Stop accusing the Jewish community of conspiring against the left – David Hirsh

This piece, by David Hirsh, is from Open Democracy

David Hirsh

Towards the end of his life, the work of my teacher and friend Robert Fine came to focus more and more on the struggle within the left against antisemitism. This was continuous with his lifelong concern about the importance of what happened inside the left, and specifically the ever present tension between democratic and totalitarian thinking. Antisemitism has consistently been not only a threat to Jews but also a visible symptom of the rise of anti-democratic politics. Fine’s last book, written with Philip Spencer, was called ‘Antisemitism and the Left: On the return of the Jewish Question’.

The key insight, signposted in the title, is that ‘The Jewish Question’ is always the wrong question; it is never about Jews, but always about antisemitism. In his libel case against Deobrah Lipstadt, Holocaust denier David Irving kept returning to the Jewish Question:

‘Why have they been so hated for 3000 years that there has been pogrom after pogrom in country after country?’

The answer, of course, is that antisemitism is never a response to what Jews do, it is caused by what antisemites do. Even when Jews do bad things, the work of transforming this into an antisemitic narrative is the responsibility of the antisemites. Sometimes Jews are held collectively responsible in subtle ways.  For example, an assumption of guilt becomes the norm. Jews may be free to disavow, but already being Jewish in a political environment has become more difficult; and the precise nature and intensity of the required disavowal is sometimes beyond what Jews are willing and able, under duress, to offer.

There is currently an unprecedented consensus within the Jewish community in Britain that there is a serious problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party and that Labour’s stubborn replacement of the IHRA definition with a home-made version is symbolic of that problem. The consensus reaches across the four main religious communities, Liberal, Reform, Masorti and Orthodox; the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies, the Community Security Trust and the Union of Jewish Students; Jewish journalists like Hadley Freeman, Jonathan Freedland, David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen and Daniel Finknelstein; Jewish scholars of antisemitism like David Seymour, Robert Fine, Philip Spencer, Anthony Julius, Simon Schama, Eve Garrard, Lesley Klaff; the three major Jewish newspapers speak with a single voice; Jewish Labour MPs such as Ruth Smeeth, Luciana Berger, Margaret Hodge, Ian Austen, Louise Ellman are in agreement. The voters of Barnet have twice told the party what they think in clear and unambiguous terms.

There is also a small but noisy group of antizionist Jews, who mobilize their Jewish identities politically in the hope of amplifying their voices, who speak ‘asaJew’, who say they do not experience antisemitism and who are not able to sniff it around them. This is not a case of two Jews, three opinions, but of a united community and a tiny oppositional faction.

How did Judge Macpherson help us to make sense of this kind of situation? He did not say that if somebody says they experience racism it must be true; neither did he say that victims of racism have the right to define their own oppression. But he did say that victims of racism should be taken seriously. There should be an initial presumption that their view is right.

Nancy Hartsock classically argued:

A standpoint is not simply an interested position (interpreted as bias) but is interested in the sense of being engaged . . . . A standpoint . . . carries with it the contention that there are some perspectives on society from which, however well-intentioned one may be, the real relations of humans with each other and with the natural world are not visible.

But ‘The Jewish Question’ begins with the opposite presumption, that one should start by assuming that the Jews, at least those who refuse to disavow Israel, are up to something sly when they say they experience antisemitism.

Sometimes Jews are accused of being ‘hysterical’, as the President of the Board of Deputies was by a veteran Jewish socialist in a recent radio debate; there is a long antisemtic tradition of the misogynistic ridiculing of Jews; we are accused of being shrill or paranoid.

But more often we are accused of the opposite: being calculating and dishonest. The standard response to Jews is not that they have misjudged the situation, perhaps for understandable reasons related to their history. Most British Jews after all, are descended from those who tended to worry about antisemitism; European Jews who assumed that everything would turn out fine don’t have many descendants.

The standard response to Jews is that they know that their claims of having experienced antisemitism are false, and they persist in making them anyway for selfish tribal reasons. It is a nasty little trick to silence the voice of the Palestinians and to smear their great supporter Jeremy Corbyn. The debate about antisemtism, in this view, is just an underhand way of trying to win the Israel-Palestine debate.

