Balkinization  

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dialectic of Enlightenment

JB

Yesterday the Iranian government held an official conference for Holocaust deniers and skeptics, with 67 foreign researchers from 30 countries invited to take part. Featured speakers included David Duke, the American white supremacist, who, at least in Iran, is considered an authority on the subject.

Growing up in Kansas City in the 1960's there were random acts of anti-Semitism, and occasional gauche misunderstandings. But I grew up with the optimistic view that all this was gradually receding. The lesson of World War II, I believed, was that Anti-Semitism was a thing of the past, particularly in the West, but eventually throughout the world. Enlightenment and tolerance, I believed, were the wave of the future.

My views were naive, and altogether too sanguine. Anti-Semitism, like many other virulent strains, is never fully extinguished; it merely goes into dormancy, ready to be awakened once again when events permit it. Half a century of politics in the Middle East have made anti-Semitism fashionable again. Like a virus, it has successfully mutated, adapting itself to new environments and the post World War II discourse of human rights. Anti-Semitism today can easily meld itself with or disguise itself as criticism of the State of Israel; in this way it has found a respectable base of operations from which to spread.

Precisely because legitimate criticism of Israel, even when mistaken, is not anti-Semitic, it is sometimes difficult to tell when rhetoric disguises prejudice; but sometimes there are clear cases, when anti-Semitism reveals itself clearly in all of its ugliness. Iran's state-sponsored conference on Holocaust denial is not even a close case. The putative discourse of the conference is that of historical accuracy, freedom of thought, and anti-Zionism, but it is not too difficult to see the ancient disease rearing its ugly head again.

We had long since passed the time, I had thought, when a modern nation could hold such an event without shame. But those times are back again. Once again, there are powerful countries, and many people around the world, who despise the Jews with a deep and unreasoning hatred, and seek scientific justifications and academic respectability for their hate.

American Jewry is fortunate that we live in a country of remarkable tolerance. Jews in Iran, and in many other countries around the world, are not so fortunate. Indeed, Iran's boldness is possible because in many parts of the world deep distrust and even hatred of Jews is entirely acceptable. The ancient prejudice has made a starting comeback. Right now we in the United States are largely insulated from the effects of what has become a worldwide flood of anti-Semitism. It is not clear how long we will be so lucky.

Comments:

Do you have an opinion on the recent Jimmy Carter book?
 

Ever chasing the chimera of linguistic purity, here is a little food for thought (no news to our hosts, of course) which may prove worth contemplating.

It is bad enough for a European Christian, in the wake of Rome's conversion to Christianity, to indulge in blind prejudice against Jews, and label it "antisemitism". But what we see with Iran's latest embarrassment seems much more akin to the tribal infighting which has marked the region at least since the time of Moses. As for that fight, there are no innocents on either side. The God of Abraham, to which Jews, Christians, Muslims and Baha'i are bound, is a jealous and vengeful God. Sadly, his people oft seem made in that image.

Like our host, I would wish that WWII had taught us a lesson, that "Enlightenment and tolerance...were the wave of the future." It can be. But only if we keep building that future with our own hands, hearts, minds. For what history teaches us is that we never learn. The tree of liberty needs its feeding, and the light of enlightenment requires us each to shine. There is no excuse for blind prejudice, or the willful casting of full color reality into the black and white of demagoguery. Our greatest defense against such is to keep pointing to the green leaves, the purple mountain's majesty, the red, the blue and even the snow white of our flag and remind black-and-whiters that they can be free of their color blindness any time they choose to live again in absolute truth, in the light of the real world, where we are all equal in our Creator's eyes (even if that creator be blind chance.)

Peace, and thanks for your indulgence in a spot of preachery.
 

I find it unfortunate, however, that, in this country, our discourse about Israel, Judaism, anti-Semitism, and the Middle East is limited by what appears to be a virtually unassailable assumption that criticism of Israel is tantamount to anti-Semitism. As you note, legitimate criticism is not anti-Semitic, and yet the default supposition for many people seems to be the opposite. How this affects the rest of the world, I don't know, but I do think that this tendency has ultimately led to a skewing of American policy that hasn't had altogether positive results for either us or the Israelis.
 

Squid Vicious:limited by what appears to be a virtually unassailable assumption that criticism of Israel is tantamount to anti-Semitism.

If it were merely a passively held assumption it would be easier to take properly into account. Sadly the Israeli "diplomats" I have heard are more than happy to inappropriately raise the specter of Nazism and the Holocaust whenever they are on the ropes, as if Jews are the only people ever to have suffered so. (We're not, ask a Mohican.) So it isn't just that there's a presumption to be overcome, but rather that some commentators are willing to quite illegitimately "play that card." This, of course, is the paradigm from which the Cheney/Rove machine takes its inspiration for the "you're soft on terror" playground chant that worked so well for so long. Polarize, sweep away the inconvenient middle ground, paint them as for us or against us. Great strategy for rousing the troops; terrible strategy for finding truth or creating justice.

Heck, last I heard Israel hadn't yet come clean about possessing nukes. But to critcize/question this marks me antisemitic?
 

You were right to imagine anti-Semetism receding--in the West. The Islamic world is another matter.
 

It probably wouldn't be helpful to point out that there's more evidence for the existence of the holocaust than for the existence of mohamed or jesus or abraham or moses.
 

bitswapper: It probably wouldn't be helpful...

Guess that depends on how you define "helpful". Started my morning off with a chuckle; that's always a help. Technically I think you would have to sort available evidence by epistemological well, after which you could quite accurately say there's vastly more empirical evidence. After all, there's literally thousands of years and probably billions of personal accounts, not to mention scriptures, but those are drawn from different wells (authority and intuition for the most part.)

Makes an interesting segue for me, how the Nazis used scientism to pursue an essentially religious policy, conflating religion and race, empiricism and authority. We see similar illegitimate scientism with the right-to-be-a-baby-factory folks arguing "life" at conception. But the Nazis really paved the way for that kind of fallacy, eh?

That's some can of worms you've opened. My seeking leads me to conclude Rabbi Hillel probably put it best, "What is hateful to thee..." Combine that with "brighten the corner where you live", stir until 6 billion of us are playing by these same just rules, bingo, Utopia. Can't blame us for aiming at it.

Anyone for a go at the functional differences between Hillel's injunctive wisdom compared to the dangers of the better known "Do unto others..."?
 

During the meeting, the president stressed that all the world problems, including the Palestinian issue, could be resolved through peace, dialogue and obedience to the divine teachings, and said that the Zionist regime of Israel is facing a great challenge concerning its survival.

He further called on the big powers to dismantle the Zionist regime in the same way they created it or pave the way for a free and democratic elections in Palestine to determine the ruling system and government of that country through the votes of all the Palestinian nation, including Jews, Christians and Muslims.

wow, what a genocidal anti-semite. what kind of vicious monstrous lunatic thinks that every sorry bugger who has to live in the vicinity of palestine/israel should get a vote on the political landscape they inhabit? what hatred for the jewish people!

and when is the new iranian hitler going to get around to slaughtering the jewish people he can find in his own nation? he could start with the jew in the iranian parliament. any time now, I'm sure...
 

sitf: what kind of vicious monstrous lunatic thinks that every sorry bugger who has to live in the vicinity of palestine/israel should get a vote on the political landscape they inhabit?

Apparently the kind who is on record (or try a google search for iranian president holocaust as believing the Holocaust was a myth. Yes, Palestinians should have their voting rights, yes, Israeli policy has encompassed war crimes. Just, please, don't paint this so "either/or." The Iranian president is no angel. And last I heard there were no innocents in that fight.
 

my point is that, ahmadinejad's personal beliefs on the nature/extent of the Holocaust notwithstanding, it is not reasonable to conflate his anti-Zionist stance with his attitude towards Judaism. There are Jews in Iran. they are permitted to worship under the strictures of their religion. They even have representation in the Iranian parliament. There are even Jews who agree with Ahmadinejad regarding the Zionist regime!...are THEY anti-semitic too? where's the logic?
 

sitf: where's the logic?

I'm asking myself much the same question. What exactly is your point? Our host commented on the unfortunate situation in which a notorious Klansman like David Duke and unabashed Holocaust denier like the President of Iran have come together at a conference purporting to discuss the "existence" of the Holocaust. Uh, do you think this conference was a good thing? That's a simple question, to which a yes or a no are understandable answers. Would you have liked to participate in that conference? Would you like to see more such, here or abroad? Tell us, frowns, if you will, is the Nazi murder of millions a matter of debate? Must I be pro-Zionist if I insist, as has been said by another, above, ...there's more evidence for the existence of the holocaust than for the existence of mohamed or jesus or abraham or moses?
 

Iran's state-sponsored conference on Holocaust denial is not even a close case. The putative discourse of the conference is that of historical accuracy, freedom of thought, and anti-Zionism, but it is not too difficult to see the ancient disease rearing its ugly head again.

We had long since passed the time, I had thought, when a modern nation could hold such an event without shame. But those times are back again. Once again, there are powerful countries, and many people around the world, who despise the Jews with a deep and unreasoning hatred, and seek scientific justifications and academic respectability for their hate.


when israel invokes the Holocaust to justify its human rights violations, illegal land grabs and essentially discriminatory and exclusive character (why not a nation where you can only vote if you have blue eyes, or a large package?) and deliberately conflates any opposition to these policies with the visceral anti-Semitism that led to that great crime, it is not at all surprising that its opponents would resort to such irrational lines of reasoning in order to counter israel's cynical exploitation of its (also irrational) 'nuclear option'.

The author here engages in precisely that conflation of anti-zionist attitudes with the anti-semitism of the Nazis, with the precise (calculated or no) consequence of shifting the focus of discourse away from the political reality of how israel's zionist policies lead those who would support human rights and democracy (as well as the iranians!) to embrace anti-zionist attitudes.
Rather than even acknowledge this fundament of the israeli-arab/muslim conflict, let us discuss how much the most extreme proponent of anti-zionism hates the jews! and heck, there's widespread opposition to israel's zionist policies around the world, so don't forget to mention that worldwide anti-semitism is once more rearing its ugly head.

its a handy little piece of intellectual/moral manouvering. oh, that anti-zionism? it has no basis in any kind of reasonable reaction to israel's zionist policies. they just hate the jews! why, just look at how they are downplaying the significance of the historical event we use to justify our continued zionist policies in the face of international law and worldwide opposition! whyever would they do such a thing? I say ask the rabbis who attended and gave ahmadinejad a cuddle. oh, that's right, they're self-hating jews.

And *does* Ahmadinejad hate Jews? he likes the anti-zionist ones, that's for sure! has he called for their genocide? is there any evidence to support these claims, which are bandied about with great vigor?

further, would there be much steam behind anti-zionism or holocaust denial if israel returned to its 1967 borders and withdrew from its illegal colonies, permitted the establishment of a palestinian state with east jerusalem for its capital, permitted the right of return and addressed the political inadequacies suffered by its 20% non-jewish population?

are those not also reasonable yes/no questions? certainly i get the impression the author would consider it hateful of me to even consider them. is that any more rational than Holocaust denial?
 

@sitf: Based on your side-tracking response I have to take the following as read:

1.) You think the conference was a good thing.

2.) You would have liked to participate in the conference.

3.) You would like to see more such, here and abroad.

4.) The Nazi murder of millions a matter of debate.

5.) I must be pro-Zionist if I insist, as has been said by another, above, ...there's more evidence for the existence of the holocaust than for the existence of mohamed or jesus or abraham or moses?

You failed to address each of these, so I am forced to fill in the blanks. If any of the above misstate your position feel free to let us know. Of course if you want to try to weasel out by offering up more inane distractions, fine. That sends a message of sorts just as well.
 

robert link - *shrugs* I didn't say the conference was a good thing, nor did I put forward any of those completely baseless claims you made regarding my attitudes on the subject. I do not believe that the Holocaust is an event which should be denied or played down in any way, *but* nor do I believe it is an event which israel should invoke to justify its denial of the rights of Palestinians, and when Israel does precisely that I *am not surprised* that opponents to israel's treatment of the palestinians would engage in such denial. Would they bother if Israel were not invoking the memory of the Holocaust to justify its treatment of the Palestinians and its essentially anti-Democratic and exclusive political (zionist) nature? I SERIOUSLY DOUBT IT.

ahmadinejad has never said he hates jews, or given any kind of indication that this is the case. In fact he explicitly delineates between zionism and judaism. I have never approved of the conference, or given any indication that i approve of the conference. My point was that the author is glossing over the anti-zionist basis to support for Holocaust denial and by insisting that those nasty deniers are reeeeally motivated by anti-semitism, no matter what they might say....even the semitic participants, apparently. do you agree, robert link? are those rabbis who embraced Ahmadinejad (literally) anti-semitic? I will just go ahead and assume that you think so, shall I?

by all means casually fling about your baseless claims, as the author did re: ahmadinejad's deep and searing hatred of those jews! its certainly easier than acknowledging that decent human beings find themselves standing shoulder-to-shoulder with lunatics like ahmadinejad in their judgement of the 'zionist regime'.

tell me why those rabbis attended a holocaust denial conference. perhaps because one who is opposed to zionism will be accused of anti-semitism regardless of the venue in which one chooses to express one's anti-zionist attitudes?
 

sitf: ...nor did I put forward any of those completely baseless claims you made regarding my attitudes on the subject.

Sure. But you also don't seem to have actually read the other posts on this thread, and when asked to respond on those points you tried to distract with questions of your own. Are you here for dialog or just to rant?

sitf: ...nor do I believe it is an event which israel should invoke to justify its denial of the rights of Palestinians

You beat your breast as if singularly holding a moral high-ground. Perhaps you missed where Professor Balkin wrote, "Precisely because legitimate criticism of Israel, even when mistaken, is not anti-Semitic..."? Yet you quoted the next sentence as the seed of your screed. Strange cherry picking behavior. Who, here, on this thread, said anything in support of Israel's policies toward Palestine? Cut and paste the words from which you make this inference, if they exist. And if those words can't be found on this thread then how about coming off your high-horse?

sitf: ahmadinejad has never said he hates jews, or given any kind of indication that this is the case.

I am not alone in holding that keeping company with the likes of Grand Dragon Duke or calling together a conference for Holocaust deniers serves as empirical contradiction and outright refutation of your nonsensical claim. Are you yourself so anti-Israel's-Palestine-policy that you must also be pro-all-other-anti-Israel folks? Because that's some ugly company if you don't include some other distinguishing criteria.

Question: What motivations, other than anti-semitism, do you suppose support Holocaust denial? I'll stipulate legitimate motivations might exist, but I'm not aware of any.

sitf: are those rabbis who embraced Ahmadinejad (literally) anti-semitic?

I reckon you mean that parenthetical to apply to the embrace rather than the anti-semitism? Either way, quaint attempt to turn the mode of questioning back on me. I'll let my first post on this thread stand as answer, and trust it will be enough for the literate members of our audience.

sitf: decent human beings find themselves standing shoulder-to-shoulder with lunatics like ahmadinejad in their judgement(sic) of the 'zionist regime'.

The problem isn't this statement, but that you, quite wrongheadedly, seem to think only you have the God given wisdom to see it. Get over yourself. You aren't the only person who has decried the plight of the Palestinians nor the war crimes committed by Israel in the recent "Summer War". None of which has a blessed thing to do with the fact that it is a sad, sad day when any nation anywhere can hold as disgusting a spectacle as a conference for Holocaust deniers.

sitf: tell me why those rabbis attended a holocaust denial conference.

I'd have to read their reasons. But my assumption is that they are manifesting the "turn-the-other-cheek" attitude popularized by history's most successful Jew. Maybe you've heard of Him and His Ways?
 

Question: What motivations, other than anti-semitism, do you suppose support Holocaust denial? I'll stipulate legitimate motivations might exist, but I'm not aware of any.

again, I ask: are those rabbis anti-semitic? you seem rather afraid of investigating what their motives were in attending a holocaust denial conference. perhaps you would like me to do your research for you? I'd be happy to.

I put it to you that the answer to your question is the same as the answer to my question. and *gasp* it relates to the Zionist policies of Israel and the attendant disenfranchisement of non-Jewish individuals in the region! but wait, I'm not allowed to mention that, am I, because someone else has mentioned it at some point in time or something. whatever.

the thrust of this post (to me) was that while the putative basis to such a conference is anti-Zionism, everyone of COURSE knows that this isnt REALLY what the attendants are motivated by, because REALLY they're just anti-semitic jew haters. so never mind the zionism, let's focus on those evil jew-haters. BUT WHAT ABOUT THE JEWS WHO ATTENDED? what is THEIR motivation? I ask again and again but you do not seem to wish to follow along this line of inquiry for some strange reason, bob. I do not like agreeing with ahmadinejad on any subject; however, the day he expresses hatred for the Jewish people will be the day I break with him on the subject of Zionism. associating with David Duke isnt good enough; those rabbis also associated with David Duke. what self-haters!
 

@sitf: I suppose I'll have to let it go with your unprovable claim that the answer to your question is also the answer to mine. I don't agree, but I don't envision any profit from pursuing it further. Feel free to email me if you need closure on this. I'm effectively out of town and off the grid until the new year.
 

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