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.

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.”

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.

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’.

Why the Nazi Analogy and Holocaust Inversion are Antisemitic

The following is an excerpt from Antisemitism in the Guise of Anti-Nazism: Holocaust Inversion in the United Kingdom during Operation Protective Edge’, a chapter that will appear in Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: The Dynamics of Delegitimization, ed. Alvin H. Rosenfeld (Indiana University Press, forthcoming).The editor and publisher have kindly agreed to the advance publication of this excerpt in light of its topicality. The UK Labour Party is debating whether to incorporate the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, including all its accompanying examples, into its own statutes. This part of my chapter sets out why the use of the Nazi analogy to attack Jews, Israelis and ‘Zionists’ should be considered antisemitic, not least because, understanding more deeply the way racism actually works, the best anti-racist scholarship and practice has long abandoned the notion that for racism to be present, a racist subjectivity and motivation, provable to boot, must be co-present. 

Read the full article Here


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