Historical Materialism Conference 2009 : A DEBATE ON ZIONISM, ANTISEMITISM AND THE LEFT

Chair: Sebastian Budgen
John Rose
Robert Fine
Shlomo Sand

Here’s Robert Fine’s Speech.

I want to speak today not so much about Zionism and antisemitism themselves but rather about how we think and talk about antisemitism and Zionism. I want to speak more about ourselves and our place in the world than about the rights and wrongs of the existential struggles taking place in the Middle East.
My point of departure is a familiar refrain among critics of Israel that antisemitism is raised as a problem only by those who wish to invalidate criticism of Israel. Let me illustrate this refrain through a few quotations – three from my union, two from academics, two from politicians:

Antisemitism charges are just part of the deal for anyone who speaks out for Palestine.  The important point in all this is that we keep speaking out for Palestine… no one is fooled by this demonizing of all opposition to Israel…  (UCU activist). 

Criticism of Israel cannot be construed as antisemitic (UCU motion 2007)

Criticism of Israel or Israeli policy is not, as such, antisemitic (UCU motion 2008).

The charge of antisemitism is used to translate what one is actually hearing, say a protest against the killing of children and civilians by the Israeli army, into hatred of Jews. (Judith Butler)

By shouting antisemitism every time someone attacks Israel or defends the Palestinians, defenders of Israel rob the word of its universal resonance. If you criticise Israel too forcefully, they warn, you will awaken the demons of antisemitism. Indeed, they suggest, robust criticism of Israel doesn’t just arouse antisemitism. It is antisemitism. (Tony Judt)

For far too long the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government, as I have been. (Ken Livingstone)

I am sick of being accused of anti-Semitism when what I am doing is criticising Israel and the state of Israel. (Jenny Tongue)

What is common to these quotations is a deep scepticism about the alarm Jews and non-Jews express about the growth of antisemitism and about the ties that sometimes bind the growth of antisemitism to negative representations of Israel and Zionism. The argument that the charge of antisemitism serves only to invalidate criticism of the Israeli occupation and human rights abuses is a way of saying that people only raise fears of antisemitism in bad faith. An emphatic insistence that antizionism is not antisemitic, but is labelled antisemitic by ‘defenders of Israel’, presupposes that antisemitism is no longer real, it has become (at least in this context) a political ploy. In some quarters the charge of antisemitism is now almost a badge of honour rather than an occasion for self-reflection. Quite often individuals speak ‘as Jews’ and offer the authority of being Jewish to confirm that criticism of Israel is not antisemitic either in its motives or effects.

From the perspective of the left, a refusal to take antisemitism seriously seems to me a problem for a movement that wishes to be consistently antiracist. From the perspective of a European the idea that it is no longer antisemitism that is troubling Europe but talk of antisemitism seems to me an equally troubling notion.
Let me illustrate my argument through two reports on antisemitism issued by the EU Monitoring Commission (now called the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights) and more saliently through responses made to them by critics of Israel. The European commissioners fully accepted that criticism of Israel is not as such antisemitic, but warned that criticism of Israel can and sometimes does overlap with antisemitism. No one who looks at David Duke’s website should need further persuasion on this issue. The commissioners also argued, however, that liberal and left wing criticism of Israel can also turn into antisemitism if such criticism takes a particular shape or form: for example, if Israel is selected as uniquely evil or violent among nations; or if all Jews or all Israeli Jews are held collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel; or if the military occupation of Palestine is compared with the Nazi extermination of Jews; or if Israel is represented through long established antisemitic myths of world conspiracy, control of the media and murder of non-Jewish children. The commissioners maintained that in such cases substitution of the word ‘Zionist’ for ‘Jewish’ may make little substantial difference to the hostility in question.

These reports raise the question of where legitimate political criticism of Israel stops and antisemitism kicks in. They may or may not have got it right but we should not deny the validity of these concerns. However, the more critical responses to these reports argued that the commissions that produced them were influenced by the Israel lobby, grossly exaggerated the threat posed by antisemitism in Europe, gave excessive weight to the subjective claims of Jews to suffer from antisemitism, and most important gave spurious credence to the notion that criticism of Israel is a form of antisemitism. I think we would all agree that some kinds of ‘criticism’ of Israel – for example, that Jews are congenitally indifferent to the suffering of others or have a blood lust for murdering non-Jewish children or that Jews have no right to live in the Middle East – are antisemitic. It all depends on here we draw the line.

Inside Europe denial of antisemitism in connection with ‘criticism’ of Israel has been closely linked with a rewriting of the post-history, if we can call it so, of the Holocaust. It is said that commemoration of the Holocaust is too exclusive, that it is all about Jewish suffering, that it ignores the millions of non-Jewish civilians also murdered under Nazi rule. It is said that that no universal meaning is drawn from collective memory of the Holocaust, that we suffer from a surfeit of Holocaust museums, films and histories as if this were the only injustice we need to remember. It is said that it is inconsistent to make Holocaust-denial illegal but not denial of other genocides. Why for instance does the Armenian genocide not receive the same attention? It is said finally that memory of the Holocaust serves as an alibi or excuse for current Israeli human rights abuses, or that Jews have collectively become so self-obsessed by their own suffering that they are constitutionally blinded to the suffering of Palestinians.

The normative premises of this kind of criticism of the uses of the Holocaust are unexceptionable. Memory of the Holocaust ought not privilege the suffering of Jews at the expense of other sufferings. The cry of ‘Never Again’ ought not to be converted into an injunction that this crime should never again be done to Jews. The memory of the Holocaust ought not protect Israel from criticism. Concern over antisemitism ought not blind us to other racisms. In brief, those to whom evil is done should not do evil in return. This normative standpoint appears consistently universalistic.

But who says otherwise? Who is it that does not share this universalistic view on life? We are told: ‘they’ are sensitive only to the mass murder of Jews, ‘they’ turn the Holocaust into an excuse to ignore other crimes, ‘they’ shout antisemitism every time someone attacks Israel or defends the Palestinians. Who are ‘they’? The amorphousness of the designated enemy is part of the problem, but the target is clear enough: they are the ‘Zionists’. Zionists are said to instrumentalise the Holocaust for their own purposes.

Now it may be true of certain right-wing Jewish nationalists that they think only or mainly of Jewish suffering and ignore or downplay the suffering of others. But I would wish to make two points. First, it is generally true of nationalists that they respond to racism against their own people in their own nationalistic ways. This is a common enough phenomenon. There is nothing that marks out Jewish nationalists here from the general phenomenon that opposition to racism against ones own people may not be consistently antiracist. Second, to move from a critique of right wing nationalism to the notion that Jews or Israeli Jews only think of their own people is perilously close to a move from a political argument to an antisemitic argument. I think we would all agree on this. And if we move to the notion that ‘Zionists’ only think of their own people, we are not much better off since the term ‘Zionist’ serves more as a term of abuse than as one with any political referent.
Collective memory of the Holocaust does not of course consume our capacity for compassion or makes us blind to the suffering of others. Compassion is not a fixed quantity of capital and memory of the Holocaust equally serves as a ‘fire alarm’ alerting us to other atrocities. Emphasis on the particularity of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust does not subvert its universal meaning.

I would agree that there has been a tendency since the 1960s to sacralise the Holocaust, a tendency to indulge in a kind of ‘Holocaust piety’, as Gillian Rose memorably put it. This should be resisted. The Holocaust is a historical event, part of European history. Indeed, there are ties that bind what Europe did to others outside Europe (colonised peoples) to what Europe did to others in Europe (Jews). But does this mean that Holocaust commemoration is invalid if it does not refer to what ‘the Jews’ are doing to Palestinians or does not draw parallels between the Warsaw ghetto and Gaza? Surely not.

I never cease to be amazed at the ability as Europeans to recreate ourselves as the civilised continent – the ones who have learnt the universal lessons of the Holocaust – and to treat the Jews as those who have failed to learn the lesson. This European hubris can take the form a liberal narrative of progress which pays tribute to the success of the new Europe in transcending its so-called ‘longest hatred’. It usually acknowledges that antisemitism was a monstrous feature of Europe’s past, but insists that the conditions that gave rise to genocidal antisemitism have now come to an end with the defeat of Nazism, the rise of the European Union and the reunification of Europe.

While the strength of the Left is to resist this faith in progress and to explore the ways in which European racism is a recurring phenomenon, it also shares with liberals the conviction that antisemitism has run its course. What many on the left say is that antisemitism has been replaced by Islamophobia as the ‘real racism’ of the moment. The race question, we are told, is no longer whether Jews can be good Germans or good Brits but whether Muslims can be good Europeans.

Either way, either in its liberal or radical forms, the factual claim that antisemitism is no longer a problem in Europe serves to exclude antisemitism from the list of racisms Europe now has to confront if a new (non-racist) Europe is to be built. It deadens the nerve of outrage.

This rewriting of European history leaves out the multiple ways in which the past weighs upon the present. Far too much weight is placed on the assumption that antisemitism has been overcome by the rise of the new Europe. On the one hand, we see the re-emergence of ultra-nationalist parties in Europe. We might think, for example, of the Tories’ new friends in the EU, the Conservatives and Reformists grouping, led by the Polish politician, Michal Kaminski, who began his political journey in a neo-Nazi organisation, wore fascist antisemitic symbols and continues to hold that Poles should not apologise for the 1941 pogrom at Jedwabne until Jews have apologised for the wrongs they inflicted on Poles. Or we might think of the Latvian affiliate to this grouping, the For Fatherland and Freedom party, that has been a prime mover behind annual parades celebrating the Latvian legion of the Waffen-SS. We know that Kaminski and the For Fatherland and Freedom party are but the tip of a large and ugly iceberg of a growing nationalist politics in Europe.

On the other hand, the liberal establishment of the new Europe is not exempt from its own exclusions. The conceptual dichotomy between an allegedly postnational Europe and its nationalistic Others re-creates a moral division of the world between us and them, which can stigmatise the other as much as it idealises ourselves. It is not inevitable that the new Europe must be exclusionary in this way but the urge is internal to it. The representation of Israel as the incarnation of the negative properties Europe has succeeded in overcoming is a case in point. ‘Israel’ and ‘Zionism’ serve as vessels into which the European can project all that is bad in European history – its colonial past, ethnic divisions, institutionalised racisms, excesses of superfluous violence – and preserve the good for ourselves.

In European thought there has long existed a conviction that if we can only rid ourselves of some alien element – be it the bourgeoisie, parasites, terrorists or Jews – then all will be well. Representation of Israel as a pariah state or pariah people can perform a similar mythic function for a European consciousness anxious to divest itself of the legacy not only of its own past but also its present.

The denial of antisemitism cannot be explained by any conspiracy to forge an anti-Israel alliance. Its roots are more mundane. They lie in the genuine sense of outrage many of us rightly feel about human rights abuses committed by Israelis and about the need for justice for Palestinians. They lie in the experience most of us have that antisemitism is not a day to day problem in the UK. They lie in a politics of identity in which radical Jews declare that we are not like them and that what the Jewish state does is done ‘not in our name’. They lie in a politics of anti-imperialism which divides the world between oppressor and oppressed nations without allowing any complication or intersubjective dynamic to enter this binary picture. They lie in an idealist philosophy that leads us to measure the constitution and actions of a particular political state against the ideal of what a rational state ought to be. When we discover that the Jewish state falls short of the democratic secular ideal, we make our judgments on this basis rather than compare the justice and injustices of the Jewish state against the material practices of other states. They lie in the dynamics of political argument itself which tends to divide the world into opposing camps and leads us to caricature the beliefs of the other camp. It lies, as I have intimated, in the old European hubris of idealising ourselves by projecting onto others the barbarities (past and present) we cannot face up to.

I have focused in this polemic on Europe but let me end on this note. The struggle for justice for Palestinians and the struggle against antisemitism are not worlds apart. They belong to one another and draw from the same sources. As far as justice for Palestinians is concerned, the antisemitism question is not a red herring. It is a key to breaking out of the current impasse. Antisemitism does no good whatever for the Palestinian cause. In Europe it diminishes support for Palestinian rights. In Israel it reinforces the grip of nationalistic right wingers who know very well how to exploit antisemitism for their own ends. In Palestine it reinforces the grip of fundamentalist leaderships that threaten the freedom of Palestinians from within as well as the existence of Israel from without. In Arab states it allows reactionary rulers to divert social and political opposition into hatred of Jews. In the Middle East more generally it blames Israel and Israel alone for the suffering of Palestinians as if the end of Israel and beginning of justice for Palestinians were one and the same thing. It diverts from the real responsibilities of power that Israel has and is failing to meet.

We have to be careful not to invert the problem we are addressing. If some ultra-nationalists in Israel or elsewhere racialise Arabs and turn them into a unitary category, the temptation we must resist is to respond with an act of reversal that turns ‘Zionists’ into an equally otherised unitary category. We have also to be careful not to place Palestinians in a single identity script as victims of Israel and hear only the voice we want to hear. I am not suggesting that Palestinians are not victims but they are not only victims and not only victims of Israel. The problem we need to tackle is that our sense of injustice about the treatment of Palestinians can incline us to see that injustice as the formative experience in their lives and replace recognition of their agency with our contempt for the people we charge with excluding and oppressing them.
The critical space I am calling for has to include a concern for our common humanity alongside a concern for inequality and power. No human being is entirely ‘other’ than another, even where unequal social structures make this hard to see. Gillian Rose put it well:

The ‘other’ is equally the distraught subject searching for its substance, its ethical life.

Colloquium I: Aspects of Antisemitism in the UK

International Study Group
Education and Research on Antisemitism

Colloquium I: Aspects of Antisemitism in the UK

Saturday, 5 December 2009, 2 pm
Bedford Square Building Royal Holloway University of London, Room G3, 2 Gower Street, London WC1E 6DP

2.15 pm
Lesley Klaff
Antisemitism on Campus: A Modern Perspective

3.15 pm
Philip Spencer
Antisemitism and Holocaust Memorial Day

4.15 pm
Gunther Jikeli
Antisemitism Among Young Muslims in London

For further details, please email

  • london@iibsa.org or contact
  • Hagai van der Horst (hagaivdh@googlemail.com),
  • Doerte Letzmann (d.letzmann@rhul.ac.uk) or
  • Gunther Jikeli (g.jikeli@iibsa.org)

Flyer for Colloquium I.

The organisers tried hard to avoid scheduling this event for a Saturday, and will do all they can to prevent this happening for future events.

Karl Marx and the Jewish Question – Robert Fine at SOAS Monday


5.30 pm Monday 30 November2009 Room G50

Karl Marx and the Jewish Question

Professor Robert Fine Department of Sociology, University of Warwick

SOAS is five minutes from Russell Square underground station. All events are open to the public. For further information, please contact Professor Colin Shindler email: cs52@soas.ac.uk telephone: 020 7898 4358

“Jew-Wise” Ingrams is at it again.

Jew-Wise Ingrams is up to his usual tricks : Will Zionists’ links to Iraq invasion be brushed aside?. This is in defense of the
antisemitic article last week in the same paper by ex diplomat, turned lobbyist Oliver Miles.

Yemen’s non-Zionist Jewish community driven out

This not so recent piece by Lyn Julius (who co-founded Harif, the association for Jews of the Middle East and North Africa) tells how the last Jews of Yemen have been harassed by jihadist gangs involved in a wider conflict.

The Yemeni government has ignored the vigorous campaigning of Yemeni human rights activists and has failed to protect its tiny Jewish community. Many of these Jews are descended from a community who declined to be airlifted by Israel in the 1950s because they were inclined toward the non-Zionist Satmar sect. Now most are packing their bags for the US and for Israel. Lyn Julius ends:

“The lesson one draws from the final exodus of the Jews of Yemen is that the Arab world does not even tolerate non-Zionist Jews. There can be no future for the pitiful remnant in Arab lands if their safety cannot be guaranteed.

In Morocco, where the Jewish community is largest, Jews traditionally repaid the king’s sympathy with tremendous loyalty. But the king of Morocco was unable or unwilling to prevent 260,000 Jews leaving in the face of rising antisemitism in the 1960s, media incitement and forced conversions.

Even benevolent rulers have been powerless to stem the rising tide of anti-Jewish hatred engulfing the Arab world. Few Arabs are now likely to meet a Jew in their lifetime, and the gullible believe the demonisation and conspiracy theories peddled by their media.

No wonder Jews have spurned official invitations for them to return to live in their countries of birth. Jews visit as tourists, but few see their future in these countries. In Tunisia and Morocco al-Qaida targeted Jews in 2002 and 2003. In April the murder of a Jew in Casablanca sent the community into a panic.In May, eight terrorists were arrested for planning attacks on Jewish sites.

If Morocco and Tunisia fail to keep a lid on jihadist terrorism and incitement, their last Jews, too, will soon be following the beleaguered Jews of Yemen into exile.”

That was June – last week Point of No Return directed readers to a Washington Post article indicating that the Yemeni security forces foiled an assassination attempt on a Jewish leader a fortnight ago.

Even where there are no Jews, antisemitism has its uses. In October Cairo hosted the 56th Congress of Liberal International, which includes delegations from the British Liberal Democrats, among many others. Two members of the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth, Amr Bargisi and Samuel Tadros wrote, with examples, that “anti-Semitism remains the glue holding Egypt’s disparate political forces together”. The hosts, Egypts Al-Gabha, or Democratic Front Party (DFP), are implicated.

