One of the most enduring forms of hatred and violence in the world is Antisemitism, despite the fact that the worst historical events associated with it – especially the Holocaust, as well as the earlier pogroms in countries such as Russia – are “in the past”. Today Jews remain the targets of hatred and violence, and it has been increasing recently (21st century, especially in aftermath of 9/11 and the 2008 crisis).
And the dark realities of this enduring modern antisemitism are not erased or made irrelevant or less abhorrent by the ongoing atrocities committed by the state of Israel. The anti-Jewish character of various acts of violence committed by the far right and Islamic extremists doesn’t make manifestations of Leftist antisemitism disappear either. Like many other things such as gendered violence, the common framing of accusing one side of society, of the world, or of the political spectrum, of being the source or main culprit of antisemitism is very dangerous, and part of the overall problem. Like for these other issues, the first step in any meaningful discussion about antisemitism is saying this loud and clear and from the start reject any attempt to reduce this problem to one’s preferred political camp’s opponent(s), as is very often the case. This needs not lead us to the fallacious reversals of blame that many centrists and rightwingers as well as Israeli state love so much: no, it’s not just nor primarily the fault of the Left, Islamic terrorists or the global movement in support of Palestinian liberation. Just as a large section of the Left systematically denies any existence or danger of antisemitism in their own ranks, this kind of selective blame distribution is fundamentally problematic. The right has no legitimacy shifting this issue as only the Left’s doing, especially because despite the very real and disturbing long term presence of antisemitism on the Left, the right – from center-right to far right – has and continues to be where this awful type of oppression thrives the most (but, needless to say, not the only place or group where it exists). It’s time to stop these kinds of hypocritical and self-serving approaches to this question. It’s a society-wide and politics-wide problem, period. It doesn’t mean everyone is equally guilty or responsible, but it does mean that you don’t get to pretend that it’s only the other side or whatever.
I definitely don’t pretend to be the one that’s gonna speak authoritatively and conclusively about antisemitism. For this, there are many resources that I will include so that you go directly to proper sources for an extended examination of this topic. Discussions around the topic of antisemitism are obviously always very sensitive, and hopefully the following is fine and respectful in that regard. I here write down some of the things I’ve learned from reading and listening to some folks who know what they’re talking about (better than me, that is). The goal is to offer a summary of important aspects and elements and compiling some good resources.
- General definitions, background and resources on antisemitism
- The far right’s antisemitism
- The question of antisemitism and the Left
- Israel/Palestine; Zionism and Anti-Zionism
What is Antisemitism?
A good entry point is the introduction to Antisemitism and the left, written by Robert Fine and Philip Spencer. I recommend reading it in full, but here is a passage that seemed particularly relevant as a starting point:
The term ‘antisemitism’ was not used until the late nineteenth century but hostility to Judaism and Jews is much older. It goes back to Greek and Persian antiquity when Judaism forbade the idol worship practised in pagan religions, but it was with the coming of Christianity that powerful anti-Judaic myths were constructed and entered deep into the structures of Western thought. Its persistence across the centuries was largely assured by the influence of religions that issued from Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which in spite of their many ethical debts to Judaism affirmed their superiority by prioritising anti-Judaism. Anti-Judaism metamorphosed over time and was partly secularised in the modern period in the domains of biology, culture and politics. In the 1870s the term ‘antisemitism’ was coined as an expression of resentment toward Jews by a German journalist, Wilhelm Marr, who maintained that Germans and Jews were locked in a conflict, that Jews were winning as a result of Jewish emancipation and that this conflict could only be resolved by the forced removal of Jews from Germany. Antisemitism subsequently became a crucial element of Nazi ideology and helped justify the Nazi genocide of Jews. After the military defeat of Nazism, and termination of the Holocaust, antisemitism did not simply vanish from the political landscape of Europe or majority-Muslim societies and today there are strong signs of antisemitism expressing itself afresh. Anti-Judaic ideas certainly go back to a distant past but there is also a sense in which the Jewish question is a creature of the modern age.
We recognise of course that much has gone wrong, dramatically wrong, in the name of ‘Marxism’ and ‘the left’, so much so that these names have reached the threshold of total devaluation, and that the question of antisemitism is not the least of these problems. We take it as axiomatic that those who locate themselves within this tradition ought, as a matter of basic principle, to combat antisemitism whenever it raises its face, but we know this is not always the case. We ought to pay attention to the experiences of those who suffer or are exposed to antisemitism and we ought not treat the self-justifications of those they challenge as a sufficient guide as to the truth of the matter. We ought to acknowledge that not all antisemites wear their conviction on their sleeve, that sometimes people may not be aware of their own antisemitic temptations, and that antisemitism can be political and cultural as well as personal. We ought to do the work of learning what antisemitism is and what shapes and forms it takes. In these respects our relation to antisemitism ought to be no different from our relation to other forms of racism: both should be open to the liberating power of education, research, engagement, criticism and self-reflection. It should not be controversial to say that the critique of antisemitism should now be part of any emancipatory movement that seeks to understand what has gone wrong in the development of modern capitalist society rather than simply blame it on secret conspiracies or particular scapegoats.
None of this should be controversial but it has become so. We hear on the left a different refrain: notably, that antisemitism no longer matters compared with other racisms; that antisemitism was once a problem in the past but is no longer in the present; that antisemitism was a European malady that had no presence in the Islamic world; that antisemitism is understandable today given the ways Zionists behave; that the charge of antisemitism is mainly put forward for dishonest and self-seeking reasons; that people cry ‘antisemitism’ in order to deflect criticism of Israel; that the stigmatising of individuals and groups as antisemitic is more damaging than antisemitism itself; that the Jewish state and its supporters are the main source of racism in the modern world. It is said, for instance, that those who ‘cry antisemitism’ do so in order to shut down debate on Israel. This may be true in particular cases but the reverse is more plausible: that there are many who cry ‘Israel’ in order to shut down debate on antisemitism. When the critique of antisemitism is viewed as a problem, the problem may lie with the viewer.
For a basic/introductory overview of the history of antisemitism, see this section of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum’s online course (on the Holocaust). Here are a few general takeaways that are worth including in this post:
The Judeo-Christian relations had been shaped over many centuries and affected also the fate of the Jews in the Second World War. Therefore the Holocaust needs also to be viewed from the perspective of the relations of European Jews with other European societies over the centuries.
Followers of Judaism were often forced to live in hostile social environments. The hostility of other people was derived from various factors: religious (anti-Judaism), social, economic, political or cultural (anti-Semitism). Nevertheless, we should remember that the Holocaust was not the direct consequence of such attitudes. Anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism may have created a conducive atmosphere in which the Nazis were able to victimise Jews, but traditional attitudes did not make the planned genocide inevitable. And yet there can be no doubt that the already existing arsenal of anti-Jewish prejudices was used by Nazis within the preparation and implementation of the Holocaust.
Anti-Semitism defined as the universally understood dislike of Jews has an exceedingly long history. Its beginnings date back to ancient times when an aversion towards the followers of Judaism had a chiefly religious motive and was later called anti-Judaism.
[Definition] Anti-Judaism—prejudices of a pseudo-theological nature which served as a pretext for the persecution of Jews. Though some of its manifestations were already present in the period before Christ, it essentially came to the fore during the formation of the Christian Church as a consequence of adherents of the new religion wishing to distinguish it from Judaism. This led to attitudes urging for the exclusion and isolation of Jews from society on the grounds of circulated rumours and false judgements regarding their religion and customs. In the Middle Ages, anti-Judaism became dominant in the teachings of the Catholic Church. From the end of the 19th century these religious prejudices were gradually replaced by ‘modern’ anti-Semitism . The Catholic Church today condemns anti-Judaism as a reason for spreading among Christians contempt towards Jews and therefore treats it as a cardinal sin.
[Definition] Antisemitism—ideology, political idea, a set of superstitions justifying hostile attitudes towards Jews—connected with the formation of the concept of nationalism, was based on the tradition of xenophobia (hostility towards representatives of other nations) and the centuries-old tradition of the Church teaching in the spirit of anti-Judaism. It referred to racism, erroneously distinguishing Jews as an anthropological race, the so-called Semitic race. In a broader sense, it was a defined by hostile attitudes, verbal or physical aggression, unfavourable generalising judgments and prejudices against Jews. According to many researchers, antisemitism become the main ideological precondition of the Holocaust.
