Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Longest Hatred 21

Melanie Phillips writes with characteristic brilliance on modern British antisemitism here

"in Britain and elsewhere, anti-Semitism has mutated again, its target shifting from culture to creed to race to nation. What anti-Semitism once did to Jews as people, it now does to Jews as a people. First it wanted the Jewish religion, and then the Jews themselves, to disappear; now it wants the Jewish state to disappear. "


Phil Sumpter said...

Isn't a problem here that the meaning of 'Jewish' is being assumed, such that the quote can find unity is individuals, religion and nation? But there are many Jews who reject the religion and the state. The only continuity is perhaps 'ethnicity', but ethnicity doesn't intrinsically contain a stance vis-a-vis religion or politics. That would mean ethnic Jews critical of Jewish religion or Israel would be anti-semitic.

James Mendelsohn said...

Not quite sure I follow you here Phil - I would never suggest that anyone (whether ehtnically Jewish or not) who is merely critical of Jewish religion or of Israel is antisemitic: but wanting Jewish religion or Israel to disappear altogether - that is another matter entirely. Have you read "The Jewish Divide over Israel" by Paul Bogdanor and Edward Alexander?

Phil Sumpter said...

But there are Jews who also want Jewish religion to disappear and those who want the state to totally disappear (e.g. the Orthodox group Neturei Karta. Are they anti-semitic?

Phil Sumpter said...

Sorry, I haven't read the book. Does it identify what a 'semite' is, such that one can always identify one when one is anti one?

Sorry if I'm being obstruse! I have a passion for all things 'Jewish' and 'Israeli' and am trying to fit that together with my faith and understanding of the world :)

James Mendelsohn said...

Hi Phil,
There has throughout much of Jewish history been the phenomenon of Jewish self-hate: yes, it is perfectly possible to be Jewish AND antisemitic! See the entries on Jewish and even Israeli antisemites at http://www.paulbogdanor.com/antisemitism.html

Phil Sumpter said...

Sorry if I press on with this question! I know most people don't have time for this, so leave it open if you want and perhaps I'll find an answer if some of you later posts.

What defines anti-semitism? What is the continuity in the examples you gave? The only one I can see is that Jews are involved. But hating something which happens to involve Jews doesn't make you antisemetic, unless it can be shown that these things are intrinsic to the property of 'Jewish', and not just accidentaly there. There are many Jews who are traumatised by Orthodox Judaism and can't stand it, perhaps wish it had never existed. That doesn't make them anti-semetic, unless Orthodoxy is intrinsically Jewish.

In other words, one needs to define 'Jew', identify it's properties and then demonstrate how it is present in relgion, politics and even ethnicity, before one can identify 'anit-semitism'.

I hope this makes sense ...

I'd perhaps be more comfortable with the vaguer idea that somehow, historically, Jews tend to keep getting the hard end of the bargain. This doesn't entail the idea of 'aniti-semitism' as a clearly identifiable property. As far as I'm aware, anit-semitism is a racial concept that was invented in the light of Darwiniansim, which is quite different to other forms of persecution of Jews in the Medieaval period, for example.

James Mendelsohn said...

You're right - racial antisemitism is a comparatively recent development. But hatred of Jews SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY ARE JEWS is almost as old as the Jewish people themselves: Haman is probably the first "Jew-hater" in this sense: see Esther 3:8 & 3:13 - basically, "they are different to everyone else - so kill them".

I don't think there's a standard definition of "antisemitism" (though there's a good working definition at http://eumc.europa.eu/eumc/material/pub/AS/AS-WorkingDefinition-draft.pdf) - perhaps because "Jewishness" itself has no one definition which is universally accepted: is it a religious, ethnic, or political definition, or a combination?

Try Graham Keith's book "Hated without a Cause" (Paternoster) or Walter Laqueur's book "The Changing Faces of Antisemitism" (Oxford) for more.

Hope that helps!