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. Hiroshima and Nagasaki


According to the U.S. Department of Energy the immediate effects of the blast killed approximately 70,000 people in Hiroshima.[44] Estimates of total deaths by the end of 1945 from burns, radiation and related disease, the effects of which were aggravated by lack of medical resources, range from 90,000 to 166,000.[1][45] Some estimates state up to 200,000 had died by 1950, due to cancer and other long-term effects.[3][6][46] Another study states that from 1950 to 2000, 46% of leukemia deaths and 11% of solid cancer deaths among bomb survivors were due to radiation from the bombs, the statistical excess being estimated to 94 leukemia and 848 solid cancers.[47] At least eleven known prisoners of war died from the bombing.  (Wikipedia)


On the sixth of August in 1945, U.S. military aircraft dropped the first atomic bomb in history, killing somewhere between 90,000 and 166,000 people in one day, leaving many others to die painful deaths later, demolishing the city completely.  Three days later, the US again attacked a Japanese city, Nagasaki, killing another 70,000 or so, again demolishing a city.  No country in history, before or after, has been as destructive as the United States on these two occasions.



2. The American Mafia


The history of the American Mafia, also known as Cosa Nostra, has been one of shameful persecution by federal, state, and local government.


The notorious Kefauver Committee in the US Senate (1950-51), no less than the equally nefarious activities of Senator Joseph McCarthy, ran roughshod over the rights of accused, euphemistically called "witnesses."  Kefauver and his associates selectively accused Italian Americans appealing to popular prejudices against this immigrant group.


Even long before the Kefauver persecutions, and after them until this day, Cosa Nostra members have have routinely been victims of police brutality, what the police call "alley court," especially in the larger cities.  Once imprisoned, these inmates -- disproportionally Italian American -- frequently fall prey to corrupt and brutal prison administrators and guards.


Finally the press, especially the tabloid press, has seen fit to fan anti-Italian prejudice with its lurid descriptions of organized crime.   Hardly a day goes by without the appearance of sensationalist articles, regularly featuring Italian-American names so as to further enflame popular prejudices.


3. Dresden


We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burnt to death, burning people ran to and fro, burnt coaches filled with civilian refugees, dead rescuers and soldiers, many were calling and looking for their children and families, and fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from.

I cannot forget these terrible details. I can never forget them.

Lothar Metzger, survivor.[70]



From February 13 to February 15 of 1945, Some 3600 British and American airplanes attacked the 700-year old city of Dresden in eastern Germany.  Some 65,000 fire bombs were dropped, leaving the city in rubble.  Worst of all, perhaps as many as a quarter of a million people (according to a British historian) were killed, many others were permanently wounded.  Here was a war crime of previously unheard-of dimensions.



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 Carters treatment of Israels 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 Carters 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 ones 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 Dershowitzs 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 Wistrichs A Lethal Obsession, in its Chapter Nineteen, gives the chilling details.


About contextomy


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 movies 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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