Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Joseph Massad’s problem with rooted cosmopolitans

Joseph Massad’s op-ed, “The Last of the Semites”, demonstrates above all that the Columbia professor knows very little about not a lot.

His essay — of that length by virtue of the fact that no-one seems to have thought to edit it down — hinges on that old idea that Zionism is racism. In this case, Massad applies this cliché not just in the usual way to indicate prejudice towards non-Jews. No, he believes Zionism is explicitly anti-Semitic. Zionism, according to Massad, emerged not as a response to European anti-Semitism but in sympathy with its racialist precepts:

When Zionism started a decade and a half after Marr’s anti-Semitic programme was published, it would espouse all these anti-Jewish ideas, including scientific anti-Semitism as valid. For Zionism, Jews were “Semites”, who were descendants of the ancient Hebrews. In his foundational pamphlet Der Judenstaat, Herzl explained that it was Jews, not their Christian enemies, who “cause” anti-Semitism and that “where it does not exist, [anti-Semitism] is carried by Jews in the course of their migrations”.

Zionism, Massad thinks, was anti-Semitic not only of this reason but because it represented a “continuation of the Haskalah quest to shed Jewish culture and assimilate Jews into European secular gentile culture,” which of course is a total perversion of Jewish history and what Herzl actually thought and wrote.

In part, the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment, was related to assimilation but in the main it was an attempt to synthesis traditional Judaism with the modern ideas of the Enlightenment, including liberalism, nationalism, egality, and emancipation. Zionism emerged throughout the nineteenth century (not bang on 1897, as Massad understands it) as a product of this intellectual and cultural shift in the sense that its claim was that Jews are equal to all others and as deserving of statehood as anybody else. It is not, as Massad seems to think, some declaration of Jewish supremacy.

But it is also a by-product of the Haskalah: it is a reflection of the actual, lived Jewish experience in nineteenth-century Europe, and the waves of anti-Semitism that came with Jewish emancipation and entry into the professions from which Jews had previously been barred. Massad doesn’t seem to wish to acknowledge that anti-Semitism affected Jews in this way, at all.

Something else Massad doesn’t know very much about is Nazism:

The Nazis’ Final Solution initially meant the expulsion of Germany’s Jews to Madagascar. It is this shared goal of expelling Jews from Europe as a separate unassimilable race that created the affinity between Nazis and Zionists all along.

Did it? Did they? The road to Auschwitz is a long and twisted one, and the so-called Madagascar Plan was during that time examined by functionaries within the Nazi apparatus but not until the late 1930s and at no point was it near implementation. Indeed, by the time it was fully abandoned in late 1940, the process of destroying European Jewry in totality had commenced, with the concentration of Jews into ghettos and their deportation to labour camps.

As for the comparison of Nazism and Zionism, I think such an attempt at equivalence says a good deal more about the author than he intends. It is the statement of a sick and disordered mind. To compare the two and deem one as bad as the other is beyond the pale. However, that isn’t even the worst thing he says in the article:

While the majority of Jews continued to resist the anti-Semitic basis of Zionism and its alliances with anti-Semites, the Nazi genocide not only killed 90 percent of European Jews, but in the process also killed the majority of Jewish enemies of Zionism who died precisely because they refused to heed the Zionist call of abandoning their countries and homes.

First to say something nice. Without intending to, Massad has managed to justify one the foundational principles of Zionism: that in order to be safe and secure and free of the burden of European anti-Semitism, Jews required a state of their own in which they could be self-governing. It is certainly so that the existence of the Yishuv and Jewish emigration to Palestine saved hundreds of thousands of lives, and that restriction on said migration by British colonial authorities in the years prior to the Holocaust prevented the preservation of a good many more. It’s good of Massad to acknowledge this.

But then there’s what else Massad says here, and it is not much of a stretch to characterise Massad’s thesis as follows: All of Europe’s good Jews were the ones that did not heed to call to make aliya and died in the Holocaust; the Zionist Jews who made it to Palestine and survived were (and are) bad Jews. “The Jewish holocaust killed off the majority of Jews who fought and struggled against European anti-Semitism, including Zionism,” Massad says, and he uses this idea to build the next part of his article:

Post-War West German governments that presented themselves as opening a new page in their relationship with Jews in reality did no such thing. Since the establishment of the country after WWII, every West German government has continued the pro-Zionist Nazi policies unabated. There was never a break with Nazi pro-Zionism. This is to be added to the massive billions that Germany has paid to the Israeli government as compensation for the holocaust, as if Israel and Zionism were the victims of Nazism, when in reality it was anti-Zionist Jews who were killed by the Nazis.

Never mind the families who lost relatives in the Shoah who were living in Israel during the Holocaust. And, never mind the thousands of European refugees of the Holocaust who, unwanted in Europe and the United States, made their way to Palestine both legally and illegally in the years following the Second World War. They, evidently, are undeserving of restitution because they had the gall to make it to Palestine. And, in getting to Palestine, at that point through Massad’s eyes they ceased to be Jewish: they became Zionists. And once one becomes a Zionist, one are no longer a victim of the Holocaust. Remember: “in reality it was anti-Zionist Jews who were killed by the Nazis.”

Massad is particularly fixated on the link between Zionism and Nazism, one which apparently continues to this very day:

Even the new holocaust memorial built in Berlin that opened in 2005 maintains Nazi racial apartheid, as this “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe” is only for Jewish victims of the Nazis who must still today be set apart, as Hitler mandated, from the other millions of non-Jews who also fell victim to Nazism.

The ignorance here is absolutely astonishing. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe exists in defiance of Nazism and previous attempts by German governments East and West to fudge the past.

To be specific, this kind of memorialisation came about in reaction to East German (but also West German) narratives of the Holocaust which equated those who died in the Shoah either to members of the communist resistance or in some cases conscripted soliders. All, then, were victims of Nazism. It only after 1990 that appropriate distinctions came to be made, with the emergence of both general Holocaust memorials and memorials to the separate groups targeted by the Nazi regime. If Massad has a problem with the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, I can only suggest he should go to Berlin, find said memorial, and then walk across the street where the Memorial to the Murdered Homosexuals of Europe can be found. Then again, he might not like that either.

The whole point of Massad’s long, boring, and unlettered article is summed up in this statement:

Israel’s claim that its critics must be anti-Semites presupposes that its critics believe its claims that it represents “the Jewish people”. But it is Israel’s claims that it represents and speaks for all Jews that are the most anti-Semitic claims of all.

The most anti-Semitic of all. It’s enough to make you heave.

Notes

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