Why has anti-Semitism become the new mantle of leftist politics? If the Left sees itself as the enemy of oppression in all its forms, why has it so disastrously failed to recognize and confront the hatred of Jews within its own ranks? Is it because anti-Semitism has become so deeply enmeshed with the radical obsessions of anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism and anti-globalization? And what role do leftist Jews play in this phenomenon? What explains their desire to rid the Israeli state of the capacity to effectively defend itself?
To discuss these and other issues connected to Leftist Anti-Semitism, Frontpage Symposium has arranged a distinguished panel of experts. Joining us today are: Sol Stern, a contributing editor to City Journal and a Manhattan Institute senior fellow; Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D, is the author of twelve books, including the international bestseller WOMEN AND MADNESS. Her most recent book is The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It; Roger S. Gottlieb, Professor of Philosophy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, author or editor of 12 books whose topics include Marxism, Environmentalism, the Holocaust, and contemporary religion, most recently Joining Hands: Politics and Religion Together for Social Change and A Spirituality of Resistance: Finding a Peaceful Heart and Protecting the Earth. He is also 'Reading Spirit' columnist for Tikkun Magazine; and David Rosen, a professor of anthropology and law at Fairleigh Dickison University in Madison, N.J. He is now finishing a book titled Children at War for Rutgers University Press, which deals with child soldiers in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, the civil war in Sierra Leone, and Jewish partisan fighters during WWII.
Interlocutor: Ladies and gentlemen, let us begin with three general questions: (a) What is anti-Semitism? (b) What are its origins? (c) Why anti-Semitism?
Stern: Anti-Semitism is a very old social disease. It has been a permanent feature of the Western Christian world for two thousand years, although it has obviously morphed and metastasised into many forms. It began as a rejection of the Jews because of their honorable refusal to abandon belief in their special covenant with God and to accept the new Christian covenant. With the deicide charge this then turned into vicious persecution, expulsion and murder. Anti-Semitism became so rooted in popular Christian culture that it persisted even in societies in which there were no Jews -- such as England in the four hundred years after the Jews were expelled.
In the modern age, justifications for the hatred of Jews took on a pseudo-scientific character. Europe saw the growth of anti-Semitic political parties. Racialist anti-Semitism portrayed the Jews, even so-called "emancipated" Jews, as a genetically debased and inferior people. This led directly to the gas chambers.
Incredibly, the Holocaust was not yet the end of the story. After a short respite the racialist version of anti-Semitism re-emerged in the Arab world as a weapon against Israel -- the so-called "intruder" in an otherwise pure Muslim civilization. Today Nazi doctrines of Jewish perfidy are openly published in the Arab press and by Arab governments. And from the Middle East these ideas and sentiments are filtering back to Western Europe, the original scene of the crime, where they are again being taken up by the extreme right. The other new twist to the story is that this politicized, racialist anti-Semitism is now beginning to corrupt the Left as well.
Chesler: a) Jew-hatred is the term I currently prefer because anti-Semitism also applies to non-Jewish Arabs and the liberal-left is very concerned with the curtailment of their civil liberties in America and Europe--much less so with the loss of Jewish civilian life in Israel. Jew-hatred is the irrational dislike, fear, envy, mistrust of both Jews and the Jewish state. The obsessive demonization of the one (and only) Jewish state is, today, a new form of Jew-hatred.
b) From the psychological point of view, when people are suffering, feel deserted by God, feel utterly powerless, but also feel they can do nothing about this--blaming and scapegoating a vulnerable "other" is a way of feeling powerful but without having to do anything risky and without really solving one's own problems. Frustration and rage against true tyrants closer to home coupled with indoctrination by life-long propaganda against the Jews makes the Jews a preferred target. Other groups are scapegoated too but few other groups are seen as both unacceptably "primitive" and unacceptably "modern," as both capitalists and communists, patriots and internationalists, close-ranked and totally assimilated. There's something for everyone to hate.
c) Anti-Semitism today has been in the works since Arab Muslims joined forces with Nazi Germans in the 1930s both in terms of propaganda and in terms of continuous massacres of Jews in British Palestine, restricted immigration, refusal to absorb 200,000 Palestinian refugees as citizens in any one of 22 Arab states. Soviet Russia stepped up the propaganda and alliance with Arabs and over a period of 55 years literally indoctrinated/educated Arabs and Western intellectuals both on the Left, in the academy, and in the media to see despotic Arabs (and suicide bombers) as "victims," Israelis as "victimizers." What is "new" about anti-Semitism is that it is now "politically correct" on the presumably anti-racist and feminist Left to hate Jews and especially the Jewish state.
Rosen: The central meaning of Anti-Semitism is hatred and discrimination against Jews. It developed as a cultural, social and political force in Europe over the centuries and it now has an increasingly global dimension. As a form of irrational hatred it has expressed itself in many ways. At first, it was mostly religious hatred but by the time of the Spanish Inquisition it had taken on a racial dimension. Nowadays Anti-Semitism’s main expression is political. It is found in actions and ideologies that call for the destruction of the State of Israel or that assert that Zionism per se is racism. Religious Anti-Semitism charges Jews with having committed a terrible original sin -- such as killing Christ or poisoning Mohammed – that justified collective punishment. Racial Anti-Semitism portrays Jews as subhuman, diseased, and parasitical. The narrative of original sin has returned to political anti-Semitism where the “sin” is the dispossession and treatment of the Palestinians.
