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The question of left-wing anti-Semitism has, against the will of many, inserted itself into the political discourse of the West over the four years since the outbreak of the second intifada. Noam Chomsky, among the most radical – and most popular – leftist intellectuals in America is oft-cited as a purveyor of leftist anti-semitism – or at the least of being a self-hating Jew – although he denies the accusation vociferously. Last year, in a brief New York Times interview, he was queried on the subject. He responded crustily; “It is a shame that critics of Israeli policies are seen as either anti-Semites or self-hating Jews. It's grotesque.” Chomsky, however, is a man well aware of his audience, and his statements in one forum often differ profoundly from those of another. Taking this into consideration, Chomsky’s statements to a Palestinian solidarity group in 2002 must be considered highly revealing of Chomsky’s feelings regarding the Jews and the question of anti-semitism. Witness the following:
In the US when I was growing up anti-Semitism was a severe problem. In the 1930’s depression when my father finally had enough money to buy a second-hand car and could take the family on a trip to the mountains, if we wanted to stop at a motel we had to check it didn’t have a sign saying ‘Restricted’. ‘Restricted’ meant no Jews, so not for us; of course no Blacks. Even when I got to Harvard 50 years ago you could cut the anti-Semitism with a knife. There was almost no Jewish faculty. I think the first Jewish math professor was appointed while I was there in the early ‘50s. One of the reasons MIT (where I now am) became a great university is because a lot of people who went on to become academic stars couldn’t get jobs at Harvard-so they came to the engineering school down the street. Just 30 years ago (1960s) when my wife and I had young children, we decided to move to a Boston suburb (we couldn’t afford the rents near Cambridge any longer). We asked a real estate agent about one town we were interested in, he told us: ‘Well, you wouldn’t be happy there.’ Meaning they don’t allow Jews. It’s not like sending people to concentration and termination camps but that’s anti-Semitism. That was almost completely national.
This is all completely true, of course, and it is surprising to see the emotion strung in between those words; it is clear that Chomsky feels the sting of anti-semitism, even today. It is fascinating to see, however, where this leads him.
By now Jews in the US are the most privileged and influential part of the population. You find occasional instances of anti-Semitism but they are marginal.
With a disconcerting surety, he echoes the very thoughts of the anti-semites he has just denounced. Jews are not a privileged and influential part of the population, they are the most privileged and influential part of the population. And privilege is, of course, not something achieved, but something bestowed. The Jews, in other words, are neither persecuted nor marginalized, as he acknowledges, with some bitterness, they once were; but rather favored sons of the society which once rejected them; a society that, it is essential to remember, Chomsky views as irredeemably and unutterably evil and corrupted. Where the Jews were once outcast, now they are decorated collaborators. And whither anti-semitism?
Anti-Semitism is no longer a problem, fortunately. It’s raised, but it’s raised because privileged people want to make sure they have total control, not just 98% control. That’s why anti-Semitism is becoming an issue. Not because of the threat of anti-Semitism; they want to make sure there’s no critical look at the policies the US (and they themselves) support in the Middle East. With regard to anti-Semitism, the distinguished Israeli statesman Abba Eban pointed out the main task of Israeli propaganda (they would call it exclamation, what’s called ‘propaganda’ when others do it) is to make it clear to the world there’s no difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. By anti-Zionism he meant criticisms of the current policies of the State of Israel. So there’s no difference between criticism of policies of the State of Israel and anti-Semitism, because if he can establish ‘that’ then he can undercut all criticism by invoking the Nazis and that will silence people. We should bear it in mind when there’s talk in the US about anti-Semitism.
Thus, not only does anti-semitism not exist but, in an extraordinary turn of the worm, it has become a tool in the hands of the "privileged people" who desire, not mere control, but "total control". And, at last, we begin to hear that old echo; that frenetic compendium of secret conspiracy which first issued to us from the minutes of the elders of Zion.
The Hebrew press is much more open than the English language press, and there’s a very obvious reason: Hebrew is a secret language, you only read it if you’re inside the tribe. Like most cultures it’s a tribal culture. I don’t want to exaggerate, but the English translations on the internet are very revealing and very interesting.
