Notes & Comments May 2003
A new generation’s fools
On the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.
Brussels’ trek down the road to bureaucratic centralization seems all the more ominous in view of the striking rise in that predictable concomitant of totalitarianism: anti-Semitism. For whatever reason, the two impulses seem to go together. As has been widely reported in the press, a new wave of anti-Semitism has been sweeping across Europe—above all in France, the native land of Captain Dreyfus, but also elsewhere. The demonstrations, violence, and heckling are often presented as anti-Israeli sentiment, but it is clear that fueling the outrage is a core of anti-Semitic animus. The recent news of Le Pen’s startling upsets at the French polls has produced some delightful breast-beating among French socialists but cannot be regarded as encouraging.
Or consider Tom Paulin, the British poet, Oxford don, and left-wing activist. In a recent interview in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, Mr. Paulin was quoted as saying that “Brooklyn-born” Jewish settlers “should be shot dead. I think they are Nazis, racists, I feel nothing but hatred for them.” As for Israel, Mr. Paulin announced that he “never believed that Israel had the right to exist at all.”
Extreme? Sure. But Mr. Paulin’s sentiments are less uncharacteristic than you might think. Even in America there has been a sharp rise in anti-Semitic feeling, especially on campus. As the historian Ronald Radosh noted in a recent article for National Review Online, anti-Semitism has sprouted anew on college campuses across the country and is a regular ingredient in left-wing student agitation: anti-capitalist, anti-Western, anti-globalization, and now anti-Semitic as well. At the University of California at Berkeley, Mr. Radosh reports, the plate-glass window of the Hillel center was smashed, and a Jewish student was attacked and beaten. “As they move toward building a new … pro-Palestinian movement in the U.S.,” Mr. Radosh writes,
students on the left are using tactics created by their elders, as well as the themes and arguments of the anti-apartheid campaign of the 1980s. In so doing, they are ignoring the warning of August Bebel, the founder of German social democracy, to his erstwhile comrades early in the twentieth century. Detecting the rise of anti-Semitism among his own comrades, Bebel told German workers that they should not be fooled into hatred of the Jews, when their only true foe was capitalism. He called such tactics “the socialism of the fools.”
In our modern world of globalized democratic capitalism, the Left seems to once again be moving in the same direction as those whom Bebel scolded decades ago. This time, however, it is anti-Israelism combined with anti-imperialism that is the equivalent of the socialism of the fools. Perhaps we should dub it the “anti-imperialism of the new generation’s fools.” The world’s troubles are blamed on Israel, and the onus for the new conflagration is being put on the Middle East’s only democracy, whose leaders seek, justifiably, to root out the terrorist infrastructure in their midst. In trying to build a new anti-Israeli consensus, the student Left echoes the propaganda of the Arab dictatorships, whose leaders desire more than anything else to put the blame for the terrible state in which their own residents live on Israel.
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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 21 Number 9
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