Keith Kahn Harris

Metal Jew

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  1. Heavy metal and popular culture conference

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    I’ll be giving a keynote lecture at this conference next year. It looks like it”s going to be a great event. No website for the conference yet but here’s the call for papers:


    Heavy Metal and Popular Culture

    April 4-7, 2013

    Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, USA

    The Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University, in collaboration with Heavy Fundamentalisms: Metal, Music and Politics and the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS), announce the International Conference on Heavy Metal and Popular Culture. The Program Committee of the International Conference on Heavy Metal and Popular Culture invites proposals for papers, organized panels of 3-4 papers, and scholarly posters. The online submission deadline for all proposals is 1 December 2012. The conference will take place on the campus of Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, April 4-7, 2013.

    We envision the International Conference on Heavy Metal and Popular Culture to be a highly selective conference featuring cutting-edge scholarship on heavy metal’s many facets and forms. Papers will be organized into a single track of programming over four days—there will be no overlapping sessions.  Featured at the conference will be keynote lectures by Robert Walser, Laina Dawes, and Keith Kahn-Harris, a screening of the film Motörhead Matters, three roundtables featuring Niall Scott, Steve Waksman, Deena Weinstein and other international metal scholars to be announced, and a special exhibit on facepaint and masks.


    We welcome proposals involving all facets of heavy metal musical life throughout the world, with a focus on the intersections, circuits, and mutual imbrications of heavy metal and popular culture, globally and locally. We especially welcome proposals addressing the following themes:

    • Heavy Metal Consumption:  In what ways has mainstream popular culture changed, prefigured or reversed the consumption of heavy metal?  How has heavy metal, as a subculture, sound or style, affected popular culture?   Are there new forms of popular culture for which heavy metal has become an influence?  Is the intersection of heavy metal, popular culture and consumption creating new questions about authenticity, aesthetics, and soundscape?  (In other words, what does it mean when obscure 1980s thrash metal tracks wind up on Guitar Hero?)


    • Heavy Metal, Popular Culture and New Media:  Given the rise of new media for heavy metal (social networking media, music and video systems online, gaming, music downloading technology), how has heavy metal further saturated the landscape of popular culture?   Are the sounds of heavy metal changing with new technologies and popular media?


    • Heavy Metal Clothing Style:  From the fantastic costumes of bands such as Gwar to the ubiquitous heavy metal t-shirt, the fashion of heavy metal is a vital part of its allure, its popularity, and its criticism.  Why is heavy metal style both controversial and popular?  Where and how has heavy metal style intersected with fashion locally and globally?  


    • American Heavy Metal Popular Culture and Its Circuits:  From films such as Heavy Metal Parking Lot to Kiss’ commercialism and the Osbourne family’s reality television programs, mainstream American popular culture has held a particular fascination for heavy metal, fomenting moral panics against it one day and celebrating its integrity and authenticity the next.  How did American popular culture and heavy metal become so mutually imbricated?  Are American popular culture’s heavy metal appropriations altering the scenes in other countries and cultures?  Do local scenes, including those within the United States, seek to resist mainstream popular culture or embrace it?  

    Research Poster Sessions
    The poster format provides an opportunity for conference attendees to meet informally with authors and discuss research. Each author attends her/his respective 60-minute session, distributes abstracts, and answers questions. Supporting sound and/or video examples (on personal computers and utilizing battery, rather than A/C power) will be coordinated with other presenters once the Program Committee has formed sessions.


    General Guidelines
    Accepted presenters will not be required to pay conference attendance registration fees.   The committee encourages proposals from graduate students and independent scholars.  An individual may submit only one proposal. All proposals must be submitted through the online electronic submission process.
    Proposals must specify whether the proposal is for 1) paper, 2) poster, or 3) either presentation format, the latter to be determined by the Program Committee as it builds sessions. Individual or joint papers should be no longer than twenty minutes.  Posters will be organized in block sessions.   For complete session proposals, the organizer must include an initial statement of 100 words explaining the rationale for the session, in addition to proposals and abstract files for each paper.
    Include the following for all submissions:

    1. Proposer’s name, e-mail address, and institutional affiliation or city of residence
    2. 250-word proposal
    3. 100-word version of your proposal suitable for publication in the conference program (.doc, .docx, .txt, or .rtf format). Include proposer’s name and email, and the proposal title in this file.
    4. Audio and visual needs: CD player, DVD player, digital projector. Please also specify IBM or Mac platforms, and any special needs.  Request of special audio and visual needs does not guarantee their availability, but presenters will be notified if their requests cannot be met.
    5. Specify whether you are a student.

    All materials must be electronically date-stamped by December 1, 2012 at midnight CST and emailed to with “HMPC Submission” in the subject line and required documents attached. For further information regarding the submission process:  Amber R. Clifford-Napoleone, Chair, HM&PC 2013 Program Committee, Wood 136B, Department of History and Anthropology, University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, MO 64093, USA,  


    For further information about the conference, please contact the BGSU conference organizers:


    Esther Clinton
    Matt Donahue
    Jeremy Wallach


      Department of Popular Culture, School of Cultural and Critical Studies, 228 Shatzel Hall
    Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio 43403-0190, USA


  2. The pleasure and pain of crowd-funding

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    I bared my soul in a modest way in an article for The Literary Platform about my experience of crowd-funding my book, The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg, through the Unbound project. Here it is again:

    I’m stalled – there’s no other word for it – at 8% funded. After a promising start in which a steady trickle of supporters pledged towards my book, no one has signed up for over a week. The giddy hopes that accompanied the start of my project are being replaced with cold, hard reality.

    That’s crowd-funding a book for you. Unless you are a household name or have a loyal following, it’s an insecure and even gut-wrenching business. However, my experience of crowd-funding has mainly been positive. Over the last year I’ve been working with Unbound, the crowd funding platform in which authors pitch their ideas directly to readers. Unlike other platforms, Unbound is not open to all and you have to submit your idea to them as you might do any other publishing company. If you’re picked up, Unbound kicks in a significant amount of money towards making a professional-quality pitch video and if the book gets funded, it’s published through their own imprint – so you’re not self-publishing.


    My Unbound project, The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg: Tales of Big Fish in Small Ponds, is a travel book in which I set myself the challenge of meeting the unknown heroes of obscure small worlds. I was one of the first projects Unbound took on and I benefited from the wave of publicity that accompanied the launch of the company. We started cautiously, as while I have published academic books, this was my first trade non-fiction work. From September to December 2011 the first chapter of the book, in which I aimed to meet the best water skier in Luxembourg, was open for funding. A gratifying number of people supported the chapter (helped by some novel incentives such as a postcard from me from Luxembourg) and I raised enough to visit Luxembourg and investigate the water skiing scene.

    So far so good, but the real challenge has been the full ‘phase two’ of the project, in which I need to raise a lot of money to visit Iceland, Malta, Alderney, Suriname and Botswana. Since the project went up in the start of July, it’s been noticeably tougher to get support for the book than was the case last year. Pledges come in fits and starts, without any real momentum.

    Crowd funding a book through Unbound requires hard graft. If you’re a relative unknown like myself, you have to get out there and ‘sell’ the project. And I’ve done just that: I’ve blitzed my Twitter and Facebook followers, sent emails, written articles and blog posts, appeared at literary nights and followed up any conceivable lead. I’ve risked annoying my friends with not-so-subtle requests for their pledges.

    There are three principle challenges to this. The first is that it’s almost impossible to know in advance what will work. Some literary nights have brought me new supporters and others have not. Some tweets get retweeted and others never do. An email to something called The Listserve – a giant email list for which one person gets chosen at random every day to post to the list – unexpectedly resulted in many new pledges.

    The second challenge is in converting interest into pledges. Everywhere I’ve talked about the book, I’ve had people approach me to say how interesting it sounds. I give them a promotional postcard and often never hear from them again. There’s plenty of good will but this doesn’t necessarily translate into cash.

    The third challenge is finding people who will pledge at a high level. My project has levels of support, going up from £10 to £2000, with incentives to match. While every pledge is precious, what I really need is a few ‘whales’ – people who will give larger sums of money without necessarily being motivated by what they will get in return. On phase one of my project, the generosity of a couple of people like this did much to get me funded.

    This ‘upfront’ work to get the book published is nerve-racking. What will happen if I don’t get funded? Here there is a parallel with more traditional publishing models. Unless you’re a writer with a proven track record and a multi-book contract, you have to do a lot of work to get picked up by a publisher or agent. For those at the start of their writing careers, it can take years to hone a book or book proposal into a state in which it will be picked up – with absolutely no guarantee that there will be anything at all to show for it. At least with Unbound I didn’t have to go through the agonies of drafting and redrafting proposals and sample chapters. Once I have the funding, it will be full steam ahead.

    I’m sure that many would argue that it would be ultimately more beneficial for one’s career as a writer to front-load the actual writing of the book rather than front-loading the publicity for thebook. Yet there is a hidden benefit. One thing that will console me if my book never gets funded is that much of the work of selling my book idea has not only been fun, it has been worthwhile for its own sake: I’ve spoken to people I would never have spoken to before, I’ve written for publications I’d never have written for before (such as this one!), I’ve forced myself to get out there on twitter not just for self-promotion, but to contribute to the vast ongoing discussion.

    In a much quoted and retweeted article a few weeks ago, Ewan Morrison convincingly argued that social media was not an effective tool for promoting self-published and other books. This may be correct – although social media have brought me new supporters – but it also misses the point a bit. If the networking and publicity work that crowd funding and other new publishing models require is not seen as a means to an end but an end in itself, then perhaps frustrated authors should learn to enjoy the process more. The challenge then is to find modes of self-promotion that are satisfying even if they do not lead to sales. This is why literary nights, speaker events and festivals are so important. Even if they don’t ‘work’ as forms of publicity, they certainly do work in being fun to take part in and as a way of meeting and connecting with people.

    So I’m frustrated at how my project seems to have stalled. But I haven’t given up hope. And I don’t regret the work I’ve put into it. It’s been a blast even if the dream of a book at the end of it might be deferred for a while.

    Keith Kahn-Harris is a London-based writer and sociologist, and you can find out more about his Unbound project here

  3. German metal interviews

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    I’ve done a couple of interesting metal-related interviews for German media. Here’s the links:

  4. Why I want to visit Iceland

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    This is the second in a series of posts explaining the background behind the choice of places I am aiming to visit on my travels for my project The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg: Tales of Big Fish in Small Ponds.

    The book is being crowd-funded via the innovative publisher Unbound and I would appreciate anyone interested in it to support me in reaching my goal.

    The chapter I plan to write on Iceland represents the toughest challenge of the whole book. Not that visiting Iceland is difficult – it’s cheaper than ever before since the economic crisis of a couple of years ago. It’s what I want to investigate in Iceland that’s the tough part. The subject of the chapter is Iceland’s special forces, the Víkingasveitin or ‘Viking Squad’.  And generally speaking, special forces tend to be publicity-shy, especially to long-haired sociologists writing strange travel books.

    Why the Icelandic special forces? Soon after I came up with the idea of writing a book on big fish in small ponds, I decided that I really wanted to do a chapter on a small country’s armed forces, preferably the armed forces of a country that did not have a history of conflict. Iceland seemed the sort of place to try but after looking online I found out that the country does not have an army. What it does have though is the Víkingasveitin. Officially a branch of the police, they perform functions that special forces do in other countries, such as counter-terrorism and hostage rescue. And that was all the info I needed – I would travel to Iceland and meet the Víkingasveitin.

    As with all my other missions, what interests me most is the squad members stories and experiences. What’s it like to be the only real military in a small country? Is it frustrating training so hard for a day that may never come? Is there a sense of being an elite? How hard is it to be chosen for the Víkingasveitin? How do they manage to stay discreet in a place where it is hard to stay anonymous? What do they do on a daily basis?

    I have to confess also to being slightly in awe of special forces. I’m not a bellicose person and I don’t celebrate conflict. But even if I may sometimes be highly critical of the conflicts that the UK SAS, the US Delta Force and the Russian Spentnatz are sent into, I have no doubt that they are incredibly skilled and disciplined. I have no contact with the military in the UK and certainly not with the SAS, so in meeting the Víkingasveitin (hopefully) I know I will be a fish out of water. Will I be able to make a personal connection with people who have lives that are massively different to my own?

    Of course, there’s no guarantee that I will be allowed to meet members of the Víkingasveitin. There are no shortcuts here – I have to respect hierarchies and approach people in the right way. I will presumably have to use pseudonyms, ensure confidentiality and allow them to vet what I write.  I’ve already approached people and hopefully access will be granted.

    So that’s my Iceland mission. Please support it!

  5. Why I want to visit Alderney

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    This is the first in a series of posts explaining the background behind the choice of places I am aiming to visit on my travels for my project The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg: Tales of Big Fish in Small Ponds.

    The book is being crowd-funded via the innovative publisher Unbound and I would appreciate anyone interested in it to support me in reaching my goal.

    I’ve always been fascinating by ‘things in between’, things are not the biggest or the smallest, the famous or the unknown, the successful or the unsuccessful. Wherever there is a spectrum or continuum you’re likely to get attention paid to both ends but the middle gets neglected.

    Alderney is an archetypal place in between. Of all the Channel Islands, dependencies of the UK near the French coast, Alderney is probably the one that outsiders know least about. Jersey and Guernsey, the two largest, are well-known as tax havens and holiday destinations. Sark and Herm, the two smallest (excluding a number of tiny islets) are reasonably well-known as Lilliputian, idyllic havens (although Sark has received quite a bit of attention recently due to the machinations of the Barclay Brothers in the island’s affairs). But Alderney? Well it’s somewhere in the middle and so it often drops off the map.


    Alderney is small – 3 square miles with a permanent population of around 2,400. From photos it looks lovely, but it is by no means untouched by civilization. It has the only railway on the Channel Islands, it’s dotted with fortifications left over from the wartime Nazi occupation (as well as the remains of the only concentration camps ever set up on British soil) and although it hasn’t opened itself up wholesale as a tax haven, it does host various e-commerce and offshore gambling companies. It also has a reputedly vigorous nightlife, with numerous pubs – islanders sometimes joke they are ‘2000 alcoholics clinging to a rock’ – and parties held in abandoned World War Two bunkers.  


    But while Alderney may have some interesting and quirky features and may well be a great place for a holiday, this isn’t really why I want to visit. What really attracts me is how power and politics works on a small island with a small island.

    And that’s why my mission for the book is to find ‘the most powerful politician on Alderney’.

    As with all the chapters of the book, the mission doesn’t just involve meeting one person – it involves finding out about an entire small world. Because the question of who is the most powerful politician on Alderney isn’t a simple one.

    Of course, Alderney’s elected representative body, the States of Alderney, has a President (currently Stuart Trought). But pinning down who holds power is often an elusive matter, like nailing jelly to a wall. For one thing Alderney’s constitutional status is complex – it is a British crown dependency, part of the Balliwick of Guernsey, but with a high degree of self-government. On top of that, politicians are never the only people with power – who are the real movers and shakers behind the scenes of Alderney politics?

    I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I am really looking forward to finding them out. I’m looking forward to meeting the key people in Alderney and hearing their stories. Above all, what I want to know is what it’s like being involved in the politics of a small island. How do people deal with political disputes in a place where everyone knows each other? Does that make for more civil disagreement?

    So that’s my Alderney mission. Please support it!

  6. The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg – The Next Phase

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    So I’m pleased to announce that the next phase of the book I’m crowd-funding The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg: Tales of Big Fish in Small Ponds is now open for funding. The first chapter is virtually completed and those who funded it will get a copy in the next week or two.

    If you want, you can help by liking the Facebook page or by mentioning the project on twitter. But the best thing you can do is to help fund it!

    There’s a great new pitch video:



    And you can also read an extract from the first chapter.


  7. New article in New Statesman

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    The latest New Statesman is a special issue on ‘Who speaks for British Jews?’ I have a piece in it on how Israel and anti-semitism make the work of Jewish communal institutions a fraught affair. (Sadly it’s not online yet).





  8. New metal journal special issue

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    I co-edited with Titus Hjelm and Mar LeVine a special issue of the journal Popular Music History entitled  ‘Heavy Metal: Controversies and Countercultures’ (Vol 6: 1/2, April/August 2012). It’s a great collection of articles. It may be hard for those who don’t have access to an academic e-library to access, but I’ve thrown caution to the wind and posted a pdf of the introductory article here:

    Download this file
  9. More on Despatches from the Invisible Revolution, and on slow thinking

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    Despatches from the Invisible Revolution is now available for order. Some of the constituent essays are going to be published on the New Public Thinking site, starting with Vinay Gupta’s On Becoming a Conservative. The comment thread below the original announcement post on the book is fascinating and well worth a look.

    One of the contributors, Andrew Taggart has published a thoughtful and provocative reflection on the book. He plays with the tension between the speed at which the book was conceived, written and published, and the slow pace necessary for truly reflective and transformative thought. Here are a couple of extracts:

    How well did the contributors do at thinking fast? How did they manage to think in situ as well as post facto? How, in their piece, did they make it out in one piece? How responsive are they or have they been to the questions looming large in our time? Above all, have they thought quickly but not too quickly? If too quickly, then philosophical clarity gets lost. If too slowly, then the time has been lost, the moment missed, the fugitive stillness unfelt. I don’t want any widening gyres unless there are poets on set.


    To me, “Now think fast!” can only be attuned to the current historical moment if it has already undergone the long spiritual preparation, those slack, listless, contemplative months, those unrelenting yet vital forms of ascesis. Unless this is so, thinking nimbly and acting virtuously just now! would be either impossible or lucky.

