What is anti-Semitism? Can Jewish people, whether Zionist or anti-Zionist, be anti-Semitic?

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21/09/2019 by Ian

By Ian Donovan

At the Communist University 2019 session in August about the witchhunt in the Labour Party, Tina Werkmann, a leading spokesperson for Labour Party Marxists, talked about how, when dealing with various pronouncements by Labour Party comrades who had been targeted by the apparatus, in a number of cases she had advised people that the things they had said were indeed anti-Semitic, for instance with remarks that had been made about the Rothschilds, and that they should confess, apologise, etc.

In response to this highly problematic admission, I pointedly asked her what definition of anti-Semitism she, and the CPGB are using. I asked if they are using the dictionary definition, for instance the definition adopted by LAZIR (Labour Against Zionist Islamophobic Racism) which is from the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary:

“hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group”[1]

or whether they are using the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, with its long list of ‘examples’ that are designed to prevent criticism and discussion of Zionism. Or whether they are using something in between. I did not get a response from anyone in the CPGB,  but I did from Moshe Machover, who basically said that the dictionary definition was not enough, that Jewish people also had to contend with ‘conspiracy theories’ and those too had to be regarded as anti-Semitic. The CPGB comrades concurred with this and as I see this as confirming they are indeed using something in between the two as the basis for their definition.

When I was driven out of their Communist Platform bloc inside Left Unity in 2014, I made what is in fact the same point to them, even though the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism had not then seen the light of day (its precursor from the 2000s, the European Union Monitoring Centre ‘working definition’, was however around somewhere): I wrote then in a motion (which they voted down):

“Communists reject a separate category of ‘anti-Semitism’, distinct from and wider-cast than actual racism against other peoples. We consider this a racist concept, giving representatives of one people a weapon against criticisms whose legitimacy no one on the left would question if made against other peoples. It is an ideological weapon against the Palestinians, preventing understanding of, and struggle against, their situation.

“We equally oppose racism against Jews, Arabs, Blacks, Irish, and all peoples, as defined above. All racisms share this definition – hostility to all in the targeted group.”[2]

There are several interlocking questions that flow from this which have arisen out of the witch-hunts on the left that have happened, not just in the Labour Party since Corbyn won the leadership, but over a longer period, at least since the Iraq War and earlier. What has happened in the Labour Party is just a concentrated expression of these issues.

“Conspiracy Theories”

Moshe Machover

Moshe Machover’s answer on ‘conspiracy theories’ differentiates Jews from all other minorities who suffer from racism. And yet, as many have observed, Jews do not today suffer from discrimination in Western societies, from disproportionate unemployment and poverty; they do not suffer from police harassment; they do not suffer from disproportionately being put in prison; nor regularly suffer deaths in custody. They are in a much stronger position than those communities designated as immigrant-derived by all the Western states, or the descendants of slaves in the United States, or the oppressed original indigenous populations of the USA, Australia and other Western-derived states populated by the descendants of European settlers.

Jews are thus in a relatively privileged position over all genuinely oppressed groups in capitalist society, and today, unlike a century ago, do not suffer significant oppression in the Western countries. Given that, the insistence that Jews suffer from ‘conspiracy theories’ and therefore anti-racists have to be particularly careful when discussing questions relating to racism and Jews not to fall into these ‘conspiracy theories’ constitutes a double-whammy for those who suffer from real oppression today. When Jewish racists blatantly assert their privilege, and routinely assert that any even implicit criticism of such privilege amounts to a ‘conspiracy’ theory and ‘anti-Semitism’, this doubly cements that privilege and oppression. The Mark Wadsworth case in the Labour Party is an atrocious example of this.

 Despite their earlier history of persecution, Jews are not regarded as a threatening, subversive population by the ruling classes of the Western imperialist states. Indeed if you look at Jewish history, the period prior to the Nazi holocaust, the defeat of Hitler in WWII, the foundation of Israel shortly after the war and its consolidation in 1967, when Jews were oppressed and constituted a semi-pariah group in the West, one of the key mechanisms of that oppression was the propagation of theories that regarded all members of that particular group as subversive to Western Christian society.

