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The Gutman flap and reductionist thinking

A Dec. 3 report on YNet is aghast at the heretical comments by the US ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman—without actually bothering to quote them. We are treated only to a paraphrase:

Speaking Wednesday at a Jewish conference on anti-Semitism organized by the European Jewish Union (EJU,) Howard Gutman told participants he was apologizing in advance if his words are not to their liking. He then proceeded to make controversial statements about his views on Muslim anti-Semitism, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Friday.

A distinction should be made between traditional anti-Semitism, which should be condemned and Muslim hatred for Jews, which stems from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Gutman said. He also argued that an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty will significantly diminish Muslim anti-Semitism.

The American envoy, a lawyer by training, is Jewish and played a major role in fundraising for the Democratic Party. He was appointed to the post by President Barack Obama.    

However, Gutman's critic who spoke next at the affair is done the honor of a verbatim quote. So much for fairness in journalism:

The conference was attended by Jewish lawyers from across Europe. The legal experts at the event were visibly stunned by Gutman’s words, and the next speaker offered a scathing rebuttal to the envoy’s remarks.

The modern Anti-Semite formally condemns Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust and expresses upmost sympathy with the Jewish people. He simply has created a new species, the “Anti-Zionist” or – even more sophisticated – the so-called ‘Israel critic,’” Germany attorney Nathan Gelbart said.

“The ‘Israel critic’ will never state ‘Jews go home’ but is questioning the legality of the incorporation of the State of Israel and therefore the right for the Jewish people to settle in their homeland. He will not say the Jews are the evil of the world but claim that the State of Israel is a major cause for instability and war in the region,” he said. “There is no other country, no other people on this planet the ‘Israel critic’ would dedicate so much time and devotion as to the case of Israel.”

 “For no other country he would criticize or ask to boycott its goods or academics. And this for one simple reason: Because Israel is the state of the Jewish people, not more and not less,” Gelbart said.  

Well, for starters, this last comment ignores the fact that many of the folks Gelbart is referring to did call for sanctions against South Africa in the bad old days. But why don't we take a look at Gutman's actual offending quote, which is provided to us by the equally outraged European Jewish Press:

[T]hroughout the Muslim communities that I visit, and indeed throughout Europe, there is significant anger and resentment and, yes, perhaps sometimes hatred and indeed sometimes and all too growing intimidation and violence directed at Jews generally as a result of the continuing tensions between Israel and the Palestinian territories and other Arab neighbors in the Middle East.

This is a complex problem indeed.  It requires its own analysis and solutions.  And the analysis I submit is not served simply by lumping the problem with past instances of anti-Jewish beliefs and actions or those that exist today among minority haters under a uniform banner of “anti-Semitism”...     

[E]very new settlement announced in Israel, every rocket shot over a border or suicide bomber on a bus, and every retaliatory military strike exacerbates the problem and provides a setback here in Europe for those fighting hatred and bigotry here in Europe. 

Now, this last point is a vital and obvious one: Jew-haters are dealt a daily goldmine in propaganda ammo by Israel's ongoing atrocities, just as Islamophobes are helped out by suicide bombers on buses. Those (like, we may fairly suppose, the European Jewish Union) who seek to silence criticism of Israel by portraying it as anti-Semitism desperately need to hear this critique. Which makes it all the more irritating that Gutman really does present it in very flawed terms.

Locutions like "perhaps sometimes hatred" are deluded and self-defeating at a time when when neo-Nazis really are coming out of the woodwork to deface Holocaust memorials with swastikas and the like in Europe, sometimes emulated in their anti-Jewish attacks by Muslim immigrants. But worse still is the reductionist thinking on both sides in this question. Israel's amen chorus cannot allow that European (and global) anti-Semitism is enflamed by Israel's illegal and atrocious actions. Similarly, Israel's critics cannot allow that actual (or "classical" or "old") anti-Semitism and "hatred" have pervaded the inevitable anti-Israel backlash. 

Gelbart is absolutely correct that "anti-Zionism" or "criticism of Israel" have become acceptable garb for real old-fashioned Jew-haters. Its way well-lubricated with Palestinian blood, classical European anti-Semitism has even spread to the Arab world—a paradoxical and painful reality, but an unavoidable one, after the Hamas charter has cited the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and Egyptian TV has run a series based on the Protocols, and Arabic translations of The Eternal Jew can be found from Riyadh to Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue. 

As we stated in our critique of the notorious Mearsheimer & Walt after their book The Israel Lobby came out:

The incessant hair-splitting about "new" (Muslim, anti-Israel) and "old" (European, classical) anti-Semitism is almost always an attempt to portray the problem as ..."illusory." There is a clear continuity between the two anti-Semitisms. The contemporary Islamist embrace of classical European anti-Semitism (in which Jews are all-powerful, corrupting, uniquely sinister) is a direct result of Zionism, and there is no contradiction between recognizing the phenomenon and the phenomenon that fuels it. It is also true that there really were rich Jewish bankers and industrialists in Weimar Germany. This didn't make Nazism any less of a threat.

Such willful denial only weakens anti-Zionism. That charges of anti-Semitism are used, for instance, against calls for economic sanctions on Israel is predictable, and to be condemned. But equivocating on the reality of anti-Semitism undermines and even delegitimizes the condemnation.

Alas, we think our words are no less relevant four years later.

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