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Archive for the month “April, 2014”

Ad Hominemism is not antisemitism


Saw an illuminating exchange on Twitter the other day. Normally, I wouldn’t post about such stuff, as I find blogging about “microblogging” to be the most tedious self-referential guff. But this has stuck with me.

David Aaronovitch of the Times was sharing his latest piece, about the similarities between Farage and Salmond. I haven’t read the piece in question, and I don’t really need to, because the similarities are quite obvious – reductive answer to complex question, with surrounding guff designed to appeal to the sensibilities of those he is targeting. However, what did interest me is the response of one – I assume – follower of Scottish independence, who popped up with this delightful retort:-

“Blairite, Zionist Murdoch employee offers opinion about what’s good for Scotland. Thanks anyway.”

Now, ignoring the slightly ahistorical tone deafness of the retort regarding parts (A) and (C) (to wit, Blairism was generally about “accountability”, the “choice” mantra, bringing the market into public services – some could argue badly, some could argue well – transatlanticism, mild europhilia and avoiding tax rises; and Murdoch is rather pally with Mr Salmond above the borderline, so I don’t see how either – even if Mr A took his instructions from on high from a scheming duopoly of Murdoch and Blair – necessitates having a negative view of Scottish independence), it’s the Zionist thing that sticks out. And for one reason, and one reason alone, which is, one’s opinions on the state of Israel bear absolutely no relation to the Scottish Independence Debate. Not one jot. Not an iota (in fact, I would argue that “belief in the right of Jews to have their own state” if anything would make one more likely to be positive about the right of Scots to have their own state, not negative).

The fact is, the tweeter in question identified himself (quelle surprise) as on the left. And – aside from one or two challenges – nobody on his friendslist actually pointed out the irrationality of his yoking “views on the Middle East” to a completely unrelated situation. I’d go further and say, most probably, some of his buddies out there thought he’d hit the mark with a real zinger.

This kind of low level stuff feeds into a question I’ve been asking myself for a while. Many – mainly on the left, but shifting over to the liberals with the occasional high Tory – are quick to use the formulation “I am not anti-semitic, I am anti-zionist” without thinking it through. On the one hand, it makes a plausible cover. “I don’t believe in being nasty to individuals, but the project that is the Jewish state, on the other hand…”

Problem is, is when you examine it with any riguour, the idea kind of falls apart under it’s own contradiction. Oh, don’t mistake me here – I’m not one who offers blanket coverage for the actions of Israel. I don’t even offer coverage, it really isn’t my fight (in his “Trials of the Diaspora”, Anthony Julius identifies as “rational” enemies of the Jewish state those who have reason – however justified or unjustified you may feel them – to feel aggrieved with Israel, be they Palestinian, Lebanese, Syrian…similarly with supporters of the Jewish state, the same caveat applies – a friend said to me recently that a one-dimensional focus on the rights or wrongs of Israel/Palestine, from whatever side, unless you have a specific connection to the region, is pretty much the sure sign of a crank or someone using it as a proxy in a different war, and I’m 100% behind that interpretation).

But there is an inherent contradiction behind “I’m not anti-semitic, I’m anti-zionist”.

Which is, inevitably, the person who states it is a supporter of Palestinian nationhood. Guess what? In my disengaged way, so am I! Whoop! Let’s all join in the group hug here, until I offer you the caveat: that if you support Palestinian nationhood but don’t support Zionism – ie/ the right of the jews to have a homeland – then you are, by your own admission, racist. The Palestinians deserve a state, the Israelis don’t. That’s what you are saying, when you say you are anti-zionist. Because that’s all zionism is. And that, on any level, is racist.

(I will, of course, also excuse “one state solution” supporters here, as much as I excuse “one world government” supporters here. Not that either do not in their number contain the possibility of racism – everyone is human – but the position itself is not in itself racism. Most likely, on every level, unattainable, but not racist in and of itself)

Now, there’s a charitable interpretation, here, of your formulation. That charitable interpretation is that, you know, you’ve got all muddled up with terminology. You are using the buzzword “Zionism”, like your friends on the left will use the word “Neo-liberal”, or your friends on the right will use “Cultural Marxist”, and you don’t actually think through what you are saying when you use it. Sloppy and inexact language breeds misinterpretation. Perhaps what you mean is “I don’t approve of some of the actions of the Jewish state whilst recognising it has a right to exist”.

If that’s the case, pat yourself on the back a little, because then you’ve passed the test and you aren’t (at least, in this instance) being racist. But you aren’t an anti-Zionist. You are, in actualite, a Zionist. You’ve just said you believe in the right of Israel to exist. Zionist you! It’s perfectly plausible to be one, and a believer in Palestinian statehood, by the way. David Aaronovitch, I believe, is (and has also defended critics of Israel, including believers in the one-state solution, from cries of anti-Semitism).

Perhaps you don’t believe in *this* Jewish state – you believe it should be constituted differently, have different boundaries, perhaps you don’t believe in its government’s behaviour or actions, perhaps you feel it gets away with things (which, if it does, it does because of the balance of the region rather than anything else, I would say). All well and good. Argue your points there, it’s grand. All debatable. But if you hold to the right for Jews to have a national homeland, then you are, a priori, a Zionist.

Which brings us back to our original tweeter, our man of the left, bravely standing up to someone else’s opinion by labelling him (A jewish writer, but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence, isn’t it?) a “Zionist”, when that label bears absolutely no relation to the subject in question. He probably thinks he’s not anti-semitic. He’s just anti-zionist. And people let that explanation slide. People think, nawwwww, he’s not a racist.

Y’know what? I don’t think that’s quite true.

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Requiem for a Character


Max Dunbar

At some point in my childhood, I was led into a room in a school with a middle aged woman behind a desk. It was some kind of interview, for secondary school, I don’t remember, I was around ten or eleven at this time.

What I do remember is the woman asking me: ‘What’s your birthday?’

‘November 17,’ I said.

The woman produced a book. ‘Okay,’ she said, ‘let’s find out what Adrian Mole did on your birthday.’

That icebreaker was the first thing I thought of when I heard about Sue Townsend’s death. We all knew Adrian Mole. We had grown up with him. I read the teenage diaries as a kid, of course I did, but it’s the adult novels I loved most, because childhood in the main follows a set path, whereas once you’ve grown up, anything can happen.

Not that much happens in the Mole diaries. As…

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Are you not entertained?


I wasn’t shocked when I heard he had died. I can’t say it didn’t floor me, because it did, but it was one of those slow-motion punches you see coming, filling your vision, that you are powerless to avoid. Doesn’t stop the impact of it, but at the same time, you can’t say you weren’t expecting it.

You could see it coming from sometime between the second and third albums, from sometime between the bracing cynicism and contempt of that baby swimming after that dollar on a hook becoming lacerating, self-loathing, corrosive, fully nilistic. You could see it in performances people described as raw, and anguished, as a howl, as pain. You could see it coming.

Some of us – myself included – turned away. That third album was too much for me (see also: The Holy Bible, the same beast, the same sense of a car crash in slow-motion). But I understand those who continued watching. I had the same pangs. I have the same stirrings as I listen to him howl his way through “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” on the Unplugged album. A sick fascination for watching a man working out his demons under a spotlight. Or trying, and failing, to work out his demons.

At what point do we – and I mean all of us, all the time, not just in certain circumstances, not just with certain artists, but all of us, all of the time – at what point do we admit our collusion as a culture in the endless stream of celebrities fucking themselves up for us, on camera, in print, on stage? At what point will our culture back away from the freakshow and admit we’ve become like visitors to Bedlam, poking the inmates with a stick for shits and giggles?

Galloway and Shite


“The Zionists sent Gunmen to the Maidan in Kiev, to help a revolution, the cutting edge of which, the heavy lifting of which was being done by actual, outright, nazi anti-semites. The Bizarre alliance in the Maidan between former Israeli army officers, who’ve spoken openly of their role in Ha’aretz, and Nazis with swastikas on their arms is the most ugly alliance you can possibly imagine. Is part of the thinking of this, well, if these Nazis come to power in Kiev, and they hate Jews so much, the remaining Ukrainian Jews will feel that they go and have to settle in Palestine” – George Galloway, Press TV, March 15th.

Oh, this is so easy to Fisk. Such as, I’ve read the Ha’aretz article he references. There were 5 former Israeli servicemen mentioned in it. Now, stop and think for a while – Israel has national service, so pretty much everyone is going to be a “former Israeli serviceman” (or woman). Ukraine has a large Jewish population, and Israel has a large Ukrainian Jewish population, so there’s going to be ongoing familial ties. So, you know, the fact that there were 5 former Israeli servicemen there isn’t…when you actually stop and think for a second…that much of a shock. In the same Ha’aretz article, by the way, one of the Israelis makes the point that the “Nazis” had never acted in any way Nazi around him, were completely un-Nazi in his eyes. You know, I may be naive here, but I’m going to take the word of a Jewish guy on the ground about who is and isn’t anti-semitic over someone who hasn’t visited and has his own…mmm…troublesome relationship with Jewish people, and with the state of Israel (who, last going off, he was accusing of gassing Syrians, despite every government in the world that isn’t allied with the Syrian government believing that the guilty party in that case were…the Syrian government).

And then there’s the further, tentatively offered, “is part of the thinking” bit at the end. Oh. Those wicked Zionists. Making their own kind the victim, with the goal of oppressing the Palestinians. Of course, this basic anti-semitic canard is offered as just a random thought…because, you know, he’s just thinking aloud, he’s not actually claiming that, he can fall back on deniability, he can say “is part of the thinking”.

Of course, the contra-argument, that Ukrainians of Jewish descent are being slandered by an anti-semite, on an anti-semitic news channel, which is funded by a state closely entwined with the state currently menacing Ukrainians of all types…

Nah, that’s a bit far fetched, isn’t it? Must be the Zionists behind it. Makes perfect sense.

Gradgrind


From Yahoo News:

The NHS has wasted at least £46m on needless jobs including spin doctors, an art curator and a car park officer, the Tax Payers’ Alliance (TPA) has claimed.

It says the NHS had created 1,129 unnecessary jobs in areas such as public relations, the European Union and “green” staff – enough to pay for 1,662 fulltime nurses.

The campaign group said between 2002 and 2013, the NHS budget increased from £57bn to more than £105bn but that a large chunk was being thrown at unnecessary jobs.

There’s a number of points we can make here. The first is, of course, that the Taxpayer’s Alliance is being disengenuous. One could argue their very name is disengenuous, given that they appear to be a business funded astroturfing operation that *claims* up to 75,000 supporters but never releases the figures. But, even leaving aside that simple snark, in making the emotional comparison between these jobs and the extra nurses that could be employed, they are – well – operating in bad faith.

They don’t want extra nurses. They are small state conservatives. They want the NHS budget to be less, and as a consequence, their taxes to be less. There is nothing intellectually wrong with being small state conservatives, wanting the NHS budget to be less, and wanting your taxes to be less. Each are arguable positions, each I may disagree with somewhat (and, pretty much, for the same reasons I disagree with the nationalise everything brigade on the left – because they operate with an overly idealistic and naive view of what would happen next – faith in the market, faith in the state, is still faith), but it’s an arguable position with honest antecedents.

Pretending you want to cut state waste here for the state employ more people there, however, is a lie, if what you really want is to, well, cut the state.

There follows a corollary argument, which is, what do they think 1662 extra nurses would do to the NHS? It is a lovely striking figure, but since the NHS itself admits to around 2300 hospitals, what they are talking about is less than an extra nurse to each hospital. Most hospitals employ hundreds – or even thousands – of staff. The addition of less than 0.75 more nurses in each would make little difference, mmmm?

There is also the point that, if the NHS has a budget of £105 billion, and the most you can identify being “wasted” is £46 million (£45.3, actually, chaps, but had to push it to “almost £46 million” rather than “Just over £45 million”…no offence, but I was taught to round down on numbers below .5…know warrimean?), you aren’t doing very well. Every large organisation – public and private – will have a degree of waste about it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are examples of waste in the NHS and in the public sector that dwarf this, and I wouldn’t turn my nose up at £45.3 million in a big sack, and in a perfect world the NHS wouldn’t be wasting £45.30, but still…it does count as small potatoes within the budget you are looking at.

Then, there is the final part of the argument, which is their identification of “waste”. Pausing to nod at the art curator and say “well, you know, I agree with the TPA in that instance”, glossing over their identification of a “Car Park Officer” as an unnecessary job (Hospitals, big buildings. Tend to have car parks. These tend to need to be managed. Having a guess that Car Park Officer isn’t quite as unnecessary as you may think), wandering past the diversity and equality and green and EU representation officers and thinking “Well, I’d need a tad more explanation as to what they do before I cast judgement, but I can certainly see you may have a point”, we get to the meat of the waste – £34 million on PR.

Now, again, I’d love the NHS to not need PR. I’d love NHS Trusts not to need PR. But should a – say – disengenuous astro-turf organisation spend a lot of time demanding breakdowns of information via Freedom of Information requests, with the intention of rubbishing said NHS, said Trust, whatever…what would your average organisation do? Public, private, it matters not a jot. They’d need someone to go out in front of the cameras and answer those stories. They’d need to get their message across. Generally, those people would need to be professionals, and paid a commensurate salary. If you want transparency from an organisation – any organisation – then fair play, and common sense, would argue that the organisation should be able to employ someone to deal with that, someone who can answer questions, someone who can explain the organisation’s perspective – we call that “PR”, I believe.

And – when they weren’t fielding such queries – perhaps they’d be trying to get messages out to the public about health initiatives, services available, about how to look after themselves, how to recognise this ailment or that, where they could go for treatment for this disease or that. Etc etc etc (Which – possibly – in the long term preventative sense of medicine may have more of a benefit to the population than, oooh, say, an extra 0.72 nurses in every hospital in the land).

(There is, of course, a further irony in the fact that the TPA are, basically, a PR organisation for a particular view of the world, with a couple of researchers thrown in. Unnecessary jobs, chaps? Really?)

Do I know whether the number of PR professionals employed by the NHS (less than 0.5 for each hospital) is necessary? No, I don’t. Do I want to live in a world where the NHS doesn’t need PR professionals? Of course I do. Is the latter likely to happen, if there exist organisations whose raison d’etre is to use freedom of information laws as a baseball bat to smack the NHS around?

I don’t need a report to tell me the answer to that last one.

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