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

logo

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.

Roger Waters in Salon

Recently Roger Waters wrote a letter protesting against being singled out for criticism by Gerald Ronson at a CST dinner.

“Because I am a critic of this Israeli government’s policies and in the absence of this Israeli government producing cogent arguments to defend themselves from my criticism, I am instead routinely subjected to the accusation that I am an anti-Semite.

“This is a pattern, a crude pattern, but nevertheless an identifiable and repeated pattern, a part of the general tactic of ‘Hasbara’, (‘Explaining’ or ‘Propaganda’ to those of you with no Hebrew). The escalation of this aggressive ‘Hasbara’ may well be a reaction to the fact that BDS is gaining ground, day by day and year by year, all over the world.”

This is an absurd and insulting response to those who have censured his appallingly ill-judged remarks.  These include many who are themselves critical of the policies of Israel’s current government.

In a more recent article, this time in Salon, Waters does at least acknowledge why people have accused him of antisemitism.

“When I remarked in a recent interview on historical parallels, stating that I would not have played Vichy France or Berlin in World War II, it was not my intention to compare the Israelis to Nazis or the Holocaust to the decades-long oppression of the Palestinians.  There is no comparison to the Holocaust.  Nor did I intend or ever wish to compare the suffering of Jews then with the suffering of Palestinians now.  Comparing suffering is a painful, grotesque and diminishing exercise that dishonors the specific memory of all our fallen loved ones.”

It may not have been his intention to compare Israel to the Nazis – but the comparison was pretty obvious to most readers.  Given that Waters does seem to concede that such a parallel would be grotesque, it is bizarre that he frames this article around the figure of his father, a man he never met, who died seventy years ago fighting Hitler.  His mother also, he explains, dedicated her life to ensuring ‘that her children, and everyone else’s children, had no Sword of Damocles in the form of the despised Nazi Creed or any other despicable creed hanging over their heads.’(italics mine)

A few lines later Waters explains that his pro-Palestinian activism is driven by memories of his anti-fascist parents.

“And, at this point in my journey, I like to think that I pay tribute to both my parents each time I speak out in support of any beleaguered people denied the freedom and justice that I believe all of us deserve.”

For someone to claim that he wishes to distance himself from offensive parallels between Nazism and Zionism, he has an odd way of trying to reassure readers who ‘cruelly and wrongly’ have found his words antisemitic.

Roger Waters keeps digging

In the past Roger Waters has reacted with indignation to accusations of antisemitism.

Waters has spoken against Israeli policies and accused the ADL of painting critics as anti-Semitic.

“It’s a screen that they hide behind. I don’t think they should be taken seriously on that. You can attack Israeli policy without being anti-Jewish,” he said.

“It’s like saying if you criticise the US policy you are being anti-Christian. I’m critical of the Israeli policy of occupying Palestinian land and their policy of building settlements, which is entirely illegal under international law, and also of ghettoising the people whose land they are building on.

It is indeed perfectly possible to attack Israeli policy without being anti-Jewish.  However in a recent interview with Counterpunch Waters, as well as offering a rather selective and tendentious analysis of the current situation in Israel, deploys arguments and parallels which go well beyond just being ‘critical of Israeli policy’.

I would not have played for the Vichy government in occupied France in the Second World War, I would not have played in Berlin either during this time. Many people did, back in the day. There were many people that pretended that the oppression of the Jews was not going on. From 1933 until 1946. So this is not a new scenario. Except that this time it’s the Palestinian People being murdered. It’s the duty of every thinking human being to ask: “What can I do?”.

Although the comparisons between Israel and Apartheid South Africa have rightly been criticised, there are certainly some similarities between the two boycott campaigns.  But rather than using what one might have thought the most intuitive parallel for a BDS advocate, Waters feels compelled to turn to Nazi Germany in order to make a grotesque parallel between the situation of the Palestinians today and the Holocaust.

Later Waters explains why he thinks more people in the music industry don’t share his wish to boycott Israel:

This has been a very hard sell particularly where I live in the United States of America. The Jewish lobby is extraordinary powerful here and particularly in the industry that I work in, the music industry and in rock’n roll as they say. I promise you, naming no names, I’ve spoken to people who are terrified that if they stand shoulder to shoulder with me they are going to get fucked.

This doesn’t really require further comment – but here is a reminder that failing to heed the pressure to boycott can also seem like a difficult, even dangerous, step for artists and musicians.

Remembering Auschwitz – by Sarah AB

By chance I received two tweets on this topic in immediate succession.  The first was to an article in the Independent, on the importance of remembering the Holocaust.  The second was a link to a post about a quite appalling ‘joke’ made by a natural gas company in Estonia, who juxtaposed an image of the gate to Auschwitz with a chirpy recommendation to buy their product.

The executive director of the company had taken this photograph himself, and expressed no remorse for his actions, casually citing the fact that people make jokes about such matters as though to excuse what he had done.

The Independent article, by Melissa Pawson, is a reflective piece on her own experience of visiting Auschwitz, her disappointment and surprise at hearing that a friend knew nothing of the Holocaust, and her feeling that we should remember these events because terrible things have not stopped happening today – she refers to Breivik, Srebrenica and Rwanda as examples.

Although I would not take issue with the article on this account, I think it is also worth remembering that antisemitism in particular, as well as hatred and bigotry in general, have not yet disappeared.  The Estonia story reflects this, and so, unfortunately, do some of the comments under Pawson’s piece.

Some assert that the Holocaust is used to justify Israeli aggression.  A popular comment accuses the ‘Jewish Lobby’ of trying to stop the Armenian Holocaust being recognized.  Someone else observes that: ‘More people know of Hitler’s genocides at Auschwitz than know of the Sharon’s genocides at Sabra.’ There is little challenge to such views on the thread, except of outright Holocaust denial.

I was particularly sorry to see the Porrajmos, or Roma Holocaust, invoked as a kind of weapon in this antisemitic discourse.  I think people do need to be aware of the Porrajmos, particularly in the light of growing anti-Roma feeling in Europe, and there is in fact a great deal of cooperation between Jewish and Roma artists and activists helping to commemorate this aspect of the Holocaust.

Sarah AB

Vile anti-Zionist “logic” at Guardian Comment is Free

This is a cross-post by Mark Gardner at the CST blog

A 2010 survey by Jewish Policy Research examined the real interconnection between Jews and Zionists and Israel; and showed why the border between hatred of Jews, Zionism and Israel can be so porous.

  • 72% of British Jews self-categorise as “Zionists”
  • 82% of British Jews say Israel plays a “central” or “important but not central role in their Jewish identities”
  • 87% of British Jews agree “that Jews are responsible for ensuring ‘the survival of Israel’”
  • 54% of British Jews who do not self-categorise as “Zionists” nevertheless agree “that Jews are responsible for ensuring ‘the survival of Israel”
  • 62% of self-described Zionists agree that Israel should give up land for peace
  • 78% of British Jews believe in a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict

These figures demonstrate the hurt that is caused to ordinary Jews when “anti-Zionists” push their dehumanised and demonised perversions of the word “Zionism”. This is done by everyone from Marxists to Nazis to Jihadis: but it can also seep into mainstream media, including the Guardian’s Comment is Free (CiF) website.

The latest example of Guardian CiF facilitating such perversion is an article by “philosopher”, Slavoj Zizek. It demonises the meaning of Zionism; tries to somehow equate Zionism with the twisted mind of Norwegian terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik; says that Zionist Jews regard other Jews like antisemites do; and ends with an ill-defined lunge at alleged Zionist relations and parallels with the attitudes of Christian fundamentalists and Nazis (Austrian ones no less)!

This kind of prejudicial hysteria shows why so many people in the Jewish community have utterly given up on the Guardian. Not just given up, but actually believe it to be one of the primary facilitators of antisemitism in Britain today.

It is not really because of what the Guardian says directly about Jews, but rather because of what it says directly about Zionism and Israel, how often it says it; and how Jews instinctively perceive that this must, inevitably, have harmful impacts for how “correct-thinking people” feel about them. (Look again at the above statistics to see why this would be the case.)

This kind of intellectual anti-Zionist veneer allows antisemitism to take hold: despite whatever sincere opposition Zizek and his publishers actually feel and voice regarding that utterly predictable and depressing outcome.

Having written for CiF, I know its rigorous editorial standards. For me, this makes the publication of Zizek’s article all the more startling. Nominally, the article is about the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik. Its title gives no clue about the anti-Zionist screed that follows:

 A vile logic to Anders Breivik’s choice of target

Like Pim Fortuyn before him, Breivik embodies the intersection between rightist populism and liberal correctness

Zizek’s article is 1,553 words long, but over half (797) of these words are in sections concerning (mainly condemning) Zionism or Israel, some of it adapted and grafted from his 2010 book, “Living in the End Times”. What the bulk of this has to do with Breivik is anybody’s guess – as is how it passed the editorial process.

Zizek begins by explaining different aspects of Breivik’s ideology. The first sniff of the“vile logic” comes after he describes Breivik as antisemitic, yet pro-Israel, then writing:

He [Breivik] realises the ultimate paradox of a Zionist Nazi – how is this possible?

Here Zizek betrays his bias, and his playing fast and loose with terminology as and when it suits him rhetorically to do so. Firstly, he knows full well that Breivik cannot simply be pigeonholed as a “Nazi”: Zizek himself wrote as much, in the preceding paragraph. Secondly, it is a total perversion of the word “Zionist” for Zizek to employ it here: demonising it to mean the same as Breivik’s (1) hatred of Muslims and (2) attendant support for Israel as the supposed first line of anti-Muslim defence.

Nevertheless, this rhetorical flourish provides the lift-off for Zizek’s hateful riff. He alleges an accommodation between Israel, Zionism and the European right’s attitude to “Islamicisation and multiculturalism”. There are heated debates within Israeli, Zionist and Jewish circles over this and I have participated in many such debates: but to simply characterise the most right wing elements as the current Israeli and Zionist position is deeply misleading, malicious and ultimately another quite pathetic example of Zizek attempting to demonise Zionism.

Then, there is an especially outrageous attack upon Zionists for aping antisemites’ anti-Jewish “logic”.

Zizek alleges Zionism has:

come to adopt some antisemitic logic in its hatred of Jews who do not fully identify with the politics of the state of Israel

It would have been bizarre enough had Zizek alleged such hatred from Zionists towards anti-Zionist Jewish activists, but read his words again: this Zionist semi-antisemitism and full on hatred is supposedly directed against all who “do not fully identify with the politics of the state of Israel”. Next, there is a similarly scandalous allegation concerning Zionist construction of “the figure of the Jew who doubts the Zionist project”. Zizek’s casual transition between these descriptions typifies his lack of care over terminology, despite the sensitivity of the subject (for Jews at least).

Contemplate European antisemitism in all of its historical, recent and current modes. There is no fit between any of this and even the harshest pro-Zionist attitude to the most ardent Jewish anti-Zionists. (Not that Zizek means the extremes anyway.) At worst, Jewish anti-Zionists are derided as “self-haters”: an ugly, hurtful and not especially accurate term, but not congruent with antisemitism, be it Christian, economic, nationalist, Communist, racial-biological, revolutionary new left, or whatever.

Zizek’s claim that Zionism has “come to adopt some antisemitic logic in its hate”is explained by his stating that Zionists construct the non-Zionist Jew as “dangerous because he lives among us, but is not really one of us”. If this is what antisemitism amounts to, rather than, say because they conspire as the demonic Other / anti-Christ / the world bankers / the global war-makers / the race polluters etc etc: then Zizek might as well argue that any dissenting opinions within a single community share a resemblance to antisemitism. He could as simplistically say that disputes between different Muslim groups have “some antisemitic logic”.

Eventually, the article ends with overblown claims of collusion between Israel and “US” and “Christian” “fundamentalists” (both terms are used), before he references a depiction of two Austrian Nazis, and departs with one final demonization, writing:

These are today’s allies of the state of Israel.

The emphasis is Zizek’s, not mine. It is not entirely clear if he means that it is Christian fundamentalists, American fundamentalists or Nazis who are “today’s allies of Israel”. Whatever: it is one final, dirty twist.

Ben Gidley – The Case of Anti-Semitism in the University and College Union

In response to the University and College Union’s Congress Motion 70 to banish the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism, Ben Gidley, an academic who studies racism, has a piece in the Dissent blog Arguing the World, titled ‘The Politics of Defining Racism: The Case of Anti-Semitism in the University and College Union‘, which we have permission to reproduce in full.

~~~

My trade union, the University and College Union (UCU, representing professionals in further and higher education in the United Kingdom), has its annual congress this weekend, and, under the title “Campaigning for equality,” will be debating a number of motions on racism and discrimination, including one on how anti-Semitism should be defined.

Unions need policies on such things, because union case work, on relations between employees and management and among colleagues, often involves discrimination and harassment that may be racist. At times like now, when there are huge cuts in higher education and academics are being placed under ever more performance pressure by management, harassment and workplace tensions can increase, and these issues become even more important.

But there are many difficulties in addressing racism.

Racism is mercurial. It mutates over time. Pseudoscientific racial theories are now spouted only by marginal cranks. Notions that different races are different species have come and gone; eugenics has come and gone; words like “Aryan” and “Semitic” are starting to sound quaint. The period since the 1980s has seen the rise of cultural racism, or racism that focuses on cultural differences rather than biological ones.

Racism is promiscuous. It will use whatever materials it has at hand. In the age when the Church dominated European ways of thinking, racism used a Biblical language; Jews were attacked as Christ-killers, black people were condemned as under the curse of Ham. With the modern rise of scientific disciplines, racism had access to a whole new language. When that language was discredited by the Nazi genocide, new forms of expression were found—those others don’t share our way of life, they cook food that smells, they control the media, or they have a culture of criminality.

Racism proceeds through euphemism and code. At various points, “aliens,” “cosmopolitan,” “Zionist,” and “finance capital” have served as euphemisms for Jews; while the Nazis spoke about sub-humans, today’s anti-Semites mutter about Lehman Brothers or Goldman Sachs. Sometimes it is impossible to distinguish the code from what’s behind it—are Muslims hated by racists in Western Europe because of their perceived color and culture, or are North Africans and South Asians hated because they are Muslim?

Some racists wear Ku Klux Klan uniforms, or shave their heads and perform Nazi salutes. But others wear suits and ties and talk about “free speech” or the “rights of the indigenous people.” We’re not against black people, says the British National Party, we’re just for white people. We’re not fascists, says the rebranded National Front in France, we even have a black candidate.

Libraries full of books and journals full of articles are devoted to debating, dissecting, and defining racism in general, and tracking its specific mutations. For every definition or classification proposed, there are qualifications, exceptions, counterexamples, refutations. No one-page definition would be universally accepted by scholars.

But in the streets, in the workplace, and in the courts of law, you need something more straightforward. When a grassroots civil society organization monitors racist incidents, when a union is asked to represent a colleague that has been the victim of racist bullying, when a lawyer prosecutes a racially aggravated crime, when an editorial assistant has to moderate an op-ed comment thread where temperatures have been raised—you might need some kind of working definition to rule the incident in or out. If all racists looked like booted boneheads or evil Nazis, these people would have an easy job.

A few principles have emerged from the anti-racist movement to help decide a case. Three are particularly relevant. First, the victims of racism should have at least some say in defining racism. This principle is reflected, for example, in British law. Following the racist murder and failure to prosecute the killers of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager, in London, there was a thorough review of the case that profoundly changed how the criminal justice system in the United Kingdom addresses these issues, presided over by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny.

The ensuing Macpherson Report in 1999 recommended that a racist incident be defined as “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person,” and reported, recorded, and investigated as such. Of course, the offense taken by someone who sees him or herself as a victim can never be a sufficient criterion for ruling and convicting someone of a racially motivated or aggravated crime, but the victim’s voice should be heard and constitutes at least prima facie grounds for taking the allegation seriously. And this principle also means, for instance, that black people should have a role in defining anti-black racism, that Jews should have a role in defining anti-Semitism, and so on.

Second, racist intent is not necessary for a statement or action to be racist. Acting in good faith, believing oneself not to be racist, and being ignorant of what constitutes racism do not exempt us. In fact, anti-racists have long argued that racism is so pervasive that we are all often unconsciously racist. We are not aware of the implications of our words and actions, of the connotations they have, of the harm they might cause. The issue that matters, in other words, is racist deeds and words, not racist people. Combating racism does not require an inquisition into our souls; it requires attention to the impact of our actions. This principle is taken further in the concept of “institutional racism,” defined initially by Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael, whose words were drawn on in the Macpherson report, which defined it as the

collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.

The key word here is “unwitting”: it is not racist intent that matters, but the harm done. Saying “some of my best friends are black” doesn’t let you off the hook.

Third, context matters. A word might be racist in one context but not another. This principle is well established in British case law around racially aggravated crimes. For instance, in the case Director of Public Prosecutions v M 2004, the Divisional Court held that the phrase “‘bloody foreigners’ could, depending on the context, demonstrate hostility to a racial group.” This was cited in Rogers v Regina 2007, when one of the judges, Baroness Hale, said, “The context will illuminate what the conduct shows.” For example, the word “Zionist” means something very different in the name of the Zionist Federation than it would if a BNP member were to walk into a synagogue and shout, “Kill the Zionists.”
DEFINING ANTI-SEMITISM has become one of the most difficult instances of defining racism. This is partly because of the particularly strange mutation of anti-Semitism in recent years, including the emergence of what has contentiously been called “the new anti-Semitism.”

Far-right anti-Semitic movements increasingly borrow the language of anti-Zionism as a cover for their racism, and far-right anti-Semitic ideas have in turn increasingly gained traction among anti-Zionists. For example, anti-Zionists have taken up the old Christian anti-Semitic “blood libel” myth, while neo-Nazis have taken up ideas from the anti-Zionist movement, such as the idea of an all-powerful “Israel lobby.” So, while the British Chief Rabbi’s claim that we are experiencing a “tsunami of anti-Semitism” is almost certainly exaggerated, it is certainly the case that there has been a surge in the last decade.

This surge has mainly been seen in different sorts of places than where anti-Semitism has traditionally been encountered. In fact, it is often expressed by the intelligent, thoughtful, anti-racist academics who make up UCU’s rank and file.

In 2008, for example, a union activist circulated an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory taken from the website of the Ku Klux Klan’s David Duke to hundreds of union members on its activist list. When this was mentioned on a blog, rather than apologizing, she took the advice of a senior union member and threatened legal action, getting the blog closed down. To my knowledge, this activist was never censured within the union. (In contrast, leading campaigners against an academic boycott of Israel were excluded from the same email list for minor infringements of etiquette.) Several Jewish academics resigned in what they saw as the rise of a culture of institutional anti-Semitism.

The following year, a senior union member posted an article to a website circulating another anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, complaining that Jews are overrepresented in Parliament and that Tony Blair’s New Labour project is in thrall to Zionist money distributed by suspicious “shape-shifting” financiers. A couple of months later, a UCU branch secretary, speaking at a UCU congress fringe meeting, promoted yet another anti-Semitic conspiracy theory: lawyers ruling on union boycott policy have “bank balances from Lehman Brothers that can’t be tracked down.” Again, no censure from the union. The same year, UCU hosted South African trade unionist Bongani Masuku, allowing him to address UCU members on boycotting Israel, despite the fact that the South African Human Rights Commission (HRC) had found Masuku guilty of hate speech against Jews.

These incidents might suggest that there is a need for action and robust guidance on anti-Semitism within the union. Instead, the leadership has insisted on seeing all these instances as nothing other than legitimate criticisms of Israel. In 2006, the union executive published a formal statement denying that “criticism of the Israeli government is in itself anti-Semitic” and claiming that “defenders of the Israeli government’s actions have used a charge of anti-Semitism as a tactic in order to smother democratic debate, and in the context of Higher Education, to restrict academic freedom.” This was formalized as union policy at its 2007 congress, which resolved that “criticism of Israel cannot [emphasis added] be construed as anti-semitic”—a motion that seems to me to deny the obvious reality that some criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. The following year, another policy passed, clarifying it: “Criticism of Israel or Israeli policy are [sic] not, as such, anti-semitic.” Again, the resolution did not acknowledge that some criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.

By 2009, there had been so many resignations from the union because of this sort of thing that a motion was put to the congress noting the resignations and mandating that the national executive investigate the causes. This was rejected by a large majority.

When it was pointed out to UCU that its guest Bongani Masuku had been criticized by the HRC, rather than taking this institution and its findings seriously, the UCU dismissed this as “stuff doing the rounds on the internet”—shocking ignorance of post-apartheid South Africa for a union whose leaders regularly use the apartheid analogy to describe Israel, but also an a priori refusal to take racism against Jews as seriously as other racisms. A motion to UCU congress noting the HRC’s findings and disassociating congress from Masuku’s anti-Semitic views was formally rejected by an overwhelming show of hands. This near-unanimity in rejecting criticism of anti-Semitism led to a number of resignations from the union, from Jewish colleagues who took it as a sign that anti-Semitism was thoroughly institutionalized in it.

The culture in the UCU has been to dismiss in advance any criticism of racism against Jews, seeing it as merely a tactic to smother debate and criticism. While a handful of anti-Zionist Jews have applauded this, many academics from the Jewish community have felt increasingly isolated, their own understanding of racism not taken seriously, violating the principle that the victims of racism should have some voice in its definition. The a priori dismissal of allegations of anti-Semitism follows what David Hirsh has called “the Livingstone formulation”—the claim that allegations of anti-Semitism are made in bad faith to stifle debate. By alleging that Jews are merely crying anti-Semitism to stop people talking about Israel, the UCU leadership cries Israel to stop people talking about anti-Semitism.
WHICH BRINGS us up to the present, and the latest motion on anti-Semitism. This motion notes “with concern [that] the so-called ‘EUMC working definition of anti-Semitism,’ while not adopted by the EU or the UK government and having no official status,” is being used by student unions in relation to campus activities. It states a belief that “the EUMC definition confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine anti-Semitism, and is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus.” Then it resolves that the union do three things: not make use of the definition (“e.g. in educating members or dealing with internal complaints”), disassociate itself from the definition in anypublic discussion on the matter in which the UCU is involved, and “campaign for an open debate on campus concerning Israel’s past history and current policy, while continuing to combat all forms of racial or religious discrimination.”

Every clause of the motion is deeply problematic. What is this “so-called” EUMC working definition? The EUMC was the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, an agency of the European Union. It was itself preceded by the Commission on Racism and Xenophobia (CRX), established in 1994, known as the Kahn Commission. The CRX became the EUMC in 1998 with an official mandate from the European Commission. Among other things, the EUMC published one of the most important studies of Islamophobia in Europe, in 2002, summarizing several separate reports on specific aspects of Islamophobia from the member states of the EU. In 2007 the EUMC became the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA). The FRA has continued the important work of the EUMC in documenting anti-Roma racism and homophobia across Europe.

It reports annually on discrimination and fundamental rights in the EU, and therefore reports on anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic incidents. It is only natural that it should seek a standard, usable, operational definition of anti-Semitism, just as its massive Islamophobia report set out a working definition of that form of racism. To this end, it published a one-page working definition in 2005. This has been adopted by the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Enquiry into Anti-Semitism in 2006, by several branches of the National Union of Students (NUS), and more recently by the NUS itself.

The text defined anti-Semitism thus: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” In the fifth line, it continued: “In addition, such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” Note, not “do” but “could,” and not Israel as such but Israel “conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” It proceeds to give examples of what anti-Semitic incidents might look like. These include stereotyping Jews, including the myth of a “world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media,” as well as holding all Jews responsible for the actions of some Jews.

Then, it gives examples of how anti-Semitism might manifest itself with regard to Israel, which David Hirsh summarizes concisely:

It may, in some contexts, be anti-Semitic to accuse Jews of being more loyal to Israel than to their union; to say Israel is a racist endeavour; to apply double standards; to boycott Israelis but not others for the same violations; to say that Israeli policy is like Nazi policy; to hold Jews collectively responsible for the actions of Israel.

And here too there is a caveat in the working definition: these might be anti-Semitic, “taking into account the overall context.” In other words, talking about hidden Lehman Brothers bank accounts might be completely legitimate in the context of analyzing the subprime collapse, but not when talking about the politics of people who just happen to be Jews and have no connection to the bank, at a time when conspiracy theories about it are circulating on the Internet.

After the list of examples, the report insists, “However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled at any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.” This sentence is important, and its existence refutes the second clause of the UCU motion, that “the EUMC definition confuses criticism of Israeli government policy and actions with genuine anti-Semitism, and is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus.” Not only does the motion name no instances when this has happened (because it is highly unlikely any such instances have ever occurred), but the working definition itself explicitly avoids the claim that criticism of Israel “in itself” is to be regarded as anti-Semitic.
FOR ALL the reasons I’ve made clear in this article, any definition of any racism is bound to be imperfect, and the EUMC working definition is no exception. I would not want it to be included without amendment in employment law, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for it to be adopted by the UK government—and, indeed, I’ve not heard of any of the working definition’s advocates arguing it should be. (In fact, it would be bizarre if the British state did adopt it formally, as the government has affirmedthat it includes anti-Semitism among the racisms covered by the Macpherson definition of a racist incident discussed above—an incident “perceived to be racist by the victim.” That definition is significantly broader than the EUMC’s.)

But the EUMC definition is a guide, a working definition, and this makes it useful in deciding when, for example, to take seriously and investigate an internal complaint. The working definition could never be used to definitively rule an incident in or out. Its uses of “could” and “context” make this clear. The specific context of an internal complaint would always have to be the determining factor. To resolve to make no use of the document in such circumstances is therefore ridiculous. Similarly, it might be useful in an education setting as a heuristic device for examining different manifestations of racism—also perversely ruled out by the motion.

For the union to disassociate itself from the working definition in any public discussion of anti-Semitism is beyond ridiculous. It means insisting that all of the organizations that do take the working definition seriously—the Community Security Trust (CST), which monitors anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom; the NUS; the Union of Jewish Students; the Fundamental Rights Agency; the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe—are dismissed in advance. It undermines their work on anti-Semitism, and it undermines their vital work on anti-Roma racism, Islamophobia, and other racisms.

In the workplace, as the CST’s director writes, this “will serve to (even) further alienate Jews from the union; and it will make it (even) harder for anti-Semitism to be raised there as a matter of concern….[I]t carries the implication that people who complain about anti-Semitism in any Israel-related context are likely to be a bunch of liars, dancing to a pre-ordained tune.”

As an academic who studies racism, I find it bizarre that my union cannot accept that there is even the faintest possibility that institutional racism might exist in our own ranks, even after a series of clearly documented incidents and a shocking number of resignations by Jewish members who perceive it as such. This motion, if passed, will in fact legitimate racism in the union and stop any allegation of anti-Semitism—in debates or in the workplace—from being taken seriously. That the motion will be tabled in a session entitled “Campaigning for equality” is ironic, but the irony tastes bitter indeed.

This piece by Ben Gidley is at Dissent’s Arguing The World blog.

Howard Jacobson: Ludicrous, brainwashed prejudice

This piece, by Howard Jacobson, is from The Independent

So that’s Passover almost done with for another year.

Except that Passover is never done with. To me it’s the greatest Jewish festival because the story is so good. We sit around the Seder table and relate, over and over, as though we still can’t believe it, our escape from Egypt. Every depiction of the Last Supper shows Jesus relating the same story.

There’s a song Jews sing at Passover – “Dayenu”. The word means “it would have been sufficient”, or “enough already”. It would have been sufficient had God only done this for us, and stopped there. Each verse records what he did next, insisting that that, too, would have been enough. It is written in the hypothetic-preconditional tense, imagining a lesser deliverance which we would have settled for, while at the same time acknowledging that we aren’t out of the woods yet. As a boy I felt fraught during the Passover service because it seemed that even as we celebrated a narrow escape from one disaster, we were preparing for the next. A Jew has either to be ignorant of his history or mad to suppose that what has happened before won’t happen again.

Myself, I wouldn’t bet heavily on there being good times ahead for Jews. Anti-Zionists can assure me all they like that their position entails no harm to Jews – only witness how many Jews are themselves anti-Zionist, they say – I no longer believe them. Individually, it is of course possible to care little for Israel and to care a great deal for Jews. But in the movement of events individuals lose their voice. What carries the day is consensus, and consensus is of necessity unsubtle. By brute consensus, now, Israel is the proof that Jews did not adequately learn the lesson of the Holocaust.

Forget Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is old hat. The new strategy – it showed its hand in Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children, and surfaced again in Channel 4’s recent series The Promise – is to depict the Holocaust in all its horror in order that Jews can be charged (“You, of all people”) with failing to live up to it. By this logic the Holocaust becomes an educational experience from which Jews were ethically obliged to graduate summa cum laude, Israel being the proof that they didn’t. “Jews know more than anyone that killing civilians is wrong,” resounds an unmistakably authorial voice in The Promise. Thus are Jews doubly damned: to the Holocaust itself and to the moral wasteland of having found no humanising redemption in its horrors.

It matters not a jot to me that the writer/director of The Promise is a Jew. Jews succumbing to the age-old view of them and reviling what’s Jewish in themselves has a long history. Peter Kosminsky would have it that his series is about Israel, not Jews, but in The Promise Israel becomes paradigmatic of the Jews’ refusal to be improved by affliction.

In a morally intelligent world – that’s to say one in which, for starters, Jews are not judged more harshly than their fellows for having been despatched to concentration camps – The Promise would be seen for the ludicrous piece of brainwashed prejudice it is. Ofcom’s rejection of complaints about the drama’s partiality and inaccuracy was to be expected. You can’t expect a body as intellectually unsophisticated as Ofcom to adjudicate between claims of dramatic truth and truth of any other sort. And for that reason it should never have been appealed to. That said, its finding that The Promise was “serious television drama, not presented as a historical and faithful re-creation”, is a poor shot at making sense of anything. You can’t brush aside historical re-creation in a work of historical re-creation, nor can you assert a thing is “serious television” when its seriousness is what’s in question. A work isn’t serious by virtue of its thinking it is. Wherein lies the seriousness, one is entitled to ask, when the drama creaks with the bad faith of a made-up mind.

I’m an art man, myself. Aesthetics trump the lot. And “seriousness” is an aesthetic quality or it’s nothing. But you will usually find that bad intentions makes bad art, and bad art, while it might be solemn and self-righteous, forfeits the right to be called serious. From start to finish, The Promise was art with its trousers round its ankles. Yes, it looked expensive, took its time, was beautifully shot and well acted. But these are merely the superficies of art, and the more dangerously seductive for that. “Gosh, I never knew such and such had happened,” I heard people say after one or other simplifying episode, as though high production values guarantee veracity.

One-sidedness is a failure of imagination; aesthetically, The Promise failed because it couldn’t conceal the dramatic monotony of its bias. Just about every Palestinian was sympathetic to look at, just about every Jew was not. While most Palestinians might fairly be depicted as living in poor circumstances, most Israeli Jews might not be fairly depicted as living in great wealth. The family life of Palestinians, when it was not rent with fear, was loving and considerate; family life among the Jews consisted of spitting words of violence against Arabs and callous socialising around a pool built on appropriated land. Juxtaposition counts for much in art, and when every juxtaposition – of beauty, wealth, humanity, kindliness, suffering – favours one party to the conflict at the expense of another, the simplicity of view begins to show itself in uninventiveness and repetition. Though I, too, have found Palestinians to be people of immense charm, I could only laugh in derision at The Promise every time another shot of soft-eyed Palestinians followed another shot of hard-faced Jews.

As for the politics, they were as transparently simple-minded as the casting. An act of violence carried out by a Palestinian was shown to be no different in motive and ambition from an act of violence carried out by a Jew, but the same understanding was not extended in the other direction, though if A resembles B, then B must resemble A.

But then of moral equivalence of any sort, except when anti-Jewish propaganda required it, The Promise was bare. Therefore, I say to Ofcom, no, the drama was not serious. It only looked serious because it said what the consensus says. The truth is now nailed to the floor. Jews went through hell only to build a hell for others. Trying arguing otherwise and you are an apologist for that hell.

We have been here before. Dayenu: it would have been enough had God done no more than help us out the last time. But it won’t ever be enough.

This piece, by Howard Jacobson, is from The Independent

For more from Howard Jacobson click here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 135 other followers

%d bloggers like this: