Time and time again when we discuss anti-Semitism on the left we are met with “Anti-Zionism isn’t anti-Semitism!” and “Arabs are Semites too!” and “I don’t hate Jews, I just criticise Israel.” etc.
Let us forget for a moment that conflating Jews, anti-Semitism and Israel is both dangerous and frankly anti-Semitic. Let us instead examine the above (and similar arguments) in isolation. Let us start with “Anti-Zionism isn’t anti-Semitism!”. Okay, first of all yes. Second of all no. Thirdly…. maybe. You see Zionism as a catch all term doesn’t work. Zionism, much like Left/Right Conservative/Libertarian or pretty much any political concept, means many different things depending on who you ask. Zionism in its simplest terms is the belief of the right of Jews to self-determination in their ancestral homeland. It is much more complicated than that, but that is Zionism in its most basic form. However, even this basic form, is nuanced. For one, what constitutes the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people? If we’re talking biblical Israel, then the current state of Israel represents a mere fraction of that land. But that’s a very complicated topic I shan’t delve into here as I don’t want to write a trillion words on it.
“Arabs are Semites too!” is just linguistic game playing. Anti-Semitism has always meant a hatred of Jews, perhaps the word is not ideal, but you cannot argue that because Arabs are a Semitic people that means they’re included under the term anti-Semitism. This is just a cynical tactic used by anti-Semites to try to defend their Jew-hate.
“I don’t hate Jews, I just criticise Israel.” That’s fair, I criticise Israel and I’m no more an anti-Semite than I am an Arsenal fan. But let’s look into this position. Firstly, it is important to have context. Are you criticising Israel by using terms like “Apartheid” or referencing Nazi Germany? If the answer is yes, then I’m sorry but you’re part of the problem and possibly an anti-Semite. Are you criticising other nations in the region oppressing minorities? People will say this is whataboutary but for me it is about consistency. If you criticise the world’s only Jewish state, a nation which by current trends will soon be home to the majority of the world’s Jews, but do not criticise any other state then I think it is a distinct possibility you just hate Jews.
I am a pro-Palestinian Zionist and I do not consider that a contradictory position. I think it quite possible to support the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination whilst also being a Zionist and supporting the Jewish right to self-determination. I see no conflict in that.
Many who speak on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are ignorant. Both the pro-Israel side and the pro-Palestinian side. Many have never spoken to an Israeli or a Palestinian, never mind actually visited Israel or the Palestinian territories. They speak like sciolists, saying much but knowing little.
I remain hopeful that peace will happen in my lifetime, but that peace requires those on the outside of the conflict to speak less and listen more because while our mouths are open our minds are closed. Peace will not come from outside discourse thousands of miles away, peace will come from within the conflict. From ordinary Palestinians and Israelis, the people that live with the conflict daily and who want peace more than any of us living safely in Europe do.
Now let me get back to anti-Semitism on the left. Anti-Semitism on the left is nothing new. Proudhon, Marx, Bakunin…they were saying hugely disparaging things about the Jews before the Shoah and the communist USSR was persecuting Jews for a good amount of time before Kristallnacht.
We often hear that the far-right are the biggest threat to the Jewish community and I agree. However, the pernicious nature of left anti-Semitism means we cannot simply ignore it or say, “well it is worse from the other side”. Anti-Semitism, regardless of which ideology it is coming from, represents an existential threat to Jewish people.
My primary issue with the whole “the far-right is the bigger threat” argument is simple, the far-right are a mess. Nobody in the UK is going to put any far-right figure into a position of power. The hard-left on the other hand? Well many would cite the recent elections for Labour’s National Executive Committee as an example of the hard-left gaining significant control of Her Majesty’s Opposition.