Introduction to Abraham Serfaty’s Letter to the Damned of Israel

Selim Nadi

In October 1979, while he was locked up by the Hassan II government in the Kenitra prison, the Jewish Moroccan Marxist thinker and organiser Abraham Serfaty wrote a text about one of his main political educators, Abdellatif Zeroual, who had died under torture 5 years earlier. Serfaty had been arrested, alongside Abdellatif Lâabi, in 1972, because of his involvement in the Marxist-Leninist organisation Ilal al-Amam [Forward]. The two men were only freed in 1991. One of the lessons Zeroual had taught him, Serfaty writes, was the meaning of concrete proletarian internationalism. This meant that while the task of the Moroccan Left was to organise the Revolution within the Moroccan borders, this task was never to be detached from the broader Arab Revolution.[1] This lesson would remain central to Serfaty’s theory and praxis. Indeed, as an Arab Jew, he attached a great importance throughout his life to the national question as an important component of the wider international struggle.


This piece is being made available as a preprint edition of the double-volume Marxism and the Critique of Antisemitism special issue of Historical Materialism. Further additions will still be made before then. The final published version of this text will be made available on the Brill website in the coming months. We ask that citations refer to the Brill edition.All Illustrations are by Natalia Podpora.


Born in 1926 in Casablanca – a city about which he wrote a study in 1988[2] – in a Jewish family, Serfaty entered the Moroccan Communist Party, which was led by another key figure among Arab Jewish Communists – the Algerian born Léon-René Sultan –, as soon as 1944. Later, during a stay in France, he also entered the French Communist Party (PCF), of which he was a member from 1945 to 1949. It was during World War II that Serfaty had his main political education. Indeed, while the antisemitic laws of the Vichy Regime targeted Moroccan Jews, Serfaty’s anticolonialism crystallised. As Alma Rachel Heckman writes: “Figures such as Abraham Serfaty represented a new generation of Moroccan Jews whose political consciousness had been shaped by the war years.”[3] Indeed, it is worth nothing that Serfaty was no exception and that a number of important Arab Communists were Jewish, such as the already mentioned Léon-René Sultan, or the anticolonial communist activist Edmond Amran El Maleh, who worked closely with Palestinians throughout his life.

While being a member of the Moroccan Communist Party, Serfaty did not follow the PCF’s conciliatory line regarding colonialism and national independence and committed himself to the struggle for Moroccan independence. Serfaty got a diploma in engineering from the famous French University École des Mines and reflected a lot on issues of development and on the continuity of neo-colonial economic relations in Morocco. While he could have chosen a convenient career as an engineer, he chose the political path and struggled against the poor conditions of the Moroccan working class (e.g.: he supported the miners’ strikes in Morocco).

Serfaty was also interested in a range of international issues beyond Morocco’s borders, such as the revolutions in Vietnam, China, or Cuba. Even if it would be worthwhile to write a whole article about his anti-imperialist and proletarian commitment, we will focus here on a particular issue at stake in Serfaty’s involvement: his political reflections on the relationship between Palestinian liberation, Zionism and the “Jewish Question”. In the text that follows, Letter to the Damned of Israel (published in 1982), Serfaty reflects on antisemitism, anti-Zionism, as well as on the oppression of both Palestinians and Jews by Zionism. Insofar as this Historical Materialism issue is organised around the question of Marxism and Antisemitism, this article is key for several reasons:

  • Beyond his anti-imperialism, the issue of Zionism was crucial for Serfaty as a Jew – and connected to his fight against antisemitism. His reflections on Zionism were significant because they helped him to think about the meaning of Arab-Jewishness, the specificity of the social conditions of Arab Jews, and their specific class position within the Israeli society.
  • He considered Zionism as a specifically European phenomenon and perceived Arab Jews as a potential internal threat to Zionism.
  • This focus on Serfaty’s political thinking is crucial in order to avoid erasing Arab-Jews from Jewish history and from the analysis of antisemitism – or to confuse them into a “universal” Jewish people (which tends to means, in practice, to collapse them into the history of European Jews).

As such, Serfaty’s relationship to Zionism, as well as the fact that his being Arab and his Jewishness played a role in his harsh critique of Zionism – a critique grounded on Jewish texts as well as on the tradition of Arab Judaism – can help us to bring an different perspective to some of the issues raised by today's political debates on anti-imperialism, as well as on the connection between Antisemitism and Zionism. As such, the main question that will guide this introduction to Serfaty’s text is to understand to what extent Serfaty understood “identity” as a social category instead of as an abstract and individualist category – not only the “Jewish identity” of Arab Jews in Israel but also their identity as Arabs. 

While the question of “identity politics” is often dismissed by the European and US radical Lefts, Serfaty’s political reflections on these issues can offer some important contributions to our understanding of the intimate connection between issues of “identity” (Arab and Jewish in this case), anticolonial struggles, and class struggle. Indeed, Serfaty’s understanding of “identity” had nothing to do with many contemporary understandings of this concept. Because “Jews”, “Arabs”, “Sahraouis”, etc. were racialized both by the colonial power and the colonial social structures, their “identity” was built on such a racialization. This is exactly why, as we will see, Serfaty did not conceptualise “Jewish identity” as a universal one, but speaks instead of “European Jews” and “Arab Jews” – the social situation of the latter being very different because of its origins within colonial social conditions. Hence, according to Serfaty, “in the countries of the third world – and this is especially true in Arab countries – one cannot dissociate the problem of the class struggle from the question of identity”.[4] From this analysis also emerged Serfaty’s answer to the so-called “Jewish Question”, which he argued was to be found in anti-Zionism, as well as in the history, culture, and class positions of Arab Jews.

Ethnicity and Autonomy: From Sahara to Palestine

As a Moroccan, Serfaty was surrounded by debates touching upon the issues of ethnicity, colonialism, and the need for national autonomy. In 1985, three years after the publication of Letter to the Damned of Israel, while he was in jail, Serfaty had access to Cuban journals thanks to a comrade whose mother was Spanish. In one of these journals, Serfaty read a contribution by a guerrillero from Guatemala who argued that the indigenous question was crucial to the wider revolutionary struggle.[5] While we do not have further information about this specific article, it is clear that his interest in it was part of a wider engagement with the national question, ethnicity, and related questions.

During the same period, Serfaty also read the work of Mikhaël Elbaz, a Jewish Moroccan anthropologist who wrote extensively about Jewish Immigration. Several years later, Serfaty published a book based on discussions he had with Elbaz. In it, Elbaz explains that while he was teaching at Laval University (Quebec) in June 1984, he received a letter from political inmate n°19 559: Abraham Serfaty.[6] In this letter, Serfaty discussed some of Elbaz’s work and asked him about materials in order to continue his reflexion on Arab Jews in Israel. While this correspondent would prove infliential, Serfaty’s interest for national and ethnic questions dates back to several years earlier.

Indeed, already in the early 1970s, Serfaty – along the above-mentioned Lâabi – participated in the building of the Marxist-Leninist Moroccan organisation Ila Al Amam[7] which was the only Moroccan political organisation that explicitly supported the right to self-determination for the Sahraoui people. According to Serfaty, Sahraoui national consciousness was the result of a two-way process:

  • The struggle for decolonisation which saw the rise of a common interest – against French colonialism – between Sahraoui tribes and the Moroccan people.
  • The post-independence dismantling of the Sahraoui Liberation Army by the Spanish and French armies, with the logistical support of the Moroccan state. This process, called operation “Ecouvillon” [Swab], had the consequence of triggering the mass exile and dispersion of the Sahraoui people. Serfaty compares this 1958 dispersion of Sahraoui people to the 1948 PalestinianNakba. However, he writes, exactly as theNakba, the Sahraoui exile also contains the seeds of the rise of the Sahraoui people as an autonomous, self-aware and organised people.[8] In his marvellous study on the Saharan question, Ahmed-Baba Miské argues that the leader of the pro-monarchist Istiqlal [Independence] party Allal El Fassi played an important role in the Moroccan claims on Sahara, stressing the contradictions that can exist within a national liberation movement, which can struggle against colonialism on the one side (France) and deny the right to autonomy to another people (Sahara) on the other.[9] Serfaty was similarly very aware of this contradiction and argued that a struggle for decolonisation has its own political and social contradictions, and that is not a linear process. As we will see below, the question of contradictions in a colonial situation was critical in Serfaty’s analysis of Arab-Jewishness in Israel.

Based on these analyses, Serfaty was also critical about Pan-Arabism because it ignored the questions of minorities (Sahara, Berber, etc.). While the text presented in this special issue aims to illustrate on Serfaty’s analysis of Zionism and of the “Jewish Question”, his engagement with questions related to national and ethnic minorities remains important in order to grasp Serfaty’s ideas about Arab Jews. In her book The Sultan’s Communist, Alma Rachel Heckman writes that “[i]n the 1960s, Abraham Serfaty, a fellow Jewish Communist, proclaimed his “Arab-Jewish” identity as a way of underscoring his Moroccan patriotism.”[10] Hence, one could say that his criticism of the Moroccan Makhzen [Regime] was deeply influenced by his “Arab-Jewishness”, a social identity that helped him to grasp the issues of minorities within an analysis of the wider social context.

As mentioned previously, Mikhaël Elbaz helped Serfaty to reflect on these questions. In the book they wrote together, based on their epistolary discussions, Serfaty tells Elbaz that the link between ethnicity and class struggle in the Third World was a crucial issue for Moroccan leftists because of the Berber question in Morocco. According to Serfaty, the denial of the Berber reality by national movements in Morocco and in Algeria was one of the main sources for their respective post-independence troubles. Indeed, he argued that because of the French strategy regarding Berber people in Morocco – isolating them from the broader Arab population – the vast majority of the national movement considered the affirmation of the Berber identity as imperialist and complicit with the French colonial power. This was also a point of disagreement between Serfaty and a significant part of the Moroccan Left. For example, in 1958-59, an insurrection in the Moroccan Rif region was suppressed and this repression was backed by every single Moroccan political party, including the Communist Party.

It is in the context of his reflexion about the Arab Nation and its minorities, that Serfaty’s engagement with the disaster that Zionism represented – not only to Palestinians but also to Arab Jews – should be understood. Indeed, he argues that prior to the foundation of Israel there were no problems between Jews and Muslims in Morocco. However, he also rejects the idea that conflicts between Moroccan Jews (some of which were Berbers) and Muslims did not mechanically derive from the foundation of the Zionist state. Rather, they emerged as an effect of the political decisions supported by the Muslim and Jewish Moroccan bourgeoisies. The bourgeoisie and the commercial petite-bourgeoisie saw an opportunity of getting rid of their “poor Jews” – especially the Jewish peasantry of the Atlas Mountains and of South Morocco – who became the favourite target of the Zionist recruiters who were “recruiting” Moroccan Jews in order to send them to Israel.

In his discussion with Elbaz, Serfaty takes the example of a meeting between the Moroccan National Movement and the World Jewish Congress at Aix-les-Bains (France) in August 1955, regarding the departure of 45 000 Moroccan Jews between September 1955 and June 1956. He writes:

The poorest and the most vulnerable became the target of recruiters with the tacit, if not explicit, backing of the bourgeoisie, both Jewish and Muslim, who got rid of this authentic Judaism.[11]

While these Jews were ripped from their land in Amizmiz, in the villages of the Atlas, or in the Moroccan South in the 1950s, the biggest turn came with the 1967 so-called Six Day War. Indeed, Moroccan Jews were ripped from their country in June 1967. This was both due to the promotion of Zionism by the Jewish bourgeoisie of Morocco but also because of the racist politics of the majority of the Muslim bourgeoisie of Morocco who, beginning in 1961, literally “sold” Moroccan Jews to Zionism – in Serfaty’s words. The process of immigration by Moroccan Jews to Israel was, thus, not a simple effect of Zionist policies or propaganda, but a consequence of antisemitism in Morocco – largely promoted by the bourgeoisie. It is worth nothing that this does not mean that the lower classes were free of any prejudices against Jews, but that their ability in influencing the latter’s lives was much more limited. Hence the Zionist project worked hand-in-hand with anti-Semitism in Morocco, an issue to which we return below.

The Social Specificity of Arab-Jewishness

From childhood, Abraham Serfaty’s father had explained to him, especially when going to the synagogue, that Zionism was antithetical to Judaism – an idea that we also find in Letter to the Damned of Israel. But a large part of Serfaty’s reflexion on the Jewish question was developed while he was accompanying his father, who had health issues, in a Parisian clinic, in May 1969. It is in this clinic that Serfaty discovered and read Marxist thinkers that were not discussed in Morocco – he read, for example, Karel Kosik’s Dialectics of the Concrete, as well as Althusser, Ernst Bloch and Lucien Goldmann. It is also during this stay that he really thought about the so-called Jewish Question. In a book written with his wife Christine Daure-Serfaty,La Mémoire de l’Autre [The Other’s Memory], he writes that Kosik,[12] Marx’s text on the Jewish Question, as well as a number of readings on Arab Judaism. helped him to better situate the Jewish Question in Europe on the one hand, as well as Moroccan and Arab Judaism on the other. At that time, he hadn’t read Abraham Léon’s book, On the Jewish Question, which he later considered to be a masterpiece of analysis, whilst also recognising the validity of Maxime Rodinson’s critiques.[13]It is also during this period that Serfaty discovered the work of Emmanuel Levyné, with whom he later exchanged letters, as we will see below.

Serfaty stressed the fact that while Israel was presented as a state founded by “their Jewish brothers”, Zionists were, in reality, the oppressors of Arab Jews and denied the specificity of their identity. Zionism was originally a European ideology, Serfaty writes, and its effect on Arab-Jews was to deny the specificity of their history:

Zionism is contrary to the glorious history, spanning more than a millennium, of Arab and Mediterranean Judaism, which was historically forged in symbiosis with Islam within the Arab civilization.[14]

One of Serfaty’s main ideas was that there is no homogeneous Jewish people – he asked Arab Jews: “Do you form one people with your oppressors?”[15] By oppressors he meant European Zionists. Indeed, he refused to inscribe Arab Judaism in an imagined general History of Jews, with a homogeneous “Jewish subject”.

However, Serfaty did not consider Arab-Jewishness as an abstract identity. The issue of identity was very concrete to him and he criticised the progressive forces that despised engaging with it. Regarding Arab, and more specifically Moroccan, Judaism in the 1950s – the period in which, as we have seen earlier, Zionism ripped Moroccan Jews off from their country – Serfaty categorises poor Moroccan Jews into three main groups:

  • A group that is still rooted in a “two thousand year old past”;[16] a past made of peasant communities from the Moroccan mountains. This group is an integral part of arabo-berber society, which forms the deep reality of Maghreb.
  • The second group is made up of traditional urban communities – working in small businesses and handicraft.
  • The third group consists of the proletariat and semi-proletariat from Casablanca – a product of colonial misery.

Serfaty writes that these groups were organised around two main structures: the Moroccan rabbinate, an older ideological and cultural organisation, and the “Israelites Communities”, a social structure made-up by the colonial power, supported by the middle class and the big bourgeoisies. Hence, Moroccan Jews coming from the lower classes were socially torn between the ancient tradition and organisation of Arab Judaism and another structure shaped by the colonial power and the local bourgeoisie. While the Moroccan rabbinate attempted to struggle against Zionism – which it considered in contradiction with the Jewish religion (Serfaty refers especially to the 1952 Rabbis Council organised in Rabat, as well as to a letter written by the President of the Rabbinic Court from Meknès in May 1952) – it was not powerful enough to prevent the denial of Morocco’s ancient Arab-Jewish tradition by the alliance between the Jewish and Muslim Moroccan bourgeoisies, the French colonial power and, later, Zionism. The assault on traditional identities among Moroccan Jews was led by both antisemitism at home and by Zionism (from) abroad.

In his Letter to the Damned of Israel, he stresses the fact that Zionism was a critical tool in the attempts to rip Arab Jews away from their past – and their specificity. Looking at Arab Jews in Israel, Serfaty argues that the difference between them – who come, for a large part, from the working class – and the European Jews, is the attachment to the Jewish religion. Indeed, Serfaty argues in the 1980s, secularism is much stronger among European Jews – and the religious attachment is stronger among Arab Jews. A direct consequence of this is that Arab Jews are more likely to vote for the Likud Party – an Israeli right-wing Party, whose religious references are more numerous – than for the socialist and secular Ma’arakh.

In sum, the consequences of Zionism on Arab Jews could be seen as contradictory but it is this contradiction that explains the specific position of Arab Jews in Israel. Indeed, Arab Jews are ripped from their traditions – including religious ones – but, in the same movement, the manipulation of the Jewish religion is pushing Arab Jews towards the more right wing Zionist political movements. Should Arab Jews then, Serfaty asks, reject the Jewish religion in order to struggle against Zionism? This question is even more relevant since within the Israeli State, the only political forces struggling against Zionism are Marxist ones – political forces in which religion plays a minimal, if any, role. He answered with an emphatic “no”. Revolutionaries’ duty was to analyse the deepest social reality in order to grasp the seeds from which the struggle could develop. In the case of Arab Jews, Serfaty writes, this deep reality was in contradiction with the immediate reality. He asserts that one should first take into account the level of cultural oppression of Arab Jews within the Zionist entity.

The first thing that was, according to Serfaty, deeply anchored into the Arab Jewish popular masses – and that was crushed by Zionism – was the awaiting of the Messiah which had mainly been formalised through the Zohar (the foundational work of the Kabbalah). Serfaty writes that while they were facing oppression, awaiting the Messiah was a kind of light for Arab Jews. It was the already existing light in the present, of a future where God’s Kingdom will be established on Earth for every human being. Serfaty especially stresses the fact that Jews should contribute to preparing for this Kingdom wherever they are – something that was opposed to the Zionist colonial project; a project that needed to “import” Jews from abroad.

Hence, Serfaty insisted that the spirit of the Kabbalah and especially of the Zohar was the claim that the exile would not end with immigration to Israel – since, in doing so, Jews were separated from their culture and traditions. The Jewish settlement in Palestine, and later in Israel, was not understood as a “return” but as the true exile. Serfaty notes, therefore, that Zionism is a negation and a “monstrous perversion” of the Zohar.[17] While he was not a believer himself, he underlines nonetheless in a lot of his texts that in the Arab World there cannot be a difference between people who believe and people who do not believe in God. The only difference should be between the people on one side of the social order, and the reaction on the other side.

Several years before the publication of Letter to the Damned of Israel, between 1969 and 1972, he exchanged some letters with the anti-Zionist specialist of the Kabbalah Emmanuel Lévyne – whose work was very important in Serfaty’s eyes.[18] In one of these letters, written in 1970,[19] Serfaty writes that an important effect of Capitalism in Europe was that the values of Judaism were betrayed and distorted by the “exploiters of Humanity”. In this very same letter, Serfaty writes to Lévyne that the historical period that they are living in (the 1970s) was not so much a time of erasure of national specificities, but a time of fulfilment of those specificities. Therefore, he argued, the struggle against capitalism should take these specificities into account – the anti-capitalist struggle could not be successful if it tried to erase cultural and religious differences. A similar idea is to be found in another great anti-Zionist Marxist Jewish figure of that time – a European one this time: Maxime Rodinson. He defended the idea “that the only barrier to socialism in Muslim countries would be to put in place anti-Muslim policies”.[20]

The issue of the “Promised Land” was also central in Emmanuel Lévyne’s work, which again found echoes in Serfaty. Indeed, according to Lévyne, Zion was the Land of God, and in order to enter it one should renounce the desire to possess it. Hence, Levitism was opposed to political Zionism – because the colonisation of Palestine was never present in Jewish religious texts.[21] For Lévyne, as well as for Serfaty, Judaism had nothing to do with the colonisation of Palestine. However, in linking these two questions, the European and Arab Jewish bourgeoisies presented the colonization of Palestine as the main solution to the “Jewish Question” – and worked, sometimes, hand in hand with local antisemitism (whether in Europe or in Arab countries). It would rid them of Jews at home, allow them to lay claim over their goods and wealth, while simultaneously reinforcing dominant social relations and imperialism across the region.

Emerging from Serfaty’s analysis was the claim that Jews in the revolutionary struggles in the Arab world should not be understood as the “Jewish people”, understood to be outsiders in relation to the wider national community, but rather as simultaneously Jews and an integral part of the national community (the Moroccan one, in the case of Serfaty). It would be a mistake to try to “unify” Jews in a homogenous people by negating their national specificities. The letter to Levyne where Serfaty develops these ideas is especially interesting because, while Serfaty and Levyne had important disagreements (not least on the question of socialism for instance), they agreed on the importance for Jews to participate to the anti-zionist struggle. They did so both because it was an anticolonial struggle but also because Zionism participated in the destruction of the specific identities of both Jewish culture and Jewish communities.

Arab-Jews as a Threat to Zionism

It is because of this contradictory position that Serfaty considered Arab Jews as a potential threat to the existence of the Zionist state. There was, Serfaty argues, a fundamental contradiction between Arab ethnicities, which are oppressed in Israel, and the Zionist structure of the Israeli state. Hence Arab Jews should be aware not only of their “Jewishness” but also of their Arab identity. Arab Jews could participate in the building of a political movement that might break the Zionist structures from the inside. As a consequence, the social group of Arab-Jews – and especially of poor Arabic Jews – appeared to him as a weak link in the Zionist edifice.

The fact that anti-Zionism is of crucial importance for Jews – and especially for Arab Jews – is a recurrent theme in Serfaty’s writing. This was, for example, visible in 1969 when the Moroccan journal Souffles published a whole issue on the Palestinian Revolution. This issue contained an important paper written by Serfaty on Moroccan Judaism and Zionism. This article is historical in natures and returns to the themes of the life and culture of Jews in Morocco, and on the disaster that June 1967 represented, not only for Arab Jews but also for the Moroccan nation as a whole. Serfaty argued that the future of Moroccan Judaism as well as of Morocco itself are deeply connected to the future of Palestine. The struggle for the liberation of Palestine contains, in this view, alwaysper se an international dimension. RegardingSouffles, it is interesting to stress the critical role Serfaty played in the politicisation of the journal, a process in which these questions were paramount. Andy Stafford notes:

It was the arrival of Abraham Serfaty, mining engineer and trade union activist, on the committee of Souffles in 1968 that heralded the hardening of the journal’s politics and the consequent split three years later.

In his two-part piece in 1968 (in Souffles, no. 12 and nos. 13/14) Serfaty brought a Marxist rigour to the debates over culture and scientific progress in the journal. The triumphalism of the West – Israel – over the Arabs in the 1967 war had now pushed the journal towards a Marxist, militant intellectual, position (…).[22]

In the first extensive study on Souffles, Kenza Sefrioui writes that the issue of Palestine constituted a pivotal point in the politicisation of the journal. It was also the starting point of huge disagreements within the editorial board, especially on the role “cultural issues” should have in its pages.[23] However, Sefrioui also writes that Souffles was a political project from the very beginning (the journal was created in 1966), even if it expressed itself in the form of cultural analysis during its three first existence years of existence.

In their introduction to the English Anthology of Souffles-Anfas (Anfas being the Arabic language counterpart toSouffles, founded in 1971), Olivia C. Harrison and Teresa Villa-Ignacio write that the journal played – despite its modest print run – an important role in establishing a transnational intellectual dialogue with other key Third World actors:

The journal was instrumental in establishing transnational dialogues between writers, artists, and activists from Africa, Asia, and the Americas. It published seminal works by tricontinental writers and political activists, such as the Haitian writer René Depestre, the Syrian poet Adonis, and Amilcar Cabral, the leader of the struggle for independence from Portugal in Guinea-Bissau, as well as key revolutionary and postcolonial texts, such as the ten-point program of the Black Panthers or the Argentine manifesto for a Third Cinema. Frantz Fanon, the theorist of decolonization and prophet of postcolonial disillusionment, was a particularly important interlocutor for the journal’s founding members. Heeding Fanon’s call to leave Europe behind, Laâbi advocated for what he called “cultural decolonization,” a process by which Moroccan writers and artists would break with stagnant French models and Arabic canons in order to forge new artistic forms and literary languages in dialogue with the rest of the decolonizing world.[24]

Andy Stafford also highlights this transnational dialogue in insisting on Souffles’ Tricontinental entrenchment: “Morocco became in the late 1960s, for a short period, the pivotal space […] for tricontinentalist ideas to take hold and be propagated. As with all pivots, sections of the Moroccan Left did as much to absorb and process the radical ideas emerging from Havana after January 1966 as to re-expedite them throughout the Arab and Muslim world”.[25] It is not putting it too strongly to say that if Souffles lost the important role it had played in this crucial political space, it was because of Serfaty’s involvement with the journal. This is not to undermine the role of the founders of the journal or of other important figures. However, Serfaty’s involvement brought an explicit Marxist framework to the journal and, as Stafford puts it, started the process of the “de-tricontinentalisation”[26] of Souffles – the orientation on Workers and Strikes “was to come at the expense of international coverage”.[27] However, Serfaty also played, as written above, an important part in putting the Palestinian question at the centre of Souffles – as well as a Jewish critique of Zionism.

Thus, as shown by his engagement in Souffles, as well as in the vast majority of his texts, the Palestinian issue was crucial to Serfaty’s political thought, not only as a way to fight settler colonialism but also as a way to stress the intimate bond between antisemitism and Zionism, which worked hand-in-hand and led, as a consequence, to the growing marginality of Arab-Jews in both their historical and Israeli societies. Because of this, Arab-Jews should play a central role in the anti-Zionist struggle.

Serfaty was opposed to the use of the expression “oriental Jews” (which included not only Arab Jews but also Jews from Iran or India) especially because the huge majority of these “oriental Jews” were, in fact, Arabs. Beside the fact that their cultural traditions were not the same as those of European Jews, it was important to him to stress the fact that Arab Jews were also Arabs. To achieve its mythical goals, Zionism had to crush Arabs. Hence, Serfaty writes that in order to make Arabs disappear Zionists do not hesitate to use the methods of genocide, like the massacres of Palestinians carried out in Sabra and Shatila (1982), but also before, in Deir Yassin (1948), Qibya (1953), or Kafr Qassem (1956). For the Israeli settler colonial project to succeed, the Arab has to become a sort of Untermensch and, as such, Arab Jews who are not just Jews but also Arabs, cannot escape this social condition. Hence, being Jew and Arab did not only mean being part of a long tradition and culture but did also mean that one had a specific social position inscribed into the social relations of (post)colonialism. While it is undoubtedly true that Arab Jews were not the victims of massacres like those meted out against Palestinians, their condition was not the same as the condition of European Jews living in Israel either.

Serfaty insisted on the fact that, in Israel, Arab Jews were treated as “schwartz”. Orit Bashkin writes that the “Arab culture of Iraqi Jews, as well as that of Jews from other Middle Eastern countries, was perceived as primitive and degenerate. In addition, it was racialized: these Jews were sometimes called kushim, shhorim, and schwartzes (derogatory terms meaning “black”) to signify their foreign and non-European racial identity”[28] This “schwartz” non-European racial identity meant that Arab Jews in Israel were forced into less qualified jobs, that their dignity was denied in society, and that they were used as cannon fodder for the Israeli army as well as for Israel’s colonial project. This was underlined by the fact that, as Serfaty puts it:

Zionism [is a] racist and chauvinistic ideology born from the crisis of Judaism in Eastern Europe at the End of the 19th century, in a context of European colonial expansion and is the contrary of every single tradition (…) of European Judaism.[29]

Hence, the fact that Arab-Jews were both necessary to the Zionist project but also had a lower social condition – a sort of internal antisemitism – made them, in Serfaty’s analysis, the weak link of Zionism. As a social group, they could sharpen the social contradictions within the Israeli state. However, in order to become an autonomous political force capable of challenging Zionism, Arab Jews had to become conscious of their identity – which was not a double identity but a unified identity based on their social conditions. In sum: Arab Jews living in Israel were both oppressed by Zionism but were also a tool of oppression of the Palestinian people – as Israelis and potential members of the Israeli army. The most exact terms to describe them was, according to Serfaty, as a “colonial minority”. But it is also this colonial minority, which he argued could become the best ally to the Palestinians.

Serfaty had participated in discussions with the Israeli Left – especially with Matzpen [Compass], the radical socialist Israeli Party, and the Israeli Communist Party. He acknowledged that the Israeli Left had a brave and difficult struggle to engage in. But he also added that this Left had to fulfil its commitments – which also meant committing to Arab-Jews as potential allies in the struggle against Zionism. This meant that Matzpen could not, for example, recognise both the unconditional right to resistance against occupation and, at the same time, decide to only support organisations of the Palestinian resistance which acknowledge the right to self-determination for the Israelian people. In Serfaty’s writings in the 1970s, the possibility for a part of the Jewish masses to liberate themselves from Zionism was intrinsically linked to the development of the Palestinian Revolution but also to the development of the Arab Revolution. Therefore, both had to be supported by Jewish activists.

For Serfaty, Jewish emancipation and the liberation of Palestine were linked – but it relied on the development of a higher level of consciousness among Jews living in Israel, and especially Arab Jews. On the issue of political consciousness, Serfaty developed his ideas over the years and, in the early 1990s, he wrote that one should not oppose “conscious” and “not conscious” ideas – using Paulo Freire’s idea that there is always an intuition inside an oppressed person, even if this person is overruled by oppression. Hence, consciousness was not something brought from the outside but it was the crystallisation of the “sensuous knowledge” – Serfaty used Mao’s concept. This is why a coherent project grounded on objective contradictions was needed in order to transform existing sensuous knowledge into a rational one. This was the role of Arab Jewish activists within Israel.

Simultaneously, Serfaty reflected on the Palestinian struggle. In his view, it was not only important for Arab Jewish activists in Israel to work on developing a revolutionary project, but it should also be articulated within the strategic project of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Hence, he argued that the PLO should incorporate within its strategy the resistance of oppressed Arab Jews in Israel. Regarding the different options within the Palestinian resistance, Serfaty was very clear about his position: the only project which could objectively answer the issues raised by the Zionist occupation of Palestine was the project led by Fatah, who wanted to build a democratic Palestinian state. Serfaty was opposed to the two-state solution. Not only was it impossible to achieve it, but he was also concerned for the future of Arab Jews in the Zionist state.

However, in the specific context of the early 1980s, he was clear that the first political step was a limited one and was for the Palestinian resistance to build its own state in the West Bank and in Gaza. This did not mean, however, that this Palestinian state should recognise the Israeli one. The second step was to politically divide the enemy forces from the inside, in the Israeli state but also in western opinion. In the context of the time, it was impossible for the Jewish population of Palestine – except for small groups of activists – to support the project of a Palestinian democratic state. This is why an intermediary step was needed in Serfaty’s opinion. This step was the building of two coexisting states based on the principles of secularism and democracy for all their citizens. Serfaty did not explain how to move from this intermediary step to the final goal. The only thing he stressed was that one cannot expect from the oppressed Palestinian or from Arab Jews to renounce revolutionary violence. His main political conclusion was that in fighting for this intermediary step without renouncing the armed struggle, it was possible to convince an important part of international opinion as well as of the Jewish Israeli population and to move to the next step: the liberation of Palestine and, with it, the liberation of Arab Jews in Palestine. 

The importance of Serfaty’s work today is critical. As accusations of antisemitism are used systematically to dismiss any critique of Zionism, the confusion between antisemitism and anti-Zionism has never been greater. Serfaty’s powerful commitment to the simultaneous struggle against both antisemitism and Zionism – a struggle which for him was always rooted in both anti-imperialism and the concrete analysis of identity formation amongst the oppressed – serves as an important intellectual guide for all of us today.


Bashkin, Orit 2017, Impossible Exodus. Iraqi Jews in Israel, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Elbaz, Michaël and Abraham, Serfaty 2001, L’insoumis. Juifs, Marocains et rebelles, Paris: Desclée de Brouwer.

Harrison, Olivia C. and Villa-Ignacio, Teresa (ed.) 2016, Souffles-Anfas. A critical Anthology from the Moroccan Journal of Culture and Politics, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Heckman, Alma Rachel 2021, The Sultan’s Communist. Moroccan Jews and The Politics of Belonging, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Lévyne, Emmanuel 1973, Le Royaume de Dieu et le Royaume de César, Beyrouth: Le réveil.

Miské, Ahmed-Baba 1978, Front Polisario. L’âme d’un peuple, Paris: éditions rupture.

Nadi, Selim 2018, ‘The Thinker and The Militant’, Translated by Joe Hayns, available at: <;

Sefrioui, Kenza 2013, La revue Souffles 1966-1973. Espoirs de révolution culturelle au Maroc, Casablanca: éditions du Sirocco.

Serfaty, Abraham 1977, Lutte antisioniste et révolution arabe, Paris : Quatre Vents Editeurs.

Serfaty, Abraham 1992a ‘Marxiste, décidément’ in Abraham Serfaty 1992, Dans les prisons du roi. Ecrits de Kenitra sur le Maroc, Paris: Messidor/Editions sociales.

Serfaty, Abraham 1992b, ‘La jeunesse militante marocaine’ in Abraham Serfaty 1992, Dans les prisons du Roi.

Serfaty, Abraham 1992c, ‘Mouvement ouvrier et révolution au Maroc. Le rôle du prolétariat de Casablanca’ in Abraham Serfaty 1992, Dans les prisons du Roi.

Serfaty 1992d, ‘Adresse aux damnés d’Israël’ in Abraham Serfaty 1992, Ecrits de prison sur la Palestine, Paris: Arcantère.

Serfaty 1992e, ‘Le sionisme : une négation des valeurs du judaïsme arabe’ in Abraham Serfaty 1992, Ecrits de prison sur la Palestine.

Serfaty 2018, ‘ ‘En tant que juifs antisionistes’ – Lettre d’Abraham Serfaty à Emmanuel Lévyne’ available at: <…;

Stafford, Andy 2019, ‘Tricontinentalism in recent Moroccan intellectual history: the case of Souffles’,Journal of Transatlantic Studies, 7, 3: pp. 218-32.

Rodinson, Maxime 2017, ‘Préface’ in Abraham Léon 2017, La conception matérialiste de la question juive, Geneva: éditions entremonde.

[1] Serfaty 1992b, p. 14

[2] Serfaty 1992c, pp. 158-69.

[3] Heckman 2021, pp. 67-8.

[4] Serfaty 1992a, p. 244.

[5] We do not have any information about this movement but it was probably the Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres.

[6] Elbaz & Serfaty, 2001, p. 14.

[7] While we do not have the space here to develop on Ila Al Amam, we still have to say a few words about it. The starting point of this organisation was a theoretical debate held at Serfaty’s house. A leader of the Moroccan Communist Party asked Serfaty to host a meeting with Moroccan intellectuals and two PCF cadres. Hence, in April 1968, around fifty academics, writers, and politicians from several sections of the Moroccan Left came to Serfaty’s house, along with two important guests from the PCF. While the debate started on the topic of Althusser, it quickly shifted on the topic of Western culture’s inadaptability to handle the political issues faced by the Third World. As a heated debate ensued between the different persons present at the event, one of the two PCF cadres stated that this argument was to be found nowhere in the world except in China, and that Moroccan communists had to oppose the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Serfaty presents this debate, and especially the misunderstanding of the non-European reality by French comrades, as the starting point for the creation ofIla Al Amam two years later, in 1970.This organisation emerged as a split from the Parti de la Libération et du Socialisme (Socialism and Liberation Party (PLS), the former Moroccan Communist Party). Serfaty wrote several texts about this organisation, but a complete study is missing.

Brahim El Guabli gives a useful short description of Ila Al Amam : “In the case of Morocco, which I know best, the Marxist-Leninist movement, which also emerged as a response to the failure of the Moroccan Communist Party under the leadership of Ali Yata to disengage itself from Soviet domination and from its enthrallment with the monarchy in search of a dearly won recognition, sought to create the cultural conditions for the political revolution of proletariat. Since 1970, these groups formedIla l-Amām (Forward!) under the leadership of Abraham Serfaty, a Moroccan Jew, and Abdellatif Laâbi, a novelist and poet, and Abdellatif Zeroual, a philosophy teacher, and others. This revolutionary group congregated around the avant-garde social, cultural and political magazine Souffles/Anfās. In addition to its political engagement, Souffles/Anfās launched a “linguistic guerilla war” – to borrow Mohamed Khair-Eddine’s phrase in another context – on the Arabic language, which remained petrified in its classical moulds. After the brutal arrest and torture of hundreds of its members inside Morocco between 1972 and 1974, the movement mainly survived among the Moroccan diasporas. Upon the release of the majority of its leaders in the early 1990s, current and former members of the Marxist-Leninist organization have been the driving force behind the human rights movement in Morocco. Its members were also among the foremost producers of prison literature.” Mahdi Amel and Brahim El Guabli, February 1, 2018 [online].

[8] Serfaty 1992, p. 180.

[9] Ahmed-Baba Miské 1978, p. 51.

[10] Heckmann 2021, p. 1.

[11] Elbaz and Serfaty 2001, pp. 93-4.

[12] Serfaty was especially interested in Kosik’s chapters on the Metaphysics of Culture and on the Philosophy of Labor. Both chapters helped him to understand the fact that culture was rooted in the material history of humans. It is after having read Kosik that Serfaty started to reflect on the issue of cultural memory – especially concerning Moroccan Jews exiled in Israel.

[13] Rodinson 2017, pp. 9-60.

[14] Serfaty 1992d, p.3 translation.

[15]Serfaty 1992d, p.5 translation.

[16]Serfaty 1977, 16.

[17] Serfaty 1992e, p. 60.

[18] According to Serfaty, Lévyne was, at that time, a crucial person in the transformation of Judaism from a tribal religion to a universalistic ethic. It is through Lévyne’s work that Serfaty understood the Kabbale and the way it is deeply in contradiction with Zionism.

[19] Serfaty 2018 [online]

[20] Nadi 2018 [online].

[21] Lévyne 1973, p. 64.

[22] Stafford 2009, p. 225.

[23] Sefrioui 2013, pp. 92-3.

[24] Harrison and Villa-Ignacio 2016, p. 1-2.

[25] Stafford 2009, p. 218.

[26] Ibid, p. 224.

[27] Ibid., p. 224

[28] Bashkin 2017, p. 6.

[29] Serfaty 1992d, p. 32.

The French Debate on Zur Judenfrage

From an Anachronistic Trial to the Crisis of Secularism

Jean-Pierre Couture

While arguments about the ‘antisemitic’ character of Marx have been well rehearsed in the English-speaking world,[1][2]this debate has been particularly lively and revived in the French context since the Six-Day War and well into the Twenty-first Century. On each occasion, intellectuals dispute the correct interpretation of Marx’s 1844 article published in response to the theses of Bruno Bauer, hence the often-misreported title: Zur Judenfrage (On the Jewish Question).[3]Among Jewish intellectuals, who are at the forefront of this debate, the relation to Marxism in toto is coupled with their specific positioning towards the State of Israel and Jewish identity.

Our article traces the multiple shifts in meaning assigned to Marx’s text throughout these debates by contextualising them within the broader political controversies of post-war and contemporary France. If ‘every generation rewrites Marx in a new way,’[4] then this article shows that such rewriting necessarily takes shape within an intellectual and political struggle that not only clarifies the positions present, but itself proves to be the driving force of the shifts in meaning within competing ideologies. In short, we demonstrate that claims about Marx’s supposed ‘antisemitism’ emerge out of politicised, anti-Marxist, and right-wing Zionist readings, against which an historicised reading of Marx is made necessary.

To conduct this critical inquiry, the article is split into two sections. First, it examines the French debate over ‘Marx’s antisemitism’ in detail, which serves a double function: to elucidate the context and reasons for opposition between French intellectuals regarding this trial and to extend our knowledge of which evidence must be considered to indict or exonerate Marx. While this lengthy historical overview may break the interpretation of Marx’s work into several pieces, it nonetheless allows us to comprehensively collect and assess all of the counter-arguments thrown at a politically-inspired and anachronical accusation. Second, it briefly sketches an argument for a better, more historicised criticism of Marx’s thinking on the Jewish question by working through a problem which haunts the young Marx’s mechanistic view of assimilation: namely, the flaws involved in his materialistic desecration of religious views that are brought to light by the contemporary crisis of secularism and the proliferation of racialised intolerance, especially against Muslims.


This piece is being made available as a preprint edition of the double-volume Marxism and the Critique of Antisemitism special issue of Historical Materialism. Further additions will still be made before then. The final published version of this text will be made available on the Brill website in the coming months. We ask that citations refer to the Brill edition. All Illustrations are by Natalia Podpora.


The Anachronistic Trial over Marx’s ‘antisemitism’

The problem: Profaning Bauer’s Theology and the Religious Jew

Let us recall that what paves the way for Marx's trial concerns a few sentences taken from the second part of his article.[5] Indeed, Marx launches out in a kind of brutal exercise of ‘profanation’ of the religious Jew, which many commentators have avoided addressing directly.[6] While seeking ‘to escape from the [Bauerian] theological formulation of the question,’[7] he borrows from the imagery of Jewish selfishness conveyed by Hegel and Feuerbach and uses radicalised formulas which reduce religion to its socio-economic function: in effect, reducing the sacred to the profane. ‘What is the profane basis of Judaism? Practical need,self-interest. What is the worldly cult of the Jew?Huckstering [Der Schacher]. What is his worldly god?Money’.[8] A few paragraphs later Marx adds: ‘Money is the jealous god of Israel, beside which no other god may exist.’[9] Left to their own devices, these sentences obviously nourish the most tenacious medieval prejudices about the figure of the Jew indulging in illicit trade and the cold calculation of interests.

This problem becomes more complex since the second part of Marx’s article proposes a mechanistic or assimilationist solution to the Jewish question. This causal mechanism has two inseparable components. In the first place, Marx dissolves practical Judaism into the generalised ethos ‘of the trader, and above all of the financier,’[10] into ‘the perfection of civil society,’ and into ‘the sway of egoistic need…namely money.’[11] He claims that the specificity of commerce traditionally vested in the Jew has spread to bourgeois society, thus echoing an analysis of money and its ability to alienate objects, including individuals, believed to have a practical origin in Judaism. We will see below that Marx is not at the origin of this reductive idea. However, this first step – mechanically posing Judaism as equivalent to the bourgeois egoism of civil society – consequently implies an equally mechanical solution.

If the basis of religion is necessarily profane, the abolition of a profane practice entails, in the second place, the abolition (Aufhebung) of the corresponding religious need. For Marx, achieving emancipation insofar as it is onlypolitical still maintains the split life of the citizen and the believer, which Bauer naively believes to be abolished by the suppression of religion. Thus, Marx seeks ahuman emancipation that abolishes this division itself and, consequently, implies the disappearance of Judaism.

While arguing in favour of this assimilationist option, the Judeophobic commonplaces that Marx inserts in his ‘profanation’ of religious Jews appear to loosely align him with nineteenth-century French socialists, such as Fourier, Toussenel, and Proudhon. Any reader showing antisemitic leanings could easily find in these few sentences a validation of their views, including among the late twentieth-century Holocaust deniers in France, such as Robert Faurisson, Roger Garaudy, and Pierre Guillaume. The same applies to any anti-Marxist reader who wishes to infer from these sentences alone a complete disqualification of Marx’s argument on the Jewish question (if not of Marx’s ideas on human emancipation entirely).

After World War II, this ‘profane perspective’ has regularly been labelled as ‘antisemitic’,[12] and the French intellectual context seems to give this accusation a renewable and recurring character. The virulence of this debate in France is so strong that it should be made clear from the outset that there is no code of ethics governing the field of rhetorical and political strategy. Nevertheless, following certain precautions allows us to approach the debate from a balanced position, the first of which involves asking the following questions: are notions of religious anti-Judaism or Judeophobia the same as antisemitism? Do they call for the same diagnosis and the same resolution? In his recent biography of the young Marx, Michael Heinrich distinguishes these terms:

In the case of anti-Judaism, a person’s Jewishness ends with their conversion to Christianity. Ethnic and national anti-Semitism regards converted Jews with considerable distrust; one is not sure whether converted Jews have really made a turn toward the cultural and religious community of a nation, but the possibility is fundamentally recognized. For racist anti-Semitism, conversion and cultural assimilation is irrelevant, since it assumes that supposed racial characteristics cannot be shed.[13]

Quite concretely, this typology explains why Marx’s father was able to overcome, around 1818, the anti-Judaism of his time by converting to Protestantism,[14] while on the other hand Walter Benjamin escaped racist antisemitism in 1940 only through suicide.

This elementary caution in the use of terms is not generally observed in the French debate. But even if militant or political reason often drive interpretations, we argue that the evidence produced by the various contributions to this 50-year-old debate, stretching from the Six-Day War to the recent publication of the Grande Édition Marx et Engels (GEME), tends to demonstrate the anachronism of the accusation of ‘antisemitism’ levelled against Marx.

Before reviewing the debate, let us also note that antisemitism has had several lives in France and that its presumed collusion with Marxism is the result of a change in the meaning of what is considered ‘antisemitic’ after the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. In post-war France, antisemitism was not only delegitimised, but it even seemed to be eradicated. ‘Morally, philosophically, [and] religiously, traditional antisemitism suffered irreparable blows after the war.’[15] From its existentialist premises, Sartre condemned antisemitism as a cowardly passion that invents itself a scapegoat – the Jew – in order to avoid responsibility for one’s own situation as a free and indeterminate human being.[16] The Shoah delegitimised antisemitism to its roots and bound both Christian and secular Europeans, accustomed to stigmatising the ‘Jewish deicide’, in the same guilt. Moreover, ‘the Shoah will have become not only the mental and psychic matrix of the Jews after World War II, but also the ultimate “proof” in favour of the historical necessity [of the Jewish nation-state].’[17] This necessity appeared obvious in 1948, when the Zionist project was devoted to the construction of a new secular, socialist democracy.[18] These several post-war developments earned Zionism strong support from the French left and put antisemitism on hold for a period of some twenty years.

The revival of Marx’s article after the Six-Day War

The first French scholarly translation of Zur Judenfrage by Jules Molitor was published in 1927 by Édition Costes.[19] Forty years after this initial publication, and twenty years after the birth of the State of Israel, ‘a disturbing news – the revival of French antisemitism since the Six-Day War in June 1967 – [had] prompted those responsible for 10/18 [a paperback publisher] to re-edit the little-known work of the young Karl Marx.’[20] Indeed, France fiercely debated the 1967 war and Israeli annexations, while President De Gaulle’s remarks on the Jews as ‘an elite people, sure of themselves and domineering,’[21] also fuelled a broad controversy against Israel. ‘The Jews of France went through a deep identity crisis during this period: publicly affirming effective solidarity with the Hebrew state, they were very marked by the hostile policy of the French government towards Israel.’[22] So much so, in fact, that the Chief Rabbi of France, Jacob Kaplan, protested and expressed ‘the deep emotion felt by all of Judaism in the presence of the theses presented by President [De Gaulle].’[23] Ben Gurion, former Prime Minister of Israel, also relayed his concerns to the French President,[24] while Raymond Aron broke the ‘silence des intellectuels’ and attacked De Gaulle, accusing him of opening ‘a new period of Jewish history and perhaps of antisemitism.’[25]

The new face of annexationist Zionism, which marginalised the Israeli left and the self-governing socialist experiment of the kibbutz, effected a shift in what Zionism could mean. According to the retrospective opinion of the French historian François Azouvi, the antisemitic passion described by Sartre would have been deprived of its justifications and would have slumbered ‘until the Six-Day War enabled a Third Worldist left to furbish a newlegitimacy to its antisemitism: anti-Zionism.’[26] This possible collusion between post-1967 anti-Zionism, the left, and the revival of French antisemitism fuelled in turn the controversy surrounding the young Marx’s article.

In this incendiary context, the Union générale d’éditions (UGE) put into circulation a new translation of Zur Judenfrage by Jean-Michel Palmier, along with the very first French translation of Bauer’s 1843 book.[27] Robert Mandrou wrote the short introduction to this paperback edition, using it to take a stand against ‘the critics of Marxism who pity the antisemitic Jew.’[28] To cut this accusation short, Mandrou minimises ‘the apparently contemptuous formulas’ or ‘terms of derision’ used in the second part of Zur Judenfrage. For him, only the malice of readers in a hurry can explain the distortion of Marx’s text when read in light of the ‘contemporary antisemitism [which] took shape at the turn of the [Twentieth] century’.[29]

This clarification surrounding the anachronism of antisemitic accusations against Marx was not deepened at this point, although the re-publication of the young Marxs piece in 1968, quickly followed by Marianna Simon’s translation (with introduction by François Châtelet) in 1971,[30] were undertaken with the aim of dissipating these various conceptual misunderstandings. That goal, however, was never achieved. Rather, Mandrou and Châtelet’s attenuations provided an occasion for a counter-exaggeration, that of an entirely antisemitic Marx posited by Robert Misrahi in 1972.

The ‘antisemitic’ Marx: from accusation to cross-examination

Born in Paris of Jewish parents, a contributor to Les Temps Modernes, and professor of philosophy at Sorbonne, Misrahi filled Marx’s anti-Jewish passages with speculative comments in Marx et la question juive (1972).According to Misrahi, Marx would have avoided slipping into such ‘antisemitism’ had he considered the possibility of a national solution to the Jewish question [which] existed in the Jewish and non-Jewish consciousness of Europe in the 1840s.[31] Against all historical cautionabout the limited space that even proto-Zionism would have had in the political spectrumof the early-nineteenth century, Misrahi goes further and reveals the heart of his anachronistic grievance towards Marx:

If he had mentioned the Zionist solution, he would have been forced to adopt it by the very logic of his system: to suppress the Jews is also to bring them together and bring them back to Israel. Mankind would have been emancipated from the Jews, and the Jews, emancipated from oppression.[32]

This sentence characterises Misrahi’s overall argument as well as the more general position of Marx’s accusers. On the one hand, he confuses the abolition (Aufhebung) of Judaism withthe suppression of the Jews, which is nowhere to be found in Marxs text yet clearly corresponds to the lexicon of racist antisemitism to which Marx is mixed up. On the other hand, Misrahi posits that Marx’s sin would have been avoided had he been a Zionist and a supporter of the Jewish nation instead of being critical of the state and nationalism. In short, to avoid accusations of antisemitism Marx would have had to not be Marx.

However, in arriving at these criticisms and accusations the broader position that Marx stood for was not adequately reported. For example, Misrahi partially quotes Marx’s March 13th, 1843 letter to Arnold Ruge:The Israelite religion inspires me with repulsion.[33] When placed in context, however, Marx’s position displays an entirely different perspective:

I have just been visited by the chief of the Jewish community here [in Cologne], who has asked me for a petition for the Jews to the Provincial Assembly, and I am willing to do it. However much I dislike the Jewish faith, Bauer’s view seems to me too abstract. The thing is to make as many breaches as possible in the Christian state and to smuggle in as much as we can of what is rational. At least, it must be attempted – and the embitterment grows with every petition that is rejected with protestations.[34]

Misrahi’s omission removes one of the few pieces of evidence of Marx’s clear support for Jewish emancipation in the wake of his own father’s commitment.[35] It conceals his analytical intention, which will have been sketched out in the 1844 article: to submit to an equal critique Bauer and his abstractions, the Jewish and Christian religions, and the PrussianState.

For the philosopher Elisabeth de Fontenay, a disciple of Louis Althusser in the 1970s and later a supporter of Zionism, this partial and partisan reading of Marx is due to the ‘hesitations of rigor’ on the part of the ‘antisemitic Marx’ camp. In her work, Les figures juives de Marx (1973), De Fontenay never mentions Misrahi but her contribution as a whole clearly aims to fill his silences and especially the ‘historical falsifications’ of any ‘reader-judge’ (lecteur-juge)[36] such as himself. Of Jewish descent through her mother, De Fontenay rejects the thesis ‘of a transhistorical ever reborn antisemitism,’[37] and seeks instead to historicise ‘the multiple anti-Jewish campaigns according to their irreducible forms’ and ‘to consider as decisive the date on which texts are drafted.’[38] To thwart the accusations of the anti-Marxists, De Fontenay reduces the violence of Marx’s lexicon to a ‘sole methodological dimension’ and favours a softened translation by speaking of the ‘Juif du change.[39] Nonetheless, the true strength of the work lies in De Fontenay’s restoration, development, and refinement of Marx’s argument in the Manuscripts of 1844, theTheses on Feuerbach, andThe Holy Family. It is also worth noting that the author produced a major piece of evidence against Marx’s accusers by appending to her book the first French translation of Moses Hess’Essence of Money.

