The progressive left hates the Jews

The bigotry is obscured by identity politics, which provides an excuse to ignore Hamas’s terrorism and violence against Jews
An anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian protest in London. (Henry Nicholls/AFP)
An anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian protest in London. (Henry Nicholls/AFP)

The following is an edited and adapted excerpt from Blindness: October 7 and the Left, a long-form essay published by Jewish Quarterly.

The Corbyn era was an extremely weird time for British Jews, but an eye-opening one, and I now think it prepared many of us for the left’s reaction to October 7, whereas American Jews I know seemed far more surprised. The gaslighting (it didn’t happen), the defenses (and if it did, they deserved it), the hectoring moral superiority (how can you care about that when this is so much more important?): all that we saw after October 7, we had seen under Corbyn. It also woke me up to something that I really hadn’t understood before: the progressive left hates the Jews.

Now is not the place to rehash the (many) examples of Jeremy Corbyn’s jaw-dropping attitudes towards Jews, never mind Israel, ideas some of us naively thought had died out with Stalin. Those are specific to Corbyn, whose political relevance is now, thankfully, in the past. But two general truths emerged from that era that would prove extremely relevant after October 7. The first was how little people across the left cared when Jews pointed out the obvious antisemitism they saw in the Labour Party. In 2018, 86 percent of British Jews said they believed Corbyn was antisemitic, and still the left supported him, and still The Guardian backed him in the 2019 general election.

The left doesn’t care about antisemitism if they deem it inconvenient to their cause. They just call it “anti-Zionism” and carry on, and that was – it turned out – a good lesson to learn. There was another lesson, too. Corbyn railed frequently against the horrors of Israel, and yet he had frequently been a paid contributor to Iranian and Russian state TV. He had referred to Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” in a parliamentary meeting, and after October 7 initially refused to describe Hamas as a terrorist group. I was surprised by how little Corbyn’s hypocrisy and blindness to Islamist terrorism bothered the young progressive left. Then he was pushed out of Labour in 2020 and I dismissed him as a classic useful idiot – which was right – and a blip, an aberration, one I needn’t think about again – which was wrong. Because then October 7 happened. I realized that the Corbyn era had opened a Pandora’s box and some ghosts cannot be controlled.

Antisemitism found a new point of entry through identity politics, which was developed on US and – to a lesser degree – UK university campuses over the past 20 years. This ideology has now escaped to the wider world as students schooled in it have moved into workplaces. Identity politics argues that in order to see the world clearly, we need to divide it up into particular group identities, specifically racial and sexual identities, and quantify the degrees of their oppression. As Yascha Mounk writes in The Identity Trap, adherents of identity politics believe that, in the name of fairness, liberal democracies need to jettison universal values such as free speech and respect for diverse opinions – values long championed by the Jewish Diaspora. Instead, we should now see everyone through the prisms of race and sexual orientation and treat them differently, depending on their identity group and how much oppression they have historically suffered.

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Identity politics has proven astonishingly influential, especially in shaping US and UK policies, and no doubt many people pushing it are motivated by good intentions. (Some, of course, are pure grifters.) I initially assumed that a fear of being called racist had lobotomized them so they were unable to see the obvious idiocies of this ideology. (Is a poor white man in Glamorgan really more privileged than an extremely wealthy Black man in Nairobi?) But the more identity politics took hold, the more I understood that a lot of people on the left just want a very simple way of looking at the world, and they crave a group they can hate with impunity.

Identity politics is a zero-sum game, and for one group to be all good, the group with competing rights must be all bad.


It’s a similar story with the progressive left’s reaction to Israel and Palestine: a lot of it is about antisemitism, but identity politics obscures the bigotry, giving the left a preeningly self-righteous excuse to ignore Hamas’s terrorism and violence against Jews.

In March 2024, the progressive literary magazine Guernica took down an article by Joanna Chen, an Israeli translator who works for a non-profit that helps Palestinians, because it dared to express sorrow for the Israeli hostages as well as the people in Gaza. This, Guernica’s publisher explained, made the article “an apologia for Zionism and the ongoing genocide in Gaza”. In fact, Chen’s article was the opposite. But it didn’t paint Israelis as uniformly evil, and so it had to be deleted.

David Baddiel’s bestselling book about antisemitism,Jews Don’t Count, was published two years before October 7 and it addresses why the left is so antipathetic to the idea of Jews being oppressed. Baddiel memorably describes Jews as “Schrödinger’s whites,” meaning their whiteness depends on the politics of the observer. The far right sees them as suspicious, foreign and not white, whereas the left sees them as extremely white because they can pass as non-Jews. In fact, because of the left-wing antisemitic stereotypes about them – that they’re rich and powerful oppressors – they aren’t just white, they are ultra-white.

Since October 7, this perception of Jews and Israelis as being extra-white has been especially popular. “YOU’RE EITHER ON THE WHITE OR RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY,” one popular march placard has it, with images of the Israeli, British, American and French flags on one side, and the flags for Palestine, East Turkestan, the DRC and Sudan on the other. Never mind that around half of Israelis are Mizrahi, meaning they have roots in North Africa and all over the Middle East, and are descended from the Jews who were kicked out of those regions in 1948. So, very much not white.


Another of the central tenets of identity politics is that all oppressions are linked, so LGBTQ+ rights are the same as Palestinian rights, and so on (never mind that same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Gaza). Consider the sign outside an independent bookshop not far from my house that promises books about: Palestine, Feminist, LGBTQ+, Black Struggle, Migrants.

This is why so many Western activists – especially in the US – see the Palestinians as akin to black slaves and the Israelis as plantation owners, with a total lack of embarrassment about their historical ignorance. But the progressive left’s determination to see the Middle East through the prism of the US and UK reveals their arrogance and their ignorance. And given how horrified they profess to be about colonialism, it is a ludicrous irony that they narcissistically colonize the Middle East conflict with their own – entirely different, entirely irrelevant – Western issues. Israel and Palestine have nothing in common with the gay rights movement in the US or the desegregation of the American South, and while stupidity plays a big part in why so many people in the West believe otherwise, there are other issues, too. For some people online with big followings, there’s a lot of brand-building going on here, as they loudly reassure their followers that Palestine and Israel are a simple matter of good versus evil. Few things attract more followers on social media than someone reassuring them that they’re good and this other group is bad.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, wearing a kefiyah scarf, speaks before an exhibition football match between Western Cape XI and the Palestinian national football team at Athlone Stadium in Athlone, near Cape Town, on February 11, 2024. (Rodger Bosch/AFP)

But the enthusiasm with which the West has taken up this idea suggests something else, too: how better to absolve your guilt about your own country’s historical wrongs than by dumping them on other countries now? The sheer volume of comparisons between anti-Black racism and Israel and Palestine coming especially from American activists strongly hints that there is more than a little displacement going on, and identity politics enables it. It is, I think, no coincidence that it was South Africa that accused Israel of genocide. For a start, South Africa is one of a very select group of countries that has diplomatic relations with Hamas, and so was predictably slow to speak up about October 7. It was even slower to speak out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In a final twist of gruesome irony, only a week before South Africa accused Israel of genocide, the country’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, welcomed Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, a Sudanese warlord whose militia is accused of genocide in Darfur. Still, what better way to cleanse oneself of uncomfortable accusations than to point the finger at someone else?


Identity politics simplifies the world into literal black and white. But Jews complicate this because they are historically oppressed and yet are seen as successful and, in regards to Israel, in a position of power over the Palestinians. “Jews have always been a glitch in the binary of identity politics, and Israel is a glitch in it, because colonization as an idea is completely wrong, but at the same time, most colonists were not refugees,” says Baddiel.

But if you see the world this way, only in terms of the victimizers of the victimized, then you don’t see Jews as the victimized because they’re seen as white. So when Jews talk about antisemitism, I think it sounds to a lot of people like posh aristocrats claiming there’s a leak in their ancestral home when everyone else is going through a cost-of-living crisis.

In November 2023, the actress Susan Sarandon spoke at a pro-Palestine rally in New York, declaring that Jews who were feeling fearful of the rising antisemitism were “getting a taste of what it feels like to be Muslim in this country, so often subjected to violence.” She was then dropped by her talent agency and apologized on social media, saying “the phrasing was a terrible mistake.” But there’s no possible phrasing that would have made it better, because the sentiment was plain. Sarandon was clearly so wedded to the idea of Palestinians as victims and Jews as privileged oppressors that she could block out the murder of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018, the murder of four people in a targeted attack on a kosher deli in Jersey City the following year, the attack on a Texas synagogue in 2022, during which four Jews were taken hostage by a gunman, and so on.

Actress Susan Sarandon, center, stands with activists from the group CodePink outside the offices of Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., as they advocate for Gaza on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in Washington. (AP/Mark Schiefelbein)

Jews are, in fact, the biggest target of religious hate crimes in the US by an enormous margin. And that’s not even counting that – in living memory – American universities used to have quotas on the number of Jews admitted, and that Jews were explicitly or implicitly excluded from many sections of American public life well into the mid-20th century. I don’t know why actors are invited to talk about anything, given their literal job is to speak words other people have written for them. But Sarandon gave a handy insight into the amorality – or simple stupidity – required to subscribe to this progressive-left antisemitism.


It’s been an especially strange time to be a Jewish woman on the left. When we explain why we might not want trans women in our single-sex spaces, referring to past experiences of male violence, we are accused of  “weaponizing our trauma.” When we talk about our fear of Hamas, because Jews have some experience when it comes to genocidal fascist groups, we’re accused of “weaponizing the Holocaust.” Women in general – like Jews – tend not to be believed anyway when they describe violence committed against them. After all, according to a recent annual report from the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, only 5% of reported rapes result in charges being brought, never mind convictions. So when stories started to emerge fairly soon after October 7 that Hamas had committed horrific sexual violence during the pogrom, I knew the reaction would be bad. I hoped, given we’d so recently come through the #MeToo movement, with its urgent messaging that women should be believed, that it wouldn’t be too bad. I was wrong.

The October 7 rapes of Israeli women – and men – were so brutal that Meni Binyamin, the head of the International Crime Investigations Unit of the Israeli police, said it was “the most extreme sexual abuses we have seen.”

It took UN Women fifty days even to acknowledge that these sexual assaults had happened. When Reem Alsalem, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, was asked why, she reportedly replied that the evidence of rape was “not solid,” even though there was video footage of Israeli women with blood-sodden crotches and reports from witnesses about dead Israeli women’s mutilated vaginas. On October 30, almost 150 “scholars in feminist, queer and trans studies” signed an open letter implying that to support Israeli women was to endorse “colonial feminism.” Not a single UK charity that purports to protect women from violence condemned Hamas’s brutality – except Jewish Women’s Aid. After I wrote an article in the Jewish Chronicle asking how this fitted in with [the charities’] feminist credentials, they replied with a statement saying that the reports of Israeli women being raped were merely “the Islamophobic and racist weaponization of sexual violence that presents it as an Arab, as opposed to a global, problem.”

Screenshot from a video released by the IDF showing a Hamas terrorist in a Kibbutz near Gaza on October 7, 2023. (IDF)

In an attempt to make people believe what had actually happened on October 7, the IDF compiled and edited the footage they had from Hamas’s GoPro cameras, made it into a film, called Bearing Witness, and took it around the world to show small, carefully selected audiences. Most journalists who watched it wrote afterwards about how traumatizing they found it. Others had different reactions.

The far-left activist Owen Jones, The Guardian’s most high-profile journalist, went to a screening of Bearing Witness and afterwards posted a 25-minute video review. He claimed that “the purpose of the film was made very clear: that we were to ‘bear witness,’ as it was repeatedly put, to the horrors committed by Hamas and also make the PR case for Israel’s onslaught against Gaza.” Others who attended the screening told me that no one said any such thing – the purpose was to provide video footage of the pogrom. Jones said, “If there was rape and sexual violence committed, we don’t see that on camera,” apparently unaware that the IDF had already said it only included footage that “preserved the dignity” of those killed.

When progressive-left identity politics takes you to a place where you are jazz hands-ing away the rapes of Israeli women by fascist Islamists, maybe you should ask yourself if this movement has outlived its purpose.

Identity politics has filled the gap left by the fall of communism, when people on the left could identify as part of a distinct tribe and duly subscribe to all of its beliefs, no matter how absurd, self-defeating and cruel…. It reveals such vanity, but also such bankrupt intelligence, this desire to outsource any critical thinking to an external, prefabricated ideology. And identity politics, like communism, like fascism, gives license to its followers to celebrate sadism and dehumanize entire demographics. Perhaps the thing that surprises me the most about human nature, even in my mature middle age, is how enduring this desire is.

This post is an edited excerpt from Blindness: October 7 and the Left, an essay published by Jewish Quarterly, which produces four long essays a year exploring Jewish culture and history. More information at:

About the Author
Hadley Freeman is a Sunday Times columnist and author, whose books include House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth-Century Jewish Family and Good Girls: A Story and Study of Anorexia.
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