Sunday, July 03, 2011

Anti-Semitism and First World Problems

I'm going to leave discussion of what's going on at Yale to those with personal connections to that university/the relevant organizations, and move on to one of the questions that came up in the discussion with somewhat broader significance. At Slate, historian David Greenberg asks,

"How did a concern with anti-Semitism, whether scholarly or political, come to be seen as the province of the right?"

Greenberg's points are sound, and I certainly agree with his assessment of this particular round of liberals being wary to discuss contemporary anti-Semitism. But he doesn't, I think, get to the root of the question, one that has just about zilch to do with Israel, let alone Walt-Mearsheimer. We're about to go back a century before the founding of that country, so bear with me:

Long ago, a half-century before what we generally think of as the beginning of anti-Semitism (that fin-de-siècle moment, spanning from the coining of the term to the exoneration of Alfred Dreyfus), there were a whole lot of people all worked-up about The Jews. Writing anti-Jewish tirades and so forth. Angry about the Rothschilds, the railroads, and modernity, these sorts have been labeled retroactively "economic anti-Semites." Not yet so interested in racial theorizing, this set objected to Jews not on the basis of religion, but because they saw Jews as too rich and powerful. Economic anti-Semitism fit in with populism, and was housed - you guessed it - on the left. Indeed, it was only during the Dreyfus Affair that anti-Semitism stopped being a socially acceptable element of socialism in France. Prior to that, hating Jews was perfectly compatible with fighting for social justice.

While everything was warm and fuzzy for a little bit, in France, at least, after Dreyfus was freed, but soon enough, Europeans remembered that Jews make a super convenient shorthand for that which populists like to mobilize against. Then there was the Holocaust, which I'm not getting into here, because I'm assuming my readers a) have heard of it, and b) know that economic resentment of Jews entered into it, even though many Jews, particularly in Eastern Europe, were plenty poor, as my atavistic ability to improvise ways to cook a small quantity of potatoes in a way that makes them seem like they're a lot of potatoes attests.

Fast forward to today. We're now living in an age of dividing the marginalized from the privileged, one in which the former get Studies programs, the latter not. (Of course, I study French Studies, so forget what I just said.) While "marginalized" as defined in America these days is not entirely about class, the fact that Jews are understood to be a group of well-off white people means Jewish-specific concerns are understood as by definition First World Problems. The Jewish woman who feels compelled to straighten her hair is simply a white woman with frizz, and ought not to claim hers as a hair-politics concern. The Jewish man rendered uncomfortable by Sarah Palin's praise of Real America should obviously STFU, already, because he's some privileged dude living in city, and every last sitcom since forever is based on his lifestyle. It's not that everyone living today, like me, is neck-deep in 1840s France. It's that there's a certain continuity in how Jews are understood. I mean, even in the 1840s, one French commentator explained that while the Jews were once oppressed, they were now actually all-powerful, but big whiners who complained about being persecuted. Plus ça change comes to mind.

Let me be clear: it's not that it's fundamentally in keeping with being on the left to be anti-Semitic. And I haven't begun to get into the ways in which anti-Semitism fits neatly with many strands of conservatism past and present. But the reason liberals today aren't shouting from the rooftops about anti-Semitism is the same as why they weren't long ago: Jews aren't, or more accurately aren't viewed as, marginalized. Being on the left has always been about supporting the downtrodden, and since anti-Semitism is and always was about accusing Jews of being insufficiently downtrodden, there are only these rare moments when the obvious left-wing position is to get worked up about anti-Semitism - moments when anti-Semitism's on-the-ground influence is so great (think the Dreyfus Affair, the Holocaust) that thinking of Jews as victims becomes uncontroversial.

Where does Israel fit into this? The idea that Zionism was and continues to be the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, a flawed movement but a legitimate liberation movement akin to the postcolonial ones all the same, this gets lost because Israel is a wealthy enough country with a white-ish population. The fact that Israel was founded by those Europe had rejected on account of their "Oriental" "race" and told to "go back to Palestine" gets lost and replaced by the idea that Israel's a country dominated by a bunch of white Europeans - with all the global privilege that entails - who have no place in the Middle East. But the issue isn't really Israel, or even the fact that the Palestinians are indisputably suffering, somewhat more disputably the non-white party in the conflict (disputably because, Ohad Knoller aside, Jewish Israeli's aren't all that white) - it's about how Jews are perceived at home. I suspect that many in America picture Israel as basically a wealthy American suburb, a great big West End Avenue by the sea.

Anyway. Ideally those on the left would see that anti-Semitism is an odd kind of bigotry that surfaces the most when its victims seem to be doing the best, i.e. when they seem the least underdog-ish. And there's no reason understanding this wouldn't be compatible with more straightforward social-justice advocacy, including for the Palestinians. Occasionally some on the left do see this, even in good times, but these tend to be Jews, and, as Greenberg notes, only a handful of Jewish liberals, at that.


J. Otto Pohl said...

I am not sure how one would argue that Jews in the US today are marginalized. Certainly they are not downtrodden or oppressed as I understand these terms. Opposing anti-semitism is a popular cause for everybody in the US, left or right. But, the last case of large scale discrimination against Jews was in the USSR and that state no longer exists. So while anti-semitism still exists, there is not anywhere in the world today where large numbers of Jews suffer from discrimination or persecution due to state policies. This fact alone I think explains most of the lack of interest in contemporary anti-semitism. There certainly was a lot of interest in the subject from both liberal human rights activists and others during the 1970s and 1980s regarding Soviet Jews.

eamonnmcdonagh said...

cracking stuff, Phoebe

Marni Jane said...

Re: sarah palin point, i'm not certain that's entirely accurate--with the caveat that i'm in the middle of iowa--but from my time on the far left, folks seemed extremely willing to denounce moderate to far right anti-semitism or questionable rhetoric. Just not their own. I'd go so far to say that focusing on the right allows them a convenient out for ignoring their own issues.

Phoebe said...

J. Otto,

I find your comment baffling, because the very point of my post was that liberals find it easier to be anti-anti-Semitism at times when Jews are very obviously underdogs (I mentioned the Dreyfus Affair and the Holocaust, but Russian/Soviet history has some prime examples as well). The issue with anti-Semitism is that the marginalization doesn't look like what liberals recognize as marginalization, because it's a negative reaction to Jews being what anti-Semites deem as insufficiently downtrodden.

But, seeing as my explanation of this apparently didn't stick, see David Schraub here.

Marni Jane,

Having some trouble following you, or rather where Sarah Palin or Iowa fit into what I take to be your point - that those on the left are often willing to call out anti-Semitism on the right, but not from their own ranks. But yes, as a rule, this is true of the left and the right - anti-Semitism and other isms are brought up as a way of claiming that the other side's the nasty one.

PG said...

For a certain argument on the libertarian right (i.e. that in the absence of state action in the form of actual Jim Crow legislation, widespread private discrimination would have ceased long ago and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 wouldn't have been necessary anyway), it's kind of necessary to pretend that large-scale bigotry against Jews didn't exist in the U.S. If you admit that it did exist -- that Jews were routinely discriminated against in everything from education to housing to employment, despite the total lack of legislation saying that they should be segregated -- then you have to admit that maybe it's not just the fault of The State that segregation of POC hung on so long.

From the left, I think it's easy to forget that history of oppression (contra J. Otto, I think a group can be oppressed even if it's not stated government policy to oppress them) because of the yay-vibrant-Jewish-ghetto stuff that you've mentioned before. E.g. the law firms founded by Jews in the 1950s who couldn't get hired by any white shoe Wall Street firm are now among the most profitable and prestigious. The camps and clubs Jews created when they were shut out of existing ones are nostalgically recalled in "Dirty Dancing" without reference to the environment of discrimination that made them necessary.

Ideally those on the left would see that anti-Semitism is an odd kind of bigotry that surfaces the most when its victims seem to be doing the best, i.e. when they seem the least underdog-ish.

At least in North America, I think this is "an odd kind of bigotry" that's also surfaced against Asian immigrant communities. The "dot-bashing" in certain South Asian-heavy communities in the Northeast U.S. and Canada seems more tied to resentment of economic success. Korean groceries got smashed up in urban riots of the 1980s and early 1990s because these recent immigrants were failing to be as underdoggish as their black and brown neighbors. And as I think you noted before, the Jewish quotas in higher education are believed to have been replaced by Asian ones.

I don't know what kind of bigotry has confronted Asian immigrant communities that have had less economic success (e.g. Hmongs who'd been rural and not Western-educated before being forced to refugee to U.S. after the Vietnam War), but I'd expect it took somewhat different forms.

Phoebe said...


Good point logically re: right libertarians' ideology, but do they ever actually spell that out?

"At least in North America, I think this is 'an odd kind of bigotry' that's also surfaced against Asian immigrant communities."

Yes, and against gays as well. The thinking is, how can a group with disproportionate economic success (within some contexts - the full picture is rarely examined) be marginalized? When really, all that "marginalized" means, baseline, is that a group is identified with the definite article, and that others believe it's possible to use the group in question as a proxy for other concerns. It means being Other. It doesn't mean that all oppressions are equal, or that Jews, Asians, or gays have experienced anything like the level of discrimination blacks have in America.

Nicholas said...

To jump in on the right libertarians question: it's been my experience that they usually think non-governmental oppression is not, strictly speaking, a concern for libertarianism at all. Whether societies generate hostility and/or oppression towards marginalized groups may be an interesting fact (or may not be, witness those right libertarians who claim the 18th century as the true age of liberty in the US), but so long as the oppression isn't caused by the government, it's not an issue for the theory.

PG said...


I'm aware that the libertarian right generally doesn't see non-governmental oppression as a concern, but I'm speaking of a particular argument advanced with regard to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (I particularly recall it as debated by David Bernstein circa 2004). The person arguing is essentially trying to convince the majority of people, who think forcing people not to discriminate is a pretty good thing as governmental exercises of force go, that in fact it only seems like a good thing because the government had previously been forcing people to discriminate.


I don't think the folks advancing the argument that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was only necessary because of government-mandated Jim Crow have ever explicitly said that bigotry against Jews has to be ignored for their argument to make logical sense. They just seem to ignore it (which, when we're talking about David "Everyone Hates the Jews/Israel" Bernstein, is kind of particularly bizarre).

Among which folks on the left have you seen the argument that gays aren't really marginalized because they're economically successful? I'm frankly not aware of any liberals who argue that gays aren't at all marginalized (though undoubtedly there may be some Marxist types who would say that non-economic marginalizations aren't important, but Marx didn't have a very good record regarding The Jews himself). The bigotry against gays on the right seems to be that they shouldn't exist -- the Michele/Marcus Bachmann idea that homosexuality needs to be cured, not tolerated.

Anonymous said...

Anti semitism is much more ancient than Dreyfuss. It goes all the way back to the Romans renaming the place "Palestine" as to deny Jewish heritage.

Phoebe said...

Blogger, don't eat my comments!

Anyway. Nicholas, PG, you both know more about right libertarianism than I do. Re: David Bernstein, I know he's pro-Israel and on Volokh, but haven't read that regularly since college, which was a good while ago, and thus don't remember if he ever said there oughta be a law wrt anti-Semitism.


Yes, modern anti-Semitism, as in the ideology that goes by that name, predates Dreyfus, but only by about a decade. Hatred of Jews is obviously much, much older. There are some continuities, but some pretty key differences. Traditional Jew-hatred was about hating Jews for being too different. Modern has been about hating Jews for being too similar, for "passing," and for participating "too" successfully in mainstream society.

Phoebe said...

And, PG,

"Among which folks on the left have you seen the argument that gays aren't really marginalized because they're economically successful?"

I've seen this argued on the right. My sense is that gays will only join Asians and Jews as a group against whom bigotry cannot possibly exist, given their econ. success, once remaining legal discrimination is eliminated. As it stands, the populist take - that gays are rich people who live in cities and as such who cares about their fancy-schmancy concerns - isn't compatible with left-populism, because of remaining legal inequality.

David Hirsh said...

Love it.

Phoebe said...

David Hirsh,

Thanks so much!

Daniel Goldberg said...

What Eamonn said. This post exemplifies the best Francophilic Zionism on the web.

Phoebe said...

Daniel Goldberg (and Eamonn, of course),


conchovor said...

'I am not sure how one would argue that Jews in the US today are marginalized.'

But they are not the primary targets of modern antisemitism. The Jews, or descendants of the Jews, which the previous waves of antisemitism drove from old world Christendom and Islam, post-1914, to become the second or largest Jewish community in the world today, the Jewish state of Israel, are.

They are the primary target of antisemitism world wide. 1930-60s (and Soviet alienation, 1970s-80s) Jews to Palestine/Israel. 2010, Jews out of Palestine.

For 2000 years, Jews were assumed to be a people exiled and dispossessed, in a diaspora. In the 20th and 21st century, now that Jews are substantially in the land again, that memory is 'forgotten', and suddenly Jewish peoplehood, exile and dispossession, the basis of a Zionist or Jewish national restoration and return to the land, is questioned as to whether it occurred at all.

The goal is the same: to deconstruct or dissolve the state of the Jews/Israel in whatever contemporary they or it take.

In Europe, post-old world Christendom, the few Jews left are professedly loved to distraction (hence refuting charges of antisemitism) while, or that, the many afar, in Israel, are hated.

Solidarity with millions of dead Jews. Hatred, sometimes psychotic, for millions of living ones.

But David Hirsh and others have said much of this before.

Marni Jane said...

