Christopher Hitchens's Jewish Problem
The fact that Christopher Hitchens has a problem with the Jews has been an open secret for years. No one much likes to talk about it, and for various reasons his journalistic peers have remained silent on the subject. But it is nonetheless the case, and there is little sense in denying it.
The sixty-one-year-old Hitchens, a native of Great Britain and a recently naturalized U.S. citizen, is one of the most widely read and admired columnists in America, as well as a celebrated author who, in the words of the New York Times, "embraces the serious things, the things that matter: social justice, learning, direct language, the free play of mind, loyalty, holding public figures to high standards."
Hitchens's career began on the radical Left, with a strong affinity for the legacy of the Communist ideologue Leon Trotsky and his followers. His real gift, however, was not for ideology but for polemic, and his blistering prose quickly made him a literary celebrity, first in the pages of Britain's New Statesman and then, after he emigrated to America, as a regular columnist at the Nation. Before long, Hitchens's colorful opinions and even more colorful public image became fixtures of mainstream publications like Vanity Fair and the Atlantic.
For much of his career, Hitchens was known as a ferocious critic of American power and American policy. But in the 1990s, with the war in the Balkans and the long campaign to secure American intervention against the Serbs, he began a slow turnabout that would come to a head on September 11, 2001. Following the 9/11 atrocities, and the conspicuous failure of many of his left-wing comrades to acknowledge the guilt, and the threat, of radical Islam, Hitchens split from the Left for good, becoming one of the most vocal and, in conservative quarters, most prized supporters of the war on terror and American intervention in Iraq.
As a result of this about-face, Hitchens is now loathed both by his former comrades on the Left and by apologists for radical Islam. At the same time, many conservatives have proved willing to overlook his less palatable opinions: his implacable hatred of religion, for example, or his claims that Mother Teresa was morally depraved and that Henry Kissinger should be tried for war crimes. Nonetheless, it has been hoped that, along with his turn against the Left, Hitchens might have mellowed somewhat on the Jewish question, and in particular on his longstanding antipathy toward Israel. But this was not to be, as he took care to remind the world in a November 15 essay in the online magazine Slate, enchantingly titled "Israel's Shabbos Goy."
In this article, Hitchens's trademark indignation was aroused by the Obama administration's offer to Israel of various benefits in exchange for a moratorium on settlement building. Any such deal would have had to be approved by Israel's coalition government, one of whose members is Shas, a Sephardi religious party whose founder and spiritual leader is Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. The once-formidable scholar, referred to by Hitchens with typical subtlety as "this elderly Sephardic ayatollah" and a "scrofulous medieval figure," is now in his nineties and, as evidenced by some recent nasty remarks about non-Jews, much in need of retirement. For Hitchens, however, Ovadia Yosef and his attitude toward Gentiles are not the real problem. The real problem is Judaism itself:
The only mystery is this: why does the United States acquiesce so wretchedly in its own disgrace at the hands of a virtual client state? A soft version of Rabbi Yosef's contemptuous view of the Gentiles is the old concept of the shabbos goy—the non-Jew who is paid a trifling fee to turn out the lights or turn on the stove, or whatever else is needful to get around the more annoying regulations of the Sabbath. How the old buzzard must cackle when he sees the Gentiles [i.e., America] actually volunteering a bribe to do the lowly work!
The tone of unrestrained invective in these passages is part of Hitchens's cachet as a writer. The substance, however, is very ugly stuff indeed, composed out of some of the most barbarous and reactionary stereotypes of the Jewish people. In one paragraph alone, Hitchens evokes an image of the Jews as preternaturally crafty, hypocritical, manipulative, supremacist, animalistic, and morally diseased creatures who, with the help of their corrupt talents, set themselves to exploiting Gentiles for financial gain and "cackle" with glee at the resultant spectacle. Nor is this sort of defamation particularly unusual for Hitchens, who has been writing similar things for years and, for the most part, getting away with it.
Hitchens's bestselling atheist jeremiad, God is Not Great (2007), provides an excellent overview of its author's sentiments on the topic of Jews and Judaism. While the book is ostensibly opposed to all religions equally, Hitchens goes out of his way not merely to criticize Judaism but to portray it in the ugliest possible terms, invoking many of the classic themes of anti-Semitism in order to do so.
He informs us, for example, of the "pitiless teachings of the God of Moses, who never mentions human solidarity and compassion at all," and whose Ten Commandments have nothing to say about "the protection of children from cruelty, nothing about rape, nothing about slavery, and nothing about genocide." Indeed, according to Hitchens, "some of these very offenses are . . . positively recommended" by the God of the Hebrews, with far-reaching historical consequences. According to Hitchens, the Jews' genocidal God and His order to drive the Canaanite tribes out of the land of Israel form the basis not only of a "19th-century irredentist claim to Palestine" but of the current debate among Israeli rabbis over "whether the demand to exterminate the Amalekites is a coded commandment to do away with the Palestinians." Who these rabbis might be, the extent of their influence, and whether anyone listens to them are questions that go mostly unaddressed.
For Hitchens, the evils he lists are not just religious tenets; they are ingrained in the Jews themselves. The rituals and practices of Judaism, he charges, are debased by the Jews' obsession with money, as exemplified by the "hypocrites and frauds who abound in talmudic Jewish rationalization" and who operate according to the principle: "'Don't do any work on the Sabbath yourself, but pay someone else to do it for you. You obeyed the letter of the law: who's counting?'" (Hitchens's world abounds, apparently, in dutiful shabbos goyim.) Circumcision, he claims, is the "sexual mutilation of small boys" and "most probably a symbolic survival from the animal and human sacrifices which were such a feature of the gore-soaked landscape of the Old Testament." As for anti-Semitism, the Jews brought it on themselves. "By claiming to be 'chosen' in a special exclusive covenant with the Almighty," Hitchens writes, "they invited hatred and suspicion and evinced their own form of racism."
Hitchens's loathing for Judaism, or rather the grotesque caricature he refers to as Judaism, is particularly evident in his treatment of Hanukkah, a holiday marking the 2nd-century B.C.E. victory of a Jewish revolt led by the Maccabees. For Hitchens, the Maccabees' defeat of the Hellenistic regime of Antiochus Epiphanes was a disaster, because Antiochus, far from being a villainous tyrant, had "weaned many people away from the sacrifices, the circumcisions, the belief in a special relationship with God, and the other reactionary manifestations of an ancient and cruel faith."
To put it kindly, this is false; for the rather less benign details, one may consult I Maccabees and Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews. In brief, the "weaning away" lauded by Hitchens involved the forcible suppression of Jewish culture, religion, and ritual, along with torture, imperial occupation, and mass murder, including the slaughter of children: in other words, the very things that this self-proclaimed global humanist violently denounces whenever the Jews are not involved.
For Hitchens, the Jewish rejection of Hellenistic Greek culture in favor of what he calls "tribal Jewish backwardness" constitutes something like a crime against humanity. This belief is an important one, and he appears to have come by it very early on. In his recently published autobiography, Hitch-22, he laments that, in the world-historical struggle between Athens and Jerusalem, the former tragically lost out to the latter's "stone-faced demand for continence, sacrifice, and conformity, and the devising of ever-crueler punishments for deviance." The fact that, historically speaking, the "ever-crueler punishments for deviance" were inflicted by Athens upon Jerusalem, and not vice-versa, is something that, for Hitchens, is apparently not worth mentioning.
In short, Judaism is to blame for everything Hitchens hates about monotheism as a whole. "As a convinced atheist, I ought to agree with Voltaire," he writes of the father of Enlightenment anti-Semitism,
that Judaism is not just one more religion, but in its way the root of religious evil. Without the stern, joyless rabbis and their 613 dour prohibitions, we might have avoided the whole nightmare of the Old Testament, and the brutal, crude wrenching of that into prophecy-derived Christianity, and the later plagiarism and mutation of Judaism and Christianity into the various rival forms of Islam.
"Most of the time," he concludes, "I do concur with Voltaire, but not without acknowledging that Judaism is dialectical."
That tacked-on caveat about Judaism's "dialectical" quality may seem curious, but Hitchens gives a good indication of what he means by it in describing the type of Jew he does find acceptable. These are the "non-Jewish" Jews like Spinoza, Trotsky, and, one imagines, the partially Jewish Christopher Hitchens himself. Needless to say, separating the Jews into "good" Jews and "bad" Jews has a rather nasty provenance, but Hitchens has indulged in the exercise on more than one occasion. Concerning, for example, the 2003 terrorist bombing of the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, he wrote with ostensible sympathy that "The worshippers were not killed for building a settlement in the West Bank: they were members of a very old and honorable community who were murdered for being Jews." The implication that, had the Jews of Neve Shalom been building a settlement in the West Bank, murdering them would have been perfectly acceptable, points to where Hitchens's dialectics can lead.
It is also true that, on occasion, Hitchens has been outspoken in condemning anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, even a cursory examination reveals that these condemnations tend to be highly selective—so selective, in fact, that they often appear to be little more than an exercise in bad faith. For the most part, Hitchens condemns anti-Semitism when doing so can serve as a weapon against those he dislikes: e.g., certain right-wingers, certain left-wingers, radical Muslims, people who support radical Muslims, the Catholic church, or Christian evangelicals. When anti-Semitism serves his purposes, however, he is perfectly willing to make use of it and to engage in apologetics on its behalf.
Indeed, Hitchens's concept of anti-Semitism is itself a largely self-serving fantasy. "Because anti-Semitism is the godfather of racism and the gateway to tyranny and fascism and war," he has said, "it is to be regarded not as the enemy of the Jewish people but as the common enemy of humanity and of civilization and has to be fought against very tenaciously for that reason." In other words, Hitchens appears to be opposed to anti- Semitism only to the extent that it has nothing to do with the Jews but serves as a proxy for other evils. Given that anti-Semitism, whatever else it may be, is most certainly the enemy of the Jewish people, to decline to condemn it on that basis is, in effect, to decline to condemn it at all.
Hitchens has also proved quite willing to rationalize or explain away anti-Semitism when it is practiced by his friends or by those on his side of an argument. A notable beneficiary of his indulgence, as far back as the 1980s, was the leftist intellectual Noam Chomsky, who found himself in trouble after signing a petition defending the French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson. Criticized by a group of French intellectuals, Chomsky shot back that he was merely standing up for Faurisson's right of free speech, not his opinions, and attacked his critics as enemies of that right. In this he was duly parroted by Hitchens, who asserted that "the ‘fact' here is that Chomsky defended not Faurisson's work but his right to research and publish it."
This too was false. The petition Chomsky signed, and from which Hitchens himself quoted extensively, was clearly written by a Holocaust denier and presented Holocaust denial as a perfectly acceptable form of historical inquiry. This was what Chomsky's opponents criticized—not his defense, such as it was, of Faurisson's right to free speech.
Something similar occurred in the case of the British pseudo-historian David Irving, a self-declared fascist who has also described himself as "a hardcore disbeliever" in the Holocaust. In 1996, when St. Martin's Press declined to publish Irving's biography of Joseph Goebbels, Hitchens rushed to announce that the press had "disgraced the business of publishing and degraded the practice of debate." He also asserted that Irving "has never and not once described the Holocaust as a ‘hoax.'" This was obviously untrue, since Irving had been publicly denying the Holocaust for nearly a decade. Nor was "the Irving suppression," as Hitchens dubbed it with his usual bombast, anything more than a simple case of a publisher deciding, on fairly firm grounds of intellectual and moral integrity, not to publish an extremely bad book.
Even the symbols of Nazism seem to exercise Hitchens in strikingly counterintuitive ways, depending on who is deploying them. Remarking on the use of swastika flags by pro-Palestinian protestors, Hitchens publicly claimed to be "sickened" but then admonished his audience to remember that "this is an auction of imagery that was started by [Menachem] Begin and other Israeli extremists who once openly and regularly compared the PLO to the Nazi party." By way of contrast, on a 2009 visit to Beirut, Hitchens went out of his way to deface a swastika displayed by a pro-Syrian fascist party, endangering his traveling companions in the process. The contrast serves as something of an object lesson in Hitchens's selective outrage: When a swastika is the symbol of an obscure Lebanese political bloc, nothing, including the safety of others, must be spared in order to destroy it. When a swastika is brandished by pro-Palestinian activists, it is an understandable reaction to the rhetoric of "Israeli extremists."
The truth is that, beneath the surface platitudes, Hitchens's attitude toward the Holocaust and Nazism, like his attitude toward anti-Semitism, is disturbingly bizarre; but it is of a piece with his general attitude toward the Jews, Judaism, and their enemies.
There is, of course, no issue on which Hitchens's anti-Semitism has been more aggressive and outspoken than that of Zionism and Israel. That Hitchens hates Israel has long been known, and he has made no secret of it. Indeed, it practically leaps off the pages of his Slate article as well as countless other essays and interviews. Somewhat less well known is the extent to which this antipathy appears to be based on Hitchens's embrace of the racist proposition that the Jews have no homeland in Israel (and thus, by definition, no homeland anywhere).
According to Hitchens, the widely held delusion that the Jews are a people with the same rights as any other is a direct result of the deleterious influence of Judaism itself. As he puts it: "The only actual justification offered" for Zionism "is that God awarded the land to one tribe a good many years ago, and of course this appalling racist and messianic delusion . . . only makes a terrible situation even worse." In reality, one is constrained to point out, there is a bit more than God involved, such as the existence of a Jewish nation in the land of Israel for centuries, its sovereignty ended only by genocide at the hands of Roman legions; the centrality of Israel and especially Jerusalem to Jewish thought and culture; the fact that only the land of Israel has ever been regarded as the Jewish homeland by both Jews and non-Jews (including Muslims); and various other significant and notably secular historical facts.
Many of Hitchens's claims against Zionism go far beyond simple distortion. About Theodor Herzl, for example, he tells us: "If I could rewind the tape, I would stop Herzl from telling the initial demagogic lie (actually two lies) that a land without a people needs a people without a land." In fact, Herzl never wrote this. Hitchens's claim otherwise is no less false than his subsequent assertion that "If you give the most cursory attention to the writings of Herzl and [Max] Nordau and other founders of the Zionist movement, or if you read the memoirs of Yitzhak Rabin closer to our own day, you will notice at once that . . . they wanted [the Arabs'] land, and wanted it without its inhabitants." Herzl, in fact, hoped that the Arabs would be integrated as equal citizens in a future Jewish state, as did most of the "other founders of the Zionist movement," and Yitzhak Rabin never advocated an Israel emptied of its Arab citizens but publicly denounced such sentiments. One is not permitted to "lie about history," Hitchens once lectured a supporter of Israel, a rule that appears to be forgotten when it comes to Hitchens himself.
One likely reason behind Hitchens's hatred of Zionism is the (to him) irritating fact that the movement succeeded despite the opposition to it of many of the "non-Jewish" Jews he so admires. "One of the advantages of a Marxist and internationalist training," he has stated in an interview, "is that it exposes one to the early writings of those Jewish cosmopolitans who warned from the first day that Zionism would be a false messiah for the Jews and an injustice to the Arabs. Nothing suggests to me that they were wrong on these crucial points." This assertion is either tragic or absurd, considering that the Jewish cosmopolitanism glorified by Hitchens ended in the Auschwitz gas chambers, while the despised Zionists went on to found a relatively strong, prosperous, and culturally vibrant nation-state.
To a great extent, such violent hostility appears to be driven not by the delusions of Zionism but by the delusions of Christopher Hitchens. In a remarkable piece of bluster, he once wrote that "if anti-Jewish fascism comes again to the Christian world—or more probably comes at us via the Muslim world," he would not repair to Israel because "I already consider it an obligation to resist it wherever I live. I would detest myself if I fled from it in any direction." The obvious truth behind this swaggering fantasy is that if "anti-Jewish fascism" were to rise again, Hitchens would most likely share the fate of almost everyone who followed his recommended course the last time such a dilemma presented itself. His complacent formula for permanent Jewish victimization calls to mind something his hero George Orwell once wrote about pacifism: that it "is only possible to people who have money and guns between them and reality." Much the same, and worse, appears to be true of Hitchens and his anti-Zionism.
Without taking anything away from Hitchens's native gifts as a polemicist, it is not difficult to pinpoint the source of many of his poisonous attitudes toward the Jews and Judaism. He has done so himself many times by naming the late Israel Shahak as his "beloved guide, in the superior sense of that term," occupying a place in his pantheon of intellectual heroes next to Thomas Paine, Edmund Burke, and, of all people, Gore Vidal. "He was never interviewed by the New York Times," Hitchens lamented after Shahak's death, "and its obituary pages have let pass the death of a great and serious man."
Unfortunately, the "great and serious man" was barking mad. This is made apparent by the merest glimpse into Shahak's magnum opus, Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, which Hitchens has recommended as a reliable guide on matters Jewish. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece of anti-Semitic literature, whose thesis is quickly summarized: Judaism is racist and evil; as a result, Zionism is racist and evil; as a result, Israel is racist and evil. For Jews to cease to be racist and evil, they must divest themselves of Judaism.
To support this thesis, Shahak spins a lengthy conspiracy theory according to which the ancient rabbis cooked up the Talmud in order to create "one of the most totalitarian societies in the whole history of mankind." Here are a few characteristic passages:
* "[B]oth before and after a meal, a pious Jew ritually washes his hands, uttering a special blessing. On one of these two occasions he is worshiping God, by promoting the divine union of Son and Daughter; but on the other he is worshiping Satan, who likes Jewish prayers and ritual acts so much that when he is offered a few of them it keeps him busy for a while and he forgets to pester the divine Daughter."
* The "dominant feature" of talmudic Judaism "is deception—deception primarily of God, if this word can be used for an imaginary being so easily deceived by the rabbis. . . . Together with the deception of God goes the deception of other Jews, mainly in the interest of the Jewish ruling class." Indeed, "Marx was quite right when, in his two articles about Judaism, he characterized it as dominated by profit-seeking."
* Zionism, along with Orthodoxy, is the true successor of "historical Judaism." Both are "sworn enemies of the concept of an open society." Indeed, a Jewish state "cannot ever contain an open society. It can [only] become a fully closed and warlike ghetto, a Jewish Sparta, supported by the labor of Arab helots, kept in existence by its influence on the U.S. political establishment and by threats to use its nuclear power."
And so on in the same vein, including the revelations that Martin Buber was a mass murderer and that American Jews—who are all racists—became involved in the civil-rights movement only in order to further Jewish interests.
