Edward Alexander on antisemitism denial (old but relevant still)

Edward Alexander’s article on Antisemitism denial in Frontpage Magazine, December 2004.

He’s principally responding to a 2003 piece by Judith Butler titled No, it’s not antisemitic. London Review of Books;25(16).

Both are good and comprehensive reviews of the themes of antisemitism charges and antisemitism denial which have come out of the recent debate about Israel, including one hosted by the LRB which is well worth watching (HT Engage) not least for its exemplary use of video.

I particularly liked this bit from Antisemitism denial:

Josef Joffe, editor of the German weekly DER ZEIT, has succinctly defined the linguistic difference between “criticism of Israeli policy” and antisemitism:

Take this statement: ‘Demolishing the houses of the families of
terrorists is morally wrong because it imputes guilt by
association, and politically wrong because it pushes more people
into the arms of Hamas.’ Such a statement is neither anti-Israel
nor anti-Semitic; it might even be correct. By contrast, ‘the
Israelis are latter-day Nazis who want to drive the Palestinians
from their land in order to realize an imperialist biblical
dream’ inhabits a very different order of discourse, ascribing
evil to an entire collective and, in its equation of Israelis and
Nazis, revealing an obsessive need for moral denigration.

One of several illuminating things I probably should have known but only now learn from Alexander relates to a phenomenon I’ve noticed repeatedly over the past few months – somebody writes something like “You’re chilling debate by calling us antisemitic” and their opponent appropriates the charge with “In fact, it’s denial of antisemitism which is having a chilling effect on debate.” Logicians, I’m pleased to learn, have given this a name: a tu quoque argument.


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