Stephen Marks, Momentum candidate to adjudicate antisemitism in Labour, has been flirting with antisemitic politics for decades

This is a re-posting of a report that Michael Ezra wrote (under the name ‘Mikey’) on 10 December 2005 about a public event at which Stephen Marks spoke from the platform.

This has become relevant again because Stephen Marks is on the Momentum slate for the National Constitutional Committee (NCC).  Momentum want him to be elected to a position where he will be responsible for making judgements on whether things that members have said or done were antisemitic. Stephen Marks was got his political education in IS, the fore-runner to the Socialist Workers Party, led by the antizionist Tony Cliff.

Asghar Bukhari, who spoke on the platform with Marks that evening, later admitted having sent money to help David Irving’s losing court bid to silence Deborah Lipstadt’s book which explained what Irving’s Holocaust Denial meant.

Alan Hart, also on the platform, included a discussion in his book ‘Zionism, the real enemy of the Jews’, already out at that time, about Jewish Power and influence; and later pushed the claim that the attacks on New York and Washington on 9/11 were Israeli false flag operations.

“The Great Debate” – The Truth About Zionism - 'Mikey'

 

 

“The Great Debate” – The Truth About Zionism – ‘Mikey’

This event, Hosted by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPACUK), was held at Friends House on Friday Evening 9th December 2005. It had originally been scheduled to take place at Westminster University, who eventually decided not to host it. The report below is not a word for word transcript from the debate but just based on some notes I made from the meeting that I attended.

Speakers:

Alan Hart: Author of “Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews”
Stephen Marks
Asghar Bukhari: Head of MPACUK
Sadia Hossein: MPACUK (moderating)

In the introduction it was made clear that Stephen Marks was speaking in a personal capacity and not as a representative of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, even though he had been billed as a representative of Jews for Justice.

The first speaker was Alan Hart (AH)

AH stated that he has spent six years writing and researching his book. He commented that in the Judeo/Christian world a debate about who must do what for peace in the Middle East is futile as the history that has been taught is “the” “Zionist” history. He stated that the aim of the book was to rewrite the Zionist mythology for the truth. AH then stated that he had very many Jewish friends. He commented that few of them could define “Zionism” so he gave his own definition as follows:

“Zionism is the Jewish Nationalism of some but not all Jews who colonised Palestine to create a state for some but not all Jews”

He stated that the colonisation of the land by the settlers required the Palestinians to be ethnically cleansed. He believes that it is possible to be passionately anti-Zionist without being antisemitic in any way.

He stated that during the summer he sent letters to the editors of various newspapers and journals offering an advance copy of his book, but he got no replies. He also stated that he wrote letters to the “top fourteen people at the BBC” but also got no replies. This, he claims, says something about the fear of offending “Zionism”. It is not selling newspapers that make the media money but selling advertising to corporations that make money and the media do not want to upset their corporate advertisers. He admitted that the argument about corporate advertisers could not be used against the BBC, but did not specify why the BBC turned him down.

AH went on to state that he believed it was true that antisemitism was on the rise but the prime cause of the rise in antisemitism was the behaviour of Israel and America’s support for the “Zionist State”. He does not believe any American President will ever act against Israel because if they even tried it, Israel would warn them to be careful as they have an atom bomb.

AH believes it to be a Zionist myth that Israel has ever been in danger of annihilation but a myth that the Zionists want the world to believe.

He believes that the main thing that needs to happen is that Jews in the Diaspora who constitute the majority of Jews in the world need to speak out. However they are silent for the following three reasons:

1. Many fear a second Holocaust and therefore perceive a need for Israel as the refuge of last resort.
2. Jews not living in Israel live in a ghetto and believe that the community they live in will provide them security
3. If they do speak out the Zionist lobby will organise the members of the community to condemn them.

He stated that a lot of people say that it is time to boycott Israel, but that if the boycott does not carry the support of the Diaspora Jews then the boycott will not happen. Jews will claim that anti-Semitism is happening again. The purpose of his book was therefore to end the silence of “the Jews”.

He stated that he could not be accused of antisemitism and that if Zionists want to suppress debate then they call any criticism of “Zionism” or Israel antisemitic. If it comes from someone who is Jewish then they are called a self-hater. He wanted to make it clear that if anyone accused him of antisemitism then he would sue and has put the Board of Deputies on notice that he will sue if he is referred to as an antisemite. He continued that, as “the Zionists” cannot accuse him of antisemitism, they ignore him and use the media to suppress debate.

His next comment was that “Zionists” know how to play all the cards and used America as an example of the effect of “Jewish money” and “Jewish votes”. He states that the Arab states could have trumped all of that if they were united, with oil and if they were united could have gone to America and used the oil card if Israel refused to go back to its 1967 borders. However the Arab states were not united and his book is therefore critical of the Arab regimes. It is on the side of “the people” irrespective of whether they are Jewish, Muslim or Christian.

The next speaker was Stephen Marks (SM)

Unfortunately my notes on SMs speech are not so detailed as in my opinion he kept jumping around in what he was saying and was not very coherent. However the main gist seemed to be about the creation of the State of Israel itself, which he clearly believed to be unjust. He pointed to the fact that before the creation of the State of Israel the United Nations Security Council had said that no-one should take any unilateral action. Israel, he said, made a unilateral declaration of a state in 1948. He argued that the creation of the State had constituted a criminal injustice. He commented that “real Zionists” go and live in Israel and “insurance policy Zionists” just support Israel. “Zionism” was about colonisation and not just about living in Israel and that the Jewish Diaspora have constructed the idea that “Zionism” is a psychological necessity.

Stephen Marks then went on to discuss various forms of antisemitism and said that he saw nothing in Alan Hart’s book that could be understood as antisemitic. The only section that could possibly be seen as antisemitic is the discussion on “Jewish power and influence”. But that in itself is not antisemitic if it is just a discussion of facts. For example he believed one should be able to discuss the “Zionist lobby” and how that lobby has shaped American policy without being accused of antisemitism.

The final speaker was Ashgar Bukhari

This was not so much a speech but more of a rant. The tone was set in his opening comments where he made clear that he was there to talk to the Muslims in the room. He said he was not going to talk about “Zionism” as the other speakers were far more knowledgeable than him. He wanted to talk about how Muslims must protect themselves from “Zionists”. He stated that “Zionism” was a very powerful force and much if its aim was directed against “you” (addressing the Muslims). He went on at length how the Muslim community is not doing enough to defend itself against “Zionism” and that it was asleep to the danger. He mentioned that the Christian-Zionist lobby was “very very powerful indeed” and that most Muslims have no idea of this power. He went on to criticise Muslims for not doing enough to defend Islam, that it is not enough just to learn to wear the hijab. Muslims must also defend the hijab and the beard and cap.

He mentioned that Muslims could learn from “the Zionists”, that the meeting was not held at Westminster University as “Zionist students” lobbied behind the scenes to ensure it didn’t happen there. Muslim students on the other hand did nothing. “We are asleep”.

He went on: “Brothers and sisters, there will be two things that will be your downfall: firstly, Muslim Institutions, and secondly, your own mindset.

“The reason why you are not mobilised is that no-one organises you. Mosques and Islamic societies do not mobilise you. Your leaders are not mobilising you so you are not mobilised. ”

“When I was a little boy, I believed I could conquer the world, but when I got bigger and a brother is shot in Palestine, Muslims will shrug their shoulders and say ‘what can we do?'” When it comes to their job Muslims can work hard at being doctors or lawyers but when it comes to defending Muslims they do nothing.”

“Today Palestine, tomorrow your neck on the block. Never forget Bosnia!”

“Most people in the audience are too pacified, they will go home and go to sleep. They are not prepared to do anything”.

“I know that as MPAC tries to activate the Muslims there will be those that try to silence us and accuse us of antisemitism. We are a bunch of volunteers and we make mistakes. We are not like AIPAC with a budget of hundreds of millions, we run on a budget of £12,000 a year. We have made mistakes and when we find them, we try and rectify them”

“Muslims, do not sit down. We must fight to do something for the eleven year old who will get his eyes blown out in Palestine”.

Question and Answer Session:

The first question/statement came from “Abdul”, who claimed that Alan’s book interested him as well as the book by Norman Finklestein. He commented that there is too much emphasis on religion and that Muslims should criticise injustices anywhere and Muslims should awake a political entity. Whilst reading the Koran was good Muslims must participate in other aspects, as there is too much emphasis on religious matters. MPAC should enlist the support of all communities to emphasize the injustices anywhere in the world.

The second question came from Layla who claimed to work in a human rights organisation. She asked Alan Hart about the other silences. AH responded that he discussed the silence of the Jewish Diaspora but the other silences were the silence of “the gentiles” who did not speak out because they still feel guilt about the Holcaust. The other silence was the silence of the Muslims and that they did not speak out partly as a generational thing as the older generation did not want to rock the boat and also because Muslims are scared about accusations of antisemitism. Alan Hart stated that he wanted these silences to be ended as the only way to make democracy work.

The next question came from someone who claimed to be an independent who asked that if the Arab regimes are corrupt and incompetent what can Muslims do? Stephen Marks seemed to completely ignore this question but made some comment about the Bund in Poland criticising rabbis. Stephen Marks then went on his own rant about Christian Zionists being the biggest Jew-haters in the world. He stated that the most powerful Jew haters are not a bunch of Nazis who put Swastikas on Synagogues or desecrate graves but the Christian Zionists. Lord Balfour, who kept the Jews out of England and some of his own family perished as a result, was an example of this. Stephen Marks then said that Zionists were getting clever and that they were now saying “Not all anti-Zionists are antisemitic but all antisemites are anti-Zionists”. Stephen Marks said that this view was wrong and it is the Christian Zionists who are the biggest antisemites and that it was odd that there was an alliance between Jews and the “Christian antisemitic Zionists”.

Alan Hart also did not answer the question but answered just the end part of the question and seemed to assume a different beginning to the end of “What can Muslims do?” He stated that British society was quite racist but in a more sophisticated way than America. He stated that if Tony Blair is calling you (the Muslims) a bunch of religious nuts then British Muslims should get involved in politics.

Another question then came from the floor, this time from someone referring to himself as a political commentator who goes by the name “The Sharpener”. He wanted to know how much antisemitism was on the rise and from where that antisemitism was coming. He claimed that there was no violent antisemitic activity amongst Muslims in this country and that the antisemitism that there was, originated from the far right. Alan Hart responded that the House of Commons Committee is considering this at the moment and they put the rise in antisemitic incidents at 40% last year. He went on to add that the idea that Muslims are antisemitic is not true. What drives Muslim fury is America’s support for Israel. He claimed that the monster of antisemitism is the product of European societies.

