We Have Lost an Important Voice


A.L. introduced me to Steve Cohen’s “That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic” a few years ago (2003?).  I enjoyed the wit and humor of “That’s Funny…”, a rare commodity in political tracts. More importantly, Cohen, a man of the left, identified a uniquely left-wing version of anti-Semitism and sought to combat it. That he wrote “That’s Funny…” two and a half decades ago (1984) and the pamphlet still stands the test of time makes it all the more impressive. At least it does for me. I did not recognize the prevalence of anti-Semitism on the left until 2001.

Looking for an excerpt, I found this and thought it neatly encapsulated many of the issues we are still dealing with today:

Left anti-semitism has gone through two distinct, if related and overlapping, stages. The first coincided with the establishment of the modern socialist movement itself, at the end of the 19th century. Here, the particular mythology of Jew as finance capitalist took root within important sectors of the emergent socialist and industrial labour movement. This was crucial, as it meant that socialist practice had a tradition of anti-semitism almost from its birth. The second stage developed around the question of zionism—particularly after the war which created Israel in 1948. A significant feature of contemporary socialist practice is, on the one hand, the expansion of zionism to equate it with world imperialist domination and, on the other hand, the reduction of the entire Jewish experience to equate that with zionism. It is a combination of the conspiracy theory with that of collective guilt.

Quite clearly, anti-zionism is not in itself anti-semitic. However, much of what the Left poses as anti-zionism is transcendental: it relates neither to the struggle of the Palestinians nor to what the Israeli state is actually doing. Rather it is concerned with ascribing world power to zionism and holding all Jews in the world responsible for this. Left practice presents as anti-zionism something which is neither about zionism nor about Palestinian liberation, but is about some alleged responsibility of Jews on a global scale. This is anti-semitism.

I did not know Steve and, like Ben at Zword, I suspect I would have disagreed with him and he with me on quite a few things (for example, the connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism).  Regardless, whether you consider yourself on the left, right, or center, we have lost an important voice.

My prayers are with him and his family at this difficult time.

Read more:

Bob from Brockley



3 responses »

  1. A long life to Steve’s family…! It is barely a month that I arrived on the doorstep of his block of flats to deliver a branch newsletter to one of his neighbours and was surprised to see him being aided into a car to go to hospital for his appalling arthritis.

    He was very much the worse for wear but intellectually as feisty as ever and seeing me we were barely past the pleasantries and he turned furiously on a point of Labour policy only to be almost levered into the transport. Talk about, “Bear it forward till we fall…”

    Most of my memories are of the mid 70’s when he was working in a law centre and joined in several early meetings of Jewish Socialists’ Group which started in Manchester as a general alliance of all sorts of Jewish Socialists Z and non-Z to defend the right of Jews and Israel to exist in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. By the 1980 JSG had become a London Bundist Shul and many of the originals left for other pastures, myself to the Labour Party and I saw Steve when canvassing on my ward in which he lived.

    His first edition is still on my shelf and I was consulting it only last week. Long may it tickle brains.

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