The Fading of the Light

August 28th, 2009 by Mark Gardner

The sad passing of Glasgow’s Reverend Ernest Levy has been marked not only by the Jewish Community, but by a wide cross-section of Scottish society.

Reverend Levy’s survival of the Holocaust was itself remarkable: but it was his dignity, humanity and morality that made him a national figure. His obituary in the Scotsman newspaper told how:    

“…Already in his seventies, in Glasgow, Levy wrote two books about his Holocaust experiences – Just One More Dance (1998) and The Single Light (2007). The latter took its title from a story he liked to tell about a sardine tin thrown away by a Nazi camp guard around the time of Hanukkah. Levy picked up the tin and used the little oil left, adding a wick to make a small light for his fellow inmates amid pitch blackness while they sang Maoz Tzur, the Hanukkah hymn. He brought, and lit, the very same sardine tin to the Scottish Parliament in 2007 at the launch of the book, a touching moment but one that brought ostensible glances of unease from some Scottish MPs who feared it might touch off the parliament’s fire alarm. His soft-spoken wisdom eased their concerns. He knew more than most what a single light could do…”

Today, when the Guardian newspaper joins Islamist and far Left extremists in using Nazism and the Holocaust as sticks to beat Jews, Zionism and Israel with, it is surely incumbent upon us all to confront the reality of what happened during those darkest times: and to then deeply contemplate how to respond to such contemptible abuse. Reverend Levy survived something incomparably worse than sheer name calling. Perhaps his response should help to inform our own.

The Scotsman obituary reminds us of all of this. It should be read in full. It is here.

“Irresponsible hate speech cloaked as journalism”

August 26th, 2009 by Mark Gardner

Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress, has written an excellent open letter concerning the ‘Aftonbladet’ controversy, in which Sweden’s largest daily paper alleged that Israeli soldiers “harvested” the organs of Palestinians.

Kantor’s letter includes important points that sections of the British media could also learn from. For example:

“…The bitter lessons of our shared history teaches us that there is a short distance between “anything goes” under cloak of “freedom of speech” to actions of incitement and violence. In our recent history, for example, it was all too common for similar, unsubstantiated stories against Jews to be printed, which gave credence to the worst atrocities of mankind. Precisely because of that shared history and experience, as Europeans, we can not accept this type of irresponsible hate speech cloaked as journalism…

“…Words have the power to uplift us, to inspire us and to improve the world around us. But when used irresponsibly, they have the power to stir hatred and violence. And that is the problem at the crux of this matter…

“…as recent trends throughout Europe have shown, unacceptable incidents of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are all too real, and in several European nations, including Sweden, are regrettably on the rise…

“… Yes, freedom of speech is a hallmark of rational and free governments and people. But members of the media have an added responsibility – to fact check and to exercise caution before printing any unsubstantiated article – no matter how many newspapers it may sell. Too many times, incitement and blood libel have masqueraded as “articles” with horrific consequences. Therefore, I implore you as educated, rational European brothers and sisters, to demand responsibility and credibility from your reporters, their editors and their publishers…”.

Kantor concludes with, “Otherwise, the sacred institution of freedom of speech will be worth nothing more than something to wrap our fish in.”

The entire letter can be read, here.

The Holocaust: A “real-world experience”?

August 26th, 2009 by Mark Gardner

Anti-Zionist facts and anti-Zionist fictions are impossible to define to everyone’s satisfaction.  Given the labyrinthine history of Jews, Muslims, Christians, antisemitism, Zionism, Europe and the Middle East, everyone has their own version of fact and fiction, history and myth, persecution and resistance.

Nevertheless, we are entitled to expect minimum standards from those who claim to be authoritative. This is why we continue to expect more from academics than we do of circus performers. (But only in the correct context. If we were training to be clowns, we might expect more of circus performers than of academics).

What then, to make of a lengthy anti-Zionist essay by M. Shahid Alam, a Professor of Economics at Boston’s Northeastern University.  This essay, “Zionism: An ‘Abnormal’ Nationalism” is rapidly making its way through cybersapce and is being republished without critical comment on sites such as counterpunch that variously claim to be left-wing, anti-racist, and pro-Palestinian. There is certainly no shortage of material in Alam’s essay to take issue with, but it is his treatment of Nazism that really infuriates. Take for example, this extract, implying that European Jews were able to flee Nazi persecution to Palestine:  

“… The passage of the Zionist plan – from chimera to reality – would be delivered by three events: imposition of tight immigration restrictions in most Western countries starting in the 1900s, the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and the rise to power of the Nazis in 1933. As a result, when European Jews began fleeing Nazi persecution, most of them had nowhere to go to but Palestine. In their bid to create a Jewish state in Palestine…”

Alam’s previous work shows that he is clearly not a Holocaust denier. Nevertheless, in this complex essay of over 3,300 words – that purport to tell the history of Zionism, and includes repeated reference to antisemites - the professor fails to mention the Holocaust even once. A credible history of Zionism and antisemitism, even from such a strong anti-Zionist perspective, cannot simply avoid such a seismic event. Alam comes close on a few occasions, but can’t bring himself to say the ‘H’ word, or to explictly spell it out. In addition to the above “Nazi persecution” reference, he offers:

“…Zionism needed a stronger boost from anti-Semites than they had provided until the early 1930s. The Zionists always understood  that their movement would have to be driven by Jewish fears of anti-Semitism…

“… In the era preceding the rise of the Nazis, the Zionist idea – even from a Jewish standpoint – was an affront to more than two millennia of their own history…

“Starting with World War II, the pro-Zionist Jews would slowly build a network of organizations, develop their rhetoric, and take leadership positions in important sectors of American civil society until they had gained the ability to define the parameters within which the United States could operate in the Middle East. Serendipitously, it appears, pro-Zionist Jews also  found, ready at hand a rich assortment of negative energies in the West that they could harness to their own project. The convergence of their interests with that of the anti-Semites was perhaps the most propitious. The anti-Semites wanted the Jews out of  Europe, and so did the Zionists. Anti-Semitism would also become the chief facilitator of the Jewish nationalism that the Zionists sought to create…”   

Maybe Alam believes the Holocaust is so obvious, that it doesn’t need mentioning. Perhaps this is also the reason why he makes no mention of British Mandate Palestine; nor any mention of the UN Partition plan and its rejection by the Arab world – all in the essay’s overall framework of depicting Zionism as harnessing antisemitism to aid its“grave assault  on the history of the global resistance to imperialism…They sought to overturn the demography of Palestine, to insert a European presence in the heart of the Islamicate, and to serve as the forward base for Western powers intent on dominating the Middle East.” 

But perhaps that is to be overly pedantic, harsh even: after all, Alam is a professor of economics, rather than history. Furthermore, he is hardly alone (on either side of the Atlantic) for having wandered off-expertise and done extensive moonlighting for the anti-Zionist camp. 

Still, the homepage of Northeastern University states that it “is a leader in interdisciplinary research, urban engagement, and the integration of classroom learning with real-world experience.” For most Jewish Zionists, including those born after the end of WW2, the Holocaust was indeed a “real-world experience”. Perhaps the wise professor and his supposed leftist supporters could contemplate that fact, should they ever pause for breath in their catch-all denunciations of Zionism and Zionists.

August 24th, 2009 by Mark Gardner

The News of the World featured a sickening expose of racism at the British National Party’s so-called Red, White and Blue family festival.

The article began:  

 

Angel-faced racist aged 12

Girl burns golly at BNP fun day

GUILTY: Golly 'Winston' is held by girl before being dropped on the fire

GUILTY: Golly ‘Winston’ is held by girl before being dropped on the fire

 

SICK SALUTE: Party supporters make the Nazi sign and yell out 'Sieg Heil'
SICK SALUTE: Party supporters make the Nazi sign and yell out ‘Sieg Heil’
 
A LITTLE girl grins with glee as she holds a golly over a fire . . . while a jeering BNP politician finds the doll guilty of BEING BLACK during a vile mock trial and execution.
 
The baying crowd cheers when the toy – dubbed Winston – is condemned and dropped on to the flames to “die”.
 
Goading on the assembled adults and kids the politician, a local council candidate, yells out these chilling words: “Let’s get a real one . . . in the town we’ll find one or two.”

- The full story should be read, here.

More “problematic cliches” about Nazi Israel at the Guardian

August 21st, 2009 by Mark Gardner

It is neither CST’s role nor wish to enter the often overheated debate as to whether or not criticism of Israel in the Guardian - and its highly successful online variant, Comment is Free (CiF) - is fair, balanced or proportionate. 

Nevertheless, there are far too many occasions when the anti-Israel sentiment of Guardian and CiF contributors comes to our attention: this is not so much because the content might be misconstrued as explicitly antisemitic, but rather because it employs loose, crass and offensive langauge that should have no place in as influential an institution as the Guardian. (An institution, moreover, that claims to uphold the highest of moral and editorial values).   

There are numerous examples of Guardian and CiF excesses in CST’s latest antisemitic discourse report, and another depressing example occurred on 18 August in an article by Slavoj Zizek that featured in both the print edition of the Guardian, and online at CiF. Zizek’s article accused Israel of taking over Palestinian territory: and in its original CiF version, stated that the land would be “Palestinian-frei”. Two days later, on 20 August, CiF amended this to read “Palestinian-free”, just as the actual print copy had read in the Guardian.

