Thursday, January 17, 2008

Quote of the Evening

"[A]nti-Semitism is like alcoholism. You can go for 25 years without a drink, but if things go bad and you find yourself with a vodka in your hand, you can’t get rid of it."

--Iain Pears

The quote is from the International Herald Tribune on August 11th, 2003, but I found it in this Dissent article by Mitchell Cohen: "Anti-Semitism and the Left that Doesn't Learn."

Even if anti-Semitism is in remission in some places in the world, that doesn't mean we've kicked the habit. As we've seen, the age-old prejudice has its own regenerative abilities that allow it to come roaring back after prolonged (supposed) absence.


Anonymous said...

Dude, the Cohen article is so bad its kinda funny. I love the part at the end where we are reminded that anti-Zionism is not severable from anti-Semitism since both involve insinuations, complaints, remonstrations and recriminations. Which strikes me as dumb since all of those are basically things that people do when they are unhappy and so its pretty ridiculous to use them to establish some kind of equivalence between people whoa re unhappy about the fact that Jews exist and assert themselves in their societies and people who are unhappy about the human rights abuses committed in the name of the Israeli state. Oh wait, according to Cohen, implying that Israelis have committed atrocities about which they are less-than-forthcoming is a form of recrimination and therefore nothing but an anti-Semitic trope revealing the true Jew-hating Stalinist ways of the accuser.

I guess its cool that Cohen wants to remonstrate (uh-oh) the "Left that never learns" but it seems kind of convenient that the people he writes off as authoritarian Flat Earthers just happen to be those who sit on his side of the aisle but don't share his enthusiasm for all things Israeli.

David Schraub said...

Cohen's point isn't that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism aren't severable because they both involve "insinuations, complaints, remonstrations, and recriminations." His point is that each of those four actions occurs in much the same form in anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist discourse (Anti-Semite: Jews don't and never will fit in our community. anti-Zionist: Israel doesn't and never will fit in its community. Anti-Semite: Jews are fundamentally at fault for their treatment because of their anachronistic particularism. Anti-Zionist: Israel is fundamentally at fault for whatever happens to it because its exclusivist and has the temerity to declare itself a Jewish state. Etc.).

Anonymous said...

That hardly strikes me as a better argument. The problem is thus:

Cohen (and, I guess, you) say we should be alarmed by anti-Zionist arguments that resemble anti-Semitic arguments in form. The problem with this is that his objection to the anti-Semitic arguments is not their form but rather their content. That is, he doesn't give a formal or informal logical repudiation of that form.

So "[Jews] [[murdered God]]" is a barbaric statement of anti-Semitism not because it accuses a group of an atrocity but because it accuses a group of an atrocity which is at the best case just a horrible lie but more than likely a totally meaningless and unverifiable statement meant to inspire violence against a group. However "[Israeli settler] [[violently expelled Palestinians from their homes]]" is both historically verifiable and verified. Your argument that the two are somehow connected because they share the pattern of accusing [group x] of [[atrocity Y]] is absurd because there is nothing inherently misguided about accusations which follow such a structure - they only become misguided when that structure is filled with propaganda or lies. Its a boon to Cohen to obsess over simplistic "formations" of arguments because it means he can be equally hasty in disregarding radically different types of argument.

Even that aside, the article is just full of intellectual laziness. There's the dismissal of "postmodern and postcolonial influence" as though Spivak was the second coming of Lenin. There's what's got to be the most wilful misreading of an argument I've ever seen: Cohen literally translates “Israel shapes and even defines the foreign policy views of a small but influential group of American liberals” as “these liberals composed the Israel lobby within the left, and they sought the American war in Iraq for the sake of the Jewish state."

I understand a lot of your resentment towards the "anti-Semitism card" argument, that is, the cheap disavowal of any claim to anti-Semitism within leftist discourses as politically motivated censorship - but Cohen's article is really a textbook example of how NOT to make the argument.

David Schraub said...

I just feel like we're not reading the same article. Cohen only talks about settlements in the context of saying he opposes them whole-heartedly. The jab at post-modernism is annoying, but it's also kind of throw away.

By contrast, those four parallel arguments he makes at the end (albeit I admit I don't understand his "titles" for them at all) are, I think, worth taking seriously. Jewish exile, Jewish exclusivity, Jewish hyperpower, and Jewish bloodlust are all pretty ingrained anti-Semitic tropes that see plenty of action in anti-Zionist discourse -- way above and beyond anything Israel actually does to deserve them. Cohen doesn't use the settlement example for a reason -- he uses instead the willingness of folks to label Israel a genocidal state due to a massacre in Jenin that never happened.