A central fact of our political situation is that the left, especially the ostensible revolutionary left, is a major source of antisemitism — they say “anti-Zionism” — in the country and in the labour movement, including the Labour Party.
Jeremy Corbyn has admitted that there are pockets of antisemitism in the Labour Party. On the self-described revolutionary left you will find only pockets of opposition to the “anti-Zionism” which becomes antisemitism — AWL for example.
The root of “left-wing” antisemitism is the belief that Israel should not exist, that it is a historically non-legitimate state, and that it should be put out of existence as soon as possible and by any means necessary. It is an “absolute” anti-Zionism, and also, though vicariously and secondarily, an “absolute” Palestinian and Arab nationalism.
Around that core of modern “left-wing” antisemitism there is a cluster of ideas and attitudes, that is, of ideological lies. Here I will examine some of them.
Ideological lie 1: Socialists and decent liberals should back the Palestinians. That means opposing Israel, and that’s all there is to it. The talk about antisemitism is a device to blur the suffering of the Palestinians and to undercut support for them.
Truth: Socialists and decent liberals do back the Palestinians! That means a Palestinian state side by side with Israel, and support for Palestinian rights against the Israeli policies which prevent the Palestinians getting a state.
Lie 2: Anti-imperialists, socialists, and decent liberals should support the destruction of Israel, because that is the only way to win justice for the Palestinians.
Truth: One of the central problems on the left is that the “destroy Israel” strand dominates, and not the “help the Palestinians” strand.
The absolute anti-Zionist left rejects the “two states” policy of the Palestine Authority and of most Palestinians. That left makes the political choice of allying with Islamic and Arab chauvinists for whom the living Palestinians don’t matter — for whom those living Palestinians are a cipher, a token, of Islam’s war with the infidels or of that left’s “anti-imperialism”.
Israel is not going to abdicate. It is not going to be destroyed this side of a fundamental shift in world forces and of a loss of will in Israel to defend itself and survive. The “destroy Israel” position thus condemns the Palestinians to never, in calculable time, gaining a Palestinian state, although a Palestinian state alongside Israel was stipulated in the 1947 United Nations resolution. To never making peace and being able to live in peace.
Those who make a solution for the Palestinians depend on the destruction of Israel are not friends of the Palestinians. Since the late 1980s, the secular Palestinian nationalists have set out the rational political demand: two states.
Lie 3: A single state in the territory of pre-1948 Palestine, with religious but not national rights for Jews, is the just solution and the best solution.
Truth: It is no solution to anything. There are now two version of a “one-state” solution: the fantasy one of an Israel-conquering Arab state, and the one that may well come about — a Greater Israel with a large long-term Arab minority. The Israeli right seems to be reconciling to that second option.
The prospect then would be for ongoing oppression, conflict, and strife for generations to come.
The main blame here belongs to Israel because, from its present position of strength, it could probably arrange a more or less just two-states settlement, and it doesn’t.
But if the “Greater Israel” outcome happens, a lot of the blame would belong with the Arab states which have again and again rejected reconciliation with Israel.
Lie 4: The left is pro-Palestinian, that’s all. This is not antisemitism but a form of necessary anti-imperialism.
Truth: Socialists and democrats should indeed support the Palestinians and their rights. But in “left” antisemitism, hatred of Israel becomes predominant, overshadowing pro-Palestinian sentiment, tainting it.
The ostensible left finds itself allying with Arab-chauvinist and Islamic-chauvinist attitudes of absolute or even mystical “anti-Zionism”. Socialist Worker, for example, welcomed the Hamas victory in Gaza over the more secular Palestinian politicians!
In real politics, the last thing the absolute anti-Zionists are, is pro-Palestinian. Their drive is their hostility to Israel — a program of destroying the “Zionist state” that is in reality the opposite of being pro-Palestinian.
Lie 5: The absolute anti-Zionist stance is only an application to Israel of a general anti-war stance.
Truth: The kitsch left thinks that any Arab or Islamic war on Israel is justified. Anybody’s war on Israel. They are warmongers!
Lie 6: The left is critical of Israel and Zionism. It is a polemical slander to equate that with antisemitism.
