The left and Israel – David Hirsh

This is the text of a short talk given by David Hirsh to Sixth Formers at JFS today.   The other panellists were Brendan

David Hirsh

David Hirsh

O’Neil and Dan Judelson.

What does it mean to be on the left?  I think one thing it might mean is an attachment to some kind of universalism.   That is the idea that human beings are all, in some profound way, of equal value.   Of course we are not equal – some are big some are small; some are weak some are strong; some are good looking some are… less so.  But whatever our nation, our wealth, our power, our gender, the left works with the idea that we are all important.  The left tries to find ways that we can work together to look after each other because we are all of equal value.

The right is often more concerned with particulars than universals.  How can I best educate my child? how can Britain be successful in the world? how can Israel remain safe?

The left sees a world in which poor people are exploited, weak nations are colonised, women are  confined to the home and people die in religious conflict.  The left sees a lot wrong with the world and it sets out to change that.  The right tends to focus more on ways in which we can prosper not in the next world, but in this one.

The left hopes that ordinary people – the majority – can come together in solidarity, looking after each other, respecting each other and defeat those – the small minority – who benefit from injustice.

Interestingly, the ancient Israelites themselves were amongst the pioneers of the idea of universality, the conception of fundamental human equality.   They also wrestled with the difficulties of grasping both the universal and the particular at the same time.

Christianity was an important carrier of the concept of universality from the ancient world into modern Europe.

But through the centuries many Christians have seen the Jews as a threat to the Christian brotherhood of man.  The Jews have been understood as those who reject the universal – Christ killers.  And in doing so, they wreck the utopian universal dream not only for themselves, but also for everybody else.

In the 19th Century, the left sought to turn universality into a scientific and secular movement.  It should follow, then, that the left should always oppose antisemitism, because its universality tells it that Jews are of equal worth to everybody else.

And of course, there have always been proud traditions on the left which have opposed antisemitism.

Yet.  Antisemitism has its temptations.  It is tempting for radical people who want radical change.   Why?    Because for centuries, antisemitism has functioned as a way of explaining why the simple plan of all getting together to make the world better keeps on failing.

This left is for the universal.  But it is tempted to see the Jews as anti-universal and a threat to the universal.

The Nazis are usually thought of as right wing.  But in some ways, they were also similar to the left.  They were radical, they wanted profound change.  They didn’t like nationalism, they had a global programme for changing the whole world.  They were hostile to British and American imperialism and democracy.  They put their big political ambitions before the ‘pursuit of happiness’.  Hitler claimed to be the universalist and he said it was the Jews who wrecked society for everybody by following only  their own selfish interests.

But by and large, the left opposed Hitler and his antisemitism.

In the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, radical Jews were split as to how they should oppose the antisemitism. 

Some wanted to dissolve all religious and national characteristics into a universalistic socialism where the distinction between Jew and non-Jew would eventually be forgotten.

Others wanted Jews to organise themselves into culturally and politically Jewish Bunds which would defend them from antisemitism and which would construct Jewish identity in new, egalitarian and empowering ways.

A third current thought that national self-determination was the key to guaranteeing people’s individual rights, and they wanted Jews from all different places to forge themselves into a sovereign nation.

In the 1940s the overwhelming majority of the Jewish Socialists, Bundists and Zionists were murdered, alongside the other Jews of Europe.

There were a few survivors here and there in Europe, but most of them felt it unbearable to continue to live amongst those who had killed everybody they knew, and amongst those who had failed to prevent the killing, and amongst those who still had their children and their friends and relatives.

When Israel was first established, it was supported by most people on the left.  They liked the socialist experiment of the kibbutzim and the Labour Party which ran Israel in its first decades.  They admired Israel as an anti-imperialist movement which defeated the British.  They supported Israel as the underdogs, the survivors of the Holocaust.

Later, for good reasons of universality, the left developed more and more sympathy for the Palestinians, who had lost out in the conflict with Israel and who were also exploited by the predominately Arab states which claimed to speak on their behalf.

But the problem is this:  some on the left are still tempted by the image of the Jews, now Israel, as being the fly in the ointment of universal peace and love.  The particularists, nationalists, racists, anti-universalists, who wreck the world for everybody else.

The problem is not that people take the rights of Palestinians seriously.  I believe that they’re right to do that.  The problem comes when they start to think of Israel as being central to a whole global system of domination.

When they care more about every injustice perpetrated by Israel in the conflict with the Palestinians than they do about any other injustice.

When they put all their energy into boycotting Israel, but they wouldn’t dream of boycotting any other nation.

When they close their ears to claims of antisemitism, saying that the Jews invent such claims as a nasty trick to stop people from criticizing Israel.

When they say that Israel is apartheid or Nazi or racist – when they find forms of words which make Israel seem like the nastiest place on the planet.

 David Hirsh

See also by David Hirsh:

The Progressive Case for Israel

Defining antisemitism down

The Livingstone Formulation

Portia, Shylock and the exclusion of Israeli actors from the global cultural community.

A reply to Neve Gordon by David Hirsh

Do not confine Jews to the couch

Occupation, not apartheid.

Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: Cosmopolitan Reflections.

36 Responses to “The left and Israel – David Hirsh”

  1. David Olesker Says:

    Very good, David. I’ve had to do those sort of “one one leg” presentations myself and it’s always a challenge to say something useful in such a short time. You succeeded.

    If you don’t mind me saying so, you made one essential point and left out out (probably due to pressure of time) one other.

    The point you made: “The problem is not that people take the rights of Palestinians seriously.”. The bigotry of the anti-Israel position often poisons what would otherwise be legitimate areas for debate.

    The one you left out:: those on the left who “are still tempted by the image of the Jews, now Israel, as being the fly in the ointment of universal peace and love” are not above either credulously accepting vile slanders about Jews and Israel or even inventing them.

  2. N. Friedman Says:

    I am not quite sure you are right that there is a distinction between left and right in focusing on universals. I think both sides do. And, both sides focus on particulars. The issue is the ranking of values. Liberals – in the American sense – place people before property, more often than not. That, I think, is far more predictive and descriptive of the divide than belief in universals. And, by belief in people over property, conservatives tend to believe that people benefit most when property rights are protected. Liberals believe that where property rights come in conflict with people and would result in something unfair (and something that conservatives would, in their private thinking, also believe is unfair), the liberal will more often favor bending property rights so that people are treated fairly while conservative will assert that bending property rights will, in the long run, undermine the rule of law, which in turn, will harm people.

    Moreover, I think you are wrong in thinking that the left was really any less Antisemitic than the right. I think it is a universal habit of mind to which both sides are prone. In this, I recommend – and assume you have read Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, by David Nirenberg. And, I also might recommend From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel, by Robert Wistrich. I assume you are also familiar with Wistrich’s work.

    In my view, Nirenberg’s approach gets to the heart of the matter and connects with a few of the points you have made. Nirenberg’s evidence shows that opposition to Judaism and, connected therewith, Jews, plays a central role in how people in the West think about and make sense of the world. Not all who have employed this manner of thought have been Antisemitism but it is this manner of thought which allows Antisemitism to continue.

    By contrast, Wistrich provides a monumental collection of examples of people on the left who had no place in their hearts for Jews. It is, to note, a who’s who of the the great and famous on the left. So, I think the notion that there is a real distinction between the left and right when it comes to Jews is incident driven and not predictive. After all, as Wistrich shows, Antisemitism was as much the norm in the USSR as it was in Czarist Russia and the Ukraine.

    A collection of people on either side of the political divide – left and right – and not trapped by the Antisemitism they were brought up to believe in exists. The name that comes first to mind is Nietzsche, brought up, quite clearly, in an Antisemitic environment but who, applying his own manner of thinking – e.g., have the courage, as he put it, against his own convictions – saw clearly the danger present to Jews in Europe and, as is less well known, was sympathetic to Jewish causes. Nietzsche was not a man of the Left. He is not so clearly a man of the right but he is more readily placed in that camp than elsewhere.

