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Judaism and political radicalism

One element of antisemitism is the identification of Jews with political radicalism. On the one hand anti-Semites have often implicitly or explicitly assumed that Jewish involvement in radical political movements was part of an overarching Jewish strategy that also included wealthy Jewish capitalists, as well as Jewish involvement in the media, the academy, and other areas of public life. On the other hand, Jews attempting to defuse the anti-Semitism resulting from the fact that Jews have played a dominant role in many radical political movements have often pointed to the fact that only a minority of Jews are involved and that Gentiles are also involved in the movements.

The American Jewish Committee’s efforts to portray Jews as not overrepresented in radical movements involved deception and perhaps self-deception. The AJC engaged in intensive efforts to change opinion within the Jewish community to attempt to show that Jewish interests were more compatible with advocating American democracy than Soviet communism (e.g., emphasizing Soviet anti-Semitism and Soviet support of nations opposed to Israel in the period after World War II)

The historical contribution of Jews to the political Left has been well documented. Both as individual theorists and activists of the stature of Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Blum and Emma Goldman, and as organised mass labour movements in, for example, revolutionary Russia and early-mid twentieth century Warsaw, Amsterdam, Paris, Toronto, New York and London, Jews have been conspicuous for their socialist and communist affiliations.

Historical analysis of the dynamics of this Jewish/Left alliance, however, has been far less conclusive. Considerable dissonance exists, for example, concerning the factors which attracted Jews to the Left, the extent to which leading Jewish Left activists were originally motivated by or subsequently influenced by explicitly Jewish concerns, and the degree to which one can reasonably speak of a specific or unique Jewish contribution to the international Left. In addition, discussion of these factors has often been inhibited by concerns regarding the use of the alleged Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy by the Nazis and other anti-Semitic groups.

According to Paul Johnson, Jewish society in the last 1,500 years has been designed to produce and support intellectuals who largely focused their talents on rabbinical studies. Johnson asserts that "quite suddenly, around the year 1800, this ancient and highly efficient social machine for the production of intellectuals began to shift its output. Instead of pouring all its products into the closed circuit of rabbinical studies, . . . it unleashed a significant and ever-growing proportion of them into secular life. This was an event of shattering importance in world history."



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