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Why everyone should read a book from the 1980’s on the crisis of left-wing antisemitism

My dad authored That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic in the 1980s—he would shocked to see how relevant it still is today

By Tom Cohen  

People protest about the rise of anti Jewish violence in the UK and Europe, as they hold an antisemitism rally outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London.

Why is That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic being republished?

Antisemitism has become an ever increasing problem. While it exists in the racist right-wing, it has found a home in the so-called “anti-racist” left. Self-described socialists in the Labour Party—and beyond—have denied the testimony of Jews on the Left. Many of the leaders on the left have been mired in controversy and accusations of antisemitism or have refused to deal with it.

This phenomenon is not new. My dad, Steve Cohen, authored That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic in the 1980s to shine a light on the antisemitism he witnessed then. He would be shocked to know how relevant his book has become today.

Why was the book written?

In the 1982 Israel attacked Lebanon. Steve was infuriated. He wanted to write a book full of his condemnation. In the process of researching his polemic, he came across a level of antisemitism that shocked him. The fact it came from the self-described “anti-racist Left” horrified him further. The condemnation changed its focus and That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic is the resulting masterpiece.

Why has it been republished?
The book was controversial when it was published. Steve described it as ‘hard to write, hard to read’. But, it captured something unique —his work has stood the test of time. When people on the Labour Left have sought to face up to the problem of Left antisemitism, they have reached for this book. Labour MP Clive Lewis called the book, “A comprehensive but accessible analysis of how antisemitism has historically manifested on the left.” Corbynite Rachel Shabi wrote about how it “still resonates today” and Momentum – the group that formed out of Jeremy Corbyn’s first leadership campaign – tweeted that is was “a must read” with “plenty of lessons for today.” Others have described it as “the definitive book on left antisemitism’ and ‘a fantastic book and a must-read for anyone concerned about antisemitism on the Left.”

Is there a problem of antisemitism on the Left?

Where ever you come down on the issue of antisemitism in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, it seems undeniable that there have been incidents on a scale never seen before. Almost every trope has been levelled at Jews in the party in the last four years. Labour members have been disciplined, or are awaiting decision, for Holocaust denial, racist comparisons with the Nazis, accusing people of being “Rothchild Zionists” or using “Zio” as a racist slur for accusing Jews of colluding with the media, controlling capitalism and being responsible for the slave trade. The Jewish Labour Movement was accused of being funded by “Israel and Isis.” Two Jewish MPs have resigned from the party, citing unprecedented levels of antisemitism they have been on the receiving. Yes, there is a problem.

The only issue is whether there are people willing to put in the work to rid the left of the Jew-hatred that has become way too prevalent.

What are the similarities with today?
Beyond the fact that some of the people singled out by Steve have been in trouble under Corbyn—for example Ken Livingstone, I identify five:

One, there are those who do not deny the problem but resist any utterance of the problem in case “it helps the Tories.”

Two, the “equation of Jews with capitalism” as the classic “socialism of fools” is prevalent again.

Three, the interplay with Zionism and how British Jews are asked to account for Israel – the actions of another state – continues unabated.

Four, antisemitism and identity politics. Many feel Jews do not ‘fit’ into or experience structural racism.

Five, denialism. Those who simply deny the problem, despite evidence to the contrary and personal testimony from Jewish victims.

Where can people get hold of a copy?
In all good bookshops, eBook stores and at www.nopasaran.media.

Treat yourself, or your friends. They would make a perfect Hanukkah of Christmas gift.

Tom Cohen is Steve’s son. He lives in Leeds with his family and is the author of the new foreword in That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic 

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