Saturday, January 07, 2006

Radical Left Antisemitism

Tomorrow I am to participate in a discussion on why the Left hates Israel.

Here is my analysis:

Of course, it is not the whole Left that hates Israel. The left-wing of this country can not be said to hate Israel. People who support Israel's right to exist but believe Israel was correct to withdraw from Gaza and should withdraw from the West Bank can not be said to hate Israel. In the minds of many on the hard right who have adopted Israel as a pet cause, and are always looking to demonize someone, those who fail to silence any criticism tend to labelled negatively as either anti-Israel, and by some whackjobs, as antisemitic. I have been clear in the past on what I consider antisemitism and have been vocal in this space on the many instances of it around the world, particularly in Europe.

I have also written on the radical left (and it is really the radical left, not the "Left" that we are talking about) tendency to guiltily accuse supporters of Israel of accusing them of antisemitism when no such accusations have been levelled.

It is a major myth that antisemitism on the radical left in the West, the brand found on college campuses and amongst pinkish activists, is anything new. Benjamin Epstein and Arnold Forster, two ADL leaders of the last generation, wrote about it in the early 1970s in their book, "The New Anti-Semitism", which made Phyllis Chesler's recent book of the same title somewhat passe. Epstein and Arnold's book included chapters that could have been written yesterday: "The Radical Left", "The Media and the Arts", "Arabs and pro-Arabs", and only one chapter given over to "The Radical Right".

I agree somewhat with those who see the new antisemitism partly as a post-Communist search for meaning; though I would say that the leaders of those on the radical left responsible do not see themselves as "post-Communist". These are the International Action Center types who pine for the USSR. They are the unreconstructed radical left. They have long seen Zionism in its early 20th century form as a competitor to Communism and like good Stalinists, have treated it with the appropriate venom. A typical text is the volume of Marxist essays, "Antizionism and Antisemitism", published not long before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1987. In its introduction, Daniel Rubin, the editor of the volume refers to Soviet persecution of Jews as a "lie". In includes such comical sentences as this: "[Jewish-Americans] are unaware that socialism long ago eliminated all governmental and organized expression of anti-Semitism and all other forms of national oppression and that anti-Semitism is a crime in the Soviet Union." If antisemitism is the socialism of fools, sentences like these would certainly inspire the sentiments of those zealots on the hard-right, who promote the unfair converse of that statement: socialism is the antisemitism of fools.

And yet, one thing about Rubin is notable: his firm support for the two-state solution. He calls for a Palestinian homeland alongside Israel, not in place of it, even as he and his co-authors criticize Zionism as a form of chauvinistic nationalism that exists because of imperialism and pulls the wool over the eyes of the Jewish masses.

Today's radical left is not so accommodating. They by and large appear to prefer one state and a full right of return for Palestinian refugees, long Arab code for a reversal of 1948, ie, a reversal of Israel's founding. People seem to have little capacity for critical thought. They adopt the ideologies of others nowadays. It is not enough to want a Palestinian homeland, no, they must out-Palestinian the Palestinians and call for the right of return, demonize the Jews, and make utterly unfortunate comments about how it is not their place to criticize tactics like suicide bombings.

The other major difference is the proliferation of deceptive language. The radical left, always tending toward the self-delusional as we see from Rubin's fanciful account of Soviet treatment of Jews, have convinced themselves that as long as they call it anti-Zionism, it can't possibly antisemitic. This allows them to say the most outrageous things about Israel, its history, its people, and the 90 percent or so of the world's Jews who support its existence. The internet has allowed them to become more organized and to read more about some of bad things Israeli soldiers have done in the territories, with little context. They have less shame, less of a impetus to educate themselves about the entire picture, and in the post-Communist world of US superpower, an impetus to see Israel, a close US ally with too many people with white faces (forget Israel's nearly unparalleled racial and religious diversity), as an evil.

My response to all of this is the following:

1. The age of the problem suggests that it is not anything to be very worried about. These are not, by and large, grassroots movements. The people running them have always been more interested in running their mouths than in getting anything done. That's why they have accomplished nothing in more than three decades of the same thing.

2. We have to do a better job in the Jewish community of reaching left-leaning college students to keep them out of radical left clutches. Expanding Birthright Israel is a good idea. Disseminating literature is a good idea. Sending speakers from the Israeli mainstream is a good idea.

3. We have to do a better job of getting the same mainstream Israelis in the rooms of the progressive churches, and other large organizations who have the ability to move anti-Zionism from the fringe to left-wing mainstream.


At 12:05 AM, Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Agreed, but I don't think it's enough. Think about the professors who brainwash students, and the university campuses unfriendly towards mainstream Israeli speakers.

At 1:51 PM, Anonymous Ratna Pelle said...

Hi Mike!
Last year I also blogged about the same subject (click my name to read it!).
I linked your blog on mine, and hope you will return the favor?
Also you may know that I work on a Dutch website about the Middle East conflict: Israel-Palestina Informatie (Dutch & English language)
Maybe you want to link that as well? (Yes you are linked there too!)

At 5:27 AM, Anonymous scott said...

Though I'm sure you probably dislike him, Norman Finkelstein does a great job deconstructing the so-called "New Anti-Semitism" in Beyond Chutzpah. If you ever feel so inclined to pick it up, I'd be interested to hear your responses to it.

I agree with some of what you say, though of course not your conclusions. There is a lack of critical thinking on the left, especially around the Palestine issue. I feel this is largely perpetrated, as you pointed out, by Stalinists and Maoists who, having missed the chance to control the anti-globalization movement, have latched on the the anti-war and pro-palestine movements.

I don't believe that anti-Zionism is necessarily anti-Jewish. And I don't believe supporting the right of return necessitates the demonizing of Jews.

I have more thoughts, but it's late and I've talked enough.


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