Norman Finkelstein on Naz Shah’s “Anti-Semitism”

I just happened to read Norman Finkelstein’s recent interview with MintPress News, discussing the British Labour Party’s fundamentally ridiculous “anti-Semitism” scandal involving MP Naz Shah and others. I highly recommend it. I don’t agree with every last thing Finkelstein says (read it for yourself and decide for yourself), but I certainly agree with general point he’s making: the accusations of anti-Semitism being made against Shah are almost complete nonsense, and reflect an amazing double standard when it comes to the standards that govern acceptable political speech in the Anglophone world. No one seems to feel the need to make an argument for why Shah’s actions were anti-Semitic; the accusation is supposed to be too obvious to require argument. But there isn’t a particle of evidence to support the accusations in question: they seem literally to have been generated out of whole cloth, and accepted at face value despite that.

In fact, the attacks on Shah strike me, frankly, as so deranged that though I understand the pressures on her, I’m a little disappointed that she’s apologized for having posted the cartoon (and that Jeremy Corbyn has acquiesced in having her suspended). I thought that Trump-inspired discourse was crazy until I started reading the British press’s attempts to couch Shah’s cartoon as advocacy of “deportation.” Finkelstein’s comment on this is just right: he calls the comparison of Shah’s reposting of the map cartoon to Eichmann’s deportation of the Jews “obscene.” The real lesson here seems to be that if an accusation this feeble can destroy someone’s career, whether in Britain or the U.S., no one’s reputation is safe: if we accept the premises of the anti-Shah polemicists, any accusation of anti-Semitism can destroy anyone’s career, regardless of the evidence for it, or the lack thereof.

I find it amazing (but not surprising) that liberal “Western” democrats so loudly committed to free expression saw nothing wrong with the cover of Charlie Hebdo back in 2015–there was brief vogue for re-posting them in all their Gallic hilarity–but now seem to be collapsing into hysterics over Shah’s reposting what Finkelstein correctly describes as a “light-hearted, innocuous cartoon” (there’s a link to the cartoon in the interview). (See djr’s post on Charlie Hebdo as well.) I’m not sure what principle is supposed to be at work here, unless an unapologetic commitment to double standards now qualifies as a principle.

I tend to dislike cartoons, and avoid reposting or relying on them to make a point, but if people insist on making them a respectable part of our political discourse, there has to be a single standard to which they’re held, rather than the current form of moral blackmail according to which cartoons about Israel (including maps) are reflexively held to be “anti-Semitic,” but cartoons about Muslims portray them with impunity as hook-nosed, turban-wearing lunatics with a Qur’an in one hand, and a bomb in the other. In general, though, the time has come to push back against pro-Israeli pieties both in Britain and the U.S., which serve little purpose except to distract attention from the essentially imperialist policies that all three countries seem to be pursuing in concert with one another. Evidently politicians are to be reprimanded for reposting “offensive” cartoons, but not for dialing in their support for perpetual military occupation or perpetual warfare. No wonder, then, that both things continue.

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