David Frum would like you to cease and desist with your criticisms of Israel

For reasons that remain unclear to me, some people think David Frum is somebody whose opinion should be respected.  His editorial mad-libs from today, implicitly titled Anti-Semites Everywhere! serves as a helpful primer on how to stifle dissent by accusing one’s detractors of bigotry.  Let’s see how he does it!

It’s beneficial to begin with Frum’s conclusion — not the vagaries he puts forward as an “argument.”  Here are his final two paragraphs in full:   

It’s possible to hate Israel without hating Jews. It’s even possible to hate Jews without hating Israel, as is said of a famously nasty British media personality: “He managed the impressive feat of being intensely anti-Semitic without becoming even slightly pro-Arab.”

But these interesting theoretical potentialities exist mainly on the blackboard. In real life, it becomes very difficult to separate hatred of the Jewish state from hatred of the Jews who live in that state. [emphasis added.]

That’s really quite a conclusion to reach.  So, “in real life,” that is in all non-theoretical (ie, real) cases, “hatred of the Jewish state,” that is, criticism of Isreal, is identical to “hatred of Jews who live in that state,” that is, anti-Semitism

Frum’s conclusion, that it’s “very difficult to separate” criticism of Israeli actions from anti-Semitism is both illogical and deeply destructive.  For one thing, it’s not at all difficult to separate a state’s actions — say, Bush’s decision to invade Iraq — from the actions of the members of that state — say, my friends and family.  My anti-war stance didn’t also make me also anti-Knefel family.  

Anti-Semitism’s long and awful history doesn’t render all criticism of Israel as bigotry.  Specific critiques based on empirical evidence is the opposite of racism, and we ignore those critiques — such as the Goldstone report — at our collective peril.  Frum’s conclusion is clearly meant to have a chilling effect: criticize Israel, and it’s very difficult not to accuse you of anti-Semitism.

Frum arrives there through the inclusion of selective evidence and vile innuendo.  He begins by relating the story of Jennifer Tonge, a member of the British House of Lords.  Though Frum never comes out and accuses her of outright bigotry, that is clearly the conclusion the reader is meant to draw.  In one instance, Frum accuses her of calling for an investigation into a strange matter of organ harvesting when the accusations originated, according to Frum, from “the work of a solo crank.”  He describes her “Middle East analysis” as “vivid” and relates that she was removed from her position as health critic, both details which strongly imply to the reader that Tonge is anti-Israel.  Frum then claims that her comments — meaning, I suppose, her comments about the organ harvesting —  came from a column published by a Swedish newspaper.       

I’m unfamiliar with the specifics of Tonge’s situation or the Swedish paper in question, and for the purpose of my argument those specifics aren’t important.  Even if Tonge and the Swedish newspaper are anti-Semitic — and I’m not saying they are — Frum’s conclusion is still idiotic.  The fact that anti-Semitism exists, which is undeniable and awful, doesn’t mean that any kind of criticism of any Jew is anti-Semitic, which is the basis of Frum’s argument, and where the innuendo comes in.

After citing a passage from Juan Cole — blogger and President of the Global Americana Institute — describing backroom deals that Israeli officials participated in in the lead up to the Iraq war, Frum writes:

Hard to miss here the echo of another ancient myth, memorably enunciated by a character in John Buchan’s 1915 spy novel, “The Thirty-Nine Steps.”

“[If] you’re on the biggest kind of job and are bound to get to the real boss, 10 to one you are brought up against a little white-faced Jew in a bath-chair with an eye like a rattlesnake. Yes, Sir, he is the man who is ruling the world just now.”

So instead of analyzing Cole’s comment, he simply pairs it with an anti-Semitic passage.  And he claims that Cole is drawing on ancient myths, the same as Tonge with the organ harvesting.  This guilt-by-association proves nothing other than Frum has a strong desire to smear Cole, but has no evidence with which to do so.

Frum follows that innuendo with more, simultaneously defending Andrew Sullivan from charges of anti-Semitism and cautioning unnamed individuals not to criticize Israel.

This debate came home to the blogosphere last week, when New Republic literary editor Leon Weiseltier published a long article denouncing uber-blogger Andrew Sullivan as either an anti-Jewish bigot or else “moronically insensitive.”

Sullivan — a former editor of the magazine for which his once-intimate friend Weiseltier writes — has over the past few months abruptly switched from passionate champion of Israel to strident criticism of Israel and its supporters.

Many rallied to Sullivan’s defense on the specific complaint at issue, myself included.

But one wishes that people who do not share the malignant feelings of a Tonge would take care not to use the same malignant language. [emphasis added.]

Again, this unspecified warning serves to chill the dialogue: use strong language to criticize Israel at your own risk.

None of these tactics are new, and the Sullivan/TNR dust-up last week showed how antiquated most of the baseless charges of anti-Semitism are.  Frum, however, is still singing the same tune.


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4 Responses to David Frum would like you to cease and desist with your criticisms of Israel

  1. Facebook User says:

    Certain kinds of criticisms of Israel (those based on racial arguments about Jews, Holocaust denial, and the like) are rooted in anti-Semitism, and these arguments need to be denied and labeled as such.

    However, if we fail to separate these arguments from legitimate criticisms of Israel (which, incidentally, often have nothing to do with Judaism), we do one of two things: a) legitimize anti-Semitic rhetoric as part of the general political discourse or b) close our ears and refuse to listen to any sort of criticism, constructive or otherwise, about Israel’s actions. We don’t want to end up in either camp.

    Very articulate post. Thanks for sharing it. 🙂

  2. markbolton says:

    Those damned Knefels, I mean, Americans! 🙂

    Frum is just another useless douchebag who gets everything wrong and is rewarded for it.

  3. Pingback: Juan Cole on The Decline of the Israeli Right and the Increasing Desperation of the ‘Anti-Semitism’ Charge « Cienfuegos

  4. Pingback: How Much Longer Can Israel Play This Game? « Lotfi's Ramblings

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