Extending the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism

I recently read an anti-Zionist inveighing against Zionist Jews who accuse non-Zionist Jews of “ethnoreligious treason”. He asked why the people who react badly when critics of Israel invoke Jewish identity to tell other Jews what to do, don’t react similarly badly when supporters of Israel use the same strategy. Although he should understand that equal treatment would protect those he hates – progressive Zionists or non-Zionists who are not antisemitic – as much as it would protect him, I think this is a good question.

One example – back around 2010 the EDL’s former (miniscule) Jewish Arm leader Roberta Moore was calling the Jewish Community Security Trust, not to mention Binyamin Netanyahu, the Chief Rabbi of the time, and many other Jews ‘kapos’. Here’s an example:

“I am talking to YOU, you pathetic anti-Zionist Jewish twats out there!! You shall deserve the end that you get, because I will not fight for you if you will not fight for yourself. I would defend you if you are fighting with me, but if you are leaving this dirty work for us, I will NOT even forgive you. Cowards deserve my contempt.

If you think that appeasing Islamo-fascists will keep the beast at bay, you have learnt NOTHING from Nazi Germany, you bloody KAPOS!!!!

I am very very angry with the Jewish community for being so weak and so pathetically afraid of such vermin which we ourselves, even in small numbers can bring down!!”

Kapos were Jewish concentration camp inmates who gained preferment by taking roles as camp enforcers for the Nazis. Roberta Moore calls latterday Jews ‘kapos’ for being insufficiently militant in defending Israel. I realise that not everybody would agree with me that calling a Jew a kapo is antisemitic – indeed it seems to be something that some Jewish people of earlier generations do occasionally to make a point about Jewish self-interest. But times change – or should. In Roberta Moore we got a far right demagogue who, in her use of the word ‘kapo’, verbally attacked Jews as Jews, accused them of siding with Nazis to save themselves, called them inferior as Jews – in fact as bad or worse than Nazis – questioned their loyalty as Jews, and blamed them for violence against Jews. This is what ‘kapo’ means – it is a Holocaust-minimising term, a dog whistle, and almost always a smear against progressive Jews. Surely that is antisemitic.

At the time I invoked the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism to call this antisemitic, and tried to shoehorn what Roberta Moore had said into the example “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”. However I arranged it though, it was as awkward as a kitten in a bonnet. Though I support everything in the EUMC WD, the Roberta Moore example reveals gaps which leave far right Israel supporters (on the rise) much freer to make tribal demands on Jewish people with as-a-Jew stereotypes.

I’d say that the WD comprehends most kinds of antisemitism adequately (and with restraint), but insufficiently comprehends antisemitism in the name of Israel. I think antisemitism in the name of Israel might push idealised notions of Jewishness with respect to Israel,  seek to impose Jewish loyalty tests in support of Israel, or call Jews who are critical of Israel inferior Jews. At a population level I doubt this kind of antisemitism is ever going to be a massive problem. Being antisemitism from the ‘inside’ it will be perceived differently, perhaps more complacently, than that from the outside. But it does exist, it will acutely harm those it targets, and it will also harm those who take risks to build bridges for peace. Since I expect hate-fuelled simpletons to prevail in their polarisation of left and right, and views on Israel to be taken, like it or not, as a prominent marker of which pole you lean towards, I think it’s worth giving this some attention.

Here is the original EUMC WD, and below are my small changes. I’ve marked them with italics or strike-throughs but Diffchecker lets you compare if you care to.

~~~

Working definition: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

In addition, such manifestations could also centre on or target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing, or harming, or limiting of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

  • Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.

  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).

  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

  • Accusing Stating that Jewish citizens of being are more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations, or that they are inferior as Jews for being insufficiently loyal.

Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel, or accusing Jews of being insufficiently active for the welfare of the state of Israel.

However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.

Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries).

Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.

Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.

~~~

I can’t see these small changes criminalising anything that isn’t already criminal. It doesn’t remove anything from the original WD, either. And it doesn’t make anti-Zionism any less hare-brained. What it does achieve is recognition of antisemitism from the authoritarian pro-Israeli right, whether religious or statist. It allows us to refer to the EUMC when calling statements like Roberta Moore’s antisemitic.

Does that work?

Brave, principled Scarlett Johansson and the boycott bullies

The bottom line is Sodastream is not profiting from the occupation and is not exploiting Palestinian workers. Workers in occupied Palestine do not support the boycott of Sodastream and until they call for and lead a boycott, and UK boycott campaigns in the name of solidarity should be scrutinised carefully. I doubt Scarlett Johansson needs this Sodastream deal. She’s probably taken it because her career success has freed her from having to curry favour. At any rate, she’s done something that perhaps only a few people will grasp, because hardly anybody stands up so directly and magnificently to the bullying tactics of boycott activists.

That’s it really. Read on, or not.

Nobody likes being pushed around. Certainly the Israeli occupation of the West Bank requires people with guns and state power saying where other people will or will not go, and when. The occupation pursues a building project which expropriates land to populate with anybody but Palestinians. Israeli society is hardening towards Palestinians and among Palestinians a militant, nationalistic Islam is growing. These feed each other and peace recedes. On other blogs I have argued that boycotting produce from the occupied West Bank may be the right thing to do, but it depends. More below.

There’s a solidarity movement of boycott activists with which I’m familiar. It takes a little while to grasp that in fact they aren’t for Palestinians but are using them as a pretext. Most boycott activists know and care little for Palestinians, to the extent that they give every impression of depending on Palestinian civil society to remain as weak, riven, corrupt and lacking in governance as it currently is. An astonishing number of them have something against Jews, to whom they attribute great power and malevolence. The anti-Jewish character unites a broad political spectrum in the boycott cause. Many boycotters are also extremely aggressive, attempting to push people around by banding together in intimidating campaigns of character assassination.

Scarlett Johansson was a target of one of these campaigns. She was an Oxfam ambassador who also took on a role as brand ambassador for the soft drinks company Sodastream. Sodastream has a factory in the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in occupied Palestine, and so its vendors and faces have come under attack from boycotters.

One of the ways to tell that boycott activists aren’t interested in Palestinian emancipation is that they aren’t working with the Palestinian or Israeli labour movement. These local organisations, which should be leading any solidarity movement, are completely sidelined. This is ludicrous, given that trade unions are the parts of both societies who are furthest to the political left And more bizarre – several big UK trade unions actually formally boycott their Israeli counterparts and all but ignore Palestinian trade unions. The will to boycott Israel comes first – and if you don’t fall in with that, then you’d better be prepared to fight. Boycott activists are usually vicious.

With some brave exceptions from Kristin Davies, Editors, Jethro Tull and Madonna, targets of the boycott campaign capitulate. Perhaps they don’t have the knowledge to understand the principles at stake, or perhaps they don’t have the stomach to go against them. At any rate, they usually cancel on Israel and it’s hard not to. But instead of rolling over, Scarlett Johansson says,

“I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine.”

and

“SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma’aleh Adumim factory every working day.”

And Sodastream’s CEO says they wouldn’t mind moving out of the territories if anybody could demonstrate how it would help Palestinians. “We will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone’s political agenda”.

So, when is it right to boycott produce from the West Bank? I’d say it has to be instigated and led by the Palestinian labour movement – the trade unions. I want to look for precedents but I’ve run out of time.

I may buy a Sodastream out of gratitude and admiration for Johansson. This is very odd of me, but it’s strength of feeling talking here. As for Oxfam, I wonder if their board has been hijacked as Amnesty’s was. For now my direct debit to Oxfam stands but it’s not unconditional. I will investigate further remind them that there are other humanitarian charities, and try to monitor them.

People like Scarlett Johansson who don’t let themselves get pushed around get respect – even from their enemies.

Unite Against Fascism

I write this because my trade union branch has diverted some of the branch funds to Unite Against Fascism. I feel Unite Against Fascism is an affront to its own name, and consequently that I should repair for my inadvertent complicity. I can say that I did speak during the debate of that motion but my trade union branch tends to attract a like-minded attendance at meetings and the outcome was not what it should have been.

Wrongs perpetrated against Britain’s Muslims have dramatically increased since poor Lee Rigby’s murderers invoked Islam as justification for their Woolwich atrocity. Support for their actions was virtually non-existent – although it’s worth pointing out that the disgusted British Muslim majority had to fight for British media attention. So, among other things, Woolwich has revealed a strengthening of social cohesion – for example, since the notorious YouGov poll of British Muslims conducted for the politically-right Telegraph after the London bombings of July 2005, which revealed worryingly high levels of support. However, the Faith Matters’ initiative Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) has recorded a newsworthy increase in attacks on Muslim people and property since Woolwich (it’s worth mentioning that questions about the credibility of Tell MAMA are to be expected for any group trying to raise the issue of racism – some criticisms will have their roots in reflex denial, others will have racist motivations, and others will be valid; that said, Tell MAMA isn’t yet very good at reporting its data). It’s clear that the British nationalist far right has moved swiftly to exploit the Woolwich outrage by blaming Muslims, organising intimidatory marches and – the criminal among them – attacking Muslim people and property.

When street activity is intended to, or has the effect of, intimidating people in minority groups, it’s commendable to take to the streets in solidarity. Unite Against Fascism has so far both convened and dominated street-based counter-protest against the British nationalist far right. However, on balance and for the following reasons, I think that Unite Against Fascism does far more harm than good. I’d also say it’s over-focused on the gratifications of street protest. The University of Northamptonshire and Demos both identify the EDL has a highly Web-enabled movement, but the UAF has neglected to organise against the far right on the Web.

