Monday, June 21, 2010

Mike, About that Last Column...

In The Ferocious Beast (12/6/10), I posted Sydney Morning Herald columnist Mike Carlton's bold exposure of the winning ways of Australia's Israel lobby. Needless to say, the following week's letters pages witnessed the inevitable stoush between the usual suspects and their foot soldiers (4) and Carlton's defenders (8), an exchange which prompted him to have a second bite of the cherry in his latest column, Rudd fumbles ball & couldn't even save Sharnee & Skye, 19/6/10:

"With bottomless irony, the Jewish lobby spent much of last week assuring anybody who would listen that there is no such thing as the Jewish lobby. The most powerful contribution came from one Mike Phillips of Wollstonecraft, who wrote to the Herald on Tuesday to explain that the Jewish people were put on this earth to teach the rest of us how to behave. That clap-trap was briskly dealt with by readers' letters the next day.

"As I said when I opened this can of worms a few weeks ago, a common technique of the lobby cheerleaders is to label any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism or, worse, Holocaust denial. Sometimes in as many words, at other times more subtly. And away they duly went. Robin Margo, president of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, wrote that my column last week had 'disturbing overtones' for those who know their history. Robert Goot, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, fired off a hilariously pompous email accusing me of falsehoods, stupidity, intemperance, irresponsibility and of invoking an 'old and insidious racist sterotype'. I thought at first some witty satirist had pinched his letterhead.

"Time for a cold shower all around. The American Jewish academic Norman Finkelstein has campaigned against what he calls the Holocaust Industry, which he describes as the offensive use of the death of 6 million Jews as a lever to obtain political or diplomatic advantage. For this he is usually excoriated as a self-hating Jew, another traditional insult, but he can hardly be ignored: his mother was in Majdanek and his father survived Auschwitz.

"Or, as another distinguished American writer, Peter Beinart, wrote recently in The New York Review of Books, 'the Holocaust analogies never stop, and their message is always the same: Jews are licensed by their victimhood to worry only about themselves'. Jewish lobby groups have every right to put their views. But when their first, inevitable reaction is to hurl the charge of anti-Semitism they merely devalue the currency.

"I replied to Robert Goot that I am perfectly content with the existence of Israel as an independent Jewish homeland, and that I have no more regard for Hamas than I had for the psychopaths of my own ethnic background, the IRA. But nor, I said, would I be silenced about Israel's cruel and unconscionable oppression of the people of Gaza. Enough. Shalom."

It goes without saying that I agree with everything Carlton has written above - except for that final paragraph, which detracts terribly from his otherwise astute and courageous stance.

No one aware of its implications could possibly be perfectly content with the existence of Israel as an independent Jewish homeland because to be so is to be perfectly content with the existence of some 5 million Palestinian refugees as an exiled, stateless and disenfranchised population - in perpetuity. The logic of such a statement is that what is now generally recognised as Israel (pre-1967) should be the sole preserve of Jews the world over, including Margo, Goot and the rest, and forever denied to the descendants of the non-Jewish Palestinian Arab majority ethnically cleansed from their homes (and homeland) there in 1948. Such an assertion also suggests that Carlton is cosy with the idea of a sectarian state, a position I'm sure he'd be the first to oppose. Consistency surely demands that any sectarian state, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu, be rejected as inherently discriminatory.

As for Hamas, after some real study (try Khaled Hroub's Hamas: A Beginner's Guide, 2006 or Azzam Tamimi's Hamas: Unwritten Chapters, 2007) and a little honest reflection, I doubt whether Carlton would stand by his facile dismissal of Hamas as nothing more than psychopathic.

Whilst I appreciate Carlton's refusal to be silenced by Israel's cruel and unconscionable oppression of the people of Gaza, the rest of his paragraph smacks too much of tossing a bone to the ferocious - dare I say psychopathic?* - beast.

[*Hear Finkelstein describe Israel as a "lunatic state" at or read his latest book, 'This Time We Went Too Far' (2010), in which he quotes former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni talking of Israel as "going wild" and "demonstrating real hooliganism" in Gaza in January 2009.]

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