Antisemitism from the left

Antisemitism from the left

The road to antisemitic venom from the left most often begins with comment on Israel and its relationship with the Palestinians.

For the sake of balance, or maybe convenience, antisemitism from the left and right are often treated as mirror images of each other. But a new study by the Anti-Defamation League suggests that, in Europe at least, they are very different in origin, development and manifestation.

And the report warns that, by emphasizing both as being essentially the same, we are in danger of broad-brushing out the seriousness of the phenomenon.

Released last week, the survey focused on France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom. Compiled with local partners of ADL, the study concluded that “expressions of anti-Israel bias from left-leaning political organizations … have devolved into antisemitism and even violent attacks against local Jewish communities.” While each country has a different profile — and the left is a complex mix of ideologies rather than a uniform progression of social theory — the anecdotal evidence is worth noting.

According to the report, the road to antisemitic venom from the left most often begins with comment on Israel and its
relationship with the Palestinians. The progression then develops from taking a pro-Palestinian stance to the use of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric, and then devolves into outright antisemitic hate.

Former British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is the best-known example of this phenomenon. According to the report, antisemitism “increased markedly” during Corbyn’s five years leading the party, which was traditionally the political home of
Britain’s Jews. Corbyn was ousted and his successor reversed course, instituting new guidelines to combat antisemitism in the party and signaling “to thousands of members, mainly from the far left of the party,” the report stated, “that their views were unwelcome.”

In France, left-wing antisemitism includes both anti-Zionism and traditional antisemitism. The pattern is “to engage in antisemitic rhetoric, to deny that antisemitism exists on the left, to excuse the antisemitism of those assumed to be political allies, and then to claim that they are the real champions in the fight against antisemitism.”

In Germany, traditional expressions of antisemitism are denounced, while anti-Zionism is being normalized. And “the discourse surrounding Israel, antisemitism and growing support for BDS is now causing anti-racist alliances to fall apart.”

And in Spain, the report says, some members of the government “openly defend the dissolution of the state of Israel.” And “the BDS movement and the extreme left are the same thing in Spain,” while the right is “almost entirely pro-Israel and guards against antisemitism.”

In anti-Israel contexts, the report found, “antisemitic themes included (1) accusations that Jewish cabals control politics and media and prevent either criticism of Israel or support for Palestine; (2) Holocaust trivialization as a means of arguing that Palestinians are no less victims today than Jews were during the Holocaust; (3) equating Israel with the Nazi regime, thus demonizing Israel; (4) accusations of antisemitism are in bad faith and employed to silence criticism of Israel.”

The report argues that these findings in Western Europe could be a bellwether of what’s to come in the United States. To the extent that may be true, the Jewish community needs to take note.

We understand that the United States is not Europe. We recognize that the American left bears little resemblance to many of the European varieties. And we acknowledge that it is a mistake to generalize on a sensitive issue like antisemitism. Nonetheless, the ADL report raises cause for concern. PJC

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