Jackie Walker: in the tradition of Bruno Bauer

This piece is written by an academic in London who wishes to remain anonymous.

The authors of today’s letter printed in the Guardian ask why Walker’s comments are antisemitic. That answer can be found, as so often, in the very origins of modern antisemitism, most notably in the anti-emancipationist arguments of sections of the left.

Here is Bruno Bauer on the subject that Jewish particularism will always trump Universal humanity,

“Very well,” it is said, and the Jew himself says it, “the Jew is to become emancipated not as a Jew, not because he is a Jew, not because he possesses such an excellent, universally human principle of morality; on the contrary, the Jew will retreat behind the citizen and be a citizen, although he is a Jew and is to remain a Jew. That is to say, he is and remains a Jew, although he is a citizen and lives in universally human conditions: his Jewish and restricted nature triumphs always in the end over his human and political obligations. The prejudice remains in spite of being outstripped by general principles. But if it remains, then, on the contrary, it outstrips everything else.”

More recently, the idea that Jews exploit the memory of the Holocaust in their own name and so deny recognition of other sufferings is common among far-right nationalist groups in several Eastern European countries.

Yet, this is not the only debt Walker owes to the tradition of antisemitism.

Just as Bauer argued that as long as Jews remain Jews they will be the enemies of a progressive emancipatory politics, so Walker picks up the same refrain, this time, however, referring not to Jews per se, but to those who raise the issue of antisemitism,

All racism is abhorrent and I’m not saying that anti-semitism does not exist in the Labour party…I am saying that claims of its significance are being exaggerated for political purposes and this has been done at huge cost to our movement,to our communities and to many individual people.

The question, therefore, is not why Walker’s comments are antisemitic, but, rather, how can people argue they are not?

This piece is written by an academic in London who wishes to remain anonymous.

5 Responses to “Jackie Walker: in the tradition of Bruno Bauer”

  1. juliapascal7 Says:

    That the writer remains anonymous reveals a great deal.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Not necessarily, Julia. They may be in a position where bravery is commendable but risky. I’m at the stage of life (safely retired) where I don’t have to worry about the views of colleagues, just don’t upset my friends too much. I’m not sure that I’d want to risk upsetting the likes of Jackie Walker too much if I worked with her on a daily basis. She sounds like someone who is one of the “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts” brigade. Disagree with her, and all one will get is invective. Just like anyone who finds it difficult to believe that anything they say could possibly be antisemitic, especially when they claim that they haven’t found any definitions of antisemitism that make sense to them.

      Not that she’d take kindly to being urged to start with, say, the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism, as adopted by British police forces nationwide. As her erstwhile colleague Ken Livingstone doesn’t take kindly to being told that he is making antisemitic statements, especially when he is doing just that. Repeatedly.

  2. Jonathan Lowenstein Says:

    Thank you for bringing this letter to our attention. I think you will find that all the letter’s signatories are “Jewish”, at least technically. You piece is misleading in that the letter is not anonymous, it is signed by a group. I assume that all the signatories are members of Momentum, though that is not clearly stated.
    There is a tendency in this debate to attribute quotes to the other side and then debate those, which is what the letter’s signatories have done, quoting Yehuda Bauer – not Bruno Bauer – and giving no source for the quote so that it is impossible to know its accuracy or context. The issue is Jackie Walker, not Yehuda Bauer.

    If you have issue with what Ms Walker said then you should quote her directly and that is what the letter writer’s should have done. Instead they impune the motives for defining her as an anti-Semite (or whatever), but that is irrelevant, only the validity of the reasons for suspending her are an issue.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      Jonathan, it is the author of the article on this page who wishes to remain anonymous, not the signatories to the letter in The Guardian.

      Otherwise, everything you say is spot on target.

  3. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    And talking about Jackie Walker, the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on antisemitism in the Labour Party this weekend: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmhaff/136/136.pdf.

    The summary and recommendations are on pp. 50-57.

    They make fascinating reading.

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