Academic Boycott conference at TCD

Hot on the heels of the recent anti-Israel conference at UCC, comes this event at Trinity College Dublin:

Call for Papers – Freedom of Speech and Higher Education: The Case of the Academic Boycott of Israel

I don’t suppose it will come as any surprise to learn that the conference is not concerned with any possible threat to academic freedom of speech posed by such a boycott.

The Call for Papers (CFP) – one of the longest I’ve ever seen – begins:

Academic freedom includes the liberty of individuals to express freely opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to fulfil their functions without discrimination or fear of repression by the state or any other actor[.]

This cuts both ways. The organisers of the conference would presumably be concerned about the cancellation of an event involving Ben White at UCLAN. But would they also be worried by:

These events all involved non-Israeli speakers/participants – and yet people still tried to silence them.

However even though the CFP continues:

The enjoyment of academic freedom carries with it obligations, such as the duty to respect the academic freedom of others, to ensure the fair discussion of contrary views, and to treat all without discrimination on any of the prohibited grounds (UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “The Right to Education (Art.13),” December 8, 1999)

there is no acknowledgement of any challenge to freedom of speech caused by anti-Israel activism.

The organisers then go on to describe the negative effects of cuts, managerialism and bureaucracy on universities (fair enough). Particular concern is expressed over a possible impact on

the expression of dissenting and controversial views.

It rather depends what is meant by ‘dissenting and controversial’. It could be argued that having right of centre views might be seen as ‘dissenting and controversial’ in a university context. ‘Dissenting’ voices on the left might include Germaine Greer on transgender issues or Maryam Namazie on Islam. By contrast, in many academic contexts support for the Palestinian cause would be seen as normative, rather than an issue which might ‘lead to self-censorship and curtailing expression.’

Certainly one of the conference organisers, Connor McCarthy, doesn’t seem to have experienced any chilling impact on his free speech in this regard. His research profile notes that he is ‘a founder-member of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and of Academics for Palestine’. Ditto David Landy. The third organiser, Ronit Lentin, has similar research interests – and, interestingly, once distanced herself from a condemnation of Gilad Atzmon posted by Electronic Intifada.

The CFP then turns to the wider question of how, and how far, academia and political activism should combine. This concludes:

With growing global political polarisation, this question has returned to the spotlight with academics under fire for expressing political opinions in Turkey, the US and elsewhere.

This pairing – and here’s just one reminder of what academics are facing in Turkey – reminded me of Pope’s lines:

Not louder shrieks to pitying Heav’n are cast,

When husbands or when lapdogs breathe their last

Perhaps the CFP writers had US academic Steven Salaita in mind, as he is the first keynote speaker named. It is claimed that he ‘was denied a Professorship in University of Illinois due to his views on Israel/Palestine’. This is a rather bland summary of the objections to Salaita. These are just a couple of his controversial tweets:

You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing. (after the disappearance of the three murdered Israeli teens)

Zionists: transforming “antisemitism” from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.#Gaza #FreePalestine

(Here’s a link to a storify which aims to give a balanced perspective on Salaita, and here’s a critical post which discusses his academic publications.)

It might be possible to make a case against the unhiring of Salaita (he was made a job offer which was then withdrawn) in the context of US views on free speech or by analogy with other academics with very controversial views. But to claim that this happened because of ‘his views on Israel/Palestine’ isn’t really sufficient.

Finally, it’s good to note that:

Last week Trinity’s students union voted against a college-wide boycott of Israel by a “significant majority”.

Jenny Tonge’s outrageous response to CST report

Yesterday the CST  released their yearly report on antisemitic incidents in the UK.  The results are worrying. 1,309 cases were recorded, the highest ever total, and a 36% increase from last year.  The CST cites widely reported disputes over antisemitism in the Labour Party and the climate of increased racism and xenophobia following the EU referendum as possible factors in this sharp rise.  107 violent assaults were logged last year, and it is likely that underreporting masks the true total.  Although these only account for a small proportion of total incidents, it’s concerning that campus related cases involving students and academics have doubled since last year.

