Vote in the UCU elections or kiss your Ts&Cs goodbye. But not for UCU Left – from flesh is grass

This piece is from flesh is grass

I figure that if you are a UCU member who hasn’t posted their ballot papers yet, you may be somebody who is considering not voting at all. The deadline is February 28th – if you want to use your 2nd class freepost envelope you need to move fast.

Here is the case for voting at all, followed by a caution against voting for UCU Left. This is far from the best case that could be made, because it relies on my assertions as a long-time member, observer at first hand, but ultimately a common or garden member far from the inner circles of the union. As such I have a few very simple principles: this union is weak; it is weak because it is small; more and more active members will not mean a worse union; the most important thing UCU can do is grow an active membership; UCU Left is antithetical to this.

First, why vote?

Basically it’s about whether you think higher education should belong to its citizens or to a few wealthy owners of corporations. Are we going to collectively give it away and then as individuals buy it back, or is it ours to apportion according to principles other than whether or not you are rich and confident or hard-up and debt-averse?

I’d say that just a few recent issues of the Times Higher Education Supplement – a solidly establishment publication – contain all the indications necessary to convince you that a trade union is a necessity for a healthy sector. The Higher Education Funding Council for England has just appointed Peter Houillon from the for-profit provider Kaplan to the board. Nick Hillman, the new director of the Higher Education Policy Institute and special advisor to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovations and Skills, explicitly acknowledges that the proportion of student loans will never be repaid is larger than the government estimated. HEPI always said that privatisation of undergraduate education was more likely to cost the state money than save it. The implication was that its largest change would be to reposition higher education from a public good to a private investment.

If you’re still feeling lucky, and therefore grateful to be working in higher education (and maybe slightly guilty about your good fortune?) then look a bit further into the future. It’s not about you, so much as it’s about the wellbeing of a workforce and a sector. It’s likely that there will be an attack on terms and conditions for all UK employees – we need to understand this erosion on our own behalves and campaign against it jointly. The privatisation of higher education doesn’t end at allowing commercial ventures like Kaplan to compete for students. Those like the outsourced cleaners of the 3cosas campaign will know that privatisation brings an intensified downward pressure on wages and conditions towards the statutory minimum. The statutory minimum itself is increasingly meagre, a victim of the social cuts agenda. Holidays, sick pay, flexible working, pensions, paid annual leave, hours worked – in fact all the things the labour movement won for all workers over the past 100 years or so – are likely to be strategically scaled back by university managers who, impossible to forget, awarded themselves up to 12% in pay rises this year.

Trade unionism shouldn’t be taken as an attempt to gain exemptions from austerity for one group of employees – it needs to be understood as a defence against austerity itself. What belonged to us all collectively has been, and continues to be, taken from us and given to private citizens with money already. Creeping privatisation looks just like this: funding university teaching through the highest fees of any public university system; outsourcing university services such as cleaning, back office functions, language teaching; performance related pay; the sale of student loans, startling inequality of pay within a workforce. And all this in the context of a massive, status-quo-sustaining bank bailout. I am very angry and if I could only understand this technocracy, I think I’d only be angrier.

Second, how to vote

Firstly stay alert. UCU Left candidates dominate the ballot papers. Who are UCU Left? The first thing to say is that the political right does not exist in any meaningful way in UCU. I cannot confirm this, but I’m fairly sure that Labour supporters are by far the majority in UCU. At any rate all the candidates are progressive. For this reason I think we should consider UCU Left as UCU far Left.

Think twice about UCU Left for the following reasons.

UCU Left passes union cash to Socialist Worker Party front organisations. UCU Left’s website doesn’t say who they are but we know they were initiated by the SWP, a small ferociously well-organised revolutionary group with a very poor reputation for democracy and minority rights, along with Respect, an alliance with SWP and Islamist origins fronted (if not actually led) by the End Violence Against Women’s Sexist of the Year, George Galloway MP. Look back through your branch minutes. If your branch resolved to donate your subs to Unite Against Fascism or the Stop the War Coaltion, then that’s where the money has gone. The SWP is murky about the overlap between its own membership and that of UCU Left, but it’s widely thought to be high. As I have tried to explain in an earlier post, Unite Against Fascism is not what it says on the tin. Stop the War Coalition is not anti-war but – invariablypartisan and its alliance with Islamist groups has made it tolerate homophobia, misogyny and antisemitism.  This organisation is a disgrace – but UCU Left tables and votes for motions to affiliate with it. How much have they stripped from our already meagre funds for this? I am not sure but I’ve witnessed motions for £250 or more. It may stretch to many thousands.

UCU Left is not transparent. I take for granted close political party involvement in trade unions. What I object to is that  Socialist Worker Party and Respect candidates don’t declare their interests – they aren’t open about their affiliations. It’s not that I want or expect unaffiliated officers or committee members – on the contrary, the expertise and encouragement that outside groups can give trade union reps is very sustaining. The trouble is that the SWP is so famously authoritarian that I assume (in the absence of the aforementioned transparency it has to be an assumption) that any of its candidates are firmly briefed and disciplined to represent the SWP, and if representing the SWP conflicts with the interests of UCU members I have no confidence that those UCU members’ interests would win out. This should be recognised as a conflict of interest – though I can’t see the SWP acknowledging any such thing.

