Saturday, October 15, 2011

When is anti-Zionism not antisemitic?

David Bernstein amplifying and qualifying some points I made. (I'll extract below the fold, to put the comment thread into context.)

(Also featured in Soccor Dad's mideast media round-up from that week, which has some other interesting links.)

ADDED: Echo responds at Contested Terrain, which I'll return to later.

My original statement, with David B's emphases and additions:
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 [Editor: though one wonders about the relevance of these traditions in 2011, when there is an existing Jewish state with almost eight million citizens]; 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. [Editor: And I would add one more. Islamist anti-Zionism that is based on the idea that “Palestine” is Islamic territory that for theological reasons may not be governed by non-Muslims is not, by itself, anti-Semitic.]
David's thoughts:
Unfortunately, it’s increasingly the case that even those who approach anti-Zionism from one or more of these perspectives are at best tolerant of the anti-Semitism indulged in by some of their allies, and at worst engage in rhetoric that smacks of classical anti-Jewish themes, even if the individuals in question are not themselves anti-Semitic.

As I’ve noted before, there are two basic reasons for this phenomenon. The first is that given longstanding Western cultural prejudices against Jews, marrying anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism can be extremely effective from a rhetorical perspective. And, second, if you are inclined to believe that Israel and its policies are an especially grave danger to world peace and security you will tend to err on the side of being tolerant of anti-Semitism to the extent that you think it is furthering the anti-Israel cause [update: because you see Israel as a greater threat/danger/cause for concern than anti-Semitism]. Neither of these explanations are excuses, of course.


Flesh said...

At some stage I hope to get round to taking issue with most of the examples of non-antisemitic anti-Zionism you and David B offer. Anti-Zionism can't ever be anti-nationalism. It's as wrong and particularist as anti-Germanism or anti-Americanism. If I had an anti-nationalist method, it would be to create and sustain proofs of concept, and naturally that must begin with saving Britain from the Scots, and going for full economic integration with the EU. We have only our own example to offer the benighted Israelis.

bob said...

Surely, if someone said "I am an anti-nationalist, and therefore anti-American, anti-Zionist, anti-German and anti-Palestinian", then that would be legitimate, and refute your "can't ever"?*

And that is, effectively, the position that many anarchists and left communists take? That's, for example, the line Rosa Luzemburg took. Perhaps, yes, we should start with our own nation (as Luxemburg did or the anti-German movement does) rather than with Israel. (Although, for Jews, who can;t help be entangled in Israel, starting with their own nation might mean starting with anti-Zionism). I'm not sure I get the British example. Consistent anti-nationalism would oppose Scottish nationalism, oppose British nationalism, oppose European nationalism.

*[Actually, it is not "German" or "Palestinian" they would be anti, but rather "German nationalism" and "Palestinian nationalism", because anti-Zionist does not (should not) mean anti-Israel but anti-Jewish/Israel nationalism. This absence of equivelant languages is part of the problem with this debate.]

Flesh said...

Bob on your asterisk, I don’t accept the difference between anti-Zionism and Israel eliminationism. It’s not that I don’t acknowledge good intentions, it’s that I hold them subsidiary to the likely outcomes. Israeli Jews know that Israel needs continued state building or Israel will end and its Jews will become simply Jews of the Middle East. They will suffer as all Middle Eastern minorities currently suffer. The only question worth giving any energy to at the moment is what kind of state should Israel be (just in case I might be misunderstood, obviously it should not be a state that avoids treating its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens differently.)

"Surely, if somebody said..."

Since Sudan split, I think there are 196 countries. This somebody you refer to clearly has their pet country, their special anti-nationalist cause, shaped by the propaganda they expose themselves to. They may say “Oh, I don’t think it’s the most important in the grand scheme of things - it’s just special to me and that’s my prerogative, I have to focus my energies, I’m only human, yes North Korea is terrible but I don’t know much about it &tc, &tc”.

Hollow. When was the last time you met somebody whose pet anti-nationalist cause wasn't Israel or orientated to Israel? It’s the cause where so many contemporary anti-nationalist spheres intersect. One example is a tendency among some Irish republicans and unionists adopt orientations to Israel as a proxy (intriguing that the attentions aren’t reciprocated by Israelis and Palestinians). Worse, it is taking up more and more energy (most recent thing that comes to mind in this respect is Owen Jones’ passing observations about where the left has gone astray in the closing chapter of Chavs).

Given recent Jewish history, I find this singling out comical and preposterous, and given the quietism about Sudan’s split, doubly so, and disturbing more than preposterous. It deserves objections. Other explanations should be sought than simple anti-nationalism for its own sake - to put Israel - the only state for Jews in the world - at the centre is a bad orientation to the world. It is antisemitic in its proposed outcomes.

More to come on your point about the Satmar, as examples of a group of people particularly entangled with Israel.

bob said...

I've had trouble computing the multiple negatives in "should not be a state that avoids treating its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens differently", so I'll leave that for now.

I agree about the "comical and preposterous" obsession with Israel, and the quietism about so many other situations, from the Uyghurs to Sudan to the Saharawi. I agree that putting Israel at the centre of the world is bad politics. But this does not mean that a priori anti-Zionism is Israel-eliminationism.

For examples of anti-nationalist anti-Zionism, see e.g. the Anarchist Federation

I think that many (both consistent and un-consistent) anti-nationalists do start at home, actually. The anti-German movement is the best example (I know this is complicated, as anti-nationalism in Germany emerged as a critique of the particularism of anti-Germanism, so I guess I mean German anti-nationalism begins at home). But even here in Britain, or in the US, the anti-patriotism many leftists and anarchists display at times like St George's Day or July 4 is at least as intense as the anti-Israelism.

By the way, Irish Republican orientation to anti-Zionism is not in any sense an anti-nationalist anti-Zionism, but an imagined equivalence between nationalisms. Palestinian nationalism has become iconic, much as the anti-apartheid struggle once was (and there is still plenty of IRA graffiti on the Republican side of the "peace wall" in Belfast).


I was a bit depressed, as I was writing this, to notice Ian Bone of Class War spouting nonsense about Liam Fox being a Mossad useful idiot, undermining my defence of anarchist anti-Zionism!

Flesh said...

On the double negatives of "should not be a state that avoids treating its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens differently" - well, quite! You can omit the first "not".

Fair enough about the Irish republicans - they don't claim to be anti-nationalists. On the St George's day anti-nationalist expression - that's only once a year and it's never managed to impose itself on my consciousness. Anti-Zionism on the other hand is a round the clock pursuit, giving fulfilment to untold numbers of activists and commentators.

"But this does not mean that a priori anti-Zionism is Israel-eliminationism."

Both the AFed piece and the LibCom piece are explicitly opposed to the existence of the state of Israel. I think it's OK to call this Israel-eliminationist. Were LibCom as interested in Sri Lanka as in Israel ... but they aren't, of course.

In that AFed piece you linked to the authors reject both nation and state in favour of class struggle. Again the aim is liberation, but in the case of the affected Jews this is going to seem excessively other-worldly. At the time of the attacks on Gaza targets, the Israeli government had very high approval and weren't exhibiting any signs of feeling at odds with their government. And Jews are *not* as AFed puts it "an imagined community of shared interests" - on the contrary Jews *do* have a historical record of being collectively singled out and consequently, having the strong bonds of shared interest and being each others' most effective insurance. The antisemitic mood of the Middle East - not to mention British trade unions obsession with Israel - continues to maintain bonds between Jews. Of course antisemitism is a hugely bad lesson that needs to be unlearned through counter-example as soon as possible, but whether it is unlearnt or not is only partly within Jews' control. So there may be obscure feelings that the Jewish state nationalist project isn't what it's cracked up to be, but there's an absence a viable template for anti-nationalism in the Middle East and no will to create one. AFed:

"what is it that we support? What is our alternative?

On one level, the question itself should be rejected. There are many things we do not support on principle, and are never required to offer an alternative to."

For crying out loud, throw us a bone (but not a Bone).

I don't think that left wing thinking in this country suffers in the slightest from a lack of vision on Israel. I think it has vision to the point of hallucination, but no will to grapple with the practicalities.

Here's what I think I can say I think: if the will to end Israel becomes programmatic in a group, we should think of it as institutionally antisemitic if Jews stand to lose out disproportionately from the outcome. In the Middle East at the current time they certainly would. Institutionally antisemitic is not the worst thing a group can be, and I don't think this is the worst kind of antisemitism by a long stretch. But still.

bob said...

Just to clarify, the libcom and AFed pieces are both by AFed - libcom republishes some of their stuff. I think they should be read together as one is specifically about Iz/Pal, and the other is about nationalism in general. The Iz/Pal peice is relatively unusual from AFed in that, unlike most Trot groups, they tend not to make pronouncements on the dispute. There seem to be 20 instances of the word "Israel" on the AF website, most of which are in passing. Of those not in passing, there is support for the Gaza Youth Revolta piece on the tent city anti-austerity campaigns, one article on evictions in East Jerusalem, and only one thing which could really described as first and foremost anti-Israel, responding to the Gaza flotilla and also condemning Palestinian nationalism.

One of the passing mentions, interestingly, is in an article about Sri Lanka: "It is understandable why people in the region look to the LTTE as a solution to their problems, it is after all, the only real force actively fighting against the Sri Lankan government, just as Hamas is seen to be in regards to the Israel-Palestine conflict, however the LTTE will not solve the problem in the region. It is usually said that organisations are a representation of what society they wish to represent, so when examining the LTTE, it is clear that they are most certainly not a force to be supported. They recruit child soldiers, target Sinhalese workers, have racist programmes, intimidate locals opposed to them and in some cases have killed them, not only that, but they are fighting for a Capitalist Tamil nation-state. " The article goes on to say a Tamil state would be better than the current one, but no solution at all.

It is true, of course, that articles on Israel outnumber articles on Sri Lanka enormously at libcom. Of the few peices there, I recommend this one.

negative potential said...

Ima stay outta the discussion on Zionism, and just make a factual correction:

"I know this is complicated, as anti-nationalism in Germany emerged as a critique of the particularism of anti-Germanism"

I guess when you say "anti-nationalism" you mean groups like TOP, but for most of the 1990s "Anti-National" and "Anti-German" were used pretty much as synonyms. In the course of the discussion on the Kosovo war, some of the Anti-German hardcores who defended Serbia starting using the the term "Anti-National" as a term of disparagement for their erstwhile comrades who didn't take sides in the conflict.

So it's a misleading chronology to imply that "Anti-National" is something that comes after "Anti-German".

Also, somewhat more tangentially related to this thread but still not really: Zionism or pro-Israel perspectives didn't really play much of a role in 1990s Anti-Nationalism/Anti-Germanism, with the possible exception of Wolfgang Pohrt and some other people around Konkret during the Bush I Gulf War.

I mean, there was always retrospective self-criticism of the regressive manifestations of Anti-Zionism on the part of the 60s/70s left, but none of the "solidarity with Israel" stuff, which really only started around 2000 with the Second Intifada.

Trivia bonus for readers who patiently read this comment: Jürgen Elsässer, today a Red-Brown national populist, was still an author for Konkret when the Second Intifada started, and favorably compared Ariel Sharon to Slobodan Milosevic, implying that the US and European powers would "betray" Sharon and lead a humanitarian war against Israel.

bob said...

Thanks NP for the useful info. We are very murky in the UK about this, and I think it would be really helpful to our debates if we knew more. A lot of people on the British far left now have heard of anti-Germanism, but almost none have heard of anti-nationalism.