Jonathan Ofir asks, “Why does Bill Maher get to run antisemitic ‘jokes’ with Bari Weiss, when Ilhan Omar can’t say a word about Israel?”
This article is republished from Mondoweiss by permission of the author
New York Times staff editor Bari Weiss is on a hell of a roll these days, having just published a book called “How to Fight anti-Semitism”. Weiss’s own paper, the New York Times, judges the book to be “a brave book”, because Weiss is ostensibly walking into perilous intellectual territory:
Should she have to fear ostracism or damage to her journalistic reputation for pointing out that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, while theoretically distinguishable, have long merged into a single ugly phenomenon?
Presenting Zionist apologists like Weiss as being in danger is laughable. She is representing a privileged mainstream view, one that is applied by the conservative left as well as the right in attempt to moderate voices that are starting to challenge Zionism. That’s the voice of those who try to silence Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, that’s the voice of those who try to discredit Jeremy Corbyn in UK. The new voices who break through the orthodoxy are currently in the minority, but Weiss is now trying to portray herself as a representative of an oppressed and persecuted minority:
I meet such people in every Jewish community I speak to. They tend to wait until late in the evening, after the crowd has thinned out or after they’ve had a few glasses of wine, to make their confession. But the confession is always the same: I’m in the closet. It’s not their sexuality or gender expression they are closeting. It is their Jewishness and their Zionism.
So now, the poor Bari Weiss was interviewed by Bill Maher on HBO – you know, giving a voice to those who have none, as it were.
And here’s the big irony. This 8 minute interview is supposed to be about anti-Semitism – and yet, Bill Maher is repeatedly making anti-Semitic jokes, to which both Bari Weiss, the audience and the other guests laugh.
After Weiss speaks about the historical traces of anti-Semitism (referring to the killing of Jesus), Maher says:
Well, I am no expert on Judaism, although I try never to pay retail.
This is a big moment. Everyone is laughing, the audience, the guests, including Weiss, there’s clapping – it goes on for more than 10 seconds. Weiss disturbs it with a little remark:
You’re going to get into trouble for that…
But it’s clearly not a condemnation – she keeps on laughing, she’s clearly not suggesting that she herself would condemn him, but that others might. And Maher dismisses it completely:
Oh, like I could give a fuck. Oh, like this week would be different.
So it’s not really a big deal. Let’s remember that as we move on.
Immediately after, Maher promotes the talk about supposed anti-Semitism on the left, and Weiss picks it up to call Jeremy Corbyn an anti-Semite, flat out:
Just look at the [UK] Labour party which is run by an anti-Semite, Jeremy Corbyn.
At this point there is one person clapping in the audience. Weiss stops herself from continuing, turns around and says “thank you” to that person. Bill Maher uses this to make his next anti-Semitic remark:
One Jew, isn’t that great, one Jew.
You see, without knowing the person, Maher suggests that a mark of being Jewish, is to trash Jeremy Corbyn with false and McCarthyite accusations of being an anti-Semite, since he has pro-Palestinian leanings and challenges in some way the Zionist orthodoxy. Maher is thus suggesting that the disgusting bigotry presented by Weiss is a trait common to all Jews (the many Jews who support Corbyn must be the ‘wrong kind of Jews’), and if you cheer this bigotry, you must be a Jew.
Maher repeated that ‘Jew’ theme later on. The context here, on which I will expand, was Maher’s reciting of false anti-Palestinian trash which was supposed to serve as a history lesson, to which Weiss kept nodding:
Let’s not forget, that first of all, 97% of the West Bank was on the table in the 90’s, in the Oslo Accords, and they [the Palestinians] did not take the deal. Also the West Bank was controlled by Jordan for 19 years – where is the Palestinian state then? These are things you don’t hear in the American media.
Well, this is a seriously flawed account. This is incitement. And although Maher says we don’t hear it in the American media, it’s coming from Bill Maher on HBO, which is American media. First of all, the Oslo accords of 1993 and 1995 didn’t lay 97% of the West Bank on the table. They were not final territorial peace agreements, they were only interim agreements which eventually, in the course of 5 years were meant to lead to an actual peace and territorial negotiation. And the Palestinians did “take the deal”. In fact, they recognized Israel by treaty already in 1993, and they went with this deal in hope that it would lead to a sovereign Palestine, even though Rabin assured Israel in 1995 that it would lead to “less than a state”. In the meanwhile, the West Bank was carved up into areas A, B, and C, where Israel controlled most of the West Bank fully with Area C, which covered over 60% of it and encircled the Palestinian enclaves (Areas B under joint control, urban areas A under Palestinian Authority control). But Israel did not ratify the prescribed withdrawals, and the freeze of the Oslo Accords came to serve as a blueprint for Israel’s further expansion, with massive ethnic cleansing in area C and now talks of annexing it, coming in different forms from both the government as well the opposition.
I don’t know where Maher gets that 97% number. Maybe from the “Clinton Parameters” of 2000. But even Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, with the famous “generous offer” of 2000, did not actually offer more than 77% of the West Bank for the first 6 to 20 years, since he insisted on retaining control of the Jordan Valley for that period, and with that prospective 10% addition at some point, it would have added up to 86%. In the end, it would have been a set of Bantustans, something that even Barak’s Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami admits he would have rejected were he Palestinian.
But Bill Maher doesn’t seem to know that history so well, maybe because they don’t talk about it that much in American media. Nonetheless, it’s completely safe for him to twist it like that, blame it on the Palestinians as if he was some Ehud Barak going “no partner for peace”, and Bari Weiss nods.
So, after all this awful background, the anti-Semitic joke. Several people are now clapping to Maher’s anti-Palestinian incitement. Maher is pleased:
Alright, now we have 5 Jews.
Once again, per Maher, if you are anti-Palestinian, you must be Jewish.
You see, Bari Weiss doesn’t have a problem with this, she goes along with it. She can’t even see the anti-Semitism reeking from Maher, because it serves her purposes.
Slandering Ihlan Omar
But when it doesn’t serve her purposes, Weiss bends over backwards to address an anti-Semitic motive to critique of Israel. Like what she did against Ilhan Omar, charging Omar of “anti-Semitic slander” for a 2012 Facebook post that related to Israel’s Gaza onslaught, where Omar wrote that “Israel hypnotizes the world”. Weiss invented a whole new myth to accommodate her charge – the “myth of Jewish hypnosis” – even though Omar was speaking about Israel, not Jews.
When it suits them, these pundits, like Bari Weiss, like Forward editor Batya Ungar-Sargon, make the connection between Jews and Israel in no-time, accusing the critics of anti-Semitism, accusing them by association of using “anti-Semitic tropes” and what not. But when the nerve of the talk is supportive of Zionism, even when it is rabid Zionist, bigoted and false propaganda, the anti-Semitic tropes just pass by with a laugh, one by one.
We can be sure that Bari Weiss is not going to write an article titled “Bill Maher and the myth of Jewish sleaziness and bigotry”. That’s not going to happen, because Maher was supportive of Weiss and her advocacy. Weiss is being celebrated in the mainstream media and given a prime position as staff editor in the New York Times – top of the world, right? And she still has the nerve to portray herself as a persecuted person. The sad irony is that Bari Weiss can’t recognize anti-Semitism, even though she’s written a whole book on it. And even if she does sniff it, she won’t call it out, not when it serves here Zionist, anti-Palestinian purposes. Because in the end, Weiss is not on about anti-Semitism – she’s just using the old trick in order to protect Zionism. Oh, I forgot – she’s a liberal, because she opposes Netanyahu…
H/t Ofer Neiman