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A COMMON CAUSE

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This paper explores connections and disconnections in the study of racism and antisemitism within sociological inquiry. It begins with an exposition of how certain prominent theorists of racism and antisemitism (e.g., Du Bois, Fanon, Arendt) have in the past identified important connections between these fields of exclusion and persecution in the making of European modernity. While their analysis of connections between racism and antisemitism may have been uneven and provisional, the more recent tendency to replace such connectivity with separatist or even oppositional readings has been a step backward. This tendency toward what we call ‘methodological separatism’ impoverishes our sociological imagination for a number of reasons. First, it neglects the extent to which prejudice and persecution in relation to Muslims, Jews and Black people are connected phenomena in the formation of European modernity. Second, it encourages divisive and competitive analytical approaches which lock their protagonists in rival camps and reproduce aspects of the language of racism they oppose. While affirming the distinctive characteristics of anti-Black and anti-Jewish racisms, we argue that the development of a more integrated approach is required to enable our understanding of how modernity continues to operate.
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A COMMON CAUSE
Glynis Cousin a & Robert Fine b
a University of Wolverhampton
b University of Warwick
Available online: 03 May 2012
To cite this article: Glynis Cousin & Robert Fine (2012): A COMMON CAUSE, European
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A COMMON CAUSE
Reconnecting the study of racism and
antisemitism
Glynis Cousin
University of Wolverhampton
Robert Fine
University of Warwick
ABSTRACT: This paper explores connections and disconnections in the study
of racism and antisemitism within sociological inquiry. It begins with an
exposition of how certain prominent theorists of racism and antisemitism
(e.g., Du Bois, Fanon, Arendt) have in the past identified important
connections between these fields of exclusion and persecution in the making
of European modernity. While their analysis of connections between racism
and antisemitism may have been uneven and provisional, the more recent
tendency to replace such connectivity with separatist or even oppositional
readings has been a step backward. This tendency toward what we call
‘methodological separatism’ impoverishes our sociological imagination for a
number of reasons. First, it neglects the extent to which prejudice and
persecution in relation to Muslims, Jews and Black people are connected
phenomena in the formation of European modernity. Second, it encourages
divisive and competitive analytical approaches which lock their protagonists
in rival camps and reproduce aspects of the language of racism they oppose.
While affirming the distinctive characteristics of anti-Black and anti-Jewish
racisms, we argue that the development of a more integrated approach is
required to enable our understanding of how modernity continues to operate.
Key words: racism; antisemitism; antiracism; Du Bois; Fanon; Badiou;
sociology
1. Racism and antisemitism in the formation of European modernity
Racism is certainly a versatile phenomenon. It takes diverse forms and is
aimed at diverse targets. One difficulty facing us as sociologists is to
acknowledge the differences between racisms be they anti-Jewish, anti-
Black, anti-Muslim, anti-Irish, anti-Polish, anti-Chinese, etc. but also to
166 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14616696.2012.676447
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explore the conceptual and historical linkages that bind them together.
Racism may be directed against those seen as backward or primitive or
alternatively against those seen as privileged and unduly clever at
manipulating the world for their own interests (see Achinger: this
volume). Different forms of racism co-exist. If we take one form as
paradigmatic and privilege it into the exclusive form of racism, we shall not
be able to see other forms, let alone trace their connections. Our
conviction is that we lose something important if we isolate different
racisms, or participate in a ‘competition of victims’, or worse, stumble into
one kind of racism in our endeavour to resist another.
Racism and antisemitism have a connected history that is rooted in the
formative period of European modernity (see Bhambra 2010a,b for further
discussion of connected histories). They were linked on the one hand to
the formation of homogenous Christian nations within Europe which was
achieved through the ‘exclusion’ of Jews and Moors, and on the other to
the colonial conquests of the non-European world through the objectify-
ing treatment of indigenous peoples as inferior races (Fernandez-Armesto
2011: 87114). The year 1492 illustrates the connections between these
phenomena. It marked the victory of Christianity over the Moors, the
expulsion and forced conversion of Jews within the Iberian Peninsula, and
the establishment of Atlantic trade routes with the Americas. The opening
passage of Christopher Columbus’ Journal, written for the eyes of the
King of Spain, serves to exemplify this conjunction:
So after expelling the Jews from your dominions, your Highnesses, in the same
month of January, ordered me to proceed with a sufficient armament to the said
regions of India, and for that purpose granted me great favours and ennobled
me that henceforth I might call myself Don and be High Admiral of the Sea ...
(cited in Stratton 2008: 1011)
Ella Shohat comments that ‘European Christian demonology prefigured
colonialist racism ... . The reconquista policies of settling Christians in the
newly conquered areas of Spain, as well as the gradual institutionalisation
of expulsions, conversions and killings of Muslims and Jews in Christian
territories, prepared the ground for similar conquista practices across the
Atlantic’ (Shohat 1999: 1367). First there came the development of the
nation ‘at home’ through the expulsion and persecution of Muslims and
Jews; then came slavery, disease and expropriation abroad with the
subjugation of indigenous peoples. It was out of both forms of violence
that the idea of ‘Europe’ was born. Both Jews and Muslims in Europe
and colonised people outside of Europe had reason to cry: ‘Now Europe,
O Europe, my hell on earth’ (cited in Stratton 2008: 18). The words are
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from Samuel Usque, the Portuguese Marrano chronicler, writing one
generation later.
If we make a leap from early modern Europe to the age of imperialism
and the scramble for colonies that took hold of Europe from the last
quarter of the nineteenth century, the ties that bind antisemitism inside
Europe to racism outside Europe were again in evidence. It is difficult to
dismiss as sheer coincidence the chronological correspondence between
the development of pseudo-scientificrace theories, which were devel-
oped in relation to both non-European and European people, and the
politicisation of antisemitism. Their connections need to be investigated
but what is clear is that alongside one another scientificracism and
political antisemitism had a strong public presence in Western Europe,
including in some labour movements, and became core elements of
nationalist, pan-Aryan and pan-Slavic ideologies that proliferated in
Central and Eastern Europe (Arendt 1979). The age of imperialism
brought with it increasing vulnerability both for colonised peoples outside
Europe and those considered aliens inside Europe. In the first two sections
of her study of The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt caught very
well this connection when she presented antisemitismand imperialism
as forerunners of the totalitarianism to come. Though seemingly
independent of one another, these discussions were closely related to the
new forms of nationalism that marked European society in this period
(Hobsbawm 1992), as well as to the new ethos of a bourgeoisie tired of
managing the tension between words and deeds and prepared to reveal a
more naked brutality. At home and abroad forces were let loose that
turned violence into the very aim of the body politic and proved incapable
of rest until there was nothing left to violate(Arendt 1979: 137).
When we approach our own era, some contemporary sociologists are
still endeavouring to understand the connections between racism and
antisemitism. Paul Gilroy (1993, 2001), for example, has done much to
demonstrate that the terror of racismfor both Black and Jewish people
are in some sort of mutual relationand that a transnational history of
Europe, Africa and the Americas that embraces these racisms might
provide precious resources for understanding modernity. He criticises
any competition of victimhood between Blacks and Jews: The wrangle
over which communities have experienced the most ineffable forms of
degradation is both pointless and utterly immoral(2001: 212). Against
such competition of narratives, Gilroy argues in relation to the Holocaust
that it is essential not to use that invocation of uniqueness to close down
the possibility that a combined if not a comparative discussion of its
horrors and its patterns of legitimation might be fruitful in making sense
of modern racisms(Gilroy 1993: 214). Gilroy looks back to an earlier and
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more expansive tradition of critical thought, including the work of Frantz
Fanon, to find the resources to make these current connections.
In the USA we find similar attempts to recover a time when
connections between racism and antisemitism were acknowledged. For
example, Cornell West has argued that the growth of antisemitism within
the ranks of some Black activists (he was thinking especially of Louis
Farrakhan) not only breeds an inconsistent antiracism but even compro-
mises the prospects of effectively combating anti-Black racism: if we fall
prey to antisemitism, then the principled attempt to combat racism
forfeits much of its credibility(2000: 110). He recalls that in 1964 two
young Jewish civil rights activists were lynched by Ku Klux Klan
members alongside their 21-year-old black comrade. Did this infamous
episode testify to a natural solidarity between Jews and blacks as brothers
in misery, to use Fanons expression? Cornell West (2000: 104) responds
cautiously. He acknowledges that there was no golden age in which blacks
and Jews were free of tension and friction, and yet he continues: there
was a better age when the common histories of oppression and degradation
of both groups served as a springboard for general empathy and principled
alliances.
1
In his impressive study of this better ageand then its rupture
the American scholar Eric J. Sundquist concluded his analysis on this
note: although the points of disagreement (between Jews and Blacks) were
and remain intense, their dialogue created a profound sense that the
shadow of the Holocaust not only stretched forward and backward, forever
a confirmation of Jewsprecarious existence, but also reached out to
encompass other acts of genocide and racial violence in purpose or effect
(2005: 527).
2. Explorations into connectivity: Fanon and Du Bois
We can illustrate the connectivities established in this better ageand its
equivocations through the writings of two classicaltheorists of racism:
W.T.B. Du Bois and Frantz Fanon. Du Bois (1903: 19) is often quoted as
1. In a similar vein Paul Berman recalls a time when there was genuine popular
enthusiasm among liberal Jews for the Civil Rights Movement. Noting that Jews
accounted for almost two-thirds of the white volunteers who went south for Freedom
Summer in 1964 and that three-quarters of the money raised by the civil rights
organisations at the height of the movement came from Jewish contributors, Berman
discerns behind this solidarity a politics of recognition able to associate slavery and
Nazism, lynching and pogroms, Jim Crow and Czarist antisemitism, bigotry and
bigotry. Berman sees in this solidarity a mix of idealism and self-interest: the higher-
ups in the Jewish establishment always knew that people with sheets over their heads
were no friends of Jewry either, and blacks were a good ally to have(Berman 1994: 66).
