Greenstein: “the state of Israel was Hitler’s final victory”
Tony Greenstein, who is suspended from Labour for alleged anti-Semitism, was the only speaker at a meeting entitled ‘Is criticising Israel anti-Semitic?’, hosted by Bristol Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). The room was packed, with around 200 attendees, many of those were Momentum members. The PSC’s choice of speaker, presentation of the event, and recent organised hostility towards towards committed Palestine solidarity activists advocating a two state programme forewarned me of a one-sided and hostile discussion.
Greenstein started by claiming that anti-Semitism is insignificant in the UK today both on the left and more widely, and counselled us to remember that it is just a claim used to attack left-wingers and defend Israel. He gave a history of Zionism as simply and intrinsically colonial, a disease that does not come in better and worse varieties. Zionism, he repeatedly stressed, is anti-Semitic, due in part to support for it by some anti-Semites, in part to statements by some historical right-wing Zionists. Throughout the talk he failed to distinguish between the worst historical examples of Zionist thought and contemporary support for the existence of a state of Israel. Many of his claims were based on a selective reading of history: to Greenstein, “the state of Israel was Hitler’s final victory” and Zionism supported Nazi Germany, while in turn Nazi Germany was decisive in the establishment of Israel.
Clearly, criticism of Israel is not in itself anti-Semitic. We should criticize Israel’s actions and stand in solidarity with Palestinians for many reasons, and furthermore there has been some weaponisation of anti-Semitism by the right. And yet, the issue of anti-Semitism on the left when criticizing Israel, irrespective of the intentions of those doing the criticism, is still significant.
Some criticism evokes anti-Semitic tropes and some analysis and proposed solutions to the conflict have anti-Semitic historical origins or conclusions. A key historical anti-Semitic trope is that of all-powerful, shadowy Jews controlling society, and unfounded Zionist conspiracy theories play on this. The prevalence of these could be seen throughout discussion from what Greenstein and many in the audience said, but crucially what many conspicuously didn’t say, deliberately leaving us all to imagine the worst whilst making it difficult to challenge their vague implications. The idea of Israel as a uniquely illegitimate state has historical anti-Semitic origins and is also ultimately detrimental to Palestinian solidarity. Greenstein later responded that Israel is a uniquely evil and illegitimate state. As he demonstrated throughout the discussion, the equation of Israel with Nazi Germany is far too common in the left, and can be anti-Semitic. It looked like many people were listening and genuinely receptive to hearing this different and more nuanced perspective, although ultimately most disagreed.
Many people left during the meeting as they felt it got too heated, which surprised me. Unfortunately, the tense atmosphere somewhat discouraged people from being critical of Greenstein’s points – some people felt too nervous to speak, only three challenged him. It is partly for want of a more prevalent culture of polemic and debate on the left that people found the meeting difficult, but heckling, booing and dismissing as Zionists the minority in the room who dissented from the only speaker’s perspective was harmful. This too happened partly because of the lack of a culture of healthily dealing with disagreements through debate.
There was heckling in response to the argument for a good two states programme as the most viable resolution of the conflict in the short- to medium-term, and that the main victims of the conflict’s prolongation being the Palestinian people. Whilst people highlighted the lack of an appetite for such a programme by many in the Knesset they failed to explain how this made a one state programme more viable. The majority of both Israelis and Palestinians support a two-state solution, overwhelmingly so on the left of both nations. There is little desire in Israel for a one state programme as people in the room would have advocated; most Israeli politicians that reject a two-state programme instead support expanded settlements and annexation of Palestinian territory, not a programme that would improve the situation of Palestinians let alone dismantle the Israeli nation state. The Palestine Liberation Organisation also supports two states.
Whilst a good two states settlement will be difficult, a one state programme in the short-to-medium-term could almost certainly only be achieved by force. Since Israel should not and will not in reality be forced into this, to advocate a one-state solution and oppose a two-state solution is to advocate no realistic solution and to oppose the only possible, but difficult, solution. Such incomplete arguments, simplistic apartheid analogies and failure to distinguish between ethnicity and religion throughout the meeting are a few of the things that highlighted the importance of more debate on this issue.
My general sense from the room was that most people were close to Greenstein’s perspective, although perhaps not so extreme. Similar perspectives certainly constitute the “common sense” assumptions of much of Momentum and the Palestine Solidarity movement in Bristol, but overwhelmingly people had simply not previously come across more nuanced perspectives; perspectives which are very critical of Israel and stand in solidarity with Palestinians whilst also being critical of left anti-Semitism and defending Israel’s right to exist. The Palestine Solidarity movement, Momentum, the Labour Party and the left need to have more debates and discussions on these issues, but with more balance and less heckling, and hopefully this will lead to less oversimplifications being used to caricature and dismiss serious attempts to tackle left anti-Semitism.
Readers based in the North West might be interested in hearing Ruth Ellman, Naz Shah and Ruth Smeeth discuss Labour’s relationship with the Jewish community on 27 November. Go here for more details and to register.
“Unfortunately, a comment on this thread has been deleted and the user banned for repeated antisemitic comments. Bigotry or any form of racial or religious discrimination, be it Islamophobia or antisemitism, simply will not be tolerated on this page.”
That was the commitment given by the SNP Friends of Palestine (FoP) on its public Facebook page in December of last year. It is a commitment that the campaign has spectacularly failed to implement.
Over the past ten months its Facebook page has carried a plethora of textbook examples of how traditional antisemitic tropes are incorporated into what passes for criticism of Israel and Zionism.
One of the most common of those tropes is that of wealthy, powerful Jews who, behind the scenes, control politicians and the policies of elected governments.
According to one contributor to the Facebook page, it is “the American Jewish Lobby” which bears the historical blame for the current “ghastly situation”:
“I was there while there was still a country called Palestine, although the poor Russian Jews chucked out of their own country were already infiltrating (Tel Aviv and Nablus at the foot of the Sea of Galilee) by courtesy of the American Jewish Lobby. Those are the people we have to thank for this ghastly situation.” (17/05/16).
Another contributor saw Rothschild money in play in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, when the British Foreign Secretary backed the creation of “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine:
“Jewish and Arabs had lived side-by-side for decades until Arthur Balfour was probably provided financial security by the Rothschild scum to enforce this on their behalf.” (22/02/16)
“Zionists” have continued to exercise a decisive political influence down to the present, and do so at a global level:
“Just confirms who is actually running world politics, make up rules only to suit themselves. We all know that Zionists have hijacked the Jewish religion for their own gains. Next law to come in will [make it] antisemitic to say anything against the Zionists.” (28/04/16)
Like Balfour, contemporary British politicians continue to be bought off by “Zionists”. (SNP MPs and MSPs are doubtless an exception.) This explains their supposed reluctance to criticise Israel, and their loyalty to Israel rather than Britain:
“Politicians are bought by Zionists and do more for Israel than they do for the UK. Labour Friends of Israel and Conservative Friends of Israel need to be banned. (UK politicians silent about Palestinian deaths.)” (17/04/16)
“We all know that the US and UK governments and their allies have been bribed by those Zionist supporters because they are part of the status quo. They have blood on their hands! The Israel state itself is a big lie!” (05/03/16)
“And of course the pro-Israel politicians will just go along with whatever any pro-Israel lobby group tells them. About time to kick Jewish/Israeli lobbyists out of British politics.” (25/02/16)
The expression “Jewish/Israeli lobbyists” is defended on the basis that one lobby is merely the new version of an older one. This is certainly true – in the sense that the contemporary trope of the powerful Israeli lobby is used as the direct successor of the older trope of the powerful Jewish lobby:
“It used to be called the Jewish lobby, now called the Israeli lobby. Same lobbyists and same people. So, yes, the two are the same. Politicians that are friends of Israel do what they can for Israel no matter what is against them. Sometimes it seems they do more for Israel than the UK, yet they are British politicians.” (25/02/16)
Accusations of antisemitism trigger particular indignation in posts on the SNP FoP Facebook page. Such accusations are denounced as further evidence of the behind-the-scenes power wielded by Jews.
