How does deliberate misrepresentation help promote understanding?

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The debate raging over anti-semitism is confusing at the best of times. Generally speaking I have quite a lot of time for the argument that it is creeping back into fashion by the back door and that we should be less tolerant of lazy rhetoric that blurs the lines between judaism, zionism and the state of Israel. This quote by Sue Blackwell taken from Hirsh’s own website illustrates the scale of the problem quite succinctly:

…increasingly these days I find myself having acrimonious exchanges, usually by email, with people whose messages start by expressing their support for my stand on Palestine and then continue with ‘I think you ought to read this.’

‘This’ often consists of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which for a document over a hundred years old has weathered remarkably well. It crops up everywhere on the internet, including the weblogs of people who claim to be campaigners for Palestinian rights. I had a graduate student in my office not long ago, a highly intelligent young man who is a member of a socialist party in the UK. He told me in all seriousness that I really ought to read this incredible exposé of a world Jewish conspiracy, which was apparently new to him.

Dave Hirsh however crosses the line into batshit craziness. I would have agreed with him if his argument about this article by Chris Davies MEP should not have made crass comparisons between Jews being burnt in Auschwitz with the Palesinian situation. Why does the fact that 6 million Jews were wiped out by the Nazi’s make it incumbant on any Jews to behave with more humanity than anyone else? There’s also a wider double standard here that sneaks into lazy thinking (which I’m not accusing Chris Davies of): the horrors of the Holocaust are supposed to have taught the Jews a lesson on how to behave, while the comparatively less horrific (though doubtless intolerable) experience of the Palestinian ghetto, according to some, lets suicide bombers off the hook.

Unfortunately though, Hirsh decides to overegg the pudding quite appallingly. Not content with a mere critique, he comes up with the extraordinary premise that if you squint a little bit, take a quotation out of context and disengage your critical faculties for a second, what Chris Davies is actually saying is that all Jews, not the state of Israel, “appear not to care that they have themselves become oppressors.” This is transparent nonsense. Whatever my doubts about the efficacy of raising the Holocaust it is quite clear that Davies is referring to Israel and not “all Jews”. In fact, he doesn’t use the word “Jews” anywhere in the article. Despite this, Hirsh puts “Jews” in quotation marks in this article a grand total of eight times. This is a wilful misinterpretation, and given this and the fact that Hirst is explicitly calling him racist, I suspect that Davies would have quite strong grounds for legal action.

How does this sort of over the top nonsense actually help anything? By all means be critical of Davies here – I have – but screaming “RACIST!!!” at the drop of a hat does nothing to help understanding on either side. It is quite simply pathetic, a partisan broadside that is intended to cause a ruckus.

In Hirsh’s commentisfree profile, he states that he “endorses the manifesto.” Yes, in Hirsh’s world, the Euston Manifesto – in less than a fortnight – has become THE manifesto, suggesting that he is not only obnoxious, intellectually dishonest and lazy, but quite unbearably pretentious as well. If this is the sort of rot that the “new left” comes up with, I don’t fancy its chances.

15 thoughts on “How does deliberate misrepresentation help promote understanding?

  1. I agree both with your criticism of Davies and the view that Hirsh’s article is an overreaction. But Davies does leave himself wide open to this sort of misinterpretation/misrepresentation with his comment:

    ‘those whose history is one of such terrible oppression appear not to care that they have themselves become oppressors’

    By definition Holocaust victims were not Israelis. Therefore the logic of Davies’s sentence is that ‘those’ = Jews. It may not be what he meant, but it is what he wrote.

    I don’t know anything about Dave Hirsh but take him to be some sort of pundit or commentator. Davies is a parliamentarian and therefore a public representative. To me Davies is more sinning than sinned against in this particular exchange.

  2. You are of course correct, but it is clear from the context who Davies was referring to, regardless of the hash he made of it. Davies is entitled to criticism, but labelling people as racists at the drop of a hat doesn’t solve anything.

  3. David Hirsch is teaches sociology at Goldsmiths College, London U.

    Personally, I think that Davies engages in some horrendous moral equivalence in his article and should be roundly condemned for comparing Israel’s policy with both Apartheid and the Holocaust. Such woolly thinking encourages the creeping dining-table anti-semitism to which James alludes.

  4. You may disagree with what I say but I think the hostility of your language is seriously out of proportion. “batshit craziness” “wilfull misrepresentation” “screaming RACIST at the drop of a hat” “not only obnoxious, intellectually dishonest and lazy, but quite unbearably pretentious as well.”

    The truth is that you think that some of what I say is spot on, some of the stuff I have brought into the public domain is very useful, and some you don’t agree with.

    I know the medium encourages people to say things that we wouldn’t say face to face – but I think you have no reason to be so hostile.

    To explain the “inverted commas” around “the Jews” – I guess a lot of people misunderstood what I was doing – and I can see how it was not clear, and I should have been clearer.

    What I meant was to flag up the phrase “the Jews” as being a problematic phrase – I did not mean to claim (obviously I had no basis to claim) that this was a quote from Davies. How could it be “wilful misrepresentation” when I provided the original quote and the link? If it was wilful misrepresentation then I’m really not very good at misrepresentation.

    It is clear that Davies was talking about Jews in general – “the Jews” (not as a quote but as a category). There were no Israelis at Auschwitz. What he was trying to do was to point out the irony that Jews used to be “oppressed” and are now “oppressors”.

    I didn’t call Davies a racist – I didn’t say that he was motivated by racism – I said that the comment about “those whose history is one of such terrible oppression” IE JEWS, as apparently uncaring oppressors, was a “careless racist generalisation from a Liberal Democrat Euro MP who ought to know better”. And so it was. And he ought to know better precisely because he isn’t a racist.

    You might not agree, but to say that this is “transparent nonsense” is, to use your phrase, overegging the pudding.

    It might be the case, but I have no evidence, that he knows what he is doing, in the context of the racialised politics in the North West, in the context of the BNP’s Islamophobic campaign, in the context of wanting to capitalise on the Lib Dem’s anti-war position amongst Muslim voters. I don’t think that Muslims would be attracted by a little bit of anti-Jewish rhetoric – but perhaps he might think exactly that. As I say, I don’t know, which is why I didn’t make an issue of it in the post.

    So be nice. You thought my piece interesting and useful, although you disagreed with some of it. No need to be horrible, is there? Particularly since you don’t know me and you don’t seem to know much about me.

  5. You might try being “nice” to Chris Davies.

    You have insinuated that he is exploiting anti-Jewish feeling among British Moslems for political gain.

    Quite an unpleasant allegation, when all said and done.

  6. I have read Chris Davies’ article and take issue with very little of it.

    Israel’s behaviour towards the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is indeed racist.

    It is racist because Israel claims that the West Bank and Gaza were granted to the Jewish people by God, and that Jews thereby have a superior claim to this land over the indigenous occupants.

    If that isn’t racist, then I don’t know what is.

    What was ill-advised is Davies’ comment about victims of Auschwitz.

    This presupposes that all Jewish people think and behave alike, which is clearly not the case.

    It is quite possible to be Jewish and be opposed to Judaeo-centrism, and be critical of US foreign policy, though such persons tend to find themselves anathematised by the likes of Dr Hirsh as “self-hating Jews” (Gerald Kaufman was actually barracked in a synagogue).

    I don’t think Chris Davies is promoting the “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion”, however. In his efforts to enforce the taboo against crticising Israel, Dr Hirsh has an interest in dumping his critics in the most extreme camps available, and that is precisely that he attempts here. I can think of historical documents just as dubious in their authenticity as the “Protocols”, but I won’t offend anyone by naming them.

  7. Angus, I strenuously object to a number of things that you have said:

    Firstly, I know full well that it is possible to be jewish and opposed to Judeo-centrism because I am Jewish and have a three decade record of opposing Judeo-centrism – and the occupation, which I think is violent and dehumanising to Palestinians and stupid in terms of any decent conception of Israeli national interest.