Even wealthy Jews were regarded by Tsarist and Nazi anti-Semites as being in league with Jewish socialists and communists to undermine ‘Christian’ societies. This often took strange, contorted and convoluted theoretical forms, as anyone who has taken the trouble to read this literature can attest, but it was at bottom a class phenomenon. Objectively, the Jews occupied a contradictory class position in capitalist society in the epoch of progressive capitalism and also the earlier period of imperialist capitalism, up to approximately the mid-20th Century.

The Jews under European feudalism had been a privileged, trading-merchant middleman people-class of ‘foreign’ religion, as Abram Leon analysed at length in The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation.[3] As capitalism began to grow within the womb of feudal society this feudal merchant class had been driven out of the mercantile sphere by an emerging home-grown/’indigenous’ capitalist merchant layer, driven  into ghettos and confined to money-related trading and lending. Much of the Jewish population had therefore become a kind of underclass, impoverished pariahs many of whom constituted an important intellectual layer, which became radicalised and inclined towards democracy and socialism. Remnants of this phenomenon also survive to this day, albeit in a rather debased form.

In the late feudal period the Jews were thus an oppressed population who had been driven into that situation by the constraints imposed by rising capital on a declining feudal society, which reciprocally imposed constraints on the rising bourgeoisie. But the shattering of feudalism resulted in political emancipation of the Jews. Emerging from feudalism, they rapidly became represented among the emerging bourgeois class in greater numbers than among the population generally.  And Jewish intellectuals played an important and progressive role in the bourgeois revolutions themselves.

But at the same time the impoverishment and oppression of Jews in late feudal society mean that there was a large layer of poor Jewish petty-traders and artisans in industries associated with the former people-class.  This layer, and the intellectuals associated with it, played an important role in the working class movement as it began to emerge in the 19th century, and continued in the 20th. The number of Jewish socialists and communists was quite considerable and again out of the proportion to the size of the Jewish population itself.

A contradictory class position …

It was the contradictory class position of the Jews in the real world, and their involvement in revolutionary movements, both bourgeois and proletarian, that gave rise to the theory that Jewish capitalists and Jewish communists were part of a common conspiracy to overthrow ‘Christian civilisation’ and replace it with a new regime where Jews were the rulers.

This theory, that was codified in the Tsarist fiction The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,[4] and adopted by Hitler, was actually a counterrevolutionary demonology. It implicated all Jewish people; it therefore constituted a ‘warrant for genocide’ as those who believed and acted on it, particularly the Nazis, believed they were destroying a subversive threat to capitalism itself. It gained a real following among the bourgeoisie and a much larger layer of the petty-bourgeoisie that followed ‘their’ bourgeoisies politically, and saw a ‘Jewish-led’ working class movement as a potent revolutionary threat.

This is the racist conspiracy theory, which implicated all Jewish people, that was formulated by racist anti-Semites in the late 19th Century. Of course it incorporated earlier hostile views about Jews that were derived both from Christian religious hostility to the Jewish religion, and also the role of the Jews as a middleman and moneylending class under feudalism whose activities sometimes resulted in violent social conflicts with destitute peasant masses who were frequently ruinously indebted to them.

Obviously it was a distortion of social and political characteristics which were visible to all who observed Jewish communities. It was a malicious stereotype, a blood libel and a caricature, but in order for such a view to gain mass influence, it had to bear at least a passing resemblance to some real features of the Jews as a group. Otherwise it would not have ever gained a mass following.

… and its resolution

However, the material conditions that gave rise to it have now disappeared. This is for three reasons. One is that the Nazis basically exterminated several millions of Jews in Europe, including much of the communist-inclined Jewish artisan-proletariat and radical intelligentsia that was what generated support for this counterrevolutionary demonology among the bourgeoisie.

The second being the formation of the state of Israel: the strategy of Zionism always was that the advent of a Jewish state would allow the Jews to rise into the ranks of the oppressor peoples in the imperialist-dominated world. This depended on the existence of the sizeable layer of Jews within business in the advanced capitalist countries, who had been previously regarded with suspicion by part of the wider bourgeoisie. But after Israel was consolidated, this was no longer tenable and died out over time.