UCU Left is scared of a strong active UCU membership. Why is turnout so low? Why are meetings so rarely quorate? And how come so many motions are passed anyway? Once they gain officer positions, they tend towards a highly didactic, polemic, rhetorical, top-table style of engagement with other members. You get the impression they are frightened of democracy. They seem to think the main job of members is to vote in a strong leadership and after that shut up and do what you’re told. Themselves comfortable in authoritarian settings, they more or less mirror management – if anything they are less enlightened. Non-officer members mutter that they feel talked down to, not consulted, uninvolved. Sometimes it seems as if the worst threat for UCU Left is that members might come together under their own steam, unsupervised. UCU Left goes to some lengths to disrupt these egalitarian gatherings. If they can’t disrupt them, they join in and gradually crowd out other members with their own contributions. This leaves a membership used to being fed propaganda, but unused to actual debates with other colleagues. Quite simply, UCU Left ideas are left untested in a distinctly unacademic way.

UCU Left repels potential and actual members. If you go to a meeting where UCU Left assume they are in a majority, it soon becomes apparent that they operate in a bubble. In their bubble non-left members don’t exist or are discouraged. So if you are not on the left, you’re probably at the bottom of the UCU Left priorities – solidarity will only be extended to you if UCU Left decides it is useful to do so. If you try to get involved to change their balance of power you will have to work all the harder. You are only welcome insofar as you pipe down, keep still, cough up, and let UCU Left objectify you into a member they can turn into a statistic, and count on to do what they say. They do not care about your kind – they want to occupy your union and enlist it, bodies and monies, into their political movement, and they aren’t keen to hear your opinion about it..

UCU Left gives us a “fighting union” in the wrong sense of the word. To the aforementioned authoritarianism, add aggression. The bizarre and singular campaign to boycott Israel – which affected me deeply – was national news and extremely divisive. This is very much a modus operandi for the SWP, which is notorious for splits and have legions of disaffected former members. Although it’s quiet on that front now, UCU Left members still create a nasty atmosphere. At a recent meeting an SWP member called fellow UCU NEC members whose views he opposes ‘bastards’. I didn’t like the aggressive language in several of the candidate statements. It is not taken seriously by the employers and it tips hatred of social stratification into hatred of individuals. My supposition that those were UCU Left candidates was correct.

To sum up

I don’t want to be in a sect and I don’t want to occupy an officer position in order to keep a UCU Left candidate out. I am grateful to individual UCU Left candidates for their hard work and dedication – particularly their casework. But this does not entitle them to rope their branches into campaigns which are not in UCU’s interests, or to suppose that they know better what is good for their members than the members themselves. I do want an inclusive, active trade union and that starts with representatives whose message to their members is “You can make a difference” rather than “Hear me and do as I say”.

So, in this Single Transferable Vote election who gets your votes? All the other candidates are progressive, so look at the descriptions and vote for people who say they are interested in recruiting, engaging, representing all members. Think twice or more about these candidates.

This piece is from flesh is grass

Antisemitism and anti-Zionism: a response to Mohammed Amin

Mohammed Amin tackles a thorny question in his latest blog post: ‘When does anti-Zionism become antisemitism’?  In attempting to offer an answer, he devises an anti-Zionist taxonomy and uses Venn diagrams to suggest what kind of overlap exists between antisemites and different types of anti-Zionist.   Even if one doesn’t agree with all Amin’s premises and conclusions, this still seemed like an interesting prompt for some further debate.  Apologies in advance for adding to the categories suggested in the original article, and thus making this post read a bit like the label on a multivitamin bottle.

In the original post the EUMC working definition and the stated goals of the first Zionist congress are used as starting points for definitions of antisemitism and Zionism respectively.

Amin suggests that there are three different types of anti-Zionism which he labels A, B and C. However I think the most important distinction is in fact the he one he draws between different types of Anti-ZionismB so I’ll turn to that category last.

Here is how anti-ZionismA is defined.

Belief that the Basle Program could not be accomplished without overriding the rights of the Palestinians who already lived in the land. (See my review of Herzl’s ‘The Jewish State’.) Acceptance that historical wrongs occurred, and were committed by both parties. Acceptance that the State of Israel exists today with a 75% Jewish majority and that this is a legal and historical fact that cannot be reversed without further injustice to many people. The borders of the State of Israel to be negotiated and agreed with the Palestinians, with the 1949 armistice line as the starting point of the negotiations.

My immediate response was that such a definition wasn’t a million miles away from what some might term ‘Liberal Zionism’.  Confusingly, it’s those who think Zionism is evil who are most likely to label ‘anti-ZionismA’ as unqualified Zionism.  By their criteria many who feel no ideological or emotional pull towards Israel, including many Palestinians, are Zionists.

Anti-ZionismC is at the opposite extreme:

Belief that the immigration of European Jews (and Jews from Arab countries) into Palestine was so wrong that it should be reversed, with the Jewish population expelled so that Palestine becomes an entirely non-Jewish state.

There’s no need to dwell on this as I don’t think many will argue with Amin’s conclusion:

I find it hard to believe that people who adhere to anti-ZionismC are not motivated by hatred of Jews.

Anti-ZionismB is the tricky one.

Belief that separation between Jews living in the West Bank and Palestinians is no longer possible, and that a single binational state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan is the only just solution, even if this results in an eventual Arab majority in the state due to demographic change.

