The Internationalist Cover for Anti-Semitism

by A. Jay Adler on March 2, 2012

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One of the consequences of the fall of Communism has been a kind of analytical disjunction in recognizing ideological continuities on the far left. Communism as a significant modern organizing ideology of nation states came to an end, so the focus it provided for a host of Western political parties and tendencies was lost. Too often since, the far left in its alliances and antipathies has been spoken of by liberals and social democrats as a shocking ethical outlier. But it has ever been thus. Nothing has changed.

One line of continuity is seen in left manifestations of anti-Semitism. On the far right, as an active strain, anti-Semitism is almost always outspoken. The hate is expressed and the tropes are freely figured. The far left has always been anti-Semitic in the bad faith of denial. This contrast is historically represented in Nazi Germany and Soviet era Communism. For the fascist or reactionary, the Jew is a stateless, cosmopolitan subverter of the true, the ideal, culture of the volk. In the twentieth century, from the Bolsheviks on, such cosmopolitan internationalism – in Marxist consciousness – was the very contrary ideal. The Marxist ideal was the transcendence of nationalism, of factionalism, of particularity in identity beyond the proletarian. Thus, for the Marxist-Leninist, theoretically, Jews too often clung irredeemably to their identity as Jews. The Bundists were the perfect example of this resistant clinging to particularity, wishing, even as socialists and secularists, to remain and be recognized as Jews. On the far left, then, as far back at least as the Bolshevik Revolution, Jews identifying as a Jews were criticized for their failure to be international, for espousing – to use an anachronistic term– identity politics.

We see exactly the same today. From the far left, the ideological antipathy toward Israel often justifies itself in internationalism. Jews offer, in the anti-euphony of Zionism – a named nationalism, contrary to the stateless far left ideal – the perfect repository for politically justifiable antagonism. Internationalism, anti-Zionism become today, just as they did in the Soviet Union, the perfect Petri dish in which to culture, out of ideology, anti-nationalism into anti-Zionism into antipathy into anti-Semitism. Distinct from the right-wing anti-Semitism, which announces itself with horns, far left anti-Semitism thinks to inoculate itself from the charge by its very ideological grounding. Why, we are anti-fascist, anti-imperialist, anti-colonial, anti-racist – we cannot be anti-Semitic. So said the Soviets, too.

Of course, we see historically that anti-Semitism has always served as one of the meeting points for the far right and far left. Today, it occurs again in multiple locations, one of them the Israel Lobby construct. This construct, advanced by both right and left, works out of both rightist and leftist motifs, on the right, of the Jew as unassimilated, dual-loyalties fifth-columnist, untrue to his resident nation and internationally active in pursuit of unpatriotic ends. On the left, through the efforts and support of the Israel Lobby, the Jew remains unredeemed in his commitment to his Jewishness, which is represented in his commitment to Israel. Easier, then, for the commitment to Israel to become a substitute for the Jew’s Jewish particularity. In various left anti-Semitic quarters the Jewish biblical “chosenness” – misrepresented in meaning – has now become one method of rebuking Jews for their particularity. How much more can we express a belief in our distinct identity than to call ourselves, whatever we mean by it, chosen? Objection, then, to excessive support for Israel becomes an unrecognized placeholder for objection to excessive Jewish identity, and, finally, anti-Semitic.

Those who promote the Israel Lobby construct do so in an American vein: of AIPAC and the whole network of financial support and political influence aimed at driving U.S. policy toward Israeli objectives. Because of the size and strength of the United States and of the American Jewish community, promoters of the construct cast this analysis as an American one, not an inherently Jewish one; it is a particular manifestation of the confluence of these American elements. Their unconvincing, aggrieved challenges to charges of anti-Semitism never take into account that one does find similar analyses in other countries. In Britain, for instance, where left and institutional anti-Semitism has become far more normalized than Americans can currently imagine, accusations of dual loyalty are common and current. It appears the power of the host nation and the centrality, or lack of it, in Israeli defense issues is not a requirement for the conjuring of untrustworthy dual loyalists. (The Israel Lobby construct is the dual loyalty charge writ large – empowered by money and influence.)

Britain to its great misfortune actually serves as a contemporary laboratory example of how far and deeply institutional anti-Semitism may spread under the bad faith cover of left internationalist idealizing. Famously, Britain’s University College Union (UCU) – which mirrors a combination of the U.S.’s AFT-NEA and the American Association of University Professors, and which establishes internationalist alliances with educational and other organizations around the world  – raised anti-Semitic defensiveness to charges of anti-Semitism to so high a level as actually formally to reject the EUMC (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights) working definition of anti-Semitism, even “while continuing to combat all forms of racial or religious discrimination.” They can’t be anti-Semitic – they’re anti-racist!

Last May, David Hirsch offered this account of a Jewish UCU member’s statement during the debate that led to repudiation of the “working definition”:

1517.   Ronnie Fraser (I had this text already):

I, a Jewish member of this union, am telling you, that I feel an antisemitic mood in this union and even in this room.

I would feel your refusal to engage with the EUMC definition of antisemitism, if you pass this motion, as a racist act.

Many Jews have resigned from this union citing their experience of antisemitsim.   Only yesterday a delegate here said ‘they are an expansionist people”. It is difficult to think that the people in question are anything other than the Jews.

You may disagree with me.

You may disagree with all the other Jewish members who have said similar things.

You may think we are mistaken but you have a duty to listen seriously.

Instead of being listened to, I am routinely told that anyone who raises the issue of antisemitism is doing so in bad faith.

Congress, Imagine how it feels when you say that you are experiencing racism, and your union responds: stop lying, stop trying to play the antisemitism card.

You, a group of mainly white, non-Jewish trade unionists, do not the right to tell me, a Jew, what feels like antisemitism and what does not.

Macpherson tells us that when somebody says they have been a victim of racism, then institutions should begin by believing them. This motion mandates the union to do the opposite.

Until this union takes complaints of antisemitsim seriously the UCU will continue to be labelled as an institutionally antisemitic organisation.

It’s true that anti-Zionist Jews may perceive things differently.  But the overwhelming majority of Jews feel that there is something wrong in this union. They understand that it is legitimate to criticise Israel in a way that is, quoting from the definition, “similar to that levelled to any other country’ but they make a distinction between criticism and the kind of demonisation that is considered acceptable in this union

Ronnie met with stoney silence.

Imagine, I find myself rhetoricizing often these days, this exchange in the meeting hall of any putatively progressive organization relative to any other historically marginalized people.

The UCU has met with massive resignations of its Jewish membership. This has changed nothing. Now, too, the Green Party of Britain faces the same circumstances. This resignation came from the local Liverpool Party, whose website offers no policy positions on any but local issues, yet nonetheless considered the need to develop its own “working definition” of anti-Semitism – which was rejected. On the other hand, a motion calling for the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund to be revoked, and condemning the organization, was passed. Here is member Toby Green writing at BobFromBrockley:

Essentially, much of the membership of the party is therefore grounded in a sort of superior bad faith. And so of course, members of the Green Party can´t be prejudiced. If they accuse members called “Levy” of being Israeli academics in disguise defending Israel, they can´t be rehashing old Jewish conspiracy theories. If they circulate emails from David Duke, a key figure in the Klu Klux Klan, on how “Jewish Zionists” are shaping American policy in Israel in alliance with Obama (thereby rehashing not only anti-semitic myths but also an alliance of this with anti-Black racism), they can still work in Caroline Lucas´s office and be on the list for the European elections. If they circulate emails accusing Jewish members of parliament of double loyalty (to Israel and the UK), there´s no need to suppose that they are re-hashing the anti-Catholic discourse which surrounded JF Kennedy´s run for office in 1960. If they talk of the “squealing zionists”, there´s no reason for them not to be respected party figures.

….

After four years of this charade, it has become clear that the Green Party is institutionally anti-semitic. Its institutions have not dealt with clear evidence of anti-semitism. They show no evidence of wanting to, and indeed now seem to have decided to target perceived “problem” members of the party who have raised this issue. This is fundamentally a political decision: the Green party has decided that it is increasingly a hard left party, allied with enemies of Western capitalism. Rightly, it thinks that Islamophobia is one of the more dangerous phenomena to have arisen since 9/11, and in reaction against this it turns a blind eye to discrimination against perceived enemies of Islamic peoples, Israel, and the Jews. This is a classic case of projection: horrified at their own government´s attitudes towards Islamic countries, and wanting no part in it, this mentality projects this violence onto a scapegoat – Israel and Jews.

Among the crucial recognitions to be made is this one: this is not new. This already existent form of anti-Semitism is also not the easily identifiable conspiracy-mongering of the far right or genocidal hatred of the culturally inculcated. These rationalizations, these defensive rejections, these denunciations – this rejection of Jewish identity in whatever way it seeks to express itself, at whatever the historical moment may be – are the history of that Jewish exodus from the Soviet Union that swelled in the 1970s, and which, coincidentally, populated the conservative precincts of Israeli politics that offer to so many, once again, historically misguided progressives yet one more opportunity for Jews to placed at the center of what’s wrong with the world.

AJA

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8 comments

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam Bristol March 8, 2012 at 2:57 pm

The hunt for anti-semites is a hunt for pockets of Resistance to the New World Order, like Nazis going house to house.”

We’re gonna drag you Israel-Firster traitors out of America and send you back to that shitty little country you parasites favor over THE RED WHITE AND BLUE. USA! USA! USA!USA!USA!USA!USA!USA! FUCK NAZI ISRAEL! FUCK YOU AND THE BOAT THAT BROUGHT YOU HERE!!!!!

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A. Jay Adler March 8, 2012 at 3:19 pm

There is a value to letting some comments like this stand, so that the evidence can always be visible and undeniable of a certain kind of human disease,and of the pus that runs from it. Wherever Sam Bristol speaks, the “hunt for anti-semites” has found its feral prey.

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Michael W. March 3, 2012 at 7:28 am

Very well said.

This article is good for centrists. But how do you argue with those in the Internationalist far Left? Their worldview won’t change. Do you really think we can make them realize that their stance fuel the very thing they are fighting against? How do we fight it?

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A. Jay Adler March 3, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Michael, good questions, but I don’t generally aim to argue with those I criticize, especially so profoundly. I am making an argument, but it is about those I describe here, not to them. To the degree that those who disagree with us rise beyond disagreement to the level of foe, the task is not to persuade them, but to disempower them, and one begins by exposing them. While a foe may be led to see matters differently, my target audience consists of those liberals who may be influenced by distorted representations of Israel. If they are Peter Beinart’s audience, then when I write on this subject, they are mine too. And I do not consider mine a centrist position; it is a liberal position. The, in fact, anti-liberal positions of the far left are like a statistical outlier, distorting the mean. We cannot let them.

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Michael W. March 5, 2012 at 4:23 am

Thanks for clarifying.

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