To the Editor:
Josef Joffe’s “The Demons of Europe” [January] is so replete with dubious generalizations, straw men, and far-fetched excursions into mass psychology that rebuttal would require an essay of comparable length. But let me suggest a few points.
Mr. Joffe coins the term “anti-ism.” It ostensibly describes a universal phenomenon, but he applies it exclusively to “the new anti-Semitism,” defined as animus toward Israel and, by extrapolation, America. The elements of anti-ism, we learn, are “stereotyping,” “denigration,” “obsession,” and “demonization.” But Mr. Joffe himself stereotypes, denigrates, and demonizes his own target, observing that belief in updated anti-Semitic myths “seems to be the consensus of Europeans.” His evidence: the recent EU poll that “declared Israel and the United States, in that order, to be the greatest threats to world peace.” The issue is “more complicated” than the “reconditioning” of old hatred, Mr. Joffe allows. But it is characteristic of his tactics that he trots out fanatics like the French agitator José Bové as supposed exemplars of European opinion in general.
As for Mr. Joffe’s attempt at collective psychoanalysis, let me see if I have it right. Since open anti-Semitism is no longer accepted in polite society in the wake of the Holocaust, Europeans displace it onto safer scapegoats—Israel and, by extension, the Zionist-ruled entity that they think America has become. Consumed by historical guilt, not only for their complicity in the mass murder of Jews 60 years ago but also for their indulgence in fascism and brutal colonialism, Europeans (not just the Germans) require the metamorphosis of past victims into present-day villains; it allows them to divert blame for their own fathers’ “moral surrender to evil.”
But opposition to Israeli actions can be explained persuasively without plumbing the depths of the European subconscious or waving the bloody shirt of anti-Semitism. One can in fact admire Israel’s vibrant culture and vigorous democracy, understand its eminently justified security concerns and anguish over suicide bombings, and at the same time recoil, as many Israelis do, from the brutal, hate-breeding reprisals, the killing of Palestinian bystanders, and the constant encroachments on Arab land and freedoms.
I do not share the putatively widespread European opinion that Israel and the U.S. are the world’s preeminent menaces, but to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with all its ramifications, as the greatest threat to world peace is certainly a defensible view. Why not Chechnya, Tibet, Zimbabwe, or Algeria?, Mr. Joffe wonders. But those bloody internal repressions, horrific as they are, are not international time bombs. Nor is America complicit in them.
Bronxville, New York
To the Editor:
Josef Joffe asks why certain critics say nothing about the thousands killed in Africa, for instance, but are quick to criticize Israel for comparatively minor offenses. The fact is that, especially on the Left, Western countries are held to a much higher standard than those of the third world. The race or culture of the perpetrators, not the number of victims, determines the response.
This is why hardly anything was heard when 200,000 Roman Catholics (a quarter of the population) were killed in Muslim Indonesia’s East Timor, or when an estimated 2 million non-Muslim southern Sudanese were killed by Muslim northern Sudanese. Imagine the outcry if a Western country, especially Israel, had perpetrated such atrocities.
John C. Zimmerman
University of Nevada
Las Vegas, Nevada
To the Editor:
Josef Joffe’s “The Demons of Europe” is an exceptionally insightful analysis. Among its strengths is his definitive clarification of the difference between rational critiques of the United States and the irrational, visceral hostility denoted by anti-Americanism. As one who has written a fair amount about this matter over the past twenty years, I cannot think of any other piece that in a comparably short space accomplishes so much in shedding light on the sources of this phenomenon. Mr. Joffe’s article should be required reading for all those who think that “if they hate us we must have done something wrong.”
Josef Joffe writes:
My cheery assumption that I write reasonably lucid English has almost broken under Andy Anderson’s verbal assault. How can he so woefully (or willfully) misunderstand what I had to say? He writes that “opposition to Israeli actions can be explained persuasively without plumbing the depth of the European subconscious or waving the bloody shirt of anti-Semitism.” Of course it can, and this is why I went to great lengths to explain the difference between rational policy critique and “anti-ism.” Let me say it again, slowly: what distinguishes criticism from bigotry is the presence of stereotypes, denigration, obsession, and demonization. Since Mr. Anderson’s letter displays a fine understanding of language, he has surely grasped my distinction, though he pretends that he has not.
Am I myself “denigrating” my targets? Yes, I confess to sinning against the postmodern faith according to which notions of good and bad, right and wrong are but subjective constructs or, worse, expressions of cultural hegemony. I thought we had disposed of neo- along with paleo-relativism back in Philosophy 101. Of course I want to denigrate anti-Semitism, and all forms of anti-ism, for these mindsets are both hateful and deadly.
Why did I resort to the metaphors of psychoanalysis? I did not do so lightly, knowing full well that such insights do not exactly enjoy the certitude of “two plus two equals four.” But, alas, there are no better tools to crack the taboo that surrounds post-Holocaust anti-Semitism. When you are up against countless comparisons between Nazis and Israelis, between Bush and Hitler, when you see cartoons in the respectable European press like Libération or La Stampa that superimpose the images of a supposedly extinct Christian anti-Semitism on Israeli leaders, you know that this is not “rational” policy critique. And so you have to plumb the irrational and the hidden agendas (that are often hidden even to those who have them).
Finally, Mr. Anderson exculpates those who hate Israel but ignore far worse bloodshed in Chechnya or Algeria because these instances “are not international time bombs.” So, we check our moral outrage at the door when realpolitik rears its mighty head and fear paralyzes our moral faculties? If Israel is the greatest threat to peace, then anything can be done to it, no? I do not think Mr. Anderson wants to go there.
John C. Zimmerman is right to point out that we tend to hold Western nations like Israel to higher standards than the yahoos who engage in mass murder. He is also right to imply, though he does not say so explicitly, that this “higher standard” is but a double standard that has no place in a detached moral discourse.
Finally to Paul Hollander, who drenches me in the finest compliments, I can only say: “If I agree with him, he is brilliant. If he agrees with me, he is a genius.” Evidently, he is both.