That was really my only point, which from your post i didn't think you seemed to believe existed, or moreso had the impression that you seemed to think lefties didn't decry it on the right because even anti-semitism on the right is seen as a 1st world problem. If that makes more sense. The bit about iowa was simply meant to convey that it's entirely possible "real america" grown liberal/leftists might take a different approach than in your neck of the woods.

J. Otto Pohl said...


Jews in Israel are by definition not marginalized. It is a Jewish State, a State of and for Jews, that is the exact opposite of marginalization. It is non-Jews, particularly Arabs that are marginalized in Israel. Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are more than marginalized they are oppressed and downtrodden.

Imagine if the US declared itself a state for all White Christians rather than of its citizens. Then having done that expelled 85% of the non-Chrisitans and non-Whites into Mexico and Canada. Then finally placed all the non-Christians and non-Whites living in territories taken from Mexico under military rule and denied them US citizenship. Meanwhile White settlers in Arizona had their own roads that local Hispanics that had been there for centuries could not drive on. That is exactly the situation that exists in Israel and Palestine today. If the US treated Jews the way Israel treats Palestinians there would be another round of Lehi and Irgun terrorism aimed against the US rather than the UK.

Israel is also not marginalized in the world. Compare it to South Africa or Rhodesia which had very similar policies in being White states ruling over lots of non-Whites. The US and UN imposed sanctions and ended the existence of the White state. No such thing has happened regarding Israel which receives unconditional US support. It should be marginalized like South Africa. Instead of a Jewish state it should be a state of all its citizens Jews, Arabs and others with equal rights. It is not the only racist state in the world, but it is the only one that is openly supported in the US.

Phoebe said...

J. Otto,

It's not my aim here to convince the unconvinceable re: I-P concerns. You obviously, from this comment and earlier ones, think what you think. Clearly Zionism being the national liberation mvt of the Jewish people does not enter into your thinking, and you see only the sometimes tragic flaws in its execution, which, though real, are not the whole story.

What you might budge on, if you're flexible, is this:

"Compare it to South Africa or Rhodesia which had very similar policies in being White states ruling over lots of non-Whites."

I'm not going to have the whole "apartheid" debate with you here. But I will ask: In what way, shape, or form is the I-P conflict about whiteness? (See also.) I mean, obviously you'll get bigots on both sides claiming a "racial" beef with Israelis/Jews, Palestinians/Arabs. But it's missing the point to look at the conflict as being about racism in either direction - either "white" Israeli Jews having it in for "brown" Palestinians, or, for that matter, Palestinians having it in for Jews because they're just these huge anti-Semites, and it's on that latter point that I differ, perhaps, from many other Zionists.

(There are some who are not Palestinians - often white, non-Jewish Americans and Europeans - who come to that particular cause because they're anti-Semites, but that's another matter. Actual Palestinians have actual beef with Israel, and would no matter what the ethnic/religious background of the Israelis.)

Anyway. It's truly bizarre to me that not even that long after Jews were the victims of a genocide that declared them non-white, non-European, the absolute antithesis of white European, anyone could see Jewish Israelis (and not even getting into the issue of how many of them are not Ashkenazi) and their conflict with the Palestinians as about whiteness.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Race is a legally constructed category. It is not about skin color at all. It is about being born into a defined category from which escape by assimilation is very difficult. Different regimes construct racial categories diffently, but skin color is not the only way to do it. In fact anti-semitism has nothing to do with skin color and is based upon using other markers of race. On Israeli ID cards you can not specify Israeli as your nationality you must put Jew or Arab. These national categories have become racialized because within Israel they are inherited at birth, immutable and transferred to the next generation. Rights are explicitely tied to these categories with Jews being favored in all public spheres over Arabs. Jew and Arabs are racial categories within Israel even if they are not outside of it. This is no different from S. Africans having ID cards saying Black, White or Colored and having differnt rights on this basis.

Race is any category that you are born into, can not generally escape during your life time, and is passed on automatically to your children. It can be marked by skin color, ethnic heritage, religion, or any other number of markers. But, under international law discrimination on the basis of descent, nationl origin or ethnic origin is considered racial discrimination. The 1965 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination defines racial discrimination as any "distinction, restriciton or preference based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origins." In the USSR the defining criteria was ancestral language. In Israel it is a combination of ancestral religion and ethnic heritage. But, skin color is irrelevant in this case. The racial categories are not white and non-white, but Jew and Arab. Compare for instance the fact that Pushkin under US law was Black, but is considered purely Russian by Russians. Yet, certainly racism existed in Tsarist Russia just not against people of African descent. Again the categories were not the same as in the US.

