Veteran Israeli leftist and founder of Gush Shalom, Uri Avnery, offers a surprisingly optimistic assessment of the prospects for the Israeli left in the aftermath of Netanyahu’s shock victory. I’d recommend reading it together with this and this.
THE MESSIAH HASN’T COME and Bibi hasn’t gone.
That’s the sad outcome.
Sad, but not the end of the world.
As the American saying goes: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”
I would say: “Today is the first day of the battle for the next elections!”
The battle for the salvation of Israel must start right now.
SOME PEOPLE say that the best course now is a so-called National Unity Government.
Looks like a nice idea. Unity always sounds nice.
I can muster some good arguments for it. The combination of the two major parties creates a bloc of 54 seats (of 120). Such a coalition needs only one other party to form a majority. There are several possibilities, headed by Moshe Kahlon’s 10 seats.
The advocates of this choice have one good argument: it’s the Lesser Evil. The only other possibility is an extreme right-wing-religious government, which will not only stop any step towards peace, but also expand settlements, enact more laws to choke democracy and impose reactionary religious laws.
It’s a good argument, but it has to be rejected outright.
The Unity Government would be dominated by the Right. At best it would be a government of total immobility. It would be unable and unwilling to make even the slightest move towards ending the historic conflict, terminating the occupation and recognition of Palestine. Settlements would expand at a frantic pace. The chances of an eventual peace would move even further away.
It would do a lot of harm. The Labor Party would be obliged to justify and beautify this disastrous course, disarm the Obama administration and progressive Jewish forces throughout the world. It would be a huge fig leaf for evil.
It would also leave Israel without an effective opposition. If the government coalition broke up somewhere along the way, the Labor party would be too besmirched to constitute a credible alternative. The initial success of Yitzhak Herzog in rousing the old party from its comatose state cannot be repeated a second time. Labor would become a spent force, a vegetable.
Fortunately for the Labor Party, this possibility died almost immediately after the election. Netanyahu killed it with one stroke.
BY THE way, a curious side effect of a National Unity Government would have been that the leader of the (Arab) Joint List, Ayman Odeh, would have become Leader of the Opposition.
By law, the title is bestowed automatically on the chief of the largest opposition party. It confers on its holders many of the privileges of a cabinet minister. The Prime Minister is obliged to confer with them regularly and share government secrets with them.
But even if there is no Unity Government, and Herzog becomes Leader of the Opposition, one outstanding result of the election is the changed situation of the Arabs in the Knesset.
There is a certain humor to this. It was Avigdor Lieberman, the almost pathological Arab-hater, who induced the Knesset to raise the minimum threshold to 3.25%. This was intended to eliminate the three small Arab parties (including the Communists, who also have some Jewish voters), who responded by overcoming their mutual disagreements and animosities and forming the joint list. Lieberman had great difficulties in crossing his own threshold, and Eli Yishai’s party, which includes the heirs of the fascist Meir Kahane, was – thank God – left outside the Knesset. Read the rest of this entry »
This is a brilliant statement of principle that you all must read:
An edited speech given by Eve Garrard, Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Manchester, to the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism’s event ‘Israel and Antisemitism in Britain: Now and in the Future’; first published in Fathom:
The murders in France of four innocent Jewish shoppers, connected arbitrarily but not accidentally with the killings of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, make the claim that antisemitism is once again on the rise in Europe seem depressingly plausible. Here in the UK the Community Security Trust thinks there’s been an increase in antisemitism, and since they monitor such things carefully, I for one am inclined to believe them. The Guardian even devoted a whole page (on 5 January 2015) to this resurgence, so I think we can take that as strong evidence that the phenomenon is a real one.
Some of us, perhaps many of us, thought that the Second World War, and the huge and ravenous killing of the European Jews which was so distinctive a part of that tremendous blood-letting, would have put an end to serious antisemitism in Europe; we thought that shame and horror would effectively preclude its resurrection from the grave of the death-camps. Well, if we did think that, we were wrong, and more fool us. We shouldn’t have expected so long-standing and deep-rooted a hostility to melt away in the post-war spring sunshine, such as it was.
People sometimes say that if we’re to understand the phenomenon of antisemitism we have to look at its root causes, and the root cause of its current increase is, supposedly, the behaviour of Israel, particularly in the Gaza war it fought last summer. Well, we can all agree that we should look at the root causes of outbreaks of racism in order to understand them better. But if we’re to find out what’s really going on we may need to spread our cause-catching net a little wider than is usual, in order to identify the various forces which are at work. What counts as the root cause may itself be a matter of dispute, and very often the identification by an observer of a cause as being the ‘root’ of the problem in hand is actually the result of prior political commitments and pre-judgements which ensure that the blame for the problem lands exactly where the observer has already decided it belongs. (Think of those people who regard immigration as the root cause of all social unrest in the UK, or who think that women’s immodest dress and behaviour is the root cause of rape. Their prior hostility to what they identify as root causes is often remarkably clear.)
