The Anti-Anti-Semitism of Fools

September 2, 2014 at 5:17 pm (Anti-Racism, anti-semitism, left, posted by JD)

Cross post By Eric Lee

I have just come back from attending a large demonstration in central London [on Sunday -JD] protesting the rise of anti-Semitism in the UK.

The demonstration was organised by a new group called the Campaign Against Antisemitism. It was backed by all the major Jewish organisations in Britain, including the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, and many others. Nearly a thousand people signed up to attend the demo on Facebook; it looked to me like there at least that number there. The crowd seemed overwhelmingly Jewish.

Now if this had been a demonstration against racism, organized by the leadership of the Black communities in Britain, I can guarantee you that a wide range of Left groups would have been there to show their solidarity. You would have found assorted Trotskyists and others selling their newspapers, handing out leaflets and showing that they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with an ethnic minority group struggling against racist assaults, while busily trying to recruit new members.

But at this demonstration, I didn’t see a single left group of any kind with an obvious presence. There may have been individual socialists – like myself – there; but there were no banners, newspapers, or flyers.

The Jewish community seemed to be very much on its own. As if it alone could sense the danger.

On the face of it, this is odd. The rise of anti-Semitism in Britain and across Europe is well documented. Even the Muslim Council of Britain seems to acknowledge this problem in the joint declaration it issued last week together with the Board of Deputies calling for a joint fight against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

The eloquent Owen Jones addressed the problem in a recent column for the Guardian. Entitled “Anti-Jewish hatred is rising – we must see it for what it is”, Jones wrote that “there really is plenty of antisemitism that must be confronted.” And he then went on to point to rising anti-Semitism on the far Right in Greece. And Jew-hatred among the far-Rightists in Hungary. And of course anti-Semitism on the French far Right, in the form of the National Front.

But not a word about anti-Semitism in the UK. And of course no mention of anti-Semitism in Muslim communities, or the Left.

Jones is possibly unaware of the long history of anti-Semitism on the Left, a history that goes back to very earliest days of our movement. August Bebel, the great leader of German Social Democracy, famously called anti-Semitism “the socialism of fools”. (Some scholars think that the quote is wrongly attributed to Bebel, but no matter – it was widely known more than a century ago.)

Classic anti-Semitic ideas like exaggerated notions of Jewish power and wealth grew in the fertile soil of the Left long before the Palestinian issue ever arose. Left anti-Semitism pre-dates the recent Gaza war by at least a century. It may flare up when the guns are firing in Gaza, but it is always there, a low flame that doesn’t extinguish.

People like Owen Jones, and many of those on the British Left who were so notably absent from today’s demonstration, seem prepared to see anti-Semitism everywhere but in front of their noses.

Their opposition to Jew-hatred may be called the “anti-anti-Semitism of fools” as it has nothing in common with a real fight against anti-Semitism.

As a result, they leave the Jewish community alone – or drive it into the arms of right-wing demagogues who are happy for any excuse to bash the Muslim community or the Left.

And it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Left should be in the forefront of the fight against anti-Semitism, should embrace that fight and claim it as our own. We should be helping to build widespread public support for that fight, and providing it with analysis and programme.

Instead, the Left sits by the sidelines, its head in the sand, muttering about “Golden Dawn” in Greece rather than actually fighting the poison of anti-Semitism here in the UK, and here on the Left.

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Russian and other fascists discard their UK “socialist” friends

September 1, 2014 at 6:17 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, fascism, Jim D, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Russia, stalinism, Stop The War)

Discarded: German, Murray and members of ‘Workers Power’ at the last London meeting of Useful Idiots For Putin and His Fascist Friends

Less than two months ago Richard Brenner (Workers Power) and Alan Freeman (Socialist Action) were feted in the Hotel Yalta-Intourist by assorted Russian fascists and ultra-nationalists at a conference about Ukraine. The same initiative, meeting again this weekend, was apparently without them.

The first conference produced a “Declaration” (full of worthy anti-fascist and anti-war verbiage, designed for a European/US left-liberal audience) and a “Manifesto” (which amounted to a programme to wipe Ukraine off the face of the earth, or at least to reduce it to the borders of pre-World-War-One Galicia).

Brenner defended his attendance at the conference on the grounds that “some of the people in the resistance are nationalists and socially reactionary on some (not all) questions.” As for the “Manifesto”, according to Brenner, “there is nothing reactionary in its practical proposals.”

(An astonishing conclusion, bearing in mind that the title of the Manifesto – “Manifesto of the Popular Front for the National Liberation of Ukraine, Novorossiya and Transcarpathian Rus’” – was itself a “practical proposal” for the dismemberment of Ukraine.)

This weekend’s conference in the same hotel was entitled “Russia, Ukraine, Novorossiya: Global Problems and Challenges”, and will launch what it calls the “Anti-Fascist (Anti-Maidan) Council of the Russian Federation”. (1)

The conference was organised by the “Co-ordination Centre for Novaya Rus’” – one of the organisations headed by Aleksei Anpilogov which ran the earlier conference attended by Brenner and Freeman.

Three of the conference’s listed speakers attended the earlier conference: Anpilogov, Vladimir Rogov and Pyotr Getsko. (Anpilogov can fairly be described as a nationalist-cum-fascist; the latter two are more ultra-nationalist/fascist-fellow-travellers.)

But this time they were not meeting with a couple of (possibly) useful idiots from the British left.

Keynote speakers at the conference included Igor Strelkov-Girkin and Alexander Borodai (respectively, former Defence Minister and former Prime Minister of the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’). Both are members of the Izborsky Club, a Russian fascist ‘think tank’ headed up by Alexander Prokhanov and Alexander Dugin.