Although I don’t share Mohammed Amin’s assumption that it is almost unfeasible for someone to be both Jewish and antisemitic, I do agree that people will adopt this view (support for a one state solution) for quite different motives.

Amin goes on to draw a distinction between:

those who simply genuinely believe a two state solution is no longer possible (and who would presumably be cautiously pleased if they were proved wrong).  Let’s call this Anti-ZionismB1.

and, on the other hand:

those who support a one state solution because they want the position of Jews to steadily worsen in the new state.  I’ll call this stance Anti-ZionismB2.

I agree with Amin that antisemitism is far more likely to be prevalent in the second group than the first. Indeed, in that respect, it seems little different from Anti-ZionismC.

Even though the post concludes by noting that some may think all this mere casuistry, I felt a further division or category was needed.  For me the taxonomy, although thought-provoking, seemed to exclude what I’d see as the classic or default anti-Zionist type, far more ideological than Anti-ZionismB1, but not racist in the Anti-ZionismB2 sense.  Here’s my own (cautiously phrased)* definition:

He or she supports a one state solution on ideological grounds and thinks Zionism is racist.  He or she deplores racism and so would not want to see any racial group disadvantaged in the new state.

I’ll call this anti-ZionismBχ.  I am sure there are starry-eyed idealists in this group who truly deplore antisemitism, and are convinced the one state solution is optimal even though most Israelis and some Palestinians don’t agree.  Whether or not such people are individually consciously or unconsciously antisemitic, they certainly seem to view the concerns of those living in the region with a chilly disregard (usually from afar) and also (to return to my opening point) distance themselves completely from followers of what Amin terms, in my view a little oddly, Anti-ZionismA.  Even Palestinians in the latter category are treated with contempt. Although anti-ZionismBχ types just love boycotts you’ll rarely see them express hope that boycott-anxiety will kickstart the peace process.

I’ll be interested to hear what other readers make of Mohammed Amin’s taxonomy.  After reading his post I can understand why he concludes:

I have never described myself as either a Zionist or an anti-Zionist.

The contested meaning of the words means that I am never likely to do so.

*Update.  I should perhaps gloss this further.  I am phrasing this cautiously in that I am framing this definition in terms those included in it would probably agree with.  However I am inclined to be sceptical about this group, and think, at their very least, their position is one with an antisemitic impact if not an antisemitic intent, and in some cases goes further than this.

Facebook Promote The Oldest Anti-Jewish Libel: Eric Lee

This is a cross-post by Eric Lee

I learned this morning that Facebook has a page devoted to “Jewish ritual murder” which I found hard to believe — so I checked and found it’s true.

So, as one does, I used Facebook’s complaint procedure to formally report harassment.  After all, I do feel harassed — as a Jew and a human being — by people promoting vile anti-Jewish propaganda.

It took Facebook 32 minutes to respond, which is great.

Good to see that they care about racism and antisemitism and are as keen as I am to … wait a minute … here’s a screenshot of their response:

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 10

Just in case you can’t read that, here’s the essence of it:

You reported Jewish ritual murder for harassment.
Status    This page wasn’t removed
Details 
Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the page you reported for harassment and found it doesn’t violate our Community Standards.

When I went to look at the Facebook “Community Standards” here’s what I found under “Hate Speech”:

Facebook does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.”

So, Facebook, how is a page promoting the oldest anti-Semitic slur, the infamous“blood libel”, not hate speech?

Qureshi under fire for equating Israel’s actions with the Holocaust

It is perhaps more disappointing than surprising to report yet another example of the Holocaust being misappropriated by an MP as a stick with which to beat Israel. This time Labour’s Yasmin Qureshi was the culprit:

“What has struck me in all this is that the state of Israel was founded because of what happened to the millions and millions of Jews who suffered genocide. Their properties, homes and land – everything – were taken away, and they were deprived of rights. Of course, many millions perished.

“It is quite strange that some of the people who are running the state of Israel seem to be quite complacent and happy to allow the same to happen in Gaza.”

The initial response to complaints drew on the usual hackneyed excuses:

 “These remarks were taken completely out of context. Yasmin Qureshi was not equating events in Gaza with the Holocaust. As an MP who has visited Auschwitz and has campaigned all her life against racism and anti-Semitism she would not do so.”

But the remarks clearly weren’t taken out of context as a link to the full transcript quickly demonstrates And neither visiting Auschwitz nor campaigning against racism guarantees immunity from slipping into bigoted thoughts or discourse. Even though Qureshi has now apologised, she still seems unwilling to face up to this fact.

 “I am also personally hurt if people thought I meant this.

“As someone who has visited the crematoria and gas chambers of Auschwitz I know the Holocaust was the most brutal act of genocide of the 20th Century and no-one should seek to underestimate its impact.”

Although it’s Qureshi’s remarks which have attracted most attention, Marc Goldberg rightly draws attention to other aspects of the debate. He quotes Gerald Kaufman:

It is totally unacceptable that the Israelis should behave in such a way, but they do not care. Go to Tel Aviv, as I did not long ago, and watch them sitting complacently outside their pavement cafés. They do not give a damn about their fellow human beings perhaps half an hour away.

And then observes caustically:

Naturally the idea that an Israeli should be sitting in a cafe is despicable! I am sure Kaufman never goes and drinks a coffee while someone, somewhere in the world is in need.

