Shami Chakrabati has published her report into anti-semitism within the Labour Party.
She has concluded that the Party is not “overrun” by anti-semitism (or any other forms of racism) but that there is an “occasionally toxic atmosphere”.
She said there was “too much clear evidence… of ignorant attitudes”.
Here’s the Report:
Read it asap, then we’ll have a discussion.
The letter below appears in today’s Morning Star. The author, Mary Davis, is Professor of Labour History at London Metropolitan University, a former member of the University and College Union national executive and the TUC women’s committee. She is also a member of the Communist Party of Britain’s executive committee and the party’s national women’s organiser:
Dodgy Livingstone has no place in the Star
I AM writing to protest against the decision to give Ken Livingstone a regular column in the Morning Star (May 28).
I think that at the present time this is a very impolitic move on the part of the Star in view of Livingstone’s suspension from the Labour Party and Shami Chakrabarti’s inquiry into anti-semitism.
I do not know anyone who approves of Livingstone’s “Hitler supported Zionism” remarks (repeated at least twice and based on Lenni Brenner’s spurious and ahistorical evidence).
This doesn’t mean that I support John Mann’s outrageous tactics; but the issue is important in itself and one to which our paper should show great sensitivity in view of our alleged opposition to anti-semitism.
It would appear judging from his opening comments in last weekend’s paper, that Livingstone is grateful to our paper as being the only voice on the left open to him.
How will this go down among our friends on the Labour left? (I certainly do not regard the entire Labour Party as anti-semitic — the Tories win the accolade for this).
It is thus hugely embarrassing on our paper’s part to offer Livingstone this lifeline at the present moment and serves to muddy the waters among our allies while at the same time detracting from our own stated opposition to anti-semitism.
Livingstone has not been a friend of this paper in the past. He and the group supporting him did not support former Star editor John Haylett when he was wrongly sacked and furthermore he has a chequered history of making injudicious comments bordering on the anti-semitic.
I, as a communist and a Jew, am personally affronted by the privileged treatment he is receiving. I can only hope the decision to offer him a column will be reversed.
Moishe Postone, a Marxist writer based at the University of Chicago and author of Time, Labour, and Social Domination, and Critique du fétiche-capital: Le capitalisme, l’antisémitisme et la gauche, was in London in May, and spoke to Martin Thomas from Solidarity about anti-semitism on the left and reactionary anti-capitalism.
I don’t feel as if I know the ins and outs of the situation in the Labour Party, so part of what I say may not be completely accurate. First of all, there is an extremely unfortunate polarisation with regard to the relationship of anti-Zionism and anti-semitism. It is a polarisation which makes political discourse very difficult. On the one hand, you have the Israeli Right, as, let’s say, exemplified by Netanyahu, who treat any criticism of Israel as being anti-Semitic. As far as I’m concerned, this is completely illegitimate.
Not all forms of anti-Zionism are anti-Semitic. There are too many people on the left, and I think it’s increasing, who argue that no form of anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic: that anti-Zionism is anti-Zionism, and anti-Semitism is something else. In the world of the metropolitan left, it is really quite remarkable that the left has almost nothing to say about Syria, had nothing to say about Saddam, has nothing to say about the fact that we are witnessing a complete crisis of the Arabic-speaking world. That crisis cannot simply be blamed on imperialism. There needs to be at least an attempt at serious analysis of why every single post-colonial Arab country is characterised by the secret police, and a secret police that would do the Stasi proud. Some of them were trained by the Stasi and the KGB, in fact.
The left seems to be unable to say anything about these issues. In a sense, and this is extremely hypothetical on my part, I think the more helpless the left feels conceptually on dealing with the world, the more it zeroes in on Israel-Palestine, because that seems to be clear: the last anti-colonial struggle.
There are some leftists who will not be happy for me to say this, but retrospectively one could say that the rise of the New Left globally implied a tacit recognition that the proletariat was not the revolutionary subject. I think that there was a move away from working-class politics. The new leftists had not only separated themselves from Communist Parties and social-democratic parties; even though they sympathised with the plight of workers, I think they were tacitly casting about for a new revolutionary subject. The colonised peoples fighting for freedom became the new revolutionary subject. I think that along with that there was a curious fusion, in part because of Vietnam, of the anti-colonial struggle and anti-Americanism.
One of the differences between the massive demonstrations against the American war in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s, and the massive demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq, is that for many — not all, but many — of those who fought against the Americans, in the 1960s, there was the idea of supporting a progressive revolution. The Americans, as the world’s imperial, but also conservative force, were hindering a positive historical development. So the demonstrations weren’t only against the Americans. They were also for the Vietnamese revolution — however one retrospectively evaluates that thinking as justified or not, and whether or not one thinks there should have been further criticism of the Vietnamese Communist Party. None of that existed in the massive demonstrations against the American invasion in Iraq. There were very few people who could on any level have regarded the Ba’ath regime under Saddam Hussein as representing anything progressive, and nobody talked that way. Anti-Americanism became coded as progressive. In a funny way, it is a remnant of the Cold War, spread among people who were actually not Cold Warriors.
Israel has become fused with America in the minds of many of these anti-imperialist leftists. An enormous amount of power is attributed to Israel which it actually doesn’t have. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who are colleagues of mine at the University of Chicago, claim that the American invasion of Iraq was against American interests, but pushed by the Israelis. Of course, they never state what Israeli interests were. Really, as both those writers had connections to Washington, their book was a brief that the State Department should listen to them more than to the neo-cons that they did listen to. Israel is, in a sense, the manipulator, and Washington is sometimes just a stupid dolt which is manipulated by these incredibly clever Jews. And at that point the picture of Zionism is anti-semitic. Zionism There were leftwing critiques of Zionism from the very beginning, frequently by communist Jews. Zionism was criticised by the communists as a form of bourgeois nationalism.
