On Jonathan Cook’s ‘Naomi Wolf and Anti-semitism’s Mystification’

Jonathan Cook, award-winning author and journalist, writes from Nazareth, the capital of the Palestinian minority in Israel, having moved there in 2001 to cover Palestinian  issues more closely.  He’s easily one of the most dedicated, courageous, clear-eyed, and well-grounded critics of apartheid Israel and their propaganda I know.  I’d add that his moral compass is at true north, and that his prose is easy to read and without guile.  Yes, this post may be longish, but I reckon it’s a key subject that’s worth digging deep into, given: (Likud) Israel, so I hope you’ll agree.
From Jonathan Cook / May 24th, 2018:
He opens by noting that this essay was the product of his previous essay ‘‘Anti-semitism: Israel’s get-out-of-jail-free card’, 21 May 2018 concerning the silencing of critics of Israel that devolved so far by now that apologists for Israel to conflate anti-semitism and opposition to Israel’s current uber-nationalist government (I’d add ‘policies’ but he hadn’t).  Lamenting that in the past, it was nigh on to impossible to fight the notion that anti-Zionism = anti-semitism, as we know only too well, as we also know that companies, cities, states joining the BDS movement are censured, and some states even have laws pending that will make it illegal.

“Here is an illustration of our defeat, reported in the Israeli daily Haaretz. It concerns what would in other circumstances be a fairly standard satirical cartoon: this one published by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung about Israel winning the Eurovision song contest last week. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is shown on stage dressed as Israel’s winning singer, Netta, and proclaiming “Next year in Jerusalem!”.

“After the usual outcry, the cartoonist, Dieter Hanitzsch, was sacked. No Charlie Hebdo-style concerns about free speech on this occasion, it seems.” He chronicles some of the cartoon’s critics, explains that cartoons use symbols as satirical shorthand, and wonders what the hell is so anti-Semitic about it.  Beats hell outta me, but as writes, this sort of weaponized ‘anti-semitic crisis’ is meant to silence any activists, artists, politicians, and others who might find that any mention of Israel is so loaded and toxic that they…desist, lest their reputations and livelihoods collapse.  Thus, he writes: ‘giving Israel a get-out-of-jail-free card’, and has terrifying consequences for Palestinians and clears the path for further barbarity to be unleashed upon them. Back to his newer ‘anti-semitism’s mystification’ essay:

“In fact, the cartoonist is far from alone in highlighting such concerns. The New York Times has reported delight among Israelis at the prospect of what they regard as a “diplomatic victory” as much as musical one. And, according to the Haaretz newspaper, the Eurovision contest organisers have already expressed concern to Israeli broadcasters about likely attempts by Israel to “politicise” the competition.

Among those responding on Twitter to my post was Naomi Wolf, a US Jewish intellectual and feminist scholar whose body of work I admire. She disagreed with my blog post, arguing that the cartoon was, in her words, “kind of anti-semitic” (embedded tweet below).

In our subsequent exchange she also noted that she was uncomfortable with the fact that the cartoonist was German. (For those interested, the complete exchange can be found here.)” [scroll to the top to see the beginning of the conversation.]

“In the end, and admittedly under some pressure from me for clarification, she offered an illustration of why she thought the cartoon was “kind of anti-semitic”. She sent a link to the image below, stating that she thought Hanitzsch’s cartoon of Netanyahu had echoes of this Nazi image of “the Jew” alongside an Aryan German woman.”

“Frankly, I was astounded by the comparison.

Nazi propaganda

Cartoons in Nazi propaganda sheets like Der Sturmer were anti-semitic because they emphasised specific themes to “otherise” Jews, presenting them as a collective menace to Germany or the world. Those themes included the threat of plague and disease, with Jews often represented as rats; or secret Jewish control over key institutions, illustrated, for example, by the tentacles of an octopus spanning the globe; or the disloyalty of Jews, selling out their country, as they hungered for money.

As Wolf notes, anti-semitic cartoonists would give the portrayed “Jew” grotesque or sinister facial features to alienate readers from him and convey the threat he posed. These features famously included a large or hooked nose, voracious lips, and a bulbous or disfigured head.”

Well, no, as he writes, there’s no indication of those physical traits, symbols that identify him as Jews or even Israelis, just his well-known hawkishness in a highly militarized state.  We might have added ‘nuclear state’, not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.  But whoa, Nellie, that caricature isn’t any more offensive as the following (I’m leaving out the other two, especially the one with Trump as King Kong on to of the Empire State Building as too grotesque to look at for more than two seconds…click through here if you care to).

 Limiting political debate

He writes that this essay isn’t an attack on Naomi Wolf, and that he admires her willingness to engage in the discussion on Twitter, and gets that yes, judgments about ‘anti-semitism’ are indeed subjective, but that in the current zeitgeist, the metamorphosing of the ‘kind of anti-semitic’ verbiage actually acts as to ‘mystify’ and ‘weaponize’ the term, thus limiting crucial debates, as opposed to actual anti-semitism.

“It is precisely the promotion of a “kind of anti-semitism”, as opposed to real anti-semitism, that has just forced Ken Livingstone to resign from the Labour party; that empowered Labour’s Blairite bureaucracy to publicly lynch a well-known black anti-racism activist, Marc Wadsworth; that persuaded a dissident comedian and supporter of the Palestinian cause, Frankie Boyle, to use his TV show to prioritise an attack on a supposedly “anti-semitic” Labour party over support for Gaza; that is being used to vilify grassroots movements campaigning against “global elites” and the “1 per cent”; and that may yet finish off Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, currently the only credible political force for progressive change in the UK.

None of this is, of course, to suggest that Wolf would herself want any of these outcomes or that she is trying to misuse anti-semitism. I fully acccept that she has been a strong Jewish critic of Israel and doubtless paid a price for it with friends and colleagues.”

In his Israel and Jews and A dangerous confusion sections, Cook lays out the history of Israel having been based on anti-semitism, having been created as a sanctuary for all Jews, without which, he writes, Israel would be superfluous.  Hence, he writes, anti-semitism and Israel are almost inextricably tangled together.  There’s  lot more there, including alternative non-Western cheerleaders for Israel media gathering a wider readership over time.  But I’d like to jump ahead, as I hadn’t known what the many charges of Jeremy Corbin being anti-semitic were even based on.

After mentioning ‘the Livingston problem’ again, he jumps to:

A mural becomes anti-semitic

“The next stage in the evolution of the “kind of anti-semitic” argument is already discernible, as I have warned before. It is so powerful that it has forced Corbyn to concede, against all evidence, that Labour has an anti-semitism problem and to castigate himself, again against all evidence, for indulging in anti-semitic thinking.

Corbyn has been on the defensive since a “controversy” erupted in March over his expression back in 2012 of support for street art and opposition to censorship amid a row over a London mural that was about to be painted over.

After he was elected Labour leader in 2015, the first efforts were made to weaponise the mural issue to damage him. The deeply anti-Corbyn Jewish Chronicle newspaper was – like Hanitzsch’s boss at the Süddeutsche Zeitung – initially unsure whether the mural was actually anti-semitic. Then the newspaper simply highlighted concerns that it might have “anti-semitic undertones”. By spring 2018, when the row resurfaced, the status of the mural had been transformed. Every mainstream British commentator was convinced it was “clearly” and “obviously” anti-semitic – and by implication, Corbyn had been unmasked as an anti-semite for supporting it.

[From his Jewish Chronicle link: The graphic, Freedom for Humanity, was painted on a property near Brick Lane in London’s East End by renowned international graffiti artist Kalen Ockerman, known as Mear One, in 2012.

It depicted a group of businessmen and bankers sitting around a Monopoly-style board and counting money. The mural was painted on the end wall of a private property, but was removed by local authorities after complaints from residents.

When the artist wrote on Facebook that the mural was to be removed, Mr Corbyn responded with a message from his personal Facebook account.

Mr Corbyn wrote: “Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller (sic) destroyed Diego Viera’s mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.”]

“Again, no one wanted to debate how it was anti-semitic. The artist has said it was an image of historical bankers, most of whom were not Jewish, closely associated with the capitalist class’s war on the rest of us. There is nothing in the mural to suggest he is lying about his intention or the mural’s meaning. And yet everyone in the “mainstream” is now confident that the mural is anti-semitic, even though none of them wants to specify what exactly is anti-semitic about it.”

In his The 1 per cent off-limits he notes other ways that ‘anti-semitism’ is gaining ground, and links to a piece at the New Statesman that claims that the Occupy movement’s (OWS) slogan that we’re ruled by a capitalist global elite 1%…was evidence of ‘anti-semitism’, as was:

“…[on] Frankie Boyle’s popular TV show last week, comedian David Baddiel was allowed to misrepresent – unchallenged – an opinion poll that found 28 per cent of Corbyn supporters agreed with the statement “the world is controlled by a secretive elite”. Baddiel asserted, without any evidence, that when they spoke of a global elite the respondents were referring to Jews. What was this assumption based on? A hunch? A sense that such a statement must be “kind of anti-semitic”?

He closes:

“The mystification of anti-semitism is so dangerous because it can be exploited for any end those who dominate the public square care to put it to – whether it be sacking a cartoonist, justifying Israel’s slaughter of Palestinians, destroying a progressive party leader, or preventing any criticism of a turbo-charged neoliberal capitalism destroying our planet.”


No reason to get excited, the thief, he kindly spoke,
There are many here among us now,
Who feel that life is but a joke,
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late

 (cross-posted at caucus99percent.com)

17 responses to “On Jonathan Cook’s ‘Naomi Wolf and Anti-semitism’s Mystification’

  1. Thank you, wde. So it’s not just here that time-pressing has hindered my involvement. Aware of the niggling diplomatic Euro*ision implications, wholly unaware of the SDZ cartoonist kerfuffle. Nothing I saw in my go-to local-national mentioned it. I’ll hafta delve into this later. Have lovelies, wd et al.

    • mornin’, mein herr, and welcome. i found cook’s thesis of great worth. but blow me down. and i’d meant to hunt up more of the wall artist’s (mear one) work, but after two day’s work or more on this, i just ran myself of of time. but lo and behold: pluto’s republic over yonder brought this time-stop video accompanied by the artist’s grand explanation, and i loved the hell outta the oligarchs playing their casino monopoly on the backs of wage slaves. yes, a class war video. you may need to click thru to see the larger version on youtube.

      be well, hope the stuff taking your time is…good stuff, my friend.

  2. If anti-Semitism is Israel’s get-out-of-jail-free card, would you also say that “Racism is Black America’s get-out-of-jail-free card?”

    • hmmm; now that depends on what you mean by ‘racism’, jacob, and if this modern incarnation of the never-ending holy wars against brown people, (often muslims, but other arabs as well), by as to the former, now it’s only shi’a muslims who should die, not wahabbists (the sauds, the minority ruling the shi’a in bahrain, but of course ‘muslim’ isn’t a race.

      oh, but oh, jayzus! i’d read wrong, you’d said ‘black america’s’ card, and was over-thinking when i’d imagined the empire’s war on blacks around the world, say by africom. but what could your meaning possibly be? (although admittedly from past discussions i’m afraid to hear the answer…)

        • ye gods and little fishes: that should have been banned in boston! or declared ‘cruel and unusual punishment!’ but shall i assume you’re making a point that’s lost on me? and dagnabbit, i keep forgetting to ask about your brilliant avatar: did you make it or is someone i should know?

          heh. this thread over yonder has close to 100 comments by now;but then, it’s quite a loaded topic for some.

    • Up to now the answer is a definite, obvious, no. U.S. blacks don’t get out of anything for free…

  3. Here’s a thought: If Hamas — due to their use their children as human shields — is responsible for the death of Palestinian children caught on the wrong end of Israeli ammo, is Israel responsible for anti-semitism because of their use of the Star of David as a shield?

    • i’m not willing to conceded that ‘hamas uses chirren as human shields’, but it sure what the IDF claims, once again in gaza’s right to return march: over 200 killed dead, 1600 wounded, and the idf aimed specifically at medics in uniform. but then the idf also claims that the protests weren’t political activism designed to call attention to their plight, but funded by hamas to harm the soldiers. but who has the the star of david shields? i’d seen some kites with nazi signals flown by kids in the background of the fences. a propos, in a way. compare and contrast thee reports, for instance:

      “The flotilla consists of numerous vessels carrying 22 Palestinians activists, students and patients in need of medical treatment outside the Gaza Strip.

      The Hamas terrorist organization, which is behind the attempt to violate the naval blockade, is trying to present a cynical show that at the end of the day can and will harm the citizens of Gaza and the aid that is brought into the Gaza Strip by Israel and other countries,” said the IDF Spokesman’s Office.”, haaretz https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/palestinians/.premium-palestinian-flotilla-leaves-gaza-for-cyprus-israel-blocks-boats-1.6131859

      mintpressnews earlier: ‘Israeli Airstrike Hits Boat at Gaza Port as it Prepared to Meet 2018 Freedom Flotilla ; This year’s Freedom Flotilla hopes its voyage “will open the channels for others to travel to Palestine and, more importantly, for the Palestinian people to use their own territorial waters for fishing, other maritime resources, travel, exports and imports.”

      “GAZA — Not long after the 2018 Freedom Flotilla — carrying “politicians, activists, journalists, trade-union leaders, artists and performers, professors, faith leaders, representatives of student organizations” — embarked on its journey from Scandinavia to the largest open-air prison in the world — Gaza — Israel attempted to thwart its plans by striking a boat in Gaza City that was preparing to meet the flotilla upon its arrival.

      No casualties have been reported from the Israeli attack this Wednesday.

      The 2018 Freedom Flotilla is part of a movement to demonstrate solidarity with Gaza, in an attempt to break Israel’s illegal blockade by transporting activists to the Strip, drawing international media attention to the humanitarian crisis there in the process. This year’s flotilla hopes its voyage “will open the channels for others to travel to Palestine and, more importantly, for the Palestinian people to use their own territorial waters for fishing, other maritime resources, travel, exports and imports.”

      because the palestinians are dying, some slowly, others more quickly, due to malnutrition, lack of medical supplies, and other basics. the idf blew up the only crossing bridge last week due to the barbarity of the march of return activists doings. israel has made itself a pariah on the global stage, but nikki haley blocks every vote for the UN to investigate the murders for what they are: war crimes.

      • The IDF claim regarding children as human shields was the least of my point. I only used it to extend the metaphor of Jewishness as shield for national policy.

        • thanks for the 411, but it’s still a head-scratcher. i’m almost sure that the failure to twig to your meaning is…down to me, and my thick-wittedness. ;-)

          • That’s not accurate. It’s down to my not taking the extra time when I was trying to formulate the equation to neutralize the narrator’s perspective without writing an essay about it. I still have to give it more thought to a short simple sentence still swollen semantically. Something worthy of an ironic aphorism.

    • If it is true that Hamas uses children as human shields and that they thereby carry the burden of responsibility for their murder, could it be that the State of Israel uses the Star of David as a shield for their policies and thereby carries the burden of responsibility for antisemitism?

      • The answer, in my opinion is “no” — albeit “yes” to the extent that they are indeed responsible.

  4. and sure, both ‘sides’ have their propaganda, but this is far closer to the truth as i see it:


  5. Quite simply; Israel is an aparthied state and should be thusly treated.

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