Christopher Hitchens has a point about the demonisation of Paul Wolfowitz in his Slate article today and suggests, in rather uncharacteristically coy fashion, that anti-semitism is at play.

This tendency has been noted here before in the British context, in particular relation to the New Statesman’s ‘outing’ of suppposed British neo-cons and the Tam Dalyell outburst, and there is little doubt that there are sections of the anti-war movement that are playing on the supposedly sinister nature of the ‘shadowy neo-con cabal’.

As others have noted there is nothing at all shadowy or secretive about the neo-cons at all. For crying out loud they are one of the most high-profile and successful political factions in the world’s most powerful democracy and they are not particularly shy about it at all – in fact if anything they are, to use Stalin’s old phrase, “dizzy with success” at the moment.

But I still can’t get over the amount of times that supposedly intelligent left-wing anti-war people point to the Project for a New American Century with a knowing look, as though it were some secretive anti-democratic conspiracy that we have all fallen victim to.

Look, they even have their own website and make public all their documents. Read what it says on the label: The Project for the New American Century intends, through issue briefs, research papers, advocacy journalism, conferences, and seminars, to explain what American world leadership entails. It will also strive to rally support for a vigorous and principled policy of American international involvement and to stimulate useful public debate on foreign and defense policy and America’s role in the world.

In other words it is what we in the UK would call a think tank. It happens to be one that has been very active and very successful at getting its agenda adopted and there happen to be Jewish people involved in it but so what? Since when has the left taken the view that the presence of Jewish individuals in an organisation makes the organisation Jewish?

The only time until recently that I have heard this sort of view was from drunken East European reactionaries who were trying to convince me that communism was a Jewish invention and so was international capitalism. It is a view that has some history in that part of the world but I never thought I would hear the echoes of that same argument from western left opinion.

I supported the armed overthrow of the Saddam regime but I am not a neo-con. As a socialist I obviously don’t see radical free-market policies as the solution to all the world’s ills and while I am more supportive of the neo-con international agenda I am wary of the zealotry in their approach. I would have liked to have seen the United Nations do the post-war work in Iraq not the bungling US military and I’d like to see George Bush lose the next election and be replaced by a progressive Democrat – hardly the Wolfowitz agenda.

Yet, purely it seems because of my position on the Iraq war, a British communist told me the other day that I had “swallowed neo-con and Zionist propaganda hook, line and sinker”. Given that I have hardly made a comment here or anywhere else on Israel and Palestine, the comrade must be of the view that ‘Zionists’ were behind the Iraq war. Now either he really means Zionist, in which case some evidence needs to be made of Israel’s involvement in the war and their incredible ability to pass legislation in Washington and win votes in the British parliament or in fact, as I suspect, he is simply using the old technique of calling Jews ‘Zionists’ in order to avoid the charge of anti-semitism.

It is happening all the time and we have even reached the stage where a columnist for the Guardian has to write an article entitled ‘Note to the left – there is no all-powerful Jewish lobby’ – an article which is full of examples of this worrying trend.

Lets be frank, all this talk about the PNAC conspiracy, people who make Freudien slips about ‘Israelis in the US government’ and all the things that Hitchens talks about in reference to Wolfowitz and that Aaronovitch recounts, do remind one of those people who babble on about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion don’t they?

And lets not pretend that anti-semitism is something which has never had any influence on the left. Stalin’s campaigns against the ‘rootless cosmopolitians’ and the 1950’s Polish communist purges of the ‘Zionists’ were pretty blatant examples and there have always been furtive whisperers and nodders and winkers in all kinds of left organisations.

Yet never, never until these recent months, has such trading in anti-semitic stereotypes been used so frequently on the ‘radical left’ in western democracies. It remains, thankfully, a minority pass-time, but it is high time it was nipped in the bud.