The report is characteristically measured.  There has been much discussion of antisemitism within the UK’s Muslim communities and the CST is very careful to caution against reading too much into the raw statistics about perpetrator identity (where available).

These figures partly reflect the fact that Britain’s Jewish communities tend to live in relatively diverse urban areas, and that street crime offenders (where the most common type of antisemitic incident takes place) make up a younger, and more diverse, demographic profile than the population as a whole (p. 24)

The CST is also extremely careful not to conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism, while acknowledging the obvious potential for intersection.  Their rationale for including (or rejecting) anti-Israel discourse in their incident report is very clearly laid out on pp.27-8.  This section demonstrates the nuanced and cautious approach adopted by the CST.

Similarly, anti-Israel material that is sent unsolicited to a synagogue at random may be recorded as an antisemitic incident (because the synagogue was targeted simply because it is Jewish and the offender has failed to distinguish between a place of worship and a political organisation), when the same material sent unsolicited to specifically pro-Israel organisations would not be. On the other hand, if a particular synagogue has been involved in public pro-Israel advocacy and subsequently is sent anti-Israel material, it may not be classified as antisemitic unless the content of the material dictates otherwise.

Below you can read Jenny Tonge’s nasty response to the CST’s report – indeed her proud promotion of her initial response.

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Where to start? No concern is expressed over the rise in antisemitic violence.  Instead she insists that Jews need to distance themselves from Netanyahu in order to avoid attacks.  If she thinks the CST demonstrates a ‘perpetual victim mentality’ what kind of campaigning community group against antisemitism would she countenance?  Although sometimes Israel is the apparent driver for antisemitism, the CST’s report also contains evidence of Holocaust denial and conspiracism.  And it’s deeply unfair to imply that the CST is not concerned about ‘ALL racism’ – it has worked closely with Tell MAMA to support their project countering anti-Muslim bigotry.

In her recent response to a much criticised interview on J-TV Tonge opined

My own fault I guess for being decent and wanting to connect with Israel’s supporters.

This rings very hollow in the light of her failure to connect with the victims of hate crimes – something which should be easily possible whether or not one is a supporter of Israel.

Dave Rich: The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism

In The Left’s Jewish Problem Dave Rich offers a careful and scholarly (but unfailingly readable) intervention into the highly charged topic of the left’s relationship with antisemitism – a meticulous genealogy of the movements and ideological skirmishes that lie behind the most recent and familiar manifestations of the problem:

As this book will explain, while Corbyn’s rise to the leadership precipitated the Labour Party’s problem with anti-Semitism, the political trends on the left that brought that problem about long predate Corbyn’s leadership, and stretch well beyond the Labour Party. His rise is a symbol of the problem; whether he survives or not, the issue of anti-Semitism on the left of British politics is unlikely to go away.

Rich reminds us that the British left used to view Israel favourably. Zionism was associated with socialism and, through its conflict with a British occupying force, was perceived as anti-colonial in nature. ‘The cause of Israel is the cause of democratic socialism’ asserted a Tribune writer in 1955. What changed? Rich cautions against overstating the role played by active antisemitism, but demonstrates some of the ways in which antisemitic tropes were able to infect the discourse, and the thinking, of people who saw themselves as part of an antiracist struggle.

An important factor in Israel’s perceived shift from socialist underdog to colonial oppressor was the Six Day War. This polarised opinion, exacerbating nascent left wing hostility to Israel, but strengthening an identity with Zionism amongst British and American Jews. Another significant factor was the rise of the New Left, less interested in bread and butter socialist concerns, driven instead by identity politics, single issue pressure groups and anti-American sentiment. Through this lens, Israel began to be seen as a colonial imposition on the Middle East.

Many of today’s familiar anti-Israel tropes began to circulate in the late 1950s and 1960s. The PLO compared Zionism to Nazism and the Algerian National Liberation Front blamed Israel’s creation on the monopoly of finance and media held by ‘magnate Jews’. Rich explains in detail how another trope – the comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa – gained so much traction. Surprisingly, the Young Liberals play a major part in this story. The relationship between this group and the wider Liberal Party was bizarrely disjunctive in the 1960s. Their vice-chairman Bernard Greaves, for example, ‘dismiss[ed] Parliament as a hindrance to “the revolutionary transformation of society”’.

