Israel seems to be particularly ill-served by its Australian fan base, if the AIJAC contributions to Crikey are anything to go by. Bren Carlill’s enormous spray against me regarding Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech to the Durban II conference could have done with judicious editing by an adult, or at the very least an older child.

For the record, as any fair-minded reader of my original article would see, I didn’t argue the toss as to whether MA’s arguments were correct or not. I reflected on whether they were 1) racist, and if not 2) an unreasonable argument to make. In both cases I suggested that they weren’t, and that it was ludicrous to argue that calling a political movement racist is itself racist. I also noted that I thought MA actually was an anti-Semite, and believed all sorts of late 19th century derived conspiratorial nonsense (most of it European, rather than middle-Eastern in origin) — but that he’d kept most of that out of the speech.

I suggested that walking out on such an argument, rather than contesting it, was a betrayal of the principle of free debate that the west is constantly asserting. The hysterical tone of Carlill’s article seems to be in that style — a tantrum when confronted with ideas one disagrees with, or even finds odious. In that respect it largely answers itself.

One or two points need specific mention however.

Carlill suggests that MA argued that the Jews had started the Iraq war and that I endorsed that. He didn’t and I didn’t. The full transcript of MA’s speech reads:

Dear friends, ladies and gentlemen,

What has been the source of recent wars such as the Americans’ attack on Iraq or the wide military expedition in Afghanistan? Has it been anything else than the selfishness of the American government of the time and the pressures by those in possession of wealth and power to expand influence and hegemony, support weapon manufacturers…

Was attacking Iraq not orchestrated by the Zionists and their allies in the previous ruling government of America which was on the one hand in power and on the other the owner of arms manufacturing companies?

Once again, the phrase is Zionists — which in the US, particularly in the Bush regime, includes many Christian fundamentalists — not Jews. I don’t think it’s a particularly persuasive argument as the core reason for the Iraq war — the question is whether it’s a reasonable one to make (and to dispute, rather than walk out on).

The second point reminds one of how ignorant many of AIJAC’s front-line troops are. Carlill fixes on my use of the term “reproduce” in relation to non-exterminatory genocide, and seems to believe that it applies only to birth. As was obvious from the context it was used in the expanded sense of a culture being able to reproduce itself — i.e. through a defined home, connections, continuous way of life — and I explicitly noted that I was using “genocide” in the sense that Ralph Lemkin used in his 1944 book coining the term. Lemkin said:

Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.

The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.

Lemkin makes a distinction between destruction (i.e. extermination) and annihilation (i.e. the discontinuation of a culture and way of life, through murder, fertility control, dispersal and/or forced assimilation). The distinction is vital to the idea of what genocide is, and why it is a crime apart — because of our sense that something more or other than individual people is being killed. That’s why Lemkin linked mass exterminations (such as the Armenian genocide — which Israel, for purposes of its alliance with Turkey, refuses to recognise as such)* ** with less lethal events as the same crime — i.e. that, for example, the stolen generations has something in common with the Holocaust, that the Holocaust does not have in common with the Gulag.

How many of Lemkin’s characteristics of genocide does the 1948 Nabka and the West Bank now fulfil?

If Carlill isn’t familiar with the differing definitions of “genocide” and if he is, as seems clear from his reply, unfamiliar with Lemkin’s work, then he simply shouldn’t be speaking for AIJAC, much less employed as a policy analyst.

Finally I note with interest that Carlill maintains that “everyone” disagrees with Ahmadinejad. Actually, the European nations walked out on his speech. Most of the rest of the world stayed and applauded. But it shouldn’t surprise us that a Zionist thinks that Europeans are ‘everyone’.

Whew. Now…heeeeeeere’s today’s Garfield! What’s that lasagne-loving cat up to now?

*I should also add that there are historians from the left who argue that the Armenian massacres etc of 1915 were not genocide. But I’m not qualified to judge the arguments, simply note the politics of recognition.

**The other reason is that both Herzl and Jabotinsky were in Istanbul before 1910 lobbying the Sultanate to give them a province in the Palestine area. They were also advising the “Young Turks” (the anti-Sultanate movement), who were in the process of turning the Ottoman Empire into a more mono-ethnic/mono-religious state, rather than a pluralist empire, to guarantee its survival. The “Young Turk” movement was responsible for the Armenian (i.e. Christian) massacres. Which Hitler then pointed to as evidence that people forget mass murder in an instant. It’s a (bleakly) funny old world innit?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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