Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I do not think the Holocaust Denial Conference means what you think it means

More stuff on how Pres. "Big A" Ahmadinejad of Iran isn't as evil as we've been led to believe.

Obligatory disclaimer: I not claiming he's a good guy. I'm not claiming he's peace-loving, US-loving, Jew-loving, or Israel-loving. He is part of an oppressive system of rule (allowing elections, true, but not really free) run by religious leaders who most agree are zealots and hostile to "The West."


BUT, even if Iran's oppressive government has distaste for us, Jews, and Israel, it doesn't necessarily follow that they are intent on our destruction (or crazy enough to attempt our destruction even though it would almost surely mean their own). People talk about Iran or some other prospective nuclear power giving nuclear weapon material to terrorist groups. I don't know of any proof they're likely to arm such groups with nukes to attack *us*. And indeed, they have no reason to think that doing so wouldn't bring the swift US sword of death upon them, considering our massive nuclear stocks and our intelligence-gathering abilities, which may have been shown not to be perfect, but nonetheless didn't do much to STOP us from bombing perceived enemies and their helpers (see: Taliban, Afghanistan, Hussein, Iraq).

As far as conventional arms, one may consider from their perspective, that supplying traditional weapons to fighters in Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq one could see as not-unreasonable (COULD see) attempts to support these countries' fights for their own sovereignty. (One can argue -- correctly -- about the methods they choose, but one must admit all three of those countries -- well, Palestine isn't even a country yet -- are struggling over sovereignty.)

Anyway, point is, this article discusses the so-called Holocaust Denial Conference in Iran, and why it isn't what you think it is. I'll stop digging a hole for myself and refer you to there -- where the author points out he has yet to see any direct quote where Big A directly threatens preemptory action against the US or Israel, or *calls for* their destruction. The author claims Big A has *predicted* their destruction, à la someone making a paralell with the collapse, not annhilation, of the USSR. I'm not sure I'm convinced, but I have no more proof Big A is belligerent than that he's not, and I've got to say, last time we were talking about this, the US media largely got it wrong (achem: WMDs). Iran may not be friendly, or our friend, or not-dangerous, but they may not be an imminent threat (and PS, they're perfectly within their international rights to develop international power, and there's no direct revealed evidence that they are making nuclear weapons, which they couldn't complete for 5-10 years in any case if we did have proof of it.) So: Read, and think about it.

And then post a comment on my blog for goodness' sakes! I know everyone out there (all two of you) don't already agree with me, right? Tell me where I'm wrong...


Becky T said...

The article's point was that Iran only held the Holocaust deniers conference to show that they have freedom of speech, when compared the Western world, where in some countries it is illegal to deny that the Holocaust happened. He points to the Danish cartoon of Mohammed as the sparking point for the current anti-Jewish/anti-Israel sentiment in Iran. I think it's just convenient that Iran can have freedom of speech on an issue that the vast majority of the Muslim world agrees on: they don't like Jews and Israel. I just see the Holocaust denial and anti-Jewish cartoons as punching your little sister because your big brother punched you - the Danish cartoon had nothing to do with Jews or Israel. I also don't really see it as a proof of Iran's policy of freedom of speech. I'm not saying that it should be okay to jail someone for denying the Holocaust, any more than it should be okay to jail someone for denying global warming or the chemical composition of DNA. However, I think it is important to recognize that since WWII, Western countries are particularly sensitive to the kind of hateful rhetoric that Ahmadinejad spews by the leaders of large countries, because that is exactly what caused the Holocaust. Denying (or disputing the vast mountain of evidence) that the Holocaust occurred with devastating consequences for European Jewry is to refuse to look through the lens of history at current events.

Even given the subtleties of translation from Arabic to whatever vernacular and the general misunderstanding between people who believe they stand on difference sides of an issue, I am not convinced that Ahmadinejad doesn't really say anything hateful about Jews or Israel, as Gowans (the article's author) suggests.

The article's other point is that anti-Jewish and anti-Israel are not the same thing. That's not exactly true and weaves back to the Holocaust denial. It is true that Israel exists as it is today because the Holocaust happened (although on a historical note, Jews were settling in what was effectively the 'wild west' of the Middle East as early as the late 1800's, in the hopes of creating a country for themselves there). Britain and others carved out a land for the Jews in the Middle East in part because they felt sorry for what happened in Europe in the 1940's. The location of the land was in part due to the Jewish communities that had already formed there. But, the very fact that the Holocaust happened is what made Jews feel more than ever like they needed to have that land for a Jewish State. Since Israel is a Jewish state, established in large part to be a safe-haven for Jews across the world, anti-Israel rhetoric is inherently anti-Jewish, when it calls for the destruction of the state of Israel.
As an aside, I'm not sure why so many people think it's not okay to have a national religion when Scotland, England, Sweden, Greece, etc. all have a national church (and generally speaking, a free, democratic society). Somehow, though, when it's a Jewish - not Christian - state, it's a problem (the same seems to be true for Turkey and it's Muslim state).

