Historical Materialism Conference 2009 : A DEBATE ON ZIONISM, ANTISEMITISM AND THE LEFT

Chair: Sebastian Budgen
John Rose
Robert Fine
Shlomo Sand

Here’s Robert Fine’s Speech.

I want to speak today not so much about Zionism and antisemitism themselves but rather about how we think and talk about antisemitism and Zionism. I want to speak more about ourselves and our place in the world than about the rights and wrongs of the existential struggles taking place in the Middle East.
My point of departure is a familiar refrain among critics of Israel that antisemitism is raised as a problem only by those who wish to invalidate criticism of Israel. Let me illustrate this refrain through a few quotations – three from my union, two from academics, two from politicians:

Antisemitism charges are just part of the deal for anyone who speaks out for Palestine.  The important point in all this is that we keep speaking out for Palestine… no one is fooled by this demonizing of all opposition to Israel…  (UCU activist). 

Criticism of Israel cannot be construed as antisemitic (UCU motion 2007)

Criticism of Israel or Israeli policy is not, as such, antisemitic (UCU motion 2008).

The charge of antisemitism is used to translate what one is actually hearing, say a protest against the killing of children and civilians by the Israeli army, into hatred of Jews. (Judith Butler)

By shouting antisemitism every time someone attacks Israel or defends the Palestinians, defenders of Israel rob the word of its universal resonance. If you criticise Israel too forcefully, they warn, you will awaken the demons of antisemitism. Indeed, they suggest, robust criticism of Israel doesn’t just arouse antisemitism. It is antisemitism. (Tony Judt)

For far too long the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government, as I have been. (Ken Livingstone)

I am sick of being accused of anti-Semitism when what I am doing is criticising Israel and the state of Israel. (Jenny Tongue)

What is common to these quotations is a deep scepticism about the alarm Jews and non-Jews express about the growth of antisemitism and about the ties that sometimes bind the growth of antisemitism to negative representations of Israel and Zionism. The argument that the charge of antisemitism serves only to invalidate criticism of the Israeli occupation and human rights abuses is a way of saying that people only raise fears of antisemitism in bad faith. An emphatic insistence that antizionism is not antisemitic, but is labelled antisemitic by ‘defenders of Israel’, presupposes that antisemitism is no longer real, it has become (at least in this context) a political ploy. In some quarters the charge of antisemitism is now almost a badge of honour rather than an occasion for self-reflection. Quite often individuals speak ‘as Jews’ and offer the authority of being Jewish to confirm that criticism of Israel is not antisemitic either in its motives or effects.

From the perspective of the left, a refusal to take antisemitism seriously seems to me a problem for a movement that wishes to be consistently antiracist. From the perspective of a European the idea that it is no longer antisemitism that is troubling Europe but talk of antisemitism seems to me an equally troubling notion.
Let me illustrate my argument through two reports on antisemitism issued by the EU Monitoring Commission (now called the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights) and more saliently through responses made to them by critics of Israel. The European commissioners fully accepted that criticism of Israel is not as such antisemitic, but warned that criticism of Israel can and sometimes does overlap with antisemitism. No one who looks at David Duke’s website should need further persuasion on this issue. The commissioners also argued, however, that liberal and left wing criticism of Israel can also turn into antisemitism if such criticism takes a particular shape or form: for example, if Israel is selected as uniquely evil or violent among nations; or if all Jews or all Israeli Jews are held collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel; or if the military occupation of Palestine is compared with the Nazi extermination of Jews; or if Israel is represented through long established antisemitic myths of world conspiracy, control of the media and murder of non-Jewish children. The commissioners maintained that in such cases substitution of the word ‘Zionist’ for ‘Jewish’ may make little substantial difference to the hostility in question.

These reports raise the question of where legitimate political criticism of Israel stops and antisemitism kicks in. They may or may not have got it right but we should not deny the validity of these concerns. However, the more critical responses to these reports argued that the commissions that produced them were influenced by the Israel lobby, grossly exaggerated the threat posed by antisemitism in Europe, gave excessive weight to the subjective claims of Jews to suffer from antisemitism, and most important gave spurious credence to the notion that criticism of Israel is a form of antisemitism. I think we would all agree that some kinds of ‘criticism’ of Israel – for example, that Jews are congenitally indifferent to the suffering of others or have a blood lust for murdering non-Jewish children or that Jews have no right to live in the Middle East – are antisemitic. It all depends on here we draw the line.

Inside Europe denial of antisemitism in connection with ‘criticism’ of Israel has been closely linked with a rewriting of the post-history, if we can call it so, of the Holocaust. It is said that commemoration of the Holocaust is too exclusive, that it is all about Jewish suffering, that it ignores the millions of non-Jewish civilians also murdered under Nazi rule. It is said that that no universal meaning is drawn from collective memory of the Holocaust, that we suffer from a surfeit of Holocaust museums, films and histories as if this were the only injustice we need to remember. It is said that it is inconsistent to make Holocaust-denial illegal but not denial of other genocides. Why for instance does the Armenian genocide not receive the same attention? It is said finally that memory of the Holocaust serves as an alibi or excuse for current Israeli human rights abuses, or that Jews have collectively become so self-obsessed by their own suffering that they are constitutionally blinded to the suffering of Palestinians.

The normative premises of this kind of criticism of the uses of the Holocaust are unexceptionable. Memory of the Holocaust ought not privilege the suffering of Jews at the expense of other sufferings. The cry of ‘Never Again’ ought not to be converted into an injunction that this crime should never again be done to Jews. The memory of the Holocaust ought not protect Israel from criticism. Concern over antisemitism ought not blind us to other racisms. In brief, those to whom evil is done should not do evil in return. This normative standpoint appears consistently universalistic.

But who says otherwise? Who is it that does not share this universalistic view on life? We are told: ‘they’ are sensitive only to the mass murder of Jews, ‘they’ turn the Holocaust into an excuse to ignore other crimes, ‘they’ shout antisemitism every time someone attacks Israel or defends the Palestinians. Who are ‘they’? The amorphousness of the designated enemy is part of the problem, but the target is clear enough: they are the ‘Zionists’. Zionists are said to instrumentalise the Holocaust for their own purposes.

Now it may be true of certain right-wing Jewish nationalists that they think only or mainly of Jewish suffering and ignore or downplay the suffering of others. But I would wish to make two points. First, it is generally true of nationalists that they respond to racism against their own people in their own nationalistic ways. This is a common enough phenomenon. There is nothing that marks out Jewish nationalists here from the general phenomenon that opposition to racism against ones own people may not be consistently antiracist. Second, to move from a critique of right wing nationalism to the notion that Jews or Israeli Jews only think of their own people is perilously close to a move from a political argument to an antisemitic argument. I think we would all agree on this. And if we move to the notion that ‘Zionists’ only think of their own people, we are not much better off since the term ‘Zionist’ serves more as a term of abuse than as one with any political referent.
Collective memory of the Holocaust does not of course consume our capacity for compassion or makes us blind to the suffering of others. Compassion is not a fixed quantity of capital and memory of the Holocaust equally serves as a ‘fire alarm’ alerting us to other atrocities. Emphasis on the particularity of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust does not subvert its universal meaning.

I would agree that there has been a tendency since the 1960s to sacralise the Holocaust, a tendency to indulge in a kind of ‘Holocaust piety’, as Gillian Rose memorably put it. This should be resisted. The Holocaust is a historical event, part of European history. Indeed, there are ties that bind what Europe did to others outside Europe (colonised peoples) to what Europe did to others in Europe (Jews). But does this mean that Holocaust commemoration is invalid if it does not refer to what ‘the Jews’ are doing to Palestinians or does not draw parallels between the Warsaw ghetto and Gaza? Surely not.

I never cease to be amazed at the ability as Europeans to recreate ourselves as the civilised continent – the ones who have learnt the universal lessons of the Holocaust – and to treat the Jews as those who have failed to learn the lesson. This European hubris can take the form a liberal narrative of progress which pays tribute to the success of the new Europe in transcending its so-called ‘longest hatred’. It usually acknowledges that antisemitism was a monstrous feature of Europe’s past, but insists that the conditions that gave rise to genocidal antisemitism have now come to an end with the defeat of Nazism, the rise of the European Union and the reunification of Europe.

While the strength of the Left is to resist this faith in progress and to explore the ways in which European racism is a recurring phenomenon, it also shares with liberals the conviction that antisemitism has run its course. What many on the left say is that antisemitism has been replaced by Islamophobia as the ‘real racism’ of the moment. The race question, we are told, is no longer whether Jews can be good Germans or good Brits but whether Muslims can be good Europeans.

Either way, either in its liberal or radical forms, the factual claim that antisemitism is no longer a problem in Europe serves to exclude antisemitism from the list of racisms Europe now has to confront if a new (non-racist) Europe is to be built. It deadens the nerve of outrage.

This rewriting of European history leaves out the multiple ways in which the past weighs upon the present. Far too much weight is placed on the assumption that antisemitism has been overcome by the rise of the new Europe. On the one hand, we see the re-emergence of ultra-nationalist parties in Europe. We might think, for example, of the Tories’ new friends in the EU, the Conservatives and Reformists grouping, led by the Polish politician, Michal Kaminski, who began his political journey in a neo-Nazi organisation, wore fascist antisemitic symbols and continues to hold that Poles should not apologise for the 1941 pogrom at Jedwabne until Jews have apologised for the wrongs they inflicted on Poles. Or we might think of the Latvian affiliate to this grouping, the For Fatherland and Freedom party, that has been a prime mover behind annual parades celebrating the Latvian legion of the Waffen-SS. We know that Kaminski and the For Fatherland and Freedom party are but the tip of a large and ugly iceberg of a growing nationalist politics in Europe.

On the other hand, the liberal establishment of the new Europe is not exempt from its own exclusions. The conceptual dichotomy between an allegedly postnational Europe and its nationalistic Others re-creates a moral division of the world between us and them, which can stigmatise the other as much as it idealises ourselves. It is not inevitable that the new Europe must be exclusionary in this way but the urge is internal to it. The representation of Israel as the incarnation of the negative properties Europe has succeeded in overcoming is a case in point. ‘Israel’ and ‘Zionism’ serve as vessels into which the European can project all that is bad in European history – its colonial past, ethnic divisions, institutionalised racisms, excesses of superfluous violence – and preserve the good for ourselves.

In European thought there has long existed a conviction that if we can only rid ourselves of some alien element – be it the bourgeoisie, parasites, terrorists or Jews – then all will be well. Representation of Israel as a pariah state or pariah people can perform a similar mythic function for a European consciousness anxious to divest itself of the legacy not only of its own past but also its present.

The denial of antisemitism cannot be explained by any conspiracy to forge an anti-Israel alliance. Its roots are more mundane. They lie in the genuine sense of outrage many of us rightly feel about human rights abuses committed by Israelis and about the need for justice for Palestinians. They lie in the experience most of us have that antisemitism is not a day to day problem in the UK. They lie in a politics of identity in which radical Jews declare that we are not like them and that what the Jewish state does is done ‘not in our name’. They lie in a politics of anti-imperialism which divides the world between oppressor and oppressed nations without allowing any complication or intersubjective dynamic to enter this binary picture. They lie in an idealist philosophy that leads us to measure the constitution and actions of a particular political state against the ideal of what a rational state ought to be. When we discover that the Jewish state falls short of the democratic secular ideal, we make our judgments on this basis rather than compare the justice and injustices of the Jewish state against the material practices of other states. They lie in the dynamics of political argument itself which tends to divide the world into opposing camps and leads us to caricature the beliefs of the other camp. It lies, as I have intimated, in the old European hubris of idealising ourselves by projecting onto others the barbarities (past and present) we cannot face up to.

I have focused in this polemic on Europe but let me end on this note. The struggle for justice for Palestinians and the struggle against antisemitism are not worlds apart. They belong to one another and draw from the same sources. As far as justice for Palestinians is concerned, the antisemitism question is not a red herring. It is a key to breaking out of the current impasse. Antisemitism does no good whatever for the Palestinian cause. In Europe it diminishes support for Palestinian rights. In Israel it reinforces the grip of nationalistic right wingers who know very well how to exploit antisemitism for their own ends. In Palestine it reinforces the grip of fundamentalist leaderships that threaten the freedom of Palestinians from within as well as the existence of Israel from without. In Arab states it allows reactionary rulers to divert social and political opposition into hatred of Jews. In the Middle East more generally it blames Israel and Israel alone for the suffering of Palestinians as if the end of Israel and beginning of justice for Palestinians were one and the same thing. It diverts from the real responsibilities of power that Israel has and is failing to meet.

We have to be careful not to invert the problem we are addressing. If some ultra-nationalists in Israel or elsewhere racialise Arabs and turn them into a unitary category, the temptation we must resist is to respond with an act of reversal that turns ‘Zionists’ into an equally otherised unitary category. We have also to be careful not to place Palestinians in a single identity script as victims of Israel and hear only the voice we want to hear. I am not suggesting that Palestinians are not victims but they are not only victims and not only victims of Israel. The problem we need to tackle is that our sense of injustice about the treatment of Palestinians can incline us to see that injustice as the formative experience in their lives and replace recognition of their agency with our contempt for the people we charge with excluding and oppressing them.
The critical space I am calling for has to include a concern for our common humanity alongside a concern for inequality and power. No human being is entirely ‘other’ than another, even where unequal social structures make this hard to see. Gillian Rose put it well:

The ‘other’ is equally the distraught subject searching for its substance, its ethical life.

Anybody who dares to criticise israel is accused of antisemitism

Jim has an interesting post on Shiraz Socialist.

Jim recalls an all too familiar conversation that he had with David Hirsh :

I said something like, “of course there are some people who will accuse anyone who criticises Israel of anti-semitism.” Dave immediately asked me, “Who?; when was the last time you heard anyone denounce criticism of Israel as anti-semitism?” I had to admit that I never had – but everyone I knew said they had, so I assumed that I had simply led a sheltered life.

You can read the whole article here.

Green councillor and candidate Rupert Read pushes Gilad Atzmon

On Greens Engage.

Credibility deficit

Ben Cohen’s Jerusalem Post op ed, along with this response to Dispatches from Kosher Conspiracy Mag, reminded me of Jon Pike speaking nearly two years ago about the ‘Livingstone manoeuvre’:

“… testimonial injustice occurs when “prejudice on the hearer’s part causes him to give the speaker less credibility than he would otherwise have given.” (Fricker p 4) The speaker sustains such a testimonial injustice if and only if she receives a credibility deficit owing to identity prejudice in the hearer; so the central case of testimonial injustice is identity-prejudicial credibility deficit. (Fricker 27)

To fix these ideas, think of the black person who is disbelieved by the police, the woman whose charge of rape is disbelieved, and rejected by a jury, and the person whose accent causes their knowledge claims to be disbelieved, and preventing them form getting an elite academic post.

What sort of injustices are these?

Identity-prejudicial credibility deficit is strongly evident in sexist and misogynist attitudes to women who are victims of rape. Because of the adversarial nature of the judicial system, the prosecutorial role of the police, and because of misogynistic attitudes on the part of juries, it seems very likely that women are victims of testimonial injustice in this way: women are not believed. Why not? The misogynist story is familiar: the woman who cried rape had, in fact, had consenting sex with her alleged attacker, but then regretted it, and attempted to get out of difficulty by making a false accusation of rape. This is the sort of thought entertained by, it seems, very many juries.

The next point in the argument is straightforwardly concessive. One, sometimes, probably, a few people do aim to deflect criticism of Israel, by making false allegations of anti-Semitism. Two, sometimes, probably, a few women do try to get out of exculpate their own behaviour, by making false accusations of rape. It’s not plausible to say neither of these things ever happen.

But what is, and what should be, the general attitude of those on the left to such phenomena? What is the case is this: we are attuned to the idea that we ought to listen carefully and sympathetically to women who make charges of rape. We ought to listen to the victims, attend to their concerns, establish an environment in which they can safely articulate their narrative. And we maintain this general stance in the knowledge that, yes, perhaps in a very few cases, the charge may be false.

But the attitude of the anti-Zionist left towards those who make charges of anti-semitism is the opposite. The raising of concern about anti-semitism gets you the Livingstone manoeuvre. This is the general stance, which does not sit carefully with, but fully draws on the idea that, yes, perhaps in a vey few cases the charge may be ill-intentioned and false. The general stance on the left is to attribute a credibility deficit here.”

The rest is here.

Ben White’s questionable book

This is a guest post by Modernity , who blogs at Modernity Blog

Ben White should be known to Engage readers, in the past he often commented and debated issues here.

White’s column at Comment is Free is fairly popular and an outlet for his journalistic endeavours.

More recently White has published a book on Israel, a novice’s guide, entitled “Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide”.

Not unsurprisingly with such a provocative title White’s book has aroused much interest and criticism.

A sample of the book can be found here.

It even has its own Facebook page, White updates readers from his blog and main site.

