In the last thread an issue came up that I think worth its own discussion. I have a brief discussion of this at Reflections from the Second Draft that tries to distinguish various kinds of Judeophobia, using definitions that I think are more valuable in thinking about our current predicament than the current discussion of anti-Semitism as racist and anti-Judaism as religious. Those definitions are below.
As for the discussion to follow, I’d like to lay out the following ground rules:
1) no ad hominem arguments.
2) try and avoid long disquisitions. say what you have to say as clearly as possible without invoking big names. (if you want to append a reading list alright, but if you’re presenting a thought articulate it to us in your own words.
3) don’t assume chasms where they appear to be.
4) accept and explore the chasms when they actually appear.
5) “The sail of thinking keeps trimmed hard to the wind of the matter.” (Wittgenstein)
And in this case, the “matter” is figuring out why we’re being walloped by Islamists in a cognitive war that progressive/liberal/civic forces should be winning hands down.
Much confusion surrounds the discussion of hostility to Jews and Judaism, especially since the phenomenon goes back millennia. Suggested below are some guidelines for thinking about these complicated issues from a medievalist who, following Gavin Langmuir, distinguishes between anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism in a significantly different manner from modernists (who emphasize the question of race).
ANTI-JUDAISM: Anti-Judaism is a dislike of Judaism based on zero-sum relationships: in order to feel good about myself, I need to feel bad about Jews. We (Christians, Muslims, seculars) are better because you are worse; we are right (e.g. about the sacred text) therefore you are wrong; our faith is true because we rule (triumphalism); we have honor because you must lower yourselves before us; we have replaced you as the true Chosen People (supersessionism/replacement theology). When Augustine worked out the theology of the Jew as humiliated and wretched survivor, bearing witness to the Christian Truth, he embodied this honor-shame anti-Judaism. When Muslims worked out the Dhimmi laws, systematically disadvantaging Christians and Jews, they gave this emotional need a legal expression.
At its mildest, anti-Judaism, like any other dislike of a religion or tradition, is a common phenomenon that it is hard to get too indignant about. There’s no arguing about taste, and most people succumb to the temptation to think they make themselves look bigger by making others look smaller.
At its worst, however, anti-Judaism is a compulsive discourse of superiority that needs to see and feel the domination over Jews in order to be satisfied, a religious imperialism. Violent manifestations include bullying, humiliating rituals (kissing a pig’s ass on Good Friday, not walking in the rain lest dirt washing off from the Jew render the Muslim impure), and the occasional pogrom. Jew-hating often serves as a form of scape-goating drug that cuts the pain of suffering (by making Jews feel even more pain), inflicted by the very people who suffer at the hands of those who manufacture and feed them their Jew-hatred. In the world of hierarchy where everyone gets dumped on by those above, and dumps on those below, having someone for everyone to dump on becomes a psychological and social necessity.
ANTI-SEMITISM: Whereas anti-Judaism tends to stay in the realm of “normal” if lamentable reactions of envy and resentment, anti-Semitism expresses a deeper paranoia. People drawn to this kind of discourse feel that the very existence of the Jews threatens “us” with annihilation: “exterminate them or be destroyed ourselves.” In order for us to breathe, you must be eliminated.
Such beliefs involve a whole range of phobic fantasies of child-sacrifice, blood rituals, and international conspiracies to enslave mankind in order to justify the (defensive) genocidal impulses. The potential for violence in anti-Semitism is both constant and profound. Unlike the milder forms of anti-Judaism, which still see Jews a human beings, however disliked or despised, anti-Semitism tends to see Jews as at once super-human (maintaining vast conspiracies over millennia, supernatural figures of evil like the devil, the Antichrist, the Dajjal), and sub-human (vermin, bacteria, apes, pigs).
And anti-Semitism has strong tendencies towards genocidal violence. When you believe that the Jews are planning to massacre or enslave all the rest of mankind (Protocols of the Elders of Zion), you have a “warrant for genocide.” The common Arab argument that they cannot be anti-Semitic since they are Semites is at once facetious and dishonest. The Palestinian leader Haj Amin al Husseini had no problem allying with the anti-Semite Hitler during the war, and subsequent Arab leaders have drawn eagerly from European anti-Semitic discourse (blood libels, Protocols, dehumanizing language). The widespread acceptance of this argument among otherwise intelligent and educated Westerners (including many academics), is a sign of the auto-stupefaction to which politically correct thinking sentences us.
ANTI ZIONISM: Zionism is the Jewish people’s national liberation movement. It is also one of the most left-wing, socialist liberation movements on record, with exceptionally high levels of demotic behavior (reviving a dead language, radically egalitarian kibbutzim, extensive social services, egalitarian law courts). Despite many questions raised about the advisability or legitimacy of Zionism during its first half century, by Jews as well as Gentiles, after Europe slaughtered millions of Jews and the other nations of the world stood by, few people deny the justifiable claim of Jews to be able to defend themselves.
