Jew-baiter Livingstone’s filthy and ignorant perversion of history

April 28, 2016 at 6:19 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, conspiracy theories, fascism, history, Jim D, labour party, Livingstone, reactionay "anti-imperialism", zionism)


John Mann MP denounces Livingstone; Livingstone claims history is on his side

As I made clear in the previous post, I have some sympathy for Naz Shah, despite her disgraceful Facebook posts. She seems to be genuinely remorseful and anxious to reach out to, and learn from, Jewish people. I hope she is reinstated as a Labour MP, a chastened and wiser person. No such sympathy can be extended to the scum-bag Livingstone, a virulent and gleeful Jew-baiter, who should have been expelled from the Party for his remarks about Jews, Zionism and Israel in 2012. The fact that he got onto Labour’s NEC as part of the left ticket speaks volumes about the degenerate state of what passes for the “left” in Britian today.

As for his ignorant and offensive statement that “Hitler was supporting Zionism” in 1932 (see transcript, below), see Sean Matgmana’s 2006 article dealing with these sort of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, at the end of this post:

Speaking to BBC Radio London, Livingstone accused the “Israel lobby” of a campaign to smear all critics of Israel as anti-Semites, and claimed  Naz Shah was not guilty of any form of anti-Semitism – something he had never encountered in his 35 years in the Labour Party.

“She’s a deep critic of Israel and its policies. Her remarks were over the top but she’s not anti-Semitic. I’ve been in the Labour party for 47 years; I’ve never heard anyone say anything anti-Semitic. I’ve heard a lot of criticism of the state of Israel and its abuse of Palestinians but I’ve never heard anyone say anything anti-Semitic…

“It’s completely over the top but it’s not anti-Semitic. Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews. The simple fact in all of this is that Naz made these comments at a time when there was another brutal Israeli attack on the Palestinians.

“And there’s one stark fact that virtually no one in the British media ever reports, in almost all these conflicts the death toll is usually between 60 and 100 Palestinians killed for every Israeli. Now, any other country doing that would be accused of war crimes but it’s like we have a double standard about the policies of the Israeli government.”

As I’ve said, I’ve never heard anybody say anything anti-Semitic, but there’s been a very well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticises Israeli policy as anti-Semitic. I had to put up with 35 years of this…

“Let’s look at someone who’s Jewish who actually said something very similar to what Naz has just said. Albert Einstein, when the first leader of Likud, the governing party now in Israel, came to America, he warned American politicians: don’t talk to this man because he’s too similar to the fascists we fought in the Second World War.

“Now, if Naz or myself said that today we would be denounced as anti-Semitic, but that was Albert Einstein.”

He hit back at Lord Levy’s criticism of the leadership’s response to the anti-Semitism storms in Labour.

“After Jeremy became leader I was having a chat with Michael and he said he was very worried because one of his friends who was Jewish had come to him and said ‘the election of Jeremy Corbyn is exactly the same as the first step to the rise of Adolf Hitler to power’.

“Frankly, there’s been an attempt to smear Jeremy Corbyn and his associates as anti-Semitic from the moment he became leader. The simple fact is we have the right to criticise what is one of the most brutal regimes going in the way it treats the Palestinians.”

_________________________________________________________________________

With Hitler on the road to Samara

By Sean Matgamna

Of course you know the story. A man is in the market place, and he sees Death, and Death looks at him intently, recognising him.

In a panic, the man runs to his horse and gallops away desperately, taking the road to the city of Samara.

As he gallops off, Death turns to his companion. “Strange,” he said, “that was so-and-so. I was surprised to see him here, because I have an appointment with him, tonight, in Samara.”

Death is all-powerful. There is no escape when he reaches your name on the list.

Consider now, and the association is appropriate enough, the fate of poor Adolf Hitler. This heroic son of the German people understood early in life that the Jews were responsible for all the evil in the world.

He knew that the Jews were behind everything! He knew that socialism and communism were Jewish, and that the Jews were also behind finance capital.

He knew that modern art was pornography and corruption, and modern culture decadent — and he knew that the Jews were responsible, as they were for everything decadent and evil in the world. This genius understood that Jewish Bolshevism and “Jewish capital” were all one. Despite the appearance of difference and antagonism between these things, Hitler could see that all of them — communism, socialism, finance capital, cultural and artistic decadence, etc. — were really one thing. They were aspects of one tightly organised and minutely directed world Jewish conspiracy.

And so Hitler fought the Jews. He roused much of Germany against them. In the middle of the 20th century, he re-created the medieval Jewish ghetto in some of the main cities of European civilisation.

When the Jews who ruled in London, Paris, Moscow and Washington declared war on the German Reich, Hitler set out to do the job properly: he organised the killing of six million Jews.

A quarter of these were children: but Hitler refused to be deterred. He knew the extent of Jew-Zion power. He understood that sentimentality would be fatal. And Hitler — before the Jews finally got him — managed to kill two out of every three Jews in Europe.

Now, you wouldn’t think, would you, that Adolf Hitler could have underestimated the power of the Jews?

The left at the time of Hitler used to say he was a criminal maniac. But the left just didn’t understand.

And neither did Adolf Hitler. This great man understood a lot about the Jews. But he didn’t understand everything. The truth is that even Hitler underestimated the extent and power of the World Jewish Conspiracy.

Read the rest of this entry »

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In (partial) defence of Naz Shah

April 27, 2016 at 9:05 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, Jim D, labour party, Livingstone, Middle East, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", zionism)


Above: Naz Shah apologises in the Commons

It was right and also inevitable that Naz Shah was suspended from the Labour Party following the revelation of anti-Semitic Facebook posts suggesting that Israel should be “relocated to the US” and likening Zionism to al-Qaida (made, incidentally, before she was an MP).

In her defence it should be noted that (1) she made an immediate and unequivocal apology, with no attempt to claim that this was just “anti-Zionism” and (2) she has been brought up in a political culture in which saying offensive things about Jews, Israel and Zionism is considered acceptable and in which many people don’t even recognise that anti-Semitism is much of a problem: check out Ken Livingstone’s reaction, for instance.

I was going to add that Shah (unlike, say Livingstone) is young and politically unsophisticated: but that sounds a bit patronising, doesn’t it?

But I think Shah’s obviously sincere apologies (no less than four in total), together with her promise to “expand my existing engagement with Jewish community organisations” should count in her favour, and I for one hope that she is sooner or later re-instated to Party membership and the Labour whip in the Commons.

Instead of fixating upon a naïve new MP, the Labour Party and the left as a whole should be asking how it is that it’s considered OK for people like Livingstone to repeatedly insult Jews, and why it’s acceptable to denounce Zionism in a way that no other form of nationalism is demonised. The predominant leftist language of ‘anti-Zionism’ never recognised the anti-Semitic logic of refusing to recognise the national rights of Israelis and never asked questions about the ‘Free Palestine’, ‘From the River to the Sea’ slogans. It’s hardly surprising that someone like Naz Shah found herself going along with this sort of stuff.

I leave aside for now, the unfortunate fact (noted by Mehdi Hasan) that anti-Semitism is also pretty much mainstream in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in Britain.

Instead of scapegoating this young and in many ways quite impressive new MP, Labour and the left as a whole need to be examining the political culture which led to her making those Facebook posts in the first place.

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Note to Malia Bouattia: how to criticise Israel without being anti-Semitic

April 25, 2016 at 3:16 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, Middle East, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism, students, zionism)


Above: Ms Bouattia’s version of “anti-Zionism”

Newly-elected NUS president Malia Bouattia claims to have been misunderstood and/or misrepresented regarding her comments about “Zionism”. She is now rowing back on what she said about Zionists controlling the media, amongst other things.

If she is honestly and genuinely concerned about being misunderstood, she should read and learn from this:

  • If you’ve spent any time discussing or reading about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I guarantee you’ve heard some variation of this statement:

    OMG, Jews think any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic! 

    In the interests of this post, I’m going to assume that the people who express such sentiments are acting in good faith and really don’t mean to cause pain to or problems for Diaspora Jewry.  For those good-faith people, I present some guidelines for staying on the good side of that admittedly murky line, along with the reasoning why the actions I list are problematic.  (And bad-faith people, you can no longer plead ignorance if you engage in any of these no-nos.  Consider yourselves warned.)  In no particular order:

