03 March 2009

Is it possible to discriminate against a state? (IV)

Another obnoxious editorial raises the question in a slightly different, more specific, form: is it possible to be anti-Semitic against a state?

The weirdness of this question is perhaps made even more obvious. The poster is clumsy, perhaps hackneyed - just as, in my perception, much "Israeli Apartheid Week" activity tends to be - but is there any reasonable sense in which it's racist?

Israel Apartheid Week Poster
The state is represented by an object, suggesting it is more like a helicopter - an inorganic object - than a person or people. The author, of course, calls this a "fig-leaf": the helicopter is implicitly "the Jew." Of course, the state is, physically, neither an inorganic object nor a person or people. At least in this context, the state is not really physical in any non-trivial way. But the state is still plausibly an object: a symbol or social fact or collective identity or [insert generic constructivist-scientific-realist platitude here].

Therefore, it is at least possible to attack or negatively depict a state without attacking any person or group, except to the extent that citizens of a given state or external groups that shape state policy can be held responsible for the state actions in question. But the latter kind of attribution of responsibility is an empirical and moral question, not one to be a priori dismissed as discriminatory and racist. To what extent are Americans responsible for torture and cruelty? That would be a perfectly reasonable question for debate, and not racist or discriminatory in any meaningful way.

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