Thursday, February 26, 2009

Paul Berman on Gaza, at length

Oh good God, how very very serious and thoughtful he is. I was nearly overcome with the sensitivity, subtlety and erudition. Oh hang on, no, just a fart.

Berman's case is, rather strangely, based on a) holding Israel to a different standard from other nations and b) Holocaust analogies. If he's not careful, he could get ENGAGEonline down on his ass. Added to which, just read through those arguments and ask yourself - "couldn't these be used with only minor alteration by the current government of Sudan?"

Other than that, as a piece of Decent political analysis, it makes a rather pukey piece of nationalism. Outright libel against Walt & Mearsheimer, again, I notice; furthermore I also see that the tendency to simply assert as axiomatic that "The Israel Lobby" is a piece of sub-Protocols propaganda, and use any endorsement of same as a premis for smearing someone as an anti-Semite, has spread from Melanie Phillips into what might loosely be termed the mainstream. Berman is playing with fire here - unlike Mel, he has credibility to lose, and spouting obvious mendacious bullshit to an audience who will be aware of it, won't do him well in the long term (cf, The Republican Party).

More generally, AW(i'WoD') is entirely open to arguments to the effect "Israel does not get a fair shake in the British/American media", and will consider them on the merits. However, "The British/American media are anti-Semites and intentionally produce anti-Jewish propaganda" is not an equivalent claim, and if made, needs to be supported with extra evidence, specific to that accusation, not general points which might support the weaker claim. "The British and American middle classes hate Jews" is yet a further claim, which is not a logical consequence of the second, let alone the first. So Howard Jacobson (article not linked; I am 'boycotting' the Independent as a protest against the fact that its website crashes my browser) can fuck off and all.

Berman and Jacobson seem to think that they can just say "I didn't support that" about anything nasty and then move on. While the rest of us are on the hook for anything George Galloway says, whether we heard it or not. This is fringe Decentism admittedly, (although Aaro has certainly experimented with a milder form of the same opiate), but worth stamping on now before it spreads any further.

30 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Master Kitty writes:
Are you really saying that there is nothing whatsoever in Berman's analysis that you agree with and and nothing at all in W&M that even so slightly worries you? I'm not sure I believe that; I think you get yourself all pumped up sometimes.

2/26/2009 04:33:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Are you really saying that there is nothing whatsoever in Berman's analysis that you agree with

I'm saying that his overall approach is so utterly dishonest that I am not interested in looking for common ground; whatever points he makes which I regard as correct, are simply being used as window dressing for the larger argument.

and nothing at all in W&M that even so slightly worries you?

If I had wanted to be "really saying" that, I would have "really said" it. As it is, I am content to stand on what I did really say (really); that W&M is not an anti-Semitic propaganda tract on the same level as the Protocols and that this is so obviously the case that anyone who asserts otherwise is either ignorant or being dishonest (or both).

2/26/2009 04:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Master Kitty says: well then, I think you get yourself all pumped up sometimes.

2/26/2009 04:52:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Yes; specifically, when I read an article which makes a very serious accusation against me on the basis of little or no evidence, I get pumped up. I also get a bit pumped up at the practice of apologism for war crimes. What do you think would be an appropriate reaction? What pumps you up?

(by the way, I tend not to bother with a third reply to people who I think are arguing in bad faith).

2/26/2009 05:02:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

Pump up the volume BB, this fucker's giving the Kitty family a bad name!

2/26/2009 05:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Master Kitty suggests:
that there's a great deal in Berman's long exegesis that anyone of reasonably good faith would see as having validity. he poses this question: "But which of these is the correct analysis - that Hamas poses a genocidal threat in the making? Or that Hamas expresses mostly the ugliness of the powerless, and poses a relatively small danger?"
Do you really not think that this is well-posed? Even if you come to a different conclusion?
He says, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is not a sophisticated document; but Walt and Mearsheimer's book "The Israel Lobby" is (in some people's view) a sophisticated document. And the sophisticated document makes the unsophisticated one seem like it is on to something. By reasoning in this fashion, people end up concluding that Hamas' doctrines have a purchase on truth - something that quite a few people believe." Now, again, you may not agree with that, but it's a perfectly valid view. W&M do project the Jewish lobby as uniquely powerful because of money and votes, when in fact there are several far more powerful lobbies in the US. Do you not think that is in ANY WAY problematic?
I don't imagine you will feel under any obligation to reply.

