Archive for December, 2008

Providing a platform for proponents of state-sponsored antisemitism

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

From the Engage web site:

“Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, is to give

Norway – a paradigm for antisemitism, by Manfred Gerstenfeld

Monday, December 15th, 2008

‘I would like to take the opportunity to remember all the billions of fleas and lice that lost their lives in German gas chambers, without having done anything wrong other than settling on persons of Jewish background.”

This is what Norwegian comedian Otto Jespersen said on Thursday 27 November on the country’s largest commercial TV station. Much worse, however, is that the director of the station defended this expression of “satire.”

A week later Jespersen, in his weekly TV appearance, gave a “satiric” monologue of mixed anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli remarks. He concluded by wishing the Jews a happy Christmas. But then as an afterthought, he said this was not proper as the Jews had murdered Jesus. Two years ago the same comedian burned pages from the Tanach in front of a TV camera, but this was no reason to terminate his employment. Jespersen explained that he wouldn’t burn the Koran if he wanted to live longer than a week.

LAST WEEK, on four consecutive days, there were anti-Israeli articles in Norway’s second-largest daily Aftenposten. The first called for a general boycott of Israel. The second promoted an academic boycott, falsely accusing Israeli physicians of participating in torture and the Israeli Medical Association of remaining silent about it. Any honest debater would have reported that Israeli hospitals routinely treat Palestinian children, some of whom express joy when suicide bombers kill Israelis. One wonders whether any other country would allow this.

The third article stressed the right to criticize Israel. This is a typical attack on a “straw man,” as nobody denies this right. The fourth claimed that Israel is not a democracy. Only thereafter a pro-Israeli voice was heard.

Two years ago the conservative Aftenposten got international attention when it published an op-ed by Jostein Gaarder which until this day remains the vilest anti-Semitic article published in a European mainstream paper since the Second World War.

Whoever wants to understand how Jews might live in a future democratic Europe if no major counter-forces are mobilized should study Norway. Among parts of the elite there, Jew-hatred and rabid anti-Israelism intermingle. The country’s population numbers only 4.6 million. The Jewish population, even before the war, was never more than 2,000. It now numbers 1,300, of which only 700 affiliate with the organized community. Yet Norway must figure prominently in any future history of post-war European anti-Semitism.

Norwegian anti-Israelis keep repeating that their anti-Israelism is not anti-Semitism. One only has to check their statements against the European Union’s working definition of anti-Semitism to see that this is often untrue. Norway has a long history of anti-Semitism. In 1929 a great majority of its parliament voted to forbid shechita (Jewish ritual slaughter) – several years before Hitler’s Germany did so. It is still forbidden, although hunters, including government ministers, can legally kill animals in as cruel a manner as they want. Last year Norway aimed to kill 1,000 whales, but succeeded in finding only 500. If all needs for kosher beef were met by local shechita, it would require at most several tens of cows annually.

During the war, the Norwegians were the ones who rounded up Jews and robbed them before shipping them off to Auschwitz. After the war, emergency help was given to what the Norwegians called the two “hardest-hit groups” – fishermen and residents of the northern part of the country. The Jews, however, were robbed further by the Norwegian democrats. During the restitution process, they had to pay for the administration of those of their assets recovered from the looters. About 10 years ago a senior Norwegian Nazi official proudly told a Jewish visitor that he had no regrets, and still had paintings and furniture taken from Jews.

In the new round of restitution in the mid-1990s, several authorities did their utmost to avoid paying. Berit Reisel, the only Jewish member of the commission of inquiry, states that she was threatened by chairman Oluf Skarpnes, a former Justice Minister. He told her that if she didn’t go along with his proposed report, it would cost her dearly as far as her life and health were concerned. Reisel added that a few days later she was attacked on a street in Oslo.

AFTER THE beginning of the second intifada, several Jewish children were harassed in school. The aggression was supported by teachers on several occasions. Since then, the Jewish community has kept a low profile. When asked by the press, its leaders will admit there is anti-Semitism, but claim that critics overstate it. They usually remain silent on the anti-Semitic aspects of anti-Israelism.

Norwegian hate cartoons often mix anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism. Some are straight-out anti-Semitic, such as one which appeared in the Labor movement daily Dagsavisen in 2003. It portrayed a Jew with a long beard reading the new Ten Commandments, including “murder, kill, liquidate, execute.” During the Second Lebanon War, anti-Semitic incidents in Oslo were the most severe in Europe. The synagogue was shot at, the cantor was attacked on a main street and the Jewish cemetery was desecrated. The Jewish community’s president Anne Sender was thereafter quoted in a European Jewish Congress report speaking of the considerable “atmosphere of intimidation and fear.”

Anti-Israelism has been built up systematically in Norway by trade unions, media, some prominent Christians and politicians. The demonization is classic: major media report negative things about Israel while obfuscating or omitting Palestinian suicide attacks or declared genocidal intentions. The main counterforce is a small group of Christian friends.

