The instrumentalization of accusations of anti-Semitism

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By PETER HUDIS*

Today, the fusion of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism – whether on the right or the left – serves the purpose of making invisible the prospect of universal human emancipation.

The advance of a new McCarthyism in the United States and other parts of the Western world, fueled by the desire to suppress criticism of Israel for its genocidal war against Palestine, is producing an unprecedented level of suppression of freedom of expression – both inside and outside the gym.

In some ways, it is even more dangerous than the McCarthyism of the 1950s, which targeted well-known figures in government, entertainment, and education. The effort to stifle expressions of solidarity with Palestine and condemnation of the Zionist project is now reaching all levels of society, potentially putting anyone in the position of being silenced and dehumanized.

At the heart of this effort is the weaponization of the accusation of anti-Semitism against critics of Israeli imperialism. This, of course, is not new: the effort to smear critics of Zionism with anti-Semitism has been a staple for supporters of the Israeli state for many years. However, since the brutal Hamas attack of October 7, 2023, it has reached a whole new level.

What is new today is the coalescence of two seemingly opposing political trends that both work to demonize Israel's critics: the far-right populists driven by a clearly racist agenda and the center-left neoliberals who present themselves as reasonable Democrats to defend diversity and inclusion.

Coalescence of attacks

The Republican right is committed to purging schools of curricula that critically analyze race, gender and sexuality, as part of an effort to counter the rise in social awareness produced by the massive protests of Black Lives Matter in 2020. She is now expanding this effort to penalize anyone in academia who criticizes Israel – and many Democrats are joining her in that effort.

The coalescence of Republicans aiming to stamp out critical speech and Democrats (including many “liberals”) trying to suppress criticism of Zionism puts “liberals” in a difficult position – the last thing they want to be accused of is being indifferent to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives or facilitating far-right efforts to destroy what remains of American democracy.

However, that is precisely what they are doing by accepting the premise that attacking Zionism and the genocidal policies of the Israeli state is inherently anti-Semitic.

The irony here is that it's no secret that the far right's fervent defense of Israel is often accompanied by anti-Semitic stereotypes — from the notion that the world economy is governed by a cabal of “East Coast elites” (many sometimes with Jewish names) to the belief of many right-wing evangelicals that the second coming of Christ will occur when the last Jew abandons his faith and embraces Christianity.

What Nazi ideologue Joseph Goebbels denounced as “exaggerated Jewish cosmopolitanism” is exactly what the extreme right has been rebelling against for years, under different names – with the particularity of now being associated with total support for an Israeli state. which massacres Muslims and Palestinians, while acting as the closest ally of US imperialism.

A notable example of this was the “Take Back Our Borders” rally in Texas on February 2, which featured Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent and Christian nationalist Lara Logan as speakers. Michael Yon, a regular podcast guest War room by Steven Bannon, also addressed the crowd, stating: “These immigrants flooding our border are being financed by Jewish money – Jewish, that’s right – by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which is financing people to come to here and shout 'Allahu Akbar'.”[1]

Robert Bowers, who murdered eleven Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018 in the bloodiest anti-Semitic attack in recent US history, justified his act by expressing animosity over the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society's support for immigrant rights.

No force in the United States currently poses a more serious threat to Jewish lives than the racist far right. However, you wouldn't imagine this from listening to Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, whose accusations of anti-Semitism against the presidents of Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania led to both of them losing their jobs - despite Elise Stefanik having befriended Nick Fuentes, a open anti-Semite and friend of his new mentor Donald Trump (she is one of the top choices to run for vice president).

Nor would we know it from the ranks of Nancy Pelosi, who called the students who exposed Israel's murderous attack on Gaza paid agents of Russia – an odd accusation, given that Vladimir Putin's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently declared that “ Israel has similar objectives [in Gaza] to those of Russia” in Ukraine.

Anti-Semitism in reality

The attack on left-wing critics of Zionism by center-left Democrats is directly linked to the racist narrative of the far right – regardless of how much they try to convince themselves otherwise.

Some forces that oppose Israel are anti-Semitic, as in the slogan of Yemen's Houthi militia, “Death to America, Death to Israel, curse the Jews.” This does not justify the United States and its allies bombing Houthi bases in Yemen, showing that they are more interested in the free movement of capital through the Red Sea than in lifting a finger to force Israel to stop its destruction of Gaza and the its attacks on the West Bank.

