50 Days in the Summer: Gaza, political protest and antisemitism in the UK

This very clear and measured report was commissioned to assist the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism. Ben Gidley, a Senior Researcher at the University of Oxford’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, explores the impact of events in the Middle East on antisemitic discourse in the UK.

It seems certain that last July’s spike in antisemitic incidents was connected to Operation Protective Edge. This report sets out to investigate trickier questions about the nature and degree of antisemitic discourse associated with protests against Israel, and the effects of the way the media reported both on the conflict and the demonstrations (p.2).

The report emphasises the importance of context in determining antisemitism. Whereas a Palestinian flag is not antisemitic if carried in a protest outside the Israeli embassy, the presence of the same flag would have a clear antisemitic charge outside a kosher deli or synagogue (p.4)

Some cases are more complex. Gidley suggests that the phrase ‘child murderers’, if directed at Israel, is ‘potentially legitimate criticism’ (p. 5). But it may trigger sensitivities due to the antisemitic blood libel trope. Inevitably there are grey areas where sincere disagreement or misunderstanding may occur.

In fact most of the placards visible at demonstrations against Israel were not antisemitic, the report concludes (p. 6). However there were some exceptions, mostly focused on familiar tropes:

Variations on the historic blood libel, malicious uses of Holocaust comparison, attributions of Jewish collective responsibility or dual loyalty, and images of Jewish power.

Many children did die in Gaza, and it’s not surprising that Israel’s critics focus on this issue. However, it’s equally unsurprising that ‘British Jews, sensitive to the use of the blood libel in triggering pogroms historically, may be likely to experience accusations of antisemitism through this lens.’ (p. 7) And, when the phrase ‘child murderers’ moves away from the street protest and is pinned onto a synagogue – then clearly the boundary has been crossed.

Holocaust comparisons are another common vector for antisemitism. ‘Holocaust inversion’ casts Israel as the new Nazis, Palestinians as the new Jews, and, just a little more subtly but hardly less offensively, Jews are blamed for not learning the correct lessons from the Holocaust (p. 8).

There’s some very precise analysis of the mechanisms at work in the cross-pollination between far left anti-Zionism and far-right antisemitism.

In many cases, anti-Israel activists in perfectly good faith recirculate material from far right provenance. Thus casual and unwitting low-level forms of antisemitism circulating in the wider culture can reinforce and draw people towards more ideological forms of antisemitism.

Presumably this re-circulation occurs without antisemitic intent, but it legitimates and normalises ideologically antisemitic discourse. Those already exposed to casual forms of Holocaust inversion in anti-Israel context are more receptive to Holocaust denial; those already exposed to casual forms of Jewish power allegation are more receptive to complex ideologically driven conspiracy theories. (p. 10)

Gidley then expands on the importance of recognizing that actions or words may have no antisemitic intent yet still be ‘objectively’ antisemitic in their impact (p. 11).

In its discussion of the media, the report emphasises the need for the Jewish press to report antisemitism responsibly, and not use hyperbole to create unnecessary tension. But it also rightly insists on the need for ‘mainstream Britiain to understand and take seriously the insecurity of the community.’ (p. 13)

Finally, a worrying tendency to overlook or dismiss accusations of antisemitism is analyzed, and identified as a particular danger when Israel receives such disproportionate scrutiny in the media, particularly the left wing media.

Facebook Promote The Oldest Anti-Jewish Libel: Eric Lee

This is a cross-post by Eric Lee

I learned this morning that Facebook has a page devoted to “Jewish ritual murder” which I found hard to believe — so I checked and found it’s true.

So, as one does, I used Facebook’s complaint procedure to formally report harassment.  After all, I do feel harassed — as a Jew and a human being — by people promoting vile anti-Jewish propaganda.

It took Facebook 32 minutes to respond, which is great.

Good to see that they care about racism and antisemitism and are as keen as I am to … wait a minute … here’s a screenshot of their response:

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 10

Just in case you can’t read that, here’s the essence of it:

You reported Jewish ritual murder for harassment.
Status    This page wasn’t removed
Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the page you reported for harassment and found it doesn’t violate our Community Standards.

When I went to look at the Facebook “Community Standards” here’s what I found under “Hate Speech”:

Facebook does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.”

So, Facebook, how is a page promoting the oldest anti-Semitic slur, the infamous“blood libel”, not hate speech?

When I say Israelis I don’t mean Jews; and when I say Jews I mean Israelis.

Mark Gardner over at the CST blog writes about the recent exchange of views on Caryl Churchill’s antisemitic play “Seven Jewish Children”. The original article is here.

From Kosher Conspiracy to Seven Jewish Children

By Mark Gardner.

Contemplation of the high (or low) points of contemporary British antisemitic discourse in recent years brings four episodes to mind, all of which are emblematic of the collapse in left-liberal elite sensitivities to antisemitism:

1.   January 2002. The New Statesman cover reading “A Kosher Conspiracy?” and showing a golden Star of David piercing a supine Union Jack. This has been widely quoted (by CST and others) as evidence that the left intelligentsia no longer recognised or cared about modern day antisemitism, even when it hit them in the face. The New Statesman belatedly – sort of – apologised.

2.   May 2003. The assertion by (then) ‘Father of the House’, Tam Dalyell MP, that “a cabal of Jewish advisors” surounded Prime Minister Tony Blair. Dalyell was criticised for this, but the criticism was by no means universal and he and his supporters denied that the outburst was antisemitic.

3. January 2009. The explosion of Israel equals Nazi Germany comparisons at the time of the Gaza conflict. For many Jews and others, this confirmed that the demonisation of Israel had become both limitless and detached from reality. The fear was concretised by the unprecedented outbursts of antisemitic race hate crimes at this time.

4. February 2009. The first performance of Seven Jewish Children, by esteemed playwright Caryl Churchill and carried on the Guardian website.

(Of course, there are hundreds of other examples that one can alight upon, but these stick in the forefront of my mind.)

Reflecting upon these four events, I cannot recall or see where either the New Satesman or Tam Dalyell suffered any serious reputational damage within their own circles: and this is surely not unconnected to the enthusiastic and urgent reception subsequently afforded to Walt and Mearsheimer’s book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy (2006). Basically, so long as you stuck to Israel, pro-Israel or Zionist, rather than Jew, you were (and remain) bang on trend.

The malaise and the conceit burrrowed so deep, that the Guardian could run aneditorial (24 July 2008) stating

When a presumptive US presidential candidate arrives in Jerusalem, he willingly dons a jacket designed by Israeli tailors.

Similarly, the profusion of Israel equals Nazi Germany comparisons never really impacted upon those who had made the equation, nor upon those who silently stood by. Besides, similar things had been said with depressing regularity by politicians and journalists since at least 2002, and none of them had really suffered for it either.

When Conservative Party-linked East European politicians try to relativise the Holocaust by comparing it to the suffering of their non-Jewish populations under Communism, then of course the intelligentsia hits top gear…but properly and consistently criticise people here in Britain for comparing Israeli Jews with Nazis, no way! Besides, this is Israel that’s being condemned and that’s not the same as Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

Seven Jewish Children, however, does not fit these patterns. It is not about a Jewish conspiracy that can be entirely kosherised so long as you remember to call it a pro-Israeli conspiracy. Neither is it about granting permission to relatavise the Holocaust, so long as you do it with Israel as the target. Instead, Caryl Churchill completes the circle, by writing a play about Israel and Israelis that is entirely referenced to Jews, Jewish history and Jewish emotions.

There is at least a certain honesty in this. The play, far more than most anti-Israel propaganda, at least acknowledges (both implicitly and explicitly) the centrality of Jews, Jewish history and Jewish emotions to everything concerning Israel. Nevertheless, the antisemitic resonance of the play (primarily the extent and meaning of its concentration upon the blood of the children who are the Jews’ victims) has seen it become a celebrated fault-line in the superheated arguments regarding what is and is not antisemitic in regard to Israel.

The fault-line has been spewing once more this week, in the Guardian letters page with Caryl Churchill taking exception to Jonathan Freedland’s citation (in the Guardian) of Anthony Julius’s deconstruction of the play. (Extracted from Julius’s brilliant analysis of British literary antisemitism, contained in his book, Trials of the Diaspora. Of course, the book itself has become another fault-line in the battle.)

Freedland’s excellent piece (analysed here on CST Blog) was published in the Guardian on 3 March. Churchill replied in the letters page the following day, saying (in part)

Jonathan Freedland (G2, March 3) denies that criticism of Israel is often wrongly called antisemitism. His point isn’t helped by quoting Anthony Julius’s allegation that my play Seven Jewish Children “tap[s] into the ‘blood libel’”. The line he is referring to is “tell her there’s dead babies, did she see babies?” It refers to babies killed in the attack on Gaza in 2009 and shown on TV. When people hear of babies killed in a war, they don’t usually think of medieval accusations of Jews consuming Christian children’s blood, but of babies killed in a war…

This prompted Julius to reply (in part)

…In this play, Jews confess to lying to their own children and killing Palestinian children. They also confess to something close to a project of genocide. And they freely acknowledge the source of their misanthropy to be Judaism itself.

None of this seems to bother Churchill – nor, indeed, the Guardian. As she correctly notes, the play is available on your website.

Next, Churchill replied to Julius

…What he doesn’t seem to realise is that these lines are not spoken as he suggests by “Jews” in general but by individual Israelis, desperate to protect their own child, during an attack of disproportionate violence on Gaza…It should be possible to pillory the defensive self-righteousness and racism of some – not all – Israelis without being called antisemitic.

For now (at any rate) the Guardian Letters page appears to have called time on its hosting of this particular debate. The arguments will, of course, continue, but there are two things that need saying right now.

Firstly, Normblog has this to say on Churchill’s “individual Israelis” argument

Her play wasn’t anti-Semitic because it featured individuals, rather than Jews as a category…

…And this is a playwright, with some knowledge of cultural matters! One is bound to wonder why anyone ever had a worry about Shylock in The Merchant of Venice…

Secondly, there is the point that my colleague Dave Rich and I made in our Comment is Free article, at the time of the Guardian’s own production of Seven Jewish Children

It is Jewish thought and behaviour that links the play together, not Israel. The words Israel, Israelis, Zionism and Zionist are not mentioned once in the play, while Jews are mentioned in the title and in the text itself. We are often told that when people talk about Israel or Zionists, it is mischievous to accuse them of meaning Jews. Now, we are expected to imagine that a play that talks only of Jews, in fact, means Israelis.

The play is only eight minutes long. We wrote the above almost two years ago. One does not need to be an anti-racist theoretician, a leading playwright, nor a literary critic to get the absurdity of saying

When I say Israelis I don’t mean Jews; and when I say Jews I mean Israelis

Then again, isn’t that the same absurdity that lay, back in the day, behind the New Statesman and Tam Dalyell getting let off the anti-racist hook?

Book Review: Perry and Schweitzer, ‘Antisemitic myths: a historical and contemporary anthology’ – David Hirsh

Antisemitic mythsThis Review is from Ethnic and Racial Studies Vol. 32 No. 4 May 2009 pp. 749-750

Marvin Perry and Frederick M. Schweitzer, ANTISEMITIC MYTHS: A HISTORICAL AND CONTEMPORARY ANTHOLOGY, 2008, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 384 pp., $24.95 (pb).

To subvert the Queen’s Christmas Message to her subjects this year, Channel 4 Television hosts, unchallenged, Holocaust denier and antisemite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, so its viewers can benefit from hearing his ‘alternative world view’. A friend in South America emails this New Year: ‘Today there’s a big banner just outside my place (very central location, as you remember) by the Communist Party saying ‘‘Israel the Nazis of the Middle East’’ and showing the Israeli flag with a swastika inside the Magen David . . . made me tremble, to be honest.’

The children and grandchildren of the Jews who fled to Israel from anti-Jewish racism in Europe, in the Middle East and in Russia have not yet found peace and neither has the antisemitism from which they fled been defeated. Israelis act and they interact with their neighbours; wisely and stupidly, aggressively and defensively, employing racist ways of thinking and antiracist ways of thinking.

