A response to Tony Klug’s article at Open Democracy

Tony Klug has published an article with Open Democracy entitled “Antisemitism: the Middle East Connection”, in which he argues “that the growth in anti-Jewish sentiment, particularly in the Arab and Muslim worlds, is principally a product of the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab conflict”; and that…

“Deplorable though this may be, the connections [between Israel’s actions and antisemitism] are made partly because Israel claims to be ‘the Jewish state’ but also because its policies are widely perceived to enjoy the unquestioning support of organized Jewish communities around the world, including in the UK.”

It is this perception — that Israel represents all Jews (it does not) — that should be challenged in the article, as we would elsewhere correctly challenge the perception that Da’ish (the “Islamic State”) represents, or “enjoys the unquestioning support of”, organized Muslim communities (it does not). We would not legitimize bigotry towards Muslims by making casual reference to how Muslims are “perceived” — indeed, this perception is precisely what we would attack. Why then is the “perception” above entered into the debate uncritically, and then used as an explanation for rising antisemitism, as though it excused it?

Imagine how vile a sentence the following would be:

“Deplorable though this may be, the connections [between the actions of Da’ish and Islamophobia] are made partly because [Da’ish] claims to be [‘the Islamic state’] but also because its policies are widely perceived to enjoy the unquestioning support of organized [Muslim communities] around the world, including in the UK.”

That is an absurd sentence: both in that it is untrue and that it justifies Islamophobia by cooly noting it is “widely perceived” to have a connection to a legitimate grievance. Notice, too, that the “widely perceived” is unsourced, and that it attempts to “have its cake and eat it too” with an insincere precaution: “Deplorable though this may be…”

Those who do “perceive” a connection between all Jews and the actions of the state of Israel are not people one should be justifying by linking their bigotry to legitimate political grievances, or pretending they are linked, or that the link is “widely perceived”, thereby giving the bigotry credence by way of an imaginary consensus.

Because I am honestly curious as to the author’s intent and position, and do not want to assume anything, I have some questions. In fact, the “point” of this article eludes me, as it attempts to “have its cake and eat it too” at several blatant, back-pedaling junctures.

Is the point simply that antisemitism is used too often by defenders of Jewish atrocities to shield Israel from criticism? This is of course true. But then why does the article read like it has something to hide? Perhaps this is a problem of language, and not of intent. Thus, I ask, for the purpose of clarifying…

“And it is certainly not to say that the propensity, wittingly or inadvertently, of some anti-Zionist jargon to propagate many of the familiar, sinister antisemitic tropes… is not of major concern.”

“…a steady upsurge in anti-Jewish feeling.”

(1) Do the Charlie Hebdo attacks justify anti-Muslim “feeling”, or the “trope” of Muslims as terrorists? What about anti-Muslim “jargon”? One could write an article like this claiming terrorist attacks have caused a “steady upsurge” in anti-Muslim “feeling”, while over-reliance on the term “Islamophobic” to shield some Muslims from legitimate criticism “debases… the currency.”

Would Klug write such an article? Or would he properly avoid doing so in the knowledge that any upsurge in anti-Muslim (often taking the form of anti-Arab) “racism” is not in reality, and cannot ethically, be justified by reference to the actions of a small minority of Muslims (or Arabs)?

(2) Again, if the simple point of the article is that “antisemitism” is thrown around too much, then I agree. “Islamophobia” is thrown around too much too. But the article reads less like a causal explanation of events and more like a casual dismissal of the individual responsibility of racists.

“Drawing parallels is treacherous territory, but if there is any sort of parallel with the ‘mittel Europe’ of centuries past, the more compelling one is not between the subjugated Jew of then and the powerful, occupying state of Israel today but between the Jew of then and the occupied Palestinian of now.”

(3) This is one example of “wanting your cake and eating it too.” Klug assure us of his discretion by acknowledging the danger of drawing parallels… and then draws a dangerous parallel. Just as above, where he notes, “Deplorable though this may be…” before uncritically introducing, in sympathetic grammar, a deplorable thought.  Take note that all sentences which begin with “Deplorable though this may be…” immediately go on to justify whatever “may be” deplorable.

The “Final Solution” was a concentrated, institutionalized effort to exterminate European Jewry. Conversely, there are sections of Israel with Arab majorities; Arabs make up 20% of the population; and non-Jews make up 25%. There is no parallel here and attempting to draw one is indeed “treacherous territory.”

(4) Maybe we should engage in a cold accounting of deaths, or a petty historical tracing of “the source” to see where this “started” and who was aggressive “first” (as John Norman boringly does in a comment to Klug’s article) — that way we can know who gets to have their racism called “feeling” and “trope” and “jargon” and who gets theirs called racism.

Or maybe we should simply not justify racism, no matter how much it dresses itself up in the verbiage of legitimate political grievance.


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