Qureshi’s ill-judged words were a clear example of the ‘you of all people’ trope which Chas Newkey-Burden well describes here.  Kaufman’s comment was less glaringly offensive, but it too reflects an impulse to hold Israelis to an unreasonably high standard.

Hat Tip: Mark Ferguson

Struggles over the Boundaries of Legitimate Discourse: Antisemitism and Bad-Faith Allegations – David Hirsh

This piece by David Hirsh is published as a chapter of an ISGAP book and on the ISGAP website here

David Hirsh ‘Struggles over the Boundaries of Legitimate Discourse:  Antisemitism and Bad-Faith Allegations’, in Charles Asher Small (Ed) Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity vol v Reflections, New York: ISGAP 2013, pp 89-94.

David Hirsh
David Hirsh

A colleague told me that she had been invited onto a panel in the Netherlands to discuss Caryl Churchill’s ‘Seven Jewish Children: a play for Gaza’.  I asked if she had judged that the play was antisemitic.  She looked concerned and surprised and she told me that in the Netherlands one would not characterise such a play as antisemitic.  After the Holocaust, the word ‘antisemitic’ was too strong for such a play, she explained.

The play is an account from Churchill’s imagination of the psychological dynamics within an archetypal (or stereotyped) Jewish family which have led to the situation where today’s Jews are able to contemplate the suffering of the Palestinians, including the Israeli killing of children, without pity or remorse (Churchill 2009).  The writer Howard Jacobson (2009) did say, in Britain, that the play was antisemitic.  He argued that the play was dishonest, one-sided, it made use of the themes of the blood libel and it accused Jews of being pathologically pre-disposed to genocide.

I am interested here in the thought process of my Dutch colleague.  For her, characterising something a person has written as antisemitic felt similar to saying that the person is like a Nazi who is for the gassing of the Jews.  For her the concept ‘antisemitic’ could not be used in a civilised rational or analytic discussion about Churchill’s play because it was too big and too powerful.  It could not be used as a scalpel, to dissect a piece of work; it was a nuclear bomb, which would not only destroy the object of inquiry but also the whole discursive space.  There was a sense in which the concept of antisemitism itself was felt to be outside of the boundaries of legitimate discourse for ordinary everyday slanders against Jews.

If to raise the issue of antisemitism is to unleash a nuclear bomb, then the issue is unraisable, as nuclear weapons are unusable.  The discussion of antisemitism is thought of as a weapon instead of an analytic or political endeavour.  Who is sufficiently cynical and vulgar to wield this weapon when it ought to be reserved only to characterise pure evil?  Caryl Churchill says:

Howard Jacobson … writes as if there’s something new about describing critics of Israel as anti-Semitic. But it’s the usual tactic. (Churchill 2009a)

Who’s usual tactic?  What is the collective of which Jacobson is alleged to be part which usually uses a tactic of raising the issue of antisemitism to de-legitimise criticism of Israel?  Churchill does not defend herself against Jacobson’s accusation but instead bounces back a counter-accusation that critics of Israel are routinely accused of antisemitism in order to silence them.

Judith Butler was concerned about an argument made by Lawrence Summers, then the Preisdent of Harvard University, that the campaign to divest from or to boycott Israel was antisemitic in its effect if not in its intent (Butler 2003).  Butler was critical of Summers’ claim that something could still be antisemitic in its effect even if it was not motivated by any antisemitic intent.

Butler has made a career out of tracing the complex ways in which social and linguistic structures set up gendered and homophobic exclusions and how conceptual and discursive factors coalesce into systems of discrimination.  According to her own theory, we are all caught up in the complexity of power relations in which our own self-consciousness is only a part of the story.  But when the issue is one of antisemitism, she puts down her sophisticated social and discursive tools and insists instead that a person can only be implicated in antisemitism if they are self conscious Jew-haters.  In response to Summers, who is trying to use the concept of antisemitism in an analytic and a measured way to discuss a phenomenon about which he is concerned, Butler insists that the concept should remain a nuclear bomb.  It should only be used, for her, to describe actions which are motivated by the hatred of Jews.  She insists on defining antisemitism in such a way as to make it unusable in a discussion of contemporary discursive phenomena which are related to hostility to Israel.

The EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism, produced by a body of the European Union, is a set of guidelines which was intended to help with the process of making a judgment about whether or not an incident is antisemitic.  This definition was tentatively adopted following successful lobbying by Jewish NGOs which were concerned that some kinds of manifestations of hostility to Israel ought to be recognized as antisemitic (Whine 2006).  The Working Definition focuses not on the intention of the person responsible for an incident but on the incident itself.  It was originally produced to help officials across Europe to count and to report antisemitic incidents.  It was an attempt to re-calibrate the concept of antisemitism to what was actually going on in Europe and so to undermine the association of the concept only with pure evil.

Antizionist discourse has been influential within the University and College Union (UCU) in the UK, the trade union which represents university and college workers.  It has manifested itself in repeated attempts to win the union to a policy of supporting a boycott of Israeli universities in solidarity with the Palestinian people.  In May 2011 senior figures in the UK Jewish community wrote a letter to the General Secretary.  They wrote that the prevalence of antizionist discourse had created a situation where they judged that the union had become institutionally antisemitic.  At UCU Congress, shortly afterwards, the antizionists proposed a motion which disavowed the EUMC Working Definition.  They could not accept it as a valid definition because it seemed to characterize much of what they themselves were doing within the union as antisemitic.  In the debate, the Working Definition was denounced as a bad faith attempt to say that criticism of Israel was antisemitic and thereby to situate such criticism outside of the boundaries of antiracist, or even of legal, discourse.  During the debate, Brian Klug’s definition of antisemitism was proposed instead, which was summed up by a speaker in the debate as ‘hostility towards Jews as Jews’[1].  This proposal would limit the concept of antisemitism to hostility which was consciously and openly felt and expressed against Jews for no other reason than their Jewishness.

My Dutch colleague did not want to use the concept ‘antisemitism’ because it seemed to impede the possibility of rational debate and critical thinking.  Caryl Churchill did not want to engage with the concept of antisemitism because she thought of it as a dirty weapon, wielded in bad faith by people who want to protect Israel from criticism.  Judith Butler did not want to accept the possibility of actions having antisemitic effect even in the absence of antisemitic malice.  The UCU, when accused of antisemitism, responded by insisting on a definition by which nobody except a crazed Nazi could be said to be antisemitic.

Antiracists who are accused of antisemitism in connection with their statements about Israel find themselves in an unusual position.  Often they forget the importance of understanding racism objectively as something which exists outside of the individual racist.  They find it easier to look within themselvesand to find they are not intentionally antisemitic, indeed they are opponents of antisemitism.  Intimate access to the object of inquiry yields an apparently clear result and seems to make it unnecessary for the antiracist to look any further at how contemporary antisemitism actually functions independently of the will of the particular social agent.

In February 2005, Ken Livingstone, then the mayor of London, became involved in an apparently trivial late night argument with a reporter after a party at City Hall. Oliver Finegold asked him how the party had been. Livingstone was angry because he felt Finegold was intruding.  After a little banter to and fro, in which the reporter said that he was only trying to do his job, Livingstone retorted by asking him whether he had previously been a ‘German war criminal’.  Finegold replied that he hadn’t, and that he was Jewish, and that he was offended by the suggestion.  Livingstone went on to insist that Finegold was behaving just like a ‘German war criminal’, that his newspaper, The Standard, ‘was a load of scumbags and reactionary bigots’ and that it had a record of supporting Fascism.

Instead of apologizing for his comment in the sober light of day, Livingstone responded to charges of antisemitism which had been made in relation to the Finegold affair with the following words:

‘For far too long the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government, as I have been.’ (Livingstone 2006)

This is a formulation which often appears in response to an accusation of antisemitism, which I have called The Livingstone Formulation (Hirsh 2007; 2010).  It is a rhetorical device which enables the user to refuse to engage with the charge made.  It is a mirror which bounces back an accusation of antisemitism against anybody who makes it.  It contains a counter-charge of dishonest Jewish (or ‘Zionist’) conspiracy.

The Livingstone Formulation does two things.  Firstly, it denies the distinction between criticism of Israel on the one hand, which is widely accepted as being legitimate, and discourse and action about which, by contrast, there is concern relating to its alleged connection to antisemitism, on the other.  The Livingstone Formulation conflates everything, both criticism of Israel but also other things which are allegedly not so legitimate, such as repeatedly insulting a Jewish reporter by comparing him to a Nazi, into the category of legitimate criticism of Israel.

Secondly, the Livingstone Formulation does not simply accuse anyone who raises the issue of contemporary antisemitism of being wrong, it also accuses them of bad faith: ‘the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical…’ [my italics].  Not an honest mistake, but a secret, common plan to try to de-legitimize criticism by means of an instrumental use of a charge of antisemitism.  This is an allegation of malicious intent made against the (unspecified) people who raise concerns about antisemitism.  It is not possible to ‘use’ ‘the accusation of antisemitism’ in order to delegitimize criticism of Israel, without dishonest intent.

The raising of the issue of antisemitism is often claimed to be an ad hominem attack, an accusation of antisemitic intent on the part of the ‘critic of Israel’.  Yet while there is fierce resistance to the possibility of unintended antisemitism, those who employ the Livingstone Formulation accuse those who raise the issue of antisemitism of doing so with malicious intent and of knowing that their concerns are not justified.  Jon Pike (2008) argues that the ‘Livingstone manouvre [also] represents a significant injustice. The function of the formulation is to establish and cement a credibility deficit on the part of those who have and express concern about anti-Semitism.’

