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Name: Antony Loewenstein
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Saturday, June 04, 2005

Dangerous precedent

Is the editor-in-chief of Le Monde anti-Semitic? A French court thinks so. A June 2002 article suggested that Israel treated the Palestinians with disdain. One of the offending paragraphs:

"The Jews of Israel, descendants of an apartheid named the ghetto, ghettoize the Palestinians. The Jews who were humiliated, scorned and persecuted humiliate, scorn and persecute the Palestinians. The Jews who were the victims of a pitiless order impose their pitiless order on the Palestinians. The Jews, scapegoats for every wrong, make scapegoats of Arafat and the Palestinian Authority."

The court found the "the paper guilty of 'racial defamation' against Israel and the Jewish people." The attorney representing the paper warned that the decision was ominous for fair comment: "The article was a critique of a policy, of [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's policy, it wasn't a racial criticism," lawyer Catherine Cohen said. "The remarks were taken out of context; the plaintiffs argued that they were against Jews, but a few paragraphs later, the piece says that all occupiers behave the same way. This is a very serious matter for intellectuals, for commentators who express their point of view on a very complex issue."

I agree. Slamming all Jews as being responsible for Ariel Sharon's policies is inappropriate (though the number of Jews who openly oppose the Israeli leader's oppressive policies is far and few between) but suggesting that Israeli government policy is aggressive, racist and shows a singular disdain and ignorance of Jewish history is both legitimate and necessary. The oppressed has sadly become the oppressor.

Free speech has been dealt a blow.


Blogger Shay said...

Very good points were made but, assuming that we have the translation and the context correct, the wording was so clumsy that it could easily be taken as a racist rant. Saying "The Jews of Israel" seems to me to make an assumption that all Jews in Israel support the occupation in all its brutality, which is clearly not true. The government of Israel? No argument here.

Of course the general Jewish sensitivity to such writing can be extreme. For example, I would not be personally offended if someone said "Australia locks up innocent people in barbaric conditions in concentration camps", as long as there was no suggestion made that all Australians supported this position. But mention any point of disagreement with Israeli government policy (as a journalist, politician or public figure of any kind), particularly as forthrightly as this article did, and you will be branded anti-Semitic by the Zionist lobby, and risk having your career ruined by the considerable political clout they have.

I don't suggest going easy on the crimes of Israel, but care should be taken to point out that it is the government of Israel you are criticizing - supported by many of its people and many Zionists worldwide, certainly, but not universally. They have used their own experience of horror to inflict horror on others for too long and this can only be ended by pressure placed on Israel by educating the world about what they are up to. The Jewish people can achieve this, but will not be sympathetic if they are alienated by sloppy criticism which holds them all personally responsible.

(by the way, I'm not suggesting that I disagree with Le Monde's right to publish the article, I just don't agree with the way it was written)

Sunday, June 05, 2005 1:32:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you think about Orianna Falacci's being brought up on blasphemy charges in Italy?

Sunday, June 05, 2005 10:04:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and closer to home, what do you think about the blasphemy trial against Catch the Fire, in which the defendant wasn't even allowed to enter passages from the Koran into evidence?

Sunday, June 05, 2005 10:13:00 am  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

One needs to be careful, to be sure. Talking about "Jews" as one homogenous group is not what we should be aiming for, but talking about Israeli govt actions is a different story.
As for Orianna Falacci being brought up on blasphemy? Ludicrous. Jesus, are our tin govts incapable of taking criticism? In Italy, the vast majority of citizens are against the war, not just Fallacci. Charging people for blasphemy, especially those against the Iraq war, seems petty and rather pathetic.

Sunday, June 05, 2005 10:30:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right, but I think you're missing the point...Fallaci is pro-war, and got in trouble for raising uncomfortable home-truths about Islam, jsut as that preacher in Victoria did.

Sunday, June 05, 2005 12:30:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then again, it wouldn't be at all like you to miss the point.

Sunday, June 05, 2005 1:08:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

My mistake (thanks for the insult, sunshine.)
As ever, feel like doing anything other than throwing stones from the sidelines? No, didn't think so. Suits your type better to stay in the shadows...

Sunday, June 05, 2005 5:46:00 pm  

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