To anyone who has read Hitchens, much of this will sound familiar enough: at various times he has repeated whole passages from Shahak, occasionally word for word. The line about "Arab helots," for example, is a particular favorite. He is also, as we have seen, especially fond of Shahak's idea that there are some exceptional Jews "who have internalized the complex of ideas which Karl Popper has called ‘the open society.'"
We have returned to the good Jews and the bad Jews. The good Jews are those who rid themselves of any semblance of a particular Jewish identity. The bad Jews are those, secular or religious, who choose to remain who they are, and are therefore corrupted by the racism, chauvinism, power worship, and hatred of Gentiles inherent in Judaism itself. It is worth pointing out that, according to these criteria, almost all Jews are bad Jews.
Indeed, this final point is the essential one, because it goes to the heart of Hitchens's attitudes toward Judaism. Like Shahak, Hitchens's vision is of a world in which there will be no more Judaism. One should be honest about what this means: it means the religious, cultural, political, and social extinction of the Jews as Jews. In the world as Hitchens would have it, the Jew would cease to exist.
Hitchens often makes much of the necessity of facing truth as it is, and of not making convenient excuses for looking away. As he often quotes Orwell, "to see what is under one's nose needs a constant struggle." Indeed it does. In the present case, the anti-Semite is under all our noses, and it is well worth the struggle to see him.
Benjamin Kerstein is a writer living in Tel Aviv.
Lacking that, your assessment remains unsubstantiated.
An atheist polemicist is of course likely to express himself in ways that make many Jews uncomfortable, although Hitchens is stronger against other religions.
I am parti pris, since my 2007 Commentary review of Hitchens's "God is Not Great" pointed out Hitchens's very peculiar Hanukkah-hatred, and elaborated on his multifarious misunderstandings of that festival, from the mundane - blaming it incorrectly and provincially for being a rip-off of Christmas to the weirdly idealistic and hateful - all pointing to Hitchens's bizarre contention that if it were not for the survival of Judaism, "we might have been spared the whole thing" - as if religion then would have withered away like the Communist state did.
I cite - even recommend - my denunciation of Hitchens's anti-Hanukkahism (http://tinyurl.com/32cd62l) to give me the standing to say this about Kerstein's conclusion: he is utterly wrong about Hitchens's supposed anti-Semitism. The hostility that Hitchens expresses to Jewish history, and indeed, to the very existence of Jews and Judaism, while reprehensible and idiotic in itself, is also harmless and pitiable - it is a relic of Hitchens's leftist identity, which he cannot give up. On the other hand, his standing as an enemy of the enemy of the actual, contemporary enemies of Judaism, the Jews and even Israel, is something that a Zionist and a Jew should cherish, and is much more effective than his arguments against the Jewish state, which are dated even in their own terms - an historical relic of 1960s leftwing anti-Zionism with no effect.
In practice, Hitchens is so loathed by the real anti-Semitic left and the left in general that his few anti-Israel rants are ignored - but his eloquent denunciation of terrorism and his support of the Bush doctrine and the defense of the West nobly supports Israel's legitimacy and the survival of the Jews there and everywhere in the democratic west. He is a treasure to be cherished by us - someone who hates anti-Semitism more effectively and more authentically than any number of Jews ands self-proclaimed friends of the Jews. If he has a problem with Hanukkah - well, I wish (to compare puny men like me with great men like Lincoln), like Lincoln said of General Grant's drinking problem, we had many more friends of democracy and freedom with Hitchens's Hanukkah problem.
You disprove your own point. Hitchens may be valuable for his eloquent opposition to radical Islam, but his anti-semitism remains, even if you, wrongly, deem it 'harmless and pitiable.' Which, of course, was the whole point of Kerstein's article; Hitchens' brilliance has earned him a loyal following, but his lackeys continually refuse to acknowledge his dark side. Unlike you, Kerstein does not find deeply entrenched anti-semitic feelings on behalf of a world-renowned thinker to be a matter easily ignored. If nothing else, acknowledging Hitchens's vicious hostility to the Jews and Judaism will make clear the destination to which his radical brand of atheism leads. Yes, Hitchens may be a useful intellectual tool in the 'war on terror,' but if we recoil at his conclusions regarding Jews, which may be completely logical based on the misguided premises he has created, then perhaps we should reconsider whether it is proper to deploy his vitriol and gross simplification against Islam.
If I implied that I don’t appreciate Hitchens’s eloquent defense of the West, I apologize, it wasn’t my intent. My qualm is with his methods. As you say, Hitchens’s disdain for Judaism is commensurate, if not surpassed, by his disdain for Islam. Which is precisely my point. These are, indeed, ‘dark times,’ and there is an understandable urge to embrace the friends of our enemies as we find them. But our enemy is not Islam, and it is surely not all religious belief. In our search for an intellectual defender against radical Islam, should we embrace someone who wishes to tear down the entire edifice of belief, a foundation of both western civilization and, more to the point, the cultural, religious and national identity of the Jewish people? I’m not so sure. I turn for support to a writer of greater intelligence and eloquence than myself, who acknowledged that “the atheists focus their peevishness not on Muslim extremists (who advertise their hatred and violent intentions) but on the old-time Christian [and Jewish?] religion.” (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB116797141726367965-search.html) Given the intellectual pull of thinkers like Hitchens, I’m not sure our embrace of their particular defense of the west is worth implicitly accepting their more damaging ideas. At the least we should attempt to separate the two, which I believe you are trying to do. Maybe I’m naïve, but I’d like to remain a feinshmecker, even in these dark times.
I saw Hitchens's duality in action at a panel discussion [sic] at NYU not too many years back, at which all four panelists harbored anti-Israel or -Zionist slant, including the token Israeli, Haaretz reporter and loathing-his-own-people guilty soul Gideon Levy. So slanted was the panel that Hitchens alone, amidst his anti-Zionist diatribe, was de facto Israel's only defender amongst the left/Arab-Muslim milieu by virture of his honesty in calling Islamofascism -- in Syria, in Lebanon, in Hezbollah, in HAMAS -- for what it is, and recognizing implicitly if not explicitly that its evils are orders of magnitude more vicious and societally-threatening than anything the "Jewish supremacists" [sic] had ever put forward into this world.
I think the answer is simply that Sam and Dave -- to borrow a turn of phrase -- are both right, in a way.
On the one hand, Hitchens was the only balancer with leftist credentials (if expired) on this skewed panel, and, by extension, plays this role on a larger stage.
On the other, Hitchens helped legitimize a panel [sic] at a major U.S. university whose discussion of "whither Israel" did not include representation of the Jewish state (and, I would argue, hence, Jewish people) that could remotely be considered to be anywhere in the norm of its political spectrum -- no Israeli moderate or centrist or even moderate leftist, much less a rightist or center-rightist. This marginalization of proud Jews who have created and who defend with their blood a free, democratic, right-based nation, the only one in the region, is abhorrent and part and parcel of the new-style Israel- and Jew-hating agenda that threatens Jews and humanity everywhere.
If I am not mistaken, the REST of the article attempts to use actual quotes to substantiate that very claim. This article is almost 4000 words long and, instead of pointing out where Kerstein has supplied erroneous quotes or misunderstood Hitchens's arguments, you attempt to send me to some other analysis. Even if I spent all day watching Goldberg interviewing Hitchens on Jews and Judaism, that does not mean that he did not state the things that are exposed in this article. If these quotes are unsubstantiated (e.g. fabricated or taken out of context), then it should not be too hard to prove that Kerstein has misled his readers.
As for brushing off Hitchens's attacks on Jews as irrelevent because he has also directed his ire at other religions, I think that this is akin to saying that one cannot consider him a racist because he hates everyone equally.
But someone who hates everyone equally isn't a racist - he/she is a misanthrope! Mark Twain once said: "The Jews are members of the human race - worse I can say of no man." That's not anti-Semitism - quite the reverse.
Yes, this is his blind spot. But he has, as others note, defended Israel recently in both columns and at debates, often being its lone defender. He has not moved far enough from his old Trotskyist leanings, but neverthless, has moved far indeed.
"So slanted was the panel that Hitchens alone, amidst his anti-Zionist diatribe, was de facto Israel's only defender amongst the left/Arab-Muslim milieu by virture of his honesty in calling Islamofascism --"
"his - yes - pitiable and harmless anti-Zionism"
What's so harmless about Hitch's anti-Zionism?
He seems to see Hitchens as having a great hatred of all aspects of historical religious Judaism, but as Hitchens notes in Hitch-22 (on the same page as the Voltaire quote incidentally), “even pre-enlightenment Judaism forces its adherents to study and think.” Kerstein seems to present Hitchens as attacking Judaism more than the other religions he attacks in God is Not Great; really?
Kerstein asks which rabbis have said the Torah’s mention of Amalek is code for the Palestinians. http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=H-Judaic&month=0512&week=b&msg=QTupMHTBd/kZINqmx9kprw&user=&pw=
I think Kerstein also misrepresents the petition Chomsky signed (which can be read at http://www.historiography-project.com/books/faurisson_holocaust/on-trial.html ).
