February 20, 2015

Defining, Redefining and Unredefining Antisemitism

Here's a good little post on the Jewdas website titled Keeping Antisemitism Simple.  The intro does "what it says on the tin" and simply defines antisemitism as anti-Jewish racism:
It’s all getting very complicated. The definition of anti-semitism has become an fine art, presided over by professors of antisemitism and fought over across the internet.
It shouldn’t be like this. The more complex the debate becomes the more people disengage from it, leaving antisemitism in the hands of neo-Nazis (who celebrate it) and extreme supporters of the Israeli government (who see antisemitism in all serious criticism of Israel). Instead we should keep it simple. Antisemitism is racism. It’s just a word for anti-jewish racism, hatred of Jews because they are Jews, equivalent to hating people because the are black, asian, Irish or whatever. (And don’t tell me Jews are a religion. There is a major ethnic component to Jewishness, so that many people define as Jewish purely because of their family background. So Jews can certainly be victims of racism).

So, back to basics, how to you avoid being racist? It’s easy. You treat people as individuals. If you meet a new person you don’t assume you know anything about them from a group that they may be connected to. When they do something, be it good or bad in your eyes, you don’t connect those actions with any group – the actions are purely the responsibility of the individual in question. You don’t generalise about groups of people – you allow individuals to define themselves in their own terms. Even if you’ve met more than one person from a ‘group’ that have a certain trait – don’t assume that the next person you meet from that group will be just the same.

Its usually the negative generalisation ones we tend to call racism: when a group is generalised as being mean, stupid, corrupt, evil, dominating, pathetic etc. But although people tend to worry less about positive generalisations (‘Italians are great lovers’ ) these are no less stupid and can easily hide a negative element inside a supposedly positive one (c.f. ‘Black people have such wonderful rhythm’). The surefire way to avoid racism is to cut out generalisations full stop. And the fact that people sometimes make generalisations about their own ‘group’? That’s stupid too, but they have a right to do it as a member of that group in a way that an outsider simply doesn’t. At this juncture we should clarify that of course any act that goes beyond generalisations to actually stirring up hatred against, discriminating against or committing violent acts against members of an ethnic group is utterly racist.

As antisemitism is simply racism, you avoid antisemitism in just the same way. If you hear about somebody Jewish who did something, good or bad, you draw conclusions only about that individual – not about any other Jewish people. That applies whether that person is a drunk guy on the street, an executive at a bank or the Prime Minister of Israel. People are only responsible for their own deeds. And if a person, group, or state, claims to speak for all Jews, take that with a massive dose of salt. Stick to your guns and don’t generalise. And obviously, do not, in a million years, discriminate against people because they are Jews or commit violence against them for the same reason. I hope that goes without saying.
 I first noticed the post being touted in a comment on the Israel advocacy site, Engage:
Eric Says:

Its odd and harmful that the definition of anti-semitism is controversial. If anti-semitism requires a phd to recognise and reems of “unpacked” examples then we might as well give up any hope of anyone paying attention to these definitions. Listing examples of anti-semitism is not the right way to go, just elaborate the general principles involved. Over at Jewdas they have nailed it nicely.
  Eric was a late comer to the post and so there was only one response and that was from a zionist retired (I think) academic called, Brian Goldfarb.  He seems to have read the Jewdas piece but feels it falls down by not being sufficiently racist against Palestinian Arabs regarding their fault for their own victimisation and their apparently inherent murderousness:
the Palestinian “right of return” ignores the history of how the Palestinian “diaspora” came about…and what of the greater number of Jews from Arab lands even more obviously forcefully dispossessed and expelled (and, yes, Eric, I will expand on this and the other points below, if you so wish)? Calling for Israel/Palestine to become a single. binational state glosses over all sorts of consequences, not the least of which is the likely further diaspora of up to 6 million Jews, or worse.
And here's the rub with the redefinition of antisemitism as opposition to Jewish supremacy.  If we accept, as Goldfarb advocates, that the abolition of Jewish supremacy in Palestine is antisemitic then we are saying that antisemitism is not a form of racism.  We are also saying that in order to avoid being antisemitic we have to be or at least to accept anti-Arab racism.  It's remarkable how many academics fail or refuse to see this.

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