Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Questions on anti-Semitism and racism

Those who point to the existence and increase in anti-Semitism are routinely accused of using this as a "smoke-screen" to divert from the crimes of the Israeli state. The argument is that criticism of a political ideology and the policies of a nation-state cannot be identified with criticism of a particular ethnic group. The thing is, I don't know anyone who would disagree with this. Of course it isn't anti-Semitic to criticise the conduct of the Israeli army in the occupied territories. It isn't even intrinsically anti-Semitic to be anti-Zionist. I am well-aware that there are a number of anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews who take this position from a theological point of view. And of the secular, I understand they take their position from a political point of view. My own view is that both are essentially other-worldly but I wouldn't assume that their position was necessarily anti-Semitic.

Nevertheless, it is untenable to argue that anti-Semitism is essentially a function of, has no independent existence apart from, the actions of the Israeli state. Apart from anything else, this is wildly ahistorical. If there is an older, more resilient, more adaptable, more elaborate, form of ethnic hatred known to mankind, I'd be interested to hear what people think that might be.

Whether European anti-Semitism can be directly traced to the New Testament, I'm sceptical. My own view is that modern scholarship has viewed the texts with too much historical hindsight, forgetting how very Jewish the story of Yeshua Ben-Joseph actually is. Nevetheless, there can be no doubt that Christianity absorbed anti-Semitism very early, forgetting how the artist formerly known as Saul celebrated his Jewish heritage, as demonstrated in Acts, Romans and Philippians, remembering only his rants about "Judaizers" in Galatians. And from its inception as an imperial power from around 300AD, these attitudes were incarnate in political action, with Jews being to varying degrees of intensity subjected to discriminations, persecutions and pogroms of various kinds.

Which is not to make an anti-religious point because we all know the secular, psuedo-scientific version of this was much worse.

So the question that I need an answer to is this: given that the assumption is that anti-Semitism has no existence independently from the actions of the state of Israel, which must be logically the understanding of those who shriek "Israel" whenever the existence of anti-Semitism is identified, can you direct me to the point in history when an anti-Semitism, replete with its own narrative, demonology and proto-type conspiracy theories, ceased to exist, only to be resurrected by the actions of the state of Israel? I'll save you the bother; you can't, it never happened.

Another question is, why does the understanding above - that a state, an ideology, or a political movement can't be applied to an ethnic group - break down whenever political Islam is discussed? Islam as a religion cannot be identified with a particular ethnic group to even a lesser extent than Judaism can be identified with the state of Israel. It is certainly true that it is not as ethnically-diverse as Christianity, but this is largely a function of the fact that this particular prostelytising Abrahamic monotheism had a seven-hundred year start on Mohammed and his followers. Furthermore, since we entirely accept the proposition that extremist political Islam is as by its very definition as a cult within the eccesia of Islam, how can it be possible for criticism of said cult to be per se racist, never mind 'Islamophobic'?

Which is not to say that some people who cry "anti-Semitism" aren't in fact trying to deflect criticism of Israel. But then again, this is not to say those who cry "Israel" whenever anti-Semitism is mentioned aren't rather trying to distract from the fact that this most ancient human prejudice is making a political comeback.

And certainly there can be no doubt that some have used the cover of secularism to attack Islam in order to conceal their hostility to immigrant minorities, adopted the role of heroic iconoclast to conceal their contempt and fear of the other. But on the other hand, there seems to be rather a lot of people claiming to stand in the stream of modernity and liberation that are throwing the blanket charge of racism, in order conceal their fundamental ambivalence when confronted with an ultra-schismatic, millenarian movimento that has a world-view that no reasonable person could describe as "progressive".

All so confusing. And I'm wondering also about this: of the three Abrahamic monotheisms, Judaism is the one that can be most closely be identified with a specific political entity - the state of Israel. The reasons for this are complex but fundamentally it is function of the fact that Judaism historically has not been a prostelytising religion. Is there not a sense in which this historical co-incidence is being held against them?

More basically, isn't this a disagreement between those who imagine they can escape the human stain and those of us who know that you cannot?

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