The Re-Emergence of the Jewish Question
Major economic transformations over the past forty years have produced wrenching social changes. These have now generated a strong anti-globalist reaction that is expressing itself in extremist political movements throughout Europe, America, and other parts of the world. Antisemitism is an integral element of this reaction in its far-right, far-left, and Islamist instantiations. These developments have caused a re-emergence of the question of the place of Jews in the non-Jewish world. Both the anti-globalist reaction, and many of the Jewish responses to it, are backward looking. They are attempting to deal with new economic and political challenges by re-running ideologies from the past. The rise of antisemitism in this context is indicative of the failure of anti-globalist movements to cope effectively with these challenges. A new progressive politics is urgently needed to deal with them. To be effective, the Jewish response to the threat posed by widespread antisemitism must be informed by the lessons of recent Jewish history.
Keywords: Jewish Question, anti-globalism, rightwing antisemitism, leftwing antisemitism, new diasporism, economic dislocation
See Shalom Lappin and Richard Sproat, Defending Democracy in an Illiberal Age, unpublished ms, Gothenburg and New York, 2016, https://rws.xoba.com/lappin-sproat_defending_democracy17.pdf for a discussion of the correlation between economic instability and the rise of far-right populism over the past few years.
Pierre-André Taguieff, La Novuvelle Judéophobie (Mille et Une Nuits: Paris, 2002) provides an early account of the anti-Jewish focus of the anti-globalist reaction in France. Shalom Lappin’s “Israel and the New Anti-Semitism,” Dissent (Spring 2003): 96–103 and “The Rise of a New Anti-Semitism in the UK,” Engage 1, no. 1 (January 2006), https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2015/11/04/the-rise-of-a-new-anti-semitism-in-the-uk-shalom-lappin- engage-journal-issue-1-january-2006/ describe the connection between the criminalization of Israel in large parts of the British left, which followed the breakdown of the Oslo process, and the rise of antisemitism in the UK. For more recent discussions of antisemitism on the British left see Anthony Julius, The Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); David Hirsch, Contemporary Left Antisemitism (London: Routledge, 2017), and David Rich, The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism, (London: Biteback Publishing, 2018).
See Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014) (first published as Le Capital au XXI Siècle [Paris: Editions de Seuil, 2013]) on the source of radical eco- nomic inequality in the twenty-first century, and the problem of regulating capital in a modern global economy. Shalom Lappin, “How Class Disappeared from Western Politics,” Dissent (Winter, 2006): 73–78 discusses several political aspects of these issues.
Several leading socialist thinkers, like Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and anarchists like Mikhail Bakunin, promoted a racist view of Jews as an international cabal of financial exploiters. Their attitude toward Jews was not significantly different from that of the nationalist right. See Robert Wistrich, From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2012) on the history of left-wing antisemitism.
See Shalom Lappin, “Israel and the New Anti-Semitism,” Dissent (Spring, 2003): 96–103 for discussion of the his- tory of the idea that the Jews are an illicit collectivity, in both Europe and the Middle East. Robert Fine and Philip Spencer, Antisemitism and the Left: On the Return of the Jewish Question (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017) point out that the formulation of the “Jewish Question,” in itself, makes racist assumptions to the effect that Jews are defective, and so in need of reconstruction in their relation to the societies in which they live. They discuss the reappearance of this question on the left in recent years.
Ken Livingstone, London’s former mayor, relied on Lenny Brenner, Zionism in the Age of the Dictators (London: Croom Helm, 1983) in making this charge. Jim Allen recycled Brenner’s claims in his 1987 play Perdition. Neo- Nazi groups have also cited Brenner’s book as part of their Holocaust denial campaign. The book has been widely discredited as factually unsound. See, for example, Paul Bogdanor, “An Antisemitic Hoax: Lenni Brenner on Zionist ‘Collaboration’ with the Nazis,” Fathom, June 20, 2016, http://fathomjournal.org/an-antisemitic-hoax-lenni-brenner- on-zionist-collaboration-with-the-nazis/, and Jennie Frazer, “Top Historians Take Down Ken Livingstone’s Claim that ‘Hitler Supported Zionism’,” The Times of Israel, June 21, 2016, https://www.timesofisrael.com/top-historians- take-down-livingstons-claim-that-hitler-supported-zionism/.
See James Bloodworth, “It’s Time the Left Apologised for Its Denial of the Srebrenica Massacre,” Huffington Post, July 17, 2012, https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/james-bloodworth/sections-of-the-leftshou_b_1520929.html on the far left’s denial of the Bosnian massacres, and Alexander Reid Ross, “How Assad’s War Crimes Bring Far Left and Right Together–Under Putin’s Benevolent Gaze,” Haaretz, April 17, 2018, https://www.haaretz.com/middle- east-news/assad-s-war-crimes-bring-far-left-and-right-together-and-putin-smiles-1.6008713 on its support for the Assad regime and Putin. In both cases, they have converged on the far right’s response to these events.
The term “intersectionality” was introduced in 1989 by the African American legal scholar, feminist, and civil rights activist Kimberlé Crenshaw. See Bim Adewunmi, “Kimberlé Crenshaw on Intersectionality: ‘I wanted to come up with an everyday metaphor that anyone could use’,” New Statesman, April 2, 2014 interview with Crenshaw for a brief explanation of the intersectionality thesis.
See Farah Stockman, “Women’s March Roiled by Accusations of Anti-Semitism,” New York Times, December 24, 2018, and Leah McSweeney and Jacob Siegel, “Is the Women’s March Melting Down?” Tablet Magazine, December 10, 2018 on claims of anti-Semitism among organizers of the Women’s March.
It is important to distinguish Bernie Sanders from both the intersectionality left and the Corbynite neo-Soviet left. Sanders is arguing for an enhanced Scandinavian model of social democracy. He has firm roots in the civil rights and the Jewish labor movements. Sanders promotes liberal values. While highly critical of Israeli government pol- icies, he remains firmly committed to a two-state solution as a matter of principle.
See Daniel Blatman, “Bund”, The YIVO Encyclopaedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, YIVO Institute of Jewish Research, 2010, http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Bund for a historical overview of the Bund.
Historically antisemitism among socialists was not limited to the far left. It also existed in parts of the social demo- cratic left in Western Europe, where some Jewish supporters also indulged it. See Brendan McGeever and Satnam Virdee, “Antisemitism and Socialist Strategy in Europe, 1880–1917: An Introduction,” Patterns of Prejudice 51:3–4, 2017, 221–34 on this phenomenon in the Second International.
Daniel Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997); Judith Butler, Parting of the Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2012); Hasia Diner and Marjorie Feld, “We’re American Jewish Historians. This Is Why We’ve Left Zionism Behind,” Haaretz, August 1, 2016, https://www.haaretz.com/ opinion/were-american-jewish-historians-this-is-why-weve-left-zionism-behind-1.5418935, Michael Robin, “American Jews Have Never Needed Israel,” Forward, February 21, 2018, https://forward.com/opinion/394903/ american-jews-have-never-needed-israel/. See Jacqueline Rose, The Question of Zion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005) for a version of this argument from a British Jewish academic. Shalom Lappin, “The Caricature of Zion”, Democratiya, September: 11–36 provides a detailed critique of Rose’s book. Jacqueline Rose, “The Question of Zion: A Reply to Shalom Lappin,” Democratiya, Winter, 2006: 94–116 replies to this critique, and Shalom Lappin, “A Question of Zion: A Rejoinder to Jacqueline Rose”, Democratiya, Winter, 2006 offers a rejoinder to the reply.
See Edgar Scott, “Hermann Cohen,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Fall 2015; Edward N. Zalta, ed., https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2015/entries/cohen for a synopsis of Cohen’s neo-Kantian theories of knowl- edge, ethics, and religion, and Rory Schacter, “Hermann Cohen’s Secular Messianism and Liberal Cosmopolitanism,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, April 24, 2008, http://jcpa.org/article/hermann-cohens-secular-messianism- and-liberal-cosmopolitanism/ for a discussion of his anti-Zionism.
See Anshel Pfeffer, “Repulsed by Aggressive Jewish Nationalism? Reviving the Bund Is No Answer,” Haaretz, October 18, 2018, https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-repulsed-by-aggressive-jewish-nationalism-reviving- the-bund-is-no-answer-1.6573295 for a cautionary comment on this trend.
Otto Bauer, The Nationalities Question and Social Democracy, trans. Jose O’Donnell (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2000) (originally published as Die Nationalitätenfrage und die Sozialdemokratie, Verlag der Wiener Volksbuchhandlung Vienna, 1924).
See Shalom Lappin, “Is There a Case for Binationalism?,” Dissent (Winter, 2004): 13–17, for a discussion of the history and prospects of binationalism in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Someofthenewdiasporistsendorseanti-Israelorganizationswhichsubscribetostronglyracistanti-Jewishpoli- cies. So, for example, Judith Butler is quoted as saying “Similarly, I think: Yes, understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important. That does not stop us from being critical of certain dimensions of both movements. It doesn’t stop those of us who are interested in non-violent politics from raising the question of whether there are other options besides violence. So again, a critical, important engagement. I mean, I certainly think it should be entered into the con- versation on the Left. I similarly think boycotts and divestment procedures are, again, an essential component of any resistance movement.” (In Judith Butler’s reply to audience questions at a 2006 teach-in at UC Berkeley about the war between Israel and Hezbollah, posted on Radical Archives, https://radicalarchives.org/2010/03/28/jbut- ler-on-hamas-hezbollah-israel-lobby/.) In adopting this sort of view they are following in the tradition of Jewish apologists for people that the far left designates as “objectively progressive,” and so exonerated of their antisemi- tism, as well as any other reactionary attitudes that they may hold.
Gilead Sher, Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations, 1999-2001: Within Reach (Routledge, London 2006) (first published in Hebrew as מרחק נגיעה, Yediot Achronot, Sefer Hemed, Tel Aviv, 2001) provides a detailed account of the Camp David and Taba negotiations between Israel and the PLO on a final settlement agreement in 2000–2001. He discusses the Clinton parameters for such an agreement, and he addresses the reasons for the breakdown of the process. Sher was a senior Israeli negotiator at both the Camp David and Taba talks.
Jack Khoury, “Abbas: Olmert Offered PA Land Equaling 100% of West Bank,” Haaretz, December 20, 2009. https:// www.haaretz.com/1.4883092 describes Olmert’s peace plan.
See Raoul Wootliff , “Final Text of Jewish Nation-State Law, Approved by the Knesset Early on July 19,” Times of Israel, July 19, 2018, https://www.timesofisrael.com/final-text-of-jewish-nation-state-bill-set-to-become-law/ for an English translation of the full text of the Nation-State Law.
It is curious that anti-Zionist critics of Israel point to the Nation-State Law as decisive evidence that Israel is an intrinsically racist state, but they have no difficulty with the ethnic nationalist and religious conditions in the legal systems of other Middle Eastern countries. This suggests that they object not to the way in which Israel defines itself, but to the fact that it exists as an expression of Jewish collectivity. By contrast, other nations, even if they adopt ethnocentric constitutions and laws, are seen as legitimate collectivities. One suspects that even if Israel were to repeal the Nation-State Law and become a robust liberal democracy, it would continue to be unacceptable to these critics.
See Martin Schram, John M. Goshko, and Valarie Thomas, “Jerry Falwell Vows Amity with Israel,” Washington Post, September 12, 1981, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1981/09/12/jerry-falwell-vows-amity- with-israel/282947d1-47ff-4851-8884-495506fe1773/?utm_term=.bafa005b7367 for a report on Begin’s initial meetings with Falwell.
See Nitzan Horowitz, “Netanyahu’s Dark Deal with Europe’s Radical Right,” Haaretz, July 9, 2018, https:// www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-pm-s-dark-deal-with-e-europe-condones-anti-semitism-and-occupa- tion-1.6249033 on this point.
Ben Sales, “Bennett Says Blaming Trump for Pittsburgh Shooting is ‘Unfair’,” The Times of Israel, October 31, 2018, https://www.timesofisrael.com/bennett-says-blaming-trump-for-pittsburgh-shooting-is-unfair/ describes Naftali Bennet’s insistence that Trump cannot be connected to this event in any way.
It has also generated deep income inequality, a high level of poverty among people in employment, and a severe housing crisis, most acutely for young families. The government has seriously underinvested in education and many other public services, particularly in the Arab sector of the population, producing poor results in these areas. See the OECD 2018 economic survey of Israel at http://www.oecd.org/israel/economic-survey-israel.htm.
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