from, Contested Terrain
In the latest issue of Upping the Anti journal, two articles were published on the question, “How should Left groups relate to non-Left anti-Imperialist movements?”
The first article, “Challenges to Capitalism, Challenges for the Left: Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and the Three Way Fight,” Michael Staudenmaier introduces the “three way fight” analysis, as an attempt to go beyond the bi-polar worldview that the author finds both widespread on the Left and an unsatisfactory analytical framework. As a response, the journal published the article “Islam and the Left: A Reply to Staudenmaier” by Rami El-Amine of Left Turn magazine.
I submitted an article proposal to Upping the Anti in order to contribute to the discussion, but the editors turned it down on the grounds that they “didn’t want to continue the debate.” They suggested I submit my argument in the form of a letter. In consideration of the word limit, I focused the letter on analyzing the way El-Amine and Michael Staudenmaier discussed the topic of antisemitism in their articles.
After undergoing something like an examination at the House on Un-Left Activities, in which I failed to correctly answer whether or not I think “zionism is a completely legitimate political project,” (my answer was neither “yes” nor “no”) and being told that in my letter I “appear to engage in what can only be described as apologetics for the Israeli state,” they offered me an opportunity to redeem myself.
First reminding me that their journal is a forum for a variety of Left positions, but that they “draw the line at arguments that are not clearly interventions from the left,” they offered me a question which should “clarify” my position: How do I relate to “the anti-Germans”?
They are in fact considering running some material on antisemitism in future issues of the journal, they tell me, and are “in principle” open to me contributing, as long as they “can clarify my position.” I finally gave them the answer they were waiting for. No thanks.
For what it’s worth, I publish the rejected letter below. I would be interested in any feedback.
Dear Upping the Anti,
I’m writing in response to two articles published in your previous issue about the Three Way Fight (3WF). The questions raised by the debate are critically important and the discussion should continue. The main question I’m referring to is:
How should leftists address the fact that some of the most powerful opponents of U.S. or Western hegemony today are actors with non-emancipatory aims, some of which pursue extremely repressive politics?
An integral part of this complicated question has to do with the place and content of antisemitism within this diverse opposition.
Michael Staudenmaier’s “Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and the Three Way Fight” and Rami El-Amine’s “Islam and the Left: A Reply to Staudenmaier” articles clarify two approaches to these topics. In this letter, I’ll contribute to this discussion by focusing on the topic of antisemitism, particularly regarding its role in these conflicts, in order to contribute to the larger discussion.
Firstly, regarding El-Amine’s approach:
Commenting on antisemitism in the Middle East, El-Amine is swift in identifying its cause and in a split-second has solved this complicated riddle. He does it all in one sweep: “[Antisemitism] came to the Middle East with Zionism and it will abate when Zionism ceases to be an expansionist threat.”
The first problem with this statement is that it’s historically false. Antisemitism is millenia old in the Middle East, morphing into various forms: anti-Judaism, racial antisemitism, Holocaust denial, anti-Jewish persecution under the mantle of “anti-Zionism,” etc. Zionism, on the other hand, emerged as a Jewish national movement in large part as a response to antisemitism in the end of the 19th century, and came to the Middle East thereafter.
These are quite basic facts known to those interested in the history, but yet El-Amine falsifies it.
Not only does he falsify the history, his statement also rationalizes antisemitism by accepting its existence (at least “until Zionism ceases to be an expansionist threat”), therefore displacing this problem onto the mechanical forces of history. Considering the long and disastrous history of persecution against Jews, his approach is naïvely utopian and potentially disastrous.
Such a position should not be brushed aside as simply poor historical research or social theory. It serves a political function, which is to deflect assessments of antisemitism in the Middle East and to purify the history of anti-imperialism, and in this case, anti-Zionism.
The multiple and overlapping social conflicts in the Middle East can’t be resolved through the trivialization of antisemitism. The improvement of the situation of the Palestinians is intimately bound to the improvement of the situation of Israelis. By ignoring this interrelationship, the situation is only inflamed further. But this intensification seems evermore the intention of anti-zionists who project all social ills onto “Zionism,” and think that “solving the ‘Zionism problem’” will solve the Middle East conflicts. Those who hold such positions either know absolutely nothing about the history of antisemitism, or could simply care less. This is the direction of El-Amine’s statement, if not his intention.
I would hope that this kind of political irresponsibility would not only be found unacceptable but also would be opposed by Leftists who speak in the language of emancipation.
Regarding the Three-Way Fight’s approach, they’ve taken this basic observation - that some of the loudest “opposition” comes from non-emancipatory actors - as a foundational one, framing their political questions. While they’ve raised criticisms about gender and class politics, for example, in Hezbollah, their response to antisemitism has been less satisfactory. And this is peculiar, because antisemitism is itself a form of non-emancipatory oppositional politics. Their actual approach departs from their own framework, and treats antisemitism by the dictionary definition, as a kind of prejudice against Jews. But this approach fails to grasp not only how the phenomenon exists, but also why it exists and how to fight it. In effect, their approach tends to be a polarizing one, in which antisemitism is clearly separated from antizionism, and only superficially relates to it in the cases in which it does.
In Michael Staudenmaier’s article, the 3WF’s approach becomes clear. Replying to a concern about Left antisemitism, he quotes the Euston Manifesto, as saying: “‘Anti-Zionism’ has now developed to a point where supposed organizations of the Left are willing to entertain openly anti-Semitic speakers and to form alliances with anti-Semitic groups.”
The passage is clearly an empirical claim about the practice of anti-zionist movements. One may dispute the claim, or disagree about its meaning, but he ignores it.
He does so by differentiating himself from Euston conceptually. He writes: “It is unclear how much traction this approach has within the US left, although I have corresponded with a handful of anarchists who have either signed the Manifesto or hold positions substantially identical on this question.” [emphasis added]
Michael Staudenmaier sees Euston’s claim as an “approach” and a “position,” while it was simply an observation. He falls silent on the claim and pursues a justification for his silence. It is based on a supposed “conceptual” difference, but the effect is that his approach leaves him unable to address the particular example of Left antisemitism.
Referring to anti-zionism and antisemitism, he writes: “Those of us, whether Jewish or not, who strive to be non-anti-Semitic anti-Zionists have long recognized the importance of differentiating the two concepts.”
While Leftists are quick to reject the equation, “Anti-Zionism is Antisemitism”, it’s foolish or disingenuous to reply “Anti-Zionism is not Antisemitism.” The two are clearly related. The relation can be seen in both the “conceptual” similarities and in the social-historical realities.
The two phenomenon are neither divided by an impenetrable conceptual wall, nor can they be understand in simple dictionary definitions. Their social-historical realities show their interrelatedness. For example, in the anti-Zionist campaign in Communist Poland, a general attack on Jews purged them from their party positions, their jobs, and eventually from the country. In Arab countries following the establishment of Israel, thousands of Jews were expelled from their countries of residence under the mantra of anti-zionism. But anti-zionism has an antisemitic history predating the establishment of Israel as well, so that, for example, the German Communist party refracted the myths of Jewish power through an anti-imperialist politics, projecting it onto “Zionism” and contributing to the demonization of Jews in Germany leading up to the rise of the Nazis. Additionally, opposition to the Zionist ideal before the Holocaust is very different than the anti-zionism of today, the former being mainly a Jewish movement to fight for emancipation in the European states, the latter being mainly a non-Jewish movement seeking the destruction of the state founded by the generation of Holocaust survivors. Additionally, the anti-zionist worldview replicates in various aspects the antisemitic one, regarding perceptions of Jewish power and, projects similar “negative” qualities of global capitalism onto Zionism in similar ways as the antisemitic worldview projects these qualities onto Jews.
Michael Staudenmaier’s failure to address the example of Left antisemitism, which he cites in his own article, reveals the weakness of current approaches to the topic on the U.S. Left. Not only does he miss the social-historical specificities of antisemitism and anti-zionism, he fails to see the conceptual similarities in the two phenomenon. The effect of which is that, at least from what we see in his article, antisemitism remains unaddressed.
I hope for a continued debate about these contentious issues.