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.
Above: victorious HDP candidates celebrate
Some good news is coming through from the Turkish election. Reports of high votes for the leftist/secular/Kurdish HDP – 12% or higher: with the peculiar undemocratic nature of representation this will mean over 70 seats. This could well mean the collapse of Erdoğan’s vicious authoritarian Islamist government. Turkey, along with Saudi Arabia, is a key reactionary government in the Middle East enjoying US support. This is a massively encouraging result, and should give pause to those on the UK and European left who give knee-jerk support to Islamism.
HDP: a Turkish Syriza?
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.
The Communist Party of Britain and its mouthpiece the Morning Star, are all over the place on the forthcoming EU referendum. Never mind their contortions over Tory plans to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (and – yes – I am aware that the ECHR is separate from the EU, but the Stalinists’ arguments about ‘unaccountable transnational bodies’ and the need for ‘national sovereignty’ logically should apply as much to the ECHR as to the EU).
As recently as its May 9-10 edition, the Morning Star carried this wretched piece of ‘analysis’ of the general election result, including the following criticism of Labour:
“Support for an EU referendum and a more critical attitude towards EU anti-democratic institutions and neo-liberal policies might have stopped at least some working-class voters defecting to Ukip.”
Now, have a read of this, from today’s (May 25) Morning Star:
No vote for membership for EU citizens
Labour drops opposition to in/out vote
by Our News Desk
MOST EU citizens living in Britain will be barred from voting in the referendum on whether to sever ties with Brussels, Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday.
The franchise for the referendum, promised by the end of 2017, will be based on that for a general election — meaning Irish, Maltese and Cypriots resident in Britain will get a vote, but other EU citizens will not.
Details about the planned public vote were revealed as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was due to hold talks with Mr Cameron at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country residence.
Legislation for the referendum will be introduced to Parliament on Thursday — the day after the Queen’s speech.
A Number 10 source said: “This is a big decision for our country, one that is about the future of the United Kingdom. That’s why we think it’s important that it is British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens that are the ones who get to decide.”
It comes after Labour’s acting leader Harriet Harman announced a U-turn on the issue, saying her party would now support Mr Cameron’s planned in/out referendum on EU membership.
She said: “We have now had a general election and reflected on the conversations we had on doorsteps throughout the country.
“The British people want to have a say on the UK’s membership of the European Union. Labour will therefore now support the EU referendum Bill when it comes before the House of Commons.”
Ms Harman added that the party will “make the case for our continued membership” and does not want to see Britain “stumble inadvertently towards EU exit.”
But unions have warned against Labour kowtowing to Tory wishes on the issue after Ms Harman accepted she shared some of the PM’s concerns about the need for reform, including freedom of movement.
GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said Labour “must not give Cameron a blank cheque and should beware of the CBI agenda to turn the clock back on employment rights.”
He added: “Labour is sleepwalking into a two-step Europe, with UK workers having the worst rights in the EU for which a big price will later be paid by the party at elections.”
It’s difficult to know were to start in commenting upon this level of political incoherence: having urged Labour to drop its opposition to the Tories’ referendum, the Star now (fairly obviously approvingly) quotes unions warning against Labour “kowtowing to Tory wishes on the issue” and the danger of “turn(ing) the clock back on employment rights.”
Didn’t you realise that attacking employment rights (along with attacking immigrants) is what the campaign for a referendum has always been all about, you Stalinist muppets?
The pitiful incoherence of the little-England Stalinists would be almost laughable, if it wasn’t so dangerous to working class interests.
We need a socialist campaign to critically defend the limited working class gains that have come from EU membership, and to oppose the little-England, racist and anti-working class anti-EU campaign of both right and “left”.
NB: See also Comrade Coatesy
Between now and June 20th you have the opportunity to see ‘The Big No’, an exhibition of work of one by the greatest left-wing satirical artists of the 20th century: George Grosz. It’s at the London Print Studio (W10) and admission is free of charge.
Grosz was a founder of the Berlin Dadaist movement who created hundreds of drawings that savagely depicted the corruption, injustice and decadence of the Weimar republic. Along with Helmut Herzfeld (who became John Heartfield) he introduced photomontage to the mainstream. Many of his his drawings are composed like photomontages.
The drawings use superb fine-pen draftsmanship while the paintings are composed of bold brush-stokes, to convey shocking images of extremes of wealth and poverty, sexual exploitation and the broken survivors of WWI.
The Big No (named after Grosz’s autobiography A Little Yes and a Big No) features two portfolios of his drawings: Ecce Homo (Behold The Man), published in 1923 and Hintergrund (Background) from 1928. Ecce Homo was the subject of a four year legal case, with Grosz and his publisher accused of both pornography and bringing the German military into disrepute. They were acquitted, but in 1933 the Nazis had all the plates destroyed and the drawings publicly burned. We are able to see the work now because in 1959, after Grosz’s death, his widow and sons licenced a facsimile edition of the portfolio.
The Nazis denounced Grosz as a “cultural Bolshevik” and his work (together with that of fellow modernists, Jews and leftists like Kandinsky, Kokoschka, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Otto Dix) featured in the notorious 1937 “degenerate art” exhibition organised by the Nazis. By then Grosz had fled with his family to the US, where he remained for the rest of his life and where his son Marty became a well-known jazz guitarist.
Grosz wrote, ‘In 1916 I was discharged from military service. The Berlin to which I returned was a cold and grey city. What I saw made me loathe most of my fellow men; everything I could say has been recorded in my drawings. The busy cafés and wine-cellars merely accentuated the gloom of the dark, unheated residential districts. I drew drunkards; puking men; men with clenched fists cursing at the moon; men playing cards on the coffins of the women they had murdered. I drew a man, face filled with fright, washing blood from his hands… I was each one of the characters I drew, the champagne-swilling glutton favoured by fate no less than the poor beggar standing with outstretched hands in the rain. I was split in two, just like society at large…’
This exhibition is simply unmissable. I don’t know whether or not it’s going to appear anywhere outside London, so even if you don’t live in capital, I’d recommend a special visit. And how appropriate that it’s appearing in one of the less affluent parts of London, at studio whose stated mission is to “empower people and communities through practical engagement with the visual and graphic arts.”
A song for all Labour supporters tonight:
Nat ‘King’ Cole and George Shearing in upbeat mood
Analysis soon. For now, Steve Bell got it right some days ago:
Steve Bell 30.04.15 Illustration: © Steve Bell 2015
…one small but gratifying consolation:
In memory of Marty Napoleon:
Marty played piano with Gene Krupa, Red Allen (and – much later – Harry Allen), Doc Cheatham, and (perhaps most memorably) the last editions of the Louis Armstrong All Stars, after Billy Kyle’s death. Now Marty has gone, but here he is, aged 91 in 2012, playing a medley of latter-day Louis songs (he even sings himself at one point) in a New York club that had arranged a special night for him, with fellow-veterans Bill Crow on bass and Ray Mosca at the drums (and just watch – and listen to – those ol’ guys swing!).
As my good friend Michael Steinman (of the great Jazz Lives blog) wrote at the time : “If this is 91, I want to be a rug-cutter in just this Napoleonic manner. Marty, Bill and Ray rocked the room”:
Here’s Michael’s very moving tribute, posted at Jazz Lives a couple of days ago:
Pianist, singer, composer Marty Napoleon “made the transition” from this earthly world to another one on Monday night, April 27. His dear friend Geri Goldman Reichgut told me that on his last night on the planet he ate some dessert and listened to music: the signs of what my Irish friends call “a beautiful death.”
I can’t find it in my heart to be too mournful about Marty’s moving out of this earthly realm. It seems to me that the New Orleanians have the right idea: cry a little at the birth, because that spirit taking corporeal form might have some bumps in this life, and rejoice at the death, because the spirit is free — to ramble the cosmos in the company of other spirits.
I was in conversation with the wonderful pianist Mike Lipskin last night — we sat on a bench in Greenwich Village and lamented that fewer people are playing particular kinds of the music we both love . . . and we both envisioned a future where it might not even be performed. But I said fervently, “The MUSIC will always be here,” and I believe that.
And a closing story. One of my heroes is the writer William Maxwell, also no longer around in his earthly shape. Late in his life, he began taking piano lessons and working his way through some simple classical pieces. I think this gave him great pleasure but was also frustrating — in the way making music is even more difficult for those who have spent their lives appreciating the superb performances of others. In his final year, a dear friend said to him, “Bill, in the life to come you will be able to play the piano with ease, won’t you?” And he replied, “In the next life I will not be making music. I will be music.”
And he is. As is Marty.
We’ve put this on Shiraz several times before, but it’s so good I just can’t resist another showing. And today seems the appropriate day:
Enjoy – and learn (or re-learn) the basics, comrades!
Credit to the Morning Star; they published my letter today:
The editorial of April 27 (An attack on democracy) defending Lutfar Rahman, was a disgrace. It was factually wrong on almost very point, and – worse – politically wrong.
Election Commissioner Mawrey’s report was not (as the editorial claims) based only on the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, but upon detailed evidence provided by the four petitioners, who risked bankruptcy had their case failed, and the evidence of a large number of witnesses. Did the author of the editorial even read the 200 page report, easily available online?
Many of those now denouncing Mawrey (eg George Galloway) were only too happy to praise him in March 2007, when he exposed Labour Party misuse of postal votes in both Tower Hamlets and Birmingham. Similarly, I do not recall anyone on the left denouncing the election court’s 2010 judgement removing Phil Woolas as MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, and barring him from standing again.
As for “spiritual influence”: it is true that in the not-so-distant past the Catholic church used its influence in Liverpool and Glasgow to tell people how to vote: but the left had no hesitation in denouncing and fighting such religious interference in democracy. How is it that the Morning Star now seems to be defending such an outrage in Tower Hamlets?
Rahman has been found guilty by Judge Mowrey (whose impartiality was once hailed by Galloway) of corruption, vote-rigging, intimidation, using religious influence and making false allegations of racism and “Islamophobia” against all who dared oppose him. He and his cronies ran their own version of Tammany Hall in Tower Hamlets – and the Morning Star defends him!
As at least one commentator has noted, there is real racism at work in the reaction of some people to Mawrey’s judgement: the racism that believes the immigrant poor deserve no better. Shame on you!