A shorter version of this talk was delivered as a contribution to a panel discussion on ‘The Left and Jews in Britain Today’ held at the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism, Birkbeck, on 3 November 2015. The other speakers were Lesley Klaff of Sheffield Hallam University and UK Lawyers for Israel; David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group and Jews for Jeremy, and Nadia Valman of Queen Mary, University of London and Independent Jewish Voices. To listen to the full panel discussion, go to the Podcast at the Pears Institute website.
When we talk about the Jews and the UK left we are talking about a relationship-in-crisis. Our questions tonight: What went wrong? Can it be rescued?
Let me begin with some pre-emptive remarks.
First, I am better placed to talk about the Left than the Jews. Although I probably spend more time with Jews and in Synagogues than many in the room, I am not Jewish. But I am a person of the Left and have been since the late 70s when I was a teenage volunteer in Days of Hope radical bookshop in Newcastle (or Haze of Dope as some called it).
Second, I do not think the left in the UK should be uncritical of Israeli policy. The Left in Israel is not, so why should we be?
Third, despite some recent ‘polls’ and headlines, I don’t think British Jews are about to start hiding in their cellars.
Professionals who deal with antisemitism do not see a wave of popular antisemitism but rather three distinct political antisemitisms; on the dwindling far right; in parts – I stress parts – of the British Muslim community; and in parts – again, I stress parts – of the Left.
It’s this strand of distinctively left-wing hostility to Jews that I want to make some remarks about tonight. It has never been the dominant strand of opinion on the Left, and it is not so today; not by a long chalk. But it has always existed, it is growing today, and it must be part of any account of the breakdown in the relationship between Jews and the Left.
It was called the ‘socialism of fools’ in the 19th century.
It became an ‘anti-imperialism of idiots’ in the 20th century.
And it takes the form of a wild, demented, unhinged form of anti-Zionism – not mere ‘criticism of Israeli policy’ – that demonises Israel in the 21st century.
Part 1: The Socialism of Fools
Let’s begin with a short ‘who said this?’ quiz.
Who said, ‘The whole Jewish world constitutes one exploiting sect, one people of leeches, one single devouring parasite closely and intimately bound together not only across national boundaries but also across all divergences of political opinion.’? That was the 19th century anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin.
Who wrote, ‘Whoever fights against Jewish capital … is already a class-fighter, even if he does not know it … Strike down the Jewish capitalists, hang them from the lamp posts!’? That was the communist Ruth Fischer, a leading figure in the German Communist Party in the early 1920s.
Who said, ‘Wherever there is trouble in Europe, wherever rumours of war circulate and men’s minds are distraught with fear of change and calamity, you may be sure that a hooked-nosed Rothschild is at his games somewhere near the region of the disturbances.’ Well that was an editorial in The Labour Leader, organ of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1891.
I could go on. Trust me, these quotes are not aberrations. Read Steve Cohen’s seminal work That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Antisemitic, for the entire sorry story about left-wing antisemitism. (It’s available at the Engage site.)
But that is ancient history, you might say. What about today?
Well, left-wing antisemitism never went away. It became the ‘anti-imperialism of idiots’ in the last third of the 20th century, when vicious, well-funded and long-running anti-Zionist campaigns were conducted by the Stalinist states, in alliance with the authoritarian Arab states and parts of the Western New Left.
Those campaigns laid the ground for the form taken by left-wing antisemitism today — I call it antisemitic anti-Zionism.
Antisemitic anti-Zionism bends the meaning of Israel and Zionism out of shape until both become fit receptacles for the tropes, images and ideas of classical antisemitism. In short, that which the demonological Jew once was, demonological Israel now is: uniquely malevolent, full of blood lust, all-controlling, the hidden hand, tricksy, always acting in bad faith, the obstacle to a better, purer, more spiritual world, uniquely deserving of punishment, and so on.
Antisemitic anti-Zionism has three components: a programme, a discourse, and a movement.
First, antisemitic anti-Zionism has a political programme: not two states for two peoples, but the abolition of the Jewish homeland; not Palestine alongside Israel, but Palestine instead of Israel.
Second, antisemitic anti-Zionism is a demonising intellectual discourse (as I outline in my chapter in Gabe Brahm’s and Cary Nelson’s book, The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel). The Left is imprisoning itself within a distorting system of concepts: ‘Zionism is racism’; Israel is a ‘settler-colonialist state’ which ‘ethnically cleansed’ the ‘indigenous’ people, went on to build an ‘apartheid state’ and is now engaged in an ‘incremental genocide’ against the Palestinians.
And there is the ugly phenomenon of Holocaust Inversion – the deliberate and systematic Nazification of Israel in street placards depicting Netanyahu as Hitler, in posters equating the IDF and the SS, in cartoons portraying Israelis as Nazis, and even in the language of intellectuals.
Third, antisemitic anti-Zionism is a presence within a global social movement (the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS movement) to exclude one state – and only one state – from the economic, cultural and educational life of humanity: the little Jewish one.
And this is the real concern about Jeremy Corbyn. Not that he indulges in antisemitism himself, but that he has a record of indulging the antisemitism of others when it comes wearing an ‘Israel’ badge. And these days, it almost always does.
For example, Corbyn defended the vile antisemitic Palestinian Islamist Raed Saleh. Even though Saleh’s murderous Jew-hatred was a matter of public record (hell, a matter of court records, come to that) Corbyn called Saleh was ‘an honoured citizen who represents his people extremely well’ and invited him to take tea on the terrace of the House of Commons. Mind you, not many on the Left could rouse themselves to object to Saleh. Mehdi Hassan, then the Political Editor of The New Statesman, argued that the criticism of Salah was an example of the media’s ‘lazy and simplistic demonisation of Muslims.’
Today is springtime for left-wing antisemitic anti-Zionism.
We have a left-wing poet, Tom Paulin, who compares the Israeli Defence Forces to the Nazi SS.
We have a left-wing Church of England vicar, Stephen Sizer, who links to an article saying the Jews did 9/11, and then says, anyway, prove that they didn’t.
We have a left-wing comedian, Alexei Sayle, who jokes that Israel is ‘the Jimmy Saville of the nations.’
Jenny Tonge, a left-leaning peer of the realm and would-be Corbynista, demands an enquiry into whether the rescue mission sent by Israel to Haiti had a secret agenda of harvesting organs for Jews in Israel.
We have trade unions breaking links with Israel and only Israel, left-wing protestors shouting down the Israeli theatre troupe at The Globe, and only the Israeli group.
Beinazir Lasharie, a Labour councillor in Kensington and Chelsea shared a video on Facebook claiming that ISIS is run by the Israeli secret service, and another one saying that she had heard ‘compelling evidence’ that Israel is behind ISIS. ‘I’ve nothing against Jews … just sharing it!’ she wrote. Antisemitic anti-Zionism never has anything ‘against the Jews,’ you see. (The Labour Party has since suspended Lasharie, pending an investigation.)
There is relentless left-wing intellectual incitement, too. It has turned some of our universities into madhouses.
Ilan Pappe says US policy in the region is ‘confined to the narrow route effectively delineated … by AIPAC.’
Yitzhak Laor claims that IDF ‘death squads’ are guilty of ‘indiscriminately killing,’ and of acts of ‘sadism,’ including ‘mass starvation.’
Omar Barghouti claims Israel has an ‘insatiable appetite’ for ‘genocide and the intensification of ethnic cleansing.’
Yehuda Shenhav in his book Beyond the Two-State Solution, claims Israel is ‘an aggressive war machine,’ seeking ‘the annihilation of the Palestinian people.’
The introduction to Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe’s book On Palestine – currently prominently displayed in our high street bookstores – spreads the lie that that in 2014 Israel was engaged in the ‘systematic carpet bombing of an entire population’.
What can we say about each of these examples?
Each is self-consciously ‘left-wing’, broadly defined. Each is ‘intellectual’ in the Gramscian sense of being informed by a world-view. And that world view is found in the murky borderlands where a modern anti-Zionism of a particularly excessive and obsessive kind co-mingles easily with classical antisemitic tropes, images and ideas.
How can we explain the breakdown of the relationship?
The occupation is a big part of the crisis in the relationship between the Jews and the Left, of course. Whatever can be said about the self-defensive character of the Six-Day war in 1967, or about the serious security concerns that make Israel unwilling to simply walk out of the West Bank without an agreement, or about the actual reasons for the rejection of the Israeli peace proposals at the Camp David and Annapolis talks, one brute fact remains – and for most people it’s the only fact that matters, I get that – the Palestinians do not have a state or a vote and pretty soon it will be 50 years since 1967.
But that isn’t the whole story by any means.
The Left also needs to think harder about our relationship to a couple of our own values – assimilation and universalism. We need to understand better how we have misused those values in our understanding of Israel and the Jews and, as a result, have misshapen our relationship to Zionism as a project and Israel as a state.
What do I mean?
In the late 19th century, most of the Left felt that assimilation was the only acceptable Jewish response to rising antisemitism. For example, Lenin – setting up the ‘Good Jew / Bad Jew’ dichotomy that has been dear to the Left ever since – wrote that ‘the best Jews have never clamored against assimilation.’ Many on the Left disapproved of the survival of Jewishness – of the Jews as a people with the right to national self-determination as opposed to individuals with civil rights.
The Left hoped to dissolve Jewish peoplehood in the solvent of progressive universalism. The proletariat, understood as the universalist class par excellence, was to make a world revolution that would solve ‘the Jewish question’ once and for all, ‘in passing’.
But this left-wing universalism was always ‘spurious’ as Norman Geras put it, because it singled out the Jews as ‘special amongst other groups in being obliged to settle for forms of political freedom in which their identity may not be asserted collectively.’ ‘Jews,’ Geras noted, ‘must be satisfied, instead, merely with the rights available to them as individuals.’
And yet, in the 19th century and the early 20th century, many European Jews were zealots for both universalism and assimilation; it was the name of their desire too. (Speaking personally, I wish history had gone that way.)
But here’s the thing. World history went another way and Jewish history went with it. However, the Left did not get the memo. That’s the other explanation for the crisis in the relationship of the Left and the Jews today.
This is the way that history went: the failure of the European socialist revolution, the rise of Fascism and Nazism, the unprecedented transformation of the assault upon the Jews in the form of the Shoah, an industrial-scale genocide in the heart of Europe, the expulsion of the Jews from the Arab lands, and the degeneration of the Russian Revolution into Stalinism and antisemitism. All this left the appeal of assimilationism and universalism in tatters.
In response, Jews insisted on defining their own mode of participation in modernity and in universal emancipation: support for Zionism and a homeland for the Jews; the creation of Israel, a nation-state in a world of nation-state. Whether they moved to Israel or not, that was the choice of all but a sliver of world Jewry. And that remains the case today.
Crucially, parts of the Left – by no means all – failed to adapt to this great rupture in world history. This is all-important, for it utterly transformed the political meaning of ‘anti-Zionism’. Anti-Zionism meant one thing in the early 20th century: an argument among Jews, mostly, about how best to meet the threat of antisemitism. Anti-Zionism has come to mean something entirely different after the Holocaust and after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948: it has come to mean a programme of comprehensive hostility to all but a sliver of world Jewry, a programme for the eradication of actually existing Jewish self-determination.
Things got even worse. This post-Holocaust, post-Israel left-wing Anti-Zionism has been converging with some forms of Arab nationalism and even political Islamism – which are both now coded as singularly progressive. The Left has its own version of Orientalism which infantalises the Palestinians and Arabs, puts them beyond criticism, and makes them the subject of endless western left-wing delusions. For example, take Jeremy Corbyn’s truly incredible claim that Hamas and Hezbollah are ‘bringing about long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region.’
This convergence between parts of the Left and Arab nationalism, and later Islamism, was smoothed by two developments on the Left.
In the East, the Communist bloc’s decades-long ‘anti-Zionist’ propaganda campaign injected an ‘anti-imperialism of idiots’ into the global left during the cold war. We are talking about the mass publication and global distribution of antisemitic materials through the Communist Parties and their fellow travellers. Anthony Julius’s book Trials of the Diaspora tells us that 230 books were published in the USSR alone from 1969-1985 about a supposed Zionist-masonic conspiracy against Russia. These books had a combined print run of 9.4 million.
In the West, David Hirsh has observed that whereas anti-imperialism was previously ‘one value amongst a whole set – democracy, equality, sexual and gender liberation, anti-totalitarianism’ included – it was raised to a radically new status in the 1960’s in the West as ‘the central value, prior to and above all others.’ And with this, a new Manicheanism descended on the Left. Israel-Palestine was reframed. No longer were one people involved in a complex unresolved national question with another people. Now Israel became ‘a key site of the imperialist system’ and the Palestinians became ‘the Resistance’ to imperialism.
Left-wing ‘common sense’ shifted accordingly. Now, to support Israel’s enemies – whatever these enemies stood for, however they behaved – was a left-wing ‘anti-imperialist’ duty: in other words, antisemitism went ‘progressive.’ Writing in the New Statesman I called this intellectual malady ‘Campism’. Whatever word is used, we need the concept. How else can we explain why Judith Butler – a leading lesbian, feminist and socialist academic – could claim that ‘Understanding Hamas and Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of a global left, is extremely important.’
When the Left can no longer distinguish the fascistic from the progressive, we really do have a problem.
How can the relationship be put back together?
In brief, not by taking an ‘Israel right or wrong’ approach. Wrong in principle, that approach will only make worse the problem at the heart of the relationship between the Jews and the Left.
And nor should we give up on our duty to support a Palestinian state as an expression of self-determination of the Palestinians people.
But, look, we do need to radically rethink our demented anti-Zionism.
We left-wingers must rethink our refusal of the right to national self-determination of just one people, the Jewish people.
We must rethink our commitment to boycott just one state in the whole wide world, the Jewish one. That singling-out is antisemitic in consequence, I am afraid, whatever the motivations of individual boycotters.
Those left-wing refusals and those left-wing commitments are now, frankly, dangerous. We have to see that this left-wing anti-Zionism co-exists, cheek by jowl, with a family of anti-Zionisms, that some of the family members are vile and vicious and murderous, and that the left has become hopeless at policing its own borders.
Our task is huge: to build an intellectual firewall separating sharp criticism of Israeli policy – which is legitimate, as it is for any nation-state, and which, even when unfair, remains non-lethal – from the spreading demonology of Zionism and Israel which is not legitimate and which can be lethal.
Beyond that we need to hold our nerve, restate some basic truths, and think more creatively about how we can act in the world to make a positive contribution to securing these truths: that peace will only come through engagement and deep mutual recognition between the two peoples, that there is no alternative to negotiations and mutual compromise, that a final status agreement will secure two states for two peoples.
Well done! Thank you for explaining this argument.
Absolutely excellent, except for two word at the end: “mutual compromise”. Arabs don’t compromise, to them it means losing face. It is all or nothing. And they are encouraged to think along those lines from kindergarten on. Unless one un-washes their brains a two-state solution is not on their syllabus. They have said so often enough. Their Palestine, that is including all of Israel, will be “judenrein”, not a single Jew will be allowed to live there. They are the true racists. Why not acknowledge that?
What everyone seems to forget about the 1960s is the influence of the Soviet Union on the discussion of Israel-Palestine. The Soviets, once they decided to back the Arabs, not only rewrote history, but used their own political-verbiage to frame the Middle East conflict. This perspective was brought into western thought by an army of ready willing and able cadre of leftists in academia and politics. Additionally, the European Left, led entirely by pro-Soviet individuals, decided to embrace this historical revisionism, making western Europe and all it stood for in the guise of individual freedoms, the evil of all mankind, and it has only morphed from there. Moreover, it has now become common place, in fact expected, to discuss the issues surrounding Israel/Palestine in the language of the Soviet disinformatzia of reality.
Interestingly while the world has moved on and acknowledged the failure of the Soviet Enterprise along with its abhorrent economic and human rights abuses, for some reason the Left still adheres to the Soviet antisemitic ahistorical version of Middle Eastern events: A denial of Jewish indigenous rights; the concept of the evil western colonial powers forcing their western concepts on those too unsophisticated to understand the reality of their own oppression (ignoring of course that the Soviets/Russians were, and are, some of the biggest colonizers in history)- today’s precursor to cultural relativism; plus the ignoble nonsense that those who are considered non-white as devoid of moral agency, unable to make socially acceptable choices. The issue remains as to why it is so easy to continue the Soviet inspired demonization of “the Jew” in European society, and why it is still so acceptable especially among the European elites.
Good summary, except for your conclusion, which is demonstrably bonkers.
Could you please explain how leftists can engage in “sharp criticism of Israel which even if unfair remains nonlethal,” on the one hand, while policing themselves to make sure that no one slips into “demonology”?
What exactly are your criteria for determining whether an expression falls into one or the other category?
How exactly do you plan to install this magical “firewall” into the brains of European leftists whose minds have been poisoned against Zionism and Israel for decades?
From birth, educated Europeans (not just leftists) have been systematically misinformed concerning the fundamentals re Israel.
The most preposterous nonsense about Israel circulates through schools, universities, the media, social media, etc. – and is repeated ad nauseam by politicians, the media elite, academics, the “intelligentsia,” and celebrities.
