22 July 2009

R.L. Stine on Israel

Ben White’s got a book out on how Israel’s policy in Gaza and the West Bank constitutes, by the UN’s definition, apartheid. I’ve not read it, but Eric Lee thinks it’s anti-Semitic. Pigdogfucker has cut his article down neatly, in both senses, but in time-honoured A-Level Eng Lit-style, I’d like us to look at how Eric Lee, as an author, manages to create an air of plausibility and an effect of not-being-a-big-long-bollocks-whine in the text.

Among other inaccuracies about police behaviour, there’s some lovely sleight-of-hand in here:
Earlier, I had noticed several officers of the Metropolitan Police present and overheard a conversation between them and War on Want staffers in which Hoffman's name came up.
Now was that “Nah, don’t mind him, he’s just ________” or was it “Here’s a tenner. Give ________ a Tomlinson special, if you know what I mean”? We don’t know, because Eric Lee wasn’t listening properly, but he managed to extrapolate the second and we’re meant to do the same. I suppose the proof of the pudding is whether Hoffmann got moved on or not. There’s no sentence stating “Hoffmann was then promptly escorted from the premises”, so I’m going to do some extrapolating of my own and say he probably wasn’t, as the man himself seems to confirm.

The classic pro-Israeli argument-bender isn’t that conspicuous but it is there. How it works is you try to simplify the debate and push it towards Israel’s Right to Defend Herself. You make sure you relate every argument back to the danger Israel faces and, while your opponent might ask how, why, when or in response to what Israel should defend itself, you treat everything as whether. As soon as your opponent gives in and engages you on that, you’ve won. Then they’re left arguing that Israel should just roll over and die, which means Jews going into the sea and incidentally how come it’s only Israel you think shouldn’t be allowed to defend itself? It’s a neat way of sidestepping anything to do with proportionality, human rights or any of that wishy-washy stuff where countries with big guns don’t get to do whatever they want with them, and on top of that, you switch positions with your opponent, and seem like a pragmatist fighting absolutism when the opposite is the case. Justification is required for something of Israel’s critics don’t believe and never argue: that Israel is different and so should not be allowed to defend itself in any way or for any reason, and everyone forgets to ask for justification for something a lot of Israel’s supporters do believe and regularly argue: that Israel is different and so should be allowed to defend itself in any way or for any reason.

Eric Lee sneaks this in with a classic combo: A “What About...” Argument with the left followed by “Baddies Are Really Bad” Argument from the right. The “What About...” Argument doesn’t work full stop, as Johann Hari points out quite well. Though the fact that Lee even what-abouts the Holocaust in, as if it needs to be mentioned for everything someone Jewish might have sneezed on, is particularly hackish. The “Baddies Are Really Bad” Argument is, I would say, fairly reasonable in certain contexts, for example in a pragmatic argument on when and to what extent Israel should return fire. But in a book about how to classify Israeli policy, it is largely irrelevant, in the same way that whether a latte macchiato counts as proper coffee doesn’t depend on how thirsty you are. Unless I’m wrong and the book is actually full of references to ANC atrocities and how Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. Aside from that, pointing out how bad Hamas are is a waste of time, as hardly anyone in the West needs telling, except as a tokenistic gesture to neutrality. Bringing Hamas into the discussion simply turns it away from Israel’s treatment of Palestinian civilians and towards Israel vs. Hamas, away from how Israel deals with a terrorist presence and towards if it should at all. The fact that Lee considers Hamas even slightly relevant to the Israeli apartheid debate also stinks of anti-Arabism and Islamophobia. It implies that the actions of certain individuals within a population should determine the rights of that population as a whole. That racial segregation isn’t that bad – or at least isn’t racist – as long as you really need to do it and the race in question really deserves it.

But here’s the money shot:
Two Jews stood up during the discussion – the only two who made an issue of being Jews – and represented themselves as coming from tiny grouplets with names like “Jews Against Zionism” or something like that.

I'm sure that War on Want has no problem with Jews like that.

This leaves the question open, what kind of Jews does War on Want have a problem with? Well, assuming Lee means anti-Zionist Jews, I guess that leaves all the others, i.e. pro-Zionist Jews and Jews that sit on the fence or have never really thought about it. So what he’s implying is that War on Want have a problem with Jews that actively believe in something they oppose, and also with Jews who have no opinion on an issue they consider important, although they have no problem with Jews who agree with them. In fact, if Lee’s assertion that War on Want have no problem with Jews who share their priorities and principles, that’s pretty much proof that they’re not anti-Semitic.

Not sure? Let’s try removing all references to Jews and Jewish stuff and see how the quote sounds. I reckon this will work with almost any prejudice as well, racial, religious or partisan.
Two people stood up during the discussion – the only two to make an issue of their particular religious/ethnic background – and represented themselves as coming from tiny grouplets with names like “People Opposed to the Very Thing that War on Want is Currently Criticising”.

I'm sure that War on Want has no problem with people like that.

Just for fun, let’s put some other stuff back in. I went to a Libertarian-funded conference on cutting taxes and ranting about DDT the other day.
Two black people stood up during the discussion – the only two who made an issue of being black – and represented themselves as coming from tiny grouplets with names like “Black People Against The Insidious Creep of Statism” or something like that.

I'm sure that the Libertarian Party has no problem with blacks like that.

It came as a shock to me, writing that last sentence, to realise just how nasty and racist the Libertarian Party is. I’m actually starting to rather enjoy this game, and I reckon you can play it with pretty much anything except Christians liking Jews for Jesus. Now if I imply that Libertarians have a problem with black people who advocate higher taxation, or that Jeremy Clarkson has a problem with people from Kibworth Harcourt who install speed cameras, I’m not technically lying. In actual fact I’d imagine most Libertarians are too busy getting angry about other people touching their money to notice creed or colour, and I’ve never heard Jeremy Clarkson specifically rail against Kibworth Harcourt. But, being a rather naïve species, we naturally assume that if someone mentions something, it’s actually in some way relevant to what they’re saying. This despite ten years of Family Guy.

So for the record, I have no problem with Jews like that either. In fact, one of my best friends is a self-hating Jew. I do, however, have a problem with Jews who believe in stuff I strongly disagree with and Jews who don’t care about things I think they should. I especially have a problem with groups of Jews who walk really slowly right in the middle of the pavement, and three abreast so I can’t get past when I’m in a hurry. Oh, and Jews who don’t like Soundgarden, I can’t understand them at all. But Jews who share all my tastes and opinions exactly and who are considerate to the people around them in the ways I actually notice and care about, then no, provided that they don’t do things I’m proud of doing better than me, I have no real problem with Jews like that.

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