ICYMI: Trump’s Racist Ban on Anti-Semitism | by Ian Buruma

Good commentary:

US President Donald Trump thinks that anti-Semitism is a serious problem in America. But Trump is not so much concerned about neo-Nazis who scream that Jews and other minorities “will not replace us,” for he thinks that many white supremacists are “very fine people.” No, Trump is more worried about US college campuses, where students call for boycotts of Israel in support of the Palestinians.

Trump just signed an executive order requiring that federal money be withheld from educational institutions that fail to combat anti-Semitism. Since Jews are identified in this order as a discriminated group on the grounds of ethnic, racial, or national characteristics, an attack on Israel would be anti-Semitic by definition. This is indeed the position of Jared Kushner, Trump’s Jewish son-in-law, who believes that “anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.”

There are, of course, as many forms of anti-Semitism as there are interpretations of what it means to be Jewish. When Trump and his supporters rant in campaign rallies about shadowy cabals of international financiers who undermine the interests of “ordinary, decent people,” some might interpret that as a common anti-Semitic trope, especially when an image of George Soros is brandished to underline this message. Trump even hinted at the possibility that the liberal Jewish human rights promoter and philanthropist was deliberately funding “caravans” of refugees and illegal aliens so that they could spread mayhem in the US. In Soros’s native Hungary, attacks on him as a cosmopolitan enemy of the people are unmistakably anti-Semitic.

Conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish power have a long history. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery published in 1903, popularized the notion that Jewish bankers and financiers were secretly pulling the strings to dominate the world. Henry Ford was one of the more prominent people who believed this nonsense.

The history of extreme anti-Zionism is not so long. In the first years of the Jewish state, Israel was popular among many leftists, because it was built on socialist ideas. Left-wing opinion in Europe and the United States began to turn against Israel after the Six-Day War in 1967, when Arab territories were occupied by Israeli troops. More and more, Israel came to be seen as a colonial power, or an apartheid state.

One may or may not agree with that view of Israel. But few would deny that occupation, as is usually the case when civilians are under the thumb of a foreign military power, has led to oppression. So, to be a strong advocate for Palestinian rights and a critic of Israeli policies, on college campuses or anywhere else, does not automatically make one an anti-Semite. But there are extreme forms of anti-Zionism that do. The question is when that line is crossed.

Some would claim that it is anti-Semitic to deny Jews the right to have their own homeland. This is indeed one of the premises of Trump’s presidential order. There are also elements on the radical left, certainly represented in educational institutions, who are so obsessed by the oppression of Palestinians that they see Israel as the world’s greatest evil. Just as anti-Semites in the past often linked Jews with the US, as the twin sources of rootless capitalist malevolence, some modern anti-Zionists combine their anti-Americanism with a loathing for Israel.

In the minds of certain leftists, Israel and its American big brother are not just the last bastions of racist Western imperialism. The idea of a hidden Jewish capitalist cabal can also enter left-wing demonology as readily as it infects the far right. This noxious prejudice has haunted the British Labour Party, something its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has consistently failed to recognize.1

In short, anti-Zionism can veer into anti-Semitism, but not all critics of Israel are anti-Zionist, and not all anti-Zionists are prejudiced against Jews.

Quite where people stand on this issue depends heavily on how they define a Jew – a source of endless vagueness and confusion. According to Halakha, or Jewish law, anyone with a Jewish mother, or who has converted to Judaism, is Jewish. That is the general Orthodox view. But more liberal Reform Jews allow Jewish identity to pass through the father as well.

On the other hand, while most Orthodox Jews consider a person to be Jewish even if they convert to another religion, Reform Jews do not. Israel’s Law of Return grants “every Jew” the right to immigrate, but refrains from defining Jewishness. Since 1970, even people with one Jewish grandparent have been eligible to become Israeli citizens. In the infamous Nuremberg laws, promulgated by the Nazis in 1935, people with only one Jewish parent could retain German citizenship, while “full” Jews could not.

The whole thing is so complicated that Amos Oz, the Israeli novelist, once sought to simplify the matter as follows: “Who is a Jew? Everyone who is mad enough to call himself or herself a Jew, is a Jew.”

There is, in any case, something ill-conceived about the stress on race and nationhood in Trump’s order on combating anti-Semitism. Israel is the only state claiming to represent all Jews, but not all Jews necessarily identify with Israel. Some even actively dislike it. Trump’s order might suggest that such people are renegades, or even traitors. This idea might please Israel’s current government, but it is far from the spirit of the Halakha, or even from the liberal idea of citizenship.

Defining Jews as a “race” is just as much of a problem. Jews come from many ethnic backgrounds: Yemenite, Ethiopian, Russian, Moroccan, and Swedish Jews are hard to pin down as a distinctive ethnic group. Hitler saw Jews as a race, but that is no reason to follow his example.

To combat racism, wherever it occurs, is a laudable aim. But singling out anti-Semitism in an executive order, especially when the concept is so intimately linked to views on the state of Israel, is a mistake. Extreme anti-Zionists may be a menace; all extremists are. But they should be tolerated, as long as their views are peacefully expressed. To stifle opinions on campuses by threatening to withhold funds runs counter to the freedom of speech guaranteed by the US Constitution. This is, alas, not the only sign that upholding the constitution is not the main basis of the current US administration’s claim to legitimacy.

Source: Trump’s Racist Ban on Anti-Semitism | by Ian Buruma

UK: How a radical new form of anti-racism can save Labour

Valid approach that applies more broadly that antisemitism/anti-Zionism. But hard to implement as it requires some compartmentalization:

An announcement by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) that it is launching a formal investigation into antisemitism in the Labour party is one more sign that the controversy cannot be addressed by internal procedures alone. Was it ever solvable through the party’s own efforts? There was a time when I thought it might be.

Even before Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party in September 2015, there was deep disquiet in sections of the British Jewish community about what was perceived as his tolerance for Islamist terrorist groups. Following his election, repeated instances of antisemitic comments in the burgeoning Corbynite grassroots further stoked alarm. The attempted coup against Corbyn’s leadership in June 2016 deepened the problem, with non-Corbynite Jewish party members (and those within the Jewish Labour Movement in particular) becoming the focus of anger from some who supported Corbyn’s transformation of the party.

There has been no shortage of efforts to address this situation. There was the Chakrabarti inquiry in June 2016 and repeated statements by Corbyn and others condemning antisemitism. There have been meetings, both confidential and announced, between Jewish communal leaders and the Labour leadership. There have been rule changes and bureaucratic restructuring intended to improve the party’s disciplinary procedures.

For years I’ve been advocating dialogue as a way to address the crisis generated by antisemitism within Labour. For a long time my working assumption was that hardcore, unrepentant, unredeemable antisemites in the party were a tiny minority, but there was a much bigger group that fell into antisemitic language occasionally or out of ignorance. The first group could not be dialogued out of existence – only expelled – but the larger group might be open to education. What was crucial was to engage those Corbynites who had no history of antisemitism and might be able to exert influence on others. I did have some hope that, through hard work and trust-building, it might be possible to reach some kind of understanding between those who lead the Labour party and Jews concerned about antisemitism.

Not only has nothing worked, but efforts to fix things have themselves deepened the controversy. Meetings between Corbyn and Jewish community leaders have been tenseand incomprehending affairs. Institutional investigations and reforms are either seen as a whitewash from the Jewish side (as with the Chakrabarti report) or as an unacceptable compromise with them (as in the 2018 adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism by the Labour party national executive committee).

Now, with Jewish support for Labour dropping like a stone and accusations that the party is institutionally antisemitic, antisemitism in the party has not gone away and the political dispute over it is worse than ever. There is no reason to think that the EHRC will end the dispute, whatever its findings – things are just too far gone for that.

So what next? There is a way back, but it’s going to take a radical rethinking of what anti-racism means.

We got into this mess in the first place because sections of the left have never been able to reconcile themselves to the fact that the majority of British Jews are Zionists in some shape or form, either self-identifying as such or supporting the principle of Israel as a Jewish state. That fundamental bewilderment, that sense that Jews should know better, has been combined with a love of that significant minority of Jews who are not Zionists. Groups such as the Corbyn-supporting Jewish Voice for Labour, which is largely made up of Jews who reject Zionism, tacitly encourage the sentiment: “Why can’t all Jews be like that?”

Given that the divisions between Jewish Zionists and anti-Zionists are very much out in the open, it is all too easy to pick and choose the Jews one listens to and to damn the rest.

I am not one of those Jews who would argue that members of Jewish Voice for Labour are not really Jews and should be shunned by non-Jews. But there is no way around the fact that, intentionally or unintentionally, they encourage the fantasy that all you need to do to oppose antisemitism is to draw close to those Jews with whom you are in sympathy. This fantasy has exposed under-discussed questions about how anti-racism should express solidarity with minorities who are subjected to racism: what happens when those minorities, or significant sections of them, hold to politics with which you don’t agree? And what happens when those minorities treat those politics as non-negotiable parts of their identity?

Too often, anti-racism on sections of the left is predicated on wilful ignorance about what the victims of racism actually believe. Jews have a way of forcing the issue: our overwhelming (but by no means total) embrace of Zionism has been so public that it cannot be avoided. This has presented a quandary to those who see themselves as supporters of the Palestinians: how can the victims of racism be racists themselves? The way out of that has sometimes been to deny that Jews today constitute a group that can suffer racism at all (other than perhaps at the hand of good old-fashioned Nazis); we have been subsumed into white privilege. The result has been that progressive movements increasingly find it difficult to include Jews who do not renounce Zionism, as the controversy surrounding antisemitism in the Women’s March in the US has shown.

The only way out of this impasse is to recast anti-racist solidarity so that it is completely decoupled from political solidarity. Anti-racism must become unconditional, absolute, and not requiring reciprocity. Anti-racism must be explicitly understood as fighting for the right of minorities to pursue their own political agendas, even if they are abhorrent to you. Anti-racism requires being scrupulous in how one talks or acts around those one might politically despise.

This isn’t just an issue that applies to Jews and antisemitism. We are beginning to see the strains in other forms of anti-racism too, when minorities start becoming politically awkward. The opposition from some British Muslim groups to teaching LGBT issues in school is one example of this. Yet opposition to Islamophobia is as vital as opposition to homophobia and one must not be sacrificed on the altar of the other.

The anti-racism that I suggest is a kind of self-sacrifice. Anti-racists must acknowledge but restrain how they really feel about those who must be defended against racism. Doing so involves a constant balancing act: supporting the right for Zionist Jews to live free from abuse and harassment while, at the same time, fighting for the right of Palestinians to live free from oppression. Creating that balance involves teeth-gritting; choosing not to pursue the most unbridled forms of political warfare when it involves ethno-religious minorities such as Jews.

It sounds like a horrible, frustrating and maddening process. But who said that anti-racism was going to be easy? Well, it isn’t easy and the fantasy that it is got us into this predicament in the first place.

This, then, is what a solution to the Labour party antisemitism crisis will have to look like, now that dialogue and conflict resolution have proved to be dead ends: an acknowledgment from the anti-Zionist left that anti-racist solidarity with those seen as despicable Zionist Jews must be unconditional. This is what I call “sullen solidarity” – and it is the most powerful form of solidarity there is.

Paradoxically, the first step in cultivating this sullen solidarity should be restraining love for those Jews with whom one is most in sympathy. The Labour leadership needs to stop its repeated expressions of support for particular Jewish traditions; its Passover messages about social justice and its invocations of the battle of Cable Street. As a leftwing Israel-critical Jew, I myself honour and respect some of the traditions with which Corbyn empathises, but I don’t need my way of being Jewish to be validated by anyone. Anti-racism should not be a reward for being culturally interesting or politically sympathetic; it should require no justification.

I am totally uninterested in whether the Labour leadership like Jews or what sort of Jews they like. I care only that they will refrain from expressing love for certain kinds of Jews and distrust of others, and that they will defend all of us from antisemitism, however unlikable they might find us.

Source: How a radical new form of anti-racism can save Labour

Swedish youth politician defends anti-Zionist chant

One can only wonder at the sophistry involved. Just because something has been sung for ages doesn’t mean one should continue signing it:
“You can’t take anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and stick an equal sign between them,” Electra Ververidis, the new chair of the local district of the Social Democrat youth wing SSU, told Sweden’s state broadcaster SVT.
“This song has been sung within the labour movement for ages past. It is about taking a political position against the occupation of the Palestine, and is not about being against Israel or the Jewish people.”
The performance of the chant-like song, which is repeats the words ‘Long Live Palestine, Crush Zionism” was condemned on Wednesday by Svante Weyler, Chair of the Swedish Committee against Anti-Semitism.
“The idea that you want to abolish the state of Israel is an antisemitic idea,” he told SVT.
Ververidis’s defence of the song reversed a rapid apology given earlier in the week by the youth movement’s national chair Philip Botström.
“I understand and take seriously all the criticism against our local unit in Malmö,” he wrote on Twitter after a recording of the song being sung was circulated on Wednesday.
“There should be no doubt over where SSU stands on this question. We distance ourselves from all forms of antisemitism.”
He asserted that the youth movement would not sing the song in future.
But Ververidis said no such decision had been taken, explaining that SSU’s Malmö branch had yet to discuss whether singing the song would be appropriate during future demonstrations. “We have not yet had time to consider that,” she said.
She criticised Botström’s condemnation of the song.
“It is very unfortunate that Philip Botström is now mixing up apples and pears. This chant has been sung for ages and is about criticism of Israel’s occupation policies and nothing else. This is something Botström himself well knows.”

