In Britain, efforts to keep Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn out of power over accusations of antisemitism have had the alarming effect of conflating criticism of Israel or anti-Zionism with hatred of Jewish people. You have described these tactics as a disgrace, and said they insult the memory of Holocaust victims. I’d like you to comment on how erroneous charges of antisemitism ultimately hurt Jews, and why expanded definitions of the term (which, for example, consider certain advocacy for Palestinian rights as anti-Jewish bigotry) can be problematic.
The classic statement of this position is by the distinguished Israeli statesman Abba Eban, highly regarded particularly in England as a British gentleman (Cambridge graduate, cultivated accent, etc.). In 1973, when he was Israeli foreign minister, Eban wrote an interesting article in a leading liberal Jewish journal [Congress Bi-Weekly] in which he explained that “One of the chief tasks of any dialogue with the Gentile world is to prove that the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is not a distinction at all. Anti-Zionism is merely the new anti-Semitism.”
That defines the task very explicitly. Here “anti-Zionism” means criticism of policies of the State of Israel. He made that quite clear by adding: “Let there be no mistake: the new left is the author and the progenitor of the new anti-Semitism.”
The New Left in fact was overwhelmingly Zionist, but beginning to be mildly critical of some of the policies of the occupation and illegal settlement over which Eban was presiding. Eban also identified two arch-criminals: I.F. Stone and me, “whose basic complex is one of guilt about Jewish survival” and therefore are beyond the range of rational discussion. His wild accusations about the “New Left,” worth reading, are equally ludicrous — as he certainly knew, being literate.
The message from on high was clear, and has been followed dutifully since, sometimes in ways reminiscent of Marx’s comment about tragedy repeated as farce. One example is a major publication on the “real Anti-Semitism” by the Anti-Defamation League — which changed after the 1967 conquests from an authentic civil rights organization to a parody of Stalinism. The real antisemitism turns out not to be that boring old stuff about “kill the Jews” and denying the Holocaust but rather giving “war a bad name and peace too favorable a press,” protesting against the Vietnam War and US crimes in Central America, “sniping” at the defense budget, and in general interfering with US power — Israel’s defender.
The attacks on Corbyn and his reinvigorated Labour Party draw from the same sources. Thus, longtime Labour activist Chris Williamson is accused of antisemitism, with demands that he be expelled from the party, with the primary charge offered being that he said Labour had been “too apologetic” in defending its strong record of struggle against “the scourge of antisemitism.” More of the “real antisemitism.”
The efforts, on both sides of the Atlantic, are becoming more passionate, in interesting ways, as it is becoming more and more clear that Israel is losing control over liberal public opinion and is compelled to rely for support on the most reactionary elements and the fundamentalist Evangelical movement, which combines fervent support for the most extreme Israeli actions with unparalleled antisemitism (consider the fate of those Jews who have not “found Christ” by the end of times and the return of Christ).
Authentic antisemites, I presume, are delighted to see Jews self-ridiculed in this fashion, while others should be shuddering at the spectacle.
That’s not of course to deny that one can ferret out strains of antisemitism in the Labour Party — at about the level of England, so general studies have indicated, quite low by historical standards and vastly below hatred of Muslims and other prevalent forms of racism.
Chomsky’s words first appeared in The Jacobin. For the full interview, click here.
is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist.