Spectator revives ‘chosen people’ smear

(This is a revised version of a post we published yesterday, Nov. 14.  The previous version contained an error, for which we apologise.)

The Spectator recently republished a 2010 article by Rian Malan (“F.W. de Klerk was a hero of our time”, Nov. 11) in the context of the recent death of the last president of apartheid South Africa.  Malan characterised de Klerk’s announcement, in 1990, that he would begin transitioning the country from apartheid to a constitutional democracy, as an “an act of heroism almost unparalleled in the history of humankind”.

After eight more paragraphs praising de Klerk’s “heroic” decision to end the country’s system of white supremacy, Malan decided, for some reason, to pivot to Israel, framed as the anti-hero.

Anyone who has doubts on this score should consider what’s happened to Israel over the past 20 years. On the day de Klerk stepped up to the microphone to make his historic speech, God’s other chosen people were also contemplating the opportunities created by the end of the Cold War. They too were presented with a fleeting chance to make peace from a position of power, but the risks were too great, so they dug in their heels, refusing to make the painful concessions necessary to break their ancient stalemate with Palestine.

Additionally, Malan’s claim that it was Israel who refused “to make the painful concessions necessary to break their ancient stalemate with Palestine” is of course the opposite of the truth.  There’s no real historical debate over the fact that it was Yasser Arafat who turned down a US-brokered Israeli peace deal that would have given Palestinians, for the first time in history, a sovereign state – one that would have been contiguous and included nearly all of the West Bank, all of Gaza and a capital in east Jerusalem.

But, even more troubling is Malan’s pejorative reference to Israel as “God’s chosen people” – a pure act of malice.  Given the context, it’s designed to falsely suggest that Israel, like apartheid South Africa, is a country built on the idea of racial ‘supremacy’ – an antisemitic trope which traces its roots back to the former Soviet Union’s anti-Zionist campaign.  As American Jewish Committee’s guide to antisemitic tropes noted: “The Soviet Union led the effort to link Zionism to racism, basing their accusations on the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion and arguing that Judaism’s concept of “the chosen people” promoted racial superiority.” As Izabella Tabarovsky wrote in Fathom, one extraordinarily influential Soviet anti-Zionist text, Caution: Zionism! , “devoted ample space to detailing Judaism’s idea of Jews as a ‘chosen people,’ which, he showed, demonstrated the supposedly racist underpinnings of Zionism”.

It also of course grossly distorts the very Jewish concept of chosenenss – a term used traditionally as a reminder to Jews that they should hold themselves to a higher moral standard.

 The irony is no doubt loss on editors of the historically anti-communist Spectator that they not only re-published an antisemitic trope, but one inspired by Soviet propaganda.

Further, the 2010 article clearly doesn’t hold up very well, as you can see in this passage:

Now [Israel is] totally isolated, totally reliant on the protection of a declining America.

Even prior to the Abraham Accords, in which Israel established full relations with UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, Jerusalem was beginning to make enormous diplomatic breakthroughs.

n 2016, Israel, after 49 years, re-established ties with the West African Muslim nation of Guinea. In 2019, Israel, after 47 years, revived diplomatic relations with the majority Muslim nation of Chad.  This past summer, 19 years after its ouster, the African Union reinstated Israel as an observer country.  And, earlier in the year, Israel established full relations with the majority Muslim country of Kosovo, and a few months later, they opened an embassy in Jerusalem.

Why Spectator editors decided to revive the inaccurate and inflammatory eleven-year old piece is anyone’s guess.

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2 replies on “Spectator revives ‘chosen people’ smear”
  1. says: Michael+Zeffertt

    “How the Spectator editor who reviewed Malan’s article failed to flag such patently false claims is a genuine mystery.”

    Maybe he doesn’t like Jews…….?

    1. says: Richard Turnbull

      Maybe, but even more likely is a background involving completely lock-step acceptance of every last “leftist” dogma about the State of Israel: its founding, its history since 1947, the entire domestic and foreign policy history of contentious relations with Palestinians, the works.
      Instead of carefully examining all of that history, as best one is able, and skeptically scrutinizing leftist dogmas, subjecting it to criticism like anything else, it is possible to churn out preposterous bilge about Israel like this example from the Spectator produced by Mr. Malan.
      True, you have to lack a shred of intellectual integrity, and rely on the gullibility of your audience vis-a-vis the actual facts cited above, but they do it anyway.

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