The Left must confront its unintentional anti-Semitism

While the aims of many pro-Palestinian campaigners are admirable, the left must look at the wider context of Israel and Palestine today

While the aims of many pro-Palestinian campaigners are admirable, the left must look at the wider context of Israel and Palestine today

Peace negotiations have failed and violence on the Gaza strip has resumed once again. As this happens the left and the wider pro-Palestinian movement needs to think hard about how the next intensification of campaigning can avoid contributing to a rise in anti-semitic sentiment.

Many will read that paragraph and immediately react with hostility. A recurrent feature of the last few weeks has been the forceful claims by the pro-Palestinian left that it is not anti-semitic to criticise Israel’s actions in Gaza. Some commentators have also been conscientious in combining their critique of Israel with strong condemnations of those who have used the situation to make overtly anti-semitic attacks.

However, to believe that such arguments and qualifications means the left is now excused of any culpability is to engage in a denial for which the left itself regularly criticises others. 

Left-leaning thinkers and movements have argued for many years that racism and sexism need not be overt to exist. Racist and sexist values are so deeply ingrained into much of our thinking and behaviour that it is quite possible for someone to unintentionally exclude or denigrate black people or women even while actively proclaiming themselves an anti-racist or feminist.

Unfortunately the left is at risk of becoming the bastion of unintentional anti-semitism just as individuals and organisations across the political spectrum purvey unintentional racism and sexism.

The way many rushed to the defence of the cultural venues which took decisions leading to the cancellation of events with Israeli links is a case in point. I have no doubt that the trustees and staff of those venues along with their supporters are deeply hostile to anti-semitism and are as troubled as anyone by the recent upsurge in anti-Semitic activity. It is also to the credit of one of those venues that they have now rescinded the decision to require the organisers of the event to cut their links with Israel.

However, to support an organisation that makes such demands and then claim you are not acting in a way that will leave many Jews feeling deeply uncomfortable is to reveal an ignorance of how central Israel is to the identity, culture and religion of the Jewish people.

Imagine if a venue decided it would not allow a Catholic cultural event to go ahead unless the organisers cut their links to the Vatican because of the poor record of the church on challenging paedophilia within its ranks. No doubt many would feel an immediate pang of sympathy with the venue. After all the history of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is truly shocking and has created enormous misery.

But we would soon recognise that such a demand is impossible for a Catholic organisation to meet given the absolutely central role the Vatican plays in Catholic identity and practice. If the theatre’s boycott were to catch on, we would be in a situation where a well-meaning protest against sexual abuse had rapidly turned in to an effective exclusion of Catholic people and organisations from the cultural life of the country. No-one will have deliberately set out to be anti-Catholic but that will have been the outcome.

The situation is no different for Jews yet demands for a much wider boycott of Israel and Israeli goods is now a staple of the pro-Palestinian movement. Whether intentional or not, the idea that Jews and Jewish organisations could be excluded from the economic, cultural and wider public life of the country because of their inevitably close links to Israel should cause grave concern to anyone who knows the long and violent history of anti-Jewish prejudice which regularly used boycotts as a tool of oppression.

And as recent events have shown, those demanding a boycott could well end up preventing Jews having access to the products (as well as wider cultural and religious institutions in Israel) which are central to the practice of their culture and faith.

Similar concerns should also extend to the political goals of pro-Palestinian campaigners. The ultimate aim of much of the movement and its left-wing supporters is admirable: a long-term negotiated settlement leading to peaceful two-state co-existence. However, under current political circumstances that would require the Israeli Government, its citizens and the Jewish people around the world to accept negotiations with Hamas: an organisation whose founding document quotes the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as though it were genuine, claims Jews run a secret global conspiracy to control the world through organisations such as the Freemasons and blames the Jewish people for instigating both world wars for their own material gain.

Hamas spokespeople have distanced themselves from the Charter since its publication in 1988 but frankly this is not good enough. Any right-thinking person would expect an organisation to make every effort to formally reject such a pernicious document if it were really serious about avoiding anti-semitism. Because Hamas has taken no such action, Israel is being asked to seek friendly relations with a body which is founded upon and promotes ideas which only seventy years ago led directly to the murder of six million Jewish men, women and children.

To dismiss or ignore such concerns, as many in the pro-Palestinian movement do, is again to fail to think through the implications of their own demands for the justifiable fears of Jewish people. If the Hamas Charter had included numerous references to the inferiority of black people, one cannot help but wonder if the left would be quite so willing to close their ears to the complaints.

Claims of unintentional racism and sexism have been used in the past to silence debate and have, on occasion, reached absurd levels leading to accusations of racist or sexist behavior where none exists. No reasonable person would want a situation where awareness of unintentional anti-semitism made it impossible to criticise Israel because it undoubtedly does need criticising. However, it is very important for the pro-Palestinian movement and its supporters on the left to be clear that just because you distance yourself from those using the Gaza conflict to make overt attacks on Jews, you are not excused from thinking far more deeply about the consequences of your actions and demands for the well-being and liberty of the Jewish people.


Adam Lent is on Twitter here

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81 Responses to “The Left must confront its unintentional anti-Semitism”

  1. Leon Wolfeson


    You’re making excuses. Frantically. You deleted those posts for a reason, after all.
    There’s a reason you’re doing it, rather than apologising or arguing.

    People can and should draw their own conclusions, based on what you typed. Which attacked all Jews, regardless of their beliefs. Simply for being Jewish. Never mind the fact that not all Jews are Zionist (just most). Etc.

  2. Kryten2k35

    Quote me saying “I’m fine with theists being murdered” either in or outside of the UK.

    You are not discussing my views. You’re discussing those views you made up for me.

  3. Kryten2k35

    The only thing I have to apologise for is calling you names out of frustration. I haven’t said anything wrong.

  4. Leon Wolfeson


    Kryten2k35 -“I’m saying I don’t give a flying fuck if religious groups murder each other, in other countries. ”

    You are a liar.

  5. Leon Wolfeson


    I *fully* believe you when you say that you believe you’ve said nothing wrong.

    Equally, I believe from what you’ve posted that you hold some pretty nasty views. Then made excuses for them.

  6. Kryten2k35

    Right, so based on your faulty view of my opinions, you conclude I have some nasty views?

    Seems wrong to me.

  7. Kryten2k35

    Where did I lie? I didn’t say that I’m ok with theists murdering each other. YOU said that I said that. Not me. You can’t find that exact quote, instead you present another that’s taken out of context.

  8. Leon Wolfeson

    You haven’t showed in any way, shape or form that my view of your opinions is faulty. You have said *several time now* you’re targeting all Jews, regardless of what we believe, and admitted you’re an anti-theist (from “I don’t care”).

    And I think you’re wrong, too.

  9. Kryten2k35

    Targeting with what exactly? The belief that Jews take any criticism of Israel as antisemitic? Right? So, instead of proving me wrong on that, you go on to prove me right and spew bile and venom my way for holding such a view.


    And your view of my opinion is self evidently wrong to anyone with half a brain, since I’m sure ANYONE reading this can see I never said half the shit you’re accusing me of.

    This is how you are acting:

    me “The sky is blue”

    you: “ah, so you’re saying the sky cannot be black, pink or purple?”

    You’re acting fallaciously.

  10. Leon Wolfeson


    Your blanket view that “Jews” (despite the fact that not all Jews have the same view there), and given your anti-theism…

    That you see discussing your views as “spew bile and venom” shows your view, rather, of anyone who dares question the blanket PC bigotry against Jews which you have shown.

    The reality is, again, that I criticise Israel’s *government*, you are criticising Jews. As a whole. Regardless of what the Jew believes.


    You say “Jews”. I *agree* you say “Jews”. You then whine when I say that’s bigoted. But you said, meant, and make it plain you continue as an anti-theist to mean “Jews”, regardless of what we actually believe. Never mind, once more, that I myself – as a Jew and a Labour Zionist – oppose Israel’s *government*. No, you don’t care there, do you? You’re simply labelling all Jews as the same.