    So far as the Left opposing Hitler, that was not universally true. Moreover, many who opposed Hitler did not detest his Antisemitism. And, many on the Left had it both ways with Hitler, taking their cue from the policy changes of the USSR, which opposed, then allied with and then opposed Hitler.

    • Absolute Observer Says:

      On Wistrich,
      Nirenberg’s book is better than many, but, in essence, is no more than a rehash of the ‘eternal antisemitism’ thesis. ‘The West’ has always hated the Jews; this view gets past down and enters the West’s ‘DNA’.
      However, in another way, it is a useful book, because its thesis picks up the mood of the (Jewish) right in the States and elsewhere;; that ‘the West’ (whatever that means!!) has always, currently does and will always hate/distrust Jews (a point, perhaps, expressed in N. Friedman’s insistence with caitalisizing the ‘A’ of ‘A’ntisemitism?)

      In many ways, this thinking echoes those who argue (often from ‘the left’) that unless Jews/Israel behave themselves,non-Jews will (automatically?) turn antisemitic at the first sign of Jewish ‘misbehaviour’.

      • N. Friedman Says:

        Absolute Observer,

        Nirenberg’s book is a tour de force and your comment does not wrestle with either the evidence he uncovered or his interpretation of that evidence. It is not a justification for any political position today.

        It is a means to attempt to explain statements, such as the following, by Adnan Rasheed in his “apology” to Malala Yousafzai:

        Why they want to make all human beings English? because Englishmen are the staunch supporters and slaves of Jews.

        That manner of thinking has been part of how Christians (and, to note, Muslims such as Rasheed) think about things. So, Malala was not shot for wanting to go to school or advocating school for girls. Her problem was promoting Western ideas about education, which relate to the evil Jews – and, more than likely, Rasheed has had no contact with any real Jews or Judaism). Nirenberg shows the same sort of conversations – the same sort of thinking – taking place with the original Church fathers, in which Jews and Judaism played imaginary roles. And, he shows the same sort of thinking from advocates of modernity, beginning with Spinoza. The same sort of imaginary Jews and Judaism were invoked by Marx and by, on the right, Burke. Most people would not think either Marx or Burke particularly disliked Jews.

        Yet, Marx has written – akin to what Rasheed wrote -:

        Emancipation from huckstering and money, consequently from practical, real Judaism, would be the self-emancipation of our time.

        Judaism is associated by a long tradition with what is wrong in the world. Excessive legalism, capitalism, etc., etc. Now, I am not claiming Marx is Antisemitic. I am merely noting the obvious, viz., that he employed the common means known to him of identifying what is evil in the world.

        This is not a left or a right thing. It is a common thing in Christian and Muslim countries, as shown by Nirenberg. It is not a common thing in Buddhist countries. And, the anti-Judaism pattern of thinking makes Antisemitism more, not less, likely to appear and reappear.

        • Absolute Observer Says:

          N. Friedman,
          I find you defence of Nirenberg’s book and the criticism of my comments prove my point.
          I argued that he presents ‘antisemitism’ or what you term ‘Antisemitism’, as something eternal; as something that is the same over decades if not millennium.
          In dismissing this view, you state, there is,’the same sort of thinking’ between Christian antisemitism and that of ‘Muslims such as Rasheed'[sic] – that is a gap of, what, 1-2000 years?
          Not only do you conflate Christian antisemitism with that of Muslim antisemitism, but, to add to the pot, modern antisemitism – ‘he shows the same sort of thinking from advocates of modernity, beginning with Spinoza.’ And, as if this was not enough, you then throw in for good measure the originators of socialist and conservative thought, ‘The same sort of imaginary Jews and Judaism were invoked by Marx and by, on the right, Burke.’

          So, if I understand your point correctly, you seem to be arguing, not that anti-Judaism and antisemitism appears as various points in history and at various places (which of course is true), but that every incidence of it over the past millennia expresses ‘the same sort of thinking and imagery’ – that is an eternal repetition of a single phenomena.
          Such a view is historically and socially naive.
          Are you seriously saying that the societies that produced nazi exterminatory antisemitism is ‘the same sort’ of society that produced the murder of Jews in York in the 12th Century?, or that the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 is the product of the ‘same sort of imagery’ as the antisemitism of Hamas? or that their is no difference between the antisemitism of, say Voltaire and Oswald Mosely or that of Spinoza and Alfred Rosenberg?

          Such thinking is ahistorical and asociological and tell us nothing about or how to understand each specific incident; it reduces the history of antisemitism to a law of nature; it leads to a pessimism about the fight against racism and antisemitism; it turns the criminality of the Shoah into a fate that was ‘always already’ present 2000 years ago (and, in so doing, radicalises the ‘defence’ (refused by law) that they were ‘only obeying orders’, not of their superiors, but of ‘Western’ history itself. Just as antisemites deny Jews of agency, so you present antisemites in the same terms.

          Now, you could mean that although the world has changed and continues to change, ‘ideas’ (or, at least ‘the’ idea) about Jews have remained static. But again, this would imply an autonomy of ideas that, philosophically or sociologically thinking, is untenable.

          Just as problematic is that the idea of ‘eternal antisemitism’ that you think is of so much analytical value is an exact replica of the idea of the antisemites myth of the ‘eternal Jew’ – a figure, so it is said, whose malignancy and evil is a very part of his nature, his DNA and so, despite everything, cannot be changed or reformed and, thus, leaves only one ‘solution’.

          As we know, part of the point of anti-antisemitism is to question antisemitic stereotypes, concepts and ways of thinking, It is rather to understand why at that/this time, at that/this place, and for what reasons antisemitism was/is being produced. To think that ‘one size fits all’, to think that we can understand the antisemitism of the early 21st century as ‘the same sort of thinking’, the ‘same sort of imagery’ as that of the early Church Fathers is, in fact, not only naive, but, in actuality, carries with it a host of real life contemporary political dangers.

          As Marx said, ‘History has long enough been merged in superstition, we now merge superstition in history’.

      • Jacob Arnon Says:

        AO, I disagree with you that nirenberg’s book is just “a rehash” and that it amounts to no more than a restatement of thev”eternal antisemitism” thesis. (Have you read the book?)

        In his brilliant book Nirenberg offers a thesis I presume addressed to what is left of the Christian world, that antisemitism is deadly to Christians as well as Jews.

        Nirenberg also does not offer a “universal” explanation of antisemitism and to my chagrin doesn’t deal with historical and current Muslim antisemitism.

        I suppose that the review you linked to of Wistrich’s book is relevant to the discussion here, but that is not obvious to me.

        Where you trying to say that Wistrich’s, like Nirenberg, and Hirsh, are all,equally rehashing old theories? If so then I strongly disagree.

        Antisemitism, because it is both old as well current a phenomenon is not something that can be grasped from a neutral point of view.

        It is also an irrational phenomenon, hence the difficulty of offering a conceptual model which like Hegel’s historical thesis, can wrap all loose end in dialectical package.

        Besides racist antisemitism is also an existential phenomenon. It is the site where theoretical and our lived experiences meet.

        Under the circumstances David Hirsh handling of the problem was very enlightening: one key feature of antisemitism (and I dont believe that Professor Hirsh was trying to wrap up the problem in his claim that the desire of Jewish people not become part of the Universal, and hence disappear into the Universal, is a problem to many Chrisians, Muslims, Marxiste, secular Hegelians, etc. That uneasiness has and sill continue to breathe life into antisemitism.

        This is in no way an attempt to say that antisemitism is an eternal problem. This is not how I read Prof. Hirsh’s paper.

        Any and all attempt to deal with the phenomenon of anti-semitism will of necessity leave loose end. If it it doesn’t then the proffered thesis is not serious.

        David’s paper was very serious.