The third reason is that even for Jews who were not initially wealthy, upward mobility was much easier than for other groups simply because of the Jews’ historically generated culture as a former commodity trading class, who proved able particularly in the post-WWII period in the advanced countries to rise out of the proletariat. So there is very little left these days by way of a Jewish working class, except of course in Israel.

So Jews no longer occupy a contradictory class position in capitalist society and the objective, material base for the ideology of the Protocols has thus disappeared. Therefore this ideology has no real purchase today, insofar as it is ever encountered is a relic of the past, preserved in some places (such as Eastern Europe) only because for decades it had been driven underground and was able therefore to survive in the dark under Stalinism.

Even the far right in most places has abandoned it, and far from citing the Protocols of Zion (i.e. Zionism) as depicting their enemy, regard Zionism and Israel as the very model of a racist ethnic state to be aspired to. This is also true in Eastern Europe, where elements of this ideology do survive, but nevertheless those who accept it maintain close relations with Israel, as in Ukraine and Hungary.

The on-off dispute between Israel and Poland is not about Polish anti-Semitism per se. It is not a matter of historical dispute that the pre-war regime of the Colonels would have liked to expel its own Jewish population and might have done so had Hitler not evicted it from power in 1939. Rather it is about the Zionist “Holocaust Industry”’s sometime attempt to portray Poland as a co-perpetrator of the Nazi genocide.

In fact Poland, its indigenous anti-Semitism notwithstanding, was violently and forcibly occupied by Nazi Germany at the outset of the war, and over two million of its Slavic people, also considered untermenschen[5] according to Nazi racial theories, were murdered by the Nazis alongside a similar number of Polish Jews.

To summarise then, the ‘conspiracy theory’ of the Protocols projected that all Jews were a demonic and revolutionary force, aiming to overthrow existing society and dominate humanity. The material conditions which gave rise to this ideology have disappeared; the ideology has become marginal and utterly divorced from reality where it does exist. Even where it survives its proponents are in the habit of working with Zionist Israel and therefore Zionist Jews against contemporary targets of racism, such as people from Muslim countries.

This puts Machover’s remark about ‘conspiracy theories’ in its historical context. It is clear that the ‘conspiracy theory’ that he is referring to, that of the Protocols does fit the dictionary definition of anti-Semitism. It is a manifestation of “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group” and projects that all Jewish-born people, of all classes, even those who have renounced being Jewish or converted to other religions, are an enemy, demonic population. For instance the Nazis also murdered numerous baptised ex-Jewish Christians and regarded them as Jews.

Furthermore, while the above is certainly a racist conspiracy theory, is it actually a melange of different elements, put together to produce a racist totality. Those elements taken individually are not racist in themselves, nor are they even ‘conspiracy theories’. This is a typical dishonest Zionist theme, often echoed unthinkingly by parts of the left as Machover’s remarks show.  There is nothing racist or conspiratorial, for instance, about criticism of the exploitative role of Jewish moneylenders in medieval or even more modern times towards the peasantry where such phenomena existed.

There is nothing racist about citing verifiable facts about Jewish representation in the ruling classes of the West providing a social base for Zionism. Nor is there anything racist about citing the role of the very influential Rothschild banking family in promoting Zionism. It is a fact and no accident that the Balfour Declaration[6] was addressed to a very prominent member of the Rothschild family in the UK.

Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild, recipient of the Balfour Declaration

It does appear that there were divisions in that family about the usefulness of Zionism as a project for them, but exactly what role their enormous wealth played in the triumph of Zionism and creation of Israel is a completely legitimate topic of comment, research and debate, even if some of the things said may be mistaken. This is true just as much as, for example, the role of the Koch family business in the USA in the rise to power of Bolsonaro in Brazil.