Moreover this is the charge made against the community as a whole, not only against particular individuals. It is the community as a whole which is accused of ‘pouring petrol on the fire’ or of orchestrating a ‘cynical attempt to challenge Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership’. Make no mistake, the charge against the Jewish community is that it is involved in a conspiracy against the left. Any individual could get it wrong. But when a whole community gets it wrong together, in an organised and co-ordinated way, and in bad faith, then the allegation is one of Jewish conspiracy to lie and to smear.

More and more, antisemitism, racism and xenophobia are portrayed as the cry of the oppressed while antiracism is constructed as a discourse of power, mobilized by a cosmopolitan global (neo)liberal elite to silence that voice and keep the oppressed down.

A small number of antizionist Jews, constantly re-branding themselves into organisations with new names, make it their central political work to give evidence against the Jewish community and to explain to non-Jews how its claim that antisemitism is a serious problem in the Party is in fact fabricated. If I was a non-Jewish socialist who had been educated into antisemtic ways of thinking by Jews, I would be furious when I found out what had happened.

The effect of the construction of a ‘Jewish Question’ is particularly marked in its effect on left wing Jews. When Peter Willsman bombastically declared that he wasn’t going to be lectured by Trump fanatics with no evidence, he was also talking about Labour Jews. It is after all us who have been at the forefront of the battle against the antisemtism which was imported into the centre of our party by the Corbyn faction. Labour Jews know even more clearly and intimately what Labour antisemitism is like than Trump supporting Jews do. And I can tell Peter Willsman one thing very clearly: not one of us Labour Jews supports Trump. Not one of us.

But we are used to what ‘The Jewish Question’ does to us. It constructs us as belonging to the Jewish community which follows the Trump line; or the Tory line or the Blairite line or the neoliberal or neocon line. We are not heard as ourselves but only as spokespeople for Jewry. It makes us aliens in the Labour movement, on the left, in the unions and in sociology departments. It puts us outside of the community of the good, of comradely debate and of rational discussion.

Young people on today’s left are being educated to recognise those who raise the issue of antisemitism as being more hostile to progressive politics than those who themselves slip into antisemitism. In this way, left wing and democratic Jews are being excluded from their political community and are being made politically homeless. Antisemites have always positioned themselves as victims of the Jews; Corbyn is positioned as the victim of Margaret Hodge and Ian Austen, who are disciplined as though they are agressors, for speaking out against antisemitism.

Skwakbox, a supporting voice of the ruling faction, tweeted that ‘The Jewish War against Corbyn risks bringing real antisemitism to Britain’. Imagine people on the left in any other context being unable to understand and de-code such threatening victim-blaming.

Jeremy Corbyn responds by repeating, in general terms, his opposition to antisemitism. But what he is not able to do is to demonstrate that he understands what contemporary left wing antiemitism is. In particular he is not able to make the link between his own politics of trenchant and often irrationally overblown hostility to Israel, and the appearance of those examples of antisemitism  amongst his supporters which everybody can recognise as antisemitic.

This debate makes no sense if we do not talk about Corbyn’s own record of siding with antisemites, of offering political support to antisemites and of making alliances with antisemites; of considering some kinds of antisemites to be part of the global struggle against oppression.  Whatever the ‘true’ aggressor is named, be it capitalism, imperialism or modernity, it is considered responsible for war, poverty, famine and alienation; and anybody who opposes it, even if they are antisemtic, are considered to be on the progressive side. And then Israel is positioned as being a key element to that global structure of violence and oppression. And the democratic states are positioned as global exploiters and aggressors.

Corbyn has been paid to make propaganda on Press TV in English for the Iranian regime; he has used that platform to say that he sees ‘the hand of Israel’ behind Jihadi terrorism in Egypt when we know that it is Iran which finances Jihadi terrorism across the region; he has used that platform to complain that the BBC is biased, in particular in favour of the view that Israel has the right to exist; as though there was something inappropriate about that.

Cobyn has jumped to the defence of Raed Salah, the man who mobilized medieval blood libel against Jews, saying that he was not dangerous; and he has jumped to the defence of Stephen Sizer, who claims Israel was behind 9/11, portraying him as the victim of a Zionist smear; and he has supported the ostensibly pro-Palestinian campaign of Holocaust denier Paul Eissen, claiming that Eissen’s politics were not public knowledge at the time. Corbyn sided with those responsible for the Nazi-style mural which showed Jewish caricatures getting rich off the back of the workers.

