Robinson follow-up

A follow-up to yesterday’s post about the war on William Robinson. Robinson said on my radio show yesterday that the ADL’s Abe Foxman came to Santa Barbara to organize a meeting of sympathetic profs to encourage the university to go after Robinson. This is clearly an attempt by a very well-financed organization (the ADL’s budget is some $50 million a year) to restrict political speech and academic freedom.

Some of the comments here and on Facebook suggest that somehow Robinson “crossed a line” by likening Israeli behavior in Gaza to the Nazis. On the show, Robinson said that he drew a comparison between the siege of Warsaw and the siege of Gaza—sealing off both areas created a desperate situation of disease and famine. This is undeniably true, though it might make some people uncomfortable to hear this.

I shouldn’t have to say this, because it does involve a ritual of deference to imperial power, but such is hegemony. I’ve always been very careful to draw a distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. I’ve been very critical of some of the awful stuff that goes out over WBAI’s airwaves, and did a long interview with my friend Joel Schalit on the anti-Semitism behind many left critiques of Israel). I have some cred in this area. Robinson’s critique has nothing to do with anti-Semitism, and everything to do with a critique of brutality.

I’ll be posting the show to my radio archive later today.

26 Comments on “Robinson follow-up

  1. Pingback: SocProf Supports William I. Robinson | The Global Sociology Blog

  2. The comparison is not new to Robinson. IIRC, some Israeli leaders or generals have made the same connection, some approvingly. I can hunt up references if there is interest.

  3. Whether people like it or not or understand it or not:


    Comparing Israel to Nazi Germany in any way is anti-Semitic, vicious, and racist, period.

    Why not compare the policies of the Israelis to the American policies towards Native Americans? Or even the Americans in the Philippines during the Spanish-American war? Or even the treatment by the Confederacy of Union prisoners during the American Civil War? While I wouldn’t agree, at least that’s something that can be talked about, but no, people always bring in the Nazis,


    To quote from Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier:

    “The first thing that must strike any outside observer is that Socialism, in its developed form is a theory confined entirely to the middle classes…In addition to this there is the horrible–the really disquieting–prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together.”

    While Orwell didn’t mention anti-Semitism, I think the passage may give a clue to why it has a such a strong presence in the remnants of the Left.


    Because people remember the Nazis.

    There’s also the fact that Israel’s generals quite openly developed their strategies from those used by the Wehrmacht. Which does kind of justify some of these comparisons…

  5. To cian,

    So, because the U.S. government used Werner von Braun to develop the space program, then the United States is equivalent to Nazi Germany?
    And what exactly is the evidence about Israeli generals adapting or adopting consciously, tactics used by the Nazis?
    This whole discussion is based on what I think is called a “category mistake”, which is something discussed by Chomsky, Gilbert Ryle and others, about different matters of course.

  6. The evidence is in, among other places, Israeli newspapers. Its hardly a secret.

    “So, because the U.S. government used Werner von Braun to develop the space program, then the United States is equivalent to Nazi Germany?”

    William Robinson didn’t say Isarel is equivalent to Nazi Germany, making your analogy irrelivant as well as astonishingly stupid.

    “This whole discussion is based on what I think is called a “category mistake”, which is something discussed by Chomsky, Gilbert Ryle and others, about different matters of course.”

    No, it isn’t, you clearly don’t understand what a category mistake is. But thanks for playing.

  7. cian said:

    “Israel’s generals quite openly developed their strategies from those used by the Wehrmacht.”

    And didn’t they get at least some ideas from the British in the Boer War?

  8. Cian,

    Now you’re insulting me, which discredits any arguments you’re making.
    I also see from this site, that anti-Semitism in the remnants of the Left is going strong and is not really amenable to reason.
    Cian, YOU don’t know what a category mistake is, and it does apply here, so thank YOU for playing.
    Allow me to point out you’ve also offered no links, titles of articles, or books or really anything that shows how Israeli generals have said how they’ve adopted Nazi tactics. It should be all over the Internet, if the IDF is consciously adopting tactics from the Nazis or Wehrmacht as you strangely put it.
    To sum up Cian, you are a nasty anti-Semite, and it’s because of people like you that the remnants of the Left have been and will remain completely and totally irrelevant with no influence on society, dwelling in obscurity forever!

    Mazel tov!

    P.S. don’t even bother to reply to this since I’m not going to be reading this site any more.

