Thursday, August 31, 2006

A summer to forget

I am positively drained. This summer of rockets, political scandals and hatred has taken its toll, and I feel horribly, horribly burned out. I am tired of hearing about the war, and have neither patience nor sympathy for the public figures who are trying to weasel out of truly taking responsibility for the failures and the tragedies, whether they be on a political level or a personal one. I no longer want to hear about the scandals in which far too many of our politicians have found themselves. You know your country is in trouble when your president is being investigated for rape, your justice minister has stepped down from his post in order to defend himself against sex-related charges, and a whole slew of other politicians are in various stages of police investigation (including the prime minister). I’m sorry, but what is wrong with you people? Don’t even get me started on those politicians who were not only against the war, but actually, quite publicly, supported Hezbollah. Yeah, that’s right. They were actually supporting those who were firing rockets at their own citizens. How’s that for democracy, folks?

The saddest part of all is that once the inquiries have been completed, once all is said and done, we will probably just go on the same as before. No one will step down and nothing will change, and yet another large stack of collated papers will be shoved into an archive somewhere, collecting dust with all the other reports that have been written over the years. This is the method that seems to work best for those in charge, and I can’t imagine that they’ll be in too much of a hurry to mess with success.

And then there’s the hatred. I’m not talking about hatred between Arabs and Israelis, I’m referring to the flourishing hatred of the Jews, primarily in (but certainly not limited to) Europe. I am shocked by the levels of anti-Semitism these days. I can accept anti-Israel sentiment, and I can differentiate between anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism. Of late, I have become acutely aware of a disturbing ability to blur the lines between the two, and the propensity of the former to justify the latter (or vice versa). I am shocked and dismayed by the anti-Semitic fervor that I’m seeing across the world, and am horrified by its prevalence and its sources. I am struck dumb by the words of individuals such as Jostein Gaarder, who write lengthy diatribes against the state of Israel, diatribes so deeply mired in anti-Semitic imagery that any potentially legitimate criticism of Israel is lost. I am shocked by the anti-Israel political cartoons that use religious Jews to represent Israel as the violent oppressor. Most of all, I am appalled by the feigned ignorance that I see, the misguided beliefs about Israel and its people, the ignorance at what accounts for anti-Semitism, and the inability to see the difference. I do not like to think that I am reactionary, jumping at every instance of anti-Semitism or anti-Israel expression. Unlike a number of my fellow countrymen and co-religionists, I do not believe that every criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, and indeed, much of the criticism is valid. I say to you now, though, that anti-Semitism is on the rise, and it is frightening and disgusting to observe.
I refuse to sit back and keep quiet while the world vilifies us, using its hatred of Israel as a springboard to anti-Semitism. I am tired of those who live their lives in safety and in comfort while creating some bizarre equation of moral equivalency between a sovereign state and terror organizations, and in my less sane moments, I like to imagine how your own countries would respond to the daily threats that Israel faces.

And then there are those who question Israel’s very right to exist, and for you, I simply have no words (at least no words that I am willing to use here). Get it through your thick skulls and into your puny little brains, people – Israel is not going anywhere, and the sooner you accept that fact, the sooner we will all, perhaps, be able to live in peace. Of course, to that end, there are definitely steps that Israel must take as well, otherwise there will be no moving forward. But please, for those of you who refuse to pull your heads out of your asses and accept the reality on the ground (and that certainly holds true for people on both sides of the divide), all I can say is that you are not living in the real world, and I pity you your ignorance.

Now I feel the need to mention hypocrisy. The hypocrisy of those media outlets who think twice before publishing anti-Islamic rhetoric, but consider anti-Semitic rhetoric (as long as it us under the thinly veiled guise of anti-Israel sentiment) to be an acceptable form of expression. Had Jostein Gaarder written about Islam in the same way that he wrote about Judaism, I daresay that we’d be seeing a repeat performance of what happened following the cartoon scandal. If freedom of speech is to take religious sensitivities into account (and I’m not saying that it should or shouldn’t), this must be extended to all religions, and not used in a haphazard, pick-and-choose manner. It cannot be acceptable to bash one religion and not another.

And then there is the hypocrisy that exists in our little corner of the blogosphere – and indeed, our little corner of the world. It is astounding and maddening. I am angered by those who attack Jews who dare to criticize the questionable actions of other groups of Jews, yet see nothing wrong with making blanket generalizations and assumptions about the entire world population of Muslims. How can one be acceptable when the other is not? As some of my colleagues can attest to, it is lonely to be a left-wing liberal Jewish-Israeli blogger, chastised by the Jewish-Israeli right for going too far, yet chastised by the European left for not going far enough. I am who I am, and believe what I believe, and I refuse to be cowed by those who presume to know better and do not hesitate to tell me so. Clearly, you folks have far too much time on your hands, and should seriously consider going out and finding a new hobby, preferably one that doesn’t rely on bigotry and hypocrisy.


RR said...

Excellent post, Liza- you're so right on about everything. It's all sickening. The wars, the hatred- maspeek kvar!

"The saddest part of all is that once the inquiries have been completed, once all is said and done, we will probably just go on the same as before."

Yep. Exactly. No "probably" about it. I am so thoroughly disgusted by our so-called government, I could scream. I sometimes wonder if they're all just sitting there running the country using a Magic-8 ball and a pair of dice.

Again, great post. I just wish you weren't so right about it all!

rami said...

hiya liza...

hope your trip to the 'dam will be relaxing after such a hard summer.. thank you for your words on my blog..

nrg said...

hey, there's a lot to be said for the Magic 8 ball... don't knock it!

Rami, I will make sure that Amsterdam will be fun, if not relaxing! :-)

lisoosh said...

This is a big virtual hug.

Liza said...

rr: Glad you liked it. You can't imagine how incredibly cathartic it was to write. I felt like this great weight had been lifted off my shoulders or something.

Gotta love the Magic 8-ball! I wonder if they still sell those things...

rami: See nrg's comment regarding Amsterdam! Less than two weeks to go, and I can't believe how excited I am!

With regard to the words on your blog, I meant every one. I rarely say words that I don't mean. There's just something about your writing style, especially when you're describing places in Sweden that you're visiting, that just relaxes me and makes me wish I was there to see those places too.

nrg: Just sitting with you in a cafe somewhere or wandering through the streets of Amsterdam will be relaxing (and fun, of course). I imagine that Amsterdam will never be the same after our visit... :-)

lisoosh: Thanks! It felt so great to get all this off my chest. I imagine that certain friends must be sick to death from hearing me talk about these things so much lately, that they're probably the first ones to applaud this post. :-)

rami said...

liza, you are more than welcome to come by to sweden and i'll make sure you see all those places, bring family and friends, we've got plenty of extra space.

Kat said...

