Thursday, October 17, 2019

It’s often be helpful to boil down debates over Israel, the Middle East and anti-Semitism to their logical core in order to best understand the actual arguments being made (or dodged).
For example, discussion of who gets to determine whether someone’s behavior is anti-Semitic is based on this general argument, widely accepted in most circles:
Premise 1: Minority groups are victims of discrimination and bigotry
Premise 2: Victims of discrimination and bigotry best understand when it is directed against them
Conclusion: Minority groups best understand when discrimination and bigotry is directed against them
Note that this is a valid argument, in that accepting the premises requires you to accept the conclusion (the definition of logical validity).
One of the useful results of distilling an argument (especially one written originally in more lengthy or complex prose) into a structured, valid argument is that it requires you to write premises in a way that exposes their strengths and weaknesses. This is important because, to be any good, an argument must be both valid and sound with soundness defined as having premises that are either true or something a reasonable person would accept as highly likely to be true.
In the case of the valid two-premise argument above, the first premise is a statement of fact, and the second one also seems like something most people would agree is reasonable, so this argument is both valid and sound. But looks what happens if we add one more premise to the argument:
Premise 1: Minority groups are victims of discrimination and bigotry
Premise 2: Victims of discrimination and bigotry best understand when it is directed against them
Premise 3: Jews are a minority group
Conclusion: Jews best understand when bigotry and discrimination [i.e., anti-Semitism] is directed against them
This too is a valid argument and the new premise we just added is also a statement of fact, as strong or stronger than Premise 1 that appears in both versions of the argument.
Yet those who say that Jews use accusations of anti-Semitism as a smoke screen to cover up the crimes of the Jewish state must reject this three-premise argument in order to claim that Jews are not allowed to determine when anti-Semitism is and is not taking place.
One way to do this is to reject our new premise that says that Jews are a minority, which is the reasoning behind attempts to portray Jews as “white,” a status that would eliminate them from the category of “minority group.” As just noted, however, it is a fact that Jews ARE a minority and, as history shows, a minority that has been victimized by bigotry and discrimination, up to and including attempted genocide. 
In light of this, moving Jews into the “white” column requires a separate argument that might run something like:
Premise 1: Many Jews, especially in America, enjoy wide success
Premise 2: Any group in which members enjoy wide success is not a discriminated-against minority
Conclusion: Jews are not a discriminated-against minority
This argument is also valid, but notice that one could easily substitute other minority groups in premise one to justify eliminating them from the role of victims of bigotry. Reactionaries who claim every accusation of racism is a form of “race hustling,” for example, would justify their claim based on a version of this argument that swaps out Jews with another minority group. Yet it is doubtful anyone embracing this argument when applied to Jews would welcome a version that follows the same principle but applies it to other minorities.
This isolates the fact that Jews are being singled out as a special case (a form of argumentation called “special pleading”) best distilled into this final version of our (really their) argument:
Premise 1: Minority groups are victims of discrimination and bigotry
Premise 2: Victims of discrimination bigotry best understand when it is directed against them
Premise 3: Jews are a minority group
Premise 4: Jews, and only Jews, cannot be trusted when it comes to determining discrimination and bigotry directed against them
Conclusion: Minority groups, except for Jews, best understand when bigotry and discrimination is directed against them
Notice that in this special pleading, our new Premise 4, which is designed to eliminate Jews – and Jews alone – from the category of minorities allowed to determine when they are targets of bigotry, is itself a textbook example of anti-Jewish bigotry (i.e., anti-Semitism).
So one argument for claiming Jews, and Jews alone, cannot identify bigotry directed against them would leave every minority group defenseless, while the other requires actually embracing bigotry. Perhaps this is why those advocating this and other self-serving anti-Israel positions spend so much time shrieking, accusing and threatening since, in their heart of hearts, they know they have no argument.

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