NUS now led by a bizarre kind of “left”

April 21, 2016 at 7:13 pm (anti-semitism, censorship, conspiracy theories, Free Speech, iraq, islamism, israel, Kurds, left, Middle East, palestine, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism, students, zionism)


Above: Bouattia speaks

By Champagne Charlie

Malia Bouattia, the new President of the NUS, stood on a supposedly “left wing”  platform consisting largely of identity politics, simplistic, reactionary anti-imperialism and undifferentiated hostility towards Israel and most of its people in the name of supposed “solidarity” with the Palestinian cause.

Normally, student politics are not of much interest to us at Shiraz, but the politics behind Bouattia’s victory are of significance to the left – and a warning  of what can happen when the serious class struggle left fails to vigorously oppose identity politics and reactionary anti-imperialism.

Bouattia made headlines last year after opposing a motion to the NUS executive condemning Isis and supporing the Kurds, claiming that to do so would be “islamophobic”, “racist” and “imperialist”.

This brought criticism from Kurdish and left wing students, but when the press picked up the story, she responded by whipping up a storm against the proposer of the motion, Workers’ Liberty supporter Daniel Cooper (see Cooper’s statement on this below).

The left majority on the NUS executive has repeatedly discredited itself by taking ridiculous positions – to take one example, voting down support for Palestinian workers fighting Israeli bosses in Israel’s settlements, on the grounds that this would supposedly legitimise the occupation…

On the issue of free speech on campus, which has been a major issue this year, the majority NUS left has been on the wrong side, promoting the idea that suppression of views they don’t approve of, and the promotion of so-called “safe spaces”,  is the way to challenge oppression and backward ideas.

NUS has campaigned against the government’s Prevent programme, but done so by promoting the thoroughly reactionary Islamist campaign Cage. It has helped promote a “left” politics where the idea that Germaine Greer (or indeed, following their rape scandal, the SWP) should be banned from speaking and/or organising on campus, is combined with a sympathetic attitude towards an organisation, Cage, whose central leaders admire the Taliban.

Almost everyone in NUS is in favour of support for the Palestinian struggle. But the unthinking, absolute “anti-Zionism” which all too often shades into a form of political anti-Semitism, does a disservice to the Palestinian cause and can only set back any prospect of a just peace (not that Bouattia & Co want peace – see the video at the top of this post).

The new NUS President is representative of all these problems. Her record is defined not so much by being a leader of struggles as a spokesperson for these kinds of political ideas and positions.

Workers Liberty made many of these points (perhaps slightly more tactfully worded) in a statement, adding:

We remind the movement of this because we believe that Bouattia behaved like a petty and unprincipled factionalist, putting her resentment at her bad luck, her prestige and the chance to attack a political grouping she doesn’t like above the massive issue of the Kurdish struggle. Although the NEC eventually, two months later, passed a motion about Kurdistan, NUS circles spent far more time and energy on the row than on supporting the Kurds. So much for anti-imperialism!

We have little confidence that an NUS led by Malia Bouattia would be more habitable for political minorities and dissenters, more democratic or more serious about political debate and discussion than one led by [the “right wing” incumbent] Megan Dunn.

Workers Liberty, however, decided to give Bouattia critical support against Dunn:

Bouattia and co are more left-wing than Dunn and co on a whole series of class struggle-type issues. In the context of a Tory government attacking all along the line, and important battles against them – junior doctors, other strikes, anti-academies fight, Labour Party struggle – breaking the grip of the old right over NUS is of no small importance. That is why our position is to vote for Malia Bouattia above Megan Dunn – not because we can in any real sense endorse her candidacy, let alone her politics. (Although it is secondary, we also think NUS electing its first black woman, and first Muslim-background, President would be positive.)

Daniel Cooper’s statement on his motion on Iraq, ISIS and the Kurds

I have read on social media various criticisms of my report of the September NUS National Executive Council meeting. Here are some thoughts in response.

Didn’t you go to the press about the NUS Black Students’ Officer, the row about Kurdistan and ISIS?

No. I have had a number of requests from newspapers to comment and I have turned them all down, the ones from the Sun and Daily Mail very rudely. This is because I am a socialist, anti-racist and feminist and have no intention of helping any right-wing campaign. I also have my own experience of being witch-hunted by the political right and the press: in late 2012 and early 2013 there was a major national campaign against me for publicly declining to take part, as ULU Vice President, in a pro-war/pro-imperialist “remembrance” ceremony (see here).

I condemn the press, right and far right attacks on Malia Bouattia, many of which are disgusting examples of racism and sexism.

After I published my report of the September NUS NEC meeting, it was covered by some (left-wing) blogs and then noticed more widely. At that point the story was picked up and repeated, naturally in distorted form, by the right-wing online student paper the Tab, and from there by the mainstream press. It is absurd to suggest I am responsible for this, unless you think people on the left should never publicly criticise each other in case the right makes use of it.

Didn’t you accuse Malia of not condemning ISIS?

No. Read the report. I never said anything of the sort. I objected to Malia opposing the motion on Iraq proposed by me, Shreya Paudel and Clifford Fleming, and responded to her claims that it was Islamophobic and pro-imperialist. Some people have claimed I misrepresented Malia. The only justification I have heard for this is, firstly, that I did not state that Malia condemned ISIS. That is because it was so blindingly obvious: before the right-wing attacks on Malia, the idea that anyone on NUS NEC would not condemn ISIS had not even occurred to me. And, secondly, that I failed to report that Malia offered to support a different motion on Kurdistan at the next NEC if it fitted with her politics. Whether or not I should have reported this or not, it is hardly decisive! Does anyone seriously believe that if I had stated either of these things it would have prevented right wingers distorting and making use of what I wrote?

Why didn’t you talk to Malia about the motion before the meeting?

