The BBC and the ‘Jewish Lobby’

In a clip which you can view here (together with useful transcripts), taken from a recent BBC News Channel review of the papers, several tendentious points are made in response to reports that some Jewish donors are turning against Ed Miliband in the wake of his criticisms of Israel’s actions in Gaza and support for recognition of a Palestinian state. First of all former Lib Dem spin doctor Jo Phillips refers to the “Jewish lobby”, and then the presenter, Tim Willcox, leaps to a quite unearned assumption about other possible motives for Jewish donors to turn against Labour:

“Yeah and a lot of these prominent Jewish…ah….ah….faces will be very much against the mansion tax presumably as well.”

This is immediately challenged by Willcox’s other guest, Nigel Nelson of the Sunday People, who points out that non-Jewish donors would be equally likely not to favour the tax.  Willcox did backtrack, when challenged, but the problems don’t stop there. Jo Phillips implies that there is some kind of special taboo on criticism of Israel.

“…but it is this terrible thing if, you know, you’re not supposed apparently to say anything anti-Israeli. Ahm…and if you attack Israeli political…ahm…policies or the government policies then, you know, this is what you get.

It’s interesting that she does not simply say that one is not allowed to criticise Israel’s policies – but that one is not allowed to ‘say anything anti-Israeli’ when there is an important difference between criticising an entire country, or its people, and criticising a particular government or action. For more responses to this broadcast see Marcus Dysch’s article in the Jewish Chronicle.

Drawing Fire: Investigating the Accusations of Apartheid in Israel – Robert Fine

This piece by Robert Fine, is from the latest issue of fathom. 

It is a feature of our times that certain aspects of what Israel has become – notably its occupation of Palestine and its colonial-like domination

Review by Robert Fine of Benjamin Pogrund's book

Review by Robert Fine of Benjamin Pogrund’s book

of Palestinians who live in Palestinian territory – have become for many critically minded people the central meaning of what Israel is. For those that subscribe to this way of thinking, contingent similarities between what Israel has become and the former apartheid state of South Africa have been translated into an essential identity. Certain contiguities between Israel and apartheid have shaded into what we might call the ‘apartheid analogy’ – so much so that the chain of equivalence linking Israel and apartheid has come to form a hegemonic ideology in a diversity of ‘left’, ‘liberal’ and ‘third world’ political circles.

In Nazi antisemitism ‘the Jew’ was treated as the symbolic representation of all that is rotten in the modern world. In contemporary anti-Zionism we see a related phenomenon: ‘Israel’, ‘Zionism’ and the ‘Jewish state’ are treated as symbolic representations of all that is illegitimate in the present-day international community. The apartheid analogy is based on the premise that the idea of ‘apartheid’ once fulfilled a similar symbolic function in the tail end of the colonial era. Apartheid was indeed the name of an overtly racist regime that deserved the opprobrium and isolation it received.

In the metonymic use of apartheid, Israel is not called by its own name or understood in its own right but rather through the name of something seemingly associated in meaning with it. This rhetorical device has in turn been converted through processes of slippage into the metaphoric use of ‘apartheid’ in order to designate the core being of Israel. The attempt to portray an equivalence between Israel and apartheid has been further pursued through the synecdoche in which the part – say the shooting of Palestinian demonstrators by Israeli soldiers or land seizures and attacks on ordinary Palestinian civilians by Israeli settlers – is taken for the whole and then analogised with apartheid.

The missing term in these ideologically charged slippages – to use Ernesto Laclau’s language; from contingency to essence, from contiguity to analogy, from metonymy to metaphor, from distinction to equivalence – is that of comparison. To simply say that the ‘Jewish state’ is like apartheid, or is apartheid, is no substitute for nuanced analysis that studies similarities and differences between the one and the other. Nor is it a substitute for drawing comparisons between other states (say Arab or Muslim states or indeed the British state) and apartheid, or conversely for drawing comparisons between Israel and other forms of state (say post-imperial nationalist states in interwar Europe or post-national states in contemporary Europe).

