Home inSight Anti-Semitism: The Highest Stage of Progressivism

Anti-Semitism: The Highest Stage of Progressivism

Stephen Blank

Much of what passes for contemporary liberalism was born in the college demonstrations of the 1960s.  Ironically, if perhaps fittingly, that liberalism is now dying in the nation-wide college protests against Israel.  There are at least four causes for this current explosion of these organized protests.  One that it is now the end of the semester or academic year and many students just do not want to take finals.  Therefore, they hide their self-interest behind a shallow but seemingly self-righteous leftism.  The same phenomenon was observable in the sequencing of Vietnam-era protests during the 1960s and early 1970s.  But today these demonstrators signal their virtue by insisting on absolute surrender to their openly expressed demands that reek of an antisemitism that has been well-honed by Soviet and Arab as well as homegrown radicals over the last fifty years.

Second, protesters in most cases have nothing to lose because many college administrations, true to their general lack of moral fiber (something I can attest to through my own experience as a professor), will not take decisive action against these protesters despite their overtly antisemitic rhetoric, threats, assaults on other students and professors because they have drunk their own Kool-Aid that such behavior on private and public campuses is free speech and thus protected discourse.  Moreover, and more practically, disciplinary action is often ruled out lest this cause bad publicity or even their jobs when outraged alumni and donors protest this intolerance.  Indeed, this donor reaction happened at Penn and Harvard and is apparently also occurring now at Columbia if not elsewhere.  Since nobody is likely to incur any costs for antisemitism, but rather will get media and faculty approval, shouting such slogans is now all the rage.

Third, progressivism and leftism in general since 1967, whether here or in Europe has let itself be seduced by nonsensical and incomprehensible slogans like “Intersectionality,” an addiction to racial and gender-based theories of oppression, and what began as Soviet propaganda after Israel’s 1967 Six-Day War.  This witches’ brew joins with a belief that Western colonialism – which ended sixty years ago – is the root of all contemporary evil and that Israel, i.e. Jews, embody it.  This perspective finds expression in the nonsensical idea that Anti-Zionism, i.e. opposition to the idea that Jews should have a national homeland and state, is not antisemitism, a fallacy that simultaneously exposes both ignorance and cynicism.

As a result, these demonstrations, as reported across the country, have fully embraced the canards originated after the Six-Day War as a program of explanation for continuing Arab and Soviet defeats.

These canards and lies are easily reducible to a few handy ideas and slogans: Zionism is racism, Israel, an unjust evil settler colonialist state that wantonly dispossessed Arabs of their land, is now committing genocide, and, as Vitaly Nebenza, Russia’s ambassador to the UN stated, has no right to defend itself.  Since Zionism is an inherently criminal enterprise, politically speaking, it has no right to exist.  This last point represents the genuine meaning of slogans like “Free Palestine” which is otherwise meaningless, “Globalize the Intifada,” or “Palestine from the River to the Sea,” another call for the extermination of the state of Israel.  And these slogans, not to mention the physical threats and assaults upon Jewish students and professors, along with the calls for the destruction of Israel that are laced with obscenities clearly belie the allegedly humanitarian motivations and the overwhelming ignorance concerning the issues of these protestors.

We should not be surprised at this explosion of antisemitism.  Antisemitism on the extreme right, likewise a long-standing phenomenon, has been growing for over a decade and is well documented.  But while many liberals profess surprise at left-wing antisemitism, it too possesses a long pedigree.  Marx himself, though Jew, wrote some of the most scurrilous antisemitic tracts ever penned.  And in the late nineteenth century, August Bebel, the founder of German Socialism described antisemitism in his party as “the socialism of fools,” an appellation that equally fits many of these protestors.  The Soviet Union, the supposed homeland of Socialism, was a notoriously antisemitic state and Vladimir Putin uses it when it suits his purposes.

Thus, the demonstrators at American and European universities stand as the latest in a long line of dangerous fools as do the charlatans and worse who manipulate them.  Since 1967 those sponsoring these ideologically driven fantasies of Jew-hatred have taken their cue from Soviet and Arab propaganda after the defeats by Israel in 1967 and 1973 to explain away their failure to destroy the State of Israel as embraced in the slogans above.  In practical terms these slogans, apart from a surrender to Hamas, translate into non-negotiable policies connected to the BDS acronym: Boycott (Israeli goods and services) Divestiture (US firms should divest themselves of investments in and with Israeli firms or the government), and Sanctions (that should be imposed on Israel).

