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:
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.
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?
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.
The Left’s Jewish Problem:
Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and anti-Semitism
|Date:||Sunday October 9th, 6-00pm
(TBA after registering)
No admission without registering first
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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.
This is a guest post by Marko Attila Hoare.
Last autumn, a group of ‘anti-Zionists’ launched a harassment campaign against me. Charles Frith, a notorious Holocaust denier and particularly vicious Jew-hater, who had over 32,000 Twitter followers until Twitter suspended his account, telephoned my employers, Kingston University, posing as a job-seeker. After finding out the name of my immediate manager from an unsuspecting colleague, he sent a series of abusive and defamatory emails to me and my senior colleagues, accusing me, among other things, of ‘Zionism’, and turning Kingston into a centre for ‘child abuse’. Frith is someone who refers to the ‘fake 6m Holohoax figures’. He has tweeted that ‘the Auschwitz chambers were delousing stations in Germany and France’; that ‘Israel’s Mossad did 9/11’; that ‘Jewish Al-Sisi Runs Egypt; Now an Israeli-Occupied Territory’. He has blogged that the figure of six million Holocaust dead was fabricated before World War II, and that the real figure is ‘somewhere in between half a million to a million’. He has referred to David Cameron as a ‘Rothschild-Zionist tea boy’ and accused a senior British Jewish journalist of ‘milk(ing) the Holocaust gravy train like a 6 million lottery payout’. His last email to my university colleagues contained a disgusting war-porn picture, apparently of a graphically mutilated child, which he claimed was ‘Zionism in action’.
Frith had been set on me by his political fellow-travellers. One of these was Damian James Read, who Tweets under the name ‘@CockneyActivist’. Read is a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and apparently a Labour Party member, and he likes posting pictures of himself online, dressed in Palestinian flags. When David Cameron tweeted in remembrance of the ‘millions murdered in the holocaust’, Read tweeted back that ‘I think you mean 300,000. An horrific event I agree. But not 6 million is it’. Read is on record as claiming that ‘our economy’ is controlled by ‘the Rothschilds’[and refers to the ‘Zionist controlled media’.[He asked rhetorically on Twitter ‘Is it true that the BBC is in fact a dept of the Israel Embassy ? Is that why so many Zionist [sic] seem to have been given top jobs ?’He has ‘liked’ a tweet saying ‘Fuck the Zionist Jewish Apartheid State’ another complaining that the ‘6 million figure seems to have been repeated ad nauseum throught 20thC. Nazis blamed’; and a third saying, in relation to Israel, ‘it’s God chosen [sic] people. God told they [sic] could commit genocide with impunity just like the Nazis’. Read claims he contacted Kingston University, asking them to investigate my online activities. He and his Twitter gang bombarded the Kingston University twitter account with defamatory tweets about me.
The pretext that Read and Frith gave for fixating on me, was that they suspected that I was a pseudonymous blogger called ‘Soupy One’, who blogs about left-wing anti-Semitism. What was remarkable was how little it took to move from a suspicion to launching their harassment campaign, and how little they ultimately cared whether their suspicion was justified or not. Read decided I was ‘Soupy One’ because one of the latter’s posts tagged my name, and Read – not the sharpest knife in the drawer – thought the tag was the post author’s name. His second piece of ‘evidence’ was that someone online – the Spectator columnist Douglas Murray – had claimed that Soupy One was based at Kingston University and threatened to report on him to his employers, although Murray was unable or unwilling to substantiate the claim when challenged to do so, and would not confirm which Kinston staff member he had in mind. Needless to say, I am not ‘Soupy One’, whose views I do not entirely share.
Not only was this a sorry pretext for Read and his friends to harass someone, but the targets themselves seemed almost random. I am not a prominent or hardline supporter of the State of Israel. I have blogged in support of UN recognition of Palestine’s independence, and condemned Operation Protective Edge without reservation. The ‘Soupy One’ blog itself seems an unworthy target; a pseudonymous blog with fewer than two thousand Twitter followers. What quickly became clear to me was that these people did not much care whether I was ‘Soupy One’ or not. Nor whether or not I was a ‘ZIonist’. Nor what my actual views on Israel and Palestine really were. They inhabit a dystopian fantasy universe governed by Zionism’s omnipresence, in which their own ‘revolutionary’, anti-Zionist goals override ordinary considerations of morality.
