We have started a discussion in Solidarity on the issue of “left-wing anti-semitism”, with an editorial in the last issue of the paper and an eaxtended review of Preachers of Hatred by Pierre-André Taguieff, a major French-language study of the issue. The articles can be found at:
We invite further contributions to the discussion.
I want to raise a few questions and make a few points in response to your welcome editorial “What is left anti-Semitism?”.
First: why are you so anxious to assert that “left wing anti-semites are not racist”? In this respect anti-semites on the left are no different from anti-semites on the right. Anti-semitism is simply a variant of racism and all anti-semites are racists.
Second: the article was built around a political vacuum. At no point did it provide a definition of its subject matter — anti-semitism. My understanding is that anti-semitism cannot be understood outside its core component. This is the Jewish conspiracy theory (or anti-theory) of history – the Jew as all-dominant, the Jew as the international secret agent. This is a theory that is rooted in Christian theology and the notion of the Jew as god killer (quite an accusation).
Third: I think this lack of definition is what leads you into misunderstanding the anti-Zionism of fools — namely that particular brand of anti-Zionism which is really anti-semitism in disguise. You say that anti-Zionism is anti-semitic where it is predicated not on merely a critique of Israel but on the destruction of Israel itself. Certainly Israeli exceptionalism may (or may not) be an example of anti-semitism. However it is not the negation of Israeli statehood that defines an anti-Zionism as judeophobic.
So on the one hand, there is a growing understanding that what is required here is a “no state solution” — that is a federated socialist Middle East. On the other hand, supporters of the existence of a Jewish state can be anti-semitic. Thus right-wing Americans of the Southern Baptist variety combine a virulent Zionism with a Jew-hatred rooted in the book of Revelations.
In my view anti-Zionism is anti-semitism in disguise when it is based on the Jewish conspiracy theory. So it is anti-semitic to see Israel as globally all-powerful (and in control of American imperialism, rather than the other way around). So it is anti-semitic to see Israel as obtaining world-domination through Jewish finance. So it is anti-semitic to see Israel as responsible for the world’s destruction (starting with the war in Iraq) – the modern equivalent of the charge of god-killing.
Finally I think you need to beware of falling into Zionist chauvinism. You acknowledge that three quarters of a million Palestinians were driven out or fled what was to become Israel. However you also feel it necessary to state that “in the same period and afterwards about 600,000 Jews were expelled from or fled Arab countries”.
This is also true. However Palestinians are not responsible for what is done by “Arab countries”. This is a strange form of the accusation of collective responsibility. It is one that hitherto I have only heard in another form from right-wing sources — i.e. why should Palestinians have space of their own when they are all Arabs and there are enough Arab states already?
Fighting “arabophobia” is equally important as fighting judeophobia.
“Two states”? Yes, but. . .
There are number of conflicts where most people on the left look forward to some kind of one-state settlement — notably, Bosnia, Cyprus and Ireland (and in previous years, South Africa, where are a one-state solution of a kind has been achieved against the partitionist instincts of the British Foreign Office and others).
I welcome the general tone of the editorial on left-wing anti-semitism — moving towards a more serious discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ending the offensive rhetoric and portrayal of Israel (and sometimes Jews as a whole) that has been emerging on the left, and alienating Jewish people otherwise sympathetic to the left.
But while a one-state settlement is presently unfeasible, compelling us to call for a two-state settlement that immediately addresses the ongoing conflict, I think it is a mistake to categorise such discussion as anti-semitic, or even just to put it beyond the pale.
Israeli and Palestinian agony can be seen as yet another disaster arising from the partitionist solutions of the retreating British Empire, which have been substantial and bloody failures wherever they were tried — as in South Asia, Ireland and Cyprus.
The politics of partition is harmful to the humanist values that the left stands for and destructive in that sense. I imagine everyone on the left, especially AWL members, welcomes the progress being made in undermining partitionist policies in Bosnia and Cyprus. I presume too that most people here do not spend much time arguing that the Turkish enclave in Cyprus or Republika Srbska are states demanding special understanding, while also supporting the right of Greek Cypriot and Bosniak refugees to return to their homes from which they were forced out and be compensated for the injustices done to them. None of this is deemed unfair to Serbs or Turks.
Israel is more complicated given that it arose from such an awesome tragedy and has served as a refuge for Jewish refugees from the Middle East. But a serious solution, even a temporary one, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, must recognise that the Palestinian refugee problem is a crisis today (not just 57 years ago) and an injustice demanding political redress of some kind, even if a full-scale return policy is unfeasible. It is immoral both that the Israeli government should continue to deny primary responsibility for their fate, or that millions of people should remain as stateless dependents on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for six decades for no reason other than their ethnicity.
The nature of a state that wishes to maintain an ethnic majority constantly leads to discriminatory and racist policies – as long as Arabs and Palestinians are regarded as “a demographic threat”, a problem by virtue of their very existence and numbers, the Israeli state cannot avoid an inbuilt racism of a kind the left cannot avoid opposing.
Ultimately, the humane solution in the long-term seems to me to be a compromise between the Zionist ideal of a Jewish homeland and a reversal of injustices done to the Palestinians. It is important that such a discussion not be put into a category of anti-semitism. We need a rational discussion of the difference between principled critique of the Israeli state in its current form and the desire for the physical destruction of Israeli society or the subjugation of Israeli Jews.
Racism and totalitarianism on the left are nothing new
I don’t understand why the editorial in Solidarity 3/82 argues that “No, indeed, apart from a nut here and there, left-wing anti-semites are not racist.”
Why does the writer insist that this type of anti-semitism is not a type of racism? What is at stake in this distinction between antisemitism and racism? It seems to me that anti-semitism is exactly a form of racism.
I’m also perplexed by the claim that “The prerequisite for left-wing anti-semitism is the catastrophic decline in the culture of the left over the last decades”.
Haven’t there always been plenty of Jew-haters and other supporters of totalitarianism hanging around on the left — talking as though they were leftists? When was the golden age that you are thinking of, from which the culture of the left has declined?
In Marx’s time people like Bruno Bauer were speaking against the emancipation of the Jews. Others were getting a hearing for propaganda against “Jewish capital”.
Between the 1930s and the 80s a significant part of the left thought that the Soviet Union was socialist.
In the 30s a significant part of the left thought that, in Germany, Social Democracy was the most important threat to the labour movement. And in Spain a significant part of the left was for the suppression of the workers’ militias fighting against Franco.
Being unconcerned about anti-semitism and cheerleading totalitarian movements are not exactly new phenomena on the left, are they?
As a left-winger of Ashkenazi Polish refugee Jewish background I found the editorial a very sensitive and welcome piece, echoing the fears and feelings of alienation with the UK left felt by many in the Jewish community. SWP-led hostility to Israel per se (and to the organised Jewish community in UK by implication) is pushing a new generation of Jewish youth away from the left and politics of peace.
Anonymous, posted on AWL website