When Jews act in the world their actions are often understood within antisemitic discourse and are often narrated using antisemitic language, but these processes are not usually conscious and are not usually clearly understood. Even many antiracists are only dimly aware of the nature of the rich resources of antisemitic assumption, trope and image which lie deep in the cultural unconscious and which sometimes shape the way that they themselves think about actually existing Jews who act in the world.

It is for this reason particularly that the material presented by editors Marvin Perry and Frederick M. Schweitzer in Antisemitic Myths: A Historical and Contemporary Anthology is important. ‘The Jewish Question’ is again high on the agenda, is a live issue, for much respectable, intellectual and anti-bourgeois thought, although it is not at the moment so important in mass culture. ‘The Jews’ are thought to have thrown their lot in with imperialism in the Middle East, to have succeeded in joining a white ‘Judeo-Christian’ elite in America and to have dodged the line of racist fire in Europe by constructing Muslims as the ‘new Jews’. The Holocaust piety of the 1990s is being smashed up by the taboo-breaking excitement of Holocaust blasphemy. Constructions of ‘the Jews’ in terms of ultimate morality or absolute victimhood are being replaced by more apparently radical ones. It again appears to be respectable to think of ‘the Jews’ as powerful, secretly cohesive, disproportionately influential and susceptible to the temptation of committing cold-blooded acts of childkilling.

Perry and Schweitzer offer us a compilation of Jew-hatred’s greatest hits across the centuries. They give us extracts from texts demonstrating Christian demonization of Jews and blood libel; Jewish responsibility for Plague and how the Jews were expelled from Spain; from Martin Luther to Voltaire, the Catholic Church to Marx, the Dreyfuss affair to the pogroms, conspiracy theory to the Holocaust, Soviet antisemitism to Islamist and African American antisemitism.

This is material that every antiracist should know. This is material that everybody who wants to talk about Israel and Palestine should understand. This is material with which anybody who wants to be able to judge whether or not a contemporary text is antisemitic needs to be familiar.

Yet I fear that the material is presented in this ‘anthology’ in a form which is as likely to repel as to absorb contemporary antiracists. This is not only because today’s anti-Zionist Zeitgeist contains within itself a significant degree of auto-immunity against a serious consideration of antisemitism. It is also because the book is constructed within a political and sociological framework which is not going to be able to educate a new generation of antiracist activists and scholars on the nature and history of antisemitic mystification.

The book presents antisemitism less as a racism alongside other racisms and more as an ahistorical and unchanging fact of human history. While the aim of the work is not to offer a sociological or historical account of the causes and natures of distinct manifestations of Jewhatred in different times and different places, it is not as concerned as it might be to problematize similarities and differences or to grapple with the complexity of geographical and historical contingencies. The material seems to respond to the characteristically antisemitic view which positions ‘the Jews’ at the centre of world history by attempting to thrust instead the antisemite into that pre-eminent position. It offers little explanation as to why and how the central themes of Jew-hatred reappear and reinvent themselves in radically different times, contexts and places.

Perry and Schweitzer repeat a standard misreading of Marx’s On the Jewish Question, arguing that Marx was an antisemite, and in doing so they miss a key wider point of which Marx himself was acutely aware. Antisemitism is not only bad for Jews but when it is found within radical thought it is also an indicator of a wider sickness. In my view antisemitism is to be found, now hidden, now less so, as a potentiality within much contemporary antihegemonic, radical, liberal and socialist commonsense, and its presence there should be taken seriously by those of us for whom such political movements are important.

It is because antisemitism is a live and virulent threat that sociologically and politically sophisticated engagement with it is required. This book offers much necessary material but it does so within a framework which will not help to regenerate radical thought as much as it could do.

©  2009 David Hirsh Lecturer in Sociology Goldsmiths, University of London

This Review is from Ethnic and Racial Studies Vol. 32 No. 4 May 2009 pp. 749-750

Eve Garrard on contemporary antisemitism in Britain

Eve Garrard

Eve Garrard

Here is Eve’s concluding paragraph.  How she comes that conclusion is a must-read, on normblog – offering a goldmine of links and an outline of what is going on in Britain.

There is not at the moment, so far as I know, a deliberate and conscious anti-Semitic project on the left to undermine the standing of Jews in Britain and elsewhere, and to deny them the rights of self-determination and self-defence which are accorded to others. But there is a significant number of people on the liberal-left behaving as if they were in fact complicit in such a project; who are impervious to the chilling anti-Semitic effects of their behaviour; who are in practice acting as enablers and facilitators for those full-blooded anti-Semites who want to exploit the rich possibilities of this situation. This willingness to prepare the ground for Jew-hatred is in itself a disgusting development on the left, and a betrayal of some of its most basic principles. It is also a proper source of alarm for Jews who are beginning to feel that the brief decades in which being a Jew in Britain was unproblematic may be coming to an end.

Do read the whole piece.

Radio 4 and Seven Jewish Children – David Hirsh

Howard Jacobson describes Seven Jewish Children as an antisemitic work:

“Caryl Churchill will argue that her play is about Israelis not Jews, but once you venture on to “chosen people” territory – feeding all the ancient prejudice against that miscomprehended phrase – once you repeat in another form the medieval blood-libel of Jews rejoicing in the murder of little children, you have crossed over. This is the old stuff. Jew-hating pure and simple – Jew-hating which the haters don’t even recognise in themselves, so acculturated is it – the Jew-hating which many of us have always suspected was the only explanation for the disgust that contorts and disfigures faces when the mere word Israel crops up in conversation. So for that we are grateful. At last that mystery is solved and that lie finally nailed. No, you don’t have to be an anti-Semite to criticise Israel. It just so happens that you are.”

He re-states this view when Jacqueline Rose and Churchill herself defend the play. If Jacobson is right then it follows that the play has no artistic or political value.

BBC Radio 4 has decided not to stage the play. Radio 4’s drama commissioning editor Jeremy Howe, rejected the play, writing in an email:

“It is a no, I am afraid. Both Mark [Damazer, Radio 4 controller] and I think it is a brilliant piece, but after discussing it with editorial policy we have decided we cannot run with it on the grounds of impartiality – I think it would be nearly impossible to run a drama that counters Caryl Churchill’s view. Having debated long and hard we have decided we can’t do Seven Jewish Children.”

They have made the wrong decision. If it is a “brilliant piece” of course it should be broadcast. If it is a “brilliant piece” how could it be “countered”? Brilliant theatre does not require something else to be broadcast another night in order to balance it.

Why would Radio 4 not broadcast a “brilliant piece”? The official BBC statement says that “we felt it would not work for our audience.” Why not?

The implication, of course, is that The Jews will not allow the BBC to broadcast this “brilliant piece”.

Tell them its antisemitic. Tell them its unbalanced. Tell them the BBC is biased.

If the piece is antisemitic then its crap. And it shouldn’t be broadcast.

If the piece is “brilliant” then it should be broadcast, and the BBC should stand up to the full wrath of “Israel Lobby” – or as the Independent would say, the “Jewish Lobby“.

David Hirsh

David Hirsh’s talk at the London Conference on Combatting Antisemitism 2009

David Hirsh

David Hirsh

This is the text of David Hirsh’s presentation to the Experts’ Forum of The London Conference on Combatting Antisemitism, 16 February 2009, hosted by the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Before we talk about discourse, let’s remember that there is a real conflict in the Middle East between Jews and their neighbours. There is a fight over land – over the land upon which Israel has established itself – and over the occupied territories, upon which Palestine has been establishing itself.

There is also a fight over narrative. Both Israelis and Palestinians are recently constituted nations – they have constituted themselves around shared stories of how they came into being and shared understandings of the threats to their continued existence – they are shared stories which define national identity. That is of course not to say that all narratives are equally true – rather that between the fixed points of truth, there is huge and contested scope for remembering and forgetting, embellishing and denying.

Within both nations there are intertwined but incompatible dreams of peace and dreams of victory. The task for those who fight for peace is to help re-shape these broad narratives so that they are compatible one with the other.

Everyone knows the shape of the peace – it is a two state solution. It is a peace between a sovereign Israel in the pre-’67 borders and a sovereign Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The more the peace looks unattainable, the more it is necessary to remind everyone that there is no other way out – there is no “one state solution” waiting in the wings.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine plays itself out both on the battlefield but also on the terrain of these stories of nationhood. It should surprise nobody that over the last 80 or 100 years of conflicts, there has been a tendency for people within each nation to construct those who are seen as the “enemy” in bigoted and in racialized terms.

