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Daniel Johnson: Our subject is the Left and the Jews. A famous phrase from the 19th century—I think it came from the German social democrat August Bebel—was that "anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools". If that was true then, there are still plenty of these fools around today. Just as in the 19th century, when leading figures of the Left such as Karl Marx set a bad example in their writings about the Jewish people, so today we have a problem on the Left. Where does this come from? Why does it exist? For so many years, the Left, if we define it as beginning with the French Revolution, was seen as the friend of the Jewish people, of emancipation, toleration and equality. But the problem, I think, stems from something which Isaac Deutscher, a great icon of the Left, called the "non-Jewish Jew". The price to be exacted in return for emancipation and full equality was that Jews should give up everything that was distinctive and specifically Jewish. For years, most on the Left did not believe this, but some did. Karl Marx, above all, began the trend towards anti-Semitism on the Left. These leftist thinkers saw thousands of years of Jewish tradition, religion and ritual as in some sense a burden to be sloughed off. 

In today's world that attitude still exists, but it has been hugely exacerbated by the unholy alliance that we have found among elements of the Left-not, by any means, among everyone-and the forces of Islamism. A whole new dimension has been created. We began to see this most visibly in the 1960s after the Six-Day War, when anti-Zionism morphed into the "new anti-Semitism", as it has often been called. In this country today, and indeed across the West, anti-Semitism is no longer the preserve of the extreme Right. It has become embedded even in the respectable salons and newspaper offices of the Left. 

Nick Cohen: This discussion is like wading into a minefield. Because what do you mean by Left? As Daniel suggested, there are all kinds of shades of opinions on the Left, on this as any other issue. It is like saying, "The Right and the Jews". You can't debate without generalisations—you can't write without generalisations—so it is certainly true that there are anti-Semites on the Left. But it is equally true that left-wing thought can lead to conspiracy theorising. The late 20th century saw the collapse of socialism. From the 1880s through to the 1980s, you would have none of my problems of definition about talking to the Left. If you were left-wing, you were a socialist of some sort. Socialism died before the Berlin Wall came down. All over the world, people were giving up on socialism, not least Communists, especially in China and Russia.

You then have a problem with people who are raging, often with very good reason, against injustice in their society, who call themselves left-wing. What do you do next? How do you explain defeat? One way to explain defeat is a kind of conspiracy theorising. You see this in Britain a lot: people opine on the reasons elections are lost, because of Rupert Murdoch and the Tory press brainwashing the electorate. Lots of people on the Right, for instance, keep saying that the reasons the Tories keep losing elections (and they still haven't won one, incidentally, not even against Gordon Brown. I would have thought that if you missed that goal you might as well give up football completely) is because of the BBC and the liberal media. 

It is quite easy to get into conspiratorial ways of thinking. As soon as you start thinking like this, Jews come along, particularly when confronted by an injustice like that suffered by the Palestinians. It is very easy to go from explaining defeat and injustice to saying that there is a Jewish conspiracy which controls British and American foreign policy and runs secret levers of power. 

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Hegel`s Advocate
October 4th, 2013
9:10 PM
Very interesting. Julie Burchill loves Israel,she thinks it should be bigger. My vote`s for Julie B. Israel Isreal. The sextremist Femen also have serious nihilist art propositions for Islam.

Paddy O
February 22nd, 2013
9:02 AM
oh I know, how about this. The primary motivation of the left is to destroy Judeo-Christianity, and was since the French Revolution. This primary hatred has been so all encompassing that the following centuries have seen the culture war between those on the left who have rebelled against God and those who hold to belief in God. In this broad narrative the left has mutated in various ways presenting slightly different faces but still hunting the same enemy, Jews and Christians, in order to rid the world of the constraint on their freedom which God represents. We are now in the end game of this struggle and many on the left are willing to embrace Islam, in order to destroy their main enemy. They will embrace a foreign warlike God in order to destroy that which they hate in their own culture. Their hatred is giving strength to an enemy which may in the end consume them! Some might think this is farfetched, but it makes as much sense, more sense, than the aplogetic nonsense above.

David Woolf
January 23rd, 2013
2:01 PM
Q.V. George Steiner's "In Bluebeards Castle" 1971 where he confronted the fons et origo of anti-semitism head-on : the blackmail of perfection viz. Moses, Christ, Marx whose messianic summons to perfection induced the deep, sub-conscious loathing and murderous resentment we witness now, and have done for 2 millenia.

Moise pippic
December 27th, 2012
2:12 PM
Germany initiated and lost two wars in the 20th century. The victors imposed surrender terms. The soviets after WW2 moved the eastern border of Poland 200 miles to the west and annexed all of the former Polish territory. The western border of Poland moved hundreds of miles west to the Oder Neisse line and German lands including Prussia disappeared. There were many millions of German civilian refugees from these former lands. Has anyone from the left complained about any of this or could it be that Soviet imperialism is ideologically acceptable to them. Israel has been under siege since its inception. It accepted the UN 1947 partition plan, the Arabs did not, and have refused every other offer made since then. But for Nick Cohen it is the poor Palestinians that his heart heaves for, no sympathy for Israeli civilians who are under constant threat , not a word about the judenrein policies of the PLO and Hamas. Not a word about the eviction of Jewish communities in Arab lands whose presence ante dated the Muslim conquest. No sir, for good old Nick and his chums it is the building of houses on a few acres of the Judean desert that really distresses him.

Frederick
December 26th, 2012
6:12 AM
But what if the anti-Semitism practiced by Christians against the Jews for forever and a day has much deeper roots than is usually suspected. Consider this understanding of the origins of the "New" Testament and its far-reaching cultural consequences. The "New" Testament is, at its core, an independent tradition. Christianity separated itself from Judaism, and became something else. Unfortunately, in making that separation, the Jewish converts to Christianity maintained a claim on the holy books of Judaism, and they even claimed to be the new "true Israel" - and, thus, established a principle of cultural superiority that, eventually, gave rise to all the horrors of anti-Semitism that Jewish people have been made to suffer for centuries. Such a presumption also suggested that the historical tradition of the Jews had been superseded. Such is, among other efforts made on the basis of the absurd presumption of cultural superiority, a negative result of the institutional Christian church. Added to the absurd presumption of cultural superiority was, eventually, all of the inherently self-deluding and self-corrupting association with political and social power, when Christianity became established as an "official" State religion, with the power of Imperial Rome at its base. Furthermore this obnoxious presumption re the cultural "superiority" of Christianity combined with the power of first the Roman State, then subsequently all other Christian states, has also created terrible problems for ALL of humankind ever since too.

Jonty
December 21st, 2012
6:12 PM
This is in part a helpful discussion with some enlightening points. In particular, Cohen’s description of a ‘borderless left’ is interesting, as is Julius on the four responses to the collapse of the Left. Unhelpful, however, is the usual visceral but generalised hostility towards Netanyahu/Likud. By all means disagree with some policies of the current Israeli administration – I’ve got some fairly low-level criticisms myself. But to present it is as a hard-right Likud government at which one might be ‘appalled’ is just wrong. In reality it’s a coalition reflecting Israeli thinking on the mainstream left/centre/right given the blatant rejectionism and incitement of Israel's neighbours. So to present Netanyahu as a ‘disaster’ is OTT, not least because he’s arguably done reasonably ok. Indeed, even though I’m a UK citizen who’s only ever voted Labour or LibDem, I’d be tempted to vote for Netanyahu if I was an Israeli at the coming election. Overall he’s probably done the least bad job any PM could have in the circumstances: leaders that have roughly the same ideology as the London 7/7 bombers are now in charge in south Lebanon, Gaza, West Bank, and Egypt (and almost certainly Syria soon as well), while western leaders keep trying to get Israel to make concessions to these people that will put its citizens’ life and limb at risk in return for nothing. As for settlements, the language of Cohen and Julius is again inaccurate. Israel hasn’t built any new settlements since the 1990s, as required by the Oslo accords, and it has almost completely kept its commitment not to allow existing settlements to expand beyond current boundaries. Recent announcements of building programmes are for new houses within existing settlements, which is allowed under Oslo, and nearly always in settlements which will end up on the Israeli side of any future final border. I don’t see how Israel can let such places just over the Green Line stagnate because Palestinians refuse to negotiate a deal, especially since it has been clear under all recent Israeli leaders that settlements ending up on the Palestinian side will be evacuated. Even the area known as E1, between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim, is designated for annexation to Israel under the Geneva Accord (www.geneva-accord.org/mainmenu/static-maps/), the most generous of peace plans for the Palestinians giving them the equivalent of 100% of the West Bank and E. Jerusalem. And the reason for the E1 announcement is simple: the Palestinians’ recent successful bid at the UN effectively means they have binned Oslo. That’s the real story here. Sorry for the long comment. But I’m fed up of this kind of unthinking knee-jerk anti-Netanyahu/anti-Likud rhetoric, not just because it’s a distraction, but also because it feeds into the myth of Israeli intransigence and malice at the heart of the new anti-Semitism that we’re all supposed to be against.

MancuniaAnonymous
December 20th, 2012
1:12 PM
So glad to see that Steve Bell's anti-Semitic cartoon was mentioned. The Guardian should apologise for that racist garbage.

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