Eve Garrard’s submission to the Chakrabarti Inquiry into Antisemitism in the Labour Party

There are two main points which I wish to make in this submission: (1) concerning the impact on British Jews of current behaviour and discourse with respect to Zionism among parts of the Labour Party, especially its Left wing; (2) concerning the effect of this on the Labour Party itself.

You are, no doubt, fully aware of how widespread hostility to Israel is among parts of the Left, including parts of the Labour Party. One of the most cogent objections to this hostility, and to the actions it tends to produce, is that it’s unfairly selective – Israel is singled out for hostile mention and treatment (for example, by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign) where other countries whose human rights violations are much worse, are ignored or sometimes even fêted. I do not think this hostility, or even campaigns such as the BDS one, are always driven by antisemitism. But in the absence of some convincing explanation of why it is (supposedly) legitimate to focus hostility largely or entirely on Israel while practising a studied silence towards other and far worse malefactors, then the possibility of antisemitism providing the required explanation must be taken seriously. And there is such an absence – the purported explanations of the singular concern with Israel generally range from the vacuous (‘We have to start somewhere’) to the contemptible (‘It’s because Jews are really one of us, and so we have a special duty to criticise their misdeeds’ – this in a world in which extensively in the past, and increasingly in the present, Jews have very definitely not been regarded as ‘one of us’). Something rather more plausible is needed to rule out the possibility of antisemitism being the driving force behind the anti-Israel hostilities.

However unfairness, and the legitimate concern it generates, is not the only problem arising out of the feverish focus on Israel which can be found in various left-wing arenas. If we leave aside the issue of fairness, and concentrate purely on the consequences of this singular focus, on the effects it produces, other problems come into view. For a start, the main effects are not on Israel at all – the various expressions of enmity towards Israel by significant parts of Labour’s left wing have not made a lot of difference to that country, except, perhaps, to strengthen the view of many of its nationals and supporters that there really does need to be a country where Jews can’t be on the receiving end of discriminatory treatment just because they are Jews.

The main effects of the hostility have been, as we might expect, on Jews in this country. Most, though not all, Jews are Zionists, and most, but not all, Zionists are Jews. Zionism has been treated by parts of the Left as a vicious and sinister ideology, to be condemned and where possible eradicated, with supporters who are likewise to be condemned and excoriated. This treatment impacts most heavily on those who regard Jewish self-determination and self-defence as important matters. These people will be primarily (though I’m glad to say not exclusively) Jews. In this way, what looks like a foreign policy issue for the Labour Party is actually an issue in domestic policy too, and a serious one for a Party which says it prides itself on being anti-racist. Antisemitism is by no means the exclusive possession of the political Right; the Left also can fall prey to that oldest of prejudices, even when (and perhaps especially when) it feels at its most certain about its own moral rectitude. And the effect on Jews, particularly ones who have in the past supported Labour, is to increase their sense of isolation and alienation. The State of Israel, which many of them see as a life-raft state which allows Jews self-determination and is committed to their defence, is the object of constant hostility and denigration by important elements in one of our major political parties. It is not surprising if this has the effect of making Jews here feel less safe, less accepted, than they were, say, in the years after the Second World War.

As a consequence of this, the Jewish vote for Labour is likely to collapse, and we are already seeing this happen in certain parts of the country. Does the Labour Party really want to be a major factor in increasing the sense of isolation and insecurity already felt by a number of Jews in this country? And does the current leadership of this party really want to be known as the one which drove the Jews out of the party? Especially since the Jews are unlikely to go quietly, and there are other political forces which will be only too happy to point out the implications of this development, and who is responsible for it.

The Labour Party cannot, and should not, attempt to prevent its supporters from holding views hostile to Israel, by any means other than open argument and debate. What it can legitimately do is discourage, and if necessary prohibit, the use of words such as ‘zio’ as terms of contempt and condemnation, just as it wouldn’t tolerate the use of terms such as ‘paki’ to refer to members of a particular ethnicity. More importantly, it should take action where obviously anti-Semitic tropes such as the blood libel, or references to sinister powers pulling strings in the shadows, are being used, just as it would take action should its members, and particularly its various functionaries, refer to people of colour in terms of long-standing racist tropes against them. The Party should not be ready to regard Jews who complain about antisemitism as being dishonest and deceitful, as playing the antisemitism card; and it should actively discourage its members and supporters from doing this. It should be prepared to take decisive action where direct lies, such as the claim that Jews were the chief financiers of the African slave trade, or the claim Hitler was a supporter of Zionism, or the claim that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians, are promulgated. A brief suspension from the Party, followed by a silent re-admission, of people who peddle these lies does not really count as decisive action.