Jews for Justice for Palestinians and War on Want are both advocates for the book.

Criticism of White’s book is varied, but of interest to academics is White’s use of doctored quotes and the inclusion of Roger Garaudy, the well-known Holocaust denier, as an apparently authoritative source on Israel and Zionism.

Discussions on White’s book and how it was promoted can be found at Zblog in several threads.

Seismic Shock has also detailed criticism of White’s handling of material and other matters.

Additionally, my own blog includes a few short pieces, not forgetting Liberal Conspiracy and Mondoweiss.

White’s response to the initial review by Jonathan Hoffman is here.

Eric Lee’s An East London horror story.

Shuggy on Understanding anti-Semitism and Ben White.

Jon Pike, elected opponent of the boycott on UCU Executive, resigns

Jon Pike to Sally Hunt, General Secretary of UCU

Open Letter from Jon Pike to Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the UCU

Dear Sally,

UCU Congress last week adopted resolutions in support of an academic boycott against Israel.  As you know very well, the adoption of that resolution is in defiance of the considered majority view of the membership of the union. Whether or not such resolutions can be implemented, or have been declared void, their adoption is a violation of the democratic principle that the union ought to represent its membership.

It will be said that the UCU, on behalf of its membership, and on behalf of the academic community in Britain, would wish to push for an academic boycott of Israel, but is prevented from doing so by legal means.

This claim is entirely false. The members have not supported such a proposal, and they have not been asked their views.

Both Congress in 2008 and 2009, and a senior committee of the union have rejected calls for a ballot of the membership.  An amendment from my branch, to this year’s conference, calling for a ballot of the membership on this proposal was ruled out as a ‘wrecking amendment.’  It seems there is something incendiary about asking the members directly to express their views.  The call for a ballot has been rejected in the knowledge that, and because, such a ballot would lead to the overwhelming defeat of the boycott proposals.

When proposals for boycott of Israeli universities have been considered by branches of the union and its predecessors, they have been overwhelmingly rejected. Members at Reading, Open, Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, Bath, Warwick, UCL, Strathclyde, Lancaster, Kingston, LSE, KCL, Birmingham, Bristol, UEA, Sussex, Cardiff, LSHTM, The Institute of Education, QMWL, Aberystwyth, Swansea, Southampton, and others, have voted, at branch meetings, to reject such proposals. Previous similar proposals have been repudiated by individual branches, and overwhelmingly rejected by branch ballots of their membership.

The resolutions in question have been rushed through, in a way that has actively prevented the membership from scrutinising them.  Papers concerning the resolution have been distributed extremely late, with no explanation.  Legal advice, paid for by the members concerning the resolution has been withheld from elected representatives, branch presidents, and the membership.

The leadership of the union, and its Congress, which are both controlled by the Socialist Workers’ Party, has exhibited contempt for the views of its members on this matter, and on others, such as the crazy decision to ballot for industrial action, and the dishonest cover up by the SWP that has followed the aborting of this ballot.

In National Executive elections, less than ten percent of the membership now vote.  The NEC cannot be said properly to represent either the membership of the union, or the academic community in Britain.

If the union was a democratic space, in which the majority of the membership was able to determine policy, then there would be a case for remaining active in the union, and working for a change of policy. In its predecessor union, democratic mechanisms were available which allowed the overturning of a similar policy on April 26th 2005.

But the UCU does not provide such a democratic space, and the procedures available in the AUT were removed at the time of merger.

The UCU cannot be considered a democratic union, representative of its members.

This has the following consequences:

We have a union that is able to send its President on trips to the Caribbean, at the members’ expense, to “celebrate the Cuban revolution” but that is unable to organise a legal ballot on industrial action in defence of jobs.

We have a union that has produced misleading and dishonest statements to the membership, on matters of fact, about both the ballot for industrial action, and about its policy on Israel and Palestine, and in which opponents of such a policy are subject to threats of legal action, smears, personal attack, and exclusions.

We have a union that has consciously abandoned its role of representing academics professionally.

We have a union that has brought academics in Britain into disrepute, by its willingness to countenance and support violations of the Principle of Universality of Science and Learning, and by condoning and supporting attacks on academic freedom, such as the outrageous and discriminatory actions of Professor Mona Baker in dismissing two Israeli members of her editorial board.

We have a union that, since merger, has allowed the systematic distortion and violation of democratic norms.  This works through a complex system of reserved seats, fractional branches and unaccountable, unrepresentative ‘regional committees’ each of which helps to entrench an anti-democratic system of double counting into its decision-making.  All of this has been done in violation of the agreements made at merger.   The merger has been a disaster for academic trade unionism in Britain.

We have a union that has allowed the distribution of antisemitic material on its internal lists, and the peddling of antisemitic conspiracy theories by some of its members, whilst banning anti-racist and Jewish members who have objected to such material.

We have a union from which hundreds of members – many of them Jewish – have resigned in protest at the unwarranted exceptionalism of its attitude to Israel.  I believe that many more will do so.

We have a union that entirely refuses to investigate concern about institutional antisemitism when raised through the proper channels, by members. The UCU is now the most complacent public institution in Britain with respect to the current rise in antisemitism.

Members of the UCU will ignore the decisions of its Congress, and continue to engage in academic collaboration and research with Israeli and Palestinian colleagues, and Israeli and Palestinian Universities, and they will be right to do so.

Academics in Britain, will, of course, ignore the UCU’s policy on this matter, and they will, of course, be right to do so.

It would be good if academics had a democratic, effective, professional and serious union to represent them in negotiating with the employers and in protecting their terms and conditions of employment.

That is, sadly, no longer the case.

I therefore resign my seat on the NEC.

Dr Jon Pike

Senior Lecturer in Philosophy

The Open University

Formerly Nationally elected member NEC (Pre-92)
The Jewish Chronicle report of Jon’s resignation is here.

UCU Conference votes down amendment to investigate antisemitism-related resignations

This year, the University and College Union‘s National Executive Committee submitted a welcome motion to Conference (EQ6) which opposed antisemitism.

Anti-boycotters in UCU have been encouraged to leave the union over the past few years of boycott campaigning against Israel. With each new revival of the campaign there has been disaffection, and a worrying number of resignations has accrued. So it seemed right to UCL branch to insert an amendment (7A1):

Add new first line:

‘Congress notes with concern the rise of anti-Semitism in the UK and resignations of UCU members apparently in connection with perceptions of institutional anti-Semitism.’

Add new final bullet point: ‘ To investigate the number of recent UCU resignations and the reasons for them, and to report its findings to next Congress.’

There are reports that this amendment was voted down today by a large majority estimated at 80-20.

It seems that UCU is only interested in fighting antisemitism when it can be identified with the political right. Antisemitism emanating from the left, and from UCU itself, is unrecognised.

Antony Lerman defends “Seven Jewish Children”

Antony Lerman defends Churchill’s play against this CST criticism,  here.

Petra Marquardt-Bigman’s critique of Lerman’s recent work is here.

Saul comments:

“What has gone wrong with the Jewish journey from genocide in Europe to what Israel is today?”

Let us not forget, that the same question was asked by liberals and non-liberals in the nineteenth century to explain how it could be that a people who had been emancipated and brought into the bosom of civilization could still exhibit “negative” Jewish traits. More often than not, the question and the answer provided took the form of,

“a psychological link between past trauma and present brutality.”

It was this “psychological link” that sought to explain the idea that it was because of their prior exclusion in the ghetto that “the Jew could not be but  “immoral”, “unethical”,  “liars”, “cheats”, “dirty”., etc. etc.. Leaving the anti-Jewish tropes in place, these alleged negative images, fixed them all the more firmly under the label of a “psychological” condition of Jewishness. Immoralty, etc. now became the inherent trait of “the Jew”. It was only a short step for the problem of the Jewish “head” to be inscribed in the problem of Jewish “blood”.

Equally interesting was the fact that this notion of  a psychological “Jewishness” as the (“empirical”) foundation for the composite of negative traits that was said to make up the reality and actuality of “the Jew” was a line pushed most ardently by the established and assilimated Jews in the face of the embarassment brought about by the presence of the Ostjuden. The problem for the assimilated Jew, of course, was that people no longer compared them to their liberal (non-Jewish) brethren, but against the “mass” of their “backward” and “superstious” brethren from the East. The fear of loss of social status was palpable.

Needless to say, those assimilated Jews thought themselves adjusted and “healthy” and that the problem of “Jewishness” belonged to others.

