The Myth of Left-wing Anti-Semitism
(This article reflects the personal views of the author, a Jewish anti-Zionist)
According to the Anti Defamation League – a leading pro-Zionist lobby group which claims its focus is on combatting actual anti-Semitism – this form of prejudice and hate is increasingly manifested “on both the right and the left”. (my emphasis)
An article on its website declares.
“Amidst these distressing developments, a steady stream of antisemitism among the left persists, often related to Israel. Of course, some criticism of Israel is part of a healthy political ecosystem. However, a segment of the left sometimes espouses ideas that go beyond legitimate critique and into antisemitic tropes. Others engage in rhetoric that is not antisemitic but which can have the effect of making many Jews feel ostracized or excluded.”
In this lengthy piece based mostly on the unattributed opinions of “experts” and unsubstantiated assertions of the basic premise, what actual evidence does it provide? The author claims:
“One example is from September 2011, when Laura Wells, running for Controller of California (and endorsed by the Green Party and the Peace and Freedom Party) told her followers on Twitter that in order to support Palestinians, one should oppose ‘Zionists’. While her tweet also called for readers to “oppose anti-Semitism,” her accompanying call for opposition to Zionists effectively (even if unintentionally) creates a carve-out for much of the Jewish community”
So, on the one hand they pay lip service to the idea that “some criticism of Israel is part of a healthy political ecosystem” but immediately contradict that by declaring that any critique of Zionism is anti-Semitic because it makes Jews who adhere to this colonial-settler project uncomfortable.
Well, of course criticism of the American Jim Crow system made white southerners uncomfortable, discussion of slavery even now makes white people uncomfortable – at least according to Florida governor Ron DeSantis - and I’m sure criticism of South African Apartheid made Afrikaners uncomfortable. The fact that some, or even a lot of Jews, don’t like to hear criticism of Israeli state actions or Zionism as an ideological project is frankly of no significance.
So, let’s be clear, Zionism is not synonymous with Judaism. As a Jew I would argue that in fact it is the antithesis of Judaism. I was taught in Hebrew school that being the “Chosen People of God” did not mean we were better than anyone else but rather had the misfortune of being given the burden of providing an example of justice and righteousness to all the people of the earth. Some example the IDF is demonstrating in Gaza as this is being written!
Of course, no Jewish people except for an extremist fringe of Messianic religious fanatics actually believe in a God who actively intervenes in human affairs, chose one nomadic tribe over all others for special gifts or curses, or gives directions from burning bushes or pillars of fire. Nor for that matter possesses the power or authority to dispense eternal title to “a land flowing with milk and honey” to one such tribe; a land that incidentally was already fully inhabited by other people. An ancient people referred to in the Old Testament as Canaanites but in other ancient texts by terms like Filastin that evolved into the modern term “Palestinian”. Certainly not the almost entirely secularist founders of the Zionist movement in the final years of the 19th century.The claims of Biblical mandate or "right by ancient occupation" were never more than manipulative rationalizations.
That is why, in spite of a century of ceaseless propaganda and fear-mongering by the Zionist movement, a growing number of Jews throughout the world want to see the end of Israeli Apartheid, illegal settlements, ethnic cleansing and genocidal assaults on Gaza – and the West Bank - and support justice and peace for everyone living “from the river to the sea”. The ethical foundation of Jewishness has a long history and strong foundations and shows itself again in the Jewish protests against the slaughter in Gaza. Peaceful protests and civil disobedience that have been violently broken up by police with the full support of the Zionist lobby groups. Apparently attacking some Jews is ok with them!
So, let’s return to this hoary myth of so-called “leftwing Anti-Semitism.” Such an accusation can be easily debunked using simple logic. Simply put, opposing any form of prejudice, discrimination or oppression (whether based on ethnicity, religion, skin colour or any other distinction) is the very definition of leftism. Leftists may have an almost bewildering array of positions, especially on economic questions; but not on fundamental issues of human rights and human liberation.
So, to put it simply and unequivocally: if someone is a leftist, they cannot be an anti-Semite and if someone is anti-Semitic, they are not a leftist. That is not to say people on the left are paragons of all virtues. Like everyone we are immersed in and socialized by our respective societies with all its shortcomings including hetero-patriarchy and racial, ethnic and religious prejudices. But if there is one thing that distinguishes leftists it is obsessive self-examination and self-criticism, with regard to both themselves and each other.
As a piece titled “Far-Left Anti-Semitism” by Jakob Guhl on the website of the Institute For Strategic Dialogue admits:
“As many on the far left self-identify as anti-racist, far-left antisemitism may sound like a contradiction in terms. Indeed, the antisemitism we most commonly see on the far left is different to what we find on the far right or in Islamist extremist contexts; it is rarely explicitly hateful, de-humanizing or violent.”
Well, if it’s not “hateful, dehumanizing or violent” it is clearly completely different from the right-wing variety or any other manifestation of actual anti-Semitism anyone has ever heard of or personally experienced. It is possible, if examined under a fine polemical microscope, that some exceedingly rare comment by someone on the left might betray a subtle hint of unconscious remnant prejudice. Surely if that is all that remained of the longstanding and abhorrent anti-Semitism once characteristic of western Christian “civilization” B’nai Brith and the Anti Defamation League could fold up their tents and declare victory.
Yet we continue to see, especially in the current context when criticism of Israel is particularly loud, widespread, articulate and obviously justified, ubiquitous but completely unsubstantiated references to anti-Semitism “on both the right and the left”; by both Zionist spokespeople and their apologists in the mainstream media.
On the one hand this is an obvious and easily dismissed effort to deflect and dismiss critiques of the whole Zionist project: settler-colonial occupation, illegal settlements, the entrenched military/legal system and physical infrastructure of Apartheid and the ongoing brutal and disproportionate attack on the people of Gaza. Of course, the precipitating event to this paroxysm of violence was the abhorrent assault by Hamas on October 7. But as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and many other international human rights advocates have pointed out, that violence happened in a context. Each such cycle of provocation leading to sometimes violent resistance followed by massive retribution by the IDF has antecedents that can be traced to the one before.
But that apparently unending cycle does have a starting point. Some would say it was the founding of the Israeli state in a paroxysm of ethnic cleansing. I would say it began in 1897 with the formal founding of the Zionist movement at a conference in Vienna. (More on the roots and nature of Zionism in a future article)
But while people may differ a little on the specifics there is no question that a majority of the people of the world – a majority with their own experience of colonial oppression – see Zionism for what it is. There is as well a significant and growing proportion of people in the Western countries that are Israel’s traditional backers who want to see an end to what is perhaps the most egregious and longstanding example of brazen colonial occupation still extant in the 21st century.
This includes a heartening but not surprising number of Jews. After all, until World War II, anti-Zionism was widespread among Jews for varying reasons. Orthodox Jews opposed Zionism on religious grounds, as pre-empting the Messiah, while secular Jews felt uncomfortable with the idea that Jewish peoplehood was a national or ethnic identity. Opposition to Zionism in the Jewish diaspora was surmounted only from the 1930s onward, as conditions for Jews deteriorated radically in Europe and, with the Second World War, the sheer scale of the Holocaust struck home.
(The Indigenous peoples of the white colonial-settler states, including the one we live in, might have a strong counter argument in terms of duration and level of genocide. But at least, for example, the RCMP thug squad known as the C-IRG – unlike the IDF - isn’t equipped with F-16 fighter jets and heavy artillery. Thank goodness!)
We can never forget or minimize the Holocaust. Especially not now when the twin crises of neo-liberalism and climate catastrophe are leading to a frightening resurgence of fascist movements around the world. But while that genocide may explain the ascendance of Zionist support within the Jewish community it does not alter its basic illegitimacy or its contradiction of fundamental Jewish values.
Hence the desperate grasping at rhetorical straws such as “left-wing anti-Semitism, anything to attempt to undermine strengthening global opposition to Zionism and attack its critics; including and perhaps especially its Jewish critics for whom they reserve a special level of vitriol. It has been described this way:
"...those who do not support the Jewish nation-state project are bad Jews, disloyal Jews, possible not worthy of the name “Jewish”—at the very least complicit Jews. That is, if you are not pro-Israel, in the way they want you to be, it’s not that you aren’t a good Jew, in fact you are a kind of anti-Jew.
If Zionists want to find anti-Semitism perhaps the first place to look is in the mirror!
But there is another and even more insidious motivation behind this campaign to smear and undermine progressive voices. That is to stand out as an indispensable ally in undermining anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movements wherever they arise. The Zionist project from its inception was indissolubly tied to the great imperialist powers, first Great Britain and then the United States. It has acted not just as an explicit Western colonial outpost in the middle-east but a valuable tool against liberation struggles around the world.
Israel Shahak’s 1982 book, Israel’s Global Role: “Weapons for Repression”, documents that “from Rhodesia to apartheid South Africa to the Gulf monarchies, Israel ties its interests not with the masses fighting for freedom, but with their jailers” Israel not only sells weapons but training and now high tech illicit surveillance technology that has been used to imprison and even execute human rights advocates. Countless massacres of peasants and other working people from South America to Africa to Asia have been carried out with Israeli supplied weapons and instruction.
Particularly alarming, there is strong evidence – including reporting by the Haaretz Israeli newspaper - that Israel cooperated in nuclear weapons development with Apartheid South Africa. Fortunately, that system of white supremacy fell without the indiscriminate mass violence that is a feature of the Zionist regime.
Israeli spokespeople like to point to – and distort - the meeting between Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Husseini, and Hitler as alleged evidence that the Palestinian resistance was motivated by genocidal anti-Semitism rather than a legitimate opposition to their displacement and the theft of their homeland by a foreign colonialist project.
For a more balanced and scholarly review of el Husseini’s evolution from a moderate who worked with the British mandate authorities and tried to find an accommodation with the Jewish community in Palestine see:
It is perhaps notable that this much ballyhooed meeting with Hitler where the possibility of an Arab revolt backed by Germany was discussed, took place after the Mufti narrowly escaped an assassination attempt by an Irgun hit squad organized by Great Britain. In any case he received only vague promises of possible future support.
Interestingly Israeli spokespeople never mention the actual collaboration between the NAZI regime and the future leaders of South Africa they grew so fond of. This collaboration began as early as 1933 “with the dispatch of young intellectuals to study Nazi ideology and organizational tactics. Among these young intellectuals were Hendrik Verwoerd, Ebenezer Donges and W. W. M. Eiselen, who jointly on their return fashioned apartheid and also developed structures that paralleled the Nazi SS and Brown Shirts in the form of the Osse-waar-brandtwag and the Gray Shirts.
It is no secret in South Africa that the Ossewaar-brandtwag was involved in espionage in South Africa as a result of which many of its members were interned during the war, among them John B. Vorster, who became Prime Minister and President of South Africa. Another future President of South Africa, P. W. Botha, was also a member of this Nazi-like structure”
It could be argued that Israel’s role as a global merchant of death was just a cynical manifestation of its role as a handmaiden for imperialism and its need for foreign earnings but they had no ideological alignment with their murderous right-wing customers and trading partners. True or not, it is certainly an indefensible position since the ascension of Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu to his long reign as leader of the country. Alan Pinkas, a columnist writing in Haaretz last year, put it this way as the current Israeli governing coalition was coming together:
“Israel isn't a far-right/religious country. But soon it will have a far-right/religious government. Israel isn't an ethnocratic Jewish supremacist country. But soon it will have an ethnocentric government filled with racist Jewish supremacists. Israel isn't a fascist country, but soon it will have a government that smells a lot like fascism.”
If a “liberal” Zionist like Pinkas can use such language how should a more sober, impartial observer of the history and devolution of Zionism view the last couple of decades? It is no longer possible to deny that Zionism is closely aligned with the very far-right movements in Europe and North America that are the reservoir and breeding ground for actual anti-Semitism. There is not a millimeter of separation between Bibi and his government ministers and far-right leaders such as Marine Le Pen in France, Orban in Hungary or Trump’s MAGA Republicans – and the whole neo-fascist constellation around each of them exemplified by explicit anti-Semites such as Tucker Carlson and Elon Musk. If you want to know what makes a Jew “feel uncomfortable” it is watching these actual neo-fascist anti-Semites and Netanyahu fawning over each other with smiles and hugs.
Even more alarming, if that is possible, is the embracing of the euphemistically labelled “Christian Nationalist movement” or more accurately Christian fascists. Figures like Pastor John Hagee who was an honoured speaker at a pro-Israel rally at the National Mall in Washington, DC. The head of an influential group called Christians United for Israel; Hagee made national news in 2008 after anti-Catholic remarks he had made were publicized. Hagee also has been a zealous foe of gay rights and claimed Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment against New Orleans for hosting a gay pride parade.
But there was another reason why Hagee was an odd choice as a speaker: He claims that an inevitable peace accord between Israel and Palestinians will be the work of the anti-Christ—literally. He once said God “sent Hitler to help Jews reach the Promised Land.” Of course, the foundation of their belief system is that the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel is the essential precursor to the return of Jesus, the arrival of the “End of Times” and “the Rapture”. Meaning of course, all those Jews who do not convert will burn in the ensuing conflagration. I suppose a justifiable comeuppance for again failing to “come to Jesus” a second time around. With friends like these, who needs enemies?
No wonder thousands of us, including rabbis, Holocaust survivors and their children, are marching, engaging in civil disobedience and calling for a Ceasefire in Gaza while speaking out for justice and peace in Palestine, an end to the occupation and the forging of a democratic and inclusive society “from the river to the sea”.