Antisemitism in centre-left parties in western Europe

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the British Labour Party provoked a crisis in the party, which goes beyond a simple leadership contest. The party has several feuding factions, and might split up in the near future. In this crisis, antisemitism in the party became a major issue. It is prominently covered in the British media, which see it as a hallmark of Corbyn supporters. In reality, it’s about much more than Corbyn: this is a European issue. Political and social changes have confronted centre-left and social-democratic parties with antisemitism, which they thought had disappeared form inside their parties. At the same time, Europe’s Jewish minorities have abandoned their traditional political orientation, in which social-democratic parties played a major role.

The previous post defended the legitimacy of left antisemitism and considered the political values of Jews in Europe. This post will look at the position of Jews within the centre-left and social-democratic parties in western Europe. The issues are unavoidably related, because Jewish disillusion with political parties reflects their disillusion with European societies in general: see the longer post on the new Jewish question in western Europe.

It is perhaps irritating if you just read the previous post, but I must repeat the disclaimer on the definition of Jews. In this post, ‘Jew’ and ‘Jewish’ refer to individuals who define themselves as Jewish, and who consider themselves to belong to the Jewish people. The terms exclude those who might have some Jewish ancestors, but do not regard themselves as Jewish, and do not identify as members of any Jewish collectivity. They do not refer to the category of adherents of Judaism as a religion, although obviously there will be some overlap between categories. Another necessary disclaimer: this post is written from a western European perspective, and for legal reasons, any proposals are intended to apply solely inside the European Union.

The background to the tensions

Centre-left and social-democratic parties in western Europe traditionally have Jewish members, some of them prominent in the history of these parties. Most of these parties are affiliated to the Party of European Socialists, PES, although not all use the name ‘socialist’.

While it was never true that all Jews were left-wing, Jewish minorities often avoided right-wing parties due to pervasive antisemitism. Some national-conservative parties were extremely antisemitic, and in fact the more nationalist a party was, the more antisemitic it was likely to be. In western Europe, such parties modified their open antisemitism after the Second World War, but the centre-left and social-democratic parties were still seen as more welcoming to Jews. Jews also voted disproportionally for these parties, although in most cases the Jewish minority was too small to influence electoral outcomes.

In the last few decades, there has been a fundamental realignment of these traditional political loyalties. The twin triggers were the mass immigration of Muslims, and the emergence of a specific left antisemitism related to the Israel – Palestine conflict. The Muslim immigrants brought with them antisemitic attitudes and beliefs which are standard in their countries of origin. This is an essentially religious antisemitism, originating in real or imagined conflicts with Jews, in the early period of Islam.

Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.
Sahih Muslim, Book 041, Number 6985.

The second and third generation migrant communities, better educated and familiar with western European norms, have abandoned regular expression of such views, but often retain antisemitic attitudes. When these younger Muslims joined political parties, mainly the centre-left and social-democratic parties, they came into conflict with Jewish members.

Left antisemitism in Europe has grown slowly since the 1960’s, as European societies abandoned the once common sympathy for Israel. Originally confined to smaller leftist groups, it eventually reached the established centre-left and social-democratic parties.

The tensions in parties reflect the tensions in wider society. Jews in western Europe feel increasingly isolated, threatened, and fearful of the future. That has driven a fundamental realignment: Jews are turning increasingly to anti-Islamic, nationalist, xenophobic-populist parties, as the best representative of their interests as a community. At the same time, the right is abandoning anti-semitism, as it perceives Islam to be the essential threat to Europe, and to the individual nations. (The emphatically pro-Israel and rigorously anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders, is the best example of the transition). These twin processes are more advanced in some countries, than in others.

The tensions within centre-left and social-democratic parties are an indicator of this process, and a precursor of the inevitable break between Europe’s Jews and those parties. In perhaps 5-10 years, these parties will have no self-identified Jewish members, and that will be seen as normal and logical.

Parties such as the UK Labour Party have not reached that stage yet. The party still has Jewish members, and there are still supporters of Israel in the party. Unlike most of its sister parties in the PES, the UK Labour party recently adopted a policy of cheap and easy membership, which was promoted online. Predictably, for anyone familiar with social media, that attracted new members who are more overtly antisemitic than the university-educated party elite, and more sympathetic to conspiracy theories. Although the party is now monitoring their social media accounts and expelling these people, the episode had a lasting impact on the climate in the party, and led many Jewish members to question the logic of their membership.

The ethics of the membership transition

Media commentary on this issue typically deplores the loss of the traditional Jewish membership, in the centre-left parties. That judgement is primarily based on nostalgia. Europe has changed, and we must assess the ethics of party membership in terms of the current situation, and current trends. Is it a bad thing that Jews leave western Europe’s centre-left and social-democratic parties? The answer depends on who is affected, and inevitably a political party has an impact on non-members, certainly if it is in government.

There is however, no point in trying to specify the membership of political parties. By their nature, parties originally represented the views of one group, and not another. Although there has been substantial political convergence in western Europe, resulting in the emergence of a single political class with near-identical value and attitudes, that does not mean that there ought to be a single party for that political class. (It means instead, that the party system is obsolete). The logic of political parties implies that each party sets its own programme, and recruits on that basis.

So the idea here is not to say who ought to be a member of the UK Labour Party, or any other centre-left / social-democratic party. It is to look at the impact of its membership structure on others, on people who may not even live in the countries concerned. Specifically, what is the impact of a significant Jewish membership, in times of tensions caused by Islamic and left antisemitism?

True, there are many other identifiable groups inside political parties, with significant impact on those parties. The Oxbridge graduates in Britain, the École Normale graduates in France, the 1968 generation in Germany, small business owners, the traditionalist Catholics, they all make identifiable impacts on political parties, and thus on state policy in multi-party democracies.

Mostly their impact is negative, and others suffer as a result. It is legitimate to say that, and it is legitimate to ask if the Jewish members of centre-left and social-democratic parties in western Europe, have a similar negative impact.

Jewish membership

Within a centre-left and social-democratic party in western Europe, we can assume certain statistical preferences among Jewish members, again with the proviso that this means self-identified Jews.

In such a party…

  • Jewish members are more likely than non-Jewish members, to oppose mass settlement of refugees from muslim-majority countries;
  • Jewish members are more likely than non-Jewish members, to support vetting of refugees for antisemitism, and therefore a general policy of ideologically vetting refugees and/or migrants;
  • Jewish members are more likely than non-Jewish members, to support more restrictive citizenship criteria;
  • Jewish members are more likely than non-Jewish members, to support a requirement that migrants espouse western values;
  • for any given critical proposition on Israel, Jewish members are more likely than non-Jewish members, to say it is antisemitic;
  • Jewish members are more likely than non-Jewish members, to demand the expulsion of another member for antisemitism;
  • Jewish members are more likely than non-Jewish members, to demand that their party reject left antisemitism, in addition to classical or historical antisemitism;
  • Jewish members are more likely than non-Jewish members, to believe that a claim to social justice is invalidated if made by an anti-semite, or on behalf of anti-semites, or if it is accompanied by anti-semitic rhetoric;
  • Jewish members are more likely than non-Jewish members, to accept social and economic inequalities, if the disadvantaged individuals are all, or predominantly, antisemitic;
  • Jewish members are more likely than non-Jewish members, to find harm to an anti-semite morally acceptable;
  • Jewish members are more likely than non-Jewish members, to sympathise with violence or threats against antisemitic Muslims, by non-Jewish right wing activists;
  • Jewish members are more likely than non-Jewish members, to find that antisemitic Muslims and left antisemites do not deserve police protection, if they are threatened;
  • Jewish members are more likely than non-Jewish members, to oppose the banning of those right-wing anti-Islam movements, which are non-Jewish but do oppose Islamic antisemitism.

So if a centre-left or social-democratic party has a significant Jewish membership, that will tend to shift the party to the right on several issues, even if some individual Jewish members oppose such a shift. The party will be less welcoming to migrants and refugees, more likely to support repressive assimilation policies, and less likely to campaign for social justice (although most PES affiliates stopped doing that long ago). The internal climate within the party will inhibit discussion on antisemitism and Israel, and members will think twice about commenting on such issues. It would be more likely that party members views on such issues will be policed by third parties, and that members risk harassment.

