UN Recognises Jewish Holiday for the First Time

by Kevin Jon Heller

From CNN:

For the first time in its 70-year history, the United Nations has officially recognized a Jewish holiday.

U.N. employees who observe the Jewish faith will have the day off and no official meetings will take place on this date from now on, according to the Israeli mission to the organization.

Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, considered the most important Jewish religious holiday, will join two of the world’s other monotheistic religions in having one of its high holidays observed by the world body.

Christmas Day, Good Friday, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha have all been recognized by the United Nations as official religious holidays.

This is an excellent decision on the UN’s part — its recognition of multiple Christian and Muslim holidays but not even one Jewish holiday has never made sense. And in a perfect world, the decision would be greeted with approval by individuals of all political stripes.

But this is Israel, of course, where there is no such thing as apolitical. On the “pro” Israel side, there are factually-challenged editorials like this one, in which the authors argue that recognising a Jewish holiday is somehow necessary to compensate for the UN’s supposed anti-Israel bias:

But over time, Israel has been a target for exceptional mistreatment at the United Nations. A pluralistic democracy facing extremists sworn to its destruction, Israel is routinely condemned by the body’s Human Rights Council, more than any other member state. Israel’s assailants at the United Nations often assert that they respect Jews and Judaism — and reserve their shrill disdain only for Israeli policies and Zionism. But the demonization of Israel calls their motives into question.

And on the “anti” Israel side, there are tweets like this one, bizarrely claiming that the UN is somehow honouring Israel by recognising Yom Kippur and that doing so will somehow increase anti-Semitism:

I expect better, particularly from the “antis.” Those of us who support progressive change in Israel have argued for years that there is nothing remotely anti-Semitic about criticising Israel’s policies and actions. And there is increasing evidence that eliding the difference between the two in order to insulate Israel from criticism has lost much of its rhetorical power. Tweets like the one above risk undermining all the good work we have done.

It’s really pretty simple: the UN is not honouring Israel by recognising Yom Kippur. It is recognising Judaism, one of the world’s major religions, as it has recognised others. And it’s about time it did.

http://opiniojuris.org/2015/12/20/un-recognises-jewish-holiday-for-the-first-time/

12 Responses

  1. In fairness, I have always thought it must not be easy for an international organisation to choose its official holidays – do you look at what your constituency (Member States) would more easily agree to? And, if so, do you go for a fair proportion of religious/state holidays of all of your member States, counting one State one vote, or do you go on the basis of those States’ population? On this account, Jewish holidays would be established only after Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh ones – which I do not believe the UN recognises.
    However, you probably have to factor in the holidays of the city/country you have your seat in (after all, if you work on days when everybody else is on holiday in that country, it might not be very productive with contractors, service providers, and clients…), plus what (most of) your staff would prefer, or else you’ll soon get a lot of disgruntled employees, taking leave on their preferred holidays and thus effectively disrupting your operations on those days anyway.
    In sum, I think the choice should be eminently practical, and therefore any political reading should be avoided, ideally.

  2. For my part, I am happy to suffer as many vacation days as possible. Happy to celebrate any and all religion’s holidays. It’s even better when it’s not “your” holiday. No family stress!

  3. “the UN’s supposed anti-Israel bias”? Supposed? Come on, you should know better. One simply has to check out how often the HRC has condemned last year in comparison to states like Syria or North Korea.

  4. I find this a very odd post. On the one hand, it seems strange that you would characterize the “pro” Israel side’s claim as “recognising a Jewish holiday is somehow necessary to compensate for the UN’s supposed anti-Israel bias.” I doubt that the “pros” can be bought off so easily (“I used to think the UN was biased against Israel, but thankfully this Yom Kippur recognition compensates”)! One suspects their argument (and it is notable that the editorial you link to was published over a year ago) is at least a bit more subtle: they believe that the reason why the UN delayed recognizing Yom Kippur for so long was due to logic akin to Mr. Abunimah’s — that is to say, a elision of hostility to Israel and hostility to Jews which made anything that seems to honor or respect the latter intolerable. At the very least, this doesn’t seem to be an *implausible* explanation for why this decision took this long, no?