Slavoj Žižek(2011) begins an article with what is universally accepted as being outside of the boundaries of legitimate discourse, that is the writings of Anders Breivik, the man who murdered 77 people in his attack on Oslo’s government district and on the youth camp of the Norweigan Labour Party on 22 July 2011.  Žižek’s method is to associate other phenomena with Breivik in order to demonstrate how they too fall outside of the boundaries of legitimate discourse.  Žižek says that Breivik is antisemitic but he also says that Breivik is ‘pro-Israel’.  Žižek’s evidence is that ‘he even wants to see the Jerusalem temple rebuilt’, as though he shared this with most people who are ‘pro-Israel’ and he makes sense of Breivik’s ‘pro-Israel’ stance by reference to his Islamophobia and his view that Israel is ‘the first line of defence against the Muslim expansion’.  Žižek asks how a ‘Zionist Nazi’ is possible.  He says that ‘Zionist-rightists’ want to make a dirty deal with Europe whereby they are allowed to build ‘apartheid’ in Israel in exchange for Europeans being allowed to be intolerant of Muslim minorities at home.  Since when did Europeans require Jewish agreement to be intolerant?  But in Žižek’s argument Israelis, or ‘Rightist-Zionist’ Jews, are a key element in the fatal undermining of European tolerant civilization.  He is careful not to blame all Jews, he only blames those Jews who adhere to ‘Zionist politics’.  Without comment, he moves from Zionist Nazis, or ‘Rightist-Zionists’ to the left liberal philosopher Bernard Henry-Lévy.  Žižek is concerned with Lévy’s claim that antisemitism in the 21st Century would be ‘progressive’, in other words, would come significantly from the left rather than from the right.  Žižek does not take the idea of antisemitism on the left seriously, and he swipes the idea away by ridiculing it as a claim that ‘today’s anti-capitalism is a disguised form of antisemitism’.  Strange that he has never sniffed anti-capitalist antisemitism and does not find the idea worth any consideration.  Strange also that it seems not to occur to him that Nazism itself could be understood as an anti-capitalist antisemitism.  Instead, he reads the significance of Lévy’s concern as being neglectful of still virulent‘old’ antisemitism in Europe.  He says that Lévy’s position is that concern for the ‘old’ antisemitism is incompatible with concern for the ‘new’, yet this actually turns out to be his own position.  He thinks that concern about ‘new’ (fake) antisemitism undermines the fight against ‘old’ (authentic) antisemitism.

Žižek offers a classic instance of the Livingstone Formulation:

 …Zionism itself has paradoxically come to adopt some antisemitic logic in its hatred of Jews who do not fully identify with the politics of the state of Israel. Their target, the figure of the Jew who doubts the Zionist project, is constructed in the same way as the European antisemites constructed the figures of the Jew…

Antisemitism has often made use of the trope of the exceptional Jew who is offered a way of absolving himself from the crimes of the Jews in general.  Žižek splits Jewry into two.  On the one hand we have Zionist Jews who embody everything that is bad about the contemporary world, which is evidenced by the fact that Breivik embraces their worldview.  On the other hand, we have Jews who Žižek characterizes as those who ‘do not fully identify with the politics of the state of Israel’.  The first group of Jews, in Žižek’s understanding, is analogous to the antisemites of old while the second group of Jews is analogous to the Jews of old.  The first group has become Nazi while the second group is all that is left of authentically Jewish multiculturalist alterity.  The Livingstone Formulation slippage is important here, it conflates the tiny minority of Jews who are militantly hostile to Israel with the evidently common and legitimate Jewish position of  ‘not fully [but in one sense or another] identifying with the politics of the state of Israel’.

Instead of examining the politics of Israel-hatred, or of particular manifestations of anti-capitalism to see if they connect in any way to antisemitism, Žižek haughtily discounts the possibility in advance.  Eschewing rational discourse, he accuses a huge spectrum of Jewish opinion, from the most racist settlers on the far right, to Bernard Henry-Lévy, on the left, of being themselves like antisemites.  Instead of engaging with what actually existing Jews say[2], he seeks rhetorically to push them over the boundary of legitimate discourse onto a terrain where their voices need not be listened to.  It is not a surprise that the campaign to boycott Israeli academia is based on the same foundations as Žižek’s politics.  The damage done by refusing to think analytically and coolly about contemporary antisemitism, and de-legitimising those who do so, is that it inoculates antiracist activists against being able to recognize and to oppose antisemitism when they see it, or more worryingly, when they themselves stumble into it.

The inoculation is widespread.  Latuff is an antizionist cartoonist who is celebrated on parts of the antiracist left but who was also awarded the second prize in President Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust Denial cartoon exhibition in 2006.  Latuff’s work is full of antisemitic tropes: Israel as a child killing state, Israel as a blood sucking state, Israel as a globally powerful lobby, Israel as playing the antisemitism card in bad faith.  The Guardian carried an uncritical piece about Latuff written by Jack Shenker (2011), who asked Latuff about claims that his work is antisemitic.  Latuff offered an answer, ‘wearily’, writes Shenker.  And that was enough for somebody writing in an antiracist newspaper.  Latuff is weary because we are all inoculated to understand that these accusations of antisemitism are made in bad faith.  With the world ‘wearily’ Shenker sides with the antisemite who doesn’t need to engage rationally with his accusers.  He only needs to sigh in mock tiredness at their bad faith and push them over the boundary of civilized discourse into a place where they do not need to be listened to and their criticism does not need to be engaged with.

Bibliography

Butler, Judith (2003) ‘No, it’s not antisemitic’, 21 August 2003, London Review of Books, http://www.lrb.co.uk/v25/n16/butl02_.html, downloaded 2 October 2009.

Churchill, Caryl (2009) ‘Seven Jewish Children – a Play for Gaza’ 26 February 2009, The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2009/feb/26/caryl-churchill-seven-jewish-children-play-gaza, downloaded 2 October 2009.

Churchill, Caryl (2009a) ‘My play is not antisemitic’, 21 February 2009, Letters, The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/letters/letters-jacobson-on-gaza-1628191.html, downloaded 2 October 2009

Gardner, Mark (2011) ‘Vile anti-Zionist “logic” at Guardian Comment is Free’ the CST blog, 11 August 2011, http://blog.thecst.org.uk/?p=2841, downloaded 28 August 2011.

