Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Aaro vs Atzmon

Thanks very much to Michael Rosen in the comments for reminding me that I hadn't actually done a post about the Aaronovitch/Atzmon (with a little bit of Nick Cohen) dust-up, I just thought I had. We knew from Aaro's write-up that it was a bit of a debacle for Decent Dave, but I at least had suspected that Gilad A and his fans were rather building their part in our comments section in portraying it as a wholesale triumph for their side.

Tony Greenstein however, is as near to a neutral party as you're going to get in a conflict between Gilad Atzmon and David Aaronovitch (he hates them both), and he scores it very much in the manner of Pacquaio/Hatton, with Aaro in the Mancunian role. Christ this must have been a bloodbath.

Obviously, one's joy at seeing Aaro getting it stuck down his throat on the general subject of his ludicrous blind spot when it comes to war crimes committed by states he likes, is tempered by the fact that the other side on the evening included such boils on the face of humanity as Lady Renouf. Nevertheless, there are a few important points coming out of this shit-show.

First, (and I was saying this a while ago), the brand value term "anti-semitism" is not being managed very well. There are clearly some people in the Palestinian solidarity movement who do use that movement as cover for their own anti-Semitism, and I would even give house room to the argument that the Palestinian solidarity movement doesn't do enough to root them out. There's also intrinsically a grave danger that political opposition to the current government of the State of Israel is going to slip into racial or ethnic essentialism, simply because it is an ethnically defined state. Aaro is not just blowing smoke here.

On the other hand, the charge has been thrown around so carelessly and in such bad faith that it's absolutely unsurprising that it's been devalued (anyone who chucked the charge at Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer for writing "The Israel Lobby", for example, was in my opinion doing so without much basis, and this includes an awful lot of people who should have known better). The last couple of paragraphs of Aaro's piece rather seem to realise this - there are people now who simply can't be credibly accused of being anti-Semites, who are not bothered about putting themselves in a situation where the accusation is inevitable. Ironically, the possibly the worst argument ever has come into effect; as Tony says, the charge of anti-Semitism has been thrown around at so many people for the most trival reasons (nadir)that people have begun to reason that if something like as the Walt & Mearsheimer book is "anti-Semitic", then anti-Semitism can't be all that bad[1].

In general one wants to ask the Decent Left, when it comes to the utterly laudable project of reducing or eliminating anti-Semitic discourse from British society (a project to which the Decents have bent their elbows and in service of which they've chosen a very specific strategy), how do you think you're doing, lads?

[1] I totally disagree with this line of reasoning. I think that anti-Semitism is about as bad as racism gets, and that an accusation of anti-Semitism is an extremely serious charge that needs to be supported with serious evidence, and to which the subject is obliged to respond by taking it very seriously indeed (ie, I myself would certainly not hesitate to lawyer up on anyone who I thought was seriously trying to make it against me, and I'm doing my level best to make it very clear indeed in this post that I take the general issue very seriously, and want nothing to do with the kind of people swarming round Gilad Atzmon). But it can't be denied that in British society today, people in general are getting significantly more blase about being called anti-Semitic (this point can be supported with evidence from EISCA and the CST), and I have to say that I think Tony Greenstein's argument that the term is losing its impact through overuse in frivolous contexts, is at the very least a credible and possible explanation why this might be the case. The self-styled "pro-Israel" lobby, as I've noted on a number of occasions in the past, does an abominably bad job of making a case that intrinsically ought to be easy to make.

31 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the subject of dubious accusations of anti-semitism, the reaction to Caryl Churchill's new play has been...insructive. Howard Jacobson had an utterly demented piece in the Indie.

Von Pseud

5/06/2009 01:22:00 AM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

In general one wants to ask the Decent Left, when it comes to the utterly laudable project of reducing or eliminating anti-Semitic discourse from British society (a project to which the Decents have bent their elbows and in service of which they've chosen a very specific strategy), how do you think you're doing, lads?I think that's clear to them. When they started they had no idea of how deep and extensive the problem is, and every day brings startling new evidence to light (such as BB's complacency). Given the hitherto unsuspected dimensions of the issue (pizza!) , they are doing ok.

5/06/2009 05:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Martin Wisse said...

As if the Decent Left actually cares about anti-semitism other than as a stick to beat their enemies with. For the Israel lobby the ever increasing confusion between criticism of Israel and anti-semitism and the resulting devaluation of the latter is part of the plan. If accusations of anti-semitism aren't as scary anymore as they used to be, the fact that the door has now opened for real anti-semitism to become less taboo, that also works. Israel apologists can now argue that they were right in the first place that criticism of Israel leads to anti-semitism and at the same time increasing anti-semitism is a nice reminder to all those Jews getting doubts about what Israel is doing that they have no other option but to support it...

