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Thursday, September 4, 2003

How to talk about Buruma.

Ian Buruma's New York Times Magazine essay, "How to talk about Israel" (mentioned below), may have provided a useful service to the American left by trying to clarify how some liberal political grievances have ended up playing into (or flagrantly embracing) anti-Semitism. But it downplays the reality of anti-Semitism, according to a sampling of blog commentary:

An incensed Gefen picks apart the entire essay graf-by-graf, and concludes:

Liberals in America today pay a great deal of lip service to the idea of disliking anti-Semitism, but, when the chips come down, they are worse than useless. They give (perhaps unintentionally) legitimacy and weight to its accusations. Here is an obviously intelligent and, perhaps, well-meaning college professor (who, to be fair, seems largely out of his depth on this issue) who looks at the phenomenon of global anti-Semitism and lays the blame squarely at the door of evangelical Christians and the neocons, the only groups he singles out for anything like extended criticism. This is not merely weakness, double standards, or ignorance, it is dangerous moral impotency, a stark and terrible inability to recognize political evil.

Sha! is more sympathetic, but concludes: "Buruma never gets around to answering his own question. The article lacks any real discussion of when legitimate criticism of Israeli policies crosses the line into rank anti-Semitism."

And Aaron Faust writes (Taublog; last item):

Why don't countries like China, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Egypt, Syria, etc. - which arguably have worse human rights records than Israel - have to face international divestment campaigns? Why do universities in Britain and France not sever ties with Russian professors because of events in Chechnya? When only Israel gets singled out time and again for actions that others are guilty of (often to a more severe degree), Jews conclude, and reasonably so, that these actions are, in the words of Harvard President Lawrence Summers, "anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent."

He also offers these useful tips:

So, what is a gentile to do? Be specific. If you don't like an Israeli government policy, single out the branch if you can. If you don't like the way the Israeli military acts toward Palestinians, cite the actions it takes. Avoid generalizations.

There isn't a country in the world that shouldn't have to stand up to criticism. Jews would just like to know that everybody else is being held to the same standards.

Unitarian Universalists interested in the subject — as many more should be — may find something of value in my arguments last year with at least one effectively anti-Semitic UU about the 2002 General Assembly's Action of Immediate Witness about the Middle Easthere, here, here, and here. Or you can sign up for the e-mail list and join the conversation. Having despaired of the futility of most Unitarian Universalist discussion of the Middle East, however, I'm no longer active on the list.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 4 September 2003 at 7:19 PM

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