I notice that one of the organisers and spokespersons for the disruption of the IPO’s Proms performance was Sue Blackwell. I know Sue of old and, in fact, usually get on with her reasonably well. But in my view, her obsessive (I understand, Christian in origin) hatred of Israel and Zionism (ie Jewish nationalism) has led her on many occasions to slide over from legitimate (if misguided) hostility to Israel into antisemitism (by which I mean “political”, or “left” antisemitism, not personal hatred of Jews per se).
(Above) dear, oh dear: roll over (in your grave), Beethoven
Here’s a sort of “open letter” I wrote to Sue back in 2005, when she was trying to get ‘LabourStart’ boycotted on the grounds that Eric Lee is a left- Zionist. I was, of course, wrong about the prospects of the boycott campaign within what was then the AUT (now, having merged with NATFHE, the UCU); I think my argument then, against Sue’s fanatical, Christian, anti-”Zionism”, applies all the more now, in the light of her disruption of the IPO’s concert.
That LabourStart should become a target is of interest mainly because of what it tells us about the politics of the people behind this crazy campaign. It won’t succeed – any more than the AUT boycott campaign did, once it was exposed to the scrutiny of that union’s membership and a democratic vote of the rank and file. But it is worth noting that the campaign against LabourStart has gained a new momentum in the aftermath of the defeat of the AUT boycott campaign, as the embittered boycotters thrash about, blaming “well-funded” international conspiracies and biased media coverage for the fact that the membership of the AUT rejected them and overturned their boycott.
The assault on LabourStart has its background in a long-standing campaign originally launched by a South African “labour and social movement activist” Anna Weekes and subsequently taken up by the rival Labournet website, which published an Open Letter accusing Labourstart of “a shutdown of Palestinian worker news”. In fact, Labourstart has initiated and led many campaigns in support of Palestinian trade unionists by the Israelis. When the PGFTU (Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions) headquarters were attacked by the Israeli military a few years ago, LabourStart led the international solidarity campaign, commissioned a statement in English from the PGFTU and finally succeeded in rousing the Israeli unions to offer support.
More recently, LabourStart has been campaigning to end the Israeli army’s harassment of the director of the Democracy and Workers Rights Centre in Ramallah, Hassan Barghouthi. So the claim of the Labournet Open Letter , that Labourstart “systematically under-reports Palestinian labour news” is simply untrue. In fact, a perusal of LabourStart’s Palestinian labour news page, will show that the coverage of Palestinian labour news is quite extensive – and considerably greater than its coverage of the country where the most trade unionists are killed every year: Colombia.
The truth becomes clear when one reads the full text of the Open Letter – and, in particular- the “Background” document that accompanies it. The examples of news items about Palestine that the authors and supporters of the Open Letter berate LabourStart for not reporting are all stories about Israeli military attacks on, and harassment of, Palestinians. They are all very serious and disturbing articles. None of them is about the Palestinian or Israeli labour movement. In other words, the Open Letter people’s real complaint is that Labourstart is not a general anti-Israeli / pro Palestinian website, but focuses upon trade union and labour movement news.
This is made even more explicit in the final section of the “Background” document, which is devoted to promoting the notion that Israel is an “apartheid society”. This description of Israel is a favourite of those who seek the delegitimisation and destruction of Israel. The “new apartheid” accusation has been widely debated and is rejected as an inaccurate, simplistic and politically misleading description by many people who are far from uncritical supporters of Israel (including Susie Jacobs on the “Engage” website, Benjamin Pogrud, the South African anti-apartheid campaigner in a recent seminar paper, and the self-styled “Muslim refusenik” Irshad Manji in her book “The Trouble With Islam” – to name just three. Oh yes: I forgot the late Edward Said: “Israel is not South Africa”).
Some critics of the “new apartheid” analysis (including myself and Susie Jacobs) would concede that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is increasing the danger of its moving towards an apartheid-like relationship towards Palestinians in the occupied territories. But, even so, the fundamentals are different: boycotting Israel is not the same as boycotting apartheid. Solidarising with the people of South Africa against a particular regime, is not the same as demonising the whole Israeli Jewish nation and denying its right to even exit. A workable democratic settlement in Israel /Palestine must be based upon sympathy and respect for both Palestinian and Jewish national rights.
But the Open Letter people persist in their crude, simplistic equation between Israel /Zionism and apartheid, closing their “background” document with a little parable about an imaginary publication called ‘Labournews’… “which might have been launched in 1979. Dedicated to informing trade unionists on issues of globalisation, LabourNews reproduced press reports faxed from correspondents in the Philippines, Korea, Mexico, as well as Europe and North America. For some reason the glossy magazine barely mentioned the emerging workers movement in South Africa. But it did feature autobiographical material from the Editor, a world expert on trade union communication networks. And then one week when South Africa re-invaded Mozambique, sent dogs and tear gas to crush another strike, or tested a nuclear weapon in the South Atlantic, the Editor’s personal page ran an advert for the South African Defence Force Journal. How would you have reacted?”
In other words, because LabourStart does not endorse the Israel / Zionism = apartheid /racism position, then it (LabourStart) is a racist, anti-Palestinian project comparable to apartheid South Africa …talk about a self-fulfilling, circular argument!
At this point I should probably mention that the founder and co-ordinator of LabourStart is one Eric Lee, an Isreali Jew and left Zionist. Like most of us actively involved in the labour movement , Eric has his own strongly-held political views. As anyone who has ever played a central role in organising non-partisan, broad labour movement activity will know, the extent to which you place a self-denying ordinance upon your personal views in the interests of the project as a whole, is a tricky matter of judgement. On the one hand, you don’t want to compromise the project by identifying it with your own particular views; on the other hand, you don’t wish to deny your own views, or lay the project open to charges of deception by hiding your views.
Eric Lee dealt with this problem by having an online biography separate from, but linked to, the main LabourStart site, so that anyone interested in finding out about him could do so. This biography included the fact that he had a son who was serving in the Israeli Defence Forces – and it included a link to the IDF website (a standard internet protocol: see, for example the Communist Party of Great Britain / Weekly Worker website, which dutifully links to the websites of all organisations referred to in articles, regardless of whether the CPGB agrees with them or not).
It seems to have been this link to the IDF that enraged the Open Letter people. It also seems to have been what stirred Tony Greenstein into action, and –via him – Sue Blackwell.
Sometime around June 2005 (around the time of the AUT special conference overturned its “boycott Israel” policy) Sue Blackwell’s website announced that she “no longer links to” a number of mainly antisemitic and neo Nazi websites that her “Jewish friends” had tipped her off about. I could make a big deal about what those links were doing there, on Sue’s website, in the first place – but, no: let’s just give Sue credit for removing them.
Sue broke her links with the likes of David Irving (Whatreally happened.com), Marwen Media (Sue: “Pretty nasty stuff about Holocaust denial”) , “Exposing Israeli Apartheid”, (according to Sue, the same lot as Marwen Media), and the bizarre Gilad Altzmon, jazz saxophonist and supporter of Israel Shamir, holocaust denier and “third position” neo-fascist. Such is the state of the present-day “left” that the SWP’s promotion of, and apologetics for, Altzmon came as no surprise. The fact that Sue Blackwell removed his link from her website was welcome, and persuaded me to defend her against charges of anti-semitism (for instance on the “Harry’s Place” website).
However, when I read Sue Blackwell’s reasoning for breaking her link with LabourStart:
“I thought this was a bona-fide trade union website supporting workers’ struggles. However, it emerges that Eric Lee, who runs the site, is a supporter of the “Engage” anti-boycott site. Until a few years ago he actually ran Labourstart from Israel and even had a link to the IDF homepage!”…
…I had to reconsider my defence of her from those charges.
I have already dealt with the “IDF homepage” business.
The rest is the kind of self-righteous posturing that brings the “left” into disrepute: so, being “anti boycott” signifies that you are not a bona fides trades unionist; running a website from Israel – not a matter of the politics, you note, but from that space in the world, means that you are not a “proper” trade unionist.
Sue Blackwell vigorously objects to accusations of antisemitism. And in the past, I have defended her against such accusations. But, in the aftermath of her defeat within the AUT over the boycott of Israel, I have reluctantly been forced to admit that she is on an antisemitic kick, whether she knows it or not:
Item 1/ Sue’s reaction to the defeat of the “boycott” position within the AUT: instead of acknowledging that she and her supporters had simply LOST, like many of us have lost within unions, over the years, Sue fell back upon bizarre allegations of “a massive and well funded campaign against us and incredible pressure put upon members in the run up to this debate”. I’ll ask you straight, Sue: WHO, exactly, ran and financed this “massive campaign” against you? Tell me, please. As far as I am aware, it was the rank and file AUT members Camila Basi, Jon Pike and David Hirsh, who ran the campaign to overturn the AUT’s “boycott” policy. None of them are particularly rich. None of them were financed from “outside”. So what, exactly are you –Sue- trying to suggest? And you continue to protest that your campaign is not antisemitic?
They are rich Jews? Paid agents of Israel? If that is not what you are suggesting, then please explain what you mean by “a massive and well funded campaign against us”? You really do have to explain your bizarre outbursts since losing the vote. And also, why you felt able to defy your union’s national position and your own local association, and vote in favour of the boycott position at Birmingham Trades Council on 2nd June 2005, after the AUT special conference had overturned the “boycott” position: who did you think you were representing? An imaginary AUT membership who agree with you about the destruction of Israel but don’t need to be consulted because their “anti Zionist” views can be taken as read? Even though they voted against you at a Birmingham AUT Association meeting? Have you any understanding of rank and file trade union democracy, Sue?
Item 2/ How do you, Sue, explain the following.? On your website you have a link, under the titles (yours)“Deja vu?” / “plus ca change” (ie: clearly suggesting a direct link to what has happened in the AUT), to an article (by Jeffrey Blankfort) about an incident in New Orleans in 1993 (the quote is from your own website):
“ The occasion was the annual membership meeting of the American Library Association and answering the call to colors were hundreds of Jewish librarians who descended on New Orleans for a dual purpose: to overturn a resolution criticising Israeli censorship that had been approved at last year’s convention and to demonstrate to their fellow librarians that judging Israel was not only the business of the ALA, but also was not without career-threatening risks. And they succeeded, overwhelmingly. No, the colours they rallied to weren’t visible, but they didn’t have to be”.
That piece of thinly-veiled antisemitism (“the colours they rallied to weren’t visible…”) could come out of today’s “Counterpunch”, but that is no excuse, Sue. It’s racism, pure and simple: can’t you see that? And can’t you see that by heading your link that story “Deja vu” , you are confirming an anti-Jewish angle?
Sue Blackwell and I both sit on Birmingham Trades Council. We often support each other on that august body, against the stupid Stalinist and SWP pseudo-“left”. But on the question of Israel /Palestine we simply don’t agree. I am also aware that (unlike some other delegates to Birmingham Trades Council), Sue is not personally hostile to individual Jews – or any other ethnic group.
So my question to Sue is, why are you now trying to destroy LabourStart?
My guess is, because Tony Geenstein (a more sophisticated, and more malevolent operator) has put her up to it with his hysterical “anti Zionist” line that condemns any Jew who does not renounce Isreali and/or Zionism, as a “racist”.
The fact is, that neither Blackwell nor Greenstein understand what trade unionism is. They think it is (or should be) a vehicle for their “anti-imperialist” view of the world, whereas – since Lenin and Trotsky – socialists have understood that trade unionism is, of necessity, a movement that:
“In the course of many decades, the workers have built up within the bourgeois democracy, by utilising it, by fighting against it, their own strongholds of proletarian democracy: the trade unions, the political parties, the educational and sports clubs, the co-operatives, etc”. (Trotsky, “The Struggle against Fascism in Germany”).
It is, in other words, a movement that seeks to combat the effects of exploitation within capitalism, not do away with capitalism (or imperialism) itself. Thus Greenstein’s failure to comprehend the Iraqi federation of Trade Unions’ willingness to (quite rightly) negotiate with the Iraqi government – a failure of understanding that leads him to support the fascistic, anti-working class “resistance” in its campaign of murder against the IFTU.
Greenstein and Blackwell’s ignorance concerning the basics of elementary working class politics might be dismissed as silly but harmless ultra-leftism if it had not lead them to attempt to destroy an invaluable organ of trade union solidarity: LabourStart. The fact that their campaign seems to be based upon the fact that its founder, Eric Lee opposed the AUT boycott of Israeli academics, and once ran his website from Israel, makes this nasty little campaign all the more distasteful and scabby.
See also this piece about the antisemitic witch-hunt against LabourStart.