Liza, I don't know if it will be any comfort to you, but there are plenty of us non-Jewish, non-Israeli types who sympathize with your country and its people deeply, and are sickened by the rising tide of anti-Semitism. I don't know much about internal Israeli politics, nor its scandals, but the rest of what you wrote struck a pretty deep cord with me. (Except for the left wing bit. I'm more of a semi-conservative Libertarian myself, but that doesn't stop me from valuing other perspectives. Of course, that's neither here nor there.)

You didn't extend your vent to include the U.N. (speaking of hypocrisy), but believe me, I do. I am absolutely fed up with seeing Kofi Annan's statements admiring Hezbollah or Hamas for their "cooperation" and then turning around and blaming Israel for even thinking of her own self-preservation. Maddening. I appreciate your balance in defense of Muslims, however. You extend to them what you would have them give to you, and refuse to blanketly condemn them for what some of their brothers chose to do. I admire that stance, especially given what your nation faces as a result of some of those "brother's" actions.

R. said...

Anti-semitism in Europe is notably on the rise among certain muslim groups. Critical attitudes towards the state of Israel is also on the rise, generally speaking. But I wouldn't label that anti-semitism (and it's unclear to me whether you're going that). I also know some cartoons published in Norway have been discussed for sure - as has "Gaarder's "God's chosen people." None of them come across as anti-semitic to me.

Critical to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is that Israel won't hand back to the Palestinians its legal land. Both the PLO and the Hamas claim Palestinian territory as defined of 1967. Further, the land PLO and the Hamas claim is internationally (by way of the UN) defined as belonging to the Palestinians, not Israel. But time and again Israel has passed on the opportunity to make peace the Palestians by way of negotiations with the PLO - or by way of refusing to negotiate with the current Hamas govermnent.* In a nutshell, that is why peace is out of reach in Israel and the Palestinian territories as it now stands. Many people refuse to see that. Perhaps you don't.

With regards to public opinion and social commentary I think it's problematic that not enough pressure is exercised on European governments to protest against American support of the Israeli government with regards to solving the said conflict. I also find it hard to accept that the EU doesn't exercise real and solid pressure directly on the Israeli government as well.

Problematic is also the fact that the current Israeli government wants to draw borders with a future Palestine unilaterally. This will for sure pose a big problem not only for the international society but the U.S. in particular, as the U.S. is bound by U.N. decisions. In short: the U.S. can't legally accept unilaterally defined borders between Israel and Palestine without principally nullifying the validity of international agreements. The latter if far more valid to keep, than the former is to accept - even for the U.S. That poses a real threat to Israel all said and done, and will - if borders between Israel and Palestine are one day unilaterally defined - destabilise the region further.

I know you never took time to answer my question "how is Gaarder's 'God's chosen people' supposed to be anti-semitic?" on the Heretic's Almanac blog. I also assume we have very different perspectives on the Middle East. And I care l i t t l e for some of your derogatory phrases in this post (I would avoid language that only incites angry confrontation and/or label people who think different than you disrespectfully - your catharsis comes at an expense). But I still hope it's possible to discuss these matters in an informative and respectful way.

* Footnote: Look at this argument you make with regards to the current Hamas governement and the fact that it has been democratically elected: "I am tired of those who live their lives in safety and in comfort while creating some bizarre equation of moral equivalency between a sovereign state and terror organizations." Does that mean that I necessarily support the Hamas? No. And that's approximately how I feel about the current Israeli government too. Yet these are the two governments that have to meet for talks, because not negotiating is a worse option.


lisoosh said...

r -

If you read the comments in Liza's previous post concerning Gaarders piece you will find plenty of reasons why it is less a perfectly legitimate criticizm of Israeli government policies and more an illegitimate use of anti semitism masquerading as criticizm of Israeli policies. You might want to start with all of the biblical references. And a cartoon of a religious Jewish man machine gunning innocents to death is anti semitic too. If you can't work out why, that says more about you than it does about the cartoon. Perhaps a bit of self analysis and reflection is in order.

The PLO and Hamas DON"T claim territory as defined in 1967, that is one of the problems. As defined in 1967, the territories in question were Egyptian and Jordanian. The Hamas charter does not draw the line at the Green Line, it does not recognize it at all. And lets pretend that the PLO and Hamas do in fact draw their supposed borders as the Green Line - unfortunately they have absolutely no control over their own population - so splinter groups such as Islamic Jihad are free to dig tunnels to Israel and shoot rockets over the border whenever they like. I assume if some militant group was firing rockets at Olso from Sweden you would expect the Swedish to actually arrest them or something. Well Israelis have the same expectations. Jordan is able to do it and we have a peace agreement with them. Surprise surprise.

What is really problematic is the extent to which middle class Europeans and Americans with too much time on their hands, absolutely nothing at stake and a very limited knowledge of the Jewish and Muslim religions and Israeli and Palestinian societies feel so qualified to comment. Or should I say criticize?

So here is a challange for you:
A. Put some of your money into the Israeli stock exchange (that way you'll have something to lose if the country has a problem).
B. Come to Israel and spend one week in each of the following places (you have to spend all of your time with the locals):
1. Tel Aviv
2. Jerusalem (religious Jewish neighbourhood)
3. Jerusalem (Arab neighbourhood)
4. Jerusalem (secular Jewish neighbourhood)
5. Ramallah, sophisticated Pal capital
6. Jericho, small oasis town
7. Far right settlement of your choice
8. Bethleham, Christian and Muslim
8. Yerucham, poor desert development town
9. Gaza (2 weeks, each week with a different clan)
10. Bnei Brak, religious town
11. Ramat Gan, well off and secular
12. Haifa, mixed Arab and Jew
13. Nazereth, large Israeli Arab town
14. Afula, small Jewish development town Galilee
15. Jordan Valley kibbutz
16. Kiryat Shmona (might as well see the craters)
17. Small Druze village in the Golan
18. Tiberias (you deserve a break)

And once you have first hand knowledge of Jews, Muslims and Christians in the area, Israeli and Palestinian, rich and poor, educated and not, once you see the challanges of the geography and the challanges the Palestinians face in building a nation (which I hope they can overcome), then come back and talk.

And just to be fair, I'll refrain from sticking my nose into internal Norwegian politics and fishing disputes with Iceland or Sweden.

R. said...


Liza addressed herself and criticised comments I've made on the Heretic's Almanac blog. Yet she never substantiated her claims on Gaarder's "God's chosen people," which was what the discussion was about. That is what I refer to in my comment here. I have since tried to subtract a coherent criticism on her blog here, but there's too much overlapping with other comments and the like - it simply leaves too many gaps to constitute a criticism that makes sense as coming from Liza, and not other commentators on this blog. And I don't want to speculate on behalf of other people, because if one does there's the imminent risk of saying people say things they're not exactly saying. That is why I leave a comment to Liza in this post.

Further, I resent in its entirety your first paragraph. This is how it's conluded: "If you can't work out why, that says more about you than it does about the cartoon. Perhaps a bit of self analysis and reflection is in order."

Of course you're free to reply to my comment to this post, but if you don't know the previous communication between me and Liza, you should moderate yourself. Also if you want to discuss a specific cartoon, then summarise that cartoon in an objective way and then run an analysis of it. That would enable a discussion on a specific cartoon. Incidentally there are more than one cartoon that could meet the description of whichever cartoon you have in mind.

Further, you don't know me. Let's keep that clear. Despite your aggressive reading of my morals and intellect and the fact such an attack would normally inspire a likeminded attack on my behalf on you, I'm not interested. What good would it do? I believe in enabling dialogue, not disabling it. I believe that's a moral duty - and I believe that duty includes being able to talk in a respectful way with people who disagree with you. Lastly I believe opinions are inately imperfectly formed, which is why dialogue is necessary, also when that mean one's own opinions or insight are changed or developed as a consequence.

Lastly, if you don't know that the Hamas claim Palestinian territories as of 1967 in return of what they call "a permanent truce with Israel" then you are wrongly informed. The Hamas made that clear upon its state visit to Moscow earlier this year - and repeatedly since, for instance through the BBC. You may of course discard that offer from the Hamas as a valid opportunity for peace. But that a different matter. Follow up on it if you will.

With regards to your so-called challenges: none of them as stated in your present attack on me will be given any attention. I find your comment on me rude. Yet if you're interested in my position on Gaarder's first op-ed in Aftenposten you can visit the Heretic's Almanac blog and read my comments there. If you want to discuss something with me, we can do so, but n o t in the tone you've set in your comment on me above.

lisoosh said...

R -
I read your comment in Heretics Almanac and Lizas response and I found your comments facile and her response perfectly appropriate. And no I don't actually wish to discuss anything of any substance with you as you have proved yourself to be both inadequately informed and rather patronizing.
You may find this response rude, but frankly your arrogance at assuming that it is perfectly acceptable to wander over to the citizen of another country and start insulting their country to them and demanding an explanation each and every time they feel insulted when someone maligns their faith is more than just a little rude, it is quite offensive.

So if you would prefer that I not use stronger language than the above, I suggest you do not address yourself and your inanities in my direction again.

R. said...


This is what Liza wrote to me on the Heretic's Almanac blog:

"Roar, If you find that Leif's explanations (which I think are spot-on, actually) are not adequate enough for your needs, I'd like to suggest that you check out the comments that this subject received on my blog. There are some very well thought-out out responses, as well as points that substantiate why Gaarder's original piece would be seen as being anti-Semitic."

That is also why I visited her blog, Lisoosh. From this you conclude:

"You may find this response rude, but frankly your arrogance at assuming that it is perfectly acceptable to wander over to the citizen of another country and start insulting their country to them and demanding an explanation each and every time they feel insulted when someone maligns their faith is more than just a little rude, it is quite offensive."

I haven't done any of those things, Lisoosh. But I've said I disagree with some main points in Liza's post and I mention some issues I find problematic.

R. said...

I may need to add here that Roar is my actual birth name. I just realised in this setting my signature might come across as aggressive. That's not intended. I used my name to identify myself to Liza.

Arik said...

You captured well those two idioms: "Weasel out..." and "will be the same".

I think all the rest is just an expansion of it.

Just think of it. It fits to anti-X as well. The world is not changing (and if it is - it ain't for good), human kind is the same - we are not evolving - we just recycle history.

As said in Ecclesiastes ("Kohelet")"...There is nothing new under the sun..."
and it was written at least 2000 years ago.

And to those of you who want the whole phrase (worth reading):
(Ecclesiastes 1:9-14 NIV) "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. {10} Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. {11} There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow. {12} I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. {13} I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! {14} I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

Liza said...

rami: Wow! Thanks for the offer! You might regret it if you were to see some of my friends, though... ;-P

kat: Thanks for your support. It really does mean a lot these days.

You are right about the UN, and I believe I've railed against them quite frequently in past entries (though admittedly, I did forget them this time around).

I don't believe that all Muslims (or even most Muslims) are bad people. As with any religion, they've got their fanatics who are perpetrating acts in the name of Islam and I honestly believe that these acts are not representative of the greater body of Muslims who do not support such violence.

Liza said...

Well, Roar. I was wondering when you'd show up here. What would be your definition of anti-Semitism? I am not asking this to be rude - I am actually quite curious, because so far (both here and on Heretics Almanac), you have only stated what you believe is not anti-Semitism.

With regard to the Palestinians, while they certainly have some legitimate claims, they are certainly not an innocent party here, and it's not like their leadership has been sitting around waiting to make peace with us without taking any provocative actions of their own. They also had a number of opportunities for making peace that they passed up as well, and by ignoring that, you are not presenting a fair assessment of the situation. As far as Israel and Hamas meeting for talks, Hamas would have to first acknowledge Israel and its right to exist, and stop supporting terror attacks against Israeli citizens. Obviously, one makes peace with one's enemy, but there are certain basic requirements that must be met before this can happen. The Palestinian President, Abbas, is potentially a man with whom we can have dialog, but you'd be hard-pressed to find Israelis (even those on the far left) who believe that it would be possible to have such a dialog with Hamas.

You refer to the fact that not enough pressure is placed on the Israeli government - what about placing pressure on the Palestinian government to halt terror attacks, rocket attacks, kidnappings, etc.? I am not saying that Israel is innocent here, and if you were to go through some of my other blog posts you would see how supportive I am of a two-state solution and Palestinian rights in general. However, to portray the Palestinians as innocent, blameless victims would be inaccurate at best. Both sides must agree to stop aggression, and both sides must follow through on their promises, and it cannot be expected that only Israel will do so.

I can also see the problem with Israel unilaterally drawing its borders (the route of the wall is a disaster, though I support its premise - it should, however, be solely on the green line), but as many Israelis currently feel that there is no true partner for peace, the general feeling is that at the very least, we must separate from them, hence the decision to unilaterally disengage. I imagine that you will argue with this opinion and say that it is not legitimate, but I can assure you as an Israeli living in Israel, these are indeed the feelings that people have, and it would be presumptuous of you to negate them, given that you do not live here and do not know what it feels like to live under the conditions that we live under on a daily basis.

As far as responding to your question from Heretics Almanac, I truly meant it when I suggested that you read the comments on my previous blog entry on the subject of Jostein Gaarder. My commenters responded as I would have, especially lisoosh, so if you would rather not wade through all the comments shown, at least read hers.

With regard to your footnote, I was actually thinking of the Hizbollah and not Hamas. Whether or not I like Hamas is irrelevant, and I accept that they are indeed the democratically elected leadership of the PA. And, unlike many of my fellow Israelis, I do not believe that they were elected because of their stance on Israel, but rather because they provided a better social welfare alternative than the incredibly corrupt Fatah government that led before them, providing health care, daycare, and other social welfare facilities for a seriously poverty-stricken population (and believe me, my opinion on this is pretty unpopular amongst quite a number of Israelis, so that should tell you a bit about where I stand politically).