The figure of Hess is a focal point in this debate. By drawing attention to this text, De Fontenay unmasked one of the strategies used by Misrahi for clearing Hess of the accusations set against Marx. Let us recall that Moses Hess (1812-1875) had a decisive influence on Marx and Engels’ adherence to communism and that he co-authored with them at least one section of the initial versions of The German Ideology. A few months before the forthcoming issue of theDeutsch-französische Jahrbücher, Hess placed in Marx’s hands his manuscript entitledEssence of Money [Über das Geldwesen], in which the brutal match between Jew and money is a leitmotiv.[40]

Misrahi reports these facts in a curious way – that is to say, without reporting them. He states: ‘To the articles of the Jew Moses Hess against money, property and the State, in 1843, answers the article of the liberal Protestant Karl Marx, son of a converted Jew and himself converted against the Jews and their religion of money.’[41] In this sentence, Marx is no longer only a Jew or a socialist; he becomes the author of theses which are in fact attributable to Hess himself. The attention to detail in portraying Hess’ political thought and his friendship with Marx is meticulous, except in the mention of the text submitted for publication in Marx and Ruge’s journal. Misrahi’s omission stands up to his polemical task, as Hess’ text is indeed a violent charge against Jews found guilty of the development of selfishness in mankind. Hess even speculates on the Hebrew etymology of the words blood (dam) and money (damim) and constantly alludes to cannibalism – i.e., the alleged link between human sacrifice and monetary punishment in Judaism.[42] The series of appalling passages which fill this anti-Judaic and Judeophobic article exceed in number and violence the statements endorsed by Marx:

Just as the animal tastes in blood only his own life in an animal-like, brutal way, so man tastes in money his own life in a brutal, animal-like, cannibalistic way. Money is the social blood, but externalised, spilt blood. The Jews had the world-historic mission in the natural history of the social animal world of developing the beast of prey out of man; they have finally fulfilled their mission. The mystery of Judaism and Christianity has been made public in the modern Jewish-Christian world of shopkeepers… In face of money, kings… have they only the right, like the other animal-men, arising from common natural right, from their common quality of beasts of prey, bloodsuckers, Jews, money-wolves… Money is the life-killing means of intercourse which has solidified into a dead letter just as the letter is the spirit-killing means of intercourse which has solidified into dead money. The invention of money and letters is attributed to the Phoenicians, the same people to whom is also attributed the invention of the Jewish God.[43]

Why does Misrahi not refer to these passages? Wouldn’t they be just as worthy of charges of ‘antisemitism’ from a ‘self-hating’ Jew as Marx’s writings? Are not these passages even more aggravated by the fact that Hess received, unlike Marx, a religious Jewish education and that these views on Judaism in 1843 cannot be explained by sheer ignorance or prejudice? This double standard is no secret, however, as Misrahi and most anti-Marxist Zionists see in Moses Hess the very model of the path to be taken from socialism to Zionism. By publishing Rome and Jerusalem in 1862, Hess pioneered modern Jewish nationalism with ‘one of the first major Zionist works’ which ‘advocates the resurrection of Palestine [sic] by a Jewish population.’[44] In a strange reversal, Hess’ later text is seen as the precursor of an idea (i.e., ‘to prefer [Jewish] nationality and to sacrifice to it an emancipation which would be illusory’)[45] that, according to Misrahi, the young Marx would have to have known and promoted before Hess. In fact, even before the rise of ethnic and national antisemitism, against which Hess rose in the 1860s and upon which he relied to criticise the assimilation of German Jews, Marx should have anticipated these developments and also refused ‘the possibility of emancipation through assimilation.’[46] In short, to use a contemporary label, Hess is portrayed as offering the correct version of a Jewish identity politics. Having become a Zionist, he has therefore taken the ‘right path’ since his anti-Jewish writings of the 1840s. This is enough to spare him a close examination of his pre-conversion writings, which is why Essence of Money is carefully ignored.

But Marx also traces his own path, and this very quickly in the short interval between 1843-1845. If his alleged ‘antisemitism’ were a key to understanding his work, then the Jewish figure should have continued to play a role, with all its weight, in his arguments. Rather, De Fontenay shows that Marx quickly detached himself from the Hessian phrases he reverberated in his 1844 article. Drawing on György Lukács, she argues that Hess’ moralising criticism of money could only be both ‘stuck in repetition and derailed in anti-Judaism.’[47] To get out of this dead end, Marx gradually avoids the language of Essence of Money. Hess’ chain of logic leading fromblood - money - egoism - Jews - bourgeois society becomes, for Marx,money - egoism - Jews - bourgeois society. However, in theManuscripts of 1844, Marx already speaks of money without the Jew and prefers to borrow from Goethe and Shakespeare to illustrate the simplified chain ofmoney - egoism - bourgeois society.[48] He even returns to Shakespeare – the favourite author of the whole Marx family – to seize upon the ‘essence of money.’[49] At the end of the section titled ‘The Power of Money’, Marx sums up the Shakespearean conception:

1. It is the visible divinity – the transformation of all human and natural properties into their contraries, the universal confounding and distorting of things: impossibilities are soldered together by it.

2. It is the common whore, the common procurer of people and nations.[50]

In a similar spirit of abandoning the Hessian perspective, Marx criticises Feuerbach for the fact that his material practice ‘is conceived and fixed only in its dirty-Judaical manifestation.’[51] Marx no longer wishes to stay on this phenomenal surface; he wishes to shift the terms of the question without yet providing an answer of his own. Nevertheless, these few traces of a reassessment of the question found in this series of posthumous writings inform us of the path Marx took before returning to the Jewish question for a second and final time.

According to De Fontenay, Marx’s first book, The Holy Family (authored with Engels), brings a new maturity to the question:the writing helps itself, the reflection recovers from what had been written a bit quickly and is given a chance to be seriously rethought.’[52] While the failure of the Deutsch-französische Jahrbücher project was confirmed after only one issue, Marx returned to the Jewish question in three subsections of the sixth chapter ofThe Holy Family, totalling a number of pages similar to his initial article.

As De Fontenay rightly urges us, reconstructing or criticising Marx’s thought on the Jewish question requires an account of the inflection of the argument in his work. In regard to The Holy Family, the first fact to report is that Marx, in his second duel against Bauer andhis Jewish question, completely drops the Hessian lexicon used in his 1844 article. The other new facts that must be reported, apart from the abandonment of the profanatory tone towards the ‘Sabbath Jew’, concern the support that Marx gives to a series of reviews by other Jewish rationalist and liberal writers who also reject Bauer’s theses. Marx aligns with these positions, pleads again for civil rights, and insists even more on the legitimacy of a Jewish difference (i.e., a freedom of religion). ‘Herr Bauer was shown that when the Jew demands freedom and nevertheless refuses to renounce his religion, he “is engaging in politics” and sets no condition that is contrary to political freedom.’[53] Jewish emancipation is even a criterion for judging the advancement of a state, because ‘states which cannot yet politically emancipate the Jews must be rated by comparison with the perfected political state and shown to be under-developed states.’[54] By way of Marx’s self-comments on his intentions in Zur Judenfrage, he returns at least ten times to his initial article. These make clear that his contribution inThe Holy Family is intended to be a clarification – not a revision – because the problem was, in the author’s opinion, already quite well positioned: political emancipation is progress for the Jews, but it does not yet amount to their social emancipation. ‘That is the point of view from which the “political emancipation” of the Jews should have been dealt with and is dealt with in theDeutsch-französische Jahrbücher.[55]

Right-wing Zionism’s attack on Marxism

Against all expectations, this turn in the debate and the evidence that accompanies it do not at all resolve the question in France. The discursive function of an antisemitic Marx is far too convenient to its proponents to be abandoned. Added to this was the aggravation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which, with the definitive victory of the Israeli right in 1977, infused the Zionist project with a good dose of religious fundamentalism and obsession with security. This rightward shift of Zionism reconfigured the ideological map of its supporters: ‘after having aroused sympathy within the non-communist left gathered within the Socialist International, it is mainly in US neoconservative circles and evangelical sects that he now reaps a full support.’[56] The legitimacy of anti-Zionism, within a left-wing horizon, diminished just as much as the discredit which struck Marxism increased during the 1980s. Indeed, since the conquest of the media space in 1979 by the anti-Marxist Nouveaux philosophes, Bernard Henri-Lévy and André Glucksmann, and the coming to fashion of totalitarianism’ studies, which in the 1980s brought together the Leftist critics of the USSR (e.g., Claude Lefort) and conservative critics of the revolutionary tradition (e.g., François Furet), the anachronistic ‘antisemitic’ reading of Marx has persisted all too well.

Claude Lefort[57] negatively judges Marx’s contribution to the criticism of the rights of man, even if the latter conceived them as ‘a necessary, but transitory, phase of human emancipation.’[58] Although these rights remain ambiguous, as Zur Judenfrage attempts to demonstrate by opposing the right to property to other formal rights inboth the French and American constitutions, Marx, according to Lefort, wouldn’t ‘give the notion of human rights its full meaning.’[59] Marx would not have seen that these rights challenge state sovereignty and the fiction of the One-People. Against the Marxist critique of civil rights, Lefort makes a call to go beyond the categories trapped in the 1844 article and recognise, contra Marx, that a social power arises from the democratic revolution of political rights, which then gives rise to new rights, including for social, identity, and gender issues. In the light of the Fifth French Republic – and not of the bloody repressions of 1848 or 1871 that Marx rightly links to bourgeois rule – Lefort sees in the struggle for the extension of human rights in the East (against Moscow) and in the West (against undemocratic tendencies) a common political will ‘to exploit the resources of freedom and creativity.’[60] Despite his post-Marxist critique of Marx and his critical judgment that accusations of an antisemitic Marx come from ‘some imprudent or foolish individuals,’[61] Lefort nonetheless contributes to the anachronistic critique of Marx himself, demonstrating that (at least in France) it still has wind in its sails.

To wit, Francis Kaplan, whose father, Rabbi Kaplan, criticised de Gaulle in 1967, invested this niche and reiterated the ‘antisemitic Marx’ thesis launched by Misrahi in 1972. Kaplan’s 1990 essay, Marx antisémite?, quickly rids itself of the question mark in its title. He admits with nuance that the first part of Marx’s article expresses a ‘non-antisemitic position’ and even claims that the link between the Sabbath Jew and the profane Jew contained in the second part is faithful to Marx’s materialism, and is not as such antisemitic in itself. For Kaplan, however, things are quite different in the rest of the article. From the moment when Marx connects Jews, egoism, and huckstering as well as money, god, and Israel, he lapses into an ‘antisemitism in itself scandalous,’[62] which takes a ‘delusional form’ in his 1844 article and returns in an ‘ordinary form’ in later works and in Marx’s private letters.

Kaplan’s book, unlike Misrahi’s, confronts the question of Hess’ possible youthful ‘antisemitism’, for which Essence of Money is briefly cited, but concludes that the latter’s antisemitism is ‘less violent than Marx’s’[63] while refraining from alluding to the blood–money linkage in Hess. Even if Kaplan conducts a fair analysis at times, he eventually unleashes against those interpreters of Marx who do not arrive at his conclusions – regardless of whether they are from France (Rubel, Mandrou, Châtelet, De Fontenay) or elsewhere (Hannah Arendt, Isaac Deutscher, Roman Rosdolsky). While geopolitical trends of the early 1990s crushed the vestiges of the USSR and really-existing socialism, Kaplan’s charges unfolded violently: ‘those who find Marx’s language normal are antisemites who dare not display themselves as such,’ and criticism of the State of Israel by these same interpreters acts merely ‘as the justification for current antisemitism.’[64] These out of place remarks did not give rise to any sustained response, but they do show that, for some, criticism of Zionism can never be legitimate.

Against Counterfeits: the ‘right path’ for Jewish identity formation

In this vein, the Jewish sociologist Pierre Birnbaum revived the French controversy over the ‘antisemitic Marx’ some fifteen years later. A child survivor of the collaborationist Vichy government, Birnbaum lived in hiding with peasants from the Pyrénées at the height of the Nazi deportations to the death camps. For him, the question of how the French state, having once emancipated the Jews and allowed them to attain high public offices, could suddenly reverse course and collaborate in their extermination,remains a ‘mystery’.[65]Birnbaum is thus interested in the history of the French Jews and of the antisemitic hatred of which France shows itself to be capable. It is in light of this last theme that he ventures, in Géographie de l’espoir,[66] into the field of political ideas by reviewing the life and work of some European Jewish intellectual figures including Durkheim, Simmel, Arendt, Aron, Berlin, and, first and foremost, Marx.

Birnbaum’s overall thesis still resembles the ‘right path that the Jewish identity-formation must take. The latter must be assumed by resisting assimilation or the fluidity of multiple identities. The author borrows heavily from Francis Kaplan’s argument, including from the exhaustive inventory of all of Marx’s anti-Jewish remarks in his letters. In Birnbaums narrative, Marx is cast as the anti-model: one should have “[convinced] him to take into consideration questions of identity without relating them solely to the logic based on means of production that are indifferent to popular values and imagination.”[67] Instead of Judaism disappearing through socialism, in and with human emancipation, Marx shall disappear through Judaism, in and with Jewish nationalism.

In the critical words of Enzo Traverso and Sai Englert, we could say that Birnbaum represents the culmination of a ‘conservative turn’[68]among many Jewish intellectuals, like Raymond Aron or Isaiah Berlin, who adhere to ‘an understanding of identity, one which assumes it to be static and individual.’[69] We note that Birnbaum’s approach innovates relatively little in the debate. It relies on the Zionist Moses Hess of 1862 to draw the right line while being completely silent on his anti-Jewish writing of 1843, which influenced Marx and from which Marx quickly detaches himself. The argument is, as in Misrahi and Kaplan, in the past conditional and therefore remains anachronistic or teleological: Marx should not have been materialist and socialist; he should have been a Zionist and a Jewish nationalist – even religious. This incriminating or exculpatory criterion, depending on whether it is Hess or Marx, still dictates the standards of evidence used to prove or disprove their ‘antisemitism’.

Two elements, however, distinguish Birnbaums approach. First of all, he is laudatory towards Bauer, who expresses ‘a surprising sensitivity to the most concrete history,’ especially when he uses the expression ‘Jewish people’ and when he ‘seems to briefly envisage favourably the Zionist hypothesis.’[70] What might seem like another mystery here – the sympathy for the reactionary Bauer – is explained by the fact that Birnbaum prefers an argument against the assimilation of Jews, even if it comes from an ethnic and nationalist antisemite, rather than an argument for the social emancipation of Jews from a materialist in search of human emancipation. As a result, even if Birnbaum concedes that the Jewish reference disappears from Marx’s work after The Holy Family, he sees this as more ground for suspicion. Therefore, he takes up the idea of a tight collage, already available in Kaplans work, of all the anti-Jewish occurrences in Marx’s private letters to infer a sort of basso continuo ofhis (mis)conceptions on the Jewish question. From this string of Judeophobic insults – especially towards the socialist Jew Ferdinand Lassalle, who also does not escape, paradoxically, the suspicions of ‘Jewish antisemitism’[71]Birnbaum goes further than all the anti-Marxists listed above and seeks to link Marx to the conspiratorial spirit of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.[72]With regard to the polemical goal he sets for himself, this testifies to Birnbaum’s lack of sensitivity to the most concrete history.

The anger of Birnbaum’s opponents followed soon after. This new anti-Marx argument not only provided another pretext for a new French translation of Zur Judenfrage by Jean-François Poirier, published by La Fabrique, but also for the very first French publication of Bauer’s second text criticised by Marx.[73] Herein, the Jewish Marxist theorist and activist, Daniel Bensaïd, presents a detailed, critical apparatus which is just as polemical as Birnbaum’s. The ground for this was prepared by a previous work by Jacques Aron, a Belgian-Jewish intellectual who takes issue with the false parallel between criticism of the State of Israel and antisemitism and with the role attributed to Marx in this anachronistic trial.

In Karl Marx, antisémite et criminel ?, Aron provides a strong argument in defence of Marx. He recalls that his ‘infamous’ 1844 article, which appeared in a German-language journal in Paris, had very little readership since the print was almost entirely seized at the French-German border.[74] To lend such influence to a text instantly forgotten is a material impossibility. Aron also insists on the anti-Judaic context (perfectly embodied by Bauer and the Christian State of Prussia in 1843) which determines the state of the question before Marx:

Marx’s article is at the same time a theoretical approach to the institution of the state, to the place that religion should or should not hold in it, to the notion of emancipation, and to the ‘Jewish question’, in the sole religious sense of the question both for Jews and non-Jews at this moment.[75]

He recognises that Marx proceeds to an ‘abusive criticism of Judaism’ and he excuses this along a line similar to De Fontenay by speaking ‘of a theory still in formation and still elementary in several matters.’[76] In short, his strategy borrows a little from a teleological perspective to compensate for what remains an anachronistic trial.

In Bensaïd, who was leader of the Revolutionary Communist League and of the Fourth International, teleology by excess of sympathy towards Marx also plays a compensatory role in the face of the dubious strategy chosen by the opposing camp. Thus, the conjunction of money and Jew would be ‘a pending concept’[77] and not a vulgar prejudice, because Marx’s fixation thereon would anticipate ‘without yet understanding... commodity fetishism,’[78] which he developed in the first volume of Capital some twenty years later. More rigorously, Bensaïd does recognise that Marx reflects from inside a theme imposed on young radical Hegelians, namely the criticism of religion which is coming to the end of its course. Bauer chooses to essentialise the Jews, like others do for Muslims today, who he believes ‘voluntarily excluded themselves from the common society by their stubbornness in cultivating their religious singularity and [who are held] therefore responsible for the oppression suffered.’[79] Marx tears this line of argument apart by pleading for freedom of religion and by reflecting not on the will but on theexternal circumstances which found religious beliefs.

Against the rigidity of identity that facilitates state power, Bensaïd closes his response with a critique of the State of Israel and the instrumentalisation of the Shoah. ‘The corollary of the absolute uniqueness of the Jewish tragedy is then the theological justification of the secular existence of Israel, and the absolution of its misdeeds in the name of the Jewish exception.’[80] These comments on contemporary politics reveal, as Sai Englert shows in the UK context, that Bensaïd is indeed very distant from Misrahi, Kaplan, and Birnbaum when he resists the ‘state’s essentialisation of Jewishness under the banner of Zionism.’[81]

In France, anti-Zionism is indeed either caricatured or fought by an ‘equally’ legitimate defence of intransigent Zionism. Yves Charles Zarka, director of the journal Cités, endorses this discourse:

Anti-Zionism today aims to completely delegitimise the Israeli fact. For some, this contestation is not only about the territories occupied since 1967, but about the very existence of this state. The theme of the radical delegitimisation is: Israel is one state too many. We must end it. New version of the final solution, no doubt.[82]

Similar to Judith Butler,[83] Bensaïd’s critical position, which relates to the minority current of Jewish anti-Zionism, certainly thwarts this equivalence between criticism of Israel and genocide.[84] However, Bensaïd reflects little, if at all, on the poverty of Marx’s analysis of religious beliefs and pleads for a resumption of the same critical and profaning attitude in the face of the return of theology. He is wary of ventures, à la Birnbaum, aimed at reconnecting the sacred and the is now commonin Jewish Studies,[85] and prefers by far Marx’s call to ‘transform theological questions into profane questions.’[86]

Finally, another upsurge in the anachronistic trial against Marx is found in the work of André Sénik, an ex-communist Jew and a particularly harsh anti-Marxist voice. Unlike Lefort’s nuances of Marx’s mistakes in his criticism of human rights, Sénik posits Marx’s youthful text as nothing less than ‘the origin of the communist catastrophe.’[87] His book, Marx, les Juifs et les droits de l’homme, is said to be inspired by Francis Kaplan, but the subject matter and quality of his commentary on Marx’s work are quite different. The author attacks the very idea of emancipation by equating it with totalitarianism. This shift is for us symptomatic of the exhaustion of the attempt to link Marx to antisemitism. As a matter of fact, the book’s equally anti-Marxist afterword is signed by a specialist in French antisemitism, Pierre-André Taguieff, who is careful not to repeat the accusation of an ‘antisemitic Marx’. He speaks of the 1844 article as an ‘essay with Judeophobic overtones.’[88] Nevertheless, he agrees with Sénik in deriding the word ‘emancipation’ used today by the left (from Jacques Rancière to Philippe Corcuff), with very little sympathy for the term which has historically described the advancement of Jews, Blacks, women, and ethnic and sexual minorities for two centuries.

From our standpoint, the French controversy over an antisemitic Marx, although it does not bridge the two camps together over the value of historical materialism, nonetheless helps develop a factual basis regarding this ill-founded accusation. The latest French edition of the unique issue of the Deutsch-französische Jahrbücher, published in the GEME by Alix Bouffard and Pauline Clochec, departs from this controversial field of debate. A new generation of scholars ‘rewrites Marx in a new way’ and proceeds meticulously to establish the 1844 text according to the best standards ofmarxologie, that is to say, by treating Marx as a nineteenth-century author and not as a weapon speaking directly to today’s struggles. Published in 2020, Clochec’s introduction claims to take a middle position, that is to say, it refuses to considerZur Judenfrage as an antisemitic textwhile recognising in it Judeophobic traits and a philosophical anti-Judaism.[89]

This position fits between the absolutions of Daniel Bensaïd and Jacques Aron and the calls to see in it a fully antisemitic text calling for the extermination of the Jews as do Robert Misrahi, André Sénik, and Pierre Birnbaum.[90] It should be noted, however, that as the translator of the disputed text, Clochec opts for the more neutral formulas of trade and greedto talk about ‘the everyday Jew’. This differs from the edition commented on by Bensaïd that speaks of ‘agiotage’, which is closer to the pejorative meaning associated with the wordSchacher used by Marx.Nevertheless, she does stipulate that Marx proceeds to a revival of the Judeophobic stereotypes attributing to an essence of Judaism the social activities to which medieval Christendom assigned the Jews.[91]

In a concise manner, the following observations that the GEME collects in its scholarly commentary on Zur Judenfrage nonetheless clear the young Marx of the accusation. These three statements (and their pieces of evidence) are certainly binding for any mind sensitive to historical caution: 1) ‘Against Bauer, [Marx] seeks to defend this emancipation for which he had signed a petition in March 1843[92] (e.g., Marx’s letter to Ruge); 2) ‘Judeophobic representations are common at the time and are even shared by intellectuals of Jewish origin, such as Hess and Marx[93] (e.g., Hess’ Essence of Money); and 3) ‘Marx does not reject all instrumental use of human rights. Rather, he relativises their use by making them the means of an only incomplete emancipation[94] (e.g., The Holy Family). Building from a long history of virulent debate in France that helped produce and refine a deeply-contextualised evidentiary basis for interpreting the young Marx’s text, these observations characterise an historically-cautious reading in light of which we cannot but view Marx’s trial as anachronistic. Nevertheless, to avoid the naivety of concluding that scholarly reason can guide political reason, let us simply note that the debate could be reopened at anytime as the relationships between Marxism, Zionism, and antisemitism are reconfigured in the years and decades to come.For now, however, we must admit that the anachronistic character of Marx’s trial over antisemitism does not excuse the flaws of Marxism itself. Whether in its understanding of late nineteenth-century antisemitism or of the persistence of the Jewish and religious questions to the present day, Marxism leaves us with several thorny problems that we shall now briefly examine.

Historicising Marx in the face of antisemitism, Islamophobia, and Secularism

Through his adherence to the democratic radicalism of the early 1840s, Marx adopted an assimilationist position that will never have left him and whose influence will have been present in the socialism of the following century.[95] As a consequence, Marx’s – and Marxism’s – prognosis for the abolition or ‘fade out’ (Aufhebung) of Judaism through the disappearance of its profane conditions does little either to foresee the perpetuation of Judaism (and other religions) or to explain the strength of racist antisemitism from the end of the nineteenth-century.

As Zionist and nationalist opponents have pointed out, Marx remains largely ignorant of the concrete situation of the Jews, their oppression by the Prussian state, and their real social position in the European economy. While Marx’s ‘pre-Marxist conception of capitalism’ is trapped in the sterility of the Jewish–bourgeoisie association, which is ignorant of the fact that ‘[Jewish traders] were rather pushed out by the nascent bourgeois classes,’[96] his democratic radicalism – tinged with the Enlightenment’s secular rationalism – leads to the underestimation of the scope and persistence of antisemitism.[97]

These issues are crucial. And if the ambiguity of classical Marxism with regard to antisemitism has led us to mention them, they are, however, only the prelude to a second challenge posed to the young Marx’s analysis. Namely, the post-2001 context that many identify with a ‘return of religion’, or even a ‘crisis of secularism’, indeed seems to correspond to ‘a revenge of the sociology of religions against a Marxian “master narrative.”’[98] Among the elements of this narrative, the ‘secular prejudice’ which characterises Marx’s article does not resolve the point ‘that religious consciousness does not fade or die with a secular commitment to its formal expungement from spheres or practices.’[99] The mechanistic thesis of the disappearance of religion through the disappearance of its profane conditions of existence still poses an analytical and, above all, political problem.

On the one hand, we could say that, due to an oversight in the materialist critique of religions and the persistence of the idealistic cult of secularism and the state, ‘the 1840s still lie ahead of us.’[100] The return of religious questions makes it thus possible to reconnect with Marx in order to unmask the hypocrisy of debates on secularism which are disinterested in the material and social condition of believers. On the other hand, we have to admit that Marx does not prepare us to understand how the ‘presumptions that implicitly forecast a combination of reason, science, liberal democracy, and the market as dethroning religious political authority and energies [never took place].’[101]

In light of the secularism crisis and growing Islamophobia in France, the question of religious minorities and their ‘assimilation’ to the ‘national majority’ is conducive to such a renewal of the question and the problem tackled by the young Marx. Indeed, theLaw on religious symbols in French public schools, voted into force in 2004, targets Muslim girls and reveals the specificity of France’s – and of a large part of the French left’s – conviction ‘that Muslim religious practices are incompatible with the secular, republican traditions of the French state.’[102] This rather ‘Bauerian’ conviction, which passes from the thesis of ‘unassimilable’ Jews to that of ‘unassimilable’ Muslims, is not shared, for example, by the Anglo-Saxon left which, in the vast majority of cases, has no principled opposition to the wearing of religious symbols. The troubled context of French secularism, which grants a historical privilege to Catholicism while crushing minority religions, perhaps means that its catholaïcité ‘has acquired an ethnic and exclusivist connotation, slipping into what amounts, relative to a more genuine and egalitarian universalism, to a racially coded particularism.’[103]

The French left, in particular Marxist thinkers, had to end up confronting these issues. Directed by Michael Löwy and Étienne Balibar, a special edition of Actuel Marx, entitled ‘Religions’, admits that ‘the current situation forces us to put into perspective what was for a long time a certainty of Enlightenment rationalism and of a certain Marxism, that of an irreversible progress of secularisation, and for republican France, oflaïcisation.’[104]

Against the return of the type of grievances that Bauer threw at Jewish ‘incapacity for emancipation,’ André Tosel notes that the context of the 1840s seems to ‘come back’ with the same arrogance on the part of the post-Christian states which are hunting for the ‘infamous’ from within:

On the one hand, Christianity would be the only religion to have exited from religion and, on the other hand, this character would speak to its own superiority. Western society, in the name of universalist and secularised Judeo-Christianity, comes to erect its superiority en bloc by developing a critique of foreign religions asothers, still ‘backward’ foreigners, and by granting this superiority to itself with a good conscience that touches on racialisation.[105]

This racialisation, now directed against Muslims, means that the so-called neutrality of secularism becomes more of an anti-immigration battle horse, prioritising post-Christians above Muslims in terms of their capacity for ‘secularisation’. This diagnosis joins that of Rogers Brubaker about a “civilizationist” [turn in] national populisms, founded on the notion of a civilizational threat from Islam.’[106]This shift is currently benefiting the rise of the far right[107]and confines the left, which criticises the ‘weaponisation’ of secularism, to the perimeters of the insult drawn by Islamo-leftism’ – a bad copy of the former antisemitic fear towards Judeo-Bolshevism’.[108]

In order to fight against new forms of racism, contemporary critical thinkers must again problematise Marx’s relationship to religion. Mohamed Amer Meziane criticises, for instance, the spirit of the Feuerbachian critique of religion and goes so far as to argue that its incorporation into Marxism leads to aporias in the anthropology of religious beliefs.[109] By adopting the ‘secular prejudice’ which makes the United States a norm in matters of religious concord under a secular state, Marx gives in to the conception of both religion and humanity ‘in general,’ and this abstraction leads him to reduce religion to ideology ‘in general.’[110] In a sometimes-cryptic way, the author reproaches the young Marx’s profanatory tone, an abstract atheism which dismisses a little quickly, according to him, the foundations of religious beliefs:

Atheism demands that humans liberate themselves from an illusion, but this requirement makes no sense if it does not require the suppression of the world that makes this illusion necessary and vital. The project of merely abolishing religion in an inhuman world equals a desire to suppress the only breathable air in a world where people suffocate without making this very world more breathable.[111]

While 1840s Germany made the air rather unbreathable to a whole generation of atheist philosophers who were banished, for this reason, from the academic profession, it must be recognised that the enlightened critique of religious beliefs, radicalised in different tones by Bauer, Feuerbach, and Marx, comes back to haunt the contradictions of the contemporary situation. A double movement of secularisation and de-secularisation is unleashing around the globe. ‘As Europe becomes more secular, it is increasingly represented as (Judeo-) Christian, in constitutive opposition to Islam.[112] The return of the religious might not be the mote in the Other’s eye, but rather the beam in the eye of the ‘proudly secular Euro-Atlantic societies [who] are “outing” their own religious predicates as they defend their expressly Christian nature and give the lie to the notion that secularism entails religious neutrality.’[113]

Actuel Marx recognises this critical perspective by translating an article by Talal Asad. The anthropologist of religions outlines a research program which poses a challenge to Marxism and which consists in re-examining the link between religion and the State, because ‘the categories of “political” and “religious” are involved with one another, in the final analysis, more deeply than we thought.’[114] In the competition to shape and govern life, including in its material, bodily practices, state and religion perpetually reformulate their relationship to one another, and this porosity that no secularisation has so far managed to contain ‘makes them both equally “political.”’[115]


In a formula which honours Marx and invites us to continue his critical work, Tosel does say that ‘secularisation becomes de-secularisation by realising a world full of fetishes and not void of religion.’[116] The religiosity that can quickly take hold of the ‘secular’ admirers of the state was already part of Marx’s sarcasm towards the theologian Bauer: ‘His faith in Jehovah changed into faith in the Prussian state.’[117] Among other new fetishes, the Jewish identity that Birnbaum et alii conceive ahistorically is also discredited by the young Marx who conceived the Jewish question only ‘through history,in andwith history.’[118]

Let us note again, by way of conclusion, that Marx remarked in 1843-1845 that political emancipation and formal equality recognise the citizen while maintaining the believer; they both recognise the exercise of citizenship in the state while consecrating the egoistic individual who enjoys their property in civil society. Thus, there is no contradiction between political emancipation and the supposed Jewish ‘essence’. Jews are just as fit as Christians for emancipation ‘within the framework of the prevailing social order.’[119] The Jewish question, and nowadays the Muslim question, points rather to the still unsolved problem of concrete human emancipation, the one which unites humans to their species ‘in [their] everyday life, in [their] work, and in [their] relationships,’[120] and which challenges the abstract idols of state, citizenship, and legal rights.

In this vein, the Israeli political scientist Schlomo Avineri inspires us with some further conclusive words about Marx’s intentions. In an article as short as it is illuminating, which appeared almost 60 years ago, Avineri already recalls that Marx was in favour of Jewish emancipation within the limited framework of bourgeois society.[121] Returning to his own analysis, he adds that there were, of course, two contradictory faces in Marx: ‘a radical critique of Judaism (and, incidentally, of Christianity) as a religion, coupled with unequivocal support for civic equality.’[122] The coexistence of solidarity and repulsion, which is nothing so unusual, is called in Freud ambivalence. This malaise is overcome the moment one considers ambivalence and contradiction as parts of a critical, self-critical, and analytical ethos open to movements in history.


Aron, Jacques 2005, Karl Marx. Antisémite et criminel?, Bruxelles: Devillez.

Aron, Raymond 2007, ‘De Gaulle, Israël et les Juifs’, Essais sur la condition juive contemporaine, Paris: Tallandier.

Asad, Talal 2018, ‘Religion, État-Nation, sécularisme’, Actuel Marx, 64: 86-100.

Avineri, Shlomo 1964, ‘Marx and Jewish Emancipation’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 25/3: 445-450.

Avineri, Shlomo 2019, Karl Marx. Philosophy and Revolution, New Haven: Yale University Press.

Azouvi, François 2016, ‘La délégitimation de l’antisémitisme au lendemain de la Seconde Guerre mondiale’, Archives juives, 49/2: 15-25.

Bauer, Bruno 1958, The Jewish Problem, Series: Readings in Modern Jewish History, Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College.

Bauer, Bruno 1968, ‘La question juive’, Karl Marx: La question juive, Paris : UGE (10/18) : 60-183.

Bauer, Bruno 1978, ‘The Capacity of Present-Day Jews and Christians to Become Free’, The Philosophical Forum, 8/2-4: 135-149.

Bauer, Bruno 2006, ‘L’aptitude ses juifs et des chrétiens d’aujourd’hui à devenir libres’, Karl Marx. Sur la question juive, Paris, La Fabrique: 138-160.

Bensaïd, Daniel 2006a, ‘Zur Judenfrage, une critique de l’émancipation politique’, Karl Marx. Sur la question juive, Paris, La Fabrique: 7-30.

Bensaïd, Daniel 2006b, ‘Dans et par l’histoire. Retours sur la Question juive’, Karl Marx. Sur la question juive, Paris, La Fabrique: 74-135.

Bensussan, Gérard 2017, ‘Geldwesen’, Encyclopedia of Jewish History and Culture Online, Stuttgart: Springer Verlag.

Birnbaum, Pierre 2004, Géographie de l’espoir, Paris: Gallimard.

Birnbaum, Pierre 2008, Geography of Hope, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Birnbaum, Pierre 2020, ‘À voix nue: Pierre Birnbaum’, France Culture, available at:

Brown, Wendy 2014, ‘Is Marx (Capital) Secular?’, Qui Parle, 23/1: 109-124.

Brubaker, Rogers 2017, ‘Between Nationalism and Civilizationism: European Populist Moment in Comparative Perspective’, Ethnic and Racial Studies 40/8: 1191‑1226.

Butler, Judith 2012, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, New York: Columbia University Press.

Callinicos, Alex 2008, ‘Marxists, Muslims and Religion: Anglo-French Attitudes’ Historical Materialism, 16/2: 143-166.

Charbit, Denis 2011, ‘Le sionisme, un projet de gauche ou de droite?’, Cités, 3/47-48: 115-140.

Châtelet, François 1971, ‘Introduction’, Karl Marx: À propos de la question juive, Paris: Aubier Montaigne: 9-43.

Clochec, Pauline 2020, ‘Introduction’, Friedrich Engels et Karl Marx: Annales franco-allemandes, Paris, Éditions sociales (GEME): 7-56.

Corcuff, Philippe 2020, La grande confusion, Paris: Textuel.

Danan, Ariel 2007, ‘De Gaulle et Jacob Kaplan. Un document d’archives inédit’, Archives juives, 2/40: 137-141.

De Fontenay, Élisabeth 1973, Les figures juive de Marx, Paris: Galilée.

De Gaulle, Charles 1967, ‘Conférence de presse du 27 novembre 1967’, Institut national de l’audio-visuel, France, available at:…

Deutscher, Isaac 1958, ‘Message of the Non-Jewish Jew’, available at:

Deutscher, Isaac 2017, The Non-Jewish Jew And Other Essays, London : Verso.

Engels, Friedrich 1890, ‘On Anti-Semitism’, available at:

Englert, Sai 2018, ‘The State, Zionism and the Nazi Genocide’, Historical Materialism, 26/2: 149-177.

Fine, Robert and Philip Spencer 2017, Antisemitism and the Left, Manchester: Manchester University Press

Greilsammer, Ilan 2011, ‘Le sionisme entre idéal et réalité’, Cités, 3/47-48: 41-51.

Gurion, David Ben 1967, ‘Letter to French General Charles de Gaulle (December 6, 1967)’, available at:

Heinrich, Michael 2019, Karl Marx and the Birth of Modern Society, New York: Monthly Review Press.

Hess, Moses 1845, ‘The Essence of Money’, available at:

Jameson, Fredric 2003, ‘Preface’, in Kouvelakis, S., Philosophy and Revolution, London: Verso.

Kaplan, Francis 1990, Marx antisémite?, Paris: Berg et Imago.

Kessler, Mario 1998, ‘Engels’ Position on Anti-Semitism in the Context of Contemporary Socialist Discussions’, Science & Society, 62/1: 127-144.

Kouvelakis, Stathis 2003, Philosophy and Revolution, London: Verso.

Kouvelakis, Stathis 2005, ‘The Marxian Critique of Citizenship: For a Rereading of On the Jewish Question’,South Atlantic Quarterly, 104/4: 707-721.

Labica, Georges 1976, Le statut marxiste de la philosophie, Bruxelles: Éditions Complexe.

Lefort, Claude 1981, ‘Droits de l’homme et politique’, L’invention démocratique, Paris, Fayard: 45-83.

Lefort, Claude 1986, ‘Politics and Human Rights’, The Political Forms of Modern Society, Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press.

Leon, Abram 1970, The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation, New York: Merit Publishers.

Leopold, David 2007, The Young Karl Marx, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mandrou, Robert 1968, ‘Introduction’, Karl Marx: La question juive, Paris : Union Générale d’Édition, collection 10/18.

Marx, Karl 1843, ‘Letter from Marx to Arnold Ruge. March 13, 1843’, available at:

Marx, Karl 1844a [1978], ‘On The Jewish Question’, The Marx-Engels Reader (2nd edition), Robert C. Tucker (ed.), New York, Norton: 26-52.

Marx, Karl 1844c, ‘The Power of Money’, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, available at:

Marx, Karl 1845a, ‘Chapter 6’, The Holy Family, available at:

Marx, Karl 1845b, ‘Theses on Feuerbach’, available at:

Mehring, Franz 1962, Karl Marx, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Meziane, Mohamed Amer 2018, ‘Marx ou le fétichisme inversé. Comment l’anthropologie de “la religion” délimite la critique terrestre’, Actuel Marx, 64: 30-46.

Meziane, Mohamed Amer 2020, ‘How the Critique of Heaven Confines the Critique of the Earth’, Qui Parle, 29/2: 217-245.

Misrahi, Robert 1972, Marx et la question juive, Paris: Gallimard.

Monod, Jean-Claude 2016, ‘Le jeune Marx, l’État chrétien et l’émancipation politique’, Le Genre humain, 1/56-57: 269-283.

Peled, Yoav 1992, ‘From Theology to Sociology: Bruno Bauer and Karl Marx on the Question of Jewish Emancipation’, History of Political Thought, 13/3: 463-485.

Sartre, Jean-Paul 1946, Réflexions sur la question juive, Paris: Gallimard.

Sénik, André 2011, Marx, les Juifs et les droits de l’homme, Paris: Denoël.

Silberner, Edmund 1949a, ‘Was Karl Marx an anti-Semite?’, Historia Judaica, XI: 3-52.

Silberner, Edmund 1949b, ‘Friedrich Engels and the Jews’, Jewish Social Studies, 11/4: 323-342.

Silberner, Edmund 1953a, ‘Anti-Semitism and Philo-Semitism in the Socialist International’, Judaism, 2/2: 117-122.

Silberner, Edmund 1953b, ‘Ferdinand Lassalle: From Maccabeeism to Jewish anti-Semitism’, Hebrew Union College Annual, XXVI: 151-186.

Stedman Jones, Gareth 2016, Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Taguieff, Pierre-André 2010, La nouvelle propagande antijuive, Paris: PUF.

Taguieff, Pierre-André 2011, ‘Postface. Logique d’une idée: l’émancipation’, in André Sénik, Marx, les Juifs et les droits de l’homme, Paris, Denoël: 205-240.

Toscano, Alberto 2010, ‘Beyond Abstraction: Marx and the Critique of the Critique of Religion’, Historical Materialism, 18/1: 3-29.

Tosel, André 2018, ‘Présentation’, Actuel Marx, 64: 7-11.

Traverso, Enzo 2016, The End of Jewish Modernity, London: Pluto Press.

Traverso, Enzo 2018, The Jewish Question: History of a Marxist Debate, Leiden: Brill.

Zarka, Yves Charles 2011, ‘De la politique à l’idéologie, et retour’, Cités, 3/47-48: 13-17.

Zuckermann, Moshe 2011, ‘Sionisme: histoire et structures actuelles’, Cités, 3/47-48: 171-179.


[1] An early version of this article was presented at the Relectures de Marx seminar, held by Michel Lacroix at the University of Québec in Montréal. I thank Émilie Bernier, Sai Englert, Frédéric Miville-Deschênes, Robert Sparling, Philippe Corcuff and the reviewers for their inspiring comments on the advanced manuscript. The actual version owes a lot to the careful reading of Robert Marinov, whom I warmly thank. I dedicate this article to the memory of Jean-Marc Piotte (1940-2022).

[2] See Leopold 2009, Stedman Jones 2016, and Fine and Spencer 2017. It is worth also noting that Yoav Peled brought out the detailed nuances necessary to understand the Marx-Bauer debate thirty years ago (Peled 1992).

[3] Karl Marx, Zur Judenfrage, MEGA I/2. Quoted hereafter in English translation (Marx 1844a).

[4] Jameson 2003, p. xi.

[5] The piece is part of the Deutsch-französische Jahrbücher, the only issue of which appeared in the winter of 1844 in Paris.

[6] For example, Kouvelakis (2003, 2005) does not deal with Marx’s criticism of Jewish religion. He takes up an interpretative line close to Georges Labica (1976) that Peled ranks among those who ‘downplay [Marx’] discussion of the Jewish question itself’ (Peled 1992, 463).

[7] Marx 1844a, p. 48.

[8] Marx 1844a, p. 48. Marx’s emphases. Isaac Deutscher recalls that this anti-Jewish prejudice is so common that the Oxford English Dictionary included it among the accepted meanings of the term ‘Jew’ (Deutscher 1958).

[9] Marx 1844a, p. 50.

[10] Marx 1844a, p. 51.

[11] Marx 1844a, p. 52.

[12] Edmund Silberner's early works seek all traces of antisemitism in socialism and help document the historical ambiguity of the latter towards the former. See Silberner 1949a, 1949b, 1953a, 1953b.

[13] Heinrich 2019, p. 51.

[14] Heinrich Marx (1777-1838) benefited from Jewish emancipation by pursuing a career as a lawyer following his conversion. He was in favour of Jewish civil rights and liberal Enlightenment, and it is reasonable to assume that his son Karl was aware of these political positions (Heinrich 2019, p.81).

[15] Azouvi 2016, p. 22.

[16] Sartre 1946.

[17] Zuckermann 2011, p. 172

[18] Greilsammer 2011.

[19] After Molitor, the French translations of Marx were momentarily placed under the responsibility of Maximilien Rubel, who published four volumes in the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade at Gallimard between 1963 and 1994. Les Éditions Sociales, initially aligned with the French Communist Party, took over the scientific edition of Marx within the GEME. Zur Judenfrage was retranslated in 1968 (UGE), 1971 (Aubier), 1982 (Pléiade), 2006 (La Fabrique), then in 2020 within the GEME.

[20] Mandrou 1968 p. 7.

[21] De Gaulle 1967.

[22] Danan 2007, p. 138.

[23] Danan 2007, p. 139.

[24] Gurion 1967.

[25] Aron, R. 2007, p. 59.

[26] Azouvi, 2016, p. 22. Author’s emphasis.

[27]Bauer 1968. For the English version, see Bauer 1958.

[28] Mandrou 1968, p. 7.

[29] Mandrou 1968, p. 10.

[30] Châtelet 1971.

[31] Misrahi 1972, p. 32.

[32] Misrahi 1972, p. 33.

[33] Misrahi 1972, p. 230.

[34] Marx 1843.

[35] Marx also signed the Merkens petition of May 23, 1843. See Monod 2016, p. 275.

[36] De Fontenay 1973, pp. 13-14.

[37] De Fontenay 1973, p. 15.

[38] De Fontenay 1973, p. 67.

[39] De Fontenay 1973, pp. 23-24.

[40] Bensussan 2017.

[41] Misrahi 1972, p. 233.

[42] Avineri 2019, p. 47

[43] Hess 1845.

[44] Misrahi 1972, p. 232.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] De Fontenay, 1973, p. 62.

[48] Marx 1844c.

[49]Shakespeare schildert das Wesen des Geldes trefflich [Shakespeare excellently depicts the real nature of money] (Marx 1844c).

[50] Ibid.

[51] Marx 1845b.

[52] De Fontenay 1973, p. 39.

[53] Marx 1845a.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Charbit 2011, p. 120

[57] Lefort 1981. Quoted hereafter in English translation.

[58] Lefort 1986, p. 250.

[59] Lefort 1986, p. 245.

[60] Lefort 1986, p. 272.

[61] Lefort 1986, p. 250.

[62] Kaplan 1990, p. 50.

[63] Kaplan 1990, p. 87.

[64] Kaplan 1990, p. 68.

[65] Birnbaum 2020.

[66] Birnbaum 2004. Quoted hereafter in English translation.

[67] Birnbaum 2008, p. 38.

[68] Traverso 2016.

[69] Englert 2018, p. 150.

[70] Birnbaum 2008, p. 53.

[71]Silberner 1953b.

[72] Birnbaum 2008, p. 59-60.

[73] Bauer 2006. For the English version, see Bauer 1978.

[74] Aron, J. 2005, p. 167. Details of the seizure of this one-issue, almost confidential publication can be found in Mehring: ‘They succeeded in confiscating 100 copies […] on a Rhine steamer, and well over 200 copies on the French-Palatinate frontier near Bergzabern’ (Mehring 1962, p. 62).

[75] Aron, J. 2005, p. 50. Author’s emphases.

[76] Aron, J. 2005, p. 66.

[77] Bensaïd 2006b, p. 100.

[78] Bensaïd 2006b, p. 107.

[79] Bensaïd 2006a, p. 20. Emphasis added.

[80] Bensaïd 2006b, p. 133. This position is also shared by Traverso, who criticises the ‘civil religion’ of the Holocaust (Traverso 2016, pp. 113-127).

[81] Englert 2018, p.171.

[82] Zarka 2011, p. 17.

[83] Butler 2012.

[84] Philippe Corcuff, a close comrade of Bensaïd, is nevertheless of the opinion that ‘the current majority of so-called “anti-Zionist” discourses on the Internet and on social networks, in France, are antisemitic in style’ (Corcuff 2020, p. 408). This strengthens those who, against this disguised return of antisemitism, fully defend Israeli policy. For a radical critique of anti-Zionism in France, see Taguieff 2010.

[85] Bensaïd 2006b, p. 129.

[86] Bensaïd 2006b, p. 135. The author takes up a reading which, like Labica and Kouvelakis, penetrates as little as possible into the religious field to focus only on the Marxian critique of political emancipation.

[87] Sénik 2011.

[88] Taguieff 2011, p. 227.

[89] Clochec 2020, p. 35.

[90] Ibid.

[91] Clochec 2020, p. 32.

[92] Clochec 2020, p. 31.

[93] Clochec 2020, p. 34.

[94] Clochec 2020, p. 33.

[95] Traverso, 2018 p. 22. The author offers a comprehensive critical analysis of these problems. First published in France in 1990, The Jewish Question: History of a Marxist Debate, is not even mentioned once by Birnbaum or Senik. This omission is self-explanatory because, unlike proponents of the ‘antisemitic Marx’ thesis, Traverso retains Marx and Engels’ historicisation of social realities, including the Jewish question.

[96] Traverso 2018, p. 21. In 1942, Abram Leon brings nuances to these approximations of Marx by proposing the concept of people-class – ‘a social group with a specific economic function’ (Leon 1970, p. 74). Once made obsolete by the rise of the capitalist bourgeoisie, racist antisemitism instrumentalises the ghost of the largely dispossessed Jewish ‘people-class’. Leon denounces, Traverso recalls, the deadly ruse of Nazi antisemitism which ‘allowed the bourgeoisie to turn against the Jews the anti-capitalist radicalisation of the middle class’ (Traverso 2018, p. 191).

[97] The premises of the Marxist analysis, lavished by Engels, underestimate the scope of the phenomenon. Accordingly, Edmund Silberner shows that these ambiguities leave their traces in the ‘neither for nor against the Jews’ position taken by the Second International (Silberner, 1953a, p. 119). As for Engels, Mario Kessler recalls that he had two successive positions with regard to the Jewish question: the first corresponds to an anti-Judaic context (from 1840 to 1878), the second to an antisemitic context (after 1878). As racist variants of antisemitism replaced long-standing anti-Judaism, Engels revised his positions (Engels 1890) and attacked the theses of Eugen Dühring, who brandished ‘the killing and extermination’ as a solution to the Jewish problem. Around 1890 he even wrote an introduction to the Yiddish edition of the Manifesto (Kessler 1998, p. 40). Despite his sympathy about the appeal that socialism has held for generations of Jews, Isaac Deutscher also acknowledges that international socialism did not resolve the Jewish question (Deutscher 2017).

[98] Toscano 2010, p. 4.

[99] Brown, 2014, p. 112.

[100] Toscano 2010, p. 6.

[101] Brown 2014, p. 110.

[102] Callinicos 2008, p. 144.

[103] Callinicos 2008, p. 163.

[104] Tosel 2018, p. 8.

[105] Tosel 2018, p. 11.

[106] Brubaker 2017, p. 1193.

[107] Corcuff 2020. For the author, the strength of the far-right is primarily due to the imposition of its discursive themes within the entire political spectrum, from the right to the far-left. The result is a particularly dangerous ideological fog which he labels as ‘confusionism’.

[108] Traverso 2016, p. 90.

[109] Meziane 2018. Quoted hereafter in English translation.

[110] Meziane 2020. pp. 226-227.

[111] Meziane 2020, pp. 232-233.

[112] Brubaker 2017, p. 1212.

[113] Brown 2014, p. 110.

[114] Asad 2018, p. 100.

[115] Asad 2018, p.99.

[116] Tosel 2018, p. 11.

[117] Marx 1845a.

[118] Marx 1845a. Marx’s emphases.

[119] Marx 1844a, p. 35. Marx’s emphasis.

[120] Marx 1844a, p. 46.

[121] Avineri 1964.

[122] Avineri 2019, p. 53.

“For Israel and communism”?

Making sense of Germany’s Antideutsche

Leandros Fisher

As the Israeli state’s dispossession of the Palestinian people becomes more difficult to obscure by the day, the Left in one country is conspicuous in its absence from the global solidarity movement with the oppressed between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. With some exceptions, the German Left largely avoids taking a stance on the conflict between the state of Israel and the Palestinian people. In some cases, it has even joined the national pro-Israel chorus, stretching all the way to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. This attitude encompasses a diverse set of actors, from the leadership of Germany’s left reformist party, Die Linke (“The Left”), to squats such as the celebrated Rote Flora in Hamburg. This hostile attitude towards Palestinian liberation is often attributed to guilt for the Shoah and the corresponding semantic identification of Israel, Zionism, and Judaism in public discourse. A complementary explanation identifies the Antideutsche (the “anti-Germans”) as a factor in shaping the Left’s current approach to Israel. These started out as an ultra-left critique of Germany as a nation, following a wave of nationalist jingoism triggered by reunification. However, rather than criticising nationalism, today’s Antideutsche engage in an Ersatz nationalism around one particular state. Elements of this include flying the Israeli flag and wearing IDF shirts, hatred of Muslims as natural-born antisemites, not to mention a disturbing celebration of Israeli violence against Palestinians framed as “anti-fascism”.


This piece is being made available as a preprint edition of the double-volume Marxism and the Critique of Antisemitism special issue of Historical Materialism. Further additions will still be made before then. The final published version of this text will be made available on the Brill website in the coming months. We ask that citations refer to the Brill edition.All Illustrations are by Natalia Podpora.


There is truth in both explanations. Notwithstanding its frequent degeneration into national narcissism – for only those who can truly feel guilty about the Judeocide can be “real Germans” – the guilt is real and understandable. The accusation of antisemitism is indeed one of the most destructive weapons that can be levelled against any leftist in Germany.[1] This stems from both the unparalleled nature of crimes against European Jewry, and the German Left’s historical failure to prevent them. However, it also derives from the consciously selective policies of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (“confronting the past”) of post-war Germanelites. Reducing Nazi crimes to those against the Jews not only helped to obscure other crimes, such as the Porajamos, the genocide of Sinti and Roma communities. It also absolves the German state from any historical responsibility towards other victims of Nazi terror to this day. When, for example, in the context of German-imposed austerity, Greek politicians began raising the issue of German war debt – which Greece was coerced into “forgiving” in the late 1940s by its Western allies – politicians and tabloids decried this as a populist stunt aimed at guilt-tripping the honest German taxpayer. If Germans pledge unconditional support to the self-proclaimed “Jewish state”, then Vergangenheitsbewältigung [“overcoming the past”]is complete, so goes the implicit reasoning.

On the other hand, those who would still describe themselves as Antideutsche are shrinking politically, confined to a fringe subculture that adopts left-wing aesthetics but has politically moved markedly to the right. The Antideutsch label has become so toxic, even for many whose stances on Palestine would incur that adjective. Treating the Antideutsche, however, as a legitimate component of left pluralism for many years, has led to the mainstreaming of racist postulates within the wider Left. The Antideutsche are usually framed as the other extreme of an outdated “Marxist-Leninist” anti-imperialism, whose stances on Israel-Palestine are potentially open to anti-Semitic interpretations. The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s fellowship programme, for example, applied such an approach for years. While tolerating Antideutsch associations within the ranks of its fellows, it aimed at formulating what it called a “master narrative” centred on language. Left-wing Germans are thus given the task to understand the legitimate grievances of both Zionism and the Palestinians and to become exponents of a balanced approach towards the conflict, away from both Antideutsch and “anti-imperialist” extremes.[2] This symmetrical discourse centred on German projections and Befindlichkeiten (“sensitivities”) predictably obscures the conflict’s defining asymmetries, not to mention the German political establishment’s active role in sustaining them through extensive political, economic, and military backing of Israel. By treating them as a necessary but over-the-top corrective to an alleged antisemitism of past German anti-imperialism,[3] the mere existence of the Antideutsche has slowly but steadily shifted the entire Left’s discourse on Palestine to the right.

Yet the combination of German guilt and the Antideutsche do not by themselves explain the Left’s current Sonderweg. For two decades, support for Palestinian liberation was something uncontroversial among the German radical Left in the majority of its manifestations, and even within the SPD and the Greens.[4] Reunification brought back the “German question” with a vengeance: how could one now positively relate to Germany? Seen from this perspective, the exponential rise of the political class’s identification with Israel – which by default precludes any substantial criticism of its treatment of Palestinians – can be understood as part of the general ideology underpinning a more assertive German role in world affairs since 1990. All major political forces in Germany subscribe to this ideology. This is either because Germany must assume its perceived share  of “responsibility” in global leadership (the centrist argument), because of humanitarian-interventionist concerns (the Greens), or due to national-sovereigntist reasons (the AfD). This ideology necessarily also radiates to those forces like Die Linke, which although critical of it, ultimately wish to eventually enter a coalition government with the SPD and the Greens. Like obedience to NATO and the EU’s single currency regime, support for Israel forms part of the preconditions for joining the legitimate political game.[5] However, and like in other European countries, this support for Israel is also intimately entangled with the rise of anti-Muslim racism as a mode of projecting society’s vices – including antisemitism (equated with anti-Zionism) – into a Muslim Other.[6]

In this case, the ideological entrenchment of a pro-Israel consensus and its manifestations on the Left are also reflective of the German Left’s overall diminishing influence in a political terrain characterised by the stagnation of the labour movement on the one hand, and the corresponding hegemony of so-called “culture wars” over the public sphere on the other. However, the hypothesis that the side-lining of the Left’s socioeconomic agenda makes a pro-Israel orientation within it a foregone conclusion – as joining a coalition government forms the ultimate political horizon – is one that requires some scrutiny. For despite the radical Left’s decline, manifested by Die Linke’s increasing electoral irrelevance, Germany has witnessed massive mobilisations against the far right and in support of refugees in recent years, as well as its own reckoning around racial justice following the murder of George Floyd – both developments that indirectly challenge the social pro-Israel consensus as well as its exponents within the Left.

This intervention is not about Germany’s complex relationship to its Nazi past. It rather deals with how the German Left has historically understood antisemitism and how this has influenced its position vis-à-vis the issue of Palestine and beyond. Indeed, the Left’s positions in this regard exist in constant dialogue with hegemonic discourses, in a dialectical process of cross-fertilisation involving moments of co-option, convergence, but also rupture. However, the Left must be understood here as a relatively autonomous field structured by its own norms and values.

Specifically, when it comes to explaining the emergence of the Antideutsch phenomenon – rightfully perceived as a key, if not the key subjective factor for many German leftists’ current understanding of antisemitism – two schools of thought can be (schematically) discerned. Using mostly discourse analysis, one views the current as an initially legitimate response gone wrong to perceived antisemitic and nationalist phenomena within the German New Left.[7] Utilizing a more historical approach, another school situates the Antideutsche as a by-product of political defeat, ideological degeneration, and a shift of former left-wingers to the (far) right.[8] The Antideutsche are viewed primarily here as renegades, whose excesses are sometimes nothing but dialectical opposites to pro-Palestinian-cum-antisemitic excesses within the 1968 Left.[9] While the latter approach is considerably more solid than the former, due to its placement of the Antideutsch phenomenon in a specific historical context, it has the disadvantage of often veering towards a moralistic condemnation of the Antideutsche as “not part of the left”, implicitly leaving the defeat of 1989 and the sui generis German historical context as the only potential explanations for the emergence and subsequent resilience of the Antideutsche.

This article similarly views the post-war German Left’s perceptions of antisemitism from the standpoint of German history, as well as of the real-existing conflict between Zionist settler colonialism on the one hand and the resistance this colonialism has engendered among the Palestinians on the other. To put it otherwise, it does not treat the conflict as an irrelevant projection screen to which the German Left has nothing practical to contribute, like so many allegedly balanced but ultimately self-serving accounts of the issue do.[10] The article contends that the current hostile attitude of large parts of the German Left towards Palestinian liberation owes much to a distorted understanding of antisemitism that results to, but also stretches beyond a conflation of Jews with Israel and Zionism.

I argue that the main explanatory framework for this distorted understanding is not to be found in either the specificities of the German historical context, guilt over real or alleged antisemitic excesses of the German New Left, or the bitter experience of the 1989 defeat. Neither is it to be found in distorted readings of either Adorno’s critical theory or value-critical Marxism. Important as these variables are, they are not of determining significance. The existence of the Antideutsch phenomenon and the perceptions of antisemitism it has inspired owes much more to the (West) German Left’s sociological makeup and its general isolation from the working class after 1945.

In this context, the radical Left historically committed two mistakes. Either it dissolved the question of Nazi antisemitism entirely into a general critique of racism and colonialism; or it resorted to readings of Marxism that reduced antisemitism to its pseudo-socialist pretensions. Both one-sided explanations failed to account for the enduring dual character of antisemitism as both false anti-capitalist consciousness, as well as a phenomenon whose manifestations under capitalism are intimately linked to lineages of biologistic racism, which would be inconceivable without the formative experience of colonialism.[11]

Today, three key factors account for the enduring relevance of Antideutsch ideas within left-wing debates. First, the institutionalisation of the radical Left in the form of Die Linke, which has transformed the question of “left-wing antisemitism” into an object of public discourse, (i.e., a weapon against the Left in toto), against the backdrop of the German labour movement’s stagnation and Die Linke’s declining electoral fortunes.  Second, the mainstreaming in hegemonic discourse of individualised explanations of racism, providing Antideutsch accounts of antisemitism as an inescapable pathological disease a lease of life. Third, the triumph of allegedly progressive liberal-idealist, or “post-national” justifications for the projection of German power, in which support for Israel features as a key legitimizing cornerstone. These factors do not represent the reasons for the Antideutsche’s emergence, and they are increasingly challenged by the growing visibility of uncomfortable narratives, such as those of Palestinian Germans and non- or anti-Zionist Jews. They do, however, account for the discrepancy between the Antideutsche as a dwindling subcultural fringe phenomenon on the one hand, and their outsized influence on the wider Left on the other.

This article chronologically follows the evolution of the German Left’s perceptions of antisemitism, which eventually led to the emergence of the Antideutsch current, from the post-war Left’s emergence after 1945 to the appearance of Die Linke in the mid-2000s. Particular attention is paid to the dominant character of Maoism within the German New Left, its decline, the significance of Moishe Postone’s theorization of German fascism, as well as the role of the German autonomist movement. 

From the ruins, a new Left emerges

To say that the question of antisemitism figured prominently in the history of the German labour movement would be a gross understatement. The early labour movement and the party it brought forth, the SPD, were confronted with a resurgence of völkisch antisemitism in the Kaiserreich as well as with the resulting strategic dilemmas this resurgence brought forth. While it has become fashionable in German mainstream discourse to paint early Social Democrats and pre-1933 Communists as naïve at best, complicit at worst in the social entrenchment of the antisemitism that enabled the rise of the Nazis, the reality could not be further from the truth. The Left’s central mistake was to underestimate antisemitism as a pre-modern residual bound to disappear, an assumption in line with pre-1914 Social Democracy’s broader evolutionary belief in the inevitability of socialism, as well as the KPD’s pre-1933 underestimation of Nazism as simply another form of reactionary right-wing dictatorship.[12] The German labour movement fought antisemitism at decisive moments, recognizing it as an inherently reactionary ideology and an enemy of the workers.

Nazism, however, destroyed the entire German Left, understood here as the parties of the major labour movement, the SPD, and the KPD, as well as the various “in-between” dissident groups like the Communist Party Opposition (KPO) and the Socialist Workers’ Party (SAP) advocating a united front to stop Hitler. The Nazis did not merely destroy the labour movement by banning it and killing its leaders. They did so by co-opting its lifeworld and redirecting its sense of collective identity into a völkisch outlook. True, there was resistance, but there was no mass uprising. Plundering Europe’s resources to keep German workers from rising like in 1918 was a top priority for the Nazis. For good or for bad, liberation from fascism in Germany came on the back of the Allied armies, not from within.[13] In the critical timeframe between the collapse of the Nazi regime and the arrival of Allied armies, workers did indeed form anti-fascist committees, returning to their previous communist and social democratic allegiances. The links between big business and the horrors of Nazism were so obvious, that even a reconstituted Christian Democracy could proclaim “transcending capitalism” as its goal in its 1947 Ahlen manifesto.

Nevertheless, this hopeful period was short-lived. In the East, Stalinism became another form of compulsion, and the crushing of the 1953 workers’ uprising by Russian tanks made the German Democratic Republic’s claims of being a “workers’ and peasants’ state” appear ludicrous. In the West, de-Nazification ended in 1951 and anticommunism reigned supreme again. The KPD became increasingly isolated and was eventually outlawed in 1956. The Bonn Republic was a CDU party-state. The oppositional SPD still adhered to Marxism, but this was a losing battle. The economic miracle accompanying the expansion of a generous welfare state, made the idea of class struggle look increasingly outdated. Eventually, the SPD abandoned Marxism in its 1959 Bad Godesberg manifesto to become a broad “people’s” rather than class party.

What constituted the radical Left during this period – a movement dedicated to a fundamental critique of capitalism – was confined to an intellectual and overwhelmingly middle-class milieu at the intersections of the SPD’s left wing and the student movement, primarily the SDS: the Socialist German Student Federation. The SDS was expelled from its mother-party in the early 1960s after the latter’s abandonment of Marxism, thus evolving into the main vehicle of extra-parliamentary social opposition to the Bonn Republic. The Left rallied around a series of demands: acceptance of (but not ideological identification with) the GDR; pacifism and opposition to NATO and German rearmament; the fight against prevailing Nazi-era structures, such as the student fraternities in universities; as well as the general fight against historical amnesia. Theoretically, the Left drew heavily on writings of the Frankfurt School, such as Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s  Dialectic of the Enlightenment.[14] That the political resignation of Critical Theory was a major influence should come as no surprise. The elevation of critique to the highest form of subversion appealed to those enduring the suffocating climate of the Adenauer years, as did its elaborate critique of consumer society, the culture industry, as well as the correlation of antisemitism and fascist rule. For the Frankfurt School, Nazi antisemitism represented the violent return of the suppressed irrationality of a totally administered society. It did not, however, provide any explanation for the Shoah, beyond its characterisation as the epitome of civilizational collapse. For Adorno – now back at Frankfurt’s Institute for Social Research, teaching a new generation of radicals –Marxism could only recognise the Shoah “at the price of its self-mutilation”.[15] The experience of Nazi antisemitism functioned as a guiding moral principle for a New Left, which refrained from any systematic attempt at understanding its root causes.

Regarding Israel, the positions of this Left did not differ from those of its counterparts in the rest of Europe. First, Israel was viewed exclusively as the result of the Shoah, a safe haven for the now nationally re-constituted Jews. In this reading, Zionism was but a legitimate response to the horrors inflicted upon the Jews, especially given the evident failure of historical alternatives, such as communism or Bundism. Accepting it as a minimum converged with a general process of atonement for Nazi crimes. Working in Israel, for example, was part of the programme of the Protestant Church’s Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (Aktion Sühnezeichen), an organisation otherwise dedicated to sending young Germans to volunteer in countries directly victimised by Nazi rule. A mixture of ignorance, falsehoods, and colonialist racism rendered the indigenous Palestinian Arabs invisible to left-wing discourse. Second, establishing official relations with Israel was a progressive cause, as the Federal Republic withheld recognition for fear of Arab recognition of the GDR. Third, the mythology of Labor Zionism – notably thekibbutzim – appealed to those seeking an alternative between capitalism and state socialism. There was hardly any challenge to this position from the left. After all, the Soviet Union had, for its own short-term geopolitical purposes, supported the UN Partition Plan and armed the Zionist militias, effectively destroying the communist movement in Palestine.[16] That it did so by referring to a vaguely defined right to self-determination for Jews and Arabs – a policy that the GDR would also adopt – did little to untangle the conflation of Jews with Zionism within the Left’s perception.

These myths have been thoroughly deconstructed, both as regards to the circumstances of Israel’s founding,[17] as well as to the idea of Zionism’s socialist origins.[18] As for the absence of official relations, this obscured the wide-ranging military and intelligence cooperation between Bonn and Tel Aviv. The Luxemburg Agreement, where West Germany joined the international community in exchange for vital economic aid and infrastructure to Israel was pushed by Adenauer with the support of the SPD, already enjoying close relations with Ben Gurion’s Mapai party and the Histadrut Zionist trade union federation. Furthermore, Israel’s aggressive posture in the 1956 Suez War stood in contrast to American restraint and factual acceptance of the bipolar world order. The latter was anathema to German conservatives, who sought to delegitimise the GDR and overturn the new territorial status quo of German partition.  Far from viewing it with suspicion, German elites began seeing Israel as an asset in an anti-Soviet crusade.[19]

However, it can be argued that the German Left took a false position for the right reasons. It supported Israel not as a colonial settler state, but as a small benevolent and quasi-socialist endeavour, which antisemitic German elites would not recognise for anti-communist reasons. The one challenge to this thinking originated in the growing importance of anti-colonialism. Parts of SPD engaged in active solidarity with the Algerian National Liberation Front from the mid-1950s onwards.[20] The Algerian War pointed to contradictions of the Left’s stance on Israel; while France was Israel’s biggest backer at the time, Egypt’s president Gamal Abdel Nasser supported the FLN. This contradiction was not unique to the German Left. It was also shared by eminent personalities in France, notably Jean-Paul Sartre.[21] However, it pointed to a slow process that would unravel more forcefully following the 1967 War.

Image and reality of German anti-imperialism

In 1965, Bonn and Tel Aviv established official relations. This was preceded by a series of Cold War-related events, including leaked revelations of US supplies of weapons to Israel via West Germany, as well as an official visit by the GDR’s leader, Walter Ulbricht, to Cairo. As such, the Left’s demand for diplomatic relations became obsolete. The 1967 war, however, was the event that accelerated the Left’s disengagement from Israel. Two reasons were conducive to this process. First, the same detested and Nazi-infested establishment was now enchanted by the Israeli victory, seemingly the triumph of a European militarist nationalist collective over Soviet-backed Third World armies. To criticise Israeli expansionism now was primarily to condemn the hypocrisy of West German elites. Trying to balance sympathies for both Israel and Arab anti-colonialism, for example, Ulrike Meinhof[22] would attempt to square the circle by attacking the German establishment’s cynical philosemitism. Second, the influence of Maoism and the Vietnam War were making themselves felt on German campuses. China was already a prominent backer of the PLO, routinely denouncing Soviet moves towards “peaceful coexistence”, which, in the case of Israel, did not challenge the 1948 status quo. Opposing Israel primarily meant opposing an American asset in the Middle East.

Developments in the Middle East caught the SDS by surprise. The organisation’s theory review, the Neue Kritik, hosted a debate on its pages following the 1967 war. At its conference in September that year, the SDS experienced a three-way split on the issue. Many of the older cadre socialised in the SPD took a position, which was critical albeit supportive of Israel.[23] On the other hand, many younger members influenced by Maoism took a position of uncritical support to radical Arab nationalism. A Trotskyist minority expressed a stance of critical support for the Arab side. The debate was shelved to the relief of many members who felt this was a complex and awkward issue. However, the pro-Arab tilt of the SDS at large would accelerate, especially as the PLO and a new Arab Left centred on it would become more visible following the defeat of Nasserism.

In the following decade, the German radical Left would support the Palestinians in one way or another. Examples include the marxisant Young Socialists within the SPD (Jusos), the pro-Soviet German Communist Party (DKP), and the myriad Maoist K-Gruppen, all the way to theAutonomia-inspired anti-authoritarian “Spontis”.[24] Differences were mainly programmatic, reflecting allegiances to specific organisations on the ground. The K-Gruppen, for instance, leaned heavily towards the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; the Jusos developed a relationship with Fatah within the framework of the Socialist International; the DKP adopted the positions of the non-Zionist Israeli Communist Party; whereas Trotskyists had relations to the Israeli anti-Zionist group Matzpen, as well as Palestinian students from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.[25] 

Today, the Left’s conversion to radical anti-imperialism forms a constituent part of the German establishment’s narrative of discrediting the subversive elements of 1968. As in other countries, this narrative relies on separating the “positive” elements of the era – sexual liberation, the revolt against conservative elites, individual autonomy – from the “negative” ones – anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, and an anti-Zionism easily degenerating into “antisemitism”. The Left’s intentions – so the narrative – were noble, but it took a wrong turn as it ditched the pedagogical teachings of the Frankfurt School for an anti-intellectualism of the Little Red Book, which paved the way for violence, bureaucratic authoritarianism, and ultimately antisemitism. Blockbusters likeThe Baader Meinhof Complex reinforce this image in their portrayal of hedonistic German radicals training in Palestinian guerrilla camps and driven by an almost nihilistic need for violence. All this begs the question if there was an antisemitic element within the German New Left, as detractors claim, and if so, to what extent.

Like any other form of racism, antisemitism is a social phenomenon – there is no rule stating that those belonging to the radical Left are immune to it. The dominant positive conflation of Jews with Zionism was not always easy to untangle in the West German context and some degree of guilt deflection and projection was potentially involved, expressed for instance in the elevation of “anti-Zionism” to a form of political identity. Then there was, of course, the cooperation between West German urban guerrillas like the Red Army Faction (RAF) and the more “anti-authoritarian” Revolutionary Cells (RZ) - notorious for their hijacking in Entebbe and the separation of Jewish from non-Jewish hostages (Israelis, according to one hostage)[26] – with Palestinian counterparts.

Predominantly focusing on left-wing terrorism however, the hegemonic narrative on the German 1968 elevates the era’s widespread anti-imperialism and support for Palestinian liberation to concrete ideological expressions of a latent antisemitism, crypto-nationalism, or both.[27] Actual anti-Semitic incidents like the bombing of a Jewish community centre by a West Berlin radical group in 1969 are often provided as evidence. Nonetheless, what such narratives fail to mention, is that the majority of the radical Left – which was several times larger than the RAF and the RZ combined and included Palestine solidarity committees – condemned this and other similar incidents.[28]. Ultimately, the arguments of “renegades” like Gerd Koenen[29] rest on the accusation that the radical Left made common cause with organisations that wanted to kill Jews for the sake of it, an intention cleverly masked behind formulas such as “secular democratic state”. In other words, the case for an allegedly widespread “antisemitic anti-Zionism” rests on the racist assumption of dubious Arabs in general, and Palestinians in particular, following in the footsteps of Nazis, simply for refusing to accept a colonial fait accompli on their homeland. Although easily debunked,[30] such claims of Nazi lineages of Arab nationalism and Islamism have been popularised by none other than former Maoists with no knowledge of Arabic,[31] lending legitimacy to contemporary racist discourses.

Another problem with this reading is the Eurocentric reduction of the German Left’s position on Palestine to a purely psychological dimension. In fact, as Quinn Slobodian[32] shows, foreign students – including Palestinians – were active agents in shaping the German Left’s anticolonial and anti-imperialist outlook on a number of questions. Palestinian struggles in West Germany were not reducible to soliciting solidarity for their struggle against Israel. Large parts of Left joined civil society organisations in defending Palestinian workers from collective punishment and mass deportations, following the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes in Munich, for example.[33]

Nonetheless, the German Left’s thinking regarding the connections between antisemitism, fascism, and Zionism remained severely under-theorised, for both subjective and objective reasons. Contrary to Britain or France – one thinks of Daniel Bensaïd, Alain Krivine, or Tony Cliff – there  were hardly any prominent anti-Zionist Jews, within the German radical Left, who could explain Zionism’s appeal as a tragic consequence of the horrors of the 20th century rather than primarily as an imperialist plot directed by Washington. Remaining Jewish communities in West Germany were miniscule, composed largely of Eastern European refugees generally hostile to the Left’s agenda, for both socioeconomic and ideological reasons.

On the other hand, the dominant anti-American framing drowned out more sophisticated analyses of Israel as a colonial settler-state, such as the ones pioneered by Maxime Rodinson or Matzpen. Like in the GDR,[34] “Zionism” was attacked as simply an expansionist ideology, not as a misguided response to real-existing antisemitism. The all-determining context of the Cold War in West Germany meant that Israel’s alliance with US imperialism was the key question at stake, while the Palestinian struggle was not rarely simplistically framed as merely one of state-centred territorial national liberation, with the far more complex mechanisms of settler colonial oppression – themselves justified with the experience of European antisemitism – left largely ignored.    

The Left’s stance was so overwhelmingly contingent on a state- rather than class-centred worldview pitting nationalist movements and “objectively progressive” regimes against Western imperialism, that it was bound to unravel the moment this anti-imperialism was thrown into crisis. Nixon’s visit to China, revelations on the horrors of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, but also the bloodbath mounted against the Iranian Left following the Khomeinist counter-revolution, all resulted in a collapse of the anti-imperialist paradigm by the early 1980s.  The blindspots in this regard, however, were compounded by an even greater weakness.

The SDS’s self-dissolution in 1970 resulted from a concerted turn to class politics, which the pessimism of Adorno or the utopianism of Herbert Marcuse and Erich Fromm could not address. This turn was influenced by outside events – popular demonstrations against the “Emergency Laws” in the late 1960s, wildcat strikes in 1969 and a radical movement of young apprentices (Lehrlingsbewegung), as well as the 1968 general strike in France and Italy’s “hot autumn” of 1969. Such movements were less successful within the more prosperous West German capitalism. One the one hand, the new social-liberal coalition under Willy Brandt was able to co-opt many of the student movement’s demands for a democratisation of society. On the other hand, the most militant strikes, such as the 1973 strike at Ford’s Cologne plant, were led byGastarbeiter. Both the state and the trade union bureaucracy confronted these strikes with an iron fist, often deporting rebellious migrant workers under the premises of a racist migration policy.

This structural weakness of working class militancy was fertile ground for a campus-centred Maoism, which became hegemonic among the West German radical Left. This is not to say that the working class played no part in the emergence of West German Maoism; the Hamburg-based Kommunistischer Bund (KB), for instance, largely sprang up from the young apprentices’ movement.[35] But the ebbing for militant workers’ struggles from the early 1970s onwards contributed to the increasingly subcultural character of the K-Gruppen, in many ways resembling that of the Antideutsche two decades later. The K-Gruppen – notably the KPD/ML, the KBW, the KPD/AO, and the KB – had memberships numbering thousands, incidentally providing the first political socialization experience for future SPD and Green ministers, and top trade union functionaries.[36] But the discrepancy between their dominance of German universities on the one hand, and their isolation from the broader labour movement on the other, translated into their overt investment in sectarian squabbles. Each K-Gruppe laid claim to the “correct line” in light of increasingly confusing developments in China – the death of Mao, the “three worlds theory”, the downfall of the “gang of four”, and – most importantly – China’s increasing tilt towards he US and its hostility to the Soviet Union.

Dogmatic adherence to Maoist teachings and a corresponding lack of theoretical sophistication[37] enabled the prevalence of an anti-intellectual agitprop posture among the K-Gruppen. Part of this was the importation of Stalinist tropes on fascism as “the open, terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of finance capital”.[38] Another part was the dissolution of anti-fascism into a generalised opposition to capitalism and imperialism, exemplified by the slogan of that era, “USA-SA-SS”. Though framed less vulgarly, similar takes on fascism were echoed by the DKP and Stamokap-wing[39] within the SPD Left. Their theorems of GDR and Soviet origin reduced fascism to an instrument of big capital and counterpoised a cross-class “popular front” as an answer.

However lacking in sophistication and depth, these approaches must nevertheless be understood as responses to the state’s Cold War doctrine of “totalitarianism theory”. By equating Nazism with Stalinism, this doctrine served to obscure the Federal Republic’s continuities with the Hitler era. Nevertheless, Maoist-Stalinist “anti-fascism” was by default unable to explain the specificities of both Nazi antisemitism and the Shoah. Combined with the radical Left’s pessimistic outlook about the German working class, the KB in particular would develop this understanding of fascism further with its thesis of the “fascisation of state and society”. This theory argued that capitalism’s mounting contradictions in Germany would not result in a revolution, but rather in the return of fascism.[40] This was important, insofar as the main ideologues of the early Antideutsch current would mostly originate from the KB.

Pershings, punks, and historians quarrelling: the road to 1989

The Antideutsche emerged from the convergence of chronically distinct yet intimately connected dynamics. The events of the “German Autumn” of 1977 accelerated the radical Left’s decline. Faced with kidnappings and hijackings by the RAF and sympathetic Palestinians, the German state responded with an unprecedented wave of repression targeting the entire radical Left and culminating in the deaths of the RAF’s founding generation in prison. The ferocity of state repression was shocking, laying bare the radical Left’s isolation from wider society. Spontis and K-Gruppen members flocked en masse to the newly formed Green Party. Despite emerging in the context of radical anti-nuclear protests, the party was decidedly oriented towards parliamentary respectability from the start, encompassing many rural conservative milieus as well. Other “new social movements” of that time like feminism were joined in the early 1980s by a movement against the stationing of US Pershing nuclear missiles. This large-scale movement was not only backed by the Greens and the SPD’s left wing, but also by an assortment of public intellectuals, and institutions like churches. In contrast to the anti-Vietnam War movement, however, the prevailing pacifist moralism provided few openings for what remained of the revolutionary Left.

The most radical movement to emerge in the late 1970s built on preceding struggles within the sphere of social reproduction, such as those against housing speculation spearheaded by the anti-authoritarian Spontis. Inspired by the punk wave, a new movement emerged, which like the Spontis drew on Italian operaismo but was generationally younger. The Autonomen made their presence felt around 1980-81, establishing squats in Hamburg and West Berlin as protest against unaffordable rents. Other struggles included anti-nuclear and anti-NATO protests. The autonomists were much of a movement as they were a scene. In the squats and on the barricades, they nurtured close relations with the “Antiimps”, sympathisers of the RAF’s “second” and “third generation”. Their differences were of a primarily tactical nature. While both saw themselves as revolutionary currents, the Antiimps clung on to the RAF’s concept of underground struggle, whereas the autonomists had a more social-revolutionary outlook.

Another important shift of that era revolved around the growing mediatisation of the Shoah, a process originating in the United States in the context of the re-negotiation of Jewish-American identity.[41] A product of this process, the miniseries Holocaust, aired in West Germany in 1979. Its impact challenged dominant assumptions of the Judeocide’s perpetrators as exclusively composed of an inner Nazi core.The radical Left had led the most decisive struggle against the endurance of Nazi-era structures and mentalities. Now, as primetime viewers found themselves identifying with the persecuted Jewish characters of the series, the wall of denial around the Shoah characteristic of mainstream society was collapsing.

This processwould culminate in the mid-1980s during the “Historians’ Quarrel”. Mainly pitting historian Ernst Nolte – who interpreted the Holocaust as a pre-emptive strike against Bolshevik “class genocide” – against Jürgen Habermas – who correctly accused Nolte of historical revisionism – the debate focused on the question of the Shoah’s singularity.[42] The exchange was heated, as the Kohl government embarked on a neoconservative project of whitewashing German nationalism, and was understood as being tacitly supportive of Nolte’s theses. Proclaiming the impossibility of any contextualisation of the Judeocide, however, the postulate of the victorious Habermas would be gradually elevated into a national discourse in the years to come.

The Historikerstreit was the precursor to a series of discourses on the German past, played out in the 1990s, such as discussions on Daniel Goldhagen’sHitler’s Willing Executioners,[43] debates around the construction of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, and others. Their cumulative effect was to gradually replace the “old German catechism”[44] of externalising responsibility to a few bad apples, with a new redemptive one centring the Shoah as the Republic’s “moral foundation”. This solidified Germany’s special responsibility for “Israel’s security”, predictably expressed in the equivalence between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. This new attitude was also contingent on the triumph of liberal-idealist framings over the realist approaches that characterised German foreign policy before 1990.[45] The former Sponti Joschka Fischer gave an apt example of this during the Kosovo War in 1999. When faced with turmoil within his Green Party for leading Germany into its first war since 1945 during the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, he famously responded by saying he didn’t only learn “never again war” but also “never again Auschwitz” and “never again fascism”.

Postone’s theory of Nazi antisemitism as “foreshortened anti-capitalism”

Radical Left reactions to Holocaust in Germany were the subject of Moishe Postone’s 1980 easyAntisemitism and National Socialism.[46] The essay retroactively became one of the Antideutsch movement’s foundational documents. In it, Postone castigated the German Left’s inability to conceptualise the specificity of Nazi antisemitism, framing the Left’s excessive anti-Zionism as guilt deflection rather than genuine concern for the Palestinians. Furthermore, Postone attempted to fill class-struggle-oriented Marxism’s perceived deficits in explaining Nazi antisemitism, by defining it as a form of “foreshortened anti-capitalism”. This was reflective of the commodity’s inherent tension between concrete use value on the one hand, and abstract exchange value on the other. For Postone, National Socialism essentially constituted a movement of the “concrete” against the quasi-mystified abstract rule of capital. For reasons of historical contingency, the “abstract” is equated with the Jews and their presence in the sphere of circulation. Auschwitz thus represented the culmination of the destruction of abstract value. Postone’s analysis was responding to serious deficits within the hegemonic Marxist traditions of West Germany regarding the nature of the Judeocide. By effectively reducing it to merely an extreme form of right-wing dictatorship by big capital, Stalinist readings of German fascism were downplaying its pseudo-revolutionary articulation in the context of a mass movement of the petty bourgeoisie.[47] By counterpoising the concrete to the abstract, Postone was alluding to Nazi propaganda’s distinction between good “productive”, and “hoarding”, i.e. financial, or “Jewish” capital.

On a narrow theoretical sense, Postone’s interpretation of the meaning of abstraction in Marx as denoting something incomprehensible, rather than a condensation of social relations not visible in money’s physical form, has been criticised as arbitrary.[48] Politically, Postone’s theory of the Nazis as foreshortened anti-capitalism was not entirely original. Even if assassinated before the Shoah was set in motion, Trotsky’s awareness of the imminent danger facing the Jews stemmed from his analysis of fascism as a specific form of counter-revolution masked as revolution, carried mainly by a petit bourgeoisie destroyed by crisis.

However, unlike Trotsky, Postone was emptying National Socialism of any concrete class content, as well as any mention of its relation to the other two relevant social forces: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Following Postone’s logic, if National Socialism’s anti-Semitic impetus stemmed from alienation in a world dominated by abstract value, then its base should have consisted of the class most alienated under capitalism, the proletariat.[49] That all this did not concern Postone, should come as no surprise given his stature as an exponent of a “value-critical” Marxism, a current that emphasises the specificity of labour under capitalism while rejecting its capacity for revolutionary change.[50][51] Finally, while the 1968 Left did negate the Shoah’s specificities, viewing it exclusively through the prism of capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism, the biologistic racism constituting its framework was indeed rooted in 19th century colonialism. Research in recent years has emphasised lineages between the Herero Genocide committed by the German Empire in Namibia between 1904 and 1908 and the Shoah, rendering a complete extrapolation of the latter from the histories of colonialism, both European and German, untenable.[52]

Postone’s framing of antisemitism as “foreshortened anti-capitalism,” responded to the Left’s difficulties in explaining the Shoah’s economic irrationality, especially following its incremental salience in public life. In doing so, his theory signalled both a break and continuity with the post-war German Left’s key tenets. It was a clear break from the economistic takes on National Socialism prevalent within West German Maoism and Stalinism. It was continuity, in the sense that here again was an interpretation of Marxism that ascribed no role to the real-existing working class. Such a strategy of “critical critique” would speak to the radical Left’s largely middle-class composition and its isolation from workers, when the Antideutsch current entered the stage in the late 1980s. It would increasingly fulfil the function of an apologia of neoliberalism, when capitalism’s contradictions began accelerating, even in prosperous Germany – first slowly in the late 1970s, then more rapidly from the 1990s onwards. Today, the influence of Antisemitism and National Socialism is visible in Antideutsch discourses. A caucus within Die Linke’s youth wing named “Shalom”, for example, defines itself as a working group against “antisemitism, anti-Zionism, anti-Americanism, and regressive anti-capitalism”.[53] Besides smearing Palestine solidarity as antisemitic, the Antideutsch reject any kind of opposition to finance capitalism, such as the Blockupy protests against the European Central Bank during the height of the Eurozone crisis, as “structurally antisemitic”. Labelling any movement from within the capitalist process as “regressive” would become an Antideutsch trademark.

The coming of a “Fourth Reich”? The Antideutsch current is born

Nevertheless, the Antideutsche as a current owe their existence to a sequence of events taking place during the subsequent decade. First, as the Intifada raged on in the late 1980s, the KB publicly withdrew its participation from a coalition of solidarity involving organisations of the radical Left ranging from the DKP to the Autonomen, citing the non-mentioning of Israel’s “right to exist” in the call. The debate between German revisionism and its discontents was being echoed within the Left, albeit in a distorted way. For the KB, denying Israel’s self-ascribed right to exist was tantamount to ignoring the historical context of its foundation, and by extension a concession to German revisionism. However, such arguments were not about supporting the Zionist viewpoint per se. One author of an intervention criticising antisemitic tendencies for example, spoke of the “internationalist duty” of supporting the Palestinian struggle.[54] It was far cry from the Antideutsche, who during the second Intifada would proclaim “tanks in Ramallah” to be the “true Antifa”. These debates originated in an overall process of critique against real-existing nationalist phenomena within the Left. Circumstantial evidence includes a Maoist K-Gruppe advocating a reunited Germany against Soviet “social imperialism”, nationalist tendencies within the early Greens, as well as imagery within the 1980s peace movement of Germans as the victims of a “nuclear Holocaust”.  

However, the cataclysmic events of reunification were the spark that would trigger the eventual unravelling of the radical Left. With the SPD and the Greens passively accepting Helmut Kohl’s assertiveness in pushing for rapid reunification, what remained of the radical Left – whether orthodox communist, autonomist, Maoist remnants like the KB, or radical Greens – converged around a coalition fittingly named “Radical Left”. The RL notably organised a large demonstration in Frankfurt under the motto Nie wieder Deutschland! (“Never again Germany!”) on 12 May 1990, as well as a congress three days later in Cologne.

Nevertheless, different perceptions of the reunification process emerged among these strange bedfellows. While one wing understood it in primarily economic terms – the wholesale privatisation of industry and the transformation of the East into a low-wage zone – another wing adopted a far more sinister perception of reunification. KB member and author Jürgen Elsässer[55] had expressed this sentiment in an essay called “Why the Left must be anti-German”.[56] It reasoned that reunified Germany, now in control of full sovereignty in foreign affairs, was on its way to becoming a Fourth Reich. It was thus necessary to support anybody opposing this process. The Antideutsch current was born, now constituted around the critical theory-oriented Bahamas magazine launched by a minority in the KB espousing the Antideutsch perspective on reunification. It is not hard here to discern, not only the pessimism of the KB’s “fascisation” thesis in this quasi-Maoist dictum of the “primary contradiction” between “Germany” and anyone “against Germany”, but also a radical makeover of the essentially liberalSonderweg thesis.

Other crucial events would ensue. The RL collapsed following disagreements around the 1991 Gulf War. Revelations had surfaced of West German firms supplying components to Iraq’s chemical weapons programme. It did not matter that this programme was actually directed against Iran, with blessings by the entire West. When Saddam Hussein launched Scud missiles against Israel, some in the RL saw this as proof of the antisemitic continuities of Germany’s emerging sovereignty in global affairs. They thus wondered if this wrong war was not actually being waged for objectively good reasons. The war also witnessed the emergence of a large-scale protest movement composed of newly politicised pupils. However, this movement collapsed overnight. It wasn’t just that leftists-cum-liberals like the publicist Hans-Magnus Enzensberger were equating Saddam’s Iraq to Nazi Germany in mainstream outlets like Der Spiegel.[57]  Ostensibly left-wing commentators began likening the pupils to the Hitler Youth[58]. Nazi comparisons and the accusation of antisemitism were now being used to stifle opposition to imperialism in post-Historikerstreit Germany.

As reunification carried on, more disillusionment followed. East German workers were for economic reasons the most enthusiastic supporters of rapid reunification. The democratic-socialist gradualists of the newly formed Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), around which GDR’s declassed professionals coalesced, were quickly sidelined. When Kohl’s promises of an economic miracle failed to materialise, the government responded by scapegoating migrants in a concerted campaign, which eventually pushed the SPD to consent to a drastic rollback of asylum rights. This campaign provided legitimacy to pogroms against asylum seekers, often carried out by working class youth. Scenes like in Rostock-Lichtenhagen in the summer of 1992, where neo-Nazis attacked refugees as onlookers cheered on, functioned to discredit the “popular front”-based anti-fascist paradigm, the doctrine of both the GDR and a sizeable part of the West German Left. Fascism, it seemed, could only be confronted by the direct action of a vanguard, if the majority was now part of the fascist rabble. Quickly spreading to the old Länder, the Nazi onslaught swelled the ranks of an autonomist Antifa overnight, a process effectively obscuring the radical Left’s collapse around the same time.[59]

Antideutsche and Autonomen: A love-hate relationship

As the prophecies of a Fourth Reich remained unfulfilled as the 1990s moved on, the Antideutsch current was thrown into an existential crisis and was thus in search of a new purpose. Here, the autonomist scene offered itself as an object of activity. An enduring characteristic of the Antideutsche is to compensate for inferior numbers with provocations, overwhelmingly against the rest of the Left. Thus being “against Germany” signaled not just a rejection of nationalism but of any class-oriented Marxist analysis pointing to contradictions within German society. Now, the Antideutsche were ridiculing the autonomists’ alleged rigid political correctness and sexual puritanism in the midst of a sexual abuse scandal splitting one of Berlin’s largest Antifa groups in the late 1990s, placing themselves on the side of the accused.[60]

The incident was typical of a pattern whereby Antideutsch provocations would serve making the miniscule current relevant for the autonomist scene, paving the way for an interaction that seemed bizarre at first. The Antideutsche devoted more time to obscure renditions of critical theory or value-critical Marxism, whereas the autonomists disdained theory in favour of direct action. There were, however, undeniable similarities. Both currents did not think much of the working class. That class was reactionary because of Germans’ natural propensity to mass murder (the Antideutsche), or irrelevant because it ceased to exist, at least in the way “traditional Marxism” had envisioned it (the Autonomen). Both were furthermore engaged in an ultra-left critique of German nationalism, albeit in different ways. The Antideutsche sought inspiration in the imagery of the 1940s anti-Hitler coalition, exemplified by the morbid slogan “Do it again, bomber Harris!”.[61]

The autonomists, on the other hand, were going through their own process of ideological transformation. Already in 1991, the Revolutionary Cells – perceived to have wide-ranging sympathies among the Autonomen – had published a renunciation of anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism, following the summary execution of a group member in Damascus by the group around Carlos the Jackal.[62] In their document, the RZ also described their selection of hostages in Entebbe as antisemitic. The document furthermore signalled a break with armed struggles for national sovereignty, citing the authoritarian character of many post-colonial states, and counterpoising to them the goal of social liberation. This thinking converged effortlessly with the growing appeal of post-structuralism within progressive academia throughout the 1990s. When the last vestiges of Keynesianism were being dismantled in the early 2000s, post-operaist anti-statism and hostility to trade unions, complemented Antideutsch takes on the welfare state as the incarnation of the Volksgemeinschaft.

However, the relative convergence of the Antideutsche and the Autonomen must additionally be viewed within the context of the deeper crisis of the autonomist Antifa of the early 1990s. The SPD-Green coalition under Gerhard Schröder elected in 1998, embarked on a programme of socially modernising German capitalism. In contrast to the previous Kohl government, whose attitude to neo-Nazi violence oscillated between indifference, appeasement, and outright instrumentalisation, the Schröder government defined right-wing extremism as a problem of the highest order. This awareness was already present within the establishment since the early 1990s pogroms, driven by fears that far-right violence was tarnishing Germany’s image abroad. Now, the government was institutionalising a version of anti-fascism, manifested in community-based initiatives against the Right, as well as so-called Exit-programmes for those wishing to abandon the Nazi scene.

Nevertheless, in promoting the latter, the government was embracing an outlook whereby perpetrators were being “transformed into [victims] of a harmful addiction or internal disease induced, in all probability, by a crisis in masculinity within the white working class”.[63] Such a perspective was in full agreement with a “progressive neoliberalism”,[64] seeking to individualise racism and fascism by releasing both from any connection to social or political structures. The sanctification of former Nazis as recovering victims of something akin to an addiction served to marginalise actual victims, thereby perpetuating the racist state structures that a few years later, would hinder an effective inquiry into the murders committed against migrants by the “National Socialist Underground” neo-Nazi terror group.[65] The reduction of fascism to a pathological question of “political extremism”, on the other hand, predictably facilitated calls by conservative politicians to focus equally on “left-wing extremism”, and – following 9/11 -“Islamic extremism” . 

For the Antideutsche, this mainstreaming of anti-fascism had a contradictory effect. It appeared as if the idea of neo-Nazism and antisemitism as pathologies unrelated to dynamics of class oppression was finally going mainstream. Indeed the idea that anything could be antisemitic, and one must constantly police him/herself for any signs of Jew-hatred would be instrumental for Antideutsch ideas to spread from more radical Autonomen circles into the mainstream youth organizations of the SPD and the Greens. However, the Antideutsche were self-proclaimed enemies of “Germany” and the mainstream in general. A self-professed radicalism and group dynamics meant that new political antagonisms had to be constructed. It was 9/11, the Second Intifada, and the Iraq War, which completely shifted the Antideutsch focus from opposition to German nationalism to a vehement identification with Israel, but also US imperialism as a form of contemporary anti-fascism. A typical example was a Bahamas cover in 2003 unironically titled “Bush – The Man of Peace”, which proclaimed:

The BAHAMAS [sic] congratulates the governments of the United States of America and Great Britain and their allies […] for their swift victory over the Iraqi Baath regime. The editorial board acknowledges with relief that this first anti-fascist battle of the new century has taken a much lower toll than was feared on the Allies as well as on Iraqi civilians, especially given the particular evilness and inhumanity of the Saddam regime.[66]

For the Bahamas and other Antideutsche, Palestinian suicide bombings were evidence of a regressive culture of killing Jews for the sake of it. Paraphrasing Goldhagen, it was an “eliminatory antisemitism” in the Middle East. The peace movement was now the main enemy at home, for it was appeasing “Islamofascism” and was regressively anti-American. The fact that Germany was officially opposed to the Iraq War was proof that theSonderweg was alive and kicking.[67] The war on Iraq was supported as a necessary defence of bourgeois society’s individual liberties against collectivist cultures prone to totalitarianism.

Here again were echoes of West German Maoism. By adopting the idea that one has to line up with Western imperialism for the greater good, the Antideutsche were reminiscent of some Maoist K-Gruppen that called for strengthening NATO as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. The “apotheosis of humanitarian barbarism”[68] expressed by renegades beyond Germany such as Christopher Hitchens and the French “New Philosophers”, found its German expression in the Antideutsche, albeit in much less sophisticated form. Furthermore, accusing “the Left” of antisemitism became for the Antideutsche a way of compensating one’s own increasing political irrelevance, especially at a time when elements of a left renewal were appearing in the form of the alter-globalisation movement and discontent with both the SPD’s embrace of neoliberalism and the Greens’ abandonment of pacifism. Allies were thus sought in hegemonic discourses always eager to cast the Left as anti-Semitic. Eventually, and like Hitchens and the New Philosophers, many Antideutsche stretched their fight against the Left to its logical conclusion, freeing themselves from any association with it.

The deepening crisis of the autonomist Antifa, the autonomist disposal of anti-imperialism, the mainstreaming of a classless antifascism by the red-green coalition, as well as the ultraradical self-perceptions of both the Autonomen and the Antideutsche led to some of the former adopting the overt pro-imperialism and pro-Zionism of the latter. However, most Autonomen still regard neo-Nazi violence against migrants and non-white Germans as a real issue, whereas the Antideutsche today openly flirt with right-wing populism.[69][70] What many Autonomen did adopt, however, were Antideutsch ideas on antisemitism, such as those expressed in Postone’s essay. Theorisations of antisemitism became increasingly abstract, unrelated to actual Jews, and located within linguistic structures. Papers on “structural antisemitism” – rehashed Zionist tropes of Israel as “the Jew among the nations” – were churned out en masse, discovering linguistic homologies between antisemitism and “traditional Marxist” anti-imperialism. Micro-sociological dynamics also mattered.

For Markus  and Sebastian Haunss,[71] the pre-existing autonomist propensity for “monocasual explanations patterns” is key to understanding this overnight conversion. Whereas 1980s street-fighting autonomists had erected a mural on Hamburg’s Hafenstrasse calling for a boycott of Israel, their (far fewer) counterparts in the early 2000s were imploring Scandinavian comrades to refrain from using slogans such as “global Intifada” during protests at an EU summit in Copenhagen, for example.[72] In a moralistic anti-fascism emptied of any class content, one’s sole duty now was to be one of the “good guys”. If the Antideutsche said that Palestinians were today’s Nazis, that might sound exaggerated, but then again, who would risk being associated with any “bad guys”? More sophisticated autonomists simply refrained from talking about Palestinians, other than to explain that there were not any “emancipatory actors” to support among them.[73] The distancing of autonomism’s majority from the Antideutsche, however, was half-hearted at best, owing to the subcultural fluidity between two currents, which in many ways reflected the relationship between 1980s Autonomen and Antiimps. The Jungle World weekly newspaper expresses this condition up to this day. Formed in the mid-1990s as an Antideutsch-inspired split from an orthodox-communist daily, the paper evolved into Germany’s eminent left-libertarian outlet, covering everything from the Zapatistas to Judith Butler. It has, however, a long history of publishing Islamophobic rants, next to unconditional support for the Zionist state.[74]

Besides their subcultural affiliations with the Autonomen, another factor that goes some way in explaining the longevity of Antideutsch ideas within the contemporary German Left is the additional character of the Antideutsch movement as one of cultural critique since its inception. A prominent actor here was the publicist Günther Jacob, a former member of the KABD and KBW and co-initiator of an artistic movement in 1989 against the prevailing nationalist climate. The driving impetus for these cultural Antideutsche was disgust with what they perceived as a parochial pop nationalism creeping into the German mainstream. They correspondingly sought to confront this by exposing their readership in various music fanzines to cultural influences from abroad. However, as Hanloser notes, this “decent” subversive attitude was not without its contradictions. In discussing US hip hop, for example, Jacob criticised black separatist and antisemitic tendencies therein, describing them as elements that reunified Germans in their new national identity could probably identify with.[75] Using an abstract affirmation of “communism”, evidenced in the Antideutsch slogan Für Israel und den Kommunismus (“For Israel and communism”), as well as projecting the chauvinism of German nationalism into any kind of identity affirmation – whether coming from the oppressed or not – would thus become a hallmark of Antideutsch criticism. In the run-up to the Iraq War, such thinking enabled the construction of an opposition between the war’s alleged objectively progressive character on the one hand, and a regressive identitarianism that united Third-Worldism with German nationalists and antisemites. In discussing this cultural dimension, Hanloser is correct to identify the bourgeois antifascism of Thomas Mann as an intellectual ancestor to the Antideutsche. In contrast to Bertolt Brecht, who stressed the existence of class contradictions within German society, Mann in his US exile would flip-flop from his earlier writings, riddled withvölkisch and antisemitic undertones, to an uncritical supporter of the indiscriminate bombardment of German cities by the Allies and an exponent of the collective guilt thesis.[76]

Enter Die Linke: The debate goes mainstream

What was essentially a debate within a politically marginalised spectrum increasingly became more known in the 2000s. A significant development in this regard was the formation of Die Linke, the merger of the PDS and a trade union split from the SPD. Thus, for the first time since the banning of the KPD in West Germany in 1956, a parliamentary force left of social democracy with a following in the East and West entered the fray. Besides bringing together two essentially reformist actors, Die Linke signalled the political institutionalization of radical left currents, from Trotskyists to autonomists. Debates around Israel and Palestine that were confined within a radical milieu became politically more relevant, as the new party sought to chart its course. Hailing from the PDS’s libertarian current, for example, the former party chair, Katja Kipping could use Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire to criticise those within her party who thought the state and imperialism were still relevant, while castigating “anti-emancipatory” movements like Hezbollah and Hamas that work against peace and challenge the historical necessity of “Israel’s right to exist”.[77] Autonomist “anti-nationalism” converged with selective readings of Rosa Luxemburg, specifically her critique of nationalism, as a libertarian antidote to the “authoritarian Lenin” and his allegedly uncritical support of anti-imperialist nationalism – If imperialism did not exist, then all nationalisms were equally bad, so the reasoning. In the process of Die Linke’s parliamentary institutionalisation, Antideutsch caucuses would willingly play the role of foot soldiers for the party’s office-seeking wing. If accepting the Israel-centred German Staatsräson was precondition for joining government, then accusing the party’s left wing of “Israel-centred antisemitism” or sympathies for “regressive Islamists” was highly convenient. Like in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn,[78] scandals on “left antisemitism” would paralyse Die Linke for months, eliciting futile apologies by more radical members to avoid a potentially devastating split.[79]

Surely enough, the mainstream of Die Linke is committed to Palestinian statehood as a minimum (even if silently), while Antideutsch ideas cannot be said to be dominant. Their influence, however, is not so much a result of their strength but rather of the enormous ideological concessions of the rest of Left towards them. The historically dominant conflation of Jews, Israel, and Zionism since the 1950s, combined with sympathies of the obviously oppressed Palestinians, meant that the majority of the German Left – and this includes also large sections of the SPD and the Greens – became particularly passionate advocates of the two-state paradigm, which frames the conflict as an issue of “peace” and land, rather than justice and equality.[80] That this paradigm is still strong owes much to the inherent psychological need to balance feelings of guilt towards Israel as the substitute for Jews on the one hand, with the evident need for justice for Palestinians on the other. This is why German civil society organisations were particularly invested under the auspices of the “peace process” in 1990s Israel-Palestine. When Palestinians rejected Israeli demands of total capitulation, such as Ehud Barak’s “generous offer” in 2000, the majority of the German Left was ideologically disarmed vis-à-vis racist postulates of Palestinian “eliminatory antisemitism”. It did not adopt the Antideutsch viewpoint but did not show any active solidarity with Palestinians either.