That’s something completely different from the criticisms today. Trotsky, early in his life — I think he changed his views later on — referred to the Bundists as “sea-sick Zionists”. That critique had nothing to do with Palestine or the Palestinian people. It simply has to do with nationalism. The change may have happened in the 1930s, but one marker of it was the trial in Czechoslovakia in 1952, where the Stalinists tried the entire Central Committee of the Czech Communist Party. It was 14 people. Eleven were Jewish. These were old Communists. Many had fought in Spain. They were accused of being Zionists. If you read what “Zionists” meant, it was exactly what the fascists called “Jews” — a shadowy conspiracy, inimical to the health of the Volk, and working to undermine the government which was for the people. The Stalinists couldn’t use the word “Jewish” — this was only seven years after the war — so they used the word “Zionist”. That was one of the origins of a deeply anti-Semitic form of anti-Zionism. It exploded after 1967. The USSR was furious that Israel had defeated its two major client states, and it began to suport the Palestinian movement. The anti-Semitic cartoons and statements coming out of the Soviet Union were pretty appalling. That’s where you got the idea that Zionism is Nazism — generated by the Soviet Union. And unfortunately, that Arab nationalists picked up on it is not surprising.
The Western left started to pick up on that too. I think that was deeply unfortunate. I think anti-semitism is almost a litmus test for whether a movement is progressive or not. There are a lot of anti-capitalist movements that are not progressive. And I think that anti-Semitism is a marker. I think there is a great deal to criticise in Israeli policies, the Israeli occupation, certainly the present Israeli government. But political discussion cannot take place if the choice is between Netanyahu on the one hand, and a certain kind of anti-Semitic anti-Zionism on the other. Anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism is a world view. It is not prejudice against individual Jews. It can go with being perfectly civil, although I’ve been reading about the way some Jewish students are pilloried in terms of “you look Zionist”. Who could “look Zionist”? It means, “you look Jewish”.
I was struck by the UN Arab Human Development report of 2002, which was written by Arab scholars. It talked about the misère of the Arab-speaking world and its massive decline since the late 1970s. The decline was nearly as precipitous as that of sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time other areas of what used to be called “the Third World”, have risen. It seems to me that it is not only the decline of the Arab-speaking world, but the rise of other parts, which makes an anti-Semitic form of anti-Zionism more plausible. The power of the Jews! It is the Jews who are pulling everything down. This is only a little variant on the idea that the problem is all imperialism. Well, imperialism is very important, was important, was distorting. But after all the British were in India much longer than anyone was in Syria. Or in Iraq. But I know more serious analyses of India from the left than I do of the Ba’ath. I find that politically unfortunate, and when it becomes anti-Semitic, I find it a marker of a move towards a reactionary populism. Campuses On many campuses, the hostility has spread to all Jews. It has made many young Jews very confused and they identify more with Israel than they did.
It is creating a reaction. Many of them are naïve politically, and because Israel’s very existence is being called into question, they also frequently are uncritical in terms of what is going on in Israel-Palestine. When Israel under comes such attack – because it doesn’t feel like a political attack but an existential attack – there is very little discussion. There are campaigns such as BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel], which is basically dishonest. [Norman] Finkelstein picked up on this quite a while ago. Some people are confused, and BDS tries to promote the confusion. People think it is against the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza period, but it is not. Because if it were, then it would not be a boycott of all Israeli academics, most of whom are very opposed to the settlements and Netanyahu. It is significant I think, that at the height of the Vietnam War, or the Iraq invasion, or other American adventures, there never was a call for a boycott of all American academics, ever.
The West takes the model of South Africa; many Palestinian militants think the model is Algeria; and there is no analogy. I don’t mean a moral analogy, I the mean analogy falls down because of demographic and political facts. There was in South Africa, only a small minority of white South Africans. There are as many Israeli Jews as there are Palestinians. So the Algerian or South African tactics are not going to work. But you have an extremely unfortunate marriage, as it were, between the Israeli right, which is becoming further and further right, and what I regard as the Palestinian right.
For me, the signal event was when [Israeli prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin was assassinated [in 1995, by an Israeli right-winger]. The right-wing campaign against Rabin was appalling and vicious, and Netanyahu was at the head of that. After Rabin was assassinated, it was assumed that Labour would be swept into power on a sympathy vote. Instead a Palestinian group began a campaign of suicide bombs. That elected the first Netanyahu government [in 1996]. The two work hand in glove. Each side thinks that ultimately, in the long run, it is going to prevail. But in the meantime, politically, they are united. It is a united rightwing front.
Above: Walker puts her case on RT (aka Putin TV)
Sean Matgamna has argued persuasively, here, that anti-Semitism in the Labour Party should generally be dealt with by argument and education, not disciplinary measures.
I would, personally, make an exception for Ken Livingstone, whose long record of Jew-baiting is such that he should be expelled.
The case of Jackie Walker is much less clear-cut, based as it is (or was – she’s now been reinstated), on some ambiguous comments made in the course of a private Facebook exchange with friends. Nevertheless, the comments do give cause for concern, especially this:
“As I’m sure you know, millions more Africans were killed in the African holocaust and their oppression continues today on a global scale in a way it doesn’t for Jews …
“Many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean. So who are victims and what does it mean? We are victims and perpetrators to some extent through choice”
As a comrade commented to me, “I would ask, what is the relevance of Jewish slave-traders in the 17th century to anti-semitism today? I genuinely don’t understand what point Jackie was trying to make.
“That may be partly because I haven’t seen the whole conversation the comments were part of, but could someone explain what the point was? The only interpretation I can see is that the role of Jews in slavery somehow mitigates anti-semitism today. If that’s not the point, then what was it? I’d be very happy to have it explained”.
The participation of some Jews in the slave trade was, of course, terrible (as anyone’s participation was), but actually relatively minor. Jackie Walker’s ignorant comments (she claims, just about her own family, but quite obviously aimed at Jews as a whole) suggest that Jews played a leading role (as “chief financiers”) in the slave trade, which warrants special mention to this day. This argument is usually based upon the spurious “research” of the US Nation of Islam and/or various neo-Nazis.