Some members flirted with Communism and others engaged in violent direct action as part of their campaign against apartheid. Among the key players was Peter Hellyer, Vice-Chairman of the Young Liberals. Through his campaigning he made connections with Palestinian and other Arab activists and this political environment exposed him to Soviet and Egyptian anti-Zionist – and antisemitic – propaganda. As Rich explains, the Soviet Union was a particularly important vector for anti-Zionist discourse. Examining these 1960s networks, and the way ideas circulated within them (rather like tracing the transmission of a virus) helps explain not just the preoccupations of today’s left but the precise arguments and images they instinctively reach for.

The British Anti-Zionist Organisation (BAZO) was seen as one of the more extreme groups. ‘It argued that Zionists collaborated with Nazis during the Second World War and that they encouraged anti-Semitism to the benefit of Israel.’ If that sounds familiar, so will the names of several of its members – Tony Greenstein, George Galloway, Richard Burden. Another significant grouping was Matzpen – but this Israeli anti-Zionist movement was viewed with disfavour by some, such as Ghada Karmi, because it acknowledged a place for a separate Jewish grouping within the socialist federation they proposed for the region. This particular fault line prompted charges of tribalism against anti-Zionist Jewish activists – accusations since nastily amplified by Gilad Atzmon.

While the anti-Apartheid movement functioned as a gateway to zealous anti-Israel campaigning, the NUS’s No Platform policy, intended to repel fascism and racism, became weaponised against Zionism and (in an ironic twist) had a discriminatory impact on university Jewish societies. These were deemed to be racist unless they renounced any expression of a Zionist identity. The impulse to outlaw abhorrent speakers is understandable. John Randall, a former NUS president, insisted:

There are some boundaries that a civilised society adopts, and there are some behaviours that clearly lie outside those boundaries.

But as Rich dryly comments:

As Jewish students would discover, the flaw in the policy is that those boundaries are movable.

This is just one of many moments in the book where the reader may experience an uncanny sense of déjà vu. In the 1971 words of Kate Hoey, vice-president of the NUS we can read a foreshadowing of the stance taken by current NUS President, Malia Bouattia.

Unquestionably the mass media has given no prominence to the Palestinian case which is understandable because of the Zionist influence among the people who control it.

Although much in this book was unfamiliar to me, all too familiar was the sense of disbelief and frustration that so many on the left, sensitive to other forms of prejudice, have a seemingly limitless capacity for glossing over or blanking out antisemitism except on the right. Here’s one example of this selective obtuseness. Jeremy Corbyn (who refused to campaign alongside David Cameron to Remain) shared a platform with Dyab Abou Jahjah, a Hezbollah supporter who posted Holocaust denial material on his website. When complaints were raised, Corbyn’s response was careless and arrogant.

I refuse to be dragged into this stuff that somehow or other because we’re pro-Palestinian, we’re antisemitic. It’s a nonsense.

This is an example of a manoeuvre I see increasingly often – the invocation of Israel/Palestine to shut down accusations of antisemitism that have nothing to do with that topic.

Although the possibility of a left-wing antisemitism just doesn’t seem to compute for Corbyn and his ilk, the problem’s roots can be traced back to the early years of socialism in the nineteenth century. Jews became strongly identified with capitalism and there grew up the idea of ‘a specifically Jewish network of power and wealth that needed to be broken.’ Capitalism and Jewish power become dangerously interchangeable ideas, both perceived as barriers to a just society. The left needs to face up to its patchy record on this front, rather than brush it under the carpet. Here Rich reminds us of just one blot on our copybook.

The Trades Union Congress in 1900 passed a resolution decrying the war as one ‘to secure the gold fields of South Africa for cosmopolitan Jews, most of whom had no patriotism and no country.’

I wholeheartedly recommend this illuminating and timely study – there are so many more examples and observations I’m tempted to quote, but I’ll end with some strikingly prescient words from Jeremy Thorpe, speaking in 1968:

Britain suffers little from the disgrace of anti-Semitism. But the amiable weakness for the underdog, which is part of our national character, can all too easily allow us to become sentimental about political problems, while the perverse British characteristic of preferring our foes to our friends often corrupts our judgment.

