Toxic left-wing antisemitism: Australia, UK and the USA

Many of the principal themes in expressions of antisemitism, especially online, involve a cross-fertilisation of concepts between the political Left and Right.

Prof. Peter Kurti

OpEds Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
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Final part of a three-part report on left wing anitsemitism. For parts I and II click here.

Postmodern Left Antisemitism in Australia


Each year, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry produces a report assessing the state of antisemitism in this country. Its 2010 report observed: “Australia does not have a past to which anti-Semites can comfortably look with nostalgia, which distinguishes it from many other countries.”[32]

Nonetheless, the 2010 report noted that an emerging tolerance of antisemitism in Australia “has been exacerbated with the growing phenomenon of anti- Semitism purporting to be representative of a left- wing or ‘anti-racist’ opinion.” It is a phenomenon that report author Jeremy Jones says is extremely difficult to measure.[33]. The 2018 report presented a bleaker picture, recording 366 antisemitic incidents — an increase of 59% over the previous 12-month period:

Many of the principal themes in these expressions of antisemitism, especially online, involve a cross-fertilisation of concepts between the political Left and Right. For example, left-wing rhetoric exaggerating the power of a so-called “Jewish lobby” has helped to revive and stoke far-right myths about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.[34]

The 2019 federal election was marred by a number of ugly antisemitic incidents. The campaign corflutes of three Jewish candidates, Julian Leeser, Jason Falinski, and Josh Frydenberg — all of whom were sitting Liberal MPs — were defaced with dollar signs, devil’s horns, and Hitler moustaches. Antisemitic emails also were directed at another Jewish candidate, Kerryn Phelps; and posters displayed by Dave Sharma, a non-Jewish candidate campaigning in an electorate with a large number of Jewish voters, were also defaced.[35]

Julian Leeser called it: “singularly the dirtiest and nastiest election I can remember. It really left a disgusting feeling. It’s so un-Australian.”[36]

Such blatant eruption of antisemitism in Australia took many by surprise and was widely condemned. Although the antisemitic graffiti bore many of the tropes of right-wing antisemitism, it is clear that antisemitic views are now also being expressed more frequently on the political left in Australia.


Jeremy Corbyn and the Antisemitism of the British Postmodern Left

Perhaps the most prominent contemporary example of left-wing antisemitism is provided by the British Labour Party, which was just trounced in national elections. The latent — and blatant — antisemitism that has seeped through its ranks into the public domain over the past few years has been one of the most divisive issues to confront Labour. Responsibility for this crisis can be set at the feet of the party’s extreme left-wing leader (since 2015), Jeremy Corbyn.

Until then, Corbyn had been a fringe member of the party, devoting much of his time to attending protests and speaking at rallies denouncing the USA, NATO, Israel, and even his own country. He has been a noted apologist for tyranny, publicly offering his support to Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi, Cuba’s Castro regime, and to Gaza’s ruling Hamas.[37] Corbyn has also been a consistent critic of Israel and its successive governments, and a long-term supporter of the Labour Movement Campaign for Palestine; which adopted a policy of installing a democratic secular state to replace Israel.[38]


How is it that the political left, so long associated with notions of economic justice, fairness and equality — and also a long-time natural home for many British Jews — could become the conduit for such blatant prejudice and discrimination levelled against Jewish people?
How is it that the political left, so long associated with notions of economic justice, fairness and equality — and also a long-time natural home for many British Jews — could become the conduit for such blatant prejudice and discrimination levelled against Jewish people?

Dave Rich argues that Corbyn is both a leader and  a product of a political culture whose deep roots can be traced back to the 19th century when Marxism posed what became known as ‘the Jewish Question’— a questioning of the economic and political status of Jews in European society.[39] This evolved into the overt antisemitism prosecuted by the Soviet Union in the 20th century; which included purges, anti-Zionist propaganda, and allegations of Jewish disloyalty.

