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.

Guardian piece fails to meet its own community standards

In their recent article about this Anti-Defamation League report, Donna Nevel and Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark make a series of snide and tendentious observations.  They begin by invoking the wearisomely familiar complaint that concerns about antisemitism are used to silence criticism of Israel.  They then express displeasure at the survey’s findings – but not because such high levels of antisemitism are worrying.

Rather than advance our understanding of this serious issue, the survey seems predictably designed to stir up fear that Jew-hatred is a growing global phenomenon that puts the world’s Jews universally at risk, and that the biggest culprits are Muslims and Arabs, particularly Palestinians.

It is pretty incontrovertible that levels of antisemitism are very high in MENA countries.  Many other reputable surveys have confirmed this.   Yet the authors seem determined to find fault with the ADL’s methodology.

For example, one question asked whether Jews think more highly of themselves than of other groups, and answering yes tallies points in the anti-Semitic column. But common sense suggests that almost anyone in the world would likely answer affirmatively about any other ethnic or religious community.

In fact the question clearly maps onto an antisemitic trope (of ‘chosenness’) and is thus perfectly valid.

When I first read the article, I thought Nevel and Neimark might have half a point when they argued that the Palestinian responses might benefit from a little further unpacking.  It seemed reasonable to speculate that the result might be driven by local perceptions of injustice, not necessarily racism, even if the authors articulate this point with superfluous snark.

The most striking example of a leading question undergirds the ADL’s claim that the highest percentage of anti-Semitism is among Palestinians who live in the occupied territories. The ADL asked a group of people for whom the movement of goods, money and labor is controlled by Israel, “Do Jews have too much power in the business world?”. Were they really to be expected to answer anything but “yes”?

However (as @raphcouscous points out here) there is a misleading implication that the question was particularly targeted at Palestinians, rather than being a routine element in the survey.

Nevel and Neimark are also indignant about a question relating to the Holocaust, feeling that Palestinians would be justified in believing Jews talk too much about the topic.  Leaving aside what one thinks of that point – and it’s worth remembering the response a Palestinian lecturer received when he arranged a trip to Auschwitz – what about the many other countries in the world where such views are prevalent?

It would of course be possible to weaponise the data thrown up by the survey in order to deliberately whip up anti-Muslim sentiment. One might imagine, from the Guardian piece, that this is what the ADL was doing.   But in fact the findings are pretty calmly presented.  Indeed, two elements in the press statement seemed designed to slightly soften the statistics about Muslim/MENA antisemitism. The first is this observation by Abe Foxman:

“While it is startling to see how high the level of anti-Semitism is in the Middle East and North African countries, the fact of the matter is even aside from those countries, close to a quarter of those polled in other parts of the world is infected with anti-Semitic attitudes,” said Mr. Foxman.  “There is only a three-point difference when you take world attitudes toward Jews with the Middle East and North African countries, or consider the world without.”

The second is the way the religious data is summarised:

Among Muslims, which comprise 22.7 percent of the world population, 49 percent harbor anti-Semitic attitudes. In MENA, the number of Muslims holding anti-Semitic attitudes is 75 percent.

There are substantially lower levels of anti-Semitic beliefs among Muslims outside of MENA: with Asia at 37 percent; Western Europe at 29 percent; Eastern Europe at 20 percent; and Sub-Saharan Africa at 18 percent.

There were substantially higher levels of anti-Semitic beliefs among Christians in MENA, at 64 percent, compared with Christians outside of MENA

Finally –  returning to Nevel and Neimark – it turns out that one paragraph of the article was too much even for the Guardian.  It now concludes with this note:

This article was amended on 16 May 2014 to remove a paragraph that made a reference to “loyalty to Israel” that was inconsistent with Guardian editorial guidelines.

The offending paragraph was preserved by Cifwatch. Here it is:

In its press release, the ADL states that “The most widely accepted anti-Semitic stereotype worldwide is: Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country/the countries they live in.” It’s an odd indicator of anti-Semitism given that Israeli leaders consistently claim to speak for the global Jewish community and consider loyalty to Israel a precondition for being a good Jew. So it’s actually not surprising that this constant assertion has penetrated the consciousness of the rest of the world.

 

Fathom 5 Is Online Now

Alan Johnson writes about the new edition of Fathom.

As Fathom goes to press, US Secretary of State John Kerry is working intensively with the Israelis and Palestinians to draw up a framework agreement. We carry three critical reflections on the peace process.  David Landau, the biographer of Ariel Sharon who died in January 2014, reflects on Sharon’s change of mind. Aluf Benn explores the personality and politics of Benjamin Netanyahu.  Isaac Herzog, the new Labour Party leader argued the division of the land is needed to maintain the future of Israel as a Jewish democratic state.’

The deal struck between Iran and the P5+1 nations in November 2013, is the subject of Ben Cohen’s interview with Olli Heinonen the former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Deputy Director General.

The relationship between some demonising forms of ‘anti-Zionism’ and contemporary antisemitism is the concern of several contributors to Fathom 5.

Dave Rich explains the unwelcome arrival of the Quenelle, Lesley Klaff examines the ugly phenomenon of ‘Holocaust Inversion,’ while David Hirsh reviews those aspects of Jewish left-wing anti-Zionism that have helped foster BDS activism in the West. Martyn Hudson looks back at the life of the Polish historian and socialist Isaac Deutscher, and Michael Allen reviews Gil Troy’s study of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the US Ambassador to the United Nations who opposed the ‘Zionism is Racism’ resolution passed by the General Assembly in 1975.

Two book reviews discuss aspects of the history of Zionism. Colin Shindler praises Shlomo Avineri’s study of Theodor Herzl for ‘casting a new light on the short, troubled and driven life’ of the founder of Zionism. Liam Hoare reviews Yossi Klein-Halevy’s Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation.

Israel’s Arab citizens are the focus of two important essays by Safa Abu-Rabia and Joshua Muravchik. Abu-Rabia maps the emergence of an exciting new Bedouin Arab leadership in Israel’s Negev region, while Muravchik shows that when it comes to evening out the differences between its Jewish and Arab citizens, Israel has done rather better than most countries encompassing sharply diverse nationalities. We also spoke to Sayed Kashua, the creator of the hugely popular Israeli television sitcom Arab Labour and one of the country’s most successful writers.

The remarkable journeys taken by two iconic American Jews are the subject of warm appreciations. Steven Lee Beeberon Lou Reed and Peter Ryley on Emma Goldman.

Yair Raveh reviews two films that take as their subject the murder of a Shin-Bet agent by his informant. Bethlehem is an Israeli film by first time director Yuval Adler, and Omar is an Oscar-nominated Palestinian movie by Hany Abu-Assad. Finally, we spoke to Yariv Ben-Yehuda about the Israeli rock opera Sakhir.

Triangulating Nigel Kennedy

A bit of an update on Israel-boycotting violinist Nigel Kennedy. These days he plays with one of Gilad Atzmon’s musical associates Yaron Stavi and has earned himself the support of Paul Eisen*. So when Robert Wyatt mentions Stavi and Kennedy approvingly in the Morning Star directly after a reference to ‘zionazis’, it’s not so much surprising as shameful.

Because it suits Paul Eisen’s politics to cheer for holocaust denial**. Because Gilad Atzmon denies the Holocaust even while nodding along with  The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Because Wyatt’s ‘zionazi’ isn’t criticism, it’s just a good way to hurt a bunch of people who lost loved ones, homes, futures to the Nazis. Because Yaron Stavi is chummy with all of them. And because the Morning Star hasn’t resembled a genuine communist paper for years.

How is any of this pro-Palestine? Palestine supporters who think that picking on Jews is activism – they always damage their cause. They always end up sending a message that Jews and Israelis should be scared and defensive. Their work is a mockery.

HT Jim

*http://pauleisen.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/for-your-enjoyment-and-amazement.html
**http://pauleisen.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/how-i-became-holocaust-denier-by-paul.html

The Daily Mail invoked an age-old antisemitic smear about disloyal Jews – John Mann

This is a cross-post from Left Foot Forward.

John Mann is Labour MP for Bassetlaw and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against AntisemitismDaily Mail

‘Antisemitism can seem a subtle, elusive business. Calling it out can feel too much like hard work, often prompting a torrent of abuse as hurtful as the original offence. But it has to be named for what it is – and not only by Jewish writers like me. History could not be clearer on this last point. Antisemitism may start with the Jews – but it rarely ends with the Jews.’

The brilliant Guardian op-ed by Jonathan Freedland ends with the above words.

This week, in attacking Ralph Miliband, the Daily Mail invoked an age-old antisemitic smear about disloyal Jews. Whatever their intention, we need to be outspoken in our intolerance of this kind of offensiveness.

The accusation that Jews have dual loyalties is not new. In 1884 Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jew whom like Miliband served his country, was put on trial and convicted for treason. Eventually exonerated, the affair divided France and inspired the political Zionist movement.

Accusations of dual loyalty also feature heavily in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the discredited antisemitic myth which was used extensively by the Nazis.

More recently at home, we had the former ambassador to Libya, Sir Oliver Miles, questioning the propriety of having Sir Lawrence Freedman and Sir Martin Gilbert sit on the Iraq war inquiry panel because of their Jewish heritage and ‘Zionism’. Within our Party, Paul Flynn questioned  Matthew Gould’s ability to represent Britain to Israel because he is Jewish.

Abroad, the accusation of dual loyalty has also taken root, in political parties in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. A document referred to as the Prague Declaration was in recent years working its way through email accounts at the European Parliament. The document used legitimate concerns about communist regimes as a cover for the re-writing of history books to draw equivalence between Soviet Communism and Nazi Fascism.

The perverse outcome of this and the related accusation of Jewish complicity in Soviet rule led, in Lithuania, to three Holocaust survivors being subject to state investigations for alleged ‘war crimes’. This narrative was imported into this country by, among others, Lee John Barnes of the BNP, whom in his blog depicted the Holocaust as a defensive action against ‘Jewish Bolsheviks’.

The impact of the Mail attack has consequences in countries like Lithuania, where Rachel Margolis, a 91 year old partisan war hero, is now vilified by some in high authority for being a Communist. The attacks, on her and Leonardis Donskis, an MEP, are unambiguous: “Jews are Communists and Communists are evil; when we helped the Nazis we were fighting evil Communists; oh, and by the way anyone who speaks Russian cannot be a patriot and look, the [tiny and elderly] Jewish population in Lithuania speaks Russian. Therefore we cannot trust the Jews”.

It is an industrial rewriting of history in Eastern Europe to excuse mass murders carried out on behalf of the Nazis.

The Mail vilification of Ralph Miliband has consequences beyond his family and beyond Britain.

As chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) against Antisemitism, I challenge any hint of any antisemitic imagery being used in my own party. That is why I raised at the highest levels in the party and publically, including at the 2009 London international Conference on Antisemitism, my concerns about the depiction of Michael Howard as Fagin in national Labour Party 2005 election posters. It is not a populist move to criticise your own Party and its election material.

I am pleased to say that when Paul Flynn made the dual loyalty accusation against Matthew Gould, Ed Miliband acted decisively and Flynn subsequently apologised.

So too, when Tory politician Andrew Turner accused Israel of using Nazi tactics in Westminster Hall, David Cameron rightly forced him to apologise; when David Ward was abusive about the Jewish community, he was disciplined by Nick Clegg.

This is in keeping with the London Declaration on Antisemitism that the political leaders have signed which states that: “Parliamentarians should speak out against antisemitism and discrimination directed against any minority, and guard against equivocation, hesitation and justification in the face of expressions of hatred”.

Whether these individuals maintain their innocence or not, the parties were not prepared to allow any perception that the line had been breached. This is what is needed now by Lord Rothermere with the Mail. Their headline stating that Ralph Miliband ‘hated Britain’ was an editorial choice and their failure to apologise is an equal miscalculation.

The motivations of the Mail are uncertain. The antisemitic trope might have been calculated or unintentional. Whatever its provenance, I certainly hope there was no political impetus behind this. It would be easy for Linton Crosby or his Labour and Lib Dem equivalents to set up ad agencies or others to do the parties’ dirty work. We must never tolerate anyone in any party using the racial or religious characteristics of the candidates to win seats.

I will continue to challenge those seeking to do so, regardless of how unpopular that might be. On 29 October, an All-Party Inquiry into Electoral Conduct that I commissioned will publish its findings. We need clear Party agreement on future behaviour.

The Ralph Miliband affair has shamed the Daily Mail, it must not be allowed to further pollute our politics.

David Ward M.P. can’t make his mind up.

At first he talked about “the Jews”.

Then he talked about “the Jewish community”.

Now he talks about “the zionists”.

To Sally Hunt regarding UCU’s Holocaust Memorial Day film

An email to Sally Hunt from UCU member Vanessa Freedman. She sent it on 12th December last year and has yet to receive a reply. Meanwhile she posts it here.

Dear Sally

Thank you for your invitation to take part in the Holocaust Memorial Day film. I have no testimony to share as none of my family was directly affected by the Holocaust. In any case I have grave reservations about this project, which seems like mere window dressing given the UCU leadership’s continued refusal to address the issue of institutional antisemitism within the union – to the extent that one Jewish member has been driven to take legal action.

The Congress motion on antisemitism in 2009 that instructed  the NEC to organise events on Holocaust Memorial Day failed to mention antisemitism within the union; an amendment proposed by my branch – instructing the NEC also to investigate the reasons for resignations from UCU members apparently in connection with perceptions of institutional antisemitism – was defeated at Congress. Such an amendment should have been unnecessary: when letters to you include statements such as ‘I, like many others, can no longer bear the shame and embarrassment of belonging to an institution which is willing to discriminate against Jews, and whose readiness to do so is supported by leading members of its Executive Committee’ (Eve Garrard, 1 July 2008), and ‘this is the only organization with which I have been involved in which I have been made to feel uncomfortable as a Jew’ (Dov Stekel, 2008) you and the NEC should have taken these seriously.

Other instances of concern to Jewish and other members include UCU’s invitation to Bongani Masuku to speak at a seminar to discuss a boycott of Israel, even though the South African Human Rights Commission had deemed that Masuku’s statements amounted to hate speech against the country’s Jewish community; and Congress’s rejection of the EUMC definition of antisemitism, which has led to more resignations and statements like ‘whether intentionally or otherwise, this has made UCU an even more uncomfortable place for Jewish members than it was previously … your repeated claim that UCU abhors anti-Semitism is not borne out by the evidence; rather, the evidence points overwhelmingly in the other direction … I sent you three emails on related issues in 2008 … I think you would agree that a trade union which abhorred anti-Semitism would take such emails from an ordinary member seriously. Regrettably, I never received a reply to any of them … I no longer wish to contribute my money to an organisation which has a problem with institutionalised anti-Semitism’ (James Mendelson, 14 July 2011).

Unless you and the NEC are prepared to take these concerns seriously, initiatives to mark Holocaust Memorial Day are an empty, even cynical, exercise.

Regards

Vanessa Freedman

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

What is the Progressive Case for Israel?

This piece was written by David Hirsh for a collection published by Labour Friends of Israel

David Hirsh, lecturer in Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London

What is the progressive case for Israel?  Why should a nation state need somebody to make its case?  What is the progressive case for France or for Poland?  Before the French Revolution, the question of France was still open.  Was Marseille to be part of the same Republic as Brittany?  When there was a political movement for the foundation of France, then there was a case for and also a case against France.  When Poland was half engulfed by the Soviet Union and half by the Third Reich, there was a progressive case for Poland.  But today, thankfully, Poland exists.  It doesn’t need a ‘case’.

There are reasons to be ambivalent about nationalism.  Nationalist movements have often stood up against forces which threaten human freedom.  Nationalism offers us a way of visualising ourselves as part of a community in which we look after each other.  But being part of something also means defining others as not being part of it, as being excluded from it.  The left should fight for freedom with the nationalists but we should also remember the dangers of nationalism.  Like John Lennon, we should imagine a world where people no longer feel the need to protect themselves against external threat, but until it exists, it is wise for communities to retain the possibility of self-defence.

Progressives in France or Poland might hope to dissolve their states into the European Union, or into a global community.  In that sense there is still a possible case to be made for Poland or for France.  But nobody thinks that either has to justify their existences to anybody outside.  Not even Germany after the crimes of the Second World War had to justify its existence.

In the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, radical Jews were split as to how they should oppose the antisemitism.   Some wanted to dissolve all religious and national characteristics into a universalistic socialism where everybody would treat each other with respect and where the distinction between Jew and non-Jew would eventually be forgotten.  Others wanted Jews to organise themselves into culturally and politically Jewish Bunds which would defend them from antisemitism and which would construct Jewish identity in new, egalitarian and empowering ways.  A third current thought that national self-determination was the key to guaranteeing people’s individual rights, and they wanted Jews from all different places to forge themselves into a sovereign nation.  This last group, the Zionists, made a progressive case for Israel while the other two, the Socialists and the Bundists, made progressive cases against Israel.

In the 1940s the overwhelming majority of the Jewish Socialists, Bundists and Zionists were systematically murdered, alongside Jews who had no opinion, who had other opinions, who only understood themselves to be Jewish through their religious communities and alongside those who thought of themselves only as loyal German, Czech or Dutch citizens.  Jewish culture in Europe was wiped out.  There were a few survivors here and there but most of them felt it unbearable to continue to live amongst those who had killed everybody they knew, and amongst those who had failed to prevent the killing, and amongst those who still had their children and their friends and relatives.

Before, during and after the Holocaust, Jews tried to leave Europe and they went wherever they were allowed.  Lots of Jews were learning the dismal lesson that the Twentieth Century beat into so many around the world: if you have no state of your own, you have no rights.  On April 20th 1945 a British army chaplain helped organise a Shabbat service five days after the liberation of the Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp.  A contemporary BBC radio report says that it was the first Jewish religious service held without fear on German soil for a decade.   The report says:

During the service the few hundred people gathered together were sobbing openly with joy at their liberation and with sorrow at the memory of their parents and brothers and sisters who had been taken from them and gassed and burnt.  These people knew they were being recorded.  They wanted the world to hear their voice.  They made a tremendous effort which quite exhausted them. [1]

The exhausting effort they made was to sing Hatikva, the Zionist national anthem, so it could be heard around the world.  This was how they made their progressive case for Israel.  For many survivors, getting out of Europe was not enough.  Having been taught that they couldn’t rely on others to help them, they wanted Jewish national self-determination.  Feeling safe was too much to hope for, but it would make them feel that if they were again threatened as Jews, then they would be able to die defending themselves, collectively, as Jews.

Even now, there was still a case to be made for and against Israel.  Perhaps immigration into Palestine was too dangerous for Jews, perhaps Israel was an impossible and utopian idea.  Perhaps the need for Jewish self defence could be realised within some kind of bi-national arrangement with the Arabs of Palestine.

But as the Holocaust had defeated the Socialists and the Bundists, so these other criticisms were answered, not by argument or reason but by huge, irreversible events in the material world;  in this case by the UN decision to found Israel and by the defence of the new state against the invading armies of neighbouring states which tried to push the Jews out.  The Jews, armed by Stalin via Czechoslovakia, in violation of a British and American arms embargo, were not pushed out.  About 700,000 Palestinian Arabs left, fled or were forced out during the war and were not allowed back by the new state of Israel.  For them this was truly a catastrophe but the Israel/Palestine conflict was never inevitable.  It was the result of successive defeats for progressive forces within both nations.  It is still not inevitable.  Neither could the fact of the conflict possibly de-legitimise a nation.  Nations exist and do not require legitimacy.

Isaac Deutcher, Trotsky’s biographer, who had been a Socialist anti-Zionist before the Holocaust, wrote the following in 1954:

I have, of course, long since abandoned my anti-Zionism, which was based on a confidence in the European labour movement, or, more broadly, in European society and civilization, which that society and civilization have not justified. If, instead of arguing against Zionism in the 1920s and 1930s I had urged European Jews to go to Palestine, I might have helped to save some of the lives that were later extinguished in Hitler’s gas chambers.[2]

Deutscher was not embracing Zionism as an ideology, he was recognising that the debate was over.  Israel now existed in the material world and no longer just in the imagination.  Antisemitism treats ‘the Jews’ as an idea rather than as a collectivity of actual human beings; an idea which can be opposed was transformed into a people which could be eliminated.  To think of Israel as an idea or as a political movement rather than as a nation state makes it possible to think of eliminating it too.

Israel needs to find the peace with its neighbours, amongst whom hostile and antisemitic movements have significant influence.  It needs to continue to fulfil contradictory requirements, as a democratic state for both its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens, but also as a Jewish state, guaranteeing the rights of Jews in particular.  There is nothing unusual about a social institution finding pragmatic and difficult ways to fulfil contradictory requirements.

But what if it turns out that Zionism’s promise to build a ‘normal’ nation state was utopian.  Perhaps the poison of the Holocaust is not yet spent.  Maybe Israel is, as Detuscher thought, a precarious life-raft state , floating in a hostile sea and before a careless world.  Perhaps the pressure on Israel from outside, and the unique circumstances of its foundation are creating too many agonising internal contradictions and fault-lines.  Whereas people used to tell the Jews of Europe to go home to Palestine, now they tell the Jews of Israel to go home to Europe.  Whereas ‘the Jews’ were thought to be central to the workings of capitalism, today Israel is said to be the keystone of imperialism.  If the Palestinians have come to symbolise the victims of ‘the West’ then ‘the Jews’ are again cast in the symbolic imagination as the villains of the world.   Perhaps Israel is precarious and perhaps we have not yet seen the final Act of the tragedy of the Jews.  And if it comes to pass, there will be those watching who will still be capable of saying, with faux sadness, that ‘the Jews’ brought this upon themselves.

This piece was written by David Hirsh for a collection published by Labour Friends of Israel

[1] This recording is easily accessible on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syUSmEbGLs4, downloaded 25 August 2011, Smithsonian Centre for American Folk Life.

[2] Isaac Deutscher (1968) The Non-Jewish Jew and other essays, London: Oxford University Press, pp 111-113

John Mearsheimer and the University of Chicago

This is a guest post by Joseph Weissman.

By endorsing Gilad Atzmon’s new bookThe Wandering Who, John Mearsheimer heaps praise upon the racist writings of an antisemite who argues that Fagin and Shylock accurately represent Jewish evil, and that Hitler could be proven right.

Stephen Walt allowed Mearsheimer a guest post on his Foreign Policy blog, to defend himself from “smears” suggesting Mearsheimer had endorsed an antisemite.

In order to defend Atzmon, Mearsheimer sanitised Atzmon’s arguments. Mearsheimer commends a passage in The Wandering Who, where Atzmon draws similarities between AIPAC lobbying in the USA and Jewish lobbying in Nazi Germany. Mearsheimer wrote:

Goldberg refers to a blog post that Atzmon wrote on March 25, 2010, written in response to news at the time that AIPAC had “decided to mount pressure” on President Obama. After describing what was happening with Obama, Atzmon notes that this kind of behavior is hardly unprecedented.In his words, “Jewish lobbies certainly do not hold back when it comes to pressuring states, world leaders and even superpowers.” There is no question that this statement is accurate and not even all that controversialTom Friedman said as much in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago.

In the second half of this post, Atzmon says that AIPAC’s behavior reminds him of the March 1933 Jewish boycott of German goods, which preceded Hitler’s decision on March 28, 1933 to boycott Jewish stores and goods. His basic point is that the Jewish boycott had negative consequences, which it did.

Writing days later in Foreign Policy, David Rothkopf deconstructed Mearsheimer and Walt’s backing of Gilad Atzmon.

A professor at the University of Chicago, Mearsheimer has given his academic endorsement to Atzmon. To date, there has been no official reaction from the University of Chicago.

However, a philosopher of law from the University of Chicago, Brian Leiter, has accused Mearsheimer’s critics of opposing “academic freedom”, and of spreading “right-wing smears.”

Universities have a duty of care towards their students, and the university campus should be safe for Jews. The University of Chicago is clearly a safe environment for Jewish students. Yet two U. Chicago professors are now dismissing anyone concerned about the antisemitism of Gilad Atzmon, as anti-freedom and anti-intellectual.

Now, the university’s student paper The Chicago Maroon, has published an article defending Mearsheimer for endorsing Atzmon, on “academic freedom” grounds. U. Chicago student Colni Bradley writes:

There is no reason to condemn Mearsheimer based on Atzmon’s previous controversial comments. The only acceptable criticism would be if he could prove that The Wandering Who? is itself anti-Semitic, and that Mearsheimer is guilty of praising those hateful elements. Goldberg does no such thing.