 

Professor David Feldman on antisemitism

News of the appointment of Professor David Feldman to help lead the Labour Party’s enquiry into antisemitism has already prompted some scrutiny of his published views on the topic.

One relevant document is his submission to the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism.

This sub-report sets out to explore the ways British Jews were represented in political discourse around the time of Operation Protective Edge.

Feldman devotes a section of his report to the problem of defining antisemitism.

Defining antisemitism is a contentious and complicated but necessary undertaking. (p. 3)

He proposes ‘two distinct but complementary definitions of antisemitism’. One is focused on discourse which treats Jews as ‘something other than what they are’. The second focuses on discrimination.

When we consider discourse we focus on the ways in which Jews are represented. Here we can say, following the philosopher Brian Klug, that antisemitism is ‘a form of hostility towards Jews as Jews, in which Jews are perceived as something other than what they are.’ Accordingly, antisemitism is to be found in representations of Jews as stereotyped and malign figures. One such stereotype is the notion that Jews constitute a cohesive community, dedicated to the pursuit of its own selfish ends. It will be important to ask whether this or other malign stereotypes figured in public debate on Operation Protective Edge.

In addition to antisemitism which arises within the process of representation there is also antisemitism which stems from social and institutional practices. Discriminatory practices which disadvantage Jews are antisemitic. Taking a historical view, we can say that British society and the British state became less antisemitic in past centuries as Jews were allowed to live in the country, to pray together, to work, to vote and to associate with others in clubs and societies to the same degrees as their Christian fellowWsubjects. Discrimination against Jews need not be accompanied by discursive antisemitism, even though in many cases it has been. If we apply this definition of antisemitism to public debate on Jews and Israel last summer and autumn we will need to ask whether any aspect of this debate threatened to discriminate against Jews. (p. 3)

Feldman’s definitions actively exclude other phenomena commonly associated with antisemitism. For example he rejects the idea that singling out Israel for disproportionate scrutiny is, ipso facto, antisemitic. Antisemitism, he argues, can only be established if it’s exacerbated by one of the two definitions cited above.

He goes on to invoke the EUMC working definition, and notes (quite correctly) that it proved controversial.  Choosing a definition of antisemitism – like choosing the chair for an enquiry on the subject – can perhaps never be a wholly neutral act. Many who didn’t like the EUMC working definition felt that it placed too much emphasis on the intersection between antizionism and antisemitism. Its repeated cautions about needing to take account of context made it difficult to use as a ‘litmus test’ but were, I thought, an appropriate reflection of the topic’s complexity.

‘The criticisms [of the EUMC working definition] have been damaging’, notes Feldman. But is the fact it has been criticised – and I’m not saying it’s perfect – enough to ditch it? Later in the document Feldman says that being offended isn’t in itself proof that something is antisemitic. By the same logic, neither is the fact some didn’t like it proof the EUMC working definition is unhelpful.

I don’t think any reasonable person would disagree that anything falling foul of Feldman’s two criteria is pretty much bound to be antisemitic (p. 4). In that sense it achieves the consensus which, he reminds us, the EUMC w/d failed to accomplish. However offering a very narrow definition of antisemitism raises problems of its own, particularly when other approaches are actively excluded.

One such approach is of course the EUMC. Another is David Hirsh’s emphasis on the importance on institutional antisemitism where an atmosphere hostile to Jews may be created inadvertently. Feldman uses a rather loaded example to undermine this idea.

However, taken on its own, an emphasis on outcomes is vulnerable to the same abuses that we found in definitions of antisemitism grounded in Jews’ perceptions. In other words, it is not sufficient for Jews to identify a particular outcome as a desirable Jewish project – let us say, support for Jewish settlements in territory occupied by Israel and then decry opposition to that project as antisemitic. (p. 5)

In what serious discussion of antisemitism is opposition to settlements invoked as a racist position?

However the single most controversial element in Feldman’s report is his refusal to recognize the use of Nazi imagery in anti-Israel discourse as antisemitic. He does concede that carrying a placard saying ‘Hitler was right’ was antisemitic – indeed his explanation seemed superfluous. 

