Saturday 2 March 2019

The Far Right, the Left, and Anti-Semitism

Some necessary context for understanding the presence of anti-semitism on the left. This is courtesy of Dave Renton, which he first posted to Facebook.

I'll start with my position and then get on to the detail which will be less familiar to people, i.e. the analysis.

There are more important things happening in global politics even than the electoral fortunes of the British Labour Party. Think of Palestine. This is a country of something like 5 million people, the vast majority of whom are compelled to live as if in an open prison: with inadequate food and water, have the legal status of second class citizens, are deprived of work and, when they protest, shot at by soldiers. In the last decade, there has been an increasing move to boycott Israeli institutions. But Israel's defenders have responded with a propaganda war of their own: including (in the US) attempts to criminalise the advocacy of cultural boycotts, and including a repeated silencing of anyone who speaks up for the Palestinians. Among the many things which are wrong about this attempted silencing is that it works through a series of lies: that Israel's racist despoiling of the Palestinians is somehow race-blind, that Israel's critics are the successors to the interwar fascists ... In that context, if you are any sort of socialist or even a liberal deserving of the name, the only moral starting point must be support for Palestinians, hostility to the occupation, and to the lies used to justify it. But a pro-Palestinian politics can't succeed as if by saying "You call us racists, very well, we will be racists." Every time the movement does that, it makes life easier for the advocates of occupation, imprisonment and genocide.

Now, on to Williamson.

One thing very few people on the left seem willing to admit is that since 2003 the anti-war movement here has been subject to a process of infiltration by currents of opinion, and sometimes organised groups, behaving like the local representatives of the British far right.

In 2003-5, this was mainly about opinions. In particular, there was a current of opinion within the movement, which grew stronger the occupation of Iraq went on, to say that 9/11 was an American inside job. That strand of opinion was assisted, inevitably, by the need for people - who were against the war - to find websites which would give an honest, objective account of what was actually happening in Iraq. This meant disassociating from mainstream media, going to anti-war news sites. In the US a large number of these sites were hosted by the so-called "libertarian" right and saw no reason against promoting conspiracy theories, 9/11 Truth accounts, etc. Movements such as Stop the War did try to keep these sort of opinions out - banning them from our platforms, etc. But this was a matter of silent gatekeeping - the left didn't like to admit we had a problem in a movement we led - we would never say openly that we were worried about X or Y Stop the War group. The only time when the left in Stop the War came out publicly against the right was George Monbiot who in two Guardian pieces tore into the 9/11 Truth movement. In retrospect, that was a sign of the sorts of difficulties the left has been having in 2018-19: not least in the very many people who saw themselves on the left but posted in the Guardian comment threads criticising Monbiot.

By the time of the uprising in Syria, the counter-revolution, and the attempts by the worlds' imperial powers to stake an interest in it, this amorphous opinion strand had begun to acquire an infrastructure. Websites promising an independent take on events in the middle east had been going for 10 years. They were, in some cases, much better read that conventional media. (There were also parts of state media which backed them, notably Russia Today which finds that this kind of politics dovetails with its own).

Like the "conventional" far right, today's anti-war anti-semites have grown through a process of individual activists building up a social media infrastructure which at a certain point they have monetised on YouTube, Patreon, etc, enabling previously isolated individuals to become full-time organisers on behalf of a certain political argument.

Probably most of my friends haven't heard of them but that doesn't meant they haven't been able to achieve an influence much larger than they deserve.

A typical individual is Vanessa Beeley who was at one stage associated with an anti-war group in Frome, but has built up a Twitter following of 40,000 people which she uses to applaud dictators everywhere - Assad, Putin. And to say that the people she dislikes are in the pay of the Jews.

Or Gilad Atzmon, who tours the world promoting the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, saying that Jews should be blamed for the death of Jesus. And tells his followers on the hour why their greatest political enemy is the left.

Or Atzmon's British follower, Cyril Chilson.

