Workers of the World Unite against anti-union regimes

Read Terry Glavin on May Day.

See also Terry Glavin’s  “George Galloway is a Scab” via Harry’s Place.

Smantha Lishak on the Durban Review Conference

Samantha Lishak, second from the right

Samantha Lishak, second from the right

This piece is written by Samantha Lishak, Chair of Leeds University UJS

This week, one week after returning from the facade that was Durban II, has been a week of reflection for me. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what went on at that conference, and when people ask me “how was Geneva?” I’m never certain how to respond. How to explain what I went through at Durban II… According to my previous notes people had gathered that I’d gotten rather rageous, and been struck with dissapointment, at the United Nations. The truth is that there was so much emotion flying about that it was sometimes difficult to identify what I was actually feeling.

It is fair to say that Durban II was tainted from the start. The moment President Ahmadinejad was allowed to give the opening address to the UN, months after hosting a Holocaust Denial Conference, there was no way the conference could be seen as a legitimate conference against racism. Ahmadinejad’s racist, antisemitic speech overshadowed the entire week. Beyond his hateful words, what affected me was the repercussions of them. Speaking to NGO’s, I was told that actually Ahmadinejad’s speech was factually correct, that there is a force that controls the world. I was offered the chance to ‘admit’ the War in Iraq was my fault. I was offered the chance to explain how I controlled the media. I personally. I, because I am a Jew.

Never have I been more disheartened with the state of global affairs than after returning from Durban II. I went to Geneva with the naive hope of being able to “make a difference” by participating in a conference ‘against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances’. As a Jewish Student, human rights issues are of utmost significance, and it is frustrating that human rights abuses across the world are being absolutely ignored; Abuses in Darfur, Sri Lanka, India, to name a tiny few, were finally going to be given the opportunity to speak to the world, at this conference. NGO’s had come from all over the world, many of whom had spent 8 years waiting to afford to come to Europe, to present their plea to the United Nations that their suffering be recognised, and be offer helped. The Jewish student delegations from across the world arranged a rally with Darfuri people against the silence of the UN with issues in Darfur. I learnt so much from that rally. I learnt more about the politics of the Sudan, and most importantly the personal experiences of Darfuri people. Experiences that were inexcusably not heard in the UN General Assembly.

One week later, having celebrated 61 years of Israel’s independence in Leeds on Yom Ha’atzamut, remembered fallen Israeli soldiers on Israel’s Remembrance Day – Yom Ha’zikaron, and having been asked again, by a student, if I thought the um, the um, ‘Israeli’s’ controlled the global media and were using Gilad Shalit as a means of deflection, I am still ‘getting over’ the conference. I am continually asked “how was it?”, and every time I give a different response. Every time another story. Some beaming with joy, such as the clown who threw a nose at Ahmadinejad in the circus we call the UN, some with sadness, such as Tibet being thrown off the podium due to China’s objections to their speech, some with concern, such as the last NGO I heard speak claim that 9/11 was an unsolved mysery that didn’t happen, and that his organization were starting a lobby to remove the word antisemitism from the Oxford English Dictionary as it is clearly racist, and so many more stories and emotions in between.

I’d thought by now I would be able to give a calm response to the question “how was Geneva?” but I guess it will take more time for my blood not to boil when I think about Durban II, the farce it was, and the tragic neglect of what is so urgent to talk about.

This piece is written by Samantha Lishak, Chair of Leeds University UJS

David T on the fight against racism

“…I can see that the far Right has had a certain degree of success by bashing Muslims. The BNP is poised to win 4, 5 seats perhaps in the European Elections: and they’ve done so by conflating popular xenophobia and anti-immigrant prejudice while claiming that British Muslims are conspirators in a Al Qaeda-esque plot to rape our women, steal our jobs, and wreck our country.

I know this strategy works. It is a lot easier to play on racist fears, than it is to make the rather wonkish and somewhat aesoteric  case: that a pluralist culture needs to defend liberal democracy.

So, should we do it? Should we enlist anti-Muslim bigotry in the struggle against Islamist politics?

No of course we fucking shouldn’t. And what an utter disgrace it would be, if we did.

We’ve done the converse, in fact. We’ve challenged the tropes of anti-Muslim bigotry:  in posts and in comments. We’ve argued against the “taqqyiah” slur. We’ve challenged the essentialist view of Islam that is peddled by Islamists and anti-Muslim bigots alike. We’ve supported liberal and democratic political movements in countries with majority Muslim populations.

As Norman Geras points out, the very opposite of all this has been taking place in the anti-Zionist camp…”

Read the whole piece on Harry’s Place.

When the CST say “Seven Jewish Children” is antisemitic, it is time to take the charge seriously

The Community Security Trust (CST) is a serious organisation.  It organises security for the Jewish community.  When you see security people standing outside synagogues or outside other Jewish events, they are CST volunteers.  They are well trained and they do a good job.  Only the most convinced antisemitism-denying antizionists would claim that there is no need for security outside Jewish communal events.   The CST keeps an eye on antisemitic behaviour and discourse in Britain and it collates information on antisemitic incidents.  The CST works closely with the police and it trains law-enforcement and communal agencies around the world in best practice.

The CST is an official, sober, experienced and serious organization, with roots in all parts of the Jewish community in Britain.  It is not a politically motivated organization – it is at the forefront of British Jews’ collective response to antisemitism.

When Dave Rich and Mark Gardner of the CST say that Caryl Churchill’s play “Seven Jewish Children” is antisemitic, and when they carefully explain why, people should take them seriously.   They don’t have to agree.  But to dismiss such criticism as dishonest pro-Israeli propaganda will not do.  Such a response exacerbates the antisemitism of which they are accused, it does not address it.

This piece, by Dave Rich and Mark Gardner, is from Comment is Free.

The Jewish festival of Passover celebrates the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the land of Israel. The festival begins with the seder, when Jewish families gather around the dining table and the story is retold by the adults to the children, who are encouraged to ask questions throughout.

There is a moment in the seder when the whole family recount the names of the ten plagues visited upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. As each plague is named, all present dip their finger into red wine – unmistakably reminiscent of blood – and spill a drop onto their plate. The Guardian chose a photograph of this scene to illustrate its online production of Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children.

The association of blood with Jews is a well-established antisemitic tradition. It is embodied in the blood libel charge, which first appeared in 12th-century England and quickly spread. The accusation was that Jews murder non-Jewish children to use their blood in religious rituals, especially at Passover. Ironically, when Jews spill their wine at the seder, it is to remember with sadness the pain of the Egyptians, not to celebrate their loss. Nevertheless, so many Jews died in blood libel massacres at Passover, that a rabbi in 17th-century Poland ruled that Jews could use white wine, not red, during the seder, lest antisemites mistake the red wine for Christian blood.

Seven Jewish Children is not a play about Israel. It was written by Churchill as a “response to the situation in Gaza in January 2009”, but it is a play explicitly about Jews. Her response to Gaza is to accuse Jews of having undergone a pathological transformation from victims to oppressors. The play comprises seven brief scenes, of which the first two are generally taken to represent the Holocaust, or perhaps pogroms during an earlier period of antisemitic agitation; in other words, they take place in Europe, before Israel even existed. It is Jewish thought and behaviour that links the play together, not Israel. The words Israel, Israelis, Zionism and Zionist are not mentioned once in the play, while Jews are mentioned in the title and in the text itself. We are often told that when people talk about Israel or Zionists, it is mischievous to accuse them of meaning Jews. Now, we are expected to imagine that a play that talks only of Jews, in fact, means Israelis.

In the first two scenes, it is Jewish “uncles” and “grandmother” who are killed, despite approximately one and a half million Jewish children having perished in the Holocaust. Whereas it is elderly Jews who are killed, the Jews’ victims are overwhelmingly depicted as children: there are two mentions of dead adults, namely “Hamas fighters” and “policemen”, but seven of dead children: “the boy”, “the family of dead girls”, “babies” and “their children covered in blood”. The play lands its blows in the final two scenes, culminating in a monologue of genocidal racist hatred: “they’re animals … I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out … we’re chosen people.”

A spokesman for the Royal Court Theatre, where the play was first performed, defended it with the formulaic argument that:

“While Seven Jewish Children is undoubtedly critical of the policies of the state of Israel, there is no suggestion that this should be read as a criticism of Jewish people. It is possible to criticise the actions of Israel without being antisemitic.”

The anti-Zionist conceit that, as long as you are talking about Israel, you can say whatever you want about Jews, is laid bare here. It is not even possible to discuss whether or where this play crosses a line from criticism of Israel into antisemitism, because the play does not present us with a specific criticism of an Israeli policy or action. The Guardian’s illustration of a Jewish family seder table is far more appropriate than a photograph of the Israeli cabinet table would ever have been.

The dishonesty and amorality of the adult voices in Seven Jewish Children is striking. Nowhere are right and wrong considered, when deciding how to answer their children’s questions. Never does an adult in the play consider whether their suggested answer is true or not, nor whether this should have any bearing on which answer is given. Their only thought is which answers will best shield Jewish children from difficult moral questions. It is as if Jewish children are brought up in a moral vacuum, with Jewish power and vulnerability the only things that matter.

Michael Billington, the Guardian’s theatre critic, noted that the play “shows us how Jewish children are bred to believe in the ‘otherness’ of Palestinians”. Howard Jacobson described this as an example of “how easily language can sleepwalk us into bigotry.”

Billington’s use of the word “bred” should have shaken Guardian readers and editors from their slumber. After all, if used in connection with black or Muslim children, then the racism alarms would sound loud and clear. In fact, wittingly or not, Billington used exactly the right language to describe the message of Seven Jewish Children.

The original text of the play (pdf) does not specify the actual number of actors, nor who speaks which lines. There are no distinct characters: any Jew can speak any of the lines, in combination with any of the other lines, without distorting the narrative. This homogenising is bad enough, but the Guardian’s production goes a step further. By presenting the play with just a single performer, speaking every Jewish voice in each time and place, the Guardian distils the play into an internal conversation inside the head of every Jew – the increasingly manic neuroses of a screwed-up people.

Howard Jacobson identified this as “a fine piece of fashionable psychobabble that understands Zionism as the collective nervous breakdown of the Jewish people”. All the “tell her/don’t tell her” answers in the play are really attempts to answer one simple question: what do those Jews learn as children that they behave like this as adults? The end result of this “psychobabble” is to slander Jews as being psychologically compelled to become the new Nazis. Not so much a blood libel perhaps, but certainly a deadly new libel for a new millennium.

In the play’s concluding monologue, presumably set during the Gaza conflict, the Jewish speaker declares: “… tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel? Tell her all I feel is happy it’s not her.” What are we to make of the “all” in that sentence? This nameless Jew, seemingly representing any and every Jew, who cannot escape the pain of the Holocaust and the shame of Gaza, can now feel nothing for the other, dead, non-Jewish child, covered in its own blood.

Jews, children, blood and, for the Guardian at least, the Passover seder: this mixture has a murderous antisemitic past. The virus of antisemitism is easily transmitted by those who are not aware they are carrying it. Churchill almost certainly does not intend it, but her play culminates in powerful antisemitic resonances. The Guardian’s online production further amplifies them. People sometimes ask when does anti-Zionism become antisemitism. Here is a rule of thumb: when people describe Israel with the same language and imagery that antisemites use to talk about Jews, the difference between the two disappears.

