Thursday, January 15, 2009

Playing with fire (again)

It is no great surprise that Stephen Sizer's blog, in recent days, has featured a series of posts stridently critical of Israel's campaign in Gaza. Nor is it any great surprise that there is little comparative criticism of Hamas, nor any great expression of compassion for the 1,000,000 Israelis now within range of Hamas rockets (not even the 2,000 Israeli Messianic Jews now within range). I have in the past blogged on Sizer's apparent blindness to Palestinian terrorism and to Israeli pain, and little on his blog persuades me to change this assessment.

I have also blogged and written in the past about Sizer's use of dubious sources and loose language. Sizer claims to take these criticisms on board, which makes this post of his surprising. I have reproduced Sizer's post in full, in bold, at the end.

Not only is Sizer relying on reports of a conversation which he himself admits is disputed, but notice how he introduces the post. "For all the speculation about the power of the Israel Lobby, the conversation between George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert is a candid insight into perceptions of power, if not their reality also." Not only is Sizer casual about introducing the classic antisemitic myth of "Jewish power" into the debate, but he is also linking to a highly dubious source, the article in the London Review of Books by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt on the alleged power of "The Israel Lobby". For those who are unfamiliar with this article, it was an edited version of a "Working Paper" which later became a full-length book. A collection of rebuttals can be accessed here. Particularly devastating is ALan Dershowitz's response, here.

Here is a key extract (emphasis added) from Dershowitz's well-referenced piece:

"This particular lobby – which the authors [like Sizer] ominously capitalize and reference with the definite article ("the Lobby") – uses the undue influence of Jews in America to get the United States to do the "fighting, dying … and paying" for wars that are not in its own interest, causing American soldiers to die for Israeli interests. It was "the Lobby" that, according to Walt and Mearsheimer, drove the United States into the war against Iraq, and threatens to drive us into a war against Iran. In other words, real Americans are being killed because other Americans, whose primary loyalty is to the Jewish nation, are manipulating America’s political, media, academic and cultural leaders, as well as ordinary American citizens. American Jews who support Israel – even in a critical way – are thus being disloyal to the United States by placing the interests of a foreign state above the interests of their own country.

If these charges sound familiar, it is because, as I will show, they can be found on the websites of extremists of the hard right, like David Duke, and the hard left, like Alexander Cockburn. They appear daily in the Arab and Muslim press. They are contemporary variations on old themes such as those promulgated in the notorious czarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

, in the Nazi and America First literature of the 1930s and early ’40s, and in the propaganda pamphlets of the Soviet Union.

In essence, the working paper is little more than a compilation of old, false, and authoritatively discredited charges dressed up in academic garb. The only thing new about it is the imprimatur these recycled assertions have now been given by the prominence of its authors and their institutional affiliations. As David Duke observed: "The Harvard report contains little new information. I and a few other American commentators have for years been making the same assertions as this new paper." It "validates every major point I [Duke] have been making." It should have been easily predictable – especially to "realists" – that their "Harvard report" would be featured, as it has been, on neo-Nazi and extremist websites, and even by terrorist organizations, and that it would be used by overt anti-Semites to "validate" their paranoid claims of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy."

I would encourage LBF readers to read the whole of Dershowitz' piece to see how he substantiates this damning indictment of Mearsheimer and Walt.

This of course leads to the question of why Sizer is linking to M & W, without the slightest critical comment. Isn't Sizer supposed to be repudiating antisemitism? Most readers of his blog will be unfamiliar with the rebuttals of M & W and may not recognise the antisemitic undertones to their piece. But Sizer is regarded as a leading scholar on Christian Zionism, and insists that he "repudiates anti-Semitism". If he repudiates anti-Semitism, it follows that he recognises antisemitism and knows what it sounds like: he cannot play the naive innocent. So again, why the irresponsible language about the "power" of the "Israel Lobby"? Why the irresponsible link to Mearsheimer and Walt? Isn't Sizer supposed to be repudiating antisemitism?

The stakes are high. Anyone with half a brain can see that a strident anti-Zionism is increadingly fuelling antisemitic violence and incitement: see here, here and here for a few recent examples. It is also fuelling anti-Christian violence. It follows that Israel's critics need to be scrupulously careful about the language they use and the sources they cite. It seems to me that Sizer, once again, is not being careful enough. For shame.

(The text of Sizer's post follows.)

For all the speculation about the power of the Israel Lobby, the conversation between George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert is a candid insight into perceptions of power, if not their reality also.

Independent Newspaper carried the story of Olmert's conversation with Bush on page 20 of their early edition today but then edited it out of the later edition.

Here is the version of the disputed conversation taken from today's

"Israel and US offer differing reports on UN resolution abstention

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert claimed he had called George Bush to override US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

by Ewen MacAskill in Washington, Tuesday 13 January 2009

The US and Israel offered conflicting accounts today over alleged Israeli intervention to prevent the US voting for a United Nations ceasefire resolution last week, a move that apparently left the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, humiliated.

The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, speaking at a meeting in Ashkelon in southern Israel last night, claimed that he had been forced to call George Bush, the US president, to override Rice. According to Olmert, Rice had been planning to vote with the other members of the security council for the resolution. But the resolution was passed with 14 votes for, and one abstention. Olmert, in a speech in Hebrew, is reported to have said:

"When we saw that the secretary of state, for reasons we did not really understand, wanted to vote in favour of the UN resolution ... I looked for President Bush and they told me he was in Philadelphia making a speech. "I said, 'I don't care. I have to talk to him now'. They got him off the podium, brought him to another room and I spoke to him. I told him, 'You can't vote in favour of this resolution.' He said, 'Listen, I don't know about it, I didn't see it, I'm not familiar with the phrasing.'"

Olmert said: "He gave an order to the secretary of state and she did not vote in favour of it - a resolution she cooked up, phrased, organised and manoeuvred for. She was left pretty shamed and abstained on a resolution she arranged."

Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said today: "I've seen these press reports. They are inaccurate." Olmert's version coincides with the one offered up by other members of the security council the day after the vote. It is also known that Rice had been planning a press conference before the vote but abruptly cancelled it to take a call from Bush."

Reuter's version of the conversation speaks of Olmert, "Pouring on political bravado in a speech late Monday..." Their article concludes: "Olmert, under police investigation over alleged corruption, resigned as prime minister in September but is serving in a caretaker capacity until a new government is formed after Israel's February 10 parliamentary election."

Enough said.

1 comment:

Yossi said...

What a guy! Im looking forward to his next blogpost on the all-powerful Jewish Messiah...