Monthly Archives: August 2021

On socialists and Jews; or, how to turn down the tension


The news that Labour has been recruiting fifty temporary agency workers to address its backlog of complaints about members is likely to fill many members of that party with dread. The primary targets for investigation are likely to include not just members of the left-wing factions now excluded from membership by Labour’s National Executive, but also office-holders who previously allowed their constituency to discuss motions in support of Jeremy Corbyn.

Some complaints will be investigated under Labour’s antisemitism policy which means, no doubt, that several instances of unmistakeably racist conduct will be punished. The next few months will also witness, however, a ratcheting up of the pressure on Labour’s Jewish members, including above all anti-Zionist Jews.

For example, in 2018, Diana Neslen posted on Facebook that the Holocaust had not merely led to the creation of Israel, it had also seen the destruction of a different Jewish culture, which had rejected the nationalism of that country. “All lives are worthy and since the Israelis learnt the wrong lesson their baubles no longer have any currency.” She was investigated and received a letter from the party, telling her, “These comments have caused offence.”

Stephen Solley, a former chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee, responded to a campaign by a member of Jewish Labour Movement asking for people to vote for her as a Jew and someone who “face[s] antisemitism every day”. Solley believed that her words were hyperbolic. He wrote back, “The Jewish Labour Movement is, in my opinion, a force for ill and something of a con in that it is destructive of socialism. It is a pro-Israel, anti-Palestine group.” Complaints were made to his chambers, the Bar Standards Board, and the Labour Party. Cleared by the first two, he remained suspended from the Party ten months later.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi was accused of telling a meeting of her Chingford Constituency Labour Party that “The cynical manipulation of Jewish fears and concerns is unforgivable and undermines all our work against racism of all kinds.”Many other examples could be given. By the end of 2019, some 220 members of the Labour Party had been investigated for antisemitism.

According to David Rosenberg of Jewish Voice for Labour (which had acted as the main defence campaign for those suspended), at least 25 of those investigated by that stage, or one in eight, were Jews. That is a significantly higher proportion of that party than Jews constitute within Britain as a whole.

But instead of using this post to tell a familiar story of left-wing victimhood, which may be psychologically gratifying, but wouldn’t change anything, I’m more interested in what the Labour left could have done differently.

I am focussing on the Corbyn left because this is my part of the movement. I could give any advice you like to Keir Starmer or Stephen Pollard but they won’t listen.

In thinking about what we should have done I am not imagining that anti-Corbyn commentators were serious / intelligent / willing to play by the rules or stick rigorously in the truth. (For many of them, especially those who covered the story for the tabloids, it appears to have been quite the opposite). My point is rather that in a political battle where the left was always likely to be on the defensive, what was the best that could have been done, or more to the point, what was the best that was actually done.

In particular I want to remind friends of two occasions when the hostility between Labour’s socialist and socialist democratic Jewish supporters was diminished – when people broke through what has too often seemed an unresolvable conflict between socialists and Jews. This happened at several points in 2015-19, principally when socialists found a way of talking of mainstream Jewish opinion as if it was something not to be denounced but courted.

My examples derive from events in January 2016 and in April 2018. In the first of them, Jon Lansman, a prominent Jewish supporter of the Corbyn project, made an attempt at explaining the politics of the new leader to readers of the Jewish Chronicle.

Jon Lansman had come into left politics through his rejection of antisemitism and had been thinking about the issues for years. Right at the start of Corbyn’s leadership, he gave an interview to the Jewish Chronicle, the nearest thing there is to an official paper of the Jewish community. He described going to Israel after the 1973 war to stay with relatives. Lansman emphasised his Jewish heritage and described how his pro-Palestinian perspective had come about not from ignorance of the region but from the time he had spent in Israel: “I worked on a kibbutz in the Negev and my aunt lived in Beersheva. It was actually a very politicising experience. When I did my barmitzvah I saw myself as a Zionist and I think after I went there, I felt it less.” Lansman tried to signal to readers of the paper that there was a space for them in Corbyn’s Labour and that they should think about the party sympathetically.

