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The AJC and "What is Antisemitism?"

The following is in response to an article by Alvin H. Rosenfeld, "Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism", posted on the site of the American Jewish Committee at

http://www.ajc.org/atf/cf/%7B42D75369-D582-4380-8395-D25925B85EAF%7D/PROGRESSIVE_JEWISH_THOUGHT.PDF

and especially to comments derived from that article by Jonathan Rosenbloom, originally writing in Yated Neeman.

Rosenfeld uses an old but quaint technique - taking snippets out of context. It's quaint when the context is freely available online, and deeply dishonest when no link to the context is provided. The link to my piece is on this site and easily available from numerous sources.

Rosenfeld fumes but studiously ignores my arguments. Though some of the 'quotations' are merely misleading, at least one amounts to outright falsification:

"Some anti-Semitism is acceptable," Neumann asserts baldly.

Try to find this statement in the original, and you'll get a good idea of how far Rosenfeld can be trusted. It must be said that he has great difficulty with conditional statements, so he cannot manage my contention that, if you use various bad and silly definitions of 'antisemitism', an absurd consequence of your blunder will be to make what you have foolishly defined as antisemitism acceptable. He might have been clued in by the following: "I've suggested that it's best to narrow the definition of antisemitism so that no act can be both antisemitic and unobjectionable."

As for Jonathan Rosenbloom, I simply reproduce, with very minor changes, what I sent to aish.com. Of course the site did not see fit to run my response. Rosenbloom writes:

"Canadian philosophy professor Michael Neumann says world Jewry is more complicit in Israel's crimes than were the German people in those of the Nazis. He accuses Israel of waging a race war against the Palestinians aimed at nothing less than the extinction of a people. That is a curious claim given the high rate of population growth both of Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinians and the sharp decline in Palestinian infant mortality under Israeli rule. But then again factual argument is not the strong point of any of the works Rosenfeld surveys."

For someone who criticizes others' capacities for factual argument, Jonathan Rosenbloom is himself remarkably cavalier about a crucial set of facts: the actual words of his opponents. What I said is easily available online at counterpunch.org. Rosenbloom didn't bother to look it up. Instead he contented himself with Rosenfeld's butchered snippets.

I did indeed write that Israel was "waging a race war against the Palestinians ". I said this because Israel has sponsored a settlement movement which intends to 'redeem' all of Palestine, that is, make all of Palestine a Jewish land. However I did not claim that Israel intended to kill all the Palestinians. I said: "[Israel's"] purpose is not defense or public order, but the extinction of a people. True, Israel has enough PR-savvy to eliminate them with an American rather than a Hitlerian level of violence." I called this a 'kindler, gentler genocide'.

Someone with average reading ability would understand that an 'American level of violence' means less than an attempt to wipe out the population. The settlers, whom Israel has supported with enthusiasm, would love it if all the Palestinians dropped dead, but they don't plan to set up extermination camps. They want the Palestinians, in my words, to 'vanish or die', but Israel, being PR-savvy, has no intention of conducting mass killings. It simply hopes, as it has always hoped, that the Palestinians would, in one way or the other, go away.

Its treatment of them falls within the characterization of genocide offered by the man who coined the term, Raphael Lemkin. He said: "...genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups." (Raphael Lemkin, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, Washington (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) 1944, 79.)

Israel's policies, minus the optional 'mass killings', fits this description. Given the appalling and wilfully created health and nutrition crisis in the occupied territories, the Palestinian birth rate is hardly something for which Israel can take credit. On the contrary, a high birth rate, as Rosenbloom knows, is one of the Palestinians' quite deliberate responses to a mortal threat: if not the physical elimination of a people, their expulsion and destruction as a distinct entity. The fact that many individual Israelis deplore their country's treatment of the Palestinians does nothing to mitigate the policies that make this threat all too real.

Finally, Rosenbloom contrives to make me look as if, contrary to my explicit statements, I am likening the Israeli policies to Hitler's. He does this by presenting a garbled version of what I say about complicity. What I wrote was that "if it is not racist, and reasonable, to say that the Germans were complicit in crimes against humanity, then it is not racist, and reasonable, to say the same of the Jews." However I did not endorse such accusations of complicity. On the contrary, once again, I expressed doubt about the whole idea of holding entire peoples collectively responsible: "perhaps the whole notion of collective responsibility should be discarded". And to compare degrees of complicity is not to claim that there is complicity in crimes of the same magnitude. If, for example, the directors of a company are more complicit in defrauding its shareholders than the citizens of Iraq were complicit in gassing the Kurds, it does not follow that defrauding the shareholders was worse than gassing the Kurds. My comparison therefore did not imply that Israel's policies were Hitlerian.