Dave Osler’s Review of Colin Shindler’s “Israel and the European Left”

Dave Osler’s blog  is one of the more interesting far left  blogs. I have serious disagreements with Dave with regard to his view that a single state  (albeit a bi-national state)  is the only solution (or any solution)  to the Israel – Palestine conflict. But none the less, Dave certainly doesn’t go in for the vulgar anti-zionism of much of the far left and he takes anti-semitism on the left seriously. So it’s unfortunate that when he posts a review (much of which i disagree with) of  Colin Shindler’s new book  “Israel and the European Left”, the comments section, instead of providing a forum for an interesting debate on an interesting subject, turns into what can only be described as a cess-pit of abuse. So i’m cross-posting his piece below and hope that there’s an interesting debate in the comments section here at Engage.

Book review: ‘Israel and the European Left’ by Colin Shindler

THE allegation of ‘delegitimization’ is a particular shapeless charge to find oneself having to plead against. Yet as the subtitle to this book indicates, such is the broad brush accusation facing all sections of the European socialist movement over the last century, with Colin Shindler making the case that leftists have been in the business of delegitimizing the state of Israel even before the state of Israel came into existence.

It is of course true that some of those in the dock do have form. Even so, I must direct any fair minded jury to acquit the bulk of the defendants.

This volume is largely written backwards from the final chapter, which documents the peculiarly British – and not, to my knowledge anyway, Europe-wide – alliance between some socialist traditions and offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK, which has often been accompanied by anti-semitic rhetorical flourishes.

Shindler’s essential contention is that, at some level, ‘twas ever thus. The troubled history of the relationship between Marxism and Zionism since the inception of both creeds is accordingly given a thorough airing.

But his definition of ‘delegitimization’ is never spelt out. At one level, any criticism of anything can be portrayed as delegitimizing its target. And there are many things that the state of Israel does that are surely worthy of moral opprobrium.

There are the illegal settlements on the West Bank, the blockade of the Gaza Strip, the war crimes witnessed during Operation Cast Lead and the ‘separation fence’, to name just a few of the ignominies perpetrated by successive administrations. Professor Shindler seemingly doesn’t like to mention these things: for the left to leave them out of the equation would be an unforgiveable dereliction of duty.

Nor does it ‘delegitimize’ Israel to insist that the specific circumstances of its birth necessitate its reconstitution as a binational secular state. Israel exists and has the right to exist: what it does not have is the right comprehensively to dispossess Palestine.

Such was the position of much of the early Zionist left, as well as such luminaries as Hannah Arendt and Martin Buber. It remains the only basis for a just and durable settlement of the Israel’s manifest oppression of another nation.

This continues to be a coherent stance for democratic socialists. To use a quotation from Richard Crossman that Shindler highlights, there is no requirement for us to be ‘emotionally pro-Jew’ but rather ‘rationally anti anti-semitic’.

The Stalinist tradition, of course, could save the court’s time by at once entering a guilty plea. The evidence against it, from the Slansky Trial and the Doctors’ Plot on to the purges that swept Poland in the late 1960s, will be all too familiar to anyone who has read, say, Paul Lendvai’s instructive ‘Anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe’.

That the Workers’ Revolutionary Party whored itself for the petrodollars necessary to sustain a daily newspaper is also a matter of record. But while it was a leading sect in its day, it was a sect, limited in influence beyond its few thousand adherents.

Nor do I care for some of the formulations in some of the literature published by the Socialist Workers’ Party since it discovered Islamism as a revolutionary force, somewhere around the time the WRP gave Healy the boot.

But let us not exaggerate the influence of an organisation that, in cahoots with wider forces, secured just 0.8% in the recent London assembly vote, and would get less than that nationwide were it even remotely capable of fielding a full slate in a general election.

Shindler’s work is obviously one of polemic rather than scholarship. This can be seen by its regular lapses into downright sloppiness: the dictatorial head of East Germany in the 1950s and 1960s was not Walter ‘Ulbrecht’, and the Indian National Conference went out of business long before 1940. There are also numerous grammatical infelicities that sometimes leave meaning unclear.

Sweeping assertions are made on the basis of secondary sources. I do not pretend special expertise on the political thought of early twentieth century Austro-Marxist Otto Bauer, but I would need substantiation before accepting that a sophisticated intellectual ‘understood Jewishness only in the imagery of the non-productive Jew and believer in religious supernaturalism in the poverty-stricken shtetl’.

But most of all I object to the obviously silly claim that Britain’s revolutionary socialists would have collaborated with Nazism had Britain been conquered by Germany in 1940. This nonsense is advanced in the very opening sentences of the foreword, presumably to set out the idea that these people were irredeemably tainted by anti-semitism.

The track record of Communists and Trotskyists in this regards compares favourably with that of the Stern Gang, which actually did propose alliance with the Nazis, and Rudolf Kastner, who came to terms with Hitler’s representatives, albeit under duress.

Let us not forget that the left led the resistance to fascism in occupied Europe, and many comrades bravely laid down their lives to that end. Frankly, they do not deserve to have the likes of Shindler spit on their graves for the sake of catchpenny advantage in British Zionism’s contemporary bust up with the SWP.

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