What Should We Make of Iranian Anti-Semitism?
Published on: June 29, 2012
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  • Klassis

    A very well-written piece.

  • doc feelgood

    Sorry to tell but you could be more or less as biased as any constructed personality emotionally identified to ethnocentric structures (ethnic/religious affiliation) which means, according to recent studies on structural value development done by the psychology professor Don Beck, partaking similar values as 70 to 80% of mankind does.

    Comparatively speaking, the german philosopher Jürgen Habermas, a light of Reason in this very dark age, corresponds only to 0.01 %s of world population. This is to say where we, as a specie, are localized on the evolutionary scale of cultural development, which means still babies.

    Then it is not a big surprise that the world is so fragmented and that we still have irrational antisemitism still alive as much as so much magical/mythical thinking left, like let us say, as an example, african witch doctors believing albino africans, because of their “lack” of skin pigmentation (the major identity norm in that part of the world) have some magical powers and therefore should be killed for the sake of some “healing” benefit.

    That sort of magical thinking and its inherent capacity to project evil properties on others than my clan (this is a cornerstone in level of ego strength development and its corresponding defenses in psychoanalytical theory) , is structurally very similar too what that unfortunate person in power says. In other words, mainly a delirium according too high criteria on how highly rational thinking is, but have some powerful binding power of hypnotic character on people belonging to the same value structure very much like the Goebbels propaganda´s “skillful” means in nazi Germany. This vicious man used to say: “If you repeat a lie every day to people, it soon becomes a non-arguable truth”.

    So the only solution to this rampant provincial racism or any ethnocentrically based ideology is, this only an inner revolution as the spiritually oriented philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti used to tell, more psychological and non-mythically based spiritual development, which means more existentially, mystically or personally experiencing based spirituality.


  • Martin Winkler

    American Jewish congress should take out a full page in N.Y. Times chastising the chairman of this anti drug conference for permitting this antisemitic, hateful and incredible hostile false claims made by this Iranian lunatic. The Iranians have an ugly habit of attacking Jews and Zionism in a most vile manner whenever they have a chance. A chairman has a duty to stop a hateful rant of any kind and channel the discussion to the matter at hand.

  • Dubi Yarden

    Good essay, but there is another episodic tendency in the Islamic faith which may not fit the author’s definition of anti-Semitism per se but is a distinction-without-a-difference: “convert or die” movements. The family of Maimonides fled Spain in the 12th c. because of one such set of rulers, and may have undergone forced conversion in Morocco. Maimonides, from Egypt, famously wrote a letter to the Jews of Yemen facing a similar catastrophe. The history of the Jews of Iran is replete with massacres and forced conversions. Mussolini made the trains run on time; turkeys may be forgiven for not thanking people for fattening them 11 months of the year.

  • WigWag

    Adam’s description in his book “Jewcentricity” of Islamic anti-Semitism and how it was imported from Europe in recent times is highly informative. Another book which provides a rich account of this dreary reality is Paul Berman’s “The Flight of the Intellectuals.” (http://www.amazon.com/The-Flight-Intellectuals-Paul-Berman/dp/1933633514)

    Berman’s book delves deeply into the Muslim Brotherhood’s anti -Semitic roots in fascist Europe and its close historical ties with the Nazis. Given the Brotherhood’s ascendance in Egypt and Gaza and to a lesser extent in the West Bank and Jordan, this is a timely subject well worth exploring.

    Berman’s book deals indirectly with another question posed by Adam Garfinkle in this post. Our host says,

    “It has struck me in recent years how reluctant supposedly serious analysts are to credit the significance of the Iranian regime’s anti-Semitism in their assessment of the dangers inherent in the Iranian nuclear program…So it is frankly astonishing to me that educated people in the West and elsewhere, a mere seventy years after a cataclysmic war that was decisively shaped if not begun by anti-Semitic madness, can blithely dismiss the role that anti-Semitism can play in political life both domestic and international. The only explanations I can think of for such blindness are: first, a breathtaking degree of historical ignorance; second, an absurd conceit insisting that our times are fundamentally different from those times; third, a proclivity to think of Jewish blood as cheap; and fourth, something else I just can’t get my head around.”

    In “Jewcentricity” our host admonishes us not to exaggerate; not every negative characterization of individual Jews or the Jewish people rises to the level of anti-Semitism.