[EDITED: Or Scott Nelson who tweets as @SocialistVoice, and who has written that Tesco's and M&S are "Jewish" businesses with "Jewish blood" and uniquely blameworthy for "human rights abuses" and "barbaric war crimes"]

These people aren't just an opinion trend any more, but like the other parts of the far-right they work through a process of mutual boosting and promotion. They are an organised and coherent faction united by a common insistence that the world's difficulties should be blamed on the Jews.

Moreover, while they seem to inhabit what looks like a left-wing space (i.e. opposition to the American wars in Iraq and Syria) their behaviour within that space is consistently not just right-wing but far-right: they oppose popular uprisings (e.g. in Syria), they support dictatorship, they oppose left-wing analyses of poverty and oppression which blame them on class, and argue for a conspiratorial, anti-semitic and racist politics.

You'll notice that I haven't mentioned Williamson.

The point about Williamson is that over the last 12 months he has liked the social media accounts of each of the four people/groups I've just mentioned, used his own social media to boost their profile, and treated them like the allies in a shared political project which he undoubtedly regards them to be. In so far as this part of the far right has a "shield" in official politics, he provides it.

Every time someone points out to Williamson that he is promoting anti-semites he goes through the same cycle of denial, insisting that his allies are good socialists being unfairly targeted for their views on Israel, belated admission, apology, promises not to do it again.

But he always does.

I am sure Williamson thinks of himself as a brave a defender of Corbynism and the Palestinians. But he behaves like someone who is trying to push forward certain current on the right - assisting them in permeating the left, and therefore in choking of the other strands of opinion which aren't willing to compromise with racism.

So, any sensible account of Williamson's proposed suspension has to begin from the deceit of some of the people accusing Labour of anti-semitism, their willingness to play a role as the public advocates of awful crimes, their inability the essential racism of the project they support.

But no principled politics could stop there.


Shai Masot said...

Not sure I understand that final paragraph. I would say though, that if our new party leader - aka the Weightwatcher General - had anything concrete on Williamson, I think it'd be in the public domain by now. In the Sheffield footage, Williamson just seems to be arguing that Labour have done a lot on AS this last year compared to other parties - and we shouldn't be shy about saying so. Fair point, I'd say.

That's my take anyway. Hardly grounds for expulsion?

Johny Conspiranoid. said...

You are promoting a conspiracy theory.

Anonymous said...

One problem with this article is that doesn’t deal with the nature of the attack against the left and therefore capitulates in front of it (which is a disastrous precedent to set). This attack isn’t out of concern for racism, for god’s sake the pile of racist excrement that is the Tory party gets a completely free ride from these people! The Blairites who say lets listen to racists who want immigration controls get a free ride (wasn’t Blairism built on trying to win over the racists and bigots who supported the Tories and isn’t a criticism of Corbyn that he doesn’t win over enough of these bigots!) So everyone can be extraordinarily racist and they will be politely pandered and listened to but if in the left we see even a faint whiff of something that a twisted logician, a bent lawyer and a shameless philosopher could magically construe to be racist all hell breaks loose.

This attack is an orchestrated campaign against the left and is an attempt to cut the tongue out of the Palestinian people. The more aggressively imperialistic a nation the more aggressively does this attack manifest itself.

This attack produces one baseless accusation after another, and when there is a genuine accusation it hypes it up into a generalised problem and says we told you so! It is classic witch hunting.

If every movement had this level of micro and nano scrutiny (with literally people being paid to pour over every utterance of anyone connected with the Palestinian cause, however tenuously) every movement would have to be deemed not fit for purpose and every movement would have to be invalidated.

But this is the point, not every movement is subjected to this micro and nano scrutiny. So your comment that “Every time the movement does that, it makes life easier for the advocates of occupation, imprisonment and genocide.” simply illustrates the double standards involved. Our movement must be pure as the driven snow or face extinction; the Zionist movement can do anything it likes and face no consequences. Not for them the worry of making life easier for its opponents! Not for the Tory party the worry of making life easier for its opponents! Not for the Independence group the worry of making life easier for its opponents! This double standard exists for the simple reason that the Zionist cause represents the interests of the ruling classes in the imperialist core while the anti Zionist cause threatens the ruling classes on a number of levels. So when someone from the racist sewer that is the Tory party makes a racist comment (which must happen hourly 24/7) no media hype ensues! It certainly makes life easier to have the entire mainstream media at your side!

Capitulation in the face of this calculated and orchestrated campaign is capitulation to the authority of the ruling classes, it gives credence and validity to witch hunting and it ties the masses into the ruling class narrative.

Therefore this article is abysmal and shows your inner Yvette Cooper coming to the fore!

The other problems with this article are too delicate to speak about in a comments box, and would get the army of witch hunters into a hyperbolic state!

So let us leave it there!

Boffy said...

The same arguments against Williamson could be raised against Corbyn, and are. For example, tweeting support for the mural, his presence at the wreath laying and so on. But does anyone seriously think that Corbyn is really anti-Semitic?

A large part of the problem lies with the fact that no one has yet got to grips with the effect of social media, and the mass of information available. The first response of most people on issues today is to google the issue you are looking for, or a more filtered search if you know a particular aspect of story you are investigating. Professional journalists will claim that its a defence of their profession, because they would require two independent primary sources before they would publish.

In fact, more than twenty years ago, many local journalists simply took copy straight from the AP newsfeeds to make up their stories in local papers and radio. And part of the reason for people turning away from msm was its being constrained within a very small overton window, and the confirmation bias that went with it.

We just have a different form of confirmation bias, and so I'm not surprised that Twitter encourages sloppy, hasty off the cuff responses, often based on retweeting from people whose background has either not been researched, or is itself opaque - that's even without the question of all the trolls spreading crap around like a farm tractor.

If Williamson has been guilty of consciously promoting known anti-semites then he should have been brought to book on that long ago, and a proper investigation undertaken. But, he wasn't which raises the question why, if the case against him is so indisputable. Then to muddy the waters further those making these charges against him, bring in totally unrelated issues such as his support for PFI, sa leader of Derby Council! That just adds to the impression of a witch-hunt where any old shit can be sprayed around in a scatter gun approach where something will stick.

Moreover, a sensible person puts it in the wider context of an on going campaign against Corbyn and his allies, the splinter of the Blair-rights, the obvious manoeuvring of Watson to set himself up as the alternative Leader of the PLP, and even now as Jenny Formby has highlighted, of creating an undemocratic, parallel party apparatus, accountable only to himself, as the Right, Blair-rights and soft left of the PLP again begin to isolate Corbyn, and create their own parallel PLP, unaccountable to the party at large. It comes in the same week as Hatton's membership was again ridiculously suspended on the basis of a tweet from 12 years ago, that they have deemed as being anti-Semitic, but clearly wasn't. That suspension was clearly designed to show that the Right in the party can exercise control over allowing left-wing members of the party to exist.

The same is true of Watson's calls to close down Wavertree CLP, and now with further proposals to close down Hackney, and others simply for discussing the issue! This is now an all out war by the Right to subdue the Left in the party, and to begin the kind of process of censorship, expulsions, closing down of branches and CLP's that the right began - even under Michael Foot, as Blair reminded us he was Foot's solicitor at the time, in the process of expelling Militant members - but which accelerated massively under Kinnock.

The Right in the party should have been dealt with three years ago. But, dealing with them now is the priority, and the Williamson's are just a diversion from that priority.

Anonymous said...

Boffy, it is perhaps important to realise that the "official" reason for Hatton being "un-invited" to Labour was not the real reason.

That actual reason being that local leftists (and Momentum members) in Liverpool kicked off majorly as soon as the news broke, and made clear that he was not welcome.

The OnlySanePersonOnPlanetEarth said...

This is so clearly a witch hunt.

And you might want to consider criticising the witch hunters rather than its victims!

I am trying to imagine you as a 17th century sociologist speaking in the village square, you say something along the lines of,

Yeah folk, listen up. Those old hags are being treated really badly but they ought to look less shifty if they don’t want no trouble!

Incidentally social media is not really the problem here, the anti Semitism claims are being propagated by the establishment via their normal channels, i.e. the BBC, Sky news, GMTV, the tabloids, the liberal and right wing press. Of course they will use social media also but it isn’t social media that is the issue it is the fact that the so called free press are simply mouthpieces of the establishment and the fact that what we are seeing here is the fact that for modern capitalism the ideal political shell is not liberal democracy but illiberal authoritarianism.

Jim Denham said...

A good post, Phil.

Anonymous said...

Any post which receives unqualified applause from Jim Denham is clearly problematic. One knows that without knowing anything else about the facts of the matter.

Jim Denham said...

"One knows that without knowing anything else about the facts of the matter": the level of what passes for debate on sections of the misnamed "left" has come to this?

Kamo said...

I'm really not a fanboy for Israeli aggression towards Palestinians but I find claims of imperialism have a curiously ahistorical lack of self-awareness. Since it's foundation various different groupings of Arab states and Islamist political movements have made clear attempts to destroy Israel, and the extermination of Jewish people remains an explicit objective of some of those actors. I don't agree with much of what the Israeli state does, but I have absolutely no doubt that if it stopped defending its borders aggressively it would be wiped out by its enemies. On the contrary I do not believe that Israel has any genuine desire to exterminate Palestinians or its other Arab neighbours, and I find the underlying moral relativism towards those who would destroy Israel (if given the opportunity) deeply worrying.

Trans Facts said...

The bloggers above like Vanessa Beesley are openly anti-Semitic and Chris Williamson has amplified them. Good article.

Barney Carroll said...

I had to read the comments, and I did. Thanks Phil, this is really well put. Chris says the Labour party has been over-apologetic, but he himself continuously fails to take on board the simple advice to avoid him (if this is really the case) continuously putting his foot in it.

Chris has been a great rabble-rouser and Corbyn ally in prominent view of the media, but at what cost? I hope he shows contrition in measure to the problem and rejoins a little more cautious, but I can't help worry that like the others you mentioned and George Galloway before him, the rewards of irresponsible populism end up being too appealing.

PS: Your anti-spam captcha system is a total nightmare. Straining my eyes and my interpretation for a minute trying to get this machine to believe I'm human.

Boffy said...

I agree about the grainy ill lit small pictures on he capcha system. For us older people it could get you into trouble, like not being able to properly make out what a picture of a mural you were viewing on a smart phone was depicting, which could get you expelled for being an anti-Semite.

Anonymous said...

"These people aren't just an opinion trend any more, but like the other parts of the far-right they work through a process of mutual boosting and promotion."

There is quite a bit of conspiracy theorizing going on with respect to the nefarious doings of the far-right in regard to anti-Semitism. However care has to be taken to define what you mean exactly when characterizing the far-right in these terms.

Quite a large percentage of this demographic show staunch Israel support and reject anti-Semitism. Hard right populist rallies in the UK often feature Israeli flags alongside the flag of St George. The Netherlands' populist leader, Geert Wilders, is a well known supporter of Israel. Other groups characterized in the media as "far-right" similarly show Israel support and reject anti-Semitism.

Extensive in-depth studies that are stat based and that focus exclusively on anti-Semitic violence in Europe do not support the claim that the far-right is in the vanguard of these attacks. One such study out of the University of Oslo that spanned a fifteen year period, demonstrated conclusively that in major European countries... Germany, the UK, France and Sweden... the group of anti-Semitic attackers with the highest graphs was Muslim. Significantly higher than all other groups.

You might assume that the same model would show the far-right as a close second. But contrary to urban myths, the second highest group of attackers in France, the UK and Sweden was left-wing. The one exception was Germany were anti-Semitic far-right assailants marginally exceeded those from the left.