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declaring in 1903 that the 20
th
century is the century of the color line.Yet
he revisited the starkness of this declaration in the light of his observations
of the ill-treatment of Poles under German domination and his growing
awareness of the horrors of antisemitism. In the 1930s, Du Bois made
academic visits to Berlin under Nazi rule (Oppel 2008). Having witnessed
Nazi violence against German Jews, he compared it both to the Inquisition
inside Europe and to the European enslavement of Africans outside
Europe. His eye-witness experiences in Europe revealed to Du Bois the
reach of racism beyond the black/white binary. After one particular
antisemitic episode involving a Jewish travelling companion, Du Bois
(1952: 251) remarked that It had never occurred to me until then that any
exhibition of race prejudice could be anything but color prejudice. This
was a relatively trivial episode. Later a visit to the Warsaw Ghetto clarified
to him a more complete understanding of the Negro problemas a
problem connected to other forms of racism. Du Boisexperiences in
Europe prompted him to deepen his understanding of racism as a form of
human hatecapable of reaching all sorts of peopleof all kinds of skin
colours:
The ghetto of Warsaw helped me to emerge from a certain social provincialism
into a broader conception of what the fight against race segregation, religious
discrimination, and the oppression by wealth had to become if civilisation was
going to triumph and broaden in the world. (1952: 253)
In the struggles for civil rights Du Bois expressed a concern for
antisemitism and welcomed the active support of Jews for the National
Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, which he co-
founded. He acknowledged the contribution of Jews to the civil rights
movement and their own continued vulnerability to racism. However, the
Israel questioncreated signs of a new rift. In line with the Communist
Party, of which he was a loyal member, Du Bois at first supported the
establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 but soon renounced support in
favour of Arab nations aligned against Zionism. In his poem Suez he wrote
that Israel had betrayed the murdered of the Holocaust and become a
pawn of Western imperialism (Sundquist 2005: 154). This poem does not
necessarily signify a diminished commitment to the fight against
antisemitism, but it prefigures the rise of a new division.
Frantz Fanon was similarly troubled by the persecution of Jews in
Europe. While Du Boisinitial reference point was the legacy of slavery
and the denial of equal rights in the United States, Fanon coming from the
French colony of Martinique was more exercised by the effects of
European colonialism. Fanon shared Du Boishorror of Nazi atrocities.
Anti-Semitismhe wrote hits me head-on: I am enraged, I am bled white
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by an appalling battle(1993: 88). Fanon was at pains to state his solidarity
with the persecuted Jew. His ethical stance was informed by Jaspers
concept of metaphysical guilt: if he does not stand with his Jewish
brother, he stands against him by default(1993: 89). This reflective
empathy prompted Fanon to ask:
Is there in truth any difference between one racism and another? Do not all of
them show the same collapse, the same bankruptcy of man? (Fanon 1967: 86)
Fanon offered an equivocal response to his own question. Despite his
evident anguish about the cruelties of antisemitism and the shared
symbolic meaning assigned to Jews and Blacks as evilcounterpoints to
the goodChristian, he ultimately judged that colour divides Black from
Jew:
The Jew can be unknown in his Jewishness. He is not wholly what he is. One
hopes, one waits. His actions, his behaviour are the final determinant. He is a
white man, and, apart from some rather debatable characteristics, he can
sometimes go unnoticed ... (Fanon 1993: 115)
In The Fact of Blackness, a moving essay on the devastating effects of a
racist white gaze on black people, Fanons reasoning is that unlike the
black man who is inescapably Black, the Jew can be unknown in his
Jewishnesswithin a community of Europeans (Fanon 1993: 115). Iam
the slavehe wrote, not of the ‘‘idea’’ others have of me but of my own
appearance(Fanon 1993: 116). Inasmuch as Fanon saw Jews as white,he
could not see how they could share his existential agony. He revealed how
difficult it is for Black people to escape the racist gaze but the visibility/
invisibility contrast Fanon drew with antisemitism downplays the various
ways in which differences are made visible (Gilman 1992). If persecutors
want to mark out a particular group as Other, they can brand them or
enforce the wearing of a yellow star or pink triangle; sometimes visible
differences are self-declared, as when Jews elect to wear distinguishing
markers such as a skullcap or Muslim women elect to wear a headscarf.
These qualifications do not undermine Fanons understanding of the fact
of Blacknessbut they may temper the contrast he draws with
antisemitism.
Fanon exposed the European hypocrisy of setting aside the rights of
man when it came to colonial domination: colonialism was not about
imposing the colonisersway of life on colonised peoples but on reserving
the colonisersway of life their freedoms, rights, democracy and
material benefits for themselves and imposing servitude on the
colonised. Fanon located the predicament of Jews alongside that of
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colonised Blacks but only within limits set by his perception of Jews as
white Europeans (Cheyette 1997). On one occasion he characterised the
mass murder of Jews as the product of little family quarrelsbetween
Europeans an unfortunate comment echoed by some anti-colonial
writers to minimise the significance of European antisemitism (see
Finkielkraut 1992). Cheyette (1997: 124) identifies the limitations of
Fanons identification of Jews simply as white Europeans: Jews are
ambivalently positioned as both black and white, self and other, as both
inside and outside Western culture. If we disconnect European racism
from European antisemitism, it becomes all the more difficult to
understand the ties that bind what Europeans have done to the colonised
and what Europeans have done to their own outsiders(Cousin 2010).
Fanons equivocations are palpable. On the one hand, he heeded the
connections his Professor encouraged him to make between racism and
antisemitism:
Whenever you hear anyone abuse the Jews, pay attention, because he is talking
about you. And I found he was universally right by which I meant that I was
answerable ...for what was done to my brother. Later I realised that he meant,
quite simply, an antisemite is inevitably anti-Negro. (Fanon 1993: 122)
On the other, he resisted the implications of the shared predicament of
Blacks and Jews that he raised. His equivocations, however, may matter
less than the fact that he, like Du Bois, helped to open up the question of
connecting racism and antisemitism as a matter of public discussion and
political concern. These connections were a subject of keen interest for a
tradition of antiracist thought that focused on three loci of persecution:
segregation (in the United States), colonialism (by European powers
and settlers), and the Holocaust (largely inside Europe). The scholars of
this period struggled toward a universalistic understanding of these
phenomena.
2
3. Equivocations of the post-’68 period
In the post-1968 period the legacy of this universalistic understanding of
racism was retained in a number of ways (see for example Back and
2. Paul Robeson, wonderful bass singer, political activist, member of the Communist
Party, notably sustained a commitment to the connected struggles against racism and
antisemitism. Lapierre draws attention to his insistence that a direct line leads from
Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama to the Berlin and the Dachau of
Hitler(Lapierre 2011: 86).
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Solomos 2000; Bulmer and Solomos 1999; Donald and Rattansi 1992).
Representations of the Holocaust were deployed by antiracist movements
sometimes under the banner of anti-Nazismor Never Againto
create resonances between the history of European antisemitism and
emergent forms of European racism. Enlightened architects of the new
Europesaw the European project as bound together by the signs and
symbols of Europes past and committed the new Europe to teaching
afresh to each passing generation the history of barbarism lurking beneath
the surface of European civilisation (Habermas 1998, 2001). Their aim, as
Tony Judt put it, was to furnish Europes present with admonitory
meaning and moral purpose(Judt 2007: 831). Social and political
theorists sought to uncover the kinds of political community that once
allowed racist and antisemitic movements to thrive and to diagnose the
shape of new political communities in which these negative aspects of
Europes past might be overcome (Fine 1994). This was the key, for
example, to Ju
¨rgen Habermasthinking about the transition from
nationalism to postnationalism as the basis of solidarity in European
political communities: nationalism as the deeply equivocal form of
solidarity in the past that on the one hand allowed for the development
of social democracy and on the other created fertile conditions for the
growth of racism and antisemitism; postnationalism as an emerging form
of solidarity for the future that could, in Habermasview, at least create
the political conditions for overcoming racism and antisemitism. Although
Habermas, writing as a German, may have attended more to antisemitism
than to other forms of racism, the struggle to come to terms with the
subterranean history of both racism and antisemitism has been a critical
aspect of the European postnational project (Fine 2010; Habermas 1998,
2001).
However, the legacy of connected resistance to racism and antisemitism
was in some tension with countervailing tendencies to disconnect
opposition to racism from antisemitism and vice versa, as part of a
growing scepticism toward universalistic forms of reasoning. If radicalisa-
tion of resistance to racism was sometimes accompanied by various forms
of particularisation on the street, e.g., in the movement from civil rights to
black power, this was reflected to some extent in academe.
First, in the study of race relationsemphasis tended to be placed on
the social disadvantage and discrimination suffered by mainly non-
European and Southern immigrants and on the need to ameliorate the
social conditions faced by immigrants and to construct a more inclusive
democracy. The relatively small number of Jews who survived in Europe
after the Holocaust did not figure strongly in this framework (Sweiry
2007). The upward mobility of many Jewish communities in Europe and
America and the increasing perception of Jews as white, European and
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privileged seemed to remove antisemitism from the list of current racisms
that needed to be addressed. The tendency to measure the gravity of a
problem along empirically grounded social scales tended to overlook the
symbolic terrain on which antisemitism thrives.
Second, while the development of multiculturalismin the UK offered
the potential for Black-Jewish solidarity by encouraging rainbow alliances
based on the mutual right to be different, it also leant toward a cultural
relativism that treats every culture as a distinct entity. By proposing
difference as a key response to racism, the multicultural approach
emphasised what distinguishes Jews and Blacks over what they have in
common. Keenan Malik has gone so far as to argue that the multicultural
emphasis on difference is the glue that conceptually attaches antiracism to
the racism it opposes. If the racist says we are irretrievably different, the
antiracist contests the sense of superiority and inferiority that lies behind
this claim but at the same time endorses the notion of difference in
positive ways. Malik maintains that antiracists who follow this logic do not
transcend the thought structures of their adversary:
Challenging the politics of difference has become as important today as
challenging racism; this does not mean ignoring the reality of race but seeking
rather to transcend the politics of difference, whether promoted by racists or
antiracists ... The concept of race is irrational. The practice of antiracism has
become so. We need to challenge both, in the name of humanism and of reason.
(Malik 2008: 288)
Maliks critique does not take into account the diversity of multi-
culturalisms and the more open views of culture developed in its more
critical variants, but it highlights ways in which a disconnection between
racism and antisemitism can be encouraged from within a multicultural
perspective. In practice antisemitism played a marginal role in multi-
cultural perspectives, where colour became the more important determi-
nant of difference (Delgado 2000).