Sergei Glazyev (presidential aide to Putin, and a member of the Izborsky Club) also addressed the conference, as did Mikhail Delyagin (Russian academic and a member of the Izborsky Club).

Other speakers included Mikhail Sheremet (former head of the ‘Crimean Self-Defence’ which worked with the Russian military in the annexation of the Crimea, subsequently appointed Crimean Deputy Prime Minister) and Mateusz Piskorski:

“Piskorski is an open proponent of Nazism, a holocaust denier, and the author of articles in the portals “White World” and “I, A Russian”. He was the leading light of the Polish skinhead paper ‘Odala’, where he praised the Aryan race and Adolf Hitler.” (2)

Publicity for the conference states that it would be attended by “members of the Izborsky and Zinoviev Clubs”.

The latter Club is named after the late Soviet philosopher Alexander Zinoviev: an admirer of Stalin, a supporter of Milosevic, and an opponent of Western values. The Club is concerned with the restoration of “traditional Russian values”.

Also attending the conference was “parliamentary and government delegations from twelve European countries.” So far, only one of them has been named: Marton Dyondyoshi, a leading figure in the Hungarian far-right and particularly anti-semitic party Jobbik.

The list of speakers shows the hollowness of the expression “anti-fascist” in the context of this conference and its goal of setting up an “Anti-Fascist Council”.

(It is no less hollow in the context of: “Campaign in Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine”, to which Workers Power, Socialist Action and other more explicit brands of Stalinism are affiliated.)

There is nothing “anti-fascist” about the politics of the Izborsky Club members. There is nothing “anti-fascist” about the politics of Dyondyoshi. There is nothing “anti-fascist” about the politics of the French National Front (regularly praised on separatist websites).

“Anti-fascist”, in this context, is no more than a verbal fig-leaf to cover up for straightforward Russian-imperialist aggression against Ukraine.

And the fact that the organisers of the first Yalta conference have now organized this weekend’s event, inviting along sundry fascists, Hitler-admirers and anti-semites, tells you a lot about their own politics as well.

But for the likes of Worker’s Power, perhaps Jobbik should now also be classed as no more than “nationalists (who are) socially reactionary on some (not all) questions”?

1) http://delyagin.ru/news/81020-rossiya-ukraina-novorossiya-globalnyje-problemy-i-vyzovy.html
2) http://sz-n.com/2014/03/piskorski-head-of-international-observers-in-the-crimea-is-known-fascist-and-anti-semite/

Dale Street adds:

An International Congress of Fascists

Anton Shekhovtsov, an academic expert on European and Russian far right/fascist movements and ideology, has published the following list of participants in the conference (or invitees to it – it is unclear from current reports how many actually attended):

Nick Griffin (fascist British National Party, UK)

Márton Gyöngyösi (fascist Jobbik, Hungary)

Frank Creyelman (far right Vlaams Belang, Belgium)

Luc Michel (neo-Nazi Parti Communautaire National-Européen, Belgium)

Pavel Chernev (far right Ataka, Bulgaria)

Angel Djambazki (far right Bulgarsko Natsionalno Dvizhenie, Bulgaria)

Erkki Johan Bäckman (neo-Stalinist, Finland)

Giovanni Maria Camillacci (far right Lega Nord, Italy)

Roberto Fiore (fascist Forza Nuova, Italy)

Mateusz Piskorski (far right Samooborona, Poland)

Konrad Rękas (far right Samooborona, Poland)

Bartosz Bekier (neo-Nazi Falanga, Poland)

See: http://anton-shekhovtsov.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/1984-russian-and-european-fascists.html

A pro-separatist website (http://baltija.eu/news/read/39884) states that representatives of the French National Front were also due to attend the conference.

On the website of the pro-separatist “Izvestia” newspaper (http://izvestia.ru/news/575833) an article reports that attendees at the conference include Alexander Prokhanov and Alexander Dugin (Russian fascists) and Konstantin Zatulin (Russian ultra-nationalist and president of the, ahem, philanthropic fund “We Are All – Berkut”).

In early July Aleksei Anpilogov (fascist) organized an international conference to build support for the “anti-fascist resistance” in Ukraine, attended, inter alia, by Richard Brenner (Workers Power) and Alan Freeman (Socialist Action) of the British “Campaign in Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine”.

Now the same Aleksei Anpilogov (fascist) has organized another conference (same venue) to build support for the “anti-fascist resistance” in Ukraine, attended (if they turned up to the event) by fascists from throughout eastern and western Europe.

The BNP, Falanga, Forza Nuova, Jobbik, Lega Nord, Vlaams Belang, French National Front, Workers Power and Socialist Action – that’s a very broad campaign in solidarity with the “anti-fascist resistance” in Ukraine that Anpilogov is building.

See also: Comrade Coatesy:  http://tendancecoatesy.wordpress.com/2014/08/30/allegations-of-link-up-between-socialist-action-workers-power-and-russian-far-right/

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A fable of antisemitism: Howard Jacobson’s J

August 25, 2014 at 12:45 pm (anti-semitism, literature)

The cover of Howard Jacobson's latest novel

Guest post from Pink Prosecco

Like most fictions of the near future, J invites the reader to piece together the missing bits of the puzzle, trace the path which has turned our world into the novel’s world. We learn early on that this isn’t going to be an easy task. “It was a good job that history books were hard to come by, that diaries were hidden or destroyed and that libraries put gentle obstacles in the way of research.” (Kindle edition: 2%). But we soon receive hints of some cataclysmic event (referred to as WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED) as well as clues about the society which has developed in its aftermath.