  9. Dear Ed,
    Please don’t let the few comments here turn you completely off to the Left or to this website. Doug Henwood is a sharp economic analyst, and is basically supporting an acquaintance of his, whose area of expertise also appears to have nothing to do Israel. I regard Robinson’s comment as crossing the line of “criticism” into ridiculous comparisons that play with antisemitic demonizations. The further comments here are just dumb comments. You are not alone in opposing antisemitism on the Left. Don’t give up, but also don’t be completely turned off. Emancipation is a struggle that takes place also within the Left.

  10. Allow me to point out you’ve also offered no links, titles of articles, or books or really anything that shows how Israeli generals have said how they’ve adopted Nazi tactics.
    Quotes from the original Haaretz article, that I don’t seem to be able to find online (I originally read it in Haaretz in 2002), written by Amir Oren (who is their military commentator, and pretty close and friendly to the army) . I think that’s sufficient for a comment on a blog post.
    ” In order to prepare properly for the next campaign, one of the Israeli officers in the territories said not long ago that it is justified and in fact essential to learn from every possible source. If the mission is to seize a densely populated refugee camp, or take over the kasbah in Nablus, and if the commander’s obligation is to try to execute the mission without casualties on either side, then he must first analyse and internalise the lessons of earlier battles – even, however shocking it may sound, even how the German Army fought in the Warsaw Ghetto.
    The officer indeed succeeded in shocking others, not least because he is not alone in taking this approach. Many of his comrades agree that in order to save Israelis now, it is right to make use of knowledge that originated in that terrible war, whose victims were their kin.”

    One might also make the following observation: any halfway decent history of the Israeli army will point out that Israel’s general’s developed their military strategies from studying Blitzkrieg tactics of the German army.
    Now only a stupid person would conclude from this that the Israelis are like the Nazis, just as only a stupid person would conclude that Robinson said the Isarelis are exactly like the Nazis. Though of course, appointing a racist semi-fascist as a foreign minister does make it easier for people to make the Nazi comparisons…

    A category error is an ontological error, whereby a property is ascribed to a thing that could not possibly have that property. I might be mistaken in saying that all Americans are socialists, but it would not be a category error. Such a statement is possible, even if it is not true. Similarly, it would not be a category error to say that the Israeli state behaved in a similar fashion to the Nazi state in a particular incident. As I said, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Now you’re insulting me, which discredits any arguments you’re making.

    No, I’m being insulting about your arguments. If your original post had actually engaged with the argument, rather than flinging random insults and accusations, I would have politely disagreed with you. If your arguments are stupid, expect to get treated as a stupid person.

    It should be all over the Internet, if the IDF is consciously adopting tactics from the Nazis or Wehrmacht as you strangely put it.

    The attack was carried out by the Waffen-SS, who were part of the Wehrmacht, with air support from the airforce who were, you guessed it, part of the Wehrmacht. Not sure why you find it so sinister that I’m describing them by their name…

    To sum up Cian, you are a nasty anti-Semite

    I’m taking my toys and I’m going home! So there!

  11. The problem with the comparison of Nazi Germany to Israel is not that it is antisemitic, which it either is or isn’t depending on the circumstances (and Robinson’s comments most certainly weren’t), the problem is that such comparisons a) reify the Nazi Holocaust as the ultimate form of evil against which everything else must be compared and against which nothing can quite measure up; thus b) such comparisons obscure or mitigate other forms of horrific state violence that do occur, whether they be by Israel, the United States, Iran, etc. Finally, c) making the comparison between Nazi Germany and Israel only tends, as it’s been said before, to generate more heat than light. It brings out all of the usual goons–Foxman, Dershowitz, AIPAC–and forces everyone in power to take their pre-arranged positions. The controversy becomes the story and Israel gets off of the hook and is thus free to commit more crimes against Palestinians.

  12. s.l. said:

    “Emancipation is a struggle that takes place also within the Left.”

    Right. Thank God for left liberals and right-wing soc-dems: they’ll save all us really ignorant people . . . .

  13. Eve Garrard goes to the length of comparing the Warsaw Ghetto to the Gaza Strip.


    The claim has been made that Gaza is rather like the Warsaw ghetto. Now this claim is either a legitimate comparison, or it’s a peculiarly unpleasant smear, insinuating that Israel is akin to Nazi Germany. So let’s see if it’s a legitimate comparison. The two main features of the Warsaw ghetto were (1) that it was an unspeakable atrocity, leading to the deaths of nearly half a million Jews and others, and (2) that it was part of a genocidal plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Take the first point, and consider the comparison: on the one hand, the number of Palestinian refugees in the late 1940s was approximately 750,000, but it now stands between 4 and 6 million. It would be quite hard to regard this as even an attempted genocide – few genocides end up with an increase in the victim population of the order of several hundred per cent. By contrast, the size of the Jewish population in the Warsaw ghetto after the three years in which it existed was zero. The current life expectancy of a Palestinian woman is 75 years, according to the UN. What was the life expectancy of a Jewish woman in the Warsaw ghetto? Whatever age she was, she had at the very most three more years to live. Not a striking similarity, then.

    With reference to the second significant feature of the Warsaw ghetto, which supposedly resembles Gaza, it should be noted that Israel has had control of the skies over Gaza for many years now, and had it wanted to it could have produced the same outcome as the Nazis did in the Warsaw ghetto. The fact that it hasn’t done so would demonstrate to most people, even those hostile enough to stand in need of a demonstration, that it has no such aims. People who maintain their suspicion that Israel has genocidal intentions towards the population of Gaza do so in the face of a total lack of evidence to support their view.

    Let us now consider whether there is any evidence that Israel is aiming to exterminate the Palestinians in general. Where are the slave labour camps in the Territories, in which tens and hundreds of thousands are worked to death, with a life expectancy of between three and six months? Where are the gas chambers killing thousands every day? Beats me, I just can’t see them.

    So the comparison is not, to put it mildly, a legitimate one. It is, in fact, a poisonous smear, which derives its repellent quality partly from its exploitation of the terrible history of the Nazis and the Jews. It’s hard to know why some people feel the need to paint the swastika on to the foreheads of the Jews of Israel in this way, to covertly suggest that the Nazis have been reincarnated as Israeli Jews and that Israel is the new Third Reich. I think it’s unlikely that all boycotters share these views, but insofar as they do, their position is morally polluted by this new version of a very old stereotype, that Jews are secretly planning to kill millions of innocent people.

  14. B–: I agree. I don’t think its a terribly enlightening comparison, is rather unimaginative and is likely to be tactically counter-productive.

    1) The Israeli state has in the past behaved in a fashion (as has the US) that means that one can make specific comparisons if one really wants to.
    2) Zionists do have a tendency to make the Nazi comparison themselves (Hezbollah are apparently like the Nazis. They dress in black, don’t like Jews and have a funny salute). Not a reason to do it oneself, but the flesh is weak…

    I think a more interesting discussion is the degree to which Israeli politics is becoming fascistic. There’s always been a tendency there (the militarisation of civil society, hyper-patriotism, chauvinism, the pressure to conform on certain issues, the national mythologies – and indeed Israel’s easy friendships with fascistic governments/militias), but it does seem to be getting much worse.

  15. Ok Ed,
    I take it back. I thought the idiots who made the Gaza=Warsaw or Israel=Nazi comparison were just being loose with rhetoric, but it seems like some of them actually think there’s a useful comparison to make. First I thought it was just similar to the dumb Bush=fascist “analogy,” based on some reference to the USA Patriot Act. But, you’re right, it is actually something that they believe. Cian goes as far as thinking that there is actually an argument to be made about “Israel becoming fascistic”! Incredible. Not only is it a baseless comparison (despite, the random references) [just as the Bush=fascist comparison is baseless despite the reference to the Patriot Act], the Israel=Nazi comparison is antisemitic. Deborah Lipstadt (, a US Historian who researches Holocaust Denial, calls the comparison “soft-core denial” because the comparison essentially denies what the Holocaust was. Eve Garrard’s quote above explains this quite well.
    Unfortunately people who see themselves as Left are circulating such trash (on Indymedia-NYC for example, the level of such propaganda is nauseating), and they think they are not responsible for the growth of worse forms of antisemitism. As if doing politics doesn’t mean taking responsibility for what you do. But maybe they simply don’t care.

