‘Is criticising Israel anti-Semitic?’ Greenstein attacks a straw man

December 2, 2016 at 8:39 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, conspiracy theories, history, israel, Middle East, palestine, zionism)

Palestinian protestors burn a makeshift Israeli flag, bearing Nazi swastikas on each side of the Star of David, during a demonstration against Israel's continuing assault on Gaza in the refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh near the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon on December 30, 2008. Arab capitals have been the scene for daily protests since December 27 against the continuing Israeli onslaught in the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 360 Palesitnians. Israel today readied troops on the Gaza border and warned its assault on Hamas could last for weeks, as jets pummelled Islamist targets for a fourth day amid a diplomatic push for a truce. AFP PHOTO/MAHMOUD ZAYAT (Photo credit should read MAHMOUD ZAYAT/AFP/Getty Images)

Greenstein: “the state of Israel was Hitler’s final victory”

By Zac

Tony Greenstein, who is suspended from Labour for alleged anti-Semitism, was the only speaker at a meeting entitled ‘Is criticising Israel anti-Semitic?’, hosted by Bristol Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). The room was packed, with around 200 attendees, many of those were Momentum members. The PSC’s choice of speaker, presentation of the event, and recent organised hostility towards towards committed Palestine solidarity activists advocating a two state programme forewarned me of a one-sided and hostile discussion.

Greenstein started by claiming that anti-Semitism is insignificant in the UK today both on the left and more widely, and counselled us to remember that it is just a claim used to attack left-wingers and defend Israel. He gave a history of Zionism as simply and intrinsically colonial, a disease that does not come in better and worse varieties. Zionism, he repeatedly stressed, is anti-Semitic, due in part to support for it by some anti-Semites, in part to statements by some historical right-wing Zionists. Throughout the talk he failed to distinguish between the worst historical examples of Zionist thought and contemporary support for the existence of a state of Israel. Many of his claims were based on a selective reading of history: to Greenstein, “the state of Israel was Hitler’s final victory” and Zionism supported Nazi Germany, while in turn Nazi Germany was decisive in the establishment of Israel.

Clearly, criticism of Israel is not in itself anti-Semitic. We should criticize Israel’s actions and stand in solidarity with Palestinians for many reasons, and furthermore there has been some weaponisation of anti-Semitism by the right. And yet, the issue of anti-Semitism on the left when criticizing Israel, irrespective of the intentions of those doing the criticism, is still significant.

Some criticism evokes anti-Semitic tropes and some analysis and proposed solutions to the conflict have anti-Semitic historical origins or conclusions. A key historical anti-Semitic trope is that of all-powerful, shadowy Jews controlling society, and unfounded Zionist conspiracy theories play on this. The prevalence of these could be seen throughout discussion from what Greenstein and many in the audience said, but crucially what many conspicuously didn’t say, deliberately leaving us all to imagine the worst whilst making it difficult to challenge their vague implications. The idea of Israel as a uniquely illegitimate state has historical anti-Semitic origins and is also ultimately detrimental to Palestinian solidarity. Greenstein later responded that Israel is a uniquely evil and illegitimate state. As he demonstrated throughout the discussion, the equation of Israel with Nazi Germany is far too common in the left, and can be anti-Semitic. It looked like many people were listening and genuinely receptive to hearing this different and more nuanced perspective, although ultimately most disagreed.

Many people left during the meeting as they felt it got too heated, which surprised me. Unfortunately, the tense atmosphere somewhat discouraged people from being critical of Greenstein’s points – some people felt too nervous to speak, only three challenged him. It is partly for want of a more prevalent culture of polemic and debate on the left that people found the meeting difficult, but heckling, booing and dismissing as Zionists the minority in the room who dissented from the only speaker’s perspective was harmful. This too happened partly because of the lack of a culture of healthily dealing with disagreements through debate.

There was heckling in response to the argument for a good two states programme as the most viable resolution of the conflict in the short- to medium-term, and that the main victims of the conflict’s prolongation being the Palestinian people. Whilst people highlighted the lack of an appetite for such a programme by many in the Knesset they failed to explain how this made a one state programme more viable. The majority of both Israelis and Palestinians support a two-state solution, overwhelmingly so on the left of both nations. There is little desire in Israel for a one state programme as people in the room would have advocated; most Israeli politicians that reject a two-state programme instead support expanded settlements and annexation of Palestinian territory, not a programme that would improve the situation of Palestinians let alone dismantle the Israeli nation state. The Palestine Liberation Organisation also supports two states.

