I went today to a seminar entitled "Hate Israel, Hate Jews? Cosmopolitan Reflections," part of a series co-sponsored by The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism and the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy.
I have been a regular attendee for the last few years and expect to both go to most of the seminars this year and write about them.
Today's speaker was David Hirsh, the editor of Engage and a lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London.
Hirsh "wrote Law against Genocide: Cosmopolitan Trials (GlassHouse 2004), which won the BSA Philip Abrams Prize for the best first book in sociology in 2004. David is currently working on antisemitism and anti-Zionism; nationalism and cosmopolitanism; cosmopolitan and international law; human rights; ethnic cleansing and genocide; Israel/Palestine and fundamentalism. David played a leading role in the campaign to reverse the AUT boycott of Israeli universities." (From the Engage web site.)
Hirsh calls himself both a scholar and an activist, interested in fighting anti-Semitism, and is working on the hypothesis there’s a connection between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
His was an interesting talk containing much food for thought, although I would change his hypothesis. Since except in the rare case where someone's anti-Zionism flows from a post-nationalist opposition to all nationalism, the singling out of Jews as the one national group to be denied its own nation-state is inherently a manifestation of anti-Semitism.
Thus, a more productive hypothesis to work on would be the existence of a correlation between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel among individuals who deny being anti-Zionist.
Hirsh spoke about the extremists who define Israel as a racist state, born in sin, in the Nakba. For them, every instance of racism in Israel is read as a manifestation of Israel’s racist essence. Many of these anti-Zionists talk a lot about the Holocaust as a trauma that made Israel pathological and is used as a justification for racist actions. Whereas Gillian Rose warned about Holocaust piety, these haters engage in Holocaust sacrilege, with the recent conference in Tehran just one example.
He referred to the prevalence of ad hominen arguments, such as the insistence that complaints about anti-Semitism are just being used to justify allegedly racist Israeli actions.
Hirsh referred to Mearsheimer's assertion “The Israel lobby was one of the principal driving forces behind the Iraq War, and in its absence we probably would not have had a war” as an example of “slippage,” pointing out it’s an accusation that can’t possibly be true.
Living in Britain, the anti-Israel boycott capital of the world, the boycott proposals among so-called intellectuals in British universities is a particular interest of his.
It is these boycott proposals proposals which lead to the following observation:
The boycotts are generally proposed by people who call themselves liberal, but they are the antithesis of liberality. These people are not even limousine liberals; they are phony liberals.
When confronted with evil regimes, a label these people pretend applies to Israel, the liberal response is engagement. We liberals may boycott grape products when the growers abuse workers, but when dealing with revanchist, repressive regimes such as the ones in the Soviet Union, China and even Tehran, liberals promote engagement, placing particular value on cultural and academic exchanges as a way of loosening the grip of the government on the people and ultimately weakening the government and forcing it to change its policies.
Indeed, many of the same people calling for boycotts of Israel, including boycotts of Israeli universities, are simultaneously calling for engagement and dialog with truly repressive regimes such as Hamas and the mullahs ruling Iran. These people are morally bankrupt.
I close with a bit of a digression, including a criticism of Israel. I disagree with its refusal to talk with Hamas. I am under no illusion that talks with Hamas would be productive, but it seems childish to refuse to meet. (There is a logistical problem, in that most of the leaders of Hamas are criminals whom Israeli security forces would be compelled to arrest if they came in contact with them, but that's another issue.)