left-wing antisemitism: a guide
Antisemitism is bigotry, prejudice, and/or discrimination of Jews based on religion, culture, and/or ethnicity.
The international Jewish community has overwhelmingly adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism, which describes antisemitism as the following:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
The IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism also provides a number of examples, which you can read at www.holocaustremembrance.com/resources/working-definitions-charters/working-definition-antisemitism
Over 800 entities, including organizations and numerous countries, have officially adopted the IHRA definition. voice of marginalized groups; fringe members of any group always exist, but their voices don’t represent the community as a whole.
Antisemitism is sneaky, evolving, and notoriously difficult to catch if you are unfamiliar with antisemitic conspiracies and tropes. While the nouns in the equation might change — for example, “Zionist” or “globalist” are often used as a euphemisms for “Jew” — the formula remains the same. Antisemites perceive Jews — or whatever euphemism they choose — to be conniving, all-powerful, manipulative, money-hungry, and perpetually in pursuit of destruction and world domination.
WHAT ARE LEFT-WING POLITICS?
The concept of left vs. right politics is relatively new, originating during the French Revolution (1789-1799). Those considered to be on the right were those who remained loyal to the king, while those on the left were the supporters of the revolution. It’s worth noting that the scapegoating and demonization of Jews continued well into — and long after — the French Revolution. For example, the great French philosopher Voltaire, who was a huge advocate of free speech, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state, said of the Jews: “You are calculating animals; try to be thinking animals.”
Another important development in the aftermath of the French Revolution was Napoleon’s “agreement” with the Jews: for Jews to receive equal rights, they were to reduce their Jewish identity to a “religious” identity, rather than a national and tribal identity. In 1806, he wrote: “[It is necessary to] reduce, if not destroy, the tendency of Jewish people to practice a very great number of activities that are harmful to civilisation and to public order in society in all the countries of the world. It is necessary to stop the harm by preventing it; to prevent it, it is necessary to change the Jews…Once part of their youth will take its place in our armies, they will cease to have Jewish interests and sentiments; their interests and sentiments will be French.”
This would come up later, particularly in communist countries, which has carried on to the left of today: support for the Jewish People is contingent upon our disavowal of core parts of our identity.
It wasn’t until the early twentieth century that the “left” and the “right” became associated with specific political ideologies. Both “left” and “right” were initially considered slurs against political opponents of a differing ideology. For example, someone on the left might insult a conservative by calling them “right-wing,” and vice versa.
Today, we associate right-wing politics with the support of traditional social order and hierarchies; left-wing politics are associated with social equality and egalitarianism, oftentimes in opposition of social hierarchies.
Because antisemitism long predates all of this, and because the oppression of Jews has been foundational to both Christian and Muslim societies — that is, the societies of the vast majority of the world today — antisemitism does not subscribe to a single political ideology. In other words: the political ideologies came much later, building upon an already existing antisemitic foundation. As such, antisemitism is everywhere on the political spectrum.
MARXISM, COMMUNISM, & ANTISEMITISM
Marxism is a left-wing political ideology and method of socioeconomic analysis which uses a materialist interpretation of historical development to understand the relations between classes and social conflict. Marxism has numerous branches and there is no singular Marxist ideology. Communism is “a political theory derived from Karl Marx, advocating class war and leading to a society in which all property is publicly owned and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs.”
While I don’t believe the theories of Marxism and communism are inherently antisemitic, the truth is that both movements were riddled with antisemitism from the start. Though Karl Marx was Jewish, in 1843, he wrote: “What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money…An organization of society which would abolish the preconditions for huckstering, and therefore the possibility of huckstering, would make the Jew impossible…Money is the jealous god of Israel…”
The Russian Civil War (1917-1923) was a multi-party civil war that broke out in the Russian Empire in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Russian monarchy in favor of a left-wing communist government. Even the most conservative estimates calculate that some 50,000 Jews were massacred in pogroms — anti-Jewish massacres — during the Russian Civil War. Most estimates calculate that up to 100,000 were murdered; the Soviet authorities themselves put the number at 200,000.
While the majority of the pogroms during this period of the Russian Civil War were perpetrated by local anti-communist, anti-Bolshevik nationalist armies, the communist Soviet Red Army was also guilty of indiscriminately massacring Jews.
Though the Soviets passed laws condemning antisemitism in 1918, hundreds of years’ worth of systemic violent antisemitism during the reign of the Russian Empire could not be undone with a single measure. Specifically, the majority of the pro-Bolshevik Soviet peasantry and working class were deeply antisemitic, often laying blame on the Jewish People for their economic conditions and considering Jews the “class enemy.” In fact, it’s estimated that the Red Army was responsible for perpetrating one out of every 10 pogroms during the Russian Civil War.
THE SOVIET UNION
Following the Holocaust, antisemitism became heavily associated with Nazism. As such, the Soviets, many of whom had long expressed antisemitic views (e.g. Stalin), began persecuting Jews under the guise of anti-Zionism instead.
Interestingly, however, the Soviets were never covert about the fact that their “anti-Zionism” was actually just antisemitism. In the 1960s, Soviet propaganda (such as newspapers) made blatantly antisemitic claims, including: “The character of the Jewish religion serves the political aims of the Zionists,” “Zionism is inextricable from Judaism, rooted in the idea of the exclusiveness of the Jewish People,” comparisons of Judaism to the Italian mafia, and claims that Israel was merely a means to an end of Jewish imperialism and world domination.
Following WWII, Soviet Jews were accused of aiding “American imperialism” and were swiftly removed from their positions in the sciences, universities, and more. A massive “anti-Zionist” propaganda campaign shrouded in antisemitic conspiracies was disseminated across the Soviet Union. This campaign culminated in the Doctors’ Plot, when Jewish doctors were arrested, tortured, and executed. Historians widely agree that the Doctors’ Plot was only the beginning to a wider act of ethnic cleansing and possible genocide (that was never realised thanks to Stalin’s sudden death).
Even after Stalin’s death, the Soviets continued their “anti-Zionist” campaigns, though in more subtle ways. For example, Jewish religious and cultural practices (such as learning Hebrew) were illegal. Jews were also forbidden from emigrating and banned from many professions. In other words — just as Napoleon once had — the Soviets technically permitted Jews to live, so long as they abandoned core parts of their Jewishness.
Following the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the oppression of Soviet Jewry drastically intensified. Desperate for a better life, thousands of Soviet Jews applied for exit visas, mostly to Israel. However, the Soviet regime almost always denied them such visas, citing bogus excuses, claiming that, sometime in the past, these Jews had been privy to information vital to Soviet national security, and, as such, allowing their emigration would put the Soviet Union at risk. During this period, Soviet Jews were portrayed as traitors or agitators. Requesting exit visas was considered an act of treason. In order to apply for exit visas, Jews first had to quit their jobs; however, this put them at risk of being accused of “social parasitism,” which was considered a crime. After having their visas refused, Jews were also then prevented from obtaining new work. Then, this joblessness was criminalised. Soviet Jews were stuck in an impossible living situation.
Jews — or “Zionists” — were notoriously scapegoated not only in the Soviet Union, but elsewhere in the communist bloc as well.
In 1968, a series of student-led protests broke out against the Communist government of Poland. The Polish government responded to the instability by scapegoating their now tiny post-Holocaust Jewish community. They enacted a massive “anti-Zionist” propaganda campaign, spreading conspiracies that Zionist were plotting to take over Poland.
Poles were forced to denounce Zionism and Jews were purged from their positions in the government and other sectors, accused of holding dual loyalties to Israel. Many were arrested, beaten, and tortured. The government created lists of Jews, eerily echoing N*zi Germany.
15,000 out of 25,000 Jews in Poland were stripped of their Polish citizenship. The 1968 Polish political crisis is sometimes called a “symbolic pogrom” because the severe disenfranchisement Jews experienced resulted in a series of suicides.
In the late 1970s, a new Marxist government rose to power in Ethiopia. An antisemitic, anti-government right-wing group began a killing spree in 1978, cutting children’s feet off, bludgeoning babies, castrating men, r*ping women, torturing elders, and selling women and children into slavery.
Instead of condemning the attacks, the Ethiopian government decided to crack down on its Jewish community. They claimed to do so in the name of combatting “Zionist propaganda.” Because of the worsening conditions, Ethiopian Jews tried to flee to Israel. As a punishment for “Zionism,” Jews were collectively arrested, tortured, and hung.
TALKING POINTS & THE LEFT OF TODAY
Though not always described as such, the Soviet Union was, by all definitions, an empire with imperial interests.
In international relations, a sphere of influence is a geographic region over which a state or empire has cultural, economic, military, and/or political influence. It can be considered a form of indirect or subtle imperialism. In the most extreme cases, states or empires establish de-facto colonies, satellite states, and/or proxy states. The Soviets, interested in exerting their imperial sphere of interest over Arab and African nations during the Cold War, disseminated massive antisemitic propaganda campaigns across Africa and the Middle East, as well as incited proxy conflicts between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
It was in these very propaganda campaigns that the Soviets began framing Zionism as a tool and/or extension of American imperialism, rather than as a nationalist movement for the Jewish People.
For example: to strengthen their sphere of influence over Arab and African nations, the Soviets launched a covert operation against Israel, named Sionistskiye Gosudarstva, meaning “Zionist Governments.” According to KGB chairman Yuri Andropov (1967-1982), “We had only to keep repeating our themes—that the United States and Israel were ‘fascist, imperial-Zionist countries’ bankrolled by rich Jews.’”
The following “left-wing” talking points originate with these propaganda operations: that Israel is a settler-colonial state, that Zionists collaborated with the N*zis, that Zionism is an inherently racista ideology, that Zionism is a form of N*zism, that Israel is an apartheid state, and more. If you pay attention to the left of today, I’m sure you’re familiar with these accusations.
LEFT & RIGHT ANTISEMITISM WORK TOGETHER, NOT INDEPENDENT OF EACH OTHER
Historically, left-wing and right-wing antisemitism haven’t worked independently of each other, but rather, have worked together. Both utilize the same ancient antisemitic tropes and conspiracies and the same virulently antisemitic texts. For instance: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion inspired both fascist, far-right N*zi antisemitism and communist, far-left Soviet antisemitism. Another example: in the 1950s, the left-wing Soviets circulated far-right N*zi propaganda across the Arab world, such as films produced by the N*zis themselves, with the stated aim of exporting “rabid, demented hatred for American Zionism” in the Middle East.
When antisemitism rises on the left, Jews on the political left and left of center, which is the majority of us in the United States (71% of American Jews are Democrats), are left politically homeless and unprotected from violent right-wing antisemitism. This creates a ripe environment for right-wing antisemitism of the N*zi and white supremacist ilk to fester.
When a left-wing antisemite publishes antisemitic texts, conspiracies, or lists of Jews (or “Zionists”), we know that it’s only a matter of time before they fall into the hands of N*zis.
A perfect example is the recent “Mapping Project,” created by a left-wing antisemite, with the possible backing of the authoritarian, theocratic, deeply conservative Iranian regime, which was a map depicting “Zionist organizations” in Massachusetts, including Jewish summer camps, disability centers, nonprofits, and more. Unsurprisingly, Goyim TV, a white supremacist video-sharing website, quickly picked up the map and shared it with its viewers.
A neo-N*zi or a white supremacist doesn’t care if a map of where to find Jews is made by a left-wing antisemite: they’ll use it anyway, leading to tangible, potentially deadly violence against Jews.
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