Nor is there even anything necessarily anything anti-Semitic about even right-wing criticisms of the historical role of Jews in the Communist movement, whether those criticisms are correct or not, and whether they come from Jewish or non-Jewish critics.  If they say or imply that such nefarious actions are an inherent quality of Jewish people of all classes irrespective of belief or ideology, as do the Protocols, then it is accurate to say such criticisms are anti-Semitic. Otherwise such criticisms may well be anti-communist, counterrevolutionary or simply misguided. It is well-known and hardly surprising that many right-wing Jews, particularly Zionists, are not too fond of Jewish communists and prone to the same demonology about them as about non-Jewish communists. However such demonology is not about Jews in general, and it is obvious why it could not be if you think about it.

Jews accused of ‘anti-Semitism’

This has considerable importance when we address the characteristic blood libel against the left today manifested in the witchhunt in the British Labour Party ultimately targeting Jeremy Corbyn. The culmination of this, in formal statute underlain by a kind of Zionist ‘theory’ about anti-Semitism, is the adoption by the Labour Party of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which attempts to criminalise anti-racist criticism of the Zionist project by defining as ‘anti-Semitic’ the view that creating the Israeli state on land taken from Palestinian Arabs is a ‘racist endeavour’.

This is obviously a racist Catch-22 that defines the Palestinian Arabs as an inferior population with no rights. The IHRA was formulated by Zionists who are unapologetic about the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to make way for Jewish settlers in Israel proper. Some of them make considerable play on their support for a two-state solution as camouflage for their racism and call for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza. But the objective problem is that the actions of settlers in the West Bank and their racist terrorism against the Arab population are no different to the means by which Israel was created.

In adopting the IHRA definition, Labour have adopted a racist NEC-imposed policy that is completely at odds with the policy voted for by conference delegates in 2018 that condemned the Naqba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 which created the state of Israel.

However, that does not exhaust the question. Several Jewish members of the Labour Party have been expelled for supposedly breaking rule 2.1.8: engaging in “conduct which in the opinion of the NEC is prejudicial, or any act which in the opinion of the NEC is grossly detrimental to the party” (the ‘disrepute clause’)[7]. These were for pronouncements that have been deemed to be anti-Semitic. But in classic weasel fashion, the Labour apparatus have not dared to formally expel them or indeed many people at all for actual anti-Semitism, fearing a legal challenge that could leave them defenceless.

If they did that, they would likely be required to prove in court that Jewish Labour Party members such as Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker and Cyril Chilson actually do fit the dictionary definition of anti-Semitism. So instead the ‘disrepute’ clause is used, which can mean anything to anyone. However it is generally understood, despite the weasel words, that these people were purged for ‘anti-Semitism’; that is what the Zionist racists put about in their smear campaigns and the Labour Party is complicit in this at the highest level.

Jackie Walker

Tony Greenstein was expelled for ‘abusive behaviour’ which was deemed anti-Semitic in this way.  Jackie Walker likewise, for questioning the definition of anti-Semitism used by the Jewish Labour Movement (i.e. the IHRA definition), and for questioning the Jewish exclusivity of Holocaust Memorial Day, why it does not commemorate the many millions of Africans who died under slavery and colonialism.  She was earlier suspended for talking in a private Facebook discussion about the role of some of her own Jewish ancestors in the slave trade in the Caribbean (she is of mixed Jewish/Afro-Caribbean heritage). The latter was deemed by Zionists as some kind of Jewish conspiracy theory akin to the Protocols of Zion.

Cyril Chilson, who was once an Israeli Peace Activist and is the son of survivors of the Nazi holocaust, was also expelled from Labour under the ‘disrepute’ clause, but again motivated with innuendos that he was in some way ‘anti-Semitic’. Here is his own commentary on the allegations against him:

“My accusers were very keen to recast comments I made on Israel’s success in recruiting certain leaders of western Jewish communities and turning them into zealous supporters who ostracise opposing Jewish voices, as ‘making mendacious allegations about Jews as a collective’ and ‘accusing Jews, supporters of Israel and critics of antisemitism as being more loyal to Israel than to the UK…’. And most ludicrous – accusing me of ‘denying Jewish people the language to describe their own oppression’.“[8]

Apart from the clear influence of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism involved here, there is a whiff of the allegation of ‘conspiracy theory’ as per the Protocols of Zion against comrade Chilson. He was also denounced by Zionists for engaging in fraternal discussion with the Jazz musician Gilad Atzmon, also of Israeli-Jewish origin, who defines himself as an ‘ex-Jew’ and a ‘Hebrew-speaking Palestinian’.

Cyril Chilson

“Self-hatred” and supposed Jewish anti-Semitism

Atzmon makes sometimes penetrating criticisms of the Jewish left and Jewish identity politics, but is also a source of considerable confusion; he ascribes an almost supernatural power to the secular Jewish identity as a dangerous force in the world, but at the same time advocates that Jewish people disturbed by this should renounce their Jewish identity lock, stock and barrel and assimilate wholesale into the nations in which they live, leaving no trace.  His critique of Zionism and Jewish identity politics is idealist, not materialist. But he has managed to upset both Zionist Jews and the anti-Zionist Jewish left who again, accuse him of conspiracy theory and anti-Semitism.

He is part of a phenomenon that is quite new in Jewish history and a result of the terrorism and barbarism of the Israeli state in which he grew up: Jews who as a result of what Israel is doing to Palestinian Arabs, which is a form of slow genocide, feel an acute sense of guilt about their Jewish origin, see Jews as simply an oppressor people, and have an emotional response against any and all manifestations of Jewish identity. In that sense because driven by guilt and emotion, he and his followers are sometimes difficult to debate with. But it is the duty of the left to engage with this strand of confused anti-racist thought politically, and not engage in chauvinistic anathemas.

The Atzmon case, however, set a contemporary precedent for accusing Jewish people of anti-Semitism. For the past 14 years or so, Atzmon has been hounded as an anti-Semite by Jewish leftists like Greenstein and others. Not only that but those who treated Atzmon in a political manner, engaging in debate with him without joining in the outcry, and who denounced the Jewish left’s campaign against the Socialist Workers Party in the period when it invited him to speak at its events and play for them, were themselves accused of condoning anti-Semitism and often subjected to violations of workers democracy, being expelled from left-wing forums, etc.

Greenstein and others on the left of Jewish origin who were accused of ‘anti-Semitism’ ought to have been able to ridicule the allegations against them. How absurd that the Labour Party was expelling left-wing Jews accusing them of hating Jews! How Orwellian! It ought to be perfectly obvious that racist Jewish right-wing people had gained positions of power in the Labour Party and were using that to expel left-wing, pro-Palestinian anti-racist Jews. Labour, and the Labour Zionists, would have been totally naked before such a counter-attack and it would have inevitably crumbled. But they cannot, because of the Atzmon case and the role of quite a few of these left-wing Jews in previously witchhunting Jewish people such as Atzmon for ‘anti-Semitism’.

Tony Greenstein (left) with Gilad Atzmon

It is theoretically possible for a Jewish person to be personally anti-Semitic of course, to believe that they have been born into an inherently inferior or demonic human group. It is also possible for someone who is born black, for instance, to believe similar things. The consequence of such beliefs, which tend to flow from an internalisation of oppression, is self-destructive behaviour. Such things as scrubbing skin trying to make it ‘clean’, or using skin lightening treatments which are a more sophisticated version of the same thing, are expressions of that, but it is harmful and self-destructive as does not really need to be explained. 

In the case of Jews, there is one figure in history who Gilad Atzmon himself says was a Jewish anti-Semite. Otto Weininger[9], a brilliant but seemingly disturbed Jewish young aspiring philosopher who wrote the work ‘Sex and Consciousness’ at the turn of the 20th Century. He committed suicide at the age of 23, which is a logical consequence of being both anti-Semitic and Jewish. But apart from that, the belief that it is possible to renounce Jewish identity completely and cease to be Jewish is not racist in any way.

Otto Weininger

A huge concession to Zionism

It is the opposite of the beliefs of anti-Semites, including the Nazis who sent numerous Christian converts from Judaism to the death camps.  It also is somewhat utopian for a different reason, as ‘race’ exists as a social, not an individual, category, and real anti-Semites such as the Nazis would not accept the protestations of someone who says they are “no longer a Jew”. Atzmon would have been rounded up by the Nazis along with all the other Jews had he been around at the time.

Obviously then those who accuse Atzmon of ‘anti-Semitism’ are not using the dictionary definition. Nor are they using the IHRA definition, which most of these people are campaigning against or actively hostile to. They are using something in between, though they do not define exactly what that ‘something’ is, except that alleged ‘conspiracy theories’ come into it somewhere, as I have addressed above. However by widening the definition beyond what is in the dictionary, what they are in effect doing is widening the definition beyond racism.  For the dictionary definition is a definition of anti-Semitism as anti-Jewish racism.

This again gives comfort and political ground to the Zionists. In their joint editorial the at the peak of the Zionist hysteria over Corbyn in July 2018, the Jewish Chronicle ,Jewish News  and Jewish Telegraph accused Labour of making a:

“distinction between racial antisemitism targeting Jews (unacceptable) and political antisemitism targeting Israel (acceptable).”[10]

This was a lie, as Labour never said any such thing in its discussion on the IHRA. The concept comes from these Zionists themselves and reflects the fact that even they find it impossible to consistently maintain that what they call ‘political anti-Semitism’ (hostility to Israeli racism) is the same thing as racist hostility to Jewish people. Instead they engage in a rhetorical trick that says that these are distinct things but each is just as bad as the other.

Another example that illustrates this paradigm of ‘non-racist’ anti-Semitism and its Zionist ideological pedigree comes from the left-Zionist Alliance for Workers Liberty, with their concept of ‘racist’ and ‘non-racist’ anti-Semitism. This has been a long-time canard that they have thrown at the anti-Zionist left, for instance Sean Matgamna here:

“… left-wing anti-semites are not racist. But there was anti-semitism before there was 20th-century anti-Jewish racism. And there is still anti-semitism of different sorts, long after disgust with Hitler-style racism, and overt racism of any sort, became part of the mental and emotional furniture of all half-way decent people, and perhaps especially of left-wing people.[11]

There was indeed religious and social hostility to Jews before racialised anti-Semitism was born in the late 19th century, which was then incorporated into that racist ideology. But Matgamna is not accusing leftists of medieval Christian bigotry or resurrecting the anti-Jewish rage of serfs such as that in the 17th Century Polish-ruled Ukraine; he is making an amalgam of leftist anti-Zionist thought with these things. This is just another variant of the Jewish Chronicle’s nonsensical statement that hostility to Israeli racism and ethnic cleansing amounts to ‘political anti-Semitism’. Again, the politics of the AWL shows the Zionist pedigree of this concept, that there can be an ‘anti-Semitism’ that neither expresses hostility to, nor practices nor advocates discrimination against Jewish people.

Zionist concept permeates ‘anti-Zionist’ left

But this Zionist concept has seeped into the anti-Zionist left also. For instance in the various witchhunts initiated by the likes of the CPGB/Weekly Worker, and by Bundist-influenced Jewish leftists such as Tony Greenstein and Moshe Machover, whose views resonate widely around the left, we hear the same refrain:

“Keeping things in perspective, a number of speakers for the SC motion emphasised that, although SF’s views irrevocably lead to the conclusion that Jews are ‘a problem’, SF leading lights Ian Donovan and Gerry Downing are not ‘personally anti-Semitic’. Pete Firmin, supporting the SC motion, nevertheless insisted that, while that was certainly the case for Gerry, ‘his politics are’ anti-Semitic.”[12]

Similar things were said not only about Socialist Fight, but also about Peter Gregson, the founder of Labour Against Zionist Islamophobic Racism (LAZIR) on the basis of fabricated allegations of support for Nazi holocaust denial (but in reality because of their hostility to his LAZIR initiative, which advocates that the Labour  Party should throw out its Zionist racists on principle). Comrade Gregson is supposedly likewise personally, but not politically anti-Semitic.

This is actually the same as what both the mainstream Zionists and the AWL are saying, the distinction between racial  or racist, and allegedly non-racial anti-Semitism. By denying that someone is “personally” anti-Semitic, what they are saying is that while you are not individually a racist, by criticising something that must not be criticised, whether it be the Israel state itself, or its disproportionately numerous ethnic-nationalist base of support in the Western ruling classes, your politics are in some way ‘objectively’ anti-Semitic. It’s a Zionist-derived argument and indicative of a left that is politically soft on Zionism even when it claims to be opposing it.

And though they have not yet had the courage to put this in writing, this is what the CPGB, Greenstein et al, are also saying about Norman Finkelstein, that he uses anti-Semitic ‘tropes’ about ‘outsized Jewish power’, that his essay ‘Corbyn Mania’[13] amounts to a conspiracy theory, and that the facts he documented more comprehensively than we did when our position was formulated four years earlier, should not be mentioned.

Norman Finkelstein

The logical root of all these contradictions and irrationalities would seem to be an incorrect definition of anti-Semitism, of failing to define anti-Semitism rigidly as hostility to Jewish and discrimination per se against Jewish people, instead expanding that definition to criticism of aspects of Jewish politics and action that have nothing at all to with any communal or racial antagonism to Jews. But in fact what is behind that is a failure on the part of much of the Jewish left to break from a Jewish form of particularism and really embrace a consistently internationalist, Marxist programme and outlook, and the inclination of the non-Jewish left to defer to them, either through liberal guilt or lack of political courage. This is a product of centrist and left-reformist politics, and a capitulation to various forms of bourgeois social pressure, among which Zionist pressure today is a major component and which has a frighteningly anti-democratic manifestation at times.

Is Zionism anti-Semitic?

Sometimes we even get an absurd ‘leftist’ form of this deviation, where leftists attempt by ferocity of language to make up for, and hide (including from themselves) the theoretical and programmatic capitulation to Zionism that is part of their politics. An example of this is the insistence by Tony Greenstein that “Zionism is a form of Jewish anti-Semitism”.[14]

In justifying this he cites various statements from early Zionists that provide very unflattering images of diaspora Jewry, including remarks about money-fetishism and the like, and the allegedly parasitic nature of the diaspora Jewish lifestyle. He also is able to quote abuse against himself and others from Zionist thugs, including people who have made remarks to the effect that it’s a pity that Hitler did not get people like him. Obviously these are foul remarks and should be condemned.

But to extrapolate from that to say that “Zionism is a form of Jewish anti-Semitism” makes no sense at all if you consider that anti-Semitism is about advocating hostility and discrimination against Jewish people. For Zionists advocate the opposite; discrimination against non-Jews and a Jewish ethnocracy in Israel where non-Jewish Palestinian Arabs have no real rights. It is quite normal for nationalists to be harshly critical of what are perceived to be faults of their ‘own’ people, not for the purpose of promoting hostility or discrimination against them, but as part of an exhortation upon them to change and make themselves fit to be the founders of a new (or ‘reborn’) nation.

It may be true that there is a coincidence of interest between Zionism and anti-Semitism, as both would like Jews to leave the diaspora. But obviously their reasons for doing so are different in intention.

This is not confined to Zionism. Black nationalists, for instance the Garvey movement or the Black Muslims, are or were also sharply critical of those in their communities who they consider inimical to the future of the black “nation”, whether described as pan-African or Islamic in form. Some of these criticisms may even echo some of the derogatory things that racists say, as well as dovetailing with racists’ desire for black people to leave. But their purpose is completely different, it is to overcome what are seen as morbid symptoms of oppression, exploited by the racist enemy, and raise the people to the level aspired to by the nationalists.

This may well be reactionary; it cannot however be said to be motivated by hostility to and discrimination against the people concerned; in the case of Jews it is certainly not therefore motivated by anti-Semitism.

Not only that, but it is discernible that, unlike black nationalists whose aims were no higher than to secure greater equality and to mitigate their people’s oppression within the existing order, the early Zionists appear to have had an inkling that the unique history of the Jews gave them at least a chance of escaping their oppressed condition altogether and joining the world’s oppressor peoples – if they could secure a state. Zionism has proved a remarkably successful strategy in this regard so far.

