Above: modern antisemitism
By Dale Street
“Unfortunately, a comment on this thread has been deleted and the user banned for repeated antisemitic comments. Bigotry or any form of racial or religious discrimination, be it Islamophobia or antisemitism, simply will not be tolerated on this page.”
That was the commitment given by the SNP Friends of Palestine (FoP) on its public Facebook page in December of last year. It is a commitment that the campaign has spectacularly failed to implement.
Over the past ten months its Facebook page has carried a plethora of textbook examples of how traditional antisemitic tropes are incorporated into what passes for criticism of Israel and Zionism.
One of the most common of those tropes is that of wealthy, powerful Jews who, behind the scenes, control politicians and the policies of elected governments.
According to one contributor to the Facebook page, it is “the American Jewish Lobby” which bears the historical blame for the current “ghastly situation”:
“I was there while there was still a country called Palestine, although the poor Russian Jews chucked out of their own country were already infiltrating (Tel Aviv and Nablus at the foot of the Sea of Galilee) by courtesy of the American Jewish Lobby. Those are the people we have to thank for this ghastly situation.” (17/05/16).
Another contributor saw Rothschild money in play in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, when the British Foreign Secretary backed the creation of “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine:
“Jewish and Arabs had lived side-by-side for decades until Arthur Balfour was probably provided financial security by the Rothschild scum to enforce this on their behalf.” (22/02/16)
“Zionists” have continued to exercise a decisive political influence down to the present, and do so at a global level:
“Just confirms who is actually running world politics, make up rules only to suit themselves. We all know that Zionists have hijacked the Jewish religion for their own gains. Next law to come in will [make it] antisemitic to say anything against the Zionists.” (28/04/16)
Like Balfour, contemporary British politicians continue to be bought off by “Zionists”. (SNP MPs and MSPs are doubtless an exception.) This explains their supposed reluctance to criticise Israel, and their loyalty to Israel rather than Britain:
“Politicians are bought by Zionists and do more for Israel than they do for the UK. Labour Friends of Israel and Conservative Friends of Israel need to be banned. (UK politicians silent about Palestinian deaths.)” (17/04/16)
“We all know that the US and UK governments and their allies have been bribed by those Zionist supporters because they are part of the status quo. They have blood on their hands! The Israel state itself is a big lie!” (05/03/16)
“And of course the pro-Israel politicians will just go along with whatever any pro-Israel lobby group tells them. About time to kick Jewish/Israeli lobbyists out of British politics.” (25/02/16)
The expression “Jewish/Israeli lobbyists” is defended on the basis that one lobby is merely the new version of an older one. This is certainly true – in the sense that the contemporary trope of the powerful Israeli lobby is used as the direct successor of the older trope of the powerful Jewish lobby:
“It used to be called the Jewish lobby, now called the Israeli lobby. Same lobbyists and same people. So, yes, the two are the same. Politicians that are friends of Israel do what they can for Israel no matter what is against them. Sometimes it seems they do more for Israel than the UK, yet they are British politicians.” (25/02/16)
Accusations of antisemitism trigger particular indignation in posts on the SNP FoP Facebook page. Such accusations are denounced as further evidence of the behind-the-scenes power wielded by Jews.
The expression itself (first used by Wilhelm Marr in the 1870s, during the German-nationalist period of his political evolution) is dismissed as a Zionist invention which should now be dispensed with:
“The term ‘antisemitism’, coined in the 1880s by the Zionist movement to raise the perception of persecution among Europe’s Jews and so encourage them to make ‘Aliyah’, should now be consigned to its true position, merely a facet of racial and religious bigotry, and, as such, abhorred.” (18/02/16)
Accusations of antisemitism are used to cover up Israeli crimes by browbeating and intimidating opponents of Israel:
“The birth name of the new Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, was Freedland, the same as the apologist commentator of the ‘Guardian’. Different continents perhaps but …. Jonathan Freedland’s contrived argument is just that – a contorted apology for an apartheid state.” (03/05/16)
“Why does the world tolerate this? Because they’re terrified of being branded antisemites and bombarded with quite unnecessary warnings, like the one at the top of this page.” (23/05/16)
“It’s getting to the point in the UK to be scared to express a long-held sincere opinion in case there is a knock on the door at 3.00am.” (28/04/16)
Such views are not confined to contributors to the Facebook page. In April of this year the page administrators themselves posted a link to an article by SNP FoP member Craig Murray entitled “The New McCarthyism – The ‘Anti-Semitism’ Hysteria Gripping the UK”. According to the article:
“The attack on new NUS President Malia Bouattia is a truly horrible piece of witch-hunting. But it is useful in one thing. It makes the witch-hunt’s primary method, the conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism, absolutely explicit.
That is the entire intellectual basis of the current witch-hunt, which operates solely on conflating the anti-Zionism of Tony Greenstein with antisemitism. … I have yet to encounter any (antisemitism) in Scotland.”
Antisemitism can even be justified, provided that its proponents hate Jews for the ‘right’ reasons:
“If antisemitism is hating Jews for being born Jewish, then, of course, that kind of hatred must be opposed because it is utterly vile. However, if you oppose the support of many Jews for Israel, that is an entirely different matter.
Everyone should read ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’ by Professor Ilan Pappe of Exeter University, himself an Israeli Jew. It is clear from his research that violent ethnic cleansing and racism were absolutely integral and necessary for the creation of a Jewish state. So, if you are a supporter of Israel, you condone racism and violent ethnic cleansing.” (23/04/16)
In fact, for some contributors to the SNP FoP Facebook page anyone who supports Israel’s right to exist is automatically deemed to be a racist:
“I’m afraid to say that the British Political and Media establishment (including leading members of the Labour Party and the ‘Guardian’) condone racism.
If you ‘support Israel’s right to exist’, if you support the ‘right of the Jewish People to self-determination’ you must also support the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 human beings in 1948. It is as simple as that.” (18/04/16)
Equating support for Israel’s right to exist with racism is a ‘logical’ consequence of the way in which Israel is portrayed and defined as uniquely evil in contributions to the SNP FoP Facebook page.
That portrayal and that definition go well beyond the parameters of ‘robust criticism’:
“Our only home has been made into a trap, prison and concentration camp, complete with seven decades of rampant barbaric extermination and torture upon the innocent natives by the blood-stained hands of Israel.” (27/04/16)
“Britain and America support Israel. This shower of shit are worse than ISIS. They murder and torture Palestinians and they have been at it for longer.” (06/09/16)
“Israhell is a state run by apartheid gangsters. How can the Zionist illegal occupiers act like the landowners? Go back to Europe where you belong, Israhell! … Shame on you, the filthiest state on this planet!” (01/05/16)
A comment posted on the occasion of a visit to Israel by a delegation of Scottish Tories (“Scottish Zionists, shameless and abhorrent”) made clear that such hostility is directed not just at Israel’s state policies but at its population as well:
“All the people I despise will be in one place then.” (06/08/16)
The antisemitic dissolution of the distinction between the perpetrators and the victims of the Holocaust is also a regular feature of contributions to the SNP FoP Facebook page:
“The Zionists are building up for more slaughter to be unleashed upon the Palestinian race. Disgusting immoral acts carried out by evil savages. Their desire to obliterate Palestinians cannot be denied, no matter how many times they say the opposite. The world needs to waken up to the new Nazis.” (06/09/16)
“They learned their tactics from the Nazis, but have forgotten that the ultimate result was defeat.” (01/09/16)
“Their paranoia about young children and torturing them and imprisoning them for longer than the evil Zionist bastard who incinerated a young boy’s parents and baby brother says it all about these modern-day Nazis.” (04/08/16)
“I’ve just been to Berlin and quite rightly seen so many images and read lots of text about the history of what happened to the innocent Jewish people. Sadly, when I was in Palestine. I witnessed many things from history repeating itself.” (19/04/16)
A comprehensive programme of boycott, disinvestments and sanctions against Israel is promoted by posts on the Facebook page as the appropriate political response to “the filthiest state on this planet”:
“Jews all over the world need to know that their murderous project in Israel is unacceptable. They have the best chance of reigning in Natty’s death squads. For the rest of us, we have BDS.” (28/04/16)
“Don’t listen to Israhell, keep on boycotting, disinvesting, condemning Israhell!” (04/03/16)
“Buy nothing from these apartheid murdering scum!” (25/02/16)
“Bargepoles at the ready, and take your reading glasses to the shops.” (25/02/16)
The SNP FoP is not a fringe organisation. Launched in mid-2015, it has the support of 29 of the SNP’s 54 MPs. Two MPs and two MSPs are members of its National Executive Committee. Its Facebook page is peppered with pictures of MPs and MSPs signing its statement “I’m a Friend of Palestine”.
