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Left-wing antisemitism

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Left-wing antisemitism may be defined as anti-Jewish sentiment found on the left-wing of the political spectrum. This sentiment has been asserted in relation to some 19th and early 20th century socialists, Stalin and left-wing sympathisers with the Palestinians. The charge is typically rejected by those so accused.

19th and early 20th century

According to American scholar Walter Laqueur, before World War II antisemitism was mostly found on the right. William Rubinstein states that pre-war antisemitism was "a right-wing response to the presence of a politically, economically and socially deviant Jewry".[1] Most early social democrats and communists agreed that antisemitism was the socialism of fools and rejected it.[2] Examples of the left opposing antisemitism include the Dreyfus Affair and the Battle of Cable Street, and they typically condemned the anti-Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire.

However, William Brustein and Louisa Roberts argued in their 2015 book The Socialism of Fools?: Leftist Origins of Modern Anti-Semitism that many 19th-century European socialists felt "deeply ingrained antipathy" towards Jews, in common with then prevailing views. Brustein and Roberts claim that such left-wing antisemitism rested on three pillars, namely opposition to exploitative capitalism, including the role of Jews, to religion, including Judaism, and to nationalism, including Jewish nationalism and separatism.[3] Karl Marx has been described[4][5][6][7][8][9] as employing antisemitic stereotypes in his analysis of the economic and social position of Jews in European society, though others challenge this.[10][11][12][13]

In the Russian Civil War, the Jews regarded the Red Army as the only force which was able and willing to defend them from pogroms by anti-communist forces.[14] The Soviet government outlawed all expressions of anti-Semitism, with the public use of the ethnic slur жид ("Yid") being punished by up to one year of imprisonment,[15] and tried to modernize the Jewish community by establishing 1,100 Yiddish-language schools, 40 Yiddish-language daily newspapers and by settling Jews on farms in Ukraine and Crimea; the number of Jews working in industry had more than doubled between 1926 and 1931.[16]:567 At the beginning of the 1930s, the Jews were 1.8 percent of the Soviet population but 12–15 percent of all university students.[17] The share of Jews in the Soviet ruling elite declined during the 1930s, but was still more than double their proportion in the general Soviet population. According to Israeli historian Benjamin Pinkus, "We can say that the Jews in the Soviet Union took over the privileged position, previously held by the Germans in tsarist Russia".[18]:83


Between 1936 and 1940, during the Great Purge, and after the rapprochement with Nazi Germany, Stalin largely eliminated Jews from senior party, government, diplomatic, security and military positions.[19] From 1948 until Stalin's death in 1953, there was further persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union. Jews were branded "rootless cosmopolitans" or "Zionists" and accused of anti-Soviet activities. The campaign culminated in the Doctor's Plot of 1953. Soviet anti-Zionist propaganda campaigns maintained that there was a Jewish world conspiracy.[20] The term Zionist was often substituted for Jew to avoid the appearance of antisemitism.[21] Other Soviet bloc countries followed suit: the best known is the 1952 Slansky trial in Czechoslovakia, but East Germany, Hungary, Romania and Yugoslavia also targeted Jews, as part of wider campaigns of repression.

1970s onwards

Left-wing parties opposed the right-wing Israeli Likud government and Israeli policies after 1967. Many on the left sympathise with the Palestinians in the Israel-Palestine conflict, with some being active in such organizations and campaigns as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Palestine Solidarity Movement, War on Want, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and Divestment from Israel. New antisemitism is the concept that a new form of antisemitism has developed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, tending to manifest itself as opposition to Zionism and criticism of the Israeli government. For example, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism includes references to Israel in seven of its eleven examples of antisemitism.[22] Some reject the concept: thus in May 2017, Stephen Sedley said: "Anti-Semitism, where it manifests itself in discriminatory acts or inflammatory speech, is generally illegal. Criticism of Israel or of Zionism is protected by law. The IHRA working definition conflates the two by characterising everything other than anodyne criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic".[23]

Since 2015, there have been allegations of antisemitism in the British Labour Party. Some left-wing Jewish groups have disputed the antisemitism claims, including Jewish Voice for Labour,[24][25] Jews for Justice for Palestinians,[26] Jewish Socialists' Group,[27] Jewdas[28] and Independent Jewish Voices;[29] all of whom have said that accusations of antisemitism against the Labour Party have a twofold purpose: firstly, to conflate antisemitism with criticism of Israel in order to deter such criticism and, secondly, to undermine the Labour leadership since Corbyn was elected leader in 2015.[30][31][32] According to a 2018 poll commissioned by The Jewish Chronicle, 85% of British Jews believe that Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite.[33] Defenders, including Jewish Voice for Labour, have cited his record of opposing and campaigning against racism and antisemitism[34][35][36][37][38][39][40] as well as supporting Jewish communal initiatives.[41][42]

A study into contemporary antisemitism in Britain by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in September 2017 found that "Levels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population. Yet, all parts of those on the left of the political spectrum – including the 'slightly left-of-centre,' the 'fairly left-wing' and the 'very left-wing' – exhibit higher levels of anti Israelism than average." It went on, "The most antisemitic group on the political spectrum consists of those who identify as very right-wing: the presence of antisemitic attitudes in this group is 2 to 4 times higher compared to the general population."[43] It continued: "However, in relation to anti-Israel attitudes, the very left-wing lead: 78% (75–82%) in this group endorse at least one anti-Israel attitude, in contrast to 56% in the general population, and 23% (19–26%) hold 6–9 such attitudes, in contrast to 9% in the general population. Elevated levels of anti-Israel attitudes are also observed in other groups on the political left: the fairly left-wing and those slightly left-of-centre. The lowest level of anti-Israel attitudes is observed in the political centre and among those who are slightly right-of-centre or fairly right-wing." The report found that "...anti-Israel attitudes are not, as a general rule, antisemitic; but the stronger a person's anti-Israel views, the more likely they are to hold antisemitic attitudes. A majority of those who hold anti-Israel attitudes do not espouse any antisemitic attitudes, but a significant minority of those who hold anti-Israel attitudes hold them alongside antisemitic attitudes. Therefore, antisemitism and anti-Israel attitudes exist both separately and together."[44] The study stated that in "surveys of attitudes towards ethnic and religious minorities... The most consistently found pattern across different surveys is heightened animosity towards Jews on the political right..." and that "The political left, captured by voting intention or actual voting for Labour, appears in these surveys as a more Jewish-friendly, or neutral, segment of the population."[45]

See also


  1. ^ Rubinstein 2015, p. 79.
  2. ^ Laqueur 2008, pp. 125, 172–173.
  3. ^ Brustein & Roberts 2015, pp. 5–6.
  4. ^ Paul Johnson, 1984. Marxism vs the Jews in Commentary Magazine. Available at: commentarymagazine.com
  5. ^ Muravchik, Joshua (2003). Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism. San Francisco: Encounter Books. pp. 164. ISBN 1-893554-45-7.
  6. ^ Hyam Maccoby. Antisemitism and Modernity: Innovation and Continuity. Routledge. (2006). ISBN 0-415-31173-X p. 64-66
  7. ^ Bernard Lewis. Semites and Anti-Semites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice. (1999). W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-31839-7 p.112
  8. ^ Edward H. Flannery. The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Antisemitism. Paulist Press. (2004). ISBN 0-8091-4324-0 p. 168
  9. ^ Marvin Perry, Frederick M. Schweitzer. Antisemitism: Myth and Hate from Antiquity to the Present. Palgrave Macmillan. (2005). ISBN 1-4039-6893-4 p. 154-157
  10. ^ David McLellan: Marx before Marxism (1970), pp.141-142
  11. ^ Sacks, Jonathan (1997). The Politics of Hope. London: Jonathan Cape. pp. 98–108. ISBN 978-0-224-04329-8.
  12. ^ Iain Hampsher-Monk, A History of Modern Political Thought (1992), Blackwell Publishing, p. 496
  13. ^ Brown, Wendy (1995). "Rights and Identity in Late Modernity: Revisiting the 'Jewish Question'". In Sarat, Austin; Kearns, Thomas (eds.). Identities, Politics, and Rights. University of Michigan Press. pp. 85–130.
  14. ^ Modern Jewish History: Pogroms, Jewish Virtual Library, 2008, retrieved September 9, 2015.
  15. ^ Berkhoff, Karel C. (2004). Harvest of Despair: Life and Death in Ukraine Under Nazi Rule. p. 60. ISBN 9780674020788.
  16. ^ Overy, Richard (2004). The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia. W. W. Norton Company, Inc. ISBN 9780141912240.
  17. ^ Arad, Yitzhak (2010). In the Shadow of the Red Banner: Soviet Jews in the War Against Nazi Germany. Gefen Publishing House, Ltd. p. 133. ISBN 9789652294876.
  18. ^ Pinkus, Benjamin (1990). The Jews of the Soviet Union: The History of a National Minority. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521389266.
  19. ^ Levin 1988, pp. 318-325.
  20. ^ Laqueur 2008, pp. 175–177.
  21. ^ Laqueur 2008, pp. 178, 180.
  22. ^ "Working Definition of Antisemitism". International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  23. ^ Sedley 2017.
  24. ^ "A statement from Jewish Labour members on the current attacks on Jeremy Corbyn". Jewish Voice for Labour. 26 March 2018. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  25. ^ Manson, Jenny; Levy, Raphael (28 September 2017). "Jewish Voice for Labour is not an anti-Zionist group". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  26. ^ "Alleging antisemitism is Labour right's 'defining narrative now'". JFJFP. 19 January 2017.
  27. ^ "Statement on "Labour's problem with antisemitism"". Jewish Socialists' Group. 28 April 2016. Retrieved 12 May 2018.
  28. ^ "Statement on "Labour's problem with antisemitism"". Jewdas. 29 March 2018. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  29. ^ "Jeremy Corbyn and the Jewdas Seder: A Statement by Independent Jewish Voices". Independent Jewish Voices. 2 April 2018.
  30. ^ Bock, Pauline (31 January 2018). "Ken Loach on Labour's anti-Semitism "witchhunt", the Corbyn opportunity and lessons from 1968". New Statesman.
  31. ^ Chacko, Ben (20 April 2018). "The Morning Star doesn't hate Israel – we're proud to oppose all forms of racism". Labour List. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  32. ^ Cowles, Ben (28 April 2018). "Audio Interview 'Corbyn is no anti-semite' – An interview with Jewish Voice for Labour". Morning Star. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  33. ^ Sokol, Sam (7 May 2019). "London Jewish group releases 15,000 page report on Labour Party anti-Semitism". Times of Israel. Retrieved 27 May 2019.
  34. ^ Dysch, Marcus (18 August 2015). "Anti-Israel activists attack JC for challenging Jeremy Corbyn". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  35. ^ "Corbyn apologises for 'hurt' caused by anti-Semitism in Labour". BBC News. 26 March 2018. Retrieved 21 May 2018.
  36. ^ "Labour, antisemitism and where Jeremy Corbyn goes from here". The Guardian. 29 April 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  37. ^ "Jeremy Corbyn's Labour is a crucial ally in the fight against antisemitism". The Guardian. 20 February 2019. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  38. ^ "Labour anti-Semitism claims: Jewish group backs Corbyn". BBC News. 21 February 2019. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  39. ^ Chacko, Ben (2 March 2019). "We need to be clear about why Chris Williamson has been singled out for attack". Morning Star. Retrieved 3 March 2019.
  40. ^ Alderman, Geoffrey (18 April 2019). "Horrors! Corbyn's A 'PM in Waiting' - Accept It". The Jewish Telegraph. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
  41. ^ Alderman, Geoffrey. "Dame Margaret Has Some Explaining To Do". The Jewish Telegraph. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
  42. ^ Alderman, Geoffrey (8 May 2019). "Is Jeremy Corbyn really anti-Semitic?". The Spectator. Retrieved 15 June 2019.
  43. ^ Staetsky 2017, p. 5–8.
  44. ^ Staetsky 2017, p. 44.
  45. ^ Staetsky 2017, p. 42.


Further reading

  • Rich, Dave (2016). The Left's Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism. Biteback Publishing. ISBN 9781785901515.
  • Hirsh, David (2017). Contemporary Left Antisemitism. Routledge. ISBN 9781315304298.
  • Brosch, Matthias (2007). Exklusive Solidarität: linker Antisemitismus in Deutschland : vom Idealismus zur Antiglobalisierungsbewegung (in German).
  • Norwood, Stephen H. (2013). Antisemitism and the American Far Left. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781107276833.