Respectful Insolence

Richard Dawkins really should know better.

That’s why it’s frustrating to see him put his foot in his mouth in a big way in a recent interview. Indeed, he did it in a way that leaves himself wide open to charges of anti-Semitism:

In an interview with the Guardian, he said: “When you think about how fantastically successful the Jewish lobby has been, though, in fact, they are less numerous I am told – religious Jews anyway – than atheists and [yet they] more or less monopolise American foreign policy as far as many people can see. So if atheists could achieve a small fraction of that influence, the world would be a better place.”


The implication (or outright statement) that Jews somehow control American foreign policy (or have undue power) is a staple of anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial websites everywhere. Now, I in no way believe that Dawkins is an anti-Semite. I’ve never seen any evidence in the form of statements by him that would lead me to wonder whether he is, and the above statement doesn’t really make me wonder. What it does make me wonder is if Dawkins has a tin ear for the effect of his words. Yes, I understand that he is merely using the Israeli lobby as an example showing that it is possible for a relatively small proportion of the population, if they are religious, to have influence disproportionate to their numbers. That being said, the charge that Jews monopolize foreign policy is a bad analogy to have made. Norm Geras was not far from the truth when he said:

‘As far as many people can see’ – nice. Dawkins’s organization is to be called the ‘Out Campaign’. What, not the ‘Association for Propagating Poisonous Myths’?

I wouldn’t go as far as Brad Greenberg, though.

In fact, it’s even worse when you look at Dawkins’ website about the “Out Campaign” for atheists:

What other OUTs might we imagine? Well, suggest your own. Vote OUT representatives who discriminate against the non-religious, the way George Bush Senior is alleged to have done when he described atheists as non-citizens of a nation “under God”. Politicians follow where the votes are. They can only count atheists who are OUT. Some atheists are defeatist in thinking we’ll never be effective simply because we’re not a majority. But it doesn’t matter that we’re not a majority. To be effective, all we have to be is recognizable to legislators as a big enough minority. Atheists are more numerous than religious Jews, yet they wield a tiny fraction of the political power, apparently because they have never got their act together in the way the Jewish lobby so brilliantly has: the famous ‘herding cats’ problem again.

Ugh.

I know what Dawkins is trying to say and can even agree with the intended thrust of his argument, but he says it so poorly. Dawkins ignorantly conflates the Israeli lobby and a mythical “Jewish” lobby. The two are not the same, and the above statement serves only to reveal how utterly clueless Dawkins is about American politics. Equating the two in this manner practically begs for a charge of anti-Semitism, and Dawkins ignorantly or blindly blunders right into the trap. Moreover, he seems utterly oblivious that one reason that many Americans (and American legislators and Presidents) have an affinity for Israel is not so much because of the efforts of pro-Israel Jews themselves, but rather because of fundamentalist Christians who believe that the State of Israel is fulfillment of Biblical prophecy:

As Christian televangelist Jerry Falwell commented during an October interview on 60 Minutes: “I think now we can count on President Bush to do the right thing for Israel every time.

Falwell spoke for a large number of Christian Zionists in the U.S., Christians who believe that the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and so deserves unconditional political, financial and religious support. Christian Zionists work closely with religious and secular Jewish Zionist organizations and the Israeli government, particularly during periods when the more conservative Likud Party is in control of the Israeli Knesset (parliament). Though Falwell claims to be speaking for over 100 million Americans, the number is actually closer to 25 million.

Mainstream evangelicals number between 75 and 100 million; fundamentalist and dispensationalist evangelicals, whom Falwell represents, between 20 and 25 million.

Christian Zionism grows out of a particular theological system called premillennial dispensationalism, which originated in early 19th-century England. The preaching and writings of a renegade Irish clergyman, John Nelson Darby, and a Scottish evangelist, Edward Irving, emphasized the literal and future fulfillment of such teachings as the Rapture, the rise of the Antichrist, the Battle of Armageddon, and the central role that a revived state of Israel would play during the end days. Darby and Irving argued that portions of the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah and Revelation predict when Jesus will return and how the final battle of history will take place.

[...]

Christian Zionism has significant support within Protestant fundamentalism, including much of the Southern Baptist Convention and the charismatic, Pentecostal and independent churches. The movement can also be found in the evangelical wings of the mainline Protestant churches (Presbyterian, United Methodist and Lutheran) and to a lesser degree in Roman Catholicism. Its reach is broad, since premillennialist dispensationalist themes are advanced through Christian television, radio and publishing. The National Religious Broadcasters organization, which controls almost 90 percent of religious radio and television in the U.S., is dominated by a Christian Zionist orientation.

The alliance of Christian Zionists and the pro-Israel lobby solidified during the Reagan administration, although it declined somewhat during the first Bush administration and the Clinton years. Clinton’s Israeli ties were with the secular Labor Party, led by Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, not with the conservative Likud Party. Through this alliance Clinton embraced the Oslo peace accords, which were opposed by Likud and the Christian Zionists because the accords called for reductions, however modest, in the expansion of Jewish settlements and asked that Israel withdraw from a significant portion of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

This should point out the huge, gaping hole in Dawkins’ analogy. For the analogy to hold, atheists would have to be able to engage some large voting block in the U.S. with equal passion as AIPAC has been able to engage so many evangelical Christians. Dawkins is also wrong in his implication that Jews are a monolithic block supporting Israel (his “herding cats” comment about atheists presented in contrast to the Israeli lobby); there is a wide variety of Jewish opinion on Zionism and the State of Israel, with some Jews passionately opposed to the policies of the government of Israel. Indeed, the Zionist movement is largely made up of secular Jews, with some religious Jews, particularly the ultra-orthodox Neturei Karta, being passionatedly opposed to the existence of the State of Israel, seeing it as blasphemy. As historian Deborah Lipstadt put it, “Anyone who can call the American Jewish community ‘organized’ shows how little they know about it.”

I’ve defended Dawkins before when it comes to controversial statements, but not this time. Not only is Dawkin’s analogy based on a lack of understanding of American politics and the American Jewish community, but it’s a bad analogy. Worse, it’s phrased in such a manner that left Dawkins wide open to charges of anti-Semitism because of the way it equated the pro-Israel lobby with American Jews in general. Defenders of Dawkins who either failed to notice or don’t see that Dawkins screwed up bigtime when he invoked the ever-dreaded “Jewish lobby” really should reconsider whether this counterproductive analogy is really what they want associated with atheism, and Dawkins needs to drop it–pronto. It’s all too easy for Dawkins’ defenders simply to dismiss criticism such as mine as being “too sensitive” or saying that criticism of statements such as his is nothing more than evidence that criticizing Israel is the “third rail” of American politics as an all-too-human excuse not to look at the ugly implications and downright inaptness of an analogy presented by someone they admire.

Leave it to Stephen Colbert to put things in perspective:

ADDENDUM: Here’s an excellent comment by Joshua Zelinsky over at Effect Measure on Dawkins’ exceedingly poor choice of an example:

Dawkins’ comment even in context isn’t really so great. Note that a) There isn’t some magical unified “Israel lobby” but rather a variety of different groups with different interests and goals. b) The strength of this lobby(even as a loose collection) is simply put, wildly exaggerated. For example, if it were nearly as strong as many people seem to think Egypt wouldn’t be getting nearly as much US military aid as it does. (to the tune of a few billion dollars a year). c) I’d be inclined to argue that the herding cats problem applies about as much to getting Jews to do something in a coordinated problem as it does atheists. d) Many of the people involved in this lobbying effort (such as those involved with AIPAC) are not religious but rather only culturally connected to Israel. Indeed, some of AIPAC’s higher ups are in fact agnostics and atheists. And many of the most religious Jews, the Charedim, generally either don’t support the state of Israel or are actively against it. e) While some groups such as AIPAC have confused the matter by deliberately combining being Jewish with supporting Israel, many actual anti-Semites make the same equation for their own purposes. Moreover, while it is true that anti-Israel sentiments are not the same as anti-Semitism, they are often interconnected.

On the whole, I suspect that Dawkins simply choose a poor example help his basic point across. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Dawkins do that so I’m much inclined to interpret his remarks in the most favorable light possible.

Spot on, Joshua. In fact, you said it better (and more succinctly) than I did! Dawkins chose a really dumb example to make a valid point.

Comments

  1. #1 Marcus Ranum
    October 7, 2007

    It is amazing how easy it is to bash muslims, point at the crimes and stupidity of christians, and giggle at the buddhists – but you’re in deep doo-doo if you point out that the jews are pretty whacked, too. It drives me nuts.

    Dawkins definitely has firmly grabbed hold of the third rail here. And all for a feeble analogy. If he had used Ralph Reed’s christian coalition as an example, everyone would have been nodding.

    Now that I’ve made the mistake of saying that “basically, Dawkins is right” I suppose someone will call me an anti-semite. So let me set the record clear in advance: judaism is ridiculous, therefore those who practice it are ridiculous, too. It’s a belief system that contains the most ludicrous leaps of inanity (an all-powerful supreme being that doesn’t want you to use elevators on certain days of the week but finds it acceptable if you hire a gentile to push the buttons for you!?) – the “intellectual” edifice of judaism has become so baroque that it’s well past time for the whole thing to crumble to the ground in one gigantic shaking belly-laugh. Just like christianity, or, for that matter, mormonism, islam, buddhism, and pastafarianism. The sad part of this whole situation is that anyone takes these idiots seriously enough to grant them political power as a bloc!! It’d be as if the Baltimore Ravens fans decided to vote as a block in local elections. No – wait – that would make more sense because the Baltimore Ravens actually exist.

  2. #2 Saint Gasoline
    October 7, 2007

    And why should Dawkins be worried that people will twist his statement, trying to imply to others that he is anti-semitic? Should an atheist criticize Bush or the war, we are called anti-American. If we criticize Christianity, we are called “antichrists” or “anti-morality”. If we criticize the attempts to legislate divisive religious morality in regards to abortion, then we are “anti-family”.

    Frankly, no matter which example we use, the opposition will try to mischaracterize us as “anti” some perceived positive value.

    Anyone with any semblance of reading comprehension, of course, can see that Dawkins’ remarks aren’t anti-semitic. He is only saying that the political power of Jews is disproportionate to their size as a political lobby–just as it seems to be for fundamentalist Christianity. I really don’t think it’s that poor of an example, and he is entirely correct. Jews DO have more of an influence in politics than atheists, wouldn’t you agree? If so, then you agree with his point. Saying that because his example is easily skewed and misrepresented is not really much of a criticism.

  3. #3 Orac
    October 7, 2007

    It is amazing how easy it is to bash muslims, point at the crimes and stupidity of christians, and giggle at the buddhists – but you’re in deep doo-doo if you point out that the jews are pretty whacked, too. It drives me nuts.

    Pointing out how “whacked” Jews supposedly are is not what Dawkins is saying here. What he appears to be implying is that Jews more or less control American foreign policy (or at least have far more influence than they “should” based on their numbers, with the implication that it is too the detriment of the U.S.). If he doesn’t know that that is a standard anti-Semitic trope that leaves him wide open to attack, he’s clueless about American foreign policy as his apparent ignorance about Christian Zionism seems to indicate.

  4. #4 Orac
    October 7, 2007

    He is only saying that the political power of Jews is disproportionate to their size as a political lobby.

    He seems to be saying more than that. He’s saying that Jews “more or less monopolise” American foreign policy, which is simply not true. He would have been flirting less with anti-Semitism if he had said the “pro-Israel” lobby but instead he equated the pro-Israel lobby with “Jews” in general.

  5. #5 Acleron
    October 7, 2007

    Dawkins is controversial. Criticising any religion is controversial, especially but not entirely, to people practicising that religion. Orac’s posting clearly shows how religions like to be considered special. Having to resort to Jerry Falwell as an authority doesn’t appear to be a good ploy.

  6. #6 Orac
    October 7, 2007

    How about the authority of Dawkins himself? See:

    …I could have cited those American “rapture” Christians whose powerful influence on American Middle Eastern policy is governed by their biblical belief that Israel has a God-given right to all the lands of Palestine. Some rapture Christians go further and actually yearn for nuclear war because they interpret it as “Armageddon” which, according to their bizarre but disturbingly popular interpretation of the Book of Revelation, will hasten the Second Coming.

    (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 302.)

    Geez, I wish I had looked that up before finishing this post.

  7. #7 Bad
    October 7, 2007

    What’s odd about the comment is that the view of things seems to quintessentially British: there’s just this idea over there that Jews are some sort of monolithic bloc of pro-Israel fist-raisers. This view hasn’t been traditionally anti-semitic, in part because its often found among a sort of pro-Israel British elite. But it is bizarre and just out of touch. The same sort of idea emerged, I think independently out of the anti-war left, and now the two traditions are reinforcing each other.

    I’m also reminded here by the recent sneering and jeering at Sam Harris for suggesting that its a mistake to treat all religions as if they were the same exact set of problems and ideas, all equally dangerous and equally wacky. He was quite right, and never moreso with Judaism, where the religious beliefs are only one part of a much larger identity, and attacking “Jews” scattershot is almost certain to miss most of its target and do considerable collateral damage.

  8. #8 Bad
    October 7, 2007

    “Frankly, no matter which example we use, the opposition will try to mischaracterize us as “anti” some perceived positive value.”

    It’s troubling to see how quickly this fair point has gradually morphed over time into “we can do no wrong: any tactic we chose is the wisest!”

  9. #9 Flaky
    October 7, 2007

    I’m just reading the God Delusion and Dawkins has the exact same argument there. Wonder why no-one bothered to correct him before he opened his mouth in public.

    Still, the outcry is pretty ridiculous, if Dawkins had said something like that about any other faith-group, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. As horrible as the holocaust was, it didn’t turn the Jews into holy cows that can’t be prodded. Nobody is an anti-Semite just because they might disagree with some Jews.

  10. #10 Caledonian
    October 7, 2007

    The implication (or outright statement) that Jews somehow control American foreign policy (or have undue power) is a staple of anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial websites everywhere.

    So? Just because antisemites believe it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

    I wouldn’t say that American foreign policy is controlled by any group – it’s just too big – but specific examples of American foreign policy are clearly heavily influenced by lobbyists. Why else do we give so much support to Israel?

  11. #11 Marcus Ranum
    October 7, 2007

    Orac writes:
    Pointing out how “whacked” Jews supposedly are is not what Dawkins is saying here

    I know. But what you’re saying (implicitly) is that jews are somehow going to demand a greater degree of respect and that Dawkins made a mistake dragging them into the discussion. Is that a fair characterization?

    To which anyone rational ought to point out “jews? WTF? people take that crap seriously? Still?!”

    Looking at it from another angle – you can treat the jewish power bloc as a separate thing from the jewish faith. Which, to a certain extent, it is (in the same way that the right-wing evangelical power bloc is “separate” from christianity) – then Dawkin’s question answers itself. He’s basically saying “why can’t we atheists get the kind of political power as the religious power blocs?” and the answer is “because we’re not held together by a shared delusion of a common agenda.”

    Personally, I am a Ben and Jerry’s atheist. I’d rather sit here blog-whacking and eating Ben and Jerrys than wasting a single cent of my hard-earned money to assemble a “new atheist power bloc” to try to take on the religiotards in Washington. Other “new atheists” probably feel differently. By definition, we’re intellectually diffuse because we share wide ranges of interests and have lots of different ways to spend our spare money and time and brain-cells that we’re not wasting believing in gods.

    I suspect it would take anti-atheist pogroms to get us to all pull together. Personally, I see the diffusion of interest in the atheist community as a good thing – it’s certainly a strong argument against the faithful’s canard that “when atheists get in power, it’s Stalin and Pol Pot all over again.” To which I say with certaintly that if I become supreme dictator of the US there will be Ben and Jerrys and Jack Daniels and Xboxes for everyone regardless of skin color, body mass index, or religion. If we cancel all the “faith based programs” teaching abstinence, and levy real-estate taxes on the churches, it’ll handily cover the cost of 240 million Xboxes and copies of Halo 3. There will be a backlog at the Jack Daniels distillery but I’ll declare a “Jack Daniels Manhattan Project” and we’ll put our best minds on it and figure something out, I’m sure. It’ll be a miracle.

    Because, like many atheists, I just want to get on with it and be left alone by the faithful. Organizing into a power bloc is so… political… ugh. That’s what religious people and people who believe in politics do… eeew. Now I have to go wash my hands.

  12. #12 Antigonos
    October 7, 2007

    If Dawkins had read any of the classic Zionist thinkers, like Moses Hess or Leo Pinsker, he would know that modern Israel was not founded on religious principles (although whether Jewish religious practice can be regarded as an integral part of Jewish civilization is another issue) but rather as a return to an ethnic homeland because of the unrelenting persecution Jews faced in the Diaspora. Theodor Herzl felt much the same way. Dreyfus was not persecuted because he was a RELIGIOUS Jew, but an ethnic one.

    The idea that Jews conspire to control governments is a classic anti-Semitic one. I am not as generous as you, Orac. I think Dawkins IS an anti-Semite, albeit an unconscious one. And I have long thought that while he may be a good biologist, he is not much of a philosopher; indeed not as intelligent as he thinks he is generally.

    My father was an agnostic. He always said he didn’t have sufficient faith to be an atheist. Someone ought to tell Dawkins that his confident assertion that there is no God is itself a kind of religious belief.

  13. #13 Marcus Ranum
    October 7, 2007

    OK… I got carried away being silly there. The point is that (since we don’t believe in some overarching woo-woo) I suspect atheists are more likely to have widely diverging agendas than the faithful. That makes herding us together, or getting us to form an atheist-PAC, is commensurately harder.

  14. #14 J. J. Ramsey
    October 7, 2007

    Marcus Ranum: “you can treat the jewish power bloc as a separate thing from the jewish faith. Which, to a certain extent, it is (in the same way that the right-wing evangelical power bloc is ‘separate’ from christianity)”

    No, it is not separate “in the same way that the right-wing evangelical power bloc is ‘separate’ from christianity.” If one is either talking about the pro-Israel lobby or the anti-Semitic lobby (e.g. the Jewish Anti-Defamation League), one is talking about a lobby with a lot of members that are secular. This is hardly true of the Christian Right.

  15. #15 Marcus Ranum
    October 7, 2007

    Antigonos writes:
    Someone ought to tell Dawkins that his confident assertion that there is no God is itself a kind of religious belief.

    That’s one of the oldest (and dumbest) religiotard canards in the book. Looking around and saying “I see no evidence whatsoever for the existence of X therefore I will believe it does not exist until I am convinced otherwise” is intellectually honest and is consistent with science.

    Dawkins is not going around saying “I believe god does not exist because THE TOOTH FAIRY TOLD ME SO” – which is what your argument implies. That would, indeed, be a ridiculous statement of faith.

    If you tell me you have a dragon in your garage, I am not being “religious” or “faithful” if I tell you I don’t believe it unless you show me.

    It’s a disgusting perversion of intellect to try to twist logic around so that ridiculous statements like: “Someone ought to tell Dawkins that his confident assertion that there is no God is itself a kind of religious belief.” can be made with a straight face. Shame on you, sir.

  16. #16 Marcus Ranum
    October 7, 2007

    If one is either talking about the pro-Israel lobby or the anti-Semitic lobby (e.g. the Jewish Anti-Defamation League), one is talking about a lobby with a lot of members that are secular.

    How can that be? Being jewish is a religious designation. It’s not genetic. It’s an oxymoron to say that one is “secular” but is giving weight to a mythological condition.

  17. #17 Hermagoras
    October 7, 2007

    Pity that your link for “Holocaust Denial” goes to a discussion of Norman Finkelstein. Finkelstein is by no means a holocaust denier — his parents were holocaust survivors — though he has been accused as one by some (and praised by a holocaust denier in your link). The broad-brush smears to which he has been subjected provide ample evidence that discussions of Israel in American politics are fundamentally irrational.

  18. #18 Bad
    October 7, 2007

    “Why else do we give so much support to Israel?
    Posted by: Caledonian”

    Well, off the top of my head: it’s one of the only real democracies in the region, it’s one of the only countries in the region that doesn’t hate us and isn’t a long time enemy, and it’s been a longtime ally, it was heavily allied with us against communism when many of its neighbors who were trying to destroy it were in bed with the USSR. And so on.

    “How can that be? Being jewish is a religious designation.
    Posted by: Marcus Ranum”

    No, being “Jewish” really isn’t just a religion: it’s cultural, IS somewhat (though not all) ethnic, and most crucially is part of a historical tradition and identity.

  19. #19 MartinC
    October 7, 2007

    I’m afraid all this episode points out is those who have strong convictions one way or the other are able to read whatever they want from any statement.
    The ‘Jewish’ lobby in the US is not necessarily a religious one, for the most part it is simply a pro-Israel ethnic Jewish grouping. Is US middle eastern foreign policy pro-Israel? It is hard to argue that it is entirely even handed. Dawkins writes from a European perspective where it is seen at much closer hand the anti-American feelings of many immigrants from the middle east, forced to flee as refugees from wars in that region. ‘US foreign policy’ to someone in Japan or South America probably means something entirely different.

  20. #20 EnzoAntonius
    October 7, 2007

    First, I am a Jew. This is important to say, because Orac’s post buys into the extremely simplistic notion that perceiving a strong Jewish lobby is merely to be duped by neo-Nazis. And thus, in Orac’s universe, mere disagreement with the ADL on a particular point or strong criticism of Israel for particular action, even perhaps anything but blind acceptance of the current Likud party line, in effect makes one an anti-Semite. Orac’s inclusion of Finkelstein the prototype Holocaust denier (which is just weird given his parents survived Auschwitz & his main kvetch is abuse of Holocaust politics) defintely seems to place Orac as a blind consumer the reflexive elements of thinkers the U.S./Israel special relationship agenda.

    And now to my main point. I would argue that it isn’t the “Jewish” lobby that isn’t so particularly powerful (except in a handful of states where there are enough Jews to act as a voting block – like Cubans in Florida), but rather the pro-Israel lobby. While many Jewish groups support the the pro-Israel lobby so do many fundy winger evangelical Christians. AIPAC is an extremely powerful and successful lobbying organization, but I submit that the pump is already primed by the pulpits of the Bible Belt and its concomitant eschatology with Israel’s place in the bizarre Left Behind fantasy world.

    BTW, there is also a strong Cuban-American lobby as well. Oh my god! I must hate Cubans!!!!!! And I’m racist against Blacks because I think Al Sharpton is a hot breathed bigot.

  21. #21 Marcus Ranum
    October 7, 2007

    No, being “Jewish” really isn’t just a religion: it’s cultural, IS somewhat (though not all) ethnic, and most crucially is part of a historical tradition and identity.

    I’ve got to call bullsh*t on that. Sorry.

    This is a perfect example of what I mean that jew-woo gets accorded a great deal more respect than other ridiculous religiousity. There’s this old dodge that it’s a “culture” and it’s an “ethnic” and a “historical tradition” – and the person putting forward that position is able to float back and forth from one of those parameters to the other, allowing them to define jewishness as some nebulousity that nobody can actually point to and say, “see?”

    “historical tradition” – is code for “the diaspora” and the persecution, etc. The whole oral tradition which is – largely if not entirely religious or caused by religion.

    “culture” – is code for, well, religion. Because jewishness as a “culture” is distinct because of its religious nature and religious strictures, diet, behaviors, etc. There are probably a few aspects of jewish “culture” that are not touched by religion or group-definition based on religion, which are distinct from other cultures from that region. But I’m darned if I can think of one of them off the top of my head.

    “ethnic” – pure B.S. What is “ethnicity”? It’s culture and history. It’s surely not genetics. Because if it’s genetics the soup in the middle east is pretty well stirred. Oh, sure, there groupings that consider themselves as ethnically different but when you ask them why they say it’s because of their culture and history.

    ethnics, culture, and history – are the same thing; they’re just three different views of it. And, if you try to slice apart what makes the jews “different” it’s religion, religion, and things peripherally related to religion.

    Show me a genetic test for “jewishness” and I’ll believe there’s something special about it. Heck, show me a “cultural” test for “jewishness” that doesn’t somehow touch religion, and I’ll buy the argument that it’s more than just a group-definition based on faith.

    Personally, I don’t care about judaism one way or another – it’s just another goofy 2000 year old myth – but I’d like judaism to be placed on a level playing field alongside all the other goofy myths, and not be accorded some kind of special treatment.

  22. #22 Worse
    October 7, 2007

    ——
    No, being “Jewish” really isn’t just a religion: it’s cultural, IS somewhat (though not all) ethnic, and most crucially is part of a historical tradition and identity.
    ——

    This sounds like a racist generalization to me. That’s why I prefer to refer to secular jews by their nationality. If a “secular jew” is Canadian, then he’s Canadian. Judaism is a religion. To conflate religion with ethnic identity is allows people to claim racism, when their _religion_ is being attacked. Judaism is a religion, if there is such a thing as a secular Jew, then I am a secular Catholic (i.e.: I don’t believe in god, I hate the church and don’t celebrate any of the holidays) … Does that make any sense?

    If jews are defined by the holocaust, I submit to you that that’s a pretty crappy thing to draw a cultural identity from…

    I also hate cultural identity. People who identify themselves in a cultural community should not be surprised when negative views of their community are applied to them, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

    My best friend is a muslim, when I criticize muslims for whatever reason, he comes to their defense because he wears the same label, even though he does not deserve the same criticism. I have already told him, that like most muslims, I do not consider the Ahmadiyya to be muslims. I do not consider moderate christians to be christian and I do not consider “secular jews” to be jews.

    Can someone give me a definition of a jew? How will I know one when I see one if the difinition has not been established?

  23. #23 Craig Pennington
    October 7, 2007

    Being jewish is a religious designation. It’s not genetic.

    That’s why there are no recommendations regarding genetic testing for Tay-Sachs Disease.

    To be clear, being Jewish includes both religious and ethnic (which includes both cultural and genetic) components. Thus there exist people who are ethnically Jewish but secular. Even from the religious (Jewish) perspective, you don’t stop being Jewish when you stop practicing — you stop being observant (yes, this is an over-simplification.) For example, I have encountered Lubovichers in NYC proselytizing secular Jews. It is ignorant (perhaps not willfully so) to claim that “Jewish” is an exclusively religious designation.

  24. #24 Marcus Ranum
    October 7, 2007

    The ‘Jewish’ lobby in the US is not necessarily a religious one, for the most part it is simply a pro-Israel ethnic Jewish grouping

    How can that be? The “ethnic grouping” we call “jewish” is entirely based on religion.

    I’m just trying to get people to be a little intellectually honest about this. It’s all about religion. But everyone wants to dance around it and call it “history” (yeah: the history of religion) or “culture” (yeah: a culture defined by religion) or “ethnicity” (yeah: self-definition based on religion)… It’s not possible to deal rationally with the middle east until we accept the fact that everyone down there has been driven insane by religion.

  25. #25 Marcus Ranum
    October 7, 2007

    Craig Pennington writes:
    It is ignorant (perhaps not willfully so) to claim that “Jewish” is an exclusively religious designation.

    almost immediatel after writing:
    Even from the religious (Jewish) perspective, you don’t stop being Jewish when you stop practicing — you stop being observant (yes, this is an over-simplification.

    Please don’t contradict yourself so violently from one sentence to the next; you’re making my head hurt.

  26. #26 Watt de Fawke
    October 7, 2007

    Jews do what they can to influence US policy with Israel, yes. Mexicans do what they can to influence US policy with Mexico. Poles … Poland, Czechs … Czech Republic, French … France, Japanese … Japan, Chinese … China — I could go on and on and on and on.

    Do any of these have an overwhelming influence US policy? Yes, the House of Saud. There are very few princes living the US, but the House has a huge influence on all policies.

    So we find that Dawkins is not knowledgeable about everything. He needs to take his own evidence-based notions of knowledge more seriously than he does.

  27. #27 Worse
    October 7, 2007

    That’s why there are no recommendations regarding genetic testing for Tay-Sachs Disease.

    Are you saying jews are inbreeds? (The ashkenazi excluded, since it is well known that orthodox jews are inbred)

    Do they have big noses and long faces?

    Mutilated penises?

    A predisposition to greed?

    Horns?

    The ability to transform into large marsupial cockroaches?

    Stoning their wives at their fathers doorstep if they show up to their marriage bed a non-virgin?

    What (apart from religion) can we use to identify a jew?

    Is a jew simply someone who says they are?

    Saying judaism is more than a religion sounds like borderline racism to me.

  28. #28 Marcus Ranum
    October 7, 2007

    Craig Pennington writes:
    It is ignorant (perhaps not willfully so) to claim that “Jewish” is an exclusively religious designation.

    almost immediatel after writing:
    Even from the religious (Jewish) perspective, you don’t stop being Jewish when you stop practicing — you stop being observant (yes, this is an over-simplification.

    Please don’t contradict yourself so violently from one sentence to the next; you’re making my head hurt.

    With respect to Tay-Sachs – a mutation in the ashkenazim? So, what, are you saying that only that particular blood-line is “jewish”?? Of course you’re not!

  29. #29 Colugo
    October 7, 2007

    The funny thing is that Dawkins is, on this topic, starting to sound like the crypto-fascist that anti-sociobiologists accused him of being all of those years ago – except he’s doing it from the left. Of course, I don’t believe that Dawkins is an antisemite or a crypto-fascist of any kind. I think that he’s a well-meaning progressive who is foolish and ill-informed on some topics. Maybe David Deutsch can talk some reason into him.

    Dawkins is good on evolutionary biology (though incomplete and a bit out of date), a repetitive preacher on atheism, and often downright buffoonish on social and political issues.

    Case studies of Dawkins’ wit and wisdom on sociopolitical issues: ‘Executing Saddam Hussein Was An Act of Vandalism’ (he belonged to science), raising children in a religious faith is child abuse, rights for great apes, why not revive the nice version of eugenics, it’s not the criminal’s fault (‘Stop Beating Basil’s Car’), and so on. These are signature examples of scientism – convincing oneself that the correct position on a complex social issue has been arrived by the clumsy invocation of science. In none of these cases do I detect malice; rather, it’s foolishness borne of arrogance.

    On Israel and the so-called “Jewish lobby”, Dawkins is simply parroting a common sentiment in the anti-Zionist milieu of British academia. Despite his intellectual battles with Steven Rose, he agreed to sign onto Rose’s academic boycott of Israel. (He later recanted.) Walt and Mearsheimer’s writings on the “Israel Lobby” (which is generally read as “Jewish lobby”) and Jimmy Carter’s claims that Jewish organizations squelch discussion of Israeli “apartheid” have provided a new aura of legitimacy to such conspiracy-mongering.

  30. #30 Marcus Ranum
    October 7, 2007

    Worse writes:
    Saying judaism is more than a religion sounds like borderline racism to me.

    Exactly. But not “borderline.”

    Effectively what has happened is that judaism has accreted this ideology that it’s also a “culture” and a “historical whatsit” and “ethnic” so that it doesn’t come across as merely a bunch of religion-woo. Because, after all, if holding goofy religious beliefs about divine real-estate grants is merely religion (as opposed to “history”!) then it’s a little harder to get god to cough up the deed.

    The whole thing is a crock; it’s just like any other religious ravings. Yet everyone is expected to accord it an additional dose of respect.

    Harris and Dawkins have both been doing a very good job of asking the question “why does religion get such a helping of respect?” That’s a legitimate question. “Why does religion get an extra helping of respect if it has defined a ‘culture’ and has a ‘history’?” is also an interesting question.

    We’ve got to get over this circular woo about religion->culture->history->religion that allows one particular group of woo-woos to claim their woo-woo superceeds other woo-woo because it’s got culture, or history, or – whatever. Real people are shooting eachother with real bullets over this ridiculous cultural/historic sky fairy stuff, probably as I type these very words. Dawkins is absolutely right not to cut any of the religions any slack. (Unlike Harris who was notably tough on the islamic woo-woo and notably soft on the jewish woo-woo.)

    Again: lest someone mistake me for an anti-semite – I am equally contemptuous of all religions, jewish, buddhist, pastafarian, catholic, cthonic. I wish they’d all stop babbling at the sky, pull up their pants, and get a job.

  31. #31 Chris
    October 7, 2007

    No, you’re talking about being Hebrew. Failing to distinguish between Hebrews, Jews, Zionists and Israelis is what leads to problems like this one.

    Hebrews are an ethnic and cultural group. They’re different from other ethnic and cultural groups in the usual sorts of ways that all ethnic and cultural groups are different from each other. They aren’t particularly an outlier in any significant way I know of.

    Judaism is a religion common among Hebrews and rare among non-Hebrews. Some (not necessarily all) interpretations of Judaism teach that Hebrews are God’s chosen people.

    Zionism is a political movement that created and now defends a Jewish state that some Jews believe (religiously) is God’s will. Not all interpretations of Jewish religious teachings lead to Zionism, and not all Zionism arises out of Judaism.

    Israel is the state so created. There are Zionists outside Israel; there are also non-Zionists in Israel, including those who believe that Israel should be reformed in a way that it is no longer explicitly pro-Jewish. (Some of those people are Hebrews and Jews themselves, but believe in secular government – separation of temple and state, so to speak.) Just as not all Americans support the actions of any particular American government, not all Israelis support the actions of any particular Israeli government.

    “Secular Jews” is a misnomer – what they actually are is secular Hebrews, keeping the cultural traditions of their ethnic group but without any particular commitment to the religion of Judaism. (If they have that religious commitment then by definition they aren’t secular anything, as Marcus points out). The fact that people use an explicit contradiction in terms without noticing that it is one reveals their confusion of these distinctions (in this case between Jews and Hebrews).

    Since Judaism and Zionism are ideologies or belief systems, disagreeing with them is not racism, even though almost all of the people you are disagreeing with are in fact Hebrews. However, this point is sometimes overlooked and sometimes deliberately obscured in order to stifle criticism of the ideas of Judaism and Zionism. To some extent this is understandable – groups hostile to Jews in the past have often failed to distinguish secular Hebrews and persecuted them all together – but it’s still factually wrong.

    Similar confusion applies to criticism of Israel. Opposition to Israel as a political entity in its current form does not necessarily involve wanting to eliminate Judaism as a belief system or murder individual Hebrews – but smears along those lines are sometimes made.

    The pro-Zionist lobby (which is what it actually is) does wield influence disproportionate to their numbers – but that’s only to be expected of a politically dedicated movement. Not all Hebrews or Jews are supporters of the lobby and therefore its actual numbers are even smaller than what Dawkins may have been counting – but the fact that they are united by a political purpose is sufficient to explain their disproportionate political influence. Although the movement is composed largely of Jewish Hebrews, there’s no need to resort to some supposed special property of either of those groups to explain the success of Zionism – the Zionists’ own commitment to it as a political goal is sufficient.

    Atheists aren’t necessarily political; most support the political goals of secularism (keeping religion out of government) but aren’t necessarily devoted to it the way some religious people become devoted to political beliefs that arise out of their religious beliefs.

  32. #32 coturnix
    October 7, 2007

    Hebrew? That’s a language. Why invent a new term for a group of people? Being Jewish is a geneological category which has no connection to the religion of Judaism.

    I am an atheist because I was born and raised in an atheist family, atheist school, atheist culture in an atheist country. I am also Jewish. How?

    Because my mother is Jewish. She is also an atheist. Hoe can she be a Jew then, you may ask?

    Because her parents were Jews. And they were both atheists as well.

    I need to go to the fourths generation into the past to find anyone who, apart from being Jewish also partook of Judaism.

    So, did we ever do anything that is related to Judaism? No. Not while I was growing up. My mother did fix some great food that is Jewish in a ‘tradition’ sense of the word. Every ethnicity has traditional food. It tastes good, though.

    Later, I went to a few synagogues (ranging from orthodox, through reform, to humanist/secular) to observe, anthropologically, some services. That was many years ago.

    Do we do anything like that today? Sure. We dip apples in honey on Rosh Hashanah. We eat pork BBQ on Yom Kippur. We give kids eight presents over eight days of Hannukkah. We celebrate Passover as an excuse to have friends over for good food and good wine (no Manishewitz there!) and use a secular/feminist/environmentalist Haggadah for it. We eat, drink and make fun of both religion and the new-agey haggadah simultaneously.

    So yes. I am Jewish.

    If you ask my kids their ethnicity they will say Jewish. If you ask them their religion, they will say atheist. No conflict there at all.

    The biggest problem Judaism has in the US (and elsewhere) is that far too many Jews are not showing up for services due to their atheism/agnosticism/secularism. They also marry non-Jews because it does not cross their minds to specifically seek partners who are Jewish.

  33. #33 SLC
    October 7, 2007

    Re Hermagoras

    See attached link for a different slant on former Prof. Norman Finkelstein who was denied tenure at DePaul University for academic incompetence. Dr. Finkelstein is a discrace to the human race.

    http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/dershowitz/statement.html

  34. #34 marcia
    October 7, 2007

    The traditional definition of a Jew is “someone born to a Jewish mother or who has converted to Judaism.”
    Therefore, I call myself a Jew (the mother thing). And, I call myself an atheist.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_is_a_Jew%3F

    “There is something quite convenient and discomfortingly familiar about the tendency to blame an allegedly powerful and wealthy group of Jews for the overall direction of an increasingly controversial U.S. policy. Indeed, like exaggerated claims of Jewish power at other times in history, such an explanation absolves the real powerbrokers and assigns blame to convenient scapegoats. This is not to say that Mearsheimer, Walt, or anyone else who expresses concern about the power of the Israel lobby is an anti-Semite, but the way in which this exaggerated view of Jewish power parallels historic anti-Semitism should give us all pause.”

    http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/3270

    I think I’ve lost some respect for Mr. Dawkins. But, maybe he was tired that day.

  35. #35 Craig Pennington
    October 7, 2007

    Craig Pennington writes:

    It is ignorant (perhaps not willfully so) to claim that “Jewish” is an exclusively religious designation.

    almost immediatel after writing:

    Even from the religious (Jewish) perspective, you don’t stop being Jewish when you stop practicing — you stop being observant (yes, this is an over-simplification.

    Please don’t contradict yourself so violently from one sentence to the next; you’re making my head hurt.

    The existence of a religious Jewish perspective does not imply the non-existence of a secular Jewish perspective. I merely intended the parenthetical to exclude religions that are not Judaism. Sorry for having caused you confusion, I should have been clearer.

  36. #36 Shiritai
    October 7, 2007

    marcia,

    Mearsheimer’s point, and Orac’s (I think), was that the Zionist lobby is different from a Jewish lobby. Saying that Jews have an undue amount of control in global affairs is a common statement from anti-Semitism. Saying that the Zionist lobby is unduly powerful is not anti-Semitism. Where Dawkins made his mistake was in calling it the Jewish lobby when he (hopefully) meant the Zionist lobby.

  37. #37 Colugo
    October 7, 2007

    Think what Dawkins said was over the top? It’s mild compared to common sentiments in the contemporary left of center.

    Abusters: The Israeli tail wags the American dog (see illustration)
    http://adbusters.org/the_magazine/66.php?id=257

    Left wing antisemitism
    http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/archives/2006/04/27/im_not_a_racist_but.php

    Some academics go much further than Dawkins:

    Kevin MacDonald’s theories about Judaism
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_B._MacDonald

  38. #38 Craig Pennington
    October 7, 2007

    With respect to Tay-Sachs – a mutation in the ashkenazim? So, what, are you saying that only that particular blood-line is “jewish”?? Of course you’re not!

    You are quite correct that I am not claiming that only the Ashkenazim are Jewish. I am saying that the Ashkenazim are ethnically Jewish regardless of their observance or lack thereof of the religion of Judaism. This is true of Sephardim as well.

  39. #39 wolfwalker
    October 7, 2007

    I lost most of my respect for Dawkins the day I learned he was an animal-rights activist. What little survived that, vanished quickly the day I learned he shares the standard upper-crust British contempt for America and Americans, based on nothing more than his own biases. So I wouldn’t be even slightly surprised to find he’s also an anti-Semite. Perhaps not on the same level as David Irving or your average jihadi, but racism comes in many forms.

    To Marcus Ranum: Yes, Dawkins is showing religious fanaticism in his denunciation of religion. And so are you.

    Here are two statements:

    1) “I see no evidence whatsoever for the existence of X therefore I believe X does not exist.”

    2) “X does not exist.”

    Are these two statements logically equivalent? You’re claiming that they are. You’re wrong. Because the chance always exists that your set of evidence is incomplete. You can say that you know of no objective evidence for the existence of god(s), and be stating a scientific fact. You can say that because there’s no evidence for god(s) existing, you refuse to believe in them, and be on sound philosophical ground. But the minute you say “gods do not exist” and claim it’s a statement of fact, you’ve stepped beyond what science and reason can support. Remember, any scientific theory is always subject to disproof by new evidence. That’s why theories stay theories, and are never elevated to facts.

    So Dawkins has taken a statement of theory — not even theory, a statement of personal belief — and elevated it to the status of a fact. That’s unscientific. As a scientist he should know better.

    When Dawkins expresses contempt and disgust for those who choose to believe differently than he does, simply because they choose to believe differently than he does, he commits the basic sin of all religious fanatics. And when he employs the same tactics used by religious fanatics, then yes, he becomes indistinguishable from any other religious fanatic. As an intellectual he should know better.

    And as an atheist, someone who has been a target of religious fanaticism, he should know better than anyone that those tactics do absolutely nothing to convince people his way is right and theirs is wrong. So, for that matter, should PZ Myers, and Ed Brayton, and every other “scientist” who lets their rightful contempt for creationists turn into contempt for religious belief in general. They all disgust me, because they’re all just as disgusting in their tactics as the ones they claim to be fighting against. Much as I try, I simply can’t see any rational difference between them and the enemy they claim to be fighting.

  40. #40 Hermagoras
    October 7, 2007

    SLC,

    Of course Dershowitz has a different view. He’s the guy who (despite his protestations) did try to keep Finkelstein’s book from getting published, and who interfered with the tenure process so much that the Faculty Governance Council at DePaul “unanimously voted to send letters to the presidents of DePaul and Harvard complaining of Mr. Dershowitz’s interference” according to the New York Times.

    But that’s beside the point. Whatever you think of Finkelstein’s scholarship, he is by no means a holocaust denier, and so the link to a discussion of Finkelstein in that context remains inexplicable.

    H

  41. #41 Bad
    October 7, 2007

    “Marcus Ranum: I’ve got to call bullsh*t on that. Sorry.”

    Well, sorry, but you and the other people making this argument are morons.

    If a group of people find a common identity as Jewish for all sorts of different reasons, from ethnicity to a common heritage, that’s that. It’s not “racist,” and if you don’t like it, you’re being a dick. Simple as that.

    You are exactly the sort of person that sees what are generally fairly sophisticated and measured critiques of religion by Dawkins and Harris, and completely flies off the handle and misses the point. Whether or not something is wrong, not everything is so simple that you can handwave it away with the exact same claims and rebuttals.

  42. #42 Craig Pennington
    October 7, 2007

    Saying judaism is more than a religion sounds like borderline racism to me.

    I said no such thing. Judaism is the traditional religion of the Jewish people. But being Jewish does not require religious observance. It is also an ethnic identity.

    BTW, who do so many people worried about the “racist” implications of a non-religious Jewish identity have a problem hitting the [shift] and the [J] key at the same time? You do realize that in English proper nouns are capitalized. This includes religions as well as ethnic groups.

  43. #43 Bad
    October 7, 2007

    And wolfwalker: maybe you should go and read what Dawkins has actually written instead of dancing with straw men. Dawkins does not claim that absence of evidence is proof of a fact. His contention is that absence of evidence should lead to us not taking a claim seriously.

    Your contempt seems based more on ignorance than any sort of thoughtful critique of the people you are talking about. If you really think that Ed Brayton, for instance, is a) a “scientist” or b) has contempt for “religious belief in general” then you are really demonstrating an embarrassing lack of either knowledge or honesty before insulting people.

  44. #44 Hermagoras
    October 7, 2007

    SLC,

    In point of fact, Finkelstein was not “denied tenure for academic incompetence.” The letter first denying him tenure said: “By all accounts, [Finkelstein] is an excellent teacher, popular with his students and effective in the classroom. He is a nationally known scholar and public intellectual, considered provocative, challenging and intellectually interesting, although the dossier reveals some division of opinion as to the soundness of some of his scholarship. Although the two external reviewers are favorable, comments from the department minority report are critical of the accuracy of some of the evidence he uses in his scholarship and the cogency of some of his arguments.” The given reasons for tenure denial focused on what were perceived as his ad hominem attacks. “Academic incompetence” was not mentioned.

    H

  45. #45 John B
    October 7, 2007

    I’m not surprised to see this wrangling over the idea of Judaism as an ethnicity ( or culture, tradition, history), despite to obvious existence of people who self-identify as ‘secular Jews’. If a religious belief system impacts a community over a long enough period of history, affecting not just religious activities but sexual norms, economic activity & mores, dietary laws, etc… it’s not hard, for me, to imagine a group with a unique cultural or ethnic background.

    The resistance comes from the implications of the idea that a person can leave religious beliefs behind and not be magically separated from every other aspect of their historical ‘tribe’. If you accept the idea of a ‘secular Jew’ you’d also have to accept the idea of a ‘secular Protestant’, ‘secular Catholic’ or whatever: A person who was still shared tradition, customs and fundamental worldview with their original ‘tribe’ despite having abandoned religious dogma/praxis. Not surprisingly, no atheist would want to see their culture re-imagined according to religious affiliation: severed or not.

  46. #46 EnzoAntonius
    October 7, 2007

    Demographically, Jews are dying out. Even in Israel proper, non-Jews will become a majority in the later part of this century. Meanwhile, many Jews are becoming increasing secular and intermarrying in extremely large numbers.

  47. #47 NM
    October 7, 2007

    The implication (or outright statement) that Jews somehow control American foreign policy (or have undue power) is a staple of anti-Semitic and Holocaust denial websites everywhere.
    You know who liked to use circumstantial ad hominem attacks and guilt by association fallacies? You know who? ADOLF HITLER, that’s who! And Stalin, too!
    Isn’t it interesting that Noam Chomsky is routinely called a “self-hating antisemitic jews” by AIPAC goons, and nobody seems to find it weird, let alone revolting? Well you fell into their narrative hook, line and sinker. I have a particular interest in this whole matter because I have lebanese friends who got bombed last year. Bombs supplied by the US to the Israeli army. And no, they weren’t members of Hezbollah, no matter what the propaganda says. And I find it therefore particularly revolting that anyone criticizing Israel, its policies and its lobby is immediately put in the same bag as neo-nazis.

  48. #48 NM
    October 7, 2007

    Pity that your link for “Holocaust Denial” goes to a discussion of Norman Finkelstein. Finkelstein is by no means a holocaust denier — his parents were holocaust survivors —
    Not only that, but he was praised by the recently deceased Raul Hilberg, author of the seminal historical work “The Destruction of European Jews.”
    That didn’t stop Derschowitz and pals to do their best to destroy his career; quite succesfully, it seems.

  49. #49 NM
    October 7, 2007

    Saying judaism is more than a religion sounds like borderline racism to me.
    Well the “law of return” of Israël does just that, and is indeed racist. IF you’re ethnically jewish, you can move to israël (almost) no questions asked.
    If you’re merely an arab/muslim whose parents had fallen on the wrong side of the frontier 60 years ago, but whose relatives are arab israeli citizens … well, tough luck joining them. Tough luck even merely visiting them.

  50. #50 Orac
    October 7, 2007

    Finkelstein is not as clearcut a case as you think. In this instance, I’m rather with Andrew Mathis in that I don’t like either Finkelstein or Dershowitz.

    However, it is very interesting how many are rushing to Finkelstein’s defense here. In a way, the case of Finkelstein is not unlike that of certain “intelligent design” advocates who were denied tenure because their advocacy had outstripped their scholarship but who were made out to be “victims” of the “Darwinist” lobby, except in this case Finkelstein is being made out to be the victim of the “Jews.”

    In reality, Finkelstein’s scholarship was in question. There’s been a debate going on about this in Holocaust denial mailing list I’m on, with people somewhat evenly split between whether Finkelstein got screwed or whether he was a hack whose scholarship didn’t merit tenure. The point is that it’s not nearly as clear-cut a narrative as you’d like to think The other point is that his denial of tenure is frequently made out by anti-Semites as “evidence” of the “power of Jews.”

    If you read the letter denying him tenure, it sounds as though his scholarship was considered borderline, that his university service record was weak, both of which might have been overlooked if he hadn’t had a consistent record of being such an all-around jerk to many of his colleagues.

    My including the link about him may have been, as we say, “a link too far,” because it’s allowed some to zero in on that one link and ignore my broader point. However, it’s too late to change it, because then those same people would zero in on the fact that I deleted the link. So the link will stand.

  51. #51 Orac
    October 7, 2007

    And I find it therefore particularly revolting that anyone criticizing Israel, its policies and its lobby is immediately put in the same bag as neo-nazis.

    And I find it particularly revolting that anyone who points out a statement about American jews that flirts with anti-Semitism is immediately put in the same bag as rabid pro-Israel Zionists and attacked with strawman arguments.

    In reality, I gave Dawkins every benefit of the doubt (admittedly, because I generally like his overall message otherwise) and assumed that he didn’t know his remarks were approaching a precipice, below which they’d be rank anti-Semitism. The reason for the links to the anti-Semtic blogs were to demonstrate how his remarks were starting to sound like those of anti-Semites.

  52. #52 wolfwalker
    October 7, 2007

    To “bad:”

    You wrote: “Dawkins does not claim that absence of evidence is proof of a fact.”

    Could have fooled me. Damn near everything I’ve ever read from him on the subject (several essays and numerous quotes in newspaper articles) carries that as the underlying implied message: “there is no evidence for gods, therefore gods do not exist.” Oh yeah, and a corollary of “and anyone who says otherwise is stupid, insane, or a liar.” If there’s another interpretation that makes sense in the light of his relentless attacks on all religious belief, and equally relentless belittling of religious believers, then perhaps you’d be so kind as to share it.

    As for Ed Brayton, yes, he is a scientist. One does not need a degree to be a scientist, one need only study, write, and talk about scientific topics using the scientific method. You may be right about his attitude toward religion — to be honest, it’s been quite a while since I read anything on his blog, and I’ll admit that my memory of his being just as bad as Myers on the topic of religion may not be accurate. It might have something to do with the fact that the two of them do use similar tactics to condemn their (perceived) Enemy on other social and political topics.

  53. #53 Toby
    October 7, 2007

    Dawkins should have used the word “Israeli” and using the word “monopolize” was a bit over the top, but:

    – There is an Israeli lobby;
    – It has been highly successful in garnering US support for a country that has ceased to be of strategic value to the US.

    I think these facts are objectively true.

    Which, I suppose, shows a third way in which Dawkins was wrong. He would not condone an “Atheist Lobby” that covertly pulled strings for an atheist agenda, together with propaganda from an equivalent of Fox News and shock-jock radio hosts. If I remember correctly, the Israeli lobby is allied with those fundamentalist nuts who want a Middle East War so that Jesus can bring about the Apocalypse.

    An atheist grouping which argued openly and rationally for secularism, yes, of course he would support that.

  54. #54 Hermagoras
    October 7, 2007

    Orac,

    I agree that it’s possible to debate the merits of Finkelstein’s scholarship. But nobody I know thinks that “the Jews” denied him tenure. That a few holocaust denier wackos think this is true does not make it significant. Also, it may be worth pointing out that the bulk of Beyond Chutzpah, his latest book, is about Israel’s abuse of human rights abuses in the occupied territories — not the holocaust.

    For what it’s worth, Andrew Mathis gets a significant fact wrong: he says that Finkelstein’s “debut” was The Holocaust Industry, when his first book was Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, a quite interesting takedown of some major tropes of conflict history (most notably including a devastating attack on Joan Peters.

    I don’t agree with everything he’s written by a long shot. But most people with his productivity would get tenure at a place like DePaul.

    H

  55. #55 Marcus Ranum
    October 7, 2007

    But being Jewish does not require religious observance. It is also an ethnic identity.

    Can you please describe what about jewish “ethnic identity” has nothing to do with jewish religion?

    Jewish religion is their “ethnic identity” as far as I can tell, but perhaps you can enlighten me.

  56. #56 NM
    October 7, 2007

    In reality, Finkelstein’s scholarship was in question. There’s been a debate going on about this in Holocaust denial mailing list I’m on, with people somewhat evenly split between whether Finkelstein got screwed or whether he was a hack whose scholarship didn’t merit tenure.
    As I pointed out earlier, Hilberg praised his work. I’m not appealing to authority, just pointing out that you’d have trouble finding better recommendation in the field. Additionally, Noam Chomsky is also supporting him. Who’s on the other side? OJ Simpson’s attorney. A case study in sociopathy.

  57. #57 NM
    October 7, 2007

    And I find it particularly revolting that anyone who points out a statement about American jews that flirts with anti-Semitism is immediately put in the same bag as rabid pro-Israel Zionists and attacked with strawman arguments.
    Well this particular terrain has been mined and trapped by decades of propaganda. Pro-Israel folks tend to deliberately confuse the issue by equating judaism and zionism when it suits them; and protesting it when it doesn’t. So I find there’s a slight injustice to blame Dawkins for using “jewish” instead of “zionist” as he should have, when the confusion was deliberately put forth in the first place.

  58. #58 NM
    October 7, 2007

    Finkelstein is not as clearcut a case as you think. In this instance, I’m rather with Andrew Mathis in that I don’t like either Finkelstein or Dershowitz.
    What’s to like about Dershowitz? He strikes me as a perfect example of a sociopath. He’s got power, connections and influence, and uses those for what? He got OJ Simpson acquitted. Yee-ho! What an achievement for an academic; defending the rich and powerful, when hundreds of poor black men are lining up death rows all over the US because their public defender slept during their trials?
    No matter what you have to say about Finkelstein, he risked his career to combat what he felt were injustices. He might have been wrong on many of them, but at least you can’t deny he is trying to do good.

  59. #59 SLC
    October 7, 2007

    Re Hermagores

    1. The fact of the matter is that most of the praise of Dr. Finkelsteins’ books comes from either neonazi sites like stormfront and rense or left wing antisemitic sites like counterpunch.

    2. Mr. Hermagores conveniently neglects to mention that Prof. Finkelstein libelously accused Prof. Dershowitz of plagiarizing a book by Joan Peters. This false charge, which Prof. Finkelstein and his pals over at counterpunch continues to make, was thoroughly investigated by officials at Harvard Un. and found to be totally without foundation. Prof. Finkelstein may not be an overt Holocaust denier but he sure likes to hang out with Holocaust deniers.

    At this point, we seem to have gotten off the issue of Prof. Dawkins who is certainly not a Holocaust denier. I only raised the issue of Dr. Finkelstein because Mr. Hermagores raised the issue.

    Re wolfwalker

    Mr. wolfwalker has incorrectly quoted Prof Dawkins. What Dawkins said, in a comment about philosopher David Berlinski, was that one who rejects the theory of evolution is either ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked (but he didn’t want to consider that) and that Dr. Berlinski was neither ignorant, stupid, or insane. His comment had nothing to do with religion.

  60. #60 Tyler DiPietro
    October 7, 2007

    “The fact of the matter is that most of the praise of Dr. Finkelsteins’ books comes from either neonazi sites like stormfront and rense or left wing antisemitic sites like counterpunch.”

    Just curious: which one of those categories would Raul Hilberg fall into?

  61. #61 NM
    October 7, 2007

    1. The fact of the matter is that most of the praise of Dr. Finkelsteins’ books comes from either neonazi sites like stormfront and rense or left wing antisemitic sites like counterpunch.
    What about neonazi left wing antisemitic Raul Hilberg?
    Oups, he was jewish and right wing.
    Stick those fallacies up your bottom end.

  62. #62 SLC
    October 7, 2007

    Re Tyler DiPietro, NM

    1. Notice that I said most.

    2. Attached is a comment on Dr. Hilberg which is less then flattering.

    http://thejewishpress.blogspot.com/2007/08/on-passing-of-raul-hilberg.html

  63. #63 Orac
    October 7, 2007

    Alright, once again, the whole Finkelstein thing is a diversion from the main point, to which I mistakenly opened the door by including that link. It has little or nothing to do with the issue at hand and Dawkins’ remarks. Any further mention of the Finkelstein affair is, as far as I’m concerned, off-topic. Please stick to the topic at hand: Dawkin’s analogy. As for all the appeals to authority (Raul Hilberg), you should know that among serious Holocaust historians, he was pretty much alone in taking Finkelstein’s scholarship seriously, much less championing it. I’m not going to delete the comments of anyone who disregards my request (in fact, I almost never delete comments, even when I arguably should), but do know that I now find this whole diversion tiresome and it is unlikely that I will comment on it further in this thread.

    I would, however, like to point out that I consider it very interesting and instructive how certain people perseverate over what was in fact a very tiny part of what I wrote. It was a mistake on my part to open the door to this whole Finkelstein spat by using that link, but I’ve found as a blogger that you can never quite predict what little bit of your writing or what little link readers will fixate on as a red herring with which to launch off onto an unrelated tangent.

  64. #64 Bad
    October 7, 2007

    wolfwalker: “Could have fooled me. Damn near everything I’ve ever read from him on the subject (several essays and numerous quotes in newspaper articles) carries that as the underlying implied message: “there is no evidence for gods, therefore gods do not exist.””

    Writers are generally not rightly held accountable for whatever “underlying implied messages” some random person dreams up, especially when it’s in direct contradiction to their outright, written message. If you can’t take criticism of religious claims without hearing straw man imaginary arguments, that’s your hang-up.

    “If there’s another interpretation that makes sense in the light of his relentless attacks on all religious belief, and equally relentless belittling of religious believers, then perhaps you’d be so kind as to share it.”

    I think I’m seeing the problem: you seem to think that attacking religious faith and religious claims as unfounded somehow automatically translates into straw man arguments.

    But misrepresenting what these critics argue doesn’t do your case much good.

    “As for Ed Brayton, yes, he is a scientist.”

    No, he isn’t. The most he might call himself is a science journalist, but his profession is primarily, as I understand it, doing financial contracting. Trying to shoehorn the word in after the fact to make up for you not knowing what the heck you are talking about isn’t exactly pretty, and makes me even less likely to trust your interpretation of what someone like Dawkins is supposedly “saying.”

    “You may be right about his attitude toward religion — to be honest, it’s been quite a while since I read anything on his blog, and I’ll admit that my memory of his being just as bad as Myers on the topic of religion may not be accurate.”

    He’s critical of stupid religious claims. But given that he is, himself, a deist, and has strong disagreements with Myers about attacking all of religion, your inclusion of him in your list is simply sloppy.

    You really don’t seem to be able to distinguish between criticizing religion and religious claims, and the straw man position that even harshly anti-religious atheists claim to scientifically know that there is no God.

    If you’d read Dawkins, you’d know that he discounts this directly, and says straight out that anything, including God existing, is possible, but mere logical possibility is irrelevant: unless you have evidence, belief is unwarranted and irrational.

  65. #65 Hermagoras
    October 7, 2007

    Look, I don’t have a real beef with your main point, but the idea that anybody at Harvard seriously investigated the charge of plagiarism is laughable. As far as I can tell, Dershowitz asked some friends of him (at Harvard and at Brown) to back him up, that’s all. The first printing of The Case for Israel clearly (a) relies on the arguments, sources, and language of Peters and (b) obscures its relation to that source (and no other). This is clear by the errors from Peters that are preserved in The Case for Israel. Later printings of the book corrected these errors (some changes were silent), but the truth of these statements will be clear if you go to any library that has an early printing of the hardback. No other explanation is reasonable of (for example) AD’s use of the word “turnspeak” (which he attributes to Orwell, though it comes from Peters), or the erroneous conflation of page numbers from an edition of Twain used by Peters but citation information from another edition. Etc.

    That’s a minor point of Beyond Chutzpah. The bulk of it is devoted to the issue of Israel’s human rights record and Dershowitz’s distortions about that record. But there is no evidence that any real investigation was ever conducted by anybody at Harvard.

  66. #66 Hermagoras
    October 7, 2007

    Sorry — I posted the last before I saw your comment about staying on-topic. I would not have posted if I had. Sorry.

  67. #67 John Marley
    October 7, 2007

    My irony meter may need re-calibrated, but this set it off:

    My including the link about him may have been, as we say, “a link too far,” because it’s allowed some to zero in on that one link and ignore my broader point.

    I do hope that Dawkins admits to getting carried away and making a careless slip.

  68. #68 Orac
    October 7, 2007

    I do hope that Dawkins admits to getting carried away and making a careless slip.

    That’s all he would have to do to satisfy me–that, and find a different and better analogy.

  69. #69 SLC
    October 7, 2007

    Re Hermagores

    I agree with Dr. Orac that the issue of Finkelstein is greatly off topic. I would have been willing to cease and desist except that Mr. Hermagores’ characterization of of the investigation of Prof. Dershowitz by Harvard is totally inaccurate and unreliable. As I understand it, ther was an official investigation of the charge led by the dean of the college with which Prof. Dershowitz is affiliated. The charge of plagiarism is a very serious one which could have resulted in the firing of Prof. Dershowitz had it held up. As requested by Dr. Orac, I will have nothing more to say on the matter.

    Re Dawkins (back on topic)

    As someone pointed out in this thread, Prof. Dawkins signed on to a boycott of Israeli universities a couple of years ago and shortly after having done so rescinded his affirmation. Does anybody know what his position was on a more recent boycott attempt of Israeli universities, which has been pulled back after a British court indicated that it was illegal?

  70. #70 Colugo
    October 7, 2007

    I wonder what the extent of the influence of John Hartung on Dawkins has been.

    What Richard Dawkins makes of Jewish morals
    Christopher Howse
    8/9/07
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2007/09/08/do0809.xml

    “”Christians seldom realise,” Professor Dawkins declares, that “much of the moral consideration for others which is apparently promoted by both the Old and New Testament was originally intended to apply only to a narrowly defined in-group. ‘Love they neighbour’ didn’t mean what we now think it means. It meant only ‘Love another Jew’.”

    This remarkable claim is based on an article by an American writer, John Hartung, an associate professor of anaesthesiology, published in Skeptic in 1995. Professor Hartung relies on a text in Leviticus (chapter 19, verse 18): “You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

    This suggests to Professor Hartung that the Jews of old were commanded only to love “the sons of your own people”. Professor Dawkins is apparently convinced that the Ten Commandments prohibit theft, adultery, murder, and so on, only when other Jews are the victims.

    The funny thing is that Professor Dawkins would not have to go very far to discover otherwise. In that same chapter 19 of the book of Leviticus (verse 33), it says: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien … You shall love the alien as yourself.””

    One of Hartung’s influences was the writings of Israel Shahak (deceased), a friend of Christopher Hitchens.

    There are both differences and overlap between the views of Hartung and MacDonald regarding Judaism and Zionism.

    Hartung’s favorable review of Kevin MacDonald
    http://www.lrainc.com/swtaboo/taboos/aptsda01.html

    David Sloan Wilson’s unfortunate defense of Kevin MacDonald
    http://www.csulb.edu/~kmacd/slate-wilson.html

    Oxford is also known to have high levels of anti-Zionist/pro-Palestinian sentiment. As I mentioned above, one of Dawkins’ nemeses on sociobiology, Steven Rose, convinced him to be a signatory of an academic boycott against Israel. I also have wonder about the influence of Anglican Replacement Theology on even atheist academics.

    I’m just attempting to trace ideas within intellectual circles.

  71. #71 Marcus Ranum
    October 7, 2007

    Bad writes:
    “Marcus Ranum: I’ve got to call bullsh*t on that. Sorry.”

    Well, sorry, but you and the other people making this argument are morons.

    Ooh, this is going to be good! Enlighten me O mighty wise one!! But please offer something more than vigorous assertion, OK?

    If a group of people find a common identity as Jewish for all sorts of different reasons, from ethnicity to a common heritage, that’s that.

    You clearly haven’t read any of the arguments I posted. But that’s OK. You can just use the scroll-bar and whizz right up the page. Cool? Got it?

    The “ethnicity” and “common heritage” issue is interesting but every time I get into this debate with people they keep looping the “common heritage” back into – well – shared belief and practices and observances and traditions. In other words: religion. And as far as ethnicity goes – that’s complete horsepuckey. Or are you saying that only middle eastern semetic jews are “real”?? That’d be a dangerous and foolish position to adopt.

    Listen, this argument is fun to have and fun to make because it reveals how stupid the religious underpinnings of jewish “culture” and “history” and “ethnicity” are. Because, basically, the three are inextricably intertwined and the core of the whole ridiculous thing is religion. Sorry but (as we saw with the other guy who stepped on his crank with the ashkenazi mutation) there’s no “genetic” identity for jews. There’s a “cultural identity” for sure – but it’s a cultural identity that is almost completely circumscribed by religious observances, religious dietary restrictions, religious this, religious that.

    Can you actually name something about jewish culture that is not about religion?? I keep dangling that challenge out there, but the silence is starting to deafen me.

    And the “history” and sense of “shared history”? It’s also entirely based on a religious myth about god deeding a parcel of land to his chosen people, and burning bushes and a bunch of laughable fol-de-rol. The main incident of non-religious jewish history I can think of is the horrible events during the attempted genocide — a genocide attempt that was basically “a bunch of christians” trying to wipe out the jews. Today, we try to tone down the fact that the 3rd Reich’s ideology was heavily “faith based” because it makes the christians just a wee bit uncomfortable (and it should).

    But the “history” of the jews is largely cast as a history of a faith, isn’t it? Or can you name for me a few things about jewish cultural history that are not, at their core, just more religion?

    It’s not “racist,” and if you don’t like it, you’re being a dick. Simple as that.

    I’m not arguing it’s racist, fortunately. I’d hate to be a dick.

    I’m arguing that judaism is just another stupid religion, with an army of apologists who immediately start waving the mighty banners of culture, ethnicity, and history as soon as soon as someone points out that judaism is just another bunch of nonsense some ancient mountebanks stirred together. Awwwwww, poor jews. Their religion is somehow more special because they had it longer? Nonsense. We should respect it more because the idiotic christians keep getting uppity and slaughtering them? Tragic. But let’s not get into a race to see which religion is most stupidest because it’s a long way to the bottom.

    You are exactly the sort of person that sees what are generally fairly sophisticated and measured critiques of religion by Dawkins and Harris, and completely flies off the handle and misses the point.

    I found Harris’ criticism of religion to be lopsided. He really smacks the muslims for being religion-addled fools and sort of, uh, neglects to mention that the jews are at least as ridiculous. Hitchens does a slightly better job, but – why does judeo-woo get cut so much slack??

  72. #72 Saint Gasoline
    October 7, 2007

    Okay, let’s get one thing straight: Dawkins is not an anti-semite, and there is nothing here that gives anyone any warrant to characterize him in such a manner.

    Whether the example is true or not is certainly debatable. I certainly believe that he is being exagerrative when he claims religious Jews more or less monopolize American foreign policy. However, this does not make him an anti-semite. Sure, many anti-semites make similar wild exagerrations, but many anti-semites also believe 2+2=4–that doesn’t mean that everyone who accepts that statement is thereby an anti-semite.

    I have no issue with your claim that perhaps his analogy was problematic, Orac. What I dislike is your implication that he may be anti-semitic because of these remarks.

    Frankly, it doesn’t matter if people can wildly mischaracterize his remarks and paint him as anti-semitic. As I’ve mentioned earlier, this can be done with any sort of stance whatsoever, and the Christian right is fond of doing this to liberals, who are anti-america and anti-family and blah blah blah. But if even you can acknowledge that he is not TRYING to say anything anti-semitic, then don’t fault him if others are going to go out of their ways to misrepresent his intentions.

    The point he’s making, which is getting lost in all this, is basically true. Religious jews, who are a far greater minority than atheists, agnostics, and the nonreligious, have much more political influence. This is basically all Dawkins is trying to convey–not that he hates jews or anything like that, and I think anyone who has read these passages can see that clearly. You are simply chastising him for using a bad example. Good call. But he’s not an anti-semite, and one is merely blatantly utilizing the undue respect accorded to Jews and other religious faiths in painting their detractors as equivalent to neo-nazis and such. It’s obvious to anyone that he isn’t.

    So perhaps Dawkins used a bad example. Now, Orac, I think you should recognize that you, too, used a horrid example by claiming Dawkins remarks could be construed as anti-semitic. Much more terrible than Dawkin’s example, at any rate, because it is so defamatory!

  73. #73 Chris
    October 7, 2007

    Dawkins being intellectually sloppy… wow, I’m surprised.

  74. #74 Hermagoras
    October 7, 2007

    SLC,

    As promised, I’m not going to keep talking about Finkelstein and Dershowitz here. But I have responded to your comment over at paralepsis.

  75. #75 S. Rivlin
    October 7, 2007

    First, this posting by Orac has become the “Most Active” one on the Science Blogs field. Is that because Richard Dawkins spoke out? Because Orac linked Finkelstein to his post? Of course not. This particular post has become the Most Active because it deals with Jews and how everyone else categorizes them. For many, whether they are atheists, secular, or believers of another religion, the term “Jew” still evoke an emotional reaction, more frequently a negative one than a positive one. Many here (non-Jews) will tell us that “Jewish” means believing and practicing Judaism. Others, even “Jews,” claim that Jews cannot be an ethnic group. Someone remarked that “these” people are actually Hebrews, some of whom believe in Judaism (Jews) and some who are secular. Someone else mocked this statement. But actually, Hebrews they are. I am an atheist Hebrew. Born in the British colony of Palestine, raised and educated in the state of Israel. I am the son of Hebrew parents, a grandson of Jews.

    Marcus Ranum,
    You may not be able to tell a Jew (Hebrew) from a non-Jew if you look for certain genetic traits yet, Hitler and the Nazis were still able to find them all over Europe, even if they did not practice Judaism. Their names were usually a very good hint (the Goldbergs, the Finkelsteins, the Rivlins, the Blumbergs, etc., I am sure you’ve got the idea). The point is, ethnicity is, among others, genetics, and family names usually stays within lineages.

    The Brits have never showed much liking to the Jews and the Israelis. This is especially true for the British Inteligentzia, of which Dawkins is part of. If not for a court opinion, the union of the British academicians would probably vote for boycotting Israeli academicians because of their government policies. Do you think they would entertain boycotting the academicians of Myanamar? Saudia Arabia? Iran? Cuba? China?

    BTW, the Israeli/Jewish lobby is powerful beyond its representation in the general population because it has money, just as the pharmaceutical industry does, just as the religious right does.

    When Dawkins and atheists decide to lobby in Washington, their success or failure there will depend on the amount of money they can wave in front of the politicians, not the number of people that stand behind them.

  76. #76 marcia
    October 7, 2007

    Marcus. You need to relax.

    While relaxing, read this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_Jewish_culture

    You also should have watched this:
    http://www.cpb.org/programs/program.php?id=118

    For me, a child of parents whose parents were Jewish immigrants, my Jewish upbringing was focused on two things, evident in the PBS show, family and education; a real, palpable focus on family and education. There was no synagogue, no discussion of religion, but there was a strong identity with my relatives and discussions about success in school.

    Growing up, that’s what being Jewish meant to me.

  77. #77 Craig Pennington
    October 7, 2007

    Can you please describe what about jewish “ethnic identity” has nothing to do with jewish religion?

    Jewish religion is their “ethnic identity” as far as I can tell, but perhaps you can enlighten me.

    I did not say that “[J]ewish “ethnic identity” has nothing to do with [J]ewish religion.” I said that one need not be religiously observant to have a Jewish ethnic identity.

    To go back, you responded to someone who said of AIPAC and the ADL that they were lobbies with “a lot of members that are secular” by asking:

    How can that be? Being Jewish is a religious designation. It’s not genetic. It’s an oxymoron to say that one is “secular” but is giving weight to a mythological condition.

    Is being a member of one of the Rom ethnicities a mythological condition? It is not. Thus, ethnic identity is not a mythological condition. Thus a person can reasonably consider themselves ethnically Jewish while not following Judaism if they have ancestors that are from one of the Jewish ethnicities such as the Ashkenazim. Thus a “secular Jew” is not an oxymoron.

  78. #78 Shiritai
    October 7, 2007

    Saint Gasoline,

    Dawkins’ point was wrong. His mistake, and yours, was in saying “Jewish” instead of “Zionist”. These terms are not the same. Chris, who posted earlier, wrote an excellent clarification. Also, if you had watched the clip Orac linked to, it should have been clear as well.

    Also, Orac doesn’t think Dawkins is an anti-Semite, and says so clearly, so how is he being defamitory?

    Don’t feel too bad. I think more than half the posters here missed Orac’s point.

  79. #79 emmazunz
    October 7, 2007

    Dawkins’ comment was a mess of confusion.

    He tried to make a point about the potential political influence of one religious group (atheists) by appealing to the (exaggerated) influence of a lobby which is not even defined or motivated by (Jewish) religion.

    He cannot have any understanding of Jews. What difference how many religious Jews there are, compared with atheists? In my experience, Jewish faith is far less important in motivating support for Israel than obvious concerns about refuge and national self-determination. What about the millions of Jews for whom Judaism is only a partial or subordinate part of their Jewish identity?

    This seems to me one more piece of evidence that Dawkins is spiralling out of control as he emerges from his field of speciality to conduct polemics on religion and politics for which he is not intellectually equipped.

  80. #80 Orac
    October 7, 2007

    I have no issue with your claim that perhaps his analogy was problematic, Orac. What I dislike is your implication that he may be anti-semitic because of these remarks.

    What I dislike is a big fat strawman argument–like the one you just made.

    Please go back and reread what I wrote, this time for comprehension. In no way did I say or imply that Dawkins was anti-Semitic. In fact, I went out of my way to say that I don’t think he is anti-Semtic. My point was that he was clueless about American Jews and politics and, because of his cluelessness, he probably didn’t realize just how bad his remarks sounded. It’s not as if he hadn’t put his foot in his mouth before.

  81. #81 Dangerous Bacon
    October 7, 2007

    Sorry, but I don’t buy into the idea that Dawkins was being “intellectually sloppy” about raising that hoary old specter of the “Jewish lobby”. And those who fulminate about the “Israel Lobby” (one must capitalize both letters for maximum sinister effect) come off in much the same way – people who are willing to promote political goals by demonizing Jews. “They” control the government, “They” control Hollywood, “They” control the media. “They” are under my bed.

    Someone as intelligent as Dawkins damn well knows better.

    About the only thing that can be said in his “defense” is that he’s probably not a hard-core bigot. Britain and Europe in general seem to be repositories of the sort of casual, garden-variety anti-Semitism that seems so out of place to many American observers.

    I am disappointed in Dawkins. Moreover I am disappointed with some of Orac’s readers, assuming they are the type of people who generally share his interests, rather than the creepy sorts who ooze out of the woodwork whenever their Google searches turn up a likely platform for their garbage.

  82. #82 J. J. Ramsey
    October 7, 2007

    Just to set the record straight …

    Colugo, quoting from the The Telegraph:

    “”Christians seldom realise,” Professor Dawkins declares, that “much of the moral consideration for others which is apparently promoted by both the Old and New Testament was originally intended to apply only to a narrowly defined in-group. ‘Love they neighbour’ didn’t mean what we now think it means. It meant only ‘Love another Jew’.”

    Colugo, I’m sure that you won’t be surprised at what E.P. Sanders had to say about this:

    Still worse, some scholars say that Jesus surpasses Jewish ethics because Lev. 19.18 confines ‘love’ to the ‘neighbour’, that is, fellow Jews, while Jesus would go beyond that. This results from not reading Lev. 19 far enough, down to v. 34, which commands love of foreigners …

    From E. P. Sanders, “The Question of Uniqueness in the Teaching of Jesus” (London: University of London, 1990) The Ethel M. Wood Lecture 15 February 1990.

    There’s more from E.P. Sanders besides pointing out Leviticus 19.34, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God,” but that would be (gasp) just “fairyology” or “leprachaunlogy.” :-p

  83. #83 S. Rivlin
    October 7, 2007

    Orac,

    I wonder, does the disproportionate influence that AIPAC wield is proportionate to the dispropotionate attention that Israel, Jews and Zionists receive in America, in the UN and around the world?

  84. #84 n0npr0phet
    October 7, 2007

    Of course there is nothing antisemitic in what dawkins said. The Israeli Lobby (see book by the same name) is disproportionately influential. This is fact. If atheists had the power of the Israeli Lobby the planet would certainly be a better place. Remember the Israeli Lobby supported the war with Iraq. They now support an equally stupid war with Iran (then Syria). Monotheists are stupid this is clear. Followers of Christianity are stupid. Followers of Islam are stupid. Followers of Judaism are stupid. They are all based on an “imaginary friend” which is stupid. The planet would be better if they all didn’t have an imaginary friend or to be more accurate an imaginary dictator that can read the thoughts and who is put off by acts that he gave the believes the equipment solely to create.

    Get over it. Your feigned outrage is boring.

  85. #85 Renee
    October 7, 2007

    I loathe it when I see people who are not Jewish having a so-called intellectual discussion about what the meaning of being a Jew is.

    It’s insulting to me, no matter what side of the argument any of you are espousing. Including the writer of this blog. Insulting. No matter how much you all dress your arguments in pseudo-scientific words and phrases.

    It is as insulting as if a bunch of white people sat around and argued about what it means to be black. And decided amongst themselves who should and should not be considered black. And what black culture is. And black history. And and on and on and on…

    Disgusting.

    Dawkins was not having a bad day, nor is he clueless, nor is he incapable of noticing when he has made a prejudicial statement. He was speaking his mind, and should be taken at his word. No making excuses for him. No intelluctualizing away his statement, and giving him the benefit of the doubt, simply because he has a Ph.D. and can’t stand creationists.

  86. #86 Orac
    October 7, 2007

    The Israeli Lobby (see book by the same name) is disproportionately influential.

    You obviously didn’t bother to look at the video of the Colbert Report interview with the author of that very book. I suggest that you scroll back up and view it.

    Get over it. Your feigned outrage is boring.

    As is your oh-so-condescending and undeserved sense of superiority that leads you to throw around the “stupid” label so undiscriminatingly.

  87. #87 Milt
    October 7, 2007

    This is circus. Dawkins, clearly more aetheist, than scientist, is a bona fide anti-semitic, propogating negative jewish stereotypes about the “Jewish lobby” in Washington. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve heard that crap before by Bagdad Bob, Noam Chomsky, Pat Buchanan, etc, etc.

    The host, here, Orac (What kinda name is that?) has compounded this with a bewildering array of circumlocutions and matador-defense of this bigot.

    Well done, Orac. You should go into marketing for the Tobacco or oil industries.

  88. #88 Chris
    October 7, 2007

    Thus a person can reasonably consider themselves ethnically Jewish while not following Judaism if they have ancestors that are from one of the Jewish ethnicities such as the Ashkenazim. Thus a “secular Jew” is not an oxymoron.

    If you use the same term for the ethnic identity and the religious identity you’re going to equivocate without even trying. That’s why I tried to clarify the lines by using “Hebrews” for the ethnic group and “Jews” for the religion. If you don’t like those terms, use something else, but please, publish your definitions and be consistent about what you mean by them. Otherwise discourse is going to get precisely nowhere.

    If you use “Jew” to refer to a person of certain ethnic background or cultural practices, what do you call a believer in the religion of Judaism (which you acknowledge is something different)?

    Given the rhetorical minefield that has grown up around the subject, I don’t think it’s entirely fair to blame Dawkins for stumbling into it by using the wrong terms. The pro-Zionist lobby in the US *does* wield influence disproportionate to their numbers and you don’t have to postulate Vast Jewish Conspiracies to see that. So do several other lobbies. The analysis of how exactly they manage to get and use such influence might be useful to a group that has very little influence, such as atheists. I think that’s all Dawkins was saying, and however prone to misinterpretation that may be, it’s fundamentally right.

  89. #89 Craig Pennington
    October 7, 2007

    If you use the same term for the ethnic identity and the religious identity you’re going to equivocate without even trying.

    Granted. Which is why I use the term “Judaism” for the religion and “Jew” for the ethnic identity. I am a Jew.

    That’s why I tried to clarify the lines by using “Hebrews” for the ethnic group and “Jews” for the religion.

    I understand. I, however, use “Judaism” for the religion, “observant” for one’s status relative to that religion and “Jew” for the ethnicity (barring some reason for further specificity.)

  90. #90 S. Rivlin
    October 8, 2007

    Chris,

    I think that Dawkins’ choice of the Jewish Lobby as the epitome of disproportionate influence was driven by both his atheism and his partiality toward Jews. This is becoming even clearer if we agree that the term “Jewish Lobby” is misleading; this is actually an Israel Lobby. Dawkins visited in Israel and he, I am sure, is aware that the majority of Israelis are secular. By using the term ‘Jewish Lobby’ he purposefully includes all Israelis and American Jews under one umbrella, the umbrella of religion. That is why he did not choose the Cuban community in Miami for this purpose, as they are not assigned to a specific religious group, though they are as influential, if not more influential than the Israel Lobby (and they are all probably Catholic).

  91. #91 cm
    October 8, 2007

    Marcus Ranum, of course there are many who think of themselves as “Jewish” but not as religious. Here is what might be unpacked in that word, “Jewish”, for such people (assume the first person speaker is such) :

    – my parent(s) thought of themselves as Jewish
    – our ancestors might have lived in Russia or Germany (etc). At that time they were really religious, and this kept them somewhat isolated (maybe) from the non-Jewish locals.
    – our great ancestors might have lived in ancient Judea.
    – there are some dishes that mom learned from her mom, like kugel, that I really like.
    – no one in my family believes in God at all, but it is sort of a family tradition to break out the ol’ mennorah at Hannukah.
    – Since we are Ashkenazi, we might want to get screened for Tay Sachs
    – We had relatives die in the Holocaust, and we try to remember that.

    Nothing left of Yaweh in this, right? And yet there is this self identification as Jewish. So what might be a little more accurate in 2007 is to say that at one point, Judaism the religion mapped 1 to 1 onto Jewishness the identity, but today it has spun away from that to some degree. You are right in saying that *origin* of much of the cultural traditions are rooted in the religion (though is kugel really in the Torah?), but it is really not entirely true today.

    So I think it is fair to think of “Jewish” as a somewhat ambiguous term, and by it one can refer to a religious belief or an identity that has something to do with one’s lineage and the origins and practices of one’s ancestors.
    Fair enough?

  92. #92 Paul Houck
    October 8, 2007

    Dawkins is clearly referring to a very powerful American lobby that is focused on American-Israeli relations.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Israel_Public_Affairs_Committee

    That is the wikipedia site for the lobby. It has regularly been labeled the second strongest lobby in America!

    Is this lobby all about Jews? No, but it is about the only Jewish religious state and how we are lobbied into essentially blindly aiding them. I don’t mind helping other nations that really need help, but this lobby goes too far. I’m with Dawkins on this one all the way.

  93. #93 Justin Moretti
    October 8, 2007

    The key to Dawkins’ commment is this:

    As far as many people can see

    And IMO he is absolutely 100% dead right. A lot of people DO see the “Jewish lobby” (whatever you perceive it to be) as manipulating US foreign policy.

    Not for one minute do I see any implication in this statement that he is one of them. As far as I’m concerned, he’s full of admiration for the effect, or perceived effect, that they have won for their efforts.

    That having been said, if the US is not going to support Israel, who will? And who will bear the moral responsibility for what could happen if that unconditional support should end?

  94. #94 James
    October 8, 2007

    Orac, I agree with your proposition that Dawkins has a tin ear, in fact I suspect that much of his reputation as a “fundamentalist atheist” (a term I thouroughly dislike) comes from a few unfortunately-phrased quotes from his various works.

    I found much of the God Delusion to be quite concilliatory in tone, he advanced his postiion forcefully, but he wasn’t trying too offend. I’m inclined to believe that the segments that did offend were therefore a product of poor wording, rather than malign intent. Dawkins’s comments on Israel would be entirely consistent with his performance to date.

  95. #95 Thony C.
    October 8, 2007

    I will quite happily admit that I have not read every word of the ninety odd posting that proceed this one so if somebody has already made this point then I apologies for unintentional redundancy. I think what we have here is a wonderful example of the strong and clear differences between America and Europe. I don’t deny that Dawkins was at least being naïve if not stupid with his choice of analogy and his choice of wording but the choice of wording does, I think; require comment from a European point of view.

    In European political discourse, especial that of liberals or left wingers, American foreign policy respective Israel is regarded as one of the major factors causing the problems in the middle east and this foreign policy is perceived as being largely controlled by that which Orac refers to as the pro Israeli lobby. Now in Britain to refer to this lobby as the Jewish Lobby or the American Jewish Lobby is almost universal and is not considered to contain any connotations of anti-Semitism. Whether the reaction of Orac and others to Dawkins’ use of this expression should lead to the British to reconsider their usage is not something that I wish to discuss here but I think that Dawkins’ usage was made in all innocence; a British intellectual being interviewed in a British newspaper for a British audience using an expression that is considered relatively harmless in Britain.

    Having said that, in this day and age of the inter-net and instantaneous world distribution of all public utterances maybe we should all be aware that that which we say may be perceived differently by others in the world who appear to share our language but in reality don’t

  96. #96 MartinC
    October 8, 2007

    Orac, if you are still claiming that you aren’t accusing Dawkins of being an anti-semite then perhaps you might want to change the tags on this story.
    “Richard Dawkins walked right into that one, I’m afraid”
    Category: Anti-Semitism • History • Politics • Religion
    With that sort of heading it comes across as a nasty ad-hominem rather than a reasoned piece.
    Dawkins could have used other examples to illustrate his point about how a minority interest group can influence a government – the cuban immigrants situation is a prime example but not one that directly affects europeans in the same way the middle eastern policies have. It was an overblown analogy but is only anti-semetic if you are prepared to read into it far more than is there.

  97. #97 NM
    October 8, 2007

    One last thing, to complement what Thony C. just wrote.
    When you criticize Israel, every single word slip or hasty generalization without enough disclaimers, and you’re an evil antisemite.
    On the other hand, it’s just FINE and DANDY to call all muslims, iranians, iraqi résistants, palestinians freedom fighters and lebanese citizens “terrorists” or any other derogatory, blanket insult. See, they’re brown enough, they don’t count! Never mind that 10 times as many Palestinians die for every Israeli killed. Same for Chavez. Gee, he’s a native, way brown, too. CNN / AP label him a “dictator” (seriously!), whereas he has been elected democratically, just like your average Israeli PM, but unlike any Israeli PM, he is not responsible for war crimes (Sabbra & Chattilah, Lebanon 2006 …)
    What kind of outrage would unravel should any US news outlet begin to use the same language towards Israel as towards Venezuela?
    QED, there is a pro-Israel lobby influencing the US media & politics.

  98. #98 Colugo
    October 8, 2007

    NM: “See, they’re brown enough, they don’t count!”

    Where to begin with such a vacuous non sequitur? With a lesson in the histories, population genetics, and linguistics of Arabs, Phoenicians, Jews, Kurds, Turks, Persians, Afghans, and Assyrians, their changing self-identities and constructions of race in relation to processes like the expansion of the Caliphate, trans-Saharan slavery, European colonialism, Western emigration, and post-Cold War geopolitics?

    The same with the tendency of blaming Israel (and its alleged vassal, the United States of America) for all global Islamic terrorism. Where to begin? With a discussion of the rise of Salafism, the biography of Haj Amin al-Husseini, purges of Christian Lebanese, the crisis of Nasserism, the 1979 Grand Mosque seizure, the marginalization of Sufism?

    The answer to both is: There is no place to begin. Some worldviews are simply beyond reach. How can anyone hope to challenge the unassailable totalizing logic of Whiteness Studies, or World System Theory, or Liberation Theology?

  99. #99 Orac
    October 8, 2007

    “Richard Dawkins walked right into that one, I’m afraid”
    Category: Anti-Semitism ? History ? Politics ? Religion

    I’ll categorize my posts any way I want. It’s the perception by many that his words were anti-Semitic that resulted in the use of the “Anti-Semitism” tag, and I’m not removing it.

  100. #100 MartinC
    October 8, 2007

    Orac, its entirely your decision to do that but it just comes across unusual for you to claim – “In no way did I say or imply that Dawkins was anti-Semitic” when the ‘perception’ of your own title tags is that you are indeed making that exact implication.

  101. #101 Orac
    October 8, 2007

    Oh, please, give me a friggin’ break here. The tag implies no such thing, and it is completely relevant.

    The reason the “anti-Semitism” tag is there is because Dawkins blundered right into charges of anti-Semitism, even though I don’t think he is. I suppose that to satisfy you I could come up with a new tag that goes “people saying stupid things that lead to charges of anti-Semitism against them” and apply it to this post, but it just doesn’t have the same succinctness.

  102. #102 NM
    October 8, 2007

    The same with the tendency of blaming Israel
    Nice straw man.

  103. #103 Marcus
    October 8, 2007

    So I think it is fair to think of “Jewish” as a somewhat ambiguous term, and by it one can refer to a religious belief or an identity that has something to do with one’s lineage and the origins and practices of one’s ancestors.
    Fair enough?

    Yep. But the problem is that the religion is constantly being mixed with a political/territorial agenda at the convenience of either.

    So, like many ignorant atheists who don’t want to waste the time sorting out the subtle minutiae of judaism, I throw the whole thing in the garbage can where it belongs.

    Sorry about the kugels.

  104. #104 John B
    October 8, 2007

    I can’t imagine Dr. Dawkins spends too much time worrying about the offense people may take from the things he says/writes. Even so, I can’t imagine he understands the role of the Israel Lobby he’s referring to if he’s hoping an Atheist Lobby will, with effort, be able to position itself in some similar way.

    More likely it was just a mistake, based on the casual observation that Judaism has a much higher profile than other minority communities of the same size. I used to show this graph from Adherents.com in my Encountering World Religions class, and students regularly reacted with surprise at the pie-chart representation of the global numbers: Major Religions Ranked by Size. Most of them are used to thinking of Judaism as ‘one of the big three’ given equal time in the study of Western religions. Without even getting into specific political movements, it’s not hard to see that Jewish communities have symbolic capital all out of proportion with their number.

    I can’t imagine how any of this is useful to an Atheist political movement, unless they find some apocalyptic vision whose general outlines are accepted by some much larger group of individuals. Is Dawkins’ political movement tied to environmentalism/conservation? That is the only issue I can see that Atheists might see in end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it terms with board appeal, that could be leveraged for protection/support of Atheist identity politics (not sure how..promoting science education? or political support for Atheist candidates running on environmental platforms..?) From what I have seen and read of Dawkins’ politics he seems more focused on social justice issues, which don’t tend to rally support in quite the same way as a good armageddon scenario.

  105. #105 TTT
    October 8, 2007

    Marcus Ranum: Sorry but (as we saw with the other guy who stepped on his crank with the ashkenazi mutation) there’s no “genetic” identity for jews.

    Did you even read the link? Have you ever even heard of Tay-Sachs, one of the most well-studied genetic disorders in the history of American medicine?

    There is a significant genetic predisposition to it among the Ashkenaz, as well as certain other reproductively-isolated communities. It’s not like you get the disease by saying the shema prayer, and no one has argued that was the case. It came about because of centuries of selective breeding, just like red hair in Ireland. That this selective breeding happened because couples chose each other on the grounds of religious adherence is of no real importance, because the effects of it are quite solidly observable today. When Ashkenazi Jews marry, they have to be tested to see if they carry the gene. If you want to scoff at that, I think you should head to the Denialism blog instead.

  106. #106 Oliver
    October 8, 2007

    @Colugo

    “The same with the tendency of blaming Israel (and its alleged vassal, the United States of America) for all global Islamic terrorism.”

    As was pointed out, this is a straw man. And you ruin your own case by completely ignoring pertinent studies that run counter to your argument.

    Hint: There’s a wee bit of a difference between “blaming for” and “attributing responsibility for the ongoing and increasing existence as a major threat”.

  107. #107 Antigonos
    October 8, 2007

    Marcus Rarum writes:
    Being jewish is a religious designation. It’s not genetic

    ~~~To a Jew it is. According to Jewish Law, a Jew is someone born to a Jewish mother. In fact, it’s downright racist.

    ~~~To the anti-Semites of the world, it is. One Jewish grandparent was enough to get you a one-way ticket to the gas chambers in Hitler’s Germany. Tell Edith Stein that being Jewish was only a religious designation.

    IMHO, it is a kind of hubris to state that one knows, without any possibility of doubt, that there is no God. Perhaps God simply isn’t interested in revealing Himself to Richard Dawkins.

    My father was a much more modest man. He was willing to admit that perhaps the Deity and he existed in mutual ignorance of each other. He never felt he had sufficient evidence to state unequivocably that God did not exist. (God probably had evidence of Dad’s existence but nothing obligated Him to say “hello”)

    OK, I’m being a bit facetious, but my father did feel that way. He disliked all organized religions equally, because he felt they generated intolerance and misery. What is interesting is that humanity doesn’t feel it can do without organized religion.

    I can understand those who find ritual absurd. I don’t. But I don’t presume to tell you that you’re crazy and that you should be like me. To each his own. Religions don’t have to be God-centered; communism certainly wasn’t. But when you elevate any theory to an absolute belief, you make it into religion, even if you abhor the word.

  108. #108 Alison
    October 8, 2007

    Orac, I stumbled onto this quote on a blog, found it linked to many other Judaism-centered blogs and webrings, and while it was unsettling to see that Dawkins had stumbled on a linguistic hurdle, and disturbing to see some of the almost bloodthirsty reactions to his statement, what was worst was how many of his detractors sounded like fundamentalist Christians, creationists, and ID advocates. (Many were credulous woo-endorsers, as well.)

    Like you, I believe he is not an anti-semite, but was simply using language that is common in the media and, therefore, conversational useage. He was misinterpreted once when he mistakenly signed that petition to outlaw teaching of religion, and issued an apology that answered his accusers pretty well (although people still trot out the accusation without mentioning the retraction.) While it will probably not appease the angry mobs, a similar action regarding this would be in his best interest.

    The perception that there is a “lobby” or “agenda” that represents the unified opinion of a single group becomes pervasive when either a group becomes particularly visible and/or vocal and represents themselves as a recognizable community, or another community that finds them objectionable represents a small group as spokesmen for a larger one. A rational person knows that PETA does not represent all animal lovers, Zionists do not speak for all Jewish people, AARP rubs a lot of seniors the wrong way, and there’s no such thing as a “gay agenda”. However, when people are emotionally touchy about an issue, it’s easy to take offense where none was intended, or to assume that all people subscribe to the same generalizations that you do. I think that Dawkins, sometimes, as a rational person, speaks without considering what the non-rational response might be. We can’t tippy-toe around modifying everything we say so as not to cause offense, but when it’s clear that a lot of people have taken offense, it’s a good thing to go back and tell the world “I’m sorry. This is what I was trying to get across,” and hope for the best.

  109. #109 PJ
    October 8, 2007

    “…the view of things seems to quintessentially British: there’s just this idea over there that Jews are some sort of monolithic bloc of pro-Israel fist-raisers…”

    I don’t know about the US jewish community – but in the UK the majority of jewish people (ethnic and religious) are pro-Israel. So while the point that the pro-Israel lobby encompases a lot more than just jewish people, and that there are many jewish people who do not support the Israeli government are both true, we shouldn’t try and pretend that jewish people in general are not very much more pro-Israeli than the general public.

  110. #110 The Atheist Jew
    October 8, 2007

    Great points. I linked your post in my post on the subject.

  111. #111 Antigonos
    October 8, 2007

    Reading through all the comments, I am absolutely fascinated at the definitions of being Jewish, especially by those who aren’t.

    Ask a dozen people who identify themselves as Christians why they do so, and you will get a fairly consistent answer that begins “I believe” and is usually connected in some way to the Nicene Creed. Ask a dozen Jews, be they secular, atheist, or Orthodox, the same question and you will get the answer (along with a look suggesting you are a few sandwiches short of a picnic) “I was BORN Jewish”. The business about Tay-Sachs, or the breast cancer gene prevalent in Ashkenazic women, or the fact that 56% of Kurdish Jews have G6PD is irrelevant to being Jewish “by race”. It just reflects Jewish reluctance to intermarriage and geographical anomalies. Prof. Steve Jones claims to have found a genetic marker in about 85% of Jewish males of priestly families, not dependent on country of origin.

    BTW, I am NOT a “Hebrew”. I SPEAK Hebrew, because that is the national language of my country, Israel. The term was adopted by those Christians who wanted to avoid the negative connotations to “Jew” and felt it made him more noble and classical.

  112. #112 Epistaxis
    October 8, 2007

    I think it’s just a British/American thing. In the UK, it’s okay to treat Jews just as if they were any other ethnic or religious group – you’re welcome to share an opinion about anyone, even if it’s wrong. Over here, it doesn’t work that way, for better or worse. Dawkins has simply tripped over a local custom he wasn’t aware of.

    Even if that weren’t the case, Orac, do you really think he should apologize to you for the possibility that he might have offended other people who haven’t come forward? He “leaves himself wide open to charges of anti-Semitism,” you say. Make up your mind: are you calling him an anti-Semite or aren’t you? If you are, just say so and the whole issue will be clear-cut (and I suspect you’d be completely wrong). If you aren’t calling him or his comment anti-Semitic, then why on earth are you making a big deal of this? Leave that to the people who actually are offended and actually do think his comment was hurtful to Jews, and are willing to say so.

    P.S. Does this comment leave me wide open to charges of anti-Semitism?

  113. #113 Ken
    October 8, 2007

    The Internet is an echo chamber. A couple of bloggers have tried to get this canard to fly. Most readers of Norman Geras will have just sighed and moved on. As it is a baseless slur it would have been far better to have remained silent on the matter. Actually I’m starting to regret typing this…

  114. #114 The Atheist Jew
    October 8, 2007

    There is a Jewish culture just like an Irish Catholic culture that has nothing or little to do with individuals beliefs. A non believer raised by Catholics and is surrounded by a family full of believers in JC could easily be called an ethnic or cultural Catholic and is either a willing or forced participant in many of the religious things that go along with it.
    Anyone who doubts that there is no such thing as an ethnic Jew should think about the Jews Hitler murdered. Did the Nazis ask a Jew if they believed in God or not before shooting them in the head?

  115. #115 Orac
    October 8, 2007

    Ken:

    The Internet is an echo chamber. A couple of bloggers have tried to get this canard to fly. Most readers of Norman Geras will have just sighed and moved on.

    It’s not a canard. Those unfamiliar with the code language of anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers, and white nationalists can be forgiven their ignorance, I suppose (to a point, anyway), but then that’s the reason I’ve been trying to educate on this issue. The same point could have been made without the bad analogy that flirted with anti-Semitism.

    I’ve also for the most part moved on. I said my piece in my blog post and don’t at present plan on any followup posts on this issue unless I see something new that piques my interest or ire–although if this comment thread continues much longer I may now and then chime in in this comment thread as the mood takes me. I suspect that this won’t be an issue, as this thread is dying out.

    Epistaxis:

    If you aren’t calling him or his comment anti-Semitic, then why on earth are you making a big deal of this?

    Because ignorant comments by people I usually tend to admire (and who really should know better) that leave them wide open to an easy attack irritate me, that’s why. I need no other reason. If you don’t like my “making a big deal out of it,” I will politely but pointedly retort that no one is obligating you to read or comment about the issue.

  116. #116 Colugo
    October 8, 2007

    We often hear the complaint that anyone who criticizes Israel or the pro-Israel lobby is unfairly accused of antisemitism.

    And what do we see in this thread? Baseless claims of accusations of antisemitism. Hence, any defender of Israel, any critic of the notion of a supremely powerful and malign Jewish/Israel lobby, anyone who points out that the US has interests in supporting Israel besides the insidious influence of such a lobby, is de facto making baseless accusations of antisemitism. Anyone who points out the history and ideological associations of the idea of an all-powerful Jewish lobby controlling US foreign policy is accusing others of antisemitism. And much of this anti-‘antisemite baiting’ is expressed in the most morally indignant terms.

    Why? To shame into silence critics of critics of Israel.

    For those theorists of a malign Israel/Jewish lobby responsible for much of the world’s suffering through its control over American foreign policy, ask yourselves if this sounds familiar:

    “Have you ever heard an interventionist, or a British agent, or a member of the administration in Washington ask you to go back and study a record of what they have said since the war started? … Do you find these crusaders for foreign freedom of speech, or the removal of censorship here in our own country? …

    Behind these groups, but of lesser importance, are a number of capitalists, Anglophiles, and intellectuals who believe that the future of mankind depends upon the domination of the British empire. …

    First, the British: It is obvious and perfectly understandable that Great Britain wants the United States in the war on her side. …

    But our interest is first in America; and as Americans, it is essential for us to realize the effort that British interests are making to draw us into their war.”

    – Charles Lindbergh, September 11, 1939 speech to the America First Committee in Des Moines, Iowa.

  117. #117 Dangerous Bacon
    October 8, 2007

    “Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences.

    Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastations. A few far-sighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not.

    Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.”

    Charles Lindbergh, from the same speech cited above.

  118. #118 The Atheist Jew
    October 8, 2007

    Coluga, Lindbergh didn’t give a rats ass about the Jews in Germany in 1939, and I think he knew what was happening.
    The term Jewish lobby is a baseless claim btw.
    Prior to the Iraq war, less Jews in America and Israel supported the pro rata than the rest of America. I admit, I supported it, and still do (I’m a Canuck who gets it).
    And now, even less support the war, and the percentages are lower than the rest of Americans.

  119. #119 cm
    October 8, 2007

    Renee said:

    I loathe it when I see people who are not Jewish having a so-called intellectual discussion about what the meaning of being a Jew is…It’s insulting to me, no matter what side of the argument any of you are espousing. Including the writer of this blog. Insulting. No matter how much you all dress your arguments in pseudo-scientific words and phrases….It is as insulting as if a bunch of white people sat around and argued about what it means to be black. And decided amongst themselves who should and should not be considered black. And what black culture is. And black history. And and on and on and on…Disgusting.

    Hey, Renee, tell us what you really think. Don’t hold back so much. Seriously, is your disgust based in some reasons that you could describe for us, or is it a personal hotbutton that has no basis in anything other than your own psychology? (Note: giving analogous examples without showing why those examples are “disgusting” doesn’t count as a reason).

  120. #120 Colugo
    October 8, 2007

    The Atheist Jew: “Lindbergh didn’t give a rats ass about the Jews in Germany in 1939 and I think he knew what was happening.”

    I’m sure you’re right about that. One of Lindbergh’s close friends was pro-Nazi French biologist Alexis Carrel (whose writings were an inspiration to Sayyid Qutb, incidentally.)

    “Prior to the Iraq war, less Jews in America and Israel supported the pro rata than the rest of America.”

    Right; a real “Jewish lobby” in American politics would often be opposed to war (except for humanitarian interventions like Kosovo), pro-UN, fairly critical of Israel, secularist etc. In fact, it would be difficult to distinguish from secular left-liberal political activism (ACLU, People for the American Way, MoveOn, DailyKos etc).

    How can conspiracy theorists fail to note that critics of the “Jewish lobby” are themselves in the grip of a Jewish conspiracy – since they are parroting the claims made by certain high-profile Jews? (Why must Jews excel in the field of anti-Zionism as well?)

    Now that we’ve all bravely broken the alleged “taboo” on discussing the pro-Zionist lobby (and its realistic, as opposed to phantasmagoric, scope of activities and influence), can we now begin to discuss – without hysterical and self-righteous accusations of Islamophobia – the pro-Islamist/Arabist lobby? CAIR, Saudi-funded charities, pro-Hizbullah fronts, allies of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (and its member state Sudan), activists opposed to the Save Darfur movement and so on. (Of course, this lobby does not represent the views of many Muslims and Arabs, especially secularists, liberals, and reformers.)

  121. #121 Wiggy
    October 8, 2007

    If all Professor Dawkins did was “ignorantly conflate the Israeli lobby and a mythical “Jewish” lobby” then I’m sorry but it’s certainly not a serious case of foot-in-mouth. And the “more or less monopolise” part was just a bit of harmless hyperbole as far as I’m concerned. I’m waiting for someone to label Dawkins a racist jewophobe for his transgression. That would be telling wouldn’t it?

  122. #122 S. Rivlin
    October 8, 2007

    This is my own opinion: The same “instincts” that made people racist jewophobes in Europe and the Middle East prior and until WWII are also at work today. The only difference is the name of the phobia.

  123. #123 Bad
    October 9, 2007

    Marcus Ranum:

    “Ooh, this is going to be good! Enlighten me O mighty wise one!!”

    I would, but at this point I’m not sure that’s possible. Easier, and probably more productive to just point out to others how embarrassing your arguments are.

    “You clearly haven’t read any of the arguments I posted.”

    Of course I have: I just didn’t find in them anything the least convincing. You simply dismiss out of hand the fact that people have a strong group identity and heritage which is far more complicated and larger than any particular religious opinion: long extended families, yes, heritage, yes. And yet, you seem to treat all things cultural as if there were some sort of religious “one-drop” rule, whereby any relation or historical basis in religion makes it all pure religion.

    “I’m arguing that judaism is just another stupid religion,”

    You’re welcome to do so, though from what I’ve seen of you, I doubt you’ll do it well: but that’s really not the point. The point is that by talking about “Jews” you are not, in fact, talking about just a religion, and by criticizing “Jews” as if it were just all a religion, you are being remarkably ignorant of the diversity of opinion and the reality of the actual community.

    “I found Harris’ criticism of religion to be lopsided. He really smacks the muslims for being religion-addled fools and sort of, uh, neglects to mention that the jews are at least as ridiculous.”

    You really do seem to get off on this, don’t you? It’s strange: you deny the larger ideas of common community that tie secular Jews to religious ones and claim that “Jew-woo” is all risible and that it’s all a cover-up for dumb religious ideas and yet, by doing so, you get to gleefully attack and smear all “Jews” regardless of what their opinions on religion are.

    “Hitchens does a slightly better job, but – why does judeo-woo get cut so much slack??”

    For lots of reasons, all of which they outline pretty clearly. Lots of people have silly ideas, but I think, and I think they agree, Islam is just objectively more dangerous as silly ideas go, period, than a religion which by and large doesn’t much care about converting others.

  124. #124 Dunc
    October 9, 2007

    OK, lets try and look for some data to quantify the proposition that the Zionist lobby has a disproportionate level of influence on US foreign policy. What could we use?

    How about the number of UN Security Council resolutions critical of Israel which have been vetoed by the US?

    Seems to me that there just may be some support for the proposition there…

  125. #125 Colugo
    October 9, 2007

    Dunc: “UN Security Council resolutions critical of Israel which have been vetoed by the US?”

    And how many of those resolutions were promoted by members of the Non-Aligned Movement, which represents Myanmar/Burma, Sudan, Belarus, Cuba, Belarus, and other atrocious dictatorships? And which uses the UN Commission on Human Rights to protect each other while relentlessly attacking Israel?

    http://jeffweintraub.blogspot.com/2007/06/un-human-rights-update-more-things.html

    “Progressive” anti-Zionists focus their contempt and moral indignation on Israel while applying a double standard for the world’s dictatorships that perpetrate genocide and terror. They defend Cuba, ally of the Burmese junta, and are apologists for various Middle Eastern regimes and organizations that are allies of the Sudanese government. These “progressive” anti-Zionists will soon forget their trendy activism regarding Burma and Darfur (just as they did their onetime activism for Afghan women, East Timor, and Kurdistan) and move onto the next cause – but their loathing for Israel is eternal.

  126. #126 Matt
    October 9, 2007

    Because ignorant comments by people I usually tend to admire (and who really should know better) that leave them wide open to an easy attack irritate me, that’s why.

    This is same general feel I got from reading your initial blog post. It seems that your sensitivity to antisemitism has caused a knee-jerk response to what doesn’t strike normal folks like myself as an incautious statement by Dawkins. I don’t see why he should be any more familiar with the vocabulary and talking points of antisemitism than I am.

  127. #127 S. Rivlin
    October 9, 2007

    I guess Colin Powell was the UN Isareli ambassador when he presented proof for the existence of all those WMD facilities in Iraq to the General Assembly, before America declared war on Iraq without the UN approval.

    Yep, those damn Zionists now are planning to nominate Bolton as their UN ambassador so they can force the Americans to declare a war on Iran.

    The latest news is that researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem just discovered a several generations removed kinship between Condi Rice and Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister. This discovery indicates that Condi’s roots are Jewish.

  128. #128 Jim Lippard
    October 9, 2007
  129. #129 closetpuritan
    October 10, 2007

    “IMHO, it is a kind of hubris to state that one knows, without any possibility of doubt, that there is no God. Perhaps God simply isn’t interested in revealing Himself to Richard Dawkins.”

    I see this kind of argument on the internet all the time used by agnostics to take a holier-than-thou, sanctimonious, superior stance to both atheists and the religious. And I’m sick of hearing it. Sorry, but most atheists DON’T say that. Dawkins himself has argued that people should be divided based on the PROBABILITY they assign to whether God exists. Most atheists use the “Invisible Pink Unicorn” argument to describe their view of the probability of God(s)’s existence, and it is standard practice in debate that the burden of proof is on the person trying to prove the positive.

    Yes, if you’re writing a science paper you should say “there is no evidence for God’s existence” rather than “God does not exist”. (Though I can’t imagine a good reason why you’d be writing a scientific paper on that subject.) But in everyday language, I haven’t seen anything to convince me that the statement “God does not exist”, coming from an atheist, should be any more controversial than saying “trees make food using photosynthesis” (No! That’s just a scientific theory! You can never be certain with a scientific theory!) or “there were no WMDs in Iraq”. In both cases, there’s no way to know with 100% certainty, just like there’s no way to know ANYTHING with 100% certainty.

    If I have to say, “I think it is unlikely that there is a God”, you have to say “I think it is unlikely that there is a Bigfoot”. (Unlike Dawkins, I don’t find religious belief as ridiculous as belief in Bigfoot, but I do find it equally unconvincing.)

  130. #130 closetpuritan
    October 10, 2007

    Renee: “I loathe it when I see people who are not Jewish having a so-called intellectual discussion about what the meaning of being a Jew is.

    “It’s insulting to me, no matter what side of the argument any of you are espousing. Including the writer of this blog. Insulting. No matter how much you all dress your arguments in pseudo-scientific words and phrases.

    “It is as insulting as if a bunch of white people sat around and argued about what it means to be black. And decided amongst themselves who should and should not be considered black. And what black culture is. And black history. And and on and on and on…

    “Disgusting.”

    I actually kind of sympathize, even if your post struck me as a little histrionic. It struck me more than once the weirdness of non-Jews debating about what it means to be Jewish. But until a Jew posts in response (which, thankfully, a few did), the only alternatives are to either let statements at odds with how most Jews define themselves stand without challenge, or to run and find a Jew and ask them to post a response “from a Jewish perspective”, which to me seems patronizing as well. I would also point out that this is NOT the same as if a bunch of white people sat around discussing black issues, since there are Jewish people taking part in this discussion as well, and they’ve never been discouraged from taking part.

    “Dawkins was not having a bad day, nor is he clueless, nor is he incapable of noticing when he has made a prejudicial statement. He was speaking his mind, and should be taken at his word. No making excuses for him. No intelluctualizing away his statement, and giving him the benefit of the doubt, simply because he has a Ph.D. and can’t stand creationists.”

    I’m sorry that you disagree with most of the people here in the interpretation of Dawkins’ statement, but you are not the sole authority on how people’s statements are interpreted, and you can’t hand out ultimatums and expect people to follow them without question. I really don’t know why you think you know what was going through Dawkins’ head, or why you think you know why people are giving him the benefit of the doubt.

  131. #131 Jon H
    October 10, 2007

    “That having been said, if the US is not going to support Israel, who will? And who will bear the moral responsibility for what could happen if that unconditional support should end?”

    They have nukes, let them defend themselves. Why do we have to do everything for them? The relationship is rather one-sided.

    And let’s not forget that Israel has spied on the US, and blew up one of our ships.

  132. #132 Dunc
    October 12, 2007

    Colugo:

    And how many of those resolutions were promoted by members of the Non-Aligned Movement, which represents Myanmar/Burma, Sudan, Belarus, Cuba, Belarus, and other atrocious dictatorships? And which uses the UN Commission on Human Rights to protect each other while relentlessly attacking Israel?

    None of which has the least bearing on the validity of the resolutions in question, or the influence the Israeli lobby has on US foreign policy.

    Whilst it’s entirely true that those are loathsome dictatorships, the unfortunate fact remains that dictatorship is an internal political matter which the UN, as currently constituted, cannot deal with (as far as I understand). Whereas the vast majority of those resolutions deal with international matters, which the UN was specifically formed to deal with.

    Oppressing your own people is a completely different matter from invading other countries.

  133. #133 Pierce R. Butler
    October 12, 2007

    I’ve got it! Atheists can become one of the great power centers in the US if they just align themselves with the financial and policy imperatives of the military-(oil-)industrial complex!

    Why didn’t Dawkins state it that way originally?

  134. #134 andy o'donnell
    October 12, 2007

    If one reports that the Jewish lobby is successful you are anti semitic. I guess we are only allowed to cheer for Israel,
    otherwise we are nazi pigs and Holocaust deniers.I suppose we might as well get used to being smeared by the bullies of this world if we say nay to them. To acknowledge the success of the
    Zionist wing of the State of Israel is somehow pulling the cover (off the scheme of the Zionists to control Israel) so to speak. Too bad since the Jews that I know are warm and kind and freedom loving people.

  135. #135 Orac
    October 12, 2007

    Ding, ding, ding, ding!

    We have a winner!

    Yes, we have a winner for the award for the most egregious use of strawmen in a single comment on this thread. Congratulations! It takes a lot to produce that much rabid hyperbole.

  136. #136 Collin
    October 16, 2007

    As an American Jew, I’d like to make some comments:

    Orec is correct in stating that the American Zionist Lobby is not a Jewish idea. There may, however, be many American Jews who assume Israel is fighting justly because Republicans seem to be trying to hide the evidence suggesting otherwise. A few days after the Democratic landslide of 2006, I heard for the first time that Israel is bombing Lebanon. I don’t condone bombing at all, and I’d wager that most Jews would agree with me that it must be stopped.

    Anti-Semites have many standard complaints about Judaism. Some are valid, and others are made-up accusations with no basis in reality. Mixing the two together makes it hard for both Jews and non-Jews to tell which is which, and that’s what they’re banking on. When we see these complaints, we tend to assume — unfairly but reasonably — that they are being made by, or quoted from, Anti-Semites. But in some cases, such as some posts on this forum, the demeaning language backs up this assumption.

    The official Jewish position — although not necessarily the position of the Israeli government — is that condemning terrorism cuts both ways. Complaining about Israeli terrorism, in the context of Palestinian terrorism also being wrong, we do not consider Anti-Semitic. However, it is Anti-Semitic to promote the destruction of Israel. And it is Anti-Islamic to promote the destruction of an Arab nation such as Palestine or Lebanon. There are groups seeking to reconcile Israel with the Arab nations. Unfortunately, no one seems to know about them. Another little-known group is the signers of the Yesh Gvul petition, and I am proud of Israel for it because I don’t think any other country could have gotten such support for it. However, I am ashamed of Israel for discharging the signers and calling them deserters.

    As to Jews being special, I should first point out that most Jews do not believe in “kelipot”, and are ashamed of those that do. That being said, it is more than just a cultural and historical identity. It is that the official Jewish position on science is that it is true and inspirational and cannot demean religion, and that belief outside of science is not much more than simply saying that G-d exists. Even evolution is accepted, and although there is a suspicion of a design element, it is still asserted that natural selection is the formal description and that the rest is outside of science and doesn’t belong in public schools. There are, of course, prominent rabbis who claim otherwise, but they are considered fundamentalists and generally ignored.

    I haven’t read Dawkins, but I’ve read this forum. I see much of it as saying that religions are crazy, and that Judaism is the craziest of them all. If it isn’t objectively wrong to call most of the world crazy, and to hit most of the world with insults like “woo” and “pink unicorn”, then there’s something terribly wrong with objectivism. I also see a suggestion, on this forum and other atheist forums, that atheists are on a campaign to destroy religion. They seem to be co-opting fundamentalist techniques of soul-saving, which is puzzling considering they don’t believe in souls.

    Many of the issues atheists debunk are either unrelated to religion or considered by official religious views to be abuses of religion. However, atheists openly proclaim that religious people are unqualified to assist in the debunking, or even to see the results. This is tantamount to saying that everyone except their small group deserves to be exploited by con artists simply for refusing to join the group.

    I’ve seen an atheist site that shows statistics indicating that the proportion of religious people researching science is decreasing, and implying that that’s a good thing. I see this leading to a future in which science will be held as secret knowledge by atheists, and religious people — perhaps even agnostics — will be persecuted for trying to learn it unless they pledge to a program of getting rid of their faith.

    Perhaps it’s not surprising that atheists hate us Jews. They know we could set up another collection of the world’s secular scientific information, and that we wouldn’t hesitate to share it with other religious communities.

  137. #137 P. Wanyonyi
    October 19, 2007

    Can’t see anything wrong with what Dawkins said – what part of it is false / anti-Semitic? What’s with the knee-jerk reactions anyway?

  138. #138 Orac
    October 19, 2007

    It’s not a “knee-jerk” reaction, and if you can’t understand it after my rather long post, I don’t know if a response from me will change that.

    The reason Dawkins’ comment comes across as anti-Semitic is because it echoes the worst conspiracy-mongering among racists, white nationalists, and anti-Semites. This conspiracy-mongering takes on the form that the US government is controlled by Jews with the consequence that Jews control US foreign policy with regards to Israel. Not only is that incorrect (if it were, I doubt we’d be giving $4 billion a year to Egypt and billions of dollars a year in military aid to Saudi Arabia), but it repeats all the stereotypes of “Jewish” control. This is a pervasive stereotype that is not limited to the U.S. It’s common in Europe too. Just ask David Irving for his opinion on the Jews.

    As I said before, I don’t think that Dawkins is an anti-Semite, as this is the first statement by him that I’ve ever heard that even sounds somewhat anti-Semitic. I think it’s just another example of Dawkins’ tin ear. As Joshua Zelinsky put it:

    Dawkins’ comment even in context isn’t really so great. Note that a) There isn’t some magical unified “Israel lobby” but rather a variety of different groups with different interests and goals. b) The strength of this lobby(even as a loose collection) is simply put, wildly exaggerated. For example, if it were nearly as strong as many people seem to think Egypt wouldn’t be getting nearly as much US military aid as it does. (to the tune of a few billion dollars a year). c) I’d be inclined to argue that the herding cats problem applies about as much to getting Jews to do something in a coordinated problem as it does atheists. d) Many of the people involved in this lobbying effort (such as those involved with AIPAC) are not religious but rather only culturally connected to Israel. Indeed, some of AIPAC’s higher ups are in fact agnostics and atheists. And many of the most religious Jews, the Charedim, generally either don’t support the state of Israel or are actively against it. e) While some groups such as AIPAC have confused the matter by deliberately combining being Jewish with supporting Israel, many actual anti-Semites make the same equation for their own purposes. Moreover, while it is true that anti-Israel sentiments are not the same as anti-Semitism, they are often interconnected.

    On the whole, I suspect that Dawkins simply choose a poor example help his basic point across. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Dawkins do that so I’m much inclined to interpret his remarks in the most favorable light possible.

  139. #139 closetpuritan
    November 21, 2007

    If anyone would still like to insist that being Jewish has nothing to do with race, they can read this article:
    http://www.slate.com/id/2177228/nav/navoa/
    (A little late, but this article wasn’t posted until 11/1.)

  140. #140 Tysh
    February 10, 2008

    I am aware that the vast majority of movies, TV shows, and news programs are written, directed, produced, and enacted by Jews. I know a lot about Jews. I have been at the mercy of Jews throughout my academic career, and I regard them all as brutally racist, inhuman, neurotic, and despicable. I have never met a Jew I regarded as a human being first and a Jew second. I do not like Jews, and I do not want to be associated with them. I am not that fond of Arabs and Persians either. I have been intensely involved with all three and it was no picnic. My 750 page book on my experiences will never be published because Jews control the publishing industry. Yes, they do. It’s irrefutable. Much of my writing about Jews is hysterically funny in a Kafkaesque way. But the Jews do not want you to read the truth, so you will not. Self-publish? No. It is an insult. I deserve to live in a free country and to be judged by merit. The U.S. is a Jewistocracy. It is a disgrace. Every Jew I know publishes his/her crap non-stop.

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