And, certainly, the gloating of various obvious anti-Semites since Walker’s reinstament should give leftists and anti-racists some pause for thought:
I have just received a leaflet from the Birmingham branch of Socialist Resistance, advertising a meeting entitled ‘Fight antisemitism – Fight Zionism’. The speaker is Roland Rance, and one side of the leaflet carries a statement supposedly (*) from him:
Roland Rance, a socialist Jew and anti-Zionist writes:
The current controversy over alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party comes from a convergence of several different forces: apologists for Israeli, always keen to denounce supporters of Palestinian rights; the Labour right, looking for any stick with which to beat Corbyn and the left; and the Tories and their press supporters, desperate to prevent a Corbynled Labour victory. It is no coincidence that this issue burst into public during an election campaign marked by outright racism and Islamophobia.
These attacks are rooted in a continuing campaign to change the meaning of the term anti-Semitism, to include anti-Zionism, or even opposition to Israeli policies and practices. We must be clear on this: anti-Semitism, like all forms of racism, has no place on the left, or in society as a whole. Zionism is itself a racist ideology, and anti-Zionism is a legitimate political position. We should also bear in mind that an increasing number of Jews oppose Zionism and very many Zionists (probably the majority) are actually not Jewish, but fundamentalist Christians.
The targets of the current attacks (some of whom are themselves Jews) are not antisemites. Some of them may have been guilty of clumsy phrasing or thoughtless responses; but they are not anti-Jewish racists. Most of the attacks are based on comments on social media, some dating back years; it is evident that there has been a systematic trawl through people’s previous activities.
We must resist this. We call for free speech on Israel, and an end to the witch-hunt. We oppose racism, whether directed at Jews, at Muslims, or at any other community. And we stand firmly alongside the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation and justice.
The leaflet also carries this cartoon by the, err, “controversial” cartoonist Carlos Latuff:
So there we have it: according to Socialist Resistance, antisemitism “has no place on the left” and, indeed, as proof of that statement, it simply does not exist on the left! All allegations of antisemitism come from “apologists for Israeli … the Labour right … and the Tories”.
None of the individuals recently accused of antisemitism are guilty, and anti-Zionism cannot ever be antisemitic. As a result of these false allegations, free speech itself is now at stake!
In other words, “nothing to see here, comrades, move on!”
* in fairness to Roland Rance, I note that the wording of the leaflet seems to be loosely based upon a much longer and more nuanced article by him on the Socialist Resistance website, that does very reluctantly admit that in one or two isolated and extreme cases antisemites have “infiltrated” the left and the pro-Palestinian movement. It’s a politically weak and evasive article, but nowhere near as bad as the appalling drivel put out under his name, by his comrades in Birmingham.
The veteran Jew-baiter Ken Livingstone says his claim that Hitler “supported Zionism” before he “went mad” is supported by the books of “historian” Lenni Brenner. In fact, Livingstone’s misunderstood what Brenner actually wrote (though that was bad enough in the first place).
Anyway, we seemed destined to hear a lot more about the dodgy self-proclaimed “Trotskyist” Brenner, who’s been promoted by the now defunct anti-Semitic Workers Revolutionary Party (with whom Livingstone was closely associated) as well as the SWP and its spin-off Counterfire.
Here’s what a contributor to Socialist Organiser wrote about Brenner when he first started attracting attention in 1984:
By Gerry Ben-Noah (first published in Socialist Organiser 199, 04/10/84)
DENIAL of the holocaust has become the stock-in-trade of the far right in Europe and the USA, from Richard ‘Harwood’ ‘s Did Six Million Really Die? to Arthur Butz‘s The Hoax of the Twentieth Century. That pro-Nazis should seek to excuse their heroes of one of the greatest crimes in history can hardly be surprising.
What is remarkable, however, is the recent emergence of a “left wing” version of holocaust revisionism.
At the most extreme, a French Trotskyist defends Robert Faurisson‘s right to deny the existence of gas chambers and extermination camps. More often, though, the “left” revisionists do not deny that the holocaust happened: they merely argue for a redistribution of responsibility for the tragedy. They suggest that the Nazis were not solely to blame for the disaster that befell the Jewish people. Zionism, too must share the guilt.
Now, in fact, various Zionist leaders did calculate that anti-semites would for their own reasons collaborate with them. They understood that there was logical common ground Zionism and anti-semitism — old-fashioned, central-European, pre-Nazi Christian anti-Semitism — in that both rejected assimilation.
Zionism was generated by anti-Semitism. Then once embarked on their project of removing the Jews to Palestine, out of the reach of the anti-semites, the Zionist leaders made hard-headed calculations and assessments of the world they lived in, seeking to find ways of realising their programme.
Thus Zionist leaders had discussions with ministers of the viciously anti-Semitic Tzarist government, with Von Plehve, for example.
In the same way the Zionists have allied in succession with Turkish, British and then US imperialism. Brutal realism and cynical real-politik in the service of their central goal of creating the Jewish state has always characterised the central leadership of the Zionist movement. It has led to shameful episodes and unsavoury contacts.
The realpolitik of the Zionist leaders — together with a slowness to realise that older strains of anti-Semitism had evolved into the lethal, genocidal Nazi variant, with which there could be no accommodation — may well have helped blunt the response of European Jews to Nazism
But to go on from this tragic confusion to identify Zionism and anti-Semitism, to place the moral or political responsibility — or any share of it — on the Zionist Jews, for Hitler’s holocaust of European Jewery — that is hysterically and obscenely stupid.
Yet that is what the new revisionism — at its sharpest when it stops playing with hollow, abstract logical identification between Zionism and anti-Semitism and bases itself on the historical facts — concludes and now proclaims to the world.
It is important to recognise that whilst holocaust revisionism is absolutely central to the ideology of the far right, “left” revisionism remains — so far — a marginal and aberrant belief within the socialist movement.
Until now it has been propagated only by scattered articles in the “Workers Revolutionary Party” press, or by quaintly-titled pamphlets such as Tony Greenstein’s ‘Zionism: Anti-Semitism’s Twin in Jewish Garb’.
Until now it has looked like the work of cranks.
Until now. Lenni Brenner, “left” revisionism’s newest recruit is a Jew, whose books have all the appearance of serious works of history and are published (expensively) by commercial publishers.
Both the books [ie: The Iron Wall and Zionism In The Age of Dictators – JD] argue, with apparent authority, that Zionists did not fight back against anti-Semitism because they were in sympathy with it. According to Brenner, the Zionists saw anti-semites as nationalists like themselves, with a common objective in the removal of the Jews from Europe and a similar evaluation of the intrinsic worth of diaspora Jewry.
Where does one begin to review work like this? The revisionists of the right have shown how easy it to contest and even subvert what had seemed unassailable historical facts. For, of course, very little history can survive scepticism of this kind, based on the rejection of any evidence one does not like.
Now Brenner does not, by and large, engage in this kind of revisionism. Brenner’s unique contribution to historical revisionism lies in the sense he makes of events.
Most of the events he refers to are real and publicly known. They have been described before by pro-Zionist writers, notably Hannah Arendt in Eichman in Jerusalem (this is not to say that a sizeable catalogue of inaccuracies and contradictions within the Brenner corpus could not be assembled — but such an exercise would miss the point).
Brenner’s “theory” of Zionist-Nazi congruence rests upon two sets of phenomena: the actions of individual collaborators who were Zionists, and the policies of Zionist organisations which, for him, were lacking in anti-Nazi resolution.
With the benefit of hindsight it is, of course, easy to see that many Zionists underestimated the Nazis. They thought the new anti-Semitism would be like the old: brutal, humiliating and dangerous for individual Jews.
They could not and did not conceive of the annihilation that was to come. Thus, their strategy was based on a series of assumptions about the immediate prospects for Europe’s Jews which were horribly wrong.
To move from this tragic confusion, however, to the suggestion that the Zionists were unconcerned about the fate of the European Jews is absurd. To argue that they were therefore in sympathy with the Nazis is bizarre.
It would be foolish to deny that there were Zionists who collaborated. So, no doubt, did some Communists, Bundists and liberals. In the nightmare world of Nazi Europe many people did bad things to save their own lives or the lives of those they loved.
For Brenner, though, these individual acts of collaboration are expressions of the inner logic of Zionism. Individual or collective acts of anti-racist resistance by Zionists, on the other hand, are dismissed as merely historical accidents, exceptions that in some unexplained way, prove the rule.
It would be trivially easy to write a similar account of the “inner logic” of capitalist democracy, or of Marxism, which proved to this standard their affinity with Nazism. Such accounts have little to do with serious history.
Brenner claims to be opposed to Jewish, Arab and every other kind of nationalism. Perhaps he is so far from nationalism that he does not feel the need to avoid racial slurs, which he sprinkles throughout his writing. Thus, the inter-was Palestinian Arab leadership were not only “a parasitic upper class” but also “classic levantines” (Iron Wall p, 57); and the Palestinian Arabs as a whole had a “low level of culture” (ibid p.65). As for the Jews:
” … the old Jewish slums were notoriously filthy: ‘Two Jews and one cheese make three smells’ was an old Polish proverb. Karl Marx was only being matter-of-fact when he remarked that ‘The Jews of Poland are the smeariest of all races’ ” (ibid p. 11).
For a self-proclaimed socialist to repeat anti-semitic Polish proverbs as matters of fact is simply incredible. Such remarks are frequent in Brenner and range from the paranoid: the suggestion that rich Jews control the US Democratic Party and thus American foreign policy — to the merely unpleasant — Agutal Israel demanding from the Likud “their pound of flesh” (p. 207) as the price for parliamentary supplrt.
There is, then, a curious ambivalence in Brenner’s writing. He censures Zionism for despising Jews and on the other hand he clearly despises them himself. Similarly, he characterises the Zionist-Revisionists as near-fascists, and cites quotes from anti-Revisionist Zionists to establish this. But he also argues that the Revisionists were the most authentic Zionists, closest to the inner logic of the movement.
Therefore, the opposition of the Labour Zionists to Revisionism, of which good use is made in proving the latter to be reactionaries, is then dismissed as either bad faith or false consciousness. Either Labour’s disagreements with Jabotinsky’s followers were entirely tactical, a contest over who should control the colonialist venture — or the left simply did not appreciate, as Brenner can appreciate, that they were really just logical Zionist-Revisionists.
For a Marxist, Brenner places enormous weight on his own ability to critically examine other people’s psyches across the years (this ability is not restricted to the minds of Labour Zionists: Brenner also ‘shows’ that Betar was Fascist by reference to the mental states of a hypothetical “average Betari” (ZAD, p. 114).
We are also offered a psychoanalysis of Jabotinsky:
” … there was nothing ambiguous about Jabotinsky’s oral fixation … he hated mathematics and was always undisciplined as a student: the infallible signs of oral fixation … He had other stigmata of the fixation … he became hopelessly addicted to detective stories and westerns” (Iron Wall, p.6).
This is the sort of thing that gets psychoanalysis a bad name. It reveals, too, that underneath the glossy covers Brenner’s work is every bit as crankish as former attempts to construct a “socialist” version of historical revisionism.
Why then, has it any credibility? A comment by Isaac Deutscher offers a clue:
“The anti-Zionist urged the Jews to trust their gentile environment, to help the ‘progressive forces’ in that environment … and so hope that those forces would effectively defend the Jews against anti-Semitism … The Zionists, on the other hand dwelt on the deepseated hatred of non-Jews and urged the Jews to trust their future to nobody except their own state. In this controversy Zionism has scored a terrible victory, one which it could neither wish nor expect” (The Non-Jewish Jew, p. 91).
Brenner, like most socialists, wishes that this victory had not happened. But instead of thinking seriously about what kind of socialist strategy could win the Jews away from Zionism, he constructs a fantasy-world in which Zionists did wish for and expect the holocaust, and in which the most fanatical Jewish nationalists were, in reality, ardent anti-semites.
All of this would undoubtedly be an interesting case study for psychoanalysts. Marxists would be better off by turning to Nathan Weinstock’s Zionism: False Messiah.
Jackie Walker was suspended pending an investigation
We republish below, a new piece by Sean Matgamna, the person who has done more than any other individual to force the question of anti-Semitism onto the agenda of the British left.
As usual with Sean, it’s a balanced and well-reasoned piece that takes full account of the political context in which comments are made, and he is willing to give people the benefit of the doubt.
But I personally think he’s wrong in simply dismissing as unreasonable, concerns about Jackie Walker’s Facebook comments. I can agree that her comments should not have been dealt with by disciplinary action, but they were not unproblematic. As Sean doesn’t quote Walker’s comments, I will:
“As I’m sure you know, millions more Africans were killed in the African holocaust and their oppression continues today on a global scale in a way it doesn’t for Jews …
“Many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean. So who are victims and what does it mean? We are victims and perpetrators to some extent through choice”
I would ask, what is the relevance of Jewish slave-traders in the 17th century to anti-semitism today? I genuinely don’t understand what point Jackie was trying to make.
That may be partly because I haven’t seen the whole conversation the comments were part of, but could someone explain what the point was? The only interpretation I can see is that the role of Jews in slavery somehow mitigates anti-semitism today. If that’s not the point, then what was it? I’d be very happy to have it explained.
Mobilise reason to fight anti-Semitism
By Sean Matgamna
Jackie Walker, a woman of mixed African-Jewish background, and vice-chair of the Labour Party’s left-wing group, Momentum, has been suspended by the Labour Party on grounds of anti-semitism. The charge of anti-semitism is based on a fragment of a Facebook conversation from some months ago. Her anti-semitism consisted in the statement that Africa too had experienced a Holocaust.
The Labour Party now has a regime of capricious and arbitrary instant exclusions. This paper and its predecessor Socialist Organiser have argued that anti-semitism in the labour movement needs to be rooted out. But this Red-Queen-in-Alice-in-Wonderland off with their heads regime is not the way to do it.
For decades, from Israel’s June 1967 Six Day War and with renewed energy after the 1973 Yom Kippur Israeli-Egyptian war, hostility to Israel has been a major, and seemingly ever-growing, force in the labour movement and in the Labour Party. Some of that is a just hostility to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. But there is more than that. There is often a blatant anti-semitism.
In June 1967 Israel occupied that part of pre-1948 Palestine which the United Nations partition plan of 1947 had designated for an independent Palestinian state, to exist side by side with Israel. That Palestinian territory had been occupied and annexed in 1948-9 by Jordan and Egypt, and a small part of it by Israel. Now all of pre-war Palestine and Gaza was under Israeli control. Various Israeli offers to vacate the newly conquered territories in return for peace and recognition by the Arab states were rejected. Israel’s occupation of that Palestinian land has so far lasted half a century. It has turned Israel into a regional imperialist power (in the sense that Marxists had called the pre-World-War-2 Czechoslovakian, Polish, and Yugoslav states imperialist: they ruled over minority peoples repressed to various degrees by the Poles, Czechs, Serbs).
Israel has been a grubby and brutal imperialist power in its treatment of the Palestinians. As with any other imperialist occupation, Marxists have demanded that the occupying power, Israel, get out of the Arab-majority territories and allow the Palestinians to have their own state there. That there were special problems was not to be denied. In 1967, no Arab state recognised Israel’s existence, or its right to continued existence. Only the PLO and a couple of states, Egypt and Jordan, do so, even today. The PLO before the June 1967 war had been controlled by Egypt and fronted by Ahmad Shukeiri, who proclaimed the PLO’s objective in the slogan: drive the Jews into the sea.
This was altogether too reminiscent of Hitler, then only twenty years dead. Any taint, approximation to, or suggestion of anti-semitism was still held to be unclean politics, far outside what was acceptable to labour-movement people. But with an enormous exception: the Stalinist movements everywhere had spent the years from 1948-9 to 1953 in a scarcely-disguised anti-semitic clamour against “the Zionists” and against Israel.
In Stalinist show trials in Russia’s satellite states in Eastern Europe, such as the Czech Slansky trial of 1952, recently-prominent Stalinists accused of all sorts of treasons were indicted above all as being Zionists. They were jailed, and some hanged. The Stalinist parties everywhere conducted large-scale propaganda against Zionism. It was then that the assertion that the Zionists were tools, and political and moral accomplices, of Hitler and the Nazis, appeared and went into circulation. In the USSR, a projected show trial of Jewish doctors who had attended the leading Stalinists was set in train. It was abandoned when Stalin died in March 1953. Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced Stalin in 1956, and his anti-semitism suddenly became a matter of public record. Many Jews left the Communist Parties. Stalinist anti-Zionist anti-semitism was banked down. But not everywhere. Open anti-semitism became a force in Poland as late as 1967-8.
The orthodox Trotskyists, including the Palestinian Trotskyists, declared themselves against both sides in the Israeli war of independence in 1948. The Workers Party in the USA supported Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. Naturally, Trotskyists denounced the Stalinist anti-semitic campaigns of 1948 to 1953. In 1956 and after, its anti-semitism was part of their denunciation of Stalinism. How did those attitudes turn into fervent support for the Arab states against Israel? What were the political processes by way of which much of what had been official Stalinist doctrine in 1948-53, denounced as anti-Semitism by the orthodox Trotskyists, came to be fervently accepted and propagated by them?
The objective basis for it was the fact and the accompanying brutalities of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian-majority territories. Its subjective basis was the peculiar version of anti-imperialism which the Trotskyists adopted from the outbreak of the Korean war in 1950 onwards, an anti-imperialism coloured and sculpted by the belief that in the colonial and semi-colonial world the Stalinists were, by virtue of their militancy against the US and its allies, leading the first stage of an anti-capitalist and essentially working-class world revolution.
Thus the orthodox Trotskyists came to be impassioned defenders and advocates of one of the great imperialist blocs contending for mastery in the world. They made criticisms of Stalinism, but never allowed them to affect the basic commitment to ” defend” the USSR and its spawns and replicas. The same sort of anti-imperialism was brought to bear on the antagonisms between Israel and the Arab states. The anti-colonial movements in the Arab world were construed as part of an”Arab Revolution”, which in turn was part of the “Colonoial Revolution which was part of the world revolution. The Grant tendency (later Militant, and today the Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal) even discovered in 1965 that Ba thist (non-Stalinist) Syria had in thhis historical process become a “deformed workers state”.
