I’ve been thinking about this one for a while now, trying to come up with an approach that won’t instantly shut down the ears of those it’s directed to. I’m pretty sure I’ve failed.
But a while ago I saw, again, the bald statement, “if you aren’t a Jew, you don’t get to say something isn’t antisemitic.” Of course, I’ve seen the same thing countless times regarding racism, sexism, &c.
There are a few problems with this approach. Here are the two biggest.
First is that, for anything worth paying attention to, it makes understanding impossible. One Jew says Ilhan Omar’s criticism of Israel is antisemitic, another says it isn’t (because, news flash, there’s going to be disagreement on anything but the most obvious cases) and who do you believe? If our only way of deciding is to listen to the unsupported pronouncement of various individuals, we cannot understand. If we cannot understand, we cannot act.
But more important is that, like so very much, like almost everything in this sort of middle class ideology, it denies any objective content and builds everything around personal feelings.
Making people feel bad is never desirable; but when you build your entire political ideology around how people feel, you’re maybe missing a few things. For example, we are facing a climate crisis; that is objectively the case. We feel worried about it because the polar ice caps are melting; the polar ice caps are not melting because we’re worried about it, and if someone isn’t worried about it, or if hearing about it makes someone feel bad, that will not slow down the rate of thaw.
The fundamental issues around antisemitism are not how it makes someone feel, but when it is used to whip up hatred that puts people in actual physical danger. The fundamental issue with migrants is that they are being killed, that children are being actively harmed, and, in a broader sense, that nationalism is being used to attempt to convince native-born workers that migrants or foreign workers are their enemy, not the capitalist who is exploiting both. What a migrant happens to feel about this at any given moment is pretty far down the list of concerns.
In our effort to understand, and fight, antisemitism, racial and sexual oppression, and the other forms of backwardness, we must, in my opinion, concentrate on changing the objective conditions that use and produce them. This requires understanding the objective conditions, which means for one thing, thinking things through (just how are accusations of antisemitism used to stifle opposition to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians?), and, for another, fighting to grasp the real-world forces, the class interests, that are in play.
Because when it comes down to it, our feelings, our emotions, are the product of our interactions with the world, the sum total of all we’ve experienced. And what we’ve experienced is living in a class society. One may be conscious of this, or unconscious of this; one may draw correct conclusions, or incorrect conclusions; but in the last analysis, class interests are the source of our feelings on antisemitism, racism, open borders, and everything else.
1. Objective conditions can explain subjective feelings; the reverse is not true.
2. Identifying actual cases of bigotry is everyone’s responsibility, which means that if you disagree with my stand on whether something expresses antisemitism, one thing I am not going to do is ask your religion.