The truth of the matter, as many historians of Jewish social and political history have noted, is that it was not the “backward and superstitious” who suffered from the tics of a psychological condition of “Jewishness” – they knew and relished their place as pariah – but those obsessed with differentiation (from the mass of Jews) and the acceptance which they craved – those thrown into the position of parvenu. It is, of course, true that they were forced into this role against their will (but which do not stop them they readily accepting it). Indeed, they were put into the position of playing an impossible game of showing to themselves and to others that they were both the  “same” and “different” at one and the same time. In that situation it is hardly surprising that such a game which implied the constant fear of being associated with the Jewish mass, of being “like them” should not take its psychological toll, and, in its wake, bring forth an alternative, but more socially grounded, more individual, more persistent concept of “Jewishness” that came to determine their every action, both in relation to Jews and non-Jews.

And, in this context, is it not  pertinent to note that, at a time when many a good liberal is seeking to make the Jew and the Jewish state a pariah, the parvenu’s voice joins the chorus and strives to sing the loudest?

In many schools of psychology and psychotherapy, it is encumbent for the therapist himself or herself to undergo the process themselves. If Lerman is going to continue in the present vein, maybe it is a piece of advice that he should take on board. After all, as he so often states, “denial” is a terrible thing.


“Antiracists” think Ahmadinejad was right

“…Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s UN speech on 21 April struck many as obnoxious, but in terms of understanding the 1948 roots of the Middle East conflict he was spot on. Vilifying him may feel good, but it is a diversion form the real issue.”

Ghada Karmi, Author, Married to Another Man: Israel’s Dilemma in Palestine

“However we may deplore the tone of President Ahmadinejad’s speech at the UN conference on racism, it is difficult to deny the principal facts that he presented…”

Geoff Simons, Author, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine

Karmi thinks Ahmadinejad was “spot on” in his understanding of the roots of the Middle East conflict.

Simons agrees with the “principal facts” that he presented.

Neither stops to wonder why it is they agree with a genocidal anti-Jewish racist on the central question concerning Jews in the contemporary world.  Perhaps it is just a coincidence?  A stopped clock is right twice a day?

But perhaps there are other lessons to be learnt from the fact that they agree with Ahmadinejad.

And why is the Guardian printing this support for the understanding and analysis of the world’s most powerful antisemite on its letters page?

If people don’t understand what is racist about holocaust denial then they should make use of Deborah Lipstadt’s magnificent website, which is an excellent resource, Holocaust Denial On Trial.  http://www.hdot.org/

Holocaust denial is antisemitic firstly because denial was part of the crime itself.  Those who were murdered were told that nobody would ever believe that this happened and that nobody would ever know that they even existed.  Denial is not a response to the Holocaust but it is part of the Holocaust.

Secondly because Holocaust denial necessarily assumes that the Jews are sufficiently powerful and sufficiently evil to have invented such a horrible lie and to have made believing it a precondition for acceptability in public life.  It is antisemitic conspiracy theory.

John Strawson

John Strawson

UPDATE – John Strawson adds:

Karmi and Simons rely on ignorance of history  in order to make their case: a case that Ahmadnejad is able to trade on.

“Their” history is that Western guilt for the Holocaust meant that the Jews were given Palestine in order to make amends.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Reading the United Nations documents that led to the partition plan – debate in the General Assembly May through November 1947 and the report of United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) – there are no Western expression of guilt whatsoever. The only speeches that linked the creation of a Jewish State to the Holocaust were from the Soviet Union and Poland.

Indeed what is striking is that despite many anti-Semitic remarks, not one Western country rises to object. The partition plan itself explicitly stated that it was plan for the future of government of Palestine and not a solution to the “Jewish question” – the latter formulation being a reference to the survivors of the Holocaust in displaced peoples’ camps.  Far from guilt there is indifference bordering on callousness.  The Jewish population of between 600,00-650,000 (and 18,000 in detention in in Cyprus) [UN figures]) were of course in Palestine in 1947.

They constituted a clearly constituted a national community.  It is this national identity that the Karmi et al wish to deny. Modern anti-Semitism mainly takes the form of discrimination against Jews as national community – something that the Durban II statement reinforces when it places anti-Semitism between “Islamaphobia” and “Christianophobia.” (draft article 10)

John Strawson

Jeremy Corbyn Supports Hamas and Hezbollahn

“The idea that an organisation that is dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people, and bringing about long term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region, should be labelled as a terrorist organisation by the British government, is really a big, big historical mistake”

More on Harry’s Place.

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