Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus

The socialism of fools

In May, the Equality and Human Rights Commission launched an investigation into whether the Labour Party is institutionally anti-semitic. How has this happened?


Steve Latham


It might have been expected of the Conservative Party, with the long tradition of anti-Jewish prejudice expressed in jokes and sneers among the upper classes.

But Labour has long been ideologically opposed to racism in all its forms. Plus there is a history of Jewish socialism, and socialist organisations within the Party.

This rise of anti-semitism within the Labour movement, however, arises from slipshod use of language, which demonises and demeans political opponents.

Instead of reasoned debate, there is a process of ‘othering’, which excludes some category of people from our social intercourse.

In this case, because most Jews support the State of Israel’s existence, they are therefore considered to support all its policies.

By this mental mechanism, opposition to a set of policies becomes objection to a group of people as such. The specific becomes the general.

August Bebel called the confused identification of anti-capitalism with anti-semitism, the ‘socialism of fools’ – blaming one ethnic group for the problems of society.

The distinction between correlation and causation is lost. That most Jews support Israel, and Israel is a Jewish State, therefore their Jewishness is considered responsible for the hated policies.

In theological language, hate is directed at the sinner as well as the sin. Rejection is universalised from the action to the actor; who is ostracised, excluded, boycotted.

But here, enmity is extended from the actual agent, to those associated, by race or religion. Whereas, in fact, many Jews, from traditional religious or liberal-left groups, oppose Zionism.

Support for the Palestinian people, among the Labour Left, has led to intemperate comments, at rallies, where emotions are stoked to encourage active commitment.

Careless rhetoric has led to incautious declarations conflating anti-Zionism with anti-semitism. Inflamed speeches have been complemented by online postings on social media.

The victorious Labour candidate in the recent Peterborough by-election, for example, was criticised for ‘liking’ an anti-semitic post on Facebook.

Although probably guilty of no more than naivety and ignorance, such comments contribute to the new mood in Britain, where anti-semitism has become normalised.

Here, anti-semitic attacks have increased 17% since 2017. They are part of a rise in hate crimes overall since Brexit: whether on grounds of ethnicity, religion or sexuality.

But, historically in Europe, the Jews have been the canary in the coal mine. They, or rather attacks on them, are an early warning sign, a harbinger that the poison of prejudice is increasing.

It is therefore sad that some anti-semitic sentiment is fuelled by extreme Muslim groups, out of misplaced solidarity with the Palestinians.

Palestinians deserve support, but (besides the irony that there is a sizeable Christian minority in Palestine), this should not spill over from opposition to the occupation into hated of Jews as such.

It is after all the Empire’s strategy of divide and conquer, which prevents oppressed groups from uniting to resist the oppression common to them all.

(Photos: Pixabay)

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