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.

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.

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”.

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

Holocaust memorial day in Lewisham

A guest post by Lewisham Councillor Michael Harris on Bob From Brockley relates how, on Holocaust Memorial Day, John Hamilton of Lewisham People Before Profit heckled a rabbi to include Gaza in a list of genocides he was commemorating. Comparing what is endured by Gazans to the systematic attempt to kill off an entire people is blatantly wrong. And, as Bob From Brockley comments, we can “seriously doubt Hamilton would shout out “Gaza” if the speaker had been an Imam talking about genocides”. It is an appalling thing to have suggested, intolerable on Holocaust memorial day.

And if this was simply inept advocacy for Palestinians, it’s also an indication of how far the prejudiced idea that Jews in general are culpable for the circumstances of Palestinians has infused this good cause with antisemitism.

Updates:

2nd part of the BBC World Service Documentary by Wendy Robbins Now Available

To listen to the second part of the series, on Holocaust obfuscation and normalisation, click here

Holocaust denial, it was thought, was put to rest with the humiliation in court of David Irving.

However, denial is rampant in the Middle East, and across Europe there is a political manipulation of the Holocaust, its trivialisation or obfuscation, and its labelling as just one genocide among many.

In this episode, Wendy Robbins visits Lithuania where 95% of its Jews didn’t end up in concentration camps, but instead were herded – often by their neighbours – into specially-dug pits, and shot. Yet the popular Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius doesn’t even mention it.

As the Baltic states look for an identity in the wake of independence from the communists, the Holocaust is being politically manipulated. The public wearing of swastikas is legal and the few remaining Holocaust survivors are being hounded as “war criminals.”

The programme website is here.

The first part of the series is here.

Morning Star and Abuse of the Holocaust

The following article is cross-posted from the CST. Readers may also like to read this previous post.

By Mark Gardner

Recent posts on CST Blog have included sections and summaries from CST’s recently released report, Antisemitic Discourse in Britain in 2009. (The full pdf can be accessed here. 58 pages, including graphics.) The next section of the report that was due to be shown here, was that covering Abuse of the Holocaust. (These report pages 20-27 can be accessed here.)

By ugly coincidence, however, the Morning Star newspaper has recently featured an exchange of letters that epitomises some of the most challenging and upsetting aspects of Abuse of the Holocaust. The exchange led to the Morning Star’s 18 November edition publishing a letter under the disgusting headline

Israel is happy to exterminate Palestinians

The letter-writer, George Abendstern, insists that he was correct to have previously depicted Israel perpetrating “a  final solution”. The evolution – or rather, degeneration – of this exchange of letters is a startling example, in miniature, of historical and moral inversions that all too often pollute anti-Zionist discourse.

The fact that the letter writer, George Abendstern, is a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany (and a long standing anti-Zionist activist) merely adds to the suitability of this letters exchange as a point of wider comparison. Afer all, Jews (including Holocaust survivors and Israelis) have consistently played a leading role as theorists and activists in the demonisation of Zionism and Zionists: including Abuse of the Holocaust.

The fact that the headlines given to the letters are chosen by the Morning Star, serves to illustrate how Jewish concerns over Zionism and Israel are then understood and utilised by those around them.

(Note – dates given below are all as they appear in the Morning Star’s on-line edition.)

This little examplar began on 21 October when Professor Theodore Macdonald wrote

…Even before the abominable atrocities of the nazis, it was increasingly obvious that the Jews needed their own state in order to evade persecution. That truth was cynically used by British imperialism.

…Though the Balfour Declaration was unjust, we cannot keep revisiting historical errors. The Israelis need a recognised state. So do the Palestinians. An independent Palestine is an essential precondition for world peace.

(As an aside, it should be noted that despite the above content, the Morning Star called this letter Jewish state not valid“.)

Abendstern’s response on 4 November, included this

Theodore Macdonald writes (M Star October 22) that “it was increasingly obvious the Jews needed a state of their own.”

Why? The Jews are not a nation – as the Israeli writer Schlomo Sand said in his book The Invention Of The Jewish People.

They are an amalgam of people professing the Jewish faith.

…[Zionist Jews]…are going to Palestine not for economic reasons but because their extremist and racist views drive them to call the land of Palestine their own.

These people – many from Russia and the US – have no regard for the indigenous people of Palestine and may yet turn to the “final solution.” This the world has to prevent.