In the second example, Corbyn attended a “third night” Passover Seder held by Jewdas, a group of young Jewish leftists. (The idea of a Third Seder emerged in the 1920s among Yiddish-speaking migrants from eastern European, and their descendants. Many such Jews wanted to preserve vestiges of the major holydays that most of their grandparents had observed in Europe; and they reimagined those customs in secular and often irreligious terms). He was criticised for being there – only for the other attendees to rush to his defence, and to win a significant portion of mainstream Jewish opinion behind them.

Jewdas was an organisation of Communist and anti-Zionist Jews. Its core demographic was several decades younger than the more visible pro-Corbyn campaign Jewish Voice for Labour. Compared to JVL, a much higher proportion of its members were religious and attended or even led synagogues. Unlike JVL, or indeed Jon Lansman, it did not make a fetish of membership of the Labour Party, it did not set itself up as a participant within Labour’s factional wars.

Jewdas was seemingly a much more flippant organisation than JVL: its Twitter account was fractious, and its literature often satirical. This veneer concealed the reality that Jewdas was much more serious than Jewish Voice for Labour about combating antisemitism. Three months before Ed Miliband resigned as leader of the Labour Party, and long before Corbyn had decided to run for the Labour leadership, it made a first attempt to set out its own definition of antisemitism, one which was intended to keep the issue as simple as possible: “Antisemitism is racism. It’s just a word for anti-Jewish racism, hatred of Jews because they are Jews, equivalent to hating people because they are black, Asian, Irish or whatever.”

(I have quoted this definition elsewhere and readers have complained that it is too simple – antisemitism does not require hate, any more than sexism requires misogyny. Part of antisemitism’s distinctive appeal has been the way that people employ it both against those who they believe are privileged and those who they believe are not. Antisemitism plays a distinctive role, and a uniquely troubling one in the way that it can overlap with redistributive instincts. I accept that argument to some extent although, I am also quite sceptical that this idea is unique to antisemitism. There have been other forms of prejudice which have equipped people who believed they were at the bottom of society to attack those seemingly just above them. And, if you read the whole Jewdas piece, they saw the point about “punching upwards” too).

Like much of what would become the Corbynite left, Jewdas rejected the idea that criticisms of Israel were automatically antisemitic. “Israel is a state. You can’t really be racist against a state. There is no position on Israel that is per se antisemitic – although you can express views on it in a racist way.”

Unlike others on the left, the group acknowledged that blaming Israeli acts on its Jewish population might well cross the line: “[B]laming policies of the Israel government on ‘The Jews’? Yep, that’s racist. Blaming them on ‘the Zionists’? I’m afraid that, most of the time, that’s racist too – ‘Zionist’ has long been a synonym for ‘Jew’ in much racist discourse.”

This early acknowledgment of the possibility of antisemitism on the left equipped the group well for the crisis that would follow. In 2018, for example, when Corbyn was criticised for his support for the mural “Freedom for Humanity” and its artist Mear One, Jewdas was able to remind its readers that it had criticised antisemitism on the left. They refused to justify the mural or make excuses for Corbyn’s support of it: “There is no question that the mural was antisemitic … Six years ago, that mural got taken down. At the time, Jeremy Corbyn consoled the artist who drew it. Inconsiderate? Definitely. Dodgy? Yeah. Racist? Maybe.”That acknowledged, they went on to say that Corbyn’s reaction did not justify the anger now being directed at him: “[I]s it a communal crisis that the leader of the Labour Party posted an unthinking comment on a Facebook post six years ago? Only if you’re a hired troll whose job it is to dig up dirt on left-wing politicians to force them out of office.”

In choosing to sit down with Jewdas, Corbyn was making time for people who had a coherent idea of what needed to be done, and one which was different from his or his allies’.

The Daily Mail journalist Andrew Pierce attended the Seder. The story Pierce told his readers was that Jewdas was not a group of Jews at all, but really gentiles parodying and insult Jewish traditions as part of their sinister mission of offending and humiliating Jews. Several subtle steps all came together to demonstrate that Jewdas were not the Jews they pretended to be. In contrast to real Jews, many members of Jewdas were self-declared anti-Zionists. Unlike British Jews, they did not eat meat. Jewdas had chosen to hold their Seder in a Christian church. They were extremely critical of self-declared Jewish leaderships. They had put on a largely secular service. Worst of all, Jewdas replaced traditional Seder prayers with greetings of their own: “They raised a beetroot in the air and shouted f*** capitalism.”