Hirsh, David (2007) Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: Cosmopolitan Reflections, Working Paper #1, Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism, New Haven http://www.yale.edu/yiisa/workingpaper/hirsh/index.htm

Hirsh, David, (2010) ‘Accusations of malicious intent in debates about the Palestine-Israel conflict and about antisemitism’ Transversal, 1/2010, Graz, Austria.

Jacobson, Howard (2009) ‘Let’s see the ‘criticism’ of Israel for what it really is’, 18 February 2009, The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/howard-jacobson/howard-jacobson-let8217s-see-the-8216criticism8217-of-israel-for-what-it-really-is-1624827.html, downloaded 2 October 2009

Livingstone, Ken, (2006) ‘An attack on voters’ rights’, The Guardian, 1 March 2006, http://society.guardian.co.uk/localgovt/comment/0,,1720439,00.html, downloaded 24 February 2007

Pike, Jon (2008) ‘Antisemitism and testimonial injustice’, Engage, 31 January 2008, http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=1615

Shenker, Jack, (2011) ‘Carlos Latuff: The voice of Tripoli’, The Guardian, 22 August 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/aug/22/carlos-latuff-cartoon-arab-spring?CMP=twt_gu, downloaded 28 August 2011

Whine, Michael (2006) ‘Progress in the struggle against anti-semitism in Europe’, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 1 February 2006, http://www.jcpa.org/phas/phas-041-whine.htm, downloaded 28 August 2011.

Žižek, Slavoj (2011) ‘A vile logic to Anders Breivik’s choice of target’, Comment is Free,8 August 2011,  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/08/anders-behring-breivik-pim-fortuyn, downloaded 28 August 2011.


[2] For some research on what actually existing Jews in Britain say, as well as a response to this Žižek piece, see Gardner (2011).

This piece by David Hirsh is published as a chapter of an ISGAP book and on the ISGAP website here

David Hirsh ‘Struggles over the Boundaries of Legitimate Discourse:  Antisemitism and Bad-Faith Allegations’, in Charles Asher Small (Ed) Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity vol v Reflections, New York: ISGAP 2013, pp 89-94.

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.

On Studies on Jewish left anti-Zionism – David Hirsh

This review, by David Hirsh, is published in fathom journal.

Review of Rebels Against Zion: Studies on the Jewish Left Anti-Zionism, Edited by August Grabski The Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw, 2011. pp.288

In the first half of the 20th century, most Jews failed to find their way to a successful strategy for dealing with the threat of Hirsh1_webantisemitism. Some individuals emigrated, for example to Britain, the United States or Palestine. Some found their way into wider civil society, benefited from emancipation, and lived as citizens of European states. Some Jews found communal ways of continuing to live apart, in a changing world.

There were three overlapping political responses to antisemitism. Universalist socialists hoped that revolution would unite workers into a new world where nations, religions and ethnic differences would cease to be important. Bundists wanted to forge a new Jewish identity and institutions through which Jews could exist in peace alongside others and by which they could defend themselves against antisemitism. Zionists believed that Jewish national self-determination was required to ensure the endurance of Jewish life and to create a Jewish capacity for military self-defence.

A number of essays in Rebels Against Zion outline the arguments between Bolsheviks, Bundists and Zionists. Roni Gechtman looks at debates within the Second International and the Bund before the First World War and Rick Kuhn focuses on the debates within the Galician Socialist Movement. Henry Srebrnik outlines early Soviet campaigns against Zionism and takes the story into the Stalinist era, with the characterisation of Zionism as ‘pro-imperialist’. Bat-Ami Zucker examines the difficult position of Jewish Communists in America, trapped between their loyalty to the increasingly totalitarian Communist Party, their disdain for the American Jewish establishment and the developing danger Nazism posed to Jews in Europe. Jack Jacobs’s discussion of Bundist opposition to Zionism in inter-war Poland finishes with a crucial, if under-explored observation: ‘The arguments made by the Bund between 1918 and 1939 were not wholly transferable either to the period of the Holocaust or, for that matter, the decades following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.’The truth, which is not confronted in this book, is that all the strategies adopted against antisemitism failed. Bundism was eradicated in the Nazi gas chambers. Bolshevism failed to stop the Shoah and, while it did succeed in gaining state power over a third of the world, it did not do so by defeating antisemitism but by adopting it in its anti-Zionist variant. Zionism too, as was broadly predicted by both Bundists and socialists, failed to save European Jews in the necessary numbers, and remained, until the 1940s, a utopian movement.

But Israel became a reality, a nation state, not because Zionism ‘won’ the debates outlined in this book, but because the material basis of Jewish life in Europe was utterly transformed by the ‘Final Solution’ and by Israel’s victory in the war of 1948 against the Palestinians, and against the Arab Nationalist states which tried to eradicate it at birth.

This brute fact is often ignored, even by Marxists. In a departure from the method of historical materialism, their analyses of Zionism tend to focus more on Zionism as an idea than on the material factors which underlay its transformation from a minority utopian project into a nation state.

