Why can those on the left never see their own antisemitism?

People who hold Marxist assumptions cannot cope with seeing Jewish achievement, says Melanie Phillips


DARWEN, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 07: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gestures to photographers after giving a speech to supporters at an election campaign event at Darwen Library Theatre on November 07, 2019 in Darwen, England. Conservative held Darwen is the first stop for the Labour Party's 'battle bus'. Politicians have stepped up a gear in the election campaign, bidding to win the December 12 general election and put an end to the Brexit deadlock. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

February 05, 2021 13:52

In his new book Jews Don’t Count, David Baddiel observes that people on the left don’t treat the problem of antisemitism on the same level as prejudices over race, sexuality or gender.

I personally started to detect a double standard over antisemitism in the 1980s, when I wrote that antisemitism had become “the prejudice that dare not speak its name”.

This was when the left was calling Israelis “Nazis” for trying to root out from Lebanon the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s terrorist infrastructure. It was when people started saying openly: “Jews make so much money / they’re so clannish / they always stick together against everyone else”.

Merely to mention the word “antisemitism” among left-wingers, though, caused an instant glacial chill, provoked eye-rolls or produced the charge: “You’re using antisemitism to sanitise Israel’s atrocities”.

It wasn’t until the issue so spectacularly blew up in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party that this last accusation was itself finally acknowledged as a form of Jew-hatred. And it was only then, because Corbyn was so left-wing he was deemed beyond the pale, that Jews began to feel it was safe to use the a-word.

So why does the left deny or marginalise the antisemitism amongst it? And why are many Jews still so nervous about provoking a bad reaction if they talk about this on the left other than in the context of the Corbynised Labour Party?

One obvious factor is that, in progressive circles, Marxist assumptions have been absorbed often without their provenance being recognised. Like Marx himself, many left-wingers believe capitalism is evil and white, that capitalism is run by Jews, that money is power and that Jews have so much money and power they run the capitalist world.

Of course, most Jews are neither rich nor powerful. Nor are they all white. But the belief that they are means they can never be considered victims. So rather than being included in the left’s roll-call of the oppressed, Jews are bracketed squarely amongst the privileged.

The left-wing narrative of systematic falsehoods and libels about Israel, that it’s a colonialist state which uprooted the indigenous people of the land and continues to oppress them, plays in turn into these tropes of Jewish power and menace.

Crucially, those on the left believe they stand for unquestionable virtue and the only people who are bad are their opponents. So only the right are antisemitic, while the left can never be so. That’s why for the Labour party, antisemitism in its ranks is a crisis it cannot resolve.

But all these things, significant as they are, don’t provide the whole explanation. We surely have to dive more deeply into the prejudice itself.

At the core of antisemitism lie resentment, jealousy and fear of Jews as different and exceptional. The idea that they believe themselves to be “chosen” merely to bear a unique burden is badly misunderstood as privilege.

The suggestion of Jewish exceptionalism therefore drives antisemites wild. Any reference to the exceptional number of Jewish Nobel laureates, or the exceptional extent of Jewish philanthropy, or the exceptional number of scientific inventions pouring out of Israel for the benefit of humanity, merely reinforces fear and resentment of Jewish “power”.

Too many Jews, aware of the danger to themselves from being viewed as “different,” themselves therefore flinch from acknowledging Jewish exceptionalism. Genuflecting to cultural power, they seek not to offend against left-wing ideology.

And hatred of Jewish exceptionalism feeds into that ideology. Under the mantra of “equality”, this permits no hierarchies of value. It is suspicious of distinctions and differences; it believes that the particulars of any culture must yield to the flattening dogma of universalist values.

But Jewish identity, religion and tradition are founded upon distinctions, differences and moral hierarchies. So Jewish exceptionalism offends against the dogma of the left on every count. And that also includes the exceptionalism of Jewish suffering.

No other people has experienced such determined attempts to exterminate them over so many millennia. Similarly, the Holocaust was different from all other crimes against humanity or even other genocides, because the Shoah was uniquely an attempt to eradicate one people, the Jews, from the face of the earth.

The relativistic left, however, seeks to equalise all suffering. Which is why Holocaust memorialising increasingly ropes in other genocides and crimes against humanity as equivalent to the Shoah, which is thus inescapably downgraded.

That’s why it was a shame that, in his BBC Radio Thought for the Day on Holocaust Memorial Day, Chief Rabbi Mirvis didn’t explain what he meant when he observed that the Holocaust was unique — and indeed, in his reflection on the significance of the Shoah, he didn’t use the word “Jews” at all.

Judaism is unique, the Jewish people are unique, and antisemitism is unique: the most unambiguous, deranged and deadly prejudice in history. But Jewish uniqueness gets in the way of left-wing dogma. That’s why, among the zealots of victim culture, anti-Jewish prejudice doesn’t count.


Melanie Phillips is a columnist for The Times

February 05, 2021 13:52

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive