Sunday, October 2, 2016

Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism (Again)

A is antisemitism.  B is anti-Zionism.  You can be an A without being a B.  (This describes a portion of the US evangelical movement.)  You can be a B without being an A.  (This describes me.)  You can be both A and B.  (Hamas.)  You can be neither A nor B.  (Anti-Defamation League.)

It’s really not that difficult, but public debate, not only in the US but also Europe and elsewhere, is constantly tripped up by it.  I’m reacting to an op-ed in today’s New York Times in which a Jewish student at Brown just doesn’t get it.  He denounces the left on his campus as antisemitic for refusing to include Jewish groups that support the Israeli government in its coalitions.  He equates Zionism with “Jewish rights”, which means, for him, a position like mine is unthinkable.  Unfortunately, a lot of anti-Zionists share his assumptions.

There are two complications that might lead a reasonable person to be unable to disentangle the A and B of this situation.  One is that it arises in the context of coalition politics, which is always tricky.  Progressive groups at Brown don’t want to share their coalitions with organizations that support Zionism.  I can understand that.  I can also understand a coalition based on the principle that its members disagree about fundamental things but have agreed to cooperate on a particular issue.  It’s always a judgment call.  It’s not essentially different from a coalition on, say, ending the death penalty deciding whether or not to include a religious group that is also actively against abortion rights.  There are no universal principles to adhere to in these cases, and the costs of a decision don’t disappear just because the benefits seem to be more compelling.

The second complication is created by the government of Israel, which from the beginning has claimed to represent all Jews everywhere.  That doesn’t justify antisemitism, but it encourages it.  And then it leads to a circular logic in which Israeli leaders point to acts of antisemitism in other countries to justify their policies against Palestinians, which they defend by saying that if you oppose them you are antisemitic, and so on.

The acid test at Brown or anywhere else is whether organizations exclude individual Jews for simply being Jewish or Jewish organizations that are not pro-Zionist.  If so, we are talking about plain vanilla antisemitism.  Otherwise, it’s a political dispute about colonialism, nationalism and social justice: who has the rights to what.


ProGrowthLiberal said...

"You can be a B without being an A. (This describes me.)"

Me too. Related - you can be Irish Protestant and still hope that Ulster will leave the UK and join the Republic of Ireland.

Bruce Webb said...

The I-P problem as presently constituted is insoluble. Period. And the reason is simple. And also can't be addressed openly except (maybe) in restricted fora like this one. Because to do so puts one in a place where that Brown person would feel fortunate.

The issue is this one. Some portion of the Likud Coalition and/or its membership is Eliminationist. You can set this portion at 1% or 10% or 30% or perhaps 51% or more. But it exists. If given its head it would treat the Book of Joshua as an operations manual with the Palestinians serving in place of the Canaanites in the interest of reclaiming the Promised Land in its Greater Israel form.

I can name names. From a fairly modest knowledge base. Experts can name more names with more specificity. But as long as the equation preferred by the Israeli Right is member of a party supporting Likud = Likud = Prime Minister of Israel = Israel = World Jewry, naming ANY name makes you by (Likud's preferred definition) an anti-Semite. "But the Minister for This said That----". Boom you have invoked a version of Godwin's Law and not only called Bibi Hitler but also implicated the nice people at your local Hillel. And no "But I just meant him or her and their explicit words advocating the expulsion or killing of Israeli Arabs in the interest of a Jewish only Greater Israel" doesn't get you the needed anti-anti-Semite cred.

It would be one thing if this epistemic closure was invisible to all its members but it isn't. There are leaders who are fully aware of its contradictions but who exploit it in what I can only describe as open and notorious fashion. Instead leaders like Sharon and Bibi have posed to the world as being JUST OUTSIDE the cray cray and so being the only possible intermediators and interlocutors. And everyone who denies that is self-hating (if a Jew) or a flat out anti-Semite (if not).

And of course there is a mirror version of this. Which makes the situation even more insoluble. I was recently a resident of a Graduate Student Co-Op in Berkeley that was fairly heavily involved in BDS. Including some Iranian nationals. And I can tell you there wasn't a Death to Israel guy or gal among them. Which doesn't mean such don't exist, and not just on the fringes of the movement.

Insoluble I said, insoluble I meant. There are just too many people with too much influence (even if not matched by pure overall numbers) too close to the levers. I don't even have a point here. Which is the point. I gave up and I give up.

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