Thursday, April 29, 2010

Connecting Racism and Anti-Semitism

Statement of Robert Fine and Claudine Attias Donfut regarding their establishment of a forum to discuss the intersections between racism and anti-Semitism:
Our ESA Network on Racism and Antisemitism brings together, into a common forum of discussion, research activity in each of these areas. An informing idea behind setting up this network is that a prevailing current in the sociology of race has been that of a black-white binary which excludes other forms of racism that do not fit this binary. Our conviction is that an explicit connection between racism and antisemitism (and other intra-European racisms) helps us redress such exclusions. We also recognise that prevailing currents in study of antisemitism have generally not led scholars to situate this phenomenon with the context of racism more broadly but rather to view antisemitism sui generis as an independent phenomenon. Our belief is that Sociology can play a more universalistic role in overcoming tendencies toward particularism and that the broadening of our sociological imagination will flow from recognition of connected sociologies.

The connection between racism and antisemitism may appear uncontroversial, almost banal, but today any sociology that seeks to connect the phenomena of racism and antisemitism must be willing to confront serious resistance arising from a number of related sources. On the one hand, there are specialists who have an interest in maintaining a kind of sub-disciplinary specialization and in saying that this form of racism is real whilst that form of racism is minor or marginal or not real at all. There are emphatic theories of difference that construct walls between one form of racism and another and find it difficult to recognize the sheer versatility of racism. There are standpoint epistemologies that say that only the victims can properly understand the racism or antisemitism directed at them and slip into paradigms of competitive victimhood that refuse to acknowledge the victimization of others.

In relation to antisemitism, most social scientists acknowledge that antisemitism was a major issue in the past but there are many who deny that antisemitism is any longer a significant issue in the present and argue that antisemitism has become more rhetoric than reality. They may embrace a philosophy of history that sees the new Europe as having overcome its darker, nationalistic temptations; or they may say that the conditions in Europe that once led to antisemitism have now been superseded and Islamophobia and other racisms have substituted for antisemitism. There is a temptation in sociology to resort to the symbolic erasure of antisemitism and disregard the mythological images antisemitism inherits from the past, because they are unwanted reminders of the subterranean streams of European civilization.

In terms of political argument it is sometimes said that the charge of ‘antisemitism’ is employed dishonestly as a means of deflecting attention from the allegedly racist character of Zionism and the Israeli state. It is said that a focus on Jews as victims of antisemitism serves to obscure the wrongs Jews themselves commit as victimisers. In these political debates we have to acknowledge that anti-racists can represent concern over the ‘antisemitism’ question mainly as a smokescreen for racism against Moslems, Arabs or Palestinians; and conversely we have to acknowledge that anti-antisemites can represent ‘antiracism’ as an ideology of those whose hostility to Israel is antisemitic in its effects if not its motives.

In the face of all these resistances, which we only touch upon here, our conviction is that the project of connecting racism and antisemitism – which is not at all the same as identifying them – is worth doing. Racism and antisemitism evolved together in European societies as coeval manifestation of how Europeans at once turned on non-Europeans outside Europe and on one another within Europe. To see their connectedness today is our way of keeping in mind the universalistic promise of the sociological imagination.

Very interesting. I lend my full support.


emanuel appel said...

This is intellectual masturbation.

The question of racism and Jew Hatred has been settled by the Holocaust. There's no more need to further study it.

It is bigoted to expect Jews, who've been at war with the Arabs since 1920, to be saintly while facing killing and terror daily. On the other hand, Arabs are never requested to turn the other cheek. Why is that?

joe said...

On the other hand, Arabs are never requested to turn the other cheek. Why is that?

Well, I don't know how anyone could possibly argue with such a blanket statement. Case closed.

joe said...

Perhaps the similarities (oops, guess that's "intersectionalities") are because antisemitism is racism. Some people may object (as I think David kind of did last week) that this leaves out antisemitism w/r/t religious Judaism or Jewish culture.

Some people are wrong.

I'm putting this in intuitive rather than academic terms, but here's why I think that's hair-splitting at best. Consider the following quote (and it's not just one that I dreamed up; I've heard variations on it often enough):

"You know I don't really have a problem with Obama because he's not really black... he was raised by his white mother and her parents, and it wasn't in the ghetto or anything. So culturally he's basically white. Who, me racist? No, don't you get it? The actual color of peoples' skins doesn't matter; it's not biological. The problem with blacks in America is just their culture-- all the gangster rap stuff glorifying crime and laziness. And all those rabble-rousing reverends like Al Sharpton and Jeremiah Wright. Okay, I guess Obama has something to do with Wright, but that's probably just something he thought he had to do or he'd get called an Uncle Tom, which is another thing blacks do that's totally destructive."

I consider such statements racist, even though the speaker can draw a line between some biologically inherent characteristic and culture or religion. Call me simple-minded if you will, but I prefer to think of myself as uninterested in counting angels on the head of a pin. And if we accept that the above quote is racist, simple logic takes us the rest of the way. Logic tells us that a similar statement about Jews would also be racist unless race is not a social construct, unless there is some objective scientific basis for these categorizations, which would mean racism is only an applicable descriptor when one of those categories is at issue.

No takers on that one, huh?

joe said...

nb, I take my definition quite a bit further. For all intents and purposes I label a lot of statements directed at specific nationalities racist as well.

N. Friedman said...


You write: Perhaps the similarities (oops, guess that's "intersectionalities") are because antisemitism is racism.

I think that is a misstatement. I think you can say that Antisemitism can be race based (e.g. ala the Nazis) or it can be theologically based (e.g. ala traditional Christian and Muslim Antisemitism) or it can be political (ala socialist and nationalist Antisemitism).

The current round of Antisemitism, which revolves around Israel and supposed monopolization of victim-hood) is not really racist. It involves specific allegations about how Jews have behaved and what Jews believe but those Jews who side against the majority of Jews are basically immune from the hatred. This is not to suggest that earlier forms of Antisemitism are not mixed in with the new Antisemitism for some people but, instead, to say that racism is not the dominant issue.

In this regard, I would recommend two excellent books that address the issue. First and foremost, I would recommend Bernard-Henri Lévy's book, Left in Dark Times, which devotes substantial time to discussing the differences between the various species of Antisemitism that have predominated over the centuries. The second is Walter Laqueur's recent book, The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, which is a pretty good history of Antisemitism. Both of these authors agree with my view.

As Lévy notes, there was clerical Antisemitism, by which Jews were accused of killing Christ. Jews could in most instances escape that form of Antisemitism by converting. Then there was anti-clerical Antisemitism by which Jews were accused of inventing Christ and Christianity. Again, Jews could escape that form of Antisemitism by hating Judaism and Christianity. Then there was nationalist Christianity, by which Jews were accused of being international in orientation and, hence, not loyal. This could usually be remedied as well by conversion to Christianity. Then, there was anti-Capitalist Antisemitism by which Jews were said to have amassed control of society's wealth. Again, such could normally be remedied by converting. Then, there was racial Antisemitism, which is what the Nazis advocated and what some in Spain advocated in support of setting up an Inquisition in 15th Century Spain.

Lévy says the new Antisemitism is something very different. Jews are, he says, accused of taking advantage of the Holocaust, drowning out the suffering of others (e.g. African Americans) and of using that suffering in support of a country which was founded on a great crime. Jews, however, who side against Israel are not hated or, in any event, are not the subject of the abuse that Israel and its supporters are. As he notes, the sort of hatred among Europeans that was the norm and allowed direct discrimination against Jews is not possible in the US or Europe because the allegations that support such things do not fit modern ways of thinking. By contrast, the hatred related to Israel does.

Why? Because Israel is standing in the way of others who suffer in order to support a criminal state. At least, that is the accusation he focuses on.

Laqueur, a rather famous historian, provides a more historical analysis but, in the end, his views are not much different from those of Lévy.

emanuel appel said...

Dissecting "Anti-semitism" is like dissecting excrement - smelly and unnecessary. It only appeals to those verbose individuals who love to see their own words on paper. They write as if they were being paid 1 penny per word.

No other group I know has spent as much time examining the evil thoughts of their enemies and as little time punching them in the nose.

joe said...

I think that is a misstatement. I think you can say that Antisemitism can be race based (e.g. ala the Nazis) or it can be theologically based (e.g. ala traditional Christian and Muslim Antisemitism) or it can be political (ala socialist and nationalist Antisemitism).

I think I already addressed this above.

Jews, however, who side against Israel are not hated or, in any event, are not the subject of the abuse that Israel and its supporters are.

I fail to see how this model is functionally different from calling Obama "one of the good ones." I am willing to call racism anytime there is a presumption that a member of a group that we would call "a people" has a given fault. Making the presumption a rebuttable one, as opposed to genetic destiny, does little in the big picture.