The Academy of Ideas, a vigorous generator of debate, conferences and discussions, originated in a group of revolutionary communists. Some years ago, they turned on a dime and became libertarians fiercely critical of the left (don’t ask).
The Academy is one of the most refreshingly open-minded forums for discussing contemporary trends that at present exists. Last Sunday, I took part in a panel discussion on antisemitism at its annual Battle of Ideas talk-fest in London.
The audience was largely sympathetic to concerns about the resurgence of antisemitism in Britain and Europe. There was, nevertheless, some resistance to identifying this problem with the Labour party and the left.
In the discussion about the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish bigotry erupting in Labour’s ranks, there were demands for statistical evidence to prove this was more significant on the left than anywhere else. Examples of some of the appalling things that people on the left had been saying about Israel and the Jews were dismissed as merely “anecdotal” and “emotional”.
This was as offensive as it was revealing. It brushed aside reality as of no consequence; it disdained lived experience as of less consequence than “research” whose methodology is often questionable but which flatters the vanity of academics.
In any event, antisemitic discourse is frequently camouflaged and unrecorded. It doesn’t lend itself easily to statistical collection. Even more to the point, the demand to prove bigotry through quantifiable data is a requirement made of no other group that claims it is being victimised.
It’s a demand not made of black people or Muslims or women or gays. It’s only made of Jews. It’s a double standard which is itself is a form of prejudice, no less real for being unconscious.
Obviously, antisemitism is not confined to the left but rears up across the political spectrum. In the second Iraq war, you could barely have slid a cigarette paper between The Guardian and the Daily Mail over their warped and paranoid perception that a Jewish conspiracy between Jerusalem and Washington had sent western soldiers into a disastrous war in the interests of Israel.
The far right remain viscerally anti-Jew. But their numbers and influence are minimal. Antisemitism on the left poses the greatest threat because the left is so dominant in our culture. It represents the default position in the universities, the media, the cultural world. And its antisemitism long predates Jeremy Corbyn.
In 2009, Caryl Churchill’s play Seven Jewish Children accused the Jews of inflicting upon others through the State of Israel the exterminatory treatment that had been meted out to them.
It rooted this murderous trait in Judaism itself, with lines such as this one: “Tell her I don’t care if the world hates us, tell her we’re better haters, tell her we’re chosen people.”
More than a decade earlier Jim Allen’s 1987 play Perdition foreshadowed the Ken Livingstone row by claiming falsely that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis.
There are two two principal reasons why the left is institutionally antisemitic.
The first is that “Palestine” is its signature cause of causes. And the “Palestine” cause inescapably rests upon the extermination of Israel and the obliteration of the Jewish people from their own national story in their ancient homeland — the triple connection which constitutes Judaism itself.
The second is that, for the left, the world is divided into the powerful and the powerless. Those with power can never be good; those without power can never be bad. So every group deemed to be powerless claims victim status.
But grotesquely, Jews aren’t seen as victims because, as everyone “knows”, they emerged from the Holocaust to run the financial world, the media, the law, the arts, American foreign policy.
What’s more, since Israel is highly armed (solely for its defence) the Jews are seen as an all-powerful global force.
And so ancient anti-Jewish paranoia has been given loathsome legs on the left. And hence also the left’s extreme reluctance to acknowledge the disproportionate involvement of Muslims in antisemitic incidents in Britain and Europe.
The frequency of overt antisemitism on the left is not the key issue. It’s rather the collusion by Jeremy Corbyn with this bigotry — not only his refusal to deal with it in his party, but the fact that he himself is associated with these attitudes.
This is a cultural poison of long standing of which Corbyn is not the cause but the extremely problematic result.