Theo Hobson

The unspoken cause of Labour’s anti-Semitism problem

The unspoken cause of Labour's anti-Semitism problem
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There is another cause of Labour’s anti-Semitism. It is not just that Israel is seen as the last vestige of western imperialism, and that Jews are still suspected of running global finance. It is also that many on the left hate religion, and Judaism is, in some ways, the most intense face of religion.

But surely it is far less threatening to the secularist than Christianity or Islam, as it does not seek universal uptake? True, but as the parent of these other monotheisms, it is seen as having a special culpability. Christians and Muslims can be seen as wannabe Jews – they have been infected by the Jewish God-bug.

The rationalists of the Enlightenment era saw Judaism as an intolerable affront. Even the Jewish ones – that era was bookended by Spinoza and Marx, who both saw their inherited religion as the antithesis of true universalism. Such rationalists echoed the Protestant attack on Catholicism, on the grounds of its ritualism and legalism. Judaism seemed to hold to these vices even more stubbornly – ritualism and legalism seemed grimly fused in circumcision. 

Judaism therefore went against the story of reason softening religion, reforming it. It seemed like the evil fairy godmother, cursing the birth of rational universalism. ‘Your post-religious redemption story is flimsy’, it seemed to say: ‘we have the true story of moral purpose in history, and it’s tied to these rituals and laws that offend you. It’s not dilutable.’ In other words, rational universalism has an inbuilt aversion to Judaism – the strange old religion is both its stubborn opposite, and its disapproving grandparent.