Green Left Weekly, Socialist Alliance and other left-wing groups, have received more attention than normal in recent weeks in the mainstream media and even in state and federal parliamentary debates.
This attention has mainly been in response to the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israeli apartheid and has mostly consisted of nasty allegations of anti-Semitism, with endless colourful references to Hitler and the Nazi’s Holocaust.
There is nothing new in opponents of Israel being slandered as anti-Semites. Since its foundation, Israel has claimed to be the state for all Jews and dismissed any opposition as Jew-hatred.
The recent attacks on the left and the BDS movement in Australia are part of a broader campaign by the Coalition and the Murdoch media aimed at smearing and dividing the Greens.
Misuse of the term “anti-Semitism” is getting ridiculous, and not just in Australia.
I realised this at the September 10 protest that marched to the Newtown, Sydney outlet of Max Brenner, the chain of chocolate and coffee shops targeted by the BDS movement because of its public sponsorship of elite Israeli army units.
Outside the Max Brenner shop was a counter-protest. Presumably some of the mainstream political parties and Zionist organisations who have been vocally denouncing BDS actions were represented, but those visible on the street were members of the small “white nationalist” outfit, the Australian Protectionist Party (APP).
And they were calling us Nazis.
Even if they weren’t identified by signs and T-shirts, we would have known who they were.
Many of the 70 BDS protesters were people involved in the campaign to free refugees from detention, including protests outside the Villawood detention centre.
APP members have held counter-protests, where they drive past us yelling: “Gas the refugees.” But now, outside Max Brenner, they were calling us racists.
The APP is not alone in denouncing the BDS protesters’ “racism” from shaky ground.
Responding to Liberal MP David Clarke’s September 15 NSW upper house motion condemning the Max Brenner protests as anti-Semitic, Greens MPs John Kaye and David Shoebridge pointed to some of Clarke’s past associations.
Kaye said that in 2005 and 2007 Clarke went to functions held by supporters of the Croatian fascist Ustasha movement, which became the puppet government in Nazi German-occupied Croatia.
Shoebridge said that early in his political career, Clarke had been an ally of Lyenko Urbanchich, a right-wing Liberal power broker who during World War II had been a senior member of the administration of Nazi-occupied Slovenia.
I have an easy answer to charges of anti-Semitism: my Jewish ancestry. I’m hardly unique in the Palestine Solidarity movement in this regard.
Jews Against the Occupation have had speakers at all the Sydney Max Brenner protests, and one of the other speakers on September 10 also identified as Jewish. Some of the best-known international critics of Zionism are Jewish.
But that is not the point. The Max Brenner protest was small, and it was in Newtown. Therefore it was very much the “usual suspects”.
The non-Jewish protesters included socialists (from at least four different groups), anarchists, pacifists, queer rights activists, feminists, trade unionists and activists from ethnic and religious minorities — exactly the sort of people the Nazis persecuted along with Jews.
The reason is simple. BDS is a progressive, anti-racist movement. The struggle for rights for Palestinians is no more aimed at persecuting Jews than the struggle for non-white South Africans’ freedom from Apartheid was aimed at persecuting whites.
For 60 years, Palestinians have been punished for an event in European history that they played no part in.
The redefinition of the term “anti-Semitism” has had a pernicious effect undermining solidarity with the Palestinians.
Where this has been most explicit has been defining opposition to “Jewish self-determination”, where “Jewish self-determination” is defined in terms of the existence of a Jewish nation-state (Israel) in Palestine.
It is a strange type of national self-determination that gives an Australian, with European Jewish ancestry, more legal right to live in Palestine than a Palestinian.
Yet, the US and European Union both define anti-Semitism this way.
This concept of “Jewish self-determination” rules out the possibility of a single state in which Jews and non-Jews have the same rights, because Jews would not have a guaranteed majority in such a state (particularly if Palestinian refugees return) so if the state were democratic it would be multicultural, not Jewish.
This is why in both the media and parliament the chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” was specifically cited as evidence of anti-Semitism.
Unlike supporters of freedom for Palestine, anti-Semites do not support Jews and non-Jews having the same rights.
In determining who has a right to immigrate, Israel uses the same definition of Jew that Nazi Germany used to determine who should be exterminated. No other state has classified people this way.
Yet such is the fear of being tainted with anti-Semitism that even some supporters of Palestinian rights, such as Greens Senator Bob Brown, feel compelled to publically recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, despite this being impossible without continuing apartheid and ethnic cleansing.
