Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Appropriating Jewish opposition to Zionism

Thanks for the links (to me and others), Bob.

As soon as I actually write it, I'll put up a (very mixed) review of Denis MacShane's Globalizing Hatred. However, I want to respond to a point in Christopher Hitchen's otherwise helpful review that's generated some debate. Bob writes:
Eammon argues [here] that "The idea that opposition to the existence of Israel can’t be classed as antisemitic doesn’t stand up to a little serious thought." I am completely with Hitchens on this. My position is summed by David in the comments thread: "Why does a Leftist who adopts coherent and consistent positions opposed to Zionism and other forms of nationalism have to be an antisemite...?" (my italics) Opposition to Israel's right to exist antisemitic if and when (and only if and when) it denies the right to national self-determination to Jews alone.
First off, I'm not sure one can be anti-nationalist, so as to oppose the existence of Israel as a specific case, and identify or be identified as an anti-Zionist. It seems to me that being opposed to Zionism specifically is singling out Jews and Jewish nationalism in a way that's necessarily discriminatory. (It is possible to be neither a Zionist nor anti-Zionist.) I imagine this is Eamonn's point, yet I would agree with Bob that it is probably possible to opposed to the existence of Israel and to think that the creation of Israel was a mistake without being antisemitic (however infrequent such things may be).

But I have a lot of problems with what Hitchens says, which was not quite the above. He notes that some Jews are anti-Zionists for different reasons and concludes that anti-Zionism isn't antisemitism. But if a non-Jew appropriates the strain of liberation theology that some religious Jews use to reject Zionism -that Jews were chosen by God to suffer as part of God's plan for finishing the perfections of the world- that really would be antisemitism. It just isn't true that non-Jews can make the same arguments as Jews without worrying about being antisemitic.

Similarly, when Jews and non-Jews talk about the nature of Jews' oppression and what that implies about solutions, there's a power relationship that changes the context and hence the content of that speech. Individual Jews have every right to describe their own experience (and I emphasize their own experience and not mine), even if that is different from the more common Jewish view. But when a non-Jew appropriates that experience to talk about the nature of Jewish oppression, we are talking about a very different sort of statement, one that necessarily speaks to a general Jewish experience rather than an individual one. Nobody has the right to speak for that experience. Some speech is representative of that experience, and can serve to represent the consensus view on the grounds that most Jews would accept it as such. (I think that last point is often underestimated.) But it is a profoundly colonial act for a non-Jew to appoint a non-representative view as a basis for understanding Jewish oppression.

Frankly, to disagree with the vast majority of Jews on the nature of Jewish oppression requires some very serious rethinking of strategies for opposition. Antagonism that aims to marginalize or 'overcome' the consensus view of Jews on their own oppression, only proves the limitations of non-Zionist solutions to Jewish oppression.

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