Anti-Semitism

19 Feb

Given how often the topic is brought up in the comments section of this blog, readers might be surprised to know that in the hundreds of articles and blog entries I’ve written over the years on the subject of BDS, I have yet to accuse those involved with the so-called Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment “movement” of being motivated by anti-Semitism.

Part of the reason for this is metaphysical. After all, to truly know the motivation of those I oppose politically would require the ability to look into someone else’s soul, a gift I have been denied along with the rest of humanity. How much easier it is to simply point out the dishonest, selfish and bullying actions of BDS practitioners and allow readers to draw their own conclusions (or, if they prefer, guess at the boycotter’s internal motivations).

Another reason is practical. For in the last few decades, the Israel-disliking community has developed and honed a narrative that says every criticism leveled against them (regardless of its content or accuracy) is really nothing more than direct or masked accusations of anti-Semitism, designed to shut them up and smear their noble cause. The fact that this is simply another projection (since BDSers routinely accuse their opponent of bigotry at the tiniest provocation, such as using the word “Arab” in a sentence) does not change the fact that accusing BDSers of anti-Semitism (in addition to being un-provable) runs the risk of triggering this well-rehearsed martyrdom defense.

But the biggest reason I avoid such accusations is philosophical and to describe it I must again draw from that unending font of wisdom on this and other subjects, Harvard’s Ruth Wisse.

In Wisse’s groundbreaking work “If I am not for Myself” (the controversy around its subtitle subject: “The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews” put aside for purposes of this discussion), Wisse posits two different phenomenon traveling under the name of “anti-Semitism.”

The first is a garden variety personal hatred of Jews, comparable to other forms of bigotry directed at blacks or similar minorities, a loathing (like all bigotries) formed of ignorance and insecurity, either at an individual or cultural level.

But “anti-Semitism,” according to Wisse, also describes a fully-formed ideology, comparable not to other types of racism, but to the nastiest ideologies of the past, notably the Twentieth Century’s totalitarian movements such as Fascism and Communism.

Like these movements, ideological anti-Semitism provides its adherents with a full-fledged world view, one in which all of history can be boiled down to a struggle between those in whom all virtue is held (normally the groups adhering to anti-Semitic ideology) and the shadowy evil – the Jews – standing behind everything wrong on the planet.

As an ideology, anti-Semitism is a call to action, not simply a paranoid delusion. And this action involves organizing, empowering and (frequently) arming oneself to fight this hideous evil that threatens all mankind.

While cultural factors clearly play a role in this dynamic, a much more critical motivation behind anti-Semitic ideology is the huge gap between the power of the mystical Jews in the anti-Semites imagination and the actual highly limited power of real Jews. This disparity allows the anti-Semite to arm him or herself for a struggle against a foe whose actual power to resist is highly limited in real-world (vs. imaginary) terms. And thus, anti-Semitic ideology allows the anti-Semite to play the hero, while actually living as a bully. And once forces have been gathered far in excess of what is needed to keep down real-world (vs. fictional) Jews, it’s a simple matter of using that force to seize wider, even ultimate, power.

This is why the last century’s totalitarian movements, whether Nazi or Marxist, were either born or died steeped in anti-Semitic word and deed. And this is why this century’s remnants of those movements (in the form of Arab dictatorships struggling for survival over the last month) and the Islamist totalitarians who hope to unseat them all compete with one another as to who can brand their opponents as tools of the all-powerful Jews.

The classical Jew-hating vitriol spewing from the Middle East like a modern day Vesuvius (including widespread publication and belief of classic anti-Semitic text such as Mein Kampf and the Protocols of Zion) is not simply a throwback to 20th century or even Medieval hatreds. Rather, they are practical means of uniting people in opposition to (and arming against) “The Jew,” then turning those gathered weapons against any and all opponents who (as it always turns out) are secretly in league with Hebraic evil.

As I join the rest of you watching the melt-down in the Middle East, bewildered by what might come next, the most critical metric to watch is whether the parties that come to power do so based on a platform of opposition to Zionism (the latest metaphor for Jewish wickedness). For this will truly dictate whether the millions who dwell in the Middle East are on a pathway towards positive change, or another violent and bloody Dark Age.

Given this profound reality, one more reason to avoid accusing BDSers of anti-Semitism is that they are such small beer in a much more profound struggle. That being the case, why give these self-centered losers credit for ideology that may very well be beyond their ability to comprehend?

4 Responses to “Anti-Semitism”

  1. Hawkeye February 19, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

    Really thought provoking essay Jon.

    I don't think you should shy away from labeling the discourse of the BDS movement as antisemitic – with reference to the objective standard of the EUMC working definition of antisemitism. That is very different from labeling someone an antisemite, which as you said can be problematic.

    Framing their discourse as racism smacks in the face of the liberal values that BDS'ers purport to uphold.

    Additionally, by not stating clearly that the discourse is antisemitic are you not playing into the hands of those that level the Livinstone formulation that you described above?

    http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/david-hirsh-the-livingstone-formulation/

  2. rental elf February 21, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

    Nice article, thanks for the information.

  3. Solomon February 21, 2011 at 11:24 pm #

    I start along with you but in the end I feel you wander and end up defining antisemitism so loftily I wonder if anyone actually lives up to it.

    As a tactical matter I agree it doesn't help, and should be left to the individual to draw their own conclusions following an examination of the facts. And this especially when it comes to the followers, the low men on the totem pole who are merely repeating what others have said without much reflection of their own. It is possible to ignorantly traffic in antisemitic themes without being an antisemite in the heart.

    Even among those of us who “get it,” such labels shouldn't be the first thing we jump to, not just because we may be wrong, but because it leads to lazy thinking.

    But let's be real. Among those who “get it,” when not speaking for public consumption or to try to convince, I think we can call a spade a spade now and again.

    “Like these movements, ideological anti-Semitism provides its adherents with a full-fledged world view, one in which all of history can be boiled down to a struggle between those in whom all virtue is held (normally the groups adhering to anti-Semitic ideology) and the shadowy evil – the Jews – standing behind everything wrong on the planet.”

    As a for instance, if this description doesn't describe certain past members of the leadership of the Green Rainbow Party then I don't know who it describes.

  4. Jon February 22, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    Hawkeye and Sol – Don’t take the fact that I avoid accusing particular BDS individuals or actions as being motivated by anti-Semitism (for the reasons I outline) as indicating criticism of this choice of approach by others. In fact, one of the unstated reasons why I don’t go down this route myself is that there are others doing yeoman’s work in this area, whether exposing folks like Livingston or the Greens.

    But I will say that I don’t think there is nearly enough analysis of the ideological anti-Semitism Wisse describes, even among those of us who “get it.” We do good work exposing the symptoms of this phenomenon (whether that be the local BDS stunt or sales of Mein Kampf in Cairo), but I think even we don’t explore as deeply as we can the role this ideology plays in fueling today’s totalitarian wannabees, as it fueled the real totalitarians of the past.

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