Hitchens has described his own sentiments for Jewishness and his own understanding of it. “To be Jewish is to be involved in a continual struggle, a continual test, to be at continual risk, to be always aware of anxiety and danger and angst, just as there could be despite the best efforts of its enemies no final solution to the so-called Jewish problem, Jewish question in Europe. So one has to say there’s no ultimate security or salvation for the Jewish people or any other. More and more, for example, to me Israel begins to resemble a part of the diaspora, not a solution to it or an alternative to it, just one other place where a large number of Jewish people live in great insecurity and constant doubt. Jews will always continue to be indentified as malcontents, doubters, unsound, cosmopolitan, and yes, if you like, ruthless…[anti-semitism's] hatred towards us is a compliment and resolving some of the time at any rate to do a bit more to deserve it.”
Oh and one other thing — I really shuddered at this paragraph of Kerstein’s essay:
“We have returned to the good Jews and the bad Jews. The good Jews are those who rid themselves of any semblance of a particular Jewish identity. The bad Jews are those, secular or religious, who choose to remain who they are, and are therefore corrupted by the racism, chauvinism, power worship, and hatred of Gentiles inherent in Judaism itself. It is worth pointing out that, according to these criteria, almost all Jews are bad Jews.”
p.s. Hitchens does go over-the-top sometimes, but that is because he’s a controversialist w/ a Marxist edge, not because he’s a self-hating Jew.
Here is a quote
"Anti-Semitism is gateway to tyranny & the common enemy of civilization"
Every religion thinks Hitchens hates them - Muslims, Christians - He lambasts Mother Theresa for gods sake. If you think hating the religion of Judaism makes one an anti-semite - then yes he is an anti-semite as he hates all religion. If you think Hitchens hates Jews - then you couldn't be farther from the truth. I find he is actually more respectful of Judaism and even wore a Kippa when he was being interviewed in a synagogue once. This article is really lacking.
Alas, his views are not always defensible or consistent, as Kerstein has taken pains---and it is painful---to portray.
As a self-confessed "contrarian," Hitchens, himself, may take pride in this. Perhaps.
For me, the most sordid and problematic aspect of these latest revelations is, in a nutshell: What is this extremely admirable (for the most part) and talented man---who claims to pursue truth resolutely and who, rightly, extolls Orwell---doing quoting and/or paraphrasing, with approval, Israel Shahak?
Here is my article on Kant, Hegel & Voltaire:
here is a summary of the article:
http://www.acpr.org.il/Nativ/2007-1-contents.htm#Reason, Science and Progress
A direct quote, to be dealt with, and no one seems to have focused on it yet. Judaism as the "root of religious evil." Any of Hitchens's fans who have commented above care to explain/rationalize/excuse this one? "Root of religious evil?"
Here's the publisher's copy: "Cliteur's position is not a defense of atheism. He is not negative about religion in general or even about the three monotheistic religions. He does say that in monotheism (especially in the Old Testament) is the starting point for radicalism that could lead to violence. Only when we know what those starting points are, can we liberate ourselves from them."
I'd rather have what Hitchens says, and take it as it was meant, as a backhanded compliment, than suffer through Cliteur's creepy PC kind of Jew-hatred, and watch how he filters it through "anti-racist strategies of discourse," as he no doubt does. Ugh.
First off, Mr. Kerstein got the quote wrong; Hitchens doesn't say "most of the time," but "much of the time" he agrees with Voltaire.
He goes on to say: "...but not without acknowledging that Judaism is dialectical...even pre-enlightenment Judaism forces its adherents to study and think, it reluctantly teaches them what others think, and it may even teach them how to think also."
Hitchens's view of Judaism is nuanced. Kind of like his view of everything else. He has a positive view of his own Jewishness and has claimed it as part of his identity.
The stereotypes in the West of Jews and Judaism - damaging as they are - acclaim certain qualities to it all. Jews are considered crafty, clever, and smart for example, but not religious. Certainly not the universal derogatory tropes about black people, which to wit, are the exact opposite. What those tropes do serve however is making Judaism somehow unique compared to other faiths.
Hitchens does something most commentators don't have the guts to do: He doesn't view Judaism as exceptional either way, good or bad. Judaism becomes just another brand of stupidity that is any religion, worthy of contempt via illuminating examples in his books and columns. You never see examples of Jewish fundamentalist stupidity because that is a trope of other religions in the West, and any critique of Judaism is a minefield of potentially being branded Anti-Semite and that label is a death-knell akin to "racist." Articles of this nature would've appeared long ago if someone like a Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow (simplistic cultural monotypes) had written such invective about Judaism in the past. The fact it took so long for such an accusation - and not an attack piece but one meticulously researched and referenced as here - to appear for Hitchens is a testament to his own background and capacity armoring him from such easy one-stop-shop labels.
And as his prose falls short, so too does his temper and judgment. Perhaps that is the fundamental problem, not a particular attitude toward Jews. Cf. misanthropes. Hating everyone is poor judgment, no matter who does it or why. If Hitchens is the Orwell of our time, it says something about our time: or perhaps the true heir has yet to emerge.
Odd that this article has spawned so many fervent responses, while other articles on Jewish-related topics create far less comment. Perhaps a Judaism without God and Torah is becoming intellectually fashionable, courtesy of the likes of Hitchens and other relativist atheists of his kin? Belief in Hitchens seems most passionate, as around his golden calf so many seem to be dancing, praises loudly ringing. But "not as bad as the REAL anti-Semites" found in university bookstores and classrooms seems low praise indeed.
I'm not interested much in Hitchens, never have been, and certainly have seen not much evidence that he ever says anything out of the ordinary, though he was quite interesting in a documentary I saw; but this really confirms that he's just another flighty-minded Jewhater who thinks his hatred of religion makes him significant.
As for BK, glad you're around! I used to visit your blogs and enjoyed your essay writing very much. keep on scribing, brother! ;)
To try and claim any singular uniqueness within the fantasy is just awesome in its self-delusion.
But you know what they say about opinions...
Well, that's good. Because nuance is what was implied when he said, "...but not without acknowledging that Judaism is dialectical...even pre-enlightenment Judaism forces its adherents to study and think, it reluctantly teaches them what others think, and it may even teach them how to think also." How car forcing people to think be the root of evil? It's a necessary precondition for good, and especially in the thought of a talmid [student] of Orwell.
Who views Hitchens as a golden calf? Does he win his debates? Sure, I think audiences come away convinced. I hardly ever come away from his writings convinced of his position's veracity and it's not uncommon for me to actually disagree with his positions.
Just because some of us disagree with you doesn't make Hitchens a golden calf. Think of him more like a talmudic tractate; you can't just read one thing he says and ignore his other position, because at the end of the day, he's far too nuanced for such a superficial examination.
What a fascinating suggestion, coming from a Brandeis student who has focused recently in his own blog on comments of Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, and a lightweight Myers with his straw men argued through the use of ridicule. (No, I don't favor the avid creationists that Myers targets, because they are no more nuanced than is he, another self-styled "confrontationalist." Since Vonnegut was one of his examples, and as Myers cites the quote, "whose mutual association is completely meaningless," one wonders what "Jew" even means to such clever nuance.)
All right, I shall imagine for a moment Pelta's new tractate, perhaps one titled "God Is Not Great."
Tractate imagined. Now what? Atheism is the way forward for Jews? For Israel? For Torah? Shall the rabbis convert to atheism? When finally Judaism is converted to atheism, what shall we be then? Certainly and finally, no longer Jews.
Then Hitchens might have the remedy to his view that Judaism is at the "root of religious evil." Moreover, Marx will have his remedy, just as he proposed, to the "Jewish problem."
As you may have noticed, my blog is on a short hiatus right now, the videos you referred to are there so the blog won't be without substance until I put my newest piece up. I should get it up soon, some time between today and Sunday.
But thanks for reading and feel free to read my past posts for a better impression of what my blog's all about.
Hitchens is equally dismissive of all religions not just Judaism.
Can anyone who reads Hitchens's work show where as this article states,
"Hitchens evokes an image of the Jews as preternaturally crafty, hypocritical, manipulative, supremacist, animalistic, and morally diseased creatures who, with the help of their corrupt talents, set themselves to exploiting Gentiles for financial gain and 'cackle' with glee at the resultant spectacle"
He rightfully criticizes the hypocritical nature of religion, the lack of morality in the 10 commandments, the ludicrous racism and backwardness in Ovadia Yosef's political parties and his comments and talks on many other topics.
No, I think Kerstein is just angry because Hitchens is a very powerful, influential critic of the worst, most self-destructive parts of Israeli policy. He should be ashamed of slinging such a nasty label, in part because when it is used unjustly, it loses its potency.
While mostly about Kissinger, Hitchens starts by flat-out lying about Israel and the supposed "deal" with the US for an extended freeze. He lies about the length of the extension, he lies about the reasons for the failure to reach an agreement and he pretty much paints the Jews as money-grubbing hypocrites. And apparently, he gets away with it.
What seems to well up from them is a Hitchens-colored Judaism in the eyes of his proponents which is atheistic, resentful of religious Zionism, can avow that "religion is a crime against collective humanity," not to forget "just another brand of stupdity," contrarian yet self-confessed as to being such, identifies religious Jews as "hypocritical," and finds "the lack of morality in the 10 commandments."
And the "God and God of our fathers" is in fact nonexistent. Poof! Gone with all the other fallacies, in favor of....
What shall we do for scriptures then? Which Torah portion and Parasha shall suffice? What new Sh'ma shall call out "the non-Lord is not God?"
