“In an earlier age, our new extremists might have adopted the anti-clerical and antisemitic politics of Voltaire”
I confess I’m still shocked when I see a university professor spitting out Israel-hatred. You’d think I would have learned that education doesn’t guard against fanaticism.
After all, this isn’t new. The people driving the new antisemitism are the same people who have driven antisemitism in the past.
They’re an elitist group who see themselves as more politically advanced than most people, more “progressive.” As such, they think it’s their job to define Canada’s political morality.
The new antisemites call themselves leftists. But when it comes to Israel, they happily team up with the right. There is, for example, nothing left-wing about Hamas or Hezbollah.
Yet in a conflict between a liberal democracy and these fascistic terrorist groups, the far left identifies with the fascists. Why? Because their movement isn’t about what they’re for; it’s about who they’re against.
Two heroes of the new antisemites are John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of The Israel Lobby. They describe Israel as a little country (with no oil) and claim the US supports Israel only because a Zionist lobby controls America’s Middle East policy.
Mearsheimer and Walt call themselves foreign policy realists in the same school as Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon. They wouldn’t dream of describing themselves as “on the left.”
Indeed, David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, pointed out that he’s been saying the same thing as Mearsheimer and Walt all along!
There’s nothing left-wing or right-wing about Israel-hatred. In our time, it’s emerged on the left because of historical accidents.
Back in the 1930s, being a Nazi was cool. They looked at themselves as a progressive movement that was going to wipe away Jew contamination and create a glorious 1,000-year Reich.
As everyone knows, the Nazis enlisted street thugs, but the Nazis also appealed to German intellectuals. Indeed, the Nazis took over the universities more easily than they took the streets.
Martin Heidegger, rector of Freiberg University and the foremost German philosopher of his time declared: “The Fuhrer alone is the present and future German reality and its law.”
Some people argue that Heidegger’s Nazism merely reflected his ignorance of reality. But in that case, why did Heidegger attach his enthusiasm to the Nazis?
If it wasn’t because he understood the Nazis, then it was because it was the in-thing. All the coolest professors were sporting swastikas in their lapels.
It’s no longer cool to be a Nazi. It’s difficult to imagine a time when it was. That’s why David Duke gets no respect. But his ideas of a Zionist conspiracy aren’t out of fashion – they’ve just migrated to the other side of the political spectrum.
The other bits of history that put the new antisemitism on the left are its roots in Soviet antisemitism and in the radical politics of the ’60s and ’70s.
What’s new about antisemitism is the focus on Israel, and the depiction of Israel as uniquely evil – a colonial project and a racist entity – and the claim that the Jews have become Nazis.
These slanders were the handiwork of Soviet propagandists, who spread them through Europe and the third world.
In Canada, though, our Israel-haters are most directly descended from the radicals of the ’60s and ’70s, whose politics happened to be leftist.
In an earlier age, our new extremists might have adopted the anti-clerical and antisemitic politics of Voltaire. Before that, the religious and antisemitic politics of Martin Luther. Before that, the Catholic and antisemitic politics of the Inquisition.
Antisemitism, it seems, has a special attraction for those who believe they’re entitled to define the political morality of their age.
This makes it different from other forms of bigotry. Racists hate blacks, but they don’t define them as the enemy of mankind. However, that’s exactly how antisemites define Jews.
They create a fantasy of good and evil. They modestly cast themselves in the role of upholding everything that is progressive and holy and they portray Jews as representing all that is unenlightened and evil. And they try to impose their beliefs on society.
This conflict is again playing itself out. The new antisemites define Israel – and those who support it – as representing the worst political evils: imperialism, racism, apartheid and Nazism. And they’re trying to inflict their twisted views on the rest of us.
So far, they’re failing. But they can’t be ignored. History shows that whole societies can come to embrace even the most extreme beliefs.
Brian Henry is a Toronto writer and editor. He’s an occasional Instructor at Ryerson University’s G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Studies and a contributor to H-Antisemitism, a scholarly forum for the discussion of the history of antisemitism.