English original of David Hirsh’s Interview in Le Figaro

There was an interview with David Hirsh published in Le Figaro about Labour antisemtiism in the UK. For the published version, in French, follow this web link. Here is the original in English, before it was tidied up and translated into French:

1.       Do you agree with rabbi Ephraim Mirvis saying Jews are justifiably anxious about the prospect of Labour forming the next government ?

Yes, Jews are anxious. Yes, their anxiety is justifiable.

2.       Where does this antisemitism come from ?

Left antisemitism has a long history, going back to people like Bruno Bauer, critiqued by Marx, who argued that Jews should not be emancipated in the state until they had emancipated themselves from their religion. August Bebel had to oppose the ‘socialism of fools’ – conspiracy fantasy which pictures the oppressors as Jewish. Much of the left at the time of Dreyfus was ambivalent, thinking this was a fight within ‘the elite’. The Stalinists made use of Jew-hatred, identifying Jews with capitalism and imperialism and they pushed hard this story that Israel is an imperialist and apartheid state.

Today’s left antisemitism begins as furious and focused hostility to Israel, it supports the exclusion of Israelis from the life of humanity, it defines its own identity in relation to the Israeli enemy and it tolerates all kinds of antisemitic discourse and bullying which it attracts.

Yesterday we saw the huge swirl of hostility not around Israel but around the Chief Rabbi, who is accused first of trying dishonestly to help Israel with his fake accusation of antisemitism and then is quickly also accused of being right wing and supporting the rich in trying to prevent a Labour government.

Corbyn himself, and the faction which raised him to power, and swept into the Labour Party to support him, has a long history of jumping to the defence of antisemites against Jews.

3.       Is Jeremy Corbyn’s defense convincing ? Did the party take appropriate measures to fight antisemitism in its ranks ?

Corbyn lies. First, he says that he is doing everything he can to rid the party of antisemitism, but this has been shown to be false. The Chief called it ‘mendacious speech’.  The truth is the opposite. As demonstrated by John Ware in his Panorama documentary, Corbyn, his office, and his supporters have deliberately slowed the disciplinary system, have helped out their allies.

Corbyn also lies when he says he would like to meet the Chief Rabbi and find out why he’s so upset. The truth is that Corbyn and his people have had a number of meetings with the leadership of the Jewish community – Jewish Leadership Council, CST, BoD… he doesn’t listen and he doesn’t reassure.

[note. I have since been told that there was in fact only one formal meeting of this kind. But the point holds I think. Corbyn has had every opportunity to understand the grievances and the Party has had every opportunity to engage with various institutions and individuals in the Jewish community. – DH]

Corbyn himself has a long history of supporting antisemitism against Jews: he has said Hamas and Hezbollah are dedicated to fighting for peace and justice; he has presented English language propaganda for Press TV; he said the antisemitic mural should not be taken down; he defended Steven Sizer, saying he was a good critic of Israel etc etc.

There are thousands of examples, carefully documented, of Labour antisemitism. LAAS, CAA, JLM have submitted them to the EHRC.  Look at the submissions to Chakrabarti.

There is political antisemitism at the top; it creates institutional antisemitism; that licenses people to bully and harass.

4.       Do you observe such a phenomenon in other left parties in Europe or in the USA ?

Yes. But it has not yet tainted the whole party in other democratic countries.

[Second Email]

1.        To what extent does clientelism of the Labour Party towards Muslims could threaten the English Jews?

I don’t think the issue of Labour antisemitism is, in the first place, anything at all to do with Muslims. I think that Corbyn’s kind of antisemitism is a traditional left antisemitism, with a specific Stalinist ‘anti-imperialist’ and ‘antizionist’ heritage, and today mixing and swirling with a more traditional English antisemitism.

It is true that there is some shared political narrative, and some history of joint political work, between Corbyn’s faction and various kinds of Islamist politics.  Corbyn has ‘celebrated’ the anniversaries of the Iranian revolution and he has been hosted by Hamas and Hezbollah; he thinks that it is imperialism that is responsible for ISIS and Al Qaeda.  But I wouldn’t want to blame the current crisis on Muslims, and not even, primarily on Islamism.
2.    Why and how does antisemitism threaten Jews? 

Well, we just don’t know the answer.

We know that many Jews feel threatened by the prospect of an antisemite in No. 10.  We know that there are many conversations about leaving Britain, most of it only conversations.  I don’t think people are planning to leave Britain in any significant numbers but I do think that people are making sure that that option is open to them – they’re getting foreign passports, thinking about what kind of work they could do abroad, etc.

Are they justified?  I don’t know.

There are a number of specific and concrete threats: the use of the British chair in the UN Security council; funding for security at Jewish schools and synagogues; possible moves against dual nationals or against people who have fought in the Israeli army; a rise in BDS, sanctioned and legitimised by the government.

I think that if kids are bullied at school, for example, by being called “murdering Zionists” it will be difficult for teachers to know how to protect them – well, even the PM thinks it’s true.

We can think of many concrete things.  But I’m more worried about the other things.

Both Corbyn’s faction and also Brexit are conspiracy fantasies. They are populist – they divide the world into ‘the people’ and ‘enemies of the people’.

So Labour didn’t engage with the truth of what the Chief had said, it merely smeared him as a Tory and a Zionist – as “enemy of the people”.

We could not have this problem if there was not also a balancing problem on the right of British politics.  Johnson has done the same to the Tory Party that Corbyn has done to the Labour Party.
So the real danger is the mainstreaming of antisemitic discourse and conspiracy fantasy.

The result of an antisemite in no. 10 would be the rise of an antisemitic movement. Corbyn will fail and when he does, his people will blame Zionists and Jews.  Alternatively, Brexit will fail, and when it does, people will blame cosmopolitans, finance capital, globalists, the metropolitan elite.

The danger is the rise of an antisemitic movement.

There was an interview with David Hirsh published in Le Figaro about Labour antisemtiism in the UK. For the published version, in French, follow this web link. Here is the original in English, before it was tidied up and translated into French:

What is populism? David Hirsh

This piece, by David Hirsh, first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle.

David Hirsh

 

In politics, being popular is good but populism is something different, and it threatens our democracy. Left and right wing populism have a lot in common and they are both part of the same danger. Extremist ideas like racism, xenophobia and antisemitism have returned to the mainstream.

Populism splits everything into good and bad: ‘the people’ and ‘enemies of the people’. ‘The people’ is an idea, the opposite of the material diversity of flesh and blood human beings.

Politics is about representing people, with different tastes, opinions, values and dreams; people from different classes, genders and origins; with different interests, talents, and problems. Democracy as a whole, including Parliament, the rule of law, civil society organisations, international co-operation, democratic freedoms and cultures, is how we negotiate our differences and find ways of living together.

Our democracy is not perfect, but it is a huge achievement nevertheless and we should build on it, not devalue it.

But ‘the people’, as conceived by populism, has one interest, one appetite and one resentful fury. Because ‘the people’ is really an abstract idea, it cannot articulate anything; it needs a leader to understand its eternal soul and to speak with its voice.

Populism begins with the feeling that nothing that exists now is of any value and it is driven by sentimental nostalgia for a past which never really existed.

The populisms of the left and of the right agree that the real enemy is the ‘liberal establishment’ which is portrayed as only cunning and selfish. It is accused of pretending that society is based on freedom and democracy but secretly running everything according to its own secret self-interest.

News, according to the populists, is lies, concocted so that we will vote how ‘the establishment’ wants us to. Politics, for the populists, is a racket, in which a ‘political class’ only pretends to look out for the good of the country.

Populism treats science and expertise as mortally corrupted by power. Even the principle of human equality, the populists think, is sneakily transformed by those with power into a way of keeping us unequal.

The referendum of 2016 made one day holy. An election gives representation even to the losers but a referendum sets up a new timeless truth and it prevents ongoing debate. The demagogues took ownership of the referendum result and they appropriated the right to interpret what it meant.

Populism is utopian. Johnson does not promise to make Britain a little better but to make it the best country in the world. Corbyn does not promise to make Britain a little fairer but to abolish injustice. Populism has contempt for the rational policies that might improve things. Instead, it thunders that it will rip everything down rebuild a new world out of the ashes.

It is easier to destroy than to create. Populism will never deliver what it promises. That is why the idea of the ‘enemy of the people’ is so important. Failure will be blamed on the cosmopolitans, the liberal elite, the people of nowhere, the people ‘without roots in the community’, the people with no culture, those who are only interested in money and in ‘the one per cent’.

Antisemitism has evolved through many distinct species to become a ready-made emotional framework for imagining all of these enemies in one potent vision of evil.

We have seen antisemitism emerge into the mainstream left. In its appearance as ‘criticism of Israel’ it is still plausibly, to some, deniable; yet antisemitism is ‘educating’ a whole layer of left activists that ‘Zionism’ and ‘right wing Jews’ stand between ‘us’ and socialism.

Right populism is also structurally similar to antisemitism and it is creating fertile conditions for the emergence of its own antisemitic movement. Brexit can only be ‘betrayed’ since any Brexit which may be delivered would fall short of the fantasy.

It will lead to crisis, people losing their jobs and to a new and deeper ‘austerity’. Right populists will look for somebody to blame. They will find ‘enemies of the people’ and some of them will picture the enemy with a big nose and a grasping cunning.

Both of the big parties have been killed, hollowed out, and animated by hostile populist factions. This is not a crisis of the left or the right but of both. There could be no Corbyn without Brexit and there could be no Johnson without Corbyn.

Voters will think of supporting one populist leader for fear of the other but the price of that would be to strengthen the populist culture as a whole.

The alternative is to vote for anti-populist candidates, to maximise opposition to populism in Parliament, and to build a movement tough enough and smart enough to defend liberal democracy.

This piece, by David Hirsh, first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle.

To live is to fight. How the Jewish tradition prepares us to respond to the recent deadly attack on a German Synagogue – Robert Ogman

* This article, by Robert Ogman, was first published in German in Jungle World 44/2019.

Robert Ogman

Just days before the deadly attack outside the Halle synagogue, bracketed between the Jewish New Year celebration Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement Yom Kippur, a friend of mine wrote to me what’s become a popular motto to summarize Jewish holidays: “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!” The self-parodying motto, widely known in Jewish communities, refers to the triad of historical experience and social practice: doom, salvation, and affirmation of life. It recalls succinctly and humorously the permanent state of threat, the miracle of survival, and the necessity of rejoice. No holiday better encapsulates this triad as Pesach, when the story of slavery under the Pharaoh and exodus from Egypt is retold, and liberation is rejoiced over a large feast and four glasses of wine.

Yet just days later, when a heavily-armed neo-Nazi attacked a Halle synagogue on Yom Kippur, we were quickly reminded that the motto does not refer to closed historical events of the past which we have left behind. Wie Brecht schon sagte, “Der Schoß ist fruchtbar noch, aus dem das kroch.” When in today’s ‘post-national’ Germany, 25% of the population can imagine that something like the Holocaust could repeat itself here, then we – the main Feindbild – know that the triad danger-resilience-and affirmation of life refers equally to our current reality which we have to navigate in our own times. From this, there appears no simple and final redemption – not liberal cosmopolitanism, socialist internationalism, or even Jewish self-determination.

Yes, the Jews may have given the world the bible, broke out of the cyclical view of time, affirmed self- and societal development rather than obeying and mimicking nature – ideas taken up successively by all the monotheistic religions and secular culture alike – but for these gifts, the world has filled its libraries with lies against them.

