Thursday, December 02, 2021

  • Thursday, December 02, 2021
  • Elder of Ziyon
It was ten years ago when Sarah Schulman popularized the term "pinkwashing" in an op-ed for the New York Times. (I found one earlier mention, by Jasbir Puar in The Guardian in 2010.)

At the time, I noted how steeped in hate is the absurd theory that Israeli pride in its support for gay rights is merely a front to whitewash its alleged crimes. 

There is another angle, though, that points to a commonality between antisemitism from the Left and the Right: they are both often rooted in conspiracy theories.

After all, the idea that the Israeli government, Zionist organizations, gay Zionist Americans and liberal Zionist Jews all work together to push a narrative of Israeli tolerance of gays is nothing but a huge conspiracy theory. 

Not all antisemitism is based on conspiracy theory, but a great deal of it is. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the blood libel, the idea that Jews are behind the Plague as well as Covid, Holocaust denial, Jews controlling Hollywood - all of these are familiar antisemitic conspiracy theories of the Right. 

But the "Israel Lobby," charges of pinkwashing, Zionist control of the media, the ADL is behind US police brutality, Zionists are "silencing" pro-Palestinian voices, Israel engages in "Jewish supremacism" - these are all conspiracy theories of the Left that are no less bigoted.

Jovan Byford is an expert on conspiracy theories and wrote a major book on the topic, "Conspiracy Theories: A Critical Introduction" (2011.) He dedicates a chapter to antisemitic conspiracy theories and segues from analyzing conspiracy theory antisemitism on the Right to that of the Left:, arguing that the conspiratorial aspect is exactly how one can distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism:

Recent years have witnessed an increased awareness of a seemingly new brand of conspiratorial antisemitism propagated mainly by sections of the left. The phenomenon, which has become known as ‘new antisemitism’, or anti-Zionism, is defined by the fact that the central object of disparagement and prejudice are not Jews as such, but Israel as the Jewish state (Chesler, 2003, Iganski and Kosmin, 2003, Foxman, 2004, Taguieff, 2004). Rather than viewing Israel as a country whose policies and actions, like that of any other, can (and indeed should be) criticised on merit, sections of the political left have come to view it as the source of uniquely harmful influence in the world. Israel’s actions, and even its very existence, are believed to be an expression of the uniquely iniquitous nationalist ideology (Zionism), which is considered to be comparable to Nazism: it is racist, imperialist, expansionist and tyrannical. Transgressions of the Israeli state – from human rights violations to military actions that are deemed, by critics, to be disproportionate – are seen as inherently more sinister than those committed by any other state in history, with the exception of Nazi Germany. Furthermore, Israel’s policies are seen as sufficiently egregious to undermine its basic legitimacy: exponents of ‘new antisemitism’ often go as far as to call for the dismantlement of Israel. This makes Israel the only member of the United Nations whose very existence is routinely brought into question and Jews the only people whose right to self-determination, it is argued, should be retrospectively revoked. Crucially, as David Cesarani (2004: 72) notes, the definitive crossing of the boundary between criticism of Israel and antisemitism occurs at the point where the former becomes articulated in language typically associated with antisemitism, that is, when it ‘intentionally or unintentionally uses or echoes long-established anti-Jewish discourse, characterising Jews inside Israel or in the Jewish diaspora as singularly wealthy, powerful, conspiratorial, treacherous and malign.’ In other words, when it is embellished with the motifs of a Jewish conspiracy.
The chapter section is an excellent summary of the new antisemitism. Here Byford shows how Leftist antisemites will even note the similarity between their theories and traditional antisemitism - as a way to defend themselves from being considered antisemites!