    I find your term “the likes of Dr Hirsh” just insulting, as is the way you use that term to insinuate that I anathematised anybody as a “self-hater” – I have never used the term. I have very rarely ever accused anybody of being an antisemite. I didn’t accuse Chris Davies of being an antisemite. I accused him of carelessly using a piece of thoughless racist rhetoric.

    It is wrong that I am trying to enforce a taboo against criticising Israel – if you had read anything I read with any care at all, you would know that I have a long record of criticising the actions of the Israeli state. The point is that there ought to be a clear boundary between demonization (the Jews (the Zionists) as oppressors, the Jews (the Zionists) as global conspirators, the Jews (the Zionists) as baby-killers etc. etc.).

    Demonization of Israel does nothing for Palestinians. For example, when people wrongly shouted “Holocaust” and “massacre” at the time of the battle of Jenin, they were handing an excuse to Sharon to do nothing. He doesn’t have to respond to racist demonization. Measured and sharp criticism of the razing of city blocks by drunken bulldozer drivers would have helped put pressure on Sharon – racist demonization helped Sharon to shrug it off.

    I have never accused anybody of antisemitism because they have criticised israeli policy. In fact, it is extremely rare that any mainstream Jewish communal politician or israeli politician thinks that CRITICISM is antisemitic. http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/david_hirsh/2006/04/nobody_has_ever_claimed_that_c.html

    It is just silly to say that Israel claims Gaza and the West Bank were given to it by God. The pull-out from Gaza happened and should be recognised – yes there are still issues about free movement, for example, but the fact that Israel no longer occupies Gaza is not nothing – is certainly not evidence for the silly claim that Israel thinks Gaza belongs to it by god-given right.

    The truth is that some racist and extreme right wing Jewish fundamentalists make absurd claims about God-given land – this idiocy is opposed by the vast majority of Israelis.

    My point in the piece was clear enough: “I hate the ‘Jews should know better’ argument”. Incidentally it’s racist, but the main problem with it is the idea that Jews should be better than other people because of the Holocaust. I don’t see why. I’d have thought that the Holocaust would have taught many Jews that they needed a state of their own otherwise they would have no rights. This is not my position. But the idea that the Jews should have learnt from the killing of six million of them that the best way to relate to people who hate them is to trust them, is not a little bit patronising. Surely the experience of the Holocaust is as likely to brutalise as to beatify. But the truth is neither – don’t expect Jews to be better than everyone else – or worse than everyone else. Israel is a state like other states.

    The point is not that either the left has to oppose the current upsurge in antisemitic discourse or it has to support the Palestinians. The point is that it has to do both.

  8. “You have insinuated that he is exploiting anti-Jewish feeling among British Moslems for political gain.”

    I said that it was a possibility worth considering. I don’t know enough about Davies or about North West politics to judge. Which is why I didn’t judge. But the effect of referring to Jews as uncaring oppressors might well be useful for someone who was trying to stir up a racialized politics. It is something to look out for, I think, something to consider. Don’t you?

    For example, Respect are currently making a big push in Tower Hamlets on the lead issue of twinning the borough with Jenin. The lead issue is not housing, jobs, poverty, racism, education, the war in Iraq – the lead issue is anti-Zionism. They clearly think that there is some electoral gain to be had by this strategy in Tower Hamlets. And Respect does indeed have a history of playing racialised politics. What do you think? Something for us to consider?

  9. Dr Hirsh, I made an assumption, erroneously, that you are a commentator of a particular kind, which you have now made clear you are not. Please accept my apology for my unnecessarily intemperate response.

    I do, however, stand by my contention that the ideological basis and justification for the existence of the State of Israel is the claim that Palestine was given to the Jews by God.

    I would also disagree with your view that Israel is a state like any other. True, Israel is not the only state created by ethnic cleansing (the USA, Canada and Australia belong to that club, too). And it is not the only state to treat religious and racial minorities as second-class citizens. But it is the only modern democracy which is a confessional state – in that one’s religion entitles one to citizenship (a Roman Catholic is not automatically entitled to citizenship of Italy, or an Anglican UK citizenship).

    I also dispute your belief that “The Jews” (that unfortunate collective term) are “entitled to a homeland”. Are the Roma similarly entitled? And if so, where is their homeland going to be located, and who is going to have to be ethnically cleansed to make way for it?

    I am very pleased that you accept that Jews are just people (rather than the “Chosen People”). There are Jews who are religious fanatics and racist bigots, and others who are socialists, liberals, pacifists and assimilationists. And it is also worth noting that some of the most extreme Judaeo-centrists are Evangelical Christians.

    Thre are indeed self-appointed Jewish “spokesmen” who maintain that criticism of Israel is “anti-Semitic”. Melanie Phillips and Barbara Amiel, to name but two. It is perfectly obvious what their game is, and I am very happy to discover that it is not your game, too.

    I am certainly not going to jump to the defence of George Galloway, the Socialist Workers Party and “Respect”. As Lenin said, there is no morality in the class struggle, and they will pander to anything to get votes. You are surely not lumping Chris Davies in with that shower? Or with the repulsive Mr Griffin and his BNP?

    Chris Davies made an unfortunate comment, just as Jenny Tongue did.

    Do not let it obscure the central issue, which is the Israel-Palestine conflict and Israel’s brutal occupation of the West Bank in breach of international law.

  10. Chris Davies had little choice but to resign having written what he did. A case of “think before you ink”.

    The term “Jewish lobby” is unhelpful. There is clearly a “Zionist lobby”, since it is possible to point to the existence of organisations which have been established to promote Israel’s interests. There are also people who hold opinions which can reasonably be described as “Judaeo-centrist”. Many such persons join together to further their beliefs. But to refer to these agglomerations of individuals as a “Jewish lobby” is misleading. Telling a census enumerator that one is “Jewish” does not bind one to a specific set of values and opinions.

    And many Judaeo-centrists are not actually Jewish.

    For instance, the Baptist preacher, the Rev David Pawson, who berates the UN for ordering Israel out of territory which was granted to the Jews by God; and who insists that Jews are indeed the “Chosen People”.

    When I turned on the news last night I heard that the new Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, is saying that Israel has to change its boundaries in order to ensure that the majority of people living in Israel continue to be Jewish.

    In Britain, we have a political party which aims to ensure that the majority of people living in the United Kingdom continue to be white North Europeans. It is called the BNP.

  11. Mr Chris Davies MEP (and not alone among his NW colleagues) has a rather difficult and confused history on matters of race and community. I accept that they are not racists of course but he does at times to sail very close to the wind for electoral gain. Let me give you five examples :

    1. Mr Davies made front page of the Metro News in Manchester after refusing point blank to take any action on the odious RedWatch web site, and off-shoot of Combat 18 whose numeric comes from the letters AH – Adolph Hitler. Constutuents who were featured on this site which contains pictures, names and sometimes addresses of anti-racists asked him to protect them. Mr Davies refused saying that he was on the site too and didn’t mind. But Mr Davies does not live cheek by jowl with racists and fascist sympathisers in say parts of Oldham as the women, children and men showing solidarity with victims of racism do.
    (Yet Chris Davies MEP is one of the very few Lib Dem parliamentarians who have signed up to Unite Against Fascism’s founding statement).
    2. In the 2004 European Election where the BNP’s Nick Griffin was targeting the North West and was to get within 30,000 votes of becoming an MEP Mr Davies bossed a campaign for his list with Sajj Karim (now MEP) in number two position. The targeted literature for areas of high asian and particularly muslim population came very close to saying “you are asian/muslim, you should vote asian/muslim”. That’s how it would be read certainly. So, never mind the typical Chris Davies policies which would be anathema to strict and indeed most moderate and secular muslims, just “vote asian”. My own view is that this was cynical and irresponsible communalism and in fact (presuamably unwittingly?) echoes the kinds of call for white votes of white supremists or indigenists like the BNP, NF and England-First. When I challenged Mr Davies at a hustings he stated that everything on the leaflet was true and he was unapologetic; but in all seriousness this kind of line of argument features prominently in Lib Dem campaigns in some areas and is pretty obnoxious from my point of view.
    3. Just as Chris Huhne MEP did Chris Davies sticks money and services into the pot of local campaigns in the NW one way and another. One such campaign was in his former Westminster seat of Oldham and Saddleworth East. Running through the constituency is the Leeds Road and on one side of that road the Lib Dems ran a campaign against planning consent for a mosque and a few metres away on the other they were all for it. As we might expect the difference was that one side of the road is a strong muslim community and the other a white community with elements of both soft and hard racism. Called into the MP to explain what they were up to Lib Dem campaigners admitted that they would simply mirror the views of the people and say almost anything to be elected. This is dangerous, particularly as they seem to be softening areas up for the BNP and the like.
    4. In Manchester Withington ahead of the 2005 General Election there was a huge controversy about the de-selection (in effect) of the two times candidate Dr Yasmin Zalzala, a muslim woman who had come to Britain from Iraq around the time of the first Gulf War. I will not say too much on this as there are ongoing legal and other proceedings but in essence senior Lib Dems appeared to have exchanged emails to the effect that as an Asian Woman Dr Zalzala was not electable and needed to be removed as the candidate, despite an heroic swing in the previous election. This message scuppered her chances and the constituency now has a Lib Dem MP who appears to extremely ruthless, campaigning round a hospital hoax, and perhaps by coincidence got a written answer to a query about anti-semitic attacks on the same day the Davies story broke. (Incidentally Manchester Labour have just succeeded in getting two Asian Women elected to Council, only one in an area with a large Asian community).
    5. Responding to criticism on Yasmin-gate newly elected Councillor Faroz Bhatti, who had been immediately promoted to co-Shadow on Finance and Equality spokesman claimed that all in the Lib Dem garden was rosy and they didn’t play the race card etc. Unfortunately for Mr Bhatti he was known to have featured in a communalist advert calling on asians and muslims to join “to protect your identity” as well as scare mongering with a Council Tax prediction THREE TIMES the actual rise – though rather in line with Lib Dem rises in for example Streatham and Bristol!
    Whatever Mr Davies underlying intentions, and many may agree with him about some of the activities of the State of Israel, he has messed up good and proper here. He is a wild maverick and a pretty dangerous character. When I first heard of this story and saw the exchange I did wonder whether Mr Davies has lost his marbles or was tapping away after a glass or three too many of fine EU wine.

  12. THE FASCISTS LIKES OF ANGUS J HUCK
    Don’t be too naïve, Dr Hirsh! “The likes of Angus J Huck” hate Israel, AND the Jews.
    Can’t you see? If Israel holds on the occupied territories, it is evil. If Israel evacuates them in order to preserve the Jewish character of the state, it is fascist. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…
    “The likes of Angus J Huck” accuse Israel for 9/11 and 7/7, and probably poisoning the wells in the middle ages.

    “The likes of Angus J Huck” are the very reason why there is an Israel.

    Do not be mistaken, Dr Hirsh, behind the “Chic Liberal” façade lies the latest enemy of the Jews. Do not waste your time arguing with them, Doctor.
    Expose them for what they are: the friends and supporters of Islamic terrorism, the haters of America, the haters of the Jews, THE NEW FASCISTS.

  13. Further to the reference to my case, what happened to me was ‘ethnic cleansing’ to replace me, an Arab White Female Muslim, ex asylum seeker from an ethnic minority with a white candidate. Councilors, barristers, solicitors, MP’s, MEP’s, Members of the House of Lords are all part of it.

    The lesson from my experience is that for victims of discrimination like myself, there is very little protection under the law.

    I would have been far better off legally speaking at the expence of the tax payer had I been a mass murderer!

    It is a scandal. And unless something is done, there is little to stop politicians continuing this practise as the law is so feable and useless.

  14. I thought you might like to know that the Secretary of State for JUSTICE in the UNITED KINGDOM, the oldest democracy in the world in response to my complaint about the mistakes and errors that the Legal Services Commission made in my case,

    The RT HON JACK STRAW said that I could consider being my own counsel if I could not afford to pay for professionals!

    A charter for ethnic cleansing wouldn’t you say?

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