Unite says: Vote Khan!

May 4, 2016 at 2:38 am (elections, labour party, London, posted by JD, reformism, Unite the union, workers)

From Unite London and Eastern Region:

Sadiq Khan for London

Unite for Khan

Download and read the Unite draft submission to Sadiq’s manifesto

Why London and Eastern Region of Unite came to support Sadiq

On Saturday 16 May 2015 Unite’s Regional Committee met to interview 5 candidates who had put themselves forward to be the Labour party’s candidate for the London Mayor election in May 2016.

The committee, which is made up of lay members from across all of Unite’s industrial sectors including; b us and taxi drivers, cleaners, charity workers, health and Local Government workers, printers, bank employees and members from manufacturing, spent over 4 hours listening to the views of all the candidates to four questions we posed on transport, housing, workers’ rights and equalities.

At the end of the meeting the committee held a vote and it was decided that London and Eastern Region would support Sadiq Khan as our first preference candidate (to be the Labour candidate) and Diane Abbott as our second.

All of the candidates performed well, but the meeting felt that Sadiq offered the best vision for London and Londoners, closely reflecting the values and policies of the regional committee.

Since the hustings Sadiq has come out with a number of policy initiatives that underline why we were right to give him our support including:

  • A one wage structure across the London’s bus network
  • A clear commitment to build more social homes for rent at affordable levels
  • The creation of an economic fairness unit at City Hall to deliver a £10 per hour London living wage
  • End the use of companies who have taken part in blacklisting union members

Sadiq Khan offers the best hope of Londoners including our members. If he is successful he will clearly make a difference – That’s why we are supporting Sadiq.

You can find more about Sadiq’s plan for London at www.sadiq.london

– See more at: http://www.unitetheunion.org/how-we-help/listofregions/londonandeastern/unite-forkhan/#sthash.JS27p6OE.dpuf

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Lansman: the left should stop using the word “Zionism”

May 3, 2016 at 1:38 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, history, John Rees, left, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", zionism)

Mapam campaign poster 1944
Mapam (left-Zionist) poster 1944

Jon Lansman, long-standing Labour leftist and founder-member of Momentum, has written a piece for Left Futures blog, arguing that the left’s habitual use of the word “Zionism” is unhelpful and counter-productive.

The latter part of his article is good. But much of the article – inconsistently with the latter part – seems to suggest no more than a change of language (don’t say Zionist – say Israeli nationalist).

The problem with that becomes clear when he quotes Jacqueline Rose’s suggestion that instead of saying Zionism equals apartheid, people should say: Israeli nationalism equals apartheid. Would it be acceptable, by analogy, to say: German nationalism (necessarily) equals the Holocaust?

And the upshot of ‘Israeli nationalism equals apartheid’ is no different from the upshot of ‘Zionism equals apartheid’, i.e. boycott Israel.

Rose was one of the instigators of the academic boycott. There’s a lot of articles explaining what’s wrong with her politics on the Engage website.

Lansman also buys into the Rose/Lerman line of drawing a distinction between good (or potentially good) diaspora Jewry and bad Israeli Jewry. Hence his claim that “British Zionists are a world apart from Israeli Zionists”. But still, it’s a thoughtful article that reaches at least one correct conclusion: the left should stop using the word “Zionism” as a pejorative.
_______________________________________________________________________

Why the Left must stop talking about ‘Zionism’

By Jon Lansman

There is every justification for talking about the rights of Palestinians, for campaigning against the profound injustice that has been done to them and for criticising the actions and policies of the Israeli government but there is no defence for antisemitism, whoever makes the accusation. As the Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG) has rightly argued, “accusations of antisemitism are currently being weaponised to attack the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party with claims that Labour has a “problem” of antisemitism.” A group of Jews also wrote to the Guardian this week to add that:

The tiny number of cases of real antisemitism need to be dealt with, but we are proud that the Labour party historically has been in the forefront of the fight against all forms of racism.”

But one of them, David Rosenburg, a leading member of the JSG, also argued on the same day that in spite of efforts to “to deconstruct the ‘problem with antisemitism’“:

Ken Livingstone’s crass intervention yesterday was a massive setback for those efforts, and a free gift to those manipulating the issue for right wing purposes….

My plea to fellow anti-racist, anti-Zionist, socialist activists is: don’t waste any of your precious time today trying to rationalise, defend or explain away Livingstone’s comments, but concentrate on challenging the terms of the debate as set by the right-wing alliance that are exploiting this whole issue.

  • Concentrate on how to persuade and split off those who are genuinely worried about rising antisemitism from those exploiting the issues;
  • Concentrate on showing how the Left can demonstrate that the fight against antisemitism is tied up with the fight against all racism including Islamophobia;
  • Concentrate on exposing how those feigning sympathy for Jews are implicated in racism against others; and
  • Concentrate on ways to ensure free speech and rational debate about the realities of what Zionism and Israeli policy is enacting daily against the Palestinians.

So how do we achieve that? I would argue that it is time for the Left to start talking in a new language – one that expresses our views about Israel, about the policies and actions of its government and about the rights of Palestinians without alienating any of those who might agree with us. It is not necessary to abandon any non-racist criticisms of Israel, however robust they may be, in order to do so.

