9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN31 Ethnic Relations, Racism and Antisemitism

2009-09-03 15:30:00 2009-09-03 17:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 15:30 - 17:00 Theorising Racism and Antisemitism Building II, C5.05

Antisemitism in Europe: discourses of denial

One of the difficulties of studying antisemitism today is disagreement over what it is. This difficulty stems, I suggest, from the changing nature of antisemitism itself. In the past antisemites wore their antisemitism on their sleeve. They announced their antisemitism. Today, at least in Europe, there are not many who proclaim an adherence to an overtly antisemitic ideology or declare hatred for Jews. If this contrast between past and present has any resonance, it leaves us with two principal possibilities: either antisemitism has radically declined in Europe or it persists but in a more hidden form than in the past. If it is the former, then to speak of antisemitism when there is no antisemitism can only be the language of delusion or deceit. If it is the latter, then work is required to recognise antisemitism - the work of understanding and judgment. The division, between those who "see" antisemitism as a phenomenon of the past and those who "see" it alive and well in the present, structures much of the literature on contemporary antisemitism. It underlies the opposition between new antisemitism theory and its critics - dubbed by Matti Bunzl "alarmists" and "deniers". Between these polar positions there is much that is in-between but one of the characteristics of the current period is the extent to which these ways of thinking have crystallised into opposing discourses and the more integrated tradition of critical theory has retreated. It is in the context of this dualism that I explore the challenges facing the regeneration of critical theories of antisemitism in our own time.