Sunday, January 10, 2016

What Do (EU) Jews Actually Consider To Be Anti-Semitic?

One of the lodestones of progressive understandings of discrimination and inequality is that marginalized groups are in a privileged position to "name their oppression." At the extreme this can be expressed as an unassailable authority to define what their oppression is (a position I can't endorse). But more modestly, the idea that we should give a pretty healthy presumption to how marginalized groups understand their own experience -- and that certainly, their views are relevant and important (indeed, essential) inputs into how we work through these issues -- strikes me as exactly right.

In that vein, I've just come across some really interesting survey data from the EU which asks Jews about (among other things) what they consider to be anti-Semitic.

If you click through you can see the charts more clearly. The results clarify certain intuitions while falsifying other stereotypes. To begin, as one would expect most Jews do not, in fact, view "criticism of Israel" by a non-Jew as anti-Semitic. Only 34% take that view, which, to provide some context, is also roughly the same percentage of Idaho voters who cast their ballot for Barack Obama in 2012. So the next time you hear people talking about "Jews think any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic," replace in your mind "Idahoans are strong backers of Barack Obama" and reflect on how silly that sounds.

Widespread rejection of the generic formulation that criticism of Israel equals anti-Semitism, of course, doesn't mean that no specific criticisms can be so labeled (The Nation, take note). 72% of Jews think that a boycott of Israeli goods or products is anti-Semitic. Likewise, 81% think that saying Israelis behave "like Nazis" to Palestinians is definitely or probably anti-Semitic, and 90% believe that saying "Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood" at least probably qualifies as anti-Semitic (Naomi Klein, take note).

These are striking figures. To be sure, as noted at the outset, they do not end the discussion over what is anti-Semitism. But they do provide an important beginning. Talking about anti-Semitism, first and foremost, must start from talking about how Jews perceive anti-Semitism. Most Jews are well-aware of the obvious truth that criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic simply by virtue of that fact; and the equally obvious truth that particular criticisms in particular contexts made in particular ways may well be. Now it's time for the rest of the world to catch up.

1 comment:

Binyamin Arazi said...

I was disappointed by the reaction to "Jews are only a religion". I consider that to be highly antisemitic (or extremely ignorant, if you want to be nice). It is antisemitic because, aside from the fact that it's not true (and is used to undermine Israel's legitimacy), gentiles are not the supreme arbiters of who or what a Jew is.