Sunday 16 October 2016

Anti-Semitism and Labour, Again

Among Jeremy Corbyn's failings, according to The Times this morning, is the Labour Party becoming a "safe space" for anti-semites. Of course, it is not now nor has ever been a safe space for anti-semitism - as the recent expulsions testify. Yet this is the spin our increasingly partisan "paper of record" chooses to put on the release of the Home Affairs Select Committee report, Antisemitism in the UK.

On page six it says,
This report focuses to some extent on the Labour Party, because it has been the main source of recent allegations of antisemitism associated with political parties. It should be emphasised that the majority of antisemitic abuse and crime has historically been, and continues to be, committed by individuals associated with (or motivated by) far-right wing parties and political activity. Although there is little reliable or representative data on contemporary sources of antisemitism, CST figures suggest that around three-quarters of all politically-motivated antisemitic incidents come from far-right sources.
It also adds that while the other parties have their issues, it's concerning that anti-semitism should have reared its head in the party most historically associated with anti-racism and equality. What's going on?

As readers know, my view is Labour has an anti-semitism problem in so far as society at large has such a problem. It is not institutionally prejudiced and discriminatory toward Jewish people, but nor are we talking about a media invention without substance. Since Jeremy Corbyn emerged as a serious contender for the Labour leadership, the party has attracted fringe elements of the anti-war movement who explicitly identify as anti-Zionist as the flipside of being pro-Palestinian, some September 11th truth'er conspiracy theorists, and idiots for whom politics is a form of radical performance art. In addition, the heat of Labour's internal divisions has proved a useful foil for hardcore racists, among whom are those using Jeremy Corbyn as a fig leaf for their views, and trolls happy to fan the anti-semitic flames as long as it scorches the leadership and the wider party.

What I think the report gets right is critiquing the shortcomings of the Chakrabarti report which, rightly, found anti-semitism wasn't a systemic problem in the Labour Party (despite not running with an operational definition of what it actually is). And rightly it also criticises the cack handed way in which the leadership have undermined their exoneration by handing the report's author a berth in the House of Lords and now a position in the shadow cabinet. If you're going to make a deal about doing new politics, the first rule is to not look like the old politics. It is also right to criticise Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker for their childish provocations - in both case it shows an appalling lack of judgement and zero awareness about how their behaviour reflects on the party and the political current they support. Or perhaps they did know and just don't care about their responsibility to the wider movement. Of course, what the report doesn't address is the factional uses to which all of this is being put. Indeed, this morning's BBC Breakfast, Andrea Leadsom's former cheerleader-in-chief Tim Loughton was doing just that.

In the party's defence, this reply has been posted to the Labour leader's Facebook page, responding to some of its points and making a number of important criticisms of the report. But does that make the select committee publication another addition to the ledger of smears and baseless claims? If only. Yes, it's damaging to Labour, and there are interests in portraying our party as a uniquely anti-semitic outfit that is not welcome to Jewish people. Context is everything. But that doesn't mean its findings can be swept under the carpet, which seems to be the stock response of some.


Ed said...

It's not a question of 'sweeping it under the carpet', though - it's a question of paying attention to what the report says itself. They admit (reluctantly, I'm sure) that they could find no evidence whatsoever that anti-semitic views were more widespread in Labour than in other parties (or, we might add, than in British society as a whole). You can be quite sure that if they had found such evidence they would have been shouting from the rooftops about it. Yet having admitted this point, the report goes on to focus overwhelmingly on Labour to the exclusion of the other parties.

