Can’t See The Heywood For The Trees
I am a free speech absolutist. In the tradition of J. S. Mill, I believe that the best antidote to bad speech is more and better speech. To my mind the free marketplace of ideas is the foundation-stone of democracy.
But support for the principle of liberty does not necessarily translate into courtesy for silliness, sloppiness and speciousness. People have every right to make asses of themselves, but they should be prepared to endure the rhetorical slings and arrows that their outrageous sophistry elicits.
It would have been well if Paul Heywood-Smith QC bore this in mind when he put pen to paper for the ABC Radio National opinion program “Perspective”. The radio op-ed by the chairman of the Australian Friends of Palestine Association that was broadcast on 5 May 2005 began on a less than auspicious note and went downhill from there.
Of course for the sake of truth in advertising, I must concede that I had something to do with all this. It turns out that I was the catalyst for Heywood-Smith’s foray into radio-land. In mid-April I appeared on “Perspective” to argue that anti-Zionism equals antisemitism. Israel-phobia, I asserted, is nothing more than a relatively recent variant of Judeophobia. And fervent partisan of the Palestinian cause that he is, Heywood-Smith took personal umbrage at my comments. He demanded, and received, a right of reply from the powers that be at “your” ABC. Fair enough.
But the arena of public policy is a tough school where the merit of an argument is measured on a scale of coherence and cogency. And the melange of factual errors and lapses in logic that constitutes Heywood-Smith’s polemic fails miserably on both of those counts.
In fact, his ham-fisted attempt to assail my thesis fell so short of the mark that the QC from Adelaide actually reinforced my viewpoint rather than rebutted it. As Groucho Marx famously quipped, “I resemble that remark,” and despite Paul Heywood-Smith’s vigorous attempt to cleanse himself of antisemitism’s stench, he ends up more odoriferous than ever.
I began my Radio National broadcast by pointing out the hypocrisy that permeates anti-Zionist criticisms of Israel’s national legitimacy as a sovereign Jewish state. The Middle East is replete with nations that formally define themselves in ethnic and religious terms. Yet these Arab/Islamic equivalents of Zionism curiously manage to escape the condemnation that is directed towards Israel’s legal Jewish standing.
Heywood-Smith responds to my thesis with an initial profession of his fundamental incomprehension on this point. But there is nothing particularly recondite about the proposition that the Jewish state of Israel is being held to one set of standards that is not being imposed upon non-Jewish nations. Nor is there anything really abstruse about the contention that the application of pejorative double standards to a quintessentially Jewish entity like Israel is inherently antisemitic.
And then Heywood-Smith sets about reinforcing my argument by presenting additional examples of ethnically-oriented nations that routinely escape the invective directed towards Israel on those same grounds. Strangely, he includes the United States (the top silk has apparently never heard of the 1st amendment) and Australia in his catalogue of sectarian nations. Yet Heywood-Smith seems oblivious to the fact that he is buttressing my thesis by making this point.
After smartly pulling the rug out from under himself on the question of double standards and the Jews, the eminent QC moves on to what he sees as the crux of the Middle East conflict. “The real problem for apologists of Israel,” contends Heywood-Smith, “is that Israel is a racist state.” But the arguments that he adduces in support of this contentious contention are simply factually flawed agitprop of the crudest sort imaginable.
Just as the Jews can do no right in Heywood-Smith’s book, the Arabs can do no wrong. The murderous Muslim pogroms that forced entire Jewish communities to flee their homes throughout the Arab world are portrayed as an understandable reaction to “Zionist aggression.” But when the Arabs attempt to abort Israel’s birth at bayonet point, the refugees who are displaced during the resulting fighting are the immaculate victims of Jewish belligerence. Heywood-Smith has no time for the rights that Jewish refugees might have to compensation for the property they were forced to abandon. But by contrast he goes aquiver with indignation when anyone dares to challenge the Palestinian ‘right’ of return.
While Heywood-Smith’s piece suffers from a glaring dearth of moral consistency, it is strewn with factual inaccuracies that provide no small measure of comic relief. He describes a pressure campaign to make Catepillar Inc. cease selling bulldozers to Israel as an example of anti-Zionism taking root in the mainstream American body-politic. Yet the prime movers for the “International Day of Action Against Caterpillar” were all the usual far-Left suspects for whom Israel-phobia is their bread and butter. And the shareholder resolution that was the highlight of this campaign garnered only 3% of the votes at Caterpillar’s recent annual meeting in Chicago.
But Paul Heywood-Smith views the world through a coke bottle prism that is sufficiently thick to transform a humiliating 97% to 3% rout into a semblance of victory. And just as his illusory ‘triumph’ at Caterpillar proved to have all the substance of a will-o’-the-wisp, the same can be said of his prescription for Arab-Israeli peace.
Heywood-Smith is unable to fathom the essential fact that his demand for the demise of the Jewish state is ineluctably Judeophobic. Israel will never commit national suicide in order to satisfy the vicarious sensibilities of Aussie Palestinian-groupies like Heywood-Smith.
The Adelaide QC concludes his piece with a flash of bravado, declaring that he is “not prepared to be intimidated.” If that is the case, then Heywood-Smith should be prepared to debate me in a neutral environment where our views can be exchanged in a format that is adversarial, yet civil.
We’ll see if that is a challenge he is ready to meet.