Noel Ignatiev's Blog

Liberal Citizenship or “Jewish Identity”?

Letter from Harry Clark

Friends of Palestine may be interested in my article “Liberal
Citizenship, not ‘Jewish Identity,'” which discusses David Landy’s
book Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights and the issues it
raises. Landy’s book is an erudite critique of identity politics,
focused on the UK. He is very acute about identity politics, but
partly because his focus is the UK, he doesn’t fully grasp his
subject, whose apotheosis is in the United States. I discuss his book and add
some ideas to his argument. I then apply it to the US, with special
attention to the “doxa and illusio” of the left “Jewish field” in the
US, to use Landy’s terms. Examples are the “strategic asset” and
“anti-occupation” orthodoxies, which serve to conceal Zionism and
Jewish agency in the United States.

I note that a group of older, mostly non-American Jewish writers were
more critical and substantive than the US Jewish left. These were
Elmer Berger, Isaac Deutscher, Maxime Rodinson, Israel Shahak, and the
Israeli Matzpen. Their critiques were explicitly grounded in one form
or another of universalism—classical Reform Judaism, Marxist
internationalism, or what the late Israel Shahak called “the modern,
secular Jewish tradition” which he dated from Spinoza. They all
expressly rejected Zionism as pre-modern, reactionary atavism.

I discuss Zionism’s central role in the world-historical catastrophe
of U.S. Middle East policy. I argue that the failure of the U.S. Jewish
left to develop a universalist, expressly anti-Zionist critique is a
“treason of the intellectuals” comparable to that described by Julian
Benda in his 1927 book on the climate preceding WW I. This failure has
crippled Palestine politics in the US, prevented something as
elementary as a national demonstration against the annual AIPAC
meeting, until quite recently. Comprehending this failure is the test
of any critique of Jewish identity politics, and Landy’s UK focus
makes his book interesting, but not definitive.

This is 8000 words, the merest outline for the menu, but adequate as
far as it goes I think.

FYI, the publisher’s page for Landy’s book is

Back to Noel Ignatiev’s Author Page