Monday, June 06, 2011

New Jewish Resistance: Fighting Zionism and Anti-Semitism, Defending Pan-Semitic Unity

I don't have enough blogging time at the moment, but I just came across this via WW4Report. Not sure what to think. I don't like the idea of "Pan-Semitic", but kind of interesting no?


Rebecca said...

Interesting? Demented, in my opinion. Reminds me of the ASHamed Jews of The Finkler Question, which I am currently reading.

JM said...

I like it myself, but I wish Bill wouldn't put his picture up by his posts. It's a tad egotistical.

Flesh said...

Destined to be the tiniest group in the world. Because it wants to be. It's in the name.

I gave my seat to a man on the train the other day. First I noticed he was reading The Finkler Question. Then I automatically looked to see if his shoes were as good as his taste in stories (where my eyes would have roamed after that, don't ask me) and realised he had a bandaged foot.

The Contentious Centrist said...

I'm, like, totally against "pan-semitic unity". Any name that incorporates both "pan" and "unity" in it smells of sulfurous fascism, an attempt to subjugate the individual to a greater all inclusive idea. Usually these all-inclusive ideas are about exclusion and this is just another ploy to organize a front against Israeli Jews who want to continue to be Israeli Jews.

Why isn't there a Pan-White- Unity? Why insist on the semitic race as a unifying principle? And why would Bob find any merit whatsoever in such an idea, I ask, puzzled and depressed?

Rebecca said...

A good question - is there such a thing as a "Semitic race"? I don't think so. Nor a Jewish race, nor an Arab race. Semitic languages - yes.

bob said...

I completely agree about "pan", "semitic" and "unity" and was surprised to see that from Bill Weinberg.

It's not that I find interesting; it's the possibility of the emergence of a critique of left antisemitism from a place further to the left of the "decent" spectrum (Engage, John Mann, Dissent, etc) and from within an explicitly anti-Zionist context, which can't be accused of providing an alibi for Israel. I remain unconvinced that the critique will be particularly impressive, but it's only just launched.

The Contentious Centrist said...

It's just another, fancier, facile and deceptive, term for anti-racist anti-Zionist, Bob. It means that in order to fight antisemitism today you need to be anti-Israel, otherwise you might be suspected of being pro-Israel. How is that any different from levi's schtick?

I am also harboring grave suspicions that this new concept is spurred on by some Ashkenazi/Sephardic dialectic which I find abhorrent if true. Why do we need to know that BHL is a Sephardic Jew? I didn't know that and I was not interested in knowing. It adds nothing to BHL's merits and weaknesses. Unless there is an underhanded need to suggest that Sephardic Jews,like BHL, still care about Arabs and are willing to help them along. And this solidarity, exhibited by BHL's in Libya, becomes the magic solution: Sephardic, or by extension, Levantine Jews (Israelis) and Arabs, UNITE!

No, thank you. Ask the 3 million+ Israelis whose parents and grandparents fled from Arab and Muslim lands what they think about such solutions. Considering their memories, I don't think this Ashkenazi Jew's hallucination will be met with great enthusiasm or even patience. If Bill Weinberg wishes to consolidate his own ethnicity with that of white, European, English-speaking people, let him do so openly and honestly. At least Gilad Atzmon is not shy about proclaiming that this is his intent.

bob said...

An e-mail from a friend on the "semitic unity" bit:

It's also an attempt to make Jewish-Arab solidarity contingent on an essentialized notion of 'Semitic' identity, as if to say that if this shared identity didn't exist, there would be no basis on which any appeal for 'unity' could be made.

More broadly, it's part of a worrying trend (strongly manifest in the debates around Atzmon in Indymedia UK, but also elsewhere), to make the legitimacy of voices attacking antisemitism conditional on the anti-Zionist credentials of their proponent. This is one of the trends I've found most worrying during the last decade or so.

bob said...

And another friend e-mails the following:


A first impression. Bizarre and problematic!

What we stand for
blog | May 27, 2011 - 12:36am | By Bill Weinberg
Jews are a multiplicity of ethnicities (Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, Sephardi, etc.) with common bonds of identity and shared histories of persecution. Whether or not you believe that these ethnicities together constitute a nation, Zionism is deeply inimical to Jewish interests and survival.

In a historical sense, this is simply not true. The zionist movement was critical for establishing a location where many Jews fled persecution, both before and during WWII but also afterwards for those expelled from Arab countries.

I find it interesting to see how antizionists must ignore the fact that zionism was a national self-determination movement. They seem incapable of addressing that aspect, and tend to portray it then instead of something completely foreign even to Jews themselves, as we see in the next paragraph.

Israel is an extension of US imperialism, doing its dirty work of intimidating regional enemies with periodic military aggression and a rogue nuclear arsenal. The US has no special interest in oppressing the Palestinians, but they are powerless enough to be expendable in the Great Power game.

It's interesting. It seems that in order to combat antisemitism, they want to pretend as if zionism is not a Jewish movement. Sort of a ridiculously exaggerated response to those other antizionists whose essentialist treatment of contemporary Israel see it as being the pure and logical result of collective Jewish action as such?

Israel is replicating the historic function of anti-Semitism: providing useful scapegoats for when the system goes into crisis. Now that the system is starting to do so, anti-Semitism enters mainstream discourse, with bizarre theories proliferating that the Jewish client state actually controls the imperial center, Washington. (Similar theories, not surprisingly, also proliferate about the oil-rich Arabs.) Even so-called "progressives" increasingly embrace these fascistic ideas.

No idea what this should mean. Is Israel to blame for antisemitism? If Israel is the cause of the antisemitism, or of its mainstreaming, how do the authors explain mainstream antisemitism before Israel's establishment? That Jewish professionals, bankers, artists and communists were responsible for antisemitism in the 1930s?

The way to fight back is by advancing a legitimate anti-Zionism that defends pan-Semitic dignity. Jews, long oppressed by European power as a Semitic people, have become the goy empire's proxy police force against fellow Semites. Other Jews—the rest of us—have every interest in repudiating this, and building solidarity with the Palestinians and other civil resistance forces in the Arab world.

Oh vey, "pan-semitic unity." Barf! What the heck should the linguistic similarities between Hebrew and Arabic have to do with political consciousness? This is a strange attempt actually to re-nationalize Jews. What's the purpose? To hold up a (nationalist) internationalism against "zionism" and U.S. power interests in the Middle East?

Addttionally, the claim -- also made 2 paragraphs up -- that Israel is the client state of the U.S. (in this paragraph "the goy empire's proxy police force") is just as bankrupt a response to the inverse claim that Israel controls the U.S. It's almost as if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has no national(ist) and local aspects to it.

Zionists have thrown in their lot with The Man no less than the Jewish tax-collectors of 19th-century Russia and Poland. It was the peasant Jews who paid in the pogroms when the backlash came. It is time for Jews to wise up.

This is a poor attempt to transpose a very vulgar class theory onto the jewish population and the jewish national movement. "Zionists" = capitalists // non-Zionist Jews = proletariat.

Bella said...

Nothing interesting here, just another venue for delegitimizing Israel.

Anonymous said...

There's a link to Ahmedinejad's '9/11 was an inside job' speech on the front page today, without commentary. Nice!

TNC said...

Hey Bob,

You write:

"It's not that I find interesting; it's the possibility of the emergence of a critique of left antisemitism from a place further to the left of the "decent" spectrum..."

The problem is Bill is unwilling to address left-wing antisemitism as a *left-wing* phenomena. He is unable to see their was--and I would say still is--a relationship between radical thought (whether extreme left or extreme right) and anti-Jewish thought. Instead he sees antisemitism as an ideology exclusively of the right.

To the extent that leftists adopt antisemitic positions or rhetoric, it is Bill’s claim that these people are adopting right-wing positions. He is completely unable to see that institutionalized Jew hatred is not unique to the right. It cuts across the left-right divide.

I pointed this out at your comrade Contested Terrain's blog but he didn't want to hear it. This was his reply:

"Additionally, antisemitism is incompatible with Left politics. When those on the Left peddle antisemitism, they do so by negating a left critique."

Like Bill, there is an avoidance of addressing left-wing antisemitism as coming straight out of radical leftist thought.

This is unfortunately common on the libertarian left. How can you truly address left-wing antisemitism in your movement(s) if you think it is something exogenous, imposed on you by the Right?

Do you know what I mean?


bob said...

TNC, this is a very good point. I think you're right about Bill's failure here. I think that there are examples of right-wing antisemitism entering the left (I'd say Atzmon is one such) but yes there is an endemic antisemitism in radical thought, which Bill doesn't face up to. That's what Contested Terrain is all about, so I'll have to go and read the comments there now!

TNC said...

Yes, please do take a look. Unless I am mistaken, Contested Terrain agrees with Bill that there is no antisemitism endogenous to the Left:

"antisemitism is incompatible with Left politics."

Needless to say this is an incredibly ahistorical statement. The libertarian left will never develop a legitimate critique of left-wing antisemitism as long as they fail to admit and address the specifically left-wing roots of the phenomena. Start with their foundational theorists--Proudhon, Bakunin, etc.--and go forward from there.

bob said...

Here's the comment I just left at CT:

Predictably, my position is somewhere in between TNC's and SL's. I think that TNC over-exaggerates to say that Bill is a lone voice in radical left otherwise completely given over to antisemitism. I have no way of knowing how many readers WW4 gets and how many listeners MORC had, but I get the feeling from the number of people in the comments that there is a fairly large constituency for his kind of politics. True, nowhere near as large as CounterPunch's, but too much to see him as a lone voice. I also think that there is a fairly large radical left that is neither Bill nor CounterPunch, neither antisemitic nor active in challenging it - off the top of my head, everything from Red Pepper to the Wobblies, from the World Socialist Website to Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières, from Tribune to New Politics.

I think it is the case that antisemitism is incompatible with what I understand to be core left-wing values, but I also see that my understanding of core left-wing values is not shared by a large amount of the actually existing left, so think that this is a weak argument. Left antisemitism is not something imported into the left from the right. True, there is some right-wing antisemitism in the left, but there are also "indigenous" antisemitic traditions within the left, going right back to the "founding fathers" of both the libertarian and Marxist left, including the form of universalism that developed into "red assimilationism" and the "socialism of fools" opposition to finance capital. Understanding and criticising these traditions from within the radical left is why Contested Terrain is so important.

On CounterPunch, I agree that "it is a mix of liberalism, stalinism and american nationalism", and has little to do with the historic traditions of the radical left. Nonetheless, it sees itself, and more importantly its readers see it, as some kind of authentic, important voice of the radical left, and we can't dismiss it as simply outside our left.

TNC said...

I am only commenting on what I see here in the U.S. and Bill is pretty much alone in this regard. There might be some bloggers or other groups of people out there who I am unaware of. I can certainly admit that. Perhaps things are different in the UK?

So what other individuals and groups on the libertarian/radical left besides Contested Terrain are addressing left-wing antisemitism? Your initial comments suggest that this a rare thing. And, to the extent that they do address it, how many are willing to examine the left-wing roots of antisemitism?

I suspect the number is zero or close to it.

SL’s replies make it pretty clear he agrees with the notion that antisemitism is something imposed on the Left by outsiders. Does SL speak for Contested Terrain? He seems to be doing so in the comments I linked to. Am I wrong?

Sent you a longer reply via email.

bob said...

Contested Terrain was started by "Schalom Libertad" and he is by far the most active blogger there. I think all the "admin" posts are him. The other posters are listed here SL did say, in that thread, that he thinks that antisemitism is something imposed on the Left by outsiders. I don't think, though, that he really thinks that.

In the UK, there are a small number of groups who are active in combating left antisemitism from the left: Alliance for Workers Liberty, Engage, Shift magazine, Principia Dialectica, Harry's Place (although arguably that's not left), and individual commentators and activists, such as Peter Tatchell, Alan Johnson, Denis MacShane, John Mann. So, I agree this is a tiny fraction of the left.

That doesn't mean, though, that whole of the rest are part of the problem.

I am not sure what you mean by "the left-wing roots of antisemitism". I don't think antisemitism as such as left-wing roots, but I agree that antisemitism is deeply rooted on the left. I think the best account of this remains Steve Cohen's 1980s pamphlet That's Funny You Don't Look Anti-Semitic

bob said...

I just added this comment at CT:

To clarify, TNC does not say that "Bill is a lone voice in radical left otherwise completely given over to antisemitism", as I said in my last comment, but that he is a lone voice in opposing it, which is quite a different thing. Apologies for exaggerating!

TNC said...

Re: "Left wing roots" (me) vs. "antisemitism is deeply rooted on the left" (you) I do not see more than a semantic difference here but maybe I am missing something.

My point was antisemitic concepts are found in radical left writings going all the way back to the founders of these movements. My particular interest is in anarchism so I am especially talking about Proudhon and Bakunin.

However I would include Marx in this assessment as well. I do not find the supposed sly humor in "On the Jewish Question" that Marxists regularly refer to. Plenty of antisemitism in his correspondence as well.

I had an economics professor who insisted that Marx could not hate the Jewish people because Marx was Jewish. I asked him if he thought the same way about self-hatred with other groups and received no response.