Corybn famously referred to Hamas and Hezbollah and ‘friends’, but more damningly, in the same speech, he judged those Jew-hating organisations to be dedicated to peace, to the good of the Palestinian people, and to political and social justice. If somebody claimed that the KKK was dedicated to the good of the US South, we would have no problem in reading that as a statement of political support for the Klan.

On Holocaust Memorial Day Jeremy Corbyn booked a room in Parliament for an alternative event which would take the spotlight off the Holocaust and other genocides and instead make the case for the claim that Jews are the new Nazis and that Gaza is run by Israel like a piece of Nazi genocidal infrastructure.

The list goes on.  Jeremy Corbyn needs to account for his own political history in relation to antisemitism. He needs to explain why he got these things wrong and what he has learnt from it. But he stubbornly refuses, offering instead watery politicians’ apologies for offence caused. He doesn’t only need to apologize to Jews he needs to apologize to the Labour Party and to the British electorate.

The farce of botching up a home-made definition of antisemitism to allow Labour people to continue to do things which are internationally recognised as antisemitic is embarrassing. The Labour claim that no rhetoric against Israel could be antisemitic in the absence of antisemitic intent is a break with antiracist scholarship and activist practice. Macpherson dealt with this decades ago. When he said there was a problem of institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police, he specifically did not mean that individual officers were guilty of racist intent. He made clear and explicit what we all knew, which was that racism appears as norms, as practice, as politics, as discourse, as ways of doing things, as ways of thinking and as canteen culture.

The examples of antisemtism which we can all recognise in our party (the pockets, as our leader called them) are connected to the politics which have moved into the centre of our movement from the periphery, and of which Jeremy Corbyn himself, and his ex Communist Party advisors, Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray, are symbolic.

Like a Police Federation rep from 1982, Jeremy Corbyn keeps on saying that if there are any antisemites, he will expel them; there’s a bad apple in every barrel, and not just in ours. But political antisemitism is an objective, external social phenomenon, not just a moral corruption inside the souls of some bad individuals. And there is a specific and authentically left wing tradition of political antisemitism which is not seen in other places.

The IHRA definition is not perfect but the quest for textual perfection is misplaced. It is quite explicitly not a substitute for political judgment. When it says, for example, that comparing Israel to Nazis may be antisemitic, it is clear that this is a judgment which must be made, depending on the complex interaction of context, intent, how the action is understood and what effect it might have.  IHRA is a political document which takes account of the fact that there is a long, and currently strong, tradition of left wing antisemitism.

There have been claims that IHRA chills free speech and in particular that it interferes with Palestinians’ rights to define their own oppression. This is quite wrong. Diverse Palestinians are free to define their oppression as they see fit, some in antiracist terms and some in the antisemitic terms of the Hamas charter; but if they want to be members of the Labour Party then they are not free to define their oppression in antisemitic terms. But it is not Palestinians, by and large, who are responsible for the antisemitic rhetoric and exclusions in our movement; it is more often those who are drawn towards expressing their feelings of anger against Jews, than those who are doing the hard work of solidarity with people in the Middle East, people who are for peace, who are for the Labour movement, and who are against racism and antisemitism. The most committed Palestine Solidarity activist I have ever known, John Strawson, who taught law for years at Birzeit University in the West Bank, has recently resigned from the Labour Party in disgust at its political culture of antisemitism. We need to think about why we are no longer able to provide people like him with a political home.

More and more we are seeing people on the right declaring that the real problem of antisemitism comes from the left and from Muslims; and this is answered by people on the left stating that the real threat of antisemitism is to be found in European and American right wing populism. Everybody points at the people whose politics they already hate, and they say: ‘The real problem is over there!’  But of course, we all need to start over here, within our own political family.

Never has it been more important for Labour to embrace democratic politics but never has its anti-democratic tradition been more to the fore. We should understand antisemitism as a warning about our own movement, not as a fiction invented by alien and right wing Jews. We might soon find ourselves with the job of clearing up the disaster of Brexit; we might find ourselves in a straight fight with a Boris Johnson, full-Trump, Tory Party.  The stakes could not be higher and we have to get ourselves into shape for a defence of democratic life.

