Long-standing Labour MP (43 years in the House until he retired in 2005) Tam Dalyell, who died yesterday, supported many good causes, was personally honest and courteous and (to judge by the tributes pouring in) was much-loved on all sides of the Commons. In many respects, he was an exemplary MP. So it may seem churlish — distasteful, even — at this time, to raise the matter of remarks he made in 2003 about the supposed influence of Jews on British and American politics (and especially, foreign policy), and the response this evoked from his friend Paul Foot. Nevertheless, it is important as an illustration of how prevalent casual anti-semitism and conspiracy-theorising about Jews was (and remains) commonplace even on “respectable” sections of the left and amongst otherwise decent individuals – and of how dishonest and slippery the stance of “anti-Zionists” like Foot and the SWP often is.
By Sean Matgamna
A small outcry greeted Tam Dalyell MP’s assertion that there are too many Jews in the entourages of Tony Blair and George W Bush, and that those Jews make Britain’s and the USA’s policy on the Middle East.
I found the responses to Dalyell encouraging, but also seriously off the point. The important and effective antisemites now are not those who talk like Hitlerites about Jewish influence and Jewish “cabals,’. Such people can usually expect the response Dalyell got.
Their talk is too close to what the Nazis said to justify genocide. It begs too-obvious questions and implies preposterous answers to them. Do all Jews have the same politics? How can the presence of “the Jews”, or of people of Jewish faith or Jewish background, add up to “Jewish influence” or “Jewish conspiracy”, when the individuals involved often have different opinions and advocate different policies?
How, where the neo-conservatives of Jewish origin who are close to George Bush are out of line with the thinking of most American Jews, the big majority of whom are liberal Democrats? Where, though there may be a number of Jews who share the same opinion on certain questions, they are not alone in such opinions, and Jews can be found defending the opposite view?
Where some Jews helped create the recent anti-war movement, while others fervently supported the war, or, in Bush’s camp, helped initiate it?
There is only one coherent version of the idea that where there are Jews around, irrespective of whether they agree or fight with each other, then that is a Jewish influence. And that is the Nazi doctrine that Bolshevik Jews and Jewish international financiers, irrespective of all that divides them, are all nonetheless part of one Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world. It is the only version that allows you to note the truth that there are bourgeois Jews and Bolshevik Jews, red Jews and Rothschilds.
That stuff doesn’t, I guess, have much of an open following now, though such bits of that old anti-semitism as Dalyell spewed out should of course be stamped on. A number of writers in the Guardian did stamp on it. It was left to Paul Foot to defend Dalyell and put the most important present day anti-semitism back in focus.
Foot wrote: “Obviously [Dalyel] is wrong to complain about Jewish pressure on Blair and Bush when he means Zionist pressure. But that is a mistake that is constantly encouraged by the Zionists” (Guardian 14 May 2003).
Foot advises Dalyell on how he should have expressed the same idea in widely acceptable words. Call them “Zionists”, not “Jews”, Tammy, and no-one can accuse you of being an anti-semite without also having to take on the bulk of the “revolutionary left”.
Learn how to do it in the modern fashion, comrade Dalyell’ Of course you didn’t mean “Jews”, you meant “Zionists”, didn’t you? Anti-Jewish feeling and ideas are usually now wrapped up in anti-Zionism. Not all “anti-Zionists” are anti-semites, but these days anti-semites are usually careful to present themselves as “anti-Zionists”.
For that reason, it is lightshedding to find a prominent pseudo-left “anti-Zionist” recognising as his political kin someone who denounces Jews – and, Foot thinks, was at fault only in lacking the finesse to say Zionist when he meant Jew.
“Anti-Zionism” is the anti-semitism of today. “Anti-Zionism”, that, is root-and-branch denunciation of Israel, involves comprehensively anti-Jewish attitudes – rampant or latent and implied – because it starts out from a stark refusal to recognise that the Jewish nation that had formed in Palestine by the mid 1930s had the right to exist, or the right to fight for its existence against those who would have destroyed it if they could.
In onslaughts the most important of which began in 1936, and in a series of wars, 1948, 1967, and 1973, Arab chauvinists tried to destroy the Jewish nation in Palestine. The “Zionists” had no right to defend themselves, still less to prevail! Arab pressure on the British overlords in pre-World-War-Two Palestine led to the closing of the doors to Palestine for Jews who otherwise faced death in Europe, and kept them closed all through the war and for three years after the war ended.
In his own way, Foot expresses the logic he himself sees in the “anti-Zionist” language he advises Dalyell to adopt. “There are lots of Jews in Britain who are bitterly opposed to the loathsome Israeli occupation of other people’s countries and the grotesque violence it involves” (emphasis added).
Countries, plural? Which countries does Israel occupy other than the West Bank and Gaza? Foot does not mean the ex-Syrian Golan Heights, Israeli-occupied since 1967. He means pre-1967 Israel.
The attitude to Israel which Foot expresses, that it does not have the right to exist at all, begins with denial of equality to the Jews of Palestine and with demonising the Jewish nation there.
From that denial comes grotesque anti-Jewish bias and misrepresentation in accounts of the history of the Jewish-Arab conflict and the origin of Israel. The Jewish nation had no right to exist; Jews who fled to Palestine from the Nazis had no right to do that; they never had the right to defend themselves, and they don’t have it now.
The overwhelming majority of Jews in the world, in whose post-Holocaust identity Israel is engrafted, are guilty of racism and betrayal of Jewish internationalism when, however critical they may be of Israeli governments, they defend Israel’s right to exist.
Beginning with denial of the Jewish state’s right to exist, this “anti-Zionism” spreads out to also demonise most Jews in the world. The “Zionists” who are demonised by the “anti-Zionists” of foot’s kind are always Jewish Zionists, not non-Jews who defend Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. (The exception is when they are those who can be denounced as renegades from pseudo-left orthodoxy on Israel and “Zionism” – like the non-Jewish supporters of Solidarity).
“Anti-Zionism” is the most potent anti-Semitism in the modern world. It is especially and most venomously a property of the pseudo-left, as Dalyell’s statement and Paul Foot’s gloss on it shows clearly.
In fact Dalyell didn’t even get his facts right. Of the three “Jews” he named in Blair’s circle, two, Jack Straw and Peter Mandelson, do not identify themselves as Jews, though both have some Jewish ancestry. The daft old duffer blundered into a racist, “tell-me-who-your-ancestors-were” definition of Jewishness. By the time Foot came to defend Tam Dalyell, his mistake had been pointed out. Foot didn’t notice. Just call them “Zionists” Tammy and you can’t go wrong.
This “anti-Zionism” is no help at all to the Palestinians. For over half a century the Arab chauvinist demand for the destruction of Israel has been the best helper the expansionist Jewish-chauvinist Israeli right has had. If the Arab states and the Palestinians had accepted the Israeli proposal of September 1967 to withdraw from the territories it had occupied in June that year in return for Arab recognition and normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arab states, then the colonialist horrors of the last 35 years on the West Bank could not have happened.
People like Foot, are not socialist internationalists but vicarious Arab chauvinists. They are no friends of the oppressed Palestinians, for whom the only just and possible settlement is an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel.
The main thing “socialists” like Foot and his mentor Tony Cliff have achieved is to infuse old left-wing anti-colonialism with virulent anti-Semitism, dressed up in the way Foot advises Dalyell to dress it up, as “anti-Zionism”.
Today was the fourth and final instalment of the Al Jazeera ‘documentary’ called ‘The Lobby’. The “undercover report exposing how the Israel lobby influences British politics”.
For those that haven’t seen it. The show came in four, 25 minute videos (1, 2, 3, 4). Highly repetitive, extremely drawn out, with about 5-8 minutes of content in each one. The sinister music and hidden footage feel, create the atmosphere you are watching something illicit. After a while you realise that despite the eerie music, the accusation itself is empty.
Viewing figures tend to agree with me. Whilst the firstshow on YouTube has already reached nearly 100,000 views. The Second sits at 24,000, the third 16,000 and currently the last show has only been viewed 3,000 times. Everyone soon realised there was no meat on this bone.
The antisemitic premise
Far too often, as I watched, I simply couldn’t understand what was wrong with what I was seeing. This difference, between my recognition of everyday political actions, and the attempt to suggest that we were witnessing the inside actions of a powerful conspiratorial story, highlights exactly what was wrong with the show itself.
The idea, the premise could only have been formulated within an antisemitic mind-set. The ‘undercover reporter’, Robin Harrow, spent six months looking for evidence of something that quite simply does not exist. His findings are disjointed pieces of a picture of a UK Jewish community that is deeply connected to Israel, put together haphazardly by the mind of an antisemitic conspiracy theorist.
In a excellent take down of the ‘expose’, Marcus Dysch, Political Editor at the Jewish Chronicle, called it “harassment of Jews dressed up as entertainment”. Jonathan Hoffman, in a piece on Harry’s Place, broke his analysis into three central complaints, brilliantly summing up the show as ‘voyeurism For antisemites’.
In essence, the entire show hangs on a single sentence. Six months of undercover work, numerous events, scores of meetings, untold hours of networking, and they caught one ‘take-down’ comment on camera. Even then, it was spoken by a junior member of the Israeli Embassy staff with an over-inflated opinion of himself and a dubious command of English.
Trust me, undercover work is what I do. If I had six months, professional assistance and proper funding, I know that what I would put together would do major damage to the anti-Zionist camp in the UK. They had six months and found nothing. I have real material to work with. They don’t.
Andrew Billen in The Times said this:
“For the life of me I could not see what Israel was doing wrong here. The Lobby sensationally exposed the existence of, well, a lobby.”
Al Jazeera attacks British Jews
So, what was this all about? Yes, the focus was on one embassy employee, but that was not the point. He was just the eventual conduit and you cannot write history backwards. An important point to remember is this: when they started, they could not have known which way this was going to go. The intention was to damage the grassroots, the strategy to weaken the fight against antisemitism, and the goal was to suggest British Zionists, one way or another, are all paid puppets of the Israeli State.
The anti-Israel (pro-Palestinian) movements in the UK have been damaged over the last 18 months, due to their inability to separate themselves from rabid antisemites. If they did not want to operate from a drastically weakened platform, they needed the tools to protect the antisemites. The ability to deflect the accusations, to continue to work unhindered by such ‘petty’ issues such as racist abuse against Jews.
Therefore, this was a deliberate attack on British Jews by a state funded, state owned, news outlet from Qatar. And in return, those who have found themselves politically weakened by antisemitic accusations, such as Jeremy Corbyn, are clamouring for the government to investigate Al Jazeera’s baseless conspiracy theory. The first opportunity Corbyn had to sell out the Jews to regain some political power, he has taken with both arms raised. Dancing with him on the table are people like Jenny Tonge, Ben White and Jackie Walker. I hope he enjoys the company.
This type of antisemitic suggestion, that Jews conspire and rule the world, is still common in the Middle East. Yet, Al Jazeera was operating inside the UK, attacking British Jews with a highly antisemitic brush. If I had one major accusation outside of the Al Jazeera team, it would be that the Mail on Sunday promoted the Al Jazeera ‘expose’ with front page cover just four day before broadcasting. What on earth possessed the Mail on Sunday to jump into bed with Qatar, antisemitism, Electronic Intifada and Jenny Tonge against what is just a group of people who all share similar western values together?
There’s no antisemitism here guv
The two details worthy of note came in the second and third installments. The first was a confrontation between Labour MP Joan Ryan, and Jean Fitzpatrick an anti-Israel activist. The entire confrontation in my opinion, was a set-up. Fitzpatrick is a hard-core activist. If she was politely asking questions about settlements, it was because she was on a mission. In any event, we also only see part of the footage.
What we do know is that Fitzpatrick, who was investigated and cleared, was not the only incident. We hear that “”one nutter came up and basically said that the coup was run by Jews, and Jewish MPs and Jewish millionaires.” we know also that “others suggested the creation of the antisemitism scandal was merely part of a plot”. Even if the comments from Fitzpatrick are arguable, the atmosphere surrounding the stall may have already been toxic.
In any event, consider this, we have two non-Jews arguing over what they consider is antisemitic, and a state funded Arabic TV station showing some of the footage of the exchange to suggest a conspiracy in which antisemitism in Labour does not even exist. I am sure that Jackie Walker would be horrified, if someone tried to use the inability of two white people to ably identify the boundaries of racism, to discard all claims about the existence of all racist abuse.
Bullying the victims
The second incident left me feeling physical sick, and was the conversation between the reporter and Jewish Labour Movement Director Ella Rose after the antisemitism meeting at the Labour Conference. As David Hirsh put it “Al Jazeera’s spy pretends to comfort a Jewish woman who is in tears after experiencing antisemitism, secretly videos her exasperation, then runs off to his pals to help them edit his footage into an antisemitic documentary.”
Ella Rose “formerly worked” at the Israeli embassy. Apparently, if you work at any time for the Israeli embassy, you are forever tainted. According to Al Jazeera, Jackie Walker and co, this is proof positive you are of evil intent. Once this ‘horrifying’ detail about her past life was uncovered by Asa Winstanley, Ella suggests Jackie Walker ‘slammed her all week’ on social media. This is the life of those that choose to work within the Jewish community in this way. They become stalked, investigated, the prey of the antisemite.
Then much was made of her post abuse comments. When I saw this footage, it seemed to be that of a victim, trying to rebuild, to retake ownership of her pride. So I asked an expert. This from psychotherapist Amanda Perl:
“This fantasy or rehearsal that she talked about is simply a way of overcompensating for feeling dis-empowered, scared, humiliated, inferior and ashamed – it’s as if she has been left looking like a coward, not dealing appropriately or how she wanted to in a situation – she is simply with such words trying to overcompensate for being seen as ‘weak’. This overcompensation its a coping mechanism”
So, not only do Al Jazeera take hidden footage of a victim of antisemitism. They then use a natural response of a victim, a response nurtured in clinics for abuse victims around the country as a way of overcoming abuse, and they turn her into the abuser as part of an antisemitic documentary. Currently, because of Al Jazeera, some antisemites are further fueling the abuse against Ella. Everyone involved in this, including those who commented on it, or sent vicious messages via social media, are assisting in further abusing a victim. This Al Jazeera action needs to be thoroughly investigated.