Whilst a good two states settlement will be difficult, a one state programme in the short-to-medium-term could almost certainly only be achieved by force. Since Israel should not and will not in reality be forced into this, to advocate a one-state solution and oppose a two-state solution is to advocate no realistic solution and to oppose the only possible, but difficult, solution. Such incomplete arguments, simplistic apartheid analogies and failure to distinguish between ethnicity and religion throughout the meeting are a few of the things that highlighted the importance of more debate on this issue.

My general sense from the room was that most people were close to Greenstein’s perspective, although perhaps not so extreme. Similar perspectives certainly constitute the “common sense” assumptions of much of Momentum and the Palestine Solidarity movement in Bristol, but overwhelmingly people had simply not previously come across more nuanced perspectives; perspectives which are very critical of Israel and stand in solidarity with Palestinians whilst also being critical of left anti-Semitism and defending Israel’s right to exist. The Palestine Solidarity movement, Momentum, the Labour Party and the left need to have more debates and discussions on these issues, but with more balance and less heckling, and hopefully this will lead to less oversimplifications being used to caricature and dismiss serious attempts to tackle left anti-Semitism.

14 Comments

  1. Howard Fuller said,

    Greenstein is a disgusting self-obsessed little man. The fact his views are seemingly gaining support with Momentum is a worrying development. But then there’s Jackie walker, a completely deluded fantasist claiming she is being witch-hunted. She isn’t. Just condemned for her unsavoury and reactionary reviews.

    And all this as Corbyn hypocritically challenges the far-right:

    http://howiescorner.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/corbyns-hypocrisy-on-far-right.html

    Is this really the future of Labour under the “left”?

  2. Stephen Bellamy said,

    There is already one state. The task is to democratise it.

    And of course Zionists just don’t do conspiracies do they ?

    Jackie Walker might disagree.

    The Methodist Church. Surprised? Don’t be.

    https://bookburnersrus.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/the-methodist-church-surprised-you-shouldnt-be/

    • Jim Denham said,

      More Christian anti-Semitism: filth with which decent people should not engage.

      • Stephen Bellamy said,

        I can understand that. By engaging you risk being asked which bit isn’t true.

  3. Glasgow Working Class said,

    Typical British left, more interested in islamic Palestinian fascists than British working class progress.

  4. Ben said,

    “…the equation of Israel with Nazi Germany is far too common in the left, and can be anti-Semitic…”

    Can be antisemitic? Pray explain when it is not anti-Semitic.

    • Jim Denham said,

      I can’t speak for the author of the piece but suspect they mean “is sometimes the result of ignorance and stupidity rather than conscious malice” … but I agree that the author should have been more forthright on this particular point.

      • Stephen Bellamy said,

        Jim antisemitism means hatred of Jews as Jews. Jews as a collective. Nothing you can say about the State of Israel is antisemitic providing it IS about the State of Israel just as nothing you can say about the Russian Federation is anti Slav racism providing it IS about the Russian Federation. Putting the word ” modern” in front of the expression is not a free pass to it means whatever I mean by it. If you want to quit speaking English and speak a private language, fine. Though a private language is no language at all.

        Modern antisemitism and similar variants is what is resorted to when folks can’t find enough antisemitism to suit the political purpose.

        I agree with my alter ego up there who was signed in to the wrong wordpress account.

      • Jim Denham said,

        So you reject the concept of “institutional racism” arising from the McPherson Report into the Stephen Lawrence killing, do you, Stephen?

        https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/mar/07/lawrence-revelations-institutional-racism-met-police

      • Stephen Bellamy said,

        Err no to the extent that it is institutional racism not institutional antipathy to a foreign power.

        btw do not think the following is an appalling indictment of the extent the Lobby have got a grip on Higher Education institutions in the Uk ?

        https://israelpalestinelaw.wordpress.com

      • Jim Denham said,

        Oh yes, of course: the famous “lobby” … Stephen really is a self-parody of the paranoid, conspiracy-obsessed anti-Semite.

      • Stephen Bellamy said,

        Jim the Lobby is going to get an awful lot more famous

    • archives689 said,

      It is not antisemitic when there is no hatred of Jews, discrimination against Jews, persecution of Jews or any combo thereof.

      It is always stupid but stupid and antisemitic are not the same thing.

      • Jim Denham said,

        Modern anti-Semitism does not necessarily involve personal hatred of individual, Jews. Any more than ‘institutional racism’ (see the MacPherson report) necessarily involves personal hatred of black people, or ‘indirect discrimination’ in employment law involves racism directed at individual members of ethnic minorities.

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