These utterances were antisemitic because they endorsed a figure – Hitler – whose political ideology was shaped by a malign stereotyped image of ‘the Jew’ and whose policies discriminated against Jews as he stripped millions of their rights, including their right to life. (p. 6)

However simply drawing parallels – say between Warsaw and Gaza – is not antisemitic in Feldman’s book, even though he fully acknowledges that such parallels are hurtful and inaccurate.

He points out that the words ‘Nazis’ and ‘Holocaust’ are used in a very loose way to attack many different targets. However there is a uniquely nasty charge when Israel is brought into the equation, and far more often than not this formulaic association is both deliberate and malicious.

Feldman’s next argument is that references to the Holocaust are used too loosely by those warning of the dangers of antisemitism. It’s possible to agree that sometimes such rhetoric is excessive – yet its motivation stems from anxieties about racism, not a malicious singling out of one people to be the target of wounding comparisons.  The use of the term ‘kapos’ to describe antizionist Jews might have been a better earned parallel.

Feldman goes on to make some reasonable points contrasting legitimate criticism of specific pro-Israel groups with conspiratorial complaints about the powerful Jewish lobby. David Ward and Jenny Tonge come in for criticism here, rightly. There is also quite a useful discussion of how some anti-Israel activism might be classed as discriminatory against Israelis though not necessarily antisemitic.

However so much seems to be missing here. One absent presence in Feldman’s report was any reference to the blood libel. This trope would seem to fit under his first chosen definition of antisemitism as it relies on a lurid false claim of Jewish difference.

Unlike some other critics of the ‘New antisemitism’, Feldman frames his discussion in a way which acknowledges the sensitivities in play. He does not accuse those he disagrees with of dishonesty; instead he repeatedly articulates understanding for those who set their bar lower than him.  However the fact he defines antisemitism so narrowly doesn’t bode well for the forthcoming enquiry. I’m not sure any of the incidents described in this recent report on Labour’s problems, for example, would clearly meet either of his two definitions.

It is difficult to map antisemitic tropes onto other forms of bigotry, but would jibes about rape, taunts over slavery or offensive depictions of the Prophet Muhammad gratuitously appended to legitimate critiques of theocratic regimes fail to make the grade if our benchmarks for measuring sexism, racism and anti-Muslim bigotry were equally tough?

 

Opposing BDS with TUFI

Last weekend Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) and We Believe in Israel organised a very productive seminar for activists concerned about the impact of BDS and the singling out of Israel within the trade union movement.

Those attending held a wide range of views on Israel’s current policies and government, but were in broad agreement over the way Israel is targeted for disproportionate scrutiny, a scrutiny which, as we heard from grassroots activists, may manifest itself as open antisemitism.

There was a good discussion of the (contested) boundary between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism. A poster with the slogan ‘End the siege in Gaza’, it was suggested, is a legitimate intervention even if you don’t agree with all its implied premises. However ‘Well done Israel, Hitler would be proud’, accompanied by a swastika, clearly crosses the line.

Whereas many unions are happy to affiliate with groups such as PSC or Stop the War, TUFI has been proscribed in various ways by unions such as GMB, Unite and Unison. Rather than trying to encourage supportive links between Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists, in a spirit of both solidarity and conflict resolution, hard left activists try to sow division between them. With this aim in mind, some pro-Palestinian activists in the West have accused Palestinian workers of selling out, even (ironically) of undoing their (i.e. the Western activists’) work.

Avital Shapira of Histadrut joined the seminar by Skype. She described both the general successes of Israeli trade unions (negotiating an increase in the minimum wage, improving the rights of contract workers, unionising workers in less traditional sectors such as high tech industries) and achievements specifically relating to Palestinian workers. Many Palestinian (as opposed to Arab Israeli) workers are employed in construction, and Histadrut, as well as working on their behalf, remits half their dues to the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions in a very concrete gesture of solidarity.

One theme which emerged in discussion was the importance of continuing to speak out even when the cards seem stacked against you. Being able to identify sympathetic reps, or people willing to offer an alternative perspective on these issues, is heartening for those who don’t find their own views reflected in their union’s policies, or the voices of their most vocal activists.

 

 

‘Parts of it are excellent’: Owen Jones’ article on antisemitism

Jones makes some good points in his latest piece in the Guardian. In condemning antisemitism he manages to go beyond mere assertions of the awfulness of racism. Although he invokes the Holocaust he doesn’t do so in isolation, but usefully situates it within the long and complex history of antisemitism in Europe.

And it wasn’t some mid-20th century aberration that came out of nowhere, a bafflingly horrific episode in human history resulting from sudden mass insanity. This was the culmination of hundreds of years of antisemitism: pogromsblood libel, scapegoating.

He also correctly identifies different kinds of antisemites – far right fascists, Islamist fundamentalists, and more subtle examples on the left as well as the right.

Several common tropes of antisemitic discourse are pinpointed effectively. Those who raise semantic quibbles about the term ‘antisemitism’ are rightly dismissed, as are those who blame antisemitism on the actions of Israel or mutter about the ‘Jewish lobby’. And Jones succinctly describes the Livingstone formulalation, the way in which those concerned about antisemitism are accused of acting in bad faith:

[S]ome passionate supporters of Palestinian justice deny antisemitism exists and regard all accusations of it as an attempt to shut down criticism of Israel. While they would never dream of denying the existence of racism against, say, black people or Muslims, they treat antisemitism as a political device constructed by militant supporters of Israeli occupation. And in doing so, they fail to properly scrutinise it within their own ranks; there are those who are soft on it.

But there are also problems here. It felt as though Jones was (in part) instrumentalising his eloquent and well informed critique of antisemitism in order to defuse criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn. The very many well documented and much discussed problems are glossed over as mere chance encounters. Corbyn is implicitly excluded from those leftists who ‘fail to properly scrutinise it within their own ranks … those who are soft on it.’

The article closes with a call to all on the left to recognize and stamp out antisemitism.

It is a menace: not just in its overt forms, but in subtler, pernicious forms too. There’s no excuse for the left to downplay it, or to pretend it doesn’t exist within its own ranks. Rather than being defensive, the left should seize any opportunity to confront the cancer of antisemitism and eradicate it for good.

Very forthright. But it’s rather undermined by the preceding sentence.

Antisemitism is too serious to become a convenient means to undermine political opponents.

This could be seen as a variant on the Livingstone formulation Jones dissected just a few paragraphs earlier. Presumably he is targeting those on the right or centre-left rather than (primarily) Israel advocates here. But the dynamic is still the same.   Those who articulate concerns about Corbyn’s associations are acting in bad faith. (Another problem is that the casual reader who hasn’t been following this closely would assume that Corbyn had been widely accused of being personally antisemitic.)

When I first read that sentence from Jones I immediately thought of Alan Johnson, someone who supports many of Corbyn’s ideas but is very troubled by his record on this issue. Expressing those concerns was certainly not, for him, ‘a convenient means to undermine political opponents’. What about those on the centre right? They’ll take a dim view of Corbyn’s whole programme of course, but that doesn’t mean that their anxieties about this issue are insincere or unwarranted. Jones engages directly with no specific criticism of Corbyn. And instead of trying to demonstrate that his detractors are mistaken he accuses them of dishonesty and of trivialising antisemitism.

Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy

Here are two responses, from Sarah Brown and Eve Garrard.

Although at first he seemed very much the outsider candidate, it is now being predicted that Jeremy Corbyn may do well in the first round of the Labour leadership elections.

Readers here will probably already be familiar with the reasons not to vote for Corbyn. His support for the Palestinian cause has led him to consider elements of Hamas and Hezbollah his ‘friends’ and welcome Raed Salah, who promotes the blood libel and other hateful views, to tea at Westminster:

“About Salah, Corbyn has said ‘He is far from a dangerous man. He is a very honoured citizen, he represents his people extremely well, and his is a voice that must be heard.’ Corbyn added, ‘I look forward to giving you tea on the terrace because you deserve it!’ “

Although there have been reasoned and eloquent critiques of Corbyn from the left, some other Labour supporters have a blind spot on such issues. This article on Left Futures invokes Realpolitik in order to defend Corbyn’s record and associations.

