Posted by: sean | March 9, 2007

Stanley Fish on anti-semitism and criticizing Israel

Stanley Fish has a little piece on anti-semitism and criticizing Israel on his NYT blog entitled Is it good for the Jews. While the article starts off giving one the impression that Fish is going to do some hard thinking on the question, he disappointingly finishes by coming only a little short of saying that critics of Israel are anti-semites:

So there you have two stories: anti-Semitism is on the rise and it’s time to get out those “Never Again” signs. Or, it’s not anti-Semitism in the old virulent sense, but a rational, if problematic, response by Middle East actors and their supporters in the West to what they see as “an oppressive occupying force”; don’t take it personally. I understand this second story, and appreciate its nuance, but I can’t bring myself to accept it, if only because I believe that the viral version of anti-Semitism is always capable of regaining its full and deadly form even when it is apparently dormant or weakened. All it needs is a pretext, and any pretext will do. If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict didn’t exist, it would attach itself to something else; but it does exist, and anti-Semitism couldn’t be happier.

Because I think this way, I can imagine a time in the not-so-distant future when American Jews might feel precarious once again. There is a certain irrationality to this imagining, given that at this moment, I am sitting in a very nice house in Delray Beach, Fla., and taking advantage of the opportunity afforded me by The New York Times to have my say on anything I like every Monday. And in a few months I will repair to an equally nice house in the upstate New York town of Andes, where I will be engaging in the same pleasurable activity. Sounds like a good life, and it is. So why am I entertaining fantasies of being dispossessed or discriminated against or even threatened?

Part of the answer lies in the fact that I spend much of my time in colleges and universities, where anti-Israel sentiment flourishes and is regarded more or less as a default position. And I have seen (with apologies to Shelley) that when hostility to Israel comes, anti-Semitism is not far behind. But the deeper explanation of my apprehension is generational. One of my closest friends and I agree on almost everything, but we part company on this question. He tells, and believes, the “criticism of Israel is one thing, anti-Semitism another” story. I hear it, but I can’t buy it. He is 10 years my junior. I remember World War II. By the time he was born it was history. Maybe it’s that simple.

Perhaps the University of Chicago and Florida International University are hotbeds of anti-semitism, but I doubt it. It seems like Fish is just plain incapable of thinking rationally about the question. In which case, perhaps Professor Fish should follow his own advice and “think again.”

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