January, 2010. I confess I’m still shocked when I see a university professor spitting out Israel-hatred. You’d think I would have learned that education doesn’t guard against fanaticism.
After all, this isn’t new. The people driving the new antisemitism are the same people who have driven it in the past.
They’re an elitist group who see themselves as more politically advanced than most people, more “progressive.” As such, they think it’s their job to define our political morality.
The new antisemites call themselves leftists. But when it comes to Israel, they happily team up with the right. There is, for example, nothing leftwing about Hamas or Hezbollah.
Yet in a conflict between a liberal democracy and these fascistic terrorist groups, the far left identifies with the fascists. Why? Because their movement isn’t about what they’re for; it’s about who they’re against.
Two heroes of the new antisemites are John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of The Israel Lobby. They describe Israel as a shitty little country with no oil and claim the U.S. supports Israel only because a Zionist lobby controls America’s Middle East policy.
Mearsheimer and Walt call themselves foreign policy realists, in the same school as Kissinger and Nixon. They wouldn’t dream of describing themselves as “on the left.”
Indeed, David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, pointed out that he’s been saying the same thing as Mearsheimer and Walt all along!
There’s nothing leftwing or rightwing about Israel-hatred. In our time, it’s emerged on the left because of historical accidents.
Back in the 1930s, being a Nazi was cool. They looked at themselves as a progressive movement that was going to wipe away Jew contamination and create a glorious 1,000-year Reich.
As everyone knows, the Nazis enlisted street thugs. But the Nazis also appealed to German intellectuals. At the Wannsee conference, called to discuss the logistics of murdering the Jewish population of Europe, eight of the fourteen participants held doctorate degrees.
Indeed, the Nazis took over the universities more easily than they took the streets. Martin Heidegger, rector of Freiberg University and the foremost German philosopher of his time declared: “The Fuhrer alone is the present and future German reality and its law.”
Some people argue that Heidegger’s Nazism merely reflected his ignorance of reality. But in that case, why did Heidegger attach his enthusiasm to the Nazis?
If it wasn’t because he understood the Nazis, then it was because it was the in thing. All the coolest professors were sporting swastikas in their lapels, and students were wearing their brown shirts to class to show their love of fascism, much as students today wear the Palestinian kefiyeh.
It’s no longer cool to be a Nazi. It’s difficult to even imagine a time when it was. That’s why David Duke gets no respect. But his ideas of a Zionist conspiracy aren’t out of fashion – they’ve just migrated to the other side of the political spectrum.
The other bits of history that put the new antisemitism on the Left are its roots in Soviet antisemitism and in the radical politics of the 60s and 70s.
What’s new about antisemitism is the focus on Israel, and the depiction of Israel as uniquely evil – a colonial project and a racist entity – and the claim that the Jews have become Nazis.
These slanders were the handiwork of Soviet propagandists, who spread them through Europe and the third world.
More than anything, though, our Israel-haters are the bastard children of the radicals of the 60s and 70s. But on top of the old quasi-left, anti-war, anti-American ethos, our new extremists have added a layer of antisemitism.
In an earlier age, they might have adopted the anti-clerical and antisemitic politics of Voltaire. Before that, the religious and antisemitic politics of Martin Luther. Before that, the Catholic and antisemitic politics of the Inquisition.
Antisemitism, it seems, has a special attraction for those who believe they’re entitled to define the political morality of their age.
This makes it different from other forms of bigotry. Racists hate blacks, but they don’t define them as the enemy of mankind. However, that’s exactly how antisemites define Jews.
They create a fantasy of good and evil. They modestly cast themselves in the role of upholding everything that is progressive and holy, and they portray Jews as representing all that is unenlightened and evil. And they try to impose their beliefs on society.
This conflict is again playing itself out. The new antisemites define Israel – and those who support it – as representing the worst political evils: imperialism, racism, apartheid and Nazism. And they’re trying to inflict their twisted vision on the rest of us.
So far, they’re failing. But they can’t be ignored. History shows that whole societies can come to embrace even the most extreme beliefs.
Brian Henry is a Toronto writer and editor and a refugee from the NDP – Canada’s social democratic party. This article previously appeared in the January 14, 2010, Jewish Tribune, a community paper published weekly by B’nai Brith Canada and on Harry's Place blog in Britain.