The rising anti-Semitism of the Left

May 3, 2016 • 2:30 pm

I’ve harped on this for a while, so I don’t need to do it again. Instead, I’ll let someone else do it for me.

Most of you, if you’ve read the news, know that the Labour Party in Britain is in trouble, having expelled several members for anti-Semitic comments, some of those comments pretty vile.  In an op-ed in today’s New York Times, “The British Left’s ‘Jewish Problem,’” English writer Kenan Malik analyzes the issue. I’m not going to add much value to the quotes I’ll give, so you’ll probably want to read the whole piece, especially the second and third paragraphs below (my emphasis):

Yet neither the cynicism nor the hypocrisy should distract us from the problem of anti-Semitism — not just in the Labour Party, but on the political left more generally. It is not that the left is packed with anti-Semites; rather, too many among them have been willing to accommodate bigotry.

This acquiescence is rooted in the changing character of the left in recent years. Anti-Semitism used to be a problem primarily of the right. It wasn’t that the left had a totally clean bill of health — there is a history of left-wing anti-Semitism — but its firm foundation of universal values and egalitarian principles established a proud tradition of fighting bigotry against Jews.

In recent decades, however, much of the left has retreated from these commitments. Where before radicals challenging inequality and oppression did so in the name of universal rights, many now stress multiculturalism, celebrating a world divided into distinct cultures, each with its own ideas, beliefs and values. Such “identity politics” turns on its head the dictum of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that one should judge people “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Once identity becomes the primary feature of political life, then people are judged as much by the group to which they belong as by their character or principles.

After decrying an identity politics that makes people hold all Jews responsible for Israel’s actions, and thus allowing them to go after Jews themselves, Malik adds that he also deplores those who equate criticism of Zionism with anti-Semitism. I have a bit more trouble with that because criticism of Zionism is not identical to criticism of Israel. (I don’t automatically think that critics of Israel are anti-Semitic.) Zionism is simply the view that Jews should have a homeland in the Middle East. That is a fait accompli, and so anti-Zionism is the denial or wish for reversal of that fait. You can of course, say that Israel shouldn’t exist, or shouldn’t have been allowed to exist, but at least admit it if that’s what you mean. But do recognize that Israel is here and isn’t going anywhere, and there will be no peace that doesn’t recognize that fact.

Malik adds this:

The final issue, and perhaps the one most difficult to broach for many on the left, is the growth of Muslim communities in the West. “It pains me to have to admit this,” wrote Mehdi Hasan, one of Britain’s leading left-wing Muslim voices, in 2013, “but anti-Semitism isn’t just tolerated in some sections of the British Muslim community, it’s routine and commonplace.”

Last month, an opinion poll of British Muslims bore out Mr. Hasan’s contention. It showed a significant proportion of British Muslims — 30 percent to 40 percent — clinging to virtually every conspiracy theory about Jews: that they held too much power over government, the media, business and world affairs.

There are complex reasons for the growth of anti-Semitism among British Muslims. But whatever the reasons, these are attitudes and beliefs that must be challenged every time they surface. Many liberal Muslims do just that, often at great cost. But too many on the left have been willing to overlook such bigotry.

. . . It is not that Labour’s leadership is anti-Semitic. What is troubling has been its unwillingness to call out those who are. And that is true of too many on the left.

h/t: Greg Mayer

34 thoughts on “The rising anti-Semitism of the Left

  1. I greatly respect Kenan Malik, but depore his use her eof the term “Zionist”, which puts in the same box Yitzhak Rabin and his murderer; Netanyahu and anyone who thinks the Jews of Israel should not be sent back to where their grandparents came from

    1. you think Israelis should be sent back to ‘where their grandparents came from’?

      Are you in US? Can we send you back to where your ancestors came from before they moved here?

  2. And of course it’s a great distractor, seized on by the BBC and by the Murdoch Media when they would do better to report the deep divisions within the Conservative party, and the issues involved in next month’s referendum on Britain’s EU membership

    1. I like the way you lump together the BBC and the “Murdoch media”, into what I assume you think is some malevolent right-wing conspiracy to distract people from their rightful task of criticising the Conservative Party. Why on Earth would the BBC want to do that? With the exception of Andrew Neil, it’s basically an arm of the Labour Party, populated by an army of identikit North London champagne socialists – the same type that voted Comrade Corbyn into the party leadership last year.