Gottlieb: a) Anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews, irrational prejudice which rejects the value of Jewish culture and denies the right of Jews to live and flourish individually and collectively. It has taken religious, pseudo-scientific, nationalist, and political forms. It is distinct among ethic/religious hatreds
for its longevity, wide-spread character, and the way it combines images of Jews as vermin, animals, in league with the devil, etc. and images of Jews as enormously powerful, ruling the world, etc.
(b) The origins? Depends on your reading of ancient history. I would say it originates in the competition between early Christianity and its older and more established parent, Judaism.
(c) Why anti-Semitism? There is no one single reason for this. In each social setting there are particular reasons, and then the virtually unique historical continuity of the Jewish people enables later version to attach to earlier ones. Most often it is used by the ruling class to deflect criticism by those they rule, turning their resentment against the Jews instead; by the oppressed it is often a simple-minded response to their own suffering. It is ideological control by the rulers, and the opium of the masses for the rest.
Chesler: I agree with Roger's points. In addition, let me make some psycho-political points. The Jews who join internationalist social justice/save the world movements like the Left may have a psychological need to disassociate themselves from Judaism as a too-narrow religion and from Jewish nationalism as also too-narrow, primitive--because it is not perfect enough and because identifying with it will keep them out of the Clubhouse of secular World Savers. Also, ideologues, both Jewish and non-Jewish, but now primarily secular, need to have a cleansing Great Leader and Force that, in God's place, will institute a perfect social program on earth. Because this is impossible, ideologues are willing to kill millions of real people in order to institute a secular Paradise on earth, a man-made one.
Left, liberal, and feminist ideologues may find complex reality too tragic to grapple with and prefer to deny the clear and present danger we are currently in by hewing to an outdated vision and analysis that really cannot account for evil, the limitations of human nature, and new forms of fascism and totalitarianism. Indeed, the Islamo-fascists have, psychologically, taken the place of Stalin or Mao or Castro. The fact that these leaders have all been discredited does not change the psychological need for an authoritarian and thrillingly murderous Great Leader.
Finally, the Jews and the Jewish state have become the symbol of Satanic America, capitalism, imperialism, colonialism. Feminists on the Left have wrongfully identified Israel as an Apartheid state--and utterly failed to mobilize consistently against gender apartheid under Islam and against the overwhelming religious apartheid that Islam is about. The Left has failed to recognize that Islam practices religious apartheid--always has, still does and that it does so in all 22 Arab nations of the Middle East where no Jew can live and where Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Persians, Zoroastrians,etc. have been persecuted as dhimmis. Thus, the Left has collaborated with Islam in scapegoating Israel for the many far more grievous crimes committed in the name of Islam.
Rosen: Anti-Semitism and Judeophobia within the Left cannot be reduced to specific issues although these can certainly exacerbate the situation. In the past Jews had a particularly important symbolic value for the Left. Jews were a force for good so long as Jewish life and identity was devoted to so-called “progressive” causes. Otherwise Jews were an obstacle. There is almost no middle ground. The Left continues to spin out this “Good Jew/Bad Jew” dichotomy in its baseless distinction between Judaism and Zionism. The return to Zion is a central part of Jewish discourse and cannot be exorcised from Jewish life. A thin parade of deracinated Jews give voice to this position but it’s an absurd view. In the end, what remains is only the Left’s inchoate anger directed at Jews who refuse to assimilate to the Left’s agenda.
Interlocutor: The Left claims to be concerned with oppression in all its forms, so why has it had such a difficult time recognizing and confronting anti-Semitism? Is it because anti-Semitism on the Left has become enmeshed with anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism, anti-globalization etc?
Stern: Actually the Left was never really opposed to "oppression in all its forms" -- nor did it even claim such a universalist mantle. I was on the Left for many years. I can't recall marching for the rights of Bhuddists in Tibet, or Catholics in Eastern Europe during the Soviet occupation, or the Kurds, or blacks in the Sudan. You can trace this all the way back to Marx, who was willing to sacrifice the little peoples and nations (including the Jews) in the name of scientific progress toward socialism.
The Left's relationship to the Jews and its attitude to modern anti-Semitism is rather more complicated than your question allows. Historically, of course, the broad European Left was opposed to right wing anti-Semitism and generally to oppression of Jews. But that's because the Left saw the Jews (or at least many Jews) as being in the vanguard of the progressive and socialist movements of the time. The Left loved Jews when they could be portrayed as victims of monopoly capitalism and its alleged progeny, fascism. The Left was either absent or in denial when the Jews became victims of objectively "progressive" regimes. As a child, I marched for the Rosenbergs and was told that they were executed partly because they were Jews. Thirty years later my mostly Jewish leftist friends were absent from the marches for Soviet Jewry. They were still convinced that the Rosenbergs were framed but they had a cold spot in their hearts for Anatoly Sharansky.
