But one of our visitors (Mike who runs the excellent site Israel Thrives) was taken enough with the debates that have been going on in the comments section (particularly debates over where BDS and anti-Zionism fit into left-leaning political culture) that he has continued that discussion on his own site and his new blog on the Times of Israel site (BTW – congrats on the new gig, Mike!).
The author’s key argument is that there is no question that BDS and anti-Zionist (and even anti-Semitic politics) has found a home on the political Left and that anyone who ignores this has his “head buried in the sand” (possibly over conflicting identities as both a supporter of Israel and of liberal causes).
Now Mike goes out of his way to not attribute those attitudes to me. Which is just as well since with regard to his first argument (that anti-Israel politics has a home on the Left), I would not only agree with him but would go much further. For my understanding of this issue comes from reading the works of Robert Wistrich who has not only documented the phenomena of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic themes evolving in Left-wing politics, but has traced the phenomena to its origins in the works of Marx and specific anti-Zionist Soviet propaganda programs of the 20s and 60s that still provide the foundation for most left-wing anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism today. (BTW – Wistrich has just come out with a new book that I’ve not read yet, but I predict will be the seminal work on this subject.)
Obviously ignoring this problem would be akin to ignoring how anti-Semitism first grafted itself onto nationalist politics in the 19th century (which many of the Jews of Europe did do, with disastrous consequences). But I differ with Mike with regard to his characterization of many left-leaning friends of Israel as having their “heads buried” (i.e., as intentionally ignoring the obvious due to partisan blindness).
My difference with Mike over this question centers on the definition of a single word. Not the obvious ones you would think of (such as “Left,” “anti-Zionism” or “anti-Semitism”) but over the humbler word “home.”
For in talking about BDS and other anti-Israel activities and attitudes having a home on the Left, it makes a difference whether we’re talking about the home you offer a beloved family member or the home set up by a virus or other disease in a body that it was never invited into.
If we define home in the family-member sense, then we would be making the argument that anti-Zionism (and even anti-Semitism) are an intrinsic component of Left-wing ideology, much like eyes are intrinsic to human beings, which would lead us to very different conclusions than if we treated anti-Semitism on the Left as the same kind of infection that permeated nationalist and Right-leaning politics in the first half of the 20th century.
Because political ideologies (Left, Right or something else) are creations of man (not natural occurrences), I tend to discount theories that claim they have an intrinsic nature (good or bad). And given that what we call the political Left is so broad that it includes everyone from former Klansman Robert Byrd to BDS cranks and the Occupy Wall Streeters, it seems just as obvious to me as Mike’s theories are to him that anti-Zionism is one of many political sub-movements vying for position within a huge coalition that roughly falls into the Left end of a Left-Right axis that I already find too broad and dualistic (a dualism we reach for far too hastily in order to explain a world that may not fall into two easily-defined camps).
But the disease definition of “home” helps explain many of the phenomena I’ve encountered in my anti-BDS work, especially with regard to the continuing broad coalition of Left-Right support for Israel in mainstream political organizations (like the Democratic and Republican parties), as well as the fact that most of the people I have fought alongside in major BDS battles have been progressive Jews and non-Jews who reject the notion that BDS be allowed to speak in their name.
We fortunately have an historic analogy we can use to understand this question: the relationship between “The Left” writ large and 20th century left-wing totalitarianism in the form of Marxist-Leninist Communism.
As with Mike’s original assertion regarding anti-Zionism, it would be folly to claim that Marxism had not found a significant home on the Left end of the political spectrum throughout the West. But it would be just as fallacious to claim that this meant all left-leaning and progressive politics of any stripe were a front, or at least permanently tainted due to the inability of progressives to fully remove Marxists from their big tent.
This inability did not prevent Democratic Presidents (such as Truman and Kennedy) from taking just as strong a stand against Communist expansion as Right-leaning politicians (such as Eisenhower and Reagan). Nor did it prevent thoughtful liberals from creating the intellectual antibodies needed to help institutions like the Democratic Party and US labor movement from becoming Marxist front groups (the fate of many unions and political parties in Europe).
Just as claiming Marxism to be the true face of the Left (which would leave thoughtful liberals with no choice but to abandon the movement or face charges of “burying their heads in the sand”), claiming anti-Israel politics to be the true face of today’s Left would mean that progressives (including progressive, Israel-loving Jews) are wasting their time trying to challenge anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, fight against BDS, and generally battle the infection of anti-Semitism from within.
Now it could be that Jews are deluded regarding who their true friends and enemies are, and that their only sensible choice is to abandon liberalism/progressivism/”the left” entirely and join a different political movement (conservativism/”the right”) where their only genuine supporters allegedly dwell.
But just as I tend to be suspicious of any analysis that divides the world into just two categories of Left and Right, I also prefer to think about these types of choices during a period when they will not be clouded by other political agendas (such as the play for Jewish votes during a US election).
And now to get back to some of my allies and correspondents (both Left and Right leaning) who I still owe thanks to for making 2012 the least successful year in BDS history.