In an interview for Sky News, the President of the Board of Deputies Jonathan Arkush denounced Jewdas for breaking what had until then been a shared communal wall excluding Corbyn. Arkush insisted that the Mail was right, Jewdas were not Jews. The only thing which held Jewdas together, he insisted was antisemitism, “They are lifelong campaigners against the Jewish community to whom they show the utmost disregard and contempt.”

However, as the story continued, more and more public voices confessed to having been if anything heartened that Corbyn should spent his time at a meeting with young Jews, even ones with views different from their parents’ generation.

The Jewish Chronicle ran a first piece criticising Jewdas. Later the same afternoon, itran a second piece by Charlotte Nicholls (a Labour Party member who had attended the Seder). “Jewdas has also been absolutely steadfast in addressing antisemitism on the left, particularly in pro-Palestine circles, including producing one of the most useful resources around on the distinction between antisemitism and criticism of Israel.”

Jewdas was being criticised when, Nicholls insisted, it was simply a meeting of left-wing Jews. “While some communal bodies lay claim to speaking on behalf of the whole community, as though we are some monolithic bloc that speak with one collective voice, Jewdas is a place for disagreement, debate and where there are very few taboos.

Lansman’s article was a relatively small incident in Labour’s antisemitism crisis, but the underlying politics of it were the right ones for a left that was serious about finding a principled way through. It was a significantly sharper reaction than those on the left who responded with allegations of treachery against him.

Lansman was speaking to an audience of people who, he understood, needed to be persuaded of Corbyn’s good faith. The paper gave the interview a friendly title, ‘Ex-kibbutznik who is Corbyn’s left-hand man.’ Other Jewish newspapers responded to it in guarded or emollient tones. “Even some critics concede that Lansman’s intentions are sincere,” wrote Jewish Notes. This was as good as the Labour left was likely to get at the time, and a long way from the open conflict of three years later.

Similarly, after the Jewdas dinner, David Baddiel wrote, “They are just Jews who disagree with other Jews. Which means Jews … To make out that it’s somehow antisemitic for him to spend Seder with them just because they’re far left is balls.” Writer and comic actor David Schneider presented the Mail’sposition as: “‘Boo! Corbyn needs to get out and meet some Jews!’ (Corbyn spends Passover with some Jews at Jewdas) ‘Boo! Not those Jews!’”

It has been one of the bitter ironies of the past five years that policies intended to protect Jewish members of the party have turned out to be used extensively against left-wing Jews. That conflict was not inevitable. But responding to it required empathy, a realisation of quite how strident and hostile the left was capable of seeming. What we needed to be was both principled in our politics and much more sophisticated in how we argued them.

Three years later, that remains the left’s task.

This piece is loosely based on material from my new book, Labour’s Antisemitism Crisis What the Left Got Wrong and How to Learn From It, which has just been published by Routledge.

Courts and counter-insurgency


When I saw the cover of this book, my starting assumption was that this was one of those studies you sometimes come across in which the author tries to think about the law as a means towards revolution, maybe drawing on such traditions as those of the barefooted lawyers who advised the early workers’ movement, or the Wobblies, or the likes of the Chicago 7 and their attempts at breaking judicial power in the 1960s.

Such a book would have its purposes, but Ledwidge’s is something very different, almost the exact opposite. A former barrister and former military intelligence officer, he is writing for the benefit of occupiers, imperialists and those employed in the counter-insurgency sector. He is trying to explain to technologists of counter-revolution how to do their job.Ledwidge’s real interest is in empire.

The secrets to making British or US power work, he argues, are a) a certain strategic caution, and a refusal to apply authoritarian strategies openly (a key instance, alluded to in the book but not really set out is the failure of internment in Ireland in the 1920s and 1970s), and b) the active promotion of courts and judges. Occupation works best when imperial powers encourage the existence of courts which can hear people’s ordinary disputes (about crimes, the distribution of resources, etc.) and those courts acquire a reputation for a minimum robust fairness.

Chapters deal with such topics as the creation of Dail courts by Irish rebels in the 1920s, attempts at justice in revolutionary Latin America, courts under ISIS. But I have been reading Ledwidge’s book more because of what he has to say about Afghanistan, where he served in Helmand with the brief of establishing a court system.

On his account, at no point did UK ministers, civil servants, or military officers have any knowledge of the country they were ruling, nor did many speak its languages, nor did they have any interest in the people they ruled. As they saw it, they had no choice but to support a government which was widely despised, and its courts although they were notorious for delays, and for the openness of the judges to bribery.

Alongside petty crime, Ledwidge argues, and the widespread abuse of women, the primary grievance of ordinary Afghanis concerned laws, still on the statute book but dating back to the period of Communist rule, permitting the distribution of land, which had been used by the government and its allies to expropriate the land of ordinary Afghani peasants. As far as most people were concerned, there was simply no prospect of using the existing US- and UK-backed courts, to get their land back.

On the other hand, the country also had – right through the period of US occupation – a fully-functioning shadow system of Islamic courts, backed up by Taliban guns. Some of the most interesting parts of the book concern how those courts have been used, often by people with no ideological interest in the Taliban programme, to obtain justice.

As an example, Ledwidge describes a dispute which began when a woman accused her son in law of marrying her daughter without paying the bridal price. The woman said that the man had had sex with her daughter without a lawful service, i.e. had raped her. (He had in fact paid the dowry). She took the matter to the US-backed authorities. The local police officer accepted a bribe and therefore arrested the man, punishing him by beating and raping him. Shortly afterwards, Taliban supporters murdered the corrupt police officer. In the affected community, this was widely perceived as a step towards justice.

The Taliban, he argues, wanted to maintain their relationship for moral purity. The judges were therefore spied on by a religious police force with a mandate to prevent corruption, principally bribery. I am not suggesting that this system sounds humane or in any way desirable, only saying that it is a plausible if partial explanation of how the Taliban were able to remain an institution in Afghan life, despite 20 years of formal exclusion from power.

The defeat of Corbynism has been a setback for Palestinian rights. It’s time to change course


Between summer 2015 and the end of 2019, the British Labour Party was caught in a seemingly unending antisemitism crisis. According to one study, the UK press published 6,000 articles about antisemitism in the Labour Party in four years; and for each article, there were of course many further pieces on other news sites, in the international press, etc.

Labour’s difficulties could not be reduced to the Middle East – the allegations were much broader than that. And yet, when you look with care at the individual stories, it feels as if Israel and Palestine were never far from view. Take for example, the moment when former London Mayor Ken Livingstone told a radio interview that “When Hitler won his election in 1932 … he was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

People often forget why Livingstone was being interviewed, which was to defend a recently elected Labour MP Naz Shah, who had shared on social media a picture of Israel superimposed over the United States, suggesting that the clash between Israel and Palestine could be solved if only the Jewish population of the former chose to relocate to the latter country: “Problem solved and save you bank charges for the £3bn you transfer yearly.”

Shah had urged her followers to vote in an online poll asking whether Israel had committed war crimes. When a large vote could be seen against that finding, Shah urged her followers to vote the other way, warning that, “The Jews are rallying to the poll.” (Shah grasped that the phrase “the Jews…” was likely to cause offence and apologised for her comments. It was Livingstone who turned a minor press story into a permanent crisis).

Many other examples could be given of commentary supposedly in support of Palestinian rights which either tested the boundary with antisemitism, or which provided the opportunity for people to make antisemitic comments. Think for example of those Labour leftists who blamed Corbyn’s isolation on “Zionist agents” and “Israeli funds”. Or the Liverpool music promoter and long-time anti-racist Philip Hayes who confronted right-wing Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger. He told her that Benjamin Netanyahu was “your Prime Minister”. So far, so pro-Palestinian (he could have told himself). But then added, “I fucking hate Jewish people … All Jewish people have money”.

