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by Petra Marquardt-Bigman


In May 2004, the obscure journal Race Traitor featured an article on "Zionism, Antisemitism, and the People of Palestine" authored by Noel Ignatiev. On the website,[1] the piece was prefaced with a note in red print that announced: "This paper is based on a talk I delivered on March 31, 2004. It is intended as a popular summary of the historical and theoretical basis of the current conflict. I make no pretense of scholarship."

Once you start to read the hair-raising mix of delusions, distortions, misrepresentations, falsehoods and conspiracy theories, you quickly realize just how much pretense it would have taken to claim that anything like "scholarship" had gone into the writing of this deplorable diatribe.

Since the piece is supposedly also about anti-Semitism, it's worthwhile to quote what the author has to say about this subject:

I will say only that antisemitism (or more accurately anti-Jewish sentiment) is rooted neither in human nature or Christian theology; it is the product of social relations, including the historic concentration of Jews as representatives of commerce in non-commercial societies. The peculiar occupational distribution of European Jews led members of the dispossessed classes among the non-Jewish population to direct their animosity toward the Jews as the visible agents of oppression."

In other words: Europe's Jews themselves, who over centuries of discrimination had been excluded from many professions, were ultimately to blame for anti-Semitism - that's as good as it gets when you ask an anti-Semite to explain anti-Semitism. That an article espousing this kind of views would also be featured in the fervently anti-Zionist and sometimes unabashedly anti-Semitic magazine Counterpunch[2] is hardly surprising, but that parts of such an article would form the basis for an entry on Zionism in the "Encyclopedia of Race and Racism" published under a reputable name like Macmillan Reference USA is almost too preposterous to believe.

Yet, this is what happened - and as Ben Cohen explains at Z Word,[3] it happened even though the American Jewish Committee (AJC) explained to the responsible staff at Macmillan in detail why this entry was utterly objectionable. The exchange between AJC Executive Director David Harris and Macmillan Reference USA described by Ben makes for almost eerie reading. Apparently none of the people responsible for the encyclopedia had much of an answer when Harris raised questions like: "Why, for example, do you include an entry on the Jewish form of nationalism when there is no entry for nationalism itself? Why, moreover, do you include the Jewish form of nationalism and not, say, Ba'athism, an Arab form of nationalism which was deeply influenced, as Elie Kedourie and other scholars of nationalism have pointed out, by Nazi ideology?"

AND APPARENTLY NONE OF THE RESPONSIBLE PEOPLE AT MACMILLAN REFERENCE USA HAD A PROBLEM with the fact, pointed out by Harris, that their encyclopedia featured an entry on Zionism that included parts of an article written for a magazine like Counterpunch whose editors are proud of their "muckraking with a radical attitude".[4] One can only conclude that when it comes to Zionism, some at Macmillian Reference USA believe that this is just the right attitude, no "pretense of scholarship" required...

It is certainly revealing that in response to the many valid objections raised by David Harris, the persons in charge of the encyclopedia at Macmillan Reference USA noted that they felt unable to "operate as arbitrators of these controversies." This is an amazing statement, because if the publisher and editor of an encyclopedia are aware of "controversies", they should at the very minimum also feel obliged to explain why their encyclopedia would not only completely ignore these controversies, but even feature an entry that presented only the most extreme views on the subject matter.

Both David Harris in his memo for Macmillan Reference USA and Ben in his blog post at Z Word make the important point that people consult an encyclopedia with the expectation to find reliable and unbiased information. Instead, Macmillan Reference USA decided to single out the Jewish form of nationalism and assign the entry to a writer who cannot even bring himself to refer to the Israeli government, but instead prefers the term "Zionist authorities".

As David Harris rightly noted:

"[This is] the tell-tale language of someone who does not believe Israel has a right to exist. Ignatiev is completely at liberty to believe this. What is not acceptable is his imposition of this belief upon an encyclopedia entry which many readers believe to be objective."

Unfortunately, however, it is clear that the people in charge of the encyclopedia felt that it was entirely acceptable for the author they chose to write about Zionism to present Jewish nationalism in a completely negative light and deny Jews the right to self-determination in a state of their own.

Little wonder that one review posted on Amazon[5] is entitled: "A Racist Encyclopedia of Race & Racism -- How Ironic!" I'm afraid, though, that calling it "ironic" is taking this incident far too lightly.


1.  Noel Ignatiev, "Zionism, Anti-Semitism and the People of Palestine," based on talk delivered March 31, 20004, Race Traitor

2.  Noel Ignatiev, "Zionism, Anti-Semitism and the People of Palestine," June 17, 2004, Counterpunch

3.  Ben Cohen, "Macmillan USA Encyclopedia Damns Zionism as Racism," October 13, 2008,
[Editor's Note: includes interesting readers' comments about Noel Ignatiev.]

4.  Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, editors. Counterpunch

5.  Customer Reviews, Encyclopedia of Race And Racism (Encyclopedia of Race and Racism) 3 Volume Set
[Editor's Note: Curious: Readers rated the book either very good - "5" - or very bad - "1". There were no in-between scores, except for one. Most raters found the negative reviews helpful. One who disliked the book wondered why the publishers chose a professor at a college of art and design as author. One who liked the book praised the books by Professors Walt and Mearsheimer and Jimmy Carter that "opened the floodgates of truth". This assumes that pre-Carter anti-semites were shy about speaking up.]

Some Readers' Comments

1 | Ken Besig, Kiryat Arba, Israel, Sunday Oct 19, 2008
The unwillingness of the editors of this paricularly disturbing piece of literature to either denounce it or to question it's veracity or it's bias makes them complicit in it's indecency and immorality. This is to me more of a problem than the insane and ludicrous rantings of the author of this filth.

4 | Geary, Italy, Monday Oct 20, 2008
As an academic myself - not Jewish, but that's neither here nor there - with large numbers of students, I shall certainly be raising this issue with Macmillan. I just wonder whether such a refusal to acknowledge a problem over an issue of such sensitivity to Israelis, and to many Jews in general, is deliberate kowtowing to the Zionophobe lobby which is so influential in many humanities departments in academia.

8 | Carl Levine, New Mexico, Wednesday Oct 22, 2008
If you read the article, the author is no anti-semite. He seems to have this strange idea that citizenship and rights shouldn't be ascribed by race or religion. I would recommend that those who are commenting read the article.

10 | Ben Ami, Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday Oct 22, 2008
I read the article. If Ignatiev is not antisemitic then who needs antisemites? ------- And, most Israelis will agree that citizenship and rights shouldn't be ascribed by race or religion. In Israel immigration is ascribed largely (but not only) by nationality, Israel being the ancient homeland of the Jewish people, whether they are black, brown, or white, religious or non-religious. Somewhat similar to Switzerland, Japan, and many other countries.

13 | Milla, Thursday Oct 23, 2008
Ignatiev was (don't know if he still claims to be) a Marxist who subscribes to "Abolishing the White Race," thus his "anti racist" credentials are beyond question, apparently.

18 | AKUS MD USA, Friday Oct 24, 2008
Carl Levine - I actually did read the article, and since space here is limited here are a just a couple of thoughts for you. The idea of "One State" is anti-Semitic code for "wipe Israel off the map". Among other calumnies in the article, Cynthia McKinney did not lose her seat just because of the Jews and her anti-semitic views and those of her father and supporters, but because a majority of voters, who by definition were not Jewish, could not take her racism any longer, which culminated in abuse of the security personnel at the screening tables in Congress, and voted her out.

This was posted October 19, 2008 as a Jerusalem Post blog

Thanks are due Barbara Taverna for sending this in.


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