OxBlog

Saturday, February 17, 2007

# Posted 8:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ARE JEWS PARANOID? (or FINKELSTEIN UNHINGED): I attended an Orthodox Jewish school from kindergarten through twelfth grade. One of the most popular teacher at my school was a rabbi who asked me once, in all seriousness, if I really believed that another Holocaust couldn't happen here, meaning in the United States.

I was probably 15 or 16 at the time and didn't have a very good answer for him. Almost all of us in school had grown up in a Jewish cocoon, barely interacting with the outside world. We attended Jewish summer camps, Jewish after school programs and Jewish youth groups . And of course Saturday (Shabbos) was for synagogue. So if an authority figure informed us that our fellow Americans had the potential to become this generation's Nazi Germany, it was hard to dispute.

This rabbi's question didn't represent mainstream thinking at our school, which was generally quite pro-American, or even patriotic, but it was a candid expression of the paranoia that had a life of its own, no matter good things were for our people.

The purpose of Norman Finkelstein's book, Beyond Chutzpah, is to demonstrate that exaggerated accusation of anti-Semitism are not just pervasive, but systematically employed to shut down criticism of Israel, and especially of its human rights violations.

Finkelstein's book is comprised of two parts. The purpose of the first is to expose precisely how groundless accusations of anti-Semitism are constructed and deployed in Israel's defense. The second part comprises an extended refutation of Alan Dershowitz's book, The Case for Israel. This post concerns the first of the two.

My sense of Finkelstein is that he has a lot in common with the rabbi who once asked me why another Holocaust couldn't happen here. The difference is that the polarity of Finkelstein's paranoia has been reversed. Instead of a wild fear of anti-Semitism, he has a wild fear of the American Jewish community being corrupted by its obsession with anti-Semitism.

Two of Finkelstein's favorite tactics are to accuse his targets of either being traitors or behaving like Communists. For example, he writes that:
Altough Israel's apologists claim to allow for criticism of the occasional Israeli "excess" (what is termed "legitimate criticism"), the upshot of this allowance is to delegitimize the preponderance of criticism as anti-Semitic -- just as Communist parties used to allow for criticism of the occasional Stalinist "excess," while denouncing unprincipled criticism as "anti-Soviet" and therfore beyond the pale. (p.34)
One might say that Finkelstein deserves some small credit for at least acknolwedging that American Jews condemn Israel's excesses. Unfortunately, Finkelstein never really explores those branches of the American Jewish community that have shown particular concern for Israeli human rights violations, especially the Reform and Conservative Jewish establishments. Instead, he just conjures up an analogy to Communism.

Later, Finkelstein condemns "an October 2004 report solicited by the [French] Interior Ministry" which invented the category of "anti-Semitism by proxy." The report defines anti-Semites by proxy as those whose "opinions, words, or sometimes simply silence lend support to [anti-Semitic] violence." This sounds like a somehwat problematic definition, but Finkelstein goes much further. He describes it as:
A direct throwback to the darkest days of Stalinism, when those criticizing the Soviet regime were, by virtue of this fact alone, branded "objective" abettors of fascism and dealt with accordingly. (p.49)
Funny that. The fascists used to argue all the time that Communism was a Jewish conspiracy.

Anyhow, it's important to note that accusations of Stalinist behavior quickly shade into accusation of treason. In a chapter entitled "Crying Wolf", Finkelstein discusses "domestic American Jewish organizations such as ADL [the Anti-Defamation League] and the Simon Wiesenthal Center and their counterparts elsewhere in Europe." In all seriousness, Finklestein writes that:
These organizations stand in the same relationship to their respective host countries as Communist parties once did, except that they view Israel rather than Stalin's Russia as the Motherland. (p.67)
So, you might ask, where is Finkelstein's evidence that these nominally independent organizations are subversive criminal enterprises that take orders directly from Jerusalem? Actually, evidence is not important. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you.

With regard to conspiracies, Finkelstein is a veteran detective. Drawing on his previous book, The Holocaust Industry, he writes that:
Under the guise of seeking "Holocaust reparations," American Jewish organizations and individuals at all levels of government and in all sectors of American society entered into a conspiracy -- this is the correct word -- to blackmail Europe. It was on account of "Jewish money" that the Clinton administration went along with this shakedown operation -- even to the detriment of U.S. national interests. (p.82)
I haven't read The Holocaust Industry, but allegations of vast Jewish blackmail conspiracies are a pretty good indicator that someone has lost touch with reality.

Actually, that reminds me of an old joke. Two Jews were sitting on a bench in Berlin in the 1930s. One was reading a Jewish newspaper, the other was reading Der Stuermer, a Nazi propaganda publication. The Jew reading the Jewish paper turned to his friend and asked how any self-respecting Jew could read such filthy anti-Semitic garbage. His friend calmly responded that he would much prefer to read how Jews control the media, the banks and the American government rather than reading about Jews being beaten, robbed and abused by agents of the German government.

Going back to theme of treason, Finkelstein observes in an extended footnote that:

In recent years it has become nearly impossible to empirically test the hypothesis that U.S. national interest trumps the Jewish lobby or vice versa. This is because the degree of interpenetration, or revolving door, of personnel between the Jewish lobby and U.S. administrations effectively precludes such a test...

How can one really know on what interest or at whose behest a Martin Indyk, Dennis Ross, Paul Wolfowitz, or Richard Perle is acting when he argues policy on the Middle East?

I knew it! Jews control both the Democratic and Republican parties. And in order to cover up their conspiracy, the Jewish Democrats and Jewish Republicans pretend to disagree with each other.