For people who know French, here is a very good podcast discussion on how to approach antisemitism today (by French far left collective Sortir du capitalisme): Repenser l’antisémitisme pour mieux le combattre. They address many things, but their general definition of antisemitism seems useful: “a specific form of racialization based on a representation [note: or conception/depiction] of Jews as personifications of capitalist relations of domination,” which is “inscribed in class and gender relations”. They criticize various (“reductionist”) interpretations of/narratives on antisemitism on both the right and the left. For example, they rightly recognize the crucial contribution by authors like Moishe Postone for conceptualizing antisemitism as a part of capitalist modernity (what is often called “structural antisemitism” and defined as a “truncated/forshortened” form of anticapitalism/critique of capitalism), but call for a more complex and multifaceted approach which doesn’t fall into a new form of reductionism while trying to compensate from the flaws of other viewpoints….
As Gerhard Hanloser wrote in 2005:
The critique of “structural Antisemitism” and “truncated anticapitalism”, which has congealed into jargon, lays a protective hand over the “character masks” of capitalism and its institutions – although this favor hasn’t even been requested. It trivializes Antisemitism by claiming to see it in every fetishistic expression of discontent with capitalism. Its representatives themselves have so internalized Antisemitic connotations, that they sometimes project them on the object: condemnation of the a-national, criticism of financial capital, moralizing criticism of money – all of that is essentially reactionary and has nothing to do with communism, but whoever thinks that it automatically implies Antisemitism and that “the Jews” are the intended target is playing a dangerous game: “If followed to its logical conclusions, every critique of Antisemitism which dwells upon proving that a truncated, ‘fetishistic’ concept of capital is evidence of structural Antisemitism must face the accusation of de-scandalizing the personalization of the unknown, which means nothing other than recognizing as ‘true’ the characteristics that are attributed to Jews.” (Schatz 2004)
This is not to say that we should abandon this discussion and merely reject out of hand the important re-conceptualizing effort that Postone – not exclusively (e.g. Robert Kurz and the journal Krisis) but most significantly – contributed to. Hanloser rightly describes it as a “real revolution in the explanation of Antisemitism”, as Postone “assumed the task of deriving Antisemitism from its intrinsic connection with the structures of perception in capitalism”. Here is a summary of Postone’s thesis by Christian Fuchs (2015: 60-61):
The political theorist and historian Moishe Postone grounds a critical theory of anti-Semitism and ideology in Marx’s critique of commodity fetishism and points out the inherent connection of anti-Semitism and capitalism. Capitalism is grounded in an antagonism between the commodity’s value and exchange-value on the one side and value and use-value on the other side. Postone says that in capitalism, value is “abstract, general, homogeneous”, whereas use-value is “concrete, particular, material” (Postone 2003, 90). The commodity logic fetishises the concrete and veils the value as abstract social relation that underlies the commodity. In commodity fetishism, the abstract dimension appears as natural and endless, the concrete dimension as thing without social relations (Postone 2003, 91).
Postone (1980, 109) argues that in the value form, capitalism’s “dialectical tension between value and use-value” is doubled in the appearance of money as abstract and the commodity as concrete. Capitalism requires for its existence both money and commodities, value and use-value, abstract and concrete labour. Money mediates commodity-exchange, so money cannot exist without the logic of commodities. Commodities are made for being exchanged. Money is the general equivalent of this exchange of commodities. So commodities cannot exist without exchange-value and a general equivalent. Another way of expressing the dialectic of commodity and money is to say that the sphere of commodity production exists in relation to the sphere of circulation and vice-versa. Commodity fetishism is a form of appearance in which the abstract sociality of commodities is split-off from its concreteness: only the immediate concrete (the good one consumes, the money one holds in the hand) is taken as reality. This immediate concrete obscures the existence of the more abstract, not directly visible social relations behind the immediate phenomena.
Postone says that in the anti-Semitic ideology, the dual character of the commodity of use-value and value is “’doubled’ in the form of money (the manifest form of value) and of the commodity (the manifest form of use-value). Although the commodity as a social form embodies both value and use-value, the effect of this externalization is that the commodity appears only as its use-value dimension, as purely material. Money, on the other hand, appears as the sole repository of value, as the source and locus of the purely abstract, rather than as the externalized manifest form of the value dimension of the commodity form itself” (Postone 2003, 91).
Postone argues that modern anti-Semitism is a biologisation and naturalisation of the commodity fetish. It would be based on the “notion that the concrete is ‘natural’” and that the “natural” is “more ‘essential’ and closer to origins” (Postone 1980, 111). “Industrial capital then appears as the linear descendent of ‘natural’ artisanal labor”, “industrial production” appears as “a purely material, creative process” (Postone 1980, 110). Ideology separates industrial capital and industrial labour from the sphere of circulation, exchange and money that is seen as “parasitic” (Postone 1980, 110). In Nazi ideology, the “manifest abstract dimension is also biologized—as the Jews. The opposition of the concrete material and the abstract becomes the racial opposition of the Arians and the Jews” (Postone 1980, 112). Modern anti-Semitism is a one-sided “critique” of capitalism that sees the sphere of circulation as totality of capitalism, biologistically inscribes Jewishness into circulation and into capitalism, and excludes technology and industry—that are perceived as being productive and Aryan—from capitalism. In Nazi ideology, capitalism “appeared to be only its manifest abstract dimension, which was in turn held responsible for the economic social, and cultural changes associated with the rapid development of modern industrial capitalism” (Postone 2003, 93)
Anti-Semitism identifies the negative changes, dislocations and deterritorialisations associated with capitalism, such as urbanisation, proletarianisation, individualisation, technification, and detraditionalisation, with the abstract side of capitalism that is perceived as the powerful universality of capitalism, socialism or some other phenomenon. “Capitalism appeared to be only in its manifest abstract dimension which, in turn, was responsible for the whole range of concrete social and cultural changes associated with the rapid development of modern industrial capitalism” (Postone 1980, 112).
This Marxist and critical perspective of course goes back to the Frankfurt School, and in addition to Postone’s classic “Anti-semitism and National Socialism“, a required reading is Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s text “Elements of Anti-Semitism: Limits of Enlightenment” (from their famous book Dialectic of Enlightenment; however I can’t tell if this essay is from only Adorno or both of them – I have seen contradictory indications!). Again, Hanloser writes that:
Adorno and Horkheimer build entirely correctly upon Marx’s fetish-critique in their text „Elements of Anti-Semitism.“ Adorno and Horkheimer speak of the capitalist, as the manufacturer, as „the real shylock“. In contrast to the merchant and banker “he seized all he could, not only on the market but at the very source: as a representative of his class he made sure that his workers did not sell him short with their labor. The workers had to supply the maximum amount of goods. Like Shylock, the bosses demanded their pound of flesh. They owned the machines and materials and therefore compelled others to produce for them. They called themselves producers, but secretly everyone knew the truth”, and for that reason the capitalists had to create a distraction from their exploitative activity. “The Jews” are “the scapegoats not only for individual maneuvers and machinations but in a broader sense, inasmuch as the economic injustice of the whole class is attributed to them. (Horkheimer/Adorno, 1969)
It is not the time nor the place to address the issues of Postone’s overall theoretical conception (Hanloser’s article is a good starting point if you want to look into this), but following Sortir du capitalisme, I will simply call for (welcoming/including within this discussion) a plurality of analyses of antisemitism in order to try to full grasp its various aspects – and hence be better able to combat it properly wherever it comes up.
I think that the best way to get into the topic of antisemitism today is the great contributions compliled in the following publication: Shane Burley (Ed.) (2019) Confronting Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century, Journal of Social Justice, Volume 9.
Two great lists of resources:
- Everything on the website of the Critical Theories of Antisemitism Network [project defunct since 2019, but bibliographies and free pdfs are still available!]
- In French, Comprendre l’antisémitisme, perspectives critiques. Une bibliographie.
The Far Right
It is important to examine and understand the specific characteristics and mechanisms of the far right’s antisemitism, which obviously represents the most extreme and dangerous form of it (and it goes all the way to genocidal goals/exterminationism).
Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum defines Nazi antisemitism as follows, in its introductory course on the history of the Holocaust:
Nazi anti-Semitism used a stereotypical image of the Jew as the personification of a demonic force deliberately acting to the disadvantage of the German race. The Nazis viewed the Jew as a symbol of the absolute evil responsible for all the misfortunes that occurred to the German nation as well as other Aryan nations over the ages. Jews were considered pests that infect the healthy organism and therefore they should be removed from the German society.
