Skip to main content

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

Why I won’t stop talking about left wing antisemitism

Like it or not, this will be a theme in the upcoming general election – we are living through a defining moment for the left

Photo: TNE/Getty

Last week, for about 24 hours, my name was trending on Twitter/X. Thousands of anonymous posts an hour were abusing me as an “MI6 agent”, “Zionist shill” and “genocide enabler” because, at a small public meeting in Brent, I challenged an ostensibly left wing person for spreading antisemitic lies.

Towards the end of the meeting, a woman in the audience angrily asserted that the Labour Party, which I am a member of, is an “Israeli body”; that Keir Starmer is “sponsored” by Israel; and that many Labour members are “supported and funded” by Israel. I pointed out that this was an antisemitic conspiracy theory, with no basis in fact, and the meeting ended in acrimony.

The worst part of the experience was not being mobbed on social media. It was seeing decent people look at their shoes while she was speaking; and a minority loudly applaud her; and a few run up to me shouting “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism” into my face before I left, and in a hurry.

I’m not the only person currently being targeted for their refusal to keep quiet about left wing antisemitism. But it’s not going to stop me.

Because we are living through a defining moment for the left. It is being actively colonised by the online far right: their tropes are increasingly adapted to the “anti-imperialist” ideology pushed by Leninists, and to the “settler-colonialist” theories fashionable in USA liberal arts colleges. 

As a result, there are people active in left-wing politics whose worldview has become structured around antisemitic conspiracy theories: for example, that the Grenfell fire was in some way connected to Israel and the Rothschild family; or that Israel itself planned the October 7 atrocities as an excuse to commit genocide in Gaza. 

The challenge for everyone active in solidarity with the Palestinians is to learn how to protect ourselves from such ideas; to understand the threat they pose and the actions they can lead to. Because this is not happening by accident: left wing antisemitism has a long and unacknowledged history. 

It was built into anarchism, whose 19th-century figurehead Mikhail Bakunin railed against “the Yids”. It scars the early writings of Karl Marx, who – though being ethnically Jewish – shared the Enlightenment prejudice that Jewishness is defined by “egoism”, “huckstering” and worship of money. 

Eugen Dühring, the Berlin economist who tutored the first generation of German social-democrats in the 1870s, was an advocate of antisemitic socialism. In the 1890s, during the Dreyfus affair, numerous French left wingers sided with the far right against the victimised Jewish officer. The historian Zeev Sternhell documented the roots of early fascism in these ostensibly left-nationalist ideologies.

But it was Stalin who put rocket boosters under left antisemitism. Not only did he suppress the work of journalists documenting the specifically anti-Jewish character of the Holocaust. In the late 1940s the USSR began a campaign against “international Zionism” which grew into a full-blown purge of Jews in Poland after the six day war of 1967.

Anyone who thinks left wing antisemitism is rooted only in recent outrage against Israel, and can be easily addressed by “minding your language”, should study this history carefully. 

The USSR spent decades planting the themes now flourishing in the global left: that Zionism and fascism are twins; that Zionists collaborated not just with the Holocaust but with the mass murder of Slavs in eastern Europe; that Zionism is an international conspiracy supporting Apartheid in South Africa, white supremacy in the USA and anti-indigenous racism in Latin America.

Stalinism, in short, authored most of the antisemitic tropes that are in use today. For certain, opposition to Zionism is not antisemitic per se. But when you hear “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism” you have to understand that for decades “anti-Zionism” was designed to play a precisely antisemitic function by a major global power.

Though the Russian government publicly repudiated such propaganda in 1991, these themes are today being regurgitated by pro-Putin figures both on the far left and far right. For certain, there is antisemitism being promoted by Islamist groups, including Hamas’ proxies in the west; but the lineage of “the Rothschilds caused Grenfell” originates closer to home.

I covered the war in Gaza in 2014. I saw and documented what I believe to be Israeli war crimes and was attacked for this by IDF spokespeople. This time around I called, in these pages, for a ceasefire long before the Labour leadership did. I opposed the Israeli invasion of Gaza and warned it would end in a bloodbath of civilians. I call today for the Israelis to lift the blockade of Gaza, investigate breaches of international law by their own soldiers, and refrain from attacking Rafah.

But I am persona non grata for a section of the far left because, at the same time, I have supported Israel’s right to defend itself and free the hostages, and critiqued left ideologies that want to destroy Israel on the grounds of its “settler-colonial” status.

I can tell you from experience: this is hard work. And I perfectly understand why others in public life want to avoid it. But I don’t think it’s tenable to stay out of the fight against left wing antisemitism. Because, like it or not, it will be a theme in the coming election.

Yes, the “cranks” and outright nutters are in a minority. Yes, the vast majority of those mobilised in solidarity with the Palestinians are good, progressive people, who are motivated by legitimate humanitarian concerns.

But the poison is in the bloodstream and – during the six months of the Gaza conflict it’s got worse, not better.

What to do is simple. Speak out. Isolate and quarantine the antisemites – stop sharing spaces with them; stop treating them like an eccentric relative best ignored. They are the enemies of the principles on which socialism and social democracy are founded.

As they go down to defeat, no matter how much bile they direct at you, you will feel better.

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

See inside the All chewed up edition

Shadow chancellor 
Rachel Reeves 
provided a frank 
analysis on where 
the country has 
gone wrong in her 
recent Mais Lecture. Photo: Leon Neal/

Can Britain be honest with itself?

Rachel Reeves will need to confront failures that others have ignored

Photo: Andrea Renault/Star Max/GC Images

Trump’s day in court

It's hard to believe anything could prevent Trump from becoming the Republican nominee, and perhaps the president