“Corbyn is socialist and the others are not, Corbyn is secularist and the others are not, Corbyn is a steadfast defender of LGBT rights and the others are certainly not. Corbyn also understands that peace can only be achieved through mutual respect and diplomacy.”

But it is surely possible to have official dealings with objectionable people to further peace and diplomacy without calling them ‘friends’ or inviting them to tea.

It is depressingly difficult to disagree with Nick Cohen here:

“If Corbyn apologized for neo-Nazis with near identical views to Raed Salah, or some kind of Ku Klux Klan-style militia that matched Hezbollah goose step for goose step, the left would excommunicate him. As it is, in Britain, Europe, and by the look of it the States too you can be an admired leftist, while going along with every vile and murderous movement.”

Whereas some indignantly defend Corbyn, others admit a problem but claim it is outweighed by the positives.  Here a link to some of his more unsavoury positions is hidden away in a throwaway line in the middle of an otherwise enthusiastic piece.

“He’s not a perfect figure by any means, but you take your breaks as you find them.”

Many Labour members aren’t avid followers of blogs and rely for their information on more mainstream media. It is therefore likely that they are aware of Corbyn’s views on issues such as austerity and the unions, but perhaps know little of his more controversial positions. It’s a pity that this quite informative short piece was run in the Daily Express, a paper most on the left avoid. There’s no mention of Hamas, Hezbollah or Salah in this gushing profile in the Guardian, or in this editorial, also from the Guardian.

This apparent indifference or tolerance towards Corbyn’s less defensible views is well described in this extremely informative recent article on his candidacy by Jake Wallis Simons.

“As one Labour insider put it, “the attitude is, ‘that’s just Jeremy being Jeremy.’”

In some ways the debates echo those we heard when Ken Livingstone was standing for Mayor.   Many were torn between a wish to support a Labour candidate and an unwillingness to support someone who, to quote Jonathan Freedland, ‘doesn’t care what hurt he causes Jews.’

If you look up “Jeremy Corbyn” together with “Hamas” in Google most of the top hits are links to right wing sites or sites which regularly cover the topic of antisemitism. It seems likely, thanks to the willingness of some on the left to excuse or gloss over Corbyn’s associations with extremists, that many voting for him as leader won’t be aware of his past form on these issues.

Sarah Brown

It is sometimes suggested that Jewish left-wingers who refuse to support Corbyn out of concern about his antisemitic friendships are selfishly putting the (putative) interests of Jews ahead of the interests of the poor and the working class, for whom Corbyn speaks. Jews should, it could be said, rise above their narrow sectional concerns, and support the candidate who will work for the down-trodden and impoverished. Leave aside the question of whether Corbyn would, were he to become Leader of the Labour Party, actually improve the lot of the downtrodden any better than the other candidates. Let’s focus on the charge of sectional selfishness levelled at Jews who have doubts about supporting Corbyn. To see its implications, consider the following situation:

A candidate for the leadership emerges whose politics in general are very similar to Corbyn’s, being impeccably left-wing on all issues to do with class and economics. However this candidate has in the past, and is in the present, very supportive of the Ku Klux Klan in America. He regards that organisation as an objectively progressive force, and its leaders as friends – he attends some of their meetings, and is pleased and proud to share a public platform with them when the opportunity arises. Many persons of colour in the Labour Party are horrified at this, and declare their intention to vote for any other candidate in preference to this Corbyn-equivalent, on the grounds that they can’t possibly support a person who has links with some extraordinarily racist forces, whose views about black people are hideously prejudiced, insulting, and oppressive.

In such a situation, would those persons of colour be regarded as acting selfishly? Would they be criticised for putting the interests of black citizens ahead of the general good? Or would they rather be seen as women and men of principle, who refuse to collaborate with bigotry and racism towards themselves and their people, whatever its source on the political spectrum? The questions practically answer themselves.

So too for Jews who feel that they cannot support Corbyn in any circumstances. They too are women and men of principle, an anti-racist principle well worth defending by Jews and non-Jews alike.

Eve Garrard

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