Monday, June 28, 2021

Antisemitism vs. Illegitimate Anti-Israel(i) Discrimination

One thing I noticed come up a few times in the Moshava Philly saga was folks who (a) agreed that the conduct in question represented illegitimate discrimination against Israelis on the basis of nationality but (b) denied it was antisemitic. That is, they agreed it was wrong, just a different wrong from antisemitism.

I confess I haven't put a ton of thought into making this differentiation myself, particularly in cases (as here) where it seems that the "anti-Israeli" discrimination is inextricably bound up with the fact that the targets are Jewish Israelis, specifically (it is dubious that an Israeli Arab food truck would have faced the sort of pushback Moshava Philly experienced). In concept, it is obviously possibly for someone to have a prejudice against Israelis that has absolutely nothing to do with Jewishness -- it is even-handed hatred towards Israelis of all backgrounds and faiths. In practice, there are very few cases of illegitimate anti-Israel biases which are not linked in some way to its Jewishness (even if, on occasion, the link is that the non-Jewish Israelis are tied too closely with the Jewiness of it all).

But my own views notwithstanding, this got me to wondering: What are the stakes of insisting on this distinction between antisemitism and concededly illegitimate anti-Israeli discrimination? And if we do make the distinction what short-form name should we give to illegitimate anti-Israeli discrimination?

On the latter, the lack of a pithy title is inconvenient to say the least. I've heard "Ziophobia" used a few times, but let's just say not by the people who I'd expect to be invested in rigorously policing the difference between antisemitism and anti-Israeli discrimination. But I'm not sure a better term currently exists out there. Suggestions welcome.

On the former, certainly one often hears people emphatically distinguish between "antisemitism" and "legitimate criticism of Israel" -- an important distinction, to be sure. But this is different, since by stipulation the persons I'm talking about concede the "criticism" in question is not legitimate -- and, in particular, is not legitimate in a discriminatory and thereby morally wrongful fashion (there are plenty of cases where a criticism may be technically "wrong" but does not morally wrong anyone -- free speech must allow for some play in the joints where people are free to be mistaken -- but these cases go further and entail circumstances where by concession the bad behavior generates a valid claim of injustice). Given that, what are the consequences of being sure to say "this is wrong, and discriminatory, and should be opposed -- but we shouldn't call it antisemitic"?

My instinct is that it is part of a broader campaign to disassociate discourse about Israel in any form -- even concededly illegitimate forms -- from claims of antisemitism. In that way, it is an adjunct to the "legitimate criticism of Israel is not antisemitism" contention, albeit different in content. Holding fast to this distinction even in the cases of illegitimate criticism helps build the firewall which blocks accusations of antisemitism in the cases of legitimate criticism (or, perhaps more importantly, in the arguable cases).

And a side-effect -- perhaps desired, perhaps not -- is to prevent this form of discriminatory from accessing the particular moral punch of "antisemitism" as a concept. While nominally there's no reason why "antisemitic" discrimination has to be worse than "national origin discrimination against Israelis", practically speaking it represents a retreat -- it's bad, but not antisemitic bad. 

Part of what the disassociation campaign is doing, after all, is trying to split off discourse about Israel from the broader histories and structures of antisemitism that accentuate its dangers -- tying certain discourses into extreme manifestations of violence and oppression. The goal, in some ways, isn't just about protecting "legitimate" criticism but also about degrading the dangers of "illegitimate" criticism. There are all sorts of cases where we might think someone is being kind of extreme or ridiculous or unfair to, I dunno, Canada, and so we might "oppose" it insofar as we generally oppose extreme unfair ridiculousness, but we also don't view it as a four-alarm moral fire. The goal is to do the same thing when faced with unfairness towards Israel or Israelis -- not so much justify as make it mundane, make it small-potatoes, isolate it from any broader pattern or practice of systemic wrongdoing.

1 comment:

LWE said...

I don't view the "it only applies to Jewish Israelis" to be a good counter-argument, since Jews are both the titular and de-facto politically dominant group within the state. So it would make sense for someone with a bee in their bonnet about Israel to be irked by its dominant group (Jewsraelis), not by the "subaltern" groups. I, however, agree with other considerations. I also think that even if the distinction is possible (it might be, I dunno), someone who is prone to illegitimate attacks on Israel will almost inevitably be drawn towards antisemitism as a means to discredit Israel.