    1. Don’t use the terms “bloodthirsty,” “lust for Palestinian blood,” or similar.  Historically, Jews have been massacred in the belief that we use the blood of non-Jews (particularly of children) in our religious rituals.  This belief still persists in large portions of the Arab world (largely because white Europeans deliberately spread the belief among Arabs) and even in parts of the Western world.  Murderous, inhumane, cruel, vicious–fine.  But blood…just don’t go there.  Depicting Israel/Israelis/Israeli leaders eating children is also a no-no, for the same reason.
    2. Don’t use crucifixion imagery. Another huge, driving motivation behind anti-Semitism historically has been the belief that the Jews, rather than the Romans, crucified Jesus.  As in #1, this belief still persists.  There are plenty of other ways to depict suffering that don’t call back to ancient libels.
    3. Don’t demand that Jews publicly repudiate the actions of settlers and extremists.  People who make this demand are assuming that Jews are terrible people or undeserving of being heard out unless they “prove” themselves acceptable by non-Jews’ standards.  (It’s not okay to demand Palestinians publicly repudiate the actions of Hamas in order to be accepted/trusted, either.)
    4. Don’t say “the Jews” when you mean Israel.  I think this should be pretty clear.  The people in power in Israel are Jews, but not all Jews are Israelis (let alone Israeli leaders).
    5. Don’t say “Zionists” when you mean Israel. Zionism is no more a dirty word than feminism.  It is simply the belief that the Jews should have a country in part of their ancestral homeland where they can take refuge from the anti-Semitism and persecution they face everywhere else.  It does not mean a belief that Jews have a right to grab land from others, a belief that Jews are superior to non-Jews, or any other such tripe, any more than feminism means hating men.  Unless you believe that Israel should entirely cease to exist, you are yourself Zionist.  Furthermore, using “Zionists” in place of “Israelis” is inaccurate and harmful.  The word “Zionists” includes Diasporan Jews as well (most of whom support a two-state solution and pretty much none of whom have any influence on Israel’s policies) and is used to justify anti-Semitic attacks outside Israel (i.e., they brought it on themselves by being Zionists).  And many of the Jews IN Israel who are most violent against Palestinians are actually anti-Zionist–they believe that the modern state of Israel is an offense against God because it isn’t governed by halakha (traditional Jewish religious law).  Be careful with the labels you use.
    6. Don’t call Jews you agree with “the good Jews.”  Imposing your values on another group is not okay.  Tokenizing is not okay.  Appointing yourself the judge of what other groups can or should believe is not okay.
    7. Don’t use your Jewish friends or Jews who agree with you as shields.  (AKA, “I can’t be anti-Semitic, I have Jewish friends!” or “Well, Jew X agrees with me, so you’re wrong.”)  Again, this behavior is tokenizing and essentially amounts to you as a non-Jew appointing yourself arbiter over what Jews can/should feel or believe.  You don’t get to do that.
    8. Don’t claim that Jews are ethnically European.  Jews come in many colors–white is only one.  Besides, the fact that many of us have some genetic mixing with the peoples who tried to force us to assimilate (be they German, Indian, Ethiopian, Italian…) doesn’t change the fact that all our common ancestral roots go back to Israel.
    9. Don’t claim that Jews “aren’t the TRUE/REAL Jews.”  Enough said.
    10. Don’t claim that Jews have no real historical connection to Israel/the Temple Mount.  Archaeology and the historical record both establish that this is false.
    11. Don’t accuse Diasporan Jews of dual loyalties or treason.  This is another charge that historically has been used to justify persecution and murder of Jews.  Having a connection to our ancestral homeland is natural.  Having a connection to our co-religionists who live there is natural.  It is no more treasonous for a Jew to consider the well-being of Israel when casting a vote than for a Muslim to consider the well-being of Islamic countries when voting.  (Tangent: fuck drone strikes.  End tangent.)
    12. Don’t claim that the Jews control the media/banks/country that isn’t Israel.  Yet another historical anti-Semitic claim is that Jews as a group intend to control the world and try to achieve this aim through shadowy, sinister channels.  There are many prominent Jews in the media and in the banking industry, yes, but they aren’t engaged in any kind of organized conspiracy to take over those industries, they simply work in those industries.  The phrase “the Jews control” should never be heard in a debate/discussion of Israel.
    13. Don’t depict the Magen David (Star of David) as an equivalent to the Nazi swastika.  The Magen David represents all Jews–not just Israelis, not just people who are violent against Palestinians, ALL JEWS.  When you do this, you are painting all Jews as violent, genocidal racists.  DON’T.
    14. Don’t use the Holocaust/Nazism/Hitler as a rhetorical prop.  The Jews who were murdered didn’t set foot in what was then Palestine, let alone take part in Israeli politics or policies.  It is wrong and appropriative to try to use their deaths to score political points.  Genocide, racism, occupation, murder, extermination–go ahead and use those terms, but leave the Holocaust out of it.
    15. In visual depictions (i.e., political cartoons and such), don’t depict Israel/Israelis as Jewish stereotypes.  Don’t show them in Chassidic, black-hat garb.  Don’t show them with exaggerated noses or frizzled red hair or payus (earlocks).  Don’t show them with horns or depict them as the Devil.  Don’t show them cackling over/hoarding money.  Don’t show them drinking blood or eating children (see #1).  Don’t show them raping non-Jewish women.  The Nazis didn’t invent the tropes they used in their propaganda–all of these have been anti-Semitic tropes going back centuries.  (The red hair trope, for instance, goes back to early depictions of Judas Iscariot as a redhead, and the horns trope stems from the belief that Jews are the Devil’s children, sent to destroy the world as best we can for our “father.”)
    16. Don’t use the phrase “the chosen people” to deride or as proof of Jewish racism.  When Jews say we are the chosen people, we don’t mean that we are biologically superior to others or that God loves us more than other groups.  Judaism in fact teaches that everyone is capable of being a righteous, Godly person, that Jews have obligations to be ethical and decent to “the stranger in our midst,” and that non-Jews don’t get sent to some kind of damnation for believing in another faith.  When we say we’re the chosen people, we mean that, according to our faith, God gave us extra responsibilities and codes of behavior that other groups aren’t burdened with, in the form of the Torah.  That’s all it means.
    17. Don’t claim that anti-Semitism is eradicated or negligible.  It isn’t.  In fact, according to international watchdog groups, it’s sharply on the rise.  (Which sadly isn’t surprising–anti-Semitism historically surges during economic downturns, thanks to the belief that Jews control the banks.)  This sort of statement is extremely dismissive and accuses us of lying about our own experiences.
    18. Don’t say that since Palestinians are Semites, Jews/Israelis are anti-Semitic, too.  You do not get to redefine the oppressions of others, nor do you get to police how they refer to that oppression.  This also often ties into #8.  Don’t do it.  Anti-Semitism has exclusively meant anti-Jewish bigotry for a good century plus now.  Coin your own word for anti-Palestinian oppression, or just call it what it is: racism mixed with Islamophobia.
    19. Don’t blow off Jews telling you that what you’re saying is anti-Semitic with some variant of the statement at the top of this post.  Not all anti-Israel speech is anti-Semitic (a lot of it is valid, much-deserved criticism), but some certainly is.  Actually give the accusation your consideration and hear the accuser out.  If they fail to convince you, that’s fine.  But at least hear them out (without talking over them) before you decide that.

    I’m sure this isn’t a comprehensive list, but it covers all the hard-and-fast rules I can think of.  (I welcome input for improving it.)

    But wait!  Why should I care about any of this?  I’m standing up for people who are suffering!

    You should care because nonsense like the above makes Jews sympathetic to the Palestinian plight wary and afraid of joining your cause.  You should care because, unfortunately, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has correlated to an uptick in anti-Semitic attacks around the world, attacks on Jews who have no say in Israeli politics, and this kind of behavior merely aggravates that, whether you intend it to or not.

    The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a real minefield in that it’s a clash between oppressed people of color and an ethnoreligious group that is dominant in Israel but marginalized and brutalized elsewhere (often nowadays on the exact grounds that they share ethnoreligious ties with the people of Israel), so it’s damned hard to toe the line of being socially aware and sensitive to both groups.  I get that.  But I think it is possible to toe that line, and I hope this post helps with that.  (And if a Palestinian makes a similar list of problematic arguments they hear targeted at them, I’d be happy to reblog it, too.)

    So, Malia:

    1. Do go ahead and criticize Israel.
    2. Don’t use anti-Semitic stereotypes or tropes.
    3. Don’t use overly expansive language that covers Jews as a whole and not just Israel.
    4. Don’t use lies to boost your claims.
    5. Do engage Jews in conversation on the issues of Israel and of anti-Semitism, rather than simply shutting them down for disagreeing.
    6. Do try to be sensitive to the fact that, fair or not, many people take verbal or violent revenge for the actions of Israelis on Diasporan Jews, and Diasporan Jews are understandably frightened and upset by this.

    May there be peace in our days.

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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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Labour and antisemitism: it seems to be difficult to keep it “in perspective”

March 21, 2016 at 7:05 pm (anti-semitism, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, zionism)

My friend and comrade David Osland recently posted the following article at  the left-Labour blog Left Futures; whether you agree or disagree isn’t really the point at the moment: the point is the comment that Left Futures editor Jon Lansman (another good comrade) felt it necessary to post below Osland’s piece:

Labour and antisemitism: let’s keep the problem in perspective

by David Osland.

New_Statesman ANTISEM COVERAnybody else remember the New Statesman’s ‘Kosher conspiracy’ cover from 2002? Given that this influential British political weekly has recently waxed sanctimonious over a supposed surge in antisemitism in the Corbyn-led Labour Party, it’s worth recollecting that its own track record on this score isn’t completely spotless.

The illustration – a Star of David piercing a Union Jack – promoted an article suggesting that Zionists hold undue influence over media coverage of the Middle East. And no, adding a question mark didn’t get NS off the hook. The then-editor apologised for his decision to publish it.

Anyone who has been in politics for any length of time will be well aware of multiple occasions on which the left has, with various degrees of justification, faced condemnation for alleged antipathy to Jews.

Labour-led Dundee council’s decision to fly the Palestinian flag, whispers about the activities of Lord Levy in the New Labour cash-for-honours years, various outbursts over the decades by Ken Livingstone, cartoons in the 1980s left press depicting Israeli prime minister Menachim Begin in an SS uniform; we’ve been here many times before.

Those who know their labour history may recollect the controversy over the Passfield white paper restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine in 1930, which cost Labour much support among British Jews.

Or let us consider the analysis of the Boer War emanating from the Independent Labour Party and the TUC, which blamed the conflict – and imperialism in general – on the wicked ways of Jewish capitalists.

In short, there never was a pre-Corbyn ‘golden age’ in which Labour did not stand accused of at least sporadic antisemitism. If there is any evidence whatsoever that the situation is qualitatively different now than it was when Labour was led by Wilson, Callaghan, Foot, Kinnock, Smith, Blair, Brown or Miliband, then I haven’t seen it produced.

Fast forward to the present day, and Labour is of course entirely right to throw the book at anyone making social media wisecracks about big-nosed Jews supporting Tottenham Hotspur, circulating paranoid ramblings about the evil machinations of a transnational Jewish bourgeoisie, or proven to have joined rousing renditions of songs such as Rockets Over Tel Aviv.

Let us even accept that there may well be thousands of Labour Party members have at some point indulged in asinine antisemitic banter or misguided rhetoric. After all, no mass organisation with 400,000 members can possibly be immune from some of the ugly prejudices that still scar British society.

One survey, published just over a year ago, found that almost half the population clings to one or more anti-Jewish stereotype. That such attitudes find resonance among a small number of Labour supporters is saddening, but as unsurprising as it is ineradicable.

But it is the words ‘small number’ that need to be emphasised in that last sentence. Claims that Labour has become ‘increasingly antisemitic’ since its shift to the left last year, and even now has ‘a problem with Jews, remain unsubstantiated, no matter how many times they are reiterated by opponents of the new leadership.

As things stand, two activists including a former parliamentary candidate have been suspended after publishing antisemitic Tweets. A third activist who published antisemitic material on a website has also been expelled, albeit on other grounds.

At least two of three did not initially join under Corbyn. And in any case, it is hardly the leader of the opposition’s job to individually vet individual membership applications.

In addition, an unspecified number of students, perhaps a few dozen, are under investigation for allegedly making antisemitic statements at a Oxford University Labour ClubSerious complaints deserve serious consideration; I’m with those who want to see the results inquiry published in their entirety.

But as Jon Lansman has remarked in The Jewish Chronicle, the two young men at the centre of the furore are well known in Labour left circles, and the suggestion of racism on their part is difficult to credit.

Yet even if the OULC findings are as damning as the anti-Corbynistas clearly hope they will be, the full extent of documented antisemitism will stretch to fewer than one Labour Party member in 10,000.

It is also worth making a distinction between antisemitism in the strong sense, a theoretical artifice built around the idea of a shadow Jewish world government, and the weaker sense of simply making anti-Jewish remarks.

Intemperate and/or plain offensive comments by students or local members unaware of the complexities of the Israel/Palestine debate are not in the same league as essentially duplicating the arguments advanced in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

If some Labour Party members do cross red lines, that is more likely to flow from lack of understanding of the issues, motivated more by anger at the injustices faced daily by Palestinians and the frequently brutal actions of the Israeli government than adherence to the nutty ideas contained in that notorious Czarist forgery.

In particular, there needs to be an educational effort to end the conflation of what the state of Israel does and the moral responsibilities of the Jewish community in Britain.

