On Jonathan Cook’s ‘Naomi Wolf and Anti-semitism’s Mystification’
Jonathan Cook, award-winning author and journalist, writes from Nazareth, the capital of the Palestinian minority in Israel, having moved there in 2001 to cover Palestinian issues more closely. He’s easily one of the most dedicated, courageous, clear-eyed, and well-grounded critics of apartheid Israel and their propaganda I know. I’d add that his moral compass is at true north, and that his prose is easy to read and without guile. Yes, this post may be longish, but I reckon it’s a key subject that’s worth digging deep into, given: (Likud) Israel, so I hope you’ll agree.
From Jonathan Cook / May 24th, 2018:
He opens by noting that this essay was the product of his previous essay ‘‘Anti-semitism: Israel’s get-out-of-jail-free card’, 21 May 2018 concerning the silencing of critics of Israel that devolved so far by now that apologists for Israel to conflate anti-semitism and opposition to Israel’s current uber-nationalist government (I’d add ‘policies’ but he hadn’t). Lamenting that in the past, it was nigh on to impossible to fight the notion that anti-Zionism = anti-semitism, as we know only too well, as we also know that companies, cities, states joining the BDS movement are censured, and some states even have laws pending that will make it illegal.
“Here is an illustration of our defeat, reported in the Israeli daily Haaretz. It concerns what would in other circumstances be a fairly standard satirical cartoon: this one published by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung about Israel winning the Eurovision song contest last week. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is shown on stage dressed as Israel’s winning singer, Netta, and proclaiming “Next year in Jerusalem!”.
“After the usual outcry, the cartoonist, Dieter Hanitzsch, was sacked. No Charlie Hebdo-style concerns about free speech on this occasion, it seems.” He chronicles some of the cartoon’s critics, explains that cartoons use symbols as satirical shorthand, and wonders what the hell is so anti-Semitic about it. Beats hell outta me, but as writes, this sort of weaponized ‘anti-semitic crisis’ is meant to silence any activists, artists, politicians, and others who might find that any mention of Israel is so loaded and toxic that they…desist, lest their reputations and livelihoods collapse. Thus, he writes: ‘giving Israel a get-out-of-jail-free card’, and has terrifying consequences for Palestinians and clears the path for further barbarity to be unleashed upon them. Back to his newer ‘anti-semitism’s mystification’ essay:
“In fact, the cartoonist is far from alone in highlighting such concerns. The New York Times has reported delight among Israelis at the prospect of what they regard as a “diplomatic victory” as much as musical one. And, according to the Haaretz newspaper, the Eurovision contest organisers have already expressed concern to Israeli broadcasters about likely attempts by Israel to “politicise” the competition.
Among those responding on Twitter to my post was Naomi Wolf, a US Jewish intellectual and feminist scholar whose body of work I admire. She disagreed with my blog post, arguing that the cartoon was, in her words, “kind of anti-semitic” (embedded tweet below).
In our subsequent exchange she also noted that she was uncomfortable with the fact that the cartoonist was German. (For those interested, the complete exchange can be found here.)” [scroll to the top to see the beginning of the conversation.]
“In the end, and admittedly under some pressure from me for clarification, she offered an illustration of why she thought the cartoon was “kind of anti-semitic”. She sent a link to the image below, stating that she thought Hanitzsch’s cartoon of Netanyahu had echoes of this Nazi image of “the Jew” alongside an Aryan German woman.”
Cartoons in Nazi propaganda sheets like Der Sturmer were anti-semitic because they emphasised specific themes to “otherise” Jews, presenting them as a collective menace to Germany or the world. Those themes included the threat of plague and disease, with Jews often represented as rats; or secret Jewish control over key institutions, illustrated, for example, by the tentacles of an octopus spanning the globe; or the disloyalty of Jews, selling out their country, as they hungered for money.
As Wolf notes, anti-semitic cartoonists would give the portrayed “Jew” grotesque or sinister facial features to alienate readers from him and convey the threat he posed. These features famously included a large or hooked nose, voracious lips, and a bulbous or disfigured head.”
Well, no, as he writes, there’s no indication of those physical traits, symbols that identify him as Jews or even Israelis, just his well-known hawkishness in a highly militarized state. We might have added ‘nuclear state’, not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. But whoa, Nellie, that caricature isn’t any more offensive as the following (I’m leaving out the other two, especially the one with Trump as King Kong on to of the Empire State Building as too grotesque to look at for more than two seconds…click through here if you care to).
He writes that this essay isn’t an attack on Naomi Wolf, and that he admires her willingness to engage in the discussion on Twitter, and gets that yes, judgments about ‘anti-semitism’ are indeed subjective, but that in the current zeitgeist, the metamorphosing of the ‘kind of anti-semitic’ verbiage actually acts as to ‘mystify’ and ‘weaponize’ the term, thus limiting crucial debates, as opposed to actual anti-semitism.
“It is precisely the promotion of a “kind of anti-semitism”, as opposed to real anti-semitism, that has just forced Ken Livingstone to resign from the Labour party; that empowered Labour’s Blairite bureaucracy to publicly lynch a well-known black anti-racism activist, Marc Wadsworth; that persuaded a dissident comedian and supporter of the Palestinian cause, Frankie Boyle, to use his TV show to prioritise an attack on a supposedly “anti-semitic” Labour party over support for Gaza; that is being used to vilify grassroots movements campaigning against “global elites” and the “1 per cent”; and that may yet finish off Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, currently the only credible political force for progressive change in the UK.
None of this is, of course, to suggest that Wolf would herself want any of these outcomes or that she is trying to misuse anti-semitism. I fully acccept that she has been a strong Jewish critic of Israel and doubtless paid a price for it with friends and colleagues.”
In his Israel and Jews and A dangerous confusion sections, Cook lays out the history of Israel having been based on anti-semitism, having been created as a sanctuary for all Jews, without which, he writes, Israel would be superfluous. Hence, he writes, anti-semitism and Israel are almost inextricably tangled together. There’s lot more there, including alternative non-Western cheerleaders for Israel media gathering a wider readership over time. But I’d like to jump ahead, as I hadn’t known what the many charges of Jeremy Corbin being anti-semitic were even based on.
After mentioning ‘the Livingston problem’ again, he jumps to:
A mural becomes anti-semitic
“The next stage in the evolution of the “kind of anti-semitic” argument is already discernible, as I have warned before. It is so powerful that it has forced Corbyn to concede, against all evidence, that Labour has an anti-semitism problem and to castigate himself, again against all evidence, for indulging in anti-semitic thinking.
Corbyn has been on the defensive since a “controversy” erupted in March over his expression back in 2012 of support for street art and opposition to censorship amid a row over a London mural that was about to be painted over.
After he was elected Labour leader in 2015, the first efforts were made to weaponise the mural issue to damage him. The deeply anti-Corbyn Jewish Chronicle newspaper was – like Hanitzsch’s boss at the Süddeutsche Zeitung – initially unsure whether the mural was actually anti-semitic. Then the newspaper simply highlighted concerns that it might have “anti-semitic undertones”. By spring 2018, when the row resurfaced, the status of the mural had been transformed. Every mainstream British commentator was convinced it was “clearly” and “obviously” anti-semitic – and by implication, Corbyn had been unmasked as an anti-semite for supporting it.
[From his Jewish Chronicle link: The graphic, Freedom for Humanity, was painted on a property near Brick Lane in London’s East End by renowned international graffiti artist Kalen Ockerman, known as Mear One, in 2012.
It depicted a group of businessmen and bankers sitting around a Monopoly-style board and counting money. The mural was painted on the end wall of a private property, but was removed by local authorities after complaints from residents.
When the artist wrote on Facebook that the mural was to be removed, Mr Corbyn responded with a message from his personal Facebook account.
Mr Corbyn wrote: “Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller (sic) destroyed Diego Viera’s mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.”]
“Again, no one wanted to debate how it was anti-semitic. The artist has said it was an image of historical bankers, most of whom were not Jewish, closely associated with the capitalist class’s war on the rest of us. There is nothing in the mural to suggest he is lying about his intention or the mural’s meaning. And yet everyone in the “mainstream” is now confident that the mural is anti-semitic, even though none of them wants to specify what exactly is anti-semitic about it.”
In his The 1 per cent off-limits he notes other ways that ‘anti-semitism’ is gaining ground, and links to a piece at the New Statesman that claims that the Occupy movement’s (OWS) slogan that we’re ruled by a capitalist global elite 1%…was evidence of ‘anti-semitism’, as was:
“…[on] Frankie Boyle’s popular TV show last week, comedian David Baddiel was allowed to misrepresent – unchallenged – an opinion poll that found 28 per cent of Corbyn supporters agreed with the statement “the world is controlled by a secretive elite”. Baddiel asserted, without any evidence, that when they spoke of a global elite the respondents were referring to Jews. What was this assumption based on? A hunch? A sense that such a statement must be “kind of anti-semitic”?
“The mystification of anti-semitism is so dangerous because it can be exploited for any end those who dominate the public square care to put it to – whether it be sacking a cartoonist, justifying Israel’s slaughter of Palestinians, destroying a progressive party leader, or preventing any criticism of a turbo-charged neoliberal capitalism destroying our planet.”
No reason to get excited, the thief, he kindly spoke,
There are many here among us now,
Who feel that life is but a joke,
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late
(cross-posted from Café Babylon)