Reduce the world to binaries and moral absolutism and everything can be processed with extreme simplicity. Intellectual legwork is never required, introspection deemed unnecessary, when dealing with complex situations because rhetoric around imperialists, anti-imperialists and capitalism has created an immutable moral framework for the world. In this the protagonists and antagonists are clearly defined and context and political nuances become irrelevant.
Within politics this creates intellectual trappings where some fail to progress beyond the material they studied in colleges and universities, imprisoned in a hate of America and capitalism that might have seemed a bit more rational had it not been set against their silence towards politically inconvenient atrocities and adoration for communism. If you’re a leftist, you are automatically good. If you are on the right, you are the scum of the earth, allied with imperialists and capitalists. And no one for sections of the far left are worse than Jews and Israel.
There is nothing wrong with focusing on the Palestinian conflict. As an ethical socialist, I regard it as a moral necessity to protest against Israel’s human rights abuses, just as we should protest against any country that abuses these rights. But the intellectually impoverished far left do not stop there. And it’s their view of capitalism and Israel that needs to be understood when looking at the sharp rise in left-wing anti-Semitism in Britain today.
In their world of clearly defined antagonists, Jews, or at least the wealthy ones, are posited as one of the chief threats to equality and fairness. They are the schemers and plotters who control the media, who are behind atrocities. The rhetoric around Israel drips in contempt that extends far beyond activism for Palestine. After all, if it was the case that they sincerely cared for the Palestinians they would protest Assad’s bombing of the Palestinian camps in places like Yarmouk.
Virulent anti-Semitism has often been tolerated under the guise of being an anti-Zionist. In the name of battling for Palestine and being against capitalism, terrible tropes about Jewish people have been allowed to filter through in left-wing spaces. Sometimes the tropes are not immediately recognisable, dressed up in anti-capitalist, pro-Palestine messages. Bankers are seen as the embodiments of capitalism but in far-left discourses, also posited as being Zionists. Israel are seen as behind everything, the puppeteers dangling us all. It plays on the classic trope where Jews are the masters manipulating everything.
For Illuminati or freemasons, read Jews. For controlling the media, see Jews. Labels of establishment and the elite exist across the far left and far right and both are seeped in racism. On the far right, it speaks scathingly of liberals who hold soft views regarding immigrants, refugees and Muslims. But on the far left, concealed behind the discussions on capitalism and its flaws, it implies Jews.
This has flared sharply on the left within the Labour Party recently and has been poorly handled. The political tribe that once recognised racism as something to defeat today views it as a smear against the left, and more specifically, against Jeremy Corbyn. A movement that builds itself around the man rather than the idea will always fall apart when he does. And so it has happened here when accusations around Corbyn’s laxness towards anti-Semitism didn’t galvanise the left to combat racism but instead accuse Jews of whipping up a conspiracy against him.
From sharing platforms with Holocaust deniers, defending a racist mural, laying wreaths for anti-Semitic terrorists, Corbyn has done little to fight anti-Semitism and shown very little sincere interest in fighting it. Bring this up and you hear talks of Cable Street and lifelong campaigning against racism. Anti-racism isn’t something you say but something you do, and where it has concerned him at the most pivotal point in his political career, Corbyn has failed miserably.
His allies have spoken of fighting anti-Semitism and yet at every turn been more concerned about free speech than fighting bigotry. They have continuously absolved him at every turn whilst maintaining the pretence that the left consistently fights racism.
Part of the problem is the premise that racism is a combination of power and prejudice, and as Jews are seen as powerful, cannot ever be victims. So when Jews are attacked or abused, sympathy for them is not what it would be say for blacks or Asians.
This is not what socialism looks like. This not what it should ever look like.
Rabbil Sikkdar is a British Muslim writer and has previously published in the New Statesman, Independent, I and Left Foot Forward.