Truth: Criticism of Israel is not antisemitism, or not necessarily so. The antisemitic “left” does not just criticise Israel. It uses sometimes valid and necessary criticisms of Israel as arguments for why Israel should be destroyed. As arguments deployed in advocating the destruction of Israel and backing any Arab or Islamic force that wants to go to war with Israel.
That “anti-Zionism” is antisemitism. It implies and generate a comprehensive hostility to most Jews alive today, because they will not denounce Israel out of hand.
Many “left” antisemites equate antisemitism exclusively with Nazi-style racism, or Stalinist scapegoating. They sincerely hate those antisemitisms — even while they themselves are antisemitic in their own way.
Lie 7: Anti-Zionism is only championing of the Palestinians, of righteous Palestinian nationalism and of those Arab or Islamic forces that take their side. As Lenin said, the nationalism of the oppressed is not the same as the nationalism of the oppressors.
Truth: The two-states policy of the Palestinian Authority — an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel — is the Palestinian nationalism of the real world.
One of the strange things here is that the anti-racist kitsch left have no qualms about allying with the vilest Arab purveyors of old Nazi antisemitism. The Arab press, in many countries, is awash with directly appropriated Nazi antisemitism. The kitsch left tacitly accepts that, without qualm or comment.
The racism, even the Nazi-like racism, of the oppressed (which includes rich and powerful Arab states) is not the same as the racism of the oppressor? That is the intellectual track-system on which this strange tolerance runs. It is one example of the strange phenomenon that the kitsch left is not inhibited or even troubled to find itself in pursuit here of those, the “Zionists”, the Jews, who have over centuries been persecuted and murdered by reaction.
They are not inhibited by finding themselves, on this, close to the crazed American far right, who think that countries like the USA are ruled by Jewish “Zionist Occupation Governments”.
Lie 8: Antisemitism is not a real problem now. It is just a stick used to beat pro-Palestinians. The left-wingers accused of antisemitism are not racists!
Truth: The left is not racist as such. It is however difficult to imagine what degree of extra hostility to Israel and to “Zionists” (Jews with a reflex identification with Israel) the “left” would generate if it were racist.
The fundamental truth is that antisemitism has been in the ideological subsoil of Christian Europe for many, many centuries and is there still. “Who condemned Jesus Christ to death? Pontius Pilate did it as the desire of the Jews” — that response only recently ceased to be part of the catechism taught to Catholic children. The basic idea, and spinoffs from it, are still there.
Christian antisemitism played a part in the Nazi massacre of Jews in countries such as Hungary, Poland, and Romania.
There is a large repertoire of antisemitic themes there for the appropriation — the Jews rule the world through the banks, and so on. The internet is awash with virulently antisemitic conspiracy theories. There is always demand for scapegoats and universal villains, and “the Jews” and “the Zionists” have been the perennial scapegoats.
Absolute anti-Zionism is a form of antisemitism. It is hostile to that big majority of Jews alive today who will not accept that Israel should be destroyed and that Zionism and Israeli nationalism are racism. It backs militant action against “the Zionists”, meaning in the first place Israel, but not only Israel.
In 1945, the revelation of the Nazi death factories for Jews horrified much of the world. It also immediately unleashed aggression against Jews, such as street attacks, in the USA for instance. In Paris and in Poland Jews returning from the camps met with hostile riots. Polish Christian antisemitism was in gear with German antisemitism, even though the Nazis had classified all Poles as sub-human.
Small-scale anti-Jewish pogroms took place in Britain, in Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds, in 1947. Mobs surged through Jewish areas, Cheetham Hill in Manchester, for example, breaking windows and assaulting people.
Organised by Mosley fascists, those attacks were connected to the war between Jewish guerrillas and the British Army in Palestine.
Antisemitism is on the rise in Europe, and in Britain too. The “left-wing” element here is an “anti-imperialism”, a willingness to accommodate to Islamic and Arab anti-Westernism that demonises Israel as imperialism incarnate, just as in the past Jews were denounced as the incarnation of money-madness and money-power.
Lie 9: The Holocaust is being used cynically to serve Israel and Zionism, to disarm critics, and to facilitate the growth of Zionist influence and control. Anyway, it was long ago. Leave it alone.
Truth: The Holocaust is a major fact of recent history. Of course it looms large in the awareness of all half-way decent thinking people. Of course it looms large in the minds of the relatives of those engulfed in it.
Lie 10: The Holocaust was a German affair, nothing to do with the broader world. As Ken Livingstone said: “Hitler went mad and started killing Jews”.
Truth: The Holocaust was the work of the German state. That hard fact should not be eroded or lost sight of. But the Holocaust was not just a German affair. There was an international and historical aetiology to it. The rest of the world refused to let in Jews who tried to flee from the Nazis.
In 1924 the USA legislated to limit annual immigration from any country to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already living in the United States as of the 1890 census. An openly stated objective was to stop Jewish immigration, and it was cut to a trickle. A move in 1939 to let in 20,000 child Jewish refugees was stifled in Congress.
In summer 1939 the St Louis sailed from Hamburg with a cargo of 900 Jews seeking refuge. They had transit visas to stay in Cuba until they could get the USA visas for which they had applied.
A tremendous antisemitic demonstration in Cuba led the Cuban government to refuse to let them land. They sailed on to the USA, could see the lights of Miami from the ship, and cabled President Franklin D Roosevelt to let them in. They received no answer from FDR. The State Department did reply, accusing them of trying to jump the quota queue.
The ship went back to Europe, on the eve of World War Two. Into the Holocaust. The Nazis mocked those in other countries who protested at Nazi antisemitism: they didn’t want Jews, either.
Antisemitism played a big part in stopping Jewish migration to the USA and elsewhere, and in corralling Jews for Hitler’s “Final Solution”. The aetiology of the Holocaust was not created by Germany or by the Nazis alone.
Lie 11: The Holocaust was not a unique event. But the Jews won’t “let go” of their tragedy because it justifies Israel.
Truth: As that idiot said, there have been many holocausts, for instance that associated over centuries with the slave trade and its effects on Africa. There have been many genocides, of the Armenians by the Turks in World War One, of Roma people by the Nazis in World War Two. In the mid 1840s there was a “holocaust” in Ireland when over a million were allowed to starve to death. There was even an element of intention in it. The British government passed tax laws intended to force reluctant landlords to evict tenants to wander the roads and die in a starving and cholera-ridden country.
Not forgetting the Roma or the Armenians, nothing compares in scale, organisation, intensity, or the number of casualties, with what the German Nazis did to six million Jews between mid-1941 and early 1945.
But here we are not engaged in an academic discussion of history. The Holocaust-mitigators want to “forget” the Holocaust in order to portray the creation of Israel as an almost motiveless crime against the Arabs and not what it was, a reaction by masses of hounded people to the greatest crime in recorded history and the events that led up to it.
The absolute anti-Zionist left does not deny that the Holocaust happened. But it tries in various ways to minimise it, to turn it into a sort of historical hologram, something without ongoing effects.
Lie 12: The Arabs shouldn’t “pay for” European crimes against the Jews. If the Jews are to have a state, why should it be in Palestine?
Truth: There isn’t any “should be”. There is just “is” and “was”. That is how it turned out. The world closed its doors to the Jews, and Palestine became the refuge of Jews fleeing antisemitism, in the 1920s from Poland, in the 1930s from Germany, and in the 1940s from all Europe. Jerusalem had a central place in their religion. There was always a Jewish minority in Palestine, and in 1900, before any large Zionist colonisation, Jews were a majority in Jerusalem.
Lie 13: It is a myth that Jews had ancestral ties in Palestine. Modern Jews are the descendants of the Khazars, a Turkic people of central Asia, not of ancient Palestinians.
Truth: The idea that the Khazars were the ancestors of the Azhkenazi Jews is interesting. Like most people who encounter it, I have no way of judging what degree of truth there is in it.
It is entirely irrelevant to today’s political arguments about Israel!
Israel was created by the Jewish people in the mid 20th century for immediate reasons that are not affected by question of distant historic origins. That question of origins has no bearing on current politics, except perhaps for religious mystics. The use of it in current politics is another part of the attempt to delegitimise Israel.
