column

The antisemitism that drives identity politics

For many in the West, Jew-hatred is invisible and grossly misunderstood.

Diane Abbott speaking at a Jeremy Corbyn leadership rally in August 2016. Credit: PaulNUK via Wimikedia Commons.
Diane Abbott speaking at a Jeremy Corbyn leadership rally in August 2016. Credit: PaulNUK via Wimikedia Commons.
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir, Guardian Angel, has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, The Legacy, in 2018. To access her work, go to: melaniephillips.substack.com.

A furor over a British Labour Party politician tells us a great deal about the tsunami of Jew-hatred rolling across Britain, America and the West.

Diane Abbott, who in 1987 became Britain’s first black female member of parliament, caused widespread outrage last weekend when she wrote in The Observer that Jews, Irish people and travelers don’t face racism but merely suffer the same level of prejudice as people with red hair. The only possible victims of racial prejudice, she suggested, are black people.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer promptly suspended Abbott from the parliamentary Labour Party. Her comments threatened to derail his strenuous efforts to rid the party of the stain of antisemitism, which under Labour’s previous hard-left leader Jeremy Corbyn reached epidemic proportions.

The views held by Abbott, who remains a Corbyn acolyte, inhabit the intersection between Jew-hatred and the “identity politics” that is driving Western society off the rails.

Abbott ignored the fact that many Jews are brown or black-skinned. The reason for that omission gets to the heart of the antisemitism of the left.

The left’s dogma of “intersectionality” holds that groups are defined by power and powerlessness. People of color are said to be powerless because they are oppressed by the West, which is powerful. The West is said to be powerful because it is capitalist, and is therefore deemed innately exploitative and rapacious.

Because the West is a historically white culture, white people are themselves deemed innately exploitative and rapacious and can never be victims of black people. Moreover, like Marx himself, such leftists believe that the Jews control capitalism and manipulate all the levers of global power in their own interests to the disadvantage of everyone else.

So, to them, it follows that Jews are innately exploitative and rapacious. They are therefore deemed guilty of “white privilege” even when they are dark-skinned and they can never be victims, only victimizers.

This is why the “intersectional” left treats Israel with such obsessional hysteria, unremittingly presenting Israeli self-defense as aggression. Israel, which defends itself through military strength, is the antisemites’ nightmare of Jewish power on steroids.

Of course, this is old-style antisemitism sitting bang smack at the heart of the identity politics that currently drives the left.

It is therefore beyond troubling that the Democratic Party in the United States and so many liberal American Jews have signed up for identity politics. Worse still, these Jews tell themselves that such ideas are Jewish values. In fact, they negate Jewish values and provide the ideological rocket fuel behind the current onslaught against Judaism, Jewish people and the Jewish state.

At the core of this support lies a Jewish terror of being different from the rest of the world. That fear is inseparable from the contempt for and even fear of unabashed religious belief, a hostility that motivates the Western left in general.

The result has been that, for many Jews and non-Jews in the West, Jew-hatred has become largely invisible and hugely misunderstood and devalued.

Among her offensive remarks, Abbott said that in pre-civil rights America only black people were required to “sit at the back of the bus.”

This provoked a stinging response from Herschel Gluck, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi in Abbott’s constituency, which contains the largest haredi community in Europe, whom she has, in fact, often supported on local issues.

As Gluck told The Jewish Chronicle, there are now constant reports of Jews being abused on buses, kicked off buses and asking the bus driver for support only to find that none is forthcoming. When Gluck recently tried to get on a train in Abbott’s own constituency, he was pushed off by football fans, one of whom said: “We don’t allow Jews on the train.”

In both the United Kingdom and the United States, antisemitic attacks are at record levels and a disproportionate number of them, particularly physical attacks, are against the ultra-Orthodox. Yet these are mostly ignored.

There are two reasons for this invisibility. First, such violent attackers are disproportionately black or Muslim and so directly contradict the unchallengeable “intersectionality” narrative of licensed victim groups.

Secondly, the secular world finds the ultra-Orthodox mystifying and alienating, and many Jews do not want to be associated with them either.

This is partly because such Jews regard the haredim as a threat to liberal Jewish life. It’s also because they fear that, by protesting on behalf of the ultra-Orthodox, they will be lumped together with them as “the other” by the gentile world.

In Israel, resentment and hostility towards the ultra-Orthodox is a factor behind the four-month-long anti-government protests. Disturbingly, in both America and Britain civic authorities have also come to regard the ultra-Orthodox as a threat.

New York State has been tightening requirements for ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools to teach curricula that are “substantially equivalent” to those in non-religious schools.

This has been accompanied by aggressive reporting about Chassidic schools in The New York Times and other outlets, with similar media attacks in Britain. They have claimed that such schools don’t teach basics such as English or math, routinely beat their pupils and sentence them to adult lives of poverty.

These accounts have been accused of distortion, selective reporting and exaggeration. In City Journal, Ray Domanico reported last month that at the Chassidic school he visited in New York, all the boys seemed to be fluent in English, which was freely spoken at home, while graduates had gone on to be successful business owners and leaders.

Critics of such schools also don’t appreciate that Talmud study fosters analytical thinking to a level far higher than anything taught in regular schools.

Rabbi Asher Gratt is a governor in one of the largest haredi schools in Britain. As he has written, Talmud study creates practical images of abstract concepts, connects these through lateral thinking and teaches concentration, memory skills and problem-solving to a high level.

It might therefore be thought that the haredi approach has something of value to impart to mainstream schools—where illiteracy and innumeracy levels are often very high through fundamental deficiencies in the way children there are taught.

In Britain, pressure applied to haredi schools goes far beyond any apparent concern about basic standards. For a number of years, the education regulator Ofsted has been trying to force Haredi schools to teach LGBTQ+ issues.

The schools’ protest that they never teach sexuality at all because they believe it to be inappropriate and against their religious values has fallen on deaf ears. A liberal society, they are told, demands that all schoolchildren be taught about all kinds of sexuality in order to promote tolerance and inclusiveness.

Yet preventing a religious minority from teaching its children according to its own religious precepts is fundamentally intolerant and exclusive. To Britain’s “liberal” bureaucratic mind, however, the fact that the haredim pose no threat to anyone else and that their children are largely free from the antisocial behavior commonplace elsewhere cuts no ice at all.

Difference, particularism and separateness are now viewed in themselves as a threat that must not be tolerated. The only values permitted are universalist ones. The equality of outcomes promoted by identity politics is a universalist value.

Universalism, however, is a fundamentally anti-Jewish creed. Jews are the most particularist community on earth. Universalism denies them the difference that defines their unique behavior as well as their unique experience of suffering.

Jews who flinch from their historic burden of difference have latched on to universalism as the ultimate means of erasing difference. That’s why they support Black Lives Matter, campaign against Israel and relativize the Holocaust by equating it with “many genocides.”

They have thus signed up to the very creed that lies behind the mindset of Diane Abbott and the terrifying onslaught against Jews throughout the West.

Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for “The Times of London,” her personal and political memoir “Guardian Angel” has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, “The Legacy.” Go to melaniephillips.substack.com to access her work.

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