Sep 14, 2008

A short reply to the Anti-Imperialist and Three-Way-Fight Approaches to Antisemitism, in the Upping-the-Anti Journal Debate

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.

Rob Augman
January 2008


Matthew N Lyons said...

Rob Augman's reply to the debate between Michael Staudenmaier and Rami El-Amine is old news, having first appeared in January 2008. But his portrayal of Staudenmaier's article "Challenges to Capitalism, Challenges to the Left," and by extension "the" Three Way Fight perspective, is so distorted and fallacious that I feel compelled to respond.

Augman accuses Staudenmaier of "falling silent" when faced with charges of left antisemitism. In fact, Staudenmaier argues that "the disturbing history of anti-Semitism on the left stretches across generations, runs through competing trends, and taints to some extent almost all lineages of the left in this country." Staudenmaier directly addresses this reality, for example, when he writes that "the anti-globalization movement's fascination with 'global finance capital'" leads some activists to accept fascist-inspired attacks on Jews.

Augman claims that Staudenmaier treats antisemitism simply "as a kind of prejudice against Jews," missing its deeper reality as "a form of non-emancipatory oppositional politics." In fact, Staudenmaier emphasizes that antisemitism "exploits the relative privileges granted to Jews [and] makes them appear as monstrous deformations of ill-gotten power. This opens the door to anti-Semitic scapegoating, and plays neatly into some all-too-common forms of left analysis."

Augman claims that Staudenmaier foolishly treats antisemitism as "clearly separated from antizionism." In fact, Staudenmaier describes himself as one of those "who strive to be non-anti-Semitic anti-Zionists" [emphasis added]. The phrasing here is awkward, but the intent is clear: separating anti-Zionism from antisemitism takes work.

Augman claims that Staudenmaier misses "the social-historical specificities of antisemitism and anti-zionism." But there's nothing specific about Augman's sweeping reference to "the anti-zionist worldview" (as if Trotskyists, Satmarer Hasidim, and neo-nazis share the same outlook) or his claim that "anti-zionism has an antisemitic history" (as if it's all one tainted history). Not only does this guilt-by-association logic erase those, such as the Jewish Labor Bund, who have fought Zionism precisely because of their commitment to Jewish culture and Jewish lives. It also ignores the many ways that Zionists have promoted antisemitism, from Theodor Herzl's vilification of diaspora Jewish culture to the Israeli government's campaigns to block Soviet Jews from immigrating to the U.S., so that more of them would be forced to move to Israel.

For other Three Way Fight posts that address antisemitism, see "Critiquing Neocons and Scapegoating Jews" (May 2006), "Do Zionists Run America?" (June 2007), and
"Is left anti-Zionism anti-Jewish?"
(November 2007).

Anonymous said...

Dear Matthew,

I am disappointed to read your short reply to my letter as I was hoping you would find it an opportunity to engage more closely on the topics. Instead, your reply comes off as a very general defense of the three way fight without replying to the particular content of my letter.

For example, you wrote, that I "accuse Staudenmaier of 'falling silent' when faced with charges of left antisemitism." And then you go on to a general defense of Michael and the three way fight, citing examples in which you have written about antisemitism. But I did not make such a general claim and am not ignorant about your work on this topic.

If you reread my letter you will see that I was referring to a specific example in Michael's article. In it he cites 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.”

As I wrote in my letter, this is a claim. Michael could have disputed it, or disagreed about its meaning. But he didn't. Instead, he avoided Euston's empirical claim by portraying it as a conceptual one (of equivalence between antisemitism and antizionsm), and then avoiding the empirical claim altogether by claiming a conceptual difference between him and Euston. This is what I was saying about falling silent on the topic.

Next, you argue that I ignore Michael's conceptual understanding of antisemitism. But it's simply not true. What I was criticizing was the way in which his conceptual understanding gets left behind in the practice of analyzing antizionism. I wrote, the "approach departs from their own framework." That is, I was acknowledging your conceptual framework as being more sophisticated than the dictionary definition, but criticizing the way in which the critique is practiced (that is, the return to a dictionary definition in evaluating whether a particualr example of antizionism is antisemitic).

Next, you provide an example of how Michael acknowledges the relationship of antisemitism to antizionism by quoting him as saying that he "strives to be a non-anti-Semitic anti-Zionist." I don't doubt his intentions, but I think the example given above (from the Euston Manifesto) shows the opposite. It shows how an over-confidence with the distinction between the two can create a blindspot to the two phenomena's co-mingling.

