Unite and Labour: an open letter to Nick Cohen

June 7, 2015 at 4:11 pm (AWL, democracy, labour party, posted by JD, red-baiting, socialism, unions, Unite the union, workers)

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Above: Unite general secretary Len McCluskey: bogeyman for Tories and Blairites alike

Nick,

I’d guess you still regard yourself as being on the left. So why was one of your first comments after the election an attack on the trade union movement from the right?

You can say you weren’t attacking trade unions as such, but that’s how your Spectator article read – particularly when it was published in the house magazine of the Tory right. At a time when the Tories are proposing new attacks on workers’ right to strike and on trade unions’ right to fund a political voice, you chose specifically to assail trade union involvement in politics.

What struck me about your article was how fluently it combined left-sounding arguments with right-wing conclusions.

What sense does it make to point out that “poverty and inequality are everywhere growing in part because of the shocking failure of the trade union movement” to organise the unorganised – but then condemn, not unions’ lack of boldness and militancy, but “sectarian poses that will stop Labour building broad alliances with everyone from the church leaders to Liberal Democrats”?

In this article at least, you do not criticise more right-wing unions affiliated to the Labour Party – eg Unison, whose leadership is so determined to prevent rank-and-file control of its structures and grassroots campaigning that, to take just one instance, it drove out hundreds of low-paid, precarious outsourced workers at University of London. Instead you focused solely on Unite, the main union being targeted by the capitalist media – targeted for allegedly being too left-wing.

Shamefully, you repeat the Blairite/Tory/media lie that Unite has “used its influence to rig selections”, adding in the same breath that it has “sponsored Labour MPs in Westminster”. (The latter is a problem, why? In fact the problem is that Unite fails to hold most of these MPs to its account.) At the same time you say nothing about the Labour leadership’s continual abuses of party democracy and rigging of internal processes (including in Tower Hamlets – and Falkirk).

It is bizarre that you condemn Unite’s forcing out of Jim Murphy – hardly an electoral success story or an ally of low paid workers! Worst of all, your main solution is for the Labour Party to “show Unite the door”.

Whether this means expelling Unite specifically, or ending the Labour’s union link more broadly, what you are promoting is essentially an ultra version of the program of the Blairite right wing of the party.

You’re right that Labour’s program in the election was “incoherent” and “failed to convince millions of voters”. You’re also right that supporting the SNP is wrong; that backing for Lutfur Rahman shows the left going astray; and that McCluskey’s chief of staff Andrew Murray is an extreme representative of the Stalinist politics deeply entrenched in the union.

But such criticisms are useless when combined with de facto support for the Blairites.

The political forces on the right of the Labour Party which, intentionally or not, you are lining up with are enemies of workers’ interests. They are deeply implicated in the weakening of the labour movement, its failure to take opportunities to build its strength, its abdication from struggle after struggle – both through the policies they have pursued, in government and opposition, and their baleful influence over most union leaders (including ones, like McCluskey, who see themselves as being on the left).

Unite needs to be criticised not from the right, but from the left – for insufficient aggressiveness and militancy, for lack of political boldness, for not taking its own agreed policies and strategies seriously, and for failing to inform, inspire, educate and mobilise its members as an essential part of recruiting more. Part of that is its failure to really push forward in the Labour Party, not only declining to campaign for its own policies but more than once voting against them in deference to the Labour leaders (eg voting at Labour’s National Policy Forum in favour of continuing public sector cuts). The latest example is what looks like backing for Andy Burnham over left-winger Jeremy Corbyn in the party leadership race – despite the fact that Corbyn champions numerous Unite policies and Burnham champions almost none.

Issues with what it advocates aside, the fundamental problem with regards to Labour is not that Unite has exercised too much influence over the party, but that it has exercised too little.

For sure, McCluskey et al’s flirtation with walking away from Labour is part of the problem. But this tendency is determined above all by the Unite leaders’ refusal to consider the alternative of launching and carrying through a serious political fight. Least of all is the answer to justify the drive from the Labour right to wipe out union influence in the party. The Unite leadership’s “strategy” should be attacked not for challenging the Labour leaders, but for helping them – in some cases directly and in some through lack of fight.

I would argue that Unite’s current approach has provided ammunition for the labour movement’s enemies, external and internal, without doing much to actually push them back, win gains and make progress. That is very different from regarding Unite itself as an enemy, as you seem to.

You write that after what you regard as “the death of socialism, [many on the left, including in Unite] go along with any movement however corrupt or reactionary… against the status quo”.

Arguing that socialism is dead is bad enough. You also seem to believe that, as a logical corollary, militant trade unionism is and should be dead too. Given that, all that is left is a “non-sectarian” lash up with Blairites, Lib Dems, church leaders – and presumably employers.

This is a recipe to (even) further disorient and demoralise the left. The real left – those who are serious about turning our labour movement around – will oppose and fight the ideas and program your Spectator article suggests.

Yours

Sacha Ismail
Alliance for Workers Liberty

PS I just saw your second article, about Unite suing you. Obviously this is absurd and wrong, a scandalous abuse of Unite members’ money. But I don’t think what you write about it changes anything fundamental in the political argument.

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Workers Liberty proposal to the left: For a workers’ Europe!

June 4, 2015 at 4:08 pm (AWL, democracy, Europe, Human rights, immigration, left, posted by JD, stalinism, SWP)

A proposal to the class-struggle left, from Workers’ Liberty:

The government intends to hold an in-out referendum on the UK’s European Union membership. David Cameron is currently attempting to negotiate with other EU leaders to allow the UK government more power at the expense of the EU.

Dressed up in nationalist rhetoric — opposition to foreign migrants and the demand for “our” right to control “our affairs” — Cameron is fighting for the right of the Tory government, acting on behalf of the capitalist class, to ignore European law and regulations that interfere with profits of British capitalists.

Columnist Iain Martin, writing in the Telegraph on 30 May, complains that Cameron’s shopping list for change in Europe is too vague. Martin advocates Cameron “should at least be looking to scrap anti-competitive social and employment laws that come from Brussels and [try] to win new flexibility for the UK to do its own trade deals.” The Telegraph has the virtue of being plain and clear. Much of the EU legislation the political right in Britain would like to see abolished is in the direct interest of workers in Britain.

