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.

Refusing the dichotomy

What if we’re wrong: litmus tests on Israel and Palestine by Penina Eilberg-Schwartz, which I’m posting in the spirit of paying attention to bridge builders and thoughtful people.

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.

In the Green Party antisemitism can be affirming

green_party_real_changeCross-posted on Greens Engage.

Over the past several years Green Party members have proposed a number of motions and initiatives tackling antisemitism, all of which have been defeated or deformed beyond usefulness by anti-Zionists. As The Guardian’s Hugh Muir observed back in 2010, Green officialdom has long opted to brush concerns about antisemitism under the carpet. Below are the most recent fruits of that – a bit of background, a brief timeline of recent events, and finally why you’d be wrong to blame me for bringing this to light.

For a long time the Green Party has been racked by bitter, polemical campaigning against Israel which has crashed the boundaries of simple anti-Zionism. It has included calling Green Party members who defend Israel Nazi infiltrators, alleging that a non-Israeli member with a Jewish name was an Israeli agent, failing to react appropriately to antisemitic comments in a discussion of a “Zionist lobby“, saying that Israeli academics were “not part of the civilised world”, circulating material by David Duke and quasi journalists concerned about Jewish influence in Parliament, promoting material by Gilad Atzmon, objecting to Jews taking certain official positions, affiliating to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Stop the War Coalition, and tending to treat concerns about antisemitism as politically motivated.

A main channel for all this was internal Green Party email discussion groups, particularly the International List which discussed little else. Concerned members made several official complaints at the heart of which were failures by those assigned to moderate these groups. The complaints did not lead to any action, though. Some were rejected while others went into limbo. In contrast, a shockingly flimsy complaint against one member on a charge of disrepute and entryism on behalf of Israel progressed smartly to an internal tribunal (although the member, with help, managed to clear herself she has never been notified of the outcome). Members, including me, left, resigned their candidacy, or retreated into the background in protest about both the antisemitism and the ineptitude of the responses. The invective about Israel continued unabated. By some time in 2011 the International List moderator had had enough so it was decided to separate off the Israel-related stuff to the relative containment of a new discussion list called Palandisrl. The new list’s first moderator was someone who had referred to Israel as a “bloated state” with “US puppets in the UN”, and Zionism as “incompatible with Green views” and “an ancient theological fantasy”, so things went on in the same vein but with added moderator caprice. It quickly became an anti-Israel echo chamber where things could get quite surreal. When Terry Gallogly (Yorkshire & Humber Green Party) circulated a video of the 2012 Olympic logo morphing into the word ‘Zion’, an appalled member bypassed the moderator in favour of an email to then-leader Caroline Lucas. Lucas sent a quick, unambivalently sympathetic response but again as far as we know no further action was taken. At some stage Shahrar Ali (Brent Green Party and recently elected joint Deputy Leader) took over moderation.

That was some background – a brief timeline follows.

8 August – during Operation Protective Edge the discussion on the Palandisrl list became over-heated. Malcolm Chapman (Yorkshire & Humber Green Party) circulated a diatribe he had authored titled ‘GENOCIDE TODAY ~ A CALL TO BOYCOTT’. Soon afterwards it was published on the Y&H website (no link because it was taken down without explanation on 8 September). Interspersed with some trenchant criticism of Israel were references to a Holocaust “happening again”, “real terrorists” who “call their victims terrorists”, “deliberate targeting of civilians”, “influence over foreign governments”, “you have the memory of genocide in your DNA, why do you want to visit it upon others”, “why pretend any longer that your Palestinian Semite cousins have no right to their ancestral homeland”, and “all of Palestine must be freed from oppression”. More on why this is objectionable below.

14 August – I (a former member of Waltham Forest & Redbridge Green Party, who due to some bureaucratic error even now receives Palandisrl messages) emailed a request to Martin Deane and Shan Oakes (contacts for Y&H) to take down the piece, giving notice that otherwise I and others planned to make a complaint about antisemitism.

15 August – Martin Deane responded with a long defence but no undertakings, so our complaint was submitted. We took issue with the singularly hostile treatment of Israel, and the simplistic victim/perpetrator story which failed to recognise the role Hamas and the local jihadis in the conflict. We raised the matter of Holocaust inversion, an anti-Jewish propaganda tactic actively pursued by the far right, including Hamas. We pointed out the cruelty in referring to the Holocaust as a lesson Jews failed to learn. We observed that the mystified portrayal of the world’s sole Jewish state as a sinister, irresistible power resonates with the portrayal of Jews by people who hate Jews. We expressed discomfort with the racialised and tribal language of the piece. We objected to Malcolm Chapman’s failure to provide evidence for any of his claims, which made the Green Party look ignorant as well as prejudiced.

16 August – things got very much worse. Martin Deane posted an email to the  Palandisrl list including the sentence “At this time, to be accused of antisemitism here is a sign we’re probably doing something right”. This sentence crossed the line from shame and denial of antisemitism, to owning antisemitism. A conscientious, responsible moderator would have quickly intervened, but instead nobody intervened.

17 August – I emailed Shahrar Ali as Palandisrl moderator, reminding him of the need for scrupulous moderation on that list, warning that I would publish the events and offering him a chance to respond. He did not respond, nor did anybody on his behalf. I’ve waited a month.

