Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Jason Cherniak's anti-Semitism

In the comments section of my previous post cuddly ex-blogger Jason Cherniak wrongly claims that the political cartoon I posted is anti-Semitic. His argument is premised on the blood libel, an ancient anti-Semitic canard in which local Jews would be falsely accused of the ritual murder of Christians (usually children) in order to use human blood for the baking of matzos or as part of a religious ceremony. The blood libel was patently absurd since there is an abhorrence of blood in the Jewish religion - the reason for instance why in order to make meat kosher a butcher has to use salt to purge every last drop of blood from it. Thus the suggestion that Jews would actually use blood as part of a recipe for unleavened bread and consume it is literally anathema to actual Jewish dietary laws. Worse, these false claims were often pretexts to pogroms or other violent and often murderous attacks on Jews.

Ok, so now you know what blood libel is. Below is the cartoon in question:

Jason Cherniak responds to this cartoon by saying "What a picture. Glad to know that the blood libel still lives strong in your warped mind."

The cartoon is an artist's comment on Israeli military aggression against the people of Gaza. I posted it in response to the current air bombardment which has claimed over 370 lives. This brutality is being inflicted after a year and a half long blockade of the Gaza Strip. There are no religious connotations, whatsoever, in the cartoon, not even a Star of David. The soldiers are not depicted as having any of the stereotypically Jewish features one would see in anti-Semitic cartoons. If it weren't for the words "Israeli occupiers" and "Gaza" the soldiers could be Russian, British, French, American or any other attacking army in the world. There is no suggestion of religious ritual, no Jewish religious garments be they kippot or prayer shawls or tzitzi'ot. No matzot, no menorahs, nothing, in other words, to suggest that what is being depicted is a ritualized religious murder or anything that would be the basis of a blood libel.

Depicting an army or military leader as butchers or dripping with blood is a standard image in any political cartoonists library. Change the labels and this could be a cartoon criticizing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan or Czechoslovakia, the American invasion of Iraq or Cambodia, the Chinese attack on Tiananmen Square or, indeed, it could be a critical depiction of Hamas:

Cherniak and I had the following exchange by email:

Firebrand: You're kidding me. The editorial cartoon isn't even remotely anti-Semitic.

But yes, as a Jew the memory of the blood libel does live strongly in my mind - my family fled Russian pogroms and ended up in Romania which was one of the most anti-Semitic nations in Europe between the wars (before the rise of Nazi Germany) so yes Jason, I know what the blood libel is and this isn't it.

Please don't debase the concept of anti-Semitism by applying it so casually to legitimate criticism of Israel.

You should be ashamed of yourself.

Jason Cherniak:
Being Jewish doesn’t allow you to ignore basic facts. You posted a picture of Jewish butchers with Palestinian blood on their knives. Do you really not see how that is similar to suggesting that Jews drink the blood of children?

FB: The soldiers are not identifiably Jewish - there are no stereotypical signifiers nor any use of Jewish symbolism such as the magen david.

Implying that soldiers engaging in a massacre (such as the killing of over 370 people) are butchers is a standard device when criticising any military operation. The soldiers in the cartoon could be Russians, Americans, French.

You are suggesting that a massacre carried out by Israelis should be treated differently than one carried out by any other military. I, for one, do not think Israel should be treated differently.

By casually throwing out accusations of antisemitism you are denuding the concept and making it easier for actual anti-semites to get away with it.

I can see why the Liberals don't want you to blog on their behalf and why partisans of other parties were sorry to see you go. You're an embarrassment to whatever side you argue for and as a Jew I find you as embarrassing as Liberals must have.

Please resume your policy of being 'off politics'.

It was my choice to stop blogging. Nobody asked me to, smartass.

As for the picture, did you miss the word "Israeli" on their clothing? What are you smoking?

FB: the point is there is no stereotypical or symbolic invocation of Judaism.

as you should know the blood libel was the false accusation that Jews kidnapped and killed non-Jewish children and killed them for ritualistic reasons to use their blood to make matzah or for some religious ritual.

There is no such connotation in the cartoon.

You are distorting and reducing the blood libel to argue that any reference to blood is antisemitic and completely disregarding the fact that references to blood and butchery are de riguer in artistic criticisms of military conflict. How do you suggest that an artist criticise the Gaza invasion without reference to blood, murder and death.

All you've shown is that you are unable to refute Barghouti's essay and prefer instead to avoid the subject by engaging in slander.

As for your blog - it may have been for a decision but I know for a fact that senior Liberals have thought it an embarrassment for years.

The 911 blowback that ended up in Dion being embarrassed and having to axe his own candidate was just the last straw. That "own goal" of yours will be with you for a long time

JC: Butcher's knives are used in kitchens where people make food for humans, goddmanit. Use your head.

Again, lol on the blog thing. You're a fool.

FB: again - it's standard to use that analogy when criticising military action. As for the blog - fine if I'm wrong restart it and see what... sorry phone trouble. if i'm wrong restart it and see what happens to
your 'career' in the Liberal party.

and if i'm wrong about your motives for ignoring the article to attack the cartoon then go ahead and refute Barghouti

JC: It's pretty clear I'm not going to convince you, so I'm not going to bother

FB: Considering that you have been unable to refute one argument I've made regarding what blood libel is or what war criticism is I'm not surprised. i have a cartoon somewhere of Brezhnev as butcher in regards to the soviet invasion of afghanistan. doubtless that's antisemitic too?

btw, do you mind if I publish this correspondence?

JC: Only if it is unedited.

Unfortunately, it's become more common for pro-Israel polemicists to deliberately conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism in an attempt to delegitimize said criticism and defame the critics. This tactic can only give comfort to actual anti-Semites as by overextending the concept of anti-Semitism these polemicists are effectively making the concept of anti-Semtism meaningless and making it easier for actual bigots and racists to practice their craft.

As British philosopher Brian Klug, a founding member of the group Independent Jewish Voices, wrote in his seminal essay, The Myth of the New Anti-Semitism "when anti-Semitism is everywhere, it is nowhere. And when every anti-Zionist is an anti-Semite, we no longer know how to recognize the real thing--the concept of anti-Semitism loses its significance."

In response to an essay by the American Jewish Committee accusing Jewish critics of Israel of being anti-Semitic, the New York Times interviewed British historian Tony Judt, one of the essay's targets. According to the Times: "The link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is newly created,' [Tony Judt] said, adding that he fears 'the two will have become so conflated in the minds of the world' that references to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust will come to be seen as 'just a political defense of Israeli policy.'"

It is important to be clear about what anti-Semtism is and what it is not. When the Jason Cherniaks of the world refuse to make the distinction because it is convenient to use anti-Semitism as a pretext to dismiss all and any criticism of the Israeli government then they demean the memory of those who have died or suffered under the heel of anti-Semitism over the centuries and give comfort to Jew-haters everywhere. To the extent that Israeli politicians encourage this deliberate conflation of anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel, they put themselves in opposition to the interests of the Jewish people throughout the world by sacrificing their safety and security in the interests of short term polemical gain.

Meanwhile, the death toll in Gaza has risen to 360 and Cherniak would have you believe that this can't be referred to as butchery or bloodletting.
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Anonymous said...

Thank you for such a cogent argument. I am a non-Jew who supports the existence of Israel BUT can not support the Israeli government's policies and actions with respect to the Palestinian situation. There has long been a disproportionate response to attacks by palestinian terrorists which only fuels the anger on the Arab street and imperils Israeli citizens.

I am perilously close to saying a pox on both their houses.

Israel must have safety but must return the occupied territories and cannot hide their attempts to secure water sheds behind the mantle of security. Palestinians must be prepared to negotiate in good faith and stop allowing smaller more radical factions to engage in terrorist actions inside Israel or across her borders. The more contentious issues such as Jerusalem and right of return have to be put on the back burner until stability has been achieved and some trust has been established.

I don't think that this position makes me an anti-semite but I was once called this foul name by a vociferous supporter of the Israeli state.

Ever since I have been reticent to discuss this issue with anyone other than the closest of friends.

