Johan Galtung an Anti-Semite? I Don’t Think So!
By: Richard E. Rubenstein May 1, 2012
Is Johan Galtung, a leading figure in peace research and peace practice, an anti-Semite? I have known him for twenty years, and I’m sure that he is not. But he has spoken in such a way as to give apparent credence to this charge, which complicates the issue.
The burden of Galtung’s argument is that there is increasing danger that, as the American Empire continues to decline and Western economies deteriorate further, Jews will be seen as the source of these failures and scapegoated as they were in interwar Germany. Johan is in touch with the growing anger and desperation of working-class and middle-class people in the U.S. and in Europe – a state of frustration which is already producing a resurgence of right-wing nationalism and rise of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, especially in nations in which Jews play a prominent role in the news media, investment banking, and higher education. The cure for this ominous malaise, he thinks, is to solve the structural problems that are impoverishing working people and throwing nations into debt, as well as generating useless foreign wars and interventions. Meanwhile, as an antidote to anti-Semitism, he advocates discussing the Jewish role in society openly instead of maintaining current taboos.
Three of Galtung’s recent assertions are particularly worth mentioning, since the manner in which they were presented, particularly in a recent speech in Norway, has convinced many people that they not merely anti-taboo but anti-Jewish.
(1) People should read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and consider its implications for Jewish security.
Galtung’s recommendation that people read this notorious anti-Semitic forgery, which asserts the existence of a Jewish plot to take over the world and run it from Jerusalem, was bound to produce astonishment, confusion, and anger in many of his listeners. I understand what he meant by this, however, since he discussed it at a recent meeting in Virginia that I attended. First, he noted the rising rage in Europe over austerity programs introduced in response to the sovereign debt crisis. Then, he remarked on the prominence of Jewish-owned companies like Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, et al. in the field of investment banking. Finally, he called attention to the fact that the main theme of the Protocols is that Jews will achieve control over the world’s nations by plunging them into debt and taking advantage of this indebtedness to advance their own interests.
Was Galtung reviewing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion favorably? Of course not! He understands very well the role that this work played in the thinking of the Nazis and subsequent anti-Semitic movements. His point, as I understand it, is to encourage Jewish Americans and others to understand their possible vulnerability to this sort of propaganda in the light of the public role played by prominent Jewish investment bankers, financiers, and traders in typical Wall Street machinations. Then, having understood this role, Jews can attempt to counteract it by working to change the existing economic system in the same way, say, that J Street is working to change the existing Middle East policy system despite the machinations of AIPAC.
The problem, in my view, is not that Galtung is wrong either in his critique of the current system or in his perception that, should the economy tip over again, Jews could well be scapegoated. Two issues are of concern:
First, the role played by Jewish interests in the current financial system can easily be overstated. George Soros is Jewish, Warren Buffett is not – and what difference does it make anyhow? This is something that requires investigation, if one wants to investigate it, rather than issuing conclusory statements that may lead some people to assume the essential correctness of the Protocols.
Second, as Johan understands, the system that is making the poor poorer, the rich richer, and everyone more insecure is predatory capitalism, which would exist more or less in its current form with or without Jews. His formulation of the problem, however, may lead listeners to reach a conclusion which he does not share: that the system is essentially “Jewish.” In short, the cure for anti-Semitism, in the way that he is administering it here, may unintentionally exacerbate the disease.
(2) Particularly in the United States, Jews dominate the news media and use their position to advocate narrowly pro-Israel (anti-Iranian, etc.) policies.
Mearsheimer and Walt made a similar point in their 2007 book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. My view is that it conveys a partial truth about the American news media and U.S. Middle East policy. But there are two problems with this sort of statement, parallel to those noted above in the case of the Protocols. First, while Jews occupy many important positions in the media world, it is easy to overstate their “control.” The list of news organizations in which they play minor roles, if any, is very long, and there is a nasty tendency to consider organizations like the Washington Post “Jewish” because a Jewish family once owned them, even though they have been run for decades by Gentiles. Moreover, an outfit like Time-Warner is responsible to its directors and shareholders, not just to management officials who may be Jewish.
More important, the notion that a pro-Israel stance on the part of many media outlets is mainly a result of Jewish influence rather than other factors is another hypothesis that requires proof. Is Fox News, say, or CNN controlled by some cabal of unidentified Jews? Or are their views responsive to other interests, such as those of military-industrial corporations, the national security establishment, pro-Israel evangelicals, etc.? As Stephen Zunes wrote of Mearsheimer and Walt’s book, “There is something quite convenient and discomfortingly familiar about the tendency to blame an allegedly powerful and wealthy group of Jews for the overall direction of an increasingly controversial U.S. policy. Indeed, like exaggerated claims of Jewish power at other times in history, such an explanation absolves the real powerbrokers and assigns blame to convenient scapegoats.”
In my view, there is nothing wrong with Johan inviting us to consider the role of Jewish media owners and executives in shaping attitudes toward U.S. foreign policy. As he says, that sort of inquiry could generate the kind of healthy debate that the Mearsheimer-Walt book did, and perhaps help American Jews to avoid being scapegoated, say, for a disastrous future war against Iran. Down with the taboo! But the assertion that “Jewish control” explains the news media’s editorial and reportorial biases can be seen as a form of scapegoating in itself.
(3) Israel’s Mossad may have some connection with the Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Breivik.
Anybody who knows Johan Galtung understands that he sometimes “shoots from the hip,” offering grounded intuitions to provoke listeners or readers to think about previously unimagined possibilities. Sometimes, these “educated guesses” seem inspired, as when he speculated, based on his understanding of terrorist psychology and ideology, that the probable target of UA Flight 93 commandeered by al Qaeda was the CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia. Occasionally, they seem merely cranky.
Galtung has already stated that his statement about Mossad and Breivik was a mere hypothesis. One can see why he might have made this theoretical connection, since Mossad, one of the world’s most powerful and efficient intelligence organizations, is believed to have played a role in various anti-Islamic movements on several continents, and Breivik has declared himself a passionate Zionist. Of course, this does not prove anything. If it were not for Johan’s statements about Jewish media moguls and the Protocols, one would simply label the Mossad-Breivik comment a Galtungian intuition perhaps warranting further research. As it is, however, many observers are labeling it evidence of anti-Jewish paranoia.
I think that Galtung’s main difficulty, in all this brouhaha, has been to speak carelessly and somewhat peremptorily about highly sensitive matters, previously taboo, that require much care and precision of speech in order to avoid arousing post-traumatic fears and giving an impression of insensitivity to people’s basic needs. One does not overturn a well-entrenched taboo by engaging in the verbal equivalent of flag-burning.
Johan Galltung is not an anti-Semite – a term whose misuse has robbed it of much meaning. (“An anti-Semite used to be someone who didn’t like Jews. Now it means someone Jews don’t like.”) He remains as devoted as ever to the cause of peaceful conflict transformation. I think that this will become clear as he takes the opportunity to explain his views more fully in the coming weeks.
Rich’s piece was originally published via Facebook.