        • N. Friedman Says:

          I do not take Nirenberg’s topic to be so much Antisemitism but, instead, the related topic of anti-Judaism – from which he sees Antisemitism springing forth. I think that is an important distinction in his approach.

          He certainly do not focus heavily, other than in one chapter, on anti-Judaism in the Islamic tradition. However, he provides enough information by which one could further illustrate the difference between anti-Judaism and Antisemitism.

          To understand this, I note his chapters about the Church fathers. Most of them had no connection with any existing Jews. Rather, they were exposed to the Hebrew Scriptures and they had the problem of what to do about them, most particularly given that those scriptures were written about and related to a particular people, one to whom God had made certain promises.

          One the one hand, Christianity could have adopted the view that it was part of Judaism, thus viewing its followers as, effectively, converts who had additional revelations. On the other hand, they could adopt Marcion’s view, that Judaism and Jews and the Hebrew Scriptures should be extirpated from Christianity entirely. Neither view was adopted. Instead and after much argument, the view adopted was that God had withdrawn his promises to Jews, that Jews had refused the corrective revelations of the Christians and that the Hebrew Scriptures were now for Christians. Jews could continue to exist as exemplars of evil.

          On his telling, Islam’s approach towards Judaism is essentially the same. Jews had dealings with Muhammad but rejected his teaching and tried to kill him multiple times. Jews were relegated to a lower, but “tolerated,” realm of a “people of the book” who had corrupted their own scriptures to eliminate references to Muhammad’s teachings and who had killed or attempted to kill all of Allah’s prophets.

          He further notes – and this goes to the point about anti-Judaism not being quite the same thing as Antisemitism – that, with this similar relegation of Judaism to a lower order, the incidents of history did not lead to quite the same issues for Jews living in Islam. There was, of course, considerable Antisemitism in Islamic realms – something well documented. But, it was not quite on the same order as occurred in Europe, with Jews being expelled, by the end of the Middle Ages, from nearly all of Western Europe and from more recent attempts to wipe Jews out in Europe. However, on his telling, there is a potential for such to occur anywhere where Supersessionism (or replacement theology) exists where the evil OTHER – in this case, the Jews – is allowed to exist, something common to both Christianity and Islam.

          I should add, there is substantial evidence for the sort of evil to be playing itself out in contemporary Islam, which, to note, has its version of replacement theology, one that allows the supposedly evil Jews to exist. The quote I posted from Adnan Rasheed is rather illustrative of this point.

  3. brahmsky Says:

    Superb. The New Antisemitism for Beginners!

  4. N. Friedman Says:

    To Absolute Observer,

    You are reading a lot into my comment which is not there. If you read Nirenberg’s book, you will see that your exact concern is addressed in considerable detail by him.

    Moreover, Nirenberg’s discussion is not primarily about Antisemitism – or, as you would write it, antisemitism. Before addressing that, I note that I do not much care whether it is written with upper case, lower case or with a hyphen. The reason that I used upper case is that Antisemitism tends to be an ideology. If I write about Communism, I write it with upper case. The same for Liberalism. Etc., etc. The reason I write it as one word instead of a hyphenated word is to make two points clear: 1. that it is not about “Semites,” and, 2. that what is written concerns a particular group of people, Jews. However, I do not want to be caught up in a discussion about spelling and I am not a Conservative.

    Nirenberg notes a common pattern of writing, one that seems to have a continuing appearance in Christian and, to note, Muslim dominated regions, regardless of country and era. The example I gave of Muslim use of the same view of Jews is because Nirenberg notes the same phenomena.

    This does not make it eternal. However, that does not mean that it is something new or different. The uses to which the negative views of Judaism and Jews have been put over the generations served many different purposes. Marxists saw Jews and Judaism as an evil to be overcome because Jews were associated with Capitalist commerce (although some, such as Feuerbach, hated Jews outright). Monarchists saw Jews behind efforts to overthrow monarchies. Nationalists saw Jews as Communists. Christians saw Jews according to the teachings of the Church fathers. Muslims saw Jews as they are portrayed in the Koran and Ahadithas.

    Your theory which a priori says that patterns cannot persist over different eras and places – which is not the same thing as arguing that something cannot be eternal – has to explain the use of the same patterns of expression used with respect to Jews over the course of more than two thousand years. Why did zealots on the Right, in Europe, decide that Jews were a great evil in the 20th Century? Why did zealots on the Left, in Europe in the 20th Century, decide that Jews were a great evil? Why did nationalists in the 19th Century throughout Europe come to the same conclusion, using the same sort of language used by their 20th Century successors? Why did the fathers of secularism, such as Voltaire and Spinoza use the same manner of speech?

    Some years back, I read an interview with Prof. Andrew Bostom in the right wing magazine, FrontPage. Bostom, as you may know, has written a widely acclaimed book (with an excellent review in The New Republic, by the way) called The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History, which details the hadiths – quoting in the entirety, the various Ahaditha about Jews, commentaries on them by Muslim theologians and scholars, and detailing all, or nearly all, of the worst incidents of Antisemitism in the Islamic regions over the centuries. In any event, in the interview, Bostom says the following, which is rather consistent with what Prof. Nirenberg claims:

    FP: What inspired you to write this book?

    Bostom: Nearing completion of my first book compendium, The Legacy of Jihad, in early 2005, specifically the section about jihad on the Indian subcontinent, I came across a remarkable comment by the Indian Sufi theologian Sirhindi (d. 1624). Typical of the mainstream Muslim clerics of his era, Sirhindi was viscerally opposed to the reforms which characterized the latter ecumenical phase of Akbar’s 16th century reign (when Akbar became almost a Muslim-Hindu syncretist), particularly the abolition of the humiliating jizya (Koranic poll tax, as per Koran 9:29) upon the subjugated infidel Hindus. In the midst of an anti-Hindu tract Sirhindi wrote, motivated by Akbar’s pro-Hindu reforms, Sirhindi observes, “Whenever a Jew is killed, it is for the benefit of Islam.”

    The biographical information I could glean about Sirhindi provided, among other things, no evidence he was ever in direct contact with Jews, so his very hateful remark suggested to me that the attitudes it reflected must have a theological basis in Islam—contra the prevailing, widely accepted “wisdom” that Islam, unlike Christianity was devoid of such theological Antisemitism. Having originally intended to introduce, edit, and compile a broader compendium on dhimmitude in follow-up to The Legacy of Jihad, this stunning observation inspired me instead to change course and focus on the interplay between Islamic Antisemitism, and the intimately related phenomenon of jihad imposed dhimmitude for Jews, specifically.

    Now, one can argue against or accept Bostom’s pronouncement of a dhimmitude but I do not think he makes quotes up. And, he is a sufficiently talented and honest scholar that he would have searched diligently and revealed truthfully if Sirhindi had any contact with actual Jews.

    The point here is that anti-Judaism is the phenomena that Nirenberg addresses. It is something with deep roots in both Christian and Islamic theology. And, it is something sufficiently embedded in patterns of thinking that people, then and now, here and there, have seen fit to employ, sometimes for making a point, with little consequence, and sometimes as part of a campaign against actual Jews.

    That does not mean that it is an eternal feature. However, it is an existing feature. And, to write all continuity out of history will not do. It is not, in my view, good scholarship. As Nirenberg notes, however, this needs to be done carefully because it is possible to see more in something similar than may be present. Here, however, I do not think that is being done.

  5. Absolute Observer Says:

    ‘The biographical information I could glean about Sirhindi provided, among other things, no evidence he was ever in direct contact with Jews, so his very hateful remark suggested to me that the attitudes it reflected must have a theological basis in Islam’

    Thank you so much for the book recommendation concerning Islam’s views of Jews and Judaism to which this quote refers.
    It brought to mind another book that is the product of the exact type of scholarship and thinking that you hold in the highest esteem. Although much older, for some people, it is still a classic to this day.

    It is Eisenmenger’s ‘Endecktes Judaenthum’. It will tell you all you need to know about Jews and their attitudes and practices toward Gentiles.Not only that, but it is written by a man with excellent knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic and includes completely unfalsified quotes from Jewish ‘theologians and scholars’, as well as extensive quotes from the Talmud. Indeed, it received wonderful reviews at the time, so much so that many people who are engaged in matters Jewish, still quote it extensively.

    If you can’t find it in a bookshop, I am sure that there are plenty of websites that you can buy it from.

    It may offer you a chance to reflect on your own approach to contemporary issues – although I don’t hold out much hope.

  6. Aloevera Says:

    The most basic, key concept of being on the left is “equality”. I understand being “on the left” to mean: promoting equality of
    (1)-some thing (to be discussed below)
    (2)-in some way (revolution vs reform)
    (3)-to some degree (communism vs social democracy vs American Democrats, etc)
    (4)-appealing to some idea of universalism as a kind of master ethos due to its relationship to the concept of equality (universalism as equality before the law of some country vs before God–etc)

    The various philosophies and concomitant practices on the left side of the political spectrum have traditionally differed from one another with respect to their approach to (2), (3) and (4). However–with respect to (1), there had always been singular agreement until around the 1960′s. From the time of the French Revolution until the 1960′s, the “thing” to be equalized, no matter where one was positioned on the left, was the “economic/class situation” of society. In the 1960′s that “thing” was replaced by “identity”–or, as it is put in philosophical circles–it was the replacement of “redistribution (of resources–usually funds–by way of taxation or special programs privileging the financially less well-off)” by “recognition” (especially the “naturalness” or “justice” or “rightness” of privileging cultural group identity).

    At first-the project of recognition was nationally-bounded: it involved policies and orientations that happened internally, within one’s own country and was directed at certain so-called “minority” groups which had traditionally suffered prejudice and fallen behind within the context of the nation. In America (from where I am writing) this included Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, women, and (eventually) homosexuals and transexuals. Jews, by virtue of being deemed “white” were not included in the privileges–although antisemitism would have been generally frowned upon.

    However–what has happened more recently–with the rise of globalization–is that the identity/recognition focus has come to be writ large–and gone international–namely, it has become “anti-imperialism”. Just as it was considered politically incorrect to divert from proper recognition of minorities within the nation–it has now become politically incorrect–indeed, a sort of political sin–to support imperialism or colonialism internationally in any of its guises according to left-wing reckoning. It is inequality of identity writ large. (Note that the kind of polity expansion which we now call “imperialism/colonialism” has long been “normal” political behavior all over the world–any polity that had the resources to expand and control further flung peoples and places, did so. Only in the second half of the 20th century has this practice become “bad”–at least, for the West–in the eyes of the Left).

    It is in this context that Israel/Zionism falls afoul of “good thinking and practice”–for in a number of sectors of the Left–now firmly and emblematically anti-imperialist”–Israel/Zionismhas come to be framed as part of the imperial/colonial project of Europe and the United States. This framing does involve a number of gaps and glissandos, of course–it forces what is a somewhat “normal” dispute between two groups over land and sovereignty into the guise of unequal struggle–bad, Western imperialist vs “people of color” (pure underdongs); it ignores the age-old connectedness of the Jews (themselves long underdogs) to the Holy Land; it ignores the imperialism/colonialism that brought Arabs/Muslims into much of the Middle East and North Africa from Arabian Peninsula origins and which, although it happened long ago, still causes difficulties for its own minorities (Copts, Berbers, Kurds, Armenians, Southern Sudanese).

    But then–anti-imperialism has become a (Left-wing) ideology unto itself–and ideologies often involve tremendous over-simplifications of reality and the attaining for its practitioners of good feelings, solidarity, and purpose in life–more so for the practitioners of the ideology and less so for the people they are supposed to be supporting. So–they always need an enemy–a bad guy–as an emotive rallying focus to get their good feelings, solidarity, and find purpose in life. The imperialist West is the bad guy–and Israel/Zionism (not Palestinian nationalism) gets included because Western power has come to support it. The fact that there are antisemitic imagery and tropes hanging about comes in useful at times for plying this new logic of hate.

    • Jacob Arnon Says:


      “The fact that there are antisemitic imagery and tropes hanging about comes in useful at times for plying this new logic of hate.’

      It does, Aleovera.

      And btw, contemporaneity antisemitism draws on the Arab Israeli conflict but it is neither limited to it, nor is that conflict central to their antisemitic discourse.

      We also lose sight about what this discourse of hate is all about: it is about hatred of a specific ethnicity “Jewish People.” It isn’t about hatred of capitalists, Communists, or Imperialists (or even Judaism in the abstract which some top conspiracy hounds pretend to admire.)

      The British were, until very recently, the most successful Imperialist nation in history, yet there is no comparable anti-British hatred with its theories about world domination, etc.

      Communist societies like Cuba or wanna be communists like Venezuela don’t draw universal opprobrium. The opposite is the case, these communists societies are admired in the Western media and elsewhere.

      The same with Capitalists in general there are many consipiracy theories citrcularting about a Rothschild or a Bloomberg but vewry few about Carlos Slim Helu, Bill Gates, Amancio Ortega, Warren Buffett to cite the top names on the Forbes list of current billionaires. When these are entangled in conspiracy theories they are inevitably linked to Jewish people.

      • Aloevera Says:

        Dear Jacob Arnon–

        I agree–there is something about “The Jews” that operates as a sort of “root paradigm” for hatred–very disturbing.

  7. Jacob Arnon Says:

    “Nirenberg’s book is a tour de force and your comment does not wrestle with either the evidence he uncovered or his interpretation of that evidence. It is not a justification for any political position today.
    It is a means to attempt to explain statements, such as the following, by Adnan Rasheed in his “apology” to Malala Yousafzai…”

    N. Friedman, I agree with much of what you wrote but I take exception to your comment about Adnan Rasheed:

    Nirenberg’s main focus in his book is the Christian antisemitic tradition and not the Islamic antisemitic tradition. ( I wish he had spent some time analyzing Muslim anti-Judaism and antisemitism.)
    However, Nirenberg’s book is not unhistorical.

    The label unhistorical is often attached by Marxists to thinking they can’t refute. I wish Absolute Observer and others who use Marx’s theoretical outlook to explain what they mean by history and its negation in “un-historical.”
    Is he thinking of history (the recording of significant chronological events (significant to the powers that be) over time, or does he mean historicism: the Hegelian or Marxian laws that govern the development of the history of humanity. There is also the Romantic notion of history (historism) that investigates the presence of an organic organization of events over time?
    This very brief list of meanings of history and its contrary unhistorical doesn’t exhaust the kinds of history available to us. For example I didn’t mention synchronic or diachronic history bequeathed to us various French schools of thought from structuralist to phenomenological to post-structuralist.

    This is by way of introduction to suggest that complaints about ahistorical histories of antisemitism is beside the point because in Marxian thought there is no such thing as a history of antisemitism since antisemitism cannot have a history. It is the antisemites who postulate a universal and fixed nature to Jews.
    Histories of antisemitism then need to grapple with an a-historical subject.

    AO asks: “Are you seriously saying that the societies that produced nazi exterminatory antisemitism is ‘the same sort’ of society that produced the murder of Jews in York in the 12th Century?, or that the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 is the product of the ‘same sort of imagery’ as the antisemitism of Hamas?”

    Instead of offering a pseudo theoretical defense of the possibility of a history of antisemitism I will merely ask AO: “if as you claim the antisemitism of Hamas is so different from the antisemitism of nazi and Czarist pogromist Jew hatred, how do yu explain the presence of “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in the Hamas charter? Moreover why would say, Iranian Hezbollah antisemites like Ahmadinejad wish to clear the Nazis of their genocidal murder of the Jews of Europe?”

    Moreover, lest one think that this is one way stream of thought and only Muslims quote Euro-antisemites and not vice-versa, how are we to explain a few years back of a Swiss antisemitic Nazi converting to Islam I order to be able to hate Jews without being made to feel guilty?
    In addition how do you explain gthe eagerness with which Western antisemitic Nazis joined Ahmadinejad in Teheran to proclaim that the “Holocaust was a fraud?”

    There are certain themes that antisemites resort to over many years, sometime cetnuries which are still very much with us and to cite these in a history of antisemitism doesn’t make that history any more a-historical than to claim that meteors have been crushing into the earth for millennia make such claims unscientific.

    When Dreyfus was convicted of treason any Frenchman who insisted that the trial was tainted by forged evidence was said to be the agent of Jews. (See: Dreyfus: Politics, Emotion, and the Scandal of the Century by Ruth Harris)
    This is probably
    what N Friedman meant when he said that Adnan Rasheed seeing the Jews behind the attempt to turn Muslims into Englishman:

    “Why they want to make all human beings English? because Englishmen are the staunch supporters and slaves of Jews.” (Cited from N Friedman’s post above.)
    Finally, who ever said that quoting Hamas and a Russian pogromist or a Frenchman of the Action Française on antisemitism is an a-histporical move?
    These belong to the same history as does David Duke and Charles Maurras as well as Alfred Rosenberg. If I don’t add the 12th century Jews of York of those of Spain in 1492 or Muslim anti-Judaism of the same time period is because they the latter prepared the ground for the former. Medieval Christian and Muslim Jew haters shaped the world that made the presence of a Voltaire or a Maurras or an Ahmadinejad possible.

    To say this is not to minimize the differences between a Voltaire and anm Ahamdinejad. This is what a theory of the history of antisemitism has to grapple with and not take the easy way out and call it a-historical.

    • Absolute Observer Says:

      Well Jacob, if you think I am saying that there is no such thing as a history of antisemitism, then you evidently haven’t understood a word that I have said.
      What I reject is the notion of antisemitism as an ahistorical and asocial teleology. This superficial way of thinking is clear in your comment that ‘the 12th century Jews of York of those of Spain in 1492 or Muslim anti-Judaism of the same time period is because they the latter prepared the ground for the former’ – ‘prepared the ground for the former’?? Really? So, nothing else needed??
      Hannah Arendt comments that the question is not whether the Protocols is or is not a forgery, but why the nazis and so many other believed it to be true and why they made it a blueprint for their own project.
      The answer to this question cannot be provided by a view of antisemitism in a idealist fashion that has recourse to the history of antisemitism alone, but instead has to do some hard work to explain why there, why then and not, say, England or the US?
      We know that there have been wars for centuries. Do you really think you can explain, say, WW1 by talking about Agincourt alone as ‘preparing the ground’ for the Somme. Of course not! Likewise one cannot explain comments by Ahmandinejad by referring to Mauras, Duke, Voltaire, St Paul, etc..
      So let me be clear.
      There is a history of antisemitism; it does often draw on similar imagery that appears to link one moment with another (all wars kill people) It is useful in fighting antisemitism to show people these connections (Lobby’s, Christ-kllers, child-killers, etc.). But although important, hardly amounts to understanding.
      Contemporary antisemitism has specific causes that cannot be properly explained by the ‘historical’ sigh of, ‘see, the West/Islam (the whole world??) has always been antisemitic’. Not only does that condemn history to a species of fate, but also does nothing to understand and so help combat what is really going on today.

      I also think that such a mistaken view of what antisemitic is also today plays an ideological role that is problematic. It is the idea that, since the entire world is, has been and always will be hostile, Jews are only truly safe living amongst themselves (whether than living together is in Israel or in the diaspora). (As I said, it is similar to the anti-zionist myth that Jews ’cause’ antisemitism – the idea that non-Jews only ‘tolerate’ Jews on condition they behave themselves).

      The irony of your criticism concerning my view of history is that it is not me, but you who present antisemitism as ahistorical. Many simplistic accounts of nazi, genocidal antisemitism believed that the Shoah was an event that was written into history from its origins; equally simplistic accounts today treat the antisemitism of an Ahmadinejad in the same way; same old, same old. We see this most commonly in books of the ‘history of antisemitism’ that start with the early Church (or before) and, whereas a few years ago would end with the nazi regime, now has an extra chapter tacked on called something like ‘Muslim (or New) antisemitism’. The paradox here is that in these presentations of antisemitism, the ‘New’ Antisemitism is in fact, anything but new, but something that is as old as time itself (as the song says).

      • N. Friedman Says:


        Nirenberg’s assertion is that Antisemitism draws, in large measure, on Supersessionism, which, on his view, is an attempt to solve the problem of what to do with the Hebrew Scriptures and the promises made in those books to Jews.

        Your approach to the issue of Antisemitism is to find it, essentially, only in local situations, rather in some more basic material that drives people, whether of good or bad will, to hold Jews in contempt. If people are raised to believe that Judaism is a corrupting influence on human beings – i.e., the view of most of the early Church fathers, of the founders of modernity, of the founders of modern nationalism, of some of the founders of modern socialism, etc., etc. – the place where people of nastier inclination will look for material upon which to populate their resentments will be in the beliefs in which they were raised. Why bother to invent some new evil when there is all this juicy stuff about a nasty religion that creates an evil people?

        • Absolute observer Says:

          ,Your approach to the issue of Antisemitism is to find it, essentially, only in local situations, rather in some more basic material that drives people, whether of good or bad will, to hold Jews in contempt.’

          Not really! My approach focuses precisely on what yours leaves out. From what I understand you to be saying is that there is a link between a general/generic idea about Jews that ‘drives’ (a fairly strong word) people, regardless of intent, to not like Jews. (And of course you are right that many people who are not antisemitic say and even believe some silly things about Jews).
          My approach is to include the nature of the society and the socia relations of which it comprises to understand what it is about that society that allows the ideology of antisemitsm to take hold of some, many and/or all. What is it about that society that places jews at the centre of their worldview? Obviously, the existence of past episodes of antisemitism and the forms they take (supersessionism, blood libel (to cite some of the theological forms, lobby, press control (and other secular forms) are important in this question. However, it does not answer why antisemitism only becomes ‘effective’ at some times and not other times. In other words, we have to explain the periods when antisemitsm has not determined the lives of Jews as much as the times it has. Merely pointing to its idealist teleology will not help.
          Indeed (and please forgive recourse to Godwin’s law), one of the greatest tragedies was the assumption made by non-Jews and Jews alike (even among sections of antisemites) that nazi antisemitism was ‘simply’ a repetition of what went before. It obviously wasn’t.
          Likewise, we would be making the same error after the Shoah as well if we did not spend time trying to understand the here and now (of course with reference to the past). A large part of defeating something is to understand it as fully as possible. It’s just that I think Niremberg’s work and.others of its kind falls short of that need.

          When it comes to the teachings of Islam, if I want to learn its theology, its history, its splits, it’s ruptures, its diverse interpretations, I would spend time searching for someone qualified to teach me about these matters; just like if I wanted to learn about Judaism.
          The problem I have with the sources you cite is,with all due respect, the same problem I have with antisemitism and the approaches I am criticising; that it sees so e forms of contemporary antisemitism in terms of an unmediated link to the words of the qu’ran, just like for example, antisemites trace their myths abut Jews to the Talmud. Not only is such an approach frankly racist (all Jews/all Muslims who believe in their holy texts to help guide their lives, cannot but be tarred with the same brush), but it tells me little about why there, why now, and why that group and not that group of Jews or of Muslims, etc.
          I hope this clarifies matters.

    • N. Friedman Says:

      I do note that Nirenberg devotes an entire chapter to Anti-Judaism in Islam. The chapter runs just under 48 pages in my book. While it is clearly not the centerpiece of his book, his discussion is illuminating, focusing on the somewhat similar Supersessionism that is so important to Christian anti-Judaism.