This kind of self-censorship is quite prevalent and does nothing to help either resolve the situation over there or even to bring disparate communities together here in Canada. What a sad limbo we seem to be mired in.

Skinny Dipper said...

When I look at the first cartoon, I see two oversized Israeli soldiers with kitchen knives. They seemed to have used them to cut the power and gas lines while at the same time cutting up people as I assume they were trying to cut the power and gas lines. I do not see them cutting up children nor do I see them ready to eat them. I don't see a Star of David on the soldiers' uniforms or aprons. I wouldn't matter if I did as it is a symbol of Israel. The fact that the Star of David is also a symbol of Judaism doesn't matter in this cartoon. The cartoon is not very nice. When are political cartoons nice? The cartoon is an exaggeration. Yet, it shows that the actions by the Israeli military is indisriminate in the killings of Gazans including civilians. Whether or not the Israeli military is indiscriminate in its bombing of Gaza depends on one's point of view.

Would I care if I were called anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic by Mr. Cherniak? If I were labelled such because I disagreed with Israeli government policies or with Jewish theology or practices, I wouldn't care. I disagree with many facets of different religions and the people who lead them. I wouldn't care if the Pope called me anti-Christian because I opposed his beliefs on gay marriage and abortion. I wouldn't keep my mouth shut by refraining to talk about people from some religions who treat women and girls poorly. These people may be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or other.

If one does not like the actions of the Israeli government or Hamas, certainly criticize either of them or both. Express your thoughts and feelings through words, pictures, and sounds. Don't let someone's labels stop you from speaking out.

Dr.Dawg said...

Well smote, sir!

JetSetter said...

Jews in the past were falsely accused of blood rituals. We can no longer accuse Jews of ritual slaughter. All soldiers are trained to kill. All Israeli soldiers are Jewish so ipso facto , we cannot accuse Israeli soldiers of killing indiscriminately?


Alison said...

Well done. The disservice done to Jews in the conflating of being against Israeli policies with being anti-Semitic is not often enough remarked upon.

Anonymous said...

Cherniak is an opportunistic and ignorant shit, who has no professional or academic specialization in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, yet never fails to puke up any and all justifications for the USraeli butchers.

He is a lawyer, but has never referenced a single piece of international law on the topic: neither UNSC nor UN General Assembly resolutions, nor the Geneva Conventions or international common law.

He can't cite a single academic text. He can't argue or debate.

He can only throw around the insulting, stupid and evasive 'anti-Semitism' charge, every time someone calls out Israel for committing another war crime (with US weapons and support).

F*ck Cherniak. He's just another dumb little Liberal shit with no qualifications whatsoever to speak on international issues, let alone domestic politics.

And he certainly has no credentials to speak on the Middle East.

For background, get off the idiot blogs and read the following:

Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

Norman Finkelstein, Image and Reality in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Uri Davis, Israel: An Apartheid State

Khaled Hroub, Hamas: A Beginner's Guide

Roane Carey, The New Intifada

Edward Said, The Question of Palestine

Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle

And anything by Israel Shahak, Joseph Massad, and Simha Flapan.

shlemazl said...

The author of this cartoon, Carlos Latuff, came second in the Iranian anti-Semitic cartoon contest.

Firebrand said...

I hadn't been aware of that. Anyway, that's a somewhat misleading statement. You can find that cartoon here http://www.irancartoon.com/120/holocaust/ it's the second one from the top and depicts a Palestinian wearing a concentration camp uniform with a half crescent where they yellow star would have been and standing in front of what appears to be the "separation barrier" running through the West Bank.

While I am uncomfortable drawing an analogy between the Holocaust and the plight of the Palestinians I don't think the cartoon is anti-Semitic although other cartoons on that page by other artists clearly are anti-Semitic.

shlemazl said...

You shouldn't let a little discomfort worry you, mate. It's much more important that you are one of the "crowd". After all demonizing Israel is so cool and progressive!

Firebrand said...

Laverne (given that you're picking up your Yiddish from Laverne & Shirley), you're baiting and switching as I didn't use the cartoon from that contest and would not have.

I disapprove of Holocaust analogies or analogizing Israel with the Nazis and have spoken up against such imagery before.