The Case for Jewish Critical Theory

The Jews have always since antiquity been a structurally oppressed group and remain so. There are three historical phases of Anti-Jewish prejudice and those are known to scientists as Anti-Judaism, Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism. However, in common parlance as well as in scientific usage is the term Anti-Semitism used to denote all three stages. There has historically been Roman, Christian and Muslim Anti-Judaism. Anti-Semitism in the narrow race theory based sense of the term has largely been superseded by Anti-Zionism, the currently hegemonic discourse in Anti-Jewish hatred. This is similar to how Anti-Semitism largely superseded Anti-Judaism. Anti-Zionism is now the predominant vehicle for expressing Anti-Jewish prejudice worldwide.

The Jews are an indigenous nation who against all odds have overcome pervasive racism, colonialism and imperialism and surviving the worst genocide in human history and in spite of all this reestablishing Jewish independence in the Jews’ own indigenous homeland. The Jews are a discursively structurally oppressed nation standing accused of everything Anti-Semites are trying to perpetrate against the indigenous Jews. Inversion is not a new but in fact recurring trope in Anti-Jewish prejudice.

Much Anti-Jewish animus today stems from critical theory, an academic field originally founded by a group of German Jewish scholars who found refuge from the Nazis in United States and they became known as the Frankfurt school. So-called post-colonial theory, a form of critical theory, was established by prominent Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said whose works are permeated with Anti-Jewish lies. 

Critical theory in becoming a bastion of Anti-Semitism in the wider, usual sense of term has developed into a strategic threat against the Jewish people in making universities increasingly inhospitable to Jewish students and Jewish scientists alike. What is peculiar and concerning is that there has been no attempt to counter this within critical theory which is strange since it is the Jews and not the Palestinians who are a structurally oppressed group. The myth that Jews are oppressors is indeed a purely Anti-Semitic notion. Since critical theory is devoted to mapping structural oppression in discourses, is it peculiar indeed that Jews have silently allowed the Palestinians who are certainly not oppressed by Jews to hijack critical theory, an endeavor originally inspired by rabbinic thought.

My humble suggestion is therefore that there is not only need for challenging the now pervasive Anti-Semitic notion in critical theory that Jews are structural oppressors but there is need for a Jewish subfield within critical theory that would deploy rabbinical modes of thinking to counter Anti-Jewish structural oppression in discourses worldwide. There is therefore certainly a need for Jewish critical theory that would deploy Talmudic modes of thought in a secular context to argue for all indigenous peoples worldwide, including indigenous peoples in the Arab world such as Arameans, Nubians, Imazighen (Berbers), indigenous Egyptians (Copts) and Kurds who are historical victims of outrageous policies of imperialism, racism, and colonialism. While postcolonialism seeks to mobilize the third world against the first world needs Jewish critical theory use Talmudic thinking to mobilize indigenous peoples worldwide against all forms of colonialism, imperialism, racism and genocide, including when intended to be committed by members of third world peoples such as Islamists and Arabists against the indigenous Jewish nation.

The Mossad research department would be particularly well-advised to help found, fund and commission the emergence of a new field of Jewish critical theory, initially by Mossad scholars and later in academia at large worldwide. This would necessarily be an Israeli initiative since Talmudic knowledge outside of Israel is quite limited indeed in academia. This would also be an effort at making Judaism relevant to a new generation of Diaspora Jews who are largely alienated from Jewish tradition and increasingly fall prey to Anti-Zionist propaganda on campus. While of course it would be preferable if this would be established spontaneously is it certainly in the interest of the Jewish people and other indigenous peoples around the world to establish such a subfield within critical theory and thus reclaim critical theory from the Anti-Semitic bigots who have hijacked this originally Jewish academic field. It is essential to stop the spread of increasingly pervasive Anti-Jewish hatred in academia and hence the need for this new field.

Published by Daniella Bartfeld

Daniella Bartfeld is the founding director of the Aliyah Organization.

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