While I was out

I’ve been off the air with database problems for a day or so, and missed some important developments. First, there was the bad news of the first Australian military casualties in Iraq, an unfortunate but inevitable development, given that insurgents are now operating freely throughout Baghdad, and even within the Green Zone. The Zarqawi group has claimed responsibility. This followed the earlier horrific massacre of Iraqi recruits, again claimed by Zarqawi.

Second, and closely related, the Zarqawi scandal has developed a further, with the Administration finally admitting on the record that the decision not to go after leading terrorist Zarqawi in the lead-up to the Iraq war was politically motivated. Money quote

Lawrence Di Rita, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, said in an interview that the reasons for not striking included “the president’s decision to engage the international community on Iraq.” (from the WSJ, via Tim Dunlop

With a week to go, it’s probably too late for this disclosure to have any impact on the US election. But if anyone ever refers to George Bush as fighting a war against terrorism, just point them to the Zarqawi story. The failure to go after bin Laden in an effective fashion can be put down to this Administration’s routine incompetence. The failure to go after Zarqawi was simply criminal.

Finally, there was this piece by Barry Cohen, accusing the ALP of anti-semitism. In Cohen’s language criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism and criticism of Ariel Sharon is criticism of Israel. I’m sure examples of anti-Jewish prejudice can be found in the Labor party, but Cohen doesn’t produce any. There are more extensive responses here and here.

27 thoughts on “While I was out

  1. If criticism of Isarel is anti-semitism and criticism of Ariel Sharon is anti-Israel, then by logical extension, criticism of Sharon is anti-semitism.

    It’s only a matter of time before we hear this.

    It is interesting that Cohen is so incensed that one or two Labor members of Parliament have called Sharon a war criminal. As Cohen would remember, this label has been applied to Sharon since the September 1982 massacre of Palestinians, including women and children, at the Shabra and Shatila refugee camps, by 150 Lebanese phalangists, who had been escorted in to the camps by the Israeli army. Estimates of the death toll vary from 700 (the official Israeli figure) to 3500 (by an Israeli journalist who investigated the massacre).

    The Kahan commission of inquiry in Israel found Sharon, as Minister of Defence, to have been directly responsible. Ariel Sharon is a war criminal on any reasonable definition of the term, a judgment shared by many Israelis.

  2. Re Barry Cohen’s article. You say that he does not produce any examples of anti-Semitism and that all he does is equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. This misrepresents his key point which is that the attitude of most critics of Israel is so unbalanced and that anti-Semitism is often clearly a factor. Certainly, Tanya Plibersek’s comments, a new shadow minister, referring to Israel as a “rogue state” at a time when its citizens were blown to bits by brainwashed kids is sick in the extreme if not indicative of her anti-Sematic tendencies. Also try voicing support for Israel at a Labor party meeting (or in Academia for that matter)containing members of the left faction and see what eventuates.

    Of course, not all criticism of Israel is anti-Sematic but critics who hold Israel to far higher standards than other countries (e.g. who condemn them for quite justifiable responding to terrorists atrocities) and who generally make no attempt at balance are often motivated by anti-Semitism. That said, mindless anti-Americanism and naivety where Islamic terrorism are concerned are also clearly factors in the way many individuals approach this issue.

  3. Actually Spiros I have not problem with people criticising Sharon, what I strongly object is the failure of individuals such as yourself to acknowledge that Arafat is far far far more deserving of condemnation. Moreover, Sharon does not murder people who criticise him and, unlike Arafat, does not say one thing when he speaks to the west in English and another when he speaks to his own community in Hebrew.

  4. John
    How to evaluate Cohen’s claims is a judgement call but you are misrepresenting his position in claming that he is some reflexive Sharonist. In this SMH article http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/10/22/1098316800565.html
    he is quoted as saying:
    “Mr Cohen said there was also no problem in Labor MPs criticising Israel, as long as the criticism was based on fact, not propaganda.”

    The implication is that the criticism of Israel has been disproportionate enough to fail the smell test.

  5. Both Arafat and Sharon are unapologetic murderers. Moreover both electorates knew this when they voted overwhelmingly for both people.

    The common thread between these twop eople and races is hates and the denial that the other race is part of mankind.

    sSpiros has correctly laid outb the reasons for why Sharon is culpable as has Michael with Arafat.

    I would agree that almost any cticism of Israel these days brings out the anti-semetic tag. It was levelled against Helen Clark after the ‘interesting’ events by Mossad there.

  6. Homer, the criticism of Helen Clark was based on the fact that she made such an issue of the fact that Israeli’s had fake passports compared to members of other nationalities who have also with increasing ease obtained New Zealand passports and who are often far more likely to do something nasty in that country or in Australia for that matter.

    As for Sharon he might be a nasty piece of work but he hardly inhabits the same demented moral universe as Arafat. He is also the type of leader one gets elected in a democratic country when peace initiatives are repeatedly rejected (e.g. those under Clinton – where very generous concessions were made towards the Palestinians)and ones citizens are repeatedly blown up. After all, all it took for Thatcher to get elected was a series of incompetent Labour and Conservative administrations and bloody minded trade unions. It should also be remembered that the main criticism of Sharon is that he did not intervene in Lebanon to stop to atrocities taking place. In contrast, Arafat has a long history of appalling violence and corruption.

  7. Sharon is trying to pull settlers out and running into strife in doing so. How does that gel with all these claims thrown around about moral equivalence?

    Homer your comment about the ‘two races’ comes close to being anti-semitic in both the literal and general sense. I take it your beloved Saviour is hateful too then? You should be ashamed of yourself.

  8. Are Michael Burgess and Jason Soon claiming that Ariel Sharon’s – a leader of a liberal democracy – standard of behaviour should be judged by the standards of behaviour exhibited by a corrupt despot like Arafat?

    In what manner does Arafat and other PLO member’s actions justify what happened at Shatila – actions for which Sharon has ultimate responsibility?

    The fact that Israelis get blown to pieces in their streets, cafes, and busses, this justifies, say, using a randomly plucked Palestinian civilian as a human shield against a possible roadside bomb* — how?

    * Former Israeli soldier’s admission on the 7.30 report.

    A liberal democracy must be held to the standards of a liberal democracy, if it wants to be regarded as one by others.

  9. Michael, this thread was about Barry Cohen’s comments, not about Arafat.

    But if it makes you happy, and for the record : Arafat is worse than Sharon. But who says that he isn’t?

  10. scot
    Sharon was not leader of Israel when he was *indirectly* responsible for those massacres. Now that he is leader of Israel he is trying to fix the mess he helped create. And where do the Lebanese falangists who did the actual massacre stand in all this? Or, using your rhetoric, are those people savages and therefore bear no responsibility at all?

  11. Jason,

    Sharon was minister of defence and therefore in the parliamentary tradition, responsible for the actions of the defence force. The defence force led the Phalangists to the camp where the Phalangists proceeded to massacre the civilians within. Sharons actions now don’t excuse in any way his responsibility for actions then.

    As for rhetoric Jason, please contain yourself to the arguments presented and don’t try to put words in my mouth. At no point did I call anyone a ‘savage’, that is your derogatory term, and at no point did I say such organisations and individuals are not to be held responsible for their action in any case.

    If we are to say that we are better than these so-called ‘savages’ then we are to be judged by higher standards than their own exhibited behaviour. So saying that some ‘savages’ as you seem to regard them, perform unspeakable acts of barbarity, doesn’t excuse us from those same acts.

    Please answer my questions as put instead of making up your own.

  12. Jason,
    what planet are you on.

    both Sharon and Arafat were elected by large majorities. Neither person shows any remorse for actions they have done.

    What do you think people are doing when they elect such people.

    do either the Israelis or the Palestinians, mainly muslims, wish to live with each other.

    No they each want a monopoly on the land to the detriment of the other.

    This Jason is merely the outpouring of sin which affects us all but it shows it itelf manifestly in this region.

    Or do you believe love is overflowing here

  13. One of the reasons why I ceased to be actively involved in debates about the Israel-Palestine conflict (after having been involved on the pro-Palestinian side in the early 1980s) is that the debate in countries like Australia is dominated by intolerant self-righteous zealots on both sides.

    Barry Cohen is not wrong to complain that some criticism of Israel from the anti-Zionist Left is unbalanced and intemperate, and open to suspicion of being motivated by anti-semitic sentiment. However, the very strong drift of his argument is that almost all criticism of Israel, including from within the ALP, can be tarred with this brush. Whilst he is prepared to concede in the abstract that criticism of Israel could be legitimate, he qualifies this concession out of existence by suggesting that most criticism of Israel is “lies spouted by the Palestinian propaganda machine”.

    Barry Cohen’s position is effectively rebutted by the following letter to The Age by a Jewish member of the ALP, Norman Rothfield:

    “Barry Cohen’s philosophy of defending Israeli policies, right or wrong, has clouded both his memory and his judgement.

    “He has glorified the Labor Party of former years, completely ignoring the violent campaign organised by Bill Hartley, secretary of the Victorian Branch. This called for the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state, with Hartley using radio and parts of the press to further his campaign.

    “Today, any substantial criticism of Israel from some members of the ALP is against its policies and actions, not its existence – and this kind of criticism is made also by very many in Israel, as well as by 150 nations of the United Nations.”

    Finally, Cohen also refers to the Greens and Democrats as being “more extremist” than the “ALP hard left”. The Democrats visiting this site can respond on their own behalf. As a Green I would simply refer people to the Greens policy on the Israel-Palestine conflict at:


    which condemns all forms of violence against civilians including suicide bombing, and supports a two-state solution to the conflict.

  14. Well, everybody should be held to the standards of a liberal democracy, really. But I think the “Israeli is the only democracy in the Middle East” line grates since it so blithely dismisses various problems like the occupation, the second-class status of Arab Israelis, and the rather unpleasant facts surrounding Israel’s origin. (It is also wrong – see Turkey – and glosses over the fact that the United States supports authoritarians in Egypt and Jordan at least partially for Israel’s benefit.) The similar “America is the greatest democracy in world” line dismisses all kinds of unpleasant facts about my country and its history. Hypocrisy and arrogance win few fans.

    “Homer your comment about the ‘two races’ comes close to being anti-semitic in both the literal and general sense.” – Soon

    I don’t see that at all. Hatred of the other is a well documented feature of human history. What is different about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that it is happening today, it is prominent on western television screens, it has affected groups other than the primary participants, and it involves a lot of people’s religion. Most blogs I read don’t mention the Russian-Chechen conflict very often, but that doesn’t mean the two groups don’t hate each other, or aren’t wrong for doing so. The hatred is pretty deep-seated on both sides of the I-P conflict as well.

  15. Jason to amplify Tom’s point if I said both prties hated each other becasue of their race then I would be anti-semetic. however I didn’t say this and would never say this.

    Hatred of other peoples happens all round the world. It is merely more visible in the Middle East.

  16. I don’t see Plibersek’s remarks as anti-Semitic. I’m increasingly perturbed by the line (taken by Barry Cohen) that criticism of Israel = criticism of Jews = anti-Semitism. This is intellectually preposterous.

    I totally accept that the state of Israel is essential to the aspirations of Jewish people. It HAS achieved recognition and statehood, although this is admittedly perilous given their position, surrounded by hostile countries.

    However if Israel is to be internationally respected as a state, it ought to behave in an internationally accepted fashion. If it isn’t – and it isn’t – then can’t we simply say so, without being accused of hating Jews and Judaism?

  17. I’m like Paul – having found that that proponents of either side of this debate see all their blacks intensely black and whites sparkly white with nary a shade of grey, I have all but ceased to get involved in the arguments. Why for example do those who (rightly)recognise that there is debate within Israel and many Israeli critics of Sharon not also acknowledge that there is debate within the Palestinian community and many Palestinian critics of Arafat? There is a wide range of positions. And observing this is NOT the same as arguing “moral equivalence” – which again is a gross over simplification of a complicated situation. That said, I think Barry Cohen’s article is just plain wrong in relation to anti-Semitism in the ALP, and he’s looking back at history through Hawke-tinted glasses. I can’t say what goes on behind party walls, because I have not been involved in the ALP for some 15 years now, but the current public statements don’t seem too different to the ranges of opinion that were around in the 1980s.