Third, the development of critical race theories further illustrates the
allure of disconnection. For example, Derek Bell (1992: 114), one of the
architects of this approach, argued that Black opposition to antisemitism
was less an expression of genuine solidarity than a means of status
enhancement for Blacks in the eyes of Whites, and conversely that the
solidarity of Whites with Black victims of racism was to be explained in
terms of interest convergence, that is, the privileged express solidarity
with the under-privileged only when it is in their own self-interest. This
stance makes genuine solidarity between Blacks and Jews difficult to
conceive. A thread running through critical race theory is that Blackness
and Whiteness are primary sources of power and inequality and that in
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this dichotomy Jews have generally become advantaged White ethnics
(Bell 1989: 122).
Fourth, there also emerged an identity politics in which antisemitism
was seen primarily as the concern of Jews and racism as the concern of
Black people. In either case victim experience was presented as a
privileged source of knowledge-construction. This approach encouraged
the writing of identity scripts that treat membership of a particular
category as fundamentally determining of peoples lives (see Sen 2006 and
2009). Theories of intersectionalityallowed for both intrinsic and
extrinsic connections between scripts to be made especially within the
context of individual experience and biography Black or White, gay or
straight, male or female, Jewish or non-Jewish, etc. but this kind of
connectedness was arguably caught in a world of multiple particularisms
(see Yuval Davis 2011 for a nuanced and connective reading of
intersectionality). Commitment to particular identity scripts could be
justified by compelling historical experiences, but the temptation was to
reduce human experience to victim narratives and place them in
competition with other victim narratives (see Appiah 2005).
Fifth, the splitting of racism and antisemitism was given an explicit
temporal reading by those who argued that racism and Islamophobia are
present-day realities in Europe, but that antisemitism is a problem of the
past thankfully marginalised in the post-Holocaust period (e.g., Bunzl
2007). In this temporal mode of disconnection it is acknowledged that
antisemitism was once a terrible stain on the European landscape, but it is
now said to be safely tucked away in the past except for various Far Right
groupings, and to have been overtaken by the defeat of Nazism, the fall of
the Soviet Union and the rise of the European Union. Antisemitism is
associated in this temporal discourse with the nationalperiod of
European modernity and in particular with the ethnic forms of
nationalism that took hold of Germany and Eastern Europe. In liberal
versions the story of European antisemitism is then given the happy
ending of its displacement by ideas of right, difference and plurality
(Beller 2007); in radical versions it is seen as supplanted by other kinds of
racism, especially against immigrants, in which Jews themselves might
also now participate. Either way, this periodisation functions to exclude
antisemitism from the list of racisms that Europe now has to confront.
Sixth, and finally, we should note that the imperatives of intellectual
specialism that occurred with the separate development of Postcolonial
Studies and Holocaust Studies may have augmented this split. These
research fields engendered rich findings on the workings of racism and
antisemitism respectively but arguably at the cost of neglecting connec-
tions between them. There have been exceptions to this rule in both cases
but unitary conceptions of the Weston one side (see Cousin 2011) and of
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the uniquenessof the Holocaust on the other (see Rose 1996: 4162)
make connections difficult to discern.
Much more could be said about these and doubtless other sources of
potential separation between the study of racism and antisemitism (Jacobs
2005 and 2011), but the following qualifications may be worth stressing. If
a way of thinking about racism or antisemitism is one sided, this does not
mean it is wrong in its own area of expertise; and if a way of thinking
about racism or antisemitism is a source of a potential disconnection, this
does not mean that it is inevitable that this potential will be realised.
It was, however, around the turn of the millennium that these different
forms of disconnection began to gel into a phenomenon we might call
methodological separatism. What started off more like disciplinary
divisions of labour turned into intellectually and politically disabling
schisms in which racism and antisemitism were torn apart and resistance
to racism and resistance to antisemitism became markers of opposed
camps, each with its own friends and foes, each actively inhibiting cross-
border connections, each tempted to define itself in opposition to the
other camp, each foregoing empathy for the other (Lapierre 2011). Social
antagonisms between Black and Jewish actors could make the split
between the study of racism and that of antisemitism appear as an
expression of actual splits within everyday life. In France, for example, the
growth at one time of communitarian conflicts between Jewish and Arab
immigrants from Maghreb North Africa was a case in point (see Altglas:
this volume). But it was around the question of Israel and political
attitudes to Zionism, Palestine and Arab nationalism that this split was
consolidated in the form of an often bitter public confrontation between
two emergent camps.
4. The current polarisation: new antisemitism theory and its antiracist critics
We shall illustrate the intellectual expression of this split through the
dispute between what is called new antisemitism theoryand radical left
critics of this approach. On the one hand, protagonists of new
antisemitism theory come together around the idea that antisemitism
remains a pernicious racism in the West and especially in Europe. They
maintain that because of the delegitimation of overt antisemitism in
mainstream society, the new antisemitism tends to take the covert form of
criticism of Israelor antizionismand even to wear a deceptively
antiracist mask. On the other hand, antiracist critics of new antisemitism
theory tend to view it as an ideology that serves as a surrogate form of
Zionismand of a new racism largely directed against Muslims or Arabs.
