In this bracing polemic, the US academic Richard Landes argues that the demonising anti-Zionism of what he calls the ‘global progressive left’ – whatever the intentions of its supporters – acts as an enriching and disseminating agent for Jihadi Jew-hatred, itself closely related to the eliminationist anti-Semitism of the Nazis.
A Tale of Two Conferences
I was recently on a panel at a Council on European Studies Conference in Philadelphia. The topic was ‘European Resilience?’ For some of us who were present, the question mark was certainly needed. Europe, especially in the post-national form of the vastly expanded European Union, seemed to us vulnerable: financial woes, stagnant growth, unassimilated immigrant populations, reviving border controls, threats of exit and attacks from a minority of triumphalist Muslims who believe that the time has now come to fulfill what they see as Islam’s cosmic destiny and dominate the world. But the event brochure suggested the organisers considered the question a rhetorical one: the cover featured a prize-fighter raising his gloves in victory.
Moreover, at a time when the French head of state is openly asking a question that fifteen years ago would have struck any listener as ludicrous – ‘Is there a future for the Jews in Europe?’ – one might have expected more panels on that subject. On the contrary, although there were over two hundred panels and more than 1000 participants, there was nothing about the Jihadi ideology that targets progressive European civil society, and with the exception of our panel, nothing either on that enemy’s main target, the Jews.
At one point, a contributor to our panel on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement called that movement ‘anti-Semitic’. The panelist next to me almost jumped out of his skin. Apparently, he found that statement offensive. He was in the wrong room, among those with whom ‘good people’ do not speak.
This reaction struck me with particular force, since I had just come from very different conference in Bloomington, Indiana. Anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitism and the Dynamics of Delegitimization had been organised by Alvin Rosenfeld’s Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism. Scholars had gathered to discuss the ways in which anti-Zionism replicates anti-Semitic patterns by elaborating a virulently anti-Israel narrative, and they debated the effects of this phenomenon, not just on Israelis and Arabs, but on the civic fabric of the Western societies where these ideas have gained a foothold.
Scholars familiar with the more toxic strands of Jew-hatred’s longue durée examined their surprising post-Holocaust life and their sudden re-emergence in the 21st century; how that hatred, millennium after millennium, adapts to conditions, restlessly seeking an acceptable way to Jew-bait and Jew-hate. Indeed, as one speaker pointed out, the term anti-Semitism – now, after the Holocaust, a dirty word – was first introduced as a new, scientific, acceptable form of Jew-hatred. After all, how could self-respecting enlightened persons accuse the Jews of having killed a God in whom they did not believe?
The question then becomes, is anti-Zionism the new, legitimate way to hate Jews?
The Global Progressive Left
It would be hard to deny the proclivity of progressives, when it comes to Israel, for both passionate indignation and the toleration of hate-speech. Speaker after speaker at Bloomington detailed the ways in which the constellation of antisemitic tropes scattered over millennia, were now reappearing, after being translated into an acceptable discourse by revolutionary anti-Zionists. In meme after meme, icon of hatred after demonising cartoon after accusations of Nazi-like child-murder, the new Jew-haters – a surprising combination of Jihadis and radical progressives – weave paranoid patterns of hate around Israel.
The speakers traced the later 20th century mutation: starting immediately after World War II, picking up steam in the 1960s, at the UN with the ‘Zionism=Racism’ resolution in the 1970s, in response to Sabra and Shatilla and the first Intifada in the 1980s, reaching new heights of intensity and extension with the news reporting from the second Intifada (2000), to the Durban conference (2001), to the Jenin ‘massacre’ (2002), and continuing right to the present.
And just behind this scarcely disguised Palestinian hate propaganda came the fuller, more paranoid, Jew-hating discourse of the Jihadis, now secularised and turning full bore on Zionism: Israelis are the true Nazis; they are so racist they believe that, as chosen people, they have a ‘license to kill’ gentiles. The same millennia-old Jewish stain, the same mark of Cain, the same angry envy – but now it was progressive world opinion that rebranded the mark, this time on the brow of the (only) Jewish nation, under the perfectly legitimate, indeed noble, cause of anti-Zionism.
In this propaganda, Israel is framed as the last and ugliest remnant of now-dépassé Western imperialist/nationalist hegemony; the designated scapegoat in a great redemptive drama of global emancipation. In reality, Israel is the only place that guarantees its citizens, including its Muslims, extensive rights and freedoms. Only in Israel can Muslims worship freely, (relatively) safe from Jihadi sectarian aggression. Israel is the only democracy in the desert of authoritarian Arab politics, so starkly displayed in today’s bloody sectarian and tribal wars.
And yet, in the minds of progressives, it is Israel that stands accused. UN bodies compulsively condemn her ‘human rights violations,’ BDS lawfare targets her, campuses and the internet ring with rhetoric and initiatives to make her a pariah, even as the Arab nations around her melt down in the kind of chaos upon which the Jihadis feed.
All this begs the following questions: why would today’s progressives openly embrace groups who publicly promote genocidal anti-Semitism? Why would they employ such vicious rhetoric with so terrible a history? Why would Judith Butler declare that Hamas and Hezbollah were part of the ‘global progressive left’? Who could be foolish enough to imagine that Jihadis bent on world conquest were anti-imperialist? And why would the Left, faced with growing Jihadi horrors of the 21st century, continue to insist that the ‘Nazi’ here is Israel?
Leftist Secular Supersessionism
From a religious point of view, this conflict revolves around competing supersessionist grand narratives: ‘Who are the true chosen people?’ Early on, Christians claimed to supersede the Jews, and Muslims claimed to supersede them both. Each supersessionist claim relies on a ‘replacement narrative’ in which the newcomer at once replaces the previous claimant as ‘chosen,’ and deprives that previous claimant of the coveted status. Replacement narratives claim a monopoly on salvation.
The syndrome today is starkest among global Jihadis: their millennial plan is to conquer the world and subject all harbis who don’t convert or die, to the subaltern status of dhimmi. The Jews, the most obdurate of all people, especially in the modern world, must be eliminated in order for Islam to triumph and flourish. Jihadis have no problem with Nazi anti-Semitic discourse because they share the paranoid genocidal version of supersessionism: exterminate the rival ‘chosen people’ or die.
It’s harder to spot the secular supersessionism of the Jihadis’s allies on the global progressive left. Most progressives insist they’re not anti-Semitic: Jews as global, diasporic citizens are okay, even great! The erratic behavior begins, however, as soon as 21st century progressives turn their attention to one of the modern world’s more remarkable creations, ‘sovereign Jews’. Here we find that, for progressives today, as for the Vatican in the 20th century, and Muslim and Christian triumphalists for more the 1400 years, sovereign Jews – i.e. currently, Israelis – are definitely not okay. Since 2000, Israelis have become the new, legitimate object of widespread contempt and hatred among Western cultural elites.
The supersessionism among progressives rests on a morally sadistic ‘secular’ replacement narrative: Israel has replaced the Nazis while the Palestinians have replaced the Holocaust-era Jews. As pleasing an historical irony as such moral inversions may seem to Nobel Prize winners, it would be dangerous to mistake it for the reality on the ground, where Israel does everything it can to avoid behaving like Nazis, while some of its enemies openly admire Nazis.
This replacement narrative offers not only freedom from Holocaust guilt; it also offers moral elevation, the chance to tower over Israel and judge her harshly. ‘Israel has lost all moral high ground,’ pronounced UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen in response to the Jenin ‘massacre,’ when in fact, he was looking at the lowest score for civilian casualty ratios in the history of urban warfare. Deep moral disorientation ensues: a mainstream news commentator claims that the picture of 12-year-old Muhammad al Durah, caught in a crossfire, ‘symbolically replaces, erases the image of the boy in the Warsaw Ghetto.’
From these heights, European moral superpowers like Sweden, and individuals like Jostein Gaarder, sit in judgment on Israel, despising these sovereign Jews, feeding their supersessionist fantasies at the price of becoming untethered from reality. It is a small step to transforming Holocaust Commemorations into platforms for attacking Israel as the new genocidal force on the planet.
The megaphone effect
‘Leftist’ anti-Zionism has allowed internet-empowered Jihadis to spread their memes and icons of hatred the world over. Activist journalists, post-colonial scholars, feminists, ASHamed Jews, NGO activists, all reaffirm and reinforce the narrative: Blame Israel; exculpate the Palestinian ‘resistance’; conversely do not exculpate Israel and do not blame Jihadi extremism. Indeed, the more sincere the Western anti-Zionism, the better is the cover under which the hatreds spread. Progressives introduce the campus to virulent ‘human-rights’ anti-Zionism and mobilise the ensuing indignation to make Israel an international pariah.
It is common wisdom on today’s global progressive left to consider anti-Zionism as unrelated to anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia as the new anti-Semitism. The evidence presented at the Bloomington conference suggested that this is a serious misreading. In the 21st century anti–Zionism plays, mutatis mutandis, the role that anti-Semitism played in early 20th century Europe. The papers delivered at Bloomington made clear that in this current climate, being a vocal anti-Zionist, laboring to see the global humiliation or elimination of Israel, means you put wind in the sails of real-live exterminationist Jew-haters, with people who harbor paranoid, genocidal fantasies. When Leftists chant ‘We are all Hezbollah, Now!’ or ‘Muqtada al Sadr – Anti-Imperialist Solidarity!’ they encourage and empower the real 21st century avatars of the Nazi delirium, namely the triumphalist Jihadis.