That old trope

Anti-Zionist caricature from the Soviet magazine, Krokodil, 1972
Anti-Zionist caricature from the Soviet magazine, Krokodil, 1972

According to Marxist Orthodoxy, Jews are neither people nor a religion. Jews are intermediary between capitalists and proletariats. And antisemitism is quite often anti-capitalistic hate, the good kind of hate; only it is addressed at the wrong target, the intermediary.  With the advent of Communism, so says the Marxist doctrine, the class system will come to an end. Intermediaries, such as the Jews, won’t be needed anymore. Judaism will disappear and Jews will assimilate. 

As sophisticated as it may seem, this depiction of the Jew as a member of the intermediary class, which manages the estate of a lazy nobility, extorts money from the peasants, and/or profits from monetary transactions, while the native locals lead a miserable life and work much harder, is crudely anti-Semitic. 

For intermediaries are always traitors. They do not really belong to the class of the oppressed and they owe their existence to a system which benefits the oppressors. When justice comes, at a final overhaul, the intermediaries will have to lose their privileges: this is the direction that human history is marching towards, according to the Communist doctrine. At a practical level, Communists have often been keen on accelerating the progress, as it was experienced by those Jews who were forced to savour the taste of the class-less society in places such as gulags or lunatic asylums.

Once upon a time, in the Soviet Union, this was the official doctrine. But even today, more than 30 years after the end of the Cold War, the poisonous representation of the Jew as an intermediary and therefore a traitor, is still around. 

In 2017 one Democratic candidate to the New York Council built his small electoral fortunes with tirades against the “greedy Jewish landlords” who perpetrate “ethnic cleansing” of Latino and Black tenants. Why he was so against the Jews and not against the hipsters, who actually benefitted from gentrification, is probably a complicated question. Clearly, in the mind of this candidate, those Jews who deal with real estate betray the working class and the oppressed Black and Latinos. And we should not rush to judgement, let alone pronounce the A-word, antisemitism, if and when Orthodox Jews are mugged and harassed (as it happens), and the attackers happen to be Black or Latino (as it also indeed happens). What else can the oppressed do, if not venting fury against the intermediary? 

The academic world is another place where you may encounter the representation of the Jew as a profiteer, and therefore traitor of the oppressed.  Brace yourself for a talk on “the extension of European citizenship to native Jews in North African under European colonialism, and its effects”; and expect to be instructed on the suffering of the non-Jewish natives by the hand of the Jews, those intermediaries between colonisers and colonised. Aren’t you eager to learn more about “the place of “whiteness” in antisemitism, historical and contemporary, and its relation to colonial and anti-colonial discourses”?  You probably did not know about the desire of those Jews who in the second half of the 20th Century moved to Israel, to acquire “whiteness”. You probably thought that they simply wanted to survive, while their family and neighbours were slaughtered in anti-colonialist pogroms in Iraq and Algeria. tsk tsk… this is the problem with you, “Jews as colonial settlers […] “Whiteness” for “Zionism”.

All these declinations of the old Marxist trope are dealt with in these days (10 and 11 June) in a workshop, “Jews and Whiteness in Colonial Spaces” at SOAS (where else). No doubt many different variations of the old concept of “Jewish privilege” will be offered to the attention of anyone who asks the question:  “why do the Jews continue to exist?” (Marxist answer: because they are privileged).

Of course, the adaption of certain cultures to certain economic settings is not rare. In Italy the  Sinti (the equivalent of Irish Travellers) are massively present in fairground professions. Their semi-nomadic lifestyle matches with the calendar of festivals and fairs in a Catholic Country. But no one dares to see the trade that they happen to have inherited from their family, as the reason for the racism that they endure. 

On the other hand, antisemitism is routinely framed in the context of some kind of political struggle, anti-capitalism or anti-colonialism. As if post-colonial societies and Communist Countries were ideal places for the Jews to live, as opposed (this is the subtext) to colonial and capitalistic Israel.

This representation is, of course, bad for the Jews, because downplaying antisemitism is never a good idea. But it is also bad for everyone because it is false and misleading.

About the Author
Italian by birth, Israeli by choice, Rabbi of the largest synagogue in Sussex (UK). Uncompromising Zionist.
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