Although the novel’s biggest question is WHAT HAPPENED? I found myself puzzling over another question:- what kind of science fiction novel is this exactly? Are we meant to read it as a believable dystopia, a society which could be extrapolated from current trends? Satirical and whimsical notes (such as the universal adoption of Jewish surnames by Britons) might suggest not. But what about the central premise, the implication that in ten years or so there might be a pogrom of British Jews?

By chance, just after writing the previous sentence, I flicked over to Twitter and noticed something which captured very well my uncertain response to this question. “Do Jews have future in #EU? If #Holocaust is bench mark: they do. If fear of wearing in public kipa or Star of David: they have not!”  If Jacobson was aiming for realism, then a future Britain in which pretty much all observant Jews (and some secular ones too) have quietly moved somewhere else might have been nearer the mark. By contrast, even though he’s a wingnut Eurabian fantasist, Dan Simmons’ sf novel Flashback, which presents a future world in which Israel has been wiped out by a nuclear strike from Iran, is actually a little (I hope just a little) more plausible than Jacobson’s dystopia.

But of course a dystopia doesn’t have to be realistic in order to work and have something important to say. The Handmaid’s Tale is as implausible as J, and so is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Perhaps J, like Atwood’s novel, should be read as a fable, a comment on our society’s apparent refusal to learn the lessons of the Holocaust, let alone the earlier history of antisemitism. Many elements in the novel’s hint suggestively at the relationship between antisemitism, on the one hand, and its apparent opposite – philosemitism, or simply a horrified avoidance of antisemitism. Towards the beginning of the novel a character speaks of looking for what is ‘left over’ (10%) and refers to ‘business dangerously unfinished’  but it is not at this point fully clear whether Jews are his target or those who might kill them. The pattern of confusion over this issue, the elision between guilt, horror and relief in society’s responses to WHAT HAPPENED seems to reflect the way the Holocaust is weaponised by some bigots against Jews today. The horror of the past is acknowledged, but only in order to create a new vector for antisemitism. This observation seems aimed at Jews, but could just as easily be aimed at the clever mutations and masks traceable in antisemitic discourse. ‘Too many of society’s ills were the result of the wrong sort of people with the wrong sort of beliefs finding ways of recycling themselves, no matter how much effort went into their disposal.’ (34%)

Indeed the novel seems to offer a whole series of oblique reflections on antisemitism. When Kevern is convinced someone has searched his house, Ailinn’s friend Ez is quick to offer soothing reassurances that imply he is being hypersensitive. The context (ostensibly) has nothing to do with antisemitism, but the anxiety/scepticism dynamic can be mapped onto the contrasting ways in which people respond to manifestations of antisemitism at a time when people seem increasingly emboldened to express their warped views. See for example this recent statement from a South African trade unionist, or the calmly chilling pronouncements from these Gaza protestors.  But, for some, almost any expression of anxiety is read as paranoid overreaction or a dishonest move, aimed at protecting Israel from criticism. I approached this novel with some reluctance because I found The Finkler Question overrated and politically crude. But science fiction proves a good medium for Jacobson’s message, and J, although still perhaps too obviously polemical in places, is a subtler and more unsettling exploration of antisemitism.

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Stop the War and Sami Ramadani’s loony conspiracy theory: ISIS is “serving Israeli and US … objectives”

August 18, 2014 at 5:49 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, conspiracy theories, ex-SWP, iraq, Middle East, plonker, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Stop The War)

Sami Ramadani: idiot and conspiracy theorist

By Dan Katz

The Stop the War Campaign is misnamed. To the naïve it is a happy, pacifist campaign. However the splinter of the SWP that runs it (Counterfire) is very far from being pacifist, and it would be far more honest for the campaign to be renamed, “Stop this War and Start a Different  One”.

Counterfire – and unpleasant/idiotic friends like Sami Ramadani, who writes on the Stop the War site – would be very happy if everyone in the Middle East ganged up and attacked Israel. Or the US.

Apparently - according to Ramadani, and despite all known facts and common sense – Islamic State (ISIS/IS) is actually serving Israeli interests. The evidence for this?

It seems the “ISIS Caliph [leader] and Israeli war criminal Netanyahu declared the death of Sykes-Picot borders between Iraq and Syria on almost the same day.” You might think this is a statement of fact, but not Mr Ramadani who finds the alleged coincidence highly suspicious.

More than that, the leader of ISIS/IS, doesn’t “mention Israel or its war crimes in Palestine.” It must be so disappointing to Ramadani that IS writes: “We haven’t given orders to kill the Israelis and the Jews. The war against the nearer enemy, those who rebel against the faith, is more important.”

In other words IS is quite busy, currently, slaughtering Shia and Christians. However, this isn’t quite the same as “serving Israeli interests”, is it?

At a rally in Holland a couple of days ago IS supporters chanted, “Death to the Jews!” Does any sane person think ISIS will not get round to Israel after it has polished off the Shia?

Ramadani claims, “Israel’s ambassador in Washington explained why Israel and the west should back ISIS ‘bad guys’ against other ‘bad guys’.” The evidence for this? Ramadani links to an article by a man called Christof Lehmann. There are a few problems with this. The first is Christof Lehmann is a tiresome conspiracy nut, approved by US ultra-right “libertarians.” The second is Lehmann’s article is based on the word of an anonymous source ‘close to a Lebanese billionaire’ who claims backing for ISIS was decided at a meeting of a US think-tank, months ago (a thinktank which controls US policy?). And finally, that the article doesn’t mention an Israeli ambassador at all.

Then Ramadani, having convinced himself, writes, “It is clear to me that ISIS is serving Israeli and US economic, political and military objectives in the region.”

Which just leaves a small problem: why is the US currently bombing ISIS/IS?

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The Guardian and antisemitism

August 14, 2014 at 6:30 am (anti-semitism, AWL, From the archives, Guardian, israel, Jim D, media, Middle East, publications, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, stalinism, zionism)

It should not need saying, but it does: people can be as angry as they like at the Israeli government, but to attack a synagogue, threaten children at a Jewish school, or throw a brick through the window of a Jewish grocery store is vile and contemptible racism. It cannot be excused by reference to Israeli military behaviour. The two are and should be kept utterly distinct.

Some may counter that that is impossible, given the strong attachment of most Jews to Israel. But this is less complicated than it looks. Yes, Jews feel bound up with Israel, they believe in its right to survive and thrive. But that does not mean they should be held responsible for its policy, on which some may disagree and over which they have no control.

Nor should they be required to declare their distance from Israel as a condition for admission into polite society. We opposed such a question being put to all Muslims after 9/11 and, though the cases are not equivalent, the same logic applies here. This is a test for those who take a strong stance in support of the Palestinians, but in truth it is a test for all of us.

The Guardian has recently carried a number of pieces denouncing antisemitism, including the editorial quoted from above, a powerful piece by Jon Henley on the rise in antisemitic attacks in Europe, a polemic entitled ‘Please don’t tell me what I should think about Israel’ by self-described “liberal American Jew” Hadley Freeman, and a confused but well-intentioned ramble by Owen Jones, who makes some good points but still seems to think that (often) “the charge of antisemitism is concocted” to silence critics of Israeli policy. Still, whatever its weaknesses, Jones’ s piece is further evidence of the Guardian taking antisemitism seriously.

Why the Guardian‘s recent concern with antisemitism comes as something of a surprise is because the paper itself has, in the past, been accused of downplaying the dangers of antisemitism, and even of promoting it, due to its often extremely simplistic Middle Eastern coverage, its promotion of ‘one-state’ (sic) propaganda and crude ‘anti-Zionism,’ due in large part to the the influence of the paper’s Stalinist associate editor Seumas Milne and its middle east editor Ian Black. The criticisms have not only come from the right. At the time of the last Gaza war (2009), Sean Matgamna of the Alliance for Workers Liberty wrote the following open letter to editor Alan Rusbridger. It’s worth republishing now because the underlying political problems it identifies are still commonplace on the liberal-left, including – as Owen Jones’s piece arguably demonstrates – the Guardian itself:

Dear Alan Rusbridger,

The Guardian is the “house organ” of most of the non-Muslim people who took part in the two big demonstrations during the Gaza war. A vigorous campaign by the Guardian against anti-semitism on the “left” might do much good.

On Saturday 7 February, the Guardian carried an editorial, “Language and History”, denouncing anti-semitism and specifically the “anti-Zionist” anti-semitism that is now commonplace, remarking on the growth of anti-semitic incidents in Britain (now on average, one per day, and increasing).

Unfortunately, the editorial seriously misdefined the realities of what it discussed, and pussyfooted around the issue.

“Some extremists on the right and possibly [sic] the left might claim [that] the government is in the pocket of a ‘Jewish lobby’. There is no ‘Jewish lobby’ in the conspiratorial sense that the slur implies, and to assert that there is can only be the result of the kind of racism that has scarred Europe from tsarist Russia to the fascists and Stalinists of the 1930s through to the jihadists now. To present all Jewish people as coterminous with Israel and its supporters is a mistake with potentially terrible consequences. It aligns ethnicity with a political perspective, and it is simply racist”.

Indeed. The editorial records the Government’s statement that “unlike other forms of racism, antisemitism is being accepted within parts of society instead of being condemned.”

And the left? “Some within its ranks now risk sloppily allowing their horror of Israeli actions to blind them to antisemitism…. Last month, a rally in defence of the people of Gaza that included verbal attacks on the so-called ‘Nazi tendencies’ of Israel was followed by actual attacks on Jewish targets in north London”.

The editorial adds that such things as “kill Arabs” graffiti in Gaza are “chilling”. And? “The style in which that is condemned must not create the climate that allows scrawling ‘kill Jews’ on synagogues in Manchester”. The style….

The problem with all this is that it is so shot through with understatement that it seriously misrepresents the state of things. The demonstrations on Gaza “included verbal attacks on the so-called ‘Nazi tendencies’ of Israel”? Included? As we reported (www.workersliberty.org/gazademos) the demonstrations were entirely dominated by placards equating the Star of David and the Nazi swastika, Israel with South Africa, Gaza with the Nazi mass murder of Jews, or chants about a “Palestine” stretching “from the river to the sea”.

All the platform speakers, in their varying notes, tones annd degrees, proclaimed the same sort of politics. The one-time British diplomat Craig Murray explicitly called for the abolition of Israel and the rolling-back of Middle East history to before 1948. An SWP organiser on the megaphone at one of the marches was shouting that Israeli Jews should “go back to New York”.

The Guardian says that the left “possibly” subscribes to notions of an all-controlling “Jewish lobby”. Possibly? Moshe Machover came pretty close to saying it outright in the recent exchanges in this paper – and he is one of the most sophisticated of the “absolute anti-Zionists”.

Mr Rusbridger, the root and core of modern anti-Semitism is the denial of Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. That inexorably leads on to a radical political hostility to most Jews alive.