    And on the other side, the following passage is equally odd: “there is nothing remotely anti-Semitic about criticising Israel’s policies and actions. And there is increasing evidence that eliding the difference between the two in order to insulate Israel from criticism has lost much of its rhetorical power.”

    I’m professionally obligated to object to this for the same reasons I object to claims that “the race card is used to insulate Obama/affirmative action/Jesse Jackson from criticism”; the moves are one and the same. I go into why the argument (whether applied to racism, sexism, or anti-Semitism) is unsound in my forthcoming article “Playing with Cards: Discrimination Claims and the Charge of Bad Faith” (https://www.academia.edu/9374855/Playing_with_Cards_Discrimination_Claims_and_the_Charge_of_Bad_Faith); here I’ll just say that it is (a) indisputably false that all criticisms of Israel are deemed anti-Semitic (e.g., “Israel should have never left Gaza”; “Israel should have civil marriage”; “Israel’s settlement policy is a major strategic mistake”); (b) indisputably true that some criticism of Israel are anti-Semitic (“the kike state should burn in a crematorium”); (c) combining a and b, the critical action lies not in generalities about whether “criticism of Israel is/is not anti-Semitic”, but whether particular criticisms in particular contexts are; (d) it is almost certainly true that some particular criticisms of Israel which are labeled anti-Semitic are not so; and (e) highly probably that most of the questions over whether a particular objection falls into category d are not matters of purposeful elision but of bona fide controversies regarding the nature of anti-Semitism (e.g., is it conscious prejudice? Implicit bias? Structural? Etc.) and factual disputes which should be resolved by arguing out such questions on their merits rather than making sweeping preemptive assertions of bad faith.

    The final thing I’d say is that, to the extent “eliding the difference between [criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism] in order to insulate Israel from criticism has lost much of its rhetorical power” is true, it is equally true that such relying on such elision in order to insulate actual (or arguable) anti-Semitic critiques of Israel from challenge has seen its rhetorical power surge dramatically. Now ANY challenge of anti-Semitism — regardless of how well-warranted it is — can be dismissed with an eye roll and a recitation of the Livingstone Formulation. This rhetorical move has rendered sophisticated discourse about the contours of anti-Semitism that try to apply progressive understandings of discriminatory hierarchies (e.g., ones that reject conscious volitional hatred as a definitional limit on anti-Semitism) virtually impossible in progressive spaces. Even if one buys (as I don’t) the “anti-Semitism card” argument that “they started it by making all these bad faith anti-Semitism allegations”, this type of dismissal still shouldn’t be tolerated.

  5. I don’t find this post odd at all. Your suspicion regarding the editorial is contradicted by the editorial itself, as the quoted passage indicates. There is nothing remotely subtle about the claim that the UN subjects Israel to “exceptional mistreatment.” And I certainly did not argue that recognising Yom Kippur would “buy off” the pros; I simply pointed out that the decision was being politicised by those who view the UN as anti-Israel.

    As for your points about the antis, you are simply attacking a strawman. I did not claim that all criticisms of Israel are dismissed as antisemitic, nor did I claim that no criticism of Israel could ever be antisemitic. So nothing you point out in (a) to (d) contradicts what I wrote. As for (e), I completely disagree that most attempts to dismiss criticism of Israel as antisemitic reflect “bona fide controversies” over the nature of antisemitism; if you think that, you need to follow more ultra-right Israel apologists on twitter and brush up on the ravings of people like Alan Dershowitz.

    As for your final point, I won’t disagree. I’m sure there are good-faith criticisms of antisemitic comments about Israel that are unfairly dismissed by invoking the Livingstone Formulation. But I think such dismissals are far more rare than attempts to defuse criticism of Israel by disingenuously playing the antisemitism card.

  6. Funny: less than 15 minutes after I wrote the above, Yisrael Medad made my point for me in a comment to my post on Breaking the Silence…

    http://opiniojuris.org/2015/12/18/why-do-israelis-hate-break-the-silence/#comments

  7. KJH: Thank you for your reply. I’m willing to let the “pro” issue rest; agreeing to disagree on the interpretation of the column (since it seems silly to argue over the semantics of a year-old essay). But on the “antis”, there is more to be said.

    You claim not to disagree with any of my points a-d, and I did not expect you to. But the point is that accepting those contentions means that the statement “there is nothing remotely anti-Semitic about criticising Israel’s policies and actions” is an empty one; it does not respond to any live position or add any argument not already agreed to by all participants. Put another way, that statement could mean one of two things. One is that “There is nothing [ever] anti-Semitic about criticizing Israel.” You disavow this in agreeing with [b], and I was quite confident you were not arguing this. The other is “There is nothing [necessarily] anti-Semitic about criticizing Israel.” This seems to be the point of the statement, but the problem is that you agree is not actually disputed by anyone, since everyone agrees *some* criticisms of Israel aren’t anti-Semitic ]a]. The statement “there is nothing remotely anti-Semitic about criticising Israel’s policies and actions” exists solely as a strawman to pretend that the prototypical anti-Semitism claimant doesn’t agree with [a] (they actually do think criticism of Israel = anti-Semitism), and by virtue of that absurd position can be ignored (thereby avoiding the general argumentative pathway demanded by [c]). Such a caricatured figure (by your own admission non-existent) is the only person the statement “there is nothing necessarily anti-Semitic about criticizing Israel” could possibly be responsive to. Even the statement “I think people often assert that certain criticisms of Israel are anti-Semitic that I believe are not anti-Semitic” invites one to be clear about (1) which criticisms they have in mind and (2) why, properly considered, they’re not anti-Semitic. Simply declaring “criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic” wouldn’t cut it.

    This is the point in the conversation where I typically ask for who you have in mind when writing “there is nothing remotely anti-Semitic about criticising Israel’s policies and actions”, so I appreciate you linking to YM’s comment as an illustrative example. But he think he support my case far more effectively than yours. To begin, I have to observe that (whatever shortfalls his argument might have), he did NOT, in fact, write that BoS was anti-Semitic. Indeed, the first (and other than a very difficult to parse comment by “El Roam”, only) mention of “anti-Semitism” in that thread comes from “Robert” who describes “accus[ing] the commenter of anti-semitism” as part of “the standard approach”. I’d call that “the standard retort”, and (especially since the term “anti-Semitism” or “anti-Semitic” doesn’t appear in the 972 article either) it apparently can be introduced even if anti-Semitism is not in fact being raised as part of the slate of objections. That on its own is highly suggestive that my instincts regarding the rhetorical power of “anti-Semitism” (or more precisely, dismissing an interlocutor’s argument by simply intoning that “anti-Semitism allegations are the standard, bad faith approach”) are on target.

    So your own example requires us to just decide that YM was “really” saying something that was not in fact said. And this stretch (“People are always saying criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. Well, maybe they don’t say it, but it’s what they mean, and what they don’t-say-but-mean is outrageous!”) is one I hear a lot, in both the racism and anti-Semitism cases. But even if we did think that his argument was that BoS is anti-Semitic, it still wouldn’t support your conclusion. YM’s argument is that BoS is bad because it has ulterior motives (get Israel out of the territories, not ensure it is following rules of war) and because it is funded by foreign authorities who push it to goose the number of incidents. Your only stated disagreement with me is whether controversies over anti-Semitism turn less on questions of purposeful bad faith by claimants and more on differing views regarding factual controversies and how we understand anti-Semitism. But it seems clear that the way to respond to YM’s argument is to either deny the facts (BoS doesn’t have ulterior motives/isn’t funded in the manner asserted) or demur their sufficiency (even if said facts are true, it would not make BoS anti-Semitic for XYZ reasons); that is, to approach precisely how I suggest one should. And I think you do that! But there’s no warrant for and no reason to gild the lily by alleging on top that YM is being purposefully disingenuous in saying what he did; and no warrant on top of *that* for imputing this to “criticisms of Israel” generally. What does that add to the on-the-merits rebuttal? Why isn’t he just wrong in the normal way? And how do we have such confidence regarding his state of mind to begin with? It is striking that your own example requires is to infer YM said something he didn’t say, and then infer he was being disingenuous in not-saying-saying it.

    You believe that bad faith invocations of anti-Semitism outstrip preemptive deployments of the Livingstone Formulation to avoid critical reckoning with charges of anti-Semitism on their merits (perhaps you think the same with respect to discourse about racism – your argument certainly resonates with Peter Wehner’s recent column regarding Obama’s alleged deployment of “the race card” http://dsadevil.blogspot.com/2015/12/obamas-race-card-ploys-somehow.html — but I don’t know). I disagree (on both the anti-Semitism and racism cases), and I don’t think it is remotely fair to cite “ultra-rightists” on twitter as a representative sample (ultras tend to make bad arguments, and I do not need to rely on “ultras” of any variety to find folks who think that anti-Semitism allegations can be preemptively dismissed because they are, in Robert’s felicitous words, “the standard approach” deployed by rote reflex). But either way, my article explains why this disagreement shouldn’t change how we assess particular charges placed before us. Whether you think a charge is made in good faith or not, the way you respond is by grappling with the relevant facts and principles on their merits. If the claimant is wrong (whether because they’re lying or just confused), it will be borne out. And if they’re right, you reassess. Mind-reading to get at bad motives is unreliable, unnecessary, and when done preemptively incompatible with taking discrimination claims seriously.

  8. David,

    I think the problem is that you are a fantastic analytic philosopher surrounded by individuals who don’t express themselves with the precision analytic philosophers expect and don’t care about rational debate in the way that analytic philosophers do.

    As for my statements, I think you understand that when I wrote “there is nothing remotely anti-Semitic about criticising Israel’s policies and actions,” I was not saying that such criticism cannot be anti-Semitic. It’s a blog post; I was writing in shorthand. I probably should have said “nothing inherently anti-Semitic.” But I think you are evading the critical issue when you say that “everyone agrees *some* criticisms of Israel aren’t anti-Semitic.” Yes, I imagine the Alan Dershowitzes of the world would be willing to accept that some mild and non-threatening criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic. (As well as right-wing criticisms like Israel is not doing enough to punish Gazans for supporting Hamas.) But there are vast numbers of right-wing Israel apologists who brand all significant criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. And, of course, that is the criticisms we are interested in.

    As for YM’s comment, I’ll concede that it is possible to read his comment as claiming BtS simply despises Israel, not Jews generally. But I do think he means the latter — having spent too much time reading his blog, he is a leading purveyor of the “criticising Israel is anti-Semitic” trope.

    Perhaps a better example — and I’d be curious to hear your thoughts — is the claim that BDS is inherently anti-Semitic. Google “BDS is anti-Semitic” and you will get thousands of hits. The claim has been repeatedly made by Netanyahu, by other Israel officials such as Ron Dermer, by US senators like Schumer, and by dozens of other right-wing Israel apologists. Not “some supporters of BDS are anti-Semitic.” Not “most supporters of BDS are anti-Semitic.” Not “BDS can be used in anti-Semitic manner.” No: “BDS is anti-Semitic.”

    To be fair, the claim that “BDS is anti-Semitic” is not technically ad hominem, because it addresses the idea and not the character of the idea’s supporters. But that is an analytic distinction lost on the individuals who dismiss BDS as inherently anti-Semitic. Their point is that anyone who supports BDS is an anti-Semite. And that, of course, is a ridiculous claim: using the power of the purse to try to influence Israeli policy is not inherently anti-Semitic, even if the strategy is supported by some anti-Semites. So again: dismissing significant criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic is far, far more common than using the “I’m just criticising Israel” trope to conceal actual anti-Semitism. I don’t think it’s even close.

    I conclude by returning to my original point. I completely agree that, in a perfect world, we would respond to claims that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic “by grappling with the relevant facts and principles on their merits.” But that is simply unrealistic in a discursive world overrun by right-wing Israel apologists. They are not making serious claims that can be rationally debated. They are not interested in rational debate. (God knows I’ve tried on the blog.) They are trying to shut down rational debate by branding Israel critics as anti-Semites. (Or as self-hating Jews, in my case and the case of the many Jewish critics of Israel.) No amount of facts will ever cause them to “reassess” their position, because their position — that Israel can do no serious wrong — is nothing more than an article of increasingly desperate faith.

  9. What makes criticism of Israel significant?

  10. KJH: Thank you for this thoughtful reply (and your kind words about my analytic ability). Surely, the fact that many people on the internet make terrible arguments is neither novel nor unique to ultra-right pro-Israel sorts. But I don’t think that this issue is properly restricted to that segment of the population, and which bad argument is the “bigger” issue will depend on the forum. It strikes me as probable that preemptive dismissal of pro-Palestinian arguments (for any reason) is a “bigger” problem in, say, an American congressional committee or the Texas GOP convention or ZOA’s annual meeting. I’d wager the opposite in Turtle Bay, or Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, or in a Berkeley humanities department.

    I think a lot of your argument rests on+the terms “right-wing” and “significant.” On the former, I can attest that there is no noticeable difference in how anti-Semitism allegations are dismissed when their sources are left- versus right-of-center (my original comment, recall, complained about the inability to discuss this in “progressive circles”). Indeed, in my experience the bare act of raising anti-Semitism as an issue is enough to be identified and dismissed as a “right-wing troll.” Steve Cohen, the “anti-Zionist Zionist” author of “That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic”, documented similar treatment. It’s pretty much a unifying experience of any progressive writer or academic who tackles this issue. Hell, even groups like JVP – on the rare occasions when they hesitantly offer that maybe such-and-such critic really is beyond the pale – get this reaction. And it really shouldn’t surprise us that it would be applied so indiscriminately: the retort offers a culturally-acceptable means of evading having to critically reassess cherished beliefs as being potentially unjust, and as we both agree people really don’t like having to critically reassess cherished beliefs as being potentially unjust. There’s no reason why we should expect people to give up such a valuable discursive tool just because the anti-Semitism allegation actually is being made in good faith, and in my experience, they don’t.

    On the latter, “significant” is a fuzzy term that risks being tautological (if someone accepts a criticism of Israel without calling it anti-Semitic, ipso facto it is insignificant). More to the point, though, once we accept that “people call ALL criticisms of Israel anti-Semitic” is false, the argument seemingly becomes “people call MY criticisms of Israel anti-Semitic.” And, with all respect, this can’t be the cut-off. We have to be willing to accept the possibility that we make anti-Semitic arguments; a proposition of anti-Semitism discourse doesn’t fail just because it implicates us. And I think we should be appropriately skeptical of our pre-deliberative intuitions regarding what is and isn’t anti-Semitic or racist or sexist, because of course our instinct will be to recoil from the allegation and declare it groundless. Yet in a world with ingrained and structural systems of domination, it would be odd if our own outlooks managed to remain untouched by them. This doesn’t demand that we accept all allegations of discrimination on face, but it does suggest we should resist our impulse to dismiss them because “of course I’m not biased, you’re a troll for suggesting so.”

    The BDS example is, I think, very helpful here. Recall that one of the main sources I suggest for creating bona fide controversies over what is/isn’t anti-Semitic is questions “regarding the nature of anti-Semitism (e.g., is it conscious prejudice? Implicit bias? Structural? Etc.) and factual disputes”. Frustratingly, people tend not to be clear about what they mean when they say something is or isn’t anti-Semitic, and more frustratingly people tend not to be consistent across prejudices. I have nothing but contempt for conservatives who adhere to an exceedingly narrow definition of racism (“Opposing the Civil Rights Act isn’t racist because Barry Goldwater genuinely believed in states rights”) but seem to adopt a broad view of anti-Semitism; but I’m equally infuriated by progressives who promote a broad view of racism (including a “name your own oppression” deference to the oppressed group) but restrict anti-Semitism to those who openly declare a desire to return all Jews to Auschwitz. I try to take a broad view on both scores, but at the very least consistency should be the order of the day.

    From that vantage, “Is BDS anti-Semitic” becomes an interesting question. If what we care about is conscious intent, whose intent? Do all BDS supporters have to have hostile attitudes towards Jews? A majority? The movement leadership? Do implicit biases count? What about mixed motives: say, a genuine belief in liberal equality, coupled with an implicit attitude that Jews, being backwards and tribalistic, can’t be reasoned with and only understand the language of compulsion? Or let’s take someone whose motives are concededly pure, but who knows or should know that the success of BDS relies on mobilizing cohorts who have malign attitudes (basically, the Goldwater scenario). If one knows or should know that one is leveraging anti-Semitism to achieve one’s ends, is one anti-Semitic? Making an anti-Semitic argument? Are these distinct inquiries?

    Attenuate another step: Say a particular person endorses BDS without harboring anti-Semitic beliefs. And say that the reason the movement might succeed is not because movement adherents harbor these beliefs, but rather it might succeed because Jewish marginality caused by ingrained patterns of anti-Semitism limits their ability to resist demands from external actors (so what one is leveraging is Jewish weakness expressed through patterns of historic gentile domination). Would BDS be anti-Semitic then?

    These all push questions of individual intent further and further into the background. A purely structural view of anti-Semitism would say individual intent doesn’t matter at all; what matters is whether BDS is substantively compatible with Jewish equality in the global community (or something of that ilk). Here the argument could say something like “cutting off almost half of the world’s Jewish population from equal global political deliberation is incompatible with Jewish equal political standing” or “history has confirmed that in order to enjoy meaningful protections from anti-Semitic predations Jews require a national homeland, the BDS movement by its own admission denies the legitimacy of such a Jewish homeland, therefore, it is anti-Semitic”. And then of course there’s a procedural view of anti-Semitism which simply observes the fact of differential treatment (“why aren’t you boycotting Morocco/Turkey/Zimbabwe/China/Russia/the US?”) as anti-Semitic in of itself. Here, the claim isn’t Israel’s innocence (anymore than “The drug war is racist” depends on all those caught being framed) but one of disparate enforcement. There are of course other arguments beyond these.

    At the very least, then, resolving the question “is BDS anti-Semitic” requires a fairly deep dive into some complicated and contestable questions of both fact and principle. It’s not the sort of thing that can be dismissed on face; it is a prima facie legitimate question to ask (the disparate enforcement point alone, while certainly not immune to response, is I think enough to satisfy a prima facie case). One could challenge either the facts or principles underlying any of these, of course, but that’s in the realm of substantive argument. And one thing I will say with confidence is that, whether the BDS movement is generally anti-Semitic or not, it is never more anti-Semitic than when it “responds” (if we can even call it that) to the claim that it is (Janet Freedman’s account of trying to raise these concerns at the NWSA conference is heartbreaking, and she is hardly a right-winger of any stripe http://dsadevil.blogspot.com/2015/11/when-people-say-youre-brave-people-are.html; a prominent British supporter “joked” that the entire anti-boycott movement was funded by monies embezzled from Lehman Bros). The BDS movement, taken as a whole, really seems to view anti-Semitism as a whole as an illegitimate subject of political inquiry (especially when applied to them).

    For me (having hidden the ball for long enough), I answer “yes”: I think that many (though certainly not all) supporters (including prominent leaders like Abunimah) do have at least implicit anti-Semitic attitudes, that BDS systematically leverages anti-Semitic attitudes and Jewish weakness and that such leveraging is the main reason why it has a chance of success, that the immediate effects and stated end goals of the movement are incompatible with substantive Jewish equality in the global community, and that the disparate enforcement of the relevant norms is discriminatory. None of this depends on, and I do not believe, that all BDS supporters hate Jews qua Jews, I just think that anti-Semitism as a concept extends well beyond such parameters (the way I’d phrase it for technical reasons not worth delving into here is that “not all BDS supporters are anti-Semitic, but BDS is anti-Semitic”; but I don’t really care about semantics).

    Yet while I think questions of whether X argument is anti-Semitic are legitimate and important, in some ways I think they’re secondary to a more important question: “How does X interact with a global system of anti-Semitic oppression?” Regardless of how we decide whether individual statements or persons or movements are themselves “anti-Semitic”, we should always be thinking about how such players interrelate with this system. Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, but any discourse about Israel (critical or laudatory) occurs inside a broader network of anti-Semitic oppression, and in our deliberative capacities it is neither possible nor advisable to try bracket that off. This is why I actually think it’s a good thing when anti-Semitism is frontloaded in conversations about Israel (http://dsadevil.blogspot.com/2013/08/criticizing-israel-without-it-seeming.html). It’s not because all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, it’s because anti-Semitism is a really important (though certainly not the only) facet of properly assessing claims related to Jews and Jewish institutions. So I do think we all (regardless of how we view Israel) have an obligation to regularly and critically interrogate how our beliefs and positions are situated inside a continuing global system of anti-Semitic domination. And yes, that can be hard, and tiring, and no fun, and require us to reckon with thoughts it’d be far more comforting to simply brush aside (and yes, such reasoning applies equally to folk who’d like to sleep snug in their beds secure that the IDF would never hurt a fly and that Palestinians actually don’t mind being occupied in the slightest), but doing normative inquiry right means you have to mine in the hard rock sometimes. I care about willingness to do that far, far more than whether I get to call a BDS supporter “anti-Semitic”.

  11. David,

    Thanks for the excellent discussion. In the end, I don’t think we disagree about very much. I imagine our differences involve (1) an empirical assessment of how frequently criticism of Israel is ascribed to antisemitism and by whom, and (2) whether BDS is antisemitic either by intent or structurally. I don’t have time to delve into the latter; I will simply say (probably not surprisingly) that although I accept that a social movement can be structurally antisemitic even if (in theory) not a single supporter of that movement is consciously antisemitic, I do not believe that BDS is structurally antisemitic. In my view, as I have written before, it is perhaps the only promising mechanism of fundamental change in Israel, given that the alternatives are nothing (leaving Israel, with its increasingly undemocratic nature, to its own devices) or more Palestinian violence.

  12. Thank you for partaking in this discussion as well. I generally agree about our points of contention, though I’d amend the first to say “how frequently criticism of Israel is *unreasonably* ascribed to antisemitism.” After all, there’s presumably nothing objectionable with people making *reasonable* arguments regarding antisemitism (even if, on considered reflection, we conclude that some of these arguments are wrong).

    I agree that this is not the space to delve into BDS, though as a committed OneVoicer it pains me to hear that such a strategy is not even “promising” as a mechanism for change in Israel. I would observe that it is entirely possible (though I do not believe) that BDS is both anti-Semitic and the most promising avenue for change in Israel. That would be a depressing conclusion, but not an invalid one, and arguably not even an implausible one. Anti-Semitism is one of the most powerful social forces the world has ever seen. It would not be surprising if a social movement that managed to harness it would be comparatively more successful than competitors in achieving its ends (whatever those may be). Commitment to avoiding oppression is, in part, a side constraint — it should bar us from certain behaviors even when they are very appealing or effective routes to our ends.

    In any event, this is not the space for that argument. What I do hope we agree on is that it is not *unreasonable* to think that BDS is anti-Semitic, that this proposition should be treated as a serious one demanding sophisticated open-minded critical consideration, not dismissed as a transparently ludicrous ginned-up concoction. More broadly, I hope we agree that in order to talk about Israel justly, one is obligated to recognize anti-Semitism as a legitimate topic of inquiry, to be appropriately respectful of (not blindly deferential to) Jews’ assessment of their own histories and socio-political situation, and to engage with anti-Semitism as a (though not the only) central facet of their overall deliberative endeavors (precisely because their discourse — whether properly labeled anti-Semitic itself or not — is inextricably interwoven inside a system of anti-Semitic oppression). It sucks that many people make terrible arguments about anti-Semitism (or racism or sexism or Islamophobia, for that matter), but that can’t absolve us of these obligations. In short, I hope we agree that people who talk about Israel without thinking seriously about what Jews think about anti-Semitism are talking about Israel poorly; and unfortunately many people fall into that category.

    Finally, I hope my testimony is credible regarding the proposition that when progressive analysts of anti-Semitism level these critiques they are dismissed as readily (and on the same grounds) as the worst right-wing trolls. There is no distinction made; the dismissal occurs indiscriminately. And unfortunately the main warrant for our dismissal is precisely the discursive trope that the protoypical anti-Semitism claim is a bald-face lie, that allegations of anti-Semitism are by default a bad faith right wing smear tactic, that Jews who raise it are ipso facto right-wing trolls, and that therefore Jewish voices on anti-Semitism are presumptively incredible and can be justly ignored. This pattern of argument has virtually obliterated the space for scholars on anti-Semitism to operate in academic or progressive circles, and with it neutered the above obligations to seriously consider the question of anti-Semitism as part of broader discourses about Israel (regardless of whether people end up — by dumb luck — in a position that is not properly labeled “anti-Semitic”). That’s why I object to it so fervently when I see it made: not because every anti-Semitism claim is good, but because the effects of this trope have been absolutely catastrophic to the sort of discourse about Israel all of us should demand.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. There are no trackbacks or pingbacks associated with this post at this time.