Libraries, Israel, double standards

It’s Freedom to Read week in Canada, and  out of all the censored authors in all the world, Vancouver Public Library has invited Greg Felton, author of a book titled The Host and the Parasite: How Israel’s Fifth Column Consumed America. Terry Glavin knows Felton’s work and objects. On his blog he writes:

I didn’t write about the contents of Felton’s book, and I never claimed to. It’s the product of a crank publishing house that’s situated somewhere in the bleak Arizona desert and is almost wholly concerned with spacemen and thought control. I’ve read excerpts of Felton’s book. I’m fully conversant with its thesis. I’ve read Felton’s slanders against the Jews on white-supremacist websites, and I’ quite familiar with the Medieval legends that Felton persists in reporting as fact. This is “intellectual”? These are his “views”?

The Library librarian Paul Whitney (who doesn’t have a good track record on standing up to censorship) defiantly stands by its choice which he spins as championing ‘unpopular opinions’.  Oh for pity’s sake – what next? A defence of burglary? Stoning women? Imprisoning queers! They’re unpopular opinions, after all. Howard Rotberg has, in a letter which is less than credible in parts (e.g. when he refers to a non-existent entity called “we Jews”) alerted Whitney to a number of other censored authors he has omitted, while proceeding with hosting this fearsome antisemite:

The people whose books are really censored today are those like eminent professors Burr and Collins, whose book Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World has just been shredded by Cambridge University Press after a rich Saudi threatened them with a huge libel suit. They made the determination that they could not afford the suit, and agreed to destroy all copies.

Or Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin Ph.D, whose new book on the psychology of terrorists was withdrawn by her publisher after Islamist threats against the publisher.

Or myself, whose book, The Second Catastrophe: A Novel about a Book and its Author (Mantua Books) was banned by Chapters/Indigo after an 18 year old Palestinian book clerk made a fraudulent allegation about what I said at a book lecture at one of their stores, when I was attacked and prevented from speaking by Arabs calling me a “f—ing Jew”.

Instead of really upholding the rights of banned authors, you give credibility to a sick, anti-semite, who should not be dignified with the forum you give him.

Terry Glavin is brilliant – he responds to Whitney with something I’ve clipped and bookmarked with my Diigo ‘key_idea’ tag as well as the livingstone_formulation tag:

 It works like this.

Nowadays, perhaps especially among the urban intellectual caste, you cannot raise your voice against even the most foul antisemite, if that same antisemite uses words such as “Israel” or “Zionist” in the same breath as his other veiled utterances of Jew-hatred. You will be told that you are equating legitimate criticism of Israel with antisemitism.

You will be told, ‘This is part of a legitimate debate.’ But if you say, no it isn’t, you will be told, ‘This is just how the Jews suppress free speech to silence criticism of Israel.’ If you say, ‘That sounds like one of those old antisemitic canards; show me some evidence that it is true,’ you will be called a Zionist, which is one of the worst things you can call someone these days. If you talk back, you will hear someone calling you a Zionazi. You will soon hear people telling you to shut up.

In order for the kind of polemics and legends Felton disseminates to find a privileged place in Whitney’s “open and public exchange of contradictory views”, one must acquiesce to the demand that a veiled and nuanced Judeophobia has a proper place in “legitimate debate,” and we must submit to that very specific and particular sort of demand to shut up. This is not the way lies are made. It is the way they flourish, and spread, and debase the very purpose, function and possibility of “free speech” in an open and democratic society.

And that is precisely and exactly what is going on here.

And yesterday (hat tip Terry Glavin again) Islamists attacked the Young Men’s Christian Association in Gaza and blew up its library. Terry Glavin wants to know what Vancouver Public Library is going to do in protest. I want to know what Greenwich Library in New York is going to do in protest.

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7 thoughts on “Libraries, Israel, double standards

  1. I was happy to post Howard Rotberg’s letter at my site, so I would like to respond to your statement: “in a letter which is less than credible in parts (e.g. when he refers to a non-existent entity called “we Jews”)”

    If you are going to accuse someone of lacking credibility you might do him the favour of explaining yourself, so that your assumptions can be in turn subject to debate.

    What do you mean by a non-existent entity? That the Jews exist there is no doubt. That one among them presumes to speak on their collective behalf may offend your sense of postmodern propriety, but I would put it to you that it is precisely the essence of Judaism that any member of the covenant is not simply entitled, but charged with the responsibility of acting, when in a time and place that requires it, as representative and guarantor of the covenant’s shared integrity.

    So, Jews will argue about the quality of any such representation. But to whine in a tiring postmodern fashion, implying some act of victimization is entailed by any use of the first person plural is, whether you are aware of it or not, to recapitulate the gesture of resentment towards the individual or group who goes first in representing the sacred in any memorable, shared, fashion, a resentment of firstness (which is a necessary part of our shared humanity) that is at the root of antisemitism. It is such a resentment that, it seems to me, motivates Felton, and, I am willing to speculate, certain politically-correct librarians, in resenting the Jews’ role as the exemplary victims of the modern state and its genocidal capacity. We live in a time when the victim role is much desired, precisely because all manner of discrimination has been outlawed in a nihilistic over-reaction to, or misunderstanding of, the Holocaust. When legitimacy does not accrue to intelligent discrimination in pursuit of universal truths, but to those who claim to be victim of such thinking, we are faced with the renewal of Judeophobia.

    As this controversy and many others surrounding postmodern political correctness and its obsession with Zionism are teaching us, antisemitism is inherent in political correctness, as becomes plain when pc is fully played out and the various identity players/victims remain in need of a power center for them all to scapegoat, with all and sundry taking offense at any presumption to represent a shared scene, a national culture, on the postmodern view that the very act of representation is a will to power that wrongly asserts a reality as existing prior to the sign that brings it into being. All of history and all uses of “we” thus become a conspiracy of someone’s illegitimate will to power.

    Well, long story short, reality and representation aren’t as Derrida and company have it. Rotberg is perfectly right to see himself as a representative Jew; i assure you one would be hard pressed to explain him otherwise. His personhood is rooted in the shared scenes that are learned as part of one’s religious and historical education. I find him and his letter admirable.

  2. Truepeers, I linked to your post on Rotberg’s letter because I thought it raised some important and helpful points in response to Felton’s deplorable invitation.

    But if you allow that there is such an entity as “We Jews” then do you allow that there is also such an entity as “Those Jews”?

    If you allow for positive stereotyping, then how are you going to stand up to negative stereotyping?

    There are some circumstances in which it is appropriate to talk about “We Jews” – being, invariably is the implication, defenders of free speech is not one of them. See my As A Jew piece for why I am very nervous about the formulation “We Jews”.

    Basically, here, it is a bit of diversity denial.

  3. fleshisgrass,

    There’s nothing wrong with being wary of stereotypes; but going to the other extreme of assuming that everyone is simply a unique individual is a form of arch romanticism that ignores how we become individuals and that denies our shared reality: we become individuals by making use of shared, common, representations that circulate within our culture. In other words, my individuality is nothing but a privatized form of public representations. Sure the way I use these public representations, choosing and mixing, makes me a unique individual in some ways, but it does not make me entirely unlike everyone else. Individual genius is not something peculiar to a particular mind; genius succeeds by appealing to our shared consciousness of a scene and of our shared need for new ways of representing this shared scene.

    If “we Jews” refers to an existing reality it is because there is still a population of people in good part dependent for their identity on the shared representations – religious and secular – that constitute Jewish history. Of course there are many different kinds of Jews – different Jewish languages and ethnicities exist with the nation of Israel. But to the extent that all Jews share in some common history, they shared in common (religious and national) ways of representing themselves. If it were not so, we couldn’t recognize identifiably Jewish people, but of course we can. That’s not to say that in the modern world, Jewish representations don’t mingle with many others and any Jew is not simply a Jew.

    Whether you like it or not “those Jews” refers to an existing reality. Hezbollah has just declared open season on all “Zionists” anywhere in the world. That, of course, means all Jews. Sure, they would have trouble deciding, in many cases, who is a Jew and who isn’t; but the fact remains that there is a reality that they can target with some accuracy. Sure it’s fair to complain when someone represents “we Jews” or “those Jews” in stupid or hateful ways. But you can’t change the reality of shared signs of Jewishness, shared forms of religious and secular organization, by playing word games or pushing for “diversity” nihilism. Our enemy knows who we are; by the same token we have no choice but to define ourselves in relation to those existential forces that threaten our (shared) existence.

    I looked at your “as a jew” piece. I agree with you that it is foolish to say that Jews cannot be Judeophobic, or antisemitic. But the problem, it seems to me, is that many people, including Jews, don’t have a strong sense of what antisemitisim is exactly. It’s not some generic racism directed towards “Jews”. It’s a very particular form of racism directed towards the legacy of Hebrew monotheism, towards those who descend from the claim of the first nation to be the first in covenant with the one God, who is nonetheless also claimed to be the God of everyone else (i.o.w.nationalism entails a particular claim on universal truth, it depends on a high culture that is both in conversation with universal human truths and is different from other high cultures, just as French and English literature are both different and universal, and thus in competition over our ways of representing or understanding the human in general).

    Antisemitism is a racism towards those who wish to remain identifiably Jewish even after other more universalizing (christianity, islam) forms of monotheism, and new nations and high cultures (not simply tribes or ethnicities without high cultures) have come on scene. Judeophobia is essentially the fear of firstness, and the fear of a certain national particularity, and I would argue many Jews, especially those on the left, suffer from it. That’s not to say they hate Jews, though some may, only that they have a problem with what Jewishness represents in world history.

    For example, the fact that today Israel represents (so far) the superiority of Western modernity, and of the nation-state system, when it comes to making an economically and militarily successful polity in the Middle East, grates on those who would see Israel’s self-defense as somehow illegitimate because it creates third-world “victims” to Western modernity and nationality. I see many in Israel bothered by frank assertions of national identity, tied to Jewishness, and I think this is Judeophobia. It is a fear or denial of the inevitability of human existential conflict, and consequently a fantasy that some system of post-national liberal elites and international law written and proclaimed by detached experts could keep the peace by ruling out of order all forms of national difference that become a source and means of conflict. This is just an updated form of the old Christian/Islamic antisemitism towards Jews who insisted on remaining Jews and not joining the universal church of Christ/Allah. Is your worship of “diversity” perhaps in the same camp?

  4. Thanks for this explanation, Truepeers.

    Antisemitism is as you say, not generic racism (I don’t know of a generic form of racism, they all take particular knowledge and sensitivity to understand – though you are going to call me postmodern again for saying that). The antisemitism I’m most familiar with is not a “legacy of Hebrew monotheism”, it’s a strange kind of mutated anti-capitalism oozing out of the hard left – to sketch it, it’s the type of anti-capitalism that is looking for a face, a scapegoat, really. And the kind that is enormously viscerally disgusted by modern Israel, West-looking, smack in the middle of the authentic, other-wise Arab world unadulterated by technology and money-grubbing.

    I’m not keen on nationalism, but I recognise where there is a strong will to national liberation it is often caused by existential fears which eclipse every other concern, and should be acknowledged. Hence Israel, whose existence I support. On the other hand these fears are ebbing in Europe currently (Kosovo being one exception) and maybe given time the borders in the Levant will also consensually dissolve. Or do you think that the European project is a big ethnic war waiting to happen?

    I have no problem with ‘assertions of national identity tied to Jewishness’. Let people self-identify! But for me to take them seriously they would have to be based, as most are, in a religion, culture, identity of forbears or sense of what has happened to Jews over time consequent to their Jewishness – not in assertions such as “We Jews have always upheld freedom of expression” or similar which are simply baseless.

