This is a guest post by James Mendelsohn.
In recent years, some on the left have suggested that accusations of antisemitism are raised dishonestly. Ken Livingstone has done so repeatedly. Last year, Diane Abbott dismissed allegations of antisemitism within the Labour Party as “smears”. Len McCluskey similarly castigated a supposedly “cynical attempt to manipulate anti-Semitism for political aims”.
Chris Williamson, the Labour MP for Derby North and the Shadow Minister for Fire and Emergency Services, has now followed this trend. Speaking to The Guardian, Williamson said that controversies over Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism within Labour were “proxy wars and bullshit”:
“I’m not saying it never ever happens but it is a really dirty, lowdown trick, particularly the antisemitism smears. Many people in the Jewish community are appalled by what they see as the weaponisation of antisemitism for political ends.
“It is pretty repellent to use that to attack somebody like Jeremy Corbyn, who has spent his whole life fighting for social justice and standing up for the underdog.
“But I feel people have stopped listening to the smears and lies and dirty tricks…”
Williamson does not engage with the abundant, specific evidence of antisemitism within Labour. He instead claims that those who raise concerns do so dishonestly, for political gain. His tone is strident: “proxy wars and bullshit… a really dirty, lowdown trick… smears and lies and dirty tricks”. Given the large fall in support for Labour among British Jews, his assertion that “many” within the Jewish community are “appalled” by the apparent “weaponisation of antisemitism” is questionable. He disregards the fact that both the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council have raised concerns, as have the Community Security Trust. Indeed, he implicitly accuses them of doing so dishonestly. Williamson generalises that Corbyn “has spent his whole life fighting for social justice and standing up for the underdog” but again ignores the specific evidence of Corbyn’s poor track record on antisemitism.
Responding to criticism of these comments, Williamson said:
“I absolutely did not and never would blame the victims of antisemitism or any form of racism and bigotry.
“Antisemitism is utterly repugnant and a scourge on society, which is why I stand in absolute solidarity with anyone who is subjected to antisemitic abuse. The point I was trying to make is that accusations have on occasions been used for factional or party political ends.”
Williamson’s response is unsatisfactory. He again fails to engage with the specific evidence of antisemitism within Labour. His own track record is concerning: responding to allegations of antisemitism within the Oxford University Labour Club, Williamson tweeted, “I hope they won’t find any such evidence” and switched to invoking the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When challenged to call out antisemitism on another occasion, Williamson told his challenger to “pipe down”. It seems that there is a pattern of Williamson stigmatising, dismissing and impugning the motives of those who raise concerns about antisemitism.
As yet, there has been little response to Williamson’s remarks from beyond the Jewish community. Williamson has not apologised or withdrawn his accusations. Neither Jeremy Corbyn nor (to my knowledge) any other senior Labour figure has commented.
This muted response is not unique to Labour; articles in the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail refer back to Williamson’s interview with The Guardian but do not mention Williamson’s comments about antisemitism. Better things should be expected from a supposedly antiracist party whose leader professes his revulsion of antisemitism. Whether there will be a stronger response to Williamson’s remarks, remains to be seen.
Sunday, September 24, 2017 from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM
Follow this link for more details and to get your free ticket. (no admittance without a ticket).
Antisemitism on the left is difficult to recognize because it does not come dressed in a Nazi uniform and it does not openly proclaim its hatred or fear of Jews. This book looks at the kind of antisemitism which is tolerated in apparently democratic spaces. It tells the story of the rise of the Jeremy Corbyn and his faction in the Labour Party; and it explains the controversy around Ken Livingstone. It analyses how criticism of Israel can mushroom into antisemitism and it looks at struggles over how antisemitism is defined. It focuses on ways in which those who raise the issue of antisemitism are often accused of doing so in bad faith in an attempt to silence or to smear. Hostility to Israel has become a signifier of identity, connected to opposition to imperialism, neo-liberalism and global capitalism; the ‘community of the good’ takes on toxic ways of imagining most living Jewish people.
The book combines narrative and case study with sociological analysis and theory to understand the controversial and contested phenomenon of antisemitism on the left. It is not a critique of the left but a contemporary history of how things may go wrong. It stands in the tradition of those on the left who have always understood and opposed the temptation to picture the evils of capitalism, modernity and imperialism as being intimately connected to the Jews and to their imputed behaviour.
