Anti-Semitism, Israel and Moral Relativism

The Israeli elections caused controversy both in Israel and across the West. Predictably, opinion influencers on the far (and not so far) left looked to them to validate their worst fears about the country, especially as Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected. This was yet another excuse for the far-left to rhetorically club British and American Jews over the head with the moral deficiencies of Israel, for the far-left the very epitome of Western arrogance, inherent racism and innate brutality. While Israel deserves criticism like any other state, the venom directed at it from all sides is out of proportion with reality. But then ideology allied to Jew hatred is a potent brew. This brew will prove poisonous to the West if it is allowed to run out of control.

In the West, hatred for Jews and Israel stems from three places: the far-right, far-left and Islamist ideologues. In Britain and across most of Europe, Jews face most anti-Semitism from Europe’s Islamic communities, with left-wing sources in second place. This has been highlighted by the conduct of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, which continues its descent into the sewer. Corbyn has repeatedly associated with Holocaust deniers, anti-Semites and terrorists. Last year, the Enough is Enough demonstration against Labour anti-Semitism took place, and thousands of people signed an open letter claiming that it was all part of an orchestrated campaign by ‘powerful interest’ groups well placed in the media to sway public opinion against Corbyn. This year, one egregious example of many is the Labour member who openly shared anti-Semitic content from a far-right source that depicted an alien with the Star of David on its back smothering the Statue of Liberty, and praised the accuracy of the depiction of malign Jewish power. The member’s suspension was stopped by Corbyn ally Thomas Gardiner, on the grounds that it was anti-Zionist, not anti-Israel. The scale of the problem was recently revealed by the Times, with hundreds of cases of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party reported, with over half the investigations delayed. On top of all this,  Corbyn’s chief advisor Seamus Milne lamented Zionist control over the media in a 2009 speech.

In America, while the anti-Semitic Alt-Right is a threat, institutional anti-Semitism has infested the Democrats, espoused by Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and their ideological allies. Both left-wing parties in the oldest Anglo-American democracies have now become host to anti-Semitic ideas and beliefs. Corbyn has prevaricated, excused and ignored the growing problem in his party while feeding into it with his own statements. Nowhere near enough has been done to root out the rot that has set in. Meanwhile, when Omar tweeted a series of anti-Semitic statements about Jews hypnotising the world, AIPAC influence and the ‘Benjamins’ i.e. Jewish money, the Democrat leadership covered for her. The far-left attitude towards Jews in Europe and in America extends to Israel, a focus that constitutes an obsession.

It used to be that the left supported the one place in the Middle-East that Jews were safe. No longer. Israel is now a pariah nation, its inhabitants’ desire to exist as a nation itself evidence for the Left of its moral deficiency. Jews and the political left were once inseparable. For many on the left in the days of class and civil rights struggle, Jews were “brothers in suffering,” as Frantz Fanon framed it. While there was always anti-Semitism on the left, with Marx himself espousing strongly anti-Jewish sentiment, it was the case that the left stood up for and supported Jews, both in Europe and in Israel. This concord is no longer the case. The far-left now sees society, not as a class system but an identity hierarchy. This focus on identity and the myriad intersections of oppression now defines more and more leftist thought. This way of seeing the world is allied to a focus on victimhood in place of true moral character, the result of the relativism of our times that follows the death of God. Pain, particularly psychological, is the one undeniable reality and the left has elevated this to the level of a catechism.

This has proven bad news for Jews, who no longer fit into this worldview that more and more on the left share. In the zero-sum game of victimhood, many of the identitarian far-left think Jews take too much, and undeservedly so, depriving other more deserving groups of their only source of moral agency in the identitarian worldview. Now Jews are viewed as privileged, often portrayed as enjoying undue wealth, influence and control, exploiting others and using the memory of the Holocaust for their own gain. Jews are resented, their tragedy tarnishing others’ suffering. Even when Jewish claims to victimisation would seem to be beyond doubt, as in France with the attacks on Jews there, or with the increasing anti-Semitism in Britain, or with the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue massacre, those one would have thought would be in the forefront of the defence are instead the first to stab Jews in the back by insinuating or even outright blaming Jews for having brought this on themselves, mostly because Israel somehow has something to do with it.

Perhaps it should have been expected. The idealised and romantic view of Israel that many on the left held risked disappointment, built as it was on a confluence of insecurities originating in World War II. The fact that the Left had failed to prevent the evils of Fascism only added to the post-war left’s sense of guilt following the end of the war and the horrors of the Holocaust. The support of Jews and Israel was, in some sense, a chance at redemption for those on the side of politics who viewed themselves as the foot-soldiers of the good and who instead had been the guards who failed to stop the barbarians breaching the defences and destroying the city of European civilisation, incinerating part of the population in the process along with the culture they’d been instrumental in cultivating. The potential for this idealism to turn into cynicism and calumny was thus always there, as it is with anything built on such unstable foundations.

The view of Jews that some on the left held, with all its emotional baggage, could not withstand the changing reality. As Joshua Muravchik writes in Making David into Goliath, Israel’s changing face following the Six Day War of 1967 was a rude interruption to the tale that the left had told themselves. Jews weren’t meant to be like this: they weren’t meant to stand up for themselves. This arguably constitutes a major part of what Dave Rich calls the modern left’s Jewish problem: a profound sense of betrayal that Jews in Israel became authors of their own destiny, and chose not to live in eternal gratitude to a political grouping who saw themselves as the world’s saviours, the new and truly chosen people for the modern age. This eternal bow of gratitude that the left thought it was their right to enjoy from Jews hid the fact that this wasn’t freedom for Jews: it was a form of subservience. The left had conscripted Jews as the cyphers for their own political and philosophical beliefs. For the left, Jews were redemptive avatars to salve their guilty consciences. They were meant to embody all the best aspects of humanity according to the left while never getting too above themselves, never developing autonomy or agency as independent people who chose their own way, especially if that went against the left’s cherished beliefs. The assertion of Israel as an entity with its own identity, one which it would act decisively to protect, was a repudiation of the left’s implicit parental role. The shock bred insult, and then anger, resentment and now hatred.

The obsession with Israel on the far-left stems both from this sense of self-righteous betrayal, and the search for a new class of victims onto which it can project its own insecurities and fantasies. This became the Palestinians, who were conscripted to the Third Worldism that despairs of the socialist revolution ever happening among the proletariat at home and looks to the Wretched of the Earth to carry the torch of revolutionary social-justice. The Israel-Palestinian situation is the latest episode in the long tragic tale of history that has been played out in the Middle-East. That the far-left’s embrace of the Palestinians has done nothing to help the situation, by excusing the tyrannical Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, and those who attack Israeli civilians with rockets and suicide bombs as part of the heroic resistance to Western colonialism is evidence of the fact that, as Pascal Bruckner writes in The Tyranny of Guilt, they “prefer the aesthetics of crime to the ethics of compromise.” It is an example of what happens when ideology becomes the god that failed but didn’t die.

Israel’s refusal to let itself be destroyed or put at risk is, according to Bruckner, a betrayal of “the mission that history had assigned to [Jews]—being a people without a homeland that did not get tangled up in the obtuse narrowness of the nation-state.” As Yoram Hazony argues, Europe’s answer to the Holocaust was to attempt to do away with the nation-state. David Ben-Gurion and the other Zionists took the opposite view that the only thing that would prevent another Holocaust was a state for Jews. For the modern far-left, post Six Day War Israel is thus seen as the latest in a long line of Western colonial powers designed to suppress the wretched of the earth for economic gain, out of racism and sometimes out of sheer bloodlust. For them, Israel is morally defective for not having submitted to the glorious vision of a borderless world, instead asserting and defending its right to exist through political and military means. Israel has become the embodiment of the West for the far-left and represents everything they hate about their own civilisation.

