Friday, October 10, 2008

Taking Jews seriously

Ralph Seliger at Meretz USA points to this article by Claude Kandiyoti at Haartez:
The Belgian political class does not understand the sensitivity of the Jewish community, which tends to see verbal attacks against "their" state as an avatar of the old threats, rooted in old prejudice, against their people. The Jews often do not grasp the difference between criticism of a sovereign state whose policies might be considered problematic - and sheer anti-Semitism. In this gap of perceptions lies the problem.
The article provides two cases of Belgian politicians described as antisemitic:
To be be clear: Whatever his intentions, Flahaut's comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany unequivocally falls under the general criteria of anti-Semitism, as defined in the working paper of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Michel, on the other hand, is in more of a grey area, as he has never been associated with actions or comments delegitimizing Israel or the very right of the Jews to political autonomy.
There's no description of why Michel has been criticized, and I can find very little online in the way of either things for which he might be criticized or actual criticism of him. I'm in an awkward position where I have to trust Kandiyoti. But if he's right that (1) Jews do indeed keep criticizing Michel and (2) Michel doesn't pay any heed to these criticisms, then I find it hard to place any trust in Michel. Anti-racists, as a general rule, tend toward believing minorities on the issue of their own oppression. I happen to think it does go too far at times, but if the Belgian Jewish community is repeatedly criticizing Michel, I have difficulty not taking that seriously. Michel says this:
"I am a victim of this confusion, in the way I am accused of anti-Semitism each time I speak out against Israel's policies. I always was, I still am and I'll always be a genuine friend of Israel and of the Jewish community of my country, but I can no longer tolerate being insulted by members of the community."
Jews are not afforded the sensitivity and respect leftists and liberals normally afford to oppressed groups. The dominant society insists on owning the definition of antisemitism, rendering lots of antisemitism invisible.

Kandiyoti writes of "the sensitivity of the Jewish community." This is an old theme, pervasive in philosemitism. Because Jews are made nervous by the history of antisemitism, it is argued, we cannot take Jews seriously when they complain of antisemitism. I like the general thrust of the article, which argues for listening more to the complaints of the Jewish community and does not take Michel's side against the Jewish community, placing him instead in a "grey area." But I still think Kandiyoti concedes too much in an attempt to win an audience with the dominant society. When Jews complain of antisemitism, it is not because we are oversensitive and hyper-reactive. It is because we perceive antisemitism.

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