As far as Hizbollah is concerned, they are nobody's elected government, rather a rogue militia acting in the interests of Iran, and not in the interests of the sovereign country in which they are based. Their actions triggered events which set our region back many years, and while Israel was certainly not as careful as they could have been in Lebanon, we were not purposely going after innocent civilians by randomly shooting rockets into towns, nor were we hiding amongst our own civilian population while perpetrating attacks, purposely putting them in danger.

All of that being said, I must say that I resent the tone that you use here. You say that you are interested in dialog, yet you come across as not accepting any opinions other than your own as being legitimate, not even leaving open the possibility that perhaps there is some validity to these other opinions, even if you don't agree with them. Perhaps it is simply a language issue or cultural difference, and if so, I apologize for my outburst. However, most of the commenters here are well-educated and well-versed in the ways of the world, and in order for us to engage in dialog, you must at least accept that the concerns of my Jewish/Israeli commenters are potentially legitimate, when they differ from your own. Not all of the people who comment on this blog agree with all that I have to say, and many come from wildly different backgrounds and belief systems than my own. The dialog works (and quite well - note some of the incredible exchanges on different posts throughout the blog) because despite our differences, we are respectful of one another and accept that there are different, yet equally valid opinions.

I am not sure what derogatory phrases you are referring to, and as far as avoiding language that incites angry confrontation well, suffice it say, I was very angry when I wrote my post, and I am very angry at the way I see things being played out in the world today, especially vis a vis attitudes towards Israel and Judaism, both of which are defining elements of my identity. I have every right to be angry, and if my words upset other people, this is a price that I am willing to pay.

I agree with you that anti-Semitism may be on the rise amongst certain Muslim groups, but if you think it is limited to these fringe groups and has not entered mainstream European society, then I am afraid you are not seeing the whole picture. It is piece like Gaarder's, or the cartoons using religious Jews to portray Israel, or the recent case in London of a heinous attack on a 12 year-old girl (see my blogroll link to An Unsealed Room) on a London bus simply because she was Jewish - these are the kinds of things I'm talking about. Whether or not you choose to see it or accept it, these are all anti-Semitic in nature.

If you honestly wish to get to know me as an Israeli and be part of this community, prepared to make thoughtful diverging opinions that provide an opportunity to see things as we may not have seen them before, you are more than welcome to join. The only thing I ask in return is that you show respect and openness for differing opinions, and accept that these opinions are just as valid as your own. It may be an eye-opening experience for all of us.

PS. I would not have found "r." offensive. I'm not thrilled with "anonymous", but "r" is fine. I would probably have realized that it was you anyway... ;-)

R. said...

Liza, I challenged Leif at Heretic's Almanac to perform a proper critique of Gaarder's "God's chosen people." I did that because his critique lacks textual references, you've read all that on Leif's blog. But to make things clear: t h a t is the challenge I made and the discussion I opened up. If you go back to his blog you'll see how he denounces Norwegian society as one predominantly unable of discerning and moral criticism, as well one prone to antisemitism.

Second, once the Gaarder op-ed had been published, the word was in Norwegian media that an unauthorised translation of it had been made available on o n e blog. Now whether more bloggers published their translations of it by and by has little to do with my point. My point is: Leif took upon himself a great responsibility in publishing that Gaarder text. And in light of his own reading of it, it should have been imperative to him to make sure that every claim he makes about it rest on (textual) substantiations to foreign readers

Almost on a point-by-point basis I argue Leif never provided a textual critique on Gaarder's "God's chosen people." And I stuck around a while to make that point (I then didn't know he would refuse to), also because I thought Gaarder's text was important to discuss. My own feelings or problems with the text never really got to be brought up, because I was either ignored or misquoted. Time and again I had to repeat and specify what I had written and I did so, because futile as it was in a dialogue with the blog manager of Heretic's Almanac, I figured it had some value as others would be reading it as well.

With regards to the points I bring up on Heretic's Almanac - all of them come in response to Leif's texts on that blog. I challenge Leif to substantiate as well as I try to show different readings of problems that Leif indirectly appears to refer to in Gaarder's "God's chosen people," predominantly in his response to me (in "So you want an explanation about Gaarder"). That is in short the setting of the discussion Leif and I had.

It's also the setting in which you ask me this:

I have read a number of your comments on this subject throughout this blog, and I simply have to ask - why is it so difficult for you to accept that Gaarder's words in his original article were anti-Semitic in nature? Why are you going to such painstaking lengths to try to prove otherwise, going so far as to actively try to discredit anyone who dares to raise the red flag against Gaarder? Why do you think that you know better than everyone else, as you actively work to deny the validity of the feelings of Jewish people who read and were instinctively repulsed by the Gaarder piece?"

I have responded to these questions on Leif's blog in a reply to you. And for the record: yes I think substantiations are necessary. With regards to Lisoosh comment on your previous post, I believe hers (?) is quite similar in content to Leif's. And I try to discuss it/them in my main reply to Leif's "So you want an explanation about Gaarder."

When I discuss that other readings are possible, I'm not showing disrespect. But I try my best to moderate. And I'm not willing to use the term "antisemitic" without caution. And I think it's a virtue to respect texts though they don't reflect my opinions. And I try to respect texts that choose a format and imagery I'd have avoided myself (that goes for Gaarder's text), though their overall point might appear valid to me. To me in a post 9/11 context this is particularly crucial.

I hope this doesn't come across as moral blah-blah. The vocabularly in today's political world is harsh and we the general public have been dulled by a constant medial flow of crises to the extent that apathy is a big risk. In this context some people chose to strongly emphasise their points to get heard. Gaarder too - for once. For this reason (and reasons I mention in my comments on Heretic's Alamanac) and in the context I briefly mention above I think it's a dead end writing his text off as anti-semitic.

In your reply to my comment above you write: "I must say that I resent the tone that you use here. You say that you are interested in dialog, yet you come across as not accepting any opinions other than your own as being legitimate, not even leaving open the possibility that perhaps there is some validity to these other opinions, even if you don't agree with them."
I wrote: "I still hope it's possible to discuss these matters in an informative and respectful way." On Leif's blog in a thread you participate in I write: "But I'll give you one thing - yes people that are biased don't always see it. Leif, it's p r e c i s e l y for this reason it's important to accompany postulates with substantiations (say why you think this and that and relate it directly to the issue you criticise, in this case Gaarder's text). It's the only way to establish a meaningful dialogue (not based on speculations, but clear-cut arguments, clear-cut reasons for concluding this and that way) between people of different views. It enables a real confrontation of opinion and reasoning - not just between two or more people, but also with o n e s e l f (by hearing the other/s confront ones reasoning)."
By 'confrontation with oneself' I also mean myself. I don't see what's to resent about that, nor do I see how I (as you write) "come across as not accepting any opinions other than your own as being legitimate."

R. said...

Here are some cut-and-paste quotes from you post:

"Get it through your thick skulls and into your puny little brains"

"for those of you who refuse to pull your heads out of your asses"

"Clearly, you folks have far too much time on your hands, and should seriously consider going out and finding a new hobby, preferably one that doesn’t rely on bigotry and hypocrisy."

I oppose to such language and reasong per se. That opposition comes regardless of the textual context the quotes are taken from and regardless of whether I support their overall point. I think derogatory language is a verbal aggression - and that verbal agression predominantly invites more (verbal) aggression. A discussion that invites to insults has little value beyond blowing off steam. It might also solidify and further immobilise fronts. I don't like it.

R. said...

Liza, to me antisemitism is racism. Racism against Jews

nrg said...

Perhaps it would clear the air if you just started off one of your responses by saying something along the lines of "I hear you, you make a valid point, but I disagree with you entirely or partially, and here's why". Perhaps it would come across differently if you were writing in norwegian, but in english your text (or the opinions that text represents) appears inflexible and somewhat condescending.

I also had issues with calling Gaarder's piece anti-semitism, but I think that in my dialogue (s) with those who don't share my opinion, there was a clearer exchange of ideas. Reading the comments here has been incredibly frustrating! I feel like I could close my eyes and listen to a detached monologue from one person followed by an equally detached monologue from another. I don't think that quoting what another person wrote necessarily demonstrates that you listened to (or more importantly, heard) their point.

I also fear that you are getting so caught up in semantics here that this isn't a discussion of ideas anymore, it's a discussion about how well those ideas and opinions are presented.

Just my 3rd party take on the situation. Maybe if you responded in your own language I'd get a better feel...

nrg said...

by the way, official definition I found of anti-Semitism is "hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group ". By that definition, I think it isn't far off to describe Gaarder's comments as hostile.

R. said...

Liza, with regards to the Palestinians in the conflict between them and Israel: I don't claim they're innocent. But their claim for land as defined of 1967 I support. Since the Oslo talks neither the PLO nor the Hamas have been offered these territories. I don't see how my assessment of this is ignorant/unfair. It's also not an attack at you.

With regards to the Hamas it's evident their position is different from that of the PLO, who has acknowledged the state of Israel but not received a Palestine in return. The position of the Hamas government is they want to negotiate. If one wants to negotiate on such issues, it's implied that negotiable are acknowlegdements of both an Israeli and a Palestine state since that's what the conflict's about. Clear is that the Hamas will so far not acknowledge Israel without Israel acknowledging a Palestine in accordance with the territorial claim made by the PLO and the Hamas. Until this has been negotiated between the Hamas government and Israel we don't know much more about the stands of the Hamas.

With regards to the unruly Gaza and the Westbank: I can on moral grounds criticise para-military acts, I can also be deeply against how innocent people are being killed and forced to live in danger and under very poor conditions. Yet I can't for this reason disregard the reality of the situation, the fact it's all happening (I'm not saying you are). And why is it happening? I believe the strategy for a peaceful solution is meeting Palestinian claim for land and a future Palestinian state. And I believe in a strategy that doesn't systematically weaken democratic structures in the Westbank and Gaza, as well as on occasion systematically attacking Palestinian infrastructure. I believe this weakens the opportunity for democracy to the Palestinians, and I believe it further angers many Palestinians. It also destabilises further the entire region - that it's fuel set to fire for extremism on both sides.

I believe a wall between Israel and a future Palestine is only acceptable if built on Israeli land.

With regards to the Hezbollah: I don't support them. Yet as a group I think they're a result of political problems in this region per se. And I believe Israel holds the initial key to solve them (see above). As for Israel's war against the Hezbollah I think it has weakened Israel's support internationally further. Most European countries criticised Israel for responding militarily in a way that was out of proportion with the Hezbollah's kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. Whether or not one agrees with this assessment this is the political aftermath in which Israel finds itself currently. Personally I agree with this assessment. The kidnapping doesn't justify systematic destruction of civilian infrastructure in Lebanon. Nor does it justify killing civilians en masse. Nor does it justify going to war in a country where refugees were hindered - by the Israeli military - to escape the battle zones.

None of this is an attack on you.

R. said...

Nrg, my response to Liza here follows a thread from the Heretic's Almanac blog. And I am concerned with semantics because it's about a critique of text - Gaarder's "God's chosen people." My position is if one wants to call Gaarder's "God's chosen people" antisemitic (because that's a very serious term and accusation), a thorough substantion of that claim is in place. I don't call points valid if they're not accompanied with substantiations. Once they're made the discussion can move on.

I also believe ideas and opinions should be presented respectfully and that one should try to be accurate - by way of supporting one's views - when making serious accusations. If anyone finds that condescending, that person knows best why. Not trying to be accurate, not substantiating (see Heretic's Almanac) and using impolite language is not an option for me.

nrg said...


I appreciate your comments and thank you for sharing them.
I have, obviously, not followed the comment trail in Heretics Almanac, so I haven't witnessed the substantiations (or lack there of) accompanying criticism of Gaarder's piece. I have not yet made up my mind as to whether or not anti-Semitic is the descriptive word I would use to describe Gaarder's op-ed.

I have read it in it's original language, so I don't have that barrier. I've read it so many times that I'm starting to get blurred vision. I am not surprised by the anger that it caused. It was a piece that screamed "I (or even worse, the royal 'we') am more evolved, have understood how the world should be, have higher morals and am a better humanitarian or just plain better human than you all." If he wasn't meaning to sound superior, I don't think he has any business being a writer, because it oozed from every sentence he wrote. I think he walked a very thin line between anti-Semitism and not. I think he should have left religion out of his arguements and concentrated on the State of Israel and its actions. By bringing in religion, he opened the can of worms. If he meant to bring in religion to prove a point that it was already done by Israel first and that this gave him the right to come with religious examples in return, I think that this subtlety was expressed poorly, was ultimately lost, and made it look like he was mixing religion and politics, or a state and the religion of a majority of its inhabitants. That this was interpreted as anti-Semitism is not an overwhelming surprise to me. I don't necessarily agree, but if I were jewish, his piece would have offended the hell out of me. Pretending otherwise would be a waste of my time. I'm not jewish but still his superior attitude blew me away.

The one sentence that I believe CAN be interpreted as anti-Semetism is the following:

"I to tusen år har vi terpet humanismens pensum, men Israel hører ikke."

Who is the group 'vi' that Gaarder identifies with? Christianity? Norwegians? How many groups can he potentially be representing here? All of humanity other than Israel? And if the State of Israel that he is criticizing has only existed as a state since 1948, it is incredibly difficult to interpret "but Israel doesn't listen" as anything else but, "but the jews don't listen". That sentence breaks up the world into those who "terpe humanismens pensum" and those who just don't get it, and he has put the jews on the side of those who just don't get it. It is a poor sentence. It singles out a religious group and says that they have ignored humanitarianism for 2000 years. If it wasn't what he meant to say, he should have had better editors. I believe that sentence fulfills the defintion I posted earlier: "hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group ". At least the hostility part.

And I also take issue with your last paragraph written to me. It is not your request that people be respectful or accurate or specific in their arguments that strikes people as condescending. It is the tone behind your words that sounds condescending. There is a difference. One can request all those things without sounding condescending. You did not. Using impolite language is not the only way to offend or not show respect with the written word.

This is not an attack, just a clarification that may help you to understand why there have been such strong reactions to your writing style.

Thank you for challenging me to put my ideas down and back them up.

lisoosh said...

nrg, this is for you. I broke up the piece and pulled out the parts which I feel specifically target Jews, as opposed to Israeli government policy.

I'd just like to make two things clear.
1. I don't think that Gaarder is consciously anti semitic. I think that he views himself as a humanitarian, dislikes what he has heard of Israel and has heard of the religious right, although he is badly misinformed as to the their numbers. However what comes up in his writing are a number of prejudices which can only be explained as anti judaism as they favourably reference Christianity, so I cannot surmise that he is simply anti religion.
2. I have found the response of many Norwegians to be very interesting. Obviously they are very proud of their reputation as humanitarians and their role in the world as neutral peacemakers, and rightly so. However, from many who dismiss those who say that Gaarders piece is anti semitic, I get the distinct feeling that they just have trouble believing that any Norwegian could say or believe something which is biased in any way. Could I be correct?

Anyway, these are the lines which are distinctly anti semitic with explanations:

We don't believe in the illusion of God's chosen people. We laugh at this people's conceits and cry over its misdeeds.
"Chosen People" is the biblical term for the Jews. "Peoples conceits" calls the Jews conceited

"To act as God's chosen people is not only stupid and arrogant, but a crime against humanity". Again focuses on Jews, not Israelis. Now to be one of "Gods Chosen People" is a crime against humanity. If he is talking about Israel the State, he should not have used a religious reference.

"We don't believe in divine promises as a basis for occupation and apartheid"
Again confuses religion and religious people who believe that G-d promised the Land of Israel to the Jews, with the modern political State of Israel.

"We are embarrassed by those who believe that the god of plants, animals and galaxies has appointed one particular people as its favorites and given them funny stone tablets"
Now he seems to believe in G-d but is insulting the Torah.

"We don't believe that Israel mourns more over 40 Lebanese children than they for the last three thousand years have complained about 40 years in the desert"
The 3000 years references the Jews, not the state of Israel, and who complained about the 40 years in the desert?

"We take note that many Israelis celebrate such triumphs the way they once celebrate the Ten Plagues as "suitable punishment" for the Egyptian people. (In this story the Lord of Israel appears as an insatiable sadist)'
Still on religion, still critical of the Jews.

"It's been two thousand years since a Jewish rabbi criticized the ancient doctrine of an "eye for an eye.""
Now is positive about Jesus and insulting about Judaism, mistakes the biblical "eye for an eye" for retribution (it actually references compensation) and then claims that no Jewish rabbi has criticized retribution. By the way, the commandments prohibit retribution and Rabbis condemn it all the time.

"He said: "All that you would others do for you, you should do for them."'
As in, Jesus invented this concept while he was actually promoting Jewish tradition.

"We do not recognize the old kingdom of David as normative for the 21st century's map of the Middle East."
Again tying in Judaism as opposed to Israeli politics.

"The Jewish rabbi who claimed two thousand years ago that the kingdom of God is not a resurrection of David's realm, but that the kingdom of God is within us and among us. God's kingdom is one of mercy and forgiveness."
Again, referencing Christianity as preferable.

"It's been two thousand years since the Jewish rabbi disarmed and thoroughly humanized old war rhetoric. Already in his time there were Zionist terrorists."
Referencing Jesus again, with Christianity as preferable to Judaism. Compares the "bad" Jews of the New Testament with modern day Zionism, calling those Jews, 2000 odd years ago terrorists.

"For two thousand years, we have emphasize the curriculum of humanity, but Israel doesn't listen'
You got this one all by yourself.

"It wasn't the Pharisean who helped the man who lay on the side of the road because he had been attacked by robbers. It was a Samaritan, today we'd say a Palestinian'
Takes the New Testament (Christian) story of the Good Samaritan and compares the modern day Palestinian with the Samaritan (good guy) and the modern day Jew with the Pharisean (bad guy).

"He was the one who wrote so beautifully about the Jew and the Jewess [two epic poems by Wergeland]. But he rejected the the illusion of a chosen people."
Still on the topic of Jews as opposed to Israelis.

nrg said...


I completely agree that Gaarder continuously and incorrectly linked judaism and the politics of the State of Israel. I said as much in my comment, I just chose to not break it down because I think the whole piece was mixed and jumbled when it came to history vs today. This is what I meant when I wrote:

"I think he should have left religion out of his arguements and concentrated on the State of Israel and its actions. By bringing in religion, he opened the can of worms. If he meant to bring in religion to prove a point that it was already done by Israel first and that this gave him the right to come with religious examples in return, I think that this subtlety was expressed poorly, was ultimately lost, and made it look like he was mixing religion and politics, or a state and the religion of a majority of its inhabitants. "

I think (and this is just my thought after reading this op-ed and the debate that raged here in norway afterwards) that he is of the opinion that Israel (as a state, as a people, not sure here) uses religion as a justification for everything they do that he disagrees with. I think he is incorrect, but the way he wrote says to me that his premise was that Isreal uses religion and he will therefore use it back. I think he did it poorly, but I also think that he isn't the type to use religious arguments in any other situation. I'm not sure if I'm making sense here, but I get the feeling that he knew how wide-sweeping and hollow and empty and all those religious comments sounded and that it was precisely his point. I am completely open to the possibility that I am way off base here, but it is the interpretation that sticks in my mind and makes the most sense.

I think he is non-religious rather than anti-religion. However, from my personal experience, Christianity is at the core of norwegian society in many ways. The basic values, traditions, etc, are a mixture of old norse and christianity, but there isn't much of anything else mixed in there. It is probably unconscious, but anyone in Gaarder's age bracket received an education that was rich in Christian tradition. It's been secularized over the decades, but the point of view is still based in Christianity, no matter how non-religious a person wishes to be.

I don't have an answer to your question in #2. No one likes to think of themselves as biased...everyone putting in a comment in this blog thinks they are being well-thought out, fair and not in the least subjective when they write. It's the curse of all people who like to think of themselves as educated.