No doubt Cameron — unlike many in his own party — would like to see the UK remain in the EU. Cameron wants to avoid the political disruption and economic overheads of withdrawal.

However the Westminster politicians may find it difficult to manage and control the referendum result from above. And it may be that the UK will stumble out of the EU, against their wishes.

The main result of Britain leaving the EU will be a big confidence boost for the political right and the growth of anti-immigrant racism.

The drive against EU membership is being led by poisonous and divisive anti-migrant howling from some of the press. Xenophobia has an appeal; UKIP won 3.8 million votes at the general election largely by playing to fears of foreigners.

Although the precise timing and the wording of the question to be voted on are not yet clear, the political dangers should be obvious. There is already a large constituency — well-funded, with a long tradition in UK politics, that has its own political voices and access to the media — which is loudly and crudely attacking migrants’ rights and using nationalism to try to pull the UK out of Europe.

In the run-up to this referendum there will be a further poisoning of British politics.

In an in-out referendum Workers’ Liberty will vote to keep the UK in the EU. We will do so for reasons similar to those that motivated our call to Scottish workers to vote against independence. In general, we are in favour of fewer and weaker borders and barriers between peoples.

If the issue in the referendum had been, for example, a vote on an EU economic treaty, we would probably have advocated abstention. It is not our job to choose between different methods of exploiting workers.

But the issue now is about strengthening borders and hostile attitudes towards other peoples; pulling the UK out of the EU will do both. It runs in the opposite direction to the creation of a federal Europe, which we favour.

The European bourgeoisies have pulled Europe together, substantially integrating Europe economically and politically. By doing so — in their own way, in their own interests — they have also expanded the possibilities for Europe-wide workers’ unity. We could add many qualifications — the expansion of bureaucracy, the capitalist nature of the process of integration — nevertheless European integration is historically progressive.

To try to break up the process of integration is as regressive as trying to turn the internet off because it is run by capitalist companies, or attempting to abolish parliament without bothering to see that bourgeois democracy is replaced with something better.

Unfortunately, some on the socialist left, influenced by nationalism and Stalinism, will advocate withdrawal. They will say a blow to the EU is a blow against capitalist exploitation and imperialism. But not all damage to capitalism is in the interests of the working class. Socialists are not simply anti-capitalist — we have a positive programme which we fight for, and which includes European unity.

The people who will gain from UK withdrawal are the racists who hate migrants. It makes no sense for the left to vote with UKIP and the Tory right for withdrawal, pretending we are doing so to fight racism and nationalism. That would be ridiculous.

And some of the left will flounder about in confusion wishing the question was different and trying to avoid the issue of EU membership by stressing their opposition to racism and UKIP (reasonable of course, but limited and without political traction).

We advocate the left forms a united campaign with the following aims:

• To defend migrants’ rights and oppose racism

• To vote against British withdrawal from the EU

• To fight for a workers’ Europe, based on working class solidarity

We advocate that the left unite to fight for these aims and campaign for these ideas inside the workers’ movement. And, in addition, we suggest that the labour movement learn one more lesson from the Scottish referendum debacle: that the unions and Labour Party must not join a cross-class alliance with pro-EU Tories and others. Such a bloc discredited the labour movement during the Scottish campaign.

We are open to debate on the question and will be approaching left organisations with the intention of founding such an initiative.

Workers, unite across Europe!

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The Guardian’s complacency over “absolute” anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism: an Open Letter to Alan Rusbridger

May 31, 2015 at 12:28 pm (anti-semitism, AWL, Guardian, israel, Jim D, Middle East, publications)

Alan Rusbridger in 1995 Alan Rusbridger in 1995.

Alan Rusbridger’s retirement from editorship of the Guardian after twenty years produced mixed emotions here at Shiraz. It would be churlish to deny his achievements in maintaining the Graun as Britian’s leading liberal-left daily paper, in overseeing its successful expansion online, and in breaking some genuinely important stories – Wikileaks, News International’s phone-hacking, Snowden, etc.

But having granted all that, the fact remains that under Rusbridger, the paper has been guilty of seriously unbalanced Middle East coverage (often giving space to Hamas and others who don’t just object to Israel’s policies, but seek its very destruction), and -simultaneously – downplaying the danger of anti-Semitism, and especially, anti-Semitism on sections of the left. This caused the AWL’s Sean Matgmana to write Rusbridger an open letter in 2009; now seems an appropriate moment to republish it:

Dear Alan Rusbridger,

The Guardian is the “house organ” of most of the non-Muslim people who took part in the two big demonstrations during the Gaza war. A vigorous campaign by the Guardian against anti-semitism on the “left” might do much good.

On Saturday 7 February, the Guardian carried an editorial, “Language and History”, denouncing anti-semitism and specifically the “anti-Zionist” anti-semitism that is now commonplace, remarking on the growth of anti-semitic incidents in Britain (now on average, one per day, and increasing).

Unfortunately, the editorial seriously misdefined the realities of what it discussed, and pussyfooted around the issue.

“Some extremists on the right and possibly [sic] the left might claim [that] the government is in the pocket of a ‘Jewish lobby’. There is no ‘Jewish lobby’ in the conspiratorial sense that the slur implies, and to assert that there is can only be the result of the kind of racism that has scarred Europe from tsarist Russia to the fascists and Stalinists of the 1930s through to the jihadists now. To present all Jewish people as coterminous with Israel and its supporters is a mistake with potentially terrible consequences. It aligns ethnicity with a political perspective, and it is simply racist”.

Indeed. The editorial records the Government’s statement that “unlike other forms of racism, antisemitism is being accepted within parts of society instead of being condemned.”

And the left? “Some within its ranks now risk sloppily allowing their horror of Israeli actions to blind them to antisemitism…. Last month, a rally in defence of the people of Gaza that included verbal attacks on the so-called ‘Nazi tendencies’ of Israel was followed by actual attacks on Jewish targets in north London”.

The editorial adds that such things as “kill Arabs” graffiti in Gaza are “chilling”. And? “The style in which that is condemned must not create the climate that allows scrawling ‘kill Jews’ on synagogues in Manchester”. The style….

The problem with all this is that it is so shot through with understatement that it seriously misrepresents the state of things. The demonstrations on Gaza “included verbal attacks on the so-called ‘Nazi tendencies’ of Israel”? Included? As we reported (www.workersliberty.org/gazademos) the demonstrations were entirely dominated by placards equating the Star of David and the Nazi swastika, Israel with South Africa, Gaza with the Nazi mass murder of Jews, or chants about a “Palestine” stretching “from the river to the sea”.

