Thursday 18 August 2016

Labour and Anti-Semitism

Like cat piss on your carpet, the stench comes back regardless of what you do to it. I'm talking, in this instance, about the Labour Party and anti-semitism. Despite an inquiry that issued clear guidelines and repeat condemnation by Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Momentum, and everyone associated with the party's leadership, it will not go away. So what is going on? As I've said on occasion, if you have recurring phenomena then we're talking about social relationships, not something that can be put down to individual oddities. And, to note, just because it has become a factional football doesn't mean anti-semitism is not important or isn't happening. It is. Where then does Labour's issue with anti-semitism come from?

What the party isn't is institutionally anti-semitic, in the sense it structurally discriminates and disadvantages members from a Jewish background. In fact, the argument can be turned on its head and the case made it's institutionally anti-anti-semitic, in the same way it is also institutionally anti-sexist and anti-racist. Before anyone rolls their eyes and gets a letter from compliance for it, this isn't the same as saying sexism and racism aren't problems in the Labour Party. Rather it is the banal observation that because of work done by previous and current generations of women and BME comrades, formally the party is against chauvinism and racism. Members can and do have action taken against them for making these unwelcome views known and engaging in unacceptable behaviour. And the party tries to overcome the legacies of sexism and racism through the use of shortlists, diversity training, and so on. That said, because Labour is a mass party and not an ideologically pure sect, its membership has, to greater and lesser degrees, the tendency to reflect the attitudes and prejudices of the constituency it reflects. If you like, the institutionalisation of progressive attitudes and the activists that uphold them are in a ceaseless battle against what we might euphemistically term "unreconstructed" views constantly being fed into the party from its relationship with wider society.

However, this can explain why racism and sexism remain party problems but it does not account for anti-semitism. While there have been spikes of anti-semitism over the years, it hasn't had a mass base or following in British society since the 1930s. What is it about the Labour Party now that is attracting anti-semites in disproportionate numbers and to the Corbyn campaign in particular? I think it's down to a mix of naivete, stupidity, and in a number of cases, hardcore racism.

Dealing with the first, Jeremy Corbyn has a long record of anti-war activity. His 33 years in Parliament have seen him take up the cudgels against British foreign policy, whether it was popular or politic or not. Similarly, he has never hidden his criticisms of US and Israeli policies in the Middle East either. Unfortunately, this kind of stance often comes with a studied silence about the countries and organisations at the receiving end of Western bombs and, in some cases, de facto united fronts with outright supporters of these regimes/outfits. These characters can be most unsavoury. You could say that some folks who are especially active in anti-war work are a little care free when it comes to associating with people who, on the one issue of opposing such-and-such a conflict, there is a shared position. And so where opposition to the criminal policies of the Israeli state are concerned, you might find people in this milieu, especially those new to it, getting rather over-enthusiastic in their denunciation of Israel's actions. They might bang on about Zionists and Zionism, might shout off about "Zios", and make clumsy, inappropriate, and offensive comparisons between the Nazis and the Holocaust and Israel and the occupation. And they do it because too few within this milieu actively challenge it. So as Jeremy has risen to prominence, this sort of clumsiness has been imported into the Labour Party and become more visible than has hitherto been the case. Something I've been worried about for a while.

