From narratives of a powerful Jewish lobby, supposedly in control of governments and media to support Israel, to calls to “globalize the Intifada” – antisemitism in segments of the political Left is an alarming and growing trend in Europe. While the far-right continues to pose a more violent threat to Jews worldwide, antisemitism stemming from certain left-leaning groups is more pervasive in a day-to-day sense and poses a different kind of threat, especially in Europe.
While they attempt to wrap these and other narratives in a virtuous guise, setting up their criticism of Israel or Zionists as a battle between good and evil, with the latter being “Israel,” “the Zionists,” and “the powers that be” – those on the Left who make these claims are in reality only promoting classic antisemitic tropes.
When these individuals rail against “a new Holocaust” perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians, and against “Apartheid,” “settler colonialism,” and “ethnic cleansing,” they are employing false narratives about Israel, some of which are rooted in antisemitism.
And when there’s fighting between Israel and the Palestinian terror organizations, these groups and their rhetoric help to foment angry mobs that appear in front of synagogues across Europe. And as a result, identifiably Jewish individuals are vulnerable to attacks and Jewish communities feel unsafe.
Why has left-wing antisemitism in Europe gone overlooked?
These are the findings of a new report by ADL, “Antisemitism and Radical Anti-Israel Bias on the Political Left in Europe,” written in collaboration with the Amadeu Antonio Foundation in Germany, the Community Security Trust in the UK, the magazine K in France, and ACOM (Action and Communication on the Middle East) in Spain.
This report does not contain hard data and statistics, but rather reflects trends observed within the political discourse and civil society of certain European countries. Prior ADL research, including our 2023 G100 survey, revealed quantifiable data about the percentage of the population who hold antisemitic attitudes, with Spain at 26%, France at 17%, Germany at 12%, and the UK at 10%.
Our report shows that antisemitism from some individuals on the Left, expresses itself in all four European countries, primarily through demonization of Israel and anti-capitalist sentiment. And it makes clear that the challenges facing Jewish communities in Europe are a bellwether for what could come to the US.
Conspiracy narratives about a Jewish cabal pulling the strings are not new, but these myths appear with disturbing frequency in segments of the Left. In France, images of Jews as shadowy figures or puppet masters have circulated in the upper echelons of the Socialist Party. In the UK, the group Labour Against the Witchhunt twists justified accusations of antisemitism into a sinister plot, concocted by the powerful “Zionist movement” to silence critics of Israel. In Spain, the BDS movement has become synonymous with the far Left, as evidenced by the leftist party Podemos, currently part of the ruling coalition, leading the charge against Israel.
IN GERMANY as well, Israel is the primary lightning rod for modern antisemitism. But in contrast to other European countries, even left-wing political parties are generally quick to denounce antisemitism, not least due to Germany’s responsibility for the Shoah. In May 2019, an anti-BDS resolution was passed with cross-party support in the Bundestag, denouncing the anti-Israeli boycott movement as antisemitic.
But on German streets, in otherwise progressive social movements, anti-Zionism is gaining traction, manifesting in chants of “Yallah Intifada,” glorifying the two waves of murderous Palestinian terrorism and violence that left thousands dead on both sides of the conflict.
Disparate groups unite around a single common denominator: hatred toward Israel. In recent years, we have seen how almost any occasion can be hijacked, from May Day demonstrations to climate rallies to vigils for the victims of far-Right terror.
Terror attacks against Israeli civilians are celebrated as anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist resistance. And they say “Palestine should be free from the river to the sea,” which is little more than a call to wipe Israel off the map.
Such attacks on Jewish self-determination and the increased anti-Zionist rhetoric, including the ahistorical and false charge that Israel is a colonial state, are deeply disturbing, because the clear majority of Jews identify as Zionists and attacks on Zionism lead to discrimination – and sometimes violence – against Jews.
Zionist Jews being excluded from progressive movements is a symptom of a threatening trend. The snapshot of antisemitism in Europe, presented in our report, shows what could spread around the world – if we don’t act.
But there is hope. In the UK, Labour leader Keir Starmer is purging antisemites from the party. In Germany, there are strong voices on the Left and an engaged civil society which criticize Israel-focused antisemitism. We welcome these actions and suggest many other steps based on ADL’s COMBAT Plan that political parties and policymakers, in Europe and the US, can take to effectively tackle antisemitism.
For too long, antisemitism from some elements of the political Left in Europe has been excused as “just criticism of Israel” or not worthy of attention because of the rapid ascendance of far-Right antisemitism. No more. We must commit that antisemitism, whether from the Left or the Right – or from anywhere in between – be called out and rejected.
Marina Rosenberg is ADL’s senior vice president for international affairs. Tahera Ameer is program director of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation.