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.

10 Responses to “Challenging antisemitism on Gaza demonstrations: Reposted from the Workers’ Liberty Website.”

  1. Memories of Sheffield Says:

    The incident at Sheffield discussed in the post

    http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/01/18/no-to-idf-no-to-hamas/#comments

  2. gary carp Says:

    Hamas calls for the obliteration of the Jewish State – and de facto – a gencodial attack on Jews…there is no way to square this. Hamas are neo-Nazis. Their supporters are suckered into positions they either haven’t thought through, or have and support. Zionism – the right for the Jewish people to live free of fear in a Jewish – has NEVER been more relevant and necessary than it is today and its importance will only increase until we realise that Hamas, ISIS and the evil philosophy underpinning them is gone.

    • RAL Says:

      You are reaching here! Hamas are anti-semitic, they are NOT neo-Nazi. True many Gaza Palestinians did not vote for them but heck, such is the failing of democracy. Initially Zionnists moved for the creation of Jewish homes in Palestine, through the legal acquisition of Arab land. It was not until the post war period that the drive became a Jewish State. This later movement saw the sequestration of Arab lands. There in lies the problem. That evil philosophy, supposedly underpinning the Hamas & IS movements is not far removed from that underpinning the politico-religious ideology of Netanyahu and the right-wing religious zealots stealing Arab lands on the West Bank and now firmly committed to bloody conflict in Gaza. The excuse of the ‘rocket attacks’ is laid bare when you look at the defensive capabilities of the IDF.

      • east1956 Says:

        While I can readily find much to dislike about Netanyahu, to suggest that his ideas are not far removed from those of Hamas is far fetched and frankly offensive. As far as I am aware Netanyahu does not believe there is a Palestinian / Muslim equivalent of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or that Palestinians or Muslims are the perpetual enemy in an existential war. I have yet to hear Netanyahu express the opinion that it is legitimate or desirable to eradicate Palestinians or Muslims from the face of the earth. Netanyahu’s Likud may be hard-line rightists but to date they haven’t taken to throwing their political rivals off the roof of high buildings, nor has Likud carried out extra-judicial executions of Jews accused of being collaborators, or ordered the bombing of Christian shops for selling bibles or murdering Christian community leaders.
        While I can disagree with Netanyahu’s policies whole heartedly, it is undeniable that in the last 15 years the Palestinians have failed to develop a framework of public administration capable of running an independent state. What nation on earth relies on its enemy to collect tax for it?
        If the PNA cannot assert authority over all its armed forces, how can it enter into a peace treaty and deliver peace? Even under Peres and Rabin, from the outset the PNA failed to keep to the agreement it had entered into, and instead reverted to violence – it is more violent today post-Oslo etc than between 1967 and 1995. So appallingly bad & corrupt is Palestine judiciary that Gazan business persons elect to frame their contracts according to Israeli law and agree to use the Israeli courts to seek redress. If we compare Palestinian progress towards statehood with that of the Zionists from 1948, we must ask ourselves whether Palestine could ever come into being.
        The Palestinians deserve our sympathy and perhaps pity, on one hand they have the hawkish Netanyahu and the Israeli population and on the other they have the corrupt and incompetent PLO / PNA and genocidal Hamas – noneof whom have the interests of the ordinary Palestinians at heart.

  3. Gary Carp Says:

    Those who wish for peace for oppose defence are hypocrites and dangerous fools. Like those who argued appeasement would stop Hitler. When armed and violent bullies confront you, you stand your ground or lose everything.

    • RAL Says:

      Your arguments are poorly put and woefully contorted. This statement can be related as equally to Hamas as you relate it to Netanyahu’s thugish actions “When armed and violent bullies confront you, you stand your ground or lose everything.” If the Palestinians of Gaza do not stand their ground, Netanyahu and his zealots will drive them into the sea! Now is the time for talk, not just to negotiate a lasting ceasefire but to discuss the one, two, three or no state system. Climb down from your high horse and pressure all sides to meet and constructively talk, no preconditions, no ‘redlines’, open, honest and meaningful negotiation.

      • Lynne T Says:

        Clueless. The checkpoint closures and naval blockade came after 18 months of regular rocket attacks in “celebration” of the evacuation of all Israeli citizens from Gaza.Hamas has been very clear about their goal of eradicating Israel and converted humanitarian aid into the tools of carrying out their plan. They are fascists. Period. End of. And there is nothing to be negotiated with them.

  4. east1956 Says:

    The fundamental nature of these marches and their organisation affords “Plausible Deniability” to many who participate in them. Of course the majority don’t see themselves antisemites nor believe in the absurdities of the Protocols and their like. They are concerned individuals making an individual stand on something they believe in and it’s not their responsibility to police other concerned individuals.

    But their lack of challenge to these extremists awards the extremists credibility. “Surely if decent liberals don’t expressly reject and exclude these people from the marches, doesn’t that mean that these so-called extremists may in fact be just passionately concerned people and much of what they claim is actually true?”

    In my opinion this co-location of the “reasonable concerned liberals” and the “fascist racist sectarian conspiracy-theorists” has resulted in a significant degree of cross pollination with the “liberals” becoming corrupted with the fascism of the extremists. So insidious is this that these liberals are wholly unaware of their prejudices, which if they were couched in other non-Jewish / Zionist frameworks would be rejected out of hand.

    We all should make sure that the onus is placed firmly with the Anti-Israel / Zionism liberals to ensure that they are clearly disassociated from the fascists and so distanced that they are unwilling to share a platform with them.
    There are two reasons that a person would wish to associate with the Hamas type fascists; 1 They agree with them, & believe that Jews should be eradicated from the globe or; 2 They regard Hamas etc as racially inferior beings, incapable of rational thought (i.e. Niggers / Wogs / Savages etc etc ). So they are either fascists or racists, or both!

  5. AShaanan Says:

    Why is it that “Engage” finds the need to publish the report of a member of “Workers’ Liberty” who seems concerned that base anti-Jewish hatred is evidenced at such demonstrations?! So what else is new?! To Mr. Randall and his many supporters (are you going to tell me that “Workers’ Liberty” is some sort of mass movement with scores of thousands of active members?!)’ I offer my humble response:

    How interesting that you note these disturbing occurences at demonstrations where, in all likelihood, there are scores of other placards and chants such as “Palestine shall be free-from the river to the sea!” (and just what do you think that means, Mr. Randall?!) and the usual demonization of Israel. Your concerns over such base hatred is rather unconvincing to me, seeing as how the “Workers’ Liberty” website itself refers to Israel’s latest attempts at self-defense as an “obscenity”! (oh if only Mr. Orwell could rise from his grave to see how his description of “doublespeak” language finds active use on the political left!).

    How charming that in all this demonization, you are charitable enough to at least propose a “two-state” solution. By the way, for anyone who might be interested, Hamas has no use for this, as its goal is the murder of Jews and the elimination of Israel (of course for you this may be no great “obscenity”). And the grandfatherly Mr. Abbas, so beloved by the delusional Israeli and international left, also has no use for the Jewish state. All this can be verified by (in this webworld of instant media) listening to and reading what they say. For many of us in Israel, we (including my wife) need no special translation services from the Arabic to figure out what’s being said!

    So, Mr. Randall, I applaud you in your efforts to expose anti-Jewish hatred on the left (radical or otherwise). Maybe you will come to realize what other ordinary mortals realize about the left’s endemic and vituperative hatred of Jewish nationhood and its double standards that often degenerate into anti-Jewish canards and action. And maybe, just maybe, as a Jew, you will finally understand how you are seen by your “comrades” and the way in which that identity (welcomed by you or not) is used by them both to justify their hatreds and also to castigate you and other Jews ( not just the awful “racist, imperialist, militaristic, fascist” Jews of Israel).

    My grandmother used to say “You can’t piss up my back and call it rain!” Take note, Mr. Randall!

  6. Philip Says:

    One thing I’ve noticed (not in the comments above, but in general) is that some people are saying that protesters should not be using antisemetic boards, chants etc. because it damages the Palestinian cause. That’s true. But more importantly, antisemtism is just plain wrong. Whether it damages the Palestinian cause or not, or indeed in every other setting. Full stop.


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