General Antisemitism

Glenn Greenwald tosses a throwaway line about the injurious effects of Judaism


Earlier, we posted about Glenn Greenwald’s April 3 ‘Comment is Free’ piece titled ‘ Sam Harris, the New Atheists and anti-Muslim animus, in which he attacked noted atheist Sam Harris for promoting what Greenwald claims is “Islamophobia under the guise of rational atheism”.

Whilst others have fisked Greenwald’s specific charge that Harris is a bigot, we commented on a passage in the essay which suggested a moral equivalence between Israel and its Arab neighbors in the rights afforded to women and gays – a risible claim, but one which served to reinforce the Guardian contributor’s oft-repeated narrative that Israel and the West do not lay claim to the moral high ground in their confrontation with Islamism.  

When carefully reading the frenetic polemics of Greenwald – who was trained as a constitutional rights litigator – it’s often clear when he’s speaking from expertise and is in his element and, conversely, when he’s engaging in obfuscation and intellectually careless rhetoric.  The latter was on display in the following passage from his April 3 commentary:

I, too, have written before about the hordes of American commentators whose favorite past-time is to lounge around pointing fingers at other nations, other governments, other populations, other religions, while spending relatively little time on their own. The reason this is particularly suspect and shoddy behavior from American commentators is that there are enormous amounts of violence and extremism and suffering which their government has unleashed and continues to unleash on the world. Indeed, much of that US violence is grounded in if not expressly justified by religion, including the aggressive attack on Iraq and steadfast support for Israeli aggression (to say nothing of the role Judaism plays in the decades-long oppression by the Israelis of Palestinians and all sorts of attacks on neighboring Arab and Muslim countries). 

This isn’t the first time Greenwald has accused a few million Israeli Jews of perpetrating wanton violence against hundreds of millions of Arab and Muslim victims, but this may be the first instance in which the liberal polemicist argued that Judaism itself played a role in Zionist villainy.

Though some ccould impute antisemitism to such an argument, it seems more likely that his allegation regarding the role the Jewish religion plays in the behavior of the Jewish state did not represent a serious critique, but rather was simply a throw-away line to buttress his ideological aversion to any suggestion that some religious traditions, at least in practice, may not be as benign as others.

It’s extremely unlikely that Greenwald – a secular Jew who rarely if ever alludes to his religious background – has ever devoted any serious thought to the question of what role Judaism has played in the policy decisions of Israel’s secular Prime Ministers from Independence till the present day, and the decision by the nation’s leaders to defend against “all sorts of attacks” by “neighboring Arab and Muslim countries” and homicidal terror groups.

We have documented Greenwald’s use of antisemitic tropes quite often and there should be little doubt that the former Salon.com blogger possesses genuine anger towards what he believes is the injurious impact on the US political system of ‘unchecked’ Jewish power, but there is nothing in the passage we are examining which should suggest he also guilty of anti-Judaism, or theological antisemtism. 

Nevertheless, in thoughtlessly playing the Judaism card to win an argument, Greenwald is at the very least engaging in dishonesty and sophistry – two of the signature vices of propagandists, cynics and bigots.

21 replies »

  1. “to say nothing of the role Judaism plays in the decades-long oppression by the Israelis of Palestinians and all sorts of attacks on neighboring Arab and Muslim countries). ”
    Nod, nod, wink, wink, I guess. It’s just so foolish.

  2. what role is that? The one which took Har Habayit only to give it back to the waqf?

  3. Although you try to be fair and to differentiate between the use of tropes and the identity, I`m not convinced

    “We have documented Greenwald’s use of antisemitic tropes quite often and there should be little doubt that the former Salon.com blogger possesses genuine anger towards what he believes is the injurious impact on the US political system of ‘unchecked’ Jewish power, but there is nothing in the passage we are examining which should suggest he also guilty of anti-Judaism, or theological antisemtism”

    – or do you suggest a political or otherwise motivated antisemitism on his side?? `cause you write to have quite often documented his use of antisemitic tropes, but in one passage which you now examine there is nothing of anti-Judaism or theological antisemitism, though Greenwald is “a secular Jew who rarely if ever alludes to his religious background “.
    It is interesting but irritating, too, as your conclusion (or speculation) doesn`t seem conclusive for me.
    Somebody who constantly uses antisemitic tropes, constantly criticises Israel, the ‘Jewish lobby’, accuses Jews of commitiing crimes and atrocities, and is a follower of Chomsky is less an object of psychological speculation or typology – bigot or cynic, that is – to me than a political propagandist and deadly enemy when propagating the myth of the protocols in postmodern forms..

    • Hi Fritz, my point is that anti-Judaism is much different than antisemitism, and represents a considerably more rare expression of Judeophobia these days than in times past. I just don’t think that GG knows much at all about Judaism, and that his passage was a careless (if malevolent) throw away line.

      • Judeophobia practised by people with Jewish descency, you mean?
        This phenomen is not new in European history, for example the distance the bourgeois of Jewish origin tried to put up to the Eastern Jewish Immigration in Vienna, regarding themseves as modern and the immigrants as backward and medieval.
        In a variation we have the new ‘enlightened’ of multiculturalism and postnationlism versus zionists as backward nationalists betraying the Jewish heritage of humanity as Butler would ascribe it, folllowing Hannah Arendt according to her.
        In Arendt`s description of the Eichmann Trial you will find the above mentioned prejudices against Jews in Israel, oriental, medieval, backward orientated.
        My guess is that the settler`s movement represents the revival of the eastern Jewish immigrants to those ‘enlightened’.
        The constant presentation of ultra-orthodox and the ‘aggressiveness’ of Israel and the various governments of Israel in the media follows this pattern – as if the ultra-orthodox would represent the People of Israel instead of being just one part of them.

  4. The typically tangled back and forth on the issue of “anti-semitism” is, as this article points out, reflective of a bad habit of imprecision and conflation of terms (i.e., “careless rhetoric.” ) For example, in the Greenwald quote, Greenwald refers to “Israelis” when his real meaning is (as pointed out in the article) more likely “the Israeli prime ministers and the Likud.”

    Fritz Wunderlich’s post reflects several conflations–for example, “constantly criticizes israel” appears to imply, “constantly criticizes Jews.” when coming from Greenwald, “criticism of Israel” is in fact a criticism of the particular policies of a particular government in power. It does not refer to “Jews living in Israel,” or “Jews living everywhere on earth,” which would, or course, imply anti-semitism.

    Also, to state that Greenwald “propagates the myth of the protocols” is a real stretch!!!! I understand the emotion that leads to this kind of over-generalization, and i’m sure it is founded in a lot of frustration at **genuine** anti-semitism, but declaring Greenwald to be a propagator of this myth by virtue of his (often rhetorical and imprecise) criticisms of the Israeli government is “careless rhetoric” at its worst.

    • In fact he critises Israel permanently, whatever government is in power, not a particular policy, but the politics at whole.
      Real stretch for you as you don`t know much about the postmodern disguises of this myth, obviously. Try to read before interpreting, conflating mind.
      I understand your need to deflect from Jews.

      • Fritz, you reflect the behavior described in the article, when in response to reasoned content, you pop out reflexively with charges like “your need to deflect from Jews.” (you know nothing about me, my family, my religion, or my politics). I accept your suggestion to read more about postmodern disguises for the myth (please feel free to send me any references); but why the insult? your arguments should stand on their own merits.

        • As seen above I referred to his articles at whole, not the one cited here.

          http://www.richardlandes.com/books/76-the-paranoid-apocalypse-a-hundred-year-retrospective-on-the-protocols-of-the-elders-of-zion
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_lobby
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_lobby_in_the_United_States
          About the postmodern variety and forms you just need to google, you will find hundred thousand of sites which prolong the myth in postmodern narratives, from 9/11 to the finance crisis, from the Arab spring to whatever, everywhere behind the scenes Zionists, Rothschilds, the Jewish Lobby, Israel, according to the paranoid mind.
          Not to forget the latest emanation during the high days of the occupy movement

          • Fritz,
            Thank you for the links. I think left progressives often reflexively side with the perceived underdog, & then indulge a lot of hyperbole and distortion. Despite Greenwald’s education and scholarship, I think he is no exception in this. I appreciate your clarification that you were referring to all of his writing, not just the article analyzed above. I’ve read a lot of what he has written, and my guess is that since I was not raised Jewish, my antennae is probably not up as high as some other members of my family, who have experienced antisemitic bias directly–so I have not taken offense at most of Greenwald’s rhetoric.

            and clearly, “Jewish lobby” (among other terms noted in these links) is a fear-mongering, “all powerful global reach” mythologizing kind of term. Even the term “Israel lobby” seems that way to me, just slightly less so (similar to the way conservatives in the US describe “the Democrat Party.”) But more importantly, any pro-Israel lobbying groups have as much right in this form of a democracy to exist as any other pro-anything groups.

            i agree about OWS; many supporters are drawn to ridiculous conspiracy theories, IMO. In the General Assemblies and other gatherings of OWS, it was shocking to me that the racism, sexism and many other -isms that plague our society in general were no less concentrated there. A movement that was supposedly “idealistic” was actually quite contaminated.

            • Referring to left progressives, Landes gave me a very interesting tip
              Post-Zionism, Post-Holocaust by Elhanan Yakira

              • Thx. Yes, it’s very interesting about Hannah Arendt, whom we all read in school with great regard at the time… I am more sensitized now to “internalized oppression,” and a different re-reading of “the banality of evil.”

                • Yakira treats Arendt very differentiated. I`m not always d`accord with him.
                  An interesting point is her man Blücher and his relation to Israel, and Arendt`s frequent visits of her relatives in Israel, too. Alas, he doesn`t elaborate the influence of her men on her attitude towards Israel, Jewish heritage and so on.

  5. …and all sorts of attacks on neighboring Arab and Muslim countries

    He makes it sound like the Israelis are the reborn Mongolian hordes of the 13th century.

  6. Exactly the opposite, Today’s “pinko liberals” would consider Genghis Khan or Attila The Hun as victims of Western oppression….