But anybody who prioritises serious debate over gratuitous Corbyn-bashing would do well to explain these things patiently, rather than seeing antisemitism where actually there is ignorance.  YARPP

One Comment

  1. I have deleted all comments on this article and will publish no more. Some comments were just offensive, others in my opinion antisemitic. I have no objection to serious critiques of Zionism nor to opposition to Israel government policy — I am myself a strong critic of the policies of the Israeli government, its occupation of the West Bank and unilateral annexation of Palestinian land as regular readers of this site will know, but it not acceptable to use the term “Zionist” as a term of abuse. One comment included libelous statements about named individuals. Unfortunately, in view of the nature of these comments, comments are now closed on this article. I apologise to commenters whose comments were critical of these things but felt that I could not delete part of a comment thread without deleting all of it.

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Einstein’s socialism and philosophy

December 11, 2015 at 6:22 pm (From the archives, humanism, intellectuals, internationalism, philosophy, posted by JD, science, socialism, stalinism, zionism)

Albert Einstein quote

2015 marked an important milestone in the history of physics: just over one hundred years ago, in November 1915, Albert Einstein wrote down the famous field equations of General Relativity. General Relativity is the theory that explains all gravitational phenomena we know (falling apples, orbiting planets, escaping galaxies…) and it survived one century of continuous tests of its validity. After 100 years it should be considered by now a classic textbook theory, but General Relativity remains young in spirit: its central idea, the fact that space and time are dynamical and influenced by the presence of matter, is still mind-boggling and difficult to accept as a well-tested fact of life.

Less well known, these days, is the fact that Einstein was a man of strongly-held political and philosophical views. What follows is an article by Carl Darton, first published in the US ‘Shachtmanite’ publication Labor Action in 1950:

_________________________________________________________________________

Albert Einstein as Scientist and Socialist
If your school-age son is somewhat better than clever in any field  of science, you may have heard the expression: “He’s an Einstein.” It is indeed unprecedented that the name of a scientist working in highly specialized mathematical physics has become a by-word in the  homes of his adopted land. This unique status of Albtrt Einstein rests  not only on his scientific pre-eminence but also upon his keen interest  in social and political affairs.

Dr. Einstein’s great scientific works—the Special Theory of Relativity (1906), The General Theory of Relativity (1915-20), and the extension of the General Theory to cover electromagnetic phenomena  (1950)—can be understood only with the aid of tensor calculus. Obviously, only those versed in higher mathematics con begin to understand the technical phases of Einstein’s theories. But there are different levels of understanding in science and it is perfectly possible to  choose a level of relativity theory which can be understood even by  those with no special mathematical training. Einstein himself has  done an excellent job of “popularizing” in his Relativity, The Special and General Theory. Also recommended is Leopold lnfeld’s Albert Einstein, His Work and Influence on our World (Charles Scribner, N Y, 1950).

On Capitalism and Jewish Nationalism Einstein has become almost as noted a philosopher as a scientist. His views appear to spring from these fundamental beliefs:
(1) “I believe . . . in . . . God who reveals himself in the harmony of all being, not in a God who concerns himself wim the fate and actions of men.”
(2) There is a spontaneous activity of the mind, altogether apart from experience, which can make contributions of the utmost value to natural philosophy.
(3) The simplest equations are most likely to be true, and “The aim of science is … a comprehension as complete as possible . . . and on the other hand the accomplishment of this aim by the use of a minimum of primary concepts and relations.”

Just as Einstein’s belief in “harmony of all being” leads him away from simple experience, deduction, and abstraction in scientific endeavor, so it also leads him toward a cooperative society, However, there is no General Theory dealing with social relations. In Why Socialism? (a chapter in his Out of My Later Years) Dr. Einstein investigates the difficulty of making general formulations of social phenomena.

He does indicate the “essence of the crisis of our time”: “The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset . . . but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even his economic existence. . . . Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.” Further in this essay, written in 1949, Einstein assails capitalist production “for profit, not for use,” unemployment, inadequate wages, and the worship of acquisitive success.

Dr. Einstein has been active in recent years in two political movements; Zionist and One World. Although he grew up in a non-observant Jewish home and early rejected the concept of a personal God, he has accepted and retained the ethical teachings of Judaism. He supported the opening of Palestine to the dispersed Jews of Europe. On the issue of partition he stated: “I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than in the creation of a Jewish state. Apart from practical considerations, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power … I am afraid . . . of . . . the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks.”

The threat of another war concerns Albert Einstein constantly. His road to peace lies in “One World”—a supra-national government having the sole function of military security. National troops are to be replaced by international police and offensive weapons are to be outlawed. Einstein now advocates that the Western powers take the lead in the formation of this world government, leaving the door open at all times for Russia to join.

Is He Breaking with Russian Illusion?
These proposals for One World exposed Einstein to attack by four famous Russian scientists in November 1947. These Stalinist spokesmen rationalized their nationalist ambitions and denounced Einstein as a “virtual supporter of the schemes and ambitions of the bitterest foes of peace and international cooperation.” This attack brought to an end a period during which Dr. Einstein was noticeably non-critical of Stalinism and was used by their front movements.

Perhaps nothing shows more clearly the essentially Utopian nature of Einstein’s socialism than does this experience with Stalinism. The utopianism is rooted in the belief that planning is equivalent to socialism and not in the failure to recognize fhe economic factors undermining capitalist society. There are evidences, however, that this weakness is being corrected, since in the conclusion of Why Socialism? we read: “Nevertheless … it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires some extremely difficult socio-political problems.” Einstein has no answer for the further question: “How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?”

Edmund Whittaker, a reviewer of the book Albert Enslein, Philosopher-Scientist, writes: “Some of the observational confirmations [to the General Theory of Relativity] do not appear to he so secure as they were thought to be a few years ago.” It is possible that Einstein may share the fate of other scientists of our era and outlive his most famous works. Already it has been questioned as to whether Einstein is one of the three men who understand Einstein best.

Nevertheless, it may well be his greatest contribution that he has foreshadowed the ideal citizen of the socialist tomorrow—a specialist in his vocational sphere, where there is no room for amateurs; and a serious participant in political life, where there should be no professionals in the sense that special interests and privileges are accrued.

Labor Action New York
July 10 1950

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A State Jew? – David A. Bell on Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist by Pierre Birnbaum

November 3, 2015 at 4:05 pm (Andrew Coates, anti-semitism, Democrats, France, history, humanism, internationalism, reblogged, republicanism, secularism, socialism, zionism)

By Andrew Coates (at Tendance Coatesy)

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5f/Discours_de_L%C3%A9on_Blum_au_Congr%C3%A8s_socialiste,_1932,_2.jpg

Blum: a Generous Humanist Socialist, not a “State Jew”.

A State Jew. David A. Bell. Review of Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist by Pierre Birnbaum, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.

London Review of Books.

Thanks Jim D.

Bell begins  his review with this, which should give some pause for reflection,

The newspaper Action française habitually referred to Léon Blum, France’s Socialist leader, as the ‘warlike Hebrew’ and the ‘circumcised Narbonnais’ (he represented a constituency in Narbonne). On 13 February 1936, Blum was being driven away from the National Assembly when he encountered a group of ultra-right-wing militants who had gathered at the intersection of the rue de l’Université and the boulevard Saint-Germain for the funeral procession of Jacques Bainville, one of the founders of Action française, a reactionary political movement as well as a newspaper. Glimpsing Blum through the car windows, the militants began shouting: ‘Kill Blum!’, ‘Shoot Blum!’ They forced his car to stop and began rocking it back and forth. Blum’s friend Germaine Monnet, sitting with him in the back, tried to shield him with her body. Her husband, Georges, who had been driving, ran to look for police. But one of the militants managed to tear a fender off the car, used it to smash the rear window, and then beat Blum repeatedly over the head. Only the arrival of two policemen saved his life. They dragged him to a nearby building, where the concierge gave him first aid. The next day pictures of Blum, his head heavily bandaged, appeared in newspapers around the world.

We halt there.

To internationalist socialists Blum is above all known not for his Jewish identity – despite the book – but for his socialist humanist republicanism.

Blum defended French democratic republicanism, from the Dreyfus affair onwards. He was profoundly affected by the “synthesis” of socialism, including the Marxist view of class struggle, with democratic republicanism, that marked the life and work of one of our greatest martyrs, Jean Jaurès, assassinated in 1914 by a sympathiser of the far-right,  for his opposition to the outbreak of the Great War. Blum did not, however, play a part in the anti-War left.

That is the context in which we would take the shouts of “kill Blum”.  Political, not ethnic.

Blum was a leading figure amongst the minority of the French Socialists, the SFIO (Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière), who opposed what became in the 1920s the French Communist Party, the PCF. He was one of those who opposed affiliating the party to the Third International at the Congrès de Tours (SFIO).

Speech at the Socialist Party Congress at Tours, 27 December 1920 (best known under its French title, Pour La Veille Maison).

This is the crucial objection from the ‘reformist’ (but at this point, still Marxist) democratic socialists to the Third International – the Leninist one.

You are right to declare that the whole party press, central or local, should be in the hands of pure communists and pure communist doctrine. You are certainly right to submit the works published by the Party to a kind of censorship. All that is logical. You want an entirely homogeneous party, a party in which there is no longer free thought, no longer different tendencies: you are therefore right to act as you have done. This results – I am going to prove it to you – from your revolutionary conception itself. But you will understand that envisioning that situation, considering it, making the comparison of what will be tomorrow with what was yesterday, we all had the same reaction of fright, of recoil, and that we said: is that the Party that we have known? No! The party that we knew was the appeal to all workers, while the one they want to found is the creation of little disciplined vanguards, homogeneous, subjected to a strict structure of command – their numbers scarcely matter, you will find that in the theses – but all kept under control, and ready for prompt and decisive action. Well, in that respect as in the others, we remain of the Party as it was yesterday, and we do not accept the new party that they want to make.

To show how radical Blum was at this point, this is how he defended the dictatorship of the proletariat,

Dictatorship exercised by the Party, yes, but by a Party organized like ours, and not like yours. Dictatorship exercised by a Party based on the popular will and popular liberty, on the will of the masses, in sum, an impersonal dictatorship of the proletariat. But not a dictatorship exercised by a centralized party, where all authority rises from one level to the next and ends up by being concentrated in the hands of a secret Committee. … Just as the dictatorship should be impersonal, it should be, we hold, temporary, provisional. … But if, on the contrary, one sees the conquest of power as a goal, if one imagines (in opposition to the whole Marxist conception of history) that it is the only method for preparing that transformation, that neither capitalist evolution nor our own work of propaganda could have any effect, if as a result too wide a gap and an almost infinite period of time must be inserted between taking power as the precondition, and revolutionary transformation as the goal, then we cease to be in agreement.

Bear this in mind: these words are memorised almost by heart by many on the left.

The minority, for which Blum spoke, opposed to the Third International, retained the name, French Section of the Workers’ International, was significant: it referred to a claim to continue the traditions of the Second International, of Marxist, if moderate and reformist,  inspiration.

Blum offered social reform on this foundation. He led, during the Front Populaire (1936 -38)  a government (as President du conseil) of socialists and radical-socialists, backed by communists from the ‘outside’ and a vast movement of factory occupations and protests,  to implement some of them, on paid holidays, bargaining rights limiting the working week. He had great limitations – one that cannot be ignored is that his government did not give women the right to vote – and his role in not effectively helping the Spanish Republic remains a matter of controversy to this day. Indeed the absence of feminism – as well as a rigorous anti-colonialism (the FP “dissolved” the North African, l’Étoile nord-africaine of Messali Hadj –  in the Front Populaire, is something which should cause a great deal of critical investigation.

The review in the LRB is about a book, and this is what he has to say specifically about it:

Birnbaum, a well-known historian and sociologist of French Jewry, has written a short biography that focuses on Blum’s identity as a Jew, as the series requires. It cannot substitute for the more substantial studies by Joel Colton, Ilan Greilsammer and Serge Berstein, but it’s lively, witty and draws effectively on Blum’s massive and eloquent correspondence. Arthur Goldhammer has, as usual, produced a lucid, engaging English text. Birnbaum seems to have written the book in some haste: he repeats facts and quotations, and makes a few historical slips – France was not a ‘largely peasant nation’ in 1936; Hitler did not annex the Sudetenland in the summer of 1938, before the Munich Agreement. The chapters proceed thematically, highlighting Blum the writer, Blum the socialist, Blum the lawyer, Blum the Zionist and so forth, which produces occasional confusion as Birnbaum leaps backwards and forwards in time. But overall, the book offers a knowledgeable and attractive portrait. If there is a serious criticism to be levelled at it, it doesn’t concern the portrait itself, so much as the way Birnbaum draws on it to make a broader argument about French Jewish identity.

But there are issues of much wider importance in that broader argument.

Bell makes two points about his legacy as described in Birnbaum’s book,

As Birnbaum himself repeatedly notes, despite his ‘quintessential’ Frenchness, Blum always expressed pride in his Jewish heritage, often in the highly racialised language of the day. ‘My Semite blood,’ he wrote as a young man, ‘has been preserved in its pure state. Honour me by acknowledging that it flows unmixed in my veins and that I am the untainted descendant of an unpolluted race.’ While he could speak disparagingly of Jewish ritual, he recognised and respected a Jewish ethical tradition. In 1899, in the midst of the Dreyfus Affair, he insisted that ‘the Jew’s religion is justice. His Messiah is nothing other than a symbol of Eternal Justice.’ He went on to identify ‘the spirit of socialism’ with ‘the ancient spirit of the race’ and to comment: ‘It was not a lapse on the part of Providence that Marx and Lassalle were Jews.’ Blum, in short, thought the Jews could change the French Republic for the better by drawing on their own traditions to push it towards socialism.

This attempt to bring up Blum’s references to his Jewish background, even in terms more democratic than Disraeli’s novels, voiced above all by the character Sidonia, owes more to pre-1930s racial romanticism to racialism.

Does this prove Bell’s point that, “The republican model allows strikingly little space for what immigrant communities can contribute to a nation. Visitors to France can see at a glance just how much immigrants have brought to its music, literature, sport and even cuisine. But the republican model treats difference primarily as a threat to be exorcised in the name of an unbending, anachronistic ideal of civic equality. Even in the heyday of the Third Republic, many committed republicans recognised that different ethnic and religious groups could strengthen the republic.”

Yes it does: secularism is freedom for difference, not the imposition of homogeneity.

Blum could be rightly proud of his cultural heritage,as indeed in a ‘globalised’ world of migration many other people from different backgrounds should be, and are, within the democratic framework of secular equality.

There is little doubt that the spirit of nit-picking secularism can be as unable to deal with these backgrounds, as say, state multiculturalism, which treats ‘diversity’ as if this were a value in itself. If the first tends to be hyper-sensitive to, say, reactionary  Islamic dress codes, the second abandons the issue entirely.

But there are far deeper problems than superficial insistence on  Laïcité

The first is ‘Sovereigntist’ efforts to claim secularist universalism for French particularism. This is the rule amongst the supporters of the far-right Front National, historians and writers like Éric Zemmour bemoaning France’s ‘decline’ , though we should underline, not the novelist Houellebecq, who expresses disdain for things, not hate). There are those who call for all Muslims to be expelled from Europe, those  to those milder nationalists of right and left who commemorate “le pays et les morts” (and not anybody else – a return to the culturalist (not to say, racial)  themes of Action française to Maurice Barrès and to Charles Maurras. This is indeed “communalism”.

It is the major threat to French republicanism.

There is also the issue of anti-Semitism in France, woven into another kind of ‘communitarianism’. Alain Soral, his close friend the comedian Dieudonné, popular amongst young people from the banlieue and the more refined inheritors of the Marrausian tradition, the partisans of the  Indigènes de la République, (including those associated in the English speaking world) rant at thephilosémitisme d’Etat” in France.

It takes all the effort of refined ‘discursive analysis’ from academics to ignore that at its heart this is a current  which indulges in Jew baiting. The mind-set of these people was classically described by Sartre, “« Si le juif n’existait pas, l’antisémite l’inventerait.» (Réflexions sur la question juive 1946). They indeed spent an enormous amount of time ‘inventing’ the presence of Jews in politics, and giving them influence ‘behind the scenes’.

