Democratic Underground

Anti-Semitism and the "New Jews"

March 21, 2006
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

Recently while surfing the web, I clicked onto an essay by a widely-circulated internet author that was linked-to at a number of alternative-press websites.

I couldn't believe what I was reading: the essay was a long diatribe aimed, it seemed, at an amorphous Jewish conspiracy that according to the author is at the heart of what ails America and its policies.

Maybe I misunderstood, I thought - since the precise word "Jews" was not used - so I googled the author's name and read another essay by him. This one pulled no punches; it was a defense of Holocaust denial and a scabrous attack on "the Jews" as the evil villains of contemporary society.

I have nothing against the right of anyone to print anything; it's the glory of free speech, and I think it reprehensible for Austria to throw David Irving into prison for his expressing similar Holocaust-denial thoughts in his writings. (If right-wingers can be jailed for expressing their opinions, at some point it surely will happen to left-wingers. Free speech should always be defended for one and all, the exception being actual incitements to violence - "shouting fire in a crowded theater," for example.)

But I wondered whether the editors of the alternative-press websites had carefully read what this author was writing in his article, or whether they simply read the first paragraph or two and decided to publish or link to it because he had established a reputation questioning the Bush Administration's Iraq war policies and its 9/11 scenario.

The other possibility, which I didn't really want to consider, was that the editors had read his article carefully and agreed with this kind of racist garbage. Anti-Semitism is universal and, though more prevalent on the Right, also exists on the Left. (Note: I'm not talking about anti-Zionism, i.e., articles opposed to Israeli policy and even to the existence of Israel, about which reasonable minds can agree or disagree. No, I'm referring to out-and-out raging rants about "the Jews," as a people.)

ANTI-SEMITISM FROM THE LEFT

Anti-Semitism on the Left is generally not spoken about, but it's real and appears to be growing. For those so inclined, it's easy to slip from denunciations' of Israeli policy - many on the Left, including yours truly, are quite vocal on occasion in opposing Israeli policies and actions - to out-and-out anti-Semitism.

It's often difficult to locate that fine line. Jew-haters often can hide their true feelings and arguments inside broadsides against Israeli policy, but those opposed vehemently to certain Israeli policies (and I count myself as one of that breed) are definitely not anti-Jewish in this context. So how to tell the difference?

Certainly, AIPAC (the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee) has no problem: anybody writing anything in opposition to Israeli policies is all too-often smeared with the "anti-Semitic" or "Jew-hater" brush; if they happen to be Jewish, AIPAC types often throw the phrase "self-hating Jew" into the denunciation.

In my experience, in order to judge articles about Israelis and Jews somewhat accurately, you sort of have to follow a pundit's writings over time, and discern where the arguments are coming from and where they are going.

REACTIONS TO ISRAELI POLICIES

Most liberals and leftists, including those who have grave disagreements with Israeli policy and U.S. policy toward Israel, abhor generalized statements about any subgroup of people, be they Jews, Arabs, Muslims, African-Americans, gays, women, et al.

But because U.S.-supported Israeli policies are at the heart of much of the conflict in the Middle East, and thus are connected in some degree to Islamist terrorism around the world, anti-Jewish feelings get stirred up more than usual in these current times.

The anti-Semitism-on-the-Left issue cries out for more in-depth examination as to motive and intent. Perhaps in time, I will be able to delve deeper into this topic. Suffice it to say that elements of anti-Semitism are alive and well not only in the usual hate and neo-Nazi sites on the internet but also can be found where most of us live in alternative, progressive and even mainstream circles.

Maybe I'm exaggerating. I would love to believe that, but I don't really think so. I'd love to hear others' opinions on this development, which might help expand the thesis.

THERE IS NO VACCINE AGAINST HATE

Anti-Semitism is like a dormant virus, relatively quiet most of the time in respectable society and discourse, but which bursts out into the open now and again, usually in times of economic and psychological crisis. The resulting social rash can be deadly. And there is no vaccine, other than shining the light of truth on ignorance, with which to combat the disease of hate. (In America, overt racism against blacks similarly is a virus that tends to lie dormant until suddenly bursting out in tense times.)

Since the Israel/Palestine situation goes unresolved decade after decade, and since the explosive region there is so much at the heart of U.S. policy and thus of resistance to that policy, it should not surprise anyone that the virus of anti-Semitism is erupting once again, and in so many areas.

Just a few examples:

  • We get more than the usual number of anti-Semitic letters these days here at The Crisis Papers, mostly disguised but more often recently out-and-out Nazi-type screeds directed at "the Jews." For the most part, we don't print them, but every so often we do so to reveal to our readers the level of what passes for intelligent debate from some on the Right. (And how far are the incendiary comments about "liberals" by the likes of Coulter, Horowitz, Limbaugh, O'Reilly and Savage from crossing the line into incitement-speech?)