  5. “We Jews have always upheld freedom of expression” or similar which are simply baseless.”

    -Sure we can quibble about the always, but Judaism is an attack on ritualistic or sacrificial thinking, and an embrace of a (prophetic) revelation unfolding in history, a revelation that requires much debate to be recognized and established; and all this depends on a significant degree of respect for “freedom of expression”.

    “The antisemitism I’m most familiar with is not a “legacy of Hebrew monotheism”, it’s a strange kind of mutated anti-capitalism oozing out of the hard left”

    -well modern (free market) capitalism is a product of Western Christianity, not of traditional Jewish communities; yet Christianity is part of the legacy of Hebrew monotheism. What’s more, once the Christians have invented the free market, where price is made the same for everyone, freed of all social entanglements, it turns out that Jews often do well in it. And the reason for this, i believe, has something to do with a monotheism that refuses to give a figure to G-d and that thus creates a certain capacity for abstract thinking about value.

    And if the Christians invented the free market, I’d say they also invented the leftist resentment of it, though again Jews (in the way of Marx) have often excelled at this too. Visions for making the (Christian) kingdom of God on earth, of maximizing human reciprocity, are behind both sides of the pro and anti-capitalist divide.

    I won’t call you postmodern for recognizing that every form of racism is different. I’d only call you postmodern if you professed a belief that we can overcome racism by patrolling speech or performing some magical operation with language, all the while ignoring certain existential realities that just won’t go quietly into the night under the force of linguistic gymnastics.

    Sorry if this is sounding preachy, but I want to answer your questions; I’ll just finish by saying that I think the European project will fail the more it attempts political and not just economic integration in a common market. Modern economies, it seems to me, are more likely to succeed the more they allow for decentralized decision making; and the more local self-rule the better. I think a certain kind of nationalism is essential to democratic self-rule, one that calls on all citizens to take a share in a covenant to maximize and guarantee each other’s freedom. The European project, at present, looks to me as if it is led by a large, unaccountable, opaque bureaucracy with anti-democratic and anti-commoner aristocratic pretensions. It is a multicultural empire robbing national parliaments of their sovereignty; and, as a general rule, I think empires are essentially parasitic, for their own elite culture, on the peoples they rule, without providing these people fully with the means, the necessary freedom, to renew their cultures; and thus by extension the metropolitan culture also has trouble renewing itself absent a strong national or civic identity. This, I believe, is why empires don’t last as long as the oldest nations and national cultures – Israel, Ethiopia, Armenia, England – have so far survived. Empires are not creative. Unfortunately, the European Union is presently destroying at least one of these nations and who knows if it will be able to revive itself once Brussels has been sacrificed to the angry mobs it is creating. Did you see the story today that the BNP now has far and away the most popular web site of the British parties? That’s part of the failure of the EU project as I see it. And once the EU collapses, there may only be BNP-style welfare-state hate mongers to pick up the pieces. Britain needs a renewal of a respectable, decentralizing, conservatism, and fast, it seems to me. Tall order, to be sure.

  6. I just had a further thought I’d like to share: I remember Prodi saying a while ago that the EU is necessary for Europeans to compete with other mega political economies like China. My thought was, if you think it’s hard competing with one China, imagine competing with thirty-odd Taiwans. China fears Taiwan because it is a model of how well Chinese can do in more decentralized and democratic political systems. In other words Europe’s problem is not so much a question of size as of a declining culture without the work and entrepreneurial ethics now common in Chinese culture areas. And part of the blame for the declining culture must go to the EU and its desire to rob authority and sovereignty from cultures still reeling from the nightmare of two great wars and from the loss of any kind of faith that will insure present generations reproduce themselves and live up to their covenant with those who have gone before. Instead, we get this obsession with scapegoating Israel for all the world’s woes. Did you see this outrage: http://israelmatzav.blogspot.com/2008/02/german-professors-nazis-helped.html ?

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