NGO Monitor has analyzed how significant governmental development aid reaches NGOs engaged in political campaigning against Israel and in support of extreme Palestinian demands. The good the Norwegian government does, including subsidizing the rebuilding of synagogues in Poland, cannot be offset against the infrastructure of hatred it supports.

The writer has published many books, the most recent of which is Behind the Humanitarian Mask: The Nordic Countries, Israel and the Jews, published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies. This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

Antisemitism and the Mumbai Massacres, Part II

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Our last blog ended with a crude turning of the causes of the Mumbai massacres on their head and the willful inversion of the antisemitic impulse onto the victims themselves. Since then this inversion seems to have gone upscale and multi-layered, and found a comfortable home in the liberal-left prediliction of regarding Jews and Israel at the heart of all global conflicts.

Engage founder and analyst Dave Hirsh peels back the layers of prejudice in his blog post below, while in a second article, novelist Howard Jacobson offers a powerful cautionary analysis of the incendiary quality of what Jeff Goldberg refers to as the judeocentric conspiratorial worldview.


On BBC radio’s Any Questions, Caroline Lucas, the leader of the Green Party was asked the following question (about four minutes in to programme):

“We’ve just seen over the past two days on the news about the terrorist attacks in India. This follows the terrorist attacks of 9/11, 7/7, the Madrid bombings, Bali bombings and many others. Can extremist ever be defeated.”

Here is her answer:

“Let me first say in response to the situation in Mumbai that it’s clearly a terrible act of terror, our thoughts are very much with the families there. It’s a criminal act and the perpetrators must be brought to justice. In terms of whether there is a way of defeating extremism, my answer very clearly would be not by military means. I think all the evidence we’ve seen from Iraq and Afghanistan right across the board that you don’t bring peace through the barrel of a gun. I think that when you see many people seeing that the war on terror hasn’t made us safer – it’s been interpreted by many as a war on Muslims and I think that’s enormously damaging. I think what we should be doing is looking at some of the root causes of some of the terrorist acts we see – not to condone it but I do think that we have to try to understand it, and I think that the situation in Palestine for example, with the ongoing Israeli occupation with the absolute strangulation of Gaza with this siege on Gaza – essentially this economic blockade – is really feeding so much anger right across the world and it means that there is more of a fertile breeding ground then for extremists to flourish. So I think that if we are to defeat extremism then we have to go to the root causes of it – we have to look in particular at how marginalised communities are being treated, we have to look in particular about countries like Palestine.”

Caroline Lucas says we need to “understand” but she doesn’t, herself, show any evidence of understanding. In the past, Lucas has claimed that Israel hides behind a bad faith accusation of antisemitism which it throws at “all who criticise its policies”. Now, Lucas is responding to a number of terrorist murders which include the antisemitic murder of Jews, targetted as Jews, with reference to what she calls the “strangulation of Gaza”.

This is a serious misrepresentation. Not primarily because “strangulation” is an inadequate description of what is going on in Gaza. But because even if it wasn’t, it would not explain why anger at Israeli policy was mystified into a racist anger against Jews.

Usually we hold racists and other bigots responsible for their hateful propaganda and their hateful actions. We understand racism as being a grossly unfair and unreasonable response to things that happen in the real world.

We don’t “understand” a woman wearing a short skirt as being one of the causes of her rape.

We don’t “understand” black kids’ involvement in street crime as being one of the causes of racism against black people.

And we don’t “understand” Israeli policy as being one of the causes of racism against Jews.

Caroline Lucas is right to want to try to “understand”. But she isn’t going to understand racism so long as she believes that racism against Jews is a trick, played by Israel against the world with the intention of covering their evil Jewish crimes.

Usually antiracists have little difficulty in condemning racism as being wholly wrong-headed and morally vile. Usually we don’t accept the reasons given by the racists for their hatred as being worthy of much serious consideration or “understanding”. Antisemitism should be no different. So why is it different for some antiracists?



There is no hierarchy of the dead. The slaughtered are the slaughtered. This is not always what the slaughterers think. For those who kill in the name of religion their killing answers to deserts – a casual bullet in the face if you’re a poor Hindu, a more selective punishment if you’re American or British, a slow, luxuriating torture if you happen to be a Jew. In reward for which, their religion tells them, they themselves will be arranged according to degree in heaven: the more assiduous their killing in God’s name, the closer to His right hand they will sit. They are cruelly mistaken. No rewards await them in another world. Just as no restitution according to degree of suffering awaits their victims. In death there is no hierarchy.

So I mean nothing hierarchical when I talk about the Jewish victims of the Mumbai massacre. I sorrow no more for them than I do for the impoverished Bihari migrant workers waiting to catch trains home, innocent of any involvement in the mythical cause the gunmen had been brainwashed into believing they must kill for. I allude to the Jewish aspect of this tragedy, not because I am Jewish myself and know a little about the outreach programme in which the murdered Jews were involved – the provision of kosher food and a place of prayer for Jewish tourists in Mumbai – but because it bears on the blame game which, with the usual unseemly haste and ignorance, has already begun in this country.

As it was after 9/11 so it has been after Mumbai – hearts going out to the victims, necessity of bringing perpetrators to justice, blah blah, and in the same breath the moral exculpation of those perpetrators in one of those acts of “understanding” which in fact understand nothing but give the speaker the opportunity to inveigh piously against our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Israel’s presence anywhere. Even before the bodies had been recovered from the towers, contributors to Question Time were laying the blame for 9/11on us. After Mumbai, before the blood on the streets had dried, they were doing the same on Any Questions?. It’s not the programmes’ fault. They merely hold the mirror up to nature. Though you might ask how the BBC always manages to have the appropriately sanctimonious speaker on hand to remind us that, whatever the calamity in whatever part of the world, we in the West in general, and Israel in particular, are responsible.

It was Caroline Lucas who, unlike the Bihari migrant workers, happened on this occasion to be in the right place at the right time. Caroline Lucas, should the name mean nothing to you, is the elfin leader of the Green Party. But she could, as far as attributing the usual culpability is concerned, have been anyone at that end of British politics. Reader, I could have gone on the programme and said what she said for her. To wit, Iraq and Afghanistan prove we can’t bring peace at the end of a gun (though it would seem that “understanding” can be found at the end of a terrorist’s gun), many people see the “war on terror” as a war on Muslims (a point that fails to distinguish between what people choose to “see” and what is the truth of the matter), and, in her actual words, “if we are to defeat extremism we have to go to the root causes of it – we have to look in particular at countries like Palestine”.

We are not unsubtle in this column. We understand that a simmering resentment will not always express itself rationally or fairly. In frustration, the angry often kill the wrong people in the wrong places. But to argue that Palestine fuelled the massacre at Mumbai, that the Hindu waiter shot in the forehead after serving water to a terrorist was paying for the inequities of Gaza, that he wasn’t already, in the eyes of that terrorist, expendable enough as an unbeliever, as one who had stolen Kashmir, or simply as a spot of target practice en route to a mad and misguided martyrdom, is not only preposterous, it is irresponsible.

I don’t doubt that the terrorists’ moral education included lessons about the vileness of Jews, along with lessons about the vileness of everyone else in the west, but we cannot be responsible for the lies people tell about us. Vileness of the Jews, note, not vileness of the Israelis. However carefully Caroline Lucas distinguishes between Jews and Israelis in her frequent newsletters and platform speeches on these and other “Green” issues; whatever her hurt at being accused of anti-Semitism when it is only a Jewish country, for God’s sake, and not Jews themselves she abominates – it would appear she has not succeeded in communicating this nice distinction to the Mumbai terrorists.

Frankly, my dear, they don’t give a damn. The Chabad Centre in Mumbai was a Jewish organisation, not an Israeli one. Its occupants were tortured and killed for being Jews, not for being complicit in the “strangulation” of Gaza, unless all Jews are held to be complicit in the strangulation of Gaza, in which case Caroline Lucas must be very careful where and in what language she lays blame. If she is right that the perception of a great wrong in Palestine motivates such murders as those in Mumbai, then it behoves her, as one who influences perception, to be scrupulous in her observations.

Scrupulous, I say, not discreet. I would not wish her, in caution’s name, to speak other than the truth. But truth is hard to find. I have visited Israel several times recently, making a documentary about Jesus, travelling in the company of Israelis of all parties and persuasions. The “Green” view is that there are good Israelis and bad Israelis, the good being those who oppose the occupation. Nothing could be more simplistic. I encountered extreme left-wingers who could not bear what their government was doing, but understood its sometime necessity; I met right-wingers who had no sympathy with settlers, and could not wait to live in peace with Palestinians; all wanted change, all were frightened, all loathed the naive, ahistoric sentimentalism that paints them as brutal invaders of a foreign land, and not as fellow combatants in a long and tragic struggle for safety and self-determination.

Whatever doesn’t tell that story is propaganda – the institution of a falsehood into truth. And propaganda, by Caroline Lucas’s own account, kills. Come the next massacre, when she is looking around for someone other than the perpetrators to blame, she might ask how much of their hatred she has stoked. When the world is a tinder box, it is a crime to play with matches.

Antisemitism and the Mumbai Massacres

Monday, December 1st, 2008

Was antisemitism a component part of the terrorist attacks on Mumbai?

A quick review of the global news analyses yields an emphatic yes.

One of the first authors out of the starting gates to make this connection was MP Denis MacShane, who launched his new book, Globalising Hatred, less than two weeks ago (and featured here). Writing in the Yorkshire Post