Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Notes on Anti-Semitism

The charge of 'anti-Semitism', the fear of being labelled 'anti-Semitic', the fear of somehow giving comfort to fascism and racism - these are the materials from which the current Israeli and Zionist push-back against the rising success and prominence of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (approaching its 49th year) is made. 

To be labelled anti-Semitic - I've had it done to me, in the pages of the Irish Times, and it's not much fun - is, in the wake of the Holocaust, to be tarred with a very unpleasant, and potentially very dangerous, brush.  It's to be put beyond acceptable debate or discussion or conversation; to be seen as racist; to be seen as denying the humanity of the Jewish people, and so on.   For anyone who wishes to take part in public discussion, who has an interest in the values traditionally associated with liberal Western culture and politics since the Enlightenment, such a label is deeply damaging and corrosive.  In Ireland, where the public and political culture is relatively sympathetic to Palestinian rights and where there is not a Zionist lobby of any significance, such a label is ugly and harmful.  In the United States, Britain or France, such a smear can destroy careers and shred reputations.

What these struggles over language, rhetoric and terminology represent is the sense that, in Foucault's famous words, 'discourse is the power to be seized', that the way that understanding of the contest between Zionism and Israel, on the one hand, and the movements for Palestinian liberation, on the other, is framed is crucial to the way that contest will take shape.  So, of course, we see the term 'anti-Semitism' thrown around discussions of Israel and of Zionism on an all-too regular basis.  Yet the very power of the charge of anti-Semitism has led to its overuse, and to the significant evacuation of much precision from the term.  If the activities of Einsatzrgruppen in the Ukraine in the summer of 1941 are held to be the measure of the position of a handful of people manning a protest outside an Israeli Embassy in a European capital, and vice versa, then, clearly, we're on very confused moral (not to mention historical or philosophical) terrain.
Nevertheless, this has not stopped Israeli and Zionist attempts precisely to equate 'anti-Zionism' (opposition to and critique of a political ideology which underpins the activities of a state) with 'anti-Semitism' (essentialising hostility to all Jews everywhere merely for the alleged sin of being Jewish).  The most recent iteration of this in the Anglophone world has been the effort in Britain to damage the Labour Party and particularly the left of the Labour Party, by attacking Ken Livingstone, and by extension Jeremy Corbyn, for their 'anti-Zionism'.

Here are three articles to help us negotiate this morass, taken from the Verso website:

Yitzhak Laor is an Israeli writer and radical.  His essay 'Tears of Zion', published in the New Left Review some years ago, is a devastating attack on the 'liberal' Israeli 'left', as embodied in persons such as the novelists Amos Oz and David Grossman, beloved of the Irish Times and the Dalkey Book Festival.  Here he is on the Corbyn/Livingstone affair:

Corbyn and Israel: Concept and Reality

Tariq Ali, still streetfighting and still correct:

And Alain Badiou, redoubtable French philosopher of the radical Left:


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