As regular readers will be aware, I hold a rather low opinion of Ms. Dianne Mason, author of the Lawrence of Cyberia blog. A while ago I spent some time reading her and posted my findings here, but since then I don't think I've gone by her blog even once. Life is too short.
Yesterday I wandered by again, accidentally, and found this. It's worth commenting on because of its neat sleight-of-hand.
Mason starts off by telling about how when she was a kid she enjoyed the documentary series "World at War" (So did I, as a teenager. It was magnificent. The BBC at its best, if I remember correctly). She goes on to tell of a Dutch factory foreman:
He recalled how the first test he faced came when he was presented with a form to fill in, requiring him to list how many of his colleagues were Jewish.
As the foreman looked at the paper and wondered what to do with it, it dawned on him that actually – as far as he knew – none of his colleagues were Jewish. You could tell what a relief that realization had been for him, and how glad he had been to be able to write “zero” in the “how many Jews” column and return the form without having gotten anybody into trouble. But at that point in the interview, the foreman suddenly stopped. He said “of course, I shouldn’t have done it…”. He was overcome with emotion, and struggled to get out the next words, “I shouldn’t have filled out the form at all”.
I remember that at that point in the program, I didn’t have a clue what was going on. As a child, this all seemed really odd; first, because it was unusual to see a grownup crying, and second because it seemed to me that he hadn’t harmed anybody because he hadn’t ratted anybody out. I think I understood that he was saying something important – otherwise why would the memory of that interview have stayed with me all this time – but it must have been years before I really understood what that something was.
That Dutch foreman was saying that the only principled answer when the occupation authorities asked him “How many Jews work here?” was: “It’s none of your business how many Jews work here.” To provide a number in answer to the question – even when that number was zero – was to accept the premise upon which the question was based, i.e. that it was legitimate to differentiate between his workers on ethnic/religious grounds. For someone who claimed he rejected the Nazis’ racial categories, writing “zero” in the “How many Jews?” column was no less a moral failure than writing “One”, or “Ten”, or “One hundred”.
So far, so good. Any reasonable person would have to agree with Ms. Mason on this, which is what she expected, and the power of her argument is that when she gets around to flipping it in an anti-Israeli direction, we'll either have to backtrack and disagree with what we agreed with just now, or we'll have to admit she's making a fine point:
And when Obama was accused of consorting with terrorists because of his acquaintance with Rashid Khalidi, people defended him by saying that "McCain does it too" or complained that the accusation was "guilt by association". And that's the worst answer of all, because it reinforces rather than challenges the underlying premise that there is some guilt in being associated with an Arab or a Muslim or a Palestinian.
I’m not going to go into the whole “Obama has the wrong friends” issue. Politicians have multitudes of “friends”, and the better politicians have large multitudes of them; I’m more interested in what Obama will do than the people he has known. But Martin Kramer has demonstrated that Khalid Rashidi was recognized as a PLO spokesman in Beirut in the mid-1970s, at a time when the PLO violently rejected Israel’s right to exist, and in the meantime engaged in mass killings of Lebanese Arabs.
So Mason is making the following comparison. The Nazis unilaterally defined the Jews as worthy of persecution, irrespective of anything the Jews were doing, had ever done, or might ever do; the only truly decent thing to do was to object to this Nazi way of seeing the world by refusing to attribute anything of the sort to the Jews, or to go along with any type of singling them out. So also with Khalidi: the fact that he’s an Arab or a Palestinian should never be a reason for our reproach or even for our accepting the reproach from others.
The problem with Khalidi of course isn’t his ethnic identity. It’s his actions.