April 30, 2016



Livingstone's dumb remarks about Hitler, Israel and Zionism confirm that some on the left do have a weird desire to lash out at what they view as Jewish power, and the media class's subsequent savaging of Livingstone confirms that ours is an intolerant era in which there are certain things you may not say. Politics is complex, and the complexity here is that both Livingstone and his critics are wrong, and both are having a destructive impact on rational political debate.

Livingstone's comments are of a piece with the modern left's feverish obsession with the Jewish State and its alleged threat to global peace. It is of course entirely legitimate to criticise Zionism. Zionism is a political ideology, and every ideology must be open to questioning, mocking, ridicule, and so on. Criticising Zionism no more makes you an anti-Semite than criticising feminism makes you a misogynist.

But among some sections of the left, the word 'Zionist' is now used in a creepily similar way to how the word 'Jew' was used in more openly racist times. They speak of the 'Zionist-led media', of 'Zionist lobbies' dictating to our governments what they should do. Left-leaning broadsheets run cartoons showing Israeli politicians puppeteering Western leaders, or even worse, feasting on dead children, because apparently Zionists love nothing more than to kill kids. In these instances, anti-Zionism does start to resemble anti-Semitism. It comes to share the key conviction of the anti-Semite: that They have too much power, are a threat to the global order, are possessed of a bloodlust that is alien to us civilised Westerners.

The modern left's strange conviction that Zionism is a uniquely evil and destabilising ideology was summed up in the Facebook post shared by the now-suspended Labour MP for Bradford West, Naz Shah. That post may have shocked with its suggestion that the 'solution' to the Israel/Palestine problem is to 'relocate' all Israelis to the US. But the reasons given for this 'solution' were more striking, for they're now utterly mainstream among much of the radical left: the post said getting rid of Israel would mean 'the Middle East will again be peaceful' and 'the whole world will be happy'. This view of Zionists as the grit in the eye of world order is now common on the left.

This is why radicals apply extraordinary double standards to Israel: they protest against its wars far more than the wars of any other state; they boycott its produce and art; they obsess over Israel's tentacle-like lobbies more than any other lobby (and ours is an era of lobby politics). Very little of this is rational or fact-based. Rather, it speaks to the lost, post-Cold War left's hunt for one thing, the big thing, that they might hold responsible for the ills of the world, and for many of them it's Zionism. In such circumstances, the line between politics and prejudice does, tragically, become porous.

The situation is not helped by the way supporters likewise argue that Israel is sui generis and ought not be held to any of the standards of the rest of the West.  Both treat Israeli Jews as magical beings--for good on the one hand and evil on the other--rather than citizens of an entirely normal nation.

Posted by at April 30, 2016 9:28 AM