The Overlooked Liberation Struggle: How the Left Is Hurting Jews

Oakland, CA (TFC) – Jews have been demonized on all sides, smeared as communists (by the right) and capitalists (by the left.) The Left as Jews experience it is extremely alienating and asks Jewish Leftists to choose between furthering various liberation struggles, and being relatively safe from anti-Semitism in the name of progress.

I am marching through the streets of Oakland. The day is hot, made hotter by the body heat of those around me. We are all here for the same reason: to protest for the freedom of Palestine. As I walk, I see several signs, some good and some bad. There are anti-Semitic caricatures complete with hooked noses and greedy grins, accusations of Israel having “blood on its hands” that echo medieval blood libel, and one sign which makes me cringe every time I see it. It reads, in bold, black lettering: “the dictionary says an Arab is a SEMITE. This means that the MOST ANTI-SEMITIC people are ZIONISTS.” Another compares Israel to Nazi Germany.

Or, for instance, I am scrolling through my Facebook news feed and I see yet another person comparing Donald Trump to Hitler. I am on tumblr and see that someone has called Jews “hypocrites” for not wanting to be attacked in the streets while being responsible (yes, every single Jew, apparently, especially the ones being assaulted in the streets) for the war crimes in Israel. I am socializing with other like-minded people and as soon as they realize I am Jewish they ask how I feel about Israel, and it is clear that this is their litmus test to see if I am a “good Jew” or a “bad Jew.” They would not have asked me this if I were not Jewish.

“Let us consider the real worldly Jew—not, as Bauer does, the Sabbath Jew, but the everyday Jew,” writes Marx in On the Jewish Question.

Let us look for the secret of the Jew not in his religion, but let us look for the secret of religion in real Jews. What is the worldly basis of Judaism? Practical need, individual utility. What is the worldly cult of the Jew? Haggling. Which is his worldly God? Money. So now! Emancipation from haggling and from money, that is to say, from practical, real Judaism, would be the self-emancipation of our time.

This quote is interesting in several ways. Note that Marx talks about the “secret of religion in real Jews.” He goes on to talk about money, and it is clear from the way the latter follows from the former that he posits “money” as the false god worshiped by the Jewish people. This is a continuation of the same anti-Semitism that Jews have faced for thousands of years, and it also incorporates some newer anti-Semitic stereotypes as well. Jews have been accused of worshipping a false god since the times when bowing to each other’s idols was common courtesy. Jews have been accused of greed since we were barred from owning property and were forced to become moneylenders and then stigmatized for surviving the only way we could. But, I digress. Marxism fundamentally characterizes the enemy as Jewish.

Later in the same work, Marx directly links the rise of capitalism to the gains in status achieved by the Jewish people. He uses “Jew” as synonymous with “miser,” “capitalist,” “bourgeois swine,” as he writes, “[t]he Jews have emancipated themselves to the extent that the Christians have become Jews.”

Werner Sombart was a sociologist, contemporary of Max Weber and a self-proclaimed “convinced Marxist.” Sombart wrote in Jews and Economic Life (Die Juden und das Wirtschaftsleben, first translated into English as The Jews and Modern Capitalism) that the history of capitalism was driven by the migrations of Jews. He claimed that wherever the economy was flourishing, Jews were present. While the latter point may be true, I propose that Sombart has his cause and effect flipped. What Sombart overlooks is the fact that anti-Semitic violence tends to spike when the economy takes a downturn, as Jews have been stigmatized as evildoers from every point on the political spectrum. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Holocaust, where the German people, economically enfeebled by the Treaty of Versailles and desperate for a scapegoat, turned on their Jewish population at Hitler’s suggestion. However, this can be seen as a pattern throughout history as well. The same dire economic straits that led to the Russian Revolution also set the scene for particularly violent pogroms that drove thousands of Jews out of Russia. Thus, flourishing economies tend to coincide with higher Jewish populations, but not because the Jews create such conditions. Jews have historically been forced to seek out places that are economically sound as a survival tactic.

