25 January 2023
The Fall of the Angel, Marc Chagall, 1923-47; Image credit: Jewish Musuem, New York
Excerpt of Elad Lapidot’s Jews Out of the Question. A Critique of Anti-Anti-Semitism, Albany: SUNY, 2020, 340 pages.
Even if there is a historical basis for claiming that anti-Semitism, as a political movement, in fact has never explicitly campaigned against “the Semites,” all anti-anti-Semitism describes anti-Semitism, be it antisemitism, as a certain intentionality directed toward “Jews.” The currently most common institutional anti-anti-Semitic definition of “Antisemitism” states: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” (1) The attitude of “hate,” the negative axiology of anti-Semitism, its “anti,” expresses a more fundamental —to use here Husserlian epistemology—doxic relation to Jews: “perception.” Before being a negative attitude toward Jews, anti-Semitism is a certain way of perceiving Jews. Nonetheless, this definition hardly intends to contradict the basic anti-anti-Semitic position, whereby anti-Semitism is actually no real relation to real Jews, by insisting that it does consist in the cognitive act of “perceiving” Jews. “Perception of Jews” is meant in anti-anti-Semitic discourse as a purely subjective view, fantasy, imagination, or construction, which would stand in contradistinction to the objectively real Jews, to what may be called in terms of Kantian epistemology Jews an sich.
Of course, thinking this through with Kant and Husserl, one could say that perception, Wahrnehmung, is nevertheless the closest we can ever get to anything (Kant) or even the very mode in which the thing itself is “given” to us as such, known by us (Husserl). A “certain perception of Jews” would accordingly mean a certain basic way of cognitively relating to Jews, of having Jews as an object of consciousness. Anti-Semitism, as “a certain perception of Jews,” would consist in a way of understanding, namely constructing the very sense of what “Jewish” is, of the idea or essence “Jewish,” as the basis for any perception of Jews, namely for any perception of something that may be called “Jewish.” Anti-Semitism may be said to be necessarily based on certain—problematic and partial as it may be, but nonetheless—knowledge of Jews. It is precisely this knowledge, with its specific mode of knowing, that would be expressed by the designation “Semites.” Anti-Semitism would perceive—and hate—Jews qua Semites.
It is, however, a basic observation of this book that anti-anti-Semitism fundamentally rejects anti-Semitic knowledge of the Jewish, categorically rejects any knowledge of the Jewish: as mere perception, construction, projection, imagination, fantasy, and myth. This book will indicate how anti-anti-Semitism most fundamentally tends to criticize anti-Semitism not for thinking against Jews, but for thinking of Jews at all, namely for engaging Jews as an object of thought, as an epistemic entity. In other words, so the claim, anti-anti-Semitism has criticized anti-Semitism for introducing “the Jews” or “the Jewish” as entity of thought: as a category, idea, concept, or more commonly as a figure of thought, a figural Jew, a “Jew,” with scare quotes. To formulate it provocatively, the analyses below will show anti-anti-Semitism to be anti-”Jewish.”
With respect to this anti-anti-Semitic rejection of “the Jewish,” i.e., rejection of the Jewish from the realm of thought, the following chapters make two basic claims: first, that at work in this rejection, and therefore in anti-anti-Semitism, is a specific radical type of negative political epistemology; second, that this rejection, and the negative political epistemology that underlies it, is what anti-anti-Semitism shares with anti-Semitism. It is this epistemo-political complicity that the present anti-anti-anti-Semitic critique wishes to bring to light.
As for the first claim, on anti-anti-Semitism’s negative political epistemology, what I argue is that anti-anti-Semitic critique against the introduction of Jews into the realm of thought, the rejection of the “figural” Jew, as the supposed essence of anti-Semitism, is itself based on a certain figuration or “construction,” a certain perception of Jews. Quickly stated, the analyses to follow will show how this figuration consists in a fundamental dis-figuration, namely in a perception of the Jews as a historical human collective, whose existence, as a collective, lies outside the epistemic realm, outside the realm of knowledge, philosophy, and thought, and so, strictly speaking, outside of any perception or imagination, a non-figure or dis-figure. It would be for this reason illegitimate or rather invalid in principle, epistemically fallacious, to criticize, antagonize, or oppose this human collective, to be anti-Jewish, not because Jews are essentially “good,” i.e., not because the “anti” is wrong, but because “the Jewish” stands for, manifests, or “figures” no specific content, no specific idea. Strictly speaking, there is no “Jew.” In other words, the anti-anti-Semitic “Jews” are a radically de-epistemized collective, and in this sense a radically negative epistemo-political figure. Furthermore, this book argues that in and through anti-anti-Semitic discourse the epistemo-politically negative category of “the Jew” emerges as a paradigm of contemporary political epistemology, a contemporary paradigm for the figure of “the people.”
As for the second claim, on the epistemo-political complicity of anti-anti-Semitism and anti-Semitism, what it argues is that the dis-figured, de-epistemized Jew, the anti-anti-Semitic real Jew an sich, a paradigm of contemporary negative political epistemology, is a realization, consummation, and perfection of the category of “the Semites.” It is in this sense that I subscribe to Gil Anidjar’s observation (see below) that anti-anti-Semitism as well as anti-Semitism are forms of Semitism, and therefore, in this perspective, “the Semitic perspective,” they tend to converge. Whereas Anidjar focuses on the Semite as concealing the Muslim, this book focuses on the Semite as dis-figuring the Jew, and the ways in which this dis-figuration becomes a gateway between anti-anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish anti-Semitism. As it will be shown, the (anti-anti-Semitic) critique against (anti-Semitic) attempts to inscribe the Jews as an epistemic entity within theoretical or philosophical discourse must lead to the realization that the attribution of epistemic value and meaning to Jewish being has been an exercise carried out, more often than by anti-Semites, by self-identifying Jews themselves, precisely as the performance of what they perceive to be their Jewishness. Accordingly, the critique of anti-Semitism for the very conceptualization, imagination, or construction of the Jewish—and my claim is that this is the center of contemporary anti-anti-Semitism—quickly veers into a critique of Jewishness itself, into anti-anti-Semitic anti-Judaism.
1. Formulated in 2005 by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, it has been adopted by European Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and by its members states, including the US, the UK, and Germany.