Monday, May 14, 2007

Killers of Christ

Almost a year and a half ago, I noted Venezuelan dictator President Hugo Chavez blaming the "descendants of those who crucified Christ" for stealing the world's riches for itself. It seemed like a relatively run of the mill anti-Semitic comment, and I called it out. However, it appears that things might not be that simple.

The good folks at Amptoons found an article arguing against the anti-semitic interpretation by the Venezuelan Jewish community, with support from various prominent American Jewish groups. Apparently, "Christ-killers" doesn't have the anti-Semitic trope it has here and in Europe. Rather, in liberation theology circles (who see Jesus as a socialist), "Christ-killers" refers to capitalists, not Jews, and that is who Chavez's quote refers to. This actually makes sense given the full context of Chavez's quote, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

So is Chavez not an anti-Semite? I wouldn't go that far. His claim that Israel's Lebanon war was "perhaps worse" than the Holocaust strikes me as pretty virulently anti-Semitic on its own. But fair is fair, and even though I discovered Amp's post eight months after it appeared, it appears I was wrong in this case and I wanted to set the record case.

6 comments:

Mark said...

You're something of an Obama fan, I've read he has some ties to liberation theology. How do you feel about that? How comfortable are you with Marxism?

David Schraub said...

I don't think liberation theology is intrinsically Marxist (though some of its adherents are). As Archbishop Dom Helder Camara put it, "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." I do admit to appreciating its slogan/rallying cry, though: "God is on the side of the oppressed," but that's hardly Marxist.

However, I don't think Obama's linked to Latin American liberation theology. His Chicago church teaches what I believe to be called a "Black liberation theology", but they are somewhat different theological traditions, the latter being more closely tied to Black Conservatism than anything else. I don't have a problem with that theology either--but it is a different animal than its Latin American cousin.

Matthew said...

I'm not convinced that Hugo's second comment is anti-Semitic either. I also don't think it's crazy to argue that it is, but really I'm not convinced.

What I've taken from the discussion we've had in the past about Israel and anti-Semitism is that double standards applied to Israel or rhetorical overkill in demonizing Israel can be constitutive of anti-Semitism because they are expressive of disguised anti-Semitism. But, and this is something that has bothered me about the way anti-Semitism is used in discussing Israel, it seems that last bit of work isn't ever being done anymore. Rather than saying why a certain claim about Israel reflects the anti-Semitism of the speaker, the claim is itself taken as evidence of anti-Semitism. This is especially suspicious when there are alternative explanations. Most left-of-center Latin American leaders have excellent reasons for seeing the US military as an agent of oppression (Condor anyone?), and have a virulent hatred for the US and its military allies. Isn't it just as plausible that Chavez is railing against what he sees as US military power being exerted indirectly much as it was in Latin America during the 80s and 90s? Or hell, as it was very recently when the US funded a coup against Chavez himself?

Now none of this is to say that Chavez's claim is true, or comprehensible, or ethical. Clearly, there is no ground for comparing the Holocaust and Israel's invasion of Lebanon. But while there are a host of reasons why Chavez does deserve reprimand for his statement, I'm not seeing why "virulent anti-Semitism" is one of them.

PG said...

"Clearly, there is no ground for comparing the Holocaust and Israel's invasion of Lebanon."

At a basic statistical level, to say the latter is worse than the former implies that the life of each Jew killed in the Holocaust is worth not even a tenth of the non-Jewish lives lost in Lebanon. If valuing one life less than another based on the religion/ ethnicity of the compared individuals isn't racist, I'm hard-pressed to figure out what does qualify as racist.

matthew said...

"At a basic statistical level, to say the latter is worse than the former implies that the life of each Jew killed in the Holocaust is worth not even a tenth of the non-Jewish lives lost in Lebanon. If valuing one life less than another based on the religion/ ethnicity of the compared individuals isn't racist, I'm hard-pressed to figure out what does qualify as racist."

And why do we assume that Chavez is using any kind of utilitarian calculus whatsoever to say which is worse? For example, I could say that what the US did to the prisoners in Abu Grahib was "perhaps worse" than what the Veit Cong did to captured US Soldiers with referent to a number of ethical qualifiers related to position of power, available alternatives, etc. I'm not saying that judgment is true, or that those specific standards are applicable to Israel/Lebanon. I'm just saying one could feasibly make the argument without any kind of mathematical consideration of the value of lives lost. Now I don't know what those considerations could possibly be in the specific instance of Chavez' utterance. I don't pretend to agree or comprehend his comparison. But I do not think that it is prima facie anti-Semitic. I think what is incredibly more likely is that he was making some kind of crazy accusation about US-led capitalist imperialism and how that phenomenon was "worse" than Hitler's genocidal imperialism. Which, as I have said, numerous times, is crazy and not defensible. But not necessarily anti-Semitic.

David Schraub said...

I feel like my problem with your apologia is that it just pushes Chavez into a different form of anti-Semitism. Using Jews as a scapegoat for what is really a separate problem or hardship is pretty classic anti-Semitism by itself. Railing against the Jews (in a manner that is calculated to undermine Jewish credibility writ large and cause maximum psychic damage to Jews worldwide--the use of the Holocaust as opposed to another major atrocity is indicative) to express a point about Operation Condor doesn't really seem any less anti-Semitism.

But also, I'm not sure I think that Chavez was intending to strike against US military aid anyway. I think this is more likely to be part of Venezuela's push to lead the non-aligned movement, where it's primary ally is Iran. Part of that diplomatic game involves joining into Iran's anti-Semitic vendetta against the Jewish state.