UAF members are known for provoking and getting involved in charged, antagonistic exchanges on the street. As such, UAF contributes to what Roger Eatwell calls ‘cumulative extremism’ and Paul Jackson calls ‘tit for tat radicalisation’,

“‘Tit for tat’ radicalisation emerges when two radicalised perspectives
discover antagonistic features within each other’s ideology and actions,
leading to an escalation of radicalisation within two or more groups.”

The EDL was formed in response to an Al Muhajiroun rally in Luton in 2009. Clearly anti-facist organisations need to interfere with this reciprocal relationship between jihadis and the British nationalist far right – UAF does the opposite and actually feeds the division.

But by far the worst aspect of Unite Against Facism is its betrayal of its own name. UAF welcomes support from jihadis (militant fundamentalist Muslim totalitarians who comprise a tiny proportion of Muslims as a whole), and this has made it impossible for it to oppose fascism, racism and bigotry which is endemic to jihadism, particularly against Jewishness, women, homosexuality and Muslims who disagree with them. Critics of UAF on this count include Sunny Hundal, who wrote,

“…left-wing groups don’t mobilise against these religious extremists as they do against the far-right. Anti-fascists who happily march against the BNP or EDL rarely show that level of commitment against Anjem Choudhary’s group. Why? There even seems to be a reticence to admit that the EDL feeds off Muslim extremists …”

and Peter Tatchell (former – perhaps continued – supporter) who wrote,

“UAF commendably opposes the BNP and EDL but it is silent about Islamist fascists who promote anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism and sectarian attacks on non-extremist Muslims.”

UAF’s Vice Chair Azad Ali is a terrible choice – the opposite of appropriate for an anti-racist organisation. He opposes democracy if it prevents the implementation of sharia law in Britain. He also lost a libel case against the DM for calling him “a hardline Islamic extremist who supports the killing of British and American soldiers in Iraq by fellow Muslims as justified”.

Unsurprisingly, the UAF’s problems with analysing facism aren’t limited to blind-eye-turning. According to those who study them (see the aforementioned Demos and Northampton reports) the EDL is not fascist but populist far right. This is important because unless UAF is committed to an impartial analysis of the changing far right in Britain, we need to recognise that it has no chance of identifying effective opposition to fascism.

As well as undermining the ‘against facism’ part of its name, it also tramples the ‘unite’ bit. In case there’s any doubt by this stage, UAF is not a democratic organisation and has made it very hard for individuals and groups to influence its decision-making unless they are politically aligned. So, it becomes clear that UAF’s programme is not after all anti-fascist. It feels its own political ends are best served by leaving some fascists to go about their business.

Consequently UAF has no answers to social division along ethnic and religious lines. This is intolerable to me and I find the argument that these ills are outweighed by UAF’s contribution to street protest entirely unacceptable. I can only imagine the disorientation experienced by young people who come into UAF’s orbit and find a definition of anti-racism distorted beyond recognition.

I can’t bring myself to turn out under a Unite Against Fascism banner and I will be conscientiously avoiding its events. I’ll continue to support all genuinely anti-racist organisations, including  Hope Not Hate.

Update

Although I’m not capably keeping up with with commentary at the moment, there’s plenty more to say about this, including:

Welcomed visitors – Mahmoud Sarsak and Ian Henshall

Two pieces of bad news.

Unite (the ‘union’) have decided that welcoming ‘noble member’ of Islamic Jihad Mahmoud Sarsak (who is therefore, we may assume, women-repressing, gay-hating and murderously intolerant as well as Jew-hating) is a good way to stick two fingers up at Israel. Len McCluskey, Unite’s Secretary General, blesses their general thrust on this. Verdict: Unite has gone over, is lost in nasty and futile ideological territory, and therefore members should either leave or get very involved and marginalise the deranged ideologues. But they should definitely not just sit there feeding them subs. They’re spending members’ subs on jihadis, it seems. It’s worth noticing that Islamic Jihad and the jihadi murderers of that poor man Lee Rigby have a lot in common. This is a recent statement from an Islamic Jihad leader on the prospect of the Jews Nasser expelled returning to Egypt:

“We shall fight them vigorously if they return, especially the Egyptian-Israeli Jews,” said Mohamed Abou Samra, the leading figure in the Islamic Jihad movement. “Islamic Sharia says they deserve to be killed.”

“They will destroy the economy and foment sedition,” he said. “Their return will be over our dead bodies.”

And this extreme, murderous character, not to mention the standard antisemitism, is a very important thing to recognise about Islamic Jihad and any of its ‘noble members’. Unite has sunk so low that it cares very little about it.

And in my manor or thereabouts Alistair Kleebauer reports in the Ilford Recorder – without comment! – that  Ian Henshall will be welcomed into Woodford Green’s Village Bookshop. Ian Henshall has surrendered all reason to conspiracy beliefs about September 11th. He’s like this. Conspiracy beliefs are psycho-social phenomena which deserve a close look, but anything more that is a mistake. For example, hosting them in your bookshop.

I think of these two unwanted visitations as related – they’re both products of the kind of political dismay and disorientation which leads to desperate gropings for a neat cause and a quick fix. The particular reason I’m fretting is that those two have really weird and not at all warm views about Jews. I’m almost certainly understating. And yet they’re welcome.

HT @welshbeard and Richard at Engage.

Let’s criticise David Ward, but not the way he likes his criticism of Israel

Tomorrow is Holocaust Memorial Day.

Commemorating the Holocaust (for younger readers, this is the Nazi attempt to exterminate European Jewry along with others they regarded as impure) Liberal Democrat David Ward, MP for Bradford East, says that those who have been brutalised and dispossessed by the Holocaust should learn a special lesson.

The Holocaust was one of the worst examples in history of man’s inhumanity to man. When faced with examples of atrocious behaviour, we must learn from them. It appears that the suffering by the Jews has not transformed their views on how others should be treated.

Just a few words on why this is facile and insidious. If you think a bunch of troublesome people have themselves been brutalised then the precise thing not to do is wag your finger chiding “You of all people should know better”. There are of course many different lessons one could learn from being brutalised – one might be to arm yourself to the teeth and lash out at the first sign of repeat. And if we’re going to psychologise, then psychologise properly. Why is it that so many people who “treat others badly” come from troubled, traumatised or abusive backgrounds? Should we treat the ones who don’t more leniently? Of course not.

Predictably David Ward is supported by antisemitic campaigners such as Gilad Atzmon, who celebrates the alarm of Jews with “The time is ripe for us to say what we see, think and feel”. I won’t help his search ranking by providing a link but encourage you to find him yourself.  Atzmon is just a man, but because he is so constant in his hatred of Israel and Jews we can view his support as a reliable litmus test for antisemitism. He has even turned the Savile scandal to his cause.

David Ward has earned this hopefully unwelcome support, so let’s criticise him along with his new mate Gilad Atzmon, his Lib Dem supporter Mark Valladeressee Sarah AB on Engage – and all the others along the spectrum of bad reasoning to outright Jew hatred.

And I don’t mean the kind of ‘criticism’ David Ward favours when it comes to Israel. I wouldn’t describe that as criticism at all, but as a prejudiced double-standard demonising partisan campaign.

I mean straightforward criticism of his callous perversion and diminishment of the Holocaust – because if we fail to note and object to such moves, before too long it will be open season on the Jews again.

And let’s think back further than the Holocaust. How about central Europe between the World Wars – a time building to the attempted eradication of European Jewry. There’s a good, little-known book I’ve been reading about the Prague Circle – it’s called In and Out and it’s by Leon Yudkin. He describes the appeal of Nietzschian rhetoric of strength and vigour among threatened Jews of interwar Prague (p57). I was surprised to learn that this style was adopted by a young Martin Buber who later became better known as a supporter of a binationalist Jewish-Arab state. This was a minority position and one he reached in the 1920s, before the Holocaust. Others of his contemporaries took very different but no less cogent lessons from antisemitism.

Update – David Icke supports Ward’s original statements. Icke’s strategy is to embolden people who make antisemitic comments to stand by them, and to paint those who apologise as enthralled to an evil entity he refers to as Rothschild Zionists. Icke writes, “Jelly fish-shaking, Israel arse-licking, Rothschild Zionist-owned Liberal Democrats condemn one of their own MPs for simply speaking the truth – and they have done it before”. Again, I’m not helping Icke up the Google ladder (I note that while I’m tiptoeing around the antisemites by not linking to them, Icke doesn’t even mention Ward by name) you can find the piece on his site, 26th January, illustrated by a ridiculous cartoon of an elephant on its knees in somebody’s sitting room, blindfolded with an Israeli flag and sporting a red Star of David on one of its ears. Were I myself susceptible to baseless conspiracy beliefs I’d  probably be wondering whether Icke actually works for Mossad. But I’m not.

Update 2: Mark Gardner’s CST post on Ward.

Anti-Semitism in the left: an open letter to the ISG – National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts

One of the things that’s kept me going during periods of sustained antisemitism in and from various left-wing organisations I’ve been involved with was the knowledge that as well as Jewish support I also had the support of members who weren’t Jewish. I hope that goes for the Jewish members of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts who published Anti-Semitism in the left: an open letter to the ISG (International Socialist Group) today. It was a response to the posting of an antisemitic cartoon on the Facebook page of the ISG organ Communiqué featuring a demonic Jew deceitfully claiming victimhood in order to justify persecuting Palestinians.

