The anti-anti-semitism of fools

This article also appears on Harry’s Place, Howie’s Corner, Solidarity (Workers’ Liberty) and Shiraz Socialist.


 I have just come back from attending a large demonstration in central London protesting the rise of anti-Semitism in the UK.

The demonstration was organised by a new group called the Campaign Against Antisemitism. It was backed by all the major Jewish organisations in Britain, including the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, and many others. Nearly a thousand people signed up to attend the demo on Facebook; it looked to me like there at least that number there. The crowd seemed overwhelmingly Jewish.

Now if this had been a demonstration against racism, organized by the leadership of the Black communities in Britain, I can guarantee you that a wide range of Left groups would have been there to show their solidarity. You would have found assorted Trotskyists and others selling their newspapers, handing out leaflets and showing that they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with an ethnic minority group struggling against racist assaults, while busily trying to recruit new members.

But at this demonstration, I didn’t see a single left group of any kind with an obvious presence. There may have been individual socialists – like myself – there; but there were no banners, newspapers, or flyers.

The Jewish community seemed to be very much on its own. As if it alone could sense the danger.

On the face of it, this is odd. The rise of anti-Semitism in Britain and across Europe is well documented. Even the Muslim Council of Britain seems to acknowledge this problem in the joint declaration it issued last week together with the Board of Deputies calling for a joint fight against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

The eloquent Owen Jones addressed the problem in a recent column for the Guardian. Entitled “Anti-Jewish hatred is rising – we must see it for what it is”, Jones wrote that “there really is plenty of antisemitism that must be confronted.” And he then went on to point to rising anti-Semitism on the far Right in Greece. And Jew-hatred among the far-Rightists in Hungary. And of course anti-Semitism on the French far Right, in the form of the National Front.

But not a word about anti-Semitism in the UK. And of course no mention of anti-Semitism in Muslim communities, or the Left.

Jones is possibly unaware of the long history of anti-Semitism on the Left, a history that goes back to very earliest days of our movement. August Bebel, the great leader of German Social Democracy, famously called anti-Semitism “the socialism of fools”. (Some scholars think that the quote is wrongly attributed to Bebel, but no matter – it was widely know more than a century ago.)

Classic anti-Semitic ideas like exaggerated notions of Jewish power and wealth grew in the fertile soil of the Left long before the Palestinian issue ever arose. Left anti-Semitism pre-dates the recent Gaza war by at least a century. It may flare up when the guns are firing in Gaza, but it is always there, a low flame that doesn’t extinguish.

People like Owen Jones, and many of those on the British Left who were so notably absent from today’s demonstration, seem prepared to see anti-Semitism everywhere but in front of their noses.

Their opposition to Jew-hatred may be called the “anti-anti-Semitism of fools” as it has nothing in common with a real fight against anti-Semitism.

As a result, they leave the Jewish community alone – or drive it into the arms of right-wing demagogues who are happy for any excuse to bash the Muslim community or the Left.

And it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Left should be in the forefront of the fight against anti-Semitism, should embrace that fight and claim it as our own. We should be helping to build widespread public support for that fight, and providing it with analysis and programme.

Instead, the Left sits by the sidelines, its head in the sand, muttering about “Golden Dawn” in Greece rather than actually fighting the poison of anti-Semitism here in the UK, and here on the Left.


 

This article was published in Solidarity.

9 comments

  1. ABC

    Eric,
    I would suggest that the exhaustive use of the label anti-semitic by supporters of Israel is at the bottom of this…..
    Somehow one cannot criticise Israel or its actions without being tarred with the label anti-semitic.
    Even if people strongly condemn anti-semitism (which by the way should apply to all sémites, including those who are called generically “arabs”) – they must be able to condemn Israeli actions without being personally attacked…….

    Another disservice to the discussion is if a jewish person condemns Israeli actions.. he must be a jew-hater!
    ridiculous attempts at personnal smearing rather than discussing the issue of being human and humane…

  2. Anthony

    ABC,

    “Somehow one cannot criticise Israel or its actions without being tarred with the label anti-semitic.”

    This is not true.

    “anti-semitism (which by the way should apply to all sémites, including those who are called generically “arabs”) ”

    See No 18 here

    “Don’t say that since Palestinians are Semites, Jews/Israelis are anti-Semitic, too. You do not get to redefine the oppressions of others, nor do you get to police how they refer to that oppression. This also often ties into #8. Don’t do it. Anti-Semitism has exclusively meant anti-Jewish bigotry for a good century plus now. Coin your own word for anti-Palestinian oppression, or just call it what it is: racism mixed with Islamophobia.”

  3. mikemsu

    You are being disingenuous about Jones’s article: it was aimed at a British readership and the thrust was to warn against the dangers of anti-semitism in the UK, citing mainstream political parties in continental Europe that have explicitly espoused it – not, fortunately, the case here (in the UK).

  4. Dov

    The universally accepted definition of an ant Semite is a Jew hater.

  5. ABC

    not true? is that a decree of yours?
    I am pointing out that lumping people under “arab” can sometimes also be worthy of the label. I am not blanket labeling jew/israelis as anti-semitic although I believe you may find serious hatred in Israeli officials who want to send “these arabs ” back to the middle ages…….
    I would hope you may be able to follow the DO list, especially #5
    @ mikemsu more tired of verbal attacks and personal assassinations rather than a humane look at what is occuring.
    I have not seen Mr Lee condemning any of Israel’s actions so far……which makes his selective comments very one sided and an apology?

  6. Joshua

    The Left will always back the so called under dog. In this case the Arabs, Africans, Asians. Why you ask.

    1. They’re not white.
    2. They’re supposedly economically inferior (although their Despots made them like that)
    3. The Leftists as we know them (people like Owen Jones/Laura Penny & co) only use Anti Semitism to bash the right.
    4. Islamists are very adept at exploiting any self loathing amongst westerners and turn those very westerners against the Jewish community.
    5. Leftists and in particular Islamists love seeing Jews and Christians subdued and subordinate and subjugated hence there should be no Jewish state but only an Islamic Caliphate based on their misguided Sharia Socialist ideals.
    6. Multiculturalism is a by word for progressive Islamic monoculturalism. This is evidenced by the way the Islamic community always have to take centre stage at any event regarding this zombified phenomenon.

    I could go on but people feel free to add or challenge where appropriate.

  7. monabees

    Thanks Eric for keeping me updated on the stoicism of the Brits. I’m afraid I’m not the least surprised that you felt the absence of a visible Left presence at the demonstration. I am unable to offer a constructive comment on the upsurge of anti-Semitism in Britain and elsewhere except that I am appalled and dismayed at every new report I hear.

  8. larry carney

    Eric,
    You confused me with this one. I’ve always opposed anti-Semitism, but I am strongly against the Zionist control of Israel now and how they have brainwashed much of the population against Palestine – whose lands and rights they are continually stealing and violating.