    I’ve been turning these issues round in my head over the last few days and I’m not sure how to respond. I think that most of the chapters in the book do indeed seem to balance the rapid-response format with evidence of long-term reflection. It seems to me that the major problem with the book is going to be that it is about 2011 and to a superficial reader might already seem ‘too late’. There seems to be a gap between the instant response of journalism and the more considered approach of historical analysis. The book is too late for the former and too early for the latter. That’s its promise of course. Perhaps it is worth exploring the ‘middle ground’ between history and journalism. I’m a big fan of the journal Delayed Gratification which deliberately analyses the news several months ‘late’.

    The most important point of Andrew’s essay is that ‘instant’ reaction can only be illuminating if it is grounded in a long-term process of contemplation. That is perhaps the difference between good and bad journalism – the latter exists in a ‘continuous present’ whereas the former is situated in the broad sweep of time.

    I’m not sure where academia fits into this, particularly academic sociology. The long time lag that generally characterises academic research and publication mitigates against snap judgements certainly, but it also makes it hard to contribute to a current debate without temporarily ‘stepping out’ of one’s scholarly frame. I’ve often wondered where history fits into sociology. There is such a thing of historical sociology of course, but is most sociology about the now? Certainly, when Ben Gidley and I were working on Turbulent Times, which is intended to be a sociological analysis of the contemporary British Jewish community, we spent a lot of time researching and writing the history of the community.

    And there I’ll leave things – I have no conclusion to offer right now.

  10. Launching new book: ‘Despatches from the Invisible Revolution’

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    I’m thrilled to announce that the book edited by Dougald Hine and myself, ‘Despatches from the Invisible Revolution’, is now available.

    The collection consists of a series of reflections on the extraordinary year that was 2011. The book was conceived last November and has been put together quickly using print on demand publishers Pedia Press. There is a preview of the first few pages on the Pedia Press page and on the same page there are links to the individual essays’ wiki pages.

    There will be a launch event at the Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London at 6.30-8.00pm, Wednesday 29th February 2012. This is a free and open event, but please book on Eventbrite to let us know you’re coming. Tickets are going fast but we may open up more places if there is demand.

    The book is (hopefully) the first publication by the New Public Thinking project that Dougald conceived and that I’ve been involved in since last year.

    Here’s the blurb from the New Public Thinking page:

    In the Industrial Revolution, you could point at a steam engine and ask: ‘What on earth is that?’ What defines the Invisible Revolution is that there’s nothing to point at, no totemic object that conveys the power and the strangeness of the forces changing our lives.

    A wave of networked disruption swept across the world in 2011, taking with it the idea that today’s social technologies are only about throwing sheep at each other, or hiding away in Second Life. The new social forms which ride the network now make their entrance on the stage of history; yet the grain of networked reality remains puzzlingly elusive. Much of the activity which makes up the network seems too loose and haphazard to be significant, by the standards of the world in which we grew up.

    ‘Despatches from the Invisible Revolution’ – which launches on 29th February 2012 at the Free Word centre in London – is both a reflection on the puzzling nature of the network and an instance of the new forms it makes possible.

    The 24 contributors to the book responded to a post on this blog, inviting readers to reflect on their experience of 2011. Some were deeply involved in events most of us only followed in the news (or, increasingly, on Twitter) – like the Icelandic activist Smári McCarthy, who writes about his experiences providing tech support to revolutionaries in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria. For others, the frontline of change lies further from the attention of the media, in the everyday realities of home, school, community projects, local and national politics.

    These are not essays written at leisure, but despatches from the middle of events that are still unfolding. But out of them emerges a picture of the elusive forces of the network – and perhaps some clues to the changes which lie ahead, as its tide continues to rise.

    ‘Despatches from the Invisible Revolution’ is the first book to come out of New Public Thinking, an online and offline network in search of a better public conversation. New Public Thinking aims to encourage a culture of thinking together and thinking aloud, where public discourse is not automatically framed as an opposition between rehearsed arguments, where we are willing to change our minds, to risk being wrong and to learn from each other.

    The book has been edited by Dougald Hine and Keith Kahn-Harris. Contributors include Pat Kane, Bridget McKenzie, Keri Facer, Andy Gibson, Pamela McLean, Nick Stewart, Vinay Gupta, Tessy Britton, Mike Small, Eleanor Saitta, Noah Raford, Chris T-T, Laura Burns, Anna Björkman, Smári McCarthy, Jeppe Graugaard, Andy Broomfield, Alex Fradera, Neil Cantwell and Andrew Taggart.