  • In earlier years, world leaders would not speak openly in anti-Semitic terms; but recently, for example, officials from Malaysia and Iran in public speeches have stoked the fires of anti-Jewish suspicion and hatred. And just a few years ago, Egyptian TV broadcast a documentary filled with anti-Jewish propaganda, based largely on the long-discredited forgery called "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," about an alleged Jewish plot to rule the world. Schools in many Muslim countries (including states allied with the U.S.) continue to teach their young students to hate Jews, likewise using the phony "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" as their starting point.

  • The fact that there are a number of well-known Jews at the heart of the neo-conservative movement in America - most notably Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith - has engendered a good many rants about how "the Jews" control U.S. foreign policy and have taken America to war in Iraq for reasons having more to do with protecting Israel than America. (Ignored in these screeds are the majority of non-Jews involved in the neo-con and Hard Right movements, and the influence of Christian Zionists and the military/industrial/Big Oil complex on American foreign policy.)

  • The Left was somewhat split over last weekend's anti-war demonstrations. Many liberals chose not to participate in the large marches organized by one of the main national anti-war groups, A.N.S.W.E.R. ("Act Now to Stop War & End Racism"), because that outfit's emphasis on Palestinian statehood at the expense of Israel's existence - thus implying that Jews need to be eliminated from the region - is both offensive and ill-advised; the group also is much criticized for co-opting rallies organized by other anti-war groups and bringing a whole host of domestic and foreign issues into marches supposedly devoted to getting the U.S. out of Iraq. Those not choosing to march with A.N.S.W.E.R. avoided Saturday's rallies or made other arrangements; many are gearing up for the April 29 nationwide demos being organized by United for Peace and Justice, which concentrates less on side issues and mostly on ending the war in Iraq.

Well, one could go on and on with such a listing. The point is that scapegoats are required in any time of crisis. Often those scapegoats are "the Jews," but at other times and at other places, the focus of hate is directed at "the Arabs," "the blacks," "the gays," "the liberals," "the Serbs," and so on.

"KILLING EACH OTHER, OF COURSE"

I recall my travels in Yugoslavia when Tito was holding that artificially-constructed, multi-ethnic country together by force of his charisma and his Communist police-state. I asked the academics and students I ran into what would happen when their leader died. It didn't matter whether these reasonable intellectual types were Serbs or Croats, Christian or Muslim, the answer was always the same: "When Tito dies? We'll go back to killing each other, of course."

But, I protested, you've lived together in peace for decades now, you are often good friends and colleagues, you even intermarry; why would you revert back to such brutal ways of dealing with each other, to a kind of vicious tribalism? The answer I got was heartbreaking in its scapegoat simplicity: "Because you can't trust the [insert name of ethnic or religious group], they're all liars and thieves." When, decades later, the Serbs and Croats began slaughtering each other, I was appalled but not surprised. Ancient rivers run deep.

And Jews are, in some ways, as ancient as they come, and therefore are handy scapegoats when an outlet is needed for blame and resentment. (I realize I come at this topic from an insider's extra-sensitivity, having been raised Jewish and with many members of my parents' families having perished in the Holocaust.)

THE "NEW JEWS"

But there are Jews and there are those who might be considered the "new Jews," who take their lumps as well: homosexuals, Chinese in Southeast Asia, Palestinians and other Arabs in Israel and the U.S. (and often in Arab nations as well), African-Americans in the South and in the inner cities, Mexican immigrants, whoever. It's the same process of stereotyping and repression, which often leads to discrimination and violence, even when the group being victimized changes.

Again, this topic of anti-Semitism is enormous, and I only want to raise it here as a warning flag for the progressive Left, something we need to examine and deal with and expand out in thinking about how others are treated.

For obvious reasons, anti-Jewish expression on the Left mostly does not make its way into liberal discourse. But if you want a good starting-point for thinking about the issue, I'd suggest a 2003 article that transcribes a rare forum on the topic: Jamie Glazov's "Symposium: Anti-Semitism - the New Call of the Left" at FrontPage Magazine.

Perhaps what is called for is a national forum on religious/ethnic/sexual-preference scapegoating that includes representatives from all discriminated groups. The participants might then become aware of the commonality of their persecution (and often of their persecutors), and develop a coordinated way of defending themselves and going after those that wish them ill.

Bernard Weiner has taught at various universities, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers. To comment, write: crisispapers@comcast.net.

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