Ilan Halimi: clichés turning lethal

There was a big uproar in France during the past few weeks caused by the horrifying murder of Ilan Halimi, a 23 year old Jewish shop clerk, by a gang of hoodlums who called themselves, very aptly, “The Barbarians”.

Halimi was abducted by the gang on January 21st. On Monday 13th he was found naked, gagged and handcuffed, his body bearing burn marks and showing signs of torture, near the railway station of Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois. Soon after he died.
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Hysteria In The Kindergarten.

Someone must have put something really bad in their lemonade. I am at loss for words about the hysteria that the ongoing German class struggle has become (for more information see the comments to my last entry). It’s like a gang fight in kindergarten.

While Nobel Price laureate G?nther Grass (literature, not economics) made headlines with his important realization that even German MEPs are not living in a dimension of their own, and thus – in spite of the constitution’s stipulation that their decision’s are only subject to their conscience – are often subject to pressure from “a ring of lobbyists”, Guido Westerwelle, chairman of the German Liberals, thought he was missing out on all the fun and – in a truly surprising move – lashed out against trade unions, apaprently calling them ‘a plague upon the country’ and ‘traitors of the interests of employees’.

The latest, and most bizarre, development: In what is apparently an attempt to amend Godwin’s Law [“As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”] , the Jewish German historian Michael Wolffsohn compared the SPD’s chairman Franz M?ntefering’s statement about ‘Financial investors that descended upon companies like locusts’ to the anti-jewish agitation of the Nazi era and demanded that Mr. M?ntefering apologize to all affected by the Nazi dicatatorship.

According to a report from the Frankfurter Neue Presse he wrote among other things (translation mine) –

“…a boycot of companies is called for. And that should nor remind me, as a historian and a Jew, of January 1, 1933? ‘Don’t buy from Jews’ they said back then and just as now it was allegedly all for the good of the people and the simple man against the “greedy capital”, which was called “Jewish capital” then.”

Paul Spiegel, Chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, hurried to tell the press that he finds it absurd to allege antisemitic motives for M?ntefering’s statements, but added that comparisons of humans to animals were generally hapless.

Hapless. Quite right. Like the entire debate. At least now I know that Germany really needs more kindergarten teachers…

Rock & Roll Rabbis

Strolling back home from the Christmas Market last night, we noticed bouncy pop music and an enthusiastic crowd in front of the Old Opera House. As we came closer, we could see the musicians, jamming on electric guitar and synthesiser. As rockers, they were (you will pardon the expression, given what follows) a little unorthodox. Oh, the beards would have gone down well back in the hippy days, and the black clothes were pure goth. But those snappy fedoras?
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Suspicion and divided loyalties

Perhaps the most damaging effect of 9/11 and all that has followed will be its role in making divided loyalties one of the most dangerous things a person can have. From the beginning, while the ruins of the World Trade Center were still burning, any effort to hold non-trivial positions about terrorism and Islam were attacked. People opposed to the war in Iraq were branded as terrorist supporters, people unimpressed by a programme of reform in the Middle East imposed at the end of a gun were castigated, people who asked questions about whether there was more to things than “they hate us for our freedom” were branded as traitors.

Tariq Ramadan wrote a piece in Wednesday’s New York Times which must be read in this light. The key paragraph – the statement of where he stands – appears at the end:

I believe Western Muslims can make a critical difference in the Muslim majority world. To do this, we must become full, independent Western citizens, working with others to address social, economic and political problems. However, we can succeed only if Westerners do not cast doubt on our loyalty every time we criticize Western governments. Not only do our independent voices enrich Western societies, they are the only way for Western Muslims to be credible in Arab and Islamic countries so that we can help bring about freedom and democracy. That is the message I advocate. I do not understand how it can be judged as a threat to America.

But it is not that hard to see the threat in it. To encourage western Muslims to at once see themselves as having a place in the West and a role in the Islamic world is tantamount to asking them to divide their loyalties. To all too many people right now, divided loyalties are a synonym for treason. The charge of divided loyalties is an old one, and a very damaging one. It was once the most mainstream charge that people made against Jews. To see it revived today – against Muslims in Europe, against Mexicans in the US by the likes of Samuel Huntington, and yes, against Jews in many countries – is very, very troubling.
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The Tainted Source

Book Review:
The Tainted Source
by John Laughland

A while back, I discovered that my great-grandfather’s estate in Ukraine, Apanlee, figures in a novel which is something of a favourite among neo-Nazis and Aryan supremacists. This led me to a number of websites that I wouldn’t regularly have frequented, including the Zundelsite and Stormfront’s webpage. There I found something genuinely intriguing: A new historical justification for anti-Semitism. They point to a book written back in the 70’s by Arthur Koestler called The Thirteenth Tribe. Koestler – himself Jewish – makes a case that Eastern European Jews originated in the somewhat mysterious medieval state of Khazar, located in part of what is now Russia. He puts forward evidence that many people in this multi-religious Turkic nation converted to Judaism, and that after the disappearance of the Khazar state these people remained Jewish and formed the core of the Eastern European Jewish population.

