Tuesday, September 09, 2014

"Asajews" and Superstanding

As usual always, David Hirsh knocks it out of the park:
Jews who worry about antisemitism are written off as tribal and self-interested; they are constructed as ‘Zionists’ and hence not as antiracists, intellectuals or legitimate members of the left. This hostile, external construction of Jews is in sharp contrast to the eager self-definition of the ‘as-a-Jew’ critics, who parade their Jewishness in order to discredit, in the eyes of the onlooking world, the fears of their fellow Jews.

The ‘as a Jew’ preface is directed at non-Jews. It tempts non-Jews to suspend their own political judgment as to what is, and what is not, antisemitic. The force of the ‘as a Jew’ preface is to bear witness against the other Jews. It is based on the assumption that being Jewish gives you some kind of privileged insight into what is antisemitic and what is not; the claim to authority through identity substitutes for civil, rational debate. Anti-Zionist Jews do not simply make their arguments and adduce evidence; they mobilize their Jewishness to give themselves influence. They pose as courageous dissidents who stand up against the fearsome threat of mainstream Zionist power.
Ironically, this positioning by the tiny minority tends to set the boundaries of civil discourse in such a way as to exclude and silence the legitimate concerns of the majority. It characterizes antisemitism as a right-wing issue and it teaches antiracists to recognise talk of antisemitism as an indicator of racist apologetics.

We need to agree that antisemitism is serious and that it is real; it is not only a threat to Jews but it is also a threat to the labour movement, to intellectual culture and to wider society. Of course we need then to be able to present and discuss arguments and evidence as to what is antisemitic and what isn’t; how we define it and how we recognise it are rightfully up for democratic discussion. The phenomenon which most definitely closes off the possibility of civilized discourse is the claim that Jews raise the issue of antisemitism, knowing that they’re lying, in order to stifle free speech and criticism.
Emphasis added. And note that the "asajew" formulation is hardly unique to Jews either. Derrick Bell's theory of superstanding identifies the same problem: Blacks who talk about racism and Black issues will be viewed "with a grain of salt" if they're taken seriously at all, but Blacks who criticize other Black people or rally to the defense of White people aggrieved by Black claims will be given enhanced standing and greater credibility.


Barry Deutsch said...

You approvingly quote this: "It is based on the assumption that being Jewish gives you some kind of privileged insight into what is antisemitic and what is not..."

But on my blog, you seemed to imply that being Jewish does give insight: "the tweet exists in a discursive space where such violence is in fact actively contemplated and a genuine part of the reality of Jewish experience... he is absolutely confident of his ability to define anti-Semitism in contrast to how it is understood by most Jews."

David Schraub said...

Yeah, I noticed that part of Hirsh's line after I posted. Hirsh and I disagree here (actually, I was surprised to see Hirsh taking such a critical line toward that concept -- it doesn't seem in character for him). In any event, I don't think it's critical to his argument here.