Not to mention the fact that it tries to crowbar in the utterly discredited definition of anti-semitism which pro-Israel campaigning groups have been trying to have adopted for the last 15 years or so; one that deliberately redefines anti-semitism to include criticism of Israel that is deemed to cross a line, a line that will be drawn by its defenders. It is okay to judge Israel by the standards of 'other liberal democracies', we are told—so we have to accept the self-definition of Israel as a 'liberal democracy', which is not something I can accept—but not okay to describe it as a 'racist endeavour'. But the entire Zionist project as it developed in the early twentieth century was based on the principle that the people already living in Palestine were less important and less entitled to consideration than the settlers who came there from the Balfour declaration onwards; if that's not a 'racist endeavour', nothing is (this is quite separate from the question of what can be done now, with a large Israeli-Jewish population, the great majority of whom were born there; there's no question of turning the clock back to the status quo before 1917 or 1948, but to say that we can't talk about the origins of the state honestly and can't spell out the profoundly racist, colonial logic behind the whole project is outrageous). And the report even suggests that there can be formal legal prohibitions against using the word 'Zionist' in an 'accusatory' way, which is both absurd and sinister; I have no problem with people arguing that the word should be used with care, and often it's better to use another term at all (if I was going to describe the editorial line of Stephen Pollard and the Jewish Chronicle, for example, I wouldn't call them 'Zionists', I'd call them 'Likudniks', since they place themselves on the hawkish right wing of modern-day Zionism. But the idea that you can draft a law spelling out when people can or can't use the word 'Zionism' is grotesque; it's impossible to have any coherent discussion about Israel/Palestine without mentioning Zionism, and there's no way you can lay down the law about how precisely it should be used.

So yes, I will be dismissing the report as a politically motivated stich-up, light on evidence but long on shrill accusations; the small handful of cases of genuine anti-semitism from Labour Party members are already in the public domain so we don't need this report to tell us to be vigilant on that front, and the Chakrabarti report already had some sensible recommendations for party members. The effect of hatchet-jobs like this is not to encourage Labour to do more to combat anti-semitism; quite the contrary, in fact it encourages greater complacency about anti-semitism about LP members, since they can see perfectly well that false allegations are being made in bad faith, and that is more likely to encourage a knee-jerk reaction, a siege mentality that causes people to dismiss real issues of concern too casually.

Phil said...

fringe elements of the anti-war movement who explicitly identify as anti-Zionist

This is the key point, I think - although I'm concerned, to say the least, by your apparent belief that identifying as anti-Zionist is tantamount to anti-semitism. Under Corbyn, and with the influx of members since his election, there's a chance of Labour moving sharply to the Left on a whole range of issues, one of which is Zionism. Opposition to Zionism by a major British political party would make life considerably harder for the state of Israel; it's not at all surprising to see Israel's partisans mobilising to try and make this impossible by smearing the party with anti-semitism.

As for Jackie Walker, there's really nothing there. When she made her comment about Jewish involvement in the slave trade she was writing as a Jew as well as a Black woman; when she queried existing definitions of anti-semitism, it was in a training session whose leader had just proposed the (generally discredited) EUMC definition. Neither of these rather salient details is in the report. Her comments were provocative, but when does a debate between Zionists and anti-Zionists not include provocative comments? Her treatment by the party is shameful; the report is flat wrong on that count.

BCFG said...

Anti Zionism is not really a fringe section of the left, it is an overwhelmingly majority opinion. Only the most pro imperialist war mongering sections of the left support Israel, such as human garbage like Jim Denham and his crowd.

In fact during the last assault on Gaza the majority of British public opinion, for the first time ever, sided with the Palestinians.

The witch hunting by Zionist front's and apologists was in response to their beloved state losing public support. Centrists got on the back of this in order to attack the left.

The idea that the left should capitulate to a coordinated and calculated witch hunt is risible.

The best way to deal with this witch hunt is to ramp up the criticism of Israel. I.e. stop being defensive and start attacking these Palestinian haters and supporters of state terror, ethnic cleansing and racist policies.

After all Israeli supporters have a lot more to be ashamed about than those of us who support the Palestinians.

When is hatred of the Palestinians going to be a priority?

Imperialism is literally driving people into the sea, you only have to look at the med to see that. Oh and it and it ain't the citizens of Israel who are the ones being driven there!

asquith said...

Momentum, the anti-racist racists, are staunchly opposed to all forms of racism without exception, except racism against Jews.

Momentum, the anti-imperialist imperialists, are stalwart foes of imperialism of all kinds, without exception, except Russian imperialism.

They should do something with their own lives instead of blaming Jews if you ask me. It's the far-left's notracistbut.

Boffy said...

A few weeks ago, I caught some bits of Keith Vaz (remember him) Chair of the Committee, questioning Corbyn, on the Parliament Channel. I'd suggest everyone trying to look it out.

It reminded me of the McCarthy Senate interrogations of supposed communists in the US. The questions to Corbyn from Vaz were everyone loaded, often of the type "When did you stop beating your wife?"

Not even the AWL suggests that the "anti-Semitism" amongst some members of the Labour Party, os sections of the far left, is the same as the anti-semitism of the right, including sections of the Tory Right. The anti-semitism of the right, is of the traditional racist type, i.e. hatred of Jews as Jews.

Lord lever has spoken of that kind of anti-semitism expressed by current members of the House of Lords, for example. Yet, oddly there seems no attempt to deal with that actual anti-semitism amongst the establishment.

The nature of "Left-wing anti-semitism", is of a different order. No one who is truly on the left - I leave aside those who feign such allegiance, including the various trolls - can reconcile that with hating Jews as Jews, any more than they could reconcile it with any other kind of racism.

Left-wing anti-semitism relates to a tendency on the left to treat Jews, and Israel differently to other states. If being Zionist means supporting the right of the state of Israel to exist, then I am a Zionist, because the state of Israel does already exist, and has existed for 70 years, and has a right to continue to exist that I will defend as I defend the right of any other state to exist, and to self-determination.

The attempt to deny Israel that right is to treat it differently to every other state on the planet, and every other people on the planet. The opposition to the right of Israel to exist stems from hostility amongst sections of the left to the way that state was created, and its current treatment of the palestinians, rather than an actual hatred of Jews.

But israel came into existence in pretty much the same violent way as every other state. Treating Israel differently does amount to treating its Jewish population differently, and so amounts to anti-semitism.

But, it is quite clear that people like Vaz and others on the labour right are conflating that kind of "left-wing anti-semitism" with the anti-semitism of the right, for political purposes of attacking Corbyn and Momentum.

In so doing they conflate "Anti-Zionism" in its proper sense of opposing the colonialist ideology that drives sections of the Israeli ruling class with "anti-semitism". It is another example of them being prepared to usde any tool whatever the collateral damage, just to score immediate political points against Corbyn

Igor Belanov said...

This whole affair is discrediting not the Labour Party or Corbyn, but the notion of anti-racism. When anti-racism is used merely as a means of settling political scores rather than as a means of opposing behaviour and attitudes that can be objectively assessed and categorised, then people will stop taking it seriously. We already have people who write off anti-racism as the machinations of a 'cosmopolitan elite'. When members of the establishment throw slurs of anti-Semitism around like confetti in an attempt to marginalise opposition to their own positions, we are only likely to make things more difficult for the people who oppose genuine racism in everyday life.

Igor Belanov said...

@ Boffy

"Left-wing anti-semitism relates to a tendency on the left to treat Jews, and Israel differently to other states."

The problem with this definition is that most present-day Zionists actually demand that Israel be treated differently to other states. By your logic they would be anti-Semitic themselves! Much of their own justification for Israel's existence is based on the Holocaust as a unique event that positively required the establishment of a Jewish state, and which requires that Israel take every means necessary to preserve its own existence. The prevalence of this point of view was demonstrated in the Jackie Walker 'affair', when she was criticised for questioning the exceptional status of the Holocaust in comparison with other genocides. In addition, Israel's behaviour is also justified by its supporters by its status as a liberal democracy acting as an oasis of civilisation surrounded by barbaric Arab dictatorships. Now aside from the anti-Arab 'racism' in this point of view, it also demands a view of Israeli exceptionalism.

Thus those on the left who treat Israel differently to other states are only guilty of falling into a way of thinking that has been established by their opponents. I agree with Boffy that the state of Israel has fully established its existence through the same power-political methods that other nation-states have used. Similarly, all other nation-states are open to criticism for their abuse of power-political methods, and Israel should be no exception to this. I can criticise those on the left for some simplistic arguments on Middle East issues, but I cannot accept that opposition to Israel on exceptionalist grounds be deemed illegitimate rather than simply misguided, when those that support Israeli behaviour insist on exceptionalism themselves as a defence!

Phil said...

I think the creation of the Republika Srpska - the 'Serb' portion of the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina - was a disaster, a victory for the worst forces in the region (with the blessing of Western imperialist powers); I would be overjoyed if it dissolved tomorrow. So I can't honestly say I uphold its right to exist.

Might it not be possible to feel similarly about the state which Zionists carved out of Mandatory Palestine? Or is it all too long ago and we're all friends now?

(Actually, I don't believe states have rights in this sense. I'm happy to uphold the right of the people of Israel to live in peace, but that's a bit different.)

Ed said...

I thought David Rosenberg's comment on this was excellent (see below). After attending last week's Cable St march, which was chiefly organised by David and his comrades in the Jewish Socialist Group, I felt all the more angry at the tawdry, mendacious and manipulative approach to the question of anti-semitism taken by so many over the past few months (and all the angrier that the Guardian gave a platform last week to Mark Regev of all people to try and claim Cable St as the precursor of Netanyahu's government, instead of commissioning someone who knows and cares about the real history of Jewish Londoners to explain what it was all about). BTW, David was one of the people who warned left activists not to be drawn into defending Ken Livingstone's crass and ill-informed comments earlier in the year; I agreed with him about that, and I also thought that it was a mistake to be drawn into defending equally crass and ill-informed comments from Jackie Walker a few weeks ago.

"So the Home Affairs Select Committee Report on Antisemitism has been published. Comprised mainly of Tories and right wing Labour, it took evidence mainly from those, such as the Board of Deputies and the Chief Rabbi, who refuse to see any distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, and who have been using false and exaggerated accusations of antisemitism as a weapon to undermine both the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, and to prevent free discussion of the Israel/Palestine conflict. Those who never utter a word of criticism of the policies of the Israeli govemnent or military towards Palestinians and didn't seem to notice the Tories openly racist campaign in the London Mayoral elections are hardly likely to be serious sources for commentary about antisemitsim and how it fits into contemporary racism.

"Jeremy Corbyn’s full statement in response to it is spot on - though he probably drew back from harsher criticisms of the hypocrisy of those who put it together, as that would just escalate a row over this at the expense of campaigning over the immediate issues of dealing with a governing party that is ratcheting up racism against vulnerable minorities."

Speedy said...

Because this is a conversation among the largely university educated Left, immanent criticism rules: the habit of taking Israel and its formation out of context. Of course, if you do this, its pretty shocking - yet no country can be considered without reference to its history. The Holocaust was not a single event, but a culmination of anti-semitism that was what Zionism was all about in the first place: the recognition by its creators after the Russian pogroms that Jews would never have a "safe space" - and so it proved, resoundingly.

One cannot even compare the Holocaust to the Armenian genocide, which was a panicked response to the First World War, even though Christians, and other minorities, had of course been persecuted for centuries. Zionism was a recognition that - in countries as culturally far apart as peasant Russia and civilised Germany - the Jews would always be picked on.

Ignoring this history is a continuation of the same mindset as the anti-semites. Yes, Jews are an exception - we have made them one - and yes, they deserve to be treated exceptionally normally, like any other liberal democracy. Continuing to single them out - as opposed to the Turks in Kurdistan or Sri Lanka, for example - is a continuation of anti-semitism. Check your privilege indeed!

Ed said...

"Ignoring this history is a continuation of the same mindset as the anti-semites."

We could equally say that your argument is a continuation of that mindset, since it is based on the assumption that Jews are incapable of ever finding a secure place in Europe, no matter what happens. There is an odd symmetry between the views of Zionists like the current Israeli PM and traditional anti-semites; Netanyahu is very keen for Jews in modern Europe to be fearful and insecure, he speaks as if a latter-day Kristallnacht is always just around the corner (and does so with an undisguised relish). His message for Jews in countries like France is essentially 'you don't belong here, and you never will'.

