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?


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.

9 thoughts on “In defence of a broader definition of antisemitism

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

    Being of a pedestrian practical mind, I can offer one practical reason to distinguish between the two. Where anti-Semite should be treated by energetic application of a blunt object, a Jooish apologist of the said anti-Semite (like Mr Kuper) deserves no more than a slap (followed by a spit) in his face.

    Purely a matter of priorities, you see…

      • To address the substance of your suggestion, if he were a non-Jooish apologist for an antisemite, should he be, er, reprimanded in another way again?

      • As a Jew, Kuper has every right to speak to his own experience. I note, however, that this is not what he’s speaking to. He’s trying to define my experience for me.

      • Yes – it is possible to stereotype yourself, even when you’re talking about your own personal Jewish experience, if you extrapolate it to persuade others to take a certain course of action.

  2. Ach, FiG, even for fear of being banned forever from your place I cannot reject the vision of possible violence in some cases as attractive.

    As for the substance of your question: no, I am not a bigot generally, so I support equality of punishment/reprimand for all kinds.

    Now, you posted another question: “Why is everybody posing as a militant thug these days? When did this become cool?” Being of Jewish persuasion, I have to answer this by a question: do you really believe that antisemitism (or other forms of hate) could be countered by gentle persuasion in any situation, including some extreme ones I don’t want to go into?

    • “I cannot reject the vision of possible violence in some cases as attractive.”

      Well me neither, but only when it’s too late for politics. Until then I’m fed up of this militant talk. It’s a really good way to relegate women to the status of cheerleaders, or clear us out entirely. Ditto anybody who doesn’t consider themselves physically up to it. I don’t find it empowering on any level, and I also think it is counterproductive.

      “I am not a bigot generally, so I support equality of punishment/reprimand for all kinds”. Good, and I hope it would follow that you support equality of responsibility for antisemitism. I want the problem of antisemitism to be everybody’s problem, not just Jews’ problem.

      Interesting listening to an interview with Jonathan Kay the author of a new book on conspiracy theories – he pointed out that Jews weren’t so much at the centre of conspiracy theories any longer, but conspiracy theories mostly took the same shape as antisemitism. Antisemitism is basically one manifestation of shit thinking about power. If it gets currency, everybody loses.

      It’s everybody’s problem, not just Jews’.

      And no hitting.

  3. You mention Kay “pointed out that Jews weren’t so much at the centre of conspiracy theories any longer.” I am not so convinced. Anti-Jewish conspiracy theories are rampant in the Muslim world. Some of these contain a political anti-Zionist element and others are more religious in orientation. Moving to the conspiracy theories in vogue in the West, those involving the power and influence of bankers/financiers seem quite common. I don’t know need to explain which ethnic/religious group is associated with bankers. Even looking narrowly at the 9-11 truthers, the emphasis of Kay’s book, many of them blame the Mossad or some shadowy group of Zionists hell-bent on global control. Others make reference to the Protocols.

    Hi Snoop.

    • TNC, yes, true. I think Kay was focusing on a certain type of U.S. conspiracism. Looking at the toc, he seems to avoid the anti-Jewish theories in the Muslim world (note that he works for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which describes itself at the end of one article as “a policy institute focusing on terrorism and political Islam”.)

      I keep returning to this question: if the objects of a conspiracist mindset are not Jews-as-Jews, but are associated with Jews in the national imagination (e.g. are bankers, or Mossad), then how, if at all, might Kay’s recommendations for disrupting conspiracy beliefs (“a pound of cure, an ounce of prevention”) be helpful for disrupting antisemitic beliefs?

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