Now the Left (or at least a significant portion of it) sees embattled little Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and the collective expression of the Jewish people, as an obstacle to the creation of a 23rd or 24th Arab state. Even more troubling to the Left is that Israel gets support from the Great Satan, the United States. Imagine if by some historical quirk there was an alliance between Israel and revolutionary Cuba against all the reactionary, feudal Arab regimes. The Left would be lining up to buy Israel Bonds. I guess we Jews shouldn't take it personally. The Left doesn't hate Israel and our support of Israel because of our biological deficiencies or because we rejected Christ. Nevertheless, if the Left had its way Israel would be dead and, eventually, so would the Jewish people.
Chesler: Yes Jamie, leftist anti-Semitism is directly connected to the Left's dedication to anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism and anti-globalization. But it is also the result of many Jews on the Left legitimating a savage criticism of the Jewish state (they think that they will escape Jewish history if they are the first to criticize other Jews , etc.) The need to blame the West/capitalism/America/Empire also requires a counterbalancing "honoring" of the most noble victim of all or of the cleansing force of the final freedom-fighter. Today, the Left identifies this "cosmic blowback force as Jihadic Islam; therefore, the Left does not fight, full-force Islamic gender apartheid but, because it must oppose "apartheid," it falsely identifies it as Israeli as scapegoats Israel for the crimes of Islamic fascist terrorism.
Gottlieb: The Left has a hard time with anti-Semitism because [a] The Left exists in an anti-Semitic culture (a culture which is also racist and sexist) and reproduces those tendencies. [b] The Marxist Left tends to reduce oppression to economic class relations, and often Jews can be socially vulnerable even if they are economically successful. Feminist and anti-racist movements have the same problem with respect to gender and race. [c] Anti-imperialism and anti-globalization movements, correctly criticizing American imperialism and the destructive forces of globalization, have mistakenly confused the U.S.-Israel alliance with an identity of interests. The complexity of Jewish social position, the fact the Israel was settled by refugees and not classic colonialists, the complicity of local ruling elites in all forms of contemporary imperialism, the presence of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, etc.-- a simple minded anti-imperialism or anti-globalization will miss these points and blame ‘the Zionists’ alone for the long conflict.
Rosen: Ironically, the Left has almost no sense of the Anti-Semitism embedded in its own history. While the Left celebrated other forms of self-determination and nationalism as bridges to the socialist future, Jewish self-determination was reviled. In Europe, Zionism was despised from the very beginning but even the socialist and non-Zionist Jewish Labor Bund was suspect because of its promotion of Jewish culture within the Jewish working classes. Leon Trotsky quipped that the members of the Labor Bund were just Zionists who were afraid to travel. The Left's solution to Anti-Semitism was for the Jews to disappear or at least to erase their identity in service of the larger vision of a socialist future. It cannot fully confront Anti-Semitism because of its own ambivalence toward Jewish identity.
 Is leftwing anti-Semitism the Left’s desperate and pathological attempt to find meaning in the post-communist world? At one time, Leftists could champion Stalin, Mao, Castro, the Sandinistas, etc. But that’s all over now. So championing the Palestinians now fills the void of communism’s death -- and anti-Semitism is the result. The radicals have now found a new cause through which they can hate their own societies and, of course, ultimately themselves. Right?
Stern: I wish it were that simple. I think rather that it is the exact same reason that the Left fell for all the monsters of the 20th century that leads it now to a position of wishing Israel to disappear. The Kulaks of Russia stood in the way of pure socialism, so it was ok for Stalin to get rid of them; the educated classes of China were in the way of pure agrarian communism so it was ok for Mao to shunt them off to re-education camps. Now the Jews, with their primordial attachment to Israel, stand in the way of freedom and self-realization for the Palestinians. Therefore something has to be done about the Jews. Ok, so the Palestinians use some rough methods, but real progressives can't be too squeamish about the means as long as the end is just and pure.
Chesler: The Jew-hatred is rendered invisible and "politically correct" because the obsession is not, arguably, with Jews but with the Jewish state--which clearly has become the Jew among nation-states. We are not only dealing with classic Left anti-Semitism and with Judeophobia, but also with a more newly minted and politically correct politics of Victim/Victimizer. I would say that once Apartheid was defeated (in some ways) in South Africa, the internationalists on the Left, at the UN, in the Academy and in the media needed to find a new symbol to hate, a new entity to march against, write petitions about, demonstrate against, overthrow. They found this symbol in hating and demonizing and obsessing about Israel but they also needed to find a victim to support and they found that in the murderous terrorists of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, etc.
Once a closed mind is made up they do not revisit the question or rethink their answers. Intellectuals who hate America so hotly might try to live in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Iran for a day to see the difference. Nothing less will do. Also, hoping that terrorists will spare the: "good/dissident" America when they launch an attack is equivalent to Jews hoping to escape persecution by identifying with their oppressors and refusing to identify with other Jews.
Rosen: The Left has its share of romantic revolutionaries but few leftists place Arafat and the other Palestinian leaders among the pantheon of heroes such as Che Guevara or Castro. Even the Left can’t turn Arafat the Islamist into a socialist. The Palestinian cause, because it implicates Jews and Americans, resonates for the Left in ways that other issues do not. The Left is attracted to the real plight of ordinary Palestinians as well to the theatre of violent opposition to Jews, Israel and America. Anyone who has travelled to Israel with their eyes and hearts even half open cannot help but be a witness to the daily injustices that occupation brings to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. But the Left ignores Palestinian contributions to their own misery. Since the end of the Ottoman Empire key Palestinian leaders viewed the modern Jewish presence on the soil of Palestine in apocalyptic terms, rallied fascists, militants and terrorists to their cause, and rejected the possibility of compromise. The Al-Aksa intifada was driven by this same sort of rejectionism and resulted in the near total defeat of the Palestinian cause. Leftwing anti-Semitism has been inflamed, but not invented, by this defeat.
Gottlieb: Wrong Jamie. Your question betrays, I'm afraid, a right-wing point of view that I do not share. For me, the confusions and failures of the Left do not invalidate its central goals: greater collective freedom and rationality throughout social life. What you call "hatred" of "their own societies" I would probably call, in most cases at any rate, legitimate criticism of injustice and irrationality: for example, rejection of imperialism and of corporate domination of the economy and culture. In the case of anti-Semitism I disagree with what a great many leftists have said, or not said, about anti-Semitism. But my disagreement doesn't place me outside the Left, for the Left is not a monolithic mindless mass. It is a varied assorting of people with different views--with at least as much internal disagreement and conflict as the Catholic Church and the Republican Party. That said, I agree that a good deal of leftist thinking concentrates on the power of the U.S .and its client states and often fails to take seriously the autonomous structures of injustice in less powerful states: from the Arab nations to the state socialist ones (e.g., China, Cuba).
Rosen: The Left speaks with multiple voices on many issues. Criticism, even strong criticism, should not be confused with hatred. But on some issues the Left tolerates far less pluralism of thought and the case of Israel is one. Anger with Israel constitutes a cultural force within the Left and is not issue of mistakes, confusions or failures. Major groups on the Left have to acknowledge and come to grips with the deep irrationality of this anger and treat Israel as any other state whose policies are subject criticism. In order to do so, political groups on the Left must demonstrate their moral intolerance of those that challenge the legitimacy of a Jewish State.
Chesler: I agree with Roger in some ways: It is patriotic to criticize one's country in order to improve it--but it is foolish and dangerous to focus on criticizing an imperfect but democratic America while failing to criticize human rights abuses elsewhere--everywhere else--in the more totalitarian world. However, I must admit that my passion is now entirely focused on the betrayal of the truth and of the Jews by educated elites, and on the Left and feminist denial of the enormous danger Jihadic Islam poses to us all. These concerns are shared by the right, and scorned by the Left, as is the right's and my own concern for freedom of religion and religious tolerance. The feminist Left is, traditionally, and even understandably, in favor of freedom FROM religion but not at all interested in freedom of worship as a human and religious right. I am also smarting from the vulgar racism (Jew-hatred/anti-Zionism) which "politically correct" people both engage in but deny is racism since, they say, they are anti-racists.
Obviously, I still believe in a woman's right to abortion, equal pay for equal work, the right to live in freedom from violence (incest, rape, marital battering, forced marriage, forced motherhood, polygamy, sexual slavery, female genital mutilation) access to employment, quality child and health care, and authority in science, the arts, business, thought, etc. Such views are identified as "progressive" or "Left" views although many people on the "right" share some of these views.
I find that I independently hold some views that are considered "Left, hold other views that are considered "right." I think it is important for us to go beyond rigid and intolerant ideologies that prevent us from making crucial alliances to fight against apartheid religious Islam, and Jihadic Islamic-terrorism.
Stern: Gottlieb thinks that there may be a problem of anti-Semitism on the Left, but that's no reason to reject the Left, that the Left has many positive contributions to make towards human progress. What if a movement of the Left were viciously anti-black? Would he still think that this would be only a small matter compared to that otherwise sterling record on the other issues? And if not, if Gottlieb believes that rejecting the anti-Semitism of the Left is less urgent than combating white racism on the Left, he too is part of the problem.
Gottlieb: Well, let’s see now: if I am to renounce membership in or support for groups or institutions because they have serious moral failings, where will that leave me? I will have to end support for Israel because of its racism and oppression in the territories, give up my Judaism because of its blindness on environmental issues, renounce my American citizenship because
of its support for repressive dictatorships, cease to think of myself as human because all human beings are prone to error and selfishness and—come to think of it—stop identifying with myself because I am, truth be told, as messed up as everyone else. Hmmm… we see where this goes. Instead, I will stay on the Left, with the tradition that brought us democracy, human rights,
workers’ rights, women’s liberation, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and environmentalism, which tries to resist the ravages of globalization, and which, I am sorry to say, is too often blind to the reality of anti-Semitism.
Stern: Gottlieb's concedes the hypothesis of this symposium, namely that the Left (or at least a significant portion of it) is either anti-Semitic or tolerates it. But he shrugs it off and says it's human nature, we all make mistakes, and anyway conservatives also exclude dissenting points of view. This is a rather lame excuse for Left wing anti-Semitism. It's like the old apologist for Stalin saying America has lynchings. More importantly, the analogy with conservatism is completely misplaced. Conservatives do not tolerate anti-black racism. Meanwhile, the Tikkun community of which Gottlieb speaks so glowingly, participated in anti-war rallies organized by leftist and Islamist anti-Semites and stood by silently while "death to Israel" was shouted from the podium. How anyone can call such behavior "strong Jewish identity" is beyond comprehension. A little more of such identity and the Jews will be dead.