  18. Also, whilst I agree with Cohen that “even-handed” positions and arguments about “moral equivalence” miscast the reality of the Israel-Palesting conflict, I disagree with his reasons for saying so. Put simply, the Jewish State of Israel exists, whereas the State of Palestine is being prevented from existing by force of Israeli arms, and by policies (such as West Bank settlements and a security fence which deviates considerably from the legal borders of Israel) which will render it unviable if continued. And Israeli armed forces are occupying Palestinian land, not the other way around.

  19. Tom DC/VA Re the second-class status of Arab Israelis. Like many liberal minded supporters of Israel, I don not deny that Israel has made serious errors of judgement and there is much to criticise in its treatment of Arabs. However, what I strongly object to is the failure of those raising this issue to acknowledge that Israeli Arabs have more rights than they would have in any Arab country (especially the women-who main source of rights denial is their Arab relatives)and that they have far more rights than any minority in a Muslim country, especially an Arab country.

    On the broader issues I would recommend David Horovitz’s book Still Life with Bombers -This book is very critical of Sharon and as well as many aspects of Israeli policy. However, he quite rightly points out that for all its mistakes, the overwhelming blame for the problems in this regions lie with the Palestinian leadership and their pathological Jew hating Arab allies.

    In regard to Scots comments regarding the Israeli soldier’s supposed admission on the 7.30 report about using a civilian as a human shield this is a perfect example of the appalling double standards applied to Israel by its critics. First, such claims usually turn out to have no substance. Second, when they do the vast majority of Israeli’s are appalled by such acts of violence. In contrast, the far more numerous acts of violence by Palestinians are celebrated and the perpetuators treated as heroes.

  20. MB,

    You missed completely Tom’s point. He wasn’t arguing that Arabs have it worse in Israel than elsewhere. He was arguing that there is something very wrong with soliciting support for Israel on the basis of its purported liberal democracy when it is plainly neither liberal nor democratic in its treatment of the subject Palestinian population. The international community was rightly horrified by some of the British practices in their administration of Northern Ireland. In contrast the IDF literally get away with murder (sorry, “extra-judicial execution”), and when it’s criticised the criticism is dismissed as “anti-semitism”. Now THAT is a double-standard.

    You state that “…the overwhelming blame for the problems in this regions lie with the Palestinian leadership and their pathological Jew hating Arab allies.” I was under the impression that the problems in I/P were due to one group of people migrating to the country, then expelling the people that were already there. It’s a pretty simple recipe for conflict.

  21. Makes Northern Ireland look like a tea party, doesn’t it? As an atheist who’s part-Jewish in ancestry, I guess I should feel threatened by the anti-Semitism supposedly radiating from some of these contributors, but nope.

  22. Anti-semitic, like anti-American is just more idiotic name-calling. Maybe I’m naive, but I doubt that it’s even possible for someone raised in Australia in the last fifty years to be anti-semitic, any more than they are capable of being anti-Scottish. Even the average skinhead who writes nazi slogans probably would be hard pressed to explain why Jews in general are a menace to the world.

    If you want to say that people have ill-informed prejudices about Israel that’s fine. But it’s completely unproductive to attribute such attutudes to some pre-existing anti-semitic feeling. Does anyone seriously imagine that Tanya Plibersek feels personally threatened and repelled by Jewish people, or would try to stop her brother from marrying one? I doubt it.

  23. MB, “such claims usually turn out to have no substance”, I don’t know about that, especially if you mean the IDF investigation of its own clears its members of wrong doing, isn’t that a little like all those police self-investigations in the 1980s that never found any evidence of verballing? As for the reaction of the public, of course that is the case, already a significant minority of Israelis want the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza to end. But, a significant number of Israelis apparently thing that any criticism of the IDF is tantamount to treason.

