Anti-Semitism, someone once said, is the socialism of fools: but he might just as well have said that socialism is anti-Semitism with the Jews left out, for both doctrines appeal to the same resentments, hatreds, and style of thought. It was no accident, as the Marxists used to put it, that Marx himself, though Jewish, was a ferocious anti-Semite who accepted the ancient stereotype of the Jew as a bloodsucking usurer. Socialist and anti-Semite alike seek an all-encompassing explanation of the imperfection of the world, and for the persistence of poverty and injustice: and each thinks he has found an answer.
There are other connections between left-wing thought and anti-Semitism (usually believed to be a disease of the Right alone). The liberal intellectual who laments the predominance of dead white males in the college syllabus or the lack of minority representation in the judiciary uses fundamentally the same argument as the anti-Semite who objects to the prominence of Jews in the arts, sciences, professions, and in commerce. They both assume that something must be amiss—a conspiracy—if any human group is over- or under-represented in any human activity, achievement, or institution.
The cartoonists in the left-leaning British press rarely pillory plutocratic capitalists without giving to them a distinctly Der Sturmer–type Jewish visage or physique: fat and hook-nosed, they have slavering lips and hanging jowls. Looking at the cartoons, one wonders how long it will be before accusations of ritual murder are made. Not long ago, The Observer, the oldest and most distinguished of the British liberal journals, published a flagrantly anti-Semitic poem by the Oxford English don, Tom Paulin, who later opined that American Jewish settlers on the West Bank should be shot.
The Middle East conflict has given respectability to old prejudices, especially in British academic circles. Two hundred British academics, some eminent, have selected Israel, of all the countries in the world, as the object of a total boycott, as if Israel were a uniquely evil state. While one can disagree strongly with the Israeli government’s policies without being anti-Semitic, the selection of Israel alone for a boycott in a world in which atrocity and suppression of freedom are routine must arouse suspicions of pre-existing animus—that is to say, of old-fashioned anti-Semitism.
When Professor Mona Baker of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology dismissed two Israeli academics from the editorial board of two academic journals, The Translator and Translation Studies Abstracts, on the sole grounds that they were Israeli, not a peep of protest was heard from British academics, though if she had dismissed the academics on the grounds that they were Syrian, Rwandan Hutu, or Muslim, a great fuss would have ensued. Professor Baker (born and educated in Egypt) said she thought she was only doing what many British academics would have done in the circumstances.
True, a belated reaction has now set in, and Professor Baker’s own university is investigating her for her high-handed reaction. She might even face dismissal. But what is clear is that anti-Semitism is no longer (if it ever was) the preserve of the neo-Nazis. Because of the structural similarities between leftist thought and anti-Semitism, it remains a permanent temptation on the Left as well as on the Right.