Of course Jews and Israel are not co-terminous. They could hardly be! It is a fact that all but a few Jews — revolutionary socialists, Neturei Karta, etc. — feel connected with Israel, however critically, and however much they abhor such things as the onslaught on Gaza. How could a people with their history not have such attitudes?

The “demand” that the self-proclaimed left has made on British Jews — very aggressively on university campuses, for example – has been that they repudiate Israel, that they not be Zionists, that they accept that Israel is “racist” in essence and has no right to exist.

The denial of Israel’s right to exist, predominant on the self-proclaimed left, is the precondition for the bizarre alliance of so much of the left with political Islam (to give it its proper name, Islamic clerical fascism). It is what allows the self-proclaimed left, political Islam, and Islamic communalists to merge and meld almost indistinguishably on occasions like the Gaza demonstrations.

Inevitably that radical political hostility to most Jews alive taps into the great half-buried septic reservoirs of old anti-semitism — into old racist, religious, and nondescript crank anti-semitism.

The Guardian Editorial writes of Nazi and Stalinist anti-Semitism in the 1930s. The worst Stalinist anti-semitism – from which come such things as the Stalinist-typical lunacy of equating Zionism and Nazism – erupted in the late 1940s and early 50s. The poisonous account of modern Jewish and Zionist history in the 20th century, which is dominant on the “left”, originates there, in Stalinism.

These old ideas of High Stalinist “anti-Zionism”/ anti-Semitism are rampant in the pro-Palestinian movement because they have conquered so much of the Trotskyism-rooted “left”. Young people who, to their credit, want to do something about such things as Gaza, come under the sway of the “smash Israel”, supposedly “pro-Palestinian” campaigns. The are taught ro reject a “Two State” settlement.

For the Guardian editorial to say that the difficulty lies in “the style” in which specific Israeli actions are criticised and condemned is simply preposterous! Whatever the “style” — and it varies from the seemingly reasonable to froth-at-the-mouth, open anti-semitism — the proposal to put an end to Israel leads inexorably to the things which the Guardian condemns, and to far worse.

The Guardian Editorial talks of the anti-semitism of the “jihadists”. The point is that the politics dominant in the Gaza demonstrations were entirely in line with the jihadists and their anti-semitism.

The Guardian has influence within the broad left. It is a pity you do not use that influence to tell the left the unpalatable truth about the state it’s in, that you don’t hold the mirror up, force people who should know better to see what they have let themselves become.

Yours, Solidarity

Sean Matgamna

Below: different faces of contemporary antisemitism:

The Argus: Synagogue is sprayed with pro-Gaza graffiti

God_bless_hitler

 
 

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The conflict in Gaza; some thoughts about tropes

August 6, 2014 at 12:38 pm (anti-semitism, israel, Uncategorized, zionism)

Guest post from Pink Prosecco

A few days ago a participant in one of the countless online debates about Gaza made a reference to the phenomenon of “trope inflation”.  His particular point was that the term “blood libel” is used too vaguely and too freely.  The blood libel is a motif, or trope, within antsemitic discourse, and refers to the belief that the blood of gentile children is used in Jewish rituals. 

It seems reasonable to use the term “blood libel” of any image or text which directly references eating children – this cartoon for example, where the visual echo of the blood in the wine adds to the effect of bloodthirstiness.

The many rumours about Israel’s use of body parts may also, I think, be seen as a kind of modern version of the blood libel. And I can understand why the repeated references to “child murderers” in Mark Steel’s recent rant made many invoke the blood libel trope in their angry responses.

But criticisms of Israel’s actions in Gaza, even ones which seem unfair, shouldn’t be characterized as “blood libel” without good reason, or the usefulness of the trope is devalued.  Here’s a clear example of an unearned usage – the author never demonstrates why the phrase “blood libel” should appear in the title.

I’d like to emphasise that there seems nothing dishonest or manipulative in the author’s odd choice of title, a charge often leveled by zealous anti-zionists against supporters of Israel. In fact the article documents a very serious instance of antisemitism, drawing on more than one other significant trope but blood libel isn’t one of them.

Water is a cause of conflict in the Middle East, and it is often asserted that Israel deprives Palestinians of their fair share.  Within such discussions the waters are sometimes muddied, as it were, by another antisemitic trope, the old belief that Jews poison wells.   The Wikipedia entry on well-poisoning includes a sustained account of this Medieval trope and concludes references to alleged contemporary incidents of Israeli settlers contaminating the water supply.  It’s hard to know quite how to respond to this convergence, as of course just because something is a trope doesn’t mean it is necessarily always false.  I’ve seen examples of such stories being souped up in a lurid way, but also times where “trope inflation” has led to a reasonably dispassionate commenter being accused of antisemitism.

Another antisemitic trope is the conflation of Zionism with Nazism.  The possibilities are endless – and almost always best avoided. But some Zionists do stress-test this rule of thumb.  Moshe Feiglin’s plan for Gaza made the Mail declare that “Israeli official calls for concentration camps in Gaza”.  Technically, this may be accurate. But because the phrase “concentration camp” is now so associated with Nazism and seen pretty much as a synonym for “death camp”, I wouldn’t have used that expression myself.  But his proposals are certainly outrageous. 

To sum up – whether you are attacking antisemitism or Israel’s policies (or both) it’s best to use precise and proportionate terms.  If you feel strongly about the topic then you should be all the more confident about relying on facts and analysis Ð and seek to avoid giving your opponents a means of deflection.

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Flippant Nihilist

August 4, 2014 at 8:40 pm (anti-semitism, fascism, Orwell, Rosie B, Uncategorized)

I only know Alexander Cockburn as an editor of the creepy Counterpunch, and his airy dismissals  of anyone who thought Israel Shamir a dodgy piece of work. 

There’s a fascinating account of him by Paul Berman.

Cockburn is reminiscent of Christopher Hitchens – the English journalist who lives in America and writes stylishly about American and international affairs. The political framework may be leftwards, the cultural references English literature, quoted with ease to point the moral and adorn the tale.

Berman does explain why Cockburn was so indifferent about Israel Shamir’s vile antisemitism:-

How systematically the man had gone after Israel, and how reluctant he was to say a word of criticism about the Soviet Union or the Islamic Republic of Iran or the terrorism of the anti-Zionists. Newfield took note of Cockburn’s hostility to Natan Sharansky, who in those days was a persecuted Jewish dissident in the Soviet Union. 

… In his column he took to sniping in my direction, not always wittily, which other people in the Voice newsroom attributed to his distaste for the Jewish concerns that sometimes cropped up in my writings. He accused me of “pandering” to the Jews by writing about Holocaust denial and Noam Chomsky (a rich theme)

Cockburn shared the Israel (or “Zionism”) obsession of the anti-imperialist Left:-

he does attribute 9/11 to “recent Israeli rampages in the Occupied Territories”

Alexander Cockburn woshipped his father, Claud Cockburn, who had lived an adventurous life where history was happening and who in the Spanish Civil War had the mouths of high-ranking Soviet officials in his ear.

Claud Cockburn was, in spite of appearances, a fine man who would never have turned over names to the Soviet police in Spain. But then, proud of his father, Alexander includes within the Wreck a brief memoir by Claud of his Spanish experiences, which leaves the impression that, in regard to the Soviet police activities, Claud was not a reluctant participant. About his friend Guy Burgess and the other Cambridge spies, Claud remarks that idealistic motives were at work, and these were “sensitive and informed” young men. Claud cites his own “experience in the field of espionage, or rather, counter-espionage.” He was “a section leader of the counter-espionage department of the Spanish Republican government dealing with Anglo-Saxon personalities,” which does sound like a job dedicated to informing the police. “

Berman believes that Claud Cockburn was a dark inspiration for George Orwell:-

I have always supposed that, when Orwell laid out the principles of totalitarianism in Nineteen Eighty-Four, one of his inspirations was Claud Cockburn, British correspondent: a cheerful example of a man willing to say everything and its opposite in the interest of a totalitarian state, committed to the renunciation of truth, to the hatred of free-thinkers, to the cause of persecution, and to the cult of obedience.

In Orwell’s portrait, the totalitarian mentality was never a matter of ideology gone awry, nor a matter of lower-class resentments. The mentality was a contempt for everyday morality and human considerations. It was a flippant nihilism, attached to no cause or principle at all, apart from love of tyranny. And, to be sure, no sooner did the Spanish anti-fascists go down to defeat than Claud Cockburn turned on a dime and set about composing justifications for Stalin’s pact with Hitler.

You could think this was a total damning of Alexander Cockburn. But Berman pays due attention to his elegant style and his love of anecdote, which at the end made me think I’d enjoy at least flicking through words of the co-editor of Counterpunch – though his constant jeering (in which he sounds like Hunter S Thompson), would get tedious after a while.

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Challenging anti-Semitism on Gaza demos

July 30, 2014 at 1:36 am (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, Middle East, posted by JD, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", wankers)

By Daniel Randall (at Workers Liberty):

On the 26 July London demonstration against Israel’s assault on Gaza, I confronted a man who was carrying a placard which read “Research: The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion”, with an image of a Star of David, dripping blood, with “666” in the centre.

On the Gaza demonstration in London today. Here's a comment from somebody on the demo who challenged him</p><br /> <p>"When I challenged him, he said "you're blinded by your bias, because you're a Jew. Only Jews make the arguments you're making." As the "discussion" became more heated, various onlookers weighed in on his side, with stuff ranging from "he's opposing Zionism, not Jews", through to "he's not racist, Zionism is racist," to the crystal-clear "if you're a Jew, you're the problem, you're what we're here to demonstrate against." Some people weighed in on my side too".

The Protocols are an anti-Semitic forgery dating from Tsarist Russia, which purport to expose a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world. They were used in their time, and have been used since, to whip up racist hatred, often violent, against Jews.I told the man that racism had no place on the demonstration, that his presence harmed the Palestinian cause, and that the document he was promoting was a racist hoax. In the course of what was probably a not very coherent tirade from me, I mentioned that I was Jewish.“Well, you’re blinded by your bias because you’re a Jew”, he said. “Only Jews make the arguments you’re making.”

Thereafter the “discussion” became more heated, and several onlookers were drawn in. Several people backed me up, but several defended him.

Their defences ranged from, “he’s opposing Zionists, not Jews”, to “he’s not racist, Zionism is racist!”, to the perhaps more honest “Jews are the problem. If you’re a Jew, you’re racist, you’re what we’re demonstrating against.” One man, topless, but wearing a balaclava, said “fuck off, unless you want your fucking head kicked in.”

I walked away, angry and upset. I returned a short while later to find the placard-holder embracing two young men, before leaving. When me and some comrades challenged them, they told us he wasn’t anti-Semitic, merely anti-Zionist. “Look, it says ‘Zion’”, not ‘Jews’. ‘Zion’ means Zionists”, one helpfully informed us.

Explicit anti-Jewish racism of the kind displayed on the man’s placard has been rare on Palestine solidarity demonstrations in Britain. But the fact that it was present at all, and that it could find even a handful of defenders in a crowd of other demonstrators, is deeply worrying. Pointing to its rarity, and dismissing the problem as restricted solely to fringe elements, would be to bury one’s head in the sand. As recent events in France and Germany have shown, it is an undeniable fact that there are anti-Semites in the global Palestine solidarity movement, and ones prepared to violently express their anti-Semitism. That must not be allowed to infect the movement in Britain.

I don’t know how easy a ride the man and his placard had on the demonstration before myself and others confronted him. Had official stewards of the march seen the placard, and challenged him? Perhaps he’d spent all day under attack from other demonstrators; I hope so. But when I found him, he was perfectly at his ease, and, as it turned out, surrounded by friends. That is a disappointment. If people with such politics want to attend solidarity demonstrations to peddle them, they should find themselves isolated, and face constant harangue. They shouldn’t be entitled to a moment’s peace.

While outward displays of “classical” anti-Semitism are rare, subtler themes are more common. Placards and banners comparing the Israeli state to Nazism, and its occupation of Palestine to the Holocaust, and images melding or replacing the Star of David with swastikas, are, while far from universal, relatively commonplace. The politics of this imagery, too, has an anti-Semitic logic.

Nazism and the Holocaust – an experience of attempted industrialised genocide, just two generations distant – left deep scars on Jewish identity and collective cultural memory and consciousness, wounds that will take a long time to heal. As others have written recently, no other ethno-cultural group has the most traumatic experience in its history exploited in this way. “Zionism = Nazism”, “Star of David = Swastika”, and “The Occupation = The Holocaust” all use collective cultural trauma as a weapon to attack Jews. The fact that those who take such placards on demonstrations intend only to target the Israeli government, and not Jews in general, is no defence or excuse. The barbarism of Israeli state policy does not make the Jewishness of its government fair game, any more than Barack Obama’s imperialism excuses racist attacks on him.

To describe the Palestinian solidarity movement, as such, as “anti-Semitic” would be a calumny. Cynics and right-wingers have attempted to use incidents of anti-Semitism to extrapolate conclusions about the politics of all marchers, or to imply that any support for the Palestinians at all is somehow anti-Semitic. Such cynical extrapolations are not my intention with this article. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of marchers attended because they want to oppose Israel’s current assault on Gaza. The movement includes many Jews (and not just the theocratic reactionaries of Neturei Karta, but secular-progressive Jews too), and many sincere anti-racists. But a situation where anyone thinks it appropriate to carry such a placard, where he can find supporters, and where such people can openly racially abuse Jewish demonstrators who challenge them, is not tolerable and must be addressed.

Right-wingers in the Jewish community will use instances of anti-Semitism to discredit the Palestinian cause, and dissuade Jews from acting to support it. On this, instrumental, level, anti-Semitism harms the Palestinians. But racism should have no place in any solidarity movement, not because it’s bad PR, but because the politics of solidarity should be anathema to any form of racism.

It is now common in the left-wing blogosphere for articles which contain potentially traumatic content to carry “trigger warnings”, alerting those who have experienced particular traumas that something in the article might trigger painful memories of their experience. To attend a demonstration where Nazism and the Holocaust, the worst and most traumatic of Jewish collective experience, is used as a cheap propaganda tool, and openly anti-Semitic placards are carried and defended, while those challenging them are racially abused, must surely be “triggering” for many Jews. But we can’t put trigger warnings on demonstrations, or on life. All we can do is work to win hegemony for a political culture where such things are confronted and stamped out.

Finally, a “historical” note on placards on Palestine solidarity demonstrations. In 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, some Workers’ Liberty members in Sheffield (three of us, incidentally, Jewish) took placards on a demonstration against the assault which, amongst other things, said “No to IDF, no to Hamas.” As it happens, I now think, for various reasons, that our slogan was misjudged. But no-one attempted to engage us in debate or discussion about it; we were simply screamed at, called (variously) “scabs” and “Zionists”, and told we must immediately leave the demo (we didn’t). Our placards were ripped out of our hands and torn to pieces.

As I say, I don’t know how many people had challenged the racist placard on the 2014 London demonstration before me; several, I hope. But the political atmosphere on the demo was evidently not such that the man carrying it felt unwelcome – and, indeed, when he was challenged, many people leapt to his defence.

I don’t make the comparison in order to express a wish that what happened to us in 2009 had happened to him in 2014. I wouldn’t particularly advocate physically destroying the man’s placard, or attempting to physically drive him and his supporters off the demonstration. But a movement in which “no to IDF, no to Hamas” is considered beyond the pale even for debate and discussion, and must be violently confronted, but a placard promoting The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion can be carried without challenge, even for a moment, and its carrier find numerous defenders, needs to change its political culture.

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Anti-semitism should not be tolerated on pro-Palestinian demos

July 28, 2014 at 7:57 am (anti-semitism, fascism, israel, Jim D, London, Middle East, palestine, protest, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Stop The War, zionism)

Amongst the many good and decent people who’ve been demonstrating against what Israel is doing in Gaza, are a significant number of anti-Semites, like this character:

On the Gaza demonstration in London today. Here's a comment from somebody on the demo who challenged him</p><br /> <p>"When I challenged him, he said "you're blinded by your bias, because you're a Jew. Only Jews make the arguments you're making." As the "discussion" became more heated, various onlookers weighed in on his side, with stuff ranging from "he's opposing Zionism, not Jews", through to "he's not racist, Zionism is racist," to the crystal-clear "if you're a Jew, you're the problem, you're what we're here to demonstrate against." Some people weighed in on my side too".

It is probably the case that such undesirable elements will inevitably attach themselves to pro-Palestinian events. What is more worrying is the willingness (both at the events themselves, and then subsequently on social media) of leftists who claim to oppose anti-Semitism, to defend, explain away, minimise and generally turn a blind eye to, this sort of filth. Neither is there any evidence (that I’m aware of) of the PSC or other organisers of recent demos in London and elsewhere, doing anything to remove or challenge anti-Semites. Even this guy:

Try explaining that away…

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Sami Ramadani’s claim that Zionists bombed Baghdad synagogues in 1950-51

June 17, 2014 at 4:54 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, Guardian, history, iraq, iraq war, israel, Jim D, Middle East, Stop The War, terror, zionism)

 
Registering for Aliya, Baghdad, 1950                                                                       Landing in Israel

Sami Ramadani is a periodic contributor to the Guardian, always billed as “a political refugee from Sadam Hussain’s regime.” In fact, that billing doesn’t really do him justice: during the Iraq war he was a supporter of the murderous, anti-working class Iraqi “resistance” and is a demagogue, much loved by the so-called ‘Stop The War Coalition’, who routinely blames the “West” and “Zionists” for all the ills of Iraq in particular, and the Middle East in general.

Shiraz has commented on his politics in the past.

In his latest Guardian piece, arguing that prior to the 2003 occupation, there was no “significant communal fighting between Iraq’s religions, sects, ethnicities or nationalities”, Ramadani mentions two incidents that would seem to contradict his thesis:

“[T]he only incident was the 1941 violent looting of Jewish neighbourhoods – still shrouded in mystery as to who planned it. The bombing of synagogues in Baghdad in 1950-51 turned out to be the work of Zionists to frighten Iraq’s Jews – one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world – into emigrating to Israel.”

I’ll leave aside the 1941 looting for now (though, whether by accident or design, it’s worth noting that Ramadani’s choice of words would lead the uniformed reader to assume that it, too, was probably the work of “Zionists”).

What I want to discuss here, is Ramadani’s bald statement that the 1950-51 bombings “turned out to be the work of Zionists”, as though that is an established, incontrovertible fact. Far from it: the matter is hotly disputed to this day, as a visit to Wikipedia will confirm. I want to make it clear that I am not ruling out the possibility that the bombings (or, perhaps, just some of them) were the work of Zionists, either operating on a free-lance basis or under orders from the Israeli leadership. But that thesis is far from being the established fact that Ramadani makes it out to be, as a glance at Wikipedia will confirm.

It is generally acknowledged that the two best accounts of the bombings, arguing diametrically opposed positions, are by Abbas Shiblack, in his 1989 book The Lure of Zion: The Case of the Iraqi Jews (later slightly revised and republished as The Iraq Jews: A History of Mss Exodus), who argues that Zionists were responsible, and Moshe Gat’s The Jewish Exodus from Iraq, 1948-1951 which presents the case for Arab nationalist responsibility. They also disagree on the question of how important the bombings were in causing the exodus of Jews from Iraq.

The two accounts were analysed and weighed up against each other in a review of Shiblack’s book by Rayyan Al-Shawat, writing in the Winter 2006 edition of Democratiya magazine:

The other significant study of this subject is Moshe Gat’s The Jewish Exodus  from Iraq, 1948-1951, which was published in 1997. A shorter encapsulation
of Gat’s argument can be found in his 2000 Israel Affairs article ‘Between Terror and Emigration: The Case of Iraqi Jewry.
’ Because of the diametrically opposed conclusions arrived at by the authors, it is useful to compare and contrast their  accounts. In fact, Gat explicitly refuted many of Shiblak’s assertions as early as 1987, in his Immigrants and Minorities review of Shiblak’s The Lure of Zion. It is unclear why Shiblak has very conspicuously chosen to ignore Gat’s criticisms and his pointing out of errors in the initial version of the book. The republication of Shiblak’s book 19 years after its first printing afforded him the opportunity to enact revisions, but where modifications were made they are minor, and almost no corrections are to be found. This article will highlight the major differences…

Al-Shawat’s admirably objective and even-handed article concludes as follows:

It is likely that we will never know for sure who the perpetrators of the attacks were.
As for the final word on the effect of the bombs, it is distressing to note that neither
Shiblak nor Gat saw fit to conduct a survey among surviving Iraqi Jewish emigrants
in order to ascertain, in the emigrants’ own words, their reasons for leaving Iraq.
This would have been of inestimable value in determining whether or not the
bombings were in fact the main reason for the exodus. Without evidence, Iraqi
Jews are not necessarily more qualified than anyone else to opine as to the identity
of the terrorists responsible for the bombs. Yet who could be more qualified than Iraqi Jews to explain which factors impelled them to leave Iraq for Israel?!

There is much anecdotal evidence to support the contention that the bombings – whoever
perpetrated them – were the decisive factor behind Iraqi Jews’ emigration. Personal
testimonies to this effect abound. Yet, inexcusably, there has apparently been no
organised effort to collate such testimonies within the framework of a scientific
survey. Though Shiblak cannot prove that Zionist emissaries from Israel were responsible for the bombings, he succeeds in demonstrating that these bombings were a major factor in the flight of Iraqi Jewry. Had Shiblak included a scientifically conducted survey of explanations provided by Iraqi Jews as to why they left, results might have proved that the bombings were the overriding reason – and not simply a major factor behind the exodus.

That seems to me to be a fair and balanced conclusion – ie: we simply don’t know who was responsible. But for the likes of Ramdani that’s not good enough: the Zionists must be to blame for bombing the synagogues – just as they’re to blame for so much else…

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