2/26/2009 05:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From This Fucker (formerly Master Kitty) - One last thing. Where is the accusation against you? I seem to have missed it.

2/26/2009 05:40:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

You correctly suspect that having replied once to that question at 4:39pm, I see little point in replying again. If you scroll up and down really fast you could probably pretend I'd replied though.

2/26/2009 05:40:00 PM  
Anonymous BenSix said...

Berman on Jews that give "serious criticisms of Israel and Gaza"...

"Well, sometimes the criticisms are rightly made. But, yes, a very curious phenomenon does pop up now and then. An old phenomenon. Back in the time of the European ghettos, most of the Jews were stuck behind the walls, and were despised for being there. But some of the Jews got out, and they did their best to blend into the majority population, and they even did their best to highlight the difference between themselves and their despised ghetto brethren.

We need a version of this for opinion columnists.

2/26/2009 05:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Berman's point didn't seem well-posed at all, it seemed more like he was confusing the plot of "back to the future" with real life: Because Hamas might be genocidal in the future, lets bomb palestine now ? . Berman seems lost in a maze to be honest. Lets take a movement that was genocidal against the Jews, the Nazi's - now they were not properly resisted at all (in fact they were welcomed into power by some powerful groups), and we have seen the terrifying results, but does anybody seriously suggest that bombing Berlin in 1933 , or 1926, would have been a good idea ?

So no, I personally didn't see "validity" in his "Long exegesis". It just seems like he is trying to use some kind of time travel device to excuse what was pretty inexcusable.

2/26/2009 05:47:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

does anybody seriously suggest that bombing Berlin in 1933 , or 1926, would have been a good idea ?

Possibly Oliver Kamm, whose view of JM Keynes' "The Economic Consequences of the Peace" does seem to be that au contraire, there was nothing like enough imiseration and humiliation of Germany after Versailles. I don't think he's ever actually advocated bombing though.

Good spot on Berman's use of the Decent TARDIS.

2/26/2009 05:54:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

W&M do project the Jewish lobby as uniquely powerful because of money and votes

no they don't. Have you read either the article or the book? Both are entitled 'the israel lobby' for a reason, because they specifically state that the Israel lobby is not the jewish lobby, a good deal of its members are Christians.

They also make it clear that they do not consider it 'uniquely powerful' at all.

It is the depressing case that most people who claim that 'The Israel Lobby' 'validates the protocols' have not actually read it. Bceause if they had, they'd have read this part:

the Lobby’s activities are not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

2/26/2009 05:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This Fucker responds: that your supercilious tone is misplaced. I have read both the article and the book. It most certainly does suggest that the Israel lobby is uniquely powerful, and gives money and votes as two of the main reasons.

2/26/2009 06:02:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

To "the artist formerly known as anon and then Master Kitty and now back to anon" I apologise for being rude but, in all fairness every post you make seems to be a snide scattergun at prior comments.

As I've said before we have 3 rules at AW.

Don't lose your temper

Don't be rude

Say something relevant OT or not

And admittedly I've broken the first two in my communication with you but your comment at BB "I think you get yourself all pumped up sometimes." WTF

This is a serious blog - and that was basically a dig.

2/26/2009 06:03:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I think there was an admission that "Jewish lobby" was a mistake there - an apology would have been the truly classy way to go, but no matter.

The question of whether the Israel lobby is "uniquely powerful" is surely an empirical one (assuming "uniquely" means "disproportionately" or "most"). One of the USA's lobby groups has to be the most powerful, and so it's just a question of whether the Israel lobby fills that slot. AIPAC advertises itself to donors as one of the most influential foreign policy lobby groups, so it's not an absurd speculation. And W&M make a case that the influence of the lobby is disproportionate to its actual support, or the true importance of its pet issues to American (or in many cases, Israeli) interests.

I don't actually agree with W&M and have said so in print on a number of occasions. But these silly insinuations are just a total marker of unseriousness, where they aren't the result of actual dishonesty.

2/26/2009 07:29:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Now, again, you may not agree with that, but it's a perfectly valid view.

No it isn't. It's not perfectly valid because it possesses neither honesty nor a sense of proportion. It does, however, have the quality of saying "this thing X has something in common with this thing Y and so we shall elide the two". This is not altogether unusual in pro-Israeli commentary (though not of course exclusive to that genre).

2/26/2009 07:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Do you really not think that this is well-posed? "

Well, as it happens, not even slightly. Note, for example, the fact that one of the alternatives significantly includes 'in the making', while the other doesn't.

"Nuclear-armed Israel - a nuclear-attacking threat in the making or a Mediterranean Norway with a heart of gold?" - see how easy it is, troll?

Chris Wiliams

2/26/2009 08:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

"the sophisticated document makes the unsophisticated one seem like it is on to something"

In other words, the argument put forward by Mearsheimer and Walt, who very specifically disclaim both anti-semitism and conspiracism (not that they should have to, as their argument contains nothing to suggest that they don't), makes a 100-year-old anti-semitic conspiracy theory seem more persuasive. If you believe one you're more likely to believe the other.

Scaremongering bullshit, and insulting with it.

2/26/2009 09:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Der Bruno Stroszek said...

So let me get this straight; if a quick reading of a 'sophisticated document' (let's say, a book about conspiracy theories by Jon Ronson) persuades me of the truth of an 'unsophisticated document' (say, an Internet documentary about how Jews did WTC in collaboration with the Lizard People so they could steal Nazi gold), then this is entirely the fault of the sophisticated document? And not, say, me for being such an unbelievable fucking muttonhead?

What utter nonsense.

2/27/2009 09:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Martin Wisse said...

What's the worst about this smearing of W&M is that they were arguing nothing that is not common knowledge in Israel itself; remember Olmert bragging a while back that he had ordered Bush to reign in Condi Rice during the War on Gaza?

2/27/2009 09:51:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

re: Der Bruno's point - ineed, and this leads to a really dodgy cul-de-sac; shouldn't we also refuse to look at any objective writing about, I dunno, Robert Mugabe as well, since if it makes him look bad then it fits into the kind of prejudice that says 'Africans are not capable of running their own countries'? Where does this end? And this is not unique to Berman, Geras also has this weird idea that any statement which is critical of Israel might end up being misinterpreted by racists so those who criticise are racist-facilitators, or some such bollocks.

It's weird how Decents, with their professed commitment to free speech, want to shout down certain pretty impartial lines of inquiry because of this weird idea of 'what if racists got their hands on them'? Especially weird when you consider the kinds of comment they're happy to host on their blogs/include in their columns/dismiss as 'adumbrations' about Muslims and Arabs...

remember Olmert bragging a while back that he had ordered Bush to reign in Condi Rice during the War on Gaza?

I'm not sure how much I actually believed Olmert there... But all the same I'd be interested in seeing the Decent response to those claims. I mean aren't they straight out of the protocols, therefore un-serious, blah blah blah...

2/27/2009 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

All right. There is the ghost of an argument here, which resembles the argument that "respectable racism" (say, the Times giving a lot of space to Migration Watch) opens the door to, and in some way, legitimises, knucklehead get-the-bastards racism, even if it deplores the latter and disassociates itself from it. I don't doubt this and I don't doubt that some people will have used W&M in a way that they don't accept and would (to put it mildly) deplore.

But first, how are we going to take this argument and are we going to deploy it consistently? I mean how many of the Decent fraternity are prepared to accept (as they should not) an argument which says "you should not criticise Islam in an atmosphere of Islamophobia"? And come to that, how many are prepared to take a more thoughtful view, and say (as they should) "in an atmosphere of Islamophobia, one should express one's criticisms of Islam nevertheless, but do so with a little tact and a lot of common sense"? Which seems to me to be the way W&M proceed (and how, for instance, a certain website and certain national newspapers do not).

Because the thing is, there plainly is a powerful pro-Israel lobby in the US (and not just in the US) and to not say so is really problematic - are we to not say the truth because other people will misinterpret it for bad reasons, and what happened to that "relativism" bugbear if we do? The pro-Israel lobby is powerful not because The Jews have a lot of money or control Hollywood or have some conspiracy going, it's powerful primarily because in the US it is pushing at an open door. It helps provide the sort of morally-righteous justification for a violent foreign policy that the US wants.

Some Americans feel that it shouldn't and that it's not in the best intersts of their country: they also think that it's produced a moralistic juggernaut which makes rational discussion of the issue almost impossible. I agree with them. But that's the thing about moral juggernauts, isn't it? (See also Terrorism is Bad, and so on.)

2/27/2009 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I'm not sure how much I actually believed Olmert there...

Me neither, but it's not the only time he's said it (he's also used the phrasing "the Jewish organisations which are our power base in America", which I am hoping to slip into a blog post as troll-bait some day). I've noted before that if Ariel Sharon were to wake up from his coma and continue with the same political views he had before his stroke, he would be on the very leftmost fringe of the American debate.

2/27/2009 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

Two statements:

1) Israel operates a highly professional media shop, which briefs that such and such, and decided not to let journalists into Gaza. Danny Seaman (look it up) is a really smart guy.

This is highly journalistically respectable, and I recall even the Guardian crufting out stories about how clever the Israeli government flacks were during Gaza.

2) Israel has a *lobby*

As you know Bob, saying this makes you a Nazi.

The explanation is that saying the first is comfortingly like doing the actual reporting the Israeli government PR men don't want you to do, the second however implies accepting that you are being manipulated.

Meanwhile, isn't the very title of this post probably a breach of international humanitarian law?

2/27/2009 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Alex nails it. If I could be bothered and had a spare pound coin for the swear box, I could dig up the Harry's Place post in which Gene says that Mossad carries out murders of civilians, in the service of an undisclosed foreign policy which the Israeli government lies about to its allies. As opposed to all those stupid conspiracy theories about what Mossad does, apparently.

2/27/2009 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

I'd just make another point about bias. Both the BBC and Guardian are terrified of being seen as biased against the Israelis. There was a very rigorous (and quite bad tempered, apparently) debate within the paper about the scope of their coverage.

Nobody gives a damn about being seen as biased against the Palestinians/Hezbollah/Syria/Iran.

Now that's a structural reality. It limits the debate in some quite fundamental ways, but there's no conspiracy required. Journalists worry about being seen as anti-semitic. Nobody worries about being seen as anti-Palestinian.

2/27/2009 01:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This book is brilliant about the relationship between the Middle East and America, but if you dared mention some of the incidents it relates to a member of the Decent Left they would undoubtedly call you anti-semitic or anti-American.

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/non-fiction/article5668225.ece

2/27/2009 03:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I hadn't read Berman before and found that piece rather dismaying. I mean, once he's actually said that anti-Zionists are in favour of genocide* (which was only on page 3 of 7), is there any more analysis to be done ever again? If they already know that the people they disagree with are in fact Nazis, what more is there to say? Apart, I suppose, from "why do X and Y refuse to dissociate themselves from the Nazis?", "why did Z take so long to dissociate himself from the Nazis?" and so forth.

*And why, while I'm on the subject, did the proposition have to be framed in that awful, prim, passive-aggressive style?

The Jews should not be killed, all reasonable people agree; but (so goes a very popular argument) neither do the Jews have a right to defend themselves. ... people end up concluding that Hamas' doctrines have a purchase on truth - something that quite a few people believe. But they choose not to say it because they don't want to look unsophisticated or coarse. Anyway, history does not lack for genocides, and we have to assume that a lot of people have figured that, for one reason or another, genocide is a good idea.

Some people naming no names, some people I may be wrong but some people do seem to be in favour of genocide, I dare say they'd deny it but the evidence might just be against them, I'm saying no more than that...

3/01/2009 09:37:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

*And why, while I'm on the subject, did the proposition have to be framed in that awful, prim, passive-aggressive style?

You have, indeed, not read Berman before. That's the only style he has.

3/02/2009 08:39:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

but (so goes a very popular argument) neither do the Jews have a right to defend themselves.

Not so very popular that anybody actually makes it, of course, but whatever.

3/02/2009 09:22:00 AM  

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