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Paradoxical normalization of anti-Semitism, anti-Arab racism

Nazi propaganda, 1938

The simultaneous mainstreaming of the seemingly opposed phenomena of anti-Semitism and anti-Arab racism appears contradictory—for those whose thinking lacks dialectical spark. Even though it is now only the most hardcore fringe elements of the radical right that espouse both, do not be deluded. Both are being normalized now because they have common roots and are fundamentally unified phenomena. What is utterly frustrating is that (in a complete reversal of the situation in the Fascist era, and even just a generation ago), anti-Semitism is being normalized, if unwittingly, by the political left.

The best we can say is that the anti-Arab spewing of the political right is consciously malevolent, while the anti-Semitic rhetoric and imagery on the left is often (not always) merely clueless. Do we expect any better of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor than to engage in blame-the-victim apologias for occupation, recalling European colonialist arguments that the Arabs, Africans and Asians were not ready for the responsibilities of independence? From Ha'aretz, Dec. 16:

Addressing the week-long conference on Thursday, the Republican leader discussed what he called the Palestinian "culture of resentment and hatred," adding: "As we say in Hebrew, Am Israel Chai, and what people of Israel want is to live in peace. If Palestinians want to live in a state of their own they must demonstrate they are worthy of state." 

Do we expect any better of Newt Gingrich, GOP speaker of the House in the '90s, than to stick intransigently to his faux pas about the Palestinians not existing—blind to the fact that by his very logic (the non-existence of a Palestinian state in the modern era), the Israelis don't exist either? From CBS, Dec. 11:

Newt Gingrich is standing by comments he made earlier this week when he called the Palestinians an "invented" people.

"Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire," the former House speaker told the Jewish Channel this week. "And I think that we've have invented the Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs and are historically part of the Arab community, and they had the chance to go many places."

Gingrich's comments immediately caused a stir in the Middle East and elsewhere. A Palestinian legislator said Gingrich had "lost touch with reality," while another official described called him "ignorant," according to the Associated Press.

Gingrich was then asked about the comments during Saturday night's Republican presidential debate from Iowa, which was sponsored by ABC News.

"Is what I said factually correct? Yes. Is it historically true? Yes," he answered. "Are we in a situation where every day rockets are fired into Israel while the United States? The current administration tries to pressure the Israelis into a peace process... Somebody ought to have the courage to tell the truth. These people are terrorists. They teach terrorism in their schools. They have textbooks that say, if there are 13 Jews and nine Jews are killed, how many Jews are left? We pay for those textbooks through our aid money. It's fundamentally time for somebody to have the guts to stand up and say, enough lying about the Middle East."

We'd like to see those textbooks, Newt. Meanwhile, do we expect any better of James Kirchick of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies than to portray Jew-hatred among Arabs as endemic to their culture and completely unrelated to Israel's atrocious actions? In his appalling piece in the supposedly left-of-center Haaretz Dec. 16, "Mistaking the Symptom for the Cause," he won't even allow that the daily expropriation and humiliation of the Palestinians provides convenient propaganda for Jew-haters, and thereby swells their ranks in the Arab world and elsewhere. The introdek reads:

The notion that anti-American terrorism would be affected by the signing of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is not altogether different, and no less foolish, than the belief that Muslim anti-Semitism will abate due to the same.

Please stop already. Osama bin Laden's initial statement days after the 9-11 attacks explicitly invoked Palestine, and it is utterly deluded to think that he has won followers not because he is perceived as championing a just cause but because of some arbitrary hatred of "our" supposed "freedoms." As we have stated repeatedly: However criminal al-Qaeda's tactics and however totalitarian its ideology, the grievances it draws on are legitimate—a reality we ignore to our own peril.

But again—all that is to be expected of our enemies. But how could our supposed allies in the Occupy Wall Street movement—already facing charges, with varying degrees of legitimacy, of anti-Semitism—think that it was a bright idea to get dressed up as giant squid in their latest protest against Goldman Sachs? Writes the New York Times, Dec. 13:

Goldman's caricature is an homage, of course, to a 2009 article by a Rolling Stone writer, Matt Taibbi, in which he described the bank as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money."

The "vampire squid" metaphor immediately struck a nerve in a way few bons mots in financial journalism do. Before it was co-opted for protest art this week, the metaphor was already being cited by members of Congress, roasted by private equity titans and scrutinized for signs of anti-Semitism. Vampire squids have appeared on T-shirts and posters, and Lucas Van Praag, a Goldman spokesman, reportedly keeps a rubber squid on a shelf in his office.

"Scrutinized"? You don't have to scrutinize very much. Regardless of Taibbi's intentions, the representation of malevolent Jewish power (and especially Jewish financial power) as an oversized octopus has been a standard of anti-Semitic propaganda for over a century—and it still is today. Yet not only protesters but Taibbi's journalistic emulators (e.g. Allison Kilkenny in In These Times) go on happily (and, we hope, cluelessly) using the ill-advised metaphor. After this re-irruption of the squid ruckus, the Dealbook financial blog reached Taibbi, who said: "I'm getting a little worried that I'm going to have a squid on my gravestone. It's clearly getting a little old, but it seems to not go away."

If you wish to avoid that fate, Matt, you might want to get up to speed on the historical role of anti-Semitism in derailing revolutionary movements, and deflecting popular rage from actual elites onto a particular ethnic scapegoat. You may feel free to contact us for some reading suggestions.

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