In fact, I was not completely innocent of having done anything to provoke them. I have consistently condemned anti-Semitism, including the left-wing ‘anti-Zionist’ variety. I teach the history of the Holocaust. Last year, I appeared in the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s annual commemorative programme, screened in Westminster and broadcast on BBC2, and wrote a post for its blog on the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. But perhaps most relevant is the fact that last summer, without thinking much of it, I shared an article about the anti-Semitic activities at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival of the ‘musician’ Alison Chabloz, and suggested that her gigs should be boycotted. Chabloz has denied the existence of the gas chambers, claimed Anne Frank’s diary was a fabrication,[publicly performed the quenelle in order to bait ‘Zionists’ and shared online a video of herself mocking Holocaust survivors. She was quick to blame Jo Cox’s murder on the Zionists. Her anti-Semitism is so vicious and her Holocaust denial so blatant that Artists 4 Palestine UK actually removed her name from their website. She responded to my tweet about her by fabricating the story that I was ‘Soupy One’, then proceeded to spread the story on Twitter.
Naturally, Kingston University did not look favourably on the campaign against me. Even if the accusation had been true, blogging pseudonymously about anti-Semitism is hardly an activity to which any self-respecting university would object. In Kingston’s case, our vice-chancellor, Julius Weinberg has taken a very hardline position in defence of free speech, and has made clear that, as the child of a German Jewish survivor, diversity is embedded in his belief system. If any of my harassers received any reply from anyone at Kingston, it certainly didn’t uphold their complaint.
Yet this was not the end of the matter. Some weeks later, another of Read’s online cronies who had congratulated him for his attacks on me, Jason Schumann (‘@debatingculture’), took up the cudgel. Schumann has tweeted that ‘Jews are evil’; he believes that the figures of six million Holocaust victims is a ‘lie’ intended to magnify Jewish suffering, and has suggested that the real figure may be 2-3 million. He has written a storify slide-show entitled ‘The Shoah must go on’, claiming the history of the Nazi Holocaust is being used to brainwash the ‘sheeple’. He claims that ‘The holocaust of WWII has become an industry; based on lies; pursuit of profit, and giving a false but deliberate and polished sense of victim status’. After an Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police visited Auschwitz and spoke about the Holocaust, Schumann accused the ‘Zionist lobby’ of ‘brainwashing and indoctrinating’ the Met. He has tweeted repeatedly about how Jeremy Corbyn has been ‘vilified by the Jewish media’. He has accused LBC of ‘shilling for Israhell’, asking ‘how many shekels ?’ He has described the Home Secretary’s funding of the CST’s campaign against anti-Semitism as ‘Grade A arse licking to the Zionist lobby at the behest of Israhell !’ This charming individual is also on record for calling female Twitter users words including ‘cunt’, ‘slut’, ‘slag’, ‘bint and spastic.
In January, Schumann sent me abusive tweets, and after I called him out on his unsavoury views on Jews and the Holocaust, he threatened to sue me unless I retracted and apologised, then sent a threatening and defamatory letter about me to my university. Naturally, I did not retract or apologise and Kingston University was not interested in his ‘complaint’. I received help from an eminent solicitor with past experience in dealing with him personally and others of his kind, who wrote him a letter in response to his legal threat, after which he backed off. He has, in fact, repeatedly threatened on Twitter to sue people who have called him out, but never actually followed through.
Ironically, the same Schumann has repeatedly accused ‘Zionists’ and Israel (or ‘Israhell’, as he frequently calls it) of using ‘lawfare’ to silence critics of Zionism. Similarly, when I called Read out on his harassment of me, he attempted to justify himself with ‘I have only done what has been done to me and others.’These ‘anti-Zionists’ have created in their mind an image of what their ‘Zionist enemy’ is like, then emulate its supposed behaviour on the grounds that ‘if they can, we can too’. Historians of anti-Semitism are only too familiar with this form of projection.
This experience has really woken me up to just how poisonous part of the radical subculture that cloaks itself under ‘Palestine solidarity’ has become. It comprises a self-referencing clique divorced from the real world, whose vicious extremism is an end in itself. Their activism has little to do with the Palestinians, about whom none of them clearly gives a damn. They are obsessed by a different ethnic group. No prizes for guessing which.