Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-racist test

Today we get to learn more about what Corbyn thinks about his responsibilities in what we are assured is his affirmed opposition to all kinds of racism. Many of his supporters think it is apologising and smiling at visibly Jewish people.

The Jewish establishment, which has often reluctant to rock the boat on antisemitism, has been shaken into action. The straw which broke the camel’s back was the revelation that, in one of his Facebook groups where antisemitic material is shared, Corbyn supported an artist whose antisemitic mural was threatened with erasure from Brick Lane in London. The mural, titled ‘Freedom for Humanity’ depicted not contemporary capitalists but instead men from a different time, with stereotypically Jewish features indistinguishable from Nazi propaganda, playing on a Monopoly board balanced on the backs of darker-skinned men. Then-Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman said “the images of the bankers perpetuate antisemitic propaganda about conspiratorial Jewish domination of financial and political institutions”. Corbyn supported Mear One on Facebook at the time, saying the erasure was motivated by pro-capitalist politics not anti-racism. That was back in 2012. Luciana Berger MP raised the matter this week.

The number of apologies coming from Corbyn, and the torrent of abuse and scorn that campaigners against antisemitism are subjected to in the name of supporting him, are testament to the failure of the Labour leadership to address antisemitism.

So the Jewish Leadership Council and the Jewish Board of Deputies have called a rally today Monday 26th 5.30 in Parliament Square to present this letter to the Parliamentary Labour Party. Update Corbyn has issued this response which recognises antisemitism in the Labour movement but makes no specific undertakings.

So turn up today:

  • Monday 26th March;
  • 5.30pm;
  • Parliament Square, Westminster;
  • The organisers ask that there be no banners.

Naturally, Jewish Voice for Labour and Free Speech on Israel are marshalling their supporters to a counter rally. Being contorted Israel-firsters themselves, they will push a tiny, very loud, minority of Jews to the front but they aren’t fussy about their supporters who consequently will include antisemitism apologists and antisemites [Update – it did and here is one of them]. Their aim is to teach us how to discredit the majority of Jews who are trying to raise the alarm about growing antisemitism, and they can succeed unless there is plenty of education to the contrary.

So, get stuck in, always with civility. Call on JVfL and FSoI to stand down. Call on Corbyn, the Labour leadership, and your own MP to welcome today’s campaigners against antisemitism and thereby demonstrate support for the UK Jewish community. He needs to act on his words now. He needs to support Jews against antisemitism even if he, like Livingstone, has written them off as agreeing with him politically.

Labour MPs who aren’t bystanding and who stand on the right side of this include [updated] Ian Austin, Luciana Berger, Wes Streeting, Louise Ellman, Jess Phillips, Ruth Smeeth, Stella Creasey, Mike Gapes, John Mann, Nia Griffith, Preet Kaur Gill, Chris Elmore, Thangam Debonnaire, Chi Onwura, Toby Perkins, Phil Wilson, Chuka Umunna, Yvette Cooper, Harriet Harman, David Lammy, Kate Green, Holly Lynch, Joan Ryan, Margaret Hodge, Liam Byrne, and Stephen Morgan. There are plenty more. These are people who are also used to standing against other forms of racism and they know the ropes. But they need your support, since they are currently on the receiving end of a world of antisemitism themselves.

Some background links (not the perfect list, so please post in the comments):

Palestine Solidarity, BDS and Antisemitism

This is a guest post by Ulrich Stephane Savary a Labour Party Campaigner in South Manchester, writer at Labour Vision and a member of Momentum and the Jewish Labour Movement.

When the second Intifada started in September 2000, I was in my first year at University. Having joined my local student union, I was really pleased to have been selected as delegate for my student union in the local Pro-Palestine Committee.  It was a great opportunity for me to show that I could help in organising a mass protest, with various left-wing organisations, trade unions, Christian, Jewish and Muslim organisations.  It also meant that I had to be ready to broker a deal with groups that don’t always agree with each other.  It is fair to say that I was aware that he French left, like the left in Britain often spend more time fighting each other than they do in working together.

