Refusing the dichotomy

What if we’re wrong: litmus tests on Israel and Palestine by Penina Eilberg-Schwartz, which I’m posting in the spirit of paying attention to bridge builders and thoughtful people.

‘Parts of it are excellent’: Owen Jones’ article on antisemitism

Jones makes some good points in his latest piece in the Guardian. In condemning antisemitism he manages to go beyond mere assertions of the awfulness of racism. Although he invokes the Holocaust he doesn’t do so in isolation, but usefully situates it within the long and complex history of antisemitism in Europe.

And it wasn’t some mid-20th century aberration that came out of nowhere, a bafflingly horrific episode in human history resulting from sudden mass insanity. This was the culmination of hundreds of years of antisemitism: pogromsblood libel, scapegoating.

He also correctly identifies different kinds of antisemites – far right fascists, Islamist fundamentalists, and more subtle examples on the left as well as the right.

Several common tropes of antisemitic discourse are pinpointed effectively. Those who raise semantic quibbles about the term ‘antisemitism’ are rightly dismissed, as are those who blame antisemitism on the actions of Israel or mutter about the ‘Jewish lobby’. And Jones succinctly describes the Livingstone formulalation, the way in which those concerned about antisemitism are accused of acting in bad faith:

[S]ome passionate supporters of Palestinian justice deny antisemitism exists and regard all accusations of it as an attempt to shut down criticism of Israel. While they would never dream of denying the existence of racism against, say, black people or Muslims, they treat antisemitism as a political device constructed by militant supporters of Israeli occupation. And in doing so, they fail to properly scrutinise it within their own ranks; there are those who are soft on it.

But there are also problems here. It felt as though Jones was (in part) instrumentalising his eloquent and well informed critique of antisemitism in order to defuse criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn. The very many well documented and much discussed problems are glossed over as mere chance encounters. Corbyn is implicitly excluded from those leftists who ‘fail to properly scrutinise it within their own ranks … those who are soft on it.’

The article closes with a call to all on the left to recognize and stamp out antisemitism.

It is a menace: not just in its overt forms, but in subtler, pernicious forms too. There’s no excuse for the left to downplay it, or to pretend it doesn’t exist within its own ranks. Rather than being defensive, the left should seize any opportunity to confront the cancer of antisemitism and eradicate it for good.

Very forthright. But it’s rather undermined by the preceding sentence.

Antisemitism is too serious to become a convenient means to undermine political opponents.

This could be seen as a variant on the Livingstone formulation Jones dissected just a few paragraphs earlier. Presumably he is targeting those on the right or centre-left rather than (primarily) Israel advocates here. But the dynamic is still the same.   Those who articulate concerns about Corbyn’s associations are acting in bad faith. (Another problem is that the casual reader who hasn’t been following this closely would assume that Corbyn had been widely accused of being personally antisemitic.)

When I first read that sentence from Jones I immediately thought of Alan Johnson, someone who supports many of Corbyn’s ideas but is very troubled by his record on this issue. Expressing those concerns was certainly not, for him, ‘a convenient means to undermine political opponents’. What about those on the centre right? They’ll take a dim view of Corbyn’s whole programme of course, but that doesn’t mean that their anxieties about this issue are insincere or unwarranted. Jones engages directly with no specific criticism of Corbyn. And instead of trying to demonstrate that his detractors are mistaken he accuses them of dishonesty and of trivialising antisemitism.

Corbynistas prefer denouncing critics to engaging with criticism – David Hirsh

This piece by David Hirsh is in the Jerusalem Post and on Jpost.comd

Jeremy Corbyn looks like he might win the contest for the leadership of the Labour Party in the UK, making him Labour’s candidate for prime minister at the next general election. Corbyn is very English in manner; softly spoken, self-effacing, a kind of left-wing Hugh Grant but without the charm. Unlike his losing predecessor Ed Miliband, he will never appear “too clever by half” but neither does he have anything of the blue collar about him.

He’s like the guy who assigns allotments for the local council; and he can’t be bought.

His rhetoric centers on opposing what he calls “austerity” and he is surfing a growing wave of radical energy and excitement.

This is in one sense surprising because he seems to be very austere in his personal life.

Nobody suspected Corbyn of over-claiming his expenses; he is the last person to be worried about the Ashley Madison leak; he is said to buy his clothes at a charity shop.

Corbyn wants the rich to be made to suffer the austerity which the recession and the Conservatives have already forced on the low paid and on social security claimants; slightly different from austerity which he and his supporters already embraced as a life-style choice. He says that instead of cutting public spending the government should borrow more money, invest in people, skills, jobs, infrastructure and kick-start the economy. He says that he will grow the economy, expand the tax base, give generous benefits to the needy and nobody will have to suffer. Except perhaps the greedy, the bankers and other moral failures.

Well good, this is a Keynesian social democratic politics which should be offered to the British people as an option. Tony Blair’s New Labour, the only kind of Labour to have won a general election in the era of color TV (he won three), was famously “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”

The problem, however, is that these current challengers of the Thatcher/Reagan economic consensus appear to be intensely relaxed about anti-democratic politics, so long as it is anti-American; anti-Semitism so long as it is anti-Israel; and jihadi Islamism, which is seen as a defensive response to the real enemy, imperialism.

Pictures of Corbyn arm in arm with Hugo Chavez have been published. Corbyn has called for a warmer British relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Youtube videos have emerged of Corbyn hosting a show on Press TV, the propaganda channel of the Iranian regime. Tweets have been published in which he commends Russia Today, the Russian equivalent.

Corbyn has come under criticism for hosting spokespeople for Hamas and Hezbollah in Parliament, people he addressed as “friends.” When challenged, he claims that this was just diplomatic language, he wants to encourage peace negotiations he says, even with Hamas. But he does not host Likudniks in Parliament and he does not refer to them as friends. In truth, Corbyn says that Hamas and Hezbollah are “dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people.” He says that they are dedicated to “bringing about long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region.” He presents himself as a democratic supporter of a two-state solution but actually he supports and embraces those in Palestine who oppose peace with all the resources of their Iranian paymasters.

Corbyn does not understand the distinction between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, and the distinction does not seem to interest him.

His political support for anti-Semitic movements leads him into a series of encounters with anti-Semitic individuals.

He says he is being smeared by association, a backbencher is busy, anyone who supports liberation movements meets some strange people along the way. But his associations with anti-Semites are not random accidents.

Raed Salah is a Palestinian Islamist who visited the UK. The Jewish community warned that Salah had a record of employing medieval blood libel to incite against Jews. Corbyn leapt to Salah’s defense, saying that he was “far from a dangerous man.”

Steven Sizer is a vicar with a record of pushing anti-Zionist conspiracy theory who was finally banned by the Church of England from social media after sharing an anti-Semitic article claiming: “9/11: Israel did it.” Corbyn had also jumped to Sizer’s defense, saying that Sizer was under attack by a “pro-Israel smear campaign.”

Corbyn recently pulled out of a meeting where he was due to appear on a platform with Latuff, second prize winner in Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust Denial cartoon contest, and Azzam Tamimi, a London defender of Hamas who says that suicide bombing is a “noble cause” and he would do it if he had the opportunity.

Corbyn is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, an organization dedicated to fighting for a boycott of Israel and which has a record of tolerating anti-Semitism within its ranks. Corbyn supported Deir Yassin Remembered for years after it had become clear that its founder Paul Eisen was an open Holocaust denier.

Corbyn is the national chairman of Stop the War, the organization which selectively opposes Britain, Israel and America in any war in which they are involved. Corbyn, for example, opposed the Royal Air Force playing what turned out to be a pivotal role in saving Kobani and the Yazidis from Islamic State.

Corbyn was pictured hosting spokespeople for the IRA days after that organization had tried to kill prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the Brighton bombing. Pictures have emerged of Corbyn sitting next to Dyou Abou Jahjah on a platform, a man who says that the “death of every British soldier is a victory.”

How can it be that hundreds of thousands of socialists, greens, trade unionists and peace activists are so excited by the Corbyn candidacy? Diane Abbot, a prominent left-wing Labour MP angrily dismissed criticism of Corbyn. She claimed that these are all smear tactics mobilized by the “political class” which is terrified of this new wind blowing.

Rather disarmingly, Corbyn calmly announces that he “doesn’t do personal” and he isn’t going to respond to these vulgar personal attacks. He is for peace. He is against war. He is for the underdog. He opposes imperialist wars against oppressed peoples. He promises to issue an apology on behalf of the Labour Party for going to war against Saddam Hussein and the Taliban.

Corbyn’s claim not to indulge in personal abuse deserves closer examination. The Corbyn campaign tends not engage directly with the examples, evidence and argument which its opponents raise. It prefers to respond with a counter-charge of bad faith, saying that people who make these wicked accusations are enemies of the progressive; they have hidden political motives. The worry is not only that the Corbynistas fail to recognize and to oppose totalitarian politics around the world. The worry is also that in their response to mounting criticism here in Britain, the Corbyn campaign is happiest denouncing its critics – as Tories, neo-liberals, Zionists or Blairites. It prefers to de-legitimize opponents than to relate rationally to their criticism.

In other words Corbyn’s supporters are tempted by totalitarian methods and practices, as well as alliances and worldviews.

Some Labour activists believe that if Corbyn wins then this will condemn Britain to decades more Tory government. They imagine the dismal fate of a Labour candidate in a general election who is associated with people who hope for the death of British soldiers, with anti-Semites, with homophobes and with woman-haters. But we should not entirely discount a more troubling possibility. Perhaps Corbyn could be successful in knitting together the resentments and the prejudices of those who feel all at sea in today’s frightening world: those who are anti-European Union, anti “Westminster elite,” isolationist, anti-banker, anti-Zionist, anti-American, anti-democracy and pro-conspiracy theory.

David Hirsh is a sociology lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London

This piece by David Hirsh is in the Jerusalem Post and on Jpost.com

Matisyahu fails Rototom’s political test on Jews – updated

Matisyahu is not Israeli but he got boycotted anyway, after deciding not to perform politically correct views about Israel for the organisers of a reggae festival in Spain. Here’s what that feels like.

Sarah’s piece on Harry’s Place is aptly titled ‘BDS inflation‘.

Update: The Rototom organisers changed their minds – Matisyahu has been re-invited. They have posted a no-nonsense apology which you can translate, attributing their decision to bully tactics from a Valencia BDS outfit which threatened to disrupt the event. I’m not sure what made them change their minds – hopefully it was some kind of realisation rather than a bigger threat of disruption. The BDS outfit have their own ill-tempered statement in which they distance themselves from the PACBI BDS call to boycott institutions not individuals. It’s an ominous turn of events when PACBI comes off looking moderate. Still, the lesson is, show signs of life and you may just be able to shake off some antisemites. Vox has a good explainer

A statement to sign on antisemitism

Shalom Lappin, Brian Bix, Eve Garrard, Matthew Kramer, Hillel Steiner and Stephen De Wijze have a wide-ranging statement on contemporary European antisemitism which they invite you to sign.

It begins by summarising the the recent increase in antisemitism. It then highlights the complacency of those who don’t recognise how antisemitism interferes with the lives of Jews, especially those who participate in organised Jewish life or as Jews in wider public life.

At the heart of the statement is a rebuke to “many who flatteringly present themselves as liberals, human rights advocates, and progressives” who recognise and react sharply to the antisemitic threat of the white nativist far right, but are prepared to accept bigoted positions on Jews coming from the Islamist far right. Turning to politics about the Middle East, the statement gives several cases of exceptional treatment of Israel’s conduct and exceptional treatment of Jews in relation to Israel. It sets out and counters the defences most often made by progressives charged with being soft on antisemitism, before concluding with advice against fragmented discreet appeals to the authorities and a call to people committed to liberal democratic values not to treat antisemitism as a Jewish issue but to include it in a universal fight against racism and bigotry.

I think the statement is a good, needed rallying point, and a benchmark, which is why I signed. To sign yourself, click on the About link at the top and scroll to the green button.

Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy

Here are two responses, from Sarah Brown and Eve Garrard.

Although at first he seemed very much the outsider candidate, it is now being predicted that Jeremy Corbyn may do well in the first round of the Labour leadership elections.

Readers here will probably already be familiar with the reasons not to vote for Corbyn. His support for the Palestinian cause has led him to consider elements of Hamas and Hezbollah his ‘friends’ and welcome Raed Salah, who promotes the blood libel and other hateful views, to tea at Westminster:

“About Salah, Corbyn has said ‘He is far from a dangerous man. He is a very honoured citizen, he represents his people extremely well, and his is a voice that must be heard.’ Corbyn added, ‘I look forward to giving you tea on the terrace because you deserve it!’ “

Although there have been reasoned and eloquent critiques of Corbyn from the left, some other Labour supporters have a blind spot on such issues. This article on Left Futures invokes Realpolitik in order to defend Corbyn’s record and associations.

“Corbyn is socialist and the others are not, Corbyn is secularist and the others are not, Corbyn is a steadfast defender of LGBT rights and the others are certainly not. Corbyn also understands that peace can only be achieved through mutual respect and diplomacy.”

But it is surely possible to have official dealings with objectionable people to further peace and diplomacy without calling them ‘friends’ or inviting them to tea.

It is depressingly difficult to disagree with Nick Cohen here:

“If Corbyn apologized for neo-Nazis with near identical views to Raed Salah, or some kind of Ku Klux Klan-style militia that matched Hezbollah goose step for goose step, the left would excommunicate him. As it is, in Britain, Europe, and by the look of it the States too you can be an admired leftist, while going along with every vile and murderous movement.”

