Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Other Horseshoe

I was reading a fascinating review by Yair Wallach about how antisemitism was combatted during the 1917 Russian Revolution,* and he made an observation which in retrospect is very obvious but for whatever reason had never fully clicked with me before.

Many of us are familiar with the idea, often referred to as "horseshoe theory", that antisemitism serves a conduit between left and right-wing politics. Antisemitism bridges the left and the right, so that persons who begin in one milieu can end up finding affinity with persons in the other, united by shared antisemitic beliefs.

But Wallach observes that there is another potential "horseshoe" vector between left and right -- this one running through "anti-antisemitism". Here, left and right overlap based on real and perceived affinity for fighting antisemitism. Persons who feel, rightly or wrongly, that the left is not taking a strong enough stance on antisemitism, that it excuses antisemitism, that it has become infected by antisemitism, may -- need not, but may -- become enamored with right-wing actors who are every day loudly banging the drum calling out exactly these cases of antisemitism.

Just as the left, even if it may start from a principled position of "anti-imperialism" or "decolonialism", regularly finds itself keeping company with (and worse -- being sympathetic to!) outright antisemites whose Israel hatred is merely a subspecies of their Jew hatred, so too are there persons who begin from a genuine anti-antisemitism posture who find themselves in the company of, and eventually even sympathetic to, Islamophobes and other right-wing bigots for whom "fighting antisemitism" really just means hating Muslims and other non-White persons.

This is not something limited to antisemitism, either. One can see versions of this coming out of feminism (some feminists who truly hate what they see has the repressive characteristics of the hijab eventually floating into outright hostility to Muslims) or even anti-racism (some anti-racists whose beliefs in racial self-help and self-empowerment eventually lead them into hierarchical nationalism). If anything, what this demonstrates is that our politics are less organized and coherent as the simple left/right binary would have one believe -- there are all manner of tunnels, thoroughfares, and crossings that offer opportunities to quickly travel from one side of the ideological spectrum to the other.

But certainly this is something I have observed -- sometimes seemingly in real time -- in the Jewish case. The rise of the neo-neoconservatives is one example -- starting as liberals, such persons' travel to more conservative territory is very much greased by a perceived affinity for the sort of anti-antisemitism discourse emanating out of the right. A similar concept was alluded to when I spoke of the knife's edge of radicalization -- the right stimulus can cause someone to rapidly tumble over into ideological terrain seemingly incompatible with their own proffered beliefs. Bret Weinstein was a Bernie Sanders backer, after all! Now he's claiming liberal values are best being protected by the likes of Tucker Carlson.

Weinstein, for his part, illustrates another important point -- that the start of the journey across the horseshoe can very much be prompted by legitimate grievances. Based on everything I've read, Weinstein was indeed treated poorly by his community at Evergreen State. That doesn't justify him becoming a member of the intellectual dark web, anymore than legitimate grievances against the Israeli state justifies one becoming a tankie. But insofar as we're less interested in identifying who we can legitimately chide and more interested in undermining pathways towards people on the left adopting  right-wing politics, it's important to dispassionately map out how these journeys progress. 

And there's no question that at least some persons -- I have many, many more names in mind beyond Bret Weinstein, but I don't want to call anyone out -- make the trek over in part by traversing the causeway of "anti-antisemitism". Surely, anyone reading this knows of whom I speak.

It is unfair, and a gross exaggeration, to conflate noting the horseshoe's existence with saying that any progressive concerns in this arena are tantamount to indulging in right-wing politics. That's true if our horseshoe's base camp begins with legitimate concerns about Israeli policies, and that's true if our horseshoe begins with legitimate concerns about antisemitism in the left-wing, or Muslim, community. Taking the horseshoe seriously means not conflating anyone who expresses concern over the occupation with a David Duke aficionado, and not conflating anyone who expresses concern over Corbynist antisemitism with a Tommy Robinson fanboy. That sort of cheap gotcha politics can only be indulged in by people who don't take the underlying issue seriously at all; viewing it as fundamentally benign enough that it can turned into political sport.

For the rest of us, though, the darker truth is that the horseshoe -- insofar as it is a conduit between left and right -- is both a danger and a temptation. It's a danger because of the prospect of losing people to the right. It's a temptation because of the prospect of gaining people from the right. The conduit flows both ways. It takes a lot of discipline to know of the conduit's existence and even, gingerly, to try to reach through and pull people out of reactionary politics, without falling through it oneself and coming out the other side. That's true regardless of whether the consonance you're pulling on is emotive hostility to Jewish self-determination or snarling suspicion towards Muslim power; seething resentment of (((globalist financiers))) or furious loathing of (((cultural Marxists))).

If we're being honest with ourselves, all of us probably know which version of the horseshoe we're more vulnerable to. Some of us are more likely to be tempted by persons whose pure, uncompromising loathing of Israel is intoxicating even as it spills out and over into hatred of Israelis and Jews. Others of us are more likely to be seduced by those whose vocal, prideful denunciations of antisemitism is mesmerizing even as it laps against the walls of race-baiting and conspiracy-mongering.

We can pound our chests all we want and how very dare you the premise, and I don't need anyone to raise a hand and admit to anything.

Just -- be mindful. The conduit is there. Know yourself, know your weaknesses, and don't walk through it.

* Which is, of course, a very different question than how antisemitism was "combatted" -- which is to say, implemented -- by the Communist government after the revolution was over. The review (and I assume, the underlying book) do not pretend that the actually-established Communist regime was anything other than a disaster as far as antisemitism was concerned.

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