According to Sortir du capitalisme, in order to understand the modern far right’s antisemitism, various angles need to be considered. They mention here reactionary French figures such as Alain Soral as well as older German authors like Heidegger, but their comment is relevant for all of the European far right (and to a certain extent, beyond):
In order to understand it, we need to focus on a structural explanation of antisemitism, which we will analyse as “truncated anti-capitalism” mixed with (this time, a specific characteristic of far-right antisemitism) a virulent anti-Judaism of neo-pagan (Francis Cousin) or Catholic (Alain Soral) origin. On the other hand, in order to understand far-right antisemitism, we have to go back to its Germanic founding fathers, Hegel, Nietzsche, and above all Heidegger, who laid the so-called “philosophical” foundations of far-right antisemitism.
Therefore, we can say that at last (not necessarily exhaustive!) three points are generally important when examining the far right’s antisemitism:
- the “structural explanation of antisemitism” (w/ caveats etc.)
- the metamorphoses or extension of older (but also neo-) forms of (more or less) religious anti-Judaism,
- the relevant authors and figures who have been the central and most influential ideologues or intellectual sources – who influenced this far right antisemitism as well as fascism more broadly-, which include in the cases of France and Germany (but their influence far outweighed these nationalist/territorial origins):
- G. W. F. Hegel
- Friedrich Nietzsche: some things were fabricated by his sister and there are evolutions/changes and ambivalences in his thought – indeed he condemned some forms of German nationalist antisemitism – but according to some authors such as Benoit Bohy-Bunel, a kind of metaphysical antisemitism was still present throughout his works; his worldview contained various aspects that fit in very well with far right dreams of supremacy; we also need to be careful about the fact that his thought influenced many anarchists.
- Martin Heidegger: see for example these articles in French: a, b, c, d, reviewing the works of various authors, including Emmanuel Faye and Peter Frawny; as well as Christian Fuchs’ two articles [in English] – especially the second one – in 2015: a, b.
- Max Stirner: an important figure in the history of anarchism, but similarly to Proudhon’s reactionary beliefs being later appropriated by 20th fascists, see here for the darker side of Stirner’s worldview – which reactionaries in Europe obviously focused on instead of the most properly anarchist elements.
- Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (see here and here) and the Cercle Proudhon (see here)
- Maurice Barrès (see here)
- Édouard Drumont (see here)
- (…) and more, of course
These intellectual influences and sources are examined by various authors, including Alexander Reid Ross in his book Against the Fascist Creep (there are limits to and issues with both this book and the author, but Ross does mention/address many important things); I have included links to a few relevant sections (see the links next to Stirner, Barrès, Drumont and Cercle Proudhon). He highlights in what ways people like Nietzsche, Stirner, Proudhon, Barrès and Drumont influenced modern far right ideology. The various articles on Heidegger included above are also important for this dimension of the topic.
And the aforementionned podcast by Sortir du capitalisme [in French] also outlines/explains in further detail the (specific) philosophical antisemitism(s) in Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger. Although there is obviously a major difference between Nietzsche and Heidegger insofar as the latter was explicitly and consistently antisemitic throughout his whole life and joined the Nazi movement (and also for example enacted Nazis’ antisemitic policies within university), Bohy-Bunel explains that they both based their metaphysical philosophies on antisemitic dualisms wherein the dual ‘negative’ opposite/counterpart to what they stand for is characterized as Jewish. I recommend listening to the podcast and reading his piece on this, because he offers nuance – it’s not to say that everything said by them from A to Z is potentially antisemitic, out of context – but offers a convincing breakdown of why not only Heidegger but also Nietzsche can’t be read and used without very careful and critical consideration of this – metaphysical for both philosophers, and political as well in the case of Heidegger – context.
Heidegger, moreover, most of the time, when he develops his conspiratorial political ideology about the Jews, will seem trivially faithful to the Nietzschean “genealogical” program (Genealogy of Morals). His ultra-anti-Semitic outrages (in particular in the “Black Notebooks”) radicalize the Nietzschean intuition according to which “Jewish morality”, the “revolt of Jewish slaves” (reversing aristocratic morality), would be at the basis of Western “nihilism”. With Nietzsche, this “revolt of the Jewish slaves” would then be transmuted into Christianity (universalization), then into the democratic (and bourgeois) project of the French revolution (secularization), then into socialism. Heidegger’s assignment of the “Jews” to “technology” and to “Western modernity” in general (whether “capitalist” or “socialist”) only develops the ideas already formulated by Nietzsche in the Genealogy of Morals.Benoît Bohy-Bunel: Remarques critiques à propos de la thèse d’une absence de racisme et d’antisémitisme nietschéens. I added links to critical discussions concerning these figures (it’s also in French). Translated by me via deepl.com. Apologies it’s not 100% great English, but I think it’s alright.
(…) A “perspectivist” approach to the “Jewish question” is proposed by Nietzsche, in particular in the Genealogy of Morals. According to this idealist perspective, Jewishness does not refer to a human community among others which should be stigmatized or supported, but is present in each of us, Westerners of modernity, as a metaphysical or transcendental disposition (our moral evaluations would be impregnated, already, by the inversion of aristocratic values, operated by the first “Jewish slaves”).
To tell the truth, if we follow the Nietzschean analysis and confront it with a truncated critique of capitalist “value”, we could arrive at this result: Jewishness, the religious and moral basis of Western “nihilism”, would be eminently embodied and would end in the “depersonalization” proper to capitalist modernity.
What would be “criticized”, with Nietzsche, when describing the “Jewish” moral structure, is not first of all a “community” among others, but this “nihilistic” tendency, which “we” would have internalized, to depreciate, to occult the world and life in favor of non-human abstractions.
This reading, which can guide a pernicious truncated anti-capitalism, can be developed today by certain confused red-browns, such as Francis Cousin: he will want to appropriate Nietzschean thought and a certain “critique of capitalist abstraction”, and will believe he recognizes, for example, some “Jewish function” acting through “value”, or “the State”, etc. The same structural pattern can be found in the extreme right-wing thinker Alain de Benoist: here, the Nietzschean (but also Heideggerian) critique of “nihilism”, combined with a truncated critique of “capitalism”, can subterraneanly serve a virulent “metaphysical” (and political) antisemitism.
In the US context, one of the go-to articles is Eric K. Ward’s “Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism” (June 2017, Public Eye), which is obviously also largely relevant for the non-US far right. Here are some notes:
- American White nationalism, which emerged in the wake of the 1960s civil rights struggle and descends from White supremacism, is a revolutionary social movement committed to building a Whites-only nation, and antisemitism forms its theoretical core.
- Jews function for today’s White nationalists as they often have for antisemites through the centuries: as the demons stirring an otherwise changing and heterogeneous pot of lesser evils.
- it is over the past fifty years, not coincidentally the first period in U.S. history in which most American Jews have regarded themselves as White, that antisemitism has become integral to the architecture of American racism. Because modern antisemitic ideology traffics in fantasies of invisible power, it thrives precisely when its target would seem to be least vulnerable. Thus, in places where Jews were most assimilated—France at the time of the Dreyfus affair, Germany before Hitler came to power—they have functioned as a magic bullet to account for unaccountable contradictions at moments of national crisis. White supremacism through the collapse of Jim Crow was a conservative movement centered on a state-sanctioned anti-Blackness that sought to maintain a racist status quo. The White nationalist movement that evolved from it in the 1970s was a revolutionary movement that saw itself as the vanguard of a new, whites-only state. This latter movement, then and now, positions Jews as the absolute other, the driving force of white dispossession—which means the other channels of its hatred cannot be intercepted without directly taking on antisemitism.
- at the bedrock of the movement is an explicit claim that Jews are a race of their own, and that their ostensible position as White folks in the U.S. represents the greatest trick the devil ever played
- Contemporary antisemitism, then, does not just enable racism, it also is racism, for in the White nationalist imaginary Jews are a race—the race—that presents an existential threat to Whiteness. Moreover, if antisemitism exists in glaring form at the extreme edge of political discourse, it does not exist in a vacuum; as with every form of hateful ideology, what is explicit on the margins is implicit in the center, in ways we have not yet begun to unpack. This means the notion that Jews long ago and uncontestably became White folks in the U.S.—became, in effect, post-racial—is a myth that we must dispel.