In place of comparison, a rhetorical method of choice for many is to contrast the actually existing state of Israel to an abstract idea of what the state ought to be and then to decree that it falls short. A common rhetoric these days is to say that the state ought to be cosmopolitan, ought to be universalistic, ought to be emptied of identitarian content, and that the ‘Jewish democratic state’ of Israel violates this idea. It is to say that nationalism ought to be civic without any ethnic content and that Israel and Zionism are anachronisms; archaic representations of all that obstructs the realisation of this contemporary ideal. By contrast, the comparative method would compare how well the ‘Jewish democratic state’ of Israel deals with its contradictory demands with how other states deal with theirs – be they ‘Arab’, ‘Muslim’, ‘British’ or ‘Hindu’. Apartheid was once treated as the symbolic representation of all that obstructed the ideals of decolonisation and national self-determination. The functional equivalence between such representations of Israel and apartheid lies in their power of delegitimation. Unable to create any genuine links, this ideology ends up with a form of catachresis that erroneously substitutes one term for the other.

In this rhetorical context it is timely to have a book that investigates accusations of apartheid in Israel with a certain distance and impartiality, with care and curiosity, without overwhelming ideological preconceptions. At its best this book succeeds in providing valuable empirical resources that will enable its readers to question the totalising and distorted representations of the Israel-Palestine conflict that the apartheid analogy requires. Benjamin Pogrund is an author of strong liberal credentials. In South Africa he was a well-known journalist for the Rand Daily Mail, who reported on the lives of Black people and on the sufferings apartheid caused them. He was gaoled and banned for a period of time and was a biographer of African National Congress (ANC) leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe. He has lived in Israel for over 17 years, established the Yakar Centre for Social Concern dedicated to fostering dialogue between Jews and Palestinians, and presents himself as empathising both with Israeli fears about annihilation and Palestinian cries for freedom. He defends Israel’s right to exist but is damning of the occupation of the West Bank and the expansion of settlements. On the other side, he acknowledges injustices committed in the displacement of Palestinians but is equally damning of nationalisms and fundamentalism that would expunge Israel from the map. In short, Pogrund inhabits the heartlands of a liberal Zionism that believes in dialogue, wishes to foster trust between Jews and Arabs, and with some equivocation advocates an ethos of non-violence.

Drawing Fire is at its most illuminating when it provides its readers with the information and argument that helps us understand the current conflict and the injustices to ordinary people that accompany it. One set of insights I draw from this book concerns the Palestinians. Their undoubted victimhood has sometimes been the unintended consequence of existential wars between the Jewish state and its neighbouring Arab states, in which it is difficult to lay the blame on one side or the other. They have suffered and continue to suffer not only from injustices committed by the Israeli state and sections of Israeli society but also from injustices committed by Arab states and sections of Arab societies. They have had a deeply equivocal experience of the policies and practices of their own political leaderships and for that matter of international organisations such as United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). They are not a homogeneous collectivity defined by victimhood, but are, rather, in some cases relatively integrated in society, while in others locked into a dull, timeless stasis of separation, confinement and exclusion. They do not speak with a single voice but express a wide variety of political opinions and aspirations, some of which are nihilistic and antisemitic but equally some of which that are looking for an acceptable two-state solution to the conflict. They can be compared with but are not in an analogous position to Blacks in South Africa who were subjected as non-citizens and exploited as servile labourers as a matter of conscious state policy.

However, the most disturbing aspect of this book is that, in spite of the author’s own best intentions, he is clearly worried that the occupation and settlement of Palestine is leading toward a situation in which the apartheid analogy looks more persuasive. The growth of a militant and loud anti-Arab racism within both the Israeli polity and society is a product of occupation that does not justify the apartheid analogy but may feed it if we are not careful. There is plenty to chew on in this worthy book.

Robert Fine

Professor Emertus, Warwick University

This piece by Robert Fine, is from the latest issue of fathom. 