For pro-Palestinian activists, episodes such as these raise the familiar question of when to let certain language pass, and when to stop, to point out the danger of certain expressions and the risk of falling into racist discourse. If there was anything the British left learned in 2015-19 it was that we missed the signs, and tended to respond late.

Arguably the best activist document published in Britain in the last ten years was written before the crisis broke. Published by Jewdas, an organisation of anti-Zionist Jews which contained anarchists and Marxists as well as Labour leftists, “Antisemitism is racism,” the author wrote. “It’s just a word for anti-Jewish racism, hatred of Jews because they are Jews, equivalent to hating people because they are black, Asian, Irish or whatever.”

How, then, could anyone avoid doing antisemitic, or speaking anti-Jewish words? “You treat people as individuals. If you meet a new person you don’t assume you know anything about them from a group that they may be connected to. When they do something, be it good or bad in your eyes, you don’t connect those actions with any group – the actions are purely the responsibility of the individual in question. You don’t generalise about groups of people – you allow individuals to define themselves in their own terms.”

In common with much of the non-Jewish left, Jewdas had a keen idea of acts which were not antisemitic but were wrongly portrayed as racist. “Israel is a state. You can’t really be racist against a state.” Unlike much of the left, though, Jewdas did not stop there but accepted that criticisms of Israel might cross the line into racism: “[B]laming policies of the Israel government on ‘The Jews’? Yep, that’s racist. Blaming them on ‘the Zionists’? I’m afraid that, most of the time, that’s racist too – ‘Zionist’ has long been a synonym for ‘Jew’ in much racist discourse.”

Jewdas were back in the news by spring 2018 – when Jeremy Corbyn visited their third night seder. Criticised by the Daily Mail for holding their event in a Christian church. Putting on a secular service and replacing Seder prayers with greetings of their own: (“They raised a beetroot in the air and shouted f*** capitalism”), the organisation pushed back against press efforts to label them as antisemites – they were able to say, in good faith, that they had been warning against the risks of left-wing antisemitism for longer than anyone.

Activists in Britain are not the first to have been tested in this way. Over the years, many Palestinians have grasped the tendency for Jewish opinion of Israel to polarise, and for a significant minority to oppose that state. This, for example, is Edward Said, writing in 1997, after the Oslo process had run aground: “We need to remind ourselves that political struggles are always contests of will, in which one side attempts to persuade the other side to give up, to lose the will to resist and fight on. This is not a military but a political and moral matter.”

Said’s strategic perspective – of trying to woo, and split, Jewish opinion – had, in turn, implications for how Palestinians should see Jews and the history of Jewish suffering: “We must recognise the realities of the Holocaust not as a blank check for Israelis to abuse us, but as a sign of our humanity, our ability to understand history, our requirement that our suffering be mutually acknowledged.”

Said was an exiled Palestinian, who had been forced to leave the country in 1948 aged just 13. He campaigned for the right of Palestinian refugees to return, even during the Oslo peace process, in which Israel and the United States pressed for a “peace” which would have forever signed away the rights of his generation. He belonged to an irreconcilable wing of Palestinian activists. If even a figure who had suffered a lifetime of exile at Israeli hands was capable of grasping that “the Jews” were not a single bloc of people but divided by class, generation and opinion, then there was no excuse for British activists to pretend that an attitude of causing gratuitous offence was somehow “pro-Palestinian”.

Six years after Corbyn’s election, Palestinian activists are left with memories of a time when it seemed as if their demands were being taken up by hundreds of thousands of people. In the 2017 general election, Labour’s vote share rose faster than at any time since 1945. At the 2018 Labour party conference, delegates waved Palestinian flags.

By 2021, however, organising for Palestinian solidarity seems to face more obstacles than ever: around 30 British universities have adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism. When, this summer, schoolchildren put up posters calling for Palestinian solidarity, teachers tore them down. A discourse had been allowed to take hold in which acts of solidarity had been reimagined as something hateful and wrong. 

One of the tragedies of Labour’s antisemitism crisis was that for all the rhetorical support given to Palestinians, desperately few attempts were made to explain what is at stake in that conflict. It is precisely because the pro-Corbyn left was committed to a peace which removed Israel’s racial laws and provided justice for Palestine that we needed (and still need) to reject any defence of the Palestinians expressed in antisemitic terms.

If you enjoyed this piece, my book, Labour’s Antisemitism Crisis What the Left Got Wrong and How to Learn From It, was published earlier this week by Routledge.

Antisemitism rose worldwide because of Trump – not Corbyn


To coincide with the publication of my new book, Labour’s Antisemitism Crisis What the Left Got Wrong and How to Learn From It, which is published today, I’m running an extract from it on this blog. Today’s piece explores how the increase in antisemitism throughout the anglophone world began in 2015-16 with Trump’s run for the Presidency. This, far more than events in Britain, inspired emulators in other countries. Moreover, Trumpism has had a permanent effect on the Republican right in the United States, making antisemitism a plank of that party’s thinking. That process has continued, despite Trump’s electoral defeat at the end of last year.

During the 2016 election, Trump repeatedly employed antisemitic myths. He counterposed his message of America First to the risks posed by the “global” power structure, manifested in the “international banks” who he accused of holding covert meetings with Hillary Clinton. Trump also used anti-Jewish symbols, for example, by tweeting images of Hillary Clinton with a pile of money, the words “Most Corrupt Candidate ever,” and a six-pointed Jewish star. He claimed to be standing against the “global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class”, words illustrated with an image of the Jewish CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein.

The effect of Trump’s success in that election can be traced in the growing popularity of antisemitic online memes and messages, and in antisemitic actions off-line. So, for example, on Twitter; the Anti-Defamation League found that 2.6 million anti-Jewish tweets were sent between summer 2015 and summer 2016. The ADL was especially concerned with tweets directed at anti-Trump or pro-Democrat journalists, who were accused of being unpatriotic Jews. Some 800 journalists were targeted in this way, and 45 million people read the antisemitic messages directed at them. Indeed between 2016 and 2017, the Anti-Defamation League found, the total number of antisemitic tweets rose again – by more than 50 percent.

Indeed, if we look beyond Twitter, the picture is the same. Fascists and antisemites were able to build up an audience under his patronage, and at an extraordinary speed. So, for example, James Allsup was a member of the far-right Identity Evropa group. In 2016, he first came to the attention of the press when he was a student Republican at Washington State University and a vocal supporter of Donald Trump. Together with fewer than a dozen other people who supported him, Allsup put up a “Trump Wall” at WSU. He later invited Milo Yiannopoulos to speak. Both events were widely covered in Trump-supporting Republican media and helped to create an image of Allsup as a young, contrarian, boldly standing up to political correctness in all its forms. Prior to November 2015 and Trump’s rise, he had no visible presence on YouTube or on other social media. In August 2019 YouTube closed his account. By that point, his films had been watched 73 million times.

Events such as the use of antisemitic slogans by far-right activists at Charlottesville in summer 2017 (“Jews will not replace us”), or the defence of those protesters by Trump (“very fine people on both sides”), showed that, after years in which antisemitism had been marginal to American politics it was tolerated by one of the country’s two main parties.

Moreover, Trump’s philosemitism was not merely a personal affectation but played to a part of his voting base: Evangelicals who see the restoration of the Jewish people to statehood in Israel as a prerequisite the speeding up of the millennium. These fantasies offer Jews little long-term benefit. The Book of Romans envisages that with the arrival of end-times the Jews will all be converted to Christianity – and cease to exist as Jews.

Some readers may object to the ideas of Trump as a key figure in the global spread of antisemitism. He has a Jewish daughter; he has promoted the interests of Israel. Trump has spoken at Jewish events. All these characteristics are said to prove that Trump is no antisemite.

It is true that Trump has used language which sounds, on its own terms, pro-Jewish. But we need to dig a little deeper. As so often happens where people express their admiration for Jews, the kinds of behaviour he fixed on were ones which are unlike how most Jewish people live, and which many Jews would find uncomfortable. So, on 8 December 2019, Trump addressed the Israeli American Council National Summit: “A lot of you are in the real estate business because I know you very well. You’re brutal killers. Not nice people at all. But you have to vote for me; you have no choice. You’re not going to vote for the wealth tax.”

Trump pretended to make a joke of Jewish disdain for him, saying it was reciprocated. But commercial interests, he argued, would bind his audience to him: “Even if you don’t like me; some of you don’t. Some of you I don’t like at all, actually. And you’re going to be my biggest supporters because you’ll be out of business in about 15 minutes, if [the Democrats] get in.”

Plainly, in Trump’s mind, he is a Jew-lover, but what is it about Jews that he admires? He loves the “fact” that Jews are businessmen and hate taxes. He believes that Jews place their own interests above other people, that Jews are clannish and insular, that Jews formulate plans to advance their own interests, and that Jews have a power which is international. All these ideas make him an antisemite, no matter how many Jews he speaks to.

Under Trump and since, a number of Republican Congressmen including Kevin McCarthy, Louie Gohmert, Steve King, and Paul Gosar have spread conspiracy theories in which prominent Jews, such as the financier and Democrat-donor George Soros, are blamed for any setback suffered by their party.

The reason the politicians have done so, is that this faction of the American centre-right (along with President Trump) understands American politics as a struggle between “globalists” who would sell out America to her foreign rival China and to various other international institutions which are perceived to have escaped from American control and “economic nationalists” who would defend US interests aggressively.

Once you have split up politics between nationalists and internationalists, it is an easy next step to see Jews not as a group of people who agree or disagree with one in the way that black people or white people do, but as an ideological category – supporters of multi-national institutions such as the IMF or WHO or World Bank, advocates of liberal policies such as freer migration, and an obstacle in the path of right-wing victory.

Trump-style antisemitism spread beyond US borders. If you want a good example of it, think of the Soros myth, in other words the idea that all liberal, left, anti-fascist and pro-migrant sentiment in the world is financed by a single shadowy Jewish financier, George Soros. Here are some examples of how that idea spread into parts of the new nationalist right: in Hungary in 2018, the ruling Fidesz party stood for reelection on the slogan, “Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh!” The posters were then covered almost everywhere with grafitti identifying Soros as a Jew.

Italians started talking about Soros-financed immigrant boats arriving on the shores. In the US, some people suspected Soros was behind the migrant caravan entering from Central America. A Polish member of parliament called Soros the “most dangerous man in the world.” In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair published a cartoon showing Soros as the puppet master controlling first shape-shifting lizards, then Illuminati, and then finally a triad of anti-corruption activists, journalists and left-wing politicians. In Britain, a range of nationalist-mindeed conservatives have one on record to support the myth: Roger Scruton, and the MPs Sally-Ann Hart and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

In emphasising that the Donald Trump campaign was the moment when antisemitism became a significant force in global politics, after thirty years in which it had been at the margins – I am not minimising the mistakes of the left, or saying that there was any high wall preventing ideas which had begun at one point on the political spectrum from then reppearing at another. There were also places where antisemitism came into the UK left – even moments where you can trace the transmission from the US right to the left here:

The Mear One mural. The story of antisemitism in the Labour Party became front-page news in March 2018, when Jeremy Corbyn was asked about his support for an American artist Mear One who had painted a street mural in east London, ‘Freedom for Humanity’. If you look at the mural for any length of time, it clearly embodies any number of antisemitic visual messages. Corbyn had seen the photograph and posted a quick, mis-spelled message of support for the artist. For this, he was widely and rightly criticised. Mear One, had been a street artist in the hip hop scene of 1980s Los Angeles and had contributed to anti-war art tours before being invited to paint his mural. In Mear One’s account the design was simply the transportation to Britain of the politics of the Occupy movement: “I had just gone through the cypher of Occupy LA 2011 … my experiences helped to crystallise my post 9/11 thinking on global politics and the economic slave system, deepening my knowledge of fractional-reserve lending and other banking schemes that led to the collapse of the markets in 2008.” Mear thought he was on the left, but in reality he had been radicalised to the right by Occupy and by coming across right-libertarians there, and believing their criticisms of capitalism in which the problems of the latter were blamed on banking, finance and (just beneath the surface) the Jews. Asked to explain what the criticisms of the mural were about, he said, “Some of the older white Jewish folk in the local community had an issue with me portraying their beloved #Rothschild or #Warburg etc. as the demons they are.” Mear gave an interview to “I thank David Icke and Gareth Icke and their team” Mear One wrote, “for allowing me this opportunity to offer my side of the story, uncut and uncensored, for those who are awoken.”

