A racist left-wing discourse is spreading in European university circles, a mixture of right-wing anti-Semitic propaganda with self-righteous post-colonial discourse.
By Daniel Monterescu
Every year confused students confess to me that they found my name on the Jewish S.H.I.T. List – a right-wing American list of 7,000 "Self-Hating and Israel-Threatening Jews." My name appears alongside a clumsy caricature, in which I am seen sharing a bed with Israeli pro-Palestinian activist Tali Fahima, in a very erotic situation. My inclusion on this list, along with many other Israeli scholars whose work reflects criticism of Israeli policy, has always aroused a snicker of "And he didn't even know he was one" – in light of the narrow-mindedness of American neo-conservative discourse, which believes in issuing blacklists sponsored by Campus Watch and the Masada 2000 project.
But this sense of absurdity turned to a sense of concern last week, when I participated in an academic conference in Turkey on the influence of the Arab Spring on Mediterranean countries. I organized a session together with a Swiss colleague who teaches at New York University, and it was attended by about 14 scholars from Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Egypt, Qatar, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Italy, France and England. On the first day there was a calm and fascinating discussion among scholars who only rarely have an opportunity to share the same platform – until the moment when the participants discovered that I am Israeli (a fact of which several of them were unaware because I teach at a European university).
During the second day a scholar from Oxford, who was supposed to participate in one of the sessions, disappeared mysteriously, while the participants from France and England began an unprecedented frontal attack against me on various subjects, none of which was related to my origin. The belligerent attack aroused various questions and reactions. While several of the participants dismissed it as no more than irrelevant, the Lebanese participant vehemently argued that it reflected typical European condescension, which wants to represent the Arab "native" better than he himself does, when it denies him the floor and pushes him to the margins of the discourse.
That same evening, red-eyed and after finishing a bottle of raki, the drunken French participant confessed to us that his criticism of me was unrelated to my work or my political views, nor to the academic boycott against Israel: "As far as we're concerned, even before you opened your mouth you were and will be a "sionard." The term, which I was hearing for the first time, is a French slang combination of Zionist ("sioniste") and idiot ("connard").
But more than the term attests to the fraught encounter among scholars from rival countries, it attests to the spread of a racist left-wing discourse in European university circles, a mixture of right-wing anti-Semitic propaganda with self-righteous post-colonial discourse. This became more apparent in light of the contradictions between the productive nature of the dialogue with the Arab interlocutors and the sterile nature of the debate with purist European radicals. And in fact, as a result of the conference the Turkish and Lebanese participants (the latter were placing themselves at significant risk) initiated, along with me and my Swiss colleague, the composition of a first-of-its-kind manifesto, proposing a framework for analyzing the battles being fought in the Middle East over the image of society at this historic junction.
In the middle, between accusations of self-hatred on the one hand and camouflaged anti-Semitism on the other, this experience demonstrates that Israeli critical discourse must formulate political alliances and a theoretical language that can conduct a dialogue – not with the representatives of European enlightenment, but with the progressive discourse in the Arab and Muslim world which, like us, is trying to redefine its basic concepts in the post-Arab Spring era.
Dr. Monterescu is a lecturer in the department of sociology and anthropology at the Central European University in Budapest.