Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Double Bind Antisemitism

Denial is buttressed by the claim that these accusations of anti-Semitism are themselves evidence of a Jewish conspiracy to silence critics of Israel and close down debate on the Middle East. That charge, of course, reanimates another traditional anti-Semitic theme - that of the Jew who whines about his sufferings less because he is really injured than because he hopes to draw some hidden advantage from complaining.
This post from Engage gives me reason to repost something that was on Newsvine. It's worth reading the comments from there, perhaps. As noted there, it was inspired by this post from Boycotted British Academic.

The standard charge of the antisemite is that the Jews have too much power. How does a Jew go about confronting such a claim? By being powerless? By being actively discriminated against? By not fighting against bigotry, no matter how blatant? When the charge is that Jews are lousy athletes, that is a very different sort of claim that can be contested on fair ground. No Jew need tolerate further bigotry based on demonstration of their athletic prowess*. But how can Jews go about disproving the claim that the Jews are too powerful?

It's common to hear the antisemite, frothing at the mouth about Jewish power, combine their attack with a subtler charge. The Jews have power, so the bigot claims, over more than just the government - the Jew is charged with controlling the terms of debate. Beyond alleged control of the media (an antisemitic staple), the Jew leverages power to exclude opponents from debate. Some time ago, that charge might have looked like this:

I don't want to speak against the Jews, but when one reads the Jewish press, Jewish publications, and Jewish defence organs, one cannot escape the conclusion that in criticising them, one invites instant rebuke and disapproval. In doing so, you are either a reactionary, an obscurant, or a member of the Black Hundred. Having monopolised the press, they've become so arrogant as to believe that no one will dare level such an accusation against them

The quote is from the prosecutor of a Blood Libel trial in the Ukraine in 1903. The prosecutor, arguing that Jews murdered a Christian child for blood for ritual purposes, was far more than mildly antisemitic. And his charge that Jews supposedly monopolized the press created a double bind. How can one answer such a charge?

If someone points out the obvious - that this prosecutor is a bigot retelling hateful myths that have been around for far too long - then what happens? If the Jewish community doesn't fight the charge, then it gets taken for granted. But if the Jewish community is successful in fighting the charges leveled against it, then this prosecutor takes that success as proof that the Jews are powerful. This is a double bind.

Today, the prosecutor's charge is more likely to look like this:

No discussion of the Lobby would be complete without an examination of one of its most powerful weapons: the charge of anti-semitism. Anyone who criticises Israel’s actions or argues that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over US Middle Eastern policy – an influence AIPAC celebrates – stands a good chance of being labelled an anti-semite. Indeed, anyone who merely claims that there is an Israel Lobby runs the risk of being charged with anti-semitism, even though the Israeli media refer to America’s ‘Jewish Lobby’. In other words, the Lobby first boasts of its influence and then attacks anyone who calls attention to it. It’s a very effective tactic: anti-semitism is something no one wants to be accused of.

That, of course, is from Mearsheimer and Walt. It is substantively not different from the charge made by the prosecutor in 1903, and it's not substantively different from charges being made by numerous less visible attackers, even on the Vine. Most notably, it does not, in any way address whether the speech accused of being antisemitic is or isn't. In this particular case, few people have claimed that M&W are anything like the bigot that prosecutor was, but too many people have been pussyfooting around in their criticism of their thesis. That charge of Jewish power is as antisemitic as every other exaggeration of Jewish power.

"Jewish power" has been the central claim of antisemitism for probably a thousand years. Here is talk about Jewish power, and there's nothing to distinguish this talk of Jewish power with other talk of Jewish power. This is a double bind. If the Jewish community manages to survive this charge of Jewish power - through, for instance the numerous articles that demonstrate just how shoddy M&W's scholarship is - the antisemite takes this "victory for the Jews" as proof of Jewish power. Or, the Jewish community can leave bigotry uncontested.

That is the intention of the double bind. It is meant to give the attacked no way to respond.

[* The wording of that sentence was changed slightly from the original post for clarity.]


Boycotted British Academic said...

Hi Ignoblus,

Great you've got your own blog although sorry to hear about the history which lead to it & your difficulties over at 'the other place'!

I was admiring the great job you were doing attempting to take on the antisemitism on that thread - with such patience & good logic. I often fail to find the necessary distance & calm to respond effectively. And often I don't respond at all, that's how bad it has become...

I find your experience with the website moderators unbelievable yet completely familiar. It seems to be widely acceptable that it's OK for people to post antisemitic comments but it's not OK to flag those comments up as antisemitic.

That's one of the silencing strategies which seem so prevalent in today's discourse and which, in combination, have resulted in my feeling like there is no way to speak out anymore - I fear it's futile.

Of course, this sort of defeatist attitude just won't do. And we have to continue to struggle to find a way to speak out. Even if the challenges are great...

I do hope you win out with those moderators. In any event, it's always good to have the outlet of your own blog too, which looks to be very promising...

Good luck on both fronts!

Be well,

ignoblus said...

Thanks, BBA.

I often lack patience and distance, too. And I oscillate on how much passion I think it's right to show. But, I think that if enough of us speak out, eventually people will have difficulty dismissing us all.