In 1954 Isaac Deutscher, Trotsky’s biographer, wrote that he had ‘of course’ abandoned his life-long anti-Zionism. It seemed obvious to him that the world had changed, in Auschwitz and on the battlefield. European Jews had been murdered; the remnants had forged a new nation in Palestine, which Deutscher regarded as a ‘historic necessity’, a ‘raft state.’ Now the key questions changed. It was no longer relevant to ask whether Zionism was a winning strategy against antisemitism; the question was how would the Jewish state reach a peace with its neighbours and how it would negotiate the contradiction between its Jewishness and its democracy?

The political meaning of the term ‘anti-Zionism’ couldn’t be more different after 1948 from its meaning before 1939, yet so often people who consider themselves to be Marxists are more concerned with the continuity of form than with the break in content. Before 1939 anti-Zionism was a position in debates amongst Jewish opponents of antisemitism. After 1948 it became a programme for the destruction of an actually existing nation state.

The conflation of ‘rebels against Zion[ism]’ with rebels against Israel goes unexplored. Often, in fact, the dogged use of the term ‘Zionism’ by anti-Zionists functions to mask the conflation itself and to deny that significant material changes had occurred. One could confront the reality; that history had forged a Hebrew speaking Jewish nation on the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean, or one could deny it. One could come to terms with the world as it existed and start one’s analysis from there, or one could cling onto the hope that the film of history could be unwound, and Israel could somehow be made to disappear. To call Israelis ‘The Zionists’ is to cast them as a political movement rather than as citizens of an existing state; and a political movement can be right or wrong, can be supported or opposed while a nation state can only be recognised as a reality. And if ‘the Zionists’ are characterised as essentially ‘racist’ or ‘apartheid’ or ‘Nazi’, then Israeli Jews can be treated, once again, as exceptional to the human community.

Because ‘Zionism’ is understood in Rebels Against Zion as a phenomenon of European Jewish ideational struggle, Jews from the Middle East are absent from the analysis. But in fact opposition to colonialism and to racism routinely takes a nationalist form, not only in the case of Zionism, but in the case of most anti-colonial movements. Arab Nationalism, and later Islamism, defeated and replaced colonialism throughout the Middle East. While being a strong and often successful way of mobilising against colonialism, nationalism also contains within itself a potentiality for ethnic exclusivity. Jerusalem was by no means the only cosmopolitan city of the Middle East to come under the sovereignty of a nationalist movement. Jews, as well as other minorities, were constructed as second class citizens across the post-colonial Middle East. In Beirut, Alexandria, Cairo, Baghdad, Damascus, Tehran, Tripoli, Algiers, Tunis, and many other places, Jews felt the hostility of the Arab Nationalist movements which took state power, and many left for Israel, or were driven out. In short, in the post-colonial Middle East, ethnic nationalism, with its oppressions and exclusions, was normal rather than exceptional. The tragedy is still playing itself out today in multi-ethnic states such as Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. But the parochialism of Jewish anti-Zionism has little to say about the wider Middle East, except to imagine that Jewish concerns are at the centre of it all.

The editor of Rebels Against Zion August Grabski says something rather interesting at the end of his introduction:
‘Despite the current weakness of Jewish left anti-Zionist organisations, it is precisely the intellectual tradition of those organisations that has dominated the way in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is perceived by considerable segments of the international anti-globalisation movement and by organisations and movements to the left of the mainstream social-democratic parties.’

It is understandable that many Jews have a particular interest in Israel. Many of them feel that it is only by chance that they themselves did, or did not, end up there, after the experiences of European, Russian and Middle Eastern antisemitism. Many Jews, following the failure of the international community to guarantee their safety in the 20th century, were won over to the principle of Jewish national self-defence.

Jewish anti-Zionists also tend to have a particular Jewish focus on Israel. They often feel particularly concerned by Israeli human rights abuses, by the injustice of the Israeli occupation and by what they feel is the unthinking support offered by Jewish communal bodies around the world to Israeli governments.

Yet the particular Jewish focus on the crimes of Israel, both real and imagined, is disproportionately influential outside of the confines of the Jewish community. The danger is that this Jewish concern is exported into secular civil society. Thus, for example, a tiny group of anti-Zionist Jews who are for boycotting Israeli academics may have their concerns adopted by an academic trade union. Their particular Jewish concern is understandable, but when a trade union adopts this particular concern with Jewish human rights abuses rather than a consistent concern about human rights abuses in general, then there is obvious potential for the incubation of an unacknowledged antisemitic worldview.

Philip Mendes’s chapter in the volume offers a closely observed and documented case study of such a transformation. He shows in detail the processes and the mechanisms by which a small Jewish anti-Zionist group in Australia played a role in encouraging and licensing antisemitic ways of thinking.

Stan Crooke’s essay is also an outstanding case study of the complex relationship between hostility to Israel and antisemitism. He traces the role of Jewish anti-Zionists as a vanguard, fighting for their own inverse Jewish nationalism in the wider labour movement. And he shows with impressive scholarship how much anti-Zionist ‘commonsense’ was in fact created by the Stalinist and anti-democratic traditions of the Marxist movement.

My worry is that it won’t be the chapters by Crooke and Mendes which will be remembered by most readers of this volume. Rather it will be Jewish anti-Zionism which, through a relentless succession of slippages, omissions and unacknowledged assumptions, will make the lasting impression; beginning with the title, which already bathes those who pick out Israel as a uniquely illegitimate state in the heroic light of minority rebellion.

David Hirsh is a Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London.

This review, by David Hirsh, is published in fathom journal.

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