Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Anatomy of a slur

It is one of the fascinating aspects of the Internet that it lets you climb into people's minds and check out the furniture. On the Internet most people are much less guarded than they would be if they suspected that their words would be read by many others. The small fora, with their like-minded and few participants provide an excellent venue for venting and opinionating, and re-enforcing each other's false misconceptions with a singular lack of curiosity and awareness of what constitutes verifiable truth and how it is distinguishable from wishful thinking or personal inclination.

Here is an example, which I noted this morning, as I visited my favourite message board for observing the dynamic I described above in real time:

Poster A, speaking in her capacity as the board's one and only "asajew":

"... y'all need to see Jimmy Carter's interview on Charlie Rose tonight. It was jaw-dropping!

Carter...told Charlie that Hamas agreed to a peace with Israel if a referendum were held among Palistinians (both in Gaza and the West Bank)*. And that Egypt was a co-signatory or supporter of that agreement. Carter also said a lot of other things (like, only 1 Hammas missile a month was being lobbied to southern Israel in the past year) that I cannot believe, not-believe, or confirm at this time....

I certainly feel myself that I can't trust ANY "information" I'm being fed on the I/P situation--at this point, not even Carter's version of it. But probably more Carter's than others' because I truly believe Carter doesn't lie (though he may be naive at times).

Having watched the same Charlie Rose programme last night, I know for a fact that Carter never said that "only 1 Hammas missile a month was being lobbied to southern Israel in the past year". He did lament the unfairness of Israel's response (the usual "disproportionality" meme) since only one Israeli was killed by the qassams. This piece of information, too, is an easily exposed lie, considering that "Since 2001, Qassam rockets have claimed the lives of at least 28 Israelis and injured hundreds (as of 9 January 2009)."

So, the asajew spoke and quickly Poster B (who has been known to leave her comments on my blog from time to time) rushed in, not to doubt, examine, check, but to affirm:

Poster B:

Jaw-dropping was my reaction also... it reaffirmed that my confusion about what is going on and who to believe has not been my inability to understand, but because it is all so fucked. I have certainly known there are liars on both sides, but sorting it out has been mind-boggling... and while the last thing I care about is some one calling me antisemitic... It has become a form of censorship because it serves to shut people up and that annoys the hell out of me because there are plenty of good thinkers out there that need to be heard on this issu...

See how it goes? A report based on hearsay that could easily be ascertained through watching the show, as a mistake at best and a lie at worst was not given a moment's reflection before being accepted (eagerly) as truth in reporting (after all, the message was provided by an asajew--case closed), and embellished upon. And then, just by way of covering her ass, Poster B resorts to the well tried- and -tested "Livingstone formulation", which goes like this:

Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, wrote: ‘for far too long the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government'.1 The Livingstone Formulation does two things.

Firstly, it denies that there is a distinction between criticism of Israel and demonization of Israel. Criticism of Israeli human rights abuses is not only legitimate, it is entirely appropriate. Demonization, for example, which singles out Israel for unique loathing, or which claims that Israel is apartheid or Nazi or essentially racist, or which characterizes Israel as a child-killing state, or a state which is responsible for wars around the world, or a state which is central to global imperialism, is not the same thing as criticism of Israeli government policies.

Secondly, the Livingstone Formulation does not simply accuse anyone who raises the issue of contemporary antisemitism of being wrong, but it also accuses them of bad faith: ‘the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical...' [my italics]. Not an honest mistake then, but a secret, common plan to try to de-legitimize criticism with an instrumental use of the charge of antisemitism. Crying wolf. Playing the antisemitism card. The Livingstone Formulation is both a straw-man argument and a charge of ‘Zionist' conspiracy. It is itself an antisemitic claim. Its regular appearance is also, in itself, evidence that antisemitic ways of thinking are becoming unexceptional in contemporary mainstream discourse.

And so the world turns, as though the history of the twentieth century never happened.


* Further Clarification: The pledge obtained byCarter did not reflect a new Hamas position, though it's significant that it was made in writing. Hamas leaders have said in the past they would establish a "peace in stages" if Israel were to withdraw to the borders it held before the 1967 Mideast War. Hamas has been evasive about how it sees the final borders of a Palestinian state, and has not abandoned its official call for Israel's destruction.

The Hamas promise does not say who would participate in a peace referendum. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza would be far more likely to approve a deal than exiles in camps in Lebanon and Syria, especially if a treaty does not affirm the "right of return" of refugees to homes in what is now Israel.


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