Thus, there is no anti-semitism except as a means to silence. There is no anti-semitism except as a weapon of the propagandists and the privileged against their critics. There is no anti-semitism except to further the ends of the tribe, with their secret language in which are couched dark doings which, while one doesn't wish to exaggerate, are at least sinister enough to be couched in this code which only the privileged may decipher.
These tropes are not mere inscrutable psychological shortcomings on Chomsky’s part, nor merely iterations of old anti-semitic images from the past (though they are certainly that as well) they are of a piece with a long political tradition, the radical Left tradition of anti-Semitism exemplified by Proudhon, Bakhunin, and, most of all, the apostate Karl Marx. This anti-semitism is neither subtle nor confined, indeed, it is possible to say without exaggeration that, of all the movement's founding theoreticians, nearly every single one was an outspoken anti-semite to a greater or lesser degree. Among the most prominent was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the spiritual father of anarchism (the ideology to which Chomsky occasionally claims fealty) and architect of the phrase "property is theft", who remarked famously that "The Jew is the enemy of mankind. It is necessary to send this race back to Asia, or exterminate it...By fire or fusion, or by expulsion, the Jew must disappear...", words so violent that Proudhon has, ironically enough, come to be seen by later historians as something of a proto-fascist. Another legendary anarchist founder, the Russian Mikael Bakunin, was no more sanguine than Proudhon on the subject of Jewry, calling them "an exploiting sect, a bloodsucking people, a unique devouring parasite..."; he was joined by the likes of Fourier, Duhring, and, especially, Duhring’s great rival Marx,.
Unlike the reactionary, racialist strain of anti-semitism which began slightly later and would culminate in the Nazi regime, this ideology drew its inspiration from the writings of French Enlightenment anti-semites like Voltaire, who had in turn been inspired by pagan Jew-haters like the Roman historian Tacitus. Where reactionary anti-semitism excoriated the Jews as pollutants -- agents of corrupted modernity and "progress" undermining traditionally pure Christian, and later Aryan, society -- the revolutionary Left attacked Judaism from the opposite direction: as the primary obstacle and enemy of freedom, enlightenment, and progress. Where the reactionaries assaulted Judaism for its corrosive universalism, its cosmopolitan ethos; the revolutionaries attacked it for its particularism, its ideology of "Chosenness". In their eyes, the Jews were arrogant and separatist "haters of mankind", as Tacitus had put it, and the harbingers of oppressive, egoistic capitalism -- thus, Judaism was, in its very existence, a negation of the revolutionary values of universalism and egalitarianism.
Karl Marx, the most intellectually creative and rhetorically violent of the Leftist anti-semites attacked Judaism with all the ferocity of an apostate (he was the scion of a rabbinical family who had been baptized at an early age) declaring Jews "simultaneously as real-life agents of egoistic capitalism and as metaphors for the whole of sinful society." Or, as Edmund Silberner describes Marx's concept:
Judaism has contempt for nature, theory, art, history, and man as an end in himself. It considers everything as an object of trade...Judaism as such is for Marx an expression of a self-alienated society...
As Marx saw it, capitalism was Judaism and Judaism capitalism:
[M]oney has become a world power, and the practical Jewish spirit has become the practical spirit of Christian nations. The Jews have liberated themselves in so far as Christians have become Jews...The Jew who exists as a particular member of bourgeois society is only the particular expression of the Judaism of bourgeois society...Out of its own entrails bourgeois society continually creates Jews.
In Marx's eyes, the Jews are both creators and creation -- quite literally the excrement -- of bourgeois capitalism. As he concludes ferociously: "The social emancipation of Jewry is the emancipation of society from Jewry." In the revolutionary lexicon, of course, the Judaization of capitalism was nothing less than a Judaization of evil. In the 1970s, German Leftist anti-semite and sometime collaborator with the PLO Ulrike Meinhof would sum up the modern version of this chimera
Auschwitz meant that six million Jews were killed...for what they were: money Jews. Finance capital and the banks, the hard core of the system of imperialism and capitalism, had turned the hatred of men against money and exploitation and against the Jews...Antisemitism is really a hatred of capitalism.
Thus, the primary act of revolution -- the annihilation of the capitalist system by violence -- becomes also the annihilation of Judaism.
Chomsky rarely steps beyond the boundaries of this tradition; in his eyes the Jews and Judaism are an inextricable part and personification of the oppressive establishment of the West. Or, in his own words: "By now Jews in the US are the most privileged and influential part of the population." [Emphasis mine - Benjamin] The Jews, and particularly their national/political expression in the State of Israel -- which Chomsky sees as little more than an armed outpost of American imperialism -- are a formidable tool in the hands of the established order, and earnest collaborators in its crimes. The Jewish intellectual establishment is viewed by Chomsky as traitors to the Left; closet racists and imperialists claiming universal values while secretly pursuing their own particularist interests. Their accusations of anti-semitism are merely a tool intended to silence honest critics of their unholy alliance with Western imperialism, and the Holocaust merely a rhetorical weapon to justify Israel's various atrocities.
Now, I don't wish to exaggerate either, but we should examine where this process ends. Should French teenagers, for instance, beaten or stabbed in the street, claim anti-semitism as the cause; they are not aggrieved victims of racist violence, but rather agents of the quest of the privileged to rule all. American college students, at MIT lets say, who are greeted on Holocaust Memorial Day by protestors equating Israel and Nazi Germany and complain that such statements are anti-Semitic; are not stung by vicious, thoughtless, and deliberately hurtful rhetoric, but rather brutal totalitarians attempting to "silence" the innocent agents of justice and truth. Even the Israeli father who considers the suicide bomber who eradicated his family, propelled by the imam's admonition of "death to the Jews", to be anti-semitic is no more than a derelict apologist for American and Israeli atrocities.
This anti-Semitism which Chomsky displays so purely is the one which has awakened today in the West, and unlike its reactionary counterpart – which has had to travel to the Islamic world to meet its revival – the radical anti-Semitic tradition has captured the imagination of the Western Left as nothing has since the demise of the Soviet Union. We now have Jewish neo-conservatives aiding and abetting (and perhaps even engineering) the American imperial project. We now have Jewish bankers stealing Palestinian land instead of fomenting world wars. In place of the Elders of Zion, we have Israel and its eager collaborators as the all-dominating force for evil in the world, manipulating even the giant United States like, as leftist hero Ralph Nader recently put it, a “puppeteer”.
There is, of course, something a little monstrous in all of this. On scales of evil, perhaps, it is not the highest, but it is of a piece. Of a piece with the political violence Chomsky and his fellow travelers aggrandize and of a piece with his apocalyptic dehumanization of all who fail his test of beleaguered sanctity. For Chomsky, a strike against the Jews amounts to a strike against the established order; and thus, anything which opposes this collaborationist Judaism and its suffocating power masquerading behind a mythos of victimhood is axiomatically on the side of the angels and the victims, so long as they are Jews, are rendered nothing more than artisans of oppression and violence. To speak for the Jews is to speak for the "privileged people" who "want to make sure they have total control", a trope so obvious its pedigree hardly needs mentioning. Thus anti-semitism becomes not an act of racism but a glorious uprising which, in the classic anarchist tradition, must be celebrated and defended as a blow for human freedom. It is all a matter of who is on the side of Chomsky's holy innocents. And indeed, there are those sanctified by Chomsky, there are holy innocents; but there is also conspiracy, and, as Alain Finkielkraut has pointed out, anyone who talks of conspiracy eventually ends up talking about the elders of Zion. Even, it seems, Noam Chomsky.
A note on sources:
An excellent overview of radical and reactionary anti-semitism in the 19th century can be found in Revolutionary Antisemitism by Paul Lawrence Rose; the description of Marx's anti-semitic ideology quoted in the second paragraph is from Rose's book, as is the quote from Ulrike Meinhof. George Lichtheim's 1968 essay "Socialism and the Jews", found in his Collected Essays was also quite useful on this subject. Karl Marx's remarks from On the Jewish Question have been published in a small pamphlet called A World Without Jews. Edmund Silberner's seminal article "Was Marx an Anti-Semite?" is also indispensable. A good overview of the complex and often paradoxical relationship between the Jews and the modern Left is to be found in The Left, The Right and the Jews by W.D. Rubinstein. All Chomsky’s quotations, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the transcript of a live video link-up between Chomsky and the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign on 11 October 2002. It can be found on the Internet at http://www.variant.ndtilda.co.uk/16texts/Chomsky.html.
Purchase The Anti-Chomsky Reader, edited by Peter Collier and David Horowitz, for only $11.95 from the FrontPage Magazine Bookstore.