Monday, January 16, 2006

Chomskites and The Holocaust

My dear pal Ampersand writes a post defending Noam Chomsky and the architects of the Israel Academic boycott from my half-joking claims that they'd hop a plane to Tehran and provide Western legitimacy to the "Holocaust Conference" they plan on having.

Amp claims that it is unfair to group Chomsky with "real" Holocaust deniers like David Irving. To be fair, the evidence seems mixed--but really, is this an issue where there should even be mixed signals? The well-worn quote that he thinks that to even debate the Holocaust is to deny one's humanity appears to be one he no longer holds, if we are to judge from this quote:
I see no anti-Semitic implications in denial of the existence of gas chambers, or even denial of the holocaust. Nor would there be anti-Semitic implications, per se, in the claim that the holocaust (whether one believes it took place or not) is being exploited, viciously so, by apologists for Israeli repression and violence. I see no hint of anti-Semitic implications in Faurisson's work...

Paul Begala once said that George W. Bush didn't have an ounce of racial bigotry in him--but he sure seemed comfortable with those who did. Above all, it really doesn't matter if Chomsky himself denies the Holocaust, because he appears to be perfectly comfortable associating with, providing material support to, and providing intellectual succor to those who do. In fact, he seems more comfortable in those circles than he does with those academics who truly recognize and refuse to downplay the significance of the Shoah.

But the real thing here is to remember what Iran's goal is here. It isn't necessarily to debunk the Holocaust (though I'm sure they wouldn't mind that). The overriding goal is to justify their fanatical quest to obliterate Israel. And that's where Chomsky becomes useful. One can very easily imagine them passing this off as a "both sides agree" deal. They'll put up some David Irving type fellow to say that the Holocaust never happened and thus, Israel has no reason to exist. And then they'll bring up a Chomsky, who will say that yes, the Holocaust happened, but Israel still shouldn't have a right to exist. How fair! And they'll nod their heads and acknowledge the "scholarly controversy" (snort), but note that either way, Israel is an abomination to all mankind and should be annihilated. So I find it perfectly plausible that he'd show up for that project, given that he appears to have no problem with either Israel going bye-bye, or playing intellectual peek-a-boo with real deniers, I'm not sure where he'd lodge his objection ('cause we know it isn't in a moral opposition to supporting oppressive regimes).

There isn't much to say with regards to the British Israel boycott. I am mildly amused that Amp quotes Ilan Pappe to support the view that one can support the boycott without being anti-Semitic or anti-Israel, given that Professor Pappe, does, actually, believe that Israel should cease to exist as a Jewish state. Whoops. Given that Pappe does not buy into the "baseline" of what most people would consider being "pro-Israel" or "pro-Jew", I don't think he's a credible source as to whether the boycott is commensurate with either of those ideals. Pappe and Chomsky are each, in their own way, the Jewish equivalents of a Clarence Thomas or Ward Connerly. I don't really mean it as a slur, though I suspect that both of them would take it as such. Both take positions with regard to Jewish national identity and cultural survival which are wildly at odds with the community at large. Thomas and Connerly operate in a similar fashion with regards to the opinions of the Black community on race and racial discrimination issues. That doesn't mean that they don't have the right to express their opinions, or that they should be expelled from the Jewish/Black community, I advocate neither. But it does mean that if we, as progressives, are going to address anti-semitism in the same manner as we do racism, as a structural matter deeply ingrained in the fabric of global society, then we can't be side-tracked simply because a few reactionaries have decided to join forces with those who'd deny or minimize the presence/importance of these ills in the modern world.

Like with racism, our society is both pervasively and structurally anti-Semitic. 60 years after the Holocaust, one would think this wouldn't need to be established. But yet, there is almost no literature analyzing anti-Semitism as a structural phenomena, as opposed to a particularly long-running aberration or a mere "me too" example to go along with other forms of ethnic hatred. What it means to be "anti-Semitic" from a social or ideological sense is severely under-examined, meaning that anti-Semitism gets defined only as its most extreme manifestations, rabid hate and/or violence. To be fair, there are many such events to choose from. But this doesn't excuse the dearth of scholarship looking at anti-Semitism in more insidious forms. Why, for example, only the Jewish national state is seen as prima facia illegitimate, when no such claims are made of the French state, or the Russian state, or (God forbid) the Palestinian state could very easily be examined through such anti-Semitic constructs like "the Mark of Cain", by which Jews were forever consigned to live in miserable exile for their collective national sins. Progressive scholars jump all over this sort of thing when it comes to every other minority group--with Jews, such analysis is limited, obscure, and hard to find.

