The cancellation on “health and safety” grounds of a planned anti-Israel conference at Southampton University is causing much controversy. This hides a deeper problem with the conference: its organiser’s insistence that Zionism can only be understood by deep reference and understanding of Jews, Judaism, “Jewish being” and “Jewish pathology”.
The organiser is Professor Oren Ben Dor, whose thinking sits alongside that of the better known Gilad Aztmon. Both men are ex-Israelis living and working in Britain. They both hold up Jewish anti-Zionists as some kind of ultimate supposed proof that Zionism can only be fundamentally understood (and more importantly opposed) as an extension of Jewishness.
Atzmon’s anti-Zionism has caused turmoil in anti-Israel circles. Most left wing anti-israel activists anxiously manufacture distance between Zionists and Jews (i.e. between anti-Zionism and antisemitism). Ben Dor derides such thinking as “politically correct” and opposes it every bit as bitterly as does Atzmon.
Atzmon’s insistence on linking “the Jewish Question” and Zionism means leftist Jewish anti-Zionists have led a fractious but largely successful campaign to have Atzmon declared antisemitic and beyond the pale within anti-Israel circles. Now, with Ben Dor at its core, the Southampton anti-Israel conference threatens to derail this.
As Jewish anti-Zionist Tony Greenstein has stated of Ben Dor’s association with Atmzon:
he has aligned himself with a small, anti-Semitic current on the fringes of the Palestinian movement.
Ben Dor is a staggeringly turgid writer and speaker, whilst Atzmon is a showman: but nobody is compelled to visit his website, read his book or attend his meetings. In the case of Professor Ben Dor, university students (Jewish and non-Jewish) are being taught by this man.
Ben Dor’s defence of Atzmon in Counterpunch gives some indications of his ideology and impenetrable style. It begins “…No thinking person could fail to be stimulated by the deep connections Gilad [Atzmon] makes”.
It emphasises the link between Zionism and “Jewish being and thinking” and asks if the original aggressive Jewish “victim mentality” and “choseness” persist into Zionism:
…Zionism can be conceived as a symptom the non-empathetic manifestations of which are historically and existentially continuing certain facets of Jewish being and thinking. It is very important to ask whether the originary aggression of victim mentality as well as the choseness-begotten separateness existentially links the Zionist and the Jewish question.
It opposes attempts to “sever the deeper ontological connection” of the “Jewish Question with the Zionist Question”. (Ontological means “the nature of being”.) Ben Dor says this is so deep, that Jews perhaps cannot even oppose Zionism:
…The anti-Zionist struggle must not encage itself in too simplistic a link between the Jewish Question with the Zionist Question–a simplistic link that in fact craves to sever the deeper ontological connection that might persist between the two questions…this very denial of the existential link between the Jewish Question and the Zionist Question – a link that is suppressed by formulations such as “Jews Against Zionism” or, more broadly, by many attempts of “Jews” to become anti-Zionist – that needs to be questioned and destabilised.
He then implies that the meaning of the Jewish link with Zionism means that it is not sufficient to only challenge “the symptom – Zionism”:
To be an anti-Zionist without due regard to that being and thinking that Zionism may so tragically continue, may well be to confuse symptom and cause, thus perpetuating that history that leaves the symptom – Zionism – intact…
On and on Ben Dor waffles, until he hits upon the Holocaust, stripping its meaning for Jews. This is where his ivory tower is perhaps at its ugliest.
Despite his family having lost many relatives in the Holocaust, Ben Dor shows a startling failure on the most basic human level to accept that Jewish backing for Israel (ie Zionism) is an overwhelmingly natural and human reaction to the Holocaust. He goes further, suggesting that Nazi perpetrators were somehow captives of a deeper historical force that may repeat in the future. Ben Dor does not explicitly rule out the possibility that this “corruption” “between humans and Being long ago” is somehow due to Jewish longevity and influence:
The horrors and murderous violence against Jews may have been a response to events that had corrupted the relationship between humans and Being long ago. Grasped thus, the Holocaust may have been severely distorted by National Socialism; by those who are said to “deny” the Holocaust by some arguments about facts; by self-righteous Jews-against-Zionism; by Zionists. All these forms of forgetfulness of the Holocaust may well be on a common matrix of denial. Indeed this denial may constitute a chronicle of another Holocaust foretold.
My point is that the Holocaust’s significance lies beyond the actions by the Nazis who actually perpetrated the violence and who justified these actions by turning this significance into a militarist object of an idea. The same claim can be made in relation Zionists and their Jewish opponents.
None of this mumbo jumbo features in the actual Southampton conference programme. Instead, it reads as just another faux academic anti-Israel hate fest. Which of its many attendees and defenders even know of Ben Dor’s deeper animosities is open to question: but these animosities are fundamental to his ideological position and place him firmly in the same ball park as Atzmon. An environment in which antisemitic discourse is permitted, even if not fully endorsed and encouraged…thus far.
If Ben Dor is now to be defended within current mainstream leftist anti-Israel and anti-Zionist discourse, this represents a significant lurch towards an anti-Zionism that holds Jews and “Jewish being” as fundamentally responsible for every crime that is laid at Zionism’s door. The antisemitic danger of such a shift is blatant.
For a more comprehensive view of Ben Dor’s animosity, the below video should be viewed. It is too long to summarise, but these give a taster of it:
10.50 [self hatred mentality] “stems…from sublimated hatred of, and supremacy towards, all others”
15.55 “It is the denial that there is something so Jewish in that which has provoked the Holocaust; and the dealing with which has been so successfully postponed by the Holocaust”
18.19 [on Jewish anti-Zionists] “Nothing would prevent them for going and celebrate many feasts of hatred of all others”
18.50 “the connective tissue to the Jewish pathology that actually moves Zionism and the deeper historicity that Zionism is just a fleeting phase of”
This piece is written by Mark Gardner on the CST blog.