After Corbyn’s election as leader, stories about antisemitism and anti-Zionism within the Labour Party started to appear with increasing regularity. Accounts of antisemitic incidents at university Labour clubs emerged, as well as news of suspensions of some party members for alleged antisemitic language.[40]

As a worsening crisis of antisemitism engulfed Labour — and while Jewish support for the Labour Party collapsed — Corbyn appeared reluctant to acknowledge the existence of any problem.

Corbyn did establish an inquiry into antisemitism within the party; which gathered evidence selectively and delivered its report swiftly —clearing the party of systemic wrong-doing.[41] However, the chair of the inquiry, human rights lawyer Sharmishta Chakrabarti, was compromised because she subsequently joined the Labour Party and was nominated by Corbyn to sit as a Labour peer in the House of Lords.

Nor did the problem of antisemitism within Labour’s ranks disappear. Indeed, it became more acute in 2019 with the suspension of MP Chris Williamson for remarks he made about antisemitism,[42] and the resignation of several MPs.

The first of those was Luciana Berger, followed by Louise Ellman, who was reported to have said of Corbyn, “I see no indication at all that he recognizes his responsibility for what is happening, or indeed wants to do anything about it. I see no contrition, no recognition of his role in this terrible situation.”[43]

A non-Jewish Labour MP, John Mann, also resigned in 2019, citing Corbyn’s repeated failure to act against antisemitism. Mann, who served until his resignation as Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism, warned: “[Corbyn] has given a green light to anti-Semites and done nothing to reverse that.”[44] Since leaving the House of Commons, Mann, who was created a life peer in September 2019, has been appointed as Independent Adviser to the UK Government on Antisemitism.

Postmodern left antisemitism has become front-page news because of this blatant manifestation within the British Labour Party. Corbyn, himself, is not solely responsible for this antisemitism; but his failure to address antisemitism has now brought the party to the point where even its supporters believe the party to be systemically antisemitic.

As human rights barrister Adam Wagner has remarked: When people look back on Labour and Jeremy Corbyn’s response to antisemitism, the question is unlikely to be whether the party became institutionally antisemitic, but when. Taken together, the failures in leadership, processes and culture have created a toxic brew. For a party with a history of being at the vanguard of anti-racism, it hurts.[45]

This is a view supported by Dave Rich, whose seminal work on left-wing antisemitism in Britain has helped identify the problem’s depth and complexity.

Rich argues that Corbyn’s responses to the issue of antisemitism reveal “a pattern of thought and behavior that speaks to a deeper malaise that has been building within the British left for decades. It reflects an antisemitic political culture.”[46]

The crisis about antisemitism engulfing British Labour has focused to a large extent on the behaviour of Corbyn himself, and his refusal to either acknowledge or act on the issue; but Labour‘s problem is that of institutional antisemitism. Not every party member is antisemitic; but the themes of anti-racism, anti- colonialism, anti-capitalism, and anti-Zionism have all combined to provide fertile ground in which antisemitic attitudes within the party have grown and festered.

Yet Corbyn refused to concede — let alone address— the existence of antisemitism within Labour ranks, because he refused to accept that opposition to racist colonialism is equivalent, in the case of Israel, to hatred of Jews.[47]

According to the world view to which he is committed, racism is about structural discrimination whereby power is exercised over the marginalised. Since it is axiomatic for these critics that the State of Israel is a racist endeavour, they simply cannot accept that a commitment to anti-racism and defence of the powerless against the claims of the powerful can be antisemitic. In their view, if colonialism is racism, it cannot be antisemitic to condemn colonialism.

Scarcely a week goes by without news emerging of some new convulsion gripping the party.[48] As Rich has remarked: “this combination of ideological hostility, personal prejudice, and organizational failings has brought Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party to a state that can be fairly described as institutionally antisemitic.”[49]

As Labour’s scandal of antisemitism worsens, many UK Jewish leaders now consider the party — long the home of British Jewry — a threat to Jewish life there. According to a September 2018 poll commissioned by the London-based Jewish Chronicle, 85.6% of British Jews consider antisemitism to have significantly infiltrated all levels of the Labour Party.[50] (Ed. note: It is too early to know how their devastating election defeat will affect the Labour Party's antisemitism.)

The Squad: Postmodern Left Antisemitism in the United States

The cultural shift in emphasis that has occurred in left-wing politics in the United Kingdom has also taken place in the US. As in Britain, American identity politics is driving a determination to correct perceived imbalances of power expressed in issues of race, gender, and intersectionality.

Among a younger generation of political activists on the American left, these progressive issues have displaced concerns about economic injustice; but they have also ignited postmodern forms of antisemitism.


Radical Muslims and the Left disguise their hatred of Jews by claiming that they are only championing downtrodden Palestinians.
The confluence of Islam and the politics of identity have been particularly powerful in driving antisemitism on the American political left where contempt for the US has comingled with a rejection of Israel — which is considered one part of the bitter legacy of western imperialism in the Middle East. The enthusiastic support shown for Israel and for Jews by President Donald Trump serves only to fuel the US left’s postmodern antisemitism.

Four first-term members of Congress have quickly become the focus of concern about this rise of US postmodern antisemitism. Alexander Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley were all elected to Congress in the mid-term elections in November 2018. The four Congresswomen have been dubbed “The Squad” — a term coined by Ocasio- Cortez a week after their election.[51]

All four — but Omar and Tlaib, in particular — have attracted severe rebukes for repeatedly invoking antisemitic stereotypes about the claimed dual loyalty of Jews, economic power of Jews, and Israel’s colonial intentions.[52]

Criticism of Israel, in particular, became the focus of a row with the Israeli government in August 2019 when Omar and Tlaib were denied entry to Israel  on the basis of their overt support for the BDS campaign. In making its decision to deny them entry, there were reports that the Israeli government came under pressure from President Trump to make its decision.[53] However, when Israel subsequently granted permission to Tlaib to visit the country subject to the condition that she did not express any political views, she declined the invitation. [54]

There are growing concerns that by tolerating — and even excusing— the antisemitism expressed by the Squad, the Democratic Party is institutionalising antisemitism in much the same way the Labour Party has done in Britain.55 And it is likely that left-wing antisemitism in the US, as in Britain, is only set to worsen. As Victor Davis Hanson has remarked: Radical Muslims and the Left disguise their hatred of Jews by claiming that they are only championing downtrodden Palestinians.

Anti-Semitism is only going to intensify. It is naturally at home on the multicultural Left. The media, popular culture, universities, and left- wing political parties either cannot or will not stop it.[56]

Is there a problem of postmodern left antisemitism in Australia?

For the most part, the Australian Labor Party has so far been spared the travails of either its British counterpart or the US Democratics. However, voices critical of Israel, and suspicious of supposed Jewish influence in finance, politics, and the media, are becoming increasingly prominent on the political left in Australia.

In her 2018 report on antisemitism in Australia for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Julie Nathan catalogued numerous remarks and responses made by those on the political left; such as NSW ALP MP Shaoquett Moselmane, former NSW Premier Bob Carr, and NSW Greens MP Tamara Smith.[57] These remarks tended to focus on support for the Palestinians and criticism of the State of Israel.


The rise of left wing antisemitism in Australia in general— can be explained by the politics of those Labor-held seats now containing large Muslim populations that are religiously and culturally conservative, but also hostile to Israel...
Carr’s remarks, in particular, have caused considerable dismay in some quarters because of his earlier,public support for Israel and the Jewish community in Australia.[58] His views had changed by the time he ceased serving as Foreign Minister in the Gillard government, when he became very critical of what he called the “pro-Israel lobby in Melbourne” which had “extremely conservative instincts” and which wielded disproportionate influence over government policy.[59]

But his change of view — and the rise of left wing antisemitism in Australia in general— can be explained by the politics of those Labor-held seats now containing large Muslim populations that are religiously and culturally conservative, but also hostile to Israel and sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

The ALP’s problem is exacerbated because in some of the seats it needs to hold — such as in Western Sydney — there is growing support for the Australian Greens, a party that maintains both an intense hostility towards Israel and the United States, and a very strong commitment to the Palestinians.

