Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Acceptable Comparisons

The more I read, and listen, to the debate over supposed anti-Semitic comments in the Labour Party, the more I have to say that the whole thing seems bizarre and manufactured.  I say that as someone who, for a long time, has felt that there is an actual problem of left-wing anti-semitism, reflected in the fact that certain sections of the left, who are guilty of what has more recently been termed "idiot anti-imperialism", treat Israel differently to elsewhere, and hold it to different standards.  But, similarly, what I see, at the moment, is also some supporters of the current state of Israel, holding the critics of Israel to different standards than they hold the critics of other regimes.

I was watching The Daily Politics today on which was featured a Labour councillor who is one of those that has been suspended for posting a tweet, made two years ago, during the height of the Israeli attacks on Gaza.  The objection to the tweet was that it had made a comparison between the murderous attacks that Israel was launching against Palestinian men, women and children and the murderous attacks by the Nazis, against communists, Jews, Gypsies and others.

An objection could be raised against this comparison that the Nazis murderous attacks were not just aimed at a single ethnic group, but against political opponents, and other scapegoats.  In fact, it was their political opponents that the Nazis first eliminated, whereas the Israeli state has more specifically targeted just Palestinians.  An objection could be raised that the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews, whereas, up to yet, the Israeli state has murdered far fewer Palestinians, but it has usually been accepted that a measure of morality cannot be based upon the effectiveness of one killing machine as opposed to another.

But, the actual objection that has been raised is that the very comparison of the actions of the Israeli state in murdering thousands of Palestinian men, women and children, the blockading of them into a ghetto, in which they are deprived of basic requirements, with all of the consequences in terms of ill-health, and so on, that go with that, to what the Nazis did is offensive, because it suggests a lack of concern for those terrible events that were inflicted upon Jewish people in Europe at that time.

But, again, this seems to be a rather bizarre, and indeed dangerous argument to make.  There is a fairly recent comparison in this regard.  Some years ago, there was a similar furore, over offence taken not by some Jewish people, but by some Muslim people.  On that occasion, the offence resulted from the publication of a series of cartoons in a Danish magazine.  The offence taken was due to the fact that Muslims do not believe that any image of the prophet Mohammed should be portrayed.  The further offence taken was that some of these cartoons portrayed Mohammed with a bomb hidden under his turban, and this was interpreted as suggesting that all Muslims are terrorists.

The after shocks of those events continued to reverberate into the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine last year.  As part of that controversy, the argument was again raised about whether it was legitimate, or whether it was racist/Islamophobic to have published cartoons that some Muslims, even a large number and perhaps the majority would find offensive.  The liberal media in Britain, and elsewhere ducked the issue, refusing to even show the cartoons as part of a discussion of whether it had been right or wrong to publish them originally.  They were also criticised for being weak-kneed for that action, in failing to stand up for the right of free-speech, in the face of a challenge to it.  In fact, it could be argued that the failure to stand up, militantly, for the right of free speech, at that time, in the face of opposition, led to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo.

As part of that debate, at the time, the argument was quite rightly made that free speech is only of any relevance if it is a right to say or express opinions that someone else may find offensive.  The fact that someone might say something that someone else might find offensive does not mean that what is said or expressed is wrong, unsayable, racist, Islamophobic, sexist, homophobic or whatever.  The failure to carry through that argument over the Danish cartoons is what has also led to the ridiculous situation where, on university campuses, across the country, debate is closed down, and people who have fought discrimination and bigotry for much of their lives find themselves being "no platformed" simply on the basis that they may have or might express an opinion that someone might find offensive!

We are, it seems, rushing headlong towards a society where freedom of speech will exist only in name, and where only the most vacuous opinions can be expressed, much like the nature of the political programmes and culture of the last few decades.  Instead of moving forward, we seem to be moving backwards to a situation prior to the great battles of the 1960's, over the right to be blasphemous, the right to portray things that some might find shocking, such as with the trial over Lady Chatterley's Lover, and so on.

Despite the spinelessness of the liberal media over the Danish cartoons, the general opinion prevailed that, just because some Muslims might find the cartoons offensive, and object to the depiction of the prophet, they had no right to impose their views of what was and was not acceptable on to others. There was another similarity, between those events and now.  The actual furore over the cartoons did not take place until many months after they had been published.  It turned out that the furore had been stoked by a group of Islamist extremist clerics, in the Middle East, who had used the cartoons, and circulated them themselves, so as to provoke the outrage.  It turned out that they increased that outrage by fabricating other cartoons to go with those that had been published.

Today, it is not recent comments that are the basis of outrage, but mostly comments made, for example, by Naz Shah, two years ago, at the height of the Israeli attacks on Gaza.  What is more, we see again a fabrication of what people are supposed to have said, compared to what they actually said, and a spinning of the interpretation of what was said.

So, if we are being told that it is not a criticism of the actions of the Israeli state that is being objected to, but only the offence that is caused by making this particular comparison with the actions of the Nazis, solely because of the fact that Jews suffered so badly under the Holocaust, does that mean that other comparisons of genocidal acts would then be fine?  Would we then only have to be careful to not choose comparisons where Jews might have suffered as a consequence?

So, should the actions of the Israeli state be compared with, for example, the genocide inflicted on Native Americans, by European settlers.  Rather, than comparing the forcing of the Palestinians into a ghetto that might be compared to the Warsaw Ghetto, should we instead refer to a comparison of those Native Americans being herded into reservations, or to the imposition of the concentration camps introduced by the British in the Boer War.  We could compare the murderous attacks of the Israeli State on Palestinians with the murder of Irish men, women and children at Drogheda.

We might not want to refer to the murderous attacks of the British State, at the direction of that renowned anti-semite, Winston Churchill, against the miners at Tonypandy, however, for fear that some of those miners might themselves have been Jewish.

In fact, there are no end of murderous attacks by vicious states over the years that could be used as a comparison with the murderous attacks made by the Israeli State against Palestinians.  But, highlighting that fact, may not go down to well either, because that would be to point out that, from that perspective, the Nazis were not that exceptional.  The democratic regimes of the colonial powers, like Britain and France, killed many more people than the Nazis over the years.  Churchill himself suggested that, in answer to Gandhi, Britain should round up a few hundred Indians and shoot them, to send a message to his supporters.

Look around at any number of protests around the globe, and it is the Nazis, and Hitler who seem to be the symbol of choice, however, as the measure for comparison.  Obama is depicted as Hitler, so is Merkel, or Putin or Assad and so on.  All of these comparisons it seems are okay, other than where the comparison is in relation to the actions of the Israeli state.  Woe betide you if you are found to have criticised some council or government bureaucrat for being a little Hitler, if it turns out that the person is Jewish.  But, you can't have it both ways; you can't, on the one hand, say that you want Israel, as a state, to be treated the same as every other state (which I believe it should) and yet insist on the right for it to be treated differently when it suits you, when it comes to comparing the murderous and vicious actions it undertakes with those of other states and regimes, including the Nazis.

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