You end your comments by saying that my treatment of antizionism is too sweeping, or too general. That I should be aware of the Jewish Labor Bund. But I referred specifically to them in my letter, when I spoke of the "mainly Jewish movement fight(ing) for emancipation in the European states" before the Holocaust. And I differentiated them from contemporary antizionism which is "mainly a non-Jewish movement seeking the destruction of the state" of Israel. This also means that the history of opposition to zionism was not "all one tainted (antisemitic) history." I never claimed that, so please stick more closely to what I said.

I would also find your accusation of zionists "promoting" antisemitism to be a stretch. There's long been an internal discussion amongst european jews regarding their situation of living in the diaspora, jews speaking of themselves living as "parasites" amongst the host population, whether in the pale of settlement or elsewhere, feeling completely as a foreign element in the body politic and in society, and useless as they'd been excluded from the economy, and compelled to live off handouts and precarious labor arrangements, and deal in second-hand goods because that was what was available to them. Does this internal discussion make these jews "promoters" of antisemitism? Additionally, it was not only zionists who complained of this situation. It was also staunch jewish assimilationists who wanted jews to have more rights in the european states which they lived.

Additionally, if Israel tries to steer jewish immigration towards Israel rather than towards the U.S., does that make the policy antisemitic? I am not sure how you got from one to the other. But I hope we can have a focused discussion of these topics, that will be illuminating.


Matthew N Lyons said...

Dear Rob,

Oh, please. Your letter to UTA referred repeatedly to one instance where Mike Staudenmaier did not address a claim of left antisemitism, ignored other instances where he clearly and specifically did address left antisemitism, and concluded with the sweeping claim that " least from what we see in his article, antisemitism remains unaddressed." That conclusion was disingenuous, and now you're making it worse by claiming that you were only referring to a specific example.

I don't have the time or patience to untangle all of the intricate arguments in your follow-up comment. I concede that I overlooked your implicit reference to the Bund. Otherwise I stand by what I wrote in my first comment.

On the long history of Zionists promoting antisemitism, see my piece "Why I Oppose Zionism." The fact that some non-Zionist Jews have also promoted anti-Jewish stereotypes is beside the point. To say that Israel has tried to "steer" Jewish immigration towards Israel is an interesting euphemism for a policy of seeking to forcibly restrict people's freedom of movement based on their identity as Jews (and, in the process, put them in far greater physical danger as Jews than they would be in the United States). As I've noted elsewhere, this policy found its most vivid result in 1991, when Dutch police used attack dogs to capture a group of Jewish asylum seekers and forcibly put them on a plane to Israel.


Anonymous said...

Hello all,

Sorry to be so late to chime in on this, especially since I seem to be the main focus of conversation here. I must say that I find Rob’s two contributions here (his letter to UTA and his reply to Matthew’s first comment) to be confusing, and characterized by what I can only describe as a sort of conceptual acrobatics. He draws a set of distinctions that I don’t completely understand, as for instance when he argues that 3WF’s “approach” is different from its “framework,” or when he contends that I critique the Euston Manifesto “conceptually” without responding directly to the empirical claim embedded in my brief quotation from the Manifesto. In these cases, among others, I’m unclear where Rob is headed, or what he would like to see from me or from 3WF.

Matthew has already done a pretty solid job of defending my original piece (which in several areas was certainly “awkward,” as he concedes), pointing to my analysis of antisemitism, and my specific critique of the anti-globalization movement’s flirtation with antisemitism. Here is the relevant section of my original piece, which strikes me as quite similar to Rob’s stated position on the questions of a) the nature of antisemitism, and b) the problem of left antisemitism in particular:

“Anti-Semitism has a history going back centuries, and one of its most dangerous qualities is precisely the way in which it exploits the relative privileges granted to Jews. In this country, for instance, most Jews benefit from white skin privilege. Anti-Semitism takes these privileges and reflects them in a sort of circus fun-house mirror that makes them appear to be monstrous deformations of ill-gotten power. This opens the door to anti-Semitic scapegoating, and plays neatly to some all-too-common forms of left analysis. For example, the anti-globalization movement’s fascination with “global financial capital” in the form of the IMF and World Bank facilitated repeated infiltrations of the movement by fascists who were upset about “the Jews” who were thought to run “the banks.” Too many anti-globalization activists accepted this logic and were ensnared by the latent anti-Semitism to which it appeals, in part because many leftists assume that there is some sort of zero-sum exchange between privilege and oppression. Anti-Semitism belies this simplistic approach, and demonstrates the need for a more dialectical understanding of how oppression works.”

Since Rob has asked repeatedly, I will formally respond to the empirical claim contained within my quote from the Euston Manifesto. Yes, it's clearly true that "supposed organizations of the left are willing to entertain openly anti-Semitic speakers and to form alliances with anti-Semitic groups," but I'm not sure that this is either a) a "development" in any meaningful sense historically, or b) clearly related to antizionism, whether in quotes or otherwise. Without much contextualization -- and there's not really any contextualization in the Manifesto or elsewhere on their website -- this strikes me as a sort of straw-man version of antizionism intended to disuade good-hearted people from challenging the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.

Beyond this, there is an issue that seems implicit in this discussion but hasn’t been approached directly yet: Rob seems to edge toward the “effective antisemitism” argument advanced by some against antizionism. That is, regardless of whether or how Matthew or I (or anyone else) declare and enact our opposition to antisemitism, our identification as antizionists “effectively” reinforces antisemitism at large, and within the left in particular, partly by giving cover to those whose antizionism is deliberately linked to antisemitism. Certainly the risks here are real, but to reflexively abandon antizionism on this basis is as problematic as discarding militant street tactics because they might increase state repression; in other words, there may be cause to do so, but not for these reasons. I don’t know if Rob holds the “effective antisemitism” position or not, but it was, in my estimation, successfully critiqued by Judith Butler a few years ago:

Interestingly, Rob’s letter to UTA does not include the most dead-on critique Rob leveled at my piece when it was first produced – that in using the Euston Manifesto as my exemplar of left concern for antisemitism I was improperly assuming that this set of issues was defined by liberalism. Having re-read my piece more times than I care to count, I have concluded that my formulation calling for “both antifascism and revolution” does indeed reflect an assumption that antifascism and a focus on antisemitism have a primarily liberal character. This was wrong, and I have come to have real respect for blogs like Bob from Brockley (or Contested Terrain, for that matter) that consistently approach issues around issues like fascism and antisemitism from a radical left perspective.

[Finally, I should comment on the context of this whole exchange: I like UTA, and I was happy they asked to republish my piece, but I am frustrated that they chose to make publication of Rob’s letter dependent upon further “clarification” of his political views. The letter is what it is, and UTA should have made a decision one way or the other based on the merits of the letter’s content.]


Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

I did not say that you "critique the Euston Manifesto 'conceptually' without responding
directly to the empirical claim." I said that (1) you don't respond to Euston's empirical
claim (of left antisemitism), (2) that your lack of response to them is based on your misrepresentation of their claim, and (3) your "conceptual acrobatics" demonstrates a common left antizionist dismissal of the concern with left antisemitism. That is, you justify your dismissal of them on their supposed "liberal" or "imperialist" politics. I think you're making too many baseless assumptions, and not caring to accurately portray the position you're supposedly arguing against.

But now you're acknowledging Euston's original claim that "supposed organizations of the left are willing to entertain openly anti-Semitic speakers and to form alliances with anti-Semitic groups." But you think that criticizing this is just "intended to disuade good-hearted people from challenging the existence of Israel as a Jewish state." So, criticizing left antisemitism is in itself a bad thing. Instead, we should be silent and let the "good-hearted people" work together with antisemites. Wonderful idea!

Many are looking to do so, such as some of those "peace activists" who met with Ahmadinejad last week in New York City.

The difference between the Three-Way Fight (3WF) approach and framework is that in the framework 3WF has a conceptual understanding of antisemitism that defies the dictionary definition of "prejudice against jews." You give an example of antisemites who see global financial institutions as some kind of jewish cabal. But when it comes to practice, I think the 3WF authors tend to revert back to the dictionary definition. Look, Rami Elamine wrote in his article that he has "never come across groups in the movement who talk about how 'the Jews' control the IMF and World Bank" And I haven't either. That's exactly the point. I never heard anyone "in the movement" say that Latino migrants are parasites. But it doesn't mean that racism against Latinos doesn't exist on the Left. It absolutely does. And the key is to develop sophisticated understandings of how it operates, and how we can combat it. But while many on the Left seek to develop sophisticated understandings of capitalism, the state, gender, racism, and ecology, the attempt to do so on the topic of antisemitism is seriously combatted. It is seen, as you said, as an attempt to undermine your efforts and those of other "good-hearted people." With such an approach, the 3WF retains the same approach to antisemitism as the "two way fighters" you're criticizing, that is, of intentionally "trivializing" it (as Rami Elamine writes in his reply to your essay).

