Amanpour’s “God’s Jewish Warriors”: The Problem of Drawing Equivalencies between Mainstream and Marginal

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In the evening, before I go to sleep, I enjoy listening to Rabbi Yaakov Spivak’s program on the Talkline Communications Network. Last week Rabbi Spivak expressed concern about a CNN program produced by Christiane Amanpour titled “God’s Jewish Warriors.” I posted a couple of critiques from CAMERA and HNN yesterday.

The three-part program—the other two being on Christians and Muslims—was an effort at painting religious zealots with the same sordid brush of extremism, intransigence, and violence. Rabbi Spivak was especially incensed by the equation of a small, marginal, and prosecuted group of individuals (violent Jewish extremists) with broad-based political movements whose ethnic and national representation are based on shedding Jewish blood. I am referring, of course, to Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, etc. etc. etc.

I finally had a chance to view the video online—I don’t have CNN at home—and felt the need to post. My main concern—and it is an incredibly important point—is that Jewish extremists are a marginalized group in Israeli society. If these zealot settlers had such immense political power, they never would have been forced out of Gaza. As we all know, they were. Further, when Jewish extremists commit acts of violence, they are tried in Israeli courts and face a prison sentence. On a political level, Jewish groups and parties that advocate violence against Palestinians, such as Kahanist organizations, are illegal in Israel.

Contrast this with the situation in Gaza, Judea and Samaria (or, the Occupied Territories, if you prefer). Among Palestinians, violent organizations are accepted as legitimate political entities. Indeed, in the last democratic elections held in Gaza, a majority of residents voted for Hamas, a party that openly calls for the murder of Jews in its platform. Political violence against Jews is accepted and encouraged. The perpetrators of these acts do not face any court sentence or condemnation by the broader society. To the contrary, terrorists are celebrated as heroes and martyrs in Palestine. This is not a minority view, this is the mainstream perspective.

That’s why so many Jews are offended by the program. Not because it provides a glimpse into the world of Jewish zealots—whose actions are certainly open to criticism—but because the comparisons and equivalencies drawn are so inaccurate and inappropriate. These individuals and groups, while active and quite vocal, are a small minority in Israeli society. They certainly do not represent the mainstream. Palestinian militants terrorists, by contrast, do represent the mainstream.

I realize this makes many left-leaning folks uncomfortable because they want to think “deep down inside, we are all the same” or “we all want the same things out of life.” Well, truthfully, we are not the same and we do not want the same things. We are not guided by the same norms of behavior or the same conceptions of “the good.” The sooner people come to this realization, the better.

[For a refutation of the notion that material deprivation causes terrorism click here.]

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One response »

  1. There is much to criticize in the documentary. One hardly knows where to start.

    I found her behaviour as an interviewer in the segment about Muslim Religious Warriors distinctly odd and unprofessional. She was simpering at her interviewees when they were declaring their absolutist beliefs in their own rightness, wagging her finger coyly at one who explicitly made a misogynistic comment. Altogether, she conveyed an attitude of being ill-at-ease and toadying in what should have been a much more consistent and insistent attempt at confronting them with their own murderous ideologies. The difference in the way she handled herself with these Mullahs and the way she confronted the other (Jewish and Christian) “Warriors” in the two other segments was quite astonishing for a journalist of her experience.

    In an interview with Charlie Rose (02/24/2000) about a documentary she had just made about Iranian life under the Khomeinitas, “Revolutionary Journey”, she asserts with much confidence that Iran will soon become a more “normal” society, with liberal press and moderated religiosity.

    This certitude hardly points to perspicacious judgment or great political acumen in the speaker, considering how Iran has since radicalized its stranglehold over the population and its policies vis-a-vis the West (Ahmadinejad’s dark shaddow leers ironically at these rosy conjectures).

    I fear Christiane Amanpour has been swept along the current wave of “new” liberalism which Oliver Kamm desscribes as “unilateral liberalism”:

    “There is… a particularly corrosive notion common among liberals, and most
    particularly egalitarian liberals, that respect for the views of others is a
    keystone of a civilised society. By this logic, Sir Salman Rushdie is a
    provocative figure for unpardonably affronting the deepest convictions of people throughout the developing world. The principles of secularism and free expression are the victim.

    The phenomenon … is not liberalism but what the Irish polymath and statesman Conor Cruise O’Brien once termed unilateral liberalism. It exhibits, said O’Brien, an acute sensitivity to threats to liberty arising from the actions of democratic states, combined with a curiously phlegmatic attitude to threats to liberty from the enemies of those states. These days, it is not only in the remediable flaws of western societies that unilateral liberals identify oppression but also in their highest virtue”

    One more thing: I find it ironic that Amampour picked Jimmy Carter as an authoritative, cool-headed voice in a programme about religious fanaticism. Carter is nothing if not a religious fanatic in his own right.

    Hitchens puts it effectively:

    “Here is a man who, in his latest book on the
    Israel-Palestine crisis, has found the elusive key to the problem. The mistake
    of Israel, he tells us (and tells us that he told the Israeli leadership) is to
    have moved away from God and the prophets and toward secularism. If you ever feel like a good laugh, just tell yourself that things would improve if only the Israeli government would be more Orthodox. Jimmy Carter will then turn his vacantly pious glare on you, as if to say that you just don’t understand what it is to have a personal savior.”

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