Sunday, January 05, 2014

The "quenelle," and the "socialism of fools"

The official WWPD definition of anti-Semitism, paraphrased from previous official WWPD definitions of the same: An anti-oppression movement in defense of the many victims of the all-mighty Jew. That is, at any rate, how anti-Semites (left and right, white and non-white) themselves see things. It's impossible to have any kind of conversation about anti-Semitism without keeping this definition in mind. Because it can get confusing. Sometimes - often! - a wrong anti-Semites are pointing out (income inequality, high rents, bad choices on the part of Israeli officials) is real. The issue is that they're attributing this wrong to The Jews - ignoring the involvement of non-Jews, as well as the many, many, many Jews who don't control anything.

Again, it's not that the wrongs aren't real, or even that individual Jews or Jewish organizations have never actually done whatever it is anti-Semites are accusing them of. It's that the proportion is way off. Bad things done by non-Jews are ignored, while the many Jews having nothing to do with whatever's going on (or, say, being ripped off by the same proverbial landlord, or opposing the same proverbial Israeli policies) somehow don't count as The Jews, and are similarly forgotten.

That's what's weird about anti-Semitism, and why it's so difficult to discuss. Opposing anti-Semitism has a way of seeming like embracing conservatism or, more accurately, some kind of bourgeois status quo opposed by the far-left and far-right alike, because it so often involves taking a stand against someone claiming to represent The Good. And there probably are - as came up in one of the Facebook discussions of the "quenelle" (as you might imagine, a good % of people I know have opinions on this) - a certain number of people embracing anti-anti-Semitism, or pretending to, as a way of maintaining inequality or discriminating against Muslims or who knows. So it's necessary to be precise. Which, to their credit, my friends on the Zionist or anti-anti-Semitic (there's overlap, which I could get into if this post were ten times as long) left fighting the good fight generally are.

The problem is that these are topics that don't lend themselves to nuance. The belief that as long as the broader cause is just, and at least someone Jewish did something wrong, anti-Semitism is acceptable, may have disappeared for approximately five minutes at one point in the second part of the 20th century, but it's now with us to stay.


"Second to Sartre" said...

Very interesting thoughts.

Somewhat related, have you ever read Sartre's brilliant essay, "The Portrait of the Antisemite?" You sound some themes that are prevalent throughout his essay (I'm particularly thinking of his riff off "Jewish furiers," and so I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on what he had to say about this problem.

Doctor Cleveland said...

Wonderful post.

Anti-Semites are much like the neighbors who accuse you of witchcraft. When a problem becomes too difficult to address at the root cause, you go find someone socially vulnerable to hold responsible. Real problems, imaginary culprits.

Phoebe said...

"Second to Sartre,"

Love the name!

I've read that essay, and it's quite something. In English a while back, then more recently in French, for my dissertation. But I can't say I remember who the "Jewish furiers" were - if you remind me, I'll weigh in!

Doctor Cleveland,

Thanks! The "real problems" bit seems crucial.

Doctor Cleveland said...

Absolutely. I took that as your main point.

Oddly, your post makes me think that it's the virulent anti-Semites who are more likely to be responding to a real problem, while the polite country-club anti-Semites don't even have that fragment of an excuse. The crusaders for justice are, well, like actual crusaders: dangerous. The passive anti-Semites who just want Jews excluded aren't trying to right any wrongs.

caryatis said...

Phoebe, as a Gentile I figure it's safer to avoid the subject of Israel, but I would like to tell you about a dieting article I recently read (featuring Jillian Michaels, not sure who she is but sounds familiar). I learned that:
1) if you want to stop eating a restaurant meal, you should pour salt over it. Otherwise you will eat it anyway, and
2) if you want to throw away an unhealthy food item at home, it's not enough to put it in the trash, because "you know you'll" dig it out of the trash and eat it anyway, and
3) "I'd rather be dead than live without sweets."
4) Also, advice to lie to waiters about being lactose-intolerant so you don't risk eating even a spoonful of cream.