6 September – at the Green Party Autumn Conference Shahrar Ali was elected male deputy leader of the Green Party.

8 September – the ‘GENOCIDE TODAY’ piece was quietly taken down. Since the Green Party has not responded to our complaint about the piece, the reasons for this are unclear. However we do know that somebody had a ‘quiet word’.

12 September – on the Palandisrl list, former Green Party male speaker and newly elected International Coordinator Derek Wall announced that Shahrar Ali would be stepping down as moderator and invited volunteers to replace him. When Martin Deane volunteered Derek Wall, who is himself energetically anti-Zionist, responded that he would be “very happy” for him to take the role.

Perhaps at this stage you’re inclined to shrug – after all, this kind of talk is normal now. But it shouldn’t be because it lowers resistance to antisemitism when what we need to do is make antisemitism strange. Perhaps you’re thinking that I am trying to create a diversion from criticism of Israel. But Greens Engage has frequently directed attention to criticism of Israel. Perhaps you’re of the opinion that the Greens’ creation of the Palandisrl list was a principled measure of containment and damage limitation, a sort of pre-moderation in itself. But the Green Party was aware of antisemitism from these quarters, has taken a policy stand against it, and therefore has a responsibility to keep things clean under that stone. Perhaps you’re wondering why I didn’t pursue the ‘quiet word’ approach – the offending piece is gone now, after all. The reason I wasn’t prepared to pursue the matter informally and discreetly through an intermediary is because I consider that approach ultimately unsustainable, not to mention disempowering for members without these privileged connections to the inner circle of activists.

Perhaps you’re tempted to shoot the messenger or deny that anything antisemitic has or possibly could have happened in the Green Party, because the Green Party is the party of the good people. Well, Shahrar Ali, the moderator of the step change when Martin Deane announced “At this time, to be accused of antisemitism here is a sign we’re probably doing something right” is now a Deputy Leader of the Green Party. His conference speech was all about the need to fight discrimination. That anti-discrimination agenda needs to properly and practically extend to Jews – including Zionist ones, and even when the attacks on them come from what seems to be pro-Palestine campaigning. And then there’s Martin Deane himself, selected to replace Shahrar Ali as moderator of a discussion about Palestine and Israel. So this is not an anti-Green Party post and it’s not suggesting that antisemitism characterises the Green Party. This post has happened because there are no functioning official internal channels for redress on antisemitism.

As well as being frightening and wrong, antisemitism weakens both the Green Party and the cause of Palestinian emancipation. In this case I’m hoping that sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Jews and the Left. Philip Mendes in the New Summer Edition of Fathom.

The new Summer edition of Fathom is now out.

Read an interview with Philip Mendes on “Jews and the Left” here.

Fathom 5 Is Online Now

Alan Johnson writes about the new edition of Fathom.

As Fathom goes to press, US Secretary of State John Kerry is working intensively with the Israelis and Palestinians to draw up a framework agreement. We carry three critical reflections on the peace process.  David Landau, the biographer of Ariel Sharon who died in January 2014, reflects on Sharon’s change of mind. Aluf Benn explores the personality and politics of Benjamin Netanyahu.  Isaac Herzog, the new Labour Party leader argued the division of the land is needed to maintain the future of Israel as a Jewish democratic state.’

The deal struck between Iran and the P5+1 nations in November 2013, is the subject of Ben Cohen’s interview with Olli Heinonen the former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Deputy Director General.

The relationship between some demonising forms of ‘anti-Zionism’ and contemporary antisemitism is the concern of several contributors to Fathom 5.

Dave Rich explains the unwelcome arrival of the Quenelle, Lesley Klaff examines the ugly phenomenon of ‘Holocaust Inversion,’ while David Hirsh reviews those aspects of Jewish left-wing anti-Zionism that have helped foster BDS activism in the West. Martyn Hudson looks back at the life of the Polish historian and socialist Isaac Deutscher, and Michael Allen reviews Gil Troy’s study of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the US Ambassador to the United Nations who opposed the ‘Zionism is Racism’ resolution passed by the General Assembly in 1975.

Two book reviews discuss aspects of the history of Zionism. Colin Shindler praises Shlomo Avineri’s study of Theodor Herzl for ‘casting a new light on the short, troubled and driven life’ of the founder of Zionism. Liam Hoare reviews Yossi Klein-Halevy’s Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation.

Israel’s Arab citizens are the focus of two important essays by Safa Abu-Rabia and Joshua Muravchik. Abu-Rabia maps the emergence of an exciting new Bedouin Arab leadership in Israel’s Negev region, while Muravchik shows that when it comes to evening out the differences between its Jewish and Arab citizens, Israel has done rather better than most countries encompassing sharply diverse nationalities. We also spoke to Sayed Kashua, the creator of the hugely popular Israeli television sitcom Arab Labour and one of the country’s most successful writers.

The remarkable journeys taken by two iconic American Jews are the subject of warm appreciations. Steven Lee Beeberon Lou Reed and Peter Ryley on Emma Goldman.

Yair Raveh reviews two films that take as their subject the murder of a Shin-Bet agent by his informant. Bethlehem is an Israeli film by first time director Yuval Adler, and Omar is an Oscar-nominated Palestinian movie by Hany Abu-Assad. Finally, we spoke to Yariv Ben-Yehuda about the Israeli rock opera Sakhir.

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