In the aftermath of the Oct. 7 massacre, the radical left unabashedly aligned itself with Hamas. Many were shocked by the wave of genocidal antisemitic propaganda that followed, but the tropes employed by the leftist antisemites, from talk of a “global imperialist conspiracy” to the “perfidy of the Zionists” were not new. They were yet another iteration of the unfortunately successful combination of classic Jew-hatred and Soviet antisemitism.
This explosive mix was present in Europe throughout the 20th century but, following the 1967 Six-Day War, it was vigorously embraced by the European left. The left drenched itself in Soviet propaganda that depicted Israel as a colonial outpost of Western imperialism and Jews as bourgeois capitalists. Over time, a culture of systemic antisemitism developed on the European left that today has come into its own.
In Italy, where I live, a terrorist group called the Red Brigades committed atrocities throughout the 1970s. It was responsible for numerous kidnappings and murders, including the leader of Italy’s Christian Democratic Party and former Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978.
The Red Brigades pretended to be a new kind of radical group, but in an article published in 1978 in the leftist newspaper Il Manifesto, the former communist politician Rossana Rossanda wrote, “Anyone who was a communist in the 1950s recognizes the new language of the Red Brigades at first glance. It’s like leafing through the family album: There are all the ingredients that were proposed to us in the Stalin and Zhdanov courses of blessed memory.”
The present surge in antisemitism is exactly the same. It claims to be new and dedicated to new principles, but it is nothing but the family album of classic Soviet antisemitism.
It would be enough to take any of the Red Brigades’ manifestos and replace words like “Christian Democracy,” “state” or “our country” with “Israel,” “Zionism” and “Palestine” to see this. One would produce rhetoric like: “Israel and its accomplices have taken on the task of keeping Palestine under the imperialist yoke and unleashing terror and massacres by Zionist killers whenever the Palestinian struggle has called their power into question”; or “The essence of the Imperialist State, of which Israel has always been the maximum representative, is now before our eyes in all its evidence, without the misleading veil of a formal ‘democracy’ with which it had clothed itself: mass roundups and arrests, siege, special laws, special courts and concentration camps.”
It is also instructive to examine the attitude the Italian Communist Party held towards the Red Brigades, as it is remarkably similar to the attitude taken by the moderate institutional left towards radical-left antisemitism and Hamas.
While some members of the Italian Communist Party condoned the Red Brigades’ terrorism, the majority downplayed it. Their ignorance was willful. It was necessary to avoid recognizing that that the left was capable of fostering and committing acts of horrific violence. This is uncannily similar to the Western left’s refusal to recognize antisemitism in its own camp, denying and downplaying it as acceptable “anti-Zionism” in order to avoid facing it head-on.
Even more striking is that some Italian communists claimed that a conspiracy led by American imperialism, fascists or the intelligence services was behind the atrocities attributed to the Red Brigades. We see exactly the same conspiracy theories today, with some even denying the Oct. 7 massacre happened at all. Other claim that the massacre was perpetrated by Israel as an excuse to attack Hamas or that Israel’s defensive war against the terror group is controlled by American “imperialism.”
Italian left-wing intellectuals also spoke of the Red Brigades as “comrades who are wrong.” In effect, they considered terrorism a tactical error but agreed with the totalitarian ideology that caused it. This is the same stance taken by those who today condemn Hamas and its atrocities but endorse the idea of destroying Israel. The old communists declared that they were “neither with the Red Brigades nor with the state,” effectively creating a moral equivalence between the two, just as leftist antisemites seek to put a terrorist organization on par with Israel’s democracy.
Western nations must take this threat seriously. A society in which students speak about Jews and Israel the same way a 1970s Marxist-Leninist terror group spoke about its own targets is diseased. When we hear educators, politicians or intellectuals speak this way, we know this disease is potentially terminal. The democracies must respond to this infection with the vigor required to eradicate it, if only for the general good of a society that wants to protect its intellectual and political liberties.