The Norman Geras Reader

Norman Geras was a Zimbabwean born political thinker, a Marxist by belief, and a Jew by birth. A Professor Emeritus of Politics at Manchester University, he was a prime mover behind the Euston Manifesto.

I came across him late on in his life, courtesy of his blog. The posts there reflected not only his wide interests (including a love of cricket) but showcased the continually high quality of his writing. Generally, he was clear and to the point. And sometimes that point was the one on which he skewered antisemites with his razor sharp keyboard. For example, see here.

While my political beliefs are not those of the late Mr Geras, I admired his writing so much that I had to buy this selection of his output. Although I have read some before on his blog, it was good to refresh the experience. I don’t normally mention the non-fiction books I read, but I wanted to make this an exception. While there are some passages that only hard-boiled academics and Marxist thinkers will follow, there is an abundance of other, solid, thoughtful material. Geras’ death was a real loss. This reader is a good way to remember and honor him.

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Alibi

If you are interested, and I think you should be, Norman Geras has a quality, thoughtful, and well reasoned piece of writing at Fathom, called Alibi Antisemitism. Here are some extracts:

At the same time, that affinity has now been compromised by the existence of a new climate of antisemitic opinion within the left. This climate of opinion affects a section of the left only, and not the whole of it. But it is a substantial section. Its convenient alibi is the state of Israel – by which I mean that Israel is standardly invoked to deflect the charge that there is anything of antisemitism at work. Israel, so the story goes, is a delinquent state and, for many of those who regard it so, a non-legitimate one – colonialist, imperialist, vehicle of oppression and what have you. Similarly, diaspora Jews who defend Israel within their home countries are not seen as the conduit of Jewish interests and/or opinion in the normal way of any other democratic articulation; they are treated, rather, as a dubious force – the notorious ‘Jewish lobby’ – as if their organised existence were somehow improper.

To repeat: Israel has been made an alibi for a new climate of antisemitism on the left.

Later on, he says this:

And you do not have to go far to find either journalists or activists of the left similarly playing down anti-Semitic elements within the programmatic objectives of Hamas and Hezbollah: not just their commitment to getting rid of Israel; also openly Jew-hating statements, as for example in the Hamas Charter. This latter document cites ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ as authoritative and as establishing a Zionist ambition to dominate the world. It has Jews hiding behind rocks and trees against the threat (which it celebrates) that Jews will in due course be killed.

Leftists and liberals of a would-be pragmatist turn of mind can appear remarkably untroubled by this sort of thing. Either the offending contents of the Hamas Charter are consigned by them to a receding past, or they are said not to represent the thinking of a moderate section of Hamas willing to contemplate a long-term (though not unlimited) truce with Israel. It is never explained by such pragmatists why, if the anti-Jewish components of the document are a thing of the past, no longer relevant, of merely rhetorical status, they have not been, or cannot now be, amended away.

Read it all, here.

[First seen at Harry’s Place.]

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