All the platform speakers, in their varying notes, tones annd degrees, proclaimed the same sort of politics. The one-time British diplomat Craig Murray explicitly called for the abolition of Israel and the rolling-back of Middle East history to before 1948. An SWP organiser on the megaphone at one of the marches was shouting that Israeli Jews should “go back to New York”.

The Guardian says that the left “possibly” subscribes to notions of an all-controlling “Jewish lobby”. Possibly? Moshe Machover came pretty close to saying it outright in the recent exchanges in this paper [ie the AWL’s paper Solidarity] – and he is one of the most sophisticated of the “absolute anti-Zionists”.

Mr Rusbridger, the root and core of modern anti-Semitism is the denial of Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. That inexorably leads on to a radical political hostility to most Jews alive.

Of course Jews and Israel are not co-terminous. They could hardly be! It is a fact that all but a few Jews — revolutionary socialists, Neturei Karta, etc. — feel connected with Israel, however critically, and however much they abhor such things as the onslaught on Gaza. How could a people with their history not have such attitudes?

The “demand” that the self-proclaimed left has made on British Jews — very aggressively on university campuses, for example – has been that they repudiate Israel, that they not be Zionists, that they accept that Israel is “racist” in essence and has no right to exist.

The denial of Israel’s right to exist, predominant on the self-proclaimed left, is the precondition for the bizarre alliance of so much of the left with political Islam (to give it its proper name, Islamic clerical fascism). It is what allows the self-proclaimed left, political Islam, and Islamic communalists to merge and meld almost indistinguishably on occasions like the Gaza demonstrations.

Inevitably that radical political hostility to most Jews alive taps into the great half-buried septic reservoirs of old anti-semitism — into old racist, religious, and nondescript crank anti-Semitism.

The Guardian Editorial writes of Nazi and Stalinist anti-Semitism in the 1930s. The worst Stalinist anti-semitism – from which come such things as the Stalinist-typical lunacy of equating Zionism and Nazism – erupted in the late 1940s and early 50s. The poisonous account of modern Jewish and Zionist history in the 20th century, which is dominant on the “left”, originates there, in Stalinism.

These old ideas of High Stalinist “anti-Zionism”/ anti-Semitism are rampant in the pro-Palestinian movement because they have conquered so much of the Trotskyism-rooted “left”. Young people who, to their credit, want to do something about such things as Gaza, come under the sway of the “smash Israel”, supposedly “pro-Palestinian” campaigns. The are taught ro reject a “Two State” settlement.

For the Guardian editorial to say that the difficulty lies in “the style” in which specific Israeli actions are criticised and condemned is simply preposterous! Whatever the “style” — and it varies from the seemingly reasonable to froth-at-the-mouth, open anti-semitism — the proposal to put an end to Israel leads inexorably to the things which the Guardian condemns, and to far worse.

The Guardian Editorial talks of the anti-semitism of the “jihadists”. The point is that the politics dominant in the Gaza demonstrations were entirely in line with the jihadists and their anti-semitism.

The Guardian has influence within the broad left. It is a pity you do not use that influence to tell the left the unpalatable truth about the state it’s in, that you don’t hold the mirror up, force people who should know better to see what they have let themselves become.

Yours,

Sean Matgamna 

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Scotland takes the Left road, England takes the Right?

May 23, 2015 at 2:53 pm (AWL, elections, left, posted by JD, reformism, scotland, Tory scum)

The Tories put out an election poster last week claiming Ed Miliband could be propped up in Number 10 by the SNP and Sinn Fein

Rhodri Evans (of Workers Liberty) responds to a lot of current nonsense about Scotland somehow being essentially more “left-wing” than England:

One story being told about the 7 May election is that Scotland has become left-wing, and England right-wing. Labour lost, so they say, because it was too left-wing for England and too right-wing for Scotland.

A likelier explanation is that the SNP was able to project itself as both a bit left-wing, and safe, whereas Labour’s combination of general talk against “predators” with extravagantly cautious and tiny policies left it looking neither really left-wing nor really safe.

The SNP was able to scoop up a swathe of middle-of-the-road, disaffected-leftish, or left-on-some-things-right-on-others voters who in England voted Green, Ukip, or even Tory, or didn’t vote. Turnout in Scotland, 71%, was significantly higher than overall, 66%.

The basis for this SNP success is the surge of nationalism in Scotland, which allows those who see an independent Scotland as a welfare oasis and those who see it as a low-corporate-tax destination for global capital to imagine a common cause.

The British and Scottish Social Attitudes surveys are the nearest we have to statistics. They show Scottish people to be a shade more leftish than England, but no more than we would expect from the fact that Scotland’s population is more concentrated in big cities than England’s.

Trade union density is a bit higher in Scotland than in England. Like Wales, whose union density is a shade higher again, it has a higher percentage of public-sector employment. Two-thirds of Scotland’s population is in its five biggest city areas, and only 33% of England’s. 35% of Wales’s population is in three city areas.

36% of voters in England and Wales wanted more tax and more social spending; 52% of voters wanted to stay the same; 7% wanted tax cuts and spending cuts. In Scotland it was 44%, 48%, 5%.

Although Scotland has no university tuition fees, 73% in Scotland said it should have; 78% in England and Wales supported fees.

40% in Scotland want the EU to have looser powers, but to stay in; 17% want out. In England and Wales it was 39% and 25%.

Such opinion surveys are always unreliable, because dependent on exactly how questions are phrased and in what context. But they fit with other evidence: Scotland does not necessarily have (proportionately) bigger demonstrations or anti-cuts campaigns or strikes than England.

The best guess from the evidence is that opinion in Scotland, as in England and Wales, edged to the right during the Blair years and has continued that way, but it is fluid and by no means hardened.

Two conclusions follow for the labour movement. A shift back to full-on Blairite politics by Labour in England would have damaging results as in Scotland, even if the impact is less immediately spectacular because no party in England has the SNP’s ability to scoop up a range of the disaffected.

Secondly, the idea that unions disaffiliating from Labour in Scotland (as some suggest) will allow a new left surge there is fantasy.

The Labour Party was formed in Britain thanks to long efforts by growing socialist organisations who pulled unions, at first a minority of unions, with them. In Scotland, the last decade has seen a spectacular decline of the socialist left, much greater than any damage we have suffered in England.

In the 2001 general election the Scottish Socialist Party – the activist core of which came from the former Scottish organisation of Militant, forerunner of the Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal — got between 6% and 10% of the vote in every constituency in Glasgow, bar one where it got 4.5%.

This time the SSP, much weaker in activists than it was in 2001, ran in only four constituencies in Scotland, two in Glasgow, averaging 0.5%. Elsewhere it advised voters to back the bourgeois SNP. TUSC, the other attempt to run left-of-Labour candidates in Scotland, did worse in Glasgow (average 0.5%) than its poor average across Britain (0.6%).

If unions were about to disaffiliate because they had waged a real left-wing battle against Labour’s leaders had reached breaking point, things would be different.

In fact it’s more a matter of union leaders being bothered by their members swinging to the SNP, and disaffiliation would almost surely lead to unions’ politics in Scotland being reduced to client-relationship-type haggling for deals with SNP and the Labour rump.

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Tower Hamlets and the left: listen to the secular!

May 20, 2015 at 4:47 pm (AWL, conspiracy theories, corruption, democracy, Galloway, islamism, left, London, posted by JD, religion, secularism, truth)

Above: Rahman and a supporter

By Martin Thomas (at Workers Liberty)

Pretty much all the left press other than Solidarity [Workers Liberty’s paper] has denounced the election court decision against Lutfur Rahman, mayor of Tower Hamlets in East London, and most of the left has backed Rabina Khan, Rahman’s ally, for the new mayoral election on 11 June.

Does the left press reckon that Rahman didn’t do what the court disqualified him for doing? Or that he did do it, but it was all right? It’s hard to tell. I don’t know if the writers in the left press even read the judgement.

If they did read it, then probably, like me, they were annoyed by the style of the judge, Richard Mawrey – pompous, self-satisfied, arrogant. The judgement is full of show-off side comments. The Labour Party leadership has suspended left-winger Christine Shawcroft on the basis of one side comment in the judgement suggesting (wrongly, and irrelevantly to the case before Mawrey) that Shawcroft supported Rahman in the polls against Labour.

But probably most judges are pompous, self-satisfied, and arrogant. It goes with their social position. Yet often they can sum up evidence competently. Often they know that if they don’t do it competently, they will be rebuked when the case is taken to appeal, as Rahman, a lawyer himself, is taking his case.

In a previous case, Mawrey found in favour of George Galloway’s Respect group and against the Labour Party. Galloway’s speech applauding that judgement is published in full on the Socialist Worker website. Mawrey’s findings cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Mawrey found that charges of intimidation at polling stations, payment of canvassers, and impersonation of voters were not proved “beyond reasonable doubt”. But other charges were. Rahman had made false allegations against his opponent (the offence for which Labour right-winger Phil Woolas had his election ruled invalid in 2010). Rahman was guilty of “bribery of the electorate” via redistribution of grants to Bangladeshi community groups which would back him. And he had organised “undue spiritual influence”.

The left press has dismissed the last charge as anti-Muslim prejudice. But the judgement is explicit that there is nothing unlawful about imams, in their capacity as citizens, publicly backing Rahman. Unlawful is saying or suggesting that it is a religious duty to vote one way, or a damnable sin to vote the other way – the sort of thing which Catholic priests in Italy did, to boost the Christian Democrat vote after 1946 and until the decay of religion made it counterproductive.

The British law against “undue spiritual influence” dates from 1883. Its previous uses were in Ireland when still under British rule. The law was not, as some in the left press have suggested, a means to avoid the election of Catholic-backed nationalists. The British government had made its peace with the Irish Catholic church long before that. The conciliation is usually dated from the Maynooth Grant of 1845. The charges brought under the law were of priests declaring it a religious duty to vote against nationalists less in favour with the Church, such as the Parnellites (1890-1900) or Healy’s All for Ireland League (1910).

If Rahman’s clerical allies did something like the priests did in Ireland back then, or in Italy in the 1950s, then there is good reason to find the election invalid. If there is strong counter-evidence, on that charge or the others, then Rahman and his allies should publish it.

We know that Rahman has a soft-left Labour background, that Labour expelled him in a rigged-up summary execution, that he is close to the hierarchy of the East London Mosque. We know that the East London Mosque is one of the biggest in the country, built with large Saudi aid, and linked to the Islamic Forum of Europe and the Young Muslim Organisation, which are in turn linked to Bangladesh’s Islamist party, Jamaat e-Islami.

Those facts are documented in many books such as Innes Bowen’s Islam in Britain, reviewed by Matt Cooper in Solidarity 233.

It is also a fact that more secular-minded Muslims and Bangladeshis in the area find the religio-political power of the ELM/ IFE/ YMO complex overbearing.

Those background facts mean that Mawrey’s findings cannot be dismissed out of hand. To dismiss them out of hand is to let down the more secular-minded Muslims and Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets.

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McCluskey: don’t pander to the SNP!

May 4, 2015 at 8:37 pm (AWL, elections, labour party, populism, posted by JD, reformism, scotland, Unite the union)

McCluskey: soft on nationalism

By Ann Field (cross-posted from Workers Liberty)

“I didn’t come to Scotland to criticise the SNP,” said Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey at a public meeting in Saltcoats a fortnight ago, organised by North Ayrshire and Arran Labour Party as part of its campaign to retain the seat for Katy Clark.

McCluskey was as good as his word.

He called for a vote for Labour. He called for a Labour government. He called for, if need be, a minority Labour government rather than one which entered pacts or a coalition with other parties. But he was not prepared to attack the SNP.

Unite’s Scottish edition of the “Unite Works” general election broadsheet is equally uncritical of the SNP.

Its eight pages have much to say about how bad the Lib-Dem coalition has been for working people. And a personal message from Len McCluskey warns Unite members not to be taken in by the “frauds and charlatans” of UKIP.

But the only criticism of the frauds and charlatans of the SNP in the broadsheet consists of eleven words contained in a statement from a Labour candidate: “The SNP would leave Scotland with a £4bn shortfall in public services.”

This is amazing stuff by any standards.

Unite has a policy of boycotting Israel, which it defines as “an apartheid state”. This is despite opposition to a boycott and the description of the country as “an apartheid state” from the Histadrut, the Israeli trade union movement.

So, Unite can boycott a country on the other side of the world, despite the opposition of that country’s trade union movement. But when the Unite General Secretary travels 400 miles north from union’s headquarters in London, he cannot bring himself to criticise the SNP!

And when the same union produces a Scottish edition of its general election broadsheet, it likewise omits – eleven words apart – any criticism of the SNP.

(But Len McCluskey is not alone. A fortnight before McCluskey’s meeting Owen Jones spoke at another election meeting organised by North Ayrshire and Arran Labour Party. He too has no qualms about holding forth on Israel and Palestine, and many other things as well.

Even though Jones is of Scottish descent – as he explained at some length in an introductory genealogical treatise – he too felt it “inappropriate” to make any comment about Scottish politics. Because, you see, he lives in London.

Where does this kind of nonsense end? Should an indigenous Scot exercise political self-censorship when in England? And how about the Welsh? Should they too keep quiet when in Scotland? Or, as inhabitants of the Celtic fringe, are they allowed to have a pop at the SNP?)

The failure of the Scottish election broadsheet and the union’s General Secretary to criticise the SNP is all the more amazing in that it is at odds with Unite’s own Political Strategy and its stated goal in this general election.

The Political Strategy, adopted in 2011, commits the union to “growing Unite membership in the Labour Party”, ending discrimination against working-class candidates by “securing the adoption of trade union candidates by Labour”, and “mobilising our members to vote, and then to vote Labour.”

The Political Strategy also commits Unite to “do everything in our power to organise and mobilise our membership, working people in general and the broadest possible forces to the cause of victory for a transformed Labour Party (in the general election).”

For reasons so obvious that they do not need to be spelt out, in Scotland such goals require challenging the SNP, and forcefully so.

And it’s not as if that’s a difficult thing to do.

The SNP government in Holyrood spends a lower proportion of its budget on health than even the Lib-Dem coalition. Its attacks on Further Education mean that working-class youth in Scotland are less likely to attend university than their counterparts in England. Its council-tax freeze has proved to be a massive tax cut for the rich.

The SNP has opposed re-regulation of bus services, continued with privatisation of the railways, and privatised half of Scotland’s ferry services. In power in Holyrood, where its MSPs have crossed PCS picket lines, it has not implemented a single redistributive policy.

In the referendum campaign it promised a cut in corporation tax for big business and no tax rises for the rich (all financed by infinite amounts of North Sea oil at a price of $113 a barrel). And in this general election campaign its fiscal policies amount to more austerity over a longer period of time.

When Blair carried out similar right-wing policies, Unite (or its predecessors) was rightly critical of him. When Jim Murphy, a consistent Blairite, stood for election as Scottish Labour Party leader, Unite rightly backed his opponent. When Miliband and Balls propose ‘austerity-lite’, Unite is rightly critical of them.

And all of those criticisms by Unite in general and by Len McCluskey in particular were public criticisms.

Surely it’s not too much to expect Unite’s General Secretary – in the run-up to what Unite itself describes as the “the most important general election in a generation” – to show the same willingness to publicly attack and expose the SNP’s right-wing charlatanism?

At the Campaign for Socialism AGM last February Neil Findlay MSP – backed by Unite in last year’s Scottish leadership contest – pointed out that the goal of the SNP is to destroy Labour in Scotland.

Not because the Murdoch-backed SNP does not find Labour left-wing enough, or because of Miliband’s disgraceful role in Falkirk. But because it needs to destroy Labour in order to implement its sole goal in life: its nationalist project of independence.

McCluskey’s failure to criticise the SNP and to campaign to persuade Unite members thinking of voting SNP to vote Labour instead gives the SNP free rein to carry out its own agenda of attacking the very principle of working-class political representation.

And the rise in support for the SNP is also a threat to bread-and-butter trade unionism.

Politics in parts of Scotland are already beginning to resemble Northern Ireland, where voting based on national identities and conflicting attitudes to a border squeezes out voting based on class identities and conflicting attitudes to ideologies of left and right.

But wherever the working class is divided and weakened by questions of national identity and a border, then trade unionism is divided and weakened as well. As the biggest union in Scotland, Unite is the union which can least afford to allow such divisions to become entrenched.

(And when the supposed ‘intellectual’ wing of the nationalist movement – the Bella Caledonia website – carries article likening the position of Scots in Britain to that of Elisabeth Fritzl (imprisoned and raped by her father over a period of 24 years) and to that of Jews in early Nazi Germany, the descent into absolute political irrationality has already commenced.)

Len McCluskey spoke at the meeting in Saltcoats to underline Unite’s support for Katy Clark. But local SNPers denounce her as a ‘Red Tory’.

Michael Connarty was given space in the Unite general election broadsheet to underline the union’s support for him. But on his way into last Friday’s rally in Glasgow with Ed Miliband, he was denounced by SNPers as a ‘Red Tory’ as well.

On the streets and on the doorsteps that’s the tenor of the SNP’s election campaign. Again, it’s surely not too much to expect Unite’s General Secretary to denounce full-throat the SNP’s ‘Red Tory’ campaign – especially given that ‘Red Tory’ Katy Clark was the Unite-backed candidate for Scottish Labour Party deputy leader?

The SNP is a party concerned about a flag. Trade unions are not concerned about the flag but the people who live under it. That’s the difference between separatism and solidarity, between nationalist division and workers’ unity, between the politics of nation and the politics of class.

Unite should be tough on nationalism, and tough on the causes of nationalism. And that means that in the few days left before Thursday’s general election its General Secretary should combine calls for a vote for Labour and demands on a future Labour government with explicit attacks on the SNP.

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‘Blacklisted’ review

April 26, 2015 at 6:30 pm (AWL, Civil liberties, class, class collaboration, cops, corruption, good people, Human rights, Jim D, solidarity, unions, Unite the union, workers)

This review should appear in the next issue of the AWL’s paper Solidarity, as (I understand) part of a feature on blacklisting:

Blacklisted – The secret war between big business and union activists

By Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain (pub: New Internationalist)

*********************

Trades unionists have known for decades that employers operated blacklists, whereby records were kept on militants and activists (and, indeed, not particularly militant or active trade unionists) in order to exclude them from employment. The practice was especially rife in the construction industry, where simply raising a concern over health and safety could be enough to ensure that you never found work. Countless working class lives were destroyed by the blacklist.

