The Western world, at least since the Enlightenment, has been built on evidence-based arguments. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, however, Enlightenment ideals were undermined by postmodernism, with its shift to 'narrative' as a source of meaning – an invitation to fraud. What finally followed was the era of false news and scams, as in the case of the invented narrative of "Russian collusion" that gave rise to one of the greatest political scandals in American history.
When it comes to fake news, Jews have heard it all for the past 2,000 years – from accusations of deicide to well poisoning, "The Protocols of the Sages of Zion" and Henry Ford's fervent speculation to the latest false narratives about the perfidies of the Zionist state. But 21st century France has sadly added new twists. In his groundbreaking article, "Revisiting Netzarim Junction and the Birth of Fake News," University of Boston professor Richard Landes unpacked the notorious Al-Durra case in 2000 involving the apparent murder of a nine-year-old boy. by Israeli soldiers during an alleged shooting in the Gaza Strip.
Filmed with the skill of French public television, the scene depicting Israelis in an ugly light has viralized. She helped produce an intifada in Israel; in France, it generated Arab and Islamic hostility toward French Jews, as Mark Weitzman recounts in his fascinating book Hate: The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism in France.
Weitzman's book originally appeared as a series of articles in the online magazine Tablet, which he addressed because of a lack of interest in France, where elites feared that even discussing the issue would encourage Islamophobia. Modern use of the term "Islamophobia" was largely initiated by Iranians following the disastrous 1979 revolution in their country.
As philosopher Pascal Bruckner explains, this new crime of thought was designed with a twofold purpose. First, it equates criticism of Islam with racism – a strange concept, as Islam includes whites in Bosnia, blacks in Cameroon, and olive-skinned Arabs in North Africa, as well as their darker-skinned religious brothers. "The second, even more important goal," Bruckner notes, "was to forge a coercive weapon against liberal Muslims who dared to criticize their faith and call for reform."
Hate examines several murders of French Jews by Islamists in considerable detail, including the kidnapping, torture, and 2005 murder of 23-year-old Ilan Halimi; the 2012 attack on a Jewish religious school in Toulouse; and the beating, torture and murder in 2017 of Jewish doctor Sarah Halimi (not related to Ilan Halimi). Mohammed Merah, the perpetrator of the Toulouse attacks, first murdered three French soldiers and then attacked a Jewish school where he killed the rabbi, two of the rabbi's young children and an eight-year-old girl. Merah, who did not hide his allegiance to al-Qaeda, was shot by police after a long siege.
For much of the past 20 years, the murder of Jews in France has been explained as the action of “lone wolves”, demented maniacs, or juvenile delinquents seeking emotion. As all of this happened in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, some speculated that the shrewd Mossad was behind these atrocities, with the intention of arousing sympathy for Israel. Was it a coincidence that the Charlie Hebdo massacre occurred shortly before the 2015 Israeli election? Moreover, there was a fundamental argument: Israel was a neo-colonial power, so the Jewish state and the Jews in France were getting what they deserved.
In The Lion's Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky (Susanna Linfield, a liberal supporter of Israel, explains the arguments of eight writers from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky). whose ideological commitments blinded them to the realities of the Middle East. Marxist Maxime Rodinson, for example, compared Muhammad to Stalin. “Both were men of conviction who became statesmen,” he wrote. "In both cases, the true believers were forced by circumstances to face reality, to change, and to resort to the use of power." More importantly, Rodinson, one of the center of attention of the so-called new left, exemplified a conceptual shift in focus from antifascism to an obsession with anticolonialism, which lasted long after the dominated states achieved independence.
Franco-Jewish writer Albert Memmi, another figure discussed by Linfield, deserves to be better known. A friend of Camus and a man of great subtlety, Memmi understood the postcolonial guilt of European writers, but also noted his tendency to distort the analysis of contemporary realities. Writing about North Africa, his home country, Memmi refers to people "who are no longer colonized," but "sometimes continue to believe they are." In Memmi's memorable The Colonizer and the Colonized, the shame of the colonized is shown as an obstacle to realistic self-evaluation. After the colonial era, when some Western leftists hailed Saddam Hussein, Memmi saw that the so-called Third World (except China) had failed to reach an alternative to capitalism.
Third-worldism remains alive in Palestine's flattery of the left, where anti-Semitism turned into anti-Zionism – and vice versa. Israel, according to Linfield, is “the Rorschach test from the left, "who" writhed in support of some of the world's most sadistic regimes. "The essence of his book is in its opening chapter, about Hannah Arendt, and in its closing chapters, about I. F. Stone and Noam Chomsky. What these figures have in common, says Linfield, is the elevation of ideology over evidence.
Arendt, she writes, "based his analysis of the Judeo-Arab conflict and his unshakable belief that the antinational and anti-sovereign world were around the corner." The very idea of a sovereign Jewish state was emotionally repulsive to Arendt, and it never changed its mind even after the 1950s gave rise to a profusion of new sovereign states.
In the late 1940s, Stone in Israel noted the prominence of the newly active Nazis fighting for the Arabs in the Israeli war for independence. But with the Six Day War in 1967, Stone, writing in New York, saw the idea of Jewish sovereignty as an abomination. He wrote as if the Palestinians and their allies were mirror images of the Israelis, with the addition of a pacifist group. But there was no Arab counterpart to the Jewish pacifists. In writing for the New York Review of Books, Stone never addressed the importance of radical Islam for Palestinian "resistance." The same goes for Chomsky, who, based on a single alleged document, claimed that the Palestinians had offered peace only to see it rejected by the Israelis.
In France, Israelis were often represented in elite vehicles such as Le Monde or Nouvelle Observateur as privileged European oppressors. Opposition to Zionist villainy would partly atone for the then repudiated French role in the settlement of Algeria. But French (and American) critics of Zionism have a distorted picture of Zionist history. They took advantage of Matti Friedman's reading of Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel. The author refutes the now consolidated explanation of Israel's origins as a creation of European Jews, an idea that facilitates the definition of Israel within the European colonialist model.
It is common to hear, as Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib says, that Palestinians were overwhelmed in "welcoming" refugees from Hitler and the Holocaust. Journalist Helen Thomas has expressly noted that Israel should close its stores and that Jews should "return home" in Europe. But more than half of today's Israeli Jewish population has at least partial ancestry of Mizrachi, meaning that they or their ancestors originate in the non-European Jewish world. Nearly one million Jews were pressured out or expelled from the Arab world – and from Iran, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and India. After 1948, most ended up in Israel.
The Mizrachins, widely ignored by people like Arendt, Stone, and Chomsky, complicate the story, sold by Islamists to their left allies, that Israel is a nation of white colonialists who have come to subdue dark-skinned natives. These accounts reveal an empirical ignorance inflated by ideological inspiration. They created ill-informed narratives, which many believe, in these final days of the Enlightenment West.
Fred Siegel is a contributing editor to City Journal and author of The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class.
© 2019 City Journal. Posted with permission. Original in English.