Thursday, August 6, 2015

Op-Ed: Anti-Semitism as a ‘Progressive’ Prejudice

Via Fathom Journal:
One factor that contributes to the relative lack of concern over anti-Semitism is the perception of Jews as a highly successful and relatively privileged group. Therefore they are not in need of protection. Lurking behind this notion is the toxic myth of sinister Jewish power, which has been the traditional engine of anti-Semitism. When expressed through Nazi conspiracy theories, this idea is transparently racist. But when filtered through Middle Eastern politics it easily becomes a vehicle for socially acceptable prejudice.

Correlated with this duality in the notion of Jewish power is the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ forms of Jew-hatred. The anti-Jewish racism of white nativists on the far-right remains heavily stigmatised in the progressive mainstream. This is classed as the only true anti-Semitism, but it is minimised as a marginal threat. The equally odious anti-Semitism of radical Islamists is frequently treated far more indulgently as an unfortunate excess in an intrinsically just resistance to Western imperialism.

There is a long tradition of this forgiving view of anti-Semitism on the European left, when the prejudice is associated with oppressed people. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries many leaders of both the revolutionary and the social democratic left construed the Jew-hatred of East European peasants and working class Central Europeans as a primitive form of emerging class consciousness. While rejecting anti-Semitism, they saw it as an epiphenomenon that was not, in itself, of serious concern. Jews such as those in the socialist Bund who insisted on the centrality of the fight against anti-Semitism were dismissed as particularists who distracted attention from the class struggle.

We see a resurgence of this approach in disconcertingly large swaths of the Left. Crucial to this perverse view of anti-Jewish racism is the hoary though peculiar idea that certain groups of people are ‘objectively progressive’, while others are ‘objectively reactionary’, regardless of their views or their behaviour. According to this way of thinking, it is possible to embrace purveyors of religious bigotry, misogyny, and homophobia, like Hamas and Hezbollah, as agents of a just historical struggle, but to cast left-wing Israeli opponents of the settlements as irredeemable oppressors. Because of the perceived power and privilege of Jews, they are thought to be on the wrong side of the divide between the forces of liberation and those of reaction. Whereas Jew-hatred in the past was the ‘socialism of fools’, it has now become the anti-imperialism of idiots.  more

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