A theory of left-wing antisemitism

If an angel falls, he does not become human – he becomes a devil.

There’s a lot of debate to be had on whether and to what degree faulting Israel for the deaths in responding to Hamas’s rockets could be considered antisemitic or influenced by antisemitism. The argument I made for that is here.

Another question is, how do you explain something like Eric Margolis’s characterization of Israel’s actions against Hamas as “a final solution campaign”?

A generous adaptation of a theory current on the right would say Margolis is a self-hating westerner shocked into saying something so incredible by the frustrating prospect of a “western” country successfully defending itself. A quote from Andrew Robert’s book Napoleon and Wellington about the reaction to Waterloo among the British radicals and Whigs:

Wellington enjoyed telling stories of the Whig’s discomforture at his victory. In 1838 at Walmer Castle he recalled that ‘when the truth came out of our having won, Lord Sefton went to Lady Jersey and said to her “Horrible news! They have gained a great victory!” – Napoleon and Wellington -pg 195

Wellington was talking about men like Samuel Whitbread, a British Whig politician who actually committed suicide after Napoleon was defeated a second time. Perhaps Margolis is reacting to Israel as the guilt-banner of the west in the Middle-East. In the same way that the pro-western Shah could never be right enough to be justified for Jimmy Carter – until Carter’s increasing demands of democratic openness finally crippled him in the face of revolution, for Eric Margolis Israel’s success in attacking even Hamas is the kind of thing liberals might have committed suicide over once apon a time.

But that’s unfair to liberals, and to Samuel Whitbread.

Napolean may have killed more men than Hamas can hope to, but he dreamed of a grand revolutionary empire of Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality. And liberals dreamed with him. Hamas dreams of driving the Jews into the sea. I recall a Canadian interview of a Hamas spokesperson shortly after they won their election – his revealing message was that Hamas didn’t have any kind of global goals. Canadians had nothing to worry about, personally.

Nevertheless, Canadians have decided that – personal or not, global or not, we take sides against Hamas.

So why is it that Margolis sides with Hamas? In the post I linked to Ezra Levant calls it “classic antisemitism” for Margolis to associate an operation against Hamas, of all things, to Hitler’s Final Solution. It’s definitely something. But I don’t think that western guilt or classic antisemitism can entirely explain what we’re seeing on the left or the right when it comes to judgements about the Gaza conflict.

I don’t think it’s typically antisemitic because it resembles the treatment other members of minorities or disadvantaged groups get from the hard left. The particularily notable incidents have involved the outings of gay staffers working for Republican politicians. If you were asked which side of the political spectrum you’d typically expect to out gays for political reasons you’d probably think of James Dobson. You’d be quite wrong. The hard American leftist is something of an ideological pimp. There are particular groups he believes that he stands up for and when he encounters members of those groups working against his vision it becomes unusually ugly. I consider that it goes beyond that as well. Some of the North American left thinks of white males in the way that caused George Jonas to say that just when Jews finally got to be European, Europeans became the new Jews. They are the villians of history, the source of injustice and defined by bigotries like racism and homophobia – the scapegoat. Opposed to the European man are his victims, and the victims of the villian are always heroes. In this political current, the Conservative and Republican parties are the vehicles of what’s wrong with everything. This liberal expects no better of a white man than to be a Conservative or Republican. It’s in his worse nature. A gay man who would work for the Republican party is different. He should be better than that. A hero working for the villians is the worst of things. And so the people who believe they stand for gay rights out gay men. Unlike the average person working for the Republicans, that man has lost his rights.

It is a selective bigotry that applies to members of groups that the left at least rhetorically champions. Judging by the special tone of hate mail she gets,  Michelle Malkin has concluded that left wingers are especially racist and misogynist. B. Daniel Blatt, writing for Gay Patriot – a blog linked to and read mostly by conservatives – wonders why hate mail they get from the left outweighs hate mail from the right by 19-1. It may be that when you identify with a political view that is by reputation anti-racist and anti-sexist it somehow gives cover or leave to your own streak of bigotry. My argument is not quite that. Because liberals see women and minorities as heroic vicitms they have a very absolute reaction to women or minorities with the political views they despise. Suddenly that person becomes a target of bigotry to a degree that few on the right could match and none get away with.  The cartoonist who depicted Condoleeza Rice – who was blocks away when the Birmingham bombs went off, rose to become the American Secretary of State, and who calls herself a Second Amendment absolutist because the KKK disarmed blacks before persecuting them – as a barefooted slave birthing lies for her Republican massah’ may have thought he was being liberal, but it is racist by any name.

My argument is that the left is prone to bigotry precisely because they positively otherize minorities, gays, and women. Jonah Goldberg occasionally mentions in his columns a term conservatives have for the positive otherizing of African-Americans by liberals: “black numinescence” – an attitude of mystique and awe. When a racial group is thought of in such a way, individuals of that group are either condescendingly elevated or fall far short. It may be useful for counteracting negative stereotypes, but in the end it is one – and it risks reversal.

That’s where we come back to anti-semitism. I believe that the “risk of reversal” is what defines attitudes towards Isreal on both ends of the political spectrum. Speaking for myself from the right, I seem to be emotionally incapable of coming to terms with the possibility of any wrongdoing from Israel. More accurately – I find myself viscerally unable to support Israel’s right to defend it’s innocent civilians and not be perfect. My choice has been to view Israel as almost perfect. This is the key to understanding the extremism of views about Gaza.

On one side Israel can do no wrong and on the other a response to unrelenting terrorist attacks that is exceptionally humane by any standard that isn’t angelic earns comparisons of Gaza to Warsaw, Jews to Nazis, and even Israel’s specific attack on Hamas to Hitler’s Final Solution.

If one way of responding to typical bigotry is to overcompensate, that goes double for the oldest one. George Jonas wrote in “Beethoven’s Mask” that there are anti-semites and philo-semites and he doesn’t see much to either view. The parvenau Jew is treated as exceptional in either a positive or negative way. Maybe it isn’t whether or not it is decided that Jews are exceptional in a good or bad way but the fact that they are assumed to be so exceptional at all that is the long-term problem. Given a bianary choice between parvenau and pariah there will always be too many who, even out of a sense of their own failings, will find reason to go with pariah – just as the hard American left reacts to the positively otherized people that they consider to have fallen short of their better nature. In the same way that gays are hallowed in Hollywood and so to a degree set up to be either glorified or hated, the positive otherizing of targets of discrimination is not the best and most durable social reaction to bigotry. For if an angel falls, he does not become human – he becomes a devil.

If the ultimate victim even once becomes a victimizer, or at least is believed to have done so, you get the truly strange and very absolute reaction we see on some of the left and which is partially mirrored on the right.

In the long run, a parvenau video like this should take care to emphasize cultural success and a video like this – a collection of idiotic individuals (I include the Jewish cameraman), which is to say very unexceptional people, shouldn’t be a pariah video at all. It is the basis for a better long-term tack in the fight against anti-semitism and all bigotries. Canada, and our Prime Minister Stephen Harper, are right to side against Hamas – but it may be just as important if from that position we can question something like Israel’s west bank settlements or use of specific weapons and so avoid either of the strange habits men have developed towards the ones called “Jew”.

-da wolfe-

“Why aren’t your sun-worshippers spread out a little more? There’s plenty of room on the beach.”

The Israeli laughs, perhaps a little uncomfortably.

“Ah! Well, don’t you see? Look! Ashkenazi, there… then a little space, then Sephardim… a little space and Ashkenazi again… and Sephardim, space, Ashkenazi, and so on…”

As he points from group to group, I do see it. European Jews — buffer zone — Oriental Jews — another buffer zone…

“But why, for heaven’s sake? Is there a law?”

“Of course not. It’s only… well, that’s what people do. It makes them feel more comfortable.”

We walk silently for a while, my Israeli escort and I. All right: this is the country my uncle built for me. So what if it isn’t exempt from the human condition? You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

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3 Responses to “A theory of left-wing antisemitism”

  1. ganselmi Says:

    As an Iranian-American, I often find that my views in favor of regime change in Iran are received with particular disgust in liberal social circles — “how can YOU – of all people – suggest that the US should support regime change in Iran? Shouldn’t you be particularly opposed to ‘American imperialism?'”

    So I very much agree with your characterization of the source of left bigotry.

  2. da wolfe Says:

    It’s ironic that now it is conservatives who think of revolutions. Perhaps there is too much of “my country right or wrong” with conservatives, but with the left it is “my country: why everything is wrong” which ends up being just as chauvanist. I heard that some hollywood actor went to Iran and was dissapointed to find that many people love America there, instead of their own authentic and “anti-imperialist” theocrats! Talk about not being able to understand someone else’s perspective.

    I looked at your blog before when I saw someone clicked the link to it and I put it in my “to blog about” list – where I usually forget things, but now I’ll remember : ) I was going to ask about your perspective on the coup of Mossadeq because I almost mentioned it in this post – I was going to say that the revolutionaries were justifiably angry about it – but I just read your very interesting post about the book about the Shah.

    I have a book of excerpts from Iranian blogs called “We Are Iran” and the author talked about Mossadeq as democratically elected and overthrown by the CIA, as well as arguing that the revolution was made up of many elements besides the fundamentalists and they had no real claim to take control as they did. Particularily interesting to me was how hopeful they were about a Iran’s future because of the demand for change by the well educated generation who grew up under the Ayatollahs.

  3. ganselmi Says:

    da wolfe,

    There is nothing a priori wrong with the “my country is right” attitude. It’s been turned into a taboo by liberal discourse, but if you think about it: nations as nations have viewed their relationships with each other on the basis of “my country is right” for far longer than they have in terms of an “international community of human beings” or other similar liberal categories.

    As for Mossadeq: for most of my life I had bought into the simplistic tale of a popular nationalist PM being overthrown by the CIA and MI6 and the will of the Iranian people thus being subverted by foreign powers. And in some ways, I still view the coup as a painful event in my country’s history. But after reading Afkhami’s book and seeking a few other sources, I’ve come to a more nuanced position on the whole affair. I won’t expound on it here since I’ve stated it in my most recent post which you mentioned.

    And you’re right. The ’79 Revolution had broader support than just among the fundamentalists. Readical leftists of all stripes were also a major force. But, if you read the firsthand accounts of a lot of the surviving left revolutionaries (most were executed on masse by the regime in the 80s), you’ll see that they were incredibly naive. Most had had the opportunity to study abroad — at the Shah’s expense! — and had been seduced by the romanticism of the New Left. The fundamentalists were much more serious about what they were about to do. As for the vast majority of everyday Iranians: most either approvingly watched from the sidelines or joined in because the revolutionaries simply lied: they exaggerated claims about the corruption of the royal family and the brutality of the SAVAK and they made absurd promises such as delivering 350 tomans to every family, every morning, etc. etc.

    I haven’t read “We Are Iran” but mean to. As someone born after the revolution, I have tremendous hope for what the Iranian youth can achieve. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

    Anywho, I’m glad to hear of your interest in my blog – I will certainly add yours to my blogroll!

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