I’ve been giving serious attention recently to the problem of modern anti-Semitism. In tracing the beast into the heart of the labyrinth I bought The New Anti-Semitism by Phyllis Chessler and Israel and the European Left: Between Solidarity and Delegitimization by Colin Shindler. I’ve yet to read these books, though skimming has given me a ‘feel’ for both. The first is a lively polemic, the second a little more scholarly and detached. Both touch on the new form of the chimera, its latest metamorphosis – that of left-wing Jew hatred.
Actually it’s not new at all. It’s much older than you may think, much older than hostility to Zionism and the state of Israel. It’s just acquired a more precise focus in the modern age, uniting soft-brained left wing intellectuals with hard-nosed right wing Islamic extremists. I first became aware of this as a serious issue on reading Utopia or Auschwitz, a brilliant expose of the delusions of the post-war German left.
Now I’ve read From Ambivalence to Betrayal: the Left, the Jews and Israel by Robert Wistrich. It’s a tour de force, not praise, I assure you, that I accord lightly. Wistrich is particularly well-placed to undertake the task he set himself, having published extensively on Jewish history and the history of anti-Semitism, in its ancient and modern forms.
Time and time again the Palestinian-loving left protest that anti-Zionism is not the same thing as anti-Semitism; that, in any case, the Jews of Israel are not really a Semitic people at all; that Israel is a ‘racist’ state based on forms of apartheid. But scratch the skin of the beast and there it is – the old Adam of Jew hatred. It’s all there: the old clichés, the old conspiracy theories, the old images, all of the things that were once associated with the racist right, now far more common on the radical left, just as ugly and just as irrational in every way.
The myth goes that the left turned against Israel after the Six Day War, when the oppressed supposedly turned into land-grabbing oppressors. The ideological convolutions here have become positively tortuous, with Israel being compared to Nazi Germany. One German bishop even described Ramallah, the Palestinian city on the West Bank, as the new Warsaw Ghetto, showing that some Germans have learned nothing or forgotten everything.
Wistrich explodes the whole hypocritical anti-Zionist platform. He shows that left-wing anti-Semitism has a long pedigree, antedating the Six Day War by decades, or even centuries, if we take the roots back to Voltaire and the Enlightenment. Voltaire’s contempt for the Jews was to find expression in Karl Marx, whose early work includes On the Jewish Question, a savage denunciation of his own heritage, in which he labelled Judaism as nothing more than “huckstering.”
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the French anarchist and Marx’s erstwhile friend and collaborator, went one step further, describing the Jews as the “race that poisons everything.” His ‘solution’ to the Jewish problem anticipates the twentieth century. They should be expelled from France. Failing that, the whole race should be exterminated.
Then there is Mikhail Bakunin, the great nineteenth century Russian revolutionary, socialist and anarchist. For him the Jews were an “exploiting sect, a bloodsucking people, a unique and devouring parasite.” It was through him that anti-Semitism, such a feature of the Tsarist state, took root on the left, finding full expression in the Russia of Stalin and after. The evidence is that the Soviet dictator was planning an old style Jewish pogrom just before his death.
His final purge was arrested in time but the Jew-hatred, masquerading as opposition to ‘cosmopolitanism’ and Zionism, continued. In the Brezhnev era the Soviet press was in the practice of illustrating ‘anti-Zionist’ reports with caricatures that might easily have been lifted strait from the pages of Julius Streicher’s noxious Der Stürmer.
Wistrich, who studied at Cambridge and London, is particularly good on the anti-Semitism of the British left, which antedates the Six Day War by decades. During the Second Boer War in the early years of the twentieth century opponents were wont to blame ‘Jewish financiers’ for the conflict, coining such expressions as ‘Imperial Judaism.’ There is an echo here in more recent events, with those involved in the anti-Iraq war coalition accusing illusive ‘Jewish cabals’ of promoting the invasion of Iraq. ‘Imperial Judaism’ even made a reappearance as ‘Zionist Imperialism.’ The terminology my be slightly different; the implications are exactly the same.
The atmosphere created by the liberal left in its opposition to Israel is poisonous in the extreme. Here the ghost of Julius Streicher once more makes an appearance. He made an appearance in the hyper-liberal Independent, which depicted Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli Defence Minister, eating a Palestinian baby; it made an appearance on the front cover of the left-wing New Statesman, with its infamous ‘Kosher Conspiracy’ edition; it makes a regular appearance on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website.
Ancient canards like the ‘blood libel’ have been given a modern spin, with Baroness Jenny Tongue of the Liberal Democrat Party suggesting that Jewish doctors may have harvested the organs of Christian children in Haiti. Tom Paulin, a poet, of sorts, a regular guest of the BBC, has written of the ‘Zionist SS.’ In an interview with an Egyptian newspaper he said that Israeli civilians should be shot dead. Why? Because “they are Nazis, racists. I feel nothing but hatred for them.”
Wistrich’s book is a forensic exercise, a brilliant expose of the deepest forms of self-delusion, hypocrisy and lies. Now, in its hostility to Israel, the left aligns itself with some of the most reactionary forces on earth - anti-Enlightenment, homophobic and misogynist. The unspeakably vile George Galloway of the Respect Party befriends Iran, a place where women are stoned to death, in his hatred of Israel. It makes no matter to him and others of his ideological kidney that Israel is the only country in the whole region which practices religious pluralism and legal tolerance, for its Jewish and for its Arab citizens.
The Jew-hatred of the left clearly would not have been out of place in the Third Reich. Perhaps the best example here is the Norwegian Professor Johan Galtung, founder of Oslo’s International Peace Research Institute. While one tries to be objective it is difficult to think of this man other than in a mood of utter contempt. It’s certainly difficult for me to rid myself of such a mood. Among his more recent claims is an assertion that Mossad, the Israeli security service, ordered Anders Behring Breivik on his campaign of mass murder.
He went on to link Breivik’s rampage with the bombing in 1946 of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Why? That's simple: because both happened on 22 July they provide evidence of “Zionist-Masonic machinations and an endemic terrorist blood-lust among Jews.”
Considering this, it comes as no surprise that Galtung recommends that we look again with sympathy on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the infamous Tsarist forgery detailing a Jewish world conspiracy that in the last century acted, in the words of Norman Cohen, as a warrant for genocide. Apparently the Jews are even responsible for Auschwitz. Why? Because they held key positions in the Weimar Republic and anti-Semitism could have been predicted. I can’t follow the bizarre logic here either, but I think it reasonable to assume that this man’s anti-Semitism would have similar predictable consequences.
From Ambivalence to Betrayal is an important book, one of the most important I have read in a while, an important reminder of the new dangers that we all face from a rising tide of irrationality. The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Bertolt Brecht’s deeply unfunny parable on the ascent of Hitler and Nazism, concludes with the lines “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.” The bitch, as he puts it, may be in heat again, but her kennel is on the left, not the right.