I'm a little shocked by the level of obsession with food shown here. This person either is in a constant state of hunger or has serious psychological issues with food. Or both. What's even more disturbing is that the article is in the second person--Jillian and the editors apparently think that the average reader will identify with this way of thinking.

Phoebe said...

Ah - agreed with your agreement!

Also agreed re: the distinction between "virulent" and "country-club" anti-Semites. If your opposition to Jews stems from thinking Jews are inferior (how racism generally operates), you're still relatively comfortable in your own (imagined) superiority. A country-club anti-Semite may think Jews don't always know their place (and perhaps that blacks don't, women don't, etc.), but there's just this underlying sense that one is a powerful person expressing some sort of natural disgust towards the lower orders. Whereas if you think Jews are all-powerful, you're more likely to win over allies, because it seems like social justice, not snobbery.

That said, are there still many country-club anti-Semites? A genuine question. I have no idea.

Phoebe said...


Gentiles can talk about Israel! That wasn't much the focus of this post, though. What I was alluding to, though, but have gotten into in far more detail elsewhere, is that I think it's quite reasonable for Jews to be suspicious when people with no particular connection to the conflict choose this as their issue. Also: the refrain about criticism of Israel not always being anti-Semitism, while true (and, I mean, obviously - there's plenty to criticize!), tends, in practice, to ignore that sometimes it is.

Re: Jillian Michaels, she's (don't ask why I know such things) one of the trainers from "The Biggest Loser." So her thing is addressing the morbidly obese who want to drop many lbs fast, I suppose.

Doctor Cleveland said...

I think any country-club anti-Semites left are in less elite country clubs.

But it's a hard thing to know. There are genuinely fewer anti-Semites among the various elites. But I think it's like a virus: there are often latent reserves of it, and you don't know about them until you know.

Moebius Stripper said...

Again, it's not that the wrongs aren't real, or even that individual Jews or Jewish organizations have never actually done whatever it is anti-Semites are accusing them of. It's that the proportion is way off. Bad things done by non-Jews are ignored, while the many Jews having nothing to do with whatever's going on (or, say, being ripped off by the same proverbial landlord, or opposing the same proverbial Israeli policies) somehow don't count as The Jews, and are similarly forgotten.

This, a thousand times this; and a hundred thousand times this when applied to Israel specifically. And it's hard to point this out without appearing to defend, or dismiss, actual wrongs committed by Israel (or Jews).

I'm deeply troubled, for example, by Israel's treatment of African migrants, but this issue has received so much press that you'd think that successfully integrating African migrants was something that many - heck - any - other countries had figured out. Ditto Palestinian refugee camps, but I've encountered more than a handful of educated people who had no idea that such things even existed outside Gaza and the West Bank. In a number of Canadian cities, including mine, a group by the name of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid is the only group with an international focus marching in the Pride parade; people taking issue with their presence were accused, as is the custom, of both defending the worst of Israeli policy and of opposing free speech. And so on, and so on; but bring up such things, and responses generally range from "so that makes it right when Israel does it??" to "oh, sure, that's bad, but that's not the topic we're discussing right now."

So, yes, topics that don't lend themselves to nuance. "Dismantle the racist Zionist Apartheid state now!", on the other hand, fits quite nearly into well under 140 characters.

Second to Sartre said...

Well, the old, probably pooor, english translation that I have reads:

"A young woman said to me: 'I've had terrible rows with furriers, they've robbed me, they've burned the furs I entrusted to them. Well, they were all Jews.' But why did she choose to hate Jews rather than furriers? Why Jews or furriers rather than such and such a Jew or such and such a furrier? Because she had a predisposition towards antisemitism."

That was the the part of Sartre's essay that I was thinking of when I read your blogpost.

Phoebe said...

Doctor Cleveland,

"There are genuinely fewer anti-Semites among the various elites."

I'd like to think so. But academia doesn't appear to be immune, and that is, or can be, elite.


Thanks for spelling this out so eloquently!

Second to Sartre,

OK, furriers, that makes sense. (I took "furiers" too literally.) Replace furriers with landlords or real-estate brokers, and I suppose we have the modern-day equivalent.