What to do?

As indicated already, it is pointless for outsiders to specify the membership and policies of political parties. They set their own membership norms, and write their own manifestos. That said, a centre-left party such as the UK Labour Party could mitigate negative impact on outsiders, by a policy of transparency. It could formally recognise that there is a conflict between Jews and Muslims with antisemitic religious beliefs, and equally between Jews and left antisemites. It could acknowledge the resulting tensions in the party, and the near-impossibility of resolution.

The party could also publicly recognise that Muslim migration to Europe has meant that there are more individuals with antisemitic attitudes. In theory the party could also recognise left antisemitism, as defined in the previous post, as legitimate. In practice, there is no prospect of any mainstream party doing that.

Finally, all political parties in Europe would do well to abandon the idea that governments can make antisemitism disappear, and that all will be well, that no Jews will live in fear of violence, that the synagogues and Jewish schools can remove the blast-resistant glass and the surveillance cameras, and that everyone will live happily and harmoniously. That is not going to happen, and political parties should not feed the illusion that there is a magic formula to create this Europe. Antisemitism will continue to be a feature of Europe, in the short and medium term, and governments should proceed on that basis. That requires that the political parties accept this inevitability, and preferably cease to issue pointless condemnations of things which they cannot alter.

What is left antisemitism?

This post defends the legitimacy of left antisemitism. It starts with a disclaimer on terminology, and then considers the general grounds for the legitimacy of antisemitism. It then defines and explains modern antisemitism, and specifically left antisemitism, by starting with the values and beliefs of Jews themselves. A separate post considers anti-semitism in centre-left parties in western Europe. The post was inspired by continuing controversy in the UK Labour Party on antisemitism, and relates to an earlier post on the new ‘Jewish question’ in Europe.

The post is written from a western European perspective, and for legal reasons, any proposals are intended to apply solely inside the European Union.

First, a disclaimer about the definition of Jews. In this post, ‘Jew’ and ‘Jewish’ refer to individuals who define themselves as Jewish, and who consider themselves to belong to the Jewish people. In most cases, those individuals have some Jewish ancestry, but then millions of people in Europe have some Jewish ancestors. Here the terms ‘Jew’ and ‘Jewish’ exclude those who do not regard themselves as Jewish, and do not identify as members of any Jewish collectivity. Here the terms ‘Jew’ and ‘Jewish’ do not refer to the category of adherents of Judaism as a religion, although obviously some individuals will fall in both categories. More loosely put, this post is about ‘ethnic Jews’ who self-identify as Jews, regardless of their religion (if any). That category is politically the most relevant, because those who self-identify as Jewish, are the most likely to adopt a political position relevant to that identity.

The general legitimacy of antisemitism

Antisemitism is generally regarded as inherently wrong. The terms ‘antisemitism’ and ‘antisemitic’ were first used in the late 19th century, as a self-description by German right-wing groups. The terms were still used in a self-descriptive sense in Nazi Germany, but after 1945 they became negative, pejorative terms.

With this background, antisemitism is typically regarded as socially, morally, and politically illegitimate. It is used as a standard to judge political propositions: if a proposition is antisemitic, then it is considered wrong or illegitimate. Nevertheless, in the light of changed historical circumstances, that condemnatory position is no longer tenable. Antisemitism is now legitimate, or at least not illegitimate, for three related reasons.

First, the definition of antisemitism has broadened in the last decades. There is no official worldwide definition that everyone accepts: instead, there is a constantly shifting envelope of well-used definitions. Many are related to the State of Israel, rather than to Jews as an ethnic, religious, or cultural minority.

Two examples of recent definitional shifts are the so-called EUMC definition of antisemitism, and the ‘3D’ definition promoted by the Israeli government. The EUMC was the ‘European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’, which was later absorbed into the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA). The European Union never in fact adopted an official definition of antisemitism, but the EUMC did circulate a ‘working definition’. Without any official decision on a formal version, it later simply disappeared from their website. Antisemitism in that EUMC definition includes:

Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

Under this definition, anti-nationalism is antisemitic. It also contains several embedded premises, for instance that the State of Israel is a democratic nation, and that the Jewish people have a ‘right to self-determination’. (Peoples do not have such a right in international law). The EUMC working definition also implies that “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” is equivalent to “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination”.

The 3D test of antisemitism, which was presented in 2004 by ex-Knesset member Natan Sharansky, refers to demonisation and delegitimisation of Israel, and double standards as applied to Israel. Sharansky gave few examples, but he says that delegitimisation occurs “when Israel’s fundamental right to exist is denied”. Again this contains an implied premise, namely that Israel has a right to exist. (Individual states do not, in fact, have existence rights).

Both the EUMC and 3D definitions go well beyond traditional definitions of antisemitism as ‘prejudice against Jews’, and as pseudo-religious myths about Jews (sacrifice of Christian children).

Many other definitions of antisemitism now circulate. Over time, the definition continually widens, but never narrows to more stringent criteria. In other words, the definition is subject to continuous inflation. So, inevitably, the definition expands to include positions or values, which are in themselves legitimate. In this way antisemitism becomes legitimate, in the sense of not being illegitimate. A dog is not a bird, but if we expand the category ‘dogs’ to include ducks, then it is no longer correct to say that dogs are not birds. If that which is legitimate is placed in the category ‘antisemitism’, then we cannot say that antisemitism is not legitimate.

The second ground for the general legitimacy of antisemitism is the fact that modern antisemitism is no longer a ‘prejudice’. Classic prejudice is the attribution of negative characteristics to members of a group, on the basis of false assumptions about the group. Modern antisemitism typically consists of the negation, rejection, or denial, of certain beliefs, values and political positions, held by all or most Jews. Antisemitism therefore includes any other belief, value or political position, which is objectively in opposition to them. The details of those positions are explained in the next section, but the relevant point is that antisemitism can originate in political difference, or divergent values, or simple moral disagreement. It does not necessarily involve malice, and it does not require a conscious decision to be antisemitic. An individual can be antisemitic without even knowing that Jews exist, for instance if that individual rejects the right of nations and peoples to self-determination. The antisemitism of such a denial or rejection, does not make it wrong or illegitimate. A belief, value or political position cannot become a moral norm, simply by reason of being adopted by most Jews, or even by all Jews.

The third ground for the general legitimacy of antisemitism is, that increasingly, antisemitism is defined by Jews themselves, rather than by third parties such as academics. Certainly, only Jews can say, when they themselves experience antisemitism. This is now generally true for racism in all forms: racism is there, when people experience racism.

In the 19th century, the term ‘racism’ was used by scholars, to denote the theories of other scholars. Racism today is simply what some see as racism. That drives an increasing polarisation on the issue, which is evident on social media. Many African-Americans find it offensive, for instance, when white women wear dreads, and they see this as racism, specifically as racist cultural appropriation. You don’t have to be an academic to complain about this, and you don’t need to hold any specific theory about differences among races. Racism often refers to something which causes offence or outrage, and this is also true for antisemitism (which many see as a form of racism anyway). The attribution of antisemitism by Jews is in practice both subjective and expressive, since it is intended as a negative qualification. “That is antisemitic” means “that is wrong”, or “that offends me”, or “that should not happen”, or “I disapprove of that”.

This too has consequences for the legitimacy of antisemitism. If Jews experience a legitimate position, or value, or act as antisemitic, it cannot lose legitimacy on that ground alone. Their experience of antisemitism is authentic, but inevitably subjective – no matter how deep the emotions. Legitimacy must be assessed on other, objective, grounds.

In practice, these three factors cannot usually be separated. Typically, controversies on modern antisemitism start with a proposition which most Jews subscribe to, for instance that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state. That proposition is rejected by others, and that rejection can be rationally considered as objectively antisemitic. It would be classified as antisemitism under the EUMC working definition. Most Jews would also experience that rejection as overt hostility to Jews, or at least as motivated by hostility to Jews. They take offence, they are distressed, they are perhaps frightened of the consequences, and they label the rejection ‘antisemitic’. These emotions are genuine and valid, but inevitably subjective. None of this tells us whether Israel does in fact have the right to exist, whether the claimed right is legitimate, or whether its rejection is legitimate.

