Hoping to open up lines of dialogue, a recent alumna sends a genuine personal FB message to a professor who has now gone on public record making incendiary statements about Israel, Jews, money, power, malevolence. You can read about it here. Like it or not, the ex-student discovers that there is an internal coherence to the recent anti-Semitism that is now out on public display by Oberlin College professor Joy Karega. It reflects an intellectual world-view based on the open embrace of conspiracy theories as legitimate form of public discourse.
The basic argument seems to be that attempts to call out conspiracy theories only prove the conspiracist’s world view. The same holds with anti-Semitism. Attempts to call out Karega’s anti-Semitism are going to be used as proof of anti-black racism. It’s a self-perpetuating loop. The more one calls it out, as did the alumna or as I’m doing here, the more one only proves the thesis that the critic is himself or herself racist. What only seems like a self-supporting and unfalsifiably hermetic is based on the assumption, of course faulty, that, in this case, an anti-Semite like Karega represents all black people, if not blackness itself.
Intellectually, the silver lining is that Karega’s position is so extreme that it helps nuance what now, in comparison, can be seen as more mainstream arguments about anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Indeed, her argument actually mirrors the view often held, or ascribed to others that anti-Zionism is identical to anti-Semitism, or that anti-Zionism slips inevitably or necessarily into anti-Semitism. The second version of that argument presupposes a temporal logic – “to first say this about Israel and Zionists is to then say that about Jews.” Clearly, Karega’s views are so extreme in their racism as to disrupt that logic and disprove the thesis, or call it into question. No slippery slope representing a necessary logic, Karega’s path is not logically necessary. Assuming that path is even the right metaphor, it is one that only a very few and the most extreme will take.
The more salient point for all of us to consider is that views like Karega’s, while they may not represent the necessary outcome of a logical slippery slope (based on a vertical up to down axis), they do, in fact, represent as adjacent territory an anti-Semitism that bleeds into what one might call more mainstream anti-Zionism, most of whose holders should not be accused of blanket or comprehensive anti-Semitism. That is to say that insofar as they share “Israel” and “Zionism” as an object of common animus and an animating point, views such as Karega’s structurally border upon anti-Zionism. Borderlands, especially racialized ones, are not simply fixed and determinate, but instead constitute tricky places.
It has been said and bemoaned that the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts have morphed from being a national in character more or less easy to resolve into a religious one. In the United States, Zionism is now morphing into a racial conflict. The anti-Zionist left is encouraging it. But none of this is simple. Mainstream and so-called liberal Zionists, including mainstream critics of the 1967 occupation, are aware of racist and Islamophobic forms of discourse adjacent to their own, and they speak out against it. The what-we-can-call more mainstream anti-Zionist left claims to oppose anti-Semtism even though they rarely do, failing to acknowledge or to understand that anti-Semitism is structurally and ideologically proximate to their own practice. They rallied to the defense of Steven Salaita. Will Karega’s views be condemned by movement BDS leaders and at online platforms or will she find her home there as part of the intersectional left?
Meanwhile, with an open racist on its faculty, Oberlin College continues to fall itself into a public relations abyss.