June 21, 2011

Antisemitism and "antisemitism"

Just a couple of things I noticed whilst browsing.

Antony Lerman has a piece on Yale's decision to replace the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) with a more in-house Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism (YPSA):
When the axing of YIISA was announced, after Yale’s faculty review committee concluded that its research and publications were not of sufficiently high quality, the Yale authorities indicated at the time that they would find some other means to continue serious research on antisemitism at the university. In the stampede to condemn Yale, its critics either ignored this message or dismissed it. Now that it looks certain that a new venture, headed by a Yale faculty member with excellent scholarly credentials, is to be set up, I wonder whether those who wildly accused Yale of all manner of nefarious reasons for closing YIISA will now withdraw their accusations and apologise? I’d advise Yale not to hold its breath.
Well, turning to Engage, we see that Antony Lerman was right to advise Yale not hold its breath.

Engage reports without comment the advent of the new programme and follows it with a piece from the Executive Director and founder of YIISA, Charles Asher Small. There is no link provided but it seems to have first been published on the Israel advocacy site of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.
"Recently, Yale University officials informed us of their precipitous decision to close YIISA, The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism.
It became evident that YIISA and Yale University have different visions and approaches to the study of antisemitism. YIISA, like Yale, believes in the necessity to publish in top tier journals. YIISA scholars, its graduate and post-doctorate research fellows, esteemed senior visiting professors, and scholars associated with YIISA have done so at a high caliber and with success.
I don't know why they centre their writing. Maybe it looks more dramatic.

But, whilst acknowledging the establishment of the new programme, Small's piece doesn't resemble an apology and misrepresents the reason for the termination of the discredited YIISA. It was academically below par but Small won't hear of this.
YIISA, however, is committed to critical engaged scholarship with a broader approach to the complex, and at times controversial context of contemporary global antisemitism.
It is this mission that my colleagues at YIISA so eloquently and with a sense of integrity engaged. This was reflected, for example, in the conference, “Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity”. Held in August 2010 it was the largest academic conference on the study of antisemitism ever. 
Now let's quickly turn to Antony Lerman's announcement of the closing of YIISA:
YIISA’s approach was fully exposed when it announced its first major conference, ‘Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity’, to take place in August 2010. A huge, 3-day jamboree, with 4 breakout sessions twice-a-day and 3 or 4 keynote lectures/plenary events each day, the conference was attended by many genuine scholars of antisemitism presenting bona fide academic papers, but a full panoply of participants attesting to the ‘new antisemitism’ agenda of YIISA was present. In May Small had already confirmed that ‘The largest number of papers, and therefore reflecting the greatest concern, address contemporary antisemitism and the demonization of Israel and those associated or made to be associated with Israel.’ There was a whole session devoted to the bogus concept of Jewish self-hatred, a keynote lecture by Itamar Marcus, a leader of the settler movement on the West Bank, titled ‘The central role of Palestinian antisemitism in creating the Palestinian identity’ and the conference opened with a speech by the Director for Combating Antisemitism at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The demonization of left-liberal Jewish critics of Israel and of Palestinians, the promotion of a Zionist-centric approach to antisemitism, the distortion and exaggeration  of Arab and Palestinian sympathy for antisemitism, the presence of presenters from NGO Monitor, Palestinian Media Watch and MEMRI – all of these elements of the ‘culture’ of the programme fundamentally undermined YIISA’s claim to academic respectability.
Sometime in between the closure of YIISA and the announcement of YPSA, Engage's Dr Hirsh had an article in the Jewish Chronicle, that seemed to suggest that the closure of YIISA was an example of "a menacing zeitgeist", ie, antisemitism, even in America. Here is the conclusion:

There were things wrong with YIISA but they should have been put right rather than mobilised as reasons to close it down. An interest in contemporary antisemitism is increasingly regarded as an indicator of vulgarity, dishonesty and selfish Jewish nationalism. Yale should have resisted this menacing anti-intellectual zeitgeist, not lent its own reputation to it.
Sometimes Americans have thought of the "new antisemitism" as an overseas phenomenon of degenerate Europe. Some American Jews, who had felt safe from antisemitism, will now be hurting.
But for some reason, the JC didn't publish his whole article. Here's the piece on Engage:
[This following passage was cut by the JC - DH]  Robert Fine, Moishe Postone, Brian Cheyette, Lars Rensmann, David Seymour, Annette Seidel-Arpaci, Michael Waltzer, Catherine Chatterley, David Feldman and Martha Nussbaum all went to YIISA, radical antiracist scholars, who understand that critical theory was forged in the crucible of the struggle against antisemitism.  Dovid Katz, expert in the antisemitism which is portraying Holocaust perpetrators as anticommunist partisans; Deborah Lipstadt and Anthony Julius, scholars first, and heroes of the struggle against Holocaust denial; Jeffrey Herf, Esther Webman and Matthias Kuntzel who unearthed the evidence connecting Nazism to Islamism; Nora Gold and Phyllis Chesler who experienced and analyzed the back-stab of antisemitism in the feminist movement; the heavyweights of German anti-antisemitism; experts in Muslim, Islamist and Iranian antisemitism; veterans of Durban; the chroniclers of today’s British antisemitism, Shalom Lappin, Paul Iganski, David Cesarani, Michael Keith, Barry Kosmin and Mike Whine.
Just google at random some of those names. One or two, maybe more, might be genuine scholars of antisemitism but I wonder why the JC left out that piece of the article, even on-line. And I notice Hirsh doesn't mention Itamar Marcus, a leader of the settler movement on the West Bank, in his list of great scholarly heroes or his "keynote lecture....titled ‘The central role of Palestinian antisemitism in creating the Palestinian identity’".

