Anti-Israel does not equal anti-Jew

Atheist defends Dawkins. Shock, horror. (OK, not.) Still the Times has an unpleasant piece by Daniel Finkelstein in which he distorts something Dawkins said in the Guardian in order to misrepresent Dawkins as anti-semetic.

So Dawkins, a liberal hero, believes, er, that Jews control world power. And, judging from the Guardian, it is now a part of mainstream debate to say so. Perhaps you think I am over-reacting, but I am a little bit frightened.

Well no. What Dawkins actually said is that atheists need some organisation analogous to the Jewish lobby, which had proved its success by the fact that it had managed to

more or less monopolise American foreign policy as far as many people can see.

It seemed obvious to several commentators that
(a) US foreign policy seemed more than a little pro-Israel;
(b) this is not even explicable in terms of the US’s own national interests (oranges versus oil, as one commentator remarked);
(c) it reflects the influence of pro-Israeli American lobbyists and people in power.

This is a huge leap away from saying that Jews monopolise world power, as the blog headline and comments said. However, this misrepresentation of Dawkins was taken by some Times commentators as a given. And stuck together with a self-evidently ludicrous claim that Dawkins wanted to take children away from their parents if the parents taught them religion. To make a general attribution of Dawkins really being a Nazi.

I know. I know. This sort of thing doesn’t even bear recognising as a rational discourse. But still, I think it is worth repeating ad nauseam that opposing Israel does not make one a Nazi.

The Jews suffered terribly in Germany. Why didn’t they get given Germany? They didn’t suffer anything at the hands of the Palestinians. Why did they get Palestine? Well, partly because they carried out a prolonged terrorist campaign against the British government to get it.

Terrorist campaign, note. The British government gave in.

If the USA had not been committed over decades to supporting everything that Israel did, ignoring the complaints of the Palestinians as their land was taken and they were turned into refugees in their own country, there would be no insane jihadists now.

The only quarrel I would have with Dawkins in this is that atheists don’t have an agreed agenda beyond removing religious influence from the public sphere. What else would be the point of atheist lobbyists? Remember the herding cats thing? The capacity to think independently is the strength of rational people, not their weakness.

8 thoughts on “Anti-Israel does not equal anti-Jew

  1. I suspect Finklestein is just trying to throw Dawkins into a post to generate the hundreds of comments he managed for what is, basically, a piece of spurious nonsense.

    If he really does believe what Dawkins said was scary anti-Semitism then he must rarely see daylight.

  2. heather:

    I agree completely with the title of your post. I also agree that Dawkins’s comment is not necessarily indicative that he’s anti-Semitic; I strongly suspect he isn’t. But he played right into the hands of the bigots by referring to the mythical “Jewish Lobby.” Oh, there’s certainly a pro-Israel lobby — many, but by no means all, members of which are Jews — but there’s no “Jewish Lobby.”

    I suggest you read my post Richard Dawkins and the “Jewish Lobby”. Check out the comment thread, too.

  3. just brief comment: jews were not given palestine–palestine has never existed. They are a people without a country. And though it is a nice sentiment to give them some land and think that perhaps then they can “all get along” over there–the palestines won’t be content until they have ALL of israel.

  4. Rebecca: Loathe though I am to get involved in this debate, what you are saying is a non-argument. The world is full of countries which at one time or another didn’t exist and only came about because of the actions of others. Saying that “Palestine” never existed before time X is as relevant as saying Israel never existed before time Y. The same argument can be used to dismantle the existence of the US, Canada, Mexico, UK, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Russia (etc, etc).

    Which period of history do you want to use to justify a claim to a certain plot of land?

    I agree that it is unlikely the Palestinians will be content as long as Israel exists, although I do suspect that is the result of generations of conflict rather than anything else.

    The important point, and what I suspect Dawkins was alluding to, is that the US massively favours Israel in its international relations – why this happens is open for debate. I dont fully agree with the exterminator that the government of the US is more pro-Israel than pro-Jewish but as I dont live in the US, my view point may be skewed. My impression from my contact with American news / people / TV etc is that the Israeli lobby in the US has conflated two issues to the point at which there is little difference between being pro-Jewish and pro-Israeli.

    (I have also commented on your blog as you had the decency to comment here – it is an interesting post you have written!)

  5. TW:

    As I said before, I think Heather’s title to this post is spot-on. But you say:
    My impression from my contact with American news / people / TV etc is that the Israeli lobby in the US has conflated two issues to the point at which there is little difference between being pro-Jewish and pro-Israeli.

    If you accept the characterization of Israelis as “the Jews”, your statement would be correct. It’s true that American news idiots often conflate the two terms. But you, being a rational individual, should not. There are many Jews — some who call themselves Jews because of their religion, others who call themselves Jews because of their family background or “ethnicity” (I hate that word) — who object to being lumped in with the Israelis. I think, therefore, that any reference to a political lobby that supports Israel should be only “the pro-Israel lobby,” and the people who support that lobby should be referred to only as “pro-Israel.” I understand that this may be an alien concept to one who was not brought up in an ethnic, but non-religious (actually, anti-religious) Jewish household, but I think it’s important to acknowledge. Some of us Jews are proud atheists, and revile the religionist Jewish thugs who control Israel and claim that some supernatural being gave them the land thousands of years ago. I really object to being categorized, even if only semantically, with those people. So I do hope that, even in casual conversation, you will draw a marked distinction between the Israeli government and “the Jews.”


  6. Exterminator, thanks for getting back here.

    Heather’s choice of title is different to the one I would have picked if I had written the blog and this reflects the difference of opinions between us. If this had been a post I’d have written it would have had very different content and a different angle. I was certainly 100% mystified at the apparent outrage over Dawkins’ words – especially as the focus is on the single sentence he made. It is certainly true that many in the UK think there is a Pro-Jewish lobby in the US and I know of no one over here who has either the time or the inclination to separate the two concepts of being Pro-Jewish or Pro-Israel without being both.

    Part of the problem is the apparent ease with which the term “Jewish” can be used to describe a multitude of things. For example, you write:

    There are many Jews — some who call themselves Jews because of their religion, others who call themselves Jews because of their family background or “ethnicity” (I hate that word) — who object to being lumped in with the Israelis.

    In addition to this there are terms such as “Jewish Atheist” thrown around repeated and the very real situation where a Jew can be a Christian.

    With this in mind, it is almost certain that people will, in turn, conflate the terms on an almost regular basis. To me and in any conversation I would take part in, I would use the term Jewish to refer to someone’s religion rather than their country of origin or ancestry. As a rational individual (flattery always works 🙂 ) I do try to avoid the confusion but, also as a person who lives hundreds of miles away with a finite amount of time to review every piece of news there is the tendency to leave complex situations until there is a solid requirement to think about it. In this instance, most people in the UK will not have the resources or inclination to separate the strands and accept the dominant paradigm which mixes the two terms.

    You are quite correct that, for me at least, the concept of being a non-religious Jew is alien although as I am trying to comprehend what the idea and terminology means. Without knowing about your background or circumstances I can’t be sure, but I suspect I would have thought of you as an American Atheist rather than a Jewish Atheist. I for one would never describe myself as a Protestant Atheist, Catholic Atheist or Pagan Atheist.

    While there remains significant ambiguity over what the term “jewish” means, it is only to be expected that different people (especially ones from different cultures) will use it in different manners.

    On a side (yet related) note, it is saddening that so many rationalist “reasoner” who should know better and so many irrational right wing nutjob blogs (who dont know any better) have begun to demonise Dawkins over a single sentence. I can understand that the anti-Dawkins/anti-Atheist lobby would be pleased to find a possible faux pas to jump upon, but I would have thought the atheist lobby would have been able to focus more on the rest of his comments. If you remove the Jewish reference, Dawkins’ comments stand and can be debated – while people focus on if he is anti-Semitic or not, if there is a “Jewish-lobby” or not, this debate cant take place. I mean, does anyone – even UDers – really think Dawkins is “Anti-Semitic” rather than anti-Religion?

  7. TW:

    Yep, I’m an American atheist, not a Jewish atheist, because I, too, think the words “Jew” and “Jewish” are ambiguous. As I said in one of the comments in my post, I rarely refer to myself as a Jew, specifically for that reason. I do think, though, that in terms of my own background, I certainly am one. And in a militantly anti-Jewish regime, such as the Nazis’, I would have been killed along with all the practitioners of Judaism.

    I also agree that the reaction to Dawkins’s statement has been blown way out of proportion by the media and blogosphere. However …

    His statement makes no sense if you substitute “Israeli Lobby” for “Jewish Lobby.” He was talking about an imagined political clout that Jews, as a parallel to atheists, have. The only way to draw that parallel is to juxtapose atheists with religious Jews, which Dawkins did. However, then his comment about the Jewish Lobby is equally untrue because the most odious religious Jews in America — the ultra-orthodox — are divided as to their attitudes about American foreign policy on Israel. So, too, are many moderate and liberal religious Jews. So his reference to a “Jewish Lobby” was historically, politically, socially, and logically inaccurate. By spouting nonsense not supported by the facts, he diminished some of his own arguments against religion.

    Is he still brilliant? Yes. Is he still right about most things concerning the dangers and lunacies of the god delusion? Yes. But in not being careful about what he said, he opened himself — and by association, all atheists — to charges that he could easily have avoided by thinking before he spoke, and by not making unfounded assertions based on, essentially, faith rather than evidence.

    Let’s put this issue to bed now, though, and get on with our more important atheist work. Keep up the great blogging here at WDYB.

  8. Let’s put this issue to bed now, though, and get on with our more important atheist work. Keep up the great blogging here at WDYB.

    I concur.

Comments are closed.