David Hirsh

Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London

Author of ‘Contemporary Left Antisemtiism’

Member of the Jewish Labour Movement and the Labour Party

This piece, by David Hirsh, is from Open Democracy

Jeremy Corbyn’s underwhelming response to concerns about antisemitism.

Corbyn’s latest piece in the Guardian opens with a predictable affirmation of his own antiracist credentials:

I have spent my life campaigning for recognition of the strength of a multicultural society.

before moving on to some platitudinous remarks about the Jewish contribution to Britain.

Then followed this bleakly amusing disjunct:

So no one can, or should, try to dismiss or belittle the concerns expressed by so many Jewish people and organisations about what has been happening in the party I am proud to lead.

[That’s good – so what comes next?]

I do not for one moment accept that a Labour government would represent any kind of threat, let alone an “existential threat”, to Jewish life in Britain, as three Jewish newspapers recently claimed. That is the kind of overheated rhetoric that can surface during emotional political debates.

He does go on to acknowledge that there is a problem but is quite vague about both the nature of the problem and the steps which need to be taken:

I want to go further. I want Jewish people to feel at home in the Labour party and be able to play their full part in our work to take our country forward. And I appreciate that this cannot happen while antisemitic attitudes still surface within Labour, and while trust between our party and the community is at such a low ebb.

The problem isn’t really that ‘antisemitic attitudes still surface’ – that’s almost bound to happen from time to time, just as it does in the Conservative Party. What matters more is how these issues are dealt with and what kind of steer is given by the leadership. We’ve seen how Labour has dragged its feet over dealing with individual instances of antisemitism, and how senior Labour figures such as Chris Williamson have only compounded the problem by questioning the integrity of those raising concerns.

Corbyn continues sententiously:

The Holocaust was the greatest crime of the 20th century. Jewish people who are feeling concerned must be listened to. And we would not be socialists if we were not prepared to go the extra mile and beyond to address Jewish concerns.

It’s interesting that ‘Jewish concerns’ are foregrounded here. Of course in one sense it’s entirely appropriate to attend (if only fleetingly and rhetorically here) to Jewish concerns. But Corbyn glosses over the fact that the root cause of the problem isn’t Jewish concern – that’s the effect –  but antisemitism.  The significance of this distinction is made more apparent in the reference to going the extra mile.  This smacks of supererogatory effort, something above and beyond what is necessary.   (Interestingly the idiom is also sometimes traced to the words of Jesus.)

Corbyn goes on to offer a weaselly explanation for revising the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Our code is a good faith attempt to contextualise those examples and make them legally watertight for use as part of our disciplinary procedures, as well as to draw on additional instances of antisemitism.

Although Corbyn does at least acknowledge there should have been more consultation with the Jewish community his summary of what was changed is misleading.

Our actual differences are in fact very small – they really amount to half of one example out of 11, touching on free speech in relation to Israel.

A logical inference of this statement is that Corbyn believes the revised document unequivocally states that Nazi/Zionist parallels are antisemitic.  If he had actually wanted this article to make anyone sit up (apart from the ever-enthusiastic Owen Jones) he could have explicitly apologised for his involvement in ‘Never Again for Anyone: Auschwitz to Gaza.’ That 2010 event happens to have been in the news recently, but it is of course just one of countless examples of Corbyn apparently excusing or failing to recognize antisemitism.  Here’s just one further example – from Ido Vock on Twitter – of how identifying and condemning antisemitic tropes serves to implicate Corbyn himself:

Here’s the thing… if people blaming 9/11 on Israel have ‘no place in the Labour party’ … can someone who blamed an Islamist terror attack against Egypt on Israel have a place in the Labour party?

No wonder he prefers to stick to warm and fuzzy generalities.

Corbyn might also have been honest about his own involvement in associating Zionism with racism. In the article he states:

In the 1970s some on the left mistakenly argued that “Zionism is racism”. That was wrong, but to assert that “anti-Zionism is racism” now is wrong too.

As James Vaughan demonstrates here, the equation was clearly made by the PSC in the 1980s, and Corbyn, then and since, has been a strong supporter of that organisation:

It’s difficult to imagine many people, formerly sceptical, will have their minds changed by this piece – particularly as a substantial section was copied word for word from an article which appeared in the Standard back in April.

Corbyn really needs to ask why – despite protestations such as this – he still attracts enthusiastic support from anti-Semites:

People who dish out antisemitic poison need to understand: you do not do it in my name. You are not my supporters and have no place in our movement.

‘And yet they buzz around you like wasps round a lager can’ as someone colourfully put it on Twitter last night. Equally toxic is the way in which his supporters fetishise their leader at the expense of others’ well founded anxieties, as demonstrated in the use of the #wearecorbyn hashtag, and the dismissive (or worse) comments associated with it.  As Leon Waksberg noted:

It’s sort of good that he said that the antisemites don’t act in his name… I wish he’d said that the people who deny the scale of the antisemitism don’t act in his name too. Cos a lot of them think they do. And he’s given them reason to think they do.

 

John Strawson: “I support the Palestinians – and I left Labour this week over anti-Semitism”

This piece, by John Strawson, is from Jewish News. 

This week I left the Labour Party due to the failure of the National Executive Committee to adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition and examples of anti-Semitism.

Despite the pleadings of the Jewish community, the Labour Party instead arrogantly adopted its definition which effectively licenses forms of anti-Semitism.

It created a test of anti-Semitic “intent,” not in the IHRA definition, which would be difficult to prove while allowing for comparisons to be made between the Israel and the Nazis.

Worse, if this were possible, it would allow members to claim that the creation of Israel itself was a racist endeavour.

For me this was crossing a line and transformed the party I had been a member for decades into an institutionally anti-Semitic organisation.

The Labour party leadership claims that the reason for the not adopting the full IHRA definition and examples is because it wants to ensure free speech on Israel and Palestine.

Yet the IHRA definition explicitly says that “criticism of Israel similar to that levered against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

As a staunch supporter of Palestinian self-determination and an opponent of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory after the 1967 war, I regularly criticise Israeli policy.

For a period of 11 years I was involved in a European project supporting Birzeit University’s Institute of Law.

I was a visiting professor teaching at the Institute and participating in conferences several times a year.

I was there during the worst of the second Intifada and I know something about how dreadful the humiliations and oppression of occupation are.

I agree with the International Court of Justice that the wall that has been built on Palestinian territory is illegal.

However, I can make all these criticisms without resorting to anti-Semitism or calling for the destruction of Israel.

In any event anti-Semitism hardly aids the cause of the Palestinians.

There is also another fundamental principle; the creation of the Israel was ethically correct.

The Marxist Isaac Deutscher called it a “historic necessity.”  As the United Nations partition plan recognised, Jews, have the right to self-determination.

The rationale for Israel was the profound anti-Semitism that ran through the sinews of Europe over centuries.

Those who support Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) often attack Israel as a racist state – something the Labour party definition would allow – but Israel is not a racist state, it is a refugee state.

In the last three years the Labour party has become the largest organisation circulating anti-Semitism.

It has been enabled by Jeremy Corbyn who has not only refused to fight it but has become complicit with it.

As he is my MP I have written to him several times. In his last letter to me dated April 24 2018, he wrote, “the evidence of my sincerity in dealing with this problem will be in the elimination of anti-Semitism in our movement.”

I now understand that what he actually meant was that anti-Semitism would be eliminated by a weaker definition.

This piece, by John Strawson, is from Jewish News. 

Also by John Strawson:

Zionism and Apartheid: The Analogy in the Politics of International Law – John Strawson – Engage Journal Issue 2 – May 2006

John Strawson on the University of Johannesburg’s boycott decision

Perry Anderson’s House of Zion: A Symposium | John Strawson

Why I am against the boycott, by John Strawson – 18 May 2005

Understanding Labour’s disavowal of the IHRA definition

This piece, by David Hirsh, is from Jewish News. 

In September 2001 at the global conference against racism in Durban there was a campaign to construct Zionism as the key racism on

David Hirsh

the planet. Opposition to antisemitism was presented as incompatible with opposition to racism. Jews were said to be white, Israel racist, and both were constructed as enemies of antiracism. 9/11 followed a week later and the peace process collapsed at the end of that year.