So the first time I went to my Pro-Palestine Committee meeting, I knew what to expect. When I entered the room, full of trade unionists and left-wing activists all talking seriously about the influence of US imperialism in the Middle East, the role of successive French Government in the development of Zionism amongst the French Jewish Community before WW2, the allegedly corrupted leadership of Fatah and the courageous young Palestinians that were fighting the Israeli war machine with rocks, I felt like I was part of a group of people who knows, against those who don’t.  But I soon realised that all them, leaders of various small Trotskyists, Anarchists, and Alt-left organisations were arguing with each other about the role played by the working class in the imminent fall of Capitalism. They were all leaders of small talking shops, tiny so-called working-class parties, with only themselves and their group of followers to believe in them. But they had the passion of those who believe that the revolution will come sooner rather than later.  And when you are 19, you want to believe them, even if I couldn’t see the differences between them.

After ten minutes of this noisy and overexcited “brouhaha”, a group in their 50’s emerged from the back of the room to address the rest of the group. They were all members of the powerful CGT / CFDT, the main trade unions in France, and they were all members of either the French Communist Party as well as the Parti Socialiste.

The Trotskyists hated the CGT / CFDT group. The Anarchists, who hated the Trotskyists, hated them even more. The Alt-left left the room in disgust even before the any discussion had really started.  After all, they were viewed as bureaucrats, paid by the Union to work for their respective political parties. And the fact that both parties were in a coalition Government together didn’t help make them more popular amongst the “Bolsheviks”.

And yet, as soon as the CGT / CFDT group started to talk, the entire room listened to them. And they made a very simple and valid point. The meeting wasn’t about Israel itself, but was about our solidarity with the Palestinian people. Back then, it was important to get it right. One after another, they reminded the audience, that the far-right will try to use the events unfolding in Palestine as an excuse to attack the Jewish Community, any calls to boycott Israel will be used by them, in their war against the Jews in France or elsewhere.  Therefore, this committee wasn’t ready to support such things.  What they wanted instead was a principled socialist position on a conflict.

Today, some may find this outrageous, other would even consider this as the ultimate evidence of a so-called Zionist lobby that controls everything, both the left and the right at the same time. But in 2000 in France, in this room packed with so many different political organisations who loved to argue with each other’s, to me this seemed to be the correct political position.  Solidarity with the Palestinian people didn’t mean that all Israelis were to blame for the second intifada, so why punish those who were innocent. And this principled political position, 17 years later, is still mine.

When it comes to any political or social movement, socialists usually always start their political analysis from facts, then try to link these facts with what is called “class consciousness”, social classes that have different political and economic goals. This helps Socialists to analyse any social movement in relation to the economy and to the level of political consciousness of the actors of these movements. Karl Marx for instance, saw the political economy as the engine of mind. Therefore, consciousness reflects the political economy. A person’s thoughts tend to be shaped by his or her political and economic circumstances. That’s how all progressive social movements broadly speaking start.

Any Socialist I hope, would agree with me on that, and understand that our capitalist societies are divided between classes having different political and economic interests. However, when it comes to Israel, strong and proud socialists, tend to forget everything they know regarding social movements, the economy, Imperialism, and seem to believe that all Israelis, no matter their social conditions, no matter if they are right-wing or not, rich or poor, pro or against their own government are somehow collectively responsible for the action of their own governments.  If we applied this rather strange view on Britain, it would mean that the entire British population would be collectively responsible for the action of their past and present Governments.  No more class struggle, just a monolithic nation that act, think and fight together and must all be blamed.

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and its hidden agenda.

That’s why when socialists give their support to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, they renounce any kind of socialist analysis of both Israel as a nation and of Zionism as a political and national movement.

What is the main purpose of this movement? They will claim, it is to support the Palestinian People in their struggle against both Zionism and Israel. Let’s take this argument seriously and examine the results of what this campaign has achieved since it started in July 2005.

Did we get an Independent Palestinian state because of the BDS movement? The answer is obviously no.  Are the Palestinians any closer to have their own Independent State from Israel?  The answer is no.  Twelve long years of campaigning have given no satisfactory results.  If the real goal of the BDS mobement ss to help the Palestinian in their struggle against Israel, then that strategy has failed to deliver.  Therefore, we should question the true goal of the BDS Movement. If after 12 long years of failing to deliver their primary goal, the BDS movement continues with its strategy of “bullying” anyone who wishes to do business, study or just live in Israel, it may mean they have a hidden agenda, something that I think should raise some concerns for all socialists. I would imagine that any socialist would understand that holding all Israelis responsiblr for the actions of their government, can only mean that the BDS movement true goal isn’t really to support the Palestinian people.

We should openly question the true motivation of an organisation, if after 12 years, it hasn’t achieved its goal. Yet, when it comes to the BDS movement, a parts  of the British left seem  unable to question the true motivation of this movement. And this is a serious concern.

But that’s not all. So many left-wing activists, in the broad sense of the term, will compare the political situation in Israel, with what happened in South Africa during the Apartheid regime, when the black population were considered as inferior by the white population.  It was a racist regime, where the black majority living in squalid conditions, couldn’t vote or  even sit on the same bus as the white minority.

Is Israel the “South Africa” of the middle East then? If this was the case, no Arab Israelis would have the right to vote. And yet, there are Arab Israelis members of the Knesset such as Masud Ghnam, Dr Jamal Zahalka or Ahmad Tibi. If Israel was really an apartheid state, there would be no Arab Israelis elected. Therefore, if Socialists argue that Israel is an apartheid state to explain why they continue to support the BDS Movement, then they are committing a gross political mistake, as they clearly don’t understand the true nature of Israel, as a modern liberal democracy.

What about those Israeli citizens who refuse to support the action of their Government in the West Bank? What about the thousands of Palestinian and Israeli women who have joined together to march through the desert for peace[5]? Don’t they deserve our support?

To be frank, I personally find the term apartheid inaccurate and inflammatory when applied to the struggle of the Palestinians.  It doesn’t help us to understand the true nature of the relationship between the 3.6 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank under military rule and the Israelis settlers who live under Israelis civilian law.  The Palestinians living in the West Bank are facing what we can characterise as a modern form of colonialism. And yes, Socialists should oppose it. But the left should also recognise that the Israeli society is as divided as any other society and doesn’t constitute a monolithic bloc around the Israeli government.  For us socialists, there is no such thing as national solidarity, but only national class struggle and international solidarity.

If this obsession with condemning Israel, does nothing to advance peace or help the Palestinians, it does however help to enforce the belief that Israelis are all guilty. We should be suspicious of any left-wing organisations obsessed with Israel, to the point that they don’t seem to vigorously campaign on any anything else.  And this obsession raises other questions. Why some sections of the British left continue to use a false definition of the nature of Israel.  Does it fit another political agenda, something that they don’t want to confess? Let’s say it, aren’t they a bit anti-sematic?  Of course, they will vehemently refute the term, and will accuse anyone who raises this as a “Zionist” like it was an insult.

The truth is that many on the left aren’t conscious that their own actions can reinforce anti-Semitism in Britain or elsewhere in the world, however some do embrace it plainly.

The Great International Zionist Conspiracy that will destroy Britain, the Labour Party and the world.

How many times have we seen labour party members, trade unionists or far-left activists claiming that the media is being controlled by Zionist or Israel. This is a recurrent theme of the British left. The BBC and with it, the mainstream media, are all seen to have a hidden agenda against the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn and the world in general. And often, they are all Zionists. What about our Parliament or the “right wing of the Labour Party”? Have a guess. They are all under the Zionist or Israelis lobby influence too. Zionists are seen everywhere, and I am sure that some may even believe that I am part of this conspiracy too.

Even if I have utter contempt for any so-called socialists that  use such disgusting anti-Semitic propaganda, to explain pretty much everything that is happening in the world, let’s for a moment take their point  seriously.

Believing that Israel, as a nation, can corrupt, control, international organisations and then dominate the entire European or American establishment, is basically believing that Israel is the most powerful nation on earth. If taken this seriously, we should all be asking how this tiny nation, who needs the US support to maintain its regional power, can have such power?

This defies logic.  In the hierarchy of Imperialist nations, Israel is no more than a small player. It is a regional power, like Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are too. They don’t have the capacity to topple successive presidents in Africa, like France has done so many time since the 1960’s, they don’t have military bases in each continent, like USA have and they wouldn’t have been able to start a war with Argentina, and to win it, like United Kingdom did during the  Falklands War in 1982.  So how can any socialist explain that “Zionists”, no sorry Israel have such an influence.

The only logical explanation would be that all Zionists have some sort of magical powers.  They must be super humans too as how  could  anyone explain the Zionists can control the world from Tel-Aviv, New York, Paris, London and Frankfurt since 18th Century or even before, whilst no one can see them gathering together at some point.  The “illiterate socialists” who believe in a gigantic Zionist worldwide conspiracy, must also believe that Zionists have some sort of supernatural powers. There are no other explanations possible.

When it isn’t Israel itself, it is “the master of the puppets”, Rothschild himself that is behind everything.  Of course, Israel and Rothschild must be working together. They are all Jews, no sorry Zionists.

This anti-Semitic Left-Wing Conspiracy has no valid political ground, and yet it is what some “illiterate Socialists” want to believe.

What is their best line of defence? Anti-Zionism isn’t anti-Semitism. When it comes to Israel, for them, it means that Zionism isn’t truly Jewish, therefore it isn’t anti-Semitic to believe that Zionist control the world.

Sometimes they even see Israel as some sort of a capitulation to anti-Semitism. If Jews are leaving Europe to live in Israel, it’s because they refuse to fight for their own right to stay and live in Europe. Even if today many Jews see Israel as a safe place, a last resort against Anti-Semitism, this section of the anti-Zionist left will see them not as victims, but as defeatists, or worse.  Let’s not mention to them the Holocaust, to explain why so many Jews consider themselves as Zionists.  Some of them will even claim that Zionist and Nazis were working together against Jews, to create a situation where all Jews had to leave Europe.

Even if their Anti-Zionism wasn’t linked to their Anti-Semitism, it is a fact that the Anti-Zionist Left don’t want to offer any credible alternative to Zionism, as they don’t perceive it as a political, national movement worth of interest.  As Steve Cohen explained, in his fantastic book “That’s Funny You Don’t Look Anti‐Semitic” the left has historically offered nothing more than so-called “assimilation” to fight against anti-Semitism.  Don’t be Jew and then you won’t be victims of anti-Semitism. Even today many on the left have nothing more to offer to the Jewish Community.

“It’s funny you don’t look anti-Semite”

The “Anti-Zionist Left” often uses other tricks to claim that those who oppose them are all wrong. Jewish and Socialist authors have been opposed to Zionism in the past. To be perfectly clear, and especially in the context of Europe before Hitler and the Holocaust, many socialist Jews were against Zionism. Today, some Jews are even deeply involved in the Anti-Zionist BDS Movement and the Anti-Zionist Left. Therefore, the conclusion that the “anti-Zionist” naturally draw is that Anti-Zionism isn’t anti-Semitism.

The Anti-Zionist Left see the world as if it was divided between “good Jews” opposed to the “bad Jews”.  The “good Jews” must be against Israel as a state, and must spend their entire political lives opposing Israel. There is no escape because the Anti-Zionist left love using them as evidence that they aren’t anti-Semitic. All accusations of anti-Semitism are simply an attack organised by Israel, the Zionists or the “bad Jews”.

In his essay On the Jewish Question, one of the clearest example of acceptance of anti-Semitism to the point that the individual himself – here Marx- includes anti-Semitism as part of his thinking is this:

ʺWhat is the secular cult of the Jew? Hagglingʺ.

ʺWhat is his secular god? Moneyʺ.

ʺExchange is the true god of the Jewʺ.

ʺThe chimerical nationality of the Jew is the nationality of the merchantʺ.

ʺThe emancipation of the Jew is, in the last analysis, the emancipation of mankind from Judaismʺ.

As Steve Cohen explained, this is not to make the reactionary claim that Marxism as a philosophy is anti-Semitic, but to show that victims of anti-Semitism can assimilate themselves to an anti-Semitic environment to the point that the victims themselves become anti-Semitic.

Therefore, when the “anti-Zionist left” uses Jewish writers as a line of defence against accusation of anti-Semitism, it only proves that they either don’t understand the true nature of anti-Semitism or that they are themselves anti-Semitic.

They aren’t good or bad Jews, but as soon as the “anti-Zionist left” makes this distinction between “anti-Zionist Jews” and “Zionist Jews”, the latter being the bad ones, they just show the true nature of their opposition to Israel.  It has little to do with the Palestinian people, but has everything to do with their own anti-Semitism.

Of course, I know that many good and decent people members of this section of the British Left truly believe that they aren’t anti-Semitic, however as Democratic Socialists, it our duty to re-evaluate our own political beliefs, especially when it considers an entire nation responsible for the mistakes of their own government, to the collective culpability of all Jews who are not anti-zionist

It is of the utmost importance that the left starts educating itself on antisemitism, as not understanding the true nature of anti-Semitism can lead to grave political mistakes which in return pave the way for discrimination and racism. If we, Socialists are serious about our support for Palestine, Palestinians and their fight for an independent state, as well as our commitment towards peace in the Middle East, we must step up our game, and work with all of those who truly want peace between Israel and Palestine.

[1] Mainly antifascist skinhead movement.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masud_Ghnaim

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamal_Zahalka

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmad_Tibi

[5] http://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/09/middleeast/israeli-palestinian-women-peace-march-desert/index.html

Chris Williamson: accusations of antisemitism are “proxy wars and bullshit”

This is a guest post by James Mendelsohn.

In recent years, some on the left have suggested that accusations of antisemitism are raised dishonestly. Ken Livingstone has done so repeatedly.  Last year, Diane Abbott dismissed allegations of antisemitism within the Labour Party as “smears”. Len McCluskey similarly castigated a supposedly “cynical attempt to manipulate anti-Semitism for political aims”.
Chris Williamson, the Labour MP for Derby North and the Shadow Minister for Fire and Emergency Services, has now followed this trend. Speaking to The Guardian, Williamson said that controversies over Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism within Labour were “proxy wars and bullshit”:

“I’m not saying it never ever happens but it is a really dirty, lowdown trick, particularly the antisemitism smears. Many people in the Jewish community are appalled by what they see as the weaponisation of antisemitism for political ends.

“It is pretty repellent to use that to attack somebody like Jeremy Corbyn, who has spent his whole life fighting for social justice and standing up for the underdog.

“But I feel people have stopped listening to the smears and lies and dirty tricks…”

Williamson does not engage with the abundant, specific evidence of antisemitism within Labour. He instead claims that those who raise concerns do so dishonestly, for political gain. His tone is strident: “proxy wars and bullshit… a really dirty, lowdown trick… smears and lies and dirty tricks”. Given the large fall in support for Labour among British Jews, his assertion that “many” within the Jewish community are “appalled” by the apparent “weaponisation of antisemitism” is questionable. He disregards the fact that both the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council have raised concerns, as have the Community Security Trust. Indeed, he implicitly accuses them of doing so dishonestly. Williamson generalises that Corbyn “has spent his whole life fighting for social justice and standing up for the underdog” but again ignores the specific evidence of Corbyn’s poor track record on antisemitism.
Responding to criticism of these comments, Williamson said:

“I absolutely did not and never would blame the victims of antisemitism or any form of racism and bigotry.

“Antisemitism is utterly repugnant and a scourge on society, which is why I stand in absolute solidarity with anyone who is subjected to antisemitic abuse. The point I was trying to make is that accusations have on occasions been used for factional or party political ends.”

Williamson’s response is unsatisfactory. He again fails to engage with the specific evidence of antisemitism within Labour. His own track record is concerning: responding to allegations of antisemitism within the Oxford University Labour Club, Williamson tweeted, “I hope they won’t find any such evidence” and switched to invoking the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When challenged to call out antisemitism on another occasion, Williamson told his challenger to “pipe down”. It seems that there is a pattern of Williamson stigmatising, dismissing and impugning the motives of those who raise concerns about antisemitism.

As yet, there has been little response to Williamson’s remarks from beyond the Jewish community. Williamson has not apologised or withdrawn his accusations. Neither Jeremy Corbyn nor (to my knowledge) any other senior Labour figure has commented.

This muted response is not unique to Labour; articles in the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail refer back to Williamson’s interview with The Guardian but do not mention Williamson’s comments about antisemitism. Better things should be expected from a supposedly antiracist party whose leader professes his revulsion of antisemitism. Whether there will be a stronger response to Williamson’s remarks, remains to be seen.

Contemporary Left Antisemitism – David Hirsh’s Manchester book launch

Hear David Hirsh talk about the book, ask questions, buy a signed copy

Sunday, September 24, 2017 from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM

Follow this link for more details and to get your free ticket. (no admittance without a ticket).

Antisemitism on the left is difficult to recognize because it does not come dressed in a Nazi uniform and it does not openly proclaim its hatred or fear of Jews. This book looks at the kind of antisemitism which is tolerated in apparently democratic spaces.  It tells the story of the rise of the Jeremy Corbyn and his faction in the Labour Party; and it explains the controversy around Ken Livingstone. It analyses how criticism of Israel can mushroom into antisemitism and it looks at struggles over how antisemitism is defined. It focuses on ways in which those who raise the issue of antisemitism are often accused of doing so in bad faith in an attempt to silence or to smear. Hostility to Israel has become a signifier of identity, connected to opposition to imperialism, neo-liberalism and global capitalism; the ‘community of the good’ takes on toxic ways of imagining most living Jewish people.

The book combines narrative and case study with sociological analysis and theory to understand the controversial and contested phenomenon of antisemitism on the left.  It is not a critique of the left but a contemporary history of how things may go wrong.  It stands in the tradition of those on the left who have always understood and opposed the temptation to picture the evils of capitalism, modernity and imperialism as being intimately connected to the Jews and to their imputed behaviour.

Follow this link for some nice endorsements of the book

Follow this link to see details of other events David Hirsh is doing.  

 

Jewish issues again at UCU Congress 2017

Motions about Jewish issues are standard at UCU Congress. This year saw another attempt to undermine protection for Jews from the kind of antisemitism which disguises itself as anti-Zionism. The motion – 57 of the Business of the Equality Committee – was about free speech and the IHRA working definition of antisemitism. It began “Congress notes UCU’s exemplary anti-racist work”, which was strange in the light of what followed.

Before I report how the motion went down in Congress I’ll indulge in a bit of free speech myself.

The first thing to say is that there was no motion that UCU adopt the working definition, and yet UCU was pre-emptively trying to ban it. I was aware of this motion because our branch officers tried to push it through in early March. Amazingly they found it appropriate to bump it from the middle to the end of the meeting [see update below]. I believe the presence of three of us in particular, sitting at the front (and refusing to be in the officers’ Stand Up to Racism photo) caused this awkwardness, since the chair observed in a non-welcoming way that the antisemitism motion was the only reason we had decided to attend. In my case that is absolutely correct – and here is why he is responsible.

Jewish-related motions are instigated by officers controlling some branches. The pretext of this one is free speech, but the same campaigners have been undermining free speech for years in the form of the boycott campaign against Israeli (and only Israeli) academia. Of course I find fault with that on grounds of relevance and sinister priorities, but there’s more to it. Their hostile interest in Jewish issues is so bizarre (compare it with all the motions warmly supporting other equalities groups) that any trust I may have once had in them on the bigger issues and motions is a distant memory. They didn’t even circulate the IHRA definition of antisemitism they expected us to condemn in 90 seconds.

Higher education workers who don’t feel involved in this matter or who don’t care about the labour movement just laugh at this weakness of UCU’s. I find it appalling though, because it means that in a rushed meeting cluttered with another Jewish-related motion, the text received a day in advance signalling that the role of members is not to think very hard, our union is actually giving us extra work to do. Because when you can’t trust your leaders fact-checking and scrutiny is what you have to do. And if there’s no time to do that extra work, then voting becomes problematic – so why bother attending when it’s so clear that the officers view members as fodder. Considering the attendance was short of quorate at that meeting, I doubt I’m the only person to feel this way.

In case I’m misunderstood, I’m coming at this as a non-nationalist and volunteer UCU department rep. I’m in favour of a working definition of antisemitism and I have little patience with objections to this IHRA one since it’s full of ‘may’ and ‘might’ and ‘taking into account the overall context’. In other words, it provides some valuable pointers to the forms contemporary antisemitism can take, and leaves the rest up for consideration and debate. So if it has been wielded by Jewish-interest groups (badly scared by the malignancy of the loudest Palestine solidarity campaigning in this country) to try to shut down events where Israel is criticised, then that is regrettable and to be opposed in its own right. But I can’t see that it is the fault of this highly qualified definition. It’s the venue authorities who are responsible for distinguishing between free speech and racism. And Palestine solidarity campaigners need to be better.

At Congress Sarah Annes Brown, professor of English Literature at Anglia Ruskin (who I think holds a less favourable view of the working definition than mine) spoke against the motion. Her statement:

“I acknowledge that there is some evidence of the IHRA definition being invoked in the context of preventing some university based events going ahead. In the interests of free speech it would be reasonable to conduct research about this.

However I would like Congress to consider whether it is necessary or desirable to disassociate itself from the definition completely in order to do this, to make it anathema in the way the QUB amendment suggests.

This whole issue has been a very polarising debate for years. I’d like to urge more nuance and a focus on what is really important here – protecting free speech. I quite understand why people have misgivings about the definition and some of the ways it seems to have been used. But it concerns me when people accuse those who think differently of acting in bad faith, as seems to be the case in a letter in the Guardian signed by many academics.

‘It is with disbelief that we witness explicit political interference in university affairs in the interests of Israel under the thin disguise of concern about antisemitism.’

The definition has been backed by Jeremy Corbyn and has been adopted by the NUS and the Union of Jewish Students. The government’s adoption has been welcomed by mainstream Jewish groups such as the Community Security Trust and the Board of Deputies. That’s not a reason for embracing it or ignoring any possible bad impacts, but it might perhaps give pause before an absolute repudiation.”

Update: A spiteful amendment (57A2) to the motion referred to Ronnie Fraser’s earlier legal case against UCU as “spurious accusations of antisemitism”. This prompted another delegate to speak up in objection to that, since she found it a disingenuous and offensive representation of the case and recognised the likelihood that UCU would treat any concerns about antisemitism as spurious. Her intervention changed a number of minds.

Unnaturally but predictably, the motion and the amendment were overwhelmingly carried by UCU delegates.  The other anti-racist, solidarity and inclusion motions, of which there were several, were carried or in a few cases, remitted. Isn’t it great that UCU is only soft on antisemitism.

~~~

Update 

From one of the members opposing the motion in my branch:

“My only quibble is that the attempt to ram the motion through the branch meeting is even worse than you have indicated.

The chair didn’t just want to push it through in 90 seconds while there were three of us opposing it. After you had both left because you had 2pm meetings, with the meeting already overrunning (it was gone 2pm) and people waiting outside for their lecture (a huge breach of both institution and branch protocol) he still wanted to push it through, and only my vociferous objection prevented it from happening.

He then tried the tactic of ‘you’d better vote for this because otherwise there will be something worse at conference’.

Most encouragingly, the feeling of the meeting seemed to be supportive of my argument that a hugely controversial and divisive motion like this needed the time to be debated properly.”

From a non-Jewish left Zionist to Ken Livingstone

Jack Omer-Jackaman has written an open letter to Ken Livingstone. From it,

“Labour has always had a contested, pluralistic approach to Zionism. It was, after all, the party of both Harold Wilson and Ernest Bevin; of Dick Crossmanand Christopher Mayhew. In recent years, though, it is Mayhew’s successors who have shouted loudest and, in the context of anti-Zionism experienced as anti-Semitism I have described, this makes Labour’s “Jewish Problem” harder to dodge. It is to anti-Zionism itself, then, that I now turn.”

Read on.

Scott Nelson & a weirdly related miscellany

Assuming his appeal is unsuccessful, prominent activist Scott Nelson aka @TheMockneyRebel has been expelled from the Labour Party after making a number of statements implicating Jews, “Jewish blood”, &c in various things he doesn’t like and scoffing when antisemitism was mentioned. Mathilda Murday and Soupy have collected some offending tweets. If you are inclined to comment about this below, keep in mind they’ve been threatened with litigation so mind your Ps & Qs. Nelson is penitent and as of about an hour ago, defiant at the same time (retweeting supporters who say antisemitism is nonexistent and a right wing smear). I am guessing the appeal will be considered by Labour’s National Executive Committee; if so it can be thought of as a benchmark. At the moment Corbyn-aligned Momentum people do not control the official organs of the Labour Party, but they have said that they intend to. In response, new alignments such as Open Labour are currently forming to bolster Labour democracy against populism and mitigate Corbyn’s anticipated failure to engage the wider electorate. My feeling is that if the outreaching parts of Labour make their presence felt, it will continue to put out people like Scott Nelson. If not then I have doubts that Momentum has the will, although Corbyn supporters exist who do recognise a problem and will do what they can, so hopefully I’m wrong about that. Worrying about antisemitism is one of those things where you win if you’re wrong.

I should also say I don’t think Labour have explicitly implicated antisemitism in the expulsion, and it is only one of several issues people have raised concerning Scott Nelson. One major divide in different parts of the left is the issue of whether to treat bigotry similarly if expressed by somebody privileged or somebody marginalised. This tension between relativist and universalist views is concentrated in situations like this one in which a disabled UKIP member objects to disablism on the part of Nelson (who is also disabled). Being universalist, Engage resists bigotry regardless of the objectionable politics of those who may be subjected to it (I find UKIP deeply threatening and politically moribund), or the extent to which we may identify with the perpetrator (without hesitation I’d hold my nose and take Corbynite Labour over the Conservatives in a two horse race).

Now to the weirdly related miscellany.

Campaigners against antisemitism often endure a range of unpleasant emotions which come with pursuing the issue both through big organisations and with individuals. They include a sense of futility against the machine, the chipping away of our self-esteem in the face of prejudice, and, if we’re unlucky, a sense of hatred we have no way of confirming because the hater is clever, directed against us personally because we are identified as Jewish.  It all plays with your head. I think you will be struck by the overlap with the experiences of Adam Pearson in the excellent BBC3 documentary The Ugly Face of Disability Hate Crime. His starting point is an estimated 63,000 hate crimes against disabled people in England and Wales in one recent year, and the failure to prosecute these effectively. He speaks with disabled people, YouTube, legal professionals, and the police, and participates in a social psychology experiment. The action he embarks on is a promising direction, too. I very much recommend watching it.

The second miscellany is a recent LSE European Institute podcast, French sociologist Michel Wieviorka‘s talk ‘Europe’s Perfect Storm: racism, anti-Semitism, terrorism and resurgent nationalism‘. In it he weaves together several currents of European thinking in the past 30 years. He treats racism, antisemitism, terrorism and nationalism as expressions of evil which he observes to have revived in new, changed forms in in the 1980s, in what had been until then humanist Europe. Listen to this for an examination of how plural xenophobia has become, and how it is related to a decrease in trust of establishment authorities.

The final miscellany (HT @patlockley) is a piece in Dissent by Susie Linfield on left-wing Zionism.

“In its early decades Israel combined socialist, or social-democratic, politics with democratic freedoms. It was a poor and deeply egalitarian country; it was the praxis of left-wing Zionism. As Fred Halliday wrote, until 1967 “Israel enjoyed enormous authority, not so much as a close ally of the west, which at that time it was not . . . but as the site of an experiment in socialist economics and living.” But Israel has changed.”

“The task for American leftists is to support democratic, anti-occupation, two-state groups in any ways we can, including publications, conferences, visits, and, where appropriate, donations (even if we can’t match Sheldon Adelson). There are numerous such organizations, from the well-established New Israel Fund to smaller ones like Ta’ayush (in Arabic, “Living Together”) and Women Wage Peace, all of whose members include Arabs and Jews.

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