Looking for old stuff on Engage?

People might have noticed that the old Engage website is dead. If anybody wants to find a piece from that old website, they can google it, find the web address and plug it into the WayBackWhen machine. Which is a marvel.

They can then ask me to put it onto the current Engage site, and I might do that, if the piece is worth rescuing.

On the WayBackWhen machine, the first Engage Website is available here:


And the second Engage website is here:


Some years later

First they came for the Jews
and I said it was a smear,
First they came for the Jews,
and I said it was all a Tory plot,
First they came for the Jews,
and I said it was all a clever ploy to silence debate about Israel
First they came for the Jews
and I said what about other forms of racism
First they came for the Jews,
and I said look at all their crimes
First they came for the Jews,
and I said that may have been true back then, but not now.
First they came for the Jews,
And I said they brought it down on themselves
First they came for the Jews,
and I said they were liars.

Anomymous, 2016

Jackie Walker: in the tradition of Bruno Bauer

This piece is written by an academic in London who wishes to remain anonymous.

The authors of today’s letter printed in the Guardian ask why Walker’s comments are antisemitic. That answer can be found, as so often, in the very origins of modern antisemitism, most notably in the anti-emancipationist arguments of sections of the left.

Here is Bruno Bauer on the subject that Jewish particularism will always trump Universal humanity,

“Very well,” it is said, and the Jew himself says it, “the Jew is to become emancipated not as a Jew, not because he is a Jew, not because he possesses such an excellent, universally human principle of morality; on the contrary, the Jew will retreat behind the citizen and be a citizen, although he is a Jew and is to remain a Jew. That is to say, he is and remains a Jew, although he is a citizen and lives in universally human conditions: his Jewish and restricted nature triumphs always in the end over his human and political obligations. The prejudice remains in spite of being outstripped by general principles. But if it remains, then, on the contrary, it outstrips everything else.”

More recently, the idea that Jews exploit the memory of the Holocaust in their own name and so deny recognition of other sufferings is common among far-right nationalist groups in several Eastern European countries.

Yet, this is not the only debt Walker owes to the tradition of antisemitism.

Just as Bauer argued that as long as Jews remain Jews they will be the enemies of a progressive emancipatory politics, so Walker picks up the same refrain, this time, however, referring not to Jews per se, but to those who raise the issue of antisemitism,

All racism is abhorrent and I’m not saying that anti-semitism does not exist in the Labour party…I am saying that claims of its significance are being exaggerated for political purposes and this has been done at huge cost to our movement,to our communities and to many individual people.

The question, therefore, is not why Walker’s comments are antisemitic, but, rather, how can people argue they are not?

This piece is written by an academic in London who wishes to remain anonymous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But as Rich dryly comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dave Rich is talking about his new book: ‘The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and anti-Semitism’

jlmJewish Labour Movement, North West invites you to hear Dave Rich talk about his new book:

The Left’s Jewish Problem:

Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and anti-Semitism

Date: Sunday October 9th, 6-00pm


Venue: North Manchester

(TBA after registering)

No admission without registering first


To Register Email:






Does the Labour Party have a problem with antisemitism? Jewish supporters are deserting Labour under Jeremy Corbyn and the party has held three different inquiries into antisemitism this year. Dave Rich’s timely new book looks at the growth of an anti-Israel Left, that includes Young Liberals in the 1960s, Trotskyists in the 1980s and parts of the present Labour Party. It looks at the damaged relations between British Jews and the Labour Party, and what can be done to address antisemitism in politics today.

Dave Rich is Deputy Director of Communications at the Community Security Trust. He is also an Associate Research Fellow at the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism, Birkbeck College, University of London, where he was awarded his PhD in 2015.

Ilan Pappe admits that BDS was not initiated by a “call” from Palestinian Civil Society

A Palestinian activist and scholar, Ruba Salih, who is chairing a session tries to correct Ilan Pappé at one point, saying:

“Well the Palestinains launched BDS in 2005.”

“Yes, yes,” replies Pappé.  He makes a face which shows that he knows that what is being said is not true.  “Not really, but yes.  OK.  For historical records, yes.”

Ruba Salih then smiles, strokes his shoulder and makes clear: “That’s important”.

Pappé replies to her, nodding and smiling, quietly, embarrassed, patronisingly, knowingly: “It’s not true but it’s important.”

[This video comes from David Collier’s website, Beyond the Great Divide.]

Ilan Pappé knows that it is a lie that the boycott campaign was launched by a “call” from “Palestinian civil society”.  He knows it is a lie, but he’s content nevertheless for it to be solidified into what he calls “historical records”.

In the 1970s and 80s the ANC, which positioned itself as the voice of the whole South African nation, called for a boycott of South Africa.  Campaigners for the boycott positioned themselves as passive responders to the “call” of the oppressed.    The BDS campaign against Israel has, since 2005, tried to position itself in the same way.   However in truth, British anti-Israel activists started the boycott campaign and they persuaded people in Palestine to issue the “call”.  Although neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas have issued a “call”, the BDS movement says that the “call” is issued by “Palestinian Civil Society”.

Ilan Pappé now admits that the “call” did not come from the Palestinians but he makes it clear that he is willing to go along with the pretence that it was.

The pretence is politically important because it positions Palestinians as being the initiators of the “call” and people outside the region as passive responders to the voice of “the oppressed”.

I wrote the following in 2007 (from p. 130) about the actual conception of the campaign for the academic boycott of Israel.  It was thought up in 2002 in England:

In April 2002 Steven and Hilary Rose ‘initiated’[1] the call for a moratorium on European research collaboration with Israel.  Later they participated in setting up BRICUP, the British Campaign for the Universities of Palestine and PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.  It subsequently became an important element of their political rhetoric that they are not initiators of the boycott call but are, rather, responding passively to a call from within Palestine.

In May 2002 Mona Baker, an academic at UMIST, fired two Israeli academics, Miriam Shlesinger from the board of her journal, The Translator and Gideon Toury from the board of her journal, Translation Studies Abstracts because of their institutional connections to Israeli universities.  Both have long and distinguished records as campaigners for human rights and for peace in Israel and Palestine.[2]

In May 2003, Sue Blackwell proposed a motion  (Woodward 2003) at AUT (Association of University Teachers) Council asking members to sever ‘any academic links they may have with official Israeli institutions, including universities.’ AUT Council discussed the motion and it was comfortably defeated. …

In April 2005 Sue Blackwell came back to AUT council with what she said [3] was a more sophisticated and tactical attempt to win a boycott.

[1]  Steven and Hilary Rose did ‘initiate’ the call for a moratorium on European research collaboration with Israel in April 2002, according to Steven Rose’s own account in his profile on The Guardian’s website, Comment Is Free, http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/steven_rose/profile.html, downloaded 14 February 2005.  It was later that they portrayed themselves as answering a Palestinian call rather than themselves initiating action.

[2]  Mona Baker’s ‘personal statement’ is available on her website at http://www.monabaker.com/personalstatement.htm (downloaded 14 February 2007), together with links to the correspondence she had with the woman who had been her friend, Miriam Shlesinger, and her letter to Gideon Toury.  She writes: ‘In May 2002, following the sharp rise in the level of atrocities committed against the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza, I decided to join the call to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The boycott was conceived along the same lines as the sanctions which ultimately led to the collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa. The call was initiated by Professor Steven Rose (Physics, Open University) and Professor Hilary Rose (Bradford University). … I first wrote to Miriam Shlesinger (Bar Ilan University, Israel) on 23 May explaining my decision and asking her to resign from the Editorial Board of The Translator. She refused. I also wrote to Gideon Toury (Tel Aviv University, Israel) on 8 June along the same lines, asking him to resign from the panel of Consulting Editors of Translation Studies Abstracts. He too refused. I removed them both from the boards of the respective journals.’

[3]  ‘It’s a tactical attempt to get it through,’ admits Birmingham’s Sue Blackwell, one of the motion’s authors. ‘We’ve got to be a bit more sophisticated. We are now better organised. One of the reasons we didn’t win last time was that there was no clear public call from Palestinians for the boycott. Now we have that, in writing.’ (Curtis 2005)



“We call it the Livingstone Formulation”


Follow this link for Mark Gardner’s explanation of the “Livingstone Formulation” in Parliament [30s video clip]

The Livingstone Formulation is a means of refusing to engage with an accusation of antisemitism by responding to it with a counter-accusation that the accuser is crying wolf; that they are mobilizing Jewish victimhood in a bad faith effort to silence criticism of Israel.  This way serious discussion of antisemitism is avoided.

Read more here by following this link to an explanation and examples of the Livingstone Formulation. 

Ken Livingstone (2006):

“For far too long the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government, as I have been.”

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