This report is written by Daniel Chernilo, who is speaking in an online event on Wednesday 21 July in English about Jadue’s candidature and the left wing antisemitism that he embodies. Please follow this link to register for a free ticket: Chile’s Corbyn? Daniel Jadue and left antisemitism.
Jews in Chile have been worried over the past few months. For the first time ever, there was an openly antisemitic candidate positioning himself as a serious contender in this year’s Presidential election.
Communist party member Daniel Jadue, who was running as part of a braoder left wing coalition, has made a career out of making antisemitic remarks. The rhetoric is poisonous and familiar: Jews are Zionists, right-wing and dishonest. In this narrative, Zionism is a particularly perfidious ideology, Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state and accusations of antisemitism against Jadue are made in bad faith in an effort to de-legitimise his radicalism and his ‘criticism of Israel’.
One of his special favourite defences against the charge of antisemitism is that he is a grandson of Palestinians, and so is himself a ‘Semite’. This defence takes away from Jews even the ability to name the hatred which would exclude them from membership the community of decent people.
Jadue was widely expected to win the primary, but he lost it against his only rival. Gabriel Boric, a 35-year-old MP from the southern region of Magallanes, beat Jadue 60-40 and will now compete in November, hopefully as the only presidential candidate of a united left. Boric’s gentle manners, self-critical attitude and positive vision for the future contrasted heavily with Jadue’s bad temper and authoritarianism.
Boric’s victory has produced a huge sigh of relief for most Jews. They may or may not vote for him, but a much greater danger has been averted for the moment. Many hope that because Jadue’s antisemitism was so mainstream and so clear, people will have learnt to recognise it and to avert the danger in the future. Chile, and in particular the Chilean left, may have learnt from the experience, and from the discussions and debates which they have been through, to eradicate the insidious presence of antisemitic rhetoric.
This report is written by Daniel Chernilo, who is speaking in an online event on Wednesday 21 July in English about Jadue’s candidature and the left wing antisemitism that he embodies. Please follow this link to register for a free ticket: Chile’s Corbyn? Daniel Jadue and left antisemitism.
It’s a free online event, but we ask people to register: For details and to register, follow this link
Chile is experiencing its own Corbyn moment. Daniel Jadue, the leader of the Chilean Communist Party, is a serious candidate for President.
Progressive Chileans who oppose antisemitism are warning of the danger of Daniel Jadue. The leader of the Chilean Communist Party embraces a similar left antisemitism to that of the Jeremy Corbyn movement, which rose, and then fell, on the British left.
In a radio interview, Jadue said that some of the “alternative media in the country are being bought by the Zionist community of Chile.”
And, as we have come to expect, he has supporters who are ready to accuse the Jewish Community in Chile of inventing antisemitism in a bad faith attempt to silence his ‘criticism of Israel’ and to sabotage him:
Daniel Chernilo will tell the story of Jadue’s campaign for President, and of the antisemitic support that he is galvanizing.
Daniel is Professor of Sociology at Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez in Chile and of Social and Political Thought at Loughborough University. He writes on nationalism, cosmopolitanism and social and political theory. His latest book, ‘Debating Humanity: Towards a Philosophical Sociology’ was published by CUP in 2017. He has just finished, together with another former student of Robert Fine, translating Robert’s ‘Political Investigations’ into Spanish.
It’s a free online event, but we ask people to register: For details and to register, follow this link
Despite the bad faith insinuations, progressive Chilean Jews like us can’t support Daniel Jadue’s presidential bid. Not because he is a communist, but because he is an unrepentant antisemite
These are exciting times in Chile. For the first time in our history, a new constitution will be drafted by a convention
that is not only fully democratic, but has gender parity and representation for indigenous peoples.
A further boost to Chilean democracy is the presidential election due to be held in November. As in any election, debate is fierce. So much so that it has reached Haaretz, a newspaper based 15,000 kms away from Chile. As politically engaged Jews, we would like to contribute to that debate about the left in Chile, and about the suitability of the Communist Party’s candidate for the presidency, Daniel Jadue.
Let us start with simple facts. As we write, there are at least three left-wing candidates. Many Chilean Jews, like us, support the candidacies not only of Daniel Jadue but also of Gabriel Boric and Paula Narváez. The reasons behind supporting one or another candidacy are those of normal everyday national politics.
