Highly rated article – Antisemitism and the Left

ASW highly commends the following article from Dean Sherr in The Guardian. It examines the intriguing question of why the Left chooses to downplay the significance of Antisemitism?

There is a famous saying in Jewish culture that neatly summarises the history of the Jewish people and the rituals associated with our tradition: “They tried to kill us, we survived, now let’s eat.”

Easily misunderstood and misinterpreted, one of the defining characteristics of Jewish culture and identity is the awareness of historical (and modern) antisemitism. The festival of Purim, held a fortnight ago, tells the story of Haman’s attempted genocide of the Persian Jewish community. Somewhat more well-known in popular culture are the festivals of Passover and Hanukkah, which celebrate the liberation of Jews from the Egyptian and Greek empires.

Since the 1950s, we have commemorated Yom Hashoa, the Jewish day of remembrance for the Holocaust. Unlike the more historical festivals of liberation and survival, there is no great overriding sense of joy; nor is there a celebratory meal attached to it.

In light of this history, it is little surprise that many Jews had a significant relationship with the left for many years. An oppressed and marginalised people for so long, Jews have a natural political affinity with values like freedom of expression, equality, multiculturalism and, certainly, anti-racism. The concept of Jewish self-determination, Zionism, saw itself as a fundamentally left-wing movement in its inception.

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, antisemitism was impossible to ignore and became a central concern of the global left, but Julian Burnside encapsulated the contemporary shift in thinking when he wrote in the Guardian that “Islamophobia is the new antisemitism”, implying, as many often do, that the old antisemitism has been superseded.

It hasn’t. Last Wednesday, a lecture at the University of Sydney by retired British Colonel Richard Kemp became the scene of a heated protest. Kemp was accused of supporting genocide, and, during the fracas, noted Australian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions advocate Professor Jake Lynch was filmed waving money in the faces of an elderly Jewish women and the Jewish student trying to prevent the two from coming to blows.

Lynch explained his actions as a response to having been kicked, saying it was a warning that he would sue, and described his restraint as “almost heroic”, though his account has been disputed by witnesses, with Kemp claiming that the woman was attempting to push Lynch away, who initiated the contact.

Irrespective of who struck first, the image of a leftwing academic brandishing money in the faces of Jewish people clearly evokes the crude antisemitic falsehood that Jews are obsessed with money and perhaps neatly encapsulates the shift of the left away from Jews.

Whatever Lynch’s excuses or reasoning, and the elderly woman’s behaviour, it was clearly an offensive and provocative gesture, reasonably likely to offend the Jewish community. In the past, a leftwing professor would surely have anticipated this, but the reality is that antisemitism today is not as pressing an issue to progressives as it once was.

Instead we have a new set of attitudes towards antisemitism: that it is of lesser importance in the west than other forms of racism, like Islamophobia; that it is no longer a serious threat to diaspora Jews; and that the gravity of its existence is diminished because of the existence and behaviour of Israel.

The attacks in Paris and Copenhagen are ample proof that antisemitism still poses a threat to Jews in the west, especially in light of new recordings from Paris confirming definitively that the gunman targeted Jews. In France, Jews make up 1% of the population yet suffer half of all racist attacks. In Australia, 2014 saw a massive increase in reported antisemitism, including physical attacks in Sydney,Melbourne and Perth.

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