That Anti-Semitism Article

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I know I’m a week late, but I finally got around to reading Alvin Rosenfeld’s AJC article “Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism” and now have some time to begin composing some thoughts about it, which I hope to roll out over the next couple of days.

First, a general suggestion: Let’s all take a collective deep breath. Yes, all of us. Lefties. Conservatives. Jews. Non-Jews. Zionists. Anti-Zionists. Bloggers. Journalists. The bloggers who ignored me the first time.

I’m not trying to defuse anyone’s passion. I’m not saying this issue doesn’t deserve serious debate. I’m saying if we want to be productive here we need to keep our wits. Right? Okay, enough of a preamble…

The article starts with a Foreword by AJC’s Executive Director David Harris, which affirms that central to the mission of AJC is

assuring the right of Jews to a national collective self-expression through the existence of the State of Israel. Those who oppose this basic right — whether Jew or gentile — must be confronted. Prof. Rosenfeld is to be thanked for exposing the vacuousness of their arguments…

Right off the bat, therefore, the article is situated within an ideological universe in which Jewish nationalism manifested in the Middle East is a priori moral and right.

From a rhetorical point of view, I would say, this introduction is a mistake. Whatever your thoughts about Zionism, I do believe an argument can be made that nationalism — of any variety — is not an ethically ideal construct. I also believe that a moral case for Jewish nationalism can be made, but this is the only option that Harris will allow and he calls the former possibility “vacuous.” Which means, of course, that the article that follows is not a debate, it’s a manifesto that buttresses the explicit mission of the organization publishing it.

This may be what the AJC intended, but we should be clear about it anyway. I’m not trying to be provocative, just honest: By its own admission, this article is more akin to propaganda (and I use that word in as morally neutral a way as possible), than to an academic exploration.

Again, I’m not getting into the thick of the arguments at this point. I’m merely saying that rhetorically this seems like a misguided decision. If the goal of the article is to convince the unconvinced, starting with fighting words like “vacuous” is odd. If the goal of the article is to rally those who already support the theses of the article and the mission of the AJC, of course, it makes a lot more sense.

Similarly, I believe Rosenfeld makes a rhetorical miscue at the beginning of the actual article. If the purpose of the article is to explore the malevolence of progressive Jewish thought on Israel, why start with 8 pages detailing the extent of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world? It seems Rosenfeld wants to establish a precedent for the fact that anti-Semitism can take the guise of anti-Zionism, but showing that anti-Semitism can take the form of anti-Zionism is different than saying all anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.

It’s the latter which Rosenfeld needs to believe in order to continue his argument. But he never quite goes there. And by not explicitly saying that, he undermines the first 8 pages of the article. The record of Muslim anti-Semitism, therefore, comes across as a rhetorical move, not an argument, but a tone-setter, the dark equivalent of a comic brought on before Letterman to warm up the crowd — i.e. “I want to tell you about left-wing Jews who hold inappropriate opinions about Israel, but let me, first, get your blood boiling.”

I will post more later, including thoughts on elements of Rosenfeld’s article that ring true, but there’s a start…

UPDATE: Post #2

Posted on February 7, 2007

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