Source: Swedish youth politician defends anti-Zionist chant

Kenan Malik: Antisemites use the language of anti-Zionism. The two are distinct

Important to note the distinctions and consequent implications:

Anti-Zionism is antisemitism. So claimed France’s President Emmanuel Macron in a speech last week in which he promised to change policing regulations to criminalise anti-Zionism.

The condemnation of anti-Zionism as antisemitism has a long history, but in recent years has become increasingly accepted by mainstream politicians and organisations. This shift in perspective has taken place against the background of rising antisemitism, from physical attacks to racist tweets, fuelled by both the resurgence of the far-right and the growth of antisemitism on the left. Particularly in sections of the left, anti-Zionism has more and more appropriated, often unrecognised, antisemitic tropes.

All this is undeniably true. Yet, it remains important to resist the equation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

Critics of anti-Zionism observe that Zionism simply expresses the right of Jewish people to self-determination. Just as other peoples, from Armenians to Zimbabweans, have the right to self-determination, so do Jews. To deny that is antisemitic because it is to deny Jews the rights accorded to others. However, the issue is more complex. When Scots voted in their independence referendum in 2016, all residents of Scotland who were over 16, and were British, EU or Commonwealth citizens, had the right to vote. The right to self-determination did not extend to all those of Scottish ancestry living outside Scotland.

The Zionist notion of “self-determination”, on the other hand, embodies the idea that Jews anywhere in the world “self-determine” and that such self-determination relates to a state in which the vast majority of Jews do not and will not live.

Zionism is a form of ethnic, as opposed to civic, nationalism. The distinction between the two is fiercely contested, and often blurred. Many modern states fuse elements of both in nationality and immigration laws. Nevertheless, the distinction between civic and ethnic nationalism is important because they embody contrasting conceptions of national belonging, citizenship, equality and rights.

Israel itself combines aspects of civic and ethnic nationalism. As the late historian Tony Judt put it in an essay for the New York Review of Books, Israel is both a democracy in which non-Jews can be citizens and “a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded” and from which Palestinians grievously suffer. Judt faced great opprobrium for that essay, with many reviling him as “antisemitic” or a “self-hating Jew”.

To oppose Zionism but not other forms of ethnic nationalism would indeed be antisemitic. But to oppose Zionism because one opposes ethnic nationalism is a legitimate view.

Judt, who in early life was a Zionist, came eventually to accept that the only lasting solution would be a single, secular state in which both Jews and Palestinians were treated equally. For anti-Zionists like Judt, “self-determination” in that piece of contested land that is Israel/Palestine should adhere to principles of civic, not ethnic, nationalism; that is, be the self-determination of the people, and only the people, who live there, whether Jews or Palestinians.

This kind of anti-Zionism is very different from that which calls for the “destruction of the state of Israel”, usually (a not very veiled) code for the destruction of Jews. The latter is a form of anti-Zionism that refuses to acknowledge the presence of more than 6 million Jews in Israel/Palestine, whose rights, needs and aspirations are as central as those of Palestinians to any discussion of the region’s future.

There are, in other words, many forms of anti-Zionism, some progressive, some antisemitic. What has shifted is that leftwing ideas of anti-Zionism have become increasingly colonised by antisemitic forms. The reasons are complex, ranging from evolving notions of “anti-imperialism” to the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories.

One key development that has helped foster the shift is the growth of the politics of identity and of the tendency to see “good” and “bad” in terms of the group to which someone belongs and the privileges that they are supposed to possess.

Identity politics has led many to target Jews for being Jews, especially as they are seen as belonging to a group with many privileges to check, and to hold all Jews responsible for the actions of the state of Israel. Many who support the Palestinian cause, including many within the Labour party, seem genuinely unable to distinguish between criticising Israel and sowing hatred against a people.

The elision of anti-Zionism and antisemitism is a feature, then, of both sides of the debate. On the one side, it helps to legitimise antisemitism, on the other to close down debates about Israel and to criminalise genuine struggles for Palestinian rights. We should reject both.

Source: Antisemites use the language of anti-Zionism. The two are distinct