Less than a century after the Holocaust and the subsequent cries of “Never Again”, antisemitism has been “revived” (not that it ever really went away) and is rapidly regaining its strength, after it was forced into hiding (oh, the irony) in the aftermath of WWII. And at the forefront of this new global anti-Jewish outburst is the radical left, a political wing that prides itself on its commitment to anti-racist, pro-egalitarian values. Liberal Zionists have long struggled to understand why a movement that purports to oppose racism, including antisemitism, in all of its guises would openly endorse a cause that is based on wounded colonial pride and rank anti-Jewish bigotry. I will attempt to provide some answers with my own personal experiences and insight. Also bear in mind that this is written from a Western left wing perspective.
One important factor in the radical left’s anti-Israel outlook has to do with the way outsiders (i.e. non-Middle Easterners) perceive each of the key players in this conflict. The radical left, and many Westerners in general, see Arabs as an impoverished, downtrodden, dark-skinned, non-Western people, every bit as victimized by the system of white privilege/white supremacy as any other people of color. In contrast, Jews are perceived as being the polar opposite of that. Instead, they are seen as a highly assimilated, well-off, Westernized, fair-skinned people who, as our enemies would have it, are not really even a “people” at all, but merely a religious group, and very much a part (or even the “puppet-masters”) of the white power structure that oppresses people of color. Regardless of how inaccurate these perceptions are (try gathering 100 Polish Jews and 100 Palestinians in a room together, and try to distinguish between them, because you won’t be able to), this is the image they are presented in the media, and it helps to facilitate natural feelings of sympathy for Palestinians among the radical left and other minority groups.
As a result, the Palestinian narrative that “white”, “European” Jews “colonized” Palestine and stole it from the “true indigenous inhabitants” is easily digestible to the radical left, and has ostensibly (and erroneously) become an important part of the larger struggle against white supremacy and European colonialism. It’s a very simple and easy to understand narrative that fits comfortably into the radical left’s worldview. It is a contemporary passion play featuring a weak and downtrodden underdog protagonist, pitted against a familiar villain that the Western world has always loved to hate, no matter what chimerical excuses they need to concoct to justify it.
Another factor in this trend of left wing anti-Zionist activism has to do with religion. From the outset, the radical left had always been a staunch opponent of religious superstition becoming intertwined with politics and empirical matters of morality. For most of its history, their main target has been the Christian church, having had relatively little exposure to Islam and perceiving the latter as being “not as institutionally powerful” as Christianity. Although the Church had brutally subjugated Jews for many centuries, they have since become “joined at the hip” with Christianity in the eyes of the liberal left, following the Christian right’s adoption of the Zionist cause, the emergence of “Judeo-Christian” solidarity, and the increasing alienation of the Jewish community from the radical left. And although many leftists regularly defend Muslims and work to combat Islamophobia (even in cases where the Muslim community is clearly in the wrong), this sympathy and protection has not been extended to the Jews, who are increasingly perceived as an integral part of the white Christian power structure. This strong association with the Christian right has caused many people to perceive Zionism itself as a movement based on religious “Judeo-Christian” superstition. The indigenous ties of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is not a historically, archaeologically, anthropologically, and genetically proven fact, but a Biblical myth. The “real” indigenous inhabitants are the “legitimately brown/Middle Eastern” Arab inhabitants who were there before the Zionist movement, and presumably “since time immemorial”. This gives the left yet another source of moral pleasure from partaking in the anti-Zionist cause. Not only does it give them the feeling that they are combating “white privilege”, but also “Judeo-Christian privilege” and “religious superstition”. Two birds with one stone.
And last but not least, the left’s anti-Israel agitation has been significantly impacted by the history of antisemitism itself. As you are probably already aware of, Western hatred of Jews has existed for more than 2 millennia and is profoundly baked into Western culture. And as such, it can even penetrate social spheres that claim to oppose antisemitism. The image of the Jew in Western culture is not a good one. Greedy, dishonest, manipulative, sadistic, bloodthirsty, elitist, disproportionately powerful, and inherently evil, these are all adjectives that instantly spring to mind when a Westerner hears the word “Jew”, and we can see that most if not all of these themes are prominent fixtures at anti-Israel protests. In stark contrast, Western prejudice against Arabs and Muslims is relatively new and therefore not as well-rooted or as pervasive as antisemitism. It’s not hard to see why Westerners in general are more psychologically inclined to side with the Palestinians when none of the insidious traits listed above are as easily associated with their as they are with Jews. And unlike other forms of racism, antisemitism has a strong anti-capitalist, working class appeal, because of the aforementioned stereotype that Jews are institutionally powerful, greedy bankers. This makes antisemitism, and ultimately anti-Zionism, very attractive to the radical left.
Needless to say, the true history of the conflict is deeply upsetting to this worldview. I can imagine their thought process being somewhat like this: “How can a financially well off white religious group be oppressed by a poor, defenseless, marginalized brown people?! You mean to say that the people I’ve been taught to hate my entire life by my great white Jesus lovin’ grandpappy are actually the victims?! How is that even possible?! It doesn’t make any sense!!! I refuse to believe that those baby murderers are the victims!!!”. It isn’t surprising that these anti-Zionist “left wingers” are so resistant to facts when they pose such a profound threat to their pre-existing outlook. This is something we need to take into consideration at all times.