It was the Rio Olympics.
The sport in question: Judo. And keeping with tradition, as the two contestants entered to begin their match, one contestant reached out to shake his competitor’s hand. This time, there was no outstretched hand of sportsmanlike behavior coming back. Why?
Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens took note of why this was, and used that one snapshot of a moment to make a large point. His headline:
The Meaning of an Olympic Snub
The Arab world has a problem of the mind, and its name is anti-Semitism.
An Israeli heavyweight judoka named Or Sasson defeated an Egyptian opponent named Islam El Shehaby Friday in a first-round match at the Rio Olympics. The Egyptian refused to shake his opponent’s extended hand, earning boos from the crowd. Mr. Sasson went on to win a bronze medal.
If you want the short answer for why the Arab world is sliding into the abyss, look no further than this little incident. It did itself in chiefly through its long-abiding and all-consuming hatred of Israel, and of Jews.
That’s not a point you will find in a long article about the Arab crackup by Scott Anderson in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine , where hatred of Israel is treated like sand in Arabia — a given of the landscape.
Nor is it much mentioned in the wide literature about the legacy of colonialism in the Middle East, or the oil curse, governance gap, democracy deficit, youth bulge, sectarian divide, legitimacy crisis and every other explanation for Arab decline.
Yet the fact remains that over the past 70 years the Arab world got rid of its Jews, some 900,000 people, while holding on to its hatred of them. Over time the result proved fatal: a combination of lost human capital, ruinously expensive wars, misdirected ideological obsessions, and an intellectual life perverted by conspiracy theory and the perpetual search for scapegoats. The Arab world’s problems are a problem of the Arab mind, and the name for that problem is anti-Semitism.
There was more, but you get the drift. Now, Mr. Stephens is changing venues and has been hired on to write for the New York Times. Congratulations, yes? A new job opportunity for a distinguished conservative columnist is always good, right? Even if I disagree strongly with Bret Stephens when it comes to President Trump, his Trump blind-spot does not diminish either his conservatism or his otherwise astute assessments of the world around us. Unless, of course, you are New York Times Cairo bureau chief Declan Walsh. As reported here in Mediaite, Walsh, who hails from Ireland, tweeted this:
— Declan Walsh (@declanwalsh) April 15, 2017
Say what? Mr. Walsh the New York Times Cairo Bureau Chief finds a Stephens denunciation of anti-Semitism is “not cool”? And Stephens is his brand new conservative colleague? Really? Really?
Let’s be clear here. I have never met Declan Walsh. I have no idea what’s running through his head. As an American of Irish descent, I am certainly aware of the shameful activities of some in Ireland during World War II, when the Irish State was determinedly neutral between the Allies and Nazi Germany. Not to be forgotten either in a historic sense is this, as reported here in a 2005 AP story that appeared about the World War II-era president and prime minister of Ireland in the UK Guardian:
President sent sympathy on Hitler’s death
Douglas Hyde, Ireland’s president during the second world war, offered condolences to Germany’s representative in Dublin over the death of Adolf Hitler, newly declassified records show.
Until now it was believed that Ireland’s prime minister, Eamon de Valera, was the only leader to convey official condolences, a gesture criticised worldwide.
But the presidential record for 1938-1957, made public this week, sheds new light on one of the most embarrassing chapters in Irish history — its decision to maintain cordial relations with the Nazis even after news of the Holocaust emerged.
That was a long time ago, no matter how it embarrassing it was. And certainly reporter Walsh wasn’t even on planet earth at the time.
But the real and very current and relevant question here is the anti-Semitic streak that in fact runs through various quarters of the American and international Left. With some believing their anti-Israel fixation is seriously cool. Not to mince words, but that is seriously a very not-cool problem in the world.
One can look no further than, well, the New York Times to see that this problem is on the radar screen of observers other than Bret Stephens. Here, for example, is Roger Cohen in the Times just over a year ago. The headline: “An Anti-Semitism of the Left.” Wrote Cohen in part:
LONDON — Last month, a co-chairman of the Oxford University Labour Club, Alex Chalmers, quit in protest at what he described as rampant anti-Semitism among members. A “large proportion” of the club “and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews,” he said in a statement.
Chalmers referred to members of the executive committee “throwing around the term ‘Zio’” — an insult used by the Ku Klux Klan; high-level expressions of “solidarity with Hamas” and explicit defense of “their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians”; and the dismissal of any concern about anti-Semitism as “just the Zionists crying wolf.”
The zeitgeist on campuses these days, on both sides of the Atlantic, is one of identity and liberation politics. Jews, of course, are a minority, but through a fashionable cultural prism they are seen as the minority that isn’t — that is to say white, privileged and identified with an “imperialist-colonialist” state, Israel. They are the anti-victims in a prevalent culture of victimhood; Jews, it seems, are the sole historical victim whose claim is dubious.
A recent Oberlin alumna, Isabel Storch Sherrell, wrote in a Facebook post of the students she’d heard dismissing the Holocaust as mere “white on white crime.” As reported by David Bernstein in The Washington Post, she wrote of Jewish students, “Our struggle does not intersect with other forms of racism.”
This anti-Semitism in places like Oxford would be stunning if in fact it were not so common among Western elites. Recall this moment at the Democratic National Convention in 2012 as headlined here in an AP story from Real Clear Politics? Headline:
Jerusalem And God Vote Gets Booed At Dem Convention
Delegates and members of the Democratic party booed after former Gov. Ted Strickland (D-OH) discussed God and moved to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Convention chairman Antonio Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles, had to ask for the Yea and Nay vote several times before declaring the motion passed.
C-SPAN cameras captured the dissatisfaction among members after the motion passed.
More information from the Associated Press:
“Democrats have changed their convention platform to add a mention of God and declare that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
“The move came after criticism from Republicans.
“Many in the audience booed after the convention chairman, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, ruled that the amendments had been approved despite the fact that a large group of delegates objected.
“He called for a vote three times before ruling.”
In other words? In other words whether the venue is the Democratic National Convention in 2012, Oxford University in 2016, or a tweet from an Irish reporter heading the New York Times Cairo Bureau in 2017 the central thread in all three is Western elites at a minimum signaling their acceptance of some version of anti-Semitism.
Bret Stephens ended his terrific column on the disease of anti-Semitism by saying this:
…So long as an Arab athlete can’t pay his Israeli opposite the courtesy of a handshake, the disease of the Arab mind and the misfortunes of its world will continue. For Israel, this is a pity. For the Arabs, it’s a calamity. The hater always suffers more than the object of his hatred.