As you will know from my post The Backman Beat-Up (23/1/09), journalist Michael Backman's opinion piece in The Age (17/1/09) has been attacked in The Australian as anti-Semitic by elements of Australia's Israel lobby. Unfortunately, the allegation has also surfaced at crikey.com.au/contentmakers with media commentator Margaret Simons naively taking such talk at face value and labeling Backman's article "anti-Semitic," "racist," "offensive to Jews," and "pretty vile". The lobby's smears are standard and predictable, as are The Australian's role as a vehicle for them. What is surprising, however, is the capacity of a media specialist such as Simons to fall for them, and her failure to recognise that the lobby's real target is not so much anti-Semitism as criticism of Israel, and in this case The Age's relatively balanced coverage of Israel's war on Gaza. (See my 22/1/09 post Overwhelming Pro-Israel Bias)
Intriguingly, the lobby's campaign against Backman was exposed as a fraud by none other than The Australian itself, which, in its editorial Apologists for Evil (21/1/09), failed to repeat the lobbyists' accusations of anti-Semitism: "There is no evidence that Backman hates Jews, but people who do will endorse his arguments and continue to cloak their anti-Semitism in a faux concern for the Palestinians." The furthest the editorial went was to describe Backman's column as an "anti-Israel rant." That the editorial's failure to follow through with the campaign's key allegation didn't register with Simons is concerning, and suggests that some (many?) in mainstream media land may in fact be clueless as to the elementary distinction between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel, as well as to how Israel lobbyists routinely conflate the two. This ignorance and confusion may indeed go some way (apart from threatened loss of advertising) to explaining why confrontations with Israel lobbyists often result in a grovelling apology from this or that journalist or editor, as was the case this time.
The Australian Jewish News reported the inevitable lobbyists' meeting with The Age's editor, Paul Ramadge, thus: "[AIJAC chair Mark] Leibler said... 'We spent well over an hour with [Ramadge] and with Age opinion editor Roslyn Guy, talking about the problematic news coverage of the Gaza incursion [!!!]... headings, photos, editing... We think there was an issue of lack of balance..." (The Age under fire over anti-Semitic article, 23/1/09). It is obvious from this account that The Age, with its relatively critical coverage of Israel's Gaza onslaught, was the lobby's main concern, the false allegations of anti-Semitism against Backman serving more as a pretext for its intervention.
In Simons' opening piece on the subject at crikey, Weird & unpleasant happenings at The Age (21/1/09), she wrote that "[Backman's column] makes the classic logical error of the racist - generalising from the particular deeds of an individual or group to the race as a whole. It manages to blame Jews for Muslim extremism and violence..." If she'd read Backman with care, she'd have seen that he refers to Israel, not Jews. Her continuation of this sentence, "... talks carelessly about that classic of anti-Semitic hate speech - that Jews were to blame for the death of Jesus..." is perhaps her only valid point, but even here it's merely a matter of carelessness, rather than an endorsement of that view. In the final part of her sentence, "... and leaps bizarrely from what is happening in Gaza to the alleged rude behaviour of Israeli tourists trekking in Nepal," it has to be said (and has been by Israeli commentators themselves - see my 4 & 8/12/08 posts Zionist S & M and A Blight Unto the Nations) that Israelis often travel overseas after military 'service' taking their 'baggage' with them. It surely does not take much to imagine, for example, how the troops who scrawled "Arabs need 2 die/Die you all/Make war not peace/1 is down, 999,999 to go"* on the walls of homes in Gaza might behave at home or overseas. Such psychopathology will likely follow those afflicted wherever they go. Linking Israeli behaviour in war and occupation with Israeli behaviour overseas is in no way "bizarre."
[*Amid dust & death, a family's story speaks for the terror of war, Rory McCarthy, guardian.co.uk, 19/1/09]
It is also worth a look at the contribution to the anti-Backman campaign of letter writers to The Australian Jewish News of 23/1/09. Of the 3 letters on the subject, not one mentioned Simons' "classic of anti-Semitic hate speech - that Jews were to blame for the death of Jesus." One was happy to dispense with the distinction between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel, and mutter darkly about Backman's supposed "encouraging [of] anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment." Another accused him of "disingenuous recounting... inversions and omissions." And the third of "deliberately and perversely distorting the facts." Unsurprisingly, the sole concern of these correspondents was Israel: "Backman has blamed Israel for the London bombings, the Bali bombings and even the loss of the World Trade Centre..."; "Why does Backman put all his expectations on Israel?"; "Hamas has no objective other than the extermination of Israel." Even Jamie Hyams in his accompanying AIJAC-sponsored Media Week column banged on about - surprise - Israel: "Backman ludicrously claimed that Israel's treatment of the Palestinians is 'at the nub' of the 9/11, Bali and London terror attacks and solely responsible for Muslim enmity for Israel." All were offended, of course - but not because of any anti-Semitism on Backman's part. It was his candid criticism of Israel that they found offensive. For them, and the professional lobbyists of AIJAC, criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism. This false equation has been dubbed by Zionists the 'new anti-Semitism'.
The leading authority on the 'new anti-Semitism', American scholar Norman Finkelstein, dealt with the phenomenon in his typically brilliant study Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of anti-Semitism & the Abuse of History (2005). His analysis contextualises the Backman beat-up wonderfully:
"The latest production of Israel's apologists is the 'new anti-Semitism'. Just as Palestinians renewed their resistance to occupation and Israel escalated its brutal repression of the revolt, there was a vast proliferation of books, articles, conferences, and the like alleging that - in the words of Anti-Defamation League (ADL) national director Abraham Foxman - 'we currently face as great a threat to the safety and security of the Jewish people as the one we faced in the 1930s - if not a greater one'. As it happens, the allegation of a new anti-Semitism is neither new nor about anti-Semitism. Thirty years ago, ADL national leaders Arnold Forster and Benjamin R. Epstein published to great fanfare a study entitled The New Anti-Semitism, and less than a decade later ADL national leader Nathan Perlmutter... put out The Real Anti-Semitism in America, alleging yet again that the United States was awash in a new anti-Semitism. The main purpose behind these periodic, meticulously orchestrated media extravaganzas is not to fight anti-Semitism but rather to exploit the historical suffering of Jews in order to immunize Israel against criticism. Each campaign to combat the 'new anti-Semitism' has coincided with renewed international pressures on Israel to withdraw from occupied Arab territories in exchange for recognition from neighbouring Arab states." (pp 21-22)
"[T]he new anti-Semitism actually incorporates 3 main components: (1) exaggeration and fabrication, (2) mislabeling legitimate criticism of Israeli policy, and (3) the unjustified yet predictable spillover from criticism of Israel to Jews generally." (p 66)
Of the first, Finkelstein demonstrates that "[t]he evidence of a new anti-Semitism comes mostly from organizations directly or indirectly linked to Israel or having a material stake in inflating the findings of anti-Semitism... These organizations stand in the same relationship to their respective host countries as Communist parties once did, except that they view Israel rather than Stalin's Russia as the Motherland... Many claims of anti-Semitism prove on investigation to be wildly overblown or fabricated." (p 66-67)
Of the second, he stresses that "... it is precisely this causal relationship [between the emergence of the new anti-Semitism and the latest flare-up in the Israel-Palestine conflict] that Israel's apologists emphatically deny: if Israeli policies, and widespread Jewish support for them, evoke hostility towards Jews, it means that Israel and its Jewish supporters themselves might be causing anti-Semitism; and it might be doing so because Israel and its Jewish supporters are in the wrong... If it's 'obscene' [as the ADL's Abe Foxman labeled George Soros' contention that "'anti-Semitism in Europe' was largely due to Sharon's policies and the behaviour of Jews"] for a Jew to say that Jews might be causing anti-Semitism, for a non-Jew to say it is - surprise, surprise - anti-Semitic." (pp 78-79)
Of the third component, he notes that "[i]n some quarters anger at Israel's brutal occupation has undoubtedly spilled over to an animus toward Jews generally. But however lamentable, it's hardly cause for wonder... Should it really surprise us if the cruel occupation by a self-declared Jewish state engenders a generalized antipathy to Jews?... if many Jews themselves repudiate any distinction between Israel and world Jewry, indeed, if they denounce such a distinction as itself anti-Semitic; if mainstream Jewish organizations lend uncritical support to every Israeli policy, however criminal, indeed, abetting the most virulent tendencies inside Israel and muzzling principled dissent outside Israel; if Israel defines itself juridically as the sovereign state of the Jewish people, and Jews abroad label any criticism of Israel anti-Jewish - the real wonder is that the spillover from antipathy toward Israel to Jews generally hasn't been greater." (pp 81-82)
Finkelstein's Beyond Chutzpah should be required reading for all who work in or study the media and its ways.