Guardian

Political loyalty & its discontents: A thoughtful CiF reader examines a vexing dilemma


Occasionally we come across a reader comment beneath the line of a ‘Comment is Free’ essay which is not only worth recommending, but thoughtful enough to post and meditate upon. 

The essay in question which elicited the comment, “So, you think reason guides your politics? Think again, May 17, by Simon Jenkins, (which explores what factors motivate our political thought process), represents a rare display of intellectual complexity at an institution often identified as much by a mind numbing uniformity as by a particular political brand.

Writes Jenkins:

“Most people buy a newspaper not to be prised from their settled opinion but to find it confirmed and comforted. They would not be dragged from it by wild horses, let alone the old nag of reason. A newspaper is their tribal notice board, their badge, their identity.”

While Jenkins’ piece does succumb to the chic appeal of (political) biological determinism, his effort represents serious thought, and is refreshingly free of hyperbole or moral posturing.

The essay also inspired this comment, very much worth examining, briefly giving voice to the dilemmas of Zionists who are forced to choose between principles and the comforts of political group identity.

I’d like to hear others’ opinions, both on the specific issue of being a Zionist within political spheres hostile to Jewish nationalism, as well as the broader theme of retaining independence of mind in the context of group demands.    

13 replies »

  1. The “anti-Zionists” are hostile to Jewish existence, not just nationalism. Moreover, showing any knowledge of 20th-century Jewish and Arab history gets one named as a “Zionist” or “neocon” and will set the mob upon you as the enemy. A related current trend is that showing any knowledge of the Islamic far right — the history of al-Qaeda, Jamaat e-Islami, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other associated fascist movements — will get one named as a “racist” and “Islamophobe”.

    There is a serious problem of anti-intellectualism in modern Western society. The study of history has become “racist” and therefore a forbidden practice. What society rewards instead is the act of making shit up if it sounds poetic and can be used to justify the political movements calling for the total extermination of the Jews. This is not seen as racist at all, but standing against this trend is.

    The UK seems to have it better than the US. You guys have Harry’s Place, Engage, and writers like Nick Cohen to speak from a consistent secular humanist universalist position. There is no equivalent over here, probably due to the two-party system and the social demand that people take one side and all of it, or the other, or they will get no respect from anybody.

    On the subject of groupthink, I was banned from BoingBoing for disputing an essay that claimed that Kashmir has always been purely Muslim and the Kashmiri Hindus are foreign invaders. I was banned from Crooks and Liars for using their reporting tool to report a large number of racist comments under an article about the Jews. Note that they didn’t ban the racists, they banned the person complaining about the racism. I was banned from Daily Kos — which has since banned a large number of Jews, their supporters, and history wonks like myself for Not Hating The Jews — for in my case daring to insult a piece of mindless pro-Hezbollah propaganda by one of Meteor Blades’s protected writers. I have also been banned from a number of conservative websites because I am a socialist and I dare to disagree with their beloved preconceptions also.

    Groupthink, and the accompanying reactionary hatred of disagreement, is apparent on other issues, too. The “99%” movement is a bunch of violent thugs who oppose the process of enacting the political and legal reforms that would fix the problems they complain about, but you are not allowed to say that. George Zimmerman is a respected Democratic community activist and civil rights advocate and the evidence shows that he is probably innocent of the media’s charges against him, but you are not allowed to say that. The 2nd Amendment is just as much a part of the US Constitution as the 1st Amendment, but neither mainstream party allows you to support both.

    Anti-intellectualism has become bad enough that the word “Explaining” has become a popular slur used against the act of forming an argument. This started when racists and misogynists would attempt to form arguments to justify for their positions, and their foundational error meant their arguments could be ignored. Now the term is used to imply that anyone who disagrees with a popular opinion and can form an argument to justify their contrary position must be a misogynist or a racist, just like those earlier people who were known for forming logical arguments rather than yelling about how emotional they are.

    On the subject of “being a Zionist”, Zionism is the Jewish civil rights movement. Whoever is “anti-Zionist” is not of the left. They disqualify themselves.

    • You didn’t say you were banned from CIF. I recommend it.
      I have now been banned from CIF 100 times. I have given up having achieved my century.
      From experience I can tell you that the quickest and best ways to get banned from CIFinclude the following.

      Pointing out the logical errors in George Monbiot’s articles; (never a challenge.)
      Pointing out the hypocrisy and doublethink in Polly Toynbee’s articles; (similarly easy.)
      Questioning any illogical decisions by the moderators is also a good route to oblivion, but there is one method that beats the rest.
      Go on to any article about Israel and tell the truth.

      5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1

      • Strange that Saint Berchmans hasn’t been banned.

        He surely holds the record for dlelted comments due to his unusual longevity even though he has been exposed as a rank hypocrite and parroting clown.

        I have now been banned from CIF 100 times. I have given up having achieved my century.

        We have a lot in common.

        • I think that Berchmans must be a daft old relation of Rustbucket who has drawn the short straw for keeping him occupied.

