Thursday, April 14, 2016

On Anti-Palestinianism and Anti-Semitism

By “anti-Palestinianism” I understand prejudice against Palestinian Arabs based on perceived negative qualities of Palestinian cultural or natural identity. Views such as “Palestinian Arab culture is a culture of death and martyrdom,” “Palestinian Arabs hate Jews because of incitement,” “Palestinian Arab labor is inferior” are examples of this prejudice. Attempts to justify these prejudices are inevitably based on selective data, generalization, and bias.

By “anti-Semitism,” I understand prejudice against Jews based on perceived negative qualities of Jewish cultural, natural, or religious identity. Opinions such as, “Jews love only money,” “There is a worldwide Jewish conspiracy against gentiles,” “Jews are loud, noisy, and uncouth,” etc. are examples of this prejudice. Attempts to justify these prejudices are also inevitably based on selective data, generalization, and bias.

What I would like to discuss here is how the current vogue of identifying anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is anti-Palestinianist, i.e., the product of bigotry towards Palestinians. I won’t bother to “disprove” the identification itself, any more than I would bother to “disprove” anti-Semitic claims. I applaud those who have the stomach for such “disproofs”; I don’t.

“Anti-Palestinianism” and “anti-Semitism” should be examined in light of the broader phenomenon of group prejudice. Regrettably, they often are not. Anti-Semitism is considered a serious moral failing in Western society today, whereas anti-Palestinianism is not even recognized as a phenomenon to be studied. The reason for this has a lot to do with the prominence accorded to anti-Semitism in Western consciousness for well-known historical reasons. The founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, saw a nation-state of the Jews to be the solution to anti-Semitism. The Holocaust reinforced that view for many.

The so-called “New Anti-Semitism” was born of the increasing identification, shared by some Zionists and anti-Semites, of Israelism and Judaism. Although Zionism as a movement of national revival had many different aspects (some Zionists actively opposed the creation of a Jewish ethnic-exclusivist state), the particular form that Zionism took in the newly created laws and institutions of the state of Israel became identified with Zionism tout court. For Zionists like David Ben-Gurion, to be a complete Jew was to be a Zionist, and to be a complete Zionist was to be a citizen of the State of Israel, where “statism” (mamlakhtiyyut) was a supreme value. His view was resisted by many other Jews, Zionists, non-Zionists, and anti-Zionists, even after the creation of the state in 1948 (although a version of it  has been embraced by latter-day Zionist ideologues like the writer, A. B. Yehoshua). But after Israel’s capture in 1967 of territories of historical significance for Jews, the growing acceptance of ethnic diversity in western societies, and the increasing prominence according to the Holocaust in popular culture, Israel became an important component in the identity for many Jews.

Especially for the generation of 1967, to oppose Zionism was in effect to oppose the self-determination of the Jewish people, which was to imply that Jews as a people have less rights to self-determination than other peoples. This purported “singling out” of the Jews was seen by some to motivated by, or identical with, anti-Semitism. And because anti-Semitism, like racism, had become a term of moral opprobrium in modern society, “anti-Semite” was applied to those who wished replace the State of Israel with another political system, for whatever motivation, even if they thought it better for the Jews.

Today, if one rejects the claims of Jews to a state of their own in Palestine, i.e., if one rejects statist Zionism, one is considered by these people to be at best an unwitting or inadvertent anti-Semite. The same is true if one wishes to replace the Zionist state with a state that is predominantly a civic one – Muslim, Christian, and Jewish. The same is true if one thinks that founding the State of Israel in the way it was founded was bad for Jews and for Arabs.

It also follows that if one is a Palestinian and shares any of the aforementioned beliefs, one is, at best, an unwitting anti-Semite. And that conclusion is anti-Palestinianist because it says that Palestinians can have no other motive for opposing a Jewish state than implacable hatred of the Jews. And if that conclusion seems too bizarre even for those who are wont to find “anti-Semites” everywhere, it is less so when applied to Palestinian sympathizers. “After all ,why should a British Labourite be sympathetic to anti-Zionism if she is not herself related to a Palestinian – unless that sympathy is, perhaps, unconsciously, tinged by anti-Semitism.” But aside from trivializing anti-Semitism, that conclusion is also anti-Palestinianist – because it implies that the Palestinians have little justified claim to sympathy, either because their suffering has not been so great, or, worse, they have brought it upon themselves. And because the accusation of “anti-Semitism” carries with it a particular tone of moral opprobrium following the Holocaust, the accusation is hurtful in ways that “anti-Zionism” or “anti-Israelism” are not. (Cf. the use of the term “apartheid” rather than “separation” or “segregation” as a term of moral opprobrium.)

My claim that the identification of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is itself an anti-Palestinianist canard does not exclude the possibility that there will be anti-Zionists who are anti-Semites, or who, more likely, use anti-Semitic tropes. Negative stereotypes of Jews have been found among some anti-Zionists, and they should and have been condemned. Ditto for the employment of anti-Semitic stereotypes and tropes by some Zionists. Internalizing the negative images of Jews of the anti-Semites, some Zionists “negated the diaspora” and looked forward to a new, “muscular” Jew who would replace the weak, effeminate, cunning Jew of the diaspora -- when the Jews have their own state. Zionist-motivated anti-Semitism is alive and well every time a diaspora Jew is criticized for “kowtowing to the goyim,” or called a “Jewboy” (yehudon, in Hebrew) by a rightwing Israeli politician.

To talk of “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism” without mentioning anti-Semitic tropes within Zionism is, once again, to employ the emotive power of the “anti-Semitism” accusation to delegitimize critics of the Jewish state. The speaker may avoid identifying anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, but the implied guilt by association, though a lesser form of bigotry, is bigotry, nonetheless. And when one singles out anti-Semitism for moral opprobrium without even acknowledging anti-Palestinianism, one loses the moral high ground and simply parrots partisan polemic.

All bigotry should be condemned, whether the target group is powerful or weak. But there should be special concern for the consequences of bigotry aimed at the weak, since those consequences will be more dire. Anti-Semitism can never be justified, and it should be called out when found. And the pro-Palestinian movement has done that. But insufficient sensitivity to anti-Palestinianism is, under present circumstances, a greater sin for those who care about the real consequences of bias and bigotry.

To be sure, those who care for the well-being and equal rights of the people living in Israel/Palestine will not agree on how to achieve those rights. One can oppose many forms of political resolutions without being bigoted, and one can oppose tactics as inappropriate or counter-productive without bias or prejudice. Particular tacics endorsed by  the Palestinian National Boycott committee have been criticized. But this opposition should be based on argument,  not on bigoted insensitivity, especially when directed against the weak and vulnerable. Boycott, divestment, and sanctions are generally legitimate tactics, the wisdom of which can be debated. But delegitimizing or demonizing, much less criminalizing, the BDS movement is, in most cases, the product of anti-Palestinianist bias and should be rejected by decent people on all sides.


Donald said...

I figured this out a few years ago? It's one of those things that is obvious if you can manage to step outside the framework where the only form of bigotry one needs to worry about on this issue is anti-semitism. Anti- semitism exists, of course, but racism against Palestinians is so deeply entrenched in discussions on this subject I don't think people are aware of the problem. And yes, I even noticed the unconscious racism that says antiZionism is automatically grounds for suspicion, because why would anyone think Palestinians have the basic right to live in their own homeland?

And so what one sees are people, usually moderately liberal Zionists, earnestly discussing just where to draw the line on when people are guilty of antisemitism. It never enters their heads to wonder if they might be using racist logic to decide who is guilty.

Donald said...

Btw, there is something tongue twisting about anti- Palestinianist. It is accurate, but it'd be nice to come up with something easier to say.

Unknown said...

Jerry, don't where else to leave this question, so here goes: Have you written about Joan Peters' work anywhere on your site? And, if so, could you direct me to it?

CD-Host said...

My general rule about bigotry is simple. Accusation against Zionism from the list of Antisemetic accusations are Antisemetic, accusations against Zionism that aren't from that list are not. I'll use your examples. When one talks about Zionism manipulating world powers with shadowy means that's Antisemitism. When one talks about Zionism producing an overly macho culture focusing on homoeroticism that's pure Anti-Zionism because Jews weren't traditionally accused of that. If someone hates Israelis / Zionists because they eat too much watermelon and are lazy that's not Antisemitism. If someone hates Israelis / Zionists because Israel challenges independent thinking and tricks Christian youth into evil that is.

There are people who think Barbados should be part of a broader West Indies Federation, there are people who think it should still be part of the UK, and there are people who think it should be independent like it is. The issues here are more complex than they are with Israel. Yet there are 0 protestors in Europe and America about this issue. There is no BDS movement. Rather the world accepts that the status of Barbados should be determined by the people of Barbados and leaves them to decide on the best course of action. The people of Barbados would welcome input from the British Labor party yet the Labor party is mostly indifferent. The people of Israel have almost no connection to the British Labor party and don't want their input yet the Labor party feels a need to get involved. Of course that demands an explanation. The Israeli / Palestinian conflict is for most people a stupid tribal conflict involving people they have nothing to do with over a small piece of land. It deserves the same level of attention as other tribal conflicts involving people that no one has any involvement with. Total ignorance or indifference is the natural state. There is nothing anti-Palestian in treating Palestinians the same way most multi-state ethnic minorities in most countries are treated. Believing that what the Jews do is of universal importance is Antisemitism.

First of all contrary to BDS propaganda boycotting is a regulated activity in the USA and in most European countries. It is not an activity that organizations are large groups of people are free to carry out however they want against whomever they want. Liberals in particular in the USA were instrumental in banning the boycotts by the White Citizens Councils even though they too were defended on free speech grounds. There is little difference between being opposed to the operation of black businesses and opposition to the operation of Jewish/Israeli businesses. And before you talk about politics vs. racism, southern racists were happy to attack blacks for being scalawags one could make an intellectually defensible case for Jim Crow on purely political grounds. That doesn't change the fact that southern anti-black activism was seen as racism and not a passionate federalism especially by people with the same beliefs as those who are anti-Israeli.

The objection that people like me have with the BDS movement is not particular tactics though those are often quite obnoxious. It is the total refusal of BDSers to just treat Israel like you would any other country. It is the complete insanity and disproportionality of the BDS demands. Japan is one of the most racist countries on the planet. No one suggests replacing the population of Japan with Chinese or Koreans as a way to handle that racism. No one suggests a total boycott of Japan until Koreans living in Japan have full social equality (and they are far more discriminated against than Israeli Arabs). No one suggests disbanding Japan and merging it in with China. No one suggests that because there is a little Tokyo in LA that the Japanese aren't really a people and a nation....

Unknown said...

Calling Palestinians Jew haters is, indeed, bigoted and anti-Palestinian, in particular. I agree and wish more folks got this. But the equation of anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism doesn't commit this particular form of bigotry, precisely because it takes the Jew-hating out of anti-Semitism, instead reducing it to a political stance.

It's sort of a dilemma: if 'anti-Semite' means Jew hater, then it's a bigoted epithet but is not automatically applied to Palestinians; if, on the other hand, it means (or could mean) anti-Zionist then it IS automatically applied to Palestinians but is NOT a bigoted epithet.

Unknown said...

Mr. Haber,

This argument is sheer nonsense. BDS and radical anti-Zionists believe that only one people should be stripped of its right to self-determination: the Jews. Anyone saying that Spain which was built on the ethnic cleansing of the Arabs and the Jews has the right to exist, but not Israel, discriminates against the Jews. Being anti-Zionist is not anti-Semitic. George Steiner is anti-Zionist and there is nothing wrong with this. However, wanting to destroy Israel is definitely discriminatory. It might not be wittingly anti-Semitic but it smells very bad...