I will agree with Gowans and whoever else, though, when they say that Israel has used the specter of the Holocaust for too long to justify atrocious treatment of Palestinians. However, I am only one friend removed from two Americans in their early twenties who were murdered on a bus one December morning in 1995 in Jerusalem (the same bus I had been on at the same time, in the same place only a week before). Clearly, some of Israel's acts have been in retaliation for similarly atrocious acts by the Palestinians against Israelis. I would also remind people that the current 'borders' of Israel came about through wars that were instigated by the very Arab countries who decry those borders and were largely assumed because they were defensible against their violent neighbors. Finally, it's not exactly like the Palestinian refugees in neighboring Arab countries are treated like kings - they aren't even given citizenship! So, I see Iran and other Arab nations as a bit hypocritical, since they are clearly more interested in fueling and financing war against Israel than giving the Palestinians a peaceful place to live.

I think that if one doesn't like Israel's policies, one needs to be careful to say what they mean, just like I (as a particularly white Jew), can't go around making vague statements about black people (which I would never do, because I don't deny that their history of slavery has had a terrible and lasting impact). This goes back to my thoughts on divestment from Israel, which I wrote about in my blog awhile ago (
Oh, and I think that sure, the White House is probably painting a darker picture of both North Korea and Iran because it suits our glorious leaders' intentions. However, considering that Congress is now run by the Democrats and our military is stretched beyond the breaking point, I doubt that we'll actually be invading Iran or anyone else anytime soon. I think that on the military exploits of W, the chickens are finally coming home to roost.

J said...

Well said.

Do you really think the vast majority of the Muslim world agrees that they don't like Jews? 550 million of them? I don't claim to know -- but it would seem to be hard for you to, either. Certainly one gets that impression, but impressions aren't scientific polls. (Certainly most Muslim countries are, and I'd wager most Muslims are anti-Israel in response to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, and this hatred likely runs into anti-Semitism at times. I'd argue, though, that for many this anti-Israel-ness stems more from substantive concerns about the state policies of Israel than simple anti-Semitic bigotry or hatred. I may be wrong, but that's what I'd say.)

A point of clarification, however, about Gowans', or at least my point.

I didn't get the impression the Gowans was trying to say Big A isn't anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. I think he was trying to say he hasn't threatened anything like direct action against Israel. This is a fine line that I don't trust the US press enough to decipher -- but it's irrelevant to the point that I doubt Iran presently, or even a nuclear Iran, presents a credible threat to Israel and certainly not the US. Since Israel is (in violation of treaty) a nuclear power, it is self-evidently foolish at act against them in any way that can be easily construed as an act of war. Same goes double for the US. And a Holocaust denial conference is immature in response to the Danish cartoons in inherently the way you portray, but international pissing contests often are. Not that it makes it any better. Nevertheless, the USA media largely used it as another example of how Big A's a mad dog who poses an imminent danger; if it shows he's an infantile anti-Semitic, well, that's horrible, but not invasion-worthy.

