Considered opinion: Left-populism & Anti-SemitismThe Roots of Labour’s Anti-Semitism Lie Deep within the Populist Left

By Jonathan Freedland

Published 16 July 2019

“Anti-Semitism is populism in perhaps its purest and most distilled form. It says that politics is indeed a battle between the virtuous masses and a nefarious, corrupt elite – and that that elite is ‘the Jews’. That’s why anti-Semitism carries so many of populism’s distinguishing features, from the fear of an enemy within, to its insistence that the media is bent on distorting reality,” Jonathan Freedland writes. Earlier this year a global study “found that a distinguishing feature of those with a populist worldview is a willingness to believe conspiracy theories, whether on the climate crisis, vaccines, or aliens from outer space. Anti-Semitism is nothing if not an all-encompassing conspiracy theory, suggesting that Jews are the secret rulers of the world.”

People typically associate political populism with right-wing politicians such Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Nigel Farage in the U.K., Donald Trump in the U.S., Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Matteo Salvini in Italy, and others. It is often the case that on the margins of right-wing populist movements there are distinct racist currents. President Trump’s tweets this past weekend – tweets in which he told four leftist Democratic congresswomen, all of whom women of color and three of whom born in the United States —  to “go back where they came from,” show, however, that racism is not always confined to the margins of these movements.

Jonathan Freedland writes in the Guardian that left-wing populism is as susceptible as right-wing populism to racism – more specifically, to one type of racism: Anti-Semitism.

He notes that last week was a shame for Labour, as BBC’s Panorama revealed that the party leader’s office had interfered in the handling of anti-Semitism cases within the party, even as they insisted they had nothing to do with the process, driving their own complaints staff to despair and depression.

Freedland writes that we should not get bogged down in procedural questions about who in Jeremy Corbyn’s office intervened in what investigation to prevent which Labour activist from facing this or that sanction for anti-Semitic conduct. “[T]he key question lies elsewhere: why would a party that defines itself as anti-racist have attracted anti-Semites in the first place?”

He continues:

Some try to say that any mass membership organization will always reflect the wider society, and since Britain includes anti-Semites, so too will the Labour party. But that doesn’t wash. Britain includes a fair number of meat-eaters, but you wouldn’t expect to find any in the Vegetarian Society. Others say that it must have something to do with the Middle East, as if anti-Semitism is bound to arise when people feel so strongly against Israel and for the Palestinians.