This was a heavily funded, antisemitic attack on British Jews by a Qatari funded state news agency. As at times, we saw footage from different angles in the restaurant, we know there was more than one cameraman involved. We know that Shay Masot was probably drunk on at least one of the occasions he was on camera. After six months of investigating, it is safe to say they found nothing.
We know that sending MPs to Israel is a lot better for ‘fact finding’ than sending them to ‘Palestine’. We know that MPs that go to Israel are at least given a grounding in the truth of the conflict. Why don’t Al Jazeera investigate themselves? Or better still Caabu:
“In 2013 Caabu took three delegations to the West Bank including former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw; Shadow Business Secretary, Chuka Umunna; Jake Berry MP; Karen Buck MP; Cathy Jamieson MP; and Mark Pawsey MP.”
At many events I go to, I hear of MP’s having been taken by anti-Israel groups to Palestine. I hear of groups taking them. It never crossed my mind to take the footage, edit it, and turn it into a conspiracy. Others have written the bottom line already about this antisemitic show. It is a disgrace. It is also disgusting that some politicians are using the product for their own political gain. We know these people bully Jews and they further smear them, by pretending the victims are the abusers.
We are a community at war. In an environment that is deteriorating. There is nothing imagined about it. We are now entering an atmosphere in Europe where torching a Synagogue is no longer seen as an attack on Jews, but rather an expression of frustration against Israel. We are no longer at the top of this slippery slope, but have begun a descent. Be alert.
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Workers’ Liberty member Daniel Randall spoke on a panel at Limmud, a Jewish cultural and educational conference, on a panel entitled “why Jews should join Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. The other speakers were Jon Lansman (Momentum), Anna Lawton (Labour Party member and Limmud 2017 chair), and Barnaby Raine (RS21). The session was chaired by Andrew Gilbert (London Jewish Forum and Labour Party member).
This is a slightly-edited version of Daniel’s speech at the session.
I’m Daniel Randall; I work on the underground in London, where I’m a rep for the RMT union. I’m also a member of the socialist group Workers’ Liberty; we’re a Trotskyist organisation, but a rather heterodox one. I should also say that I’m not currently a member of the Labour Party, having been expelled, twice, for my membership of Workers’ Liberty. So I’m speaking here somewhat as a Labour Party member “in exile”.
The title of this panel is “why Jews should join Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. I’m going to approach the issue slightly differently, because I’m not a communalist; I’m not a Zionist, or a Bundist, or nationalist or cultural autonomist of any other stripe. I don’t believe in a unitary “Jewish interest”, and I don’t believe there’s any essentialist, innate “Jewish characteristics” that ought to compel Jews to join Labour, or any other political party. Fundamentally, I think Jews should join the Labour Party if they support its foundational purpose: to represent in politics the interests of working class.
I should also say that I don’t believe there’s any such thing as “Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. The Labour Party belongs to its members, not to its leader, and has always been a politically contested space and a site of struggle. You might not like the current political composition of the leadership, for whatever reason, but if you believe in labour representation, you should be in the Labour Party.
But to say nothing more than that would be a missed opportunity, I think, so I will use the not-very-much time I have to say a bit more on what a Corbyn-led Labour Party might imply for the relationship between Jews and the left.
I think the Corbyn surge represents an opportunity to recompose and renew the left. Hundreds of thousands of young people, many of them new to politics and without the training and baggage of years spent organised under prevailing far-left common sense, good and bad, have become politicised, and some have become mobilised and active.
If you’re a Jewish leftist or labour movement activist who has felt uncomfortable with, or alienated by, the ‘common sense’ that has prevailed on the left around certain issues, and I agree that there has been much to feel uncomfortable about, then the febrile political atmosphere created by the Corbyn surge represents an opportunity to challenge and change that ‘common sense’. You should get involved in and be part of those discussions, but that means making a commitment to attempt to see this political moment through, on its own terms.
Much has been said about Jeremy Corbyn’s personal, individual attitude to Israel/Palestine and antisemitism. On substantive questions of policy he has a much better position, in my view, than the one which has predominated on much of the far-left: he is for a two-state settlement, rather than the destruction of Israel, and against blanket boycotts of Israel. That puts him one up on much of the far-left.
His weaknesses on these issues, his historic softness on Hamas, for example, reflect the reality of him as a product of the existing left – a left characterised by Stalinist politics, and a “my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend” approach to international issues. But the new left in the Labour Party is bigger than Jeremy Corbyn himself and, as I’ve said, represents an opportunity to challenge those politics.
