Illustration by Sébastien Thibault
Owen Jones’s piece in yesterday’s Guardian – ‘Antisemitism has no place on the left. It is time to confront it‘ – acknowledges the fact that this foul poison exists not just on the traditional extreme right, but also within the pro-Palestine movement and sections of the left. To some of us, this is merely a statement of the obvious, and something that we have been banging on about for years. But the importance of Jones’s piece cannot be overestimated: much of the left (and that includes the Guardianista liberal-left) refuses to acknowledge that the problem even exists. It is to Owen Jones’s credit that he has broken this taboo.
Jones’s article has its shortcomings: he repeats, for instance, the old canard that “Some ardent supporters of the Israeli government oppose all critics of Israeli policy and accuse them of anti-Semitism (or, if those critics are Jewish, of being “self-hating Jews”)”: I, for one, have never heard such arguments being used by defenders of Israel, although the claim that they are is treated as an established fact by ‘anti-Zionists’.
And Jones does not deal with the crucial issue of ‘absolute anti-Zionism’ – a more widespread and pernicious problem on the left than crude, racist antisemitism. ‘Absolute anti-Zionism’ is opposition to the very existence of the Jewish state. From that all the overt anti-Semitism and covert softness on anti-Semitism to be found on the left and within the PSC and BDS movements, follows. It is the so-called ‘One-State solution’ and is the thinly disguised sub-text of slogans like “Palestine must be free – from the River to the Sea.” It is the policy of the SWP and much of the rest of the British kitsch-Trot left. Stalinists of the Morning Star variety in theory back the Two States position, but you’d be forgiven not realising this from what they say within the labour movement and write in the Morning Star. Until he very recently clarified his position, and came out clearly for two states, it seemed quite possible that Jeremy Corbyn was a one stater.
And on the subject of Corbyn, Jones’s piece is also weak: it’s simply not good enough to argue (as does Jones) that “He [ie Corbyn] could not possibly have known the personal backgrounds of every individual who has joined him at the many rallies he has attended over the years.” Whether Corbyn knew the politics of each and every one of the many anti-Semites he’s been filmed and photographed alongside, and in some cases is on record defending, is not the issue: the issue is that now that he does know who these people are, he should clearly denounce them and disown them by name – instead of blustering about how he deplores all forms of racism and is in favour of peace. And, surely, Corbyn knew exactly what the politics of Hezbollah and Hamas were when he welcomed them as “friends.” For the record, I make these comments as someone who has just voted for Corbyn.
For sure, Jones’s piece does not go far enough, or make its case as plainly as it should: but it’s an important breakthrough for the ‘anti-Zionist’ liberal-left, and all the more welcome because its published in the absolute anti-Zionists’ respectable, mainstream mouthpiece: the Guardian.
Above: Jones (left) with arch-critic Alan Johnson after the publication of Jones’s Guardian piece
I’ve always looked up to you, from the days when we were in Socialist Organiser – you the Marx-reading shop steward in a car plant and me the young student. In 2011 you described Jeremy Corbyn in these terms: “Corbyn is now beyond the pale and part of a de facto anti-democratic, pro-fascist and anti-semitic current that claims to be “left-wing” but is in fact, profoundly reactionary and anti-working class.” So why did you urge Unite (my trade union) to back Corbyn? Will you vote for him? Why? Is it democratic centralism? If so, fuck that Jim. Look back at what you wrote in 2011 and, as Dylan sang, ‘Don’t think twice, its alright.’
(NB Alan Johnson is not the MP of the same name! This Alan’s Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn, expanding on many of the points he raises above, can be read here).
Thanks for your kind words and because I admire your intellect and evident principles I’ve given some thought to your comments (incidentally, although I was a motor industry shop steward when we first knew each other, before that I’d also been a student and I don’t think our ages are that different …).
Firstly, you are quite justified in drawing attention to what I’ve previously written about Corbyn’s attitude to a number of international issues (ie knee-jerk anti-Americanism) and – perhaps worse – his unsavoury “friends” and/or associates in the Palestine solidarity movement (anti-semites like Hamas and Hesbollah, the Jew-hating Islamist Raed Salah and the holocaust-denier Paul Eisen, for instance).
These “friends” (Corbyn’s own description of Hamas and Hesbollah representatives when he hosted them in Parliament in 2009) are significant, disturbing and a matter that should be (and has been) raised by myself and others within the Corbyn campaign – and we will continue to raise these issues in the event that Corbyn wins.
Are these concerns (as you and some other people I know and respect, have argued) sufficient to make support for Corbyn unacceptable or unprincipled? I’d argue not, and here’s why:
We live and ‘do’ politics within a British labour movement that has some pretty awful political traditions within it: craven reformism, nationalism, various forms of racism, sexism and general backwardness. I’ve been on the knocker, over the years, for some truly dreadful people who happened to wear a Labour rosette. The mainstream left of the Labour movement is – in its way- just as bad. Influenced to varying degrees by Stalinism, it takes lousy positions on international affairs, often seems to operate on the bankrupt principle of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” and has a long-standing tendency to allow its (correct) support for the Palestinian cause slide over into indifference to anti-Semitism. It also has a terrible habit (which I think at least partly explains Corbyn’s warm words to Hamas and Hesbollah) of being diplomatic towards people it regards as perhaps dodgy, but broadly “on the right side.”
Corbyn is part of that left – as was Tony Benn, who we all supported when he stood for the Deputy Leadership against Dennis Healey in 1981. Like Benn (and unlike shysters of the Livingstone/ Galloway variety) he seems to be a decent and principled human being, despite his political failings and downright naivety on a range of (mainly international) issues..
Yes, the British labour movement, including the “left”, has some rotten politics. But it’s our movement and in the assessment of Marxists and serious socialists, the only hope we have of building a decent, democratic society ruled by the working class. We work within that movement to transform it, so that society itself can be transformed. We are consistent democrats who relate to workers in struggle in their existing organisations – organisations that are infused with all sorts of Stalinist, bourgeois, reformist and other reactionary ideas.
The Corbyn campaign is dominated by the politics that dominates the mainstream left in Britain – a soft Stalinism and incoherent “anti imperialism” that also dominates the Morning Star, the Communist Party of Britain, the SWP and Stop The War (the misnamed outfit still, unfortunately, supported by our union, Unite). But the rank and file people (many of them young and new to the movement) who’ve been enthused by Corbyn’s campaign have been attracted by his anti-austerity stance, his opposition to the neoliberal consensus, and his inspiring if not always entirely coherent message that a better, fairer and more equal society is possible. We cannot stand aside from this movement by abstaining or backing the wretched Burnham or Cooper. Just as serious socialists have always argued for active, positive engagement with the actual, existing labour movement as a whole, so we must argue for engagement with that movement’s left – and for now, that means support for the Corbyn campaign. That’s also the best way of making our criticism of his international policies heard by the people who need to hear it – his ordinary supporters, the young and not-so-young people he’s enthused and inspired and who make up the bedrock of his support.
That’s why, Alan, despite the many harsh words I’ve spoken and written about Corbyn and the kind of politics he represents, I’m supporting him. And that, by the way, is my honestly-held personal opinion, and nothing to do with the AWL, for whom I do not speak on this matter. I don’t suppose we’re going to agree on this, but please feel free to come back at me with any further thoughts or comments.
With best wishes
In recent years we have witnessed an alarming increase in anti-Jewish violence and abuse in Britain, and across Europe generally. The Community Security Trust (CST) reports a doubling of reported anti-Semitic incidents in the UK from 513 in 2013 to 1168 in 2014. This figure is the highest ever registered, surpassing the previous record of 931 incidents in 2009. Given the comparatively small size of the Jewish community in the UK (250,000-300,000 people) relative to the total population of the country (64 million), this surge over the past two years constitutes a significant escalation of racist abuse against Jews. About 50% of all religion-based hate crimes in England and Wales during 2014 were perpetrated against Jews, even though Jews make up only 0.4% of the British population.
The situation is worse in other parts of Europe, where deadly Islamist terror attacks on Jewish institutions have claimed victims over the past three years in Toulouse, Brussels, Paris, and Copenhagen. These attacks are directly fostered by relentless campaigns of group defamation that portray Jews in demonic terms. Islamist extremists promote violence against Jews as an integral part of their political programs. With increasing frequency and prominence we hear genocidal Nazi slogans chanted at demonstrations protesting Israeli military actions. In Hungary, Greece, France, and the Baltic countries, political parties of the far right promote fascist anti-Jewish views. Such parties have become electorally significant in their respective countries. These developments cannot be simply attributed to the aberrant conduct of a few extremists.
To be sure, we are not re-living the 1930s. Jews in Europe do not face systematic, government-sponsored exclusion and repression. They remain fully enfranchised citizens of the countries in which they are living. However, they are experiencing a wave of popular anti-Jewish bigotry throughout Europe that is unparalleled at any previous time in the post-War era. This bigotry has emerged from several distinct demographic and political sources. It is necessary to confront the facts with sobriety and honesty, avoiding both exaggeration and denial.
2. Anti-Semitism is Not Harmless
Someone unaware of the gravity of the situation might suggest that, while unfortunate and unacceptable, anti-Semitism in contemporary Europe is not a serious threat to Jews. Aside from seasonal outbursts, coinciding with flare-ups in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it does not significantly interfere with the lives of Jewish residents of European countries. Jews remain highly successful and well integrated into their host societies.
This attitude is profoundly complacent. Generations of children have been attending Jewish schools under armed guard, and Jews are required to enter Synagogues, as well as other communal institutions, under siege-like security arrangements. It is unconscionable that the members of any ethnic, cultural, or religious group are forced to contend with this type of threat to their collective and personal safety.
Over the long term, this state of affairs seriously distorts Jewish public life in Europe. With the sharp rise of violence, the cost of participation in Jewish institutions and of personal Jewish visibility is becoming prohibitive. Jews in Europe are now having to hide their identities, or else face a significant risk of violent hostility as the price of robust Jewish life in the public domain. Some are opting to leave Europe for more hospitable environments in Israel or North America.
That these wholly unpalatable choices are being inflicted on any ethnic or religious minority in a modern liberal democracy is something that should deeply embarrass the host population of that society. Racism, religious intolerance, and gender-based persecution of any kind are a lethal threat to liberal-democratic values. But in sharp contrast to laudable public concern over other forms of bigotry, we observe widespread insouciance and relative indifference toward anti-Semitism in Britain ─ and in Europe more generally ─ particularly among those who purport to be politically progressive. Hostility to Jews, while marked as unpleasant, is often regarded as the normal “business overhead” exacted for unequivocal Jewish identification. Why is this attitude of equanimity so widespread?
3. Anti-Semitism as a “Progressive” Prejudice
One factor that contributes to the relative lack of concern over anti-Semitism is the perception of Jews as a highly successful and relatively privileged group. Therefore they are not in need of protection. Lurking behind this notion is the toxic myth of sinister Jewish power, which has been the traditional engine of anti-Semitism. When expressed through Nazi conspiracy theories, this idea is transparently racist. But when filtered through Middle Eastern politics it easily becomes a vehicle for socially acceptable prejudice.
Correlated with this duality in the notion of Jewish power is the distinction between “good” and “bad” forms of Jew-hatred. The anti-Jewish racism of white nativists on the far right remains heavily stigmatized in the progressive mainstream. This is classed as the only true anti-Semitism, but it is minimized as a marginal threat. The equally odious anti-Semitism of radical Islamists is frequently treated far more indulgently as an unfortunate excess in an intrinsically just resistance to western imperialism.
There is a long tradition of this forgiving view of anti-Semitism on the European left, when the prejudice is associated with oppressed people. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries many leaders of both the revolutionary and the social democratic left construed the Jew-hatred of East European peasants and working class Central Europeans as a primitive form of emerging class consciousness. While rejecting anti-Semitism, they saw it as an epiphenomenon that was not, in itself, of serious concern. Jews such as those in the socialist Bund who insisted on the centrality of the fight against anti-Semitism were dismissed as particularists who distracted attention from the class struggle.
We see a resurgence of this approach in disconcertingly large swaths of the left. Crucial to this perverse view of anti-Jewish racism is the hoary though peculiar idea that certain groups of people are “objectively progressive”, while others are “objectively reactionary”, regardless of their views or their behaviour. According to this way of thinking, it is possible to embrace purveyors of religious bigotry, misogyny, and homophobia, like Hamas and Hezbollah, as agents of a just historical struggle, but to cast left-wing Israeli opponents of the settlements as irredeemable oppressors. Because of the perceived power and privilege of Jews, they are thought to be on the wrong side of the divide between the forces of liberation and those of reaction. Whereas Jew-hatred in the past was the “socialism of fools”, it has now become the anti-imperialism of idiots.
4. Israel and Anti-Semitism
When considering the relationship between attitudes towards Israel and the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, it is important to distinguish clearly between criticism of the Israeli government and hatred of Israel as a country. As with any country, the policies and actions of the Israeli government are entirely legitimate objects of censure. In many cases, these actions are deserving of vigorous criticism. Such protest should not, in itself, be confused with hostility to Jews. Israel must be judged by the same standards of behaviour that are applied to all other countries.
Unfortunately, much comment on Israel has not been limited to criticism of this kind. Shrill campaigns of hatred that demonize Israel and its people are now common features of debate on the Middle East. Such campaigns go well beyond robust objections to the actions of the Israeli government and its army. They seek to delegitimise the country and to stigmatise anyone associated with it. It is little wonder that in this sort of environment anti-Israel protests often spill over into attacks on local Jewish communities.
We also see remarkable inconsistency in the way that human rights standards are applied to Israel’s conduct, as opposed to that of many other countries. This inconsistency is accompanied by a peculiar obsession with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, while bloodier conflicts that have claimed far higher numbers of casualties and generated more horrific human rights abuses are largely ignored.
An example illustrates this problem succinctly. In the 2008-9 Gaza war, a total (civilians and combatants) of 1200-1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed resolutions sharply critical of Israel’s conduct of the war, and set up the Goldstone committee of enquiry, with a focus on alleged Israeli war crimes. During this same period the Sri Lankan army launched an intensive assault on the Tamil Tigers that ended their insurgency in the north of Sri Lanka. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, assembled a panel of experts that issued a report on this operation in 2011. It estimated the number of civilian casualties (largely Tamil) to be as high as 40,000, and it identified serious human rights violations on both sides. Having concluded that the Sri Lankan military killed by far the largest number of people through indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, the panel called for a UN committee of enquiry into the assault. The Sri Lankan government rejected the panel’s report and published its own version of events that justified its actions. The UNHRC largely endorsed the Sri Lankan position and refused to adopt the panel’s recommendation for a UN sponsored enquiry into the military operation.
Both the 2008-9 and the 2014 Gaza wars were the subjects of non-stop headline news coverage and angry criticism of Israel. They generated massive European street protests, with spin-off attacks on Jewish communities. The Sri Lankan military operation against the Tamil insurgency was received in Europe with little media attention and general public indifference. This contrast in European responses to Israeli actions on one hand and to those of other countries on the other is pervasive in media coverage and public discourse on international issues.