  2. I identify completely with Wynand’s dilemma. Still, I think that having had to grapple with these issues has made me more willing to assert myself and my independence of thought within the liberal circles I come from.
    At one time I had very weak opinions about the conflict before I was inundated by leftist friends and acquaintance with anti-Zionist invective. When someone looks you in the eye, and with a straight face, says “Israeli bias” vs. “Palestinian perspective” in the same sentence, you just know something stinks.
    I’m a baby-boomer from a liberal background and no longer care much about what names misdirected people want to call me, i.e., they don’t own the “moral high ground concession.” I will challenge their views and they can respond to me by calling me whatever names they like.
    I think this is more difficult for younger people due to peer pressure.
    I’m sorry that this comment is such a rush job on my part, but it is a great question Adam.

  3. Wow, this is a fascinating topic!

    For a long time, I have felt like the poster-girl for “not fitting in easily into any simple political label”.

    My passionate core belief in equality, economic as well as social, leads me to identify as a “communist”. However, the entire philosophical basis of Marxism seems completely indefensible, based as it is on concepts of “group” identity and “group” rights, as opposed to Enlightenment individualism. So, a non-Marxist communist – not the best start for me.

    Then we move onto my complete and total rejection of moral and cultural relativism, as totally incompatible with individualist and human-rights based ethics. This leads to accusations of racism, because we live in an age where race and culture are conflated by the “left” as well as the extreme right. Never mind the fact that it is this conflation, not the rejection of relativism, that is racist. Never mind the fact that thinking it’s more acceptable to butcher a little brown-skinned girl’s clitoris than a little pink-skinned girl’s clitoris is the very nadir of fucked-up racism. Of course, as well as being accused of racism by so-called “liberals” (who, in fact, know nothing about the tenets of classical liberalism), there is always the fear that standing up against *cultural* relativism is giving succor to neo-nazi type old-school racists who take it as a nod and wink to their bizarre theories of “racial” difference.

    Then, best of all, we come to Zionism. Ah, what a strange Zionist I am. I have a deep-seated discomfort with nationalism as an ideology in general. Ethnic nationalism, as versus civic nationalism, is particularly problematic, both theoretically and, as we have all seen in the 20th Century, in practice. Inevitably, due to the circumstances of her founding, there is a component of ethnic nationalism in Israel’s identity. And yet, Israel’s civic virtues, her sense of being a project, a refuge, a haven for freedom, outweigh that a hundredfold. She is the only free state in the region. She is the only genuine multi-racial state in the region. She is the only peacefully multi-religious state in the region. She is the only state in the *world* where Jews are not an endangered minority at the constant mercy of the capricious winds of antisemitism. The double-standards from her opponents are shocking. They don’t hold a principled opposition to the ideology of nationalism (if they did, they would be just as uncomfortable with the slogans of “Palestinian” nationalism.) They fucking hate Jews. Many of them also hate liberal values. Equality before the law. Constitutional protection of individuals. Freedom of conscience. Freedom of religion. They hate Jews, and they hate the fact that Israel stands as a bulwark, on the front line, protecting all of us from the miserably illiberal religious fascism that sees all non-Muslims as untermenschen, and wants us converted and submitted, or dead. What they hate about Israel is *precisely* that civic (and civilized) quality that distinguishes her from the morass of frightening ethnic nationalism all around her. I call bullshit on anti-Zionism.

    Sorry, have waffled on more than enough for now. Good to get some of this stuff out of my system. Shabbat Shalom to all of you. Kxx

  4. Wynand wrote that he’s been called, “a Zionist, an Islamophobe, a reactionary dinosaur.” Isn’t it a sad statement that “Zionist”–meaning someone who supports the right of the Jewish people to a state in their ancestral homeland–is now a derogatory term??….

    • Isn’t it a sad statement that “Zionist”–meaning someone who supports the right of the Jewish people to a state in their ancestral homeland–is now a derogatory term??…..

      I don’t know which circles you move in. If it is the hard left or Islamists, I can believe you. But otherwise, it is not a derogatory term at all despite the efforts of the hard left allied to Islamists to make it so.

      ‘Progressive’, as a descriptor, is being undermined by The Guardian propaganda organ and various assorted CiFallists referring to themselves as ‘progressive’ too.

  5. Very interesting discussion – I’m essentially with katya on moral and cultural relativism, and, like so many, think the Left is contaminated by some very nasty elements.

    @Nevet – I agree with your point about ‘Zionist’ being an insult, and what is particularly troubling is the way in which Zionist can be used to mean anything from someone who supports Israel’s right to exist to an uncompromising supporter of the Israeli right. Some commenters really manipulate that fact to occlude all the different positions on the Zionist spectrum, and treat them all as pariahs. Thus, my Zionism was invoked as part of a reason to ban me from a supposedly left wing blog, even though I think I’m on the moderate end of the spectrum, more an anti-anti-zionist perhaps.

  6. Pissing off that idiot Berchmans means instant banning………..It’s worth it………