  16. An excerpt from The Founding Myths of Israelby Ze’ev Sternhell:

    To avoid any misunderstanding or confusion, I have used the term nationalist socialism…But national socialism, which was commonly used at the beginning of the twentieth century, has been contaminated by its association with the Nazis. However, the adjective nationalist, although not traditionally used, in its strict sense describes one of the variants of socialism accurately. There is a nationalist socialism just as there is a democratic or revisionist socialism, often known as social democracy…Nationalist socialism, properly understood, appeared in Europe in the last years of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth as an alternative to both Marxism and liberalism…The uniqueness of European nationalist socialism…lay in one essential point: its acceptance of the principle of the nation’s primacy and its subjection of the values of socialism to the service of the nation. In this way socialism lost its universal significance and became an essential tool in the process of building the nation-state. Thus, the universal values of socialism were subordinated to the particularistic values of nationalism. In practice, this was expressed by a total rejection of the concept of class warfare and by the claim of transcending social contradictions for the benefit of the collectivity as a whole. This form of socialism preached the organic unity of the nation and the mobilization of all classes of society for the achievement of national objectives. According to the theory, this process was to be led by natural elites, whose membership was determined not by class, origin, or educational qualifications but by sentiment, dedication, and a readiness to make sacrifices for all. Nationalist socialism quite naturally disliked people with large fortunes, the spoiled aristocracy, and all those to whom money came easily and who could allow themselves to be idle. It lashed out mercilessly at the bourgeoisie whose money moved from one financial center to another and whose checkbook, close to its heart, served as its identity card. In contrast with all these, nationalist socialism presented the working man with both feet firmly planted on the soil of his native country–the farmer, whose horizons are restricted to the piece of land he tills, the bourgeois, who runs his own enterprise, and the industrial worker: the rich and poor who contribute the sweat of their brow, their talents and their money to increasing the collective wealth…Indeeed, nationalist socialism was based on the idea of the nation as a cultural, historical, and biological unit, or figuratively, an extended family. The industrial worker was regarded as an organic part of the whole, and the whole took precedence over the individual. The blood ties and the cultural ties linking members of the nation, their partnership in the total national effort, took precedence over the position of the individual in the production system.

    Sternhell was recently wounded by a pipe bomb outside his house.

  17. How about sticking to the topic instead of demanding we bring in strawmen from Normblog, s.l.:

    “He [Robinson] said that in the Warsaw ghetto, “the Nazis rounded up the Jews and they wouldn’t let anyone in or out”

    (And from the original e-mail:)

    “Gaza is Israel’s Warsaw – a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians, subjecting them to the slow death of malnutrition, disease and despair, nearly two years before their subjection to the quick death of Israeli bombs.”

    You argue with that instead of trying to steer it into an argument of “Israel = Fascist Germany”.

    As for Garrard, while her argument might be valid in some other context, here it’s only a strawman. She said:

    “The two main features of the Warsaw ghetto were (1) that it was an unspeakable atrocity, leading to the deaths of nearly half a million Jews and others, and (2) that it was part of a genocidal plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe.”

    Neither of these points ( the first, a subjective description of the numbers involved, and the second, the plan that motivated the tactic) speaks to Robinson’s description whatsoever.

  18. dear sk,
    is there a point to your posting this Sternhell quote?

  19. Cian goes as far as thinking that there is actually an argument to be made about “Israel becoming fascistic”

    Despite your misuse of quotation marks, this is not what I wrote.

    Incredible. Not only is it a baseless comparison…the Israel=Nazi comparison is antisemitic.

    Here’s the thing. Fascist is not the same thing as a Nazi. Conflating the two, as you have just done, marks you out as a person of great ignorance.

    And given the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as Israel’s foreign minister, I don’t think ‘baseless’ will really do as a refutation.

    they think they are not responsible for the growth of worse forms of antisemitism

    This growth has been greatly exagerated in the US, and the growth is largely related to the actions of Israel (and is carried out mostly by Arabs) in Western Europe. It rises very significantly whenever Israel attacks its neighbours, or the Palestinians, and falls afterwards. It seems unlikely that Indy-media, or the left, have much to do with this. Relative to other racial/religious groups, Jews do not face significant persecution in Europe (any forms of persecution be too high, but its insignicant to what is faced by blacks, Turks, Pakistanis and Muslims generally) and unlike those groups they do not face persecution from the state, or state agencies (such as the police). Nor are they, unlike Muslims, treated by the state as the “enemy within”.

  20. These accusations of anti-Semitism are non-sense of the worst, most dangerous and incoherent sort.
    Let me lay it for you quickly, simply, clearly, so that there’s little hope of confusion: not only is it analytically absurd to infer anti-Semitism from criticism of Israel, those who call criticism of Israel are in effect anti-Semitic.

    Why? Check it out:
    not everyone spends their days figuring out precisely how to take an honorable, defensible, principled stand on such things as Israeli policy, the Palestinian right to resist, anti-Semitism etc. So many doubtless see Israel’s ostensible “defenders” (bullshit, of course) calling criticism of Israel anti-Semitic, on that tacit assumption that an attack on Israel is an attack on Jews.