Asghar Bukhari interjected that the only time he has seen antisemitism discussed by Muslims is when the matter of Palestine is discussed and that he has never met a Muslim that has stated “I don’t like Jews”. Stephen Marks then piped up about MEMRI, which he claimed to be financed by Israeli Intelligence. He stated that MEMRI’s sifts through all the Arab media to find the odd crackpot who has said something that can be used against them. He wanted to know where the equally well-funded anti-Zionist equivalent of MEMRI was, that could deal with the filth that came out of Israel. Alan Hart came back and added that Zionism is brilliant because it is well funded, but he said that there are 1.4 billion Muslims in the world, including a lot who are wealthy. With Arab and Muslims as enemies the Zionists do not need friends.

Until now, the meeting had been quite orderly with the exception of one heckler who had heckled on a few occasions. On each occasion, he was asked politely to keep quiet or he would be asked to leave. He was reminded that there would be time for questions. He was now given the chance to speak. He introduced himself as a regular Jewish Jew who was pro Zionist, and started to talk about the population of Jews in Israel by Mid 2006 and by 2020 in relation to the rest of the world, but was told by Alan Hart to get to the question. (Personally I felt this was unfair as a number of others from the floor who spoke made quite lengthy statements and no one else was told to get to their question.) He did then ask his question which was if you can’t persuade us (the Jews) to stop supporting Israel, what are you going to do about it?

Stephen Marks did not answer that question but started going on about the fact that his problem with Israel was that it was racist and that 92% of the land in Israel was reserved for Jews. He made an analogy in relation to Israeli laws that if the mayor of London said that there were too many blacks in Brixton, it would be illegal. He said all the racist laws in Israel should be scrapped. The questioner was clearly very agitated through this and made a number of interruptions asking again in relation to his original question “What are you going to do about it?” A suggestion was made that he be removed from the room and one of the stewards clearly touched him to try and make him leave. This led to the questioner screaming at the steward “Don’t touch me”. The steward then raised his fist to the questioner as if to hit him. This act was clearly seen by all in the room. The moderator then screamed “No Violence” and rushed over to the situation and admonished the steward. The questioner was then escorted from the room.

In relation to the above fracas: There was a later statement from the floor where someone claiming to be a trainee lawyer talked about Islam being a way of life, and that any truly practicing Muslim must be politically active. He then went on to say that the Zionist did not denigrate our (Muslim) religion and that any violence should not have happened. Later on the moderator also gave an apology for the behaviour of the steward.

In my opinion the things that MPAC did wrong here was firstly not really giving the self declared Jew and Zionist an opportunity to make a proper statement of a reasonable length in line with the length of other contributors from the floor and also having a particularly violent steward. Given that the meeting was headlined “The Great Debate” it did not seem to me that it was a debate at all as everyone up and until then were on the same side. I do not believe that MPAC really wanted any debate as such.

A question then came from the floor from a student at UCL that objected to “Zionists” being portrayed as baboons on the web site of MPAC and wanted to know all about the Spiderman imagery used on their site.

Asghar Bukhari from MPAC responded as follows:

“MPAC is a volunteer organisation. We are highly anti-Zionist and are not afraid to say it. It is a good thing. We do not have offices and a number of people can put things on the web site. A few years ago it could have been an 18 year old girl updating the site.”

“People send us articles every day and we do not have time to read it all. If it looks OK, we may not read it and just put it up. As MPAC has grown and we have more manpower, as soon as something is flagged to us we take it down straight away.”

“18 months ago, an article went up that may not have been appropriate, but we wouldn’t know as at one point we were receiving about eight articles a day.”

“We make mistakes. What I find crazy though is the idea that we must have known it or did it on purpose. Now for the first time Spiderman is considered anti Semitic. The phrase “pound of flesh” was used on the web site. I had no idea that it was Anti-Semitic, I don’t know Shakespeare. We screw up. We are humans. We take it off. If you think it is that bad, give us some money and we can go over everything with a fine tooth comb.”

A questioner from the floor wanted to know if there was anything in Judaic religious law that said something about “Zionism” being wrong. Stephen preceded a long response by admitting he was not an expert on Jewish religious law. He went on to add that for a long time it was not part of Jewish belief to establish a state. He gave an example of 1492 when Jews were expelled from Spain and could have all gone to Palestine, but only a few hundred families went. He accepted that the majority of Jews have accepted the “Zionist” view of Judaism but there were a few organisations such as Neturei Karta who view Israel as an abomination. He also stated that the majority of orthodox Jews are non-Zionist and that the Liberal and Reform movements saw Judaism as an ethical code. He went on to quote a Jewish philosopher who has claimed that modern Zionism is a form of idolatry as people are worshipping Israel instead of worshipping God. He also quoted Mark Ellis who said something like modern Jews should take the Sefer Torahs out of their arks and replace it with F16s and guns as that is what they worship. Alan Hart then stated that the survival of the Jewish people does not depend on land but relies on living n accordance with the religion. He commented that Zionism is an enemy of the Jews and that prior to the Holocaust most Jews who were thoughtful were opposed to Zionism.

The next questioner from the floor wanted to hear from a Jew explaining why they are not “anti-gentile”. The questioner understood terms like “Goy” to be derogatory. It was OK for Jews to charge interest and to have rape relationships with non-Jews. Stephen Marks responded by saying that verses in all religious texts can be taken out of context.

Someone called Deborah from Jews for Justice for Palestinians asked Alan Hart if it was too late for a two state solution. Alan Hart responded that the idea of a two state solution was absurd and that it was a one state solution or no solution at all.

I then raised a question myself by stating that it was not just 18 months ago that MPAC were publishing antisemitic stuff on their web site, but only this week, they had put up two articles. The first one claiming, in relation to David Cameron’s election, that Likud has won, claiming that Cameron has Israeli masters. Furthemore I wanted to know why were they claiming that Mossad were operating in British Universities. Stephen Marks claimed that it was not antisemitic just silly. Ashgar Bukhari also denied that it was antisemitic. I then queried why had they then taken the posts down. Bukhari then turned away from looking at me to address others in the audience and said that Muslim religious leaders are too passive and that they do not teach political activism. He claimed that they (the Zionists?) will publish a list of all the mistakes made by MPAC. He said that “the Zionists” are awake. Pointing at me, said that this was an example of it, and it was happening in front of your eyes. (Note before my question, I did not introduce myself nor did I state or even imply that I was a “Zionist”at any point). He went on to state “We (Muslims) are always going to be under attack and that they (“the Zionists”) want to smear you so you can’t fight for the Palestinians. Don’t let MPAC fight alone. Activate yourself”.

Stephen Marks ended his contribution by stating that there are Jews who fight for the Palestinans. Alan Hart concluded by saying that the reason why “the Zionists” want to suppress debate is that they know they have done wrong.

The moderator from MPAC in her final announcements advertised the march the next day being organised by Hizb ut Tahrir.

I left the meeting immediately at the end as I did not want to hang around in that atmosphere, but someone who did stay to ask Bukhari some more questions afterwards reported back to me that Bukhari said and I quote “Any one who supports Israel can go and boil their head”.

“Mikey”

You can also have a look at MPAC’s own account of last night’s event, and at this rather good one, on Indigo Jo’s blog. And this oneon Harry’s Place.

Here is Stephen Marks’ comment on Harry’s Place:

It’s difficult to reconstruct a meeting at which you were one of the speakers. I am trying to reconstruct what I said from my notes, as I don’t recognise most of it from the accounts that have appeared elsehere. Mark Elf can’t post anything on his blog till tomorrow and my efforts are hindered by a stomach bug.

The cancellation of the meeting by Westminster, in response to secret behind-the-scenes complaints, was scandalous. On those freedom of speech grounds alone I am glad I spoke.A phone call from persons unknown was enough to get the meeting cancelled – I don’t know of a Muslim organisation in the country that could get that result in that way.

I don’t know who was responsible but if it was the UJS I wouldn’t be surprised – in my experience that is the way they operate. If you don’t like anti-Jewish conspiracy theories – and I dont – then don’t act like a conspirator.

I still don’t know what the charge against the meeting was supposed to be. If they think Hart’s book was antisemitic let them come out and say why – Hart has said he will see them in court. I made clear my points of agreement and of disagreement with it from the platform. The banners had their chance to do the same – they chose not to.

The same goes for MPAC. If they want to say it should be banned as an organisation from holding meetings on campus let them say so in the open and the question can be discussed. I made clear to Asghar from the platform that I thought their coverage of issues like Cameron and UJS was childish and hysterical, not least because it actually precluded a serious discussion of the issues.

I would like to see a serious discussion of the role of Conservative Friends of Israel and its Labour equivalent, as well as of the Labour Middle East Council and CAABU. I would certainly like to see a serious discussion of the way UJS operates on campus to close down debate. But rants about ‘Likud wins’ and ‘Mossad agents’ actually get in the way of that and discredit those who come out with them, as I told Asghar to his face.

In the same way, I would like to see a serious discussion of whatever comes out in the RESPECT local election manifesto. As someone very sceptical of that outfit I would expect it to contain unexceptionable sentiments about local services; criticisms of New Labour’s record with much of which I could agree; and an alarming degree of ignorance about the nuts and bolts of local government and actual policy implementation; all covered with a lukewarm sauce of demagogic goo.

I would also expect to keep an eagle eye open for concessions to certain communalist concerns of a conservative or reactionary nature – though as local government has little say in such matters as gay rights and abortion there would probably be little room for that.
So I was glad to see that David T had posted some advance leak of the RESPECT local election manifesto and clicked on the link hoping to see something serious.
What I got of course was a childish joke of a kind that give or take the difference in bias, would fit in well to the MPAC website on a bad newsday. Keep it up David T; you’re well on the way to winning the title of the thinking man’s Asghar Bukhari.

Actually that’s unfair on Asghar – at least when he makes a damn fool of himself, he leaves the comments box open.
Posted by stephen marks at December 12, 2005 12:12 PM

Message of support to Chuka Umunna – from Shalom Lappin

Dear Mr. Umunna,

Shalom Lappin 

I am writing to express my support and my gratitude for the strong, principled stand that you have taken on recent developments within the Labour Party. I am a longstanding Labour supporter, but I find myself unable to endorse the Party under its current leadership.