  11. Argument outsourcing – the EUMC definition

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    For several years I’ve been working to try and improve the civility of intra-Jewish debates over Israel. It hasn’t been easy work and I would not claim any clear victories. The issue is complex and so is the solution. I’ve been working on a book on the subject for a year now and it may take another year to finish.

    But I think there are some ‘low hanging fruit’ – things that are relatively easy to do that would have a substantial impact. One of these is to desist from what I will call ‘argument outsourcing’. That is, rather than making a case for something yourself, pointing to someone else’s argument and treating it as the last word on the subject.

    Argument outsourcing can be found on all points of the political spectrum but I will briefly highlight one particularly striking version of it: the use of the 2005 EUMC (European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia) definition of antisemitism. You can download the full definition here.

    I take no position here on what the EUMC definition says and how it should be applied. What I am interested in is how the EUMC definition has become the most commonly used one in UK pro-Israel circles. It is particularly relevant to debates on Israel as pro-Israel campaigners who draw on the definition claim that the definition classes anti-Zionism as anti-semitism – which clearly has big implications for how the boundaries around acceptable and unacceptable discourse on Israel are framed.

    Using a particular definition of antisemitism is not problematic in and of itself. What is striking though is that the EUMC definition is often treated as the last word on the subject. The definition is seen as an absolute one as if simply pointing to it will end any argument. But I have rarely actually seen campaigners explain exactly why the EUMC definition is correct.

    For instance, the pro-Israel CiFWatch blog has a page ‘How we define antisemitism’ that points to the EUMC definition as the correct definition. Although it goes into some detail as to how the EU and other bodies adopted the definition and although it explains what the definition says, nowhere do CiFWatch explain why the definition is correct on its own terms.

    Another example: the pro-Israel campaigner Jonathan Hoffman recently published a criticism of Rabbi Danny Rich for, amongst other things, tolerating one-staters – and one-staters are by definition anti-semitic according to the EUMC definition. Again, the argument as to why this is the case is not made – it is outsourced to the EUMC.

    I am not necessarily challenging the EUMC definition or how it is used. What I am suggesting is that it is often used in such a way that its validity is automatically assumed, as though that argument doesn’t need to be made. I would like to know why Jonathan Hoffman or CiFWatch believe the definition is correct and not simply with reference to what bodies or countries have adopted the definition. I want to hear it justified with reference to its content. I want to hear what they themselves actually believe. 

    Argument outsourcing is not just something that pro-Israel campaigners use. You see it among anti-occupation activists, for example, in the mantra-like references to the settlements being illegal. Again,this may or may not be the case – what I want to hear is why the occupation is wrong, not outsourcing to international law. Another example: the justification of BDS as ‘the Palestinians have called for it’. That is not a justification, it is outsourcing.

    So what’s wrong with argument outsourcing anyway? The problem is that it prevents dialogue from occuring. When you exclusively use someone else’s definition or opinion to justify your beliefs, you are hiding what you yourself believe. You become a cypher, not a person, and no one can argue with a cypher. Argument outsourcing closes down dialogue before it even begins. It builds impenetrable walls that cannot be breached. It does not convince or seek to convince, it only defends.

    The only way to really create a connection with someone – and convince them of your argument – is by owning what you yourself say. Stopping argument outsourcing might not solve conflicts over Israel, but it could certainly lead to a more productive debate.


  12. Heavy metal Jewish water skiing

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    I am interested in unexpected intersections. That’s one of the reasons why I blog about Jews and metal. It’s how the whole best water skiewr in Luxembourg thing came about.

    In an idle moment recently I wondered how far these intersections could go. Is there a crossover between metal, Jews, water skiing and Luxembourg (other than me?). Google suggests not. Heavy metal water skiing perhaps? This is more likely – I’m sure some people are into both, although I can find no direct evidence of this. Jews and water skiing? Again, I’m sure plenty of Jews water ski and there appears to be water skiing in Israel. Jews, water skiing and Luxembourg? Two of the top water skiers in Luxembourg in the 60s, whom I interviewed for my book, married Jews who also water ski.

    But I guess these intersections aren’t really at the top of anyone’s cultural imagination. I did find this semi-amusing cartoon online though:


  13. My recent review of the Atzmon and Landy books in the Jewish Quarterly

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    Non Jewish Jews

    January 31, 2012 by

    The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics

    By Gilad Atzmon
    Zero Books 2011

    Jewish Identity and Palestinian Rights

    By David Landy
    Zed Books 2011

    So contested has the issue of antisemitism become and so promiscuously is the term used that it is increasingly difficult tofind clarity amid the fog of frenzied debate. The publication of these two recent books provides a much needed opportunity to map out exactly where the borderline between disillusionment with Israel, anti-Zionism and antisemitism actually lies.

    David Landy, an Irish-Jewish academic and Palestinian solidarity activist offers a sympathetic but not uncritical analysis of Jewish pro-Palestinian activism, based on extensive interviews. Through these he demonstrates that ‘Israel critical Jews’, as he calls them, are often motivated by a desire to reclaim their Jewish identity from Zionism, and it is through pro-Palestinian activism that many have actually come closer to their Jewishness. Further, some see themselves as providing a kind of guard against anti-Semitism within the wider pro-Palestinian movement. In these respects, most of Landy’s interviewees refute the criticism often made that Israel critical Jews are cynically ‘using’ their Jewishness.

    The book raises complex questions about Jewish activists: Should they concentrate on convincing other Jews and transforming the Jewish community? Should they support groups within Israel itself? Should Jews support the Palestinians as Jews at all? Should Palestinians be the ones to set the agenda for activism? These are difficult questions, and the seriousness and sensitivity with which Landy and his interviewees address them does them credit, even if one disagrees (as I do) with some of the positions they take.

    Israel critical Jews are subject to vituperative criticism from other Jews. They are accused of treachery, of being superficial ‘AsAJews’ and — most seriously — of being apologists for antisemitic anti-Zionism. Sometimes these accusations have merit and sometimes they are simply part of a self-perpetuating circle of intra-Jewish conflict. Amid these inflamed passions, the recent controversy over Gilad Atzmon’s now notorious book The Wandering Who?  superficially looks like another example of an Israel critical Jew being hung out to dry. In fact, Atzmon is a very different character and much more than a Jewish anti-Zionist.

    The Wandering Who? is full of bluster, pompous verbiage and heroic posturing as Atzmon, an acclaimed jazz saxophonist and one of the disillusioned, self-exiled Israelis whose creative cynicism enriches the British cultural scene, seeks to explain his total rejection of Jewish identity. His argument is based upon the premise that Jews fall into three types: ‘those who follow Judaism’, ‘those who regard themselves as human beings who happen to be of Jewish origin’ and ‘those who put their Jewish-ness over and above all of their other traits’. The first two types are ‘harmless and innocent’ but ‘third category’ Jews are the real ‘problem’.

    For Atzmon, in the post-emancipation era it is positively archaic and poisonous for Jews to maintain their ‘tribal’, marginal identities. Atzmon claims to be against what he considers the ‘myth’ of identity, and any kind of minority identity politics. We are all nothing more than human beings. While such a monolithic universalism may be oppressive and in any case unachievable, it doesn’t have to be anti-Semitic as any group identity would be invalid. But Atzmon only singles out one other group for his opprobrium — separatist lesbian feminists — and refrains from mentioning any other ethnic, religious or national minority identity as problematic. It seems that it is only Jews that destructively cling on to their identities.  By clinging onto Jewish identity, ‘third category’ Jews become part of a global network that ‘is all about commitment, one that pulls more and more Jews into an obscure, dangerous and unethical fellowship’. Zionism is just one part of a ‘unique political identity’ that is responsible for Western expansionism, and even the credit crunch (which Atzmon calls the ‘Ziopunch’).  Ultimately, Jews care only for achieving power and dominance, through Zionism and other means.

    Atzmon reserves his greatest contempt for secular, left-wing, anti-Zionist Jews.  To campaign for universal values while identifying as a Jew is contradictory at best and mendacious at worst. To campaign as a Jew for the Palestinians and against Zionism is to automatically invalidate one’s own argument.  Since Jewish identity is the cause of Palestinian oppression, it cannot contribute to Palestinian liberation. Only through the renunciation of Jewish identity can those who are born Jewish bring peace and justice to the world.

    Atzmon argues that the politics of anti-Zionist Jews, neo-cons and every other kind of Jew are simply part of one interdependent Jewish political identity, engendered by what Atzmon calls the ‘holocaust religion’. This predates the actual holocaust (which in any case Atzmon appears to be skeptical about, while not actually denying) assuming the latter actually took place and is a religion based upon an imagined fear of gentile hostility designed to perpetuate separation of the Jews from the rest of humanity. The holocaust religion, according to Atzmon, requires Jews to infiltrate all of society and politics. Jewish anti-Zionists and neo-cons alike are simply ensuring that Jews cover all the bases in their quest for political ubiquity.

    The book is a peculiar mix of polemic, philosophising and personal narrative which creates a veneer of radicalism and up to date thinking. But, beneath it all, Atzmon is more conventional that he thinks he is. Ultimately, The Wandering Who? boils down to a number of hoary old anti-semitic tropes:

    When Jews appear to be assimilating, they are really infiltrating and subverting.

    When Jews identify themselves as Jews, they are primitive separatists.

    Jews are obsessively concerned with attaining power and influence.

    Jews are responsible for the hatred they attract.

    The holocaust myth is simply a Jewish strategy to gain power through the world’s guilt.  The Wandering Who? is an anti-Semitic book certainly, but is it a dangerous book? So ludicrous are his arguments and so pompous is his tone that it is tempting to dismiss Atzmon as a crank. More genuinely disturbing is the fact that this book was published at all. Zero Books is a small company that has published some excellent quirky philosophy and intellectually rigorous criticism; they should have seen the book for what it was. (The book is endorsed by figures like Richard Falk, John Mearsheimer and Karl Sabbagh who, while strong critics of Israel and Zionism, should have heard alarm bells ringing when they saw the chapter entitled ‘Swindler’s List’). Ironically, it is precisely Atzmon’s Jewish background that gains him this platform, providing an alibi for his antisemitism.

    Perhaps Atzmon has done us a service by illustrating exactly where anti-Zionism becomes antisemitism. In fact, anti-Zionist Jews, like Tony Greenstein, are among Atzmon’s most severe critics. Perhaps agreement over Atzmon might even provide the basis for a productive dialogue on antisemitism between Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews.

    To the extent that Landy’s book is mostly carefully argued and certainly not antisemitic, it is perhaps unfair to compare it to Atzmon’s.  But both of them demonstrate the weakness of a certain kind of contemporary Jewish critique of Jewishness: it develops in ignorance of Judaism and the contemporary Jewish world.  To give one example of both authors’ ignorance, Landy says that Reform Judaism ‘may be developing into a syncretic Judeo-Christian religion’ and Atzmon doesn’t acknowledge that it even exists in his blanket statement that ‘Judaism is a non-reformable religion’.  Atzmon sees the apparent divisions between Jews as irrelevant, and Landy lumps all Zionist Jews into one monolithic bloc. Landy’s caricature of the Jewish community as filled with fervent Zionists who live in denial of the Palestinian plight may not be as antisemitic as Atzmon’s caricature of Jews as a clan of power-crazed paranoids is, but they are both caricatures nonetheless.

    It is vital that Jews, Judaism and Jewishness be subjected to critique in order to stay alive and dynamic. There is a long and distinguished history of Jewish heretics and mavericks, from Elisha Ben Abuya, through Spinoza to Walter Benjamin. But the ones who really made a mark were those who were steeped in the traditions they rebelled against. Critiques founded on ignorance and fantasies will always fail.





  14. Attack on Souciant

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    Souciant, one of my favourite web publications, for which I’ve written a number of times, is currently fighting off an attack on its website. Although, it’s not yet entirely clear whether this an intentional ideological attack or not. Still, it’s worrying whatever the reason and the site is still not back up at the time of writing. Here is a statement by Joel Schalit, Souciant’s managing editor and co-founder. Feel free to share.

    On Sunday morning, Souciant was attacked and taken offline The culprit is a hacker, who, as we were informed today, placed malicious code in our backend, causing havoc inside of our website.

    If this was done intentionally (not all malicious hacking is) it was done for ideological reasons. Souciant’s commissions on Israeli foreign policy, US politics, and European multiculturalism, are particularly popular on social media sites such as Reddit. Not always for positive reasons. Still, we’re grateful for the attention. If we’re being punished because of the quality of our publications, we must be doing something right.

    Souciant was founded in 2010 by journalists, designers, and publishers with backgrounds at firms such as  the BBC, Yahoo!, Sub Pop records, and Punk Planet. Its staff are volunteers. Launched on March 15th last year, without funding, Souciant boasts eleven thousand dedicated monthly readers, primarily in North America and Europe. Souciant’s articles have been translated into French, Hebrew and Korean.

    Souciant publishes one feature a day. The idea is less is more. That is, higher profiles for Souciant’s contributors, and wider recognition of their work. The fact that our publications are progressive – our last two articles were on Roberto Bolaño’s newly translated novel about Nazi role playing, and a piece advocating the translation of German newspapers for immigrants – is exactly the approach that’s required.

    Please help spread the word about what’s happened. Because we’re small and independent, Souciant is an obvious target. One shot like this, and we’re down.