The Other Cheek?

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

It was predictable that the most serious attack on the civilian population of Israel since its foundation would bring out the worst in the West. Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic outburst could, I suppose, have happened any time, but he sure picked his moment. Even more revealing than his monstrous claim that “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” however, have been the excuses that are being offered on his behalf.

A columnist in the once-sane Daily Telegraph, Andrew O’Hagan, protested last week. Mr. Gibson was being “punished within an inch of his life,” he declared, even “crucified.” Yes, crucified. Mr. O’Hagan is a prize-winning Scottish novelist who chooses his words carefully. But what has actually happened to Mr. Gibson so far? He spent a night in the cells for drunk driving and a Hollywood contract that hadn’t even been signed is cancelled. You don’t even have to have seen “The Passion of the Christ” to pick up the anti-Semitic undertones of the word “crucified” here.

But it gets worse. For Mr. O’Hagan saw “something much darker and more troubling” than Mr. Gibson’s vicious libel. American society, he wrote, has made the poor man into a “scapegoat.” “Gibson’s drunken comment was, it could reasonably be argued, a statement against the arrogance of the Israeli military,” wrote Mr. O’Hagan. “Isn’t it that which is making America call for his head?”

Well, no, Mr. Hagan, there is nothing “reasonable” about accusing “the Jews” of starting all the wars in the world, especially when what has actually happened is that Iran and Syria, having armed Hezbollah to the teeth, have just started a proxy war against Israel.

As if offering a pseudo-justification for anti-Semitism weren’t bad enough, Mr. O’Hagan then adds a few choice examples of his own. First, he accused Jews of being “un-insultable in ethnic terms, though everybody else is.” This is simply untrue: Jews suffer insults every day in papers like the Guardian, which recently published a cartoon that could have come straight out of Der Stürmer, showing an Israeli thug smashing a child’s face with Star of David-shaped brass knuckles.

But Mr. O’Hagan went blithely on, dragging in the Holocaust for good measure: “I know it’s hard to tell a people who saw six million of their number murdered to turn the other cheek, but turn the other cheek they must, unless they want to present themselves as the great unimpeachable race apart.”

As I say, Mr. O’Hagan is no mere newspaper hack, but a prize-winning novelist. So any offense caused by his words is, we must assume, entirely intentional. What he seems to be saying here is that Jews must shut up about anti-Semitism, or else they will confirm the prejudices of the anti-Semites. If they are vilified, it must be their own fault.

Moreover, if Jews defend themselves or Israel, they are acting as “thought police” who “are out in force in almost every publication in America.” What is Mr. O’Hagan’s only evidence for this monstrous accusation? The fact that there was a “storm of protest” in response to the notorious article by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt on the “Israel Lobby”, published in the London Review of Books. Well, it would have been odd if nobody had protested at the claim, by two Kennedy School professors, that American foreign policy was controlled by Israel. Mr. O’Hagan omitted to mention that he is on the staff of the LRB, a journal that misses no opportunity to denounce Israel and America. Its star columnist (and Mr. O’Hagan’s hero) was the late Edward Said.

Does the reaction to Mel Gibson’s remarks justify Mr. O’Hagan putting “Hollywood Jews…in the seat of their former enemies, the McCarthyites”? He concludes with a plea for compassion for “a damaged person struggling with the nightmare of alcoholism.” But here’s the kicker: “No people — not even God’s people — should assume itself to exist above the common miseries of man.”

Got that? Mr. O’Hagan thinks Jews are getting above themselves. Not only are they “behind most movies”, but they are refusing to feel Mr. Gibson’s pain.

Something else is going on here, too. Mr. O’Hagan’s language is laden with religious symbolism: “crucified,” “scapegoat,” “turn the other cheek,” “God’s people.” He is appealing to Leftist anti-Zionism (“the Jewish state is a force of incredible arrogance and self-interest”), to racial prejudice (“the great unimpeachable race apart”) and to older, Christian anti-Judaism, too.

Such malice aforethought — for this column was written in cold blood — tells us more about the writer than his subject. Mr. O’Hagan claims that Mr. Gibson’s anti-Semitic ravings are the kind of thing “stupid people say all the time,” but his own anti-Semitic insinuations are the kind of thing “clever” people say all the time. Mel Gibson differs from his apologists only as the saloon differs from the salon.

At a time when Hezbollah’s nail-bombs are falling like hail on Haifa, armchair anti-Semites are not Israel’s most pressing problem. Yet the protestors in Prestwick Airport, Scotland, who are trying to hinder the U.S.A.F. from resupplying Israel, are more than just a nuisance. So was the rally in Trafalgar Square two weeks ago, for which the BBC supplied directions on its Web site and which the literati attended. Their slogan was: “We’re all Hezbollah now.”

The missing link between Islamism and the intellectuals is provided by the NGOs. In Britain there are several Muslim organizations that support both Hezbollah and Hamas. The Islamic Human Rights Commission, or IHRC, makes no secret of its links with Hezbollah. Writing in last week’s Spectator magazine, the writer Melanie Phillips quoted the IHRC leader, Massoud Shadjareh, claiming that “Israel’s state ideology is based on the racial concept of the superiority of the Jews over all other humans.” This is a lie, of course, but how does it differ from Andrew O’Hagan’s sneering reference to “God’s people”?

Moreover, there is little difference between the propaganda of Muslim charities and that of mainstream NGO’s. I have in front of me a leaflet from War on Want, a major charity which claims to be “fighting global poverty” but is actually running a campaign to tear down Israel’s security barrier. The headline says it all: “Together we can knock down Israel’s Apartheid Wall.” The comparison with the 1980s campaign against South African apartheid is explicit. It means that Israel is illegitimate.

Mr. O’Hagan is apparently a “Goodwill Ambassador” for the United Nations Children’s Fund. Some would say that makes him unimpeachable. Somehow, though, I don’t think Jews are going to take his advice to turn the other cheek.

The New York Sun

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