What Anti-Racist Politics?

Defaced Jewish gravestones. Strasbourg, 2017.

The history of anti-Semitism shows us that one of the motors of pogromist revolts in Poland was the belief that Jews are privileged by the authorities.

One of the driving forces behind the first anti-Jewish riots in the Maghreb during the colonial era was also this idea of Jewish privilege, which was skilfully disseminated to the Muslim population both by the colonial administrators and by the Drumont Anti-Semitic League.

To ignore this history, to think that it is only a thing of the past and to think that it has no impact on the dominant ideology is either a singular naivety and ignorance or an assumed political choice.

The second problem with this approach is that it then ignores a reality: the meaning of a discourse does not depend on the intention of the person who delivers it, but on the dominant ideology that influences the understanding of it, whatever the author’s intentions may be.

Assuming, therefore, that the intention is not to be complacent with the thesis of “Jewish privilege”, it is seriously questionable what the outcome of such a strategy would be from an anti-racist point of view, at a time when anti-Semitic violence is exploding. Because this concept is also widely used precisely as a synonym for “Jewish privilege” on the part of the State. Popularizing its use, therefore, amounts in reality to making itself, even unconsciously, the vector of this theory.

Yet there is a simpler, more direct and much less ambiguous way of unmasking the hypocrisy of the state when it comes to anti-Semitism, and the racist instrumentalization of the fight against anti-Semitism by politicians: The one that recalls that such an attitude, far from being a supposed new form or a “change of nature” of anti-Semitism, is, in fact, part of the continuity of a long tradition, particularly colonial.

The one that consists in recalling that it took decades of struggle for the recognition of the Jewish genocide and the responsibilities of the French State to be recognized. That despite this recognition, the question of France’s responsibility in the formation of anti-Semitic ideology and its dissemination remains largely elusive. That the history of anti-Semitism in France before the 1939-1945 period is still largely ignored in school curricula and textbooks as if it had appeared with Nazism. And that far from being a “privileged treatment” this recognition is the result of struggles that continue to this day.

The one that consists in emphasizing that when the perpetrators of anti-Semitism are white, they benefit greatly from impunity and tolerance, particularly when they occupy positions of power. The recurrent offensive to rehabilitate anti-Semitic intellectuals or political figures is proof of this, from Maurras to Céline and Pétain.

We have regularly fought the thesis of a “new anti-Semitism”, since current anti-Semitism is nothing new, finding its sources in colonial France in particular. The supporters of this concept thus intend to impose the idea of an anti-Semitism that would be imported, exogenous to mask a racist discourse. Thus, we regularly hear talk of “importing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” as a key to explaining the rise of anti-Semitism in France.

This thesis denies the specific dynamics of anti-Semitism and its anchoring in France’s national story and French culture. It is of the same nature as claiming that Islamophobia is a reaction to political Islam/Muslim Brotherhood/Daesh…, a thesis that is regularly heard and that must be fought with the same firmness.

However, the existence of reactionary currents in our minorities, if they are to be fought because they’re opposed to any emancipatory perspective, is never a relevant explanation of racism, because such an explanation amounts to exonerating the racist system from its responsibility. The only people responsible for racism are racists.

Thus, all see the question of anti-Semitism through the prism of the situation in Israel/Palestine. Now we are in France, and the current anti-Semitism is a product of French history. Identifying and combating its mechanisms requires precisely returning to this reality.

For the Jewish masses, 74 years after the genocide, the fight against anti-Semitism is not secondary, it is a vital necessity. For anti-racists in France, a country with a particular responsibility for the formation and dissemination of anti-Semitic ideas, but also for genocide, this is also a necessity. For revolutionaries, finally, fighting anti-Semitism is a necessity to avoid a pogromist dynamic replacing an authentic revolutionary dynamic based on real class consciousness

Thus, rather than denying or minimizing persecutions and thus the daily experience of a majority of Jews, the best attitude to have in order to combat the influence of this idea is precisely to demonstrate that there is another way to deal with anti-Semitic violence, which is neither denial nor support for a state and its colonial practice: this way is that of the anti-racist struggle, that is to say, the Diaspora struggle for the liquidation of anti-Semitism, through several means:

– One, immediate, consists in organising ideological and physical self-defence within the Jewish community, but also in seeking convergence with other minorities who are victims of racism, on the basis of a mutual understanding of the racist violence suffered. Finally, by seeking convergence with the labour movement, which has an anti-capitalist dimension that exposes the class and colonial mechanisms of anti-Semitism.

– The other, over time, consists in tackling the ideological and material roots of anti-Semitism: the dominant ideology, which in its periods of crisis reactivates anti-Semitic themes as a means of defending the bourgeoisie. The (neo)colonial power, which uses anti-Semitism as a means of defence to deflect the anti-colonial revolt in a pogromist sense and thus preserve white power and French colonialism.

The attitude, on the other hand, of denying and minimizing the Jewish experience of anti-Semitism amounts to leaving the field of discourse and action to the right, or even to the extreme right in France, and more broadly to chauvinists, who can thus deploy their racist discourse and avoid their historical responsibility in anti-Semitism.

It also means, within our minority community, leaving the field to the different Zionist currents, which thus have great ease in pointing out the gap between the experience of a majority of Jews in diaspora and the discourse of an organization like the UJFP when it comes to anti-Semitism. To overcome this impasse, it is necessary to address precisely the material basis of this influence.

Far from being secondary in anti-colonialist solidarity with Palestinians, the fight against anti-Semitism is essential because it shows that there is another voice for Jews in the diaspora in the face of anti-Semitic oppression than support for the colonial status quo in Palestine: the struggle, here and now, against anti-Semitism.

Adapted from What Antiracist Politics? Translated from the French. Published under a Creative Commons license. Screenshot courtesy of Deutsche Welle. All rights reserved.