Anti-Semitism, Zionism and Identity Politics
27 March 2020
Once upon a time it was easy to define anti-Semitism, the phrase is self explanatory.(1) However, nowadays, the waters have been muddied thanks to an international campaign by the Israeli state, Zionist organisations, which in many cases are the same state, and the bourgeois press. Anti-Semitism was thought of as discrimination against Jews, hatred of them, violence directed against them, both as individuals and as a collective. It is not for nothing that one of the few contributions of the Russian Tsars to the world's lexicon was pogrom. Now, however, a partially successful attempt is being made to place any criticism of the Israeli state, including criticism for the murder of Palestinian children on the same level as Anti-Semitism and in this campaign the Zionists have allied themselves with real Anti-Semites.
This campaign reached its zenith in Britain after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. From the word go a campaign of lies, smears and the historic twisting of the truth was unleashed with the aim of labelling him an Anti-Semite. The press scoured the archives for any comment, relationship, parliamentary vote that could be dishonestly presented as a sign of Anti-Semitism, descending rapidly into ridicule. Amongst his "crimes" they found that Corbyn once attended an event where a man declared that the Zionists were modern day Nazis. But they never went into any detail on who that person was. It is true that Corbyn attended the event, but the person in question was Hajo Meyer, a Jewish Anti- Zionist, a survivor of Auschwitz who dedicated his life to the struggle against Zionism and raised his voice along with that of other Jews who do not agree with the Israeli State's polices against the Palestinian people. In this new campaign both Corbyn and Hajo Meyer are Anti-Semites. It does not matter that one of them is Jewish and a victim of Nazi carnage. Reality no longer matters. Hajo, of course, is not the only Jew in the world who is an Anti-Zionist; in 2014, 40 survivors of concentration camps and 287 of their descendants signed a letter which was published as an advertisement in the New York Times denouncing the massacre of Palestinians and in support of the campaigns of Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanctions (BDS).(2) The participation of such people such should have put an end to the debate as to whether being Anti-Zionist is the same as being Anti-Semitic. However, this is not the case.
The "debate" around Corbyn reached such low, ridiculous and even funny levels that it looks more like a script for a poor quality film. In the recent election campaign in the UK, a member of the public asked a question about Prince Andrew and his relationship with the paedophile Jeffrey Epstein. In his reply Corbyn, unlike most people, pronounced the surname correctly. The English comedian David Baddiel accused him of Anti-Semitism because, according to him, he made the surname sound more Jewish by pronouncing it correctly. It doesn't matter that Corbyn correctly pronounced the Jewish surname of a Jew. He was accused of pronouncing it incorrectly, which wasn't true, in order, according to them, to emphasise that Epstein was Jewish, which he was, in a question about Prince Andrew and his relationship with the deceased paedophile. This is not a serious debate, but rather a campaign of defamation. The accusations of Anti-Semitism are of no import, but those behind them and why is important.
The epicentre of the campaign against Corbyn is the Israeli Embassy in London,3 and the reason is simple: Corbyn supports the Palestinians and whilst the British bourgeoisie fears a progressive in power, the Zionists fear anyone who does not swallow their ethno-nationalist supremacist tale whole. But before we look at the campaign and the alliance with real Anti- Semites, groups, and governments with Fascist tendencies, it is worth taking a quick look at the history of Zionism as an ideology and that of other separatist tendencies of Jewish organisations.
Various central and eastern European countries had, in the 19th and 20th Centuries, not only significant Jewish populations, but also a significant Jewish proletariat. There were Jewish organisations that argued that Jews should have their own workers' organisations, distinct from those of the working class in the countries they were from, with their own demands, different to and even in opposition to the demands of the rest of workers' organisations. Lenin dealt with the issue regarding the left wing Jewish party known as the Jewish Workers Union or Bund, which split off from the Russian Social Democratic and Labour Party, before it split into Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. The Bund proposed a Jewish workers party separate from the rest of workers' parties in the Russian Empire and claimed for itself the right to speak in the name of all Jewish workers and the exclusive right to address them.