Arguing about the correct definition of antisemitism is therefore pointless. There is no correct definition. What is at issue is simply whether certain values and ideals and propositions are right or wrong, legitimate or illlegitimate. That judgement does not require their categorisation as antisemitic: they can, and should, be judged separately. So we don’t need to ask: “Is that antisemitic?”. We simply need to ask: “Is that right?”

What exactly is modern antisemitism?

I will now look at modern antisemitism in more detail. The starting point is the relevant beliefs of Jews – those which are held by all Jews, and those held by most or many Jews. Obviously no-one can poll every single Jew on what they think, but remember that ‘Jew’ is defined here, as a self-identified member of the Jewish people. On the basis of that conscious self-identification, reasonable assumptions are possible, about the beliefs of these individuals.

The first is that all Jews have an existence preference for Jews, and for the Jewish people. They think that there should be Jews, and they think that there should be a Jewish people, with the implication that its members have at least some shared culture. Note that an existence preference is not the same as an existence right.

If you ask Jews directly about whether they prefer the existence of Jews, the question might seem vague or pointless. However, if you put it negatively, then everyone will understand: would Jews find it acceptable, if Jews and the Jewish people ceased to exist? Their answer is ‘no, that would be unacceptable and wrong’. We can assume this answer, from those who self-identify as a Jew, because it would not be rational for someone who thinks Jews should disappear, to positively self-identify as a Jew.

There are scenarios that illustrate the question. Suppose that all Jews, for some reason, decide voluntarily to have no children. The present generation would be the last generation, and in time the last Jew will die, and there will be no more Jews. Even if no coercion or violence is involved, and the decision is freely taken, all Jews will see that outcome as a bad thing. That is a hypothetical scenario, but disappearance by assimilation is not. We can imply a general existence preference among Jews, from negative Jewish attitudes to total assimilation, which some consider to be a real threat in the medium to long term (several generations, or perhaps several centuries).

Closely related to the existence preference is the idea that the Jewish people has an intrinsic value, which is more than, or separate from, the value of the individual humans who are its members. Logically, such an intrinsic value could justify the existence preference. If an entity has intrinsic value, then, assuming there are no negative consequences, its existence is preferable to its non-existence. In practice most Jews don’t formally reason in this way: they simply attribute value to the Jewish people in itself. Usually, they also attribute value to Jewish culture and traditions.

Another closely related universal Jewish belief can be described as beneficial presence. That refers to the belief, that the Jewish people makes a positive contribution to this planet, and that the disappearance of the Jewish people would be a general loss for humanity. The assumption of beneficial presence applies to the past, the present, and the future. When it applies to the past, it is accompanied by a belief in specific Jewish contributions or achievements. All Jews believe that the Jewish people has at some time acted, or brought entities into being, to the benefit of others.

In other words, Jews do not believe that the presence of the Jews is beneficial solely to Jews. They do not believe, that the Jewish contribution to human history is limited, to simply sitting still and being admirable. They believe that Jews have done good things. Now in practice, most of the assumed Jewish contribution is simply the contribution of individuals, and presumably they could have done the same thing, if they were not Jewish. There are however identifiable contributions to human culture, which can be credited collectively to Jews, such as Jewish literature rooted in Jewish community life.

Assuming an existence preference, beneficial presence, and intrinsic value, we can derive a moral obligation to have a positive attitude to the Jewish people. Again, however, apart from a few academics, this is not how individual Jews would reason. They would simply see it a general obligation on non-Jews, to have an inherently positive judgement of the Jewish people. The reason that we don’t hear Jews say this very often, is because this universal Jewish belief is formulated in the negative: all Jews think that antisemitism is wrong. And they do say that, repeatedly.

The belief that non-Jews are morally obliged to have a positive attitude to the Jewish people as a whole, is implicit in the overwhelming moral rejection of antisemitism among Jews. Jews don’t simply disagree with antisemitic views, they think they are inherently wrong, and that it is morally wrong to hold them. All Jews think that an informed anti-semite – one who is not antisemitic purely out of ignorance – is a bad person.

There is a further Jewish assumption about the obligations of non-Jews, which is related to the existence preference, and to the belief in beneficial presence and intrinsic value. That is the idea that non-Jews are obliged to at least facilitate the existence and survival of the Jewish people, above and beyond obligations to individual members. This is not about the rescue of individual Jews from persecution, which is usually seen as a moral obligation to fellow human beings. Instead, it is about the rest of the world providing the conditions in which the Jewish people can exist, and continue to exist. That is rarely formulated so explicitly, but we can see it in the background, when the obligations of non-Jewish states toward Israel are discussed.

Anti-nationalism = racism

When these beliefs are stated formally, their similarity to nationalist ideology is apparent. You could say that there is a nationalist structure to them, even though some precede the emergence of a formal nationalist ideology, in the 19th century. That is because such beliefs and attitude are to some extent inherent in all ethnic groups, and especially in those which defined themselves as nations during the 19th and 20th century. Danes and Poles also feel that their nation should exist. They too see their nation as possessing intrinsic value, they think that their nation has contributed to the common good of humanity, and they too think that others are obliged to facilitate the continued existence of the nation, certainly by conceding its claims to sovereign territory.

Ethnic groups are always aware, that they contrast with other differing ethnic groups. They always have a name for themselves, and a name for the others. Certainly when they begin to make political claims as a group, it is inevitable that they develop a sense of their own value, and a sense of entitlement. It does not matter, whether such ideas are first formulated by an elite, or by the state – if the national identity is accepted, then the rest will follow. 19th-century nationalism listed and codified the political claims, which logically follow from the idea of a nation.

This perspective makes it easier to understand what modern anti-semitism is about. Modern antisemitism, for a large part, is the negation, rejection, or denial, of the universal Jewish beliefs and values which are listed above, and the derived political claims. That denial and rejection is exactly equivalent to the denial of the equivalent beliefs, values and positions concerning other nations. A person who rejects the existence preference of the Danes, denies the intrinsic value of the Danish people, and denies their beneficial presence on this planet, is anti-Danish. All self-identified Danes will think that such a person is wrong, and also a bad person. There is no specific word in English for anti-Danish attitudes, so their views would generally be called ‘racism’. Many Danes would be offended by those views, and would subjectively feel that such racism is directed at them personally.

Anti-nationalism does indeed deny the intrinsic value of the Danish people, it denies their beneficial presence on this planet, and it is anti-Danish by definition, since the Danes are a nation. Anti-nationalism is also anti-Polish, anti-Swedish, anti-Irish, anti-Portugese, anti-Thai, and so on. Anti-nationalism is therefore inherently racist: it is a racism directed at the members of all nations. Modern antisemitism can be considered a subset of this racist anti-nationalism. Modern antisemitism promotes beliefs, values and political positions, which are objectively in opposition to the listed beliefs and values of the Jewish people.

Some on the left may find it disturbing, to see the term ‘racism’ used in this way. Nevertheless, as with the term antisemitism, we must recognise that ‘racism’ has lost its 19th century meaning. ‘Racism’ is subject to the same definitional inflation as ‘antisemitism’. The left can indeed be racist, and certainly the left is racist when it opposes nationalism – though that opposition is not as common as the right seems to think.

The anti-nationalist position on the Jewish people is that the Jewish people, like all other nations and peoples, is historically contingent. Its existence was not inevitable, and there could have been a world in which Jews never existed. There was a time before there were Jews, and there can be a time after Jews, a future in which the Jewish people has ceased to exist.

This contingency implies that the Jewish people has made no specific contribution to human life, society and culture. In the case of the achievements of individual Jews, then, assuming the same global population, there would have been non-Jewish individuals who made an equivalent contribution. In the case of collective contributions, such as Jewish literature inspired by Jewish life, then in the absence of the Jewish people there would have been some other ethnic group, nation, or people, with an equivalent cultural contribution. If there had been no Jews, no-one would have missed them, because no-one would know what they had been missing.

Again this is true of all peoples. Irish people might be offended if told that Irish authors had made no specific contribution to world literature, but in fact non-Irish people would have written novels and poetry, in the absence of Irish authors. They would not be identical, because every nation’s literature is unique, but we can not prove they would be worse. The fact that a national culture is unique, does not prove it is better than another, or that it ought to exist, or that its existence takes priority over another national culture, or over non-national cultures. Even if there was a moral obligation to maximise unique cultures, that would still not justify a preference for national over non-national cultures, which they would displace. It would not create an existence preference for any specific national culture. And indeed, given a finite global population, a culture-maximisation principle would imply a minimal population for each nation or people, so that most existing nations and peoples would be broken up anyway.

In terms of their impact, the Jewish people has no beneficial presence. No nation or people is beneficial to the planet as whole. They are all trans-generational, and seek to transmit their ancient culture to future generations, which is inherently contra-innovative. They have repeatedly engaged in mutual conflict, even before the period of modern nation-states. And obviously, their existence is a root cause of the emergence of nation-states themselves, which are conservative, internally repressive, and prone to unjustified conflict with other nation-states.

This planet would clearly have been better off, in the absence of nations and peoples. The Jewish people is in no way exempt, from this negative judgement on its existence.

For these reasons, there can be no intrinsic value in any nation or people, certainly not in the sense of justifying their continued existence. There can be no existence preference for any specific nation or people, let alone an ‘existence right’. A planet without nations and peoples, is not a loss. It is not perhaps a guarantee of progress to something better, but it is not a loss.

These considerations may seem very abstruse, but if you look carefully, you can see them implicitly quoted as underlying moral justifications for the existence of the State of Israel. These are real-world issues.

The derived political demands include, for instance, a demand that the Jewish people should exist, because it has intrinsic value. From that follows a claim that the world should be so arranged, that the existence of the Jewish people is maintained. So then there must be a Jewish state, and the global geopolitical order must be so arranged, as to maintain its existence. This type of political demand, could be derived from a moral obligation on non-Jewish societies and states, to maintain the existence of a Jewish people.

That language ought to be more recognisable. Israeli politicians, ambassadors, and government spokesmen do say things like that. So even if you have not heard these propositions before, they are recognisable as logical claims by the State of Israel and its supporters. I will now look at the more overt political claims about Israel, to explain the specific nature of left antisemitism.

What is left antisemitism in Europe?

Left antisemitism in Europe is the negation, rejection, or denial, of certain beliefs, values and political positions held by a majority of Jews, although not all Jews, in both Europe and Israel. These are…

  1. Jews are a people. Specifically, they are not solely adherents of a universal religion.
  2. For the purposes of state formation, the Jewish people is a nation, equivalent to other nations.
  3. The Jewish people has a right to exist, which is unlimited in time.
  4. The Jewish people has a national homeland, just like other nations.
  5. The ancient national homeland of the Jews is located in the Land of Israel, which coincides wholly or partly with former British Mandate Palestine, and definitely includes the city of Jerusalem.
  6. The Jewish people has a right to form a sovereign nation-state, on all or part of this ancient national homeland, to serve as a modern national homeland for the Jewish people.
  7. The Jewish people has a legitimate claim to territory, for the purpose of forming and maintaining a Jewish nation-state.
  8. In keeping with its function as national homeland for the Jewish people, this state must have a Jewish character.
  9. The Jewish nation-state also has a right to exist, which is unlimited in time.

These are standard political geopolitical claims of nationalist ideologies. Nevertheless, not all were historically supported by Jews in Europe. The idea that the ‘Jewish people’ is a nation comparable to, for instance, Poles, Czechs, and Hungarians, was first widely promoted in the 19th century. It stood in explicit opposition to other visions of the status of the Jews, and in opposition to assimilationism. The claim to a sovereign Jewish nation-state, to be populated by migration from Europe, initially had little support among Europe’s Jews.

Since the formation of the State of Israel in 1948, however, almost all Jews in Europe are emotionally and rationally committed to these principles. In Israel itself, they are part of a state ideology, and pervasively promoted, from primary school onwards. We can’t blame it on Israeli indoctrination, however. Jews in Europe have no direct contact with that climate, but nevertheless the fundamental legitimacy of the State of Israel is almost undisputed among them.

Now, even if almost all Jews believe in the Jewish people’s right to a sovereign national homeland, and hold its denial to be antisemitic, it remains legitimate to deny that claim. It is in essence a political claim, without moral status. The denial is both objectively antisemitic, but at the same time legitimate.

The implicit programme of left antisemitism can be formulated like this:

  • Nations and peoples do not have existence rights, therefore the Jewish people has no existence rights.
  • There is no moral necessity for the existence of ethnic groups, peoples and/or nations, or for the existence of any specific nation or people. Individuals may prefer these things, but that is purely a private preference.
  • There is no moral obligation on non-Jews to facilitate the existence of the Jewish people, or any other nation or people.
  • There is no moral obligation on non-Jews, to adopt a positive attitude to the Jewish people, or to form a positive judgement of that group, or any other nation or people.
  • The Jewish people is a nation for the purposes of state formation, but that confers no right to form a nation-state, or to claim territory for that purpose.
  • Like other nations, the Jewish people has a national homeland, known to them as the Land of Israel, but that confers no valid claim to territory, either there or elsewhere.
  • Specifically the Jewish people has no right, nor any valid claim, to the creation of a Jewish state in Israel or elsewhere, even if that state does in fact serve as a national homeland for the Jewish people.
  • The existing Jewish state, the State of Israel, has no right to exist, and has no valid claim to its continued existence.
  • There is no moral obligation on other states, or on any private individual, to facilitate the existence of a Jewish state, or any other nation-state.
  • There is no moral obligation to arrange the global geopolitical order, in such as way that Israel’s continued existence is maintained. Specifically there is no obligation for other states, to act in defence of its existence.

Jews in Europe

Closely related to the global existence preference and beneficial presence thesis, are implicit positions held by most Jews in Europe, concerning the future of Jews in Europe. Those are becoming more explicit, as European Jews feel increasingly threatened, by mass immigration from Muslim-majority countries.

Many Jews in Europe think that there should be Jews in Europe. In turn, they also feel that European societies and states should be so ordered, that the presence of Jews in Europe is maintained. That implies that policies on, for instance, refugees and immigration, should be so formulated as to prevent threats to a Jewish presence in Europe.

The left antisemitic rejection of these positions, implies that there is no moral obligation to have Jews present in Europe, or indeed any other nation or people. Consequently, there is no reason to arrange European states and societies, so as to guarantee the continued presence of Jews. Specifically that would mean, that there is no reason to regulate migrant and refugee flows to that end.

Conclusion

Left antisemitism can be best understood in terms of conflicting values, rather than as a form of one-sided prejudice. Paradoxically, the best way to understand and formulate left antisemitism, is to look at the claims and values of Israel’s supporters. Advocacy for Israel uses the language, principles, and ideology of nationalism, because Israel is a nation-state. The rejection of this nationalism is valid, but inevitably has consequences for the Jewish people. The ethics of the State of Israel cannot be considered, without considering the Jewish people. The issues are inseparable, because nation-states are inseparable from nations.

Pressekonferenz_Rathaus_Köln_zu_den_Vorgängen_in_der_Silvesternacht_2015-16-5798

Taharrush jamai in Cologne

During the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne (Köln), more than 300 women were sexually assaulted by groups of men in the city centre. The perpetrators were not German, and were specifically described as young men of North African / Arab appearance. The story went viral a few days later, mainly because of its implications for Germany’s refugee policy. Public opinion, and most of the media, linked the incidents to the admission of one million refugees to Germany in 2015, predominantly from Syria. Subsequently, similar incidents were reported from other cities.

This type of group sexual assault has a name, originally in Egypt: Taharrush jamai. However, in Egypt the context was political: it was used to harass women demonstrators specifically, and may have originated as a tactic of the security forces.

Reactions to the Cologne incidents have been predictable. The authorities state that they are investigating the matter. Feminists condemn sexism. Anti-racists denounce racism. Anti-immigration groups call for refugees to be refused entry, and/or deported. Some individuals on social media advocated violent retribution against refugees, even extermination.

This post tries to go beyond the predictable responses. I will start with the German Constitution, not because constitutions say everything about a society, but as a good starting point.

Article 1 of the constitution, the Basic Law, states that: “Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.” That article was not intended to refer to sexual assault: when speaking of the ‘violation of human dignity’, the authors had Auschwitz in mind, and other horrors of the Nazi period.

