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January 08, 2007

Worse than PBS

PBS ran a documentary tonight called "Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence," which I didn't watch. But judging from a review in the New York Times, it sounds better than I expected, with less moral equivalence than I would have guessed, even if it also appears to be fairly cautious.

But I came away very unhappy with the Times review by Alessandra Stanley, who goes out of her way to equate Arab anti-semitism with a milder version of Christian anti-semitism and to take political potshots.

Discussing the opening of the documentary, "a vitriol sampler," which includes a Lebanese Sheikh's accusation that "[t]hose responsible for all civil strife and other problems throughout history were the Jews," Stanley feels the need to mention Mel Gibson: "Mel Gibson expressed a similar idea when he was arrested for drunk driving." Get it? A Muslim cleric who indoctrinates his people with anti-semitism is no worse than some drunken American Christian anti-semite who's usually able to keep it down. I'd feel no threat from Mel Gibson if I had dinner with him, but there's no way in hell you could get me to the table with that sheikh. There's a big difference the two of them.

Next, Stanley discusses the history lesson that follows. It sounds as if the documentary paints a rosy view of Jewish life under Muslim rule, blaming some of the Muslim anti-semitism on Christian missionaries and colonists. Stanley also quotes an Israeli historian who argues that Arab anti-semitism against Jews coming back to Palestine wasn't anti-semitism at all but merely "a refusal of Jewish presence." I like that. That's like saying that the Ku Klux Klan wasn't racist; it was just espousing a refusal of black presence. You have to be highly educated to be that stupid.

But what bugs me most about Stanley's review, as opposed to the people quoted in the documentary, is her gratuitous swipe at a highly respected scholar. She quotes Bernard Lewis as describing Arab theories of a powerful Jewish conspiracy as "soothing" after the humiliation of the 1967 war, but she immediately adds this paragraph:

The film does not mention that Mr. Lewis is one of the leading scholars that Vice President Dick Cheney consulted to formulate the administration’s rationale for toppling Saddam Hussein. The documentary makes very little mention of the American occupation of Iraq — which is odd, given how often the Arab media paint the war as a sinister conspiracy cooked up by Israel and its supporters in Washington.
Bernard Lewis is one of the top scholars of the region in the past 50 years or more, but Stanley insists on belittling him, because the Administration sought his advice. And what exactly has Iraq got to do with historical Arab anti-semitism, except merely to provide more fodder for the conspiracy theories?

In contrast with her treatment of Bernard Lewis, she refers to Rashid Khalidi simply as the Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, without even mentioning his radical views.

She concludes with your basic liberal pabulum, about how "the film's circumspection reveals just how complex the problem is to address, let alone redress." Complex? State-sponsored and clergy-sponsored anti-semitism can be solved by stopping. It won't happen, but that's the answer. To use the handy American analogy of racism once again, you can't imagine Stanley trying to write a review of a film about racism in America by saying "how complex the problem is to address, let alone redress." She would argue, correctly, that we have to stop.

I suppose we have to give some credit to PBS, and even a little to Ms. Stanley, for at least acknowledging there's a problem of Arab anti-semitism. But I for one don't feel a whole lot better than I did before I'd read the review.

UPDATE (1/14): This post linked at Haveil Havalim #102 by Soccer Dad.