Tuesday, October 04, 2011
Atzmon and left antisemitism: some addenda
post the other day about left antisemitism and its critics. I messed up the scheduling of posts over the last few days – mainly because I am not very good at counting – so it got hidden below one of my random bits and bobs posts on Friday evening. This post adds a few links and a few thoughts to my previous post, but if you didn’t catch it read the other one instead of this one. Also, since I wrote this post, I noticed more material, from CIFWatch and others, which I will have to leave for a later post.
Left antisemitism – or right antisemitism?
In the previous post, I questioned the extent to which Alison Weir or John Mearsheimer might be examples of “left antisemitism”, given that they are both right-wing. Subsequently reading Gilad Atzmon’s defence of his position via Andrew Coates and Rosie Bell, it occurs to me that this is true of Atzmon as well. Atzmon says, among other things: “One may wonder how come [Richard] Seymour, an alleged revolutionary radical Marxist, Andy Newman, a mediocre socialist and Neocon pro war [David] Aaronovitch are caught together naked holding ideological hands." "How is it possible that a hard core Zionist and ultra radical leftists are not only employing the same ideological argument but also performing the exact same tactics?... Zionism clearly maintains and sustains its `radical left opposition' and the logos behind such a tactic is simple- `revolutionary' left is totally irrelevant to both the conflict and its resolution.” In Atzmon’s worldview, “the conflict and its resolution”, and specifically the Jewish question, is the central, defining issue next to which everything else is irrelevant. He doesn’t care about revolutionary Marxism, or socialism mediocre or otherwise; he only cares about “the conflict and its resolution”. This totally refutes John Mearsheimer’s ridiculous claim that Atzmon is a “universalist” who “is the kind of person who intensely dislikes nationalism of any sort.” Whereas Richard Seymour’s or Andy Newman’s anti-Zionism proceeds (correctly or otherwise) from left-wing universalist values, Atzmon’s universalist pose proceeds from a particularist obsession with Jews. So, Atzmon might have vaguely left-wing views on other things, but on his core issue, the Jews, his position is thoroughly right-wing, and the left-right dichotomy on other questions is just an insignificant diversion in his worldview.
Further evidence that he is not a left-wing antisemite comes from his book The Wondering Who, which Mearsheimer claimer to read. Gabriel A at Jews sans Frontieres shows where the book gets its wacko conspiracy theories from: a “writer who advocates something called "ethno-nationalism," published in the holocaust denial publication, The Barnes Review, the brainchild of Willis Carto, an American white-supremacist and a former affiliate of David Duke”. Atzmon, who has been much feted by Duke, belongs to this neo-Nazi swamp much more than he belongs to any anti-Zionist left.
So, to repeat what I said in my last post, Atzmon, like Weir and Mearsheimer, is in no sense an exemplar of left antisemitism. However, this makes the enthusiastic take-up of Atzmon, Weir and Mearsheimer by sections of the left (by the majority of Socialist Unity commenters, by activists in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, by CounterPunch and its acolytes, etc) even more disturbing. What is wrong with leftists that they take these right-wingers seriously when it comes to Israel and the Jews?
Jews san Frontieres
Gabriel’s post at JSF is worth reading, and yet more ammunition against Atzmon (and Mearsheimer). Ash and JSF, as hardcore anti-Zionists, are perfectly entitled to point out that Mearsheimer’s implosion “does not mean that AIPAC is any less nefarious an organization than it was last week”. Indeed, Mearsheimer’s (and Walt’s) endorsement of Atzmon does not by itself invalidate their “Israel Lobby” conspiracy theory.
My reader Benjamin takes issue with Ash’s “As the authors of Zero books have noted in their protest letter about Atzmon, it is easy to be fooled by Atzmon's convoluted and pretentious claptrap.” Benjamin asks, “How, exactly, can one be 'fooled' into thinking that the vicious, anti-Jewish dreck the man spews can be anything else -but- anti-Jewish? The only way he could be even more overtly racist would be if he dolled himself up in a white sheet or put on a Reich uniform!” It seems to me, though, that University of Chicago professors and SWP bloggers are capable of quite a high level of stupidity, and we should go easy on them.
I found this interesting, the opening of Gabriel’s post: “Of course Atzmon is antisemitic. I think a lot of people who steered clear of him, including yours truly, have been loath to say that because of the way this accusation has been weaponized by Zionists, and the desire not to give them any credibility. But that kind of circumlocution quite often has a price. Had people been less circumspect, the implosion of Mearsheimer might not have happened.” This a courageously honest statement by Gabriel, and it should be remembered that some of Atzmon’s most consistent critics have been the most hardcore of anti-Zionists, such as Greenstein and Rance’s Jews Against Zionism group. It should also be remembered that Richard Seymour saw through Atzmon when the SWP was actively promoting him.
On the other hand, I think the idea of “Zionists” “weaponizing” antisemitism is deeply problematic. (JSF’s Levi9909 took a similar line in my comment thread, accusing Sarah AB of weaponizing, or at least instrumentalising, racism for racist reasons: “You don't seem to find racism repugnant. Rather you seem to instrumentalise antisemitism and the allegation of antisemitism in the service of your support for zionism and the State of Israel. That is, you condemn one form of racism because you support another form.”) Even if it were true that “Zionists” do “weaponize” antisemitism (and there are instances of this I could point to) and even if you accepted that Zionism is a form of racism (I don’t, but some of my best friends do), it seems to me that anti-Zionists like JSF and Jon Wight only take the most irrefutable accusations of the most extreme and absurd antisemitism with any kind of good faith. Their default position is that accusations of antisemitism are false accusations, and that making them is “weaponizing” done for malignant (“nefarious”) reasons by an almost mythical “Zionist” beast. For instance, taking Sarah AB as an example of this evil “Zionism” requires quite a tendentious reading of her blog posts and comments.
Antisemitism and anti-Zionism
On the other hand, some Zionists mirror the JSF position, and see all anti-Zionism as bad faith antisemitism. On Twitter, CIFWatch said my post failed to understand the antisemitism of all anti-Zionism. I completely disagree. I’ve stated this before but it seems to me that anti-Zionism that also takes a consistent opposition to all nationalisms (including Palestinian nationalism) is not antisemitic; Jewish religious anti-Zionism such as that of the Satmer Hasidim is not antisemitic; Jewish anti-Zionism which rejects the Zionist solution to the questions of Jewish survival and continuity (such as the position of the Jewish Socialist Group or others in the tradition of the Bund, folkism and other diasporist traditions) is not antisemitic; anti-Zionism from the perspective of Israeli citizens (Jewish or Arab) who want to see Israel as a democratic state for all its citizens (rather than a Jewish state) is not antisemitic; finally anti-Zionism which sees Zionism as a form of imperialism and takes a consistent opposition to all imperialisms without singling out Zionism as unique is wrong-headed, but not in itself antisemitic. All of these forms of anti-Zionism can be used as fig-leaves for antisemitism or be used to feed antisemitism, but they are not themselves antisemitic. If we assume that all anti-Zionism is antisemitic, we devalue the word antisemitic. (I think this devaluing happens with all forms of racism (including Islamophobia), as various factions are incredibly quick to yell racist... But that’s an argument for another time.)
However, there is an enormous gap between seeing antisemitism when it isn’t there to “weaponizing” antisemitism to justify oppression. To say these Zionist and anti-Zionist positions mirror each other is not to say that they are morally equivalent. Different racisms should not be placed in zero sum competition with each other, and a priori ignoring accusations of racism because someone has previously “weaponized” such accusations can never be good practice for the anti-racist left. A genuinely anti-racist left would always take accusations of racism seriously.
A good week for the anti-racist left?
I started my first post by quoting Reuben at the Third Estate, who said it was a good week for the anti-racist left, because of the Zero Books authors’ statement and Andy Newman’s Guardian article. So, was last week a good week? Yes, because a mainstream socialist blogger was unambiguous in calling out left antisemitism in a mainstream liberal outlet, while some influential far left bloggers made a clear public statement about the issue. But mainly no, because the opportunity was then given by a mainstream liberal outlet to publicise a defence of the blood libel and for Gilad Atzmon to engage in further dishonest self-publicity. And also no, because Zero Books remains unmoved, and have probably even established themselves as free speech heroes for many pseudo-radicals.