I’ve spent this week in Bratislava, taking a bit of a break to do some writing and prepare for the High Holy Days. Bratislava is an amazing city, with a lot of history, and a renewed life. Today, the tech sector and foreign investment have turned once quiet and sleepy Bratislava into a hub of activity in Eastern Europe. The old town boasts many amazing churches and historical buildings, plus a surprising amount of vegan restaurants!
Yesterday, on taking a walk through the city, I realised everything was closed, and it turns out 29 August is the anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising. The Uprising was an attempt, in 1944, to wrest control of the Slovak state away from Jozef Tiso, a priest and eager fascist who created a collaborationist government early in the war to partner with Nazi Germany. The Uprising was made up primarily of dissident groups of Slovak society: anti-Nazi conservatives, socialists, communists, etc. Ultimately it failed, unsurprising considering the tremendous military might they were up against– but the Uprising nonetheless became a central part of the story of the Slovak people in the new Czechoslovak socialist government formed after the war.
Thus it was interesting to me to see who was out on the streets yesterday. Mostly it was young families pushing buggies and people enjoying a day off from work by picnic-ing on the banks of the Danube. The only real ‘political’ thing I saw was a group of stalls set up around a stage in a local park. Swathed in ‘Anti-Fascist Action’ banners, I was curious to learn more– especially because Slovakia, like many of its neighbours, is currently struggling with a resurgent neo-Nazi, ultranationalist movement.
Suffice it to say that I was pretty disappointed when it turned out the only thing the ‘Anti-Fascist Action’ group was on about was Palestine. If you wanted a ‘Free Palestine’ sticker or a ‘Stop Apartheid’ t-shirt, this was the place to be. If you wanted to read literature which promoted conspiracy theories and counter-factual history, this was your ticket.
How strange it is, that today we find so many left-wing parties and movements which automatically assume that being against Fascism means being against Israel. Yet, as disconcerting as some of the ideas were, the ignorance of history was worse: we are talking about a country who eagerly Nazi-fied themselves. Tiso’s government actually paid the Nazis to kill their Jews. The Germans failed to liquidate them fast enough, so the Slovak government offered 500 Reichsmarks for each Jew that the Nazis would take off their hands and exterminate (probably about £43 in 1940).
There is much to say about our own struggles, today in Britain, to define anti-Semitism– much of it has already been said by people wiser and better-informed than myself. Yet it seems that we cannot escape this strange equivalence that has been made between being anti-racist and being anti-Israel. A ‘politics of correspondence’ has been set up to dictate that if you are a ‘moral’ person (in the eyes of the Left) then you must obviously be a friend and supporter of Palestinian causes (including some, like Hamas, which are very clearly opposed to the values for which well-meaning Western left-wingers stand for).
As an American, a Zionist, and someone generally sympathetic to left-wing values and ideals, I have watched the unfolding of the crisis in Labour with interest and concern, as I’m sure many of you have. I am doing my best to listen to everyone I can and to learn as much as possible. You may say it’s not my horse-race, as I am not a British voter, but the plain fact is that it affects all of you, and all of us, so deeply.
As a result, I will be talking more about this question regarding anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Racism on Rosh Hashanah. I hope that you’ll join me in making it a civil and productive discussion in our community and one that, hopefully, can lead to better and safer outcomes for our community in the UK. I ask your forgiveness, in advance, for whatever flaws my take on this issue may include. I feel that, despite the complexities and intricacies of the situation, it is one that we can no longer be silent about.