Now the women who were sexually assaulted in Cologne would generally feel that their human dignity has been violated. The constitution has failed them, and the explanation is obvious: Article 1 does not mention women. Human dignity itself is too vague, to serve as a guideline for state policy toward specific groups.

It is true that Article 1 binds the German state, and would prevent that state from exterminating the refugees. That prohibition is close to its original intention. Nevertheless, among the hundreds of women who were assaulted in Cologne, there may be some who would prefer to see their assailants sent to the gas chamber. The constitution does not take account of that preference. The political elite may find it distasteful, but suggestions to kill all refugees / immigrants /muslims are a recurrent feature of social media response, to outrages committed by members of these groups. My estimate is, that about 1% to 3% of the population in western Europe, do indeed wish to see minorities killed by the state. Certainly such people exist: not talking about them, will not make them disappear.

Now the issue can be formulated as two options. Suppose the only choice is between these outcomes:

  1. Germany does not send refugees to the gas chambers, and Angela Merkel is sexually assaulted by a group of refugees.
  2. Angela Merkel is not sexually assaulted by refugees, because Germany has killed all the refugees in gas chambers.

If you asked Angela Merkel, she would choose option 1. Her abhorrence of a repetition of Nazi mass murders, outweighs her fear of being sexually assaulted. However, she cannot make that choice for other women, since that would override their moral autonomy. In a more generalised form, the two options might look like this:

  1. Germany is a democratic state under the rule of law, and it respects human rights and human dignity, and Angela Merkel is sexually assaulted.
  2. Germany is an undemocratic state, it abuses human rights, it rejects the rule of law, and violates human dignity, but Angela Merkel is not sexually assaulted.

Again Angela Merkel would choose the rule of law, democracy human rights, and human dignity, and accept sexual assault. And again, she should only make that decision for herself. But of course in reality, as Chancellor, she does make that decision on behalf of others.

Article 1 of the Basic law expresses an underlying principle, that if the state can only prevent harm to an individual by violating human dignity, then the state should not prevent that harm.

That is essentially a value preference, and it almost inevitably results in violation of human dignity by non-state actors. The German state, and its political elite, should therefore recognise that apparently sacred values such as the ‘inviolability of human dignity’ must be subject to freedom of conscience, and that it can be rational to reject them, on the grounds of their imperfections and ambiguities. Similar considerations apply to democracy, human rights, the rule of law and other ‘sacred’ principles, which in reality are no more than a personal value preference.

I am not saying that these are empty formulas. Reactions on right-wing blogs and forums, and even the comments on ordinary commercial news sites, include many shocking proposals for dealing with refugees and migrants in Europe: imprisonment, the death penalty, castration of male refugees, bombing refugee boats, the return of the gas chambers, and so on. Abandonment of constitutional formula’s such as ‘human dignity’ would open the door to such practices.

Nevertheless, some people do want the refugees killed. Germany must recognise conscientious objection to its ‘sacred’ values, purely on the grounds of moral autonomy. That raises another issue: if human dignity is a German value, are those who reject it still German? Increasingly, European governments are moving to a value-based definition of national identity, initially for those with double nationality. The implication is that those who do not endorse and support the national values, cease to be members of the nation. That is a significant break with long-standing ethnic definitions of national belonging. At present, however no European nation-state has any formal mechanism, to deal with those who are of national descent, but do not adhere to national values. Logically, they would be stripped of their citizenship and deported, but to where?

A related issue is the state monopoly of force, which is not a constitutional norm, but a descriptive formula. According to the sociologist Max Weber, the claimed monopoly of force is a defining characteristic of the state. Nobody told states to claim it, before they first emerged several thousand years ago, but when they did emerge, then apparently all states claimed this monopoly of force. The term has taken on a normative significance, certainly in Germany.

As with human dignity, the state monopoly of force is unequally implemented. The women who were assaulted in Cologne were also subjected to force. On the other hand, the state places limits on what they may do to defend themselves: they may not carry or use a gun, let alone form a women’s militia. Just as the inviolability of human dignity leads to violations of human dignity, the state monopoly of force leads to widespread use of non-state force, usually by the strong against the weak.

With this background it is evident, that the German government is directly responsible for the sexual assaults in Cologne and other German cities. The state took a conscious decision not to prevent them. That will be clearer if you look at the countermeasures proposed below.

In general we can recognise that a liberal-democratic government is ultimately responsible for most social actions, at least inside the state. The principles of a liberal society state that the social process should run its course, with only a few exceptions. Specifically, the German government has access to powers and instruments of repression, and choose not to use them in this case. What’s more, it won’t use them at the next New Year’s celebrations either, or at any other high-risk event, so the sexual assaults will predictably recur.

Countermeasures and the constitution

So what can be done to respond to the group sexual assaults, and to the underlying constitutional and moral issues?

Preferably Article 1 of the Basic Law should be scrapped, since it is too vague. If it is retained, it should be qualified to indicate that the state does not only protect ‘humans’, but also women. Men, and transgenders, should also be named explicitly. The protection of the state should also be extended to Muslims, since their claim to protection is disputed by some opponents of Islam. In fairness, Article 1 should also specifically name Christians, Jews (adherents of Judaism), and atheists, as subject to the protection of the state.

To more specifically protect women, the constitution should recognise the existence of sexual assault, and specifically group sexual assault (taharrush jamai). The constitution should also specifically recognise conscientious objections to all forms of sexual assault. That will prevent the government from telling women, that they must accept sexual assault in some circumstances.

The constitution should recognise conscientious objections to the admission of refugees to Germany, and more generally to the admission of immigrants. To make this recognition explicit, the state should hold a referendum on these controversial issues. It will not result in an acceptable compromise, but it will allow voters to express their opinion, clearly and undeniably. The probable result of a referendum on refugees, is that Germany would cease to accept any more, and would close its borders to future arrivals. It is also quite possible, that voters would approve the expulsion of most of the refugees already inside Germany. On immigration generally, a referendum would probably approve a moratorium, meaning that no more migrants would be admitted, even from the EU. A minority of German voters, possibly about 10% to 15%, would support the expulsion of all migrants currently in Germany. The re-institution of border controls would probably be approved, leading inevitably to the collapse of the Schengen zone. It is also possible, that a majority of German voters might approve a border wall, at least on the southern and eastern borders.

A more rigorous option is that any German citizen should be allowed to veto the admission of refugees to Germany. Of course, some Germans do want to admit refugees, and it would be oppressive to subject them to this veto. They should therefore be allowed to veto the decision not to admit refugees. Both veto actions are legitimate and moral, yet they are contradictory, incompatible, and irreconcilable. There can be no resolution of this incompatibility by democratic process, and the double veto should therefore trigger an automatic partition Germany into two states. One Germany would admit refugees, and the other would not. This partition will additionally provide women with full and complete protection against group sexual assault by refugees, since by definition this cannot happen if there are no refugees.

If there is no partition, then women should be allowed to form armed women’s militias, to defend themselves against sexual assault. Some of the militias will be feminist in nature. Others will probably be under nationalist influence, and form a threat to refugees. The refugees should therefore be allowed to form refugee militias, to defend themselves against the women’s militias.

Of course this contravenes the quasi-constitutional principle of the rule of law. (Germans would speak of the Rechtsstaat which is not a direct translation of ‘rule of law’, but I treat them as roughly equivalent here). It also contradicts the principle of the state monopoly of force.

However, these are merely foundational principles of the liberal state, and there are many types of state. They indicate the political value preference first formulated by Thomas Hobbes: ‘subordinate individual defence against harm, to public and civic order’. It works in practice: liberal societies are generally peacefully, and the strong prosper. However, the weak suffer, because they cannot defend themselves. There are simple alternatives, and one of them is institutionalised group self-defence. A proliferation of armed militias will lead to less harm in a society, since the weak can defend themselves. More bloodshed means less injustice.

Value preferences differ, however. The German constitution should therefore define the national values, and establish a procedure for denaturalisation of ethnic Germans who do not support those values. The national values must then be explicit. For instance the constitution could say explicitly, that if the state can only prevent harm to an individual by violating human dignity, then the state should not prevent that harm. Once the principle is explicitly stated, it can be explicitly rejected. German women who were victims of sexual assaults, and sought protection against such assaults by violations of human dignity, would then lose their citizenship. Logically they would have a separate state, which again would amount to a re-partition of Germany, although the issue is more appropriately addressed at European level. Alternatively, the constitution could say, that human dignity can be violated to prevent harm to an individual. In that case, the supporters of the inviolability of human dignity would lose their citizenship, and be obliged to form a new state.