      I’d argue that the rancid anti-Semitism (masquerading as “anti-Zionism”) that festers at the heart of left-wing politics today is a far more important issue than Britain’s membership of the EU, and the Conservative Party’s schisms on that issue. Britain will survive in or out of the EU. It’s just a matter of how you choose to weigh up the pros and cons of membership. The rise of what are essentially Nazi-style attitudes to Jews among the ever-growing muslim population, willingly aided and abetted by their allies-of-convenience on the political left, have the potential to cause real harm to real people. In France in the last few years we’ve seen Jews murdered by muslim terrorists just for being Jews. It hasn’t yet happened in Britain but I fear we will see it before long if this cancer isn’t cut out of our political life.

      1. There are several ways that the regressive left in the UK respond to the evidence one provides of anti-Semitic persons within the Labour Party. One is to deny it: another is to ignore it and not respond; a third is to deliberately misunderstand and to accuse one of declaring that the LP is institutionally racist.

        Even today in The Telegraph there is a report of 50 anti-Semites having been chucked out of the party in the last 2 weeks: I haven’t checked it.

        This week, Nick Cohen has been tw**ting, ‘I told you so, you f**king fools!’ (quoting Robert Conquest). And other journos such as Oliver Kamm wrote back in September that Corbyn’s established ‘friendships’ with funders of Hamas and Hezbollah was bound to lead to disaster.

        It’s highly likely that his election as LP leader was on the back of the £3 members who joined the party in droves for the hustings back in June to September 2015. It was the new far left members of the party who voted him in. The LP now has its second highest membership in post-war history – 400,000. These new members are overwhelmingly the types who approve of the ironically-named Stop the War and blame the west for just about everything.

        Throughout all this, quite bewilderingly, Corbyn has managed to deflect any idea that he himself is anti-Semitic, he may well not be, but he enables anti-Semitism.

        All one need do is to look at his record. He was a founder of StW. When things started to get hot around the end of last year, StW deleted from its website any post that looked as if it could be anti-west or written by or referencing an anti-Semite. Fortunately, the deleted posts were saved here:

        You will find there an article from 2005 headed ‘Stop the War Join with the Muslim Brotherhood “Against the Zionist Project”’

        And you can read Heathcote Williams’ anti-Semitic ‘poem’ ‘Ahmad Saleh Manasra’ from October 2015. Among other equally ridiculous articles. I think JC had quit from being Chair of StW by the time of the HW ode.

        But he was Chair of StW when, within 5 days of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, Stop the War ran 5 and possibly 6 articles blaming the murder of the journalists on the journalists themselves or western imperialism.

        This is JC saluting Iran at a Khomeiniist rally in 2014: he omits to mention Iranian women, Trades Unionists, journalists or any oppression in Iran.

        And this is why Corbyn is unfit to be in, never mind lead, the Labour Party.
        As he was presenting an Iranian state-channel PressTV phone-in, in response to a caller wanting to ‘ throw out’ the ‘disease’ Israel, JC replies, “OK, thank you for your call.” Another: the BBC are ‘Zionist liars’. JC responds, “Good point.”
        Unbelievable stupidity. Watch from 7:30.

        Finally, the psephologists tell us that the LP, at this stage in the election cycle, is at the worst point it has ever been. That’s news!

  3. I’ll give a wry smile at the hurt of The Left at being called out over anti-semitism when they have been so willing to call others Islamophobic.

    Identity politics is a double edged sword.

    1. This is one of the strangest things about many modern leftists and liberals.

      They give a free-pass to some of the unwholesome aspects of Islam and the Muslims that follow it, but are often hyper-critical of the actions of Israel and extreme Zionists.

      Some of this criticism seems to edge into the territory of outright anti-semitism.

      Why such blatant double-standards? Extreme forms of Islamism and Zionism should both be criticised and held to account – just as every other extreme or violent political or belief system should be.

  4. A perfect example of how the vile regressive left now deflect and enable Islamism, yet try to hide their anti-Semitism via obsessive publishing of “anti-Zionist” tropes, would be one Courtenay Werleman.

    It is about time the bigotry of the regressive left/SJWs/FTBullies was called out.

  5. Zionism is simply the view that Jews should have a homeland in the Middle East. That is a fait accompli, and so anti-Zionism is the denial or wish for reversal of that fait.

    Hmmm, I think the term anti-Zionist is sometimes used pejoratively by conservatives to refer to anyone who opposes expanded settlement by Israel. That doesn’t really go along with any sort of dictionary-definition of Zionism, but there it is; a lot of people I’d consider moderates because they support Israel but oppose west bank settlements, would probably be labeled anti-Zionist by the right.