Anitsemitic cartoon  posted by ISG, with notes

Antisemitic cartoon posted by ISG. Annotations are mine.

Shortly after being posted it was taken down with an apology which avoided using the word ‘antisemitism’ or taking the necessary steps to explain why the cartoon was “inappropriate”. There was also a comically unconvincing claim that the cartoon had been posted by “members of the public unaligned with Communiqué” who had got their hands on Aidan Turner’s account while the his back was turned, a Communiqué admin’s account and a hollow reiteration that “that there is not and will never be any space in the Communiqué project for racism of any variety”.

More accurately, whether or not Communiqué flirts with antisemitism depends on whether enough people notice it and object.

To look on the bright side, antisemitism remains something that few people on the left are proud to own up to. For now.

Update – traffic from Sarah at Harry’s Place has sharpened me up. The apology only says that it’s Communiqué’s Facebook account that was compromised. Not sure who the Facebooker Aidan Turner is.

In defence of a broader definition of antisemitism

Well it’s certainly not tactical to call Richard Kuper antisemitic because he devised a contorted argument for rejecting the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism – and Eve Garrard doesn’t. She does however demonstrate that there were several other ways than antisemitism you can balls up making your point. His piece is like a holiday from logic.

But I tend to think that the difference between antisemitism on the one hand and the persistent excusing or minimisation of antisemitism, on the other, is no more than a matter of degree. I can’t see the difference. And for that reason, I think Richard Kuper must be a bit antisemitic. Not the worst thing in the world you can be, no. But pretty bad when you’re trying to kick some guidelines about antisemitism into the long grass, and replace them with nothing.

Can anybody tell me why I shouldn’t think of Richard Kuper as a bit antisemitic? And the Green Party Regional Council?

(Don’t get in a lather – antisemitism is a kind of racism, racism is very ordinary, we’re all susceptible, you just have to acknowledge it in yourself, work on it, take measures, move on. Stop acting as if somebody has accused you of eating a live puppy.)

One possible reason more alert readers may have noticed is that I’ve departed from the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism. There’s no example there that relates to minimising or denying antisemitism.

And have you noticed that the EUMC Working Definition allows us to identify EDL’s former Jewish Arm (tiny – 12 people) leader Roberta Moore as antisemitic when she calls the Community Security Trust ‘kapos’ for not defending Israel with sufficient militancy for her liking, too?

Throwing it away and replacing it with nothing. An error. I’d call it an antisemitic error.

Is there any reason to distinguish between antisemitism on the one hand and the persistent excusing or minimisation of antisemitism, on the other?

Addenda:

Over on Engage, Matt points out in a comment:

“There are also some more specific problems with Kuper’s piece.

“surely be possible to question whether “the Jewish people” are a people in the secular-nationalist as opposed to the religious sense of the word (as the Israeli author Shlomo Sand has done most forcefully in his recent book The Invention of the Jewish People).”

Passages like this are always particularly galling, because it was Rashid Khalidi who wrote one of the most important works on national identification in order to defend Palestinians against charges that they weren’t a legitimate national group. All national claims are, to some extent, fabricated. When some people make such claims without contest, it is because of the totality with which they have subjugated others. Jewish national claims are as strong as any, but we are constantly made to defend ourselves against what shouldn’t be an issue. This is a regressive, and even reactionary, argument from Kuper. Actually, it strikes me as a variation on the rootless cosmopolitan line that claims that Jewish culture and Jewish difference aren’t legitimate and that the Jewish desire to refuse assimilation is wrong. Jews must be allowed difference, and we must be allowed to be different on the terms WE define, but Kuper argues for minimizing difference in order to define our politics for us.”

Which affirms my feeling that antisemitism should not be thought of only as slathering Jew hatred and active malevolence towards Jews, but that it should also include the distinctive forms taken by a preparedness to put Jews at a deficit unless they toe your ideological line, to withhold sympathy from the errant Jews while upholding the entitlements of other groups (here, Palestinians), and to hold Jews responsible for Israel while moving to prevent anybody from identifying hostility against Jews with hostility against Israel. I don’t think that this doubles standard is always antisemitic – sometimes it’s no more than policing members of your group. You judge by effects – here the outcome is to throw out some careful and context-dependent guidance on antisemitism, Kuper allowing his anti-Israel politics to trump concern for Jews battered over the head with those same politics emanating from many different sources on a daily basis.

Definitions of antisemitism have got to be broader and more differentiated than the simple final solution kind. They do need to allow for anti-Israel antisemitism.

I am not antisemitic because I don’t feel antisemitic

No matter how sincere you perceive me to be, all the above sentence can confirm is my beautiful intentions. It doesn’t tell you anything about whether or not I am antisemitic. To discover that, you’d have to look for a difference between intent and effect in what I say and what I do. Perhaps I’d be the last person to realise, and react with vehement indignation if accused of antisemitism.

This kind of response is summarised in the MacPherson Report’s definition and description of unwitting, unconscious and unintentional racism (6.13-17).

Of course, my intentions matter. Somebody who openly intends to be antisemitic is clearly much more of a direct threat than somebody who doesn’t. But somebody who holds a view of herself as constitutionally incapable of racism is an irrational liability to any multiracial society.

George Orwell wrote:

“To study any subject scientifically one needs a detached attitude, which is obviously harder when one’s own interests or emotions are involved. Plenty of people who are quite capable of being objective about sea urchins, say, or the square root of 2, become schizophrenic if they have to think about the sources of their own income. What vitiates nearly all that is written about antisemitism is the assumption in the writer’s mind that he himself is immune to it. “Since I know that antisemitism is irrational,” he argues, “it follows that I do not share it.” He thus fails to start his investigation in the one place where he could get hold of some reliable evidence — that is, in his own mind.”

Modernity excerpts this from Stephen Sizer, Surrey-based evangelical pastor:

“It is true that at various times in the past, churches and church leaders have tolerated or incited anti-Semitism and even attacks on Jewish people. Racism is a sin and without excuse. Anti-Semitism must be repudiated unequivocally. However, we must not confuse apples and oranges. Anti-Zionism is not the same thing as anti-Semitism despite attempts to broaden the definition. Criticising a political system as racist is not necessarily racist. Judaism is a religious system. Israel is a sovereign nation. Zionism is a political system. These three are not synonymous. I respect Judaism, repudiate anti-Semitism, encourage interfaith dialogue and defend Israel’s right to exist within borders recognised by the international community and agreed with her neighbours. But like many Jews, I disagree with a political system which gives preference to expatriate Jews born elsewhere in the world, while denying the same rights to the Arab Palestinians born in the country itself. Jimmy Carter is not alone in describing the Zionism practiced by the present government of Israel as a form of apartheid.”

The rest of Modernity’s post demonstrates that while Stephen Sizer proclaims that he is against antisemitism, he’s actually rolling in it.

Here is Farid Essack shrugging off the good question “Why Israel only?”. He says:

“And to ask Jews to remember their past is hardly anti-Semitic. Jewish activists do this all the time.”

The point is, it depends what this edict to remember the past is in service of.

Jews, remember your past:

  • because it’s your only defence against the future
  • so that you can empathise with other oppressed peoples
  • because people oppressed by Jews are your particular responsibility
  • so that you realise it’s pointless to try to integrate
  • so that you understand why Israel must carry on existing
  • so that you think of yourself as one of the chosen people
  • because the Nazis tried to obliterate your future
  • because Jewish history is special
  • so that you understand how to contribute to the continuation of world Jewry
  • so that you learn from your mistakes
  • so that you know how to recognise the fascism that’s coming round again sooner or later
  • so that you can defend humanity against fascism
  • because otherwise you won’t understand enough to be fully Jewish
  • because antisemites are trying to rewrite Jewish history
  • because it’s an empowering history of survival against all odds

Some of these reasons are trivial, some politicise Jewish history, some mystify it, some politicise Jewish identity, and some are antisemitic.

Farid Essack’s piece was part of a correspondence debate summarised on Engage – see in particular Robert Fine’s response on the ongoing construction of Israel as an absolutely culpable incarnation of negative properties. He doesn’t say that this way of painting Israel is antisemitic, but I would strongly argue that in effect it is. Most Jews find the prospect of cancelling the state of Israel, and Israel alone, hard to explain in any terms which are not extremely ominous to Jews.

The Finkler Question

I finished Howard Jacobson’s Man Booker longlisted ‘The Finkler Question’. I hardly read fiction (something I regret) and my other half was surprised that I couldn’t put it down. Truth is I was scouring it for insight about the state of my life, no part of which is untouched by the Middle East conflict. Most recently, I was volunteering in the local woods and somebody involved with the Israel Coalition Against Home Demolitions gave an impromptu lecture – “as a Jew”, you understand – during a tea break. Even in an Essex wood, having just encountered two incidents of arson, we’re to be lectured about Israel? Something is wrong. And that isn’t the half of it.

The Finkler Question is peopled by this type of activist and other characters who react to them. Does the Mann Booker longlisting mean that these activists are noteworthy when in a world of just priorities this novel would only be of niche interest? Or perhaps it speaks differently to different people – like The Independent, Bloomsbury avoids the subject entirely:

The Finkler Question is a scorching story of friendship and loss, exclusion and belonging, and of the wisdom and humanity of maturity. Funny, furious, unflinching, this extraordinary novel shows one of our finest writers at his brilliant best.”

Now for me, that review summarises only part of the book I read. I read a very interesting and sparklingly funny novel mainly about British Jews living with an imagined Israel, and about how some purported friends of Jews are not after all good friends to Jews.

Spoiler follows.

Julian Treslove is an unchallenging and patchily reflective secular philosemite. This philosemitism has its origins in a fixation with his Jewish school friend Sam Finkler, a figure of intellectual superiority and insouciant mystique which Treslove imprints as essential Jewishness. Because this philosemitism is so bound up in the part of Finkler’s character which outwits and confounds Treslove, neither Israel, Jewish culture nor Jewish religion contribute to it; it is unaffected by Finkler’s earlier transformation (in reaction to his father) from ardent Zionist to equally ardent anti-Zionist. It is an essentialising infatuation. Through the lens of Treslove’s fascination, innocent queries and – later in life – the jealous self-consolation of a rival, Finkler emerges as a frequently ridiculous figure, but Treslove’s philosemitism endures. The third major character in the book is their former teacher, over three times their age when they met, Czech Jewish emigree Libor Sevcik. Libor and Finkler have been recently widowed, Treslove would like to have been, and the three commune.

Treslove’s strange inner life seems, among the characters of the book, to escape general notice. He isn’t after all the archetypal everyman character his work as professional look-alike suggests. He has a gloomy penchant for women who look terminally ill whom he invariably bores into hating him. He shows no interest in the two sons he accidentally fathered, keeps creating figments of Jewishness where Jewishness doesn’t exist, and from the beginning we learn that he is also extremely fearful of personal accident.

In the briefest unguarded moment Treslove is mugged. For the next few days he has nosebleeds and undergoes a deep change. His attacker had uttered a phrase he resolves (after days of skewed meditation) was “You Jew”. Formerly his admiration of Jews was vicarious and empty of personal aspiration. Now, as victim of an antisemitic attack, he experiences not the appropriate response of empathy but a dramatic and welcome change of identity, a sort of reverse trauma: he begins to think of himself as a Jew. The Jewish identity which steals upon Treslove consists of jollity, good sex and burgeoning energy. As Finkler’s and Libor’s fortunes and spirits decline, Treslove’s seem buoyant. He begins a relationship with Hephzibah, a Jewish woman who doesn’t look terminally ill, on whom he dotes in the same vein as his former girlfriends but is well-received.

Hephzibah is somebody who “dissolves Jewish differences”. Her Jewish sensibilities are British and early 21st century (not anti-Zionist, not centrally pro-Israel). She smells of the orient and cooks with intensity. All this, when they become acquainted, warms Finkler. Imagining that Hephzibah and Finkler have an exclusive Jewish affinity, Treslove’s besottment with Jewishness, devoid of spiritual, religious, or cultural content, consisting entirely of affected yiddish phrases, and notwithstanding his keen awareness of antisemitism, arrives at its inevitable destination of jealousy and suspicion.

Meanwhile he and all of the other characters are becoming aware of the encroachment of anti-Zionism, in the name of Palestinian rights, from the background into the foreground. Finkler is principle personality in an anti-Zionist group he has named ASHamed Jews, “which might or might not, depending on how others felt, be shortened now or in the future to ASH, the peculiar felicity of which, in the circumstances, he was sure it wasn’t necessary for him to point out.” Jacobson’s satirical account of the characters and exploits of ASHamed Jews is closest to life, and recalls the narcissistic silliness of the activists in Tariq Ali’s Redemption.

“The logic that made it impossible for those who had never been Zionists to call themselves ASHamed Zionists did not extend to Jews who had never been Jews. To be an ASHamed Jew did not require that you had been knowingly Jewish all your life. Indeed, one among them only found out he was Jewish at all in the course of making a television programme in which he was confronted on camera with who he really was. In the final frame of the film he was disclosed weeping before a memorial in Auschwitz to dead ancestors who until that moment he had never known he’d had. ‘It could explain where I get my comic genius from,’ he told an interviewer for a newspaper, though by then he had renegotiated his new allegiance. Born a Jew on Monday, he had signed up to be an ASHamed Jew by Wednesday and was seen chanting ‘We are all Hezbollah’ outside the Israeli Embassy on the following Saturday.”

ASHamed Jews marginalises itself with its inbuilt silliness and internecine fighting. Its threat to British Jewish life is a small part of a constellation of other antisemitic events, related and unrelated to Israel, which eat away at the morale of British Jews, most of which are counterparts of actual instances in British current affairs.

Finkler’s son enacts the ideological foundations of ASHamed anti-Zionism with antisemitic effect. Treslove’s son Alfredo is exposed to Holocaust denial in the company of British men in keffiyot. The great grandson of Libor’s friend is blinded in London by an Algerian shouting “Death to all Jews”. An orthodox Jewish child is surrounded by a mob of jeering, jabbing children, only saved by Treslove and a dog walker. There is the inept and category-defying act of wrapping the doors of Hephzibah’s not-yet-open Museum of Anglo-Jewish Culture in bacon. Video blogger Alvin Poliakov attempts to restore his foreskin with “a system of weights he has devised using cpper jewellery, keys from a children’s xylophone, and a pair of small brass candlesticks”. Hephzibah begins to dread the opening of the museum, assessing that the mood is wrong for learning about the positive contribution its Jews have made to British life.

Libor, stricken by the death of his wife, articulates the historical awareness of the Holocaust generation, as well as escapism and a paralysing, impotent fatalism. Finkler’s wife, Tyler, a convert to Judaism, has the most trenchantly contemptuous insights about the Jewish content of her husband’s anti-Zionism, and contrasts with Treslove’s gropings. On Finkler’s domination of ASHamed Jews in the media, “‘They’ll soon realise their mistake,’ Tyler had prophesied. ‘With a greedy bastard like you around, they’ll soon discover how hard it is to get their own share of shame.’” Tyler is at first Jacobson’s main vehicle of argument against anti-Zionism but is dead by the time the book begins.

In the later parts of the novel, Finkler becomes unbearably uncomfortable. He is puffed up, but as a professional thinker, even at “the show-business end of philosophy” he has a public stake in his powers of reason. He also has integrity, and Jacobson perhaps allows himself some wish-fulfilment with the development of Finkler’s thinking about Israel and his willingness to contest some forms of anti-Zionism. That thinking doesn’t lead, here, to Zionism or a pro-Israel position, but to his reasoned dissociation from ASHamed Jews and – a less reasoned response to kinship – a reconciliation with his own Jewishness.

Other reviews:

contains no culture, religion or spirituality.

Gaza flotilla

I tend to look at it like this. The Israeli military took the bait dangled by the Mavi Marmara, which refused to port at Ashdod and so provoked the Israeli action its activists probably hoped for, which resulted in 9 deaths and many injuries. Unsurprisingly (Iran arming Hamas and Hesbollah) Israel is very defensive at the moment. A very right wing government is in power, with solid popular support. Hamas and Hesbollah need to take responsibility for Israeli popular support for their right-wing government. And every death and injury on the Mavi Marmara must be investigated.

Nobody serious says that Gazans are hungry – but they are entirely dependent and unable to leave. Like Israelis, they voted in their bad leaders. Hamas, which is jointly responsible for the blockade, has diverted much of the construction aid to Gaza into its own fortifications, rendering the rebuild impossible. Hamas is even more content than the Israelis to squeeze Gazans, and has refused to accept the aid the Mavi Marmara activists died to bring directly to them. Meanwhile Egypt opened its border with Gaza indefinitely. A ship called the Rachel Corrie is making its way to Gaza with the blessing of the Irish government. Israel will have less grounds for linking that one to Al Quaeda. However, antipathy to Israel does seem to make people prepared to keep appalling company, so perhaps there is a link.

Given Hamas’ eliminationist mission (I know some people detect an acceptance of Israel, but I think we’d know unambiguously if that were the case), there is a good case for checking what goes in and out of Gaza. I’m not sure what lies in between where we are now, and no checks. It’s not really for most of us to say. That the blockade hasn’t worked is no cause for gloating. It means that more people will die, in the long run, until Hamas gives up its claim to the land where Israel exists.

I heard a story of British Jews called “murderers” by strangers because of Israel’s actions. Here is a little personal manifesto.

Noting the forms antisemitism takes these days, I:

  • accept and understand the need for the Israeli state where Jews can assume responsibility for their own security
  • refuse to assume responsibility, beyond that of the next person, for the actions of a state where I don’t have the franchise
  • insist that the originators of the antisemitism, and not Israel, are blamed for antisemitism.
  • refuse to discuss the predicament of Palestinians if it appeases people who scrutinise Jews about their support of Israel
  • undertake – while avoiding undermining Israeli and Palestinian progressives – not to make Israeli politics a particular concern, and so appease those who singularly hate or love Israel and would have us make Israel central
  • will defend Israel against antisemitic attacks in ways which cannot be used by the Israeli extreme right
  • request that Israeli progressives (in particular) defend Jews against antisemitic attacks
  • recognising that Hamas and Hesbollah, who hold some power, must be held partly responsible for Israeli public opinion, insist that Israel’s enemies are held to the same standard as Israel.
  • ask people who make easy statements about what ‘Israel’ should ‘do’ towards peace, to talk about feasibility and security at a respectful level of detail.