By Ben Cohen/JNS.org
Jew-baiting these days is a globally competitive field. The Middle East, Latin America and Asia could all put up credible candidates for the title of most notorious Jew-baiter. But if you ask me, it’s in Europe, the continent where modern anti-Semitism crystallized, where you’ll still find the most able and determined baiters.
Now, if I had to pick someone from that particular field, I’d have to conclude that it’s a tie for first place.
From Hungary: step forward Zsolt Bayer, journalist, fascist apologist, a founder of the ruling Fidesz party, and a confidante of that country’s Putinesque prime minister, Viktor Orban. From Great Britain: step forward Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London, darling of Islamists both Shi’a – Hezbollah – and Sunni – the Muslim Brotherhood – and literally obsessed with the claim that the Zionist movement collaborated with Adolf Hitler during the 1930s. (His obsession has lasted so long, one wag on Twitter commented that he’d devised a drinking game where he downed a shot of gin every time Livingstone mentioned Hitler, with the result that he’s now living in a dumpster.)
I get that there are others who could stake a claim to the “most notorious” title. Like French comic Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. Or the leaders of Greece’s neo-fascist Golden Dawn Party. Or the former British parliamentarian George Galloway. But I choose Bayer and Livingstone because together they neatly encapsulate the thematic fixations of post-war anti-Semitism: the undue political and economic influence of wealthy, powerful Jews, the insinuation that Jews invariably choose tribal conspiracy over national loyalty and the contention that the Jews themselves actively assisted the Nazi genocide that led to Auschwitz and Treblinka.
The latest controversy around Bayer erupted when the Hungarian government awarded him the prestigious Order of Merit of the Knights Cross. More than 40 previous recipients of the award returned their medals in protest at the honor being shared with Bayer, among them Andras Heisler, a senior Hungarian Jewish communal leader, and Katrina Lantos Swett, daughter of the late and much revered Congressman Tom Lantos, who survived the Holocaust in Hungary.
Their objections are not exactly complicated to figure out. Analysts of Hungarian politics like the veteran journalist Karl Pfeifer and the U.S.-based academic Eva Balogh have patiently documented Bayer’s ravings for an English-language audience. Bayer has argued, for example, that anti-Semitism is a “natural” state of mind for Hungarians because, as he tells it, the short lived communist republic of 1919 was all a Jewish plot. In another piece, he spat angrily at the “limitless hunger of Jewish financiers.” In yet another, perhaps his ugliest, he sniped at the British journalist Nick Cohen as a “stinking excrement called something like Cohen,” before concluding what a shame it was that Cohen and those like him “were not all buried up to their necks at the forest in Orgovany” – the site of a 1919 massacre of Hungarian communists, including several Jews.
Also noteworthy is Bayer’s loathing of the Roma minority, whose fate in modern Hungary is a largely ignored story of persecution and discrimination. In one screed reminiscent of a Hitler rant, Bayer spoke of the Roma gypsies as “[N]ot fit to live among human beings. These people are animals and behave like animals. Like a bitch in heat, she wants to copulate with whomever and wherever.” In Bayer’s mind, then, the racially-based demonization of Jews and gypsies, with its jarring misogynistic overtones, is alive and well.
Livingstone is cut from a different cloth. His animosity towards Jews avoids the racial vulgarities of Bayer. Instead, his approach, essentially unchanged since he became a major political figure on the British landscape, is to attack the emotional and political identification of the British Jewish community with Israel.
One way he does this is to accuse anyone raising concerns about anti-Semitism of doing so because of pro-Israel loyalties – a trick dubbed “The Livingstone Formulation” by the British academic David Hirsh. Another is his fixation with imagery and language equating Israeli policies with that of the Nazis, something covered in detail by the political analyst Dave Rich in his superb new book, “The Left’s Jewish Problem.”
Most of all, Livingstone likes to manipulate the history of the Holocaust. He doesn’t deny that Nazis murdered six million Jews, but he regards the Zionist movement as having played a critical role in enabling the Holocaust. When he repeated these claims earlier this year, in the midst of several anti-Semitism scandals already rocking the British Labour Party, the party’s far left leader, Jeremy Corbyn, found himself with no choice but to suspend Livingstone from membership.
Yet far from apologizing, Livingstone continues to insist that he is historically correct, with all the zeal of someone who asserts that 9/11 was an “inside job.” But because Livingstone is a national figure, just as Bayer, his slanders cannot just be dismissed as the ravings of a lunatic. That is one reason why the Labour parliamentarian John Mann, a stalwart opponent of anti-Semitism, has just published a dossier in which he rebuts Livingstone’s dubious and dishonest portrait of wartime Zionists as equal negotiating partners of the Nazi regime.
As the dossier points out, Livingstone ignores vital facts, such as Hitler’s statement in Mein Kampf that, “While the Zionists try to make the rest of the World believe that the national consciousness of the Jew finds its satisfaction in the creation of a Palestinian state, the Jews again slyly dupe the dumb Goyim.” But then again, given that Livingstone believes Hitler was already in power in 1932 – he became Germany’s Chancellor in 1933 – his poor grasp of historical detail and historical meaning shouldn’t be overly surprising.
No one should be under the impression that the writings and statements of Bayer and Livingstone pass effortlessly into mainstream discourse. Even among the legions of Israel critics, there is some acknowledgement that their respective claims have more in common with hate speech than with the serious study of history. It’s quite conceivable that in other European countries like Germany or France, one or both of them would have been prosecuted for incitement.
To be clear, I’m not recommending that either man be prosecuted; that’s a decision for the authorities in their countries to make in respect of the law. The problem is both men are depicted as exotically controversial, with some grasp of truth, when they are in fact bare-faced liars.
Because, you see, to be a successful Jew-baiter, you can’t be anything else.
Ben Cohen, senior editor of TheTower.org & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of “Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).