The ‘Humanitarian Racism’ of Harriet Sherwood and the Guardian Left

Manfred Gerstenfeld, Chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, has published a very important essay at Ynet, titled, “Beware the humanitarian racists“, which serves to provide vital insights into the contrasting coverage of Israel and the Arab world at the Guardian.

Gerstenfeld introduces his essay by distinguishing between two kinds of racists.

Among racists, the humanitarian ones hide their evil behavior best. This is why their racism often goes unnoticed so they can claim that they are level-headed and decent people.

Another type of racist, the “ugly” one, can be easily identified. He may, for instance, repeat the old colonialist statements claiming that Africans are like children, retarded or even subhuman. Such racists believe that people who cannot be held responsible for their acts should be treated as inferior.

Gerstenfeld then notes the dynamics which unite both manifestations of racism:

The basic views of humanitarian racists are very similar to those of the ugly type. They may claim, for example, that most contemporary problems of African states result from the colonial period, even if these countries have been independent for many decades. This in fact means that Africans cannot be responsible for their actions. The humanitarian racist’s worldview is as distorted as that of the ugly racist. It is not stated explicitly, but only implicitly in his words.

The humanitarian racist’s conclusion differs, however, from that of the ugly racist. He or she considers that as the non-white or weak cannot be held responsible for their acts, one should look away as often as possible even if they commit major crimes. Ugly racists fortunately can no longer get articles published in mainstream media, but humanitarian racists unfortunately are welcomed by them.

Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Gerstenfeld writes:

Exposing humanitarian racists is neglected in the battle against the de-legitimization of Israel, although crucial. The success of the Palestinian narrative and its many lies in the Western world is, to a large extent, due to its continuous promotion by humanitarian racists. They present the Palestinians as victims only, referring as little as possible to the major crimes they perpetrate or support. In this way, the humanitarian racists have become supporters or allies of Palestinian terrorists, murder and genocide-promoters.

One example in 2010 was the very limited international publicity about the condolences expressed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the family of Abu Daoud. Abbas had the following to say about the planner of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre of Israeli athletes: “The deceased was one of the prominent leaders of the Fatah movement and lived a life filled with the struggle, devoted effort, and the enormous sacrifice of the deceased for the sake of the legitimate problem of his people, in many spheres…What a wonderful brother, companion, tough and stubborn, relentless fighter.”

Similarly, its difficult not conclude that such racist double standards at least partially explain why consistent evidence of Palestinian antisemitism (and their culture’s glorification of violence) is ignored by the gatekeepers at the Guardian.

Harriet Sherwood’s humanitarian racism may indeed inform the bulk of her reports from the region, which never misses an opportunity to impute the worst motives to Israel, while alternately strenuously avoiding characterizing Palestinians as anything other than victims.

The following video, which will almost certainly go unreported by Sherwood, is from a recent official Fatah ceremony where two of the highest religious authorities in the Palestinian Authority told a crowd of Palestinians that “Muslims’ destiny is to kill Jews and that Resurrection will come only after Jews are killed by Muslims” – an argument similarly echoed by the Fatah Moderator at the event.


Gerstenfeld continues:

The humanitarian racist worldview embodies many other distortions. If Arabs, for instance, cannot be held responsible for their criminal acts, others must be. The humanitarian racist thus has to look for scapegoats. That is why Israel is sometimes accused of the crimes the Palestinians committed.

Another distortion of the truth that is part of the humanitarian racist’s worldview is the denial of the existence of racism among people of color. There is, however, much data about the extreme racism widespread among Muslims for instance.

Former Dutch Parliamentarian of Somali origin Ayaan Hirsi Ali said that she “studied social work for a year in the Netherlands [and her] teachers taught us to look with different eyes toward the immigrant and the foreigner. They thought racism was a phenomenon that only appears among whites. My family in Somalia, however, educated me as a racist and told me that we Muslims were very superior to the Christian Kenyans. My mother thinks they are half-monkeys.”

Later, Gerstenfeld notes:

The great majority of Israelis, however, are not humanitarian racists. They consider Palestinians rightly responsible for their criminal acts like any other human being would be.

Gerstenfeld then proposes a simple test to recognize the humanitarian racists amongst those who de-legitimize Israel, including the following question:

“Where and how often have you exposed the profoundly [antisemitic] worldview that permeates Palestinian society, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas?”

Gerstenfeld continues:

If one finds that these critics of Israel have remained silent or said little on any of these issues, they can be “outed” as humanitarian racists. One can apply this humanitarian racism test to politicians, church leaders, journalists, academics as well as to Jewish and Israeli critics of the Jewish state.

Per Gerstenfeld’s query, I’ve been searching in both the Palestinian territories and Hamas pages of the Guardian and haven’t found any substantive report by Sherwood or her colleagues on the issue of endemic Palestinian antisemitism which, as PMW is continually demonstrating, is widely available and simply impossible not to notice when covering the region.

Even if Harriet Sherwood and her Guardian colleagues can be reasonably assumed to be free of anti-Jewish racism as such, its impossible not to understand their silence in the face of the undeniable antisemitism of her Palestinian protagonists in the context of Gerstenfeld’s definition of ‘Humanitarian Racism”.

Moreover, as I’ve argued continually on this blog, and what should be blatantly obvious and intuitive (but what is also continually demonstrated empirically), the central front of antisemitism in our day is located squarely in the Arab and Islamic world. 

But, just as relevant as understanding who precisely represents the most dangerous and malevolent antagonist in the cognitive and physical war against the Jews is properly identifying those who enable, excuse or ignore the modern manifestation of history’s most malign and obsessive hatred.

Thus, while reading Gerstenfeld’s meditation on ‘humanitarian racism, I began with a thought experiment of sorts in an attempt to properly contextualize the Guardian’s failure to report antisemitism in the region.

I conjured a world where Israel was surrounded not by Islamist movements, but by fascist (even neo-Nazi) states where explicit antisemitism, including classic conspiracy theories, was normative and a consistent component of their public discourse; where Jews were routinely demonized and characterized as inferior, and their existence as a nation seen as dangerous, unnatural, and a moral blight which had to be eradicated.

Is there anyone claiming the mantle of liberalism and anti-racism who, in this political scenario, would not stand up and denounce such annihilationist antisemitism, consider the Jews’ cause their cause, and stand shoulder to shoulder with all progressive minded people to fight the resurgent scourge of antisemitism mistakenly believed to have been buried in the ashes of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sobibor, and Treblinka?

As such, the greatest failure of Guardian Left thought, the most dangerous pathos which guides their political imagination, is their seeming belief that the formerly oppressed, colonized and subjugated Arabs can not assume the moral role of history’s most odious antisemitic actors.

The Guardian’s continuing indifference and obfuscation in the face of the Islamic world’s malevolent Jewish obsession – this profound journalistic moral abdication – does more than simply skew their coverage of the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

The humanitarian racism which renders their reporters mute in the face of such undisguised antipathy towards Jews serves to empower the most reactionary, atavistic and regressive elements within the Arab world.

The threat this dynamic presents to the future of world Jewry – as well as to the Arabs’ capacity to achieve genuine moral, social and political progress – can not be overstated.

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