When the application of double standards to Israeli conduct is pointed out, one is frequently accused of trying to change the topic in order to shield Israel from criticism. The problem here, however, is not that Israel is being criticized. Many of the objections to Israel’s actions are well motivated and should be pressed. But we do need to understand why similar objections are not pursued against other agents who commit more serious misdeeds. We also need to ask why Israel’s behaviour produces a level of indignation and vitriol not directed at countries responsible for graver crimes. If only one violator is regularly singled out for censure while others are ignored, then we are not dealing with fair criticism. The protest is being used to express hatred
The history of Israel’s creation is complex and controversial. It is possible for reasonable people to hold substantially divergent views on this history. However, it is important to recall that Israel has its legal basis in the 1947 UN General Assembly resolution 181 (II), which called for the partition of western Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. This resolution codified the principle of two states for two peoples, and this remains the widely accepted basis for a just and viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Anyone seeking a solution that overturns this principle would either condemn the Palestinians to perpetual occupation and dispossession, or deny the Israelis the right to self-determination. Suppressing or eliminating one side of the conflict at the expense of the other is neither a morally legitimate nor a realistic option.
Yet we see calls for Israel’s destruction seeping into mainstream political discourse and protest, particularly on university campuses. It is a central component of Islamist politics. The purveyors of this idea are, at best, blithely indifferent to the fact that they are promoting an objective whose realization would entail either the expulsion or the mass murder of millions of Israeli Jews. Others who are more honest openly celebrate the prospect of such events. This is not a campaign for a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, which accommodates the basic needs and aspirations of both nations. It is instead a program that aims for the annihilation of a people.
Proponents of the view that Israel “has no right to exist” describe it as a colonial settler state. Missing from this account is the fact that the vast majority of Israelis are the children or the grandchildren of refugees of violent persecution who came to the country out of necessity. Moreover, the majority of Israel’s Jewish residents are not European, but are originally from Arab and Muslim countries whence they were driven out. Whatever one may think of the way in which Israel was established, its Jewish population did not come for purposes of economic gain in the service of a colonial mother country. Interestingly, genuine colonial settler states which emerged through systematic ethnic cleansing and dispossession of their native populations (often conducted right up to recent times), such as Australia and New Zealand, and virtually every state in North and South America, remain entirely immune from challenges to their legitimacy.
It has been suggested that much of the anti-Semitism that we are witnessing is a backlash against Israel. On this view Jews are advised to disassociate themselves from Israel and take a strong collective stand against its actions. We find this suggestion both sinister and amusing. Anti-Semitism has been a powerful element of European and Middle Eastern history for the past two millennia. Anti-Jewish racists managed to promote their bigotry with considerable success long before Israel existed. Israel was brought into being as a response to the horrors that this bigotry has inflicted.
Jews have no obligation to adopt any particular view on Israel’s policies or actions. Like all people, they hold a wide range of opinions on the Middle East, as they do on other political issues. The idea that they have a responsibility to criticize outspokenly (or to defend) Israeli policies is as offensive as the proposal that other ethnic minorities are required to take some specified position on the governments of countries to which they have historical and cultural ties. It would be absurd to expect people of Greek, Iranian, Russian, Pakistani, or Saudi Arabian background to prove their credentials as progressives ─ or as legitimate members of society ─ by declaring their opposition to aspects of these countries’ conduct that others find objectionable.
Most Jews in the diaspora have relatives in Israel. The majority of them have a sense of historical and cultural connection with the country, and this connection is integral to mainstream Jewish life. It is not political in nature, and it does not entail support for Israel’s policies, but it does carry with it a strong commitment to Israel’s survival. Any demand that Jews sever their ties with Israel in order to avoid hostility, and to preserve continued acceptance in their host countries, would deny to Jews rights and freedoms that are entirely uncontroversial for other cultural and religious minorities. But we regularly see non-partisan Jewish student associations like Hillel harassed and excluded from campus life, and Jews seeking to buy Kosher Israeli products subjected to intimidation. These assaults go beyond political protest and enter the realm of racist persecution. Progressive opinion remains largely untroubled by these events, and, in some cases, actively supportive of the agents of harassment.
Progressives accused of promoting or condoning anti-Semitic positions often insist that they harbour no animosity towards Jews. However, the problem under discussion here does not turn on individual attitudes that are transparent to introspection. Rather, it is a matter of accepting positions that connect to a long tradition of bigotry against Jews. By analogy, a person who defends the exhibition of the Confederate flag on public buildings in the United States may well be free of ill will toward black people. Nonetheless, that person is championing a prominent symbol of slavery and racist persecution. Similarly, someone who tolerates campaigns that inflict double standards and denigration on Jewish people might not consciously dislike Jews. However, regardless of his or her intentions, that person is helping to sustain patterns of abuse that are rooted in centuries of Jew-hatred. Our concern here is with the objective significance of an individual’s actions, rather than his or her personal feelings.
5. Quiet Diplomacy is Not Enough
The leadership of the Jewish community in Britain, like that of many other Jewish communities in Europe, has tended to deal with anti-Semitism by seeking the assistance of government authorities through quiet diplomacy. They avoid high-profile public discussions of the problem for fear of intensifying it. While the concerns that shape such a strategy are understandable, the time for evading a determined public exposure of anti-Semitism is long past. Discreet appeals to government agencies will remain a necessity. To rely primarily on them is to remain stuck in earlier historical periods in Europe, when the Jews depended on royal protection to ward off attacks incited by Church and guild.