Image Source: Image credit: Yonderboy, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons

Image Source:
Image credit: Yonderboy, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons

While leftist praxis can be divorced from the anti-Semitism present in Marxist theory, the examples listed at the beginning of this article demonstrate that it currently has not been. Holocaust comparisons are a great example of this. While some people such as Pol Pot and Stalin warrant comparisons to Hitler, the vast majority of people and groups being compared to Nazis do not. The problem with Holocaust comparisons is that it uses Jews, or more specifically, our very recent genocide as a rhetorical prop to bolster an argument that, more often than not, could be made in several other, more original ways. Furthermore, the people making the Holocaust comparisons are overwhelmingly silent when it comes to talking about anti-Semitism in this day and age. It is clear that they only talk about Jews when we serve to further their political argument. Now, I have a little secret for you, dear reader: if you only care about Jews when our rape, our torture, our vivisection and starvation and mass murder can help you make a point, you don’t actually care about Jews.

Even more disgusting than comparing, say, Donald Trump to Hitler, is comparing a Jew to a Nazi. It is a special brand of cruelty and emotional manipulation to compare a member of an oppressed group to the group that tried to exterminate their entire ethnicity. Comparisons of Jews to Nazis are often accompanied by a “you’d think those Jews would have learned from the Holocaust” attitude. Such an attitude presumes that we, the victims of genocide, are the ones who were supposed to learn from it instead of, you know, the people who committed the genocide. What, pray tell, were we supposed to learn from another of the countless attempts to wipe us off the face of the earth? Don’t trust goyim? You’re always a target? Converting to Christianity won’t save you because anti-Semitism is fundamentally an ethnic hatred? No, none of this is important, say those who claim we should have learned. What Jews were supposed to learn from the Holocaust was not to hurt others. It would be fascinating to discuss further the mental gymnastics required to come to the conclusion that the Jews were the ones who needed to learn not to hurt others while the Nazis were the ones, y’know, actually hurting people, but that would be a digression too large for this article.

While I do not support Israel’s actions, I will briefly touch on how harmful the Holocaust comparison is in relation to Israel. There are three main points: the first is that, while Israel has committed atrocities against the Palestinian people, Palestinians are not targeted for complete extermination as the Jews were in the Holocaust. Second, the comparison disregards the fact that Israel as it is known today exists largely as a result of the Holocaust. To treat Israel as the new Nazi Germany is to display flagrant disregard for its historical reason for existing, if not through willful ignorance then through deliberate twisting of the facts.Third, to associate Israel with Nazism is to associate Jews with white supremacy. This is as fallacious as it is damaging, because white supremacy hates us. For instance, it is well known that the KKK hates black people, but for some reason, I can’t imagine why, far fewer people realize that the KKK hates Jews just as much. In fact, anti-Semites have gone so far as to perpetuate the lie that Jews are in league with the KKK, or KKK members. Creating the mental link between Jews and white supremacy erases the fact that historically, the Jews have been characterized as non-white. Anti-Semitism is, at its root, about ethnicity.

This leads me to another issue. While much leftist discourse recognizes nuance, a lot of it, frankly, doesn’t. Particularly among younger leftists who learn their politics from social media, things fit into easy, neat dichotomies. The one I have in mind as I write this is the white person/person of color dichotomy. While “white” (or more accurately, white-passing) Jews are not people of color, we are also excluded from whiteness and white privilege in many ways based on our ethnicity. What results is an intense alienation felt by white-passing Jews, who are neither accepted as white by white supremacists, nor included in anti-racism discourse as an oppressed ethnicity. This is exacerbated by the fact that anti-Semitism is not seen as a real thing in a lot of leftist circles. We end up with the very prevalent attitude that anti-Semitism does not exist against “white” Jews, and Jews of color (who are too often erased in leftist discourse) experience racism, but anti-Semitism doesn’t affect them.

Goyim seem to be having a really difficult time with the word “Zionist.” Setting aside the fact that using it to mean someone supports the state of Israel and its actions is inaccurate, many Jewish leftists have observed that “Zionist” is the new “kike”. It is often used as a silencing tactic against Jews who dare to speak up about the anti-Semitism in the left, particularly that within the pro-Palestine movement. And believe me, there is a lot of it. To make things worse, accusations of Zionism rarely require more evidence than the accused’s Jewishness. “Zionist” has become a handy, trendy way to refer to a Jew you dislike or disagree with so that they will be ostracized and discredited.

I mentioned that using “Zionist” to describe a supporter of Israel and its actions is inaccurate. A Zionist is merely someone, usually a Jew, who believes that Jews should have a state to ourselves. It doesn’t necessitate support of the current state of Israel or the war crimes committed by its military. The fact of the matter is, Jews are not safe in countries where goyim lead or are the majority. And outside of Israel, that is everywhere. Jews are not safe in the United States. Jews are not safe in Poland; Jews are not safe in Eritrea; Jews are not safe in Singapore. Jews are not safe in the diaspora, and to many Jews, finding a homeland is a way to have one place where we are free from the constant burden of having to watch out for anti-Semitic violence. When gentiles say “I don’t hate Jews, I just hate Zionists,” what many Jews hear is, “I don’t hate Jews, I just don’t think they deserve a place where they can be safe from violence they may face because they’re Jews.”

Many gentiles in the Left also have a problem with the word “anti-Semite.” One of the examples at the beginning of this article showed a person try to claim that Zionists were the most anti-Semitic people in the world because an Arab is a Semite. This ignores the fact that the word “anti-Semitism” was coined as a scientific-sounding replacement for “judenhass,” which translates literally as “Jew-hatred.” Furthermore, claiming that the word “anti-Semite” refers to hatred against all semitic peoples sounds disturbingly like right-wingers who say they aren’t homophobic because they aren’t afraid of The Gays(™), they just don’t like ‘em. Picking at etymology while ignoring the very real social context and historical usage of words is something that needs to stop. It is hurting people. It is hurting us. It is minimizing the very real oppression we face and is trying to take away from us the language we use to describe our oppression.

At this point I would like to make a distinction between active anti-Semitism and passive anti-Semitism. The instances that have been discussed thus far have been active, well that will be now discussed is passive. With the upcoming American presidential election, many leftists, myself included, view voting for Bernie Sanders as the best course of action. However, among non-Jewish leftists there is disturbingly little concern for the fate of Jews as a whole in the event that Sanders becomes president. What we saw with Obama was that thousands of racists were able to say, “look! There’s a black man in office! Racism is over!” The situation with a potential Jewish president is not entirely different. Just as many willfully ignorant people thought racism was over before 2008, many (I daresay more) people currently think anti-Semitism is a thing of the past. However, the difference between racists’ reaction to Obama and anti-Semites’ potential reaction to Sanders is that many anti-Semites think Jews run the country already. It is a widespread rumor that we run the media, the banks, and the country. Having a Jewish man in the White House would only fuel such rumors and may well make Jews a target for violence at the hands of those frustrated by the government. Sanders’ election may also endanger Jews abroad, as anti-American sentiment, much like anti-Israeli sentiment, will be aimed against those perceived to have a relationship with the country in question. My point is not that voting for Sanders makes one an anti-Semite, rather that the complete and utter failure, perhaps even the refusal, of non-Jewish leftists to even consider the ramifications of their actions when it comes to Jews is extremely telling.

The political Left has a long way to go before Jews will feel comfortable in its community. Ultimately, it is a shame that those who look forward most to a revolution still maintain one of the core inequalities on which current society is built. Jews are counting on you, goyische leftists, to do better. We are counting on you to start caring about all oppressed groups. That includes us. It’s time you recognized that.