Saturday, October 22, 2011

"Almost comical" anti-Israel prejudice in the Guardian, dissected by Jeffrey Goldberg & Norman Geras

A constant drumbeat of obsessively hostile anti-Zionist propaganda (sometimes shading off into borderline anti-semitism), presented in the guise of serious analysis, has become so routine and reflexive in allegedly "progressive" British newspapers like the Guardian that one can feel tempted to simply ignore it. But it's worth highlighting examples from time to time, to avoid taking this stuff for granted and having it start sounding like common sense.

I notice that a recent piece of this sort by a columnist named Deborah Orr ("Is an Israeli life really more important than a Palestinian's?") was called out by Norman Geras in Britain and by Jeffrey Goldberg in the US. Both of their critiques are worth quoting.

Here is Orr's Guardian piece in full (the bolding is Goldberg's). The key point is that the mind-set it reveals is neither unusual nor extreme, but entirely run-of the mill. And her piece is also short enough that one can easily quote the whole thing:
It's quite something, the prisoner swap between Hamas and the Israeli government that returns Gilad Shalit to his family, and more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to theirs. The deal is widely viewed as a victory for Hamas, the radical Islamist group that gained power in Gaza after years of frustration at the intractability of the "peace process". Conversely, it is being seen by some as a sign of weakness in Israel's rightwing prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

All this, I fear, is simply an indication of how inured the world has become to the obscene idea that Israeli lives are more important than Palestinian lives. Netanyahu argues that he acted because he values Shalit's life so greatly.

Yet who is surprised really, to learn that Netanyahu sees one Israeli's freedom as a fair exchange for the freedom of so many Palestinians? Likewise, Hamas wished to use their human bargaining chip to gain release for as many Palestinians as they could. They don't have much to bargain with.

At the same time, however, there is something abject in their eagerness to accept a transfer that tacitly acknowledges what so many Zionists believe - that the lives of the chosen are of hugely greater consequence than those of their unfortunate neighbours.
The Israeli government and Israeli public opinion were willing, rightly or wrongly, to pay an enormously lopsided price in order to set Gilad Shalit free, even if that required the release of hundreds of convicted murderers who might well try to kill other Israeli civilians in the future. Orr's immediate reaction, of course, is that this must reveal something evil (even "obscene") about the way Israelis and those who sympathize with Israelis view the world ... and that any discussion of this incident has to be somehow given an anti-Jewish spin, even if that requires a bit of logical and rhetorical straining. Presumably, Orr is just doing her job as a columnist as she understands it. I suspect she doesn't even think of herself as a bigoted person. (Bigots often don't.)

Jeffrey Goldberg responds with some pertinent "thoughts and questions":
  1. She's got to be kidding.
  2. Assuming Ms. Orr is not kidding, how is it possibly Israel's fault that Hamas demanded the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit? Isn't this a question for Hamas?
  3. Is the prime minister of Israel not supposed to value Israeli life? Asked another way: Is the British prime minister not supposed to do whatever he can to help one of his soldiers? Have I missed something about the nature of the relationship between the British prime minister and his fellow citizens?
  4. "Chosen"? Really? Does Ms. Orr understand Jewish theology? (This is a rhetorical question). "Chosenness" in Jewish theology actually means "burdened," as in, Jews are burdened by their faith with special responsibilities to carry out what Judaism understands to be God's wishes. Chosenness does not mean "exclusive" or "more equal than others." It never has, except to anti-Semites. Christians believe they are in possession of the final word of God, as do Muslims. This belief fosters a feeling of theological superiority. Does this make Christians and Muslims "chosen" as well? Or is the term "chosenness" only a weapon for use against Jews? (This, too, is a rhetorical question).
  5. A question for the Guardian: Shouldn't your editors do a better job of masking prejudice on your website?
And here is Norm's reaction (Either-Orr):
You may think you've plumbed the depths of human stupidity and blind prejudice, but you never have. It is bottomless. Deborah Orr is of the opinion that the exchange of Gilad Shalit's freedom for that of more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners underwrites 'the obscene idea that Israeli lives are more important than Palestinian lives'. She asks: 'who is surprised really, to learn that Netanyahu sees one Israeli's freedom as a fair exchange for the freedom of so many Palestinians?' By accepting the terms of the exchange, she contends, Hamas display their eagerness 'to accept a transfer that tacitly acknowledges what so many Zionists believe – that the lives of the chosen are of hugely greater consequence than those of their unfortunate neighbours'.

I urge upon you this brief thought experiment. The Israelis offer to free a single Palestinian prisoner - one, let us say, not responsible for terrorist murder, and in that regard just like Shalit - for the young Israeli hostage. Hamas's leaders deliberate. Do they hold out for a better 'rate of exchange'? Orr do they just agree, 'OK, guys, why not - one for one?' I won't insult anyone's intelligence further by suggesting the result.

But it is 'the lives of the chosen' - she means Jews - that are of 'hugely greater consequence'. Yes, indeed. That has been the world's opinion to date, has it not? - and is still the opinion of those many who find room in their consciences for the idea that murdering Jews is understandable in the given circumstances.

[See now also here.]
—Jeff Weintraub

[Update, 10/26/2011: Deborah Orr has issued a routine sort of non-apology apology which evades all the important issues and indicates that she still doesn't quite understand why some people got so upset about her original piece.]Link

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