France and antisemitism: It’s the politics stupid!

The recent events in France betray the primacy of the political (and not religious) dimension in the way different communities, groups, and states have handled (and have been handled in) this affair.

One facet is Israel’s urge to profit from the situation and attract a few more Jews to the promised homeland to which France has answered through Holland’s “Holocaust day speech” that urges Jews to reconsider and reflect on the fact that they are, after all, French.

Now one wonder in this case how truly wonderful are the various ironies of the politics in the age of Nation-State: Jews who have been in France for centuries have no problem going to Israel and adopt a completely different “nationality” yet deterritorialized Muslims who came there for less than a century because of economic imperatives have no place to go.

And another interesting highlight of the speech is a change of emphasis over what antisemitism really means. Although I profoundly disagree with the way the word is used in 99% of cases in contemporary social and political affairs since the end of WWII, Holland did seem to acknowledge that representations of Jews do change over time and come to reflect the concerns of ones time, namely here the politics of Israel and the general politics unfolding in the Middle East. Unfortunately, he acknowledged it through the worst wording ever: “hatred of Israel” (as if the reverse means anything in the first place) and, “imports the conflicts of the Middle East” (conflicts that in large part is fueled by your politically moribund foreign policies Mr Holland). Nobody is importing, it is you (and your predecessors) who is exporting!

And come to think about it, “antisemitism” does not mean much today (except for a very few “white” nostalgics) as it refers to a particular political discourse that is part of a specific period of time that sees the consolidation of national projects in nineteenth century and beginning twentieth century Europe. Today hatred against Jews is mostly similar “politically” to any other form of group hatred, racism or forms of xenophobia that occurs in any heterogenous society.

In any case, to go back to Holland’s speech, I don’t know what others think, but this is a huge improvement: moving from an atemporal abstract concept of antisemitism to one that may have some political historically situated logic (again not that “antisemitic” to describe these acts is in any way a useful term), in official western state discourse. It took the French to start it, who would have known!

Thoughts on Western antisemitism and the treatment of minorities in the nation-state era

These are thoughts inspired from reading Talal Asad’s Formations of the Secular.

My main little intuition is that there is a peculiar difference between historical western perception of ‘the Jew’ before and after the creation of the state of Israel. A Jew with Israel around is somewhat less threatening than a Jew somewhere in Europe. The territorialization of Jewishness tames antisemitic feelings. First, it gives substance to the Jews, it normalizes them, second, Jews cease to be a perceived disruption in the Western nation-building cultural process. The Jew ceases to be this floating entity but become attached to specific empowered institutions (Israel) that gives it substance at the ideological level. The Jew then can be simultaneously ‘here and there’.

This need for the territorialization of different definitions of subjects (national, religious, ethnic, etc.) owes its genesis to state formation in the West that transported rigidities from religious-based institutional practices to state’s “rule of law”. The gentile becomes the secular citizen. But there are specific practices a ‘secular’ citizen engages in that do not tolerate the practices of other minorities. Secularization is a ‘way of life’, a social set of rules and regulations that reaches down to the management of individual bodies (of subjects). What the “Jew” experienced a century ago, a “Muslim” experience it today. The modern-state has a ‘minority problem’. But here I can let Asad speak.

Asad is very keen on showing that he does not fall in the idea that the secular is just another religion, but that the very definition of the religious that we rely on (the academia and other producer of knowledge that spread prevailing doxas, hegemonies, etc.) is political and serves to push for a particular discursive definition of what the secular is.

Why I Don’t Vote …

At the same time, we must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military assistance and continuing work on the Arrow and related missile defense programs.

So sayeth Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama at an AIPAC event a couple of days ago in Chicago. When asked, I will tell people that I was born both a Democrat and a Catholic, but that I regularly fail to meet any of the membership requirements of either institution. As the late great Billmon pointed out before he disappeared from cyberspace, the Democrats are in some ways much more dangerous when it comes to US policy in the Middle East. And thus while Obama will never match Hillary in his support for American and Israeli militarism, I cannot bring myself to support any of the Democratic candidates. I will give Obama credit, however, for directly mentioning the defense programs that drive the relationship.

It should be noted that despite recent conservative inroads, Jewish Americans vote overwhelming in favor of the Democrats as they generally prefer the Democratic position on a host of civil rights and social justice issues. It should also be noted that over 70 percent of Jewish Americans opposed the US war on Iraq.

But we are not talking about Jewish Americans. We are talking about AIPAC and those who butter their bread on the “unique” military relationship between Israel and the United States. One should also note that the vast majority of those who benefit from this relationship are not in fact Jewish and have no particular position on Israeli policies as long as the register keeps ringing.

Indeed, it is my sneaking position that many of these individuals and corporations actually find solace in attacks on the “Israel lobby,” as it works to deflect criticism of the real movers-and-shakers in this unholy alliance. This is the glaring hole in Walt and Mearsheimer’s analysis, as pointed out by no less than Noam Chomsky, and leaves such analysis open to charges of anti-Semitism. One can see this clearly in the trajectory of former AIPAC officials, many of whom move directly on to high-paying positions with various defense contractors and their lobbyists on K Street.

This is the cause and consequence of the US becoming Israel’s largest military supplier and if you need an object lesson in seeing how structure translates into superstructure, witness the dramatic shift in the 1970s and 1980s in magazines such as Dissent and Commentary, which had previously been the site of vigorous debate over the direction of Israeli policy (insert Woody Allen joke here).

As always, do as Obama does, follow the money.

Anti-Semitism …

It would have been far easier to dismiss the book if the author had been Christian. Then the dilemma could have quickly been solved by branding the scholar an anti-Semite. It’s also easy to dispense with radical Diaspora Jews who not only attack Israel’s policies but also sometimes challenge its very right to exist. They can simply be dubbed self-hating Jews. The matter becomes much more complicated when a Jewish scholar from a religious Jewish university touches on an issue that arouses primordial Jewish fears.

I always tell anyone who will listen that there are proportionally more anti-Semites in the US Senate than Hizbullah’s politburo and proportionally more anti-Semites in the United States than in the Middle East (however defined). Of course, there are obvious historical reasons for this (the Catholic and Orthodox churches being the historical engines of the historical phenomenon), but it is never discussed, just as you will never read about this story in an major American daily. This is the legacy of the US becoming Israel’s largest military supplier and explains the anti-Semitic antics of Abe Foxman and why Netanyahu chooses 1938 for his Hitler analogy (Roosevelt’s knowledge of the concentration camps being an unseemly story for those who benefit from the “special relationship” between the governments of the United States and Israel).

Thought Police …

An essay the committee features on its Web site,, titled “ ‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,” says a number of Jews, through their speaking and writing, are feeding a rise in virulent anti-Semitism by questioning whether Israel should even exist …
In an introduction to the essay, David A. Harris, the executive director of the committee, writes, “Perhaps the most surprising — and distressing — feature of this new trend is the very public participation of some Jews in the verbal onslaught against Zionism and the Jewish State.” Those who oppose Israel’s basic right to exist, he continues, “whether Jew or gentile, must be confronted.”

Best response comes from Michael Posluns, a political scientist at the University of Toronto.

“Sad and misbegotten missives of the sort below make me wonder if it is not the purpose of mainstream Jewish organizations to foster anti-Jewishness by calling down all who take from their Jewish experience and Jewish thought a different ethos and different ways of being as feeding anti-Semitism.”

Here is the AJC’s latest ad in the NYTimes, so it is unclear if the greatest threat to Jews worldwide are the Iranians or New York City playwrights … Stay tuned …