Along with the Soviet Union’s accusation that Zionism is racism, the left has inherited the Communist Party’s “politics of position,” as David Hirsh calls it in his new book Contemporary Left Antisemitism. What you are determines whether or not what you say will count. (How many campus arguments have been clinched with the accusation of “white privilege”?) If you are a Zionist, your words are worthless; you can’t possibly have an argument worth listening to.
In left-wing circles these days, Hirsh comments, “the notion of ‘progressiveness’ attache[s] itself to peoples and nations rather than to political movements or to ideas,” and Jews have found themselves on the wrong side of this crude black-and-white binary. Jews are oppressors, not victims. A common tactic of the British anti-Zionist left is to treat any raising of the issue of anti-Semitism as a dirty trick, something that Jews have invented to claim special privileges for themselves.
But why should anyone care? Jews no longer face pogroms, and Israel has plenty of room for improvement. Jews in America and the United Kingdom are mostly well-educated and financially secure. The Jews of France might have more reason to feel endangered, but if they want to leave for Israel, most have the means to buy a plane ticket. And in Israel, at least for the moment, Jews are rarely subject to terrorist violence. Shouldn’t we focus on other kinds of racism that affect more genuinely downtrodden groups?
Well, there is the statistical fact that Jews are targeted by killers and casual bigots alike more often than more fashionable religious victim groups in Western societies. But even putting that reality aside, giving special-victim status only to certain groups while excluding others is bad politics and bad morality. Like Donald Trump’s sham populism, anti-Semitism destroys our political climate, by providing a portal through which widespread distortions of social reality and links to repulsive, anti-American and irrational political ideas may enter.
Surprisingly, contemporary anti-Semitism is mostly an echo of Soviet propaganda. Zionism=racism, the UN resolution passed in 1975 and repealed in 1991 after the Soviet Union collapsed, was a Communist idea that is now resurgent on college campuses and in left-wing political circles. Communism invented the use of anti-Zionism as a cover for anti-Semitism, as well as the notion that Israel is an agent of Western imperialism. The anti-Zionist left were pioneers of fake news, another Leninist innovation, even before Glenn Beck or Breitbart on the right. Often, the point of such fake news is that Israel, or the Jews, are uniquely malevolent, powerful, and cruel; they—we—delight in killing Palestinian children, or at least covering up for those who do. We push America into wars—an interesting thesis, Valerie Plame Wilson seems to think—and we destroy the careers of anyone who “criticizes” Israel.