How to Be a Left Wing Apologist for Antisemitism

Spencer_BioPicBy Spencer Sunshine

A few days ago some Socialist friends alerted me that the new Green Party vice presidential pick Ajamu Baraka had an ugly history of doing media work with a Holocaust denier named Kevin Barrett. Lefty media had already pointed out that Baraka was a vulgar anti-imperialist who has supported Syrian mass murderer Bashar al-Assad and a conspiracy theorist who has labeled various tragedies as “false flags.”

This was not terribly surprising as, by the mid-00s, the U.S. Green Party had been swamped by 9/11 Truthers and various conspiracy theorists, including those who espoused thinly veiled antisemitic criticisms of Israel. In recent years, numerous Green Parties around the world had already had their own scandals regarding Holocaust denial and antisemitism, including in Canada and Britain.

As an antifascist and a critic of the Left/Right crossover movements, I have spent years calling out Leftists who traffic in antisemitism. This had once been a fairly marginal phenomenon. However, now with Baraka’s candidacy, we see those with clear antisemitic links moving into the highest levels of the national Left, and it has been met with silence.

I was going to write a Facebook post about this and leave it at that, but it started to be reposted widely. Then a Green Party national co-coordinator endorsed suppressing the post from Green Party online forums, and came onto my own Facebook page to claim that I was engaged in an attempt to “run interference for apartheid in Israel.” (None of the conversation or criticism had anything whatsoever to do with Israel, Palestine, or Zionism.)

This was the first of many attempts to delegitimize criticisms of Baraka, and thereby kosher the presence of antisemitism in progressive circles (if the Greens can claim to be that anymore). Many Facebook arguments followed, with defenders of Baraka utilizing a variety of arguments to attempt to either shield him from criticism, or simply to justify what he did. Having been through these arguments for years, I decided to write them down as a guide for future debates.

Baraka and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein have refused to answer me via webpage inquiries, contacts, or Twitter. Finally, when Gawker contacted Baraka, he admitted he had been on Barrett’s radio show and had authorized his essay to be in the Holocaust denier’s anthology – but claimed he was unaware of Barrett’s views. In the original interview, Baraka did not, however, acknowledge that the Holocaust happened. (Only later did he send Gawker a follow-up note, affirming that he acknowledged that the Holocaust happened.) See: http://gawker.com/stein-campaign-says-running-mate-didn-t-realize-he-was-1785157203.

It shouldn’t take days of a media campaign to get progressive leaders to acknowledge that it’s wrong to work with Holocaust deniers and to admit that the Holocaust happened.

But it does.

Welcome to #Dystopia2016.

For more information about the links between Baraka and Garrett, and the Green Party’s original defense of this and attacks on me, see: https://radicalarchives.org/2016/08/10/ajamu-baraka-holocaust-denial.

For your reading pleasure, here is a list of the arguments that Leftists have used against me in an attempt to defend Baraka from criticism:

  1. Denial. Simply deny that there are any legitimate facts involved, which is kind of projection when Holocaust denial is being discussed.
  1. Attack the platform. Claim the platform where the evidence is presented is unreliable, especially if this isn’t true.
  1. Livingstone formulation. When the claims of antisemitism have nothing to do with Israel/Palestine, insert this into the conversation and claim you are being attacked because of your views on it. (For more on this technique, see https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/david-hirsh-the-livingstone-formulation).
  1. Cry “Zionism.” Claim that the source of the information is “Zionist” and therefore should be ignored. Only criticisms coming from anti- and non-Zionists will be acknowledged. Since 99% of Westerners, most Jews, and the vast majority of people who monitor antisemitism believe that Israel has a right to exist in some form (two states, etc.), you can invoke this and delegitimize most critics in one fell swoop – without ever engaging in the substance of their criticisms. This creates an information silo.
  1. Claim “smear.” Ignore the facts on hand and claim that the call-out is motivated by some other agenda.
  1. Unfair “guilt by association.” Claim that any link – including appearing directly on a platform with someone and working with them directly, with pictures, video, publishing info., etc. – is simply “guilt by association.”
  1. Redirect. Claim that the “real” work you should be doing about antisemitism is debunking claims from the Jewish community about antisemitism in the Palestine Solidarity movement.
  1. Bait and switch. Claim that the callout says something it doesn’t, and then say the critic is a liar.
  1. Unattainable standards of proof. This has been my favorite and has been used repeatedly. This is also a common tactic used against women who complain about sexual harassment and people of color who complain about racism. The apologist agrees that there IS antisemitism on the Left, but they set the bar so high for evidence, that in no particular instance can it ever be proven. This allows them to have it both ways: seem like they are sympathetic, but in reality koshering antisemitism in every instance.
  1. Hide behind a Jewish person. Since antisemitism is a narrative, anyone can repeat it, and many Jews will tolerate their colleagues espousing it. So if a Jewish person is around you, claim you can’t possibly be antisemitic.
  1. Justification through false equivalency. Compare being on a Holocaust deniers’ radio show to being on FOX News. Seriously, multiple people have done this. I was actually flabbergasted by this one.

Spencer Sunshine (www.spencersunshine.com) is an antifascist researcher who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is currently working with the Rural Organizing Project in Oregon to develop community-based responses to Patriot movement and militia organizing. Follow him on twitter @transform6789.

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11 thoughts on “How to Be a Left Wing Apologist for Antisemitism

  1. leah27z says:

    All 100% true.
    One tiny quibble: please don’t do the juvenile ‘hashtag’ thing when referring to anything and everything (as in “#Dystopia2016”).
    Thanks!

  2. J says:

    Good article. What seems new is not so much the anti-Semitism but the increasingly defensive and self-righteous dismissal of any suggestions of anti-Semitism. It is easy to see how this increased intolerance leads to frustrated pronouncements that “maybe the anti-Semites have got a point after all.”

  3. Shaitan says:

    One of the most powerful factors behind the new antisemitic sentiment all over the world is Jewish (specially American Jewish) people refusing to acknowledge the genocidal policies of Israel. Like it or not, the Israeli state has portrayed itself as representative of all Jewish people and as long as they keep up their ethnic cleasing, every sigle Jewish person who remains silent in the face of Isra-hell’s evil is responsible as well. You people are just going to gain more and more enemies until you take a strong position against the Occupation of Palestinian territory.

    PS: you gotta be a fucking imperialist pig or at least live in an imperialist country and have no fucking idea what it’s like to live in a colonized country to call someone who opposses the Empire a “vulgar anti-imperialist”. No wonder you don’t really care about what the Palestinians are going through.

    • I call BS on your premise, Shaitan. Saying that all Jews have to explicitly condemn Israel or have their entire culture and religion branded as extremists and collaborators is no different than saying that all Muslims have to explicitly condemn ISIS or have their entire culture and religion branded as extremists and collaborators.

      In fact, if the words “Jewish” and “Israel” in your screed are replaced with “Muslim” and “ISIS”, let’s see how it sounds:

      “One of the most powerful factors behind the new anti-Muslim sentiment all over the world is Muslim (specially American Muslim) people refusing to acknowledge the genocidal policies of ISIS. Like it or not, the Islamic State has portrayed itself as representative of all Muslim people and as long as they keep up their ethnic cleansing, every single Muslim person who remains silent in the face of ISIS-hell’s evil is responsible as well. You people are just going to gain more and more enemies until you take a strong position against the Islamic State.” — paraphrasing Shaitan

      That sounds exactly like the kind of xenophobic rhetoric that people like Donald Trump spew. It’s wrong to treat Muslims that way, and it’s just as wrong to treat Jews that way too.

      • D. Phillips says:

        I don’t know. I think there is something to it in both contexts. I for one would be delighted to see more Jews speaking out against Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. And I’d be equally delighted to see more Muslims speaking out against ISIS. And I daresay that, like it or not, the failure of both of these communities at large to condemn these crimes does fuel antiSemitism against both Jews and Muslims (who are also Semitic, by the way).

  4. D. Phillips says:

    But of course in America, the slightest criticism of Israel elicits all sorts of vitriol and accusations of antisemitism and holocaust denial. The pro-Israel lobby has not proven itself to be above outright defamation and slander against those who would express even the best intentioned concerns about the treatment of the Palestinian people. By American standards, all of Europe must surely be labeled antisemitic these days because Europeans presume to suggest that Israel should be held accountable for its crimes and abuses…..including the use of toxic gas on Gaza.

  5. How are you defining holocaust denier? And how do you define anti-semitism? These definitions seem to be all over the place and they are not clearly defined. But they can be clearly defined and they should be clearly defined. The back and forth criticisms should be based on getting at the truth using data, not personal attacks. You seem to be more focused on the personalizing than the getting at the truth, meaning you want to state who is right and wrong without really clarifying exactly why.

  6. You could have written the article with the same message far more effectively if you you were familiar with the names of the fallacies that you point out. There’s many lists of fallacies you could use — for example, this one from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies

    I say this because the subject you are writing about is very important — and it is important that we start getting serious about reclaiming the left from the tainting of antisemitism that has subverted it. But in doing this, knowing the names of the fallacies you attempt to call out can be very useful.

  7. You are absolutely right that so-called leftists/progressives trafficking in anti-semitism used to be marginal. A major reason why it has become very prominent (so much so that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn had to initiate a commission investigating anti-semitism within th eparty) is because these forces have become more and more aligned with the Iranian and Syrian regimes as well as Hezbollah on ‘anti-imperialist’ grounds and in so doing now serve as amplifiers for the anti-semitism these regimes rely on to mobilize popular opinion. So now you have pro-Palestine activists on the Holocaust-denying PressTV channel which is run by Iran and which paid both Corbyn and George Galloway. It’s sickening and it’s a dangerous development. The last thing these clowns need is state sponsors.

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