Why is there no backlash when Benjamin Netanyahu focuses on “the Jews”?


2:30 pm - February 12th 2013

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by Steven Hynd

Last week I criticised the Liberal Democrat MP David Ward for his sloppy, unhelpful and inaccurate use of terminology.

This week it is my turn to attack the Israeli Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu for remarkably similar sloppy, unhelpful and inaccurate terminology.

In short, I criticised Ward for using “language to suggest that all Jews were responsible for the crimes that are being committed by the state of Israel”.

In Sunday’s Observer, Netanyahu was quoted as saying, “The Jewish people, [who have] suffered boycotts and persecution, should be a light unto other nations”.

On the flip side of Ward’s comments sits the equally ludicrous assertion that ‘Jews’ in their entirety should be “a light unto other nations” because they have “suffered”. This is a big conceptual leap that needs to be challenged. Why would suffering lead to an expectation for all Jews to “be a light” or (as Ward suggests) to “have learnt lessons”.

Those who spend their days defending Israel and everything associated with it might well jump to Netanyahu’s defence saying that his comments were not an attack on Jews the same way Ward’s were. Different context, different sentiment, and so different conclusions they would argue.

However, I would argue that Netanyahu’s comments are unhelpful in a comparable way to Ward’s.

Netanyahu (inadvertently) plays into a collective absolutist discourse of ‘The Jews’. This is the same discourse that is used by anti-Semites to attack ‘Jews’ regardless of religion, politics or other affiliations. It is fundamentally a crass discourse that fails to celebrate the diversity within the Jewish population.

Netanyahu’s comments are based on an idea that ‘the Jews’ have some sort of special role to play because of their history.

Imagine, two boys growing up in London – one Jewish, one not. I wonder if Netanyahu could explain to me why the Jewish one should be ‘shining a light’ while he doesn’t expect the non-Jewish one to be?

Just as I asked Ward “what does he want us to learn [from the Holocaust] that is applicable to the current situation in the occupied territories” so I have to ask Netanyahu – what does he think ‘The Jews’ should have learnt from ‘persecution’ that would lead them (collectively – all 13 million of them) to be a ‘light unto other nations’?

It might seem like an obvious thing to write, but I am astonished how often it is missed. ‘Jews’ in their entirety are no more perfect or evil than any other group that so messily brings together thousands of years of history, culture and religion.

This acknowledgement is the basis on which to pull the rug out from under the anti-Semites feet. It doesn’t help if Netanyahu is firmly stood on the same rug.


Cross-posted from Steve Hynd’s blog

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Reader comments


I honestly think you need to sit back and think about this for a longer time than just responding to each roll of the rhetorical dice. Netanyahu is playing a similar tune to one most rabbis will play…it’s pretty harmless. Every people likes to think the best of themselves…this is really no big deal. Magnifying your argument by lines such as ‘collective absolutist discourse’ is pretty meaningless…Netanyahu probably trots out this line every week.
Not worth an article IMHO.

I think Steve Hynd was wrong to assume that Ward was in anyway likening what the Nazis did to what Israel has done since 1948. And I think he’s kind of wrong here to pick up on this way of saying ”the Jews”.
It’s something that is commonly said in all sorts of circumstances, and I asked on another website (Harry’s Place) if someone would explain why it’s said that way.
Ward was justified in saying that Jews, through their collective suffering as a people, might have shown more compassion for another people than they have done IN ISRAEL.

And I think it’s alright for Netanyahu to say what he said too, because he’s talking about ”the Jewish people”.
You might expect Christians to act a bit more christian-like as well, but it’s often not the case either.

There is massive hypocrisy about this with Israel supporters though, who denounced Ward in very strong terms and called him an anti-Semite for saying that.

– “Netanyahu’s comments are based on an idea that ‘the Jews’ have some sort of special role to play because of their history.”

Nuh-uh, he’s using a standard rhetorical device that’s central to Judaism. “Vehayita or la’goyim” or “thou shalt be a light to nations” is part of the obligations laid on the Jews by dint of being Yahwe’s chosen people.

Just a bit of cultural/theological nuance there that’s gone over your head, I think…

4. Churm Rincewind

“The Jewish people, [who have] suffered boycotts and persecution, should be a light unto other nations”

I can’t fault that statement. He’s not claiming that the Jewish people are a light to other nations, he’s saying they should be. That’s a wholly commendable aspiration, which I applaud. And I’m not normally one of his fans.

Netenyahu is attempting to co-opt all Jews into the sectarian, genocidal Zionist project. Naturally he uses the term `the Jews’ when justifying Zionist crimes as this in his mind somehow magically legitimizes those crimes in the eyes of the rest of the world but surely the Zionists shouldn’t then moan and go around calling people anti-Semite when they use the same term `the Jews’ when describing Zionist crimes because in their mind Zionism and Judaism have become synonymous just as the Zionists had hoped for and have worked for. The Zionists should be flattered. David Ward is no anti-semite he just fell for Zionist propaganda.

Netenyahu is attempting to co-opt all Jews into the sectarian, genocidal Zionist project.

Fucking hell – this same ‘Jews are creatinf their own holocaust’ trope gets trotted out every time Jews are mentioned on this site and the perpetrators never get pulled on their rabid antisemitism.

This is bullshit.

Suppose some MP decided to lecture all “Muslims” about how they are implicated in Islamist terrorism.

Then suppose another speaker, a Muslim, enjoins all Muslims around the world to live peacefully according to their interpretation of Quran.

The first would be patronising, ignorant and prejudicial. It would be rather like the sort of thing that Martin Amis or Robert Kilroy has said about Muslims.

The second case would be a little vapid and sanctimonious (like virtually all religious speeches) but not as casually offensive as the first case.

David Ward has every right to say whatever he wants about Jews. But he is an idiot. He is just the reverse of casual idiotic islamophobes everywhere.

Yet another article about Israel or Jews on Liberal Conspiracy – for a moment I thought I’d strayed onto Harry’s Place.

Well needs must if it fills space so as to avoid talking about Mid-Staffs.

On the rare occasion that Football makes waves on LC – why am I even remotely surprised that writers and readers alike are equally out of their depth in understanding what has been said and done?

Here’s the thing.

Some horrendous racists at an Israeli football club caused a lot of controversy by their open racism towards two Chechen players.

The PM stepped in and said this was outrageous and that Jews should know better.

Now, while obviously Jews should know better. So should everyone. Racism and biggotry is always wrong.

And here’s the issue.

When West Ham fans got in trouble over anti-semitic chanting at a game against Spurs not so long ago – Cameron would never in a million years have come out and said “Christians should know better than this” or that “Whites should know better than this” or most equivelently, that “Gentiles should know better than this”.

He wouldn’t for two reasons. One is that it indicates an outrageously patronising outlook towards other races and religions that somehow his race or religion should be singled out as being worthy of knowing better.

The other, more importantly, is that Cameron no more speaks for gentiles, whites or christians then an Israeli PM speaks for Jews. An Israeli PM is a PM of a country with several races and religions within it. There are also many Jews who are not and never have been Jewish, for whom he does not speak.

And that – is what is rather sinister about his otherwise well intentioned attempt to condemn racism in football.

#9 @Margin4error

You might also be interested in two other articles I have written. First one is on the ‘Death to Arabs’ chant so commonly heard at Beitar Jerusalem matches (see http://stevehynd.com/2012/04/03/is-death-to-arabs-just-another-football-chant/) The Second is about the anti-semitic chanting that I heard at White heart Lane when my team (Chelt Town) played them in the FA Cup – pretty shocking tbh (see http://stevehynd.com/2012/01/18/the-day-when-i-was-ashamed-to-be-a-cheltenham-town-fan)

“There is massive hypocrisy about this with Israel supporters though, who denounced Ward in very strong terms” – you mean such famous Israel supporters as George Galloway, damon?

I thought Steve’s post was interesting – but, when I read it on his own blog, I had failed to follow the link and thus hadn’t taken in the fact that this was in the context of racism in football. So, although I take margin4error’s point, I now think the comment was more understandable. He wasn’t excluding non Jewish Israelis – because he was exhorting Jewish (presumably) Israelis not to attack them. I agree that Cameron wouldn’t say such a thing, but the context of Jews/Israel is very different – whites and gentiles don’t have a history of persecution. So – interesting parallel to explore, but I’m inclined to think the link with Ward is actually a pretty superficial one.

`David Ward has every right to say whatever he wants about Jews. But he is an idiot. He is just the reverse of casual idiotic islamophobes everywhere.’

This is the right approach. The Zionists and the Islamists are identical phenomena in that they are sectarian political movements intent on building empires around the religion they’ve chosen to piggy back on. Both are happy to use terrorism and genocide to achieve their aims but to identify Islamists with Islam or the mass of Islamic people or Zionism with Judaism is exactly what the Islamists and Zionists desire. David Ward fell into this trap, a trap set for him by the Zionists themselves.

you mean such famous Israel supporters as George Galloway?
I wouldn’t take too much notice of him as he is a bit all over the place.
We’ve been around the block on this one a bit and I hit a brick wall over on your site …. as any mention of blood or death in relation to Palestinians gets people complaining about the ”blood libel” etc.
And how you don’t even have to intend to be anti-semitic to be so – and how Jews can have the final say on what is and isn’t anti-semitic etc.

But I never got an answer to the question I asked on HP about why the term ”the Jews” is used at all.
It’s used by Jews and supporters of Israel too, in an benign and unpolitical way – in which we don’t talk about ”the Catholics”.
But maybe we might say ”the Mormons” or some smaller sect. Why do people say ”the Jews” and who are they refering to? As, say it the wrong way and you get all kinds of accusations thrown at you.

But then if you don’t allow ”the Jews” to have a special affinity with the state of Israel, you can also be accused of anti-semitism because you don’t allow for that special bond that Jews world-wide often have for that place.
It would be nice if your site was able to discuss things like this without all the vitrioll and people throwing cheap accusations of bigotry around all the time. It’s not though unfortunately.
I’m quite interested in the issue of I/P, but trying to discuss it over the internet is pretty much a waste of time.

post 12 was to Sarah AB.

15. Timon for Tea

That’s true, but mostly because of silly-arsed comments like yours. It is perfectly easy to talk about I/P without any question of antisemitism, most people do it most of the time. If you keep getting called out for racism, it is most likely just because you are acting like a racist.

‘I hit a brick wall over on your site’ – now, now damon – you mean security fence, don’t you? These are complicated topics, but I think implicit in my post on Scarfe, for example, was a sense it did not cross that line, and Alan A more explicitly and at length, above the line, explained why that was his view. People I have the greatest respect for think differently, and I certainly don’t think it is simply frivolous, or a sign of wishing to deflect criticism of Israel, to consider the cartoon a/s – the timing was very unfortunate of course, and Ward’s comments weren’t the greatest context, not that those last two points are remotely Scarfe’s fault.

With regard to Timon’s point – indeed – people like David Ward give the impression of wanting to wind people up more than they want to say something constructive about I/P or support Palestinians. Many writers are critical of Israel without attracting such accusations (except perhaps from fringe figures like Robert Spencer). A familiar formula is that ‘fair criticism of Israel should not be deemed antisemitic’ – but I have read things which seemed, to me, a little unfair – yet still not antisemitic.

“David Ward fell into this trap, a trap set for him by the Zionists themselves.”

Of course. Those sneaky Zionists forced Ward to talk anti-semitic bollocks. Such masters of manipulation, aren’t they?

Good grief.

That’s true, but mostly because of silly-arsed comments like yours.

Are you refering to me? What was silly-arsed? Have you tried going on the Harry’s Place website – where you might be accused of being anti-semitic at the drop of a hat.
To even write more than a few times on the subject will get people accusing you of having an ”unhealthy intrest” in one small part of the world. And that you probably are only concerned about that place, and not Congo or some other country to the same degree, because they are Jews in Israel and you must hate Jews.

That’s not silly arsed, that’s how comments on there go. It’s like the suspicious interview you get when you arrive in Israel as a tourist. They want to know ”but why come to Israel?”

Sarah, as I said before, you don’t have to like David Ward or his ”they of all people” comments about Israelis, but you (not you personally) have to prove your case better than was done before you can call him anti-semitic. Whereas on your site it seemed to be the other way around and h was guilty untill proved innocent for most of the people leaving comments. Saying the whip should have been withdrawn from him etc.

And I’m still not sorted with this way people talk about ”the Jews”. It is common isn’t it? I’m not imaginig it.
People on your site will talk about ”the Jews” sometimes …. and obviously not in a negative way.
It’s a little issue that hasn’t been cleared up for me with the Ward fiasco.
Because when he used the same term, people were all over it in outrage at his ”anti-semitic slur” against Jews.

`Of course. Those sneaky Zionists forced Ward to talk anti-semitic bollocks. Such masters of manipulation, aren’t they?

Good grief.’

Well they are masters of manipulation that is for sure. Nevertheless the Zionists do want everybody else to identify Zionism and Judaism and not differentiate them. Ward was only doing what they wanted in that sense but yes he may well have fallen into their cunning trap because he wanted to like the Islamaphobes of the EDL like to idenfify the fanatical Islamists with Islam in general. The Islamists want that and the EDL are happy to oblige. The Zionists are more than happy to stir up anti-Semitism by identifying their crimes with those of Judaism because of course they have an interest in the rest of the world’s Jews joining them in Israel either voluntarily or by force.

`Of course. Those sneaky Zionists forced Ward to talk anti-semitic bollocks. Such masters of manipulation, aren’t they?

Good grief.’

Well they are masters of manipulation, psychopaths and politically devious sectarian scum on that I think we can all agree. Nevertheless the Zionists do want everybody else to identify Zionism and Judaism and not differentiate them. Ward was only doing what they wanted in that sense but yes he may well have fallen into their cunning trap because he wanted to like the Islamaphobes of the EDL like to idenfify the fanatical Islamists with Islam in general. The Islamists want that and the EDL are happy to oblige. The Zionists are more than happy to stir up anti-Semitism by identifying their crimes with those of Judaism because of course they have an interest in the rest of the world’s Jews joining them in Israel either voluntarily or by force.

“because of course they have an interest in the rest of the world’s Jews joining them in Israel either voluntarily or by force.”

Quite mad.

22. Waterloo Sunset

@ Damon

Ward was justified in saying that Jews, through their collective suffering as a people, might have shown more compassion for another people than they have done IN ISRAEL.

No. Because that argument assumes that Auschwitz was some kind of fucking humanitarian training camp.

No. Because that argument assumes that Auschwitz was some kind of fucking humanitarian training camp.

Not quite right. He said that he was ”saddened”.
You don’t have to like it, but it’s like saying that people in Northern Ireland now might be more likely to temper their passions somewhat because of their collective experience of conflict and that they know what suffring is about. And that the greater majority of people will not want to go back to open hostilities. Even when they are very unhappy about this or that new development.
By their own suffering they developed greater empathy for other communities enduring simmilar experiences.

People learn lessons during war. They are not obliged to, especially if they are the totally innocent party, but they do.
No one is suggesting that his words were wonderful, the question is whether they should have involved his party leadership giving him a dressing down and acres of newsprint and internet outrage.
I don’t think they did …. and yet the argument went that he was terribly anti-semitic using those words. He was only implying that Israel might have been less warlike and hard hearted, given its people’s history of persecution and suffering in Europe.
Insisting that is anti-semitic devalues the term.

Ward was wrong because `the Jews’ and Zionism are not the same thing any more than Muslims and Islamists are the same thing. There are huge numbers of Jewish people who despise the sectarian genocidal violence of the Zionists and their second rate third reich.

I don’t suppose saying that Jews should be better people because of the Holocaust is much better than Netenyahu saying Jews are better than other people because they are chosen.

25. Waterloo Sunset

@ Damon

Not quite right. He said that he was ”saddened”.

He also went on to say that “lessons” should be learnt, hence my training comment.

You don’t have to like it, but it’s like saying that people in Northern Ireland now might be more likely to temper their passions somewhat because of their collective experience of conflict and that they know what suffring is about.

NI is a very different situation though. We’re talking about an actual conflict between two (or possibly three if you count the British state) sides, even if it was low-level for some of that time.

So, there what you’re saying is that people in Northern Ireland who have been through conflict in Northern Ireland don’t want to return to that. That’s very different than suggesting that Israelis should have learnt something from the Holocaust. What goes on in Israel has nothing to do with the Holocaust.

People learn lessons during war. They are not obliged to, especially if they are the totally innocent party, but they do

The Holocaust (as opposed to WW2) wasn’t a war at all though, it was a genocide of, as you point out, an entirely innocent people.

He was only implying that Israel might have been less warlike and hard hearted, given its people’s history of persecution and suffering in Europe.

He was using Holocaust Memorial Day to imply that the Jews should have been taught something by the Holocaust. That’s pretty damn offensive and I’m hardly a supporter of the Israeli state. (Not, in this context, that I think it would make a difference if I was).

Insisting that is anti-semitic devalues the term.

Serious question. What does something have to be to qualify as antisemitic in your view? Does someone actually have to say something like “I hate Jews” or do you accept it’s subtler than that?

My point is I think the protests agaist Ward were too strong. And too much was read into his words. Calling for his party to disown him is a bit much … but it’s what happens when the rather dishonest section of Israel supporters get their blood up about something. They demand that it is anti-semitic.

And with Ward it wasn’t HMD it was a couple of days before I think. It was the cartoon in the Sunday Times which was on the day itself.
You should not criticise Israel during the week of HMD I take from people’s comments in the wider media and some blogs.

This was a merry-go-round/circus though, and it seems that people were unwilling to budge their positions.
If he’d had compared what Israel’s done since 1948 to the Holacaust he could have rightly been condemned, but he didn’t.
His point was that a country who’s people were Jewsish, might be hoped to be a bit more humane towards another people who they were holding (sometimes literally) at gunpoint.

I was at ‘Yad Vashaem’, the memorial and museum to the victims of the Holacaust (in Jerusalem) a few weeks ago, and young Israeli soldiers in uniform arrive and go through it by the bus load.
They go through it with their instructors and guides, who explain all the film archive and exhibits with them. Would it be OK for them to perhaps ”learn some lesson” from what they see in there, the next time they’re on patrol in an occupied Palestinian town?
Or is that still anti-semitic too?

27. margin4error

Steve

Thanks for the links. I was actually at the Spurs Cheltenham game – and I’m pleased to say I didn’t hear what you heard. But it wouldn’t surprise me after so many years of supporting Spurs and facing the oh-so-unextinguished antisemitism of various fans. Often it seems to surprise the away fans more, because they’ve not encountered it before.

And your article on the chanting at israeli games is pretty horrendous. Football has often attracted a nasty-political element – England fans used to sing “no surrender to the IRA”, which though not in itself offensive, tended also to be backed up by various songs about the pope. So there’s no reason why Israel would not see its national politics reflected at sports crowds.

Which is of course the problem. The chanting at Israeli football matches does not reflect a bizare oddball minority. It reflect the state of politics as a whole.

The PM’s response was maybe well intentioned – but the racism inherent in his response demonstrates that perfectly.


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