The opposition to anti-Zionism as antisemitic philosemitism

BDS talkI was asked by Sydney Staff for BDS, a group at the University of Sydney, to join a panel on ‘Why it isn’t antisemitic to boycott Israel’ on April 14 2015. Below is the ext of my brief talk.

Hannah Arendt was lambasted for talking about the flip side of antisemitism: philosemitism.

But she understood that antisemitism in fact relies on the apparent love of Jews. Or put another way, philosemitism creates antisemitism.

Arendt was talking historically about the conditions leading up to the holocaust, but philosemitism is equally a problem today in the context of the role of Jews vis-a-vis the state of Israel.
It is undeniably antisemitic to wish for all Jews to leave the diaspora and live in Israel. This may be a position taken by supporters of the state of Israel (such as Christian Zionists) who might on the surface appear to be anything but antisemitic.

But, any argument that begins ‘all people belonging to group x should’ is ostensibly racist. For example, ‘all asylum seekers should wait their turn in refugee camps’ or ‘all aboriginal people should live in towns and not in remote communities.’

Similarly, an argument that ‘all Jews should defend/love Israel’ seems to dictate what all Jews should do and should be viewed no differently from any of the above statements.

If we start from a position of non-racism, which means an inherent belief in justice and freedom for all human beings, we cannot similarly start from a position that dictates what all members of a given group should think, especially if that group has traditionally been marginalised and denied equality in society.

Under current circumstances when anti-Zionist Jews (in Israel and outside) are called antisemitic by Zionists and/ or fellow Jews, we must be able to say that this is itself antisemitic because it conflicts with the principle of freedom and justice for all.

By forcing all Jews to identify with Zionism, a nationalist ideology, originating in racist and exclusionary ideas that emerged within the context of 19th century Europe (the golden age of racism), we reinforce the idea that there is only one place where Jews can permissibly be Jews, in other words, we tacitly support the wholly antisemitic idea that Jews are foreign to the world and that the only solution to the ‘jewish question’ is their cloistering in their own state.

This is the logic that the decolonial activist Houria Bouteldja from the French Party of the Indigenous of the Republic is defending in her recent post, ‘State Racism and Philosemitism’.

She talks about France but I think her points are relevant in Australia and elsewhere.

She makes the point that despite the official philosemitism of the state which is expressed for example in the special status accorded to the holocaust, a status not accorded to other colonial genocides, that the Jews are not thought about as full members of the nation. There is always a separation made between French citizens and Jews in official discourse even when the intention is to be protective towards or appreciative of Jews.

However, the presence of Jews in France, Bouteldja goes on to say, and the state’s support for Israel, allows it to drive a wedge between Jews and other racialised groups.

This is something that I have always felt myself, growing up in the diaspora. As a Jew, or indeed a Muslim, a migrant, etc. one is never a full citizen no matter to what extent one has integrated.

Philosemitism clearly stems from the guilt Europeans feel about the holocaust. Instead of setting it in its historical context, connecting it for example to the crimes of colonialism and imperialism, or to slavery, all of which were enacted against the colonised first and later the Jews in the camps. Instead of talking about the holocaust itself as a vicious policy of annihilation which affected not only the Jews but also the Roma, blacks, muslims and homosexuals, the Jews are accorded a special status as the most wronged of history. The effect is to force Jews into a position of superiority – we are better victims – that pits them against their fellow sufferers. What better position for a state to take, for example, France that, in the 1960s was still torturing Algerians, where the former collaborator Maurice Papon was throwing them into the River Seine to drown, to prove its non-racism?

Philosemitism of the state shields States against accusations of racism. As a Jew I don’t want to endorse that.

As a Jew I don’t want to be the most loved, the best victim. I want to stand with those who are suffering today and fight.

In particular in the current climate, antisemitism is portrayed as emanating from the Muslim population as though this was a recent phenomenon exemplified by cases such as the Hyper-cacher killings in Paris in January, with no historical precedents. So we can forget about the French state’s complicity with the perpetrators of the Holocaust, or here in Australia, the state’s refusal to take Jewish refugees from Europe. We can forget about the exclusion of Jews from areas of business and sports clubs, and so on in living memory, now that Muslims are solely reponsible for antisemitism.

According to Bouteldja this makes of Jews the willing partner of the government in the enactment of systemic racism against Muslim populations.

It is convenient for anti-Zionism to be confused with antisemitism because it effectively relativises or annuls the state’s own antisemitism, the philosemitism which forces all Jews to identify with a racist colonial state: Israel.

What I want to do is to use my history, the legacy of my refugee (and yes, Zionist) grandparents to fight against racism in all its forms. I will not be used by a racist state to further its agenda against Muslims, be they in Palestine or in Australia or elsewhere.

I have not visited the country I was born in for over ten years because I will not support what is being done in my name. I hope one day to be able to bring my daughter to a country governed by its people, the people who live there, who are not deemed worthy or unworthy by a conflation of religion with nationality that is an abuse of the bible.

Only once Zionism has been dismantled can we begin the fight against philosemitic antisemitism.


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