The European Left’s Dangerous Anti-Immigrant Turn

Good overview of how far the centre has shifted:
Denmark’s center-left Social Democrats came in first in the country’s June 5 parliamentary elections—the third Nordic country where voters recently backed a left-leaning party in a Europe otherwise marked by social democracy’s decline.

Wednesday’s outcome broke with the past two decades of Danish politics. Social Democrats leader Mette Frederiksen, 41, became the country’s youngest-ever prime minister and the second woman to hold the job. Her party’s success—91 of the parliament’s 179 seats—upended a political landscape long dominated by the right. And on the heels of the European Parliament elections, in which populist, xenophobic parties saw important gains in France, Hungary, Italy, and Poland, the far-right Danish People’s Party saw its votes cut by more than half, after an unprecedented score in 2015.

But this week’s vote says less about the far right’s demise than about its steady creep into the mainstream. In something of a paradox, the center left returned to the scene only by lurching to the right. The Social Democrats, faced with waning support in the past two decades, have parroted the Danish People’s Party on immigration, backing hard-line policies they characterize as necessary to save the country’s prized welfare state.

Social-democratic parties across Europe have opted for that strategy, but in Denmark the dynamic is particularly pronounced. “While other social-democratic parties have adopted tougher immigration laws in times of ‘crisis’ and used anti-immigration and Islamophobic language, no party has so openly ran on a nativist and welfare-chauvinist agenda as the Danish Social Democrats,” Cas Mudde, a political scientist at the University of Georgia who specializes on populism, said by e-mail.

Take, for example, the so-called “ghetto package,” a series of policies aimed at improving integration and reducing crime in low-income areas that the state categorizes as “ghettos” because, among other criteria, more than half of their residents are of “non-Western” background. The package, introduced by the Danish People’s Party but backed by the Social Democrats, included measures ethnic minorities consider discriminatory: One law doubles punishments for crimes committed in “ghettos”; another requires “ghetto children” from age 1 to 6, the age when public education is required for the general population, to attend mandatory courses in Danish values and traditions, as well as language courses. Families that refuse to comply risk being stripped of government benefits.

The “ghetto package” is among the slew of policies targeting immigrants—particularly Muslims—that Denmark has embraced in the past few years, often with the Social Democrats’ support. These include a 2016 law that allows authorities to seize cash and valuables from asylum-seekers ostensibly to help the state finance their benefits, or a 2018 ban on the burqa—the full-face veil worn by only about 200 Muslim women nationwide. A law making handshakes a mandatory requirement for citizenship followed, clearly targeting Muslims who refuse to shake hands with the opposite sex. Plans are underway to isolate foreigners who have criminal records and served their sentences—asylum-seekers among them—on a far-off island, currently home to a center for researching highly communicable animal diseases. In 2005, the government required UN resettlement to be based on “integration potential,” and in 2016 it withdrew from the UN resettlement program entirely, with the Social Democrats’ support.

“The Social Democrats have made it very clear: They realize they’ve lost elections since the late 1990s by being outflanked by the right on immigration,” Rune Stubager, a political scientist at Aarhus University, told me. “They knew they’d have to change their position on the issue to win.”

The Social Democrats’ rightward shift has earned it the moniker “Danish People’s Party lite” among some Danes, disillusioned with what they see as the party’s betrayal of its progressive ideals. “There’s no question: They saw that, without anti-Islam as a central part of their platform, they have no chance of success,” Naveed Baig, an imam and the vice-chair of the Islamic-Christian Study Center in Copenhagen, told me, noting that Islam and immigration have become synonymous in current political debates. The climate has become so toxic, he said, that some Muslim families have considered leaving Denmark altogether.

Natasha Al-Hariri, a lawyer and minority-rights advocate, agreed. “It’s disturbing to see Frederiksen in the prime-minister spot,” she said. “She’ll adopt whatever position gets the most votes, even if that means aligning with the far right. When is enough enough?”

The Social Democrats say they’ll stick to their new line on immigration, which they describe as critical to maintaining Denmark’s welfare state, one of the most robust in Europe. “We need to have enough money and enough room in our country, to take care of our citizens,” Nanna Grave Poulsen, a party chairwoman, told me. “All of our immigration policies need to be put in the context of the welfare issue.”

But the number of migrants and asylum-seekers Denmark has admitted has actually declined in recent years, and its overall acceptance rate has been far below the EU average. The country’s economy is strong, and research indicates that strains to the welfare state stem from an aging population, not migrants, refugees, or Danes of “non-Western background.”

The mainstreaming of far-right views—and anti-immigrant rhetoric’s ability to capture the national attention—is evident in the emergence of two new parties to the right of the Danish People’s Party: the Hard Line and the New Right, the latter of which managed to enter parliament, just exceeding the 2 percent threshold. In the months leading up to the elections, the media fixated on Hard Line leader Rasmus Paludan, a lawyer who campaigned on a platform to deport all Danish Muslims. Paludan sparked riots in April when he threw the Quran in the air and let it hit the ground during a rally in a multicultural neighborhood in the capital. Since then, the state has spent around $6 million protecting him at his campaign rallies, during which he burns the Quran or stuffs it with bacon.

Although Paludan’s Hard Line didn’t end up entering the parliament, the media’s focus on his provocations propelled him to national significance. Before the April riots, he had garnered only around 5,000 of the 20,000 signatures necessary to present his candidacy; in the days that followed, he managed to multiply his following and enter the race.

The Hard Line and New Right have both solidified the Danish People’s Party’s position as a mainstream party and undermined its appeal. “It’s terrifying that these Nazis, knocking on Parliament’s door, make the Danish People’s Party look ‘meh,’” Al-Hariri said. “But at the same time, it would be incorrect to say it’s not part of the establishment.”

“All the focus on Paludan squeezed the Danish People’s Party, which suddenly seemed moderate on immigration,” Karina Kosaria-Pedersen, a political scientist at the University of Copenhagen, told me. Electorally speaking, the party’s transformation—from the margins to the mainstream—didn’t work in its favor. Its cooperation with major parties and success in dictating immigration policies made it look “more like the elite it had claimed to challenge,” she said. That new dynamic, plus an ongoing scandal over allegations of misused EU funds, have curbed the party’s steady ascent.

The Social Democrats, the clear winners of this political climate, now have to determine just how they will govern. The party has stood fast on its immigration policies. “We don’t want to lose the voters we’ve managed to take away from the far right,” Poulsen, the party chairwoman, told me. But it has also moved to the left on welfare and the environment, two critical issues for Danes. Accordingly, Prime Minister–elect Frederiksen rejected a proposal from the outgoing prime minister to enter a “grand coalition” with his conservative Liberals party, which won 75 seats. Instead, Frederiksen intends to form a minority government, working with parties across the spectrum on an ad hoc, issue-specific basis.

That won’t be easy. “She will be at odds with the left-wing parties, who want her to make concessions on immigration,” Stubager, the political scientist, said. She’s also likely to clash with conservative parties, who seek concessions on the economy; during their campaign, the Social Democrats promised to increase public spending, raise taxes on the wealthy, and make it easier for Danes to take early retirement after 40 years in the labor force. “It’s going to be a lengthy negotiation process,” Stubager said.

Stubager expects left-wing parties to “tie her down,” attempting to block Frederiksen from cooperating with the right on immigration. “They haven’t made it easy for themselves,” he said. “But I’m convinced that without their move on immigration, they wouldn’t have performed as well.’”

One Social Democrat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the party’s slide had cemented Islamophobia into the center of Danish politics, but that Denmark wasn’t alone in this. “When it comes to our debate on immigration, the far right has won,” she told me. “The left has lost. The center has lost. This is true all over Europe.”

Source: The European Left’s Dangerous Anti-Immigrant Turn

How The Jewish Left Learned To Stop Playing Defense And Fight Anti-Semitism

While I don’t follow the UK debates in detail, I found this commentary of interest:

It is no surprise that the British Labour party would ask an anti-Zionist to help fight anti-Semitism. Labor’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has long supported the Palestinian cause, and facing a long-running scandal over Jew hatred in Labor, it is natural that the British Left would turn to the Jewish Left. Indeed, Corbyn has long been friendly with Jewdas, the irreverent, non-Zionist left-wing group whose member, Annie Cohen, led an “interactive workshop” to “raise awareness of anti-Semitism” to a branch of Labor.

Rather, the surprise is that the Jewish Left is now in the business of offering anti-Semitism workshops.

For many years, the Left has responded to allegations of anti-Semitism defensively. The Left traditionally argues that claims of anti-Semitism are used cynically to delegitimize criticisms of the Israeli government.

I would know: I have made this argument many times.

Ours was a reactive analysis of anti-Semitism, which ceded the term to the Right and then frantically played defense, trying to stave off Leon Wieseltier’s or Abe Foxman’s assaults on this or that progressive figure.

But over the last five years, a younger, radical segment of the Jewish left has positively embraced the term “anti-Semitism” — along with fighting it.

These lefties, associated with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), IfNotNow, and portions of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), put anti-Semitism at the center of their political practice. “We show up for ourselves,” IfNotNow’s principles announce. “We acknowledge the existence of anti-Jewish oppression, in the world and in ourselves.”

And indeed, the group regularly runs trainings on internalized anti-Semitism. This is startling and audacious, given that for decades, “self-hating Jew” has been the term of abuse right-wingers use for critics of the Occupation.

Moreover, these groups tell a clear, coherent story about what anti-Semitism is, a story that is fully compatible with non- or anti-Zionism and which fits Jews into the Left’s broader analyses of class, race and gender.

The Left can talk about anti-Semitism in part because of the surge of right-wing anti-Semitism, especially since Donald Trump’s election. White nationalists are chanting, “Jews will not replace us,” and George Soros has become the object of conservative conspiracy theories.

Such circumstances have eroded the link that the Right forged over the last half-century between anti-Semitism and Israeli politics.

When you ask a millennial to picture an anti-Semite, we imagine not a left-wing Muslim but an alt-right white man.

But the shift on the Left goes deeper than momentary politics, because it reflects a new theory and philosophy of anti-Semitism.

I first encountered that theory in April Rosenblum’s 2007 pamphlet, “The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere,” which I read as a college student. Rosenblum argued that anti-Semitism had emerged from medieval Christianity, and that Jews provided ruling elites, whether in feudal Europe or under global capitalism, a convenient scapegoat for their crimes. She thus integrated thinking about anti-Semitism into the Left’s broader account of how power works across many axes of oppression.

Flash forward to 2017, when JFREJ released “Understanding Anti-Semitism: An Offering to Our Movement.” The document, which quotes Rosenblum, also extends her analysis: “Originating in European Christianity,” anti-Semitism has “functioned to protect the prevailing economic system and the almost exclusively Christian ruling class by diverting blame for hardship onto Jews.”

That is, Jewish middlemen make convenient targets for the rage of the oppressed. JFREJ also connects anti-Semitism to Islamophobia, showing how stereotypes about Jews and Muslims are parallel and intertwined.

In short, the document crafts a usable account of Jewish identity, one that places our history in a larger context of racial and economic exploitation and oppression.

Most notably, while JFREJ does take the standard line on Israel (“Criticisms of Israel and Zionism are not inherently or inevitably anti-Jewish), that gets only a page or two out of forty-four. They are consciously crafting a broader definition of anti-Semitism, one in which Israel politics are mostly a distraction. “Confronting antisemitism,” the pamphlet concludes, “is a necessary precondition for collective liberation.”

You can see the struggle between the two Left views of anti-Semitism playing out within an organization like JVP. The edited collection they released in 2017, “On anti-Semitism,” often seems at war with itself. Some of the essays emphasize the ephemerality of anti-Semitism, or the role of the Israeli government in exaggerating the problem of Left anti-Semitism and discrediting pro-Palestinian advocacy. One essay even declares that there is no anti-Semitism, strictly speaking, in the United States: anti-Jewish prejudice, sure, but no structural oppression of Jews.

On the other hand, many of the contributions of younger Jews were enthusiastic about fighting anti-Semitism, which they placed alongside homophobia, classism, and racism as a basic category of radical analysis. (It bears saying that much of the new theory of anti-Semitism comes from queer Jews and Jews of Color, who often do not enjoy the privileges of the white, mainstream American Jewry and who naturally speak the language of intersectional oppression.)

The JVP collection didn’t say much that was new, but it was fascinating as an index of the two, opposed impulses on the Left: to minimize the significance of anti-Semitism and to see it everywhere; to see it largely as ploy by the Israeli Right and to see it as fundamentally baked into Western civilization.

I have some worries about the new narrative of anti-Semitism. For many white Jews, I think, it is all too convenient to rediscover our own oppression at a moment when our whiteness and privilege make us increasingly uncomfortable.

The liberal interest in Steve Bannon’s alleged anti-Semitism seemed to me very odd: no one in the Trump administration is talking of deporting Jews or banning circumcision, after all.

This is not a critique of JFREJ or IfNotNow, both of which aim to be intentional and careful about race; it is rather my nervousness about how this new narrative circulates in the broader culture.

I have seen too many Facebook declarations to the effect of “I’m not white, I’m Jewish” to be entirely comfortable with re-emphasizing Jewish oppression.

Nonetheless, I think that a broader, proactive analysis of anti-Semitism is the better of the two options for the Left.

Our longstanding defensive posture on anti-Semitism largely failed, for obvious tactical reasons. It was fundamentally reactive, it allowed our opponents to set the terms of the debate, and it meant we were constantly apologizing for perceived faults.

The new Left approach to anti-Semitism, by contrast, puts the Right on the defensive. It is positive and aggressive.

Moreover, it offers Jews a usable identity in the age of Trump: a story in which the struggle for social justice is not merely a Jewish value, but a necessity for Jewish survival.

Source: How The Jewish Left Learned To Stop Playing Defense And Fight Anti-Semitism

The Right’s Reckless Racial Agitators: Noah Rothman

Good commentary by Rothman. Largely a “plague on both houses” on liberal and conservative hypocrisy regarding their respective extremists, he is particularly pointed in his critique on conservatives:

Like so many terrible things, it all began with a broken window.

Stewards of the historic Metropolitan Republican Club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side awoke on the morning of October 12 to see their institution vandalized. A brick had shattered two windows. The front locks were caulked shut. The entryway keypad was smashed. And the building’s two oversize wooden doors had been marred by graffiti—the anarchist’s wreathed “A.”

Source: The Right’s Reckless Racial Agitators

The shame of antisemitism on the left has a long, malign history: Philip Spencer

Good historical context:

So, we’re back to the “Jewish Question”? The current antisemitism crisis on the left has not come out of nowhere. Instead, it has its roots in a tradition on the left itself, which, at best, has always had difficulty in responding swiftly to antisemitism and, at worst, excused or condoned, even promoted it. It is not, of course, the only tradition on the left, but unless we understand this history, we won’t get very far in resolving today’s crisis.

We need, above all, to think about why some on the left have always seen Jews as a problem and why they have helped the idea of a “Jewish Question” to re-emerge with such potency. At root is the thought that if antisemitism exists, it must have something to do with how Jews supposedly behave. That supposed behaviour may be described in different ways – sometimes it has an economic character, sometimes a social one, sometimes a political one. But what is common is the idea that Jews are to blame for antisemitism and that to protest against them is understandable, or even necessary.

This first became a serious problem on the left in the late 19th century, as antisemitism first became a political force in the modern world. Some on the left flirted with the response that there might be something progressive about antisemitism: that it was a kind of anti-capitalism, however crude, which could be harnessed to the socialist cause. They also thought that philosemitism was more of a problem, because it supposedly encouraged Jews to make too much of (or even fabricate) antisemitism and to resist assimilation. One criticism of this approach at the time was to call it the “socialism of fools”, a problematic formulation because it suggested that antisemitism was still some kind of socialism.

As antisemitism was radicalised by the Nazis – it no longer being enough to exclude Jews when they should be wiped off the face of the Earth – this way of thinking made it difficult for too many on the left to prioritise solidarity with Jews. Neither the Social Democrats nor the Communists in Germany made opposition to antisemitism a major issue, nor did the Resistance across Europe. The fear was that to highlight the fight against antisemitism would alienate potential supporters. This is not to ignore some wonderful examples of solidarity, though the repeated invocations of Cable Street can give a misleading picture. The Communist party soon switched to loyally supporting the Hitler-Stalin pact, which effectively delivered large numbers of Jews up to the Nazis.

When the Soviet Union was finally forced to fight the Nazis, the suffering of Jews was deliberately and repeatedly downplayed. But after the war, things got much worse. The Soviet Union not only suppressed knowledge of what had been done to Jews but launched its own vicious antisemitic project, one that would have culminated in another genocide had Stalin not died.

This campaign matters because it was around this time that some key elements of today’s antisemitism on the left were first formulated. The charge laid against Jews then was that they were cosmopolitans and Zionists. This may seem like a bizarre contradiction: how can one, after all, be both a cosmopolitan and a Zionist? But what connected them is the idea that Jews are a problem, that as cosmopolitans they are more loyal to each other across national borders and, as Zionists, are loyal to another, foreign state. The charge of cosmopolitanism is heard less frequently these days, though one finds echoes of it in the idea that Jews are responsible for the evils of globalisation. The charge of Zionism, though, has now become absolutely central to today’s version of the “Jewish Question”. What began as a Stalinist cry was taken up in some on the New Left, which helped shape the world view of Jeremy Corbyn and many of his supporters.

For both Stalinists and that part of the New Left, Zionism is a racist ideology that pits the interests of Jews against the interests of everyone else. Furthermore, the state of Israel is an integral part of the western imperialist power structure that exploits and oppresses the rest of the world and the Palestinians in particular, whose land Jews have plundered and colonised and whom they keep in a state of permanent subjugation.

The Soviet Union formulated its approach within the context of the cold war, when it often appeared to support anti-colonial, national liberation struggles, although only for strategic reasons. Those on the left who (rightly if often too uncritically) supported those struggles, especially in Vietnam, where the Americans were so clearly the enemy, slipped fatally, however, into embracing this anti-Zionism into their world view, even though the Israel-Palestine conflict had such clearly different roots.

At the same time, they found it unbearable to acknowledge what was glaringly obvious – that the establishment of the state of Israel was profoundly connected to the Holocaust, which had changed everything for Jews. To integrate anti-Zionism into an anti-imperialist, anti-western, anti-American world view therefore also meant either denying or (better) reinterpreting the Holocaust. Holocaust denial is not an accidental feature of today’s antisemitism, but it is more common to downplay what happened to Jews as Jews. So the Holocaust has to be thought about only in universal terms, as only one genocide among many and one that supposedly excludes the others. (Actually, of course, it is the other way around: thinking about the Holocaust helps people think about other genocides.) Indeed, some have gone further. Not content with accusing Israel of being like apartheid South Africa, it is supposedly guilty of genocide itself… against the Palestinians.

If such purported behaviour makes people antisemitic, it is understandable and part of a fundamentally progressive view of the world, which can be harnessed to the cause. We are back then to where we started, with Jews as the problem, only with this difference: what was previously attributed to Jews inside nation states is now attributed to the Jewish state on the international stage.

There has always been, though, another tradition on the left, which has never accepted the very idea of a “Jewish Question”. What it understands is that there is a question of antisemitism; that Jews are not responsible for antisemitism but antisemites are; that Jews are not a problem but antisemites are. Antisemitism is not something that should be excused or condoned. It has to be fought wherever it shows its face, even – and sadly now more than ever – when that face is on the left.