New Statesman’s got learning difficulties

Remember the New Stateman’s ‘A kosher conspiracy?‘ cover from 2002, the congratulations from the racists, the outcry from the anti-racists, and the apology for an apology mustered up by the then-editor Peter Wilby (weighed and found wanting in Bernard Harrison’s The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism)?

A load of old codThe New Statesman has provided more than enough reasons to keep an eye on it over the past few years. It’s irrepressible – in a bad way.

The 17th September cover is here – search for the issue on the New Statesman site.

So we have ‘Stitch-up. How the Americans misled Blair over Iraq’ – fairly regular fodder these days. But underneath we have an arresting juxtaposition – they’re foregrounding a review of a book about the Israel Lobby by Walt and Mearsheimer, a pair of US academics who’ve been widely discredited for their scholarship and widely welcomed (hopefully but not necessarily – see below – by different people from the ones who are discrediting them) for their antisemitic thrust – who believe that the Israel Lobby (code for rich and powerful Jews) is responsible for leading the US government by the nose into its war with Iraq.

Now, am I being a tad touchy, or is the message from the New Statesman cover – delivered in small saccades of vision and small saccades of reason – that a bunch of powerful and single-issue Jews ‘intimidated’ America into ‘misleading’ Blair into going to war with Iraq?

Kampner’s the editor now and considering the hauling over the coals Wilby got, if I’m right maybe he’s experiencing the self-satisfaction of somebody who feels himself to have made a brave stand in the face of enormous “pressure” and “extraordinary venom” from those (members of the Israel Lobby?) who want to suppress his honest, intrepid journalism. If so, I hope he gets a rude awakening because – surprise – it’s exercised the antisemites. Comments on the article:

“The term “Jewish lobby” is too kind … Hollywood is run by Jews…all 5 top media corporations are owned, or run by Jews … I am reminded of Gordon Brown`s first speach as PM. He talked about fighting”racism”, but he made a specific mention of “anti-semitism”…another tug on the forelock…total obediance to the Jewish led Western elite. One only has to look at all the Jewish oligachs in London….princes paying homage to Lord Jacob Rothschild….oh dear….did I mention something that I shouldn`t have?lol”
[i.e. Jews control and subjugate politicians]

“On the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ blog the J-word can only be associated with praise, sympathy for victimhood, or support for Israel – anything else will get a post removed or posting rights withdrawn.”
[i.e. Jews control the media]

“…we will not be held hostage or used by any group because of their claims that their own personal ethnic nightmares or loyalty to another country for any reason, ethnic or religious or historical trumps the common good of all other citizens or the original principles and purpose of America … Anyone who disagrees is free to look for a better deal in another country.”
[i.e. Jews know your place or we’ll be asking you to leave.]

“Fact is, every time there’s even a sniff of anything relating to the Israel-Palestine issue in this magazine, the zionists crawl out of the woodwork. Check anything by John Pilger if you dont believe me.”
[i.e. Zionists (meaning Jews) are vermin]

(No mention of the Christian members of the Israel Lobby – it’s the Jews that get people going.)

Not that the antisemites seem over-repressed in the current climate, but an article about the book in Forward notes a creative new approach to ‘criticising’ Israel which attempts to neutralise all charges of antisemitism:

“Step one: Publish your views in as provocative a manner as possible. Use words like “apartheid,” as Jimmy Carter did in his book, or paint Jewish lobbying efforts in darkly conspiratorial terms, as Walt and Mearsheimer did in a paper published last year. Step two: Dare the Jewish community to lash out at you, then whine about being victimized by bullies. Step three: Implore fair-minded liberals to line up behind you, forcing them to choose between endorsing your vision — however skewed — or becoming part of the censorship juggernaut.”

I haven’t read the book but I’ve read critiques by Eliot Cohen, Anthony Julius, Ben Fishman, Harry’s Place, Judeosphere, Forward, Kenneth Stern and others on the 2006 London Review of Books article on the same topic by Gidon Remba, Jewish Current Issues, and many more. There’s an excellent 2006 video debate between Mearsheimer and five other pre-eminent scholars and politicians from different backgrounds. The video is notable for Shlomo Ben-Ami differentiating between Israel’s interests and those of the ‘Israel Lobby’ (he’s not the first), for Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross itemising the errors in the research and pointing out systematic bias, for Martin Indyk making the charge of antisemitism, for a cogent discussion of why the US and Israel are allies, and for no defence whatsoever of the quality of Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s work from any of the panellists other than Mearsheimer himself. The main charge is based on the quality of their research – they had access to an abundance of primary sources but based their work on secondary sources instead (this relates to the charge of bias). The Jewish Current Issues article linked above contains an involved fisk of a few footnotes (though I can’t vouch for it).

