Christopher Hitchens’s Jewish Problem

December 17, 2010

"The fact that Christopher Hitchens has a problem with the Jews has been an open secret for years. No one much likes to talk about it, and for various reasons his journalistic peers have remained silent on the subject. But it is nonetheless the case, and there is little sense in denying it."

I didn't first pay much attention to this and it's now a few days old but since it has made headlines on other blogs and sites, and in case you missed it and are interested, read Benjamin Kerstein's article here. (


X said...

Hitchens seems to take perhaps too much pleasure in dancing on western civilization's third rail (the "Jewish Question"). But his invective is consistent with his treatment of other theocracies. Whether its Iran, Great Britain or Israel, Hitchens despises societies which privilege one set of people over other sets of people based on religious affiliation. Simple as that. It's why he became an American.

HJ said...

Yeah, this is a bit of a strong attack.

I agree with X that maybe Hitchens takes pleasure in saying things that would usually raise an eyebrow but what is the problem with a bit of polemics?

For example, the saphardic rabbi is described as like an ayatollah but really some pronouncements by the crazier fundamentalist rabbis are like ayatollah rants.

The author says that he thinks maybe Hitchens is against Judaism itself. Well, duuuuuuuuuh! He's against all religions and almost every person of any particular faith complains that he goes out of his way to attack their faith most of all. This is because every person of faith feels an attack on their faith more acutely than they do on other faiths which most religious types already despise anyway.

If it is considered anti-semitic to think there is something fundamentally wrong with the tenets of Judaism then that would make every atheist an anti-semite and I for one am not going to accept that pernicious definition!!!

No, anti-semitism is a form of racism in which people of Jewish ethnicity are singeld out for having some particular qualities that make them untrustworthy or greedy or just plain evil. Hitchens has clearly battled against such awful stereotypes sometimes, in my view, overcompensating by saying that in fact Jewish people have inherent good qualities such as an over-abundance of intellect - something that many anti-semites also claim.

But the author of this piece seems to deliberately wrench Hitchens's words from context such as here:

Concerning, for example, the 2003 terrorist bombing of the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, he wrote with ostensible sympathy that "The worshippers were not killed for building a settlement in the West Bank: they were members of a very old and honorable community who were murdered for being Jews." The implication that, had the Jews of Neve Shalom been building a settlement in the West Bank, murdering them would have been perfectly acceptable, points to where Hitchens's dialectics can lead.

My guess, without looking up the Hitchens piece is to say that Hitchens isn't saying that settlers deserve to be blown up but rather he is answering that tired old Leftist argument that all terrorism is somehow blowback for Western misdeeds or the Leftist arguement that they support anti-Zionism which isn't the same as anti-semitism. Hitchens is saying, "How can you call these Turkish Jews Zionists?", "Why do people keep making flimsy excuses for jihadists when the jihadists themselves have no desire to make the distinction between Zionism and Jewishness?" Or something like that, I imagine.

In other words, Hitchens appears to be opposed to anti- Semitism only to the extent that it has nothing to do with the Jews but serves as a proxy for other evils.

Pure balderdash! Hitchens is essentially saying the same as what was in that poem, "First they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I didn't speak out..."

Anyway, I can't be bothered to read any more of this. If there are any worthwhile points the authro makes I woudl like to see tham. But waht I read so far just looks a bit crap too me.

Anonymous said...

Hitch is for Benjamin Kerstein a anti-Gentile fetish: a phenomenal appearance that obfuscates the irreducible X. a fetish that allows him to reinforce his views while disavowing hellenism. this irreducible X, this "petit objet a"'s name is liberty. it mirrors the logic of the anti-semetic fetish which is the last thing a subject sees before class struggle.

Anonymous said...

Hitch is born a jew himself. He doesn't hate jews, he loves himself pretty much.

It is really a shame how religious people tend to say that somebody hates them just because he hates their beliefs. There is a difference!

I love my Grandma. But I really don't love her belief, that you have to eat Jesus every sunday and that only a male virgin can prepare this.

Anonymous said...

Kerstein is an idiot, and outlets that promote this piece are shameful. CH has a Jewish problem alright. He has a problem with Jews like Kerstein. Being a critic of Zionism and right wing Israeli policy doesn't make you an anti-semite--DUH. Kerstein simply cherry picks from CH's work and gives it his own unique spin. And his research is so spotty, he didn't even get CH's age right, a point that went uncorrected for days!

Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, Benjamin Kerstein has a quote by Mr. Hitchens as one of his favorite quotes on facebook :)

Anonymous said...

Really a rather idiotic article...the author is conflating anti-judaism (hatred of the Jewish religion) with anti-semitism (hatred of the Jewish people). Hitchens definitely should and would cop to one, but not the other. Reminds me of the distinction one should make between Islam, islamism, and Muslims...I don't see any moral contradiction between ridiculing the first (as one should any religion), despising the second, and loving the third. Also - and I can't give the exact debate in which he said this - but I remember Hitchens saying he actually respects Judaism the most of the three major monotheisms, because it encourages self-criticism. Just musing here, but it's interesting how people are in equal measure attracted and repulsed by the Hitch's admittedly bombastic, over-the-top nature - and I say that as a fan.

Jack said...

Is this guy drunk?! There are multiple writings/lectures that Hitch has written/given praising the Jewish culture. He writes blrilliantly on anti-semitism and has often spoken of his pride at discovering his Jewish heritage. I mean, look up the Daniel Pearl memorial lecture, fantastic!

The author has obviously missed more than a trick, despite clearly being intelligent. The 'Shabbos Goy' article quite clearly demonstrates his solid lack of respect for fundamentalists of any kind, Jewish or not. I think Hitch just doesn't pander to the sensitive Jewish past, it's not the same as taking pleasure in anti-semitism.

Anonymous said...

I could help hear John Cleese shouting "Blasphemer" as I waded through that article and responses.

Am critical of the Church of England.
Also of the British State.
I must be a self-hating Englishmen.

We Brits are also only ever victims never aggressors.
And if you disagree with the Church of England or the British state it is defamation and you are Nazi (they hated Britain too, don't you see)

Blah, blah, bah.

Am just saying that piece of Halibut was fit for Jehovah.

Robert Iddiols said...

This was an absurd argument to make. He approaches his "jewishness" with the same stringency as he appraoches any ideology, and so Judaism is not immune from his criticism. I look forward to his "journalistic peers" (whatever that means) coming out and saying: no, in fact, Hitchens has no problem with the Jews, and we resent your lazy and vitriolic smear that attempts failingly to tinge his reputation with a suggestion of anti-Semitism. This is not a slander to be taken seriously, and yet it almost has to be.

Anonymous said...

At least in terms of heredity, Hitch IS a jew. His mother and her family were jewish. (read Hitch-22. also, I've heard him mention this numerous times in speeches / interviews)

Dustin said...

X is quite right, but what the article misses is something else: Of all religions the one religion he has at least some sympathy for is Judaism. The author of the article is apparently unfamiliar with Hitchens books...

alargerview said...

Some people will call anyone who doesn't agree with them 'antisemitic' or 'racist'. It's disgusting.

Phil R said...

This article was painful to read. The writer seems to miss the point of every quote he added in of Hitchens'.
The fact of him saying as long as the Jews have a (mythical) claim that the holyland belongs to them is said, but not that whilst other religions also have scriptural claims, there will be comprimising. So it was an attack on religious claims to land, not on the Jews.
His attack on Hitchens defending Chomsky's right to free speech was contradictory in itself! He admitted Hitchens only was defending Chomsky's right to free speech and that Chomsky was being silenced due to what he may have published. No where was there talk of Hitchens advocating that the holocaust never existed. Yet somehow Kerstein made this connection. YouTube Hitchens' free speech talk at Toronto where he talks on this more.
Hitchens in 'God is not great' also had to specify the Jewish myths more particularily as they are the origins of monotheism religion, which Kerstein admits to but still seems to think that Hitchens just has more of a grudge against Jews?!
I could go on and on about the drivel that Kerstein has assembled to form this article, mainly in giving the impression that Hitchens is two-faced in all his beliefs! Though I am sure readers of this page have read and understand Hitchens better that this moronic provocateur of hatred towards one of the greatest minds of our time.

Jay said...

I talked to Hitch at a book signing. I had him sign a copy of God is not Great for my mom, who is a recently converted atheist. He asked from what she converted. I said Judaism, and before that, she was a Christian. He replied "Every step in the right direction! Although I hope she's still a little bit jewish."

I replied, "Yes, as she still has lots of nominally Jewish children".

He said "So do I".

So I do believe this writer is just a hack with a persecution complex.

FGFM said...

I don't see how anyone could accuse an associate of David Irving of being an anti-Semite. I have it on good authority from a member of the armed forces that he was critical of Churchill as was Hitchens!

Anonymous said...

Implying anti-semitism from Hitchens' relationship w/ Irving cannot be done in good faith. Hitchens was impressed by some of Irving's research, as were many other scholars. Like many other scholars Hitchens finds Irving's sympathies and conclusions repugnant. Hitchens thinks criminalizing even Irving's worst assertions is a mistake, though. Hitchens' writing makes all of that very clear.

Anonymous said...

Standing up for free speech isn't the same as being an associate.

Churchill was a bit of an arse on many things, like he didn't have a problem with inducing terror into populations through the use of poison gas...being that Churchill was a bit of a mad imperialist.

Hitchens himself has stated that he is proud of his Jewish heritage and named three Jews who have helped to make the god of the gaps even smaller. Einstein, Freud and...Marx? (not sure names are correct)


FGFM said...

The funny thing about all this is that Hitchens is practically genocidal when it comes to Muslims, but conducts a Passover Seder on an annual basis for the benefit of his lovely daughter. Some religions are more equal than others, of course!

Mark G said...

I don't think Hitchens is anti-Semitic, but it's a well-written introduction describing Hitch's 'about-face', etc.

Anonymous said...

On Hitchens about-face: I see consistency, not an about-face. There is a glaring distinction from the status quo Left that often excuses the very worst right wing enemies of humanitarian principles, while reserving hatred for comparatively tame provincial conservatism. It's a sort of corporatism in itself, that it pretends to loath, or preservationist, in itself. I think Hitchens is very much a classical Liberal.

Anonymous said...

"Hitchens is practically genocidal when it comes to Muslims"

Yeah, he really wants to wipe out those Kurds.



Mark G said...

"On Hitchens about-face: I see consistency, not an about-face."

Then you either haven't read his work from the 80's and most of the 90's, or you were incapable of understanding it.

"I think Hitchens is very much a classical Liberal."

Now you're really showing your ignorance. Classical liberalism is modern-day conservatism. If that's what you mean to say about Hitchens, then I agree with you. But somehow, I don't think that's what you intended to say.

Anonymous said...

It's been a consistent journey. I think to many make the deduction that because Hitchens supports some things that many conservatives also support therefore makes him a conservative. The difference is his reasoning is based in liberalism, which sometimes coincides with responsible conservatism.

HJ said...

Now you're really showing your ignorance. Classical liberalism is modern-day conservatism.

Then that's a good thing. It means the "status quo" has become liberal.

FGFM said...

A milestone on a consistent journey.

Hitchens in Hollyweird

Remarks by Christopher Hitchens

Thank you very much, Ann [Coulter], and thank you very much David [Horowitz].

Mark G said...

"Then that's a good thing. It means the "status quo" has become liberal."

No, that's not what it means. Don't you guys know anything about history? Liberalism used to mean government non-interference in the economy. It was the rich man's ideology, esp. in 19th century England. I arose in stark opposition to the bourgeoning socialist and other Left movements who favored government social programs and regulations to protect children, women and the poor.

The term 'liberal' itself changed meanings. Hitchens, by the way, would hate to be called a "liberal" in any sense of the meaning.

HJ said...

Liberalism used to mean government non-interference in the economy. It was the rich man's ideology, esp. in 19th century England.

No. Taht's not all it meant. John Stuart Mill was a 19th Century Englisman who wrote On Liberty which is not purely about government non-interference in the economy. It is about freedom for the individual and also included the idea of the principle of harm which said the government should only be there to prevent harm being done to people which some people interpret to mean anti-exploitation by unscrupulous business people.

It used to be that religions and other authorities had the power over people to tell them waht to do all the time and what things were immoral and what they can and can't read and say. This was old school conservatism and reaction. But, now classical liberalism has taken the palce of this kind of authoritariansim so like I said:

"Then that's a good thing. It means the "status quo" has become liberal"

in resonse to what you said here:

"Classical liberalism is modern-day conservatism."

Now Mark, do you think that modern-conservatism (i.e Classical Liberalism acccording to you) is better than reactionary or classcial conservatism?

If you do think so, then is it not a good thing that classical liberalism is the new conservatism?

If you agree with that then you agree with me, then what are we arguing about?

HJ said...

"I arose in stark opposition to the bourgeoning socialist and other Left movements who favored government social programs and regulations to protect children, women and the poor."

I thought Marx said the state would shrivel up and die?

Anway, JS Mill also wrote about the liberty of women and I expect he was against putting children in mines or in mills.

Anonymous said...

I'm a liberal and I don't have a problem saying that both Ann Coulter and David Horowitz are national treasures. I may agree with them on some few things, more often than not in those rare case from a different set of principles, but agreements do cross paths. And we can be civil -- remember my statement, "in comparison to... /// ...tame provincial conservatism."

FGFM said...

I'm a liberal and I don't have a problem saying that both Ann Coulter and David Horowitz are national treasures.

Oh, they're precious alright.


Christopher reads from Hitch-22: A Memoir