The campaign can argue that not all the offending posts come from actual members of the SNP FoP. This is true. In fact, some of the worst posts appear to come from ‘Palestine solidarity’ activists outside of the SNP who have ‘discovered’ the SNP FoP Facebook page.
The SNP FoP might escape criticism for hosting some of these posts on its Facebook page if it used the less repellent ones as an opportunity to open up an argument about what is wrong with their politics.
But the campaign does not do that. And even such challenges as there are to the contents of some of the posts are given short shrift: “Take yer Zionist-fascist shit elsewhere.” (04/08/16)
As a result, the SNP FoP Facebook page ends up as an echo chamber for a collection of antisemitic tropes masquerading as ‘legitimate criticism’ of Israel:
Rich and powerful Jews; behind-the-scenes control of politicians and governments by the Jewish/Israeli lobby; equations of Israel with Nazi Germany; a denial of Israel’s right to exist, and a blanket dismissal of the bona fides of allegations of antisemitism.
According to SNP MP Stewart McDonald, a founder member of the SNP FoP:
“These worst excesses (of ‘naked antisemitism emerging in its vilest form’) have not been seen in the SNP Friends of Palestine but we must be constantly vigilant. Most antisemitism is not overt, relying on ancient tropes which are easily recycled into the modern age of memes and viral media.”
McDonald is someone who does not counterpose Palestinian national rights to Israeli national rights. In fact, he is currently being denounced by some of his erstwhile allies for supporting the creation of SNP Friends of a Two-States Solution.
But there certainly seems to have been a shortfall in the “constant vigilance” which he rightly advocates.
One of the speakers secretly filmed by Channel 4’s Dispatches (for the programme that went out on Monday 19 September), responds:
Comrade Coatesy comments, here
From Tendance Coatsey:
The US Socialist Worker (long divorced from its British parent, and the paper of the International Socialist Organization, ISO) has carried an important debate on Syria in the last week.
THE SYRIAN Revolution has tested the left internationally by posing a blunt question: Which side are you on? Do you support the popular struggle against dictatorship and for democracy? Or are you with Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime, his imperial backer Russia, his regional ally Iran and Iran’s proxies like Hezbollah from Lebanon?
Tragically, too many have failed this test.
From the very beginning of Syria’s revolution–even before the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front some years later–a whole section of the left opposed the popular uprising against the Assad dictatorship that began in early 2011, part of the Arab Spring wave of popular rebellions against dictatorship and repression.
Since then, they have turned a blind eye to Assad’s massacre of some 400,000 Syrians, and his regime’s use of barrel bombs, chemical weapons and barbaric sieges of cities like Aleppo. Today, 11 million people–half the country’s population–have been displaced, with the Assad regime responsible for the lion’s share of the death and destruction.
The author criticises the “campist” belief that, ” there is only one imperialist power in the world–the U.S.–and that it is an all-powerful manipulator of international events.”
The U.S. does remain the world’s dominant imperialist power, but as a result of its failed war in Iraq and other factors, it has suffered a relative decline in strength. Washington is now challenged internationally by imperialist rivals like China and Russia, as well as regional powers. In this new imperial order, the U.S. is less capable of controlling world events–it fears popular revolt all the more.
This is perhaps a more specifically US stand,
The campist misreadings, however, have led them to the conclusion that the U.S. government is pulling the strings in the rebellion in Syria. Some have gone so far as to argue–absurdly–that the U.S. backs ISIS against Assad. Ironically, this puts the campists in agreement with Donald Trump, who, in his latest ravings, claims that Obama and Clinton were “founders” of ISIS.
One of the most striking paragraphs is the following,
A genuine internationalist left must stand with Syria’s popular resistance to Assad, which began as a nonviolent uprising against the dictatorship–and against intervention by American and Russian imperialism, as well as by the region’s main powers.