5/06/2009 06:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

A co-speaker, arranged at the last minute, was the journalist Nick Cohen. This was worrying, not because Nick is anything other than excellent, but because British audiences hate ganging-up. If it was two beauteous elves against one hideous orc, they would side with the orc.I would have to think about Nick and Aaro for a very long time indeed before the phrase 'beauteous elves' sprang to mind.

(Yes, it's a cheap shot, but I think it also says something about Aaro's self-image - he certainly thinks the 'orc' hat fits Atzmon, after all.)

5/06/2009 08:25:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I do find that Aaro piece very odd.

A co-speaker, arranged at the last minute, was the journalist Nick Cohen. This was worrying, not because Nick is anything other than excellent, but because British audiences hate ganging-up. If it was two beauteous elves against one hideous orc, they would side with the orc.The original lineup was Ilan Pappe, Aaro and then his was fellow Decent, who is very obviously partisan in these matters, Denis MacShane. Why wasn't Aaro worried about this 'ganging-up' from the start? Why did he say yes? And is it only British audiences who 'hate ganging up'?

My plan was simply to read out what Atzmon had written, which I did. Nick Cohen then questioned why such a speaker would be regarded as respectable.I still don't understand how aaro thought this would possibly go well. Sum of preparation - printing something off from Harry's Place then reading it out. And then throwing a hissy fit when the audience didn't immediately side with you, given your stunning lack of preparation for an event they had paid to come to and the obvious myopia of your argument. Then thinking it was the fault of the other side in the debate - or the audience - or anyone else - that Jewish students are in tears? Whither Cohen's beloved 'oratory' now?

I think that the coterie of Decent blogs has a lot to answer for in this sorry debacle, and more generally. The Churchill play is a good example - it doesn't seem especially dodgy to me, and almost every attempt at calling it antisemitic involves basic errors in reading the stage directions and a curious tenency to take particular phrases out of context (that's before we get to Geras's hilariously shit 'artistic response'). HP think that Jacobson did a demolition job, but his piece is woefully unpersuasive (recently Jacobson's output on the middle east has been pretty 'demented' in any case).

I worry most, I guess, about Geras's idea of what antisemitism. is. He seemed to think that 'The Israel Lobby' was antisemitic because, if misread, it could give real antisemites ammunition. This is hardly a rational response.

5/06/2009 08:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, but what are we going to do about it? As people who think that Israel is committing war crimes, the last thing that we want to see is more anti-semitism*. This just plays into the Zionists' hands and encourages more of the disapora to move to Israel, and fewer Israelis to get the hell out. Not good.

What's the best way to resist this cheapening of the discourse?

Chris Williams

*NB I know that there are also other weightier reasons for holding this position, and you can rest assured that I am in favour of those, too.

5/06/2009 08:51:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

I think that anti-Semitism is about as bad as racism getsSurely all racism is bad? Not to belittle anti-semitism, but it hardly seems obvious that its worse (or better for that matter) than racism against any other ethnic group. Racism is bad, fullstop, and one charge that could be made against the "Jewish lobby" is that they at times do seem to trivialise other forms of racism.

5/06/2009 08:57:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Somewhat off topic, but there was a remarkable book review in the FT this weekend of Christopher Caldwell's new book on Islam and Europe. Remarkable in that I've not seen many so critical reviews of a newspaper's own columnist appearing in his own newspaper. Cauldwell I thought, in a certain way, was a pretty good columnist too.

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/106c266a-35dd-11de-a997-00144feabdc0.html

5/06/2009 11:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Churchill play is a good example - it doesn't seem especially dodgy to me, and almost every attempt at calling it antisemitic involves basic errors in reading the stage directions and a curious tenency to take particular phrases out of context (that's before we get to Geras's hilariously shit 'artistic response'). HP think that Jacobson did a demolition job, but his piece is woefully unpersuasive (recently Jacobson's output on the middle east has been pretty 'demented' in any case)."

Well, quite. It's not as if I'm some rabid Churchill fan incapable of seeing fault, just that the charges look really dodgy when compared to what's taking place on stage. The idea that the play recycles the blood libel is based on a misreading so incompetent that I'm struggling to believe it was made entirely in good faith.

As for Atzmon, he's a pretty big test of the old art/artist seperation barrier. Reading his stuff on politics can make me feel a litle quesy about having so much of his music on my shelves. Coming second to him in a debate must have taken some doing.

Von Pseud

5/06/2009 12:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LSightly off topic but Aaro's "beautiful elves" note is not as big a bear trap as Nick Cohen's recent Observer discussion (from Kingsley Amis) of the way society is divided into "Berks" and "wankers". Not a good issue to rais if , like Nick, you are both.

5/06/2009 12:54:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

As someone mentioned HP (and let's face it HP can never be OT where dubious accusations of anti-semitism are being discussed) it seems they have had the site taken down again.
Doing a quick Google I found a link to one site mentioning they have had more legal problems, but following the link I found the page had been taken down, so it could be quite serious.
Usual through-gritted-teeth condemnations of heavy handed legal tactics notwithstanding, I wonder who they have upset this time? The Lauren Booth piece was pretty nasty, although not libellous I would have thought.
Probably best not to speculate too much, thinking about it.

5/06/2009 01:00:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

per Brett in comments to the Martin Bright blog:

"No, alas, our hosting company has had some sort of system crash. Efforts to restore services are ongoing and ought to be completed later today... so they say."so no need to start the solidarity campaign, whew.

5/06/2009 01:24:00 PM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

Yes the Booth thing was nasty. For David T to go on about "attention-seeking behaviour" was also pretty rich.

5/06/2009 01:28:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I missed the Booth stuff, what was it all about?

Cohen has developed a rather dodgy habit of quoting stuff from Amis, both pere and fils, in pieces that have pretty much nothing to do with them. It doesn't make him look well-read - I don't understand the point.

I still don't quite understand the Churchill antisemitism arguments. David Toube seems to think that if you point out that many contemporary zionists are also deeply religious it is somehow antisemitic; and even that 'proof' rests on a wilful misreading of the text. Decent philistinism at its finest.

Sadly in HP-land it's been decided that CC's play is antisemitic with the combination of that, the Jacobson witterings, and Geras's bizarre 'rewrite' - again, an utter embarrassment, and something he should have been warned against writing (but HP lapped it up of course).

It's this unthinking culture of seeing antisemitism everywhere based on your own prejudices, and getting the same old people to 'verify' it, that led aaro into his embarrassment at this utterly wretched excuse for a debate. Very few people who don't love Harry's Place would think that reeling off a few things someone had said out of context was enough to 'rest my case' - and witness Cohen's HP-derived shambles of 'proof that the Fabian Society platforms Islamists'...

5/06/2009 01:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Very few people who don't love Harry's Place would think that reeling off a few things someone had said out of context was enough to 'rest my case'It's "will you condemn" as a debating tactic - or "before I deign to address you (on this platform where we are both invited participants), I insist that you dissociate yourself from your own words". Not just taking the moral high ground but playing King of the Castle on it.

5/06/2009 02:09:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

Booth had a piece in the Mail on Sunday about how she changed her marital status on Facebook after a row with her husband and he subsequently had a motorbike accident and is now in a coma.
HP had a piece asking what kind of person would make money from writing about such a personal tragedy, which is not a totally unreasonable question, and I don't really like such confessional journalism myself. But of course the answer to the question was 'the kind of person who hates Israel and goes to Gaza to support terrorists', with all the inevitable nastiness in the comments.

5/06/2009 02:11:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

...what kind of person would make money from writing about such a personal tragedy?Did anybody ask David T. what kind of person feeds the Mail a fresh Now The Muslims Are Hogging Our Swimming Pools Scandal while presenting himself as a weary footsoldier in a MLK-esque struggle against racist segregation?

I'd ask him myself, but I'm banned after the last time I asked.

5/06/2009 02:21:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

King of the Castle - exactly - and it's that kind of thing that turns an audience against you - something Aaro still clearly hasn't realised.

I'd have more time for an HP piece on that kind of 'selling personal tragedies' topic if they ever did them on people who weren't already stock 'HP bad guys'. It's a feeble netiquette article, two years after the 'facebook rush', and not really worth bothering with, surely?

and given the amount of self-indulgence that 'good guys' can get away with on HP Sauce (Nandos, anyone? and HP fairly recently republished, in all seriousness, a human interest stories about parents who sell their stories about 'antisemitic schools' before even going to talk to the teachers in question...) I'm not sure the point is best made by HP Sauce...

5/06/2009 02:23:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

I'd have more time for an HP piece on that kind of 'selling personal tragedies' topic if they ever did them on people who weren't already stock 'HP bad guys'.Exactly, OC. One of the saner commenters asked why they didn't just call the thread 'Here's another chance to be nasty about Lauren Booth' or such like.