Within Israel there is a virulent tradition of racism against Arabs and against Muslims.

Within Palestine there is a virulent tradition of antisemitism.

But within neither nation is racism and bigotry the only political current – both have proud and significant histories of movements which fought for peace and against bigotry.

We’re not surprised that when there is an ongoing, bloody, hand-to-hand conflict over a piece of land – that there is a tendency amongst those involved to construct ‘the other’ as being essentially evil.

One of the aggravating features, however, of the Israel/Palestine conflict, is that everyone, all over the world, seems to think they are involved.

Not only do Jewish families around the world – many of whom ended up where they did and not in Israel only for contingent reasons – often feel themselves to be connected to Israel and to its fate; not only do Palestinians and Arabs and Muslims around the world feel themselves to be harmed when Palestinians in Palestine are harmed; but there also seems to be a tendency for narratives of Israeli and Palestinian nationhood to transform themselves into universal narratives – rather than narratives which bind together small and insignificant nations in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Some hold the view that the settlement of this conflict is a pre-requisite for the settlement of most other conflicts in the world.

For example British Parliamentarian Clare Short said:

I … believe that US backing for Israeli policies of expansion of the Israeli state and oppression of the Palestinian people is the major cause of bitter division and violence in the world.”

What is the major cause of bitter division and violence in the world? Not poverty? Not Aids? Not the subjugation of women or gay people? Not racism, ethnic cleansing or genocide? Not military occupation and the denial of statehood – in gnereral? No, for Clare Short “US backing for Israeli policies” is the major cause of bitter division and violence in the world.

Some people think that this conflict stands, symbolically, for all other conflicts – and so Palestinians come to symbolize “the oppressed” and Israeli Jews come to symbolize “the oppressors”.

Some people think that Israel is the embattled outpost of “Western civilization” – and so constitutes the global frontline in the war against “Muslim” terror and threat. But of course the point is to avoid and to oppose the construction of a separate “Judeo-Christian world” and a separate “Muslim world” – not to act as though war between the two is already inevitable.

One thing which distinct antisemitisms in different times and places have had in common is the understanding that Jews are central to all that is wrong with the world.

Christian antisemitism thought of Jews as the betrayers of the universal God, the rejectors of the universal God, and the murderers of the universal God.

Anti-Enlightenment antisemitism thought that Jews lurked behind the melting of all that was solid in traditional society into air.

Pro-Enlightenment antisemitism hoped that Jews as a collective would, with indecent haste, melt into air.

Left wing antisemitism thought of Jews as being behind capitalism – or now, it is tempted to think of “Zionists” as being behind imperialism.

Right wing antisemitism thought of Jews as being behind Communism or the breakdown of “decent” values – or as being a threat to the authentic national interest.

Soviet antisemitism accused Jews of betraying the revolution.

Nazi antisemitism accused Jews of constituting an infection to the body of humankind.

Whatever it is Jews are accused of – they are accused of being central to all that happens in the world.

And now, for whatever reasons – interesting and complex reasons actually – the Israel/Palestine conflict is thought by many to be a problem of global significance – and this widepsread belief has serious consequences.

In truth Jews are a rather small and ordinary people – and not central to anything. In truth the Israel/Palestine conflict is a rather small, local and insignificant conflict – albeit extremely nasty in its own way and for those who it affects.

We have seen that ways of thinking about the conflict are important to the nations involved. And we have seen how each nation has “diaspora” people which feel themselves also to be involved.

Now we can see that ways of thinking about the conflict seem to take on a significance to everyone, not only those who are involved. And with the emergence of these vast, global narratives, comes some of the racialized hostility to Jews, Arabs and Muslims which we can see within the conflict itself.

There is a political project to designate Israel as the new apartheid South Africa – and to build a global movement for “boycott divestment and sanctions” based on the model of the anti-apartheid movement. This project seeks to make the destruction of Israel into the key and pre-eminent demand for anti-hegemonic politics everywhere. Israel must be destroyed in the same way as the old apartheid regime was destroyed. The project is to treat Israel as though it were the central evil on the planet and to build a global movement to destroy it.

We can see clearly that two different and incompatible ways of describing the conflict have emerged.

One holds that the job of antiracists is to help to destroy the evil of “Zionism” – which is said to be necessarily racist – or like apartheid – or like Nazi Germany. We must, we are told, take sides with the Palestinians against the Israelis and work towards the destruction of the Israeli state – and the non-violent means of working for Israel’s military defeat – as 325 British academics recently stated in the Guardian newspaper – is “Boycott Divestment Sanctions” – in other words the exclusion of Israeli Jews – and only Israeli Jews – from the economic, scholarly, cultural and sporting life of humanity.

This discourse is wholly hostile to the one outlined earlier: that we need to find a peace between Israel and Palestine and that we need to support those in each nation who oppose bigotry, racism, violence and despair.

On the one hand there is a politics of peace and reconciliation – an achievable politics of finding a solution to an actual conflict.

On the other hand there is a politics of rooting out the evil of so-called “Zionism” – which stands for all oppression. This view casts Israelis and Palestinians in their global and symbolic roles and so it sacrifices any conception of their real interests to the grander and more tragic ones created for them.

Of course within both Israel and Palestine there are political currents eager to accept their own designation as being globally important and universally symbolic.

And we know that when Jews are involved in a conflict, and when that conflict is inflated in grandeur and is thrust to the centre of all things – that it becomes tempting for many to grasp at ready-made ways of thinking – or discourses – about Jews. And we see these ready-made ways of thinking about Jews being employed – often without knowing it – by people for whom Israel and Palestine have become global-symbolic issues.

It is all too tempting when one is trying to articulate hostility to Israelis – to draw on the old and half-forgotten vocabulary of antisemitism.

When hundreds of Palestinians are dying in the conflict who are under the age of 18 it seems so natural to accuse the Jewish state of child-killing. I suspect many who accuse Israel of having a policy of gratuitously murdering non-Jewish children do not even know of the blood libel, which has re-appeared against Jews over the last ten centuries in every conceivable context, and which is a re-telling of the story that the Jews murdered the innocent Christ, out of pure evil.

The mechanism here is one familiar to all racisms. It starts with a real-world event – too many Palestinians under 18 die in the conflict – the real-world events are then mystified into the language of antisemitism to produce Israel as the essentially child-killing state, and the hundreds of blood-libel images which demonize those who are designated as “Zionists”.

When there are Jewish names in Bush and Obama’s cabinets, when the peace movement fails to stop wars, when the American media demonizes Palestinians as terrorists, when Lehman Brothers is at the vanguard of a global economic crash – it seems so natural to wonder about Israeli influence and Israeli interest. And again, really-existing influence and interest are so easily mystified into the language and into the images of the secret and powerful conspiracy of “Zion”.

British Parliamentarian Jenny Tonge said:

The pro-Israeli Lobby has got its grips on the Western World, its financial grips. I think they’ve probably got a certain grip on our party.”

Although she uses the phrase “Israel lobby” and not “Jews” – what she articulates is classic antisemitic conspiracy theory.

And when called on her antisemitism, she said the following:

I am sick of being accused of anti-Semitism when what I am doing is criticising Israel and the state of Israel.”

She uses antisemitic rhetoric and then she accuses those who point this out of trying to “play the antisemitism card” in order to de-legitimize criticism of Israel. This defence to a charge of antisemitism is what I have called the Livingstone Formulation.

When those who speak for “the oppressed” are antisemitic it is so easy to downplay, to “understand”, to deny, to render insignificant that fact – because some are so hungry – so wishful – to see in Hamas and in Hezbollah and in Ahmadinejad’s regime in Iran – really-existing forces which can challenge the hated status quo in the west. We have of course seen it all before: the temptation to see in some “really existing socialism” a force which can defeat our own hated national bourgeoisie.

People want the angry, anti-Western Islamist rhetoric to articulate their own anger and their own resentment – they want it so much that they are able to suspend reality a little. And the price of this suspension of reality is that they must keep quiet about antisemitism.

