General Antisemitism

Another pejorative reference to Jews as “Chosen People” by a Guardian contributor

H/T Margie

Guardian Readers’ Editor Chris Elliott, in his quasi mea culpa, “On Averting Accusations of antisemitism“, wrote:

Three times in the last nine months I have upheld complaints against language within articles that I agreed could be read as antisemitic...Two weeks ago a columnist used the term “the chosen” in an item on the release of Gilad Shalit, which brought more than 40 complaints to the Guardian, and an apology from the columnist the following week. “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.

The columnist Elliott was referring to is Deborah Orr, who contemptuously referred to Jews’ supposed racist belief in their own superiority, in a bizarre missive which imputed bigotry to Israel in the context of the prisoner release deal to free Gilad Shalit.

Wrote Orr:

“…there is something abject in [Hamas’s] eagerness to accept a transfer that tacitly acknowledges what so many Zionists believe – that the lives of the chosen are of hugely greater consequence than those of their unfortunate neighbors.”

Though Orr’s “apology” was far from adequate or honest, the incident at least set a precedent at the Guardian regarding the antisemitic pedigree, and unacceptability, of such tropes.

More recently, the Guardian removed a passage from Khaled Diab’s CiF essay after we alerted them about a similarly pejorative characterization of Jews as ‘chosen people’ – a quote, included by Diab, in support of his broader narrative of Israeli bigotry, by none other than Gilad Atzmon.

Yesterday, Feb 15, in a characteristically ugly anti-American, anti-Zionist polemic by Noam Chomsky, The Imperial Way: The American Decline in Perspective, Part 2,  there was this passage:

Christian Zionism in Britain and the US long preceded Jewish Zionism, and has been a significant elite phenomenon with clear policy implications (including the Balfour Declaration, which drew from it). When General Allenby conquered Jerusalem during the first world war, he was hailed in the American press as Richard the Lion-Hearted, who had at last won the Crusades and driven the pagans out of the Holy Land.

The next step was for the Chosen People to return to the land promised to them by the Lord. Articulating a common elite view, President Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of the interior, Harold Ickes, described Jewish colonization of Palestine as an achievement “without comparison in the history of the human race”. [emphasis added]

While it’s not surprising that Chomsky – an outspoken opponent of Israel’s existence who has likened Zionism to Nazism and expressed support for Hezbollah – would engage in such anti-Jewish vitriol, its instructive to note that the seemingly sincere call by Chris Elliott on how the Guardian can “avert accusations of antisemitism” evidently hasn’t been taken seriously by his paper’s contributors and editors.

18 replies »

  1. Adam, sorry but I think that you are off base here. In the passage you quoted, Chomsky is clearly paraphrasing Christian Zionism, especially as it existed historically in Britain and America since at least the middle of the nineteenth century. The comment about the chosen people is not made as a reference to how the Jews or Jewish Zionists supposedly think of themselves. It is presented as a part of the thinking of Christian Zionists, which it certainly is, at least historically. As such, it is not even clear that it is sarcastic, although I suppose that one could argue that it is.

    Also, your link intending to document Chomsky’s supposed opposition to Israel’s existence points to a post that does not mention Chomsky at all. From everything I know about him, I do not think that it is fair to say that Chomsky is opposed to the existence of Israel, however vile his attacks on Israel are. What he has actually written, like the comparisons to Nazi Germany, support for terrorist groups, and general obsession with Israel, is bad enough. If you just stick to criticizing that, you will have plenty of material.

    • DavidS,

      First, how can you claim that its unfair to characterize someone who compares Israel to Nazi Germany, and support terror groups who seek Israel’s destruction, as, supportive of the Jewish state’s demise? I mean, does he really need to explicitly say “Israel shouldn’t exist” to be guilty of holding such views? Nazi style states, by definition, shouldn’t exist. When you make such an odious comparison, you’re inferring that the Jewish state has no moral legitimacy.

      As far as the Chosen People remark, what possible reason would Chomsky have for using that particular term other than in a pejorative sense? Even if he’s just referring to Christians’ understanding of that term, in the context of Israel’s establishment, are you denying that he’s mocking those who defend Jewish particularism, be they Jews or Christian Judeophiles?

      • Adam,

        As I said above, Chomsky has said lots horrible and completely indefensible stuff about Israel. But, as far as I know, he has been a supporter of the two-state solution for decades. Before the War of Independence, he was a supporter of HaShomer HaTzair which supported a binational state, but that ended soon after Israeli independence. If you make the claim that Chomsky is opposed to the existence of Israel and his acolytes hear you saying that, they will tear you to bits because it contradicts things Chomsky has said many times. This does not help Israel’s cause.

        As for Nazi comparisons, Chomsky frequently compares the US to Nazi Germany but I do not think that you would argue that he opposes the existence of the US. His rhetoric about anybody he is attacking is frequently obnoxious even if you believe his factual claims and he is particularly fond of Nazi comparisons. This does not mean that he is calling for the destruction of Israel.

        Look, Adam, I read your blog every day and rely on it for material when I advocate for Israel. I also recommend it to people with whom I discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict and antisemitism. It is important for me in terms of my personal values and for my credibility that the information I present is as accurate as possible. Normally, I find your posts extremely useful (which is why I keep reading) but I cannot recommend this one because it contains a serious inaccuracy. I understand that you write several posts a day and some inaccuracies will slip through. I am sure if I tried to do what you do, I would produce a lot more. Please, just let this one go.

