My Problem with the "Left"

Not too long ago my father mused aloud that my “political” leanings mystify him. The gist of his commentary was this: Someone born to my parents and provided the education I’ve received (an education for which I’ve spent many years in the rather “liberal” enclave of Cambridge, Massachusetts) would be expected to display far greater affinity for left-leaning politics and proclivities.

But as Mitchell Cohen’s new Dissent essay notes, “There is a left that learns and there is a left that doesn’t learn.” Like Cohen, I laud the “best values of the historical left”; it is, in fact, my quite extraordinary education that allows me to share in particular Cohen’s enthusiasm for “the best values of the historical left,” among which he–and I–would count the legacies of Jean Jaurès and Léon Blum in France.

Unfortunately, there is a far more nefarious “left” at work today, one I find difficult to tolerate. Because, as Cohen notes in the opening lines to his article, “A determined offensive is underway. Its target is in the Middle East, and it is an old target: the legitimacy of Israel.” It is coming “from within parts of the liberal and left intelligentsia in the United States and Europe”–and that’s a determination coming from the self-identified “leftist” Cohen.

Among his other achievements in this article, Cohen does an admirable job showing the cracks in the perennial argument that goes something like this: just-because-I-am-anti-Zionist-doesn’t-mean-I-am-anti-Semitic. Cohen’s critique here is essential reading, and I can only hope that it will actually resonate with the people who need to understand it most. “If you are anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic,” he concludes, “then don’t use the categories, allusions, and smug hiss that are all too familiar to any student of prejudice.”

Then, perhaps, the best elements of the left will triumph. And I, for one, will be able to resume wearing that particular label more easily.