Even the despicable abuse Tony and others have received from Zionists is not motivated by hatred of him for being Jewish. It is motivated by hatred of him for being an ‘Arab-lover’ and therefore a ‘race-traitor’ in their terms. This is true even if the Zionists make despicable remarks about how Hitler should have got him. The real motive is associative anti-Arab racism, not anti-Jewish racism.

So what is behind the nonsensical polemic that “Zionism is a form of Jewish anti-Semitism”? Programmatic and ideological incoherence, and an inability to completely break with elements of the Zionist world view despite the most intense, feverish hostility to Zionism’s crimes. This polemic accepts a key tenet of Zionism – that Jews are the ultimate and eternal victims and attempts to throw that back at the Zionists –“even you Zionists are among the Jews’ tormentors” it says. But this is incoherent, and doesn’t wash because everyone who knows anything knows that political Zionism is built on hostility and discrimination against Arabs, not Jews.

Like with the Zionists’ own wolf-crying activities, if anti-Semitism is not strictly defined and its definition is expanded, then the currency is devalued. If everything becomes designated as anti-Semitic, then reality is obscured and the effect is that nothing can ever be convincingly said to be anti-Semitic.

This article is an important clarification of some key issues regarding the Jewish Question and what is, and what is not, anti-Semitism. The ideological onslaught of Zionism and the witchhunt in Labour, as well as similar attacks on democratic rights and parts of the left and even left-liberals, not just here but in France, Germany and the United States, mean that clarity on these things is a sine qua non of a coherent political response, and this is essential not just for the Trotskyist movement, but for all leftist anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist forces.

 REFERENCES

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anti-Semitism

[2] https://commexplor.com/2014/09/16/centrism-and-fear-over-gaza-communists-vote-down-equality-of-peoples

[3] https://www.marxists.org/subject/jewish/leon/index.htm

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Protocols_of_the_Elders_of_Zion

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Untermensch

[6] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/text-of-the-balfour-declaration

[7] http://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Rule-Book-2019.pdf

[8] https://tinyurl.com/y2fyj4yr

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Weininger

[10] https://tinyurl.com/yb4vkbdp

[11] https://www.workersliberty.org/story/2017-07-26/what-left-anti-semitism

[12] https://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1185/building-up-steam/

[13] http://normanfinkelstein.com/2018/08/25/finkelstein-on-corbyn-mania/

[14] See http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2018/07/labours-anti-semitism-code-of-conduct.html, toward the end where this idea appears and is argued for.

One thought on “What is anti-Semitism? Can Jewish people, whether Zionist or anti-Zionist, be anti-Semitic?

  1. Jeff Blankfort says:

    A very eloquent and thoughtful commentary on a subject that refuses to go away. No, that would give the subject agency in itself when, in fact, it requires propagators who use it as a hammer to silence those of Israel’s critics who refuse to make the obligatory genuflection to the history of Jewish suffering which, we are told, exceeds the suffering of all other peoples, hence the need to separate it from the others, linguistically, and in political practice. Which your essay clearly exposes as fraudulent.

    What that leads to, in a nutshell, is a Jewish sense of entitlement which pervades too great a percentage of Jewish political activity across the political spectrum that it cannot be ignored. That sense of entitlement is a product of traditional Jewish family life in which children are brought up to believe in Jewish superiority, that the goyim (a pejorative for non-Jews) can not be trusted and that antisemitism is a natural phenomenon that exists among them because of their jealousy of the Jewish genius.

    In the UK, we see an ugly example of this in that, with a Jewish population of less than 290 thousand out of a population of 65 million, the Jewish political and religious establishment believes it has the right to determine who can or can not be the head of the Labour Party and the country’s prime minister.

    Under the circumstances, it would be surprising if the campaign against Jeremy Corbyn did not lead to a rise of antisemitic sentiments among Corbyn supporters but even that would not be a problem for the Jewish establishment because it is the existence of antisemitism, real or imagined, that is the glue that hold the affiliated Jewish community together.

    In that very thing, which Jewish leaders have acknowledged over the years, we see a difference between hostility to Jews and hostility to all other peoples. Who, after all, could imagine that leaders of the Black and Southeast Asian communities, would see any benefit in acts of racism against their respective communities?

    Like

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