A number of Jewish NGOs pushed back against the splitting of antiracism from anti-antisemitism. They wanted left wing, pro-Palestinian and Jihadi antisemitism to be taken as seriously as that from the right and the fascists. The Jewish NGOs won a hearing within the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe) and the EU (European Union) but not within the UN (United Nations).

They drafted a definition which could help monitor and oppose antisemitism, especially in the newly democratic countries of Europe. This was eventually adopted by the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance), the British Government and the US State Department.

Sometimes the IHRA definition is criticized for being political. But in the world as it is, how could a definition of antisemitism be anything else?  The point is what are its politics?  And what are the politics of those who denounce it?

In such a contested realm, no definition could substitute for political judgment. There can be no app for your phone to tell you what is antisemitic. The IHRA definition offers a framework which can be helpful in making an informed judgement.

It offers examples of things which may be considered, depending on context, to be antisemitic. It says that denying Jewish self-determination may be antisemtic if it is claimed that any state of Israel would necessarily be a racist endeavour. It says that it may be right in some contexts to judge that comparing Israeli policy to that of the Nazis is antisemitic. It offers less controversial examples too. And then it emphasises the point that ‘criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic’.

Opponents of the definition say that some of the things they want to do, like denouncing Israelis as Nazis, and treating people they say are Zionists as one would treat racists, are deemed antisemitic under the definition. They say that even though the definition is clear that criticism of Israel is legitimate, it does not really mean it. They imply that even within the definition of antisemitism itself, the Jews are up to something sinister.

In April 2009, President Ahmadinejad made an antisemitic speech at the UN. Seumas Milne, now a key advisor to Jeremy Corbyn, denounced those states which protested against the speech by walking out, in the following terms: ‘what credibility is there in Geneva’s all-white boycott?’ Milne was pushing the Durban understanding that opposition to left or Jihadi antisemitism was likely to be a kind of white supremacism, perpetrated by the powerful and functioning to silence the voice of the oppressed.

You don’t have to treat the IHRA definition as holy to be angry about Labour’s disavowal. People are angry because Labour is sacrificing its antiracist tradition to legitimize those of its members and allies who want to do things which the definition warns against. Labour doesn’t like the definition because it is a political definition which describes and opposes political antisemitism.

The biggest specific problem with Labour’s homemade definition is that it declares that hostility to Israel could only be antisemitic if motivated by antisemitic intent. This is a radical break from everything which is accepted in the scholarly study of racism and in antiracist practice.

The Macpherson finding that there was a problem of institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police was ground breaking because it recognised that there were threatening forms of racism which were not motivated by racist hatred. There could be institutional and discursive racism, racism in thoughtless common sense and racism in norms and practices which just seemed normal. The investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s murder was not messed up by the police because of malicious intent but because there was racism which was real but was not conscious.

The kind of antisemitism which is now legitimate in the Labour Party is pushed and defended by people who think of themselves as opponents of antisemitism. They have no antisemitic intent and so would not be found antisemitic by a tribunal using the homemade definition. Yet they still ostracize those who oppose antisemitism and they are responsible for a culture which nurtures and licenses antisemitic ways of thinking.

You could not even prove that Ken Livingstone himself is motivated by antisemitic intent.  He probably isn’t.

Macpherson did not say that the victims of racism should be allowed to define their own oppression.  What he said was that any investigation should start by taking the experience of victims seriously.

As the letter by 69 diverse rabbis shows there is an overwhelming consensus within the Jewish community in opposition to Labour antisemitism.  From all denominations, from all political parties, from the Union of Jewish Students to the Board of Deputies, the Community Security Trust and the Jewish Leadership Council, Jews are fundamentally in agreement on this question.  This is not a case of two Jews three opinions, it is a case of 270,000 Jews, one consensus, and a tiny but noisy “asaJew” opposition determined to undermine it.

The refusal of the Party to accept the IHRA definition is symbolic of its refusal to oppose left antisemitism. Today’s Labour Party is led by people who embrace political antisemitism. Their politics on this issue comes from the Soviet Union, from Durban and from the Iranian regime for whom Jeremy Corbyn worked as a propagandist. He did not mis-speak when he claimed that his friends in Hamas and Hezbollah were dedicated to peace and justice; that is his worldview and has been for decades. Corbyn isn’t going to endorse a definition of antisemitism which may influence people to judge his political friends to be antisemitc.

  • David Hirsh is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Author of Contemporary Left Antisemitism
This piece, by David Hirsh, is from Jewish News. 

Robert Fine 1945-2018

Robert Fine died today.  Robert was a friend and teacher to many of us.  Robert was one of the most important social theorists of our time.

Robert was also one of the political and intellectual forces behind Engage: behind the campaign against the academic boycott of Israel, against BDS and against antisemitism.

If people don’t know Robert or his work, then they can still engage with his writing.

One of the great things about Robert’s work is that it is both absolutely serious and brilliant, but it is also accessible. He has always written to engage people with important things, never to impress precocious grad students.

His book on left antisemitism, written with Philip Spencer, is ‘Antisemitism and the left: On the return of the Jewish Question’. It is a defence of the Marxist and critical tradition against the ‘socialism of fools’ that is now, so sadly, as important as ever.

His book ‘Cosmopolitanism’ is an overview of a key concept of contemporary social theory and it distils much of what is important to his work and his view of the world into one paperback.

His book on Hegel, Marx and Arendt, ‘Political Investigations’ creates a framework for thinking about the critique of contemporary society, while keeping hold of the critique of the critique – in other words, how to think about making the world better while learning the lessons of how such projects have made it much worse. Marx claimed to be turning Hegel on his head; Fine argues that Marx was much more a follower of Hegel than he knew; that Marx’s capital should be read side by side with Hegel’s Philosophy of Right – not read as a correction to it.

Before apartheid in South Africa was defeated, Robert wrote, with Dennis Davis, ‘Beyond Apartheid – Labour and Liberation in South Africa’ – a critique of apartheid, a sociology of the anti-apartheid movement and also a critique of some of the politics of the ANC – and a specifically socialist take on the liberation movement – work some of whose warnings are even now being shown to have been important.

And before that he wrote an absolute classic, from which students are still taught about Marxist theories of law, ‘Democracy and the rule of law’ – also a critique of liberal theories and practices of law, but at the same time a critique of anti-Liberal Marxism.

I think Robert would have loved the idea that people who didn’t know his work might still start reading it, teaching it and engaging with it now.

Here are links to some of the things he wrote on contemporary antisemitism:

On Doing the Sociology of Antisemitism – https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/robert-fine-on-doing-the-sociology-of-antisemitism/

“Sociologically speaking, I have been a bit of a fly-by-night. Instead of devoting 40 years of my life to the study of One Thing, I have flown from prisons and asylums, to police and the law, to Marx and the Enlightenment, to South Africa and the nonracial unions, to Trotskyism and Stalinism, to nationalism and cosmopolitanism, and to Kant and Hegel. It keeps me busy but is perhaps not to be recommended as career trajectories go. My saving grace, if I have one, is that beneath the Many Things there is, I feel, One Thing to which I kept coming back.

This brings me to another of my ‘topics’ that I have begun to explore in recent years. It is the question of antisemitism. I have to say that of all my subject matters I have attempted to research, this has been by far the most fraught, troubled and anxiety-producing.   So I thought that rather than bottle it up in the corner of my study, I would share it with my European colleagues and ask those of you interested what you think about this particular concern.

My experience is that, with a certain proviso, it’s basically ok to speak about antisemitism in the past but it gets trickier to speak about it in the present.”

Karl Marx and the Radical Critique of Anti-Semitism – Robert Fine – Engage Journal Issue 2 – May 2006  – https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2015/11/04/karl-marx-and-the-radical-critique-of-anti-semitism-robert-fine-engage-journal-issue-2-may-2006/

“I don’t want to draw any direct connection between Marx’s battles with left-wing anti-Semitism in his time and the battles with anti-Semitism which go on in our own times. … However, I would wish to draw the following loose connections. First, modern, political anti-Semitism is a creature of the left as well as the right. We should abandon any fond hope that the universalism of the left inures it to anti-Semitic temptations. Second, there is a strong tradition of anti-Semitism on the Left. Indeed, the most intelligent and radical currents of left (including Marx) have placed the battle against anti-Semitism at the centre of their political thinking. Third, the significance of anti-Semitism on the Left lies not only in what was known as the Jewish question as such, but in helping to sow the seeds of totalitarian thinking and practice in anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist circles. And finally, there is a deep and enduring connection between the reconstruction of socialism as an enlightened, cosmopolitan radicalism and the overcoming of anti-Semitism in all its shapes and forms.”

Drawing Fire: Investigating the Accusations of Apartheid in Israel – Robert Fine  – https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/drawing-fire-investigating-the-accusations-of-apartheid-in-israel-robert-fine/

“In the metonymic use of apartheid, Israel is not called by its own name or understood in its own right but rather through the name of something seemingly associated in meaning with it. This rhetorical device has in turn been converted through processes of slippage into the metaphoric use of ‘apartheid’ in order to designate the core being of Israel. The attempt to portray an equivalence between Israel and apartheid has been further pursued through the synecdoche in which the part – say the shooting of Palestinian demonstrators by Israeli soldiers or land seizures and attacks on ordinary Palestinian civilians by Israeli settlers – is taken for the whole and then analogised with apartheid.”

The Palestine/Israel question and racialised discourses on Jews – Robert Finehttps://engageonline.wordpress.com/2015/02/11/the-palestineisrael-question-and-racialised-discourses-on-jews-robert-fine/

“Hannah Arendt put the matter in a typically robust way when she wrote that to treat the behaviour of Jews as the source of antisemitism is ‘the malicious and stupid insight of antisemites, who think that this vile tenet can account for hecatombs of human sacrifice’. Arendt added that ‘the foundations of antisemitism are found in developments that have very little to do with Jews’. This does not mean that some people do not use the actual behaviour of some Jews as material for their antisemitic phantasies, just as other people use the actual behaviour of some Muslims as material for their Islamophobic phantasies. Racism is a versatile beast that grabs hold of what it can. The history of every category of people contains misdeeds that can serve as fuel for the racist imagination, although the racist imagination is not limited to such real or imagined misdeeds.”

Fighting with phantoms – a contribution to the debate on antisemitism in Europe – https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/robert-fine-fighting-with-phantoms-a-contribution-to-the-debate-on-antisemitism-in-europe/

“The point of departure of this paper is the polarization of ways of thinking about antisemitism in Europe, between those who see its recent resurgence and those that affirm its empirical marginalization and normative delegitimation. The historical question raised by this polarization of discourses is this: what has happened to the antisemitism that once haunted Europe? Both the current camps—’alarmists’ and ‘deniers’, as they are sometimes known, or, perhaps more accurately, new antisemitism theorists and their critics—have the strength to challenge celebratory views of European civilization. One camp sees the return to Europe of an old antisemitism in a new and mediated guise. The other sees the return to Europe of a rhetoric of antisemitism that is not only anachronistic but also delusory and deceptive. Overshadowing this debate is the memory of the Holocaust and the continuing presence of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The aim of this paper is to get inside these discourses and deconstruct the dualism that generates homogenizing and stigmatizing typifications on either side. The spirit of Hannah Arendt hovers over this work and the question of the meaning of her legacy runs through the text.”

Robert Fine debates with the boycotters at Leeds University.  https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2014/03/21/robert-fine-debates-the-boycotters-in-leeds/

Robert Fine debates the boycott of Israel in the South African context.  https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2010/10/20/boycott-israel-desmond-tutu-david-newman-neve-gordon-david-hirsh-robert-fine-ran-greenstein-uri-avnery-farid-essack/

Robert’s contribution to “Whitewashed”, was perhaps his last work before he became ill; I think the last video of him talking.

Call for Papers – ESA RN31 mid term conference

Deadline 6 June

RN31 European Sociological Association, Ethnic Relations, Racism & Antisemitism

A safe place for the study of contemporary antisemitism, racism and ethnic relations, and the interconnections between them
Come along to Ferrara in September.

https://www.europeansociology.org/research-networks/rn31-ethnic-relations-racism-and-antisemitism

David Hirsh speaking in Trier, Essen and Vienna

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