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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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