Why is a new language necessary: because British Jews, most of whom support a Palestinian state (71%), and see the expansion of settlements as a major obstacle to peace (75%) and feel a sense of despair when they are expanded (68%) generally see themselves as “Zionists” (59%) with more who also “possess some traditionally ‘Zionist’ attitudes“) – all figures from The Attitudes of British Jews towards Israel). Zionism takes many forms, and British Zionists (at least those who are Jewish) are a world apart from Israeli Zionists. In Israel, tragically, a plurality of Jews (48% versus 46%) believe “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel” and disagree that “a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully with each other” (45% to 43%) – data from Pew Research Center.

Like Didi Herman at Critical Legal Thinking, Professor of Law at Kent Law School and a Jew who used to describe herself as an anti-zionist but does no longer, I therefore think the Left should stop talking about “Zionism” or “Zionists”. As Herman argues:

Zionism has become a dirty word for many on the left. It has become synonymous with Israel itself, the racist practices of the Israeli state.”

Herman quotes Jacqueline Rose, a Professor of English Literature (whose views on Israel have – completely unreasonably – been described as an “anti-semitic anti-Zionism” by Avner Falk) arguing that “Zionism emerged out of the legitimate desire of a persecuted people for a homeland” and, in spite of her opposition to what she calls “the ‘blood and soil’ form that zionism eventually took in Israel” she also says:

I am not happy, to put it at its most simple, to treat Zionism as an insult. A dirty word”

There is, Herman argues, “a stark reluctance amongst left scholars… to take the history and psychology of Jewish communal survival seriously” and continues:

The identification of a generic Zionism with nothing but racist practice in Israel entrenches an understanding of zionism not just as a dirty word, but as a pariah form of thinking unrelated to any other (except apartheid thinking).”

Far better she says to “use ‘Israeli nationalists’ or ‘Israeli fundamentalists’ or better yet ‘Netanyahu’s regime’ “:

These alternatives won’t provide an easy shorthand in the way ‘Zionism’ does, for example, ‘Israeli nationalism = apartheid’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it, but I suppose that is my point — easy options often sacrifice understanding for rhetorical force.”

Abandoning use of the term “Zionist” will not be enough on its own. There needs to be clarity, guidance and even training about what is appropriate. Unfortunately, we will not be able to have a rational debate about how to change the terms of the current debate unless we are also able to open our minds to the possibility, regardless of who points it out or their motive for doing so, that people on the left may also demonstrate some prejudice of their own.

So consider this by John Rees of Stop the War whose comment was shared on the Young Jewish Left closed Facebook page — copied because “it needs some comment“:

Was rung up this evening by some semi-educated BBC producer asking if I’d come on and debate a troll on the issue of ‘Is the left anti-Semitic?‘ I said that as a follower of the most famous political Jew of the 19th century and the most famous political Jew of the 20th century, and as someone who learnt my anti-Zionist politics from a Palestinian Jew called Ygael Gluckstein, it was an insult to even ask me that question. And that as someone who has opposed the fascists, especially when their main target was Jews not, as it is now, Muslims I’m not participating in a debate whose purpose is to demonise the left.”

Julia Bard, another leading member of the JSG who signed the Guardian letter, commented:

I can see why he might not have wanted to participate in the debate on the terms offered, but to imply that being a follower of Karl Marx or Tony Cliff, who were Jewish, somehow immunises him against antisemitism, comes perilously close to “Some of my best friends are Jews.”

And to assert that because the Left is committed to anti-racism, no one within it is susceptible to a powerful racist ideology with centuries-long roots in European culture, would suggest that socialist movements (or at least those with the correct line) are populated by paragons of political virtue who have no need to think about or change their views on anything. Does anyone (including John Rees) actually think this? If so, we’ve got more of a problem than I thought.

Come on, comrades. You have nothing to lose but your counter-productive slogans.

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The killing of Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz

May 2, 2016 at 5:17 pm (children, crime, good people, hell, Human rights, Middle East, murder, posted by JD, solidarity, Syria, terror, tragedy)

From Syria Solidarity UK (posted 28th April):

The killing of Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz

Via The Syria Campaign on Facebook

Dear friends,

I am Dr Hatem, the director of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo.

Last night, 27 staff and patients were killed in an airstrike on Al Quds Hospital nearby. My friend Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz (pictured), the city’s most qualified paediatrician, was killed in the attack.

He used to work at our Children’s Hospital during the day and then he’d go to Al Quds Hospital to attend to emergencies overnight.

Dr Maaz and I used to spend six hours a day together. He was friendly, kind and he used to joke a lot with the whole staff. He was the loveliest doctor in our hospital.

I’m in Turkey now, and he was supposed to visit his family here after I returned to Aleppo. He hadn’t seen them in four months.

Dr Maaz stayed in Aleppo, the most dangerous city in the world, because of his devotion to his patients. Hospitals are often targeted by government and Russian air forces.

Days before Dr Maaz’s life was taken, an airstrike hit only 200 metres away from our hospital. When the bombing intensifies, the medical staff run down to the ground floor of the hospital carrying the babies’ incubators in order to protect them.

Like so many others, Dr Maaz was killed for saving lives. Today we remember Dr Maaz’s humanity and his bravery. Please share his story so others may know what medics in Aleppo and across Syria are facing.

The situation today is critical – Aleppo may soon come under siege. We need the world to be watching.

Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts,

Dr Hatem

March With Medics Under Fire

Saturday 7th May at 2pm, Trafalgar Square, London.

Facebook event page.

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Livingstone’s “thing” about Jews

April 30, 2016 at 6:42 am (anti-semitism, AWL, conspiracy theories, fascism, history, Jim D, labour party, Livingstone, Racism, stalinism, zionism)

According to the Evening Standard Ken Livingstone is planning to rely on Lenni Brenner’s controversial writings on Zionism in his defence within the Labour Party. It says Livingstone met and was convinced by Brenner (described as ‘an obscure Marxist writer’ and ‘bearded American historian’) in 1985 – that is, at the height of Livingstone’s association with the Workers Revolutionary Party.

His defence that his remarks are (supposedly) historically accurate is an attempt to obscure what’s really going on and a red herring . More to the point is why he chose to make those remarks when he did. They hardly constitute a defence of Naz Shah, which is what he was supposed to be talking about. This and the 2005 incident with a Jewish reporter, indicates that he has a reflex of saying something offensive to Jews when he sees an opportunity or is challenged. That is, he has a “thing” about Jews.

The article below, published in the AWL’s Solidarity newspaper in 2005 (shortly after the incident with the reporter) gives a good analysis of Livingstone’s character in general, and his “thing” about Jews in particular. In the light of subsequent events, however, I’d say the author (Sean Matgamna) is being too charitable when he opines  that “It is very unlikely that he is prejudiced against individual Jews, simply for being Jewish”:

Row: Ken Livingstone was recorded comparing Jewish journalist Oliver Finegold (right) to a 'German war criminal' , which ended up in the High Court

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Jew-baiter Livingstone’s filthy and ignorant perversion of history

April 28, 2016 at 6:19 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, conspiracy theories, fascism, history, Jim D, labour party, Livingstone, reactionay "anti-imperialism", zionism)


John Mann MP denounces Livingstone; Livingstone claims history is on his side

As I made clear in the previous post, I have some sympathy for Naz Shah, despite her disgraceful Facebook posts. She seems to be genuinely remorseful and anxious to reach out to, and learn from, Jewish people. I hope she is reinstated as a Labour MP, a chastened and wiser person. No such sympathy can be extended to the scum-bag Livingstone, a virulent and gleeful Jew-baiter, who should have been expelled from the Party for his remarks about Jews, Zionism and Israel in 2012. The fact that he got onto Labour’s NEC as part of the left ticket speaks volumes about the degenerate state of what passes for the “left” in Britian today.

As for his ignorant and offensive statement that “Hitler was supporting Zionism” in 1932 (see transcript, below), see Sean Matgmana’s 2006 article dealing with these sort of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, at the end of this post:

Speaking to BBC Radio London, Livingstone accused the “Israel lobby” of a campaign to smear all critics of Israel as anti-Semites, and claimed  Naz Shah was not guilty of any form of anti-Semitism – something he had never encountered in his 35 years in the Labour Party.

“She’s a deep critic of Israel and its policies. Her remarks were over the top but she’s not anti-Semitic. I’ve been in the Labour party for 47 years; I’ve never heard anyone say anything anti-Semitic. I’ve heard a lot of criticism of the state of Israel and its abuse of Palestinians but I’ve never heard anyone say anything anti-Semitic…

“It’s completely over the top but it’s not anti-Semitic. Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews. The simple fact in all of this is that Naz made these comments at a time when there was another brutal Israeli attack on the Palestinians.

“And there’s one stark fact that virtually no one in the British media ever reports, in almost all these conflicts the death toll is usually between 60 and 100 Palestinians killed for every Israeli. Now, any other country doing that would be accused of war crimes but it’s like we have a double standard about the policies of the Israeli government.”

As I’ve said, I’ve never heard anybody say anything anti-Semitic, but there’s been a very well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticises Israeli policy as anti-Semitic. I had to put up with 35 years of this…

“Let’s look at someone who’s Jewish who actually said something very similar to what Naz has just said. Albert Einstein, when the first leader of Likud, the governing party now in Israel, came to America, he warned American politicians: don’t talk to this man because he’s too similar to the fascists we fought in the Second World War.

“Now, if Naz or myself said that today we would be denounced as anti-Semitic, but that was Albert Einstein.”

He hit back at Lord Levy’s criticism of the leadership’s response to the anti-Semitism storms in Labour.

“After Jeremy became leader I was having a chat with Michael and he said he was very worried because one of his friends who was Jewish had come to him and said ‘the election of Jeremy Corbyn is exactly the same as the first step to the rise of Adolf Hitler to power’.

“Frankly, there’s been an attempt to smear Jeremy Corbyn and his associates as anti-Semitic from the moment he became leader. The simple fact is we have the right to criticise what is one of the most brutal regimes going in the way it treats the Palestinians.”

_________________________________________________________________________

With Hitler on the road to Samara

By Sean Matgamna

Of course you know the story. A man is in the market place, and he sees Death, and Death looks at him intently, recognising him.

In a panic, the man runs to his horse and gallops away desperately, taking the road to the city of Samara.

As he gallops off, Death turns to his companion. “Strange,” he said, “that was so-and-so. I was surprised to see him here, because I have an appointment with him, tonight, in Samara.”

Death is all-powerful. There is no escape when he reaches your name on the list.

Consider now, and the association is appropriate enough, the fate of poor Adolf Hitler. This heroic son of the German people understood early in life that the Jews were responsible for all the evil in the world.

He knew that the Jews were behind everything! He knew that socialism and communism were Jewish, and that the Jews were also behind finance capital.

He knew that modern art was pornography and corruption, and modern culture decadent — and he knew that the Jews were responsible, as they were for everything decadent and evil in the world. This genius understood that Jewish Bolshevism and “Jewish capital” were all one. Despite the appearance of difference and antagonism between these things, Hitler could see that all of them — communism, socialism, finance capital, cultural and artistic decadence, etc. — were really one thing. They were aspects of one tightly organised and minutely directed world Jewish conspiracy.

And so Hitler fought the Jews. He roused much of Germany against them. In the middle of the 20th century, he re-created the medieval Jewish ghetto in some of the main cities of European civilisation.

When the Jews who ruled in London, Paris, Moscow and Washington declared war on the German Reich, Hitler set out to do the job properly: he organised the killing of six million Jews.

A quarter of these were children: but Hitler refused to be deterred. He knew the extent of Jew-Zion power. He understood that sentimentality would be fatal. And Hitler — before the Jews finally got him — managed to kill two out of every three Jews in Europe.

Now, you wouldn’t think, would you, that Adolf Hitler could have underestimated the power of the Jews?

The left at the time of Hitler used to say he was a criminal maniac. But the left just didn’t understand.

And neither did Adolf Hitler. This great man understood a lot about the Jews. But he didn’t understand everything. The truth is that even Hitler underestimated the extent and power of the World Jewish Conspiracy.

Read the rest of this entry »

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In (partial) defence of Naz Shah

April 27, 2016 at 9:05 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, Jim D, labour party, Livingstone, Middle East, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", zionism)


Above: Naz Shah apologises in the Commons

It was right and also inevitable that Naz Shah was suspended from the Labour Party following the revelation of anti-Semitic Facebook posts suggesting that Israel should be “relocated to the US” and likening Zionism to al-Qaida (made, incidentally, before she was an MP).

In her defence it should be noted that (1) she made an immediate and unequivocal apology, with no attempt to claim that this was just “anti-Zionism” and (2) she has been brought up in a political culture in which saying offensive things about Jews, Israel and Zionism is considered acceptable and in which many people don’t even recognise that anti-Semitism is much of a problem: check out Ken Livingstone’s reaction, for instance.

I was going to add that Shah (unlike, say Livingstone) is young and politically unsophisticated: but that sounds a bit patronising, doesn’t it?

But I think Shah’s obviously sincere apologies (no less than four in total), together with her promise to “expand my existing engagement with Jewish community organisations” should count in her favour, and I for one hope that she is sooner or later re-instated to Party membership and the Labour whip in the Commons.

Instead of fixating upon a naïve new MP, the Labour Party and the left as a whole should be asking how it is that it’s considered OK for people like Livingstone to repeatedly insult Jews, and why it’s acceptable to denounce Zionism in a way that no other form of nationalism is demonised. The predominant leftist language of ‘anti-Zionism’ never recognised the anti-Semitic logic of refusing to recognise the national rights of Israelis and never asked questions about the ‘Free Palestine’, ‘From the River to the Sea’ slogans. It’s hardly surprising that someone like Naz Shah found herself going along with this sort of stuff.

I leave aside for now, the unfortunate fact (noted by Mehdi Hasan) that anti-Semitism is also pretty much mainstream in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in Britain.

Instead of scapegoating this young and in many ways quite impressive new MP, Labour and the left as a whole need to be examining the political culture which led to her making those Facebook posts in the first place.

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Hillsborough: the truth finally confirmed

April 26, 2016 at 4:43 pm (cops, Murdoch, posted by JD, reblogged, sport, tragedy, truth)

The truth about the Hillsborough disaster and the police cover-up (aided by The Sun) has gradually emerged over the years since 1989, but today’s inquest verdict of Unlawful Killing is a brilliant vindication and a tribute to the families’ resolute campaigning. The blog Guy Debord’s Cat carried this article in September 2012, as the truth became undeniable:

Hillsborough: the truth at last

Liverpool is a unique city in many ways. It is a city that is divided by football but also united by it. My family is like a lot of Scouse families: we’re split between the red and the blue halves of the city’s footballing divide. I’m a Liverpool supporter, so was my grandfather, my mum and one of my aunts who’d married a Kopite. The others, my uncles (one of whom played for Tranmere) and aunt, are/were Toffees.  You’d always find Blues and Reds at Prenton Park on Friday nights to watch Tranmere Rovers before going to their respective side’s matches the following day. What other city would you find supporters from rival sides getting on so well? Only in Liverpool. Hillsborough affected not just the city of Liverpool but the rest of Merseyside.

It was 1989 and I was in the final year of my undergraduate degree at Newcastle Poly. I’d gone to the Student Union bar with some of my friends with the intention of watching a cracking tie. Within minutes of the kick-off it was obvious that something wasn’t right, the camera had panned to the Leppings Lane stand and we could see people clambering over the bars at that end of the ground. After a lot of end-to-end action, police and officials appeared on the pitch and the match was stopped. Within minutes we got the news that people were being crushed to death. I started sobbing; it was uncontrolled sobbing. I told my mates that I could have been there. I could have been one of those supporters who’d been crushed. I felt the unfolding tragedy. I can still feel it today.

In the days that followed, stories emerged in the press that pointed the finger of blame, not at the police’s lack of crowd management skills, but at the fans. The Sun, as we know, was the worst of the lot, with its editor, Kelvin Mackenzie, standing by its front page splash.

Phil Pellow's photo.

Mackenzie was unrepentant. In the years following Hillsborough and the subsequent Taylor Report, he repeated his  version of the ‘truth’ on each and every occasion when he has been asked to retract his lies. To this day, no one on Merseyside buys The Sun. Mackenzie has apologized but it’s 23 years too late. We don’t want his apology. He can go to hell.

Today, the truth behind that tragic day has been revealed when documents were released which includes letters of complaint to the Press Council , the local press agency story from which The Sun’s ‘truth’ was derived (Tory MP Irvine Patnick was also a source), the coroner’s reports and the shocking revelations that 41 of the 96 victims could have survived and the 3.15pm inquest cut off point that sealed the fate of the unfortunates.

Thatcher also believed the lies told her by a senior office of the Merseyside Constabulary.  Many documents and CCTV footage have mysteriously disappeared leaving plenty of unanswered questions. What was Bernard Ingham’s role in all of this? As Thatcher’s press secretary, Ingham was a master practitioner of journalism’s dark arts. He accepted the police’s version of events and went on record as saying,

“You can’t get away from what you were told,” Ingham said. “We talked to a lot of people; I am not sure if it was the chief constable. That was the impression I gathered: there were a lot of tanked-up people outside.”

Ingham was asked about the Taylor report and said rather tellingly,

“I think the police are a very easy target.”

We now have the truth about what happened on 15 April, 1989. What we now need is for those responsible, and I include The Sun and Kelvin Mackenzie for their smear campaign, to face justice. The liar Patnick should also be stripped of his knighthood.

Then perhaps we can get some proper closure.

Justice for the 96!

Don’t buy The Sun!

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Galloway and Prince: all is explained!

April 26, 2016 at 12:45 pm (Asshole, Galloway, plonker, posted by JD)


Galloway meets his Prince

Thanks to the Telegraph‘s Michael Deacon (writing last Friday) we now know all abut George Galloway’s friendship with the late music star Prince, and how it may have led to a slight misunderstanding:

_________________________________________________________________________

Poor George Galloway. He’s had a rotten week. First, he learnt from YouGov that, in the race to become Mayor of London, he’s currently polling at a disappointing zero per cent.

He could console himself, I suppose, by remembering that the margin of error in the given sample size is three per cent – so he may actually be on a more respectable three. Although, by the same token, he may equally well be on minus three.

On Thursday evening, however, he received some even worse news. An old friend had died.

Prince.

I must confess, I had no idea that Mr Galloway had been friends with the Grammy-winning composer of Purple Rain, 1999 and When Doves Cry. The first I heard of it was when Mr Galloway revealed it on Twitter on Thursday night. “I am distressed to hear of the death of Prince, whom I knew briefly,” he announced.

A follower asked how he’d known him. “I hung out with him a bit 25 years ago,” replied Mr Galloway casually.

What a remarkable image. George Galloway, and one of the most famous pop singers on Earth, meeting up for a coffee, shooting the breeze, chatting pleasantly about this and that (favourite funk basslines, say, or the sad collapse of the Soviet Union). A heartwarming thought.

And yet, at the same time, a puzzling one. Twenty-five years ago, Mr Galloway was a backbench Labour MP for Glasgow Hillhead, so where exactly he and the reclusive Minneapolis-based megastar hung out remains uncertain. Sadly, I am unable to shed light on this conundrum, as I have not yet succeeded in locating any photographs of the two friends together.

This is not to suggest that I doubt the word of Mr Galloway. I do wonder, though, whether there might perhaps have been some kind of innocent mix-up.

Is there a possibility, for example, that he has confused Prince with Saddam Hussein?

Picture it. It’s the mid 1990s. Mr Galloway, a devoted fan of The Most Beautiful Girl in the World and Lovesexy, has booked a trip to the US to see his idol in concert. Yet, after accidentally heading to the wrong departure gate, he boards a flight not to Boston, but to Baghdad.

He lands at Baghdad airport. The weather seems startlingly warm; but then, to a Scotsman, everywhere seems startlingly warm. He approaches the taxi rank, and excitedly tells the driver he’s here to see Prince.

Unfortunately, the driver, having little English, misunderstands – and drives Mr Galloway to the palace.

They arrive. “Here!” announces the driver. “Big house of princes!”

Mr Galloway gazes in delighted awe at his opulent surroundings. The outrageous grandeur! The dazzling chandeliers! The solid gold lavatories!

Yes, this is exactly the sort of place one would expect a multi-millionaire eccentric like Prince to live.

Suddenly, striding importantly towards him, comes a handsome, stylishly moustached figure clad in military uniform, offset by a chic black beret.

Classic Prince! The ultimate pop chameleon! Always changing his look to stay one step ahead of the crowd!

Gratefully Mr Galloway extends his hand. “Sir!” he cries. “I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability!”

For years, Mr Galloway’s political opponents have misinterpreted this remark as servility to a mass-murdering tyrant. The truth is entirely innocent. He merely intended to show support to a musical idol in his long-running contractual battle with Warner Brothers.

Anyway: after that, Mr Galloway and his hero found that they got on very well – although, as the London mayoral candidate acknowledged on Twitter, the two men knew each other only briefly. Indeed, I gather that, for the last decade or more, his hero had proven impossible to make contact with.

When you look at it like that, it all starts to make sense. I think one or two people owe Mr Galloway an apology.

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Note to Malia Bouattia: how to criticise Israel without being anti-Semitic

April 25, 2016 at 3:16 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, Middle East, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism, students, zionism)


Above: Ms Bouattia’s version of “anti-Zionism”

Newly-elected NUS president Malia Bouattia claims to have been misunderstood and/or misrepresented regarding her comments about “Zionism”. She is now rowing back on what she said about Zionists controlling the media, amongst other things.

If she is honestly and genuinely concerned about being misunderstood, she should read and learn from this:

  • If you’ve spent any time discussing or reading about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I guarantee you’ve heard some variation of this statement:

    OMG, Jews think any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic! 

    In the interests of this post, I’m going to assume that the people who express such sentiments are acting in good faith and really don’t mean to cause pain to or problems for Diaspora Jewry.  For those good-faith people, I present some guidelines for staying on the good side of that admittedly murky line, along with the reasoning why the actions I list are problematic.  (And bad-faith people, you can no longer plead ignorance if you engage in any of these no-nos.  Consider yourselves warned.)  In no particular order:

    1. Don’t use the terms “bloodthirsty,” “lust for Palestinian blood,” or similar.  Historically, Jews have been massacred in the belief that we use the blood of non-Jews (particularly of children) in our religious rituals.  This belief still persists in large portions of the Arab world (largely because white Europeans deliberately spread the belief among Arabs) and even in parts of the Western world.  Murderous, inhumane, cruel, vicious–fine.  But blood…just don’t go there.  Depicting Israel/Israelis/Israeli leaders eating children is also a no-no, for the same reason.
    2. Don’t use crucifixion imagery. Another huge, driving motivation behind anti-Semitism historically has been the belief that the Jews, rather than the Romans, crucified Jesus.  As in #1, this belief still persists.  There are plenty of other ways to depict suffering that don’t call back to ancient libels.
    3. Don’t demand that Jews publicly repudiate the actions of settlers and extremists.  People who make this demand are assuming that Jews are terrible people or undeserving of being heard out unless they “prove” themselves acceptable by non-Jews’ standards.  (It’s not okay to demand Palestinians publicly repudiate the actions of Hamas in order to be accepted/trusted, either.)
    4. Don’t say “the Jews” when you mean Israel.  I think this should be pretty clear.  The people in power in Israel are Jews, but not all Jews are Israelis (let alone Israeli leaders).
    5. Don’t say “Zionists” when you mean Israel. Zionism is no more a dirty word than feminism.  It is simply the belief that the Jews should have a country in part of their ancestral homeland where they can take refuge from the anti-Semitism and persecution they face everywhere else.  It does not mean a belief that Jews have a right to grab land from others, a belief that Jews are superior to non-Jews, or any other such tripe, any more than feminism means hating men.  Unless you believe that Israel should entirely cease to exist, you are yourself Zionist.  Furthermore, using “Zionists” in place of “Israelis” is inaccurate and harmful.  The word “Zionists” includes Diasporan Jews as well (most of whom support a two-state solution and pretty much none of whom have any influence on Israel’s policies) and is used to justify anti-Semitic attacks outside Israel (i.e., they brought it on themselves by being Zionists).  And many of the Jews IN Israel who are most violent against Palestinians are actually anti-Zionist–they believe that the modern state of Israel is an offense against God because it isn’t governed by halakha (traditional Jewish religious law).  Be careful with the labels you use.
    6. Don’t call Jews you agree with “the good Jews.”  Imposing your values on another group is not okay.  Tokenizing is not okay.  Appointing yourself the judge of what other groups can or should believe is not okay.
    7. Don’t use your Jewish friends or Jews who agree with you as shields.  (AKA, “I can’t be anti-Semitic, I have Jewish friends!” or “Well, Jew X agrees with me, so you’re wrong.”)  Again, this behavior is tokenizing and essentially amounts to you as a non-Jew appointing yourself arbiter over what Jews can/should feel or believe.  You don’t get to do that.
    8. Don’t claim that Jews are ethnically European.  Jews come in many colors–white is only one.  Besides, the fact that many of us have some genetic mixing with the peoples who tried to force us to assimilate (be they German, Indian, Ethiopian, Italian…) doesn’t change the fact that all our common ancestral roots go back to Israel.
    9. Don’t claim that Jews “aren’t the TRUE/REAL Jews.”  Enough said.
    10. Don’t claim that Jews have no real historical connection to Israel/the Temple Mount.  Archaeology and the historical record both establish that this is false.
    11. Don’t accuse Diasporan Jews of dual loyalties or treason.  This is another charge that historically has been used to justify persecution and murder of Jews.  Having a connection to our ancestral homeland is natural.  Having a connection to our co-religionists who live there is natural.  It is no more treasonous for a Jew to consider the well-being of Israel when casting a vote than for a Muslim to consider the well-being of Islamic countries when voting.  (Tangent: fuck drone strikes.  End tangent.)
    12. Don’t claim that the Jews control the media/banks/country that isn’t Israel.  Yet another historical anti-Semitic claim is that Jews as a group intend to control the world and try to achieve this aim through shadowy, sinister channels.  There are many prominent Jews in the media and in the banking industry, yes, but they aren’t engaged in any kind of organized conspiracy to take over those industries, they simply work in those industries.  The phrase “the Jews control” should never be heard in a debate/discussion of Israel.
    13. Don’t depict the Magen David (Star of David) as an equivalent to the Nazi swastika.  The Magen David represents all Jews–not just Israelis, not just people who are violent against Palestinians, ALL JEWS.  When you do this, you are painting all Jews as violent, genocidal racists.  DON’T.
    14. Don’t use the Holocaust/Nazism/Hitler as a rhetorical prop.  The Jews who were murdered didn’t set foot in what was then Palestine, let alone take part in Israeli politics or policies.  It is wrong and appropriative to try to use their deaths to score political points.  Genocide, racism, occupation, murder, extermination–go ahead and use those terms, but leave the Holocaust out of it.
    15. In visual depictions (i.e., political cartoons and such), don’t depict Israel/Israelis as Jewish stereotypes.  Don’t show them in Chassidic, black-hat garb.  Don’t show them with exaggerated noses or frizzled red hair or payus (earlocks).  Don’t show them with horns or depict them as the Devil.  Don’t show them cackling over/hoarding money.  Don’t show them drinking blood or eating children (see #1).  Don’t show them raping non-Jewish women.  The Nazis didn’t invent the tropes they used in their propaganda–all of these have been anti-Semitic tropes going back centuries.  (The red hair trope, for instance, goes back to early depictions of Judas Iscariot as a redhead, and the horns trope stems from the belief that Jews are the Devil’s children, sent to destroy the world as best we can for our “father.”)
    16. Don’t use the phrase “the chosen people” to deride or as proof of Jewish racism.  When Jews say we are the chosen people, we don’t mean that we are biologically superior to others or that God loves us more than other groups.  Judaism in fact teaches that everyone is capable of being a righteous, Godly person, that Jews have obligations to be ethical and decent to “the stranger in our midst,” and that non-Jews don’t get sent to some kind of damnation for believing in another faith.  When we say we’re the chosen people, we mean that, according to our faith, God gave us extra responsibilities and codes of behavior that other groups aren’t burdened with, in the form of the Torah.  That’s all it means.
    17. Don’t claim that anti-Semitism is eradicated or negligible.  It isn’t.  In fact, according to international watchdog groups, it’s sharply on the rise.  (Which sadly isn’t surprising–anti-Semitism historically surges during economic downturns, thanks to the belief that Jews control the banks.)  This sort of statement is extremely dismissive and accuses us of lying about our own experiences.
    18. Don’t say that since Palestinians are Semites, Jews/Israelis are anti-Semitic, too.  You do not get to redefine the oppressions of others, nor do you get to police how they refer to that oppression.  This also often ties into #8.  Don’t do it.  Anti-Semitism has exclusively meant anti-Jewish bigotry for a good century plus now.  Coin your own word for anti-Palestinian oppression, or just call it what it is: racism mixed with Islamophobia.
    19. Don’t blow off Jews telling you that what you’re saying is anti-Semitic with some variant of the statement at the top of this post.  Not all anti-Israel speech is anti-Semitic (a lot of it is valid, much-deserved criticism), but some certainly is.  Actually give the accusation your consideration and hear the accuser out.  If they fail to convince you, that’s fine.  But at least hear them out (without talking over them) before you decide that.

    I’m sure this isn’t a comprehensive list, but it covers all the hard-and-fast rules I can think of.  (I welcome input for improving it.)

    But wait!  Why should I care about any of this?  I’m standing up for people who are suffering!

    You should care because nonsense like the above makes Jews sympathetic to the Palestinian plight wary and afraid of joining your cause.  You should care because, unfortunately, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has correlated to an uptick in anti-Semitic attacks around the world, attacks on Jews who have no say in Israeli politics, and this kind of behavior merely aggravates that, whether you intend it to or not.

    The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a real minefield in that it’s a clash between oppressed people of color and an ethnoreligious group that is dominant in Israel but marginalized and brutalized elsewhere (often nowadays on the exact grounds that they share ethnoreligious ties with the people of Israel), so it’s damned hard to toe the line of being socially aware and sensitive to both groups.  I get that.  But I think it is possible to toe that line, and I hope this post helps with that.  (And if a Palestinian makes a similar list of problematic arguments they hear targeted at them, I’d be happy to reblog it, too.)

    So, Malia:

    1. Do go ahead and criticize Israel.
    2. Don’t use anti-Semitic stereotypes or tropes.
    3. Don’t use overly expansive language that covers Jews as a whole and not just Israel.
    4. Don’t use lies to boost your claims.
    5. Do engage Jews in conversation on the issues of Israel and of anti-Semitism, rather than simply shutting them down for disagreeing.
    6. Do try to be sensitive to the fact that, fair or not, many people take verbal or violent revenge for the actions of Israelis on Diasporan Jews, and Diasporan Jews are understandably frightened and upset by this.

    May there be peace in our days.

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The snob theories about Shakespeare

April 23, 2016 at 6:09 am (class, conspiracy theories, literature, posted by JD, theatre)

.Credit: PA

This week marks 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare. Just as with his birthday, the exact date of death is a mystery. It is widely believed that he died on April 23rd 1616, but no official record exists. However his funeral took place two days later.

In an article first published in Solidarity (Feb 2012) Sean Matgamna examines the motives of those who seek to deny that “the Stratford man” really authored the works attributed to Shakespeare:

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Many years ago I read with riveted fascination a big book on the history of the “who wrote Shakespeare” controversy: Shakespeare’s Lives, by S. Schoenbaum.

The controversy has more than a little interest for citizens of a socialist movement that has reduced itself to a sprawling archipelago of self-sealing, self-intoxicating, self-blinding sects.

The dispute about “Who wrote Shakespeare?” has raged for well over 100 years now and rages still.

Shakespeare wrote “Shakespeare”, you say? Very little is known about William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon. What little is known about “the Stratford man” deepens the mystery that must attach to “Shakespeare”, whoever he was. How could anybody be so universal, know so much about so many different sorts of human beings and human situations?

Those who believe that William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon did not write the works of “Shakespeare” are called the “anti-Stratfordians”.

How, they ask, could the small town petty-bourgeois, with at best a grammar-school education, have known courts and palaces and the secrets of the princely exercise of state power? How could he have known the things which the author of “Shakespeare” knew, and knew so amazingly well that plays he wrote about the politics of a different world can still talk to us — Richard III, or Hamlet, or Macbeth, or Coriolanus, for example — about the essentials of our own political world, 400 years later?

However you look at it, there is, as well as a dearth of hard fact about the man, an awe-inspiring mystery about the genius of Shakespeare. It is the same sort of mystery as you confront in Mozart, but far greater and with no obvious solution.

From early childhood Mozart produced a wonderful profusion of musical patterns, as if he were a medium for some force outside himself. But Shakespeare dealt with character, situations, history.

Where Mozart can, perhaps, be explained by the qualities of a unique but more or less self-sufficient musical-mathematical mind trained from infancy by his musician father, Shakespeare did not deal with patterns in his own mind, or only with patterns of sound, but with patterns in society, psychology and history. How did he know? How could he know? Where did he learn what he knew? What experiences shaped and instructed, honed and stocked that wonderful mind about the world and its inhabitants?

For now, the mystery of Shakespeare is irresoluble, and maybe it always will be. We simply do not know. And that not knowing is very unsatisfying.

Enter the anti-Stratfordians. Their game is to find the most likely “alternative Shakespeare” from among public figures who were Shakespeare’s contemporaries, men about whom, unlike “the Stratford man”, much is known, and who had a background that might explain Shakespeare’s knowledge of power, people, kings and cabals.

Was “Shakespeare” the Jacobean pioneering philosopher of science and one-time Lord Chancellor of England, Francis Bacon? Or Christopher Marlowe? Marlowe died more than 20 years before Shakespeare — but can you prove that he really died in a tavern brawl in Deptford? Maybe he, a sometime government spy involved in plots and political intrigue, went into hiding on the continent and there wrote “Shakespeare”?

Or was it, perhaps, the Earl of Oxford? Or of Southampton? There are other “alternative Shakespeares”, among them Queen Elizabeth I. Shakespeare outlived her by a dozen years. But if you know, with burning conviction that “Shakespeare” couldn’t have been Will Shakespeare, you won’t let petty details like that clutter up your theory. They are easy to explain away.

Sects have formed around favoured candidates — Marlovians, Oxfordians, Baconians. All of them try to prove the unprovable, sometimes by way of sifting through texts for secret encrypted messages from the “real Shakespeare”.

Rejecting chaste scientific restraint, and the unsatisfying, “I don’t know”, all of them have gone on from the paucity of information to passionate conviction, even to certainty taken to the point of obsession. But they have only subjective grounds of intuition, inclination, sympathy and antipathy on which to mount their conclusions. It is probably no accident that one of the founders of the first, Baconian, school of anti-Stratfordians was named… Delia Bacon.

The anti-Stratfordians, inevitably, depend on the suppression and arbitrary selection of evidence, and on an impatient dismissal of what science tells them or, to the point here, what it can’t tell them, and on special pleading for their own candidate. They fill the void in what we know and can hope to know with fantasies and projections, thrown up arbitrarily and subjectively.

And thus, over more than 100 years, the anti-Stratfordians have created a paranoid sub-culture of warring sects that parallels and overlaps with both religious and political sectarian formations, of which they are, I suppose, a hybrid specimen.

One of the beauties of the game is that anybody can play. All you need to “know” is that “Shakespeare” could not possibly have been the man fools have called “the Bard of Stratford-on-Avon”. After that. your opinion is as good as that of anyone else. Sigmund Freud was an anti-Stratfordian; so was the arch-Tory, Enoch Powell. Anybody can play!

One man, a once-prominent Tory, Duff Cooper, wrote a whole book about it — he was an Oxfordian — after it came to him in a flash of intuitive knowledge, one day in a World War I trench, that that yokel Shakespeare couldn’t possibly have written those plays. Class snobbery, rampant class conceit, seems to be a prime component of all the anti-Stratfordian schools — the gut conviction that “Shakespeare” couldn’t have been that pleb from the hick village in Warwickshire.

In his own time, Shakespeare was sneered at by some of his university-educated rivals — whose denunciation survives — as a mere grammar-school upstart crow trying to steal the plumage of his betters. The anti-Stratfordians are their still-snobby descendants.

Unlike kitsch-Trotskyist groups, which begin, or whose political ancestors began, as rational political formations, the anti-Stratfordians are not subject to the brutal but health-regenerating blows of experience. They start by discounting the only available “experience” — the evidence, such as it is — and take off from there.

Impervious to criticism, riding their intuitions, sympathies, antipathies, narcissisms, obsessions, as witches in Shakespeare’s time were said to ride their broomsticks, they can go on forever, for as long as Shakespeare is read and performed. And they probably will — “stretching out to the crack of doom”!

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