Thursday, February 1, 2007

Words as Mines in a Minefield

VIEW FROM THE MOON frequently criticizes Israel, Zionists, the Israel Lobby, and certain activist Jewish organizations such as The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and the American Jewish Committee (described by the “New York Times” as “an ardent supporter of Israel”).

Most of the people within those categories are Jews. Therefore when I criticize those categories I am criticizing Jews . . . but -- and this is the important point -- not all Jews.

My difficulty as a writer comes from the sensitivity that surrounds the words “Jew” and “Jewish”. It is almost impossible for a non-Jew to use those words in the context of criticism without attracting a charge of antisemitism – an emotionally loaded smear word which is supposed automatically to defeat any opponent and any argument.

It is very convenient -- instead of pitting facts against facts -- to use the illogical “reasoning”: (a) The ADL is composed of Jews. (b) You have lambasted the ADL. (c) Therefore you are an antisemite (one who hates all Jews).

Or: (a) Israel is a Jewish state run by Jews. (b) You have severely criticized Israel. (c) You are therefore antisemitic (i.e. evincing hatred of all Jews).

“Antisemitism” is a misleading word anyway because it includes “a member of any of a number of peoples of ancient southwestern Asia, including Hebrews and Arabs”. (Webster) As misused today, it refers solely to Jews. In that specialized sense its dictionary meaning is “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious or ethnic group.” It is more commonly intended by its wielders to mean “hatred of Jews as a group.” That was the meaning advocated by an ADL official I encountered at a deposition. Incidentally, he had difficulty choosing a word to describe Jews as a group. He rightly declined the word “race” and settled on both “a people” and “a nation”. It is interesting that he did not include “a religion” because, he said, not all Jews are “religious Jews”.

My problem is to write as smoothly as I can while at the same time making clear that I am using the word “Jews” in a particular restricted sense, depending on the context. Writing can become very awkward if words have to be qualified every time they are used. In most circumstances readers apply their common sense, but not the wielders of the battleaxe “antisemitism”.

Marlon Brando called Jewish fire and brimstone down upon his head when he said, "Hollywood is run by Jews; it is owned by Jews.” That seems a simple statement of fact, right or wrong (in that case right) as in “the Mormons are the most powerful group in Salt Lake City”, and yet Brando was declared antisemitic. Would he have been spared the charge of antisemitism if he had said, using less of a generalization, “Hollywood is run PRIMARILY by Jews; it is owned primarily by Jews”? I don’t think it would have saved him any more than the broader statement “Hollywood is run by THE Jews; it is owned by the Jews” would have put him in deeper muck. The tactic is for any criticism of any Jews to be branded with the scare word, “antisemitism”. There is no logic involved, and therefore argument over the niceties of language is pointless.

Nowhere in this blog -- when I criticize groups that are Jewish or primarily Jewish -- am I referring to all the people who consider themselves Jews. If I refer to “the Jews” wreaking havoc in Palestine or Lebanon, I am talking about those Zionist/Israeli Jews who are involved in those activities, and not to every Jew in the world.

I’m very much aware from personal experience that all Jews are not Zionists and do not support Israel, and that there are Jews who question the conventional “Holocaust” story and its use for political ends, and that there are even Jews who do not like Jews. In Washington, D.C. I worked with and was good friends with attorney Mark Lane (“Rush to Judgment”), who was Jewish and strongly anti-Zionist. He became emotional as he described his observations in Israel -- for example, Palestinian crops and orchards dying for lack of water because Arab water had been diverted to the swimming pools of the conquering Jews.

Having said clearly that I do not include Jews as a group in my criticisms of particular Jews and Jewish organizations, I am now going to write an extension of this post based on an article in today’s “New York Times” entitled, “Essay Linking Liberal Jews and Anti-Semitism Sparks a Furor”.

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