Society permanently updates its assault with new rationalizations: first the Jews were the Christ killers, then the poisoners of wells, next the bringers of the bubonic plague and black death, afterward the destroyers of society with money and abstract value, then the undertakers of traditional culture with the assertion of universal equality, then blamed for colonialism and “the Middle East conflict”. A broken record always adapted to the times. In the fantasy world of the murderer in a Pittsburgh synagogue one year ago, south American migrants are not fleeing poverty, war, and oppression to seek better lives in the U.S., but instead are simply pawns manipulated by Jewish conspirators to demographically and culturally undermine the white Christian majority in the U.S. for their own interests. This ideology was mimicked in the manifesto of the Halle attacker Stephan B. According to his warped mind, the Syrian and Afghani exodus from their war-torn countries is not the flight of real people seeking security and better lives. No, instead these individuals lack agency and are mere “golems” – just dust brought to life by Jewish mystics through alchemical transformation, and brought to Europe with the devious aim of displacing German Christians and installing Jewish domination. For this reason he decided against attacking a Mosque, and sought instead to “cut off the head” of the supposed “plot”, and attack Jews.

So after we prayed, each in our own religious or secular ways, that the terror in Halle would end quickly and without any deaths or injuries, we screamed out in fury at the fascist danger. We criticized the ideology of that supposed lone wolf Stephan B., and the thousands of armed neo-Nazis throughout German society, which has infiltrated the police and security forces. We raged against the cuts to anti-racism education programs and right-wing extremism prevention projects. We criticized the intellectual instigators, the far-Right “Alternative for Germany” party, which have been called the “political wing of right-wing terrorism”. And we damned the authorities for minimizing our security concerns.

But yet, as loud as the “Never Again!” proclamations were in the media, social media, and at public vigils, so extremely silent were the people around me. So few were the phone calls or messages from friends, colleagues, acquaintances, or self-described “comrades” in the days after the attack. So easy it was to post something stupid banner on Facebook – so difficult they must have found it to reach out and ask, “how are you holding up?” How formally correct, and how socially and emotionally removed at the same time! This too is this state of Germany amid the “outrage” after Halle.

At our vigils we mourned the senseless loss of life, and we said the mourner’s kaddish for Jana L. and Kevin S. during services. Political commentators quarreled about whether the attack was of an antisemitic character, or directed instead against “society as a whole”. What a stupid exercise. I am reminded of Hannah Arendt’s prescient observation that totalitarianism makes all human life superfluous, and at the same time, that it has deep, critical differentiations which cannot be smoothed over – a contradictory truth we should try to keep in mind. The two unique individuals who did not belong to the Jewish community, but were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, were reduced by the fascist mind to nothing but superfluous matter, disposable objects in the mission to rid the world of Jews.

And while mourning the senseless loss of life, we also marveled at the narrow avoidance of a massacre – yes this contradiction could not cover up the miracle of survival. Yes, they tried to kill us (again) … and yet we survived! A remnant always does. We marveled at the wonder of a simple wooden door to stop evil, to stop a massacre in the unprotected Halle synagogue.

On the way to the hospital to be treated for shock – death narrowly escaped – the congregations’ survivors danced, and sang out “The Jewish people live on!” Upon nightfall, they congregated in the hospital cafeteria, completed the holiday prayers, blew the Shofar (the ram’s horn) signaling the end of Yom Kippur. They broke their Yom Kippur fast and drank beer.

The struggle against antisemitism is simply the fight against the reduction of life to mere matter, to an impoverished conception of ‘nature’, ‘race’, blood, labor, and force. And so this very cause must too defend the autonomy of life over all external causes. Hence after doom and salvation, we affirm life. We reject the objectivization and projections by anti-Semites, and also those by well-meaning ‘antifascists’ alike, and assert ourselves as subjects within history, through the renewal of our traditions. This is why it made sense, following the “Tree of Life” synagoge shooting in the United States, to call “all out for Shabbat!” For it is this creative interruption of time and space – the disruption of everyday life and labor, the halt to practices that change the world (through utilization and instrumentalization), and instead the uncompromising and simple affirmation of life – which may be a necessary part of the efforts to repair the world, of Tikkun Olam, or if secular terms are preferred, to “make it whole”, in the words of Ernst Bloch. That a similar call was not made in Germany may say much about the different political cultures in these two countries, but it doesn’t call for simple mimicry. There is much to be changed, but there is also much to be disrupted and affirmed – so we proclaim and sanctify life, for to live is our struggle, so let’s eat!

 

* This article, by Robert Ogman,g was first published in German in Jungle World 44/2019.

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