This appeared in the Morning Star on Saturday. Given the Star‘s habit of publishing letters and articles by ‘absolute’ anti-Zionists, one-staters and anti-Semites (despite its theoretical commitment to two states in Israel/Palestine) and Corbyn’s history of associating (albeit unknowingly) with anti-Semites and of calling Hizbollah and Hamas “friends”, this is tremendously encouraging:
The new party leader and his pro-Palestinian views both had a surprisingly friendly reception from the group, found SHLOMO ANKER
BEFORE Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour Party leader, there was talk of tension within the party — especially from the right-wing media. People suggested that some in the party would even leave and form a SDP style split.
So the reaction of the pro-Israel lobby group Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) is interesting, especially with so much discussion of Corbyn’s views on the Middle East and his record of being very sympathetic to the Palestinians.
At the Labour Party conference, LFI had two main events and its reaction to Corbyn was surprising. Instead of fostering tension and paranoia towards him, the atmosphere was positive and Jewish Labour members both in and outside of LFI are really starting to warm to him. Or to put it another way: Jewish Labour members realise that what the media has said about Corbyn is not true.
One LFI event was a broad discussion about a two-state solution. The speakers in general only spoke in defence of Israel, which included the usual exaggeration of the threat from Iran. It was disappointing that the oppression of the Palestinians was hardly mentioned.
In the discussion afterwards I decided to commment on the suffering of those in Gaza. The reaction I received was unexpected. Instead of people being upset with me, the Chair of LFI, Joan Ryan MP, very much liked my question and the organisers even came to shake my hand.
Pro-Palestinian activists later asked challenging questions and the organisers and pro-Israel members of the audience enjoyed the discussion — although one woman with a Free Palestine badge did get upset with the replies and walked out of the meeting.
The second event for LFI was their annual reception where high-level members of the Labour Party come to drink, eat and discuss the Middle East.
LFI invited plenty of people involved in Labour Friends of Palestine, as well as Corbyn and Hilary Benn. They both spoke alongside Errel Margalit (an Israeli Knesset member) and the deputy ambassdor of Israel. In his speech, Corbyn called for the end of the siege of Gaza but also praised the Jewish community for its work in defending refugees.
The Telegraph and the Times reported on this event but only mentioned a heckler who shouted “Oi oi, say the word Israel!” after Corbyn’s speech. The newspapers forgot to mention that the heckler had partaken heavily in the wine served at the event and is well known as a bit of an “eccentric” who gets so agitated that even the Daily Mail had an article on his bad behaviour.
The improvement of relations between Corbyn and LFI is partly down to the most pro-Israel of all the Labour MPs, Luciana Berger, being appointed to the shadow cabinet. Luciana was formerly the chair of LFI and unlike other pro-Israel voices in the parliamentary party, she is actually Jewish.
But I should not exaggerate. LFI still has strong disagreements with Corbyn and in my opinion LFI’s work needs reform.
Their priority seems to be mainly about Israel’s national security and they do not do enough to stand up for Palestinians.
The rank and file people in LFI are often peace activists but the speakers they invite at events tend to not be as left-wing.
Although while LFI are not supporters of Netanyahu and do formally oppose the occupation, the brutal reality of the occupation is generally not talked about at their events.
I wish that LFI could reform and be focused on peace activism and not on defending the actions of the Israeli military and sometimes its government.
Yet I must also criticise Labour Friends of Palestine too. I spoke with Graeme Morris MP who is the chair of the group and he seemed pessimistic about working with LFI. While he may be right about politics and is a charming fellow, Labour Friends of Palestine need to reach out more to LFI and begin to organise more joint events which will improve relations.
If we are going to have peace and justice in the Middle East, let us at least start with friendship between these two sides within the Labour Party.
Corbyn on Israel/Palestine: for a “safe and viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and viable Israel.”
The following statement appears on the Stop The War Coalition’s website, which is of significance because the leadership of STWC stand for the total destruction of Israel and oppose a two states solution. Corbyn’s past record of speaking at STWC events and calling Hamas and Hesbollah “friends” might suggest that he shares their anti-Semitic perspective. The statement we republish below suggests otherwise and the phrase “a safe and viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and viable Israel” can only mean two states. In my view Corbyn needs to be a great deal more forthright and plain-spoken about his support for two states, and also needs to disavow his past warm words for Hamas and Hesbollah. But still, this statement is welcome and (hopefully) will reassure some comrades who’ve been reluctant to support Corbyn because of his record of softness on various anti-Semitic organisations internationally and in Britain (writes JD):
In July 2015, Jeremy Corbyn, candidate for the Labour Party leadership, published this statement about the Palestinian people and their continuing oppression by the Israeli state.
Peace: Support a viable peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, based on internationally recognised (1967) borders.
I am absolutely committed to a meaningful peace process between Israelis and Palestinians and that has to be one based on the 1967 borders. I am proud to have been one of the first politicians prepared to engage in dialogue with Irish republicans about a peace process in Northern Ireland in the 1980’s. The ultimate success of that process has ensured a lasting peace there. The recent re-election of Binyamin Netanyhu and the right-wing coalition he now leads presents major challenges to the prospects for peace in the Middle East. That must not deter us. With the stakes for conflagration in the Middle East increasing, all the more reason for a Labour Leader to redouble their efforts to facilitate a peace process. I would be such a Leader.
Palestinian Statehood: Reaffirm the Labour party’s commitment to the recognition of a safe and viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and viable Israel.
Last October parliament made a historic decision to recognize the state of Palestine. As Labour Leader I would not only reaffirm that decision, I would seek to build on it by lobbying support for Palestinian statehood in the international community. This recognition is not only essential for establishing the principle of equality between Israeli and Palestinian, it is also in the long term interests of the sovereignty of Israel that we end the double standards whereby Israeli rights to nationhood are recognized, but Palestinian rights are denied.
Human Rights: Oppose violations of international human rights law, in particular the detention of children and detention of political prisoners without trial.
I share the growing concern over the failure to stop Israel’s violation of international human rights law. Add to that the impact of the blockade in Gaza, the random and arrest without trail of civilians including children, and the harassment and humiliation of Palestinians as they go about their everyday life, it is clear that human rights violations are fuelling the conflict. These concerns are shared by respected and courageous Israeli human rights organisations like Breaking the Silence, Gush Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights and B’tselem and international organisations like Save the Children and Oxfam. It is wrong that we continue to sell arms to Israel and I fully support the calls for an arms embargo. As Labour Leader I will be consistent on human rights at home and abroad.
The Wall: Oppose the continued construction of the Separation Wall on Palestinian land, a direct contravention of international law.
While I support Israel’s right to safeguard its citizens I agree with the views of many Israeli human rights organisations that the route of the Separation Wall is designed to annex Palestinian land and undermine chances for a future peace settlement. In addition, it has adverse effects on Palestinian human rights by restricting movements, increasing difficulties in accessing medical and education services and water supplies. The recent decision of Israel’s top court to block the planned extension of the wall through the historic Cremisan valley is a positive development and evidence that campaigning and international pressure can work. We need to intensify that pressure.
The Blockade: End the siege on Gaza and ensure the free flow of aid and trade
I echo the calls of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWE) that the blockade must be lifted. It is now one of the longest blockades in history and it impact on the 1.76 million people who live in the Gaza strip, the vast majority of them refugees, has been to further improvise and already desperately poor, improvised people. That impact has worsened in the aftermath of the latest military assault on Gaza, hindering recovery and reconstruct. The blockade has failed and it is rightly perceived, both by the Palestinians and internationally, as a form of collective punishment on the entire Gazan population. It continuation only fuels bitterness and hatred. Its removal enhances peace.
Illegal Settlements: Call for a complete freeze on illegal settlement growth in order to save any hope for a viable two state solution, and end all trade and investment with illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory.
Both British and American governments have rightly criticised the illegal settlements. Not only are they in violation of international law but they a conscious policy to deliberately undermine any prospect of a viable Palestinian state and with it any two-state solution. It is clear the only hope to stop this policy is if the international community intensify pressure. To that end I fully support the call to end all trade and investments with the illegal settlements.
Largely written by Comrade Matt C, edited by JD:
A number of prominent individuals from the British film and arts world have signed a letter, published in yesterday’s Guardian, calling on cinemas to boycott the London Israeli Film and Television Festival:
The festival is co-sponsored by the Israeli government via the Israeli embassy in London, creating a direct link between these cinemas, the festival screenings and Israeli policies. By benefiting from money from the Israeli state, the cinemas become silent accomplices to the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people. Such collaboration and cooperation is unacceptable. It normalises, even if unintentionally, the Israeli government’s violent, systematic and illegal oppression of the Palestinians.
The signatories – some of whom are Jewish – include Peter Kosminsky, Mike Leigh, John Pilger, Ken Loach and Miriam Margolyes.
The festival’s organisers reply:
“Our festival is a showcase for the many voices throughout Israel, including Arab Israelis and Palestinians, as well as religious and secular groups. These are highly talented film-makers and actors, working together successfully, to provide entertainment and insight for film and television lovers internationally.
“Freedom of expression in the arts is something that the British have worked so hard to defend. An attempt to block the sharing of creative pursuits and the genuine exchange of ideas and values is a disappointing reaction to a festival that sets out to open up lines of communication and understanding.”
There are, I would suggest, two problems with the boycott call. First, it is based on confusion between the Israeli government and the Israeli state. Clearly, the two are not entirely separate but a distinction can be made between the government (that is the policy making executive) and the state more generally. The state obviously includes some institutions that socialists would wholeheartedly oppose: the military (as we do that of any other state, including our own), Mossad and institutions that reflect religious particularlism.
The Israeli state prioritises the rights of Jewish Israelis over Arab Israelis (and many other states, including Britain, have racist biases), but there are many things that the Israeli state does that are not directly linked to this, such as arts funding. To a degree, arts funding reflects the character of the state which is often not good (and this includes the British state). Nonetheless, many of those on the list are happy to take funding from the British state. So looking down the list: Mike Leigh for many years made dramas for the state-funded and ultimately stated-controlled BBC, and currently has a production of The Pirates of the Penzance running of the English National Opera (state funded through the Art Council); John Brissenden works for the state (Bournemouth University) and presumably accepts its funding for his PhD; Gareth Evans works curates at the Whitechapel Gallery which receives state funding, again via the Arts Council. I am sure the similar points could be made about most of the signatories.
No doubt the boycotters would reply that they are not “silent accomplices” of the state (as those participating in the London Israeli Film and Television festival are styled in this letter), and their work is not a form of “collaboration” with it. They would argue, I guess, their work is not compromised by this funding, or at least that they fight against the states restrictions: is a reasonable defence. The arts and academic research frequently rely on a degree of support from the state, and this is in many ways preferable to the being reliant on the free market. But it would appear that the boycotters are not prepared to extend the same arguments to Israeli film makers whose work would be unlikely to be seen in this country without the sponsorship of the Israeli arts establishment (which means state support). The boycotters accept the sponsorship of their own (racist, militarist etc.) state but do not think that others (or uniquely, those in Israel) have the right to do the same.
The second question is: what are these people boycotting? The point is not whether anyone who opposes the policies of the Israeli state in Gaza and the West Bank would agree with all of the films being offered here. A socialist and consistent democrat should never be a left-wing censor allowing only views that they endorse to be aired. The only possible grounds for a supporter of free speech to oppose a cultural festival such as this is that it constitutes propaganda that is the cultural front of oppression (and even then, calling for it to be boycotted would be questionable approach). Looking at the brochure for the festival it is clearly not such a form of propaganda – even Fauda, a drama about Israeli undercover commandoes targeting a Hamas militant, runs with the current fashion of moral ambiguity rather than being a gung-ho adventure.
