as I see it

Why fight against Jew-hatred is a key question for working class

By Seth Galinsky
and Lea Sherman
January 20, 2020
Thousands march from Manhattan to Brooklyn Jan. 5 to protest series of attacks on Jews.
Militant/Mike ShurThousands march from Manhattan to Brooklyn Jan. 5 to protest series of attacks on Jews.

NEW YORK — Some 25,000 people marched here against anti-Semitism Jan. 5. The large turnout on short notice reflects the growing interest in finding ways to stand up to anti-Semitism.

Members and supporters of the Socialist Workers Party joined the march, called in response to the Dec. 10 attack on the Jersey City Kosher Supermarket that killed Leah Mindel Ferencz, Moshe Deutsch and Douglas Miguel Rodríguez; the Dec. 28 machete attack on a Hanukkah celebration in Monsey, New York, and a spate of other assaults on Jews in Brooklyn.

There were a wide variety of opinions from marchers. Where does Jew-hatred come from? What purpose does it serve under capitalism? How can it be combated?

One of the Socialist Workers Party signs said, “It’s not ‘hate,’ it’s Jew-hatred: Oppose scapegoating of Jews.” The sign helped in initiating discussions on the unique role Jew-hatred plays under capitalism. The main slogan of the protest, “No Hate! No Fear!” obscures what is at stake.

Anti-Semitism predates capitalism. But under capitalism it has taken on added virulence. Even under relatively stable conditions, there is a layer of the middle class and some workers who believe the falsehood that “the Jews” run the banks, they are the landlords, they form conspiracies and enrich themselves at the expense of non-Jews. As if the ruling class was divided into “good” capitalists and “bad, evil” Jewish capitalists.

Fidel Castro in a 2010 interview with The Atlantic magazine reporter Jeffrey Goldberg, put his finger on a key aspect. The Jews “are blamed and slandered for everything,” Castro said, explaining his opposition to anti-Semitism.

“Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms,” Castro said. “There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.”

Jews, just like everyone else, are class-divided. There are capitalists, middle-class layers and workers. In fact, the vast majority of capitalists, including landlords, are not Jewish, but Christian.

Scapegoating Jews diverts attention from the real source of the problem: the crisis-wracked capitalist system, with its every man for himself morality.

In the U.S. there are as many as 6 million Jews, but they still make up less than 2% of the population. “If the defense of the Jews depended on themselves alone, then their case would indeed be hopeless,” a 1938 resolution by the Socialist Workers Party pointed out. “It is primarily upon the American workers that the Jews must lean for support in their struggle to maintain their joint rights.”

The Jan. 5 march though was up to 95% composed of Jews. Workers of all nationalities and especially our trade unions, as well as church groups and organizations that fight racism, need to be won to acting on the importance of standing up to Jew-hatred, no matter who perpetuates it.

This is a life or death question for the working class and the labor movement.

Anti-Semitism permeates the capitalist ruling class and is espoused both by white supremacists and the petty-bourgeois “left.” In Brooklyn, a number of attacks — especially on Hasidic Jews — have been perpetrated by some Black youth.

Conservative filmmaker Ami Horowitz recently interviewed people on the street in a predominantly Black neighborhood there. A video with some of the interviews was posted to Yeshiva World News Jan. 5. He asked people why they thought Jews were being attacked.

“The Jewish people own all the buildings out here and they own everything and they’re not sharing nothing,” one middle-aged man said, adding that it’s a question of the “‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’”

A young woman told Horowitz, “We’re not saying that it’s right, but they’re trying to take over our buildings. They’re trying to make everything all expensive for us.”

Another young man expressed a different view, telling the filmmaker the attacks were “not right.”

But these interviews show that Jew-hatred endures and the challenges involved in combating it. The criminal shortage of affordable housing, high prices, racist discrimination, unemployment, low wages and other social problems are real questions. But these don’t exist “because of the Jews.” These problems are endemic to the profit system, where the wealth produced by the labor of working people is taken from us by the ruling propertied owners.

Anti-Semitic myths and falsehoods are an obstacle to organizing the kind of united fight that can take on the carnage working people face.

More cops, jails not the answer

Some of those speaking at the Jan. 5 march called for repeal of a new law in New York that allows more people accused of some crimes to be released without having to pay bail before they face trial. These speakers called for sending a message to Jew-haters by making them stay in jail. Some speakers demanded more cops to patrol the streets in Brooklyn where many of the attacks have taken place.

But undercutting the constitutional right to be considered innocent until proven guilty and giving the cops more tools to victimize Blacks and other workers will do nothing to advance the fight against anti-Semitism, or to  win working people over to solidarity with their Jewish neighbors.

“When the capitalist rulers’ hold on power is threatened by a rising working-class movement, the capitalists will not only express and tolerate anti-Semitism, they will give it free rein and finance it through ultra-rightist forces whose goal is to smash the workers’ movement. That is not the case today,” said a statement by the SWP that party members have been distributing in working class neighborhoods and at the march. “But as the crisis of capitalism deepens, that day will come.”

As long as capitalism exists, there will be anti-Semitism. What is needed today is a working-class leadership that tells the truth about the crisis of capitalism and that refuses to rely on any of the capitalist parties.

The road to building a fighting labor movement, capable of standing for and defending all of the oppressed necessitates taking on Jew-hatred.

Lea Sherman is the Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Senate from New Jersey.