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Friday intellectual spot 3: Frank Furedi

23 Jan

Last time I quoted Frank Furedi – almost two years ago – it was with considerable reservation: Frank Furedi: The curious rise of anti-religious hysteria.

This essay is reproduced in full in Policy, the house journal of John Howard’s favourite think-tank, the Centre for Independent Studies. Frank Furedi is an interesting character, as you may see here: “founder and chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) of Great Britain. The RCP has traversed one of the longest ideological journeys in British politics, moving from the hard-left through several incarnations into a broad collection of organisations on the libertarian right wing.”

Much in the essay is good; I agree that left-wing hysteria over The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe was really rather silly. On the other hand, I utterly disagree with his ideologically driven dump on Tikkun and Michael Lerner. And unlike Furedi, I suspect, I have as you know actually read Jim Wallis’s God’s Politics…

I have reservations too about After Gaza: what’s behind 21st-century anti-Semitism? There is a trademark attitude here:

First of all, contemporary Western culture continually encourages groups that perceive themselves as victims to inflate the wrongs perpetuated against them. As a result, we are always being told that racism is more prevalent than ever before, or that homophobia and Islamophobia are rising, or that sexual discrimination is more powerful than in the past. It is unthinkable today for advocacy groups to concede that prejudice and discrimination against their members have decreased, and that the status of their community or people has improved. Such groups are acutely sensitive to how they are represented in the media, and to the language in which they are discussed and described. And this identity-based sensitivity is shared by Jewish organisations, too, which in recent decades have often been all-too-willing to interpret what are in fact confused and ambiguous references to their people as expressions of anti-Semitism.

Consequently, the charge that a certain statement is ‘anti-Semitic’ should not be accepted at face value. Statements and acts need to be analysed and interpreted in the context in which they were made or carried out…

Yes, but… Nonetheless I do commend this article. No matter what one thinks of Gaza – and I for one utterly condemn the use of phosphorus shells, for example, and the decades of failing policy and dubious actions that mark this region on all sides – it is a fact that a very virulent form of anti-Semitism, as vile today as it ever was, has accompanied some of the commentary on these matters and is also, to the great cost of peace, enshrined in the public policies of certain organisations and nations.

There is considerable evidence that in recent years anti-Semitism has acquired greater visibility and force in Europe. Over the past decade, and especially since the eruption of the conflict in Gaza, anti-Israeli sentiments have often mutated into anti-Jewish ones. Recent events indicate that in Europe the traditional distinction between anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish sentiment has become confusing and blurred.

So recently, during a demonstration against Israel’s actions in Gaza, the Dutch Socialist Party MP Harry Van Bommel called for a new intifada against Israel. Of course he has every right to express this political viewpoint. However, he became an accomplice of anti-Semites when he chose to do nothing upon hearing chants of ‘Hamas, Hamas, all Jews to the gas’ and similar anti-Jewish slogans. Many people who should know better now keep quiet when they hear slogans like ‘Kill the Jews’ or ‘Jews to the oven’ on anti-Israel demonstrations. At a recent protest in London, such chants provoked little reaction from individuals who otherwise regard themselves as progressive anti-racists – and nor did they appear to be embarrassed by the sight of a man dressed as a racist Jewish caricature, wearing a ‘Jew mask’ with a crooked nose while pretending to eat bloodied babies.

Increasingly, protesters are targeting Jews for being Jews. They have agitated for the boycott and even harassment of ‘Israeli shops’, but in practice this means boycotting and harassing Jewish-owned shops, such as Marks & Spencer (some of whose stores have been barricaded by anti-Israel protesters) and Starbucks (a number of whose coffee shops have been attacked in London and elsewhere). Some protesters in Italy don’t share the linguistic subtlety of those ostensibly calling for a boycott of ‘Israeli shops’. Giancarlo Desiderati, spokesman for the trade union Flaica-Cub, has called for a boycott of Jewish businesses in Rome. A leaflet issued by his union informed Romans that anything they purchase in Jewish-owned shops will be ‘tainted by blood’.

Here, there is an almost effortless conceptual leap from criticising Israel to targeting Jews…

Anyone who has lived as I have through more than six decades can only shudder at things like that and totally reject them.

I would draw your attention again to Rabbi Brant Rosen: Israel and Gaza: Speaking About the Unspeakable; Gaza: The Arrow Cannot Be Taken Back; Over 1,000 Rabbis Can’t Be Wrong. Good posts all, even if I would question the title of the last one. 😉

Might I also humbly submit that important as they may be Israel and the Middle East are merely part of the world, not nearly as important in themselves as one would think from all the attention given them – by me as much as anyone I suppose. Yes, there are all sorts of reasons for that, some of them substantive and some of them quite delusional. You can sort that one out! More people have died of cholera in Zimbabwe, for example, than died in the last month in Gaza, very much the outcome of a mindless implementation of failing remedies for what were originally just causes. Tibet is “occupied” just as much as Palestine is. Standing up for human rights and democratic values in Russia is more than a little dangerous. And so on… One could go on…

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Posted by on January 23, 2009 in current affairs, human rights, humanity, intellectual spot, Israel, Middle East

 

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