Other items on the programme more obviously address the human dimension of the Israeli-Palestine conflict (Dancing with Arabs, East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem) and the influence of religion on aspects of Israeli life, although many other offerings are more mainstream films and TV dramas.
It is certainly possible to criticise both the selection of material to be shown at the festival and the Israeli media industry behind it since there are no films, as far as I can see, made by Arab-Israeli film makers. But this is hardly the point. Rather, those who call for a boycott demand (it would seem, uniquely) that film makers from Israel should only be allowed to show their productions in Britain if they do so without any association with the state in which they live. Given the nature of cultural production and its reliance on state support, this is a call for a boycott of all but the most independent of film and TV producers and, in reality, amounts to a total boycott of all Israeli films and art. It is a ridiculous, reactionary stance that will do the Palestinian cause no practical good whatsoever, while alienating mainstream Jewish opinion in Britain and fuelling an insidious form of anti-Semitism that is becoming more and more “acceptable” in British liberal-left Guardianista circles. In truth, this boycott call (like the entire BDS campaign) only makes political sense if you wish for the ‘delegitimisation’ and, indeed, destruction, of the Israeli state: something that most of the signatories would, I’m pretty sure, deny they advocate.
The Guardian’s complacency over “absolute” anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism: an Open Letter to Alan Rusbridger
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.
Of course! I should have guessed! The You-Know-Who’s are behind it all …
Geoff Lee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign explains it all to you at the Stop The War Coalition website.
Displaying a remarkable non-understanding of international law, Lee writes that the US government “ordered” the Swiss authorities to arrest and extradite six FIFA officials to block the organization from expelling Israel from world football competition.
Never mind corruption, exploitation of foreign workers and stuff like that. It was all about the power of Israel over the US administration. (Well, at least it’s a change from the “Obama is throwing Israel under the bus” meme at the other extreme.)
It turns out there’s a history here, going back to 2011:
Former FIFA vice-president Warner blames Zionism for downfall
Jack Warner — the former president of CONCACAF, the continental confederation under FIFA headquartered in the United States — is among those charged with racketeering and bribery.
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 »
The announcement today of the death of Günter Grass brings to mind the late Prof Norm‘s wise words following the Israeli government’s decision to declare Grass persona non grata in the light of the poem published below. This row erupted in 2012 – six years after Grass confessed to having been drafted into the Waffen SS as a teenager.
What Must Be Said
by Günter Grass
But why have I kept silent till now?
Because I thought my own origins,
Tarnished by a stain that can never be removed,
meant I could not expect Israel, a land
to which I am, and always will be, attached,
to accept this open declaration of the truth.
Why only now, grown old,
and with what ink remains, do I say:
Israel’s atomic power endangers
an already fragile world peace?
Because what must be said
may be too late tomorrow;
and because – burdened enough as Germans –
we may be providing material for a crime
that is foreseeable, so that our complicity
wil not be expunged by any
of the usual excuses.
And granted: I’ve broken my silence
because I’m sick of the West’s hypocrisy;
and I hope too that many may be freed
from their silence, may demand
that those responsible for the open danger we face renounce the use of force,
may insist that the governments of
both Iran and Israel allow an international authority
free and open inspection of
the nuclear potential and capability of both.
Yesterday Eamonn McDonagh posted about the Israeli government’s decision to declare Günter Grass persona non grata. With the aid of a couple of counterfactual analogies, he argued that Israel was ‘entirely justified’ in excluding Grass from its territory for representing the country as a danger to world peace. As Eamonn also wrote:
There’s no reason for the victims of genocide and their descendants to feel themselves obliged to allow Grass or anyone with a similar history or views to enter their country to lecture them on their immorality and how they continue to pose, just like when he was a young man, a special danger to the world.
Also yesterday, Nick Cohen put up a post of contrary tendency. ‘The only legitimate reason for banning a writer or speaker’, Nick wrote, ‘is if his words will be a direct incitement to crime.’ It was, he added, an insulting assumption on the part of the Israeli government that its citizens ‘cannot listen to arguments they do not like and respond to them with better arguments’. This was a logic of censorship and cultural boycott:
To the Israeli government’s mind, Grass is wicked and therefore cannot be heard.