Gottlieb: I’m glad to see that conservatives haven’t lost their sense of irony—otherwise I’d have a hard time understanding what Professor Stern meant by “Conservatives do not tolerate anti-black racism.” More to the point, however: I don’t shrug off anything: I’ve written about and worked against left-wing anti—Semitism, from within the Left, since the 1970s, just as I’ve advocated an end to the settlements and a two-state solution since that time. I believe this is a serious failing—and not the only one—of the Left. But if Professor Stern is really concerned about the Jewish people, I suggest he examine, for a start: the long historic connections between capitalism, social conservatism and anti-Semitism (in the Holocaust, for example). He might also find out that generations of leftists have overcome failings along these lines: the racism and nativism of the American socialist party were overcome by Communists in the 1930s; the Stalinism of the 30s was overcome in the New Left; sexism was challenged in the 1970s, etc. What progress has American imperialism made in this period? And where it has made progress, when did it do so without being pushed, kicking and screaming, by the Left which Professor Stern hates?
Stern: No irony at all. Let me remind our readers that at almost the same time that conservatives purged Trent Lott from his leadership role in the US Senate for a relatively innocuous, but racially insensitive remark at a birthday celebration for Strom Thurmond, Gottlieb and his comrades were marching shoulder by shoulder in a parade with people cheering the Jew-killers of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Speaking of irony, however, I am just overwhelmed by Gottlieb's account of the Left's unwavering quest for improvement throughout the 20th century -- particularly his line that "the Stalinism of the 30s was overcome in the New Left." I'm sure that the 30-50 million victims of Stalinism must be relieved that the New Left finally got it right in the 60s. And, by the way, I'm not a professor. If I was, I probably would believe that crock about the "historical connections" between capitalism and anti-Semitism.
Furthermore, as far as I'm concerned Gottlieb and his comrades at Tikkun have already "end[ed] support for Israel . ." Indeed, I regard Tikkun as more harmful to the cause of Israel than the out and out Jew haters on the Left. At least everyone now knows where these leftists are coming from. With Tikkun, all its nauseating preaching about love for Israel is cover for a campaign of vilification that aids and abets Israel's most murderous enemies -- and which Gottlieb so perfectly illustrates in his earlier comment about Israel's "racism and oppression."
Gottlieb: Oy veh! It really is too bad that so much discussion of this topic has to mirror, verbally, the physical violence of the real encounter.
But, if you insist: First of all, the prophetic impulse in Judaism doesn’t spare the Jews—it demands that they behave justly. Give that up, and what’s Left of Judaism?
More particularly: the racist character of Israeli society has just been the subject of a report produced by the Israeli government. The oppressive character of the occupation is something that’s been commented on by numerous Israelis, including someone who was speaker of the Knesset for four years. God alone knows what you’d say if you were in a conversation with them. Perhaps you think all forms of dissent are traitorous—at least if it’s dissent from a policy you think makes sense. The thing is, Professor Stern, I don’t have to pretend that Israel is perfect, that it is not oppressive and racist, to believe that it has a right to exist. It has that right, even with its faults, just like the U.S., Argentina, China, Syria, and Nigeria, each of which is also oppressive and racist. I think all human beings deserve life, and respect, and some form of protection, and a democratic government—even if they have some racism and their governments are far from just.
All the ideological compulsions that mean so much to you are simply not rules I live by.
I don’t have to hate Palestinians or deny their right to statehood to say that there is never, ever, a justification for bombing civilians.
I can love the Jewish people and criticize the occupation, oppose the occupation and reject the glorification of Palestinian violence and pathological hate, identify with the Left and criticize its faults.
In the end, we are all human beings. In the end we had better find a way to compassion, empathy and awareness of our own sins. If we don’t, we all be completely right—and either completely dead or completely morally empty.
Let's face it Professor Stern, there isn't a great deal you and I would agree on in the realm of politics. We are each committed to pretty much diametrically opposed worldviews and interpretations of history. So I will end with a thought that perhaps might give us some common ground: the great task of our time is to find some way to justice and care, not just for ourselves, but for all those 'others' whom we dislike, hate, or would forget about. If we can't do that, then the truly evil forces of violence will find fertile ground, and the endless rounds of killings--Palestinian against Jew, Hindu against Moslem, Al-Qaeda against Americans, globalization supporters against local peasants, industrial polluters against everyone who breathes-- will continue indefinitely. So let us ask ourselves, Professor Stern, you of yourself and me of myself: what did either of us do today to increase that justice and care?
Stern: Israel does uphold the "prophetic impulse" in Judaism and behaves with greater justice and decency than any other country would have if it were confronted with such dire threats to its existence. Professor Gottlieb obviously doesn't agree, which is his right. But I also have a right to point out some of the objective political consequences of his excessive denunciations of Israel. Now he tells us that he actually doesn't think Israel is any more racist and oppressive than China, Argentina, Nigeria et. al. I'm thrilled by such a generous analysis. Funny, though, in my occasional browsing through the pages of Tikkun I never seem to see any articles in the "prophetic tradition" denouncing those countries for the sins of racism. In the meantime, in joining in the woldwide villification of Israel as racist and oppressive, Gottlieb and Tikkun manage to pour a little more oil on the bonfire of anti-Israel hatred that is fast becoming anti-semitism.
What I did today to "increase justice and care" was to try as best as I could to combat the big lie that Israel is "racist and oppressive."
Gottlieb: Well, I hate to repeat myself, but since leading members of Israel's own institutions--professors, members of the KNesset, members of the Supreme Court--have said these things, I am--at least--in rather good company when I say them. As for Tikkun, it regularly has statements about the political failings of other countries, but as a heavily Jewish magazine, it
necessarily concentrates on our people.
I suppose the foundational difference here is that I am willing to side with Israel and criticize it, while Professor Stern seems to think that he can't do both. I imagine he feels the same way about the U.S., Western culture, dead white men, and so forth. I place myself firmly in the critical tradition--with Locke and Jefferson, the Abolitionists and the early trade unionists, Marx and Eugene Debs, Rachel Carson and Howard Zinn and, if you don't mind, the actual, real-live, Israeli left, as well.
Interlocutor: Ok gentlemen, sorry, let me interrupt. I want to ask you this question: how do we know when criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic? Phyllis why don't you start on this one?
Chesler: Thanks Jamie. Well, if a person cannot calmly discuss the history of the Middle East, the cause of Palestinian and Muslim suffering, the history of the Jews without immediately yelling, growling, belittling, scorning, intimidating, shaming, literally ranting and raving, if the emotional anger is way out of proportion to any intellectual discussion--we are looking at brainwashing AND Jew-hatred. We are looking at a Soviet-style or Maoist Show Trial, at least psychologically. If the person who behaves this way is themselves Jewish or even Israeli--we are looking at the German-Jewish phenomenon--and it's a psychological problem. If the person railing against the Jewish state does not really know very much about Israel but feels absolutely committed to their position and to their high-decibel emotionality--we are probably looking at Jew-hatred. Today, most anti-Zionism is Jew-hatred.
Of course, one can and must--I do--look at Israel and at America realistically and carefully. But, if one is a Do-Gooder, we have to criticize human rights abuses in a more even-handed way. We cannot overly scrutinize Israel and forget all about the Chinese Occupation of Tibet and the persecution of dhimmis (non-Muslims) under Islam and at gender apartheid under Islam.
Human shields, if they are not Jew-haters, would long ago have started to ride the buses in Tel Aviv as opposed to surrounding the mass murderer Arafat to protect him.
Rosen: There is no magic formula. The crucial issue is whether the criticism respects the Jewish right of self-determination and Israel’s existence as a sovereign state. Beyond that Israel’s policies are fair game and there is plenty to criticize.
Stern: Criticism of any specific Israeli government policy is not only not anti-Semitic but it's sometimes necessary. After all, we are the democrats. We believe that open discussion is good in itself and will lead to more effective policies by our democratic friends in Israel. On the other hand attacks on Israel as a national project, depictions of Israel as created in sin, holding Israel up to a higher standard than other countries faced with the same external threat, should be considered presumptively anti-Semitic. It's not all that different than knowing the difference between legitimate and necessary criticism of any particular US government and anti-Americanism. Anyone with a modicum of common sense can tell the difference between legitimate criticism and demonization of an entire nation.
Interlocutor: Phyllis, I am curious, what has been the Left’s response to your book The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It?
Chesler: The first and most overwhelming response has been that of silence which is certainly a form of disapproval and punishment. On the other hand, Left Jewish and some Christian feminists have been emailing me privately, cheering me on, telling me of their own first-hand experience of Jew-hatred on the feminist Left.
However, for the first time in my career, THE leading progressive, Left, liberal, and feminist media have refused to review the book or to interview me. They are unwilling to oppose me publicly because they are intolerant of difference, have been completely indoctrinated to treat Israel as the Victimizer and the Palestinians as the most noble of victims (yes, even the suicide bombers, are seen as freedom fighters, resistance heroes). It is not just the Left--the Left ideology has thoroughly permeated the media and the Academy; thus, there is real resistance to giving my views public attention or credibility. I find this chilling, disappointing, unsurprising, disgusting, and a matter of grave urgency. It is not just my book by the way that has either "disappeared" or been viciously attacked by the progressive media but many books that identify the clear and present danger of Jihadic Islam and Islamic Apartheid.
I am a member of an important Left feminist list-serv group with whom I agree on certain issues but with whom I disagree on the issue of the Jews and Israel. When I first published in Frontpage magazine I sent my two articles around and asked them to address the issues I'd raised. They never did so. A few vocal members focused only on where I had published the truth--they also challenged me for having appeared on the 700 Club. I said that I would publish and speak the truth anywhere and that a number of my op-ed pieces and letters to the editor on this subject had been quickly rejected by all their favorite progressive media. I challenged them to get me a venue on the Left to say what I am saying. Of course, no one has and perhaps no one can.
Mainly, like all other human beings, progressives and leftists are unable to acknowledge their own shortcomings. Obviously, progressive and educated people of all colors and of every religious origin are still racists, classists, sexists, Jew-haters. Feminists are sexists too. Jews have internalized Jew-hatred too. One expects, wrongly, that educated World Improvers will at least note and struggle with their own prejudices. This is not the case.