    I wonder how much of the reluctance to understand Israel’s position on the part of American opinion makers he believes is due to actual anti-Semitism. In “Jewcentricity” he deals with some of the famous cases; Mearsheimer and Walt, Chomsky, etc.) Most of those cases involve what the commentators have to say about Israel’s founding and its relationship with the Palestinians. I wonder if Adam thinks that certain American commentators who refuse to take Israel’s concerns vis a vis Iran seriously might be motivated by actual animus towards Jews. Robert Wright comes to mind; so do M.J. Rosenberg and Trita Parsi. Andrew Sullivan also presents an interesting case; after all, as opposed as he is to the sacred rite that welcomes infant boys into the Jewish world (circumcision) how far does he really need to travel to believe that Jews have no right to a nation of their own. If they have no right to a nation, why worry if that nation has its existence threatened?

    I don’t expect Adam to respond; as far as I can tell, he’s not the type to get involved with hurling stink bombs; but it’s hard not to wonder what he thinks.

    This is all connected to Berman’s book because Berman deals with an analogous subject; the willingness of intellectual elites like Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash to make excuses for European Islamic extremists while heaping vitriol on the likes of victims of Islamic extremism like Ayan Hirsi Ali. Despite the fact that it was Hirsi-Ali who suffered genital mutilation and was forced into an arranged marriage; it is she who the authors concluded was a “fundamentalist” of the Enlightenment variety. Even after her close friend and collaborator, Theo Van Gogh was murdered on a Dutch Street by an Islamic extremist who threatened that Hirsi-Ali was next, Buruma and Garton-Ash concluded that it was Hirsi-Ali who deserved ridicule.

    What I am wondering is whether Adam sees any connection at all between what motivates educated people in the West to blithely dismiss anti-Semitism and the motivation of educated Westerners to excoriate the likes of Hirsi-Ali, while at the same time defending the Muslim Brotherhood. It seems to me that this is a question that Adam could answer without getting into a stink bomb fight; it would be fascinating to get his take on it.

    Getting back to “Jewcentricity” for a moment; in his book Adam admonishes us not to assume too quickly that Jewish critics of Israel are “self-hating.” Some may be, some may not be.

    But I can’t get over the feeling that secular defenders of multiculturalism have come to so despise the Enlightenment values that provide them the option to say whatever they want without fear of retribution that they can no longer distinguish right from wrong. Perhaps they literally hate the values that they themselves once championed. That’s why they never miss a chance to make excuses for Islamic extremism, dismiss any threat from Iran as a fantasy and downplay the anti-Semitism of the Muslim Brotherhood and that’s why they view the likes of Hirsi-Ali with such utter contempt.

  • Adam Garfinkle


    You have raised several difficult and sensitive subjects. I do not propose to reply to all of them in full in this space. Just a few small-scale comments, first, and then I will discuss some of your questions.

    It’s not just the Muslim Brotherhood that was influenced by European fascism and its anti-Semitic elements. The Baath Party was too. There is an excellent book about this by a woman whose last name is Simon– sorry, but I forget the rest of the citation. This is not very surprising when you think about it. Modern Arab nationalism arose in contradistinction to British and French colonialism, so according to the law that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, the Arabs tended to liked first the Nazis and then the Russian Communists. Both to differing degrees were anti-Semitic, and that fit right into the folk–religious stereotypes of the culture. The rest is, as they say, history.

    You raise several names in your post, some Jewish and some not, wondering whether they are anti-Semitic or self hating Jews. You are right to sense that I do not like to discuss specific cases, especially in public. There are several reasons for this. One is that it’s very difficult to ascertain someone’s motives. If they are clinically ill with a form of bigotry, short of actually getting them on a psychiatric couch it is not possible to know what makes them tick. These kinds of things invariably turn into a “he said/she said” pointless cauldron of vitria.

    More important, I think, accusations made by Jews that others are anti-Semitic or self hating come far too easily these days. They are epithets far too often thrown at anyone with whom a political disagreement exists. This banalizes the term. When an old friend of mine accused Thomas Friedman of being anti-Semitic because he dared disagree with something AIPAC said, the accuser being a Red Diaper baby who probably could not figure out what to do in a synagogue if his life depended on it, that was really too much––and this sort of thing happens way too often.