“Autonomy” under the Rules adopted in 1898 provides the Jewish working-class movement with all it needs: propaganda and agitation in Yiddish, its own literature and congresses, the right to advance separate demands to supplement a single general Social-Democratic programme and to satisfy local needs and requirements arising out of the special features of Jewish life. In everything else there must be complete fusion with the Russian proletariat, in the interests of the struggle waged by the entire proletariat of Russia. As for the fear of being “steamrollered” in the event of such fusion, the very nature of the case makes it groundless, since it is autonomy that is a guarantee against all “steamrollering” in matters pertaining specifically to the Jewish movement, while in matters pertaining to the struggle against the autocracy, thestruggle against the bourgeoisie of Russia as a whole, we must act as a single and centralised militant organisation, have behind us the whole of the proletariat, without distinction of language or nationality, a proletariat whose unity is cemented by the continual joint solution of problems of theory and practice, of tactics and organisation; and we must not set up organisations that would march separately, each along its own track; we must not weaken the force of our offensive by breaking up into numerous independent political parties.(4)Whereas the Bund proposed something distinct for Jewish workers, the Zionists proposed something much more reactionary, a proposal for all Jews, regardless of their social class. Zionism was and continues to be an openly cross -classist ideology that counterposes the interests of the "nation" to the interests of the class and that of other nations. It is an aspect it shares with various classical Fascist expressions in Italy, Spain and Germany. Following the Russian revolution, the Zionists and the Bund won a large majority amongst the Jewish population in the elections to the Jewish community councils. Nonetheless, the international press accused Jews of being the instigators of the revolution and an interesting fact is that five of the 12 members of the Bolshevik central committee that took the decision to take power were Jewish and between 25% and 33% of the central committees of both the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks prior to the revolution were Jewish. The February revolution commenced with the emancipation of Jews in the Russian Empire, something which the Bolsheviks continued with and strengthened.(5)
However, the rise of Fascism in the 1930s and the Nazi holocaust that took the lives of millions of Jews as well as Roma, Poles, homosexuals and Communists, amongst others seemed to prove the Zionists right and not the Bund and less still the Bolsheviks. But it was precisely the defeat of the German working class as a whole that paved the way to the concentration camps and ovens. The Holocaust gave a stimulus to the Zionists to expel and massacre the Palestinian people and found a Jewish state on their land. This event changed the discourse around Anti-Semitism as the liberals rightly felt guilty about the Holocaust as they had facilitated and profited from Nazism. The idea that Jews needed their own state took on a new impetus and was accepted by many, although the decision to support Israel was more a question of realpolitik: Israel is a western military base in the region. The decision to support Israel was not because there is an imminent threat to Jews as a collective and less still for what they suffered during the Holocaust. Jews were not the only victims, the Gypsies also suffered, but nobody would accept Gypsies stealing someone else's land to found their own state where they could be safe from centuries of exclusion and violence that they suffered and continue to suffer today. Neither is it the case that the Nazi genocide is unique in the modern world. There were various genocides in the 20th Century, to speak only of the ten million people murdered by King Leopold of Belgium, the Armenian genocide denied not only by the victimizer, the Turkish state but also by various Zionists. James Petras contends on the issue that:
The failure of Western intellectuals to recognise the multiple holocausts of the 20th and 21st centuries is not a result of the lack of accessible data, or due to the lack of knowledge of the facts, because the acts of genocide are public, the bodies are strewn in public spaces, the destruction surrounds any observer, the instruments of genocide are publicly funded.(6)Petras, however, does not suffer from that intellectual disease that others would call cowardice and complicity and does not hesitate to state that:
Modern holocausts did not begin in the 20th century, nineteenth century English, US and Belgian genocidal practices in India, the US West and the Congo attest to its pre-modern roots. While there are important differences between nineteenth century and twentieth and twenty-first century holocausts, they have one common underlying driving force - they are all linked to empire building or a response to challenges to empire.(7)He dismisses the explanations about the uniqueness of the Jewish genocide. Neither the high number of victims, nor the role of the state, not the racial supremacist ideology are exclusive to the genocide against the Jews and that "What is common to all 20th and 21st century holocausts is their deep and intimate relation to imperialism, whether in the form of outward conquest or in terms of creating 'internal cohesion' to embark on empire-building."(8) We can see all those supposedly unique elements in Congo, Armenia, Nanking, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia to name but a few. The decision to support Israel is not due to the holocaust as such, though it figures in the propaganda but rather the needs of imperialism, otherwise they would have taken similar steps regarding the other genocides. The need for their own state in order to defend themselves is one of the great myths of the Zionists. Although it is not the only one.
The Zionists did not need the holocaust in order to justify their theft of land. The proposal of a land for Jews is older than that and they didn't propose Palestine as a Jewish territory but rather Tanzania; for the racist ideology that is Zionism, Africans were certainly regarded as even less human than Arabs, but the first myth is that they sought to establish their State in the land promised to them by their God. That particular myth came along later and to justify their religious delusions, they combined it with another myth, that of a land without people for a people without land. Palestine was not a vacant land, but they did everything they could to vacate it through massacres: 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes and in the town of Deir Yasin, the future president of Israel, Menachem Begin entered and massacred almost 400 people. This is how they made their myth of a land without people a reality. The foundation of the State of Israel is not just the result of massacres but one of the first ethnic cleansings after the second world war, a cleansing so thorough that the criminals who did it managed to change the historic discourse and falsified reality promoting the idea that the Palestinians who were there, left voluntarily.
From its violent bloody inception to date, Israel has paraded over the bodies of not tens but hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Jordanians and Syrians, amongst others. Today we can see how in Gaza, children are the preferred targets of Israeli snipers and also how doctors, nurses, journalists and other people covered by the Geneva Convention are blown apart. Regarding their barbarity, the Zionists designed a strategy based on some of their myths. It is their land, it was a vacant land promised to them by their God and it is the only way to protect Jews from a repetition of the Nazi genocide. In this discourse, those who criticise the Israeli state and its polices want another genocide of Jews or are, at least, complicit with those who do. They argue that the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of Anti-Semitism should be accepted, which blocks any criticism of the Israeli state for its murders, its apartheid regime etc. This definition is presented as an internationally accepted definition, when it is not, only a few countries accept it and the state of Israel is accepted as the representative of all Jews in the world and to be Jewish is to be a Zionist, according to this narrative. This last aspect has always been problematic for Zionists, as there are abundant examples of Jews who are not. Not only are there people like Hajo Meyer, mentioned earlier but also Marek Edelmann, the only survivor of the leadership of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, where Zionists stood out for their absence in the fighting. Edelmann, a left-wing, anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian Jew shows that not all Jews are Zionists. The North American academic Norman Finkelstein is not only Jewish, but the son of two people who were the only survivors of their respective family branches, as all the rest died in the Nazi camps. The Zionists, however, do not give up and describe such brave fighters as self-hating Jews.
The discourse in which Anti-Zionists are labelled as Anti-Semites is not new and includes racist elements in which Palestinians are not just enemies of the State of Israel but are also Nazis. During the trial of the captured Nazi leader, Adolf Eichmann, a high ranking Israeli official declared that amongst the Palestinians there were thousands of Eichmanns waiting to finish the work of the Nazis and David Ben-Gurion the founder of Israel said that the governments of the neighbouring countries conspired to eradicate Jews.(9) Nowadays all Arab leaders are compared to Hitler unless they are US allies, with the aim of building an image of Israel as a legendary David swimming in a murky sea of Nazi style Goliaths. This new offensive against the supporters of the Palestinian cause is an old sordid Zionist lie reformulated for the contemporary world and the new relations of power and conflict.
Israel is willing to form alliances with anyone in order to foment a smear campaign against those who oppose its apartheid regime. These alliances include figures on the right, such as Orban the president of Hungary and also large sections of the US extreme right. Although it may seem shocking to some, it is not new. The alliance between Zionists and anti-Semitic sectors is old hat. The Zionists do not seek to save nor protect Jews but rather to save the state of Israel. Following the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo magazine by Islamists and the massacre of four Jews at a Kosher supermarket in Paris, Netanyahu declared that Israel was the natural home for those Jews and they should leave France. His main concern was not the security and well being of the French Jewish population and he took advantage of the scenario not to improve the situation for them but rather to increase migration from France to Israel. Various Jewish groups condemned Netanyahu's call. The Rabbi Menachem Margolin from the European Jewish Association said that the call weakened the right of Jews to live safely in peace in Europe and that it looked like the relationship between Israel, the European countries and the Jewish diaspora in Europe did not seem to be a priority for the State of Israel.(10)
Despite the public denouncements of Anti-Semitism, Zionists are not worried about Jews as such but about the State of Israel. The Zionists have a long and nefarious record on the issue that cost the lives of not hundreds of thousands but millions of European Jews. In 1938, the US president Roosevelt organised the Evian Conference with a view to a mass rescue of European Jews. The conference came to nothing in reality, but as John Rose points out, this was not obvious to the participants of the said event and the possible success of the conference worried the Zionist delegates, amongst them, their hero David Ben-Gurion who wanted the conference to fail as from his perspective a mass rescue and integration in parts of the world other than Palestine would damage the Zionist cause.(11) For Ben-Gurion, saving Jewish lives was only important in as much as it helped the Zionist cause and the foundation of the State of Israel. He reiterated the idea on various occasions. Faced with a plan by the British government to accept several thousand German Jewish children, he said that if he could save all the children in Germany by sending them to England and only half of them if they were sent to to what the Zionists called Eretz Israel, according to him he would have to weigh up not only the lives of the children but also that of the history of what he termed the people of Israel and his preference was to let half of those children die.(12) Thus, it is not surprising to learn that the Zionists governed in the majority of the Jewish Councils (Judenrat) set up in the areas under Nazi control and they were passive in the face of Nazi violence and even participated in administering the Nazi repression and bureaucracy. This does not mean that all Zionists were passive, that is not the case, but as in the case of the Warsaw Uprising, they were not the main force. So when Israel criticises Anti-Zionists and accuses them of being Anti-Semites we have to wonder whether Israel is concerned or not about the fate of those Jews who have not opted to live within its borders.