The Afrikaaners also claimed that seperate development was about national self determination. They were also victims of genocide. During the Boer War some 27% died in British concentration camps. They also claimed that the differences between Blacks and Whites were purely ethnic and cultural, not genetic, but still practiced an essentialized racism. The similarities are startingly similar. The fact is national self-determination does not give a nationality the right to create an exclusivist state which denies fundamental rights to a large minority of people under its rule. The Afrikaaners did not have such a right and neither do the Jews in Israel.

Phoebe said...

Yes, race is a construction (social and/or legal), one not limited to "skin color" or phenotype. That aside, huh? You really think the Holocaust, and the entire history of Western and non-Western anti-Semitism, is comparable to the Afrikaaners' situation? (Is any situation in which there are enemies self-defining on hereditary lines one involving "whites"?) Exactly how is it not a heck of a lot more comparable to, say, Algeria, or number of other such nations, where colonial oppression was swapped for messy independence, with crappy consequences for whichever out-groups ensued? Where the appropriate response isn't to say, great, Algeria, you just go and do whatever, but where the basic premise of Algerian independence is acknowledged as just? I'm sure it's so much less fun to think of Israelis in those terms than as meanie white oppressors, but... consider it. It doesn't mean having to think things are fair for the Palestinians, I promise.

J. Otto Pohl said...

If you want to compare the Israeli Jews to the pied noirs I would say that is an apt comparison. The pied noirs almost all went back to France. So if Algeria rather than S. Africa is the model then the Jews all have to go back to Europe. I would think that the S. African model of being allowed to stay as full and equal citizens of Palestine would have more appeal from a humanitarian perspective.

If your comparison of Jewish Israelis to Arab Algerians then it is ridiculous. The Arabs and Berbers like the Palestinians were the native population. Except for a small minority, almost all Israeli Jews are descendents of people who arrived in Palestine as colonists after the mid 19th c. That would be around the same time that the European colonists settled in Algeria. That is much, much later than the Dutch settled in S. Africa.

I am not sure why you keep harping on white. It is the creation of categories not their names that are important. My point is that a Jewish state in Palestine is no more morally acceptable than a White state in S. Africa. The Holocaust no more justifies this than the genocide committed by the British against the Afrikanners. By percentage of world population the losses by the Boers in concentration camps were about equal to Jewish losses during the Holocaust. So yes they are comparable. It is not that Jews are white oppressors in Israel. They are Jewish oppressors since that is how racial categories are defined in Israel. But, they are in the same legal position vs. Palestinians that white oppressors were in S. Africa vs. Blacks.

Again does the US have the right to declare itself a state of all White Christians and not of its citizens? If not, why is Israel allowed to create a state where only Jews have full rights? Is the US allowed to treat Jews the way Israel treats the Palestinians? If not why not? White supremicists in the US have long stated that they only want the same rights that Jews have in Israel. So why should the US government not declare itself a White Christian nation, destroy your apartment and expel you into Mexico? Why is the right of "national self determination" reserved only for Jews in Israel? If Israel has a fundamental national right to discriminate against Arabs why does the US not have the same right to treat Jews and other minorities in the same manner?

Phoebe said...

I'm going to give this one more shot, and then if any of the folks coming here from the various sites that have linked here apparently don't think I'm way off on this one want to chime in, that would be delightful.

How are Jews like the Algerians? Not in a point-by-point-exact comparison, but in the sense of having been marginalized as an indigenous group. Not just, people in Europe and beyond were so mean to the Jews, but Jews were considered, by European Christians, to come from Palestine, and to be foreigners anywhere else they might live. So yes, to answer your rather preposterous question, if modern-day white Christian Americans had been oppressed for eons and that oppression consisted of them being told they'd never belong anywhere, and to go back to where they came from, and that place was America, then I would consider it totally justified for Americans to be (more) white-Christian-exclusive.

As for my "harping" (ugh) about "white," it's coming from your own comments. (Specifically: "Israel is also not marginalized in the world. Compare it to South Africa or Rhodesia which had very similar policies in being White states ruling over lots of non-Whites. ") And from others with your viewpoint elsewhere. When it's good to be white, Jews are "Semites"; when "white" is bad, oppressive, mean, then Jews are obviously the whitest of them all.

Phoebe said...

Oh, and to add to the second paragraph above: Obviously what makes the Israeli case different is that at one and the same time as Jews were, for many Europeans, "Palestinians," there were also real-life Arabs living in Palestine. Both groups - Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs - have legitimate claims on that area. Thus - radical idea I know - perhaps a two-state-solution is in order.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Collectively Jews are not the natives of Palestine in the modern era. In 1800 there were very few Jews in the area that became the British Mandate of Palestine in 1918. There was nobody alive who among the Diaspora who remembered living in ancient Israel by then either. The fact that Europeans may have claimed Jews as Palestinians it does not make it so. The Afrikaaners believed themselves natives of S. Africa as well. Given the time frame involved had a better claim than the Israelis. They had been there a couple centuries longer by 1948.

European persecution of Jews does not give Israel the right to persecute Arabs. Again the Afrikaaners were victims of British genocide. There is nobody who denies the concentration camps built by Kitchner caused the death of about a quarter of their population. But, this did not give them any right to discriminate against Blacks.

But, even if Jews were the natives of Palestine that does not give them the right to deny basic human rights to minorities. Do European nations have the right to persecute people of immigrant descent? Human rights are universal. Giving a certain population the right to create an ethnically exclusive state in a multi-ethnic territory is just wrong. No matter what somebody else may have done to the Jews back before 1948 it does not give them the right to expel, kill, torture, and otherwise repress the Palestinians.

Israel gets a free pass on this for purely ideological and tribal reasons. But, if one were honest about consistency then nobody should have any rights outside their titular and ancestral homeland. This is not the case. Other states manage to have states of their citizens rather than ethnocracies. Ghana is not an Akan state, the US is not a White Christian state, South Africa is not a Xhosa state. Again if the US did to Jews what Israel did to Palestinians I do not think you would like it.

Phoebe said...

OK, I really can't leave that as the last word.

If you're going to continue leaving comments here, please read the one's you're supposedly responding to. If you had, you wouldn't have written, "Collectively Jews are not the natives of Palestine in the modern era." You would have gotten the conundrum, which is that, at one and the same time Jews were treated in other places, esp. Europe as, in effect, unwanted immigrants from Palestine, a fact fully independent of whether those same Jews had ever been to Palestine, whether their distant ancestors were or were not ancient Hebrews, etc. At one and the same time, there were, as you say, and as I already said!, Arabs native to Palestine, living on that land. No, obviously, it's not (Arab) Palestinians' fault that Jews in Europe were being told to "go back to" a place they weren't even from in any direct sense. But it's also not Jews' fault that, after having been told this since forever, they opted to base their national liberation movement on the premise of finally doing what had been asked of them all along. Meaning, the Palestinians have beef, yes, and if in practical terms it's with Israel, if you step back a bit, it's really with the non-Jews in Europe who insisted that however many generations European, Jews were "Oriental."

Gilbert said...

Otto Pohl: Your comments about the Arabs being discriminated against and marginalised in Israel are utterly wrong. These comments should be challenged and called out for their ignorance.

Arabs are full citizens of the State of Israel wih Arab Members of Knesset in mainstream parties as well as their own parties.

Arab MKs have full freedom to either criticize the state, on the one hand, in the Knesset no less! and to serve in all branches of government, on the other hand.

Not for Israeli Arabs who wish to criticize policies of the government, the dreaded 'knock in the night' as is in other Arab states.

Arabs work in all walks of life in Israel. They are prosperous and if you don't believe me then you should go there and see for yourself.

As students they have powerful representatives in the various universities. Only recently, did Haifa university agree not to play the Israeli national anthem for fear of offending them. On the point of the anthem, I would argue that I recognise it to be a problematic issue.

No other country would grant such rights to another minority whose co-religionists are in a state of war with it.

And quite frankly, your posts are ahistoric and revisionist. It was not some 'tribe' that granted modern day Israel its independence but the refusal of the Arab states to recognise the United Nations partition plan in '47.

The situation in Israel is not perfect of course. However, the issues outstading of integrating Arabs more into Israeli society will have to wait for a few moew years yet. In the meantime, the Israeli Arabs are doing very nicely, thank you very much.

As to the situation in the Occupied Territories, you are on stronger ground. But why on earth should someone with a modicum of intellectual honesty give you the time of day when your post about Israel pre-1967 is so wrong?

PG said...

The notion that race in Israel is constructed as Jews and Arabs is just bizarre. Indians have immigrated to Israel on the basis of ancestral Judaism (and been settled in the West Bank!). So Indians are now "racially" Jewish?

This requires one to strip "race" of any useful meaning in order to widen it to include religion. (It's a bit like the peculiar British tendency to refer to anti-Muslim bigotry as "racism" -- no, really, it's religious bigotry and that's bad too.) To assert that such-and-such is a "race," one looks at various factors wherein the most important is probably geographic origin (which today can be determined through genetic testing), but others have been skin color, facial features and, circularly, personality types.