Israel, which after 1967, though not before, became closely allied with the USA, was part of the imperialist bloc. The Palestinians and the Arab states, such as Nasserite Egypt, opposing Israel were part of the progressive anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist bloc. And of course the Palestinians facing the superior might of Israel naturally attracted the reflex sympathy and support of socialists.
The Trotskyists shift from their attitude in the 1948 war and after was first a shift to a new denial that Israel was a historically legitimate state. From the end of Arab-Israeli hostilities in 1949, the Trotskyists had taken the existence of Israel as a fact. When in 1956 Israel joined France and Britain in invading Egypt (the Suez crisis), the Trotskyists properly took sides with Egypt, but did not conclude that Israel, the ally of Britain and France, had no right to continue existing. In the grip of a belief that the” Arab Revolution” was or would soon become socialist, Gerry Healy, the leader of the main British orthodox Trotskyist group, published a small pamphlet on the Suez crisis in which, astonishingly, he threatened that if the Israelis did not change to the right side in the world revolution, the side that the Arabs and their colonial revolution were on, they would soon face a bloody holocaust that would make Hitler’s massacres seem “like a tea party! The organisation that could allow Healy to publish such a thing — what could make the murder of six million Jews in Europe seem like a tea party?– was politically sick; but the same organisation, at roughly the same time, could publish a valuable expose of Stalinist anti-semitism.
The shift to a radical opposition to the existence of Israel came by way of widespread acceptance of the post-1969 PLO proposal to replace Israel with a secular democratic state in all of pre-1948 Palestine, in which Jews and Arabs could live as equals. The PLO no longer shouted “Drive the Jews into the sea”, but, with its seemingly benign proposal for Jewish-Arab equality in a common secular democratic state, it was thereby all the more effective in spreading the idea that Israel was not a legitimate state, that it should never have come into existence, and that it should be put out of existence as soon as possible. Any idea that this could ever be done by Israel agreeing to abolish itself as a state and put its citizens at the mercy of its long-time bitter enemies was ludicrous.
And it was an approach unique to the Jewish state: to no other nation state was there such an attitude. In practice the approach could only mean what Shukeiri’s “Drive the Jews into the sea” had meant: conquest of Israel, depriving the Hebrew nation of national rights, and killing as many Israeli Jews as necessary to do that. A combination of hostility to Israel’s continuing occupation of Arab-majority territories and the pseudo-benignity of the secular democratic state proposal made the formula widely acceptable to people who would never accept the same programme — that Israel was not a historically legitimate state and should go out of existence — presented as the “drive the Jews into the sea” that it was and in practice could only be. Thus the idea of Israel’s historical illegitimacy became widely accepted on the left, including the Labour Party left; and then, what followed from it, since Israel was so unreasonable as to refuse to abolish itself: support for any armed Arab (or, latterly, Islamic, i.e. Iranian) action against Israel.
Not just a proper socialist and democratic support for Palestinians attempting to drive out the Israelis from Palestinian majority territories, but support for suicide bombs against Israeli civilians and for the mouthings and actions against Israel of such as Saddam Hussein. Labour MPs held to such views, and not only honest and well-meaning political fools like the late Ron Brown MP. When in 1994 the soft-left Labour MP George Galloway, on camera, addressed Saddam Hussein, praising the butcher’s strength and in Arabic pledging support for the conquest of Jerusalem, the right-wing Labour establishment left it to the Tories and the press to protest. Galloway’s continued membership of the Labour Party was at that point never questioned, other than that Socialist Organiser (forerunner of Solidarity) said that he should be removed as an MP.
And now, under a left-wing leadership, we have a regime in the Labour Party where Jackie Walker, a woman of mixed African-Jewish background, can be summarily suspended for daring to call the long historical martyrdom of Africa, notably the slave trade, a Holocaust equivalent to the Hitlerian massacre of six million Jews. Are such glosses on history now full-blown anti-semitism? Not something maybe to disagree with or question, or denounce, but something incompatible with membership of the Labour Party? The Labour Party that for so long had George Galloway as one of its ornaments?
I repeat: anti-semitism on the left needs to be fought against and destroyed. This paper, and its predecessor Socialist Organiser, have been fighting it within the left and in the labour movement for over three decades. The main fight, however, has to take the form of debate, discussion, political education and re-education. The suspension from the Labour Party of a Ken Livingstone for pretty blatant anti-semitism on the air is just and necessary. The removal of Jackie Walker is preposterous. It is the sort of response in mirror image that the hysterical left in student unions have sometimes employed against those Jews they deem not hostile enough to Israel and thus Zionist and racist.
The Palestinians are oppressed by Israel and therefore are entitled to the support of honest socialists and consistent democrats. Is heated support for the Palestinians from now on to be incompatible with Labour Party membership? Is indignant, or exaggerated, or hysterical denunciation of specific Israeli acts to be branded racist, incompatible with membership in the new Labour Party?
We need to specify what left anti-semitism consists of, in order to debate, educate, and clarify. These, I think, are its main features.
1. The belief that Israel has no right to exist. That is the core of left anti-semitism, though it comes in more than one version and from more than one root, ranging from the skewed anti-imperialism of the orthodox Trotskyists through Arab nationalism to Islamic chauvinism.
2. The belief that Israeli Jewish nationalism, Zionism, is necessarily a form of racism. That this racism can only be expunged if Israel, Zionists, and Jews abandon Israeli nationalism and support of any kind for Israel. That Jews Jewish students, for example can only redeem themselves if they agree that the very existence of Israel is racist.
3. The view that Israel alone is responsible for the conflict with the Arab states (and, now, with Islamic states). The idea that Israel alone is responsible for creating Arab refugees, and is uniquely evil in doing so. In real history about 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven out in 1948. In the following years the Jews who fled or were expelled from Arab territories numbered about 600,000. Israel integrated the 600,000; the Arab states mostly refused the Palestinians citizenship or even the right to work.
4. The claim that the Palestinian have a “right of return”, that is, the right to the organised settlement in Israel of six million people, only a tiny and dying-off number of whom were born in what is now Israel, is one of the many codes for in fact demanding the self-abolition of the Jewish state and justifications for war to conquer and abolish it because it will not accept the demand. It is not the equivalent of free immigration to the UK, or even of mass migration to the UK of millions from Syria, Libya, and Africa. Its equivalent for Britain would be the organised settlement in the country of sixty million people. Socialists should be in favour of agreements between Israel and the Palestinians for compensation and for letting individual Palestinians into Israel. Support for a collective right of return is only another form of the demand to conquer and destroy Israel, if it will not surrender.
5. The idea that the forced migration of 700,000 Arabs was a *unique* evil is also extravagantly wrong. In 1945, about 13 million Germans were driven out of Eastern Europe and German East Prussia. They were driven into a Germany reduced to ruins by wartime bombing, where economic life had seized up and millions were starving. At least half a million are reckoned to have lost their lives in that ethnic cleansing. Only obscure German nationalists now propose to reverse that forced population movement and to drive out the Poles and Czechs who live where Germans once lived.
6. There is a peculiar form of Holocaust semi-denial current on the left. I have never heard of anyone on the left who denies that six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis (though, in the nature of things, someone will now jump out from behind a bush wearing a “Hitler was Framed” badge, and call me a liar). What many on the left deny is that this unique fact of history had repercussions that we should at least try to understand, with some sympathy for the surviving Jews and their decendents. On the left the Holocaust is not denied, but it is relegated almost to the status of a “virtual fact”. In truth, the Holocaust discredited all Jewish-assimilationist programmes, including ours, the socialist one. It created the will for a Jewish solution to the Jewish question and for the creation of Israel. There is not to be surprised or scandalised in that. The Holocaust should be appreciated as a real fact of history, with repercussions and reverberations, and not as something outside the history we are all part of, as a sort of side-show, as a two-dimensional hologram rather than the enormously weighty, reverborating event it was and continues to be.
7. The idea that there are good peoples entitled to all rights, and bad peoples, entitled to none. That too is something I have never heard anyone voice explicitly. But it is there as an underlying implicit subtext in the idea that we are concerned with national rights only for the presently oppressed, i.e. in this case the Palestinians.
8. There is no one-state solution. Not through, as now, Israeli domination of the whole territory and Palestinians living indefinitely in a limbo of Israeli occupation, nor through a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea” incorporating Israel after its Jewish population have been killed or overpowered by Arab or Islamic states. The only just solution that can serve both Jews and Arabs is two states: a sovereign Palestinian state in contiguous territory, side by side with Israel.
Above: the LBC interview that started it all
This article also appears in the present issue of Solidarity and the Workers Liberty website.
By Sean Matgamna
On one level the sudden media outcry about Ken Livingstone’s anti-semitism is being used and fed by the Labour right, especially the stupid part of the right — and, of course, the Tories — to sabotage the Labour Party in the London mayoral and other local government elections and to discredit Jeremy Corbyn.
Livingstone has been what he is now for decades. He was the same Livingstone when the Blairite right took him back into the Labour Party, in 2004, after his 2000-4 term as London mayor. The bigger truth, however, is that, whatever their motives, those who cry out against Livingstone’s vicious nonsense about Hitler supporting Zionism and wanting to send Jews to Israel in 1932 (he said Israel, not Palestine) are right to do so. If the enemies of the Labour Party and of the left have found a soft target, it is a legitimate target. A big part of the pseudo-left believe or assert that “Zionists” (that is, for practical purposes, most Jews) are historically tainted by Nazism. That “the Zionists” “collaborated” with the Nazis in making the Holocaust and share responsibility for it; that “the Zionists” manipulated even the Nazis during World War 2 and especially share responsibility for the Nazi murder of one million Hungarian Jews in 1944-5. That in their “racism” — that is, in first their wanting a Jewish state and then in their Israeli nationalism — they run parallel to Nazism. That Israel, in that sense, is a continuation of Nazism.
This bizarre “story” originates in the Stalinist anti-semitic campaign against “Zionism” of the late 1940s and the first half of the 1950s. The fact that it is a tissue of contrived and vicious nonsense does not discredit it: one reason why it survives is that it is rarely expressed as a coherent story, as it is here. It is the thesis of the play ‘Perdition’, written by Jim Allen and produced by Ken Loach, and based on Lenni Brenner’s grossly biased and distorting book which Livingstone says he will submit to the Labour Party inquiry into his statements.
Politically inexperienced young people, justly indignant at Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and Gaza and moved to side with the Palestinians, are easily led into accepting some or all of these ideas. A petrol bomb, or Molotov cocktail, consists of soapy water and petrol in a bottle, and “works”, after the glass container is shattered, by way of the soapy water spreading the burning petrol. Righteous indignation at the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is the soapy water here, spreading a lethal anti-semitism disguised as “anti-Zionism” — what someone called “absolute anti-Zionism”. It has been spread on anti-war demonstrations, for example, by way of placards and chants equating Israeli prime ministers with Hitler, identifying Zionism and Nazism, coupling the Star of David and the swastika, and proclamations of the need to destroy (in real-world terms, conquer) Israel. Young people indignant at Israeli government policies and actions against the Palestinians are miseducated to believe that support for the Palestinians against Israel demands not an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel, but the destruction of Israel.
Least of all does this vicious claptrap help the Palestinians. Even leaving aside the question of the national rights of the Hebrew nation in Palestine, this attitude implies indefinite postponement of a settlement, until Israel can be conquered. It rules out emancipation for the Palestinians in any foreseeable future. Its devotees actively campaign against the only real solution: an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel.
They “use” the plight of the Palestinians to float Arab-chauvinist, Islamic-chauvinist, “anti-imperialist” hostility to Israel. They are functionally indifferent to the living Palestinian people. The terrible truth is that the pseudo-left, and most so the “revolutionary” pseudo-left”, is a cesspool of an “absolute anti-Zionism” which is anti-semitism because it condemns — as “Zionists”, as criminals, as racists — Jews who refuse to agree that Israel should be abolished.
In the not-so-distant past, student Jewish societies have been banned for refusing to support this. Livingstone’s comments were only a small and half-sanitised version of that politics, that attitude, and that mindset. It is a historical fact that some anti-semites — for instance, Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Fein — did say they found Zionism acceptable. It would if successful remove the Jews they hated to a distant land. For decades such facts as the talks between Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, and the minister of the anti-semitic Tsarist government, von Plehve, or the “Transfer Agreement” made by the Jewish Agency in Palestine with Hitler’s government in August 1933, allowing Jews who fled Germany to Palestine to keep some of their property, were setpieces in Stalinist anti-Zionist agitation. But Livingstone wasn’t just referring to such things in the past and “construing” them. It is plain from the way he spoke that he was jeering, baiting, just as he did in 2005 when he called a Jewish journalist “like a concentration camp guard”.
“Hitler supported Zionism”. He wanted Jews to go “to Israel”. The Holocaust was not a logical development in war conditions of Nazi policies, but a matter of Hitler, previously a Zionist, “going mad and killing millions of Jews”. Slight pauses in his speech indicated that Livingstone was being careful with his words. He reaffirmed his statements in three separate interviews on 28 April, and has refused to retract them since. With Livingstone, the cesspool of pseudo-left “absolute anti-Zionism”, that is anti-semitism, overflowed into mainstream politics. It gave the right and the Tories an easy target and an opportunity to bring the scandal out into the open. It needs to be out in the open. It needs to be discussed. It needs to be purged politically — and the labour movement needs to purge itself of the unteachables like Livingstone.
The immediate suspension of Livingstone from the Labour Party and the setting-up of an investigation into his statements overlaps with the distinct and separate question of the rights of Labour Party members and the continuing waves of expulsions of leftists. “Progress” and other Labour right-wingers are campaigning to make expulsions even easier, and for anyone adjudged by a Labour Party official as guilty of “anti-semitism, racism, or Islamophobia” to be summarily banned from membership for life. Livingstone and his supporters try to present Livingstone’s suspension as one more unjustified reprisal against the left. They try to amalgamate the issues. Serious socialists should not let them do that.
Livingstone is not a typical victim of Labour’s expulsion-freaks. There is a mystery here. What does Livingstone think he is doing? He is a calculating man. He is a Livingstone-serving opportunist, not a principled politician who will stand by his version of the truth, irrespective of consequences. His saying what he said and refusing to retreat from it is uncharacteristic behaviour. He knows perfectly well that he is helping the Labour right and the Tories, sabotaging Labour’s election campaign. He wants to do that? Why?
The explanation may lie in Livingstone’s dual character. Inside this supremely self-centred, manipulative politician Dr Jekyll-Livingstone there is imprisoned a contrary, irrational, egotist, Mr Hyde-Livingstone, who sometimes takes over.
The Labour right offensive targets not only Livingstone but Corbyn. Prominent has been John Mann MP. Mann is something of a rent-a-gob, an MP in a symbiotic partnership with busy journalists who need an immediate response, a comment, a quote. That gives the MP a spurious prominence and the journalists usable copy. In his rent-a-gob role, when it became plain in the middle of the 2015 Labour leadership contest that Corbyn would win, Mann made the preposterous proposal that the election be called off, thus branding himself as not only a right-winger but also as a notable dimwit. But Mann has for long been an open opponent of “left-wing” anti-semitism. He is entitled to have a go at Livingstone, even though, characteristically, he did it with wild hyperbole. Whatever the motives of those attacking Livingstone, the issue of pseudo-left anti-semitism must be tackled on its merits.
For the serious left to ally with Livingstone, and to let opposition to the expulsions regime in the Labour Party prejudice us in favour of Livingstone, pushing aside the political question in this case, would be a suicidal mistake. “Left” anti-semitism is no small thing. The future of the labour movement depends on it being opposed, combated, and uprooted. The Labour leadership had a right to suspend Livingstone and open an investigation, and they were right to exercise it. The alternative would have been to show themselves numb, indifferent, or collusive to anti-semitism and the anti-semites. Livingstone will have the chance to argue at the investigation all his claims to have been unfairly or unjustly treated.
There is a plain danger that the politics of the issue will be buried in the churning mud of denunciations and counter-denunciations. Typical left “absolute anti-Zionists” are not racists. They most likely share all the horror of decent people at racism. Their mental furniture includes denunciations of Hitler’s and Stalin’s anti-semitism, loathing of the Tsarist Black Hundred anti-Jewish pogromists, and so on. The central problem with the “absolute anti-Zionists” is that they don’t see the connection between the anti-semitism and the racism they loathe, and their own politics now on Israel. They see themselves only as champions of the Palestinians oppressed by Israel, and their hostility to Israel only as a just and necessary part of that. Such people are typically not racists against Jews. The dividing line is not on racism, but in the politics of the Middle East. It is not between critics of Israel and its uncritical defenders, but on the political answers subscribed to. The dividing line is between those who want to change and reform Israel, and have an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel — and those who deny Israel’s right to exist at all, who see Israel as an illegitimate political formation, a mistake, a crime of history that must be undone by the elimination of the whole Israeli polity.
Everything anti-semitic specific to the left is rooted in that divide. It is impossible to draw a line saying which degrees and kinds of criticism of Israel are to be licensed. Who should decide what is untrue or true, too severe or merely just, preconceived or a legitimate response to reality? It is a hopeless task. Such a Labour Party regime could not but be arbitrary and capricious, and, in current conditions, driven by a hysteria invoked for the occasion by the Labour right.
On the one side there will be people inclined to see any serious criticism of Israel as anti-semitism; on the other, those inclined to see any defence or justification of Israel as “Zionist apologetics”. The political dividing line, both true to the reality and serviceable in practice, is between critics of Israeli policy and action who want to improve things, and those whose often just criticism carries the demand that Israel be destroyed, that the Hebrew nation be deprived of self-determination — who back armed action by such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and by Arab or Islamic states, to put Israel out of existence.
It is important in all this not to lose sight of the Palestinians held in the stifling grasp of Israeli occupation, outmatched militarily and more or less helpless in the face of Israeli military might. The Palestinian demand for their own independent state, alongside Israel, deserves the support of every socialist and honest democrat.
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.
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.
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”: