This piece is written by an academic in London who wishes to remain anonymous.
The authors of today’s letter printed in the Guardian ask why Walker’s comments are antisemitic. That answer can be found, as so often, in the very origins of modern antisemitism, most notably in the anti-emancipationist arguments of sections of the left.
Here is Bruno Bauer on the subject that Jewish particularism will always trump Universal humanity,
“Very well,” it is said, and the Jew himself says it, “the Jew is to become emancipated not as a Jew, not because he is a Jew, not because he possesses such an excellent, universally human principle of morality; on the contrary, the Jew will retreat behind the citizen and be a citizen, although he is a Jew and is to remain a Jew. That is to say, he is and remains a Jew, although he is a citizen and lives in universally human conditions: his Jewish and restricted nature triumphs always in the end over his human and political obligations. The prejudice remains in spite of being outstripped by general principles. But if it remains, then, on the contrary, it outstrips everything else.”
More recently, the idea that Jews exploit the memory of the Holocaust in their own name and so deny recognition of other sufferings is common among far-right nationalist groups in several Eastern European countries.
Yet, this is not the only debt Walker owes to the tradition of antisemitism.
Just as Bauer argued that as long as Jews remain Jews they will be the enemies of a progressive emancipatory politics, so Walker picks up the same refrain, this time, however, referring not to Jews per se, but to those who raise the issue of antisemitism,
All racism is abhorrent and I’m not saying that anti-semitism does not exist in the Labour party…I am saying that claims of its significance are being exaggerated for political purposes and this has been done at huge cost to our movement,to our communities and to many individual people.
The question, therefore, is not why Walker’s comments are antisemitic, but, rather, how can people argue they are not?