Monday, November 23, 2009

Too many Jews (Norman Geras)

Certain types of genteel anti-semitism (and of anti-Zionism-sliding-into-anti-semitism) have become so pervasive and respectable in broad sectors of mainstream public discourse in Britain that they scarcely raise an eyebrow. And people who have the temerity to notice this often provoke, at the very least, the kinds of angry and dismissive abuse once directed at early feminists when they complained about taken-for-granted sexism. (Of course, less genteel varieties of anti-semitism and/or hysterical anti-Zionism aren't so uncommon in some circles, but so far they are not quite so respectable--though they are often treated as "understandable.")

Norman Geras (following Marcus at Harry's Place) draws our attention to a typical but illuminating example. A former British ambassador, Oliver Miles, writing in a major 'progressive' British newspaper, suggests in a tone of hortatory and unembarrassed 'realism' that a public committee of inquiry dealing with Iraq (not even with Israel or the Arab-Israeli conflict, but with the 2003 Iraq war) is not "balanced" if it has ... too many Jews. The underlying premises at work here are worth pondering.

Many Europeans who think like Oliver Miles find it mystifying, even a bit scandalous, that this sort of genteel anti-semitism is not considered as mainstream and respectable in the US as it is in a lot of western European countries. Indeed, Miles complains about this in his piece. Frankly, I don't think Americans are the ones who should be embarrassed about this comparison.

--Jeff Weintraub

(P.S. As Jonathan Hoffman points out at Harry's Place, Oliver Miles's piece in the Independent fails to disclose that he is a prominent member of "the Libyan-British Business Council, co-bankrolled by the UK and Libyan governments. Miles is the Chairman of the lobbying group MEC International, which has organised the most recent project of the LBBC, including producing a report for the EU offering very rosy prospects for EU trade with Libya." In other words, Miles is not just a professional Arabist but, effectively, a paid lobbyist as well. Nothing inherently wrong with that, as long as it is honestly declared--which, in this case, it wasn't.)
Norman Geras (normblog)
November 22, 2009
Too many Jews

For the second time (the second time that I know of, that is), someone writing in the Independent thinks it is a matter of note that two members of the committee that will conduct the inquiry into the Iraq war are Jewish. On this occasion the person making the point is Oliver Miles:
Rather less attention has been paid to the curious appointment of two historians (which seems a lot, out of a total of five), both strong supporters of Tony Blair and/or the Iraq war... Both Gilbert and Freedman are Jewish, and Gilbert at least has a record of active support for Zionism. Such facts are not usually mentioned in the mainstream British and American media, but The Jewish Chronicle and the Israeli media have no such inhibitions, and the Arabic media both in London and in the region are usually not far behind... Membership should not only be balanced; it should be seen to be balanced.
[JW: This interesting formulation could mean one of two things. Either (a) pervasive anti-semitism in the Arab world, along with widely believed conspiratorial fantasies about how the 2003 Iraq war was somehow a "Zionist" plot, should be accepted by the British government as disqualifying Jews from serving in any public capacity directly or indirectly related to the Middle East. Or, more probably, (b) these Arab suspicions are actually quite sensible and legitimate. Jews, and especially any Jew who openly supports Israel's right to exist (i.e., with "a record of active support for Zionism"--horrors!), should obviously be blacklisted, or at least regarded as prima facie suspect and undesirable. Noisily anti-Zionist Jews might be OK. And, if all else fails, the proportion of Jews on such panels can be limited by sensible quotas. Isn't that just obvious common sense?]

One is bound to conclude that for Miles balance in this matter relates not only to the views of members of the committee about the Iraq war, and not only to whether or not they are historians (I mean, why on earth not equal representation for pianists and jugglers?) but also to the disproportionate number of Jews. If not, why does he think this fact worth pointing out? That the Jewish Chronicle has no inhibitions about mentioning it is neither here nor there, since the Jewish Chronicle won't be purveying the innuendo that 40 per cent Jews is too many Jews. And that the Arabic media have no inhibitions doesn't help Miles for a different reason; because the Arab media may well have some such thought in mind. But Miles is unabashed. He's jolly well going to go right ahead and intimate that two Jews is too many Jews.

When those of us who worry about the growth of anti-Semitism in this country express our worry, there's never any shortage of sceptics. 'What, anti-Semitism? Are you sure? Where's the evidence? You're just trying to dodge some perfectly legitimate criticisms of Israel... [etc]' A national newspaper now thinks nothing of giving house room to the proposal that there has to be a 'balance' as regards Jews. And that's not the worst of it. The worst of it is how few people care within the body of opinion - liberal, progressive - that really ought to care, that flatters itself that it is anti-racist.

The worst of it is that when Jews protest, making representations to media outlets over broadcast material they think objectionable, then they're charged with engaging in a darkly subterranean and well-funded form of media domination. This charge, too, supposedly has nothing to do with anti-Semitism (despite what it has in common with a very old and familiar anti-Semitic trope); it's merely an effort towards openness and transparency. Yet for Jews to press the issues that matter to them is somehow unacceptable. There has been a precipitate deterioration in public discourse in this area in the last few years. Only those who aren't interested will have missed it. (Via Harry's Place.)