Again, Israel should be subject to the criticism that comes with being a mature state: it is, needless to say, not blameless and does not need nor desire national infantilisation. However, for the far-left it seems as though Israelis are viewed as truly European according to how brutal they are to others, never mind how accurate these claims of brutality are. There is, of course, a huge double standard here: Israel is only held to be a free, autonomous agent when it behaves badly, never when it is good or neutral. Meanwhile, Iran, Turkey and other despotic regimes are given a free pass because they’re not European, so aren’t morally culpable for their actions, not having matured to the point where they can be expected to be fully reasonable actors on the world stage.

The obsessive focus on Israel’s crimes betrays the malign motives of those who never look anywhere outside their own view of the world, where the West, epitomised by Israel, are alone responsible for the world’s ills. When did one hear of such consistent condemnation from Israel’s most vehement critics of the genocide in Darfur, the abuses of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, the condemnation of the abuse of China’s Uighur population or its colonialism in Tibet, the oppression of minorities in Africa like the San people, the wars, massacres and genocides in Syria, Lebanon, Yugoslavia, the Central African Republic, Congo, Angola, Rwanda and elsewhere? The oppression in Turkey, North Korea and Cuba? The theocratic tyranny of Iran and mullah-directed mob rule in Pakistan? The disaster of Venezuela? The domestic gangsterism and foreign adventurism of Putin’s Russia? The disparity in UN Resolutions and reports mandated to investigate human rights abuses is stark testament to this. As Hillel Neuer showed in early March, Israel topped the list with more reports this session than North Korea, Iran, Syria, Algeria, China, Iraq, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Somalia, Turkey, Venezuela and Zimbabwe combined. Why should this be a surprise? It was easier for the UN to condemn Israel in 2015 than it was for them to condemn ISIS. 

The UN is the dock where Israel is arraigned before the world and tried according to morally inverted principles that stem from societies lost in the “dictatorship of relativism” that clouds moral judgement and prevents the telling of right from wrong, true from false, good from bad. The fact that some of the world’s worst regimes are put in charge of women’s rights, human rights and NGOs speaks for itself as to the moral compass of parts of the institution. The multiculturalism and supposed universalism espoused by parts of the modern left is a form of self-centred parochialism that relieves them of having to make the effort to stir from the modernity-induced lassitude of contemporary life and learn something about the rest of the world. The far-left only focuses on crimes refracted through a Western lens that places our guilt at the apogee of moral judgement, allowing those who do this to whip themselves bloody with a self-serving castigation that really constitutes a form of self-abnegation. This is narcissistic and strips others of their moral agency. The racist myth of the noble savage has met its mirror image in the racist bigotry of low expectations, rooted in a moral relativism that excuses brutality and oppression by claiming ‘that’s their culture’.

Not only does this morally unmoored attitude place Israel at risk, but it also places Europe’s Jews at risk, enabling those who wish to tar them with the brush of culpability for everything Israel does. This can turn lethal when anti-Semitic murderers are excused as simply being angry over the Israel-Palestine situation. Those who work to undermine Israel are those who see in it the West in microcosm, and therefore a symbol of what needs to be resisted and torn down. On the one hand, the destruction of Israel would suit those on the far-left just fine. It would remove the source of their guilt and resentment, and once again restore them to the position of the chosen people, destined to lead humanity into a brighter tomorrow. And yet, there is also a suspicion that the far-left might wish for the continuation of Israel if only to have a lightning rod for their obsessions and an eternal cause to fight.

As Melanie Phillips has written, the threat to Israel points to a wider threat to the West. The moral relativists who say that all cultures are equal have morphed into espousing a self-hatred that cannot bring itself to admit the positive aspects of Western civilisation such as commitment to freedom of thought, conscience and speech which allows these people to behave in this way. This self-hatred is not a recipe for resolve in response to threats to our civilisation. It is the opposite and places us all in danger. Indeed, those who most embody this attitude on the far-left actively work to tear down our civilisation. It sometimes seems that those whose hatred of Israel and the wider Western world symbolises their own self-hatred will only be content once the civilisation which birthed them lies in ruins. This is something that we should all wish to prevent.

About the Author
Henry George is from Buckinghamshire in the UK. He is currently a freelance writer and is a graduate of King's College London, where he studied for an MA in War Studies.
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