But anyway, there is more on "antisemitism" as distinct from, even opposed to antisemitism. Engage has a resignation letter from a zionist philosophy professor from Birkbeck called David-Hillel Ruben to the Universities and Colleges Union:
As a life long socialist and a member of the AUT/UCU for almost 42 years, I could not have imagined that anything could have made me resign from the union. I have grown accustomed to the UCU’s annual adoption of illegal Israel boycott motions. But my imagination was obviously limited: the official UCU rejection of the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) working definition of anti-Semitism has accomplished just that. It has brought about my resignation from the union.
One part of that working definition rejected by the union stands out: it is anti-Semitic to ‘deny the right of the Jewish people to self-determination’, within some borders, unspecified as what they might be. It is hard for me to comprehend how anyone could consider this relatively anodyne claim as unacceptable, let alone reject it as a current form of anti-Semitism, which it most certainly is.
This represents a slipping of the mask. Advocates of the EUMC working definition of antisemitism have long argued that all the fears of the working definition's opponents have been groundless by reference to a little preamble to the section aimed at protecting Israel from criticism and condemnation. Let's see the that bit again:
Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:
• Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, for example by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.

• Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

• Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (for example claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis.

• Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

• Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

The EUMC Definition goes on to state that criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.
Israel advocates, and only Israel advocate, argue that this is simply a good faith way of establishing that if you say any of those things in a certain environment or discussion then, the could and context caveats would suggest that a given statement was not antisemitic whereas in another context the same thing would be antisemitic. So in what context could it not be considered antisemitic to hold Jews collectively responsible for the actions of a colonial settler state based on ethnic cleansing, segregationist laws and relentless violence? I can't think of any. I understand that it could well be construed as antisemitic to make the perfectly reasonable statement that the State of Israel simply has no right to exist or that Jews are simply not a legitimate case for self-determination but to make such statements directed at Jews because that would be holding all Jews collectively responsible for the establishing and maintaining of the State of Israel and, presumably all of the aforementioned behaviours required to establish and maintain said state. But I'm suspicious of whoever proposed and whoever supports this bogus definition. I want to know when or where they accept that it is not antisemitic to advocate the abolition of Jewish statehood.

Which brings me back to David-Hillel Ruben's letter, posted on Engage without criticism:

As a life long socialist and a member of the AUT/UCU for almost 42 years, I could not have imagined that anything could have made me resign from the union. I have grown accustomed to the UCU’s annual adoption of illegal Israel boycott motions. But my imagination was obviously limited: the official UCU rejection of the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) working definition of anti-Semitism has accomplished just that. It has brought about my resignation from the union.
One part of that working definition rejected by the union stands out: it is anti-Semitic to ‘deny the right of the Jewish people to self-determination’, within some borders, unspecified as what they might be. It is hard for me to comprehend how anyone could consider this relatively anodyne claim as unacceptable, let alone reject it as a current form of anti-Semitism, which it most certainly is.
I know some people play all sorts of games with the concept of self-determination but the working definition makes it clear that "claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour" is an example of "denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination". And Professor Ruben cannot "comprehend how anyone could consider this relatively anodyne claim as unacceptable". Because it involves ethnic cleansing, stupid!

But this isn't about the stupidness of a professor, it is about the way antisemitism is being redefined not to protect Jews from racism but to protect a form of racism, zionism. The professor and Dr Hirsh have blown the gaff here. The assertion of a specifically Jewish right to self-determination is a red line that, among other things, the working definition insists must not be crossed. This line in the list exposes the caveats of "could" and "context" as the sham that they are and should arouse suspicions in any fair minded people being called upon to adopt the working definition as part of any anti-racist policy.

The Engage post goes on to highlight the refusal of the UCU to investigate "why people were resigning from the union citing antisemitism as a reason". But what's to investigate if they have made their reasoning clear, even if their reasoning is extremely unreasonable? There are or were people in the UCU who don't want solidarity with the Palestinians and don't want Israel criticised. They also want a working definition of antisemitism that is clearly aimed at stifling criticism of Israel to be adopted as policy by the union and possibly as law by states. Again I ask, what's to investigate?

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