Home > General Politics > We can never excuse antisemitism

We can never excuse antisemitism

While taking a cursory glance at the Lenosphere I came across an odd looking post by The Angry Arab News Service, run by As’ad AbuKhalil, professor of political science at California State University.

The paragraph long post, called Zizek visits Israel: he is now an expert on the Middle East too, reads as follows:

“He proceeded to say that Zionism is not the worst evil in the world…After establishing the deep-rooted vitality of antisemitism, he mentioned that he has no patience for those who excuse Arab antisemitism; that even the most oppressed and poor Palestinian should not be tolerated for being antisemitic.” What do you suggest that we do with the most oppressed and poor Palestinians who express anti-Semitic views? Kill them? Occupy them again? Double occupy them? (thanks Wardeh)

I wanted so much to comment, but the ability to do so has been disabled. Instead I’ll state my very short reply here: Zizek states quite clearly what to do with antisemitism – refuse any patience with it, refuse to tolerate it. How do you do that? By not excusing it as common practice of poor Arabs (which it’s not).

What to some might appear like Zizek withholding sympathy for Palestinians, is in actual fact highlighting the paternalism and snobbery of some pro-Palestinians, who believe those who are lesser off than them should be pitied, left to their own devices, and if they express antisemitic views, well, who can blame them, ‘eh, after all they don’t know any better do they, they’re poor – and as all people know poor people are stupid and don’t deserve to be told they’re wrong to blame the Jews for their plight.

Implicit to this post is the justification that the anti-semite is excused of all hate crime on the grounds that the State of Israel exists. ” What do you suggest that we do with the most oppressed and poor Palestinians who express anti-Semitic views” AbuKhalil asks, giving exaggerated answers that Zizek has not alluded to. Well, I’ll tell you what to do: don’t treat people as though they’re not adult or sane enough to be told they’re wrong; don’t look down your nose at people you feel aren’t capable of properly analysing and addressing political situations; don’t snub the idea that antisemitism, in whatever form it comes and from whomever it comes from – should be rejected and fought under all circumstances, even from “the most oppressed and poor Palestinian”.

To typify Arabs in the way that AbuKhalil has done is racist.

No matter what anybody tells you, we can never excuse antisemitism!

  1. Mike Killingworth
    June 28, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Could you please define antisemitism, RCO? Is a Jew who abandons his cultural traditions and lives in a wholly secular way an antisemite? (There are Jews who think so.) Is someone who supports – as I daresay Zizek does – a “one state” solution to the Israel-Palestime impasse an antisemite? (The state of Israel spends a lot of money promoting that notion.)

    I am always vaguely amused by the midset of people who write about antisemitism as if it were an uncontroversial concept. It’s more like the definition of a colour – a particular shade will seem “blue” to most people but not all. That does not mean that “blue” doesn’t exist.

    I ought not to need to say (but I guess that I do) that I am opposed to all forms of racial hatred. However, there is an argument that finds powerlessness (whether in the case of Palestinians or anyone else) a mitigation and I am not as sure as RCO that those of us who have the good fortune not to be on the wrong end of racial hatred should dismiss it as quickly as RCO does.

    • June 28, 2011 at 11:52 am

      I suppose the burden of a definition here is for “The Angry Arab” himself, but I won’t shy away from answering how I define it, if it’s really necessary for you Mike – antisemitism is hatred of Semitic people. This includes the hatred of Jewish people, to which the anti-Semite characterises the Jew as an exceptional person or people and defames them. I make no significant distinction between religious, economic, social, cultural, racist or ideological forms of discrimination between the Jew because they all in some way seek to define the Jew negatively. It should be distinguished from hating particular Jews (I dislike Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, myself) providing that hatred isn’t grounded in the belief that the Jew’s being a Semite informs what you find displeasing about him or her. It should also be distinguished from anti-Zionism which is the opposition towards a nation-state being founded on Judaism.

      If you look at what was written however, this is not wrapped up in the anti-Zionist language, so we cannot even interpret it as ‘new antisemitism’; this excuses antisemitism in the way characterised by me above.

      No, the crimes of the oppressed – according to The Angry Arab – are justified. Can you imagine a Leftist today defending someone who has just hurled racist abuse towards a black family on the grounds that he feels he is oppressed ‘as a white person in his own country’ (a scenerio it is not too hard to imagine)? I doubt it.

      • Mike Killingworth
        June 28, 2011 at 11:59 am

        The trouble is (as I was perhaps clumsily trying to say earlier) that my anti-Zionism becomes your anti-Semitism. The State of Israel (and its many apologists) makes no distinction between the two which is hardly going to encourage its principal opponents, the Palestinian people, to do so. Of course two wrongs don’t make a right but I’m not sure either that the position of the Israelis can be reasonably compared to that of black people in England.

      • June 28, 2011 at 12:18 pm


        I’m not trying to compare the plight of black people to Israelis, I’m illustrating that some prejudices seem to take precedence over others today, whereas we should all be behind all prejudice. The fact we couldn’t imagine a situation where an anti-racist defended racism towards blacks on the grounds that the perpetrator was poor says that anti-racism continues to hold high principles we can all admire today. But that we can imagine a situation where antisemitism is justified on the grounds that the perpetrator is poor says a lot about how low on the register antisemitism has become of late – and it’s disturbing.

        As for the State of Israel, you’ve answered the question yourself, two wrongs don’t make a right – Israel is not the nation-state personification of Judaism, but though some fail to distinguish, we should not let this stop us pursuing what is right – and what is right is to discourage prejudice.

  2. paulinlancs
    June 28, 2011 at 11:35 am


    I’ll need to respond in more depth to this but my feelings are not that far from Mike’s, though less hostiley put as i know the background to your assertions here is your justifiable view that anti-semitism is being overly disregarded as a form of racism and needs to be tackled. However, the complexities of powerlessness, and indeed Zizek’s apparent failure to refer back to notions of concientization etc can’t be overlooked.

    By way of parallel, my mind goes back to the split in the left over support for the oil refinery strike. Some on the left said it was not supportable because anti-Italian sentiments were expressed by workers (though the media over-emphasised and even made these up). My view was firmly that support was in order, and that the fact that a few workers might express their views in terms that ‘ideally’ they would not was all the more reason to support them.

    More later, perhaps as sep post as this is important political stuff you raise.

    • Mike Killingworth
      June 28, 2011 at 11:53 am

      Paul – do you consider there is a useful theoretical distinction to be made between “racial hatred” and “racism”? (I tend to think this probably does deserve a post of its own…)

    • June 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm


      It’d be great to read/engage with such a post. For me, I don’t feel I have to forgo my commitment to opposing societal powerlessness while disregarding calls to accept forms of prejudice on the grounds that powerless people are behind it. I think the suggestion that a person who is lesser off – which is the example given by The Angry Arab – would be unable to distinguish between his oppressor and the Jew is rather patronising, not too dissimilar from how Empire saw African tribes people.

      With Lindsey oil refinery the point is the same – it is not xenophobic to say a large corporation should not be able to transport its own workforce undercutting the existing jobs, in the same way its unjust to sack all salaried professionals only to replace them with agency recruits for whom the company pays no contributions/bestows union rights etc. It was xenophobic, however, to express anti-Italian sentiment – had a Leftist told me at the time that we should just ignore the anti-Italian sentiment on the grounds that the protesters are working class and know no better I’d have fumed, as I expect most would.

      With the Zizek example I see no discernible difference.

  3. June 28, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Carl – fyi, I’ve written a response to this post here: http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/blog_comments/on_palestinian_antisemitism

    • June 28, 2011 at 2:23 pm

      Many thanks – I’ve replied on your post. My reply was quite long, I hope it doesn’t get lost in the moderation bubble.

  4. June 28, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    I’m with Carl on this one.

    The oppressed do not have a license to use racism or racial hatred (I see no distinction) against their oppressors. This however doesn’t make their cause invalid, the State of Israel is the oppressor, I’d like to see that state overhauled (become a land for both Palestinians & Israelis).

    However being against the state of Israel because it is a colonial-settler state (akin to the North of Ireland) isn’t anti-semitic but apologists often intentionally conflate the two.

    Unfortunately sometimes this is with good reason, referencing the IDF and the Israeli government with Nazis, is in my opinion unacceptable debate. The Palestinian oppression is terrible and systematic but it is not at the industrial level that the Nazis pursued. Neither does it need to be, for condemnation to be declared for the actions of the racist Israeli state.

    Anti-semitism and other forms of racism are often subtle, with ideas so pervasive, sections of the Left express it without conscious thought. In Lindsey, it was right to both show solidarity with the workers & condemn anti-Italian sentiment, ignoring the latter was wrong yet was made by key socialist elements.

    In Aparteid South Africa, the Black Nationalist Left that advocated segregation (as many do with Palestine & Israel) & expressed anti-white/Afrikaan sentiment was frowned upon & in most cases (re: Julius Malema) were sidelined, the Freedom Charter explicitly declared its aims were for all South Africans, black & white. Many Palestinian activists aspire accordingly and so should all of the Left.

  5. charliethechulo
    June 28, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Good post, Mr Raincoat. As for the comments, that folloowed: can anyone who claims to be on the left conceivably imagine any other form of racism or prejudice being analysed, ‘contextualised’ (ie excused), etc, etc?

    No of course not.

    It just goes to show (as Zizek says) that on the UK and European “left” (eg the recent disgraceful UCU vote against recognising antisemitism as defined by the UN), institutionalised antisemitism is rife.

    • June 28, 2011 at 7:28 pm

      Thank you, sir. Christopher Hitchens once said that an anti-Semite is one who appreciates everything about Ezra Pound excepting his poetry – a pity we have a number of such souls on the Left.

  6. paulinlancs
    June 28, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    Charlie @12: But I DID ‘contextualise’ another form of racism. Above, earlier Didn’t ‘excuse’ it, mind, as this is not the same thing.

    More later when I’ve met a deadline.