Whereas some indignantly defend Corbyn, others admit a problem but claim it is outweighed by the positives.  Here a link to some of his more unsavoury positions is hidden away in a throwaway line in the middle of an otherwise enthusiastic piece.

“He’s not a perfect figure by any means, but you take your breaks as you find them.”

Many Labour members aren’t avid followers of blogs and rely for their information on more mainstream media. It is therefore likely that they are aware of Corbyn’s views on issues such as austerity and the unions, but perhaps know little of his more controversial positions. It’s a pity that this quite informative short piece was run in the Daily Express, a paper most on the left avoid. There’s no mention of Hamas, Hezbollah or Salah in this gushing profile in the Guardian, or in this editorial, also from the Guardian.

This apparent indifference or tolerance towards Corbyn’s less defensible views is well described in this extremely informative recent article on his candidacy by Jake Wallis Simons.

“As one Labour insider put it, “the attitude is, ‘that’s just Jeremy being Jeremy.’”

In some ways the debates echo those we heard when Ken Livingstone was standing for Mayor.   Many were torn between a wish to support a Labour candidate and an unwillingness to support someone who, to quote Jonathan Freedland, ‘doesn’t care what hurt he causes Jews.’

If you look up “Jeremy Corbyn” together with “Hamas” in Google most of the top hits are links to right wing sites or sites which regularly cover the topic of antisemitism. It seems likely, thanks to the willingness of some on the left to excuse or gloss over Corbyn’s associations with extremists, that many voting for him as leader won’t be aware of his past form on these issues.

Sarah Brown

It is sometimes suggested that Jewish left-wingers who refuse to support Corbyn out of concern about his antisemitic friendships are selfishly putting the (putative) interests of Jews ahead of the interests of the poor and the working class, for whom Corbyn speaks. Jews should, it could be said, rise above their narrow sectional concerns, and support the candidate who will work for the down-trodden and impoverished. Leave aside the question of whether Corbyn would, were he to become Leader of the Labour Party, actually improve the lot of the downtrodden any better than the other candidates. Let’s focus on the charge of sectional selfishness levelled at Jews who have doubts about supporting Corbyn. To see its implications, consider the following situation:

A candidate for the leadership emerges whose politics in general are very similar to Corbyn’s, being impeccably left-wing on all issues to do with class and economics. However this candidate has in the past, and is in the present, very supportive of the Ku Klux Klan in America. He regards that organisation as an objectively progressive force, and its leaders as friends – he attends some of their meetings, and is pleased and proud to share a public platform with them when the opportunity arises. Many persons of colour in the Labour Party are horrified at this, and declare their intention to vote for any other candidate in preference to this Corbyn-equivalent, on the grounds that they can’t possibly support a person who has links with some extraordinarily racist forces, whose views about black people are hideously prejudiced, insulting, and oppressive.

In such a situation, would those persons of colour be regarded as acting selfishly? Would they be criticised for putting the interests of black citizens ahead of the general good? Or would they rather be seen as women and men of principle, who refuse to collaborate with bigotry and racism towards themselves and their people, whatever its source on the political spectrum? The questions practically answer themselves.

So too for Jews who feel that they cannot support Corbyn in any circumstances. They too are women and men of principle, an anti-racist principle well worth defending by Jews and non-Jews alike.

Eve Garrard

From Fathom: Antisemitism and Oren Ben-Dor

Before the University of Southampton’s conference on Israel and international law was cancelled/postponed, a petition was set up insisting that this controversial topic was a legitimate subject for discussion and debate.

We affirm, as academics from various disciplines and institutions of higher education, that the themes of the conference, such as the relationship of international law to the historic and ongoing political violence in Palestine/Israel, and critical reflections on nationality and self-determination, are entirely legitimate subjects for debate and inquiry.
We are very concerned that partisan attempts are being made to silence dissenting analyses of the topic in question.
Many who disliked the conference’s stance still supported its right to go ahead, and cautioned against an illiberal or counterproductive overreaction.  Ben Gidley, for example, argued that we should challenge opposing views, not seek to ban them.
I am sure that I would strongly disagree with the views expressed by many of the speakers at the conference. It may be that some speakers may contribute to a climate in which antisemitism is not taken seriously. These positions, however, should be challenged through argument, and not by banning an event.
I agree with this evaluation of the conference.  However, the spotlight on Southampton made many look more closely at the views of one of the conference organisers, Oren Ben-Dor.  I would be interested to know how those who supported the agenda of the conference (not simply its right to go ahead) respond to his published views on ‘Zionism, Anti-Zionism and the Jewish Prison’.  You can read my own response to this abhorrent piece here on Fathom.
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