Jill Mountford (writing on her Momentum blog) on the removal of Jackie Walker:
Momentum Steering Committee’s removal of Jackie Walker as Vice Chair – how I voted and why (part 1)
On Monday 3 October I voted at the Momentum national Steering Committee to remove Jackie Walker from the position of Vice Chair.
Jackie was elected by the Steering Committee to serve as Vice Chair, with Jon Lansman as Chair, in February. In fact, originally the two of them were appointed only as Chair and Vice Chair of the Steering Committee, not of Momentum as such (this was made quite explicit), but somehow over time these positions morphed into supposedly leading the organisation as a whole.
After Jackie’s removal, she remains a member of the Steering Committee without portfolio (she is not the BAME rep; Cecile Wright is), as well as a member of the National Committee which elected her to the Steering Committee (on the National Committee she is one of the two LRC reps).
I want to make two arguments: one about the left and antisemitism, which I will focus on in this article; and another about the problems with the way Momentum is run and its general political orientation, which I will touch on here but also publish something specific about in the next few days.
Why I voted to remove Jackie; her defence and what it tells us
For a longer article I would recommend on the politics of this controversy, focusing on antisemitism, see here. I would like to quote it at length to explain my position:
“Walker said Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January, which principally commemorates the Nazis’ planned, industrialised mass murder of Europe’s Jews, should also refer to other genocides. In fact, it does; and, anyway, as someone pointed out, the objection is like going to a funeral for a murdered family and complaining that the ceremony does not give equal attention to all other murder victims. Or like responding to “Black Lives Matter” by saying it should be “All lives matter”.
“Walker also questioned people being concerned about Jewish schools having to organise extra security, saying that all schools have security. After such events as the murders at a Toulouse school in 2012, by a killer who said he did it just because the children were Jewish, this was at the very least obtuse.
“Violent antisemitic incidents in Europe ran at about 150 a year in the 1970s and 80s; since the 1990s they have risen to between 500 and 1,000 a year. In France, for example, 51% of all the racist acts recorded in 2014 targeted that country’s 0.8% minority of Jews.
“Walker’s response, and that of many of her supporters, has been to say that the issue of antisemitism is being “exaggerated for political purposes”.
“The response shows an underlying problem. When other victims of prejudice complain about racism, anti-Muslim behaviour, sexism, homophobia, the first reaction is to examine the cause of complaint.
“Too often, and including on the left, the first reaction to complaints of antisemitism — unless they are about gross neo-Nazi-type acts — is to impugn the motives of the complainers. They are assumed to be powerful people with no real grievance, using the complaint to deflect criticisms of Israeli government actions…”
Now, I’m not saying Jackie’s statements were clearly antisemitic; but they were statements which Momentum could and should reasonably be concerned about when they were made and defended in public by its Vice Chair. They show serious insensitivity and even indifference to questions of antisemitism (which is not changed by the fact that Jackie has Jewish background). The idea that something is either out-and-out racist or there can be no issue at all makes no sense.
To be clear, I’m not into the common habit on the left of condemning people on the basis of half-formed thoughts or off-the-cuff remarks with no opportunity to clarify. The point here is that Jackie has defended her comments, that she has repeated them very publicly and that they form part of an ongoing pattern – note her comments about Jews and the slave trade earlier this year.
Jackie was not removed from the Steering Committee, let alone suspended or expelled her from Momentum. Deciding to remove her from a position which she was originally elected to by the same committee seems to me perfectly reasonable and proportionate.
Free speech on Israel?
To continue quoting from the article above:
“Supporters of Walker picketed the Momentum committee meeting with placards saying “Free speech on Israel”. Momentum was doing nothing to limit her free speech… And none of Walker’s complained-about statements mentioned Israel.
“The Facebook post for which Walker was suspended from the Labour Party in May this year (then quickly reinstated) did not mention Israel either: it complained about insufficient attention to African suffering through the slave trade, and said: “Many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean”.
“Walker explains this as a meditation on her personal background. It is hardly just that. In any case, it is not about Israel.
“But when Jews complain about antisemitism, they get the reply: “You are just trying to stop criticism of Israel”.”
The statement Momentum put out after the meeting, explaining its decision, is weak on at least two levels.
Firstly, it fails to say that we oppose Jackie’s suspension (as opposed to potential expulsion) from the Labour Party. I proposed including this, but lost.