Lie 14: The Zionists collaborated with the Nazis; the Nazis liked the Zionists, as Ken Livingstone rightly said.
Truth: That is one of the “constructions” of the rabid Stalinist antisemitic campaign of 1949-53. It is a fact of history that some antisemites, for instance the Irish antisemite Arthur Griffith, the founder of the first version of Sinn Fein, polemically contrasted the “manly” Zionist nationalists with non-Zionist, typical Jews, equating the latter with the hostile caricatures of Jews dear to the antisemites. The idea that this fact taints Zionism or Israel is a product of pure absolute anti-Zionist malice.
The Nazis killed Zionist Jews as they killed other Jews. As a matter of fact, it was Palestinian Arab anti-Zionists who collaborated with the Nazis. During World War Two the official leader of the Palestinian Arabs, the Mufti of Jerusalem, organised Bosnian Muslims as Nazi soldiers. But of course that fact does not in any degree negate the right of the Palestinian Arab people to their own state now.
Lie 15: The driving-out of the Palestinian people in 1948 was a unique crime. Because of it, there are now six million Palestinian refugees.
Truth: In and around the 1948 war between the newly-declared state of Israel and five Arab states, 750,000 Palestinian Arabs were driven out or fled from the territory on which Israel now exists.
Some fled, in part at least, because they expected the Jews to do to them what the invaders said they would do to the Jews. But there was nothing unique about it, particularly not at the time.
Over the years after 1948, about 600,000 Jews were driven out or fled from Arab states in which they and their ancestors had lived for generations, sometimes for centuries. Most of them went to Israel. There was, over a number of years, in effect, a brutal population exchange.
Vast population movements took place in central and eastern Europe at the end of World War Two. European Jews were uprooted and sent to the murder factories. Survivors from 1945, perhaps half a million of them, were housed in Displaced Persons’ camps, some of them former Nazi concentration camps, and got out only when it was possible for them to go to Israel in 1948 and after.
In and around 1945, thirteen million Germans were driven out of parts of Eastern Europe where their ancestors have lived for centuries — from the Sudetenland, from Poland, and from East Prussia (now part of Poland, or, some of it, Russia).
They were uprooted at gunpoint, driven onto the roads or railway wagons, and forced to flee to a ruined and starving Germany. Perhaps as many as half a million of them died in the forced migration. One reckoning has it that one in four of the people of Germany today are immediate descendants of those 13 million expelled.
Only sections of the German right — what some called the German revanchists — ever advocated recovery of Germany’s lost lands in the east.
Lie 16: Israel is a colonial-settler state, which drove out the original population.
Truth: During the period of British rule, the arrival of Jewish migrants in Palestine was accompanied by migration also of Arabs into Palestine, attracted by economic growth there. The driving-out of 1948 occurred in the midst of an invasion of the newly-declared Israeli Jewish state by five Arab armies — those of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq — a war to conquer and, self-declaredly, a war to drive out the Jews.
Lie 17: The fact that the Palestinians have never accepted their loss makes this a unique case. Israel is entirely responsible for the fate of the Palestinian refugees and all the bad things the Palestinians have experienced in the last 70 years.
Truth: The reason the Germans accepted their expulsion was that “return” would have involved war with Russia and its satellites.
Israel was not solely responsible for the development of the Palestinian refugee phenomenon. Millions of Palestinians (1.5 million today) remained in refugee camps because the surrounding Arab states in which they lived would not let them integrate, as the 13 million Germans were eventually (though not easily) integrated. Some host Arab states would not even left the Palestinian refugees work.
To the Arab states, even after their defeat in 1948, overcoming Israel seemed possible. Palestinian “return” was, for them, far more practical politics than a war for return with Russia was for the Germans.
Lie 18: The six million or more Palestinian people scattered around the Middle East and beyond it have an inalienable right to “reclaim” the territory of pre-1948 Palestine, including the entire territory of Israel.
Truth: The corollary is that a majority of the people born in Israel and living there, many with their parents and grandparents also born there, have no right to be there, or anyway fewer rights than the six million “refugees”, most of them born outside Israel or Palestine. Why? How? How can the descendants of Palestinians have more rights in what is now Israel than the generations who have been born there and built up a society there?
