Antisemitism and “the Left”


I was re-reading Mitchell Cohen’s article “Antisemitism and the Left that doesn’t Learn” in Dissent this morning and thought I’d post an interesting passage. When I first read this I thought that Cohen might be overstating his case, but now I’m not so sure. Anyway, here is the excerpt:

A FEW YEARS ago I sought to outline commonalities between anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist discourses in a scholarly journal. It is worth reproducing. Here are major motifs that inform classical anti-Semitism:

1) Insinuations: Jews do not and cannot fit properly into our society. There is something foreign, not to mention sinister about them.

2) Complaints: They are so particularistic, those Jews, so preoccupied with their “own.” Why are they so clannish and anachronistic when we need a world of solidarity and love? Really, they make themselves into a “problem.” If the so-called “Jewish problem” is singular in some way, it is their own doing and usually covered up by special pleading.

3) Remonstrations: Those Jews, they always carp that they are victims. In fact, they have vast power, especially financial power. Their power is everywhere, even if it is not very visible. They exercise it manipulatively, behind the scenes. (But look, there are even a few of them, guilty-hearted perhaps, who will admit it all this to you).

4) Recriminations: Look at their misdeeds, all done while they cry that they are victims. These ranged through the ages from the murder of God to the ritual slaughter of children to selling military secrets to the enemy to war-profiteering, to being capitalists or middlemen or landlords or moneylenders exploiting the poor. And they always, oh-so-cleverly, mislead you.

Alter a few phrases, a word here and there, and we find motifs of anti-Zionism that are popular these days in parts of the left and parts of the Muslim and Arab worlds:

1) Insinuations: The Zionists are alien implants in the Mideast. They can never fit there. Western imperialism created the Zionist state.

2) Complaints: A Jewish state can never be democratic. Zionism is exclusivist. The very idea of a Jewish state is an anachronism.

3) Remonstrations: The Zionists carp that they are victims but in reality they have enormous power, especially financial. Their power is everywhere, but they make sure not to let it be too visible. They exercise it manipulatively, behind people’s backs, behind the scenes – why, just look at Zionist influence in Washington. Or rather, dominance of Washington. (And look, there are even a few Jews, guilty-hearted perhaps, who admit it).

4) Recriminations: Zionists are responsible for astonishing, endless dastardly deeds. And they cover them up with deceptions. These range from the imperialist aggression of 1967 to Ehud Barak’s claim that he offered a compromise to Palestinians back in 2000 to the Jenin “massacre” during the second Intifidah. [2]

No, anti-Zionism is not in principle anti-Semitism but it is time for thoughtful minds—especially on the left—to be disturbed by how much anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism share, how much the dominant species of anti-Zionism encourages anti-Semitism.

And so:


If you judge a Jewish state by standards that you apply to no one else; if your neck veins bulge when you denounce Zionists but you’ve done no more than cluck “well, yes, very bad about Darfur”;

if there is nothing Hamas can do that you won’t blame ‘in the final analysis’ on Israelis;

if your sneer at the Zionists doesn’t sound a whole lot different from American neoconservative sneers at leftists;

then you should not be surprised if you are criticized, fiercely so, by people who are serious about a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians and who won’t let you get away with a self-exonerating formula—“I am anti-Zionist but not anti-Semitic”—to prevent scrutiny. If you are anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic, then don’t use the categories, allusions, and smug hiss that are all too familiar to any student of prejudice.

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4 thoughts on “Antisemitism and “the Left”

  1. Is the world so blind and preoccupied with anti-Semitism that it does not know it IS applying the same to Muslims in America and Europe? Whether Insinuation, Complaints or Remonstration and Recrimination, the very same apply to the way Muslims are treated in such areas.

    And before you get too excited to claim that Muslims are not Semitic, think again. Look up the definition and see that Arabs (Muslims, Christians and Jews) fall into that category. If a Jew from New York can be a Semite just by association, then too a Muslim from Indonesia can be a Semite.

    The funny thing is though that the article is written in a way to strengthen the idea of anti-Semitism if Israel (or Zionism) is mentioned in a negative light. Regardless of what Hamas does, Hamas is not a country and represents only a small percentage of the Palestinians. One day they will be gone. Then what? Israel, on the other hand is a country. It’s part of the U.N. It must be held responsible for atrocious acts against unarmed (compared to its tanks, apaches and the latest in aresenal) civilians in Palestine.

    Such criticism and demanding that Israel be held liable and accountable is not and cannot be claimed to be anti-Semitic.

    And then there are the Jewish professors who had a different point of view about such nonsense: See http://attendingtheworld.wordpress.com/2008/03/18/a-load-of-crap/
    and the video for Dr. Norman Finkelstien and his views on the topic.

    ATW

  2. “And before you get too excited to claim that Muslims are not Semitic, think again. Look up the definition and see that Arabs (Muslims, Christians and Jews) fall into that category. If a Jew from New York can be a Semite just by association, then too a Muslim from Indonesia can be a Semite.”

    First off, please don’t be quite so dismissive and condescending. And while I’m at it, please don’t read into what you perceive as my reaction to your comment and don’t assume you know my position. However, I do think you are being more than a little disingenuous here about the term, “Semitic.” Whether or not you are correct about the genealogy of that term it’s completely irrelevant because that’s simply not how the term is used. In day to day discourse I’m not sure anybody would think you anti-semitic if you were referring negatively to a Muslim from Indonesia.

    You suggest that:

    “Is the world so blind and preoccupied with anti-Semitism that it does not know it IS applying the same to Muslims in America and Europe? Whether Insinuation, Complaints or Remonstration and Recrimination, the very same apply to the way Muslims are treated in such areas.”

    Ok, but what does this have to do with anything? Why are you ascribing this position to the “world”? Does the fact that Muslims are treated unfairly make antisemitism disappear or any less relevant? I don’t think so. At times, I’d even tend to agree with your assessment per the treatment of Muslims here. You also claim:

    “The funny thing is though that the article is written in a way to strengthen the idea of anti-Semitism if Israel (or Zionism) is mentioned in a negative light. Regardless of what Hamas does, Hamas is not a country and represents only a small percentage of the Palestinians. One day they will be gone. Then what? Israel, on the other hand is a country. It’s part of the U.N. It must be held responsible for atrocious acts against unarmed (compared to its tanks, apaches and the latest in aresenal) civilians in Palestine.”

    “Such criticism and demanding that Israel be held liable and accountable is not and cannot be claimed to be anti-Semitic.”

    First off , I don’t think I, or Cohen for that matter, ever said any criticism of Israel is automatically anti-semitic. In fact, Israel should be held accountable for their actions. However (and this is seems to be Cohen’s position elsewhere), if you believe it has a right to exist, then it is legitimate to criticize this or that government policy. It is quite another thing if the goal (like Hamas) is really to wipe out the existence of Israel rather than working towards an actual and peaceful resolution between both sides. One of the points of Cohen’s article was that often the two terms, anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist sometimes backslide into one another especially on the Left, which is supposed to be so “tolerant, fair and open minded.”

    Finally, as for your comparison between Hamas and Israel. Um, last time I checked, Hamas was voted into power. Whether Hamas is or isn’t around is irrelevant to right now. Further, in any conflict with militant forces that are integrated among civilian populations it is likely that civilians will be harmed. While I’m sure you may dismiss this angle and point to numerous occasions when Palestinian rights have indeed been violated, at bottom, Israel recognizes Palestinian human rights and has in fact acted to limit the extent to which rights violations occur. It is this restraint that arguably prolongs the conflict, which also has the effect of placing Israel in the international microscope. Criticizing Israel for the rights violations that occur within the framework you yourself falsely set up, a country vs an organization (which has declared war on Israel and has as its goal the eradication of the state of Israel and engages in suicide bombings in public places, launches missiles, and hides out in civilian neighborhood)—while at the same time letting countries that do not even acknowledge a responsibility to protect human rights get away with their abuse sends the wrong message to nations dealing with violent uprisings. In turn, this type of one-sided criticisms serve to embolden insurgent forces that would be obstacles to peace.

    It’s far too simplistic to simply blame it all on Israel and blindly support Hamas (which tend to be the knee jerk reaction from “the Left”).

  3. Pingback: Integral Cosmopolitanism, Not Good « Perverse Egalitarianism

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