The expression itself (first used by Wilhelm Marr in the 1870s, during the German-nationalist period of his political evolution) is dismissed as a Zionist invention which should now be dispensed with:
“The term ‘antisemitism’, coined in the 1880s by the Zionist movement to raise the perception of persecution among Europe’s Jews and so encourage them to make ‘Aliyah’, should now be consigned to its true position, merely a facet of racial and religious bigotry, and, as such, abhorred.” (18/02/16)
Accusations of antisemitism are used to cover up Israeli crimes by browbeating and intimidating opponents of Israel:
“The birth name of the new Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, was Freedland, the same as the apologist commentator of the ‘Guardian’. Different continents perhaps but …. Jonathan Freedland’s contrived argument is just that – a contorted apology for an apartheid state.” (03/05/16)
“Why does the world tolerate this? Because they’re terrified of being branded antisemites and bombarded with quite unnecessary warnings, like the one at the top of this page.” (23/05/16)
“It’s getting to the point in the UK to be scared to express a long-held sincere opinion in case there is a knock on the door at 3.00am.” (28/04/16)
Such views are not confined to contributors to the Facebook page. In April of this year the page administrators themselves posted a link to an article by SNP FoP member Craig Murray entitled “The New McCarthyism – The ‘Anti-Semitism’ Hysteria Gripping the UK”. According to the article:
“The attack on new NUS President Malia Bouattia is a truly horrible piece of witch-hunting. But it is useful in one thing. It makes the witch-hunt’s primary method, the conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism, absolutely explicit.
That is the entire intellectual basis of the current witch-hunt, which operates solely on conflating the anti-Zionism of Tony Greenstein with antisemitism. … I have yet to encounter any (antisemitism) in Scotland.”
Antisemitism can even be justified, provided that its proponents hate Jews for the ‘right’ reasons:
“If antisemitism is hating Jews for being born Jewish, then, of course, that kind of hatred must be opposed because it is utterly vile. However, if you oppose the support of many Jews for Israel, that is an entirely different matter.
Everyone should read ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’ by Professor Ilan Pappe of Exeter University, himself an Israeli Jew. It is clear from his research that violent ethnic cleansing and racism were absolutely integral and necessary for the creation of a Jewish state. So, if you are a supporter of Israel, you condone racism and violent ethnic cleansing.” (23/04/16)
In fact, for some contributors to the SNP FoP Facebook page anyone who supports Israel’s right to exist is automatically deemed to be a racist:
“I’m afraid to say that the British Political and Media establishment (including leading members of the Labour Party and the ‘Guardian’) condone racism.
If you ‘support Israel’s right to exist’, if you support the ‘right of the Jewish People to self-determination’ you must also support the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 human beings in 1948. It is as simple as that.” (18/04/16)
Equating support for Israel’s right to exist with racism is a ‘logical’ consequence of the way in which Israel is portrayed and defined as uniquely evil in contributions to the SNP FoP Facebook page.
That portrayal and that definition go well beyond the parameters of ‘robust criticism’:
“Our only home has been made into a trap, prison and concentration camp, complete with seven decades of rampant barbaric extermination and torture upon the innocent natives by the blood-stained hands of Israel.” (27/04/16)
“Britain and America support Israel. This shower of shit are worse than ISIS. They murder and torture Palestinians and they have been at it for longer.” (06/09/16)
“Israhell is a state run by apartheid gangsters. How can the Zionist illegal occupiers act like the landowners? Go back to Europe where you belong, Israhell! … Shame on you, the filthiest state on this planet!” (01/05/16)
A comment posted on the occasion of a visit to Israel by a delegation of Scottish Tories (“Scottish Zionists, shameless and abhorrent”) made clear that such hostility is directed not just at Israel’s state policies but at its population as well:
“All the people I despise will be in one place then.” (06/08/16)
The antisemitic dissolution of the distinction between the perpetrators and the victims of the Holocaust is also a regular feature of contributions to the SNP FoP Facebook page:
“The Zionists are building up for more slaughter to be unleashed upon the Palestinian race. Disgusting immoral acts carried out by evil savages. Their desire to obliterate Palestinians cannot be denied, no matter how many times they say the opposite. The world needs to waken up to the new Nazis.” (06/09/16)
“They learned their tactics from the Nazis, but have forgotten that the ultimate result was defeat.” (01/09/16)
“Their paranoia about young children and torturing them and imprisoning them for longer than the evil Zionist bastard who incinerated a young boy’s parents and baby brother says it all about these modern-day Nazis.” (04/08/16)
“I’ve just been to Berlin and quite rightly seen so many images and read lots of text about the history of what happened to the innocent Jewish people. Sadly, when I was in Palestine. I witnessed many things from history repeating itself.” (19/04/16)
A comprehensive programme of boycott, disinvestments and sanctions against Israel is promoted by posts on the Facebook page as the appropriate political response to “the filthiest state on this planet”:
“Jews all over the world need to know that their murderous project in Israel is unacceptable. They have the best chance of reigning in Natty’s death squads. For the rest of us, we have BDS.” (28/04/16)
“Don’t listen to Israhell, keep on boycotting, disinvesting, condemning Israhell!” (04/03/16)
“Buy nothing from these apartheid murdering scum!” (25/02/16)
“Bargepoles at the ready, and take your reading glasses to the shops.” (25/02/16)
The SNP FoP is not a fringe organisation. Launched in mid-2015, it has the support of 29 of the SNP’s 54 MPs. Two MPs and two MSPs are members of its National Executive Committee. Its Facebook page is peppered with pictures of MPs and MSPs signing its statement “I’m a Friend of Palestine”.
The campaign can argue that not all the offending posts come from actual members of the SNP FoP. This is true. In fact, some of the worst posts appear to come from ‘Palestine solidarity’ activists outside of the SNP who have ‘discovered’ the SNP FoP Facebook page.
The SNP FoP might escape criticism for hosting some of these posts on its Facebook page if it used the less repellent ones as an opportunity to open up an argument about what is wrong with their politics.
But the campaign does not do that. And even such challenges as there are to the contents of some of the posts are given short shrift: “Take yer Zionist-fascist shit elsewhere.” (04/08/16)
As a result, the SNP FoP Facebook page ends up as an echo chamber for a collection of antisemitic tropes masquerading as ‘legitimate criticism’ of Israel:
Rich and powerful Jews; behind-the-scenes control of politicians and governments by the Jewish/Israeli lobby; equations of Israel with Nazi Germany; a denial of Israel’s right to exist, and a blanket dismissal of the bona fides of allegations of antisemitism.
According to SNP MP Stewart McDonald, a founder member of the SNP FoP:
“These worst excesses (of ‘naked antisemitism emerging in its vilest form’) have not been seen in the SNP Friends of Palestine but we must be constantly vigilant. Most antisemitism is not overt, relying on ancient tropes which are easily recycled into the modern age of memes and viral media.”
McDonald is someone who does not counterpose Palestinian national rights to Israeli national rights. In fact, he is currently being denounced by some of his erstwhile allies for supporting the creation of SNP Friends of a Two-States Solution.
But there certainly seems to have been a shortfall in the “constant vigilance” which he rightly advocates.
A statement signed by over 120 Palestinians condemns “whitewashing” of Syrian regime by “activists whom we once respected”
Above: the Free Syria and Palestinian flags painted on the wall in the West Bank
Eulogizing the late Samir Kassir forty days after his 2 June, 2005, assassination, the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish lauded the Lebanese-Palestinian-Syrian writer’s wide-ranging “liberation project,” which he said encompassed everything from “the child’s right to question his father, to the woman’s right to divorce her husband, to […] the poet’s right to shed the strictures of rhyme, to […] the right of citizens to change their ruler, to the right of the individual and society to resist both despotism and occupation simultaneously”(italics added).
This was, on one level, an obvious nod to Kassir’s extraordinarily courageous opposition to the Bashar al-Assad regime that cost him his life (“Was it for this that Samir Kassir deserved to be killed?” Darwish then asked rhetorically). It was also, however, consistent with the argument Darwish and other democratic Arab leftists had been making since at least the early 1970s; namely, that long-term liberation necessitated a fight against Arab dictatorships no less than Israeli occupiers.
It’s this crucial chiaroscuro that tends to get missed by the sort of self-styled leftist in the West whose only real use for Darwish and other Palestinians is one-dimensional. In their designated roles imagined as eliminationist anti-Zionist fanatics (the same distortion, ironically, made by the toxic Israeli right-wingers who liken Darwish to Hitler), Arabs are ultimately no more than cameos and extras in a story that has no time for their suffering – not even the slaughter of 500,000 Syrians – if it can’t be made, as Trump might put it, to be about America First.
Not surprisingly, a number of Palestinians happen to not much enjoy their misfortune being appropriated in this fashion. A pair of articles published last weekend by the renowned American Israel critic Max Blumenthal – in which he portrayed the Syrian first-aid volunteers known as The White Helmets, who’ve pulled tens of thousands of civilians from the rubble left by Syrian and Russian air strikes (including the famous shell-shocked 5-year-old, Omran Daqneesh), as sinister agents of American neoconservatism – was evidently a last straw for some. In a new statement titled ‘On The Allies We’re Not Proud Of: A Palestinian Response to Troubling Discourse on Syria,’ over 120 Palestinian signatories state they are “concerned by some of the discourse that has emerged from progressive circles with regards to the ongoing crisis in Syria.”
Calling the “Syrian revolution […] a natural response to 40 years of authoritarian rule,” they directly address Blumenthal by dismissing as “nonsense” the “notion that just because an organization is receiving foreign aid, it must follow then that that organization is partaking in some shadowy Western-backed conspiracy.”
In perhaps their most interesting reflection, they say they regret their past “tendency to heroize those who advocate on behalf of the Palestinian struggle, and we fear that some members of our community may have prioritized the celebrity status of these individuals over the respect and support we owe to those Syrians affected most directly by the war.” They conclude they have “no choice left but to cease working with these activists whom we once respected,” and “encourage others who are guided by similar principles to do the same.”
The full statement (which one hopes will also be published in Arabic) is reproduced below:
We, the undersigned Palestinians, write to affirm our commitment to the amplification of Syrian voices as they endure slaughter and displacement at the hands of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. We are motivated by our deep belief that oppression, in all of its manifestations, should be the primary concern of anyone committed to our collective liberation. Our vision of liberation includes the emancipation of all oppressed peoples, regardless of whether or not their struggles fit neatly into outdated geopolitical frameworks.
We are concerned by some of the discourse that has emerged from progressive circles with regards to the ongoing crisis in Syria. In particular, we are embarrassed by the ways in which some individuals known for their work on Palestine have failed to account for some crucial context in their analysis of Syria.
The Syrian revolution was in fact a natural response to 40 years of authoritarian rule. The Assad regime, with the support of its foreign financial and military backers, is attempting to preserve its power at the expense of the millions of Syrians whom the regime has exiled, imprisoned, and massacred. We believe that minimizing this context in any discussion of Syria dismisses the value of Syrian self-determination and undermines the legitimacy of their uprising.
We also believe that an important consequence of all foreign interventions, including those purportedly done on behalf of the uprising, has been the setback of the original demands of revolution. The revolution is a victim, not a product, of these interventions. It is imperative for any analysis of Syria to recognize this fundamental premise. We cannot erase the agency of Syrians struggling for liberation, no matter how many players are actively working against them.
Though we maintain that the phenomenon of foreign aid demands thorough critique, we are concerned by the ways in which foreign aid has been weaponized to cast suspicion on Syrian humanitarian efforts. Foreign aid is not unique to Syria; it is prevalent in Palestine as well. We reject the notion that just because an organization is receiving foreign aid, it must follow then that that organization is partaking in some shadowy Western-backed conspiracy. Such nonsense has the effect of both undermining humanitarian efforts while simultaneously whitewashing the very crimes against humanity that necessitated the aid in the first place.
Furthermore, we object to the casual adoption of “war on terror” language. Enemies of liberation have historically used this rhetoric to target humanitarians, organizers, and community members. From Muhammad Salah to the Midwest 23 to the Holy Land Five, our community is all too familiar with the very real consequence of employing a “war on terror” framework. Therefore, we reject a discourse that perpetuates these old tactics and peddles harmful and unwarranted suspicion against Syrians.
Along these lines, it is our position that any discussion of Syria that neglects the central role of Bashar Al-Assad and his regime in the destruction of Syria directly contradicts the principles of solidarity by which we abide. We have reflected on our own tendency to heroize those who advocate on behalf of the Palestinian struggle, and we fear that some members of our community may have prioritized the celebrity status of these individuals over the respect and support we owe to those Syrians affected most directly by the war, as well as those living in the diaspora whose voices have been dismissed as they have watched their homeland be destroyed.
We will no longer entertain individuals who fail to acknowledge the immediate concerns of besieged Syrians in their analysis. Despite reaching out to some of these individuals, they have shown an unwillingness to reflect on the impact of their analysis. We regret that we have no choice left but to cease working with these activists whom we once respected.
We would like to encourage others who are guided by similar principles to do the same.
A man of peace? Not exactly. But still…
The first demonstration I ever attended was at the end of 1967. On one school day, the principal went through all parts of the school, announcing: “The last two classes are canceled, everybody is going to demonstrate at the French Embassy!”. We broke into a great cheer and went through the school gates. En route to the embassy we encountered the pupils from other schools, all joining in the great organized spontaneous demonstration. Someone started chanting “De Gaulle / Has a big nose!” (it rhymes in Hebrew) and everybody joined in.
In the Israel of late 1967 it was very fashionable to hate France, and in particular to hate French President Charles de Gaulle. As we read in newspapers and heard from our teachers, France had betrayed Israel and violated the alliance with us at the crucial moment and imposed an arms embargo on Israel. (Israel won the war anyway, but that’s another issue.) And to add insult to injury, we were told that de Gaulle had said anti-Semitic things, though we did not know exactly what. Therefore, we were very happy to demonstrate at the French Embassy instead of studying. Some of us also wanted to throw stones and break the embassy windows, but the police prevented that.
As it happened, a few weeks later I was browsing at a dusty back shelf in my favorite lending library. There a book with an intriguing title: “A Bridge Over The Mediterranean”. On the front page appeared a large photo of the Israeli Minister Shimon Peres shaking hands with French President Charles de Gaulle, both smiling broadly, over the background of the Eiffel Tower and the Paris skyline. I read the first chapter in which Shimon Peres spoke at very great length about the strategic alliance between Israel and France. As described in the book, it was a strong and enduring alliance, serving the best interests of both countries. (As far as I can remember, the one thing Peres did not mention was the French aid in building the Dimona Nuclear Pile…).
Actually, it was not such an old book. It had been published just three years earlier, in 1964, but it seems somebody at the library decided to exile it to the back shelf. It was then, at the age of 12, that I was first introduced to Simon Peres “the man of great visions and designs” (not always the same visions and designs…).
In 1976, during a brief leave from the army, I participated with several dozen youths at a Tel Aviv protest against the new settler movement, “Gush Emunim” (Block of the Faithful), whose members were determined to establish themselves at the heart of the Biblically-hallowed “Judea and Samaria”. After the demonstration, we sat in a cramped office and listened to the news on a tiny, black and white TV set. “Again, Gush Emunim activists managed to evade the military checkpoints, reach the old railway station in Sebastia and barricade themselves in.” said the announcer “Evicting them is expected to result in violent clashes with soldiers”.
“What is this nonsense about their evading the checkpoints?” cried one of the organizers. “Defense Minister Shimon Peres is the settlers’ best friend. What more do you want to know? It’s a con game, pure and simple”. In that small office, we all felt a very visceral hatred of Shimon Peres.
The next morning, in the bus on the way back to base, I read of “compromise agreement” reached late at night with the blessing of Defense Minister Peres. The Gush Emunim settlers were allowed to remain “temporarily” at a nearby military base. Later, temporary became permanent, the settlers stayed and the it was soldiers who eventually left, and the military base became the settlement of Kedumim.
Shimon Peres definitely had a major share in this outcome.
May 1981 – a crowded meeting at the Tzavta Hall in Tel Aviv, to celebrate the election of Francois Mitterrand as President of France. The keynote speaker was Shimon Peres – Leader of the Israeli Labor Party, Leader of the Parliamentary opposition and Vice President of the Socialist International. “Europe is becoming a Socialist Continent!” cried Peres. “This is the wave of the future, and we in Israel should become part of it!” It was the first time I heard Shimon Peres praising Socialism, and it did not last long. (In truth, Mitterrand himself, as well as the other members of the Socialist International, have not shown a real commitment to the principles of Socialism…)
September 1982: the First Lebanon War had been raging for three months, culminating with the terrible massacre in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. A wave of demonstrations and protests throughout the country, I have spent the previous night at the Abu Kabir Detention Center in south Tel Aviv. A crucial meeting between major activists of the “Committee Against the Lebanon War” on one hand and the leadership of “Peace Now” on the other.
– “Peace Now wants to have on Saturday night a very big rally, a huge one, on the Kings of Israel Square. It should really be a mass event, bigger than anything anyone of us ever did before. But you of the Committee got first to the police, you have the permit for using the square on that night. If you don’t pass it on to us, Peace Now will not be able to do it. And you, too, know that if you mobilize only your own supporters, the rally would be much smaller.” – “OK, we are ready to give you the license.” – “But there is a problem. The Labor Party is ready to join, to change their position. They are going to stop supporting the war in Lebanon start speaking out against the war. Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin are willing – they very much want – to mount the podium and speak very sharply against Begin and Sharon. But I hate to say this, Peres and Rabin are not willing to share the podium with anyone from the Extreme Left. ”
All eyes in the room turned to the radical poet Yitzhak Laor, who was going to be the keynote speaker for the Committee Against The War. After a moment of silence he muttered a pungent oath and said: “The hell with it! No one will be able to say that I spoiled a big rally against the war crimes. Let Rabin and Peres have the podium to themselves and welcome!”. So was born the memorable “Demonstration of the Four Hundred Thousand”, the biggest public event in Israel’s history until then.
Some two or three years later – again a small demonstration of several dozens, and again sitting afterwards to see the TV evening news at a dusty office (color TV this time). In this demonstration, as in many protests and events held at the time, we chanted “Talk peace / With the PLO / Now, now, now!”/ . We distributed to the indifferent Tel Avivian passers by leaflets about the meetings which activists of the Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace held with PLO officials, and about the positive messages which they got from the Palestinians.
On that evening TV interviewed Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s cabinet. Peres rejected out of hand the option of negotiating with the PLO – “It is a terrorist organization, they are opposed to peace, they have nothing positive to contribute – absolutely nothing.” Conversely, he greatly praised King Hussein of Jordan – “The King is a serious, reliable partner. The real option for peace is the Jordanian Option!”
“What an idiot!” said one of the people sitting next to me. “He wants to give the Territories to Jordan. And then the Palestinians will say that the agreement does not bind them, and will continue fighting Israel. What a clever deal – pay the full prize and get nothing in return! How can such a stupid person get so high?”
As we learned later, at that time Peres had held a secret meeting with King Hussein in London and reached a draft agreement, but Prime Minister Shamir vetoed it and the initiative failed. We did not share Peres’ outrage and protest at “The loss of a historic opportunity”.
April 1990 – the government coalition crisis which came to be known in Israeli history as “The Dirty Trick”. With the outbreak of the First Intifada the Jordanian Option was definitely off the agenda. The Americans suggested that Israel negotiate with a Palestinian delegation not officially representing the PLO but including representatives from East Jerusalem. Prime Minister Shamir rejected the proposal out of hand and accused Foreign Minister Peres of discreetly encouraging the Americans. Peres and the other Laborites resigned and brought down the Shamir Government in a parliamentary vote of confidence.
Thereupon, Shimon Peres announced that he had managed to form a new government headed by himself, and that it would be presented to the Knesset on the morning of April 12. But on that morning, as we waited, the hours passed and there was no sign of the new cabinet. There were increasing rumors the ultra-Orthodox have abandoned Peres at the last minute and deprived him of the expected parliamentary majority. This turned out to be true. By noon, Peres appeared on the screen, tense and pale, and announced “a delay in presenting the new cabinet”. “Damn!” said one of my friends. “This means that we remain stuck with Shamir, and he will continue to block everything. God damn the ultra-Orthodox to Hell! ”
1994 – After the Nobel Peace Prize Committee announced the award of Yitzhak Rabin, Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres for their part in the Oslo Agreements, Yedioth Ahronoth published a nasty commentary. The writer attacked Peres harshly, accusing him of being “a publicity stunt man” who had “pushed through the signing of the horrible Oslo Accord” for the sole purpose of getting the Nobel Prize.
So I immediately sat down and wrote a Letter to the Editor. I don’t have the exact text (at that time, such things were not yet preserved on the computer), but I remember quite clearly that I expressed unreserved support for Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. I wrote that he was a statesman of the first order, of whom any country could be proud. I wrote in that letter (as I wrote and said very often, at the time) that Shimon Peres deserved praise and the Nobel Prize for understanding that Israel must end the occupation and achieve peace with the Palestinians – not only for the sake of the Palestinians but also for its own future.
I praised Peres for understanding that in order to talk to the Palestinians one needs to talk with those that the Palestinians themselves regard as their representative – namely, the Palestine Liberation Organization and its Head, Yasser Arafat. I also wrote that Peres deserved to be praised for having managed to overcome his bitter rivalry with Yitzhak Rabin, work closely with Rabin and convince the Prime Minister to shake hands with Yasser Arafat.
For all these reasons, I concluded, Shimon Peres fully and rightly deserved the Nobel Peace Prize – more so than many others who got it before him. “Yediot Ahronot” shortened my letter, but the essential parts did get published on the next day.
November 1995 – The bitter night of the Rabin Assassination. A very successful peace rally on the square, the big crowds who came to express confidence in the Peace Process that began in Oslo, Rabin and Peres on the podium singing the Peace Song. The rally over, hundreds of young people dancing merrily to the tune of Brazilian Samba music from the loudspeakers. Suddenly the honking of a long column of police cars, wild rumors of a terrorist attack, the news that Prime Minister Rabin was hit by an assassin’s bullets, hundreds of people running all the way to the gate of the Ichilov hospital, Cabinet Spokesperson Eitan Haber appearing and reading out the communiquי: “The Government of Israel announces with shock …”.
Returning to the square. Sitting in mourning circles around the lighted candles. The radio reported that the cabinet convened in the middle of the night for an emergency session and elected Shimon Peres as Prime Minister Pro Tem, pending Knesset approval. Several youths walk to the wall of the nearby Tel Aviv Town Hall and spray paint a huge graffiti: “You will never walk alone, Shimon Peres!”.
Already that night, we started talking about what Peres should do. Immediately dissolve the Knesset and call new elections, so as to win a large majority? Act firmly and strongly against the settlers, now that their public standing is at a low ebb?
Alas, Shimon Peres did not follow any of our “advices”. Instead, he soon got entangled in a completely unnecessary, bloody military operation in Lebanon – “Operation Grapes of Wrath”. In April 1995, after 106 Lebanese civilians were killed by a stray Israeli artillery shell at the village of Qana, I was at a protest outside the home of Prime Minister Shimon Peres in Ramat Aviv. It was a militant demonstration, with very sharp slogans chanted against The Prime Minister, including such terms as “murderer”, “assassin” and “war criminal”. We collided with the police cordon which barred our way, and came very close to spending the night in custody. Yet, during the dispersal I told my fellow demonstrators: “There is no choice. Despite everything, in the elections we will have to vote for him.” – “What? For this bastard?” – “What else? Do you want Netanyahu as Prime Minister?”.
At that moment, the expression “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu” still seemed a kind of science fiction, a remote and highly unlikely eventuality. But a bare month and a half later, it became a reality that accompanies the state of Israel up to the present. On elections night we sat awake, with the predictions showing a victory for Netanyahu – a victory by a narrow but clear margin. Hour after hour we sat in front of the screen, hoping against hope for a change – until with the morning light, predictions became certainty and Shimon Peres lost irrevocably his last chance at holding Israel’s helm of state.
I could continue this article on and on and specify more moments in the life of Shimon Peres – lights and shadows, contrary landmarks, times when we were very angry with him for agreeing to serve Netanyahu and represent him on the international arena and other times when Peres tries at least to some degree to face up to the leader of the Likud and take all sorts of initiatives to promote peace. There was the failed attempt to be elected as the (purely titular) President of Israel and a second attempt which succeeded. And the last years, when he was very popular with the general Israeli public and increasingly pushed aside the vision of peace and of The New Middle East and chose to focus on a new, non-political dream and vision – i.e. the intensive promotion of nanotechnology and of the enormous blessings nanotechnology could give to mankind.
Still, now that Shimon Peres’ long career definitely ended in a huge state funeral in the presence of Heads of State and assorted VIP’s from all over the world, I’d rather finish my personal review with that decisive moment of failure in the 1996 elections.
Was Shimon Peres a Man of Peace? Many of my political friends are skeptical about that, to say the least. It is not difficult to gather damning evidence and point to black spots all along Peres’ career.
As for me – I would have been very happy indeed if it were possible to turn the wheel backwards, go back to May 1996 and give Shimon Peres the extra thirty thousand votes which would have made him a Prime Minister for an extra four years and reduced Netanyahu to a forgotten footnote in Israel’s history.
The Shimon Peres of 1996 was completely committed, politically and personally, to the Oslo Accords. There is good reason to believe that, with a solid mandate for four more years, Peres would have embarked with his typical energy and determination on the Permanent Status negotiations with the Palestinians. That he would have seriously tried to reach an agreement by the May 1999 deadline agreed upon. And that with an agreement reached, he would have worked very hard to implement it on the ground.
Would he have succeeded? Would we now be living in a completely different situation, in a real New Middle East? Or would Peres have wasted this chance, too, and ended in a dismal failure? We will never know.
In reality it is impossible to go back in time and change history. Hopefully, we will still succeed to change the future.
Shimon Peres, the former prime minister of Israel, has died at the age of 93 after suffering a stroke. A titan of Israeli political life, Peres remained an active player in his country and the region until his death, working hard to promote closer ties between Israelis and Palestinians.
He will be remembered above all else for his role in negotiating the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords and for winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 along with then-Israeli Prime Minster Yitzak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, who was at the time chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). A peace treaty with Jordan also followed, which established mutual recognition between that country and Israel.
Peres always believed that the Israelis needed to be a proactive partner in the peace process. As he put it in 2013: “We can and should bring an end to the conflict – and we have to be the initiators. Playing hard-to-get may be a romantic proposition, but it’s not a good political plan.”
His dedication to the peace process was established even before Oslo. In the late 1980s, Peres was involved in a secret agreement with Jordan’s King Hussein. Signed in April 1987, the so-called London Agreement outlined a framework for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict that would focus on education and the development of the two countries’ respective economies. Unfortunately the Israeli prime minister at the time, Yitzak Shamir, disagreed, and refused to approve the agreement.
Peres was involved in the peace process again by the early 1990s, while serving as foreign minister under Rabin. But before Oslo even took place there were internal battles about who to negotiate with – the PLO in Israel-Palestine, which was supposedly composed of moderates, or the PLO based in Tunis and led by Arafat. Ultimately, it was Arafat who came to the negotiating table.
To make this happen, both Peres and Rabin had to change their mind about dealing with the PLO abroad. Peres felt that it was futile to keep Arafat in exile in Tunisia since it made co-operation between the two sides more difficult.
Though the secret accords have been highly controversial ever since they were struck, they nevertheless included several noteworthy steps. The first was mutual recognition: for the first time, the PLO would recognise the state of Israel, and vice versa.
The accords also created an interim government for the Palestinians, the Palestinian National Authority, which would take over responsibilities in education, social welfare, health care, direct taxation and tourism. Within nine months, elections were to be held.
The accords allowed for Arafat to return to Gaza after years in exile; Israel was also supposed to withdraw from Gaza and Jericho within four months. In return, the PLO would also remove chapters in its charter referring to the destruction of Israel, which would be given guarantees that its people had the right to live in peace and security.
The stalled process
Proponents of Oslo at the time claimed that the accords helped encourage a peaceful approach to the conflict, and constituted the first step to getting the peace process started in earnest. But as is all too evident today, and despite Peres’s lifelong optimism, the peace the accords planned for was never achieved.
Oslo failed to address the key issues of the conflict: the status of Jerusalem, right of return for the 1948 Palestinian refugees, the status of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and the borders of the Palestinian territory. There was also no promise of an independent Palestinian state. It was assumed that these issues would be negotiated at the end of the five-year transition period the accords provided for. For many critics, the Oslo was just a litany of empty promises.
Part of the problem was that the accords were not actually a peace treaty, but only a first step to peace and a framework for facilitating negotiations for a final treaty intended to be negotiated in 1998.
When the accords were signed in September 1993, the criticism was sharp and immediate. Palestinian scholar Edward Said decried them as a “Palestinian surrender”, and claimed that the plan would throw the Palestinian leadership into complete disarray.
There was also anger on the Israeli side. Peres’s fellow negotiator Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli extremist in November 1995, an event which in turn led to the election of the right-wing Likud Party in 1996. Led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who today serves as Israel’s prime minister again, the new government was openly antagonistic towards Oslo.
So why did Oslo fail? As ever, it depends which voices on which side you listen to.
Many Israelis blame Palestinian violence for wrecking the peace process. After the Camp David Accords collapsed in July 2000, the Second Intifada broke out and ran until 2005. The militant Islamist group Hamas won legislative elections in 2006, further deepening a rift among Palestinians and making the Palestinian Authority more irrelevant than ever.
In contrast, many Palestinians claim that it was the Israelis who have reneged on their side of the deal. Highly contentious is the issue of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories: in 1993, there were 115,700 Israeli settlers living there, whereas today there are more than 350,000 in the West Bank and another 300,000 living within East Jerusalem’s pre-1967 borders. No settlement freezes have taken place, and this constant encroachment has made the two-state solution more difficult.
A 2013 poll examining the effects of Oslo on public opinion 20 years later found both sides have been dissatisfied. Palestinians maintained that the Israelis were the big winners, with 49% claiming that the accords damaged their interests. On the Israeli side, 68% of Israelis felt that the main beneficiaries were the Palestinians, and 64% felt that they themselves had been harmed by the accords.
And yet a 2015 poll revealed that while 90% of Palestinians don’t think Israel has abided by the Oslo Agreement, 68% still want to support the agreement. So for all that the Oslo framework is resented criticised, any new peace process for peace in the region will almost certainly have to stick to it in some form.
Although the two sides are far apart, Peres died an optimist, still hopeful that the day would come when the Israeli Defence Forces’s soldiers would serve purely for peace. As he famously put it: “Impossibility is only a product of our prejudice.”
Natasha Ezrow does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Thank you very much for your email from Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East. I have read your six pledges and am in support of them all. I have been campaigning for the human rights of the Palestinian people for decades and will continue to do so for as long as their rights are being denied to them.
I have been campaigning for the human rights of the Palestinian people for decades and will continue to do so for as long as their rights are being denied to them.
I fully support a two state solution based on 1967 borders where a fully independent Palestinian state can exist alongside an Israeli state in peace. I would aim to aid the achievement of this by reaffirming the Labour Party’s decision, made under Ed Milliband, to recognize the state of Palestine and would lobby governments, multinational institutions and other political parties around the world to do likewise. I believe that this recognition is essential for establishing the principle of equality between Israel and Palestine.
Both British and American governments have rightly criticised illegal settlements in the West Bank. It is clear to me that the only hope of ending this policy is if the international community intensifies its pressure on the Israeli government. In order to further the peace process, I am, therefore, in support of targeted boycotts with the aim of requiring the cessation of all settlement activity.
To reduce the UK’s role in the perpetuation of this conflict, I have also called for the UK government to cease selling arms to Israel.
Whilst a lasting solution between Israel and Palestine is being sought, it is imperative that the matter of Israeli human rights abuses is addressed urgently. The siege of Gaza, the detention of civilians without trial (including the detention of children) and the harassment and humiliation of Palestinians as they go about their everyday life must cease.
I have previously called for, and will go on demanding, that the strongest possible protests be made to the Israeli government, with escalating consequences, if they do not uphold the human right norms we would expect all those seeking warm relations with Britain to maintain.
Thank you for your letter on behalf of Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East on this issue of profound importance. I am proud to be a member of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East and I strongly support a viable peace process based on internationally recognised (1967) borders.
I continue to unequivocally support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the recognition of a viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and viable Israel. The terms of a peace deal are well known and I support them completely: two sovereign states living side by side in peace and security. The right to self-determination is an inalienable right for the peoples of both Palestine and Israel. I believe that the state of Palestine should be recognised, within the UN and by the UK, and I voted to recognise a Palestinian state in 2014 as an essential step towards to realising a two-state solution. I recognise that, ultimately, this can only be achieved by both sides sitting down together, with equal status, negotiating in good faith and making some difficult compromises. Peace is not something that can be imposed on either the Israelis or Palestinians by force or diktat.
I am opposed to violations of international human rights law, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the construction of the separation wall on Palestinian land. I consider the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories to be illegal, unjustifiable and detrimental to the prospects of achieving a two state solution. I also agree that the blockade on Gaza should be lifted and that rocket attacks and terrorism against Israelis must stop.
I am not convinced that a boycott of goods from Israel would help to achieve a negotiated peace settlement. In order to support the peace process we must build bridges between all those who support peace in the region. My time working in Northern Ireland as part of the peace process showed me that, beyond negotiations, peace only really comes when each side moves towards reconciliation. As friends of the people of Israel and Palestine, our most important task is to help foster cooperation and coexistence between both sides and I believe the work of LFPME makes an important contribution to that understanding.