    More nuanced, Zionism is also about ensuring the Jewish homeland remains at least sufficiently Jewish that control of the homeland isn’t ceded to non-Jews due to mere demographics. There is nothing nefarious about this – the whole point of creating a homeland was to ensure physical and political security of Jews. However, IMO it brings up some thorny issues about immigration, citizenship, religious freedom, and so on. If we would object to a religiously biased immigration policy for ourselves and our enemies, why don’t we object to that policy when our allies do it? Is this just a realpolitik necessary exception? Or should we support every country’s right to select their citizens based (in part) on religion? Yikes! Don’t tell that to Ken Ham or Ted Cruz.

    1. Personally, I support the right of every sovereign state to admit or refuse entry to prospective immigrants on any criteria it cares to apply – whether on grounds of racial background, religious affiliation, educational qualifications or anything else. Admission to someone else’s country is a privilege, not a right. A state is no more obliged to admit immigrants who it doesn’t want than I am to admit any stranger who turns up on my doorstep and asks if he can move into my spare room. My house, my rules: “fairness” doesn’t come into it.

      1. Perhaps; I’ll grant it ex hypothesi. But then there is the question of the *existing citizens*. I for one object to the idea that a country could call itself Christian in a legal sense, and similarly for any other creed or view, and that’s what claiming that Israel is a “Jewish state” seems to do.

    2. Zionism would be more palatable if it didn’t also include the desire to take other people’s land based on a belief that a certain people somehow deserve it more than others.

    3. It’s worth noting that the words Zionist and Zionism are also used in great extent by people believing in the anti-Semitic conspiracy that Jews rule the world.

      They will often state that Zionists controls the government and that Zionists were behind this and that terrorist attack.
      Sometimes they slip and write Jew instead. They will then immediately say that they actually meant Zionists.
      The word Zionist makes them more acceptable and less likely to get banned from different fora.
      But there’s no mistaking their true intent. They hate Jews, not some mysterious Zionist conspiracy.

      I completely agree with you that anti-zionism is used wrongly by the christian right wing. Often they use it as often as anti-Semitism against people that simply disagree with some of Israel’s policies.

    4. In israels case its a basic survival issue = sometimes its necessary not to stickle on issues that other countries can afford. To my mind human rights are always the objective but they always occur in a context – you can’t improve peoples lives on an ideal – its got to be in context of whats possible and this is the problem I have with the modern left

  6. Call me a cynic, but I have the sneaking suspicion that a hefty proportion of the anti-semitism displayed by the Left has to do with the fact that the Right is perceived as pro Israel. Its a political rich daddy rebellious kid scenario.

    1. Almost certainly. Alan Sokal (1997, p. 198) pointed out otherwise unrelated, but bundled up views as connected through “sociological links” (then about the paradox that the Left embraced postmodernism). He wrote:

      Now, it often happens that a given social group shares two ideas (or two groups of ideas), call them A and B. Let us suppose that A is relatively valid, that B is much less valid, and that there is no real logical link between the two. People belonging to the social group will often try to legitimize B by invoking the validity of A and the existence of a sociological link between A and B. Conversely, their opponents will try to denigrate A by citing the lack of validity of B and the same sociological link

      A variant of this observation is the fear of getting applause from the wrong people, or the wrong side.

    2. That is one cause. But the main causes are:

      1) The regressive left has embraced a simplistic post-colonial race-obsessed narrative which every issue in the world must be shoe-horned into. Jews, perceived as a largely successful, integrated group in the West, and running a largely successful, human-captial based country in Israel, are seen as the ultimate bad Whites oppressing innocent Browns.

      2) The left leaning parties in the UK and Europe made a devil’s bargain to ally with Islamists, and Islamists have been calling in the chips on this and other issues.

      1. whats the difference between total idealism regardless of physical and circumstantial constraint of the situation and the metaphysics and extremism of religion? Nothing

        1. Religion lasts because it restores cultural stability by
          1. backing maximum reproduction of the believing society (regardless of consequences to other societies and internal poverty)
          2. purports to explain and justify everything about life and the universe and confer a structure of virtue on believers with ultimately metaphysical
          3. backs stable hierarchy by absolute rulers and class system necessary to enforce the religion
          4. sweetens this sanctified oppression with A) a bit of expected charity and moderation of the rulers actions from time to time
          B) the promise of subjection of non believers within or without the society
          Religion doesnt like meritocracy and contract based relations because everything must be based ultimately on kin power structures – its glue is kin relationships
          Secular ideologies ape all of 2 and bits of 3 and 4 – its not as stable in sense of long lasting

          1. “with ultimately metaphysical” I meant “which is ultimately metaphysical”. Regressive left apes religion in some particulars and their virtue signal is modern western capitalist culture is the ultimate source of evil. Everything against this is good. Israel is seen as part of this

    3. In a healthy society, major partied do not differ on important issues: they agree that the country must remain a representative democracy, citizens must have property rights, the country is in NATO if it is etc. If the two major parties in Britain disagree about anti-Semitism, then either Britain is in deep crisis, comparable to an emerging democracy, or Jews are not considered important.

      1. Maya, really the Labour Party and the Tories in the UK are not institutionally anti-Semitic. In general, if you told your average Brit that you hated Jews, your average punter would generally throw you a sideways glance and think, ‘What’s the point of that? It ain’t an issue. Chuffin’ barmy.’

        There is a residual Tory soft anti-Semitism traceable to the former Foreign Office Arabism, “Miller, good chap, but a Jew, don’tcha know?” Yet that is barely visible among the right wing, at least the right wing who count.

        I see the thesis you’re referring to, re: anti-Semitism and emerging democracies, that is how anti-Semitism in the 20s and 30s really got going in the nascent democracies of Germany, Spain and Italy (even though it is over-stated in the latter case). (And I am generalizing almost to the point of absurdity.) But in the case of an old democracy like the UK, it feels like a cathartic convulsion and, dare I say it as I hate to resort to clichés, like a lancing of the boil of leftist fellow-travelling with anti-Semites.

        And it pains me to say it as a leftist myself. But it has to be done. One has to argue with people who call themselves Socialist or leftist. That’s just the time we live in. And because it is a civil war it will be all the more uncivil.

        1. I am going to make an argument that the Conservative party has actually tacked any institutionalised anti-Semitism head on and, it seems, with a certain amount of success. In 2001, Iain Duncan-Smith, the then leader of the Conservative Party, received a report from the party chairman, David Davies, about the inflammatory actions of the right-wing Monday Club, who, not to put too fine a point on it, were racist and anti-Semitic. Duncan-Smith, although deplorable in other things, took immediate and firm action, severing the party’s links with the club, telling them that they will not be regained until the club, in effect, mends its ways.

          The club is, I believe, still suspended, having lost all of its once considerable influence with the Tories. I have to say that I believe that anti-Semitism is actually decreasing on the mainstream right, whilst increasing on the left.

          1. The Monday Club is still suspended by the Conservative party, but you still need to be a member of the Conservative party to join the Monday Club.

            I think you’re right about the decline of anti-Semitism in the mainstream right, possibly because of the emergence of UKIP as a more natural home for those with “anti-foreigner” views. Anti-Semitism equally seems to be on the rise on the left, particularly as the hard left ally themselves with Islamists, and conflate sympathy for Palestinians with enmity towards Israeli, from which it’s only a short step to enmity towards Jews. Whether this is also a phenomenon in the mainstream left, or merely a symptom of the Corbyn tendency’s ascendancy in Labour at present, is an open question.

  7. I am not over there and don’t follow things as much as I did but, I am still astounded by the seeming guaranteed anti-Israel pro Palestinian certainty pushed by the socialist left.
    There is absolutely nothing more diametrically opposed to socialism than Islam.
    Dialectical materialism, and the idea that people can make a society, is the opposite of being subject to the will of a god and idealistic universe as reality.

    Israel is, in many ways a good example of socialism.

  8. Left-wing anti-semitism goes back a long way. Socialists have always associated jews with commerce and finance, which they detest (and still do).

  9. You write that many Muslims object to the antisemitism at significant personal cost. I agree there is a significant personal cost, but it is obvious that very few public ally take a position against sharia law or antisemitism. I am yet to see a significant public demonstration by Muslims although there are plenty against “Islamaphobia” so they are more than capable of public demonstrations. Where are the moderate Muslims?

  10. Jerry, on this topic I really recommend this brilliant interview from Howard Jacobson, British Booker prize-winning author and journalist:

    Notably he (and I) agree with you that anti-Zionism is not the same as criticism of Israel. Anti-Zionism is the denial of the right to self-determination to the Jews and Jews only, as such it is antisemitic. One can oppose the actions of the Israeli government without expressing Jew-hatred and in fact ordinary Israelis daily engage in criticism of their government.

  11. I’m just glad that Jerry was exposed to this via the well-adjusted Kenan Malik. Some of the reports on this in the British press have borne little relationship to the real world. If we compare the number of definite cases of demonstrable anti-Semitism (a smaller number than the number of accusations) with the membership numbers of the Labour Party it would seem that being a member makes you statistically less likely to be anti-Semitic than the average Brit. The crisis in the Labour Party is that some of those were until recently in senior positions within it have no shame.

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