(Editors Note: The move towards antitisemitism has appeared in different degrees throughout the world. What form it takes, its influence, which political party(Ies) are involved, and why this is happening differs from country to country. The UK is an example of the effect of antisemitism)
LONDON — Last month, a co-chairman of the Oxford University Labour Club, Alex Chalmers, quit in protest at what he described as rampant anti-Semitism among members. A “large proportion” of the club “and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews,” he said in a statement.
Chalmers referred to members of the executive committee “throwing around the term ‘Zio’” — an insult used by the Ku Klux Klan; high-level expressions of “solidarity with Hamas” and explicit defense of “their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians”; and the dismissal of any concern about anti-Semitism as “just the Zionists crying wolf.”
The zeitgeist on campuses these days, on both sides of the Atlantic, is one of identity and liberation politics. Jews, of course, are a minority, but through a fashionable cultural prism they are seen as the minority that isn’t — that is to say white, privileged and identified with an “imperialist-colonialist” state, Israel. They are the anti-victims in a prevalent culture of victimhood; Jews, it seems, are the sole historical victim whose claim is dubious.
A recent Oberlin alumna, Isabel Storch Sherrell, wrote in a Facebook post of the students she’d heard dismissing the Holocaust as mere “white on white crime.” As reported by David Bernstein in The Washington Post, she wrote of Jewish students, “Our struggle does not intersect with other forms of racism.”
Noa Lessof-Gendler, a student at Cambridge University, complained last month in Varsity, a campus newspaper, that anti-Semitism was felt “in the word ‘Zio’” flung around in left-wing groups.” She wrote, “I’m Jewish, but that doesn’t mean I have Palestinian blood on my hands,” or should feel nervous “about conversations in Hall when an Israeli speaker visits.”
The rise of the leftist Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of Britain’s opposition Labour Party appears to have empowered a far left for whom support of the Palestinians is uncritical and for whom, in the words of Alan Johnson, a British political theorist, “that which the demonological Jew once was, demonological Israel now is.”
Corbyn is no anti-Semite. But he has called Hamas and Hezbollah agents of “long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region,” and once invited to Parliament a Palestinian Islamist, Raed Salah, who has suggested Jews were absent from the World Trade Center on 9/11. Corbyn called him an “honored citizen.” The “Corbynistas” on British campuses extol their fight against the “racist colonization of Palestine,” as one Oxford student, James Elliott, put it. Elliott was narrowly defeated last month in a bid to become youth representative on Labour’s national executive committee.
What is striking about the anti-Zionism derangement syndrome that spills over into anti-Semitism is its ahistorical nature. It denies the long Jewish presence in, and bond with, the Holy Land. It disregards the fundamental link between murderous European anti-Semitism and the decision of surviving Jews to embrace Zionism in the conviction that only a Jewish homeland could keep them safe. It dismisses the legal basis for the modern Jewish state in United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947. This was not “colonialism” but the post-Holocaust will of the world: Arab armies went to war against it and lost.
As Simon Schama, the historian, put it last month in The Financial Times, the Israel of 1948 came into being as a result of the “centuries-long dehumanization of the Jews.”
The Jewish state was needed. History had demonstrated that. That is why I am a Zionist — now a dirty word in Europe.
Today, it is Palestinians in the West Bank who are dehumanized through Israeli dominion, settlement expansion and violence. The West Bank is the tomb of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Palestinians, in turn, incite against Jews and resort to violence, including random stabbings.
The oppression of Palestinians should trouble every Jewish conscience. But nothing can justify the odious “anti-Semitic anti-Zionism” (Johnson’s term) that caused Chalmers to quit and is seeping into British and American campuses.
I talked to Aaron Simons, an Oxford student who was president of the university’s Jewish society. “There’s an odd mental noise,” he said. “In tone and attitude the way you are talked to as a Jew in these left political circles reeks of hostility. These people have an astonishingly high bar for what constitutes anti-Semitism.”
Johnson, writing in Fathom Journal, outlined three components to left-wing anti-Semitic anti-Zionism. First, “the abolition of the Jewish homeland; not Palestine alongside Israel, but Palestine instead of Israel.” Second, “a demonizing intellectual discourse” that holds that “Zionism is racism” and pursues the “systematic Nazification of Israel.” Third, a global social movement to “exclude one state — and only one state — from the economic, cultural and educational life of humanity.”
Criticism of Israel is one thing; it’s needed in vigorous form. Demonization of Israel is another, a familiar scourge refashioned by the very politics — of identity and liberation — that should comprehend the millennial Jewish struggle against persecution.
THE LEFT’S JEWISH PROBLEM: JEREMY CORBYN, ISRAEL AND ANTI-SEMITISM – REVIEW Dave Rich’s new history reveals the origins of Labour’s recent antisemitic scandal in a wider leftwing revival of prejudice The Guardian, Nick Cohen, 13 September 2016
Consider the following: Labour has had to suspend 18 members, including one MP and a former mayor of London, because of their allegedly racist displays. Everywhere, “Zionist” and “Zio” are used to define Jews, and non-Jews who question left orthodoxy, as “the other”: barely human monsters, who must be cast from the bounds of leftish society. The leader of the Labour party has defended supporters of every variety of ancient prejudice: the Palestinian activist who revived the medieval libel that Jews used the blood of Christian children to make bread; the Anglican vicar who promoted the views of modern neo-Nazis that the Jewish conspiracy was now so malign and supernaturally powerful it was responsible for 9/11. After reviving old prejudices, Labour members adopt new ones just for fun. Jews were the chief financiers of the slave trade, they say as they repeat a fantasy promoted by the US race-huckster Louis Farrakhan. Jews collaborated with Hitler, they continue as they repeat the fantasies of 20th-century Marxist-Leninists.
To get a bearing, imagine that Theresa May and leading members of the cabinet had endorsed the supporters and ideology of the Ku Klux Klan or Britain First, and then rewarded the chairwoman of a supposedly independent inquiry into rightwing racism with a peerage.
In the 70s, there was at least an awareness of the danger of slipping into reactionary politics
How a party that was once proud of its anti-fascist traditions became the natural home for creeps, cranks and conspiracists is the subject of Dave Rich’s authoritative history of left antisemitism, which is all the more powerful for its moral and intellectual scrupulousness. Rich knows as well as anyone there are many lefts, not one homogeneous movement. Unfortunately for Britain, representatives of the darkest left factions control Labour and much of the trade union movement, and dominate the intelligentsia. On the rare occasions when they are challenged, they say “I am not antisemitic, I am just anti-Zionist” – an excuse that mirrors the protestations of the Daily Mail that it is not against ethnic minorities, just anti-PC. Rich uses it as key to understanding the strange history of how a leftwing movement many Jews once supported became an unsafe space.
Zionism is the nationalist belief that the Jews should have a homeland. Once a controversial idea among European Jews, it turned into common sense as fascism grew. What, in these circumstances, does anti-Zionism mean? From the 1970s on, opponents of Israel had to decide whether anti-Zionism meant a fulfilment of Palestinian national rights via a two-state solution which recognised that Palestine was the focus of competing Jewish and Arab nationalisms, or whether it required them to support a war to the death, which would lead to an ethnically and (with the rise of Sunni fundamentalism) confessionally pure state. The question is rarely asked, let alone answered. Today’s Palestine solidarity movements lack the guts to say openly that they want an end to Israel, and instead argue for the right of Palestinians to return to Israel, which would destroy it as a Jewish state.
I suppose it is possible to agitate for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish country without being a racist. Rich shows in the 1970s there was at least an awareness of the danger of slipping into reactionary politics. The far left tried to ban Jews speaking at universities and supported violence, but it very rarely talked in Hitlerian tones of a vast Jewish conspiracy.
The perception that Labour has failed to address bigotry within its ranks threatens to dominate the London mayoral race
Anti-fascism died when Islamist utopianism annihilated socialist utopianism. At a pro-Palestinian rally in the 20th century, you would hear dreams of a future where the Arab and Jewish working classes would unite in a common homeland. By contrast, at a pro-Palestinian rally led by Corbyn in 2002, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood handed out newspapers instructing marchers that man was on Earth to serve God, and Muslims and non-Muslims could not be treated equally in an Islamic state. All of a sudden, and without anything resembling a debate, the loudest voices in the British and world left were on the side of men whose prejudices, not only against Jews, but against women, homosexuals, secular societies, and human rights, combined the worst theology of the seventh century with the worst ideology of the 20th.
If Rich has a fault, it is that as a rational historian, he cannot speculate on the psychological appeal of left antisemitism. Novelists would notice the attraction of an authorised racism to leftists, who in other respects are highly constrained in what they can say by speech codes. They would find that a prejudice that endorsed fascism as well as 2,000 years of Christian polemics and persecutions fitted far-left political beliefs rather well. It is not a large step, after all, to go from saying that democracy is a swindle perpetrated by the “neoliberal” world order, to saying that the swindlers are the “Rothschilds”, the “Zionists” the – oh, let’s just spit it out – the Jews.
The damage that the embrace of the politics of the radical and religious right has done to progressive causes ought to be evident enough one year into Corbyn’s leadership. The damage that will be done if it is not stopped is, in my view, incalculable.
The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism, 6 Sep 2016 by Dave Rich is published by Biteback (£12.99).
THE LEFT’S PROBLEM WITH JEWS HAS A LONG AND MISERABLE HISTORY Financial Times, Simon Schama February 19 2016 by: Simon Schama
Much of the student left has “some kind of problem with Jews”, said the bravely decent Alex Chalmers last week in his resignation statement as co-chair of the Oxford University Labour Club following a vote in favour of Israeli Apartheid Week.
Labour’s national student organisation is launching an inquiry but the “the problem with Jews” on the left is not going away. In January a meeting of the Kings College London Israel Society, gathered to hear from Ami Ayalon, a former head of Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic intelligence service, who now champions a two-state solution, was violently interrupted by a chair-hurling, window-smashing crowd.
Last summer the Guardian columnist Owen Jones made a courageous plea for the left to confront this demon head on. Since then, however, criticism of Israeli government policies has mutated into a rejection of Israel’s right to exist; the Fatah position replaced by Hamas and Hizbollah eliminationism. More darkly, support in the diaspora for Israel’s right to survive is seen by the likes of Labour’s Gerald Kaufman, who accused the government of being influenced in its Middle Eastern policy by “Jewish money”, as some sort of Jewish conspiracy.
The charge that anti-Zionism is morphing into anti-Semitism is met with the retort that the former is being disingenuously conflated with the latter. But when George Galloway (in August 2014 during the last Gaza war) declared Bradford “an Israel-free zone”; when French Jews are unable to wear a yarmulke in public lest that invite assault, when Holocaust Memorial day posters are defaced, it is evident that what we are dealing with is, in Professor Alan Johnson’s accurate coinage, “anti-semitic anti-Zionism”.
The fact is that the terrorists who slaughtered customers at the kosher supermarket in Paris did not ask their victims whether they were Israelis, much less supporters of Israeli government policies. They were murdered as Jews because in the attackers’ poisoned minds all Jews are indivisibly incriminated as persecutors of the Palestinians and thus fair game for murder.
When the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement singles out Israel as the perpetrator of the world’s worst iniquities, notwithstanding its right of self defence, it is legitimate to ask why the left’s wrath does not extend, for example, to Russia which rains down destruction on civilian populations in Syria?
With the retreat of Marxist socialism, militant energies have needed somewhere to go
Why is it somehow proper to boycott Israeli academics and cultural institutions, many of which are critical of government policy, but to remain passive in the face of Saudi Arabia’s brutal punishment of anyone whose exercise of freedom of conscience can be judged sacrilegious? Why is the rage so conspicuously selective? Or, to put it another way, why is it so much easier to hate the Jews?
Growing up in London in the shadow of world war two my pals and I talked about who might be the bad guys, should evil come our way. We agreed the Jew-haters would not wear brown shirts and jackboots but would probably be like people on the bus. It is not the golf club nose-holders we have to worry about now; it is those who, in their indignation at the sufferings visited on the Palestinians, and their indifference to almost-daily stabbings in the streets of Israel, have discovered the excitement of saying the unspeakable, making hay with history, so Israel is the new reich, and a military attack on Gaza indistinguishable from the industrially processed incineration of millions.
Enter the historian. And history says this: anti-Semitism has not been caused by Zionism; it is precisely the other way round. Israel was caused by the centuries-long dehumanisation of the Jews. The blood libel which accused Jews of murdering Christian children in order to drain their blood for the baking of Passover matzo began in medieval England but never went away, reviving in 16th century Italy, 18th century Poland, 19th century Syria and Bohemia, and 20th century Russia.
In 1980s Syria, Mustafa Tlass, Hafez al-Assad’s minister of defence, made his contribution with The Matzo of Zion, and last year the Israeli-Palestinian Islamist Raed Salah, once invited to parliament by Jeremy Corbyn as an “honoured citizen”, declared that Jews used blood for the dough of their “bread”.
In the 19th century virtual vampirism was added to the antisemitic canon. And the left made its contribution to this refreshment of old poison. Demonstrating that you do not have to be gentile to be an anti-Semite, Karl Marx characterised Judaism as nothing more than the cult of Mammon, and declared that the world needed emancipating from the Jews. Others on the left — the social philosophers Bruno Bauer, Charles Fourier and Pierre Prudhon and the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin — echoed the message: blood sucking, whether the physical or the economic kind, was what Jews did.
For the Jews, the modern world turned out to be a lose-lose proposition. Once reviled for obstinate traditionalism; their insistence on keeping walled off from the rest (notwithstanding that it had been Christians who had done the walling) they were now attacked for integrating too well, speaking, dressing and working no differently but always with the aim of global domination.
What was a Jew to do? The communist Moses Hess, who had been Marx’s editor and friend, became persuaded, all too presciently, that the socialist revolution would do nothing to normalise Jewish existence, not least because so many socialists declared that emancipating the Jews had been a terrible mistake. Hess concluded that only self-determination could protect the Jews from the phobias of right and left alike. He became the first socialist Zionist.
But that was to inflict an entirely colonial and alien enterprise upon a Palestinian population, so the hostile narrative goes, who were penalised for the sins of Europe. That the Palestinians did become tragic casualties of a Judeo-Arab civil war over the country is indisputable, just as the 700,000 Jews who were violently uprooted from their homes in the Islamic world is equally undeniable. But to characterise the country in which the language, the religion and the cultural identity of the Jews was formed as purely a colonial anomaly is the product of the kind of historical innocence which is oblivious of, say, Jewish kabbalistic communities in Galilee in the 16th century or the substantial native Jewish majority in Jerusalem in the late 19th century.
None of this unbroken history of Jews and Judaism in Palestine is likely to do much to cool the heat of the anti-colonial narrative of the alien intruder, especially on the left. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the retreat of Marxist socialism around the world, militant energies have needed somewhere to go.
The battle against inequalities under liberal capitalism has mobilised some of that passion, but postcolonial guilt has fired up the war against its prize whipping boy, Zionism, like no other cause. Every such crusade needs a villain along with its banners and I wonder who that could possibly be?
The writer is an FT contributing editor. He will be taking part in a debate on February 27 during Jewish Book Week.
Jeremy Corbyn at a Palestinian Solidarity Campaigndemonstration, London, May 2009. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo