9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN31 Ethnic Relations, Racism and Antisemitism

2009-09-05 09:00:00 2009-09-05 10:30:00 Saturday, 5 September 09:00 - 10:30 Memories Building II, C5.05

The Left, the Holocaust and Genocide - on some Problems with no taking Anti-Semitism Seriously (enough)

Before and during the Holocaust, no serious effort was made by left-wing theorists or organisations to focus centrally on the radical character of Nazi anti-Semitism. Part of this failure was due to a reluctance to take seriously the overtly genocidal element of this ideology and the accompanying expressions by the Nazi elite of genocidal intentions. After the Holocaust, this failure has been hidden and perhaps compounded by an insistence on the solely universalist lessons of the Holocaust which has produced an arguably distorted collective memory on the left of that catastrophe. This has had consequences for developing coherent and effective strategies both for confronting anti-Semitism after the Holocaust and, paradoxically, for responding to the recurring threat of genocide since that most radical case (to date). If anti-Semitism is not seen as central to the Holocaust, then it becomes hard to explain why it was Jews who were the over-riding target, other than reductively and instrumentally as "scapegoats" (an argument sharply criticised by Hannah Arendt many years ago). Equally, what was particular about the Jewish experience may then become "lost" in a more general narrative of destruction, in which what was actually genocidal is no longer clear. The reluctance to focus centrally on what was radical about Nazi anti-Semitism can make it hard to understand the legacy it bequeathed (in ideology and discourse), how later anti-Semites are able to draw effectively upon this legacy, and to combat them as they do so. But this may be related to an inability to see what was actually genocidal in the Holocaust, and what is specific to genocide as such (as opposed to other very serious forms of human suffering). This can result in deeply misleading parallels being drawn (as in recent debates over Israel's action in Gaza) which appear to simultaneously underestimate what genocide really means and to allow for the resurgence of particular anti-Semitic projections in which Jews become blamed for committing the very crime which they themselves (previously) suffered.