Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Star and the Crescent: how a report on antisemitism produced antisemitism.

This report is a work of malicious, calculated antisemitism. Purporting to be an expose of contemporary antisemitism, it: a) perpetuates myths about the "Jewish people", holding them collectively responsible for the crimes of Zionism; b) perpetuates myths about those other semites, the Arabs and Muslims. For instance, very early on (page six) it insists that to consider Israel a racist endeavour is to impugn the "Jewish people". To support the Palestinian struggle against Zionism as such, then, one has to be an antisemite. The is precisely the argument of 'pro-Palestinian' racists like Israel Shamir. Cruelly, the report announces its intention by showing that holding the "Jewish people" responsible for Israel is antisemitism. It even ominously describes in some considerable detail the horrible consequences of doing what it does. And the report goes on, with breathtaking haste, to efface the distinction between Zionism and Jews, often incoherently (the incoherence results from the attempt to disavow what it is doing) but consistently. One the one hand "criticism of Zionism is not in itself antisemitic" (page 17), except when it is (page six, and again on page 17). It insists that the only definition of Zionism that is acceptable is that which the Zionists themselves insist upon: "a movement of Jewish national liberation, born in the late nineteenth century, with a geographical focus limited to Israel." (Page 17). There's a word missing there, and it begins with 'P': but casually effacing the rights - nay, the existence - of those other semites is presumably a highly satisfactory way for antisemites to proceed. With a single sentence, Palestine and the Palestinians are eliminated. Would the good MPs like to wipe anyone else off the map?

On page 19, they get round to conspiracy theories - specifically by accusing Middle Eastern states (only the Muslim ones) of conspiring against the Jews, repeating a well-worn falsehood about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Many Middle Eastern states have indeed a terrible record of antisemitism, but note that the report makes no mention of Israel's antisemitic activities, though it happens also to be a Middle Eastern state: its collusion with Nuri as-Said's antisemitic terror in Iraq is well-documented. Its official racism toward those other semites has been so well studied elsewhere that it would be pedantic to go through it all. The great domestic racism toward Mizrahi Jews is never mentioned. Israel's revolting insistence that it commits its crimes on behalf of the Jews is not discussed. The report goes on to cite 'evidence' from well known racists like Melanie Phillips, who suggested that antisemitic Danish 'cartoons' were a "protest" against "fascism", and the proprietors of MEMRI.

Predictably enough, there is red-baiting in the report. Indeed, antisemitism is a classic form of anti-socialism. One is tempted to say that it is the anti-socialism of fools, but those who externalise the antagonisms within a capitalist society onto some allegedly destabilising group like Jews and Muslims are rather too cunning and dangerous to be dismissed in that way. It was Winston Churchill who loved the Zionists for opposing what he called the 'International Jew', who stood for the Bolsheviks and the anarchists and internationalism in politics. Indeed, the appeal of the Zionists for him was that they would drain the revolutionary parties - exactly what Herzl promised the kaiser in 1898, having already urged him not to display public philosemitism or he would get "such an influx of Jews that it would be highly calamitous". Indeed, if Churchill could have read The Jewish State, he would have loved the way that it pandered to antisemitic stereotypes. At any rate, the connection now insidiously asserted is between Muslims and socialism. The International Muslim is the flak-catcher for the antiwar movement here. Respect "supporters" are accused of antisemitism (Page 34), and it is sufficient for the claim to be made - no source is offered, but we know which "supporters" are being hinted at. And what is more, they and their left-wing friends have taken control of the media - or so Shalom Lappin hallucinates: "Israel has increasingly come to be construed as the purest embodiment of imperialism, racism and oppression whose sole national purpose is to dispossess the Palestinians.” (Page 35) If you've seen that on the BBC, do let the panel's members know. The report's methods are typical of conspiratorial racist propaganda: based on a few disparate, arguable examples we are led to infer that the the International Muslim and his band of useful idiots (dhimmis is the preferred term of Islamophobes) has taken over the mass media.

The report also seems to go to some effort to even undermine the critique of antisemitism. Aside from the obvious attempt to disarm anti-racists on the question of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism, the understanding of antisemitism is pathetically weak. Hannah Arendt warned in the 1940s that the mistake of political Zionism was to see antisemitism as part of an eternal problem rather than a political problem embedded in modernity. This illusion prevented it from being challenged efficaciously on political grounds. In the report, we read that antisemitism is a "constantly mutating virus", which has "evolved" over the "centuries": a highly reductionist gesture (page four). Antisemitism is something that merely is always-already present, merely evolves in diferent ways.

This report purports to tell one about the state of race relations and the forms of antisemitism that exist in the UK today. In its own very strange and unwitting fashion, it does.

Meanwhile, these antisemites openly profess that Jews are cosubstantial with Israel and are therefore impugned every time Israel is impugned. A sad, but logical corrolary of their vicious hostility to those other mentioned semites. Indeed, they go so far as to maliciously impute their own antisemitic racism into the statement of a Muslim, Abdurrahman Jafar, who has opposed not only Israel but also a man who learned much from the Zionists, one Slobodan Milosevic. Antisemitism and Islamophobia are connected at the hip. This is not new. The philological divide between the Semitic and European languages resulted from the conceited divide between the good (long forgotten) Orient of Indo-European civilisation and the bad (present) Orient of Semitic civilisation - both Orientalism and antisemitism can often be found in the same texts, deploy the same strategies of domination, and serve the same interest of defining Europe as superior to its Other. Israel is temporarily allowed white man status, since it functions as European colonial proxy, and so these antisemites support it. But they have their get-out clause ready for when they need it: "Blame the Jews," they will say, "it is the Jewish state! We had nothing to do with it." Imperialists have always required an Other to lord it over, but they have also found it quite handy to have a scapegoat - so how convenient for this report to blame Israel on the "Jewish people", and how ingenuous to assert this as if it was really intended as a defense of the rights of those people, and a rebuke to antisemitism.