Zionists pioneered ‘cancel culture,’ professor claims

“It was U.S. Zionists who pioneered the tactic of putting pressure on organizations to disinvite unfavored speakers,” claims Edward Skidelsky, without giving a single example of such a disinvitation.

By Ira Stoll, The Algemeiner

American Zionists are to blame for pioneering cancel culture, a British professor claims in a new article.

Under the headline “The Spectre of Totalitarianism,” the essay by Edward Skidelsky in the March 2021 issue of The Critic warns against “the new intolerance,” the onslaught of what the article calls “the ‘woke’ left.”

The article attracted positive attention from some prominent public intellectuals. “A powerful essay,” tweeted Niall Ferguson, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. “This is excellent,” said Adrian Wooldridge, political editor of The Economist.

Somewhat disturbingly, though, the article traces the origins of cancel culture to the actions of pro-Israel advocates. “The new intolerance is often seen as a specifically left-wing phenomenon — an intensification of the ‘political correctness’ which emerged on US campuses in the 1980s,” Skidelsky writes. “But that is a one-sided view of the matter. It was U.S. Zionists who pioneered the tactic of putting pressure on organizations to disinvite unfavored speakers.”

The article gives not a single example of such a dis-invitation.

If the claim gets traction, it could fracture coalitions on the political right. Former President Donald Trump ran for re-election in 2020 condemning cancel culture. “We must reclaim our independence from the left’s repressive mandates. Americans are exhausted, trying to keep up with the latest lists of approved words and phrases, and the ever more restrictive political decrees,” Trump said in his speech at the Republican Convention, accepting the party’s nomination for re-election.

“Many things have a different name now, and the rules are constantly changing. The goal of cancel culture is to make Americans live in fear of being fired, expelled, shamed, humiliated, and driven from society as we know it. The far-left wants to coerce you into saying what you know to be false and scare you out of saying what you know to be true. Very sad.”

The same speech emphasized Trump’s pro-Israel bona fides. “Unlike many presidents before me, I kept my promise, recognized Israel’s true capital and moved our Embassy to Jerusalem,” Trump said. “We also recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and this month we achieved the first Middle East peace deal in 25 years. Thank you to the UAE. Thank you to Israel.”

Some of the most prominent critics of cancel culture — Bari Weiss, Bret Stephens, Dan Senor, and Harper’s letter signer David Frum — are also prominent Zionists.

Skidelsky is a lecturer at the University of Exeter, where 26 scholars have signed a commitment declaring that they will not accept invitations to visit Israeli universities or participate in conferences funded, organized or sponsored by them.

Skidelsky’s father, Lord Robert Skidelsky, is famous as the biographer of the economist John Maynard Keynes. In a lunch interview with the Financial Times in 2009, the paper asked Robert Skidelsky why he had written a sympathetic biography of Oswald Mosely, who formed the British Union of Fascists:

“Why was he, I ask, so indulgent toward Mosley, with his fascist views and his anti-Semitism, given his own Jewish background?”

“Half-Jewish,” he says, gently correcting me.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.