  7. Edgar
    June 29, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    Personally I have full sympathy with, for example, the hatred of Whites by Blacks in the American South. And I have full sympathy with any Palestinian who happens to be anti Semitic (though isn’t that self hatred as Palestinians are Semites too?). Now while I sympathise I would point out the error in this way of thinking but I would still support those oppressed people 100%. Where paternalism comes in and I suspect is the mindset of people from this site is when we say “Unless you agree with us about what is right and what is wrong then we will not support you and will wag our liberal finger with disapproval”.

    Sorry, but people who are among the poorest in the world, who struggle to feed themselves, who are under constant hardship, security and who are routinely humiliated by a brutal, sadistic oppressor will not have the same set of values as people whose main concern is how much they have to top up on their mobile phones this month or whose main worry is if Andy Murray wins Wimbledon. To believe otherwise is cretinism to the power 100. And nothing makes my blood boil more than the wealthy and lucky in life pontificating to the poorest and unluckiest about what is right and what is wrong.

    • June 29, 2011 at 8:12 pm

      Before I get the jitters, just clarify something for me: do you sympathise with antisemitism?

  8. Edgar
    June 30, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    My ex Girlfriends friend lost her Daughter after she was killed by some Pakistani lads. She became very hostile to Pakistani’s. I had sympathy with her but I didn’t think she had the correct view. Maybe when the pain subsides she will see the error of this way of thinking. if in the meantime she needs a shoulder to cry on………

    But YOU are the paternalists around here.

    But of course we should excuse racism in all its forms. To do otherwise would be to believe people were born with the things that they know and you can’t get more right wing than that can you?

    The only way to move beyond racism is to excuse it!

    • June 30, 2011 at 9:09 pm

      As sad and horrific as that it, Edgar, this is about the silliest reason for one to become racist – I mean what do you tell other Pakistani people whom your ex’s friend leveled hostilities to? Grin and bear it – her being hostile, though directed towards you, is just through anguish at a few evil boys. Come on. Feel sympathy for her, obviously, she’s lost a daughter, and that must be horrific – but you can’t tell me that this is an example where it might be OK to sympathise with racism, and then tell me I’m paternalist.

      I read through your third paragraph three times and didn’t understand it. What do you mean?

  9. modernityblog
    July 8, 2011 at 8:06 am

    It means, Carl, that Edgar thinks racism is an acceptable part of life. It means that he’s not against it.

    PS: Thanks for the comment on Assange.

    • Carl
      July 10, 2011 at 12:35 am

      He is absolutely outrageous – I couldn’t believe that fucking comment.

  10. Edgar
    July 10, 2011 at 10:54 am

    No I think racism is a product of society, when I say is must be excused, what I mean is that it must be understood and that to overcome it simply shouting racist will not work. What will work is for example politically correct legislation , real things put in place that counter the racism people get in their everyday lives. What will work is more integration etc.

    It really isn’t a question of thinking racism is an acceptable part of life or not, that attitude leads to a head in the sand mentality in my experience. It is self gratifying to be anti racist, makes one feel good about onesself but it doesn’t get the job done of tackling it.

    • July 10, 2011 at 6:26 pm

      That sounds a whole lot more palatable than your original comment

  11. modernityblog
    July 11, 2011 at 7:24 pm


    Let us cut to the chase and your comment on “politically correct legislation”.

    1. Do you agree with the existence of Race Relations act?

    2. Do you disagree with antidiscrimination legislation?

    Go on, be honest, answer those questions, fully, if you dare.

  12. Edgar
    July 13, 2011 at 6:27 pm


    I said politically correct legislation is what we need more of, if you read my comment.

    Mine is more of a philosophical point. To recognise that racism is created out of social conditions is to excuse it imo. Some try to deny this but I am happy to accept it. It is a similar thing with crime, I say people commit crime not because they are evil but because of the environment they were born into, I have been told that I am condoning crime for saying this. And do you know what, in a way that criticism is correct. That doesn’t mean I think criminals should go unpunished or anything but it does colour how I think they should be treated. I do not subscribe to the lock them up and throw away the key school.

    So in order to overcome racism we have to excuse it, which means we need to get practical.

  13. modernityblog
    July 13, 2011 at 6:32 pm


    Quel surprise. A waffling response to direct questions. I didn’t really expect an honest reply from you, and you don’t disappoint.

  14. Edgar
    July 13, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    Ok, direct answers to your questions (although I can’t believe my previous response didn’t clear things up)

    1. A loud and clear yes.
    2. A loud and clear yes.

    And what more lets bring in a holocuast denial law like they have in Austria.

  15. Edgar
    July 13, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Ok, a diect reposne to your questions:

    1. Do you agree with the existence of Race Relations act? – Yes

    2. Do you disagree with antidiscrimination legislation? Yes

    Further, let us bring in a holocaust denial law as they have in Austria.

  16. Edgar
    July 13, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    Whoops the answer to question 2 should be NO, that is NO!

  1. June 28, 2011 at 11:33 am
  2. June 28, 2011 at 1:49 pm
  3. July 1, 2011 at 5:06 pm

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