Israel/Palestine,  The Left

Radical-left icons who defended Israel

The 1971 article by Seymour Martin Lipset about leftwing antisemitism and hostility to Israel is included in a 1972 collection of essays from a democratic Left perspective called “Israel, The Arabs & the Middle East,” which I inherited from my father.

Rereading it, here’s a passage that caught my interest:

Isaac Deutscher, though sympathetic to the New Left and closer to the severely anti-Israel Trotskyists than to any other group, wrote that the Jews of Israel “have the feeling—how well justified—that the ‘civilized world,’ which in one way or another has the fate of European Jewry on its conscience, has no moral ground to stand on when it tries to sermonize or threaten Israel for any real or imaginary breaches of international commitments.” The editors of the “independent socialist magazine” Monthly Review, Paul Sweezy and Harvey Magdoff, who have the admiration of many young revolutionaries for their maintenance of a radical Marxist organ during the lean years of American radicalism, also felt it necessary in a recent issue (July-August 1970) to remind others on the left that whatever the history of Zionist relations with the Arabs, Israeli

. . . nationalism is nevertheless a reality, one that was deeply affected by the Nazi holocaust and is constantly refreshed and sustained by anti-Semitic thought and practices in various capitalist and socialist countries. Thus, the nature of the Jewish experience has generated a national consciousness in which the nightmare of forced emigration to a hostile, closed world and the dread of extinction by violence are ever present.

And though he has been ignored on this issue by many who identify with his writings on other matters, it should be recorded to the credit of the intellectual theorist of the New Left, Herbert Marcuse, that he, too, recognizes that anti-Semitism is not just another prejudice. Speaking in Germany to a New Left audience, Marcuse said:

I cannot forget that during centuries, Jews were persecuted and oppressed and that not so long ago six million of them were annihilated. This is an objective fact. The Jews finally found a land where they must no longer fear persecution and opposition and I identify myself with the aim reached by them. I am happy to be in agreement, in this case also, with Jean-Paul Sartre who said: “The only thing that we must prevent at any cost is a new war of extermination against Israel.”

And Marcuse concluded by saying that “the [1967] preventive war (for this was in fact the character of the war waged against Egypt, Jordan and Syria) can and must be understood and justified.”

What characterizes these radical leftists so concerned with anti-Semitism and Israel is that all of them, Deutscher, Sweezy, Magdoff, Marcuse, and Sartre, were adults, politically conscious and involved, during the era of Nazism and experienced the impact of the Holocaust. But they have signally failed to convey their experiences, their shock, the lessons they learned, to a new generation of revolutionary radicals. Hopefully, the latter will have less impact on the future of the Jews than earlier generations who required Auschwitz and Dachau to prove to them that anti-Semitism was more than a foolish prejudice.