“Occupation, illegal settlements, 1967 borders, the West Bank”:
these terms are never questioned, but all are part of the apparatus of anti-Semitic propaganda.
I have lived in Europe for 20 years, and have yet to meet a single European who knows how the Judea and Samaria came to be misnamed the “West Bank”– let alone that this renaming itself was as much an act of genocide against the Jewish people as Hadrian’s snotty renaming the Jewish homeland “Palestine.”
The “task is indeed huge,” because we are talking about the brainwashing not just the European left, but the educated classes of Europe by a set of pernicious falsehoods that have long since solidified into dogma, into self-evident and unassailable “facts.”
According to you, the same Europeans are going to be deprogrammed, reeducated, and engage in “responsible, non-anti-Semitic criticism of Israel.”
What is required instead is a massive challenge to the lies of the left on Israel – and to the intellectual hegemony of the left in Europe as a whole.
By the way, this includes a frontal attack on THE founding myth of European anti-Zionism, namely your imaginary “duty to support a Palestinian state as an expression of self-determination of the Palestinians people.”
When you prop up the basic lie of anti-Zionism (that the conflict is about the “Palestinians” lacking a state), you have ALREADY capitulated to contemporary European anti-Semitism, which is premised on the demented notion that the Jews have become the “oppressors” (i.e. the “Nazis”), and the Palestinians the “oppressed” (i.e. the “new Jews”).
The lie that the centuries-long Arab war against the Middle Eastern Jews is all about “Palestinian” “frustration” is the main pillar of European anti-Semitism today.
Let us be clear: the main obstacle to ending the Arab war against Israel is the delusion among too many Jews that of TINY Israel should cede EVEN MORE land to the ALREADY GIGANTIC Arab nation, the latter will abandon 1400 years of exterminationist Jew hatred.
If the past have 50 years have taught us anything, it is that Jews like you, who embrace this self-deluded, wishy-washy intellectual compromise are despised as much as any other Jew.
We also need to analyze the PSYCHOLOGICAL FUNCTION of the obsessively-cited prerogative of Europeans to “criticize Israel just like any other country.”
The issue has never been the indisputable right of armchair intellectuals, academic ignoramuses, nitwit celebrities, and the rest of the flotsam and jetsam of a disintegrating European society to babble hostile nonsense about Israel.
The issue is the war against the Jews and against Israel that is being waged by the European Union, by many European states, and by countless European institutions.
The left is not going to police itself, install your “firewall,” or reeducate itself about Israel.
The currently hegemonic and leftist European narrative, which holds the Jews to be the source of all evil, is not going to magically overcome itself.
This is because left-wing Jew hatred is not a blemish on an otherwise healthy entity; it is instead symptomatic of the evolution of European society as a whole over the past half-century.
Europe has replaced right-wing anti-Semitism with left-wing anti-Semitism.
Most European intellectuals regard this as progress, and never tire of congratulating themselves for “responsibly criticizing Israel” from the “left” while projecting their own disavowed and repressed exterminationist Jew hatred onto the Jews (“genocide of the Palestinians”).
European leftism cannot be restored to “health.”
A more plausible scenario is that former leftists like myself will join with others – conservatives, centrists, liberals, people with no clearly definable political ideology, anyone at all with an intact sense of right and wrong – to challenge the leftist narrative about Israel – this toxic mixture of Soviet, Nazi, Islamofascist, and left-fascist craziness.
ONLY when Europeans commit themselves to the struggle for Israel and against anti-Semitism (and stop wasting time on the self-indulgent parlor game of “legitimately criticizing Israel” instead of ensuring its survival) will Europe experience a RENAISSANCE and a spiritual rebirth.
Until then, Europe’s downward spiral will continue uninterrupted – because anti-Semitism is not just A symptom, it is the PRIMARY symptom of European spiritual sickness.
At this point, you are nibbling rather timidly around the edges of European left-wing anti-Semitism.
Now, let us rethink its PREMISES – and more importantly, analyze its group psychological FUNCTION in a declining Europe.
Thank You for the explanation.
I agree with “Refugee” who outlined the absurdity of your conclusion very well. The conflict in the Middle East in nothing more than the age old war against the Jews for the last 1400 years by Islamists and their European Leftist enablers who have sold out their continent for the price of oil.
Thank you for this powerful and beautifully written piece. As far as the question of how to move forward now, I would have talked a bit more about the current “Syria” context, i.e. the current violent state of Islamism.
Well said but for the last comments on the way forward for Israel/ “Palestine”. Is “sharp criticism” of Israeli policy really legitimate? Perhaps for those who are well versed in those policies and their context. That would leave out most of the world. Two states for two peoples living side by side in peace? Think the Palestinians are going to listen to the author’s platitudes–or those of anyone else? Not yet is the best I can offer. Leave the politics between Israel and the Arabs to Israel and the Arabs and take care of the idiocy of which the author refers. Where the author missed the mark, the comments thus far are brilliant. Kudos to all of you.
This is an excellent analysis! Points out well the failures & degeneration of a part of the left on the issues of Israel/Palestine/Zionism & its idolization of fascistic movements of “resistance” such as Hezbollah & Hamas (to which we can add: Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, al-Qaeda, Taliban) as somehow “progressive” because they are allegedly “anti-imperialist” (but merely want to replace Western imperialism w Islamist imperialism). One of the finest analyses I have found yet on the relationship of the left to Judaism/Zionism.
The history of the Left should imply to Mr. Johnson that setting out to achieve globalist universalist goals for all peoples is an unrealistic method for dealing with the complexities of everyday reality. What precisely was the chain of events that led from the workers’ revolt to Stalinism? Is that path so inherent in Socialism that the path will be tread repeatedly? Is that the same mechanism that has led from rational criticism of Israeli policies to Leftist antisemitism?
