The apology to the Jewish people Deborah Orr should have written

Guardian journalist Deborah Orr may have felt the need, or perhaps was required, to issue a quasi apology in response to the criticism which followed her Oct. 19th Guardian polemic, Is an Israeli life really more important than a Palestinians’s?”

In her apology she wrote:

Last week, I upset a lot of people by suggesting Zionists saw themselves as “chosen”. My words were badly chosen and poorly used.”

However, this is far less than accurate as she was clearly suggesting that Jews, as such, and not merely “Zionists” – insofar as Israel is understood as the state of the Jewish people – saw themselves as chosen.

Indeed her original post expressed disgust at the prisoner exchange which freed Gilad Shalit, not out of concern that hundreds of unrepentant terrorists were released for one Israeli soldier – and, indeed, the post was accompanied with a celebratory photo of a released female terrorist who tried to carry out a 2004 suicide bombing – but because, in her moral calculus, such a deal demonstrated Israeli racism.

Unfortunately, much of Orr’s apology largely fails to address the most serious issue with her original Guardian piece.

In the essay, she rails against “the obscene idea that Israeli lives are more important than Palestinian lives”, before concluding contemptuously that “so many Zionists believe…that the lives of the chosen are of hugely greater consequence than those of their unfortunate neighbours.” [emphasis mine]

What Orr suggested can be summed up as follows:

The release of 1027 terrorist prisoners by Israel in exchange for one Israeli is evidence of  the Jewish state’s racism (or feeling of supremacy), a racism embedded in Judaism itself.

CiF Watch recently got into a Twitter exchange with Orr, and asked if she would issue a more thorough apology, addressing the argument she actually made.

Here was her response:

Ok, I’ll take a stab at it. Here’s the apology which we’d like to see Orr sign.

In an Oct. 19th Guardian piece, I made the indefensible argument that Israel’s prisoner deal with Hamas, which secured the release of Gilad Shalit in exchange for over a thousand Palestinian prisoners (many who committed or planned terrorist acts), was evidence of the racist belief by Jews that they are “the chosen people”.

I know now both that such an asymmetrical prisoner deal between Hamas and Israel merely reflected the former’s better negotiating position, and says nothing whatsoever about the morality of Israel, who, obviously, would have preferred to secure Shalit’s release without having to release even one Palestinian prisoner.

More importantly, I now understand the odious history of the distorted narrative of Jews as “the chosen people”.

I realize the truth of what Guardian Readers’ Editor Chris Elliott recently wrote“Chosenness”, in Jewish theology, tends to refer to the sense in which Jews are “burdened” by religious responsibilities; it has never meant that the Jews are better than anyone else. Historically it has been antisemites, not Jews, who have read “chosen” as code for Jewish supremacism.”

I regret having used a trope which evokes historical antisemitic narratives and understand the following:

‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, the most widely distributed antisemitic forgery in history is premised partly on the idea of Jews’ “chosenness.

I know now that a distortion of the idea of Jews’ “chosenness” is a widely used theme in perhaps the most popular antisemitic site on the web, Jew Watch.

Finally, I’ve learned that the most well-known white supremacist in the U.S., David Duke, uses the theme of Jews’ “chosenness” to prove that Jews are the most racist people on the planet in his book “Jewish Supremacism”.

In short, such distortions of Jews’ understanding of their identity, and of Judaism itself, are quite dangerous and should be strenuously avoided by those who consider themselves anti-racists.

As an anti-racist, I will, of course, strenuously refrain from advancing such inaccurate, and harmful, stereotypes in the future.

Ms. Orr:  It would certainly be heartening to see you dissociate yourself, without qualifications, from such toxic narratives about Jews and agree to endorse this proposed apology. 

15 replies »

  1. an alternative apology would be “please forgive anything i write or say as i am a clueless, talentless c*nt like Harriet Sharwood’ yours in prejudice Debs

  2. Great piece, Adam.

    Deborah Orr’s article was truly awful: full of mistakes, misunderstandings, and an instance of outright racism.

    Just mistaken and out of her depth, or intentionally offensive?

    We soon found out when she treated with sneering contempt any Jewish people (or their supporters) who dared question her article on Twitter.

    But hey, Gilad Shalit is still free, and Israel still thrives. No amount of poison from Deborah Orr will ever change that.

  3. That’s truly first class Adam.

    Along with I’m sure many others I watched this Twitter drama play out with Deborah throwing words at cifwatch and cifwatch telling her that she should apologise from the heart. She insisted on having an apology written for her. You have now shown her how she should have behaved, with sincerity and with respect for Jews and Judaism and furthermore with an understanding of what sort of damage attitudes like hers are liable to do to others. You took a cynic at her word and turned it back on her.

    It would be wonderful if we could feel that she had learned from it. I doubt that she will learn, but others might.

    It’s also a lesson for those who indulge in Twitter. We are speaking very much to a public over which we have no control. You might, like Deborah, block people on Twitter and treat them with ”sneering contempt” as OyVaGoy so eloquently says but that only means that you choose not to read the words sent to you, not that yours can’t be read. Your slighting intolerance and your shallowness are on display for all to see.

    • I, too, doubt that the Orr leopard could or would change her spots. That kind of hatred is too entrenched to give way in the face of reason.

      Good article, Adam and masterly in the name and shame stakes, but Orr is probably impervious to shame otherwise she’d not have sunk so low in the first place.

  4. Surely the “right” way is to stick to facts and be able to substantiate them with disinterested sources rather than opinions dressed as specious fact as Orr does?

    You would think she ought to know that, but perhaps she too has been infected with the Guardian “I can no longer distinguish between fact and fantasy” virus which is rampant there.

    She’s certainly displaying first order symptoms of it.

  5. It occurs to me that Orr’s scribblings, like those from almost all the others on CiF are a testimonial to their utter lack of respect for the intelligence of their readership.

    Mind you, judging by many of the responses that lack of respect is not misplaced….

  6. The irony is that a large sector of the Arab population believes that an Arab life is worth less. They are the ones who embrace martyrdom (shahid) as a value in itself. They are the ones who ridicule Jews for their “love of life”. They are the ones who kill each other by the thousands over the flimsiest of pretexts and tribal reasons. They have a fatalistic attitude towards future and current events.
    In fact I would wager to say with a certain degree of confidence, that Israel cares more about Arab lives than they do.
    So the answer is in the affirmative – Arab culture places the relatively low premium on the sanctity of life.

    • gal, true, but that doesn’t apply to all of them does it?

      Ordinary Arab peoples, and particularly Palestinians, are cynically exploited by their leaders who view their own lives as being sacrosanct. Their leaders are wont to say that they love death while we love life, but they are talking about the rank and file, not themselves. They are quite happy to manipulate the lowly peasants into going out and dying needlessly and horribly and then making capital out of their deaths, but watch them scuttle for cover (or in the case of “brave” Khaled Meshaal even leave the country) if it looks as though they will be in danger themselves.

      Remember how the Hamas officials hid under the Shifa Hospital – the one place they knew the Israelis would never fire on or bomb – during Cast Lead? They don’t care how many die as long as they don’t.

      The egregious exception is, of course suicide bomber recruiter Nizar Rayyan, who effectively murdered two of his wives and several children when he forced them to to die with him because he refused to leave his apartment and wouldn’t allow them to leave either, but what can you expect from someone who sent his own son on a suicide mission. At least he practised what he preached and is probably a lot warmer than I am right now!

  7. May I make a respectful suggestion, Adam, to you and others who may be tempted to spar with Deborah Jane ?

    Don’t write directly to her again and block HER tweets to you.

    I believe that there is some sort of bizarre reversal at play here, that she is very attention-seeking. I also believe that it matters little what sort of attention she gets, she can be satisfied (albeit only for a short time) with positive and negative, and that you are feeding her oversized but paper thin ego.

    Writing about her, but not giving her any leeway to argue directly with you would leave her doing the equivalent of shouting her head off in an empty room.

    • Mitnaged, the more I read her tweets the more I see that she uses words to hide what she thinks rather than to express herself. You feel that you are tangling with shadows that slip and slide. Her answers are non-answers and she often gives suggestions meant to confuse, asking ‘why don’t you’? when she can’t think of a solution.

      She pretends to knowledge. She knows less about Middle Eastern politics than my puppy who at least hears the news every night even if he doesn’t understand it either.

      All in all I suppose I’m talking about a feeling of dishonesty and sleaziness. You’re right: blocking is the way to go.

  8. Actually, she was more correct when she knew in her 2nd tweet: yes, the exchange *is* *completely* related to the relative political positions of the so-called Palestinians & the Israelis: the latter bend over backwards to appease the former, who then turn around & demand more (& that, only if Israel is lucky – usually, they demand more, *while attacking every Jew (not just Israeli) they can find!)

  9. Even if she were to sign that apology, you could take it with a fistful of salt.

    In her own pathetic effort at the former she said “My words were badly chosen and poorly used” – but clearly the problem is much bigger than any subtleties of semantics and concerns her general mentality.

    • Oh dear. We seem to have a large number of Deborah Orr fans and fuckwits in the house. Shame on those cowardly morons for not having the decency to actually respond in word.