So, here we have the denial of Jewish nationhood (however you define that term), legitimised by an Israeli Jewish writer; the ommission of the Holocaust and all other antisemitism as a previous or current motive for Jews to emigrate to Israel; and a very deliberate warning that this “may yet turn to the final solution” – all by a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany.

Phil Katz, author of Freedom From Tyranny – Against Fascism And The Falsification Of History wrote to voice his concerns. His letter of 8 November was accurately titled

‘Final solution’ is not a term for casual use’

It noted

…George Abendstern (M Star November 5) plumbs new depths with his reference to an Israeli “final solution.”

…In [my book] I show what a “final solution” really is, while Mr Abendstern uses the term without a shred of evidence.

…the Prague Declaration Movement…uses historical revisionism, anti-communism and Holocaust denial and specialises in using terms such as “genocide” and “final solution” in a way which deliberately obscures their meaning….to erase the outcomes of Nuremberg by saying that the Soviet Union conducted “final solutions” in the Ukraine and Poland.

…The aim is to gut such specific terms of all meaning so that the real culprits go free and in order to confuse the young and those who want to oppose capitalism.

…We import its terminology and tactics of obfuscation into our pantheon of things to throw against Israel – and presumably other reactionaries – at our peril.

George Abendstern’s partner, Linda Clair, (also Jewish and a long standing anti-Zionist activist) responded in the next day’s paper. This time, the Morning Star didn’t beat about the bush with airy-fairy phrases such as “Final Solution”. Instead, (despite Clair not actually using the term) it saw fit to cut to the heart of the matter and abuse the Holocaust, titling Clair’s letter as

Israeli road could lead to a holocaust

To be semantic, Israel’s road would not lead to The Holocaust – that real Holocaust, after all, is already taken - no, Israel’s road “could” (not would) lead to “a holocaust”.Clair’s letter was along similar lines, but of course without the gut wrench of the holocaust sucker punch. Clair cited two Israelis, Ilan Pappe and Gideon Levy, and then got down to “final solution” business, premised upon her partner’s Jewish refugee identity

…The Israelis have massacred many thousands of Palestinians since 1947 and continue to do so.

If knowingly bombing populated areas with white phosphorus does not stem from the same mentality as the gas chambers did I would like to know the difference.

Methods of mass killing have moved on since 1945. The effect is the same.

…Mr Abendstern (M Star November 5) was born in Germany in 1930 and is not unfamiliar with the term “final solution.”

His commitment to justice for the Palestinians and his understanding of zionism mean he knows only too well where the Israeli road could lead if the world stands silently by.

Then, on 18 November, two more letters. One, from Roger Fletcher, accused Phil Katz of

pedantry and sectarianism against a valued Palestine activist

…It is patently obvious and is in fact documented that zionism aims to exterminate the Palestinian people.

Note, Fletcher states “exterminate”. This is no longer about colonialism or imperialism, dispossession and replacement. It has degenerated to being about extermination. It is not that Israel’s actions “could lead to a holocaust”: it is, rather, that “Zionism aims to exterminate the Palestinian people”. (Indeed, this is allegedly“patently obvious” and “in fact documented”.) 

George Abendstern now also uses the “H” word: but in a manner that suggests he understands its importance, had deliberately refrained from previously doing so, but has now been provoked beyond all patience

Phil Katz (M Star November 10) writes about all things except the matter in hand – the brutal and genocidal colonisation of Palestine.

…I would urge Mr Katz to turn to his history books.

Long before the nazis coined the phrase “final solution” the zionists at their 1897 Basel conference made no secret of what they had in mind for the Palestinians.

Had they had the means they would by their own admission have finished them off in 1948.

What the zionists are presently undertaking is slow strangulation.

…Finally Mr Katz obviously has a problem with the term “final solution.”

Fine by me – shall we call it a “holocaust” instead?

Abendstern’s letter is bad enough in its own right, but the Morning Star sees fit to degrade the exchange even further, because this is what it chose to entitle as

Israel is happy to exterminate Palestinians

Of course, Abendstern’s letter says nothing about smiling Israeli conscripts happily herding Palestinians into gas chambers. If, however, the Morning Star is unable to empathise with Jewish perspectives on Holocaust abuse, they could consider the catastrophic destruction wrought by the Nazis’ hatred of communism and socialism, including the fact that the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau were initially tested upon 600 Soviet prisoners-of war and 250 sick Poles.

(The originally intended blog post, a summary of the Abuse of the Holocaust section from CST’s Discourse Report will follow in coming days.)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 137 other followers

%d bloggers like this: