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.

“Echoes of the Past into the Present”: Arguments in support of the ASA Boycott.

This is a guest post by Saul:

Reading through the arguments of those proposing and supporting the ASA’s boycott of Israel, one can only be struck by the correspondence of the structure of argumentation with those of what some today like to call ‘real’ antisemitism as well as racism and Islamophobia in general These correspondences appear in the following way.

First, they begin with a list of the litany of Israel’s crimes. Many of the crimes of which Israel is accused they are indeed culpable. However, in the context of boycott two points come to the fore. The first point turns on the widely debated question of ‘Why Israel’? As many have shown and many more acknowledged, none of the crimes committed by the Israeli state are either unique nor their most terrible expression. As many of those opposing the boycott have argued, this is no excuse not to bring them to light. Yet, many of these same people are uncomfortable with the fact that of all states who commit these and worse crimes, only Israel is singled out for boycott. The response to this concern is that it is being used to ‘deflect attention’ from Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and constitutes the diversionary tactic of ‘whataboutery’.

As with so many other areas of the boycott discussions, the battleground of ‘whataboutery’ is neither new nor novel. It has been a component part of debates about Jews for a very, very long time. The lines of this debate have more or less remained the same. On the one hand, there are those that say that there is something ‘innate’ about Jews, Judaism and Jewishness and, more recently Israel, that sets it apart from the rest of the world and, as a consequence, deserves special or, if that word is now too emotive, unique treatment. More often than not, such allegations of uniqueness are presented as the reason or cause that, with the best will in the world, Jews or Israel should be denied the rights of those granted to non-Jews or states that are not ‘Jewish’. On the other hand, there are those that say that the differences that distinguish Jews from other religions and peoples and Israel from other states, are no reason, no excuse, to deny such rights, rights freely available to everyone else.

Perhaps the most famous instance of this contestation is Karl Marx’s polemic against Bruno Bauer around the question of Jewish emancipation in the 1840’s. As is well known, Bauer argued against Jewish emancipation. He argued that as long as Jews remained Jews they were to barred from being granted the same rights as those among whom they lived. There was, he declaimed, something unique, something special about Jews and Judaism that prevented them from the benefit of emancipation into the emerging nation-states of his time.

Bauer has posed the question of Jewish emancipation in a new form, after giving a critical analysis of the previous formulations and solutions of the question. What, he asks, is the nature of the Jew who is to be emancipated and of the Christian state that is to emancipate him? He replies by a critique of the Jewish religion, he analyzes the religious opposition between Judaism and Christianity, he elucidates the essence of the Christian state……..

Marx’s devastating response to this exclusive and reactionary focus on the alleged nature of Jews and Judaism and only Jews and Judaism is perhaps the most succinct and positive use of what is now excoriated as pure whataboutery,

Man, as the adherent of a particular religion, finds himself in conflict with his citizenship and with other men as members of the community. This conflict reduces itself to the secular division between the political state and civil society. For man as a bourgeois [i.e., as a member of civil society, “bourgeois society” in German], “life in the state” is “only a semblance or a temporary exception to the essential and the rule.” Of course, the bourgeois, like the Jew, remains only sophistically in the sphere of political life, just as the citoyen [‘citizen’ in French, i.e., the participant in political life] only sophistically remains a Jew or a bourgeois. But, this sophistry is not personal. It is the sophistry of the political state itself. The difference between the merchant and the citizen [Staatsbürger], between the day-laborer and the citizen, between the landowner and the citizen, between the merchant and the citizen, between the living individual and the citizen. The contradiction in which the religious man finds himself with the political man is the same contradiction in which the bourgeois finds himself with the citoyen, and the member of civil society with his political lion’s skin.

As with Bauer’s antisemitism, one of the consequences of demanding sole focus on Jews and only Jews, and, correspondingly today, Israel and only Israel, is exclusion, from the state and, today, from the community of states. As in the past, the call for boycott opens up an abyss between, on the one side ‘Israel’ and on the other side, the rest of the world. In contemporary terms, by placing the call for boycott of the need for international solidarity as a means of resisting Israeli criminality, the radical antisemitic vision of the division between Jews and humanity is re-articulated in the divide between Israel/Jewish Israelis and the rest of the world. Like Jews of the past, Israel is now recast as the ‘other’ of ‘humanity’.

The second main structural element of arguments made in support of the ASA boycott and one visible particularly in Claire Potter’s account of her Damascan moment, is the old tale of Jewish privilege. Of all the states in the world who receive US funding and financial assistance, Israel, it is said, is the most ‘privileged’. Israel receives more than any country in US military aid. Israel receives more support in the UN and security council than any other of its allies, etc.. These facts are, of course, true. But they are presented not as a consequence of past and present political considerations (for example, that US funding and support for Israel began, originally from the prior recognition of Israel by the then Soviet Union (the first country to recognise the Sate of Israel in 1948), the divisions of the Cold War, the rise of Arab pan-nationalism, the Iranian Revolution, the rise of Islamicism and anti-Americanism, the obsessive focus of Israel in some of the UN instiutions, and so on). Instead, they are presented as instances of a specifically Israeli privilege (often, but not always, an argument connected to the alleged omnipotence of the ‘Israel’ or ‘Jewish Lobby’). Needless to say, this idea of Jewish privilege by the state is not new in the annals of both the history of antisemitism or of racism in general. For example, it was common currency in the debates surrounding and following Jewish emancipation. It also forms a core component of contemporary Islamophobia; that somehow the British state ‘prvileges’ the concerns of British Muslims.

This notion of Jewish/Israeli privilege connects with the third point; that one cannot say a bad word about Israel without being labelled an ‘antisemite’, See also Clare Short’s letter in support of Rev Stephen Sizer in the Jewish Chronicle, 20th December, 2013.

Other formulations in which this arguments is presented is the idea of the Shoah as a magic talisman warding off any and all negative comments about Israel. This theme is presented in its most crystalline form by Alex Lubin in this article in The Nation. He writes there that, ‘Israel’s creation in the violent crucible of the European Holocaust allows it always (!) to appear vulnerable, regardless of its oppressive actions’`1. Here, we can but note the sheer nastiness of the claim that Israel and those labeled its ‘supporters’ are guilty of cynically manipulating the most terrible event in the history of Jews and inverting it into nothing more than a ‘strategic advantage’. This belief in Jewish cynicism is again, an updated variant of the accusation leveled against Jews from the time of their emancipation onward that they exploited their past discrimination to wheedle those ‘privileges’ noted above from the State at the expense of all others. Even more relevant in the present context, however, is that this idea replicates almost exactly the antisemite Willhelm Marr’s claim in the late 19th century that ‘one cannot today criticise Jews [i.e. by which he meant his and others antisemitic assertions] without being called an antisemite’.2

The BDS movement constantly respond to accusations that its call to boycott Israel and only Israel taps in to antisemitic ways of thinking by claiming that, first, one must distinguish between ‘real’ antisemitism and ‘criticism of Israel’, and secondly, that they are free from the seductions offered by antisemitism in forwarding their own aims. As the structure of their arguments show (both in form and content) neither claim is sustainable.

1. The reference to the term ‘European Holocaust’ is interesting in the specific context of ASA. Not only does the term ‘European Holocaust’ imply denial of the uniqueness of the ‘Holocaust’ or Shoah – as opposed to the concept if genocide – but chimes in with a rather nasty debate a little while ago when US academics claimed that the studying and recognition of the genocides and brutalities suffered by the First Nations in what was to become the United States were being hindered by the mal fide of scholars of the Holocaust. (See Dan Stone; ‘Histories of the Holocaust, OUP, (2010) p. 210

2. See on this point, Moishe Zimmerman’s ‘Wilhelm Marr: The Patriach of Antisemitism,OUP, (1986)

‘Cynical Ploys’:The Familiarity of Alex Brummer’s Defence of the Daily Mail – Saul

This is a guest post by Saul:

Re-reading Alex Brummer’s defence of the Daily Mail I was struck by the following sentence,

But the real danger in these completely phoney allegations is that they detract from the genuine anti-Semitism that is suddenly on the march again in Eastern and Southern Europe.

For readers of Engage, this argument is hardly unfamiliar. Claims of antisemitism that are raised in discussions about certain comments of ‘critics of Israel’ are frequently met with the ideas that, not only, is the claim bogus or ‘phoney’ but, in so raising it, you are making the fight against ‘genuine’ antisemitism that much more difficult. Yet, if we delve a little deeper, we find that the assumptions underpinning Brummer’s defence is, in essence, no different from those that emerge from the other end of the political spectrum.

Regardless of those making the argument, at the heart of the distinction between ‘phoney’ and ‘genuine’ is the idea that those accused of raising ‘phoney’ claims of antisemitism are not simply right or wrong or not simply mistaken about the presence or absence of antisemitism. Rather, they are accused of bringing up the issue for nothing other than ulterior, nefarious, dishonourable and dishonest purposes. It is being raised as a ploy, a deceit, a lie. Thus, on the one hand we read, as way of illustration that,

the real purpose of the new antisemitism is to discredit and silence Israel’s critics in the US and elsewhere.

On the other hand, this comment from Brummer,

Indeed, the cynical attempts by Lord Kinnock, the political Left and the Labour Party to shift the debate about the Mail article that explored Ed Miliband’s late father Ralph’s views on politics, international affairs and economic models, to one about alleged anti-Semitism within the Associated Newspapers group is absolutely deplorable.

Despite the political chasm that separates them, both the author of the first sentence and Brummer agree on one fundamental point; when claims of antisemitism are made by either the right or the left, Zionists or non- and anti-Zionists, Jews or non-Jews they are to be rejected out of hand. They are nothing more than ‘cynical attempts’ the ‘real purpose’ of which is to defame and silence.

Furthermore, if the adoption of such underhand tactics were not enough, those  accused of knowingly raising ‘phoney’ claims of antisemitism with such malodorous intent are further accused of standing in the way of the struggle against ‘genuine’ antisemitism. Without such obstruction, those endowed with the gift to smell out a phoney claim from a hundred paces would at last be free to tackle head-on the type of authentic antisemitism that, as one of its fundamental precepts, warns against ever taking what a Jew says at face value.

Antisemitism doesn’t always come doing a Hitler salute : Jonathan Freedland

When the Ukip politician Godfrey Bloom referred to “Bongo Bongo land”, there were not many who denied the remark was racist. When the same man told women who failed to clean behind the fridge that they were “sluts”, most could see the comment was sexist. Yet when the target of an insult is a Jew or Jews, there is rarely such certainty. Unless antisemitism comes dressed in an SS uniform and doing a Hitler salute, we are regularly thrown into confusion. Suddenly we are in the seminar room, calling on experts to tell us whether or not this or that sentence was anti-Jewish, the debate usually ending without clear resolution. To add to the complexity, very often Jews disagree among themselves, with just as many willing to give the disputed word or deed a free pass as to condemn it.

Read the rest of it here.

David Ward, Israel, the Holocaust and the Jews – by Sarah AB

Many have already written eloquently and thoughtfully about David Ward’s indefensible comments about Israel, the Holocaust and ‘the Jews’. Mark Gardner and Paul Evans, for example, have explained exactly why these comments are so offensive, although David Ward still doesn’t seem to get it.

I was struck by this misleading headline in the Huffington Post.

Lib Dem MP David Ward ‘Condemned’ By Own Party For Criticising Israel Ahead Of Holocaust Memorial Day”

This completely misses the point, and implicitly supports those who argue either that accusations of antisemitism are deployed strategically to silence criticism of Israel or else that those making the accusations are quite extraordinarily sensitive.

Although Sara Nelson (who probably didn’t write the headline herself) goes on to offer a reasonable account of the incident, her piece reveals further ill-judged responses to Ward’s remarks. She links to a supporter of Ward, blogger Mark Valladares. He has now edited his article after coming in for some criticism.

It’s welcome that he reflected further and tried to express his views with more nuance. However I still see (and I didn’t catch the earlier version, though I gather it referred to the angry response to Ward as a ‘bandwagon’) problems in the edited post:

As usual, in any matter related to the Israel/Palestine debate, elements of the pro-Israel lobby, (or troublemakers in Guido’s case) have chosen to interpret these remarks as being a direct comparison of the holocaust with modern events in Gaza and the West Bank. If you’re minded to do so, you probably will. On the other hand, if you lean towards a pro-Palestinian position, you might welcome any recognition by a politician that the Israeli government is behaving in an unacceptable manner.”

 Although Ward did not absolutely state that Gaza was another Warsaw, the parallel was still implicit and Valladares does not even pick up on the way Ward refers to ‘the Jews’ as an undifferentiated group. Also – to offer just one counterargument to Valladares’s assertion that politicians never criticize Israel – the Chair of Labour Friends of Israel spoke out against Netanyahu’s controversial announcement on settlement building last month, as did Conservative Friends of Israel.

There’s then this confusing passage:

For me, David’s words act as a reminder that some pretty dreadful wrongs have been committed against both sides (and there are those who seek to equate them in terms of scale), and suggest that past events should influence future behaviour.”

 Is he now suggesting that the sufferings of the Palestinians might indeed reasonably be compared to the Holocaust ‘in terms of scale’, or is he rather weighing up the sufferings of Israelis and Palestinians?

 Then he asserts:

 It’s called nuance, and in an increasingly black and white political discourse, I welcome his attempt to demonstrate some respect towards both sides in this seemingly never-ending dispute, even if he has failed to express himself well.”

 Now, this is ridiculous. Many commenters, from a range of perspectives, demonstrate ‘respect towards both sides’, and it is very easy to do so without trivializing the Holocaust.

Returning to the Huffington Post piece, the comments were depressingly dominated by those who thought Ward had made a jolly good point, and those who thought it was somehow all the fault of ‘the Muslims’. 

Response from University of Johannesburg

Sociologist Peter Alexander, at the University of Johannesburg, has defended the boycott decision against this critique from David Hirsh.  (double click the image to make it bigger)

David Hirsh argued, amongst other things:

The boycott campaign is not motivated by anti-Semitism, but wherever it goes, anti-Semitism follows. One of its leaders, Bongani Masuku, a Cosatu official, has been found guilty by the South African Human Rights Commission of hate speech. Jews around the world are routinely treated as supporters of apartheid if they dare to oppose the boycott campaign.

When you educate people to boycott only Israel, when you tell them that all Israelis are responsible for human-rights abuses, when you mobilise a global campaign to say that Israel is uniquely racist, and when this campaign becomes central to progressive politics globally, you are, whether you know it or not, incubating anti-Semitic ways of thinking. When ears are closed to concern about anti-Semitism on the basis that such concern is a marker of secret support for Israeli human rights abuses, then you know there is a problem.

Peter Alexander does not relate to this argument and he doesn’t rebut it.  He simply denies it:

Hirsh’s view that UJ is “legitimising an anti-semitic boycott” and “incubating anti-semitic ways of thinking” smacks of a man who is losing an argument.  For myself I am proud to have spent half a century opposing racism including anti-semitism.

He doesn’t say why Bongani Masuku was found guilty of hate speech by the South African Human Rights commission.   He doesn’t make an argument or present any evidence.  He doesn’t show that he is aware that much hostility to Israel is manifested in the language of antisemitism, for example by Hamas, by Hezobllah, by the Iranian government.  He doesn’t show any evidence that he knows what has been going on within the University and College Union, where Jews who oppose the boycott have been bullied out of the “debate”.   He doesn’t show any awareness of what it is like to be a Jewish student on his own campus.  He just responds with haughty, unthinking, denial.

For  the debate around the South African campaign for an academic boycott of Israel, with Desmond Tutu, David Newman, Neve Gordon, David Hirsh, Robert Fine, Ran Greenstein, Uri Avnery, Farid Essack click here.

For some Engage classics on contemporary antisemitism and boycotts against Israel, click here.

Israel is not like apartheid South Africa.  click here.

Hirsh’s argument against the academic boycott campaign.  click here.

What’s wrong with PACBI’s “call” for a boycott?  click here.

Michael Yudkin’s argument against the academic boycott campaign.  click here.

For the Engage archive on the Israel / Apartheid analogy click here.

double click on the image to make it readable


There is also this piece in the M&G, defending UJ’s boycott.

Westminster University Cancels Gilad Atzomon’s discussion of “Jewishness”

Gahda Karmi had already said she was pulling out.  She’s the one who thought that “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s UN speech on 21 April struck many as obnoxious, but in terms of understanding the 1948 roots of the Middle East conflict he was spot on.”  She also thought that after  ‘the Holocaust and all this business’, as she put it, masses of ‘alien’ Jews started to pour in to Palestine. These Jews were nothing like the Jews they were used to: these new Jews were pale and blue-eyed, but most of all they were ‘complicated’, ‘very difficult to deal with’, and they were bringing ‘their miserable lives’ with them.

John Rose had also said he was pulling out.  Remember John Rose, brought up in a “Zionist home”?

Alan (“some of my best friends are Jewish“) Hart was also billed to speak.

The star of the show was to be the antisemitic saxophonist, Gilad Atzmon.

The event had been promoted by groups including the Stop the War Coalition, the white nationalist Stormfront movement, and the Real IRA, according to the Jewish Chronicle report here.

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