7 Jul 2009

'If You Don't Agree With Us You're Antisemitic'

By Antony Loewenstein and Michael Brull
Labor MP Michael Danby's accusation of antisemitism against two Jewish writers is a false and dangerous misuse of that term, write the accused, Michael Brull and Antony Loewenstein
Sometimes, people make malicious slurs that are worth refuting. Sometimes, people make frivolous, silly accusations that are worth ridiculing. Jewish Federal Labor MP Michael Danby and the so-called "Anti-Defamation Commission" ("ADC") have done both. Having been jointly targeted by this duo, we felt obliged to jointly respond. We apologise in advance for our failure to capture the seriousness of the accusations against us. We can only promise that we're not making this up.

So what exactly did they say? Let us start with Michael Danby. He basically thinks that "Brull, Loewenstein et al.", with their "broadly similar views", are guilty of "sloppy journalism", or antisemitism. He rules out sloppy journalism, because he thinks we are guilty of demonising Israel, delegitimising it, and double standards. Therefore, we are both antisemites. Jewish antisemites.

If that was the end of the story, we could stop writing here. It could almost fit into a long headline: "Michael Danby erodes his credibility by accusing two Jews of antisemitism because they don't agree with him on Israel". We should add a personal interest — Danby has been vociferously criticising one of us for years, and attempted to stop publication of My Israel Question.

However, the story does not end there. Danby's article does not only smear us as antisemites. Fellow travellers include newmatilda.com and Crikey.

At first, it seemed as though he would have been happy just to say they were "biased" and "partisan". Danby gave an example of this "bias": a Crikey contributor suggested Israel had moved to the Right in its last elections. Not so, says Danby — Kadima won more votes than anyone else. Kadima, founded by Ariel Sharon, is according to Danby, "centre-Left". This was in an election that produced a Likud Prime Minister; where Avigdor Lieberman was the "kingmaker" courted by all sides, after being ridiculed by Labor's Ehud Barak for not having shot any Arabs personally. According to Danby, this is a victory for the centre-Left, including "longtime advocates of peace with the Palestinians". At this rate, in a few years we can expect Danby instituting new loyalty oaths: declare Avigdor Lieberman an Arab-loving socialist, or you're antisemitic.

However, it is not just Danby's accusations of bias and antisemitism that were incredible. Danby reveals that the B'nai B'rith "Anti-Defamation Commission (sic)" wrote a letter to newmatilda.com on the subject of the comments after the articles, and (one suspects, the important thing), the "partisan opinion" featured in the articles.

What's that? The "Anti-Defamation Commission (sic again)" wrote to a magazine complaining about partisan coverage of Israel? Why did it do that? Suppose newmatilda.com ran articles criticising Israel's treatment of the Palestinians every single day — why would that bother a supposedly anti-racist organisation?

In June 2009, the "ADC" group published a public notice on their site about newmatilda.com. However, according to Danby, they had privately written to the site's editors about their "concerns" in April. Neither of us was informed of our alleged antisemitism by newmatilda.com or by the "ADC". Indeed, if Danby is correct, it seems that the "ADC" has quietly, behind the scenes, pressured a magazine to stop printing "partisan" articles about Israel. The "ADC" apparently holds that criticising the Israeli Government is antisemitic, and no magazine or journal in Australia should engage in such activity.

We wondered if they had a different understanding of antisemitism to that accepted by most of society, so we had a look at the "ADC" website. They explain that antisemitism can take many forms. One "manifestation" is "attacks on the State of Israel". Another manifestation is using the terms Zionist and Jew "interchangeably". However, somehow they consider it confirmed that "antisemitism and anti-Zionism are one and the same."

But if they consider all Jews to be Zionists, it seems the "ADC" is in danger of meeting its own criteria for being antisemitic. In fact, there are even stronger grounds than this for charging the "ADC" with antisemitism. Modern Zionism is a relatively recent phenomenon and took time to become established among Jewish communities. As these communities were not yet predominantly Zionist, the "ADC" should therefore consider most Jews 100 years ago to have been antisemitic.

Indeed, it seems that the "ADC" is involved in a conspiracy of antisemitism. According to them, it is antisemitic to talk of a "Jewish lobby". To do so, they say, is to subscribe to an antisemitic conspiracy theory — the wacky view that "Jews use bullying and pressure behind the scenes to censor adverse opinions".

Right. So an organisation supposedly devoted to fighting antisemitism and racism considers it antisemitic to suggest that the Jewish lobbies bully and "pressure behind the scenes to censor adverse opinions". And in pursuit of this mandate to fight antisemitism, they did clearly pressure newmatilda.com behind the scenes, so that they would curtail their habit of publishing "adverse opinions".

Our problem is that if we suggest the "ADC" has therefore done exactly the kind of thing that they deny happens, we will no doubt be guilty of even more antisemitism.

So let us return to our old friend Michael Danby. He suggests that a telltale sign of antisemitism is the three "D"s — "demonisation, delegitimation, and double standards". Plainly, he has demonised and sought to delegitimise both of us. Is he guilty of any double standards? Yes, and they are glaring. Firstly, he complains regularly that people keep criticising Israel when there are lots of other democracies in the world we could be criticising. Okay, suppose we accept that Israel actually is a liberal democracy. Doesn't he display this so-called double standard when he keeps praising it? What about democracy in Sweden? Or Norway? More seriously, what about Rudd's "new friend" — the United Arab Emirates? Will Danby criticise the UAE's dreadful suppression of human rights? Or Saudi Arabia's? Will he help end Australian complicity in Indonesia's crimes in West Papua? Does he support the US plan to install a former US ambassador as un-elected dictator of Afghanistan? Does he think Australia should be part of a war to colonise Afghanistan? If anyone is guilty of Danby's definition of a double standard it is himself.

We consider it our duty to delegitimise all governments, everywhere, especially those who act in our name. That includes Rudd's Government, which has supported Israel's crimes against the Palestinians. It also includes the US, with whom we are in a military alliance. However, we have also criticised oppressive regimes elsewhere. One of us has written a book, The Blogging Revolution, about repression in China, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Iran, Egypt and Syria. In short, we "demonise" all governments, everywhere, and urge everyone to do likewise (full disclosure: one of us wrote an undergraduate thesis on anarchism).

But when it comes to Danby's own beloved Holy State, he prefers to take the Walter Duranty approach. That is why he describes critics of Israel's Government as "partisan" and "biased", whereas on the other side he does not seem to think it a valid criticism to call Greg Sheridan an "Israeli propagandist". Danby is so committed to a double standard in principle that he ridiculed Loewenstein's suggestion that Jewish groups should condemn all forms of racism, not just antisemitism. Indeed, at the time of writing this, the Australian Jewish News has online interviews, on the subject: "What would you say to Jews who don't think Israel should exist?" The first person says "I would feed you to the Arabs." Danby and the "ADC" do not even notice this racism. Perhaps they have yet to discover that Arabs are humans too.

So, since he's guilty of the three "D"s, should we conclude that Danby is the real antisemite? Of course not. The problem is that Danby and the "ADC" ignore the real dangers of racial hatred in their desire to use the charge of "antisemitism" as a political weapon. Danby and the "ADC"'s quarrel is not with double standards — their quarrel is with all criticisms of Israel, which they choose to call antisemitic. This is their way of preventing critical discussion of Israel's actions, such as its most recent onslaught on Gaza, or its savage siege.

Sadly, this problem is not unique to Danby and the "ADC". The problem is more widespread. As we have written in the past, the major organisations which identify as Jewish — not Zionist — nevertheless see it as their duty to uncritically support almost everything the Israeli Government does. A consensus has emerged within these organisations (across much of the political spectrum), that those who hold the wrong opinions on Israel or Zionism are to be labelled antisemitic.

As we've said, when Israel apologists treat antisemitism in this frivolous manner, the danger is that they trivialise real hatred towards Jewish people. We strongly believe antisemitism needs to be taken seriously. It would be good if Michael Danby and the "ADC" thought so too.

 

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