To some, this may appear a moot difference, but “Palestinian-free” is not the Nazi-themed term that “Palestinian-frei” is. After all, the Nazi Holocaust was designed to leave Europe “Juden-frei”, and the gate at Auschwitz read “Arbeit Macht Frei”. This is not to say that the Guardian and CiF should be accusing Israel of ‘ethnic cleansing’, far from it, but in this world of very small mercies, “frei” is clearly a Nazi slander, whereas “free” has no particular Jewish connotation.   

CiF has tried hard in recent years to improve its moderation policies regarding comments upon the site, and in particular against the upsetting and hateful screeds that so often follow Israel and Jewish related articles. Their attitude to the accuracy and content of actual articles (rather than comments) has not always been so apparent, but CiF has explained their welcome decision to alter “frei” to “free” (see the foot of Zizek’s article) as:

“Due to an error, an edit to the print version of this article was not made to the online version. In print, the term “Palestinian-frei” was changed to read “Palestinian-free”. This edit has now been applied to the online version, as of 20 August 2009.”

It is not 100% clear from this explanation whether or not “Palestinian-frei” originated from Zizek’s original transcript, but this seems by far the most logical reading of the sentence.  So, CiF’s alteration is certainly a welcome one and it leaves the article not quite as gratuitously offensive as it originally appeared to be.

I say ‘not quite as gratuitously offensive’, because the actual paragraph in which “Palestinian-frei” originally appeared is itself quite disgraceful. The paragraph is shown below (in its original “frei” form):

“Palestinians often use the problematic cliché of the Gaza strip as “the greatest concentration camp in the world”. However, in the past year, this designation has come dangerously close to truth. This is the fundamental reality that makes all abstract “prayers for peace” obscene and hypocritical. The state of Israel is clearly engaged in a slow, invisible process, ignored by the media; one day, the world will awake and discover that there is no more Palestinian West Bank, that the land is Palestinian-frei, and that we must accept the fact. The map of the Palestinian West Bank already looks like a fragmented archipelago.”

So, according to Zizek, the Palestinians’ “problematic cliche” of Gaza being “the greatest concentration camp in the world”  is “dangerously close to the truth”. Israel, one presumes, is becoming the new Nazi Germany, and Palestinians are becoming the new Jews. Furthermore, this moral and historical perversion of Holocaust imagery is nothing more than a “problematic cliche” that is, anyway, now coming to fruition. 

Zizek’s assertion that “one day, the world will wake up and discover that there is no more Palestinian West Bank, that the land is Palestinian-frei…” is not so much immoral as simply ludicrous. Are we to believe that one morning, the world will wake up and suddenly realise  that Nablus, Hebron, Jericho, Bethlehem and countless other places have no population remaining? How will this occur? Will a Guardian journalist call room service in their Ramallah hotel one morning and receive no breakfast? And if so, will this journalist also fall prey to the extraordinary phenomenon whereby this enforced mass depopulation was somehow an “invisible process, ignored by the media”?

There is more than one “problematic cliche” in Zizek’s article, and in its publication by the Guardian and CiF. The most egregious part of one of those has been belatedly taken care of, but how many more “problematic cliches” will the Guardian stable keep chucking at us?

Recycling Old Libels

August 20th, 2009 by Mark Gardner

This article (below), by Arieh Kovler, Director of the Fair Play Campaign Group is copied from the EISCA website. It discusses the reappearance of ancient antisemitic myths within contemporary anti-Israel charges: in this particular instance, the accusation that Jews murder non-Jews in order to use their blood and body parts.

The article is prompted by an article in Scandinavia’s most popular newspaper that alleged  Israeli soldiers kill Palestinians to steal their organs. It is now the focus of a diplomatic row between Israel and Sweden.  

 ————-

Recycling Old Libels

This is a guest post from Arieh Kovler, Director of the Fair Play Campaign Group

bloodlibel

The Blood Libel is one of the oldest antisemitic charges against Jews: the accusation that Jewish people conspire to kill non-Jews for nefarious purposes. The most common formulation of this lie is that Jews kill a Christian boy in order to use their blood for a ritual of some kind. But many of the earliest recorded blood libels level a slightly different accusation.

