Perspectives on antisemitism and the Palestinian struggle
A review of Antisemitism: Solidarity and the struggle for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace. Chicago, Illinois: Haymarket Books.
THERE IS SOME RIGOROUS, enlightening writing in this collection of essays, which is a resource for people campaigning for Palestinian rights. In particular, the two official statements on antisemitism by Jewish Voice for Peace are a good foundation for activism and debate.
The contributors come from diverse backgrounds, Jews and non-Jews, black and white, Misrachi and Ashkenazi, mainly but not entirely in the US.
Tony Lerman gives a forensic account of the attempts to redefine antisemitism so it can be used to mute debate and discredit pro-Palestinian campaigns. This dovetails with Omar Barghouti’s analysis of how this distortion “dehumanizes Palestinians by portraying our struggle against Israel’s regime of oppression as if fueled by a visceral ‘hatred’ toward Jews, not a genuinely human pursuit of freedom, justice and equality”, and “is also perilous to Jewish communities the world over…”.
These theoretical chapters underpin the justifiably angry accounts by activists of the relentless threats against campaigners for justice for the Palestinians. The lengths that the Israeli state and its advocates in the diaspora go to in order to stifle discussion of Israel’s increasing aggression against the Palestinians is shocking. If they could justify and defend these actions, they would do so. The threats and silencing indicate that they themselves know that what they are doing is unjustified and indefensible.
The weakness of this book lies in the uneven quality of the contributions. It would have benefited from more confident editing, both in what was commissioned and how it was structured, and in questioning assumptions, claims and untenable arguments. One piece reaches the astonishing and pretentiously expressed “conclusion that antisemitism - though existent before, during and shortly after World War II, as evidenced by housing and other postwar covenants - has all but ceased to exist in North America as a paradigm of racism in the postmodern era.”
This is an extreme example of a tendency to understate antisemitism, which is not only thriving on the far right but is also appearing in some anti-racist and pro-Palestinian debates. Attempting to distance themselves from the weaponisation of antisemitism by Israel advocates, a number of the contributors distance themselves from Europe - the old country, where the Inquisition of 1492 and the Holocaust, whose scarred survivors are still among us, merge into a distant historical miasma of persecution.
Many of the arguments are predicated on recognising the “white privilege”, which it is said Jews benefit from. Class is barely hinted at in this analysis, which veers towards identity politics, asking Jewish people to examine their conscience and support the Palestinians in order to redress the balance. This is more akin to philanthropy than politics, to changing individual attitudes than collective action - but it is contradicted by the chapters on activism, which powerfully describe courageous, strategic and tactical, mutually supportive campaigning.
» Julia Bard is a freelance journalist and member of the editorial committee of Jewish Socialist magazine.