Yesterday the New York Times ran a disastrous op-ed equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Written by the British academic Colin Shindler, it was titled, “The European Left and Its Trouble With Jews.”
The money paragraph of the article is the fourth paragraph, and it contains a supposedly anti-Jewish quote from Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah. Shindler writes:
In recent years, there has been an increased blurring of the distinction between Jew, Zionist and Israeli. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the militant group Hezbollah, famously commented: “If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice I do not say the Israeli.”
The only problem is that the quote is in all likelihood a fabrication– as the London Review of Books determined.
And it’s damning that the Times apparently demanded nothing from Shindler to back this statement up, even as Times editors demanded that Sarah Schulman produce 300 pages of footnotes and supporting evidence for her argument that Israel seeks to launder occupation with a reputation for gay freedom– an argument that it held up for months during a process of endless vetting. How embarrassing…
To the evidence.
Lara Deeb has demonstrated (at the Middle East Research and Information Project) that the quote has no source, and that the scholar cited by neocons as its original source, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, actually cited a member of the Lebanese parliament — not Nasrallah — as the source:
[In his book A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel, Thanassis] Cambanis quotes Nasrallah as saying, “If we search the entire globe for a more cowardly, lowly, weak and frail individual in his spirit, mind, ideology and religion, we will never find anyone like the Jew — and I am not saying the Israeli. We have to know the enemy we are fighting.” This statement is not sourced in A Privilege to Die, and Cambanis seems to have taken it either from a book of collected English translations of Nasrallah’s speeches  or from another book about Hizballah, by the Lebanese scholar Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, who attributes it in a footnote to then Hizballah MP Muhammad Fanayish.  The second quote Cambanis cites is a widely circulated excerpt from Nasrallah’s 1998 ‘Ashoura speech in which he mourned the “historic catastrophe and tragic event” of the founding of “the state of the Zionist Jews, the descendants of apes and pigs.” While no specific source is provided in A Privilege to Die, these lines do appear in the text of the speech printed in Hizballah’s weekly al-‘Ahd, as well as in the same English-language collection of Nasrallah’s speeches.  In the collection, the lines follow a translated speech that emphasizes that Hizballah’s fight is with Israel and not with Jews.
The most definitive discrediting of the false quote is in this post by Louis Proyect (who is a widely-published Marxist thinker): “Is Nasrallah an anti-Semite?” February 6, 2007. Here is a substantial excerpt of that post. Proyect’s links and footnotes can be found at the link.
As many people know, the London Review of Books has become an outlet for scholarly, reputable but often controversial opposition to Zionism–not the least of which was its publication of the Walt-Mearsheimer article on the Israeli lobby in March of 2006.
More recently, there has been controversy over Charles Glass’s relatively favorable coverage of Hizbollah in Lebanon courtesy of Eugene Goodheart, a professor emeritus of literature at Brandeis University, who complained:
“I do not support the terrible excesses of Israel’s bombing of Lebanon, nor do I regard all criticism of Israel as an expression of anti-semitism, but Charles Glass’s defence of Hizbullah is beyond the pale. Is Glass familiar with these statements, made by Hizbullah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah? ‘If they [the Jews] all gather in Israel it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide’ and ‘They [Jews] are a cancer which is liable to spread at any moment.’ The leader of the Party of God (a grotesque conception of a political party, although that doesn’t seem to bother Glass) is not simply a resistance fighter. He is an anti-semite with fantasies of genocide. Glass makes Hizbullah sound like a rational movement that does little harm, but on the contrary does a great deal of good and learns from its mistakes. What lessons had it learned from the debacle of the 1980s when it provoked a war that has brought so much havoc to its own country, without even consulting the government in which it serves? Glass tells us that he was kidnapped by Hizbullah. Has he succumbed to Stockholm syndrome?”
Glass responded in a subsequent issue:
“Eugene Goodheart asks whether I am familiar with two statements he attributes to Hizbullah’s secretary-general, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah (Letters, 7 September). Goodheart uses the inflammatory quotations to accuse Nasrallah of being ‘an anti-semite with fantasies of genocide’. If I am unfamiliar with the statements, it is because they are in all likelihood fabrications. The first (‘If they [the Jews] all gather in Israel it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide’) was circulated widely on neo-con websites, which give as its original source an article by Badih Chayban in Beirut’s English-language Daily Star on 23 October 2002. It seems that Chayban left the Star three years ago and moved to Washington. The Star’s managing editor writes of Chayban’s article on Nasrallah, that ‘I have faith in neither the accuracy of the translation [from Arabic to English] nor the agenda of the translator [Chayban].’ The editor-in-chief and publisher of the Star, Jamil Mrowe, adds that Chayban was ‘a reporter and briefly local desk sub and certainly did not interview Nasrallah or anyone else.’ The account of Nasrallah’s speech in the Lebanese daily As Safir for the same day makes no reference to any anti-semitic comments. Goodheart’s second quotation – ‘They [the Jews] are a cancer which is liable to spread at any moment’ – comes from the Israeli government’s website at link to tinyurl.com. For the record, a Hizbullah spokeswoman, Wafa Hoteit, denies that Nasrallah made either statement.
“Goodheart wonders whether, as a former captive of Hizbullah, I may have succumbed to Stockholm syndrome; may I ask in return whether he is succumbing to the disinformation that passes for scholarship and journalism in certain quarters in the United States?
Goodheart was so stung by Glass’s rebuttal that he has written another salvo for Dissent Magazine, a key outlet for Eustonian politics in the USA that he titles “The London Review of Hezbollah”. In the second paragraph, Goodheart alleges:
“The London Review of Books is an egregious instance of this one-sidedness. Almost every issue contains several articles devoted to attacks on Israel, and the target is not simply the governing party, but the whole spectrum of Israeli political life. Absent from the columns of the Review are the injustices and cruelties of political Islam.”
His article has drawn the interest of Crooked Timber, an academic blog that enjoys such food fights. They question the frequency of such alleged attacks based on a fairly rigorous search of the LRB archives:
“Goodheart’s case is not strong. A perusal of the LRB’s back issues reveals a total of 17 articles critical of Israel in 2006, but ten of these come from two issues published during the invasion of Lebanon (and the LRB is published 24 times a year).
“Goodheart, who seems to have been some kind of Marxist in his youth (according to an article that appeared in the Columbia University alumnus magazine), appears to have retained the polemical edge of those days even if his politics are yawningly predictable. Going in for the kill, he informs Glass that the Daily Star is not the only source that confirms Hizbollah anti-Semitism. His ace in the hole is Amal Saad-Ghorayeb’s “Hizbu’llah: Politics and Religion”, a scholarly work supposedly sympathetic to the Shi’ite party. Goodheart calls attention to damning citations found within its covers, including this from Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah:
“‘If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, we do not say the Israeli.’”
This led Brendan to astutely comment on the Crooked Timber blog entry devoted to Goodheart’s article:
“The source of the quotation is cited in footnote 20 of Chapter 8 of Saad-Ghorayeb’s book: an interview, not with Nasrallah, but with a Hizbullah member of the Lebanese Parliament, Mohammed Fnaysh, conducted by the author on 15 August 1997.
“Saad-Ghorayeb informs me that the footnote is a mistake, although she is certain there is a valid source for the statement. However, when at my request she examined her PhD dissertation, from which the book originated, she discovered the same mistaken citation. Footnotes in a long work can easily go astray, but it is unfortunate that neither her dissertation adviser nor her publishers spotted the error. Therefore, until someone discovers where and when Nasrallah uttered the words above, the case is unproved.”
Condemned for words he did not utter
So we are dealing with multiple errors in the scholarship department. The LRB is not publishing attacks on Israel in “almost nearly every issue” and Saad-Ghorayeb’s quote is about as solid at the one that appeared in Goodheart’s original complaint. One can only wonder if becoming a professor emeritus dulls the edge you are forced to maintain when part of the academic rat-race. My only recommendation to Eugene is to adhere to more rigorous standards if he wants to be taken seriously in Mideast politics.
I have quite a bit of interest in this topic because I have been openly critical of the Holocaust conference in Iran that brought KKK’er David Duke and David Irving in as “experts”. Since Hizbollah is linked (somewhat unfairly, some would argue) to Iran, is there guilt by association?
Using Lexis-Nexis, I did a full-text search for “Hezbollah” (Lexis-Nexis converts this to the various spellings), “Nasrallah” and “anti-Semitism” for all available dates, which means going back to the mid-1980s, before the group was formed. I assumed that the Western media would be keeping a close eye on his utterances, just as they do with anybody on Washington’s enemies list, ranging from Hugo Chavez to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As it turns out, only 30 articles turned up.
I went through them assiduously (excluding editorials, which have much looser standards) and could find not a single incriminating quote from Nasrallah. In the precious few articles that did make such an allegation, there was nothing to back it up. A July 23, 2006 Atlanta Constitution article is typical:
“Hezbollah is heralded on the so-called Arab Street as a leader of ‘resistance’ to what many see as Israel’s bullying and the West’s political and legal double standards in dealing with the region’s 1.3 billion Arabs.
“Its message, bathed in the language of ‘martyrdom,’ anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, is broadcast on radio, regionwide television and over the Internet.”
Too bad the reporter could not provide evidence of such language. Considering the hatred that exists toward political Islam in the USA, the fact that he didn’t speaks volumes.
Meanwhile, Israel has had no problems forging alliances with the Phalangists in Lebanon, whose sister party in Spain was a staunch ally of Adolph Hitler. When Roger Garaudy, the ex-Communist, went on trial in France in 1998 for holocaust denial, Karim Pakradouni, deputy leader of the Kataeb (Phalange), was quoted in the local press: “France will not give up its tradition of free speech . . . to the Jews.” Along the same lines, John Rose, a member of the British SWP, wrote:
“Finally Israel’s backing for the Christian Phalange in Lebanon must be mentioned. The Phalange were founded by Pierre Gemayel in the 1930s. It was a fanatically right-wing armed militia, self-consciously modelled on the fascists. (Phalange means fascist. Gemayel visited Berlin in 1936 and met Hitler.) Gemayel’s son Bashir rose to prominence in the Phalange in the 1970s and then in the wider Christian movement in Lebanon. Bashir Gemayel, also a fascist, came to dominate Christian forces in Lebanon by the simple expedient of murdering all his opponents.
“Gemayel’s faction was enthusiastically, if secretly at first, welcomed in Haifa in 1976 by the then Israeli Labour government.  The contacts were cultivated and Israel began arming Gemayel. In August 1982, the month when hundreds of Palestinian refugees were massacred in the Lebanese camps at Sabra and Shatila, Bashir Gemayel was ‘elected’ Lebanon’s president as Israeli guns and tanks stood by.”
One supposes that Israel overlooks the Phalangist history in the same manner that it allies itself with the Christian right in the USA, whose anti-Semitic utterances are far easier to document than Nasrallah’s. Zev Chafets, an IDF veteran and rightwing columnist now residing in the USA, has written something called “A Match Made in Heaven” that looks fondly on the growing alliance between the Christian right and Israel. Like the Phalangists, the Christian right believes that the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim.
Jerry Falwell is one of the Christian rightists whose support he deems critical for Israel’s survival. A July 23, 2006 LA Times piece by Chafets titled “I want Falwell in my foxhole; At the end of the day — or at the End of Days — Israel has plenty of time for anybody who wants to help the Jews” says it all. This is the same Falwell who told the world in 1999 that the Antichrist would have to be a Jew, based on his understanding of Scripture. Not surprisingly, Jewish officialdom sprang to his defense. According to the January 17, 1999 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Rabbi James Rudin of the American Jewish Committee in New York said “the comment surprised him because he knows Falwell is a strong supporter of Israel and is not anti-Jewish.”
Excused for words he did utter
I guess if one is a “strong supporter of Israel,” then just about anything goes. It is the equivalent of getting a “Get out of Jail Free” card in Monopoly.
Max Blumenthal provided the ideas and research for this post. Weiss wrote it up.