Secondly, and somewhat bizarrely, it fails to even seriously attempt to educate anyone on the political issues involved, in particular the relationship between the insensitive and politically bad remarks Jackie made and the problem of failing to deal with antisemitism and even perpetuating antisemitic ideas. This is typical of the way Momentum nationally is often more concerned with political positioning and manoeuvring than stating things clearly, promoting discussion and educating the movement.
At the time of the controversies leading to the Chakrabarti Inquiry, there was – at my instigation – debate in the Steering Committee about antisemitism. In the end, despite repeated arguments, no statement was issued because people were afraid of political controversy on various sides.
This time I also lost the argument for including a statement that Jackie was not being removed for her views on the Israeli state and Zionism per se. While I think her views on those questions are linked to her weaknesses on antisemitism, I think it was also important to draw the distinction. (I thought we had agreed to include this point, but it was not in the final statement. I may have misremembered or it may have been agreed but not included, deliberately or not.)
There have been some suggestions that I and others voted the way we did because of pressure from the Labour right and from the leadership of Momentum, in particular Jon Lansman – ie that it was not a genuinely believed and principled stance, but an act of opportunistic positioning. This is wrong, but also simply makes no sense.
I felt no serious pressure at all from the right of the Labour Party or the right of Momentum – not because there was no attempt to exercise pressure, but because it did not bother me. I did feel pressure from Jackie’s supporters on the left, in particularly because I was concerned about taking a position on this in the context of Jackie’s suspension by the party. Obviously, no one is under obligation to believe me when I write that. However, my record in Momentum and the movement speaks for itself.
I have consistently criticised the undemocratic, politically conservative, accommodating-to-the-right way Momentum operates and sometimes made myself quite unpopular in doing so. The idea I suddenly became a follower of Jon Lansman, after months of criticising and clashing with him about Momentum’s functioning and direction, is ludicrous; though less ludicrous than the idea I am trying to placate the Labour right, who have expelled me from the party for being a class-struggle activist and revolutionary socialist!
I have a lot more to say about that, but will do it in my second article on this controversy, to be published over the weekend or early next week.
The photo which no Israeli paper published this week – Peres, Arafat and the Oslo Accords
Adam Keller writes:
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.
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This strikes me as a fair assessment:
By Natasha Ezrow
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.
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Biteback Publishing, 2016, pp. 320.
By Dale Street (this review also appears on the Workers Liberty website)
Dave Rich’s The Left’s Jewish Problem – Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-semitism is not quite what its subtitle suggests it is. But that does not make the book, published a fortnight ago, any the less worth reading.
The focus of the book is not Corbyn. At its core is an attempt to provide an explanation of “how and why antisemitism appears on the left, and an appeal to the left to understand, identify and expel antisemitism from its politics.”
The antisemitism in question is not the ‘traditional’ racist version. It is an antisemitism which is rooted in “ways of thinking about Jews, Zionism and Israel”, albeit one which frequently incorporates anti-semitic stereotypes and tropes. The paradoxical result is that its proponents “believe anti-semitic stereotypes about Jews, while not feeling any visceral hostility towards them and while thinking of themselves as anti-racists.”
The historical starting point of Rich’s explanation is the emergence of the New Left in the 1950s and 1960s. The New Left, argues Rich, turned away from traditional class politics and focused instead on identity politics and anti-colonial struggles in the Third World. In its most extreme form, this involved writing off the working class as the decisive agent of social change. Instead, “Third World struggles were the new focus of world revolution”, and armed conflict was the highest form of those struggles.
Especially in the aftermath of Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, this way of looking at the world increasingly identified Israel as a bastion of imperialist oppression. The Palestinians, on the other hand, were allocated a place in the front ranks of the anti-imperialist forces. Two other factors reinforced this overly simplistic and ultimately anti-semitic conceptualisation of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Firstly, the Soviet Union relaunched a massive state-run “anti-Zionist” campaign based on thinly disguised — and sometimes not even that — antisemitism. Traditional anti-semitic themes — rich, powerful, cruel, manipulative Jews — were recast in the language of “anti-Zionism”. The Soviet campaign portrayed Israel itself as an outpost and bridgehead of US imperialism in the Middle East. It was ultra- aggressive, ultra-expansionist and committed to the military conquest of the surrounding Arab states.
Secondly, British Young Liberals, trying to replicate the success of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, recast Israel as an apartheid state in which the indigenous Arab population suffered the same levels of discrimination as Blacks in South Africa. Rich writes: “The Young Liberals established an enduring template for left-wing anti-Zionism in Britain. … It is common to blame Trotskyists and other Marxists for the spread of anti-Zionism on the left. In reality, this movement was kick-started by Young Liberals and Arab nationalist activists, funded by Arab governments.”
Peter Hain, a future Labour MP but then a leading figure in the Young Liberals, played a particularly prominent role in the creation of this “anti-Zionist” template: “The world cannot allow its shame over its historic persecution of Jews to rationalise the present persecution of the Palestinians. The case for the replacement of Israel by a democratic secular state of Palestine must be put uncompromisingly.”
“They (Israeli Jews) can recognise now that the tide of history is against their brand of greedy oppression, or they can dig in and invite a bloodbath. … [Israel keeps Palestinians] in far more oppressive conditions in fact than many black South Africans live.”
By the mid-1970s the main elements of what now — and long since — passes for “anti-Zionism” on sections of the British left were already in place. Zionism was not just another nationalism. It was a uniquely evil ideology, inherently racist, and necessarily genocidal. Israel was an “illegitimate” apartheid state, a colonial enterprise equated to the dispossession of the Palestinians, and incapable of reform.
Rich goes on to provide examples of how such themes were amplified and built upon in subsequent years. If Israel was, as claimed, an apartheid state, then it was a “legitimate” target for a comprehensive programme of boycott, disinvestment and sanctions. This has now “climaxed” in the decision of some British union to boycott the Histadrut, the Israeli trade union federation. If Zionism was, as claimed, a form of racism, then it was “legitimate” for Student Unions to refuse to fund Jewish Societies which failed to disavow Zionism.
The mid-1970s and the mid-1980s saw repeated attempts to ban Jewish societies on this basis. If Zionism was, as claimed, inherently genocidal, then it was “legitimate” to equate it with Nazism — an equation which became increasingly common in sections of the left press and on placards on pro-Palestine demonstrations. And if Israel and Zionism were guilty as claimed, then a common “anti-imperialism” made it “legitimate” to ally with forces hostile to the most basic values of the left. This found expression in the SWP-Muslim Association of Britain alliance in the Stop the War Coalition.
As the ultimate example of this “way of thinking about Jews, Zionism and Israel” Rich quotes from a letter published by the Morning Star, written by a veteran reader and Communist Party member: “Israel, and all that Israel has done and is doing, is an affront to all those millions who fought and died fighting fascism before, during and after the war against fascism. … A few years ago [an Italian partisan who survived Dachau] committed suicide. He left a note saying that the good Jews were all killed in the concentration camps.”
As Rich points out, such “ways of thinking about Jews, Zionism and Israel” bring those sections of the left which espouse them into conflict with most Jews in Britain (and the world): “Israel’s existence is an important part of what it means to be Jewish today. The idea that Israel shouldn’t exist or that Zionism was a racist, colonial endeavour rather than a legitimate expression of Jewish nationhood, cuts to the heart of British Jews’ sense of identity of who they are.”
Rich concludes: “There has been a breakdown in trust and understanding between British Jews, the Labour Party, and the broader left. There are parts of the left where most Jews feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. … It’s not too late to bring this relationship back to health.”
Despite the book’s subtitle, Corbyn himself appears only spasmodically in the book. Rich rightly criticises Corbyn for various statements on Israel which he has made over the years and for his patronage of campaigns which have served as incubators for left antisemitism. Corbyn’s inability to understand left antisemitism is also highlighted by Rich. Corbyn seems to hold the view that left antisemitism is an oxymoron – only the far right can be anti-semitic – and that accusations of antisemitism are raised in bad faith to undermine criticism of Israel.
More open to challenge is Rich’s description of Corbyn as being “ambiguous” on Israel’s right to exist. It is certainly true that the Labour Movement Campaign for Palestine which Corbyn supported in the early 1980s was rabidly hostile to Israel’s existence. (The campaign was set up by Tony Greenstein.) But Corbyn’s overall record has been one of backing a “two states solution”.
But Rich is not overly concerned with Corbyn’s own views on Israel and antisemitism. For Rich, Corbyn’s election as Labour Party leader “symbolises” — and Rich uses the word on more than one occasion — something more profound. Corbyn’s “political home” was the New Left which spawned left antisemitism. His election as party leader means that “what was once on the fringes of the left” is now centre-stage. Corbyn’s election was “the ultimate New Left triumph rather than a return to Old Labour.”
This is true in the sense that some people around Corbyn, including ones in senior positions, espouse the left antisemitism which began to emerge in the years of the New Left and then spread like a cancer in subsequent years. But it is also very wrong, in the sense that the primary factor which galvanised support for Corbyn’s leadership bid was the fact that he was seen as, and presented himself as, the pre-Blairite Old-Labour anti-austerity leadership contender.
In an isolated moment of clutching at straws to back up an argument, Rich even cites preposterous claims by arch-Stalinist Andrew Murray and his fellow traveller Lindsey German that the Stop the War Coalition — now little more than a rump and a website — was the decisive factor in Corbyn’s
Such secondary criticisms apart, Rich’s book is a valuable summary of the historical development of left antisemitism in Britain: not just a timely reminder of older arguments but also a source of new insights into its emergence. And no-one should be put off reading Rich’s book by the fulsome praise which Nick Cohen has heaped upon it, albeit at the expense of ignoring and misrepresenting what Rich has actually written: “How a party that was once proud of its anti-fascist traditions became the natural home for creeps, cranks and conspiracists is the subject of Dave Rich’s authoritative history of left antisemitism. … Representatives of the darkest left factions control Labour and much of the trade union movement, and dominate the intelligentsia.”
Cohen once wrote a serious critique of sections of the far left at a certain stage of their degeneration. But now he just bumbles along as a political court jester and professional Mr. Angry. Rich, by contrast, is trying to open up a political argument.
Hustings jointly organised by Jewish Labour Movement, Labour Friends of Israel, JW3 and Jewish News. Recording of hustings at:
Hustings Twitter account at:
A lot of the tweets just don’t get the point. Comments on some of the tweets by Gary Spedding at:
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Owen Smith’s comments about anti-semitism and the AWL are at about 48.00
Hapless challenger for Labour leadership, Owen Smith, in the course of the BBC Question Time debate last week, mentioned the Alliance for Workers Liberty in the context of “anti-semitic attitudes” within the Labour Party. Anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the AWL will know that it is the one group on the left with a consistent record of opposing all forms of anti-semitism, including “left” anti-semitism and “absolute” anti-Zionism.
In the course of a longer article posted at Tendence Coatesy, Andrew Coates commented:
A few days ago there was this, from Owen Smith, candidate to lead the Labour Party, during the debate with Jeremy Corbyn on Question Time:
Mr Smith said: “Under Jeremy’s leadership, we’ve seen people coming into the Labour party from the hard-left of politics people who are bringing into our party anti-Semitic attitudes and that cannot be acceptable,
“There are people on the far left of the Labour party who are flooding in to our party and that’s their word, not mine.The Alliance of Workers Liberty only a couple of weeks ago said ‘let’s flood into the Labour party’.
“Just the other day I saw a tweet purporting to be from Jeremy’s team to members of a hard-left group saying ‘you’re welcome to come to Jeremy’s rallies, just leave the flags and banners at home’. And the reason for that is we’ve seen some of those flags and banners at some of Jeremy’s rallies and unfortunately some of those people are bringing in attitudes to our party from the hard-left that I don’t think is welcome.”
“There are people who have come from the AWL and the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) and some of the other left-wing groups which have either not been part of the Labour party or have been proscribed by the Labour party and some of those people are advocating joining the Labour party in order to support Jeremy and in order to control the Labour party. Some of the people around Jeremy are absolutely encouraging it, of that there is no doubt.”
The AWL replied (in our view, in measured terms),
On BBC Question Time (Labour leadership debate, 8 September) Owen Smith, in the stream-of-consciousness style that has come to typify Smith’s approach to political debate, links the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (as part of the “hard left in our Party” “flooding into the Party”) to those on the left who “associate anti-Zionism, anti-imperialism”, “anti-Israel” perspectives (sic). That is, he implicitly called us anti-semitic.
This incoherent tirade against the “hard left” was a disgraceful intervention into an important issue that deserves serious, well-informed debate.
Smith’s comments referred back to an earlier exchange with Jeremy Corbyn in the programme in which he accused Corbyn of not doing enough to make the Party a safe place for Jewish members; and the hard left (which would, he implied include the AWL, were causing this problem). There were other accusations streamed into Smith’s tirade, but let’s focus on the accusation of anti-semitism.
You don’t have to know very much about what the AWL stands for, agree with the AWL’s two-state position on Israel-Palestine, or even be very left-wing to be aware that any accusation of “left anti-semitism” against us, however half-stated, is ludicrous. We have spent many years exposing, analysing and fighting this phenomena and it has not won us many friends on the organised hard left!
Below: comment from Jewish Voice spokesperson on LBC:
Newly-elected Labour NEC member Rhea Wolfson interviewed by the Alliance for Workers Liberty‘s paper Solidarity:
Congratulations on your election to Labour’s NEC. What do you see as your priorities now?
The first thing is to see that the recommendations from the Chakrabarti Report are implemented. The Labour Party needs clear and transparent procedures for individuals and organisations accused of misconduct. I am particularly concerned about the suspensions of Wallasey Labour Party and Brighton, Hove and District Party. Those Labour Party organisations need to be reassured that any accusations made against them are investigated promptly and properly.
A number of Labour Party members have been expelled for being associated with Workers’ Liberty. Is this reasonable?
I oppose political expulsions. We should recognise that there are many strands of socialist opinion and Labour will be stronger if we accept that. Minimally we should expect that the Labour Party abides by the principles of natural justice in disciplinary matters, that those accused are listened to, that processes are clear and transparent, that there is an appeals procedure.
Some of the problems come from the Compliance Unit. Is there any role for this organisation?
Perhaps – if it operates using clear rules and regulations. No part of the Party should work on the basis that it can operate outside of a clear set of rules. In particular, those accused of misconduct should be able to see evidence which is said to exist against them.
Personally I have another problem because I am getting a lot of abuse through Twitter. I have had received a lot of unpleasant comment since the NEC election results were announced. There are no clear guidelines or mechanisms for me to try to stop this sort of abuse which may come from other Party members.
One of the live issues for the Labour left is what we should do about the anti-Corbyn right-wing MPs. Do you think we should deselect them?
Jeremy Corbyn is building a vibrant movement of half a million Labour Party members. Corbyn is uniting the membership. The onus is on others to show they are not harming or splitting the Party.
The relationship between the PLP and the membership has clearly been damaged. I hope it can be repaired and for that we need open political discussion and debate.
Reselection is a powerful tool. It should be used with respect and care, and not with abuse. It is not a threat. It is a democratic process.
What should the priorities of a future Labour government be?
We should pursue an anti-austerity programme. We must invest in public services to promote growth. We should borrow in order to invest. And we should increase taxation on the wealthy.
You made a strong speech at a recent Lewisham Momentum meeting set up to discuss the problem of ‘left’ anti-Semitism. What should be done about this very real problem?
We need open debate on the issue. The Lewisham Momentum meeting was a start. Although some of the contributions were shocking, I think they were not made from hate – and poor comments were challenged in the meeting.
The left needs to recognise that the Jewish Community does not feel welcome. The rhetoric of anti-Zionism is off-putting. There are progressive Zionist organisations we can and should work with.
The letter below appears in today’s Morning Star. The author, Mary Davis, is Professor of Labour History at London Metropolitan University, a former member of the University and College Union national executive and the TUC women’s committee. She is also a member of the Communist Party of Britain’s executive committee and the party’s national women’s organiser:
Dodgy Livingstone has no place in the Star
I AM writing to protest against the decision to give Ken Livingstone a regular column in the Morning Star (May 28).
I think that at the present time this is a very impolitic move on the part of the Star in view of Livingstone’s suspension from the Labour Party and Shami Chakrabarti’s inquiry into anti-semitism.
I do not know anyone who approves of Livingstone’s “Hitler supported Zionism” remarks (repeated at least twice and based on Lenni Brenner’s spurious and ahistorical evidence).
This doesn’t mean that I support John Mann’s outrageous tactics; but the issue is important in itself and one to which our paper should show great sensitivity in view of our alleged opposition to anti-semitism.
It would appear judging from his opening comments in last weekend’s paper, that Livingstone is grateful to our paper as being the only voice on the left open to him.
How will this go down among our friends on the Labour left? (I certainly do not regard the entire Labour Party as anti-semitic — the Tories win the accolade for this).
