Jewish Left Rushes to Gutman’s Defense

The Jewish Daily Forward‘s JJ Goldberg has published an article comparing U.S. ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman to Louis Pasteur. The analogy is that just as Louis Pasteur diagnosed diseases, Gutman diagnosed European anti-Semitism. Gutman’s conservative and pro-Israel critics, by criticizing him for his rationalization of Muslim Jewish-hatred, are therefore obviously pretty stupid:

I think it’s time we faced up to the hard truth about Louis Pasteur. The famed 19th century French scientist was a rank bigot. He’s been getting a free ride for too long, and it’s got to stop.

The article proceeds with the same mix of smugness and sarcasm. It concludes with the rhetorically fresh maneuver of quoting someone without giving their name only to reveal – at the very end – that it’s someone the audience agrees with! BAM!

Except this analogy only works if Pasteur had incorrectly theorized that “real” diseases were decreasing in Europe, as Gutman said about “traditional” anti-Semitism. Or if Pasteur had misidentified the causes of the diseases that remained, as Gutman did by blaming Israeli behavior for centuries-old Muslim anti-Semitism. Or if Pasteur had established a pattern of obsessing over those same causes for whatever maladies he encountered, as Gutman did by previously blaming Israeli behavior for Palestinian unilateralism. In those cases, you have to admit, Pasteur would have been as poor a medical theorist as Gutman is a diplomat.

Gutman isn’t being criticized for trying to explain anti-Semitism. He’s being criticized for trying to explain anti-Semitism and getting it wrong.

That’s an important distinction that seems to have escaped many left-leaning commentators and journalists. The Forward‘s Nathan Guttman commented that criticism of Gutman was on account of how “little attention is paid to his actual comments.” The Jewish Journal’s Michael Berenbaum called criticism “nonsense,” noting that “Jews fared far better under Moslem domination and dhimi than they did under Christian domination” but neglecting how historical Muslim anti-Semitism has metastasized into calls for genocide, and how even recognizing pre-Israel anti-Semitism undermines Gutman’s central premise.

Just to be explicit: Gutman is being criticized for claiming that Muslim anti-Semitism — which superficially looks like traditional pathological hate — is actually the result of a stalled peace process and would “clearly abate” and potentially disappear otherwise; that the stalled peace process is disporportionately the fault of Israeli policies; and that in the absence of a stalled peace process Israeli self-defense measures were directly linked to anti-Jewish European violence. The first two claims are false. The third claim, which Gutman contextualizes by reference to Israeli retaliations in the face of Palestinian rocket fire and suicide bombers, is disgraceful.

None of the claims are actually being discussed by Gutman’s defenders, who prefer to address criticisms that nobody is actually making.

Goldberg said that Gutman “blamed Israelis and Arabs alike.” That’s false per the text of the speech and doubly false in the context of Gutman’s overall diplomacy. In both his recent speech and his previous talks, he disproportionately and often singularly identified Israeli settlements as the problem.

Goldberg insisted that Gutman’s “real anti-Semitism vs. Muslim anti-Semitism distinction” is self-evidently tenable – you’d have to be an idiot to believe otherwise – because “one was marked by century after century of recurrent expulsions, Inquisitions, forced conversions, autos da fe and mass murders by waves of Crusaders, Ukrainian Cossacks and Nazi stormtroopers, and the other wasn’t.” That might be a relevant distinction but it’s not the one Gutman was making. What Gutman actually distinguished was between how “traditional” European anti-Semitism is grounded in pathological hatred while Muslim anti-Semitism is rooted in geopolitical root causes.

Gutman should be proud though. His speech was demonstrably wrong on the trend lines of European anti-Semitism. It pinned the blame for violent and genocidal Muslim anti-Semitism not only on Israel, but specifically on Israeli self-defense. It brought up settlements twice – the only explicit factor given that priority – just to emphasize on which side the fault lies. It fell within a history of him blaming Israel for Arab and Muslim rejectionism. It was done with rhetoric that was by turns vapid and unseemly, at one point even papering over the direction of religiously motivated violence with some passive language (i.e.”violence between some members of Muslim communities or Arab immigrant groups and Jews”).

And here’s a leading Jewish media outlet saying he did none of those things. Impressive!