Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ideologically Conditioned not to See Jews

Reuters reporting on last week's terrorist attack on civilians in Jerusalem:
Police said it was a "terrorist attack" -- Israel's term for a Palestinian strike. It was the first time Jerusalem had been hit by such a bomb since 2004.
Jeffrey Goldberg responded with exasperated incredulity: Dear Reuters, you must be kidding. David Harsanyi thought it was a bit more serious.
Most reputable news organizations, for instance, tend to downplay or completely ignore the religious affiliation of man-caused disaster makers. It's unseemly to bring stuff like that up. It only divides us.
So why did Reuters -- and other news outlets -- identify the bombing as taking place not in an Israeli neighborhood, but in a "Jewish" one? And why is it a "Palestinian" strike and not a Muslim one? Religious affiliation, it seems, is selectively vital information. Jews, you see, are a religious group occupying Jerusalem, and Palestinians are nationalists striving for autonomy in their homeland.
I don't think it was a simple mistake, though it may have been Freudian. Mostly, it seems to me a result of ideologically induced inability to relate to the world through the prism of factual reality. This is not a new phenomenon, but some people spent the 200 years between the mid 18th century and the mid 20th combating it. Then they gave up, or worse, they replaced rational inquiry with a new religion, one branch of which is called Political Correctness, or whatever it is.

The Economist recently had a weird example of the malaise. Last week they had a review of two new books about Jerusalem. Simon Sebag-Montetiore's Jerusalem: The Biography, which is not out yet in America, and James Carroll's Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World which came out two weeks ago. I have already read Sebag-Montefiore's book, and will be reviewing it elsewhere; the Carrol one should be in an Amazon box on its way over. The Economist reviewer liked the former, and was a bit put off by the latter, but the reason I'm linking is that the reviewer noted that Sebag-Montefiore ended his tale in 1967, "when Jerusalem was divided between a Palestinian and an Israeli half".

That's right. 1967 is when Jerusalem was divided. I assume the reviewer was knowledgeable on the topic of Jerusalem, and I insist on hoping the Economist uses editors, and that sentence slipped into the paper. Apparently there was then a minor uproar and they corrected their mistake, mentioning the correction at the bottom of the review. Yet it's the Freudian, or ideologically induced, mistake that is so interesting. For the first time in 2000 years the Jews control the city of Jerusalem, yet for some educated reviewers, they don't, or they mustn't, or if they do it's a tear in the fabric of existence, or something.

PS. Since I wont be reviewing Jerusalem A Biography here, (though I'll try to link to my review when it's published), I will say it's a great read, and I hope lots of people read it. Not without its flaws, of course, but worth the time and effort. And also, since there was a discussion about this a few weeks ago here on the blog: According to Sebag-Montefiore, Jews never enjoyed full equality in Jerusalem between the 1st Century CE and the 19th; they came close in the 19th century because European powers forcing their way into town insisted on the equality of their citizens, some of whom happened to be Jews. Arguably, however, they didn't enjoy full equality until after 1948, as the British carefully rigged the municipal electoral system in their years of control so that the Jewish majority of townspeople would never control the municipality, and the mayor was always an Arab. But that part isn't in Sebag-Montefiore's book.


Sylvia said...

David Harsanyi is mistaken. They ignore the religious affiliation only when it is Muslim and that "style" has been in effect for quite some time.

Haaretz does it too. A blatant example of a Haaretz infuriating headline that I remember vividly was: "Dutch youth attack Jewish youth". It was in fact Muslims attacking Jews.
Haaretz thus was obscuring the fact that the Dutch Jewish community was undergoing ethnic cleansing, and was aiding and abetting the perpetrators by hiding their religious identity and passing newcomers off as "Dutch" who belong there while Jews who have been there for centuries remain Jews, meaning foreigners.

That "style" is a result of UN resolutions that prohibit defamation on the basis of religion, which in reality means that you can't associate anything negative with the name "Muslim".

NormanF said...

The world has never forgiven the Jews for ruling a united Jerusalem.

Never mind the Arabs have enjoyed a life superior to that which they had under Jordanian rule and even under the British.

Its just the fact of Jewish rule many people find intolerable.

Avi said...

I have read the book too. It is excellent (as are Sebag-Montefiore's books on Stalin).

I do not know which copy the economist received for review, but mine finishes around now with an Epilogue on the period from 1967 to more or less the present.

BTW, I noticed the section on page 310 "Starting in Galilee in the 1730s, a Bedouin sheikh, Zahir al-Umar al-Zaydani, carved out a northern fiefdom, which he ruled from Acre - the only time except for short-lived rebellions, when a native Palestinian Arab ruled an extended part of Palestine."

In my eyes this does not negate Palestinian national self determination, but it does show the thin ice the anti Zionists skate on when denying Jewish self determination.

Silke said...

I have no doubt that Sebag-Montefiore can write but both his book-talk at IQ2 and his interview with the BBC-history magazine were sucking up to you know who and IMHO Israelis and Jews in general? are way too forgiving when it comes to the snide little put-downs.

For heaven sake the AlAksa the most beautiful building ever ... if that is not crawling into a nether region then I don't know what is.

here is James Carroll from my iTunes-treasure box - I haven't listened yet

and as to media reporting - here is German Die Zeit the weekly for those for whom Der Spiegel is not brainy enough

Ungeachtet der Bemühungen um eine Waffenruhe, kamen durch israelischen Beschuss zwei Palästinenser ums Leben. Diese sollen einen Raketenangriff auf Israel geplant haben.

(disregarding the attempts at a cease fire, 2 Palestinians died due to Israel firing. These are supposed to have planned a rocket attack on Israel.) Sorry for the translation, it is in its attempt to insinuate as much as possible in 2 sentences such bad German that my English can't do any better.

these are only the first 2 sentences, spare yourself the headline, it is even worse.

And the Greens have made it in our state of the Mercedes-factory and a lot else to almost 25 % - you remember their foundation supports Combatants for Peace...
In the other state in which there were elections today they made it only to 15 %, but if they can keep it up and it isn't just a glitch due to Japan ...

Anonymous said...

"...ideologically induced inability to relate to the world through the prism of factual reality."

Yaacov, what a delicious phrase! And the alliteration! I am an illiterate engineer, how I envy your ability to turn words! I intend to borrow this phrase often.

Thanks for the update on inequality of Jews pre-state. I am currently reading Karsh's "Islamic Imperialism." It is a lot of material crammed into just over 200 pages. I am still in 19th century Iran.

So far I have learned that Turks, Persians and Arabs were just as land hungry and war mongering as their European neighbors to the north and west. I don't know how anyone was still alive at the start of the 20th century.

Ever since we read the Sternberg piece a few weeks ago, I have been thinking about a narrative that appeals to the "anti-Empire" crowd. It goes something like this:

"The rich, ruling Arab families of Jerusalem - namely the Husseinis and Nashabishis - fomented anti-Jewish violence amongst the Arab-Muslim poluation as a means to maintain their power. They opposed the granting of equal political rights to non-Muslims. They also opposed the economic development that Jews were undertaking as it would diminish their economic control as well."

Does it fly?


Yaacov said...

Nycerbarb -

I'm not certain if it flies or not. Sebag-Montefiore makes a lot of how important the Families were (he capitalizes the word), but I remain a bit underwhelmed. In the two centuries or so of their ascendancy, the city was controlled by a dizzying array of characters, powers, and machinators, all under the putative dominance of the Ottomans. Montefiore isn't very good at disentangling this, and the way he tells it is unsatisfying - since he knows a lot about Russia, for example, I think he overplays the significance of Russia in Jerusalem in the late 19th century. (The architectural evidence still visible seems to indicate the Germans were more important).

Later, during the British Mandate, the Husseinies were mostly stridently anti-Zionist, but the Nashashibis were less so; another book I'm now reading (in Hebrew) seems to bear this out. In any case, I don't think the Families ever had the sort of motivating power you're attributing to them (as does Montefiore). I could be wrong, of course, but that's my reading.

Andrew said...

Back when I was blogging, one of my last substantive posts disagreed with a piece by the NY Times public editor in which he agreed with the paper's policy of refusing to refer to Hamas as a terrorist group. I thought about that the other day when reading a story in which the IRA was matter-of-factly referred to as such.

I was a journalism major in college, and worked as a reporter for about a year out of school. I like reporters. I'm inclined to cut them a lot of slack, especially on questions. That's not to say there's no bias in journalism, but it's instead a recognition that journalistic bias tends to work in subtler ways. I doubt, for example, that any Reuters reporter sits around thinking, "God, I hate Jews. I need to find a way of expressing that in my stories."

But one of the biases inherent in just about every reporter is an intense desire to avoid appearing biased. You don't want, through your word choice, to appear to be making moral judgments as to the worth or actions of the parties involved. So you don't refer to a bombing in Jerusalem as a "terrorist" attack, because "terrorism" is a charged word and because you can fully describe the event without such dangerous language. You think to yourself: "Does it really matter if I call it 'terrorism?' If I write well enough to convey the horror of the scene, readers will draw the right conclusions, and no one will yell at me, because I didn't use the charged language."

As someone who dealt with a lot of upset readers in a substantially less dangerous context than the West Bank, I'm sympathetic to the thought process. I just obviously disagree. And I disagree because using "charged" words like "terrorism" isn't the only way of showing bias. In the piece I mentioned above, the public editor quoted a former Times editor who had a policy of referring to attacks in Israel proper as "terrorism," while refusing to use the word to refer to attacks in the West Bank and the (then-occupied) Gaza Strip.

Well, that's obscene. I understand he doesn't think it's obscene. I understand he's not a comic book villain, and he doesn't think a little girl murdered in a West Bank settlement deserved her fate. But still, it's an obscene philosophy.

Journalism should be objective. But it shouldn't be gutless or spineless or soulless, and that's ultimately what Reuters (and the BBC and The Times) produce with their policies: spineless, soulless journalism.

Anonymous said...

Thoughtful comment, Andrew. Thank you for the insight. It makes me wonder if a journalist, who won't use the word "terrorist" because it is too charged, is perhaps afraid using the wor "terrorist" might turn him into a terrorist target.


Barry Meislin said...

Hamas merely wants to destroy the Zionist Entity.

Ergo, they cannot, logically, be considered terrorists.

Anonymous said...

Yaacov -

Thanks for your answer.

A while ago, I was reading a pro-Palestinian biography of the Mufti. (I had to stop reading the book during the '36 riots because the author was so tedious.) He seemed to say Husseini promoted the opposition to Zionism.

So if you don't think the Families alone were sufficient, what else do you see as contributory?