From Jews to Muslims

8 Dec 2009 by CST

Oliver Miles, the former Foreign Office diplomat who objected to there being two Jews on the Iraq War Inquiry panel, has written to the Jewish Chronicle to clarify his views. The letter does not appear to be online, so I will reproduce it in full here (with links added):

In your issue of November 27, you attacked (in threedifferentplaces) my comments on the Iraq inquiry, describing them as pernicious and insinuating that they are antisemitic.

Unlike The Times, which described them as disgraceful without quoting a single word from them to allow their readers to judge for themselves, you quoted the sentence in which I metnioned that two of the five members of the inquiry team are Jewish.

You might have gone on to quote the following sentences in full: "Such facts are not usually mentioned in the mainstream British and American media, but The Jewish Chronicle and the Israeli media have no such inhibitions, and the Arabic media both in London and in the region are usually not far behind. All five members have outstanding reputations and records, but it is a pity that, if and when the inquiry is accused of a whitewash, such handy ammunition will be available. Membership should not only be balanced; it should be seen to be balanced."

I knew that I was likely to be attacked for what I wrote, and chose my words carefully. It is sad that one cannot speak the truth on this subject, however carefully one chooses one's words, without provoking criticism based on the assumption that one speaks from a habit or feeling of hostility to Jews, which in my case is not so.

For you and any of your readers who agree with the chief executive of the Board of Deputies that "to question the credentials of two of the members because of their Jewishness is unacceptable", I have a simple question. I believe it would have been a mistake to include in the five-person team someone with an Arab or Muslim background, and madness to include two. Do you agree? And if so how do you defend yourself from the accusation of racial prejudice?

By asking this question in the way that he does, Oliver Miles shows that he has completely missed the point of why his original article was so offensive. All any individual can ask is that they be judged on their record as an individual. In this particular case, Lawrence Freedman and Martin Gilbert should both be judged on their formidable records as historians, a discipline that requires skills you might think perfectly matched to their latest assignment: the analysis of masses of documentation, personal testimony and other evidence relating to military and political affairs, to produce conclusions that educate and enlighten. The fact that they are Jewish should not be a factor. If they were both Muslim, the same would be the case.

I completely accept that Oliver Miles was not motivated by hostility towards Jews, a point I made when I first wrote about his article last month. What I do think is that he is postulating  an antisemitic position, and should review the thought processes by which he arrived at it. But it is interesting to see that Miles is at pains to point out how carefully he chose his original words. He could benefit from reading the opinion of his fellow Independent writer, Howard Jacobson, about both his and Richard Ingrams' articles on this subject:

Words matter. In words, rhetoric betrays its prejudice. No Zionist is other than an active Zionist in Miles and Ingram's world, just as no Zionist is ever capable of disinterested judgement, because Zionism allows nothing to stand in its way, including Saddam Hussein. "It is a fact." Quite what Israel had to gain from overthrowing Saddam has never been plain to me – which doesn't of course prove anything, any more than Richard Ingrams' "facts" prove anything – but an ardently active Zionist would surely have seen that Iran not Iraq was the enemy and that an America tied up with the one was less likely to be in a position to deal efficiently with the other.

Since I am wary of accepting that anyone is an "ardent" Zionist on the mere say-so of someone who isn't, I have no reason to believe that the infamous cabal of neocons was acting on behalf of Israel when it pushed for the invasion of Iraq. We can hold them culpable without holding them culpable of that. But Ingrams has one more "undeniable fact" to assert. Not only were the neocons Zionists, many were "more concerned with preserving the security of Israel than of the US".

So tell me what shred of evidence there is for this "undeniable fact". It is a grave charge. Putting another country's security before your own amounts to treason. No evidence is produced to support this accusation because no evidence can be produced. It is a calumny predicated on a self-perpetuating assertion – that Zionists are treasonable in their zeal for Zion, because that's the nature of Zionist self-interest. It doesn't take much to discern in that the older calumny, that Jews are the enemy of whichever nation harbours them.

Words matter because hate hangs on their coat tails.

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Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth