Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Howard Jacobson: Let’s see the ‘criticism’ of Israel for what it really is.

It was so predictable that Howard Jacobson would eventually reach for the anti-Semitic card.

Israel's assault on Gaza was so astonishingly one sided, the casualties borne by one side so catastrophically disproportionate to the other, that many of us objected even to the use of the word "war". It was not a war where one side are armed to the teeth with some of the most sophisticated weaponry on Earth and are using that formidable arsenal against a mostly unarmed civilian population.

But Jacobson would object to any criticism of Israel's actions and ascribe to it's critics only the foulest of motives:

But I am not allowed to ascribe any of this to anti-Semitism. It is criticism of Israel, pure and simple.

A laughably benign locution, “criticism”, for what is in fact – what has in recent years become – a desire to word a country not just out of the commonwealth of nations but out of physical existence altogether.
So, by Jacobson's logic, anyone who criticised Israel's recent assault on Gaza - and that includes the UN and numerous humanitarian organisations like the Red Cross - are secretly desiring an end to Israel's physical existence. Why doesn't he just say that they are calling for Holocaust and be done with it?

It is a scandalous accusation which he is making and it is all the worse because he produces not a scintilla of evidence to back up his charge. He appears to be enraged by Caryl Churchill’s play, "Seven Jewish Children", a play which I have to admit I have not seen, but the outrage it has caused in him has led him to make a series of accusations against all critics of recent Israeli actions which borders on the libelous.

The charge of anti-Semitism, like the charge of racism or homophobia, is one which should only be leveled where one can detect that such an offense has been committed. Jacobson here appears to find any criticism of Israel's recent assault on Gaza as proof of some kind of anti-Semitic bent.

Where Jacobson is right is when he detects that there has been a change in national mood, although he is quite wrong for the reasons he gives for that change in mood. The Israeli assault on Gaza was a PR disaster on an unimaginable scale. Israel's response to the firing of ineffectual rockets into her territory was to kill at least 1300 Palestinians, some 400 of them children, and to level some Palestinian towns. Such actions are guaranteed to cause revulsion.

Jacobson sees this revulsion as an assault on all Jews rather than a form of legitimate protest against the actions of the Israeli government.

A discriminatory, over-and-above hatred, inexplicable in its hysteria and virulence whatever justification is adduced for it; an unreasoning, deranged and as far as I can see irreversible revulsion that is poisoning everything we are supposed to believe in here – the free exchange of opinions, the clear-headedness of thinkers and teachers, the fine tracery of social interdependence we call community relations, modernity of outlook, tolerance, truth. You can taste the toxins on your tongue.

But I am not allowed to ascribe any of this to anti-Semitism. It is, I am assured, “criticism” of Israel, pure and simple. In the matter of Israel and the Palestinians this country has been heading towards a dictatorship of the one-minded for a long time; we seem now to have attained it. Deviate a fraction of a moral millimetre from the prevailing othodoxy and you are either not listened to or you are jeered at and abused, your reading of history trashed, your humanity itself called into question. I don’t say that self-pityingly.

But his argument is self-pitying. He does what certain American right wingers did when they could no longer justify Bush's attack on Iraq as legitimate. Then, they reached into their bag of insults and spoke of anti-Americanism or Bush Derangement Syndrome, as if to imply that all criticism of the Iraq war was fuelled, not by outrage at the war and the carnage, but by a deep hatred of Bush himself and that this hatred said more about the instability of the person making the charge than it did about the war itself.

It is pure and simple name calling, it is an attempt to end debate on a certain subject by questioning the motives of the person who is offering criticism rather than answering any specific charge that person might be making.

I have no idea whether the sympathy he expresses for the dead Palestinians is genuine or not. He mentions them only in passing and, even then, only to question the actual number of them which have been killed.

But I choose to take him at his word. Howard Jacobson is an honourable man talking about a subject which he is obviously very emotional about. I wish he would grant critics of Israel's recent actions the same respect and stop attributing to them only the foulest of motives.

Click title for Jacobson's piece.

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