I have intimated here that the feature of Grass’s poem that was most repugnant was not the world peace stuff but his suggestion that Israel might be contemplating an attack on Iran which could wipe out the Iranian people – so making the Jewish state, on the basis of nothing but his own fancy, an agent of nuclear annihilation. In any case, in what follows I shall argue – though not in this order – that the Israeli government should not have banned Günter Grass as persona non grata; but that Eamonn is right (subject to one reservation) and Nick is wrong on the fundamental principles at stake.
Let’s begin with the opinion of someone else altogether – Salman Rushdie, who said on Twitter:
OK to dislike, even be disgusted by #GünterGrass poem, but to ban him is infantile pique. The answer to words must always be other words.
This sounds good, and of course it’s only a tweet, which doesn’t allow room for contextualization and qualification; but it isn’t true. Generally it is a good principle to meet words with words, and governments certainly shouldn’t prohibit people’s views (unless they incite violence) simply on account of disliking them. But there are other ways that people may legitimately choose to deal with opinions they find odious: for example, they may decline to keep company with those who propagate such opinions, decline to host them in their homes, decline to publish their writings when they have this power of decision, and so forth. Not every exclusion of someone from a space – whether physical, literary or virtual – amounts to censorship.
A government should not ban opinions which don’t constitute incitement; but, to the best of my knowledge, the Israeli government has not done this with respect to Günter Grass’s views. It has not done it on its own territory, where presumably anyone is free to articulate those views, publicize them, support them, criticize them, or whatever; and it has not done it anywhere else for obvious reasons, since it does not have that authority. It has simply declared that Grass is no longer welcome in Israel – and this is a matter that Israel may, with perfect legitimacy, decide. When Eamonn says, therefore, that Israel has no obligation to admit Grass, he is right: as a country it has a definite right to decide on who is and who isn’t welcome to visit. This is not the same thing, however, as saying that Israel is entirely justified in excluding Grass. It has a right to exclude him, but there may be reasons why it should not do so nonetheless (reasons I will come to shortly). It’s the same as saying that someone has the right not to let another into her house, but that she was wrong on the specific occasion to insist on her right, because (say) the putative visitor was cold, wet and exhausted and needed shelter for a short spell to get out of the raging storm.
On the other hand, Nick’s ‘only legitimate reason for banning a writer or speaker’ – namely, direct incitement to crime – applies to the opinions that should be expressible within a government’s territorial jurisdiction, but not necessarily to the admissibility of persons. It strikes me as not at all unreasonable for national communities to decide that there are individuals whose ideological track record renders them unwanted as guests. At the same time, contrary to what Nick suggests, by the exclusion of Grass the Israeli government is not preventing its citizens from listening to arguments they do not like or suppressing Grass’s views. Neither is his exclusion from the country comparable to the logic of cultural boycotts. The latter target whole categories of people independently of anything they have done or of what they have said or may think, simply on the grounds of their national identity.
Why, then, do I say that the Israeli government is wrong to have declared Grass persona non grata? I say this because it has made it a matter of authoritative political decision who is welcome as a guest in Israel, when (or at any rate so I assume) it does not actually know whether there would be a national consensus to this effect. If it had security and intelligence reasons for the exclusion that it could not disclose, this would be a relevant consideration. But I cannot believe Israeli intelligence would back the view that a visit from Günter Grass could pose a serious threat to Israeli society or public order. In free and democratic polities, who may be invited into the country as a guest is generally left to private individuals and organizations. The interests of Israel would have been better served by leaving it so in the present case. If some group of Israelis should be stupid enough to think the opinions expressed in Grass’s latest ‘work’ are worth hearing out of his own mouth, then bevakasha, let them host him and enjoy the privilege of hearing him malign their country, just like numberless Jew-haters the world over, as exterminationist and genocidal. The political health and reputation of Israel will likely suffer less from indulging this stupidity than from putting in place a ban which may be entirely pointless anyway.
