Jew-hatred in the West used to arise from viewing Jews as outsiders, aliens within Western civilization, “rootless cosmopolitans” as the old slander put it. Now, Jews are hated because they are identified with Western civilization.
As my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Devorah Goldman recently observed, “Jews are treated on the left as patriarchal oppressors, virtually indistinguishable from whites/Christians/Westerners.” And so large swaths of the left now traffic in Jew-hatred because the left’s fundamental impulse is civilizational patricide — rage against their own culture and a longing to destroy it.
This hatred for the West and those identified with it explains why leftists are not bothered by the inconsistencies of their support for radical Islamists. It might seem odd that there are so many self-proclaimed feminists and queers cheering for Hamas, especially because one need not like Israel, or even Jews in general, to recognize that Hamas is a genocidal death cult that should be destroyed. But the left’s ideological imperatives push them to side against whomever they perceive as more white, Western, and Christian, which in this case are the Jews and Israel.
This is why many on the left have been indifferent (at best) or gleeful (at worst) regarding the atrocities committed by Hamas. For the left, only oppressed identities are deserving of sympathy. And in this view, Jews no longer count as oppressed but are instead viewed as oppressors — and therefore legitimate targets. Settler-colonists, as leftist argot labels them, have no moral standing to complain about how the colonized respond to them.
This is morally deranged and historically illiterate, which is to be expected when academia’s intellectual offal is processed through TikTok. Nonetheless, the left’s Jew-hatred has a certain perverse rationality to it. After all, Jews are intertwined with the history of the West and are natural enemies of hateful fanatics who want to destroy Western Civilization. It is not just that Christianity was self-consciously derived from the Hebrew faith (though that alone would be enough), or that Jews have punched far above their demographic weight in contributions to culture, science, and art. It is that Jewishness is a rebuke to leftism itself.
Contrary to the old imprecations, Jews aren’t rootless, for they are rooted so long as they remain Jewish. And this rootedness, this ancient identity that has endured through persecution and exile for thousands of years, is precisely what the left hates most about them. Jewishness will still be here when woke leftism is a comic footnote in intellectual history.
Though there are plenty of politically liberal Jews, including in Israel, and though there have been many Jews who became leftist radicals, Jewish identity remains a threat to leftism. Jewishness provides a living tradition and identity that is deeper than the latest intellectual trends or emotional whims. Jewishness, even when attenuated and irregularly observed, is still a redoubt against leftism’s determination to have no other gods before it.
At heart, leftism is a perversion of religion. Faced with the evil and brokenness of the world, leftism responds not by turning toward God, nor by first seeking to tame the evil of one’s own heart, but by seeking power. Call it critical theory, anticolonialism, or just old-fashioned Marxism — the promise of leftism is that power, properly redistributed from the oppressors and to the oppressed, can be used to remake the world. And so they constantly seek to seize power, flattering themselves that they will use it wisely, for the good of the people.
Of course, this seizure of power is necessarily tied to the destruction of the old (unjust) order. The past is seen as little more than a catalog of injustice and the status quo as the perpetration of injustice. Hence the constant calls to smash the system, burn it all down, stage a revolution, and so on. If people get hurt, well, they probably had it coming, and if not, well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.
Of course, now the question is not merely, “Where’s the omelet?” but whether anyone even believes there will be an omelet. Today’s left still wants to destroy, but without any apparent faith in a glorious future, they take power to hollow out institutions and secure patronage, not to build anything just or worthy or beautiful. Those chanting “from the river to the sea” know that the fulfillment of their slogan would not be a prosperous, multiethnic secular democracy, but genocide and an Islamist hellhole.
Yet they carry on — hopeless, but full of resentment and a desire to hurt others. Hatred gives them meaning, so they have eagerly embraced Jew-hatred as the latest iteration of their rage against all of Western Civilization.