They’re at it again: the Jewish conspiracy to take over the world is back in session. The former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad’s recent claim that the modern-day Elders of Zion ‘now rule the world by proxy’ not only garnered loud applause at the summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), but most likely earned silent nods of approval worldwide. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the oldest hatred has been making a global comeback, culminating in 2002 with the highest number of anti-Semitic attacks in 12 years. According to public opinion polls conducted that same year, 28 per cent of people in Austria think that Jews are more willing than others to use ‘shady practices’ to get what they want, while in the United Kingdom 21 per cent believe that Jews have too much power in the business world.
Why now? Rising hostility toward Israel is certainly a significant factor. And when the United States attacked Iraq, anti-Semitism climbed on the bandwagon of the anti-war movement and rising anti-Americanism. How else to explain a war against a country that had never attacked the United States, it was argued, if not for a cabal of Jewish neocon advisers who had hoodwinked the US President into conquering Iraq to safeguard Israel? It is no coincidence that last month’s Euro-barometer poll ranked the United States just behind Israel as the greatest threat to world peace.
But another element of the new anti-Semitism, which has little to do with Middle East politics, is often overlooked: the backlash against globalisation. The timeframe for this resurgence of Judaeophobia corresponds with the intensification of international links that has been taking place since the 1990s. As public anxiety has grown over lost jobs, shaky economies, and political and social upheaval, Third World leaders, right-wing demagogues and left-wing activists are seeking solace in conspiracy theories. And in their search for the hidden hand that guides the new world order, modern anxieties are merging with old hatreds and the myths on which they rest.
Throughout the Middle East, where economic growth remains stagnant everywhere but Israel, Islamists and secular nationalists alike portray globalisation as the latest in a series of US–Zionist plots to subjugate the Arab world to Western economic control and erase its cultural borders. Elsewhere in the developing world where, as the 1997 Asian crisis revealed, damaging financial contagion can sweep through nations in a matter of weeks, resentment against the perceived power of international financial institutions has created familiar scapegoats. The 19th century had its Rothschilds; the current era has had Lawrence Summers and Robert Rubin at the US Treasury Department, James Wolfensohn at the World Bank and Stanley Fischer at the International Monetary Fund. The spokesman for the Jamaat-i-Islami political party in Pakistan complained, ‘Most anything bad that happens, prices going up, whatever, this can usually be attributed to the IMF and the World Bank, which are synonymous with the United States. And who controls the United States? The Jews do.’
Echoes of that view are heard in the West, where anxiety over globalisation provides opportunities for far-Right political parties to exploit the fears of those who see their way of life threatened by migrants from the developing world, and who believe their sovereignty is besieged by regional trade pacts and monetary union. In Russia and Eastern Europe, ultra-nationalists and communist stalwarts have formed an ideological alliance against foreign investors and multinational corporations, identifying Jews as the capitalist carpetbaggers sacking their national heritage.
In their war against globalisation, the far Right has also found common cause with the new Left. Matt Hale, the leader of the US white supremacist World Church of the Creator, praised the 1999 anti-globalisation protesters in Seattle for shutting down ‘talks of the Jew World Order’. A bizarre ideological turf war has broken out, as anti-globalisation activists find themselves fighting a two-front battle, simultaneously protesting against the WTO, IMF and World Bank, while organising impromptu counter-protests against far-Right extremists who gatecrash their rallies.
Although the anti-globalisation movement isn’t inherently anti-Semitic, it shouldn’t be surprised that it attracts the likes of Matt Hale. The movement enables anti-Semitism by peddling conspiracy theories. In its eyes, globalisation is less a process than a plot hatched behind closed doors by a handful of unaccountable bureaucrats and corporations. Underlying the movement’s humanistic goals of universal social justice is a current of fear-mongering — the IMF, the WTO, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Multilateral Agreement on Investment are portrayed not just as exploiters of the developing world, but as supranational instruments to undermine our sovereignty.
Unfortunately, conspiracy theories must always have a conspirator, and all too often the conspirators are perceived to be Jews. It takes but a small step to cross the line dividing the two world-views. ‘If I told you I thought the world was controlled by a handful of capitalists and corporate bosses, you would say I was a left-winger,’ an anarchist demonstrator told the online Russian publication Pravda. ‘But if I told you who I thought the capitalists and corporate bosses were, you’d say I was far Right.’
As such, the far Right and the new Left are not simply plagiarising one another’s ideas, they’re frequently reading from the same page. In Canada, a lecture by the anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist and slightly unhinged ‘Son of God’ David Icke was advertised in leftie magazines such as Shared Vision and Common Ground. (‘Canadians voted down free trade and we got it anyway,’ said one woman who saw the advertisements and attended the event. ‘So there has to be something to that.’) far-Right nationalists, such as former skinhead Jaroslaw Tomasiewicz, have infiltrated the Polish branch of the international anti-globalisation organisation ATTAC. The British Fascist party includes among its list of recommended readings the works of left-wing anti-globalists George Monbiot and Noam Chomsky.
The new Left and far Right share another common cause: opposition to Israel. The Jewish state enjoys a unique pariah status among the anti-globalisation movement because it is viewed as the world’s sole remaining colonialist state — an exploitative, capitalist enclave created by Western powers in the heart of the developing world. Israel is ‘putting in place —with the support of the World Bank — a series of neoliberal measures intended to integrate the Middle East into globalised production circuits, through the exploitation of cheap Palestinian labour,’ says the French anti-globalist Jose Bove. Likewise, the British leftist firebrand George Galloway — who describes Israel as one of the West’s most important ‘imperial’ assets — signed and endorsed the 2002 Cairo Declaration against globalisation and the US-led war in Iraq, which declared that the United States intended to partition the Arab world to ‘enable Israel to become the dominant regional power within the framework of the Middle East Project, to the peril of an Arab project of equitable development and regional unity’.
Opposing the policies of the Israeli government does not make the new Left anti-Semitic. But a movement campaigning for global social justice makes a mockery of itself by singling out just the Jewish state for condemnation. Worldwide, protesters carry signs that compare Sharon to Hitler, while waving Israeli flags where the Star of David has b een replaced with the swastika. Such displays portray Israel as the sole perpetrator of violence, ignoring the hundreds of Israelis who have died in suicide bombings and the role of the Palestinian Authority in fomenting the conflict. And equating Israel with the Third Reich is the basest form of Holocaust revisionism, sending the message that the only ‘solution’ to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is nothing less than the complete destruction of the Jewish state.
Like the anti-globalist Left, far-Right activists have also embraced their own form of anticolonialism. For them, globalisation is synonymous with ‘mongrelisation’, an attempt to mix races and cultures and destroy unique heritages. When the Birkenstock crowd preaches the virtues of ‘localisation’, a hearty amen echoes among the brownshirts, who seek to insulate their countries against the twin evils of human migration and foreign capital. The far Right sees nationalist movements and indigenous rights groups as allies in the assault against the multiculturalism of the new world order. And it sees the Palestinians, in particular, as a resistance movement against the modern-day Elders of Zion.
In his OIC speech, Mahathir claimed that Jews invented socialism so that they could enjoy equal rights with others. But Mahathir and others like him have merely reinvented an age-old canard that blames Jews for the ills of capitalism. A century ago, the German sociologist August Bebel had a name for it: the socialism of fools.
Mark Strauss is a senior editor at Foreign Policy magazine, where a longer version of this article appears in the November/ December 2003 issue.