Sandra White’s tweet: the Murdoch image may be OK, but the Rothschild ‘war pig’ image is plainly antisemitic
By Mark Gardiner (Community Security Trust – CST)
Yesterday (11/11/15), CST Blog featured an article stating the need for politicians and their political parties to adequately apologise, in words and actions, for antisemitic behaviours on their watch.
The article was highly critical of Sir Gerald Kaufman MP and the Labour Party; and Sandra White MSP (Member of Scottish Parliament) and the Scottish National Party. CST welcomes the fact that White and her party leader First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP have now moved swiftly, and directly, to try and allay Jewish communal concerns. Regrettably, the situation concerning Kaufman remains unchanged. Both White and Sturgeon’s behaviour and communications show how things could have been done better: not perfectly, but certainly better.
The publication of yesterday’s Blog came shortly before Sandra White MSP and First Minister Sturgeon MSP issued separate, further, lengthier apologies, for the grotesque antisemitic cartoon that White had retweeted. The new apologies were not related to CST’s posting and were sent in letters directly to SCoJeC, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, a group with which CST has long worked.
Above: the original version of the “Rothschild” half of White’s image
Sandra White’s letter describes the antisemitic cartoon as “repellent and offensive” and includes:
“…I had not intended to retweet this picture, and was horrified to learn that I had done so. As soon as this was brought to my attention, I deleted the tweet…There is nothing that happens in Israel or Palestine that can be justification for any racial or religious hatred. I truly believe that Scots of all backgrounds are welcoming and inclusive and this is something I have always been proud of…”.
Nicola Sturgeon’s letter explains that she has spoken directly to Sandra White and states:
“Regarding the original tweet itself, I find it and the image it contains abhorrent. As I stated at Giffnock [Synagogue], I will not tolerate anti-Semitism or religious or racial hatred of any kind at any level in our society.”
Both individuals have moved quickly to try and rectify the damage that has been done, writing in swift and direct response to SCoJeC as the representatives of Scottish Jewry. Ideally, both letters should have explicitly called the cartoon antisemitic, but they are not overly formulaic, and appear sincere and heartfelt, which is of paramount importance in such matters. Also of considerable importance is that SCoJeC (and CST) noted that White should have tweeted the apology, given that this was where the offence occurred. She has speedily done so.
This sorry episode may actually be of long term benefit to both Scottish Jews and the SNP. It has demonstrated antisemitism to a leading political party, that is clear in its opposition to antisemitism, but perhaps understandably does not grasp or recognise it as instinctively as Jews do. Furthermore, the First Minister, and one of the party’s most prominent pro-Palestinian voices, now know why Scottish Jews fear the potential for anti-Israel activism to lead to antisemitic ways of thinking.
Of course, the controversy will only benefit Scottish Jews and the SNP if both parties actually want a constructive and trusting relationship. The fact that both parties want (and largely have) this relationship is shown by the quick and effective communications between the SNP and SCoJeC.
This final lesson is reinforced by the conclusion of Nicola Sturgeon’s letter, from which others would do well to learn. This is it:
“I look forward to working further with you [SCoJeC] and further strengthening the links between the Scottish Government and the Jewish community in Scotland, which is and always will be an integral and highly valued part of Scottish society.”
This should be the response of all political parties, universities, trade unions, churches etc to Jewish concerns about antisemitism in pro-Palestinian spaces. It should be a willingness to learn from mistakes, a drawing closer to those who have been hurt and a recognition that British Jews fear antisemitism because they fear antisemitism: not because they are some kind of hostile political entity, seeking opportunistic points scoring on behalf of the Israeli government, or a mythical Global Zionism.
(For further views on this closing point, see David Hirsh at Fathom, here.)
Teachers and senior staff linked to the Trojan Horse allegations of “undue religious (ie Islamist) influence” in Birmingham schools, have been appearing before the misconduct panel of the National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) since mid-October. The NCTL is the professional body for teachers and has the power to impose lifetime prohibitions on teachers.
As the hearing has not yet concluded (it is expected to last until December), Shiraz has taken a conscious decision not to cover the proceedings, even though the hearing is in public and the local Birmingham Mail has carried extensive reports of the disturbing evidence presented by witnesses. Most of the national press, including (until now) the Guardian, also seem to have decided not to cover the hearing in detail, or to be very circumspect in their coverage, while it is in progress*.
But today’s Guardian carries an article by the paper’s Education editor, Richard Adams, headlined “Witness in ‘Trojan Horse’ case accused of religious slurs”.
Adams’s story is written entirely from the standpoint of the teachers and senior staff accused of misconduct, and seems to be based upon the ‘line’ of cross-examination being pursued by their lawyer, Andrew Faux, as he attempts to discredit one of the witnesses (‘Witness A’, a former teacher at Park View School) who has given evidence of malpractice. Faux has accused Witness A of herself making a series of racial and religious slurs.
Faux, as a lawyer acting for some of the accused teachers, is perfectly entitled to pursue this line of cross-examination. What is, however, quite outrageous, is for the Guardian, in one of its few articles covering the hearing, to report Faux’s attacks in detail, adding that the witness “faced an internal complaint in the wake of comments she was alleged to have made at an event.” No details whatsoever are given of the evidence presented by Witness A against the teachers and senior staff of the Trojan Horse schools.
Adams closes his article by repeating, once again, the tired old red herring that “The [Trojan Horse] letter is widely regarded as a hoax” – yes it is, but that’s not the point. The question is, are the claims of Islamist influence in Birmingham schools true or not? The answer to that question has nothing to do with whether the Trojan Horse letter was all it purported to be.
Whether Adams is acting directly on the wishes of Mr Faux and his clients, or whether he (Adams) is so committed to defending/excusing the accused teachers and senior staff that he simply cannot write an impartial article, we shall probably never know.
But he has form:
Here’s what Adams, had to say about this matter in June 2014, shortly after the story first sufaced: “Is the Trojan Horse row just a witch hunt triggered by a hoax?”
This shabby article by Adams was not a one-off: he had previously reported on Park View School (the academy at the centre of the allegations) following a visit that was quite obviously organised and supervised by the school’s ultra-reactionary Islamist chair of governors, Tahir Alam. In short, Adams has been a mouthpiece and conduit for the Islamist propaganda of people like Alam, Salma Yaqoob and the SWP throughout.
- * Adams has written two other articles covering some of the allegations, and emphasising that “The Department for Education said its case against Johirul Islam, a former teacher at Park View, ‘has been discontinued’ in the hearing’s fourth day… The decision suggests the NTCL may struggle to press its case against several other teachers facing similar allegations” (here)
- * The Guardian website has carried another article reporting one of the allegations of misconduct: this was not, however written by Adams, but came from the Press Association. And as far as I’m aware (and I read the Graun every day) it did not appear in the print edition – C.C.
This appeared in the Morning Star on Saturday. Given the Star‘s habit of publishing letters and articles by ‘absolute’ anti-Zionists, one-staters and anti-Semites (despite its theoretical commitment to two states in Israel/Palestine) and Corbyn’s history of associating (albeit unknowingly) with anti-Semites and of calling Hizbollah and Hamas “friends”, this is tremendously encouraging:
The new party leader and his pro-Palestinian views both had a surprisingly friendly reception from the group, found SHLOMO ANKER
BEFORE Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour Party leader, there was talk of tension within the party — especially from the right-wing media. People suggested that some in the party would even leave and form a SDP style split.
So the reaction of the pro-Israel lobby group Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) is interesting, especially with so much discussion of Corbyn’s views on the Middle East and his record of being very sympathetic to the Palestinians.
At the Labour Party conference, LFI had two main events and its reaction to Corbyn was surprising. Instead of fostering tension and paranoia towards him, the atmosphere was positive and Jewish Labour members both in and outside of LFI are really starting to warm to him. Or to put it another way: Jewish Labour members realise that what the media has said about Corbyn is not true.
One LFI event was a broad discussion about a two-state solution. The speakers in general only spoke in defence of Israel, which included the usual exaggeration of the threat from Iran. It was disappointing that the oppression of the Palestinians was hardly mentioned.
In the discussion afterwards I decided to commment on the suffering of those in Gaza. The reaction I received was unexpected. Instead of people being upset with me, the Chair of LFI, Joan Ryan MP, very much liked my question and the organisers even came to shake my hand.
Pro-Palestinian activists later asked challenging questions and the organisers and pro-Israel members of the audience enjoyed the discussion — although one woman with a Free Palestine badge did get upset with the replies and walked out of the meeting.
The second event for LFI was their annual reception where high-level members of the Labour Party come to drink, eat and discuss the Middle East.
LFI invited plenty of people involved in Labour Friends of Palestine, as well as Corbyn and Hilary Benn. They both spoke alongside Errel Margalit (an Israeli Knesset member) and the deputy ambassdor of Israel. In his speech, Corbyn called for the end of the siege of Gaza but also praised the Jewish community for its work in defending refugees.
The Telegraph and the Times reported on this event but only mentioned a heckler who shouted “Oi oi, say the word Israel!” after Corbyn’s speech. The newspapers forgot to mention that the heckler had partaken heavily in the wine served at the event and is well known as a bit of an “eccentric” who gets so agitated that even the Daily Mail had an article on his bad behaviour.
The improvement of relations between Corbyn and LFI is partly down to the most pro-Israel of all the Labour MPs, Luciana Berger, being appointed to the shadow cabinet. Luciana was formerly the chair of LFI and unlike other pro-Israel voices in the parliamentary party, she is actually Jewish.
But I should not exaggerate. LFI still has strong disagreements with Corbyn and in my opinion LFI’s work needs reform.
Their priority seems to be mainly about Israel’s national security and they do not do enough to stand up for Palestinians.
The rank and file people in LFI are often peace activists but the speakers they invite at events tend to not be as left-wing.
Although while LFI are not supporters of Netanyahu and do formally oppose the occupation, the brutal reality of the occupation is generally not talked about at their events.
I wish that LFI could reform and be focused on peace activism and not on defending the actions of the Israeli military and sometimes its government.
Yet I must also criticise Labour Friends of Palestine too. I spoke with Graeme Morris MP who is the chair of the group and he seemed pessimistic about working with LFI. While he may be right about politics and is a charming fellow, Labour Friends of Palestine need to reach out more to LFI and begin to organise more joint events which will improve relations.
If we are going to have peace and justice in the Middle East, let us at least start with friendship between these two sides within the Labour Party.
This was published in The Times yesterday (Sept 18): JC would be well advised (in the light of reports like this) to respond in an equally courteous and frank manner:
Sir, We would like to congratulate Jeremy Corbyn on his election as Labour leader. We always seek to establish constructive working relationships with the major parties and we hope this will be the case with Mr Corbyn.
There are some key questions on which British Jews will be looking for reassurance. There are concerns about Mr Corbyn’s apparent past openness towards organisations and individuals involved in violent extremism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. These have included Hamas and Hezbollah, both of which are proscribed terrorist organisations, overtly anti-Semitic, have hateful policies towards women and LGBT people and total contempt for human rights. We hope he will affirm and implement a “zero tolerance” stance towards racists, extremists, Holocaust deniers and homophobes.
We also hope Mr Corbyn will pursue contact with the mainstream Israeli and Palestinian political parties, with the aim of advancing peace and security for both national communities. We look to him to reaffirm long-established Labour party policy against boycotts, which are stigmatising, divisive and counterproductive. We will also be asking for support on a range of key religious freedoms important to Jews, Christians, Muslims and others.
President, Board of Deputies of British Jews
From the Jewish Chronicle:
There is growing unrest within Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign team over his approach to dealing with issues of concern to the Jewish community, the JC can reveal.
One well-placed source within his team said that the unwillingness to deal “head-on” with these issues had come from Mr Corbyn himself.
The reluctance, according to the source, was because the frontrunner in the Labour leadership campaign was “partly casual about Jewish concerns, partly [because he knows] hostility to ‘Zionist neocons’ plays well to his constituency”.
Media interest in Mr Corbyn’s association with Holocaust deniers, antisemites and other extreme figures has grown in the past three weeks since the JC posed a series of questions for him to answer.
Another senior Corbyn campaign member indicated this week that the issues raised by this newspaper were not being taken seriously by Mr Corbyn and his team and said some within the team have grown concerned at the Islington North MP’s reluctance to speak in more depth publicly about the Jewish community’s concerns.
“This comes from Corbyn himself,” the source said.
(After Eliot’s Macavity the Mystery Cat)
Our Jeremy’s an activist, he is the brand new hope,
As he pushes Labour to the edge of a slippery slope,
He is the Blairites’ nemesis, the Moderates’ despair
But when you try and pin him down, Our Jeremy’s not there.
Our Jeremy, Our Jeremy, opposer of austerity,
His rivals are so timid, and he’s full of temerity,
But when his friends say, Stone the Gays, he doesn’t really care
He suddenly goes deaf and dumb, no Jeremy’s not there,
Islamist mates say “Holohoax”, and he’s not au contraire,
They’re anti Israel, that’s enough, and Jeremy’s not there.
Our Jeremy’s not besuited, no he’s not poshly dressed,
His shirt lies open for us to see the collar of his vest,
He is the man of Islington, and when he’s holding forth,
His is the stripped pine wisdom that pours from London North,
His world view’s very simple, all wars are Nato’s fault,
And as for intervention – no, he will call a halt.
Our Jeremy, our Jeremy, there’s no one quite like Jeremy,
His followers worship him, yea, amen and verily,
You can see him on a podium, cursing Tony Blair,
But getting a straight answer – our Jeremy’s not there.
He doesn’t live it large at all, politicking is his life,
He doesn’t go out giggng, or dining with his wife,
His idea of an evening off or joyous holiday,
Is standing at a rally, to damn the USA,
His mother marched down Cable Street, so he boasts with pride,
But he won’t detect a Fascist if a Fascist’s on his side,
At shirts of black and swastikas, his rants will fill the air,
But put them in a keffiyeh, and Jeremy’s not there.
Our Jeremy, Our Jeremy, aghastness from posterity,
That eager young politicos were dazzled by sincerity,
His beard is prophetic white, his frame ascetic spare,
But query his alliances, Our Jeremy’s not there.
And they say that all the Andies, Lizzes and Yvettes,
Will be cordoned in a hollow square and stripped of red rosettes,
And the old team of door knockers will be promptly chucked
And social democracy is well and truly fucked.
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.