Antisemitism on the Left is a problem that just won’t go away.
One may recall a number of thorough discussions on Jewschool to that effect, including “Antisemitism on the Left,” “That’s funny, you don’t look antisemitic,” and “Opposing antisemitism in the movement.”
That last link is to a conversation that took place in response to the announcement of a workshop last summer led by April Rosenblum, a Jewish activist based in Philly who decided to take the initiative to address this issue comprehensively, first with her workshop, and now with a recently published pamphlet, “The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere: Making Resistance to Antisemitism Part of All of Our Movements.”
April’s work is, in many ways, the first of its kind. A valiant and cogent attempt at examining anti-Jewish discrimination from within the context of modern Left-wing anti-oppression movements, “The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere” aims to draw clear lines for activists who wade, often unintentionally, into the morass of anti-Jewish ideology that has seeped its way into the realm of post-colonial politics.
Most often, this challenge is met by political pressure groups — generally those engaged in Israel advocacy — which address the issue of Left-wing antisemitism by pursuing the public humiliation and financial ruin of individuals and organizations which profess views that are taken to be either antisemitic or anti-Israel (more and more often, with little differentiation between the two). In turn, the Right-wing media, with its cartoonish cast of political commentators, join the chorus of defamation, slandering the entirety of the Left with political epithets and accusations of Jew-hatred.
Such bulldog tactics have led to a “boy who cried wolf” scenario, in which accusations of antisemitism in-and-of-themselves are no longer taken seriously, but are rather viewed as the primary means by which Jewish organizations coerce concessions from their opponents. In that, rather than reducing antisemitism, this course of action has engendered further dissatisfaction with the Jewish community, and has also made the task of rectifying this issue all the more difficult.
“The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere,” on the other hand, comes from a place of identification with and support for Left-wing justice movements. It seeks not to slander the Left, but rather to help it navigate this minefield, and to bring it closer to the fulfillment of its vision. As such, I believe April’s efforts will be more likely to find a receptive audience — one that is open to internal criticism from a fellow traveler, as opposed to the indictments of raging opponents.
From the introduction:
For people who have committed themselves to fundamental social change, the situation we’re stuck in with antisemitism is like a bad joke.
From one side, progressive and radical activists and scholars are being attacked by organized campaigns to brand us antisemites. In particular,it’s virtually impossible to speak out critically about Israel without being charged with antisemitism.
At the same time, we face real currents of unchallenged anti-Jewish oppression in our movements and the world. This endangers Jews, corrupts our political integrity, and sabotages our ability to create the effective resistance our times demand.
The Left has long procrastinated on taking on anti-Jewish oppression. In part we’ve had trouble because it looks different from the oppressions we understand, which enforce inferiority on oppressed groups to disempower them. Anti-Jewish oppression, on the other hand, can make its target look extremely powerful.
Antisemitism’s job is to make ruling classes invisible. It protects ruling class power structures, diverting anger at injustice toward Jews instead. But it doesn’t have to be planned out at the top. It serves the same ends, whether enshrined in law or institutionalized only in our minds; whether it’s state policy, popular ‘common sense,’ or acts of grassroots movements like our own.
It’s always a real struggle for the Left to successfully tackle oppression within its own ranks. But when we do it, our movements gain, every time, from the deeper understandings that emerge. To start the process this time, we need some basic information about what anti-Jewish oppression is and how to counter it. But it has to come from a perspective of justice for all people, not from opportunistic attempts to slander or censor social justice efforts that are gaining strength.
In writing this, I do not want activists to put aside the vital issues we already work on to switch to this one. No battle today for peoples’ basic human rights can afford to lose our energy and commitment. What’s called foris for us to integrate radical analysis of anti-Jewish oppression into the work we already do.
May the ideas here strengthen us for all the tasks ahead.
May you, April, go “from strength to strength” for your profound contribution to this difficult work, and may you, dear readers, go forth and email this document to every active Lefty you know, so that it may reach the fingertips of those whom it will most benefit.
Download on-screen and print editions, or order a printed copy of “The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere” at thepast.info.