On the return of the Jewish question

Universalism has acted as a stimulus for Jewish emancipation, that is, for civil, political and social inclusion. It has also been a source of anti-Jewish prejudice up to and beyond the classic antisemitism of the modern period. While the experience of Jews is by no means unique in this respect, one of the peculiarities of the 'anti-Judaic' tradition has been to represent Jews in some important regard as the 'other' of the universal: as the personification either of a particularism opposed to the universal, or of a false universalism concealing Jewish self-interest. The former contrasts the particularism of the Jews to the universality of bourgeois civil society. The latter contrasts the bad universalism of the 'rootless cosmopolitan Jew' to the good universalism of whatever universal is advanced: nation, race or class. This book explores debates over Jewish emancipation within the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, contrasting the work of two leading protagonists of Jewish emancipation: Christian von Dohm and Moses Mendelssohn. It discusses the emancipatory power of Karl Marx's critique of Bruno Bauer's opposition to Jewish emancipation and endorsement of The Jewish Question. Marxist debates over the growth of anti-Semitism; Hannah Arendt's critique of three types of Jewish responsiveness--assimilationism, Zionism and cosmopolitanism-- to anti-Semitism; and the endeavours of a leading postwar critical theorist, Jurgen Habermas are also discussed. Finally, the book focuses its critique on left antizionists who threaten to reinstate the Jewish question when they identify Israel and Zionism as the enemies of universalism.

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Universalism and the Jewish question

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book explores debates over Jewish emancipation within the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, contrasting the work of two leading protagonists of Jewish emancipation: Christian von Dohm and Moses Mendelssohn. It discusses Hannah Arendt's critique of three types of Jewish responsiveness to antisemitism in order to re-assess diverse ways in which the Jewish question has inserted itself into Jewish political consciousness. The three types of Jewish responsiveness are assimilationism, Zionism and cosmopolitanism. The book also explores debates within the left over the residues of antisemitism after the Holocaust. It enters into current debates within the left over representations of Israel and Zionism, focusing the critique on left antizionists who threaten to reinstate the Jewish question when they identify Israel and Zionism as the enemies of universalism.

in Antisemitism and the left
Jewish emancipation and the Jewish question

The intellectual and political revolutions of the eighteenth century provided the springboard for the 'long century of Jewish emancipation' that followed. Enlightenment universalism thus prepared the way for the abolition of the old order in which Jews were designated a separate 'nation' within their various host societies. They are permitted to have their own religious and legal institutions, and yet subjected to all manner of occupational, fiscal, residential and political discriminations. In the Enlightenment, the two faces of universalism, that of Jewish emancipation and that of the so-called 'Jewish question', were bound tightly together. The equivocations of Enlightenment thought were mirrored in revolutionary practices, whose failure to find solutions to the social, national and democratic questions they faced, opened up a space within the revolutionary tradition itself for the Jewish question. The passages from Voltaire and Montesquieu indicate the presence of an internal struggle within Enlightenment though.

in Antisemitism and the left

In the 1820s, the emergent opposition between Jewish emancipation and the Jewish question may be illustrated through the debate between the older and allegedly more conservative Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and the radical German populist and student radical, Jacob Fries. This chapter argues that both interpretations, the disparaging antisemitic interpretation and the apologetic Marxist interpretation, conceal what is innovative and original in Karl Marx's contribution to the critique of the Jewish question. The defence of subjective rights developed by Marx after 1848 was continuous with that of the young Marx in his critique of the Jewish question. In defending Jewish emancipation against the restoration of the Jewish question, Marx re-affirmed the subjective right of Jews to be citizens, to be Jews, and to deal creatively, singularly, in their own way, with their Jewish origins. Real humanism is a revolt against the tyranny of provenance.

in Antisemitism and the left

Antisemitism' presented the harmfulness of Jews no longer as a transitory and changeable characteristic but as the unalterable quality of their Jewishness. The rise of antisemitism posed specific problems for emergent Marxist movements after Karl Marx. The devaluing of cosmopolitanism and revaluing of the Jewish question combined to disfigure Marxist opposition to antisemitism and in some cases to make its own contribution to the antisemitic canon. While most Marxists had great difficulty in thinking about how Jews could be cast as such an enemy, it is seen that there were exceptions to develop a more critical and self-critical approach. The most significant contribution to the understanding of antisemitism from within the Marxist tradition, widely conceived, was that developed by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. Their work on antisemitism may usefully be read as an engagement with and critique of the Marxist orthodoxy.

in Antisemitism and the left
Hannah Arendt’s Jewish writings

At the time that Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno were rethinking their approach to modern antisemitism, Hannah Arendt was also embarking on her own sustained efforts to understand the phenomenon. Antisemitism has deep roots in modern society even though modern society also has its own critical resources with which to combat it. The main political alternative to assimilationism Arendt addressed, and with which she had a deeply troubled relation, was that of Jewish nationalism and especially Zionism. Arendt was critical of Zionism but she worked with it and saw it as a radical response to the failure of assimilationists to face up to the attacks mounted by antisemites. Assimilationism, Zionism and cosmopolitanism all provided an occasion for antisemitic stereotypes denigrating respectively the 'parvenu Jew', the 'Zionist Jew' and the 'rootless cosmopolitan Jew'.

in Antisemitism and the left
Jürgen Habermas and the European left

In 1959, Theodor Adorno deployed the term 'secondary antisemitism' to conceptualise the opinion he found not uncommon within Germany that the Jewish people were culpable of exploiting German guilt over the Holocaust. One of the markers of critical theory, as Jürgen Habermas understood it, was to recognise that overcoming antisemitism lies at the centre of any worthwhile project of European reconstruction. Habermas presented the postnational constellation both as a desirable idea for the future and as a contested but tangible social reality in the present. The valid distinction between nationalism and postnationalism has been turned into a categorical opposition that stigmatises Jewish expressions of nationalism and represents Holocaust memory as culpably nationalistic. The historian Tony Judt wrote in the New York Review of Books that Holocaust memory crowded out all other injustices by treating the Holocaust not as one evil among many but as 'radical evil'.

in Antisemitism and the left

Analogy between criminalising processes and the criminalisa-tion of a whole people, nation or state is intended to help us think about what is involved in seeing Israel and Zionism through the lens of the Jewish question. This chapter illustrates the problem by exploring the guilty verdicts passed on Israel and Zionism in some current 'critical' discourses. The dependence of international law on state consent has declined, as has the state's degree of freedom in interpreting and enforcing international law. The early history of the boycott campaign within academic unions in the UK goes back to the 1980s when some left groups labelled Israel 'the illegitimate state' and called for the 'no-platforming' of 'Zionist' organisations on university campuses. Legitimacy scale antise-mitic boycotts were used by the National Socialists in Germany to exclude Jews from the social and economic life of the country.

in Antisemitism and the left