People who think of antisemitism as being the result of the behaviour of Israel, or more widely the behaviour of Zionists, are concentrating on what we might call a push factor: the way Israel has fought its most recent war, or perhaps the fact that she fought it (or any other war) at all, is seen as pushing people, however reluctantly, into the otherwise unwelcome embrace of antisemitism. But the push explanation is in many ways very unsatisfactory. It’s supposed to work like this: people are horrified by what Israel has done in Gaza, where about 2,500 people were killed last summer, and that horror leads them to feel hostility towards Jews here in the UK, since they’re inevitably associated with Israel, the world’s only Jewish state. On this story the arrow of causation, so to speak, runs from Israel’s horrifying crimes to a resulting antisemitism. Perhaps those who are horrified may not feel actual hatred towards Jews, but the hostility aroused in them by Israel’s activities leads them to repeat some very familiar antisemitic tropes. These include the blood libel – that is, the charge that Jews, in this case Israeli Jews, callously and deliberately aim at the blood-letting of non-Jews, especially their children; and the trope that there exists a shadowy but powerful Zionist lobby (aka the Jewish lobby) which exerts a malign and well-nigh total control over international and especially economic affairs. Israel’s behaviour, so it is claimed, has pushed people into embracing these and other prejudicial and discriminatory responses. Or it has led them to say, as Ken Loach did, that they’re not antisemitic themselves, but they can understand why some people are – Israel’s behaviour feeds feelings of antisemitism. Read the rest of this entry »
To the Students for Justice in Palestine, a Letter From an Angry Black Woman:
‘You do not have the right to invoke my people’s struggle for your shoddy purposes’
The student organization Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is prominent on many college campuses, preaching a mantra of “Freeing Palestine.” It masquerades as though it were a civil rights group when it is not. Indeed, as an African-American, I am highly insulted that my people’s legacy is being pilfered for such a repugnant agenda. It is thus high time to expose its agenda and lay bare some of the fallacies they peddle.
• If you seek to promulgate the legacy of early Islamic colonialists who raped and pillaged the Middle East, subjugated the indigenous peoples living in the region, and foisted upon them a life of persecution and degradation—you do not get to claim the title of “Freedom Fighter.”
• If you support a racist doctrine of Arab supremacism and wish (as a corollary of that doctrine) to destroy the Jewish state, you do not get to claim that the prejudices you peddle are forms of legitimate “resistance.”
• If your heroes are clerics who sit in Gaza plotting the genocide of a people; who place their children on rooftops in the hopes they will get blown to bits; who heap praises upon their fellow gang members when they succeed in murdering Jewish school boys and bombing places of activity where Jews congregate—you do not get to claim that you are some Apollonian advocate of human virtue. You are not.
• If your activities include grieving over the woefully incompetent performance by Hamas rocketeers and the subsequent millions of Jewish souls who are still alive—whose children were not murdered by their rockets; whose limbs were not torn from them; and whose disembowelment did not come into fruition—you do not get to claim that you stand for justice. You profess to be irreproachable. You are categorically not.
• If your idea of a righteous cause entails targeting and intimidating Jewish students on campus, arrogating their history of exile-and-return and fashioning it in your own likeness you do not get to claim that you do so in the name of civil liberty and freedom of expression.
• You do not get to champion regimes that murder, torture, and persecute their own people, deliberately keep them impoverished, and embezzle billions of dollar from them—and claim you are “pro-Arab.” You are not.
• You do not get to champion a system wherein Jews are barred from purchasing land, traveling in certain areas, and living out such an existence merely because they are Jews—and claim that you are promoting equality for all. You do not get to enable that system by pushing a boycott of Jewish owned businesses, shops, and entities—and then claim that you are “against apartheid.” That is evil.
• You do not get to justify the calculated and deliberate bombings, beatings, and lynchings of Jewish men, women, and children by referring to such heinous occurrences as part of a noble “uprising” of the oppressed—that is racism. It is evil.
• You do not get to pretend as though you and Rosa Parks would have been great buddies in the 1960s. Rosa Parks was a real Freedom Fighter. Rosa Parks was a Zionist.
Coretta Scott King was a Zionist.
A. Phillip Randolph was a Zionist.
Bayard Rustin was a Zionist.
Count Basie was a Zionist.
Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. was a Zionist.
Indeed, they and many more men and women signed a letter in 1975 that stated: “We condemn the anti-Jewish blacklist. We have fought too long and too hard to root out discrimination from our land to sit idly while foreign interests import bigotry to America. Having suffered so greatly from such prejudice, we consider most repugnant the efforts by Arab states to use the economic power of their newly-acquired oil wealth to boycott business firms that deal with Israel or that have Jewish owners, directors, or executives, and to impose anti-Jewish preconditions for investments in this country.”
