Jew-baiting these days is a globally competitive field. The Middle East, Latin America and Asia could all put up credible candidates for the title of most notorious Jew-baiter. But if you ask me, it’s in Europe, the continent where modern antisemitism crystallised, where you’ll still find the most able and determined baiters.
Now, if I had to pick someone from that particular field, I’d have to conclude that it’s a tie for first place.
From Hungary: step forward Zsolt Bayer, journalist, fascist apologist, a founder of the ruling Fidesz party, and a confidante of that country’s Putinesque Prime Minister, Viktor Orban. From Great Britain: step forward Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London, darling of Islamists both Shi’ite – Hezbollah – and Sunni – the Muslim Brotherhood – and literally obsessed with the claim that the Zionist movement collaborated with Adolf Hitler during the 1930s.
There are others who could stake a claim to the “most notorious” title. Like French comic Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. Or the leaders of Greece’s neo-fascist Golden Dawn Party. Or the former British parliamentarian George Galloway. But I choose Bayer and Livingstone because together they neatly encapsulate the thematic fixations of post-war antisemitism: the undue political and economic influence of wealthy, powerful Jews and the contention that the Jews themselves actively assisted the Nazi genocide that led to Auschwitz and Treblinka.
The latest controversy around Bayer erupted when the Hungarian Government awarded him the prestigious Order of Merit of the Knights Cross. More than 40 previous recipients of the award returned their medals in protest at the honour being shared with Bayer, among them Andras Heisler, a senior Hungarian Jewish communal leader, and Katrina Lantos Swett, daughter of the late and much revered US Congressman Tom Lantos, who survived the Holocaust in Hungary.
Their objections are not exactly complicated to figure out. Bayer has argued, for example, that antisemitism is a “natural” state of mind for Hungarians because, as he tells it, the short lived communist republic of 1919 was all a Jewish plot. In another piece, he spat angrily at the “limitless hunger of Jewish financiers.” In yet another, he sniped at the British journalist Nick Cohen as a “stinking excrement called something like Cohen,” before concluding what a shame it was that Cohen and those like him “were not all buried up to their necks at the forest in Orgovany” – the site of a 1919 massacre of Hungarian communists.
Also noteworthy is Bayer’s loathing of the Roma minority, whose fate in modern Hungary is a largely ignored story of persecution and discrimination. In one screed reminiscent of a Hitler rant, Bayer spoke of the Roma gypsies as “not fit to live among human beings. These people are animals and behave like animals.”
Livingstone is cut from a different cloth. His animosity towards Jews avoids the racial vulgarities of Bayer. Instead, his approach is to attack the emotional and political identification of the British Jewish community with Israel.
One way he does this is to accuse anyone raising concerns about antisemitism of doing so because of pro-Israel loyalties – a trick dubbed “The Livingstone Formulation” by the British academic David Hirsh. Another is his fixation with imagery and language equating Israeli policies with that of the Nazis, something covered in detail by the political analyst Dave Rich in his superb new book, The Left’s Jewish Problem.
Most of all, Livingstone likes to manipulate the history of the Holocaust. He doesn’t deny that Nazis murdered six million Jews, but he regards the Zionist movement as having played a critical role in enabling the Holocaust. When he repeated these claims earlier this year, in the midst of several antisemitism scandals already rocking the British Labour Party, the party’s far left leader, Jeremy Corbyn, found himself with no choice but to suspend Livingstone from membership.
Yet far from apologising, Livingstone continues to insist that he is historically correct, with all the zeal of someone who asserts that 9/11 was an “inside job”. But because Livingstone is a national figure, just as Bayer, his slanders cannot just be dismissed as the ravings of a lunatic.
No one should be under the impression that the writings and statements of Bayer and Livingstone pass effortlessly into mainstream discourse. Even among the legions of Israel critics, there is some acknowledgement that their respective claims have more in common with hate speech than with the serious study of history.
The problem is both men are depicted as exotically controversial, with some grasp of truth, when they are in fact bare-faced liars.
Because, you see, to be a successful Jew-baiter, you can’t be anything else.
Ben Cohen is senior editor of The Tower Magazine, and writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. He is the author of Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism (Edition Critic, 2014). © Algemeiner (www.algemeiner.com), reprinted by permission, all rights reserved.