However, by far the worst comment Atzmon has ever come out with, is found on p.179 ofThe Wandering Who.

Read this paragraph:

“The present should be understood as a creative dynamic mode where past premeditates its future. But far more crucially, it is also where the imaginary future can re-write its past. I will try to elucidate this idea through a simple and hypothetical yet terrifying war scenario. We, for instance, can envisage a horrific situation in which an Israeli so-called ‘pre-emptive’ nuclear attack on Iran that escalates into a disastrous nuclear war, in which tens of millions of people perish. I guess that amongst the survivors of such a nightmare scenario, some may be bold enough to argue that ‘Hitler might have been right after all.”

Atzmon is trying to prove, that there are scenarios which may well prove  Hitler had the right idea all along.

In Atzmon’s scenario, Israel goes to war with Iran, and some Iranian survivors of Israeli attacks conclude that “Hitler was right”. They are bold to do so. For Atzmon, this is just one scenario in which “the imaginary future can re-write its past” – and future events could justify Hitler.

Atzmon is arguing that eventually, the terrible behaviour of Israel will cause some people to realise that Hitler might have been right after all. But for now, alas, the “Holocaust religion” prevents us in the present from realising this.

U. Chicago student Bradley also writes:

I think we should commend anyone who seeks to push the boundaries and uncover the difficult truths, particularly when the questions are so messy. I am not saying I agree with Mearsheimer’s opinions on these issues: I don’t even know all of them. But I don’t care. For probably the first time since coming to this University, the words “academic freedom” mean more to me than justifying questionable investment practices. Atzmon may very well be an anti-Semite, but John Mearsheimer is not.

How is it “academic freedom” to endorse a racist book?

How is it “pushing the boundaries”, to suggest that Israeli  evil couldl eventually prove to the world that Hitler was right all along? Why should Mearsheimer commend such a work?

How would we feel about someone endorsing Mein Kampf itself – would we say they are being edgy, and making the full use of their academic freedom? Or would we say they are knowingly pushing a racist text?

This is not a rhetorical question.

In Gilad Atzmon’s recent interview with Keith Barrett, he tells his host (from 13:00):

“Mein Kampf is an interesting read, a very important document, I could hardly find anything about the Jews – only 2 and a half pages out of 400  about the Jews. This book was a major bookseller, and I didn’t want to think the Germans were all stupid, they were one of the most advanced  societies. It was a very very interesting read. I, for the first time, understood why Hitler managed to impress so many Germans.”

Here are some of Hitler’s quotes on Jews from Mein Kampf:

Here he stops at nothing, and in his vileness he becomes so gigantic that no one need be surprised if among our people the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew.

The ignorance of the broad masses about the inner nature of the Jew, the lack of instinct and narrow-mindedness of our upper classes, make the people an easy victim for this Jewish campaign of lies.

While from innate cowardice the upper classes turn away from a man whom the Jew attacks with lies and slander, the broad masses from stupidity or simplicity believe everything. The state authorities either cloak themselves in silence or, what usually happens, in order to put an end to the Jewish press campaign, they persecute the unjustly attacked, which, in the eyes of such an official ass, passes as the preservation of state authority and the safeguarding of law and order.

Slowly fear and the Marxist weapon of Jewry descend like a nightmare on the mind and soul of decent people.

For a racially pure people which is conscious of its blood can never be enslaved by the Jew. In this world he will forever be master over bastards and bastards alone.

Now begins the great last revolution. In gaining political power the Jew casts off the few cloaks that he still wears. The democratic people’s Jew becomes the blood-Jew and tyrant over peoples. In a few years he tries to exterminate the national intelligentsia and by robbing the peoples of their natural intellectual leadership makes them ripe for the slave’s lot of permanent subjugation.

The end is not only the end of the freedom of the peoples oppressed by the Jew, but also the end of this parasite upon the nations. After the death of his victim, the vampire sooner or later dies too.

Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: ‘by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.’

Atzmon channels Hitler,  plays down the racism of Mein Kampf, and argues that  a nightmare scenario involving Israeli evil could eventually prove Hitler right.

Mearsheimer and Walt then channel Atzmon, arguing that his book is “fascinating” and “Jews and non-Jews alike” must read it.

Where will this end?

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