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Antisemitism in the Far-left

Antisemitism in the Far-left
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As Holocaust denial and distortion have become one of the main expressions of contemporary antisemitism, we will continue to examine them later in this lesson, as well as in the following two weeks. Let us now turn to explore a second realm from which antisemitism emanates today - the Far-left. As can be expected from opposing political ideologies, the way antisemitism is expressed in the contemporary Far-left is different from the way it is expressed in the Far-right. This stems, in part, from the different historical developments of this phenomenon in each sphere, and from the fact that as opposed to the anti-democratic and blatantly racist ideologies of the Far-right, the Far-left defines itself as anti-racist and anti-fascist.
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In many ways it is a paradoxical form of antisemitism as it exists amongst groups and individuals who believe, or at least publicly state, that they strongly oppose antisemitism. Before we examine the ways in which this antisemitism is manifested today, let’s first explore this sphere’s predicament with antisemitism. Left-wing political thought has its own tradition of antisemitism that is different from the more common right-wing religious nationalist antisemitism that people are perhaps more familiar with. Those of us who are in a left tradition need to understand that there is a very, very long tradition of people being tempted by antisemitism within our movement and within our intellectual milieu. Absolutely not to say that the left is and always has been antisemitic. It’s not.
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But there has always been this struggle between a kind of temptation to antisemitism and the people who have opposed it. The left has always been predominantly a movement committed to emancipation and to freedom, and opposed to racism, and opposed to antisemitism. But it’s always contained within it this particular trend of left-wing antisemitism and it goes back to the earliest days of left-wing thought in the middle of the 19th century, when the left was
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starting to grapple with the idea of: Are the Jewish people a nation or are they a religion? Where do they fit in the capitalist class structure and what will their future be when capitalism is no longer with us in the progression of Marxist history? And this was coupled with the idea that the left has always seen itself as emancipating people from the predations of capitalism and from the cruelty and the poverty that comes about through capitalism. Now there’s an antisemitic strand of this form of anti-capitalism that says that it’s not just that capitalism is the problem that we need to free the people from - most of these capitalists are Jewish.
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And this is the antisemitic form and that in order to liberate people from capitalism you need to liberate them from the Jewish hand behind capitalism. Now this has always, as I said, been a minority strain in left-wing thought but it’s always been there and at times of great stress and a great strain it comes out. People on the left
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look around the world and they say: there’s all sorts of terrible things going on in the world; there’s all sorts of power imbalances and injustices, and inefficiencies; and people have alienated lives and they’re poor and
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they’re hungry and they say: how do we explain this and how can we change it? And one explanation that people are tempted by again and again is antisemitism and often it’s not explicit and it’s not clear but the left has always had difficulty understanding, thinking about the Jews. The Jews are either thought of as a kind of model of the oppressed; you know, the kind of image of the completely powerless Jew during the Holocaust. And the left can handle that.
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The Left can think about that quite easily or, at the same time, the model of the Jew is somebody who is all too powerful, is, you know, somehow too powerful in the banking system; too powerful in the media; is cunningly and cleverly behind the structures that we can see, pulling the strings and the rest of it. So there are those two kinds of temptations and both of them of course abstract you know real understandings of real Jewish men and women throughout the ages in different times, in different places, into an idea of the Jew, an idea of the Jew either as the symbol of oppression or as the symbol of oppressive power, and imperialism, and capitalism.
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What is it then about antisemitism that allows it to exist in a realm that vehemently opposes any form of racism or xenophobia? The reason why antisemitism fits with it is because unlike most forms of racism that treats its targets as being more subhuman, as being weak, and poor, and diseased and almost like vermin who pollutes the pure white race or the pure nation, antisemitism always portrays Jews as being immensely powerful - on the other end of the scale - something to be feared because they can pull all the strings; because they have the money; because they control the politicians. So in as far as left-wing thought is emancipatory, antisemitism can fit into that framework because Jews are portrayed as powerful.

Dr. Dave Rich, Dr. David Hirsh

We now turn to explore a second sphere from which antisemitism emanates today – the Far-left. As can be expected from opposing political ideologies, the way antisemitism is expressed in the contemporary Far-left is different from the way it is expressed in the Far-right.

What perceptions of the Jews exist in the Far-left and what are the roots of these perceptions? How can people in the Left, whose ideology promotes tolerance and equality, hold antisemitic views?

References

  • Fine, Robert and Philip Spencer, Antisemitism and the Left: On the Return of the Jewish Question (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

  • Hirsh, David, Contemporary Left Antisemitism (London: Routledge, 2018).

  • Jacobs, Jack, ed., Jews and Leftist Politics: Judaism, Israel, Antisemitism, and Gender (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

  • Mendelsohn, Ezra, ed., Essential Papers on Jews and the Left (New York: New York University Press, 1997).

  • Mendes, Philip, Jews and the Left: The Rise and Fall of a Political Alliance (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

  • Norwood, Stephen H., Antisemitism and the American Far Left (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

  • Rich, Dave, The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism (London: Biteback Publishing, 2016).

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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

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