I think it’s also important for me to say here that the view that the entire far-left is institutionally antisemitic is a calumny, and I think some of the antisemitism scandals in Labour have been blown out of proportion and manipulated for factional ends, by figures on the right of the party.
Nevertheless, left antisemitism is a real and distinct phenomenon which needs a specific analysis and response. We don’t have time to say much here, but briefly, I think we can understand antisemitism on the left as a form of implied political hostility to Jews, distinct from the racialised antipathy of far-right antisemitism. This has its roots in the efforts by Stalinism, from the 1950s onward, to cynically conflate “Zionism” with imperialism, racism, and even fascism, which established a ‘common sense’ which came to dominate even on the anti-Stalinist left. Only an analysis that understands the historical roots of left antisemitism, and which sets as its aim the renewal of the left, on a politically healthier basis, can meaningfully confront it. The required response is fundamentally political, rather than moralistic or administrative or bureaucratic; to be part of recomposing and renewing a movement you must first be part of the movement.
The key is a culture of open debate, discussion, and education, conducted in an atmosphere of free speech, on all sides. We’re not there yet; far from it. But I believe we have an opportunity to build a left that is characterised by those things, and if you believe in them too then I urge you to help shape it.
I will finish by offering a different, perhaps more fundamental set of reasons why Jews should join the Labour Party.
We live in a grossly unequal world, characterised by exploitation and oppression. Just in this country, one of the richest in the world, over 500,000 people use food banks. In 2016, nearly 200 employers were found to be paying less than the minimum wage – a wage which it is now widely acknowledged it too low to live on anyway. Various forms of social oppression persist, and ecological degradation continues. It’s a bleak picture. And against this backdrop, the wealth of the richest continues to skyrocket. The richest 1,000 in Britain have increased their wealth by 112% since 2009.
All of that is grotesque and obscene. It should offend you, “as Jews”, and as human beings. It should make you want to change it. The only way we can change it is on the basis of a movement based fundamentally, structurally, on the relationship and conflict that animates it all: class. That is what the Labour Party and wider labour movement is for. And if you believe that it is the mission of the labour movement to change the world, and you find the labour movement before you inadequate or deficient in some way, then it is your responsibility not to abandon it, but to help transform it.
As I said at the beginning of this speech, I don’t believe in any innate Jewish characteristics that ought to compel us in a particular direction. But perhaps there is something in our historical experience that can help us gain an understanding of why our world is organised in that way, and how it might be different. In his essay “The Non-Jewish Jew”, Isaac Deutscher explores why Jews have seemed to be over-represented in the ranks of the thinkers and organisers of the left. Considering various figures including Marx, Trotsky, and Luxemburg, he writes:
“Have they anything in common with one another? Have they perhaps impressed mankind’s thought so greatly because of their special ‘Jewish genius’? I do not believe in the exclusive genius of any race. Yet I think that in some ways they were very Jewish indeed. They had in themselves something of the quintessence of Jewish life and of the Jewish intellect. They were a priori exceptional in that as Jews they dwelt on the borderlines of various civilisations, religions, and national cultures.
“They were born and brought up on the borderlines of various epochs. Their minds matured where the most diverse cultural influences crossed and fertilised each other. They lived on the margins or in the nooks and crannies of their respective nations. They were each in society and yet not in it, of it and yet not of it. It was this that enabled them to rise in thought above their societies, above their nations, above their times and generations, and to strike out mentally into wide new horizons and far into the future.”
That is our history. We do the most honour to our heritage when we attempt to use that history and experience to go beyond our own experience, into perspectives for universal emancipation.
That is why you, as a Jew, should dedicate yourself to the struggle to change the world. That is why you should join the Labour Party.
See also: Comrade Coatsey
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Greenstein: “the state of Israel was Hitler’s final victory”
Tony Greenstein, who is suspended from Labour for alleged anti-Semitism, was the only speaker at a meeting entitled ‘Is criticising Israel anti-Semitic?’, hosted by Bristol Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). The room was packed, with around 200 attendees, many of those were Momentum members. The PSC’s choice of speaker, presentation of the event, and recent organised hostility towards towards committed Palestine solidarity activists advocating a two state programme forewarned me of a one-sided and hostile discussion.
Greenstein started by claiming that anti-Semitism is insignificant in the UK today both on the left and more widely, and counselled us to remember that it is just a claim used to attack left-wingers and defend Israel. He gave a history of Zionism as simply and intrinsically colonial, a disease that does not come in better and worse varieties. Zionism, he repeatedly stressed, is anti-Semitic, due in part to support for it by some anti-Semites, in part to statements by some historical right-wing Zionists. Throughout the talk he failed to distinguish between the worst historical examples of Zionist thought and contemporary support for the existence of a state of Israel. Many of his claims were based on a selective reading of history: to Greenstein, “the state of Israel was Hitler’s final victory” and Zionism supported Nazi Germany, while in turn Nazi Germany was decisive in the establishment of Israel.
Clearly, criticism of Israel is not in itself anti-Semitic. We should criticize Israel’s actions and stand in solidarity with Palestinians for many reasons, and furthermore there has been some weaponisation of anti-Semitism by the right. And yet, the issue of anti-Semitism on the left when criticizing Israel, irrespective of the intentions of those doing the criticism, is still significant.
Some criticism evokes anti-Semitic tropes and some analysis and proposed solutions to the conflict have anti-Semitic historical origins or conclusions. A key historical anti-Semitic trope is that of all-powerful, shadowy Jews controlling society, and unfounded Zionist conspiracy theories play on this. The prevalence of these could be seen throughout discussion from what Greenstein and many in the audience said, but crucially what many conspicuously didn’t say, deliberately leaving us all to imagine the worst whilst making it difficult to challenge their vague implications. The idea of Israel as a uniquely illegitimate state has historical anti-Semitic origins and is also ultimately detrimental to Palestinian solidarity. Greenstein later responded that Israel is a uniquely evil and illegitimate state. As he demonstrated throughout the discussion, the equation of Israel with Nazi Germany is far too common in the left, and can be anti-Semitic. It looked like many people were listening and genuinely receptive to hearing this different and more nuanced perspective, although ultimately most disagreed.
Many people left during the meeting as they felt it got too heated, which surprised me. Unfortunately, the tense atmosphere somewhat discouraged people from being critical of Greenstein’s points – some people felt too nervous to speak, only three challenged him. It is partly for want of a more prevalent culture of polemic and debate on the left that people found the meeting difficult, but heckling, booing and dismissing as Zionists the minority in the room who dissented from the only speaker’s perspective was harmful. This too happened partly because of the lack of a culture of healthily dealing with disagreements through debate.
There was heckling in response to the argument for a good two states programme as the most viable resolution of the conflict in the short- to medium-term, and that the main victims of the conflict’s prolongation being the Palestinian people. Whilst people highlighted the lack of an appetite for such a programme by many in the Knesset they failed to explain how this made a one state programme more viable. The majority of both Israelis and Palestinians support a two-state solution, overwhelmingly so on the left of both nations. There is little desire in Israel for a one state programme as people in the room would have advocated; most Israeli politicians that reject a two-state programme instead support expanded settlements and annexation of Palestinian territory, not a programme that would improve the situation of Palestinians let alone dismantle the Israeli nation state. The Palestine Liberation Organisation also supports two states.
Whilst a good two states settlement will be difficult, a one state programme in the short-to-medium-term could almost certainly only be achieved by force. Since Israel should not and will not in reality be forced into this, to advocate a one-state solution and oppose a two-state solution is to advocate no realistic solution and to oppose the only possible, but difficult, solution. Such incomplete arguments, simplistic apartheid analogies and failure to distinguish between ethnicity and religion throughout the meeting are a few of the things that highlighted the importance of more debate on this issue.
My general sense from the room was that most people were close to Greenstein’s perspective, although perhaps not so extreme. Similar perspectives certainly constitute the “common sense” assumptions of much of Momentum and the Palestine Solidarity movement in Bristol, but overwhelmingly people had simply not previously come across more nuanced perspectives; perspectives which are very critical of Israel and stand in solidarity with Palestinians whilst also being critical of left anti-Semitism and defending Israel’s right to exist. The Palestine Solidarity movement, Momentum, the Labour Party and the left need to have more debates and discussions on these issues, but with more balance and less heckling, and hopefully this will lead to less oversimplifications being used to caricature and dismiss serious attempts to tackle left anti-Semitism.
Above: debate on antisemitism between Cathy Nugent of the AWL and Richard Angell of Progress
The following resolution was adopted at the recent conference of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty:
Antisemitism exists on the left.
This is not merely a question of the bigotries, chauvinisms, and prejudices which exist in society generally expressing themselves within the left, but essentially as aberrations within an otherwise progressive worldview. Rather, a number of ideas, positions, and analyses which have an antisemitic logic have become incorporated over a number of years into the “common sense” which predominates in some sections of the far left.
Contemporary left antisemitism combines older tropes of Jewish power (the politics August Bebel denounced in the 1890s as “the socialism of fools”) with a Stalinist-inspired “anti-Zionism”.
Some traditional antisemitic tropes and themes have become incorporated into certain ways of viewing Zionism and Israel.
Anti-Zionism and hostility to Israeli policies are not necessarily antisemitic. But most contemporary antisemitism expresses itself in the form of anti-Zionism and anti-Israelism, rather than as ‘traditional’ antisemitic racism.
Contemporary left antisemitism historically deracinates Zionism, blowing it out of all proportion. Zionism was a nationalist-separatist, and often romantic-utopian, movement that emerged in response to a real oppression and was given a mass character by the attempted genocide experienced by Europe’s Jews at the hands of the Nazis. It was always politically variegated. The revolutionary socialist tradition with which Workers’ Liberty identifies was always anti-Zionist, but it was an anti-Zionism conditioned, and in some ways tempered, by an understanding of the material roots of that nationalist impulse. It was an anti-Zionism which found it good to have Zionist units in the Red Army, a Histadrut presence at international communist congresses, and steps by the Bolshevik workers’ state to create an autonomous Jewish “homeland” within the territory of the USSR, and which saw the Zionists who then mostly described themselves as left-wing as indeed a mistaken tendency within the left, rather than as a phalanx of the imperialist enemy.
The Stalinist propaganda campaigns of the 1950s onwards, in which “Zionism” was interchangeable with “imperialism”, “racism”, and even “fascism”, cast long shadows in sections of the contemporary far left, including some groups which consider themselves anti-Stalinist.
Those shadows lead to Jews with an instinctive though maybe critical identification with Israel being demonised as “Zionists” (with the word having the same connotations as “racists” or “fascists”); to complaints of antisemitism (short of gross neo-Nazi-type acts) being automatically dismissed as contrived gambits to deflect criticism of Israel; and to Israel being seen as an illegitimate ultra-imperialist state, which must be wiped off the map and whose population, therefore, in the immediate term, it is right to boycott and despise.
[For more on the historical background and context, see: http://www.workersliberty.org/node/26603]
While recognising left antisemitism as a real political phenomenon, we also recognise that allegations of antisemitism may sometimes be exaggerated, instrumentalised, or even fabricated for factional ends. This is true of any allegation of any bigotry or prejudice. That does not mean that the bigotry or prejudice is not real, or that the default response to any such allegation should be to question the motives of the plaintiff.
Moreover, there may be a distinctly antisemitic component in play when allegations of antisemitic speech or conduct are challenged as having been raised in bad faith and for an ulterior political motive. This was particularly visible in the controversies triggered by Livingstone and Walker.
Did the right wing ‘weaponise’ antisemitism in the Livingstone and Walker controversies? In one sense, no (in that some of them had a long record of raising the issue of antisemitism). In one sense, yes (in that they had an open goal and would have been fools not to have taken the opportunity). But such considerations have nothing in common with the way in which supporters of Walker (and Livingstone) raised the allegation of ‘weaponisation’, i.e. as a means to delegitimise all criticism of Walker (and, in some cases, of Livingstone as well).
We are for allegations of antisemitism, as with allegations of sexism, racism, etc., being investigated thoroughly, in a way that is sympathetic to the plaintiff and which affords all parties due process.
Our response is based on political education, debate, and discussion. We cannot challenge a prevailing common sense, and replace it with a better one, by means of bans and expulsions. That discussion must be conducted in an atmosphere of free speech, where activists in the movement are able to speak freely on sensitive issues such as Israel/Palestine, and those raising concerns around antisemitism are not accused of being Zionist provocateurs.
In the Labour Party, we argue for the implementation of the recommendations of the Chakrabarti Report.
Some of the recommendations contained in the Chakrabati Report are vague, and the political rationale which underpins them is not always clear. A lot of the recommendations focus heavily on procedural matters. It would be surprising if the Report did not suffer from such limitations.
But the Report does begin to raise the political issues which we want to see discussed and provides a certain official ‘stamp of approval’ to opening up such discussions. In both the Labour Party and trade unions (especially Unite and the UCU, even though the latter is not an LP affiliate) we should therefore encourage the use of the Report as a starting point for promoting discussion about antisemitism and arguing for a new political common sense about antisemitism based on the following ideas:
A historical understanding of the roots of nationalist ideas within Jewish communities, and the impact of the history of the 20th century in shaping Jewish people’s consciousness.
Zionism should neither be placed beyond criticism nor demonised.
As we challenge the confusion on the left and in the broader labour movement about Zionism and Israel, and the antisemitic content of some critiques of Zionism and Israel, we will advance our own politics on the Israel/Palestine conflict, i.e.
Solidarity with the Palestinians against Israeli occupation; a two-state settlement in Israel/ Palestine; workers’ unity across the borders; solidarity not boycotts.
Amendment not voted on (i.e. it goes forward for further discussion)
Contemporary left anti-Semitism involves a process of signification that defines the Other somatically – i.e. it marks out a group of people in relation to Israeli Jewishness and/or Zionist Jewishness – and assigns this categorised group of bodies with negative characteristics and as giving rise to negative consequences. This Jewish Other is conflated with a particular and singular understanding of Israel and Zionism and a notion therein that the Jewish collective has uniquely world domineering and despotic power. Unlike traditional and historical anti-Semitism, contemporary left anti-Semitism considers it possible and necessary for individual Jews to break away from the negative characteristics and consequences of Israeli Jews and Zionist Jews by denouncing any affiliation to them and to Israel and Zionism.
With racism in general, both real and imagined physical and/or cultural characteristics have historically been, and continue to be, signified as an innate mark of nature and ‘race’. Similar to all other manifestations of racism, with contemporary left anti-Semitism it is not difference per se that matters but the identification of this difference as significant. In this sense, whether consciously or not, those engaged in contemporary left anti-Semitic discourse and practices are engaged in racist discourse and practices. The demand (often in disguise) that the Israeli Jewish nation-state must be undone because it is uniquely despotic (comparable only to fascist Germany and/or apartheid South Africa) – a judgement and a demand not made of any other nation-state – is racist. It is racist because real and imagined cultural characteristics have been and are signified as an innate mark of the nature of Israel and Zionism (and of the cultural ‘race’ of Jews associated with Israel and Zionism), which are deemed especially deplorable and negative in characteristics and consequences.
Much academic theorising about ‘race’, racism and capitalism since the 1960s in Britain and North America sources racism solely to colonialism, rather than also recognising racism’s co-constructed relationship with the rise of nationalism and the nation-state, and some of its pre-capitalist origins. The consequences of this colonial model of racism are: one, limited to no recognition of racism beyond what “white people” have done and do to “black people”; two, intellectually crediting the controversial notion that Zionism is an instance of racism (as “bad, white and rich Jews” oppress “good, poor and brown Arabs and Muslims”); and three, downplaying anti-Semitism.
And add at end:
The two states settlement on pre-1967 borders is the only consistently democratic and realistic resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The overwhelming majority of both the activist and academic Left have adopted various forms of one state / one shared space solutions on the basis that the ultimate question is one of Palestinian redress and justice and/or “facts on the ground” have made a meaningful two states settlement impossible. For many in this majority camp, their politics is well-meaning and borne from despair. We need to patiently and sharply reason and debate against the varied proposals for one state / one shared space – exposing and condemning the implicit logic to undo the Israeli Jewish nation-state – while nuancing our argument as not altogether diametrically opposed: since we are for two states so that one day we might see one shared cooperative space between Jewish and Arab workers democratically emerge.
From the New Statesman:
On 4 November 1956 Aneurin “Nye” Bevan delivered an impassioned speech at a Labour-organised rally in Trafalgar Square condemning the Tory government’s decision to take military action against Egypt during the Suez crisis.
Bevan was famously a versatile, charismatic and rousing public speaker, traits that were on display at this rally, and in a similar speech to the House of Commons a month later. John Selwyn-Lloyd, foreign secretary at the time, described the latter as the greatest ever Commons performance, even though “it was at my expense”.
The rally was attended by 30,000 or more people, in the biggest national demonstration since before the Second World War. Eyewitnesses recall chants of “One, two, three, four! We won’t fight in Eden’s war!” The protest tapped into popular discontent with the war, but in its sheer scale, it has been credited with waking thousands from apathy over the invasion.
Bevan challenged government aggression, accusing the Tories of “a policy of of bankruptcy and despair” that would “lead back to chaos, back to anarchy and back to universal destruction”. His criticism of the reasoning behind the war is reminiscent of events surrounding the Iraq war nearly five decades later.
We are stronger than Egypt but there are other countries stronger than us. Are we prepared to accept for ourselves the logic we are applying to Egypt? If nations more powerful than ourselves accept the absence of principle, the anarchistic attitude of Eden and launch bombs on London, what answer have we got, what complaint have we got? If we are going to appeal to force, if force is to be the arbiter to which we appeal, it would at least make common sense to try to make sure beforehand that we have got it, even if you accept that abysmal logic, that decadent point of view.
We are in fact in the position today of having appealed to force in the case of a small nation, where if it is appealed to against us it will result in the destruction of Great Britain, not only as a nation, but as an island containing living men and women. Therefore I say to Anthony, I say to the British government, there is no count at all upon which they can be defended.
They have besmirched the name of Britain. They have made us ashamed of the things of which formerly we were proud. They have offended against every principle of decency and there is only way in which they can even begin to restore their tarnished reputation and that is to get out! Get out! Get out!
From The New Arab:
Above: a Stop The War Coalition protest outside Downing Street, 12 Dec 2015 [Getty}
Statement introduced by Alex Rowell, October 12, 2016