That being said, please keep up the good fight, Mr. Johnson.
A well-reasoned and very readable discourse on this modern-day scourge.
You’re begging the question when you say that we haveWe don’t actually know what form of self-determination Palestinians want; it’s not as if they could demonstrate their desire for a state through, e.g., the election of representatives to a Palestinian assembly.
I suggest that most diaspora Palestinians would prefer to have civil and political rights in the countries in which they live. Of the rest, some might wish to live in a Palestinian-majority area annexed by Jordan, Syria, Israel, or Egypt; others might decline any solution that doesn’t involve the destruction of Israel. It isn’t our role to foster a specific nationalist agenda or to connive at genocide. What we should be doing is helping Palestinians secure civil rights both locally and in their diaspora.
This article isn’t total nonsense; only about 50%. Yes, there really is a netherworld of putatively left-wing Israel-obsessed, conspiratorially minded almost-kind-of–sometimes-even-all-the-way-antisemites out there. Or just leftists who let actual antisemites off the hook in the name of a “common cause”. But a major clue to where the author goes off the rails, in my view, is the term “Holocaust Inversion”. I’ve sometimes scolded people who indulge in Nazi-calling for lacking a sense of proportion. For hyperbole, for over-the-top rhetoric. I once even helped convince Norman Finkelstein to tone down one of his patented “Nazi!”-rants online. Lots of people call lots of people Nazis. Sometimes there’s a kernel of truth in it, sometimes it’s even not far from an accurate comparison (say, Henry Kissinger). But to Johnson, calling Netanyahu a Nazi isn’t just silly or exaggerated; it’s “Holocaust Inversion.” So does this mean that Netanyahu, as head Israeli honcho, somehow stands for Holocaust Victim? Why, because he stands for world Jewry? Because Israel does? Is it really necessary to deconstruct this? Zionists love to say that when they get called Nazis, it’s anti-semitism–by definition (or magic). Well, my still-intact socialist universalism tells me it isn’t. That isn’t to say that it can’t in principle be part of some antisemitic or simply chauvinistic discourse; that all depends on what else is being said. When Norman Finkelstein screams “Israeli Nazis” this or that, he’s being maybe a little churlish or off-the-wall. He’s definitely NOT being antisemitic. The same goes for at least 80% of the quotes Johnson adduces as “examples” of antisemitism. (Simply to “declare it so” is called definitional fiat; and if you ask me, that’s the debate trick of fools.)
Johnson says that the Left didn’t “get the memo” that the Holocaust changed everything. I think he didn’t get the memo that 70 years later, things have continued to change, and not for the benefit of what could be called rational or enlightened Zionism. The siege of Gaza is, in fact, a crime against humanity. Israel does, in fact, commit massacres against Palestinians on a shockingly regular basis. If you ask me, both before and after the Holocaust, one thing hasn’t changed at all: exclusionary ethno-nationalism isn’t a leftist program. As far as inversions go: if simple democratic universalism really is antisemitism, then we’re all in big trouble.
Fascism and Nazism are left.
the national SOCIALISTS where socialists
and until the left understands that there is something
rotten in the house it is doomed to be on the
same path as the Nazis.
time for a mea culpa.
Do not underestimate Muslim antisemitism. It is endemic here in Sweden, with threats of death, violence and arson, actual violence, vandalism and arson, and vicious school bullying.
Half the Jewish population of Malmö has fled in the past decade. The communities in Stockholm and Gothenburg are under heavy pressure, and it is not from Breivik types or neo-Nazi nuts. Criticism of Muslim behaviour is branded racist.
I must agree with the other responses here in ‘comments’ that Alan Johnson’s analysis of the malaise of the European left in teaming up with religious/nationalistic Arab fanaticism in being Anti-Zionist and using it as a cover for old fashioned antisemitism is enlightening and important to be seen by all thinkers (on all sides of politics). But those who disagree with the simplistic conclusion of two states for two peoples are also correct. The future practical permanent solution for the area will be settled (if ever) by the local people involved, who should not (and will not) be dictated to by European leftists who admittedly can get things wrong and are now going through their own identity crisis. As an historical context I must remind you that Arab/Muslim raiders and murderers have been attacking Jewish residents of the area since the middle of the 19th century. (The Biblical Land of Israel/ 1922-1948 British controlled Mandate of Palestine/ for 300 years before, then known then as Turkish controlled Southern Syria). Until this very day, they would always complain and excuse their murderous activities or because of the religious sensibilities or because they did not want Jews to have a foothold in the area – even not on legally purchased land. It’s always the same story. And all the time the situation gets worse for the Arabs of the area. If they had leaders who would show them the sensible way to calmly compromise with the Jews, then they would discover than their lives would be prosperous and safe. In view of the current tumult and violence and the magnetic fanaticism of ISIS for young easily affected young Arabs, (who perhaps don’t get to read the New Statesman) I am not optimistic for the foreseeable future.
Nahum Nigel Froumin. Ramat HaSharon.
The author speaks of “our duty to support a Palestinian state as an expression of self-determination of the Palestinians [sic] people” but fails to relate to the Palestinian leaderships’ aim in this self-determination: to continue pursuing conflict with Israel from a superior position. Witness the Fatah leadership’s quitting of peace talks over Israel’s demand for finality of claims once an accord is reached. I argue that such self-determination deserves no expression and that abandoning it is key to progress toward any tenable settlement of the conflict. I further argue that the proper addressees of this demand are on the Palestinian side and its sympathizers on the Left.