Combating anti-Semitism needs to be understood as an integral part of the general struggle against racism, xenophobia, and bigotry. It is not a sectarian cause, but an issue of universal concern. While the targets of prejudice are its most immediate victims, racism stains the fabric of the social order and threatens its liberal-democratic character. Jews, like other minorities, are here not by sufferance but by right.
The statutes against discrimination offer sufficient legal guarantees of equality. The problem that we are dealing with now is the rise of anti-Jewish attitudes and behaviour as an increasingly accepted part of public discourse. It is scandalous that so many who flatteringly present themselves as liberals, human rights advocates, and progressives acquiesce so easily in what is becoming a torrent of bigoted sentiment. It is commonplace among such people to dismiss any attempt to point out this problem as an act of bad faith designed to deflect criticism of Israel. In fact, it is no more than an insistence on an honest recognition of the facts.
We ask all people committed to liberal-democratic values to acknowledge the re-emergence of anti-Semitism as a serious problem in Europe, and to take an uncompromising stand against this form of social pollution. We call on you to recognize that the fight against anti-Semitism is not a specifically Jewish issue. Resistance to racism and bigotry of any kind is a universal liberal-democratic imperative.
Corbyn on Israel/Palestine: for a “safe and viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and viable Israel.”
The following statement appears on the Stop The War Coalition’s website, which is of significance because the leadership of STWC stand for the total destruction of Israel and oppose a two states solution. Corbyn’s past record of speaking at STWC events and calling Hamas and Hesbollah “friends” might suggest that he shares their anti-Semitic perspective. The statement we republish below suggests otherwise and the phrase “a safe and viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and viable Israel” can only mean two states. In my view Corbyn needs to be a great deal more forthright and plain-spoken about his support for two states, and also needs to disavow his past warm words for Hamas and Hesbollah. But still, this statement is welcome and (hopefully) will reassure some comrades who’ve been reluctant to support Corbyn because of his record of softness on various anti-Semitic organisations internationally and in Britain (writes JD):
In July 2015, Jeremy Corbyn, candidate for the Labour Party leadership, published this statement about the Palestinian people and their continuing oppression by the Israeli state.
Peace: Support a viable peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, based on internationally recognised (1967) borders.
I am absolutely committed to a meaningful peace process between Israelis and Palestinians and that has to be one based on the 1967 borders. I am proud to have been one of the first politicians prepared to engage in dialogue with Irish republicans about a peace process in Northern Ireland in the 1980’s. The ultimate success of that process has ensured a lasting peace there. The recent re-election of Binyamin Netanyhu and the right-wing coalition he now leads presents major challenges to the prospects for peace in the Middle East. That must not deter us. With the stakes for conflagration in the Middle East increasing, all the more reason for a Labour Leader to redouble their efforts to facilitate a peace process. I would be such a Leader.
Palestinian Statehood: Reaffirm the Labour party’s commitment to the recognition of a safe and viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and viable Israel.
Last October parliament made a historic decision to recognize the state of Palestine. As Labour Leader I would not only reaffirm that decision, I would seek to build on it by lobbying support for Palestinian statehood in the international community. This recognition is not only essential for establishing the principle of equality between Israeli and Palestinian, it is also in the long term interests of the sovereignty of Israel that we end the double standards whereby Israeli rights to nationhood are recognized, but Palestinian rights are denied.
Human Rights: Oppose violations of international human rights law, in particular the detention of children and detention of political prisoners without trial.
I share the growing concern over the failure to stop Israel’s violation of international human rights law. Add to that the impact of the blockade in Gaza, the random and arrest without trail of civilians including children, and the harassment and humiliation of Palestinians as they go about their everyday life, it is clear that human rights violations are fuelling the conflict. These concerns are shared by respected and courageous Israeli human rights organisations like Breaking the Silence, Gush Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights and B’tselem and international organisations like Save the Children and Oxfam. It is wrong that we continue to sell arms to Israel and I fully support the calls for an arms embargo. As Labour Leader I will be consistent on human rights at home and abroad.
The Wall: Oppose the continued construction of the Separation Wall on Palestinian land, a direct contravention of international law.
While I support Israel’s right to safeguard its citizens I agree with the views of many Israeli human rights organisations that the route of the Separation Wall is designed to annex Palestinian land and undermine chances for a future peace settlement. In addition, it has adverse effects on Palestinian human rights by restricting movements, increasing difficulties in accessing medical and education services and water supplies. The recent decision of Israel’s top court to block the planned extension of the wall through the historic Cremisan valley is a positive development and evidence that campaigning and international pressure can work. We need to intensify that pressure.
The Blockade: End the siege on Gaza and ensure the free flow of aid and trade
I echo the calls of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWE) that the blockade must be lifted. It is now one of the longest blockades in history and it impact on the 1.76 million people who live in the Gaza strip, the vast majority of them refugees, has been to further improvise and already desperately poor, improvised people. That impact has worsened in the aftermath of the latest military assault on Gaza, hindering recovery and reconstruct. The blockade has failed and it is rightly perceived, both by the Palestinians and internationally, as a form of collective punishment on the entire Gazan population. It continuation only fuels bitterness and hatred. Its removal enhances peace.
Illegal Settlements: Call for a complete freeze on illegal settlement growth in order to save any hope for a viable two state solution, and end all trade and investment with illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory.
Both British and American governments have rightly criticised the illegal settlements. Not only are they in violation of international law but they a conscious policy to deliberately undermine any prospect of a viable Palestinian state and with it any two-state solution. It is clear the only hope to stop this policy is if the international community intensify pressure. To that end I fully support the call to end all trade and investments with the illegal settlements.
Corbyn and the Middle East: the hypocrisy of the right, a challenge for the left
By Sasha Ismail (at the Workers Liberty website)
(You can watch it on the Channel 4 website here.)
Corbyn responded to interviewer Krishnan Guru-Murthy asking about his description of Lebanese Islamists Hesbollah and Palestinian Islamists Hamas as “our friends” by stressing that peace in the Middle East requires negotiations with all sorts of people.
The first thing to say is that, however one assesses the performance and motives of Guru-Murthy and Channel 4, there is clearly a right-wing push against Corbyn on these issues. If the Corbyn leadership campaign continues to perform as strongly as it has so far, the right-wing outcry is likely to get louder.
The motivations of these attacks are made clear by the fact that those making them are not bothered by the friendly relationship of the entire New Labour hierarchy with the Saudi dictatorship, or the links between all kinds of bourgeois British politicians – particularly Tories – and unpleasant regimes around the planet. They are targeting Corbyn because he looks soft on the ‘wrong’ people, and above all because they are bothered by the success of a left-wing campaign that is bolstering labour movement confidence.
The left must expose such cynicism and hypocrisy, both for general reasons and to defend the Corbyn campaign. At the same time, we should say that – judged by our own standards, not those of the right – Corbyn’s stance on the controversial issues is wrong.
In the March 2009 speech to a Stop the War Coalition meeting in which Corbyn talked about “friends” (on YouTube here) he said:
“Tomorrow evening it will my pleasure and my honour to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hesbollah will be speaking. I’ve also invited friends from Hamas to come and speak as well…
“The idea that an organisation that is dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people, and bringing about long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region, should be labelled as a terrorist organisation by the British government is really a big, big historical mistake…”
“Our function is to support those people who are supporting and defending and representing the Palestinian people… part of [that] is inviting and welcoming our friends from Lebanon and from Palestine to London…”
The issue is not this or that phrase, nor the legitimate idea that getting peace often requires negotiations with people you don’t like – nor, of course, Corbyn’s absolutely correct opposition to repressive “anti-terrorism” legislation. It is the lack of sharp hostility to – and indeed praise of – brutally reactionary political forces. The problem with the likes of Hamas and Hesbollah is not that they are “terrorists” but that they are violently anti-women, anti-semitic, anti-working class theocratic bigots. In 2009 Hamas was engaged in a brutal clampdown on women and workers’ organisations among others in the Gaza strip: see here.
That a socialist could describe Hamas as “dedicated… to social and political justice” and describe working with them as a “pleasure and honour” is ridiculous. So is the comparison Corbyn made with the ANC. From a socialist point of view there were many problems with the ANC even before it took power, but to compare it to Hamas or Hesbollah is a slander.
We suspect that in this speech Corbyn got carried away, and that his underlying thought is that Hamas and Hesbollah are bad, but peace is the priority, Western imperialism and Israel are the chief evils, and so it is necessary to be diplomatic.
The problem with such diplomacy is that it means representing militaristic forces as peace-loving, and promoting bigoted reactionaries busy smashing our comrades – working-class activists, the left, feminists, etc in the Middle East – as progressives. People with Corbyn’s politics in Gaza face physical attack, prison or exile!
We want peace in the region, yes, and an end to the oppression of the Palestinians, but we also want to help the left there battle against Islamism. In addition, being able to vigorously denounce such forces would put the left in a stronger position to point out the hypocrisy of the right.
These kind of failings are not just a problem with Corbyn, but with wide sections of the left, from liberals through to self-styled revolutionaries. Those leading the Stop the War campaign have played a central role in spreading such ideas.
Against that approach we need to restate the basic Marxist idea of international working-class solidarity: “We shall never forget that the workers of all countries are our friends and the despots of all countries are our enemies” (German workers’ resolution during the Franco-Prussian War). The working-class movements, socialists, feminists and democrats of the Middle East are our friends, not Hamas and Hesbollah.
None of the candidates in the Labour leadership election are good on foreign policy; Corbyn at least opposes British militarism, nuclear weapons, etc, and despite his comments he is the most likely to support solidarity with working-class activists around the world. This in addition to his policies and record on austerity, workers’ struggles, migrants’ rights, and so on: a vote for Corbyn is a vote to break from the New Labour consensus on these issues, and rally the left and labour movement for a fightback.
I am a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader. I campaigned for him within Unite before the Unite leadership decided to back him.
As such, I think its important for all of us who support Corbyn to put 15 minutes aside to watch this 13 July Channel 4 News interview by Krishnan Guru-Murphy.
On domestic policy, Corbyn is excellent, clearly rejecting Harman’s position on welfare cuts, advocating higher taxation of the super-rich, and speaking up in defence of immigrants. That’s why I and others like me support him.
But on foreign affairs he is – and let’s be frank – shite. Corbyn dodges the questions dishonestly although quite effectively
Yes, Guru-Murthy was probably determined to discredit Corbyn but why can’t he (Corbyn) say on national television what he has already said to countless left-wing audiences: that Hamas and Hezbollah are good, progressive people?
Corbyn doesn’t have the guts to come out and say that openly on TV because he knows that, outside the Stalinoid ‘common sense’ of the pseudo-‘left’, most people (rightly) think supporting these fascistic anti-Semites is outrageous. So he obfuscates and pretends what he said was just about supporting multilateral peace talks, etc (the bit where he says “I’ve also engaged with people on the right of Israeli politics on this issue” – which is simply untrue). Instead of answering the question, he becomes angry and self-righteous. His response to a reasonable line of questioning is, frankly, a dishonest disgrace.
Corbyn does not raise his policy on Israel/Palestine much in his campaign – probably because he realizes how unpopular it is.
Corbyn has been comparatively open that he does not see himself as Labour leader at the next election. I am told that he has said that there should be another leadership election before 2020. This is what I would want in the event that he wins: in which case some of his more idiotic positions on foreign policy may not matter so much.
A bigger problem with Corbyn (and where he may not be in a minority on the Labour left) is the issue of Syria.
Kurdish representatives of the pro-Rojavan PYD went to see him last week. As I understand it they were hoping to get him to moderate his total opposition to Western airstrikes as well as call for arms for the secular Kurdish militias. This would mean Corbyn moving away from his position of simply endorsing the positions put out by the Stop The War Coalition. It would be an ideal way for him to demonstrate that he is not ‘soft on militant Islamism’, but it would involve breaking with the Stalinist/soft-left consensus on Syria/Iraq: something that Corbyn’s politics and established alliances will not allow him to do. It is something that should be raised by Labour leftists alongside Kurdish organizations.
The serious left must support Corbyn, but not hesitate in exposing and denouncing his truly wretched positions on foreign affairs.
Nicola Sturgeon and other female politicians have objected to the cover of the present issue of the New Statesman:
17-23rd July Issue
RMT and Morning Star – backed “Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine” link to anti-Semites
By Dale Street
Aleksei Mozgovoy – the recently assassinated commander of the Prizrak Batallion, which controls the town on Alchevsk in the so-called ‘Lugansk People’s Republic’ – was killed as a Jewish blood sacrifice.
That’s the claim made by a post on a Facebook page created by the British ‘Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine’ (SARU) campaign, much of which is given over to RMT member Eddie Dempsey reminiscing about his recent trip to Alchevsk (as he’s also done in the Morning Star):
The post on the SARU Facebook page links to piece on YouTube entitled “Mozgovoy – He Was Eliminated for the Day of the Torah (Shavuot)”, produced by the “Voluntarily United Union of Christian Liberation”.
According to the 45-minute recording on YouTube:
– The killing of Mozgovoy was a “ritual offering” (sic) for the Day of the Torah (which began in the evening of the day on which he was killed).
– Ukraine is run by two Jews (Poroshenko and Deputy Prime Minister Groysman).
– The Russian media are run by the Chabad (a Jewish religious organisation), which explains why they talk about Nazi fascism and Banderite fascism, but never about Jewish fascism.
– A helpline, set up by an organisation called Shalom, for Jews who are victims of anti-semitic acts in Ukraine, is really some kind of undercover organisation set up to ‘punish’ their opponents.
The YouTube recording also emphasises Mozgovoy’s adherence to the Russian Orthodox Church, and concludes with a lengthy reminder of the tenth-century wars between the Khazar Empire and the Christian rulers of Kievan Rus’.
(This is code for: The struggle between the Russian Orthodox Church and Jews is a timeless one.)
The YouTube piece is one of a series produced by Eduard Hodos, Ukraine’s answer to Gilad Atzmon. Hodos was once the head of the reformed Jewish community in Kharkhov, but subsequently converted to Russian Orthodoxy.
According to a favourable review of one of his books from about ten years ago:
“In this sensational series of books entitled The Jewish Syndrome, author Eduard Hodos, himself a Jew (he’s head of the reformed Jewish community in Kharkov, Ukraine), documents his decade-long battle with the “Judeo-Nazis” (in the author’s own words) of the fanatical hasidic sect, Chabad-Lubavitch.
According to Hodos, it’s become the factual “mastermind” of the Putin and Kuchma regimes. Chabad also aims to gain control of the US by installing their man Joseph Lieberman in the White House.
Hodos sees a Jewish hand in all the major catastrophic events of recent history, from the Chernobyl meltdown to the events of September 11, 2001, using excerpts from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to help explain and illustrate why.
Hodos has also developed a theory of the “Third Khazaria”, according to which extremist Jewish elements like Chabad are attempting to turn Russia into something like the Great Khazar Empire which existed on the Lower Volga from the 7th to the 10th Centuries.
Much of this may sound far-fetched, but as you read and the facts begin to accumulate, you begin to see that Hodos makes sense of what’s happening in Russia and the world perhaps better than anyone writing today.”
Yes, indeed – much of this does sound a trifle far-fetched.
So why has SARU not deleted the post from its Facebook page, even though it has been visible for all to see for the past three weeks, and new material has been added to the page by SARU since then?
Even if SARU were to claim that none of its members speak Russian – something of a shortcoming for such a campaign – this is no answer to the fact that the image in the Facebook post (and the Youtube clip at the top of this post) is a Torah scroll set against the Star of David.
Shouldn’t that have alerted someone? Or did SARU simply not care?
The sinister case of Asghar Bukari’s missing shoe and displaced slippers: are there no depths the fiendish “Zionists” won’t stoop to?
Largely written by Comrade Matt C, edited by JD:
A number of prominent individuals from the British film and arts world have signed a letter, published in yesterday’s Guardian, calling on cinemas to boycott the London Israeli Film and Television Festival:
The festival is co-sponsored by the Israeli government via the Israeli embassy in London, creating a direct link between these cinemas, the festival screenings and Israeli policies. By benefiting from money from the Israeli state, the cinemas become silent accomplices to the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people. Such collaboration and cooperation is unacceptable. It normalises, even if unintentionally, the Israeli government’s violent, systematic and illegal oppression of the Palestinians.
The signatories – some of whom are Jewish – include Peter Kosminsky, Mike Leigh, John Pilger, Ken Loach and Miriam Margolyes.
The festival’s organisers reply:
“Our festival is a showcase for the many voices throughout Israel, including Arab Israelis and Palestinians, as well as religious and secular groups. These are highly talented film-makers and actors, working together successfully, to provide entertainment and insight for film and television lovers internationally.
“Freedom of expression in the arts is something that the British have worked so hard to defend. An attempt to block the sharing of creative pursuits and the genuine exchange of ideas and values is a disappointing reaction to a festival that sets out to open up lines of communication and understanding.”
There are, I would suggest, two problems with the boycott call. First, it is based on confusion between the Israeli government and the Israeli state. Clearly, the two are not entirely separate but a distinction can be made between the government (that is the policy making executive) and the state more generally. The state obviously includes some institutions that socialists would wholeheartedly oppose: the military (as we do that of any other state, including our own), Mossad and institutions that reflect religious particularlism.
The Israeli state prioritises the rights of Jewish Israelis over Arab Israelis (and many other states, including Britain, have racist biases), but there are many things that the Israeli state does that are not directly linked to this, such as arts funding. To a degree, arts funding reflects the character of the state which is often not good (and this includes the British state). Nonetheless, many of those on the list are happy to take funding from the British state. So looking down the list: Mike Leigh for many years made dramas for the state-funded and ultimately stated-controlled BBC, and currently has a production of The Pirates of the Penzance running of the English National Opera (state funded through the Art Council); John Brissenden works for the state (Bournemouth University) and presumably accepts its funding for his PhD; Gareth Evans works curates at the Whitechapel Gallery which receives state funding, again via the Arts Council. I am sure the similar points could be made about most of the signatories.
No doubt the boycotters would reply that they are not “silent accomplices” of the state (as those participating in the London Israeli Film and Television festival are styled in this letter), and their work is not a form of “collaboration” with it. They would argue, I guess, their work is not compromised by this funding, or at least that they fight against the states restrictions: is a reasonable defence. The arts and academic research frequently rely on a degree of support from the state, and this is in many ways preferable to the being reliant on the free market. But it would appear that the boycotters are not prepared to extend the same arguments to Israeli film makers whose work would be unlikely to be seen in this country without the sponsorship of the Israeli arts establishment (which means state support). The boycotters accept the sponsorship of their own (racist, militarist etc.) state but do not think that others (or uniquely, those in Israel) have the right to do the same.
The second question is: what are these people boycotting? The point is not whether anyone who opposes the policies of the Israeli state in Gaza and the West Bank would agree with all of the films being offered here. A socialist and consistent democrat should never be a left-wing censor allowing only views that they endorse to be aired. The only possible grounds for a supporter of free speech to oppose a cultural festival such as this is that it constitutes propaganda that is the cultural front of oppression (and even then, calling for it to be boycotted would be questionable approach). Looking at the brochure for the festival it is clearly not such a form of propaganda – even Fauda, a drama about Israeli undercover commandoes targeting a Hamas militant, runs with the current fashion of moral ambiguity rather than being a gung-ho adventure.
Other items on the programme more obviously address the human dimension of the Israeli-Palestine conflict (Dancing with Arabs, East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem) and the influence of religion on aspects of Israeli life, although many other offerings are more mainstream films and TV dramas.
It is certainly possible to criticise both the selection of material to be shown at the festival and the Israeli media industry behind it since there are no films, as far as I can see, made by Arab-Israeli film makers. But this is hardly the point. Rather, those who call for a boycott demand (it would seem, uniquely) that film makers from Israel should only be allowed to show their productions in Britain if they do so without any association with the state in which they live. Given the nature of cultural production and its reliance on state support, this is a call for a boycott of all but the most independent of film and TV producers and, in reality, amounts to a total boycott of all Israeli films and art. It is a ridiculous, reactionary stance that will do the Palestinian cause no practical good whatsoever, while alienating mainstream Jewish opinion in Britain and fuelling an insidious form of anti-Semitism that is becoming more and more “acceptable” in British liberal-left Guardianista circles. In truth, this boycott call (like the entire BDS campaign) only makes political sense if you wish for the ‘delegitimisation’ and, indeed, destruction, of the Israeli state: something that most of the signatories would, I’m pretty sure, deny they advocate.