Such factors help to explain why Labor has been pulled further away from its historically pro-Zionist position to utter denunciations of not just the Israeli government but the State of Israel itself. Indeed, as this paper has noted, a critical feature of postmodern left antisemitism is the revival of anti-Zionist rhetoric fueled by its antagonism to the existence of Israel: “a prosperous democracy and undeclared nuclear power that is nearing the historic threshold of being home to the majority of the world’s Jews.”[60]

Similar hostility to Israel is frequently displayed by the Australian Greens, whose stance on Israel and Palestine is marked by the kind of anti-Zionism so characteristic of postmodern left antisemitism. In a tweet posted on 8 June 2018, NSW Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi declared: “Thanks everyone for standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people. End the occupation. End the blockade. Free Palestine!”[61] There is every indication that the Greens’ anti-Zionism will not lessen, but intensify.[62]

Indeed, there are few signs that left-wing positions on Israel, Zionism, and antisemitism are likely to change quickly — either in Australia or the UK. As Mendes has noted: “Left groups do not view Jews as a vulnerable or oppressed group, and do not prioritize the struggle against anti-Semitism.”[63]

At the same time, nor are Jews as vulnerable as they once were to the oppression from right-wing regimes that served to rally the support of the left.

Yet a vital opportunity now presents itself to the ALP, the Australian Greens, and other domestic left-wing groups, to ensure that the long-standing commitment of the Australian left to the pursuit of justice and human decency is freed from the ugly taint of antisemitism.

Sources:

32. Jeremy Jones, Anti-Semitism in Australia 2010, (Sydney: ECAJ, 2010), p.6. The report is prepared annually on behalf of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry to assist in the understanding of anti-Jewish prejudice in contemporary Australia.

33.Jeremy Jones, as above, 9.

34.Julie Nathan, Report on Antisemitism in Australia 2018, (Sydney: ECAJ, 2018), 7.

35.Julie Nathan, “The resurgence of racism in the 2019 federal election – a deep and disturbing trend”, ABC Religion & Ethics, (31 May 2019) https://www.abc.net.au/religion/the-resurgence- of-racism-and-antisemitism-in-the-2019-federal-e/11167332.

36. Sophie Deutsch, “Leeser: ‘Dirtiest, nastiest election I can remember’”, Australian Jewish News, (30 May 2019). https://ajn.timesofisrael.com/ leeser-dirtiest-nastiest-election-i-can-remember/

37. Robin Simcox, “Jeremy Corbyn has a soft spot for extremists”, Foreign Policy, (3 October 2018) https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/10/03/jeremy-corbyn-has-a-soft-spot-for-extremists-ira-hamas- hezbollah-britain-labour/

38.David Abulafia, “In Corbyn’s mind, there is no place for the Jews”, Standpoint, (October 2018), 20-25.

39.Dave Rich, “The Etiology of Antisemitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party”, Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, (2018 Vol.12, No.3), 357-365, 358.

40./See, for example, Aftab Ali, “Oxford University Labour Club students did engage in anti-Semitic behaviour, report finds”, The Independent, (3 August 2016) https://www.independent.co.uk/ student/news/oxford-university-labour-club- anti-semitism-report-baroness-royall-jewish- students-a7170446.html

41.“Chakrabarti inquiry: Labour not overrun by anti- Semitism”, BBC News, (30 June 2016) https:// www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-36672022

42.See, for example, Peter Mason, “The resignation of Luciana Berger is a watershed moment for many Jewish Labour members”, New Statesman, (20 February 2019); and “MP Chris Williamson loses anti-Semitism suspension appeal”, BBC News, (10 October 2019) https://www.bbc.com/news/uk- england-derbyshire-50002636

43.Henry Zeffman, “MP Louise Ellman quits Labour and says Corbyn is a danger to Britain”, The Times, (16 October 2019) https://www.thetimes. co.uk/article/mp-louise-ellman-quits-labour-and- says-corbyn-is-a-danger-to-britain-j80htb5fv

44.Naomi Levin, “Mann’s mission to fight antisemitism”, Australia/Jewish Affairs Council, (3 October 2019) https://aijac.org.au/featured/ manns-mission-to-fight-antisemitism/

45.Adam Wagner, “Labour’s antisemitism problem is institutional. It needs investigation”, The Guardian, (8 March 2019) https://www.theguardian.com/ commentisfree/2019/mar/07/labour-antisemitism- investigation

46.Dave Rich, “The Etiology of Antisemitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party”, Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Vol. 12, No. 3, (2018), 357-365, 359.

47.See Daniel Johnson, “Corbyn waves the flag of anti-Semitism”, Standpoint, (December 2018-January 2019), 64-67.

48.See, for example, Harry Cole, “Jeremy Corbyn in fresh anti-Semitism row after defending controversial hard-Left candidate who described Israel as ‘a pig’”, Daily Mail, (27 October 2019), https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/ article-7617909/Jeremy-Corbyn-fresh-anti- Semitism-storm-defending-controversial-hard- Left-Labour-candidate.html

49.Dave Rich, “The Etiology of Antisemitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party”, as above, 364.

50.Daniel Sugarman, “More than 85 per cent of British Jews think Jeremy Corbyn is antisemitic”, Jewish Chronicle, (13 September 2018) https:// www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/more-than-85- per-cent-of-british-jews-think-jeremy-corbyn-is- antisemitic-1.469654

51.See “The Squad (United States Congress”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_ Squad_(United_States_Congress)

52.See, for example, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “Can Ilhan Omar overcome her prejudice?”, Wall Street Journal, (12 July 2019) https://www.wsj.com/articles/can- ilhan-omar-overcome-her-prejudice-11562970265

53.“Benjamin Netanyahu bans Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from Israel after pressure from Donald Trump”, ABC News (16 August 2019) https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-16/ israel-bans-ilhan-omar-and-rashida-tlaib-under- pressure-trump/11420450

54/Oliver Holmes, “Rashida Tlaib rejects Israel’s offer for ‘humanitarian’ visit to West Bank”, The Guardian, (16 August 2019) https://www. theguardian.com/us-news/2019/aug/16/israel-to- allow-entry-to-rashida-tlaib-for-humanitarian-visit

55.See, for example, Abraham Miller, “Institutionalizing Anti-Semitism in the Halls of Congress”, The American Spectator, (7 March 2019) https://spectator.org/institutionalizing-anti- semitism-in-the-halls-of-congress/

56.Victor Davis Hanson, “Why Progressive Anti- Semitism – and Why Now?”, National Review, (7 May 2019) https://www.nationalreview. com/2019/05/progressive-anti-semitism- multicultural-left-new-york-times/

57.See Julie Nathan, Report on Antisemitism in Australia 2018, (Sydney: ECAJ, 2018), 83-100.

58.Nick Dyrenfurth, “British Labour, anti-Semitism and the immorality of Jeremy Corbyn”, ABC Religion & Ethics, (28 February 2019) https:// www.abc.net.au/religion/labour,-anti-semitism- and-the-immorality-of-jeremy-corbyn/10857676

59.“Former foreign minister Bob Carr says ‘pro- Israel lobby’ influenced government policy”, ABC News, (10 April 2014) https://www.abc.net. au/news/2014-04-09/bob-carr-lashes-out-at- melbourne-pro-israel-lobby/5379074

60.Yaroslav Trofimov, “The New Anti-Semitism”, Wall Street Journal, (12 July 2019) https://www.wsj. com/articles/the-new-anti-semitism-11562944476

61.https://twitter.com/MehreenFaruqi/ status/1005288784869523456

62.Naomi Levin, “Greens problems with Israel and Jews worsen”, Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, (29 April 2019) https://aijac.org.au/ australia-israel-review/greens-problems-with- israel-and-jews-worsen/

63.Philip Mendes, “Whatever happened to the political alliance of the Jews and the Left?”, ABC Religion & Ethics, (20 June 2018) https://www.abc.net. au/religion/whatever-happened-to-the-political- alliance-of-the-jews-and-the-/10094614



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