This stands in clear contrast to the entire strategy of groups in the UK, notably the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) , which claims not to “take sides”.
The STWC’s John Rees’ states,
The STWC has never supported the Assad regime. Just as we never supported the Taliban, Saddam Hussein or Colonel Gaddafi. Only in the minds of ‘them or us’ pretend patriots does the opposition to our own government’s wars mean support for dictators or terrorists. Our case has always been that war will worsen the problem and not solve it. We were right in that analysis in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
There is no group, in other words, that they do stand with.
This is Smith’s conclusion,
No one committed to solidarity with the Syrian struggle can align themselves with either wing of the U.S. imperial establishment. Instead, the left must reject imperialism in any form, including Russia’s.
Rather than look to imperialist powers or dictatorial regimes in either camp, the left should stand for workers’ struggle across borders and in defense of oppressed nations and their fight for self-determination.
In Syria, the revolution has suffered a defeat for the time being. While civil society activists continue to seize every opportunity to assert their goals, their forces have been ravaged by counterrevolution–in the form of the Syria regime and its international allies on the one hand, and the Nusra Front and ISIS, which was particularly eager from the start to target the rebels than regime forces, on the other.
But as Gilbert Achcar argues in his book Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising, this setback, however devastating, comes amid a long period of revolutionary crisis in Syria and the whole region.
The task of the international left today is to oppose intervention by any of the imperialist and regional powers, reject the tyranny of the Assad regime itself, demand the opening of the borders to those fleeing the violence and chaos, collaborate with Syrian revolutionaries–and win people away from campism to the politics of international solidarity from below.
There is nothing specific about the Kurdish YPD and their alliances, nothing specific about the very special threat to progressives and democrats posed by Islamic State, – with all the international echoes that Jihadism poses.
Some will welcome (despite scepticism about how it will work out) US backing for the democratic Kurdish forces and be concerned about Turkish intervention.
Others will point to the specific threat created by the Jihaist genociders of Daesh and the international volunteers for their death squads not least from Europe.
The debate that the article has caused has unfortunately focused on the role of the US rather than such issues. One reader commented, ” “Assad must go!” is the mantra not of the left, but of the Western imperialists.” Another states, “no to U.S. militarism being used to put in place a government that becomes a U.S. pawn.”
Perhaps the UK SWP reflects this debate by publishing the following today,
The US, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and all the others must keep their hands off Syria.
All support given to the Baas [Assad] regime must be stopped in order for the war to come to an end.
The Syrian people must decide their own future.
Turkey must immediately cease military operations in Syria, stop its enmity against the Kurds, and open its borders to Syrian refugees.
We call all the revolutionary Syrian forces to unify their struggle against: the dictatorship, the foreigners regional and imperialist interventions, and against the reactionary forces.
We believe that the victory of Syrian people on all these counter revolutionary forces, demand the unity of all the revolutionary forces of all the Syrians.
Long live peace, long live the revolution!
Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party (Turkey)
Revolutionary Left Current (Syria)
Now the this Blog has serious disagreements with the ISO, not least on issues which cross over to this searing problem, such as its refusal to back secularists, like the French ligue de droits de l’homme, in France, against both Islamist and Nationalist-racist bigotry.
But this debate is highly welcome.
Details on quite how anybody is going to stop foreign intervention in Syria and help the Syrian democratic cause win is perhaps too much to ask.
Anyone who seriously believes that there could be something – anything – remotely progressive about Brexit, or who harbours illusions about a possible “lexit” (like these idiots), should watch this:
The Guardian‘s Lucia Graves reports:
“On 23 June, the people of Britain voted to declare their independence – which is what we’re looking to do also, folks! – from international government,” Trump told his audience in Jackson, Mississippi.
Jackson is a place where the memory of the Confederacy is still fresh, and as such a curious one in which to be touting a second independence day, of sorts. But such white nationalist fervour seemed to play well with the overwhelmingly white crowd assembled in the largely black city on Wednesday night.
The architects of Brexit like to frame the vote as a righteous backlash against powerful elites. As Farage put it on Wednesday: “You can beat the pollsters. You can beat the commentators … Anything is possible if enough decent people are prepared to stand up against the establishment.”
According to this oft trotted-out framing, Trump’s reviled Washington establishment is a parallel for Farage’s European Commission. But the hyper-focus on anti-elitism obscures the far less righteous xenophobia, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment that were also elements of the leave campaign
See also: Left Foot Forward, This should end the claim that UKIP is not racist
BBC Radio 4 The Briefing Room on Trump’s shock troops, the ‘Alt Right’
Comrade Dave writes:
I was reading this Hope not Hate post about Anjem Choudry who has been sent down for recruiting for Daesh.
What leapt out at me was some of the quotes sound familiar. They are pretty close, in fact share the language, to bits of the left when talking about the middle east or ‘anti imperialist’ regimes.
‘Blame the west’, tell barefaced lies about how tolerant a regime is, then justify its oppressiveness anyway article:
“What the policy of the West has always been is to divide and rule. What they want to say is that these people are extreme, so support the others so as to cause factions to fight with each other. But, in fact, if you look at the history of the Caliphate, even if you look now in the area controlled by the Islamic State, the Jews, the Muslims and the Christians are living side by side in security. It is not true that people are being slaughtered. Those people who are allied with the previous regime or those who are fighting against the Muslims, certainly they will be fought against.”
The blowback article.
“If you look at the death of James Foley,” he said, “you only have to listen to the person who is executing him to know that the blame is the Americans’ because of their own foreign policy. The fact is that decades of torture, cruelty and mass murder will have repercussions.”
The intimation that someone killed in appalling circumstances is an American agent without actually saying it:
“Now,” he added, “I don’t know anything about these journalists, why they were there, whether they were spying or in fact part of the military. Often it turns out that people have other roles as well.”
This was for the ‘kuffar’ press. His stuff for Islamist audiences differed. But he had learnt all the stock anti imperialist and cultural relativist arguments from the kitsch left and recycled them.
Meanwhile running a global propaganda and recruitment network for Daesh.
Above: Walker puts her case on RT (aka Putin TV)
Sean Matgamna has argued persuasively, here, that anti-Semitism in the Labour Party should generally be dealt with by argument and education, not disciplinary measures.
I would, personally, make an exception for Ken Livingstone, whose long record of Jew-baiting is such that he should be expelled.
The case of Jackie Walker is much less clear-cut, based as it is (or was – she’s now been reinstated), on some ambiguous comments made in the course of a private Facebook exchange with friends. Nevertheless, the comments do give cause for concern, especially this:
“As I’m sure you know, millions more Africans were killed in the African holocaust and their oppression continues today on a global scale in a way it doesn’t for Jews …
“Many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean. So who are victims and what does it mean? We are victims and perpetrators to some extent through choice”
As a comrade commented to me, “I would ask, what is the relevance of Jewish slave-traders in the 17th century to anti-semitism today? I genuinely don’t understand what point Jackie was trying to make.
“That may be partly because I haven’t seen the whole conversation the comments were part of, but could someone explain what the point was? The only interpretation I can see is that the role of Jews in slavery somehow mitigates anti-semitism today. If that’s not the point, then what was it? I’d be very happy to have it explained”.
The participation of some Jews in the slave trade was, of course, terrible (as anyone’s participation was), but actually relatively minor. Jackie Walker’s ignorant comments (she claims, just about her own family, but quite obviously aimed at Jews as a whole) suggest that Jews played a leading role (as “chief financiers”) in the slave trade, which warrants special mention to this day. This argument is usually based upon the spurious “research” of the US Nation of Islam and/or various neo-Nazis.
And, certainly, the gloating of various obvious anti-Semites since Walker’s reinstament should give leftists and anti-racists some pause for thought:
I have just received a leaflet from the Birmingham branch of Socialist Resistance, advertising a meeting entitled ‘Fight antisemitism – Fight Zionism’. The speaker is Roland Rance, and one side of the leaflet carries a statement supposedly (*) from him:
Roland Rance, a socialist Jew and anti-Zionist writes:
The current controversy over alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party comes from a convergence of several different forces: apologists for Israeli, always keen to denounce supporters of Palestinian rights; the Labour right, looking for any stick with which to beat Corbyn and the left; and the Tories and their press supporters, desperate to prevent a Corbynled Labour victory. It is no coincidence that this issue burst into public during an election campaign marked by outright racism and Islamophobia.
