Introducing this week’s guest feature – Anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim racisms and Palestine/Israel

Our guest editors this week are Nira Yuval-Davis and Jamie Hakim,
director and researcher at the University of East London’s Centre for research
on Migration, Refugees and Belonging (CMRB). Nira is a sociology professor who
has published widely on issues of nationalism, racism, citizenship,
fundamentalism and the politics of belonging from a gendered and intersectional
analytical perspective. She is a socialist feminist who has long been active in
the politics of Palestine/Israel. Jamie recently completed a PhD on the rise of
popular Zionism in the British-Jewish community, during the period after the
June 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Nira and Jamie introduce the theme of the
week and their authors:

“The “Anti-Jewish
and anti–Muslim racisms and Palestine/Israel” project has been a long
time coming. The idea for the project emerged at the end of 2012 when we began
sharing concerns over the increasingly complex and often contradictory ways
that racisms against both Jews and Muslims across the globe were being
stimulated by the ongoing events in Palestine/Israel. We discussed the
emergence of the concept of “new antisemitism”, which claimed the growing
criticism of the state of Israel was always antisemitic.

We debated the new
variants of Islamic fundamentalism and how on the one hand, Islamic
fundamentalists defended objectionable interpretations of Islamic law by
accusing critics of Islamophobia, and how on the other hand pro-Zionist
organisations used Islamic fundamentalism to argue that a just resolution to
the conflict was impossible. And we explored the troubling emergence of old and
new forms of antisemitism across the global south where the Elders of the Protocols of Zion and Mein Kampf are being published and read,
often openly. We looked at the growing death toll associated with the conflict
– something which only grew as the project developed into 2015, with the Gaza
War and the events in Paris connected to Charlie

Bethlehem graffiti. Flickr/Paval Hadzinski. Some rights reserved.As a result, we
decided to contact leading academics and activists in the field and met in the
offices of the Runnymede Trust to discuss the best ways for us, in our different
capacities as anti-racists, to intervene in this troubling situation. The first
step, we decided, was to open the discussion out further to more individuals
with different expertise and political orientations (although always operating
from within an avowedly anti-racist framework). We held an invitation-only
conference at the LSE co-sponsored by CMRB, the Runnymede Trust, the LSE Centre for the Study of Human Rights
and the Open University Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change on 17
December 2013.

The next step was a much larger public conference at SOAS co-sponsored
by CMRB, SOAS’ Centre for Palestine Studies, London
Middle East Institute, Runnymede
Trust, and the LSE Centre for the Study of Human Rights on 23 February 2015.
The final step has been the publication of an online series of papers taken
from both conferences – the first tranche of which can be found on the CMRB website and will
form the basis of this week’s OpenDemocracy theme of the week. This online
paper series is co-sponsored by CMRB (UEL), the Centre for Palestine Studies,
London Middle East Institute (SOAS) and the Runnymede Trust.

The discussion stimulated by all these meetings has been heated (to say
the least), as is often the way when interested parties come together to
discuss issues which are so emotionally charged both in relation to the past
and in the present moment. Many of us were frequently forced out of our comfort
zones, listening to points raised in discussions we might not necessarily have
agreed with. However, most stayed within the anti-racist normative framework
that we as organisers felt was essential to holding the whole project together.

Not the last word

articles are not the last word on these issues

We feel it is important to explain here the reasons for choosing the
terms ‘anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim racisms’ over the more conventional
‘antisemitism’ and ‘Islamophobia’. We rejected the term ‘antisemitism’ largely
because the word ‘Semite’ is an invention of nineteenth-century race-science
that categorised peoples of Middle Eastern origin, both Arab as well as the
Jews it is used to refer to today. We rejected the term ‘Islamophobia’, because
whilst it goes without saying that frequently people’s religious beliefs can
become the object of racial persecution, we regard as fully legitimate the
critique of all ideological systems, religious or otherwise. We felt
‘anti-Muslim racism’ makes the distinction much more precisely than the term
Islamophobia. Not all of our contributors adopted this nomenclature, but it is
clear from their articles that they share the spirit of the project.

These articles are not the last word on these
issues, nor are they intended to be. Our online paper series is a
work in progress designed to be an open forum for ongoing, constructive
dialogue for interested parties. As such we will consider contributions on all
aspects of how anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim racisms and the question of
Palestine/Israel intersect (please submit them to We argue
that thinking through these issues all together at the same time – and always
from within an anti-racist normative framework – is an important step in
resisting some of the injustices carried out by so many, on all sides of the

this week’s key perspectives:

We began our week with an introductory piece, written by us, which
gives a much more detailed account of the intellectual origins of the project
as well as the issues raised at the conferences and the different ways they
were contested.

On Tuesday, Antony
Lerman critiqued and contested the concept of the ‘new-antisemitism’ in
which anti-Zionism is understood as a covert form of antisemitism. He explores
the historical origins of this idea arguing that it is, in fact, not all that
new. Lerman concludes by thinking through the ways that it exacerbates both
anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish racisms in the present moment.

We followed up with Sami
Zubaida’s exploration of the relationship between Islamophobia and what he
calls “Umma nationalism”: a discourse that different Muslims across the globe
invest in, act out and contest with different intensities in different
historical moments. Umma Nationalism, like all strong forms of nationalism
asserts the superiority of the people who subscribe to it over the others they
wish to reject. The historical sweep of this article is enormous and in a short
space Sami very deftly navigates the political complexities that the different
investments in this discourse continue to produce.

On Wednesday, we
published Hilary
Aked’s examination of how Zionist organisations are funding Islamophobic
propaganda. Hilary undertakes a forensic analysis of the different funding
streams of the pro-Israeli lobby and subsequently produces a persuasive
analysis of how there is an undeniable overlap between this lobby and the
anti-Muslim media content we see, primarily, in the news feeds of our social
networking sites.

Keith-Kahn Harris
has published widely on the sociology and politics of the British-Jewish
community. In
his article, he explores how different events, groups and ideologies
stimulate internal conflict within UK Jewry. He notes that British Jews are not
nearly as united over Israel as is commonly believed and worries how
Israel/Palestine is being used by external agents to cause conflict within the

On Thursday, Jan
Rybak and Helga Embacher looked at some of the issues taken up across the project,
with a specific focus on Austria and Germany. They take the media
representation of different anti-Israel demonstrations in these countries
during the Gaza War in 2014 as a case study, and argue that the apparent
emergence of  ‘Muslim antisemitism’ is
not as straightforward as it first appears.

In the most
philosophical of this week’s articles, Stefano
Bellin weaves together the thought of Erno Traverso, Hannah Arendt and
Edward Said, in order to imagine how we might construct a non-racist space in
which we can critique current thinking around Jews and Palestinians, in
relation to the conflict.

On Friday, we ended with some of Annabelle
Sreberny’s provocative thoughts on how best anti-racists might have
responded to the Charlie Hebdo events
in Paris in 2015. She argues that rather than the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ slogan that
became a global meme on social media, we might be better served by ‘We are all
Semites’ – thereby re-appropriating the racial category ‘Semite’ as the basis
of solidarity of Arabs and Jews in the face of violence towards both.”

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