Some Thoughts on Antisemitism

Antisemitism is periodically in the news as a major problem in society. This time, it is the Labour party, with its leader Jeremy Corbyn, that is at the center of the scandal. From what I have heard, there seem to be indeed some people with antisemitic ideas in the labour party. I find it, however, difficult to believe that Corbyn is a real threat to jews in the UK.

If he were to become PM, he would certainly be a threat to everyone, including jews. I, too, would leave the country if that were to happen. Luckily, he does not seem to have a realistic chance of moving into No.10. That being said, I have not heard any specific threats being voiced against jews in particular by him. I even doubt that he is personally an antisemite. I get the impression that it is more a plot to get rid of him rather than a real scandal of antisemitism.

At worst, he is not willing to give jews the same identity politics privileges that he would grand to other minorities. That would make him a hypocrite. But a hypocritical politician is not particularly unusual. In fact, it seems almost impossible to become a leading politician without being one.

It needs to be said, however, that, given the disastrous history of antisemitism in Europe, jews may be excused to worry a bit too much. After all, they have made the mistake of not being worried enough before, with horrible consequences. It is understandable that they are very sensitive when it comes to antisemitism.

I don’t like identity politics. It should be scraped all together. While it is true that real antisemitism exists, and can be a problem, it seems also true that there is a lot of bad politics being made with it. What is antisemitism? Antisemitism, to me, used to mean the hatred of jews as a collective for being jews. More than that, if it is supposed to be evil, then this negative view of jews needs to be based on clearly false ideas.

This qualification, however, is only necessary in theory. In practice, it is difficult to see how all jews could be bad as a collective. Therefore, claims that all jews are bad are in reality certainly false. That cannot be said about individual jews, of course. But calling out individual bad jews would not be antisemitism. It seems therefore sufficient to define antisemitism as the hatred of jews for being jews.

Antisemites believe that there is something inherently evil about jews. This is often coupled with the believe that there is an active conspiracy of jewry to control parts of society, or even the whole world. An example of a common conspiracy theory is that jews control the almighty banking system. Therefore, and this is the dangerous bit, jews need to be fought back to crush the conspiracy.

These kind of jewish conspiracy theories were mainstream at many times in history. They are still mainstream in a number of regions in the world. What makes them so dangerous is the fact that there is clearly lots of evidence against them. Like a lot of other conspiracy theories, it is based on circular reasoning. Evidence in favor is seen as proof, while any evidence against is ignored. Even worst, evidence to the contrary is often interpreted as a deliberate disinformation campaign. It is turned into evidence of how sophisticated the conspiracy is. That makes it impossible to disproof these theories.

In other words, jews don’t really have a chance of defending themselves against these bogus allegations. They become the victims of false ideas that are out of their control.

This, to me, is antisemitism. And for all the reasons above, it is indeed evil. While it seems unrealistic to expect the world to become completely free of dangerous ideas, fighting them is certainly an important cause. The only way of doing that is with good arguments. And in order to be able to make these arguments we need an open and free debate.

But we don’t have an open debate around antisemitism. The subject seems very stigmatized. In addition to that, it seems to also have been hijacked by some special interest groups. The definition of antisemitism that is being used at the moment appears to be very different from my own. At the centre of the debate is the working definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). This definition states:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Superficially, this definition is quite similar to mine. Yes, antisemitism is the hatred of jews for being jews. Although, this definition does not actually say hating jews in general, it just says jews. So it is not clear whether this could also mean hating specific jews.

For clarifications, the IHRA does give a number of examples of what it thinks is antisemitism. While some of them seem perfectly correct, others merit the suspicion that this is not really about clarifying the debate. Let us look at some of the examples. They are not necessarily in the order presented on their website.

“Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective – such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”

“Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews”

These are two good examples of real antisemitism. But wait a moment. Why is the second example antisemitism? After all, we might be talking about real, and not fictional, acts. There are two reason why it is indeed antisemitism. Firstly, the logic is not valid. One cannot conclude from the specific to the general. This is called inductive reasoning, and it is a common mistake many people make.

As I already said, it is difficult to see how all jews could possibly be bad. Jewry is not a militarily organized, top down, organization. It is a religion, with very diverse believes and people in it. We are dealing with individual human beings. Humans have a free will to make their own decision. Holding someone responsible for what someone else did is therefore illegitimate. This is an individualistic, liberal view of humans. A true collectivist, however, might disagree with this.

So, yes, this is antisemitism. And it is so within a liberal worldview. The fact that the IHRA is calling out this view is a hopeful sign that this organization has liberal values. Unfortunately, some of the other examples make that conclusion look very questionable. Let us have a look at two examples that, in my view, are not necessarily antisemitism.

“Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.”

“Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”

In other words, no matter what the government of Israel uses the Holocaust for, it cannot be criticized for it. And, no matter what policies Israel actually adopts, even if it was real national socialism, comparing these policies to the Nazis is a priori wrong. Any such criticism is automatically antisemitism, even if it was factually accurate.

This seems odd. In order to be evil, antisemitism needs to be based on false, unfalsifiable ideas. Let us, for the sake of the argument, assume that there really was a jewish conspiracy to control the world. If that were actually true, than in my view it would be very sensible to have a debate over whether the rest of us might want to do something against that conspiracy. It is only because these conspiracy theories are clearly bogus, and unfalsifiable, that antisemitism is evil.

But is it still antisemitism, if real acts of some real jews are being criticized? If so, than that would turn antisemitism from being evil to being a potentially sensible position to take. Palestinians, for example, have some good reasons to hate at least Israelis. If a foreign, and hostile, army occupies your home, why wouldn’t you be angry? This is not paranoia, or a crazy conspiracy theory. It is a real problem for them. That is not to say that hatred is a good policy adviser, but it is certainly not irrational in this situation.

It is text book identity politics to exempt certain groups of people from being criticized. And it is one of the reasons why it should be abandoned. No matter what certain groups say or do, criticism is deemed to be a priori evil.

As I said earlier, I would go along with this, if we were talking about jews as a collective. Yes, Palestinians have no good reason to hate all jews in the world. They don’t even have a good reason to hate all jewish Israelis. If they did, and many do, then that would be indeed unjustified antisemitism. The real issue I have with these examples is that we are no longer talking about all jews anymore. Instead we are talking about real acts of real groups of jews.

Israel is a real state, with real policies. It does not represent all jews, nor is it essential to be an Israeli to be a jew. Many jews are not Israelis, and many jews are not even zionists. So why would criticizing Israel in any form be the same as the hatred of jews in general? Why equate Israel with Judaism?

By equating jews with Israel, the IHRA has adopted the same faulty, collectivist, and inductive reasoning that it called out in the second example we looked at. If someone hates certain jews, like the Israeli government, for what they really do, then that is the same as hating all jews in general. This conclusion simply does not follow from the premisses, unless one is a collectivist. But if we accept collectivism as true, then blaming all jews for what certain individual jews do is also valid.

The only alternative conclusion is that the IHRA, in its definition, was indeed not exclusively talking about hatred of jews in general, but even just hatred of specific jews. This would be odd. It would mean that jews, even as individuals, cannot legitimately be hated, no matter what they do. That is not really a conclusion that can be taken seriously.

The only reasonable conclusion is that the IHRA has adopted a collectivist mindset in this example. Which begs the question what is it going to be? Are we gong to judge jew hatred from a collectivist or an individualist perspective? Antisemitism is only irrational from an individualistic perspective. Another example gives us an answer of why jews are being equated with Israel.

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

Note that it says jewish people and not individual jews. Again, this is real collectivism. As a libertarian, I cannot make sense of the idea that an involuntary, and very diverse, collective can have self-determination. What does that even mean? None of these artificial collectives, like the Germans, French, English, Italians etc. can be self determined. The idea that they could is dangerous nonsense. It is the major source for the growth of the state. After all, if governments just express the self determined will of the people, than how could anyone object to what they are doing? The people can hardly oppress themselves. I am with Ayn Rand on this, only individuals can be self determined.

It is particularly bizarre to think that self determination could be facilitated by a state. That is not what states are. States are immoral entities. They are unfortunate facts that we have to deal with. The verdict is still out on whether they are necessary evils, but they are definitely evil. Certainly, no one can have a right to something that is evil. According to this IHRA clarification, everyone with a liberal mindset, like myself, who opposes collectivism, and considers states to be evil, is an antisemite.

The idea that jews as a people should be self determined is of course the very core idea of zionism. What this statement therefore does is to declare an opposition to zionism as being antisemitic. That is a real problem. Zionism is not a crazy, unfalsifiable conspiracy theory. It is very much a real political ideology, and movement. It has well known thinkers and leaders. It is also the official ideology behind the current state of Israel. Zionists are not in hiding. If asked, they openly, and often proudly, say that they are indeed zionists.

Declaring the criticism of a political ideology itself to be illegitimate is an unacceptable attempt to censor a political debate. No political ideology should be freed from being criticized. This is particularly bizarre as there are a lot of liberal, and even non-liberal, jews who are also opposed to this collectivist ideology. Meaning, some jews themselves could become, and quite frankly are, antisemites, according to this definition. That is obviously absurd.

But the IHRA is only collectivist when it suits them. As we have seen, if it does not, then they are perfectly capable of being individualists. It all depends on whether collectivism is used to defend or attack jews. The same is true for their views on Israel.

“Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”

So, at first, Israel is portrayed as the collective representation of the will of the jewish people, who have a right to self determination. Opposing this idea itself is antisemitism. But when the perverse logic of that collectivism is consistently applied then that is also antisemitism.

Going through the working definition of the IHRA, one can only conclude that it is an ill conceived, incoherent drivel. It is not designed to clarify what antisemitism is, but seems more suitable to confuse the debate. Sometimes, seeing jews as a collective is wrong, and at other times not seeing them as a collective is also wrong. No matter what the argument is, as long as it is critical of some jews somewhere, it could, according to this definition, be called antisemitism.

If clarifying antisemitism was the goal, the IHRA could have just left it at, “antisemitism is hatred of jews as a collective”. That would have been sufficient and clear. The problem is that this would not have included criticism of zionism. Their clarifications do the opposite of clarifying. They confuse, and water down the definition to the point that almost any criticism of jews, and especially zionism, can be called antisemitic, if convenient.

Confusing the debate is likely to be the real point of this definition. It is a text book bullying tactic of identity politics. Make people insecure of what is and what is not allowed to say, and they will shut up. Why take the risk of being targeted by this mob? And despite the fact that the IHRA says that there can be legitimate criticism of Israel, it clearly has a problem with debating zionism.

Be a zionist or be an antisemite. To that I say, don’t push me, because I won’t pick zionism. Neither will a lot of other people. It is a dangerous strategy to declare liberal worldviews to be antisemitic. In the long run, this will backfire big time, and we are already seeing this happening. To try this anyway seems to reveal an insecurity of not being able to defend zionism in an open debate, within a largely liberally minded society. And zionists should be insecure, because their nationalist ideology certainly is not liberal.

  1 comment for “Some Thoughts on Antisemitism

  1. Paul Marks
    Mar 5, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    It is interesting how far utterly false anti-Semitic ideas spread in history.

    For example, President Franklin Roosevelt, during World War II, cited AS TRUE the totally false National Socialist propaganda figures about Jewish domination of the professions in Germany in 1933.

    As Paul Johnson (in his “A History of the Jews”) points out the Nazi statistics were LIES – most doctors, lawyers and so on in Germany in 1933 were NOT Jews. The Nazis were just LYING.

    But, for the sake of argument, let us pretend that the Nazi claims about Jewish domination of the professions in Germany were correct – how would this have justified murdering six million Jews?

    Let us remember the context of President Roosevelt citing, as true, the false Nazi statistics about Jewish domination of Germany. President Roosevelt was justifying to his staff (not to Jews in the Roosevelt Administration – they were not present at the conversation, as Franklin Roosevelt was a two-faced-git who was nice to Jews to their faces and libelled them behind their backs) his refusal to back Winston Churchill’s plan for air attacks on the Nazi extermination camps and the death railways.

    Let us grasp what Franklin Roosevelt is saying here – because the Jews dominated the professions in Germany in 1933 (which they did NOT) it is O.K. for us not do anything to prevent the murder of millions of Jews now in the early 1940s.

    What sort of “reasoning” is this? How can anyone respect President Franklin Roosevelt?

    And nor was it just old age – even when he was a young man we now know that Franklin Roosevelt was involved (intimately involved) in excluding many Jews from Harvard universities – to make room for less qualified non Jews (people like himself).

    When Franklin Roosevelt ran to be Governor of New York State (a State that had many Jewish voters at the time) he carefully concealed the fact that he was an anti-Semite – but anti-Semite he was.

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