For example, I saw Dennis Ross -- Clinton's special coordinator for the Middle East -- give a lecture just over a week ago. (This is not a set up for a joke. I really did attend Ross' presentation. 'P' was there and she can verify it.) Ross had some very unkind words for the Bush administration and its handling of just about every aspect of Middle East diplomacy. Little did I know that such criticism was just a clever way of deflecting attention from Ross' nefarious collaboration with Wolfowitz and Perle.

So, now that I've run down what I dislike about Finkelstein's book, is there anything good to say on its behalf? Actually, yes. It does document the extent to which Jewish leaders sometimes say things that are pretty much absurd. For example, the title page for Part I of Finkelstein's book includes a quote from ADL director Abraham Foxman, who inisted not long ago that:
We currently face as great a threat to the safety and security of the Jewish people as the one we faced in the 1930s -- if not a greater one. (p.19)
I find that kind of rhetoric to be extraordinarily unhelpful. Above all, it detracts from the credibility of substantive accusations of anti-Semitism by suggesting that they may be the product of paranoia.

On the other hand, Finkelstein never even asks whether there is a real debate within the American Jewish community about the validity of certain accusations of anti-Semitism. Instead, Finkelstein tends to focus on the most extreme accusations while presenting them as the product of the mainstream. For example, one of his favorite targets is Phyllis Chesler, author of a fairly prominent book entitled The New Anti-Semitism.

Curious about Chesler's standing in the Jewish community, I called up my father and asked him if he'd ever heard of her. I asked the question point-blank, careful not to give away why I was asking it. My father's immediate response was "Phyllis Chesler is a nut...she finds anti-Semites under every rock."

So you know, my father is very active in the New York Jewish community. He has been a vice-president of our synagogue for more than a decade and is very strongly pro-Israel and pro-peace. Although talking to my father doesn't constitute a scientific survey of Jewish opinion, it is a small indicator of the vibrant debates that characterize the American Jewish community. As the saying goes, two Jews, three opinions.

Even in the absence of Finkelstein's paranoid polemics, American Jews would be having substantive discussions about the important issues he raises.

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(12) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
David, was Foxman talking about the threat in the U.S. or was he talking about Israel getting nuked? I could understand why he would be worried about Iran, but I doubt that Jews are going to have big problems in the States. If anyone gets purged or cleansed it will be lawyers not religious minorities.
 
Since Oslo imploded, in all too many venues, Anti-Zionism has become synonymous with virtue, and Anti-Semitism has become the sine qua non of politically correct.

Pointing this out, of course, makes one an opponent of virtue, a nefarious anti-anti-Semite, and an apologist for Zionism.
 
A friend claims that it was from an Israeli that he heard the description of a New Yorker as "The kind of Jew who gets a parking ticket and cries Holocaust".
 
Finkelstein fails to adress and i am sure he isnt interested to go there is why Israel is owned to a superior values like no other country. The only country near it is USA.
I think that is many times anti-semitism.Many countries made ethnical/population cleansing we just have to go to the end of 2WW in 1945. For example the ethnical cleansing in Balkans in 1990's was in fact accepted as fact accompli by Europe that shut off anyone talking about it because it wanted peace. The same Europe that wants 1967 borders for a War that was started by Egypt...
Isnt suspicious that a person that vilifies Israel for 1948 a war that it didnt started but dont talks about Polish takeover of parts of German, USSR takeover of Poland land, and i could go on and on because there a dozen of examples in and after 2WWar, but no one except Israel is vilified because of it. For example Arabs that expelled hundreds thousand jews during 2WW and in 1947-8 are not.
 
I roughly agree with Anon 9:04. General statements about the ubiquity of anti-semitism in the western world and especially liberal circles can be made without all that. You need only notice the arguments and realize that Israel, while perhaps deserving of certain criticisms, is held to a much higher standard and is criticized for behaviors many other countries also engage in, but engage in free of the ethical (and strangely narrow) microscope.

You don't need to ponder for too long what makes Israel different, what makes it deserving of the more vociferous criticism. The answer is obvious--most Israelis are Jewish.

tim maguire--sorry, I'm having trouble signing in since google and blogspot merged.
 
An alternative reason for why Israel should be held to a higher standard by the US is the $2.5B in aid we provide annually.
 
9:55, that standard doesn't apply to Egypt. Try again.
 
Actually Mike, it does apply to Egypt. Re-read.
 
During the cold war I voiced criticisms of the Soviet Union that were far from friendly or constructive. But I never denied being anti-Soviet.

To complete the analogy, those whose criticisms of Israel are not constructive, or aimed at excess, but are based on hatred of Israel, should admit their antisemitism.

But if I say that, Im a paranoid conspirator, I guess.
 
But if I say that, Im a paranoid conspirator, I guess.

And not a very good one at that.

In order for your analogy to have a parallel, you would have to have been anti-russian, the dominant ethnic group, and I don't think you were anti-russian.

Any criticism of Israel based on reason and fact is fair. Any.
 
The problem is that the political Left has embraced a severely anti-Israel attitude that is interconnected with anti-Americanism. This attitude is often very extreme. The clearest example is Chomsky's flirtations with Holocaust denial. In essence rather than criticize the extremism of anti-Isreal attitudes, many Jewish leftists made the choice to defend it, if not to a significant degree because they share its assumptions. Thus we have phenomenon of Jewish leftists vocally accusing the Jewish community of crying wolf based not on principle or reason, but as a furtherance of their own extremism. The almost comical perversion is that whilethey accuse the Jewish community of labeling all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism, no matter how crude this "criticism" is, they try to label any criticism of themselves and their views as a form of intellectual thuggery and McCarthyism. They are the ones who are trying to silence debate by crying about suppression.
 
Dang, I just love arguments without any facts or references. You can say anything about anyone. They're really entertaining, especially when the spelling and grammar are top notch.
 
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