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Book Review: ‘Good Jew Bad Jew’ unties weaponization of anti-Semitism, its politics

'Good Jew, Bad Jew' is a book by one of South Africa's foremost political theorists on anti-Semitism and Zionism.

By Iqbal Jassat 

Is there any entity in the world that openly and crudely defies the collective West and despite it continues to enjoy the status of an ally?

None, except Israel, claims Steven Friedman, a South African academic, columnist, activist, former trade unionist and journalist who has come up with a new book.

In his brilliantly detailed book ‘Good Jew Bad Jew - Racism, Anti-Semitism and the Assault on Meaning’, Friedman skillfully unpacks reasons why no other entity would be able to perpetrate serial rights abuses and still enjoy the uncritical support of all Western powers.

Published in South Africa by Wits University Press, the book's subtitle ‘Racism, Anti-Semitism and the Assault on Meaning’ provides an insight into a range of compelling topics. 

From the introduction to eight challenging chapters to the conclusion, the author has packaged one of the most significant contributions to contemporary debates on Zionism and the "New Anti-Semitism". 

The wide angle used by Friedman has been extremely crucial to get to the crux of the book which examines the impact of the Israeli regime's influence on Jews and Jewish identity. 

An interesting dimension he questions is why a wedge has been driven into discussions of anti-Jewish racism and of racism against "black, brown, and yellow" people. 

The explanation the author provides for this is a fascinating yet accurate reflection of the manipulation by the Israeli regime and its supporters, who he claims "have converted 'anti-Semitism' from a description of anti-Jewish racism to a weapon against their critics, many of whom happen to be Jews who believe that the state's attitudes and practices are racist". 

Book: Good Jew, Bad Jew. Racism, anti-Semitism and the assault on meaning
Author: Steven Friedman 
Publisher: Wits University Press, South Africa

On the issue of ‘Good Jew Bad Jew’, which forms a recurring theme of the book, Friedman delves extensively into Jewish identity within the complexity of being both an ethnic group and a religion. 

He writes that the use of anti-Semitism to browbeat Israeli regime opponents is part of a larger reality.

Those who do this "seek to change the nature of Jewish identity by distinguishing between 'real' Jews and the rest". And that some may find themselves accused of being anti-Semites. 

In effect then, only Jews who attach their identity to the Israeli regime are "good" and those who refuse to do that are labeled "bad". 

Friedman’s analysis of current trends based on a number of examples shows that the term "anti-Semitism" has become detached from its moorings. 

His research on this emotional and at times explosive subject is outlined in a way that anti-Semitism no longer means racism directed at Jews. 

It means holding left-wing or egalitarian opinions, which often seems to include being opposed to the white supremacy of which anti-Semitism was once a part, he explains. 

Not surprisingly, he traces the roots of the "New anti-Semitism" to the Israeli regime in general and the ascendancy of the Israeli right wing in particular. 

If Zionism as the ideology that underpinned a territory for Jews in historic Palestine was claimed to be an antidote to anti-Semitism, it has failed. Friedman argues that such hopes were misplaced. 

He writes that Zionism's understanding of itself was the claim that it was the vehicle for all Jews, not merely those Jews who supported the idea of a so-called “Jewish state.”

Hence to reject the idea of the “state” - or even to criticize what it did - was to show hostility to the Jews, even if you happened to be Jewish, Friedman contends.

The example he cites of journalist and commentator Leon Wieseltier, known as a vocal supporter of Israel, being accused of being anti-Semitic by a senior editor of a right-wing American journal, demonstrates the absurdity of "new anti-Semitism". 

"Just as branding Palestinian resistance as a form of Nazism buttresses the Israeli state, so does the claim that Jews who live outside it are constantly under threat because only the state can save Jews from a world filled with people who hate them", writes Friedman. 

In subjecting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism to scrutiny, Friedman dismisses it as inaccurate. 

To illustrate how ridiculous it is, he writes that if the IHRA clause denying that a particular entity is a racist endeavor was applied to South Africa, it would have declared the struggle against apartheid a racist, anti-white movement. 

The depth of research undertaken by the author on the themes he delves into is evident in various chapters of the book. A fascinating study; is necessary in the current context of widespread global outrage against the Israeli regime’s horrific genocidal war against Palestinians in Gaza. 

Friedman graciously acknowledges that the book's title is inspired by Mahmood Mamdani's ‘Good Muslim Bad Muslim.’ 

Though written more than two decades ago in the shadow of the events of 11 September 2001, and admittedly as Friedman points out, covered very different ground, it does place the spotlight on the discussion of Jewish identity in ‘Good Jew Bad Jew.’ 

Friedman deserves accolades for producing a fresh yet timeless study of a critical subject. He has sought to untangle the weaponization of anti-Semitism and the politics behind it. His book is not only a testament to that, but also a valuable addition to the study of Zionism. 

Iqbal Jassat is an executive member of Media Review Network, Johannesburg, South Africa.

(The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Press TV)

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