The consistency of the use of these slogans and this demand since the 1970s highlight the origins of this widespread long-standing propaganda that continues mainly because Arab, Iranian and possibly other states, and organizational funding, plus fifty years of indoctrination at elite universities across the US have prepared or fertilized the ground for this pervasive belief in the illegitimacy of Israel and Israeli policy.  And that point brings us to the fourth consideration, namely that these protests are and have long been organized by well-funded and coherently led student and external organizations who take their funding and directions from these organizations.  There can be no doubt of this prior organization as on many of these campuses antisemitic incidents, threats against students, professors, speakers, etc. have repeatedly taken place for years with impunity.  And the reaction to Hamas’ pogrom on October 7, 2023, revealed the presence of organized foreign and dark money-funded organizations devoted to that cause.  On that same night, 34 student organizations at Harvard issued a circular blaming Israel entirely for Hamas’ pogrom.  Naturally that circular soon found its way across the country touching off the procession of demonstrations we have seen. Anyone familiar with American university life knows how difficult it is to get one organization to coordinate a position, particularly over a weekend, let alone 34 such groups.  Thus, this event, one of many on campuses and across the left all but screams out prior organization among these groups by a guiding organization and possibly even prior knowledge of Hamas’ intentions. Likewise, it is clear that months of organizing, often involving external actors who have no affiliation with these colleges, lie behind the current movement.

Further underscoring the Anti-Semitic impulses behind the current scene is the fact that not one group of demonstrators or protesters seems to have been moved by the facts of 1,200 massacred Israelis on October 7 and/or the subsequent gruesome sexual and other tortures inflicted on the estimated 240 prisoners of whom about 130 remain unaccounted for.  Neither do the other genocides currently occurring seem to command their attention.  Russia’s genocidal war against Ukraine, China’s ongoing genocide against its Muslim Uyghur population, or Sudan’s genocidal war against South Sudan apparently do not deserve these protesters’ humanitarian attention or time. Certainly, they show no awareness of Hamas’ overt genocidal intentions in its publicly available manifestos.  In other words, here we confront the classic hallmark of antisemitism, a double standard against Jews, climaxing in the demand for them to be killed or disappear.  Indeed, some demonstrators at Columbia, if not elsewhere, openly voice such sentiments.

Thus, these demonstrations are open manifestations of antisemitism, not free speech.  Although so-called hate speech is legally protected against criminal liability, Columbia and many other universities are private corporations that can enforce severe disciplinary punishment for such behavior.  Indeed, in the past they have done so when the target has been African American students. Public universities operate under differing legal constraints, but they too will not or should not tolerate physical threats against others.  Indeed, it is easy to impose an acid test here by substituting the word or words Black, African American, or the more common racist epithets used by bigots, for Jews, Israelis, and Zionists.  When we apply that test it becomes clear that first the offenders involved would be thrown out of school with public acclaim and rightly so.  Yet here administrations fear the demonstrators and even the faculty. Columbia’s faculty senate is now investigating the president for allegedly violating demonstrators’ free speech, another telling sign of faculty moral cowardice and moral double bookkeeping that tolerates if not winks at antisemitism.  For if anyone’s free speech is at risk at Columbia, it is the speech, if not the persons, of Jewish students and faculty, not the demonstrators.

This outbreak of overt left-wing antisemitism also shows how universities and faculty have failed their students by indoctrinating them with left-wing rhetoric and in many cases actually supporting Hamas’ massacres not to mention antisemitic attempts at taking over colleges.  These tenured would-be radicals, who assuredly are unwilling to sacrifice their prerogatives, also show that they have no understanding of free speech other than that they can say or do anything, including support for antisemites, with impunity.  In other words, and in too many places, faculties have betrayed their responsibility of teaching and creating an environment of free intellectual inquiry.  Just as racism repudiates liberalism and democracy, so too antisemitism is not liberalism or progressivism, quite the opposite.

Politicians who call on university presidents to resign and for the National Guard to come in because their campuses are too left-wing, as Speaker Johnson has done at Columbia also betray the fact that they simply want to quash any semblance of free inquiry into contemporary social arrangement and politicize universities from the right.  At the same time so called progressive politicians like Representative Ocasio-Cortez, who claim to have sat with Israeli parents of Hamas’ hostages and then go on to denounce Israel for supposedly committing genocide, are no better.  Apart from manifesting hypocrisy – an occupational disease among politicians – they also show that they either have no understanding of what’s happening in Israel or else have themselves succumbed to this poison.  Either way, they have betrayed their calling and democracy.

Antisemitism, like racism, is neither progressive nor liberal.  Therefore the extent to which these narcotics of hate bid fair to take over our political parties demonstrates the failure of contemporary liberalism.  While the demonstrators across the country need to experience some serious discipline; and our universities must revert to places of sober, serious, and non-ideologized discourse, we need to rededicate ourselves to the triumph of a genuine liberalism.  Experience has taught both Jews and other minorities that illiberalism masquerading as liberalism or its latest incarnation, progressivism, readily drops the mask when ethic, racial, or religious minorities become the issue.  Therefore, the demonstrations across the country not only highlight a serious decline and failure in education, intellectual understanding, and tolerance, they also threaten the safety of our citizens and our democracy.

And that is intolerable.

Professor Stephen Blank is a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.