Archived debate – Martin Shaw, David Hirsh, Norman Geras – is the proposal to boycott Israeli academics antisemitic?

David Hirsh wrote a piece arguing against the proposal for an academic boycott of Israel because – amongst other reasons – such a boycott would be antisemitic.  Hirsh in democratiya [pdf]

Martin Shaw responded that while he opposed the boycott, he didn’t think it was antisemitic.  And Hirsh responded to his response.  Hirsh and shaw. [pdf]

Norman Geras responded four times to Shaw’s insistence that it was wrong to characterise such a boycott as antisemitic.

Norm’s second response to Shaw.

Norm’s third response to Shaw.

Norm’s fourth response to Shaw.

Martin Shaw’s response to Norman Geras includes this accusation:

[Norman Geras] “really ought to question why he gives his support to David Hirsh’s dogged campaign to tar the boycott movement with anti-semitism. This charge, in this and many other cases, is little more than an underhand way of attempting to discredit opposition to Israel. In the end it raises more questions about the commitments of the anti-anti-semites than it does of the anti-Israelis.”

Classic Livingstone Formulation.  We don’t raise the issue of antisemitism because we believe that we observe antisemitism. We do it for some other reason.  We do it in order to attempt to discredit opposition to Israel.  It is a charge of bad faith which is commonly leveled against Jews who oppose antisemitism.

Martin asked for evidence of antisemitism, before making an analogy between what Israeli forces do in Gaza and what the Nazis did in the Warsaw Ghetto.


Norman Geras isn’t well.  Everyone associated with Engage wishes him the very best.norman_geras_140x140

He has written with clarity and commitment about contemporary antisemitism for longer than Engage has been in existence.  He writes about lots of other things too.

On Alibi Antisemitism – major piece in fathom.  (Jan 2013)

On Greg Philo’s work which says that Israel’s view of things dominates the media.  (Jun 2011)

On Jon Pike’s resignation from UCU.  (June 2009)

It doesn’t matter if criticism of and attitudes to Israel are anti-Semitic, so long as they are also anti-Zionist.  (April 2009)

On Antony Lerman and the ‘one state solution’.  (April 2009)

On Seaumas Milne’s apologetics for Ahmadinejad. (April 2009)

On the Israel-Nazi comparison.  (April 2009)

On accusations made against Israel of war crimes.  (Feb 2009)

Why a boycott would be antisemitic (in response to Martin Shaw). (Sep 2008)  More on Martin Shaw.  (September 2008)    And more still on Shaw (Oct 2008).

On resigning from UCU.  (July 2008)

On Tony Judt.  (Feb 2008)

On Norman Finkelstein and academic freedom.  (June 2007)

On Steven Rose.  (June 2006)

On Jews for Justice for Palestinians.  (April 2006)  And also here on JFJFP.  (August 2006)

On singling out Israel.  (June 2005)

(I’m sure there’s lots more… link to favourites in the comments perhaps?   dh)

Left-wing Israeli academics, shunned at home and abroad – Or Tshuva

This piece, by Or Tshuva, is on

Growing support for an academic boycott of Israel abroad and subtle censorship at home make it hard for Israeli scholars to play a role in moving their country toward peace.

Countless words have been written in the past week about British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking’s decision to cancel his participation in the upcoming Israeli Presidential Conference on the biggest issues facing humanity. While many have asked whether an academic boycott of Israel can achieve similar results to the one of apartheid South Africa or questioned the wisdom of Hawking’s decision, little attention has been paid to some of the people on the receiving end of the boycott: Israeli academics.

Left-wing Israeli academics have in the past few years faced a great challenge. Threatened with censorship, prosecution and ostracism in their home universities, they have been subtly forced to hold their tongues when it comes to publicly expressing their political opinions. In 2009, Neve Gordon nearly lost his job as a politics professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev after writing an op-ed arguing that Israel has become an apartheid state that can only be saved by an international boycott. One year later, in 2010, world-renowned art theorist Ariella Azoulay was denied tenure by Bar-Ilan University apparently due to her pro-Palestinian political views. These incidents send Israeli academics a clear message: tolerance of critical opinions is running out.

It is for exactly this reason that many Israelis pursue academic careers abroad. But in the international academic community, they often find that no matter how far left or pro-peace they are, their “Israeliness” remains an obstacle. Universities and scholars that explicitly support boycotting Israeli academic institutions are still relatively rare, but it seems that to avoid undesirable political rows, many universities choose not to collaborate with their Israeli counterparts or offer scholarships to Israeli students. In many cases, Israelis looking to participate in student-exchange programs or pay for postgraduate studies in Europe, and especially the United Kingdom, are unable to find any opportunities. When it comes to funding, they tend to discover Israel is neither part of the Middle East nor of Europe. Israelis are usually not entitled to apply for the scholarships available to other foreign students.

While their Palestinian fellows enjoy the political and financial support of active pro-Palestinian university societies and generous scholarships designed specifically for them, the implicit message to Israelis is often: It doesn’t really matter what you say or think, because we simply don’t want to hear from you.” For example, British Member of Parliament George Galloway walked out a debate at Oxford University three months ago simply because he learned that his student opponent was an Israeli citizen. The fact that the student was about to explain the necessity of an agreement recognizing both Israel and a Palestinian state did not matter.

Many Israeli left wingers who hope to find outside Israel the support they lack at home are greatly disappointed. Here in London, I have had several unpleasant encounters with people, including academics, who were unwilling to talk to me simply because I am Israeli.

The dual rejection by the academic communities inside and outside Israel can be extremely frustrating, especially for those of us who see our academic work as part of a profound educational obligation and the academic environment as an opportunity for dialogue and exchange.

Israeli academia is known for its left-wing and pro-peace views. Considering their role in shaping critical political discourse in Israel and abroad, pro-Palestinian activists might be expected to see us as potential allies rather than as members of a sector that needs to be punished for the policy of our homeland – a policy we often protest ourselves.

More and more people in the U.K. seem to support the academic boycott of Israel as a means of obligating the state to change its policy toward the Palestinians. In a survey conducted by The Guardian, for instance, 62 percent of respondents said Hawking’s decision was justified.

But the change an academic boycott of Israel is likely to promote is not necessarily the one its supporters hope for. Even if a boycott pressures Israel to change its policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians, it will only increase antagonistic feelings among Israelis and destroy one of the few remaining channels for dialogue and exchange between the two nations. Then, even if Israel’s official policy were to change, it might be too late to change the hearts of the Israeli people and lay the foundation for mutual understanding with the Palestinians.

It is at times like this, when every conceivable scenario seems hopeless, that academics are most needed. Those of us who are committed to a bottom-up peace process must rise up and say: Stop, you are shooting the wrong targets! If we are silent, we will contribute to changing the political map of the Middle East but not in the way supporters of a boycott imagine.

The writer is an Israeli postgraduate student in the department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths University of London. Her research deals with different aspects of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

This piece, by Or Tshuva, is on

It’s official: thanks to Stephen Hawking’s Israel boycott, anti-Semitism is no more – Howard Jacobson

This piece is by Howard Jacobson, in The Indpendent.
Howard Jacobson

Howard Jacobson

Why is Israel alone of all offending countries to be boycotted? Perhaps because it’s that offending country which also just happens to be Jewish?

Gather round, everybody. I bear important news. Anti-Semitism no longer exists! Ring out, ye bells, the longest hatred has ceased to be. It’s kaput, kicked the bucket, shuffled off its mortal coil, joined the bleedin’ choir invisible. It’s a stiff, ladies and gentlemen. An EX-PREJUDICE!

I first heard the news in a motion passed by the University and College Union declaring that criticism of Israel can “never” be anti-Semitic which, if “never” means “never”, is a guarantee that Jew-hating is over, because … Well, because it’s impossible to believe that an active anti-Semite wouldn’t – if only opportunistically – seek out somewhere to nestle in the manifold pleats of Israel-bashing, whether in generally diffuse anti-Zionism, or in more specific Boycott and Divestment Campaigns, Israeli Apartheid Weeks, End the Occupation movements and the like. Of course, you don’t have to hate Jews to hate Israel, but tell me that not a single Jew-hater finds the activity congenial, that criticising Israel can “never” be an expression of Jew-hating, not even when it takes the form of accusing Israeli soldiers of harvesting organs, then it follows that there’s no Jew-hating left.

These tidings would seem to be confirmed by Judge Anthony Snelson who, investigating a complaint that the Union was institutionally anti-Semitic, encountered not a trace of any such beast, no suggestion it had lurked or was lurking, not the faintest rustle of its cerements, not so much as a frozen shadow on a wall. Indeed, so squeaky-clean was the union in all its anti-Israel motions and redefinitions of anti-Semitism to suit itself, that Judge Snelson berated the Jewish complainants, a) for wasting his time with evidence, b) for irresponsibly raiding the public purse, and c) for trying to silence debate, which is, of course, the rightful province of the Boycott and Divestment movement.

It was this same Judge Snelson, reader, who ruled in favour of a Muslim woman claiming the cocktail dress she was expected to wear, while working as a cocktail waitress in Mayfair, “violated her dignity”. Not for him the cheap shot of wondering what in that case she was doing working as a cocktail waitress in a cocktail bar in Mayfair. If she felt she was working in a “hostile environment”, then she was working in a “hostile environment”, which is not to be confused with a Jew feeling he is working in a hostile environment since with the abolition of anti-Semitism there is no such thing as an environment that’s hostile to a Jew. My point being that Judge Snelson’s credentials as a man who knows a bigot from a barmcake are impeccable.

And now, with Stephen Hawking announcing, by means of an Israeli-made device, that he no longer wants to talk to the scientists who invented it, or to Israeli scientists who invented or might invent anything else, or indeed to Israeli historians, critics, biologists, physicists of any complexion, no matter what their relations to Palestinian scholars whom he does want to talk to, we are reminded that the cultural boycott with which he has suddenly decided to throw in his lot is entirely unJew-related, which is more good news. “Peace”, that is all Professor Hawking seeks, a word that was left out of his statement as reproduced on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign website, presumably on the grounds that everyone already knows that peace is all the PSC has ever wanted too.

To those who ask why Israel alone of all offending countries is to be boycotted, the answer comes back loud and clear from boycotters that because they cannot change the whole world, that is no reason not to try to change some small part of it, in this case the part where they feel they have the most chance of success, which also just happens to be the part that’s Jewish. That this is, in fact, a “back-handed compliment” to Jews, John MacGabhann, general secretary of the pro-boycott Teachers’ Union of Ireland, made clear when he talked of “expecting more of the Israeli government, precisely because we would anticipate that Israeli governments would act in all instances and ways to better uphold the rights of other”, which implies that he expects less of other governments, and does not anticipate them to act in all instances and ways better to uphold the rights of others. And why? He can only mean, reader, because those other governments are not Jewish.

I’d call this implicit racism if I were a citizen of those circumambient Muslim countries that aren’t being boycotted – a tacit assumption that nothing can ever be done, say, about the persecution of women, the bombing of minorities, discrimination against Christians, the hanging of adulterers and homosexuals, and so on, because such things are intrinsic to their cultures – but at least now that we have got rid of anti-Semitism, tackling Islamophobia should not be slow to follow.

It’s heartening, anyway, after so many years of hearing Israel described as intractable and pitiless, to learn that activists feel it’s worth pushing at Israel’s door because there is a good chance of its giving way. It’s further proof of our new abrogation of anti-Semitism that we should now see Israel as a soft touch, the one country in the world which, despite its annihilationist ambitions, will feel the pain when actors, musicians, and secretaries of Irish Teachers’ Unions stop exchanging views with it. All we need to do now is recognise that those who would isolate Israel, silence it and maybe even persuade it to accept its own illegitimacy intend nothing more by it than love.

Can the day be far away when Israel no longer exists, when the remaining rights-upholding, peace-loving countries of the region come together in tolerance and amity, and it won’t even be necessary to speak of anti-Semitism’s demise because we will have forgotten it ever existed? That’s when Jews will know they’re finally safe. Ring out, ye bells!

This piece is by Howard Jacobson, in The Indpendent.

Hannah Weisfeld on Stephen Hawking

I found Hannah Weisfeld’s recent post, ‘Hawking’s Israel boycott in its UK context’ curiously elusive.  The first paragraph mostly consists of a series of factual statements – with no clue as to whether the author approves of his decision to pull out of the Presidential Conference or not.  The exception is the very opening sentence in which Weisfeld introduces Hawking in admiring, warm – perhaps even gushing – terms, while still withholding judgment on his boycott stance.

Stephen Hawking, one of the UK’s most brilliant minds, and a man revered by much of the British population for his indefatigable ability to navigate the challenges that life has thrown at him, announced yesterday that he would not be attending the 5th Presidential Conference in Israel this coming June.

In the second paragraph Weisfeld appears to condemn the notion of an academic boycott pretty unequivocally.   However she also starts to map out a kind of sliding scale, making it clear that some boycotts are worse than others.  I don’t actually disagree with her suggestion that academic boycotts are more objectionable than commercial ones, or that the Moti Cristal case was particularly appalling, even by the usual standards of academic boycott. But I feel the Israeli wine is sacrificed a bit too readily, and that the Cristal case is almost being used to make less extreme examples of academic boycott more acceptable, more palatable.

Weisfeld goes on to insist that Hawking is not one of the really bad boycotters, because he does not deny Israel’s right to exist, and then goes into gush mode again, in order to assert that he can certainly distinguish between political extremism and political protest:

It would be something of an insult to his amazing mind to suggest he lacks those critical faculties.

I don’t see why it would be an insult.  He is a brilliant scientist, not a brilliant scholar of history or politics – and even if he were, that wouldn’t mean we all had to agree with his moral or political views.

Next Weisfeld moves to the UCU case, describing the damning way in which that case was dismissed.  I perhaps couldn’t blame Weisfeld for assuming the case was a very bad one (although obviously I’d disagree with her) based on a final ruling whose tone certainly shocked me, but I am in fact not completely sure what she thought of the verdict.  I think her point is more to argue that opponents of the boycott need to change their tactics on purely pragmatic grounds.

It seems we need some new ground rules if we are to win the case for Israel in the public arena.

First, it is clear that we need to challenge the assumption that anyone who calls for, or supports, any form of boycott is beyond the pale. We can debate, disagree with tactics, call out anti-Semitism when it is clearly there, but we have to accept that people have a right to employ a set of tools we do not agree with. It is that simple.

Although this isn’t simply a straw man argument – I’m sure there are people who lump all boycotters together – there’s something frustrating to me about her rhetoric.  For example, she agrees that it is reasonable to ‘call out anti-Semitism when it is clearly there’.  But one might think a campaign had antisemitic effects or causes without necessarily thinking all who supported it were, personally, antisemitic.  And the UCU tribunal, in part, was very much about calling out antisemitism when it was clearly there – as in the case of Bongani Masuku.  Moving the goal posts in order to focus on the most glaring cases of antisemitism and admit defeat on softer examples seems to be Weisfeld’s strategy – but I’m not sure that works.

Weisfeld goes on remind the reader that the Palestinian cause is ‘the cause célèbre of our time.’

It might well be the case that there is something sinister about those who have been involved in turning it into the zeitgeist of our times. But no amount of hasbarah, campaigning, showing the “positive contribution of Israel in the world” is going to change that.

I think perhaps I agree that arguments invoking Israel’s contribution to, say, technology aren’t the best answer to boycotters, rather as I don’t think appeals to Hawking’s status as a scientist can be used to lend him moral authority.  However if the boycott campaign has sinister elements, then they should be exposed – that’s not hasbara.

Here’s her conclusion.

John Humphrys, who is probably Britain’s most well known radio voice and who presents the inimitable Today Programme on Radio 4, asked this morning: “Isn’t it the case that the boycott has succeeded in drawing attention to the plight of Palestinian people?” If he is right, and the world is watching, they should also see serious efforts on the part of Israel and those who count themselves as Israel’s supporters worldwide, doing all that is in their power to change the situation. Surely that would be the best reaction of supporters of Israel in the UK to the latest boycott drama?

Even if the boycott has succeeded in drawing attention to the plight of the Palestinian people that doesn’t make it right in itself as a strategy, and (although there’s no excuse for some of the more vicious comments Hawking has attracted) opponents of the boycott should continue to try to make their voices heard.  Weisfeld seems to shift her position from one in which the boycott is seen as a painful issue – ‘the stakes are incredibly high’ as she puts it towards the beginning of her piece – to a lost cause, to be swiftly abandoned if anything is to be salvaged for Israel and its supporters.  Going back to John Humphreys’ point – in my case the biggest impact of the boycott was in fact not to draw my attention to the plight of the Palestinian people (though I’ve learnt more about that too) but to make me more alert to the ways antisemitism manifests itself.

Some reading for Stephen Hawking to catch up on concerning the campaign to exclude Israelis from the global academic community

Michael Yudkin’s argument against the academic boycott campaign.  click here.  (2007)Stephen-Hawking1

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking

David Hirsh on the antisemitism which comes with the boycott campaign.  (2013)

Cure worse than the disease: academic boycott of Israel in the light of the academic boycott of South Africa – Mira Vogel (2007)

Mira Vogel on PACBI (2008)

Engage response to BRICUP [PDF] (2007)

Ben Gidley on the antisemitism which comes in the wake of the boycott campaign:  The Case of Anti-Semitism in the University and College Union (2011)

Robert Fine responds to Desmond Tutu’s call for a boycott of Israel in the South African Mail & Guardian  (2010)

Robert Fine in debate about boycotting Israel, “the apartheid state”. (2008)

Antisemitism, Boycotts and Freedom of Speech – Robert Fine (2007)

Hirsh, David. 2012. Portia, Shylock and the exclusion of Israeli actors from the global cultural community. Engage, [Article]

Hirsh, David. 2011. No such thing as victimless boycott. Mail and Guardian, South Africa, p. 14. [Article]

Hirsh, David. 2007. Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: Cosmopolitan Reflections. Working Paper. Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) Occasional Papers, New Haven, CT

Resignations from UCU over the issue of the academic boycott of Israel.

Raphael Cohen-Almagor (2013)

Norman Finkelstein’s Attack on the BDS Movement

For an Engage archive on the Israel / Apartheid analogy click here.

Boycott Israel? Desmond Tutu, David Newman, Neve Gordon, David Hirsh, Robert Fine, Ran Greenstein, Uri Avnery, Farid Essack.  here.  (Oct 2010)

The University of Johannesburg Boycott, here.  (May 2011)

Colin Schindler shows how a boycott hinders his ability to do his job to teach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Read it here. (June 07)

Eric Lee argues a boycott is no way to help the Palestinians here. (June 07)

Anthony Julius and Simon Schama’s argument against John Berger’s boycott call. Here. (Dec 06)

Paul Frosh’s contrast between boycott and joint work. Here. (Nov 06)

A detailed critique of PACBI‘s (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) call for “BDS” – “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions”. Here. (Sep 06, David Hirsh)

Jon Pike’s arguments for voting against the Natfhe 2006 motion. Here. (May 06)

David Hirsh’s arguments for voting against the 2006 Natfhe motion. Here.  (May 06)

David Hirsh’s response to the passing of the Natfhe motion: Don’t get mad, get even. Here. (May 06)

Jon Pike’s discussion of boycotts. The distinction between ‘boycott as solidarity and boycott as punishment’. Critique of Jaqueline Rose’s case for boycott. Here|. (Sep 05)

The myth of the institutional boycott. The boycott campaign pretends that it is boycotting institutions when really it proposes a boycott of individuals. Read Jon Pike’s analysis. Here. (February 06)

Making Emotional Sense of the Proposed Boycotts against Israeli Academics and Intellectuals – Catherine B. Silver (2007)

Steve Cohen’s response to the McCarthyite political test that Natfhe voted to apply to Israeli academics. Here. (May 05)

Live Dangerous – Shop at Marks and Spencers.  (2006)

Hirsh’s speech and reports from his debate with Ilan Pappe, pro-boycott professor at Haifa University, on the issue of the boycott. At Birmingham AUT. Here.  (Nov 05)

David Hirsh responds to a supporter of the boycott. Here. (Sep 06)

David Hirsh looks closely at what Steven Rose says on Radio 4’s Today programme. Here. (September 06)

John Strawson’s 2005 argument against the boycott campaign.

Engage’s original founding statement.  2005.

Another version of who we are. 

Book Review by Robert Fine: “Moses Mendelssohn: Sage of Modernity”, Shmule Feiner

Mendelssohn’s resistance to social prejudice against Jews, even when it came from within the liberal

Robert Fine

Robert Fine

enlightenment, speaks to us today. 

Shmuel Feiner’s fine biography of Moses Mendelssohn shows us just how radical was the very ‘German’ moderation of this 18th century Jewish German philosopher.  By rejecting the Faustian pact that Jews were supposed to enter, a pact that demanded abandonment of ‘harmful’ Jewish habits in return for equal rights, Mendelssohn (1729-1786) challenged the prejudices that affected not only opponents of Jewish emancipation, but also many of its liberal supporters.

Mendelssohn wrote at a time when the echo of old prejudices could still be heard even among those who presented themselves as emancipators of the Jews. In his writings he demonstrated in his own deeply religious way that ‘emancipation’ did not have to be attached to ‘the Jewish question’; that is, discourses that spoke of equal rights for Jews could be prised apart from discourses that spoke of the harm Jews caused to the host society.  

When Moses Mendelssohn was approached in 1781 by representatives of the Jewish community of Alsace to intercede on their behalf in the wake of a wave of anti-Jewish incitement, he forwarded this request to a government official, Christian von Dohm, a leading non-Jewish member of the Berlin enlightenment. Dohm agreed and engaged in a major study of discrimination against Jews published under the title Über die Bürgerliche Verbesserun der Juden or Concerning the Improvement of the Civil Status of Jews. Dohm addressed the alleged incapacity of Jews to make any genuine contribution to society and explained it as the result of the discrimination to which they were subjected. He specified Jewish over-concentration in commerce, immoral trading, lack of general education, and physical weakness as the ill effects of discrimination, and he expressed the hope that more humane conditions would give rise to better human beings. ‘The Jew is more a man than a Jew,’ Dohm declared. His support for improvement in the civic status of Jews came in the wake of the first in a series of Edicts of Tolerance issued by the Emperor of the Austrian Empire, Joseph II, for the Jewish communities under his rule, as well as the publication of Gotthold Lessing’s Nathan the Wise. It seemed that new horizons were opening for Jewish life.

Mendelssohn responded to Dohm in 1782 and though he enthused that ‘the Rights of Man are beginning to be taken to heart’, he refused a simple optimism, noting that, ‘It is curious to observe how prejudice assumes the forms of all ages, on purpose to oppress us, and puts obstacles in the way of our civil admission.’

Indeed, what is surprising is the strength of Mendelssohn’s criticism of Dohm. He took exception to Dohm’s premise that Jews needed fundamental regeneration to make them worthy of equality. It seemed to him that in this respect, Dohm shared the same prejudices about Jews as those who opposed emancipation, including the notion that Jews had a propensity for deceit and manipulation and self-identified as a separate nation. Dohm would not countenance the entry of Jews into the Prussian civil service, for example.

Mendelssohn saw parallels between the prejudices of those who sought to transform Jews into Christians and those who wished to transform Jews into useful citizens. If in former times a distinction was made between Christians and Jews, now it was drawn between German and Jews, with the Jew positioned as ‘the stranger’. Whilst Dohm maintained that improvement in the civic status of Jews would improve the Jews, Mendelssohn responded that all special restrictions on Jews must be ended without demanding any changes in the behaviour of Jews in return. Whilst Dohm held that key aspects of the old order of Jewish legal ‘autonomy’ should be maintained, thus  propping up the authority of the rabbinical leadership, including its powers of excommunication, Mendelssohn demanded the removal of all rabbinical powers to enforce religious discipline. Toleration, he argued, was a matter both of external policy toward Jews and of autonomous self-development among Jews themselves. If Jews were now accused of being unfit for full citizenship, albeit for reasons to do with the oppression they suffered ‘They tie our hands, and scold us for not making use of them’ well, the answer was simply to untie their hands.

Leading advocates of the liberal emancipation movement, like Dohm, were saturated with concerns about the ‘Jewish question’ and repeatedly succumbed to the temptation to justify emancipation in terms of overcoming the harm Jews inflicted on society. The ‘Jewish problem’, as Dohm saw it, was this:

The hard and oppressive conditions under which the Jews live almost everywhere would explain, although not justify, an even worse corruption than they actually can be accused of. It is very natural that these conditions cause the spirit of the Jew to lose the habit of noble feelings … debase him in his activities … choke every sense of honour in his heart,

Dohm considered three solutions: doing nothing, wiping Jews off the face of the earth, and making them better citizens of the world. Happily, he chose the third, but the harmfulness of the Jews was presupposed. His enlightenment credo was that emancipation would make Jews into worthy human beings. Mendelssohn, by contrast, insisted that emancipation of Jews from civic oppression was a right, not a transaction for which payment would be collected in the form of renouncing allegedly ‘Jewish’ bad habits.

For Mendelssohn, there was to be no compromise with prejudice against Jews or with the discriminatory legislation that imposed special occupational, fiscal, and residential restrictions on Jews across Europe. There was to be a decisive break with the old order in which Jews were organised in the manner of a caste; that is, with the designation of Jews as a separate ‘nation’ that had its own courts but was subject externally to social restrictions and internally to the communal power of Jewish religious elites. He believed that obedience to Jewish religious precepts should continue to bind all Jews not with ‘an iron rod’ but with ‘bonds of love’

Mendelssohn insisted that the Haskalah, the Jewish enlightenment of the 18th century, was about the education and advancement of Jews, not about saving humanity from their allegedly noxious influence. While his resistance to social prejudice against Jews, even from within the liberal enlightenment, was based on a rational conception of Jewish religious law, his universalism retains a lively resonance in our own age. Mendelssohn, as this perceptive and readable biography shows, was not only a great Jewish philosopher but also a leading member of the international enlightenment movement.

Robert Fine is Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Warwick.

Moses Mendelssohn: Sage of Modernity by Shmule Feiner, Yale University Press, 2010.

This review is reproduced from the forthcoming issue of Fathom: for a deeper understanding of Israel and the region with the permission of the editors. “Fathom 3 is launched tomorrow and includes an interview with Michael Walzer about the Jewish political tradition, OneVoice on the new Knesset, Eve Garrard on the ‘pleasures of antisemitism’, Alexander Yakobson on opinion among Israeli Arabs and a video interview with Dror Moreh, director of The Gatekeepers. Download the free app for your iPad or iPhone here.”

Also By Robert Fine on Antisemitism:

Robert Fine: On doing the sociology of antisemitism
Robert Fine – Fighting with phantoms: a contribution to the debate on antisemitism in Europe
Robert Fine’s talk to the UCU meeting “Legacy of Hope: Anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and Resistance Yesterday and Today.”
Karl Marx and the Radical Critique of Anti-Semitism – Robert Fine
Robert Fine responds to Desmond Tutu’s call for a boycott of Israel in the South African Mail & Guardian
Antisemitism, Boycotts and Freedom of Speech – Robert Fine
Robert Fine in debate about boycotting Israel, “the apartheid state”.
Robert Fine on UCU Congress.
Robert Fine on Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism.


Eve Garrard on “The Pleasures of Anti-Semitism”

Eve’s piece is on normblog here and a version is also coming out in fathom.

Eve Garrard

Eve Garrard

“Antisemitism is much more than a cognitive error. It attracts by providing the deep emotional satisfactions of hatred, tradition, and moral purity.”

“Anti-Semitism is fun, there’s no doubt about it. You can’t miss the relish with which some people compare Jews to the Nazis, or the fake sorrow, imperfectly masking deep satisfaction, with which they bemoan the supposed fact that Jews have brought hatred on themselves, especially by the actions of Israel and its Zionist supporters, and that they have inexplicably failed to learn the lessons of the Holocaust.    (The Holocaust was not, of course, an educational exercise; and if there are lessons to be learned from it, we might think that the weakest pupils are those who once again wish to single out Jews above all others for hostile attention.) Like other forms of racism, anti-Semitism provides a variety of satisfactions for those who endorse it, and it’s worth trying to analyse these pleasures, so that we may better understand and combat the whole phenomenon.”

“There is a Jew-shaped space in Western culture, and the shape is not a pleasant one.   Long centuries of tradition have constructed the Jew as a being who is both contemptible and dangerous, the purveyor and transmitter of evil; and various tropes have been deployed to flesh out this picture – in particular the blood libel, according to which Jews use the blood of Christian children for their terrible ceremonies of machination and control, but also tropes about uncanny power, in which Jews are depicted as the puppet-masters of the rest of the helpless non-Jewish world.”

“…the devil frequently does have the best tunes, and the thin and reedy voice of rational argument is often quite drowned out by their brassy insistence. But we’ll do better in the combat, however we conduct it, if we realise that the views which we’re struggling against provide deep emotional satisfactions to those who hold them, satisfactions not easy either to overcome or to replace.”

Eve’s piece is on normblog here and a version is also coming out in fathom.

Eve’s “On Being Chosen”.

Eve Garrard on antisemitism in the Green Party.

Eve’s response to Richard Kuper on the EUMC (FRA) Working Definition of AntisemitismAnd on the UCU’s disavowalAnd more on UCU’s disavowal.

Eve Garrard’s 2009 piece on contemporary antisemitism.

Eve’s 2008 letter of resignation from the UCU.

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