On Harry’s Place, David T responds to Martin Shaw’s request for proof that there is a problem with antisemitism in the Palestine solidarity movement with reference to the national chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
This is further to an important debate between Martin Shaw (an anti-boycotter who thinks that antisemitism has been vastly exaggerated), David Hirsh (who thinks that antisemitism is a very important current which is poisoning the left) and Norman Geras (who is broadly of the same view as David Hirsh) which is worth reading in full. It is an important debate because Martin Shaw is authoritative, influential, and against racism. If at the same time he is unaware of antisemitism, prepared to suppose that references to antisemitism are “conjectures, suppositions and hypotheses“, and therefore prepared to accuse David Hirsh of fabrication then this is a real setback. It raises the worry that no example or case could convince him – or worse, that he might not only fail to recognise antisemitism in the examples provided, but he might actually consider the examples of antisemitism as not antisemitism but sound, reasonable analysis.
I have been wondering for weeks whether there exists a silver bullet which would cause Martin Shaw to suddenly say “Oh right, I see”. I think David T has got about as close as you can get. After reading this, Martin Shaw will be obliged to confront the extent of antisemitism on the left*.
David T quotes the former national chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Francis Clark-Lowes, at some length. David assumes, as indeed we should be able to, that his readers understand the values encapsulated in the notion of Jewish Power. However, I’m not confident that everybody intelligent does understand this any longer and consequently I think that ways of recognising antisemitic tropes need to be regularly restated.
So, when Clark-Lowes says:
“Every group needs power – indeed the raison d’etre of a group is that it can exercise power. The problem with Jewish power at present is that it has made itself immune from criticism and control by using the accusation of antisemitism to crush anyone who attempts to criticise it or control it.
I ask myself a simple question: ‘Do I believe a resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict is possible without radical change in the way Jewishness is understood and privileged?’ I answer with a definitive no. The brilliant Zionist narrative, and its supporting Jewish narratives about Jewish identity, Jewish history and antisemitism, if unchallenged, will continue to provide a cast-iron case for Israeli behaviour. That is why Jewish power needs to be challenged.”
perhaps this needs explaining lest somebody – admittedly somebody very uncouth – should entertain the idea that Jewish power, being effectively Zionist power or at least complicit with it, is a bit like Nazi power or apartheid Afrikaaner power – and we know the Nazis and apartheid Afrikaaners were hell-bent on taking and keeping power so why should we suddenly be required to be unnecessarily skeptical about the Jews?
The reason the notion of “Jewish power” is racist is that it assumes power accrued for reasons instrinsic and common to the character of Jews as an ethnicity, culture or religion, rather than for sociological reasons to do with drive (e.g. for personal security) and/or merit (e.g. high educational achievement, inherited high IQ**) within a system which favours these things. It also assumes that power is wielded in the name of ethnicity, culture or religion, an assumption which echos age-old conspiracy theories about an almost supernaturally coherent, marshalled and well-obscured Jewish shared purpose. This is a classic piece of diversity denial – imagine talking about a Black shared purpose to defend Mugabe in such a way which cut across all material circumstances, backgrounds, affinities and national boundaries. As well as failing to explain – except as deceitfulness on a fearsome scale – the wide and vociferous diversity of opinion in Israeli and Jewish society, this idea of Jewish power also evokes newer conspiracy accusations like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion which some people – including those David T identifies who are close to Clark-Lowes in the PSC – are actively entertaining as true. Lastly the notion of Jewish power assumes that ‘Jewish narratives’ about Jewish identity, history and antisemitism “provide a cast-iron case for Israeli behaviour” only as a consequence of being false, calculated narratives which need to be “challenged”. This way of thinking rules out the possibility that narratives about Jewish identity, history and antisemitism may indeed explain and even justify some of Israel’s policies. It is also is ironic considering that the PSC and wider left frequently justifies the violent acts of Palestinians with respect to their oppression.
For a more affirming view of Jews with power – namely in the form of national sovereignty after a period of fatal powerlessness – see Anthony Julius.
Everybody who has involved themselves in the debate with Martin Shaw deserves a lot of credit – David T, Norm and principally David Hirsh.
*Denial is a distinct possibility.
** I know this is controversial but it is an example of an alternative, and morally neutral analysis to the one about intent advanced by Clark-Lowes.