Mikhail Bakunin: The Russian revolutionary called the Jews a "bloodsucking people"
Professor Robert Wistrich is the world's foremost scholar on the ideological pathology of anti-Semitism. A former leftist, he has drifted to the Right in recent decades and in doing so has noted the growing clamour by some on the Left to reboot long-standing reactionary prejudices against Jews as "criticism" of the state of Israel and the policies of its government. This ideology, which has been variously branded "new anti-Semitism" and "Israelophobia", is at work in campaigns to delegitimise Israel through economic and cultural boycotts, political isolation, lawfare, and the common cause forged between the radical Left and the Islamist Right to demonise and eventually dismantle the Jewish state. What is striking about this movement is its replication of the rhetoric, symbology, and tropes of classical anti-Semitism in a left-liberal milieu that prides itself on tolerance and "anti-racism".
There is an emerging genre that examines this phenomenon, including the popular (Alan Dershowitz's The Case against Israel's Enemies) and the semi-academic (Paul Iganski and Barry Kosmin's A New Antisemitism?). Professor Wistrich's latest effort joins the more scholarly offerings of Samuel Ettinger's authoritative Antisemitism in the Soviet Union, William Korey's incisive Glasnost and Soviet Antisemitism, and his own The Left against Zion. From Ambivalence to Betrayal explores the historical evolution of left-wing anti-Semitism from attacks on "rootless cosmopolitans" to denunciations of "Zionist land-grabbers".
Left-liberal conventional wisdom runs something like this: the Left was a long-time champion of Zionism as a form of collective justice for the Jewish people. Progressives fought anti-Semitism and supported the creation of the state of Israel after the horrors of the Holocaust, the ultimate symbol of reactionary politics. But Israel turned hubristic, attacking its Arab neighbours in the Six-Day War, occupying Palestinian land in violation of international law, and acting as a regional strongman of American imperialism. The Left switched its support to the "indigenous" people of Palestine who were being oppressed by a brutal state that increasingly exposed itself as a racist regime practising apartheid comparable to that of pre-1994 South Africa and ethnic cleansing which echoed the Warsaw Ghetto and even Auschwitz.
Wistrich not only explodes this mythology, but shows that left-wing anti-Semitism is of an older pedigree, tracing it to radical and populist movements of the nineteenth century that associated Jews with the industrial, financial, and cultural elites. Marx, the grandson of a rabbi, repudiated his family heritage at every opportunity, most notoriously in his essay "On The Jewish Question", in which he labelled Judaism "huckstering" and concluded, floridly, that "the social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism". Less well known is the role of anti-Semitism in "the rationalist, anti-clerical, and socialist traditions" of the French revolution and Wistrich explores the contempt expressed by intellectuals from Voltaire to Proudhon towards what the latter called "this race which poisons everything".