Veteran Israeli leftist and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement, Uri Avnery, gives a considered response to the recent Israeli election. Two points strike me: firstly, that this is much more pessimistic in tone than his immediate response, and – secondly – that the Morning Star (which also republished this article today) seriously and deliberately misrepresented what Avnery is saying, in they way they headlined and introduced the piece. Judge for yourselves, here. Below we reproduce Avnery’s piece exactly as he wrote it:
|The Israeli Salvation Front|
THE 2015 election was a giant step towards the self-destruction of Israel.
The decisive majority has voted for an apartheid state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, in which democracy will slowly disappear.
The decision is not yet final. Israeli democracy has lost a battle. It has not yet lost the war.
If it does not draw the lessons, it will lose the war, too.
All the justifications and alibis of the Israeli Left are useless. It’s the bottom line that counts.
The country is in existential danger. Not from the outside, but from the inside.
An Israel Salvation Front is needed now.
We have no other country.
FIRST OF ALL, the full extent of the debacle must be acknowledged and full responsibility must be taken.
The leaders who lost must go. In the struggle for the life of the state, there is no second opportunity.
The struggle between Isaac Herzog and Binyamin Netanyahu was a match between a lightweight boxer and a heavyweight.
The idea of a National Union government must be rejected and roundly condemned. In such a government, the Labor Party would again play the contemptible role of a fig leaf for the policy of occupation and oppression.
Now a new generation of leaders is needed, young, energetic and original.
THE ELECTION pitilessly exposed the deep chasms between the different sectors of Israeli society: Orientals, Ashkenazis, Arabs, “Russian”, orthodox, religious and more.
The Salvation Front must encompass all sectors.
Every sector has its own culture, its own traditions, its own faith(s). All must be respected. Mutual; respect is the foundation of the Israeli partnership.
The foundation of the Salvation Front needs a new authentic leadership that must emerge from all sectors.
The State of Israel belongs to all its citizens. No sector has exclusive ownership of the state.
The huge and growing gap between the very rich and the very poor, which largely parallels the gap between the ethnic communities, is a disaster for all of us.
The salvation of the state must be based on a return to equality as a basic value. A reality in which hundreds of thousands of children live under the poverty line is intolerable.
The income of the upper 0.01%, which reaches to the heavens, must be brought down to a reasonable level. The income of the lowest 10% must be raised to a humane level.
THE ALMOST total separation between the Jewish and the Arab parts of Israeli society is a disaster for both and for the state.
The Salvation Front must be based on both peoples. The chasm between them must be eliminated, for the good of both.
Empty phrases about equality and fraternity are not enough. They lack credibility.
There must come into being a sincere alliance between the democratic forces on both sides, not only in words but in actual daily cooperation in all areas.
This cooperation must find expression in frameworks of political partnership, joint struggles and regular joint meetings in all areas, based on respect for the uniqueness of each partner.
Only a permanent joint struggle can save Israeli democracy and the state itself.
THE HISTORIC conflict between the Zionist movement and the Palestinian Arab national movement now threatens both peoples.
The country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is the homeland of the two peoples. No war, oppression or uprising will change this basic fact.
If this conflict continues without end, it will endanger the existence of both peoples.
The one and only solution was and is their co-existence in two sovereign states: a free and independent State of Palestine side by side with the State of Israel.
The two-state solution is not a recipe for separation and divorce. On the contrary, it is a recipe for close co-existence.
The 1967 borders, with mutual agreed changes, are the basis of peace.
The co-existence of the two states in the joint homeland does necessitate frameworks of partnership at the highest level, as well as open borders for the movement of people and goods. It also needs solid security arrangements for the good of both peoples.
Jerusalem, open and unified, must be the capital of both states.
The painful tragedy of the Palestinian refugees must find its just solution, agreed upon by the two sides. This solution will include return to the Palestinian state, a limited symbolic return to Israel and the payment of generous compensation by international funds to all.
Israel and Palestine shall work together so as to achieve a return of Jewish property left in Arab countries or the payment of generous compensation.
The State of Palestine will keep its affinity with the Arab world. The state of Israel will keep its affinity with the Jewish people in the world. Each of the two states will have sole responsibility for its immigration policy.
The problem of the Jewish settlers in Palestine will find its solution in the framework of agreed border changes between the two states, the inclusion of some settlements in the Palestinian state with the agreement of the Palestinian government and the re-settlement of the rest of the settlers in Israel.
Both states shall cooperate in the creation of a democratic regional partnership, in the spirit of the “Arab Spring”, while resisting anarchy, terrorism and religious and nationalistic fanaticism throughout the region.
The masses of Israelis and Palestinians will not believe in the chances of peace and co-existence if there is no real and open partnership between the peace camps of both peoples.
To establish such a partnership, organizations and individuals of both sides must start right now to conduct joint political action, such as constant consultation and joint planning on all levels and in all areas.
THE JEWISH character of the State of Israel finds its expression in its culture and its affinity with the Jews throughout the world. It must not express itself in its interior regime. All citizens and all sectors must be equal.
The democratic forces within the Jewish and the Arab public must join hands and work together in their daily actions.
International pressure by itself will not save Israel from itself. The salvation forces must come from within.
World-wide pressure on Israel can and must assist the democratic forces in Israel, but cannot take their place.
BASIC VALUES do not change. However, the ways of talking about them with the public must change.
The old slogans are ineffective. The values must be re-defined and re-formulated in up-to-date language, in line with the concepts and language of a new generation.
The two-state vision was defined after the 1948 war by a small group of path-blazers. Since than, huge changes have taken place in the world, in the region and within Israeli society. While the vision itself remains the only practical solution of the historic conflict, it must be poured into new vessels.
There is a need for political unity, a unifying salvation front that brings together all the forces of peace, democracy and social justice.
If the Labor Party is able to re-invent itself from the bottom up, it can constitute the basis of this camp. If not, an entirely new political party must be formed, as the core of the Salvation Front.
Within this front, diverse ideological forces must find their place and engage in a fruitful internal debate, while conducting a unified political struggle for the salvation of the state.
The regime within Israel must assure complete equality between all Jewish ethnic communities and between the two peoples, while safeguarding the affinity of the Israeli-Jewish public with the Jews in the world and the affinity of the Israeli-Arab public with the Arab world.
The situation in which most of the resources are in the hands of 1% of the population at the cost of the other 99%, must come to an end. A reasonable equality between all citizens, without connection with their ethnic origin, must be restored.
There is no social message without a political message, and there is no political message without a social message.
The Oriental Jewish public must be full partners in the state, side by side with all other sectors. Their dignity, culture, social status and economic situation must be accorded their proper place.
The religious-secular confrontation must be postponed until after peace is achieved. The beliefs and ceremonies of all religions must be respected, as well as the secular worldview.
The separation of state and religion – such as civil marriage, mass transportation on Shabbat – can wait until the struggle for existence is decided.
The protection of the judicial system, and above all the Supreme Court, is an absolute duty.
The various associations for peace, human rights and social justice, each of which conducts its laudable independent struggle in its chosen field, must enter the political arena and play a central role together in the unified Salvation Front.
Veteran Israeli leftist and founder of Gush Shalom, Uri Avnery, offers a surprisingly optimistic assessment of the prospects for the Israeli left in the aftermath of Netanyahu’s shock victory. I’d recommend reading it together with this and this.
THE MESSIAH HASN’T COME and Bibi hasn’t gone.
That’s the sad outcome.
Sad, but not the end of the world.
As the American saying goes: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”
I would say: “Today is the first day of the battle for the next elections!”
The battle for the salvation of Israel must start right now.
SOME PEOPLE say that the best course now is a so-called National Unity Government.
Looks like a nice idea. Unity always sounds nice.
I can muster some good arguments for it. The combination of the two major parties creates a bloc of 54 seats (of 120). Such a coalition needs only one other party to form a majority. There are several possibilities, headed by Moshe Kahlon’s 10 seats.
The advocates of this choice have one good argument: it’s the Lesser Evil. The only other possibility is an extreme right-wing-religious government, which will not only stop any step towards peace, but also expand settlements, enact more laws to choke democracy and impose reactionary religious laws.
It’s a good argument, but it has to be rejected outright.
The Unity Government would be dominated by the Right. At best it would be a government of total immobility. It would be unable and unwilling to make even the slightest move towards ending the historic conflict, terminating the occupation and recognition of Palestine. Settlements would expand at a frantic pace. The chances of an eventual peace would move even further away.
It would do a lot of harm. The Labor Party would be obliged to justify and beautify this disastrous course, disarm the Obama administration and progressive Jewish forces throughout the world. It would be a huge fig leaf for evil.
It would also leave Israel without an effective opposition. If the government coalition broke up somewhere along the way, the Labor party would be too besmirched to constitute a credible alternative. The initial success of Yitzhak Herzog in rousing the old party from its comatose state cannot be repeated a second time. Labor would become a spent force, a vegetable.
Fortunately for the Labor Party, this possibility died almost immediately after the election. Netanyahu killed it with one stroke.
BY THE way, a curious side effect of a National Unity Government would have been that the leader of the (Arab) Joint List, Ayman Odeh, would have become Leader of the Opposition.
By law, the title is bestowed automatically on the chief of the largest opposition party. It confers on its holders many of the privileges of a cabinet minister. The Prime Minister is obliged to confer with them regularly and share government secrets with them.
But even if there is no Unity Government, and Herzog becomes Leader of the Opposition, one outstanding result of the election is the changed situation of the Arabs in the Knesset.
There is a certain humor to this. It was Avigdor Lieberman, the almost pathological Arab-hater, who induced the Knesset to raise the minimum threshold to 3.25%. This was intended to eliminate the three small Arab parties (including the Communists, who also have some Jewish voters), who responded by overcoming their mutual disagreements and animosities and forming the joint list. Lieberman had great difficulties in crossing his own threshold, and Eli Yishai’s party, which includes the heirs of the fascist Meir Kahane, was – thank God – left outside the Knesset. Read the rest of this entry »
Scottish commentator Chris Derin notes the rise of anti-Semitism, and the fact that in Scotland it’s not coming from Islamists or the traditional far-right, but from elements of the supposed “left”:
Unthinkably, anti-semitism is once again on the rise across Europe. Benjamin Netanyahu’s suggestion that the continent’s Jews should move to Israel, following the attacks in Paris, Belgium and Copenhagen, has angered many of his co-religionists, but the fact he felt able to say it should give the rest of us pause.
A timely article published yesterday in Scotland on Sunday by the journalist Dani Garavelli showed concern about their safety is growing among Scotland’s Jews. Giffnock’s long-established community has seen security stepped up outside Jewish buildings, including police patrols at the synagogue and at Scotland’s only Jewish primary school. The children are no longer allowed to line up in the playground in the morning.
The number of anti-semitic attacks in Glasgow rose ten-fold last year, according to Garavelli. A woman selling Israeli cosmetics from a stall is said to have had a ‘burning’ substance thrown in her face, while a rabbi was taunted with shouts of ‘Sieg Heil’. A sheltered housing complex in East Renfrewshire was daubed with a swastika and the words ‘Jewish Cunts. Jews Out’.
It seems to be politically hip to adopt an anti-Israel stance. What used to be the preserve of the far-Right now sits more easily with the far-Left, which is currently undergoing a modish revival in Scotland. Criticism of Israel’s government, a perfectly reasonable thing to do, all too regularly shades into the dark prejudice of anti-semitism. There’s nothing cool or modern about this. Anti-semitism is the most ancient of hatreds, and it was only 70 years ago that Europe’s Jews were nearly destroyed in a mass extermination programme. Anti-semites: think of the company you’re keeping.
JD adds: here at Shiraz we’ve had cause to comment on the anti-semitism of the Scottish PSC before now: “A little bit anti-Jewish”.