In fact, the German constitution should state that sexual assault is the supreme evil, and that all other evils are permitted to end it. That sounds extreme, but it is merely logical. The idea is to give the authorities no room for evasion, when dealing with sexual assault. At present they can argue that sexual assault is the lesser evil, when compared to some specific alternatives, and therefore justifiable. This reasoning in practice obliges women to submit to sexual assault. The German constitution should also state explicitly that prevention of sexual assault overrides democracy, the rule of law, human dignity, international treaties, resolutions of the Security Council, peace in Europe, national security, the Atlantic alliance, and all other provisions of the constitution. This is necessary to stop an unwilling government, from using these principles to justify inaction against sexual assault.

Similar considerations apply to any harm. It is in the nature of the liberal state, not to intervene against harm to the weak. If weak individuals are harmed, then the liberal state will generally abandon them. To counteract this culture of abandonment – which was illustrated by the passivity of the police during group sexual assaults in German cities – the constitution must be rigorously re-formulated.

Of course many Germans would be deeply shocked, if their constitution suddenly abandoned democracy, the rule of law, human dignity, international treaties, the United Nations, the commitment to peace in Europe, and national security. The Constitution must therefore recognise conscientious objections to the Constitution. It should allow dissenters to leave the German people and the German nation, to renounce their German citizenship, and to become stateless. In practice, again, that would amount to a re-partition of Germany. There would be one German state, where the prevention of sexual assault was subject to democracy, human dignity, the rule of law, and so on. It would resemble the present Germany. There would be another German state, where the prevention of sexual assault was the sole guiding principle and duty of the state: that state provide a safe haven for women who feared sexual assault.

As so often with controversial issues, secession, partition, and separation offer the only policy option in the face of irreconcilable principles. I avoid the term ‘solution’ – there is no solution. Nevertheless, there may be some benefit in applying these principles at sub-state level.

Germany should therefore create refugee-free zones, for people who fear refugees. Since these individuals often fear other migrants as well, in practice the refugee-free zones could be combined with migrant-free zones. Migrants would not be allowed to enter these zones.

This principle should be extended to all those who fear specific groups. As a general principle, the state should treat the fears of any group as valid, regardless of whether they are grounded in reality. The state should then protect individuals against those groups which they fear. So for instance, if women fear being groped by men on public transport, then there should be separate public transport for women. It is irrelevant whether all men do this. The state should not test the validity of individual fears, no matter how absurd or paranoid they are.

If some German women think that all male refugees will sexually harass them, then these women should be protected against all male refugees. Equally, if refugees in Germany fear attacks by nationalists, then the state should protect them again all nationalists, even if only a small minority actually attack refugees. Separation would in practice be the primary form of protection. It is more effective than the criminal law, which generally applies only after a harm has been done.

Obviously these policies would have dramatic consequences for Germany’s neighbours, for the quality of life in Germany itself, and for the character of German society. Nevertheless many people want this kind of Germany, and it is better for the state to recognise their wishes. Those who don’t want to live in this kind of Germany, can leave. If large numbers renounce their nation and their citizenship, then once again, re-partition is the most logical option.

Such options are also possible in decentralised form, at local and regional level. Following a local referendum, individual local government units (Stadt, Gemeinde, Kreis) could become a refugee-free zone, or more generally a foreigner-free zone. Many people find this type of policy objectionable, since it reminds them of the Nazi policy of creating Jew-free (Judenrein) villages and towns. However it has the advantage of allowing both sides to create a local environment that corresponds to their values and hopes. Women who fear refugees could live in a refugee-free town, while others could live in a multi-ethnic town that welcomed refugees.

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Demonstration against the assaults, Cologne cathedral.

Image and header image © Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

The position of women

The German state should also respond to the specific disadvantage of women. Since the existing police forces clearly fail to protect women, there should be a separate women’s police, composed entirely of women. Since the existing judicial system clearly fails to protect women, there should be separate women’s courts, to try criminal offences against women, and offences committed by women. The legislature should also be improved in this respect. At present, women sit in the German parliament (Bundestag), but not as representatives of women. To ensure that women are in fact represented as such, 50% of the seats in the Bundestag should be reserved for women. Political parties would not be allowed to select or promote candidates, for those reserved seats.

Local governments in Germany should also be obliged to create separate women’s zones on their territory, if requested by 1% of their adult female population. Males over the age of 15 years would not be allowed to enter these zones. Obviously a similar requirement would apply to men, but there is probably no real demand for ‘men’s zones’. The requirement to segregate by gender should also apply to state-provided and state-funded facilities such as schools and universities, libraries, health care, and sports facilities. Separate women’s facilities should be available to any woman in the region where she lives, although not necessarily on the territory of every local government unit. Separate women’s spaces would facilitate, although not necessarily create, a parallel women’s society.

New Years Eve in Cologne

With such principles in mind, it is easy to see how a repetition of last years incidents can be avoided. The City of Cologne should designate a separate women’s zone for the celebrations, for instance in the Rheinpark, which is on the riverside and has no through roads. The perimeter of the zone would be guarded by a large force of police and security guards, with female security guards inside. To allow women to reach this zone safely, the city should establish collection points in each residential area, so that women would not have to walk more than a few streets. From there they would be taken in women-only buses, escorted by police and security guards, to the women’s zone. Without 500 m of the women’s zone, there should be a curfew: residents would have to stay indoors until the next morning.

The women’s zone would be voluntary. However, to prevent sexual assaults outside the women’s zone, there should be additional measures. All public and private events, shows, and parties should be prohibited. The sale of alcohol should be banned on the 31 of December, and until noon on 1 January – not only in shops, but also in bars, clubs and restaurants. All places of work, except essential services, should close at noon on 31 December. Public transport should shut down at about 18:00. At that time, the inner ring road would be sealed off, and only residents would be allowed to enter the central area. The Rhine bridges would also be closed to traffic, except for residents who need to reach homes on the other side. All vehicular traffic inside the motorway ring would be prohibited after 21:00. Except for the women going to the women’s zone, all residents of the city would be advised to stay at home, and not go further than 100 m from their front door. These measures would not prevent people celebrating with family or neighbours, but will impede the formation of large hostile or malicious groups.

Needless to say, such measures are a blow to German traditions of alcohol-fuelled New Year’s Eve celebrations. They would be hugely unpopular. In reality, authorities in Cologne would refuse to do anything like this. They would say it is ‘discriminatory’, that it ‘contravenes human rights’, that it is ‘undemocratic’, and so on. That merely illustrates the need to override such principles – because if German cities don’t do something like this, then women will be sexually assaulted again, on 31 December 2016.

Segregation is the answer to racism

I pointed out earlier that segregation is a necessary and moral response to xenophobic populism in Europe. Now that more is clear about the motives of the Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, we can see clear parallels with ‘racist’ attitudes in Europe.

‘Racist’ is in quotes, because it is a disputed and confusing term. Dylann Roof is a racist in the classic sense: he believes that Africans are inherently inferior.

Negroes have lower Iqs, lower impulse control, and higher testosterone levels in generals. These three things alone are a recipe for violent behavior.
Last Rhodesian

The right-wing ‘Council of Conservative Citizens’, which influenced Roof, also promotes classic racist theories, accompanied by the claim of imminent threat. Roof allegedly said to his victims “You rape our women”. Anders Behring Breivik said the same in more detail: over 100 pages of his manifesto talk of immigrant / Muslim rape. Strictly speaking, however, hostility to Muslims is not ‘racism’, because Islam is not a race. And Breivik choose to attack the government and ‘the left’ – rather than a mosque, an Islamic school, or a place where immigrants gather. There are similarities and differences, and ‘racism’ as an umbrella term is insufficient at best.

The mainstream responses to violent incidents of this kind are also similar, in Europe and the United States – calls for social unity, tolerance, and the defeat or elimination of racism. It is time to move on from this approach, which clearly does not work.

Whatever the appropriate terminology, it is clear that some individuals hold negative and hostile attitudes, to groups within the population. One platitude which surfaced in the wake of the Charleston shootings is that “no-one is born a racist”. Now quite probably most ‘racists’ are indeed born that way, with innate hostility to people outside their own group. Biological explanations for xenophobia are also disputed. However it does not really matter, in terms of public and state response to violent incidents targeting minorities.

The important thing is that neither the government nor civil society can ‘unmake racism’. There is no tolerance pill, which can cure an individual’s negative and hostile attitudes to specific groups. Anders Breivik and Dylann Roof are here to stay. So is hostility to specific minorities, and aggressive expression of that hostility. So are the fanboys: some people will continue to admire Breivik and Roof, and to see their actions as justified.

We can not make people be nice to each other. Despite all its surveillance powers, the United States government can’t stop them killing each other either. Nor can European governments, even though the killing may be less frequent, and take a different form.

People hate other people. People want to kill other people. They say so openly. Social media made it possible for each individual to broadcast their attitudes to the world, and the result was a flood of hate and death threats.

What the state can do, is keep them apart. Paradoxically, the fact that individuals hate groups more than other single individuals, makes it easier to separate them. If a white person hates blacks, the state can keep that person away from blacks. If a Christian hates gays, the state can keep that person away from gays. If a feminist hates men, the state can keep her away from men. And it works both ways: if a gay man hates homophobes, the state can keep that person away from homophobes.

Widespread segregation is not a panacea. Some racist and/or xenophobic individuals will reject it on grounds of scale, as Dylann Roof rejected the idea of a white nationalist homeland in the United States:

Here I would also like to touch on the idea of a Norhtwest Front. I think this idea is beyond stupid. Why should I for example, give up the beauty and history of my state to go to the Norhthwest?
Last Rhodesian

More to the point, the political elite and the media abhor the idea of segregation, in both Europe and the United States. For legal reasons, I can not make any policy proposals here for the United States, and I don’t want to. The United States must solve its own problems, and preferably also the problems it brings to the rest of the world. This blog is about what happens in Europe, and any state policy advocated here is intended for, at most, the territory of the European Union.

However, I see in American reactions to the Charleston shootings, a mirror of Europe’s own inability to confront the issue of hatred and hostility. I see platitude after platitude, but a general unwillingness to analyse society and politics. I see millions of reactions, but apparently none of them innovative. Everyone says roughly what you would expect them to say, and they will say it again, after the next racially motivated mass shooting. Americans are walking in circles around the elephant in the room, and in that they are just like Europeans.

Consent is not required for sex

I pointed out earlier that consent to sexual activity with a partner can never be perfect. That is a good reason to abandon the separate criminal offence of rape, which in effect prohibits non-consensual sex. Other criminal offences – assault, threat, abduction – are sufficient.

Where force and coercion are absent, is consent required anyway? That issue is relevant in ‘date rape’ cases and rape within a relationship, where sexual activity is not in dispute, but consent is.

Take a case where a man has sexual intercourse with a woman he has just met. The woman goes to the man’s house, and they have sex. Both are adults. The man does not threaten, coerce, or assault the women in any way. Both partners are healthy, neither fears infection, there is no risk of pregnancy, nor does the woman fear pregnancy. The man does not ask the woman for consent. The woman indicates neither consent nor non-consent: she simply has sex with the man. Nevertheless, she would have preferred not to have had sex.

So why did she not just leave? In real life, there are many explanations: peer pressure, the expectation of some advantage or benefit, insecurity, lack of self-confidence, inexperience, feeling overwhelmed, and not least, alcohol-impaired judgment.

Many people will think that in such circumstances, the woman has been harmed. The general insistence on consent to sex seems to be grounded in the idea that sex is harmful. Certainly, the feminist position is that there can be no sex between a man and a woman, without full and perfect consent by the woman. Many feminists do explicitly claim that women are harmed by sex, especially penetrative sex. There are real and well-established risks: pregnancy, medical complications in childbirth, and sexual diseases.

But what if those risks are absent or controlled? Mainstream (second-wave) feminism would still see sex as harmful, because it reduces the woman to an inferior status, and can only occur under conditions of oppression and hatred. It is not necessary to go into the details of feminist theory here, but there is an implicit assumption that in a state of full freedom (including freedom from any biological need to reproduce), women would not have sex with men.

That is no foundation for sexual morality, since it is an unfalsifiable hypothesis. It would be easy to derive a prohibition of sex from some kind of Rawlsian ‘original position’ where the participants neither need nor want sex. Those participants would not however be a good approximation of human beings. You could just as easily derive a prohibition of any other activity, by assuming that those in a Rawlsian original position neither need nor want it.

But if we abandon both of these feminist positions, what reason is there to insist on consent to sex? An analogy with medical treatment might clarify the issues. We let the dentist drill holes in our teeth even though it hurts, and we let surgeons cut our body open. We do that in the expectation of better health, or at least avoiding worse health. We don’t allow random people in the street to drill holes in our teeth. If we meet someone in a club, we don’t go to their place to have them remove our vital organs. The law prohibits assault, and often specifically criminalises unauthorised medical treatment. However, in this case the harm is clear and indisputable. That is not the case with sex. If it always hurt, if it always did permanent damage to our body, then few adults would ever consent to it.

It is not possible to simply classify male-female sex as an inherent harm, because so many people like sex. Consent standards, comparable to those for medical treatment, are therefore not justifiable.

It seems to come down to this: if sex is inherently harmful, then so no-one should ever do it. If however, sex is not harmful, then there is no general requirement to consent. (That does not exclude specific prohibitions, for instance on having sex in the street, or on sex for persons under a certain age).

If the law abandoned the general consent requirement, then non-coercive non-consensual sex would be legal. What would that look like in practice? In the example already given, if the woman went to the police, they would ask: “Did he hit you? Did he threaten you? Did he prevent you leaving?” If the man had exercised no force, nor violence, nor threat, nor coercion, nor abused any authority, then he could not be prosecuted, even though the woman did not want to have sex.

It would be possible to modify that principle to allow for explicit verbal refusal of sex, but that has little relevance in practice. A man who has sex with a woman in the face of explicit refusal, probably used some form of coercion anyway. And if there was absolutely no coercion, and the women was determined not to have sex, then she would leave anyway.

Legalisation of non-coercive non-consensual sex would cover the many cases, where consent is ambiguous or half-hearted – where the woman is not really happy about having sex, but decides not to act on that preference. For feminists, of course, such cases are rape, plain and simple. However, there is no obligation on the state to adopt feminist principles. There are also other options available, which in practice come down to some form of segregation. A woman who lives in a women-only apartment block, travels by women’s taxis, and uses women-only schools, facilities and businesses, can effectively avoid contact with men, and therefore sex with men. When the state facilitates such segregation, it has already made sufficient concession to feminist political demands, concerning consent to sex.

Trans in the toilet: the ethics of women’s spaces

There is a political controversy in the United States about use of toilets by transgenders, primarily trans women. It has reached the stage that some states are considering legislation, regulating who uses which toilet. The controversy is illustrative of what present-day feminism is about, and how it differs from older forms of feminism. That is far from trivial: feminism is returning to a biological definition of women, which it previously rejected as ‘essentialist’, and that will have significant consequences for its political aims. Since European feminism always follows the theoretical orientation of American feminism, that has consequences here too: reason enough to consider the ethics.

The controversy itself is specifically American – laws are different there, culture is different, and there is a more active ‘trans movement’. This recent post on GenderTrender, a radical feminist blog, is a response to a specific case, but the issue is recurrent. Although the blog is in English, there is a language difference too. Americans are apparently embarrassed by the word ‘toilet’, and use euphemisms such as ‘restroom’, or ‘bathroom’ or ‘women’s room’ and ‘men’s room’. The blog post speaks of a ‘locker room’ at a gym (fitness centre): that might be another such euphemism, or it might indeed be a locker room. These euphemisms are not relevant for the controversy, but it is relevant that they refer to specific spaces inside a building. The feminist position, as set out in the blog post and comments, is simple. Firstly, trans women are men. Feminists ridicule their claims to be women:

EVERY trans thinks they are the beyond-reproach, passing, real women. But they never are. They obviously think there is something profoundly wrong with being a male femulator, so they have to obscure it with, “trans women are female!” when that’s patently false.

The cringeworthy part was where he said he was a woman and had a vagina because, you know, vaginas are made in operating rooms these days /sarcasm.

There’s one dude on twitter who loves to crow about his “womanly” penis and figures one can have a penis/testicles/beard and still be a woman.

Of course he’s a woman! He has a vagina! And I have an imaginary pet unicorn, named Fluffernutter, who’s a professor of antiquities at Oxford.

I started questioning the whole trans business when I noticed even the least obnoxious MtF transitioners focused on hair, makeup, and wardrobe, and had no more sense of what it was like to be a woman than the average four-year-old girl.

If deep down inside they were truly women, then they wouldn’t have to work so damn hard to pass as one. If they were truly female, womanhood would come to them naturally. Instead, they just get cosmetic surgery…instead of their fairy godmother waving a magic wand, their well paid surgeon waves a knife. And just like that, all their dreams come true and they live happily ever after.

None of you ‘pass’ at all because none of you are women. The anatomical differences between the sexes are such that with just a careful look over a fully clothed person their sex is still determinable. There’s no surgery to change you skeletal structure and certain anatomical landmarks that make you easily identifiable as a man–even if you do have moobs and a peengina

The rejection of ‘transwomen’ by feminists is absolute: most feminists clearly despise them. However, feminists also give reasoned arguments to support their position, which are credible, and well-founded in biology. Transitioning males can get surgery and hormone treatment, but as one comment notes, they cannot get “… a uterus, fallopian tubes, vulva, contralto/mezzo/soprano voice, female-typical skeletal structure and height, etc.” They don’t menstruate or lactate or experience clitoral orgasms. They don’t get, and they don’t want, “UTIs, cystitis, endometriosis, periods, cellulite, pregnancy scares etc….”

Second-wave feminism defined biological sex in a simple way: men have a penis, women have a vagina. Almost every other difference was “gender” — a social construct. As a direct result of conflict with transgender activists, feminists made the list of biological defining marks longer, and the gender list shorter. Inevitably, that will lead feminists to abandon ‘gender’ entirely — and ‘gender-critical feminism’ is doing exactly that. Gender was a central concept for second-wave feminist theory, but it is not essential to that theory. After the abandonment of gender, feminism would retain a theory of patriarchal oppression, of one biologically defined group by another. A patriarchy theory can, for instance, be founded on the claim that males and females constitute separate species.

The feminists second point is that women have a right to separate spaces, free of men — and therefore to some extent free of oppression. Although women’s toilets are not themselves a feminist institution, they are regarded as a relatively safe space. Feminists see the intrusion of men in that small space as a threat — even if the rest of the building is shared with men. Since feminists see transgender women (‘transwomen’) as men, feminists fear their presence too.

In fact, feminists are often more frightened by ‘transwomen’, since they do intend to enter women’s spaces. Feminists describe transwomen as ‘perverts’, and fear rape, assault, and harassment by them. Some react with threats of violence: one commenter on the GenderTrender blog threatened to shoot any transgender she met in a women’s toilet, and that is not an isolated opinion.

There are a lot of states with open carry, carry anywhere and Stand Your Ground laws on the books. I know in my state you only have to “feel” threatened and you have the right to kill. I don’t know about you, but seeing the likes of “Carlotta” in my bathroom would make me feel threatened as all fuck, and if I still carried I probably wouldn’t hesitate to shoot. I know a lot of women who carry and feel the same way. And don’t even get me started on the men. I really don’t know what TeamTrans endgame is, but as I’ve said before, it’s interesting watching it play out, and I hope no one has to die for this fucknuttery, but I fear that’s what’s coming. And despite all their outcry about TWOC the first time some black guy walks up on a white woman in the toilet he’s going to be deader than hell. It’s incredibly irresponsible of them, but then again when have they ever acted responsibly?

Roslyn Holcomb

These two points convey the feminist position on this issue. Transwomen are men, and they should be kept out of the women’s toilets, because they are a threat. That’s it. In this case, at least, no further knowledge of feminist theory is required.

Right to spaces

The ethics are equally simple. I don’t need to consider whether transwomen are real women, since I can start with plain ordinary un-transitioned heterosexual men. Do women have a right to a toilet which is not used by men? The clear answer is no. Separate toilets are not a question of rights, but a question of custom, culture, and economics. In western countries, toilets on aircraft and trains are routinely used by all passengers, and small premises, for instance a small restaurant, might have only one toilet available. Where separate male and female toilets are required by law, that simply reflects culture.

So a feminist who uses a commercial facility, such as a fitness centre or restaurant, has no ethical claim on the manager of that facility to provide a man-free toilet. Equally, there is no moral basis for a law compelling gyms, health clubs, hotels, restaurants or schools, to provide man-free toilets.

That does not however invalidate the fears of feminists, or their political claims to separate space for women. Such claims would be politically valid, when made by any group or category.

The problem is that the feminist claims have been made at the wrong scale. The radical feminist who wants the local gym or restaurant to keep transgenders out of the women’s toilet, is insisting that its managers act as if they are radical feminists. There is no reasonable ground for that claim. The manager runs a specific facility, in some building or a specific part of some building, and the feminist is demanding a separate space within that facility. The feminist does not own the facility, nor manage it, nor is she a representatives of its users, nor a legislator. The claims can also be rejected on simple consequentialist grounds: many such claims are possible, and even a stadium is too small to accommodate them all.

If feminists want space for women, then they can create space for women. Certainly in western countries, cost is not the main barrier. Women are half the population, so even if only a minority want to use women-only facilities, there will generally be sufficient commercial demand. State-funded facilities such as schools can also be women-only, if there is sufficient demand. So the simple solution, for women who don’t want to share a locker room with men, is to open their own fitness centre, just for women.

Legal obstacles

The real barrier to rapid expansion of separate facilities is anti-discrimination law, which is standard in all western countries, often in compliance with international treaties. It is clear by now that anti-discrimination law is outdated, and in retrospect founded on false assumptions. It was intended to result in a society of equal citizens, with standardised behaviour toward other citizens. It did not allow for difference, relegating it to the private sphere.

The emotional controversy over trans women illustrates the persistence of difference. Even as some minorities disappear through integration and assimilation, new minorities will appear, with new claims to presence in the public sphere, and new resistance to that presence. Human beings will never get along with each other, because they have the capacity to be different from each other, and the capacity to hate each other.

Instead of trying to make us all respect each other, the state should simply facilitate voluntary segregation — not just for women, but for all other groups. Of course, segregation will sometimes be distasteful: there will be whites-only bars, and Jew-free neo-Nazi clubs, and taxis that refuse disabled people. However, so long as no-one is harmed, that is not a moral issue. A Jew is not harmed by being refused admission to a neo-Nazi club, no more than a neo-Nazi is harmed if a Jewish club won’t let them in. By facilitating segregation, the state is not ‘facilitating bigotry’ — it is simply recognising that the population is divided, and will remain divided.

Under a regime of voluntary segregation, no feminist will need to complain about men in the women’s toilets. The law would not need to set definitions either, and certainly not on the controversial issue of who is a woman. Women would make the definitions themselves. If they don’t agree, then that simply results in two definitions, and two groups of adherents, and two types of facility.

Feminist women would be entirely free to define ‘woman’ in biological terms, and to run bars, festivals, theatres, art galleries, gyms, health centres, schools, shops, and day care centres, for women so defined. If they wished, they could require medical examination to determine admission to these facilities. They could adopt a name for this group, such as ‘biological women’, or ‘biological females’ or ‘uterine females’, or they could use euphemisms such as “shared girlhood”. So long as the criteria are transparent, however, no specific name is needed to implement any form of segregation.

I proposed here earlier, that feminism is so incompatible with non-feminism, that a separate state for women is a political necessity. That would solve the transgender issue entirely — the new state would set its own citizenship criteria. However, feminist objections to transgender women do not in themselves require such drastic segregation. So far as I know, even the most radical western feminists do not want to exclude transgenders from public space. It is primarily a question of keeping them out of certain spaces, and that type of claim can be implemented, at a lower level than the state itself.