In the last decade the polarisation of these positionshas been a visible
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political process fed by events in the Middle East but located in Europe
and America.
The central claim of new antisemitism theory is that a more or less
concealed antisemitism has re-emerged in discriminatory discourses in
which Israel is depicted as a uniquely illegitimate state, Zionism as a
uniquely noxious ideology, supporters of Israel as a uniquely powerful and
harmful lobby, and memory of the Holocaust as a uniquely self-serving
reference to the past (see Judaken 2008). The concern expressed in this
approach is that behind that is called criticism of Israelthere can lurk the
reconstruction of old antisemitic motifs in a new guise. It is not generally
held that criticism of Israel is as such antisemitic but rather that it
becomes antisemitic under certain conditions. In 2005, for example, the
European Union Monitoring Commission (EUMC) argued that criticism
can turn antisemitic if, depending on context, Israel is selected as uniquely
evil or violent among nations, or if all Jews or all Israeli Jews are held
collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel, or if the
occupation of Palestine is compared with the Nazi extermination of
Jews, or if negative stereotypes of Israel refer to long-established
antisemitic myths such as world conspiracy, blood libel or Jewish stench.
Resonances of antisemitism are heard, for instance, in portrayals of the
American Zionist lobbynot as one pressure group among many but as a
secret world power, a universal conspiracy, even the American Govern-
ment does not have the power to resist; or in portrayals of Israeli settlers as
resorting to the ritual murder of priests or of Israeli doctors stealing the
body parts of victims of the Haiti earthquake; or in discourses tracing
Israeli violence against Arabs back to the failure of Jews, unlike most
Europeans, to learn the lessons of the Holocaust.
The new antisemitismhere identified is one that treats Israel not as a
real country, embroiled in real conflicts, marked by real defects,
characterised by the usual distinctions between state and civil society,
but rather as a symbolic vessel into which all that is bad in the world can
be projected. Among the negative typifications heaped upon Israelthat
raise suspicions of antisemitism are: exclusive concern for their own kind,
indifference to the suffering of others, belief in an ethnic (Jewish) state,
readiness to commit violence, lack of human sympathy for victims, etc.
Within the framework of new antisemitism theory we find differences of
opinion concerning both the criteria and examples deployed to distinguish
between legitimate political criticism of Israel and forms of criticism that
fold into antisemitism. We find general agreement, however, that some
forms of criticismconceal antisemitic hate speech. The necessity of
reflecting on this distinction is no different in principle from that of, say,
distinguishing between political criticism of Robert Mugabe and a racism
that declares Africans incapable of ruling themselves or, for that matter,
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political criticism of Margaret Thatcher and a sexism that declares women
incapable of public office.
Criticism of new antisemitism theory comes from various standpoints
but there has arisen a particular discourse which states that, except on
the Far Right, antisemitism is a spent force in the West. The argument
goes that current purveyors of antisemitism(asBadiouandHazan2011
have labelled protagonists of new antisemitism theory) are living in the
past or worse have a hidden agenda designed to deflect attention from
the crimes committed by Israel. Within this discourse we find the
argument that new antisemitism theory is only interested in what is done
to Jews and bereft of any wider human purpose; or that it exaggerates the
incidence of antisemitism at the expense of other, more damaging forms
of racism; or that it stigmatises whole collectivities of people as
antisemitic, such as Muslims or Arabs or in some cases Europeans or
the Left; or that it attempts to devalue concepts designed to designate
other forms of racism, such as Islamophobia; or finally that it
misappropriates the memory of the Holocaust and the charge of
antisemitism for exclusive nationalistic ends usually to do with
cancelling criticism of Israel (see discussions in Bunzl 2007; Fine
2009; Judt 2008; Karpf et al. 2008).
A provocative example of this kind of discourse is to be found in the
work of the French philosopher, Alain Badiou (Badiou 2011; Badiou and
Hazan 2011). In response to the contention that antisemitism has made a
return to Europe, Badiou rightly acknowledges that it has never ceased
to be a feature of the extreme right and insists that it should never be
tolerated. However, he distinguishes between a particularistic response
which sees antisemitism as essentially different from other forms of
racism and an egalitarian, universalistic response which places anti-
semitism alongside other forms of racist consciousness. Badiou locates
himself on the side of the egalitarian and the universal (as do we), but
identifies current purveyors of antisemitismfirmly on the side of
particularism.
Badious case is that that the word Jewhas now been afforded a fictive
communitarian transcendence, located in a victim ideology referring only
to the Nazi extermination of European Jews and ignorant of other
persecutions. The signifier Jew, he maintains, now enjoys a victim status
that places Jews beyond reproach and renders invisible other forms of
racism (especially anti-Muslim and anti-Arab). It has shifted, according to
Badiou, from that of the abused Otherto a protected category that
legitimates Israeli violence:
Today it is not uncommon to read that Jewis indeed a name beyond ordinary
names. And it seems to be presumed that, like an inverted original sin, the
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grace of having been an incomparable victim can be passed down not only to
descendants and to the descendants of descendants but to all who come under
the predicate in question, be they heads of state or armies engaging in the
severe oppression of those whose lands they have confiscated.
