Anti-Semitism, the ancient hatred of Jews, is on the rise in Australia. Anti-Semitic incidents occur more frequently in schools and offices, and on our streets. On one Monday this month alone, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies received reports of three such incidents.
By Peter Kurti
November 14, 2019
But anti-Semitism is also creeping into our politics. Frequently associated with the extreme far right, anti-Semitism is emerging in a new and more recent form on the political left, which has become increasingly obsessed with anti-Zionism and the existence of the state of Israel.
Left-wing critics of Israel — who are suspicious of supposed Jewish influence in finance, politics and the media — are becoming increasingly vocal in Australia. They rail against the alleged capitalist financial depredations by Jews and they question the legitimacy of a Jewish national state.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has noted in its annual report on anti-Semitism a steady rise masking itself as anti-racism. ECAJ also has catalogued numerous anti-Semitic remarks made by those in the ALP and the Australian Greens.
The ALP has been spared the travails of its Jeremy Corbyn-led British counterpart, which is being torn apart by a worsening anti-Semitism scandal. But many Labor-held seats contain religiously conservative Muslim populations hostile to Israel and sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
Labor’s problem is exacerbated because in some of the seats it needs to hold (such as in western Sydney) there is growing support for the Greens, a party that maintains an intense hostility towards Israel and a very strong commitment to the Palestinians.
This has pulled Labor further away from its historically pro-Zionist position to denunciations of not only the Israeli government but also the state of Israel itself.
Left-wing anti-Semitism seems paradoxical because of the left’s longstanding and historical commitment to eradicating all forms of racism and discrimination. To many, the taint of anti-Semitism is a betrayal of the left’s commitment to the pursuit of justice and human decency.
The seeds of left-wing anti-Semitism were sown in the fertile soil of the combined forces of identity politics, anti-colonialism, and anti-imperialism unleashed in the 1960s and 70s. The roots of this blatant prejudice against Jews, however, can be traced back much further than the 60s.
In the 19th century, Marxism posed “the Jewish Question” — a questioning of the economic and political status of Jews in European society.
This evolved into the Soviet Union’s overt anti-Semitism, which included purges, charges of Jewish disloyalty, and anti-Zionist propaganda.
In its basic form, anti-Zionism holds that the state of Israel should not exist. In its more extreme forms, it denies the concept of a Jewish peoplehood entitled to self-determination and the right of a lawfully constituted state to safeguard the security of its borders and its people.
Soviet anti-Zionism promoted theories of a global conspiracy funded by Jewish money committed to wreaking political and economic havoc in Western countries.
When the post-World War II generation of the left began to emerge in the 50s and 60s, it absorbed this propaganda into its own world view.
And that generation’s world view included a determination to oppose racism and colonialism. Israel was held to be an illegitimate remnant of Western colonialism in the Middle East — a view endorsed by the UN, year by year, as it added newly decolonised states to its membership.
After the 1967 Six-Day War, opposition to Israel was directed at its occupation of territory — especially the West Bank — its military strength and its perceived status as a hegemonic regional power closely allied with the US.
Added to this was the claim that Jews sought to maintain a “racial state” in Israel.
The charge of Israel’s racialised status intensified when the UN General Assembly passed its notorious 1975 resolution declaring Zionism to be “a form of racism and racial discrimination”.
Although rescinded in 1991, the legacy of the original resolution retains its potency: it remains widely accepted on the left that Zionism, the movement that created Israel, commits the most heinous of the postcolonial world’s moral crimes: racism.
Postmodern left opposition to racism and colonialism — and thence to Israel — is also interwoven with a deep-seated hostility to the US and its allies.
Israel, according to this worldview, is a settler, colonial venture that is part of a Western drive to dominate the Middle East region.
It is a world view to which many on the political left — such as Corbyn in Britain, the so-called “Squad” of Democrats in the US congress, and the Australian Greens — are committed: racism is about structural discrimination whereby power is exercised over the marginalised.
Hence postmodern left-wing anti-Semitism is often dressed up in the moral language of human rights. It adopts the language of international human rights groups and non-governmental organisations in criticising Israel’s “neo-colonial ambitions” and campaigning for the “long-oppressed Palestinian people”.
Criticism of Israel’s government and its policies is not anti-Semitic. Many Israelis themselves are openly critical, as a visit to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, will confirm.
But criticism that denies the legitimacy of Israel itself or questions the supposed motives of the Jewish people is abhorrent anti-Semitism.
A vital opportunity now presents itself to the ALP, the Australian Greens and other domestic left-wing groups to ensure that the longstanding commitment of the Australian left to the pursuit of justice and human decency is freed from the ugly taint of anti-Semitism.
Peter Kurti is director of the culture, prosperity and civil society program at the Centre for Independent Studies, and the author of Toxic Mutation of an Ancient Hatred: Left-Wing Antisemitism.