As to the somewhat different issue of anti-Israel vs. anti-Jewish, I see your point, and it's easy to use the first to justify the second. And certainly calling for the destruction of Israel is. However, it seems a fine line between several close ideas, some held by anti-Semites and some by unbigoted genuinely concerned parties: a) decrying the original formation of Israel on the grounds that it expropriated a lot of land improperly after WWII and has consolidated a 50 year conflict. Quite certainly, the horrors of the Holocaust justified some great recompense, and a homeland seems a valid one. However, however Britain cut the swath that was Israel, under current international law and certainly morally it doesn't seem it was theirs to give. It was theirs to give simply by dint of the amount of power they and the allies wielded after the war -- which similarly led to the formation of Iraq despite its lack of coherency as a singular state. Even granting that there were Jewish settlers there, it seems to me the formation of Israel wasn't carried out in a proper way. NOW, this is no excuse to call for the dissolution or destruction of Israel, any more than pointing out that the American Revolution had much of its motivations in the problems of the taxed, landed gentry and that its formation didn't grant rights to women or minorities calls for the destruction of the US. It's a historical fact (and one which I'll admit I don't know enough about to well analyze) and trying to dissolve it is simply hateful. Perhaps it was formed in a moral and democratic manner, but it doesn't appear so to me, and querying this isn't anti-Israel or anti-Jewish, inherently. b) Israel as a bad actor. Many so-called anti-Israeli comments are this -- the long-held conflation of critiques of Israeli policy with being against the state or against Jews. I know you (Becky) don't countenance this being called anti-Israeli, since you dissent with many of their policies as well, but it is something often and easily conflated by less honest arguers. c) Israel as a religious state. My understanding of this is the critique that non-Jews don't have the same legal rights and protections as Jews do in Israel. I have read in the papers that this is correct in terms of certain government welfare and property rights and programs, and certain rights concerning public office, but I'm a little hazy here and could be wrong. Certainly, if (like the European countries you name) these rights are universal, any points under c) are groundless as far as statutory rights ("under-the-radar" discrimination would still be up for debate, though). Another point though -- England especially may have a national church, but it's an aggressively secular society, something not possible to say about Israel. But as I said, if the rights are really universal, than this point is groundless in terms of ennumerated rights.

I think you & I agree on the big picture, more or less, and I would say advocating getting rid of Israel is certainly anti-Jewish as well. But there are many other degrees of discomfort with the state of Israel that, I think, do not fall into anti-Jewish, and it's hard to know a priori where to draw the line.

Becky T said...

With respect to the Jewish character of Israel and the rights of non-Jews, I think there are problems. Certainly, Jews from the rest of the world can gain Israeli citizenship much more easily than non-Jews. This makes sense, if the purpose of the Jewish State's existence is to be a place of refuge for Jews in the diaspora. This has led to a lot of good for African (especially Ethiopian) and Russian Jews, who had the ability to leave desperate situations in their home countries and start fresh in Israel. Obviously, maintenance of a Jewish majority and these types of 'asylum' rights for Jews in Israel is important to world Jewry. So, I think it's somewhat understandable that if Israel loses it's Jewish majority (~80% as of 2003), it no longer functions as it was intended. I guess theoretically if there were no possible threat that Jews may be persecuted in any other place in the world ever again, it would no longer be necessary for Israel to try to maintain the demographics of the country.

But the attempt to maintain a Jewish character of Israeli demographics is problematic. For instance, Palestinians with (generally Palestinian/Arab) Israeli spouses or families are not allowed to live in Israel or become citizens, if they don't/aren't already. I don't know how many families this effects, but I'm sure that recent High Court decision did nothing to improve relations between the two groups and contributes to the oppression and suffering of the Palestinian people (ironically, if I remember correctly, in Hebrew there's an interpretation of the word 'suffering' used in the story of Passover as 'separation of husband and wife').

However, as far as I know, Arab Israelis are allowed to hold office, vote, etc., just as any other Israeli. I think that some of the marriage and other laws are biased by Jewish law, although much less than one might think (eg, although gay marriage is not performed there, those performed elsewhere are upheld and civil unions are performed). In fact, all the signs in the country are in Hebrew, Arabic and English, despite the crusade required to make Hebrew the vernacular of the country at its inception.

Israel is also a much more secular society that it seems from the outside (kind of like America). Based on a 2003 article I skimmed (, about half of the Jews in Israel are secular and my experience is that most only practice major Jewish holidays much the way most secular Americans celebrate Christmas. It looks like less than 20% of Israeli Jews are stringently observant (Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox). So, while that 20% seems to have a very strong political hold on the country, a lot of the country is not particularly religious. In fact, there is not a small amount of animosity between the religious Jews and secular Jews in Israel, as well. When I was living there, that struggle was very apparent after the assassination of Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin. A lot of secular Jews would like to concede land to the Palestinians and generally speaking the Orthodox Jews would rather die than give up the 'holy' land.

I think that a lot of the injustices to non-Jewish Israelis is based in the Palestinian problem, and until the Palestinians have their own country and a stable relationship with Israel (and themselves, for that matter), basic rights will continue to be violated. As much as I'd like there to be an easy answer (let's all just not hate or fight each other anymore), I don't think I can expect (as a cynic) that the Israeli government is going to start accepting hundreds of Palestinians into the country with open arms. This leads, necessarily, to at least some basic inequalities between Jewish and non-Jewish Israelis.