These attacks are rooted in a continuing campaign to change the meaning of the term anti-Semitism, to include anti-Zionism, or even opposition to Israeli policies and practices. We must be clear on this: anti-Semitism, like all forms of racism, has no place on the left, or in society as a whole. Zionism is itself a racist ideology, and anti-Zionism is a legitimate political position. We should also bear in mind that an increasing number of Jews oppose Zionism and very many Zionists (probably the majority) are actually not Jewish, but fundamentalist Christians.
The targets of the current attacks (some of whom are themselves Jews) are not antisemites. Some of them may have been guilty of clumsy phrasing or thoughtless responses; but they are not anti-Jewish racists. Most of the attacks are based on comments on social media, some dating back years; it is evident that there has been a systematic trawl through people’s previous activities.
We must resist this. We call for free speech on Israel, and an end to the witch-hunt. We oppose racism, whether directed at Jews, at Muslims, or at any other community. And we stand firmly alongside the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation and justice.
The leaflet also carries this cartoon by the, err, “controversial” cartoonist Carlos Latuff:
So there we have it: according to Socialist Resistance, antisemitism “has no place on the left” and, indeed, as proof of that statement, it simply does not exist on the left! All allegations of antisemitism come from “apologists for Israeli … the Labour right … and the Tories”.
None of the individuals recently accused of antisemitism are guilty, and anti-Zionism cannot ever be antisemitic. As a result of these false allegations, free speech itself is now at stake!
In other words, “nothing to see here, comrades, move on!”
* in fairness to Roland Rance, I note that the wording of the leaflet seems to be loosely based upon a much longer and more nuanced article by him on the Socialist Resistance website, that does very reluctantly admit that in one or two isolated and extreme cases antisemites have “infiltrated” the left and the pro-Palestinian movement. It’s a politically weak and evasive article, but nowhere near as bad as the appalling drivel put out under his name, by his comrades in Birmingham.
Jonathan Steel, the former Moscow correspondent of the Guardian, is one of a group of foreign correspondents (Robert Fisk and Patrick Coburn being two other notables) who use their professional reputations to boost Putin, Assad the Iranian regime and Hezbullah. Naturally, they are much beloved of the “anti-imperialist” liberal-left, conspiracy theorists everywhere and the so-called Stop The War Coalition.
Steele once accused Muslims who opposed Islamist rule in Tunisia of ‘Islamophobia’. He’s also written a spirited defense of the ‘tragically misunderstood’ Robert Mugabe and has even urged the West to make nice towards the regime in North Korea. Not surprisingly considering the ideological package he shows fealty towards, he’s also warned darkly of the Zionist influence on the U.S. media.
Like Fisk, Coburn, Tariq Ali and Seymour Hersh, Steele is a contributor to the London Review of Books, which seems to favour their brand of pro-Putin apologia in its political coverage. An article by Steel in the 21 April 2016 issue of the LRB, though superficially objective and even scholarly, in fact gave pretty much uncritical support to the official Russian version of events in Syria.
However, a letter in the present issue of the LRB from former International Marxist Group member Brian Slocock puts Steele in his place with regards to the real human cost and the true political objective of Putin’s bombing campaign; a letter from one Omar Naqib on Steele’s claim that the US and French military campaigns in Syria had ‘no basis in international law’ is also worth reading:
Putin in Syria
Jonathan Steele seems intent on downplaying the extent of civilian casualties resulting from Russia’s intensive bombing of Syria (LRB, 21 April). He cites an article published in the German news magazine Focus on 5 March, which reported that a leaked Nato document characterised the Russian bombing as ‘precise and efficient’. ‘Precise and efficient’ at doing what? Steele doesn’t tell us, but the Focus article does: it tells us that the Nato document calculates that only 20 per cent of Russian sorties were directed at Islamic State targets, then goes on to quote the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights to the effect that Russian operations resulted in more than 1700 deaths, including those of 423 children.
Steele draws on another source – Airwars – for data on the victims of coalition bombings, but passes over its monitoring of Russian operations. In a report entitled ‘Reckless Disregard for Civilian Lives’, Airwars estimates that from 30 September to 31 December, ‘between 1098 and 1450 non-combatants died in 192 separate Russian events.’ Russia has, it says, ‘systematically targeted civilian neighbourhoods and civilian infrastructure – including water plants, wells, marketplaces, bakeries, food depots and aid convoys … Russia and the coalition report carrying out a similar number of armed sorties. Yet civilian fatalities from Russian strikes were six times higher … more civilians appear to have been killed by Russia in the three months to 31 December than from all credibly reported coalition civilian fatality events since August 2014.’
Carrying the body count forward to February this year, the Violations Documentation Centre (the statistical source of choice for serious Syria-watchers) produces a final figure of 1989 civilian deaths, 486 of them children, as a result of the Russian bombing campaign.
Jonathan Steele writes that before obtaining UN Security Council backing, the United States and France’s initial military campaigns in Syria had ‘no basis in international law’. In fact both governments notified the Security Council that they were acting in defence of Iraq, which had requested their assistance to eradicate IS safe havens in northern Syria. The US also claimed it was acting in self-defence even though, unlike Iraq, it had never been attacked by Islamic State.
Although controversial, there is growing recognition in international law that states can (and do) use force in self-defence against terrorist groups operating out of countries whose governments are unwilling or unable to neutralise the group themselves. In justifying its operation, the US referred to the Assad government’s inability to tackle IS.
This right is by no means universally accepted, but a key indicator of whether a right exists in international law is how other states react when a government asserts the right in question: the only countries that objected to the legality of the US and French campaigns were Syria’s allies, Iran and Russia.
Jon Lansman, long-standing Labour leftist and founder-member of Momentum, has written a piece for Left Futures blog, arguing that the left’s habitual use of the word “Zionism” is unhelpful and counter-productive.
The latter part of his article is good. But much of the article – inconsistently with the latter part – seems to suggest no more than a change of language (don’t say Zionist – say Israeli nationalist).
The problem with that becomes clear when he quotes Jacqueline Rose’s suggestion that instead of saying Zionism equals apartheid, people should say: Israeli nationalism equals apartheid. Would it be acceptable, by analogy, to say: German nationalism (necessarily) equals the Holocaust?
And the upshot of ‘Israeli nationalism equals apartheid’ is no different from the upshot of ‘Zionism equals apartheid’, i.e. boycott Israel.
Rose was one of the instigators of the academic boycott. There’s a lot of articles explaining what’s wrong with her politics on the Engage website.
Lansman also buys into the Rose/Lerman line of drawing a distinction between good (or potentially good) diaspora Jewry and bad Israeli Jewry. Hence his claim that “British Zionists are a world apart from Israeli Zionists”. But still, it’s a thoughtful article that reaches at least one correct conclusion: the left should stop using the word “Zionism” as a pejorative.
By Jon Lansman
There is every justification for talking about the rights of Palestinians, for campaigning against the profound injustice that has been done to them and for criticising the actions and policies of the Israeli government but there is no defence for antisemitism, whoever makes the accusation. As the Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG) has rightly argued, “accusations of antisemitism are currently being weaponised to attack the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party with claims that Labour has a “problem” of antisemitism.” A group of Jews also wrote to the Guardian this week to add that:
The tiny number of cases of real antisemitism need to be dealt with, but we are proud that the Labour party historically has been in the forefront of the fight against all forms of racism.”
But one of them, David Rosenburg, a leading member of the JSG, also argued on the same day that in spite of efforts to “to deconstruct the ‘problem with antisemitism’“:
Ken Livingstone’s crass intervention yesterday was a massive setback for those efforts, and a free gift to those manipulating the issue for right wing purposes….
My plea to fellow anti-racist, anti-Zionist, socialist activists is: don’t waste any of your precious time today trying to rationalise, defend or explain away Livingstone’s comments, but concentrate on challenging the terms of the debate as set by the right-wing alliance that are exploiting this whole issue.
- Concentrate on how to persuade and split off those who are genuinely worried about rising antisemitism from those exploiting the issues;
- Concentrate on showing how the Left can demonstrate that the fight against antisemitism is tied up with the fight against all racism including Islamophobia;
- Concentrate on exposing how those feigning sympathy for Jews are implicated in racism against others; and
- Concentrate on ways to ensure free speech and rational debate about the realities of what Zionism and Israeli policy is enacting daily against the Palestinians.
So how do we achieve that? I would argue that it is time for the Left to start talking in a new language – one that expresses our views about Israel, about the policies and actions of its government and about the rights of Palestinians without alienating any of those who might agree with us. It is not necessary to abandon any non-racist criticisms of Israel, however robust they may be, in order to do so.
Why is a new language necessary: because British Jews, most of whom support a Palestinian state (71%), and see the expansion of settlements as a major obstacle to peace (75%) and feel a sense of despair when they are expanded (68%) generally see themselves as “Zionists” (59%) with more who also “possess some traditionally ‘Zionist’ attitudes“) – all figures from The Attitudes of British Jews towards Israel). Zionism takes many forms, and British Zionists (at least those who are Jewish) are a world apart from Israeli Zionists. In Israel, tragically, a plurality of Jews (48% versus 46%) believe “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel” and disagree that “a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully with each other” (45% to 43%) – data from Pew Research Center.
Like Didi Herman at Critical Legal Thinking, Professor of Law at Kent Law School and a Jew who used to describe herself as an anti-zionist but does no longer, I therefore think the Left should stop talking about “Zionism” or “Zionists”. As Herman argues:
Zionism has become a dirty word for many on the left. It has become synonymous with Israel itself, the racist practices of the Israeli state.”
Herman quotes Jacqueline Rose, a Professor of English Literature (whose views on Israel have – completely unreasonably – been described as an “anti-semitic anti-Zionism” by Avner Falk) arguing that “Zionism emerged out of the legitimate desire of a persecuted people for a homeland” and, in spite of her opposition to what she calls “the ‘blood and soil’ form that zionism eventually took in Israel” she also says:
I am not happy, to put it at its most simple, to treat Zionism as an insult. A dirty word”
There is, Herman argues, “a stark reluctance amongst left scholars… to take the history and psychology of Jewish communal survival seriously” and continues:
The identification of a generic Zionism with nothing but racist practice in Israel entrenches an understanding of zionism not just as a dirty word, but as a pariah form of thinking unrelated to any other (except apartheid thinking).”
Far better she says to “use ‘Israeli nationalists’ or ‘Israeli fundamentalists’ or better yet ‘Netanyahu’s regime’ “:
These alternatives won’t provide an easy shorthand in the way ‘Zionism’ does, for example, ‘Israeli nationalism = apartheid’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it, but I suppose that is my point — easy options often sacrifice understanding for rhetorical force.”
Abandoning use of the term “Zionist” will not be enough on its own. There needs to be clarity, guidance and even training about what is appropriate. Unfortunately, we will not be able to have a rational debate about how to change the terms of the current debate unless we are also able to open our minds to the possibility, regardless of who points it out or their motive for doing so, that people on the left may also demonstrate some prejudice of their own.
So consider this by John Rees of Stop the War whose comment was shared on the Young Jewish Left closed Facebook page — copied because “it needs some comment“:
Was rung up this evening by some semi-educated BBC producer asking if I’d come on and debate a troll on the issue of ‘Is the left anti-Semitic?‘ I said that as a follower of the most famous political Jew of the 19th century and the most famous political Jew of the 20th century, and as someone who learnt my anti-Zionist politics from a Palestinian Jew called Ygael Gluckstein, it was an insult to even ask me that question. And that as someone who has opposed the fascists, especially when their main target was Jews not, as it is now, Muslims I’m not participating in a debate whose purpose is to demonise the left.”
Julia Bard, another leading member of the JSG who signed the Guardian letter, commented:
I can see why he might not have wanted to participate in the debate on the terms offered, but to imply that being a follower of Karl Marx or Tony Cliff, who were Jewish, somehow immunises him against antisemitism, comes perilously close to “Some of my best friends are Jews.”
And to assert that because the Left is committed to anti-racism, no one within it is susceptible to a powerful racist ideology with centuries-long roots in European culture, would suggest that socialist movements (or at least those with the correct line) are populated by paragons of political virtue who have no need to think about or change their views on anything. Does anyone (including John Rees) actually think this? If so, we’ve got more of a problem than I thought.
Come on, comrades. You have nothing to lose but your counter-productive slogans.