The left must stand up to anti-semitism....
It's disturbing that so much of the left is blind to anti-semitism....
There are a number of ways in which much of the left now refuses to engage seriously with anti-Semitism but rather helps to legitimate it. The first takes the form of explaining anti-Semitism in a way that effectively justifies it. This occurs when, for example, suicide bombing (that is, the deliberate killing of Jewish civilians) is explained in a pseudo-materialist mode as simply a product of desperation. That many people have found themselves desperate without resorting to such actions and such hatred is ignored, as is the obvious fact that they are planned by people who are certainly anti-Semitic but not by any stretch of the imagination hopeless or without considerable material resources.
The second form is collusion – the effective toleration of anti-Semitic language, chants and slogans on demonstrations against Israel. I say ‘effective’ because this is a repeated and growing phenomenon, known in advance. It does not require an occasional well-meaning reproof but the recognition that joint participation in, and organisation of, such demonstrations provides a forum for anti-Semites to express their hatred of Jews without fear or anxiety. (It is in this respect a direct reversal of the old socialist programme of ‘no platform for fascists’.)
The third way in which the left helps to legitimise anti-Semitism, and this often accompanies the first two, has to do with the downplaying of evidence of anti-Semitism itself: the claim that anti-Semitic incidents are over-reported or misinterpreted and that, in any case, they are far less significant than other forms of hatred.
How new is all this? Perhaps it is not quite as new as we might wish, especially if we think about the left’s response to Nazi anti-Semitism. There is a certain ‘conceit’ on the left (one I confess I shared myself for a long time) that they were the most principled, committed opponents of Nazi anti-Semitism. This is highly arguable. In Germany in the 1930s, many left-wing intellectuals took an entirely reductive view of Nazi anti-Semitism. As late as 1939, for example, Max Horkheimer claimed that what was really going on was that ‘the Jews are being supplanted as agents of circulation, for the modern economic structure eliminates the entire sphere of commerce’.
In 1942 (just as the Final Solution was under way) Franz Neumann published his major study of Nazism in which he argued that they would ‘never allow a complete extermination of the Jews’. What the left did oppose was fascism, for which they had a much more sophisticated explanation, and which was a priority. For on the ground, too, mobilising against anti-Semitism as a central issue was repeatedly rejected - by both social democrats and communists. To raise this issue, leaders of both parties agreed, was pointless and counter-productive. It would not win support but would further isolate their militants. And there was more than a hidden suggestion that the Jews had somehow brought this upon themselves, that they had been too visible, too prominent, or worse.