I feel politically disinherited, and deeply discouraged by the current political situation in the UK. To the right we have an incompetent Tory government driving the country head first over the cliff of Brexit. The Prime Minister’s inability to provide intelligent direction in these difficult times leaves the country adrift, and at real risk of serious economic and social chaos. She has allowed herself to be held hostage by rabid Euro Skeptics pursuing a Trumpian agenda of anti-immigrant prejudice and reactionary economic policies. To the left we have Labour in the hands of Corbyn and his dismal band of 1970s ideologues, promoting a bizarrely regressive neo-Soviet politics. It is replete with howling purges of independent voices, and the sewage of Stalinoid anti-Jewish racism. In the centre the Liberal Democrats languish ineffectually, thoroughly compromised by years of collaboration with Tory austerity policies and assaults on the welfare state.

In this grim landscape the presence of a progressive social democratic alternative is achingly absent. You and your colleagues from the traditional moderate core of Labour are badly needed. I fear that saving Labour from within is now a lost cause. Corbyn and Momentum have succeeded in harnessing the energy of young, well meaning activists, with no sense of political history, for an assault on the democratic left. They have become an unwitting Red Guard in the hands of his functionaries, supplying the shock troops for his destruction of Labour as a party of radical democratic reform. Should the moderates and the independents in the Party remain, they will be systematically isolated and jettisoned.

It is, I believe, urgent that you create a party of the democratic left now rather than later. Such a party is an imperative in an environment devoid of serious political leadership. We are living in a dangerous period of instability in which the foundational norms of liberal democracy are under attack throughout the world from extremists, racists, and irresponsible adventurers of every type. It is crucial that decent, politically progressive leaders present a forceful and convincing alternative to these agents of chaos and reaction. I very much hope that you and your colleagues take on this challenge as soon as possible.

Should you embark on a the creation of a new party, I would be honoured to assist in any way possible.

Best,
Shalom Lappin, FBA, MAE
Emeritus Professor of Computational Linguistics
King’s College London

The taboo temptation: Labour’s euphemistic anti-Semitism – Yaron Matras

A ‘euphemism’ is a word that is used as a substitute for an expression that can cause offence or embarrassment. Authors Kate Burridge and Keith Allan define euphemisms as a shield and at the same time a weapon: They are a way of confronting the problem of how to talk about things that can be uncomfortable – like body parts and bodily functions, sex and lust, death and disease, hate and dishonesty. They are a way of venturing into taboo territory without getting caught, like when we say ‘poo’ or ‘wee’ when we’re talking to children.

So if you were looking for a way to say that ‘Jews are disloyal’, then you might try substituting the word ‘Jew’ by the word ‘Zionist’. Why would that work? For a start, you would be avoiding the taboo of singling out an ethnic group for wholesale abuse. You would also create a smokescreen of ambiguity: Zionism is defined broadly as a political idea, and Zionists are those who support that idea. So singling out Zionists would be seen as a legitimate form of political criticism.

But there are pitfalls: For a start, those with a nuanced understanding of history know that there is an array of different opinions that all fall under the rather vague umbrella term ‘Zionist’. This is why Labour’s Emily Thornberrry was inclined to suggest that Jeremy Corbyn himself was, in fact, a Zionist. And next, when you use a collective term like ‘The Zionists’ to refer to a group of specific people who are not individually named, then you are purposefully obscuring the political meaning of the term and strengthening instead its function as a euphemistic label. For that reason, the smokescreen effect becomes apparent, just like we all know what we mean when we say ‘poo’ or ‘wee’.

That is why the Chakrabarti report on anti-Semitism in the Labour party, otherwise widely criticised as a whitewash, concluded, albeit rather reservedly, that ‘Zionist’ should be used ‘advisedly, carefully, and never euphemistically or as part of personal abuse.’ So when a video emerged that showed Jeremy Corbyn remarking that ‘Zionists’ lack qualities of Englishness such as irony even though they have ‘lived here all their lives’, it infuriated those who over the past weeks and months have already been on edge through a series of transgressions in the Labour party that might be described as wholesale euphemism: playing around with criticism of Israeli policy as a way of testing the boundaries and challenging the taboo.

To be clear, I am not a fan of Israeli policy, and I’ve done my bit over the decades to actively oppose it and to actively cultivate links of trust and collaboration with Palestinians, though I’m not going to spell it all out here as I don’t feel that I need to establish my anti-Zionist credentials in order to legitimise my fear of even the most subtle forms of anti-Semitism. But what we’ve been seeing in sections of the Labour party is a drive to challenge the taboo: Suggestions that Hitler was a Zionist, that Israelis are Nazis, that Jews control the media (well exemplified by the Morning Star’s recent reference to the ‘wealthy and powerful’), or that Jewish Labour party members are Israeli agents, contain no element of political analysis or strategy. Nor do they help further the cause of the Palestinians. All they do is toss around offence and insult, under the seemingly protective euphemistic wrap of political criticism of Israel.

We need to look at this in full context. ‘Othering’ of Jews is more common in UK institutional settings than many might wish to admit or recognise, and that includes the UK higher education sector: I was once teased by a senior colleague about whether I spent a supervision meeting with a Jewish student chatting about ‘how to kill Arabs’. I witnessed another Israeli colleague being asked to remove himself from a PhD panel because ‘it would not be appropriate for an Israeli to supervise a Jordanian student’. In 2005, after the university lecturers’ union AUT declared a boycott of Israeli academia, a line manager who learned that I had talked to a senior Israeli academic about the possibility of giving a seminar threatened me with disciplinary action for ‘committing the University to a political position’, though the university had never adopted the union’s policy of singling out any country or individual scholar for boycott.

It’s hard to see how such expressions of suspicion and exclusion would unequivocally fall under the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism that has become the focus of Labour’s most recent debates. But when the full range of institution-based practices is taken into consideration, one can understand what led three Jewish newspapers to write in late July 2018 that a Corbyn-led government would pose an existential threat to Jewish life in this country: If a trade union resolution to boycott Israel could trigger the kind of reaction that I describe above, what would happen if it became government policy to treat Jews as ‘Zionist agents’ who cannot be trusted, whose conversations should come under scrutiny, and whose international links need to be put under surveillance?

In early September, Labour will return to debating the IHRA definition. But even if the Labour leadership were to back track from its initial reservations, the issue won’t go away. Corbyn has so far been talking in reverse, saying that he deplores anti-Semitism but will not be deterred from criticising Israel. In that way he is only strengthening the perception that he sees the whole debate as an attempt to prevent him from supporting the Palestinians. Instead, a simple and straightforward statement is called for: Labour should declare explicitly that it opposes Israel’s policies, but that this position gives no legitimacy to the use of hostile imagery against Jews as Jews. It should declare an end not just to the use of individual expressions as euphemisms, but to a pattern of behaviour by which the debate around Israel is seen by some as a tempting arena through which to challenge the taboo, and get away with it without sanctions.

Yaron Matras
Professor of Linguistics, School of Arts, Languages, and Cultures, University of Manchester
Affiliated Researcher, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge

Here’s an interview with David Hirsh in German

Denial: Norman Finkelstein and the New Antisemitism – Alan Johnson

This piece, by Alan Johnson, is from fathom. 

In recent days the US polemicist Norman Finkelstein has injected a crude claim into the debate about antisemitism in the UK Labour Party: ‘the brouhaha is a calculated hoax — dare it be said, plot?’ This kind of denialism and victim-blaming is, of course, itself an example of contemporary antisemitism, and if the UK Labour Party listens to the counsel of Norman Finkelstein about antisemitism in its ranks then it really will have lost its way, and perhaps for good.[i] In response, Fathom is making available an extract from ‘Denial: Norman Finkelstein and the New Antisemitism’ a chapter by our editor Alan Johnson in Unity and Disunity in Contemporary Antisemitismedited by Jonathan Campbell and Lesley Klaff (forthcoming, Academic Studies Press, Boston, 2018). The editors wish to express their thanks to Academic Studies Press for permission to publish the extract. We encourage our readers to buy the book. The other contributors areDavid Hirsh, the late Robert Fine, Kenneth Marcus, Dave Rich, David Seymour, Bernard Harrison, Matthias Kuentzel, Rusi Jaspal, Amy Elman, and Lesley Klaff.

The concept of a ‘new antisemitism’ directs our attention to some of the ways in which some people talk about Israel, Israelis and ‘Zionism’, suggesting that these ways have left the terrain of ‘criticism of Israeli policy’ and become something much darker.[ii] The concept is concerned to distinguish between legitimate criticism of that policy (most obviously, of the occupation of the territories, the settlement project, the treatment of minorities in Israel, and the degree of force Israel uses to restore deterrence against Hamas) and an essentialising, demonising and dehumanising discourse which bends the meaning of Israel and Zionism (and most Jews) out of shape until they are fit receptacles for the tropes, images and ideas of classical antisemitism.

The concept alerts us to antisemitism’s tendency to shape-shift through history. And to the possibility that since the creation of a Jewish state, in some quarters, what the demonized and essentialised ‘Jew’ once was, demonised and essentialised Israel now is: malevolent in its very nature, all-controlling, full of blood lust, and the obstacle to a better, purer, and more spiritual world.

The new antisemitism, which might also be called antisemitic anti-Zionism, has three components: a political programme to abolish the Jewish homeland, a discourse to demonise it, and a movement to make it a global pariah state. The old antisemitism – which has not gone away, but co-mingles with the new form – believed ‘the Jew is our Misfortune’. The new antisemitism proclaims ‘the Zionist is our misfortune’. The old antisemitism wanted to make the world ‘Judenrein’, free of Jews. The new antisemitism wants to make the world ‘Judenstaatrein’, free of the Jewish state which all but a sliver of world Jewry either lives in or treats as a vitally important part of their identity.

We have no right to be disbelieving of this development. After all, antisemitism has never really been about the Jews, but about the need of some non-Jews to scapegoat Jews. As those needs have changed throughout history, the physiognomy of antisemitism has also changed.

… read the rest of this piece by Alan Johnson, on the fathom website. 

Steven Sizer pushes antisemitic conspiracy theory, Jeremy Corbyn defends him as a victim of the Lobby – David Hirsh

Sometimes Church of England vicar Steven Sizer makes criticisms of Israel but sometimes he indulges in antisemitic conspiracy theory about Jews. Too often his compassion for ‘the oppressed’ is overwhelmed by his passionate anger with ‘the oppressors’.  He tends to reach for ready-made ways of expressing that anger and for ready-made ways of making sense of what his emotions see as relentless and murderous Jewish power.

Jeremy Corbyn often takes sides with antisemites against Jews. The picture on the right shows Jeremy Corbyn making his comments about Zionists having difficulties with ‘English’ irony, with Sizer in the audience. In 2012, Corbyn wrote a letter to Sizer’s Church saying:

“Reverend Stephen Sizer seems to have come under attack by certain individuals intent on discrediting the excellent work that Stephen does in highlighting the injustices of the Palestinian Israeli situation, in particular by his very thorough analysis of “Christian Zionism”. Might I suggest that such criticism is part of a wider pattern of demonising those who dare to stand up and speak out against Zionism, a philosophy that precludes the existence of the state of Palestine?”

“Your own expertise, wisdom and experience will, I am sure, allow you to appreciate just how much distance exists between anti Semitism, anti Zionism, and anti Israeli government actions for that matter. Overzealous critics find it convenient to conflate them all. Active and well informed individuals such as Reverend Stephen Sizer, withstand a considerable amount of inappropriate criticism. Indeed many MPs and Peers are also attacked.”

“… I do admire the excellent work that he does and personally, I would give no credence at all to any claims that he is anti-Semitic.”

The claim that “Zionism” is “a philosophy that precludes the existence of the state of Palestine” is both untrue and clear evidence of Jeremy Corbyn’s real view on the Israel/Palestine conflict. He now presents himself as a supporter of a two state solution but in 2012, he is clear that he believes the existence of Israel itself to be incompatible with Palestinian freedom.  In truth, of course, many Zionists have spent decades fighting for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Today Steven Sizer posted the following on facebook:

“You would have to be blind as a bat not to see their hands.  The repetitive articles casting the same aspersions appearing ad nauseam in the Daily Mail, Times, Evening Standard, Sun and Jewish Chronicle are either transcribed from the same press releases or were written for them.”

In 2015 Sizer had been banned by the Church from participation in social media after he promoted an antisemitic article on his Facebook feed entitled: ‘9/11: Israel did it’.

Sizer did not need Jeremy Corbyn’s 2012 letter of support because he had been critical of Israel but because he had been strongly criticized by the Council of Christians and Jews for publishing antisemitic articles on his facebook feed from what the CCJ correctly described as “obscenely antisemtic” websites; and for persistently refusing to take the articles down when he was informed of the antisemitism issue with them.

Jeremy Corbyn leapt to Sizer’s defence in 2012 and Corbyn has refused to re-assess this defence in spite of the issue being raised on many occasions since he moved into the centre of the public spotlight; and as Sizer’s more explicitly antisemitic material emerged, Corbyn remained silent.

Antisemitic conspiracy theory has always portrayed Jews as working together, in secret, for their own selfish tribal purposes and it interprets the actions of each Jewish person as being dedicated to the whole secret Jewish collective. It sees a plurality of actual Jewish people, often disagreeing wholeheartedly with each other, and it makes out of them a fictional entity which may be called ‘The Jews’ or ‘The Zionists’ – this fictional entity acts as one against the interests of the wider community.

It is true that currently there is an unprecedented consensus amongst British Jews, manifested in the diverse institutions of the Jewish community, that there is a problem of political antisemitism in the Labour Party and that it is related to the politics and political tradition of the Corbyn faction.

The straightforward explanation for this is that it is true; and most Jews have been convinced that it is true by the evidence.

But those who still support the Jeremy Corbyn leadership, in the face of mounting evidence that he is compromised by his association with antisemitic politics, need to find ever more elaborate ways of explaining what is going on.

Sizer sees a consensus of Jews who agree, more or less on the central issue, and he sees a diversity of different Jews, and non-Jewish allies, writing, speaking, worrying, organising – and he takes this as evidence of conspiracy.  He says it is organised secretly from behind the scenes by Israel.

The story is that Israel is at the heart of a web of lies, spun to silence criticism of its human rights abuses.  Everyone who ostensibly worries about antisemitism, says this story, is really only pretending; really they know it isn’t true; really they are in a conspiracy to get rid of Corbyn; not because he’s antisemitic, he isn’t; but because he opposes Israel’s cruelty.

In this way Israel becomes the big powerful aggressor; and the Leader of her Majesty’s opposition and the resources of the whole Labour movement in Britain become the powerless victims.

Antisemitism always portrays itself as the victim of the powerful Jews.

Steven Sizer has been doing this for years.

In 2006 he wrote a letter to The Independent responding to an argument by the Chief Rabbi that the campaign for boycotting Israel was part of an emerging antisemitic culture in the UK. The Synod of the Church, wrote Sizer, would not be ‘intimidated by those who … cry “antisemitism” whenever Israeli human rights abuses in the occupied territories are mentioned.’ He went on: ‘Why has the Archbishop faced a torrent of criticism over [a vote to divest from Caterpillar]? Simple: the people in the shadows know that Caterpillar is only the first [boycott].’

Sizer responded to an argument that BDS was antisemitic by alleging that the argument was made in bad faith ‘by the people in the shadows’, in order to unfairly de-legitimize criticism of Israel and the occupation.

David Hirsh

Senior Lecturer in sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London

Author of ‘Contemporary Left Antisemitism’

Corbyn to Zionists: Even if you’ve lived here all your life, you don’t get the English

At an event in 2013 to discuss the British legacy in Palestine, Jeremy Corbyn said the following:

David Hirsh

“The other evening we had a meeting in Parliament in which Manuel made an incredibly powerful and passionate and effective speech about the history of Palestine and the rights of the Palestinian people. This was dutifully recorded by the – the thankfully silent Zionists who were in the audience on that occasion and then came up and berated him afterwards for what he had said.  They clearly have two problems: one is they don’t want to study history and secondly having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either. Manuel does understand English irony and he uses it very very effectively.”

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6087783/Jeremy-Corbyn-said-British-Zionists-no-sense-English-irony.html

I think he meant that Zionists, even if they’ve lived in this country all their lives, aren’t really properly English. They don’t understand what the Englishers are really like. They don’t understand what they mean when they speak in their sophisticated English way.

It’s a good thing he said ‘Zionists’ and not ‘Jews’ because otherwise he might be accused of antisemitism. [Note. The last sentence was a rather clumsy attempt at irony].

No, you may say, he was talking about people with certain political commitments, he wasn’t talking about Jews as Jews so this cannot be antisemitism. He was only talking about Zionists (in this usage of the word it is understood to mean racists, apologists for human rights abuses, pro-apartheid and Nazis).

But wait.  The charge is one of an inability to understand English irony, in spite of having lived amongst the real Englischers all your life. How is that related to a political identity?

Well, you say, Zionists aren’t really English because they themselves choose loyalty to a foreign nation rather than to Britain. So it is their own choice not to be properly English; not an antisemitic libel at all; but a choice to be disloyal to your own nation and to be loyal to a global and racist nation far away.

But no. Corbyn is enjoying the old sneery English view of Jews, and he’s doing it to humiliate the Jews that he’s talking about. They live among us but they’re not really one of us. This actually isn’t Corbyn’s usual political antisemitism, although it originates in that well: this is a spill-over into ordinary old fashioned English antisemitism. It is as if the political requirement to humiliate the Zionists just finds its words in the antisemitic subconscious of the English middle class man.

Sometimes people say that hostility to Zionists cannot be antisemitic because many Zionists are not Jewish. Imagine if Corbyn had said this about a non-Jewish Zionist; take for example the well known Zionist Tony Blair. What sense would these words possibly have made in that context?  ‘Blair has lived amongst us all his life but he still doesn’t understand English irony.’ Corbyn would never say that because it wouldn’t mean anything. It wouldn’t key into any emotional order; it wouldn’t humiliate Blair, it would just sound weird.

Imagine if a politician had said this about a group of black people or a group of Muslims: that in spite of having lived in this country for all their lives, they were unable to understand English irony.

Incidentally, Corbyn’s word ‘dutifully’ is interesting too. And his ‘thankfully silent’ comment, before the later ‘berating’ of the speaker. Duty to what? Duty to a foreign power, duty to a global Israel lobby. What were they doing?  They were recording a Labour back-bencher making an antisemitic speech. They are the aggressors, Corbyn is the victim. Antisemites are always the victims of Jews. Amazing that these un-Britischers could remain silent for so long; amazing that they had the chutz-pah to criticize (‘berate’) the speaker afterwards; amazing that they had anything to say since they had studied no history.

So, supporter of Jeremy Corbyn.  Do you now think that Corbyn sometimes slips into antisemitism? Or maybe it doesn’t count, because it’s been weaponised by the Daily Mail? Do watch the video on the Mail website.  Feel Corbyn’s angry contempt; the transcript doesn’t do it justice.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6087783/Jeremy-Corbyn-said-British-Zionists-no-sense-English-irony.html

What are you going to say? You’re going to say that the Fake News are dredging up old comments out of context?  You’re going to say that he was talking about Zionists not Jews. You’re going to say it’s all a smear and a lie. You’re going to say it’s a one off? You’re going to say that you don’t care because Corbyn’s good and I’m bad.

You’re going to resist connecting this incident to Corbyn’s claim that Hamas and Hezbollah are dedicated to peace, social justice and political justice; or Corbyn being paid £20,000 for fronting programmes for the antisemitic Iranian propaganda mouthpiece Press TV.

You won’t connect it to Corbyn’s defence of conspiracist Steven Sizer, saying he was a victim of the Israel lobby.  Oh, incidentally, you can see Sizer on the Daily Mail video just behind Corbyn?  You remember Steven “9/11 Israel did it” Sizer, don’t you?

You won’t connect it to Corbyn’s defence of Raed Salah, blood libler; to Corbyn’s honouring of the planners of the Munich Olympic murders; to Corbyn’s claim that UK Foreign Office is controlled the Israel Lobby… Need I go on?

No, I don’t need to go on.  Because no matter how long I go on, it will make no difference. Jeremy Corbyn, like Donald Trump, cannot be harmed by new revelations. Because his supporters are so emotionally and psychologically invested in his basic goodness that there is literally nothing that could emerge that cannot be explained away.

David Hirsh

Senior Lecturer, Goldsmiths, University of London

Author of ‘Contemporary Left Antisemitism’.

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