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lefty anti-semitism « Previous | |Next »
March 7, 2006

Racism.jpgAnti-semitism has changed its spots, hasn't it. So many on the Right and Left point out. They highlight how is has shifted from being a primarily a central characteristic of the traditional Right to becoming a notable feature of the left.

How come? Why the shift? Why the new anti-semitism? Why has the left gone this way? It is a bit of a puzzle because the left has traditionally been opposed to racism.

Some conservatives offer an account of why. They argue that since 9/11 many conservatives see the left to be in the grip of a closet anti-semitism.

One account of why left's anti-semitism is a closet one, is that this new anti-semitism (racism) is expressed indirectly through a criticism of Israel; or in opposition to Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state; or in opposition to American foreign policy in the Middle East.

The argument is not just that there are particular individuals who harbour repressed anti-semitic views, but that it is the political culture of the left which predisposes it to anti-semitism.

Culture, say the conservatives, is why the Left demonize Israel, is opposed to Zionism and to the existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland. This cultural account is supported by critical voices on the Left, such as Engage based in the UK.

In this article it is argued by Shalom Lappin that:

... it is important to recognise that [Ken] Livingstone’s [Mayor of London] views are in no sense marginal or eccentric within British public discussion of the Middle East. A growing body of opinion, particularly on the left and in the liberal centre, is coming to see Palestinian suicide bombing as a legitimate means of resistance to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. The issue is a topic for debate on radio and television discussion programs in a way that would be inconceivable if the terrorist actions in question were those of Irish Republicans seeking an end to British control of Northern Ireland.

How good is this cultural argument? Can the frequent and persistent criticism of the actions of the Israeli state be see as an anti-semitism that is a part of the culture of the Left?

It's a flawed account to the extent that the democratic left in the 1950s and 1960s supported Israel's creation: their narrative was one of a persecuted people creating a successful, independent and democratic nation-state ; one that was based on Zionism. There was support for Israel and its right to exist as an independent nation-state.

So what accounts for the shift in the democratic left's previous support of Israel to their current criticisms of the policies of the Israeli state? I would argue that it is the Israeli paradigm of rule or governance in the Occupied Territories. This is described here as:

bringing the Palestinians to the point of political chaos and then luring them into a deal that would "give them only the minimum necessary", while ensuring continued Israeli military and economic control over the West Bank.

The Palestinians would gradually be worn down from the violence, corruption and lack of development and so they woudl be forced to accept a long-term Israeli presence in their country. Palestinian redemption lies through conciliation with Israel (on Israel's terms) rather than through confrontation. Hamas' landslide electoral victory in January has shown the flaw of that strategy.

So the democratic left has shifted to supporting the Palestinians because they are, and have been, oppressed and persecuted by an expansionist Jewish state. Consequently, the charges of anti-semitism (racism) against the democratic left don't hold to the extent that legitimate criticisms can be made of Israeli actions in the occupied territories. It is not being said that these actions are caused by the characteristics of the Jewish people, characeristic that are not shared by other peoples.

So then we have this kind of account.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:38 PM | | Comments (3)


You say above that conservatives claim that Israel is sometimes demonized on the left.

You link to the editorial of the new Engage journal here to illustrate your point.

You have made a mistake. Engage is not a 'conservative' campaign but a left campaign. We work against antisemitism on the left because we are on and from and of the left. The left is our home and that is why we want it to reject antisemitism. Also because if the left doesn't understand how to fight antisemitism then Jews are going to be really in trouble.

Please look more carefully at the Engage website. I suggest you look at the following pieces to start off with:

there is a misinterpretation of the position of Engage with respect to my argument that conservatives say that the anti-semitism on the left is an aspect of left culture. My sincerest apologies.

You are dead right. I did not read Engage very closely--just skimmed the editorial of the journal's first issue. That is not good. My apologies for that too.

Engage is definitely not a part of the conservative discourse about anti-semitism on the left. It is a critical voice on the left, as is made clear in this article you drew my attention to. It states that:

Democrats and leftists support Palestinian independence and oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Indeed, few people anywhere defend the Israeli occupation. Even within Israel, there is currently a huge (if fuzzy and precarious) electoral consensus for ending the occupation.

And it makes a clear distinction between ' the criticism of Israeli human rights abuses and the demonization of Israel.'

I have changed my post to correct the mistake you draw my attention to.

I do like the criticism in this article of the view that the contemporary anti-Zionism is the current form of appearance of the old cancer---the essentialist and ahistorical theory of antisemitism as the many headed monster. Rather we should think of:

...each form of anti-Judeism does seem to draw on older forms, they are also hugely different phenomena. Different times, different places, different manifestations, different social forces, different narratives.

See I'm beginning to read Engage.Thanks for that.

The quote above about Livingstone is true but absurd. Livingstone clucked and denounced the suicide bombing of a bus in London while he went out of his way to say that it wasn't so bad in Tel Aviv. Why not?

This fake anti-imperialism - that supports the murder of people on buses in Israel but is horrified it when it might happen to you on your way to work in London is contemptible.

If blowing up buses is a clever 'anti-imperialist' tactic against the occupation of the West Bank then why not against the occupation of Iraq. Little Englander anti-imperialism.

For more on the absurd Ken livingstone, see this piece on Engage: