Against the Abuse of the Issue of Antisemitism by Right Wing Media and Politicians and Their Attacks on Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech, by Ben Gidley, Daniel Mang & Daniel Randall – 20 May 2024

A statement we co-authored, published in December 2023, “For a consistently democratic and internationalist left“, highlighted the serious problem the global left has with antisemitism. We have seen how bigotry against Jews has been amplified and spread within Palestine solidarity movements. We acknowledge that Jewish communities in the diaspora are feeling vulnerable and under attack in the face of demonstrable rises in hate incidents against them since 7 October 2023. 

The struggle against both right-wing and left-wing antisemitism is undermined when those purporting to be the Jewish community’s allies throw around reckless and unjust accusations, describing legitimate criticisms of Israel as antisemitic. 

While sections of the far right have attempted (with some success) to appeal to Palestine solidarity sentiment and twist anger at actions of the Israeli state into hatred of Jews in general, other parts of the far right have, in pursuit of their own agendas, posed as allies of Israel. 

In particular, we have seen how anti-Muslim racism and resentments against migrants have been nurtured by this part of the right through unfounded blanket condemnations of minority communities as antisemitic. Such accusations have been used to further erode the already crumbling firewall between the far right and mainstream conservatism, as politicians compete to appear tough against alleged supporters of terrorism, utilising Jewish fears for their electoral gambits. 

Demonisation and criminalisation of dissent, the curtailment of academic freedom and attacks on the public university are part of a global drift towards authoritarianism.

It is vital to challenge antisemitism in the Palestine solidarity movement. 

There is also, in the current political moment, an abuse of the issue of antisemitism, as a tool in a broader multi-front authoritarian conservative culture war in Europe and Israel, the Americas and Oceania. 

Similar culture wars are being waged in other parts of the world, and strong connections exist between different antifeminist cultural currents, religious fundamentalist movements and far right groups in different parts of the world.

The particularity of the conservative culture war we are talking about here is that it conflates a range of real and imaginary academic concepts (critical theory, “cultural Marxism”, intersectionality, decolonialism, “gender ideology”, critical race theory), student radicalism, and migrant and Muslim presence in the “West” with the figure of the terrorist and the antisemite. 

Many of its motifs and modes of thought, such as the concept of “cultural Marxism”, and the notion of powerful lobbies backed by “financial elites” working to undermine “traditional values”, are themselves antisemitic.

Some organisations that are influential in student encampments do hold  antisemitic positions – such as legitimising violence against Israeli civilians and advocating the denial of collective rights to Israeli Jews. 

This does not mean all participants can simply be branded as antisemites. 

A robust defence of free speech, both within movements and in society in general, is vital to ensure critical voices can be heard and reactionary views directly challenged. 

Instead, many universities have taken a heavy-handed, repressive approach towards the student protestors. Unfortunately, many mainstream media outlets have also played a very negative role, producing simplistic and often demonising portrayals of the protests – and anyone who advocates for dialogue with the protestors.

We particularly indict the Axel Springer newspaper group, whose Bild and BZ tabloids have portrayed scholars who have spoken out against the criminalisation of protest as supporters of a “student mob”, accusing them of being hostile to Jews and trivialising indiscriminate violence – and have personalised their defamation by publishing photos of these scholars in the style of Wanted posters. 

Among those targeted are academics who have long records of researching and contesting antisemitism (including antisemitism on the left), such as Peter Ullrich, a fellow at the Centre for Research on Antisemitism in Berlin, or the internationally renowned historian of the Holocaust, Michael Wildt, highlighting the hollowness of the Springer tabloids’ purported concerns about anti-Jewish racism. 

In a time of mounting attacks on Jews, we need clarity and rigour about antisemitism. In a time when different communities find themselves targeted, we need dialogue, not division, between minorities. At a time of deepening authoritarianism and mindless flag-waving, we need to defend spaces of dissent and critical thought. At a time of dehumanising violence, we need to defend academic freedom and freedom of speech. 

Ben Gidley, Daniel Mang, Daniel Randall

To sign this Open Letter, please write to us at [email protected].