Saturday, January 29th | 27 Shevat 5782

October 14, 2016 7:03 am

Red, Green and Brown: Communists, Islamists, Nazis — and Jews

avatar by Fred Baumann

A demonstration in Seattle by the anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for Peace. Photo: Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons.

A demonstration in Seattle by the anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for Peace. Photo: Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons.

A recent letter published in The New York Times by a certain Naomi Dann, who represents Jewish Voice for Peace and who claims to speak for “a coalition of Palestinian civil society groups,” states three demands: the end of the “occupation” of lands seized in 1967, full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and the right to return for refugees. Obviously, Dann has to know that unilateral withdrawal without peace would greatly endanger Israel. Probably she knows that the second demand is chutzpah-laden. Arab Israelis are full citizens of a functioning (if imperfect) liberal democracy, while Palestinians in Arab countries are treated even worse than the ordinary subjects of their kings and tyrants. And Dann cannot help but know that the last, innocent-sounding demand would mean the destruction of Israel and Arab rule over six million Jews. And that means rule by Arabs whose leadership’s stated program is eliminationist genocide (Hamas) or something not much short of it (the Palestinian Authority).

Her letter is, in short, a tribute to the capacity of the Western hard Left to make mass murder sound reasonable to the uninformed (Well done, Dann!). It is the function of the Western hard Left to launder, like dirty money, brutal threats (and efforts) to kill as many Jews as possible, into mild and plausible demands for equal rights. This is the one thing it does very well. Of course, it has had a lot of practice, going back to apologias for tyrants like Stalin, Mao and Castro. Indeed, the hard Left’s capacity for cosmetic remakes of totalitarian regimes and murderous political movements ought to allow it to retire the Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. The purpose has from the beginning been to secure the support of naïve liberals, what Lenin is said to have called “useful idiots,” for wildly illiberal causes. And, until the movements and regimes have discredited themselves unmistakably, even in the eyes of the guileless, these apologists have typically had considerable success. In this case, without such “voices for peace” not only would the Jewish state be considerably more secure, but high-minded, well-meaning liberal Jews in this country would not find themselves so conflicted and tongue-tied about defending Israel against its slanderers.

It isn’t hard to figure out why the hard Left so enthusiastically supports movements that on the surface seem to stand for everything it claims to hate. Its great enemy is “capitalism,” i.e. the liberal world order created after World War II by the United States. Its old rooting interest, the Soviet Union, fell of its own disastrous incompetence and was discredited long before it fell. The efforts in the second half of the 20th century to find new champions in Mao or Castro — or even, absurdly, in middle class college students — came to naught, so all that was left was a fantasized, abstract “Third World” made up of all “post-colonial” peoples who somehow, despite the vast differences among them, were to become the instrument of revenge for Western leftists against the society that had, for the most part, nurtured them and brought those very people material if not spiritual success. So any such ally had to be embraced, no matter how overtly hostile to the Left itself it was, even reactionary Islamists or revanchist (Arab) nationalists. The contemporary hard Left thus continually repeats the folly of the German communists in 1933 who refused to support the Social Democrats against Hitler, because, as they put it, “after Hitler, us.” Mao’s concept of the “primary enemy” means that alliances with “secondary enemies” are just fine, if they promote the necessary catastrophe that will bring about utopia. This combination of utopian hope with Machiavellian cynicism is a very old story indeed.

But there is perhaps more to it than that. Cynical hypocrisy is one thing. It is cold, calculating, realistic. When, as with the radical Left, it mates with romantic, utopian enthusiasm and then, for tactical reasons, allies with other crazed and utopian movements (even if the ideological programs may be wholly opposed to each other), something of an “elective affinity” is formed, a spark of kinship leaps across the doctrines, a chemical bond is formed. A deeper kinship than ideology is discovered, one that is at least latent in all utopian movements, namely the love of sacred violence, sanctioned by the ultimate goodness of the ends sought, whatever they may be. (JVP spokespeople refuse to call Hamas a “terrorist” group, reserving that label, instead, for the United States.) There are pacifists who would never themselves kill a fly, but who will, with every appearance of deep moral compassion, justify those who murder Jews by blaming Israel for having driven them to it.  To adopt Freudian language, it is as though their ids, repressed by their all-too-severe superegos, get sanctioned release (and revenge) in the name of those who have no self-restraint at all. I have suspected in some cases that the pacifist perhaps lives and rejoices vicariously in the crimes of those she excuses. If this is hypocrisy it is at best semi-conscious, what Sartre calls “bad faith” and not calculating at all.

In Germany during the 1930’s, there was a joke that referred to all the working class communists who had become Nazis out of fear or interest. “Why is a Nazi like a roast beef?” Answer: “Brown [the Nazi color] on the outside, red on the inside.” I’ve often thought there should be a contemporary equivalent. Maybe: “Why is a progressive like a rotten apple?” Answer: “Red on the outside, brown on the inside.” Or maybe, when thinking about today’s “Red/Green alliance” (between communists, socialists and Islamists) it is useful to remember what happens when you mix those two colors in equal proportions.  That’s right: you get brown. And then, what better to seal the bond of pigments than to turn, once again…on the Jews?

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