I came by these pieces via Middle East Pact, whose English-language site is sadly looking as neglected as the minority groups of the Middle East it is valiantly trying to help. I hope it manages to recover soon, because its cause is the cause of everyone who cares about peace in the Middle East.

Uncut racism in the Austrian parliament

This is a guest post by Karl Pfeifer.

I received today a letter from H.C. Strache, leader of the extreme right wing Austrian Freedom party. He is complaining about lacking security in Vienna and he hopes, that he will be the next mayor of Vienna and will oust Michael Häupl, the socialist mayor of Vienna. He also argues that the immigration to Vienna has risen to an unacceptable level. Oh, and he promised to fight Islamism as well.

So I have been looking to see what the Freedom party MPs have been up to in Parliament.

Mostly, they ask questions.

On November 23 some Freedomite MPs asked the Minister of Health for data relating to the circumcision of boys under the age of 15. They want to know, specifically,  how many boys are circumcised for medical reasons  and how many for “traditional ritual reasons”.

All in all they have asked 324 questions – when printed, the list of questions runs to 29 pages.

Those MPs know of course that in Austria there are no statistics on this sort of thing and an answer to their questions would cost millions of Euro to obtain. So why do they ask?

Jews and Muslims circumcise their boys. The obvious reason that they’re asking has nothing to do with fighting Islamism and everything to do with inciting people against Jews and Muslims.

Life is tough in Austria. We have students striking against the bad conditions at Austrian universities. We have rising unemployment and a whole series  of other problems.

But the Freedomite MPs would much rather count foreskins.

Video of Colin Shindler’s inaugural lecture

Colin Shindler is Professor of Israeli Studies at SOAS.

A video of his recent inaugural lecture (SOAS, 18th November), titled The Road to Utopia: The Origins of Anti-Zionism on the British Left, is now available.

“The October Revolution and the Balfour Declaration occurred within a few days of each other in 1917. Both these events charted different paths for the Jewish people in the twentieth century.

Jews joined the Communist Party in droves both to repair the world and later to fight fascism. Stalin’s prerogative, however, was to ensure the survival of the Soviet state.

He therefore sought to distract Britain by cultivating Arab nationalism and ditching Jewish socialism – Zionist and anti-Zionist – in inter-war Palestine.

By 1939, Jews were forced to choose when Stalin promoted the Nazi-Soviet pact. Trotsky in exile argued that ‘As victors, Britain and France would be no less fearful for the fate of mankind than Hitler and Mussolini.’ The theory of rival imperialisms held that the Nazis and the Western democracies were as bad as each other. The Soviet state had to survive, but the Jews were expendable.”

Posting before watching, but it starts with a bang.

The Road to Utopia: The Origins of Anti-Zionism on the British Left

Anybody who dares to criticise israel is accused of antisemitism

Jim has an interesting post on Shiraz Socialist.

Jim recalls an all too familiar conversation that he had with David Hirsh :

I said something like, “of course there are some people who will accuse anyone who criticises Israel of anti-semitism.” Dave immediately asked me, “Who?; when was the last time you heard anyone denounce criticism of Israel as anti-semitism?” I had to admit that I never had – but everyone I knew said they had, so I assumed that I had simply led a sheltered life.

You can read the whole article here.

Channel 4 on Israel Lobby: Back the Palestinians, Reject ‘Jew Conspiracy’ Theories

AWL on “Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby”.

The plain facts will impart a strong bias against Israel in any simple, straightforwardly honest report of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Today it is a David and Goliath story, with the Palestinians in the David and Israel in the Goliath role. Whether measured by economic weight, by military strength, or by diplomatic clout the disproportion between the strengths of the David and the Goliath is simply enormous.
To translate the natural pro-Palestinian bias which the facts of the conflict suggest into ideas that there is a Jewish-Zionist conspiracy behind US, British and European Union failure to act to compel Israel to make peace by allowing the Palestinians to have their own state, you need something else again: you need to tap into History’s very large and very septic tank of Jewish and Zionist conspiracy theory.
The Channel Four TV programme, Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby (16 November), was a case in point.
There are many difficulties in the way of a settlement, and only a fool or someone mortally hostile to Israel would pretend otherwise.
The idea that these difficulties justify continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, the slow expansion of Israeli settlements, the gruesome winkling-out of Palestinians, and at the end the elimination of the Palestinians as a distinct people — that idea is compatible only with extreme Israeli chauvinism.
Justice demands that the Palestinians have their own state; so does any hope of general peace for generations to come. Two, three, four or more generations, most likely.
It is plainly in the interests of general peace in the Middle East that the Arab-Israeli antagonism be ended. The USA’s alliance with Israel does create difficulties for it with economically and strategically important Arab states in the region. It has been in the interests of the whole policy for the Middle East which the USA launched with the invasion of Iraq that there should be a settlement.
US President George W Bush went further, in words, than any of his predecessors, coming out explicitly for a two-states settlement and for the so-called “road map” of 2003.
But Bush did nothing to force Israel to agree. The fact that the USA’s invasion of Iraq was not the quick triumph Bush expected, and drew the USA into a long war there, was probably one factor in Bush’s inaction.
So why do the USA, Britain, and other powers not exert the severe pressure on Israel that is the only way to achieve even serious negotiations for a settlement? Why has President Obama retreated, in the face of Israeli opposition, even from the demand on Israel that it stop expanding its West Bank settlements?
Part of it is inertia. Israel is a solid and strong ally for the USA in the region. Some Arab states are US allies, but all have regimes which the USA distrusts. But is that sufficient explanation?
Thus the stage is set for an explanation of US and European policy by way of conspiracy theories — assertions that there is a vast and powerful Jewish-Zionist network that exercises something like controlling power in the USA, Britain, and other countries; and it is the behind-the-scenes working of the conspiracy that explain why Israel is not compelled by the USA and the European Union to reach a settlement.
Paranoid right-wingers in the USA even believe that the USA is ruled by a “Zionist Occupation Government”, “ZOG”.
Now, it is a matter of fact that there is a powerful pro-Israel lobby in the USA. In that pluto-democratic system, rich people and organised pressure groups buy elected representatives by providing money without which they can not effectively stand for election and win. Organised lobbies can thus put themselves in a commanding position vis-a-vis the legislature, and secure their own interests.
It is notorious that the tobacco industry, the oil industry, the arms industry, big media corporations, and many other “interests” have thus been able to avoid regulation that would serve the public better.
American politics is also in part structured in “national” blocs.
Second, third, fourth, etc. generation immigrants still call themselves “Greek”, “Italian”, “Irish”, etc. The Irish lobby was once immensely powerful. It got the US Congress to vote for Irish independence during Ireland’s war for independence from Britain.
There is an “Arab lobby” in the USA, mainly, it appears, of corporate bosses with economic ties to Arab countries. The Israeli lobby is part of the system, and a very powerful and intensely motivated part of it.
And it is not only a matter of a pro-Israel lobby sustained by Jews in the USA. One of the strangest things in modern America has been the conversion en masse of the old Christian anti-semitic “constituency” into fervent Zionists — of “the-Jews-killed-Christ” types who would in the past have blamed Jews for the operations of financial institutions, and once expressed their prejudices in such populist phrases as William Jennings Bryan’s refusal “to be crucified on a cross of gold”.
Today they argue that the Bible says that in the days before the end of the world, the Second Coming of Christ and the day of God’s final judgement on humankind, Israel will be reborn. Lo and behold, Israel is reborn, and all is right with the Bible prophecy.
Here the intellectual and spiritual barbarism in which so many Americans live is the basis of an unreasoning commitment to Israel by millions of Americans. In the USA, all candidates for high office, the presidency for example, have to publicly proclaim a strong religious faith if they are to have a chance of election. Intertwined with the USA’s wonders of technology are still the superstitions of the Dark Ages.
So the Israel lobby is strong. So are other lobbies. With the Israel lobby alone, we get in response a revival of old conspiracy theories.
The Israel lobby is translated from a problem of the normal workings of American plutocratic democracy, of the power in public life of any well-financed and highly-motivated lobby and of primitive Christian religion, into a problem of conspiracy. It is translated into a modern manifestation of the ages-old “Jewish conspiracy”, idioms and variations of which are threatened throughout Christian civilisation.
To make that translation you need to have a certain predilection towards it — or to find the idea, once formulated, powerful because, subconsciously or consciously, you tap into the vast septic reservoir of ideas about “the Jews” and “Jewish control” that is there for the tapping into.
Almost as strange as the conversion of the too-recently anti-semitic “Christian Zionists” of the USA has been the de facto conversion of much of the international left to a variant of Jewish conspiracy theory.
Channel Four’s Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby was part of that.
Though it insisted that its “exposé” of the lobby was not an allegation of a Jewish or Zionist conspiracy, in fact, the “exposé” character of the programme belied that insistence, and its upfront “demand” for “transparency” more or less proclaimed the behind-the-scenes existence of some sort of conspiracy now.
In the programme, a very great deal was made of not much. Things that are not secret and not sinister were made out to be both. Contributions to MPs by Zionist pressure groups, individuals, and political lobbyists were presented as if they are unique, or uniquely influential, and of course they are not.
Either the programme meant to say or imply that there is a sinister, hidden, Zionist-Jewish influence or controlling hand in British politics on policy towards Israel — though, if it exists, why would its influence and control stop at that? — or it said very little. It said little, but implied a great deal more.
The programme wobbled badly in its targets, for instance on what motivates the pro-Israel lobbyists at Westminster. Commitment to Israel, its interests, and its defence? Yes. But one of the lobbyists — “the 18th [sic] richest man in England”, so the programme told us — owns a shopping mall in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and thus, the programme said, has a personal interest. So behind the Zionist, pro-Israel ideologue they found and “exposed” the age-old image of the money-grubbing Jew.
The truth is that there are all sorts of organised lobbies at Westminster. The increasing Americanisation of British politics makes lobbying in Britain too a large “industry”. Britain, too, is now, and increasingly so, very much a pluto-democracy — the transformation of the old Labour Party into New Labour, has accelerated that greatly. Political campaigning by big companies and industries is now pretty much the norm.
And it is not all that new — the sugar industry waged a vigorous campaign during the 1945-51 Labour government against a proposal to nationalise it.
The pro-Israel lobby at Westminster is part of a whole system which is long-established and recently much inflated. To present is as something hidden and especially sinister is, whatever the programme-makers say, to foment belief in “Jewish conspiracy” — or to tap into a pool of anti-Jewish paranoia that exists in British political sub-culture too.
That is what the Channel Four programme did, without making any real “revelation” to justify its tabloid-journalism-style “exposé” format and self-promotion.
Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, spoke on camera of the exceptional number of protest letters which any criticism of Israel provokes. So — there is a sizeable and passionately active group of people who back Israel? A large number of Jews in Britain back the Israeli Right? That is news? It is surprising? There is something specially sinister about it? Only if you slot it into preconceptions about a Zionist or Jewish network or conspiracy. Given the history of the 20th century, there is nothing surprising or sinister in passionate diaspora-Jewish support for Israel.
The “rabbi emeritus” of the Reform Synagogue in London spoke on camera of Israel as like South African apartheid. How? There are two systems of law in operation, one for Israeli Jews and another one in the Occupied Territories. A serious point and one worth thinking about.
The widespread idea (especially on the left) that Israel is equivalent to South Africa usually implies that the Israeli Jews — a compact nation — should go the same way as the South African whites, a minority privileged caste. That idea was proclaimed openly from platforms of “anti war movement” protests against Israel’s Gaza war The rabbi emeritus agrees? Or he forgets the content in which his ruminations emerge?
And so on.
There really is a powerful and highly motivated pro-Israel lobby, in which many Jews are active. It exerts influence within the US and British pluto-democratic systems. That is fact. To go beyond that, to “exaggerate’; to postulate something more, a sinister Jewish conspiracy, is not harmless.
In recent times the financial segment of capitalism has justly come in for much criticism. Not enough, but good! But the whole of capitalism, not just the banks, is rotten.
And the traditional corollary of the viewpoint that financial capital is particularly bad is that the problem with capitalism is “Jewish capital”.
A powerful cultural reservoir of “Jewish conspiracy” ideas exists. The connection of the current criticism of financial capital with that reservoir is as easy as raging fire jumping across a small gap. Programmes like Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby blaze a trail for such connections. Right wingers and fascists “on the ground” draw out the implications.
Anti-Semitism in Britain has risen alarmingly in recent times. Jewish conspiracy nonsense, even timid and half-hearted stuff such as Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby cannot but feed it.
A Jew-hunt will not help the Palestinians.
Issues in the conflict
The Palestinians are a people under foreign — Israeli — occupation and control. They have been in that position for two generations, for more than two-thirds of the time that Israel has existed.
Yes, Israeli occupation is brutal, and it is predatory. Over decades Israeli settlers have inched slowly into colonisation of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, relentlessly winkling out and displacing the original inhabitants. They are still advancing now.
Plainly it is the intention of the dominant forces in Israel to colonise and permanently annex as much as they can of Palestine.
Israel has strength, power, and overall control of relations with the Palestinians. It could now, probably, reach a modus vivendi with the surrounding Arab states and with the Palestinians on the basis of accepting a Palestinian state on the territory Israel occupied in 1967, or even that territory with some deductions. It wasn’t always so, but it is so now, and has been for a long time.
Israel chooses not to. It holds the Palestinian people as a spider holds a fly in its web, slowly devouring it. Any settlement that led to an independent Palestinian state would put a stop to that process. Israel does not want such a setttlement.
The consequence of long-continuing Israeli occupation may well be to make the emergence of an independent Palestinian state in contiguous territory impossible. The longer things go on without a political settlement, without the setting up of a Palestinian state, the more the very possibility of such a state, ever, recedes towards impossibility.
The placement of settlements and roads indicates that this is the Israeli aim.
We must back the Palestinians’ demand for a state of their own alongside Israel. There are difficulties on the road, and we must register them.
Israel had to fight for its very existence in 1948, against five invading Arab armies, one at least of which, the Egyptian, openly raised the slogan, “Drive the Jews into the sea”; and against a sudden Egyptian attack in 1973.
It is surrounded by fundamentally hostile states. To this day only two Arab states, Jordan and Egypt, recognise Israel.
The demands of both the Palestinians and the Arab states, on the basis of which the Arab League proposes to reach a settlement with Israel, include, as well as a Palestinian Arab state alongside Israel, the “return” of the “refugees” — of over five million people, all but a fraction of whom are not refugees but the descendants of the 750,000 Arabs who fled or were driven out of Israeli territory during the 1948 Arab invasions.
The existence of so many people classified as “Palestinian refugees” is the result of the deliberate denial to Palestinians of the right to work and citizenship in most of the Arab states surrounding Israel. The Arab states are as much responsible as Israel is for the present “refugee problem”.
The demand for the “return” of the refugees is the cutting edge, still, of a drive to destroy Israel, and is in contradiction to the Arab League’s declared willingness to reach a settlement with Israel in return for a Palestinian state in the territories occupied in 1967.
It is the cutting edge, also, of the claim that all pre-1948 Palestine is “Islamic land” and must be reclaimed. It is another way of proposing the end of the Jewish state. No national state would peacefully accept such a proposition, or anything like it.
Without the abandonment of the “Right of Return” the Arab League offer of peace for land — a Palestinian state — is a sham. It indicates that they have no real intention of “normalising” relations with Israel.
The idea that the Arab League will be willing to transmute the demand for the “right of return” into reparations payments and maybe some token “returns” is untested.

Karl Pfeifer blood libelled

The blood libel has attached to Jews for millenia. Karl Pfeifer is a tireless campaigner against antisemitism. He writes to us:

“Strange things happen to me.

I was invited to give two lectures in Münster (November 18) and in Bielefeld (November 19) by Antifa AG of the university of Bielefeld.

Two days before my lecture about racism and antisemitism in Hungary was to take place on 19. November a few persons in the AJZ (Autonomisches Jugendzentrum, autonomous youth centre) Bielefeld vetoed my giving a lecture in the AJZ alleging, that my military unit in 1947-49 has participated at a massacre in a Palestinian village, and that I myself have participated. Those present did not know where this massacre took place and about the alleged connection between the massacre and me. Those accusing me agreed that this information is not reliable. But one could hear comments: “He is a Zionist…”

And they also said that events with members of black September are also unwanted and therefore the ban is comprehensible.

They demanded that I should distance myself from this not specified massacre. This is a statement [PDF – non-German-readers can copy the text and run through Google Translate for the gist of the notes] by Johannes Westkamp, a young member of Antifa AG (antifascist group at Bielefeld University and College) on behalf of those who were present at this meeting.

Of course nobody of those extreme leftist Germans has taken the care to ask me about this story. 3-4 active members aged 30-40 voiced their veto against my lecture. That was enough.

And the cowards are not ready to answer the questions of German journalists why they excluded me.

Fortunately the young antifascists of Bielefeld University found another place and 50 students came to my lecture and they were shocked to hear about my exclusion.”

I had just completed a piece on Greens Engage titled “Zionists out of the peace movement”.

Update: this post has been slightly altered to remove JW’s signature at his request in case it was misused, and to clarify that JW drafted the statement on behalf of those present, rather than as an eyewitness himself.

Update 2: Read Karl’s piece in Ha’aretz, which ends:

“As far as I can tell, my real crime apparently is being a “Zionist,” which I can only understand as being guilty of being a Jew who defended himself and who favors the existence of a Jewish and democratic state. In Germany, I had the feeling that I was being judged by those arrogant anti-Semites not on the basis of what I have done or am doing, but for what I am.”