AWL resolution on antisemitism and the left

November 18, 2016 at 10:41 pm (anti-semitism, AWL, history, israel, labour party, left, Marxism, Middle East, posted by JD, Racism, trotskyism, zionism)

Above: debate on antisemitism between Cathy Nugent of the AWL and Richard Angell of Progress

The following resolution was adopted at the recent conference of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty:

Antisemitism exists on the left.

This is not merely a question of the bigotries, chauvinisms, and prejudices which exist in society generally expressing themselves within the left, but essentially as aberrations within an otherwise progressive worldview. Rather, a number of ideas, positions, and analyses which have an antisemitic logic have become incorporated over a number of years into the “common sense” which predominates in some sections of the far left.

Contemporary left antisemitism combines older tropes of Jewish power (the politics August Bebel denounced in the 1890s as “the socialism of fools”) with a Stalinist-inspired “anti-Zionism”.

Some traditional antisemitic tropes and themes have become incorporated into certain ways of viewing Zionism and Israel.

Anti-Zionism and hostility to Israeli policies are not necessarily antisemitic. But most contemporary antisemitism expresses itself in the form of anti-Zionism and anti-Israelism, rather than as ‘traditional’ antisemitic racism.

Contemporary left antisemitism historically deracinates Zionism, blowing it out of all proportion. Zionism was a nationalist-separatist, and often romantic-utopian, movement that emerged in response to a real oppression and was given a mass character by the attempted genocide experienced by Europe’s Jews at the hands of the Nazis. It was always politically variegated. The revolutionary socialist tradition with which Workers’ Liberty identifies was always anti-Zionist, but it was an anti-Zionism conditioned, and in some ways tempered, by an understanding of the material roots of that nationalist impulse. It was an anti-Zionism which found it good to have Zionist units in the Red Army, a Histadrut presence at international communist congresses, and steps by the Bolshevik workers’ state to create an autonomous Jewish “homeland” within the territory of the USSR, and which saw the Zionists who then mostly described themselves as left-wing as indeed a mistaken tendency within the left, rather than as a phalanx of the imperialist enemy.

The Stalinist propaganda campaigns of the 1950s onwards, in which “Zionism” was interchangeable with “imperialism”, “racism”, and even “fascism”, cast long shadows in sections of the contemporary far left, including some groups which consider themselves anti-Stalinist.

Those shadows lead to Jews with an instinctive though maybe critical identification with Israel being demonised as “Zionists” (with the word having the same connotations as “racists” or “fascists”); to complaints of antisemitism (short of gross neo-Nazi-type acts) being automatically dismissed as contrived gambits to deflect criticism of Israel; and to Israel being seen as an illegitimate ultra-imperialist state, which must be wiped off the map and whose population, therefore, in the immediate term, it is right to boycott and despise.

[For more on the historical background and context, see:]

While recognising left antisemitism as a real political phenomenon, we also recognise that allegations of antisemitism may sometimes be exaggerated, instrumentalised, or even fabricated for factional ends. This is true of any allegation of any bigotry or prejudice. That does not mean that the bigotry or prejudice is not real, or that the default response to any such allegation should be to question the motives of the plaintiff.

Moreover, there may be a distinctly antisemitic component in play when allegations of antisemitic speech or conduct are challenged as having been raised in bad faith and for an ulterior political motive. This was particularly visible in the controversies triggered by Livingstone and Walker.

Did the right wing ‘weaponise’ antisemitism in the Livingstone and Walker controversies? In one sense, no (in that some of them had a long record of raising the issue of antisemitism). In one sense, yes (in that they had an open goal and would have been fools not to have taken the opportunity). But such considerations have nothing in common with the way in which supporters of Walker (and Livingstone) raised the allegation of ‘weaponisation’, i.e. as a means to delegitimise all criticism of Walker (and, in some cases, of Livingstone as well).

We are for allegations of antisemitism, as with allegations of sexism, racism, etc., being investigated thoroughly, in a way that is sympathetic to the plaintiff and which affords all parties due process.

Our response is based on political education, debate, and discussion. We cannot challenge a prevailing common sense, and replace it with a better one, by means of bans and expulsions. That discussion must be conducted in an atmosphere of free speech, where activists in the movement are able to speak freely on sensitive issues such as Israel/Palestine, and those raising concerns around antisemitism are not accused of being Zionist provocateurs.

