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A brief detour into wild generalizations

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April 27, 2002

Please talk me out of this Here’s Ron Rosenbaum with further reasons to be alarmed about European anti-Semitism. Here’s Nick Denton arguing that the alarm is “a crock.”

Who’s right? I don’t know. But I’m an American liberal who’s been a lifelong Europhile and Anglophile, and very mistrustful of right-wing Israeli leaders like Begin, Netanyahu, and Sharon, and yet I find I’m deeply creeped out by much of what I’m seeing of Europe and Britain lately. Like any sovereign state, Israel is capable of being brutal and shortsighted, and the settlements policy is obviously insane, but over and over again, commentators on the other side of the Atlantic seem to strain at Israeli gnats while swallowing Palestinian camels. As Robert N. Hochman points out in the New Republic:

All civilized people agree on the premise of the Palestinian leadership’s argument about Jenin. There is a vast moral difference between targeting civilians and combatants. It is wrong, even during a war, to target civilians intentionally.

But this is an odd principle for terrorists, and those who harbor them, to preach. After all, terrorists seek to obliterate the distinction between civilian and combatant. And, remember, it is the Palestinian terrorist groups that send human sacrifices as bombers into Israeli restaurants and shopping malls, where the murder of innocent civilians is not just a consequence but the very explicit goal. And it is the official Palestinian leadership—with the apparent support of the vast majority of Palestinians—who hail these bombers as heroes. If targeting civilians is a crime, as the Palestinian leadership now suggests, then the Palestinian terrorists and their supporters have been guilty of it for years.

Just as we saw in the first flush of comment after 9/11, when some people use violence, we’re to understand and sympathize with their aspirations no matter how brutal, unhinged, and sheerly disproportionate their actual acts. But when Americans—and, now, Jews—fight, we’re to understand that they’re wicked unless their behavior as combatants is morally spotless in every respect.

Given the European news media’s widespread embrace of this kind of thinking where Israel is concerned, and their evident obliviousness to critiques of it, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that a fair number of people in Europe simply don’t like Jews, certainly not Jews who, you know, fight. (This will get me email explaining that criticism of Israel is not the same as prejudice against Jews, a point I find works better when European Jews aren’t being attacked on the streets and their synagogues vandalized, while local police suggest that perhaps the Jews in question could help by not being so darned Jewish.) I’d like to agree with Nick Denton that my alarm over this is a “crock,” but I’m not sure my powers of negative capability enable me to ignore elephants quite this large and smelly. [12:37 PM]

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