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Dialogue Concerning Anti-Semitism in Z and in the Left


Michael Albert was a guest on an upper NY State talk radio show with host Jeremy Anderson. Jeremy accused Z of anti-semitism regarding publication of an article some years back. Subsequent E-Mail exchange led to this public ZNet forum exchange. Mitchell is a ZNet users who contributed, Sysop is Albert, and Nobody (that’s his user id) is Anderson.

 

Message from Jeremy Anderson (online name = Nobody) to begin the exchange.

 

Thank you for the invitation to either continue or restart our recent dialogue here in a Z forum. I suppose I shall do a little of both, but, for the benefit of others, I will recap a bit first.

 

This discussion started when you were a guest on my radio show, and I took that opportunity to read you a letter I had written to Z in 1993, which Z had neither published nor otherwise responded to.

 

The letter began:

 

"In your July/August issue, Edward Herman asserts that the ‘exterminaiton of peoples standing in the way of God’s chosen’ has been a ‘tradition in treating enemies, starting with Moses’ that the Jews have kept ‘well preserved’ to the recent day (as exemplified by, among others, the heads of Israel’s two main political parties). This is naked anti-semitism."

 

The letter ended:

 

"So I ask you, is Edward Herman still associated with Z Magazine, and if so, why? Do you think that being a leftist means embracing prejudice more fervently than the establishment you decry?

 

Tolerance for anti-semitism is the shame of the left. Z should apologize, and Herman should be bounced."

 

So far, neither one of us has been able to locate a copy of the original Herman article, though I will freely stipulate that the phrases above were embedded in a piece that was almost certainly more innocuous. But I would not care if they had been embedded in his grandmother’s recipe for chicken soup. They are still vile and should not have been published. You do not, of course, see it that way.

 

So let me start by looking more closely at Heman’s phrases. In the first place, they aren’t true. The Jewish people plainly and simply do not have a tradition of exterminaion. As I said in my letter to Z:

 

"While it’s true that the Bible approvingly records horrific massacres committed by the Israelites — as was common practice at that time — after the Biblical period, the Jews abandoned this form of conduct while the rest of the world carried it on. The Jews were not the ones who depopulated North and South America, committed the Holocaust or threatened to drive Israel into the sea." The Jews didn’t "exterminate" anyone during the diaspora period and, whateve else Israel may be guilty of, it isn’t exterminating the Palestinians now.

 

I would have thought that the obvious falsehood of Herman’s statement would have counted for something, but you have offered up a couple of defenses, writing at one point, "He is talking about a tradition of justifying atrocity in a particular manner." There are two points to be made about this defense. First, you are making it up out of whole cloth. Herman doesnt say what you say he says. Second, since there is no Jewish "tradition" of "extermination," there could not possibly be a Jewish tradition of justifying such a policy on any grounds. If you believe that there is such a tradition (Herman used the word "extermination" not "atrocity" so for clarity, if nothing else, let’s stick to what he said), would you be kind enough to identify where you see it?

 

At another point you wrote, "Herman indicates an elite which uses a certain kind of rationale to substantiate its misdeeds." I do not know exactly what you meant by this. Herman was clearly talking about a "tradition" stretching from the present back to antiquity. Would you be kind enough to identify the "misdeeds" (exterminaitons) which you think have been pepetrated by Jewish elites through the centuries? Surely there have been Jews involved with the ruling classes in one capacity or another in many times and places. But if they committed "misdeeds," I hardly see any way in which their actions could be called a Jewish traditon. If, on the other hand, you are suggesting (in Herman’s name) that Jewish elites have been rationalizing, manipulating, etc. in pursuit of objectives which somehow are Jewish, then you’re making essentially the same case as is made in "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," merely substituting the word "elites" for "elders."

 

I’ll wait for your clarification, but in the meantime, I must point out that your defense of Herman might easily be seen as no less anti-semitic than his original statement. It is little wonder, therefore, that you report that you (and Noam Chomsky} have sometimes been called a self-hating Jew, in which regard you offered up this analogy: "Think for a minute of how some people would react to my commentaries about the U.S., and presumably some of yours as well. I (you) must be a ‘self-hating American.’ I must have some kind of deep streak of hatred coloring my perceptions and causing me to attach myself to irrational claims about the U.S. and so on. This parallels the logic of those who dismiss strong critics of Israel. It doesn’t prove the latter are wrong by analogy, but it ought to be food for thought."

 

Okay, let’s think about it then. If somebody accuses me of being un-American, as has happened in my life (especially during my opposition to the Vietnam war), I have no trouble answering that I believe I am acting within the best traditions of America, loyal to Ameica’s highest ideals of freedom, democracy and equal rights for all. Others may agree or disagree, but I have no problem engaging in that discussion from a positive point of view, by defining what America means to me and what it means to me to be a good American. I have never met a leftist who couldn’t do the same thing.