I don't think that this is your or the 3WF's intentions, despite the fact that you basically just told me that it was.

Anonymous said...

Hey Rob,

I still find this stuff difficult, in part because you seem to float back and forth between general claims -- the attempt "to develop sophisticated understandings" "on the topic of antisemitism is seriously combatted" by 3WF because "it is seen ... as an attempt to undermine [our] efforts" (from your most recent comment) -- and denying that you have made general claims -- "I did not make such a general claim ... If you reread my letter you will see that I was referring to a specific example in Michael's article" (from your first comment on this thread).

It seems to me that you place special emphasis on this one example, and using it to draw general conclusions about my approach to those who criticize left antisemitism. I think this is unfair, for reasons that should by now be clear.

One detail should serve to illustrate the point: Despite the implication in the second paragraph of your most recent comment, I don't believe that all criticism of left antisemitism is aimed at discouraging antizionism. I do believe that the line I quoted from the Euston Manifesto, complete with scare-quotes around the word "antizionism" to subtly challenge either the sincerity, the authenticity, or the legitimacy of those who identify with the term, fails the smell test. It strikes me as spurious to suggest that left groups interacting with antisemites is somehow a new development (new since when? 9/11 or 1917?), but it does serve to highlight the supposedly unique dangers now present in the "antizionist" movement. To me, this all adds up to an argument from the right against left antizionism.

But I make this specific criticism in the context of a longer piece in which I specificially endorse a concern with left antisemitism, so it doesn't make any sense to me when you inflate this one example into a complex analysis of my failure to account for left antisemitism. (I'm further confused by your assertion that, like Rami, you've never encountered explicit antisemitism in "the movement." I certainly have, in a variety of movements (anti-globalization, anti-war, anti-imperialist, anti-fascist, etc.), and this experience was a large part of my inspiration to write the original piece.)

I still don't see how I (or others, including Matthew) intentionally trivialize the concern with left antisemitism, and its not at all clear to me what more I or we could do to convince you that we don't. In a way I feel like we're in a similar position to the one that UTA put you in, where there's some sort of litmus test we must pass before we are able to gain your approval on this topic. It's frustrating.


Anonymous said...

Dear Michael,

You asked whether I view antizionism as "effectively antisemitism"? I think the issue revolves around two things: (1) the content of the particular expression of antizionism, and (2) the social or political context in which it is espoused.

Sometimes antizionism is straight-up antisemitism. Such as conspiracy theories about zionist control of the media and U.S. foreign policy, whether they are circulated by self-conscious antisemites, or by politically confused or unaligned people, or by Leftists. While such conspiracy theories nowadays avoid explicitly blaming Jews, and alternatively speak about “Neocons” or “Zionists” (or in the Stalinist era, “Cosmopolitans”), the same thought pattern exists, blaming crucial social, political, or economic events on actors who, in the public mindset, are related to Jews.

I think we can talk about parallels here between the functioning of latent racism with that of latent antisemitism. So we can acknowledge forms of race-baiting that avoid direct references to particular groups of color, because we know what these discourses mean in the given social context.

Take for example the current accusations made by McCain and Palin that Obama “doesn’t see the world like us,” that he’s “un-American,” or the references to his middle name, “Hussein.” These are latent forms of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism, even if McCain or Palin don’t say it explicitly, and no matter what their intentions. Likewise, the characterization of zionists, of Israel, of AIPAC, or other groups associated with Jews as pulling the strings of history from behind the scenes, represent latent forms of antisemitism, even when they are expressed in antizionist language, and done so by people who don’t mean to be antisemites.

Additionally, it is not rare that some of these “good-hearted” antizionists you speak of rely on materials from the far-Right, or flirt with forms of Holocaust denial. These recurring examples don’t help your case that Left antizionism isn’t antisemitic. As a whole it might not be, but it certainly has a problem with antisemitism that needs to be addressed.

I think those “who strive to be non-anti-Semitic anti-Zionists” (as you wrote), have to grapple with the reactionary forces and ideas in their midst. I think the onus is on the “good” antizionists to effectively counter it. But there is very little of such efforts. Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic threats are rationalized as “critiques of zionism”; Hamas’ eliminationist attitude towards Israel is “understood” by Leftists as “resistance”; and “anti-war” activists proclaim solidarity with Hezbollah as they launch missiles indiscriminately onto Israeli population centers. In the absence of efforts to counter these real threats, and with regular defenses of them by the “good” antizionists, I think you're riding a dangerous populist wave which you have little control over. And that seems politically irresponsible considering how high the stakes are.

Anonymous said...

Zionism is properly defined as the advocacy of a Jewish national state in the Middle East.

An opposition to such a state is not automatically anti-semitic, assuming that one, as a communist, advocates a position of principled opposition to all states, all national movements, and all attempts to subsume the struggle to abolish the value-form and the state to struggles for "national liberation" and other bourgeois aims.

However, "Anti-Zionism", that is to say, exclusive opposition to *this particular national project and state*, is indeed anti-semitic, since Anti-Zionists are not principled opponents of all states and national collectives, but only one in particular.

Any confusion on this issue results either from a mistaken conception of what Zionism is (among many leftists, the mistaken notion that Zionism is merely a term to denote a particular virulent or expansionist form of Jewish national aspirations, rather than Jewish national aspirations as such), or from leftists who still subscribe to notions prevalent in the 1920s Comintern of dividing national collectives into "reactionary" and "progressive" peoples.

Anonymous said...

There are of course anti-Zionists _in Israel_. I mean ethnically Jewish ones.

Not to mention plenty of anti-Zionist Jews in the US.

No doubt they are all self-hating Jews. But not. Neither are likely to be quoting David Duke, for one thing.

First of all, certainly some anti-Zionists are in fact anarchists opposed to all states. But for those who are not, or for those who take particular issue with some states more than others, there is nothing contradictory or confused in being especially opposed to states defined as the property of one particular ethnicity, where anyone of another ethnicity is by definition a second-class citizen.

On the other hand, it's certainly true that anti-semetism exists too, and "latent" anti-semetism, if you will, exists in the left in the US. Sure.

But that doesn't mean that anti-zionism can be nothing but.

Of course it's ridiculous to suggest that a 'people' can be somehow inherently essentially 'reactionary' or 'revolutionary', and may 'deserve' national aspirations or not depending. Almost all communities and collective identities include elements with various politics and interests, with different politics taking priority within the community at different times, in response to various factors.

But, the fact that the zionist project as a posited revolutionary nationalism has -turned into- an ethnic supremacist state deeply aligned with global capitalism should make us wary of ethnic nationalisms in general (is there another kind of nationalism? Not sure), even when cloaked in revolutionary sentiment. I'm not sure if it's fair to say that any revolutionary nationalist project is inherenty flawed, but it's certainly fair to say that any such project has an inherent danger.

Anonymous said...


you write:

"There are of course anti-Zionists _in Israel_. I mean ethnically Jewish ones."

There are also plenty of blacks in the United States opposed to affirmative action, or conservative black Republicans. Why do you mistake that for an argument? Some essentialist notion of "authenticity"?

"First of all, certainly some anti-Zionists are in fact anarchists opposed to all states."

Then why the adjective "anti-Zionist"? Why not simply "Anti-national"? Do British anarchists refer to themselves as "anti-British?" Are Chinese anarchists "anti-Chinese"?

Opposition to Jewish nationalism seems to be the only kind with its own special adjective.

"there is nothing contradictory or confused in being especially opposed to states defined as the property of one particular ethnicity"

Every nation-state functions by mechanisms of exclusion and inclusion, because every nation-state only functions on the basis of who properly belongs to the national collective. This is no great mystery. When this is taken into account, than every single nation-state on earth is an "Apartheid state".

"But, the fact that the zionist project as a posited revolutionary nationalism has -turned into- an ethnic supremacist state deeply aligned with global capitalism"

Are there states somehow not "aligned" with capitalism? The state is a form of social mediation specific to capitalist societies, coterminous with the commodity form.

"I'm not sure if it's fair to say that any revolutionary nationalist project is inherenty flawed, but it's certainly fair to say that any such project has an inherent danger."

The "nation" as a concept is itself a fairly recent social form in history. Inasmuch as the "nation" as a concept that emerges in late-feudal Europe with the state and the commodity form of human labor-power, it is part and parcel of capitalist societies, not an anthropological constant of humanity. So to that extent, I would say, yes, any "revolutionary" nationalist project is inherently reactionary.