From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel

From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel

From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel

From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel


From Ambivalence to Betrayal is the first study to explore the transformation in attitudes on the Left toward the Jews, Zionism, and Israel since the origins of European socialism in the 1840s until the present. This path breaking synthesis reveals a striking continuity in negative stereotypes of Jews, contempt for Judaism, and negation of Jewish national self-determination from the days of Karl Marx to the current left-wing intellectual assault on Israel. World-renowned expert on the history of anti-Semitism Robert S. Wistrich provides not only a powerful analysis of how and why the Left emerged as a spearhead of anti-Israel sentiment but also new insights into the wider involvement of Jews in radical movements. There are fascinating portraits of Marx, Moses Hess, Bernard Lazare, Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Trotsky, and other Jewish intellectuals, alongside analyses of the darker face of socialist and Communist anti-Semitism. The closing section eloquently exposes the degeneration of leftist anti-Zionist critiques into a novel form of anti-racist racism.


The main title of this book may raise a few eyebrows. To what “betrayal” is the author referring? Surely neither antisemitism nor hostility to Israel can be seen as prerogatives of leftism; and if they do exist in some quarters of the Left, is that not an example of “legitimate criticism” of Israel—a country regularly pilloried in international forums as one of the last remaining bastions of Western colonialism?

I have been hearing such arguments for over forty years, ever since (as a young radical) I myself participated in the student revolts of 1968, in both America and France. True, for most of my contemporaries (born like me after the end of World War II) the “Jewish Question” still seemed marginal at that time.

However, in my case, it was something more than mere background noise. Perhaps, because I had been born in the Muslim Republic of Kazakhstan, in Stalin’s Soviet Union at the height of the Great Dictator’s prestige, following the victory over Hitler’s hordes; perhaps because my father’s experience as a wartime prisoner of the nkvd (secret police) meant that from the outset there was great ambivalence in my own mind concerning the “fatherland of socialism.” My father, who in pre-1939 Kraków had been a fellow-traveler of the illegal Polish Communist Party, nourished some bitter memories of Soviet mendacity after the war and the cruelty of a totalitarian system that ruthlessly crushed all individuality. My mother was slightly more inclined to socialist ideas. Her negative experiences of bourgeois Catholic antisemitism in interwar Poland had been much worse than anything she encountered in Stalin’s ussr, though she, too, had no illusions about the “Communist paradise.”

I grew up in 1950s England, seemingly far removed from these totalitarian nightmares. Nevertheless, during my adolescence I was becoming radicalized at grammar school, at the very time that Great Britain was beginning to definitively shed its colonial Empire. in 1961 I first visited Israel, spending a month on a far left kibbutz—fascinated but also slightly repelled by its intense collectivist ethos. It was also the time of the Eichmann trial which made me even more intensely aware (at the age of 15) of the Holocaust—in which so many of my own relatives had been killed. I would return to Israel in 1969 after two years of study and radical protest (mainly in Stanford . . .

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