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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 30, 2003

Yourish on anti-semitism

Yourish.com has this (excepted from her blog) on anti-semitism See text for links
Judith Weiss posted links to the anti-Semitism conference she attended, and on one of them I found this:

This [anti-Zionism] is, I think, the most dangerous anti-Semitism of them all. It is not the case, of course, that every criticism of the Jewish state is an instance of anti-Semitism; but it is certainly the case that every instance of anti-Semitism is a criticism of the Jewish state, a fundamental criticism, since it denies the legitimacy of the ideal of a normal life for Jews, who are consigned by anti-Semites of one kind or another to an endless abnormality of one kind or another. If Israel cannot be above criticism, neither can Israel’s critics be above criticism; and the anxiety that many critics of Israeli policy are at bottom critics of Israeli reality, that the opposition to Israeli actions in Jenin or Gaza is sometimes motivated by a prior historical or religious dogma, is not an outlandish anxiety. A prejudice is not a criticism. Those of us who are not reluctant to criticize Israeli policies must be particularly careful not to be fooled. . . .

Anti-Semitism should be the occasion for an international conference at a center for non-Jewish history. Let me explain. The hatred of the Jews is a matter of urgent concern to Jews because of the injury that they may suffer as a result of it. The Jewish investigation of anti-Semitism is plainly a requirement of self-interest, and also a requirement of dignity, because defending oneself against one’s enemy is an ethical duty of the most elementary sort. The search for security has a foundation in morality. Still, the solution to the problem of anti-Semitism is not to be sought in the Jewish struggle against it. It is indecent to ask the victims to make themselves responsible for an end to their victimization. After all, they are not doing this to themselves. This is being done to them. If anti-Semitism will ever vanish from the earth, it will be the consequence of a transformation not in the mentality of Jews, but in the mentality of non-Jews.

In this sense, anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem at all. I have two reasons for insisting upon such a paradoxical formulation. The first reason has to do with the nature of prejudice. The second reason has to do with the course of modern Jewish history.

Perhaps the most significant fact for the proper comprehension of prejudice is that its object is not its cause. If you wish to understand racism, study whites, not blacks. If you wish to understand misogyny, study men, not women. If you wish to understand anti-Semitism, study non-Jews, not Jews. Indeed, the view that the explanation of prejudice is to be sought in its object is itself an expression of prejudice. It justifies prejudice, insofar as it attributes to it a basis in reality.

For it is the distinguishing mark of prejudice that it leaves the actual behind, so as to arrive at a generalization about a group that cannot be affected by anything that a member of the group might say or do. There is no evidence against such a generalization, because the evidence for it seems to be everywhere; and where evidence is everywhere, evidence is nowhere. Prejudice is not a mistake; it is a fiction. Mistakes can be corrected, but prejudice can only be fought. Anti-Semitic beliefs about the Jews are not merely false; they are also, for those who believe them, unfalsifiable. For the anti-Semite, everything that a Jew thinks or does is regarded as a Jewish thought or a Jewish deed. Such a generalization is most accurately described as a fantasy. Anti-Semitism is a tradition of fantasy that non-Jews have of Jews. . .
. Though I've had my differences with Leon Wieseltier, this speech is magnificent. You know the cliché; read the whole piece.