Speakers at UK conservative conference denounce ‘feckless’ charges of antisemitism

Some of the terminology in question can be either totally innocuous or very troubling, an antisemitism expert told JNS.

British Parliament, London. Credit: Melinda Nagy/Shutterstock.
British Parliament, London. Credit: Melinda Nagy/Shutterstock.

The chair of a British Jewish representative body has accused critics of a member of Parliament, who referred to “cultural Marxism” in a speech, of “weaponizing antisemitism.”

It comes after parliamentarian Miriam Cates, of the British Conservative Party, alleged that “cultural Marxism” is “destroying our children’s souls” and negatively impacting mental health.

“When an obscure expression is used, which is not properly understood by many, it makes sense to examine its context to determine if there is any Jew-hating intent,” Gary Mond, chairman of the National Jewish Assembly, told JNS.

The answer with Cates is a “categorial negative,” said Mond. He noted that it’s most concerning that the parliamentarian’s political enemies have used the situation “to weaponize antisemitism.”

The term “cultural Marxism” refers to the theory that a radical political ideology being promoted by left-wing activists is aiming to undermine or subvert Western social and cultural institutions, resulting in the imposition of a progressive agenda on society.

Miriam Cates. Credit: David Woolfall via Wikimedia Commons.

It is often associated with a group of 20th-century Marxist scholars known as the Frankfurt School, several of whom were Jewish. The German philosopher Karl Marx also came from a Jewish family.

Cates, who did not respond to queries from JNS, referred to the term in an opening speech on May 15 at the National Conservatism Conference, hosted by the Edmund Burke Foundation, a four-year-old public-affairs institute.

To start a family, one must not only have a home and a secure job—and support from one’s family, community and nation—but also hope for the future, according to Cates. “That hope is sadly diminishing in so many of our young people today because liberal individualism has proven to be completely powerless to resist the cultural Marxism that is systematically destroying our children’s souls,” she said.

She claimed that universities and schools—and the culture broadly—teach openly that “our country is racist, our heroes are villains, humanity is killing the Earth, you are what you desire, diversity is theology, boundaries are tyranny, and self-restraint is oppression.”

“Is it any wonder that mental-health conditions, self-harm and suicide and epidemic levels of anxiety and confusion characterize the emerging generation?” she asked.

Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation. Credit: The Heritage Foundation.

‘These comments had nothing to do with antisemitism’

“I will call out antisemitism without favor or bias. Every single MP received a detailed written briefing on this issue. If it’s uncomfortable for some, so be it,” Lord John Mann, an independent peer and official adviser on antisemitism for the government of the United Kingdom, wrote on Twitter.

“In this instance, the language used is problematic. I hope the MP reads her briefing document as I am sure it was ignorance of the meaning not antisemitic intent and therefore won’t be repeated,” he added.

Mond told JNS that the backlash towards Cates was “utterly despicable” and “a non-story” that takes away “much-needed attention from real Jew-hatred—insulting and attacking Jews for being Jews, denying or minimizing the Holocaust, questioning Israel’s right to exist, absurdly claiming that Jews do not suffer from racism and hatefully depicting Jews in the media.”

Lord John Mann. Roger Harris via Wikimedia Commons.

“Our community should focus its firepower on these latter examples of Jew-hatred and not on philosemitic, Israel-supporting politicians,” he said.

In regard to Cates, Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation, told JNS that it was “one of the best speeches” he had ever heard.

Roberts brushed off charges that he or she had anything antisemitic in mind in their remarks. (He, too, is being accused in the press of Jew-hatred.)

“I cannot emphasize enough that these comments had nothing to do with antisemitism,” he told JNS.

“The accusation of that against a member of parliament, for me, reveals the fecklessness that (the) globalist left is guilty of, and indeed their intention to ignore the evil of the antisemitism of some of the global left themselves,” he said.

Dave Rich is a British expert on antisemitism and the author of the new book Everyday Hate: How Antisemitism Is Built Into Our World and How You Can Change It.

“The phrase ‘cultural Marxism’ is one of the least understood of the contested tropes or phrases that sometimes crop up in politics,” he told JNS. “It has a perfectly legitimate, respectable meaning in academia and in mainstream political debate, but is also used as an antisemitic buzzword in more extreme far-right discourse.”

“The strangest thing of all about its usage by politicians is that it is unlikely that any voters have a clue about either meaning,” Rich said. “As ever, when there is potential for misunderstanding it is better to find a different, less ambiguous phrase to convey the same idea.”

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