Who is ignoring the history of anti-semitism or the Holocaust, anyway? Just because we don't agree with your interpretation of that history doesn't mean we are ignoring it. If the Israeli state had existed before 1939, it wouldn't have prevented the Holocaust: the majority of European Jews wouldn't have left the continent, they couldn't have known exactly what was going to happen when war broke out, even if they understood that Hitler's regime was a great danger; and even those who did wouldn't have been safe from the Nazis if the Wehrmacht had won the war in Europe (Rommel's army came within a short distance of Palestine). Genocidal anti-semitism had to be fought and defeated in Europe if it was going to be defeated at all.

You conclude by using 'Jews' as a synonym for Israel. If somebody wrote 'we should stop supporting the Jews in their occupation of Palestinian land' or 'we should stop giving military aid to the Jews' or 'we should oppose the Jewish attack on Gaza', they would rightly be accused of anti-semitism for conflating Jewish people around the world with the actions of the Israeli state.

Speedy said...

"since it is based on the assumption that Jews are incapable of ever finding a secure place in Europe, no matter what happens."

2000 years of persecution culminating in industrial scale slaughter would appear to suggest Jewish people might have reason to doubt they will ever be secure in Europe, as does the increasing level of anti-semitic attacks, by Islamists in this case, across Europe.

Perhaps you would feel differently if you had grandparents or other family who had died in the slaughter, and children who went to school with guards on the door, in London or Paris? I think Jewish people can be forgiven for feeling a certain unease.

It seems to me, the Jews are the price the Left are willing to pay for their anti-Americanism and largely uncritical support of Islamism. I don't think most Leftists are actively anti-semitic, but there is a fine line which i think gets trampled over in this larger debate. In which case, if you were a Jew, would you trust the Left to protect you?

davidjc said...

Say there was no anti Zionist left, Israel would still get much more attention from our media and politicians than your average small state, for the strategic and historical reasons we all know about. So what they're saying is we can talk about these issues however much we like, but you lot lot can't.

Obviously Israel exists, so you can't be a pre-war type anti Zionist, as boffy says, but it's not anti semitic to question Israel's constitution from an anti Zionist perspective and argue for the one state approach, which is supported by most Palestinians.

Alex Ross said...

I think the standard hard-left conspiratorial view of the world (what are they *really* thinking?, what are their *real* motives?) dovetails very much with the paranoid anti-semitic imagination. Accusations that many are merely conspiring to make false-accusations of anti-Semitism with the political motivation of undermining Jeremy Corbyn simply compound the issue.

Normally, when confronting racism, the left has traditionally taken the hurt and reaction of the victim at face value. Where Jews are concerned there is often the sinister implication of duplicity.

Igor Belanov said...

"2000 years of persecution culminating in industrial scale slaughter would appear to suggest Jewish people might have reason to doubt they will ever be secure in Europe"

Hmm, are you certain that, given the history of the Middle East since WWII, they would have been safer in Levant than in Europe over the past 70 yeears? And are the Jews than have (fortunately for us) remained in Europe just masochists by your reckoning?

Speedy said...

I figure they feel safer running their own country, with their own army, including nukes, yes, Ivan.

Speedy said...

Or Igor, even.

BCFG said...

It is a complete straw man and myth to claim the Left treat Israel separately, so Boffy’s attempt to tarnish the left is baloney and he is no better than the Zionist front groups or the Blairites. Actually Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen have been higher on the agenda in recent years. In the 80’s apartheid stood well above the Israel/Palestinian conflict.

Israel is treated differently to any other nation by imperialism, not by us. Imperialism allows Israel to get away with all sorts of crimes that are not given to other nations. I can think of no other nation where the legislature takes such an active interest in people who attack Israel, I can think of no other similar nation to have a Nuclear arsenal.

Also the idea that because most nations come into the world in violence means you cannot question it is a licence to violence in the here and now, as well as being a sick idea, one that says unequivicolly, let us stand by and watch the Palestinians suffer under the might of the Israeli military machine! Whatever happened to leftist higher values! But on this logic if it was and is ok for Israel to terrorise, ethnic cleanse, suppress and be racist against the Palestinians then I suppose driving Israel back into the sea would be no problem because hey all nations are created from violence! If you think today’s’ hyper violence is just tomorrows history then let get behind the creation of a Palestinian state, and acknowledge this will be no picnic. Actually while we are on the matter, the idea that because violence is part of our history any crime is to be tolerated why would anyone have anything to say against the war in Iraq, the Khamer Rouge, the Holocaust? Isn’t the holocaust just a high profile an example of violent nation building, the type of which has happened in human history over and over again?

Or am I about to be given the list of exceptions to this iron clad rule?

BCFG said...

"I figure they feel safer running their own country, with their own army, including nukes, yes, Ivan."

Well weren't they the lucky ones to find enough land to do that! Given the suffering of the Palestinians over the last 60 years at the hand of the Israelis I think they need their own army, including nukes. No which piece of land can they build this new antion on, wait a minute I have an idea...

we are the self preservation society...

BCFG said...

I guess they say Hamas now?

But a good reminder to us all that even the moderate PLO were beyond the pale to the Zionists (As Galloway always reminds us - Thanks asquith for reminding us.).

The Palestinian haters do not differentiate, well only when it suits. To them the Palestinians are vermin that need to be controlled. A wall runs right through their common ground!

I was trawling through the far right cesspit and couldn't help but notice that today's Mazi's are very much preoccupied with Islamophobia and a fanatical hatred of Muslims.

Yet the liberals and the fake concerned continually try to play that problem down while playing anti Semitism up.

Looks all rather arranged, coordinated and orchestrated to my mind. maybe Lou Reed's last composition?

Chris said...

I agree with BCFG that the left do not just focus on Israel.

I personally find that all examples of white European colonialism make me sick to the stomach. Maybe my dear old mum was right when she used to say, during one of her racist anti-immigration rants, that I am anti-White.

I also think it is logically flawed, to say the least, that giving special status to Israel automatically equates to anti Semtism. This is a non-sequitur.

It could be that someone who only obsesses over Israel has decided that they can only deal with one major issue, and that the treatment of the Palestinians is a stark example of the oppressor and the oppressed. It could be for British people that given Britain’s critical role in the creation of Israel they feel obliged to take an interest. So if a British person gives opinions about Israel but ignores the goings on in the South China Sea this isn’t necessarily an example of anti-Semitism.

I have to say that the anti-Semitism claims are built on very tenuous grounds. Pull at the threads and the accusations fall apart. Except like accusations of witchcraft those making the claims know they nonsense but have an agenda to follow!

bernard gibbons said...

"Normally, when confronting racism, the left has traditionally taken the hurt and reaction of the victim at face value".
That isn't really true, is it? There are whole sections of the left who devote themselves to rubbishing claims of Islamophobia for example, or the "hurt and reaction" of Palestinian victims of Israeli racism. I am sure you are familiar with them. On the wider front, those same sections would not, I suspect, take claims of racism made by Lee Jasper or Weyman Bennett, to cite just two examples, "at face value".
It's also relevant here that in "confronting racism", "the left" is not normally faced with community leaders who conflate racism against their communities with opposition to the existence of or policies of a particular nation state. And that the left is not normally confronted with the charge that it is itself the main source of racism against the victim - it appears that the main perpetrators of anti-semitism in this country are BAME women with long records of anti-racist activity for example, and this is to say the least an unusual situation. Finally, I can't think of any other context where claims of "hurt" have so regularly been investigated and found to be groundless and based on smears and lies motivated by a specific political agenda - see the tribunal verdict on the claims made about the UCU, the Royall investigation into the OULC charges, Chakrabarti etc. Given this some cynicism about the kind of hysteria and "hurt" one finds in, say, the "Jewish Chronicle" under its neocon/Likudnik editorial team would seem justified.