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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Anti-Zionism and anti-Semism

Added by Mira Vogel on January 31, 2008 09:38:20 AM.
Anti-zionism and antisemitism: responses to David Hirsh's paper. An account.I went to hear responses to David Hirsh's paper on Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: Cosmopolitan Reflections and the four respondents were highly provoking, highly entertaining and generally excellent. The paper is available on the website of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism, here.

Jon Pike spoke at length on the Livingstone Formulation (aka the Livingstone Manoeuvre). He talked about the credibility deficit attributed to people who articulate concerns about antisemitism which is expressed as a charge of stifling criticism of Israel. The credibility deficit arises from prejudice and its result is in injustice - an instant attribution of the concerns about antisemitism to bad faith which entirely skips the good faith explanations which should be the initial avenues. It can be counteracted by naming it, analysing it, showing it to be a baseless and hackneyed dodge. Some veterans grasped what he was saying about two minutes into his 15 minute presentation. I thought it was a well-judged length - a length for people who aren't initiated into the crazy world of anti-Zionists v. anti-racists and/or people who value a thorough dissection of an argument.

Robert Fine introduced the the extremes of theories about antisemitism - on the one hand the idea of post-antisemitism, that Europe is a post-nationalist entity which has learnt the lessons of the Holocaust (in fact recognition has been slow and incomplete) and a repeat is inconceivable, and on the other hand the idea of the 'new antisemitism' that considers antisemitism as inevitable, the many-headed hydra. He talked about the necessity of resisted the calls of these analytical sirens, and the hope that cosmopolitanism can equip us for this. He talked about a constant current in Western thought which believes in silver bullets - that the ills of society can be attributed to an alien entity and that it it is possible to fix society if we can identify and eliminate this.

Les Back talked about the importance of listening. He talked about how accessing people's intentions when they are effectively (rather than intentionally) antisemitic is extremely difficult, and that the only people who can even come close to this are ourselves in reflection. We should not be compacent that we aren't racist. He also talked about dialogue and the need to resist a glass ear. I wondered how this related to David's point about the Guardian's Comment is Free hosting a debate between antisemites and anti-racists - the idea that some debates, such as those which normalise and legitimise racism, shouldn't be given a platform - and Howard Jacobson's argument that if we, in the circumstances of a boycott, stop listening to Israeli academics, it is ourselves we primarily damage, and the idea that denial of a platform is closer to censorship than boycotters want to admit. The tension between these points of view is the dilemma for anybody who has been banned from participating in an online community and is trying to get included again.

Anthony Julius' examination of the British variety of antisemitism was extremely funny. He made a barrowload of excellent jokes the general thrust of which was that it's a shame to dignify antisemitism with credibility - rather, a good analogy for antisemitism is rubbish. We sweep rubbish out of our front gardens in a perfunctory way - we don't get in the bin and examine it. But at the same time he is in the bin writing a book on antisemitism, and it is David Hirsh's research area. He concluded that rubbish is rubbish but the study of rubbish, scholarship.

David Hirsh spoke briefly. He said that it's hard to recognise the type of antisemitism which does not parade around in jackboots and nazi insignia, and is not ignorant and socially excluded. Now its carriers assume anti-racist credentials and even say they oppose antisemitism. They are without intent to be antisemitic, and so escape analysis. This is how arch-racist David Duke and erstwhile Leftist George Galloway can appear on the same Islamist platform arguing the same corner. He predicts that the variety of antisemitism we should be prepared for is the conspiracy theory.

It would have been good if there'd been more time for questions. Some people had good ones which weren't answered. As usual there was a strong yearning for a primer or manual about how to cope with the onslaught - "Tell us how to recognise and respond to the antisemitism in anti-Zionism" (reminds me of a couple of weeks ago a repeated question to David from would-be critics of Israel: "Tell us how to criticise Israel with immunity from the charge of antisemitism". The answer is the same: read, know and think hard). What to do in the face of - when professing that one is not using antisemitism to stifle debate about Israel - the Mandy Rice Davies Formulation of "You would say that, wouldn't you". Another good question was about the onus of proof in the circumstances of the Livingstone Formulation. And another noting that there are some universities where Jewish students don't want to go, and asking how we can address this when the definition of antisemitism continues to be contested in supra-national bodies like the UN and EU.

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