5/06/2009 03:17:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

You think the material on Lauren Booth was bad, but what about all the dreadful posts on poor old Craig Murray? A lot of that stuff including the digs at his wife were pretty low and nasty.

5/07/2009 12:09:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

This is the 'decent face of the left' where even the main figureheads like Geras seem happy with throwaway misogyny (only when directed at 'enemies', obviously) so I guess it's not exactly out of keeping...

HP Sauce back online now by the way. The attempts at 'proving' that the Booth post is on topic (eg she bashes the policies of the State of Israel so personal attacks on her are fair game) are pretty funny - well they would be, if they weren't so sad.

5/07/2009 07:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HP's return means you can check out their post on 7 Jewish Children. Barking I tell you.

As for "Decent philistinism", quite true, but Jacobson's a fucking novelist. What's his excuse?

Von Pseud

5/07/2009 11:37:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Well, Martin Amis is a novelist too...

Mr Toube on the play:

First, it has a parent telling a child that “we killed the babies by mistake”. What Churchill means by this, is that Jews kill babies deliberately, and then lies about it to their own children. Churchill has chosen this statement because Jews have been blamed for child killing, from the Massacre of the Innocents, through the murder of Hugh of Lincoln, and onwards..
I think this has to go down as one of the most intentional misreadings i've ever seen - it goes against not only the context of the play but also against Churchill's own statements on the play. You can only come to Toube's conclusion if you actively want to. He continues:

Secondly, the play has a parent justifying Jewish conduct because “we are the chosen people”. Mocking Jews as “the chosen people” is an ancient racist slur. I personally had it levied at me by a racist teacher when I was a child. What Churchill means to say is that Jews believe that they are “chosen”, and therefore believe that they are exempt from normal rules of morality..
Again, I don't understand this. THere's a difference between putting a religious justification of Zionism in the words in the mouth of one of seven characters and 'mocking Jews' per se. It's not even clear that the viewpoint is being mocked. And again we get the idea that presenting Israelis in anything other than an entirely positive light 'gives antisemites ammunition' and is thus apparently unjustifiable.

Churchill is a filthy racist.

The response to this play shows that we have no genuine anti-racist movement in this country
.
well yeah it does. as in, Toube et al are not genuine in the slightest, in their wilful misidentifications of racism.

5/07/2009 12:43:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

They've got another post up on CC's play now, by a bloke whose sole qualification is that he frequently posts on an 'antisemitism discussion forum'... and it's even worse than Toube's ramblings.

5/07/2009 01:10:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

I've heard more than one religious Israeli Jew on TV justify their actions by saying that Israel was given to them in the scriptures(which my be true, but the archaelogical evidence suggests that the historical reality was somewhat different). Which is effectively the same thing as saying you're the "chosen people". A lot of US christians support Israel for similar reasons, for whatever that's worth (it gets pretty hairy and anti-semitic on the more fundamentalist end of things, but the Israelis don't seem to mind so long as they get the support).

5/07/2009 09:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

A lot of US christians support Israel for similar reasons, for whatever that's worth I was once in an Anglican church where the celebrant led prayers for "Thy people Israel", who were having a bit of a rough time of it in the court of public opinion at the time. I thought then that the whole point of the New Covenant was that they weren't His people any more, we were. I suppose it's a bit like wishing the ex well.

5/08/2009 07:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Simon said...

Churchill is a filthy racist.If Toube did actually use these words (and I'm not looking at HP to check) I think it's fairly clear that, as Oliver Kamm might say, he has moved outside the boundaries of civilised debate.

5/08/2009 08:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Ian said...

Toube moved outside those boundaries some time ago; on this thread he describes the Quakers' guiding principle as "Fuck The Yids".

5/08/2009 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

Jacobson became (or revealed himself to be) an utter arse as soon as it all kicked off. from Orwell import Transferred_Nationalism..

5/09/2009 05:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I re-read BBs original post on the subject of Aaro's book. Very good. There is also a "shorter Aaro" on Craig Murray's website.

Guano

5/11/2009 08:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a logical fallacy to assume that, pre-1948, no anti-semites supported the creation of the state of Israel. It is a logical fallacy for Israelis to assume that all the people who purport to be their friends actually have the long-term interests of Israel at heart. It is a logical fallacy for Israelis to assume that people who suggest that Israel needs to take some very tough (even traumatic) decisions about its relationship aren't thinking about the long-term interests of Israel.

Guano

5/11/2009 08:40:00 AM  

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