My recent post on the Scarfe cartoon has provoked a lot of interesting debate from readers. Here is another perspective, one I strongly disagree with, from Rachel Shabi, someone I respect and who usually writes very well about Israel and the Palestinians.
The key line in her piece that reveals her (and many others’) problematic thinking is here:
“I know many think that I should just get over it, but there it is: [the cartoon] triggers unease over the association of a Jew with another people’s blood.”
But it doesn’t associate “a Jew” with blood, it associates only the head of the Israeli government, a government that is constitutionally and all but declaratively committed to the eradication of Palestine and the Palestinian people.
A commenter below the article equates Shabi’s view with a form of group narcissism. I think there is something to this. I know Shabi has often pointed out that one should not conflate Israel with “the Jews”, as Israel itself tries to do. And yet here is she doing it herself quite openly.
My own view is that Shabi here – and others, including Anshel Pfeffer, cited in the previous post, and Jonathan Freedland – actually contribute indirectly to the promotion of racism through their special emphasis on the importance of being ever-vigilant for signs of anti-semitism.
I object to that on at least two grounds.
First, the “anti-semitism needs special attention” argument is used not only to separate anti-semitism from other kinds of racism, but to thereby prioritise it. That obscures the reality that racism is a legacy of other, much larger political issues, such as colonialism and class warfare, that need confronting. Israel is a vigorous part of that colonial legacy, not one of its victims, which makes the outrage over the cartoon all the more ironic and misguided.
(Incidentally, the argument is also plain wrong: in present times, anti-semitism is not the most pressing kind of racism we face; racism directed at Arabs and Muslims – yes, I know, also Semites – should be of far more concern. If the West is going to commit a holocaust-style atrocity, it is far more likely to target Muslims and Arabs than Jews.)
And second, the “anti-semitism is special” approach is such short-term thinking. By hiving off the racism directed at their own community and regarding it as a special kind of racism, these liberal arbiters of our discourse abandon solidarity with other victims of racism. But history teaches us that racism does not recognise those kinds of boundaries. Once the racists win over the public discourse, any identifiable minority – and Jews are that – will find itself in the crosshairs sooner or later.
So all victims and potential victims of racism ought to stand together in the fight against prejudice. To clamour for more attention for anti-semitism – a case made too by the very people who seek to stoke racism against Muslims or Arabs – is, in my view, the real obscenity.