Firstly, I am under no obligation to consult Malia, who has different politics from me, about what motions I want to submit to the NEC.

Secondly, I did. I specifically sent Malia the motion after it was submitted (she will also have received it as normal in her NEC papers) and asked for her views. She responded saying that she would have liked to be consulted before the motion was submitted, but when I replied and asked for her views on the actual contents of the motion, she did not reply.

Malia and her political allies could have moved amendments in advance, through the normal process, or moved parts to delete particular lines or elements on the day. They didn’t.

I would add that we had submitted a very similar motion to the previous NEC in July (it fell off the agenda for lack of time), so the general contents were available to consider and discuss for even longer than normal, and Malia had ample opportunity to move her own motion about Kurdistan in September. Again, failing that, she could have amended mine.

Isn’t “resolves 5” of the motion (“Encourage students to boycott anyone found to be funding the IS or supplying them with goods, training, travel or soldiers”) Islamophobic? Doesn’t it effectively propose that MI5 spies on Muslim students?

Resolves 5 was a point that Roza Salih, NUS Scotland International Students’ Officer, wanted in the motion. In general (not always), I am opposed to be boycotts as I believe they are ineffective and strip agency of people on the ground to bring change. I also think that there are indeed issues about seeking to establish who ISIS supporters are. I considered removing this line after Roza proposed it, but then didn’t. I should have. If anyone had emailed me stating their opposition to it (or replied to my emails asking for opinions!) I would almost certainly have removed it.

But it’s worth noting that in Bouttia’s speech in the NEC meeting she did not state why she believed the motion to be Islamophobic.

It’s only after the meeting that I have been informed that this particular point was contentious. I am still confused about why, then, it was not amended or deleted from the motion in the meeting itself, rather than opposing the whole motion outright.

I understand that, in a society such as ours, in which anti-Muslim feeling is wide-spread, this point in the motion might be misconstrued. However, it was clearly never intended in this way, by Roza or by me.

I am also curious as to how most of those that opposed the motion, especially on the left, square this with their support for boycotts of Israel.

Why are you attacking the NUS Black Students’ Officer?

I’m not attacking her as a person, much less because she is BSO. I’m expressing a political criticism of a position she took and arguments she made, because I disagree with them.

Why did you single out Malia in your report?

Because she was the person – the only person – who spoke against the motion. There was one speech for and one against – Shreya Paudel and Malia. I moved for another round of speeches, but Toni Pearce, as chair, over-ruled me. That is why that section of my NEC report focuses on Malia’s arguments (plus the tweet from Aaron Kiely celebrating the motion being defeated).

Why did you call Malia a Stalinist?

Again, read the report! I said the political approach she argued in opposing my motion – putting flat opposition to everything US imperialism does above questions of democracy, liberation and working-class struggle, in this case the democratic liberation struggle of the Kurds, as well as Iraqi socialists, feminists and labour activists – was informed by the legacy of Stalinism. I stand by that. That is the real political disagreement here, and one that few if any of my critics seem willing to engage with.

Why have you done this now?

Actually I submitted a similar motion about Iraq in July, for the obvious reason that I was concerned about what was happening in Iraq and Syria. (I have worked and still work closely with Iraqi Kurdish socialists in London.)

Please note: between the two NEC meetings, an almost identical motion to the one defeated at the NEC was passed, I believe unanimously, at NUS’s Scottish Executive Committee, where it was proposed by Roza. I’m not sure, but I think some people voted one way at the Scottish EC and another at the NEC. That’s ok if they genuinely changed their minds because of the arguments, but not ok if they were doing what they thought would make them popular (at both meetings!)

I resubmitted a motion in September because, far from going away, the issue had got bigger and more urgent. That is surely the point of being on NUS NEC: to raise important issues and try to agitate and mobilise people about them.

Support the Kurdish struggle!

That is the absurdity of all this: hardly anyone in NUS, in the leadership or on the left, has done anything to support the Kurdish struggle and other democratic, feminist and working-class struggles against the odds in the Middle East. While hundreds if not thousands of Kurdish students in the UK have taken action to protest against genocide and extreme oppression, their national union is failing them. And in this debate, the voices of Kurdish left activists have been largely ignored.

Right-wing attacks on student activists and officers, particularly attacks on black activists motivated by racism, must be opposed, condemned and fought. At the same time, the fact is that Malia and others on the NEC did the wrong thing when they voted down the Iraq motion at the NEC.

I’d urge everyone to read this interview with Roza Salih about the Kurdish struggle, and get active to support it.

If anyone would like me to respond to a different argument or objection, please feel free to drop me an email: daniel.cooper@nus.org.uk

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Proud to be a Zionist

April 14, 2016 at 8:56 pm (anti-semitism, Eric Lee, history, left, national liberation, palestine, posted by JD, socialism, zionism)

kibbutz gan shmuel

One vision of Zionism: Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, 1950

By Eric Lee

Jeremy Corbyn’s brother recently made headlines by tweeting that “#Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for #Palestine”. That the tweet took place in the context of a heated discussion about how the Labour Party is coping with increasing allegations of anti-Semitism is not the point.

The point is that the word “Zionist” has become toxic on the British Left, and I have a problem with this. On one of the Sunday morning radio shows, Jonathan Freedland was asked about this. He quoted the Israeli author Amos Oz who said that “Zionist” was like a family name. There always needs to be a first name, such as “Religious Zionist” or “Socialist Zionist”. But Freedland himself, when asked, said he’d rather not use the label “Zionist” to describe his own views as it would just cause confusion. There are really two approaches to dealing with political labels that become toxic.

One is to accept reality and abandon them. The other is to be defiant and embrace them. And there are consequences in the real world to choosing one or another of those options. For example, a generation ago, right-wing politicians in America would label every attempt at social reform, no matter how modest, as “socialism”. (They still do, but with less success.) As the Cold War raged, the word “socialist” had become toxic. We on the American Left would argue that by openly calling ourselves “socialists” we were giving breathing space to liberals, and changing the political discourse in the country. Little did we realize that within a few years, an openly socialist politician would be a serious contender for the Presidency.

Still, there are terms we’ve been forced to abandon. Most leftists I know don’t call themselves “communists”, for example. While we can all claim to embrace the ideas expounded by Marx in the Communist Manifesto, most of us accept that it would cause more confusion than it’s worth to try to claim the word for ourselves. This is helped by the fact that up until 1918, most socialists called themselves “social democrats”, and that the Bolsheviks took on the rarely-used “communist” label to distinguish the new parties they were creating. It was a label we could discard because we had a perfectly good alternative. But this is not the case with the word Zionist.

As Freedland and most others would agree, a Zionist is a person who supports the Jewish people’s right to a national homeland. One could be a Zionist and oppose the current right-wing government in Israel. One could be a Zionist and support an independent Palestinian state, side by the side with Israel. One could oppose the occupation and still be a Zionist. In fact, one could even argue that if you really believe the Jewish people need a state of their own, and want it to survive, you must also support reaching an agreement with the Palestinians to share the land which both peoples claim. There is no other future for the Jewish state that I can imagine.

As a Zionist, I therefore support genuine peace and reconciliation between the two peoples — and a two-state solution to bring an end to the conflict. I am happy to embrace the label “socialist Zionist” and the tradition that represents — the kibbutz movement which for decades was a model democratic socialist society, the struggle by left Zionists including a party I was proud to be a member of (Mapam) against racism and for peace, against religious coercion and for social justice for Jews and Arabs. I could, I guess, go along with Freedland and just call myself “a socialist who supports the right of the Jewish people to their own country” — but why not just embrace the label of “Zionist” instead?


This article appears in the latest issue of Solidarity.

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Sandra White MSP and First Minister Sturgeon issue apologies for antisemitic cartoon

November 12, 2015 at 10:44 pm (anti-semitism, israel, labour party, palestine, posted by JD, Racism, scotland, SNP)

Sandra White’s tweet: the Murdoch image may be OK, but the Rothschild ‘war pig’ image is plainly antisemitic

By Mark Gardiner (Community Security Trust – CST)

Lessons in community relations

Yesterday (11/11/15), CST Blog featured an article stating the need for politicians and their political parties to adequately apologise, in words and actions, for antisemitic behaviours on their watch.

The article was highly critical of Sir Gerald Kaufman MP and the Labour Party; and Sandra White MSP (Member of Scottish Parliament) and the Scottish National Party. CST welcomes the fact that White and her party leader First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP have now moved swiftly, and directly, to try and allay Jewish communal concerns. Regrettably, the situation concerning Kaufman remains unchanged. Both White and Sturgeon’s behaviour and communications show how things could have been done better: not perfectly, but certainly better.

The publication of yesterday’s Blog came shortly before Sandra White MSP and First Minister Sturgeon MSP issued separate, further, lengthier apologies, for the grotesque antisemitic cartoon that White had retweeted. The new apologies were not related to CST’s posting and were sent in letters directly to SCoJeC, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, a group with which CST has long worked.

The apologies are now public. (See SCoJeC here, the Glasgow Herald here, the letter of apology from Sandra White here and First Minister Sturgeon’s letter here.)

Above: the original version of the “Rothschild” half of White’s image

Sandra White’s letter describes the antisemitic cartoon as “repellent and offensive” and includes:

“…I had not intended to retweet this picture, and was horrified to learn that I had done so. As soon as this was brought to my attention, I deleted the tweet…There is nothing that happens in Israel or Palestine that can be justification for any racial or religious hatred. I truly believe that Scots of all backgrounds are welcoming and inclusive and this is something I have always been proud of…”.

Nicola Sturgeon’s letter explains that she has spoken directly to Sandra White and states:

“Regarding the original tweet itself, I find it and the image it contains abhorrent. As I stated at Giffnock [Synagogue], I will not tolerate anti-Semitism or religious or racial hatred of any kind at any level in our society.”

Both individuals have moved quickly to try and rectify the damage that has been done, writing in swift and direct response to SCoJeC as the representatives of Scottish Jewry. Ideally, both letters should have explicitly called the cartoon antisemitic, but they are not overly formulaic, and appear sincere and heartfelt, which is of paramount importance in such matters. Also of considerable importance is that SCoJeC (and CST) noted that White should have tweeted the apology, given that this was where the offence occurred. She has speedily done so.

This sorry episode may actually be of long term benefit to both Scottish Jews and the SNP. It has demonstrated antisemitism to a leading political party, that is clear in its opposition to antisemitism, but perhaps understandably does not grasp or recognise it as instinctively as Jews do. Furthermore, the First Minister, and one of the party’s most prominent pro-Palestinian voices, now know why Scottish Jews fear the potential for anti-Israel activism to lead to antisemitic ways of thinking.

Of course, the controversy will only benefit Scottish Jews and the SNP if both parties actually want a constructive and trusting relationship. The fact that both parties want (and largely have) this relationship is shown by the quick and effective communications between the SNP and SCoJeC.

This final lesson is reinforced by the conclusion of Nicola Sturgeon’s letter, from which others would do well to learn. This is it:

“I look forward to working further with you [SCoJeC] and further strengthening the links between the Scottish Government and the Jewish community in Scotland, which is and always will be an integral and highly valued part of Scottish society.”

This should be the response of all political parties, universities, trade unions, churches etc to Jewish concerns about antisemitism in pro-Palestinian spaces. It should be a willingness to learn from mistakes, a drawing closer to those who have been hurt and a recognition that British Jews fear antisemitism because they fear antisemitism: not because they are some kind of hostile political entity, seeking opportunistic points scoring on behalf of the Israeli government, or a mythical Global Zionism.

(For further views on this closing point, see David Hirsh at Fathom, here.)

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20 years since Israel’s innocence was lost

November 4, 2015 at 12:54 am (good people, history, israel, Middle East, murder, palestine, posted by JD)

File photo: US President Bill Clinton (C) standing between PLO leader Yasser Arafat (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzahk Rabin (L) as they shake hands for the first time, at the White House in Washington DCBill Clinton standing between PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Rabin as they shake hands at the White House Photo: Getty Images

I had just been to a club for the first time. I drank vodka and I drank beer. I stayed at a friend’s flat near Baker Street that night and we walked back there together in the dark. The streets were wet from a downpour we had missed while inside. It always rains in London.

We arrived back to his place where his mother told us Rabin had been shot. I knew of him vaguely as an Israeli politician, the President or the Prime Minister of Israel, I wasn’t sure.

In death he influenced me more than in life he ever could have. In one way or another modern Israel is dominated by the man who was shot in Tel Aviv while I was enjoying my first tastes of alcohol in London. Every negotiation since, every war since has been devoid of any hope, any real belief that the result will be anything other than more of what lay before. Everything stands in contrast to the hopes of the generation that elected Rabin their Prime Minister.

While the current crop of leaders fall over themselves to pretend that the man who disagreed with them on just about every level was actually their friend I wonder what happened to the traits of leadership embodied by Yitzhak Rabin. People too easily ignore the fact that he was the most hated Prime Minister in the short history of the country. His course towards peace was one that far more people than just Yigal Amir sought to disrupt. People came to his house to hurl insults at him and his family, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to express their hatred of him for sitting down at the peace table with Yassir Arafat and countenancing the creation of a state of Palestine.

And he ignored them all. For me this old, chain smoking, man embodied the term courage. He was elected to lead the country and lead the country he did. It may have been an unpopular policy but when you are elected to office you take the responsibilities on your shoulders to do what you feel is best for the country, not what is popular. The people can then decide at the next election.

This kind of leadership is sorely lacking right now. The people can’t decide because there is no clear policy, too much obfuscation and not enough people willing to stand up and be clear about what a vote for them means. For me Rabin’s legacy is that which he died for, the willingness to stand at helm of the ship and set sail in a clear direction.

Now, in 2015, no one knows where we are, we don’t even know if we’re going through an Intifada or not and we don’t know how we’re going to get out of it if we’re in it.

Great acts of leadership throughout the ages have always been turbulent. Be it John F Kennedy insisting on integration in Alabama or Winston Churchill telling the British people he has “nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” or Ben Gurion declaring statehood with the knowledge that a war would follow for which Israel was ill equipped to fight. Leadership requires people to take responsibility on their shoulders for making decisions that will affect the lives of their citizens intimately. Rabin was such a leader.

He was killed for being such a leader.

Rabin’s legacy will always be a tragic legacy. But the tragedy is not that he was killed before the peace fell upon us, nor even for the fact that he fell at the hands of a fellow Jew. The real tragedy is that he is fast being revered as the only man who possibly could have brought peace to Israel. If that is true then it is a sad reflection of the state of Israel’s leadership today. If it is false then it is a lie not worthy of the man who guided the state through so many of the tests that defined the nation of Israel.

20 years have gone by since he died, more than enough time for those who took on the mantle of leadership of the party he once headed to get their act together. The man who sold Israel on the hope of peace was murdered and now his successors lack the courage to tell Israelis the truth about the lessons learned the night Israel’s innocence died.

To tell them that there will be no end to extremism or to terrorism but that it can be an occasional heartache or a constant war. It can involve the suffering of millions or it can involve the suffering of hundreds. There’ll be no signature on a piece of paper that will end the terror, no ceremony on the White House lawn and no handshake that will make everything okay.

It will be a long struggle for peace but a struggle that we must embark on nonetheless. The alternative is more of the same nothing we have now.

It is a tragedy of the Middle East that the fate of millions lies not with elected governments but with a very few people willing to give their lives to kill others. The man who killed Rabin was willing to give up his life not just to kill his Prime Minister but to kill the hopes of so many. Now another Israeli Prime Minister is weighing up whether to remove the residency rights of 80,000 people because of the actions of several dozen. A war was started in Gaza last year because three boys were kidnapped and murdered by a couple of terrorists.

Israelis and Palestinians live their lives in the shadow of these people.

Rabin was a leader who wasn’t prepared to hand over his elected mandate to the few prepared for violence. Now it is the terrorists who control the agenda and an Israeli government flailing around trying to keep up.

It’s been 20 years since a great man of the Israeli left was shot dead in the street. He preferred to risk being shot dead if it meant doing what he thought was best for the country. There hasn’t been another leader like him since, there hasn’t been a braver one since. So long after the event I don’t mourn for Rabin, I mourn for the Israel that might have been had he been allowed to live just a little longer and the Israel we became without his guiding hand.

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Why an academic boycott won’t help the Palestinians

October 27, 2015 at 4:29 pm (academe, Guardian, Human rights, intellectuals, israel, Jim D, Middle East, palestine, zionism)

The ad in the Guardian
The ad in the Guardian

Today’s Guardian carries a full page advertisement, signed by 343 academics, calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and conferences. The signatories also pledge to refuse to “act as referees in any of their processes.”

It follows pro-boycott motions being passed by a number of trade unions and student unions.

The mood for boycott reflects strong feelings of indignation and outrage against Israel, and a powerful  sentiment that something –anything – must be done to help the Palestinians.

However the main forces behind the “boycott Israel” movement, and several of the signatories of the Guardian ad, want to go further than a just (probably “two state”) resolution to the plight of the Palestinians and an end to the illegal Israeli settlements and occupation of Palestinian lands: they are committed to the destruction of Israel and its replacement by an Arab state in which those Jews who survive the military conflict and its immediate aftermath would have religious but not national rights. (Or, if the destruction is accomplished by Islamist movements like Hamas and Hezbollah and their allies, and “victory” means an Islamic state, maybe not even religious rights). Read the rest of this entry »

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Owen Jones breaks the liberal-left’s taboo on anti-Semitism

August 27, 2015 at 9:59 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, conspiracy theories, Guardian, Jim D, labour party, left, palestine, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reformism, stalinism, trotskyism, zionism)

Illustration by Sébastien Thibault Illustration by Sébastien Thibault

Owen Jones’s piece in yesterday’s Guardian – ‘Antisemitism has no place on the left. It is time to confront it‘ – acknowledges the fact that this foul poison exists not just on the traditional extreme right, but also within the pro-Palestine movement and sections of the left. To some of us, this is merely a statement of the obvious, and something that we have been banging on about for years. But the importance of Jones’s piece cannot be overestimated: much of the left (and that includes the Guardianista liberal-left) refuses to acknowledge that the problem even exists. It is to Owen Jones’s credit that he has broken this taboo.

Jones’s article has its shortcomings: he repeats, for instance, the old canard that “Some ardent supporters of the Israeli government oppose all critics of Israeli policy and accuse them of anti-Semitism (or, if those critics are Jewish, of being “self-hating Jews”)”: I, for one, have never heard such arguments being used by defenders of Israel, although the claim that they are is treated as an established fact by ‘anti-Zionists’.

And Jones does not deal with the crucial issue of ‘absolute anti-Zionism’ – a more widespread and pernicious problem on the left than crude, racist antisemitism. ‘Absolute anti-Zionism’  is opposition to the very existence of the Jewish state. From that all the overt anti-Semitism and covert softness on anti-Semitism to be found on the left and within the PSC and BDS movements, follows. It is the so-called ‘One-State solution’ and is the thinly disguised sub-text of slogans like “Palestine must be free – from the River to the Sea.” It is the policy of the SWP and much of the rest of the British kitsch-Trot left. Stalinists of the Morning Star variety in theory back the Two States position, but you’d be forgiven not realising this from what they say within the labour movement and write in the Morning Star. Until he very recently clarified his position, and came out clearly for two states, it seemed quite possible that Jeremy Corbyn was a one stater.

And on the subject of Corbyn, Jones’s piece is also weak: it’s simply not good enough to argue (as does Jones) that “He [ie Corbyn] could not possibly have known the personal backgrounds of every individual who has joined him at the many rallies he has attended over the years.” Whether Corbyn knew the politics of each and every one of the many anti-Semites he’s been filmed and photographed alongside, and in some cases is on record defending, is not the issue: the issue is that now that he does know who these people are, he should clearly denounce them and disown them by name – instead of blustering about how he deplores all forms of racism and is in favour of peace. And, surely, Corbyn knew exactly what the politics of Hezbollah and Hamas were when he welcomed them as “friends.” For the record, I make these comments as someone who has just voted for Corbyn.

For sure, Jones’s piece does not go far enough, or make its case as plainly as it should: but it’s an important breakthrough for the ‘anti-Zionist’ liberal-left, and all the more welcome because its published in the absolute anti-Zionists’ respectable, mainstream mouthpiece: the Guardian.

Alan Johnson's photo.

Above: Jones (left) with arch-critic Alan Johnson after the publication of Jones’s Guardian piece

 

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Why (despite everything) I’m supporting Corbyn: a reply to Alan Johnson

August 16, 2015 at 6:50 am (anti-semitism, democracy, elections, internationalism, Jim D, labour party, Middle East, palestine, reformism, stalinism, Stop The War, Unite the union)

Dear Jim,

I’ve always looked up to you, from the days when we were in Socialist Organiser – you the Marx-reading shop steward in a car plant and me the young student. In 2011 you described Jeremy Corbyn in these terms: “Corbyn is now beyond the pale and part of a de facto anti-democratic, pro-fascist and anti-semitic current that claims to be “left-wing” but is in fact, profoundly reactionary and anti-working class.” So why did you urge Unite (my trade union) to back Corbyn? Will you vote for him? Why? Is it democratic centralism? If so, fuck that Jim. Look back at what you wrote in 2011 and, as Dylan sang, ‘Don’t think twice, its alright.’

(NB Alan Johnson is not the MP of the same name! This Alan’s Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn, expanding on many of the points he raises above, can be read here).

Dear Alan,

Thanks for your kind words and because I admire your intellect and evident principles I’ve given some thought to your comments (incidentally, although I was a motor industry shop steward when we first knew each other, before that I’d also been a student and I don’t think our ages are that different …).

Firstly, you are quite justified in drawing attention to what I’ve previously written about Corbyn’s attitude to a number of international issues (ie knee-jerk anti-Americanism) and – perhaps worse – his unsavoury “friends” and/or associates in the Palestine solidarity movement (anti-semites like Hamas and Hesbollah, the Jew-hating Islamist Raed Salah and the holocaust-denier Paul Eisen, for instance).

These “friends” (Corbyn’s own description of Hamas and Hesbollah representatives when he hosted them in Parliament in 2009) are significant, disturbing and a matter that should be (and has been) raised by myself and others within the Corbyn campaign – and we will continue to raise these issues in the event that Corbyn wins.

