This paper, by David Hirsh, is published in the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, JSA Vol 5#1 2013.
Sociology is not immune from the ambivalence toward antisemitism that has haunted anti-hegemonic intellectual and political traditions. Yet in this paper, I argue that the resources of sociology can be mobilized to examine the ways in which antisemitism is sometimes manifested in discourses and movements against Israel and Zionism, even those which think of themselves as antiracist.
This paper does not present an overview of [debates around the ‘new antisemitism’], but instead focuses on evidence and analysis relevant to three key theoretical aspects of them:
• Antisemitism should be understood as a social phenomenon that is not reducible to the intent or the self-consciousness of the social actors involved. Antisemitism is a social fact that is produced through shared meanings and exclusions; it is not an individual moral failing.
• Difficulties of understanding are raised by the shift from explicit and self-conscious racism and antisemitism to discursive and institutional forms of racism and antisemitism. This paper discusses methodological questions concerning how to recognize racism and antisemitism when it is not straightforwardly observable in an unmediated way.
• Anti-Zionism tends to understand Israeli nationalism in a spirit that diverges from standard sociological approaches to nationalism. In this regard, this paper points toward a critique of conceptualism and a defense of a more materialist cosmopolitanism. Sociological approaches to the study of nationalism can help signpost us back toward understanding Israel as being a worldly material phenomenon rather than an ethereal and unique signifier. Sociological approaches can steer us away from ways of thinking about the world that give extraordinary explanatory power to Jews.
David Hirsh is a sociology lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London.