Irish Times Accuses Pro-Israel Activists of Shutting Down the Conversation

The Irish Times has published some extremely problematic articles over the past couple of years illustrating a deep disdain for Israel. At the forefront of the demonization is Eamonn McCann, who most recently in January 2014 launched a vicious assault on the Jewish religion in an attack on Ariel Sharon. Prior to that, he wrote of Israel’s “downfall in the end.

On the back of hateful screeds such as these, it would be unsurprising if he hadn’t received a great deal of criticism. Perhaps this is why the Irish Times has published not only McCann’s latest piece but also an accompanying staff editorial that reflects the official view of the paper and states:

When an Israeli minister over the weekend accused US Secretary of State John Kerry of serving as a mouthpiece for anti-Semitic views he was only doing what countless other defenders of Israel have done in associating even mild criticism of the state’s policies with anti-Semitism. It is a bullying rhetorical device, often deeply unfair, that in practice successfully muzzles many critics, and not least, by playing on national guilt, German critics. And it is particularly effective in the US where the Israel lobby finds such a strong echo.

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Associating even mild criticism of Israel’s policies with anti-Semitism is certainly not something common to Israel’s defenders. HonestReporting for one does not take the charge of anti-Semitism lightly and relies on recognized definitions of anti-Semitism produced by the EU and U.S. State Department.

UK academic David Hirsh has examined what he has termed the “Livingstone Formulation” after former London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s reaction to being accused of anti-Semitic behavior in 2006 by claiming:

For far too long the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government, as I have been.

According to Hirsh:

This is a formulation which often appears in response to an accusation of antisemitism, which I have called The Livingstone Formulation (Hirsh 2007; 2010).  It is a rhetorical device which enables the user to refuse to engage with the charge made.  It is a mirror which bounces back an accusation of antisemitism against anybody who makes it.  It contains a counter-charge of dishonest Jewish (or ‘Zionist’) conspiracy.

The Livingstone Formulation does two things.  Firstly, it denies the distinction between criticism of Israel on the one hand, which is widely accepted as being legitimate, and discourse and action about which, by contrast, there is concern relating to its alleged connection to antisemitism, on the other.  The Livingstone Formulation conflates everything, both criticism of Israel but also other things which are allegedly not so legitimate, such as repeatedly insulting a Jewish reporter by comparing him to a Nazi, into the category of legitimate criticism of Israel.

Secondly, the Livingstone Formulation does not simply accuse anyone who raises the issue of contemporary antisemitism of being wrong, it also accuses them of bad faith: ‘the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical…’ [my italics].  Not an honest mistake, but a secret, common plan to try to de-legitimize criticism by means of an instrumental use of a charge of antisemitism.  This is an allegation of malicious intent made against the (unspecified) people who raise concerns about antisemitism.  It is not possible to ‘use’ ‘the accusation of antisemitism’ in order to delegitimize criticism of Israel, without dishonest intent.

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