 

I think if there were really such an apt parallel between being called a self-hating American and a self-hating Jew (and I think they are actually very different phenomena), then people accused of being self-hating Jews would be able to make the kinds of positive declarations people accused of being un-American can make. And it was just such a positive discussion I tried to have with Noam Chomsky when he was a guest on my show. But when I asked him what it meant to him to be a good Jew, he refused to answer saying (this is verbatim, I checked the tape), "I don’t think it’s anybody’s business but my own." As I said to you on the air, I regard his refusal to discuss this as unfortunate. But that doesn’t mean that the same question (and others) can’t be directed toward you.

 

What does it mean to you to be a good Jew? What do you think Judaism is? Why do you think the Jews have been atacked so often? And last, but not least, what do you think anti-semitism is?

 

 Jeremy Alderson

 

 

 

Reply from Michael Albert:

 

> Thank you for the invitation to either continue or restart our recent dialogue here in a Z forum. I suppose I shall do a little of both, but, for the benefit of others, I will recap a bit first.

 

Welcome. I hope you will partake of the forums more widely, as well. Updating our discussion will help people partake, I think…

 

I apologize at the outset for the fact that this post is bound to be quite long, bringing everyone up to date, as it does, on our exchanges, and involving some complicated materials.

 

> This discussion started when you were a guest on my radio show, and I took that opportunity to read you a letter I had written to Z in 1993, which Z had neither published nor otherwise responded to.

 

Correct. But was it 1993? July Aug 1993 is out of stock which may explain my inability to find the piece. And our online archive doesn’t go back that far. Maybe someone out there will find the piece and quote in full for us. I found a three part series by Ed on Israel, the Palestinians, etc. in may, june, and july-aug 1994, which I highly recommend, but I haven’t found the article you must have been refering to, even yet.

 

> The letter began:

 

> "In your July/August issue, Edward Herman asserts that the ‘exterminaiton of peoples standing in the way of God’s chosen’ has been a ‘tradition in treating enemies, starting with Moses’ that the Jews have kept ‘well preserved’ to the recent day (as exemplified by, among others, the heads of Israel’s two main political parties). This is naked anti-semitism."

 

Yep. That is what you wrote. The double quotes indicate content from your letter. The single quotes are around words taken directly from Ed, I presume. The extra words, I assume again, are your paraphrase or interpretation of additional words Ed wrote which are not themselves, however, quoted.

 

> The letter ended:

 

> "So I ask you, is Edward Herman still associated with Z Magazine, and if so, why? Do you think that being a leftist means embracing prejudice more fervently than the establishment you decry?

 

> Tolerance for anti-semitism is the shame of the left. Z should apologize, and Herman should be bounced."

 

Yes, that is how you ended.

 

But in between, we might note, you had quite a lot of commentary railing at Ed via a number of analogies meant to demonstrate just how vile the phrases you quoted were.

 

Here is part of what I wrote back to you, when you sent me the letter anew, after I was on your show…

 

—What the material you quoted, without full text, says to me, however, is that the article most likely argues that Israel’s enemies have been attacked using the pretext that they stand in the way of "god’s chosen" — that is, the phrase God’s Chosen isn’t Herman’s way of referring to Jews or citizens of Israel, but is, instead, that of those alibing the behavior via the "God on our Side" rationale–the leaders of Israel, and, in many instances, of various constituencies and parties within Israel. This to me is a statement that is checkable against the historical record. Doing so would reveal Ed was on strong ground, assuming I have read him properly, I believe.

 

—Herman also apparently argues, (I don’t know for sure as you don’t have much quoted text in your letter), that this horrible rationale (typical also of many others, such as our own government, in its own variant) is still being employed in Israel, for example, by the heads of the two parties now. This too is just a claim about facts, which can be checked, and which, if checked, I am confident, would bear him out again.

 

—I have to say I would predict these claims to be true, based on general knowledge of statecraft, religion, etc. (not general anti-Semitism, however). I would also predict that it has been the "tradition" for rationalizing such ventures in the past, and am confident Ed’s claims to that effect are truthful, again. So as far as I can see, the little bit that you quoted is likely substantiated by evidence in the article and in history, and certainly true–unless it means something dramatically different than I take from your fragmentary quotes. For this one would need the whole article, presumably.

 

—Out of the phrases, which, in isolation, seem to me accurate and to say nothing about Judaism or Jews per se, you deduce that someone who has devoted decades to helping and fighting for social change, sometimes at risk, and who has evidenced not a whit of racist or anti-Semitic inclination in the whole time, to my knowledge, is horribly anti-Semitic and should be precluded from publishing in Z.

 

—I think that is a bit much….to say the least."

 

…so ends the section of my email reply to you.

 

> So far, neither one of us has been able to locate a copy of the original Herman article, though I will freely stipulate that the phrases above were embedded in a piece that was almost certainly more innocuous. But I would not care if they had been embedded in his grandmother’s recipe for chicken soup. They are still vile and should not have been published. You do not, of course, see it that way.

 

Not at all. But you are certainly being very clear about it, which helps. The phrases, in and of themselves, you say, are vile. Well, no, I disagree.

 

And in fact, while I do think whole articles are often quite important for understanding single paragraphs, I find it overwhelmingly probable that had even just the whole paragraph with the phrases you quote, been quoted, there would be no problem at all to discuss.

 

> So let me start by looking more closely at Herman’s phrases. In the first place, they aren’t true. The Jewish people plainly and simply do not have a tradition of extermination. …

 

The phrases aren’t true as you read and interpret them — I agree. But I don’t accept your reading (for example, that they are about the Jewish People’s inclinations or traditions as Jews as you imply, as Ed’s intent or meaning or even hidden assumption, based on the context of 20 years of knowing him and all his writings, but, more, I doubt overwhelmingly that it is a credible reading, a plausible one, even on the basis of the one article, and likely even on the basis of the single paragraph where the phrases appear, should someone be able to turn that up.

 

This was conveyed in my email reply to you, quoted above…in extention of which, here, for example, is what I figure Ed said, more or less, based on your rendition only –

 

I expect that Ed argued (not asserted) that a ‘tradition in treating enemies, starting with Moses’ has been the ‘extermination of peoples standing in the way of God’s chosen’ and that this has been ‘well preserved’ into the present (as exemplified by, among others, the heads of Israel‘s two main political parties, who he no doubt quoted.

 

Same phrases. Who is doing the killing here? Not the Jewish people per se (any more than the American people were killers, per se, in Vietnam), but a state, quite clearly, I think. Who uses the phrase "god’s Chosen" and why? Again, clearly, the state, the war making institution, to justify its behavior in quashing enemies. To me it is all predictable and virtually a truism manifested in a particular instance. States rarely claim, to my knowledge, that God was on the side of their opponents. So, reading your phrases at the time, I suspect I went back to the article and found nothing to justify your assault on Ed or us. I bet also that we got other letters, and that one or more were published, in lieu of yours. But that’s hypothesis…

 

But I will go futher. I don’t have any problem with someone looking at the history of an ideology or religion and seeking to discern patterns of social choice, or moral outlook, etc., within it, if it is done carefully and soberly, with some sensible purpose — not a racist one. And I think if that is done with most, perhaps all religious heritages, regrettably, there is much that is bad to be unearthed… I doubt, however, that Ed was doing that at the time. Though he may have been, for some reason.

 

> I would have thought that the obvious falsehood of Herman’s statement would have counted for something, but you have offered up a couple of defenses, writing at one point, "He is talking about a tradition of justifying atrocity in a particular manner." There are two points to be made about this defense. First, you are making it up out of whole cloth. Herman doesnt say what you say he says.

 

Excuse me. So far, Herman says almost nothing. About 15 words or so. You and I are doing all the talking. What he said is missing, so far. I think it would be an excellent turn for us to be doing the talking entirely, as a matter of fact, since Ed isn’t available here to defend himself and I am not his keeper. More, since I think you would probably take issue with me on various points re anti-semitism it would be a much easlier and less convoluted way to get at the heart of things.

 

> Second, since there is no Jewish "tradition" of "extermination," there could not possibly be a Jewish tradition of justifying such a policy on any grounds.

 

"Jewish tradition." I don’t remember seeing that phrase. Is there a tradition of the state of Israel, and, in general, the elites of the nation, when fighting with enemies claiming for justification high moral ground of the sort Herman indicates? I would be absolutely shocked if it weren’t the case. And whether the answer is yes (as Herman claims and I anticipate, for Israel as for every state) or no (as you might claim) is really beside the point. To argue this is not to be anti-semitic. It is to make a case about a nation-state and its practices and rationales, not about a religion or, even more, a set of people who share a religion.

 

In fact, again, I would go further and say that one could even make such claims about a religion or culture or ideology, without being irrational and racist, and they would be subject to discussion and debate.

 

And could someone who is anti semitic make the argument either about the state or about ideas and cultures (more likely) and have an anti-semitic agenda? Yes, of course — though most often anti-semites are a good deal more blunt, I think. But that isn’t Ed, or me, or Z.

 

> If you believe that there is such a tradition (Herman used the word "extermination" not "atrocity" so for clarity, if nothing else, let’s stick to what he said), would you be kind enough to identify where you see it?

 

But you never came close to sticking to what he said, is my guess. We don’t have what we said. And actually, Herman did not use the word extermination, per se, even in your quote. But, again, I think it would be more instructive not to discuss Ed, but, instead, to discuss substantive issues we may differ on.

 

> At another point you wrote, "Herman indicates an elite which uses a certain kind of rationale to substantiate its misdeeds." I do not know exactly what you meant by this.

 

If I said that I meant individuals do not exterminate opposition. They do not wage war, as individuals. War is a collective endeavor. War is done collectively, and in virtually every instance I am aware of, under the auspices of elite decision makers with their own vested interests propelling the decisions and generally quite at odds with the interests of those carrying out the decisions.

 

> Herman was clearly talking about a "tradition" stretching from the present back to antiquity.

 

He wasn’t clearly doing anything in what you offered. It would be clear if we had the whole article. It is clear to me some things that he no doubt wasn’t doing, because I have dozens of articles and his whole life, but perhaps that’s not fair.

 

> Would you be kind enough to identify the "misdeeds" (exterminaitons) which you think have been pepetrated by Jewish elites through the centuries?

 

No. I didn’t write the article and I have no intention of writing one here. But I highly recommend, for example, the three articles by Ed on Israel that are online…if you want more background.

 

I think, but I am not sure, there is also a piece or two by Israel Shahak in our archive. I recommend them as well.

 

> Surely there have been Jews involved with the ruling classes in one capacity or another in many times and places. But if they committed "misdeeds," I hardly see any way in which their actions could be called a Jewish traditon.

 

Does the phrase "Jewish tradition" appear in your quotes, even taken out of context? No.

 

> If, on the other hand, you are suggesting (in Herman’s name) that Jewish elites have been rationalizing, manipulating, etc. in pursuit of objectives which somehow are Jewish, then you’re making essentially the same case as is made in "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," merely substituting the word "elites" for "elders."

 

Again, if you wear glasses that are green, you will see green. If you want to reintrepret all words to fit a certain cast, it is hard to intervene. Did I say the interests of the elites were "Jewish" interests? No. They are elite interests, class interests, political interests, geo-political interests. At times elites can also have racist interests, to be sure, but this too is different than "Jewish" just as white racist interests are not "white."

 

> I’ll wait for your clarification, but in the meantime, I must point out that your defense of Herman might easily be seen as no less anti-semitic than his original statement.

 

By you, probably so. I think that is sad, to be honest about it.

 

And it might not make a whit of difference to you that I am Jewish, or my entire life history, for that matter — you might just say, oh big deal, you are self hating, or something like that. You might say your intepretation has to be right, period. Even if it flies in the face of an entire lifetime of practice by another person and is based only on a few phrases taken out of context. I think that would be wrong.

 

> It is little wonder, therefore, that you report that you (and Noam Chomsky} have sometimes been called a self-hating Jew, in which regard you offered up this analogy: "Think for a minute of how some people would react to my commentaries about the U.S., and presumably some of yours as well. I (you) must be a ‘self-hating American.’ I must have some kind of deep streak of hatred coloring my perceptions and causing me to attac myself to irrational claims about the U.S. and so on.

 

> "This parallels the logic of those who dismiss strong critics of Israel. It doesn’t prove the latter are wrong by analogy, but it ought to be food for thought."

 

> Okay, let’s think about it then. If somebody accuses me of being un-American, as has happened in my life (especially during my opposition to the Vietnam war), I have no trouble answering that I believe I am acting within the best traditions of America, loyal to Ameica’s highest ideals of freedom, democracy and equal rights for all. Othes may agree or disagree, but I have no problem engaging in that discussion from a positive point of view, by defining what America means to me and what it means to me to be a good American. I have never met a leftist who couldn’t do the same thing.

 

I can’t, being honest. America, THE STATE, has no such good traditions. It’s people do, in considerable part. But the state, the political, economic, cultural, and gender institutions, are something else entirely. I am against, unyieldingly against the history of internal and external violence and degradation imposed by the U.S. government and other major U.S. institutions, from their inception through the present, on diverse subordinate classes and constituencies.

 

But this doesn’t mean I am prejudiced about something called the "american people" and if we were all overwhelmingly white protestants, say, it wouldn’t make me anti-white or anti-protestant. And anyone dismissing my criticisms of the behavior of american elites and of the defining institutions of america on grounds that its anger and intensity could only reflect anti-americanism and, in my case, therefore, the plaints of a self-hating american, would be, I think, saying much more about themselves and their close-mindednes to ideas challenging their beliefs, than about me.

 

> I think if there were really such an apt parallel between being called a self-hating American and a self-hating Jew (and I think they are actually very different phenomena), then people accused of being self-hating Jews would be able to make the kinds of positive declarations people accused of being un-American can make.

 

And I can do exactly that. I can say I have nothing whatsoever against Jewish people and nothing against Jewish religion per se (any more than I have differences with virtually all organized religion, myself being an athiest). And so on. But I literally find it demeaning to myself and to others to make idiotic statements like that, as I would in the analogous case of saying I have nothing ag

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