PG said...


No other country would grant such rights to another minority whose co-religionists are in a state of war with it.

Um, India banning Salman Rushdie -- despite his being one of the country's most famous writers -- because he offended Muslims?

Jacob Arnon said...

J. Otto Pohl said... “…the last case of large scale discrimination against Jews was in the USSR and that state no longer exists.”

It wasn’t liberals nor socialists who first made us aware of the oppressions of Jews in the Soviet Union but Jews like Elie Wiesel whose “Jews of Silence” made a lot of noise.

In fact during the cold war it was almost axiomatic that if you were concerned about the plight of the Jews in the Soviet Union over the plight of “the third world” that you were not a real leftist or even a liberal.

The same is true today to care more about expressions of antisemitism in the Arab world including Muslims living in Europe over the “plight of the

Palestinians” then you are not a real leftist or “humanist.”

Jews as Jews just don’t seem to matter to the left. They view them as some kind of metaphysical threat. This is why many leftists feel more comfortable with Hamas and Hezbollah than with Jews.

Jacob Arnon said...

J. Otto Pohl said..

“Collectively Jews are not the
natives of Palestine in the modern era. In 1800 there were very few Jews in the area that became the British Mandate of Palestine in 1918. There was nobody alive who among the Diaspora who remembered living in ancient Israel by then either. The fact that Europeans may have claimed Jews as Palestinians it does not make it so.”

What awful, nonsense, Otto.

You are playing with words Jews were not native to “Palestine” because Palestine was the name given to the land of Israel by the Romans after they made Judea judenrein. Palestine is the Roman name for Philistia. The Arabs invaded that region and settled it (because it was Judenrein).

Jews though they had been deported from Judea never forgot it and believed that one day they would return to it. They prayed to be able to do so the way people thirsty for rain pray for water.

Now, while most Jews had no way or returning to it in every generation for two thousand years the bravest of them journeyed to Eretz Yisroel and some left accounts of their travels.

Also in every generation in the Muslim and Christian lands people rose to oppress or expel the Jews because they were foreigners who didn’t belong there.

Jews were murdered in Germany and other European countries because they were native to Judea and not to Europe.

Btw: are you related to the late Oswald Pohl, or are you using that last name as a provocation?

Phoebe said...


"The notion that race in Israel is constructed as Jews and Arabs is just bizarre."

Thank you. I'd posted about this here before and now can't find it... but, point is, it's far more productive to look at the I-P conflict as one of enemies than as one about "racism." And that goes in both directions - I's beef with P isn't that they're Arabs, nor is P's beef with I "anti-Semitism." Each side has legitimate grievances with the other side. That sometimes idiots on both sides express their contempt in "racial" language doesn't make the conflict fundamentally about race. Granted, there are some non-Jew-or-Arabs who side with Israel because they are racists who hate Arabs, other non-Jew-or-Arabs who side with the Palestinians because they are racists who hate Jews. But as for the parties themselves, it's not some kind of "race war."

Gilbert said...

And further to Jacob Arnon's last post: the Nordic League, one British Nazi group the 30s used to bait Jews with the slogan 'Perish Judah'.

Phoebe said...

Oh, and for J. Otto, if still here, or if not, for the rest. This sure is interesting. "Rigged," you say? Gee, I wonder what that's not-so-subtly hinting at.

Gilbert said...

Phoebe, I was also interested to see this nugget:

He says: 'Even today a lot of people don't think Stalin's murder of 15 million people was nearly as bad as Hitler's killing of 5 million Jews.'

See the use of the term [mere]'killing' when applied to Jews but 'murder' when applied to Stalin's victims.
Also, Herr Pohl seems to have 'lost' a million or so Jewish victims. Is Herr Pohl a Holocaust revisionist?
Finally, Pohl minimises the number of Hitler's victims (limiting it to the innacurate number of Jews)so that the Nazis come off looking pretty good by comparison to Stalin.

A big in order.

Jacob Arnon said...

Otto Pohl’s belief system as posted on his blog is deeply anti-Jewish:

It’s also incorrect to claim that the “expulsion of ethnic Germans from Central Europe by Stalin was the equivalent of the “expulsion of ‘Palestinians’ by Israel.”

The ethnic Germans never made war on Russia, in fact they were pretty loyal by all accounts while the “Palestinian Arabs” did make war on the Jews and they weren’t all expelled. Many of them fled hoping to come back when the Arab League would defeat Israel.

Also his view that

“The Soviet Union, particularly under Stalin, practiced racial discrimination against a number of nationalities and Jews were not the worst treated group by a long shot.”

This is also false. Jews were targeted for their ethnicity as well as religious beliefs. That some Jews were allowed to join the Communists proves nothing since many ethnic Germans also joined the communist party. Lenin was partly of German extraction on his mother’s side.

As for the meaning of the killings during WW2 here is a review of a book on the subject that says it all:

“The Butchery of Hitler and Stalin” by James Kirchick

Pohl is not unique in Europe in his anti-Jewish belief system.

Mar Lizaro said...

Beautifully written and illuminating.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

A great piece. I would like to point out, though, that it is wholly written from the European, or Western perspective. But Israel was not built up by European Jews alone, but also from Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews who fled from the surrounding Muslim countries. From that perspective it is difficult even for the most hard-headed anti-zionists to claim that Israel is a colonial project.
Israel is a country created by refugees from both East and West. Because Jew-hatred is and was an international reality. And yes, many Palestinian Arabs had to flee from their homes because of the wars that followed the creation of Israel, but they could have easily been absorbed into the neighbouring countries which share the same religion, language and traditions - if the Arabs really cared about their Palestinian brothers and sisters.

By the way I find it really funny how Western "leftist" and "anti-racist" groups shout about "colonialism" in the case of Israel and "forget" that the historically most successful colonizors have been the muslim caliphates (which colonized the land that is now Israel for more than a thousand years). Now isn't that a perfect example of an ethnocentric Western "colonial" view-point?

Phoebe said...


Agreed re: Israel not being a purely Ashkenazi story by any means, but I'm not sure what that changes. While I think it's relevant in terms of the question of Jews and whiteness (whiteness defined as European ancestry, plus some degree of pallor), one might (devil's advocate-ishly) counter that "brown" Jews have themselves been subject to discrimination in Israel, or, on the contrary, that Jews in the Arab and Muslim worlds were for a long time more "Western"/"white" than their neighbors - and there's some truth to both of these things.

More to the point, the issue I'm addressing in this post isn't the existence of Jews who aren't white and/or rich, but a) that even the Jews who'd most be thought "white," the ones with "European" ancestry, were clearly not racially-privileged enough not to have to flee and (help to) form their own country, and b) that even x % of Jews making a real go of it in the West doesn't mean anti-Semitism is a thing of the past, something easily enough gauged by looking at the past. The whole issue of Jews being stigmatized as "Oriental" is, of course, specific to the West, so the absurdity of non-Jewish Westerners now telling Jews they don't belong in (historical) Palestine is an absurdity specific to the question of, if certainly not just Ashkenazi Jews, Jews living in the West. As in, it's worth pointing out that there are Jews indigenous to the Middle East, but what I'm pointing out here is that even in Europe, the Pale ancestors of pale Jews such as myself were thought to be, in a sense, 'from Palestine.'

engagingzion said...

Whether Jews are sufficiently oppressed or not is hardly the point. Our history demonstrates a cycle of periods of acceptance followed by periods of great destruction. The fact that the left largely cannot recognize this shows a serious flaw in leftist analyses of the Jewish condition. This leads often to a blind support for Arab nationalist goals, particularly against Israel, regardless of how racist, chauvinistic and expansionist Arab nationalism can be. One example is during the first intifadeh, while the left was focused on Israel's sometimes brutal manner in which it confronted the intifadeh, a genocide of Iraq's Kurds was taking place at the hands of Arab nationalists in Saddam's Iraq. Within a matter of months in 1988 250,000 Kurds were murdered, including whole villages gassed to death as compared to a total death toll of about 900 - 1100 Palestinians over a five year period. Some 250 Israelis also died during this time, but the left usually ignores Israeli deaths.

This is not to dismiss Palestinian deaths, but to offer a severe critique of the myopic leftist discourse on Jews, and Israel. This often comes in the form of anti-Zionism, since Jews are not "sufficiently downtrodden." Of course, as the answer to Jewish powerlessness, Zionism remains quite valid. Bottom line: we will not allow ourselves to reach a point of sufficient downtroddenness for the privilege of become darlings of the left.

One final question for post-colonial theorists: if Zionism is not legitimate for the sin of, to some degree, relying on Britain to build the Jewish National Home, then what does this say about the Palestinian national movement? After all, the Palestinian national leadership during the 1930s and 40s were close allies with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, to the point of approving the Final Solution to the Jewish Question, and advocating for its implementation against the Jews of North Africa and the Middle East, and particularly in Palestine. (Thank goodness Romel's Afrika Korps lost! And, to those evil British and American imperialists, no less.)

Does this make Palestinianism a "handmaiden" of fascist imperialism? Or, are Palestinians exempt because the side they chose lost the war?