- I can answer this question as I have been doing and will continue to do: antisemitism fuels White nationalism, a genocidal movement now enthroned in the highest seats of American power, and fighting antisemitism cuts off that fuel for the sake of all marginalized communities under siege from the Trump regime and the social movement that helped raise it up. To refuse to deal with any ideology of domination, moreover, is to abet it. Contemporary social justice movements are quite clear that to refuse antiracism is an act of racism; to refuse feminism is an act of sexism. To refuse opposition to antisemitism, likewise, is an act of antisemitism.
Another great source dealing with far right antisemitism (again in the US context, but again still valuable generally) is Matthew N. Lyons’ “Principal enemy: demystifying far right antisemitism” (November 2018, Three Way Fight [blog]).
Much more could be say – I will include more if or when I find some really good resources/papers -, but let us use here the summary of Adorno’s conception of antisemitism – which applies most directly to the ideology of the far right [taken from Christan Fuchs (2015): 59-60]:
• I Jews are considered to be a race:
“For the fascists the Jews are not a minority but the antirace, the negative principle as such; on their extermination the world’s happiness depends” (137).
• II Jews are said to be greedy, oriented on monetary interests and power, and to be representatives of financial capital:
“The fantasy of the conspiracy of lascivious Jewish bankers who finance Bolshevism is a sign of innate powerlessness, the good life an emblem of happiness. These are joined by the image of the intellectual, who appears to enjoy in thought what the others deny themselves and is spared the sweat of toil and bodily strength. The banker and the intellectual, money and mind, the exponents of circulation, are the disowned wishful image of those mutilated by power, an image which power uses to perpetuate itself” (141).
• III Jews are in a fetishist manner blamed for the abstract problems of capitalism:
“Bourgeois anti-Semitism has a specific economic purpose: to conceal domination in production” (142).
“The productive work of the capitalist, whether he justified his profit as the reward of enterprise, as under liberalism, or as the director’s salary, as today, was the ideology which concealed the nature of the labor contract and the rapacity of the economic system in general. That is why people shout: ‘Stop thief!’-and point at the Jew. He is indeed the scapegoat, not only for individual maneuvers and machinations but in the wider sense that the economic injustice of the whole class is attributed to him” (142).
“That the circulation sphere is responsible for exploitation is a socially necessary illusion. The Jews had not been the only people active in the circulation sphere. But they had been locked up in it too long not to reflect in their makeup something of the hatred so long directed at that sphere. Unlike their Aryan colleagues, they were largely denied access to the source of added value” (143)
• IV There is hatred against Jewish religious beliefs:
“To accuse the Jews of being obdurate unbelievers is no longer enough to incite the masses. But the religious hostility which motivated the persecution of the Jews for two millennia is far from completely extinguished. […] The others, who repressed that knowledge and with bad conscience convinced themselves of Christianity as a secure possession, were obliged to confirm their eternal salvation by the worldly ruin of those who refused to make the murky sacrifice of reason. That is the religious origin of anti-Semitism. The adherents of the religion of the Son hated the supporters of the religion of the Father as one hates those who know better. This is the hostility of spirit hardened as faith in salvation for spirit as mind” (144, 147).
• V The imitation of asserted natural characteristics of Jews is a psychological expression of the human domination of nature and humans and an imitation of magic practices:
“There is no anti-Semite who does not feel an instinctive urge to ape what he rakes to be Jewishness. The same mimetic codes are constantly used: the argumentative jerking of the hands, the singing tone of voice, which vividly animates a situation or a feeling independently of judgment, and the nose, that physiognomic principium individuationis, which writes the individual’s peculiarity on his face. In the ambiguous partialities of the sense of smell the old nostalgia for what is lower lives on, the longing for immediate union with surrounding nature, with earth and slime” (151).
“The purpose of the fascist cult of formulae, the ritualized discipline, the uniforms, and the whole allegedly irrational apparatus, is to make possible mimetic behavior. The elaborate symbols proper to every counterrevolutionary movement, the death’s heads and masquerades, the barbaric drumming, the monotonous repetition of words and gestures, are so many organized imitations of magical practices, the mimesis of mimesis” (152).
“The Jews as a whole are charged with practicing forbidden magic and bloody rituals. […] They are pronounced guilty of what, as the first citizens, they were the first to subdue in themselves: the susceptibility to the lure of base instincts, the urge toward the beast and the earth, the worship of images. Because they invented the concept of the kosher, they are persecuted as swine. The anti-Semites appoint themselves executors of the Old Testament: they see to it that the Jews, having eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, unto dust shall return” (153).
• VI Features of a subject, such as domination within society, are projected onto Jews as an object. They are based on this logic said to be e.g. especially powerful:
“Anti-Semitism is based on false projection. […] Impulses which are not acknowledged by the subject and yet are his, are attributed to the object: the prospective victim. […] Those impelled by blind murderous lust have always seen in the victim the pursuer who has driven them to desperate self-defense” (154).
“Instead of the voice of conscience, it [the subject of anti-Semitism] hears voices; instead of inwardly examining itself in order to draw up a protocol of its own lust for power, it attributes to others the Protocol of the Elders of Zion” (156).
“No matter what the makeup of the Jews may be in reality, their image, that of the defeated, has characteristics which must make totalitarian rule their mortal enemy: happiness without power, reward without work, a homeland without frontiers, religion without myth” (164–165).
• VII Anti-Semitism is based on pure irrational stereotypes, blanket generalisations and judgments, the most radical form of instrumental reason, ticket thinking that labels individuals as belonging to groups that should be annihilated, and hatred against Otherness:
“Anti-Semitic views always reflected stereotyped thinking. Today only that thinking is left. People still vote, but only between totalities” (166).
“Judgment is no longer based on a real act of synthesis but on blind subsumption” (166–167).
“It is not just the anti-Semitic ticket which is anti-Semitic, bur the ticket mentality itself. The rage against difference which is teleologically inherent in that mentality as the rancor of the dominated subjects of the domination of nature is always ready to attack the natural minority, even though it is the social minority which those subjects primarily threaten (172).
“The disregard for the subject makes things easy for the administration. Ethnic groups are transported to different latitudes; Individuals labeled ‘Jew’ are dispatched to the gas chambers” (167).
“It has been shown, in fact, that anti-Semitism’s prospects are no less good in ‘Jew-free’ areas than in Hollywood itself. Experience is replaced by cliche, the imagination active in experience by diligent acceptance” (166).
“The more superfluous physical labor is made by the development of technology, the more enthusiastically it is set up as a model for mental work, which must not be tempted, however, to draw any awkward conclusions. That is the secret of advancing stupidity, on which anti-Semitism thrives” (167).
Antisemitism on the Left, and Left Antisemitism
Antisemitism on and of the Left
An obvious feature of the dominant form of consciousness/appraisal about antisemitism within the Left, is the denial that it exists – or at least, that it is a real problem instead of merely and solely a strategy by the right-wing political enemy – in its ranks. Many scholars, activists and authors smarter and more informed than me have tackled the question of antisemitism of and on the Left. The distinction between on and of is probably relevant, because it allows some basic analytical (and therefore potentially, political) clarity so that we can even start approaching this whole subject. It is simply about conceptually separating manifestations of antisemitism that, in a sense, “happen to be” on the Left – i.e. society being characterized by recurring forms of AS, some of these will be reproduced in Leftist contexts -, from those that contain more “Left-specific” characteristics or forms. Both are equally unacceptable and in need of being tackled thoroughly by Leftists themselves, but they simply aren’t exactly the same! Of course, as always, one cannot view things realistically in dichotomic/binary terms: the lines aren’t always exactly clear-cut.
But the widespread denial and minimization of left antisemitism is really dangerous, because historically Leftists have always been ambivalent on the question of antisemitism and Jewishness more generally. There have been infamous cases of blatant antisemitism such as major anarchist figures like Proudhon and Bakunin (see Zoe Baker’s article for a good/thorough examination; see here for a particularly horrible bit of text, and the 1871 letter cited here), and the more complicated case of Marx himself whose alleged antisemitism has been the object of ‘debate’ for a long time (a reliable and balanced analysis was written by Robert Fine and Philip Spencer in their book) – but there’s no doubt that some of the infamous quotes from the (horribly named, although it was actually derived from the title of the text he was criticizing…) were deeply problematic, and antisemitic. It is important to note that antisemitism can “co-exist with a strange kind of philosemitism”, as Keith Kahn-Harris pointed out in a 2011 article. An example of this might be the antisemitic tropes found in some works by Abdullah Öcalan, a major figure in the Kurdish liberation movement who is especially famous for his influence on the “Rojava Revolution”. As a group of writers sympatethic to “democratic confederalism” and Öcalan have written in a letter addressing this problem (esp. in his volume titled The Sociology of Freedom),
Even when offering appreciative and admiring comments on supposed Jewish achievements, Öcalan’s text repeatedly falls into unintentional but familiar antisemitic patterns.