You see, my people have always been Zionists because my people have always stood for the freedom of the oppressed. So, you most certainly do not get to culturally appropriate my people’s history for your own. You do not have the right to invoke my people’s struggle for your shoddy purposes and you do not get to feign victimhood in our name. You do not have the right to slander my people’s good name and link your cause to that of Dr. King’s. Our two causes are diametrically opposed to each other.
Your cause is the antithesis of freedom. It has cost hundreds of thousands of lives of both Arabs and Jews. It has separated these peoples, and has fomented animosity between them. It has led to heartache, torment, death and destruction.
It is of course your prerogative to continue to utilize platitudes for your cause. You are entirely within your rights to chant words like “equality” “justice” and “freedom fighter.”
You can keep using those words for as long as you like. But I do not think you know what they mean.
A thought-provoking article By Levi Tazir:
Two weeks ago, four Jews were killed in a kosher supermarket for being Jews. Anti-Semitism was in the news once again. The headlines confirmed what everyone in a minority has known for some time: racism, in all forms, is on the rise.
Right-wing Jewish groups like Campaign Against Anti-Semitism seized on it as an opportunity to feed paranoid dogma. Zionist groups used it as an excuse to promote immigration to Israel. Conservatives pulled together awful policies, saying it meant we needed more police.
We, on the Jewish Left, struggled to articulate ourselves, to say that Jews did of course have a future in Europe, to reject right-wing opportunism, to say that we would be stronger if we united with all other groups facing bigotry, to express our concerns about Islamophobic and anti-immigrant backlashes, to offer our best arguments for socialist, anarchist and democratic solutions to anti-Semitism.
And we did it alone. We did it alone.
If you read any of the left-wing news sources or subscribe to any of the UK’s leftist parties, you wouldn’t even know an attack on Jews had happened. You’d know about Charlie Hebdo. You’d know about the attacks on mosques in the aftermath. You could read deep and insightful histories of French colonialism in North Africa and interesting accounts of the problems in the Parisian banlieus. But nothing about Jews.
On Counterfire: nothing. On Left Unity: nothing. From the Greens: nothing. Red Labour: nothing. On the Revolutionary Socialists Network: nothing.
My Facebook and Twitter feeds filled up with Jews offering their thoughts. But from other, non-Jewish leftists, I just heard nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I want to know why. I want to ask some questions to the rest of the Left.
Do you think it doesn’t matter?
Maybe you thought it wasn’t newsworthy. But it’s not every day that Jews get killed in a supermarket for being Jews. That felt pretty important, to us at least.
Didn’t you care?
You must have cared. You’re leftists because you care about other human beings. You worry about people’s lives and want to see them do well. Surely a public execution of Jews warrants something. Just your condolences. Just your acknowledgement. That’s all.
Do you think anti-Semitism isn’t an issue?
In that case, how many Jews need to die before it is?
Did you think that Islamophobia mattered more?
The gunman was a Muslim. We were all worried that the attack would result in a backlash against Muslims. It has. It’s been terrifying. We’re adamant that we must stand together with Muslims and support our comrades and neighbours through all that’s happening. But surely – surely – the attack on Jews warranted enough to worry a little bit about anti-Semitism too. Just enough to say it was happening.
Do you believe the lies they tell about us? Do you believe we’re all rich and doing fine?
It’s an old distraction tactic from the right-wing elites to scapegoat Jews as wealthy. They think that if they point the finger at us, nobody will notice that the ruling class is overwhelmingly white, Christian and from the same schools. The truth is Jews are evenly spread across all classes, mirroring almost exactly the rest of society. As a religious group, we are no more wealthy or poor than any other religious group.
Do you think we’re all white?
Most of France’s Jews come from North Africa. The murdered came from Tunisia and Algeria. The Jews of Paris come from the same cities as the Muslims of Paris. Most Jews in Europe come from the Middle-East and North Africa. Not centuries and centuries ago. They and their parents were born in Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Yemen and Afghanistan. We’re overwhelmingly not white.
If we were all rich and white, would it mean it mattered less?
Perhaps it would. But surely it wouldn’t mean it mattered so little that anti-Semitism didn’t deserve a mention.
Do you think Israel’s occupation of Palestine justifies anti-Semitic attacks in Europe?
One BBC reporter, Tim Wilcow, said exactly that.
Israel is occupying Palestine. It’s inexcusable and unjust. It gives anti-Semites an excuse. It makes people everywhere angry. But the Jews who live in London, Paris and the rest of the world don’t have any control over that. We are not Israel’s military occupation any more than Christians are the Pope. Of course we’re not. A people can be oppressed in one space and oppressors in another. That shouldn’t mitigate against mentioning their oppression where you see it.
Do you think support from Tories is enough?
Theresa May and Eric Pickles were snapped holding up signs saying “Je suis Juif” [French: I am a Jew], in solidarity with those killed. Conservatives and right-wing Labour leaders made statements. The Spectator and The Telegraph wrote articles about the worrying growth in anti-Semitism. But we didn’t want, need or ask for their support. It’s the support of our comrades – the people who stand with us on anti-cuts and anti-war demonstrations – that matters. We needed to hear something from you.
Do you know that your silence is driving Jews to the right?
When you ignore Jewish suffering, you hand undecided Jews over to fundamentalist religious movements and Zionist political groups on a plate. They see no place for themselves on the Left, so go in any other direction. One of the main reasons that groups like the reactionary street movement Jewish Defence League are growing is that the organised Left hasn’t stepped in to offer an alternative. It’s not enough for Jewdas to write articles and organise vigils. We need you on our side.
I hate it, I really do, when anyone starts a conversation with “the problem with the Left is…” It’s an act of separating yourself from the rest of the Left, giving up and saying that it’s somebody else’s responsibility to change.
Only in this case, we didn’t separate ourselves from the Left. The Left separated itself from the Jews. You did that when you didn’t acknowledge that four Jews were murdered in a supermarket for being Jews.
And I want to know why.
A Palestinian wearing a Santa Claus costume is confronted by an Israeli soldier at a demo near Bethlehem
Christmas is, at its best, a time of good will to all peoples regardless of creed. But it is also, unfortunately, an excuse for antisemitism – a form of bigotry that Christianity has fostered for over 2000 years and successfully passed on to Islam.
Mehdi Hasan (who I do not believe is consciously antisemitic), for instance, uses Christmas as an opportunity to launch into one-sided and in some respects, factually inaccurate attack on Israel (tracing its original sin back to its creation in 1948), in an article for the Huffington Post (where he is political editor), also carried in the current New Statesman.
Sean Matgamna wrote about this sort of Christian-inspired antisemitism fifteen years ago, in a piece introducing an excerpt from Karl Kautsky’s The Foundations of Christianity. I reproduce Sean’s 1999 piece below:
2000 years of anti-Jewish lies
In the last few years, undisguised anti-semitism has again become a force in Europe, especially in Russia and the east. It has re-emerged both in its racist, zoological, 19th century form, and in its earlier Christian, “native Russian”, form.
Why does this happen? Why, again and again, in one form or another, time after time, does Jew-baiting become a force in history? There are always “immediate” historical reasons, but one central, continuous, underlying “cultural” reason is this: anti-semitism is threaded into the very fabric of Europe’s 2000-year-old Christian civilisation.
Christianity is saturated with anti-semitism. The Christian New Testament is one of the main documents of historical anti-semitism.
As the classic Marxist writer Karl Kautsky shows in the excerpt from his book The Foundations of Christianity […] the New Testament writers set out, deliberately and systematically, to demonise the Jews and foment hatred against them as the murderers of Christ. They did it by inventing fantastic and self-contradictory tales about the death of Christ.
The events he analyses are set 2000 years ago in Roman-occupied Judea. The vast Roman Empire united Europe, much of North Africa, and parts of Asia. The Judeans resisted Roman rule fiercely. While the upper classes tended to make peace, the people refused. The Jews were divided into parties and factions – Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots. Eventually, in 70 AD, the Romans razed the city of Jerusalem to the ground, completing the dispersal of the Jews, who already had settlements all over the empire.
The early Christians were one sect of Jews, feeling sectarian hatred towards the others. As time wore on, the dominant Christian faction, led by Paul of Tarsus, ceased to be Jews, no longer, for example, requiring converts to be circumcised. By the time the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written, decades after the events they purport to depict, the antagonism between Christian and Jew was very bitter.
Christianity grew stronger in the next 300 years, until it became a mighty power in the ossifying Roman Empire. At the beginning of the fourth century Christianity became the official religion of the empire, and its priesthood merged with the immensely powerful bureaucracy of the Roman state. Over time it got to the position of not having to tolerate other religions, or Christian factions other than the dominant one.
Thereafter, the New Testament and its stories, ideas and motifs became, for well over a thousand years, the main subject of art and literature.
Many dozens of generations of children were drilled in the New Testament’s malignant tales, presented as the word of God. “Who condemned Jesus Christ to death?” went the question in the Catholic catechism which, until recently, children from the age of five or six learned by heart. The answer? “Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, did it at the desire of the Jews.” Recently the Catholic Church has “exonerated” the Jews of guilt for Jesus Christ’s death – 2000 years and many millions of victims too late. An imaginary parallel will make the point clearer. Suppose that our own civilisation has broken down, as that of Rome did in the fifth and sixth centuries in Western Europe. Most of the survivors regress to subsistence farming. Literacy is almost lost, becoming the special expertise of ideologising monks and priests.
Most of our great books of learning and science are lost. Those we have saved acquire great authority in a world where scientific observation and experimentation have gone out of fashion, and where venerable authority is again, as in the Middle Ages, considered sufficient. One of the books which survives, preserved by its devotees, is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This book purports to be a Jewish account of Jewish plans to take over the world. It was forged early this century by the Okhrana, the political police of ultra-Christian Tsarist Russia.
It recast the traditional Christian Jew-hatred, with which Tsarist Russia was saturated, into a venomous modern political fantasy. It has had immense influence in this century. It has rightly been called a “warrant for genocide”.
Suppose then that in our imaginary world, thrown back to the level of barbarism, a new religion takes shape, a sort of primitive evangelical neo-Christianity, organised by a powerful caste of priests. It worships, as one of its central “holy books”, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
And then, as society evolves and develops over many hundreds of years, slowly redeveloping a civilisation, generation after generation would learn the divine truth concocted by the Okhrana policemen. It would form the subject of paintings and literature and drama. When a new Enlightenment arose, and drove this nonsense off the highways of intellectual life, it would survive as prejudice and folk-wisdom. Living Jews and their behaviour would be judged not according to everybody else’s standards, but according to the patterns of malevolence outlined in the Protocols.
This fiction is horribly close to the true story of our civilisation and its development. The New Testament – with whose vicious anti-Jewish libels we are so familiar that they can and do go unnoticed – has down the centuries been the warrant for generations and ages of anti-semitism in Eastern Europe and Russia.
The Stalinist rulers did not fight anti-semitism but fomented it. They took Christian anti-semitism and wove it into their “Protocols”, according to which the great evil conspiracy is not Jewish exactly, but “Zionist”, and centred on Israel. Many on the left, misled by their justified and proper sympathy with the Palestinian Arabs who are in conflict with the Jewish state of Israel, uncritically accept this Stalinist reworking of the old anti-Semitism.
Karl Kautsky’s detailed analysis of the anti-semitism threaded into the New Testament, and therefore at the heart of 2000 years of European civilisation, is part of the necessary antidote to this poison, which, in its “anti-Zionist” mask, still infects much of the left today.
Cross posted from his blog on the Times of Israel
We can invade Gaza, we can bomb it from the air, we can kill Gaza’s leaders, we can deprive Gazans of electricity and drinking water, we can control the sea around the territory and the air above it is clear that the one thing that we are unable to do is stop them shooting at us.
That’s a shame because it’s the only thing we actually want to do.
There are people who argue that the Israel Defense Force (IDF) hasn’t done enough, there are people who argue that it has done too much but in either case the debate is only about how much to punish Gaza and the people living there for the fact that there are projectiles being fired from their territory.
Victory lies in convincing Hamas to stop shooting, not in punishing them for shooting at us. At the time of writing sirens have just gone off in Tel Aviv and a four year old boy has died in the South of Israel. Testament to the failure of our political ad military leaders to stop Hamas. So far.
A part of me wishes to scream at the government, at the IDF and at the world entire “they are shooting at us, we must attack and we must not stop until the job is done!” But what job is this? We used to occupy Gaza and we ate rockets then too. We lost soldiers then also, to what end will we now invest our military might in Gaza when the motivation of Hamas to attack us will remain undiminished, even thrive?
Earlier in the week Israel scored a major tactical victory against Hamas with the targeted assassination of three major Hamas leaders. The Times of Israel reported that;
One, Muhammad Abu Shamala, was said to be the commander of the entire southern district of the Gaza Strip. Another, Raed al-Attar, was the commander of the Rafah region. The third, Muhammad Barhoun, like al-Attar, was deeply involved in the smuggling of arms from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to Gaza. Shamala and Attar, as TOI’s Avi Issacharoff noted, were founding members of Hamas’s military wing.
Perhaps even more importantly it appears that the IDF has also managed to assassinate the nominal head of the Hamas military wing Muhammed Deif, a man whose name has become something of a buzz word over the last month and whom most of us had never heard of before hand. He has survived 5 assassination attempts in the past.
But all this has really done is show us the limits of the use of force. Killing these men served to increase the amount rockets and mortars being fired at Israel. Hamas has indeed been punished, but we did not achieve our goal of ensuring quiet for Israel. Indeed if the goal of assassinating these men was to gain quiet for Israel that goal was not achieved. If it was to punish Hamas one needs to ask whether it was worth it.
Everyone seems to think that there is an answer. That there is something Israel can do to end the madness. Be it more military action or less, appeasement or aggression. I’m not so sure that there is an answer. In the short term appeasement will gain us some quiet. In the long term aggression may manage to damp down the scale of attack against us. But it appears that we have no meaningful way of stopping the violence altogether.
And so perhaps we who live here are simply doomed to face the wrath of Hamas for the fact that we exist on the one hand and the wrath of the world for fighting Hamas on the other without any hope of achieving the only objective that makes any sense; Peace.
Elizabeth Tsurkov, Israeli anti-war activist, on prospects for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine
My comrade Pate Radcliff conducted this interview with Elizabeth recently. She makes some interesting and perceptive points about the Israeli peace movement, the BDS campaign, antisemitism in the pro-Palestinian movement, and the Netanyahu government’s counter-productive attitude towards Palestinian ‘moderates’ and discouraging demographic trends within Israel.
As ever, Shiraz points out that we don’t necessarily agree with all the opinions being expressed (I personally, for instance, think what she says about the Histadrut is unfair, and could be said about any bureaucratic trade union organisation anywhere in the world -JD):
Put half an hour aside to watch this.
It should not need saying, but it does: people can be as angry as they like at the Israeli government, but to attack a synagogue, threaten children at a Jewish school, or throw a brick through the window of a Jewish grocery store is vile and contemptible racism. It cannot be excused by reference to Israeli military behaviour. The two are and should be kept utterly distinct.
Some may counter that that is impossible, given the strong attachment of most Jews to Israel. But this is less complicated than it looks. Yes, Jews feel bound up with Israel, they believe in its right to survive and thrive. But that does not mean they should be held responsible for its policy, on which some may disagree and over which they have no control.
Nor should they be required to declare their distance from Israel as a condition for admission into polite society. We opposed such a question being put to all Muslims after 9/11 and, though the cases are not equivalent, the same logic applies here. This is a test for those who take a strong stance in support of the Palestinians, but in truth it is a test for all of us.
The Guardian has recently carried a number of pieces denouncing antisemitism, including the editorial quoted from above, a powerful piece by Jon Henley on the rise in antisemitic attacks in Europe, a polemic entitled ‘Please don’t tell me what I should think about Israel’ by self-described “liberal American Jew” Hadley Freeman, and a confused but well-intentioned ramble by Owen Jones, who makes some good points but still seems to think that (often) “the charge of antisemitism is concocted” to silence critics of Israeli policy. Still, whatever its weaknesses, Jones’ s piece is further evidence of the Guardian taking antisemitism seriously.
Why the Guardian‘s recent concern with antisemitism comes as something of a surprise is because the paper itself has, in the past, been accused of downplaying the dangers of antisemitism, and even of promoting it, due to its often extremely simplistic Middle Eastern coverage, its promotion of ‘one-state’ (sic) propaganda and crude ‘anti-Zionism,’ due in large part to the the influence of the paper’s Stalinist associate editor Seumas Milne and its middle east editor Ian Black. The criticisms have not only come from the right. At the time of the last Gaza war (2009), Sean Matgamna of the Alliance for Workers Liberty wrote the following open letter to editor Alan Rusbridger. It’s worth republishing now because the underlying political problems it identifies are still commonplace on the liberal-left, including – as Owen Jones’s piece arguably demonstrates – the Guardian itself:
Dear Alan Rusbridger,
The Guardian is the “house organ” of most of the non-Muslim people who took part in the two big demonstrations during the Gaza war. A vigorous campaign by the Guardian against anti-semitism on the “left” might do much good.
On Saturday 7 February, the Guardian carried an editorial, “Language and History”, denouncing anti-semitism and specifically the “anti-Zionist” anti-semitism that is now commonplace, remarking on the growth of anti-semitic incidents in Britain (now on average, one per day, and increasing).
Unfortunately, the editorial seriously misdefined the realities of what it discussed, and pussyfooted around the issue.
“Some extremists on the right and possibly [sic] the left might claim [that] the government is in the pocket of a ‘Jewish lobby’. There is no ‘Jewish lobby’ in the conspiratorial sense that the slur implies, and to assert that there is can only be the result of the kind of racism that has scarred Europe from tsarist Russia to the fascists and Stalinists of the 1930s through to the jihadists now. To present all Jewish people as coterminous with Israel and its supporters is a mistake with potentially terrible consequences. It aligns ethnicity with a political perspective, and it is simply racist”.
Indeed. The editorial records the Government’s statement that “unlike other forms of racism, antisemitism is being accepted within parts of society instead of being condemned.”
And the left? “Some within its ranks now risk sloppily allowing their horror of Israeli actions to blind them to antisemitism…. Last month, a rally in defence of the people of Gaza that included verbal attacks on the so-called ‘Nazi tendencies’ of Israel was followed by actual attacks on Jewish targets in north London”.
The editorial adds that such things as “kill Arabs” graffiti in Gaza are “chilling”. And? “The style in which that is condemned must not create the climate that allows scrawling ‘kill Jews’ on synagogues in Manchester”. The style….
