This post, by Michael Ezra, first appeared at Harry’s Place:
In 2003 I did not just support the Iraq War, I supported an ideology associated with many of the most vocal proponents of that war: neoconservatism. The purpose of this post is not to criticise Tony Blair for his decision to go to war, although one has to admit that Iraq in 2016 is not the liberal democratic paradise of which many had dreamed, but to note that neoconservatism as an ideology is a soiled good.
There is no simple definition of neoconservatism and neoconservative writers have not all sung the exact same tune with the exact same words. In my opinion neoconservatism is about promoting democracy abroad, opposing regimes hostile to American interests, championing American military strength, and not shirking from using that military strength to further these ideals. The dream was a world reshaped in the American image. Neoconservative thinkers believed, as Francis Fukuyama put it, “history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will.” While neoconservatives are interested in more than foreign policy, it is the foreign policy aspect that has dominated discourse. It is that upon which I focus.
The neoconservatives are ideologues. Like other ideologues they believe that their ideology is right in the moral sense. They had, in their own minds, “moral clarity.” George Bush admitted that the book that influenced his view on foreign policy was Natan Sharansky’s The Case for Democracy. Bush also recommended his aides read the book. Sharansky divided the world into two types of countries: free societies and fear societies. He applied a simple test: “Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm? If he can, then that person is living in a free society. If not, it’s a fear society.” (pp.40-41). Sharansky formulated his argument based on his own experiences as a dissident in the Soviet Union. If one lives in a fear society, dissidents are arrested and thrown in prison. Fear societies become repressive and tyrannical. He argued, “There is a universal desire among all peoples not to live in fear.” (p.38) His book is a blue print for overturning every single middle eastern dictatorship, and to do so, if necessary, by force: “The free world should not wait for dictatorial regimes to consent to reform….if we condition reform on the agreement of nondemocratic leaders, it will never come. We must be prepared to move forward over their objections.” (p.278). It is a seductive argument. I was seduced.
With such an ideology, in order to morally justify using force for regime change one does not need a fear society to have Weapons of Mass Destruction that could threaten American interests. Regime change is carried out for the good of the citizens of the living in the regime of fear. Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya informed President Bush that the Iraqi population would welcome American soldiers “with sweets and flowers.” Yet, one could argue, if intervention for the good of the citizens is sufficient, why pick on Iraq rather than any other country? The Weapons of Mass Destruction becomes a way of selling the military action to the population at home. (I am interested in the ideology, not the legality of the war, so there is no need to get into discussions as to United Nations votes and whether Bush and Blair did or did not believe Iraq had WMDs.)
At the time of the so-called Arab Spring the cracks began to appear. When there were huge demonstrations in Egypt against President Mubarak, the neoconservatives cheered on regime change and democracy. The hawks in the Israeli government, thought by many to be in line with the neoconservative ideal, were of a contrary opinion. They had a more realist view. If democracy led to the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of Egypt, they would prefer Mubarak. The Israelis thought the American neoconservatives hopelessly naïve.
Syria has been no better. While President Assad was busy killing his countrymen by the hundreds of thousands, the neoconservatives clamoured for his removal. They wanted America to provide massive military assistance to the so-called moderates opposed to his rule. However, these “moderates” were not necessarily moderate. Besides, it hardly helps either democracy promotion or American interests if weapons that America provided to these so-called “moderates” end up in the hands of the head-choppers of Al Qaeda and ISIS.
The problem with neoconservatism is therefore stark. Despite the view of the neoconservatives that the vast majority of people would far prefer a free democratic society than a dictatorship, when given a chance for the type of democracy that the neoconservatives have in mind, citizens of countries do not necessarily take it. Moreover, while the ideological position of believing you are right might be fine in theory, the empirical reality might be vastly different. One should not ignore what is patently obvious: neoconservatism is the God that failed. The neoconservatives need to be mugged by reality.
The long-awaited Chilcot Report is – understandably – of immense concern to those who lost family members in this ill-conceived adventure. But it was never going to deal with the crucial political issues at stake, nor help socialists develop a worthwhile programme for Iraq (the Worker-communist Party of Iraq made a serious attempt at this back in 2004).
Like many readers of this blog, I was on the massive anti-war march of 15 February 2003, and I’ve never had cause to regret it. But I don’t share the self-righteous preening of tyrant-lovers like Andrew Murray, and the loathsome, misnamed, ‘Stop The War Coalition’ (STWC) Even at the time, I was sickened by the refusal of the SWP, Galloway, Murray, etc to address the human rights issues and their systematic, deliberate, whitewashing of Saddam (Galloway, of course, being the most grovelling and egregious Saddam fan). A little later, their support for the fascistic gangs who were murdering Iraqi trade unionists alienated me once and for all. The subsequent degeneration of the STWC into a shrivelled Westphalian excuse-machine for vicious dictators and tyrants everywhere has only served to confirm my worst expectations.
Ian Taylor, an unrepentant marcher and anti-war campaigner, put his finger (in the New Statesman) on the central weakness of the ‘line’ of the SWP/Galloway leadership at the time, though he naively ascribed it to a lack of political imagination rather than a lack of political will:
“In my opinion, what we needed more than anything else was an answer to the dilemma of what should have been done about Saddam Hussein and the appalling human rights abuses that were undoubtably going on inside Iraq. Questions about this came up a great deal at public meetings, when leafletting the high street and in letters to local and national newspapers from supporters of the war. When asked about Iraq now, Blair always plays this card because he knows that opponents of the war don’t have an answer to it. If being on the left means anything, it ought to mean standing up for the oppressed. It shouldn’t have been beyond the wits of those speaking for the movement to have woven an answer to the problems of human rights abuses by non-western regimes into the fabric of their anti-imperialist principles. My view is that, just as we had weapons inspectors in Iraq, we should also have had human rights inspectors there. That would have done a lot to wrong-foot Blair et al.”
I can remember, in 2003, stumbling across the following searingly honest ‘Letter to an unknown Iraqi’ that pretty much summed up my own feelings at the time. I circulated it on the local STWC email list, where it didn’t go down terribly well. The issues it raises are still the crucial ones neither Chilcot nor the STWC are able to address:
I do not know your name, and that is already significant. Are you one of the thousands upon thousands who survived Saddam Hussein’s chambers of torture, did you see the genitals of one of your sons crushed to punish you, to make you cooperate? Are you a member of a family that has to live with the father who returned, silent and broken, from that inferno, the mother who must remember each morning the daughter taken one night by security forces, and who may or may not still be alive? Are you one of the Kurds gassed in the north of Iraq, an Arab from the south displaced from his home, a Shiite clergyman ruthlessly persecuted by the Baath Party, a communist who has been fighting the dictatorship for long decades?
Whoever you are, faceless and suffering, you have been waiting many years for the reign of terror to end. And now, at last, you can see fast approaching the moment you have been praying for, even if you oppose and fear the American invasion that will inevitably kill so many Iraqis and devastate your land: the moment when the dictator who has built himself lavish palaces, the man who praises Hitler and Stalin and promises to emulate them, may well be forced out of power.
What right does anyone have to deny you and your fellow Iraqis that liberation from tyranny? What right do we have to oppose the war the United States is preparing to wage on your country, if it could indeed result in the ouster of Saddam Hussein? Can those countless human rights activists who, a few years ago, celebrated the trial in London of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet as a victory for all the victims on this Earth, now deny the world the joy of seeing the strongman of Iraq indicted and tried for crimes against humanity?
It is not fortuitous that I have brought the redoubtable Pinochet into the picture.
As a Chilean who fought against the general’s pervasive terror for 17 years, I can understand the needs, the anguish, the urgency, of those Iraqis inside and outside their homeland who cannot wait, cannot accept any further delay, silently howl for deliverance. I have seen how Chile still suffers from Pinochet’s legacy, 13 years after he left power, and can therefore comprehend how every week that passes with the despot in power poisons your collective fate.
Such sympathy for your cause does not exempt me, however, from asking a crucial question: Is that suffering sufficient to justify intervention from an outside power, a suffering that has been cited as a secondary but compelling reason for an invasion?
Despite having spent most of my life as a firm anti-interventionist, protesting American aggression in Latin America and Asia, and Soviet invasions of Eastern Europe and Afghanistan, during the 1990s I gradually came to believe that there might be occasions when incursions by a foreign power could indeed be warranted. I reluctantly agreed with the 1994 American expedition to Haiti to return to power the legally elected president of that republic; I was appalled at the lack of response from the international community to the genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda; I applauded the Australian intervention to stop the massacres in East Timor; and, regarding Kosovo, though I would have preferred the military action to have taken place under the auspices of the United Nations, I eventually came to the agonizing conclusion that ethnic cleansing on such a massive scale could not be tolerated.
I am afraid that none of these cases applies to Iraq. For starters, there is no guarantee that this military adventure will, in fact, lead to a “regime change,” or peace and stability for your region.
Unfortunately, also, the present affliction of your men and women and children must be horribly, perversely, weighed against the impending casualties and enormous losses that the American campaign will surely cause. In the balance are not only the dead and mutilated of Iraq (and who knows how many from the invading force), but the very real possibility that such an act of preemptive, world-destabilizing aggression could spin out of control and lead to other despots preemptively arming themselves with all manner of apocalyptic weapons and, perhaps, to Armageddon. Not to mention how such an action seems destined to recruit even more fanatics for the terrorist groups who are salivating at the prospect of an American invasion. And if we add to this that I am unconvinced that your dictator has sufficient weapons of mass destruction to truly pose a threat to other countries (or ties to criminal groups who could use them for terror), I have to say no to war.
It is not easy for me to write these words.
I write, after all, from the comfort and safety of my own life. I write to you in the knowledge that I never did very much for the Iraqi resistance, hardly registered you and your needs, sent a couple of free books to libraries and academics in Baghdad who asked for them, answered one, maybe two, letters from Iraqi women who had been tortured and had found some solace in my plays. I write to you harboring the suspicion that if I had cared more, if we all had, there might not be a tyrant today in Iraq. I write to you knowing that there is no chance that the American government might redirect to a flood of people like you the $200 billion, $300 billion this war would initially cost, no real interest from those who would supposedly liberate you to instead spend that enormous amount of money helping to build a democratic alternative inside your country.
But I also write to you knowing this: If I had been approached, say in the year 1975, when Pinochet was at the height of his murderous spree in Chile, by an emissary of the American government proposing that the United States, the very country which had put our strongman in power, use military force to overthrow the dictatorship, I believe that my answer would have been, I hope it would have been: No, thank you. We must deal with this monster by ourselves.
