Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Rosenberg Responds

I blogged a little while back on Indiana Professor Alvin Rosenfeld's short piece on the link between certain progressive Jews and anti-Semitism with regards to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It was a good piece--and one I think was significantly distorted when it hit the public eye.

Rosenfeld has written a follow-up concerning the reaction. Recall that this was the sort of rhetoric Rosenfeld was condemning:
Among others on the left, though, an often strident anti-Zionism is part of the ideological package that gives them their political identity. Their inclination to liken Israel to Nazi Germany and white-ruled South Africa--and their frequent excoriations of the Jewish state as guilty of "racism," "apartheid," "ethnic cleansing," "war crimes," and "genocide" draw from a common lexicon of hyperbolically corrosive speech and have helped to fashion an intellectual and political climate that encourages the demonization of Israel and its supporters. Jacqueline Rose's reduction of Zionism to a form of collective lunacy and her attempt to link Theodor Herzl with Adolph Hitler; Joel Kovel's call for "true Jews" to "annihilate their particularism," "annihilate or transcend Zionism," and "annihilate the Jewish state"; Norman Finkelstein's claim that Israeli Jews are a "parasitic class" and that their "apologists" are comparable to the Gestapo; and Michael Neumann's equation of "Jewish complicity" in Israel's policies with German complicity in the Holocaust illustrate the extremity of such views.

Much of the response presumed that this represented a blanket attack on all critics of Israel. But these people only represent a sliver of "progressives." There is plenty of room between Likudism and calling to "annihilate the Jewish state." Trying to push the debate so that it falls between those poles is not silencing, shrieks of the extreme not withstanding.
The ubiquitous rubric "criticism of Israel," however, has also come to designate another kind of discourse--one that has almost become a politico-rhetorical genre unto itself, with its own identifiable vocabulary, narrative conventions, and predictable outcomes. At its ideational core is what the British scholar Bernard Harrison calls a "dialectical scam." It goes something like this: (1) Spot an Israeli action that can serve as the ground of "criticism of Israel" (e.g., Israel's military incursion into the area near Jenin in April 2002 in response to Palestinian terrorist massacres); (2) Then "dissent" in the strongest possible terms, for instance by likening the "razing of Jenin" to the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, while anticipating that "powerful" and "repressive" Jewish institutions will try to "silence" the critics by calling them anti-Semites; (3) When taken to task by more sober-minded critics who find that, contrary to your charge, there was no such thing as "the razing of Jenin" and that the IDF has nothing in common with the SS, cry "foul" and claim their censure perfectly illustrates the point that there really is a Jewish organizational conspiracy to silence "criticism of Israel" by branding the authors of such criticism "anti-Semites."

The scam only works if people will concede the last move--that protest of clear hyperbole constitutes "silencing" by the all-powerful Jewish lobby. We cannot concede that ground, less any Jewish voices beyond the select few deemed acceptable to this "progressive" sliver be permanently silenced themselves.


Anonymous said...

I recently intereviewed him for CampusJ, shortly after this article was published: http://campusj.com/2007/03/02/campusj-interview-with-alvin-rosenfeld/

PG said...

Presumably this also works only if those protesting the extremist critics of Israel DO refer to those critics as "anti-Semitic," or as "self-hating Jews" or as "betraying Israel." If one protests the criticism in as extreme terms as the critics themselves use, one has become part of the game instead of rising above it with more measured and moderate discourse.