Anti-Zionism, however, argues that the Jews should not have a state, and that the current one is illegitimate, partly as a result of its displacement of the Arabs who lived there in 1948, partly as a result of its constant current aggressions against its neighbors. Were one not to check reality, one would assume that anti-Zionism represented a post-Holocaust form of anti-Semitism articulated by right-wing fascist ideologues hostile to egalitarian experiments in sovereignty and eager to continue their assault on the Jews.
Why, then, do progressives believe that Israel’s claim to be the only Jewish state should be trumped by the Palestinians’ right to become the 23rd Arab (and explicitly Muslim) state? Anti-Zionism then, depending on how virulent or mild its form, qualifies as a form of anti-Judaism or anti-Semitism in that it grants to others what it does not grant to Jews, despite the past history of the nations (including the Arab nations) treatment of that eternal “other.”
Criticism of Israel within the norms of criticism of other nations, therefore, is not anti-Zionism. It is the double to quadruple standards by which Israel is held to the highest standards and found fatally wanting, and the Palestinians are held to the lowest standards, and found worthy. Indeed, the evidence suggests that inveterate anti-Zionists have anti-Jewish prejudices as well.
The notion that Israel shouldn’t exist can come from a wide range of (often mixed) motivations. One can, for example, argue practically that from the point of view of zero-sum power politics, Israel’s presence is too irritating to continue to exist in the midst of Arabs, upon whose oil wealth we depend. Or one can take the moral “high ground” and argue that no nation should be built on the act of displacing another, that Israel is an anachronism in a world growing increasingly secular. It does seem odd though to invoke such pacifist, secular, and universalist notions in a conflict where violent displacement and religious fanaticism is the very currency of anti-Zionist Arab discourse.
In any case, these arguments are not necessarily either anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic as defined above. And certainly criticism of the Israeli government’s policies can hardly be considered either anti-Semitic or anti-Zionists, since Israeli Zionists are among of the most self-critical ideologues in the world. The line between legitimate criticism (however Zionists might find it misguided) and anti-Zionism gets crossed when the critic holds Israel to such high standards that no country, certainly not one at war, could meet them, and conversely holds the Palestinians and other Arab states to such low standards that they encourage the most immoral kinds of behavior (suicide terrorism).
When anti-Zionism enters into the realm of paranoid conspiracy theories (as it has in the Arab and Muslim world, and has begun to occur among the radical left, when one views the US government as ZOG (Zionist Occupied Government), then anti-Zionism steps over into the realm of a news strain of anti-Semitism. While, strictly speaking, not all anti-Semitism is anti-Zionist (e.g., Richard Nixon, Jean-Marie Le Pen), the vast majority of virulent anti-Zionists are anti-Semitic. In Europe today, most Christian and post-Christian anti-Zionists seem to be motivated more by anti-Jewish prejudice than anti-Semitism, although their harsh attitude towards Israel has begun to spill over into the more virulent kinds of hate. In any case, their hostility to Zionism enables, even fuels, the most virulent Arab anti-Semitic anti-Zionism. And since these violent and public hatreds endanger Europeans, the irrationality of encouraging seems all the more worthy of thought.
NB: Hostility to Jews of both kinds discussed here go back millennia, and the historian can draw from a relatively broad range of examples from which to make generalizations. The evidence suggests that the Jews, while often the first victim, are rarely the last. What starts with the Jews does not end with them. Once the machinery of persecution of Jews gets set in motion, its manipulators readily move to other targets. In the Christian Middle Ages this often meant a shift from persecuting Jews to persecuting Christian dissenters (“heretics”), and the worst period of anti-Semitic paranoia in Europe (late Middle Ages) was also the worst period of inquisitorial persecution. The pattern repeated with Nazi totalitarianism, and the dynamic caught in the famous remark of Martin Niemöller: “When they came for the Jews…”
One can even argue that Jew-hatred tends to harm not only the Jews, but more surprisingly perhaps, those who fall into such obsessions. With a formal zero-sum relationship with Jews as a public statement, most other social relations end up forced into such hierarchical structures. With a paranoid attitude comes self-destructive behavior for all involved. In 1492 the Spanish kicked the Jews out of their country; in the subsequent century, despite vast wealth coming in from their ruthlessly exploited colonies abroad their economy lost ground to their much smaller former possession, for example, the Netherlands (where Jews fled) and which tiny nation became a formidable economic and cultural power in the 17th century.
Similarly, when the Arab Muslim nations became free of Jews after the establishment of Israel in 1948, despite enormous wealth from petro-dollars, their economies failed dramatically in comparison with other nations around their stage of development. As with anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism has served as a “weapon of mass distraction,” that has relegated Arab and Muslim commoners to poverty, oppression, and humiliation. However tasty Judeophobia might be in the mouth, it turns bitter in the stomach.