Book tackles question of Jews among anti-Israel activists
October 10, 2012 | Atara Beck - Israel Correspondent
Hebrew University Professor Robert S. Wistrich’s new book, From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel, is a must read for those who want to understand why so many Jews are among the leading anti-Israel and anti-western activists.
From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel; By Robert S. Wistrich; University of Nebraska Press (for SICSA), 2012
In recent years, especially since the rise of Radical Islam, many have been perplexed at the significant number of Jews – including Israelis – and westerners in general among leading anti-Israel and anti-Western activists.
Equally puzzling is that these passionate ideologues claim to be fighting for a better, more humane world. Nevertheless, while consistently demonizing Israel, they are often silent about the real violence and abuse of human rights in countries such as Syria and Iran.
For those struggling to comprehend the motivation behind such apparently self-destructive ideology, From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel – the latest book by Robert S. Wistrich, the Neuburger Professor of European and Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism – is a must-read.
Indeed, the book’s introduction alone could stand on its own as a brilliant analysis of this theme.
The author writes, “Can we seriously imagine Marx, Engels, Kautsky or Rosa Luxemburg remaining silent about the advocacy of shari’a law, censorship, female genital mutilation, honour killings, suicide bombings, or making the world safe for Allah’s rule?....
“In this book, I have tried to explain what went wrong while suggesting that the degeneration was already prefigured in the 19th-century seedbed of antisemitic socialism….
“Twentieth-century Marxism had no trouble in rationalizing the crimes of the Soviet gulag with the help of convoluted Hegelian dialectics. Similarly, the propagandists of the radical left have in many cases proved adept at justifying the elimination of Israel….”
The 600-page tome is divided into several sections tracing the history of modern leftist thought. In a particularly interesting chapter, The Marxist-Islamist Alliance, Wistrich points to relevant similarities between these two very different philosophies.
“For example, both the Islamic and Marxist-Leninist traditions polarize the world into two opposing camps and assume that war is the natural condition of mankind.”
From Ambivalence to Betrayal – a well-researched, scholarly work – is perhaps the most important oeuvre on this topic to date, demonstrating that “left-wing antisemitism is not a new phenomenon.”
Nor is the embrace of anti-Jewish dogma by Jewish intellectuals a new development.
For example, concerning the “antipathy, swelling at times to fanatical hatred,” of Jewish revolutionaries towards Zionism, as noted already in 1903 by Chaim Weizmann, who later became the first president of the state of Israel, Wistrich explains, “The embrace of internationalism meant the repudiation of tradition, religion, Jewish family attachment…. Jews clearly did not fit into the traditional Orthodox Christian society of Imperial Russia and (as yet) they still lacked a strong ethnic nationalism of their own. Hence, social revolution around 1900 appeared as a particularly attractive option.”
Yet, “the fact that all Jewish revolutionaries had ostentatiously left their Jewishness behind was totally irrelevant to antisemites, whether past or present.”
According to Wistrich, “the fact that such violently irrational antisemitism could move millions of ordinary Germans and other Europeans to follow the Nazi creed and to act upon total fabrications appears to have been altogether too much to digest for many leftists. Nor do most Marxist believers – any more than most liberals and conservatives in the west – really grasp the appeal of religious fanaticism, one of the key components in Protestant, Catholic, fascist, Nazi and contemporary Islamist forms of antisemitism. The left has evaded this issue much as it sought to downplay the fact that the Nazis really did fixate their attention on the Jews….”
Perhaps this could explain even a most recent event in Toronto; during a large demonstration across the street from the US consulate regarding anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims, hatred for Israel and the Jews “ran so deep throughout the protest that one would have to be willfully blind to have missed it,” according to blogger Blazing Catfur, who documented the event. Yet the anti-Zionist posters and chants were almost totally ignored by the mainstream media.
“This book is an attempt to get to grips with the paranoid conspiracy-mongering on the left, which invariably parades as a humanitarian endeavour and a compassionate defence of the ‘oppressed’ or powerless against the might of the ‘Zionist-Crusader’ axis,” Wistrich states.
“This book goes to the heart of what has become a serious mental derangement in the hope that it may help the left (and others afflicted by the same malady) to regain their sanity.”