While possibly accurate, let’s not however downplay Öcalan’s antisemitism. I’m not necessarily saying that’s what they’re doing, but for example the following passages from Volume II of Manifesto for a Democratic Civilization (a series which the aforementioned The Sociology of Freedom is also a part of) are very troubling and blatantly antisemitic:
Everyone is aware… that Jewish intellectuals, merchants, and bankers are amongst the most important factors in the formation of the USA… The worldwide ideological leadership is still in the hands of Jewish intellectuals.
It has been shown that from the French Revolution until 1945 capitalism continuously (not cyclically) experienced a profound crisis. The German Führer Adolf Hitler started the Second World War. There have been many analyses of fascism, but all the definitions – whether made by Marxists, liberals, conservatives, or anarchists – have been misleading. None of them had the intention or the power to explain what really happened. The magnificent intellectuals of the Jews, the victims of the Holocaust, also contributed to this misunderstanding. This is because Hitler was the result of everyone’s collective intellectual dirt and political praxis. But of course, who is to acknowledge this?
I find two assessments by Adorno, the German philosopher with Jewish roots, very meaningful. The essence of the first one, his analysis of capitalist modernity, is: “Wrong life cannot be lived rightly.” Secondly, in relation to the Holocaust camps, he says: “In the name of all that is divine and all that is holy, humanity’s right to speech is over.” I may be wrong but as I interpret these words to mean that there could be no explanation for genocide. The mask of our civilization has fallen off. It has no right to speak. The Frankfurt School of philosophy is on the trail of truth. But the realization of being involved in this crime and its psychological drawbacks affected and disillusioned these intellectuals deeply. It is important that Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno grasped and admitted the part played in this by Jewish ideology. The European Union, in its present form, is an attempt to cover up this intellectual dirt–I don’t believe they have cleaned what is beneath. The depth of the crisis continues.P. 185-186
And the antisemitism in The Sociology of Freedom is equally glaring and repugnant, with for example some classic antisemitic tropes as early as p. 28 (but there’s more, see here):
When I think about the tribe of the Hebrews, two characteristics and survival strategies always come to mind. The first is a special relationship to making money. Jews sought financial influence at certain times and at
times attained worldwide supremacy. This is the material side. However, I think it is more important that they master the second, i.e. the art of influence in the intellectual field, even better. Jews have achieved an outstanding intellectual and cultural position, first with their prophets and later
with their scribes, then in capitalist modernity with their philosophers, scholars, and artists, with roots that go back almost as far back as written history. This is why I propose the hypothesis that there is no other tribe that is as rich and free as the Hebrews. Some examples of the situation
of the Jews in recent times will confirm this. Many influential people in the field of financial capital, which dominates the global economy, have Hebrew roots and are, therefore, Jewish. If we mention names like Spinoza
in the emergence of contemporary philosophy, Marx in sociology, Freud in psychology, and Einstein in physics, and add hundreds of theorists of the arts, science, and political theory, we would get a sufficient impression of Jewish intellectual strength. Can the dominance of the Jews in the world of intellect be denied?
[Chaia Heller of the Institue of Social Ecology also published this piece on the racist tropes in Öcalan’s work]
The black radical and antiracist milieu in North America is also known to have been a place where antisemitism occurred. For example, Seymour Martin Lipset mentioned in a 1971 New York Times article, some examples of antisemitism from Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture or BPP militant Eldridge Cleaver. Another well-known example is the Nation of Islam.
There’s also the notorious case of Hugo Chavez. And his case is a good example of how a relentless focus on and hatred of Israel – see the statements compiled by the ADL (arguably those aren’t always/all antisemitic, but the conspiracist framing of Israel as the puppet of US imperialism is one of the elements that undeniably are…) – which isn’t necessarily antisemitic insofar as it can come from a true feeling of outrage over the brutal oppression of Palestinians, does contain the possibility of antisemitism. Lomnitz and Sanchez’s article quotes a 2005 declaration by Chavez which cannot be misunderstood as anything other than that: “The World has enough for everybody, but some minorities, the descendants of the same people that crucified Christ, and of those that expelled Bolívar from here and in their own way crucified him. . . . have taken control of the riches of the world.” Needless to say, this kind of “anti-imperialist” antisemitism does nothing good for the cause of Palestinian liberation. See the Israel/Palestine section below.
Leftist figures that aren’t as far to the Left – those who belong to either or both the ‘social democrat’ and ‘left populist’ (from my point of view, those aren’t “far leftist” but many people identify them as such) – have also contributed to antisemitism. Two important examples include Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party’s “antisemitism crisis” debacle, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise. A few resources and readings on both cases are included below, but it’s not just them: there has been similar occurences in Spain’s Podemos and in the coalition government of Alexis Tsipras (admittedly in that caseit came from a right-wing nationalist member of this coalition, who was however named minister by Tsipras)
- On Corbyn and the Labour Party crisis:
- General overview of evidence/claims:
- Sara Gibbs (2019, December 7) Everything I never wanted to have to know about Labour and antisemitism. Medium.com [Blog]
- (2020, November 18) A guide to Labour Party anti-Semitism claims. BBC News.
- On Corbyn’s unacceptable inability to come to terms with antisemitism within the party:
- Sean Matgamna (2018) Don’t leave fighting Labour Party antisemitism to the right.
- Dale Street (2018, August 4) Confusion on anti-Zionism. Workers’ Liberty.
- On the report:
- Jennifer Scott (2020, October 29) What does the Labour anti-Semitism report say? BBC News
- Milo Lévy-Bruhl & Adrien Zirah (2021, October 27) Mais que se passait-il dans le Labour de Corbyn? K.(2021, October 28) But What Happened in Corbyn’s Labour Party? K.
- Chris Williamson was a particularly outrageous case:
- On Twitter, see: Daniel Randal (@therubykid) (2021, May 20); @InvestigadoraP (2021, April 19)
- Daniel Sugarman (2019, June 27) ‘What exactly has Labour MP Chris Williamson done to offend Jews?’ Here’s a long list. The Jewish Chronicle.
- For a more general and exhaustive portrait of how crappy and reactionary Williamson is, see: Bob from Brockley (2019, June 29) What’s Wrong With Chris Williamson? [Blog]
- General resource with lots of stuff and further sources/links: Wikipedia, “Antisemitism in the UK Labour Party”
- (More relevant, in my opinion) Analysis and discussion of the whole issue:
- Gidley, B., McGeever, B. and Feldman, D. (2020), Labour and Antisemitism: a Crisis Misunderstood. The Political Quarterly, 91: 413-421.
- David Feldman, Brendan McGeever (2018, April 18) Labour and antisemitism: What went wrong and what is to be done? The Independent.
- Kuper, R. and McGeever, Brendan Francis and Segal, Lynne and YuvalDavis, N. and Hakim, J. and Little, B. (2018) Antisemitism, anti-racism and the Labour Party. Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture, 70 , pp. 22-70.
- Daniel Randall & David Rendon (2021, September 16) Antisemitism crisis in Labour. A conversation between Daniel Randall and David Renton. Tempest Magazine.
- General overview of evidence/claims:
- On Mélenchon’s history of antisemitic remarks:
- Olia Maruani (2022, February 7) Quelques réflexions sur l’antisémitisme et son déni à la France Insoumise. Golema.
- See Info antiraciste’s regularly-updated page [French]
- A 2013 article by Albert Herszkowicz already addressed this (and even then referred to earlier examples) [French]
- Cnaan Liphshiz (2021, June 8) French far-left candidate claims 2012 Jewish slayings an election conspiracy. The Times of Israel.
- Juives et Juifs Révolutionnaires @JJR_JJR_JJR (2021, June 9)
- His supporters are just as shitty: a, b, c.
