Antisemitism and the left

On the return of the Jewish question

Robert Fine
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Philip Spencer
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Universalism has acted as a stimulus for Jewish emancipation, that is, for civil, political and social inclusion. It has also been a source of anti-Jewish prejudice up to and beyond the classic antisemitism of the modern period. While the experience of Jews is by no means unique in this respect, one of the peculiarities of the 'anti-Judaic' tradition has been to represent Jews in some important regard as the 'other' of the universal: as the personification either of a particularism opposed to the universal, or of a false universalism concealing Jewish self-interest. The former contrasts the particularism of the Jews to the universality of bourgeois civil society. The latter contrasts the bad universalism of the 'rootless cosmopolitan Jew' to the good universalism of whatever universal is advanced: nation, race or class. This book explores debates over Jewish emancipation within the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, contrasting the work of two leading protagonists of Jewish emancipation: Christian von Dohm and Moses Mendelssohn. It discusses the emancipatory power of Karl Marx's critique of Bruno Bauer's opposition to Jewish emancipation and endorsement of The Jewish Question. Marxist debates over the growth of anti-Semitism; Hannah Arendt's critique of three types of Jewish responsiveness--assimilationism, Zionism and cosmopolitanism-- to anti-Semitism; and the endeavours of a leading postwar critical theorist, Jurgen Habermas are also discussed. Finally, the book focuses its critique on left antizionists who threaten to reinstate the Jewish question when they identify Israel and Zionism as the enemies of universalism.


‘Antisemitism and the Left is definitely recommended reading for all those interested in the functioning of antisemitism past and present. Fine and Spencer's claim that the contradiction embedded in the idea of universalism as the founding principle of the Enlightenment and the subsequent intellectual formations it inspired has been an important factor generating and sustaining the Jewish question applies not only to the tradition of the Left but also to modern Western thought in general.'
Ewa Morawska

‘Fine and Spencer have contributed some very sensitive, and sensible, analyses of attitudes towards antisemitism and the Jewish question from universalist thinkers, beginning with the Enlightenment and going on through to current debates on the left about Israel.'
Patterns of prejudice
Vol. 51, No. 5

‘Allegations of antisemitism have been directed at Corbyn and his newly-modelled Labour Party, both from within British Jewry and from within his own party; those same allegations have been rejected by many of Corbyn’s supporters as a politically-motivated smear. Robert Fine – who has sadly passed away since this book was published – and Philip Spencer tried to explain this apparent revival of antisemitism on the left by reference to the history of the Jewish question in European politics.’
Dave Rich, Deputy Director of Communications Community Security Trust, Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, Vol. 19, No. 3, (2020)
August 2020

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