It is an interesting idea from a historiographic perspective. Others have taken up Koestler’s case since then. I am not a scholar of Jewish history and I make no claims as to the status or veracity of the Khazar hypothesis. What I found fascinating, in a sick sort of way, was how easily radical anti-Semitic movements in the Anglo-Saxon world manage to incorporate this notion into their worldview. For them, this leads them to the conclusion that the Jews aren’t really Jews, and therefore none of the Biblical status given to Jews applies to them. Modern Jews are, in their minds, merely a Turkic tribe that converted to the false Judaism that killed Jesus, and the real Jews were expelled into Europe by the Romans, becoming the Anglo-Saxon people.

It should go without saying that I find this latter hypothesis to be, to say the least, deeply suspect. In fact, laughable would be a better adjective to describe my opinion of it. I bring this up however, because the kind of thinking that motivates this radical reinterpretation of Jewish and Germanic history also motivates a book I have just read: The Tainted Source. Unfortunately, my finances restrict my ability to purchase books for review, and I have not yet had the gumption to write to publishers to ask for a reviewer’s copy. So, the books on Europe that I read tend to come from the discount rack, where many Euroskeptics seem to end up.

Just as Aryan nationalist justify their anti-Semitism by claiming that Jews aren’t really Jewish because of (in their minds) tainted origins, Laughland’s case against Europe is built atop the idea that Europeanism’s roots are tainted.
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Resurgent Anti-Semitism In Europe: Myth or Reality?

David is right. Islamist terrorism has now finally reached Europe for real.


Not just because the tragic terrorist attacks against the Neve-Shalom and Beth-Israel Synagogues took place in the undisputedly European part of Istanbul. Not just because the fear of a rising tide of al-Qaida triggered fundamentalist terrorism could once again lead to a round of attempts to legalise previously unimaginable governmental infringements of civil liberties. And not just because such attacks could actually happen around the corner of our very own house, church, or temple.


Yesterday, Europe – or the European public, published and otherwise – has been accused by a number of Israeli politicians of having watered the seed of Islamist terrorism by continuous criticism of Israel and its military with respect to the handling of the second Intifada: In a joint statement with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel’s Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said the Istanbul bombings had to be seen “in the context of … recent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic remarks heard in certain European cities in recent months”.


Even discounting the fact that these statements were made under the immediate impression of the attacks, they are certainly remarkable. Not only because they are suggesting that – in the words of Mr Shalom – “verbal terrorism” is being perpetrated against Israel or Jews in Europe these days but also that it should be seen as promoting the kind of abhorrent deadly terror we witnessed yesterday.


I suppose it is hardly deniable that criticism of Israel has recently been more pronounced in Europe than, notably, in the United States. Earlier this year, Timothy Garton Ash remarked, that this criticism could even be the origin of the transatlantic communicative difficulties, because of it’s alleged link to anti-Semitism – a link once again made yesterday, a link that certainly requires some analysis. In the words of Mr Garton Ash –


“The Middle East is both a source and a catalyst of what threatens to become a downward spiral of burgeoning European anti-Americanism and nascent American anti-Europeanism, each reinforcing the other. Anti-Semitism in Europe, and its alleged connection to European criticism of the Sharon government, has been the subject of the most acid anti-European commentaries from conservative American columnists and politicians. Some of these critics are themselves not just strongly pro-Israel but also “natural Likudites,” one liberal Jewish commentator explained to me. In a recent article Stanley Hoffmann writes that they seem to believe in an “identity of interests between the Jewish state and the United States.” Pro-Palestinian Europeans, infuriated by the way criticism of Sharon is labelled anti-Semitism, talk about the power of a “Jewish lobby” in the US, which then confirms American Likudites’ worst suspicions of European anti-Semitism, and so it goes on, and on.[A problem] difficult for a non-Jewish European to write about without contributing to the malaise one is trying to analyze…”


Maybe. Maybe I am contributing to the malaise by trying to analyse it. But then again, the unqualified allegation against Europe and its people of giving at least negligent if not malevolent ideological support to terrorism is too serious to be simply brushed aside as an expression of anger and despair even in the light of yesterday’s attacks. It is too serious to be brushed aside even if, as the left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports today in a story that was likely written before the attacks, more and more Jews in many parts of the world are personally feeling more and more uneasy because, as they see it, criticism against Israel is always likely to be at be least partly directed against themselves.


