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Slovenian philosopher: “Antisemitism is alive and kicking in Europe”

On Friday evening, Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek gave a lecture in a bookstore in Central Tel Aviv teeming with familiar faces of leftwing activists. It was hosted by Udi Aloni, an Israeli-American artist and BDS activist, who just completed a book entitled What Does a Jew Want, which is edited by Zizek.

The bookstore called Tola’at Sfarim (Bookworm), which is also a small publisher of books mostly on psychology, was packed with people, young and old, very eager to hear Zizek speak, just as I was.

Many seem to have come with the expectation to hear Zizek rip into Israel and use his wry wit and charisma in such a bourgeoises Tel Aviv setting to endorse the BDS Movement. Indeed when Udi Aloni introduced Zizek, he identified himself as an activist on behalf of BDS and said he chose the bookstore as a venue in order to not cooperate with any formal Israeli institution.

However, Zizek did not officially endorse or even talk much about BDS – and when he did it was because he was prompted to during Q&A. His two clear statements about BDS were that a) he is not 100% behind it and b)he supports a movement that is initiated jointly by Palestinians and Israeli here in the region.

Rather, Zizek spent almost two hours with the crowd’s undivided attention talking about antisemitism, capitalism and the place of the Jew in the world. He warned that antisemitism is “alive and kicking” in Europe and America and asserted that the State of Israel should worry more about Christian right antisemitism  rather than wasting its energy on self-proclaimed Jewish anti-Zionists. He said that the Christian Zionists in America are inherently antisemitic and that Israel’s willingness to embrace their support is baffling.

He started his talk by saying that when he was invited to speak in Tel Aviv (most of his trip was spent in Ramallah with Udi Aloni), people reassured him there are still some “good Israelis” left that would love to hear him, as if trying to convince him of why he should bother to step foot inside Israel. Zizek said he doesn’t like this approach.

Being “Anti” Anything is Trendy

This statement set the tone for his entire talk, which was firmly framed in the notion that most people are too easily caught up in trends and sound bytes that do not actually identify the root of the problem. He talked about how easy and fashionable it is to be, for example, “anti-Capitalist” today, because you can just direct blame at a specific bank or a specific person as the evil culprit and think that you have done your part in condemning it. He mentioned Bernie Madoff in this respect, as a scapegoat who was easy to blame, when in fact the real problem is the system that allowed and even pushed Madoff to commit his crimes.

He traced antisemitism through history, from when Jews were expected to convert, to the era of Enlightenment and French Revolution, when it became clear that no conversion or amount of assimilation could do anything to change their eternal Jewishness. Jews went from being too distinct and particular to being too universal and cosmopolitan, which paved the way for the Holocaust.

After establishing the deep-rooted vitality of antisemitism, he mentioned that he has no patience for those who excuse Arab antisemitism; that even the most oppressed and poor Palestinian should not be tolerated for being antisemitic. He also spoke about his well-known argument regarding Zionist antisemitism, whereby Zionists use antisemitic language towards fellows Jews in accusing them of not being Zionist enough. This was his main critique of Israel – its witch hunt against those Jews it finds not “Zionist enough.”

Sitting in a room full of Israeli activists, some of whom consider themselves on the forefront of the fight against Israeli occupation and apartheid; who devote much of their time going out to the West Bank in solidarity with Palestinians, in confrontation with Israeli military and who favor a total boycott of the country, I could feel the disappointment in the room from certain people that Zizek was not speaking more critically and disapprovingly of Israel. He barely said the word occupation, did not mention the word apartheid even once.  He did not directly speak that much about Israel itself or what should be done.

This was a bold move with such an audience – and I’m not sure if people got it or not, but in many ways, I think that Zizek was actually levying criticism against the very activists sitting in that room. They are so caught up with the “evils” of Israel that they have lost perspective on what is going on in the rest of the world, and may have lost sight of the very real dangers of continued antisemism, which has all sorts of consequences.

As someone familiar with Zizek’s ideas and who is well acquainted with his poignant criticism of Israel, I was quite pleased, because I didn’t need to hear over again from him how Israel is occupying the Palestinians. And really, as a philosopher who spends his time in Europe, what could he renew for us on that? But of course, an activist in the audience was not happy that he did not devote enough time to criticizing Zionism, so she asked him why that is.

He proceeded to say that Zionism is not the worst evil in the world. He mentioned the strangling of the West Bank by Israel as a colonization project and said that there should be maps everywhere hanging of what belongs to whom in the West Bank so people who  can really see Israel’s domination.

But he also stated that someone from the Democratic Republic of Congo would sell his mother into slavery in a heartbeat for the chance to move to the West Bank.
By coming to Tel Aviv and speaking to a group of Israelis, not about the ills of Israel, but rather the deep and perverse ways in which antisemitism persists in Europe and America today and pervades Zionism and Israel as well, Zizek expressed for me the very real frustration with a certain trend of radical leftwing activism today, in which Israel’s wrongdoings seem to completely overlook, discount or negate very real issues pertaining to Jewish existence and identity, as it plays out in global politics.
I believe Zizek’s point is that antisemitism not only continues to exist, but is reincarnating itself in different forms that Israelis need to pay more attention to – and that this is highly detrimental, not just to Israel — but in the larger scope of racism and violence, and how we deal with global problems — is something that is detrimental to everyone.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. RichardNYC

      It doesn’t take a Slovenian genius to figure out that Israeli anti-Zionists are self-important fools.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Fred

      Or it could be that he’s just protecting himself. He is undoubtedly growing in the fame category so it’s natural that he’s not going to say things that will come back to haunt him if/when he breaks into the mainstream. It’s called compromising and we all do it. This is what the young activists have to keep in mind. But, it doesn’t mean they abandon their approach. They’re the backbone of their movement and they have to stay true to their aims. That is, until one of them reaches Zizek’s status. I think Finkelstein is the only speaker I’ve heard who never backs down. He’s unrelenting.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Fiona

      For the Eastern European intellectuals, the memory of sloganeering, half-truths, and steady diet of propaganda under Communism is all too fresh. They are used to dismiss big labels like “apartheid”, “colonization”, “occupation” that used to be bandied about freely about any Western entity in the Communist press. Having lived through real deprivation, the likes of which the Palestinians never experienced, Easter European dissidents and intellectuals have much to teach the self-important and extremely narrow-minded, almost provincial, Israeli radical-left activists.

      Reply to Comment
    4. arlosoroff

      Is there any video of the talk?

      Reply to Comment
    5. Amal

      I really don’t understand the frustration of the Israeli activists. Why did they need Zizek to remind them of the evils of their country? Did they expect a “pat on the back”? If you are taking a stand against occupation and apartheid, then you are you doing it for the right reasons and you don’t seek Zizek’s approval!

      Reply to Comment
    6. Koshiro

      “Having lived through real deprivation, the likes of which the Palestinians never experienced,”
      Yeah, well I call bullshit on that. He is from a middle-class family in former Yugoslavia. That country, while not quite at Western level, had a relatively comfortable standard of living – in any case, one whicb far exceeded anything the Palestinian territories ever had.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ido

      It seems that for the activists attending Zizek meeting was as much disappointment as the feeling some Israeli fans had when Bob Dylan didn’t say “Shalom Ramat Gan”. Ironic.

      BTW, Sarah Silverman did say “Shalom” on his behalf (she mentioned him during her opening act when she had a live standup show tonight). She also gave a moment of shock when she asked where are her Palestinian fans in the crowd, which to me set a more powerful massage then any astist boycotting Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Mairav,

      According to consistent surveys, anti-Semitism in North America is at a negligible level, and in Europe things are not much different. Why, those who used to hate Jews now invite them to march…against Muslims:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTBF-CRLFgk

      Now, if Zizek chooses to talk about various social theories here in Tel Aviv, or about water lilies, or the Amazonian bumble bee, instead of Israel’s apartheid, so be it.
      But if he feels that the most relevant political message to an audience in Tel Aviv is “anti-Semitism lurks in the shadows” (or if you think that this argument is nearly as significant and grounded in reality as the anti-apartheid narrative), I have a serious problem with that.

      (speaking as a supporter of the BDS movement, not as a spokesperson)

      Reply to Comment
    9. Rika Chaval

      Ofer, it seems Zizek was adressing people like you who don’t seem to be able to understand how your BDS message nourishes and breeds antisemitic subtexts that are still prevalent in european and americain brains.

      By the way, those who used to hate Jews and are now inviting them to march against Muslims, why, they still hate Jews, don’t worry.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Ofer N

      Rika, with all due respect, I am not very keen on wasting time arguing against Hasbara smears about BDS activists promoting anti-Semitism.

      Good night

      Reply to Comment
    11. Max

      Ofer if you think BDS doesn’t make friends with anti-Semites you need only to look to one of its champions, Norman Finkelstein, standing in southern Lebanon saying that “Hezbollah represents the hope.” It’s this kind of unholy alliance that Zizek has in mind.

      Reply to Comment
    12. max

      Thank you, Mairav, for a ray of lucidity in 972, and your honest reflection, which I would phrase as Beware when you fight evil, lest you wake up with the devil in bed.
      .
      The issue of “territories” is a legitimate national struggle; the human oppression that has become part of it is a Human Rights issue. Mixing up the two, reflecting on their embedded issues and moral attitudes as if they were one is a recipe for moral confusion and delusion.
      .
      In the Israeli context, it’s also the cause of antagonism; it would’ve been much easier to convince people in Israel about the wrongs of oppression had it not been linked with political, national motivations.
      .
      972 and other such forums would make a difference if they were to cover both Israeli and Palestinian violations of human rights, not “the other’s” national struggle.
      That’s why I don’t consider most writers here as honest human rights activists.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Fiona

      The elephant in the room was, of course, the rabid, virulent and appalling Arab anti-semitism. And I agree with Max that when the Palestinians’ routine violations of human rights and abuse of power by their almost-unelected representatives (as there were no elections held nor in Gaza neither in the West Bank for years) goes unreported by “progressive” forums, it speaks volumes about their patronising attitudes towards the Palestinians and double-standard and bias. In short, not honest human rights activists at all.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Saeed Hotary

      Zizek should not have come to Tel Aviv. I dispute his statement that things are worse in the Congo. Right now, Palestinian suffering is worse than the Congo. I think you were suckered into inviting a zionist to Tel Aviv, and have lost respect for you

      Reply to Comment
    15. Ofer N

      Dear Max,

      972 mag does not operate in a vacuum. This magazine exists in a sphere of Israeli nationalism and racism. There’s no point in turning it into another Kol Israel (or even Haaretz, which has just two or three fig leaves)

      If you want to argue for reform in 972 mag, first you should go pick on Kol Israel, Yedioth Aharonot, Maariv, channel 10 and channel 2 to cover occupation and apartheid in an honest, human rights oriented manner.

      o.

      (certainly NOT a spokesman on behalf of 972 mag)

      Reply to Comment
    16. hamza

      please
      to anyone who was in the lecture of zizek I want to tell me what zizek sayed about the quotation from the qura’n and the question of ideology and intersubjectivity because I didn’t hear him .
      thanks

      Reply to Comment
    17. Mairav Zonszein

      There is no video of the talk as far as I know. If I can get a copy of the lecture Zizek gave, I will post it on the site. He obviously said many many things which I did not cover.

      Reply to Comment
    18. “He barely said the word occupation, did not mention the word apartheid even once. He did not directly speak that much about Israel itself or what should be done.”

      That’s because Ziz is a glorified entertainer (“Fancy Explainer” division) and to expect him to commit to a genuinely dangerous public position is akin to expecting the same of Jennifer Aniston. The Fancy Explainer’s art is to *appear* to be fearlessly truth-telling while never, in fact, being too much of a downer or biting the hand that feeds her/him or provoking the masters to pull the plug.

      The disappointed activists experienced a valuable lesson: don’t enslave your sense of right and wrong to the pronouncements of some Fancy Explainer whose primary allegiance is to his/her own skin and career.

      Meanwhile: well-fed philosophers have no business telling severely-abused communities whether they have the right to hate their abusers. Thought experiment: 1930s-era, family of Black sharecroppers in Mississippi; a couple of family members have been lynched, a few raped, all are under constant threat of physical violence, humiliation (not to mention the medical dangers of poverty). Teleport Ziz into this family’s “living room” and allow him to lecture them that their hatred for the Whites “will not be tolerated”.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Siren

      Saeed- you’ve spent time in the Congo recently, then? Noticed how many members of warring factions are members of peace movements trying to end the violence? Any Congolese commenters online right now to join in this discussion and protest their ongoing slaughter? Anyone famous championing their rights or sailing flotillas to raise awareness of their cause? Any TV cameras there, or major international Human Rights interventions of note?

      Go get an education.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Fred

      Stated it much more eloquently than I did Steven. Still Mairav says there’s a lot more that she didn’t write about. Hopefully the activists pushed him during the Q&A part.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Ben Israel

      Why is the fact that many Jews want the support of the Christiain Right in America which he claims is antisemitic surprising. MAPAM and the Jewish Communists had an unrequited mad love affair with the greatest mass murderer in history, Josef Stalin. Amir Peretz still tries to look like him. More recently, great “peace activists” and “lovers of humanity” such as Uri Avnery had a similar love affair with arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat. I am aware the Avnery explained this away by saying that he himself was a terrorist to he had no problem loving Arafat. However, Avnery was not speaking in my name or anybody elses. No one appointed Avery moral arbiter of our time.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Ben Israel

      Koshiro-
      I know that it is fashionable for the pro-Palestinian activists to claim that the Palestinians are living in grinding poverty. That is simply not true. I believe they have the highest standard of living of any residents of Arab states outside of the oil-rich Gulf Sheikhdoms.

      Reply to Comment
    23. @Fred:

      “Hopefully the activists pushed him during the Q&A part.”

      We can only hope!

      Reply to Comment
    24. @Ben Israel

      “I believe they have the highest standard of living of any residents of Arab states outside of the oil-rich Gulf Sheikhdoms.”

      *

      Sorry, but this is chillingly reminiscent of the Yankee racists who opine that Blacks living in wretched conditions in North America are so much better off than they would be had the North American slave-trade never existed. But wouldn’t a humane/civilized consciousness tend, rather, to compare humans in a dire state to the *opposite* hypothetical? Ie: how they’d be living if the world were just? How they’d be living if they were granted their full value, as humans, in a greater community of humans inclined to *help*?

      *

      The grotesque pathology of humans who think they are a *better category of humans* is the voice this sentiment (“I believe they have the highest standard of living…” or “The Blacks in Mississippi have it good…”) speaks in.

      *

      The Palestinians need help. As do you.

      Reply to Comment
    25. “this is chillingly reminiscent of the Yankee racists who opine that Blacks living in wretched conditions in North America are so much better off than they would be had the North American slave-trade never existed.”

      Analogy was never put to apter use.

      Reply to Comment
    26. Leonid Levin

      I don’t know what part of Europe Zizek is talking about. My experience is that there are a lot more anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-Eastern European and anti-Roma feelings than anti-Semitism. My feeling is that most people neither think nor care much about Jews. Jews are invisible to them and hence not important. Yet many people do fear what they perceive as foreign elements in their countries.

      Reply to Comment
    27. Leonid Levin

      I agree with Ofer N. that the anti-immigrant, nationalistic forces in Europe now team up with Jewish nationalists. One example is Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, who is fiercely anti-immigrant and nationalistic and fiercely pro-Likud.

      Reply to Comment
    28. Gentile European

      I browse sites like these simply for intellectual curiosity, but I am right-wing and naturally pro-Israel, since that’s a consistent pattern with my other convinctions.

      Nevertheless, I find Zizek’s talk bizarre. Anti-Semitism in America is probably lower than in Israel. In Europe, there are noticable signs of it.

      One is in the shape of anti-Zionism, usually from the left(before you people freak out, I know many are not Jew-haters but there are some who are, or at the very least ‘dislike’ Jews, to put it more mildly).

      The other is essentially muslim immigrants. A recent study in Belgium found that a shocking 50 % of muslim high school pupils held deeply anti-Semitic views. The equivalent number for ethnic Belgians were about 4 %.

      But overal, genuine hatred of Jews is very low in Europe, but it is true there is a small uptick in the trend but mainly focused in these areas.

      Ofc, neo-nazis and other trash will always hate Jews but they are and have been marginalised quite a bit.

      As for Zizek, I think he is right to say there are far worse situations in the world aside from Israel, Africa and parts of Asia counts as that. And let’s not forgive the situation for women in Saudi Arabia, or the fact that there is a booming slave trade in the Arab world. No radical leftie wants to adress that in fear of acusations of vague ‘islamophobia’.

      As for the alleged anti-Semitism of christian conservatives, I laughed out loud. Zizek is trapped by his own ideology. Right-wing Christian Zionists in America are even more pro-Israel than Jews themselves in every poll. Many also like Jews even if the feeling isn’t always reciprocated(to put it mildly) because of the vastly different domestic agendas the mostly liberal coastal Jews and the mostly sub-urban conservative Christians have and don’t share.

      Although I don’t know much about the radical leftwing TA scene to make a statement, I’ve seen and read enough from many Jewish authors(I have tons of favourite Jews; Chomsky and Bellow, Mailer et al) to say that there is a specific obsessed Jew which sees only the faults of his/her people/nation.

      Perhaps some of the TA radicals fall into that category, because I think Mairav have a few valid points.

      Reply to Comment
    29. Very glad to hear that Mr. Zizek is speaking truth to power. Kol hakavod Mairav!

      Reply to Comment
    30. Ofer N

      Another comment, which I posted on FB earlier:

      Even a 1 hour talk about Arab anti-Jewish sentiments (which do exist) would be legitimate. No desire to force something on Zizek.

      But when Mairav writes:

      ” I think that Zizek was actually levying criticism against the very activists sitting in that room. They are so caught up with the “evils” of Israel that they have lost perspective on what is going on in the rest of the world, and may have lost sight of the very real dangers of continued antisemism, which has all sorts of consequences”…”

      I have to wonder: Do “we” (radicals or whatever.)not know that people like John Hagee are anti-Semitic? If anything, it’s the ** Israeli public at large** that chooses to ignore this. And if the most obvious manifestation of anti-Semitism is Islamophobia, well, this too is something that “we” are surely aware of.

      Reply to Comment
    31. mikepanzone

      as an american who knows many christian zionists, i honestly can’t remember in my 45 years ever meeting anyone who is anti-semitic here. anti-muslim sentiment, however, is on the rise.

      Reply to Comment
    32. Alfred

      The Congo analogy is not new. During the fight against Apartheid, white racists used to say that there was no one man one vote in any African country and blacks in South Africa had the highest living standards than any blacks in an African country. I never heard any “liberal” or “Leftist” say that or call the ANC terrorist. Wife of Mandela used to support fleecing, which is the burning of suspected black collaborators. But, when it only comes to Israel there is always a double standard to justify Israeli Apartheid.

      Reply to Comment
    33. Ken Besig

      this comment was removed for offensive tone. hate talk and personal insults will lead to banning

      Reply to Comment
    34. Brandy Baker

      Steven Augustine nailed it. Nothing more needs to be said.

      Reply to Comment
    35. Brandy Baker

      “Hopefully the activists pushed him during the Q&A part.”

      They should have pushed him *out*….of the building.

      Reply to Comment
    36. d

      Steven Augustine,

      Your analogy to the American South does not make sense. Certainly you’re aware that Jewish history leading up to and after the creation of Israel is significantly different than the history of white people in America? That the history of Islamist anti-semitism began before 1948?

      All nationalism ought to be opposed equally.

      Reply to Comment
    37. D:

      Like an alligator who can’t eat its meal without first dragging it into the water, you attempt to make my analogy vulnerable to your critique by changing its context entirely. My comparison was not between any part of “Jewish history” and any part of the history of “white people in America”, it was between commentators of all stripes/backgrounds who attempt to downplay human suffering, in specific cases, by relativizing it.

      But I’m quite certain you wouldn’t want your grandparents or children to live the way most (if not all) Palestinians live today, whether or not you would consider it even worse for your loved ones to live in the Congo.

      It’s bad enough that even small steps towards alleviating that suffering in real terms are blocked, at every turn, with the powers of an advanced technocracy (or two)… but the fact that you would deny the suffering the *dignity of basic recognition* (when such recognition would come at no real cost to yourself) is particularly pernicious… which is why your comment savors of the irrationality of self-exceptionalism and unexamined hatred.

      Not that I suspect the same of Zizek. His problem (as I comment above) is different from yours.

      Reply to Comment
    38. Csaba

      Dear Gentile European,

      as being european and gentile too, i suggest you to read more news, hopefully analyses and good books on the topics of European anti-Semitism, Islam in general and on Zionism and Israel. as you didn’t get the point of Zizek on Christian Zionists, even though he is to the European acadmia, what Justin Bieber is to American pop-music, i suppose, you will need to start from the foundational history (Arthur Goldschmidt and Martin Gilbert both work on this level).
      Europeans gulping their daily portion of hasbara and blah-blah are part of the problem in general.
      cheers.

      Reply to Comment
    39. Jeff Blankfort

      I have in the past enjoyed watching while listening to Zizek as he passed through San Francisco and was entertained and amused by watching as well as listening to a number of video interviews of his that are available on YouTube.

      This article, if even half the quotes are correct, was a real eye, or rather mind opener. The man, stripped of his cleverness, is little more than an intellectual charlatan.

      Reply to Comment
    40. Clara

      Yes, zizek, being anti anything is trendy but as equally gross is trying to be ahead of the trend with being anti the antis.

      Reply to Comment
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