Commentary | Piñata diplomacy: Where might a new anti-Semitism take root?

“The Palestinian martyr replaces the proletarian struggle for a communist society.”

– Pierre-André Taguieff, French philosopher

Last week, several McGill groups hosted the annual Israel Apartheid Week (IAW), a weeklong event at which various speakers were brought in to discuss such catchy topics as “Reclaiming a Jewish Culture of Resistance: Or, how we learned to stop worrying and love the nation-state.”

I was all set to write a scathing critique of IAW, denouncing it for its barely subtle conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. But after attending a few of the events, I was genuinely impressed with the depth of the discourse and the seriousness of the participants. The rampant sloganeering I expected was nonexistent, and the flickering outbursts of bigoted crazies were only reluctantly countenanced – though, I hasten to add, not directly repudiated – by the speakers and organizers of the event. By the way, I still think the name is needlessly inflammatory and hopelessly counterproductive.

Naturally, some things did not surprise me at all: the paltry exhibitionism; the balding-though-pony-tailed, aging, probably ex-Quebec Liberation Front Montreal socialists; the alarming symbiosis of the eager-to-impress with the easy-to-impress that has so frequently caused trouble; and, of course, the guy with the Nietzsche ‘stache.

It’s often said in why-can’t-we-all-get-along Hyde Parks that the whole darn mess could be solved if we try to see things from the other point of view, or if we greet each other with a pleasant “Shalom, Habibi!” But I’ve found this a nearly impossible task to undertake in some instances, and I am not alone. A relatively older Jewish questioner at one event fumbled his preface and remarked, “It’s been a while since I’ve had to debate Marxists, so I’m a little off balance.”

In response to a question, the lecturer at the workshop mentioned above said that he thinks a “secular, non-Zionist Jewish identity must come vis-à-vis capitalism.” Really? I wonder. Another question: “Is it possible to feel a revulsion for the deadly images of Gaza while also feeling some kind of an affinity for the Jewish nation-state?” After a rather revealing silence of no less than ten seconds, he answered, and I quote, “Suuuuuurrrrre.”

Having admitted, though, that these events were noticeably milder than I thought they might be, it also must be admitted that there have been frequent – though not as frequent as some Pavlovian defenders of Israel often say – transgressions of that fine line between rhetoric that is anti-Zionist and that which is anti-Semitic. For instance, some posters on Canadian campuses – commendably, not McGill’s – promoting Israel Apartheid Week depicted an Apache helicopter labeled “Israel” firing a rocket at a lone Palestinian boy carrying a teddy bear – a thinly-veiled modification of that old, trusty blood libel standby.

Since the Nuremberg Trials, it has become utterly impossible to be a self-respecting right-wing anti-Semite. You’d look ridiculous, and you’d almost never get laid. But it’s pretty easy to get laid when fighting for the supposed wretched of the Earth, when cloaking oneself in the rhetoric of anti-racism and anti-imperialism. Conservatism gets you nothing; that’s why it’s called conservatism. Telling the meek that they certainly shall inherit the Earth has worked for just under 2,000 years.

I worry that cloaked hatred will creep its way into fashionable – but also otherwise important – causes that claim to resist oppression and exploitation wherever they occur. This is not a distant possibility; I see it everyday, forming at the intersection of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, the combination of which the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy calls “the new barbarism.”

There are legitimate critiques of Zionism, as there are of Israel’s recent Gaza actions, to which I am not the least sympathetic. But what I am not sympathetic to – and what I refuse to tolerate – is what Jonathan Kay described last week in the National Post: “The moral dimension of the conflict — terrorism versus counter-terrorism, a society seeking peace versus one that seems addicted to war — has been replaced by a sentimental Marxist-inspired tale of the virtuous oppressed rising up against an evil oppressor.”

Activists must also universalize their cause. There needs to be a Burma Solidarity Week, and a Zimbabwe Reform Week, and a Pro-Afghanis-Not-Being-Forced-To-Live-Under-Sharia-Law Week. I find the absence of these events – and corresponding GA motions – curious, and yet not so much. The only defense against anti-Semitism is a sturdy and humanistic cosmopolitanism.

The early German socialist August Bebel famously called anti-Semitism “the socialism of fools.” Keen point. Frighteningly, the events of the past few months confirm the suspicions of many that the new anti-Semitism will come from nowhere if not the left.

Can’t wait until next week to hear from Ricky? Email him at the trusty pinatadiplomacy@mcgilldaily.com.

Also of note, he referred to Martin Lukacs as a scholar.


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