As with almost everything that’s wrong or problematic within the contemporary Left, last century’s Stalinism played a massive role in either initiating or reinforcing the very worst, authoritarian and retrograde behaviors and ideologies wihin the “socialist” movement. In this case, the (state/Stalinist) antisemitic campaigns and professed official “anti-Zionism” emerged from the 1940s and 1950s onwards, in spite of the fact that the Soviet Union was one of the first supporters of the foundation and early state of Israel. It According to Stan Crooke,
In the 1970s the rulers of the USSR launched a sustained ‘anti-Zionist’ campaign, in fact anti-semitic (…) an examination of the publications from that campaign shows something much more shocking than the fact that the old Stalinist despots were ready to use any sort of reactionary prejudice for their own ends. It demonstrates that much of what many British and international leftists – even Trotskyists – say about Israel is an indirect and unwitting copy of the Stalinists’ efforts at constructing a Marxist-sounding gloss on old anti-semitic themes.Stan Crooke (2004) The Stalinist roots of left anti-Zionism. Workers’ Liberty.
Here are resources on this topic. I should note that some claims are more questionable, such as condemning the “anti-Zionists” for saying that Israel must today be understood in terms of apartheid and settler colonialism (for example, Tabarovsky’s argument on this would imply that Human Rights Watch is simply using Soviet anti-Zionist tropes when they say that a “threshold” has been crossed in terms of the crime of apartheid). But I’m not willing to get into this topic here; they remain useful for historical background. Dan Fischer’s piece is the one I’m most in agreement with.
- Stan Crooke (2004) The Stalinist roots of left anti-Zionism part 1; The Stalinist roots of left anti-Zionism part 2 [Workers’ Liberty]
- & “The Stalinist roots of ‘left’ anti-semitism” [Workers’ Liberty]
- Izabella Tabarovksy (2019) Soviet Anti-Zionism and Contemporary Left Antisemitism. Fathom Journal.
- Daniel Fischer (2022, January 27) Overcoming Left Antisemitism. New Politics.
Anti-Semitism is not strictly speaking part of the fractures within the radical left. Positions on this issue vary little from one left-wing organisation to another. On the contrary, they often share a disinvestment in this theme, which is perceived as secondary or even negligible in relation to other forms of racialisation. Rather than a fracture, it is therefore more a question of silence that we are questioning here, arguing for a radical critique of antisemitism at a time when it has practical and ideological effects even in the forms that certain social struggles take.
[Camilla Brenni, Memphis Krickeberg, Léa Nicolas-Teboul & Zacharias Zoubir (2019, February 19) Le non-sujet de l’antisémitisme à gauche, translated]
Here are some good entry points/introductions to the topic of antisemitism in and of the Left:
- Daniel Fischer (2022, January 27) Overcoming Left Antisemitism. New Politics.
- Joey Ayoub (2021, April 25) Confronting Antisemitism on the Left: Anti-Authoritarian Perspectives (with Daniel Randall), the fire these times [podcast].
- YIVO Institue for Jewish Research (2021, May 4) Leftists on Left-Wing Antisemitism.
- Daniel Randall (2020) What is left antisemitism and how can it be confronted [presentation, Workers’ Liberty]
- I must praise the work of the Juives et Juifs Révolutionnaires (JJR) collective in France; for French-speaking readers, this interview is highly recommended: Entretien avec le collectif Juives et Juifs révolutionnaires, revue-ballast.fr, 2019.
And here is further reading. It doesn’t mean I or you need to agree with everything asserted by all these authors, obviously. Let me especially recommend Fine and Spencer’s book (which is available open access!), Spencer Sunshine’s 2019 article, and the article by Gidley, McGeever and Feldman. But all these are insightful and worth checking out!
- Lars Fischer ‘Marxism’s Other Jewish Questions,’ in Jack Jacobs, ed. Jews and Leftist Politics. Judaism, Israel, Antisemitism, and Gender. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017, 67–83.
- Marxism’s Other Jewish Questions, Jews and the Left Conference, New York, May 2012.
- ‘Antisemitism and the Critique of Capitalism,’ in Beverley Best, Werner Bonefeld, and Chris O’Kane, eds. Sage Handbook of Frankfurt School Critical Theory (London: Sage, 2018), vol. 2, 916–931.
- Camilla Brenni, Memphis Krickeberg, Léa Nicolas-Teboul & Zacharias Zoubir, Le non-sujet de l’antisémitisme à gauche, Vacarme, 2019/1 (N° 86), p. 36-46.
- Bob from Brockley (2020, May 1) Biographical Notes: Antisemitism and Its Erasure. [Blog]
- Robert Fine & Philip Spencer (2017) Antisemitism and the left. On the return of the Jewish question. Manchester University Press.
- Brendan McGeever & Satnam Virdee (2017) Antisemitism and socialist strategy in Europe, 1880–1917: an introduction, Patterns of Prejudice, 51:3-4, 221-234.
- Spencer Sunshine (2017, June 1) The Left Must Root Out Anti-Semitism In Its Ranks, Forward.
- Spencer Sunshine (2019) Looking Left at Antisemitism, Journal of Social Justice, Vol. 9.
- Ross Laurence Wolfe (2016) Reflections on Left Antisemitism. The Charnel-House [Blog].
- Gidley, B., McGeever, B. and Feldman, D. (2020), Labour and Antisemitism: a Crisis Misunderstood. The Political Quarterly, 91: 413-421.
- Camila Bassi (2021, April 29) Escaping the prison house of the Jewish question and left antisemitism. Anaemic On A Bike [Blog].
- Camila Bassi (2017, January 9) Demystifying left antisemitism. Anaemic On A Bike [Blog].
- Marcel Stoetzler (2019) Capitalism, the nation and societal corrosion: Notes on ‘left-wing antisemitism’, Journal of Social Justice, Vol. 9.
- Moishe Postone and Martin Thomas (2010, February 5) Zionism, anti-semitism and the left. An interview with Moishe Postone. Workers’ Liberty.
- Daniel Randall (2021) Confronting Antisemitism on the Left: Arguments for Socialists. Whitefox Publishing Ltd.
- Chaia Heller, Peter Staudenmeier, Alan Goodman, Robert Ogman, Blair Taylor (2021, October 20) Jews Don’t Count and Count Too Often: Reflections on Left Antisemitism. Institute for Social Ecology.
- Marxist Humanist Initiative (2010) Beware of Left Anti-Semitism
- I also found this bibliography of writings on Left antisemitism, which contains lots of good contributions; however, as explained in the articles included further down below, there are some major issues with the ideological current that this website is from, namely, the so-called “anti-national” perspective which comes from the infamous anti-Deutsche (anti-German) tendency. It’s very paradoxical because, as Hanloser says in the article I quoted earlier, in terms of critical theory and especially the analysis of antisemitism, this (broad/vague) current inherited from some real conceptual “revolutions” (initiated by the Frankfurt school and authors like Moishe Postone)
Israel and Palestine
The various publications/contributions on ‘left antisemitism’ almost always address the topic of Israel/Palestine, and therefore largely overlap with this section. Here are a few contributions and discussions that are probably a good starting point:
- The YIVO Institute’s discussion [video]
- Spencer Sunshine (2019) Looking Left at Antisemitism, Journal of Social Justice, Vol. 9.
- Joey Ayoub (2021, April 25) Confronting Antisemitism on the Left: Anti-Authoritarian Perspectives (with Daniel Randall), the fire these times [podcast].
- Daniel Fischer (2022, January 27) Overcoming Left Antisemitism. New Politics.
Here are some notes:
- No amount of “nuance” can ever omit or diminish the harm done to and atrocious reality that has been imposed on Palestinians, and the necessity that it be stopped immediately. Any question of substantial/concrete progress in this region (Israel/Palestine) can only start from the question of freeing Palestinians from their current oppression and suffering.
- The antisemitic elements that have manifested within Palestinian liberation movements (both in I/P region and around the world) are inherently contradictory to the success of this cause. This is why many Palestinians have condemned these acts of violence and hatred….
- “Even the most vehement opposition to Israeli policy, or perhaps even opposition to the existence of Israel itself as we understand it today, is not inherently antisemitic. But the knee-jerk reaction to these statements, the hundreds of articles published in the last few years restating the obvious, belies the problem. Anti-Zionism is not inherently antisemitic (no serious person actually believes it is), but the way in which anti-Zionism often plays out, the types of strategies it utilizes, the language it is comprised of, and the way it can place double standards on Jews, can certainly be.” [Shane Burley, “The Socialism of Fools“, p. 4-5]
- “The sine qua non of democratic politics on Israel/Palestine: two peoples live in the territory, they must have equal rights. No other starting point can serve emancipatory politics.” [Daniel Randall, twitter.com, May 30 2021]
- One of the most interesting contributions to this discussion comes from critical theorist Benoît Bohy-Bunel: Par-delà sionisme et antisionisme. Pour une critique globale de l’idéologie nationale-étatique moderne [only in French, but the title is Beyond zionism and anti-zionism. Towards a global critique of the ideology of the modern nation-state] Here is a translated passage from the conclusion of his paper (I am not sure I agree with everything, but it’s interesting/thought-provoking):
Let us now ask a simple, pragmatic question: If some people whose ‘friend’ or ‘protector’ you (superficially) claim to be, but who have just suffered, because of your inconsistency or lack of attention, a horrible catastrophe, a pure and simple abolition of their whole being, which has also deprived them of a ‘home’, then ask you, once the storm has passed, for a welcome, a care, a support commensurate with the horror they have just suffered, and you tell them that you are absolutely unable to accommodate them in your home, that you have neither the desire nor the intention to do so, but that you propose instead to ‘liberate’ a space for them in a distant place, which would have a certain mythological consonance for them, but which they had perhaps forgotten as a ‘quest’, which brings them back to a fixed ‘identity’ (…), and a place where other people already live and have great difficulties and sufferings, past and present, can it really be said that you are a real ‘friend’, a sincere ‘protector’? A friend like that is called, in real life: an insensitive coward, a bastard. And if he has the obscene indecency to pose as a “humanist” and to say that he is very “concerned” about the peace and comfort of his “friends”, he will be called a despicable hypocrite who would get rid of a “burden” that he considers “cumbersome” without delicacy or consideration, and who would like to be seen as a glorious and caring “saviour”.
Today, Jewish people feel increasingly threatened, even hounded, in Western countries. All those “Keynesians” on the left who would like to “regulate” “finance”, “purify” “debt”, and all those anti-Semitic red-brown figures who recuperate this truncated and populist, national-socialist criticism of capitalism, must frighten them more than ever, because it has only been 70 years since they suffered nameless [unspeakable] horrors following the rise of this kind of tendentious or abject themes in Europe in the 1930s. Some people, turned into fanatics by so-called “Islamist” capitalist gurus who are never more than cynical businessmen, who see in figure of “the” Jew “the” evil that would eat away at their “community”, produce a confused mixture of a paranoid delusion centerd on finance and the delusion that a destructive state could be “Jewish”, and kill and threaten more and more Jewish people.
So what would you do? Supposdely, there would be, officially and ideologically, a territory that would “belong” to “the Jews”. So they go there, like anyone else who feels threatened. But this space eventually becomes a trap: its impersonal “managers” organise the methodical murder, and the destructive stigmatisation, of Arab communities, and directly threaten the life of any Jewish or Israeli person who goes within them. Frequently some Isreali citizens are killed in an attack by another colonised person, who will have suffered not the “evil” that these individuals targeted here would have provoked, but the one that the body falsely “representing” them, the modern “state”, with its military and police apparatus, will have committed. We thus have here managers of destruction who turn individuals who have been persecuted or even exterminated for a very long time (Jewish communities), or individuals who have been plunged into misery for a very large number of years (Palestinian communities), into cannon fodder, front-line soldiers. Israeli individuals finally seem to become “settlers” themselves, where the essential war, which uses them as pretexts, is played out behind their backs: ever more, this war prepares them to more nothing but (more) death.
Arendt spoke of the need for peace between Arabs and Jews in Israel-Palestine. And this peace will have to exist, in fact, since history cannot be rewritten: Israeli Jewish individuals are now on this territory, on a land where they have grown up, loved and planned their lives. That they no longer become, in the ideological and state inversion, “settlers”, that the Palestinians are no longer massacred “in their name”, is the only necessity that seems to impose itself. Federated movements favourable to this peace exist, but remain little visible, because they cannot be opportunistically instrumentalized by the dominant forces of destruction.
A horizon is emerging, here more urgently than elsewhere: one day, all borders, all states, all political approaches to war and misery, all destructive assignments to a territory or identity, will have to be abolished so that a common ground can emerge once again: so that an impulse against all reification, whether Abrahamic or emancipatory, can be clearly affirmed. This, of course, presupposes the abolition of all the states of the world, so that such demands can only be asserted with the utmost precaution, with prudence, even with scepticism, at the risk of preventing more modest, more ephemeral, or more progressive transformations.Benoît Bohy-Bunel, Par-delà sionisme et antisionisme. Pour une critique globale de l’idéologie nationale-étatique moderne.
Discussing antisemitism on the left – especially when it comes to Israel/Palestine – is always a tense process, but it is crucial and cannot be dismissed, as is so often is in leftist circles… On the other hand, the (rightful) quest to combat antisemitic elements sometimes leads those who do it into some generalizations (e.g. “anti-Zionism is a form of anti-semitism”, without qualifying that it can be but isn’t necessarily so) and distanciations/renunciations from supporting Palestinian liberation, that I find at best weird but sometimes just inappropriate and wrongheaded. In a sense, it was probably inevitable unfortunately, because there are very few websites or organizations that consistently focus on the issue of antisemitism and especially pays attention to its manifestations on the Left. That is why websites/collectives like Workers’ Liberty (in English; see the archive here and this page) and Ni Patrie Ni Frontières (in French – though often translating from anglophone contributors-, see: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7; in English: 8) are simultaneously part of the very small (so much so that they very often repost/translate each other) group that consistently addresses Left antisemitism, but sometimes in my opinion cross that line of inappropriate “anti-anti-Zionism”. This is a typical example of this frustrating (for me, at least) way to talk about it: the core point is of course legitimate, but there is this tendency to mix in some actual examples of antisemitism (such as Tariq Ali’s intervention and the direct antisemitic slogans and even calls for violence) with general aspects of the Palestinian liberation cause/movement (BDS and the call for a “Free Palestine”) as necessarily or just potentially part of the same problem. I’m not saying it’s a wrong message on the whole (i.e. antisemitism is a barrier to Palestinian liberation and should be fought within the movement), but there are frequent hints of a sort of “anti-anti-Zionism” that is at the very least frustrating…
Here are some readings and notes on Zionism and anti-Zionism:
- The complexity of the history of Jewish transnational politics, culture and self-determination means that reductionist perspectives on “Zionism” versus “anti-Zionism” are at best unhelpful and potentially dangerous. It shouldn’t need to be said, but that obviously doesn’t absolve *any* crime and oppression done in their name (anymore than other complex histories do for their own darker legacies). It doesn’t even mean that we can’t have a firmly anti-Zionist position, provided we clarify what we’re talking about exactly. In other words, it’s not because – as pointed out in the quotes included below by Lars Fischer – there’s been a complexity/diversity in the history of Zionism, that we can’t radically oppose Zionism as defined by Moshe Machover in this interview: “The Zionist project is the project of colonising Palestine, the Land of Israel, by Jews so as to establish a Jewish nation-state with an inbuilt and secure Jewish majority.” The history of Zionism is complex, but the predominant form – Israeli settlerism and nationalism/state-building, simply defined by Matthew N. Lyons as “the movement and ideology that says Israel is and should be the state of the Jewish people” – that it has taken since at least the 1950s and 70s, is a fundamentally racist, nationalist/chauvinist and colonialist project. As Daniel Fischer says: “The definition of Zionism may have once been much more open, with bi-nationalist Zionists like Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt being included in the fold. Today, however, those viewpoints are widely considered anti-Zionist since they oppose an exclusive Jewish state.”
- Lars Fischer: “Both conceptually and historically (…) Zionism emerges as a hybrid whose nexus to colonialism and imperialism is deeply ambivalent. It is hardly surprising that this makes Zionism a highly emotive and unusually irksome phenomenon for all those who, across the political spectrum from the extreme right to the far left, inhabit a world supposedly free of such ambiguities in which everyone can be neatly identified as either a proponent and/or agent of imperialism or as its victim and/or opponent.” [source]
- The Israeli state’s barbarism has been largely taken to represent what any and all “Zionism” inherently is. But according to Fischer: “As is the case with most ideologies/ideologically motivated movements, Zionism’s precise meaning and purpose, and the means best suited to its implementation, were interpreted in diverse ways by, and often contested among, its proponents. To be sure, all Zionists subscribed to the general goal of achieving a regeneration of the Jewish people as a nation centred on some form of concentrated Jewish settlement in Palestine. Yet when it came to determining what form this settlement might take, how (and with whose support) it might best be achieved, what exactly the nature of the desired regeneration should be, what form relations to the non-Jewish population of Palestine should take, what, if any, future Jews had in the diaspora etc. Zionists formulated a broad range of positions, many of them mutually attenuating if not contradictory.” [source]
- Shane Burley similarly writes that ‘problematic forms of anti-Zionism’ are rooted in “confusion regarding the exact nature of Israeli nationalism as an inherently Jewish phenomenon”: “The word Zionism itself has meant a number of things historically, but our understanding of it is now defined by sectors of Israeli politics typically understood on a range from right-wing to far-right. For years prior to the foundation of the State of Israel, many definitions of Zionism existed that the right-wing would consider anti-Zionist by today’s standard. One form of Zionism envisioned the creation of a multiracial society in Palestine, where Jews enjoy recognition and support without eclipsing Muslim populations. Zionism may have a uniquely Jewish character, a dream for a Jewish place to be safe from antisemitism, but the Israel of today does not represent the logical conclusion of that idea. By assuming that ‘Jews’ equal ‘Zionism’ equals ‘Isreal’, activists adopt an inherently antisemitic script assigning an inherently Jewish character to the institutions of Israeli power that the left opposes, rather than understanding the capitalist and nationalist character of Israel as distinct from its perceived Jewishness. That the resulting State of Israel is the fault of Jews or, worse, Jewish influence through their ability to lobby, resolves to make the image of Israel that of Judaism rather than as an outpost of wretched politics and corporate interests.” [Shane Burley, “The Socialism of Fools“, p. 12-13]
- Burley rightly adds another ‘channel’ of antisemitism (in his text, talking about the left, but this applies generally across the board): conspiracy theories (see “The Socialism of Fools“, p. 13-14)
- There are loads of (specific) examples of anti-Zionist rhetoric being simply a reworded form of antisemitism. In the most vulgar examples of this, “Zionists” is used “as a cypher for “Jews”,” as Tom Wainwright put it in response to such an example blaming “Zionists” for global food supply shortages. This example indeed also constitutes a form of the “structural antisemitism” as defined by Moishe Postone [see endnotes]
- Matthew N. Lyons: “Zionism claims that all Jews everywhere form one nation and that Israel is our state. This is an abstract, ahistorical, essentialist conception of Jewishness that obscures the many national differences and divisions among Jews, including the emergence of an Israeli Jewish national community. Matzpen pioneered in addressing this point. The group rejected the Zionist claim of Jewish nationhood while arguing that Israeli Jews constitute a nation with a distinctive national culture, language, and class structure. “Despite the fact that it was created by Zionism, a Hebrew nation in the full sense of the term now exists in Palestine. And as such it has the right to self-determination, not certainly in the Zionist sense, but within the context of a socialist federation of the Middle East”.” [source]
- For more on Matzpen, see the interview (link below) of some of their members by the Working Class History podcast.
- Jacob Bard-Rosenberg: “It may be true that Zionists will always accuse anti-Zionists of anti-Semitism, regardless of whether it is true or not. But it is in the interests of the anti-Zionist struggle not only to be free of anti-Semitism, but also to recognise that at times there is anti-Semitism in pro-Palestinian movements. Only then can we try to do something about it instead of just denying it.” [source]
- Here are some good readings/resources on Zionism/anti-Zionism:
- Working Class History (2018) Anti-Zionism in Israel.
- Edward Said (1979) Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Victims. The Edward Said Reader.
- Matthew N. Lyons (2003) Why I oppose Zionism. Excerpt from “Parasites and Pioneers: Antisemitism in White Supremacist America”, in M. Jacqui Alexander et al. (eds) Sing, Whisper, Shout, Pray!: Feminist Visions for a Just World.
- Matthew N. Lyons (2007, November 1) Is left anti-Zionism anti-Jewish? Three Way Fight [Blog].
- Nava EtShalom & Matthew N. Lyons (2008) “Bring on the bulldozers and let’s plant trees”: The Problems of Labour Zionism. Upping the Anti.
- [will be completed/expanded as I find more]
Germany is a special case, where criticisms of left antisemitism and antizionism have sometimes taken – on the part of people who see themselves on the radical left – some baffling pro-Israel forms (which, on the other hand, emerged in reaction to some of the most outrageous and antisemitic forms of anti-Zionism in Europe, from the “same” German Left). More broadly, Germany’s relation to its genocidal past, antisemitism and Israel/Palestine, and also Jews in general, is really complex and far beyond my current abilites to comment. Here are a bunch of articles that tackle or talk about this:
- Fabian Wolff (2021, May 7) Only in Germany. Zeit.
- Fabian Wolff (2021, June 11) Refusing the Extended Hand. New Fascism Syllabus.
- Isabel Frey (2021, June 3) When “Antifa” Is the Enemy. Jewish Currents.
- Nemi El-Hassan (2021, November 4) A German tabloid called me antisemitic. It cost me my job. Now, it’s my turn to speak. Forward.
- Kaveh Yazdani (2021, June 11) A double standard lies behind German criticism of pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Open Democracy.
- Raph Schlembach (2010, November) The (anti-)German ideology: Towards a critique of anti-German “communism”. Interface Journal, Volume 2: Issue 2, p. 199-219.
- Felix Baum (2011, March) German psycho: A reply to the Initiative Sozialistisches Forum. Platypus Review, 33.
- Blair Taylor (2014, July 4) Something better than the nation? Book Review: Rob Ogman, Against the Nation: Anti-National Politics in Germany. The Platypus Affiliated Society [Blog].
- CrimethInc. (2006) Antinationalist Nationalism: The Anti-German Critique and Its All-Too-German Adherents.
 Needless to say, including Stirner and Proudhon here isn’t about equating these awful aspects of their worldview with the anarchist tradition of even with their own contributions to it; I am closer to anarchism than any other political group and if I thought like this, I would also have to reject Bakunin for his antisemitism, Engels for his vile anti-Slavism, Öcalan for his antisemitic philosemitism, Du Bois for his support of Japanese colonialism, etc…
 In this interview, Moishe Postone succinctly defined his conception of “structural antisemitism”:
It’s true that the Israeli government uses the charge of antisemitism to shield it from criticisms. But that doesn’t mean that antisemitism itself isn’t a serious problem. The way in which antisemitism is distinguished, and should be distinguished, from racism, has to do with the sort of imaginary of power, attributed to the Jews, Zionism, and Israel, which is at the heart of antisemitism. The Jews are seen as constituting an immensely powerful, abstract, intangible global form of power that dominates the world. There is nothing similar to this idea at the heart of other forms of racism. Racism rarely, to the best of my knowledge, constitutes a whole system that seeks to explain the world; whereas antisemitism is a primitive critique of the world of capitalist modernity. The reason I regard it as being particularly dangerous for the Left is precisely because antisemitism has a pseudo-emancipatory dimension that other forms of racism rarely have. (…) [antisemitism] represents a fetishized form of anticapitalism. That is, the mysterious power of capital — which is intangible, global, and which churns up nations and areas and people’s lives — is attributed to the Jews. The abstract domination of capitalism is personified as the Jews. Antisemitism is thus a revolt against global capital, misrecognized as the Jews.Martin Thomas, Moishe Postone (2010, February 4) Zionism, anti-semitism and the left. An interview with Moishe Postone. Krisis, 3/166.
I didn’t know where to put it, but there’s also some other stuff:
- The works of Keith Kahn-Harris, such as his book Strange Hate:
- Keith Kahn-Harris (2019) Strange Hate: Antisemitism, Racism and the Limits of Diversity. Repeater Books. URL: https://kahn-harris.org/book/strange-hate-antisemitism-racism-and-the-limits-of-diversity/.
- Talk at the RSA which is a good introduction to the themes explored in the book: https://www.facebook.com/rsaeventsofficial/videos/443862072911424
- the page on Kahn-Harris’ site includes other related articles and media …
- An article on philosemitism in the European context: http://newsocialist.org.uk/transmissions/philosemitism-instrumental-kind-love/