Tag Archives: Tolerance

Anti-Germans as anti-Semites

United for global change!

I just got back from Leipzig’s #globalchange festival/demonstration. At one point, I noticed two guys holding up an Israeli flag, and went over to ask what that’s about. It was the only national flag present and I wasn’t sure what it was doing there. “We’re here to provoke,” said one of the guys. “This demonstration is structurally anti-Semitic.” The idea, of course, is that a demonstration with anti-elite, anti-banker sentiment is anti-Semitic, whether the demonstrators know it or not. I tried to argue against this odd rhetoric, but he quickly said he doesn’t want to discuss it.

These counter-demonstrators are, I gather, anti-Germans. This is a movement considered to be left-wing and anti-fascistic, with a commitment to unconditional solidarity with Israel. The paradox of the “provocation” I witnessed is that this was the only mention of the “banking=Jews” stereotype I could detect in today’s demonstration, or indeed in all of the Real Democracy Now activities that led up to it in the past half year. It seems to me like the anti-Germans were the only ones bringing anti-Semitism into the demonstration. It annoys me to no end that they weren’t open to discussion, and this post is my attempt to say what I would have told them if they were willing to listen.

I recently read a pamphlet titled “The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere”, a fascinating guide to understanding and combatting anti-Semitism targeted at social change activists. It can be found online [PDF] and I highly recommend reading it, especially if you are involved in any kind of movement for social change. It makes the crucial point that anti-Semitism is:

“a divide-and-rule strategy that has served to maintain ruling classes, conceal who actually has power, and confuse us about the real systems of oppression that pit us against one another.”
(Chris Crass, Quoted on a now-defunct website hosting the pamphlet.)

Historically, rulers and ruling elites have used anti-Jewish sentiments to deflect the anger of the oppressed masses towards a relatively powerless group (Jews). In a way, it comes down to rulers explicitly or implicitly fostering the belief that the Jews, not the rulers themselves, are the problem.

What those anti-Germans were trying to do today was the same in reverse – delegitimizing an expression of legitimate grievance against the ruling class by claiming it’s an illegitimate expression of intolerance against Jews. This makes me pretty angry, I have to say. If I had detected any anti-Semitic sentiment or rhetoric from the demonstrators, I would go berserk. But I felt very comfortable at the demonstration, felt it was a matter of global solidarity, explicitly inclusive to me (with my irrelevant Jewish background) and to anyone else. The first thing that made me uncomfortable there was the anti-Germans with that big Israeli flag. How dare they insinuate that the German banking system is controlled by Jews? Where the heck did they get that idea?

You know what, I don’t actually know the names and backgrounds of any major German bankers. And I don’t need to. We were demonstrating against the absurd situation in which Europe and the world are in crisis yet the number of millionaires in Germany has only increased. We were demonstrating because we’re told things are going to get hard and we have to live in fear of economic collapse while those who were involved in creating this mess have nothing to fear and they continue to control much more wealth than the rest of us. Even if it so happened that 99% of German bank owners are Jewish, this wouldn’t have been an anti-Semitic demonstration.

Speaking out against someone who happens to be a Jew is not anti-Semitism. Speaking out against “the Jews” or attacking someone because they’re a Jew is anti-Semitism. Is those anti-Germans’ approach supposed to somehow protect Germany from a resurgence of anti-Semitism? Seems to me like at the very least, it muddies the waters and creates confusion about what is or isn’t anti-Semitic, making it easier for real intolerance to fly in under the radar. Even worse, it can actually re-enforce anti-Semitism by suggesting that speaking out against the powers that be is speaking out against Jews – supporting the false equation that “(the) Jews” are responsible for the power structures we live within.

There. I think I got it out of my system now. Has anyone else encountered similar situations, where people meaning to fight intolerance end up implicitly encouraging it?

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Some more thoughts on exclusion, BDS and the housing protests

I got two comments on yesterday’s post via Twitter:

If @ & #j14 won't distinguish between Ariel & "Israel proper," why should anyone? Full #BDS now more than ever. http://t.co/e3Ft9IG
@MaxBlumenthal
Max Blumenthal
@ @ Let's get things straight in name of Social Justice: Settlers are criminals.

I have some more thoughts on this.

I

The strategy of exclusion, of which BDS is one example, is a tricky thing. It is effective when the excluder is (potentially) stronger than the excluded, on some dimension. International BDS is an effective strategy because it can actually hurt Israel: it can deprive Israel of services (such as a European-made tram system), entertainment, and a general feeling of legitimacy and business-as-usual. Boycotting products of the settlements within Israel is the same thing again on a smaller scale: if many in the Israeli market boycott settlement products, Israeli factories in the West Bank move back into Israel, and it’s no more business-as-usual. For a European boycott of the settlements to have an effect you would hardly need a couple percent of the European market to adhere to it. But would the EU care if the settlers decided to boycott all European products? Even if all 300-odd thousand of them strictly adhered to the boycott, it would hardly register, never mind causing some shift in EU policy.

II

Although the housing protests are the strongest thing we’ve ever seen in Israel, garnering more support than any political party could ever dream of, it would be foolish to assume that this strength is of the same kind as the EU or US’s economic and political power, which makes BDS effective. The housing protest is strong only because it has managed so far not to step on anyone’s toes too hard. In Israel, that is an astounding achievement. If a prominent part of the protest movement1 should pick a fight with the people of Ariel for the sake of total BDS, the movement’s strength may very well dwindle rapidly. The movement may even splinter. The movement boycotting Ariel would quickly become meaningless because not all tent cities would accept the boycott and it would suddenly just be a few isolated left-leaning groups going on about the settlements as usual.

III

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. BDS is an impressive and important tool, but it is not the only tool, certainly not the only tool available to Israelis who have the time and energy for political activity. The housing protests have to navigate the many illogical and contradictory conceptions prevailing in Israeli societies, and despite a majority opposing the settlements (in polls, at least), it is also a mainstream idea that Ariel is practically part of Israel and here to stay. (This stems from people not bothering to look at maps [PDF] or thinking these things through. Ariel has absolutely got to go in a two-state solution.)

Total inclusiveness, even of ideological settlers, drunks and lunatics, is probably the only way this movement can survive.2

IV

The fact that some so-called “leaders” of the movement fail to speak out against the occupation does not mean the movement ignores the issue or enables it. Actual discussions in the tent cities often turn to the occupation, and this movement has given the Israeli left more sympathy and more people willing to listen than anything else since at least the mid-nineties. But this too is different from one tent city to another, and it’s very hard to tell what the movement as a whole thinks. I doubt the movement as a whole agrees on anything except that the cost of living and the inequalities within Israeli society are unacceptable.

V

This movement is surprisingly open to criticism. Simply finding excuses to write it off and attack all those who support it will not get your issue addressed. If you think the movement should take a stand regarding the settlements, you have to either go to its assemblies or at least write something that actually tries to convince them. As Max probably knows, it takes a lot of explaining to get typical Israelis to even begin to understand BDS. Don’t take it for granted and just attack this whole decentralized thing for not following the methods you support. Engage the people involved in action and decision-making. You might even convince j14.org.il to list settlements separately from Israel proper if you actually try.

VI

I should note that despite my disagreement with Max, I’m sick of exclusion being the only kosher leftist tactic, and will continue to consider him an all-round good guy (as I consider other opponents of the West Bank apartheid). I will also continue to follow his blog and Twitter feed and list him on this site’s list of links. (I’m doing this as a favor to myself; I know nobody really cares who I like, follow or link to.)

Footnotes

  1. j14.org.il is just a part of the movement – it is a decentralized uprising with no real center, leadership, or hierarchy, despite what the press may say []
  2. As far as I know, the only thing excluded is exclusionary messages: when extreme racist settlers showed up on Rothschild, they were eventually kicked out for having shirts reading “Tel-Aviv for Jews [only]” and other exclusionary slogans. The only thing that’s not tolerated is open intolerance. []