I was never given that chance, of course: The Americans would never have wanted to rid themselves, in the midst of the Cold War, of such an obsequious client, just as they did not try to eject Saddam Hussein 20 years ago, when he was even more repressive. Rather, they supported him as a bulwark against militant Iran.
But this exercise in political science fiction (invade Chile to depose Pinochet?) at least allows me to share in the agony created by my own opposition to this war, forces me to recognize the pain that is being endured at this very moment in some house in Basra, some basement in Baghdad, some school in Tarmiyah. Even if I can do nothing to stop those government thugs in Iraq coming to arrest you again today, coming for you tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, knocking once more at your door.
Heaven help me, I am saying that if I had been given a chance years ago to spare the lives of so many of my dearest friends, given the chance to end my exile and alleviate the grief of millions of my fellow citizens, I would have rejected it if the price we would have had to pay was clusters of bombs killing the innocent, if the price was years of foreign occupation, if the price was the loss of control over our own destiny.
Heaven help me, I am saying that I care more about the future of this sad world than about the future of your unprotected children.
Moishe Postone, a Marxist writer based at the University of Chicago and author of Time, Labour, and Social Domination, and Critique du fétiche-capital: Le capitalisme, l’antisémitisme et la gauche, was in London in May, and spoke to Martin Thomas from Solidarity about anti-semitism on the left and reactionary anti-capitalism.
I don’t feel as if I know the ins and outs of the situation in the Labour Party, so part of what I say may not be completely accurate. First of all, there is an extremely unfortunate polarisation with regard to the relationship of anti-Zionism and anti-semitism. It is a polarisation which makes political discourse very difficult. On the one hand, you have the Israeli Right, as, let’s say, exemplified by Netanyahu, who treat any criticism of Israel as being anti-Semitic. As far as I’m concerned, this is completely illegitimate.
Not all forms of anti-Zionism are anti-Semitic. There are too many people on the left, and I think it’s increasing, who argue that no form of anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic: that anti-Zionism is anti-Zionism, and anti-Semitism is something else. In the world of the metropolitan left, it is really quite remarkable that the left has almost nothing to say about Syria, had nothing to say about Saddam, has nothing to say about the fact that we are witnessing a complete crisis of the Arabic-speaking world. That crisis cannot simply be blamed on imperialism. There needs to be at least an attempt at serious analysis of why every single post-colonial Arab country is characterised by the secret police, and a secret police that would do the Stasi proud. Some of them were trained by the Stasi and the KGB, in fact.
The left seems to be unable to say anything about these issues. In a sense, and this is extremely hypothetical on my part, I think the more helpless the left feels conceptually on dealing with the world, the more it zeroes in on Israel-Palestine, because that seems to be clear: the last anti-colonial struggle.
There are some leftists who will not be happy for me to say this, but retrospectively one could say that the rise of the New Left globally implied a tacit recognition that the proletariat was not the revolutionary subject. I think that there was a move away from working-class politics. The new leftists had not only separated themselves from Communist Parties and social-democratic parties; even though they sympathised with the plight of workers, I think they were tacitly casting about for a new revolutionary subject. The colonised peoples fighting for freedom became the new revolutionary subject. I think that along with that there was a curious fusion, in part because of Vietnam, of the anti-colonial struggle and anti-Americanism.
One of the differences between the massive demonstrations against the American war in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s, and the massive demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq, is that for many — not all, but many — of those who fought against the Americans, in the 1960s, there was the idea of supporting a progressive revolution. The Americans, as the world’s imperial, but also conservative force, were hindering a positive historical development. So the demonstrations weren’t only against the Americans. They were also for the Vietnamese revolution — however one retrospectively evaluates that thinking as justified or not, and whether or not one thinks there should have been further criticism of the Vietnamese Communist Party. None of that existed in the massive demonstrations against the American invasion in Iraq. There were very few people who could on any level have regarded the Ba’ath regime under Saddam Hussein as representing anything progressive, and nobody talked that way. Anti-Americanism became coded as progressive. In a funny way, it is a remnant of the Cold War, spread among people who were actually not Cold Warriors.
Israel has become fused with America in the minds of many of these anti-imperialist leftists. An enormous amount of power is attributed to Israel which it actually doesn’t have. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who are colleagues of mine at the University of Chicago, claim that the American invasion of Iraq was against American interests, but pushed by the Israelis. Of course, they never state what Israeli interests were. Really, as both those writers had connections to Washington, their book was a brief that the State Department should listen to them more than to the neo-cons that they did listen to. Israel is, in a sense, the manipulator, and Washington is sometimes just a stupid dolt which is manipulated by these incredibly clever Jews. And at that point the picture of Zionism is anti-semitic. Zionism There were leftwing critiques of Zionism from the very beginning, frequently by communist Jews. Zionism was criticised by the communists as a form of bourgeois nationalism.
That’s something completely different from the criticisms today. Trotsky, early in his life — I think he changed his views later on — referred to the Bundists as “sea-sick Zionists”. That critique had nothing to do with Palestine or the Palestinian people. It simply has to do with nationalism. The change may have happened in the 1930s, but one marker of it was the trial in Czechoslovakia in 1952, where the Stalinists tried the entire Central Committee of the Czech Communist Party. It was 14 people. Eleven were Jewish. These were old Communists. Many had fought in Spain. They were accused of being Zionists. If you read what “Zionists” meant, it was exactly what the fascists called “Jews” — a shadowy conspiracy, inimical to the health of the Volk, and working to undermine the government which was for the people. The Stalinists couldn’t use the word “Jewish” — this was only seven years after the war — so they used the word “Zionist”. That was one of the origins of a deeply anti-Semitic form of anti-Zionism. It exploded after 1967. The USSR was furious that Israel had defeated its two major client states, and it began to suport the Palestinian movement. The anti-Semitic cartoons and statements coming out of the Soviet Union were pretty appalling. That’s where you got the idea that Zionism is Nazism — generated by the Soviet Union. And unfortunately, that Arab nationalists picked up on it is not surprising.
Carlos Latuff’s cartoon “Holocaust Remembrance Day”
The Western left started to pick up on that too. I think that was deeply unfortunate. I think anti-semitism is almost a litmus test for whether a movement is progressive or not. There are a lot of anti-capitalist movements that are not progressive. And I think that anti-Semitism is a marker. I think there is a great deal to criticise in Israeli policies, the Israeli occupation, certainly the present Israeli government. But political discussion cannot take place if the choice is between Netanyahu on the one hand, and a certain kind of anti-Semitic anti-Zionism on the other. Anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism is a world view. It is not prejudice against individual Jews. It can go with being perfectly civil, although I’ve been reading about the way some Jewish students are pilloried in terms of “you look Zionist”. Who could “look Zionist”? It means, “you look Jewish”.
I was struck by the UN Arab Human Development report of 2002, which was written by Arab scholars. It talked about the misère of the Arab-speaking world and its massive decline since the late 1970s. The decline was nearly as precipitous as that of sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time other areas of what used to be called “the Third World”, have risen. It seems to me that it is not only the decline of the Arab-speaking world, but the rise of other parts, which makes an anti-Semitic form of anti-Zionism more plausible. The power of the Jews! It is the Jews who are pulling everything down. This is only a little variant on the idea that the problem is all imperialism. Well, imperialism is very important, was important, was distorting. But after all the British were in India much longer than anyone was in Syria. Or in Iraq. But I know more serious analyses of India from the left than I do of the Ba’ath. I find that politically unfortunate, and when it becomes anti-Semitic, I find it a marker of a move towards a reactionary populism. Campuses On many campuses, the hostility has spread to all Jews. It has made many young Jews very confused and they identify more with Israel than they did.
It is creating a reaction. Many of them are naïve politically, and because Israel’s very existence is being called into question, they also frequently are uncritical in terms of what is going on in Israel-Palestine. When Israel under comes such attack – because it doesn’t feel like a political attack but an existential attack – there is very little discussion. There are campaigns such as BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel], which is basically dishonest. [Norman] Finkelstein picked up on this quite a while ago. Some people are confused, and BDS tries to promote the confusion. People think it is against the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza period, but it is not. Because if it were, then it would not be a boycott of all Israeli academics, most of whom are very opposed to the settlements and Netanyahu. It is significant I think, that at the height of the Vietnam War, or the Iraq invasion, or other American adventures, there never was a call for a boycott of all American academics, ever.
The West takes the model of South Africa; many Palestinian militants think the model is Algeria; and there is no analogy. I don’t mean a moral analogy, I the mean analogy falls down because of demographic and political facts. There was in South Africa, only a small minority of white South Africans. There are as many Israeli Jews as there are Palestinians. So the Algerian or South African tactics are not going to work. But you have an extremely unfortunate marriage, as it were, between the Israeli right, which is becoming further and further right, and what I regard as the Palestinian right.
For me, the signal event was when [Israeli prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin was assassinated [in 1995, by an Israeli right-winger]. The right-wing campaign against Rabin was appalling and vicious, and Netanyahu was at the head of that. After Rabin was assassinated, it was assumed that Labour would be swept into power on a sympathy vote. Instead a Palestinian group began a campaign of suicide bombs. That elected the first Netanyahu government [in 1996]. The two work hand in glove. Each side thinks that ultimately, in the long run, it is going to prevail. But in the meantime, politically, they are united. It is a united rightwing front.
Jon Lansman, writing at Left Futures, shows how Labour’s commitment in 1944 to a Jewish national state in Palestine wasn’t due to Zionist agitation or imperialist self interest but the effects of the holocaust; an important and well-researched piece:
Who is responsible for the Middle East conflict? And how do we help resolve it? We can do worse than to begin by looking at Labour’s own history.
On this day [ie 30 May] in 1944, Labour’s annual conference was taking place in London. A week before D-Day and two weeks before V1s started hitting London, the Allies were making progress through Italy and were bombing targets in France in preparation for the invasion. And amidst all that, Labour delegates were focussed on “The International Post-War Settlement“, on how to build a post-war world.
They knew about the Holocaust though they had not yet really understood its magnitude. And in building a new world, they were prepared to contemplate some drastic measures. I recently purchased a copy of the NEC statement which was agreed at the conference. It included, in a section headed “Palestine”, the words I found profoundly shocking when I first read them:
There is surely neither hope nor meaning in a “Jewish National Home”, unless, we are prepared to let Jews, if they wish, enter this tiny land [Palestine] in such numbers as to become a majority. There was a strong case for this before the War. There is an irresistible case now, after the unspeakable atrocities of the cold and calculated German Nazi plan to kill all Jews in Europe. Here, too, in Palestine surely is a case, on human grounds and to promote a stable settlement, for transfer of population. Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out as the Jews move in. Let them be compensated handsomely for their land and let their settlement elsewhere be carefully organised and generously financed. The Arabs have many wide territories of their own; they must not claim to exclude the Jews from this small area of Palestine, , less than the size of Wales. Indeed we should re-examine the possibility of extending the present Palestinian boundaries, by agreement with Egypt, Syria or Transjordan.”
And so, without opposition, Labour’s conference committed itself to not only ethnic cleansing, but to a Greater Israel extending even beyond the boundaries that it currently occupies in 2016. It did so not because it was persuaded by the “Zionist lobby”, not in order to serve British imperial interests (which had been the only objective of the Balfour declaration in 1917), but because of the Holocaust, and the refugee problem that they expected.
This nevertheless shocking commitment to ethnic cleansing should be seen in the context of an earlier section of the report in a section headed “Frontiers“:
All Germans left outside the the post-War German frontiers, unless they are willing to become loyal subjects of the state in which they find themselves, claiming no special privileges, should go back to Germany. Indeed they will be well advised to do so in their own interests, for, in the early post-War years at any rate, there will be a depth of hatred against Germans in the occupied countries, which it is impossible for us or for Americans to realise.
Germans in many of those areas may have to face the choice between migration and massacre.
The organised transfer of population, in the immediate post-War period, may, indeed, be one of the foundations of better international relations in a later phase. Nor would this be a new departure. Between the Wars the transfer of population between Greece and Turkey was an undoubted success.
In any case, there will be a vast problem of repatriation and resettlement in Europe, when tens of millions of refugees, slave labourers and prisoners of war return to freedom and their own homes. Compared with this, the transfer even of substantial national minorites, German and other, to the right side of the post-War frontiers will be a small affair. “
Shocking as it may be to those of us who observe from a safe distance the fall-out from the ethnic cleansing that did in fact take place in 1947 in Palestine and the conflict that followed, it was seen as a relatively “small affair” in the context of the end of World War II. Ethnic cleansing had allegedly been an “undoubted success” in Greece and Turkey in spite of the deaths from epidemics in transit and the resulting poverty and hardship on arrival.
Churchill who had promised “that we British will never seek to take vengeance by wholesale mass reprisals against the general body of the German people” – with the backing of Labour’s leaders and conference – agreed with Allied leaders to back the ethnic cleansing of 12-14million Germans across central and eastern Europe after the war.
“The largest forced migration in history” was “accomplished largely by state-sponsored violence and terror” including being herded into camps including former Nazi concentration camps like Auschwitz or Theresienstadt, victims being subjected to beatings, rapes of female inmates, gruelling forced labour and starvation diets.
Estimates of those who died in transit vary upwards from 500,000 though the German government clings to earlier estimates of 2million. This included those who died of disease or malnutrition which included a high proportion of children and the elderly. What’s more, other minorities were expelled on the back of this forced migration: Hungarians from Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, Romanians by the USSR. And that is on top of the forced repatriation of Soviet POWs.
Labour was right to expect massacres from populations that had suffered German brutality under occupation. And the League of Nations and post-World War I treaties had utterly failed to protect ethnic minorities subjected to the racism of right-wing nationalist governments right across central Europe in the new ethno-centered nation states Western leaders had created in the dismemberment of the old empires. On the altar of “self-determination”, Allied leaders had handed multicultural cities and towns across Europe to be ruled by strident ethnic nationalists.
By 1944, they didn’t want to make the same mistake again. Not in Europe, and not with the Jews. And so it was they that created Israel. Of the Allied leaders, it is true that both Bevin and Attlee were persuaded by the complexities of managing inter-communal conflict in the Mandate of British Palestine (rather than by Ernie Bevin’s antisemitic prejudices though he had them) to abstain on Israel’s creation. In addition to the pressure of US diplomats on countries like Haiti, Philipines and Liberia, it was the three votes controlled by Stalin (cast on behalf of the USSR, Ukraine and Belarus) which ensured that the two-thirds majority for resolution 181 was achieved.
And so what of the role of Zionism? For all the diplomacy and organisation of the World Zionist Organisation for half a century, it was not that which led to the creation of Israel. It was the Holocaust, the plight of the survivors seeking safe refuge, and the guilt of the American, British and other Allied leaders who did not wish to take them in (though many would have been satisfied with that).
So they did for the Jews what they were not prepared to do for the Kurds, nor for the Roma. And the Jews, a majority of whom in almost all countries had not supported Zionism prior to the War, rejoiced at the prospect of a safe place to live. And who with the knowledge of their circumstances cannot understand that?
And the Palestinians understandably saw and still see the loss of their land as a catastrophe. The Nakba. And who that reflects on their circumstances and what they have experienced since cannot understand that?
If there is to be peace, justice, democracy and equality in Israel/Palestine, both of those realities need to be acknowledged. Only truth can bring reconciliation.
I have just received a leaflet from the Birmingham branch of Socialist Resistance, advertising a meeting entitled ‘Fight antisemitism – Fight Zionism’. The speaker is Roland Rance, and one side of the leaflet carries a statement supposedly (*) from him:
Roland Rance, a socialist Jew and anti-Zionist writes:
The current controversy over alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party comes from a convergence of several different forces: apologists for Israeli, always keen to denounce supporters of Palestinian rights; the Labour right, looking for any stick with which to beat Corbyn and the left; and the Tories and their press supporters, desperate to prevent a Corbynled Labour victory. It is no coincidence that this issue burst into public during an election campaign marked by outright racism and Islamophobia.
These attacks are rooted in a continuing campaign to change the meaning of the term anti-Semitism, to include anti-Zionism, or even opposition to Israeli policies and practices. We must be clear on this: anti-Semitism, like all forms of racism, has no place on the left, or in society as a whole. Zionism is itself a racist ideology, and anti-Zionism is a legitimate political position. We should also bear in mind that an increasing number of Jews oppose Zionism and very many Zionists (probably the majority) are actually not Jewish, but fundamentalist Christians.
The targets of the current attacks (some of whom are themselves Jews) are not antisemites. Some of them may have been guilty of clumsy phrasing or thoughtless responses; but they are not anti-Jewish racists. Most of the attacks are based on comments on social media, some dating back years; it is evident that there has been a systematic trawl through people’s previous activities.
We must resist this. We call for free speech on Israel, and an end to the witch-hunt. We oppose racism, whether directed at Jews, at Muslims, or at any other community. And we stand firmly alongside the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation and justice.
The leaflet also carries this cartoon by the, err, “controversial” cartoonist Carlos Latuff:
So there we have it: according to Socialist Resistance, antisemitism “has no place on the left” and, indeed, as proof of that statement, it simply does not exist on the left! All allegations of antisemitism come from “apologists for Israeli … the Labour right … and the Tories”.
None of the individuals recently accused of antisemitism are guilty, and anti-Zionism cannot ever be antisemitic. As a result of these false allegations, free speech itself is now at stake!
In other words, “nothing to see here, comrades, move on!”
* in fairness to Roland Rance, I note that the wording of the leaflet seems to be loosely based upon a much longer and more nuanced article by him on the Socialist Resistance website, that does very reluctantly admit that in one or two isolated and extreme cases antisemites have “infiltrated” the left and the pro-Palestinian movement. It’s a politically weak and evasive article, but nowhere near as bad as the appalling drivel put out under his name, by his comrades in Birmingham.
This should be of immense concern to all of us who care about Israel and hope for an eventual just peace in the Region: Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon explains his resignation at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv
Israel’s defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, a former IDF chief of staff and veteran of the Yom Kippur and Lebanon wars, has resigned with these words:
“I fought with all my might against attempts to harm the Supreme Court and Israel’s justices, trends whose outcomes greatly harm the rule of law and could be disastrous for our country.”
The latest confrontation between Netanyahu and Ya’alon, which took place at the beginning of the week, was over the public backing Ya’alon gave senior IDF officials to express their opinions. His remarks followed Netanyahu’s criticism of comments made by IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The rift between Ya’alon and significant parts of the Likud central committee and party voters widened over the past year over the obstacles the defense minister placed in front of efforts regarding construction in the settlements.
“The rupture between Netanyahu and Ya’alon is real and serious, not political spin. Netanyahu owes a lot to right-wing voters who marked Ya’alon as a red flag,” a Likud source said.
“In general, Israeli society is a healthy society, and the majority of it is sane and aims for a Jewish, democratic and liberal country,” Ya’alon said. “But to my great sorrow, extremist and dangerous elements have taken over Israel and the Likud Party and are shaking the foundations and threatening to hurt its residents.”
“Sadly, senior politicians in the country have chosen the way of incitement and segregation of parts of Israeli society instead of unifying it and bringing it together. It is unbearable to me that we will be divided among us out of cynicism and lust for control, and I expressed my opinion on the matter more than once out of honest concern for the future of society in Israel and the future of the next generations.”
Netanyahu had been negotiating to bring the Labor party into his government before veering sharply to the Right and reaching an agreement to bring in Avigdor Lieberman’s fascistic party– with Lieberman as the new defense minister.
Syrians gather on the rubble of a building in the aftermath of a Russian airstrike in Dair al-Asafeer village, rural Damascus. Inset: Putin (Photo: AP)
Jonathan Steel, the former Moscow correspondent of the Guardian, is one of a group of foreign correspondents (Robert Fisk and Patrick Coburn being two other notables) who use their professional reputations to boost Putin, Assad the Iranian regime and Hezbullah. Naturally, they are much beloved of the “anti-imperialist” liberal-left, conspiracy theorists everywhere and the so-called Stop The War Coalition.
Steele once accused Muslims who opposed Islamist rule in Tunisia of ‘Islamophobia’. He’s also written a spirited defense of the ‘tragically misunderstood’ Robert Mugabe and has even urged the West to make nice towards the regime in North Korea. Not surprisingly considering the ideological package he shows fealty towards, he’s also warned darkly of the Zionist influence on the U.S. media.
Like Fisk, Coburn, Tariq Ali and Seymour Hersh, Steele is a contributor to the London Review of Books, which seems to favour their brand of pro-Putin apologia in its political coverage. An article by Steel in the 21 April 2016 issue of the LRB, though superficially objective and even scholarly, in fact gave pretty much uncritical support to the official Russian version of events in Syria.
However, a letter in the present issue of the LRB from former International Marxist Group member Brian Slocock puts Steele in his place with regards to the real human cost and the true political objective of Putin’s bombing campaign; a letter from one Omar Naqib on Steele’s claim that the US and French military campaigns in Syria had ‘no basis in international law’ is also worth reading:
Jonathan Steele seems intent on downplaying the extent of civilian casualties resulting from Russia’s intensive bombing of Syria (LRB, 21 April). He cites an article published in the German news magazine Focus on 5 March, which reported that a leaked Nato document characterised the Russian bombing as ‘precise and efficient’. ‘Precise and efficient’ at doing what? Steele doesn’t tell us, but the Focus article does: it tells us that the Nato document calculates that only 20 per cent of Russian sorties were directed at Islamic State targets, then goes on to quote the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights to the effect that Russian operations resulted in more than 1700 deaths, including those of 423 children.
Steele draws on another source – Airwars – for data on the victims of coalition bombings, but passes over its monitoring of Russian operations. In a report entitled ‘Reckless Disregard for Civilian Lives’, Airwars estimates that from 30 September to 31 December, ‘between 1098 and 1450 non-combatants died in 192 separate Russian events.’ Russia has, it says, ‘systematically targeted civilian neighbourhoods and civilian infrastructure – including water plants, wells, marketplaces, bakeries, food depots and aid convoys … Russia and the coalition report carrying out a similar number of armed sorties. Yet civilian fatalities from Russian strikes were six times higher … more civilians appear to have been killed by Russia in the three months to 31 December than from all credibly reported coalition civilian fatality events since August 2014.’
Carrying the body count forward to February this year, the Violations Documentation Centre (the statistical source of choice for serious Syria-watchers) produces a final figure of 1989 civilian deaths, 486 of them children, as a result of the Russian bombing campaign.
Jonathan Steele writes that before obtaining UN Security Council backing, the United States and France’s initial military campaigns in Syria had ‘no basis in international law’. In fact both governments notified the Security Council that they were acting in defence of Iraq, which had requested their assistance to eradicate IS safe havens in northern Syria. The US also claimed it was acting in self-defence even though, unlike Iraq, it had never been attacked by Islamic State.
Although controversial, there is growing recognition in international law that states can (and do) use force in self-defence against terrorist groups operating out of countries whose governments are unwilling or unable to neutralise the group themselves. In justifying its operation, the US referred to the Assad government’s inability to tackle IS.
This right is by no means universally accepted, but a key indicator of whether a right exists in international law is how other states react when a government asserts the right in question: the only countries that objected to the legality of the US and French campaigns were Syria’s allies, Iran and Russia.
Jon Lansman, long-standing Labour leftist and founder-member of Momentum, has written a piece for Left Futures blog, arguing that the left’s habitual use of the word “Zionism” is unhelpful and counter-productive.
The latter part of his article is good. But much of the article – inconsistently with the latter part – seems to suggest no more than a change of language (don’t say Zionist – say Israeli nationalist).
The problem with that becomes clear when he quotes Jacqueline Rose’s suggestion that instead of saying Zionism equals apartheid, people should say: Israeli nationalism equals apartheid. Would it be acceptable, by analogy, to say: German nationalism (necessarily) equals the Holocaust?
And the upshot of ‘Israeli nationalism equals apartheid’ is no different from the upshot of ‘Zionism equals apartheid’, i.e. boycott Israel.
Rose was one of the instigators of the academic boycott. There’s a lot of articles explaining what’s wrong with her politics on the Engage website.
Lansman also buys into the Rose/Lerman line of drawing a distinction between good (or potentially good) diaspora Jewry and bad Israeli Jewry. Hence his claim that “British Zionists are a world apart from Israeli Zionists”. But still, it’s a thoughtful article that reaches at least one correct conclusion: the left should stop using the word “Zionism” as a pejorative.
There is every justification for talking about the rights of Palestinians, for campaigning against the profound injustice that has been done to them and for criticising the actions and policies of the Israeli government but there is no defence for antisemitism, whoever makes the accusation. As the Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG) has rightly argued, “accusations of antisemitism are currently being weaponised to attack the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party with claims that Labour has a “problem” of antisemitism.” A group of Jews also wrote to the Guardian this week to add that:
The tiny number of cases of real antisemitism need to be dealt with, but we are proud that the Labour party historically has been in the forefront of the fight against all forms of racism.”
But one of them, David Rosenburg, a leading member of the JSG, also argued on the same day that in spite of efforts to “to deconstruct the ‘problem with antisemitism’“:
Ken Livingstone’s crass intervention yesterday was a massive setback for those efforts, and a free gift to those manipulating the issue for right wing purposes….
My plea to fellow anti-racist, anti-Zionist, socialist activists is: don’t waste any of your precious time today trying to rationalise, defend or explain away Livingstone’s comments, but concentrate on challenging the terms of the debate as set by the right-wing alliance that are exploiting this whole issue.
Concentrate on how to persuade and split off those who are genuinely worried about rising antisemitism from those exploiting the issues;
Concentrate on showing how the Left can demonstrate that the fight against antisemitism is tied up with the fight against all racism including Islamophobia;
Concentrate on exposing how those feigning sympathy for Jews are implicated in racism against others; and
Concentrate on ways to ensure free speech and rational debate about the realities of what Zionism and Israeli policy is enacting daily against the Palestinians.
So how do we achieve that? I would argue that it is time for the Left to start talking in a new language – one that expresses our views about Israel, about the policies and actions of its government and about the rights of Palestinians without alienating any of those who might agree with us. It is not necessary to abandon any non-racist criticisms of Israel, however robust they may be, in order to do so.
Why is a new language necessary: because British Jews, most of whom support a Palestinian state (71%), and see the expansion of settlements as a major obstacle to peace (75%) and feel a sense of despair when they are expanded (68%) generally see themselves as “Zionists” (59%) with more who also “possess some traditionally ‘Zionist’ attitudes“) – all figures from The Attitudes of British Jews towards Israel). Zionism takes many forms, and British Zionists (at least those who are Jewish) are a world apart from Israeli Zionists. In Israel, tragically, a plurality of Jews (48% versus 46%) believe “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel” and disagree that “a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully with each other” (45% to 43%) – data from Pew Research Center.
Like Didi Herman at Critical Legal Thinking, Professor of Law at Kent Law School and a Jew who used to describe herself as an anti-zionist but does no longer, I therefore think the Left should stop talking about “Zionism” or “Zionists”. As Herman argues:
Zionism has become a dirty word for many on the left. It has become synonymous with Israel itself, the racist practices of the Israeli state.”
Herman quotes Jacqueline Rose, a Professor of English Literature (whose views on Israel have – completely unreasonably – been described as an “anti-semitic anti-Zionism” by Avner Falk) arguing that “Zionism emerged out of the legitimate desire of a persecuted people for a homeland” and, in spite of her opposition to what she calls “the ‘blood and soil’ form that zionism eventually took in Israel” she also says:
I am not happy, to put it at its most simple, to treat Zionism as an insult. A dirty word”
There is, Herman argues, “a stark reluctance amongst left scholars… to take the history and psychology of Jewish communal survival seriously” and continues:
The identification of a generic Zionism with nothing but racist practice in Israel entrenches an understanding of zionism not just as a dirty word, but as a pariah form of thinking unrelated to any other (except apartheid thinking).”
Far better she says to “use ‘Israeli nationalists’ or ‘Israeli fundamentalists’ or better yet ‘Netanyahu’s regime’ “:
These alternatives won’t provide an easy shorthand in the way ‘Zionism’ does, for example, ‘Israeli nationalism = apartheid’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it, but I suppose that is my point — easy options often sacrifice understanding for rhetorical force.”
Abandoning use of the term “Zionist” will not be enough on its own. There needs to be clarity, guidance and even training about what is appropriate. Unfortunately, we will not be able to have a rational debate about how to change the terms of the current debate unless we are also able to open our minds to the possibility, regardless of who points it out or their motive for doing so, that people on the left may also demonstrate some prejudice of their own.
So consider this by John Rees of Stop the War whose comment was shared on the Young Jewish Left closed Facebook page — copied because “it needs some comment“:
Was rung up this evening by some semi-educated BBC producer asking if I’d come on and debate a troll on the issue of ‘Is the left anti-Semitic?‘ I said that as a follower of the most famous political Jew of the 19th century and the most famous political Jew of the 20th century, and as someone who learnt my anti-Zionist politics from a Palestinian Jew called Ygael Gluckstein, it was an insult to even ask me that question. And that as someone who has opposed the fascists, especially when their main target was Jews not, as it is now, Muslims I’m not participating in a debate whose purpose is to demonise the left.”
Julia Bard, another leading member of the JSG who signed the Guardian letter, commented:
I can see why he might not have wanted to participate in the debate on the terms offered, but to imply that being a follower of Karl Marx or Tony Cliff, who were Jewish, somehow immunises him against antisemitism, comes perilously close to “Some of my best friends are Jews.”
And to assert that because the Left is committed to anti-racism, no one within it is susceptible to a powerful racist ideology with centuries-long roots in European culture, would suggest that socialist movements (or at least those with the correct line) are populated by paragons of political virtue who have no need to think about or change their views on anything. Does anyone (including John Rees) actually think this? If so, we’ve got more of a problem than I thought.
Come on, comrades. You have nothing to lose but your counter-productive slogans.
I am Dr Hatem, the director of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo.
Last night, 27 staff and patients were killed in an airstrike on Al Quds Hospital nearby. My friend Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz (pictured), the city’s most qualified paediatrician, was killed in the attack.
He used to work at our Children’s Hospital during the day and then he’d go to Al Quds Hospital to attend to emergencies overnight.
Dr Maaz and I used to spend six hours a day together. He was friendly, kind and he used to joke a lot with the whole staff. He was the loveliest doctor in our hospital.
I’m in Turkey now, and he was supposed to visit his family here after I returned to Aleppo. He hadn’t seen them in four months.
Dr Maaz stayed in Aleppo, the most dangerous city in the world, because of his devotion to his patients. Hospitals are often targeted by government and Russian air forces.
Days before Dr Maaz’s life was taken, an airstrike hit only 200 metres away from our hospital. When the bombing intensifies, the medical staff run down to the ground floor of the hospital carrying the babies’ incubators in order to protect them.
Like so many others, Dr Maaz was killed for saving lives. Today we remember Dr Maaz’s humanity and his bravery. Please share his story so others may know what medics in Aleppo and across Syria are facing.
The situation today is critical – Aleppo may soon come under siege. We need the world to be watching.
Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts,
March With Medics Under Fire
Saturday 7th May at 2pm, Trafalgar Square, London.