Introducing this week’s guest feature – Anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim racisms and Palestine/Israel

Racisms against both Jews and Muslims across the globe are being stimulated by the question of Palestine/Israel in increasingly complex ways. Our guest editors this week, from the University of East London’s Centre for research on Migration, Refugees and Belonging, invite you to join an open forum for constructive dialogue.

Jamie Hakim Nira Yuval-Davis
28 September 2015

mirror racisms

Our guest editors this week are Nira Yuval-Davis and Jamie Hakim, director and researcher at the University of East London’s Centre for research on Migration, Refugees and Belonging (CMRB). Nira is a sociology professor who has published widely on issues of nationalism, racism, citizenship, fundamentalism and the politics of belonging from a gendered and intersectional analytical perspective. She is a socialist feminist who has long been active in the politics of Palestine/Israel. Jamie recently completed a PhD on the rise of popular Zionism in the British-Jewish community, during the period after the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Nira and Jamie introduce the theme of the week and their authors:

“The “Anti-Jewish and anti–Muslim racisms and Palestine/Israel” project has been a long time coming. The idea for the project emerged at the end of 2012 when we began sharing concerns over the increasingly complex and often contradictory ways that racisms against both Jews and Muslims across the globe were being stimulated by the ongoing events in Palestine/Israel. We discussed the emergence of the concept of “new antisemitism”, which claimed the growing criticism of the state of Israel was always antisemitic.

We debated the new variants of Islamic fundamentalism and how on the one hand, Islamic fundamentalists defended objectionable interpretations of Islamic law by accusing critics of Islamophobia, and how on the other hand pro-Zionist organisations used Islamic fundamentalism to argue that a just resolution to the conflict was impossible. And we explored the troubling emergence of old and new forms of antisemitism across the global south where the Elders of the Protocols of Zion and Mein Kampf are being published and read, often openly. We looked at the growing death toll associated with the conflict – something which only grew as the project developed into 2015, with the Gaza War and the events in Paris connected to Charlie Hebdo.

Bethlehem graffiti. Flickr/Paval Hadzinski. Some rights reserved.

Bethlehem graffiti. Flickr/Paval Hadzinski. Some rights reserved.

As a result, we decided to contact leading academics and activists in the field and met in the offices of the Runnymede Trust to discuss the best ways for us, in our different capacities as anti-racists, to intervene in this troubling situation. The first step, we decided, was to open the discussion out further to more individuals with different expertise and political orientations (although always operating from within an avowedly anti-racist framework). We held an invitation-only conference at the LSE co-sponsored by CMRB, the Runnymede Trust, the LSE Centre for the Study of Human Rights and the Open University Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change on 17 December 2013.

The next step was a much larger public conference at SOAS co-sponsored by CMRB, SOAS’ Centre for Palestine Studies, London Middle East Institute, Runnymede Trust, and the LSE Centre for the Study of Human Rights on 23 February 2015. The final step has been the publication of an online series of papers taken from both conferences – the first tranche of which can be found on the CMRB website and will form the basis of this week’s OpenDemocracy theme of the week. This online paper series is co-sponsored by CMRB (UEL), the Centre for Palestine Studies, London Middle East Institute (SOAS) and the Runnymede Trust.

The discussion stimulated by all these meetings has been heated (to say the least), as is often the way when interested parties come together to discuss issues which are so emotionally charged both in relation to the past and in the present moment. Many of us were frequently forced out of our comfort zones, listening to points raised in discussions we might not necessarily have agreed with. However, most stayed within the anti-racist normative framework that we as organisers felt was essential to holding the whole project together.

Not the last word

These articles are not the last word on these issues

We feel it is important to explain here the reasons for choosing the terms ‘anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim racisms’ over the more conventional ‘antisemitism’ and ‘Islamophobia’. We rejected the term ‘antisemitism’ largely because the word ‘Semite’ is an invention of nineteenth-century race-science that categorised peoples of Middle Eastern origin, both Arab as well as the Jews it is used to refer to today. We rejected the term ‘Islamophobia’, because whilst it goes without saying that frequently people’s religious beliefs can become the object of racial persecution, we regard as fully legitimate the critique of all ideological systems, religious or otherwise. We felt ‘anti-Muslim racism’ makes the distinction much more precisely than the term Islamophobia. Not all of our contributors adopted this nomenclature, but it is clear from their articles that they share the spirit of the project.

These articles are not the last word on these issues, nor are they intended to be. Our online paper series is a work in progress designed to be an open forum for ongoing, constructive dialogue for interested parties. As such we will consider contributions on all aspects of how anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim racisms and the question of Palestine/Israel intersect (please submit them to [email protected]). We argue that thinking through these issues all together at the same time – and always from within an anti-racist normative framework – is an important step in resisting some of the injustices carried out by so many, on all sides of the conflict.

Introducing this week’s key perspectives:

We began our week with an introductory piece, written by us, which gives a much more detailed account of the intellectual origins of the project as well as the issues raised at the conferences and the different ways they were contested.

On Tuesday, Antony Lerman critiqued and contested the concept of the ‘new-antisemitism’ in which anti-Zionism is understood as a covert form of antisemitism. He explores the historical origins of this idea arguing that it is, in fact, not all that new. Lerman concludes by thinking through the ways that it exacerbates both anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish racisms in the present moment.

We followed up with Sami Zubaida’s exploration of the relationship between Islamophobia and what he calls “Umma nationalism”: a discourse that different Muslims across the globe invest in, act out and contest with different intensities in different historical moments. Umma Nationalism, like all strong forms of nationalism asserts the superiority of the people who subscribe to it over the others they wish to reject. The historical sweep of this article is enormous and in a short space Sami very deftly navigates the political complexities that the different investments in this discourse continue to produce.

On Wednesday, we published Hilary Aked’s examination of how Zionist organisations are funding Islamophobic propaganda. Hilary undertakes a forensic analysis of the different funding streams of the pro-Israeli lobby and subsequently produces a persuasive analysis of how there is an undeniable overlap between this lobby and the anti-Muslim media content we see, primarily, in the news feeds of our social networking sites.

Keith-Kahn Harris has published widely on the sociology and politics of the British-Jewish community. In his article, he explores how different events, groups and ideologies stimulate internal conflict within UK Jewry. He notes that British Jews are not nearly as united over Israel as is commonly believed and worries how Israel/Palestine is being used by external agents to cause conflict within the community.

On Thursday, Jan Rybak and Helga Embacher looked at some of the issues taken up across the project, with a specific focus on Austria and Germany. They take the media representation of different anti-Israel demonstrations in these countries during the Gaza War in 2014 as a case study, and argue that the apparent emergence of ‘Muslim antisemitism’ is not as straightforward as it first appears.

In the most philosophical of this week’s articles, Stefano Bellin weaves together the thought of Erno Traverso, Hannah Arendt and Edward Said, in order to imagine how we might construct a non-racist space in which we can critique current thinking around Jews and Palestinians, in relation to the conflict.

On Friday, we ended with some of Annabelle Sreberny’s provocative thoughts on how best anti-racists might have responded to the Charlie Hebdo events in Paris in 2015. She argues that rather than the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ slogan that became a global meme on social media, we might be better served by ‘We are all Semites’ – thereby re-appropriating the racial category ‘Semite’ as the basis of solidarity of Arabs and Jews in the face of violence towards both.”

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