Sunday, June 25, 2017

That's Funny, This Story About Anti-Semitism Keeps Repeating Itself

One more post on the expulsion of Jewish marchers carrying a rainbow flag with a Star of David on it from a "Dyke March" in Chicago. In a statement, the March organizers defended their actions, in part, by saying that the Jews in question "repeatedly expressed support for Zionism during conversations with Chicago Dyke March Collective members." On this, I could not agree more with Jaz Twersky:

But this also made me think of a passage from Steve Cohen's seminal "That's Funny, You Don't Look Anti-Semitic." (this is from the 2005 introduction, recounting reactions to the original publication in 1984):
That's Funny You Don't Look Anti-Semitic did create ripples. It managed to split the JSG [Jewish Socialist Group] whose then dominant leadership thought it might offend the Socialist Workers Party. It resulted in some pretty dreadful correspondence over many weeks in journals like Searchlight and Peace News. A pamphlet was written denouncing me as a "criminal".  
There was a particular review—in Searchlight—one sentence of which I will never forget. Every Jew on the left will know that terrible syndrome whereby, whatever the context and wherever one is, we will be tested by being given the question "what is your position on Zionism?" Wanna support the miners—what's your position on Zionism? Against the bomb—what's your position on Zionism? And want to join our march against the eradication of Baghdad, in particular the eradication of Baghdad—what's your position on Zionism? And we all know what answer is expected in order to pass the test. It is a very strong form of anti-Semitism based on assumptions of collective responsibility. Denounce Zionism, crawl in the gutter, wear a yellow star and we'll let you in the club. Which is one reason why I call myself an Anti-Zionist Zionist—at least that should confuse the bastards.  
Anyhow this particular review, noting that my book actually did attack Zionism, said "It is not enough to trot out platitudes, as he does, about being against Zionism and in support of the Palestinian struggle". So I'm not allowed into the club even though I fulfil the entry requirements. I'm not allowed in because I recognise and oppose the existence of anti-Semitism on the Left—and this therefore renders all support for Palestinians a "platitude". Well it ain't me who's here confusing anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
Wanna support the miners--what's your position on Zionism? Want to be a gay person--what's your position on Zionism? There's nothing new under the sun here. The story didn't change from 1984 to 2005, and it didn't change from 2005 to 2017.

As should be obvious, I don't think one should have to "attack Zionism" to be part of the club (though I've always loved Cohen's "Anti-Zionist Zionist" descriptor -- "that should confuse the bastards" indeed!). The point, rather, is that the Zionism or anti-Zionism rarely is the point. The point is the tight regulation of Jewish political activities, under which Jewish access to progressive political spaces is always provisional. Having a Star of David shouldn't be a license for an interrogation on one's views about Zionism, and if the issue does come up Jews should not have to engage in ritual self-abasement to pass the test. When those requirements are in play -- and for Jews, they're always in play -- antisemitism is alive and well.

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