Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Of Ezekiel Bulver and the New Antisemitism

I'm something of a logical fallacy aficionado; one of my favourites is that of Bulverism, first described by C. S. Lewis, which is based on the imaginary Ezekiel Bulver's sudden revelation, at the age of five, that "refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume that your opponent is wrong, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall." Bulver decided that the simplest way to argue was to avoid dealing with the merits of your opponent's argument, and instead try to explain why they believe what they believe and how silly it is. "That," writes Lewis, "is how Bulver became one of the makers of the twentieth century."

Lewis used the example of the Mona Lisa. Imagine two men arguing over its artistic merits. One loves the painting; the other hates it. "What a beautiful painting!" the first exclaims.
"Ah," says the other, "You only say that because you're an Italian." But I prefer to use the example of the New Antisemitism.

That is, there are some anti-Zionists, particularly on the political left, who will have you believe that Israel's defenders are closet Bulverists. Only the other day, for example, I was listening to Heresy, a radio show that purports to challenge recieved wisdom on anything from organic food to the Bible. On it, a female member of the audience brought up the issue of Israel and said that she "hated the way Israel's supporters accuse you of antisemitism if you're against the existence of Israel. It isn't antisemitism, it's just anti-Zionism." Israel's supporters commit Bulverism, in other words - rather than tackle anti-Zionists' arguments, they just attack their motives instead: You must be antisemitic if you are an anti-Zionist, so you are wrong.

Of course, Bulverism is always a logical fallacy, and it can't be supported. Throwing charges of antisemitism at anti-Zionists is not the correct way to deal with their arguments, which can in fact be dismissed through thoughtful, sensible examination of the facts. But that is not to say that anti-Zionism and antisemitism are not always the same thing. In fact they often are.

The All Parliamentary Inquiry in Antisemitism recently released a report on this, noting the disturbing trend on the far left to "[mask or blend antisemitism] into anti-Zionism, [and articulate it] in the language of human rights" (para. 158). Certain examples are linked in a previous post in this blog, and include powerful student leaders who accuse Israel of being the number one human rights violator in the world and single the country out for other, general approbration, despite its exemplary record when compared to most other countries in the world. What other conclusions can we draw, for example, when academics call for boycotts of Israeli universities but continue to happily fraternize with members of institutions in Syria, Iran, Indonesia or Vietnam, than that those academics are choosing "the Jew amongst nations" for special criticism?

The report also confirmed that "alliances between extremist and fundamentalist groups have created links between groups on the far left and radical Islamists" (para. 166), that Ken Livingstone, the left wing Mayor of London, has ties with Sheikh Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, "a controversial Muslim cleric who has reportedly forbidden Muslims from engaging in dialogue of any kind with Jews" (para. 167) and that the Respect Party, Gorgeous George Galloway's extreme-left mouthpiece, is a platform for both anti-Zionism and antisemitism (para. 168). (Galloway, in fact, is a prime nut - a man who believes that Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization, that Jews are foreigners in Jerusalem, and that Jews control - guess what - the media.) The report concludes that academic boycotts of Israel on the part of left-wing university staff "are an assault on academic freedom and intellectual exchange" (para. 213), that Jewish students "feel disproportionately threatened in British universities as a result of antisemitic activities" (para. 219), and, finally, that "while many have pointed out that criticism of Israel or Zionism is not necessarily antisemitic the converse is also true: it is never acceptable to mask hurtful racial generalisations by claiming the right to legitemate political discourse" (para. 180).

Bulverism should always be dissuaded, then, but accusations of it should not serve to mask the reality - that anti-Zionism and antisemitism can be, and often are, inextricably linked.

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