An Anti-Semitism of the Left – Roger Cohen/The New York Times
LONDON — Last month, the co-chairman of the Oxford University Labour Club, Alex Chalmers, quit in protest at what he described as rampant anti-Semitism among members. A “large proportion” of the club “and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews,” he said in a statement.
Chalmers alluded to members of the executive committee “throwing around the term ‘Zio,”’ — an insult used by the Ku Klux Klan; high-level expressions of “solidarity with Hamas” and explicit defense of “their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians;” and the dismissal of any concern about anti-Semitism as “just the Zionists crying wolf.”
The zeitgeist on campuses these days, on both sides of the Atlantic, is one of identity and liberation politics. Jews, of course, are a minority, but through a fashionable cultural prism they are seen as the minority that isn’t — that is to say white, privileged and identified with an “imperialist-colonialist” state, Israel. They are the anti-victims in a prevalent culture of victimhood; Jews, it seems, are the sole historical victim whose claim is dubious.
A recent Oberlin alumna, Isabel Storch Sherrell, alluded in a Facebook post to the students she’d heard dismissing the Holocaust as mere “white on white crime.” As reported by David Bernstein in The Washington Post, she wrote of Jewish students that, “Our struggle does not intersect with other forms of racism.”
Noa Lessof-Gendler, a student at Britain’s Cambridge University, complained last month in Varsity, a campus newspaper, that anti-Semitism was felt “in the word ‘Zio”’ flung around in left-wing groups.” She wrote: “I’m Jewish, but that doesn’t mean I have Palestinian blood on my hands,” or should feel nervous “about conversations in Hall when an Israeli speaker visits.”
The rise of the leftist Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, appears to have empowered a far left for whom support of the Palestinians is uncritical; and for whom, in the words of Alan Johnson, a British political theorist, “that which the demonological Jew once was, demonological Israel now is.”
Corbyn is no anti-Semite. But he has called Hamas and Hezbollah agents of “long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region,” and once invited to Parliament a Palestinian Islamist, Raed Salah, who has suggested Jews were absent from the Twin Towers on 9/11. Corbyn called him an “honored citizen.” The “Corbynistas” on British campuses extol their fight against the “racist colonization of Palestine,” as one Oxford student, James Elliott, has put it. Elliott was narrowly defeated last month in a bid to become youth representative on Labour’s national executive committee.
What is striking about the anti-Zionism derangement syndrome that spills over into anti-Semitism is its ahistorical nature. It denies the long Jewish presence in, and bond with, the Holy Land. It disregards the fundamental link between murderous European anti-Semitism and the decision of surviving Jews to embrace Zionism in the conviction that only a Jewish homeland could keep them safe. It dismisses the legal basis for the modern Jewish state in United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947. This was not “colonialism” but the post-Holocaust will of the world: Arab armies went to war against it and lost.
As Simon Schama, the historian, put it last month in the Financial Times, the Israel of 1948 came into being as a result of the “centuries-long dehumanization of the Jews.”
The Jewish state was needed. History had demonstrated that. That is why I am a Zionist — now a dirty word in Europe.
Today, it is Palestinians in the West Bank who are dehumanized through Israeli dominion, settlement expansion and violence. The West Bank is the tomb of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Palestinians, in turn, incite against Jews and resort to violence, including random stabbings.
The oppression of Palestinians should trouble every Jewish conscience. But nothing can justify the odious “anti-Semitic anti-Zionism” (Johnson’s term) that caused Chalmers to quit and is seeping into British and American campuses.
I talked to Aaron Simons, an Oxford student who was president of the university’s Jewish society. “There’s an odd mental noise,” he said. “In tone and attitude the way you are talked to as a Jew in these left political circles reeks of hostility. These people have an astonishingly high bar for what constitutes anti-Semitism.”
Johnson, writing in Fathom Journal, outlined three components to left-wing anti-Semitic anti-Zionism. First, “the abolition of the Jewish homeland; not Palestine alongside Israel, but Palestine instead of Israel.” Second, “a demonizing intellectual discourse” that holds that “Zionism is racism” and pursues the “systematic Nazification of Israel.” Third, a global social movement to “exclude one state — and only one state — from the economic, cultural and educational life of humanity.”
Criticism of Israel is one thing; it’s needed in vigorous form. Demonization of Israel is another, a familiar scourge refashioned by the very politics — of identity and liberation — that should comprehend the millennial Jewish struggle against persecution.