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Antisemitism and the boycott

(This is a guest post by Dave Rich)

The relationship between the academic boycott campaign and antisemitism is a complicated one. Antisemitism plays a role more in terms of the impact of the campaign than intent or motivation. This is most obvious in the impact on Jewish and Israeli academics, as recognised in the legal advice given to UCU. The relationship has been explored at great length and insight by David Hirsh, most recently here . One impact it is worth pointing out, is in the antisemitic discourse that is excited amongst anti-Zionists by a campaign which has demonisation and exclusion at its heart.

Some of the comments in the discussion today and yesterday at Lenin’s Tomb which follows his posting about the UCU motion, offer several examples of the antisemitism which follows the boycott debate.

For example, using “zionist” as a synonym for Jew:

I thought this is what you zionists were brought up on – an embattled little Israel with lots of antisemites attacking it. A safe haven etc. You racist zionist scum should be in your element. What are you complaining about?

Contempt for the perspectives and concerns of mainstream, ordinary Jews:

It’s a typical zionist tactic to deliberately confuse zionism with Judaism. Its also your typical zionist tactic to take the claims of the Israeli regime at face value when it descibes itself as a ‘Jewish state’. Much in the same way the Nazis claimed to be in charge of a Germanic state.

Or:

Zionists girning on about antisemitism

This too:

Comparisons with the Nazis however win no arguments whatsoever (largely because the comparison is specious). I reject entirely the right of defenders of Israel to become morally upset by the comparison or on the other hand accuse people of anti-semitism if the comparison is made.

And:

If Israel is as ‘Jewish’ as you make out John Meredith, then surely it should be especially careful in its behaviour lest it gives Jewish folk everywhere, and Judaism in particular, a bad name. The fact is that, by its own atrocious racist behaviour, the Israeli racist regime proves it couldn’t give a shit about the good name of Judaism or about Jewish people, never mind how much it disrespects Palestinians and the rest of its Arab neighbours themselves. It’s people like myself who care about the good name of Judaism and care about the welfare of Jewish people – especially the ones trapped inside that crummy little racist zionist hell-hole, whose regime does nothing but pour racist poison into the heads of its captive Jewish-Israeli citizens, day in and day out.

Which reminds me of the idea that the Spanish Inquisition loved Jews so much, they did what they did just to save Jewish souls.

No such debate would be complete without reference to the all-powerful ‘lobby’:

Again, comparing the excesses and brutality of the Zionist state with the Nazis is NOT specious. The reasons I have enumerated are historically valid. The reason why some on the left balk at making this comparison is because of the huge pressure exerted by Israel and its supporters on the movement. It is a pressure point, revealing the contradiction that lies at the heart of a state founded upon the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population. British rule in Palestine, for all its brutality, did not involve the mass depopulation and dispossession of hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages. And to use the argument that it isn’t helpful constitutes political cowardice, again in the face of the concerted pressure of the zionist lobby both in this country and abroad.

The discussion eventually settles on a disagreement on whether Israel and Zionism can legitimately be compared to the Nazis (the majority view) or whether the comparison is historically inaccurate and politically unhelpful, an argument led by HP regular and SWPer John Game.

The view that Zionism and Nazism are comparable is made in the following charming ways:

I’m curious though, that while both Zionism and Nazism are imperialist-colonialist ideologies that were ultimately legitimized by, were FOUNDED on (and so utterly dependent on) a racializing pathology – Nazism on the displaced imagining of two ‘races’, the ‘Aryan’ and the ‘Jew’, the latter then posited as the ‘obstacle’ to the (impossible) realization and actualization of the ‘pure’ Aryan race – an inevitably suicidal ideology; Zionism also on the displaced imagining of two ‘races’, the ‘Jew’ and the ‘Arab/Muslim’, in a similar way and with potentially similar fatal consequences – what is specifically MODERN about these fundamentalisms was that they also entailed a reactionary and twisted response to Darwin’s theories, to his findings that man was, in purely evolutionary terms, ultimately no different to other animals, and was not at the ‘centre’ of nature. And this despite the fact that Darwin was not a social theorist, and wrote nothing about any ‘hierarchy’ of human ‘races’. Rather, was it more likely that racists, their species narcissism devastatingly humiliated by Darwin’s ideas, hopelessly misapplied them (via a new belief in biological essentialism) within the human species itself, to different human groups, to reinstate a ‘natural’ essentialist human hierarchy?

And:

Zionism like loyalism and like nazism is a racist, supermacist [sic] ideology which not only promotes ethnic cleansing but actively treats indigenous people as subhuman. More specifically, the use of collective punishment, forced transfer of population, house demolitions, apartheid, the demonisation of another people’s culture, religious beliefs, the expropriation of their land and resources – these are reminiscent of the methods used by the nazis in occupied Europe.

Which leads us to the standard position of the anti-Zionist left on the meaning and legacy of the Holocaust – that solidarity and support is not owed to Jews, but to Palestinians:

The rise of the Nazis did not begin with the Holocaust, the Holocaust was in fact the culmination of a process that developed over 15 years. It was a process which involved many similiarites [sic] in terms of method against the Jews of Europe and those being used by the Israeli’s against the Palestinians now. To deny this is to deny the facts. To ignore the lessons of history is the risk repeating that history, which is why it is absolutely crucial that we do not shy away from making historically accurate comparisons. Ultimately, the only fitting tribute to the 6 million who perished in the Holocaust is to do our utmost in solidarity with the victims of the victims of that genocide – the Palestinians.

This is how you actively oppose the single most important Jewish response to the Holocaust, while claiming to be motivated and guided by the lessons of, er, the Holocaust.

And you can feel remarkably smug while doing it too.

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