Talking Left-wing Blues

As a student in the University of Manchester, UK, I was around during the Greater Manchester Mayoral elections. Through my political involvement, I was able to host Q&A sessions with the candidates. While listening to the dulcet tones of a Tablet Magazine’s Unorthodox podcast episode of last year, I am reminded of the name Shneur Odze (pronounced ‘Odds’, as he informed me at the time) who ran under the right-wing UKIP banner. Both the political party and the career prospects of the candidate have since experienced a decline in fortune.

London-raised Mr. Odze was initially embroiled in a rivalry with a female candidate who was shocked when he refused to shake her hand. A haredi, Mr. Odze defended himself in the way one would expect. The real clincher came, not when he later burned a Bible in a temple, but when it was revealed that he had an S&M partner on the side who he would contact during Shabbat while posing as a Christian preacher.

The UKIP has been to the right of the Conservative Party in Britain. Ironically, Odze’s most vocal critics were on the right-wing press, with the likes of the Daily Mail calling infidelity. But was this an example of antisemitism? Would a gentile receive the same level of criticism if he were caught doing the same thing?

Well, my answer is probably yes. But with the renewed anger against the left, we should turn the question around. Are we currently focusing on the antisemitism on the left precisely because it is from the left? Could it be that there are antisemitic individuals across the political spectrum? Or even, could it be that we find these scandals of antisemitism so frustrating because it is expected from the far-right, but it is not something that springs to mind as hand in hand with what we think the far-left to be?

Once again the spotlight of the international media, Jewish and gentile (and every shade in between), has been transfixed on the antisemitism scandals on the left, specifically Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. But why have these scandals been so consistently emanating from the left?

The answer is that the left is not synonymous with antisemitic discourse. With the right and, obviously the far-right, antisemitic tropes, conspiracies, and individuals have been so commonplace. Far-right ideology that is not antisemitic in some way is rare, if non-existent. Antisemitic narratives are synonymous with fascism, right-wing intolerance, and xenophobia. The same applies with Islamophobia, homophobia, and any ideology of supremacy and nativism.

The left, however, has been shaped in large part by the Jewish diaspora, often either in reaction to the antisemitism of the right, or is given as an excuse by the right for their antisemitism (the myth of Jewish control of the liberal media, the academic Jewry being supposedly exclusively left-wing, and so on). There is something treasonous then, when we hear otherwise left-wing conscientious people sing ‘from the river to the sea’ and the Labour Party failing to deal with antisemites in their collective. Antisemitism is not, has never been, and cannot ever be, an exclusive trait of left-wing politics. Indeed, it is in contradiction with leftist ideology. So it is either – or both – that the staunch pro-Palestinian lobby of the Labour Party (which now represents its mainstream leadership) are not true leftists because they harbor a disdain for a minority in the Jews, or that we have reached a point where pro-Palestine activists and Jews are speaking in different languages.

Being an antisemitic thug is one thing. Being a vocal opponent of the existence of the state of Israel is another. These are antisemitisms, but the latter is based on a political stance and the prior is a pure emotive hatred that the right loves to play on. The latter is, of course, hateful. It does not recognize that the Jew is not just a religious individual. It is an ahistorical conception of what it means to be Jewish. The left broadly speaking, rightly or wrongly, perceives the marginalized group to be Palestinians hence their support for them, and the abusive power being the state of Israel.

If we are considering the occupation or the 2014 war on Gaza, they are accurate on that point. Israel is more powerful militarily, politically, and financially, than Palestine currently is. Recognition of Palestinian self-determination is limited in Israeli politics, especially on the right who currently hold the balance of power and are effectively the political hegemony. The left in Israel is perceived as soft and often times as a sort of fifth column. Outside of Tel Aviv, Netanyahu and strongmen types like him have thrived. The coverage of these antisemitic scandals on the left will only make it harder to be leftist and to be successful in Israel. This is a shame, because what better way to communicate the virtues of Israeli democracy to leftists (and there are plenty of vices, too) than to actually promote left-wing politics in Israel. Of course, a lot of this responsibility comes down to the political leaders of the left in Israel.

What is important then is to understand, in the midst of the fog, that the leftists who have an unfavorable view towards Israel or more ideologues than natural antisemites, even thought they end up saying antisemtic things. It is not necessarily the prerogative of Jews to, in effect, ‘win these guys over’. But because they are ideologues, there are some who will be able to consider an ideological justification of Israel from the left if they are provided with one. Zionism, after all, was a successful left-wing project, to which the state of Israel owes its existence to. Not only is it antisemitic to call for its demise, but it is in contradiction with one of the biggest moments of the left perhaps since the left-wing resistance in the Spanish Civil War. Once leftists out ‘in the world’ are wise to the fact that leftists in Israel are vocal about the occupation, refugee rights, and all the defining issues for them, maybe they will begin to acknowledge that their problem ought not to be with the existence of the state of Israel (an antisemitic line), but rather which political path currently governs the state of Israel (a left-wing line).

About the Author
Mark Montegriffo graduated in politics and philosophy at the University of Manchester, and has been involved in the politics of Gibraltar since he was a young teenager. He has written for UK media outlets, including the New Statesman and Inews, and has appeared on BBC debate programs.
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