In words which might have been designed to pander to the world-view of the  Indigènes, Bell cites Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist,

Blum ‘the first of a new type of state Jew interested in giving greater weight to democratic sentiment within the framework of a socialist project.’ One wonders, though, what Birnbaum might say about a French Muslim politician today justifying an ideological position by reference to Muslim tradition and ethics (or sharia law). Would he have quite so favourable an  opinion? Or might he see the move as a ‘communitarian’ threat to ‘the unifying logic of the nation’ and to ‘French exceptionalism’? It is well past time to recognise that a nation can have many different unifying logics, and that a political model forged under the Third Republic fits the France of the Fifth Republic very badly.

Blum celebrated his Jewish heritage. It is hardly a secret. Nor is his post-war Zionism, or support for Israel, a stand shared in the immediate aftermath of the conflict by the USSR.

But did he become a  man of the  ‘state’ because he was a ‘Jew’, and does this aspect of his person matter politically – that is in terms of the state?

For us Léon Blum is only one of the sources of a generous humanist secularism, but a significant one. That he did not tackle issues like feminism, anti-colonialism, and a host of other issues, goes without saying. But it would be a great shame if his legacy was reduced to being a “State Jew”.

And it could equally be said that republican secularism has many strands, that it is being transformed by the views of secularists from North Africa, the threat of the Islamist genociders of Deash, the mounting oppression in Erdogan’s Turkey, backed by his Islamist AK party, and – no doubt – Israel’s evident failings. Every one of these cases shows that religious law is not any part of a “tradition” that socialists – believers in equality – would recognise.

The logic at work here binds us to our French sisters and brothers, binds internationalists across the globe, in the way that the Je Suis Charlie moment briefly melded our hearts and minds together.

That is perhaps the real ‘end’ of all exceptionalisms.

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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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Labour Friends of Israel warm to Corbyn

October 12, 2015 at 1:50 pm (anti-semitism, Champagne Charlie, Human rights, internationalism, israel, labour party, Middle East, zionism)

This appeared in the Morning Star on Saturday. Given the Star‘s habit of publishing letters and articles by ‘absolute’ anti-Zionists, one-staters and anti-Semites (despite its theoretical commitment to two states in Israel/Palestine) and Corbyn’s history of associating (albeit unknowingly) with anti-Semites and of calling Hizbollah and Hamas “friends”, this is tremendously encouraging:

The new party leader and his pro-Palestinian views both had a surprisingly friendly reception from the group, found SHLOMO ANKER


BEFORE Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour Party leader, there was talk of tension within the party — especially from the right-wing media. People suggested that some in the party would even leave and form a SDP style split.

So the reaction of the pro-Israel lobby group Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) is interesting, especially with so much discussion of Corbyn’s views on the Middle East and his record of being very sympathetic to the Palestinians.

At the Labour Party conference, LFI had two main events and its reaction to Corbyn was surprising. Instead of fostering tension and paranoia towards him, the atmosphere was positive and Jewish Labour members both in and outside of LFI are really starting to warm to him. Or to put it another way: Jewish Labour members realise that what the media has said about Corbyn is not true.

One LFI event was a broad discussion about a two-state solution. The speakers in general only spoke in defence of Israel, which included the usual exaggeration of the threat from Iran. It was disappointing that the oppression of the Palestinians was hardly mentioned.

In the discussion afterwards I decided to commment on the suffering of those in Gaza. The reaction I received was unexpected. Instead of people being upset with me, the Chair of LFI, Joan Ryan MP, very much liked my question and the organisers even came to shake my hand.

Pro-Palestinian activists later asked challenging questions and the organisers and pro-Israel members of the audience enjoyed the discussion — although one woman with a Free Palestine badge did get upset with the replies and walked out of the meeting.

The second event for LFI was their annual reception where high-level members of the Labour Party come to drink, eat and discuss the Middle East.

LFI invited plenty of people involved in Labour Friends of Palestine, as well as Corbyn and Hilary Benn. They both spoke alongside Errel Margalit (an Israeli Knesset member) and the deputy ambassdor of Israel. In his speech, Corbyn called for the end of the siege of Gaza but also praised the Jewish community for its work in defending refugees.

The Telegraph and the Times reported on this event but only mentioned a heckler who shouted “Oi oi, say the word Israel!” after Corbyn’s speech. The newspapers forgot to mention that the heckler had partaken heavily in the wine served at the event and is well known as a bit of an “eccentric” who gets so agitated that even the Daily Mail had an article on his bad behaviour.

The improvement of relations between Corbyn and LFI is partly down to the most pro-Israel of all the Labour MPs, Luciana Berger, being appointed to the shadow cabinet. Luciana was formerly the chair of LFI and unlike other pro-Israel voices in the parliamentary party, she is actually Jewish.

But I should not exaggerate. LFI still has strong disagreements with Corbyn and in my opinion LFI’s work needs reform.

Their priority seems to be mainly about Israel’s national security and they do not do enough to stand up for Palestinians.

The rank and file people in LFI are often peace activists but the speakers they invite at events tend to not be as left-wing.

Although while LFI are not supporters of Netanyahu and do formally oppose the occupation, the brutal reality of the occupation is generally not talked about at their events.

I wish that LFI could reform and be focused on peace activism and not on defending the actions of the Israeli military and sometimes its government.

Yet I must also criticise Labour Friends of Palestine too. I spoke with Graeme Morris MP who is the chair of the group and he seemed pessimistic about working with LFI. While he may be right about politics and is a charming fellow, Labour Friends of Palestine need to reach out more to LFI and begin to organise more joint events which will improve relations.

If we are going to have peace and justice in the Middle East, let us at least start with friendship between these two sides within the Labour Party.

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