In 1909, Prof Hermann Strack of Berlin University wrote The Jew and Human Sacrifice – the first serious scholarly work devoted to exposing the Blood Libel as a dangerous historical lie. It is, unfortunately, still relevant today. Talking about the earliest Blood Libels, he notes (p174):

“In several cases, always assuming the credibility of the tradition, it would be a matter of popular -medical belief … According to the Marbach annals, the Jews of Fulda (when tortured, of course), confess in December, 1235, that they had murdered the miller’s children,  ut ex eis sanguinem ad suum remedium elicerent - in order to obtain their blood for medical use

Strack also highlights the account of Thomas Cantipratanus, a monk writing in about 1270. Thomas claims that all Jews were inflicted with some sort of hidden medical condition as a punishment for killing Jesus:

“A very learned Jew, who in our day has been converted to the [Christian] faith, informs us that one enjoying the reputation of a prophet among them … made the following prediction: ‘Be assured that relief from this secret ailment, to which you are exposed, can be obtained through Christian blood alone’.  This suggestion was followed by the ever-blind and impious Jews, who instituted the custom of annually shedding Christian blood in every province, in order that they might recover from their malady.”

In these early Blood Libels, the Jews were accused of killing non-Jewish children to use their bodies for medical reasons.

750 years later, this particular varient of the Blood Libel lives on. On the 17th of August, Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet published an article by Donald Boström under the title “Palestinians accuse the Israeli army of stealing body parts from its victims”. The article strongly suggested that Israel has been stealing organs from Palestinians and both using them to supply Israeli transplant patients and selling them internationally.

The piece presents lots of facts: Many sick people in Israel need organ transplants. In 1992, then-health Minister Ehud Olmert led a drive to encourage Israelis to become organ donors. Some New Jersey Jews are being investigated for their role in an organised crime syndicate, which allegedly includes the buying  of human organs from voluntary donors. Palestinians who are killed by the IDF are often autopsied.

From these facts, Boström suggests a massive and macabre international conspiracy in which Israelis and Jews harvest organs from Palestinian victims for gain and profit.

This is an incredibly serious and sickening charge to make. Not only does it recall the blood libels of the past, but it is also a form of the Nazi Card. The dehumanization of Jews by the Nazis was one of the worst features of the Holocaust; The Nazis treated Jews as raw materials rather than people, to be worked, killed or experimented on. The accusation that Israel would use the Palestinian as living organ banks is an inversion of this aspect of the Holocaust thrown back at Jews.

So it’s surprising that Donald Boström – like the accusers in the Blood Libels 0f old – doesn’t even pretend to offer any real evidence for his claim. Speaking to Israel Radio, he said:

“It concerns me to the extent that I want it to be investigated. But whether it’s true or not – I have no idea, I have no clue.”

Donald Boström is not the first to revive this contemporary twist on the old Blood Libel. He claims rumours of organ theft are common among Palestinians. Perhaps one reason for these rumours is the Iranian TV series Zahra’s Blue Eyes, broadcast in late 2004 and later dubbed for an Arabic audience. The plot involves the IDF conspiring to harvest Palestinians’ eyes for transplant into blind Israelis.

But Aftonbladet is a mainstream left-wing newspaper, not an Iranian propaganda outlet. It has the largest daily circulation of any paper in the Nordic Countries. Nearly one in six of the Swedish population reads it. It is majority-owned by the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, which has input into its editorial line. The paper’s editorial staff read this article, and felt that it was appropriate to run it anyway. Asa Linderborg, an editor on the relevant section of Aftonblade, told Ha’aretz that the newspaper “stands behind the demand for an international inquiry” of Boström’s claims. She also said:

“We had many discussions on whether to publish the article or not, and to the best of my knowledge, there are no facts there that are incorrect.”

And so a major European national newspaper ran a story that is extremely similar in both form and content to a medieval antisemitic slander.

Writing in rival newspaper Sydsvenskan, Mats Skogkär attacks Aftonbladet’s decision. In an Op-Ed piece called called “Antisemitbladet, he gets to the heart of the issue:

“Whispers in the dark. Anonymous sources. Rumors. That is all it takes. After all we all know what they are like, don’t we: inhuman, hardened. Capable of anything. Now all that remains is the defense, equally predictable: ‘Anti-Semitism’ No, no, just criticism of Israel.”

Nazi Abuse

August 19th, 2009 by Mark Gardner

The video below is currently doing the rounds on Youtube and numerous blogs. It was filmed at a health care debate in Las Vegas and shows a woman shouting “Heil Hitler” at an Israeli man who is praising Israel’s health care system.

This may not be the straight forward case of antisemitic abuse that it initially suggests: Nazi themed abuse is becoming increasingly common in America’s furious debate over President Obama’s health programme, and the woman in the video is actually wearing an Israeli Defence Forces T-shirt. 

If anything, this is yet another reminder to us all of how crass, stupid and immoral it is to use Nazi themed abuse as a part of political debate. It is, of course, a phenomenon, that impacts against Jews and Jewish related issues with depressing regularity: as shown in these recent reports by CST (see p.42-49), and the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism.

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