    And it is not harmless to throw around such epithets and be wrong. I remember when I was in undergraduate school at the University of Pennsylvania having countless and endless debates––really shouting matches––with some young black students. This was in the day, don’t forget, when black power was just starting its career. And these black friends of mine insisted that all white people were racists. Since I grew up in segregation, and most of these people had no experience of it, I knew who racists were, and I therefore knew I was not one of them. But I will tell you that being called a racist over and over again is such an unpleasant experience that it inclines ever so slightly to turn you into one. The same goes for inaccurate accusations about anti-Semitism. There is a price to be paid for emotional indulgences, always.

    Finally on this point, accusing other people of being anti-Semitic or being self hating sometimes functions as a way to ignore their arguments. It is an ad hominem approach to disagreements, and so is always wrong. Disparaging someone else’s motives does not touch their arguments; they are still there to be refuted. For all these reasons I counsel extreme caution against too easily raising and vocalizing such accusations.

    Let me now try to answer your question about the Western intellectual embrace of multiculturalism. Again, there are all sorts of motives one can imagine for why people embrace such views, leading them sometimes to cut the Muslim Brotherhood a break while excoriating people like Hirsi Ali. I think in general that this attitude has very little if anything to do with anti-Semitism. I think it mostly has to do with a kind of intellectual masochism, especially among Europeans, who cherish their feelings of guilt toward what European colonialism did to noble savages in general, of which the Arabs are a particularly picturesque example and always have been. The British excel at this. For a few years after the founding of the State of Israel many Europeans indulged a similar attitude toward Israelis, if not Jews in general. But this only works in relation to the underdog, so Israel and the Jews had to pay the price for success In forfeiting the sympathy of such victimcentric European types.

    I admire Ms. Hirsi Ali in many respects, and it is abominable for European noble savage types to excoriate her just because she believes in the mainstream values, or what used to be the mainstream values, of Western civilization that they now loathe as they swim in their broth of postmodern pseudo-existentialist heroism. On the other hand, she poses a danger of misleading people to think that the solution for the problems of the Muslim world is for all the Muslims to become more like Westerners, like she did. That is not going to happen. Arab and other Muslim societies will become more pluralistic and more tolerant as they develop the indigenous cultural values organic to their own history. To many impatient and naïvely ideological people she represents a shortcut that doesn’t actually exist. That’s not her fault, of course, but sometimes she doesn’t seem aware of how she is being understood and used.

    And last for now, how much misunderstanding, non-understanding, or lack of sympathy for Israeli views in the West can be accounted for by anti-Semitism? I don’t know the answer to that question, and I don’t think it’s even possible to find an answer to that question. My guess is that in Europe these days the answer is some, or even a fair bit. In the United States, I think it is very small. But I think there is something else going on, perhaps, that is rarely mentioned and is hard to explain. But I will give it a try.

    I can imagine that there are people in virtually every professional field who are privately uncomfortable with the prominence of Jews in those fields. That doesn’t make such a person an anti-Semite, but it might incline some people to be resentful enough to take an opposite view just for the sake of doing so. Of course this is infantile, because Jews in any given field are not monolithic with regard to their views on anything. But it is a natural human reaction to feeling status crowded in one’s chosen line of work, and I suspect that most people who do this are not aware of their own motives. I think I have seen cases up close of this phenomenon in action, but of course I would never go into details because, as with bona fide anti-Semitism, there is no way to prove any given case. As I have suggested, there is no use in throwing half bricks; you can throw a half brick about twice as far as a whole brick, but a half brick is not very useful for building anything. I take it you get the point, WigWag.

    Now last, what’s the connection between the left-wing Western lovers of maximum feasible multiculturalism and anti-Semites, and what does it have to do with the Enlightenment? Needless to say, this is a complicated question. To answer it you have to first unpack the question. I do not have time or space to do this right now, but suffice it to say that the answer revolves around the fact that Jews have an ambiguous relationship to the Enlightenment. Judaism is a foundational faith, and the Enlightenment supplies the foundational plinth of classical Western civilization. Obviously, there is overlap here since Jewish civilization and Hellenic civilization combine to create what we think of as the West. But the overlap is not complete and what’s more, the Enlightenment introduced concepts of primordial individualism that have constituted the greatest challenge to rabbinic Judaism in the past three centuries. I talk about this in the book, as you probably remember. Jews who live within the ambit of rabbinic Judaism thus respect Enlightenment values (considering the alternative) but also appreciate, for parochial reasons, the spirit beneath multicultural toleration. Jews who exclude themselves from that ambit might be defenders of Enlightenment values, or they might be defenders of radical postmodern forms of multiculturalism. This enables some anti-Semites to hate Jews who are traditional and other anti-Semites to hate Jews who are not. It reminds me of the plight of Jews in the Marxian lens– the Jews were the capitalists, supposedly, exploiting the poor, even though the vast majority of Jews were exploited poor people. In the eyes of a determined anti-Semite, you just can’t win.

    So yes, anti-Enlightenment animus and anti-Semitism sometimes commingle, but they need not. It depends on cases. It depends on the particulars. It seems to me not very useful to try to devise some kind of cover-all theory to explain everything.

  • WigWag

    Thank you very much, Adam, for your very thought provoking response to my comment. It is a treat for an interested lay person like me to have had the opportunity to engage with a true expert such as you and I am grateful for the opportunity; so thank you again.

    I have been thinking about the points you made pertaining to anti-Semitism and I think you are right; far too often it is the lazy person’s way out to avoid engaging in a substantive debate. I also agree that it is usually difficult to know what is in a person’s heart so the accusation itself is frequently unprovable and thus a waste of time.

    But I think that there may be a more legitimate reason why the term is bandied about even when it is technically inaccurate. Some points of view pertaining to Jews and Israel may not actually anti-Semitic but may still be heinous. Let me give you an example from a field that I am familiar with. A physician is more often than not unable to diagnose a patient’s condition based on a mere description of their symptoms. A patient who come in complaining of severe pain in the lower back may be suffering from any number of disorders; some serious some mild and some might even be almost inconsequential to their overall health.

    Just as many very different disease have very similar symptoms, it seems to me that different political views can arise from many different motivation and still look alike to a viewer.

    To return to your original thesis; it is rather remarkable that less than a century after the Holocaust and World War II that otherwise intelligent observers could be so cavalier about the pertinence of anti-Semitism to the conflict between Iran and Israel. Those cavalier observers may be guilty of anti-Semitism or they may be guilty of sheer stupidity but it is not surprising that in this case stupidity and actual bigotry look very much alike.

    Let me mention one final analogy; a person who deliberately strikes his opponent with a car has committed a heinous act; he is highly culpable. A person who happens to strike his opponent with a car accidentally because he was texting on his I Phone while driving has also committed a heinous act; he too is culpable although somewhat less so than the person who deliberately struck his opponent.

    However if the person who struck his opponent with his car while texting was a police officer who has seen numerous times how severe the consequences of driving while texting can be, then we have a special situation where the culpability of the criminally negligent driver begins to approach the culpability of the driver who behaved with aforethought.

    I don’t think it’s surprising when Jews mistake the stupidity of highly educated people who dismiss Iranian anti-Semitism as pertinent for actual animosity; it’s entirely understandable. Nor do I think that experts who dismiss the pertinence of Iranian anti-Semitism are significantly less culpable because it is gross stupidity rather than actual animosity that motivates them.

    One last very small point, I’m no expert on Arab history. Everything I know about the subject comes from reading your book, Berman’s book, a few books by Bernard Lewis and Lawrence’s “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”. Still I was a little surprised when you said,

    “Modern Arab nationalism arose in contradistinction to British and French colonialism.”

    I would have thought that Ottoman colonialism might have also had alot to do with it.

    Anyway thank you again for you very informative response to my question and for your fascinating blog (and book).

  • John Davies

    > The only explanations I can think of for such blindness are: first, a breathtaking degree of historical ignorance; second, an absurd conceit insisting that our times are fundamentally different from those times; third, a proclivity to think of Jewish blood as cheap; and fourth, something else I just can’t get my head around.

    Because liars believe everyone else is lying and panderers believe everyone else is pandering. Only someone who values the truth believe that people say what they mean, no matter how abhorrent.

  • Billy

    Can anyone provide the whole text of this “antisemitic” speech at the UN conference? Searched for hours but only find “snippets” quoted as antisemitic.

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