The Contextomists against Israel
Contextomy (from ‘context’ + ‘-tomy’) = the deliberate excision of relevant context
Please study the following three statements. Each separately, and even more so all three in combination, constitutes a strong indictment of U.S. policies in modern history. I have made up these statements, so they are, so to speak, hypothetical. But all are based on actual arguments I have heard often.
1) The tragedies at Hiroshima and Nagasaki are told here without a single mention of the World War II context, and, in this telling, appear to be the unprovoked result of a brutal, sadistic, murderous American policy. Obviously, no brief (or even long) statement can include all possibly relevant context, but absent any reference to the war at all, the statement is a clear case of the fallacy of contextomy, the excision of context.
2) The statement on the Mafia, similarly, fails to mention the fact that organized crime, after all, is crime. Whatever the shortcomings of law enforcement and the prisons, these must be seen in the context of crime. So statement #2, also, is an example of contextomy.
3) For the apologists of the Hitler regime, the bombing of Dresden is the single relevant event of the Second World War. In this statement we find no mention of Adolf Hitler or the Nazi regime, no mention of the war at all. Again,a case of contextomy.
Now to the question of how contecxtomy is used against Israel. It is an outstanding feature in the writings and agitation by Islamists and their allies. Mr. Jimmy Carter is perhaps the most prominent and the most conspicuous of these. Ralph Seliger, a left-leaning writer and supporter of Peace Now, describes Carter’s treatment of Israel’s much-discussed security fence:
Carter speaks of the "wall" as if it were not a response to hundreds of civilian deaths from terror attacks; he coldly speaks of Israeli actions as if they were simply malicious acts occurring in a vacuum.
Where Carter’s contextomies are often expressed in a language of self-conscious restraint, others know no restraint at all. There is, routinely, talk of Israeli aggression (in Gaza and elsewhere) and of massacres and war crimes by Israel, all without even the shadow of recognition of the Arab violence to which Israel responds. Sometimes even apparently neutral journalists casually mention “Israeli treatment of Palestinians” as a key problem in the world, without the context in which this “treatment” occurs.
I obviously cannot hope to portray here the whole of the Israel-Arab conflict. Many others have attempted such desccriptions, from various points of view, and with varying degrees of success. But whatever one’s point of view, there are at least three factors, as I see them, that need to be faced. I consider these to be the ineluctable basics for any discussion of Israel/Palestine, and I suggest that a systematic exclusion of these factors results in contextomy.
A) As soon as Israel was created in 1948 (under a 1947 decision of the United Nations), the new state was attacked by the armies of all its Arab neighbors: Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Lybia assisted, as did armed Palestinian forces. Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel , Chapters 11 and 12, gives a convenient and reliable account, and does not shirk from relating the Deir Yassin violence that was perpetrated by Jews.
B) Continued military aggression agains the Jewish state – which includes the current missile attacks from Gaza – has never stopped, and is, to one extent or another, supported by the leadership of all major Palestinian organizations. Currently Hamas openly declares its right to bombard Jewish population centers; the PLO furnishes somewhat less explicitly support for the violence, by celebrating the “martyrs” of Palestinian terror groups and other hate propaganda against Jews. The MEMRI website offers continuous reporting on this Arab violence, among its other important information.
C) Anti-semitic sentiments, to judge by public opinion polls and a reading of Arab media, seem to be the norm in Arab populations. The Pew Charitable Trust reported in 2008: “anti-Jewish sentiments are almost universal in the three Arab nations surveyed--95% or more in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt say they have an unfavorable opinion of Jews.” Of particular interest is the overwhelming endorsement of Holocaust denial by Arab writers and journalists. Robert Wistrich’s A Lethal Obsession, in its Chapter Nineteen, gives the chilling details.
The term “contextomy” is of relatively recent origin, and has been used by other writers to describe a narrower phenomenon than the one I describe here, viz. the partial quoting of a source for purpose of distorting its meaning. If a critic were to write “There may be people who find this movie absolutely fascinating, but I am not one of them,” and if the movie’s P.R. man then quotes this critic as having said “Absolutely fascinating,” that would be a piece of contextomy in the narrow sense.
One way of describing the fallacy of contextomy as I describe it here is to say that it is a one-sided argument. But I find “one-sidedness” too weak an expression. We are all one-sided in one way or another. The fallacy of contextomy emphasizes the willful, flagrant one-sidedness of those who have an axe to grind. I see it as quite different from the (mild) one-sidedness of most writers who express a point of views.
The fallacy of contextomy in the narrower sense of quoting out of context is ably discussed by the philosopher Gary Curtis on his website Fallacyfiles.
May 9, 2011
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