Are these concerns (as you and some other people I know and respect, have argued) sufficient to make support for Corbyn unacceptable or unprincipled? I’d argue not, and here’s why:

We live and ‘do’ politics within a British labour movement that has some pretty awful political traditions within it: craven reformism, nationalism, various forms of racism, sexism and general backwardness. I’ve been on the knocker, over the years, for some truly dreadful people who happened to wear a Labour rosette. The mainstream left of the Labour movement is – in its way- just as bad. Influenced to varying degrees by Stalinism, it takes lousy positions on international affairs, often seems to operate on the bankrupt principle of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” and has a long-standing tendency to allow its (correct) support for the Palestinian cause slide over into indifference to anti-Semitism. It also has a terrible habit (which I think at least partly explains Corbyn’s warm words to Hamas and Hesbollah) of being diplomatic towards people it regards as perhaps dodgy, but broadly “on the right side.”

Corbyn is part of that left – as was Tony Benn, who we all supported when he stood for the Deputy Leadership against Dennis Healey in 1981. Like Benn (and unlike shysters of the Livingstone/ Galloway variety) he seems to be a decent and principled human being, despite his political failings and downright naivety on a range of (mainly international) issues..

Yes, the British labour movement, including the  “left”, has some rotten politics. But it’s our movement and in the assessment of Marxists and serious socialists, the only hope we have of building a decent, democratic society ruled by the working class. We work within that movement to transform it, so that society itself can be transformed. We are consistent democrats who relate to workers in struggle in their existing organisations – organisations that are infused with all sorts of Stalinist, bourgeois, reformist and other reactionary ideas.

The Corbyn campaign is dominated by the politics that dominates the mainstream left in Britain – a soft Stalinism and incoherent “anti imperialism” that also dominates the Morning Star, the Communist Party of Britain, the SWP and Stop The War (the misnamed outfit still, unfortunately, supported by our union, Unite). But the rank and file people (many of them young and new to the movement) who’ve been enthused by Corbyn’s campaign have been attracted by his anti-austerity stance, his opposition to the neoliberal consensus, and his inspiring if not always entirely coherent message that a better, fairer and more equal society is possible. We cannot stand aside from this movement by abstaining or backing the wretched Burnham or Cooper. Just as serious socialists have always argued for active, positive engagement with the actual, existing labour movement as a whole, so we must argue for engagement with that movement’s left – and for now, that means support for the Corbyn campaign. That’s also the best way of making our criticism of his international policies heard by the people who need to hear it – his ordinary  supporters, the young and not-so-young people he’s enthused and inspired and who make up the bedrock of his support.

That’s why, Alan, despite the many harsh words I’ve spoken and written about Corbyn and the kind of politics he represents, I’m supporting him. And that, by the way, is my honestly-held personal opinion, and nothing to do with the AWL, for whom I do not speak on this matter. I don’t suppose we’re going to agree on this, but please feel free to come back at me with any further thoughts or comments.

With best wishes

Jim Denham

 

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Corbyn on Israel/Palestine: for a “safe and viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and viable Israel.”

August 3, 2015 at 7:22 pm (anti-semitism, internationalism, islamism, israel, labour party, Middle East, MPs, palestine, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Stop The War)

The following statement appears on the Stop The War Coalition’s website, which is of significance because the leadership of  STWC stand for the total destruction of Israel and oppose a two states solution. Corbyn’s past record of speaking at STWC events and calling Hamas and Hesbollah “friends” might suggest that he shares their anti-Semitic perspective. The statement we republish below suggests otherwise and the phrase  “a safe and viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and viable Israel” can only mean two states. In my view Corbyn needs to be a great deal more forthright and plain-spoken about his support for two states, and also needs to disavow his past warm words for Hamas and Hesbollah. But still, this statement is welcome and (hopefully) will reassure some comrades who’ve been reluctant to support Corbyn because of his record of softness on various anti-Semitic organisations internationally and in Britain (writes JD):

In July 2015, Jeremy Corbyn, candidate for the Labour Party leadership, published this statement about the Palestinian people and their continuing oppression by the Israeli state.

Peace: Support a viable peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, based on internationally recognised (1967) borders.

I am absolutely committed to a meaningful peace process between Israelis and Palestinians and that has to be one based on the 1967 borders. I am proud to have been one of the first politicians prepared to engage in dialogue with Irish republicans about a peace process in Northern Ireland in the 1980’s. The ultimate success of that process has ensured a lasting peace there. The recent re-election of Binyamin Netanyhu and the right-wing coalition he now leads presents major challenges to the prospects for peace in the Middle East. That must not deter us. With the stakes for conflagration in the Middle East increasing, all the more reason for a Labour Leader to redouble their efforts to facilitate a peace process. I would be such a Leader.

Palestinian Statehood: Reaffirm the Labour party’s commitment to the recognition of a safe and viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and viable Israel. 

Last October parliament made a historic decision to recognize the state of Palestine. As Labour Leader I would not only reaffirm that decision, I would seek to build on it by lobbying support for Palestinian statehood in the international community. This recognition is not only essential for establishing the principle of equality between Israeli and Palestinian, it is also in the long term interests of the sovereignty of Israel that we end the double standards whereby Israeli rights to nationhood are recognized, but Palestinian rights are denied.

Human Rights: Oppose violations of international human rights law, in particular the detention of children and detention of political prisoners without trial. 

I share the growing concern over the failure to stop Israel’s violation of international human rights law. Add to that the impact of the blockade in Gaza, the random and arrest without trail of civilians including children, and the harassment and humiliation of Palestinians as they go about their everyday life, it is clear that human rights violations are fuelling the conflict. These concerns are shared by respected and courageous Israeli human rights organisations like Breaking the Silence, Gush Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights and B’tselem and international organisations like Save the Children and Oxfam. It is wrong that we continue to sell arms to Israel and I fully support the calls for an arms embargo. As Labour Leader I will be consistent on human rights at home and abroad.

The Wall: Oppose the continued construction of the Separation Wall on Palestinian land, a direct contravention of international law.

While I support Israel’s right to safeguard its citizens I agree with the views of  many Israeli human rights organisations that the route of the Separation Wall is designed to annex Palestinian land and undermine chances for a future peace settlement. In addition, it has adverse effects on Palestinian human rights by restricting movements, increasing difficulties in accessing medical and education services and water supplies.  The recent decision of Israel’s top court to block the planned extension of the wall through the historic Cremisan valley is a positive development and evidence that campaigning and international pressure can work. We need to intensify that pressure.

The Blockade: End the siege on Gaza and ensure the free flow of aid and trade

I echo the calls of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWE) that the blockade must be lifted. It is now one of the longest blockades in history and it impact on the 1.76 million people who live in the Gaza strip, the vast majority of them refugees, has been to further improvise and already desperately poor, improvised people. That impact has worsened in the aftermath of the latest military assault on Gaza, hindering recovery and reconstruct. The blockade has failed and it is rightly perceived, both by the Palestinians and internationally, as a form of collective punishment on the entire Gazan population. It continuation only fuels bitterness and hatred. Its removal enhances peace.

Illegal Settlements: Call for a complete freeze on illegal settlement growth in order to save any hope for a viable two state solution, and end all trade and investment with illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory.

Both British and American governments have rightly criticised the illegal settlements. Not only are they in violation of international law but they a conscious policy to deliberately  undermine any prospect of a viable Palestinian state and with it any two-state solution. It is clear the only hope to stop this policy is if the international community intensify pressure. To that end I fully support the call to end all trade and investments with the illegal settlements.

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AWL on Corbyn and the Middle East

July 22, 2015 at 2:16 pm (anti-semitism, AWL, internationalism, islamism, labour party, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD)

Corbyn and the Middle East: the hypocrisy of the right, a challenge for the left

By Sasha Ismail (at the Workers Liberty website)

The controversy sparked, or ramped up, by Jeremy Corbyn’s appearance on Channel 4 News on 13 July raises important issues for the left.

(You can watch it on the Channel 4 website here.)

Corbyn responded to interviewer Krishnan Guru-Murthy asking about his description of Lebanese Islamists Hesbollah and Palestinian Islamists Hamas as “our friends” by stressing that peace in the Middle East requires negotiations with all sorts of people.

The first thing to say is that, however one assesses the performance and motives of Guru-Murthy and Channel 4, there is clearly a right-wing push against Corbyn on these issues. If the Corbyn leadership campaign continues to perform as strongly as it has so far, the right-wing outcry is likely to get louder.

The motivations of these attacks are made clear by the fact that those making them are not bothered by the friendly relationship of the entire New Labour hierarchy with the Saudi dictatorship, or the links between all kinds of bourgeois British politicians – particularly Tories – and unpleasant regimes around the planet. They are targeting Corbyn because he looks soft on the ‘wrong’ people, and above all because they are bothered by the success of a left-wing campaign that is bolstering labour movement confidence.

The left must expose such cynicism and hypocrisy, both for general reasons and to defend the Corbyn campaign. At the same time, we should say that – judged by our own standards, not those of the right – Corbyn’s stance on the controversial issues is wrong.

In the March 2009 speech to a Stop the War Coalition meeting in which Corbyn talked about “friends” (on YouTube here) he said:

“Tomorrow evening it will my pleasure and my honour to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hesbollah will be speaking. I’ve also invited friends from Hamas to come and speak as well…

“The idea that an organisation that is dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people, and bringing about long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region, should be labelled as a terrorist organisation by the British government is really a big, big historical mistake…”

“Our function is to support those people who are supporting and defending and representing the Palestinian people… part of [that] is inviting and welcoming our friends from Lebanon and from Palestine to London…”

The issue is not this or that phrase, nor the legitimate idea that getting peace often requires negotiations with people you don’t like – nor, of course, Corbyn’s absolutely correct opposition to repressive “anti-terrorism” legislation. It is the lack of sharp hostility to – and indeed praise of – brutally reactionary political forces. The problem with the likes of Hamas and Hesbollah is not that they are “terrorists” but that they are violently anti-women, anti-semitic, anti-working class theocratic bigots. In 2009 Hamas was engaged in a brutal clampdown on women and workers’ organisations among others in the Gaza strip: see here.

That a socialist could describe Hamas as “dedicated… to social and political justice” and describe working with them as a “pleasure and honour” is ridiculous. So is the comparison Corbyn made with the ANC. From a socialist point of view there were many problems with the ANC even before it took power, but to compare it to Hamas or Hesbollah is a slander.

We suspect that in this speech Corbyn got carried away, and that his underlying thought is that Hamas and Hesbollah are bad, but peace is the priority, Western imperialism and Israel are the chief evils, and so it is necessary to be diplomatic.

The problem with such diplomacy is that it means representing militaristic forces as peace-loving, and promoting bigoted reactionaries busy smashing our comrades – working-class activists, the left, feminists, etc in the Middle East – as progressives. People with Corbyn’s politics in Gaza face physical attack, prison or exile!

We want peace in the region, yes, and an end to the oppression of the Palestinians, but we also want to help the left there battle against Islamism. In addition, being able to vigorously denounce such forces would put the left in a stronger position to point out the hypocrisy of the right.

These kind of failings are not just a problem with Corbyn, but with wide sections of the left, from liberals through to self-styled revolutionaries. Those leading the Stop the War campaign have played a central role in spreading such ideas.

Against that approach we need to restate the basic Marxist idea of international working-class solidarity: “We shall never forget that the workers of all countries are our friends and the despots of all countries are our enemies” (German workers’ resolution during the Franco-Prussian War). The working-class movements, socialists, feminists and democrats of the Middle East are our friends, not Hamas and Hesbollah.