Perhaps I do not understand the many nuanced comments posted here, but this seems a rather sourced synthesis of the commentary, taken as a stream of discussion and dialogue.
Judiasm is a religion, though the term "Jews" also applies in an ethnic sense, mostly because (as Hitchens often praises) the religion doesn't promote proselytising. "Anti-semitism" implies contempt and suspicion of the Jewish "race." You would be hard pressed to find a single statement of Hitchens's that makes, or even implies, this view.
To accuse Hitchens of having a "Jewish problem" is absurd, nauseating, and reveals a profound difficulty with reading comprehension on your part. Many Jewish rabbis, and conservative pundits (like the Jewish Dennis Prager) have been debate opponents of Mr. Hitchens, and to the last one have praised his sincere contempt for anti-semitism and all that it implies.
Yes, Israel is the Jewish state, inseparable from the Jewish people (if you deny it, ask the Jews and see what the overwhelming majority say); and yes, attacking the *legitimacy* of that state, particularly in context, is attacking the Jewish people, i.e. Jew hatred = antisemitism = antiJudaism = Israel hatred. (No, critiquing Israel is not antisemitic; many Jews outside and inside Israel do so all the time, some most vigorously.) But nonsense over Israelis' construction in disputed territory that Israel took only when *attacked* from it in 1967, construction that has only involved at most < 5% of that territory and that clearly is not intended to expropriate Palestinian lands, the propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding, when Israel is nearly 20% Palestinian and when Jews are prohibited BY LAW by the in-fact apartheid Palestinians running both Gaza and the West Bank from living there, and when Israel's polity, by a clear majority, has for decades been willing to trade virtually all of the disputed territory in exchange for a promise of peace and security -- with some minimal land-swapping of Israeli for Palestinian territory so as to help ensure necessary security for a populace terrorized and a nation warred upon as few others have been -- but still has no legitmate peace partner (certainly not the current Palestinian Authority, which this year blessed the naming of a major town square after a terrorist mass-murderer with not a peep from anyone on the left including Hitch, and whose current leader has never disavowed his doctoral thesis, a treatise denying the Holocaust took place) -- yes, that's Israel- and Jew-hatred. Why? Because (it is so simple that bright middle-schoolers get it, and so obvious that only potent political blinders could prevent seeing what is in plain sight) arriving at such a lopsided position vis-a-vis Israel necessitates ignorance (at best) and more likely extensive denial of undeniable on-the-ground facts in favor of age-old special (but admittedly constantly re-invented) rhetoric to create standards and storylines that are not applied at all similarly to, or told at all similarly about, any other people or nation on earth but Israel.
A quick example: Do a little history homework and learn, and so never again aver that entrenched and intensive murderous terrorism targeting Israeli civilians has anything to do with the Israel's post-1967 occupation of disputed territories *from which it was attacked* -- since in the 1950s and early 60s, fedayeen using primarily bombs and knives (the bombs just weren't as sophisticated or quite so lethal as what came later) regularly and massively infiltrated into Israel in sprees that killed some 500-1,000 Israelis, almost all civilians, many women and children. Why the resort to terror then, when the 1967 "occupation" hadn't happened yet? Oh, Israel then occupied their land, also, right. Currently, the number of terror-murders inflicted inside Israel is very low, near zero, with approximately six terror-murders interdicted en route to their crimes EVERY WEEK.
With respect, put bluntly, with the insult intended only as rhetorical device, and with apologies to bright middle-schoolers and non-ideologues everywhere, it's the right to exist, stupid.
1)radical moslems to do violence they would not otherwise do toward Jews?
2) Same applied to right wing anti-semites
I don't think so; it appears that he is despised by both groups. It is one thing to say or encourage nasty behavior to Jews and another thing to pontificate in which the words do no damage. I think I am paraphrasing correctly when I quote Hitchens as saying he would rather have a fundmentalist Christian in a foxhole with him that any squishy liberal. That he is wrong in not seeing the similarity of the Kurds' desire for their own homeland and the Jews is a contradiction that he has not grasped. Now that the Kurds have their own space in N. Iraq and are well armed, they no longer can be victims as they once were; similar to the Jews in Israel.
Judaism is wholly different from being Jewish even if the two are grouped together. And make no mistake, Hitchens's point is to relieve Judaism of respect. This is the force of the new-atheism and it has become a social force.
For the hard-line Hitchens supporters your critique will serve as an example of how to protect a religion from criticism, and how to associate the criticism of ideas with racism and bigotry, instead of making a religious defense (which has been very unfruitful).
By now my position is clear. Religions, to remain reputable in the realm of ideas, must deal with the criticisms themselves with an appeal to diverse scholarship; which you have courageously done in half of the article.
Congrats on this extensive work. It will be cited me thinks.
I am sickened by the anti-Semitic enemies of the state of Israel. I hate the suicide bombers who murder old people and children in Tel Aviv. I believe that the State of Israel has a right to exist. I am a sworn enemy of Hezbollah.
And if Kerstein would bother to do proper research, he would see that Hitchens holds all those positions as well. Hardly the profile of a Jew hater.
2. FYI, many non-Jewish neighbors like being called on to serve as a "Shabbos Goy" from time to time, to help their Jewish neighbors get some essential tasks done on the Sabbath. I was at a rally in Kew Gardens Hills (Queens, NY) during Israel's Lebanese war against the PLO, where Mario Cuomo and Ed Koch gave speeches (they were in a primary race for NY Governor). Cuomo, no dummy and certainly no victim, made a point of saying he had helped as a Shabbos Goy.
Interesting article. I too have been of two minds regarding Christopher Hitchens. On one hand there is his defense of Daniel Pearl and stance against Islamofascism. On the other there is his intolerance and misrepresentation not only towards Judaism but towards religion altogether. Barry Rubin recently wrote a similar article about Nietzsche. He casts Nietzsche as a philosemite whose pronouncements were adopted by and inspired a generation of antisemites.
The problem is that Hitchens, right or wrong, depending on which utterance, is extremely eloquent, so that when you agree with him you would like to quote his material, and when you do not you would like to figuratively wring his neck. One would like to extract the argument from the man so that you can pick and choose.
Kerstein quite rightly points out that Hitchens gets his facts wrong. Though he would likely not characterize himself as such, he is indeed a man of faith (or anti-faith if you will) and commits the gravest error that he accuses others of - he begins with his conclusions and shapes the facts to fit them. He's a journalist and political commentator, not an objective historian. He argues from principle. For him atheism is to be desired as a universal religion. There is an aspect of that movement that sees politics as a battle for universal salvation as opposed to what I consider the better alternative - good governance. Hitchens is also a rationalist, forgetting G.K. Chesterton's admonition that a person of faith (himself a staunch Catholic) would never claim that religion stands apart from reason.
The fact is that Hitchens is such an effective orator against Israel's current enemies that there is a fear that to discredit some of his arguments would act towards discrediting all of them. This is the dilemma that Kerstein points out. It's also the dilemma of one's desire to remain within a big tent - by hiving one's self off into a group with which you mostly agree, you split yourself off into a group so small that you are without support - which is a recipe for failure.
In short - Hitchens hates fascism and loves the West of the Enlightenment. I tend to agree. Hitchens despises both religion and the religious origin of both Judeo-Christian and Judeo-Islamic civilizations - I beg to disagree. He is also not above using some of the same tropes that antisemites use - in that regard he facilitates antisemitism and should be called on it. If not then the worst of what he writes will bite back, posthumously.
If you want to understand Hitchens's views on Judaism and on being Jewish himself, read his new book "Hitch 22".
Benjamin Kerstein- this submission is positively harmful to the Jewish struggle.
if a Jew criticizes something Jewish, does that make him/her "self-hating?" what is the road map here- are we only to follow an agenda and not tackle issues on their own merit? Hitchens has every right (and responsibility) to critique history. To eschew Hitchens's constant championing of Jewish contributions to humanity as window-dressing afterthoughts is a polarizing mis-characterization.
Incidentally, since becoming familiar with Hitchens's work, i have gone out of my way to learn more about Jewish history and culture and the state of Israel. I can't think of anyone who has inspired this in me more than CH. I would hope you would consider that a check-mark in the positive column.
I think it'd be more accurate to say that Hitchens makes a distinction from the status quo Left that will often excuse the very worst Right wing enemies of humanitarian principles, yet, reserve that hatred for comparatively tame provincial conservatism. Hitchens is very much a classical Liberal.
I've heard and read Hitchens many times extolling the virtuous and positive effects that Jews have on any society in which they live, he just has no time for bronze age superstitions. What would any self-respecting Jew prefer? That Hitchens loved their religion but hated the effect of Jews on society? Or that he hated their religion but loved their effect on society?
Being critical of Israel doesn't mean you have hatred for Jews. Similarly, hating Judaism doesn't mean you hate Jews.
There is much more to a Jew than his or her religion. It is insulting to hear Kerstein make no distinction between them. That is the type of thinking that, if swung to the other direction, is the same generalization that is required to have antisemitism.
What about Hitchens's lecture on antisemitism for the Pearl family? Easily attainable on youtube. I will quote Christopher's closing statement so such smearing can be thrown in the garbage where it was borrowed from.
"Because antisemitism is the godfather of racism, and the gateway to tyranny and fascism and war, it is to be regarded not as the enemy of the Jewish people alone, but as the common enemy of humanity and of civilization. And it has to be fought against very tenaciously for that reason. Most especially in its current, most virulent form, of Islamic jihad...We must make sure our own defenses are not neglected. Our task is to call this filthy thing, this plague, this pest, by its right name, to make unceasing resistance to it, knowing all the time that it is probably ultimately ineradicable. And bearing in mind that its hatred towards us is a compliment. And resolving, some of the time at any rate, to do a bit more to deserve it."
I have a feeling this smear is more about what Hitchens does not believe in than what he does.
The fact of him saying as long as the Jews have a (mythical) claim that the Holy Land belongs to them is said, but not that whilst other religions also have scriptural claims, there will be comprimising. So it was an attack on religious claims to land, not on the Jews.
His attack on Hitchens's defending Chomsky's right to free speech was contradictory in itself! He admitted Hitchens only was defending Chomsky's right to free speech and that Chomsky was being silenced due to what he may have published. No where was there talk of Hitchens advocating that the holocaust never existed. Yet somehow Kerstein made this connection. YouTube Hitchens's free speech talk at Toronto where he talks on this more.
Hitchens in 'God is not great' also had to specify the Jewish myths more particularily as they are the origins of monotheistic religion, which Kerstein admits to but still seems to think that Hitchens just has more of a grudge against Jews?!
I could go on and on about the drivel that Kerstein has assembled to form this article, mainly in giving the impression that Hitchens is two-faced in all his beliefs! Though I hope readers of this page have read and understand Hitchens better that this provocateur of ill-thought towards one of the greatest minds of our time.
Nobody that has seen this lecture (available on YouTube as Ethan points out) could EVER call him an anti-semite.
I replied, "Yes, as she still has lots of nominally Jewish children".
He said "So do I."
"...religion is a crime against collective humanity," but noting that secular atheism is a crime against Judaism is not?
Then what is the "Jewish struggle" which "wc" thinks Kerstein has harmed? Is it a secular struggle? An atheists's struggle?
To plead special victimisation from Hitchens is absurd, and your mangling of his views betrays your own insensitivity to language. To be critical of texts and theories that one holds to be meaningless does not equate to an irrational hatred of those who believe said texts. And even if it did, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that he singles out Jews.
Hitchens does, however, rightly identify the Jewish sacred texts as the source of a great burden on society, plagiarised as they have been by every religion since. Again, what has this to do with Jews, and even less, Zionism?
It simply has to be noted:
"For Hitchens, the evils he lists are not just religious tenets; they are ingrained in the Jews themselves."
You said it, Hitchens didn't. I doubt he would say something so foolish, so obviously wrong and self-defeating.
If you would like to see a more polished survey of anti-Semitism, to see his real views, go here:
Not everything is permitted to man.
He is still his brother's keeper
And is not permitted to sadden his brother,
By saying that there is no God.
Many of the avid supporters of Hitchens seem to "believe" in him, as their fervor attests. There is no question that Hitchens is a clever fellow, but there remains a question how "Jewish" he is. To date in this article and its stream of comments, I have learned that he is both an anti-Semite and a true Jew, no Jew and Jew by only limited degree. Some folks believe one, and others believe another.
In support of the various propositions, one is asked to believe, based on some evidence from Hitchens' opera omnia. Barthes suggests meaning lies over the whole of text(s), such that all that Hitchens' has said comes into play. (Goethe also made this observation.) Taking Hitchens' avid Leftist stance and then avid less-than-Leftist stance, his enthusisam for socialist causes alongside his suggestion that Communism is "kind of religion," one comes up with inconsistencies enough to make fair critique. But Hitchens' powerful prose suggests he is always right, even after he changes his mind. As noted, he is a clever fellow to have acquired so many true believers.
Here is my article on the Judeophobia in Kant, Hegel & Voltaire and its impact on today's "Left":
here is a summary of the article:
http://www.acpr.org.il/Nativ/2007-1-contents.htm#Reason, Science and Progress
I don't believe "widespread big lies." I happen to know a few facts. And I said nothing of any alleged Israeli atrocities; I simply had the audacity to state plainly and directly that the Palestinian people are suffering under occupation.
Christopher Hitchens, who is Jewish by matrilineal descent, has focused sharp criticism on the religious extremist elements within the current Israeli government. Those who feel threatened by this can respond to his statements in context, or they can remove quotations from context in order to attack his character. They can stoop to that most contemptible of intellectually dishonest strategies: to equate serious criticism of Israeli policy with anti-Semitism.
Why have so many Arabs moved into Jerusalem --that is, into an Israeli-controlled city-- from the area around Ramallah controlled by the PLO/PA since the PLO/PA took over that area in 1996? Is it possible that some Arabs are voting with their feet, showing that they prefer Israel to the PLO/PA form of govt?
What is the source of your "facts"? Anyhow, Israel is being unjustly defamed and smeared all over the world. So I don't that you displayed any special audacity by making false claims against Israel. It is possible --maybe likely-- that most Arabs here aspire to live without the Jews around them and without Israel government. It is possible that they aspire to an Arab state or an Arab-Islamic state throughout the whole country. But having unfulfilled aspirations does not mean that people are suffering.
Humility was never his finest attribute. Evidently, with all the readings that he made, he never spent enough time reading the bible, where he could have found ample suggestions how to live like a decent man.
But has their leadership brought it all on themselves? A hundred times "yes" to that question. The "suffering" inheres in refusal to face the reality that the state of Israel, like it or not, exists. When you would rather watch your own people suffer in squatter refugee camps than recognize that Israel exists and thereby find a solution either in granting them citizenship (as Israel did with its refugees from Arab countries) or negotiating a solution, then yes, you're bringing suffering on their heads. The people who have spent 60 years in "camps" are hostages. A huge failure in compassionate, forward-looking leadership.
When you fight reality, it usually wins, and that usually means that someone is suffering.
What Kerstein fails to mention is that Hitchens is uniformly critical of the destructive irrationality arising from ALL religious movements--Christian, Muslim, Hindu, you name it. I have atheist friends who identify strongly with their native Jewish culture while also professing views on religion (and religious fanatics) that are very similar to those of Hitchens.
Ruth, you speak of bad leadership bringing grief to a people. Is that a principle that works both ways? Do you think the extremist elements within the current Israeli government, such as the Shas Party that Hitchens was writing about in his Slate column, will bring anything but grief to the citizens of Israel? If suffering inheres in a refusal to accept reality, what suffering will (continue to) inhere in the refusal to recognize the wasted lives of generations of Palestinians, and the right of their state to exist, too? Can the people of Israel get the security they so need and deserve without facing these realities and defeating these bad (yes, I'll say it a hundred times: BAD) elements in their own leadership?
As I said before, Kerstein attempts to divert attention away from Hitchens's valid criticism of the religious fanatics (and also secular extremists like Avigdor Lieberman) in Netanyahu's government by calling Hitchens an anti-Semite. This is nothing new for Kerstein. I went back and read an essay he wrote earlier this year, titled, "Jews vs. Joseph Lieberman," and was disgusted to see he applied the same cowardly tactic to American politics. In his view, liberals who spoke harshly of Lieberman's obstruction of health care legislation did so because--yes, you guessed it--they were anti-Semitic. As someone who has been dismayed by (and outspoken against) many of Joe Lieberman's recent political positions, but who has met the Senator and his family and found them all to be lovely people, I'm deeply offended. But that's the way Kerstein operates. Are you going to fall for demagoguery?
If you look at the scope of Middle Eastern affairs from 1920 to the present, Shas doesn't even deserve a mention. The Mufti's tragic decision to pursue an alliance with Hitler does. The Arab rulers' decisions to urge the Palestinians in Israel to flee so that the Arab armies could be free to obliterate Israel (thus creating the original refugee camps) does. The appalling choices made by Nasser and King Abdullah in 1967 do. The continuing refusal to make peace and settle issues does. The incredibly stupid choices of Yasser Arafat to turn away some pretty fat deals offered by Ehud Barak do.
These, and many other choices, are the tragedies of Arab "leadership" that brought refugee camps, war in Gaza, and the barrier wall along the West Bank. A few Palestinian and other Arab leaders are starting to make smarter long-term choices, bringing removal of barrier walls, opening markets, and better friendship with Israel. Jenin is a good example.
Israel's poor choices have always been made in the teeth of a dilemma, many bad choices forced on them by the world powers and the Arab countries. It's not fair to criticize someone for what they did when they had no good choices if you won't spend a lot of time looking at who created the situation to begin with.
This is all only tangentially about Hitchens, but I agree that criticism of Israel and contemporary anti-Semitism often blur. Both exist and they are not neatly separable. Incidentally I'm not Jewish, I just follow the Middle East for reasons of personal interest. I read the Hitchens article with an open mind, and my main conclusion was posted earlier: he falls short of Orwell, a hero that Hitchens and I share.
As you say, this is (tangentially) about Hitchens. The point he's been making is that Netanyahu is essentially running down the clock when it comes to peace talks--that he is beholden to extremist constituencies which are busy expanding settlements. You keep going back (very selectively) in history to cast the blame on the Palestinians. Hitchens's point is that Netanyahu is basically stalling while more and more of the West Bank and East Jerusalem are annexed, making a viable Palestinian state less and less possible. (Which is obviously the plan.) That's what Hitchens is talking about, and that's what you keep ignoring in your remarks.
I too am a fan of Orwell. Rhetorically, Hitchens has much more in common with Mencken. What he does share with Orwell -- and I applaud it -- is a willingness to speak plainly about truths that people around him find fashionable to ignore.
The settlements in the West Bank are an issue, of course. But even Ariel Sharon was willing to use force to uproot peaceful settlements in Gaza, in order to achieve "peace" via land give-backs. Look what happened. Who would want to try it again? It would be utterly crazy to hand over territory to Iran like that a second time. No country in the world would do it, nor will Israel.
Conditions among the Palestinians have to change radically before such things will work. It may be that the babies being born now will be the ones with the will to make it happen, and there will be more peace for more individuals if Israel continues to "occupy" the "West Bank" until then. Even for the Palestinians, whose lives have improved under Israeli rule.
My personal hope is that eventually there will be a single Israel, perhaps with federal cantons like Switzerland. This was the original UN vision: rejected by the Arabs. Which goes back to my original point. And I still think that anyone who determinedly ignores the Arab "rejectionism" in talking about Israel's "failure" in the peace process should be at least asked why. What is it about a Jewish State that draws such lop-sided criticism? And that's where anti-Semitism blurs in; it does exist, and it makes clear thinking difficult.
Furthermore, Mike, you make no mention of the hate and indoctrination perpetrated by both Fatah/PLO/PA [= Palestinian Authority] and Hamas against Jews in general as well as against Israel as a state. If you are not informed about this constant hate and agitprop in the PA & Hamas media, schools, mosques, etc., then I refer you to MEMRI and PMW [= Palestinian media watch] and the IMRA. They all survey Arab media, particularly the media in the Palestinian Arab-controlled zones in Gaza and Judea-Samaria. Those that spread this extreme hatred of Jews, based both on medieval Muslim bigotry and borrowed European Judeophobia, do not want peace with Israel. The Obama administration should acknowledge this.
Where did I write, "it's all Israel's fault"? That's not even CLOSE to being my opinion. This discussion deals with an article accusing Christopher Hitchens of being an anti-Semite. A cheap way to draw attention away from the serious points Hitchens was making. The same writer, in an earlier essay on Sen. Joe Lieberman, said that the senator's critics were issuing a "blood libel" when they argued that many people could suffer ill health and die as a result of Lieberman's obstruction of a health care bill designed to bring coverage to many millions of uninsured human beings. Never mind that precisely the same accusation was made against ALL the other opponents of the legislation--most of whom were not Jewish.
As I wrote to Ruth: Enough. I will just add that I wish you both a Happy New Year and--especially to you there in Jerusalem, Eliyahu--peace.
I brought back the word "anti-Semitism" so as to tie the discussion to the whole thread. It's really about the question: how much can you criticize Israel before people are justified in suspecting that you have emotional reasons for your views, stemming from a historical dislike of Jews? Kerstein felt Hitchens crossed the line, and commenters took both sides. I'm just saying that when this historical hatred exists and still crops up, it's never clear where that line is. We don't have to make the same argument about other political dilemmas and territorial disputes, because Jews do have a special history.
About Hitchens: I still don't know if he's anti-Semitic, but I have found the whole thread interesting. Thank you all.
The two-state solution has been on some table -- that proverbial "table" -- since the first war between a fledgling Israel and its Arab Muslim neighbors, and all the ensuing decades have not moved an inch towards a Palestinian state which would announce its borders. This is easily explained with language and the thinking it evidences. A nation with borders would de facto also evidence all intentions towards its neighbor. Any defined borders for a "Palestine" -- in quotes -- which cede anything to an second of those two states in the "two state solution" -- Israel -- would be a statement by Palestine renouncing land of some measure.
Literally more than sixty years of potential borders being announced has been nuanced by so many ardent peacemakers, as if borders were the last step in a long and arduous process. Not so. It is the first step.
This is why Israel has announced borders, ceded control of areas won in war and the like. It is also why "Palestine" has not.
Debate language all one wants, but the reality is that to date and probably well into the future, the myth of the two-state solution requires one simple thing which is an anathema to the PA, Fatah and Hamas: borders which either envelop all of Israel and mean NO two-state solution, or borders which de facto recognize Israel as one of the "two states."
Occupation? Settlements? It's a fine obfuscation to cover the fact that either Palestine is one of two in that two-state solution, or both of them with there being no Israel. So it seems from one vantage point.
And where is a Hitchens on the sketch of borders? Wordless, because it is easy to be a critic, but difficult to ask the simple question and pose the simple solution. My suggestion is that there cannot be a two-state solution with one of the states saying openly "No Jews welcome" and "death to Israel."
Sound like leftist relativism? Allow this Jew to explain: I have heard and read Hitchens state many, many times that he believes anti-semitism to be the most despicable form of hatred. In his lectures and writings, he routinely catalogs the special stupidity, immorality and irrationality of Jew-hating through the ages. And he is, above all, a self-professed anti-theist, so he of course does this while simultaneously making fun of certain Jewish traditions or harshly criticizing them (e.g. circumcision as a covenant). And even if this makes him "anti-semitic" -- again, I wouldn't know how Kerstein defines the term -- we all know very well that he doesn't reserve such treatment for the Jews.
Kerstein gives himself away completely when he eventually states, "In the world as Hitchens would have it, the Jew would cease to exist." While other atheists and antitheists have said as much, Hitchens has said precisely the opposite. Indeed, it is a nonsensical comment if you've paid even the most casual attention to the body of Hitchens's work. Read some books and watch some lectures on YouTube -- the research is awfully easy -- keeping Kerstein's irresponsible quote in your mind. Surely, you'll experience the kind of cognitive dissonance I and, it appears, many others experienced while reading this article.
Being opposed to Israel's behavior doesn't make one anti-Jewish. I am Jewish and no fan of Israel, either.
Define Jewish please. After God, Torah, Talmud and rabbinic commentary are nuetered away, and given the Hitch-ish comment that Judaism is "the root of religious evil," apparently the word has some other definition which only the good prophet Hitch and his disciples can understand. I would like to understand what "Jewish" is in the sentence "Hitch is Jewish." Alas, to date and given the paucity of clear definitions, I do not understand. Please define "Jewish" that "Hitch is Jewish" has meaning to the few of us who just don't get it.
Intellectual dishonesty at its utmost, as your response to my post reaffirms.
He was raised by a mother who felt, with some validity, that in order for him to have a chance to be in the upper classes in England, he needed to be raised as a WASP. It is not surprising that, even though he is brilliant, he came to anti-Jewish prejudice as a part of his culture - prejudice he would like to deny - prejudice that has nothing to do with his atheism or general anti-religion stance. And prejudice that has nothing to do with his general dislike of Zionism. One can be against Israel's policies without resorting to calling Obama a Shabbos goy. If Hitchens even really knew what it meant, he would realize is very much like a church sexton. One can be against American support of Israel without claiming that "the Jews" have undue influence over American foreign policy. But if one has absorbed antisemitic leanings like mother's milk - unbeknownst to oneself, as part of one's culture, one will exhibit these leanings when expressing one's opinion, and Hichens, to my eyes, clearly has.
Sometimes I disagree with him, often I agree with him; I love the way he will say the emperor has no clothes no matter whom he offends. But sometimes his prejudice is just ignorant and nauseating, such as in his recent article about the "undue influence of the Jews." Really - for a brilliant man to be so ignorant as to even think that the Jews, with no pope, no one person directing how we should think, with the old joke exemplified by the comments here: "5 Jews, 10 opinions" could have undue influence as a people is shocking. To make such an allegation knowing the history of our slaughter, and knowing that the idea that we had undue influence was often used as an excuse to murder us, is shameful and inexcusable. Certainly there can be undue influence of a pro-Israel right or wrong lobby, but that is not the view of all Jews, (witness J-Street, etc) and is the influence any more "undue" than the Cuban lobby's influence on Cuban policy? Given the history, to make such allegations is not only not reality based, it is disgusting. And yet, Hitchens said it proudly. This is typical British antisemitism - not even realizing the implication of what one is saying, and simply parroting widely held views about Jews regardless of their inaccuracy.
And I say this as someone who generally loves him, and his courage to say what needs to be said regardless of the consequences. But basic realities are basic realities.And it is basic reality that the British upper classes are notoriously antisemitic, in often subtle ways. As are the American upper classes. No matter how many Jews are or are not allowed into high positions in government and academia.
I had an older friend who has since passed away, (he would be 79 about now) who was an American WASP of the wealthy variety, and he went to Choate. As his lung cancer advanced, he remarked to me, over dinner, in front of his children, that the Pope during WWII could not have supported a policy of Jewish children being baptized and then kept from their parents after the war, in spite of a NYT article indicating that that is exactly what happened. He stated viciously that the Jews would have gotten lawyers and gone to court to get their kids back - after all, isn't that what Jews do? Sue people? When the image of emaciated, starving, traumatized people trying to get their children back in a hostile environment, when they were not even being given their homes back, when almost all their friends and neighbors had been slaughtered, was brought to his attention, he snarled that such an image was ridiculous, and that Jews know how to work the system, and if such a thing had happened to their children, which it did not, according to him, they would have gone to court.
I figured the cancer had gone to his brain, which it turned out it had, and he died shortly thereafter. But after his funeral, I met his son from his first marriage for the first time, who did not know this story. And, completely unaware of this incident, he said he was surprised that I was friends with his late father, because he was such an antisemite. "Really", I said - "I had known him for 20 years and had not known or ever heard him say anything antisemitic until the end." Well, he said, "he knew to not speak of it in front of Jews, but he used to use the word "kike" as a slur when we were children just at drivers he was angry with." Then he said, "he went to Choate - didn't that tell you everything you needed to know about his likely antisemitism?" I said I was rather ignorant about Choate and its brethren, having been from a working class Jewish family, and he said, "well what do you think those skull and bones types at Yale think about Jews?" He made it rather clear that I was naive to fail to understand that American WASPs in certain circles of wealth hold very similar views on Jews as do the British aristocracy. That the views on Jews of Dickens and Shakespeare had never gotten very far from the public consciousness in England, and certainly were carried in the upper classes there, as well as their descendants here, such as attendees at Choate like his late father.
I know what my grandmother used to say about Gentiles in the privacy of her home - I can't imagine that this man I met is that far off in his assessment that anti-Jewish sentiments are commonly held by, among others, British White Anglo Saxon Protestants of a certain class and educational level. And that such sentiments would include exactly the type of anti-Jewish things Hitchens has been known to say.
So, as much as I love Hitchens, for me to think that he escaped his own culture, or that his brilliance has allowed him to transcend it, in spite of some of the things he has said in public, would be wishful thinking. He is a product of his times and surroundings, and he has no more managed to transcend this than my late friend.
The constant stream of thought from Hitchens probably works to his detriment. He is an unfinished man, like the rest of us. He only articulates his incompletness better than most.
I object as well to the compulsion of many secular Jews to defend the bigotry of such as Hitchens. Thus is article is a welcome and well-done statement of the facts concerning Hitchen's bigotry.
Indeed, over and over, Hitchen's books contain not only primordial anti-Semitism, but gross mis-interpretations of Jewish culture and religion. For example, the mikvah is a quite reasonable custom which -- like kashrut -- allowed ancient Israelites to introduce healthy, sanitary practises into their culture. Yet Hitchens has mis-characterised the mikveh as ... evidence of Judaism's oppression of women!
In similar politically-correct misplaced emphasis, the website of at least one major atheist organisation cannot wait to tell us ... how civilised Islam is.
All in all, an excellent article. Hitchens (and atheist anti-Semites) have much to account for.
As I have indicated, I am a philo-Semitic atheist. I think your analysis of your Choate friend's genteel anti-Semitism is spot on. Let me add several points:
1. It is indeed grotesque for your Choate friend to have adopted such a cavalier, and indeed anti-Semitic, attitude towards the victims of the Shoah.
2. The truth is quite the opposite of your friend's intepretation: Jewish culture's attitude towards the law has long been a profoundly civilised one, encouraging disputes to be handled by legal process and deliberation, not by violence, nor by civil disobedience (which is forbidden by "dina dmalchut"). Islam could learn a lot from the Jews.
3. There are cultural reasons for Jewish affinity for medicine and law, among them:
- The intellectual nature of the culture is perfectly suited to such professions as medicine and law.
- A "profession of the mind" is also perfectly suited to a minority continuously under threat, such professions being easily "taken along" as prejudice drove human beings from one country to another at a moment's notice. Such "easily portable" professions were essential to the survival of the Jewish community and its leaders, such as Maimonides.
- Such choice of profession has in fact been a device to circumvent prejudice; from the United States to Morocco, even anti-Semites have often been willing to resort to Jewish professionals when their own health or legal status have been at risk. (For example, von Bulow needed Dershowitz, over-riding any genteel anti-Semitism von Bulow might have felt.)
4. It is good to see that some Jewish communities feel sufficiently secure to mock the stereotype. For example, a (not malicious) joke circulated among my own Jewish friends: A few Jewish businessmen decided to open a Japanese restaurant. What name did they choose? "Sosume"!
"Where I come from, it is utterly disingenuous to call someone a Jew-hater -- or even to suggest one wishes Jews didn't exist -- because one criticizes the Maccabee story."
You err on several grounds:
1. Hitchens isn't an anti-Semite because he mocks the Hanuuka story (which is not entirely a "story" but to a certain extent factual). Hitchens is an anti-Semite because of a long and clear pattern of hostility to and contempt for the Jewish people.
2. Hitchens is clearly a Jew-hater. However, even more innocent mis-characterisation of Jews, which may not rise to hatred, may still qualify as anti-Semitism -- the anti-Semitism of ignorance or indifference.
3. Indeed, Hitchens' attitude reeks not only of hostility and contempt, but also of outright ignorance: Hannukah is a festival of religious freedom, not of tribalism. Jewish culture deserves admiration for insisting (so far in advance of other cultures) upon the principle of religious freedom without coercing others. That is, Judaism insists upon religious freedom while discouraging (or fobidding) proselytisation. Would that Christianity and Islam had come earlier to adopt such principles. (Islam still hasn't.)
Moderators: Captchas are a necessary annoyance -- but your Captchas are nearly illegible.
The Jews' affinity for medicine and law goes back even farther. In the early Middle Ages, even before Maimonides, they had a much more profound program of education for their children because they expected every Jewish man to know and uphold the law. Without a priesthood, every man had to be his own priest. Jewish boys spent most of their childhoods in school, while Christian boys did not, unless they were going into the church in some way. They learned Hebrew; in Spain they also learned Arabic and the Koran. The standard program also included medicine (such as it was) and Jewish law. So even as far back as the 12th century, the average Jewish man could fill in as a doctor or lawyer in a pinch.
Their dependence on medicine, law and commerce, not farming, increased when they were banned from owning land as anti-Semitism increased after the Crusades and the plague. Eventually, their role as Europe's doctors and lawyers was formalized. But it began with Halacha.
It may also interest you to know that medieval rabbis formed the earliest principles of probability. A Jewish community had to make family law judgments when there were no witnesses or established facts. They worked out traditions of which events were most probable, represented them with numerical odds, and then developed how to multiply the odds to calculate which events were the most probable in a complex case. They ruled that the most probable case was the correct one. So from their commitment to legal theory, they began the study of mathematical probability.
1. On self-hatred: A "self-hating" Jew is not one who hates himself; it is one who hates Jews different from himself.
2. Throughout history, self-hating Jews -- from St. Paul to Theobald to Chomsky to Kushner -- have put the rest of their brethren in danger.
3. On Hitchens:
Even a casual perusal of Hitchens' writings reveals lie after lie about Jews and Judaism. For example, one of his recent books includes Hitchens' assertion that Jews were "Stalin's henchmen."
What odd twist of Jewish culture causes it to defend and admire its enemies (like Hitchens) and to express contempt, disdain, or wariness for its friends (like Bush and the evangelicals generally)?
Paul also speaks directly against rejection of the Jews, calling God's choice of them irrevocable and permanent.
“A soft version of Rabbi Yosef's contemptuous view of the Gentiles is the old concept of the shabbos goy—the non-Jew who is paid a trifling fee to turn out the lights or turn on the stove, or whatever else is needful to get around the more annoying regulations of the Sabbath. How the old buzzard must cackle when he sees the Gentiles (i.e., America) actually volunteering a bribe to do the lowly work!”
“[The] pitiless teachings of the God of Moses, who never mentions human solidarity and compassion at all…"
The… practices of Judaism as exemplified by the "hypocrites and frauds who abound in talmudic Jewish rationalization" and who operate according to the principle: "'Don't do any work on the Sabbath yourself, but pay someone else to do it for you. You obeyed the letter of the law: who's counting?'"
[Circumcision is the] "sexual mutilation of small boys" and "most probably a symbolic survival from the animal and human sacrifices which were such a feature of the gore-soaked landscape of the Old Testament."
"By claiming to be 'chosen' in a special exclusive covenant with the Almighty they invited hatred and suspicion and evinced their own form of racism."
"The only actual justification offered" for Zionism "is that God awarded the land to one tribe a good many years ago, and of course this appalling racist and messianic delusion . . . only makes a terrible situation even worse."
As his "beloved guide, in the superior sense of that term,” Israel Sharak informs Hitchens’ views on Judaism. E.g.:
"[B]oth before and after a meal, a pious Jew ritually washes his hands, uttering a special blessing. On one of these two occasions he is worshiping God, by promoting the divine union of Son and Daughter; but on the other he is worshiping Satan, who likes Jewish prayers and ritual acts so much that when he is offered a few of them it keeps him busy for a while and he forgets to pester the divine Daughter."
Every one of these quotes depends not on context, but rather stands on its own. Irrespective of Hitchens’ lapses into reason and truth, each quote by itself, and certainly in toto, exposes either a man thoroughly ignorant of Judaism, or a man whose design is to foment hatred of Jews and Judaism. In either case, the man Hitchens spoke his mind. Rationalizing his twisted, yet clearly stated, ideas--and by default, those of his mentor, Sharak--is cognitive dissonance at its most embarrassing. And frightening: This parsing and rationalizing of incontestable Jew-hatred and Judaism-hatred are perhaps revealing as to the beliefs of Hitchens’ defenders. Hitchens’ and Sharak’s pronouncements about Jewish belief give immediacy to the fear surely engendered in Jews by the blood libels of the Middle Ages.
for example the author claims that Hitchens did not believe that the jews had a homeland in Israel. This is false , as Hitchens himself said: "The jews have as good a claim to the land as the palestinians"
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