Arguing that, for the carriers of this victim ideology, Nazi atrocities ...
validate the election of the ‘‘people’’ that this predicate B‘‘Jew’’ ...
gathers together, Badiou declares on a personal note that it intolerable to
be accused of antisemitism simply because he does not conclude that the
predicate ‘‘Jew’’... receive some singular valorization a transcendent
annunciation!and that Israeli exactions ... be specially tolerated(Badiou
2006a; see Badiou 2005, 2006b). In the ironically titled Antise
´
mitisme
Partout Badiou and his co-author Eric Hazan pursue this line of argument
when they politically situate those who speak of a new antisemitism
firmly on the side of reaction:
for imperialists against occupied and mistreated peoples, for the police against
the popular revolts of youth, for the Israeli government against the
Palestinians, for controls and expulsions against undocumented workers in
brief, for established order and against exception. (Badiou 2011: 31 our
translation)
The separation of racism from antisemitism, the subject of our essay, finds
expression here in the devaluation of the term antisemitism. Badiou
writes that the constant use of the wordhas been reduced to a power of
intimidationand functions to eradicate forever the very possibility of
political universalism(Badiou 2006a). Contrasting creative (Christian)
universalism to Jewish communitarianism (citing St Pauls disconnection
of Christianity from established Judaism), Badiou calls for a rupture with
the exclusive identitarian claimof Israel to be a Jewish state and berates
the incessant privilegeshe sees Israel as drawing from this claim (Badiou
2006).
Badious use of the passive in these passages blurs the question of
referent: that is, who precisely is said to sacralise the word Jew, or to use
the word antisemitismonly as a means of intimidation, or to resist the
very possibility of political universalism? We have no wish to counter the
universalistic ideals Badiou proclaims: namely that a truly contemporary
state is cosmopolitan,indistinct in its identitarian configuration, a state
where there is neither Arab nor Jew, a state in which whoever is here is
from here(see Fine 2007). However, for this ideal to be universalistic it
has to be universalistically applied. When Badiou treats the word Jewas
the obstacle to its realisation, he turns the Jewsinto the particularised
signifier par excellence. Taken in isolation this construction of the Jew
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removes the question of antisemitism from the antiracist agenda. The
performative contradiction here is that ressentiment against alleged Jewish
exemptionis treated as the foundation for a universal antiracism.
3
5. Conclusion: overcoming methodological separatism
How are we to analyse the emergence of such impassioned hostility to the
word antisemitismamong antiracists? First, it should be acknowledged
that the excesses alleged by critics of new antisemitism theory do indeed
exist. There are Jewish ultra-nationalists (including and beyond settler
movements in IsraelPalestine) who use the word antisemitismas a stick
to beat Arabs,Muslimsand the Leftand use memory of the Holocaust
as a justification for their own racism (Israeli 2011). Such ultra-
nationalism plays its own role in disconnecting antisemitism from other
racisms. However, new antisemitism theory is a broad approach in which
many currents co-exist, some of which strive for an egalitarian and
universalistic opposition to antisemitism alongside other racisms (Hirsh
2007). The fault lines running through new antisemitism theory become
invisible if its critics only relate to it through homogenising and
stigmatising stereotypes.
Second, it should be emphasised that an ultra-nationalist outlook is not
the peculiarity of those who combat antisemitism. It may rather be the
case that the separatist wings of new antisemitism theory and of critical
race theory increasingly mirror one another. Narrowness and exclusivity
are no more the defining features of opposition to antisemitism than they
are of opposition to any other racism, and opportunist cries of racism or
antisemitism will always be part of the story of any field of racist
prejudice. To treat concern over antisemitism as exclusively opportunist
denies integrity to those vulnerable to it.
3. A related argument, one that stands up for universalism by particularising the Jews, is
to be found in a recent commentary by John Mearsheimer defending the work of
Gilad Atzmon: Atzmon is a universalist who does not like the particularism that
characterizes Zionism and which has a rich tradition among Jews and any number of
other groups. He is the kind of person who intensely dislikes nationalism of any sort.
Princeton professor Richard Falk captures this point nicely in his own blurb for the
book, where he writes: Atzmon has written an absorbing and moving account of his
journey from hard-core Israeli nationalist to a de-Zionized patriot of humanity.
Atzmons basic point is that Jews often talk in universalistic terms, but many of them
(sic) think and act in particularistic terms. One might say they talk like liberals but act
like nationalists. Atzmon will have none of this, which is why he labels himself a self-
hating Jew. He fervently believes that Jews are not the Chosen Peopleand that they
should not privilege their Jewishnessover their other human traits(Mearsheimer
2011).
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Third, the argument that the Holocaust has become the means by which
the word Jewis placed above judgment and the existence of other racisms
neglected generalises from one particular and highly particularistic way of
memorialising the Holocaust. To be sure, collective memory of the
Holocaust ought not to be used to privilege the suffering of Jews at the
expense of other sufferings or to protect Israel from its critics. We can agree
normatively. However, the compassion one may feel for Jewish victims does
not erase compassion for others. Compassion is not a fixed quantity of
capital and memory of the Holocaust serves as a fire alarmalerting us to
other human catastrophes. The equation, memory of the Holocaust
defence of Israel opportunist cries of antisemitism, also ignores the
enduring meaningfulness of the Holocaust for racialised groups other than
Jews for understanding their own situation (Sundquist 2005: 43647).
Among critics of new antisemitism theory a two-fold slippage reinforces
polarisation between camps: slippage from a specific critique of the
separatist wing of new antisemitism theory to a general critique of
purveyors of antisemitism; slippage from a general critique of separatist
responses to racism to a specific critique of Jewish responses to
antisemitism. Together, these slippages foster methodological separatism.
The ghost of IsraelPalestine haunts the current separatism between
racism and antisemitism. The project of reconnecting racism and
antisemitism is timely. The point we would make to critics of new
antisemitism theory is not to abstain from criticism of Israel but rather to
criticise racism in Israel in the same way we criticise racism in all
countries. The parallel point we would make to protagonists of new
antisemitism theory is that racism should be criticised wherever it is to be
found including within their own ranks. Universalism is deformed, and
has long been deformed, if deployed as a device to particularise the Other.
We would echo the conclusion of Nicole Lapierre (2011: 300) to her
recent study of Causes Communes: Des juifs et des noirs:
Empathy ... is not a panacea taking the place of politics, nor a universal key
liberating humanity. However, it can humanise political thought and action ...
empathy encourages solidarity founded on respect and reciprocity. It is to them
that Franz Fanon pointed at the end of Black Skin, White Mask: Why not
simply try to touch the other, feel the other, reveal the other in oneself? Is not
my liberty given to me to educate the world about You. (Our translation)
Sociology is broken by the schism between racism and antisemitism.
These different racisms have distinctive characteristics and an emphasis
on connections does not imply obliteration of differences. Indeed, it
both extends understanding beyond the familiar and sponsors reflection
on the familiar. While methodological separatism narrows our lens,
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connectedness impels us to enter into the viewpoint of others. It expands
our realm of empathy and our analytical reach.
Acknowledgements
We should like to thank Claudine Attias-Donfut, Gurminder Bhambra,
Daniel Chernilo, Lars Rensmann and Gurnam Singh for their comments
and suggestions.
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The critical race theory concept of ‘White supremacy’ continues to be a major locus of disagreement between Critical Race Theorists and Marxists regarding both how it operates as a general descriptor of racial power dynamics in the Western world and for its explanatory power in accounting for the multiple forms in which racism manifests. Criticisms of the concept of ‘White supremacy’ from Marxists often point to racisms that exist beyond the Black/White binary, or racism directed at minoritised White groups as counterexamples to explanations of racism that appeal to ‘White supremacy’. Marxists also often point to alternative theoretical constructs such as ‘institutional racism’ and ‘racialisation’ as better descriptions for, and explanations of, racism and the mechanisms that serve in its creation and perpetuation. However, examples of racisms that exist outside of a Black/White binary, or which appeal to the existence of racism directed at people identified as White, do not discredit ‘White supremacy’ as a descriptor or explanation of racism and can easily be accommodated within a framework for understanding racism that is consistent with both critical race theory and Marxism. Moreover, constructs such as ‘racialisation’ and ‘institutional racism’ do not have the theoretical utility of ‘White supremacy’ as characterised within critical race theory .
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Beginning in the 1780s the Jews were often thought of as constituting a race. Early in the twentieth century Franz Boas attacked this view and in the late 1930s, together with Ruth Benedict, he promoted the use of the word racism in English to attack the biologically based form of antisemitism characteristic of some Nazi anthropologists. The word is now understood very differently. It is no longer primarily used to refer to a form of antisemitism in which the Jews as a biological race, but to a much broader range of phenomena directed mainly against Blacks. It is not only based in biology, but also in culture and is embedded in institutions. Nevertheless, the idea that racism is something that can be refuted by science persists in some circles and is a legacy of this earlier usage.
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Eric Hobsbawm's brilliant enquiry into the question of nationalism won further acclaim for his 'colossal stature … his incontrovertible excellence as an historian, and his authoritative and highly readable prose'. Recent events in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics have since reinforced the central importance of nationalism in the history of political evolution and upheaval. This second edition has been updated in the light of those events, with a final chapter addressing the impact of the dramatic changes that have taken place. It also includes additional maps to illustrate nationalities, languages and political divisions across Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
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This book looks at the post-Holocaust experience with emphasis on aspects of its impact on popular culture.
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In this groundbreaking book, Nira Yuval-Davis provides a cutting-edge investigation of the challenging debates around belonging and the politics of belonging. Alongside the hegemonic forms of citizenship and nationalism which have tended to dominate our recent political and social history, the author examines alternative contemporary political projects of belonging constructed around the notions of religion, cosmopolitanism, and the feminist ‘ethics of care’. The book also explores the effects of globalization, mass migration, the rise of both fundamentalist and human rights movements on such politics of belonging, as well as some of its racialized and gendered dimensions. A special space is given to the various feminist political movements that have been engaged as part of or in resistance to the political projects of belonging.