Theodor Adorno and the Failure of “Prejudice” to Account for Anti-Semitism

March 4 2019

The son of a Catholic mother and Jewish father who had converted to Lutheranism, the German philosopher and sociologist Theodor Adorno emigrated to the U.S. after the Nazis came to power. Thereafter he devoted serious attention to anti-Semitism, which he had fled, and American racism, which he was encountering for the first time. Eric Oberle, in a recent book, explores the connections between the two in Adorno’s thought. In his review, James Loeffler finds a thread running from Adorno’s theories to the inability of much current thinking about racism, prejudice, and “intersectionality” to account for the hatred of Jews:

Oberle’s book is full of pathbreaking insights rendered in a dense, fast-paced but crystalline prose. . . . In the end, though, it leaves unanswered the precise question of how Adorno saw the relationship between anti-Semitism and racism. It is not clear whether Adorno ever really resolved the tension between his Marxian universalism and “the demands of particularity.” Did he go far enough in his recognition of the pluralistic nature of human experience—and the varieties of identity that the world has produced? Happily, we can look forward to Oberle’s promised second volume, continuing this crucial endeavor of intellectual history.

Meanwhile, events in our day continue to exhibit the ongoing relevance of Adorno’s insight that [what he termed] “positive” and “negative identities”—subjective self-affirmation and external societal marking—operate in tandem. Any account of anti-Semitism must [therefore] grapple with the distinctive character of Jewish identity. That is why the problem of anti-Semitism continues to resist easy incorporation into a general theory of prejudice—generalization requires congruence among all units in the category. But where do Jewish people fit in the roster of other oppressed minorities? Neither color nor class neatly applies. Nor does sexuality. Even religion cannot capture the scope of anti-Semitism, as the case of Adorno himself, [who knew nothing of Judaism], perfectly illustrates.

That may help explain why Adorno’s latter-day heirs, the social theorists of intersectionality, have struggled so much with how to slot anti-Semitism into their theories of prejudice. Like the spokespeople of Columbia University, [who after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre released a statement that mentioned neither anti-Semitism nor Jews], they remain captive to their own limited understandings of the Jewish identity under attack.

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Read more at Marginalia

More about: Anti-Semitism, Frankfurt School, History & Ideas, Racism

Despite What the UN Says, the Violence at the Gaza Border Is Military, Not Civilian, in Nature

March 22 2019

On Monday, a UN Human Rights Council commission of inquiry issued its final report on last spring’s disturbances at the Gaza border. Geoffrey Corn and Peter Margulies explain why the report is fatally flawed:

The commission framed the events [in Gaza] as a series of demonstrations that were “civilian in nature.” Israel and its Supreme Court, [which has investigated some of the killings that occurred], framed the same events quite differently: as a new evolution in Israel’s ongoing armed conflict with the terrorist organization Hamas. Consistency and common sense suggest that the Israeli High Court of Justice’s framing is a more rational explanation of what occurred at the Israel-Gaza border in spring 2018.

Kites, [for instance], played a telltale role [in the violence]. When most people think of kites, they think of a child’s plaything or a hobbyist’s harmless passion. In the Gaza confrontation, kites [became] a new and effective, albeit low-tech, tactic for attacking Israel. As the report conceded, senior Gaza leaders, including from Hamas, “encouraged” the unleashing of waves of incendiary kites that during and since the spring 2018 confrontations have burned thousands of acres of arable land within Israel. The resulting destruction included fires that damaged the Kerem Shalom border crossing, which conveys goods and gasoline from Israel to Gaza. . . .

Moreover, the incendiary-kite offensive was an effective diversion from the efforts encouraged and coordinated by Hamas last spring to pierce the border with Israel and attack both IDF personnel and the civilian residents of the beleaguered Israeli towns a short distance from the border fence. . . .

The commission also failed to acknowledge that Hamas sought to use civilians as an operational cover to move members of its armed wing into position along the fence. For IDF commanders, this increased the importance of preventing a breach [in the fence]. Large crowds directly along the fence would simplify breakthrough attempts by intermingled Hamas and other belligerent operatives. The crowds themselves also could attempt to pour through any breach. Unfortunately, the commission seems to have completely omitted any credible assessment of the potential casualties on all sides that would have resulted from IDF action to seal a breach once it was achieved. . . .

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Read more at Lawfare

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Laws of war, UNHRC, United Nations