Gottlieb: Some of my earliest intellectual work focused on the tragic collapse of Marxism into communism, so while I'm always disappointed by blindness, prejudice and stupidity on the Left, I'm not surprised. As Chesler points out, leftists are subject to the same human weaknesses as everyone else, prey to the same passions and prejudices, and as capable of being swayed by fashion and crippled by a real inability to think for themselves. On the other hand, there is the magazine Tikkun (for which I write) and the Tikkun community, which combine strong Jewish identity, support for Israel and Palestine, and core Left values; there was widespread support among many Left icons for Tikkun editor Michael Lerner when he was excluded from an anti-war rally, etc. So while the picture is bleak, it is perhaps not completely as black as Chesler paints it.
My last book Joining Hands: Politics and Religion Together for Social Change, was similarly ignored by a good deal of the Left press. It also had a somewhat unfashionable message. This is just the way things are in politics. How many conservative publications would promote an unfashionable viewpoint from within their own ranks?
Chesler: I agree totally with Roger on this point:. All ideologues, whether on the extreme Left or extreme right, do not routinely provide space for the views they oppose. In so doing, neither are serving the truth that well, both compartmentalize in order to achieve certain objectives.
I think the picture is pretty bleak among the intelligentsia and cannot predict when or how it might change. I think of myself as more of a feminist than as a leftist, more religious than secular, more Zionist than anti-Zionist--and as a hawk in terms of defending ourselves against jihadic terrorism. Both Israel and America have the right to self-defense even if our governmental policies are not utterly to our liking. I do not like America's relationship with Saudi Arabia but that does not mean that I think American civilians deserve to die in Islamic suicide attacks. I think that much of the Jewish social justice activist work (including that of criticizing the Jewish state and holding it to the highest possible moral standard) IS a version of Torah Judaism, even it is not always acknowledged as such. However, demanding that Israel attain perfection and, at the same time, not demanding equal perfection of Israel's many terrorist enemies whose human rights abuses are far more grievous than anything Israel has ever done or failed to do amounts to a betrayal of the Jews. It is a short-sighted luxury which the Jewish people can no longer afford.
I signed the petition for Rabbi Lerner when he was not allowed to speak at a Left, anti-Zionist rally. I think it is crucial that his voice (and others like his) be heard at such gatherings--but I myself no longer speak at such rallies. At this moment in history, anti-Zionist ideologues are not a welcoming "beloved community" for me but are rather, a fifth column of collaborators with Islamic fascism and terrorism. If they would engage, intellectually, on this point, I would engage in dialogue with them; not otherwise. I've had with the "Queers for Palestine" Alice-in-Wonderland macabre street theatre. "Palestine" tortures and executes it's homosexuals who run away to Israel where they have shelter. Until or unless this (and a hundred other true facts) are acknowledged on the Left, and among feminist progressives, there really can be no profound dialogue.
Rosen: Chesler is a major public intellectual whose books have frequently been reviewed by Left and liberal reviewers. My sense is that this is a turning point for Chesler because her last two books have pointed their barbs at the sacred territory of the Left -- the image of itself as just and rational. Her books show that some of the Left's mythological construction of itself is false and that its policies and perspectives can be infused with irrationality and prejudice. Who wants to hear this message?
Stern: To Phyllis Chesler I would say welcome to the club. A long time ago when we were both on the Left I experienced the same phenomenon. I wrote an article in Ramparts magazine suggesting that, based on its presumed core values, the Left should be supporting Israel against all those feudal, reactionary Arab regimes. It was the first and last time a publication of the Left allowed me to say such things. My question to Phyllis is why she should be surprised at the Left's reaction 30 years later and why she still thinks of herself as a leftist. The Left's hatred of Israel and Jews who defend it is reason enough, in my view, not to take the Left seriously on any other issue. Its toleration of anti-Semitism is as indicative of the Left's moral bankruptcy as would be its toleration of racism against blacks.
Rosen: The Palestinian cause has become the principle litmus test of participation in the Left. It is almost impossible to function within the broad Left without adopting a staunch pro-Palestinian view. This is why Phyllis has hit this wall of silence. It has become so fundamental it is no longer discussable. It is similar to the problem of raising the issue of the communist oppression of the peoples of Eastern Europe in the post World War II era. If you raised it you were not part of the Left and had no place in its internal debate.
Chesler: Thank you Sol Stern, where does the Club meet and are there refreshments? Stern is right about the moral bankrupcy of the Left in terms of it's position on Israel. But it is not just the Left--western liberals, academics, socialists, identity politicniks, feminists, so-called neutral journalists, plus right-wing white supremacists, Palestinian nationalists, Islamic terrorists, and anti-Zionist propagandists all share the Left's view of Israel. Forty nations at the United Nations voted to protect Arafat, the unrepentant terrorist, from Israeli self-defense. The motion was floated by Sudan (an unrepentant slaver), Pakistan (the co-creator and harborer of the Taliban and al-Qaeda).
I am not surprised but I do think that anti-Zionism and Jew-hatred on the Left (and elsewhere among educated Western elites) has escalated alarmingly in the last 30 years. It is one of the reasons that I wrote THE NEW ANTI-SEMITISM.
Interlocutor: Last question ladies and gentlemen. I have to say that, in my own personal experience, I have never met a person that had a strong dislike of Jews that didn’t have some kind of serious psychological problem. I can also say the same about Jewish people I know who are anti-Israel in their politics. So let me ask you this: is anti-Semitism a severe psychological illness/disorder? Moreover, is an anti-Israeli position among Jews the result of a similar personal dysfunction?
Gottlieb: Anti-Semitism takes lots of different forms, from the casual anti-Jewish joke to pathological hatred. The deeper the passion, the more intense the emotion, the more anti-Semitism reflects the inability of a person to take responsibility for his or her own life, to pawn off problems, confusion or fears on Jews, or wants to assert his or her own value simply by ‘not being Jewish.’ In a confusing, frightening and dangerous world, in which we are buffeted by both destructive, impersonal global capitalism and violent fundamentalism, people need someone to hate. There is a lot of it directed at Jews, but if you look at Rwanda, the Hindus and Moslems in India, Eastern Europe, the North Koreans, etc., you see this is part of a world-wide social phenomenon, not just a private pathology. As a Jew, I find this very scary; as a human being, I find it tragic. As a member of the Left I try, in my own small ways, to resist the terrors from all sides: from the passions of ethnic hatred, violent nationalism and dogmatic religion; and from the cold, cruel calculations that would destroy nature and divide the world mindless consumers and the starving poor.
Stern: Sorry Jamie, but I have to disagree. Everything we have learned from the history of German anti-Semitism and how it so easily morphed into what Daniel Goldhagen calls "eliminationist" anti-Semitism indicates that under the right conditions and after decades of cultural conditioning, otherwise ordinary and healthy human beings can participate with enthusiasm in mass murder. That lesson is being repeated today in the Middle East among the Palestinians and everywhere else that Islamist fascism rears it head. That is why the Left's silence about this new anti-Semitism is such a disgrace. It's also why any group like Tikkun, which lends credibility to that Left by marching in its parades, is itself morally compromised.
Rosen: I don't doubt that this is true for anti-Semitism and for many other forms of prejudice. People who openly proclaim extreme forms of prejudice and are unable to police their own thoughts are probably in serious psychological trouble and it is easy to recognize their pathologies. But I wonder how important or relevant it is for understanding all anti-Israeli positions, especially among Jews? Criticism of Israeli settlement policies, participation in the debate as to whether Israel can be both a Jewish state and a democratic state, concern about the weakening of the labor movement and the rise of the right wing are all part of healthy political debate in Israel and do not become anti-Semitic merely because the debate is transferred to American soil. Also a lot of Jews feel squeezed by some of the public rhetoric coming from Israel like the recent demagoguery about killing Arafat. My sense is that a lot of Jews smell the whiff of anti-Semitism in the air and it's focus on Israel. Some respond by rallying around Israel and Jewish causes while yet others join the critics in hope that their lives won't be shaken up. A few years ago I was in the Israeli consulate in NY waiting to get a visa for a long stay in Israel. I was sitting next to a traditionally dressed Satmar Chasid who was carrying his Israeli passport in a leather passport case stamped "United Kingdom." When I asked him why he did this he replied that he didn't want to "stand out." I think this applies to a lot of Jews today.
Chesler: I do not like to diagnose political and social actions as pathological in psychiatric terms. I am not saying that mental illness does not exist (it surely does) but I would rather look at the moral and ethical failure involved in Jew-hatred and anti-Zionism. I would also like us to note how culturally, educationally, and propagandistically empowered Jew-haters, including Jewish Jew-haters, are. It is, perhaps, similar to the cultural creation of a suicide bomber in the Middle East.
Having said that, I must also note that the level of rage and righteous rhetoric that individuals express towards Israel and towards the Jews who support Israel is off the charts. It is highly programmed, legitimated. If the individual indeed is suffering from psychological problems, they have found the "solution" in a politics that provides peer approval, social interaction, perhaps a career path, and a sense of power and agency. I would also say that such psychological behavior is similar to cult conditioning. Also, the obsessive "neutrality" of liberal western media suggests a disconnect between mind and heart; they evidence no compassion for the Israeli civilian victims of suicide bombings, not only the dead, but the piteously life-long wounded survivors. They are, increasingly, Talking Heads severed from human reactions to Jewish suffering.
Psycho-analytically speaking, Jew-hatred functions as a way for the powerless and the terrified to feel powerful--not by really solving their own problems (rebelling against, deposing the despots in their lives or in their minds) but by finding a sacred scapegoat to blame and ritually sacrifice.
Frustration, identification with the aggressor, especially if one is terrified by that aggressor and wishes to appease him as well, all apply. In addition, the problem of Jews who have internalized Judeophobia is a serious one and I will address it at length in a future article. I have already written about this in THE NEW ANTI-SEMITISM.
Interlocutor: Phyllis Chesler, Sol Stern, David Rosen and Roger Gottlieb, thank you. It was a pleasure and a privilege to have you on Frontpage Symposium. We will see you again soon.
I welcome all of our readers to get in touch with me if they have a good idea for a symposium. Email me at email@example.com.
Jihad in Iraq. Guests: Michael Ledeen, Cliff May, Charles Kupchan and Daniel Brumberg.