Daily Archives: 2019-01-21 12:25:07 UTC

It needs to be said (anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism)

Matthew Rozsa has an article in Salon.com and repeated in Alternet:

Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism: But disentangling them can be tricky

Rep. Rashida Tlaib has been unfairly accused of anti-Semitism, but there’s a reason why these issues get confused

Some extracts:

Yes, it is fair to be suspicious of anyone who drags up anti-Semitic myths like the idea that Jews have dual loyalties, or that Jews have too much power, or that Jews are somehow to blame for racist violence in other parts of the world. It is obvious bigotry to blame “Jews” as a group for the actions of Israeli officials, or to invoke greed and other anti-Semitic stereotypes when describing Israel, or to disproportionately focus on the atrocities in Israel while being conveniently silent about human rights violations committed by Arab or Muslim nations. Whether or not a Jewish state should have been created in the Middle East, it has now been there for 70 years — denying its right to exist is also, de facto, anti-Semitic.

Those who employ such rhetoric speak in the language of anti-Semitism.

. . . . . 

At the same time, the truth is that Israel does commit human rights violations. The fact that many wrongs have been done to Jews in the past — and I say this as a Jew who personally experienced a hate crime — does not excuse the suffering that the Israeli government and individual Israelis, have inflicted against the Palestinian people. This explanation by Human Rights Watch from 2017, the 50-year anniversary of the Six Day War, summarizes the problem all too well:

Fifty years after Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it controls these areas through repression, institutionalized discrimination, and systematic abuses of the Palestinian population’s rights, Human Rights Watch said today.

At least five categories of major violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law characterize the occupation: unlawful killings; forced displacement; abusive detention; the closure of the Gaza Strip and other unjustified restrictions on movement; and the development of settlements, along with the accompanying discriminatory policies that disadvantage Palestinians.

. . . . ..

Many people of good will look at these offenses and are rightly horrified, and it is both cheap and wrong to seek to use the label of “anti-Semite” to shame them into silence. Similarly, if individuals choose not to do business with the State of Israel because they disapprove of its actions, they have a right to do that without being automatically labeled as bigots.

Yes, to wish for a democratic state of Israel with equal rights for all ethnicities and religions is surely a noble dream. I side with those who think it is now too late for a two-state solution and the best option for human rights and dignity for all is for Israel and the West Bank and Gaza to form a single state. (Oh, and those still stuck in refugee camps be allowed to return.) That does in effect mean the “end of Israel as a Jewish state” in the same sense that we speak of the end of South Africa as a white/Boer state. I think what is holding the parties back from going that far is racism, both anti-Jewish and anti-Arab racism. But I do see evidence of non-racists on both sides, the Jewish and the Arab. (But that sounds cruel .. “both sides” .. as if they are both equally to blame: they are not equally to blame, not by a long stretch). Now if only those persons could take the lead….

But I dream.

 

Ancient History, a “Funny Kind of History”

It is in the end not very surprising that university students of history, with some knowledge of the sources for, say, Tudor England or Louis XIV’s France, find ancient history a ‘funny kind of history’. The unavoidable reliance on the poems of Horace for Augustan ideology, or in the same way on the Eumenides of Aeschylus for the critical moment in Athenian history when the step was taken towards what we know as Periclean democracy, helps explain the appellative ‘funny’. But the oddities are much more far-reaching, extending to the historians themselves in antiquity, in particular to two of their most pervasive characteristics, namely, the extensive direct quotation from speeches and the paucity of reference to (let alone quotation from) actual documents, public or private. The speeches are to us an extra ordinary phenomenon and they produce extraordinary reactions among modern commentators. We have no good reason for taking the speeches to be anything but inventions by the historians, not only in their precise wording but also in their substance. Certainly that is how they were understood in antiquity: witness the discussion in his long essay on Thucydides (ch. 34-48) by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, the most acute and most learned of ancient critics and himself a prolific composer of speeches for his multi-volume Roman Antiquities.

Modern writers find themselves in difficulties. Not only does the position of a Dionysius of Halicarnassus seem immoral – it has been said that one would have to regard Thucydides as ‘blind or dishonest’ – but, worse still, one must consider seriously abandoning some of the most interesting and seductive sections of Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybius, Caesar, Sallust, Livy, Tacitus, Dio Cassius and the rest as primary or secondary sources.There is no choice: if the substance of the speeches or even the wording is not authentic, then one may not legitimately recount that Pericles told the assembled Athenians in 430 BC that their empire ‘is like a tyranny, seemingly unjust to have taken but dangerous to let go’ (Thucydides 2.63.2). I have no idea what Pericles said on that occasion but neither have the innumerable historians who repeat from a speech what I have just quoted. Except for Thucydides and perhaps Polybius, there is no longer any serious argument, though the reluctance to accept the consequences is evident on all sides . . . . 

The above extract is from pages 12-13 of M. I. Finley’s Ancient History: Evidence and Models. Finley made significant contributions to the field of ancient history. He knew what he was talking about.

Unfortunately a good many authors who think of themselves as historians, some may even be professional academics in university history departments, are not so mindful of the limitations of their methods. One of their more sober colleagues wrote:

Laziness is common among historians. When they find a continuous account of events for a certain period in an ‘ancient’ source, one that is not necessarily contemporaneous with the events , they readily adopt it. They limit their work to paraphrasing the source, or, if needed, to rationalisation.

That was Mario Liverani, p. 28 of Myth and Politics in Ancient Near Eastern Historiography.

I could quote many more and have done over many posts. But two recent comments have prompted me to post again, to accept how widely the field of ancient history is misunderstood. If too many of its practitioners are too romantic in their interests to understand the fundamentals of critical inquiry and treatment of their sources, then it is no wonder many of us lay public also misunderstand what is required.

Here is part of one of the comments that I think many of us can relate to:

I know senior historians teaching ancient history at Macquarie Uni in Sydney, through my membership of the SSEC (Society for the Study of Early Christianity), who point to the Babylonian Talmud as strong evidence for Jesus’ existence. What would be your response to that view ?

My response to that view is what you would imagine Liverani’s response would be. Some ancient historians get carried away with love of their narratives and lose their critical acumen. Finley also discussed how writing history is a form of ideology, and a good number of historians write as advocates of pet ideologies — including Christian origins.

Another comment expressing an idea one hears especially among biblical scholars, in particular those looking at Christian origins and the historical Jesus:  read more »

Comments +

I just noticed some queries about formatting in comments and have updated that page by adding the following: 

And for bullet points: 

 

(Tim, I trust the above codes are okay …. Nothing needs updating?)

Comments

Hi all. I have neglected checking the comments for a few days and am trying to catch up now. If there is anything I have missed that you might have wanted me to respond to, and I haven’t done that, just let me know here. Thanks.