Tuesday, August 18, 2009

This is the Test

There is a form of defending criticisms of Israel from the charge that they are anti-Semitic that seeks to hermetically sealed off from each other. Under this hypothesis, criticism of Israel, so long as it is expressed as criticism of Israel, cannot be anti-Semitic no matter what form it takes. The idea seems to be that since Israel and Jews are distinct (true), it isn't targeting Jews qua Jews, and thus it is insulated. I admit I never found it persuasive in the first place, because I think prejudicial treatment of an entity affiliated with a marginalized community implicates prejudice towards that group (particularly, though not necessarily, when expressed through tropes that are typical associated with racism towards said group). But apparently some people do.

And now we have an excellent test case. A Swedish newspaper is actually accusing the IDF of harvesting Palestinians for their organs, a new twist on the classic blood libel that has rival papers calling them out for anti-Semitism.
But the liberal Sydsvenskan - southern Sweden's major daily - had harsh criticism for the rival paper, running an opinion piece under the headline "Antisemitbladet" (a play on the name Aftonbladet [the paper which published the original accusation]).

"We have heard the story before, in one form or the other. It follows the traditional pattern of conspiracy theory: a great number of loose threads that the theorist tempts the reader to tie into a neat knot without having been provided with any proven connection whatsoever," writes leading columnist Mats Skogkär of Sydsvenskan.

"Whispers in the dark. Anonymous sources. Rumors. That is all it takes. After all we all know what they [the IDF] are like, don't we: inhuman, hardened. Capable of anything," the opinion piece says. "Now all that remains is the defense, equally predictable: 'Anti-Semitism' No, no, just criticism of Israel."

Are they right? I think the paper is engaging in pretty classic anti-Semitic conspiracy mongering. But perhaps this, too, is just "criticism of Israel"?

I suppose there is an out here -- the article ties the accusations to the recent arrest of an Orthodox Jew in New Jersey accused of brokering a kidney sale. So it's tied to Jews, not just Israel. And the cognitive dissonance survives another day.

UPDATE: Apparently the author of the piece has been walking down this road for quite some time now.

UPDATE #2: But of course he's "no anti-Semite". They never are.

UPDATE #3: A must-read post by Barry Rubin.

3 comments:

PG said...

But if a Brooklyn rabbi whose charity was allied to an Israel-based charity that also has been accused of such trafficking, has been arrested and charged with organ trafficking, does that mean that if one claims that the Israeli charity was part of that operation, there is still a blood libel aspect to it? Or is the blood libel not in play if instead of being about How Jews Are, the accusation is in reference to a specific person against whom there is at least sufficient evidence for an arrest and charge?

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

PG, Anne Frank once wrote, rather astutely I think, that 'what one gentile does is his own business, what a Jew does is thrown back at all Jews.' So, yes, I would say that this is a blood libel because the brush smearing the IDF has been daubbed in the actions of one criminal.
If a Tamil were found guilty of harvesting organs in Toronto, would a link be made to the Tamil Tigers? I doubt it.
This story, combined with a story from not too long ago about the Dutch journalist who claims that Jews started the swine flu (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1106530.html) makes me wonder how mainstream newspapers are not picking up on these bigots in their midst.

PG said...

If a Tamil were found guilty of harvesting organs in Toronto, would a link be made to the Tamil Tigers? I doubt it.

If the Toronto Tamil ran a charity that was linked to an organization in a rebel-controlled area of Sri Lanka and there were concurrent reports of advertisements in that area's newspaper for organ "donors" who were actually getting paid to give their organs to folks in Toronto? I think the Sri Lankan government, at least, would seize the opportunity to paint the rebels as responsible for the organ trafficking. And while I wouldn't take the government's word for it (they having reason to want to make their opponents look monstrous), I wouldn't assume that there inherently could be no basis in fact for the claim that the rebels bore some responsibility. I'd also be kind of weirded out by having other Tamils in Toronto excuse the accused's profiteering on organ sales by saying, "They sincerely felt they were not hurting anyone; indeed, by giving life to another, they probably felt they were mimicking the divine. They were in the business of saving lives. It certainly doesn't justify their illegal activities, but it does help explain it."