I think that Norwegians take Gaarder's rant as a rant. Some agree, some think it's poor writing, and most think it was written a month ago, let it go already! It was one guys much emphasis and weight does one really want to give it? Aren't we turning it into exactly what the critics fear it is, by focusing on it, it becomes this beast...something anti-Semites will be able to use and rally behind. (I am not writing as myself here, I am not really representing norwegians either, as I have no right to do's just the feeling I get--the debate raged here for a while, it's over).

I may have created more confusion here...hopefully not. At the end of the day, I just think that Gaarder wrote a bad op-ed. I think he's sorry he sent it to print. I think he was misunderstood. I think that was HIS own fault. I don't think norway is a raging center of anti-Semitism in northern europe. I don't think people care enough about religion to be that. I think that more people are against Israeli politics than for. I think most people know far too little about Israeli politics and perhaps make their judgements with lacking or incorrect information. I also think norwegians are on the whole a fair society of people who speak up for what they think is right.

Ok, done for now... questions? comments?

R. said...

An (ir)relevant piece of information with regards to Norwegian society and religion: There was a big religious study on religion in Europe that was finally published a few years ago (it might have been an OECD study, but my memory fails). It dealt with how much impact religion had within a nation in its various say cultural sections (school, church, work, public life, etc). This study claimed that Greece and Poland were the overall most religious countries in Europe, whereas Norway hit rock bottom: it was the country according to the study where religion per se had the least impact among the countries that were studied.

I was surprised by this study. Yet in some ways it made sense: only very small groups in Norway are religious. And the decline of religious impact in politics and public life has been rapid over the last 20-30 years. This is partially seen in liberal laws with regards to homosexuals from the same period and new laws that effectively sideline marriage as the only institution for two people to live in with regards to societal rights as partners and parents. One also sees it in dramatic changes of attitude towards partnership and general public life in KRF, the Christian Peope's Party (a political party in Norway currently holding roughly six percent's support - the only political party to traditionally defend religious values). Further, people living on the coast of Norway were traditionally religious - and you still have various "sects" there. These used to be quite old-fashioned and agressively pro-Israel. But even that's changed - most of the members of most of these "sects" (they're how most Norwegians understand Christians) have moderated their views on partnership, homosexuality, blasphemy, and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Since I grew up in one and have many family members still active in them, these changes are very noticable.

Finally - because of this and as a result - religious parody is well accepted in Norway. It's also very much practised. This might enable a useful perspective on Gaarder's first op-ed in Aftenposten too.

R. said...


I have written somewhere between 15 and 20 pages at Heretic's Almanac, because I challenged the blog manager of this site to provide textual references and a discussion of them to support his claims on Gaarder's "God's chosen people." Then he did a separate post to undertake this, with which I was very unhappy and responded with a point-by-point comment in which I try to show how he misinforms, misquotes, and fails to connect his criticims with the actual text, as well as pointing to some consequences such a critique and use of accusations risk. If you want to follow this rather long thread (I don't expect you to - I know I wouldn't), you can go here and read the posts with their comments that follow after it:

It's also unfortunate that we meet this way - almost at the end of the line of this thread. I'm in a state where I very much feel conveniently ignored and ridiculed. Despite actual efforts to build up a serious discussion - and my point has all the time been it's okay to have different views - I have been met with silence, avoidance (of arguments), or arguments along the line "Gaarder's piece is anti-semitic - why can't you just accept that? period!!"

I was also very reluctant in going to Liza's blog, because I'd had it with silent treatment and disrespect of effort in providing points in an analysis (plus I'd had it with cleaning up arguments that weren't connected to Gaarder's piece). I feared the same would happen here. I also know you and Liza are good friends, which makes your position hard when I say these things.

Annoying thing about this is in real life we might have had a great respect of each-other. But due to circumstances this is how we meet.

If you go here, you can read how Liza and I encounter (and by this stage I've written a great deal already):

Perhaps you'll see why I was reluctant to come here. But Liza said there would be arguments here that I looked for - and all in all I thought that was decent. So I came.

But my patience is wearing thin. And to me decency in a discussion comes from honouring arguments and honouring claims by substantiating them. Why I haven't found them here so far on this blog is explained in at leat two comments I've made above.

Do I feel Liza should clarify and support her views as expressed at the Heretic's Almanac, which she fully supports? Yes. Do I feel that her replies to me so far mocks my efforts (she has read my thread she says) by making none herself, or not meeting my critique by problematising it? I'm afraid I do.

Again, we got on - on the wrong foot. That's unfortunate. But this is the point where I'm at in this particular discussion (or thread).

Lastly, with regards to your claim that my tone is condescending. My first comment above is made to Liza. It follows a long thread. You then give me instructions as to how to debate - in my comment to Liza. Then you say the tone behing my words is condescending in my reply to you. I see that entirely differently. But if you're fine with it I'd like to round off that topic because it will only estrange us - and for no really good reason.

I will answer your challenges on anti-semitism with regards to Gaarder's "God's chosen people" below.

nrg said...


I think that you and I react very differently to the Gaarder piece (not from each other, but differently than, say, Liza or any other Jewish person). It is an emotional reaction, and I suspect that it is a very unpleasant one. I didn't feel attacked, but I understand why they did. I'm not sure that it is always up to the offended to explain why they are offended (although those who are doing the offending can learn valuable lessons if that information is given to them) with concrete substantiations. Offense is not always a rational, logical, thought through and debated reaction. Offense usually hits hard and quickly. Liza's well deserved venting in this post is a reaction to just too much negativity. Which is horrible when the negativity is pointed in your direction.

I think that it is perfectly reasonable to expect anyone who is accusing Gaarder of anti-semitism to back it up with examples, I think Lisoosh has done that well here and I know that Liza has made her point clearly to me on several private chat session occassions. I still don't agree, but they have made their point. I think that when they say his piece offended them, I can't really demand that they prove to me why it was offensive. It simply was to them.

Anyway, that is neither here nor there. And Gaarder is far from the only thing that made Liza scream, "ENOUGH!!" this summer. We may have gotten off on the wrong foot but I really have enjoyed hearing your views. If you felt I shouldn't have thrown my two sense in on your tone of prose since it was directed at Liza and not me after a long thread that I didn't witness, I apologize for that. I sometimes do some mediating, even though it's not my blog, my job, or even something I'm all that good at! :-)

I was surprised that you have felt ignored here... I thought you were getting an enormous amount of attention, actually. And I think that although this thread hasn't lived up to your expectations, it may have some value anyway. Perhaps the discussion needs to flow in a manner that we aren't all accustomed to. Maybe everyone will have to concede a point or two to get us to a common ground where the discussion can become productive, informative, positive. I don't really think we are far from that. Flexibility from all sides will get us even closer (I am talking to everyone here (including myself), not just Roar).
I know that every one of us has jumped down another blogger's throat at some point in time and it's not easy to get past, but Liza's blog is a place where you will always be heard, Roar. It may not always be on your terms, but it isn't always on hers either and she owns this little spot on the blogosphere.

I am awaiting your reaction to my comments on the Gaarder piece. You said they would follow 'below'... can't wait!

PS Liza, sorry if I've taken over here... you can deprive of a latte in Amsterdam (just one, though...there are limits, you know!)

R. said...

NRG, the "royal we" in Gaarder's "God's chosen people" isn't a royal we. It's a prophetic we (I forget which Jewish book it's culled from). Hence he has chosen a prophetic genre for his text. To distinguish therefore between imitation and effects such as mockery/parody/caricature (there's one of the troubled terms of today's world) etc on the one hand, and actual literal meaning on the other is something the reader must do. As funny as it sounds, this - the foundation or pretext of Gaarder's text - is also what is most frequently lost in critiques that the text is anti-semitic. It's a text not to be understood literally in its entirety, it's a text to be provoked by, it's a text to force a discussion - most imporantly it's a text that says Israel's war against the Hezbollah in Lebanon and Israel's treatment of Palestinians must not be accepted, as much as it in its final paragraph warns against consequences of Israel's way to handle their conflicts with for instance the Palestinians - to be precise: Gaarder warns against a second diaspora. That last paragraph is essential to his entire text.

Another perspective: to which extent is rage spread among Arabs, Jews and Israelis today? To which extent is this rage constructive to finding a peaceful solution?

Gaarder spins on this rage - reflecting the situation as well as to get attention - however for constructive reasons. He wants the conflicts to end - and this call for peace is emphasised by inate risks of escalation of the conflict in so far as the citizens of Israel might be forced into a much greater conflict that they now find themselves in.

Is Gaarder right about these things? Well, I think he has a valid point. By 2020 it's estimated the Palestinian population in Gaza and the Westbank will reach the Israeli population. That will result in greater poverty in these areas if the situation doesn't change. It will also have a great impact on international opinion. The world on the whole will be less understanding of Israeli occupation, Israeli settlements in non-Israeli areas, and it will certainly be more sceptical to an increased use of military force that will be required on behalf on Israel to control such a situation. Israel's control of water in non-Israeli areas will also receive less understanding. The list is long.

And what then 50 years from now?

Further, as I've tried to show above, Israel intention to unilaterally draw borders between Israel and a Palestine - if that happens - will force Israel into a collition with the international society and fundamentally challenge its support from the US. I believe it's a very dangerous strategy for Israel to go ahead with this.

But let's leave all this be. Let's allow for a literal interpretation. You say:

”The one sentence that I believe CAN be interpreted as anti-Semetism is the following: ’I to tusen år har vi terpet humanismens pensum, men Israel hører ikke.’”

This point reflects to an extent a point Leif at Heretic’s Almanac makes:

”Third, in comparing his (utterly false and unfounded) version of Judaism with Christianity (the "Jewish rabbi," as if there is another kind), he implies that Judaism is the inferior predecessor to Christianity; what's worse, he makes it clear that Jews need to realize this. He claims that humanism was introduced by Jesus of Nazareth, which is both historically false, theologically unsound, and patently offensive. Jews don't think it's their business to criticize Christianity, but it's pretty clear that the teachings of Jesus were rather less original in their time than many Christians tend to believe.”

In my response to him I say this has some merit ( But to me it’s one of more possible readings. From a non-religious views it’s possible to appreciate certain dogmas credited to for example Jesus. Some of the dogmas he’s known to make (I’m not saying he was the first to make them) are not exclusive to a Christian church. Their application extend that to a great degree. Likewise, application or reference to ideas we connect to Marx doesn’t make us communists. Their validity extends such labelling - so does their presence/usage among people (for instance thinkers, writers, etc). So my point is other possible readings problematise accusations of antisemitism on this point - and for that reason, even when we interpret ”God’s chosen people” literally (which I don’t think we should), we should be careful in jumping to our guns.

Another reason for us to be careful in wrapping up Gaarder’s text as anti-semitic because of its references to religion is the context of readership. I tried to open a discussion about this at Heretic’s Almanac. This is what I write to the blog manager there (Leif):

”Gaarder's text relies on the context of the reader, a point Gaarder repeatedly has said he's aware of. For this reason he wants to control where his text is published, as well as carefully study any translation of it. Simply (and inadequately) put, he doesn't want the text to fall in the wrong hands (which is of course something any text risks - but to eliminate that risk, one must also eliminate text as such). That for instance means that the Aftenposten piece as published by Aftenposten addresses itself predominantly to a Norwegian public. And to make a long story short, both popular and political opinion in Norway have long been informed by the opinion that the state of Israel in its territorial shape and expansion is justified from a religious point of view. That is a crucial point and you've missed it entirely. It is also a point that hardly comes without substance with regards to many other countries in the western world - for instance, the U.S.A.”

By this I try to say that much of public support of the state of Israel in Norway has traditionally relied on Norwegians' (politico-)religious conviction. His usage of religious imagery can thus be seen as a tool to challenge the morals of such a conviction as well as attacking such grounds for being grounds to support the current state of Israel per se.

All I’m saying is there are many ways to read Gaarder’s text. Because of that - the variety of the text’s interpretive leads, it’s founding distance from a literal reading, his calls for peace - I cannot apply the term anti-semitism. That term calls for criticism of something that’s much much less ambiguous, much much clearer in its perpetration - than Gaarder ever gets near. Nor can I accept that people read parts of a text and disregard the rest of the text as if a text isn’t all its parts together - and on such grounds dismiss a text as anti-semitic. Nor can I accept that provocations don't have a purpose by way of getting attention and getting across an overall message.

This is what I write to Liza over at the Heretic’s Almanac:

”I don't think Gaarder's op-ed is anti-semitc. But I haven't said his op-ed isn't problematic. Still between problematic and anti-semitic there's a huge divide.”

I believe we shouldn’t dismiss ”problematic.” I believe without it critique and freedom of speech are threatened. ”Problematic” is necessary, because we think differently and because we far too often ignore important issues (prblematic can shake us). And I believe anti-semitic as a label on a text silences it and its readers from a moral point of view. As a reader of Gaarder’s text and someone who thinks it’s an important contribution to an important debate (how many other texts recently have engaged people to the same extent?) I don’t accept that. Just like I don’t accept Israel’s current treatment of the Palestinians, as well as the EU inablity and the US refusal to admit Palestinians their rights.

The rage of it all is coming down on America, Europe, and Israel. And the sooner we see the actual realities of that the better. For all parts.

nrg said...

Read the Heretics Almanac thread...couldn't resist. Lots of rhetoric flying from all directions on that one...I'll have to think on that...I think good and not so hot comments were made by all three of you (Roar, Leif, Liza). But that's not really all that strange in a heated discussion... I'll get back to you...

R. said...

Not that it's crucial - but a small correction to the info I gave on the religious study I mention above: the two most religious countries in that study were Poland and Ireland (not Greece, though that country came pretty high on the list too).