    This is not “fallaciously”. You’re inventing excuses. And yes, I’m sure people with half a brain might agree with you, fortunately most people have an entire brain, and can read your posts. You are guilty of the entirety of what you accurately describe as “shit”. Your PC bigotry is indeed very much “shit”.

  11. Leon Wolfeson


    Kryten2k35 -“I’m saying I don’t give a flying fuck if religious groups murder each other, in other countries. ”

    You are denying your own post. You are denying what you typed. You are making excuses for lying, no more and no less. You said it, you meant it.

  12. Kryten2k35

    The REALITY is that I’m criticising ANY Jew who wants to call critique of Israel anti-semitic. Equally, though it wasn’t implied, the same would apply, from me, to anyone else, Jewish or not. Critiquing Israel (which means the government and that should not have to be clarified since it is just assumed) is not anti-semitic and I’m glad you agree.

    And no, You expressing your views is not what I mean by bile and venom. The amount of disgust you have thrown my way is the bile and your attempts to annoy me are the venom. All because I don’t hold a view you agree with, OR, actually, because you misunderstand my view.

    The fact that I am an anti-theist means nothing in the context of this discussion.

  13. Kryten2k35

    LOL, I’m not denying my own post. I’m denying your faulty assertion.

    Religious groups murdering each other is low on my list of priorities. Chief among my priorities are feeding my family and studying for my degree.

    That doesn’t imply that I’m ok with murder. That’s what you’re implying, and you’re wrong.

  14. Leon Wolfeson


    That you are an anti-theist is the key here. And you’re attacking ONLY Jews.
    Moreover, you have not criticised ANY Jew, you have criticised *ALL* Jews.

    You are now trying to *change* your argument, at this VERY late date, to be a broader one. Why on earth would I believe this late revisionism? Moreover, no, there is a big difference between criticising Israel and the Israeli government. I am British, and also disagree with the British government, and have said #notinmyname on occasion to both.

    There is no “assumption”, a very common trick of the New Anti-Semite is to make criticism of “Israel” when it’s aimed at Jewish people. Even if it was not wrong to label the entire of a people because of the actions of their government (and it is), that would make it necessary to explicitly specify your target.

    Of course you see disgust at your PC bigotry as bile and the fact that plain truth is annoying you as venom, right. We agree, again! I understand your view *very* well, that’s your entire problem here. You said, and meant, “Jews” (ALL Jews).

  15. Kryten2k35

    Again you’re wrong. And this is just getting to the point of frustration, again. So, I’m out. You’re wrong.

  16. Leon Wolfeson

    Of course you see me as wrong here. After all, I’m Jewish.

  17. Kryten2k35


  18. Leon Wolfeson

    There is no “implication”. You’re absolutely FINE with theists dying outside the UK. You stated it.

    And yes, no basic rights for theists is very unimportant for you. Right. And you say things about your priorities…but have kept posting here.

    All your last sentence implies is that you don’t see theists being killed is murder. Uh-huh. You’re quite wrong as usual – I don’t *imply* things, I state them quite clearly. So they can be discussed.

    You’re the one trying to read things which are not there.

  19. Leon Wolfeson


    You’re not out then, and are lying.

    And right here, anti-theist;
    “The problem is that Jews”

    It all goes back to that. Something you’ve confirmed several times IS your view. You’ve not addressed what I’ve said…you won’t see beyond your PC bigotry and targeting…you keep trying to minimise things like your anti-theism…

  20. Leon Wolfeson


    And there is is, lashing out at the Jew who refuses to be silent.

    The eloquent voice!

    Now, let’s compare and contrast.

    *I* have a bias against Christian Zionism. I’m uncomfortable with it. That’s not because I have a problem with the belief itself, but how it’s often expressed, and the fact it’s often expressed blindly, without understanding the situation in Israel.

    In fact, *they* are *often* guilty of taking criticism of the Israeli *government* as an attack on Jews.

    I am, however, careful to not let that colour my perception of *individual* Christian Zionists. I express my reservations in a limited and moderate way, and often suggest they go to talks on the topic to educate themselves.

    You? “The problem is that Jews” to “Fuck off”.

  21. Kryten2k35

    I’m telling you to fuck off because you’re being antagonistic.

  22. Soupy One

    I’ll repeat because no one was serious enough to take it up:

    every year the figures for antisemitic attacks are published? Every year.

    Try this:

    1. List the British Left’s publications in your head, including your favourites.

    2. List the number that publish these official reports on antisemitic attacks?

    Compare and contrast the two. Tell me what you find?

  23. Leon Wolfeson

    I’m being antagonistic to you for your bigotry against myself and other Jews?
    Cry me a river.

  24. Kryten2k35

    Having taken time to cool off, I can say this:

    For someone with such a chip on his shoulder, you’d think you’d’ve used my OP as an opportunity to perhaps put right what was wrong with my comments. Despite how you may feel about it now, I would have listened, if you had approached it properly.

    In retrospect, I should’ve just mentioned Zionists, instead of generalising all Jews. I can understand where you might have been offended (Would you believe me if I said I encountered Jews on and offline very little?). For this, I apologise. My intention was not to insult you, but to highlight that it is not anti-semitic to critique the Israeli government, yet it is often said so.

    However, you instead decided to act explosive and corrosively until it’s gotten to this point.

    I have nothing against you for being a Jew. To keep suggesting as much does you a great, great disservice. Had you asked me an hour ago, Well, I would’ve had some colourful language to say about you, but the great part of cooling off is reflection. However, my issues with you would’ve been the way you interpreted my words and tried to use your interpretation against me, which I view as being intentionally antagonistic, for the sake of a fight. Not because you’re Jewish.

    I am being very, very genuine when I state that my beliefs in anti-theism have nothing to do with my feelings about this, or you. I do not believe in God, or gods, or anything spiritual. You do, that’s up to you. Not me.

  25. Leon Wolfeson

    No it doesn’t surprise me you don’t know many Jews.

    Really, as I said the offenders in seeing *any* criticism of the Isralie government (and yes, you do need to be specific, blame the right for that one…) are – more often than not – (American) Christian Zionists, who know little to nothing about the area.

    The thing is, there is very little which honestly CAN be said about Hamas…they’ve gone out their way to piss off virtually everyone except Qatar and a few apologists in the West. This isn’t the same as dealing with the Jewish settlers (**** them, I support Peace Now and dismantling 95%+ of the settlements), or talking to Fatah, who are corrupt and nasty.

    I don’t agree with the Isralie PM Netenyahu that Hamas is on the same low level as the IS, but they seem to be pushing that way…they’ve just executed 21 people without trial for *suspicion* of “collaborating” with Israel, with more executions promised.

    I also don’t have any patience for this kind of thing with the situation in the UK, which is rapidly turning nasty. Oh, sure, it’s cyclic but we’re near the top right now…

  26. Kryten2k35

    Yeah, I live in Bradford, there are not many Jewish people around here to get to know.

    And don’t get me wrong at all, I don’t support Hamas one bit. I could get behind them if their call was for the removal of Jewish settlements and so forth, but they mostly call for the murder of Israelis, and then do just that. Hamas are indeed on the same level as ISIS (IS, right?). There are videos on LiveLeak of summary executions carried out by ISIS, and of course the beheading of Foley.

  27. swat

    Being anti Israel is not being anti-Semite.
    Yesterday I visited the Imp War Museum and the Holocaust Gallery, which really brought ahome to me mansinhumanigty to man.
    And I charted the rise of the Nazi Party into Dictatorship and into committing attrocities and their minset that certain peoples were less than Aryans. And I regret to say I see similar trends in Israel today. Israel is sleepwalking into diaster; and somebody has to tell them to stop, before it becomes too late.

  28. Soupy One

    I find it worrying that Lefties are keen to discuss the complexities of the Middle East, yet can’t be trouble to look at antisemitism in Britain?

  29. Guest

    Stop fighting terrorism. Stop protecting their people. Stop existing, pretty soon.

  30. Guest

    Ah, the blanket PC attacks. Some of us are concerned about you.

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