Leaving the Radical Left: Anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitism, and Jewish Response (Part Three, Draft 1)

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[Part Three in a Three-Part Series. This is a very rough-draft, work-in-progress. Even rougher than the first two parts. It was originally longer than what is posted but my thoughts and opinions have changed since I first wrote it so I cut a few sections out and it may seem a bit choppy as a result. I’d like to add more eventually but other tasks and obligations (family, work, etc.) have kept me from spending the necessary time. Part 1 here. Part 2 here.]

Leaving the Left: Israel and the American Dream

The Holy Land had long been the Jewish national homeland for more than a thousand years until the Jews had been expelled by Rome in the first century CE. Jews around the world had prayed, hoped, and dreamed to return to Zion throughout nearly two thousand years of dispersion. Anti-Semitic persecution in Eastern Europe in the late 1800s drove modest numbers of Jewish immigrants to Palestine, which was then a desolate corner of the Turkish Empire. Jewish development of the country in turn attracted Arab immigrants in search of employment opportunities.

In the midst of World War I, as British troops advanced on Turkish positions in the Levant, the young Zionist movement, seeking international support for the idea of creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine, persuaded London to issue the Balfour Declaration, which pledged that England would facilitate the creation of a Jewish national home in the Holy Land. After the British won Palestine from the Turks, the League of Nations, in 1920 officially conferred the Palestine Mandate upon England, entrusting it with the development of the country until its residents were capable of self-development. The British, convinced that the Arabs were not politically or culturally ready for democratic self-rule, hunkered down for a long stay in a territory that they perceived as vital to England’s strategic interests in the Mediterranean.[1]

The last truly independent Jewish State in Palestine ended in 63 B.C. when Pompey became master of Jerusalem; the last gasps of the Jewish nation in Palestine date from the revolt of Bar Kochba in 135 A.D.[2] Rodinson exhibits a callousness typical of the left when he writes, “today as in the past—as already in the Roman period and even earlier, in Persian times—the majority of Jews freely chose the Diaspora.”[3] Jews did not freely choose to leave their homeland and live in the countries of Europe as second-class citizens, victims of pogroms and the Holocaust.

The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 did not have a tremendous impact on the radical left, that would come in 1967 (see part two). What about for Jews? To generalize, many ultra-orthodox Jews were critical of the secular Zionist movement and Israel. Most radical Jews (anarchists, communists, etc.) criticized Zionism as nationalism. But the vast majority of Jews, religious and secular, were united in their support of the new state. Israel greatly contributed to a notion of Jewish nationality or peoplehood. The series of wars fought by Israel further solidified this support, providing convincing evidence that Israel was surrounded by neighbors who were dedicated to the state’s destruction.

In addition to the importance of Israel, during the post WWII era, increasing public, political, and economic opportunities for Jews meant integration into mainstream American life. This had a tremendously negative impact on the membership of many Old Left organizations. Membership in these groups, unions and parties was largely familial. However, as the opportunities to attend colleges and universities (the G.I. Bill, creation of community college system, etc.) expanded and more people entered the middle-class. Opportunity and the fulfillment of the American Dream arguably did more damage to Old Left radicalism than the general anti-communist efforts lumped under the term “McCarthyism.” Lastly, many Jews who participated in the struggle for black civil rights felt marginalized and at times demonized as the movement lurched toward Black Power, Black Nationalism, and Afro-centrism.

In addition to societal and structural shifts, during the 1960s, student political groups became increasing militant and radicalism bloomed on the left (Black Panther Party, Students for a Democratic Society) and the right (John Birch Society, Young Americans for Freedom). Then there were the disturbances riots. Between 1965 and 1969, 329 significant racial disturbances took place in 257 cities, resulting in nearly 300 deaths, 8,000 injuries, 60,000 arrests, and property losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Radical organizations routinely sided against the police and other forces of law-and-order, thereby marginalizing themselves from an American public critical of the War in Vietnam but supportive of American institutions.

By the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, most American Jews, like most Americans, were so far removed from the goals and aspirations of radical political organizations these organizations again underwent a severe decline in membership. Palestinian terrorism (and leftist support of it) during this period also undoubtedly drove some Jews out of the radical left.

Some veteran activists remained involved in “the movement” and organizations continued to hold meetings and demonstrations (most notably against nuclear weapons and U.S. intervention in Latin America) but it would not be until the rise of the “anti-golobalization” movement in the early 1990s that radical political organizations would again occupy the imagination of the media and anyone who was willing to listen.

I first got politically involved through organizations critiquing IMF/World Bank structural adjustment in the developing world. This was my introduction to activism and it remained a central part of my involvement for a decade. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, I was shocked at the level of anti-Semitism expressed by those in the movement. Radicalism, extremism, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are all intertwined.

Conclusion: Identity and Ideology

It has often been asserted by left authors (for example, Noam Chomsky) that the link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is a tenuous one. Chomsky asserts that the linkage is a device used by Zionists to squash dissent. Yet the linkage would not be possible—or at least would be much more difficult—if there was no past or current demonstration of anti-Semitism among Israel’s opponents. Simply stated, while it is absolutely true that all anti-Zionists are not Jew hating bigots, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic in intent.

Few would equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. The most ardent Zionists are often the state’s harshest critics. Even Foster and Epstein admit:

Of course one can be unsympathetic to or oppose Israel’s position on specific issues without being anti-Jewish…But gratuitous and illegitimate assaults on Israel—whether they contain true anti-Semitism or betray a gross insensitivity to the profound meaning of Israel to Jews everywhere—provoke Jewish anger and awaken ancient Jewish anxieties.(4

Furthermore, Chomsky is well aware that socialism has merged with nationalism in the past to create both revolutionary populism and fascism. Extreme leftists often move to the extreme right. Mussolini is one example and Horst Mahler is another. Mahler was the ideological brain of the ultra-leftist Red Army Fraction during the 1970s. Today he is attorney for the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) and a holocaust revisionist who revels in anti-Semitic rants at his website.[5]

Mahler’s ideas articulate another connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. In the “Discovery of God instead of Jewish Hatred” Mahler writes, “This consciousness of being chosen by Yaweh allows the Jews to conceive of themselves as a Nation…the Jews — as Jews — can never be a nation.” [6]

On the basis of a conspiracy theory of “Jewish financial capital”, Mahler speaks of the “secret government” by the “directors of the global economic and financial system.” Mahler, while certainly an extreme example, is not unique in his perspective. Leftists have embraced a similar worldview of Zionist control of banking and foreign policy.[7]

Most leftists take umbrage when their anti-Zionist extremism is deemed anti-Semitism. But evidence of anti-Semitism is not restricted to advocacy of the destruction of Israel. Domestic anti-Zionist political discourse has been clearly anti-Jewish. Anti-Zionists have willingly collaborated with overt anti-Semites and shared some of their anti-Jewish purposes. Representative Cynthia McKinney (now Green Party candidate for U.S. president), for example, was advised by members of the Nation of Islam, a virulently anti-Jewish organization with a far from progressive history.

The radical left, with its emphasis on internationalism, forces Jews to choose between a socialist/leftist identity and a Jewish identity. Political Scientist Katherine Hite notes identity is the outcome of an “extremely deliberative conflictive process individuals undergo to define their ideologies and political roles.” Political identity emerges from a dynamic interplay between the psychological make-up of individuals, their embeddedness in particular political and social structures and institutions, and the major political experiences of their lives, which together influence their political ideologies and roles. As Zionism is held to be a legitimate movement for self-determination by the vast majority of Jews and as racism, colonialism, and fascism by the vast majority of radical organizations it is surprising that more Jews are not leaving the left.

POSTSCRIPT:

There has been a lot written about those who have moved from the socialist left to the neo-conservative right. My wife often notes it is far more common for someone with an extremist perspective to swing to the opposite political pole (left to right or right to left) rather than critiquing their extremism and moving to the center. Why is that?


[1] Foster and Epstein, 37. Lumer. Zionism: Its Role in World Politics in Rubin,145.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Rodinson, 79.

[4] Foster and Epstein, 17

[5] German Lecture Series: Final Solution of the Jewish Question, “Discovery of God instead of Jewish Hatred” by Horst Mahler Keinmachnow, 25 March 200.

[6] Since the rise of the Money System, the tribes of Israel have always known how to emerge as the victors from both sides of the wars which they have financed, although they have never fought.” http://www.deutsches-kolleg.org/hm/Medoff. Zionism and the Arabs. p. 2-3.

[7] See Mearsheimer and Walt, The Israel Lobby and The Hidden History of Zionism by Ralph Schoenman.

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