time. He was re-asserting US support for Israel. I’m not getting into the political significance of that. I’m simply pointing out that his statement that the Jewish homeland is God’s promise to a chosen people, is not some off-piste statement by a tiny minority of irrelevant frummers and that it is indeed one of the ways in which zionism is underpinned. The fact the particular groupuscule of zionists who hang out at HP don’t like that formulation is neither here nor there. John Meredith claimed to have never come across Jews who believe the formulation that GWB expressed. Really? Were there none in the Knesset that day? Was he talking only to eg some zionist Hassidim sitting in the corner?
Ah yes, now that brings us neatly back to Caryl Churchill's own explanation of the line, "tell her we're chosen people":
Then we have “chosen people”. Some people are now uncomfortable with a phrase that can seem to suggest racial superiority. But George W Bush, speaking to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel, talked about “the homeland of the chosen people” without anyone suggesting he was accusing Israelis of racism or was anti-Semitic. Some supporters of Israel still use it with enthusiasm.
It's curious that some zios are clearly only "a phone call away" from getting an article published and yet none appear to have challenged her for some evidence of her claim. Of course, Michael Rosen provided plenty of quotes from prominent individuals to support the idea that the chosen people idea is indeed enthusiastically believed by some Jews, many zionists and other colonial settlers and racists and that to deny it is simply a lie.

But how does all this compared with David Hirsh's ludicrous post on the UCU victory for BDS? Well of itself it doesn't. What happened was that Dr Hirsh posted this:
Mike Cushman is one of the leaders of the boycott campaign in UCU. In the past he has pushed antisemitic conspiracy theory. He has defended union members who passed material from David Duke’s website around the union. He has rhetorically employed antisemitic stereotypes. He has been feted by the Iranian state propaganda machine. He has fawned over Hamas.

Now Cushman has provided the following breathless commentary of events at yesterday’s UCU Congress debate:

“It was brilliant. The Zionists bareley showed up. John Pike was totally isolated. On the first vote about invetigsting institutional anti-semitism in UCU he got about 6 votes out of 350.”

“On the key motion there were only two speakers against Pike and a woman from Workers Liberty, when the president asked for other speakers against no-one put their hand up. The vote was on my estimate about 300-30 (we should have asked for a count to rub salt into the wound).”

“What we must remember this was a victory built not just on hard work but even more on 1400 murders in Gaza.”

“Mike, in haste from Bournemouth”

Ok, there's more than a little there to be reminded of a typical Harry's Place post but let's read on:
This commentary requires a little bit of unpacking. Two years ago, at the first Congress of the newly merged UCU, there was a big, very tense, very nasty debate about the boycott. Cushman kicked off the ‘debate’ that day by declaring that he was “not going to be intimidated” – and received a huge cheer for it. What he meant, and what Congress understood, was that he was not going to be intimidated by Jewish power.
What gives Dr Hirsh these insights into what people really mean when they don't actually say what he claims they really mean? And how does he know what people understand by it? Doesn't this mean that if you say anything that Dr Hirsh disagrees with he can simply accuse you of meaning something that most people would disapprove of? Of course that's what it means. But there's more:
Two years later, yesterday, the atmosphere was different. There was not much cheering and there was not much howling.

Why? Because there were no Jews left to bait. As Michael Cushman says above, “the Zionists barely showed up”.

As I said earlier, and as Dr Hirsh knows, Mike Cushman is Jewish as are many people who are still in and active in the UCU. But as often happens when Hirsh makes an unsustainable point he, er, doesn't sustain the point:
Michael Cushman is excited by his victory. He hasn’t noticed the significance of the fact that Congress is now free of Jews.
Eh? what's this, he just made the same unsustainable point. I know but he immediately followed it with:
Except for Jews like him, the Jews who speak “as a Jew” but who are quite unable to recognize antisemitism. Haim Bresheeth. John Rose. Michael Cushman. These are the Jews now, at UCU Congress.
Woo! These are the Jews now. What a comforting thought for those of us who don't want to be identified with racist war criminals. But how can an academic in all seriousness say that there are no Jews and that a union's congress is "Jew free" when he is complaining about other Jews who were at the congress that the Engage piece heads, Michael Cushman and the Jew-free UCU Congress?

And it's that stupidness that reminded me of Harry's Place. We have Hirsh denouncing a Jew who Engage says was at the UCU Congress for celebrating the fact that there were no Jews at the congress that the condemned Jew was actually at. We have David T saying that it's antisemitic to invoke the idea of Jews as chosen people. Well hello, what's this? It's David T agreeing that Jews are "Chosen":
We are “Chosen” though. Chosen for racist hate and abuse so that we can be scapegoated and sacrificed for the ills of the planet.

Isn’t that the fucking truth.

Oh, all of a sudden it's ok to invoke the idea of Jews as chosen people. That's a bit like the way it's used in Fiddler on the Roof and Defiance except the references there are to a god, indeed the G-d, doing the choosing. And of course that kind of "everybody hates us" chosen-ness can be and is used to justify zionist racism even among secularists. The kind invoked by Caryl Churchill is only used in a direct and open sense by religious obscurantists. But it is a concept in Judaic thought, and in zionist and other colonialist thought and it certainly isn't antisemitic to say so. It is racist to suggest, as David T does, that assaulting women is to black men as the chosen people idea is to Jews.

So, that was a comparative study of two Davids, both of whom claim to be fighting racism and both of whom seem to do what it is they accuse others of. David T thinks he can explain racism to Michael Rosen and slips into racism himself with his clear suggestion that assaulting women is to black men as chosen-ness is to Jews, he is also happy to use a variant on the chosen-ness theme himself if it suits his "case". Dr Hirsh accuses various people of antisemitism and yet when Jews speak out against Israel or zionism he is quick to challenge them in connection with their Jewishness and helpfully sets out a list of the wrong kind of Jews. He also claims that UCU is Jew-free whilst reporting on a Jew that spoke. But he was the wrong kind of Jew.

Two Davids, tu quoques.

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