A commendable article in some small ways, but does not go nearly far enough. Not nearly, and this shows why there is no hope for the Left at all. It is in its entirety morally bankrupt and delusional. Johnson prattles how we must still support the surrender of the West Bank/Judea and Samaria to the jihadists of the PA/Fatah and/or Hamas, because that’s the reality of the situation. Does Johnson expect any other nation in the world to surrender a huge buffer zone to Muslim jihadists, other than the Jew among the nations? Look what happened when Israel surrendered Gaza and south Lebanon, who filled the gap and how many wars resulted? And Johnson is otherwise one of the very few decent Leftists in many ways, yet he is a real True Believer in a brazen ruse (the two state solution to Muslim extremism) to bring about Israel’s destruction.
Johnson does not seem to acknowledge whatsoever the reality of Fatah’s extremism and jihadism, and the fact that the Palestinians according to numerous surveys over the years, overwhelmingly support Israel’s destruction. Never mind Hamas. That is why the Left support them, for the same reason neo-Nazis do, and Muslim extremists the world over. In fact I’m willing to bet Johnson doesn’t have a clue about the roots of Muslim extremism whatsoever.
Johnson does not likewise appear to recognize the major pillar of left-wing anti-Semitism, the belief that Jews are greedy capitalists, the natural enemy of the working class. It’s in the academic literature on contemporary anti-Semitism, it’s taken for granted there, but who reads it? It’s something one can verify for oneself hanging out (in person or online) among anti-Zionist gentile Leftists with their endless prattle about Jewish capitalists who they appear to think control the global economy. Nor does Johnson appear, along with most all Jewry, to get the irony of the Left’s anti-Semitism and its roots in the Church. The kind of reprehensible anti-Semitism/anti-Zionism that Johnson cites is mainstream in the UK, Europe and North America, well the West. It emanates from the White House, from the State Dept, from the NY Times, from the BBC, from the EU, from the liberal churches, from the NGOs. I could go on with more criticisms of Johnson’s article, such as his being just fine with the self-loathing Israeli Left who gave us the disaster of Oslo and thus have no credibility. Such Israeli Leftists like the so-called decent Left that Johnson pretends exists but doesn’t, are hypercritical of Israel but largely deafening in their silence on the crimes of Israel’s fascist neighbours, and yes they are all fascist without exception. And what of the rest of the world where hundreds of millions live in extreme poverty, while billions are stolen annually by their corrupt government regimes, across the globe? The so-called decent Left Johnson wishes into existence, even as it doesn’t exist, makes a bigger fuss of Jewish settlements than the mega-corruption of Third World governments from Africa to Latin America and Asia. I don’t see any of them calling for the banning of Sharia Law, just Jews building homes. That’s the so-called decent Left btw.
There is even more to say, but I leave off.
In my opinion, the bigger problem facing what might be called left Zionism is not left anti-Semitism (which does exist, as the author rightly points out), but a deepening rift within Zionism itself, between secular/liberal Zionism and the religious and revisionist camps of Zionism. The narrative accepted by the former is some version of “As Herzl and others recognized, the Jews needed a homeland so that they could escape persecution and live freely and prosper. In the process of creating that homeland, the Jews displaced others and contributed to strife — maybe this was not solely the Jews’ fault but it was partially their fault. Now the responsible thing to do is to find a resolution to the strife, however challenging it may be, while supporting the state that Jews have created with their blood and sweat. Israel is a Jewish state because it was created as one in 1948 and remains so today.” The religious and/or revisionist version, however, bases its claims primarily on biblical arguments and ancient history — bases that are not legally recognized by any modern legal regime. As such, not only is the “1967” version of Israel legitimately ours by ancient right, so are “Judea and Samaria.” The local Arabs (“so-called Palestinians” as a revisionist might say) are just interlopers who never had any business there in the first place — we can essentially do with them as we please. A secular person certainly cannot accept these arguments, but, in theory, nor should a religious person who accepts secular law as the law that governs land and national rights. Secular and religious liberal Zionists find themselves caught between this unacceptable (to them) claim and the left anti-Semites found in movements like BDS. Right-wing Jews further sling mud at them, calling them self-hating, not really Jews, etc. Liberal Zionists find themselves unsure how to explain the modern-era Zionism they believe in to people when, shouting from behind them, are always the religious/revisionist Zionists making outrageous and dubious ancient historical claims. Liberal Zionists find themselves increasingly staying quiet, neither wanting to speak against their own people nor wanting to support singularly a-legal land claims, often coinciding with racism and intransigence. This is a bigger dilemma for Zionism than left anti-Semitism.
I feel that in the case of the British left, its antisemitic anti-Zionism can have a component that has more to do with being British than with being left, namely an idealisation of an anti-Israel, pro-Arab stance held by Britain during the later stages of the Mandate chiefly for self-serving and , may I dare say, imperialistic goals.
It is also painful for those British leftists to admit that Britain is nobody’s idea of the incarnation of left-wing values and even Israel was more of a poster boy for the left for a short period than their nation has ever been. It is similarly difficult for them to acknowledge the responsibilities held by Britain regarding the Middle Eastern crisis. Far more convenient to place all the blame on Israel and the US, the latter in the role of either her slave or her puppeteer. (Same goes for their amnesia about Arab nationalistic and British anti-Bolshevik and pacifist support for the Nazis far exceeding that of a handful of Zionist groups).
Needless to say, there are plenty of British leftists who are capable of chest beating as well as finger pointing, but there are more than a few who come off as shouting “free Palestine” simply because they can no longer sing “Rule Britannia”. They are the very same who are forgiving and forgetful about their own imperialism and appear to be critical of human rights violations committed by their own county only if they view them as done to appease the U.S.
As a man of the left Mr Johnson can not see that Mr Corbyn is correct that Hamas and Hezbollah are indeed about “Social Justice”. Because Social Justice is a deeply evil thing. Mr Johnson would passionately deny that Social Justice is evil (the ancient enemy of real justice), when and if he comes to understand that Social Justice is evil, he will cease to be a man of the left.
