Klug: Charges of anti-semitism and Israel-lobby conspiracy are an ‘acrimonious circle’ we must step outside

Commentary on the controversial lecture in some circles by Brian Klug, the Oxford philosophy scholar, and his efforts to distinguish between antisemitism and anti-Israel attitudes:

Then what is it? What do we mean when we say, in a particular case, that anti-Zionism is antisemitic? … the figure of the ‘Jew’ is projected onto Israel because Israel is a Jewish state (or onto Zionism because Zionism is a Jewish movement). Sometimes this is obvious to the naked eye. But what if we think it is hidden behind a mask? Then we must look between the lines; and if we are right we will uncover the same figure implicit in the text. Text or sub-text, the figure is still the figure of the ‘Jew’: that is the point. And there are ways of bringing subtexts to light. Suppose there is a group that presents itself as pro-Palestinian, but… we suspect that there is an antisemitic motive. We could look at the literature they produce, their history, their membership, their political connections, and so on. Then we are in a position to form a judgment, a judgment based on evidence.

There is no algorithm for doing this. The evidence might be insufficient. Moreover, we can be wrong. There might be room for argument by people of goodwill who weigh the evidence differently, some believing that antisemitism does lie between the lines, others not. But this would be a rational process of argument, rather than the vicious circle of acrimony that I described earlier. The decisive issue would be this: Does the group in question project the figure of the ‘Jew’ (directly or indirectly, openly or otherwise) onto Israel? Do they, so to speak, pin a yellow star on the place, like the badge that was pinned to [Andre] Kertész’s breast? Do they, in short, turn the Jewish state into the ‘Jewish’ state?

This has always been a hard distinction to develop criteria for, beyond the working definition that provides some guidance (i.e., European Fundamental Rights Agency Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion). People have been cautious in taking this to the next step with more specific criteria or examples from the “grey areas”.

Klug: Charges of anti-semitism and Israel-lobby conspiracy are an ‘acrimonious circle’ we must step outside.