So, I’ve finished an academic read this time and it’s taken me a while due to the fact that I’m not too familiar with current British politics and I’m not trained in Sociology for more than a year. However, this book brought some interesting topic into the light for me, several that I’ve never or barely have thought of myself which made my thoughts move about. Can you believe that there’s still some academic power left in that brain of mine? After all, I’ve been out of school since early June. I’ll raise three main points in this review to keep it shorter than it could’ve been: Antisemitism hidden in academia, the Livingstone Formulation, and the difficulty of defining antisemitism. The synopsis is borrowed directly from the book:
Today’s antisemitism is difficult to recognize because it does not come dressed in a Nazi uniform and it does not openly proclaim its hatred or fear of Jews. This book looks at the kind of antisemitism, which is tolerated, or which goes unacknowledged, in apparently democratic spaces. It analyses how criticism of Israel can mushroom into antisemitism and it looks at struggles over how antisemitism is defined. It focuses on ways in which those who raise the issue of antisemitism are often accused of doing so in bad faith in an attempt to silence or smear. Hostility to Israel has become a signifier of identity, connected to opposition to imperialism, neoliberalism and global capitalism.
Weaving together stories with analysis and theory, this book is essential reading for scholars as well as anyone interested in current affairs and politics.
Contemporary Left Antisemitism is really not my regular kind of read, but Mr Hirsh, or Mr David as I called him when I took his module at Goldsmiths University of London last year, published this the summer before I came to London and when he learned that I had read The Origins of Totalitarianism he thought I might enjoy his book. I have to say I felt a bit overwhelmed with my lack of knowledge at some points whilst reading this. There is a lot of British politics in this book and I don’t know anywhere near enough about this topic to be able to understand this book to its fullest potential but I do believe I caught on to the, should we called them main perspectives, of the book.
Jews have always been suffering from this international hatred in the eyes of many. You see it in religion, and we saw it during the Holocaust which happened in a not too distant past. One of the topics in this book is how people often hide this hatred or dislike within statements that criticise the state of Israel. Hirsh mentions several examples of this both in politics and academia. The example that surprised me the most was «Ronnie Fraser v UCU» where Fraser took the UCU (University and College Union in the UK) to court for antisemitism. The people who provided evidence for antisemitism within the union was not heard which to me was shocking. Mind you, I’ve only read about this event in Hirsh’s book, so there is obviously more than one side to the story, but the perspective presented here just seemed to me like a lot of grown-ups who were provided with evidence they didn’t like and therefore ignored it. I know it is naive of me, but I thought educated people knew better than to participate in antisemitism within the education system and then when receiving proof of it just flat out ignores it. The education system contains so many different people with all these different believes and views. Then I thought to myself: The lecturers are all different people as well. If there is diversity amongst the students, then why shouldn’t there be an equal diversity amongst the lecturers and others who serve within academia? So, my naivety got itself a whack which is why I read these kinds of books, to remind my somewhat, from time to time, ignorant mind, that there is so much diversity in this world and that there are so many perspectives out there. I suppose my faith in academia got a little shaken, but that’s healthy right? Can’t have complete faith all the time, I wouldn’t have learned anything that way. I know that these thoughts aren’t revolutionary in any way, but they are my thoughts, so I believe that they belong in this review.
Then there is another side of this antisemitic coin known as the Livingstone Formulation which is in relation to what I just spoke of. The people who use the Livingstone Formulation attacks their discussion partner when the topic of antisemitism or the state of Israel is raised in order to silence them. That in some ways sounds a bit Stone Agey to me. Why attack instead of discussing? Are the people who use this formulation running out of things to say and therefore tries to silence their opponent by raising their voice? Isn’t that a bit like «My daddy is bigger than your daddy» kind of way of dealing with it? It is my sound opinion that if we are to learn something in this world, we have to be able to discuss things with one another and listen to our counterpart. I know this would be possible in the perfect world, which this world isn’t, but instead of silencing your opponent why can’t you agree to disagree and be done with it? I know, I know, that would be brilliant, but people have different things in their past who might affect them on their standpoint on antisemitism. Many people have been touched by the Palestine-Israel conflict, which is another topic I know fairly little about, or have strong opinions about it thus it is likely it makes for a heated topic when discussed among people. An example could be the fact that people who suffered or fought during WW2 is still among us, and Hitler’s thoughts about A Final Solutions is not dead. It’s just more silent, which is the main point of this book! If you start listening to conversations around you, really listen, I believe you’ll find a lot of things being said between the lines that you might not agree to but maybe you agree anyway because you’re not really listening to what your conversation partner is really saying. We must be aware of all these things when discussing difficult topics with someone, but I still believe that the Livingstone Formulations isn’t the way to go.
Then, as many other sociological, psychological and other social science-related phenomena, there is a question of how to define antisemitism. In this book, the main focus is British politics and the Palestine-Israel conflict, and to quote Hirsh «the struggle over definition, over what is recognized as antisemitism, are a distillation of the wider struggles … » where the wider struggles here includes the two focuses mentioned above. I have to say my lacking knowledge really showed itself here, especially in relation to the conflicts around the state of Israel. There were many different references and luckily, I was able to recognize some names from British politics but otherwise I just had to absorb the new information and store it to look into more closely at some later point. There has been proposed a definition of antisemitism presented by the EUMC known as The Working Definition of Antisemitism which provides its reader with examples, but Hirsh states that it is also controversial because some of the examples might be judged as antisemitic. I don’t want to go any deeper into this because where would the fun be for you when you read the book? However, I will say that I found some of the examples Mr Hirsh provides are very strange concerning the group of people being discussed.
Contemporary Left Antisemitism is, as the synopsis inclines, well worth a read for both scholars and non-scholars. The book will present you with several issues that will get your brain working. I learned several new things and was introduced more profoundly to the issue of antisemitism. This book might not be the best introduction book to its topic unless you know more than me about British politics and the Palestine-Israel conflict, but it presents facts and theories with the analysis that creates a good argument for why we have to be aware of antisemitism and its possible powers in our modern society. I’m glad to have read it, because like I said, I’ve learned new things and been presented with new views and situations that exist within our world today. I will remind you again that I’m not sociologically trained for more than a year in university, which was the year I was educated by Hirsh amongst others, so if you don’t agree with my views when you’ve read the book, let me know and we’ll discuss it!
If you want to know more about Mr Hirsh you can follow him on Twitter: @DavidHirsh
Theme: Antisemitism, politics, United Kingdom, Palestine-Israel conflict
– The Book Reader