Antisemitism Reminds Us That Racism is Far From Being a Right-Wing Issue Alone | Alex Johnson
Fascism, the movement whose offspring named Nazism led to the death of six million Jews in Europe, is a term that is constantly tossed around by radicals who wish to use it as a form of defence against the Right (and even some on Left), irrespective if the latter believed in it or not. Despite this pejorative being a tool for communists and radicals alike that requires much needed sharpening due to overuse, groups such as Antifa and Black Lives Matter still use it as a blunt tool – believing it is just as useful as it was during the Cold War for the Soviet Union. Ironically, their overreliance on it as a defence for their own methods have caused them to be accused of being the very thing they claim to fight against. Their legitimisation of violence through a common and overused rhetoric is making the results of their argument less fruitful, much to the detriment of campaigns that wish to combat against actual fascist movements such as neo-Nazism and the Ku Klux Klan.
However bad the excessive deployment of the antifascist narrative can be for those who wish to combat right-wing extremism, a greater consequence can emerge from its abuse – that of losing focus on real issues being replaced by problems that stem from elsewhere. America’s unique and significant problem with racial division is one that cannot receive comparison to Britain. The US, contrary to Britain’s abolishment of slavery in 1807, would only end the malevolent practice through a bloody civil war 60 years later. The UK has certainly had its own problems with racism, and still does. The 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ given by Enoch Powell had both highlighted and extended the presence of racial tribalism in Britain, whether its intentions were good or not. Nevertheless, its problems were nothing on par to the Jim Crow laws that only exacerbated what racial tensions there were in the US.
Instead, the UK suffers more from a problem that has received some notification but little response – that of antisemitism. Unlike the postulations that have been made on the bad treatment of blacks, both in the UK and the US, the treatment of the Jewish community is far from having a black and white narrative, both metaphorically and literally.
Whilst racism towards blacks in the Western world is generally underpinned by the most conservative and extremist sects of the white majority, antisemitism has a more diverse set of persecutors. A report authored by Dr Rakib Ehsan, a Research Fellow of the Henry Jackson Society and a Mallard columnist, revealed that British Muslims ‘have the least favourable attitude towards Jewish people’ out of all faith groups within the UK, with 34% having the view that ‘Jews have too much control over the global banking system’.
The old stereotype of Jews being Shylocks is nothing new. Yet because antisemitism largely derives from conspiracies theories that often have an economic narrative, it has also generated prejudices within ideologies that seek to reform or usurp the current capitalist system. This is not to say that ideologies such as socialism do not have supporters that have purely innocuous intentions. However, it, like conservatism, can be easily highjacked by a few bad apples. As Samuel Gringauz pointed out when explaining antisemitic elements within French socialism, several figures who previously had socialist principles – such as Marcel Déat, Henrik DeMan, and Jacques Doriot – went on to adhere to fascist or Nazi ideologies. Whilst Gringauz clarifies that this cannot be pertained to the socialist movement itself, it shows how collectivist ideologies demanding for equality can include prejudices against those that are characterised as trying to subvert this dream from being attained. One would only have to look at the original Nazi movement in Germany to realise this, where party members such as the Strasser brothers had more interest in the ‘fate of the working-class’ than in Hitler’s campaign against bolshevism, believing that Jews alone were responsible for Germany’s economic inequalities.
Even though the British Labour Party’s ideology is far from being akin to Strasserism, its problems in dealing with antisemitism cannot be ignored. Whilst it is used by some of Labour’s opponents as a window of opportunity to delegitimise the party, it most importantly notifies us that prejudices exist on both sides of parliament, the Conservatives being no exception. The suspension of Labour MP Naz Shah and former Labour Mayor of London Ken Livingstone in 2016 from the party is testament to this fact. Even those on the Left outside of the Labour Party have made controversial statements concerning ethnicity, not just towards Jews alone. The left-wing journalist David Goodhart, for example, pondered in 2005 as to whether Britain’s population was becoming ‘too diverse to sustain the mutual obligations behind a good society and the welfare state?’. Goodhart had previously been referred to as one of the ‘liberal Powellites’ by the then Chairman for Racial Equality Trevor Phillips. Whilst these are just outliers and does not automatically define the Labour Party as being antisemitic or racist itself, it nevertheless acknowledges that racism and prejudices can exist in any group, regardless of faith or ideology.
Due to this being a problem that has no specific ideological connection, how do we fix it? Like most forms of racism, the trouble is that it cannot be completely removed, only mitigated. The way to do this is through integration. As Dr Ehsan’s report had also shown, British Muslims ‘who are more socially integrated through their friendship groups, have a more favourable view of both Jews and the State of Israel’. This is further manifested by those being less adherent to one’s religion, with the report also finding that Muslims who attend a mosque 3-4 times a week are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories involving Jews – contrary to Muslims who don’t attend mosques at all. The less of a role religion plays in one’s life, the more likely they are to be sceptical towards outlandish claims.
The key therefore to reducing antisemitism is by opening the means of dialogue between different groups, not by further entrenching a crusade that simply states it is against a specific ideology like Antifa has done – whose methods can at times contradict their own message. In international relations, disputes between nations have been rarely solved through conflict due to the structural restraints imposed by the international system. Whenever there has been success, diplomacy has often been the best answer. The same can be said for racial issues, which are often provoked through a lack of information being shared. By sharing different thoughts and beliefs through reasonable debate, it opens one’s mind and mitigates any narrow perceptions they possess. At the same time, it also makes people realise that different forms of racism – such as antisemitism – rarely exists on one side of society alone.