This is a valid fear. One that can also not be brushed aside. All over Europe many Synagogues are now being protected by police – for a reason. As a German, I may be particularly sensitive about this, but it has never been a good sign for any society when its Jews started to feel uneasy. And there are certainly people around who “hide” their anti-Semitism behind “legitimate” criticism of Israel. From said Haaretz article –


“Those who worry about the low point Israel has reached in global public opinion are sharply divided over the reasons for it. Is opposition to Israel rooted in its military policy toward the Palestinians, or has anti-Semitism awoken after a long hibernation? As time passes and the negative attitude toward Israel intensifies, many Jews are beginning to feel that these sentiments are more anti-Semitic than anti-Israeli. Prof. Shmuel Trigano of the University of Paris X, a prominent French Jewish intellectual, believes that the clash between the Jews and the non-Jewish world started out as anti-Israeli, in the wake of the intifada, but has spilled over into anti-Semitism. In France, he says, people are no longer embarrassed to express views about the Jews that were taboo until just a little while ago.”


But does this mean that all non-Jewish criticism of the Israeli government’s and military’s policies – often harshly critized by Israeli citizens and soldiers alike – or even anti-Zionism, is simply old-style anti-Semitism that comes in new bottles? Hardly.


Yet there are people who seem to claim just that. About a year ago, Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman published an article on CommonDreams.org about A Day At The American Enterprise Institute, home to many of the “natural Likudites” mentioned in the Garton Ash piece cited above. In the morning of that day they listened to a panel discussion titled “Europe: Anti-Semitism Resurgent?” that


“… was supposed to be a debate between two right-wingers, Ruth Wisse of Harvard University and John O’Sullivan, of United Press International. But there was little debate. Everyone agreed that the issue wasn’t anti-semitism, as traditionally defined, but anti-Israel views. In fact, Wisse and O’Sullivan had now effectively redefined the term anti-semitism to mean anti-Israel. We had suspected this, but didn’t get a confirmation until a questioner in the audience asked Wisse about Billy Graham’s 1972 conversation with Richard Nixon, memorialized on the White House tapes, and made public earlier this year by the National Archives.

In the conversation, Graham says to Nixon that “a lot of Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me, … Because they know I am friendly to Israel and so forth. They don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country.” And how does he feel? Graham tells Nixon that the Jews have a “stranglehold” on the country, and “this stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain.” “You believe that?” Nixon says. “Yes, sir,” Graham replies. “Oh boy,” Nixon says. “So do I. I can’t ever say that but I believe it.”

So, the questioner wanted to know whether Professor Wisse considered these sentiments, as expressed by Graham, and widely publicized earlier this year, to be anti-semitic. No, they are not anti-semitic, Professor Wisse says. Not anti-semitic? No, anti-semitism exists today in the form of “political organization” against Israel.”


Anti-Semitism is a camelion – what was once purely religious suddenly turned “racial” in the 1880s when religion lost much of its function as social glue in the heyday of industrialization. So could Professor Wisse’s assertion that the camelion has once again changed its colour be correct? Wikipedia.org defines the term as

“… either of the following: (1) hostility to Jews as a group which results from no legitimate cause or greatly exceeds any reasonable, ethical response to genuine provocation; or (2) a pejorative perception of Jewish physical or moral traits which is either utterly groundless or a result of irrational generalization and exaggeration”


This might be a good starting point. But there is no straight forward way to define anti-Semitism – well, maybe in a Habermasian ideal speech situation. But in the real world? Guess what – the Wikipedia definition’s “neutrality” is disputed, just as pretty much every article in their database that is conceptually remotely related.


Yet it must be possible to find a way to discern truly legitimate criticism of Israeli policies from the kind that is merely a vehicle for anti-Semitism in order to be able to usefully discuss and if possible refute general accusations against “Europe” and be able to point to those who are really guilty as charged.


How? I don’t know yet, but it seems the discussion has just been declared open.


PS.: Done. Now my left hand is really happy that I have a physio-therapy session in a few hours…