Dave Rich and Mark Gardner work for Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors antisemitism and provides security for the UK Jewish community

This piece, by Dave Rich and Mark Gardner, is from Comment is Free.

Boycotters target Leonard Cohen “as a Buddhist” – Jonathan Freedland

Jonathan Freedland
Jonathan Freedland

This piece, by Jonathan Freedland, is from the Jewish Chronicle.

Tricky business, boycotts. Take the case of Omar Barghouti. In 2004, the graduate of Columbia in New York helped found the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel campaign, urging scholars and researchers around the world to cut ties with Israel’s universities. But, as reported in last week’s JC, Barghouti is studying for a doctorate at… Tel Aviv University.

Asked to explain this apparent inconsistency between words and deeds, he told Maariv: “My studies at Tel Aviv University are a personal matter…” That’s quite a shift from Barghouti’s previous position which held that academic studies were not a personal matter but highly political — at least if the academic in question happened to be Israeli.

After that blow to their credibility, the boycott campaigners are now suffering an even more wrenching fate. One of their heroes is set to defy their call — and head to Israel. The hero in question is the Canadian singer, songwriter and poet, Leonard Cohen. “Your songs have been part of the soundtrack of our lives — like breathing, some of them,” begins an open letter to Cohen sent last week by Professors Haim Bresheeth, Hilary Rose and Jonathan Rosenhead of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine. “But we can’t make sense of why you’ve decided to perform in Israel in September this year.”

You can understand their heartbreak. This is not Girls Aloud we’re talking about. Not even Paul McCartney (who played in Israel last year, despite pressure on him to cancel). This is Leonard Cohen, a sublime artist who, now in his mid-70s, seems only to improve with age.

And yet, in the very next paragraph of their letter, the boycotters make a fascinating mistake. They appeal to Cohen not as a Jew but as a disciple of Buddhism, “your practice of which is public knowledge.”

But while Cohen did indeed retreat to a Buddhist monastery, he never disavowed the faith in which he had been raised. “I’m not looking for a new religion,” he said. “I’m quite happy with the old one, with Judaism.”

If the learned professors didn’t know of that quotation, they could have simply listened to Cohen’s songs. For he is surely the most Jewish musical artist at work in the world today. (Indeed, with the possible exception of Philip Roth, Howard Jacobson and a few Israeli novelists, he is probably the most Jewish artist in any medium.)

Start with Who by Fire, the darkly insistent song unashamedly inspired by the Unetanah tokef prayer incanted every Yom Kippur which plaintively asks, “who shall live and who shall die?” Or consider Hallelujah, the song that introduced Cohen to a new generation, thanks to its selection as the victory anthem on The X-Factor. Its opening line reverberates with the sound of the psalms: “I heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord…”

There’s more at work here than mere liturgical name-dropping. In Anthem, Cohen voices what sounds like a distinctly Jewish belief, one that does not seek immaculate perfection but embraces humanity as it truly is. “Forget your perfect offering,” he sings, “There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” To my ear, that is a profoundly Jewish observation, arguing that it is our very flaws that make us vessels for the divine.

So Cohen is not just a Jewish artist because his grandfather was a rabbi or because, when he retreated to live on a Greek island, he kept Shabbat, lighting candles and saying prayers. He is Jewish because when he needed a title for his second book of poems, he chose The Spice-Box of Earth, drawing inspiration from the havdalah ritual. He is Jewish because his poems seem to address God, sometimes with devotion, sometimes with fury — an alternating dialogue which has been the Jewish way since Abraham.

Which means the boycotters should have addressed Cohen not as a Buddhist, but as a Jew. Even then, I suspect their attempt would have been doomed. For it is surely futile to try to keep Cohen out of the Jewish homeland — if only because the people of Israel, perhaps more than anyone else, need to hear the cry of a Jewish soul like his.

This piece, by Jonathan Freedland, is from the Jewish Chronicle.