In its campaigns Israel has forged alliances with extreme right wing personalities. As Israel's campaign goes hand in glove with the Islamaphobic campaign, the interest of some right wing sectors in collaborating with the Jewish state makes its presence felt. This way they can blame Muslims and carry out a real campaign against the Muslim population of Europe, whether they be migrants or even the grand children of migrants (the extreme right does not accept the idea of European Muslims, not even in Bosnia or Albania). And in passing, the governments try out laws to punish as criminals those who call for a boycott of Israel, or criticise it. They have had a lot of success in the US and many universities refuse to invite speakers who are critical of Israel, even when the event or the speech has nothing to do with the issue. The clear result of the campaign is that the Left is attacked and weakened whilst the Right parade around triumphantly with the support of the Zionists. Any criticism is suppressed while an atmosphere is generated in which Right-wing governments feel empowered to attack those expressing an opinion on Palestine as the launching pad of a policy that seeks to roll back hard won rights such as the right to have an opinion and to organise and disseminate ideas. The old dream of the Fascists comes to life in the name of a struggle against Anti-Semitism, even though the ones behind it are real Anti-Semites.
Israel also counts upon the support of Christian Evangelicals, especially in the US. This is natural, as the majority of Zionists are not Jewish, but rather Christian Evangelicals and to make matters worse they are real Anti-Semites. It seems contradictory that the Christians who are most fervent in their support of Israel should be Anti-Semitic, but that is the case. They accuse the Jews, without exception, of being guilty of the murder of Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, they hate Jews for having murdered him (term used by them), but an essential part of their religious superstition is the 'end of days' i.e. the end of the world and the resurrection of the dead to wage the last battle against evil and for that, they believe the existence of Jewish State i.e. Israel is required. So in the name of their delirious belief in the 'end of days' these real Anti-Semites are willing to form an alliance with the State of Israel as a necessary step for the realisation of the Armageddon they so desire and Israel, in the name of Zionist pragmatism, is willing to put the interests of the State before the welfare and safety of the Jews who live outside its borders and ally itself with the most reactionary and retrograde elements in the entire world.
The success of the campaign is partly due to the support from various liberal sectors and that for years a discourse has been built up not just amongst liberals but also amongst sectors of the left, including those who declare themselves to be revolutionaries. There are certain tendencies on the left and in wider society that have grown at a galloping pace in the last number of years. One of these tendencies is to conduct a debate, not in line with the arguments, the proof, the facts but in line with perceptions and offences. Thus, in many universities debates are shut down because someone says they are offended or perceive an offence and because they perceive it as such, therefore it is real, regardless of reality. So several Zionist organisations define Anti- Semitism as an act that a Jew (but not one of the bad Anti-Zionist Jews like Edelmann or Finkelstein) perceive as such. In fact there is a video of a Christian Zionist, who tries to pass herself off as Jewish attacking Norman Finkelstein in a university. Finkelstein's response is wonderful and is worth watching as it includes all the elements of an offended Christian, crying into the bargain, as part of a debating strategy, where whoever is the first to be offended supposedly wins the debate.(13)
This tendency goes hand in hand with another one, that of identity politics. Although identity politics has existed for a long time, the modern phrase was coined in 1974 in the US. But the female authors of this new manifestation of the expression were Socialists and stated that a Socialist revolution had to be feminist and anti-racist. They did not reduce their struggles to just one facet, but rather they affirmed that they were not willing to renounce key parts of their identity, such as their sex, sexual orientation race, ethnicity, etc, and saw all of those struggles as parts of one struggle for a revolution and participated in and supported construction workers on strike among other things.
The modern definition however, separates those struggles and raises up a hierarchy of importance, and above all of suffering. This leads to personalities such as Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, managing to present themselves as champions of women and black people when in reality they are the fiercest enemies of women and black people. But both of them have a place within the discourse of identity politics.(14) So the left accepted a degenerated political narrative which ignores that the struggles for sexual rights, for minority rights and those of women are an integral part of the struggle for the Socialist revolution. Thus, they legitimated a reactionary discourse and in so doing paved the way to legitimising the State of Israel. Who has suffered more than...? (insert here your group of choice), how can you criticise me when you are not...? If you don't support me it is because you...! There is a long list of reclamations. Of course, many groups, including Jewish groups are right about the problems they face or have faced, but the moralistic tone shuts down any debate. If a white person cannot criticise Obama, or a man can't criticise Hillary Clinton, how can non Jews criticise the state of Israel? It is the same argument, though some on the left try to draw a distinction between the two, when they are exactly the same.
Of course, many identitarian groups, sometimes (and only sometimes) put forward progressive proposals, but that is not what distinguishes them, as many of them are not progressive, but rather their methodology and manner of conducting a discussion distinguishes them. First, they construct a hierarchy of suffering and derive from that a hierarchy of voices who have a right to express an opinion and of course a general hierarchy of rights. In this parallel Zionist universe, the Palestinians are at the bottom of the ladder of this hierarchy of suffering and enjoy no rights at all, not even the right to express an opinion. The rest of us have no rights to express an opinion on the issue because we are not victims of the Nazis and those who are and criticise Israel are bad Jews. As we are not people with a right to criticise them, then we must be Anti-Semites. We don't share the same identity as the Jewish Zionists.
The attempt at branding every critic of Israel as an Anti-Semite is simply the campaign of an authoritarian state trying to evade its responsibility for the crimes committed against the Palestinian people and silence any criticism of its acts, its wars and its reactionary ethno-nationalist narrative. Those of us who support the Palestinian cause are not Anti-Semites, but rather anti-imperialists, anti-racists and in solidarity. The lessons of Europe tell us that we can't retreat one inch in defence of the Palestinian cause. The future of Palestine is at stake, as are our political rights, won through struggle, sacrifice and organised opposition, sometimes taking up arms, against Fascism.
(1) Semites are those who speak a Semitic language, such as Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic or dead languages such as Phoenician or Acadian, amongst others. However, in practice the expression anti-Semitic is used to refer only to Jews, even when those Jews do not speak a Semitic language, the phrase is not used nowadays to refer just to a linguistic group. This usage is not new, before the revolution the Bolsheviks used the expression only to refer to the campaigns against Jews. In the context of Israel's campaign against its critics the term is used by all to refer only to Jews and this is the usage given to the expression here.
(2) 40 Holocaust survivors condemn 'massacre' of Palestinians, call for BDS against Israel", Mondoweiss, 26th of August 2014, available at https://mondoweiss.net/
(3) See "Israel running campaign against Jeremy Corbyn", 21st of February 2019 A. Winstanley Available at https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/ and also Is Labour Friends of Israel an Israeli Embassy front? 12th of January 2017 A. Winstanley, available at https://electronicintifada.net/
(4) Lenin, V.I. (1903) Does the Jewish Proletariat Need an "Independent Political Party"? Iskra, No. 34, February 15, 1903 taken from www.marxists.org
(5) Traverso, E. (2018) The Jewish Question: History of a Marxist Debate, Brill, Leidan y Boston p.127
(6) Petras, J. (2006) Modernity and Twentieth Century holocausts Empire Building and mass murder https://www.lahaine.org/petras/b2-img/petras_june_2006.pdf
(9) Finkelstein, N.G. (2008) Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, University of California Press, Los Angeles
(10) "European Jewish Group Slams Netanyahu's Call for French Jews to Immigrate to Israel" Haaretz, January 11th 2015, available at https://www.haaretz.com/
(11) Rose, J. (2004) The Myths of Zionism, Pluto Press, London, p. 153
(13) The video can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gE8GESi35Yw
(14) For a critical and historical analysi of the question of identity politcis and the question of class see: Haider,A. (2018) Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump, Verso, London & New York.