Antisemitism — the racism of right and left

Antisemitism is a form of racism that is directed against Jews. However, antisemitism has its own anomalous and contradictory aspect. While racists commonly conceptualise the groups against whom they are prejudiced to be inferior forms of humanity, Jews are depicted as both ‘inferior’ and ‘superior’.

On the one hand, racists liken Jews to rats, cockroaches, vermin and parasites. On the other hand, racists also portray Jews as highly adaptable, chameleon-like, manipulative and smart enough (the loaded word ‘cunning’ is often used) to control the mechanisms of power in the world. No other ‘race’ of people is accused of having such power.

For antisemites, Jews are seen as both innately evil and absolutely powerful. These attributes have been part of both Christian and Islamic theologies – Jews have been collectively portrayed as Christ-killers and prophet-killers, respectively. The result has been centuries of false accusations, including deicide, Blood Libels (the myth that Jews kill gentile children in order to drink their blood), host desecration (“torturing” the Eucharist wafer), poisoning wells, falsifying sacred scriptures, and more. These crusty old legends have seeped into the subconscious minds of many Christians and Muslims. Bizarre conspiracy theories about Jewish power and evil have been popularised and spread by ‘evidence’ such as the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, a proven forgery that was entirely fabricated by the Czarist secret police in the early 1900s.

While most targets of racism are portrayed as dirty or lazy, barbaric or uncultured, backward, lacking intelligence or animal-like, Jews are portrayed as a malevolent force, often with supernatural ‘mystical powers’, as controlling international finance, media and politics, aiming to subjugate the non-Jewish population of the world in a quest for world domination, and therefore as representing an existential threat to non-Jews. Other forms of racism have escalated into mass murder in order to serve a more basic purpose, such as the conquest of territory or the acquisition of resources. With antisemitism, genocide is an end in itself.

Far right racists still propagate conspiracy mythologies about Jews being inordinately powerful and manipulating and controlling institutions and events. Nazi ideology goes further, and considers Jews to be at the bottom of the human racial hierarchy (and, indeed, as sub-human), less than all other races, ethnicities and nationalities. Nazi racial theory posits an eternal battle between “the Aryan race” and “the Jewish race” as the protagonists in a cosmic battle between good and evil. In general, far right antisemitism is overt, and hence easier to recognise and identify.

Those on the far left claim to oppose all forms of racism, including antisemitism. They therefore have a problem in recognising and identifying antisemitism when it does not come from the right, or when it comes from those they perceive to be allies of the left, or from within their own ranks. Many of them cannot conceive of any racism on the left at all.

The modern far left has been blinded to antisemitism by two factors. Firstly, it sees racism through a particular ideological lens of a binary world composed of mutually exclusive opposites – rich and poor, powerful and powerless, racist and anti-racist, oppressor and oppressed, etc. There is nothing in between and no overlap; it is an either/or worldview.

Secondly, far left ideology views racism as a function of the power structure within the capitalist system. This means that racism can only be perpetrated by those with power against those without power. It is a one way street: racism is downward; and the reverse, upward racism, is excluded from being categorised as racism. Only those with power, or deemed so, can commit racism; while those without power, or so deemed, cannot.

Racism, from a far left perspective, is seen as ‘punching down’ the power ladder, not ‘punching up’. Therefore, only ‘whites’ can be racist, whereas non-whites, or people of colour, cannot be racist. In this ideological far left lens, racism is not based on the number or type of incidents or discrimination against a targeted group, but is based on a highly contrived conceptualisation of who the perpetrators are.

In the same vein, because those on the far left place Jews collectively in the category of a powerful class, this precludes them from categorising Jews as targets of racism. Not only are more subtle forms of antisemitism often denied, ignored or minimised, but antisemitism by so-called ‘powerless’ non-Jews is often excused, or in some cases encouraged as ‘punching up’ against the ‘powerful’. The far left thus becomes an enabler of antisemitism.

In summary, antisemitism is often seen and treated differently to other forms of racism. Those on both the far right and far left view Jews as a powerful force. For the far right, this view feeds into its conspiracy theories that Jews are an evil and existential danger to gentiles. For the far left, this view feeds into its racism theories and often leads it to deny that antisemitism exists (unless perpetrated by the far right), and in many cases to excuse it when it comes from others on the left or its allies. In both cases, this occurs because the images the far right and far left have of Jews is a false and mythological image. Jews are placed in the uncomfortable and dangerous position of being targeted by the far right and of being betrayed by the far left.

Racism is racism, regardless of the identity of the perpetrator or the identity of the victim. All racism and bigotry is wrong, not just some forms. If racism is allowed to occur and fester against even one targeted group, then the whole of society is diminished.

About the Author
Julie Nathan is the Research Director at the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the peak representative body of the Australian Jewish community, and is the author of the annual ECAJ Report on Antisemitism in Australia.