The Campaign against Luciana Berger. This began in 2014, the US far-right website Daily Stormer website developed an obsession with Berger, and published about 40 articles about her, denouncing her for being Jewish. At one point Berger was receiving hate messages at the rate of 800 *a day*. Between 2014 and 2018 three supporters of the far right were jailed for threatening her. (A fourth case began with emails sent by a fascist to her, although the sender was convicted and jailed for other, terrorism, offences). From early on Berger seemed to be a particular target also for some people on the left – with rational criticisms of her (she was on the right of the party, she had a long record of pro-Israel advocacy, she had been parachuted into a left-wing Labour seat…) spilling over into something strange and unpleasant and unjustifiable. Leftwing music promoter and anti-racist activist Philip Hayes was convicted after abusing her when he was drunk (“I fucking hate Jewish people”). In March 2018, another supporter of the Labour left received a suspended sentence after sending her hatemail. By 2018, when Berger was blamed for the Mear One story making it into the press, she received abuse at an extraordinary rate.

At the fringes of the antiwar movement. In 2019, the pro-Corbyn MP Chris Williamson toured the Labour Party and the UK, putting his anti-war and left of centre politics to every audience he could find. He then promoted the social media presence of the people who had hosted or spoken alongside him. Among the individuals he boosted where Gilad Atzmon (“Hands off Gilad Atzmon – Sign the Petition”) and Vannessa Beeley (“a privilege to hear her speak”), each of whom have been able to build significant social media presences by appealing to an anti-American milieu on the edges of – and just outside – the ordinary antiwar movement. Atzmon will be familiar to many readers of this blog for his long record of Holocaust Denial and antisemitism. While, as for Beeley, she has denounced the Syrian medical defenders the White Helmets (“are #WhiteHelmets not ready to come out of the Zionist closet just yet?”), Jimmy Wales the founder of Wikipedia (“#Zionist apologist”), Palestine Solidarity campaigners who support an uprising against the Assad regime (“Zionist agenda in #Syria”), and politicians in France (“a Zionist apologist”) and UK (“Zionist agenda”). Individuals in this pro-dictator, antisemitic milieu are able to build an audience in part because in the US, unlike in Britain, the antiwar movement has largely broken its relationship to the organised left, and its supported by parts of the libertarian right, and key blogs such as, are funded by the right.

In conclusion – often people talk about antisemitism as if it is a permanent fixture in life – always present, and always at the same intensity. But that’s wrong. It used to be part of the wisdom of the US centre-right that anti-Jewish racism was as a disaster for them. The things the right was trying to do – enable capital moving freely, spread a right-wing version of open borders – did not connect well to antisemitic ideas or conspiracy theories. With the right’s turn to nationalism, the vision has grown of a different way you could run an economy, as a series of national fortresses – this creates a space for antisemitism to revive.

It used to be part of the collective wisdom of the centre-right that in order to grow they needed to keep antisemites and conspiracy theorists out. Think for example of what happened to former Klan leader David Duke when he ran for US Senate in Louisiana in 1990. Criticised almost as much by Republicans by Democrats, the GOP surrendered the primacy to incumbent Democratic senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., rather than having a racist and antisemite elected on their ticket. Looking back on that moment, it feels like it is not thirty but a hundred years ago – so much has changed.

Since 2016, a racist view of the world has become integrated into mainstream centre-right thinking. It will continue to do harm even now that Trump removed from the White House. And in a world connected online, where ideas move freely, and can cross ideological lines – the left needs to be much better than we have been at identifying antisemitism when it is near to hand, and opposing it.