April 26, 2004
Alexander Cockburn & Jeffrey St. Clair (editors), The Politics of Anti-Semitism, CounterPunch and AK Press, 2003; ISBN: 1-90259-377-7. 178 pages, $12.95.
There is no topic on the part of this writer that triggers as much trepidation as that of anti-Semitism -- that is, as it is commonly meant but etymologically incorrect, Jewish hatred -- in the context of the US-Israeli symbiosis with its potential influence on US domestic and foreign policies and its staggering consequences for the Palestinians. To broach it or be brought into it invites passionate reactions, raw controversies, emotional debates, and scorching denunciations. Whatever approach is taken to address the matter makes no difference. One always ends up on the defensive, having to stave off one accusation or the other. So, Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair should be commended for daring to publish and edit The Politics of Anti-Semitism, an excellent collection of 18 essays on this explosive subject. While this writer willingly acknowledges his uneasiness in reviewing this anthology knowing the onslaught of criticism to come, hopefully some good will result and readers will buy this worthy book and carefully examine its content.
Cockburn and St. Clair assembled a series of, for the most part, brilliant and incisive essays superbly written by a variety of thoughtful authors whose views and analyses would much deserve the broader dissemination The New York Times and the main media could offer...if we lived in a perfect world. Wide spread anti-Semitism and anti-Semitism baiting are properly debunked; the Israeli repressive policies against the Palestinians lucidly tackled, showing that contrary to the line propagated by Officialdom Jewish Americans are far from forming a monolithic, pro-Israel block; and, the case is made, albeit less convincingly, on the influence of Israel and US Jewish organizations on official Washington (which will be explored in Part II of this review).
To begin with, let's jump over a couple of hurdles: first, a factual clarification and then a bit of semantics and context.
In their short introduction, Cockburn and St. Clair state: "The bottom line is Israel's denial of Palestinians' right to a nation, living within secure borders, just like Israeli Jews." Let's fess up to it, Israel has never denied the right of Palestinians to a state (not a nation), within secure borders, at least from the day Palestinians have been recognized as a people (a nation). It's the geographical location of the Palestinian state that causes the quandary. Israel would be more than glad to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state, say in Jordan (simply rename the country), or, as Cockburn writes in his muckraking essay, "My Life as an 'Anti-Semite'," "Dearborn or the space in Dallas-Fort Worth airport between the third and fourth runways (the bold Armey plan)," -- and, of course, wherever the Palestinians' Arab brethrens would accommodate them. Even Benny Morris would agree! So, accuracy on some occasions is worth splitting a few hairs, for their introductory statement could easily be construed by ill-intentioned people or skeptical critics as yet another example of malicious conclusion.
The semantic question will undoubtedly bring down everybody's wrath but it need be asked and its context explained: What is a "Jew"? (As in, what is a "Christian" or a "Moslem"?) Growing up in France, in the 1950s and 1960s, the terms "Jew" or "Jews" -- c'est un juif (it's a Jew), les juifs (the Jews) -- had a thoroughly negative connotation. It was associated with the rabid anti-Semitism that percolated France in the 1920s and 1930s (even though France had had a Jewish Prime Minister during part of that horrid period) and led, among other causes, to the shameful collaboration of the Vichy regime (Pétain, Laval, et al.) with Nazi Germany. Keep in mind that the "Jews" had been relentlessly depicted as blood-sucking evils with crooked noses and big ear lobes, and accused of instigating the communist revolution, controlling the world's economy (more on this later in relation to the current status of Jewish Americans in US society, the "Jewish lobby," or "Israel lobby," as treated in Cockburn/St. Clair's valuable anthology), profiteering from wars, enriching themselves on the backs of the workers, etc. The "Jews," in short, were up to dominating the world. While it may be history to the many, those of us whose fathers had known the camps of death were, to say the least, impressed. Here are four examples to refresh memories:
With a flurry of discoveries and publications regarding the extent of the WWII genocidal carnage, efforts were made, whether consciously and out of shame/guilt or subconsciously and still out of shame/guilt, to once and (hopefully) for all eliminate the stigma. People were French first, a full member of the secular republic and one's religion was relegated to a secondary status: A French who happened to be Catholic, or Jewish, or Protestant... There was a distinct effort to remove any shade of racial, and maybe even cultural, differences and to look at Judaism in mostly religious terms -- all the while, in the wake of the Algerian march toward independence, racism was being diverted toward Arabs. Yet, traditional values were still potent. As well as divorce was shunned intermarriages were few. As an older friend who could have become this writer's stepmother recently explained, it could not happen then because "I was Jewish and he [this writer's father] was Catholic." One way or the other these growing experiences led to a mental construct, a frame of reference: For better or worse, people first -- a personal distaste to label people according to their religion or their race, a rather anachronistic or out-of-sync approach in our age of identity politics...
The fact remains that there are plenty of differences -- as well as commonalities -- between a Jewish French and a Jewish American, as there are between a Catholic French and a Catholic American (strange, isn't it, that we rarely hear the latter two expressions, even in our age of narcissist polarization), or for that matter and quite simply between a French and an American. The same can be said between a Sephardic and Ashkenazi Israeli, or between a reformed Jewish individual and an ultra-orthodox one, etc. Religious fundamentalists have much to share as humanists do, be they from Jewish or Christian or Moslem background. And this can be extended to all religions and races... "Birds of a feather flock together..."
So, what is a "Jew"? To answer the perennial question about the famed "Jewish identity," let Michael Neumann, a professor of philosophy at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, speak to the issue. His essay, "What Is Anti-Semitism," by and of itself is worth forking over the $12.95 to get a copy of The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Not only is Neumann witty, he is incisive and clear-minded; in a short 12 pages, he eloquently demonstrates how far our Western societies have moved away from the first half of the 20th century in regard to Jewish hatred and how much the current inflationary charges of anti-Semitism made in some quarters against any critics of Israel cheapen the very definition of Jewish hatred. He writes:
[W]e come up against the venerable shell-game of Jewish identity: "Look! We're a religion! No! a race! No! a cultural entity! Sorry -- a religion!" When we tire of this game, we get suckered into another: "Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism!" quickly alternates with "Don't confuse Zionism with Judaism! How dare you, you anti-Semite!" (p.1)Neumann could have added another identity to the shell game -- that of eternal victim; an identity that Norman Finkelstein, who also contributed to this anthology, has analyzed in other circumstances.
But, if this is the definition of a Jew -- religion, race, cultural entity, victimhood -- can't it be extended to other social groups? Without waxing rhetorical, aren't then all Americans "Jews?" Religion: Christian (with minorities); race: white (with minorities), culture: American (with variations); victim: "why do they hate/attack us?" It may be a slightly far-fetched analogy, possibly not entirely correct (though attach the notion of "chosenness" to the litany, and the similarities become striking), but the point here is that it's mentally more sensible and intellectually more honest to visualize Jewish people in all of their diversity rather than as a block, a group, a tribe, the "Jews." This mental approach has also the merit of allowing the observer or the analyst to look at the state of Israel, not as being the state of, or for the "Jews," whatever the Zionist construct would wish it to be, and to disassociate oneself from the invalid equation: Israeli policies against Palestinians equal Jewish policies against Palestinians.
Notwithstanding that in the Middle East Jews and Zionist Israel are synonyms, completely interchangeable, and that Jewish-hatred is rampant (as Lenni Brenner concludes in his contribution to the anthology, "Bluntly put: if you want to end today's "anti-Semitism" against Jews, end Zionism's "anti-Semitism" against Palestinians."), it is nevertheless factually incorrect to interchange Jews and Israelis. There are many more Jewish people outside the state of Israel than inside. And, whatever their emotional attachment to Israel, many aren't turning a blind eye or condoning Israel's atrocious policies against the Palestinians. Here is what Bruce Jackson, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of American Culture at the University of Buffalo, in his contribution, "Jews Like Us," has to say on this topic:
They are spreading poison about American Jews. Many of the people spreading this poison are Jews themselves, a relatively small group that wants to convince everybody (or at least everybody in power) that the great bulk of us think as they do, which we don't. Some non-Jews, like Pat Buchanan and other less-rabid but no less invidious bigots, also find a good way to stereotype us: Jews all think alike, dontcha know. It's weird and freaky when militant right-wing Jews can hook up with old-fashioned anti-Semites to stereotype the rest of us, but these are weird and freaky times. (p. 53)Indeed, the variety, the diversity of Jewish people is astonishing. Not long ago, this reviewer asked three regular Swans' contributors for their sentiment on whether Israeli policies against the Palestinians were genocidal. Their advice was sought quite specifically because all three are Jewish, of three different generations (ages between 20-, 50- and 70-something). Answers came forth. One did not know "what the heck the Israelis were engaged in" (genocide, ethnic cleansing?) and didn't find himself "flying to their defense." "Indeed" he added, "some harsh words from this end would help wake them up to their sickness." But he felt that genocide was not the proper characterization of Israeli policies. The second one "didn't think that the term genocidal was accurate." He considered that "apartheid Israel was better." The last one answered that according to the definition of genocide in the Geneva Convention, "intent is an important element and a partial action of any of the enumerated items would satisfy the definition." Hence, yes, "it is genocide." Three Jewish Americans, three different answers (which did not help this hapless editor!) -- and three individuals that would immediately be branded with the label, "Jewish self-hater" or "self-hating Jews" like all the Jewish contributors to The Politics of Anti-Semitism, from Yigal Bronner to Yuri Avneri, Scott Handleman, Michael Neumann, Bruce Jackson, et al., who are used to the appellation, and the non-Jewish contributors who are regularly assailed with the "anti-Semite" smear. Like so many things in life, one tends to become immune after a while...
Decades ago, in the wake of the Holocaust, there were ample reasons -- not all pure and disinterested -- for the world, in its majority, to feel an emotional attachment and support for the state of Israel and the plight of the Jewish people. It was the age of Exodus and of "a land without a people for a people without a land." Forging ahead over the years some unpleasant realities seeped to the surface. The land, actually, had been inhabited by a people. Its national identity was denied at first -- they were labeled "Arabs," in a tribal and racist fashion, the same way racists refer to "Jews" as some kind of monolithic block. Then, it became known as the Palestinian people and the world slowly found out that this people had in part been dispossessed, dispersed, expulsed, to make room for the newcomers. The rest is history; a history of colonialism and resistance, abject racism, where the oppressed of yesteryear became the oppressors held hostage by fundamentalists, secular or otherwise, in an increasing cycle of violence, of blood and tears, further dispossessions, time and again, and, who knows, when the time is deemed existentialistically "right," to the "final disposition" of the Palestinian problem; that is, the forced expulsion of all Palestinians from the Occupied Territories (cf. Benny Morris, et al.). (2)
No one then should be surprised by the change of hearts and minds over the world, from people of all religious persuasions and cultural backgrounds -- people who, in the words of Bruce Jackson, "speak softly or rationally."
And no one should be surprised either that, put on the defensive, in spite of an overwhelming financial and military superiority, the advocates of Greater Israel have to resort to sophistry, circular logic, fear-mongering and slander. Anyone who dares speak out faces an immediate campaign of calumny to discredit and eventually silence him or her. M. Shahid Alam in his short essay, "A New Theology of Power," provides a sound example of this appalling strategy. So does Kurt Nimmo as he relates the travails Amiri Baraka, the Poet Laureate of New Jersey, had to endure for having written his 2002 poem, "Somebody Blew Up America." (3)
The irony is that Jewish hatred is, as noted in the anthology, at an historical low point, especially when compared to anti-Semitism against Moslems both in Europe and in the United States, which clearly feeds upon anti-Arab racism. Regrettably these communities cannot rely on the resources and the help of the powerful Anti-Defamation League, its sister organizations, the powers that be and their allied media, to document, condemn and fight the abuses to which they are increasingly subjected.
Give credit to the courage of these essayists who are raising their voices in ever larger numbers, speaking softly perhaps but rationally and honestly. They should be emulated by all of us and their words should be read and disseminated widely, for, with great ethical clarity, they are raising their voices in the name of justice and humanism, without resorting to the demeaning sloganeering and slandering of their opponents. Let us not be held captive by the critics and detractors who keep throwing at us what happened some 60 and more years ago.
There is much more in The Politics of Anti-Semitism that deserves attention. The influence of Israel and Jewish organizations on US policies will be reviewed in the forthcoming Part II. But, of particular note are the essay of Yigal Bronner, a member of Ta'ayush, the Arab-Jewish Partnership, and professor at Tel Aviv University, and one of the last essays of Edward Said, before he lost his life to cancer. Both of them offer a sane and humane vision in which Israelis and Palestinians are able to live together, side by side, with all their diversity and commonality, in peace. They conclude the collection fittingly, with hope for the future.
Read Part II of this review.
Alexander Cockburn & Jeffrey St. Clair (editors), The Politics of Anti-Semitism, CounterPunch and AK Press, 2003; ISBN: 1-90259-377-7. 178 pages, $12.95.
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Notes and Resources
1. The four pictures come from Le Dossier Juif, published by SE SNRA, Paris, France, 1979.
a) "Juden Raus" ("Jews Out"): Dossier #3, "Allemagne, 1918-1945," p. 38.
b) "The Eternal Jew:" Dossier #3, "Allemagne, 1918-1945," p. 49.
c) 1937 French Postcard: Dossier #1, "France, 1940-1945," p. 16. The post card reads:
"Who won the war of 1914? [Ed. WWI]
Who will win the next one?
If France is defeated, we will reign in Paris,
If Germany is defeated, we will reign in Berlin.
d) 1937 Propaganda stamp: Dossier #3, "Allemagne, 1918-1945," p. 38. The stamp reads:
"Without the extinction of the Jewish race, there is no salvation for humanity"
Source: Author's personal library. Published under the provision of U.S. Code, Title 17, section 107. (back)
2. See: Ari Shavit, "Survival of the fittest," Ha'aretz, January 5, 2004, (interview with historian Benny Morris) - http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/380986.html (as of 1/10/2004) and http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=380986 (as of April 8, 04 -- only part of the interview is displayed).
See also: Gilles d'Aymery, "Hearts, Minds, And The Military in Iraq," Swans, April 12, 2004. (back)
3. Amiri Baraka, "Somebody Blew Up America," September 2002 - http://www.amiribaraka.com/blew.html (as of 1/18/2004). (back)
Zionism's Bad Conscience, By Joel Kovel, Tikkun Sept/Oct 2002. (as of 4/18/2004)
Zionism in the Age of the Dictators: A Reappraisal, by Lenni Brenner, 1983 (as of 4/18/2004)
51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis, by Lenni Brenner, CounterPunch, December 23, 2002. (as of 1/18/2004)
Israel-Palestine on Swans
Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.
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