Antisemitism: From the Far Right to the Far Left
In the aftermath of World War II, with all of its atrocities, the world hoped that anti-Semitism would disappear or at least remain limited to groups of extremists nostalgic about the Nazi regime. Indeed, so it was for almost 30 years after the end of the War; but unfortunately, anti-Semitism has once again reared its ugly face, not only in the far right but also the far left.
While optimists would have thought that six million dead was a high enough price to pay to get rid of this phenomenon once and for all, this view may be overlooking how deeply rooted anti-Semitism was; first in the Catholic world, where from the 4th century to 1959, all Catholics on Good Friday recited a prayer that stated Oremus et pro perfidis Judaeis (“Let us pray for the perfidious Jews”). “The perfidious Jews” was a common feature of the Christian world against the ‘people who killed Jesus Christ’ (forgetting that Jesus was born, raised and died as a Jew and never knew about what was later known as Christianity). For centuries, Jews were an easy scapegoat of any popular discontent. Whether it be complaints about pests or famines, the “perfidious” Jews were there to blame. Since in many countries Jews’ possibility to work was limited to jobs forbidden to Christians (notably spilling the blood of humans – hence the importance of Jews in medicine and surgery; and the prohibition on lending money – hence the near monopoly of Jews in banking until Protestantism allowed Protestants to lend money). Often raised with two or three languages (the local language, Hebrew and sometimes Yiddish for Central Europe), although most Jews had local roots, many were still perceived as “alien,” making them an easy target of frustration.
It is therefore not surprising that anti-Semitism in the West was associated with the most conservative political parties throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Doubts and suspicion surrounded Jews (see, for example, the Dreyfus affair in France at the end of the 19th century). Anti-Semitism was part and parcel of extreme conservative movements. To many, the defeat of Germany in 1918 felt like an injustice that was blamed by extreme nationalists on traitors who had “plotted against the army and stabbed it in the back” (as by definition for nationalists their army could not possibly lose). Socialists and communists were a decent scapegoat for the loss of World War I as well, but not as good as the Jews, whose “perfidious” nature had been repeated for nearly 16 centuries. In the lead-up to World War II, by painting Jews as traitors, Hitler managed to achieve the near destruction of a large part of European Jews.
Zionism (Jews wanting to settle in the biblical historical site of the people of Israel), an ideology that was marginal among Jews before World War II, gained a tremendous momentum in the 194os. The view was that, in short, because the hatred and violence of Jews had become so widespread, Jews aimed to return to their own ancestral lands, turning into reality the 2,000 years-old Jewish prayer: “Next year in Jerusalem”.
The state of Israel was created in 1948 on a predominantly Muslim land in Palestine. The disagreements and difficulties that arose from the creation of Israel and the wars that ensued in the Middle-East reignited deeply-rooted anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism was to become a tool for the dreadful war between Palestinians and Israelis. Anti-Semitism soon became synonymous with anti-Zionism, in the Islamic world and among those supporting the Palestinian fight for a homeland.
The far left all over the world has generally supported the Palestinian movement. However, at the beginning, this support was careful enough not to confuse anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. It is worth noting that this movement has a vast majority of moderate supporters who are in no way, shape or form anti-Semitic. But the temptation for the few may have been too strong not to indulge in the centuries-old anti-Semitism carried by the Christian tradition. Soon, extremist far left movements slid into anti-Semitism. In addition to lending their support to the Palestinians, the radical left continued to associate Jews with capitalism and banking in the collective subconscious. In other words, for the Left, anti-Semitism kills two birds with one stone, Zionism and capitalism.
Israel is more than often reduced to its creation, and being pro-Israeli is portrayed as being pro-Zionist. The state has now existed for approximately 70 years and has a population of over 8.5 million. To be in favour of or against the creation of Israel is a fascinating and academically challenging question, but it is one of history and should in no case be construed as one of today. It is important to state this article does not dismiss the hard realities that Palestine faces as a state today, nor does it overlook the colonial tendencies of Israel in the region. It merely suggests that the extremist undertones of the Anti-Israeli movement are dangerous and should not be understated. When moving from being pro-Palestinian to being anti-Israeli there is an underlying consequence that the far left often overlooks, and it is that Israel would have to be obliterated as a state in order for those views to go through. Jews have consistently been discriminated against throughout the course of history, even criticized for behaving like ‘sheep’ in their own genocide. Anti-Israelis would do well to remember the lessons of the twentieth century, because Israel has not forgotten, and Jews will never be called ‘sheep’ again.
It is common to believe that, due to modern European history, anti-Semites reside within the confines of the alt-right. With the conversation surrounding the push of the mainstream right towards extremist tendencies, it is important not to overlook the anti-Semitic tendencies that more than often emerge from the left. This new wave of anti-Semitism in the Islamic world, and its spread to the left in Europe and America, means that once again Jews must worry about their basic right to follow their faith and their very right to exist.