It is a starting point for debate about the Middle East that one can oppose Israeli policies without being anti-Semitic. Jews and Palestinians are locked in a violent, complex dispute. Reasonable people can disagree about, say, whether Ariel Sharon's counter-terrorism strategy is too aggressive
or whether roadblocks used to control the movement of Palestinians are inhumane.
But since the Al-Aqsa intifada broke out in 2000, hard-left academics and activists have sometimes blurred the distinction between hatred of Israeli policies and hatred of Jews. To excuse suicide bombings as a legitimate option of the "oppressed" (so long as the victims are Jewish), to recycle
the lies of Jenin and other modern-day blood libels, to demonize Israel as "genocidal" while ignoring the far worse calamities in Chechnya, Sudan, Algeria and elsewhere -- all these tactics reflect a mindset that many Jews find indistinguishable from plain bigotry.
Exhibit A here in Canada is Michael Neumann, a philosophy professor at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. Since last year, the educator has been posting his essays on the left-wing Web site Counterpunch.org. The articles vary in subject: terrorism, U.S. foreign policy, the Middle
East, etc. But they are all soaked in a single, dominant motif: a shrill, virtually pathological hatred for the state of Israel.
Neumann seems to view the Jewish state as a real-life Mordor populated by ghoulish orcs who seek nothing but the stench of death. Israel, the Trent educator says, is "a growing evil" whose campaign against the neighboring Arabs is "vengeful, relentless [and] sadistically gradual." The
country's "crimes," he writes, reflect "a cold-blooded, calculated, indeed an eagerly embraced choice of war over peace, and an elaborate plan to seek out those who had fled the misery of previous confrontations, to make certain that their suffering would continue."
Neumann believes Israel is plotting a "catastrophic assault" on the Palestinians. And its hope, he says, is that, "at some point, [it] will be able to kill many tens of thousands."
Naturally, comparisons to the Nazis and their eugenics agenda abound. Israeli settlers want peace "just as Hitler wanted peace," Mr. Neumann says. The Jews see the Palestinians as "lice," and are seeking their "extinction." Because the Jewish state is built on "vicious ethnic nationalism," it "thinks all Palestinians should vanish or die." The army, meanwhile, serves "the higher purpose of clearing away the vermin who resist the implantation of superior Jewish DNA throughout the occupied
Are Prof. Neumann's views anti-Semitic? The answer to this question does not appear to trouble him much. His theory is that Jews bear a collective responsibility to speak out against Israel. And if they fail to acquit themselves of that duty, then they have fairly earned the world's hatred. As usual, he sees a comparison with the Nazis as apt: "If it is not racist, and reasonable, to say that the Germans were complicit in crimes against humanity, then it is not racist, and reasonable, to say the same of the Jews."
Thus, he writes in his June 4, 2002 Counterpunch essay What is Antisemitism?, "we should almost never take anti-Semitism seriously, and maybe we should have some fun with it."
Trent is a respected university. So how does Prof. Neumann get away with this hate-fuelled claptrap?
For one thing, he is a Jew by birth -- even if he talks about his ancestral culture disdainfully, like an abolitionist describing his slave-holding forebears. As with every minority group, Jews get wider latitude to criticize their own than outsiders.
Another factor is "academic freedom." Earlier this year, the Canadian Jewish Congress wrote to the President of Trent University, Bonnie Patterson, expressing concern about the professor's views. She demurred that "the free expression of ideas in universities [is] essential to our teaching."
A noble thought. But one wonders if Mr. Neumann would still be working at Trent if he'd instead argued that anti-black hatred was acceptable because of what Robert Mugabe was doing in Zimbabwe.
The President also noted there had been no complaints against Mr. Neumann's classroom behavior. The Trent philosophy prof may be anti-Israel -- but, as the university sees things, his feelings aren't interfering with his role as an educator.
Or are they? This summer, it came out that Prof. Neumann had recently engaged in a revealing e-mail debate about Israel and Judaism with the "webmaster" of an Internet site called Jewish Tribal Review (JTR).
In the exchange -- which JTR subsequently published -- the webmaster pushes Mr. Neumann to expand his critique of Israel to include "Jewish/Zionist hegemony" in America's "media/government" machine. To his credit, Prof. Neumann declines. But his response, as reported by JTR, contains this
admission: "My sole concern is indeed to help the Palestinians, and I try to play for keeps. I am not interested in the truth, or justice, or understanding, or anything else, except so far as it serves that
This means, among other things, that if talking about Jewish power doesn't fit my strategy, I won't talk about it."
This statement can be read narrowly or broadly. So the JTR webmaster asks him for clarification: "Am I reading this right? ... You say you are 'not interested in the truth, or justice, or understanding ... except so far as it serves that purpose.' Is this the foundation of your teachings as a philosopher?"
In his response, Prof. Neumann reportedly writes: "If an effective strategy means that some truths about the Jews don't come to light, I don't care.
If an effective strategy means encouraging reasonable anti-Semitism, or reasonable hostility to Jews, I also don't care. If it means encouraging vicious, racist anti-Semitism, or the destruction of the state of Israel, I still don't care."
(Prof. Neumann admits he spoke "carelessly" during his exchange with JTR, which he regarded as confidential; and insists "I do not lie or obfuscate in anything I write, because that would hurt the Palestinians."Regarding the above-cited statements, he told me he would "neither confirm nor
deny having made" them.)
As his Trent University Web page illustrates, Prof. Neumann is an accomplished scholar with a lengthy publication record. But I think it is an open question whether someone who would apparently subordinate all to the vilification of a single country belongs in a classroom. Certainly,
it is a question Trent officials will have to wrestle with in coming weeks.
Jonathan Kay is Editorials Editor of the National Post. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org