For nearly a decade, I was obsessed with the Arab-Israeli conflict and the antisemitism that feeds it–until I came to conclude that the overarching threat of the day is the increasingly aggressive political left, with antisemitism (anti-“Zionism”) merely one of its “self-expressions.”
I realize this is a provocative and stark thing to say, particularly for the majority of Jews, who have politically left leanings. I was one of them. Like most middle-class Jewish American urbanites, it went unquestioned that one could only be liberal. Conservatives were uncaring, militaristic, materialistic, uncultured, immoral, and intolerant; in a word, wrong. We were right.
But there is a personal story behind my wake-up. It begins in 2011, when my mind was occupied solely with improving my Spanish. As such, I registered at a language exchange website that lets you connect with native speakers across the globe for mutual language practice. For almost two years I was to have regular conversations via Skype with Maria of Bilbao, Spain.
Maria is a self-described ex-Catholic atheist and leftist. She also is an antisemite, if you go by the ADL survey (“Do Jews have too much power”? “Do Jews talk too much about the Holocaust” “Are Jews more loyal to Israel?” etc.). Yet as is characteristic of left-wing (“unconscious”) antisemites, she would have been appalled by the label.
And I share this discomfort to a large extent because Maria is a lovely person. Except for the antisemitism, I thoroughly enjoyed knowing her. We sang, joked, dissed men, talked cooking disasters – even blew the occasional good-bye kiss, Latina-style. But we also talked politics and current events.
Her first unsettling declaration was that Spanish officials were wrong to kowtow to critics of the newly published poem “What Must Be Said” by German writer Gunter Grass. To her, the poem did no more than that: it warned the world that Israel would commit a genocide of innocent Iranians if Germany continued selling arms to the Jewish State.
Other jolts would follow: Maria’s assertion that Israel’s democracy only applied to Jews. Or that the Holocaust was being kept in the public eye by “powers in the shadows” endeavoring to distract from Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. (But to repeat, Maria is a decent antisemite: on a later occasion she expressed sorrow “beyond words” at the Holocaust.)
I did take on Maria, though it was hardly comfortable. Naively, I thought “we’ll clear this right up,” so I sent her some pro-Israel links I’d discovered. I now know that that’s not how things work.
I also informed Maria that I was Jewish, which seemed to give her pause, but didn’t drive her off, the way it might have a right wing-nut antisemite (an intriguing distinction). We continued more or less as before.
But the breaking point came when Maria tried to educate me about the “Jewish Lobby.” She emailed me the “evidence,” a lengthy tract from the University of Navarra (which she acknowledged is Opus Dei affiliated). As an interesting testament to the brain’s “confirmation bias,” there was practically nothing there; yet it was enough for Maria. First, there was the simple assertion that there existed a “Jewish Lobby,” right there in print (though the expert Spanish scholar spelled it “Looby”). In case you don’t know – I didn’t – “lobby” to many antisemites isn’t necessarily AIPAC or even a legal entity, but a shadowy Protocols of the Elders of Zion type cabal. The only other item in the report was a reference to the copious stream of letters sent by the “Jewish[sic] Embassy” in Spain to media outlets in order to impose its views. Letters! Does it get any more nefarious?!
The “looby” broadside left me shaking, so I sent Maria a lengthy email disabusing her of her multiple manias via facts and logic and cordially requesting an indefinite break in our talks. On reflection, my facts and logic were likely wasted. I should have simply pointed out that she clearly believed Jews were bad. Without such a belief, none of her other beliefs would have been possible, nor her rejection of better substantiated information. And as I would later learn, Maria was pretty much a blood sample of Europe.
I was to spend years afterward immersed in investigations about Israeli history and antisemitism. But only in the past year did my focus shift to left-wing politics. This occurred after reading The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy by Thomas Sowell (the “anointed” are leftists). The book had this effect precisely because it does not mention Israel or Zionism at all, yet with every leftist position that is dissected – whether on crime or homelessness or even map-making – the same maddening pattern I had seen with “pro-Palestinians” was on full display. Here are just a few of the leftist characteristics Sowell identifies that will be glaringly recognizable to anyone who tracks the anti-“Zionist” campaign:
– “The Irrelevance of Evidence.” A whole chapter is dedicated to this topic. Insofar as Israel, one need look no further than the leftist insistence that Israel wants war despite Israel’s multiple offers of statehood to Palestinians, always rejected.
– Liberals “tend to see evils more localized in particular ‘oppressors’ of one sort or another” (p. 117). Few would argue that the “oppressor” model has no relevance to the Mideast, but to see the conflict exclusively through this lens, as leftists do, means that history, motives, events, and a realistic route to peace all get distorted.
– “…one of the high priorities of [the left] is to destroy the myths and illusions which they presume to abound among the public” (p. 121). Accordingly, we learn that Israel’s democracy is an “illusion”; its founding, a “myth”; Jews aren’t Jews, or if they are, they’re not the Jews; Jesus was really Palestinian, and on and on. “New Historians” are heroes for “debunking” history (and replacing it with appealing lies).
– The left believes in “solutions” rather than “trade-offs.” Which leftist isn’t convinced that ending the occupation is the “solution” to regional, if not world, peace?
– The left uses “buzzwords” to “preempt issues rather than debate them. ” Think “colonizer,” “apartheid,” “genocide,” or “Free Palestine!” among others.
– The left casts those who disagree “as being not merely in error, but in sin” (p. 3). Zionist “sin” is axiomatic, even extending to “original sin.”
– There is a “willingness – or even eagerness – to read malign intentions into others” (p. 146). Can you think of an example in which this one is not in play for Zionists? How about the dehumanizing charge that Israel’s separation barrier, built to defend against terrorist attacks, is really a ploy to oppress Palestinians and grab land? Or the assertion that antisemitism doesn’t exist but is a malign fabrication of Zionists to deflect attention from their crimes?
– Finally, my favorite: the left shows “pitiless ferocity toward some” (Jewish Zionists!) and “boundless indulgence toward others” (the Palestinians!) (p. 151, citation of Jean-Francois Revel)
It’s surely unfortunate when map-makers are met with pitiless ferocity just because, as Sowell points out, equatorial Third World countries look too small in 2D compared to “imperialist Europe.” But it’s potentially deadly for Jews when Zionists are the target of “pitiless ferocity” and are maligned as sinners. Do leftists not know that when they target Jews in this way they are reenacting to perfection the raw Jew-hate that has preceded not only millennia of massacres of Jews but also the Holocaust? Do they not care? Or is this the point? Shouldn’t this behavior alone sound alarm bells about the left?
To be clear, I have experienced overt antisemitism in my life. That is perhaps why the left-wing anti-“Zionist” variety is so head-trippy. Here, the offenders deplore antisemitism – often sincerely – yet they fixate on Israel alone, regardless how far away they live. And for all the facts and opinions on offer in our “Information Age,” the only ones they find plausible are those “proving” that Zionist Jews (no one cares about Zionist Christians) are bad and must be righteously “resisted.” And as for why Jewish power (it’s not a ”Zionist” lobby but a Jewish one) would be inherently bad in the first place, this never needs explaining. Aspirin is powerful. Is it bad? And don’t you know, after Maria had weighed in about Israel’s fake democracy, Holocaust shenanigans , etc., she asked me if I had ever experienced antisemitism.
In this piece, I am not proposing that leftist views, which can be generous and humanitarian, are inherently antisemitic (Marx’s linkage of Jews and capitalist evil notwithstanding). Nor do I deny the reality of right-wing antisemitism or even advocate a right-wing agenda. But to the extent that the left presents itself as protector against wealthy, powerful, malign influences, it’s easy to see how classic antisemitic tropes can mesh with amped-up leftist views in the naïve brain. If all you know is that “power is bad,” then it’s just a matter of identifying the “mark,” and the hit man – the “social justice warrior” – is good to go.
Yet there’s a bedeviling part: Left-wing antisemites will readily call out right-wing antisemites. They eagerly point the finger at the neo-Nazi who screams that “Jews will not replace us” or shoots a random Jew to express frustration or accuses Jews of “Judaizing” his country or of stealing something “rightfully” his or of bending governments to Jewish will. Yet these are the self-same things that the left-wing antisemite also goes off on, the only difference being that the victim for leftists must be a stand-in third party, and not one’s “own” (fighting for oneself is déclassé, which is why only groups that leftists consider an underclass may do this). Hence in the same way that neo-Nazis feel justified in their antisemitism, so too does the elite leftist consider it just and proper to rage about Zionists taking land that’s “rightfully” Palestinian, or to complain about the “Judaizing” of Jerusalem, or about Zionists bending Western governments to Israel’s will, and of course, to sanction Palestinians who stab Jews out of “frustration.”
Post-Sowell, I am prepared to state that my co-religionists who join this chorus and declaim Israel “as a Jew” are not speaking as Jews, but as leftists. Leftism is their true religion. Judaism does not prescribe cancelling those who disagree; nor demonizing them; nor posturing as morally superior; nor any type of “righteous, redemptive hate,” most especially, “tikkun olam” antisemitism. Leftism does.
Today’s polarized climate in the U.S. is likely what has stirred me to write this post now, after so many years. But my purpose isn’t to add to the sparks. Religious fervor – on any side – doesn’t yield to arguments anyway. However, for those who have come to their political orientation through “acculturation,” as most of us do, it might be worth taking a second look at what the left is up to.
I write this one day after the U.S. presidential election, with the winner still unclear. Yet things have already been devolving for months on the streets of the U.S., with angry leftist hordes enjoying a free pass from leftist leadership and media. It is a groundswell of vicious “righteousness” that is unlikely to subside regardless our new leadership. And so I cannot help but think that what I am witnessing is a case of “first they came for the Jewish State.”
Thank you Sue Donham for the welcome excellent article you sent today unexpectedly from the from the USA.