Thursday, August 03, 2006

Unspeakable Anti-Semitism

Phoebe Maltz has a superb post up about the continuing reality of anti-Semitism, and the strange reluctance of people to speak about it or even acknowledge its existence. "Superb", of course, is somewhat redundant when talking about a WWPD post, but this one particularly caught my eye.

I tend to run in leftist circles, and one thing I've really tried to impress upon people is the pervasive nature of anti-Semitism and why it needs to be addressed. I devour article upon article about structural racism, the patriarchy, heterosexism, you know an oppressed class, I've done at least some reading on it. And what's more, I buy the argument. I do believe that America, for example, is institutionally biased against Blacks, and that Whiteness is held as the norm to which everything else must measure up. It isn't fair, it isn't just, and it serves as a serious barrier to the creation and maintenance of a just society.

The same could be said about Judaism in the world. Judaism is perpetually marginalized in the world--it is always aberrant, always other. But the literature on Jewish marginalization is much scantier. People are simply far less willing to believe that Jews are oppressed. Partially, this is due to the particular manner in which anti-Semitic tropes have developed over the years. One of the stereotypes about Judaism is that we are the power behind the curtain; we pull all the strings. Think the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Or the neo-conservative/Jewish cabal that is purportedly running White House foreign policy. Just a Mexicans are assumed to be lazy, or Blacks are assumed to be beastly, Jews are assumed to be possessors of unjust power (both unjustly acquired, and likely to be used for selfish and unjust ends). Since that is the prevailing mindset, people are less likely to entertain notions that Jews do face discrimination and double-standards in the world, except in the most extreme cases. And since such discourse is suppressed, the dominant view of Jews as being in perfectly good health, and thus presumptively part of the ruling caste, continues. It's a vicious cycle.

This analysis isn't particularly novel--indeed, it draws heavily from similar explorations of hurdles and obstacles faced by members of subordinated races, genders, sexual orientations, and ethnicities. What's bothersome is less the continuation of anti-Semitism than the fact that so few big-name theorists seem interested in critically grappling with it. That's supremely frustrating. And, I'd add, an indicator of anti-Semitism in its own right.

5 comments:

Clint said...

It's hard to take charges of anti-semitism seriously when people like Howard Dean try to stick the charge on anyone who happens to criticize Israeli policy.

Are there people who genuinely hate Jews? Of course. But I believe there are also many cases of false accusations. Anyone who dares say that Israel is the aggressor or is guilty of war crimes is quick to be labeled an anti-semite - it's a stupid defense.

The fact is that Jewish interests are well-represented in government, at least in the US. Aid from US to Israel totals what, $2.5 billion? I mean, come on.

I think, as I said, that anti-semitism exists and it's certainly deplorable - as is any prejudice. But, I don't think that Jewish people are targeted and discriminated against more than any other minority group.

jack said...

Or the neo-conservative/Jewish cabal that is purportedly running White House foreign policy.

David, its pretty well documented that the Bush Administration's foreign policy is being run by a club of neo-conservatives. Only a handful are Jewish.

Disenchanted Dave said...

I think neoconservatism is a real phenomenon. It's a shame that it's been pinned on "the Jews," but here's what I see: this administration really does believe that unchallengeable shows of force are the only way to secure peace and obedience from other countries; it really does want a hierarchy of states with the U.S. at the top with other countries too fearful to displease the U.S. in any way; it really does believe that "freedom" can be bestowed on countries simply by toppling their regimes; it really does believe that concessions, international law, and diplomacy are "tools of the weak" and thus unnecessary for us and threatening when used by others; it really does believe in lying to the public and overruling the intelligence services to advance its policies, which are a priori correct; it really does believe that horrific violence by the U.S. in the form of civilian casualties and the torture of innocents has only positive effects (instilling fear and respect but nev
er losing hearts and minds). And on and on.

With regard to the Jewishness of the neocons, I really don't care one way or the other. Sure, some of the big figures in the movement are Jewish (Richard Pipes and Irving Kristol plus their sons Daniel and William), or have Jewish-sounding names (Rumsfeld), but really, that's irrelevant. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and it's just the James Dobson philosophy of parenting applied to states. There's nothing inherently Jewish about it, and there are plenty of non-Jews that support it.

I'm aware that antisemites have latched onto the term, and I'd be perfectly happy switching to a new one if it were available, but I'm not aware of another term that describes Cheney, PNAC, the Weekly Standard, et al. very well. If you have a better word, let me know.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the Volokh post is actually pointing to a legitimate double standard. Japan as a nation is horribly racist. So is Israel when it denies the right of return or equal marriage rights in order to preserve its Jewish character. That's not a double standard.

As much as I think anti-Semitism is real, and is horrible (the recent shooting in the US, Mel Gibson's tirade being defended by religious conservatives, and those just being recent examples in the US), I really think the charge is diluted when everything and anything becomes an exmaple of anti-Semitism. Opposing the hamfisted identity legislation of Israel is not anti-Semitism, and I resent the idea that it should even be considered that.

In addition, I think that anti-Semitism as a structural phenomenon is underanalyzed (and Im speaking only about the USA here). Like, institutionalized racism is a common enough idea, and institutionalized heterosexism doesn't even try to hide itself. Same thing with many laws that rather blatantly tell women what "their place" is. On the contrary, it seems that a lot of anti-Semitism is manifested in attitudes and actions... and dont get me wrong that's really bad in and of itself. But theres only so much you can say about crazies with guns in an academic and political setting. Where I think a lot of structural anti-Semitism is manifested is in the debates over Seperation of Church and State. The reason I think people are hesitant to call it this is twofold. First, anti-Semitism is still an intensely personal charge. Telling a lot of people who think they are representing "Judeo-Christian values" that there are anti-Semtic implications in their policy is a hard battle to win in the press and in everyday conversation. To that end, I think the second reason anti-Semitism is talked about les is that SOCAS issues seem to be less overtly about anti-Jewish policy, and more about pro-Christian policy, the backside of which is the exclusion of Jews and other religious minorities.

Racism as a term can refer to the degradation of racial minorities AND the unjust elevation of whites. Heterosexism has the same two-sided application for gays, patriarchy for women. But anti-Semitism means ONLY anti-Jewish policy, and isnt typically used to include unfairly pro-Christian policy. Which is why, I think, its a lot easier to point to examples of institutionalized racism, patriarchy, and heterosexism - which seek to expand the privilege of straight white males - than it is to point to anti-Semitic policies, since most will be entrenching Christian privilege, not explicitly degrading Jews.

Perhaps the answer to this is a broader political coalition against Christian privilege? This would be a duanting political task, as even an alliance of all American Muslims, Jews, Wiccans, Athesits, Agnostics, and Buddists would be facing down a vastly overwhelming majority (putting aside the difficulty of assembling such a united front that actually agreed on anything). Taking on Christian privilege would also mean facing the dreaded "war on Christianity" charges, and all of the related political baggage.

Disenchanted Dave said...

They'll accuse us of waging war on Christianity whether we do or not.