I hope this reply is helpful and thank you for giving me the opportunity to set out my views in more detail.
As signalled by AT and DO: and already being debated.
Without going into the complexities of this, not to mention the broader context of the conflicts in the region, the two statements show a great deal of common ground, within the Party, the left internationally, and, most importantly, within important sections of the people affected.
The debate remains live on “targeted boycotts” aimed at illegal settlements, wider “boycotts”, or the justification for this kind of action against Israel, at all.
We agree with the views of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty: opposing all-embracing boycotts of Israelas advocated by the BDS movement.
Barghouti is quite upfront that BDS ultimately means ostracising everything Israeli. The campaign is “working to expel Israel and its complicit institutions from international and interstate academic, cultural, sporting… environmental, financial, trade, and other forums. He soft-soaps that “groups that for tactical reasons support only a subset of BDS, or a targeted boycott of specific products or organisations in Israel, or supporting Israel, are still our partners. Boycott is not a one-size-fits-all type of process. What is important to agree on, though, is why we are boycotting and towards what ends”. He distinguishes between advocating such a targeted boycott as a tactic, leading to the ultimate goal of boycotting all Israeli goods and services, and advocating such a targeted boycott as the ultimate strategy. While the former “may be necessary in some countries as a convenient and practical tool to raise awareness and promote debate about colonial and apartheid regime, the latter, despite its lure, would be in direct contradiction with the stated objectives of the Palestinian boycott movement”.
Barghouti is also clear that the boycott of settlement goods alone is not sufficient. The BDS movement, he says,” views the approach of focusing on banning only settlement products as the ultimate goal – rather than the first, convenient step towards a general Israeli products boycott – as problematic, practically, politically and morally”. At a practical level “Israel has made it extremely difficult to differentiate between settlement and other Israeli products, simply because the majority of parent companies are based inside Israel or because colony-based companies have official addresses there”. Politically “even if distinguishing between produce of settlements and produce of Israel were possible, activists who on principle – rather than out of convenience – advocate a boycott of only the former may argue that they are merely objecting to the Israeli military occupation and colonisation of 1967 and have no further problems with Israel”. Finally, there is a moral problem with accepting these “two grave… violations of human rights and international law as givens”.
BDS may seem in the ascendant for now. It may make progress in places, on the back of the Israeli state’s next atrocity. BDS needs to be fought politically, because it stands in the path of two states, the only consistently democratic solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. But BDS is ultimately a pessimistic approach. It put the agency for change outside of the region. It wants civil society, which includes not only NGOs and unions but bourgeois governments and business internationally to make things right for the Palestinians. There is another road. The Palestinian workers in alliance with Israeli workers fighting for a two state democratic solution to the national question, is the force that could deliver peace and much more besides.
In a way getting angry at someone on the left appearing on Press TV is a bit like getting angry at England playing poorly in the World Cup. It’s a dreadful and appalling thing but it happens all the time. And therefore I cannot legitimately claim to have been outraged when hearing that the Young Labour International Officer, Abdi-Aziz Suleiman of former NUS fame, spoke on Press TV to support Jeremy Corbyn. I must admit I was a little surprised that he was speaking to George Galloway who one would have thought had been discredited enough even for Press TV but I was clearly wrong. Rather than outrage my first thought was surprise that Suleiman would make such a poor PR move as to appear on Press TV while he is on the Young Labour National Committee.
For those who are unaware of what all the fuss is about, Press TV is a television news network that is funded by the Iranian state and therefore, rather unsurprisingly, parrots the Iranian regime’s line on every international issue.
For example, they will talk all day about the horrors of the Israeli occupation, of the disgraceful Saudi-led War in Yemen, of the vile rule of the Bahraini monarchy. But will you hear one word for example about Hezbollah’s murder of Syrians on behalf of the vile murderer Bashar Al-Assad? No, you’d be far more likely to hear sycophantic praise for Hassan Nasrallah. After all, isn’t he a defender of Arabs and Muslims (so long as those Arabs don’t have the temerity to demand their freedom from anyone other than Israel)?
The station often uses people with “left-wing” credentials as contributors but also people on the far-right like German journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter (the common thread is anyone with an anti-American viewpoint).
In that sense it shares a lot in common with the Russian state’s outfit Russia Today, though it has a particularly notorious record for its propaganda. It has been accused of all manner of things from publishing anti-Semitic material on its website to airing a forced confession of an Iranian journalist who had just been tortured by the Iranian state.
When speaking on Press TV, Suleiman did nothing to criticise the Iranian regime which got a lot of people, including hypocritical right-wingers, quite bothered.
As part of his response/defence, Suleiman said that there was no organised boycott of Iran and in any case appearing on its state outlets did not amount for support for the regime (but stopped short of actually criticising the Islamic Republic of Iran). He counterposed this to Israeli outlets, which he supports boycotting. This almost comical kitsch-left cliché of “look over there! What about Israel?” is a tactic used by everyone from crackpot Stalinists in Britain to Arab dictators as a form of whataboutery to avoid answering difficult questions about their own conduct. Of course, the famed Iranian regime uses the exact same tactic when, while continuing in its organised murder of Arabs in Syria on behalf of Bashar Al-Assad, it pretends to care about the repression of Arabs in Palestine.
I can’t think of a more insulting use of the Palestinian struggle than to use it as a cover for abominable regimes such as those of Iran. If Suleiman cares so much about Muslims perhaps he would take more care than to be uncritical of a regime that spends so much time terrorising some of them (alongside the numerous Baha’is, Jews, atheists etc. that it terrorises).
Why doesn’t he take the opportunity now to openly denounce the disgraceful regime? Even better had he done so on Press TV. Surely that would silence at least some of his critics.
And it also should be said now that George Galloway (the presenter that Suleiman nevertheless criticised for his recent waste of talents) never had any talent to squander. Not when he fawned after Mahmoud Ahmedinajad after the fraudulent 2009 Iranian elections, not when he described the disappearance of the Soviet Union as “the biggest catastrophe of [his] life”, not when he apologised for rape and not when he lavished Saddam Hussein with praise in 1994, six years after he had gassed 5000 Kurds in Halabja. Galloway was a reactionary since Suleiman was at least an infant so any attempts to imply his degeneration was a recent one seems quite dubious at the very least. If simply opposing the Iraq War is enough to make someone a hero, then why not extend the compliment to Nick Griffin or Donald Trump?
But why do left-wingers continually feel it’s okay to appear on outlets like Press TV and Russia Today? Who even watches them other than perhaps those left wingers who appear on them plus some weird chaps who stalk the comment sections of Youtube videos?
And why do Iran and Russia pay for them? Because they are useful to them of course. Because the British left can continue to cover for those regimes thinking that if they’re covering things like anti-EDL demonstrations or letting people on to talk about how great Jeremy Corbyn is they must be progressive. Unlike the dastardly BBC that never covers our demos. All this leads to the British left’s softness on reactionary self-styled “anti-imperialist” regimes becoming even softer, which is of course the very intention in the first place.
I can assure Suleiman and other contributors to Press TV that most of Britain’s Muslims do not watch let alone get persuaded by it. So there is no principle here necessarily so much as a tactic. If going on Press TV does nothing to persuade anyone of socialist politics but does legitimise the Iranian regime’s attempt to be a “dissenting” or even “left-wing” voice then we should absolutely not take part in that, at least not without saying something critical.
But isn’t appearing on RT or Press TV the same as appearing on the BBC for example? The BBC is obviously also state-funded. Overlooking the rather blatant differences between the bourgeois democratic nature of the British state and the others (which means that while it usually goes along with the ideas of the ruling class, it does usually have some form of criticism not only of the government but even of itself as a corporation), the main difference is that the BBC isn’t pretending to be something it’s not. The BBC does not seek out “progressive” voices from the UK as part of a cynical attempt to not only make it look like the British state is comparably anti-democratic to the Russian or Iranian state, but also to make itself look like a progressive broadcaster, and by extension make the states that fund it look progressive.
I remember when I was on the National Committee of the NCAFC I once put forward the idea that members of the organisation should not give media appearances to RT when asked, but I was unsuccessful. My feeling was, why give this outlet legitimacy as a left-wing news network? Why not minimally appear on RT but only with a T-Shirt saying “Freedom for LGBT Russians” or “Putin get out of Ukraine/Syria/Chechnya”?
In my first year of university I was on a demonstration against the BNP outside Parliament when I saw that Press TV was there. I was rather bewildered to see them at the demo and so in a fit of pique, I grabbed a placard and with a biro scrawled “Down with Khamenei” and did my best to show it onto the camera (see here). I say this not as a boast – it’s hardly the most heroic fight anyone’s ever done against the Iranian regime, I’ve met Hekmatist comrades who’ve literally fought the regime’s soldiers. I say this as an example of something that’s really not very impressive that can be done when appearing on Press TV.
Before any protestations of hypocrisy arise it should of course be said that it was no less bad when Corbyn appeared on Press TV. Though this isn’t an excuse, it seems that Corbyn’s blindness on the issue of Press TV comes from the naïve peacenik view that all TV stations are the same. Corbyn not only signed the petition in defence of a jailed (now dead) Iranian trade unionist that I was involved in promoting, but took the lead on the issue in Parliament (more info can be found here). In any case, a criticism of Corbyn I very much agree with has been written by comrades in the Iranian Revolutionary Marxist Tendency that I encourage all to read here.
Blairites and hypocrites will of course excoriate the Young Labour International Officer for appearing on Press TV but the fact that those on the right will be opportunist in their criticism is of course no excuse. The left should have higher standards. Let’s stop with these appearances on Press TV so that we can feel good about saying something left-wing on television, as if anyone is watching. All we’re doing is legitimising a regime that spent many years destroying what was once a powerful Iranian left and labour movement.
Omar Raii is a Labour and Momentum activist, and part of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts caucus on the National Union of Students national executive council.
The Israeli Olympians murdered at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich. (Danny Ayalon Youtube Channel)
After forty-four years the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has held an official memorial for the eleven Israeli athletes killed at the 1972 Games in Munich.
In the early hours of 5 September, Palestinian terroists from the Black September group clambered over security fences at the Olympic Village, made their way to the Israelis’ quarters and took a group of them hostage.
The terrorists, who murdered two of the Israeli athletes, demanded the release of more than 200 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. It ended with a botched rescue attempt by German police in which all nine of the remaining hostages, and a policeman, were killed.
Ankie Spitzer, widow of Andre, one of the victims, says she has asked for a minute of silence ever since the 1976 Games.
The request was turned down, and she says she was told it was “because then there were 21 Arab delegations and if they [the IOC] would do a memorial all these delegations would boycott, and they would go home”. There have been other “excuses” since.
Now, after years of campaigning, Ankie Spitzer and the other victims’ relatives have the consolation of a memorial ceremony in the athletes’ village in Rio, where a memorial stone was be unveiled.
The Olympic historian, Jules Boykoff, author of the recently-released Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics, says part of the explanation for the delay was “a guiding fiction that the IOC has long clung to – that politics and sports don’t mix”.
Below, Eric Lee in an article first published in 2012, recalls the response of the American SWP (not connected with the British organisation of the same name):
This may be news to some, but what is today commonplace was once quite rare. I’m referring to anti-Semitism on the far Left — and am reminded of what some of us saw as a turning point back in 1972.
For a quarter of a century following the defeat of Nazi Germany, anti-Semites everywhere were laying low — especially in the West. The Soviet leadership was growing increasingly anti-Jewish and anti-Israel, and anti-Semitism was rife in the Arab world, but in countries like the USA, it was quite rare for Jew-hatred to be expressed openly. And certainly not on the Left.
So while there were various degrees of criticism of Israel — especially of Israel’s brand-new occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai and the Golan Heights — these took place at a time when anti-Semitism remained taboo.
That’s why the Munich massacre of that year — and particularly the reaction of America’s largest far Left group to it — was such a shock.
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) was then still riding on a wave of support following its successful leadership of a large part of the anti-war movement during the Vietnam years — a war that was still raging. Its youth section, the Young Socialist Alliance, was strong on many college campuses. And it was still at that time pretty much an orthodox Trotskyist organization, though was later to drift.
When 11 Israeli athletes were killed following the attack by Black September terrorists, most political activists either grieved or denounced the terrorists. Some would have criticized the botched German government attempt to rescue them.
But not the SWP.
In its weekly newspaper The Militant, the SWP ran an article on the “real victims of the Munich massacre”. And the real victims, in their eyes, were not the 11 innocent Israelis, but … the Palestinians.
An editorial in “The Militant” following the Munich massacre labelled the world outcry as a “hypocritical roar of indignation” whose purpose really was “to make the criminal look like the victim” and said the massacre itself was merely a mistake in tactics.
Those of us who were in the Socialist Party, at that time still under the ideological leadership of Max Shachtman, were shocked at the SWP’s stance.
Our youth section, the Young Peoples Socialist League (YPSL) produced a flyer for distribution at SWP and YSA events where we bluntly accused our former comrades of having crossed the line from criticism of Israel to hatred of the Jewish state — and of Jews.
The SWP was shocked at the allegation and responded by publishing a series of articles in “The Militant” defending their record in the fight against anti-Semitism, going back to the Second World War.
Looking back at that today, it strikes me what an innocent time that was.
Today, if a group on the Left is accused of anti-Semitism it rarely goes to the lengths that the SWP of 1972 went to defend themselves.
Accusations of Jew-hatred are today greeted with a shrug.
What was so shocking 40 years ago — that a socialist organisation would identify somehow with a brutal terrorist attack on innocent people if those people happen to be Jewish — is commonplace now.
In the decades that followed the Munich massacre, the SWP drifted away from Trotskyism and lost nearly all of its members, leaving only a tiny organisation left, bereft of all influence.