      Absolute, to note, is, I think, a believer in a make believe Islam. Islam is a religion and religions have all sorts of doctrines, some rather beautiful and some rather nasty. As a religion of law, Islam has a very well developed law relating to the terms upon which conquered nations of people of other faiths may be tolerated. It is not quite the same doctrine as the Christian doctrine. And, it has, I think, both advantages and disadvantages to the Christian model. The most basic advantage I know of is that, because Islam is a religion of laws, there are limits placed on the harm that might be directed against infidel Jews (and Christians). This has, while not leading to anything akin to the good life that apologists for Islam assert, allowed a somewhat less nasty time – or, to be more exact, fewer instances of horrific brutality – for Jews in Muslim countries (as noted by Bernard Lewis, among others) than, in many periods and places in Christiandom. (Of course, this is not true always from place to place and over time; just generally speaking.) On the other hand, we are not talking about a form of tolerance than any of us would wish upon our worst enemies. We are, by and large, speaking about mere survival as second class non-citizens, who were made to accept their place in society and, given that it lasted for many centuries, to internalize the limits placed upon their lives.

      So, Nirenberg may have developed the similarities and differences further than he did. But, to note, the book was about the “West,” not about “Oriental” notions. He does provide enough information that we can see that his point applies in Islamic countries. Other writers have connected the Islamic version of Supersessionism to life in Islamic regions and to the periodic upsurge in hatred directed against, for example, Jews. However, the writers who have done so are branded as being racist, which is an unfair accusation and, I might add, an ignorant one. Had Nirenberg followed through on his chapter and traced well known instances of anti-Judaism in the Islamic regions, he too would have been branded beyond the pale.

      • Absolute observer Says:

        I have to ask where you have studied Islam? Did you study it with an Iman? Or at a secular institution, such as a religious studies department? I only ask because I wonder about the authority you have for the pronouncements that you are making about its theology and its rules. After all, you and I could probably go to the Jewish testament and find some fairly nasty things and draw the same conclusions. Someone knowledgeable in the field would then say, wait a moment, yes it may say that, but if you look at what has been said about it over the centuries, how it was and id interpreted by learned men (and more recently, women), then you’d realise you know nothing at all of what you speak.
        Actually, the last place you want to look for antisemitism among those who claimed qu’ranic authority is the qu’ran, just as the last place you want to look to understand contemporary Israeli politics (even those of the settlers) is the Hebrew testament. Life ain’t the simple.

        • N. Friedman Says:


          I have a degree in religion, have studied original sources on Islam, not to mention innumerable secondary sources. What I have noted is not in the least bit controversial – or, at least it was not when I was a student. Moreover, I have studied Islamic law most particularly as it relates to the rule of non-Muslims, which is the topic I mentioned.

          Muslim views about Jews are not a big secret. You can read, if you would like, a translation of the former Grand Sheikh of Egypt, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy, scholarly work on Jews and Judaism. It is translated into English. He sets forth the traditional view, drawing upon traditional sources. You can also learn about Islamic law, as it relates to the treatment of infidel subjects living under Muslim rule by reading more popular titles, such as works by Bernard Lewis (e.g., his book, The Jews of Islam, which is, if anything, too kind to the history). You might read a recent, for the lay person, book, by Sir Martin Gilbert, called, In Ishmael’s House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands, which is a marvelous book.

          If you would like an excellent introduction to the topic of Islamic law, I highly recommend Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law, by the great, long deceased, Ignác Goldziher. His was my introduction to Islamic theology and law and, to me, it is by far both the kindest while thorough review of the beliefs held in classical Islam.

          I stand by my comments. I do not understand, if you lack a background in the topic, your casting aspersions on people who have written books you have not read. I do not understand why you do so and, in this instance, mischaracterize what an author of a well received book has written.

        • Absolute Observer Says:

          Dear N,
          Apologies for not seeing evidence of undergraduate learning running throughout your comments on these matters and others.Re-reading them, it is now patently obvious.

  8. Absolute Observer Says:

    ‘The fact that there are antisemitic imagery and tropes hanging about comes in useful at times for plying this new logic of hate.’
    Interesting comment.
    My only question/quibble is the sentence above.
    Is it not possible that the conflict in Israel and Palestine not only draws on pre-existing antisemitism images and tropes but also brings about new ones; that the conflict that some frame as Jews v Palestinians and others Jews and Muslims creates new forms of antisemitic imagery of the former? After all, we see in the present times new forms of Islamophobia coming into being in the States and elsewhere post 9/11, even though forms of this racism have been in existence prior to these times?
    I guess what I am saying is that contemporary antisemitism is as much a radical distortion of real conflicts and relations as it is a case of drawing on a pre-existing resource.

    • Aloevera Says:

      Dear Absolute Observer–

      It is possible that the current Israel/Palestine conflict creates new antisemitic imagery and tropes–but I can’t think of anything new offhand. All the imagery one sees in the Arab/Muslim press and other media–the Jew as “evil genius”, planning to “take over the world”; “child-killer/blood-drinker”, “devious trickster”, dressed in a kind of Hasidic garb with Hasidic style black hat and hooked nose–all these are old images. I suppose you could say “Jew as imperialist” is new–or “Jew as WESTERN imperialist” is new–but these are sort of versions of “Jew taking over the world”. So–I would be interested to know if you have any new imagery in mind.

      • Aloevera Says:

        Come to think about it–there may be something new, in the vein of “Jew as Western imperialist”–and that is: “Ashkenazi as Western imperialist”. Note that certain Left-wing critiques today separate out the “Ashkenazi” (read: “Westerner”–always bad) from the more pure, natural, native “Mizrahi” who has been led astray by the evil machinations of the Ashkenaiim (read: “Zionism”)–led into the valley of death (read: “imperialism”) and away from their natural affinity with others (Arabs/Muslims) in the Middle East with whom, before Zionism, they (MIzrahiim) “always-lived-happily-under-their-protection”.

        In other words–no consideration that the world has changed and no one wants to live under the protective sufferance of others–and no comments about where the “Sefaradiim” (non-Ashkenazi, but often European–such as Italian, Jews) fit into this scheme–but–oh, well–it was all never about logic, let alone the complexities of reality. It is about feeling good through beleaguered solidarity with underdogs.

      • Absolute Observer Says:

        Dear Aloevera,
        Thanks for this. I think you are right. Jew as Imperialist is (relatively) new, although it was common in the 1960’s Soviet Union. (Not sure if it appeared there for the first time).
        As to what other images are new, not sure I can think of any off hand. However, as I mention in another comment, there has been a shift of emphasis in the antisemitic imagery (most notably with the demise of an overt ‘race’ way of presenting the Jews – though this has had the ‘advantage’ for those who argue that since they are not ‘racist’ antisemites, then they cannot be antisemitic, period.) Moreover, images only tell us some of the story. As I mentioned, and as I think you comments address, we also need to ask why it is now, in this particular situation, that those images, which as we know have been around for decades or, in some instance, centuries, have the power today and not ‘yesterday’ (nor ‘tomorrow’) to appear to ‘speak truth to power’ and mobilise in both political and social term. In other words, it is not so much the power of the images themselves, but the power to make these images relevant to today’s world that needs to be addressed (and which your comments go some way to explaining).

        • Aloevera Says:

          Dear Absolute Observer–

          You raise the issue of “why now” regarding certain antisemitic tropes are relevant in today’s world.

          I can only respond with a version of what I have written in other posts in this discussion–which I realize are not completely satisfactory–but maybe a beginning of a way to think about the issue…

          Contemporary life is wrought with tensions and uproars brought in by difficulties associated with the current state of globalization/migrations/internet doings. One response is the world-wide proliferation of ideologies–and ideological thinking (such as we see in contemporary Islamism, Tea-Party, Anti-Imperialism of the “International Left”–and so on). These orientations are widely appealed to because they promise to offer easy-to-manage sense and order out of what comes across as confounding confusion and disorder. Ideological thinking is very oversimplified vis-a-vis the complexities of reality–and requires a “bad guy” as a kind of foil for “goodness and purity”.

          Among what Judith Butler has called “The International Left”–and in certain other sectors of the Left–“anti-imperialism” has become the new ideology. This is a sort of natural progression out of “identity politics” which had been the focus of the Left after it switched from concern with equality of economic circumstances to equality of identity back in the 1960’s. Anti-imperialism is identity-politics-gone-global–“fitting” identity politics for the current age of globalization. So–the new focus, often made ideological according to the widespread need for ideology today– needs its new “bad guy”. The “bad guy” of ideological anti-imperialism is “The Imperialist”–or, more specifically–“The Western Imperialist” (non-Western imperialism is left out of the equation because if it were added–everybody would be a “bad guy”–and we can’t have that–because then there is no focus for the emotion-laden mobilizing of the “pure” against “the evil”). And part of the “Western Imperial” enterprise is: Israel and Zionism! This position requires a certain ideational acrobatics–or sleight of hand–but that is precisely what ideological thinking excels at doing. And once one takes that position–one can attract (purposely or not) all the antisemitic hangers-on in various societies to come on board this enterprise and amplify this “Jew/Ashkenazi-as-Imperialist” point for their own reasons, replete with all their antisemitic tropes and imagery–all the while claiming, if you are a good progressivist–that one is not against Jews, but “only-against-Zionism”.

          I think that is the chain of associations that is now widely made.

  9. Jacob Arnon Says:

    “What I reject is the notion of antisemitism as an ahistorical and asocial teleology.”
    I don’t think you were able to assimilate assimilate my meaning, AO.

    It’s easy to throw around terms like “superficial” and to keep insisting that people you disagree with are “a-historical.”

    My views are neither a historical nor superficial (favorite Marxist insulting terms). One can be historical in the Marxist sense and still get things wrong. (Marx. for example was often wrong, but I am not here to discuss Marx or Marxist historiography.)
    In any case, I would still like to define “historical” as opposed to “a-historical.”

    I would also like to explain why 21st century antisemites use 19th century antisemitic tropes and images?

    Antisemitic writing is always wrong: it is based on false premises and on forgeries as well as on make believe fiction. It is to use AO phrase a-historical in the extreme, yet it seems to be effective in as much as it gets people, millions of people to accept that the forgeries are true and that false premises are valid.

    How do you explain all of these inconvenient facts, Absolute Observer?

    • Absolute Observer Says:

      OK Jacob, we can continue this conversation in a rude and abrasive manner. I am as culpable as that as anyone, but let’s change the tone now shall we?

      1. ‘Historical’ means, in this case, relating antisemitism to what is actually going on in the world, rather than treating it in an idealist manner; i.e. that it is ideas that determine, not the images of antisemitism, but why antisemitism is a particular problem at a particular moment and at a particular time. We have to understand what is going on in the world or a given society, region, etc. that allows people to present ‘normal’ political problems in racist, antisemitic terms. What is it about the times, etc. that allow antisemitic discourse and practices to gain currency in some places in some times and not others? Idealist accounts of antisemitism will not get us very far.
      2. ‘Superficial’ in this sense means recourse to a view of antisemitism that draws solely on imagery created in the past and merely ‘applies’ it to the situation in hand – that is, it eschews the historical actuality of antisemitism by looking at what is specific about it today and the causes of its existence.
      3. Yes, of course, much of contemporary antisemitism draws on the images of 19th century antisemitism (however, it is t be noted that 19th century antisemitism claimed a complete breach with the Christian antisemitism that preceded it, although it connected with it in other aspects. It is the case also that prior to the 19th century, the idea of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world was virtually unheard of).
      However, one of the big differences between contemporary antisemitism and that of the 19th century is precisely the lack of ‘racial determinants’. It is rare to find the idea of Jews as an evil determined by their race (blood). On the other hand, connections between the eras appear in tales of manipulation (press, media, governments, etc. – although even here, the role of Jews as international financier is not as prevalent as before); we also have incidents now of Jews as baby killers and even of Christ-killers.
      Yet, as I have mentioned, to an extent this is not really the problem. The problem to be solved, understood and countered is why has antisemitism appeared now; why, in other words, have these images been found to serve a purpose in today’s situation? That is the real question.
      So, yes, while (superficially) some forms of antisemitism appear as if they have been the same since the early Church, since the Middle Ages, since Voltaire, since Stoecker, since Maurras, since Rosenberg, since Ahmadinejad, etc., their content as well as their conditions of existence (i.e. both for their own antisemitism as well as the attraction it has for others as a way of explaining the world) has differed from each other in virtually all cases. It is those conditions and their causes of that attraction that need to be explained in their singularity, rather than as but one episode in a teleology of ‘endless repetition’, and rather than, or less so than the forms in which they appear.

      ‘Antisemitic writing is always wrong: it is based on false premises and on forgeries as well as on make believe fiction. It is to use AO phrase a-historical in the extreme’
      Agreed. Of course ‘antisemitism’ is half-baked lunacy and completely and utterly a-historical in the extreme. However, despite this fact, its social potency, it social effects as an ideology, is completely historical (and I would argue often infuses the forms which may appear to be the same). And, in short, that is my point. Why at any given time do people actually believe what is and always been complete and utter garbage, complete and utter fantasy, and act as if it were true?
      Surely that is the question; a question that cannot be fully and satisfactorily answered by the approach that you seem to support and I have criticised.

      You are right about another thing. These facts are indeed ‘inconvenient’, but, unfortunately, not for the reasons you think, but rather for reasons which partly explain why you and I are having this conversation in the first place.

      • Jacob Arnon Says:

        I agree AO observer about the need for civility.

        I will reply to your extensivr reply later on, which will be tomorrow British time.

        Didn’t want you to think I have forgotten you.

      • Jacob Arnon Says:

        Absolute Observer Says:

        “1. ‘Historical’ means, in this case, relating antisemitism to what is actually going on in the world, rather than treating it in an idealist manner; i.e. that it is ideas that determine, not the images of antisemitism, but why antisemitism is a particular problem at a particular moment and at a particular time.”
        Thanks for offering a definition of antisemitism, but I lost you, AO I don’t understand what you mean either by “ideas” or “Images.”
        I will try to restate what I think you meant, tellme if I am wrong: you seem to be opposing what you call the image of antisemitism to its actual occurrence at some period in time, you further seem to saying that to grasp its meaning one had to look at other socio-political events at that period in time.
        For example you seem to be saying that to understand what an antisemitic pogrom in late 19c Russia one has to also study other social and political upheavals at the same time period in Russia, for example: the assassination of Czar Alexander 2 in 1880 had a decisive effect on subsequent Jewish society in the Russian Empire.

        If this is what you are saying then I have no quarrel with that. Nothing I said goes against the close study of contemporary socio-political developments.
        Another example might be the rise of antisemitism in France after the Franco-German war of 1870. This according to the some Dreyfus affair historians led to the indictment of a Jewish Officer on charges of treason.

        “2. ‘Superficial’ in this sense means recourse to a view of antisemitism that draws solely on imagery created in the past and merely ‘applies’ it to the situation in hand – that is, it eschews the historical actuality of antisemitism by looking at what is specific about it today and the causes of its existence.”
        Again nothing I said would lead one to believe that I thought that one must rely solely on images of antisemitism of the past and avoid taking into consideration of the actual contemporary events.

        “3. Yes, of course, much of contemporary antisemitism draws on the images of 19th century antisemitism (however, it is t be noted that 19th century antisemitism claimed a complete breach with the Christian antisemitism that preceded it, although it connected with it in other aspects.”

        I don’t know what you mean when you say “although it is connected with it in some other aspects.” You can’t have a “complete breach” with Christian antisemitism and see some “connection to it.”

        To me the breach is merely “superficial” in the way you defined the image above. We do get a “secular antisemitism” as in Voltaire and later on in Wagner or the post Darwinian antisemites that relied on spurious “scientific data.”

        It was in “Edouard Drumont’s anti-Semitic tract, “La France Juive’” that you find an amalgamation of traditional religious (here Catholic) antisemitism combined with “racialized theory” drawing on Darwin which opposed the Jews to Semites, etc. The tract was published in 1886 and was post Franco-Prussian war and post Dreyfus affair.

        Hence the breach between religious Christian antisemitism was nominal and not actual. Action Française (1890’s) fought for a ‘Catholic’ (read non Jewish) France.

        Still I agree withyou when you say that: “It is the case also that prior to the 19th century, the idea of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world was virtually unheard of).”

        Conspiracy theories can be traced to the French Revolution when the legitimate King was put to death. Many have argued the point from different points of view: Camus and Foucault, for example.

        Michael Walzer in his magnificent book The Company of Critics has a chapter on Foucault which has much to say about the ‘conspiracy prone modern world.’ (Phrase is mine.)

        What I find baffling in your replies, AO is your habit of reading into mu comments notions and intentions which are not there.

        I don’t believe in an “eternal antisemitism.” Nor do I think that any particular even was predetermined. However one still has to account for the antisemitic phenomenon which has accompanied Jewish life for much of its life in the galut. This isn’t an a historical question. It the essential question of why Jes have been the target of racial and religious hatred. The pre Marxist left accused the Jews of being responsible for that hatred. Marx in this sense was pre-Marxist and post Marxist. As was the French Jewish leftist critic Bernard Lazare who had written prior to the Dreyfus affair a history of antisemitism in which he blamed Jews for the malaise. It was only after he encountered the Dreyfus affair that he changed course and became a kind of Zionist.

        To my mind Marxist thought with its reliance on the “hidden structures of power” the throne behind the throne as it were, made conspiracy theories inevitable.

        The revival of antisemitism in post Holocaust Europe has to my mind a number of sources: the fall of the Soviet State, second, the rise of radical Islam in Iran with its State supported antisemitic agenda along with the dissemination of Muslim Brotherhood ideology in Europe with its emphasis of Judaism and Jews as the enemy of religion and of “legitimate power.”
        Also on my list is the rise of deconstructive theory especially, but not only that of Foucault. Foucault was not an antisemite, but his notion of a “disciplinary societies” (in post-revolutionary France) based on power relations gave ammunition to many antisemites on the left.

        This is just skimming the surface of a rich subject, but time and patience have its limits.

    • Aloevera Says:

      Dear Jacob Arnon–

      You say to Absolute Observer:
      I would also like to explain why 21st century antisemites use 19th century antisemitic tropes and images…it seems to be effective in as much as it gets people, millions of people to accept that the forgeries [Protocols of the Elders of Zion?] are true and that false premises are valid.How do you explain all of these inconvenient facts, Absolute Observer?

      I don’t know how Absolute Observer would explain that–but I can think of several explanations, different for different sorts of “demographics” given the uneven development of the world’s populations, which are now in greater contact with one another than ever before:

      1-The Uneducated: Some people are not very educated–even illiterate. They can hold what more educated people may think of as unsophisticated, over-simplified thinking in terms of categories and the otherwise complex workings of relationships. such people may be prey to following the dictums of certain opinion leaders who they find authoritative–and if these opinion leaders push the already handy antisemitic images and tropes of the 19th/early 20th century in contemporary media or from pulpits–then the unsophisticated will follow.

      2-The True Believer: Some people are given to following ideological thinking–which is also heavily over-simplified and which must see the world in terms of the contrast of stark “good” and “bad”–with no gray areas because gray areas are not emotionally attractive and make poor points for rallying or mobilizing. Once again, the already handy, older antisemitic imagery can be readily tapped for inclusion to the “bad” side. Why are some people, many of whom are otherwise well-educated, be given to this kind of thinking? I find it rather a fascinating mystery–an issue discussed, but not answered–in Eric Hoffer’s now-classic work: The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951). I suppose, (although here I enter into the domain of social psychology where I ordinarily don’t like to go) that ideological thinking is particularly attractive at time of great social upheaval because it provides some sort of order, ideationally in the form of clear categories and explanations and socially in the form of the comforts to be enjoyed from the solidarity of the “beleaguered pure”.

      3-Social Disruption: Places or arenas undergoing great conflict may resort to blaming scape-goats–and once again, already-existing antisemitic tropes can be readily tapped–that is why, for example, some people in East Asia (where traditionally there have hardly been any Jews) can see “Jewish Bankers” as the cause of current economic difficulties.


      In other words–the images and tropes of older versions of antisemitism are already handy–and already internationally relatively well-publicized or well-known because the “Death of Jesus” or “The Holocaust” or various other doings involving Jews have long been well-known internationally. So–if you happen to need a “bad guy”–here it is. Ultimately, this already-existing imagery comes into contact with the marriage of lazy thinking and the need for simple explanations.

  10. Jacob Arnon Says:

    “Dear Jacob Arnon: … In other words–the images and tropes of older versions of antisemitism are already handy–and already internationally relatively well-publicized or well-known because the “Death of Jesus” or “The Holocaust” or various other doings involving Jews have long been well-known internationally. So–if you happen to need a “bad guy”–here it is. Ultimately, this already-existing imagery comes into contact with the marriage of lazy thinking and the need for simple explanations.”

    Thanks for your reply. I agree with much of what you said. I would question the view that the “educated” unless “true believers” are not subject to antisemitic propaganda (tropes), but that’s a discussion for another time.

  11. Jacob Arnon Says:

    This isn’t directed at anyone in particular but endless debate about is and isn’t antisemitism is often a way of not dealing with it. I am as guilty as anyone in quibbling about it.

  12. Jacob Arnon Says:

    I can’t find Mr. Burn’s complete comment hence my reply is to the quote in the email sent to me:

    “When someone states “The Nazis weren’t into nationalism” it makes it difficult to take anything else he says seriously.”

    I am with David on this one:

    The Nazis used nationalism the way Hamas and Hezbollah use nationalism in their justification of their war with the Jewish nation. Hamas is universalist Islamist ideology whose aim is to bring the whole world under the domination of Islam.

    The National Socialists were a racialist not a national ideology and their aim was to bring the whole world under the submission of the Aryan race.

    Communism which never thought of itself as a nationalist ideology embraced nationalism during the first World war as well as the second world war. After the war many communist parties from Yugoslavia to Cuba Algeria and Cuba also embraced nationalist dogmas.

    Here I am just skimming the surface but clearly nationalist and internationalist ideologies were and are means to an end: racialist or religious domination, and the dominion of the “working class” elite.

    This has been argued clearly by Hannah Arendt among others and I would have thought that every serious student of ideology would have known this by now.

    • William Burns Says:

      The Nazis portrayed themselves as leaders of the German nation, appealed to the desire to reverse the “Versailles humiliation” and used conservative nationalists of other nations as their preferred collaborators (France, Slovakia). The idea that they “weren’t into nationalism” is based on prioritizing their long-range, theoretical goals (Aryan worldwide hegemony) over their practical, medium-range goals (German hegemony in Europe, to be achieved in alliance with Japan if necessary). Same thing with Hamas–they’re Palestinian nationalists first (which is why they don’t get along very well with the Islamic supremacists of Al Qaeda. who really arent’ nationalists).

      “Serious” students of ideology know that Hannah Arendt isnt the last word on this stuff.

      • Jacob Arnon Says:

        It seems to me, Mr. William Burns, that our disagreement is not over whether the Nazis were authentic nationalists but as to how sincere they were in using nationalist language and imagery on the road to Nazification. I don’t rely solely on Hannah Arendt’s views as I doubt David does.
        At this point in time there is no reason to see the Nazis as “nationalists” in any meaningful sense.

        Hamas has on many occasions said that they were not just a narrow “Palestinian” organization but an Islamist one working towards the re-establishment of the Muslim Ummah and not just a Sha’b.

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