Increasingly antisemitism is not thought of as an evil against which vigilance is appropriate – but as an indicator of a dishonest “Zionist” trick –the “playing of the antisemitism card”. Many “antiracists” have come naturally to recognize the word “antisemitism” as a way of recognizing those who pretend to support the oppressed but who don’t really.

The “Zionists” – and the overwhelming majority of Jews are Zionists – in at least one of the many senses of the much abused word – “The Zionists” are accused of taking part in a dishonest conspiracy to use the discourse of antisemitism in a racist way.

And this should not come as a surprise. One aspect of antisemitism has always been its ability to appear as anti-hegemonic – as radical. You don’t necessarily need to be an antisemite to be radical. But you do need to downplay the significance of antisemitism. You need to “contextualize” it carefully and to distinguish it from that which is “real” and which is “important”.

The kind of antisemitism which I have been describing is, at the moment, a problem on the level of discourse rather than on the level of violence. It is largely an elite phenomenon rather than a mass phenomenon. It needs to be opposed on the level of discourse.

We need to de-construct contemporary antisemitic discourse. We need patiently to explain why it is antisemitic – because it is not obvious to those who are seduced by it. We need to educate people about the history of antisemitism and about the tropes of antisemitism.

It should go without saying that we need to oppose antisemitism – which is an archetypal form of racism – as antiracists.

It is right – and it is also effective – to challenge the politics of war against Israel and “the Zionists” – with a discourse of peace and reconciliation.

We shouldn’t replace idle and menacing dreams of victory over “Zionism” with idle and menacing dreams of victory over Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims.

We should fight for the universal values of peace, antiracism and democracy.

Instead of inverting the demonization of Israelis and of Jews, we should subvert it.

David Hirsh

Golsmiths, University of London

For Antony Lerman’s view of the conference, click here.

Open letter to Gideon Levy from A.B.Yehoshua

Yesterday Gideon Levy had a piece in Ha’aretz titled The IDF has no mercy for the children in Gaza (reproduced in full for the UCU Activists list in the style of the SWP with the subject line “The blood of Gaza’s children is on our hands”). A.B. Yehoshua responds today in an open letter:

“The doleful thought sometimes crosses my mind that it is not the children of Gaza or of Israel that you are pining for, but only for your own private conscience. Because if you are truly concerned about the death of our children and theirs, you would understand the present war – not in order to uproot Hamas from Gaza but to induce its followers to understand, and regrettably in the only way they understand in the meantime, that they must stop the firing unilaterally, stop hoarding missiles for a bitter and hopeless war to destroy Israel, and above all for the sake of their children in the future, so they will not die in another pointless adventure.

After all, now, for the first time in Palestinian history, after the Ottoman, British, Egyptian, Jordanian and Israeli conquests, part of the Palestinians has gained a first and I hope not a last piece of land on which they are to maintain a full and independent government. And if they start building, developing and pursuing social endeavors, even according to Islamic religious law, they will prove to the whole world, and especially to us, that the moment we terminate the occupation they will be ready to live in peace with their surroundings, free to do as they wish, but also responsible for their deeds.

There is something absurd in the comparison you draw about the number of those killed. When you ask how it can be that they killed three of our children and we cause the killing of a hundred and fifty, the inference one can draw is that if they were to kill a hundred of our children (for example, by the Qassam rockets that struck schools and kindergartens in Israel that happened to be empty), we would be justified in also killing a hundred of their children.

In other words, it is not the killing itself that troubles you but the number. On the face of it, one could answer you cynically by saying that when there will be two hundred million Jews in the Middle East it will be permissible to think in moral terms about comparing the number of victims on each side. But that is, of course, a debased argument. After all, you, Gideon, who live among the people, know very well that we are not bent on killing Palestinian children to avenge the killing of our children. All we are trying to do is get their leaders to stop this senseless and wicked aggression, and it is only because of the tragic and deliberate mingling between Hamas fighters and the civilian population that children, too, are unfortunately being killed. The fact is that since the disengagement, Hamas has fired only at civilians. Even in this war, to my astonishment, I see that they are not aiming at the army concentrations along the border but time and again at civilian communities.”

It’s worth reading in full.