This is a very good summary, map and check list but as ever such things need caution and actual checking the ground and people when using them on any particular problem – in this case Israel and the Jewish Diaspora are different enough to beware of tripping badly.
An eventual peace will need compromises by definition of negotiations. As long as there are no intellectual and practical compromises to accept the existence of Israel and Palestine then to demarcate their borders now, instead of in 1948, there will be no peace so somebody will fall through the history cracks – as did the original Philistines.
The Sykes-Picot Middle East of 1916-20 is cracking badly, separating like a gas chromatograph as the Turks and Greeks rearranged themselves in 1922 and in Cyprus in 1974; or the break up of the Indian Raj with refugee exchanges of over 12 million, and the return of Europe’s ethnic Germans in and since 1945. Nobody in 1949 – 67 made a song and dance for the independence of the then West Bank of Jordan; so what is the itch now for another Arab ex- colonial pseudo state there?
However universal a system, it needs to manage local geography economics and cultures. The Enlightenment saw nations to be sovereign on their patch. Ironically the creeping disestablishment of national governments by globalising commerce follows Marxist analyses of the agglomeration of wealth /capital, but is objected by many – with the self professed Marxists and other leftists leading the objections. Very similarly the Salafi Moslems – even more so their armed jihadi variants – want a universal uniform system as did the Church before them. It did not work. Regional and national varieties developed for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps that ivory tower attitude to the World is also what is biting the leftists who are ignorant of the imperialist streak in Arab and Moslem history. Ignorance also makes strange bedfellows.
Leftists who think eating the Israeli “cabin boy” with the Arab nats will end Arab discords and imperialism should remember how Khomenei used the Iranian Left to rebel against the Shah and then dumped and hanged them together with the LGBT, Bahais all the other groups struggling for equalities in the present age – starting with women. Kicking Israel, which becomes kicking Jews, is a diversion and those who fall for it, have been had.
What a well articulated and thought out article which explores the historical context to a very modern problem.
Brilliant.I have been searching for a neutral,informed intelligent rebuttal of the prevailing Zeitgeist and here it is.Thank you
Brilliant.Well argued and timely.Yet when will the Arabs truly compromise?The Palestinians at Camp David with Arafat”never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.This is why they cannot resolve the problems.Intransigant they prefer to fight or at least many of them do.The Israelis have been forced to fight.If they go too far too fiercely now it is because they have been tormented for so long.
“We left-wingers must rethink our refusal of the right to national self-determination of just one people, the Jewish people.”
I’m trying hard but just can’t make any sense of this paragraph. What is a “people” and which other “peoples” have a right to national self-determination?
My extended family contains all sorts of people – about half of whom have, as it happens, sufficient “Jewish” credentials to go and live in Israel if they wished – but what “people” do I belong to? By analogy, I suppose, I’m a white Anglo-Saxon cultural Christian (though atheist). Is that “a people”? Do “white Anglo-Saxon cultural Christians” have “a right to national self-determination”? I suppose UKIPers think they do. But I wouldn’t ever wish to live in such a country or to go establish such a country somewhere else in the world (especially if this were to the detriment of many of the people already living there).
Similar considerations apply to “our duty to support a Palestinian state as an expression of self-determination of the Palestinian people”.
Obviously we are where we are. We should strive to find some kind of peaceful solution that allows everyone living between the Jordan river and the sea some kind of dignity and the full citizenship rights (of one, two, or however many states) .. though, given the levels of hate in all quarters, I can’t see any prospect of this happening in the foreseeable future.
I will continue to hope, but, in the meantime, please don’t ask me (on pain of being called an “antisemite”) to applaud “Zionism” as though it were some kind of noble and intellectually coherent cause.
The writer reveals his true self when he expresses his “personal” wish that the Jewish People should have abandoned their identity.
With friends like him…
I wonder if Mr Johnson “personally” wishes that any nation other than the Jews had become extinct.
He no doubt is a fervent supporter of the laudable campaign to save the whales from extinction, however.
Thank you. The left fails to grasp and we fail to get across several simple propositions:
1. Zionism was solely and exclusively a response to the failure of assimilation as experienced in Vienna and Paris. In Hilberg’s words: “They did not want us to live amongst them.” In its substance character values and approache it was indistinguishable from any other romantic nationalist movement of the 19th century save that it did not have to consider violence. The cause of Zionism was therefore non Jewish Europeans’ inability to accept Jews as equals, and nothing else. Note real physical violence against Jews in 1900 was under the Czarist lands not in western or central Europe.
2. Zionism was not very popular amongst Jews and it was not practicable to create a state until the Balfour Declaration issued because the Ottoman Empire had lost its Arab empire leaving the entire Arab world without any surviving political structures.
3. In 1920 Britain was granted a mandate over Palestine on terms that it honoured the Balfour Declaration., i.e. the idea of a Jewish homeland had the imprimatur of the League of Nations.
4. Post war anti-Semitism by the same anti Jewish Europeans caused an increase in settlers to Palestine and violence began significantly about 1921.
5. 77% of Palestine was signed away to Transjordan (now Jordan) in 1921 so the quarrel is over 23% of mandated Palestine.
6. Britain had made conflicting promises to several parties during the war and could not manage the competing aims of arabs and jews. In 1937 the Peel Commission recommended partition. The Zionists accepted this and the arabs did not and still wont.
7. The story since 1917 is that under the Mufti the arab policy was no deal and no mercy. All jews must die. The mufti got Hitler’s permission to kill all the jews he liked after a german victory.
8. Arafat was a distant cousin of the mufti and shared his philosophy compeletely. He was only interested in killing jews and embezzling money. Abbas is barely distinguishable. His thesis is based on accounts of Eichmann’s views, he makes extreme anti-Semitic remarks and says quite different things to his own audiences than he does to the west.
9. No Palestinian representative has ever openly and unequivocally said he is in favour of a 2 state solution i.e.partition. They want Palestine from the river to the sea, i.e.a land without jews.
10. It is perfectly legitimate to criticise Israeli governments from 1948 to date but their failures and errors have had no causative effect on
peace. Peace has not and cannot happen for one reason only: no Palestinian
leader has been willing to accept partition. The strategy of never conceding the right of Jews to live in their land (a right granted by the UN) has worked because the message of arab intransigence has got lost while the immorality of their tactics is passed over.
The Leftist Liberals only admire backward thinking nations.
What they hate about Israel is it’s survival amongst a sea of enemies who want it destroyed, that Israel’s very survival for the past 68 years where they constantly had wars with their Arab neighbours since it’s inception in May 1948, yet despite all those impediments hoisted against them from their enemies which surrounded them, they still managed to build their State into a modern democratic and advanced society. No other Country in the world today that became independent in those 68 and more has ever achieved so many advances into so many different fields such as Social Justice,Technology, Science, Medicine, and Agriculture as has Israel.
I agreed with almost every word but…
You say it is a false concept to say that “Israel is a ‘settler-colonialist state’ which ‘ethnically cleansed’ the ‘indigenous’ people”. Why is that false? It is true. But then again, so are Australia, Canada and the USA and nobody who is sane wants to hand them back to the descendants of the indigenous populations.
And Israelis can point out that the Arab backlash against Zionism resulted in the expulsion of long-established Jewish communities in Egypt, Syria and Iraq, most of whom fled to Israel. Most Israelis were born there and have nowhere else to go, so the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state would be a catastrophe and a crime.
But Israel has its original sin, the expulsion of the Palestinians. It’s fair to say that 20th century Jews were far more sinned against than sinning, but the Zionist project was not blameless.
Also, I do not share your optimism about the possibility of a two-state solution. There are simply too many “facts on the ground”. So what alternative solution do I propose? None I am afraid. I just foresee this conflict lasting for another generation or two. There was a two-state window of opportunity after 1991, but this now appears to be closed. There are very good people in Israel and among the Arabs who are trying to build peace from the bottom up. I wish them success but sadly I do not see the outlines of a viable political solution at present.
Paulclark42’s assertion that the Zionists ethnically cleansed the Arabs is based on mythology. 20% of Israel’s population are Arabs
His assertion that Israel is a settler state is also mythology: Israel is the restoration and reconstitution of the state that exists on land that was usurped by Arab interlopers and other illegal settlers from places as distant as Bosnia, Egypt, Sudan et al. [The failed analogy with Australia, Canada and the USA are highly offensive and fallacious.]
Examination of many of the family names of the descendants of these usurpers bears witness to this fact: Bosniak, Masri, Sweydani et al.
I very much enjoyed this article.
Since Ken Livingstone’s 2017 comments, I have debated with the scourge of antisemitic anti-Zionists on the left, who mix in with Holocaust deniers and “Rothschild” name-droppers. You’re absolutely correct in your assertions against these illiberal hypocrites. Hopefully they will march to a quit, demoralizing defeat.
Thank you. Is it not the case that anti-Jewish prejudices have now so infected the Left that trying for reformation is difficult?
What is to be done is to see the world as it is. Anti Jewishness is on the rise and the Left variety is more dangerous than the Right and needs to be fought against to minimise the murders and such like. Islamic anti Jewishness is more dangerous than both and requires a military response. The 3 strands come together in various places.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are staple fare in Islamic countries and while that is believed it is difficult to see where compromise can come from.
You have omitted any reference to the BBC, whose relentless pursuit of an anti-Zionist, anti-Israel narrative (“in 1967, Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza”, quote from a BBC website, whose correspondents are based in Israel as the only safe place in the Middle East, yet constantly bombard the airwaves with anti-Israel sentiments. The BBC is by far the most dangerous of the anti-Israel propaganda vehicles as it is consumed by the general public, who have little or no other information available to them.
THE JEWISH ZIONIST MESSIAH:
“The mashiach [Jewish messiah] will bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people by bringing us back to Israel and restoring Jerusalem (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5). He will establish a government in Israel that will be the center of all world government, both for Jews and gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10; 42:1). He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship (Jeremiah 33:18). He will restore the religious court system of Israel and establish Jewish law as the law of the land (Jeremiah 33:15)…The world after the messiah comes is often referred to in Jewish literature as Olam Ha-Ba (oh-LAHM hah-BAH), the World to Come…In the Olam Ha-Ba, the whole world will recognize the Jewish G-d as the only true G-d, and the Jewish religion as the only true religion (Isaiah 2:3; 11:10; Micah 4:2-3; Zechariah 14:9).”
— From “Mashiach: The Messiah”, Judaism 101 —–
“With the exception of the USSR as a federated Eurasian state, all other continents will become united in a world alliance, at whose disposal will be an international police force. All armies will be abolished, and there will be no more wars. In Jerusalem, the United Nations (a truly United Nations) will build a Shrine of the Prophets to serve the federated union of all continents; this will be the seat of the Supreme Court of Mankind, to settle all controversies among the federated continents, as prophesied by Isaiah.”
— David Ben-Gurion, first Prime Minister of the Jewish State of Israel.
The Zionist plan is to make slaves of the Goyim!
An enormously insightful analysis and commentary on a growing, disturbing phenomenon of the elision of anti-semitism and anti-zionism among significant sectors and icons of the left. And it is clear the author is not a knee-jerk supporter of Israel’s policies or government nor a right-winger intent on left-bashing.
Dear Prof Johnson
So accurate and yet a natural lefty !! But reductio ad absurdum is
Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims can do no wrong Jews/Israelis can do no right and have NO human rights
Netanyahu against the David irving stated clearly that there would have been no Holocaust had there been a State of Israel and finally just as the Evian Conference of 80 years ago proved that no nation would help the Jews so today , history is being repeated at the UN