The New Statesman reviewer Andrew Stephen doesn’t really rate the book either – at least not for its substance. He’s primarily excited by the attempt to tackle ‘The Lobby’ in the face of “this most painful of subjects” (meaning not just antisemitism, I think, but also the “painful” accusations of antisemitism) and all the fur that flew consequently. “Phew” he says, “The j’accuse statements run thick and fast”. And later with a frisson of something not very nice which I can’t quite put my finger on, “Heaven knows what Mearsheimer and Walt have been through, but we should all now hope that it has been worth it”. (I don’t – I hope they really regret it.)

After making an early point about how undesirable it is that US antisemitism should have been driven underground and made taboo – I think Nick Cohen would call that ‘throat-clearing’ – he proceeds to welcome the book as a “step forward” in defiance of – get this – “indeed, anti-Semitism”. If I have him correctly, we’re to “be grateful to” Walt and Mearsheimer for writing a book which antisemites welcome as antisemitic at a time when “this most painful of subjects” antisemitism is coming in for such enormous “pressure” and “extravagant venom”. This is very mixed up, but maybe that’s what you get when you attempt to praise Walt and Mearsheimer. Then he openly uses quotes from an Israeli journalist to “say the unsayable for me” (once again that rusty old prophylactic against the charge of antisemitism) and make unsubstantiated claims about the divided loyalty of a number of the so-called lobby’s key members.

And while he does allude to the inaccuracies which, according to most reviews, perfuse the book, he is very supportive of the main thrust – that “the Israel Lobby can [his italics] be extraordinarily ruthless and unpleasant” and adds a couple of anecdotes of his own which he calls “chilling” but which, under the circumstances, deserve a pinch of salt. In one, he’s at a party, gets on the wrong side of ‘The Lobby’ and is never invited back. In the other ‘The Lobby’ takes against a perfectly decent republican from the 1970s who supports the sale of fighter planes to Saudi and ruins his career by funding his democrat opponent. They both raise too many questions to constitute evidence.

Then finally a brief section, which reads like a note-to-self, to consider the motivations behind “passion and intensity” of organised support for Israel, an observation that the book is little more than a “prosecutorial chargesheet”, and a reference to what he calls a “genuinely sinister” non-Jewish lobby (PNAC) – presumably to diffuse any accusation of stereotype. These fill one short paragraph out of two-and-two-thirds pages – more throat-clearing.

So here’s where, after many second chances for the New Statesman, I’m negotiating with Matty to end the direct debit I set up for him some years back. I’ll suggest Prospect or the New Internationalist if he wants something to fall asleep under.

OK, I’ve made the suggestion. He’s somewhat resistant. I’ll lobby him over the weekend – comments are open below.

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2 thoughts on “New Statesman’s got learning difficulties

  1. It’s stretching just a bit to quote internet comments in support of your argument. Everyone knows that people who tend to comment are nutcases – just take a look at youtube, or the Guardian’s Comment is Free. Hatred towards all types of groups is plentiful.

  2. Can you evidence your assertion that “everyone knows”, James?

    Basically, if it becomes normal for this kind of stuff to be hosted on reputable sites then we’d better hope so. I’m not so sure.

    Here’s why I wouldn’t want hateful comments on my site – particularly if my site were as popular as the New Statesman’s of CiF.

    The people who are the targets of the hateful comments – be they Jews, Muslims, black people – often feel too nervous to let them stick. They feel obliged to attempt to put up arguments lest they take hold and become normal and after normal, hegemonic. Unfortunately it’s often the way that the people who aren’t directly on the receiving end of the hatred don’t feel sufficiently motivated to weigh in in their defence. It falls to the targets of the hate to fight the hate.

    Basically that means that reputable websites are becoming inadvertant causes of harassment for minority groups.

    Let the haters start their own sites.

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