Here’s his letter published today:
To all who have been offended by my August 26 letter published in the New York Times, I would like to say the following:
I believe that there is a correlation between the uptick in anti-Semitic violence in the world and the events taking place in Israel/Palestine and Gaza. That said, there is never any excuse for such violence and the crimes described by Professor Deborah Lipstadt are disgusting and repellant. There can be little doubt that many who engage in such behavior use the Israel/Palestine dispute as an excuse to mask a much deeper disorder known as anti-Semitism.
I ought to have said this in my letter.
I have been accused of anti-Americanism for my opposition to the Vietnam War in the ’60s and the Iraq War in the ’00s. In fact, my patriotism runs deep, as does my love for Israel and Palestine and for the two peoples locked in a tragic fight over the land. If I seemed to suggest in my letter that only Jews who actively oppose present Israeli policies have a right to feel safe, that was not my intention nor is it my belief. Personal safety and protection by the rule of law is a fundamental right. Nothing done in Israel or Palestine justifies the disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in Europe or elsewhere. Persons of good will must be concerned as well by the rise of Islamophobia that is now being justified in terms of national security.
This has been a painful time for many of us, but I am a hopeful person and I believe that good will come of it. I have received many letters that offer opportunities for dialogue and understanding, and I trust that I am humble enough to still be taught.
Bruce M. Shipman
I’ll leave it to readers to parse through the letter. But his initial letter, the one that stirred the controversy, fits into a pattern I’ve identified in a previous post:
Unfortunately, it’s increasingly the case that even those who approach anti-Zionism from one or more of these [non-anti-Semitic] perspectives are at best tolerant of the anti-Semitism indulged in by some of their allies, and at worst engage in rhetoric that smacks of classical anti-Jewish themes, even if the individuals in question are not themselves anti-Semitic.
As I’ve noted before, there are two basic reasons for this phenomenon. The first is that given longstanding Western cultural prejudices against Jews, marrying anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism can be extremely effective from a rhetorical perspective. And, second, if you are inclined to believe that Israel and its policies are an especially grave danger to world peace and security you will tend to err on the side of being tolerant of anti-Semitism to the extent that you think it is furthering the anti-Israel cause because you see Israel as a greater threat/danger/cause for concern than anti-Semitism. Neither of these explanations are excuses, of course.
Rev. Shipman has some very questionable political views, including a devotion to the Palestinian cause so great that it leads him to say ridiculous things, such as interpreting the murderous ways of Hamas, a blatantly anti-Semitic, genocidal offshoot of the internationalist Muslim Brotherhood in this way: “Hamas’ continuation of the armed resistance is a way of telling Israel and the world that their spirit is not broken after 56 years of living as refugees without a country in a small area that is that one of the most densely populated places on earth…”
Unfortunately, it’s a well-trodden path from devotion to Palestinian nationalism to apologizing for the likes of Hamas to implicitly using growing anti-Semitism in the name of anti-Zionism as a bludgeon against supporters of Israel, as Shipman did in his initial letter, or, worse, to deny that the anti-Semitism exists. Michael Gerson recently noted that “if you live entirely in the present, the state of Israel may seem more Goliath than David. If you have some sense of the past, it is a beleaguered island in a historical and geographical sea of violence.” That “sea of violence” still threatens Jews in Europe and elsewhere, to the extent that Jews in most of Europe have long since stopped wearing kippot in public so as not to identify themselves as Jews and invite violence. No one who thinks himself to be a political progressive should think that Jews, having been subject to the worst racist violence in human history within living memory, are somehow exempt from their sphere of concern because Israel exists, and no level of devotion to the Palestinian cause justifies treating Jews in the diaspora as mere ciphers beyond their ethnic and religious ties to Israel.
A final thought. Gerson cites the excellent recent article by Matti Friedman, also endorsed by the VC’s own David Post. Friedman alludes to, but doesn’t cite, recent literature on the history of hostility to Jews. This work shows that Jews historically were a stand-in for whatever evils an individual perceived in the world, whether it was greed, violence, rejection of religious dogma, capitalism, socialism, sexual promiscuity, the Devil, “depraved” art, or what have you. To take a bizarre example, when Ataturk sought to modernize and secularize Turkey, his opponents accused him of being a Jew.
A lot of progressives seem to think they are immune from anti-Semitism, or even being tolerant of anti-Semitism, because they have neither racist nor Christian antipathy to Jews, the two most recently prominent forms. They, in other words, do not consciously hate, or even dislike, Jews. But when the Left has decided that colonialism, fundamentalist religion and ethnic nationalism are the great evils of the modern world, and then so many “progressives” focus on Israel as the exemplar of these evils, despite many, many other more worthy choices, one wonders if they fully understand what anti-Semitism is really all about.