    The result? Rather than being able to dismantle the ridiculous assumptions embedded in such an argument, they accept its premises: ok, Israel = Jews. What follows? I tell you: it becomes acceptable to blame Jews for Israeli atrocity, since, well, the “defenders” of Israel are busy little beavers, constructing an identity between Jews and Israel.

    Hence, what do we see? Increases in anti-Semitism in the “Arab world” or the “Muslim world” (I apologize in advance for such amalgams) in direct response to Israeli barbarity. We see similar things in Venezuela. So Israel’s “defenders” in fact contribute to anti-Semitism. Being highly accomplished shitty human beings, one doubts they care, since the name of the game is obeisance to power and never adherence to principles. but for them to start lecturing a serious guy like Robinson, author of excellent books and, as Doug put it, a “serious scholar,” about anti-Semitism? please.

  21. 1) The growth of antisemitism is not exaggerated. 2) It is very different than anti-Muslim racism. 3) The antisemites can not deny their responsibility for their own actions. To allow them to do so is to treat people in a very patronizing way, and when the actors are Muslim antisemitism, such an attitude is itself a form of racism.

    Antisemitism and anti-Muslim racism are two very different phenomenon. Jews and Muslims face two different experiences. Muslim institutions, schools, restaurants, community centers, religious sites, cemeteries do not need 24 hour police protection like those of the Jewish community needs. Once a week in Germany, a jewish cemetery is desecrated. And Jews do not show religious symbols on the street. There is no public jewish life outside of the protected spaces, or during large public events such as memorial days. In fact, in January, when an Islamist group organized an anti-Israel demo, the police broke down the door of a private home which was displaying an Israeli flag, because the roudy mob was shouting and throwing things. Instead of protecting the right of displaying the Israeli flag in one’s own home, the police supported the hostile mob. Compare this to the freedom of the Muslim population who walk freely and display religious symbols openly.
    Additionally, if you read any of the public opinion polls, you will see that antisemitic positions are rising in numerable countries, particularly bad in Spain. During the heights of armed conflict between Israel and Hezbollah or Hamas, the Left press all but praises these groups’ targeting of Israeli civilians for the actions of their government. Of course this praise emboldens the idiots in Europe or the US who think jews or jewish institutions there are also legitimate targets of hostility.
    The situation for Muslims is different. No one holds them responsible for the genocidal proclamations of Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah, or Hamas. First off, nobody goes to the streets chanting for their extermination, as you find routinely at anti-Israel demos. They face different a forms of discrimination – in housing, on the job market, and in the press. Large sections of the Muslim population are also stuck in low-wage, dead-end jobs. Or despite being second of third generation immigrants, they don’t have citizenship in their country of residence.
    This is simply a very different situation.
    The vastly larger Muslim population in comparison to the Jewish population also puts these differences in perspective. Because Jews are a tiny fraction of the population, they experience forms of antisemitism at a much higher rate than the much larger Muslim population does, who also, it should be said, appears to not feel physically threatened to display religious, cultural, or national symbols (of Turkey in Germany, for example). This is a huge contrast to the experience of Jews, who cover Kippas under baseball caps, and hide the Magen David under their shirts.

  22. additionally, in soccer arenas as well as on the school playground in Germany, the word “jew” has become a derogatory word, used by Germans — with and without immigrant backgrounds — to insult people. This has nothing to do with a sloppy critique of Israel that crosses a line into antisemitism and does not simply occur when Israel is slugging it out with Hamas or Hezbollah. It’s simply age-old anti-Jewish hatred that’s an established part of post-Shoah European society.

  23. Continuing in his/her conflation of Zionism and Judaism, s. l. writes:

    “private home which was displaying an Israeli flag”


    “Instead of protecting the right of displaying the Israeli flag in one’s own home [which, strangely, made it to the window for public display before an anti-Zionist demo. T.], the police supported the hostile mob. Compare this to the freedom of the Muslim population who walk freely and display religious symbols openly.”

    ‘Nuff said . . . .

  24. the point was brought up to show the difference between the freedom of Muslims in Germany to display religious and national symbols (of Turkey, for example) in comparison to the freedom of Jews to do the same thing. Apparently you believe Jews don’t deserve this right? And that whenever an Islamist, anti-Israel, or “anti-zionist” mob begins to violently approach those who try to express that right, the police should come to the aggressors’ aid, rather than those under attack? Brilliant!
    This is a perfect example of how supposed Leftists contribute to a rising tide of hostility towards Jews.

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