The right wing Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh recently castigated the “hard left” for their strident opposition to capitalism. She told Radio 4 presenter, John Humphrys that “anti-capitalist politics are at the root of antisemitism.” Humphrys is no friend of the Left, but was taken aback. He asked her whether she believed that “to be anti-capitalist you have to be antisemitic.” Astonishingly, she replied, ”Yes”.
It was an appalling slur by a Labour politician on everyone who is consciously fighting poverty, austerity, homelessness, and zero hours contracts in capitalist Britain, to label them antisemitic, but it also revealed the ignorant and harmful stereotypes that are actually shared by right-wingers about Jews, even those that think of themselves as pro-Jewish. McDonagh thinks all Jews are rich capitalists.
More traditional right-wingers go further. They portray Jews as money-obsessed individuals who not only flaunt their wealth but use it to control the media and governments. But in the planet’s largest capitalist empire, it was an avaricious Episcopalian Christian capitalist who moulded these ideas into a Jewish conspiracy theory in the 1920s. Henry Ford, founder of a global car-industry, spread this poison through his widely read publication, Dearborn Independent. He blamed the First World War on an international plot by Jewish bankers and heavily promoted the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a document forged by the secret police in Tsarist Russia in which Jewish financiers and revolutionaries allegedly plot world domination.
Ford’s chief admirer in Europe, Adolf Hitler, denounced left-wing political enemies as “Judeo-Bolsheviks”. His Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels declared that “Yiddish is the secret language of Bolshevism.”
McDonagh could defend her comments though, by citing Jews who themselves identify the Jewish community in general with capitalism, property and banking, and cast the left as anti-capitalist antisemites.
Richard Mather, who writes for several Jewish and Israeli publications, argued in the Jerusalem Post (June 2017) that: “the British Labour Party’s call for the seizure of property,” was “part and parcel of the antisemitic class warfare politics …increasingly prevalent in England.”
The chief perpetrator, though, is former Daily Express leader writer, Stephen Pollard,
editor of the Jewish Chronicle since 2008.
Last September, Jeremy Corbyn released a video with a tweet: “Ten years ago today the financial crash began. The people who caused it now call me a threat. They’re right. Labour is a threat to a damaging and failed system rigged for the few.”
Pollard tweeted in response: “I keep thinking it can’t be, surely it can’t be. But the more I think about It, the more it seems it really is. This is ‘nudge, nudge, you know who I’m talking about don’t you?’ And yes I do. It’s appalling”
I tweeted “Stephen Pollard and Jeremy Corbyn. One of them seems to think all bankers are Jews. Clue: it is not Jeremy Corbyn.”
Two weeks later the Jewish Chronicle published an article with the extraordinary title: “The thought of Jeremy Corbyn as PM has Jewish investors running for the hills”. It was written by Alex Brummer, a frequent contributor to the Daily Mail. The Mail supported Mosley and Hitler in the 1930s, and, in 2013 expressed its own “nudge, nudge” antisemitism by excoriating Labour leader Ed Miliband’s dead father, as an unpatriotic east European refugee from the Nazis insufficiently grateful to Britain for giving him sanctuary.
In my 61 years I’ve never met a Jewish banker. I’ve met unemployed Jews, Jewish decorators, post-office workers, van drivers, taxi drivers, shopworkers, social workers, secretaries, teachers, pharmacists, and several comedians. One Jewish comedian Arnold Brown, from an impoverished Glasgow family, remembered school pupils who sneered at him and told him all Jews have loads of money. He said “I went home and started lifting up the floorboards.”
More seriously, the stereotype of Jews, money, and financial control are crucial to the far-right, who flood the internet with world Jewish conspiracy theories, as they try to divert anger among those who suffer the brutal injustices of capitalism, not against the capitalist class as a whole, but against individual Jewish representatives of that system, whether Rothschild, Goldman Sachs, or George Soros. From populist right wing regimes in Poland and Hungary through to Donald Trump, the Hungarian Jew George Soros has been accused of using his money to support migrants and refugees and finance anti-government demonstrations.
When McDonagh, Mather and Pollard repeat stereotypes of Jews as capitalists, they not only feed these conspiracy theories, but also erase an outstanding tradition of Jewish anti-capitalism. People know the famous Jewish revolutionaries, like Marx, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemberg, Emma Goldman, but it was in mass Jewish workers’ movements such as the Bund, and among the Jews so numerous in socialist and communist parties over the last 120 years, that anti-capitalism was ingrained. In 1902, a Russian Jewish bookbinder, Semyon Ansky, wrote a Yiddish song to honour the Bund’s struggles for social justice. The movement adopted it as its anthem. One powerful verse translates as:
“We swear to the heavens a bloody hatred against those who murder and rob the working class. The Tsar, the rulers, the capitalists – we swear that they will all be devastated and destroyed. An oath, an oath, of life and death.”
Today, I will march and speak for the Jewish Socialists’ Group on the national demonstration in London against racism and fascism. We will protest against all racism including the antisemitism that has resurfaced menacingly, especially in central and eastern Europe, but also, as last September’s Pittsburgh synagogue massacre demonstrated, in Trump’s America.
At street level, far right organisations concentrate physical attacks more frequently on Muslims, Roma, migrants and refugees, but when they want to explain to their supporters who they believe holds power in the world they fall back on Jewish conspiracy theories as surely today as they did in the 1930s. The fight against antisemitism, Islamophobia and anti-migrant propaganda are absolutely linked and we must combat them together.
This article was published in the Morning Star 16th March 2019