I understand the frustration of leftist scholars who believe they have legitimate (if not morally imperative) critiques of Israel who feel like even a whisper will expose them to reflexive attacks of "anti-Semitism." And maybe in some cases it is. More often, however, these complaints ring eerily of conservative scholars who complain of "reflexive" responses of sexism, racism, et al. Anti-semitism is going to be heard often with regards to anti-Israel critics because in the current global schema of anti-Semitism, Israel is the central point of revelation. In Affirmative Action debates, racism will be alleged because the central problem is racism. With regards to Israel, anti-Semitism is alleged because anti-Semitism is the central issue in the Israel/Palestine debate. Anti-Israel speakers know, on the deepest (perhaps sub-conscious) level, that this is the case, which is why they battle so ferociously to keep it out of the discussion. A truly critical examination of how anti-Israel policies are informed, motivated, supported, and legitimated by anti-Semitism would force the left to entirely re-evaluate the entire foundation upon which their critique rests--not to mention undermining the credibility of a whole generation of scholars whose academic currency rests entirely on being able to step outside such ancient oppressions and valiantly assail the oppressive cornerstones we build our life upon. If they themselves are indicted, who is safe? But ultimately, if the left isn't going to examine its own blindspot here, then the movement has no currency. It is a mirage, a facade of a post-modern uprising that is in actuality following very well trodden footsteps--calling for revolution on the backs of the Jews.

If you survived to the end of this post, congratulations! You might also want to read my article, "Jews in Space", published in the inaugural issue of The Lens.

11 comments:

Richard Jeffrey Newman said...

Bravo! I don't agree with everything you have said here--I think, for example, that you confuse or conflate a critique of Jewish nationalism (which can be critiqued like any other nationalism, and on the same grounds) with antisemitism--but I am not really well enough informed about either Noam Chomsky's positions or the British boycott of Israeli universities to know if I am right, or if my disagreement comes from not knowing the full context of what you are writing about. What I admire and respect is the passion with which you call for an examination of antisemitism as strucutal and systemic, and your (at least implicit) insistence that this exmaination needs to be carried out on both the left and the right. The only thing you don't come right out and say is that the absence of this analysis is itself an expression/result both of a subtle, insidious, unspoken antisemitism--though I would argue as well that it is sometimes also indicative of a kind of Jewish self-hatred. One of the best books I know of that takes on antisemitism as systemic and structural and shows how it works to create Jewish self-hatred and then how this Jewish self-hatred perpetuates the antisemitism is
Sander Gilman's "Jewish Self-Hatred."

Antiquated Tory said...

I liked your "Jews in Space" article, though I think your point was somewhat overargued. However, I thought it was going to be about relocating Israel as a space colony...

Anonymous said...

Richard your entire entire argument is drivel.

It boils down to this (2 parts)

1. Noam Chomsky believes in the Holocaust, but questions Israels right to exists; therefore he is a holocaust-denier.

ie. A. Chomsky says Holocaust is true
B. Chomsky says Israel is wrong
C. Therefore Chomsky says Holocaust never happened.

That logic is so bad it doesn't even rise to the status of fallacy.

Non-sequiter is the polite phrase I believe.

There are other, more ugly, less polite versions; starting out pretty scathing and descending rapidly.

We are given minds to think with, not to generate 500 words of deceptive nonsense.

2. Acceptance of Israel's existence is the sine-quo-non of whether or not a person is a decent human being , and a full and deep personal understanding of Israeli history and suffering is absolutely necessary over and above whatever other sufferings have been inflicted on any other group, anytime anywhere in the world.

In particular, a decent human being must be prepared to ignore the on-going genocide being perpertrated by the Israeli state against the Palestinians.

Sorry, I don't like hanging round with Nazi's, holocaust deniers; or in this case apologists for ethnic cleansing.

Please. Take a very good look at your views and examine them against reality, not safe, zaftig victim fantasies.

Other people suffer too you know. And many of them suffer because of the unintended consequences of your (and my) beliefs.

David Schraub said...

I'll take the flak for my own argument thanks--no need to drag Richard into my "sins" (such as they are).

The first "point" (though I stretch the term) you make is that I call Chomsky a Holocaust denier b/c he opposes Israel. Of course, my actual words were:

"Above all, it really doesn't matter if Chomsky himself denies the Holocaust, because he appears to be perfectly comfortable associating with, providing material support to, and providing intellectual succor to those who do."

That's the grounds I make the moral critique on--it's not that he himself is a denier, it's that he doesn't care if other people are and seems to prefer their scholarly comradery to others who aren't, well, in the soul of evil.

