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Anthropology cover girl

12 February, 2009

I am looking forward to reading Alfons’s posts; meanwhile, a PhD student at VU’s anthropology department, Erella Grassiani, has made it to the cover of the student newspaper, Advalvas.  I am not clear yet whether this paper is really edited by students, but at least it does discuss political controversies. In this instance, it is about Erella’s activism in opposing Israel’s intervention in Gaza. Erella, herself an  Israeli, recently completed her dissertation about Israeli soldiers who serve in the occupied territories, and recently was instrumental in setting up a group of Israelis in the Netherlands critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza. The cover story, entitled “”Erella Grassiani may not criticize”, is about the reaction of Dutch Jewish groups, which have rejected her initiative, even as they support “dialogues” with Arab intellectuals who are similarly critical of Israel’s policies. Erella’s position is quite mainstream within Dutch academia (or dare I say it, “among Dutch intellectuals”), and her conflict with Dutch Jewish organisations may well be due in part to the challenge this poses to the latter in their role as spokespeople for the Jews vis-a-vis the Dutch government. Yet what makes it a more complex issue is that (as I speculated in an earlier post) anti-semitism may be rising in Europe, and though the synergies between the current popularity of anti-Israeli political positions and antisemitic conspiracy theories should not be overstated, they cannot be ignored either.

In Hungary, the front lines are drawn in a strikingly different way. Leftish/liberal Hungarian press has been full of condemnations of a prominent leftist intellectual, Tamás Gáspár Miklós, who had condemned fellow intellectuals for their cowardice in not protesting against Israel’s invasion, and stated that this had nothing to do with one’s opinion of Hamas. Although among my colleagues here and probably in Australia this position would probably be quite mainstream, the responses, ranging from conservative-liberal philosopher Agnes Heller to committedly left-wing sociologist Vásárhelyi Mária, were furious. They insisted that it was not possible to ignore the context of Hamas, and indeed some of them bid TGM farewell, saying he had parted ways with them. By contrast, the Hungarian nationalist press, which often publishes antisemitic articles, cheered TGM, although he is one of its most implacable and vitriolic opponents.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. cover girl permalink
    15 February, 2009 2:18 am

    As a reaction to this post i can say that the issue with the Jewish organizations here in the Netherlands is that they are used to having a very strong position within the public debate on issues concerning israel. Whenever something happens concerning Israel: there is one address to go to and ask for comments. They have a very strong position when it comes to lobbying politicians and they know how to put pressure on the press. So when a Jew (not affiliated with these organizations) says something else and is critical they are not amused and tend to react in a harsh way. Even if they agree with some of the points made. CIDI especially is a strong lobby organization here, that says it’s “neutral” but is very close to the israeli embassy and will always defend Israel’s policies.

    Not sure how much of it has to do with anti-semitism though…it’s definatley overly used by the jewish community here. Agreed,there have been more incidents lately. But they can be better seen as reactions to the war in Gaza then “real’ hatred towards Jews as such in my opinion. This relation between israel’s policies and Jewish organizations abroad is of course emphasized by all parties: Israel, Jewish organizations and those who make anti-semitic remarks/actions.

  2. 16 February, 2009 8:16 am

    Thanks for your comments, cover girl! The issue of “real hatred” against Jews is, I think, more complex, though. One can argue that anti-semitism in a place like Hungary has very little to do with “real Jews,” insofar as a Jew by definition is someone who (in the speaker’s view) does not fit the definition of a true Hungarian and therefore must be Jewish. In the Netherlands, I believe this must be different. But I do wonder if this Jew-as-the-sublimated-other is not a figure present in some Arab discourses?…

  3. 16 January, 2010 12:19 pm

    If someone else, or TTD himself, reads the works of Agnes Heller after going thru a necessary cataracts surgery, will se clearly that she is far from any classification as “conservative-liberal”. Non-sense. Lukacs would find this comment on her quite amusing.

  4. 17 January, 2010 8:45 pm

    I am sure Lukacs would not recognise today’s Heller. That’s exactly the point of my post: that individuals starting from different ideological points, and currently inhabiting different parts of the political spectrum, all rejected Tamas’s stand. Heller’s views have changed considerably since the writings you are referring to. I am not sure whether she would agree with the “conservative-liberal” label herself, but the political position she occupies in Hungary today as a public intellectual can be described in this way.

  5. 18 January, 2010 12:51 am

    I can´t judge an intellectual for what she or he represents in light of domestic liturgical, doctrinarian, labelings. The fact of the matter is that Heller´s views are widely respected in Latin America (in excellent translations of her books to Portuguese and Spanish) for what they stand for: a powerful indiction of political conservatism and oligarchic powers. A great friend of mine and a Latin American public intellectual — Tamás Szmrecsányi, born in Hungary and recently deceased — can no longer help me to have access to, or translate from, the press, so that I could get familiar with “the political position she occupies in Hungary today”. So I´m afraid I wil continue respecting her and supporting her public, uncontroversial, image in the whole Latin-American continent. Many thanks.

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