Overlapping with this is an anti-establishment politics at its most basic and primitive: conspiracy theorists. If porn is the main contribution the internet has made to popular culture, opening mass audiences to the idiocies of conspiracy theorising comes in a close second. You can understand the cognitive basis for these views. The world is a complex scary mess with clear winners and losers, and can appear as if a shadowy elite has it all under their thumb. It's not. There is no one at the helm, and not even being the richest nation with the most powerful military the world has ever seen can impose its will at will on the world, or defy the head winds of global economic turbulence. Conspiracies then are comforting because there's a weird form of security knowing someone's in charge, and that you stand out from the herd because your keen brain has connected the dots and cut through the bullshit. After the September 11th attacks, the conspiranoid 9/11 Truth Movement were an identifiable anti-war trend that not only peddled nonsense about remote controlled airliners and buildings pre-packed with demolition charges, but fanned the flames of anti-semitic conspiracy theorising. It was a false flag operation run by Mossad, or Jewish employees were warned to stay away from the Twin Towers on the morning of the attack being two choice examples. The problem is this sort of thinking never disappeared. It scooped up gullible adherents here and there and continued to fester on email lists, forums, and Facebook groups. And so, just like the "careless" people this variegated bunch have also joined up and used their conspiranoia to make sense of Labour's faction fight. The links between some Labour MPs and Israel via Labour Friends of Israel are "proof" they are taking orders from Tel Aviv. Some are associated with very rich people, who happen to be Jewish, and, of course, because some sitting MPs helped save the banking system from collapse they're in the pay of the Rothschilds. These entirely unwelcome elements, again, aren't drawn to Jeremy because he's one of them, but rather in the terms of their anti-semitic conspiracy theology, it's him versus the Zionist lobby and therefore deserves their support.

These people are badly mistaken and seriously deluded, and I would say there are a portion of them who don't even realise they're being anti-semitic. But on those occasions it happens time and again, and despite it being pointed out to some of them carry on willy-nilly, then they have passed over into outright racism.

And this brings me to the third kind, those that really do have anti-semitic issues. It doesn't matter how they arrived at this perspective, the fact is they single out Jews and attribute all kinds of social problems to them. Classic scapegoating, classic racism. Wherever they are found they should be turfed out of the party, no ifs, no buts. However, while these people do undoubtedly exist, are there others at it? While anti-semitism in wider society is diminished, there are still enough people miles away from left wing politics with axes to grind. Grabbing a Momentum twibbon and using the furore around Labour anti-semitism to vent their bilge is easy enough to do. And then there are obvious troll accounts like this and this operated by folks unknown to keep those flames fanned. Imagine being an opponent of Jeremy Corbyn and cynically using racist abuse to "prove" his support is anti-semitic. Is that the mindset of someone you'd wish to be associated with? Do you think that sort of person should have a place in the Labour Party?

I am glad that most people in our movement have woken up to anti-semitism, and I hope wherever comrades find it a swift complaint to follows in short order. Anti-semitism is not just the socialism of fools, as August Bebel put it, but is the very antithesis of a politics founded on solidarity and collective action. It's in all our interests to be on our guard against it, and attack it wherever and whenever we can.


David Timoney said...

"What is it about the Labour Party now that is attracting anti-semites in disproportionate numbers and to the Corbyn campaign in particular?"

Do you have any evidence to support these assertions? I'm genuinely interested.

Phil said...

Unfortunately, yes. Someone has been tracking it here. Though I will note this is almost an entirely online phenomenon. Unsurprisingly, the courage of bigots tends to desert them in the flesh.

BCFG said...

There could be lots of false flag operations going on here. The ratcheting up of anti Semitism accusations against the left can be traced back to the reaction of Israel's last major assault on Gaza. For the first time the general public in opinion polls sided heavily with the Palestinians. In reaction to this the Zionist's went into full on propaganda mode and begun throwing accusations around like confetti. This was clearly done to affect the general public and bring them back into line with imperialist ideology.

So the question is, not why does Corbyn attract anti Semites but why do the left face the full wrath of the imperialist establishment and their various lackeys in the commentariat? This is a rhetorical question of course!

The 'bravery' of accusers is often backed up by establishment approval!

The anti Semtism story is a non story, but because it serves so many interests it just keeps running and running.

BCFG said...

I have looked up the link where Phil says someone has been tracking the problem and have found this tracker has a preoccupation with anti imperialists, anti Zionists and anyone broadly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. There is certainly no tracking of the problem of anti Muslim bigotry or Islamophobia from this so called anti fascist. You might call them an anti fascist who spends lots of time criticising people who are not fascists!