1 October 2017, 4.00PM, JW3.
Chaired by Sasha Roseneil.
Robert Fine and Philip Spencer’s book ‘Antisemitism and the Left’ worries about and describes the return of the ‘Jewish Question’. They go back to key debates on the left in the past concerning antisemitism, involving Hegel, Marx, Arendt, Adorno and Horkheimer. They show how left antisemitism has always been vigorously opposed by influential people within the left and they aim to learn from how they did it. They show how the so-called ‘Jewish Question’ is never really about Jews but is always really about antisemites; rather they are interested in the antisemitism question.
David Hirsh’s book ‘Contemporary Left Antisemitism’ begins with the Livingstone Formulation, describing how Jews who experience antisemitism are treated with more suspicion than are the people who actually stumble into antisemitism itself. It goes on to look at how antizionism and hostility to Israel, with its antisemitic discourses attached, moved into the mainstream of the Labour party from the extremist fringe and at the rise of Corbyn. The book goes back to struggles over the boycott of Israel within the academic trade unions and it goes on to look at more conceptual issues about how we can understand this kind of antisemitism.
Dave Rich’s book, ‘The Left’s Jewish Problem’ traces Jeremy Corbyn’s issues with Israel and antisemitism back to their roots. It looks at antizionism in the Soviet Union and how that politics was reconfigured in Britain in the 1970s and 80s. He focuses on the student movement at this time and how the Israel-Palestine conflict was forced through template of the anti-apartheid movement; this led to campaigns to boycott Israel and it also led to the claim that Zionism is simply a form of racism which must be opposed by all antiracists. Dave Rich tells the story of campaigns by antizionists to ban student Jewish societies and how hostility to Israel often manifested itself as hostility to the Jews who were said to support it.
Robert Fine is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Warwick University.
Philip Spencer is Emeritus Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Kingston University and a visiting Professor at Birkbeck, University of London.
Lesley Klaff is Senior Lecturer in Law at Sheffield Hallam University.
‘For more than a decade, David Hirsh has campaigned courageously against the all-too prevalent demonisation of Israel as the one nationalism in the world that must not only be criticised but ruled altogether illegitimate. This intellectual disgrace arouses not only his indignation but his commitment to gather evidence and to reason about it with care. What he asks of his readers is an equal commitment to plumb how it has happened that, in a world full of criminality and massacre, it is obsessed with the fundamental wrongheadedness of one and only national movement: Zionism.’ — Todd Gitlin, Professor of Journalism and Sociology, Columbia University, USA
‘David Hirsh is one of our bravest and most thoughtful scholar-activists. In this excellent book of contemporary history and political argument, he makes an unanswerable case for anti-anti-Semitism.’ — Anthony Julius, Professor of Law and the Arts, UCL, and author of Trials of the Diaspora (OUP, 2010).
“David Hirsh writes as a sociologist, but much of the material in his fascinating book will be of great interest to people in other disciplines as well, including political philosophers. Having participated in quite a few of the events and debates which he recounts, Hirsh has done a commendable service by deftly highlighting an ugly vein of bigotry that disfigures some substantial portions of the political left in the UK and beyond.” — Matthew H. Kramer FBA, Professor of Legal & Political Philosophy, Cambridge University, UK
“A fierce and brilliant rebuttal of one of the Left’s most pertinacious obsessions. What makes David Hirsh the perfect analyst of this disorder is his first-hand knowledge of the ideologies and dogmata that sustain it.” – Howard Jacobson, Novelist and Visiting Professor at New College of Humanities, London, UK
“David Hirsh’s new book “Contemporary Left Anti-Semitism” is an important contribution to the literature on the longest hatred. Coming at a time when there is appropriate attention to a resurgence of populist, classic right-wing anti-Semitism, Hirsh’s work is a reminder that delineates in detail, using Britain as a jumping off point but speaking more broadly, left-wing anti-Semitism is more challenging to identify but is no less pernicious than its right-wing counterpart. In a highly polarized world, understanding anti-Semitism from wherever it emerges is more vital than ever. Hirsh makes a large contribution toward that imperative.” – Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO, Anti-Defamation League, USA
“David Hirsh has rightfully emerged as an important voice on the issue of contemporary antisemitsm. He writes with passion but with balance and offers insights, to which we may have been previously oblivious, but, after reading what he has to say, seem utterly obvious. This book is not just for those who care about prejudice and antisemitism. It is also a must read for anyone who cares about the contemporary political landscape. It is a wakeup call for those who believe in the ideals and objective of leftist politics.” – Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, Emory University, United States
“David Hirsh is not only one of the foremost analysts and authorities on contemporary antisemitism, he is also one of its most redoubtable opponents.” Mark Gardner, Director of Communications, CST, UK
“David embodies what academia should be about – nuance, balance, careful evaluation of the merits of every perspective put forward, when disagreeing, doing so in a measured, respectful manner that deals with the issues not personalities, a willingness to subject his views to rigorous critical scrutiny and where called for adjust his views accordingly – he puts all too many of his academic humanities colleagues to shame. Listening to him is an intellectual treat. This fight is about more than Israel. It’s about restoring intellectual honesty and professional integrity to the world’s institutions of higher learning, which have largely been hijacked by intellectual frauds, moral charlatans and witch-hunting ideological bullies.” – Wendy Kahn, National Director, South African Jewish Board of Deputies.
“David Hirsh is a relentless investigator into one of the darker corners of contemporary left discourse, always shining a probing, revealing light.” Jonathan Freedland, Author and Journalist, The Guardian, UK
“The rise of anti-Semitism on the British left — which reached its apex in Jeremy Corbyn’s capturing the leadership of the Labour Party — is one of the most confounding, and worrisome, developments in contemporary Western politics. A man of the left himself, David Hirsh understands this phenomenon better than anyone, and has the battle scars to prove it.” James Kirchick, Foreign Policy Analyst and Journalist, USA
“In his book Contemporary Left Antisemitism David Hirsh proves himself to be our foremost diagnostician of a dangerous malaise: antisemitism among people who consider themselves progressive and antiracist. Building on masterly analyses of a series of contemporary case-studies, and approaching antisemitism as a sociocultural and institutional framework rather than a product of individual prejudice, Hirsh exposes the hostile assumptions and defensive obfuscations of left antisemitic discourse, from the continued use of blood libel and conspiracy theories to the implication of inherent deviousness to Jewish motives – the historically shocking observation that many antiracists ‘have been educated to recognize the accusation of antisemitism, rather than the antisemitism itself, as the dirty trick’. Honest, precise and unwavering, Hirsh’s writing is publicly-engaged scholarship at its best. This deeply insightful book is indispensable not only for those wishing to understand contemporary left antisemitism, but for anyone concerned with the moral health of democratic political culture.” – Paul Frosh, Department of Communication and Journalism, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
In Contemporary Left Antisemitism, David Hirsh takes on those in Britain and elsewhere who have embraced an anti-imperialist and anti-neoliberal political view and think of themselves as members of the community of the good, but in recent decades have also embraced toxic ways of imagining most Jews. Such “progressives” participate in antisemitism even as they insist they stand against it. They practice a discursive intolerance, expressed in insults, exclusions, purges, and boycott; at the same time, they accuse Jews of crying antisemitism in bad faith.They pour new life into a powerful tradition of accusing the Jew, updating it for a new era.
Hirsh further suggests that the new antisemitism cloaked as antizionism emerges when progressive politics are shaped by identity and position rather than by commitment to shared democratic values. These good folks think in simple binaries casting Israel as bad and Jews as privileged. The world they see is divided by opposed camps and they cast their lot uncritically with the victimized and the resistant.
Hirsh’s study is a useful guide to this new politics and intolerance, which has spread in recent years also to the United States and especially to its universities. Hirsh’s account teases out its key features and assays its impacts – on unions, the courts, the Labour Party, the universities. It is also a powerful story of marginalization and the effort by a brilliant scholar to define an empirical methodology for study of antisemitism and to speak back effectively against bigotry. – Ken Waltzer, Professor Emeritus, Social Relations and Policy, Michigan State University
(not all of these events will be open to the public – more details to come)
Many of you will know Marlon as a blogger who often writes about antisemitism.
“Marlon’s a Jew. This didn’t bother him until he realised that some people he knew didn’t believe the Holocaust happened. A darkly comic tale of one man’s journey through the conspiracy underworld. Marlon examines why conspiracy theories are more popular than ever and how fake news gives rise to ancient slander. A comic tale which is no laughing matter.”
You can purchase tickets for his show in Manchester here.