18 March 2024

Anti-Semitism: the Blind Spot in the Fight against Racism? – A Personal Note

On 15 March 2024, the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights Geneva (FIFDH) hosted a panel discussion on “Antisémitisme : angle mort des luttes antiracistes ?” with Davide Rodogno, Professor of International History and Politics and Head of Interdisciplinary Programmes (MINT) at the Geneva Graduate Institute; Pamela Ohene-Nyako, feminist and antiracist activist and founder of Afrolitt' ; and Hanna Assouline, activist and founder of the Guerrières de la paix movement.


As racism is, alas, alive and kicking, the Geneva International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH) decided to devote a roundtable, documentary film projections and various other events to it. Amongst these events, one revolved around a specific kind of racism: anti-Semitism. I was invited to this roundtable; here follows a short personal note.

The founders of Chahut Media, Carole Harari and David Brun-Lambert, and I worked together on different projects, including the founding of a podcast company called Utopia3. In 2022, we recorded a podcast series on the decolonisation of the city, with Mahmoud Mohamedou. Last year, I was actively involved in the recordings of a podcast “Qui a Peur des Juifs?” The idea stemmed from the reading of a book by sociologist Ilana Weizman: Des Blancs pas comme les Autres (Paris: Stock 2022).

The book was important and closely related to my interdisciplinary teaching and research agenda. Back in 2018, Mahmoud Mohamedou and I designed a seminar on the international history and politics of racism, to my knowledge the first on this topic, which we taught for three years in a row. Ilana’s book intersected perfectly well with our pedagogical objective, since her book examines a specific kind of racism: anti-Semitism, which is either artificially singled out or, more often, forgotten in the context of anti-racist struggles. One the objectives Mahmoud and I had — and still have — was twofold: on the one hand teaching on specifics ideas and forms of racism, from islamophobia to anti-Black, anti-Rom, anti-Asian discriminations in given times and spaces, and, on the other hand, zooming out and explaining broader contexts, related to colonialism, imperialism, to ideologies from capitalism and communism to fascisms. A third thread of the seminar was to work on post-colonial forms of discrimination that, alas, continue to take place on all continents of our planet.

Taking a cue from Ilana’s book and the podcast, the roundtable that took place at the FIFDH on 15 March 2024 discussed the reasons why anti-Semitism is forgotten (an angle mort, blind spot) when we talk about or anti-racist advocacy. What mattered to me was to take the time in a non-academic context such as FIFDH to explain the historical specificities of anti-Semitism. The latter shares with other forms of discrimination some characteristics, including violence and the incongruence of purposes. However, the genealogy of anti-Semitism is specific. The same goes for Islamophobia or anti-Rom racism. The histories of these racisms are far from being identical. They are distinct. Anti-Semitism, which is a European invention is far longer established than anti-Black racism. However, Anti-Semitism shares with other forms of racism its egregiously pernicious nature and, sadly, one wonders if it will ever be eradicated. We tackled the issue of competition amongst discriminated groups and communities, along with the convergence and possible ways of cooperating amongst anti-racist activists. We discussed how difficult it is to bundle the universalist ambition to end all forms of discrimination with the importance for individual anti-racist groups to make progress in their struggles, in different geographical areas and societies.

The words of hope by two young engaged, competent and intelligent activists, Hannah Assouline (founder of Les Guerrières de la paix) and Pamela Ohene-Nyako (founder of Afrolitt) provided a breath of fresh air in a moment when, because of the tragic events in the Middle East, many of us find it difficult to breathe. Both were acutely aware of what they needed to do to advocate for their specific causes and persuasively explained why the convergence of anti-racist struggles make sense to them and why cooperation among activist groups is essential. 

Watch the Panel Discussion

From left to right: Davide Rodogno with panelists Pamela Ohene-Nyako and Hannah Assouline, and moderator Célia Héron of Le Temps. ©FIFDH2024/Claire Zombas