The problem of current anti-Semitism

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By ANDREA ZHOK*

The main fuel of today's anti-Semitism, very different from the racial anti-Semitism of a century ago, is precisely Israel's cultural attitude

In recent days, there has been intense talk again about “anti-Semitism” on the occasion of some symbolic manifestations (damage to memorial stones, Stars of David painted on walls, etc.) that recall obscure historical precedents.

Now, that anti-Semitism is a human aberration – at best stupidity, at worst a crime – is certain, without a shadow of a doubt. Anti-Semitism is a variant of racism and is condemnable for the same reasons that all racism must be condemned: as a view that generalizes a negative moral judgment, extending it to all members of an ethno-racial group, as such.

Moral judgments are, and can legitimately be, just judgments about specific acts and people. When negative moral judgments are made about groups, a negative attribution (presumed or real) is extended to all members of the group, saving the effort of evaluating whether this is applicable to the individuals who are part of it.

If we now ask ourselves what the reasons are for the ostensible contemporary anti-Semitic recurrences, the first thing we should note is how today the motivations that in the darkest periods of XNUMXth century anti-Semitism formed the backbone of those prejudices are missing.

Nazism was nourished by a biological-racial conception that allowed it to easily jump from the blame of the individual to that of the group: the idea was that “evil” lay in the “natural dispositions of the race”. Today, however, this view is essentially extinct and I don't believe that since the Second World War it has been claimed by anyone (psychiatric cases aside).

This means that, when we talk about “anti-Semitism” today, we must consider that it cannot be exactly the same thing as what for us is the archetypal image of anti-Semitism, that is, the history of Jewish persecution in Europe between 1935 and 1945.

If we want to talk about anti-Semitism today, we must talk about an ethno-political anti-Semitism and not an ethno-racial one, in which the historical question of the State of Israel plays a very significant, if not totalizing, role. And yet it seems clear that here is once again at work that pernicious paradigm of generalization, according to which an individual is judged in a morally negative way simply because he belongs to a group. Thus, a Jew who has nothing to do with the State of Israel may find himself involved in a dismissive judgment, by extension, a judgment regarding Israel's policies.

When this happens we are facing a true example of anti-Semitism.

The question, however, now is: who encourages this flat-rate identification of Israel, and specifically the choices of its political class, with Judaism in general? And the answer here, I believe, is quite clear. The first culprit of this flat-rate and uncritical identification between Judaism and the State of Israel is the State of Israel.

This can be seen in several examples. Firstly, it is the Israeli political class that has continued, constantly, from 1948 until today, to describe any international criticism of its policies as “anti-Semitism”. Given that Israel constantly violates numerous international resolutions, specifically with regard to its treatment of indigenous (Palestinian) populations, the repeated and infallible response to many who defended the Palestinian cause in the last 80 years was to accuse them of “anti-Semitism”. . If you disapprove of Nakba, it means you applaud the Shoah. That simple.

The accusation of anti-Semitism is not just any accusation in the Western world, born from the rubble of the Second World War: it is an accusation that continues Nazism and, therefore, what is considered “absolute evil”. It is an accusation that in many countries corresponds to a criminal charge. It is an accusation that completely delegitimizes the interlocutor, which declares war on him (you cannot, under any circumstances, argue with someone who, by definition, just wants your extermination, right?).

This conditioned reflex is associated with another card, symmetrical and very dangerous, namely “historical victimism”. We saw, in recent days, this card being played in the most obvious way when, in the same days when the Israeli army was killing between 300 and 400 civilians a day, its representatives at the UN thought it best to present themselves with the yellow Star of David pinned to their jacket. . As the president of Yad Vashem (the institution responsible for the memory of the Holocaust) said, this gesture “dishonors the victims of the Holocaust”.

And, naturally, the whole world immediately noticed this scandal (ok, except for those who still swallow the lysergic acid of North American dancers in our media).

The victim role is the one most constantly used as a weapon of propaganda and diplomatic pressure by the Israeli government since its birth. For the UN ambassador, Gilad Erdan, it seemed perfectly normal, and in keeping with a consolidated tradition, to present himself as the direct heir to the mistakes of four generations ago.

Of course, what is implicit in this vision is the idea of ​​an ethnic identification that transcends time and space, and that would make the current Israeli government indebted to the world in which Anne Frank or Primo Levi suffered. The fact of feeling like a victim, of placing yourself as a creditor of history, apparently justifies all revenge, including the 3500 children massacred in 20 days.

Free from other considerations, what always leaves us curious about this attitude is the choice of objects on which to vent one's own vengeful fury. After all, if Ambassador Gilad Erdan, or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or Minister Galant are so firmly convinced of the historical heritability of guilt and merit, debt and credit, it is not clear why they have not yet declared war on Germany, calling for a “national home” in Bavaria rather than blaming two million starving people in Palestine.

A final observation about this tendency to generalize merits and faults, debts and historical credits, must be made in relation to what happens in Palestine, where the idea of ​​collective guilt (and punishment) is taken as absolutely guaranteed by the Israeli government. The idea of ​​collective punishment has been present since the 1970s with the destruction of homes of Palestinian families suspected of anti-Israeli activities, as well as in thousands of other cases, but in recent days we have heard it repeatedly at the highest levels (e.g. ambassadors, Knesset members, ministers) with the declaration that “there are no innocent civilians in Gaza”.

Now, unfortunately, the idea of ​​collective guilt and merit based on belonging to an ethnic group is what Israel has continually claimed for its own benefit, but, unfortunately, it is, with rigor and precision, the same operation that, when reversed, it becomes incarnated in anti-Semitism.

Simply put, the main fuel of today's anti-Semitism, very different from the racial anti-Semitism of a century ago, is precisely the cultural attitude of Israel, which systematically reasons in order to propose an identification between its own policies – even the most unspeakable ones – and the identity Jewish.

Fortunately, there are many Jews in the world who continue to lucidly contest the Zionist project and the violence it provoked. We have seen them, in recent days, protest in New York, but also in Jerusalem.

Maybe all those media outlets that always talk about the specter of anti-Semitism would do a service to the real fight against anti-Semitism, giving a little more voice to these Jews and a little less to a genocidal government.

*Andrea Zhok is professor of philosophy at the University of Milan. Author, among other books, of Critique of the liberal ragione: A philosophy of current history (Meltemi). https://amzn.to/3Sxfq0K]

Translation: Juliana Haas.

Originally posted on the author's social media.


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