Left Responses: Jews Exaggerate Their Predicament

When discussing Jewish people the Left has few remaining surprises. It is possible to guess the sorts of answers, often contradictory, that will be given to the critique of Left anti-semitism made in this pamphlet. One typical argument has already been seen—namely the absurd and insulting proposition that any discussion of anti-semitism is somehow an apologia for zionism. There are, though, other replies that the Left makes with monotonous regularity. These are:-

'Jews Exaggerate Their Predicament'

Any attempt to uncover anti-semitism is branded as an "obsession" (Big Flame October 1982). This is part of the whole process of denying the significance of anti-semitism. Connected with this is the repeated accusation that Jews are arguing a 'special case'. We have already seen how this operates, in the sense that Jews are accused of wanting special privileges with respect to preservation of cultural and organisational autonomy, and that it is also used against Jews in the sense that we are accused of considering ourselves the only victims in the world.

Such an attitude goes back at least to the early days of the Second International. For instance at the 1891 International Socialist Conference, the United States Jewish delegation, led by Abraham Cahan, wished the international labour movement to condemn anti-semitism—not an unreasonable request considering the pogroms taking place in Russia. Instead, the Congress adopted a resolution which opposed both anti-semitism and "philo-semitic agitation" (quoted in James Joll—The Second International). The phrase 'philo-semitic agitation' is highly significant and needs deciphering. At its best, it implies the identification of capitalism with a few Jewish capitalists—the essential socialism of fools. At its worst, it simply means 'Jew-Iovers'—the essence of naked fascism. The 1891 conference must be unique in the history of international socialism, in that it is, presumably, the only instance in which friendliness towards any oppressed group was ever condemned by an international socialist body. The Times correctly opined that:

"The resolution in so far as it had any definite bearing on the Jewish question was deprived of any point it ever possessed" (20.8.1891).

Even Justice, the paper of the SDF, admitted that

"There appears to be a strong feeling against the Jews in the Congress" (22.8.1891).

However, in Justice's own opportunistic, and anti-semitic, tradition it added ...

"This is a pity. Even on the grounds of tactics ... we need the poor Jews to beat the rich Jews".

Again in the last two thirds of this century it has been a frequent tactic to point out that it was not only Jews who were killed by the Nazis—the implication being that Jews consider they are the only victims of fascism. For example at a conference, organised in 1936 by the Labour Party against fascism, Hugh Oalton stated that there had been

" ... excessive emphasis upon the fate of Jews in Germany—let us not forget the vast mass of gentile trade unionists, socialists and pacifists who have been subjected to atrocity and murder ... Many millions of the best and purest Aryans have suffered" (quoted by Gisela Lebzelter in Political Anti-Semitism in England).

Likewise Ed Rosen tells us that Gypsies also perished in the camps (Peace News, 21.3.80). Well, as Jews and as Socialists, we are well aware of the numbers and range of Nazi victims. All human life is of equal validity. However, it is also necessary to express the strongest possible disgust with those who deliberately invoke the sufferings of others in order to deny the extent of anti-semitism ... including their own anti-semitism. It is a constant ploy of anti-semites first to victimise Jews and then to stigmatise Jews for 'wailing' and 'playing the victim'. Members of the Foreign Office, in refusing to help Jews trapped in Europe during World War Two, came out with such remarks as:

"One notable tendency in Jewish reports on this problem is to exaggerate the numbers of deportations and deaths" (quoted in Britain and the Jews of Europe by Bernard Wasserstein).

So it is yet another double-bind for Jews: dare to cry out when you are being victimised and you will be accused of playing the victim, or else remain silent and be accused of being sheep led passively to slaughter.

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© 1984 Steve Cohen, edited and produced by Libby Lawson and Erica Bunnan.
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