      • Adam,

        As for the “Chosen People” remark, one of the most obnoxious things about sarcastic comments about the “chosen people” in attacks on Israel is that the doctrine of the chosen people, whatever it is taken to mean, played no role to speak of in the development of the modern Zionist movement. For the first ninety years or so of the modern Zionist movement (starting from about 1881) the vast majority of Zionists were secular nationalists. A sizable majority still are. One of the most popular ideas in Zionism in the pre-state period was that the Jews should be “a nation like any other.” It is hard to see this as anything but at least a partial rejection of the concept of the Jews as a chosen people.

        The same cannot be said for Christian Zionists, who often based their arguments explicitly on religious notions of the divinely given rights of the Jewish people. I do not particularly like the comment and I implied above that it is at least arguable that it is sarcastic but I cannot say that it is inaccurate in representing the opinions of the Christian Zionists that Chomsky is describing nor that it was unimportant in their ideology.

        In any case, what Chomsky has written is a far cry from the sort of vile comment that Deborah Orr made, which implied that the doctrine of the chosen people is racist and that it lies behind what she is clearly (and bizarrely) claiming is Israeli racism. I can see none of this in Chomsky’s comment. There are plenty of examples of comments like Orr’s. Let’s stick to attacking the stuff that is really vile.

        • Of course, there’s really no way to win this one (or any other) with the haters. Point out that modern Zionism seeks a national identity like that of the other nations, and they shift seamlessly to lamenting the Zionist’s surrender of the precious identity of the eternally disenfranchised, chosen to be an ethical light to the nations…

          I’ve had too many of these conversations. I can do both sides, and bore myself.

          • Makabit,

            Of course you are right when you say that one will never convince the haters. The proper target audience is people who are to some degree or other on the fence or who have at least not invested a lot of emotion in hating Israel. One or the best weapons we have in convincing these people is resolute honesty and care to be accurate in all that we say and write. I find that this can work wonders in personal encounters. Having web sites with similar standards to which to refer people is a huge resource but even a few careless exaggerations on a site can turn a first-time reader off, especially if they are just starting to question the anti-Israel narrative. CIFwatch is normally very good but this post stood out to me problematic.

            • DavidS

              “The proper target audience is people who are to some degree or other on the fence…”

              On the issue of Israel, are there still any such people left? It is my impression that, each year, fewer and fewer hands are required in order to count their number.

              Apropos, it is noteworthy that on the left-wing forum Daily Kos, there have been quite a few newcomers to the Mideast Conflict discussion who claimed neutrality, objectivity, a reasonable stance and a wish to find compromise in a middle road between two poles of the debate; in my observation of such posters, it has struck me how just about all of them have with the passage of time veered to one of the poles. Such is the almost magical nature of this conflict, that it polarizes whoever takes part in it, no matter how fervent his initial intent and efforts at being level-headed.

              I think fence-sitters on this conflict are a dying breed. Further, I think the only way to be a fence-sitter on this conflict is to be apathetic about it.

              • ziontruth,

                I agree with you that people tend to move to one pole or the other pretty quickly once they start thinking seriously about the Israeli-Arab conflict. On the other hand, most people in the world and even in the developed countries have given it virtually no thought at all and, even if their opinions tend strongly to one side or the other, they are usually not emotionally invested in their opinion. It is possible to affect or change such peoples’ opinions with careful argument and there are a lot of them.

                • “On the other hand, most people in the world and even in the developed countries have given it virtually no thought at all and…”

                  And it should stay that way. It is misplaced sentimentalism to think Israel needs the world’s friendship; all we need is lack of enmity. Neutrality on this conflict is just fine.

                  Cheers to all who love us, jeers to those who hate us, and a nod of approval to whoever says he doesn’t care about the matter.

      • Adam,

        Finally, about Chomsky’s support for Hamas and Hizbullah, I do not know how explicit this has been. I suspect that he has left himself considerable plausible deniability, particularly if one accuses him of supporting the annihilationist political programs of these groups. The best way to deflect Chomsky and his supporters’ verbal gymnastics around their effective support for terrorist groups is to point out that he is at least an apologist for groups that are openly genocidal and that he is always against anything at all that Israel does to defend its people when they are unquestionably under attack. This is bad enough. Leaving oneself open to accusations of distortion or lying by saying that he is opposed to Israel’s existence when he has said the opposite many times is just not a good idea.

        Sorry to go on at some length. I really just want your blog to be as effective a tool as possible, largely because I use it as one.

  2. DavidS I am not a Chomsky scholar and so I took a trip to Google to see how he generally uses this contentious description. I think you will agree with me that his use here is is not positive and that there is reason to expect that his intentions are not pure:

    “Noam Chomsky – 1999 – History – 578 pages
    … to comment: “God had scorched the Sinai earth, and His chosen people removed whatever stood above it.”34 The Sinai was evacuated in April, as scheduled.”

  3. I hate to rain on your otherwise excellent post, but in this context Noam Chomsky’s use of “Chosen People” is not pejorative at all.

  4. When concentration camps come to Britain, al Guardian will run them. When crematoria come to Britain, al Guardian will defend them. If we’ve learned anything from “Never Again” it’s the only thing that will Never Again happen is that the perpetrators won’t try to hide it because that only brings attention to their guilt. Do it openly without apology and the progressives will declare it a moral force of good. Stalin killed 20 million and said he killed 20 million. He had MORE followers on the left because of that, not fewer.