Tuesday 26 September 2017

On Labour's New Anti-Semitism Rules

I hate having to write about Anti-semitism and the Labour Party. Because, first of all, it shouldn't be an issue, but it is. And second, the responses encountered online to my last piece on this was nothing less than astonishing. Being told there was no anti-semitism problem in the party because incidences are no greater than found in the rest of society(!) was one response. Being told there was definitely no issue by another with a history of forwarding far right material also served as a sobering experience.

I therefore fundamentally agree with Coatesy about political confusionism and idiot anti-imperialism. There are people who are rightly opposed to Israel's colonialist project in the West Bank, the criminal terror rained down on the Gaza Strip and the shitty discrimination suffered by Palestinians, whether they are Israeli citizens or not. I can understand why some might conclude Israel should be opposed and replaced by a secular, multi-national state. Not because "it's the Jews", but because of its character as a warmongering and institutionally racist state resting on stolen land. The problem arises when opposition to all this bleeds over into the tropes beloved of anti-semites and conspiracy theorising.

As noted previously, there are three varieties of "left" anti-semitism. There is the naive kind, where the line between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism is blurred, and where inappropriate and offensive remarks about Nazis and the Holocaust are made. Yet there is a point at which this ceases as an explanation and becomes an excuse and a cop out, and that is when it carries on despite ample discussion and critique. This is of the hardened kind and entails a doubling down on what is objectionable. Here you see common or garden leftism mixed up with obsessions with "Zionism", of conspiracy theory, Rothschild and Goldman Sachs, of Mossad being behind every Islamist terrorist outrage, and the usage of what would have been anti-semitic imagery and tropes were one to substitute 'Zionist' with 'Jew'. This is beyond carelessness and accident: it is outright anti-semitism. And lastly, we have the cynical variety. These are your social media sock puppets that troll with conspiracy theories and use the language of anti-semitism while posing as Jeremy Corbyn supporters with the express purpose of smearing and discrediting Corbynism, or using it to find a wider audience for their anti-Jewish bilge.

For my liking, too much of the left and the self-styled anti-imperialist movement are located on a spectrum between the first and the second kinds. Because the supporters of Israel a-okay with its crimes frequently and repeatedly turn to accusations of anti-semitism as a means of attacking their opponents, surely that would mean Israel's critics are scrupulously anti-anti-semitic. And yet, time after time, we find ourselves having to go back to this issue - the case of Miko Peled arguing for free speech for Holocaust denialists at a Labour fringe event is demonstrative of the problem.

If "comrades" from this section of the party (and we are talking a small subset of activists happy to carry on regardless of the damage done to the wider movement) aren't going to sort themselves out then the rules voted through by conference to sort out anti-semitism are, regrettably, entirely necessary.


Unknown said...

I have it on good authority from a close friend who was present at the meeting that Peled did not mention holocaust deniers: what he said (in a very brief aside) was that all issues should be open for discussion, the holocaust was one in a number of subjects that he listed. His position was nothing to do with denialism, and everything to do with free speech being essential to making any progress towards a better world.

An entirely reasonable position, with which I happen to agree: 'banning' any controversial subject like holocaust denial only strengthens it, gives it an unnatural vitality purely generated by the banning. No, the way to do it is to discuss it, show up the ridiculous and ridicule it. It was never better done than in the radio confrontation between (if I recall correctly) Rabbi Lionel Blue and a holocaust denier who simply had no strength nor the conviction to stand against the Rabbi's unquenchable fury. No one hearing that could have been in any doubt where the truth lay.

Graham BC said...

As an evangelical Christian I have an instinctive bias towards Israel and sympathy for the Jewish people but find it hard to believe that anti-Semitism has suddenly become an issue.Ni not denying that it exists, but saying that it already did exist before Jeremy became leader and that some on the right with the gleeful support of the press are making: an issue of it to undermine his leadership and expel supporters. This has the effect though of undermining the real job of combating true anti-Semitism.

Speedy said...

It is ironic that when, like me, you are one of the "people who are rightly opposed to Israel's colonialist project in the West Bank, the criminal terror rained down on the Gaza Strip and the shitty discrimination suffered by Palestinians, whether they are Israeli citizens or not." and when you object to the extreme stuff uttered by some, you are called a Nazi, "Zionist", etc.

IMHO the obsession with Israel springs from impotent rage against the demonstrable failure of Leftism (in general, eg socialism, communism) in contrast to the US capitalist behemoth. Israel serves as a useful totem for all that they hate and is an easier target than the US, not least because it is easier to boycott olives than Apples. Many rabid anti-Zionists just love their hols in Turkey (who have done far worse to the Kurds) or Sri Lanka (Tamils) but wouldn't dream of visiting Israel. This is not just "whataboutery", this is proof that they don't actually give a toss.

It is a psychological (and sociological?) phenomenon. The fact that many Jews have accumulated wealth (like the Rothschilds) as a result of historic anti-Semitism (excluding them from politics and the professions and pushing then into usury) is utterly lost on them. But then, many people are ignorant and prefer easy opinions over actually thinking about stuff. That includes intelligent people, who can frame complex arguments (using complex language) but who are fundamentally too lazy, or afraid, to actually think.

Padmadipa Paul Simmons said...

Good post Phil!

Would be interesting to look at the exact wording of the new rule before I feel I can give it my complete consent, but I do think we are moving to more of a nuanced policy on this issue!

More bloggs on this subject would be useful from you pen! Thanks

johnny conspiranoid said...

" These are your social media sock puppets that troll with conspiracy theories and use the language of anti-semitism while posing as Jeremy Corbyn supporters with the express purpose of smearing and discrediting Corbynism, or using it to find a wider audience for their anti-Jewish bilge."
Can I just point out that this is a conspiracy theory?

Speedy said...

The concept of freedom of speech is an interesting one, because in some circles it seems it should be free to say some things and not others, eg

Free to question the Holocaust but not trumpet Zionism
Free to promote Islamic fundamentalism but not criticise it
Free to support women's rights but not be anti-abortion
Free to be anti-racist but not racist

etc. Of course, the racists and homophobes speak, but they are not seriously invited to express their opinions, and even established feminists are "no platformed" - so much for freedom of speech! One person's freedom is another's provocation.

So it is a bit weasly to present discussion of the Holocaust in terms of freedom of speech. Where is the fringe meeting discussing banning the veil, for example, which would be entirely consistent with socialist thinking but no one would be "free" to even consider in the current climate? They would be "Nazis", presumably, although strictly speaking the Nazis shared similar opinions to those that believe a woman's place is in the home.

There is no true freedom of speech and never has been, there is only the freedom to express an opinion within the constraints of whatever polite society you are occupying at that given time. Which begs the question - why would it be seen as acceptable to propose the Holocaust as a matter for discussion and what does that say about the mindset of the attendees?

Ed said...

Good authority or no, I saw a direct quote from what Peled said in the Mirror, and unless that quote was a fabrication (which I haven't seen anyone claim), he's guilty of (at best) wilful, provocative stupidity. If all he means is 'there shouldn't be legal prohibitions on Holocaust denial, like in Austria; no matter how repugnant opinions about history are, they shouldn't be dealt with by criminalization', he should say that, explicitly, using those words exactly. Or else he should shut his damn fool mouth. In the context of a fringe event at the Labour Party conference, what is he trying to achieve by saying 'holocaust, yes or no' should be open to debate? Does he mean Labour Party members should be free to discuss it? Labour is a voluntary organization, you don't have to join; if you do join, there are certain basic principles that you should accept, and recognizing the historical reality of the Holocaust should certainly be one of them.

As Phil said, the most aggravating thing about this (very small, very marginal) coterie is the absolute refusal to learn any lessons from very recent experience. We've had two years now of a left-led Labour Party with heightened interest and attention for all kinds of political opinions that were previously ignored by the national media; this brings much greater opportunities, but also much greater responsibilities to use your damn brain before opening your damn mouth. This time last year we have Jackie Walker wandering into a JLM meeting and saying the first thing that came into her head, wondering why Holocaust Memorial Day doesn't commemorate other genocides (it does) or whether Jewish schools really need extra security (they do), and provoking a completely unnecessary row. And now another instance of bone-headed stupidity. Ken Livingstone of course is the alpha and the omega of this stuff.

A lot of people will presumably be hoping this crowd stay away from the Labour Party if they refuse under any circumstances to alter their behaviour or learn any lessons from the messes they create. I would add that I hope they stay the hell away from the issue of Palestine; they're not helping one iota. There are some excellent activists around, challenging the conflation of solidarity with Palestine with anti-semitism (I'd single out David Rosenberg and the Jewish Socialist Group in particular). I'd like to see them play a much bigger role in the Labour Party and have the opportunity to challenge the JLM, which is trying to position itself as the gatekeeper of respectable opinion about Israel and anti-semitism. But the other clowns should stay the hell away from this debate, they can shoot themselves in the foot as often as they like but they've no right to bleed all over everyone else.