The argument that Jadue is the only genuine left-wing candidate, the assumption of a recent Haaretz op-ed, flies in the face of the concrete evidence of policy proposals by the other two candidates. More gravely, it neglects the views of a huge group of Chileans who want change, but are doing so by supporting other movements, parties and candidates.
It has also been argued that when people raise criticisms against Jadue, they do so because he is a member of the Communist Party (Chile’s Jewish Leaders Are Using Antisemitism to Bash a pro-Palestinian Leftist. Again).
We are under no illusions that in this country there is still a significant anti-communist culture, originating in the opposition to and brutal repression of left-wing parties during the Pinochet era and before, and that they will try any trick in the book to derail Jadue’s candidacy.
But there are also those who have long respected and, indeed, admired the contribution that Communist parties have made to Chile and Latin America more broadly. They are able to critically assess Communist candidates, based on their virtues and flaws, achievements and failures.
Richard Falk, who has for years now embraced an explicitly antisemitic worldview, who pushes 9/11 conspiracy fantasy and endorses Gilad Atzmon’s antisemitic book, is the public face of this campaign. He has referred to a ‘Palestinian Holocaust’ and he has published an antisemitic cartoon on his blog.
The text that he is asking ‘academics, artists and intellectuals’ (as if other people weren’t important) to sign:
This text opposes self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis, and opposes the Palestinian aspiration to statehood.
The whole text is as follows:
1- Israel has subjected the Palestinian people for 73 years to an ongoing catastrophe, known as the Nakba, a process that included massive displacement, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity;
2- Israel has established an apartheid regime on the entire territory of historic Palestine and directed toward the whole of the deliberately fragmented Palestinian people; Israel itself no longer seeks to hide its apartheid character, claiming Jewish supremacy and exclusive Jewish rights of self-determination in all of historic Palestine through the adoption in 2018 by the Knesset of a new Basic Law;
3- The apartheid character of Israel has been confirmed and exhaustively documented by widely respected human rights organizations, Adalah, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, and in the UN ESCWA academic study that stresses the importance of defining Israeli apartheid as extending to people rather than limited to space, [“Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” UN ESCWA, 2017];
4- Israel periodically unleashes massive violence with devastating impacts on Palestinian civilian society, particularly against the population of Gaza, which endures widespread devastation, collective trauma, and many deaths and casualties, aggravated by being kept under an inhuman and unlawful blockade for over 14 years, and throughout the humanitarian emergency brought about by the COVID pandemic;
5- Western powers have facilitated and even subsidized for more than seven decades this Israeli system of colonization, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid, and continue to do so diplomatically, economically, and even militarily.
i- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights which stipulates in its first article that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” And taking account that the inalienable right of self-determination is common Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Political Rights, and as such, a legal and ethical entitlement of all peoples.
ii- The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid which stipulates in Article I that “apartheid is a crime against humanity and that inhuman acts resulting from the policies and practices of apartheid and similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination, as defined in article II of the Convention, are crimes violating the principles of international law, in particular the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and constituting a serious threat to international peace and security.” The States Parties to this Convention undertake in accordance with Article IV:
“(a) To adopt any legislative or other measures necessary to suppress as well as to prevent any encouragement of the crime of apartheid and similar segregationist policies or their manifestations and to punish persons guilty of that crime;
“(b) To adopt legislative, judicial and administrative measures to prosecute, bring to trial and punish in accordance with their jurisdiction persons responsible for, or accused of, the acts defined in article II of the present Convention, whether or not such persons reside in the territory of the State in which the acts are committed or are nationals of that State or of some other State or are stateless persons.”
The endorsers of this document:
A- Declare their categorical rejection of the apartheid regime set up on the territory of historic Palestine and imposed on the Palestinian people as a whole, including refugees and exiles wherever they might be in the world.
B- Call for the immediate dismantling of this apartheid regime and the establishment of a democratic constitutional arrangement that grants and implements on all the inhabitants of this land equal rights and duties, without any discrimination relative to race, ethnicity, religion or gender, and which respects and enforces international law and human rights conventions, and in particular gives priority to the long deferred right of return of Palestinian refugees expelled from their towns and villages during the creation of the State of Israel, and subsequently.
C- Urge their governments to cease immediately their complicity with Israel’s apartheid regime, to join in the effort to call for the dismantling of apartheid structures and their replacement by an egalitarian democratic governance that treats everyone subject to its authority in accordance with their rights and with full respect for their humanity, and to make this transition in a manner sensitive to the right of self-determination enjoyed by both peoples presently inhabiting historic Palestine.
D- Call for the establishment of a National Commission of Peace, Reconciliation, and Accountability to accompany the transition from apartheid Israel to a governing process sensitive to human rights and democratic principles and practices. In the interim, until such a process is underway, issue a call for the International Criminal Court to launch a formal investigation of Israeli political leaders and security personnel guilty of perpetuating the crime of apartheid.
I want to articulate my concern over what I believe amounts to antisemitic loyalty tests that are circulating far and wide amongst academic colleagues. I believe they construct antisemitic, hostile environments for both staff and students.
They all say fundamentally the same thing:
This is foundational to our scholarship and to our morality:
1. Israel is apartheid
3. Smash Israel
If you don’t agree, you’re not a scholar and you’re not moral.
This is the simplest form: Tweets with “pass it on”:
This one is endorsed not by individuals but by departments and centres.
It constructs the following views as being foundational to gender studies and also to personal morality. If you don’t affirm them, you’re not a proper gender scholar, and you’re not a proper person:
1. We do not subscribe to a “both sides” rhetoric
2. Israel is apartheid
3. [This understanding of] feminist anti-racist, and anti-colonial activism … informs the foundation of our interdiscipline
4. Palestinians are indigenous, Israelis are settler-colonialists
5. “Palestine is a Feminist Issue”
6. Palestinian right to return
7. “we will not tolerate any censorship of nor retribution against Palestinian scholars” – this is code for institutions taking antisemitism seriously
8. “the Palestinian people … remain united in their demands to end their oppression”This creates a hostile environment for Jews who work and who study in these departments and centres. The official policy of these centres is that people (most Jews and their allies in the fight against antisemitism) who do not subscribe to these principles are not genuine feminists, scholars or moral human beings.
Here are more, but they’re all over the place:
This next one is pathetic – in the genuine sense of the word. Jewish Studies scholars put out the “Jerusalem Declaration” to try to discredit IHRA and offer an alternative. JD offers a deal to the antisemites: ‘If you allow us Jews to stay in the community of the good, then in return, we’ll kosherize you as not antisemitic.’
These loyalty testers respond: “no.” Kosherizing elements of our antisemitic discourse as not antisemitic isn’t enough. You have to affirm our antisemitic positions. That’s the test. This is a real test for the predominantly Jewish profs behind the Jerusalem Declaration. Some of them won’t be able to pass the loyalty test, some will. But whether they then understand what has happened, whether then understand the hostile environment they have been key to legitimising, is another question.
CST always says that when there’s conflict in the Middle East, antisemitic incidents spike. This has been happening now. It seems to me that a key response to this is to insist that people who build the antisemitic common sense, and schoarly discourse, cannot be allowed just to condemn the attacks. They have to be held responsible for the demonizing discourses by which people feel licensed to treat Jews as demonic.
UCL put out a statement against antisemitism, in particular antisemitism against its own students, on campus.
UCL staff put out a statement protesting against that statement.
We published this article many years ago, by Steve Cohen, who wrote “That’s Funny You Don’t Look Antisemitic”. He was responding to a decision to boycott Israeli scholars ‘“a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from” Israeli governmental policies’. it makes the point that loyalty tests, making Jews grovel, are specifically hostile in relation to Jews.
One more thing. I am seeing, more and more, Muslim antisemites, or antisemites who are assumed to be Muslim, being racialized by right wing anti-foreigner and racist discourse. There is a lot of this in London, focused on the Mayor, also focused against Priti Patel the Home Secretary, who is of African Asian Hindu descent. But many on the the far right are saying about antisemitism: “Look at these uncivilized backward Muslims, they have no place in our society”. One implication is that “we” should deal with “our” Muslims like the tough Israelis deal with theirs. Which, itself of course, shares the left wing demonizing discourse of Israel, but puts a positive spin onto it. I think racists tagging on to opposition to antisemitism is a significant phenomenon. Of course some racists, like David Irving, hate the Jews more than they hate the Muslims.
To clarify the point about the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan: I’m not at all saying he is antisemitic. Indeed he has made a great effort to say the right things on antisemitism and to make connections and take advice from the Jewish community. So as much as any Labour member who remained in the party through the Corbyn leadership, he’s got a good record. Having said that, there are issues from his past, and his work as a lawyer before going into politics, which relate to some antisemitic politics. But most people would judge, I am one, that his record as mayor is good.
My point was that in spite of his actual good record, there is a tendency for him to be racialized as being symbolic of, and supportive of, the worst of the Palestine solidarity movement. By which I mean, the antisemitic aspect of it. Or to use his formal responsibility for law and order in London as a hook to pull him into responsibility for the antisemitic hate crimes. He’s presented as being symbolic of the Muslim take over of Britain.
1. loyalty tests are coming – they create toxic, antisemitic, hostile environments for Jews – colleagues and students – but this will also arise in other professions and in other institutions and communities.
2. two states and talk of peace and coexistence are now prohibited within most Palestine Solidarity discourse
3. The position of Jewish Studies, Israel Studies, and Centres for the study of antisemitism – the spaces from which the “Jerusalem Declaration” emerged – is very difficult now.
4. opposing antisemitism is constructed as a Trumpist/Zionist plot to destroy academic freedom and to silence criticism of Israel. The Livingstone Formulation. https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2016/04/29/the-livingstone-formulation-david-hirsh-2/
5. The far right constructing antisemitism as a foreign, Muslim, immigration, problem of the ‘backwardness’ of Muslim and other ethnic minorities – this will be true of anti-black racism too, I suspect particularly in America, but I haven’t seen much of that.
I want a “Free Palestine”. I want it very much, I want it genuinely, I want it because it’s right and because many Palestinians who suffer absolutely deserve it; but also because it would be good for Israel, because it would be good for the whole Middle East, because it would be good for democratic politics and culture everywhere.
I also believe that the slogan “Free Palestine” can function as an antisemitic dog whistle.Both. What is a dog whistle? It makes a sound that only dogs can hear.
In politics, a dog whistle is an element of rhetoric that a particular constituency will hear and understand in a particular way, while other people watching might hear or see nothing significant or wrong. For example, Donald Trump:
“We have to have strong borders. We have to keep the drugs out of our country. Right now we’re getting the drugs, they’re getting the cash. We need strong borders. We cannot give amnesty. I want to build the wall. We need the wall. The Border Patrol. ICE. They wall want the wall. We stop the drugs. We shore up the border. My first act will be to get all of the Drug Lords, we have some bad ones. Bad Bad people in this country that have to go out. We’re going to get them out, we’re going to secure the border and once the border is secured at a later date we’ll make a determination as to the rest. But we have some bad hombres here and we’re going to get ’em out.”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AneeacsvNwU
There are ways of reading that text in which it is entirely both true and innocent. In the abstract. In and of itself.I’m writing now for the people who can judge that in the context of the 2016 Presidential election, this speech was racist. I’m one of those people. Other people can scroll on. There are other posts for you.
This text is a dog whistle text. It means one thing to people who don’t know. And it means another thing to people who do know.
To racists, it’s exciting.
To antiracists, and to many Mexicans, it’s urgently and clearly threatening.
And to lots of people watching, it means that Trump wants to stop drugs coming into America.So the slogan “Free Palestine” may be, in and of itself, not only legitimate but exactly right.
Just as you might think that keeping Mexican Drug Lords out of America, who you might think are bad hombres, is also not only legitimate but exactly the right thing to do.
Personally, I’m very strongly in favour of Free Palestine. I want a free, democratic, Palestine, at peace with its neighbours.
Yet “Free Palestine” in particular contexts, can be an expression of support for the elimination of Israel.
I’m not even against that in principle, in the abstract, in and of itself. If there was a long lasting genuine peace, like there is for example between France and Germany, Israelis and Palestinians might decide to bring the border down. They might, they might not. If they do, they won’t have to deal with me denouncing them.
But this slogan is not genuinely about the elimination of Israel by consent. It is, in the world that exists, about eliminating what they say is the evil apartheid state of Israel, by any means necessary. And eliminating Israel without the consent of the Israelis could not result in a Free Palestine, it probably couldn’t be achieved at all, and if it was, it would not result in freedom but in genocide.