It is thus hugely embarrassing on our paper’s part to offer Livingstone this lifeline at the present moment and serves to muddy the waters among our allies while at the same time detracting from our own stated opposition to anti-semitism.
Livingstone has not been a friend of this paper in the past. He and the group supporting him did not support former Star editor John Haylett when he was wrongly sacked and furthermore he has a chequered history of making injudicious comments bordering on the anti-semitic.
I, as a communist and a Jew, am personally affronted by the privileged treatment he is receiving. I can only hope the decision to offer him a column will be reversed.
Jon Lansman, writing at Left Futures, shows how Labour’s commitment in 1944 to a Jewish national state in Palestine wasn’t due to Zionist agitation or imperialist self interest but the effects of the holocaust; an important and well-researched piece:
Who is responsible for the Middle East conflict? And how do we help resolve it? We can do worse than to begin by looking at Labour’s own history.
On this day [ie 30 May] in 1944, Labour’s annual conference was taking place in London. A week before D-Day and two weeks before V1s started hitting London, the Allies were making progress through Italy and were bombing targets in France in preparation for the invasion. And amidst all that, Labour delegates were focussed on “The International Post-War Settlement“, on how to build a post-war world.
They knew about the Holocaust though they had not yet really understood its magnitude. And in building a new world, they were prepared to contemplate some drastic measures. I recently purchased a copy of the NEC statement which was agreed at the conference. It included, in a section headed “Palestine”, the words I found profoundly shocking when I first read them:
There is surely neither hope nor meaning in a “Jewish National Home”, unless, we are prepared to let Jews, if they wish, enter this tiny land [Palestine] in such numbers as to become a majority. There was a strong case for this before the War. There is an irresistible case now, after the unspeakable atrocities of the cold and calculated German Nazi plan to kill all Jews in Europe. Here, too, in Palestine surely is a case, on human grounds and to promote a stable settlement, for transfer of population. Let the Arabs be encouraged to move out as the Jews move in. Let them be compensated handsomely for their land and let their settlement elsewhere be carefully organised and generously financed. The Arabs have many wide territories of their own; they must not claim to exclude the Jews from this small area of Palestine, , less than the size of Wales. Indeed we should re-examine the possibility of extending the present Palestinian boundaries, by agreement with Egypt, Syria or Transjordan.”
And so, without opposition, Labour’s conference committed itself to not only ethnic cleansing, but to a Greater Israel extending even beyond the boundaries that it currently occupies in 2016. It did so not because it was persuaded by the “Zionist lobby”, not in order to serve British imperial interests (which had been the only objective of the Balfour declaration in 1917), but because of the Holocaust, and the refugee problem that they expected.
This nevertheless shocking commitment to ethnic cleansing should be seen in the context of an earlier section of the report in a section headed “Frontiers“:
All Germans left outside the the post-War German frontiers, unless they are willing to become loyal subjects of the state in which they find themselves, claiming no special privileges, should go back to Germany. Indeed they will be well advised to do so in their own interests, for, in the early post-War years at any rate, there will be a depth of hatred against Germans in the occupied countries, which it is impossible for us or for Americans to realise.
Germans in many of those areas may have to face the choice between migration and massacre.
The organised transfer of population, in the immediate post-War period, may, indeed, be one of the foundations of better international relations in a later phase. Nor would this be a new departure. Between the Wars the transfer of population between Greece and Turkey was an undoubted success.
In any case, there will be a vast problem of repatriation and resettlement in Europe, when tens of millions of refugees, slave labourers and prisoners of war return to freedom and their own homes. Compared with this, the transfer even of substantial national minorites, German and other, to the right side of the post-War frontiers will be a small affair. “
Shocking as it may be to those of us who observe from a safe distance the fall-out from the ethnic cleansing that did in fact take place in 1947 in Palestine and the conflict that followed, it was seen as a relatively “small affair” in the context of the end of World War II. Ethnic cleansing had allegedly been an “undoubted success” in Greece and Turkey in spite of the deaths from epidemics in transit and the resulting poverty and hardship on arrival.
Churchill who had promised “that we British will never seek to take vengeance by wholesale mass reprisals against the general body of the German people” – with the backing of Labour’s leaders and conference – agreed with Allied leaders to back the ethnic cleansing of 12-14million Germans across central and eastern Europe after the war.
“The largest forced migration in history” was “accomplished largely by state-sponsored violence and terror” including being herded into camps including former Nazi concentration camps like Auschwitz or Theresienstadt, victims being subjected to beatings, rapes of female inmates, gruelling forced labour and starvation diets.
Estimates of those who died in transit vary upwards from 500,000 though the German government clings to earlier estimates of 2million. This included those who died of disease or malnutrition which included a high proportion of children and the elderly. What’s more, other minorities were expelled on the back of this forced migration: Hungarians from Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, Romanians by the USSR. And that is on top of the forced repatriation of Soviet POWs.
Labour was right to expect massacres from populations that had suffered German brutality under occupation. And the League of Nations and post-World War I treaties had utterly failed to protect ethnic minorities subjected to the racism of right-wing nationalist governments right across central Europe in the new ethno-centered nation states Western leaders had created in the dismemberment of the old empires. On the altar of “self-determination”, Allied leaders had handed multicultural cities and towns across Europe to be ruled by strident ethnic nationalists.
By 1944, they didn’t want to make the same mistake again. Not in Europe, and not with the Jews. And so it was they that created Israel. Of the Allied leaders, it is true that both Bevin and Attlee were persuaded by the complexities of managing inter-communal conflict in the Mandate of British Palestine (rather than by Ernie Bevin’s antisemitic prejudices though he had them) to abstain on Israel’s creation. In addition to the pressure of US diplomats on countries like Haiti, Philipines and Liberia, it was the three votes controlled by Stalin (cast on behalf of the USSR, Ukraine and Belarus) which ensured that the two-thirds majority for resolution 181 was achieved.
And so what of the role of Zionism? For all the diplomacy and organisation of the World Zionist Organisation for half a century, it was not that which led to the creation of Israel. It was the Holocaust, the plight of the survivors seeking safe refuge, and the guilt of the American, British and other Allied leaders who did not wish to take them in (though many would have been satisfied with that).
So they did for the Jews what they were not prepared to do for the Kurds, nor for the Roma. And the Jews, a majority of whom in almost all countries had not supported Zionism prior to the War, rejoiced at the prospect of a safe place to live. And who with the knowledge of their circumstances cannot understand that?
And the Palestinians understandably saw and still see the loss of their land as a catastrophe. The Nakba. And who that reflects on their circumstances and what they have experienced since cannot understand that?
If there is to be peace, justice, democracy and equality in Israel/Palestine, both of those realities need to be acknowledged. Only truth can bring reconciliation.
Above: Walker puts her case on RT (aka Putin TV)
Sean Matgamna has argued persuasively, here, that anti-Semitism in the Labour Party should generally be dealt with by argument and education, not disciplinary measures.
I would, personally, make an exception for Ken Livingstone, whose long record of Jew-baiting is such that he should be expelled.
The case of Jackie Walker is much less clear-cut, based as it is (or was – she’s now been reinstated), on some ambiguous comments made in the course of a private Facebook exchange with friends. Nevertheless, the comments do give cause for concern, especially this:
“As I’m sure you know, millions more Africans were killed in the African holocaust and their oppression continues today on a global scale in a way it doesn’t for Jews …
“Many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean. So who are victims and what does it mean? We are victims and perpetrators to some extent through choice”
As a comrade commented to me, “I would ask, what is the relevance of Jewish slave-traders in the 17th century to anti-semitism today? I genuinely don’t understand what point Jackie was trying to make.
“That may be partly because I haven’t seen the whole conversation the comments were part of, but could someone explain what the point was? The only interpretation I can see is that the role of Jews in slavery somehow mitigates anti-semitism today. If that’s not the point, then what was it? I’d be very happy to have it explained”.
The participation of some Jews in the slave trade was, of course, terrible (as anyone’s participation was), but actually relatively minor. Jackie Walker’s ignorant comments (she claims, just about her own family, but quite obviously aimed at Jews as a whole) suggest that Jews played a leading role (as “chief financiers”) in the slave trade, which warrants special mention to this day. This argument is usually based upon the spurious “research” of the US Nation of Islam and/or various neo-Nazis.
And, certainly, the gloating of various obvious anti-Semites since Walker’s reinstament should give leftists and anti-racists some pause for thought:
Anyone who wants the truth about Jews and the slave trade, should read this and this.
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