Dec 21, 2012 Robert Fine. Sociologically speaking, I have been a bit of a fly-by-night. Instead of devoting 40 years of my life to the study of One Thing, I have …
engageonline.wordpress.com/…/robert-fine-on-doing-the-sociology-of- antisemitism/
Oct 5, 2010 Author: Robert Fine is Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick. He is co-convenor of the European Sociological Network on Racism …
engageonline.wordpress.com/…/robert-fine-fighting-with-phantoms-a- contribution-to-the-debate-on-antisemitism-in-europe/
Karl Marx and the Radical Critique of Anti-Semitism – Robert Fine. Let us explode the myth that Karl Marx was in some sense anti-Semitic in his critique of …
Oct 8, 2010 Robert Fine appeals to his colleagues in South Africa, arguing against the academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Archbishop …
engageonline.wordpress.com/…/robert-fine-responds-to-desmond-tutus-call- for-a-boycott-of-israel-in-the-south-african-mail-guardian/
Mar 21, 2014 Robert Fine. by international law”. Robert Fine speaking in opposition to this motion. Leeds University, March 2014. This is not the first time I …
https://engageonline.wordpress.com/…/robert-fine-debates-the-boycotters-in- leeds/
Oct 28, 2010 The participants in this debate have been Desmond Tutu, Robert Fine, Neve Gordon, David Hirsh, Ran Greenstein, Uri Avnery, David Newman …
engageonline.wordpress.com/…/robert-fine-on-the-singling-out-of-israel-for- boycott/
Feb 1, 2010 Robert Fine, UCU member and Professor of Sociology, University of Warwick. Thanks to the UCU executive for organising this series of …

engageonline.wordpress.com/…/robert-fines-talk-to-the-ucu-meeting-legacy- of-hope-anti-semitism-the-holocaust-and-resistance-yesterday-and-t…

Mar 21, 2006 The Lobby: Mearsheimer and Walt’s conspiracy theory – Robert Fine John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (LRB 23 March 2006) demonstrate …

In the Green Party antisemitism can be affirming

green_party_real_changeCross-posted on Greens Engage.

Over the past several years Green Party members have proposed a number of motions and initiatives tackling antisemitism, all of which have been defeated or deformed beyond usefulness by anti-Zionists. As The Guardian’s Hugh Muir observed back in 2010, Green officialdom has long opted to brush concerns about antisemitism under the carpet. Below are the most recent fruits of that – a bit of background, a brief timeline of recent events, and finally why you’d be wrong to blame me for bringing this to light.

For a long time the Green Party has been racked by bitter, polemical campaigning against Israel which has crashed the boundaries of simple anti-Zionism. It has included calling Green Party members who defend Israel Nazi infiltrators, alleging that a non-Israeli member with a Jewish name was an Israeli agent, failing to react appropriately to antisemitic comments in a discussion of a “Zionist lobby“, saying that Israeli academics were “not part of the civilised world”, circulating material by David Duke and quasi journalists concerned about Jewish influence in Parliament, promoting material by Gilad Atzmon, objecting to Jews taking certain official positions, affiliating to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Stop the War Coalition, and tending to treat concerns about antisemitism as politically motivated.

A main channel for all this was internal Green Party email discussion groups, particularly the International List which discussed little else. Concerned members made several official complaints at the heart of which were failures by those assigned to moderate these groups. The complaints did not lead to any action, though. Some were rejected while others went into limbo. In contrast, a shockingly flimsy complaint against one member on a charge of disrepute and entryism on behalf of Israel progressed smartly to an internal tribunal (although the member, with help, managed to clear herself she has never been notified of the outcome). Members, including me, left, resigned their candidacy, or retreated into the background in protest about both the antisemitism and the ineptitude of the responses. The invective about Israel continued unabated. By some time in 2011 the International List moderator had had enough so it was decided to separate off the Israel-related stuff to the relative containment of a new discussion list called Palandisrl. The new list’s first moderator was someone who had referred to Israel as a “bloated state” with “US puppets in the UN”, and Zionism as “incompatible with Green views” and “an ancient theological fantasy”, so things went on in the same vein but with added moderator caprice. It quickly became an anti-Israel echo chamber where things could get quite surreal. When Terry Gallogly (Yorkshire & Humber Green Party) circulated a video of the 2012 Olympic logo morphing into the word ‘Zion’, an appalled member bypassed the moderator in favour of an email to then-leader Caroline Lucas. Lucas sent a quick, unambivalently sympathetic response but again as far as we know no further action was taken. At some stage Shahrar Ali (Brent Green Party and recently elected joint Deputy Leader) took over moderation.

That was some background – a brief timeline follows.

8 August – during Operation Protective Edge the discussion on the Palandisrl list became over-heated. Malcolm Chapman (Yorkshire & Humber Green Party) circulated a diatribe he had authored titled ‘GENOCIDE TODAY ~ A CALL TO BOYCOTT’. Soon afterwards it was published on the Y&H website (no link because it was taken down without explanation on 8 September). Interspersed with some trenchant criticism of Israel were references to a Holocaust “happening again”, “real terrorists” who “call their victims terrorists”, “deliberate targeting of civilians”, “influence over foreign governments”, “you have the memory of genocide in your DNA, why do you want to visit it upon others”, “why pretend any longer that your Palestinian Semite cousins have no right to their ancestral homeland”, and “all of Palestine must be freed from oppression”. More on why this is objectionable below.

14 August – I (a former member of Waltham Forest & Redbridge Green Party, who due to some bureaucratic error even now receives Palandisrl messages) emailed a request to Martin Deane and Shan Oakes (contacts for Y&H) to take down the piece, giving notice that otherwise I and others planned to make a complaint about antisemitism.

15 August – Martin Deane responded with a long defence but no undertakings, so our complaint was submitted. We took issue with the singularly hostile treatment of Israel, and the simplistic victim/perpetrator story which failed to recognise the role Hamas and the local jihadis in the conflict. We raised the matter of Holocaust inversion, an anti-Jewish propaganda tactic actively pursued by the far right, including Hamas. We pointed out the cruelty in referring to the Holocaust as a lesson Jews failed to learn. We observed that the mystified portrayal of the world’s sole Jewish state as a sinister, irresistible power resonates with the portrayal of Jews by people who hate Jews. We expressed discomfort with the racialised and tribal language of the piece. We objected to Malcolm Chapman’s failure to provide evidence for any of his claims, which made the Green Party look ignorant as well as prejudiced.

16 August – things got very much worse. Martin Deane posted an email to the  Palandisrl list including the sentence “At this time, to be accused of antisemitism here is a sign we’re probably doing something right”. This sentence crossed the line from shame and denial of antisemitism, to owning antisemitism. A conscientious, responsible moderator would have quickly intervened, but instead nobody intervened.

17 August – I emailed Shahrar Ali as Palandisrl moderator, reminding him of the need for scrupulous moderation on that list, warning that I would publish the events and offering him a chance to respond. He did not respond, nor did anybody on his behalf. I’ve waited a month.

6 September – at the Green Party Autumn Conference Shahrar Ali was elected male deputy leader of the Green Party.

8 September – the ‘GENOCIDE TODAY’ piece was quietly taken down. Since the Green Party has not responded to our complaint about the piece, the reasons for this are unclear. However we do know that somebody had a ‘quiet word’.

12 September – on the Palandisrl list, former Green Party male speaker and newly elected International Coordinator Derek Wall announced that Shahrar Ali would be stepping down as moderator and invited volunteers to replace him. When Martin Deane volunteered Derek Wall, who is himself energetically anti-Zionist, responded that he would be “very happy” for him to take the role.

Perhaps at this stage you’re inclined to shrug - after all, this kind of talk is normal now. But it shouldn’t be because it lowers resistance to antisemitism when what we need to do is make antisemitism strange. Perhaps you’re thinking that I am trying to create a diversion from criticism of Israel. But Greens Engage has frequently directed attention to criticism of Israel. Perhaps you’re of the opinion that the Greens’ creation of the Palandisrl list was a principled measure of containment and damage limitation, a sort of pre-moderation in itself. But the Green Party was aware of antisemitism from these quarters, has taken a policy stand against it, and therefore has a responsibility to keep things clean under that stone. Perhaps you’re wondering why I didn’t pursue the ‘quiet word’ approach – the offending piece is gone now, after all. The reason I wasn’t prepared to pursue the matter informally and discreetly through an intermediary is because I consider that approach ultimately unsustainable, not to mention disempowering for members without these privileged connections to the inner circle of activists.

Perhaps you’re tempted to shoot the messenger or deny that anything antisemitic has or possibly could have happened in the Green Party, because the Green Party is the party of the good people. Well, Shahrar Ali, the moderator of the step change when Martin Deane announced “At this time, to be accused of antisemitism here is a sign we’re probably doing something right” is now a Deputy Leader of the Green Party. His conference speech was all about the need to fight discrimination. That anti-discrimination agenda needs to properly and practically extend to Jews – including Zionist ones, and even when the attacks on them come from what seems to be pro-Palestine campaigning. And then there’s Martin Deane himself, selected to replace Shahrar Ali as moderator of a discussion about Palestine and Israel. So this is not an anti-Green Party post and it’s not suggesting that antisemitism characterises the Green Party. This post has happened because there are no functioning official internal channels for redress on antisemitism.

As well as being frightening and wrong, antisemitism weakens both the Green Party and the cause of Palestinian emancipation. In this case I’m hoping that sunlight is the best disinfectant.

One Voice Meeting in London, October 19th. Would you be interested in meeting a real soldier from Gaza?

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One Voice who campaign for a 2 states solution and who have almost three quarters of a million supporters are holding the following meeting in London on October 19th.

Would you be interested in meeting a real soldier from Gaza?

On October 19th One Voice Europe will be hosting Ezzeldeen Masri in London. He is the Executive Director of One Voice Gaza, and spends every day fighting in Gaza to promote their agenda; namely an end to the conflict by way of two-state solution. He recruits activists in Gaza to help the cause of One Voice, and works tirelessly for peace and two states. He will be joined by Tal Harris, formerly Executive Director of One Voice Israel, who pursued the very same agenda in Israel, running their Tel Aviv office.
One Voice will be holding an event at Alyth Synagogue, Alyth Gardens, London NW11 on 19th October starting at 7.15pm.
Here is the link to buy a ticket, the cost of which is £25.

Some unacknowledged assumptions of standard left and liberal opinion are worth acknowledging – David Hirsh

1. Israel is so powerful that it could, if it chose, simply by an act of the will, make peace or defend itself without hurting anybody. That it doesn’t do it is an indication only of the malice and stupidity of its leaders.

2. America is so powerful that bad things happen in the world only if America wills them, or if America is so utterly negligent as to allow them.

3. Yet America is not sufficiently powerful to act for the good or in the spirit of its stated values and norms.

4. These are fundamentally the assumptions of conspiracy theory. We’d rather believe that the bad people were flying the plane, in their own bad interests, then that nobody is at the controls.

5. It is self-infantilization dressed up as skeptical and mature wisdom. We put ourselves in the position of children, powerless next to the grownups. We relieve ourselves of our share of responsibility for what happens in the world by positioning ourselves as victims of the adults. We oppose, we rebel, we speak truth to power, we have tantrums, we declare “not in my name”, but we never take responsibility.

6. Our only anger is with our own adults, who are responsible for everything bad; we have no anger for others, who are fundamentally driven by passion, incapable of reason, victims of circumstance and who are successful in frightening the grown ups more than we can manage; this gives us a frisson of excitement.

7. Sometimes when things go badly it is appropriate to be angry with those responsible, to denounce them and to demonize them; othertimes when things go badly it is appropriate to empathize with perpetrators and to understand why really our own “grownups” are responsible. Which of these two responses is required depends on whether we wish to punish our enemies or whether we wish to infantilize them and find somebody else responsible.

8. If you want to unsettle the grown ups, be nasty to the Jews.  Jews are “us”, “our grownups”, but not quite “us”.  They’re a bit “other” too.

9. There is no legal, moral or political distinction between intentional killing and other sorts of deaths which are deemed to be avoidable. This is also conspiracy theory; if our grownups willed it, deaths by smoking, sugary drinks, poverty, AIDS, war, disease would all be stopped. Our grownups profit for these deaths and so decide not to stop them. This is the same as murder, genocide, crucifixion and ethnic cleansing.

At the demonstration for the Yazidis at the weekend in London there were about 300 people. There was a chant: “Who are the terrorists?”.

Normally, this question is understood as “Who are the REAL terrorists?”. The answer is Israel or America.

At this demonstration, the answer was “ISIS”.

Q. “Who are the Terrorists?”
A. “The Terrorists are the Terrorists”.

A radical subversion of the dominant paradigm.

David Hirsh

Goldsmiths Sociology

COSATU’s threatening response to the South African Jewish Board of Deputies

 The leader of COSATU in the Western Cape, Tony Ehrenreich, has issued a chilling threat directed against South Africa’s Jewish community. Readers may be reminded of another COSATU official, Bongani Masuku, hosted by BRICUP and UCU back in 2009, despite being deemed guilty of hate speech by the South African Human Rights Commission.

If the Jewish Board of Deputies wants to advance a Zionist agenda, they should leave South Africa and go advance their agenda elsewhere. To let these funders of a war against a defenceless people act with impunity in South Africa, is against South Africa’s commitment to the people of Palestine. The Jewish Board of Deputies must be advised in no uncertain terms that if they are not part of the solution then they are part of the problem.

The Jewish Board of Deputies are given until the 07 August 2014 to stop their Zionist propaganda in Cape Town, failing which we will boycott and call strikes at all of their member – and supporting companies and organisations. The Jewish Board of Deputies should know that just because Premier Zille supports them, it does not mean that they can act with impunity against the will of the majority of South Africans.

R. W. Johnson has responded here. He notes the echoes of earlier antisemitic slurs

The constitution guarantees freedom of speech and of the press but in effect Mr Ehrenreich is trying to insist that these rights do not apply to Jews. Secondly, like anti-Semites through the ages he is attempting to insist that the natural loyalty of Jewish people towards the wider Jewish community means that they thereby disqualify themselves from properly belonging to any country. This was the slur that Stalin cast with his talk of “rootless cosmopolitans” during the so-called “Jewish doctors’ plot”. 

and then goes on to identify the inconsistency of Ehrenreich’s approach which singles out Jews for having (perceived) divided loyalties, when similar logic could be applied to Catholics or Muslims:

Yet this weapon is used selectively. After all, it makes just as much sense to attack Catholics for having a supra-national loyalty to the Pope in Rome or Muslims for their loyalty to an international creed centred on Mecca. Logically, Mr Ehrenreich ought to be telling these groups too that they have forfeited their right to belong to the national community and that they too should leave the country. But he doesn’t. He wishes to single out the Jews.

Johnson could have pressed this point further in order to demonstrate the racism inherent in Ehrenreich’s focus on the SAJBD. For supporting Israel’s actions, or at least not wishing to condemn them, is actually very different from professing loyalty to the Pope or holding Mecca in special veneration. The latter two positions are associated exclusively with Catholics and Muslims, whereas many non-Jews have some degree of support or sympathy for Israel. However they will probably not be aligned with a communal organisation such as SABJD, and are most unlikely (unless extremely vocal) to be affected in any way by COSATU’s stand. It is often asserted by Israel’s more zealous critics that the problem is not Jews, but Zionists. However Ehrenreich’s decision to target the SABJD calls that into question, just as did Masuku’s decision to hold an aggressive demonstration outside a Jewish community centre and synagogue back in 2009.

 

 

Challenging antisemitism on Gaza demonstrations: Reposted from the Workers’ Liberty Website.

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Daniel Randall from Workers’ Liberty has written the following which is re-posted from the Workers’ Liberty website.  You can read the original article here.

On the 26 July London demonstration against Israel’s assault on Gaza, I confronted a man who was carrying a placard which read “Research: The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion”, with an image of a Star of David, dripping blood, with “666” in the centre.

The Protocols are an anti-Semitic forgery dating from Tsarist Russia, which purport to expose a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world. They were used in their time, and have been used since, to whip up racist hatred, often violent, against Jews.

I told the man that racism had no place on the demonstration, that his presence harmed the Palestinian cause, and that the document he was promoting was a racist hoax. In the course of what was probably a not very coherent tirade from me, I mentioned that I was Jewish.

“Well, you’re blinded by your bias because you’re a Jew”, he said. “Only Jews make the arguments you’re making.”

Thereafter the “discussion” became more heated, and several onlookers were drawn in. Several people backed me up, but several defended him.

Their defences ranged from, “he’s opposing Zionists, not Jews”, to “he’s not racist, Zionism is racist!”, to the perhaps more honest “Jews are the problem. If you’re a Jew, you’re racist, you’re what we’re demonstrating against.” One man, topless, but wearing a balaclava, said “fuck off, unless you want your fucking head kicked in.”

I walked away, angry and upset. I returned a short while later to find the placard-holder embracing two young men, before leaving. When me and some comrades challenged them, they told us he wasn’t anti-Semitic, merely anti-Zionist. “Look, it says ‘Zion’”, not ‘Jews’. ‘Zion’ means Zionists”, one helpfully informed us.

Explicit anti-Jewish racism of the kind displayed on the man’s placard has been relatively rare on Palestine solidarity demonstrations in Britain. But the fact that it was present at all, and that it could find even a handful of defenders in a crowd of other demonstrators, is deeply worrying. Pointing to its rarity, and dismissing the problem as restricted solely to fringe elements, would bury one’s head in the sand. As recent events in France and Germany have shown, it is an undeniable fact that there are anti-Semites in the global Palestine solidarity movement, and ones prepared to violently express their anti-Semitism. That must not be allowed to infect the movement in Britain.

I don’t know how easy a ride the man and his placard had on the demonstration before myself and others confronted him. Had official stewards of the march seen the placard, and challenged him? Perhaps he’d spent all day under attack from other demonstrators; I hope so. But when I found him, he was perfectly at his ease, and, as it turned out, surrounded by friends. That is a disappointment. If people with such politics want to attend solidarity demonstrations to peddle them, they should find themselves isolated, and face constant harangue. They shouldn’t be entitled to a moment’s peace.

While outward displays of “classical” anti-Semitism are rare, subtler themes are more common. Placards and banners comparing the Israeli state to Nazism, and its occupation of Palestine to the Holocaust, and images melding or replacing the Star of David with swastikas, are, while far from universal, relatively commonplace. The politics of this imagery, too, has an anti-Semitic logic.

Nazism and the Holocaust – an experience of attempted industrialised genocide, just two generations distant – left deep scars on Jewish identity and collective cultural memory and consciousness, wounds that will take a long time to heal. As others have written recently, no other ethno-cultural group has the most traumatic experience in its history exploited in this way. “Zionism = Nazism”, “Star of David = Swastika”, and “The Occupation = The Holocaust” all use collective cultural trauma as a weapon to attack Jews. The fact that those who take such placards on demonstrations intend only to target the Israeli government, and not Jews in general, is no defence or excuse. The barbarism of Israeli state policy does not make the Jewishness of its government fair game, any more than Barack Obama’s imperialism excuses racist attacks on him.

To describe the Palestinian solidarity movement, as such, as “anti-Semitic” would be a calumny. Cynics and right-wingers have attempted to use incidents of anti-Semitism to extrapolate conclusions about the politics of all marchers, or to imply that any support for the Palestinians at all is somehow anti-Semitic. Such cynical extrapolations are not my intention with this article. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of marchers attended because they want to oppose Israel’s current assault on Gaza. The movement includes many Jews (and not just the theocratic reactionaries of Neturei Karta, but secular-progressive Jews too), and many sincere anti-racists. But a situation where anyone thinks it appropriate to carry such a placard, where he can find supporters, and where such people can openly racially abuse Jewish demonstrators who challenge them, is not tolerable and must be addressed.

Right-wingers in the Jewish community will use instances of anti-Semitism to discredit the Palestinian cause, and dissuade Jews from acting to support it. On this, instrumental, level, anti-Semitism harms the Palestinians. But racism should have no place in any solidarity movement, not because it’s bad PR, but because the politics of solidarity should be anathema to any form of racism.

It is now common in the left-wing blogosphere for articles which contain potentially traumatic content to carry “trigger warnings”, alerting those who have experienced particular traumas that something in the article might trigger painful memories of their experience. To attend a demonstration where Nazism and the Holocaust, the worst and most traumatic of Jewish collective experience, is used as a cheap propaganda tool, and openly anti-Semitic placards are carried and defended, while those challenging them are racially abused, must surely be “triggering” for many Jews. But we can’t put trigger warnings on demonstrations, or on life. All we can do is work to win hegemony for a political culture where such things are confronted and stamped out.

Finally, a “historical” note on placards on Palestine solidarity demonstrations. In 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, some Workers’ Liberty members in Sheffield (three of us, incidentally, Jewish) took placards on a demonstration against the assault which, amongst other things, said “No to IDF, no to Hamas.” As it happens, I now think, for various reasons, that our slogan was misjudged. But no-one attempted to engage us in debate or discussion about it; we were simply screamed at, called (variously) “scabs” and “Zionists”, and told we must immediately leave the demo (we didn’t). Our placards were ripped out of our hands and torn to pieces.

As I say, I don’t know how many people had challenged the racist placard on the 2014 London demonstration before me; several, I hope. But the political atmosphere on the demo was evidently not such that the man carrying it felt unwelcome – and, indeed, when he was challenged, many people leapt to his defence.

I don’t make the comparison in order to express a wish that what happened to us in 2009 had happened to him in 2014. I wouldn’t particularly advocate physically destroying the man’s placard, or attempting to physically drive him and his supporters off the demonstration. But a movement in which “no to IDF, no to Hamas” is considered beyond the pale even for debate and discussion, and must be violently confronted, but a placard promoting The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion can be carried without challenge, even for a moment, and its carrier find numerous defenders, needs to change its political culture.

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