In the Labour Party, we argue for the implementation of the recommendations of the Chakrabarti Report.

Some of the recommendations contained in the Chakrabati Report are vague, and the political rationale which underpins them is not always clear. A lot of the recommendations focus heavily on procedural matters. It would be surprising if the Report did not suffer from such limitations.

But the Report does begin to raise the political issues which we want to see discussed and provides a certain official ‘stamp of approval’ to opening up such discussions. In both the Labour Party and trade unions (especially Unite and the UCU, even though the latter is not an LP affiliate) we should therefore encourage the use of the Report as a starting point for promoting discussion about antisemitism and arguing for a new political common sense about antisemitism based on the following ideas:

A historical understanding of the roots of nationalist ideas within Jewish communities, and the impact of the history of the 20th century in shaping Jewish people’s consciousness.

Zionism should neither be placed beyond criticism nor demonised.

As we challenge the confusion on the left and in the broader labour movement about Zionism and Israel, and the antisemitic content of some critiques of Zionism and Israel, we will advance our own politics on the Israel/Palestine conflict, i.e.

Solidarity with the Palestinians against Israeli occupation; a two-state settlement in Israel/ Palestine; workers’ unity across the borders; solidarity not boycotts.

Amendment not voted on (i.e. it goes forward for further discussion)

Contemporary left anti-Semitism involves a process of signification that defines the Other somatically – i.e. it marks out a group of people in relation to Israeli Jewishness and/or Zionist Jewishness – and assigns this categorised group of bodies with negative characteristics and as giving rise to negative consequences. This Jewish Other is conflated with a particular and singular understanding of Israel and Zionism and a notion therein that the Jewish collective has uniquely world domineering and despotic power. Unlike traditional and historical anti-Semitism, contemporary left anti-Semitism considers it possible and necessary for individual Jews to break away from the negative characteristics and consequences of Israeli Jews and Zionist Jews by denouncing any affiliation to them and to Israel and Zionism.

With racism in general, both real and imagined physical and/or cultural characteristics have historically been, and continue to be, signified as an innate mark of nature and ‘race’. Similar to all other manifestations of racism, with contemporary left anti-Semitism it is not difference per se that matters but the identification of this difference as significant. In this sense, whether consciously or not, those engaged in contemporary left anti-Semitic discourse and practices are engaged in racist discourse and practices. The demand (often in disguise) that the Israeli Jewish nation-state must be undone because it is uniquely despotic (comparable only to fascist Germany and/or apartheid South Africa) – a judgement and a demand not made of any other nation-state – is racist. It is racist because real and imagined cultural characteristics have been and are signified as an innate mark of the nature of Israel and Zionism (and of the cultural ‘race’ of Jews associated with Israel and Zionism), which are deemed especially deplorable and negative in characteristics and consequences.

Much academic theorising about ‘race’, racism and capitalism since the 1960s in Britain and North America sources racism solely to colonialism, rather than also recognising racism’s co-constructed relationship with the rise of nationalism and the nation-state, and some of its pre-capitalist origins. The consequences of this colonial model of racism are: one, limited to no recognition of racism beyond what “white people” have done and do to “black people”; two, intellectually crediting the controversial notion that Zionism is an instance of racism (as “bad, white and rich Jews” oppress “good, poor and brown Arabs and Muslims”); and three, downplaying anti-Semitism.

And add at end:

The two states settlement on pre-1967 borders is the only consistently democratic and realistic resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The overwhelming majority of both the activist and academic Left have adopted various forms of one state / one shared space solutions on the basis that the ultimate question is one of Palestinian redress and justice and/or “facts on the ground” have made a meaningful two states settlement impossible. For many in this majority camp, their politics is well-meaning and borne from despair. We need to patiently and sharply reason and debate against the varied proposals for one state / one shared space – exposing and condemning the implicit logic to undo the Israeli Jewish nation-state – while nuancing our argument as not altogether diametrically opposed: since we are for two states so that one day we might see one shared cooperative space between Jewish and Arab workers democratically emerge.


  1. Ben said,

    “..Solidarity with the Palestinians against Israeli occupation…”

    The AWL just cannot bring itself to express solidarity with the Jews of Israel as they battle the continuing attempt of their enemies to wipe them out. The Palestinian’s fascistic slogan is the mendacious and threatening ‘we were here before you and we will be here after you”, and the Euro-left is OK with that. Most Israelis today rightly regard the European left as little different from the Nazis. The soil of Europe is sodden with the blood of murdered Jews, and the left is consumed with abusing and vilifying the Israeli remnant.

  2. Stephen Bellamy said,

    I believe in the two state delusion too. But then I also believe there are fairies at the bottom of my garden.

    • Jim Denham said,

      You also, equally delusionarily, believe that you are a socialist.

  3. Ian said,

    Anti-Marxist liberal nonsesne and a guilt-ridden capitulation to identity politics and chauvinism.

    A Marxist answer to this nonsense to be found here

    • Stephen Bellamy said,

      Expanding on the close relationship between the Zionist orgs and the far right.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Ian: I tend not to take seriously a correspondent kicked out of the CPGB for anti-Semitism.

      As for Hoffman: he does not represent the entirety of Zionism: to suggest that he does is simply a lie. Even the piece you link to Stephen, states: “your grubby leadership style has transformed the once glorious ZF of Abba Eban and Chaim Weizmann from a vibrant and pluralist association, the very embodiment of democratic Zionism, into a hollow carcass, an organisation many are ashamed to associate themselves with…”

      In this context, and for a little basic education on the subject of Zionism, I’d recommend you read Dale Street’s review of Kasztner’s Crime, posted here at Shiraz Socialist a few days ago.

      • Ian said,

        So Hoffman, who hangs about with the fascist EDL, does not ‘represent all of Zionism’. So what? That does not stop him being featured as a correspondent on Shiraz Socialist.

        Few prominent individuals represent ‘the whole’ of anything. Trump does not represent ‘the whole of the US Republican Party. Jim Denham does not represent ‘the whole of’ the AWL. In both cases, many of their respective collaborators regard their rantings as often a severe embarrassment. But nevertheless Denham and Trump do ‘represent’ them. As does Hoffman represent Zionism rather prominently in the UK today.

        Its a bit difficult by the way to get expelled from an organisation you were not even a member of when the dispute happened. Denham should get his facts straight, and not rely on quoting anathemas from one semi-cowardly, semi-Shactmanite sect to justify the anti-Marxist, pro-imperialist politics of his own fully cowardly, fully Shachtmanite sect. You will have to do better than that.

      • Stephen Bellamy said,

        During Hoffs hay day, before he took time out due to illness, he was a Bod deputy, a member of Arkush’ ” defence division” and VC of the ZF. The whole of the Jewish organisation establishment were fully aware of what he and his acolytes were engaged in. There has never been a single word of condemnation from any Jewish org. Not from the Bod, or the JLC, or CST or ZF. Not a single solitary word.

        The JC actively promoted and endorsed his activities and Pollard described him ( Hoff ) as a ” tireless worker for middle east peace”.

  4. Stephen Bellamy said,

    This could have been written by the notorious perjurer Jeremy Newmark or even more directly by the Israeli Embassy.

    Is there any other political leaning we may not demonise or is Israeli being singled out for impunity ?

    • Jim Denham said,

      So you accept that you *do* indeed “demonise” Israel?

      • Stephen Bellamy said,

        Well its an expression I don’t really understand. But I don’t really need to in this context. Whatever it means is Israel the only country in the world that cannot be the object of it ?

        If by demonise you mean do I think Israel is a crappy, racist, kleptomaniacal basket case then yes, I do demonise Israel.

      • Jim Denham said,

        That makes sense from an anti-Semite.

      • Stephen Bellamy said,

        <<<<< takes a bow

      • Stephen Bellamy said,

        <<<<< wears being called an antisemite by an AWL McCarthyite as a badge of honour.

      • Jim Denham said,

        Please yourself: scum.

      • Stephen Bellamy said,

        If I don’t who else is going to ?

  5. Glasgow Working Class said,

    Mr Bellamy unimportant as he is is a political bonus for Israel and long may he speak.

  6. jschulman said,

    “Against boycotts.” I don’t see why the boycott of goods produced in the West Bank, or goods by companies which obviously benefit from the occupation of the West Bank, is a bad thing.

    • Stephen Bellamy said,

      Over to you Jimbo

    • Jim Denham said,

      Because in the UK such a campaign would inevitably shade over into a campaign to boycott *all* Israeli goods, and then Israeli artists, musicians and academics. That’s what the people who run the BDS campaign want – the complete isolation and “delegitimisation” of Israel: we must not give them an inch on this. As a secondary point, boycotts are a pretty ineffective means of building solidarity with the oppressed, and would undoubtably only serve to strengthen the most reactionary forces within Israel.

      A boycott of goods from the West Bank, etc, *within* Israel would be a somewhat different matter, though still problematic.

      • Stephen Bellamy said,

        Well I have been wanting to ask this of someone a long time and I guess Jim is as well placed as anyone. Jim what do you mean by ” delegitimisation of Israel” ?

        Or do you not really mean anything and it’s just a soundbite.

      • Jim Denham said,

        It means suggesting that Israel, uniquely amongst nations, simply has no right to exist.

  7. Stephen Bellamy said,

    Well I never have actually encountered that. Anyone saying that is not thereby established as a racist ( though they contingently may be ). What they certainly are is very wrong.

    Rights only make sense in a closed system, e.g. a system of law. Israel is established as a state by the relevant closed system. It is recognised by almost every other state and by the UN and is a member of the UN. Saying it as no right to exist is just plain silly

    It is entirely different to say things like….

    That Israel exists is extremely regrettable

    It is desirable that Israel be deconstructed

    Such things were said about the Soviet Union. No one ever said this was anti Slav racism.

    Why can we hold such views about any other state without being accused of racism ? If we were talking about France we would be bizarre, off the wall, etc etc but we wouldn’t be racists. ( except maybe contingently so )

    I am of the opinion that Zionism, to the extent that it means the existence of an unnatural Jewish majority State in the ME had it’s chance and blew it.
    Why can’t that opinion be engaged with if only briefly before being scornfully dismissed ? Why does it automatically bring assumptions of Jew hate ?

    I really want to know.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Stephen, you lie when you say: “Well I never have actually encountered that”; proof of your lying is contained in your own post:

      “That Israel exists is extremely regrettable

      “It is desirable that Israel be deconstructed” ..

      ie Israel, uniquely amongst nations, has no right to exist, according to you and your anti-Semitic co-thinkers.

      Stephen: you have just exposed yourself as an ignorant, prejudiced and very backward person. You seriously need some education on this question. Start with this, and when you’ve read it (and, most importantly, *thought* about it) get back to me:

  8. Stephen Bellamy said,

    Jim what a bizarre response. First of all those were example quotes meant to distinguish certain attitudes from Israel has no right to exist.

    ” saying it has no right to exist is just plain silly” and yet

    “ie Israel, uniquely amongst nations, has no right to exist, according to you and your anti-Semitic co-thinkers.”

    I will hit the link but understand I will be considering the source. o-)

  9. Stephen Bellamy said,

    ok I skim read it ond on the basis of what I skim read I skim thought about it. A meandering piece of barely coherent poetry worthy of Dave Rich his dissembling self. I could write volumes on it but for now….

    “Left-wing anti-semitism” is, in short, a comprehensive hostility to most Jews alive, branding them as “Zionists”

    The overwhelming majority of people in my village are Tories. I am hostile to their Toryism but I am not hostile to them, They are a lot of things as well as being Tories.

    I even feel a bit hostile to my wife’s unfortunate habit of squeezing the toothpaste tube from the ” wrong end ” but the overwhelming evidence is that I am not hostile to mt wife.

    • Jim Denham said,

      I suggest you more than “skim read” and more than “skim think”, if you wish to educate yourself out of your ignorance and anti-Semitism, Stephen. Then get back to me.

      • Stephen Bellamy said,

        Jim the skim read was more than enough to tell me there is nothing in it that I hadn’t read before ad nauseum.

        They say every experience is a learning experience. I am wondering if stuff written by Workers Liberty might be a possible exception

      • Stephen Bellamy said,

        Then there is the experience of a total of nine months in the Jordan Valley working 10 hours a day under a blazing sun making mud bricks to help rebuild Bedouin structures destroyed by the IOF. Now THAT is an education. You maybe should spend less time reading Workers Liberty drivel and try it some time. I can arrange introductions to people who can facilitate it for you.

      • Stephen Bellamy said,

        Then of course, you could get back to me.

      • Jim Denham said,

        “working 10 hours a day under a blazing sun” … ah, didums.

        I suppose that’s the nearest we’ll get to a political defence of your anti-Semitism, Stephen.

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