    Now, I haven’t mentioned any specific Palestinian or Arab-created atrocities here, but let’s be straight. Blowing up people in cafes and such is an atrocity. Using a civilian (or even a prisoner) as a human shield to move a suspected bomb is a human rights abuse. But the former does not excuse the latter in any way shape or form.

    And the former doesn’t excuse shooting missles from a helicopter or F16 at a refugee camp either. Even if you know the bomb came from the refugee camp. Not everyone in the camp is guilty of the atrocity and bombing a refugee camp or bulldozing some houses is a ‘collective punishment’ and is illegal in international law.

    So on the one hand you’ve got a morally contemptible ideology of death, terror and destruction and the other a morally contemptible ideology of official state occupation, land confiscation, and military harrassment including extra judicial imprisonment and killings. Well excuse me if I don’t find either of these alternatives appealing.

  24. MB – By your logic in 1963 African-Americans should have been satisified with their lot because they were better-off than people in [insert name of hellish west-African country here]. Clearly that wasn’t the case, nor is it the case now that Arab Israelis should be second class citizens IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY. What happens in other Arab countries is completely irrelevant. I’m not sure how there can be any difficulty in understanding that. (Israel’s treatment of Arab Palestinians is another issue.)

    And Fyodor is right. You managed to completely ignore history. This conflict has been going on since European Jews started migrating to the area in the 1880s. I don’t advocate rolling back history to some arbitrary point, but the past needs to be honestly discussed by a majority of Jewish Israelis and supporters of Israel. A minority of both do acknowledge the problem, and the lack of a handy solution that will make everyone happy, but at least they’ve made a step forward.

  25. Scot, in regard to my comments regarding “such claims usually turn out to have no substance” this refers to the well documented fact that many journalists simply accept as fact Palestinian propaganda – it is not only Fox TV that is disgracefully biased. An example is the way Robert Fisk and others reported on the so-called genocide that was taking place in Jenin.
    In regard to your comments regarding Israeli’s shooting missiles from a helicopter or F16 at a refugee camp this is just emotive rhetoric. The Israeli army generally takes extreme care to minimise civilian loss and they are generally extremely successful at this – this is why the Israel’s are currently training the US army in counterinsurgency techniques. Some civilian death though is clearly unavoidable given that Palestinian terrorists take refuge in civilian areas – are Israelis just supposed to sit their and be blown up.

    Re Tom’s comments you completely miss my point about the situation of Arab Israelis (which is nowhere near as bad as your emotive rhetoric implies) which was to illustrate the appalling double standards of most critics of Israel. In any case the best way to increase their status is for Arabs to stop blowing up Israeli citizens. As for my supposed ignorance of history, well firstly describing the movement of European Jews into Israel as migrating is rather disingenuous given that were being mudered and persecuted in Russia and elsewhere at the time– and let us not forget the 850,000 or so Jews who later fled from Arab lands (no compensation has ever been offered to these). Much of the poor quality land these early European migrants settled on they bought from Arab landowners – a point frequently ignored by the lets bash Israel brigade. It should also be pointed out that in areas whereJ ews had settled the heath and education of the local Arab population generally increased.

  26. For a very interesting perspective by an American academic who is Jewish but against Israeli government policy on the accusation of anti-semitism levelled against critics of the Israeli state, have a read of this piece by Judith Butler in the London Review of Books.

    I like her conclusion –

    What is needed is a public space in which such issues might be thoughtfully debated, and to prevent that space being defined by certain kinds of exclusion and censorship. If one can’t voice an objection to violence done by Israel without attracting a charge of anti-semitism, then that charge works to circumscribe the publicly acceptable domain of speech, and to immunise Israeli violence against criticism. One is threatened with the label ‘anti-semitic’ in the same way that one is threatened with being called a ‘traitor’ if one opposes the most recent US war. Such threats aim to define the limits of the public sphere by setting limits on the speakable. The world of public discourse would then be one from which critical perspectives would be excluded, and the public would come to understand itself as one that does not speak out in the face of obvious and illegitimate violence.

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