That Antideutsch ideas are still prevalent also owes also to the fact that a generation of German leftists came of age under the influence of the debates on “left-wing antisemitism” initiated by this current. What emerged during the long period of retreat after 1990 was a Left that mystified antisemitism as something inherently distinct from – and even worse than – racism, even if it did not share the Antideutsche’s increasingly racist and pro-imperialist views. Racism was in turn understood purely in biologistic terms of one’s skin colour. Here, the Left was inadvertently echoing establishment academia, whose banishment of racism to a distant Nazi past and mainstreaming of the inherently exclusionary Fremdenfeindlichkeit (“hostility to foreigners”) as the word for actual racism has only recently become the subject of a concerted challenge.[81] For this Left socialised under the impact of the Antideutsche, but also under the growing popularisation of the Shoah in public discourse, antisemitism became simply an empty signifier denoting everything from Palestine solidarity to a “foreshortened” critique of finance capitalism.

Such a shift blended seamlessly with both the onslaught of post-structuralism after 1990. It not only reflected the radical Left’s decline after 1989, but also the long march of its post-operaist fragments through the institutions of German parliamentarism in the form of Die Linke, academia, or publishing. It was thus possible in 2018 for Missy Magazine, a queer feminist outlet with radical pretensions, to unironically run a piece on how antisemitism lurks behind every criticism of Israel.[82] Much like the case of pre-Brexit glorification of the EU’s “cosmopolitanism” as an antidote to “Little England”, this projective image of Israel is framed here as opposition to a German parochialism, notwithstanding the fact the divergence from the global left-wing consensus on Palestine makes this type of German left look increasingly parochial from the outside.

Epilogue: The end of the Antideutsche?

The Antideutsche can rightly be regarded as another episode in a long history of German petit bourgeois radicalism – familiar since the 1848 revolution – which in the light of defeat shifted from challenging to affirming the status quo. That so many key founders of the current were Maoists is not surprising. Whatever their opposing political directions – castigating imperialism or celebrating it – both Maoists and Antideutsche have conducted their struggles almost exclusively in a field of ideas cut off from the organised labour movement, with the primary aim of showing why they were right and other leftists got it wrong.[83] This isolation from the working class was not entirely the post-war German Left’s own fault but can be traced back to the particular circumstances this Left found itself in after 1945. These did not only include the trauma of Nazism, but the condition of a highly affluent consumerist society at the frontlines of the Cold War and the spectre of lacklustre “real-existing socialism” next door, as well as a working class segregated from its more militant Gastarbeiter components and hegemonised by the right-wing components of Social Democracy.

The cynical philosemitic attitude of the West German establishment, manifested in its definition of Israel and Zionism as representatives of Jews victimised by the Nazis, was not just intended to rehabilitate Germany in the eyes of the US-led “international community” but to also obscure the Federal Republic’s numerous personal and structural continuities with the Third Reich, as well as to accuse the New Left of antisemitism due to its support for the Palestinian struggle. The New Left’s key demand for a more comprehensive rather than superficial reckoning with the past was being materialised precisely at the time when it was collapsing. It was thus understandable that “antisemitism” – as an issue separated from the wider dynamics of capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, and racism – would function as the code enabling the accommodation of so many former radicals to the status quo, while allowing them to retain progressive and even radical pretences. This – and not the long-lasting effects of German guilt – is the actual historical meaning of the Antideutsch current and its influence over the rest of the German Left.

However, Germany is not a static society. The superstructure on which the Antideutsche emerged and thrived has witnessed enormous transformations during the last two decades. The “long summer of migration” of 2015 and the widespread solidarity between locals and mainly Muslim refugees, solidified Germany’s status as a “post-migrant society”,[84] with a growing plurality of non-white and migrant narratives expressing a newfound assertiveness. The arrival and mainstreaming of the Black Lives Matter movement in Germany has made it increasingly difficult to gloss over the connections between racist police brutality in the US and Germany on the one hand, and the plight of the Palestinians on the other. Equally important, an increasingly vocal dissident Jewish current in Germany is actively challenging the false conflation of Zionism with Judaism. The Habermasian post-Historikerstreit consensus of a fundamental incomparability of the Shoah with other historical injustices like colonialism is also under strain, as the backlash following the attacks on the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe in 2020 demonstrated.[85]

Do these developments mean that the contradictions between the Left’s universalist aspirations and its parochialism on the question of Palestine are dissolving? The answer is far from simple. As an organised current, the Antideutsche are hardly relevant today. One could argue, however, that the “edgy” debates initiated by the Antideutsche – specifically the idea that the Left has an antisemitism problem – have been appropriated by hegemonic public discourse in a Gramscian-style passive revolution, in line with the overall progressive-neoliberal revamping of German capitalism, of which events like the Historikerstreit and the transformation of the Greens from a protest into an elite party represent significant milestones among others. After all, far from becoming Antideutsche, the majority of renegade Maoists, but many other leftists as well,[86] mutated into Third Way social democrats and humanitarian-interventionist Greens. 

The new mainstream awareness of structural racism does also not mean that the German Left is automatically rediscovering its previous solidarity with the Palestinians. Like in other Western countries, the radical impulses of Black Lives Matter and other movements are constantly the object of co-option from above. In the case of Germany four observations can be made in this regard. First, there are concerted attempts to exclude Palestinians from the variety of increasingly visible groups affected by racism.[87] This had led many to speak of a specific “anti-Palestinian” racism in Germany, as the existence of Palestinians as victims of Zionism is perceived to disrupt of script of a redemptive positive German identity in which support for Israel figures prominently as its foundational cornerstone. Furthermore, like in Britain in the midst of Labour’s manufactured scandal on antisemitism, Zionism is constructed by mainstream discourses as integral to all forms of Jewish identity. Thus, under the prism of “lived experience”, any criticism of Zionism can be labelled antisemitic if the person criticised may wish to do so.

Moreover, if class has nothing to do with racism, then all what’s left is an implicit hierarchy of victimhood, which leads to the question of where white progressive Germans fit it. Being “against every antisemitism” (gegen jeden Antisemitismus) – that is, not just neo-Nazi but “Islamic” and “left-wing antisemitism” too – has evolved into a racist dog-whistle that secures white Germans a more comfortable spot in this hierarchy, as the scourge of antisemitism can be safely externalised to Palestinian or Muslim Others, and to those in solidarity with them. That all three elements can claim some kind of radical patina in Germany, more than they can in Britain, France, or the United States, is testament to the long half-life of the Antideutsche and their autonomist fellow-travellers.

Finally, the exponential increase of repression against supporters of Palestinian liberation in Germany cannot be viewed in isolation from the current condition of economic malaise, prolonged crisis, and the rise of the far right. The banning of pro-Palestinian demonstrations has as much to do with the German state’s cynical philosemitism, as it has to do with a war being waged against a significant part of the German working class, which has a so-called “immigrant background”. The externalisation of antisemitism to Palestinians and Arabs in general today merges seamlessly with calls for “mass deportations” due to this alleged “imported antisemitism”, signalling the mainstreaming of the far right’s agenda. Any Antideutsch-influenced Left is by definition incapable of providing, not just a defence of racialised groups in society, but of the working class in general.

What can ultimately break this impasse is not so much an intensification of education among the Left. Crucial as this might be, it should not be forgotten that the accusation of antisemitism against the Left is merely part of using the Left’s own weapons to crush it.[88] That is, Israel or antisemitism are just convenient alibis from the standpoint of capitalist interests and their political elites. More important in the long run will be a militant labour movement firmly opposed to imperialism, as well as all forms of militarism, colonialism, and racism.


I would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their highly constructive feedback and suggestions. I would also like to express my gratitude to Dirk Moses for his insightful comments on my draft.


Achcar, Gilbert 2009, The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israel War of Narratives, New York: Metropolitan Books.

Adorno, Theodor and Max Horkheimer 1988 [1944], Dialektik der Aufklärung. Philosophische Fragmente, Frankfurt: Fischer.

Augstein, Rudolf, Karl Dietrich Bracher, Martin Broszat, Jürgen Habermas, and Joachim Fest 1987, Historikerstreit: Die Dokumentation der Kontroverse um die Einzigartigkeit der nationalsozialistischen Judenvernichtung.München: Piper.

Avanti-Projekt Undogmatische Linke 2002, ‘An open letter about the Israel/Palestine-conflict’, Link no longer available.

Badiou, Alain, Eric Hazan, and Ivan Segre 2013, Reflections on Antisemitism. London: Verso.

Balthaser, Benjamin 2019, ‘The death and life of the Jewish century’, Boston Review, 20 March. Available at: .

Budeiri, Musa 2010 [1977], The Palestine Communist Party 1919-1948: Arab and Jew in the Struggle for Internationalism, Chicago: Haymarket.

Callinicos, Alex 2001, ‘Plumbing the depths: Marxism and the Holocaust’, The Yale Journal of Criticism 14, 2: 385-414.

Dimitrov, Georgi 1972 [1935] ‘The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle of the Working Class against Fascism’, Georgi Dimitrov, Selected Works 2, Sofia: Sofia Press. Available at:

Elsässer, Jürgen 1990, „Weshalb die Linke anti-deutsch sein muss“, ak –Zeitung für linke Debatte und Praxis 315: 2.

Enzensberger, Hans-Magnus 1991, “Hitlers Widergänger“, Der Spiegel, 2 February.Available at:

Fekete, Liz 2014, ‘Rewiring fascists: behind the cult of Exit’, Race and Class 56, 3: 91–101.

Fischer, Leandros 2016, Zwischen Internationalismus und Staatsräson: Der Streit um den Nahostkonflikt innerhalb der Partei DIE LINKE, Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

Fischer, Leandros 2019, ‘Deciphering Germany’s pro-Israel consensus’, Journal of Palestine Studies 48, 2: 26-42.

Foroutan, Naika 2019, Die Postmigrantische Gesellschaft: Ein Versprechen der Pluralen Demokratie, Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag.

Fraser, Nancy 2019, The Old Is Dying and the New Cannot Be Born: From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump and Beyond, London: Verso.

Goldhagen, Daniel 1996, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Haenisch, Horst 2017 [2013], Faschismus und der Holocaust: Versuch einer Erklärung, Frankfurt: Aurora.

Hanloser, Gerhard (ed.) 2004, ‘Sie waren die antideutschesten der deutschen Linken’ Zu Geschichte, Kritik und Zukunft antideutscher Politik.  Münster: Unrast.

Hanloser, Gerhard 2004, ‘Bundesrepublikanischer Linksradikalismus und Israel – Antifaschismus und Revolutionismus als Tragödie und als Farce’ in ‘Sie waren die antideutschesten der deutschen Linken’ Zu Geschichte, Kritik und Zukunft antideutscher Politik, edited by Gerhard Hanloser, Münster: Unrast, 171-210.

Hanloser, Gerhard 2019, Die andere Querfront: Skizzen des antideutschen Betrugs. Münster: Unrast.

Hindemith, Stella and Stefanie Lohaus 2018, ‘Das wird man wohl noch fragen dürfen’, Missy Magazine, 17 March, available at:

Honig-Parnass, Tikva 2011, False Prophets of Peace: Liberal Zionism and the Struggle for Palestine, Chicago: Haymarket.

Kessler, Mario 1993, Arbeiterbewegung und Antisemitismus. Berlin: Dietz.

Kessler, Mario 2022, Sozialisten gegen Antisemitismus: Zur Judenfeindschaft und ihrer Bekämpfung (1844-1939). Hamburg: VSA.

Kipping, Katja 2010, ‘Für einen linken Zugang zum Nahostkonflikt jenseits von Antizionismus und antideutschen Zuspitzungen‘ in Der Nahostkonflikt: Befindlichkeiten der deutschen Linken, edited by Marcus Hawel and Moritz Blanke, Berlin: Dietz.

Koenen, Gerd 2004, ‘Mythen des 20. Jahrhunderts‘ in Neuer Antisemitismus? Eine globale Debatte, edited by Ulrich Speck et al, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 168-190.

Koltan, Michael 2004, ‘Talking `bout my generation’ in ‘Sie warn die Antideutschesten der deutschen Linken‘. Zu Geschichte, Kritik und Zukunft antideutscher Politik, edited by Gerhard Hanloser, Münster: Unrast, 87-104.

Kommunistischer Bund 1988, ‘Warum wir nicht an der Demonstration teilnehmen‘ in Deutsche Linke zwischen Israel und Palästina, edited by Redaktion Arbeiterkampf, Hamburg: Hamburger Satz- und Verlags-Kooperative.

Kühn, Andreas 2005, Stalins Enkel, Maos Söhne: Die Lebenswelt der K-Gruppen in der Bundesrepublik der 70er Jahre, Frankfurt: Campus.

Kundnani, Hans 2015, The Paradox of German Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Küntzel, Matthias 2019, Nazis und der Nahe Osten. Wie der islamische Antisemitismus entstand, Leipzig: Hentrich & Hentrich.

Kurz, Robert 2003, Die antideutsche Ideologie: Vom Antifaschismus zum Krisenimperialismus: Kritik des neuesten linksdeutschen Sektenwesens in seinen theoretischen Propheten.Münster: Unrast.

Langbehn, Volker and Mohammad Salama (eds.) 2011, German Colonialism: Race, the Holocaust, and Postwar Germany, New York: Columbia University Press.

Lerman, Antony and David Miller 2019, Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, the Party and Public Belief, London: Pluto.

Meinhof, Ulrike 1968. ‘Drei Freunde Israels’, Introduction to Isaac Deutscher, Der israelisch-arabische Konflikt, Frankfurt: Edition Voltaire.

Mohr, Markus and Sebastian Haunss 2004, ‘Die Autonomen und die anti-deutsche Frage oder „Deutschland muss…“’ ‘Sie warn die Antideutschesten der deutschen Linken’. Zu Geschichte, Kritik und Zukunft antideutscher Politik, edited by Gerhard Hanloser, Münster: Unrast, 65-86.

Moses, Dirk 2021, ‘Der Katechismus der Deutschen‘, Geschichte der Gegenwart, published 23 May:

Novick, Peter 1999, The Holocaust in American Life, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Nowak, Peter 2013, Kurze Geschichte der Antisemitismusdebatte in der deutschen Linken, Berlin: Assemblage.

Pappe, Ilan 2006, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Oxford: Oneworld.

Postone, Moishe 1980, ‘Antisemitism and National Socialism: Notes on the German reaction to “Holocaust” ’, New German Critique 19, 1: 97-115.

Revolutionäre Zellen 1991, ‘Gerd Albartus ist tot’, Die Früchte des Zorns, available at:

Said, Edward 2000, ‘My Encounter with Sartre’, London Review of Books 22, 11:

Scheffler, Thomas 1988, „Die Normalisierung der Doppelmoral“, PROKLA 73: 76-96, available at:

Scheffler, Thomas 1995, Die SPD und der Algerienkrieg, Berlin: Verlag Das Arabische Buch.

Scheit, Gerhard 2011, ‘Es gibt keine Islamophobie’, Jungle World, 11 August, available at:

Seymour, Richard 2007, The Liberal Defence of Murder. London: Verso.

Slobodian, Quinn 2012, Foreign Front: Third World Politics in Sixties West Germany, Durham NC: Duke University Press.

Slobodian, Quinn 2013, ‘The borders of the Rechtsstaat in the Arab Autumn: deportation and law in West Germany’, German History, 31, 1: 204-224.

Sommer, Michael 2014, ‘Falsch aber wirkungsvoll. Moishe Postones „marxistische“ Theorie des Antisemitismus und der Bruch mit Antikapitalismus und Kapitalismuskritik’, in ‘Antifa heißt Luftangriff!’ Regression einer revolutionären Bewegung, edited by Susanne Witt-Stahl and Michael Sommer, Hamburg: Laika, 57-99.

Steffen, Michael 2002, Geschichten vom Trüffelschwein: Politik und Organisation des Kommunistischen Bundes 1971-1991.Berlin: Assoziation A.

Sternhell, Zeev 1998, The Founding Myths of Israel. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Timm, Angelika 1997, Hammer, Zirkel, Davidstern: Das gestörte Verhältnis der DDR zu Zionismus und Staat Israel. Bonn: Bouvier.

Tsianos, Vassilis 2014, ‘ Homonationalismus und new metropolitan mainstream. Gentrifizierungsdynamiken zwischen sexuellen und postsäkularen Politiken der Zugehörigkeit’, suburban, 2, 3: 59-80.

Traverso, Enzo 2000, Nach Auschwitz. Cologne: ISP.

Ullrich, Peter 2013, Deutsche, Linke und der Nahostkonflikt: Politik im Antisemitismus- und Erinnerungsdiskurs. Göttingen: Wallstein.

Vogt, Ernst 1976, Israel. Kritik von links. Dokumentation einer Entwicklung. Wuppertal: Peter Hammer.

Witt-Stahl, Susanne and Michael Sommer (eds.) 2014, „Antifa heißt Luftangriff!“ – Regression einer revolutionären Bewegung.Berlin: Laika.

Zonszein, Mairav 2020, “Jewish, Israeli scholars back African intellectual smeared for Israel criticism”, 972mag, 10 May. Available at:

Zuckermann, Moshe 2010, Antisemit! Ein Vorwurf als Herrschaftsinstrument, Vienna: Promedia.


[1] Zuckermann 2010

[2] The author was a fellow of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation between 2011 and 2014. During that time, the Foundation’s department for political education had a special focus on the Israel-Palestine conflict, centred on providing fellows with an overview of different narratives around the conflict through workshops. An edited volume, Der Nahostkonflikt: Befindlichkeiten der deutschen Linken (edited by Marcus Hawel and Moritz Blanke, Berlin, 2010) is emblematic of this approach. While the attitude towards the Antideutsche is highly critical, there is an acceptance of the narrative that German 1968 Left had an antisemitism problem in discussing Israel and Palestine. Ultimately, the Foundation’s approach never went beyond seeing the Palestine conflict as primarily one of competing narratives.

[3] E.g., Novak 2013.

[4] Fischer 2016.

[5] Fischer 2019.

[6] Badiou, Hazan, and Segre 2013.

[7] Peter Nowak’s (2013) Kleine Geschichte der Antisemitismusdebatte in der deutschen Linken, as well as Peter Ullrich’s (2013)Deutsche, Linke und der Nahostkonflikt: Politik im Antisemitismus- und Erinnerungsdiskurs can be seen as representative of this approach.

[8] The two most representative works in this respect are the volume ‘Sie warn die Antideutschesten der deutschen Linken‘. Zu Geschichte, Kritik und Zukunft antideutscher Politik, edited by Gerhard Hanloser (2004), as well as Hanloser’s more recent monograph,Die andere Querfront (2019).The volume Antifa heißt Luftangriff, edited by Susanne Witt-Stahl and Michael Sommer (2014) represents a critique of the Antideutsche’s pro-imperialist and classless “antifascism”, and one that also applies a historical contextualization in the analysis. A third critical approach to the Antideutsche is Robert Kurz’s (2003)Die antideutsche Ideologie: Vom Antifaschismus zum Krisenimperialismus, written from the theoretical standpoint of Kurz’s value criticism, a strand of thought partially coopted by the Antideutsch current.

[9] E.g., Hanloser 2004.

[10] The idea that the German Left should not talk about Palestine because doing so is “divisive”, because it cannot do solve the dispute, or because the conflict is just a projection screen for various biographical psychopathologies (i.e., Nazi grandparents), is a very widespread one within the broader Left. There is little need to point out the racism of such a posture, given that thousands of German leftists today have a so-called “migrant background”, not to mention the fact that German support is of vital importance to the maintenance of Israel’s system of systematic discrimination and expulsion of Palestinians.

[11] On the character of antisemitism vis-à-vis other forms of racism in the US context, see Benjamin Balthaser’s thoughtful essay “The death and life of the Jewish Century” (2019), on the resurgence of antisemitism in the Trump era. Rejecting liberal views of antisemitism as a personal pathology, Balthaser draws a distinction between the structural character of the racism affecting Afro-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and other groups in the United States on the one hand, and the institutional character of antisemitism as the foundational ideology of American institutions like Ivy League universities, the Republican Party, and many churches on the other. Balthaser furthermore contends that the West offered “communal membership” to the Jews after World War II in exchange for their political loyalty during the Cold War. As such, Jews as a relatively privileged ethnic group in the US cannot be considered on the same boat with those suffering structural forms of oppression; nonetheless, their whiteness is at best precarious and contingent on their political preferences. A similar conclusion can be drawn for contemporary Germany. While Jewish Germans do not endure the structural discrimination of Germans of African, Turkish, or Arab descent, their membership in the Mehrheitsgesellschaft (“majority society”) is contingent upon their identification with Israel, which has evolved into a key component of post-war German national identity.

[12] For a useful historical overview of the German Left’s attitude to antisemitism before 1945 see the works of historian Mario Kessler, specifically Arbeiterbewegung und Antisemitismus (1993) and his recentSozialisten gegen Antisemitismus: Zur Judenfeindschaft und ihrer Bekämpfung (1844-1939) (2022).

[13] The indiscriminate Allied bombardment of working class neighbourhoods near industrial zones was certainly an additional decisive factor that prevented the German working class from rising against Hitler during the war.

[14] Adorno and Horkheimer 1988 [1944].

[15] Traverso 2000, p.88.

[16] Budeiri 2010.

[17] E.g. Pappe 2006.

[18] Sternhell 1998.

[19] See Scheffler 1988.

[20] See Scheffler 1995.

[21] Said 2000.

[22] Meinhof 1968.

[23] Volkhard Mosler, former member of the SDS federal steering committee in 1967, interview conducted with author, 2014.

[24] A collection of Palestine-related statements by various organisations on the German Left can be found in the book by Ernst Vogt (1976) Israel.Kritik von links. Dokumentation einer Entwicklung. The Jusos notably broke off relations with the youth wing of the Israeli Labor Party following a resolution during their 1973 congress that called for a Palestinian right of return (see Vogt 1976, 186pp). Relations were only fully reestablished amidst the Second Intifada in 2002.

[25] The relatively weaker Trotskyist currents maintained relations with the Israeli Revolutionary Committee Abroad (ISRACA), an offshoot of Matzpen, which in turn had contacts with the DFLP. The DFLP was the only Palestinian faction willing to engage with Israeli anti-Zionist left-wingers and discuss the question of binationalism in a future de-Zionised Palestine, unlike the PFLP which adhered more strongly to its foundational Arab nationalism. In 1976, a delegation of students in Germany that included Arabs (including the Syrian author Rafik Schami) and Israeli anti-Zionists attended a workshop in Cyprus organised by the German Protestant Church’s student association ESG: The Arabs in the delegation were instrumental in convincing other Arabs already on the island to allow the Israelis to participate in a spontaneous demonstration against the Syrian invasion of Lebanon (Alexander Flores, delegation participant, personal communication).

[26]‘Setting the Record Straight: Entebbe Was Not Auschwitz’, Haaretz, 8 July 2011.

[27] Hanloser’s (2019) Die andere Querfront provides numerous examples of a left-wing criticism of an uncritical support of Palestinian nationalism within the German Left.

[28] Slobodian 2013, p. 209.

[29] cf. Koenen 2004, p. 181.

[30] See Achcar 2009.

[31] E.g. Küntzel 2019.

[32] Slobodian 2012.

[33] Slobodian 2013.

[34] See Timm 1997.

[35] See Michael Steffen’s (2002) monograph on the KB.

[36] For a comprehensive overview of the K-Gruppen see Andreas Kühn’s (2005) Stalins Enkel, Mao’s Söhne (“Stalin’s Grandchildren, Mao’s Sons”).

[37] The notable exception being the KB.

[38] Dimitrov 1935.

[39] This refers to the powerful tendency within the Jusos, which adopted Soviet-inspired theories of “state monopoly capitalism” – the idea of the capitalist state as beholden to the interests of few monopolies – while advocating for a popular front alliance with the DKP.

[40] Steffen 2002.

[41] Novick 1999.

[42] The debate has been extensively documented in Augstein et al (1987).

[43] Goldhagen 1996.

[44] Moses 2021.

[45] See Kundnani 2015. The realist justification of German foreign policy arguably reached its apex with Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik, whose premises of using the country’s economic clout to pragmatically advance national interests were adopted by successors Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl. Faint echoes could be discerned in Gerhard Schröder’s refusal to join the war on Iraq in 2003 and Liberal foreign minister Guido Westerwelle’s refusal to drag Germany into the war on Libya in 2011. The far more hawkish “idealists” are mainly to be found within the Green Party. Realists have usually sought a degree of independence from Washington, while idealists like current Green foreign minister Annalena Baerbock are stringent Atlanticists.

[46] Postone 1980.

[47] Callinicos 2001.

[48] Sommer 2014.

[49] Haenisch 2013, p.22.

[50] Like critical theory, value-critical Marxism would go on to serve as theoretical framework for various Antideutsch outlets. This has not remained uncontested, however; the Israeli exponent of critical theory Marxism, Moshe Zuckermann is one of the most outspoken and prolific critics of the Antideutsche in the German-speaking world, while Robert Kurz (2003) has done the same from the standpoint of reclaiming value-critical Marxism from perceived Antideutsch distortions.

[51] Hanloser (2019, pp. 115-117) hints at the contradictions in the Antideutsche’s reception of Postone. While his subjectivist account of capital as automatically bringing forth its own transcendence through technological advancement, and the corresponding negation of class struggle, certainly appealed to the middle-class Antideutsch milieu, the rather historically optimistic tone stood in contrast to the pessimism of critical theory to which many Antideutsche subscribed to. Ultimately, the rather undertheorised Antisemitism and National Socialism had a much bigger impact than Postone’s more sophisticated work, as did his political role as a critic of the German New Left.

[52] Langbehn and Salama 2011.

[53] Bundesarbeitskreis Shalom, website.

[54] Kommunistischer Bund 1988, p.42.

[55] Following a brief return to the anti-imperialist Left in the early 2000s, Elsässer would move to the far right in the following years. He is known today as a prolific conspiracy theorist, Strasserist, anti-immigrant activist, Islamophobe, and AfD supporter. Although this conversion appears bizarre, there are some elements of continuity with his earlier political activity. In light of the German government’s active role in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, the early Antideutsche were fervent supporters of Slobodan Milosevic. Even during his days in the radical Left, Elsässer would popularise the idea of Serb nationalism as a European bulwark against jihadism.

[56] Elsässer 1990.

[57] Enzensberger 1991.

[58] Wolfgang Pohrt, considered another intellectual ancestor of the Antideutsche, referring to Jürgen Habermas’s accusation of “left fascism” against the 1968 Left, wrote in the radical left magazine Konkret:

“The term left fascism sounds like an understatement, since one can spare the adjective ‘left’, and the rule is: The further to the left one was standing, the more of a committed Nazi he is [sic]. All political organisations have remained the same and have merely changed their signs. One doesn’t require imagination anymore to picture the Antiimps or the Autonomen as Hitler Youth stormtroopers or Aktion Werwolf squads [the teenage army set up by the Nazis during the last days of the war to sabotage the invading Allies]”, quoted in Hanloser 2019, p. 64, translation by the author.  

[59] Koltan 2004, p.91.

[60] Mohr and Haunss 2004, p.74.

[61] Referring to Sir Arthur Harris, head of the RAF Bomber Command during World War II.

[62] Revolutionäre Zellen 1991.

[63] Fekete 2014, p. 92.

[64] Fraser 2019.

[65] A quite telling example is the story of former neo-Nazi Jörg Fischer, a well-publicised Aussteiger (“exiter”), who later converted to Judaism and now runs a Zionist and Islamophobic website.“Vom Neonazi zum Israel-Erklärer”, Deutschlandfunk, 21 January 2011, available at:

[66] Quoted in Hanloser 2019, p. 52, translation LF.

[67]Antideutsch discourses were now slowly seeping into the left-liberal mainstream. The Jusos’ chair had claimed that the movement against the Iraq War was characterised by “anti-American and anti-Semitic argumentation patterns”, because of the US being associated therein with “money” and “power politics”. Jungle World 2003.

[68] Seymour 2007.

[69] See for instance “Lieber rechts als gar kein Israel“, Tageszeitung, 16 July 2018, available at:!5517963/. Antideutsche had organised a discussion in the alternative Conne Island youth centre in Leipzig in 2018 with a speaker who described the AfD as “the only remaining voice of reasons in the German Bundestag” and “the parliamentary arm of a materialist critique of ideology” (translation by author). 

[70] Indeed, and in the backdrop of today’s “culture wars”, one of the main dividing lines between esoteric Antideutsche á la Bahamas and less ideologically rigid Autonomen nowadays concerns attitudes towards movements like #metoo or other forms of “political correctness”, to which the former are firmly hostile.

[71] Mohr and Haunss 2004, pp. 78-9.

[72] Avanti 2002, cited in Fischer 2016, p.183, footnote.

[73] Non-participant observation at a panel discussion on “The 1968 Left and the Middle East” with Moshe Machover, Khalil Toama, and Thomas Seibert during the “1968 Congress”, Berlin, 2008.

[74] One such rant in 2011 claimed that “Islamophobia” was not a valid term, for what is actually antisemitic hatred in the form of envy at the successes of “jihadist collectivism”, see Scheit 2011.

[75] Quoted in Hanloser 2019, p. 25.

[76] Hanloser 2019, pp. 28-29.

[77] Kipping 2010.

[78] See Lerman and Miller 2019.

[79] See Fischer 2016.

[80] Honig-Parnass 2011.

[81] Cf. Tsianos 2014, p. 63-8.

[82] Hindesmith and Lohaus 2018.

[83]Admittedly, Maoists were not the only current suffering from this pathology, as the example of post-war Trotskyism’s highly fragmented nature testifies.  

[84] Foroutan 2019.

[85] Mbembe’s keynote speech at the Ruhrtriennale festival was cancelled following an intervention by the Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life and the fight against antisemitism, Felix Klein, who accused Mbembe of relativizing the Holocaust and denying “Israel’s right to exist”, due to the latter’s comparisons between the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and South African apartheid. Despite a climate of manufactured hysteria against Mbembe, the case highlighted the stifling climate of censorship inspired by the Bundestag’s 2019 anti-BDS resolution, while provoking interest on the lineages between colonialism and the Shoah, something which would have been unthinkable in the past. See Zonszein 2020.

[86] Current chancellor Olaf Scholz and former chancellor Gerhard Schröder were Stamokap-Jusos.

[87]The Amadeo Antonio Foundation, a liberal NGO, has been notorious in silencing and smearing Palestinian and dissident Jewish voices as “antisemitic”, promoting instead a sanitised version of anti-racism similar to that advanced by SOS Racisme in France. 

[88] The two well-known other examples are to equate opposition to the European Union with a regressive return to the nation-state, or to claim that opposition to NATO expansion is synonymous with support for Putin’s authoritarian regime.

Far-Right antisemitism and Heteronationalism

Building Jewish and Queer Resistance

Peter Drucker

Even after Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 US presidential election, the rise of the far right remains a defining feature of our time and a central challenge for the left. As analysts have pointed out, Trump’s losing vote total was the second-highest ever won by a US presidential candidate. Events since the election have confirmed his hold over the Republican Party and its transformation into a nationalist party of the far right. Even as Republicans continue to enjoy broad support from capital on such issues as tax cuts and social and environmental deregulation, multinational capital has lost the hegemonic influence over the Republican Party that it exercised over both major US parties from the 1980s through the first decade of the twenty-first century. [1]

Nor has Trump’s narrow defeat dented the prospects of far-right parties elsewhere, including in Western Europe. Besides the US, this article focuses on three northwest European states: Britain, France and the Netherlands. In all four of these countries, the far right is now either sharing power or a serious contender to gain or regain power.

In England, the ruling Conservative Party has since the 2016 Brexit referendum been undergoing a transformation into a right-wing nationalist party, even if its transformation is not yet as far-reaching as Trump’s transformation of the Republican Party. In France, National Rally leader Marine Le Pen won a record 41.5% of the vote in the second round of the presidential election in spring 2022, and the 89 seats her party won in the subsequent legislative elections made it the single biggest opposition party in parliament. In the Netherlands, the far-right Freedom Party (PVV) and Forum for Democracy (FvD) won almost 16 per cent of the vote in the 2021 parliamentary election.

The clear main task for the left in this situation is to organise the broadest, most effective possible resistance to the far right’s advance. At the same time, the prospect looms larger of having to resist the far right, in one or more countries, after its accession to government – as in the US under Trump from 2017 to 2021. This increases the importance of understanding the ideology that binds the far right together, helping account for its support in some parts of the population and its vulnerability in others.


This piece is being made available as a preprint edition of the double-volume Marxism and the Critique of Antisemitism special issue of Historical Materialism. Further additions will still be made before then. The final published version of this text will be made available on the Brill website in the coming months. We ask that citations refer to the Brill edition.All Illustrations are by Natalia Podpora.


The central and defining ideological hallmarks of the far right today, along with hostility to the left, are nationalism and racism, and particularly in northwestern Europe what is called ‘Islamophobia’. Strictly speaking, this is a relatively new, culturalised permutation of racism in which ‘the Muslim immigrant has replaced the Jew’ and ‘fear of multiculturalism and hybridity … brings up to date the old anxiety about “blood mixing”’.[2] With nationalism and racism as the core elements in its popular appeal, the far right can be flexible and even opportunistic on other issues in different countries, or even from year to year in the same country. On many issues, demogogy is the far right’s only consistency.[3]

This flexibility and opportunism are evident in relation particularly to Jews and LGBTIQ people. Historically, antisemitism and hostility to gay people were manifest in Nazism and many other fascist movements; for the Nazis, antisemitism was central. Today, however, the far right’s relation to Jews and LGBTIQ people is more variable and complicated. This article traces and analyses the far right’s varying, shifting and contradictory relationship to Jews and LGBTIQ people in Britain, France, the Netherlands and the US.

The article argues that the contemporary far right’s conflicted attitudes towards its countries’ Jews reflects its hesitation to wholeheartedly embrace a vision of a racially pure, culturally homogenous nation. This reflects processes of capitalist globalisation and European capitalist integration that are so far advanced as to make a complete break with them seem dubious even to leading sectors of the nationalist far right. Similarly, women and lesbian/gay people have come to play such an extensive and visible role in the North American and European waged labour force as to make a complete rejection of feminism and of lesbian/gay rights seem implausible even for many far-right forces that try to draw the line at ‘gender ideology’ and transgender liberation.

At the same time, far-right leaderships’ quest for a modus vivendi with capital fuels tensions with the intense nationalism, racism, sexism and heterosexism, not only of more extreme far-right currents, but also of much of the far right’s own broad base. Hostility towards Jews and LGBTIQ people among many of the far right’s adherents reflects a vision of both groups as prosperous and powerful. This is a drastic distortion of reality, even if Jewish working classes have declined since 1945 and there have been new openings for professional and managerial careers for gay/lesbian people since the 1970s.

This article contends, however, that feminist social reproduction theory reveals a certain rational kernel in far-right hostility to Jews and queers. In very different ways, Jews and LGBTIQ people play distinctive roles in the mutating social reproduction of contemporary capitalist societies: Jews disproportionately in cultural and ideological sectors, and LGBTIQ people in shifts from ‘biological’ to market-oriented families. Antisemitism and anti-LGBTIQ ideology feed on deeply rooted anxieties among millions of working-class and petty-bourgeois people about threats to ‘their’ cultures and ways of life, anxieties on which the far right can sometimes capitalise.

All these contradictory trends result in a constant tension on the far right between rejection of Jews and LGBTIQ people, on the one hand, and efforts to harness some Jews and some lesbian/gay people to the project of a more authoritarian, nationally-oriented and socially-conservative capitalist order, on the other. The clash between strands of the far right that are explicitly antisemitic and anti-LGBTIQ and strands that are only implicitly antisemitic and anti-LGBTIQ correlates, though far from perfectly, with the divide between far-right currents that I would define as ‘post-fascist’ and ‘neo-fascist’. ‘Post-fascist’ parties, by my definition, are those that are less committed to the effective suppression of opposition parties, opposition media and civil society, as carried out in recent years by ‘neo-fascist’ regimes in countries like Hungary and Turkey. While post-fascist leaderships retain the European far right’s trademark anti-Muslim racism, they present their criticism of Islam as a defence of European democratic values, and even of Jews’, women’s and lesbian/gay rights.

This post-fascist strategy can sometimes enable far-right parties to appeal to some Jews and some LGBTI people. More often, it can help inhibit even Jews and LGBTI people who vote for the left or centre-left from taking part actively in mobilisations against the far right. Jews and LGBTIQ people can for example be reluctant to mobilise against the far right because they have been influenced by right-wing portrayals of blacks and Muslims as antisemitic and homophobic. Even many left-leaning Jews and LGBTIQ people can be inhibited by ideological presuppositions that they share with the far right: homonationalist presuppositions among LGBTIQ people, Zionist presuppositions among Jews. Although the available data do little to justify portrayals of blacks, Muslims and the radical left as the main reservoirs of antisemitism and hostility to LGBTIQ people today, these portrayals are influential enough to complicate solidarity against the far right.

Fortunately, this article concludes, a base exists among both Jews and LGBTIQ people for radical antiracism, wide-ranging internationalist solidarity and defence of democracy from below. Growing minorities that embrace such perspectives exist today among both Jews and queers. A large minority of young US Jews today support antiracism and Palestine solidarity, for example, and queer antiracist and internationalist activism has been on the rise in both North America and Europe. There are grounds for hope that Jews and queers can be a significant part of the struggle, however challenging, against the far-right threat.

Roots of far-right ambiguities

The far-right threat to Jews and queers, though daunting, is ambiguous. The ‘fine people’ in far-right groups whom Trump saluted when they mobilised in Charlottesville in 2017 chanted ‘Jews will not replace us’, yet Trump’s Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner played a prominent role in his administration. This ambiguity was reflected in Trump’s contortions in trying to distinguish between the ‘bad Jews’ who opposed him and the good Jews who supported him.

In the Netherlands, the Dutch Zionist Israel Documentation and Information Centre (CIDI), despite its traditional ties to social democracy, showed sympathy for years for the far-right, pro-Israel Forum for Democracy (FvD). It gave FvD leaders a public platform as recently as May 2020, praising them for their support for Israel – until 2021, when the antisemitism of Thierry Beaudet and other FvD leaders, notably in comparing public health restrictions in the COVID-19 pandemic to the Holocaust, finally impelled CIDI to take its distance.[4]

The far right also takes contradictory positions on LGBTIQ issues. Trump repaid white evangelicals for their support by defending their ‘religious freedom’ to discriminate, yet he gave gay Republican Richard Grenell several high-ranking jobs and used him as an envoy to the European far right while Grenell was ambassador to Germany. US Republicans remain divided today on gay issues: when the 2022 Texas Republican Party platform called homosexuality an ‘abnormal lifestyle choice’,[5]  Florida’s right-wing Republican Senator Rick Scott criticised the Texas position as not ‘inclusive’.[6] In France, Le Pen has tried to rally gays by emphasising the Muslim threat to them, yet pledged to repeal same-sex marriage if elected.

Beyond pure opportunism, these contradictions have deeper roots. They reflect the open-ended, ambiguous character of far-right societal projects today, rooted in the contemporary crisis of capitalist political economies.

Like the European far right of the 1920s and 1930s, the far right today feeds on the crisis of a prior wave of capitalist internationalisation. In countries like Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, the internationalisation of capital from the 1890s to 1914 had been dislocated by the First World War, and further derailed by tariff wars in the 1930s. In response, Nazism in power opted after a few years for an economic model of virtual autarky,[7] with ‘Jewish capital’ being a convenient bogeyman standing in for the capitalist internationalisation the Nazis were rejecting.

By contrast, as Robert Went has shown, the wave of internationalisation of capital from 1945 to about 2008 went much further and deeper, linking and internationalising all three circuits of capital: not only trade and finance, but also production.[8] Today’s far right, while seeking to enlist more nationally-oriented sectors of capital in an effort to turn back the clock to some extent, still has a hazy ultimate horizon for its economic project. The Trump administration’s renogotiation of NAFTA, Boris Johnson’s attempt to renogotiate the UK’s relationship to the EU, and Le Pen’s shifting attitude towards the euro are examples of this unclarity.

The contemporary far right’s attitude towards its countries’ Jews ideologically reflects its hesitation so far to wholeheartedly embrace a vision of a racially pure, culturally homogenous nation. Its attitude towards Jews is further complicated by its sympathy with far-right Zionism, which today promotes its own vision of a racially pure, culturally homogenous nation (Israel). Similarly, while pre-Second World War fascists openly denounced feminism and at least claimed to champion women’s return to the domestic sphere, today’s far right strives to roll back women’s professional, political and sexual emancipation without (as yet) a consistent vision of the gender and sexual order it advocates.

Especially in those far-right currents that continue today to centrally emphasise militant nationalism and traditional Christian identity, anti-LGBTIQ ideology, like antisemitism, remains a key mobilising theme. Even in those far-right parties that most strongly insist on their democratic character and attachment to Western humanist values, both anti-LGBTIQ ideology and antisemitism have a persistent appeal to their base and cadres. A range of far-right currents, besides seeing Jews as unreliable allies or even adversaries in the defence of white and/or Christian civilisation, see ‘gender ideology’ or ‘LGBT ideology’ as undermining the natural and/or Christian family. This has been manifest notably in attempts in the US and several European countries to block or roll back transgender rights.

By analogy with the philo-gay/lesbian ‘homonationalism’ in the service of imperialism that Jasbir Puar has described,[9] anti-LGBTIQ ideology today can be seen as ‘heteronationalism’, mobilising hostility to LGBTIQ people as a way of channeling popular anger at neoliberalism.[10] In a reflex response to the instrumentalisation of LGBTI rights by neoliberalism, heteronationalism has been instrumentalising anti-LGBTI attitudes in the service of right-wing populism, particularly in increasingly authoritarian countries from Poland to Brazil but also for example in the 2012 mobilisations against same-sex marriage in France. Even in power, the right can play on resentment of neoliberal ideology even as it maintains many key features of neoliberal economics, allowing neoliberal austerity and far-right reaction to continue to feed on one another.[11]

In this climate, violence against pride events, notably in Eastern Europe, has been partly the work of neo-fascist groups who believe that the European Union is ‘run by “fags”’.[12] The EU’s policy of imposing legal LGBTI rights since the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam as part of its ‘acquis’ helps fuel such beliefs.[13] In fact credence in the malevolent power of LGBTIQ people, and of Jews, extends well beyond the far right.

Far from being limited to fascist and neo-fascist groups, antisemitism and anti-LGBTIQ attitudes lie just beneath the surface even in far-right parties that deny any continuity with the fascist past. Trump’s attempts to reach out to ‘good Jews’ evoked no sympathy from his admirers in Charlottesville who chanted ‘Jews will not replace us’. In France, despite the far-right National Rally’s appeals to gay voters, it could not resist the temptation in 2012 when a centre-left government’s project for same-sex marriage elicited mass resistance to claim leadership of the crusade against marriage equality. In its programmes for the 2017 and 2022 elections it tried to square the circle, pledging to convert existing same-sex marriages into civil unions.[14]

Similarly, even where far-right parties ostensibly abjure antisemitism, their rise has propelled substantial increases in antisemitic harassment and violence. There were more antisemitic incidents in the US in 2019 than in any year since the Anti-Defamation League began collecting records 40 years earlier, a rise which the ADL’s head has blamed partly on Trump’s failure to condemn far-right antisemitism.[15] UK Home Office figures show a spike in hate crimes generally in post-Brexit England and Wales.[16] This paralleled a 78 per cent rise in anti-LGBTIQ harassment and violence in France in the year after the massive movement against same-sex marriage took off there in 2012.[17]

The fact that antisemitic and LGBTIQ attacks are usually the work of gangs of hooligans or ‘lone wolves’ allows the organised far right to deny responsibility. Yet the connection is evident. As a result, while most Jews and gay/lesbian people do not experience the constant levels of violence suffered by black and other racialised people, the fear that intermittent violence creates affects Jews and LGBTIQ people generally. The far right’s rise has plunged them into lives of endemic if unequally felt anxiety. 

Antisemitic and heteronationalist themes are sometimes bizarrely linked in far-right psychopathology. In Ben Lorber and Heron Greenesmith’s words, many on the far right ‘believe Jews advance “white genocide” – in addition to engineering increased immigration of Black and brown people, orchestrating racial justice movements, controlling the government and giant corporations, using space lasers to start California wildfires, and other dastardly schemes – by liberalizing societal attitudes around gender and sexuality’.[18] Despite the sexual conservatism of contemporary Islamic fundamentalism, far-right ideologues depict Muslims as promiscuous and sexually barbaric,[19] explicitly or implicitly linking them to queers.

There are notable parallels between antisemitic and anti-LGBTIQ ideology, despite the drastically different character of their respective targets: on the one hand, Jewish communities defined by shifting religious/ethnic/cultural identities transmitted across centuries; on the other, LGBTIQ communities that have to be reinvented in each generation through the coming out of diverse, initially isolated individuals. Even the two groups’ geographical location varies: unlike Jews, LGBTIQ people are present in substantial numbers in every country, including dependent countries, though less visible in countries where repression and persecution are most harsh. Yet the far right attacks Jewish and LGBTIQ groups in strangely similar ways, seeing them both as alien and threatening to the nation – as an insidious, barely visible enemy within.

The far right today still sometimes – if not always – harkens back to the classical far-right stereotype of the Jew ‘as the embodiment of marginality, otherness, cosmopolitantism, and critical thought’.[20] It also takes up the old far-right loathing of Jewish cosmopolitans like Rosa Luxemburg, ‘figures who profoundly marked the modern definition of internationalism’, as well as of Jewish champions of the cultural and intellectual avant-garde.[21] It also sometimes – if not consistently – replicates the hostility to homosexuality that Dagmar Herzog has described as one of ‘the distinctive markers of fascist sexual politics’,[22] exemplified in the Nazis’ 1928 declaration rejecting the ‘love between men or between women’ that ‘emasculates our people’.[23]

Transgender people are a special focus of contemporary far-right attacks, even in milieus where more normalised lesbian and gay people enjoy apparent acceptance. Trans activism is seen as part of a scheme to ‘overrid[e] biological sex with the amorphous concept of gender identity’.[24] In more moderate forms, such attitudes are echoed on the more mainstream conservative right. Former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss has written that ‘feminists who believe there are biological differences between men and women’ are being intimidated by a ‘zealous cabal … that has control of nearly all of the institutions that produce American cultural and intellectual life’.[25] In its more virulent forms, the anti-trans offensive has been sweeping much of the US as part of the general far-right offensive – orchestrated to some extent while Trump was in office from the top of his Justice Department.[26] Views like this have global far-right support. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for example declared in a speech at the UN in 2019 that efforts are being made to ‘destroy the innocence of our children, perverting even their most basic and elementary identity, the biological one’.[27]

Even far-right parties that avoid adopting a virulently anti-LGBTIQ profile adopt positions that threaten LGBTIQ people widely, particularly LGBTIQ people who have or want to have children. The far-right defence of the so-called ‘natural’ family order against ‘gender ideology’ often entails opposition to LGBTI parenting rights, such as adoption (including partner adoption) and medically-assisted procreation. Even far-right ‘tolerance’ of LGBTIQ people thus means keeping them second-class citizens in the fundamental sphere of social reproduction.

Jews, queers, class and social reproduction

Understanding far-right hostility to Jews and LGBTIQ people from a Marxist standpoint is complicated by the difficulties of analysing these target communities’ class composition and positions. The far right portrayal of both Jews and LGBTIQ people in general as wealthy and powerful can be refuted without much difficulty – and should be, particularly since this imagery is widely shared beyond the far right. This is a complex task, however. The image of Jews as wealthy and powerful flourished even in societies and periods when the great majority of Jews were in fact poor and persecuted. It has acquired somewhat more superficial plausibility in the decades since the Second World War, as official and ruling-class antisemitism has become less virulent and relative Jewish poverty has become less widespread.

Clearly the socioeconomic reality of Jewish and LGBTIQ communities is more complex than the ideology. Of course, all ethnic, cultural and sexual groups are divided by class, with all the social and ideological differentiation that this entails. However, some groups are more divided by class than others. Marxist analyses of black and similarly racialised groups trace the structural racism against them back to the low position they generally occupy in segmented labour markets and their outsize share of the reserve army of labour.[28] Neither Jewish nor LGBTIQ groups can be analysed in such straightforward class terms.

The long historical record of Jewish communities in pre-capitalist and capitalist societies reveals a continually shifting and always highly differentiated class landscape, with Jews playing notable roles at different times in petty commerce, working-class sectors largely excluded from heavy industry, more or less intermediate positions in welfare-state sectors such as teaching, healthcare and social work, and law and finance.[29] Unfortunately, contemporary data is scarce, geographically uneven, and couched in sociological categories that tend to obscure class affiliation.

In the US, the National Jewish Population Survey, last conducted 20 years ago, does show relatively higher levels of education and income for US Jews than for the US population at large. Twice as many Jewish households surveyed in 2000 (34 per cent) reported incomes above $75,000 than the US average (17 per cent). At the same time, the Jewish population was on average older, less likely to be in the workforce, and not that much less likely to have a household income below $25,000 (22 per cent as opposed to 28 per cent).[30] While PEW surveys have shown that Jews are disproportionately likely to have postgraduate degrees,[31] this category unites people in high class positions with some who are notoriously insecure and marginal.

As for LGBTIQ people, in the increasingly class-divided communities of a country like the US, studies have shown that both gay men and lesbians are under-represented in higher income brackets, that gay men in particular are over-represented in the lower income brackets, and that 39 per cent of LGBT adults in the US have incomes under $30,000 (compared with 28 per cent of adults in general). Trans people were even worse off, with one San Francisco study showing that 9 per cent had no source of income at all.[32] Poverty is a reality for millions of Jews and LGBTIQ people, with the Jewish and LGBTIQ elderly being especially vulnerable to it.

In short, the picture painted by far-right antisemites and heteronationalists, of communities that are largely prosperous and invested in maintaining the economic status quo, is a drastic distortion of reality, even if Jewish working classes have declined since 1945 and there have been new openings for professional and managerial careers for gay/lesbian people since the 1970s. There is of course no one-to-one correspondence between class position and politics. Still less can politics be explained by simplistic, non-Marxist analyses that equate ‘working-class’ with ‘uneducated’, and conclude that the far right has predominantly working-class support.

More careful, particularly Marxist analyses have shown that Brexit and Trump voters in particular have not only had higher average incomes than their opponents but have been proportionally stronger in petty-bourgeois layers.[33] Confusions of education with class are particularly prone to distort the class position of Jews and LGBTIQ people. Still, class analysis narrowly speaking does not yield full explanations of the position of Jews and LGBTIQ people in relation to the far right.

Nevertheless, despite the psychotic aspects of the conspiracy theories that many far-right groups peddle, a nuanced, intersectional Marxist approach can reveal a certain rational kernel in far-right hostility to Jews and queers. This analysis must be founded, not on class alone, but on feminist social reproduction theory.[34]

In very different ways, Jews and LGBTIQ people both play distinctive roles in processes of social reproduction of contemporary capitalist societies. In the case of Jews, this reflects their exclusion in mediaeval and early modern Europe from owning land or bearing arms, on the one hand, and the emphasis in rabbinical culture on literacy and study, on the other. In Enzo Traverso’s words, ‘Their culture oriented to writing placed them at the centre of an emerging cultural industry, based around publishing and press.’[35] These factors have resulted in the relative prominence in capitalist societies of Jews in such fields as the media (the Sulzberger family’s ownership of the New York Times in the US recalls the liberal-leaning, Jewish-owned publishing firms of Mosse and Ullstein in Weimar Germany[36]), academia and cinema. This has helped make Jews in these sectors convenient targets, explicit or implicit, of the far right from Hitler to Trump. Trump summed up his idiosyncratic twist on this old theme in a recent podcast: ‘they’re Jewish people that run the New York Times’, he said, and the newspaper ‘hates Israel’.[37]

The historical exclusion of Jewish men from traditional male roles in the exercise of violence has helped give far-right antisemitism a gender and sexual dimension.[38] What the far right perceives as Jewish men’s failure to conform to its model of proper masculinity parallels its vision of LGBTIQ people, especially transgender people and the most openly queer, as enemies of the family. Paradoxically, attempts by Jews and LGBTI people to adapt to predominant gender and sexual norms can seem as diabolical to the far right as open nonconfirmity. In France in the 1890s, the presence of a Jewish officer like Alfred Dreyfus in the army only convinced right-wing antisemites that he had to be a traitor to the nation. Today, many LGBTI people’s efforts to marry, adopt children and found socially-reproductive families only convinces right-wing heteronationalists that there is a plot to destroy the family from within.

Intersectional analysis can help illuminate the ways in which gender, class and racism interact in the far right’s vision (or paranoid fantasies) of the danger that Jews and LGBTIQ people pose to proper gender roles, proper capitalist economic relations and a world of white and/or Christian predominance. Queer Jews, located at the point where these perceived threats converge, epitomise them. At the same time, the parallels between far-right demonisation of Jews and LGBTIQ people sometimes seem to be less illuminated by intersectional analysis than by a relationship of structural homology, or even the simple concept of ‘adjacency’.[39] However different the real economic and social dynamics of Jewish and LGBTIQ communities are, there is just enough substance to Jewish transnational ties and to LGBTIQ  ‘chosen families’ to juxtapose them in far-right fears and fantasies.  These parallels can burgeon in far-right discourse into an elaborate ideological edifice in which fact sits cheek by jowl with free association run amok.

Between post-fascism and neo-fascism

There is a constant tension on the far right between a virtually psychotic rejection of Jews and LGBTIQ people, on the one hand, and efforts to harness some Jews and some lesbian/gay people to the project of a more authoritarian, nationally-oriented and socially-conservative capitalist order, on the other. The clash between strands of the far right that are explicitly antisemitic and anti-LGBTIQ and other strands that are only implicitly antisemitic and anti-LGBTIQ correlates, though far from perfectly, with the divide between far-right currents that I would define as ‘post-fascist’ and ‘neo-fascist’.

What is distinctive in the far right today, especially in the US and northwestern Europe, is the salience of institutionalised, less blatantly violent parties alongside the violent groups that more clearly harken back to a fascist past. To some extent, the far right’s contrasting attitudes to Jews and LGBTIQ people parallel this divide. Alongside groups that see all Jews and queers as evil, there are large far-right parties that allow for the possibility of inoffensive Jews (particularly those in or loyal to the state of Israel) and inoffensive gays and lesbians. This divide overlaps with the distinction between those far-right forces that can be defined as ‘neo-fascist’ or ‘post-fascist’.

As used in this article, the terms ‘neo-fascist’ and ‘post-fascist’ refer to the character of governments that the far right could participate in or even dominate. A survey of current or recent far-right governments or governments with far-right participation around the world shows that none of them so far fully meets the classic Marxist definition of fascist regimes: regimes that effectively suppress the independent labour movement and other social movements, opposition parties and opposition media.[40] This makes the concept of fascism, in Enzo Traverso’s words, ‘both inappropriate and indispensable for grasping this new reality’.[41] Instead many analysts describe most of the world’s major far-right parties and actually existing far-right governments as ‘post-fascist’ or ‘neo-fascist’.[42]

The difference between post-fascist and neo-fascist governments can be of crucial importance in elaborating strategies of resistance. As used in this article, the difference between them relates particularly to different degrees of commitment to the effective suppression of opposition parties, opposition media and civil society. The Trump administration in the US from 2017 to 2021, for example, despite its links to violent, racist, extraparliamentary paramilitary groups, never effectively subjugated the AFL-CIO, the New York Times, the courts or even state-level Republican election officials; it can be defined as post-fascist. By contrast, Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary, despite its superficial adherence to constitutional rule and multi-party elections, has managed to progressively bring the courts, the major media, the state apparatus and much of civil society under its control.[43] I define Orbán’s and kindred regimes as neo-fascist.

One feature of the new far right which has a bearing on its post-fascist or neo-fascist character is its varied, shifting ideological profile. Marine Le Pen in France pioneered the process of ‘de-demonising’ the National Front after she became its top leader in 2011, ultimately renaming it ‘National Rally’, for example by dropping the antisemitism that had characterised it under her father Jean-Marie Le Pen. In its new packaging, the National Rally has retained the European far right’s trademark anti-Muslim racism, but presents its criticism of Islam as a defence of European democratic values, and even of women’s rights – a tactic deployed by the Italian and Dutch far right as well, as Sara Farris has shown.[44] The National Rally’s marketing strategy has been widely replicated, particularly on the Western European far right.

Renunciation of antisemitism in particular is a marker of a post-fascist ideological profile. More than anything else, it enacts the adaptation of post-fascist parties to the official, liberal Western European and North American mainstream. In the years after 1945, condemnation of antisemitism and integration of Jews into society was seen as proof of a definitive break with the defeated Nazi adversary. It also served as evidence of Western democracy’s superiority to the Soviet Union and much of the East Bloc, where manifestations of institutionalised antisemitism were not hard to find.

With the rise of racism (anti-Muslim as well as anti-black) on the European right since the 1980s, Jews have largely been incorporated into its vision of embattled Western civilisation, and its spokespeople have denied the evident links between antisemitism, colonialism and racism. Israel in particular is imagined as sharing a common ‘Judeo-Christian heritage’.[45] It is no accident that censures of her father’s antisemitic statements were an early hallmark of Marine Le Pen’s rebranding of the National Front, and that Geert Wilders tried from the outset to keep his PVV free of members tainted by the earlier antisemitic traditions of the Dutch far right.

Yet increasingly in recent years, the far right’s post-fascist new look has proved difficult to keep up. In Western Europe, far-right parties with a new look face competition from others that harken back to a more sinister past. In the Netherlands, for example, the PVV lost terrain (for a few years) to the FvD of Thierry Beaudet, whose misogyny and peculiar championing of ‘boreal [read: ‘white’] civilisation’ have become increasingly notorious.[46]

To some degree, antisemitism and heteronationalism are particularly characteristic of neo-fascist, as opposed to post-fascist currents. Yet the growth of antisemitism and anti-LGBTIQ ideology cuts across this divide, with the rank and file and low-level leaders of ostensibly post-fascist parties being far from immune to them. Even in the more post-fascist-looking parties, the top leadership faces challenges from harder-line mid-level cadress and embarrassing statements and actions by the rank and file. An official Dutch study concluded in 2011 that despite the far-right PVV’s public pro-gay statements, its voters showed more anti-LGBTIQ attitudes than those of any other major party.[47] Beyond Europe, the US Republican Party seems to have been permanently affected by Trump’s sympathies for Klan groups, neo-Nazis, the QAnon conspiracy theorists and various neo-fascist splinters.

Challenges for Jewish and queer resistance

The continued prominence of antisemitism and heteronationalism, both on the neo-fascist far right and in supposedly ‘de-demonised’ post-fascist parties, should make the far right’s rise a cause of particular alarm in Jewish and LGBTIQ communities. Yet there are factors that hinder even the majority of Jews and LGBT people who vote against the far right from taking part actively in broad alliances and mobilisations against it.

In some cases, this is due to a failure by anti-far-right organisers to actively reach out to Jews and queers. This can at times reflect heteronormative attitudes among them, or discomfort with ‘too Jewish’ Jews. At the same time, Jews and LGBTIQ people can be reluctant to mobilise against the far right because they have been influenced by right-wing portrayals of blacks and Muslims as antisemitic and homophobic. Even many left-leaning Jews and LGBTIQ people can be inhibited by ideological presuppositions that they share with the far right: homonationalist presuppositions among LGBTIQ people, Zionist presuppositions among Jews.

Particularly in the US and northwestern Europe, sectors of the far right have taken advantage of conservative trends that influenced growing minorities of Jews beginning in the 1960s, and of open gays and lesbians beginning in the 1980s. Enzo Traverso’s The End of Jewish Modernity uses Henry Kissinger as the emblematic figure of a divorce among some Jews from the centre-left and radical left to which they had been loyal for much of the twentienth century.[48] By the 1990s a visible gay/lesbian right emerged, epitomised by figures such as Andrew Sullivan and Camille Paglia.[49]

The growth of a conservative minority among Jews has in part been a response to tensions with increasingly militant movements of black and immigrant communities and other racialised groups. In the US, some Jews have been reluctant to accept the implications of the reality that most Jews in the course of the twentienth century had been incorporated into majorities defined as white (thus marginalising Sephardic, black or otherwise racialised Jews).[50] The rise of a disproportionately Jewish neoconservative current under Reagan and the two Bushes in the 1980s[51] prefigured some US Jews’ ambiguous relationship to the right in the era of Trump, which can hinder solidarity against the racist far right. The reasons for solidarity are clearer and more dramatic than ever, epitomised in the killing of ten people in a predominantly Black neighbourhood in Buffalo in May 2022. The white supremacist killer expressed sympathy for ‘great replacement theory’, which blames Jews for subverting the white race, and claimed the 2018 shootings that killed 11 Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 as an inspiration. The American Jewish Committee tweeted in response, ‘White supremacist violence is a threat to us all.’ Yet at the same time the Anti-Defamation League, one of the Jewish organisations that condemned the Buffalo killings, continues its surveillance of pro-Palestine and Black Lives Matter organisers and continues to back police exchange programmes with Israel that contribute to racist police violence. As Rebecca Pierce commented, ‘there are unfortunately some within the Jewish community for whom investment in whiteness ranks above any interest in shared struggle’.[52]

In northwestern Europe, despite British and Dutch Jews’ tradition of support for their countries’ labour parties, tensions have risen in recent decades between established Jewish organisations, like the British Board of Deputies and the Dutch CIDI, and activists of Muslim immigrant origin. Israeli attempts to magnify Jews’ fears, along with a few European Muslims’ inclination to target Jews in general in retaliation for Israeli actions, have exacerbated this dynamic. Against this backdrop, several repulsive attacks on Jews by people of immigrant origin have given rise to charges of widespread Muslim antisemitism. In both the US and northwestern Europe, tensions like these have strained Jews’ earlier ties to the left and facilitated some Jews’ movement towards the right.

All these trends can complicate Jewish integration into mobilisations against the far right. Jews are aware of growing antisemitism, which was manifest for example in the murderous attack on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in the US in 2018, which killed 11 Jews. Since people gradually became aware after the Second World World of the full extent and horrors of the Nazi genocide, fears of recurrence have become a basic constituent element of Jewish identity in countries in Europe and the Americas with sizeable Jewish communities (as well as a liberal ‘state religion’, in Enzo Traverso’s words[53]). Yet Jewish fears of resurgent antisemitism have taken different forms over the decades.

From the 1890s to the 1930s, Jewish communities, particularly in much of Eastern Europe and North America, were to a substantial extent made up of working classes, organised in labour movements, which explicitly and rightly linked antisemitic threats to far-right ideology and attacks.[54] Consequently, masses of Jews influenced by working-class  movements were particularly likely to identify the right and far right as hotbeds of antisemitism. For several decades after 1945, as Jewish labour movements shrank, a left-wing and proletarian interpretation gave way to other interpretations of antisemitism. There was a spread of Zionist ideology that portrayed non-Jews as inherently prone to antisemitism, and of racist ideology that portrayed Muslims and blacks as a main source of antisemitism.[55]

Large-scale immigration of Jews since the late 1950s and 1960s from the Maghreb, especially Algeria, accentuated this slippage, notably in France. Algerian Jews combined devotion to the French Republic (which had emancipated them and given them citizenship) with colonial, anti-Muslim and anti-Arab prejudices.[56]

Recently this immigration to France indirectly contributed to the rise of the far right through the 2022 presidential candidacy of Eric Zemmour, a descendant of Algerian Jews who is an apologist for the Vichy regime’s antisemitic crimes and an anti-Muslim racist, as well as an opponent of LGBTI rights. Zemmour’s candidacy sowed divisions in the French Jewish community;[57] although official French Jewish organisations boycotted his candidacy, he won 53.6 per cent of the first-round presidential vote among the few thousand French citizens voting in Israel (versus barely 7 per cent of the vote in metropolitan France).[58] Ian Buruma has pointed out that Dutch far-right leaders Wilders and Beaudet have settler-colonial family roots, in their case in the former Dutch colony Indonesia.[59]

Allegations of ingrained Muslim antisemitism have spread in northwestern Europe in the far right and beyond. Analysing the relative weight of different sources of antisemitism today is a challenging task. Surveys show a steady, significant level of antisemitism in many contemporary societies. Clearly it has deep roots in European cultures going back to European mediaeval expulsions of Jews and nineteenth-century mass antisemitic movements, which had few parallels in the mediaeval and early modern Islamic Middle East or North Africa.

Yet today the European right tends to hunt for antisemitism mainly in immigrant communities of Muslim origin – citing evidence mostly in expressions of solidarity with Palestinians. Some pro-Palestinian protesters in Europe in fact identify with Hamas, whose 1988 charter reflected an amalgam of anti-Zionism and hostility to Jews first concocted in the 1920s and 1930s.[60] Most crudely and provocatively, this amalgam has surfaced in some young Dutch protesters’ chant ‘Hamas, Hamas, Joden aan het gas!’ (‘Hamas, Hamas, gas the Jews!’).[61] Right-leaning Jewish organisations have seized on the prevalence of such antisemitic discourses in northwest European immigrant communities.

The available evidence, while limited, gives a more nuanced picture. One 2022 survey in the Netherlands for example showed that 36 per cent of people of non-Western immigrant origin (most of them from Muslim countries like Morocco and Turkey) blamed Hamas for the persistence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, compared with only 59 per cent who blamed Israel and 26 per cent who blamed the Palestinian Authority.[62] A report by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London found no polling that indicated a prevalence of antisemitism among Muslim populations.[63] In France, studies show that the recent wave of anti-Jewish attacks has coincided with a marked decline of antisemitism in public opinion.[64]

The available data do little to buttress assertions that ethnicity, religion or nationality are key factors in explaining antisemitism. A recent survey by the Anti-Defamation League – not an organisation known for its sympathy for the radical left or for non-Jewish immigrants – showed that in Western Europe religion was a minor factor in forecasting antisemitic attitudes, with Christians (at 25 per cent) wedged in between Muslims (29 per cent) and atheists and unaffiliated (22 per cent). Gender differences were at least as significant (males 27 per cent, females 21 per cent).[65] As for nationality, although the range was much greater, Germany had the same ranking as Belgium (27 per cent).[66]

Such data provides little basis for the widespread argument on the right that the fight against antisemitism in Europe and the Americas should take immigrant communities and the left as its main targets. This issue has been highlighted in Britain by the campaign by the Board of Deputies, the country’s most prominent established Jewish organisation, to portray the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership as pervasively and exceptionally antisemitic. Taken up and amplified by much of the media, the Board of Deputies’ campaign succeeded in obscuring the well-documented fact that Labour Party members have less antisemitic attitudes on average than backers of the Conservative Party. Research has shown that antisemitic attitudes are less prevalent on the British left than on the right, and declined among Labour supporters between 2015 and 2017.[67]

The British data fit in with the outcomes of other studies, suggesting that differences between the left and right are more significant overall in accounting for antisemitism than religion or ethnicity, and that the right is more antisemitic. Referring to France, one major European survey concluded, ‘The radical right remains the most attractive political area for those expressing racist and antisemitic attitudes, whereas people who vote for the radical left are the least racist and the most likely to consider Jews and Muslim as French.’[68] The surprise here is that there is no surprise: so pervasive have efforts been in recent years to overturn evidence correlating far-right support with antisemitism, drawn from almost two centuries during which antisemitism ‘had been symbiotically interwoven within all European nationalisms’.[69]

Signs have been multiplying that a wide range of far-right currents still suspect Jews of undermining the nation and white/Christian culture by promoting the ‘Great Replacement’ and ‘Eurabia’. This tendency cuts across the divide between violent, conspiracy-minded extremists and more ‘respectable’, ‘rational’ intellectuals on the post-fascist right. In response, Jewish individuals and groups participate actively and visibly in mobilisations against new outbreaks of far-right antisemitism. Yet many Jewish organisations perceived as representative are absent from anti-far-right mobilisations – due in part to tensions around Israel.


Liberal and post-fascist condemnations of antisemitism and far-right flirtations with antisemitism meet and mix strikingly in a shared allegiance to Zionism. From a minority current among Jews almost everywhere before the Second World War, Zionism became the focus of Jewish loyalties broadly after the foundation of the Israeli state, cementing a newly secured integration of Jews into the ideological order of the capitalist ‘free world’.

This shift in world Jewish opinion reflected in part the fact that, following the Nazi genocide and the massive emigration of Jews from the Arab region to Israel, the global Jewish population outside Israel became more concentrated than ever before in the imperialist states of North America and northwestern Europe.[70] By the time of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, these imperialist states (especially the US) were closely allied to Israel. This reinforced the steadily growing tendency of Jews in these countries to rally around Israel. The popularity of Zionism made support for Israel a convenient vehicle for Jewish political, ideological and social integration.

The minority of Jews seeking a place on the political right often justified their rightward moves by portraying the Palestinian struggle, and its supporters on the global left, as motivated by hostility to Jews – a portrayal buttressed by a tendentious reading of history. Gilbert Achcar’s painstaking reconstruction of Palestinian and Arab history has demonstrated for example how instances of collaboration with Nazism by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem have been used to construct a globally false characterisation of the Palestinian struggle as a whole as antisemitic.[71]

Room for even right-wing Jews in neo-fascist currents today is very limited. Yet the US and European right has a natural affinity with the Israeli right. For Geert Wilders of the Dutch PVV, Israel is ‘the West’s first line of defense against Islam’.[72]

For Jews on the centre-left, by contrast, even in the past when the Histadrut and the kibbutzim were the public (though in reality never representative) face of Zionism, sympathy for the Israeli project always had unsettling implications for European Jews. However much they tried to combine support for Israel with defence of Jews in the ‘diaspora’, they shrank from forcefully denouncing the central Zionist tenet that Israel is Jews’ only ultimate refuge. They found themselves caught up in a sort of official philosemitism that, as Houria Bouteldja has noted, itself embodies an oppressive position and has a certain underground affinity with antisemitism.

By contrast with an earlier tendency to link Jewish integration with cultural assimilation (outside the privatised sphere of religion), today’s apparent philosemitic message – we accept and even love the Jews – is combined with an implicit message: we love them in their ineradicable differentness.[73] This became glaring in recent years when Benjamin Netanyahu, visiting France in the wake of antisemitic attacks, declared that Jews had no future there and would be better off all emigrating to Israel.

As Sai Englert has pointed out, Zionist rhetoric has duplicated commonplaces of antisemitic ideology, identifying its aims as ‘casting off the pariah, the weak, the parasitic, and replacing it with the conquering, the productive, and the strong’.[74] Focusing on the UK and US, Englert has identified a dynamic of separation at the heart of the liberal project of integration: ‘The emergence of the nation-state … placed the Jew firmly outside of its limits … accompanied by the application of colonial processes of racialisation to explain this exclusion’. More recently, Jewish historical memory of the Nazi genocide and the establishment of Israel have been situated in ‘a state-led framework that has both placed Jews at the centre of Western hegemony while simultaneously keeping them at arm’s length of full integration’.[75]

The neo-fascist far right’s combination of Zionism with antisemitism thus makes explicit a substratum that has existed all along in the anti-antisemitism of the liberal mainstream. It also evokes strands of historical, classic fascist thought that have largely been buried in more recent historical memory, going back to the early Nazi regime’s Transfer Agreement with the German Zionist movement to facilitate German Jewish emigration to Palestine.[76]

Today the Israeli right’s ties to the increasingly antisemitic European far right are creating tensions with US and European Jews. The growing prominence of antisemitism on the far right should both spur Jews to redouble their activism against it and focus non-Jewish activists’ attention on understanding and fighting antisemitism wherever it appears. At the same time, the history of the past 60 years makes clear that effective Jewish opposition to the far right would benefit from an ideological change of course (already under way particularly among young Jews) towards allying with victims of other forms of racism and taking a greater distance from Zionism.


In parallel to the post-fascist renunciation of open antisemitism, some far-right currents, particularly in northwestern Europe, have taken their distance from the crudest forms of anti-LGBTIQ ideology. As with antisemitism, far-right appeals to some gays and lesbians have piggybacked on earlier rightward trends in LGBTI communities and on movement by a minority of gays and lesbians towards the mainstream conservative right.

The neoliberal hard right under Reagan and Thatcher initially courted Christian heteronationalists, for example through a wave of reactionary campaigns in the US against lesbian/gay anti-discrimination ordinances beginning in 1977 in Dade County, Florida, and British Conservatives’ adoption of the anti-gay Section 28 in 1988. In the course of the 1990s, however, space opened up in Western European and North American right-wing parties for openly gay conservatives. This development was linked to a right-wing turn in US gay/lesbian politics manifest in the national lesbian/gay rights march in 2000.[77] The new gay right adopted (with some delay) the cause of same-sex marriage, with one gay right-winger defending it on the grounds that marriage in conjunction with an unfettered market imposes discipline and privatises dependency among the poor.[78]

Following on Lisa Duggan’s exploration of the links between neoliberalism and homonormativity, Jasbir Puar’s account of neoliberal homonationalism has focused on widespread gay/lesbian celebration of the imperialist order. The rightward turn in gay/lesbian communities gained momentum in the US after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, as the ‘American flag appeared everywhere in gay spaces, in gay bars and gay gyms’.[79] This new homonationalism fostered an apparently ‘seamless articulation of queerness with an imperial nation state’.[80]

Homonationalism gained strength in European countries like the Netherlands as well, fuelled by anti-gay pronouncements by Muslim fundamentalists,[81] making the PVV the most popular party among Dutch white gay men in the 2010 elections. As Gloria Wekker has noted, the dominant Dutch narrative became that ‘everything was fine with gay and lesbian liberation until Islamic people turned up and … caused a rupture in the trumphant march of progress’.[82]

Like tensions between Jews and Muslims in France, anti-Muslim racism among gay men has fed on real fears of violence. The role in anti-LGBTIQ violence of young immigrants of Muslim origin has however been blown out of proportion. While a study in Amsterdam showed that young men of Moroccan origin are disproportionately charged with such crimes – a statistic that may reflect the Dutch police’s documented propensity to charge racialised people more often than white ones for the same offences – it showed that the majority of anti-LGBTIQ violence is still committed by white, native-born Dutchmen.[83] Anti-LGBTIQ violence in the Dutch fundamentalist Protestant ‘Bible Belt’, though well known, gets far less media attention than violence by young people of immigrant origin.

Besides the influence of skewed media coverage, the focus on violence by immigrants of Muslim origin may express a desire among some gay men to safeguard what they perceive as their newfound acceptance and social integration. They may feel that they can cement their integration into the white majority by adopting prejudices that have spread in white society.

Many LGBTI people who adopt homonationalist rhetoric still identify with the left. Yet this rhetoric creates a more favourable climate for some gays and lesbians to move to the right or even far right. The meteoric rise of gay far-right politician Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands in 2002, with his simultaneous attraction to and repulsion at Muslim men, played a role in launching this dynamic.[84] Although Fortuyn’s party quickly collapsed in the years after his assassination that same year, by 2006 Geert Wilders and his PVV had taken over Fortuyn’s supposedly pro-gay, anti-Muslim message,[85] with significant success among gay male voters in the 2010 election (as noted above).

The French far right has sometimes won gay voter support as well: an estimated 32.45 per cent of married gay couples in the 2016 regional elections.[86] Gay support for the far right has also been observed outside the US and Europe: a poll in Brazil the week before the second round of the country’s 2018 presidential election showed that 29 per cent of self-identified non-straight voters planned to vote for Bolsonaro despite his open homophobia.[87]

Jewish and queer internationalism

This article has dwelled at length on the challenges facing efforts to build Jewish and queer resistance. A forthright acknowledgment of the obstacles posed by racism (particularly anti-Muslim racism), Zionist sympathies and homonationalist attitudes among Jews and LGBTIQ people is a precondition for building clear, consistent Jewish and queer opposition to the far right. Yet the challenges are only one side of the picture. The potential for radical Jewish and queer resistance to the far right is there as well.

Paradoxically, the far right’s suspicions of Jewish internationalism and of queer subversion of the family, however exaggerated and even pathological, point towards potential Jewish and queer contributions to building an internationalist, sexually liberatory alternative to right-wing reaction. Jews working in the media, academia and the arts have skills to contribute that are badly needed to help the left reach out broadly in the ‘culture wars’ against the right. Queers pioneering new forms of personal and domestic life can show the groundlessness of anxieties about change, while demonstrating that alternatives are not the exclusive privilege of an economic elite or subcultural ghetto. In these ways, Jews and LGBTIQ people, particularly working-class and otherwise subaltern Jews and LGBTIQ people, can be an integral part of mobilisations against the far right. This potential is greatest among Jews who turn away from Zionism and queers who reject homonationalism.

A base exists among both Jews and LGBTIQ people today for radical antiracism, wide-ranging internationalist solidarity and defence of democracy from below. Growing minorities that embrace such perspectives exist today among both Jews and queers. Israeli and Zionist leaders have been shocked by signs of disaffection among Jews outside Israel, especially young Jews. A 2021 survey showed, unprecedentedly, that 25 per cent of US Jews were willing to characterise Israel as an ‘apartheid state’.[88] There are far-flung, growing Jewish networks in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, which converge (and overlap) with international queer solidarity against pinkwashing.[89] This solidarity took a leap forward in the US a decade ago with the organisation by radical queers (many of them Jewish) of a countrywide speaking tour by Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).[90] It has grown since then.

Pro-Palestinian internationalism reflects the international character of the lives lived by many Jews and many queers. Queers in particular today ‘live in a global world, bound to each other by the transnational flow of images and artefacts … and the migration of queer bodies across continents.’[91]

Besides internationalism, Jewish and queer integration into struggles against the far right also call for critical perspectives on racism and neoliberalism. On these terrains too, there are active Jewish and queer minorities promoting and developing such perspectives. Since 1990, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice has been organising in New York, notably against Trump’s Republican Party under the banner of Jews Against Fascism. Similarly, Queers for Economic Justice, active in New York from 2002 to 2014, sought to overcome the invisibility of poor queers in both LGBTI rights and economic justice movements.[92] More recently, the unprecedently massive Black Lives Matter mobilisations against police violence in the US in 2020 were accompanied by unprecedented mobilisations on the theme Black Trans/Queer Lives Matter, echoed internationally from the Netherlands to Brazil. In Britain, Jewish Voice for Labour has now broken the monopoly long held by the Zionist establishment in the Labour Party.

Taken together, these groups are still minorities in Jewish and LGBTIQ communities. The scale and imminence of the far-right threat confronts them with a daunting challenge. Nor are they are without their political ambiguities. On the one hand, the magnitude of the far-right threat and the weakness of the radical left put pressure on all the far right’s adversaries to accomodate to the forces of political neoliberalism. Although it is precisely neoliberal policies that created the conditions over the past forty years for the far right’s rise, the short-run imperatives of electoral politics tempt even radical Jews and queers to throw their support to Democrats in the US and to liberal, social-democratic and pro-neoliberal green parties in Europe – a temptation that should be resisted. It risks disfiguring opposition to far-right racism into a defence of the neoliberal caricature of cosmopolitanism.

What radical resistance demands instead is a far-reaching analysis of structural racism and a programme that rolls it back. For Jews and queers in particular, this raises some thorny issues. Jewish and LGBTIQ sympathy for the right has fed for example on fear of and anger at violence, especially antisemitic and anti-LGBTIQ violence among some Muslims. Without ever making excuses for such violence or the prejudices that underlie it, radicals need to take a hard look at the socioeconomic dynamics that can contribute to it – like gentrification, in which, cruelly, lower-income white Jews and LGBTIQ people are particularly likely to be caught up as both gentrifiers and victims. While there are no simple answers to problems like these, accomodating to neoliberalism makes solutions impossible.

On the other hand, the manifest dangers of accomodating to neoliberalism tempt some radical Jews and queers to turn away from the difficult work of reaching out to the masses of Jews and LGBTI people who are not yet ‘woke’, and focus exclusively on building safe spaces for themselves. Important as safe spaces are, this temptation, too, needs to be resisted. The far right can never be defeated without mobilising millions of people, including Jews and LGBTIQ people; and as long as the far right is not defeated, no space can be safe. The decline of Jewish working classes since 1945 and the new openings for professional and managerial careers for gay/lesbian people since the 1970s only increase the necessity and urgency of finding broad new left constituencies among Jews and queers, which can be found particularly among the large numbers of educated but economically marginal or precarious people.

Marxists obviously do not have ready-made answers to all these difficult strategic issues. The far right’s varying, shifting and contradictory relationship to Jews and LGBTIQ people, which this article has explored, complicates the issues all the more. Yet a sophisticated Marxist analysis can make an important contribution to responding to them. This makes a concerted effort by Marxists at intellectual and practical solidarity with Jews and queers organising against the far right all the more urgent.


Abidor, Mitchell [n.d.], ‘Ber Borochov’, available at <>.

Abidor, Mitchell and Miguel Lago 2021, ‘France’s Old Bigotry Finds a Nice Face’, New York Times (2 Dec.), available at: <>.

Achcar, Gilbert 2010, The Arabs and The Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives, New York: Metropolitan Books.

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) 2019, ‘Global 100: Western Europe’, available at: <>.

BBC News 2019, ‘Brexit “Major Influence” in Racism and Hate Crime Rise’, available at: <>.

Bilek, Jennifer 2018, ‘Who Are the Rich, White Men Institutionalizing Transgender Ideology?’, The Federalist, available at: <>.

Bouteldja, Houria 2017, Whites, Jews and Us: Toward a Politics of Revolutionary Love, Cambridge, MA: Semiotext(e)/MIT Press.

Boyarin, Daniel 1997, Unheroic Conduct:The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man, Oakland: University of California Press.

Brenner, Lenni 1983, Zionism in the Age of Dictators: A Reappraisal, Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill & Company.

Buijs, Laurens, Gert Hekma and Jan Willem Duyvendak 2011, ‘As Long as They Keep Away from Me: The Paradox of Antigay Violence in a Gay-Friendly Country’, Sexualities, 14 (6): 632–52.

Buruma, Ian 2021, ‘Extreem-rechtse presidentskandidaat Zemmour sluit aan bij lange Franse traditie’ (‘Far-right Presidential Candidate Zemmour joins long French Tradition’), NRC (1 Nov.), available at: <…;.

Chetaille, Agnès 2013, ‘L’Union Européenne, le Nationalisme Polonais et la Sexualisation de la “Division Est/Ouest”’ (‘The European Union, Polish Nationalism and the Sexualisation of the “East/West Division”’), Raisons Politiques, 49 (1): 119–140.

Cohen, Roger 2021, ‘A Jewish Far-Right Pundit Splits the French Jewish Community as He Rises’, New York Times (25 Oct.), available at: <>.

Colvin, Jill 2022, ‘Scott: Texas GOP Platform not “Inclusive” on Homosexuality’, AP News, available at: <>.

Dashefsky, Arnold and Ira Sheskin (eds.) 2015, The American Jewish Yearbook 2014, Dordrecht: Springer.

De Jong, Alex 2019, ‘The Decline of the Low Countries’, Jacobin, available at: <…;.

Drucker, Peter 2014, Warped: Gay Normality and Queer Anti-Capitalism, Leiden/Chicago: Brill/Haymarket.

Drucker, Peter 2015, ‘“Disengaging from the Muslim Spirit”: The Alliance Israélite Universelle and Moroccan Jews’, Journal of Middle East Women's Studies, 11 (1): 3–23, available at: <>.

Drucker, Peter 2016, ‘Homonationalism, Heteronationalism and LGBTI Rights in the EU’, Public Seminar, available at: <>.

Drucker, Peter 2017, ‘The EU Enlargement and Gay Politics’ (review), Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe, 25 (2): 285–8.

Drucker, Peter 2018/2019a, ‘Europe’s Political Turmoil’, Against the Current, 197: 20–1, 28 and 198: 10–1, available at: <; and <>.

Drucker, Peter 2019b, ‘The Sexual Contradictions of the European Far Right’, Paper presentation at the European Conference on Politics and Gender (Amsterdam), available at: <>.

Duggan, Lisa 2003, The Twilight of Equality? Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy, Boston: Beacon Press.

Englert, Sai 2018, ‘Judaism, Zionism, and the Nazi Genocide: Jewish Identity-Formation in the West Between Assimilation and Rejection’, Historical Materialism, 26 (2): 149–77.

Englert, Sai 2019, ‘Recentring the State: A Response to Barnaby Raine’, Salvage, 7: 161–75.

European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia 2004, Manifestations of Antisemitism in the EU 2002 – 2003, Vienna: EUMC, available at: <>.

Farris, Sara R. 2017, In the Name of Women’s Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Ferguson, Susan 2019, Women and Work: Feminism, Labour, and Social Reproduction, London: Pluto Press.

Gay, Peter 1968. Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider, New York: Harper & Row.

Gill-Peterson, Jules 2021, ‘The Anti-Trans Lobby’s Real Agenda’, Jewish Currents, available at: <;.

Haeberle, Erwin J. 1989, ‘Swastika, Pink Triangle and Yellow Star: The Destruction of Sexology and the Persecution of Homosexuals in Nazi Germany’, in Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, edited by Martin B. Duberman, Martha Vicinus and George Chauncey, Jr., New York: Penguin.

Hamburger, Jaap 2021, ‘CIDI maakt zelf misbruik Holocaust’ (‘CIDI Itself Misuses the Holocaust’), NRC (18 Dec.), available at: <>.

Herzog, Dagmar 2011, Sexuality in Europe: A Twentieth-Century History, Cambrige: Cambridge University Press.

Hettinga, Lieke 2021, Appearing Differently: Disability and Transgender Embodiment in Contemporary Euro-American Visual Cultures, PhD thesis, Utrecht University.

Hofmeester, Karin 2004, Jewish Workers and the Labour Movement: A Comparative Study of Amsterdam, London and Paris 1870-1914, Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.

I&O Research 2022, ‘Onderzoek Israël-Palestina’ (‘Survey on Israel/Palestine’), available at>.

Kampeas, Ron 2021, ‘Poll Finds a Quarter of US Jews Think Israel is “Apartheid State”’, Times of Israel (13 July), available at: <>.

Kaye/Kantrowitz, Melanie 2007, The Colors of Jews: Racial Politics and Radical Diasporism, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Kitsen, Michael 1992, ‘The Move to Autarky: The Political Economy of Nazi Trade Policy’, DAE Working Paper, University of Cambridge, Department of Applied Economics.

Lavietes, Matt 2022, ‘Texas GOP’s New Platform Calls Gay People “Abnormal” and Rejects Trans Identities’, NBC News, available at: <>.

Le Monde/AFP 2014, ‘Les actes homophobes ont bondi de 78 % en France’ (‘Homophobic Acts Leapt 78 per cent in France’), available at: <>.

Lemoine, Cécile 2022, ‘Zemmour domine dans le vote des Français d’Israël’ (‘Zemmour Dominates the French Vote in Israel’),, available at: <>.

Leon, Abram 1971, The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation, New York: Pathfinder.

Levin, Nora 1977, While Messiah Tarried: Jewish Socialist Movements, 1871-1917, New York: Schocken Books.

Liebman, Arthur 1979, Jews and the Left, New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Lorber, Ben and Heron Greenesmith 2021, ‘Antisemitism Meets Transphobia’, The Progressive, available at: <>.

Moody, Kim 2007, ‘Who Put Trump in the White House?’, Against the Current 186, available at: <

Moser, Laura 2021, ‘My Grandfather Fled the Nazis. I Moved to His Old Neighborhood’, available at: <>.

Obermaier, Lena 2021, ‘Far-Right Parties in Europe Have Become Zionism’s Greatest Backers’, Jacobin, available at: <…;.

Oudenampsen, Marijn 2018, De Conservatieve Revolte: Een Ideeëngeschiedenis van de Fortuyn-Opstand (The Conservative Revolt: An Intellectual History of the Fortuyn Uprising), Nijmegen: Vantilt.

Parrot, Clément 2017, ‘Le Front national est-il vraiment devenu “gay friendly”?’ (‘Has the National Front Really Become “Gay-Friendly”?’), France Télévisions, available at: <>.

Pengelly, Martin 2021, ‘Trump Condemned by Anti-Defamation League Chief for Antisemitic Tropes’, The Guardian (18 Dec.), available at: <>.

Pierce, Rebecca 2022, ‘Shared Grief Is not Enough’, Jewish Currents, available at: <>.

Post, Charlie 2020, ‘Beyond “Racial Capitalism”: Toward a Unified Theory of Capitalism and Racial Oppression’, Brooklyn Rail, available at: <…;.

Puar, Jasbir 2007, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Rosenberg, Jordana and Amy Villarejo 2012, ‘Introduction: Queerness, Norms, Utopia’, GLQ 18, 1.

Schulman, Sarah 2012, Israel/Palestine and the Queer International, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Sears, Alan 2017, ‘Body Politics : The Social Reproduction of Sexualities’ in Tithi Bhattacharya and Lise Vogel (eds.), Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression, London: Pluto Press.

Seymour, Richard 2018, ‘Labour’s Antisemitism Affair’, Jacobin, available at: <>.

Shield, Andrew D.J. 2017, Immigrants in the Sexual Revolution: Perceptions and Participation in Northwest Europe, London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Singh, Kanishka 2020, ‘Watchdog Reports Record Number of Anti-Semitic Incidents in U.S. Last Year’, available at: <;.

Stryker, Susan 2017, Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution, New York: Seal Press.

Traverso, Enzo 2016, The End of Jewish Modernity, London: Pluto Press.

Traverso, Enzo 2019, The New Faces of Fascism: Populism and the Far Right, London: Verso.

Trotsky, Leon 1932, What Next? Vital Question for the German Proletariat, New York: Pioneer Publishers, available at: <>.

United Jewish Communities 2004, National Jewish Population Survey 2000-2001, New York: UJC, available at: <>.

Vogel, Lise 2014, Marxism and the Oppression of Women: Toward a Unitary Theory, Chicago: Haymarket.

Volkskrant 2011, ‘PVV-kiezer negatiefst over homo’s’ (‘PVV Voter Most Negative about Gays’) (6 Sept.).

Weinstock, Nathan 2002, Le Pain de Misère: Histoire du Mouvement Ouvrier Juif en Europe (2 vols.), Paris: La Découverte.

Weiss, Bari 2021, ‘The Self-Silencing Majority’, Deseret News (2 March), available at: <…;.

Went, Robert 2002, The Enigma of Globalization: A Journey to a New Stage of Capitalism, London: Routledge.


[1] Thanks to Christopher Beck, Ashley Bohrer, Sai Englert, Layal Ftouni, Michael Löwy, Alan Sears, Andrew Shield, Enzo Traverso, Alan Wald and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts of this article. It has benefited enormously from their feedback, but I alone am responsible for the views expressed in it.

[2] Traverso 2019, pp. 66, 69.

[3] Thanks to Enzo Traverso for this phrase (in an email to the author).

[4] Hamburger 2021.

[5] Lavietes 2022.

[6] Colvin 2022.

[7] See e.g. Kitson 1992. This brief contrast obviously cannot do justice to the vast subject of pre-1945 fascist economic policy.

[8]Went 2002.

[9] Puar 2007.

[10] Drucker 2016.

[11] Drucker 2019b.

[12] Herzog 2011, pp. 190-1.

[13] Drucker 2017; Chetaille 2013.

[14] Drucker 2019b.

[15]Singh 2020.

[16]BBC News 2019.

[17]Le Monde/AFP 2014.

[18] Lorber and Greenesmith 2021.

[19] Puar 2007.

[20] Traverso 2019, p. 66.

[21] Traverso 2016, pp. 31, 41-42.

[22] Herzog 2011, p. 60.

[23] Haeberle 1989, p. 374.

[24]Bilek 2018.

[25]Weiss 2021.

[26]Gill-Peterson 2021; Stryker 2017, pp. 201-02.

[27] Lorber and Greenesmith 2021.

[28] Post 2020.

[29]Past Marxist attempts to analyze the class structure of the Jewish community include labour Zionist Ber Borochov’s concept of the ‘inverted pyramid’ (see Abidor [n.d.]) and Trotskyist Abram Leon (1971)’s concept of the ‘people-class’.

[30] United Jewish Communities 2004, p. 6.

[31] Dashefsky and Sheskin (eds.) 2015, p. 43.

[32] Drucker 2014, pp. 228-31, 259-60.

[33] Moody 2017.

[34] Vogel 2014; Ferguson 2019; for a specific analysis of LGBTIQ people’s role in social reproduction, see Sears 2017.

[35] Traverso 2016, pp. 10-11.

[36]Gay 1968, pp. 134-38.

[37]Pengelly 2021.

[38] Boyarin 1997.

[39] Hettinga 2021 has used this concept of adjacency insightfully to explore the relationships between transgender bodies and disability.

[40]Traverso 2019, pp. 97-8; Drucker 2019, pp. 10-11. For a classic Marxist definition of fascism see Trotsky 1932: ‘After fascism is victorious, finance capital directly and immediately gathers into its hands … the executive administrative, and educational powers of the state: the entire state apparatus together with the army, the municipalities, the universities, the schools, the press, the trade unions, and the co-operatives…. [T]he workers’ organizations are annihilated … and … a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses‘.

[41] Traverso 2019, p. 4.

[42] Traverso 2019 e.g. uses neo-fascism to refer to ‘the attempt to perpetuate and regenerate an old fascism’ (p. 6). In his terms, therefore, what I call neo-fascism is simply one variant of post-fascism.

[43] Drucker 2019a, p. 10.

[44] Farris 2007.

[45]Obermaier 2021.

[46]De Jong 2019.

[47] Volkskrant 2011.

[48] Traverso 2016, pp. 2-3.

[49] Drucker 2014, p. 285.

[50]Kaye/Kantrowitz 2007.

[51] Traverso 2016, p. 54.

[52] Pierce 2022.

[53] Traverso 2016, pp. 113-27.

[54] Among the more extensive surveys of the Jewish working-class left are Weinstock 2002, Levin 1977, Liebman 1979 (on the US) and Hofmeester 2004 (on London, Amsterdam and Paris).

[55] To the extent that antisemitism is seen as a real and present danger today in Europe, the danger is often traced back, not so much to the heritage of fascism and the rise of the new far right, as to some innate tendency to antisemitism lurking in national cultures or psyches. Moser 2021 provides a striking example: a thoughtful article by a Jew who grew up in the US before moving to Germany, herself a left-leaning Democratic Party activist, who describes herself ‘watching in horror as white supremacists attacked the Capitol’, and yet discusses her fears of antisemitism in Germany without mentioning the rapid growth of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

[56]Drucker 2015.

[57]Cohen 2021; Abidor and Lago 2021.

[58]Lemoine 2022.

[59]Buruma 2021.

[60]Achcar 2009, pp. 113-19, 250, 253, .

[61] Author’s personal observation.

[62] I&O Research 2022.

[63]Obermaier 2021.

[64] Traverso 2019, p. 77; see also Traverso 2016, pp. 87-90.

[65] ADL 2019.

[66] ADL 2019.

[67]Seymour 2018 (among many other articles marshalling similar evidence).

[68] European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia 2004, p. 111.

[69] Traverso 2019, p. 66.

[70] With only scattered exceptions: the USSR/Russia and Hungary in Eastern Europe, Argentina in Latin America.

[71]Achcar 2010.

[72]Obermaier 2021.

[73]Bouteldja 2017.

[74] Englert 2019, p, 167. This is a central theme of Boyarin 1997.

[75] Englert 2018, pp. 154, 167.

[76] Brenner 1983.

[77]Drucker 2014, pp. 280, 283-5.

[78] Duggan 2003, p. 64.

[79] Puar 2007, p. 43.

[80] Rosenberg and Villarejo 2012, p. 10.

[81] Herzog 2011, p. 201.

[82] Wekker 2016, pp. 109, 119.

[83]Buijs, Hekma and Duyvendak 2011.

[84] Wekker 2016, pp. 127-30; for a general account of Fortuyn’s movement see Oudenampsen 2018.

[85]Shield 2017, pp. 1-2.

[86] Parrot 2017.

[87] Drucker 2019b.

[88]Kampeas 2021.

[89] Drucker 2014, pp. 339-40.

[90] Schulman 2012.

[91] Drucker 2014, p. 391.

[92] Drucker 2014, p. 356.

Not Your Good Germans

Holocaust Memory, Anti-Fascism, and the anti-Zionism of the Jewish New Left

Benjamin Balthaser

Mr. Hoffman: Your idea of justice is the only obscenity in the room. You schtunk. Schande vor de goyim, huh?

The Court: Mr. Marshal, will you ask the defendant Hoffman to –

Mr. Hoffman: This ain’t the Standard Club.

The marshal: Mr. Hoffman –

Mr. Hoffman: Oh, tell him to stick it up his bowling ball. How is your war stock doing Julie? You don’t have any power. They didn’t have any power in the Third Reich, either.

The Court: Will you ask him to sit down, Mr. Marshal?

The marshal: Mr. Hoffman, I am asking you to shut up.

Mr. Rubin: Gestapo.

Mr. Hoffman: Show him your .45. He ain’t never seen a gun.

The Court: Bring in the jury, Mr. Marshal.

Mr. Rubin: You are the laughing stock of the world, Julius Hoffman; the laughing stock of the world. Every kid in the world hates you, knows what you represent.

Marshal Dobkowski: Be quiet, Mr. Rubin.

Mr. Rubin: You are synonymous with the name Adolf Hitler. Julius Hoffman equals Adolf Hitler today.

~“At the Chicago Conspiracy Trial,” Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin et al.[1]


This piece is being made available as a preprint edition of the double-volume Marxism and the Critique of Antisemitism special issue of Historical Materialism. Further additions will still be made before then. The final published version of this text will be made available on the Brill website in the coming months. We ask that citations refer to the Brill edition.All Illustrations are by Natalia Podpora.


Early in the research for this project, I interviewed a long-time comrade in Chicago, Joel Finkel, who I knew as a socialist, 4th Internationalist, and active anti-Zionist with Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).[2]  Eager to learn how his socialism, anti-Zionism and Jewish identity intersected, I sat him down for a long, nearly three-hour conversation at the famous Jewish deli in the strip mall zone west of the Loop, the last fragment of what used to be a thriving Jewish neighborhood before urban renewal and the expanding University of Illinois obliterated it -- a reminder that the suburbanization of Jews was done as much by bulldozer as it was funded by racially restricted FHA housing loans.  Like a number of other Jewish activists of his generation I have known through the years, Joel downplayed how much his Jewishness was central to his becoming a revolutionary: he wasn't religious, his parents were progressives but not in the Jewish left, and he underscored that the primary movers of his political life were objective and historical events such as the war in Vietnam and the civil rights movement.  He had a clear analysis of the contradictions of capitalism, the historical conjuncture of the 1960s, the role of Zionism in global imperialism, and thought of questions of personal identity as slightly foreign to his ears, as if I had asked him about his moon sign.  And then, perhaps two hours into the conversation about how he got involved in the movement and developed his political outlook, he choked up, flushed, and almost sobbed, "we couldn't let it happen to anyone else."  It, I asked?  "The Holocaust.  It couldn't happen again."[3] 

Finkel's formation is one I encountered often while reading memoirs and interviewing Jewish activists who were part of the New Left of the 1960s and early 1970s.  In another interview with Susan Eanet (now Klonsky), a former Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) activist and founder of the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM) and later the new communist October League, explained her own dedication to Palestinian liberation through Holocaust memory.  After talking for several hours in her northwest Chicago home about her Jewish upbringing, about her father who was a founder of a liberal temple in Washington D.C., and about how that related to her anti-Zionist writings for the SDS newspaper New Left Notes, she finally explained:  "we couldn't be good Germans."[4]  Jews, she said, more than anyone, should know the price of the world's silence as a genocide is taking place.  Tellingly, also Mark Rudd framed his resistance to the Vietnam War in the exact same way in his memoir of SDS, saying he "can't be a good German.”[5]  "In my home, as in millions of Jewish homes, "Hitler" was the name for Absolute Evil," Rudd explains, going to further to say "only this time, it was us, the Americans."  Like Klonsky, Rudd evoked the Holocaust not to suggest that Jews are special victims of a unique tragedy or to justify or rationalize their behavior, but to explain why they felt a personal responsibility to oppose fascism and colonialism done in their name, either as Jews and/or Americans.  Shortly after her release from prison, for Weather Underground member Kathy Boudine recollected that her decision to support the Black Liberation Army's campaign of bank robberies and jailbreaks rested on her analysis that America was in the process of committing multiple genocides and that she, like Rudd and Klonsky, thought "a lot about Germany" during the Holocaust: "how do you live a life when your government is doing what its doing?"[6]  In other words, she neither could be a "good German."

The idea that there is a particular Jewish responsibility to oppose fascism and the genocidal race theory behind it was expressed clearly by another member of SDS and early friend of Rudd, David Gilbert.  "For myself and many other Jews in the movement," Gilbert wrote in his memoir, "the bedrock lesson from the Holocaust was to passionately oppose all forms of racism" explaining also that he because of the Holocaust, he could "never join the oppression of other people.”[7]  And even though Gilbert's describes his parents as apolitical, he asserts "they taught me racism was wrong" a conclusion drawn from witnessing the violence of antisemitism.[8]  Rudd also locates the meaning of the Holocaust not only with destruction of European Jewry, but specifically with "racism; that's what anti-Semitism was.”[9] "Racism" as an explanation of antisemitism does not locate antisemitism as something unique to Jews, but as part of a larger structure of white supremacy, in so far as it connects the persecution of Jews to the oppression of people of color. In this way Rudd connects his support for SNCC not only with a political project, but his own personal story.  "With the solipsism of a child," he writes of reading Anne Frank's diary and looking at the death camp tattoos of his relatives, and "saw myself among the dead.”[10]  For Rudd and for many Jews in the movement, their attachment to fighting racism was a way of articulating their own feelings about being Jewish.  As historian Arlene Stein suggests, "I developed an intense, vicarious identification with the struggles of African Americans" as a means to better understand "the collective experience of trauma" after the Holocaust.[11] While Stein articulates this as a form of displacement, for Rudd and others it was a way to passionately connect with and honor their Jewish heritage.

It is often assumed that the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and the emergence of the Black Power movement engendered a split between Jews and the New Left.[12]  This story is told by both progressive and reactionary historians alike, and is memorialized in iconic images such as the Jewish Defense League standing in front of a Brooklyn synagogue in sunglasses to “defend” it from a planned speech by Black Panther James Forman or Abbie Hoffman’s 1967 editorial for the Village Voice decrying to expulsion of the mostly Jewish white activists from Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (a position he soon, nonetheless, recanted after conversations with Stokely Carmichael and others).[13]  This split between Black Power and the anti-imperialist left is often said to coincide with the emergence of Holocaust memorialization.  Some, such as Norm Finkelstein understand the sudden rise of Holocaust memorialization in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a cynical move to “exploit Jewish suffering” for the project of Jewish nationalism, while others such as Michael Staub locates increased public expression of Holocaust memory within the context of a late 1960s Jewish revival.[14]  Either way, both narratives assume a tension between left-wing Jews and Black Power and anti-imperialism as given, and locate a new American Jewish commonsense of Jewish nationalism abroad and a quickening of Jewish identity politics at home as both totalizing and hegemonic.  The only problem with this narrative is that the most prominent, and visible, Jewish radicals of the 1960s and early 1970s – Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Mark Rudd, Susan Eanet/Klonsky, Rennie Davis, Dick/Mickey Flacks, David Gilbert – did not agree.  Not only did much of the Jewish New Left in organizations such as SDS and SWP continue to back the anti-Zionist Black Panther Party, many deployed Jewish memory of the Holocaust, the Red Scare, and antisemitism to formulate their revolutionary global politics. It is not so much that Finkelstein and Staub are incorrect, as their readings of a Jewish 1960s tend to write out of history how Jews in revolutionary – and non-Jewish -- organizations formulated a Jewish sensibility through Jewish memory, particularly of the Holocaust and the experience of right-wing antisemitism.

In this sense, Rudd, Klonsky, Gilbert, Hoffman, and Finkel’s deployment of the Holocaust speaks to ongoing and present debates about its meaning and relevance in the politics of Jewish memory and identity. There is a growing consensus that supposed silence among American Jews around the Holocaust was at best partial.  Scholar Hasia Diner counters the narrative that the Holocaust was "unspeakable" until the late 1960s, or that Jews refused to remember or honor the dead out of fear of antisemitism, or shame of victimhood.[15]  Diner documents how memorials, religious ritual, journal articles and art were created and disseminated by Jewish organizations, synagogues, and in private homes and community events.  Far from distant from the minds of Jewish Americans, the presence of the Holocaust reconstructed Jewish American life in personal and public ways.  Indeed, the Holocaust was a common enough reference point in Jewish life that Philip Roth's first published story in the late 1950s not only evokes the genocide, uses it as the punchline of an ironic joke.  Grossbart, the Jewish private who wants to avoid combat in the Pacific and leave base for treyf eggrolls on Passover, manipulates the scrupulous Sergeant Marx by suggesting Jews "let themselves get pushed around" in Germany and needed to "stick together."[16]  Indeed, one can read the entire collection of stories in Goodbye Columbus as a kind of meditation on the Holocaust, from "The Conversion of the Jews" to "Eli, the Fanatic."  The Jewish community in "Eli" are so desperate to not attract antisemitism they wish to ban a Yeshiva, but also so concerned about Jewish cultural continuance after the Holocaust, they do whatever their children ask of them, even convert to Christianity.  In evoking the Holocaust with irony and complexity, Roth signals less a silence on the topic, as much as an intimate knowledge of it and of the many ways it complicated and animated Jewish American life - a near decade before the 1967 War.

 Even for scholars like Diner acknowledge the "myth of silence" is a construction, however, there is an assumption that the Holocaust made the Jewish community fundamentally conservative and assimilationist.  As Norman Finkelstein documents, the 1967 Arab Israeli War sparked not only a wave of support for the victorious Israeli armies, government officials from the State Department to the Pentagon began to understand how Israel could be a strategic ally. “The Holocaust proved to be the best defensive weapon deflecting criticism of Israel,” Finkelstein writes.[17]  In service of Israeli nationalism, the Holocaust he argued was transformed from a fascist genocide that was part of a larger far-right racial project, to something very particular and “unique” that happened only to Jews.[18]  European historian Enzo Traverso takes this analysis a step further to suggest "the Shoah closed a cycle of European intellectual history, in which Jews had been a central part," transforming Jews from a "pariah" class to an integrated part of Western culture.  It is Henry Kissinger for Traverso, not Trotsky who inherits the meaning of the Holocaust in global politics.[19]  Citing the ways the Nuremburg Laws and American triumphalism celebrated both the inclusion of Jews into the fabric of mainstream American life and Israel into the sphere of the capitalist West, "the Jew" for Traverso has gone from being counter-modality to European modernity to its most ideal subject.  Citing both Israel and human rights law, Traverso argues that the "former trouble makers and disrupters of order had become its pillars.[20]  Historian of antisemitism Paul Hanebrink frames it another way:  as the victory over Nazi Germany became absorbed into the narrative of global American power, so did the Jews go from being a "Judeo-Bolshevik menace" to part of the "Judeo-Christian West.”[21] 

In an essay by Mark Tseng-Putterman in Protocols, he argues that the mobilization of the Holocaust not only justifies the state of Israel for a Zionist Jewish establishment, its very memory actually makes Jews less likely to see Israeli "culpability in the so-called conflict."[22]  For Tseng-Putterman, Holocaust narratives create a kind of "Jewish-exceptionalism" that serves as the ideological infrastructure for Zionism, and more broadly, blinds white Jews to ways in which they mobilize their own whiteness.  "Far from progressive," Tseng-Putterman continues, "the absolution of Jewish participation in white supremacy" by focusing on the Holocaust as the singular event defining antisemitism, "halts opportunities to challenge Jewish complicity."  Indeed, the article argues it is precisely through the American narrative of the Holocaust that Jews have been conscripted into the institutional relations of American liberalism and American empire.  That the U.S. can place itself as the protector of the Jews reinforces and can be understood to be the modality through which liberal white supremacist state maintains is legitimacy.  Not only are the Nuremburg Laws part of the legal superstructure of the global American empire, the incorporation of a certain kind of Jewish suffering is the way the state disavows its own history with eugenics and genocide.  "There is an order" to state violence, the author declares, and by centering the Holocaust as a primary part of that order, Jews literally whitewash their own complicity with whiteness and empire as well as allow the state to benefit from Jewish investments in a normative history of antisemitism.  In the order of state violence, the Holocaust is low on the hierarchy, and more silence, rather than less, is necessary.  The article suggests that Holocaust narratives cannot be mobilized outside of a context of whiteness and cannot but help, in such as a context, redeploy it. 

“Just as organized Jewry remembered The Holocaust when Israeli power peaked, so it remembered The Holocaust when American Jewish power peaked,” Finkelstein argues, suggesting that the Holocaust not only deflected criticism of Israel, but also deflected white Jews from criticism of their whiteness.[23]  As Jewish studies scholar Ben Ratskoff wrote in Jewish Currents, Jewish analogies to the Holocaust are the "narcissistic" means by which Jews "disavow" concern for and their complicity in white racism and the normative violence of liberalism.[24]  "2017 may have offered a strange solace" Tseng-Putterman writes, posing that antisemitism actually reassures Jews of their safety in the world, rather than threatens it, as it mobilizes the state in their defense.  Jewish memory of antisemitism not only exaggerates the threat of antisemitism, antisemitism is the very means by which Jews align their interests with the state – antisemitism is a form of state power.  Antisemitism in this formation, makes white Jews whiter; it solidifies their relationship to narratives and institutions of American power.  One may look no further than attacks against Jeremy Corbyn and progressive American socialists to see the ways in which a discourse of antisemitism protects the powerful, and is deployed as a weapon against democracy. 

Rudd, Klonsky, Gilbert and other New Left radicals articulate however a challenge both to the mainstream Jewish establishment’s Zionist conscription of the Holocaust, as well as to Traverso and Tseng-Putterman's narrative about post-Holocaust memory and Jewish identity.  While Traverso, Finkelstein and Tseng-Putterman are certainly accurate to point fingers at an increasingly reactionary Jewish establishment, their analysis tends to evacuate other possibilities for progressive Jewish life outside of or even oppositional to such institutions, with a logic, history, and subjectivity of its own.  Such discourse tends to flatten Jewish experience into an expression only of large – if quite powerful – Jewish institutions. As Michael Rothberg documents, Holocaust memory is "multidirectional," and emerged in the context of anti-fascism and de-colonial discourse in the 1940s and 1950s long before it emerged as a pillar for a muscular Israeli and/or U.S. nationalism.[25] While widely divergent in their political commitments and perspectives, both Hannah Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism and Aimé Césaire'sDiscourse on Colonialism, published in the early 1950s, locate both the origins of fascism and the roots of the Holocaust in European imperialism, in transnational, or perhaps supra-national projects of economic expansion and political repression.  Indeed, as Norm Fruchter wrote for the summer 1965 edition ofStudies on the Left, the wide-ranging anger at Hannah Arendt for her condemnation of both Jewish nationalists and Jewish leadership during and after the Holocaust was a markeddeparture for an American Jewish community that substituted the "secular values...of social justice, use of intellect, the pursuit of knowledge" for Zionism and its "myth of the victim which Jews tend to substitute for their history."[26]  This Rudd and Klonsky who do not wish to be "good Germans," the violence of fascism is not something that happens only to Jews, or can be accounted solely through Jewish history or Jewish victimization.  The violence of fascism is a structural part of imperialism, whether the genocidal levels of violence deployed against the Vietnamese during the U.S. invasion, or ethnic cleansing and militarism of the Israeli state.  The question for Jews is less how to memorialize the Holocaust as a uniquely Jewish tragedy, but rather what is the ethico-political stance the Holocaust requires of a Jew.

As Gilbert makes plain, Jewish survival is not the primary lesson the Holocaust imparts. While it is clear that Gilbert, Klonsky, Rudd, Deutscher and others understood Jews to be targets of fascist violence, they also understood that social solidarity, not Jewish particularism, or nationalism, was what Holocaust memory should mean. As Deutscher writes "I am a Jew by force of my unconditional solidarity with the persecuted and exterminated."[27]  Note the construction - it is not solidarity with other Jews that makes Deutscher Jewish, it is particular "force" that marks his passion and his solidarity.  It is the depth of commitment against persecution and extermination that makes the Jew.  While Gilbert does not explicitly say this, one could possibly derive that the lengths was willing to go, eventually to a life sentence in prison, marks the "force" of his solidarity, and hence his Jewishness. And yet Gilbert is also clear to normalize such feeling.  His parents, who he describes as apolitical, his father an Eisenhower Republican, mother a relatively liberal but not zealous Democrat, explicitly articulated that the lesson of the Holocaust was to stand against racism.  That this was the opinion of Jews who were otherwise politically in no way remarkable suggests less their idiosyncrasy by the articulation of a Jewish commonsense in the decades immediately following the Shoah, not an aberration.  When Rudd writes, "I saw myself among the dead" when he imagined the Holocaust as a child, it did not lead him to think Jews were exceptional - rather it led him into the struggle to oppose genocide and imperialism wherever he encountered it. 

Perhaps the most sustained engagement with the radical usable past of the Holocaust is Suzanne Weiss’ memoir, Holocaust to Resistance:  My Journey.  Weiss, a Polish survivor who spend the last years of the war in hiding and then in a Jewish orphanage in France, emigrated to the United States when two Jewish members of the Communist Party in New York adopted her in 1950.  The first time Weiss articulates herself as a Holocaust survivor in public however is many years later, during an official state visit by Ariel Sharon to Toronto in 2003.  Framing her own experience as both unique and yet at the same time part of larger structures of racialized state violence, she spoke the following at a rally outside of Sharon’s hotel:

Hitler's Holocaust is unique in history; nothing is 'similar' to it.  Still, many Israeli techniques -- the expulsions, the ghettoization, the pervasive checkpoints -- have a disquieting resemblance to Nazi methods. To oppose Sharon is not anti-Jewish....a united resistance can, like the anti-Nazi Resistance of my childhood, win out against the aggressors.[28]

Before this point, Weiss was no stranger to politics:  she had been a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) since her teenage years, and had organized antiwar demonstrations, visited Cuba on an official delegation, and worked in heavy industry trying to form unions among other workers.  And yet it wasn’t until she undertook a personal journey first to Poland, then as a social worker among Holocaust survivors that she articulated the meaning of her experience:  “I wondered whether Holocaust survivors differed from survivors of other traumas, tragedies, or genocides, such as Palestinian families subjected to daily terror, the destruction of their families, and the loss of their homes, possessions, and homeland,” she asked. “Holocaust survivors, I concluded, must be addressed not through comparison with other historic disasters…Yet working with Holocaust survivors sharpened my awareness of the suffering of all peoples emerging from genocide and societal traumas.”[29]  This double turn, in which Weiss recognizes the specificity of Jewish trauma does not make it perfectly analogous to other forms of oppression, yet her increasing awareness – unlike Traverso and Tseng-Putterman’s claims – increases her feelings of solidarity with other oppressed people, especially with Palestinians. 

It’s also clear in Weiss’ narrative that her conclusions regarding the Holocaust are not a rupture with her family’s past or her experience, but rather as she articulates it, a final culmination.  Throughout her text she sprinkles comments from her mother, such as “’Jewish people have a natural affinity to Negroes seeking human dignity,’ Mom said” on walking past a lunch-counter protest, or “The Ku Klux Klan hated Jews just as much as they hated Blacks," noting a synagogue was dynamited the same week as a Black church.[30]  During the Suez crisis in 1956, Weiss’ father confirmed his continued critique of Zionism by noting “Israel is on the wrong side again,” aligned with imperial west.[31]   Weiss’ most succinct articulation of a Jewish anti-Zionist subjectivity was in high school.  Troubled one day when a Jewish friend ask if she was a Zionist, she replied “no, I’m Jewish.”  For Weiss, her Jewish identity both preceded the question of Zionism, and also excluded it.  When she asked her red-diaper baby boyfriend about the incident, he explained that a “Zionist is anyone, Jewish or not, who defense the settlement of Israel as the Jewish homeland.”[32] 

Neatly separating Zionist politics from Jewish identity, Weiss’ sense of Jewish identity was reaffirmed, and reflected that Jews will experience antisemitism wherever they go, no matter the location or country – and couldn’t see how a nation-state would solve such a question.  She asked her rhetorically, “wouldn’t it be a convenient place to get rid of us all at once?” In this way Weiss both articulates an anti-Zionist common sense, in which Zionism is something both alien from her point of view, but also troubling:  she didn’t understand why it seemed important to her friend when it was something that seemed so far, so removed.  And her response – though equally laconic, was common diasporic reason – antisemitism is global, it makes sense then to be a global and dispersed people, on the move.  More than anything else, it was the brevity of the passage that was remarkable – in less than a page in a 300 page memoir, the question of Zionism was settled in her mind.  Are you a Zionist?  No I’m Jewish, seems paradoxical, yet it is the governing logic of the 1960s Jewish New Left.

While the central political “journey” in My Journey is from Holocaust survivor to revolutionary, the physical journey Weiss undertakes is from Poland, to France, to the United States, and then finally, in the 1980s, back to Poland.  While one cannot call it kind of reverse-Aliyah back to Europe, it is clear that Weiss finds a kind emotional and historical sense of closure by visiting the towns in which her family once lived.  For Weiss the return back to Poland is filled both with melancholy and also optimism. She travels to the Jewish cemetery in Piotrkow, where her mother and grandmother ran a bakery.  Finding the cemetery “overgrown with weeds” and the townspeople unconcerned with its upkeep, Weiss writes that “alone, I listened to the melancholic murmur of the breeze swaying leaves” before returning to Warsaw.[33]  Yet while in Warsaw, she is heartened to learn that the Solidarnosc movement, which the SWP supported, printed “anti-racist leaflets and posters…as proof that the union stood firm against xenophobic sentiment.”[34]  These twin feelings, that the murder, and erasure of her family from Poland, and the “Polish Spring” with the Solidarity movement, suggests that whatever her fight around Jewish identity and the Holocaust may be, there are European problems to be resolved in Europe.  The entire journey of the text, from survival to finally awakening of the political implications of the Holocaust, live within a political cycle around questions of capitalism, fascism, human rights, the state, and Jewish memory.  Israel’s only presence in the text is read only as an interloper, literally – as Ariel Sharon visits Toronto, much to the dismay of the Weiss and her comrades. 

The Anti-Zionism of the Jewish New Left

It is often assumed that with some exceptions, that the emergence of Holocaust memory among American Jews coincided with general American jubilance over the Israeli victory in the 1967 War.  As Norm Finkelstein writes, “American Jewish elites suddenly discovered Israel” after the Six-Day War, while Keith Feldman takes this step further to suggest, after Norm Podhoretz, “nothing less than the mass conversion of the American Jews to Zionism.”[35]  Amy Kaplan, Eric Dollinger and Melanie McAlister also document how the U.S. press and much of the Jewish and non-Jewish institutional world deeply identified with Israeli's lightening victory over Arab states, contrasting Israeli missiles blowing up Soviet jets before soaring over Africa to free hostages with "with images of Americans fleeing in helicopters from rooftops in Saigon."[36]  Many Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, identified on a personal level the Israeli victories as if they were their own.  For many scholars of Jewish life, the sudden identification of the United States with Israel, combined with Jewish class ascendency after World War II, marks the end of Jewish otherness in the United States:  internationally, and domestically, Jews had entered the mainstream of American life.  Rudd’s narrative it would seem, asks us to question that assumption.

On the level of large Jewish institutions, this narrative of Jewish “conversion to Zionism” and the sense of belonging it implies would seem to bare itself out.  Historian Matt Berkman notes how such jubilation followed the money:  he tracks how after the 1967 War, a massive institutional shift in communication strategies, donor accounts, and political priorities towards supporting Israel -- even among mainstream Jewish institutions such as the American Committee for Judaism (ACJ) that had up to this point remain non-Zionist.[37]  Prior to the late 1960s, most Berman comments that large Jewish institutions mostly focused on the plight of Jews in the U.S., including refugees and Holocaust survivors.[38]  This shift in funding not only suggests a turn to Zionism as definitional for American Jewish life, it also suggests that large Jewish institutions felt Jews were no longer, in the main, a special case needing extensive extra-governmental support.  And more than this, for many Jewish liberals who were turning away from what they understood as the excesses of the radical left, Israel seemed to be like America, only better - "there were no draft dodgers in Israel," historian Michael Fischbach writes of the new pro-Israel consensus, and Vietnam War, no burning ghettos, no drug addicts, no crime.[39]  This merger between liberals and conservatives on Israel was perfected by Otto Preminger and Dalton Trumbo's 1960 film Exodus, based on Leon Uris' novel of the same name.  As Kaplan notes, it frames Uris' narrative of Israel's founding as violent retribution for the Holocaust, while also maintaining concern with international legitimacy, the United Nations, and world peace after World War II.[40]  The new support for Israel seemed to both be a progressive war of liberation by a persecuted people, while also magically defeating America’s enemies supported by the Soviet Union.  Jews were America’s best story.  

For center-right and even liberal commentators such as Nathan Glazer and Irving Howe, supporting Israel took on a "mystical" importance, cementing Israel for the first time as not only a center, but the center of Jewish American life.[41]  For liberals such as Howe and liberals-turned-neocon such as Glazer, Jews who were outspoken in their antagonism against Israel or support for Palestinians, ceased to be Jews. As troubling as Howe and Glazer's conclusions are for their gate-keeping of Jewish identity, there are a number of radical historians who ironically uphold Glazer and Howe's thesis:  as Keith Feldman argues in his study on the role of Palestine in the formation of American empire, "both the Jewish left and the Jewish right felt threatened by the Black Power movement," especially Black Power activists' critique of Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.[42]  For the right, the Black left was dangerous because of their attention to Jewish practices of economic exploitation and their rising class status.  Jews Glazer felt, were singled out as the enemy of Black Power.  While for Feldman, the Jewish left does not descend into such racist rhetoric, Black Power organizations' increasingly hostile stance towards Israel and ouster of Jewish activists from Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) meant for them the historic and often quite material alliance was over.  In titling his chapter "Jewish Conversions," Feldman documents the right-ward drift of former Jewish leftists, as their support for Zionism and multiethnic democracy isolated them from the radicalizing currents of the anti-imperialist left. 

While the convergence of Holocaust memory and support for the state of Israel became a mainstay of Jewish institutional life on both the center and right, it is often forgotten how marginalized Jewish centrists and conservatives felt themselves to be in the 1960s, especially on the question of Zionism.  Indeed, if anything, the Jewish mood by the late 1960s was quite the opposite: from the overheated rhetoric of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) to the more dulcet tones of Jewish professors and the Jewish press, the assumption was that Zionism was in crisis on the Left, even and perhaps especially because of the left's Jewish constitution.  The sense among Jewish right wing radicals, and liberal intellectuals seemed to be that Jewish youth sided far more with SDS than with the IDF, let along the JDL.  The mood was so dire that in 1970, a conference was convened by the Histradrut Cultural Exchange Institute in New York's Arden House, gathering over a dozen leading liberal to left Jewish intellectuals to discuss the crisis. The lineup included sociologist Nathan Glazer, socialist historian Irving Howe, distinguished Hebrew professor Robert Alter, Mordecai Chertoff, Harvard professor Seymour Lipset, journalist Leonard Fein among others, and with the exception of Noam Chomsky, there was broad consensus that the Jewish left had turned against Zionism and thus, in their reading, the Jewish people.  For Jewish activist and journalist Leonard Fein, he summed up the mood of the New Left by saying "considerable intellectual support the left once had for Israel is gone.”[43]

One fact that perhaps also would puzzle a contemporary readership was how Jewish these dignitaries of liberal Jewish life also assumed the left to be. Irving Howe laments that “Jewish boys and girls, children of the generation that saw Auschwitz, hate democratic Israel and celebrate as revolutionary the Egyptian dictatorship…a few go so far as to collect money for Al Fatah.”[44]  Buried in Howe’s lament is not only the grief over Jewish youth’s rejection of Zionism, but that in their revolutionary fervor, they are “indifferent to the antisemitism of the Black Panthers,” suggesting that Black Power and Jewish nationalism are diametrically opposed.[45]  Seymour Lipset also notes accurately that the "New Left is disproportionately Jewish," and concludes that then the New Left Jewish youth have joined a tendency " opposed to the Jewish people as a people.[46]  For Lipset and many others on the panel, the post-Bolshevik left has long opposed Jewish nationalism and Jewish culture, and the opposition to the state of Israel was not about American empire, but rather, the long war of the left to destroy Judaism in the name of universalism and advocacy for the most marginalized.   While some such as Walter Laqueur and Chertoff, this was explicable as a Jewish rebellion against one's liberal Zionist parents, and attributable the wider youth movement.[47] And for others such as Lipset, joining the left is blended with the desire to "assimilate" and to use the left as a vehicle to become fully American, for nearly all, there was an assumption that Yet for most, there was a broad recognition that the New Jewish Left, like the Old Jewish Left, was hostile to Jewish nationalism, or "particularism," especially as it manifested in the Israeli state.  For Glazer, this was all about race, as he cogently and perhaps aptly summed up the many alliances and solidarities of the left by saying bluntly:  "the New Left supports the Arabs because the blacks do" - which for Rudd and Klonsky would be a point of pride; for Glazer, an act of "sycophancy.”[48]  For nearly all the authors, again, Chomsky excepted, "there are Jewish interests and it is the thrust of the New Left to oppose them.”[49]  Or as SWP leader Gus Horowitz dryly summarized in 1971, "the Zionist forces are...on the defensive.  They are much less confident of public sympathy than they used to be.”[50]

What makes the New Left's anti-Zionism legible beyond just the opinions of individual activists and appear as an existential threat to Zionists and the Jewish right is that anti-imperialism had become perhaps the central slogan, the ideological anchor of New Left movements by the late 1960s.  The U.S. invasion of Vietnam was increasingly understood as part of the left commonsense as less a policy mistake, or even a crime, but an expression of U.S. imperialism, and one episode in a global fight between the Third World and the West.  As Martin Luther King reframed the War in his famous "Beyond Vietnam," no longer was the call for the U.S. to fulfill its own principles of democracy, but rather to grasp U.S. was on the "wrong side of a worldwide revolution," a phrase that would be understood commonly in the 1960s to mean the anticolonial uprisings from Vietnam to Cuba to Algeria to Ghana to South Africa.  King's shift in this moment was not only surprising to many because he "broke the silence," but he also signaled his support for New Left and their analysis of the War and the role of America in the world.  This connection between Black liberation and the struggle against imperialism was the core focus of the Black Panther Party, and came to be the dominant frame of radical analysis for the leadership and much of the membership of SDS.[51]  As David Gilbert summarized Eldridge Cleaver, “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem; either on the side of the people of the world or of imperialism.”[52]  For the Jewish intellectuals gathered by the Center for Cultural Exchange, they understood very well what this broad global analysis would mean for Jewish nationalism - and indeed, the 1967 War seemed to cement Israel in the minds of much of the New Left as yet another imperial power.[53]

While high profile Jewish, left wing writers and activists such as I.F. Stone, Isaac Deutscher, Irwin Silber of the National Guardian and Noam Chomsky were publicly critical of Israel after the 1967 War, what obscures the Jewish left critique of Zionism obscured today (even if it was quite clear in the 1960s), is that the liberation of Palestine was understood by members of SDS and SWP as part of a larger anti-imperialist struggle against Western capitalism.  Rather than summarize the conflict as between competing religions or ethnic groups, SDS, SWP and their allies tended to frame Palestine, much as they did the struggle in Vietnam and Cuba, as part of a wider global conflict between the Third World and the capitalist West.  As Richard Saks, a member of SDS and later the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), framed it: in so far as “imperialism was at the center of our analysis of American capitalism,” we also understood that “Israel was an outpost of American empire.”[54] As Rudd summarized, support for Palestinians “It distinguished the true anti-imperialists from the liberals” and he wanted to be on the side of anti-imperialism.[55]   It was an issue that marked the New Left’s rupture with the liberal 1960s consensus, clarifying that the U.S. failure in Vietnam or the unpopularity with the draft were not particular issues to be solved, but systemic crises in a world system they meant to overthrow.  In 1968 the SDS leadership decided to explain its position Palestine in a series of articles by Eanet a staff writer for New Left Notes and someone close to leadership.  Eanet also expressed in an interview that it would be strategic for the articles on Palestine to be authored by someone who was not only known to be Jewish, but the daughter of the founder of a major synagogue in Washington D.C.[56]

Despite or perhaps because of Eanet’s background, her articles to do not frame the conflict in the Middle East as a Jewish and Arab issue, but rather in an editorial note describing the series, the editor argues that "outside of Vietnam" the "movement against imperialism in the Arab countries....may be the leading struggle against U.S. imperialism in the world today."[57]  Turning the New Right thesis that Israel is like America, but better, Eanet describes a country like the United States, only perhaps worse - as the dispossession of Palestinians from their land and Israel's expansive agenda is far from complete, and the Israeli working class saturated with racism. Eanet marks in the beginning of the article that the "situation in Palestine was analogous to the flight of early colonists in a land already occupied by Indian people." Noting that the it was the racism of early Jewish colonists that prevented them from joining with the Arabs against the British, Eanet also argues that it was Jewish racism that informed the Kibbutzim labor policy of hiring only Jews, not socialism.  Divesting Palestinians from their land and "means of production" in the cities was just a start:  "Zionism was an ever expanding policy," Eanet writes, and given the "metaphysical concept of a 'homeland' and 'chosen people'" the Israelis will "expand as they can militarily."  With the rise of Al-Fatah and its "support of the Arab masses" one should not only see the analogy to Vietnam, but the analogy to the United States:  one can stop an Indian War before it is over.  This analogy was furthered by a second SDS pamphlet by Larry Hochman, who argued the "fundamental...central issue in Southwest Asia is the fact that a Jewish state has been established in the Arab midst without the invitation or consent of the indigenous the aegis of Western imperial rule."[58]  

The SWP was generally aligned with SDS and with Black power positions on Israel-Palestine.  And like SDS, it was largely the Jewish members who argued and debated the policy on Palestine, at least in print – Peter Buch, Pete Seidman, Gus Horowitz, and John Rothschild.  In part the Jewish authorship of SWP pamphlets was explained by the need to defend the organizations against claims of antisemitism.  But it also seemed to come from a sincere desire by the Jewish members to not only shield the organization, but also address the ways in which SWP’s position is derived from a long, and proud, history of American Trotskyists taking a principled stand against Zionism, antisemitism and fascism, even when other Marxists were quiet.  The adopted resolutions and supporting materials, later published as a small book of around 80 pages titled “Israel and the Arab Revolutions,” was chiefly authored by Gus Horowitz, one of the few Jews in SWP who had grown up in an orthodox, Zionist household.  The pamphlet offered two major lines of argument – the first, that the Palestinian movement for self-determination was, unlike Nasserism and Ba’athism, a democratic people’s movement of the broader Middle East, and as such, an “advance” over the anti-colonial bourgeois nationalism that had come before in the region.  And because the movement was democratic in nature, Horowitz argued, it had the real chance to “appeal to the Jewish masses” and win them “away from Zionism.”[59] 

While SDS approached Israelis through the lens of “white skin privilege,” Horowitz tended to view the Israelis as both exploited by nationalism at the same time as they formed an “oppressor nationality” in relationship to Palestinians.[60]  Arguing that SWP is not only the strongest voice “against Zionism” on the left, it also is the “strongest opponent of anti-Semitism,” Zionism for Horowitz “does not advance the interests of the Jewish people – in Israel or anywhere else in the world.[61]  While Horowitz grants that Zionists have constructed their own “Hebrew nationality” that is distinct from diasporic Jewish identity, a Jewish-only state aligns Jews with “imperialism” and with their own bourgeoisie.[62]  It is for this reason that Jews in Israel do not have an independent working-class movement, fear invasion from the Arab world, and fear their growing pariah status globally – Israelis have sacrificed the possibility for peaceful cohabitation with their neighbors for a violent bourgeois nationalism.  Yet unlike the Arab national governments that are neither serious about Palestinian liberation and will deploy antisemitic rhetoric, Horowitz argues, the democratic nature of the Palestinian liberation struggle offers a place for Jews within it, if they are willing to give up on an ethnic state.  The fear that Palestinians will drive Jews into the sea is not the fear of antisemitism, but fear of revolution:  “to consider that the Arab revolution will necessarily threaten the national oppression of the Israeli Jews is an unfounded fear of the revolution itself, a fear which is incited for counterrevolutionary reasons by the imperialists and Zionists.”[63]  The situation for Jews in Israel Horowitz concludes, is not that of a religious or ethnic minority as it is in other countries, but as an oppressor – and the liberation of Palestinians will be their own liberation. 

While neither Eanet nor Horowitz identify themselves as Jewish in their articles, nor do their articles claim a particular Jewish subjectivity, for them as well as the other two-dozen or so New Left revolutionaries I interviewed, they understood their socialist anti-imperialism, including their anti-Zionism, as a continuation rather than a rupture with their Jewish sense of self.  For some such as Horowitz, Saks and SDS activist Steve Goldman, they identified primarily as Marxists and anti-imperialists, and yet, toward the end of the interview, echoed similar sentiments, that the “Jewish tradition” is to “side with the underdog,” and “the oppressed,” and because of this, most Jews are “less inclined to anti-communism,” and probably “more likely to sympathize with people of color.”[64]  This position – that they were both inside a tradition they could define and yet also, not defined by the tradition – was a common, perhaps the most common, sentiment among the activists – so much so I might almost call it a kind of Jewish subjectivity itself.  For for former SWP organizer Linda Loew, who like Saks came from a red diaper background, she summed it up simply by saying that she both liked being part of a multi-ethnic movement in which she could organize with farmworkers, students, and civil rights activists, and not feel that she was burdened by a sense of identity – which she thought of as her father’s intense sensitivity around perceived and real antisemitism.[65]  Yet she also prided herself on being the kind of Jew who opposed Zionism, and felt very much that she was carrying on the legacy of her parents.  “I didn’t feel there was a break,” she said, between her life in the New Left and her parents’ life, either in the kind of revolutionary work she was committed to in the SWP, or with her sense of what it meant to be Jewish.  Like Yuri Slezkine’s commentary on Sholem Aleichem’s “Tevye the Dairyman” Hodel running off to be a revolutionary – even or especially an anti-Zionist one -- is in a larger Jewish sense, still all in the family.[66] 

New Left Anti-Fascism and (Jewish) Red Scare Memory

One reason for a Jewish left to oppose Zionism during the 1960s while also affirming a Jewish subjectivity may have been due to the way progressives tended to see the post-war prosperity in very different terms than large mainstream Jewish institutions such as AJC and ACJ and their adherents.  As Marc Dollinger writes, “American Jews celebrated the postwar consensus,” enjoying their “integrating into the suburbs” and finding “common ties” with their new often white, Christian neighbors.[67]  Along with this new consensus, of course, there was also a rapid rise in class ascension, fueled by the GI Bill, university entrance in greater numbers, and the beginning of the end of restrictive covenants backed by FHA loans – all things, it should be noted, denied to most African-Americans during the same period.  Yet while large numbers of Jews ascended into the middle class, for the many hundreds of thousands of Jews on the Communist and socialist left of the 1940s and the decade of the 1950s, the era of course, looked quite different.  For Jews on the left, whether in the Communist Party, as members of Communist affiliated unions and organizations, or simply people with strong left sympathies, the era appeared less as the birth of a new post-war consensus, and more like the emergence of a post-war fascism.                                                                                                                      

Several years before Philip Roth ironized Jewish assimilation in Goodbye Columbus, Jewish Communist writer Howard Fast published a different tale about Cold War Jewish life in the United States:Peekskill USA.  The short book is a first-person narrative of Fast’s role in the infamous Peekskill riot of 1949, in which gangs of right-wing vigilantes twice attacked the concert goers and supporters of Paul Robeson.  Fast was part of the initial organizing committee, using his name and reputation to help publicize the event, and on the first night, was also one of the concert attendees who organized resistance to the mobs: he and two dozen other men fought off the fascist attackers, protecting the concert space while others fled to safety. Fast’s analysis, supported by the Civil Rights Congress that urged him to write it, was that this event was the opening salvo of a new form of fascism that was emergent in American life.  As Fast writes, “thePeekskill affair was an important step in the preparation for the fascization of America and for the creation of receptive soil for the promulgation of World War III,” as a way he concluded to both prepare the U.S. for necessary “violence” to put down the left, and also begin preparations for new military conflict.[68]  As one of the many instances of “force and violence against the left” Fast saw the coming Cold War, what Dollinger refers to as “consensus,” as less a coming sign integration and liberal democracy, than as a right-wing purge of the left, and the intensification of a militarized state.[69]

The racial and political coordinates of the vigilante violence were quite stark to Fast.  The crowd that assaulted the concert goers shouted racist and antisemitic slurs, “screaming at us in a full frenzy…full of the taste of death,” promising that “every n- bastard dies here tonight!  Every Jew bastard dies here tonight.”[70]  Rather than just a random event or stray racial epithets, Fast cites both the ACLU and the Civil Rights Congress documentation of how both riots were premeditated, and done in full view of local and state police.  Fast not only witnessed police intermingling with the vigilantes, he watches as a cop “beat the windshield of the car in with his club while he drew his revolver with another hand, while “another policeman” was “smashing in the windshield of a car that asked for directions.”[71]  The racist and antisemitic rhetoric Fast also documents as systemic and premeditated.  Stickers were printed and plastered all over town reading “COMMUNISM IS TREASON.  BEHIND COMMUNISM THE JEW” and a statement from one of the groups organizing the riot read:

You Jews, and we mean you Communist Jews, have made yourself obnoxious and offensive to the American people, and you are only using the American Negro as a “Front” in your criminal un-American activities.[72]

Fast additionally documented an attempt to assassinate Robeson, with a sniper’s nest discovered in the trees behind the stage, and even before the full assault on the concert goers, black people were dragged out of cars in town and beaten in broad daylight.  Fast described the mob not as “lumpen” but as “prosperous-appearing men, well set up, well dressed, real estate men, grocery clerks, lunch counter attendants…” – not a rabble but “decent citizens” and civic leaders.[73]  It was an organized assault, from the top down.

Fast said he wrote the book to wake Americans up, for he felt Americans have an “amazing resistance…toward” the “acceptance” of an “unmistakable phenomenon – the cultivation and growth of American fascism.  We simply do not believe it.”[74]  As if to prove his own point, Fast himself documents multiple moments in the text when he either refuses to recognize what he is seeing, or refuses to listen to advice from people who had a better understanding of what transpired that week.  Frequently “Mrs M,” his children’s nurse, and a Black woman, admonished Fast for not understanding how “white folks behave” and left town before the second concert.[75]  Likwise, the night of the second concert, Fast frequently documents how he fails to comprehend what he sees:

"Then suddenly we had to slow down. The car ahead of us had fared worse than we; every window was smashed, even the rear window. I remember saying to R-

"The road is wet. They must have gotten the gas tank or the radiator."

There was a dark wetness that flowed out of the car ahead of us; and then we realized that it was blood, but an enormous flow of blood that ran from the car that way and into the road."

Even at the level of Fast's sentence, the "but" creates an opposition between what he sees and the enormity of it, revealing his own sense of unreality as he faced yet again another barrage of violence on the way out of the concert grounds. Through his Black nurse and his own feelings of unreality, Fast quietly documents not only the slowness of his own perceptual response, the much longer lineages of fascism his nurse seems far more aware of: “how white folks behave.”

Perhaps the most important Communist organization to make the connection between the U.S. and home-grown fascism was the Civil Rights Congress (CRC).   Founded in 1946 to replace the International Labor Defense, it took an explicitly antifascist approach to organizing against racism and anti-union suppression.  Placing the Holocaust at the center of its analysis of capitalism, William Patterson, its director, compared the fate of African-Americans in the United States to Jews under the Holocaust.  Furthering the analysis of Negritude theorist Aimé Césaire, Patterson held the origins of fascism lay in colonialism and slavery, systems that in an era of crisis, returned back to Europe to form fascism.  Following this logic, perhaps the CRC's most famous and controversial act was the We Charge Genocide petition delivered to the United Nations in 1951, claiming that under the U.N. charter, the United States was committing genocide against African-Americans, and U.N. intervention against lynching and Jim Crow was necessary.  What was remarkable about the CRC was that it was one of the few organizations with a sizeable grassroots Jewish and African-American membership and leadership to denounce the Rosenberg trial as a site of fascist violence.  One might even say that because of its Jewish and African-American members and leadership, it was uniquely suited to make such comparisons.  Unlike the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the NAACP that both denounced the Rosenbergs, the CRC connected the execution of the Rosenbergs to lynchings of African-Americans in the deep south and Nazi genocide in Europe[76].  The CRC, like the Communist Party and later the BPP saw the violent backlash against Communism, including the execution of the Rosenbergs, the bloody riot at Peekskill against Paul Robeson, and the jailing of Communists under the Smith Act as signs of incipient fascism.  Had the CRC not been banned in 1956 as a "subversive organization" under the same Act, it is very possible that it would have been among the groups sponsoring the BPP's "United Against Fascism" conference.  

Stanley Aronowitz's 1960s pamphlet on the specificity of American fascism likewise connects the Holocaust to the "systematic and conscious genocide against generations of blacks, both North and South," linking the Nazi mass murder to "lynchings" and the "brutality" with which "American Indians" were treated by an "advanced industrial country.”[77]  Aronowitz, who comes out of the left-labor tradition and was not allied with SDS, nonetheless saw in the Panther's description of the United States as fascist something that aligned with a longer left tradition in the United States.  Fascism for Aronowitz, is not merely a kind of lower middle-class populism, but a modality of rule that arises when the traditional modes of parliamentary hegemony are no longer sufficient to resolve contradictions or quell rebellion.  But rather than see fascism as a departure from normative modes of rule, fascism exists within and is an expression of U.S. liberal institutions, founded as they were on forms of capitalist violence.  Thus Aronowitz concludes, much like the CRC, that the "anticommunist purges" of the late 1940s and 1950s constituted a "prefascist stage" of American capitalism, which culminated in the "public trials of countless communists...the murder of Rosenbergs....witchhunts against trade unions....and the McCarren Act" which banned any organization affiliated with the Communist Party.[78]  Unlike the Zionists who might refer to the Holocaust as a form of Jewish exceptionalism, or radicals such as Tseng-Putterman who would order the Holocaust on a hierarchy, the CRC, Aronowitz, the CP and others thing of racial genocide and fascism in its many intersecting forms as a totality of capitalist rule. 

In this context, it makes sense that the most serious left-wing pamphlets and articles on antisemitism in the 1960s would appear from Marxist organizations.  While most New Left organizations had significant Jewish presence, their considerations centered on defending groups like SNCC and the BPP against charges of antisemitism for calls against Zionism.  In part because there is a lengthy Marxist literature on antisemitism, and in part from their own analysis of the role antisemitism plays in the construction of fascism, both the CPUSA and SWP devoted extensive resources to discussing the present role of antisemitism in America and its relationship to Zionism and the right.  Both CP and SWP publications do not single out antisemitism as a transcendent evil, nor mark the Holocaust as a singular event in human history.  Like Marcuse and the BPP, they locate the Holocaust within the larger structures of capitalism and imperialism, and see antisemitism as a structural and reoccurring feature of capitalist life.  In collection of essays in late 1970s on antisemitism and Zionism from Jewish Affairs, Communist author Hyman Lumer documents still active presence of antisemitism in American life.  Quoting from a University of California study, Lumer writes that two-thirds of Americans are antisemitic, one of third hold such views "private," another third are "outspoken antisemites" and a last tenth "advocate doing something to take 'power' from the Jews.”[79]  Lumer roots antisemitism in capitalism and imperialism, and in doing, places the "Nazi Holocaust" alongside the "millions of Africans" who "suffered death at the hands of slave traders" and the "genocidal extermination of the Indian people in the Western hemisphere.[80]  Like Hannah Arendt, Lumer locates antisemitism in both the economy in so far as he documents Jews' exclusion from "top executive and administrative positions" in banks, corporations, and elite universities, but he primarily aligns antisemitism as part of a political formation, the far right.[81]  "With a sharp swing toward reaction on the part of the Nixon administration....fascist elements...rise in an open, virulent expression of antisemitism," Lumer argues, further documenting the "desecration of synagogues" in recent months.[82]  Lumer who was one of the members of the Communist leadership who went underground in the 1950s and later arrested and jailed for a year under the Taft-Hartley Act for "conspiring to lie about membership in Communist Party" as an organizer in a labor union, was very familiar with both the fascist and antisemitic nature of the American state.  Like generations of Marxist critics before him, Lumer locates the rise of antisemitism as a means to deflect from the power of global capitalism, and shield the ruling classes from scrutiny. 

The specificity of antisemitism for the left, was not then simply an afterthought.  Pete Seidman, a red diaper baby whose father lost his job during the red scare, wrote the position paper for SWP on antisemitism.  While Seidman had been personally aware of antisemitism from a young age, as he was bullied and school and his father was a blacklisted former communist, it was the experience of being attacked by the ADL for SWP's support for Palestinians that goaded him into serious study on the question.  What is perhaps most remarkable about Seidman's study is the emphasis it places on the failures of liberal democracy to protect Jews from structural antisemitism both before and after WWII.  Antisemitism, for Seidman, is less a means for market liberalism to disavow the racial modalities of capital accumulation as Tseng-Putterman and Ratskoff suggest, than a structural part of the liberal state itself.  Focusing on the Roosevelt administration, Seidman shows how even while Roosevelt made token gestures toward Jewish inclusion and courted Jewish leaders of well-heeled organizations, on its most fateful policy decision, whether to allow Jewish refugees from Europe fleeing fascism, Roosevelt collaborated with assimilationist Jewish organizations to keep Jewish refugees out.  Not only did the Roosevelt administration not raise quotas, it intervened to ensure that even existing quotas were not filled, even after Kristallnacht made the Nazis' plans quite clear.  This did not change even after the full knowledge of the Holocaust was widely shared:  Roosevelt and later Truman's policy of keeping Jewish refugees out of the United States remained -- fearing that Jews, as the Nazis felt, would bring with them communism and other "unassimilable" ideas.  For Seidman, the Roosevelt administration's refusal to allow Jewish refugees was entirely in line with the antisemitic culture of assimilation, enthusiastically embraced by many Jewish organizations, including B'nai B'rith and the AJC, which felt that becoming "good Americans" was important than rescuing Jews from the Holocaust.  Seidman goes so far as to accuse the Roosevelt administration of conscious antisemitism, noting that despite the "carefully cultivated reputation as a friend and benefactor of the Jews," placed a know antisemite and fascist sympathizer, Breckinridge Long, in charge the administration's Jewish refugee policy.[83]

Why the Brazilian Jewish Left Is Not Anti-Zionist

The politics of the Zionist Left as Counter-revolutionary Gatekeepers in Brazil

Bruno Huberman

Since June 2013, when a mass movement took to the streets of Brazil, the country has undergone significant political polarisation. This movement has had an impact on the way Brazilian society and the Jewish community have related to the Palestine/Israel issue. On the left, a growing number of social movements and political parties, such as PSOL[1], have committed to a stance of radical solidarity with Palestinians, adopting BDS as part of their platforms. On the right, Israel has come to play a central role in the political agendas of evangelical and neo-fascist groups that make up the base of the Jair Bolsonaro government, elected in 2018.

In 2017, a group of far-right Zionist Jews invited Bolsonaro to hold a lecture at a Jewish recreational club in Rio de Janeiro. Amid laughter and applause from an audience of over three hundred Jews, Bolsonaro openly attacked Brazil's indigenous and quilombola communities.[2] ‘Not one centimetre will be demarcated for an indigenous reserve or quilombola. Where there is indigenous land, there is wealth [to be exploited] underneath’.[3]

Outside the club, a crowd of over a hundred protestors made up mostly of young Jews from left-wing Zionist youth movements, decried Bolsonaro's presence, waved Israeli flags and chanted in Hebrew. The protesters expressed their disapproval not only of Bolsonaro's approach to Brazilian politics but to Israeli politics as well. ‘Zionist Jews don't vote for fascists,’ they shouted. Left-wing Zionist intellectuals considered the event an important milestone that signified an unprecedented crack in the hegemony of the progressive-liberal agenda of the Brazilian Jewish community.[4]

Indeed, the demonstration would lead to a public repositioning of Zionist Jews who are supportive of progressive agendas to join the rest of the Brazilian left in defence of oppressed peoples and in the struggle against fascism.[5] From the point of view of left Zionists, anti-Semitism in the pro-BDS radical left is the reason they are excluded from both the struggle for justice in the Middle East and the battle against the Brazilian far-right. According to them, the Brazilian far-right and far-left both uphold an ‘Imaginary Israel’ that rejects the plurality of Zionism and Israel.[6]

According to this logic, Left Zionism would represent the only viable alternative against ‘extremism’. Left Zionists argue that dialogue alone would be capable of resolving the Palestine/Israel question and the divergences within the Jewish community and the Brazilian left. This neoliberal discourse that claims ‘there is no alternative’ has managed to attract growing support among Brazilian Jews and relevant sectors of the Brazilian left who are in denial about the reality in Palestine/Israel.


This piece is being made available as a preprint edition of the double-volume Marxism and the Critique of Antisemitism special issue of Historical Materialism. Further additions will still be made before then. The final published version of this text will be made available on the Brill website in the coming months. We ask that citations refer to the Brill edition.All Illustrations are by Natalia Podpora.


It is possible to observe a global crisis of Left Zionism, from Israel to Brazil, to the US and the UK.[7] Jewish communities worldwide have undergone transformations in race and class relations after WWII.[8] This explains in part why Brazilian Jews have not completed the polarisation observed in Brazilian society to integrate the anti-Zionist left, instead joining ranks with the new neo-fascist right.

Based on an analysis of the intellectual reflections and actions of this group, we argue that, with the help of Zionist elites and the coercion of the Brazilian state, left-wing Zionists act as a gatekeepers to prevent left-wing Jews and sectors of the moderate left from composing radical movements for the emancipation of oppressed and exploited peoples in Brazil and Palestine. As such, they manage to uphold both Israeli colonial claims of sovereignty over Palestinian territory and the legitimacy of Zionism within the Brazilian left.

We ground our critique in reflections by anti-Zionist Jews, anti-colonial and settler colonial perspectives to demonstrate how Left Zionism functions as a soft, patronizing version of the old colonial chauvinism. To that end, we test the hypothesis put forward by the Jewish American Marxist Alexander Bittelman, writing in 1947, that Zionists align with the reactionary forces of the nation-state in which they reside.[9]

We understand the Zionist Left praxis as a counter-revolutionary strategy to maintain the hegemony of Liberal Zionism based on the exclusion of anti-Zionist alternatives, inside and outside the Jewish community. Historical analysis of the politics of the anti-Zionist Jewish movement disrupts the idea of a harmonious coexistence inside the Jewish community claimed by the Brazilian Zionist Left.

The erasing of the Jewish anti-Zionist left from the history of the Brazilian Jewish community is a direct result of its historical defeat against Zionism.[10] Academia has been an important tool that has helped Liberal Zionism maintain its hegemony in the country. The few Brazilian authors who approach the particularity of the Jewish question from a Marxist point of view[11] are invariably accused falling prey to essentialism when treating the relationship between Jews and anti-Zionist communist movements.[12]

We propose an alternative reflection that examines the anti-Zionist Jewish left, racism and colonialism as key elements to understand the contradictions between actually existing Zionism in Palestine and the progressive-liberal hegemony that prevails in the Jewish community in Brazil. We aim to provide a counter-hegemonic critique for an emancipatory praxis that rejects colonialism and understands the particularity of the Jewish question without subsuming it to class analyses.

First, we present the dominant literature’s understanding of the role played by the Zionist Left in the Jewish community and in Brazilian society at large. Next, we provide a critique of the concept of ‘Imaginary Israel’ and locate it within the counter-revolutionary praxis of the Zionist left. Finally, we point to ways in which the Zionist movement has acted to dismantle Jewish anti-Zionist alternatives in Brazil.  

The crisis of the progressive-liberal hegemony of the Brazilian Jewish-Zionist community

An alignment with the WZO[13] is at the foundation of the Zionist movement in Brazil in the 1910s. It eventually undergoes dynamisation when, in 1927, Russian immigrant Aron Bergman founds the Brazilian headquarters of the Poalei Tzion in Rio de Janeiro.[14] Socialist Zionists constituted a majority of the Jewish community in the late 1930s, and were responsible for building schools, libraries and youth movements, which formed their main social base.

These entities played a fundamental role in the expansion of Zionism, the establishment of Hebrew as the Jewish national language, the support of the Brazilian State to Israel and the mobilization of financial and human resources for the Zionist colonization of Palestine, such as military training in youth camps for the formation of new settlers.[15]

According to Monica Grin, the post-WWII period saw a rise of the progressive-liberal agenda in the Jewish community.[16] The country’s democratisation after 1945, following the end of the Estado Novo,[17] resulted in a new model for institutions representing the Jewish community in a territorial form. These entities were directed by Zionist elites to represent all Jews in Brazilian society, in particular to the national government. Nevertheless, they were open to anti-Zionist groups, which were still numerous then but remained autonomous.

The Jewish community's positions in favour of human rights, social justice, the fight against anti-Semitism and the defence of Israel as a democratic nation among authoritarian countries in the Middle East would form the basis of a new social cohesion. The defence of universal rights and citizenship, in particular, and the expansion of ethnic and religious minority rights, would lead to Jews having their rights respected as individuals and as a group.[18]

This agenda brought about links with other social groups in support of national multiculturalism, religious freedom and the fight against racism. It turned various progressive groups in society, such as sectors of the Catholic Church and the Black Movement, into allies in the fight against anti-Semitism.[19]

Another example includes the alliances of Left Zionist groups with the Brazilian left. According to Michel Gherman, the relation between Zionists and the Brazilian left went from one of empathy in the 1930s to one of hostility at the beginning of the twenty-first century. According to him, even before the recognition of Israel by the USSR, there was proximity between left Zionists and the PCB,[20] the main representative of the Brazilian revolutionary left at the time.[21] There was even sympathy among sectors of the PCB for the collectivist aspects of the Jewish state.[22]

Even at the height of the ‘zionization’ of the Jewish community after the 1967 war, a relative proximity between left Zionism and the Brazilian left endured. This proximity persisted during the re-democratisation of the country in the 1980s when Zionist groups approached the PT[23], the main party of the Brazilian left, which adopted the liberal international consensus of peace, coexistence and two states. Thus, both Jews and the left welcomed the ‘critically Zionist’ position.[24]

However, this Liberal Zionist hegemony would experience a crisis after the Second Intifada (2000-2006), when, according to Gherman, binary interpretations would result in extremist positions on the Brazilian left towards Israel and Zionism. This kind of critique from the left conflated Jewish, Zionist and Israeli identities.

Gherman purposely conflates anti-Zionist critiques of left-wing Zionism with isolated anti-Semitic statements by individuals on the Brazilian left. He claims that the same reasoning underpins texts which accuse ‘minority groups of Jewish origin’ of possessing a ‘hidden power’ that would help them dominate the world[25] and those which point to the structural characteristics of settler colonial Zionism in Palestine, including on the Zionist Left.[26]

Therefore, any critique of Left Zionism and its colonial features could easily be framed as a denial of its possibility to exist. Left anti-Zionism would be a new kind of anti-Semitism.

In this sense, Jews cannot be right or left; they are exclusively Jews. Zionism, here, takes the place of an ‘original Judaism,’ replacing the typical accusations found in traditional forms of political anti-Semitism … Brazilian Jews are seen as ‘representatives’ of an alleged ‘Zionism’ that is determined to defend the interests of Israel. Not exactly the real State of Israel, but an imaginary one, that possesses superpowers and is able to exploit and dominate other countries and economic systems.[27]

Furthermore, according to Gherman, the BDS movement encourages ‘dangerous and generalizing’ confusion between Zionists, Jews and Israel, allowing the anti-Semitic left to reaffirm its position in support of boycott campaigns. BDS Brazil would thus benefit from anti-Semitism on the left.

BDS activists seem to exploit the local confusion between national Jewish and Jewish religious identities, between Jews and Israel, between Israel and the attitudes of specific Israeli governments in order to reinforce their influence and political agenda among specific Brazilian political groups.[28]

On the other hand, Gherman, Grin and Caraciki understand the political growth of conservative evangelical groups in the 2010s, historical champions of Israel, as a factor that pressured Bolsonaro to embrace Israel as an ally in the defence of Western Judeo-Christian values against threats coming from the East, Islam and the left.[29] In 2014, Bolsonaro was baptised by an evangelical leader in order to gain the support of evangelicals. Since his inauguration, Bolsonaro has become one of Israel's foremost partners and Israeli flags have become ubiquitous at Brazilian far-right demonstrations.

As a result, this has ignited a neo-Zionist and ultra-conservative agenda led by previously marginalised far-right groups within the Jewish community. These have sought to break with the progressive-liberal consensus and exclude ‘critically Zionist’ Jews. Far-right Israel apologist groups have replaced leftist movements as the Zionist elites’ main allies.[30]

Therefore, we would be witnessing a ‘de-conversion’ of left-wing Zionists coupled with a symbolic conversion of evangelicals and Bolsonarist supporters of Israel. Far-right Zionist groups, which see themselves as the ‘true’ representatives of Jewish interests in Brazil, would be promoting a ‘cleansing’ within Jewish-Zionist entities. This would be causing a rupture of the solidarity within the Jewish community and a crisis of representation supposedly never seen before.[31]

A novelty underpinning the alignment between evangelical extremism, Bolsonarist fascism and ultra-nationalist Jews is their essentially positive view of Jews, Zionists and Israel as defenders of their moral and political values. In fact, for Liberal Zionist intellectuals, this essentially positive representation would not be a form of anti-Semitism, although many, including Bolsonaro himself, espouse openly anti-Semitic positions.[32] That is, their ultra-Zionist and anti-Semitic positions do not overlap but exist as complementary phenomena. On the left, however, there would be an overlap between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

The depoliticizing “Imaginary Israel” framework

As a way of explaining the crisis of hegemony of Liberal Zionism, Gherman developed the concept of an ‘Imaginary Israel’, which transmutes with that of the ‘imaginary Jew’, elaborated by Alain Finkielkraut for late twentieth century France.[33] For Gherman, as for Finkielkraut, there would exist, both on the left and on the right, social constructions that are responsible for making Jews, and by extension Israel, exceptional and guided by a supposed essentialist nature.[34]

The left would see the Jewish-Zionist-Israel nexus as racist, colonising, imperialist, capitalist and right-wing. The right would interpret this nexus as religiosity, messianism, conservatism and the defence of Western Judeo-Christian society. Neither of these imaginary perspectives would have room for the plurality and diversity of the ‘real Jew’ or the various types of Zionisms and opposing strands in Israeli society.

The new Brazilian right ... seems to attract groups from the new left. And, in a bear hug, this ends up killing both, since the most important thing is to suffocate those who contradict the versions of both sides, in this case, progressive Jews, liberals, left Zionists.[35]

The theoretical elaboration of the ‘Imaginary Israel’ has guided, in particular, the actions of IBI[36], an organization founded in 2017 that advocates for a liberal Zionism that aggregates left and right liberals in defence of a progressive-liberal hegemony. Its actions are aimed at representative entities of the Jewish-Zionist community and important circles of Brazilian society, such as literary festivals, film fairs, political parties, the media and public universities.

IBI’s slogan ‘Zionism is plural’ functions as a veil of multicultural tolerance behind which lies an ambition to antagonise criticism from Palestinians and radical left-wing movements that point to the settler colonial characteristic of actually existing Zionism in Palestine. For Gherman, director of IBI, and Thomaz, pointing out the ways in which colonialism structures reality in Palestine/Israel constitutes a misrepresentation that erases the complexity of the ‘Palestinian-Israeli conflict’ in a similar argumentative vein to those who would wish to erase thecomplexity of Jews.[37]

According to IBI's president, David Diesendruck, the organisation was funded as a reaction to the ‘pain’ caused by polarisation in Brazilian society.[38] In an ethnographic research conducted between 2015 and 2017 with Brazilian Jews who identify as left-wing Zionists, Bianca Marcossi noticed a shared pain among those who claim this identity.[39] This suffering would stem from isolation and marginalisation in Brazilian society as a result of polarisation around the Palestine/Israel issue.

Common ground for Brazilian left-wing Zionists includes a support for the Palestinian State and the end of the occupation of the Palestinian territories, and a Zionism based on Jewish humanist and ethical values. Marcossi notes a common effort of left Zionists to self-define their Zionist identity in an idealistic way that bares no correlation with actually existing Zionism.[40]

Marcossi highlights how this desire to end the occupation is regarded as a priority required to save Israel and the Zionism that they understand to be true: the one that would have existed until 1967, before the ‘deviation’ caused by the Zionist right. This discourse of ‘deviation’ is also observed in the critique of the actions of the Zionist far-right against the liberal consensus in the Brazilian Jewish community.[41]

The intellectuals of Left Zionism wish to redefine this individual suffering as an identity with a privileged perspective that allows for a better understanding of the reality, by standing on two sides: the left and Zionism. They aim to make their political proposal of ‘two states for two peoples’ the rational one because it is founded on a privileged experience of suffering that seeks moderation. While the extreme right defends an apartheid state, resulting from its ambitions to annex the West Bank, the project of a democratic bi-national state is gaining ground on the left.[42]

In the words of IBI's executive coordinator, Rafael Kruchin:

... on the left and on the right in Brazil, there is a clear dichotomy that opposes those who fight against ‘barbarism’ and those who fight against ‘colonialism’ … Each side of this binary reality sees and proclaims itself as the locus of excellence and clarity, and does not seem, at the present moment, willing to rethink its categories of classification … It is necessary to start talking about concrete alternatives to the present conjuncture and, who knows, about the possible solution of two states.[43]

Therefore, ‘Imaginary Israel’ serves as a theory of liberal Zionism to resume the two states project and re-establish a progressive-liberal hegemony in the Brazilian Jewish community through the strategy of dialogue. This framework seems critical, but it is founded on a false polarisation that equates left and right in a ‘horseshoe theory’.

In this paradigm, the political spectrum would be in the shape of a horseshoe that would result in the extreme left being closer to the extreme right than to the centre-left. Therefore, left and right would not have qualitative or teleological differences.

According to Sabrina Fernandes, the “horseshoe theory” can only be observed in an environment of great depoliticisation such as that of Brazil since June 2013.[44] The idea of a plurality against ‘binarisms’ advocated by the Zionist Left’s ‘Imaginary Israel’ paradigm enforces a depoliticisation that demobilises the structural antagonisms resulting from the settler colonial reality at the root of the inequalities of power and the conditions of oppression and exploitation between Jews and Palestinians. Consequently, it constructs a representation in which the conflict ceases to be a settler colonial one and instead becomes one between liberals and extremists. ‘Imaginary Israel’ is an ideology that justifies the role of left Zionists as gatekeepers of the Jewish community and the moderate Left against increasingly ‘extremist’ positions on the radical left. In this false representation of reality, left Zionists are equal in victimhood to Palestinians.

For example, in an article on Jewish fundamentalism, Gherman and Grin state that extremists form ‘violent gangs that fight Palestinians and progressive Jews with equal violence’.[45] As if to imply that progressive Jews are put through equal suffering, following massacres such as the one in Hebron in 1994, as the Palestinians who are submitted to the systematic theft of homes and land, among other acts of violence committed by extremist settlers that end up benefiting the settler population as a whole. 

This distortion of reality is based on fallacies that benefit a right-wing liberal project by limiting the possibility of conciliation exclusively to liberals inscribed within a neoliberal order in Brazil.[46] This can be seen in the claim that Zionist settler colonialism is the fruit of the left's fundamentalist imagination and that the BDS movement benefits from the anti-Semitism of the radical left. Another form of depoliticisation occurs through the discourse strategy, which is presented as the rational and technocratic solution according to neoliberal procedures of conflict resolution and supposedly rises above the ideology of the 'pro-Palestinian' left and the 'pro-Israel’ right.

In this way, the "Imaginary Israel" theory reproduces the old strategy of ‘complexity’ that has historically kept international leftists in fear of being accused of anti-Semitism when criticising Zionism and its colonial praxis[47] — a recurrent practice, as observed in the case of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK.[48] Consequently, the settler colonial and racist aspects of Zionism are obscured. Radical forms of criticism by anti-Zionists are portrayed as ‘irrational’, forcing the left to adopt more moderate positions.

The plurality trap: gatekeeping the Brazilian Left

The 2010s have seen the rising impact of new organisations linked to left-wing Zionism on the Brazilian left, thus steering it away from joining the BDS campaign or opposing Bolsonarism in the Jewish community. On some occasions, articulation occurred with non-Zionist Jewish groups that consent to the hegemony of Liberal Zionism, such as ASA in Rio de Janeiro and Casa do Povo in São Paulo.[49]

The main area of activity was the radical left party PSOL, created in 2005 as a socialist alternative to the PT, a party that became more suited to neoliberal hegemony.[50] Several left-wing Zionists joined the PSOL in Rio de Janeiro in the 2010s, such as Guilherme Cohen, leader of Jews for Democracy, trained in the Zionist youth movement and former advisor to former MP Jean Wyllys, an important leader of the LGBTQ cause and ardent opponent of Bolsonaro.

Marcossi notes that the recruitment of allies on the Brazilian left seeks to reinforce belief in Left Zionism among those liberal Jews in crisis. Faced with the suffering they bear, they tend to move towards the anti-Zionist left or the Bolsonarist right. The Israeli Zionist left, Meretz in particular, often sends emissaries to impart the teachings of the ‘motherland’ to those whose beliefs are in doubt so as to prevent their departure.

In the 2016 Rio de Janeiro mayoral election, which pitted evangelical Marcelo Crivella against Marcelo Freixo, from PSOL, the left-wing politician was accused of anti-Semitism because sectors of his party claimed that Israel promoted the genocide of Palestinians. With the support of the Zionist left, Freixo sought to distinguish himself from the anti-Zionist wing and adopted the traditional Zionist Left stance of differentiating the State of Israel from the Netanyahu government: ‘Being against a government is not being against a country.’[51]

It’s important to highlight that PSOL is a party of tendencies without centralism, and that Wyllys and Freixo were independent politicians. The tendencies can have a specific ideology, such as Trotskyism or Ecosocialism, or a more general approach to socialism. As a result, there are divergences between positions taken by some internal tendencies and independent MPs and the official statements adopted by the party’s International Relations Sector on matters such as Palestine/Israel, Venezuela, and Syria. Consequently, PSOL is seen as Zionist and Pro-Palestine at the same time.[52] This kind of contradiction is not seen in minor parties of the radical left that adopt a centralist organization, such as PCB, a Marxist-Leninist party, or PSTU[53], a Trotskyist party. PSTU is particularly involved in the solidarity with the Palestinian cause and rejects any rapprochement with the Zionist left.  

There are also collaborations between different groups for initiatives such as trips to Palestine/Israel for important figures from the Brazilian left. Wyllys went to Palestine/Israel in 2015 on a trip organised by Gherman, Cohen and other members of Progressive Jews, PSOL, CONIB[54] and the Brazilian Embassy in Israel. According to the politician, the goal was ‘to make the connection between the Zionist left and the Palestinian left and advance the debate about the Occupation within the left’.[55]

Wyllys' itinerary followed the script of Left Zionism: meetings with figures such as David Grossmann and Nitzan Horowitz; visits to the Israeli-Palestinian NGO Combatants for Peace, to Yad Vashem and to the Zikim kibbutz, connected to Hashomer Hatzair and built over the Palestinian village of Hirybia;[56] and a lecture on ‘peace’ at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In an orientalist vein, Wyllys wrote about the trip: ‘the rights secured by the Israeli LGBT movement are a beacon in a region dominated by fundamentalism, totalitarianism, misogyny and homophobia’.[57]

According to Wyllys, during his trip, he learned that ‘Zionism is not a synonym for Jew’; that ‘anti-Zionism is used to disguise anti-Semitism’; that ‘there are Zionists who are against the occupation of Palestinian territories, … and in favour of the two-state solution’.[58] Marcossi claims that the politician ‘has come to 'see' through the eyes of his 'hosts', adopting the same hope as them, the same repudiation of the BDS movement ... and the same method, dialogue’.[59]

The case of Jean Wyllys is an example of a successful venture by the Zionist left to ‘teach’ Brazilian society, through the recruitment of non-Jewish intellectuals, how to contest the hegemony at its side. In the view of a militant of Brazilian Left Zionism:

(Wyllys) declared positions that are very close to ours, practically similar. If not for the difference in positionality, which is neither Jewish nor Zionist, but only for the understanding of reality, (it is) very close.[60]

This effort was also aimed at other public figures in an attempt to normalise the left Zionist discourse in the country, such as Gregório Duvivier, an influential comedian with great public influence who is also affiliated with the PSOL;[61] Paulo Abrão, a human rights activist responsible for organising ‘meetings and dialogues between Palestinians and Israelis’ for peace through the Ministry of Justice;[62] and Djamila Ribeiro, an important intellectual of the Black Movement, who was brought closer to the Zionist Left after understanding as a form of racism the criticism that Roger Waters and others in solidarity with the Palestinian cause, including black activists, had levelled against the Brazilian black musician Milton Nascimento for performing in Israel.[63]

Gherman, Wyllys and Ribeiro share a common understanding of anti-Zionist criticism as a form of intolerance against their individual identities, subscribing to a political strategy close to that of the Brazilian moderate left which is based on a pragmatic adaptation to the dominant neoliberal order. From this perspective, the liberating utopia of decolonisation and the BDS movement are portrayed as oppressive because they confront Israeli ‘plurality’ and exclude their supposedly ‘real’ partners: the Zionist Left.

In this way, the Zionist Left rejects the real Palestinian – the one who claims a settler colonial perspective and adheres to a strategy of anti-colonial refusal against the normalization of Israeli colonial racism – in exchange for an imaginary Zionism grounded in misrepresentations of reality that disguise settler colonialism. Much like Finkielkraut does in relation to Europeans, left Zionists assume a stance that poses as universal and sees anti-colonialism not as humanism, but as prejudice and moral relativism.

Zionist settler colonialism and counterrevolutionary praxis

Judith Butler, in Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, notes that any project of Jewish coexistence in Palestine must begin with a double movement, at once reclaiming and negating the Jewish ethical tradition. Butler points to cohabitation with the non-Jew as the central ethical substance of diasporic Jewry, representing a commitment of the secular, socialist and religious Jewish traditions to equality and justice. These Jewish resources are what enable the construction of cohabitation in Palestine as well as ‘the criticism of state violence, the colonial subjugation of populations, expulsion and dispossession’.[64]

At the same time, Butler posits that it is crucial to reject this Jewish tradition as exclusively Jewish and Jewish ethical values as exceptional. This movement aims to prevent the construction of a privileged Jewish position to understand and act upon reality, even an anti-Zionist one. That is, the Jewish critique of Zionism must question the Jewish framework towards more fundamental and universal democratic values so as to overcome the Jewishness originally claimed as the exclusive framework for thinking about ethics and politics.[65] 

All criticism of Zionism and Israel by the Zionist left contributes to sustain a privileged position of thinking and acting upon the issue of cohabitation between Jews and non-Jews in Palestine and in Brazil and therefore, fails to depart from the framework of Jewishness.[66] By ignoring settler colonialism as a structural dimension in Palestine/Israel, left Zionist intellectuals have disregarded how it structures their own consciousness, identity and action. As Fanon has noted, it is the colonial structure that produces the colonial agents, not their individual practices.[67]

Patrick Wolfe claimed the centrality of the binary cleavage between settler and native as the structural dialectical relationship from which it is possible to understand all the other multiple ramifications in a settler colonial situation such as Palestine/Israel.[68] For indigenous peoples, which is true of Palestinians, positing the colonial relationship in binary terms as settler and native, oppressor and oppressed, still makes sense[69] and is not in the least imaginary: it is how the ordering of populations in that territory was originally produced by the racist imperatives of the Zionist settlers and which continues to ground their material relations.

Identity is not something constructed from discourses and imaginations, but from material processes.[70] Israeli settler colonialism created Palestinian indigeneity, which has recently re-emerged within the debates on Palestine and has become an important aspect of political mobilization – both national and global, constituting connections with other indigenous peoples’ struggles against settler colonialism.[71] However, interaction with the indigenous Palestinian population does not seem to have consequences for the nature and identity of liberal Zionists.

As Gabriel Piterberg notes, ‘what 'we’ have done is actually who 'we’ are’.[72] Liberal Zionists, however, have grounded themselves in idealistic and particularistic interpretations of the material historical process, as in the case of the kibbutzim. By portraying it as a Zionist socialist utopian movement, they ignore the central role it played in securing the forcible colonisation of Palestinian land and building a settler society on the ruins of the indigenous one.[73]

Historically, the radical left has fought against social forms that relied on nationalism to carry out oppressive practices such as colonialism, even those that claimed to be socialist. The rupture with the Second International at the beginning of the twentieth century resulted from disagreements that opposed communist and anti-colonial revolutionaries against European social democracy, which supported colonialism as a necessary step to achieve socialism in the peripheries.[74]

This has been the central element in the historical position of anti-Zionists: the rejection of Zionism as the solution to the Jewish question. Colonialism has been a plural phenomenon in its methods and ideologies, but which are structurally based on the same racist logic of plunder, exploitation and dehumanisation, even when it declares its ‘humanitarian intent to promote the realisation of perpetual peace’.[75] The plurality of Zionists who have had an impact on the material reality in Palestine represents the plurality that colonialism in general, and Zionist settler colonialism in particular, can assume.

Developed as a nationalist project for the "normalization" of Diaspora Jews around the time of their settlement in Palestine and the construction of a sovereign Jewish state in the territory, Zionism was never a movement aimed at the emancipation of anyone other than Jews themselves. Instead of rejecting the national paradigm at the root of their own exclusion in the quest for internationalist emancipation, as communist Jews did, Zionists reclaimed the very weapons of oppression that begat modern anti-Semitism for their national liberation outside of Europe. The subjugation of an indigenous people conferred upon Zionists recognition as equals by their former oppressors, the Europeans.[76] Thus, Zionists merely reversed the game of exploitation of man by man.

The positivist interpretation of socialism was central to building the soft and paternalist strand of Zionist colonialism, as noted in the work of Borockov, a Marxist Zionist intellectual influential in leading socialist Zionist movements responsible for the establishment of Israel. Although Borockov identified somewhat with his Marxist anti-Zionist peers in the early twentieth century, such as Vladimir Medem and the Bund, socialist Zionists have always sought to distinguish themselves from Herzl's bourgeois and liberal Zionism on the one hand and from the anti-Zionism of the Bund and the Bolsheviks on the other.[77]

Despite their differences, Zionists agreed on a territorialist solution to the Jewish question and on the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine based on the destruction of the native society. Borokhov saw the evolution of the productive forces toward a socialism led by the Jewish settlers as beneficial to the native society.[78] Under a Marxist slant, Borockov reproduced the settler colonial ‘civilising’ discourse that was very much present in Herzl's work.

The population of Eretz Israel will adopt the new economic and cultural model of the country. The indigenous people will assimilate economically and culturally to those who will have assumed leadership of the development of the productive forces.[79]

Borokhov's socialist Zionism supported inter-class Jewish solidarity above the international solidarity of the proletariat. As a result, the workers' movement became the spearhead of Zionist settler colonialism.

The Histadrut, the Zionist workers' union, was instrumental in building an exclusive settler economy separated from the native one by expelling Palestinians from the land and the labour market and laying the foundations for a Jewish state founded on the continuous exclusion and segregation of the indigenous population.[80] The Histadrut went so far as to prevent class solidarity between Jewish and Palestinian workers under the auspices of the anti-Zionist Communist Party of Palestine.[81]

Today, despite a weakening of the Zionist Left, the colonial structuring of solidarity was maintained. The focus of actions has remained on the class struggle among the settler community, as revealed in the 2011 demonstrations by liberal Israelis, to the detriment of solidarity with the Palestinians.[82] Meanwhile, new softer and harsher forms of government have alternated in dispossessing the Palestinians, both heavily based on neoliberal relations since Oslo.[83]

Various leftist movements around the world have adapted to new forms of (neo)liberal colonialism, such as the construction of the Belo Monte dam in Brazil by the PT government, which expropriated indigenous populations.[84] Other forms include multicultural projects of socioeconomic inclusion and recognition that did not alter the racial structure of societies.[85]

The Brazilian Zionist Left reproduces the colonial paternalism of Israeli liberals as the benevolent bearers of what would be the best alternative for the Palestinians. They defend an imaginary Zionism, which, in the end, is a fraud that serves as a ruse to combat the anti-Zionism of real Palestinians and Jews to ensure the perpetuation of the hegemony of liberal Zionism.

As such, they are part of what that Brazilian sociologist Florestan Fernandes called a prolonged counter-revolution: a permanent effort by the Brazilian dependent bourgeoisie to mitigate the contradictions stemming from inequality and exclusion that are capable of becoming a revolutionary political force.[86] Although an alignment between the Zionist elites and dependent bourgeoisie in Brazil is quite evident under Bolsonaro’s presidency, their association in the elimination of the Anti-Zionist Communist Left have facilitated the country’s subjection to US imperialism and proximity with Israeli interests since the 1930s. As will be demonstrated below, Zionist leaders did not extend ethnic-religious solidarity to those communist anti-Zionist Jews who were persecuted by the Brazilian State at different moments in history.

The Zionist Left acts elusively within the field of hegemony to co-opt and empty out the political content of the opposing project and thus contribute to the defence of Israeli sovereignty over Palestinian land. This type of action, which Gramsci called transformism,[87] seeks to construct opponents, in other words, Palestinians, according to colonial perspectives.

Instead of anti-colonial revolutionaries who resort to anti-colonial rejection as a form of liberation from the place where colonial racism initially put them, the “Imaginary Israel” paradigm of the Zionist Left reduces Palestinians to (neo)liberal, rational and moderate human rights activists who maintain peaceful dialogue with their Israeli counterparts.[88] This kind of reasoning, characteristic of neoliberal human rights[89], reproduces colonial racism by keeping Palestinians confined to a place established by Zionists.

This counter-revolutionary praxis of the Zionist Left harks back to a historical position of European leftists who rejected the anti-colonial violence of the colonised and supported liberation in the colony merely as a by-product of revolution in the metropolis. In a 1957 article, Fanon condemns the French left for failing to understand how class struggle takes the form of national liberation in the colonial situation. For the Martinican intellectual, this lack of understanding of colonialism is what led the French to reduce the opposite of colonialism to ‘the individual scale of less racist, more open, more liberal behaviour’ and to criticise the ‘excesses’ of anti-colonial violence.[90]

The pseudo-justification for this attitude is that in order to have an influence on French public opinion, certain facts must be condemned, the unexpected excrescences must be rejected, the ‘excesses’ must be disavowed. In these moments of crisis, of face-to-face opposition, the FLN is being asked to direct its violence and to make it selective.[91]

Thus, Butler posits as grounds for cohabitation between Jews and Palestinians, rather than an 'easy multiculturalism … that the vast and violent hegemonic structure of political Zionism must cede its hold on those lands and populations”.[92] Because of their settler colonial rationale, Zionist movements act to eliminate rejectionist anti-Zionist forms in order to maintain exclusivity over Jewish identity and Palestinian land. This is not to say that Zionists act with the same violence against Palestinians and other anti-Zionists, including Jews, but it is important to emphasise that these praxis are interconnected. As Butler notes,

though one needs to contest the hegemonic control Zionism exercises over Jewishness, one needs, equally, to contest the colonial subjugation Zionism has implied for the Palestinian people.[93]

The movement for Palestinian national liberation is the one that currently represents, from the particular, universal emancipation, transcending its existence as part of the anti-imperialist struggle. Therefore, ethical Jewishness demands anti-Zionist practice and radical solidarity with the BDS anti-colonial rejection.

Anti-Zionist Jews and counter-revolution in Brazil

During the formation of the Brazilian Jewish community in the 1920s, politics was an important identity marker among Jews beyond their region of origin, ethnicity and religiosity.[94] Despite a shared sense of fraternity and connections among them, Zionists and anti-Zionists constituted groups with antagonistic political projects and entities. While Zionists mobilized in favour of the Jewish colonization of Palestine and of lobbying the national elites, anti-Zionists favoured an integrationist and internationalist praxis aimed at the assimilation of Jews in Brazil and at their involvement in the workers’ movements.[95]

Socialist Zionists position themselves between Zionist elites and the communist anti-Zionist movements. The socialist Zionists took part both in communist Jewish bodies, such as the BIBSA[96], founded in 1915 by Bund and Marxist-Leninist militants,[97] and in the Brazilian Zionist movement itself, disputing its direction.[98] The anti-Zionist Jewish movement was present in Porto Alegre, Curitiba, Niteroi, and São Paulo.[99]

In Rio de Janeiro, various organisations of communist Jews were established, such as BIBSA, the Abeter Kich popular kitchen, BRAZCOR[100] and the Morris Wintschevsky Brazilian Workers' Centre. Jewish communitarian life had important interactions with other racially oppressed populations, such as Afro-Brazilians, and communist movements, especially the PCB. The PCB reorganisation conference in 1925 took place at the BIBSA building during the Carnival holiday to escape police surveillance.[101]

This proximity resulted in the creation of the Jewish Sector in the PCB, linked to BIBSA. Its main function was to provide financial support and protection to communist Jews persecuted by the state. The Jewish Sector stressed the particularity of Jews in the Brazilian left, albeit as part of the internationalist struggle. There were also several communist Jews involved in the "general struggles" of the PCB, who played an important role in the failed communist uprising of 1935.[102]

Divergences between Zionists and anti-Zionists grew around disputes in the educational field because of the absence of a strong social base for anti-Semitism in Brazil.[103] Black and indigenous populations already functioned as the Other in Brazilian structural racism. Brazilian religious syncretism tolerated Judaism and Jewish immigrants were included in a state project to promote the whitening of Brazilian society in the early twentieth century. Therefore, Jews were not coerced to identify with the ‘homeland’ or with the Jewish community.[104]

The linguistic dispute between Yiddish and Hebrew was the vehicle for conflict between Zionist and anti-Zionist political projects. The WZO conference of 1922 determined that Zionists should promote the hegemony of Hebrew in Jewish education to achieve hegemony over Jewish identity and its political action.[105] In 1925, the JCA[106], involved in the Jewish settlement in southern Brazil, came to support Hebrew teaching and Zionism.[107] This resulted in a fracturing of the communal solidarity.

In 1928, faced with disputes over the direction and ideology of BIBSA, the communists expelled the Zionists.[108] As a result, the Sholem Aleichem School, linked to BIBSA and the PCB, began to teach primarily in Yiddish and based on a materialist perspective.[109]

According to a police report on the actions of Socialist Zionism and its leader, Aron Bergman, in fighting anti-Zionism:

... as for the Polaé Sion Socialist Party in Brazil, it was a socialist branch of the Zionist doctrine with the objective of helping workers in Palestine, limiting its activities in Brazil to a financial campaign Kapai Palestine Arbeiter Fond … It is worth noting, however, that this society was guided by an ideology antagonistic to communism. Aron Bergman … declaring himself a social democrat, having headed in 1929 a public demonstration against adherents of communism who, at the time, were meeting in Scholom Alechem.[110] 

Despite this setback in the dispute with the communists and the rise of anti-Semitism in Brazil, the 1930s witnessed a consolidation of Zionism.[111] The Estado Novo, which began in 1937, had a Nazi at the head of its political police and part of its social base formed by the Brazilian Integralist Movement, the largest fascist group outside Europe. In 1938, the dictatorship ordered the dissolution of all Zionist centres, and made it difficult for Jewish immigrants to enter the country.[112]

However, there was no climate of fear and persecution against Jewish immigrants. Zionists easily adapted to the restrictions imposed by the government, adopting Brazilian names and promoting activities that eluded surveillance. Between 1933 and 1945, 24,000 Jews entered Brazil, which meant an increase of almost a third in the overall Jewish population.[113]

The Estado Novo's main concern was the construction of an authentically Brazilian identity and the preservation of the ‘Brazilian family tradition’. Anti-Jewish hatred was an ideology restricted to small parts of the government and integralism.[114] The dictatorship was mainly conservative, xenophobic and anti-communist. As a result, communist Jews were the most persecuted. That is, anti-Communism was a greater threat to Jews than anti-Semitism.[115]

Communist Jews were arrested, tortured, murdered and deported. Olga Benário Prestes was deported to Europe and murdered in an extermination camp. The police closed BRAZCOR and raided BIBSA. The government mainly worked to stop the immigration of communist Jews, while tolerating that of Zionists.[116] Presented as a nationalism with ambitions to colonise another country, Zionism was not perceived as a threat by the Estado Novo.[117]

There were acts of Jewish solidarity during this period. However, Zionist groups tried to differentiate themselves from anti-Zionists and would lobby Brazilian elites to position themselves as the true representatives of the Jewish community.[118] While building support from Brazil for the Jewish state in Palestine, Zionists sought to weaken anti-Zionist alternatives in the social base.

For example, Horácio Lafer, a prominent businessman and Zionist leader, refused to express his solidarity with persecuted communist Jews when questioned by the police. The Sholem Aleichem school suffered a police raid following the complaints of Zionist parents and at the I.L. Peretz School, Zionists tried to take over, resulting in confrontation and police intervention.[119]

Indeed, Zionist elites started building their hegemony in the Jewish community and in Brazilian society during the repression of communist Jews. As a result, the Brazilian State lobbied and supported the partition plan for Palestine, which created the State of Israel in the UN General Assembly of 1947, presided by the Brazilian diplomat Oswaldo Aranha.

Violence and consent under Liberal Zionist Hegemony

Greater solidarity among Brazilian Jews only resumed when anti-Zionist groups, weakened by state violence, consented to the Zionist project in Palestine after the recognition of Israel by the USSR. Although they did not see Israel as the solution to the Jewish question, communists began to raise money to support the settlement and the Haganah.[120] In the midst of a Zionist surge in the country, many anti-Zionists joined the ranks of Socialist Zionism, and communist organisations became more diffuse.

Amid the formation of the Zionist progressive-liberal hegemony, communists adopted a position better defined as non-Zionist than anti-Zionist. They stopped confronting the Zionist project, understood as unavoidable. For Jacob Gorender, an important PCB member:

Once the State of Israel became a reality and was recognised by the Soviet Union from the start, I never questioned Israel's right to exist as a state. But I have never considered the State of Israel to be the solution to the so-called Jewish question.[121]

Though politically weakened, non-Zionist Jews still represented an important part of the community. They sought to compete for representation in Jewish entities to avoid unconditional support for Israel. At the same time, they organized new Jewish institutions to preserve Yiddish culture and mobilize new generations in national and internationalist struggles. The greatest example was the Casa do Povo[122], founded in 1946 in São Paulo as a space for Jewish anti-fascist struggle.

The institution was an important cultural and political centre that also included another Sholem Aleichem School, a newspaper in Yiddish, a youth club and a theatre. The school became a highly regarded educational project, housing children of Jewish and non-Jewish workers, including members of the clandestine struggle against the military dictatorship (1964-1985).[123]

In the beginning, Casa do Povo was composed of both communists and socialist Zionists. Internally, communists sought to maintain control of the institute to preserve it as non-Zionist; externally, they competed with other left-wing Zionist organizations for the hearts and minds of the Jewish community.

When the USSR took a belligerent stance towards Israel and in support of Arab nationalism in the 1950s, confrontation between communist and Zionist Jews increased in Brazil. Moments of international crisis were opportunities to contest the direction of Jewish organisations. In one such episode, the Zionists took over Casa do Povo under the leadership of Iankel Len.[124]

Later, the communists succeeded in regaining control of the institution, which became directly linked to the Jewish Sector of the PCB. The head of the Jewish Sector was also director of Casa do Povo.[125] This link was fundamental for the activities of communist Jews to continue after the military coup of 1964. Confrontation grew after 1967 when the Jewish Sector publicly accused Israel of acting in an imperialist manner leaving it isolated from the rest of the community and representative bodies, which cut off all political and financial support.

Although socialist Zionists also participated in campaigns against the dictatorship, a large part of them chose to emigrate to Israel during this period.[126] Non-Zionist communists remained in the resistance and once again suffered greater persecution, imprisonment, torture and murder by the regime. Once more, Jewish communists could not count on the support of representative entities in their community as these preferred to maintain good relations with the dictatorship. Left Zionist militants were protected by agreements between Zionist institutions and the military regime.[127] State anti-Communism, supported by the bourgeoise, in the context of the Cold War remained a greater threat to Jews than any form of anti-Semitism.

The Jewish Sector and the PCB took a hard blow in 1975, when the dictatorship targeted ten PCB party leaders for assassination and persecuted dozens of militants, among them ten teachers from the Sholem Aleichem School. Jewish journalist Vladimir Herzog was murdered as a result of being tortured during the persecution of communist Jews. His death was an important turning point that led to popular mobilisation and contributed to the eventual decline of the dictatorship. It was also a moment that attracted solidarity from liberal Zionists, such as Rabbi Henry Sobel. However, it did not put an end to hostilities with organised non-Zionist Jews.

Faced with the persecution of the dictatorship, isolation imposed by Zionist institutions and the socio-economic rise of Jews who, being well integrated into Brazilian whiteness, left their neighbourhoods of origin for upper scale areas, the non-Zionist communist movement lost its social base.[128] As a result, the Sholem Aleichem school closed in 1979. A group of communist Jews under the leadership of Max Altman, who presided over the Casa do Povo between 1965 and 1979, understood that the non-Zionist Jewish cycle had reached its end.[129] It is fair to say that these events were in the interest both of the military regime and the Zionist elites.    

In 1982, during a large demonstration against the massacre of Sabra and Shatila at Casa do Povo, oppositionists set fire to Altman's car amid clashes that took over the streets.[130] Faced with the Zionist siege of Casa do Povo, the communists left the institution, which in turn endorsed a progressive-liberal Zionist hegemony during the Brazilian democratisation process in the 1980s. The institution eventually lost relevance, deteriorated, and ended up closing its doors. Although it reopened in 2011, present day Casa do Povo is made up of docile non-Zionist Jewish institutions that consent to Israeli settler colonial sovereignty over Palestinian territory.

Therefore, it is possible to see how the liberal Zionist hegemony was built and maintained through violent action against the anti-Zionist alternatives that confronted Zionism – from above, by the anti-communist state, and from below by the Zionist movements, including those on the left, through the denunciation, isolation, expulsion and deconversion of communist Jews. That is, a hegemony, as Gramsci understood it, secured in the last instance by coercion when cultural disputes proved insufficient.

It is important to note how the decline of the non-Zionist Jewish movement coincided with the consolidation of the Brazilian Palestinian movement. In 1980 FEPAL[131] is created as the official representation of Palestinians to the PLO. Soon after, the Palestinian movement becomes the main target of Zionists, including progressive ones. Rabbi Sobel declared in 1985 that a meeting of Palestinian youth that took place that year was for "training terrorists".[132]

The resurgence of anti-Zionist movements

The class conciliation and pragmatism that characterised foreign policy under the New Republic (1988-2016), particularly the period when the PT was in power between 2003 and 2016, ensured the hegemony of liberal Zionism until the early 2010s. However, the persistence of grassroots mobilisations by Palestinians and radical left movements during the 1990s and 2000s allowed Brazilians to respond to the Palestinians' call for solidarity and BDS in 2005.

In 2007, leftist activists and members of the Palestinian movement who were part of the radical left opposition to the Lula government formed Mopat.[133] The first campaign by the BDS Brazil movement was against the Free Trade Agreement between Mercosur[134] and Israel signed in the same year.[135] Simultaneously, there was a strengthening of Fepal, an organisation that is closer to the moderate left and the PT administration. In 2010, Brazil recognizes the Palestinian state. 

In 2011, the World Social Forum-Palestine held in Brazil allowed for the transnational meeting of activists in defence of Palestine and served as an opportunity for the creation of new movements in the country, such as the FFIPP-Brazil.[136] This organisation, whose scope in Brazilian society extends beyond ethnic-national identity, has served as an incubator for a new generation of anti-Zionist Jews.

This group promoted an important demonstration in front of the Israeli Consulate in São Paulo against the 2014 Gaza Strip massacre, which marked the return of anti-Zionist Jews to the political scene of the Brazilian left.[137] Organised as a result of the international radicalisation of the Palestinian struggle after the Second Intifada, this new generation of anti-Zionist Jews is a true representation of Brazilian radicalisation after June 2013, as opposed to the counter-revolutionary Zionist left that emerges against Bolsonaro in 2017.

However, the active gatekeeping of the Zionist Left, in alignment with the bourgeoise’s interests in maintaining closer ties with Israel for military-security technology and agriculture trade purposes, has prevented more Jews and Leftist organizations from joining the ranks of the new anti-Zionist pro-Palestine movements.


In this article, we have seen how the Zionist left combats the radicalism of the anti-colonial struggle of the Palestinians and also of Jews and non-Jews on the left. The result is the confinement of the opposition to a docile anti-anti-Zionism that is submitted to the hegemony of liberal Zionist colonialism.

The discursive frauds of the Zionist left find support among liberal Jews and Brazilian left-liberals used to conciliation with the national bourgeoisie and conservatism in foreign policy. In this way, left Zionists ally themselves with the interests of the dependent bourgeoisie and act as gatekeepers, preventing Jews and other militants of the moderate Brazilian left from assuming a more radical anti-Zionist position.

The ‘deconversion’ and exclusion of left Zionists that we are witnessing in the Jewish-Zionist community constitutes the reproduction of the old hegemonic logic of the Zionist movement in Brazil that used to be directed only toward anti-Zionist Jews. Faced with the new configurations of anti-communism under the rise of the new right in 2010, the Zionist left begins to receive the same treatment as the anti-Zionists it helps exclude.

Moreover, Zionists lose sight of the real new anti-Semitism because of the exclusion from their analysis of the dynamics of colonialism and racism. Israelis’ alliance with imperialism and resulting positioning as defenders of Judeo-Christian civilization has rendered Jewish identity racially privileged. The contemporary Brazilian right continues to confine the Jew to a fixed identity, though no longer a negative one. The essentialist positive spin that instrumentalises Jews for the anti-communist and Islamophobic political project of the extreme right serves only to invert the polarity of the racialisation of the Jews but does not break with anti-Semitism.

Therefore, the Zionist Left does not work to dismantle anti-Semitism but mainly to preserve soft colonialism in Palestine and Brazil. Recognizing the centrality of colonialism against Palestinians in the formation of contemporary Jewish identity is an important step in the decolonization of both Palestine and Jewishness.


Altman, Breno 2021, ‘Interview with Breno Altman’, Interview by Bruno Huberman.

Amara, Ahmad and Yara Hawari 2019, Using Indigeneity in the Struggle for Palestinian Liberation, Al Shabaka, available at:….

Amigos Brasileiros do Paz Agora 2011, ‘Pelo reconhecimento do Estado da Palestina’, available at:….

Anderson, Kevin B. 2016, Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bahia, Joana 2011, ‘Memórias de gênero: A construção de uma ídischkeit imaginária no Brasil’, TRAVESSIA - revista do migrante, (68), 25–34.

Balthaser, Benjamin 2020, ‘When Anti-Zionism Was Jewish: Jewish Racial Subjectivity and the Anti-Imperialist Literary Left from the Great Depression to the Cold War’, American Quarterly, 72(2), 449–70.

Barakat, Rana 2018, ‘Writing/righting Palestine studies: settler colonialism, indigenous sovereignty and resisting the ghost(s) of history’, Settler Colonial Studies, 8(3), 349–63.

Bartel, Carlos Eduardo 2015, O Movimento Sionista e a Comunidade Judaica Brasileira (1901-1956), Curitiba: Editora Prismas.

Butler, Judith 2012, Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, New York: Columbia University Press.

Carvalho, Igor 2021, ‘Cinco vezes que Bolsonaro, ou pessoas ligadas a ele, recorreram a símbolos nazistas’, Brasil de Fato.

Clemesha, Arlene 1998, Marxismo e judaísmo: história de uma relação difícil, 1a edição., São Paulo: Boitempo.

——— 2008, ‘Brazil: The Palestine Solidarity Movement and BDS’, al-Majdal, (38), 40–43.

Coulthard, Glen Sean 2014, Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Coutinho, Carlos Nelson 2012, Gramsci’s Political Thought, London: BRILL.

Cytrynowicz, Roney 2002, ‘Além do Estado e da ideologia: imigração judaica, Estado-Novo e Segunda Guerra Mundial’, Revista Brasileira de História, 22(44), 393–423.

Dichtchekenian, Patricia 2014, ‘Jovens judeus vivem ruptura com sionismo’, Opera Mundi, available at:

Englert, Sai 2018, ‘The State, Zionism and the Nazi Genocide’, Historical Materialism, 26(2), 149–77.

——— 2020, ‘Settlers, Workers, and the Logic of Accumulation by Dispossession’, Antipode, 52(6), 1647–66.

Fanon, Frantz 1994 [1964], Toward the African Revolution, New York: Grove Press.

Fernandes, Florestan 2020, A revolução burguesa: ensaio de interpretação sociológica, São Paulo: Contracorrente.

Fernandes, Sabrina 2019, Sintomas Morbidos. A Encruzilhada da Esquerda Brasileira, São Paulo: Autonomia Literária.

Finkelstein, Norman G. 2012, Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End, New York: OR Books.

Finkielkraut, Alain 1997, The Imaginary Jew, translated by David Suchoff and Kevin O’Neill, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Firs 2021, ‘FIRS CONVIDA - David Diesendruck, Presidente do Instituto Brasil-Israel’, available at:

Gherman, Michel 2017, ‘Quando a Nova Esquerda e a Nova Direita Encontram o Israel Imaginário, no Brasil’, Instituto Brasil Israel, available at:….

——— 2018, ‘Jews, Zionism and the Left in Brazil: Echoes of a Relationship’, Analysis of Current Trends in Antisemitism - ACTA, 39(2), 20180002.

——— 2022, ‘Morte e vida de Vladimir Herzog’, Quatro cinco um, available at:

Gherman, Michel and Monica Grin 2016, ‘Política e religião em Israel na diáspora: o caso do fundamentalismo judaico’, in Identidades Ambivalentes. Desafios aos Estudos Judaicos no Brasil, edited by Michel Gherman and Monica Grin, Rio de Janeiro, RJ: 7 Letras.

Gherman, Michel and Omar Thomaz 2018, ‘O conflito palestino e os profetas da obviedade’, Instituto Brasil Israel, available at:….

Grin, Monica (ed.) 2008, ‘Diáspora minimalista: a crise do judaísmo moderno no contexto brasileiro’, in Identidades judaicas no Brasil contemporâneo, Rio de Janeiro: Centro Edelstein.

——— 2017, ‘Blacks, Jews, and the Paradoxes of the Struggle against Racial Prejudice in Contemporary Brazil’, in Jews and Jewish Identities in Latin America, edited by Yaron Harel, Margalit Bejarano, Marta Francisca Topel, and Margalit Yosifon, Boston: Academic Studies Press.

Grin, Monica, Michel Gherman, and Leonel Caraciki 2019, ‘Beyond Jordan River’s Waters: Evangelicals, Jews, and the Political Context in Contemporary Brazil’, International Journal of Latin American Religions, 3(2), 253–73.

Haddad, Toufic 2016, Palestine Ltd: Neoliberalism and Nationalism in the Occupied Territory, London: I.B.Tauris.

Hall, Stuart 2011, ‘Introduction: Who Needs “Identity”?’, in Questions of Cultural Identity, London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Halper, Jeff 2021, Decolonizing Israel, Liberating Palestine: Zionism, Settler Colonialism, and the Case for One Democratic State, 1a edição., Pluto Press.

Honig-Parnass, Tikva 2011, False Prophets of Peace: Liberal Zionism and the Struggle for Palestine, Chicago: Haymarket Books.

Huberman, Bruno and Arturo Hartmann 2017, ‘A normalização de um crime: quando Duvivier, Bolsonaro, Wyllis e Crivella estão no mesmo campo’, Revista Fórum, available at:….

IBI 2019, ‘Colaboradores do IBI promovem encontro com Pai Rodnei de Oxóssi e Djamila Ribeiro’, IBI - Instituto Brasil Israel, available at:….

Iokoi, Zilda Márcia Gricoli 2004, Intolerância e Resistência.A Saga dos Judeus Comunistas Entre a Polônia, a Palestina e o Brasil, São Paulo: Humanitas.

Jaichand, Vinodh and Alexandre Andrade Sampaio 2013, ‘Dam and be damned: the adverse impacts of Belo Monte on indigenous peoples in Brazil’, Hum. Rts. Q., 35, 408.

Justice Ministery 2015, ‘São Paulo e Rio de Janeiro sediarão conferência entre palestinos e israelenses’, available at:….

Kelemen, Paul 2012, The British Left and Zionism: History of a Divorce, Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press.

Kruchin, Rafael 2018, ‘Os 70 anos da fundação do Estado de Israel: podemos conversar?’, Nexo Jornal, available at:…

Kuperman, Esther 2003, ‘ASA – Gênese e trajetória da esquerda judaica não sionista carioca’, Revista Espaço Accadêmico, 28, 13.

Lockman, Zachary 1996, Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1906-1948, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Losurdo, Domenico 2020, ‘O sionismo e a tragédia do povo palestino’, in Colonialismo e luta anticolonial: Desafios da revolução no século XXI, edited by Jones Manoel, São Paulo: Boitempo.

Lowy, Michael 2017, Redemption and Utopia: Jewish Libertarian Thought in Central Europe, translated by Hope Heaney, London: Verso.

Marcossi, Bianca Albuquerque 2018, ‘Entre fantasmas, esperanças e crenças: a angústia do “sionismo de esquerda” no Brasil’, Rio de Janeiro: UFRJ.

Massad, Joseph 2006, The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians, New York: Routledge.

Moraes, Luís Edmundo de Souza 2014, ‘Pode haver racismo na esquerda? Um estudo de caso’, História (São Paulo), 33(2), 217–49.

Morais, Lecio and Alfredo Saad-Filho 2005, ‘Lula and the Continuity of Neoliberalism in Brazil: Strategic Choice, Economic Imperative or Political Schizophrenia?’, Historical Materialism, 13(1), 3–32.

Neto, Sydenham Lourenço 2008, ‘Imigrantes Judeus no Brasil, marcos políticos de identidade.’, Locus, 14(2), 15.

Nevel, Donna 2020, ‘On Corbyn and accusations of antisemitism’, Mondoweiss, available at:…

Oliveira, Luciana Garcia de 2018, ‘A diáspora palestina no Brasil - a FEPAL: trajetórias, reivindicações e desdobramentos (2000 - 2012)’, São Paulo: Universidade de São Paulo.

Piterberg, Gabriel 2008, The Returns of Zionism: Myths, Politics and Scholarship in Israel, London ; New York: Verso Books.

R7 2016, ‘Candidato apoiado por Freixo queimou bandeira de Israel e dos EUA em ato público’, R7, available at:….

Shafir, Gershon 1996, Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882-1914, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sorj, Bernardo 2010, ‘Sociabilidade Brasileira e Identidade Judaica: As Origens de uma cultura não anti-semita’, in Judaísmo para o século XXI: o rabino e o sociólogo, edited by Bernardo Sorj and Nilton Bonder, Centro Edelstein.

Traverso, Enzo 2018, The Jewish Question: History of a Marxist Debate, Boston: Brill.

Veja 2017, ‘Bolsonaro é acusado de racismo por frase em palestra na Hebraica’, Veja, available at:….

Whyte, Jessica 2019, The Morals of the Market: Human Rights and the Rise of Neoliberalism, London: Verso Books.

Wolfe, Patrick 2013, ‘Recuperating Binarism: a heretical introduction’, Settler Colonial Studies, 3(3–04), 257–79.

Wyllys, Jean 2015, ‘Crônica desde Israel e Palestina’, Revista Digital do NIEJ, 5(9), 58.



[1] Socialism and Liberty Party.

[2]  Quilombolas are black populations descended from former slaves who obtained their freedom and settled in territories throughout the country to form autonomous and self-managed communities called quilombos. The same legal framework that preserves indigenous reserves protects Quilombola territories.

[3] Veja 2017.

[4] Grin, Gherman, and Caraciki 2019.

[5] Gherman 2017.

[6] Ibid

[7] Honig-Parnass 2011; Finkelstein 2012; Kelemen 2012.

[8] Englert 2018.

[9] Balthaser 2020, pp. 462–462.

[10] Neto 2008.

[11] Iokoi 2004; Lowy 2017; Clemesha 1998.

[12] Gherman 2018.

[13] World Zionist Organization.

[14] Bartel 2015.

[15] Ibid

[16] Grin 2017; Grin (ed.) 2008.

[17] Estado Novo, New State, was a dictatorship, which ruled Brazil between 1937 and 1945.

[18] Grin (ed.) 2008.

[19] Grin 2017.

[20] Brazilian Communist Party.

[21] Gherman 2018.

[22] Iokoi 2004.

[23] Workers Party.

[24] Gherman 2018.

[25] Moraes 2014.

[26] Huberman and Hartmann 2017.

[27] Gherman 2018, pp. 9–12.

[28] ibid., p. 12.

[29] Grin, Gherman, and Caraciki 2019.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Carvalho 2021.

[33] Finkielkraut 1997.

[34] Gherman 2017.

[35] ibid.

[36] Brazil-Israel Institute.

[37] Gherman and Thomaz 2018.

[38] Firs 2021.

[39] Marcossi 2018.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Grin, Gherman, and Caraciki 2019.

[42] Halper 2021.

[43] Kruchin 2018.

[44] Fernandes 2019.

[45] Gherman and Grin 2016, p. 48.

[46] Fernandes 2019.

[47] Losurdo 2020.

[48] Nevel 2020.

[49] Amigos Brasileiros do Paz Agora 2011.

[50] Morais and Saad-Filho 2005.

[51] R7 2016.

[52]Fernandes 2019.

[53]United Socialist Workers’ Party.

[54] Israelite Confederation of Brazil.

[55] Wyllys 2015.

[56] Marcossi 2018.

[57] Wyllys 2015, p. 47.

[58] ibid., p. 46.

[59] Marcossi 2018, p. 176.

[60] Quoted in ibid., p. 175.

[61] Huberman and Hartmann 2017.

[62] Justice Ministery 2015.

[63] IBI 2019.

[64] Butler 2012, p. 1.

[65] ibid., p. 2.

[66] It is revealing how Zionist left repeatedly demands the end of the occupation as a way to save Israel and not bring freedom to the Palestinians , very well expressed in the movement Save Israel, Stop the Occupation, of important penetration in the Brazilian Zionist left.  

[67] Fanon 1994.

[68] Wolfe 2013.

[69] Barakat 2018.

[70] Hall 2011.

[71] Amara and Hawari 2019.

[72] Piterberg 2008, p. xvi.

[73] Shafir 1996.

[74] This position, it is important to emphasize, derives from the contradictory reflections of Marx himself concerning colonialism in countries such as India and has been criticized by Edward Said, among others. However, this support for colonialism would later be revised by Marx and Engels, as demonstrated by Kevin Anderson in ‘Marx at the Margins’ 2016.

[75] Losurdo 2020.

[76] Massad 2006.

[77] Traverso 2018.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Borokhov 1920, p. 271 quoted Traverso 2018, p. 125.

[80] Englert 2020; Lockman 1996.

[81] Lockman 1996.

[82] Englert 2020.

[83] Haddad 2016.

[84] Jaichand and Sampaio 2013.

[85] Coulthard 2014.

[86] Fernandes 2020.

[87] Coutinho 2012.

[88] Haddad 2016.

[89] Whyte 2019.

[90] Fanon 1994, p. 83.

[91] ibid., pp. 80–81.

[92] Butler 2012, p. 4.

[93] ibid.

[94] Neto 2008.

[95] Iokoi 2004; Bartel 2015.

[96] Sholem Aleichem Library.

[97] Kuperman 2003.

[98] Bartel 2015.

[99] Ibid.

[100] Jewish Red Help.

[101] Kuperman 2003.

[102] Ibid.

[103] Sorj, Sorj, and Bonder 2010.

[104] Ibid,

[105] Bartel 2015, pp. 207–8.

[106] Jewish Colonization Association

[107] Bartel 2015.

[108] Contributing to this conflict is the growing involvement of the Communists with Stalin's promise to create a Jewish Autonomous Zone in Birobjian (Kuperman 2003).

[109] Kuperman 2003.

[110] Quoted in Iokoi 2004, p. 174.

[111] Cytrynowicz 2002.

[112] Bartel 2015.

[113] Cytrynowicz 2002.

[114] Ibid.

[115] Sorj 2010.

[116] Iokoi 2004.

[117] Bartel 2015.

[118] ibid.; Neto 2008.

[119] Neto 2008.

[120] Bartel 2015.

[121] Quoted in Iokoi 2004, p. 350.

[122]  The “People’s House” official name was ICIB - Brazilian Israelite Cultural Institute and it was filiated to the ICUF - Iídicher Cultur Farband.

[123] Iokoi 2004.

[124] Altman 2021.

[125] Ibid.

[126] Grin (ed.) 2008.

[127]Gherman 2022.

[128] Iokoi 2004; Bahia 2011; Altman 2021.

[129] Altman 2021.

[130] Ibid.

[131] Arab-Palestinian Federation of Brazil.

[132] Oliveira 2018.

[133] Palestine for All Movement. 

[134] Southern Common Market.

[135] Clemesha 2008.

[136] Education Network for Human Rights in Palestine/Israel.

[137] Dichtchekenian 2014.

Judaism, Zionism, and the Nazi Genocide

Jewish Identity Formation in the West between Assimilation and Rejection
Sai Englert


This paper explores contemporary Jewish identity-formation, identity politics, and the centrality of state-sanctioned commemoration of the Nazi genocide and Zionism – understood as the ongoing settler-colonial project aimed at the formation and maintenance of a Jewish-exclusivist state in Palestine – to both. It argues that dominant identity politics within the Jewish community are based on an understanding of identity, one which assumes it to be static and individual.

Firstly, this paper discusses the importance of studying processes of identification rather than assuming identity to be static, a-historical, or immutable. It argues that the state is a central actor in structuring processes of identification from above, and that it is in the contested relationship between the state and the population which it attempts to identify that identities are continuously re-created. It further places these processes within the emergence of European modernity and colonialism.

The paper then moves on to a discussion of modern processes of Jewish identification. It locates their origin within the emergence of the European nation-state. It highlights the different, and often opposing ways in which Jewish communities have historically responded to these state-led processes. The paper moves on to discussing how a political framework focussed on a fixed Jewish identity, and the centrality of Israel to that identity, has become dominant in recent years.

The paper then offers a critique of the classical Marxist approach to the Jewish question before analysing the development of new processes of identification of Jewish people in the West. Central to these are the strategic role of the Israeli state in the Middle East, and the crucial nature of official Holocaust history to Western self-representation.

Finally, the paper argues that contemporary Western states perpetuate antisemitism, albeit under a different guise, through the essentialisation of Jewish communities as an extension of the Zionist project in Palestine and as bearers of official state-sanctioned history. In doing so, the state mobilises these communities as representatives of its policies abroad, and discriminatory policies at home.

The paper’s conclusion is that far from operating as a shield against antisemitism, the state remains the central agent in the reproduction of antisemitism. The identification of many within the Jewish community with Israel and the Zionist project in Palestine, and with an official account of the Nazi genocide that whitewashes Western states, is an outcome of state processes of identification. The paper will focus mainly on Anglo-Saxon realities and examples, especially the UK but also the US, which constitute the largest and the fourth-largest Jewish communities outside of Israel. Additionally, the two states’ historic and contemporary role in supporting the Zionist movement in Palestine warrants this focus. 


Identity, Identification, and the Role of the State

The questions of narratives, history, and structures of power run throughout the literature on identity. In ‘Who Needs Identity?’, Stuart Hall discusses the tension between approaches to identity that favour either innate characteristics or long-term processes of identity-formation. Hall writes: 

In common sense language, identification is constructed on the back of a recognition of some common origin or shared characteristics with another person or group, or with an ideal, and with the natural closure of solidarity and allegiance established on this foundation. In contrast with the ‘naturalism’ of this definition, the discursive approach sees identification as a construction, a process never completed – always ‘in process’. It is not determined in the sense that it can always be ‘won’ or ‘lost’, sustained or abandoned.[1]

Identity, then, appears as a natural, intrinsic reality that is shared by members of the same group. It is experienced as a-historic and innate, a fundamental element at the heart of the individual’s sense of self, which has always been there and through which the experience of society is mediated. However, Hall invites his readers to look further and to reflect on the processes which create and re-create identities. Identities, then, for Hall are neither individual nor pre-existing categories. They are outcomes of contingent processes across society and through time.

If identities are so socially constituted, the question remains of who, or what, generates and shapes them. Lawrence Grossberg argues that ‘the question of identity is one of social power and its articulation to, its anchorage in, the body of the population itself’.[2] He locates the origins of this process within the emergence of modernity – an issue to which this paper returns below.

If Grossberg’s concept of ‘social power’ remains as vague as Hall’s ‘material and symbolic resources’, it points to an important aspect of the identification process: that power is required to generate identities across society, and that it is in the process of articulation of said power in the collective body of the ‘identified’ that identity emerges. Grossberg compares this tension between coercive power and popular consent to Marx’s formulation that people make history but not in conditions of their own choosing.[3] Identity is, then, the outcome of a power struggle between processes of identification from above and collective articulation of those processes from below, which generate and regenerate outcomes, always anew.

The extreme contingency of identity-formation and the fundamentally contradictory ways in which identity is understood, both in society and within the academic literature, has led others to reject the term altogether and focus on the process and its actors instead. Indeed, Roger Brubaker and Frederick Cooper argue in ‘Beyond “Identity”’ that the term itself has lost all explanatory power by being mobilised to denote not only different, but also opposing concepts, and that it should therefore be abandoned altogether. Instead, they propose to separate out the different elements contained within the concept of identity, and to talk about the processes of identification.

Furthermore, Brubaker and Cooper identify the modern state as a critical actor in this process of identification, not because it can create ‘identities’ in the strong sense – in general, it cannot – but because it has the material and symbolic resources to impose the categories, classificatory schemes, and modes of social counting and accounting with which bureaucrats, judges, teachers, and doctors must work and to which non-state actors must refer.[4]

This centrality of the state in the structuring of the categories of identification is also a key aspect of the settler-colonial literature. Indeed, the question of identification – and racialisation more specifically – of the indigenous and enslaved populations by the settler-colonial state is a central aspect of this growing body of work. Furthermore, much like Grossberg above, scholars of settler-colonialism locate the origins of racialisation in the emergence of European modernity and the nation-state.

For example, Paula Chakravarty and Denise Ferreira da Silva have noted that racialisation was central to European colonialism because "[i]n the post-Enlightenment era, once universality and historicity became ethical descriptors of the properly human, then the task of justifying how rights such as life (security) and freedom had not been ensured for all human beings required that human difference … become irresolvable."[5]


In the same vein, Wolfe writes:

Racial identities are constructed in and through the very process of their enactment … [R]ace is colonialism speaking, in idioms whose diversity reflects the variety of unequal relationships into which Europeans have co-opted conquered populations.[6]

Wolfe argues, in Traces of History, that the structuring of different racial characteristics, based on different populations’ role within the colonial system of exploitation and land expropriation, was a central concern of European settler-colonial (and colonial) states.

Processes of identification, including racialisation, operate within categories structured by the state. By mobilising these categories the state is able to exercise control, distribute rights, and facilitate exploitation, expropriation and exclusion. It is in this tension between the attempted imposition by the state of those categories and the response – of rejection or acquiescence – by the identified, that identities emerge.

The analytical task then is to locate the processes of identification, its agents, and the ways in which the identified integrate, subvert, or reject the categories that they are being subjected to. It is to these tasks, in the case of Jewish communities in the West, that this paper now turns.


The European State, the Settler-colony, and Jewish Identity

The emergence of modern antisemitism – as opposed to pre-capitalist Christian judeophobia – can be traced back, much like the processes of racialisation discussed above, to the emergence of the nation-state. Indeed, as Enzo Traverso has pointed out, the emergence of the nation, unlike the multinational and multi-confessional empires that preceded it, ‘viewed every ethnic, linguistic or religious minority as an obstacle that it sought to overcome, by championing policies of assimilation or exclusion’.[7]

The need to unify the nation around a singular history, culture, religion, and/or language placed Jews decisively outside of the new emerging national body. More than that, it categorised the Jew as the enemy of the nation. The ‘international Jew’, always on the move within diasporic networks, neither constrained by the borders of the state nor loyal to the emerging nation, became the central theme of the emerging antisemitic propaganda of the late nineteenth century. It also captured the anxieties of European populations confronted with the rise of capitalism, rapid urbanisation, and the transformation of their livelihood through processes of primitive accumulation that separated them from the land.[8]

Similarly, Wolfe has argued that the emergence of the nation-state in Europe was accompanied by the creation of a ‘monolithic Jewishness’.[9] Whereas, feudal states had relied on so-called court Jews and their networks for finance and trade (see below), the promise of emancipation at the hands of the state that followed the French Revolution homogenised Jewish communities and in the process laid the basis for them to be, collectively, identified as external to the emerging nation. Wolfe places this contradictory process in the continuity of colonial classifications of Black populations in the United States:

In both cases, uniformity would come to be constructed genetically, as an ineradicable hereditary mystique, common to every member of the persecuted community; a collective though not always visible mark of Cain.  

The emergence of the nation-state, which placed the Jew firmly outside of its limits, was accompanied by the application of colonial processes of racialisation to explain this exclusion. The modern state then promised emancipation through assimilation within the nation, while simultaneously barring access to the national body for Jewish communities through their racialisation.

In the face of the emergence of these structures of identification from above, different political responses developed from within the Jewish communities of Western and Eastern Europe. On the one hand, a cultural conflict emerged between the Haskalah (the Jewish Enlightenment), which argued for the full assimilation of Jews within the nation-state, and the orthodoxy that remained faithful to its cultural and religious traditions. On the other hand, political strife developed between the revolutionary traditions associated with Bolshevik, Bundist, Anarchist or reformist currents, which saw in the Jewish exclusion from the nation-state an internationalist potential for its very destruction, and the emerging Zionist movement. The Zionists, on which more below, argued that it was only with the creation of a Jewish nation-state, developed through colonisation, that the so-called Jewish question could be resolved, by ‘normalising’ Jewish life and joining the family of European nation-states.[10]

Much more could be said about these competing movements (see below), but for now it will suffice to point out that modern antisemitism emerged out of the formation of the nation-state, and that in response to the state’s exclusion and racialisation of Jewish populations a plethora of political, cultural and religious responses developed. There were then not one, but a multitude of processes of identification that emerged out of different, often competing, responses to the state’s structural categorisation of Jews.


Contemporary Debates on Jewish Identities and the Modern Monolith

The variety of responses to state-led structures of identification applied to Jewish communities is highly relevant to contemporary debates surrounding Jewishness. Indeed, Jewish identity is increasingly portrayed as monolithic, static and a-temporal within the Jewish community. For example, Mick Davies, chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council in the UK, explained to the Home Affairs Committee that

Zionism is so totally identified with how the Jew thinks of himself, and is so associated with the right of the Jewish people to have their own country and to have self-determination within that country, that if you attack Zionism, you attack the very fundamentals of how the Jews believe in themselves.[11]

Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, propounds the same argument, put this time in religious terms:

Zionism has been an integral part of Judaism from the dawn of our faith. … We have prayed towards Israel. Open any prayer book and you will find Israel jumping out at you. It is the centre of what we are. As a result – further to a political development in the latter part of the 19th century through which Zionism gained an added dimension, spelling out the right of the Jewish people to live within secure borders with self-determination in their own country, which they had been absent from for 2,000 years – that is what Zionism is. If you are an anti-Zionist, you are anti everything I have just mentioned.[12]

This approach to Jewish identity, and therefore to antisemitism and the place of Jews within European society, stands in stark contrast to the discussion above about the origins of antisemitism in the European nation-state, and the multitude of different, and often opposed, responses to it from within the Jewish population. Indeed, if this reading of Jewishness and antisemitism is to be taken at face value, the revolutionary, assimilationist, and orthodox religious traditions within European Judaism, all of which rejected the colonial project of Zionist nation-building (for different reasons), should be considered within the realm of antisemitic thought and action. It appears that the approach to the process of identification carries important political significance.

Indeed, in his Judaïsme et Révolution, Ivan Segré argues that there exists a deep tug of war within the history of Jewish thought, both secular and religious. He identifies a tension between a revolutionary, universalist, and dialectical reading of Judaism and a counter-revolutionary, ethno-centrist, and static one. Segré argues that both in the religious and political field, from Maimonides to Benny Levy, there exists a strand of Jewish thought that struggles to fix its identity once and for all in a literal and a-historic space. To this he contrasts a dialectical reading of the Letter, associated with the sages of the Talmud and St Paul, which leads it to always re-invent and regenerate itself through contact with its surroundings. Segré argues for a return to a dialectical and – in his view – revolutionary reading of Jewish identity against the tide of reaction.

Similarly, Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin straddles the religious and the political to challenge the dominant portrayal of Jewish identity. He points out that the view of the Jews as perpetually out of place in their host-societies, and therefore in need of returning to ‘where they came from’, is in fact a judeophobic Christian concept exogenous to Jewish thought. Raz-Krakotzkin argues that before the advent of modern Zionism, exile was an existential claim in Jewish theology that could not be solved physically. Indeed, he points out that ‘[t]he Jewish communities that lived in Palestine before Zionism described themselves as “in exile in the land of Israel”’.[13] In this reading, contrary to Rabbi Mirvis’s view, the history of a people perpetually out of place and the idea of a physical return appear as modern constructs of a Jewish identity shaped by the political necessities of the Zionist project.

However, statistical data collected both in the US and the UK points to the fact that Mirvis and Davies are not alone in positing the centrality of the state of Israel to the formation of Jewish identity. For example, 93% of British Jews feel that ‘Israel plays some role in/is important to/is central to [their] Jewish identity’,[14] and 69% of US Jews feel ‘emotionally attached to Israel’.[15]

This raises a series of questions about Jewish communities in the West: what are the processes of identification, from above and below, that have taken place, which can help explain the emergence of what appears to be the increasingly monolithic understanding of Jewishness? Does the space for conflicting identities still exist or has it truly been narrowed down to an increasingly single one? And what are the political ramifications of these processes for anti-racist political action today?

It is to these questions that the paper now turns, by discussing the development of Jewish identification by Western states and their responses throughout the last century.


Marxism and the Jewish Question

The classical Marxist tradition was the first to develop a materialist framework to analyse what it has called the Jewish question: the reasons behind the survival of Judaism for thousands of years despite its existence as a minority faith in starkly different societies, and the rise of modern antisemitism in the nineteenth century.

Much of the literature on the question had relied on idealist or teleological assumptions about the strength of the Jewish faith, Messianic expectations, or the yearning for an eventual ‘return’ to the Promised Land. At the same time, antisemitism was understood as an a-historical and universal reality, present at all times, and located within competing religious frameworks (see above). In this view, Jews were an essentialised people, always foreign to, and rejected by, the host society, who survived by clinging to their faith or nationhood in the expectation of – secular or miraculous – liberation. An approach, rooted in Christian Judeophobic prejudice, which, as discussed above, remains present to this day.

In stark contrast to this approach, Marx put forward a framework of analysis that understood the Jewish people – like other peoples – as continuously made and re-made by history and the prevailing economic and political structures within which they operate. In his famous essay On the Jewish Question, this approach is summarised in the simple statement that ‘Judaism continues to exist not in spite of history, but owing to history. The Jew is perpetually created by civil society from its own entrails’.[16] The longevity of Judaism, for Marx, is neither an aberration of history nor a miraculous feat; it is the product of specific historical processes.

Through the economic and political roles they played in these societies, based on mercantile activity and money-lending, Jews were preserved as an entity separate from the rest of society. Although widely criticised for the language he used,[17] Marx’s approach to the Jewish question put forward the beginning of a materialist analysis of Jewish history and modern antisemitism, while simultaneously arguing for the need to struggle against it.

Marx’s thesis was developed further by Abram Leon, a young Jewish Marxist writing in hiding in Nazi-occupied Belgium. Leon’s The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation expanded, detailed and developed Marx’s basic insights into the history of the Jewish people and the realities of modernantisemitism. Echoing Marx, Leon argued that

It is not the loyalty of the Jews to their faith which explains their preservation as a distinct social group; on the contrary it is their preservation as a distinct social group which explains their attachment to their faith.[18]

He developed the idea that for the majority of their history, Jewish people constituted a people-class, which reproduced itself through their specific economic roles within the different societies they inhabited. Jews were therefore not a foreign entity within these societies, but an integral part of their socio-economic organisation.

The advent of capitalism was to be, in Leon’s work, the historic period during which the economic tasks previously reserved to the Jewish people-class became universal. Mercantile and financial activity moved from the periphery to the centre of the economy. The economic base for the historic survival of Judaism was disappearing and Jews were being assimilated in Western Europe. In Eastern Europe however, where the decay of feudalism and the rise of capitalism were held in a lasting balance, Jews were trapped between semi-proletarianisation and emigration. As they emigrated to the West, they brought with them a Jewish reality, which had, Leon argued, by and large disappeared in those countries. The new bourgeois order rejected them.[19]

These approaches, by Marx and Leon, as well as by others in the classical Marxist tradition, from Kautsky to Trotsky, have been criticised more recently for their over-emphasis of the economic unity of Jewish communities and the economic nature of the Jewish question. What remains from their contribution, however, is their emphasis on the material basis that generated a Jewish identity as opposed to a set, pre-existing, and naturalised one.

For example, Maxime Rodinson[20] pointed out that there was little evidence for the validity of Leon’s people-class argument before the period of the Crusades. More significantly, in his The Marxists and the Jewish Question, Enzo Traverso argues that the classical Marxist tradition’s economism in addressing the Jewish question led it to develop major blind spots: an over-emphasis on class over people in the people-class formulation, and an exaggeratedly economistic approach to historicising Jewishness andantisemitism.

Classical Marxism therefore also assumed that the elimination of the economic specificity and ghettoisation of Jewish communities would lead both to full assimilation into the surrounding population and the disappearance of antisemitism. Traverso wrote:

Leon remained the prisoner of a vision of assimilation inherited from the Enlightenment, which did not interpret the entry of the Jews into the modern world as a metamorphosis of Judaism, but quite simply as the annulation of Jewish otherness.[21]

Indeed, the economism of the classical Marxists blinded them to the differing political realities of Jewish populations in Europe.

In the East, the tearing-down of the Ghetto walls, the development of economic centres, and the proletarianisation of the Jewish masses in the towns and cities of the Pale of settlements – roughly the area covering modern Lithuania, Poland and the Ukraine, where nearly half of the world’s Jewish population lived at the turn of the twentieth century – did not lead to assimilation.

On the contrary, the Eastern-European Jewish masses developed simultaneously a class and a national consciousness which gave birth to a Yiddish revival as well as to the Bund, a mass Jewish workers’ organisation that would play a central role in the development of Russian Social Democracy.[22]

In the West, where the Enlightenment and the French Revolution had promised emancipation and equal rights as citizens to the Jews, the situation was reversed. Jewish communities tended to try to assimilate. They spoke the national language, and participated in the intellectual, cultural and official institutions of the nation.

Whether atheist or religious, they tended to enact the words of the poet Yehuda Leib Gordon, which became a slogan for the Haskalah: ‘Be a Jew at home and a man in the street.’ However, this process did not lead to the disappearance of antisemitism. In fact, quite the contrary was true and the emerging state played a key role in this process (see above).

Indeed, it was Tsarist antisemitic decrees that concentrated Jews in the Pale. This concentration made the development of a national feeling, based on a shared language, culture and geographical area possible.[23] Similarly, as discussed above, it was the collapse of the old empires and the rise of the nation-state which posed the Jewish question in the West around suspicions of split loyalties, and accusations of a Jewish identity lying beyond the boundaries of newly-constructed national myths of origin. Finally, the barriers to Jewish land-ownership, enforced by the state, concentrated Jews disproportionately in towns and cities, locating them at the heart of the newly-emerging capitalist order.

The classical Marxist tradition then made an important contribution by highlighting the material processes of Jewish identification, and modern antisemitism. It was however unable to reach the full breadth of its own method because of its excessive focus on economic processes and its acceptance of the Enlightenment’s promise of assimilation. These adjustments are crucial to understanding the formation of modern Jewish identification and the resurgence of antisemitism, as discussed below.


The Nazi Genocide, Zionism and Denied Assimilation  

The classical Marxist debates on the Jewish question took place before the two key events that shaped Western Jewish life decisively in the second half of the twentieth century: the Nazi genocide and the creation of the State of Israel. Both these events ushered in monumental changes in the make-up, location, and politics of Jewish communities across the world. In the space of little more than a decade: 6 million Jews were exterminated in the gas chambers; the Israeli state was founded after the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians; the majority of Holocaust survivors moved to Israel; in the 1950s, Jews from across the Middle East and North Africa relocated to Israel, through migration and expulsion.

The centres of Jewish life shifted in this period toward the United States and the newly-formed state. These events, and European, American and Israeli state-responses to them, continue to structure Jewish identification in the West.

Contemporary polls, for example, of Western and Israeli Jews find that both the Holocaust and Israel remain some of the key issues cited as central to the construction of their identity.[24] This, however, as discussed above, has not always been the case.


Jewish Identification and the State of Israel

The creation of Israel, and its future, depended on the so-called ingathering of the world’s Jewish communities. The newly-formed state therefore worked actively to encourage and disseminate its vision of Jewish peoplehood. It did so both legislatively and practically. From its creation, the Israeli state immediately officialised its vision of history. It declared itself the state not of its citizens, but of the Jewish people around the world. The Israeli Declaration of Establishment, approved on 14 May 1948, states:

After being forcibly exiled from their land, the [Jewish] people kept faith … throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom. ... This right [to a Jewish state] is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State. … We appeal to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream – the redemption of Israel.[25]

Two years later, the Knesset approved what it called the ‘Law of Return’, which guaranteed the right of Jews worldwide to settle in the newly-formed state and to enjoy the full rights of citizens. Palestinian refugees who had fled during the Nakba, however, were forbidden to come back to their homes.

The ‘ingathering’ was not only a legal process inside of Israel; it was also a political one across the world. While encouraging Western Jewry to support Israel economically, politically and culturally, the Israeli state worked to encourage the emigration of Jewish communities, from Morocco to Iraq, and from the Soviet Union to Ethiopia.

Often assisted by the antisemitism of the local regimes,[26] the young state did not hesitate to sanction terrorism against Jewish minorities in Iraq to accelerate their departure and convince the reluctant.[27] The European character of the Zionist project and the treatment of Mizrahi (Eastern/Oriental) Jews as second-class citizens by the Israeli state have been widely documented.[28] However, the need to find new Jewish populations to settle the land in the demographic war with the Palestinians went hand-in-hand with the need to validate the state’s claims as the representative of world Jewry.

Interestingly, the settlement of Jewish communities from Asia, Africa and Europe with different languages, traditions and cultures had a contradictory effect on Zionism. If they strengthened the state’s representative claims they also undermined its conception of a singular Jewish ethnicity.

As the Israeli Marxist Akiva Orr has argued, Israel has struggled since its inception to develop a secular Jewish identity, separate from religion.[29] Orr points out that, despite the avowedly atheist (even anti-religious) attitudes of the founding generations of the Zionist movement, the state remains dependent on religion for the construction of a unified Jewish identity.

Orr argues that the central role played by the rabbinate in key state matters, such as the decision concerning who is and isn’t Jewish – and therefore a potential citizen – or in the regulation of marriage, are not pragmatic concessions to religious voting-blocks in Israel but indispensable in the process of constructing a unified Jewish identity.

Others, such as Moshe Machover,[30] echoing certain arguments made by the revisionist Canaanite school in the 1940s, argue for the decoupling of Israel from the rest of world Jewry and the recognition of a Hebrew nationality and identity. Machover sees in this a stepping-stone toward de-Zionification, weakening the settler-colonial project by cutting it off from its source of new arrivals. It would, Machover argues, also lay the foundation for the recognition of Hebrew national rights in a free Palestine.

The identification of Jews as a unified population, in physical exile, in need of ingathering to Israel, plays a crucial ideological role for the Israeli state and the expansion of settler-colonialism in Palestine.

Rodinson argued in the 1960s that the success of Zionism in Palestine had become the defining structural factor in modern Jewish life.[31] Zionism, for Rodinson, was born out of the simultaneous rejection of Jews by the European bourgeois order as well as the integration of its values and norms by the (European) Jewish people themselves. The scale of the Nazi genocide and the destruction of (often revolutionary) European-Jewish alternative movements to Zionism hastened the development of this process among postwar European Jewry.

Rodinson, in an argument which echoes Edward Said’s, identified Zionism as a European colonial movement, which turned the pariahs of the metropolis into a settler-colonial avant-garde. It was in the process of dispossessing the indigenous Palestinian population that the Zionist movement became the representative in the Middle East of the very society that had rejected them and led them to the brink of extermination.

Just as Zionism was the outcome of simultaneous rejection and internalisation, the Jews themselves were both internalised and rejected by the West through Zionist expansion in Palestine.

Rodinson opposed the way in which Zionism generated a political pressure from above in France for the essentialisation of the Jewish community in the West:

A continuous moral and physical blackmail is applied against the Jews who refuse to consider themselves members of a separate community to which they should swear allegiance. They are expected to adhere to options taken on Palestinian lands by organs on which they have no control.[32] 

This, Rodinson argued, started a process of nationalisation of the Jewish people.

However, if, as shown above, the Zionist movement and the Israeli state actively encouraged this attempt at nationalising world Jewry in the service of its settler-colonial project in Palestine, it does not automatically follow that Jewish communities would accept and respond to this new identification.

Here, the role of the state is once again paramount. In his book, Knowing Too Much, Norman Finkelstein details the ways in which the relationship between American Jewish communities and Israel developed. He shows how the leadership of the American Jewish community did not – despite humanitarian or philanthropic monetary donations – support Israel politically before the 1967 war.

Finkelstein quotes, amongst other documents, a study conducted by the American Jewish Committee only a few months before the outbreak of the war, which concluded that American Jewish life and institutions were not connected to Israel, and that only 17% of American Jews were members of avowedly pro-Israel organisations.[33] Finkelstein argues that the main concern of Jewish communities in the US in the direct aftermath of the Second World War was assimilation into American life and that active political support for Israel was considered by the community’s leadership to be a display of ‘dual-loyalty’. This, they feared, would stoke up suspicion and halt the process of integration.

It was in fact in the wake of the 1967 war and the decisive shift of Israel into the US sphere of influence – and of the US’s changing strategy in the Middle East, away from appeasement of Arab Nationalism – that American Jewish organs became outspoken supporters of Zionism. It is, therefore, firstly as loyal American citizens rather than as members of a singular Jewish nationality that the representatives of the American Jewish community became supporters of the Zionist movement and the Israeli state. Finkelstein writes:

Israel came to incarnate for American Jewish intellectuals the high cause of Truth, Justice, and the American Way, to which they could now assert a unique connection by virtue of blood lineage. Joining the Zionist club was a prudent career move for Jewish communal leaders who could then play the role of key interlocutors between the US and its strategic asset. … These gung-ho Zionists didn’t even subscribe to the Zionist tenet that Jews had no future in the gentile world. On the contrary, they converted to Zionism because it facilitated their acceptance in the United States.[34]


Jewish Identification and the Official Memory of the Nazi Genocide 

A similar process took place in terms of the commemoration of the Nazi genocide. In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the remembrance of the gas chambers and the Nazi genocide did not play a central role in Western societies. Different explanations have been given for this. Finkelstein has stressed the postwar US-led drive to ‘de-Nazify’ West Germany and to remobilise former Nazi state-officials in the cold war, as a key reason for the muted nature of official recognition of the genocide.[35]|[36]

Peter Novick in The Holocaust in American Life has stressed the assimilationist strategies of the Jewish community in the 1950s and the fears of stoking the flames ofantisemitism. While Traverso, on the other hand, emphasises that official ceremonies focussed on the national and anti-fascist character of the resistance in the first decades after the war – as such the ‘symbol of Nazi barbarity was not Auschwitz but Buchenwald, where so many antifascists were murdered’.[37]

In Israel itself, Holocaust survivors were often met with animosity.[38] They represented the weakness of the diaspora that had ‘gone like sheep to slaughter’, which the ‘new Jew’, reborn in Israel and strong, would replace. A popular term of derision for those survivors in Hebrew slang was sabonim – soaps – a reference to the Nazis’ experiments to turn Jewish fat into soap.

The Eichmann trial in 1961 was a turning-point in the dominant discourse about the war. Both in Israel and across the Western world, the recognition of the Nazi genocide, as well as the centrality of the remembrance of it in collective ceremonies, finds its roots in that moment. Traverso describes this shift as a crucial one in the collective memory and understanding of History of (and in) the West: ‘Nazi extermination was no longer regarded as the expression of a retreat of civilisation into barbarism, but rather as a barbarism inscribed in modernity itself’.[39]

Never Again became an international watchword against the demons within Western society. Traverso describes the process through which the Nazi genocide became what he terms, using Rousseau, a Civil Religion – a secular form of sacralising certain aspects of history in order to build a collective identity around the state. With its monuments, national museums, laws forbidding its denial, and official ceremonies, the memory of the Holocaust has become a key pillar of Western societies’ projection of self and collective identity.

Traverso argues that this laid the foundation for the recognition of other genocides and massacres across the world, whilst at the same time risking de-politicising the memory of the Holocaust and mobilising it as a shield behind which to mask more contemporary crimes: ‘Institutionalised and neutralised, the memory of the Holocaust thus risks becoming the moral sanction for a Western order that perpetuates oppression and injustice’.[40]

Similarly, Finkelstein describes in The Holocaust Industry an industry that has developed around the memorialisation of the Holocaust, which has depoliticised it by making it an inexplicable and incomparable event, next to which all others pale into insignificance. Finkelstein argues that this process has emptied collective memory of its political lessons, allowed collaborating governments and corporations off the hook, and strengthened the vision of Jewish history as one marked by eternal, a-historic, and incrementally severe persecution.

This version of history, Finkelstein argues, has also facilitated the use of the Holocaust to justify the colonisation of Palestine by allowing Western powers to wash their hands of the past by simply supporting Israel and – by extension – their own interests in the Middle East.

Yitzhak Laor, the Israeli poet and author, also emphasises the role that this official history of the Holocaust plays for the whitewashing of Western states’ racism and crimes – both in the present and in the past:

The Holocaust alone can provide the definition of evil. … But the other evils are still lurking there. The universal dimension of the genocide is projected to overshadow the victims of colonialism and slavery, who have received no compensation remotely comparable to the sums paid to the Israeli state, nor even the fortune of being recognised, precisely because they are still living in devastated countries, or miserable neighbourhoods, under occupation or oppression.[41]

Jewish history and the Nazi genocide are brought to the centre of modern constructions of Western identity and the legitimisation of Western states. However, it is a depoliticised, a-historical, and sterilised version of history, which locks Jews into a specific historic role.

There is once again a trade-off: in order to access the recognition of past wrongs, Jewish communities must relinquish demands for structural justice, and accept that the mass murder of their ancestors be removed from historical and political analysis. Instead, commemoration is turned into a tool behind which Western states can acknowledge and condemn racism, violence, and collaboration, while continuing to mete these out against other communities and countries.

Jews can then become part of a Western hegemonic culture, which has recently discovered itself to be Judeo-Christian only a few decades after the Nazi genocide, on the condition that their history becomes a pillar of the state’s official history, rather than a boulder to bring it tumbling down. Jewish communities must accept the role of guardians of a distorted history, which leaves current power structures untouched and unchallenged, in order to accede to the promise ofNever Again. Assimilation is promised, while effectively denied.

It emerges from this overview that the process of Jewish identification in the second half of the twentieth century has been constructed around the Nazi genocide and Zionism, within a state-led framework that has both placed Jews at the centre of Western hegemony while simultaneously keeping them at arm’s length of full integration. The Jewish community is then pushed into a schizophrenic dance in which it must simultaneously represent key areas of Western identification, while being denied full integration within its structures.

Far from being an intrinsic and a-historic fact, the current identification of Jewish communities with Israel, and the importance accorded to the Holocaust in their sense of self, is in fact the outcome of half a century of Western state policies. Indeed, political support for Israel in the Middle East by European and North Americans states, and the centrality of the Holocaust in their official historical self-representation, have switched the structures of identification for Jews in the West. Once upon a time the ‘Other’ of the European states par excellence, Jewish communities are now being identified as the standard-bearers of two key pillars of Western policies at home and abroad. It is to a discussion of the political consequences of this process, that this paper now turns.


Mobilisation of the Jew against the European ‘Others’ 

Sartre famously wrote that ‘it is not the Jewish character that provokes antisemitism but, on the contrary, the antisemite that creates the Jew’.[42] It then should not be a surprise that a growing proportion of Jewish people understand Zionism and a particular history of the Holocaust as a central part of their identity (see above). Indeed, they are being identified as Jewish through the prism of this binary framework by Western states.

The essentialisation of Jews, at home and abroad, by the state creates a new form of antisemitic rejection. No longer the rootless cosmopolitan, the revolutionary, the internationalist, the Jew today is identified, in the first instance, as – at least potentially – a Zionist, a citizen of Israel, and defender of the ‘West’s values’ in the face of barbarism. No longer the potential destroyer of Western society and bourgeois values but its most fierce protector, antisemitic essentialisation paints the Jew in a seemingly positive light. The underlying logic, however, remains one of a top-down structuring of Jewish identification by the Western state.

Antisemitism in the nineteenth and early twentieth century served to channel class struggle away from the bourgeoisie towards the Jews, while simultaneously making the revolutionary movement suspect and facilitating repression. It was, as the German phrase put it, the socialism of fools.[43] Today, it serves to obscure state policies, while simultaneously reinforcing Islamophobic reaction.

Alain Badiou and Eric Hazan argue:

The aim is to convince people that there is an underlying unity between the support given to the struggle of the Israelis against Arab ‘fundamentalist’ barbarism, and the struggle at home against the young barbarians of the banlieues – whose ‘barbarian’ description is well attested to by the double fact that they are not only Arab or Muslim, but also criticise Israeli government policy.[44]

This process of essentialisation of Jewish people is reinforced from above, through official state policy. For example, the UK HAC report on antisemitism announced:

Those claiming to be ‘anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic’, should do so in the knowledge that 59% of British Jewish people consider themselves to be Zionists. … For the purposes of criminal or disciplinary investigations, use of the words ‘Zionist’ or ‘Zio’ in an accusatory or abusive context should be considered inflammatory and potentially antisemitic.[45]

The report takes as read that the political movement of Zionism, and the Jewish people, should be considered, in the sphere of law-making, as nearly interchangeable. The 41 per cent of British Jewish people who do not consider themselves to be Zionists, according to the report’s own sources, are not considered relevant to the development of effective policy to combat antisemitism.

Nor is the fact that most data shows that a younger generation of Jews in the West is increasingly critical of Israel.[46] A recent piece of research conducted by the National Union of Students and the Union of Jewish Students in the UK found that 24% of Jewish students supported the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel.[47] Yet, under the guidance of the British state, these positions, held by a considerable proportion of Jews, are dangerously close to antisemitism.

Jews are essentialised by the UK Home Affairs Committee as adherents to the only political movement ascribed to them – Zionism – regardless of the facts. Similarly, when the British government attempted to limit local councils’ right to implement boycott or divestment policies, it justified its actions through concern for ‘international security’ and ‘community cohesion’, and went on to state:

There are wider national and international consequences from imposing such local level boycotts. They can damage integration and community cohesion within the United Kingdom, hinder Britain’s export trade, and harm foreign relations to the detriment of Britain’s economic and international security.[48]

Jewish communities in Britain are being directly mobilised as a shield, behind which the government can hide to defend its own trade and international-policy choices, while also undermining political freedoms in the UK. To complete the picture, the government minister Matthew Hancock announced these measures while on an official visit to Israel.

Furthermore, the British government’s anti-radicalisation strategy, the Prevent agenda, which has made it a legal duty for public-sector workers to report service-users for signs of radicalisation, follows this pattern. The policy sets out a series of indicators of so-called non-violent extremist ideas and behaviours, which the government believes lead to ‘extremism’. The policy has been widely criticised for its ineffectiveness, unsubstantiated assumptions, and disproportionate targeting of the Muslim community.[49] Indeed, Muslims made up 56 per cent of those targeted between 2012 and 2014, despite making up less than 5 per cent of the British population.[50]

Leaked Prevent training materials show that participants are specifically encouraged to target those who criticise UK foreign policy, with a specific emphasis put on Palestine solidarity as an indicator of radicalisation. It states, for example, that ‘as recent stories involving vulnerable pupils have shown, issues around Palestine, Syria and the growth of ISIL/ISIS require careful monitoring’.[51] This approach has led to Palestine activists and students expressing an interest in the question being referred to the authorities.

The case of a 15-year-old Muslim school student in Luton, who was repeatedly interrogated under Prevent for wearing a ‘Free Palestine’ armband and organising a fundraiser for Palestinian children affected by war, is a case in point.[52] Support for Palestine, including from children, is identified as a threat to the state. The state’s support for Zionism abroad becomes a tool for Islamophobic oppression at home, and to undermine civil liberties more generally.

It is, then, interesting in this context that Jewish organisations, publications and leading community figures are putting forward an analysis which holds that contemporary antisemitism, while no longer structural, is the outcome of left-wing and Muslim activism. The Palestine solidarity movement, anti-Zionist politics, and support for the Boycott, Solidarity and Sanctions (BDS) movement are particularly singled out for criticism and accused of actively undermining Jewish self-determination, the right for Jews to self-define their oppression, or Jewish identity itself.

In the UK, for example, when giving evidence to the HAC, discussed above, Rabbi Mirvis declared that:

There was a time when [antisemitism] came from the far right; now increasingly it is coming from the far left. There is an element of radical Islam that is part of this narrative. Events in the Middle East serve as trigger points.[53]  

Jonathan Arkush, President of the Board of Deputies (BoD), made similar points:

Traditionally antisemitism has come from the far right, and we are not seeing very much far right activity at the moment. Traditionally there has always been prejudice against Jews coming from the far left as well, and I think that with the advent of a more leftward tilt in the leadership of the Labour party, some people feel that a space has opened up for them … A significant part of the incidents come from people who are or who appear to be from areas in Muslim communities. I want to emphasise that the overwhelming majority of British Muslims … are moderate and law abiding, … but there are some quarters who are very prejudiced, and I think they may get information … through mosques, schools, literature or Muslim subscription TV channels of an extreme nature coming from abroad.[54] 

The problem is no longer the far right but Muslims and the left, under foreign influence.

Remarkably, all available information about the UK – including the Annual CST Report on antisemitism[55] and the HAC report itself – demonstrates that the vast majority of antisemitic incidents come from the far-right and fascist groups, or prejudiced white individuals. This points to a high level of identification by leading representatives of the Jewish community with the state’s essentialisation of Jewishness under the banner of Zionism, mobilised against racialised communities and critics of the state’s foreign policy.

The state supports Israeli policies and expansion abroad. It justifies this support not on the basis of its economic and political interests in the Middle East, but through the supposed intrinsic role of Zionism in the religious and cultural identity of Jews. Simultaneously, the state criminalises political action and targets Palestinian solidarity movements. This can then be justified both through equating Judaism and Zionism, and through the baseless position, discussed above, that Muslims are the modern source of antisemitism.

The state then appears not as the oppressor of both Jews and Muslims, identifying both communities through racialised and essentialising structures, but as the defender of the Jews – understood, by official policy, as Zionists – against Muslims and the left. The state erects the Jewish community as a shield behind which it hides the political motives of its foreign and domestic policy.



Starting from the position that identity is not static or primordial, but generated through the relationship between identification processes by state structures from above, and collective responses by the ‘identified’ from below, this paper has discussed the identification of Jewish communities by Western states. It has argued that in the aftermath of the Holocaust, Western Jewish communities have been defined by the state as an extension of its own legitimacy, and the fate of Israeli settler-colonialism in Palestine. This process of essentialisation of the Jewish people is a form of structural antisemitism, which attempts to impose a specific, politicised, identity upon an entire community.

Moreover, this paper has argued that an approach based on processes of identity-formation, rather than monolithic, pre-existing, and a-historical identities, has important consequences. When, for example, polls show that a large majority of UK and US Jews feel connected to Israel, one answer is to consider these feelings as defining an immutable reality. Another is, as this paper has attempted to show, to take these feelings as the starting-point of an analysis which uncovers historical and societal processes of identification, which develop through the tension generated between those people and the state.

These two different approaches also lead to different political consequences. If the politics of identity lead one to consider identity as originating in the individual, one risks fixing as natural the outcomes of specific and historically-contentious processes. This leads, in the case of Jewishness, one to accept that Zionism is no longer a political question, which plays itself out to the detriment of the Palestinian people, but a question of self-defined identity, central to the very essence of Judaism and Jewish people. It similarly leads one to assume that the state, through its official remembering of the Nazi genocide and its laws against antisemitism, is the protector of Jewish communities, rather than the very structure putting them at risk.

It equally leads to the belief that those activists who oppose colonial processes in Palestine, condemn Israeli human-rights violations, and campaign for an end to their states’ and institutions’ complicity with these processes, are the real antisemites despite – or sometimes even because of – their consistent refusal to equate Jewish people worldwide with the actions, politics and realities of Israel and the Zionist movement. Indeed, as discussed above, if Jewish identity is inextricably linked to Israel and Zionism, then any rejection of it has to be, either consciously or unconsciously, an attack on Jewish identity itself.

However, if one starts from the experience of identity in order to initiate a process of uncovering the specific historical, political and economic factors that construct it, it becomes possible to imagine ways to challenge the structures out of which identities emerge. Liberation is then understood as a process of transformation both of structural and individual circumstances.

Identity, when understood as the outcome of discreet social realities, can be studied as a flexible and ever-changing concept. In this case, the materialist approach to the Jewish question, discussed above, leads to an understanding of how the Civil Religion of the Holocaust and Zionism have played a crucial role, both practically and ideologically, in reinforcing Western colonial expansion abroad, and racism at home.

Jews are essentialised under the banner of Zionism and turned into either active participants of colonisation or shields for state-policy at home and abroad. The duo of Zionism and official remembrance of the Nazi genocide is the contemporary form of the rejection of Jewish people from Western states, which has positioned them – once more – in the firing-line.

It follows from this analysis that a modern struggle for the destruction of antisemitism, far from relying on the state, must pass through the struggle against racism, imperialism, and the state structures that champion them.

It is then not useful to declare, as Rodinson did, that ‘[w]e can at least ask the Jews to not place themselves in the wrong camp or halt the struggle [for a society free of oppression and exploitation]’.[56] This approach accepts – despite his own analysis – that Jewish people have become irremediably homogenised under the influence of Zionism, and benefit from its actions. Furthermore, the evidence, as discussed above, is that this is increasingly challenged from within the Jewish community itself.

It must be demonstrated both in theory and practice that the struggle against antisemitism, Islamophobia, and Western intervention abroad are one and the same. Therefore the struggle for Palestinian liberation and against Zionism is indeed related to antisemitism, but not in the way that it is so often presented. Houria Bouteldja makes this point, when she writes, as an invitation to Jewish communities in France: ‘You are still in the ghetto. What if we got out of it together?’[57]



American Jewish Committee 2016, ‘AJC Congratulates President-elect Trump, Urges Quick Steps to Unite Nation and Reassure Allies’, 9 November, available at: <>.

Anti-Defamation League 2015, ‘ADL Audit: Anti-Semitic Assaults Rise Dramatically across the Country in 2015’, 22 June, available at: <…;.

Anti-Defamation League 2016, ‘ADL Statement on President-elect Trump’s Appointment of Reince Preibus and Steve Bannon’, 13 November, available at: <…;.

Badiou, Alain, Eric Hazan and Ivan Segré 2013, Reflections on Anti-Semitism, London: Verso.

Behar, Shiko 1997, ‘Is the Mizrahi Question Relevant to the Future of the Entire Middle East?’, News from Within, XIII, 1: 68–75.

Ben-Dor Benite, Zvi 1997, ‘Incredible Mizrahi History’, News from Within, XIII, 1: 60–7.

Board of Deputies 2016, ‘President Jonathan Arkush Congratulates Donald Trump’, 9 November, available at: <>.

Boteach, Shmuley 2016, ‘“America’s Rabbi” Rises to Defend Steve Bannon’, The Hill, 15 November, available at: <>.

Bouteldja, Houria 2016, Les Blancs, les Juifs, et nous. Vers une politique de l’amour révolutionnaire, Paris: La Fabrique.

Brubaker, Rogers and Frederick Cooper 2000, ‘Beyond “Identity”’, Theory and Society, 29, 1: 1–47.

Community Security Trust 2017, ‘Antisemitic Incidents: Report 2016’, 2 February, available at: <>.

Dershowitz, Alan M. 2016, ‘Assessing the Bannon Appointment’, The Jewish Press, 20 November, available at: <>.

Draper, Hal 1977, ‘Marx and the Economic-Jew Stereotype’, in Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Volume I: State and Bureaucracy, available at: <>.

Ferguson, Niall 1999, The House of Rothschild: Money’s Prophets 1798–1848, New York: Penguin.

Finkelstein, Norman 2000, The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, London: Verso.

Finkelstein, Norman 2012, Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel Is Coming to an End, New York: OR Books.

Frankel, Jonathan 2009, Crisis, Revolution and Russian Jews, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Giladi, Naeim 2006, Ben-Gurion’s Scandals: How the Haganah and the Mossad Eliminated Jews, Tempe, AZ: Dandelion Books.

Grossberg, Lawrence 1996, ‘Identity and Cultural Studies: Is That All There Is?’, in Questions of Cultural Identity, edited by Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay, London: Sage Publishing.

Hall, Stuart 1996, ‘Who Needs Identity?’, in Questions of Cultural Identity, edited by Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay, London: Sage Publishing.

Hooper, Simon 2016, ‘UK Teachers Told to Monitor pro-Palestine Students for Extremism’, Middle East Eye, 11 February, available at: <>.

House of Commons Home Affairs Committee 2016, ‘Antisemitism in the UK: Tenth Report of Session 2016–17’, 16 October, available at: <>.

Jacobs, Jack (ed.) 2001, Jewish Politics in Eastern Europe: The Bund at 100, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Laor, Yitzhak 2009, The Myths of Liberal Zionism, London: Verso.

Leon, Abram 1942, ‘The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation’, available at: <>.

Machover, Moshe 2013, ‘Zionist Myths: Hebrew versus Jewish Identity’, Weekly Worker, 16 May, available at: <>.

Marx, Karl 1844, ‘On the Jewish Question’, available at: <>.

Miller, Stephen, Margaret Harris and Colin Shindler 2015, ‘The Attitudes of British Jews towards Israel’, Department of Sociology, School of Arts and Social Sciences, City University, London, available at: <>.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Israel) 2013, ‘Declaration of Establishment of State of Israel’, available at: <>.

National Union of Students 2017, ‘The Experience of Jewish Students in 2016–2017’, available at: <>.

National Police Chiefs’ Council 2014, ‘National Channel Referral Figures’, available at: <>.

Novick, Peter 1999, The Holocaust in American Life, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Open Society Foundation 2016, ‘Eroding Trust: The UK’s Prevent Counter-extremism Strategy in Health and Education’, October, available at: <>.

Orr, Akiva 1983, The unJewish State: The Politics of Jewish Identity in Israel, London: Ithaca Press.

Pew Research Center 2013, ‘A Portrait of Jewish Americans’, 1 October, available at: <>.

Pew Research Center 2016, ‘Israel’s Religiously Divided Society’, 8 March, available at: <>.

Posner, Sarah 2017, ‘Trump is Dividing American Jews over Domestic Policy, not Israel’, The Washington Post, 15 February, available at: <>.

Raz-Krakotzkin, Amnon 2007, Exil et souveraineté. Judaïsme, sionisme et pensée binationale, Paris: La Fabrique.

Rodinson, Maxime 1968, ‘De la nation juive au problème juif’, L’Homme et la Société, IX: 141–83.

Sand, Shlomo 2010, The Invention of the Jewish People, translated by Yael Lotan, London: Verso.

Sartre, Jean-Paul 2011 [1946], Réflexions sur la question juive, Paris: Gallimard-Folio.

Segré, Ivan 2014, Judaïsme et révolution, Paris: La Fabrique.

Shiblak, Abbas 1986, The Lure of Zion: The Case of the Iraqi Jews, London: Al Saqi Books.

Shohat, Ella 1988, ‘Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of its Jewish Victims’, Social Text, 19/20: 1–35.

Slezkine, Yuri 2006, The Jewish Century, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Staetsky, L.D., Marina Sheps and Jonathan Boyd 2013, ‘Immigration from the United Kingdom to Israel’, Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR), October, available at: <>.

Stone, Jon 2016, ‘Banning Boycotts of Israel Will Protect Britain’s National Security, Government Says’, The Independent, 17 February, available at: <>.

Sugarman, Daniel 2016, ‘Board of Deputies President Jonathan Arkush under Fire after Message Congratulating Trump’, 9 November, available at: <>.

Traverso, Enzo 1994, The Marxists and the Jewish Question: The History of a Debate, 1843–1943, translated by Bernard Gibbons, New York: Humanity Books.

Traverso, Enzo 2016, The End of Jewish Modernity, London: Pluto Press.

Wolfe, Patrick 2016, Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race, London: Verso.

Zionist Organisation of America 2016, ‘ZOA Criticises ADL for Falsely Alleging Trump Advisor Bannon is Anti-Semitic’, 14 November, available at: <>.




* I would like to thank Amelia Horgan, Hannah Dee, Yvon Englert, James Eastwood, Malia Bouattia, Ashok Kumar, Noha Abou El Magd, and Karma Nabulsi as well as the anonymous reviewers, for their comments and advice in the drafting of this paper. All remaining shortcomings are, of course, mine and mine alone. 

[1] Hall 1996, pp. 2–3.

[2] Grossberg 1996, p. 99.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Brubaker and Cooper 2000, p. 16.

[5] Chakravarty and Ferreira da Silva 2012, pp. 369–70. [No such reference in bibliography – MC]

[6] Wolfe 2016, p. 5

[7] Traverso 2016, p. 10.

[8] Traverso 2016, pp. 7–19.

[9] Wolfe 2016, p. 86.

[10] For more detail on these conflicts and different movements, see, for example, Jacobs (ed.) 2001; Frankel 2009; Traverso 2016.

[11] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee 2016, Q13.

[12] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee 2016, Q418.

[13] Raz-Krakotzkin 2007, p. 109.

[14] Miller, Harris and Shindler 2015, p. 15.

[15] Pew Research Center 2013.

[16] Marx 1844.

[17] For a detailed historical discussion of the contradiction involved in the use of antisemitic language in the process of arguing against antisemitic politics in Marx, see Hal Draper’s Marx and the Economic-Jew Stereotype (Draper 1977).

[18] Leon 1942.

[19] Others, beyond the Marxist tradition, have adopted a similar outlook on the relationship between the rise of capitalism and Jewish communities. Yuri Slezkine’s The Jewish Century argues, for example, that the advent of capitalism represents the universalisation of historically Jewish socio-economic roles (Slezkine 2006), while, on the other side of the political spectrum, Niall Ferguson argues that the development of modern capitalism cannot be understood without an analysis of the rise of the house of Rothschild and their financial and trade networks across Europe (Ferguson 1999).

[20] Rodinson 1968.

[21] Traverso 1994, p. 224.

[22] For more on the Bund and its approaches to the National Question, see Jacobs (ed.) 2001. For a summary of the Bundist and Austro-Hungarian Marxists’ contribution to the debate on the Jewish question, see Traverso 1994.

[23] Frankel 2009.

[24] Miller, Harris and Shindler 2015; Pew Research Center 2013; Pew Research Center 2016.

[25] Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2013.

[26] Behar 1997.

[27] Shiblack 1986; Giladi 2006.

[28] Ben-Dor Benite 1997; Chitrit 1997 [No such reference in bibliography – MC]; Shohat 1988.

[29] Orr 1983.

[30] Machover 2013.

[31] Rodinson 1968.

[32] Rodinson 1968, p. 179

[33] Finkelstein 2012, pp. 35–44.

[34] Finkelstein 2012, p. 42; emphasis in the original.

[35] In this context, official reparations from the German government paid to Israel allowed for justice to appear as having been served, while avoiding fundamental structural changes, and financing the Western ‘watch-dog’ in the Middle East.

[36] Finkelstein 2000.

[37] Traverso 2016, p. 117.

[38] Laor 2009.

[39] Traverso 2016, p. 118.

[40] Traverso 2016, pp. 126–7.

[41] Laor 2009, pp. 32–3.

[42] Sartre 2011, p. 152.

[43] This phrase is often attributed to August Babel. There is, however, no evidence that this is indeed the case. It appears that it was a common saying within German socialist circles in the late nineteenth century.

[44] Badiou, Hazan and Segré 2013, p. 15.

[45] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee 2016.

[46] Finkelstein 2012; Miller, Harris and Shindler 2015; Pew Research Center 2016.

[47] National Union of Students 2017, p. 26.

[48] Quoted in Stone 2016.

[49] Open Society Foundation 2016.

[50] National Police Chiefs’ Council 2014.

[51] Quoted in Hooper 2016.

[52] Open Society Foundation 2016, pp. 86–9.

[53] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee 2016, Q430.

[54] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee 2016, Q2.

[55] Community Security Trust 2017.

[56] Rodinson 1968, p. 181.

[57] Bouteldja 2016, p. 69.