For many years a central blacklist was managed, operated and sold to major employers by an outfit called the Economic League, which in the 1970s employed around 160 staff and was receiving over £400,000 a year in subscriptions and donations. When media exposure (notably the campaigning journalism of Paul Foot in the Mirror) lead to the collapse of the League in 1993, its work was taken over by an organisation called the Services Group (formed by the big construction companies as it became apparent to them that the League might not survive), and then The Consulting Association (TCA), which obtained the Economic League’s database, and expanded and updated it, with files on thousands of workers, including National Insurance numbers, vehicle registrations, press cuttings and comments from managers.

Again, it was construction companies who were the main (but not only) subscribers, using the organisation as a covert vetting operation to monitor job applicants. All the biggest names in construction – Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Skanska, Keir, Costain and McAlpine – made use of TCA information to exclude job applicants and to sack workers already on site.

TCA was eventually exposed and brought down in 2009 following a raid on their premises by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the body that enforces the Data Protection Act. Blacklisting was not, then, in itself illegal, but breaches of the Data Protection Act were. TCA’s database was confiscated and found to contain the details of 3,213 construction workers.

As a result of the raid, the subsequent publicity and dogged lobbying by the construction union, UCATT (and to a lesser degree, Unite), the Labour government finally introduced legislation (the Blacklists Regulations 2010 – an amendment to the Employment Relations Act 1999) making it unlawful for an employer or employment agency to refuse employment, to dismiss, or to cause detriment to a worker for a reason related to a blacklist and provides for a minimum £5,000 compensation award at a tribunal. But this was , at best, a very small step forward and contained at least one major loophole: as it is civil, not criminal, legislation, it can only be enforced by an individual to bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal; and (as the Blacklisting Support Group pointed out when the legislation was under consultation), blacklisted workers can only bring claims against the companies that refused to employ them, which will often be small sub-contractors, and not the big companies actually doing the blacklisting.

This scandal is described in meticulous detail in the new book ‘Blacklisted –  The secret war between big business and union activists’ by Blacklisting Support Group (BSG) founding member Dave Smith and investigative journalist Phil Chamberlain.

Perhaps the most fascinating revelations in the book are interviews with HR managers and bosses involved in blacklisting, several of whom claim that they obtained information from officials of UCATT and the EEPTU. It should be emphasised that both UCATT and Unite (the union that now includes what used to be the EEPTU) have cleaned up their acts and now both take a firm stand against blacklisting. However, the book describes a meeting of the Blacklist Support Group in February 2013, at which a BSG speaker, Steve Acheson, was barracked by senior members of UCATT, who accused him of making allegations of union collusion without evidence and demanded he “name names”: in response, Acheson held up a handwritten note from former TCA manager Ian Kerr and said: “If you want me to name names, I will: the name that appears on this note is George Guy” (Guy is a former senior official and acting General Secretary of UCATT: the book notes that he “vigorously denies” the allegation).

This superbly-researched and very readable book was launched in March at a meeting in Parliament at which John McDonnell MP read out a statement from Peter Francis, a former undercover cop who spent four years as part of the Met’s Special Demonstration Squad. Francis’s statement said he infiltrated Unison, the FBU, CWU, NUT and NUS. He had previously infiltrated anti-racist organisations and the Militant Tendency. The Economic League and The Consulting Association may be gone, but blacklisting, spying and dirty tricks against trade unionists and other activists continues – often, it would seem, by the forces of the state.

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Joe Columbo, the Mafia and ethnically-based politics

April 25, 2015 at 4:50 pm (AWL, communalism, crime, history, Italy, multiculturalism, populism, posted by JD, religion, strange situations)

Organized crime boss Joseph Anthony Colombo Sr. in 1971.

By Sean Matgamna (2006; very minor changes and additions made by JD, April 2015):

The story of Joe Columbo, the Mafia boss who briefly turned ethnic politician, is one of the most frightening stories I’ve come across. An instructive story, too. It sheds some light on [certain recent events in Tower Hamlets ]

Perhaps significantly, the year is 1970. In the USA there is a huge anti-Vietnam-war movement. The USA has also experienced the black civil rights movement and the black ghetto uprisings. It is a highly political period in American history.

When the gangster Joe Columbo, boss of one of the Mafia “Families” feels the pursuing FBI breathing down his neck, he reacts “politically”. He starts the “Italian-American Civil Rights League” (IACRL) to campaign against the FBl’s “harassment” of Italian-Americans!

IACRL’s message is simple and clear cut, the lie big and direct. The Mafia does not exist. There is no such thing as the Mafia. There never was. The Mafia is a myth invented by a racist police force less concerned with justice or with fighting real criminals than with self-publicity. The FBI has invented the Mafia and thus stigmatised and smeared the entire Italian-American community.

The Mafia myth is a burden and an affliction for every Italian-American, and it is time to fight back, says the mafioso Joe Columbo. The Italian-American Civil Rights League exists with Joe Columbo as its leading personality, to fight for justice, truth and the Italian-American way. It slots easily into the American system of ethnic politics, and it mushrooms into a powerful movement able to get tens of thousands to demonstrate on the streets.

They boldly picket the FBI, demanding that it should stop victimising and persecuting good Italian-Americans like Joe Columbo. They demand such things as more public recognition that it was an Italian who first discovered America for Europe, Christopher Columbus. The image of the Italian-American has to be changed.

Politicians, judges, entertainers, flock to get a piece of Columbo’s action. At $10 per member, the Italian American Civil Rights League becomes a nice little earner for Joe Columbo and his Mafia friends.

The IACRL is a political force for about a year, and then one day in 1971, just as Joe Columbo is starting to speak to a big audience of thousands of demonstrating Italian-Americans, to tell them once again that the mafia does not exist, a mafia guman shoots him in the head, blowing part of his brain away. The gunman is immediately killed by Columbo’s Mafioso bodyguards.

You see, the other Mafiosi hadn’t had Joe Columbo’s faith in the power of the big bold lie to protect them. Columbo had broken their traditional modus operandi of anonymous, background manipulation, and as little publicity as possible. They thought Columbo’s political operation would only get the FBI to intensify the heat on them. So they had him shot.

