Reflections on the Global Conference for Anti-Semitism
I attended most of the two days, but missed important events at the end of each day (including, alas, the final dinner). I missed the first day’s events at the Knesset so I could do the interview with IBA. So my remarks will be less “comprehensive.” Overall, it was well-planned, well-organized, but of limited scope. Repeatedly attendees complained about the problem of limited follow-through – there should be a dozen smaller meetings generated by the Global Forum during the year, rather than an annual meeting the inevitably has to play off “political speeches,” with informative material from researchers.
From my perspective there were two serious lacunae. First, I am now fully convinced that our problem is not a matter of Hasbarah (explanation, clarification, PR, Public Diplomacy), but a cognitive war in which the physical battlefield (where Hamas/Hizbullah/ Fatah will always lose), is an adjunct to the cognitive field (where, as every speaker attested in one way or another, the drive to deligitimate Israel is succeeding). This cognitive war must be recognized. As my guru on this subject, Stuart Green, puts it, “you can’t win the battle of the Midway if you don’t know you’re in a battle.” And it must be recognized for what it is, the systematic abuse of our hard-earned means of free communication, by people who have nothing but contempt for the principles they invoke – human rights, humanitarian concerns, “justice.”
As a result, there was a) too little on the role of the media in this phenomenon; and b) a notable absence of Israeli military at the conference. This latter point is crucial because until the military realizes that its success on the battlefield has shifted the enemy’s strategy, and it adjusts its priorities – e.g., releasing very powerful information that could be used in the cognitive war, but which intelligence forces almost by default keep private – we will continue to lose the cognitive war. Indeed, every victory on the in the physical battlefield – Hamas’ rocket attacks have dropped steeply since Operation Cast Lead – produces a massive loss on the cognitive field. Maybe if key members of the IDF were present to hear about the disastrous situation world-wide, then they might begin to reorder their priorities. As of now, this is a MFA show, and most people think it’s their job and their job alone.
Second, there was virtually no attention to the problem of the Jewish contribution to the problem of anti-Semitism. If there is one major gaping hole in our defenses in this cognitive war, it’s the “useful infidels” like Goldstone who think they’re doing “good and right” and promoting “peace and the defense of civilians,” when they’re empowering the very forces that seek war and victimize civilians, friend and foe alike. Alvin Rosenfeld’s “Progressive Jews and the New Anti-Semitism,” remains the gold standard in this matter, taking to task Jews who, in their eagerness to perfect Israel, engage in indecent comparisons of Israel with apartheid and Nazism, that feed the forces of deligitimation the world over.
Unfortunately, the conversation has not advanced since his report was greeted by “progressives,” as an assault on “any criticism of Israel.” The inaccuracy (dare I say, dishonesty) of such a response (embraced by everyone from NYT reporter Patricia Cohen, to Lenny Pogrebin, to Michael Lerner, to Samuel Freedman, illustrates well how the ardent defense of “free speech,” no matter how indecent it might be, serves forces deeply hostile to any freedoms in this cognitive war. Anyone who can denounce Israeli apartheid, and not even mention Muslim apartheid especially against women and infidels, or talk about Israelis doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to them, without noting the extensive and ardent ties between the Nazis and the Palestinians to this day, is, in my book, dishonest.
It also contributes to a massive epistemological crisis for everyone who does not know the situation on the ground (and ultimately none of us can know it all, we have to get it from the media in one form or other). How can outsiders, especially non-Jews who do not come from a culture in which self-criticism is learned with one’s mother’s milk, understand what it means when the Palestinians say, “It’s all Israel’s fault,” and most of the representatives of the Israeli side that the MSNM (mainstream news media) cherry picks, says, “They’re right.”
Of course, how to distinguish between legitimate, decent criticism of Israel – whether by Jews of by non-Jews – is a very delicate subject, and although the Jewish community is light-years away from the kind of suffocating intimidation that prevents Arabs and Muslims from public self-criticism, we certainly don’t want to engage in a slippery slope of squashing dissent. But rather than ignore the subject, we need to address it, seriously, with a sense of appreciation for how vital self-criticism, the ability to give and take rebuke (tochacha) is to Jewish culture, and explore what are the limits of decency.
Maybe next year…