Some people on the left also hold anti-Semitic views. If this were not the case, August Bebel would not have had to call popular anti-Semitism “the socialism of fools” 150 years ago. It is anti-Semitic to argue that all Jews by nature support Zionism or that all Israelis, regardless of their origin or political convictions, are complicit in the genocidal acts of their government.

The existence of two worlds in every country is a basic principle of Marxism – a principle that racists of all genders virulently oppose. But there is no evidence that such anti-Semitic views characterize the explosion of protests against Israel by the new generation of activists that have flooded the streets over the past four months.

Muslims and Palestinians under attack

I live in Chicago, home to the largest number of Palestinians of any US city. Palestinian and Muslim organizations have held massive protests against Israel's genocide, often involving tens of thousands of people each week. Organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, Not in My Name e IfNotNow (as well as a large number of Jews unaffiliated with any organization) have been integrally involved in virtually all of them.

This culminated in a mass demonstration and sit-in on January 31, which led the City Council to pass a resolution by 24 votes to 23 – Mayor Brandon Johnson cast the deciding vote – calling for a ceasefire and at the end of hostilities. It is the largest city in the US to do so. At none of these rallies and events did Jews feel unwelcome.

Alvin Tillery, director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy at Northwestern University, recently stated, “No Jewish students have actually been subjected to violence on most campuses”—with the exception of an assault on an Israeli student at the University. of Columbia and a bomb threat at a Jewish center at Cornell University (which turned out to have come from a single disturbed student who did not belong to any organization).

Alvin Tillery added: “There is a huge generational divide on college campuses, and young Jews are in the movement to support Gaza,” because they know that “Republicans serve the master Donald Trump who is quoting Hitler in his speeches; people notice that.”

However, Virginia Fox, a Republican congresswoman from North Carolina and chair of the Education and Labor Committee who held hearings on anti-Semitism on college campuses, stated: “We want students to feel safe on their campuses, our number one problem is that Jewish students have not felt safe.”[2]

I saw no evidence of this at the high school where I teach – which has campuses in Des Plaines and Skokie, the latter a historically Jewish area that is now also home to many Muslims and Palestinians.

A short distance from my college is Plainfield, where Wadea al-Fayoume, a six-year-old Palestinian-American, was murdered in a hate crime on October 14. Some of my students attended his funeral.

Although there was no overt harassment of Muslims that I was aware of at our college, several students told me that they were being harassed by their neighbors and verbally abused because they were “terrorists.”

Many young Palestinians are keeping a low profile and silent as a way to protect themselves – except when they join the demonstrations. If there is any group that has the right to say that they do not feel safe in the current political climate, it is the Palestinians.

The most glaring aspect of this new McCarthyism is not the high-profile figures like university presidents – as tragic as that is. Worse is the silencing, the feeling that one cannot say what they feel about the current moment for fear of being tarnished with the brand of anti-Semitism.

This fear is omnipresent in academia, at various levels. It also affects faculty, especially those without tenure or who work part-time (more than 70% of those who teach at public colleges in Illinois are adjuncts with little or no job protection).

Frantz Fanon on anti-Semitism

To combat this effort to silence critical thought, discussion, and action, it is important to keep in mind what defines anti-Semitism. One thinker who has a lot to say on this subject is Frantz Fanon, the notable theorist of race and racism.

Em Black Skin, White Masks (1952), Frantz Fanon made the following observation: “At first glance, it may seem strange that the perspective of the anti-Semite should be related to that of the Negrophobe. It was my philosophy teacher, a native of the Antilles, who one day reminded me of the fact: 'Whenever you hear someone speaking badly about the Jews, pay attention, because they are talking about you'. And I discovered that he was absolutely right – and by that he meant that I was responsible, in my body and in my heart, for what was done to my brother. I later realized that he meant, quite simply, that an anti-Semite is inevitably anti-black.”[3]

Frantz Fanon points out that all forms of racism, whether directed against Jews, blacks or Arabs, share “the same fall, the same failure of man”.

Your evocation of Aimé Cesaire's comment that those who hate black people invariably hate Jews is not a mere casual observation. It is a philosophical glimpse into their shared structure. He argued that Jews and black people are victims of substitution, that is, they are objects of misdirected frustration on the part of those who refuse to face the reasons for their social and psychological suffering.

Of course, these racisms are different: “black people represent biological danger; the Jews, the intellectual danger.” (p. 127)

Black people are seen as sub-social, biological and physical; Jews are seen as suprasocial, controlling the world through their intellect. They suffer from radically different forms of substitution, but the content of dehumanization – in that they are seen as objects to the point of not really being “seen” – is the same.

Frantz Fanon is clear as water on this point when he declares, “Colonial racism is no different from any other racism. Anti-Semitism hits me directly: I am enraged, I am bleeding pale from a terrible battle, I am deprived of the possibility of being a man. I cannot dissociate myself from the future that is proposed to my brother.” (p. 65)

It goes without saying that Frantz Fanon was fervently anti-Zionist. He was a figurehead of the Algerian Revolution, which Israel actively worked to subvert. However, it would never occur to him to confuse anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, since his critique of white racism was made in the name of advancing a struggle for universal human emancipation that transcends any narrow nationalist approach.

Today, the fusion of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism – whether on the right or the left – serves the purpose of making invisible the perspective of universal human emancipation, which Frantz Fanon referred to as a “new humanism”.

Clarity on anti-Semitism

For this reason, it is worth mentioning a more recent document that addresses the issue of Zionism and anti-Semitism – the Jerusalem Declaration on Anti-Semitism, written by figures from Jewish and Middle Eastern studies in March 2021, in response to the mix made by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance between criticism of Israel and hatred of Jews.

The Jerusalem Declaration states that it is not anti-Semitic “to criticize or oppose Zionism as a form of nationalism, or… to support agreements that grant full equality to all inhabitants 'between the river and the sea,' whether in two states, one state binational, a unitary democratic state, a federal state or in any form”.

It is also not anti-Semitic, he says, to criticize “Israel's conduct in the West Bank and Gaza, the role that Israel plays in the region, or any other way in which, as a State, it influences events in the world. It is not anti-Semitic to point out their systematic racial discrimination” against Palestinians.

Furthermore, “criticisms that some may consider excessive or controversial, or that reflect a 'double standard,' are not, in and of themselves, anti-Semitic.”[4]

Apologists for bourgeois society always use double standards. The United States and the European Union clearly do so by supporting Ukraine's resistance to Russian imperialism and by opposing Palestine's struggle against Israeli imperialism. The same can be said of conservatives and liberals who rise up against human rights violations in China, Venezuela or Myanmar, but have little or nothing to say about the crimes committed by US-allied regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, India or Guatemala.

Double standards also characterize many people on the left, as when Israel's crimes against Palestine are rightly condemned, while the Syrian regime's murder of tens of thousands of civilians in Aleppo or the ethnic cleansing of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol for Russia are not.

Free discussion needed!

While some of the people on the left who use double standards may be motivated by anti-Semitism, it is obvious that the vast majority are not. They are motivated by bad politics – or what amounts to the same thing, the mentality that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

The fight against this mentality is one of the most important challenges facing the new generation of anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist activists. Without it, a viable alternative to all forms of capitalism-imperialism cannot emerge. This is all the more reason to counter the ongoing efforts of Israel's supporters to impede free discussion and debate.

The fact that a growing number of Jews no longer accept the mythology of Zionism and support the Palestinian right to self-determination is driving Zionists into fits of apoplectic frenzy.

Since they equate the continued existence of Israel as an imperialist state of apartheid maintaining their power and privilege, the last thing they want is for their lies to be exposed by those they claim to represent.

The instrumentalization of accusations of anti-Semitism is therefore increasingly an instrument to silence the opinions of left-wing and independently thinking Jews. I leave it to the reader to judge – isn’t this instrumentalization itself anti-Semitic?

*Peter Hudis is a professor of philosophy at Oakton Community College. Author, among other books, of Frantz Fanon: philosopher of the barricades.

Text originally published on the portal Against the Current. Translated by Carlos Carujo for the website left.net.

Notes


[1] “Far-right Convoy Protesting Migrant Crisis Near Southern Border,” by Jacob Rosen, CBS News, February 3, 2024.

[2] Quoted in “GOP to Extend Colleges Inquiry Beyond Antisemitism,” by Anne Karni, The New York Times, January 6, 2024, A11.

[3] Black Skin, White Masks, by Frantz Fanon, translated by Charles Lam Markmann (London: Pluto Press, 1988), 92. All page numbers in the text are from this edition.

[4] https://jerusalemdeclaration.org(link is external)


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