The problem with all this is that it is so shot through with understatement that it seriously misrepresents the state of things. The demonstrations on Gaza “included verbal attacks on the so-called ‘Nazi tendencies’ of Israel”? Included? As we reported (www.workersliberty.org/gazademos) the demonstrations were entirely dominated by placards equating the Star of David and the Nazi swastika, Israel with South Africa, Gaza with the Nazi mass murder of Jews, or chants about a “Palestine” stretching “from the river to the sea”.
All the platform speakers, in their varying notes, tones annd degrees, proclaimed the same sort of politics. The one-time British diplomat Craig Murray explicitly called for the abolition of Israel and the rolling-back of Middle East history to before 1948. An SWP organiser on the megaphone at one of the marches was shouting that Israeli Jews should “go back to New York”.
The Guardian says that the left “possibly” subscribes to notions of an all-controlling “Jewish lobby”. Possibly? Moshe Machover came pretty close to saying it outright in the recent exchanges in this paper – and he is one of the most sophisticated of the “absolute anti-Zionists”.
Mr Rusbridger, the root and core of modern anti-Semitism is the denial of Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. That inexorably leads on to a radical political hostility to most Jews alive.
Of course Jews and Israel are not co-terminous. They could hardly be! It is a fact that all but a few Jews — revolutionary socialists, Neturei Karta, etc. — feel connected with Israel, however critically, and however much they abhor such things as the onslaught on Gaza. How could a people with their history not have such attitudes?
The “demand” that the self-proclaimed left has made on British Jews — very aggressively on university campuses, for example – has been that they repudiate Israel, that they not be Zionists, that they accept that Israel is “racist” in essence and has no right to exist.
The denial of Israel’s right to exist, predominant on the self-proclaimed left, is the precondition for the bizarre alliance of so much of the left with political Islam (to give it its proper name, Islamic clerical fascism). It is what allows the self-proclaimed left, political Islam, and Islamic communalists to merge and meld almost indistinguishably on occasions like the Gaza demonstrations.
Inevitably that radical political hostility to most Jews alive taps into the great half-buried septic reservoirs of old anti-semitism — into old racist, religious, and nondescript crank anti-semitism.
The Guardian Editorial writes of Nazi and Stalinist anti-Semitism in the 1930s. The worst Stalinist anti-semitism – from which come such things as the Stalinist-typical lunacy of equating Zionism and Nazism – erupted in the late 1940s and early 50s. The poisonous account of modern Jewish and Zionist history in the 20th century, which is dominant on the “left”, originates there, in Stalinism.
These old ideas of High Stalinist “anti-Zionism”/ anti-Semitism are rampant in the pro-Palestinian movement because they have conquered so much of the Trotskyism-rooted “left”. Young people who, to their credit, want to do something about such things as Gaza, come under the sway of the “smash Israel”, supposedly “pro-Palestinian” campaigns. The are taught ro reject a “Two State” settlement.
For the Guardian editorial to say that the difficulty lies in “the style” in which specific Israeli actions are criticised and condemned is simply preposterous! Whatever the “style” — and it varies from the seemingly reasonable to froth-at-the-mouth, open anti-semitism — the proposal to put an end to Israel leads inexorably to the things which the Guardian condemns, and to far worse.
The Guardian Editorial talks of the anti-semitism of the “jihadists”. The point is that the politics dominant in the Gaza demonstrations were entirely in line with the jihadists and their anti-semitism.
The Guardian has influence within the broad left. It is a pity you do not use that influence to tell the left the unpalatable truth about the state it’s in, that you don’t hold the mirror up, force people who should know better to see what they have let themselves become.
Below: different faces of contemporary antisemitism:
By Barry Finger in New Politics , July 29, 2014
[NB: Shiraz doesn’t necessarily agree with all of this: but we think it’s important and should be widely read]
Supporting the Struggle Against Apartheid Then and Now
The discussion of a socialist strategy towards Palestine never recedes from global pertinence and urgency. The basic terms of the Palestinian tragedy established in 1948 remain a festering wound—unaddressed, malignant and oozing in blood and rot. With it the Israeli garrison state continues to descend, and rightfully so, into isolation and disrepute in the court of civilized opinion. But under the protective and ever indulgent umbrella of American imperialism, Israel nevertheless continues to defy international outrage without consequence in its relentless march to impose a grotesque and monstrous caricature of a one-state solution on the whole of Palestine.
The Palestinian plight has its origins in the 1948 partition and ensuing war, although this was a direct continuation of the Zionist-Arab conflict that had been brewing for decades. In that conflict, both sides practiced ethnic cleansing, with no Jews remaining in areas conquered by the Arabs and few Palestinian remaining in areas conquered by Israelis. But the UN partition plan called for the Israeli state to constitute 55 percent of Palestine, in which the Arab population would represent almost half of the population. In the run up to and during the war, the victorious Israeli state expanded its territories to 78 percent, and mostly emptied those regions of their Arab inhabitants. Three quarters of a million Palestinians, some from the original 55 percent allotted to the Jewish state, were driven out; over 450 Arab villages were uprooted and their dwellings leveled. New Jewish villages, kibbutzim or immigration camps were built on or near the former sites of these Arab villages. Urban dwellings were reoccupied by Jews, often holocaust survivors. Jewish refugees from Arab nations, subsequently cleansed in retaliation for the Palestinian catastrophe (Nakhba), were sent to jerry-rigged development towns.
Gaza and the West Bank, the sites of huge concentrations of Palestinian refugees, fell—with Israel’s approval—into the hands of Egypt and Trans-Jordan (now Jordan) respectively; the possibility of a Palestinian state all but extinguished. This all changed when, after the Six Day war in 1967, these territories were brought under the control of the Israelis, uniting all of historic Palestine and reviving the Palestinian national movement. The colonial project at the heart of Zionism, of settlement and expulsion, was also reignited and several hundred thousand additional Palestinians were again expelled to Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The remnants were left to the mercy of an ever more brutalizing occupation. The armistice boundaries of the 1948 war (the green line) were effectively effaced and Israel emerged as a nation unique in its refusal to define its borders—symptomatic of an Israel further seeking to consolidate its character as an ethnic Jewish state, but on a vastly broader canvas.
Today the struggle for justice for Palestinians continues. Where are Palestine’s allies? What power can it leverage? International solidarity has yet to save lives, to redeem territories, to compensate and repatriate refugees, or to establish the right of Palestinians to national self-determination in defiance of Israeli intransigence. An internationalist Israeli left, never more than a tiny minority and unable to implant itself in the Hebrew working class, is besieged not only by state repression, but also by a now burgeoning fascist street presence. The protracted Arab Spring, momentarily checked by United States and Iranian intervention, has yet to mature as an agency that can brake and reverse the momentum of Israeli settlement and dispossession. Read the rest of this entry »
Guest post from Pink Prosecco
A few days ago a participant in one of the countless online debates about Gaza made a reference to the phenomenon of “trope inflation”. His particular point was that the term “blood libel” is used too vaguely and too freely. The blood libel is a motif, or trope, within antsemitic discourse, and refers to the belief that the blood of gentile children is used in Jewish rituals.
It seems reasonable to use the term “blood libel” of any image or text which directly references eating children – this cartoon for example, where the visual echo of the blood in the wine adds to the effect of bloodthirstiness.
The many rumours about Israel’s use of body parts may also, I think, be seen as a kind of modern version of the blood libel. And I can understand why the repeated references to “child murderers” in Mark Steel’s recent rant made many invoke the blood libel trope in their angry responses.
But criticisms of Israel’s actions in Gaza, even ones which seem unfair, shouldn’t be characterized as “blood libel” without good reason, or the usefulness of the trope is devalued. Here’s a clear example of an unearned usage – the author never demonstrates why the phrase “blood libel” should appear in the title.
I’d like to emphasise that there seems nothing dishonest or manipulative in the author’s odd choice of title, a charge often leveled by zealous anti-zionists against supporters of Israel. In fact the article documents a very serious instance of antisemitism, drawing on more than one other significant trope but blood libel isn’t one of them.
Water is a cause of conflict in the Middle East, and it is often asserted that Israel deprives Palestinians of their fair share. Within such discussions the waters are sometimes muddied, as it were, by another antisemitic trope, the old belief that Jews poison wells. The Wikipedia entry on well-poisoning includes a sustained account of this Medieval trope and concludes references to alleged contemporary incidents of Israeli settlers contaminating the water supply. It’s hard to know quite how to respond to this convergence, as of course just because something is a trope doesn’t mean it is necessarily always false. I’ve seen examples of such stories being souped up in a lurid way, but also times where “trope inflation” has led to a reasonably dispassionate commenter being accused of antisemitism.
Another antisemitic trope is the conflation of Zionism with Nazism. The possibilities are endless – and almost always best avoided. But some Zionists do stress-test this rule of thumb. Moshe Feiglin’s plan for Gaza made the Mail declare that “Israeli official calls for concentration camps in Gaza”. Technically, this may be accurate. But because the phrase “concentration camp” is now so associated with Nazism and seen pretty much as a synonym for “death camp”, I wouldn’t have used that expression myself. But his proposals are certainly outrageous.
To sum up – whether you are attacking antisemitism or Israel’s policies (or both) it’s best to use precise and proportionate terms. If you feel strongly about the topic then you should be all the more confident about relying on facts and analysis Ð and seek to avoid giving your opponents a means of deflection.