They didn’t quite kill Joe Columbo outright: he survived for seven years, incapacitated. What they did kill was the Italian American Civil Rights League. One irony of this strange all-American tale is that what Columbo said — the mafia is a myth — was what FBI Chief J Edgar Hoover had said for decades, until the late 50s. Hoover hadn’t wanted to admit that there were criminals and a criminal network too big for the FBI to bring down.

Joe Columbo would be the basis of one of the characters in Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather Part 3 (1990) He had, it seems, paid a visit to the Producer of the first of the 3 Godfather films,”The Godfather”, to threaten him out of too-close an identification of the film’s charaacters with their Italian background.

The story of Joe Columbo and his Italian-American Civil Rights League illustrates the ease with which politics can be faked and vast numbers of people fooled and led by their noses — the power of pseudo-political demagogy to drum up unreasoning movements around real grievances.

Marx said truly that ideas become a material force when they grip the masses. A big problem for socialists and people concerned to promote rational politics in general is that all sorts of ideas can grip the masses.

There are no political or ideological vacuums: it has to be either the ideas of the ruling class, even if in some “wild” varient like Columbo’s, or the ideas of Marxism, that prevail.

More than that: the emotion of resentment and rebellion can be hooked to many different ideas about the world in general — about what’s wrong with it and what needs to be done about that.

Democratic political processes are routinely corrupted and perverted not only by ruling-class political machines, but also by radical and pseudo-radical demagogues. Isn’t that what fascism — with its pretend anti-capitalism and its vicious scapegoating of Jews, black people, Muslims (in Britain now) and others — is all about: focusing the resentment of poor and ignorant people on nationalist and racist and cultural myths, and in binding them to the status quo by way of political mysticism and irrational leader cults?

Isn’t that what Stalinism was, with its reduction of the Marxist critique of bourgeois society to mere negativism, to “absolute anti-capitalism”, and its substitution for the democratic socialist Marxist alternative to the capitalism it criticised of advocacy for the totalitarian Russian Stalinist system?

Isn’t that what we see now in the bizarre combination by the SWP [and others on the] kitsch left with a supposedly “Marxist” critique of bourgeois society, combined with — to put it at it mildest — softness towards Islamist clerical-fascism?

One thing the Joe Columbo episode shows is the way that the expansion of democracy has separated the techniques of mass agitation and organisation from any necessary connection with serious politics or sincerely held ideas.

This deadly decadence of politics is nowhere more plain than in America, where politics is to a serious extent a branch of show business. In the years of Tony Blair’s “Presidential” premiership, Britain has taken giant strides in the wake of the USA.

When he was accused back in 1900 of exaggerating the power of socialist ideas to shape events, Lenin replied that the difference between the then Catholic trade unions of Italy and the class-conscious trade union movement of Germany was that in Italy the workers’ instinctive drive to combine together and fight for better wages and conditions had been corrupted and taken over by priests, who, naturally, brought to that workers movement, not the consciousness of socialists, but “the consciousness of priests”.

One and the same instinctive drive could produce either a fighting socialist working class movement, given ‘the consciousness of Marxists’, or, given the consciousness of priests, a sectarian, class-colaborationist working class based movement. The decisive thing is the battle to make ‘the consciousness of Marxists’ central to the labour movement and to movements of those —like many of the Italian-Americans who rallied to Columbo’s fake League — who feel themselves to be oppressed.

Examples of Lenin’s principle are very numerous. One is the emergence of the “revolutionary” Irish Republican movement,the Provisional IRA, which is now sinking into its natural place as part of the spectrum of Irish bourgeois nationalist politics.

If there: had been a sizeable Marxist movement in Ireland in the late 60s, when the Provisional IRA began to emerge, the consciousness of traditional physical-force Republicans, which permeated the Northern Irish Catholic community, kept alive in legend, reminiscences, songs and popular verse, would not have dominated and shaped the Catholic revolt; and that revolt would not have entered the blind alley of the Provo-war on the Northern Irish protestants and on Britain.

The existence and activity of a socialist group can make all the difference. The creation, education in authentic Marxism, and maintenance of such a force is the decisive immediate, practical question for serious socialists.

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The dishonesty and incoherence of the SNP

April 25, 2015 at 1:55 pm (AWL, class collaboration, elections, populism, posted by JD, scotland, truth)

Steve Bell's If ... Steve Bell’s If … © Steve Bell

By Dale Street (of Workers Liberty)

“Neither Nicola Sturgeon nor her deputy (Stewart Hosie) are saying austerity can be avoided. Instead, it’s being re-badged and re-profiled, or spread out for longer. …”

“The defiant refusal to accept more austerity, which won power for Syriza in Greece last month, is not being offered here. Instead, a serious bid for a share of power in Britain requires a message that won’t spook the markets.”

That was the verdict of BBC Scotland’s business and economy editor Douglas Fraser, and it is about right.

The fact that the SNP are saying that more austerity is unavoidable is at odds with the SNP’s message on the doorstep (and in television debates): that the SNP is the only Scottish party with an anti-austerity agenda.

This kind of incoherence — and dishonesty — permeates the SNP general election campaign. In fact the SNP is not running one election campaign but a collection of mutually exclusive campaigns.

SNP leaders says that this election is not about independence for Scotland but about austerity. In fact, as far as the SNP is concerned, everything is about independence, including this election.

Although both Salmond and Sturgeon previously described last September’s referendum as a “once-in-a generation” event, both of them — just seven months later — are now refusing to rule out another referendum after the Holyrood elections of 2016.

SNP election activists are far more honest and describe the general election as “a stepping stone” (sic) to another referendum and independence. (So too do the SNP’s “socialist” bag-carriers. But not even the SNP takes them seriously.)

SNP leaders claim that they want to help Ed Miliband into 10 Downing Street. But they don’t actually want anyone to vote Labour! Instead, Scotland should vote for the SNP, Wales for Plaid Cymru, and England for the Greens.

Again, SNP election activists are more honest and want Scots to vote SNP and the Welsh to vote Plaid Cymru because they cannot conceive of voting on any basis other than national identity, and because there is no such thing as an English National Party, they cannot work out how the English should vote.

Unlike the public face of the SNP, they are also refreshingly honest in declaring that they really don’t care if the Tories win the general election because a Tory victory would be just an additional reason for another referendum and independence. Read the rest of this entry »

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Yves Coleman: Anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism in Europe

April 17, 2015 at 9:55 pm (Anti-Racism, anti-semitism, AWL, conspiracy theories, Europe, fascism, France, Greece, Islam, islamism, israel, populism, posted by JD, Racism, thuggery)

The French revolutionary socialist Yves Coleman (of the group Ni patries, ni frontières), has written a lengthy and detailed piece on anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism in Europe. This is one of the most comprehensive and important articles on these closely interconnected subjects to have been published so far this century. It appears in a 12-page pull-out in the present edition of the AWL’s paper Solidarity. Comrade Coatesy has already commented on supplementary article by Coleman that also appears in Solidarity: About the ambiguities of the “Islamophobia” concept.  We reproduce Coleman’s main article in full below:


Protest in Greece in memory of a Pakistani immigrant murdered by ‘Golden Dawn’ fascists

Anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism in Europe

Around 1.1 millions Jews live in the European Union and 19 million Muslims. It’s obviously very difficult to compare the situation of an ethnic/cultural/religious minority living in Europe for centuries with the situation of religious and/or national minorities whose importance has massively grown after the Second World War, and in some cases only during the last 40 years.

Nevertheless, many militants (inspired by left academic researchers) compare anti-Semitism in the 30s to the situation of Muslims in Europe today.

This comparison is flawed1, for many reasons, but it remains a fact that the anti-Islam paranoia which dominates Western media, and the long and complex relations between the Islamic world and Western powers nourish extended racist discrimination and social exclusion against Muslim workers, “alien” or not, living in Europe.

For definitions of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism this text mainly uses those provided by the European Fundamental rights Agency (FRA) with a few additions. Obviously they have not been conceived by so-called “revolutionaries” and do not have a great theoretical significance. They are clearly focused on discrimination: this legalistic and multiculturalist perspective deliberately neglects, or even completely erases, social inequalities, the division of society into classes, and refuses to take into account discriminations if they are not based on ethnic, racial, religious, or gender pecularities.

In addition, if you study in detail, from a historical and anthropological point of view, anti-Semitism and all the issues linked to the cultural, religious, economic and military contacts between Islam and the “Christian West”, contacts which have given birth to today’s anti-Muslim racism in Europe, then the differences between anti-Muslim racism and anti-Semitism appear so huge that you can no longer engage in any comparison – or only so from a purely demagogic angle. The too famous “competing memories” can lead you to compare the statistical figures of the Armenian, Jewish, Gypsy, Cambodian, Tutsi genocides with the number of victims of the transatlantic slave trade or the number of victims of colonialism; and then you will be inevitably led to establish a dangerous hierarchy between these evils. Or you can even go as far as suggesting that capitalist Europe is preparing a “muslimicide” analogous to Hitler’s Judeocide, as if European Muslims in 2015 are in a similar position to European Jews in the mid 30s …

This article deliberately takes a minimalist focus: the issue of democratic rights for all human beings, whatever are their origins and philosophical or religious beliefs. In this limited frame, the great advantage of the FRA definitions is that they focus on concrete, identifiable, phenomena, which we want to fight and defeat today, even if they don’t cover their more general socio-economic causes.

The polemics which have been launched between social scientists – and by extension between radical left activists – around the content of these two definitions often hide ideological issues (“Zionists” against “anti-Zionists”, secular Republicans against supporters of “multiculturalism”, sectarian atheists against intellectually dishonest believers, partisans of a binational State in Palestine and supporters of two separate states, etc.) and their main effect is to divide and paralyse the militants concerned with an efficient struggle against all forms of racism, here and now.

Anti-Semitism is an ideology based on the conscious, or unconscious, hostility to the “Jews”2 for religious, social, national, racial and/or economic motives. “Jews” may be actually Jewish by religion or culture or not. It does not matter for the anti-Semite; what matters for him is to attribute them negative or even sometimes positive qualities3 in order to discriminate and exclude them.

To this very general definition, one can add that anti-Zionism can sometimes, not always, lead to anti-Semitic conclusions4: when Jews are accused of exaggerating the Holocaust; when they are denied the right to self-determination, granted to all the other peoples living on this planet; when classic anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic clichés are used to characterise Israel or Israelis; when Israeli policy is systematically compared to that of the Nazis; when Jews are considered as a “fifth column”, a “lobby” of “cosmopolitan” people who are only loyal to Israel, etc.

Anti-Muslim racism (“Islamophobia” for the European Union and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) is an ideology which sees Islam as a “monolithic bloc”, sharing “no common values with other cultures”, “inferior to the West and barbaric”, more “sexist” than all the other religions, “supportive of terrorism” and of an agressive politics leading to military conflicts and war.

Anti-Muslim racists justify “discriminatory practices towards Muslims and their exclusion from mainstream society”, practices which they want to enshrine in laws.

To the elements of this FRA definition, one can add that anti-Muslim racism is often mixed to (and fuses with) anti-Asian, anti-African, anti-Arab or anti-Turkish racism, up to the point it’s difficult to distinguish between them.

Today in the Western world, anti-Jew racism and anti-Muslim racism are not, most of the time, religiously motivated. They can mobilise “anti-capitalist” or “anti-imperialist” plot theories which denounce the role of “the Jews”, or present Islam as the main threat to human civilisation today. Anti-Semites and anti-Muslim racists hide their political agenda behind all sorts of radical, leftish or pseudo-humanist reasoning: some pretend they are particularly moved by the sufferings of the Palestinians; others that they only want to defend women’s rights and democracy; some pretend European Muslims should not be blamed for what happens in the Middle East and North Africa, but constantly blame European or American Jews for what happens in Israel; some consider Europeans Muslims should spend all their time condemning Daesh (ISIS), Boko Haram or al-Qaeda, but defend any military aggression of Tsahal, any “targeted murders” with their inevitable “collateral damages5”, or find lousy excuses for racist Israeli settlers or Israeli far right politicians. It’s rather easy to unmask these discourses, including in our own ranks, provided we open our eyes and are ready to lose… some “friends” or “comrades”.

Before analysing these phenomenon and their extent today, one has to recall some of the important political changes which started in the mid-1970’s and set the context for anti-Semitism and Muslim racism today. Read the rest of this entry »

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