Contemporary antisemitism and racism in the shadow of the Holocaust.
The conference was particularly important both in terms of venue and timing. In Vienna, as in Austria more generally, responsibility for National Socialism and the Holocaust was acknowledged officially only in the early 1990s. Before that, Austria's master narrative was that it had been Hitler's first victim. Those who are familiar with the situation in Austria, with the political as well as with the public discourse know that the past still heavily weighs on the present and that present discourses are in various ways infused by the past, which is commemorated in official events but not actually worked through. In Vienna, the actuality of National Socialism and related forms of antisemitism that are based on defensiveness against guilt can be felt at every turn, which was the reason for us to choose the focus on contemporary antisemitism in the shadow of the Holocaust as the focus for this conference.
Today, the question of the actuality and prevalence of antisemitism has become a contested field within academia as well as in a broader public discourse. Debates are going on as to whether antisemitism today is to be regarded as a genuine structural feature of contemporary society or rather as a relic of an ideology which no longer has any relevance in contemporary Europe. Adherents of the latter position suggest that compared to the antisemitism of the Nazis and compared to the Holocaust, to speak of antisemitism today, at least in Western Europe, is an exaggeration, a refusal to see how far Europe is no longer trapped in its old delusions and barbarism. As Robert Fine has argued in this narrative,
"antisemitism is tucked away safely in Europe's past, overcome by the defeat of fascism and the development of the European Union." In this case, "antisemitism is remembered, but only as a residual trauma or a museum piece." (1)
The either/or logic that Robert Fine explicates is itself part of the problem: it reproduces the exclusive and unmediated juxtaposition of the past and the present and disregards the dialectical relationship between them.
If antisemitism is exclusively identified with its genocidal form of National Socialism, latent forms of antisemitism simply go unrecognized. The continuity in the discontinuity is thereby disregarded, as is the possibility that latent forms of antisemitism, even if they are not identical to the genocidal kind may nevertheless be connected to it in important respects.
There is a perhaps particularly strong tendency in Germany and Austria, as the post-Nazi countries, to deal with antisemitism only as an historical issue. The task of coming to terms with the Nazi past is narrowed down here to commemorating antisemitism and the Holocaust as mere historic incidents and as questions only of historical responsibility that has to be met by Germany or Austria as successor states of National Socialism. But a consequence of this is that antisemitism is thereby seen as something for museums rather than viewed as a problem of today's societies. This becomes evident in the vast number of publications and events, both academic and also dedicated to a broader public audience, which deal with antisemitism from a purely historical perspective that lacks any connection to contemporary forms of antisemitism. Antisemitism is analyzed from an external perspective, from the shielding distance of 70 years after the defeat of Nazi terror--the past is seen as self-contained and the Holocaust remembered as an incident that happened "once upon a time." After 1945 and more particularly antisemitism in our contemporary societies, however, is far less often made a topic for conferences, events and scholarly publications.
This reassuring narrative that remembers antisemitism as a relic of bygone times disregards what Walter Benjamin, the great critic of historiography, called the correspondence between the past and the present: that we never remember the past itself, but that memory is always an expression of the past in the present. (2) For Benjamin, memory's central task therefore is to look closely at the marks the past has left in the present. Then we may realize that contemporary antisemitism, far from being a mere relic of bygone times, exhibits some continuity with Nazi ideology in contemporary societies, a "survival of National Socialism within democracy", which Adorno considered "to be potentially more menacing than the survival of fascist tendencies against democracy." (3)
From this perspective, the Nazi past is not a closed chapter in the history book of civilization but spills over to the present. This can be seen in the prevalence of secondary antisemitism that occurs with explicit as well as latent reference to National Socialism in order to legitimize it and in order to deflect from guilt. So if we take the meaning of working through the past seriously, the way Adorno elaborated on it, we need to stress that antisemitism today is not to be viewed as a remnant of the past but has its very strong roots in contemporary society; we need to think not just about National Socialism, but also about the conditions that made it possible. In as much as these conditions are not overcome, the past still infuses the present. Contemporary antisemitism needs to be analyzed in the shadow of the Holocaust.
This is exactly what the authors of this special issue do: from different perspectives, from different backgrounds, by reference to different cases they analyze how contemporary antisemitism relates to the Holocaust and how this connection can be tackled in theory and praxis.
The papers in the first section explore Holocaust remembrance in different contexts and in different countries. The papers either explore theoretical concepts or are approaches. Julia Edthofer discusses how the postcolonial debates on antisemitism and anti-Muslim racism are shaped by remembrance of the Holocaust and the colonial and how they both refer to an anti-Israel view on the Middle East conflict. Evelyn Goodman-Thau, also in a theoretical paper, describes the role of myth and messianism in discourses of Holocaust remembrance. Elke Rajal embeds her study of Holocaust education in Austria in Adorno's theory of society and remembrance.
The next two papers deal with postwar antisemitism in Germany. Holger Knothe asks, if there has been a qualitative change in antisemitic resentment and considers the extent to which we can justify talk of a "new antisemitism". Ljiljana Radonic describes the antisemitic experiences of a Jewish woman within the women's movement in the 1980s and antisemitic tropes in a certain string of protestant, feminist theology. Finishing with Judith Butler she explores such continuities in queer theory.
The second section deals with three case studies of current and historic forms of antisemitism in Sweden, Poland and Austria. Anna Sarri Krantz interviews a schoolgirl in the context of Sweden's political antisemitism and laws designed to prevent anti-Jewish incidents. Alina Cala analyses Polish and the Jewish competitive victimhood, anti-Zionism during the communist era, and its reappearance in its contemporary forms of antisemitism and Holocaust denial. Karen Frostig describes the burdens and problems she faced when trying to organize an art project on Holocaust remembrance in Vienna and thus confronted Austrians with their Nazi-past.
The articles in the third section deal with antisemitism and Holocaust remembrance or Holocaust denial in the Middle East. The first two papers concern Iran. Andreas Beni asks what western, leftist thinkers found so appealing in the writings of Ayatollah Khomeini and how this can be explained with the concept of cultural relativism. Stephan Grigat explores the important role of Holocaust denial and hatred against Israel in Iran's state ideology and points out that also under president Rouhani this ideology is central in the formulation of Iran's foreign policy. David Patterson describes current jihadist groups as the most violent and most aggressive antisemitic political groups. In the last paper, Esther Webman analyzes how public discourse on the Holocaust in the Palestinian territories changed in the 1990s, with an acknowledgement of the Holocaust on the one hand, but also a questioning of its uniqueness.
The guest editors of this Special Issue of the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism are grateful to its editor Steven Baum for enabling us to present these papers to a wider audience. Our hope is that, in addition to the light they shine on a set of issues in this particular context, they may also give some indication of the ongoing work done by colleagues in the research network itself, as we seek to fill a serious gap in our collective understanding of a phenomenon whose continued and indeed growing presence in the modern world should alarm us all.
(1.) Robert Fine, "Fighting with phantoms: A contribution to the debate of antisemitism in Europe" Patterns of Prejudice, 43:5 (2009), 463
(2.) Walter Benjamin, "On the Concept of History" in Selected Writings Vol. 4 (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press 2003).
(3.) Theodor W. Adorno, "The Meaning of Working Through the Past," in Critical Models. Interventions and Catchwords, translated and with a preface by Henry W. Pickford (New York: Columbia University Press 1998), 90.
Karin Stoegner, Nicolas Bechter Lesley Klaff and Philip Spencer *
Karin Stoegner, Nicolas Bechter, Lesley Klaff, Philip Spencer Vienna, December, 2015
* Karin Stoegner teaches social theory and topics related to gender, antisemitism and nationalism at the University of Vienna. She has carried out numerous research projects on nationalism, antisemitism and sexism at the Institute of Conflict Research (Vienna), at the Central European University (Budapest), at Lancaster University and Georgetown University (Washington DC). All her work focuses on Critical Theory. Karin is board member of the Research network on Ethnic Relations, Racism and Antisemitism within the European Sociological Association. Her numerous publications include Sexismus und Antisemitismus Historisch-gesellschaftliche Konstellationen (Nomos, 2014) and the Handbook of Prejudice (Ed., Cambria Press, 2009).
Nicolas Bechter is a PhD student at the Department of Political Science at the University of Vienna and is currently working in a research project on "Antisemitism as a political strategy and the development of Democracy. The Case of the Austrian Parliament 1945-2008" Nico held a research fellowship at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and focuses his research on political theory, parliamentarianism, antisemitism and critical theory. Nico is also a member of the research group FIPU (http://www.fipu.at).
Lesley Klaff is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Sheffield Hallam University and is an affiliate professor of law at Haifa University. She is an associate editor for the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism and a member of the editorial advisory committee of the International Journal of the Social Research Foundation. She serves on the Academic Advisory Board of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights under Law and the Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism. She is also a member of UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI).
Philip Spencer is Emeritus Professor in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Kingston University and a Visiting Professor in Politics at Birkbeck, where he is also an Associate of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism. He is the author of Genocide since 1945 (Routledge 2102), of Nationalism: A Critical Introduction (Sage 2002), and of Nations and Nationalism (Edinburgh University Press, 2006) (both with Howard Wollman).
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|Author:||Stoegner, Karin; Bechter, Nicolas; Klaff, Lesley; Spencer, Philip|
|Publication:||Journal for the Study of Antisemitism|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2015|
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