Anti-Semitism is an ideology based on persecuting Jews. Zionism (support for Israel as a specifically “Jewish” state) is an ideology based on Jewish privilege, but they share a number of assumptions and a parallel history.
Both emerged in late 19th century Europe, where racist nationalism was the dominant ideology.
Racism is a historically recent phenomenon. It developed simultaneously with Europeans invading the Americas and using African slaves to work there. The slave plantation economy was essential to the rise of capitalism and the industrial revolution.
The convergence of slavery and racism happened slowly. Initially European and African slaves laboured together and often rebelled together. During the 1600 and 1700s, in response to rebellions, colonial legislation increasingly differentiated between African slaves and European “indentured servants”.
The racism born in the slave plantations was both a justification for, and greatly reinforced by, the global Western empires of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Zionists claim the Nazi holocaust was unique. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
The history of Western colonialism and neo-colonialism is a history of holocausts — from the 13 million murdered by the Belgians in the Congo at the end of the nineteenth century, deliberate famines in Ireland and India and the genocide of Aboriginal Australia, to today’s occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, coltan wars in the Congo and International Monetary Fund-imposed preventable deaths across the Third World (to pick just a few examples).
Racism played a role in all these holocausts.
Anti-Semitism is an unusual form of racism in that it’s not actually based on race. Traditionally Jews had been persecuted in Europe for not being Christian.
The secularisation of Europe that spread unevenly across Europe after the 1789 French Revolution was accompanied by the lifting of legal sanctions against Jews. For conservatives, the emancipation of Jews was identified with a number of unwelcome social changes related to the end of feudalism.
Anti-Semitism combined traditional religious prejudice with racism (at the time justified by dodgy, but accepted, science). The term “anti-Semite” was adopted as a self-definition reflecting the baseless assertion that Jews belonged to a separate, non-European race.
There were, of course, Jews who did belong to non-European races. Many even spoke a Semitic language, Arabic. But anti-Semitism was directed against European Jews.
Zionism arose in Europe as a movement for the establishment of a Jewish “national homeland” outside Europe, basically accepting the anti-Semitic redefinition of Jewish, although Zionists tend to talk of a Jewish nation rather than race.
Because of its accommodation to anti-Semitism, Zionism was initially unpopular among European and North American Jews. Its social base was among Jewish capitalists.
Left-wing movements provided a far greater pole of attraction for most Jews, who shared the concerns of other workers but also had to fight anti-Semitic discrimination and violence.
Jews generally wanted full rights in their own countries rather than a new, faraway homeland.
For some this meant the right to practice their religion. But for increasing numbers of non-religious Jews in the first half of the twentieth century, the struggle against anti-Semitism meant the struggle against an imposed identity.
Both anti-Semites and Zionists were obsessively opposed to Jewish assimilation, but to assimilate is what most European Jews wanted to do.
It was the British invasion of Palestine in 1917 that rescued Zionism from obscurity. The Balfour Declaration (Balfour was the anti-Semitic British foreign minister at the time) set aside Palestine as a Jewish “national home”, although the initial intention was for a British protectorate with European Jews being loyal intermediaries between the British and the Palestinians.
The Zionists gained ideologically from the Nazi holocaust as it seemed to confirm the claim that assimilation was impossible and persecution the norm.
Furthermore, the large number of Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe made Israel’s creation possible.
Zionists lobbied anti-Semites in the political establishments of countries like Britain, the US and Australia to restrict Jewish immigration, so these countries wouldn’t compete with Palestine as a place of refuge.
The APP are not the only fascists to have changed their opinions about Jews. In Britain, the English Defence League carry Israeli flags at marches and the British National Party are also pro-Israel. In fact, throughout Western Europe, fascist groups are supporting Israel.
This is not surprising. Anti-Semitism is not intrinsic to fascism. Successful fascist movements base themselves on the racist ideologies dominant in the mainstream political establishment.
In Europe in the first half of the 20th century one of these was anti-Semitism. In the 21st century West this is no longer the case.
Today, racism in the West is mainly directed at the Third World immigrant communities. Since the end of the Cold War, particularly since the terrorist attacks on the US in 2001, this has become associated with Islamophobia, which is also used to justify aggression overseas.
In much Islamphobic writing, if you substitute the word Jew for Muslim, the result would be indistinguishable from the anti-Semitism of a century ago.