Common Sense Comes to Town!

Common sense is the most fairly distributed thing in the world, for each one thinks he is so well-endowed with it that even those who are hardest to satisfy in all other matters are not in the habit of desiring more of it than they already have. (Descartes)

The Fine Line between Trendy and Tendentious

Posted on | November 16, 2011 | No Comments

In his first original post on, Renart Léveillé summarizes an online documentary : Theodor Herzl, the anti-Semitic side of Zionism . This post creates a certain uneasiness, if only because of the sensitivity required to do justice to such a topic without falling into the trap of propaganda. Unfortunately for my colleague, it may not have been as delicate a post. Allow me to straighten out a few things – criticism of criticism, so to speak.

Read Renart’s original post on

Let’s start with a few basic tenets of communication: every message requires a sender, a receiver, a neutral level and a context. Who is the sender? What is the context? The documentary hails from Israel, that much is clear. However, we should not believe that Israel is a homogeneous entity, just like Quebec isn’t either. Judaism is split into many different factions, just like Christianity. One of these is what we call anti-Zionism.

There are different reasons, sometimes ideological, sometimes dogma, which lead Jewish groups to oppose the state of Israel. However these are obvious in the documentary: not how the influence of the Supreme Court over the laws of Israel is rejected, for instance. Menahem Garelik, the director, is linked to the Baal Teshuva movement, which calls for a return of Jews to orthodoxy. The parallelism with ultraconservative Republicans clamouring for a theocratic state is obvious and while not totally adequate still gives an adequate picture of how representative these movements are in Judaism as a whole.

So much for the sender’s context. But why does it bother me so much? Because the receiver’s context differs greatly, far from Israel in this province where unconditional backing to Palestine is socially laudable. Renart presents this documentary as “Israel’s dark side” which generalizes and take for granted the facts presented (even though they are very biased). I could just as easily generalize on Quebec’s nationalist movement, its affinity to the FLQ’s murderous thugs and claim that sovereignty as a whole is a terrorist enterprise. This would be a grossly oversimplified argument yet seen by someone little aware of the context of these events (say, living in Argentina or Japan), it would still appear quite logical.

But what about the facts? They are deformed and cited out of context as well. Herzl and his admiration are both linked to the horrors of the Shoah… which happened 4 decades after these two men’s death (in 1904 and 1898 respectively). Herzel is insulted as an assimilated Jew, an adept of the Age of Enlightenment, lover of Wagner and thus, and anti-Semitic Jew. Just so you know, I enjoy Voltaire and I’m very fond of Tristan und Isolde and I’m still not morbidly anti-Semitic… The immense social pressure on Jews in 19th century Europe is entirely neglected – this caused many of them to convert to Christianity and back (composer Gustav Mahler is a good example). This anti-Semitic pressure actually came to light with the Dreyfus Affair, which actually stirred Herzl’s Zionist inspiration.

Should we then be surprised about the conflict in the latter’s conscience, of arguments trying to justify his own opinions, in his diary? We often seek gods where there are only men, blind to their amazing complexity.

It is almost trendy to oppose Israel in some left-leaning circles, mostly sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinian people but evacuating every shade of nuance from this centuries-old conflict. To put as much emphasis on a tendentious to support an argument is a dubious choice. Renart asks at the end of his post if he went to far with his choice of title. My dear Renard, I have to answer that unfortunately you didn’t go far enough: you didn’t probe the matter, the debate, and the motivations of those involved deeply enough.

However I am not going to question your motives and will be the last one to cast a stone at anyone. Open and enlightened debate is necessary in all circumstances. I would normally have been content with writing this in the comments, but as I’m a stakeholder in this new projct, and with the purpose of demonstrating how, always with respect, opinions may clash on this new media, I took the liberty of making this an independent post.


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