Calculating from mortality statistics, of the Israeli Jews of 1948 there are maybe 200,000 still alive; of the Palestinian Arabs who fled or were driven out, somewhat fewer. By what principle of justice, or common sense, do the surviving Palestinian refugees of 1948 get to pass on rights over the territory of Israel greater than the rights of people born there, living there, and working there, to their second or third generation descendants?
Lie 19: The creation of Israel was a racist crime, something uniquely evil, akin to the Nazi ill-treatment of the Jews in Europe. That crime must be undone.
Truth: The term “racism” is now often a bludgeon rather than a clear definition of anything. There is a continuum that begins with mild partiality and goes through open-minded patriotism to rabid nationalism, then to murderous chauvinism, and to racist classification of the “other” as inferior by their genes or even unfit to live. Calling all varieties of Israeli nationalism “racism” is an ideological blow on behalf of Arab and Islamic nationalists and chauvinists in an ongoing war of ideas and definitions.
The idea that Israel is uniquely racist is code for denying the rights of an entire people and supporting their subjugation, for maintaining that they deserve to be killed if they refuse to accept being conquered, deprived of self-rule and national rights, and forced, the women among them especially, to live according to hard-line Islamic rules in an Arab-Islamic state.
The Israeli Jews are nationalists. Some of them, as of other peoples, are racists. To damn the whole people as “racist” for having and acting on a distinct sense of their own identity is a denial of rights, not an upholding of them.
Lie 20: The Palestinians were destroyed as a nation, and justice demands the restoration of pre-Zionist Palestine.
Truth: It is right and proper that left-wing people side with the defeated and the weaker people in the Israel-Palestine conflict. We do that. We back the Palestinian Authority’s call for a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
What justice — justice for both peoples — demands is an independent Palestinian state, in contiguous territory, side by side with Israel.
The elevation of Palestinian nationalism into a supra-historical absolute is a pernicious nonsense. Until 1918 Palestine was a backwater part of the Turkish province of Syria. It was only a geographic term. There was no Palestinian nation distinct from general Arab or “south Syrian” identities. Nobody claimed that there was.
The existing Palestinian nation emerged in the conflicts of the mid 20th century. Palestine, as a modern political unit, existed as a British-ruled territory for only three decades, 1918 to 1948. The idea that that political unit is something basic and fundamental is an ideological artefact created in the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Lie 21: Antisemitism is a right-wing phenomenon. To talk about left-wing antisemitism is absurd.
Truth: Yes, right-wing — but not exclusively so. At different times, some people who were generally of the left have thought to use popular anti-Jewish prejudices as a weapon against capitalism, for example by specially denouncing prominent Jewish capitalists, or taking “the Rothschilds” as epitomising capitalist power.
The German Marxist August Bebel famously described such anti-capitalist antisemitism as “the socialism of the fools”.
Frederick Engels had to explain to the French socialist Paul Lafargue, a son-in-law of Karl Marx, why this was unacceptable. The great Russian populist movement Narodnaya Volya — they killed the Tsar in 1881 — welcome the terrible pogrom movement that began that same year as the people asserting themselves against oppression.
The German Communist Party in the early 1920s experimented with a similar approach, though Ruth Fischer, one of the CP leaders responsible, was herself Jewish.
The ideas popular on the Trotskisant left now originated with Stalinism in the late 1930s, and in the late 40s to early 1950s. Stalinism was not left-wing. It was a bastardisation of right and pseudo-left. It was outside the old left-right division in politics. But its people thought of themselves as left-wing.
There are other examples.
The ostensible left now uses Israel as an archetype of “imperialism”. Its insistence that Israel be done away with pits it comprehensively against Jews who identify with Israel, however critically.
That insistence is not racism. It is antisemitism in its own way. Antisemitism is a historical shape-shifter. There are many strands and strains of antisemitism in history. Christian antisemitism did not necessarily want to kill Jews. In principle it wanted to convert the Jews to Christianity, to do them the favour of saving their souls.
“Left-wing” antisemitism has more in common with that than with racist antisemitism.