The second "point" is almost right even it's naked sarcasm. I do think a full understanding (or more accurately, empathy with) of Israeli suffering and Jewish history is a crucial component of a decent human being--one that is gravely lacking amongst many persons today. There is no need for it to be over and beyond other sufferings--empathy is not a zero-sum game, as much as you might like it to be (sorry Jews--we need to reassign your empathy now. Just not enough resources to go around).

Then (and this is where he goes crazy), he calls the I/P conflict a "genocide" by the Israeli state against the Palestinians. This is, to put it mildly, beyond absurd. I've written two posts on the abysmal habit of certain speakers to "define genocide down" in this way in order to make it a political tool. It's morally atrocious. Even under the most pro-Palestinian view possible, Israel's actions don't rise to a genocide because there isn't and has never been targeted killing of civilians with the purpose of eliminating an ethnic group. Even the colonialism charge, which itself is pretty stupid, can at least be justified under some contortion of the facts. Genocide allegations can't no matter how you spin it. The only group that has registered a commitment to utterly slaughter the members of another in this conflict are Palestinian terrorist groups and their Arab (and Iranian) allies, making the most apt analogy Jews defending themselves from an attempted genocide against them--something that even a cursory glance at Arab official statements in the 1949 invasion should validate anyway.

Anonymous said...

Best definition of "anti-semitic" is here:
http://www.antiwar.com/hacohen/h092903.html

Brian Angliss said...

David: Are you intending to imply that reasoned criticisms of Israeli government policies qualify as anti-semitic? That was my impression of your last paragraph, and I wanted to know if that was how you meant it.

David Schraub said...

Not necessarily. The point I was trying to make in the AA comparison was the way in which subconscious mentalities and social constructions can mean even "reasonable" attacks on Israel might be anti-semitic. Of course, the more "reasonable" they are, the less likely that is to be true. One can reasonably attack Israel's occassional use of stress positions, for example, and the odds are that wouldn't be motivated by anti-semitism (but it still COULD be--if one doesn't at least acknowledge the security concerns that motivate it, or one gives a free pass to torture regimes like Uzbekistan, for example).

I'll try to make the AA example more clear. Clearly, one can criticize AA and not be racist. That has to be at least possible (and the same, I'd say, goes for Israel). However, many progressive scholars would argue that the way racism operates means that it informs and encourages even "neutral," "well-meaning" or otherwise "rational" attacks on such things as AA. In other words, it is the invisible hand, the man behind the curtain. In effect, it means either a) one singles out that particular issue from other similarly situated cases one ignores because this one aids Jews/Blacks, or b) one attacks this particular issue where one affirmatively defends similarly situated cases that aid oneself and/or non-Jews/Blacks. I think that because such actions are generally subconscious, they should not be conceived in the same way as overt or rabid hate, but that doesn't mean we should ignore them or their impact either.

If one accepts that as true, I simply ask that we apply the same standard be applied to Jews and Israel. It's not that a "reasonable" criticism of Israel isn't or is anti-semitic--there's no way to determine that acontextually. I'm making a methodological claim--how should we analyze critiques of Israel recognizing the possibility that, like with racism, there may be anti-semitism "under the surface" (even if unbeknownst to the author). I believe that our scholarly efforts in this regard must take into account the presence of global anti-semitic ideologies and the way they construct the reality around us (like with racism, like with sexism, et al)--we can't just fiat them away.

Brian Angliss said...

Thank you for the clarification. Your post inspired me to blog about criticism of Israeli government policies and whether it is anti-Semitic or not, BTW. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ampersand said...

David, I'm composing a response, but it would be helpful if you can clarify a paragraph. Can you do me a favor, and briefly say what specifics "material support," and "intellectual succor" are referring to?

Also, among "those academics who truly recognize and refuse to downplay the significance of the Shoah," are there any who are also harsh critics of Israel?

Thanks!

David Schraub said...

To the former, I mean writing prefaces for, making public defenses of, attending conferences with, building the philosophical framework, and generally supporting the overall mission of the Holocaust deniers/minimizers.

To the latter, I don't know enough academic critics of Israel (and their Holocaust positions) to tell you. Of course "critic" is relative--Alan Dershowitz claims that he criticizes Israeli policies rather frequently, but I'm not sure he's what you have in mind. Limiting the discussion to simply folks who do not believe Israel should exist(/have come into existance) as a Jewish state, I'm not sure that there IS such a scholar because I think that someone can't really understand the moral and psychic implications of the Holocaust and still tell the Jews that it's a-ok from them to be stateless. Such a scholar would have to meet (IMO) 2 qualifications
1) Be a generic critic of the "nation-state" in all its forms
AND
2) Make that critique universally across all states, not focusing on Israel.

Wendy said...

Thank you for the thought you've put into this discussion; very helpful in light of commenting on next week's "conference" in Tehran. I've linked this essay to my notes on the topic.