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- Sep 20, 2018
- SLU Posts
Warning -- lengthy rant followsI saw it. It was pretty awful, and offensive on a number of levels. I'm no fan of Netanyahu (I can't stand him, or his government) and I found it so.
From what I've read about it (especially from Martin Rowson's very nuanced account -- and he's a pretty savage political cartoonist) it's a good example of how the cartoonist's perfectly legitimate disapproval of the policies of the current government of Israel, and the policy of the current US government towards the government of Israel, simply blinded him or her to the deeply antisemitic tropes on which the cartoon draws.
I don't want to get into an argument about Israel and the Palestinians since I'm acutely aware from both Northern Ireland and (through family connections and friends) elsewhere how political conflicts between different groups who both see the same territory as home seem far simpler the further away you live from them and the less direct contact you have.
Certainly when I lived in the USA in the early 1980s, despite my innate sympathy for the goals and aspirations of the NI Catholic and Republican community, I frequently found myself having to defend the policies of Margaret Thatcher's government (which I despised) simply because even I knew that the situation in NI was way more complex than it looked from California's Bay Area (the fact that much of the violence on the ground concerned disputes not about political ideology or religion but about which gangs should control various drugs, smuggling and and protection rackets, for example, came as a surprise to most people in the US who wanted to explain NI to me).
To my mind, the hard facts of the matter are that this sort of dispute between two groups who think they own the same territory provides a political environment in which thoroughly unpleasant groups and individuals may thrive, and that any sort of lasting solution can come only when the citizens and leadership on both sides decide that enough is enough and they'll just have to sit down together, much as they dislike and distrust each other, and try to come to a solution both sides can live with and which they can sell to their respective supporters, despite cries of "betrayal" and "what about ....!?!".
The most outsiders can do is remain patient and try facilitate the conditions under which that may happen (as did the UK, the USA and EU in NI). You can't impose a solution from outside, and certainly not by becoming parties to the dispute -- it was only after successive British governments stopped trying to defeat PIRA and, instead, concentrated on trying to hold the ring, as it were, and keep the peace in NI generally that we started to see movement towards a long-term peace settlement.
Peace can only come, it seems to me, in this sort of dispute when
Anyway, despite that, it seems to me that, whatever anyone's general sympathies in the dispute over Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, it should be -- is, indeed -- perfectly possible to make valid criticisms of the Israeli government without resorting to antisemitic stereotypes, just as it's perfectly possible to make valid criticisms of the governments of Pakistan or Saudi Arabia without resorting to anti-Muslim or anti-Arab or anti-Pakistani stereotypes, or various African governments without using anti-black stereotypes.
The criticisms may well be justified but the racist tropes aren't, and the justifiable (though doubtless unintended) offence the tropes cause simply shifts the focus away from the abuses that are the real target of the criticism.
Most of us get this, and understand that the wise response, when told that we're being racist or sexist, is -- always assuming we didn't mean to be -- to apologise and to take the criticism on board rather than get into a fight about it.
Certainly, ever since my university days, I've made the conscious effort never to say (or think) anything that begins with "I am not a racist" or "I am not prejudiced against..." or "I am not a bigot" unless the next word is "so" rather than "but," and it's something I really would recommend to people.
Furthermore, that "so" had better not be followed by something like "so it's unreasonable and probably insincere and politically motivated to accuse me of being one," which is why I (and some horrified British diplomats) could see what was wrong with Boris Johnson taking it into his head to recite Kipling's Madalay during a visit to a Buddhist temple in Myanmar. Yes, I get that the poem deliberately works to undercut the crude language and surface racism of its purported narrator, who clearly loves the place and wishes he was back there, but I also get that the occasion of Johnson's visit was neither the time nor the place for him either to recite the poem or try to explain it to his hosts.
Since most of us, I would hope, realise how crass it is when some people (guests on Fox News, for example) start going on about how the American Civil War is long over and blacks have the vote and equal rights and should get over it and stop going on about slavery and racism, or make similar cloth-eared remarks about indigenous American people, it also seems pretty self-evident that a member of a minority group that, for more than 2,000 years, members of various dominant groups -- Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans and just about every subsequent European nation and empire -- have persecuted and murdered as a matter of policy (and within living memory tried, and damn near succeeded, to remove entirely from the face of the earth by murdering every last one of them) is probably not going to have a great deal of confidence in protestations that that's all in the past now, and the Nazi genocide was a horrible aberration.
Certainly it seems to me impossible that anyone who, like me, is a product of the culture of a country that, at various stages in its history was the source of the canonical version of the "blood libel" (the story of "little St Hugh of Lincoln" though he was never canonised), was the first country to expel all Jews from its borders (Edward the First's Edict of Expulsion in 1290, which remained in force until Cromwell permitted Jews to return in 1651) and whose literature has produced two of world literature's great antisemitic character portraits -- Shylock and Fagin -- by two of our great national authors will have failed to pick up some regrettable tropes and assumptions without realising it.
That is why when Jewish friends or colleagues tell me they find something offensive or distressing, I listen to them with great care, and try to learn from what they tell me, and I take great care in how I respond to their criticisms, just as I learned to listen with great care to what my sometime father-in-law, whom I greatly loved and respected, and who had spent some time at Gandhi's ashram until he left out of disagreement with the Mahatma's strict non-violence and his increasing disquiet with what he saw as Gandhi's sexual and social hypocrisy and his treatment of women, had to say when we were discussing the poems and novels of Rudyard Kipling (a writer whom we both greatly admired, by the way, despite what we both recognised as his flaws) and to take great care about how I replied to his points.
This is going on too long, and I'm losing my thread a bit, so I will make, but not try to develop, my final point, which is that I think people on the left in particular seem sometimes to suffer from a Manichean world-view, in which everyone is either a good guy or a bad guy, and if you're a good guy then, by definition, everything you do is good.
If, for example, someone takes the view that western imperialism is bad and anti-imperialist national liberation movements are moral and good, then it's very easy to fall into the trap of assuming that everything done and said by, or in support of, those national liberation movements must also be moral and good, and those who disagree are either consciously or unconsciously arguing in bad faith in favour of evil and immorality (and because I'm opposed to imperialism and colonialism, that makes me one of the good guys, too, so -- what a happy accident -- that means pretty much everything I say is moral and good too).
Thus, Western colonialism is bad, especially when practised by the USA, and so is Daesh. President Al-Assad is opposed to both, so he must be one of the good guys, so either he gets a pass on treating his Palestinian population considerably worse than the government of Israel treat theirs (I wouldn't much enjoy living in either Gaza or Yarmouk, for example, but if I had to choose I know which one I'd go for) or any allegations of his gassing his own people (a bad thing, obviously) must clearly be fabrications.
That, obviously, is as dimwitted and self-serving self-delusion as the idea some US churches have that Donald Trump is pretty much God's unwitting instrument whom the Almighty has chosen to put an end to abortion/build a wall/put uppity blacks, Mexicans and women in their place/immanentize the eschaton so pretty much anything he does or says is OK.