Accounts of ‘the Lobby’ are so blatantly conspiratorial that their exponents on occasions candidly admit that what they are alleging is essentially a Jewish plot, one that resembles the classic antisemitic conspiracy theory. Writing in the magazine Tikkun, Paul Buhle (2003) writes, for example, that when one looks at the power of the pro-Israel lobby ‘it is almost as if the anti-Semitic Protocols of Zion, successfully fought for a century, have suddenly returned with an industrial sized grain of truth’. The British historian Tony Judt has also admitted that claims about the sinister power of the ‘Israel lobby’ sound ‘an awful lot like, you know, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the conspiratorial theory of the Zionist Occupational Government and so on’ but that, while ‘unfortunate’, this cannot be helped as this is ‘just how it is’ (cited in Hirsh, 2007: 86). Such comparisons are rhetorically significant, because writers use the notoriety of the Protocols to accentuate the sinister influence of ‘the Lobby’, while at the same time forestalling any accusations of antisemitism by implying that, despite the resemblances, their claims are distinguishable from those of the right. As Tony Judt put it, ‘you can’t help it if idiots [on the right], once every 24 hours, with their stopped political clock are on the same time as you’ (ibid.). Thus, a distinction is drawn between disreputable (and false) conspiracy theories of the right and the accounts of real conspiracies uncovered by the left.
Leftist antisemites, sensitive to charges of racism, add a new layer to their conspiracy theory to forestall the idea that they are antisemitic:

The ‘slippage from criticism of American foreign policy to wild eyed conspiracy theory’ (Fine, 2006) apparent in the discussions of ‘the Lobby’ should not occur so easily, however. Left-wing thought is marked by long tradition of opposition to racism and a standing commitment to equality and social justice, which means that its contemporary exponents should be resistant to ideas traditionally peddled by their ideological opponents. And yet, as we have seen, among critics of ‘the Lobby’, this sensitivity is often lacking. This is at least in part because their ideological position is sustained by another key feature of the conspiracy theory, namely its essential irrefutability. As noted in Chapter 2, conspiratorial explanatory logic comprises a number of interpretative devices that makes the conspiracy theory immune to conventional cannons of proof and testing (e.g. by transforming disconfirming evidence into proof of the conspiracy). These devices protect the conspiracy theorist not just from challenges related to evidence or proof, but also from those made on moral grounds. Moral criticism, just like disconfirming evidence, can be attributed to the conspiracy and thus rendered invalid. This is an essential feature of the writing on ‘the Lobby’. The very reason why the idea of a Jewish plot should be resisted – namely antisemitism – is perceived as a distraction, a label deliberately manufactured, manipulated and used by ‘the Lobby’ for silencing opponents, de-legitimising criticism of Israel and controlling public opinion. Thus, antisemitism ceases to be a danger to be avoided by all those discussing the sensitive issue of Jewish influence in politics, and is perceived, instead, exclusively as a weapon of Zionist self-legitimisation. This stance towards antisemitism goes hand in hand with the so-called Holocaust industry argument, popularised by Norman Finkelstein (2000). According to Finkelstein and his followers, the Holocaust has been exploited and instrumentalised by powerful Jews to justify Israel’s aggression against the Palestinians and build a taboo around antisemitism (see Laqueur, 2006, Cesarani, 2004). The effect of this stance on antisemitism and the Holocaust, but also its underlying psychological function, is to undermine any sympathy for Jews that would normally foster resistance to antisemitic motifs. In other words, by persuading their audience, and, importantly, also themselves, that the moral standpoint from which their arguments can be criticised is consciously imposed by ‘the Lobby’ – and therefore an essential part of its sinister method – writers can pre-empt, destabilise and render unfounded any criticism of their ideological position. This places ‘the Lobby’ theory of America’s foreign policy beyond moral reproach, removes the taboo surrounding antisemitism, reinforces the believers’ conviction in the absolute truth of their views and inoculates them from any awareness of where the boundaries lie between acceptable and unacceptable opinion. The belief that everything, including the definition of what is acceptable, is manipulated by the sinister lobby not only shields the anti-Zionist worldview from the effects of disconfirming evidence, but also makes it vulnerable to the malign influence of motifs and stereotypes rooted in the conspiracy tradition.
This is brilliant analysis, describing how the Left uses the additional conspiracy theory that Jews are defining antisemitism to discredit critics as a way to make modern antisemitism palatable - and immune to criticism itself!

The entire campaign against the IHRA definition of antisemitism is based on the idea that the Zionist establishment is conspiring to define antisemitism to allow Israel to act in sinister ways.

When "criticism of Israel" crosses the line into the idea that Israelis - the most argumentative, contentious people around - unite to embrace evil, that is no longer criticism of Israel.  It is Jew-hatred, and it is something that Jews recognize quite well.


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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

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