Having heard Ken Livingstone’s comments it reminded me of something that Primo Levi had written to a German correspondent who had attempted to argue, that in 1933 the German’s had been betrayed by Hitler and that they didn’t realise what they were getting involved with – In short that early Hitler was somehow different to what he would become. Levi responded at length but it included
That above all, on my shelf next to Dante and Boccaccio I keep Mein Kampf, ‘My Struggle’, written by Adolf Hitler many years before coming to power. That dread man was not a traitor [to the German People], he was a coherent fanatic whose ideas where extremely clear; he never changed them and never concealed them. Those who voted for them certainly voted for his ideas. Nothing is lacking in that book: the blood and the land, the living space, the Jew as the eternal enemy.
Livingstone’s description of Hitler as a supporter of Zionism “before he went mad” isn’t just wrong it is something far more insidious, its an attempt to associate the emergence of the State of Israel with the atrocities of the Nazis. Israel must be evil because the Nazi’s were supporters of its creation. It betrays a logic that is delusional and deeply anti-Semitic in a way that the Nazi’s themselves would have been comfortable with – namely the blurring of the distinction between the murderer and the victim. Something that was to become one of the defining characteristics of the Holocaust. Levi wrote in the Drowned and the Saved:
I know that the murderers existed, not only in Germany, and still exist, retired or on active duty, and that to confuse them with their victims is a moral disease or an aesthetic affection or a sinister sign of complicity; above all it is a precious service rendered (intentionally or not) to the negators of truth.
Livingstone is guilty of that complicity as are others on the extremes of politics and whilst the anti-Semitism of the right is explicit, that of the left is far more subtly crafted and nuanced.
The anti-Semitism of today’s far right can be traced directly through the Nazi’s to forms of racially based eugenic anti-Semitism. Not only can it be seen in that pseudo-science of the 19th and 20th Centuries, it can be seen in beliefs that have been deeply entrenched within European society for well over a thousand years. The myths of ritual sacrifice, for which Jews were still being tried as late as 1930; The Blood Libel, the Protocols of Zion and the associated myth of a Global Capitalist Zionist Conspiracy. Traces of all of these explicit forms of anti-Semitism can be seen in the ramblings of the far right and in many ways are now perhaps less dangerous because of their transparency and absurdity.
But for me anti-Semitism is now at its most dangerous when it has been interwoven into the culturally accepted norms of our everyday society. When it seems common sense, when it has become an accepted part of the way in which we perceive and understand people or make sense of our world. And today the most dangerous expression of anti-Semitism comes from the far left.
Whilst for most the claim, that Capitalism is an essentially Jewish phenomena is treated with significant reservations, for some on both the left and the right the association of Judaism with Capitalism and in particular the Capitalism of The West has remained. And whilst it is now far more nuanced than the association once expressed by Marx:
Once society has succeeded in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism – huckstering and its preconditions – the Jew will have become impossible, because his consciousness no longer has an object, because the subjective basis of Judaism, practical need, has been humanized, and because the conflict between man’s individual-sensuous existence and his species-existence has been abolished.
The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism
The tendency to associate Capitalism and Judaism remains a significant theme. But even if it exists that relationship is complex and contested. For example despite Marx’s critique of Judaism, Marxism and Socialism would become integral to the struggle against anti-Semitism, especially in Eastern Europe where the pogroms were a way of life. After the failed revolution of 1905 Trotsky would write about how the revolutionaries protected their Jewish comrades:
Meanwhile rumors of a pogrom were growing. All plants and workshops having any access to iron or steel began, on their own initiative, to manufacture side-arms. Several thousand hammers were forging daggers, pikes, wire whips and knuckledusters. In the evening, at a meeting of the Soviet, one deputy after another mounted the rostrum, raising their weapons high above their heads and transmitting their electors’ solemn undertaking to suppress the pogrom as soon as it flared up. That demonstration alone was bound to paralyze all initiative among rank-and-file pogromists. But the workers did not stop there. In the factory areas, beyond the Nevsky Gate, they organized a real militia with regular night watches.
But Socialism’s long and documented history of struggle against ant-Semitism always has to be set against the context of the dominant struggle of the day. A hundred years ago Jews were amongst the pre-eminent victims of the ravages of Imperialism and Capitalism and as such were natural allies in the struggle against oppression. Today the hardening of attitudes towards the Jews of Israel has been exacerbated by the hard-line of the Netanyahu government and by Israel’s perceived association with the West’s recent military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and the growth of Islamic terrorism.
In the minds of many on the Left, the War on Terror has always been seen as an exercise in post-colonial imperialism and an expression of a war against Islam rather than terror. In their minds the West’s conduct of the conflict has been about resources and the protection of Israel’s strategic importance in the region. Which has increased in recent years as the situation in the region deteriorates.
Today for the far left, Jews are no longer perceived to be the world’s most oppressed people. They are no longer comrades in the struggle against Despotism, Imperialism and Capitalism. They have become the occupiers of a post-Imperial outpost and the name of that outpost is Israel. Of course you will not hear anybody on the left criticising Jews for the actions of the Israeli state – such a thing would be transparently anti-Semitic. But anti-Semitism is not an ideology that has remained static over the centuries. It has adapted and evolved and whilst the more racially based forms of anti-Semitism have faded the association of Judaism with Capitalism and Imperialism has morphed into a hatred of Zionism.
Politicians like Livingstone and others on the far left have been instrumental in the process of de-constructing anti-Semitism and re-articulating it into an anti-Zionist narrative. It is no-longer the Jew who is the object of the world’s hatred it is the Zionist. The stealer of babies has become the stealer of land and the oppressor of the Palestinian people.
But it is a delusion – stating that you hate the State of Israel but you don’t have a problem with Jews is like saying that you hate Britain as a Christian nation with an established Church but don’t have a problem with the British. Or that you hate Italy but not the Italians, Iran but not the Iranians, Saudi Arabia but not the Saudis – the differentiation between the nation and the people who share an established faith is arbitrary. All nations have been guilty of crimes against our global citizenry but nowhere is this met with the same outrage that confronts us when the left examines the wrong doings of the Israeli government.
And it’s in this light that the rage of John Mann’s response to comments of Ken Livingstone needs to be seen. Some are arguing that his confrontation with Livingstone was self-seeking and a veiled attack on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. It may have been, but to me it looked like the rage of somebody who fully understood the appalling nature of what Livingstone had done and the consequences of associating the victims with their murderers and the sinister complicity of denying the truth and as John Stuart Mill once said:
Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing