Back in the chaotic collapsing scenery of the Soviet Union in the late Eighties, there occurred an event that signaled the eventual fate of the USSR, even if no one exactly knew it at the moment. A fairly unknown teacher named Nina Andreyeva published an essay in a political magazine called Sovetskaya Rossiya, or Soviet Russia. The brave Andreyeva leveled sharp criticism at Mikhail Gorbachev’s program of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), a reformist agenda clandestinely aimed at dismantling the Communist Party and moving the country toward perhaps what would have been a vague form of European market-based social democracy. Andreyeva had understood where Gorbachev was headed and, as a committed communist, feared the dissolution of the workers’ struggle to build a truly communist society.
What happened next is instructive: Gorbachev and his Politburo ally Alexander Yakovlev seized the opportunity to attack Andreyeva’s essay and paint those who supported it as anti-reformist and anti-modern. But along with that depiction, the media raised the criticism that Andreyeva’s essay was anti-Semitic. It was not, according to authors Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny in their excellent Socialism Betrayed, but it hardly mattered. Gorbachev and Yakovlev printed a fierce rebuttal in the journal Pravda. The media quickly took up Gorbachev’s line and the narrative was set. Gorbachev and his fellow reformists used the artificial scandal and the hysteria it generated to isolate and disempower his Politburo rival and critic, Yegor Ligachev.
From that point, Gorbachev raced forward with his reform program and rather than become a model European welfare state, the USSR soon collapsed, disintegrating into a ‘parade of sovereignties’ that saw many of the former Soviet republics declare their independence. Millions died in the wake of the collapse, with their social supports gone, their economy in tatters, and western vulture capitalists flooding into the country. Another seminal victory for neoliberal democracy. But does that media scandal ring a bell? Because precisely the same tactic of the anti-Semitic smear is being used against another critic of power, Minnesota Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar.
Two Minutes Hate
In a thinly-veiled censure of Omar, the House Democrats issued a resolution condemning “all hate”. This artificial necessity of this “resolution” is pathetic. As Adam Johnson parodied it, “We oppose an abstract noun without any political or moral context. We are the party of good things and anti-bad things. Please vote for us, the good things party.” The resolution, as you may already know, addresses various comments made by Omar, the first Muslim woman to serve in Congress along with Rashida Tlaib. Aside from comments in other public appearances, she issued a couple of tweets saying that Congressional support for Israel was, “all about the Benjamins” and later that it produced, “allegiance to a foreign country.”
Omar noted that fealty to AIPAC and Israel were stifling debate on Gaza. She noted that the Israeli lobby was demanding a loyalty to Israeli Zionists interests that compromised politicians’ loyalty to American interests. Following initial criticism, she said, “I should not be expected to have allegiance or pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country…Being opposed to Netanyahu and the occupation is not the same as being anti-Semitic…” and later added, “I don’t how my comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans. My comments precisely are addressing what was happening during the Gaza War, and I’m clearly speaking about the way the Israeli regime was conducting itself in that war.”
Eleven Jewish groups led by AIPAC demanded a response from Nancy Pelosi, including having Omar removed from the Foreign Relations Committee and declaring an organization she spoke at labeled a terrorist unit. She has been subjected to Islamophobia from Republicans. After some push-back from the left, the House watered down the document to roundly condemn hatred in general, including anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination, and bigotry against minorities. But the weight of the document emphasized anti-Semitism, and everyone knows who the object of censure is. Her Democratic colleagues were largely silent. The bill passed 407-23. Every House Democrat voted for it, including Omar. Only Republicans voted against it.
The resolution argues that Omar’s comments conjure two anti-Semitic stereotypes. The first is the ‘dual allegiance’ ‘trope’, bringing up the Dreyfuss Affair and the treatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. The second was that her comments activated stereotypes about Jews controlling society with money. Of course, to say that AIPAC lobbying may make some senators and representatives more willing to do Israel’s bidding than America’s is not anti-Semitic. That is the very point of lobbying: placing a special interest’s objectives above those of the country at large. Nor is it anti-Semitic to argue that AIPAC uses money to push its goals in Congress. Every lobbyist does, regardless of color or creed. And yet these are easily conflated with the aforementioned anti-Semitic motifs, which is precisely the goal of the resolution.
But Paul Rosenberg at Salon, echoing Paul Waldman at the Washington Post, of all places, correctly noted that “Omar did not accuse Jews of holding dual loyalties. Rather, she objected to dual loyalties being demanded of her–and those who attacked her only proved her point.” And Jonathan Cook noted in his excellent review of the faux scandal, “These supporters of Israel are asking for the impossible: demanding silence from everyone else as they defend a state whose policies require not just racism but daily structural violence towards Palestinians. Whatever the anti-Semitism narrative hopes to achieve, there isn’t an exemption for anti-Palestinian racism just because it is being promoted by a section of the Jewish community.”
Not that it mattered to the hysterical cast of armchair magistrates, but the UN declared that Israel had committed war crimes in Gaza during the recent border protests. The mainstream media continues its campaign to bury Omar, relentlessly pursuing and then evoking “pain and confusion” caused by the representative’s hard-hitting truths.
The parallels with the Nina Andreyeva event are compelling. It isn’t antisemitism that is the real story, but the shuttering of dissent. Ruling class capitalists and their enthusiastic sympathizers will use any tactic they can to attack and disable perceived threats to their profiteering policy agenda. And make no mistake, profits are at the root of America’s support of Israel, as well as the entire project of imperialism. It makes no difference, as Cook argues, that a false charge of antisemitism is equal to actual antisemitism, what matters to elite capital and its political enablers is destroying threats and consolidating power. Nina Andreyeva was a threat to Gorbachev’s destructive reformism. Ilhan Omar is a threat to American imperialism. Both women were viciously attacked for their comments, their attackers using any means necessary to suppress the validity of their critiques. Andreyeva’s colleagues would soon, “give out her phone number with nasty glee…” She was eventually hounded into isolation. What will become of Omar remains to be seen, but the entire affair proved her point, that the Zionist lobby wields immense influence in Washington. Congressional representatives aside from the Minnesota representative and a handful of others are utterly venal sophists who themselves traffic in slander, exhibit base fealty to monied interests, and ignore American interests in favor of the ruling class constituency of white-led corporate entities that promote capitalist exploitation at home and abroad.
Precisely the same charges have been relentlessly leveled at British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his party allies. The purpose is to ensure Corbyn never sees the inside of Ten Downing Street. Watch as this narrative of progressive anti-Semitism is transferred across the Atlantic to defile the left-wing of the Democratic party going into the 2020 elections. This is yet another strain of identity politics being wielded against progressives. And without question, the socialism of the left is a far bigger threat to capitalist rule than the fascism of the right. Socialism overthrows capitalism. Fascism supercharges it. It’s important to remember that Hitler saw the conquest of the USSR as his greatest opportunity, to crush socialism and obtain a vassal colony in one fell swoop, while purging the ‘Aryan’ race at the same time. It is a pathetic irony of history that modern neoliberals falsely charge progressives with echoes of Hitler’s quest to destroy Jews as a tool to enable his plan to destroy socialism. In another regrettable paradox of recent history, it might be worth remembering that the magazine Gorbachev used to crush his rivals, Pravda, is Russian for “truth.”