Unknown said...

"why would it be seen as acceptable to propose the Holocaust as a matter for discussion?" I emphasise that I wasn't there in person, but as I understand it from a first-hand report, Peled didn't propose any such thing. He did put forward the position that discussing something abhorrent is a far more effective way of combating it than banning it, and, in a list of examples, touched on the holocaust as one (and no more than that.) I've never seen any convincing reason to disbelieve the holocaust, but I've never ever heard its denial more effectively rebutted than the confrontation between an Auschwitz survivor and a denier. I wish I could find a recording of it, it's very hard to convey in words the degree to which that terrible lived experience completely trashed and mangled the sheer banality of the denier's position, to the point where he couldn't say anything at all. It was absolutely electrifying, and utterly conclusive. You will never, ever achieve that by banning discussion of it - quite the reverse, in fact.

This post and a number of the comments demonstrate perfectly why this is such a toxic area: even discussing the very idea of holocaust denial from a position of how best to combat it, is seen as at best evidence of bad intent and at worst anti-Semitic if it doesn't conform to the orthodoxy, and suddenly people are outraged about something that didn't actually happen.

Ed said...

“In a list of examples”—right. So, in a meeting under the heading ‘Free Speech on Israel’ (not ‘Free Speech on Sobibor and Chelmno’), he came up with a random list of subjects about which people should speak freely, and just happened to throw the Holocaust in there. Great stuff, really smart guy, pure class, definitely a good idea to bring up the Holocaust unnecessarily when discussing Israel. It’s not like we’ve had a giant political experiment in whether that’s going to be helpful or not, codenamed ‘Operation Livingstone’.

I don’t normally hold with using block caps and getting shouty online, but given that I’m writing this literally with gritted teeth, I can’t help myself: WHY MENTION IT AT ALL, YOU F**KING FOOL? (the profanity addressed to Peled, not you.) Either he was being deliberately provocative or he’s such an incurable block-head that he didn’t think about what he was saying or how it would be taken up. Either way he should stay the hell away from the issue of Palestine. There’s talk of suspending or expelling people from this coterie from Labour; if possible, I would like a different punishment to be imposed, I would like them to be followed around at all times by someone with instructions to thump them in the arm every time they say something mind-meltingly stupid in public, so they learn the knack of turning on your brain before opening your mouth that most people seem able to master perfectly well by themselves.

I see we have another example of this dazzlingly clever approach from the ‘Labour Party Marxists’ group, who apparently went through the following thought process: ‘right, comrades, it’s the Labour conference, one of the political events of the year, all of the national media will be there, looking for stories, most of them very hostile to Labour, the left and the cause of Palestine; what shall we put on our leaflet about Israel and anti-semitism, I know, I have it, let’s put an interesting quote from Heydrich on there, claiming that the Nazis have no animosity towards Jews! That’ll be sure to start an interesting historical debate, splendid stuff, good show all round’. And lo and behold, the Times have a full story out of it, with quotes from Mann, Streeting, all the usual suspects; I believe the self-promoting chancer from the Labour group on Brighton council has even used it as a pretext to threaten banning his own party from the city. Having observed some of these people at work, people who apparently have been involved in political activism for decades, I have to wonder, are they capable of tying their own shoelaces? Or of finding their own posterior with both hands?

I hadn’t seen while writing my earlier post, but apparently while all this was going on, David Rosenberg and others were coming together for the public launch of Jewish Voice for Labour, which I hope can make a really good, positive contribution. It must be soul-destroying having these attention-seeking clowns dragging you down while you’re trying to do serious political work like that.

BTW I’ll say for the sake of clarity: nothing that Labour or the left will stop the Mail and the Times, Stephen Pollard and the fraudulent ‘Campaign Against Anti-Semitism’ from churning out smear stories about Labour being infested with anti-semitism from top to bottom. But we CAN stop handing them ammunition.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to point out the obvious really, that Miko Peled is an Israeli Jew, son of an Israeli General actually, who was speaking at a meeting organised by Jews. So there was no anti-semitism. Nor was there any hint of holocaust denial. It was foolish to mention the holocaust because the media obviously had a field day, but he was simply talking about defending the right to criticise the Israeli actions against the Palestinians. I think others have tried to outline how he came to mention it. I heard that he compared it to denial of global warming.

Regarding the general point made in the blog article, I can't disagree with it. All I can say is to repeat what Naomi said at conference, ie the LP does not have an anti-semitic problem. There probably have been a few cases, but they must be extremely rare. I did ask someone from CAA for some examples and got three, but the only one I thought worth looking into turned out to have been said by a Jew. Of the other two, one was waffle that made no sense and one was just critical of Israel. I got given another which I agreed was anti-semitic but who knows if the person was even a member of the LP?

Chris said...

There is something unhealthy, bordering on the pathological IMO, about the obsession with Israel's crimes over those of any other state. Except the USA, obvs.

Makhno said...

@Chris -

Personally, I wouldn't single Israel out for special criticism, and I'm generally supportive of the "concept" of Israel, if not the actions of the current right wing government.

I don't doubt a small minority of people do this due to anti-semitism, but for the most part on the left it's because Israel is the foremost ally of the US and UK in the Middle East, so in a way its actions can be seen as an extension of the actions of our own government, especially if the latter do very little to oppose them. In this context, the fact that our major ally is occupying land illegally and committing large scale human rights violations, often on what is essentially a racial basis, is a cause for concern. If our governments did more to oppose these actions, I doubt there would be as much concentration on it in the West.

It's the mirror image of the way the right and the centre go in hard on Venezuela, when there are numerous other Latin American countries with equally bad if not worse regimes, but nominally allied to the US, which are ignored (e.g. Honduras, where following the US-tolerated coup in 2010 a number of opposition leaders and union activists have been killed or arrested).

Neither are positions I particularly agree with personally, as I believe that the actions of oppressive states should be discussed on their own terms, no matter what their international alignment, and tend to stay out of Israel/Palestine bunfights. However, I wouldn't necessarily call it "unhealthy", aside from in the small minority of cases where it stems from actual anti-semitism.

Unknown said...

As Chris says, there are good reasons for that that don't stem from anti-semitism. But I would argue your statement is somewhat flawed anyway: in what possible way is the attention paid to Israel now different in nature or degree to that paid to South Africa in its apartheid years? Even in current terms, I would suggest that people are just as opposed to Saudi Arabia's regime and behaviour (and in all these cases, Chris's suggestion that such particular attention stems from these regimes being closer in one way or another to our establishment than some others which don't achieve such attention, despite meriting it.) A possible icing on the cake is Israel's claim to be a full democracy, and the fact that it is accorded the privileges of one without question of where it falls far short of the standards that are expected of such.

Anonymous said...

The UK has no problem with Israel's crimes. There is a special relationship. Military cooperation. Labour MPs go on freebies to Israel and defend Isreal's brutal military occupation of OPT.

Do you not see a problem?

Anonymous said...

One of the other topics which was mentioned by Peled was Palestinian liberation, yet - strangely? - that got completely overlooked in all the manufactured "controversy" generated.
Why do we all suppose that is?
From what I have been observing ever since Corbyn became Leader of the Labour Party, the JLM and their backers in the London Israel Embassy - led by that fount of all knowledge and truth, Mark Regev - have been working overtime to undermine Corbyn and the Labour Party.
Have we all forgotten about the Al Jazeera exposes of Israeli attempts to subvert Labour?
I have friends who are involved in the formation of Jewish Voices for Labour.
They understand the real agenda of JLM and the militarist Israel regime.
They understand the obvious hatred and loathing the Israel ruling clique hold for Corbyn.
Imposing McCarthyite tactics on the Labour Party will end up being just as ineffectual as the original despicable actions of the rear gunner senator.

Unknown said...

Hey Bud we already freed Palestine. In 1948 the Jews came back to their land and freed it both from the British and the Arabs who had invaded it. They also freed it from its name.

Chris said...

Which regional regimes are worse than Venezuela?
(Genuine question...)
Are zoo animals being eaten anywhere else?

Ed said...

Colombia, Chris, for starters. Human beings are being carved up with machetes and chainsaws with the complicity of the state, which is Washington's main ally in the region. Is that good enough for you?

Chris said...

Certainly good enough.
Though I am unaware of many people lauding Columbia as a model state as Corbyn and his ilk were lauding Venezuela.

johnny conspiranoid said...

Re Ed said;
What evidence is there that Labour lost any votes/support because of what Ken
Livingstone said?
Obviously the media didn't like him and neither did the NEC, but the media are liars
and the NEC were his political opposition.
Also, if the media are always going to lie about you, aren't you appeasing bullies by modifying your behaviour to get a better press?