Seriously though, is this the best evidence you have got to offer? Maybe you need to check your sources more carefully? Isn't that the advice often thrown at those who are accused of anti Semtism?

This is why we need to be very careful about all the reports of increases in hate crimes, there are many unscrupulous ‘trackers’ who are digging around trying to find anything they can however remotely link to hate crimes, sometime for motives that are less than honourable!

Speedy said...

The moment I hear the phrase "false flag" I know the word Zionist will follow shortly thereafter, in the pejorative sense.

To me, what sets anti-semitism apart is ifs exceptionalism. Those anti-Zionists are sure silent about the Turks (and Kurds) or Sri Lankans (and Tamils). No it keeps coming back to people - any people - who believe in the right to existence of a Jewish state, one that, unlike Kurdistan, for example, was recognised by the UN way back.

And of course most Jews are Zionists because most believe in the right of that legally recognised state to exist, and therefore are fair game. There's a reason they believe, incidentally. Because for centuries they were "fair game" for any group that wished to scapegoat them - that's why Zionism was invented.

I have long said the Jews - sorry, "Zionists" - were targeted by the Left because it is easier to boycott olives than Apples - and they are a convenient fall guy for the Lefts loathing of the US. And let's face it - there's something still rather daring about damning the Jews. After all it is deeply tasteless, given the history, so rather chic.

But there is an interesting and upsetting confluence now - fertilised online - whereby the hysterical exceptionalism of the Left finds common cause with the genocidal fascism of Islamists. The irresponsible demonisation of Jews becomes plausible justification for murder. It is apologising for Stalin all over. It is apologising for Pol Pot. It is calling for the rehabilitation of Trotsky, who only did what was necessary. The Left has never shied away from having blood on its hands, as long as it is someone else's.

asquith said...

The rise in "intersectionalisty" "activism" is connected to this.

It is often asserted that, by definition, it's impossible to be racist against white people, because white people are powerful and priviliged, therefore it's impossible to discriminate against them on an institutional level, therefore it's impossible to be racist against them.

(It will come as news to people in the queue at Kidsgrove job centre that they're powerful and privileged, but "activists" prefer not to think about class).

Thus, according to the theology of "anti-Zionists", who oppose absolutely all forms of imperialism whatsoever (except Russian imperialism , which is fine by them) antisemitism can't be a problem. "Zios" run the world, so how can anyone be racist against them?

But you can, easily. You can attack synagogues and make European Jews whose forebears have lived here for centuries flee to Israel, a country they'd previously had nothing to do with. You can have violent "protests" and scapegoat blameless people.

The Arab countries, after 1948, persecuted their centuries-long Jewish populations who wanted nothing more than to live in peace in the only home they'd ever had. Millions of people from Arab countries live in Israel, they are Jewish but could have lived in Iraq and Syria if they hadn't been violently driven out. But best not to mention that, it would be imperialist.

We need to ask, why is Israel being singled out for special criticism that isn't applied to much worse regimes, if not because of the ethnic group most of its people come from? It isn't doing a service to the Arabs to have Hamas and Hezbollah as your "friends", they aren't friends to the Arabs as well as Jews that they slaughter.

Are we due a reevaluation of the British mandate? Because it wasn't popular but anyone who largely succeeds in making Jews, Muslims and Christians live in peace wouldn't be. In reality it was underrated, like the good old Austro-Hungarian empire.

BCFG said...

"whereby the hysterical exceptionalism of the Left finds common cause with the genocidal fascism of Islamists"

Speaking of irresponsible demonisation, not all Palestinians are genocidal fascists, though many are on the receiving end of extreme brutality, because the right to the existence of the Jewish state goes hand in hand with their dispossession and systematic brutalisation!

There is no exceptionalism on the left incidentally, we concern ourselves with many issues, for example the atrocities committed in Democratic Republic of the Congo, or the oppression of the Tamil in Sri Lanka. I could go on. This claim of exceptionalism is just another straw man.

Actually, what marks the left from typical far right politics of speedy is a concern for these international matters. the likes of speedy are only interested in foreigners even when they pose a threat through immigration or they start getting all uppity in the colonies. This is why the far right tend to sympathise with Zionism, it is because the strong oppressing the weak is really what right wing politics is all about.

"it is easier to boycott olives than Apples"

Well during Apartheid here was a boycott of grapes! To the extent that less than 30% of all grapes harvested were aimed at the consumer market! And it isn't too easy to boycott Israel, seen as they have made it virtually illegal to do so. This is the real face of exceptionalism!

speedy really is a witless individual!

We really should talk about anti Palestinianism among the anti Corbynites. For example, why can speedy and others infer the Palestinians are genocidal fascists and no one bats an eyelid? Exceptionalism indeed!

Consider a people who have been squeezed into ever smaller territory, who are brutalised everyday and then are considered genocidal! What exceptionalism!

Where is the media to decry anti Palestinian racism among the anti Corbynites?

asquith said...

Why are there four times as many Palestinians as there were in 1948 then, BCFG?

Of course most Palestinians are perfectly good people, and I'd point out most of them have never met a Jew and suffer more at the hands of their own theocratic rulers (including the allegedly "moderate" Fatah) than Israel.

The people who allegedly control the world are allegedly trying to wipe out the Arabs, and yet there are more Arabs than ever and they have more rights than they would if they lived in, say, Qatar.


Paul Ewart said...

There may be some truth to your assertions, though I prefer to remember the Labour movement's role in the Battle of Cable Street and Jeremy Corbyn and others' attempts to have that date officially commemorated.

The bigger issue, I think, is not the minute and manageable levels of anti semitism in the party (and why do we focus only on the Labour Party): it can and should be addressed as stated in your article. It is the wider issue of ill-informed anti semitism more generally based on the conspiracy theories alluded to. What worries me, is that the deeply cynical mobilisation of identity politics and anti semitism by Corbyn's opponents feeds into this wider conspiratorial anti semitism. When those on the lunatic fringe see an embattled left-wing leader wrongly accused of anti semitism they are likely to put two and two together to make five. When they then see Ruth Smeeth's appalling bahaviour they may conflate an apparent conspiracy against Corbyn with wider conspiracies informed by their own their own prejudices. Thus one compounds the other in a negative feedback loop of paranoia.

So, whilst we should acknowledge the existence of anti semitism in the party, and deal with it appropriately, we should also acknowledge the dangerous strategies at play in the anti-Corbyn movement. Not only do such strategies run the risk of boosting incipient anti semitism on the lunatic and politically callow fringes of the party, but by focussing obsessively on Labour's problems, they deflect attention from the very real rise of racism and anti semitism in the wider community. While we naval gaze, the right organises.

Speedy said...

Do you see what BCFG is doing there? Conflating the Palestnian cause with ISIS, Hamas, and Al Qaida. In BCFG's world, the only "real" Muslim is a genocidal fascist. And he calls me racist!!!!

Scot by choice said...

Someone has denounced this article to facebook as anti-Semite and it adamantly refuses any intent of reposting. The message says this site is dangerous, if you can believe it.

Phil said...

Yes, I've had the same difficulties. Probably more to do with the various key words and dodgy links (for illuastrative purposes) than someone making an actual complaint ...

David Timoney said...

Phil, that link doesn't amount to statistically sound evidence that the Labour Party attracts a "disproportionate" number of antisemites.

My interest in this subject is primarily sociological - the changing role of UK Jews in British party politics since the 60s. I think this (and the instrumental use of antisemitism, and identity politics more generally, by centrists) explains the current "problem" better than any reference to Palestine.

See for my fuller thoughts.

Phil said...

No, but what it does establish is there are people active on social media who are anti-semitic and identify themselves as Labour Party people. Their numbers don't really matter because there's enough of them to continue fuelling the idea Labour does have an anti-semitism problem. Hence the need for zero tolerance.

And thanks for the link btw.

Alex Ross said...

The way in which different people respond to the I/P conflict is interesting and often not what you would expect. For example my extended Iranian (and Muslim) family, whilst not being massive Israel fans, never use the sort of conspiratorial language around Zionist control of the media, Zionist bloodlust etc. when criticising Israeli policy. Having fled the Iranian regime, they are pretty sceptical about that sort of rhetoric, for obvious reasons. Also – I don’t tend to hear that sort of language from Palestinians I’ve worked with in the UK – admittedly well-educated and able to get UK visas. The people you are most likely to hear that sort of OTT rhetoric from in the UK are (a) white middle class lefties and (b) Muslims of South Asian origin – often 2nd or 3rd generation.
I think conspiracy theories perform three functions (1) an exaggerated extrapolation from genuine underhand dealings of the west in the affairs of other countries (2) a source of comfort for those whose ideas are not widely shared (it is not **me** that is wrong but the manipulation of the masses by the media etc.) (3) an easy route to pseudo-knowledge which doesn’t entail all the hard work involved in proper scholarship…

David Hillman said...

Well I have met some conspiract theorists in my time, but they don't do much useful, and I;ve never met any in the Labour Party or in Momentum. In fact I've never met any anti-semites in the Labour Party in Oxford (or Cornwall or Liverpool or Brighton to name those I have known) I really think this is a fictional narrative and it amazes me that you and Owain Jones believe it

David Hillman, Oxford.

James Semple said...

Hear the simple,unadorned speech of a Labour Party member.

When the anti-Semitism agitation first began, my CLP discussed it at the regular meeting. We are a small branch of older people shrivelled by decades of Tory hegemony, and meetings are slow and confused; but this item produced a transformation.

After the Secretary reviewed the allegations, contributions were invited. Three members then testified with dignified authority of meeting wide-ranging anti-Semitism at school, in the streets and in the workplace, but never ever in any Labour gathering.

It reminded me of why I had joined Labour and made me ashamed of my condescension. Whatever the vapouring of the commentariat, remember the battles won by generations past and the spirit that lives still in the Party.

jim mclean said...

just searched Corbyn Zionist on twitter

1. Corbyn works for the people. The Zionist Establishment hates that!
2. Can't imagine why a Zionist organisation (Jewish Labour) wouldn't vote for a man who supports Palestinian human rights like Corbyn.
3. It's not paranoia, he's just scared to tell the whole truth
The hard right = Progress = Zionist and they don't like JC #Corbyn

Sometimes it is hard to work out the joke ones, but "never seen Hitler and Jeremy Corbyn in the same room you Zionist" I think this is cool.

asquith said...

What about the human rights of the people (Jewish and Arab) slaughtered by Hamas and Hezbollah? Didn't think so.

Incidentally, has anyone read this?

I was privileged to hear the author lecturing at an event at Birmingham a few months back, lots of voddy, a swell time.

Paul Ewart said...

That this considered article should provoke accusations of anti semitism shows just how toxic, cynical and very, very busy the ABCers are. They clearly have people scouring the internet for references to 'Labour' and 'anti semitism' whose sole task to highlight and shrilly denounce without actually reading. It's disturbing, dysfunctional, dangerous and morally questionable. Good, critical people are being hunted down by the ABCers equivalent to Orwell's Squealer. The question is, who is Napoleon? (We all know who Snowball(Emmanuel Goldstein is in this analogy).

Anonymous said...

Let us think on this

1. You raise the question of racism, any form, any

2. If the reply is an accusation of bad faith then surely that suggest a lack of concern about racism?

That's been my point all along, the Left needs to be smarter on this topic. It is when nonracists turn a blind eye to barely concealed racism (of whatever form) that it increases & is given licence.


Anonymous said...

If you're really a smart antiracist it shouldn't be too tricky to find my writing about "secularists" etc & Islamophobia.

I make the point that it is often a cover for wider societal prejudices:



Chris said...

Doesn't exist in the Labour Party