None of the candidates in the Labour leadership election are good on foreign policy; Corbyn at least opposes British militarism, nuclear weapons, etc, and despite his comments he is the most likely to support solidarity with working-class activists around the world. This in addition to his policies and record on austerity, workers’ struggles, migrants’ rights, and so on: a vote for Corbyn is a vote to break from the New Labour consensus on these issues, and rally the left and labour movement for a fightback.

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More “boycott” nonsense from luvvie hypocrites against Israeli film festival

June 10, 2015 at 1:07 pm (anti-semitism, cinema, culture, Free Speech, Guardian, intellectuals, israel, Jim D, media, Middle East, palestine, television)

Largely written by Comrade Matt C, edited by JD:

A number of prominent individuals from the British film and arts world have signed a letter, published in yesterday’s Guardian, calling on cinemas to boycott the London Israeli Film and Television Festival:

The festival is co-sponsored by the Israeli government via the Israeli embassy in London, creating a direct link between these cinemas, the festival screenings and Israeli policies. By benefiting from money from the Israeli state, the cinemas become silent accomplices to the violence inflicted on the Palestinian people. Such collaboration and cooperation is unacceptable. It normalises, even if unintentionally, the Israeli government’s violent, systematic and illegal oppression of the Palestinians.

The signatories – some of whom are Jewish – include Peter Kosminsky, Mike Leigh, John Pilger, Ken Loach and Miriam Margolyes.

The festival’s organisers reply:

“Our festival is a showcase for the many voices throughout Israel, including Arab Israelis and Palestinians, as well as religious and secular groups. These are highly talented film-makers and actors, working together successfully, to provide entertainment and insight for film and television lovers internationally.

“Freedom of expression in the arts is something that the British have worked so hard to defend. An attempt to block the sharing of creative pursuits and the genuine exchange of ideas and values is a disappointing reaction to a festival that sets out to open up lines of communication and understanding.”

There are, I would suggest, two problems with the boycott call.  First, it is based on confusion between the Israeli government and the Israeli state.  Clearly, the two are not entirely separate but a distinction can be made between the government (that is the policy making executive) and the state more generally.  The state obviously includes some institutions that socialists would wholeheartedly oppose: the military (as we do that of any other state, including our own), Mossad and institutions that reflect religious particularlism.

The Israeli state prioritises the rights of Jewish Israelis over Arab Israelis (and many other states, including Britain, have racist biases), but there are many things that the Israeli state does that are not directly linked to this, such as arts funding.  To a degree, arts funding reflects the character of the state which is often not good (and this includes the British state).  Nonetheless, many of those on the list are happy to take funding from the British state.  So looking down the list: Mike Leigh for many years made dramas for the state-funded and ultimately stated-controlled BBC, and currently has a production of The Pirates of the Penzance running of the English National Opera (state funded through the Art Council); John Brissenden works for the state (Bournemouth University) and presumably accepts its funding for his PhD; Gareth Evans works curates at the Whitechapel Gallery which receives state funding, again via the Arts Council.  I am sure the similar points could be made about most of the signatories.

No doubt the boycotters would reply that they are not “silent accomplices” of the state (as those participating in the London Israeli Film and Television festival are styled in this letter), and their work is not a form of “collaboration” with it.  They would argue, I guess, their work is not compromised by this funding, or at least that they fight against the states restrictions: is a reasonable defence.  The arts and academic research frequently rely on a degree of support from the state, and this is in many ways preferable to the being reliant on the free market.  But it would appear that the boycotters are not prepared to extend the same arguments to Israeli film makers whose work would be unlikely to be seen in this country without the sponsorship of the Israeli arts establishment (which means state support).  The boycotters accept the sponsorship of their own (racist, militarist etc.) state but do not think that others (or uniquely, those in Israel) have the right to do the same.

The second question is: what are these people boycotting?  The point is not whether anyone who opposes the policies of the Israeli state in Gaza and the West Bank would agree with all of the films being offered here.  A socialist and consistent democrat should never be a left-wing censor allowing only views that they endorse to be aired.  The only possible grounds for a supporter of free speech to oppose a cultural festival such as this is that it constitutes propaganda that is the cultural front of oppression (and even then, calling for it to be boycotted would be questionable approach).  Looking at the brochure for the festival it is clearly not such a form of propaganda – even Fauda, a drama about Israeli undercover commandoes targeting a Hamas militant, runs with the current fashion of moral ambiguity rather than being a gung-ho adventure.

Other items on the programme more obviously address the human dimension of the Israeli-Palestine conflict (Dancing with Arabs, East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem) and the influence of religion on aspects of Israeli life, although many other offerings are more mainstream films and TV dramas.

It is certainly possible to criticise both the selection of material to be shown at the festival and the Israeli media industry behind it since there are no films, as far as I can see, made by Arab-Israeli film makers.   But this is hardly the point.  Rather, those who call for a boycott demand (it would seem, uniquely) that film makers from Israel should only be allowed to show their productions in Britain if they do so without any association with the state in which they live.  Given the nature of cultural production and its reliance on state support, this is a call for a boycott of all but the most independent of film and TV producers and, in reality, amounts to a total boycott of all Israeli films and art. It is a ridiculous, reactionary stance that will do the Palestinian cause no practical good whatsoever, while alienating mainstream Jewish opinion in Britain and fuelling an insidious form of anti-Semitism that is becoming more and more “acceptable” in British liberal-left Guardianista circles. In truth, this boycott call (like the entire BDS campaign) only makes political sense if you wish for the ‘delegitimisation’ and, indeed, destruction, of the Israeli state: something that most of the signatories would, I’m pretty sure, deny they advocate.

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