This is the academic work of obfuscation in which the Jerusalem Declarationists specialize.
They imagine in their minds, ‘Free Palestine’ in the whole territory, without an Israel. And they say that in the abstract, the slogan, “in and of itself”, is not “on the face of it”, antisemitic. And in the utopian fantasy which exists only in their minds, it is indeed, not antisemitic.
But, as we’ve seen this weekend, the slogan does not appear “in and of itself”, it appears in the world.
It often appears in such a way as we might judge that, guided by the IHRA principle of context, it could, according to context, be antisemitic.
When “Free Palestine” is the slogan of a gang of men who are cruising through Jewish neighbourhoods threatening sexual violence, it becomes an antisemitic slogan.
And when “Free Palestine” is set up as a loyalty test for Jewish academics, it becomes an antisemitic slogan.
When it is spray painted on the door of a synagogue, or on the remnant of a wall of the Warsaw Ghetto, it becomes an antisemitic slogan.
When it is shouted, relentlessly, all day long, at a Jewish teacher, by pupils, it becomes an antisemitic slogan.
And then, the people who made such a point of defending a movement which aims to exclude Jews from the community, by setting up an assumption that they’re Zionists, meaning racists, are themselves partly responsible for the hostile environment they’ve helped to construct.
Academics and left wing politicos understand the concepts of ‘hostile environment’, ‘institutional racism’ and ‘dog whistle’. They invented those concepts and they live by those concepts. But when it comes to antisemitism, they play dumb, like the dumbest, most deplorable, Trump fanatic. They cling to literalist, abstract readings of texts and they refuse to contextualise those texts in the complex, material, social, world of history and of power.
Question: How do you respond to the following point by Harvard Prof. Derek Pensler: “The IHRA definition’s limitations have been made clear to me in work I have done in Canada as an expert witness in prosecutions for ‘willful promotion of hate,’ which is a criminal offense. The antisemitic discourse I have been asked to assess invariably contains references to Israel. I have found it difficult to invoke the IHRA definition because of its strong implication that highly critical but factually accurate statements about Israel are antisemitic. A clear distinction between conspiratorial fantasy and demonstrable reality, between unhinged and fact-based (even if intemperate) language about Israel, would make it easier for me to demonstrate the presence of the former, which is actionable, and to set aside the latter, which is not.” H/t: https://detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com/response…/
David Hirsh: It is not true that IHRA “implies” that accurate statements about Israel are antisemitic. IHRA does not define anything as antisemitic. It gives examples of things that we know are frequently antisemitic and says that these should be judged in the specific context of the case.
Penslar seems to define antisemitism as requiring “animus against Jews”. Which is clearly not right. Antisemitism is an objective and external social phenomenon and does not require malicious intent or hatred of Jews. “There are a great many people in the world who bear no animus against Jews but who are troubled by Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and want it to change.”https://fathomjournal.org/why-i-signed-the-jda-a…/
Question: So, a speech consisting of undisputed facts, in a particular context, can objectively be determined to be antisemitic?
David Hirsh: That’s not what I said. And it isn’t what IHRA says. But of course it’s true. Imagine a newspaper runs a campaign against street crime. Imagine that every day it carries on its front page a picture of a different black violent street criminal. Imagine each picture is real, and is of a person who is really a violent criminal. There. You have a racist narrative made up of elements each of which is true.
It’s the method. If you want to study or to define antisemitism, you have to look at antisemitism. If you look at contemporary antisemitism you’ll find that BDS is a key element of it.But this method doesn’t want to study or define antisemitism. It wants to study or define ‘boycotts in the abstract’. So it invents abstract boycotts to study which are not objectionable. And it thereby says that this boycott, against Israel, is therefore not antisemitic… “in and of itself”.Well that wasn’t our question. Is BDS antisemitic “in and of itself”?
Our question was, if these people, here, in the real world, are boycotting Israel, using the particular methods and discourses that they actually use, is that something we should be concerned about if we’re concerned about antisemitism?And the answer is, yes, you should. You should look at it, think about the context, and work out whether this particular manifestation is something to do with antisemitism.
But IHRA is a very tame document. IHRA doesn’t say anything at all about BDS.
But it would be reasonable to add BDS to IHRA’s list of examples of things which are often antisemitic, and to say that a judgment should be made of the case in question, taking into account context. Also taking into account the principle that ‘criticism of Israel is not antisemitic’.
Although IHRA, being a tame document, overstates the case. Because some criticism of Israel is antisemitic, and some criticism of Israel is not antisemitic.
Interestingly you could go even further, although IHRA doesn’t, because it is a tame document.
You could say: “some criticism of Israel which is similar to that leveled against any other democratic country” is antisemitic, even if it is not racist or bigoted when it is leveled against other democratic countries. Because Israel has specific particularities.
You could be an anarchist, and you could say you are for destroying every state. Fine. But saying you want to destroy Israel may be, according to context, specifically genocidal in a way that saying you want to destroy other states may not be.
Question: Regarding the newspaper, does the state now charge its owner with a crime?
David Hirsh: I thought we were talking about IHRA. IHRA does not say anything about what should be done about antisemitism. It is only an instrument to help an institution to judge what is antisemitic.
And indeed, antisemitism, and racism, are not a criminal offences.
Question: So you’d advise that, say, governments that adopt the IHRA not use it for any meaningful sanction? According the Pensler’s article, “In recent years, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism has been enshrined in policy and law by universities, civic organisations, and governments. This is bizarre, as the IHRA definition was developed for the purpose of data collection, not policy making, and its authors acknowledged its protean status.”
David Hirsh: Not at all. It should be used for a very meaningful purpose. It should be used as a framework for helping them to identify antisemitism.
It is important for, say governments, say football associations, say universities, say political parties, to know what is antisemitic and what is not antisemitic.
And it is good specifically for this meaningful purpose: It affirms that an institution understands that there is a form of antisemitism that often appears in the language of hostility to Israel and it affirms that this form of antisemitism is significant.We could have an interesting discussion about what a government or an institution should do when it finds antisemitism, but that is a separate issue from IHRA.
Or perhaps you feel that institutions should purposely avoid judging, or attaining the ability to judge, what is antisemitic and what isn’t, in order to avoid having to then decide what to do about it?
Question: We’ve come full circle.==> “We could have an interesting discussion about what a government or an institution should do when it finds antisemitism, but that is a separate issue from IHRA.”But it isn’t a “separate issue”, as the problematic–according to Penslar–IHRA definition is being used to justify sanction. My original comment pointed to his concern: “The IHRA definition’s limitations have been made clear to me in work I have done in Canada as an expert witness in prosecutions…” I appreciate your replies. I’ll leave the last word to you.
David Hirsh: Penslar says IHRA is being used to justify sanction. But there is nothing in IHRA that justifies sanction. So this is not an argument against IHRA.
The “is being used” argument is quite interesting. Some opponents of IHRA concede that there’s nothing wrong with the text of IHRA, except that the text is a trojan horse for a material reality which it doesn’t allow.
That is how they understand IHRA.
So what do they do? They draw up the JD, in the hope that it will do what they wrongly accuse IHRA of doing.
They hope that they can legitimise things in the abstract and that that legitimisation will then “be used” in the material world to legitimise real things.
BDS, Israel eliminationism, Nazi, colonial settler and apartheid analogies, irrational disproportionate and intemperate speech: they think that they can legitimise them in the abstract in the hope that they can then sneakily be “used to” legitimise them in the material world.
The sneakiness of the Jewish advocates of IHRA is in their own imagination; but they then emulate that sneakiness, that they have imputed onto those Jews, themselves!
So the point of the JD is indeed, the way it is used. It is used to stop institutions from adopting IHRA.
And it will be used to demobilise people who campaign against the real antisemitic movements which come together with BDS, Israel eliminationism, Nazi, colonial settler and apartheid analogies, irrational, disproportionate and intemperate speech, as their key elements.
Today is Yom HaZikaron. It is the day when Israelis remember those who were killed while on active duty for Israel’s armed services and Israelis who were killed in terrorist attacks.
The mis-match in how people think about Israel’s armed services is huge. Most good people in Europe and America think of Israel’s armed forces as racist machines designed to sustain an unjust system of imperialist domination. People have strange ideas about Jews. They have had for thousands of years. The practice of defining their own goodness in relation to the evil of Jews is an old one.
Israel was built by refugees from European antisemitism; by the undead Jews of the Shoah; by the Jews terrorised out of their homes by states which defined themselves as ‘Arab’ or as ‘Muslim’; by Jews who the USSR constructed as rootless cosmopolitan enemies of the working class. Of course it was also built by Jews whose families had lived in Jerusalem for hundreds and thousands of years.
There are about 15 million Jews in the world. They are not powerful but vulnerable yet they are constructed as having huge, evil, dishonest and threatening power.
Established armies invaded Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973 to try and destroy it and to try and kill the Jewish minority in the Middle East. As recently as 2014 we saw what can happen to minorities which do not have the means to defend themselves, but most people paid little attention to the genocide of the Yazidi people.
I think people who live in democratic states tend to under-value the ordinary practices and principles of democracy, rights, freedom and law. People imagine the democratic state is supposed to make everybody happy. But most people in the world would fight hard for a situation in which they could struggle for happiness and justice without much risk of being murdered.
People in Europe and America find it difficult even to imagine the danger of genocide. They can’t imagine what it would be like to have their state smashed. And if they imagine it, they imagine themselves as the killers, not themselves as the victims; and that frightens them more. Maybe not themselves precisely but ‘us’. ‘The Jews’ sit nicely between ‘me’ and ‘us’. They’re ‘us’ but not quite ‘us’.
And so they can’t imagine a situation in which our mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, have to learn war and put themselves at risk of killing or dying, to preserve the ordinary, imperfect state which enables our ordinary, imperfect lives.
It’s lovely that we’re able to be so complacent and decadent. It’s a genuine achievement. But it is disorienting and it puts us at risk. Our safety is made by the human beings who went before us. It’s not magic, it’s not the system, it’s not some kind of ‘-ism’. It is ironic that there is such a prohibition in our age against imagining ‘others’ to be inferior yet it is so normal for us to imagine our ancestors as inferior in every way. The past is another country and it is a country for which it is normal to have complete contempt.
But the democratic state was built by our ancestors, it didn’t appear by magic. Yes, fascism in Europe was defeated by people like Prince Philip, Winston Churchill, George Orwell and your gran. Get over it. In Israel people have a clearer understanding of what it’s like to be at risk. They’re descended, and in living memory, from victims of racism so effective that its victims were killed or expelled.
Every family in Israel has people who were in the wars of survival. Everybody knows somebody who’s died. Everybody has been close to attempts to kill them. Everybody knows that the world is not divided nicely into oppressors and oppressed, good and bad.
Israelis don’t want to rule over other people, they just want to be left alone. They don’t want utopia, they don’t need to love or to be loved by their neighbours; they just need ordinary lawful relationships. In fact everything good can follow from that.
So take one day off from thinking of Israel as an imperialist outpost, as the vanguard of militaristic surveillance; as the symbol of everything you hate and in contrast to which you perform your own goodness.Remember those Israelis who died so that their families could live. Just for one day. Just for one day, don’t be an asshole about it. Don’t say: “Yeah, but what about the Palestinians!” Just for one day. Just for one day think about this, not that.
My mum had 3 cousins who survived the Shoah. That was a lot for one family. 3 out of maybe a hundred.Those three, who were also supposed to die in the gas, died in warm beds in Israeli hospitals surrounded by children and grand children who loved them; children and grandchildren who spent part of their lives carrying guns and preparing to fight for their lives. One of them had a lovely wife, Irina, who told me the story of her brother. I’m sad that I don’t even remember his name.
He left Lodz, in Poland, where they lived, because he could see danger coming. He went east, because he was a leftie, and he joined Stalin’s Red Army. I wonder what the odds of surviving the whole of WWII in the Red Army were. But he did. He fought and defeated fascism.
And then he found a boat to Palestine. And on the boat they asked him what he could do. He said he couldn’t do anything, he said he had only ever been a soldier. They told him they needed soldiers. And he joined the Haganah, the Israeli army before there was an Israel. He died in 1948, strafed by a British imperial Spitfire, fighting to keep the Jews from putting themselves in a position where they could defend themselves.
It’s good to hear from you, but I wish it were in better circumstances. I agree with you that the Jerusalem Declaration moment is symbolic of something bad.
Perhaps in America the political polarisation of the Jewish community has been more marked, and for obvious reasons. In Britain we were squeezed out of the broad left, completely, but in America the broad left went for Biden, who is not at all antisemitic politically, and Jews were able to remain part of efforts to fight, and defeat Trump. In Britain we couldn’t defeat the populist right, and the populist right defeated the populist left. For the moment.
I fear that we might be in between the first and second spikes of populism. What feels like an ebbing of the populist moment might turn out to be like last summer was with respect to Covid. We need to be ready for a resurgence of populism and we need to understand that right and left populism are similar, and have a similar attractions to antisemitic ways of picturing the ‘enemy of the people’.
I noticed with some despair that Xxxx Xxxx signed the JD. I also noticed that other people who should know better signed it. People with big reputations, people with big Chairs, people with weight amongst Jews.
The idea that they would sign a declaration that lists the key elements of contemporary antisemitism and then declares them to be not “in and of themselves” antisemitic, is bizarre. Imagine a “definition” of racism or of sexism that did the same. Imagine listing the key elements of racist and sexist culture and then saying that “in and of themselves” they are not racist. It is a very basic mistake.
And there is literally nothing wrong with IHRA. IHRA is very tame. It says: “these are examples of the kinds of things that we know are antisemitic; if you see a case like that then you should make a judgment”. Adopting IHRA says: “we understand that this kind of antisemitism is significant and we undertake to look out for it”. Sure, some people might try to “use” IHRA to do other things, but IHRA is not usable to do other things; not unless you have a notion of overwhelming and frightening Jewish Power.
I’m a bit reluctant to centre this battle on ‘Jewish culture’. I think one of the errors that is made again and again is the assumption that antisemitism is really, deep down, related to some kind of ‘Jewish Question’. Rich Jews give money to Jewish Studies because they think that’ll be good for the Jews. But it isn’t, because studying Jews doesn’t help us to understand antisemitism. I can’t believe that these generations of streetwise Jewish businessmen have got this so badly wrong.
Is it too simple, then, to reply to you that Netanyahu is not responsible for antisemitism? Antisemitism is a mystification of what particular Jews do, it is not a rational or unmediated response to what Jews do. Antisemitism is a fetishized form of oppositional consciousness, as Moishe Postone said; it is mis-directed. It may be too simple but it is a crucially important first point to make.
Why does Netanyahu keep winning elections? I don’t know, I’m not an expert in Israeli politics. But one reason is because the Israeli left has shown itself incapable of coming near to offering an alternative.
We, the broad left, lost; the peace process lost. The Israeli right is partly to blame, but it’s also true that there are probably more significant reasons why we lost. The Palestinian left was much weaker, and it lost much more completely. The Palestinian nationalists failed to build a Palestinian national movement capable of making a deal. Nobody ever believed that those who spoke for Palestine actually spoke for Palestine. Israelis were reluctant to make concessions because they couldn’t trust that the people to whom they made concessions would be able to deliver what they had conceded in return. The wider Sunni-Shia conflict, the Saudi-Iran conflict, is a much more important determinant of what happens in the Middle East than Israel is. And minorities all over the Middle East, of which one is Jewish, are at risk.
So yes, Netanyahu has been bad. But maybe there are reasons why the left have been unable to defeat him. And maybe the collapse of the process which was meant to end the occupation is not primarily down to the Israeli right. Again, what goes wrong in the world for Jews is not only a result of what Jews do.
It’s so tempting always to imagine that antisemitism isn’t a mad irrational threatening thing which we can’t control; some of us are tempted to imagine that if Jews behave better then there will be less antisemitism. This is not a healthy response.
Yes, Netanyahu is awful. But our response, the response of the Jewish left, is our choice, our judgment.
Fundamentally Jews in America and Jews in Europe cannot do much to end the occupation. I’m not actually convinced that Jews in Israel can either. Sure, they should have done more, but they still might not have succeeded. And now the broad Jewish left says that IHRA – an inoffensive and tame statement about contemporary antisemitism – is Trumpist in its essence! How much more wrong could it get than that?
But what we can do is understand antisemitism. The Jerusalem Declaration doesn’t understand antisemitism. Rather, it offers antisemitism a deal, a co-existence with it in the hope that in alliance with left antisemitism, we’ll be able to defeat right wing populism, together, as one happy family.