In the absence of such measures, which in fact would be only the first steps towards a genuine intolerance of antisemitism in the Party, Labour will be one of the factors in the production of a rising tide of hostility towards Jews in this country. And it will be peculiarly culpable for this state of affairs, precisely because it has always presented itself as hostile to all forms of racism. At the moment it is not; it tolerates, and in some cases encourages, the resurgence of an anti-semitism which some of us thought would never again be permitted the oxygen of acceptance on the Left. We were wrong, of course.

A personal note: I have voted Labour all my life. As things currently stand, I will not be able to do so again.

Eve Garrard
June 2016

Submission to the Shami Chakrabarti Inquiry into antisemitism and other forms of racism – Robert Fine and Christine Achinger

1. The Labour Party and the vast majority of its members oppose antisemitism. This is to be welcomed and provides a base for future development. It should go without saying that the Labour Party, as a progressive party, should actively combat antisemitism whenever or wherever it shows its face and should do so with the same vigour it should show in combating other forms of racism and prejudice. Our experience, however, is that this is not the case. In our view there has been lack of leadership in combating antisemitism and poverty of theory in identifying and understanding antisemitism whether it arises from within or from without the Labour Party itself.

2. All too often we find unwillingness to confront the issue of antisemitism, doubt cast on the validity of concerns about antisemitism, distrust of the political motives of those who raise such concerns, and defensive reactions to their expression. The overall effect of these responses has been to foster within sections of the Labour Party, including its leading circles, a culture of suspicion in relation to concerns about antisemitism that is not equally present in relation to concerns about any other form of racism. This culture of suspicion is tied up with the Israel-Palestine conflict in the Middle East, insofar as it is premised on a dual prejudice, first that the ‘charge of antisemitism’ is merely a way of disparaging criticism of Israel, and second that Israel is defended covertly and dishonestly because it cannot be defended openly and honestly.

3. What is urgently needed within the Labour Party is leadership on this issue. To this end we would recommend that the Labour Party a) commits itself in principle and practice to taking antisemitism as seriously as any other form of racism; b) encourages respectful and compassionate debate on concerns that Jews and non-Jews express about antisemitism; c) defends the right to freedom of expression against those who attempt to boycott or otherwise silence the voices of those who raise concerns about antisemitism; and c) campaigns actively for a peaceful and just settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that declares a policy of ‘no tolerance’ for anti-Arab, anti-Muslim or antisemitic forms of racism and supports antiracist movements and individuals both in Israeli and Palestinian society.

4. There is substantiated evidence that the problem of antisemitism is growing in the UK, Europe and globally. This unwelcome and worrying development makes it all the more important that the Labour Party commits itself to learning how to recognise and combat antisemitism alongside its commitment to recognising and combating other forms of racism and prejudice. There are those who portray current concerns about antisemitism in the Labour Party as invented by ‘Zionists’ in bad faith in order to smear the left and silence criticism of Israel. The Labour Party should clearly recognise that this refusal to engage with the problem of antisemitism is itself part of the problem and would not be considered an acceptable response to analogous concerns raised by any other group. In support of these recommendations we add the following observations.

5. Antisemitism, like all forms of racism, has its own peculiarities. One feature that distinguishes it from other forms of racism is its tendency to see the Jews as a hugely powerful world conspiracy. It is, therefore, a characteristic of antisemitism to present itself as a form of justified resistance in the name of the oppressed, even where it persecutes minorities. In responding to antisemitism, however, the core principle the Labour Party should observe, but in many cases is not observing, is that antisemitism and other forms of racism represent the same bankruptcy of humanity and that there are universal norms to be followed in combating them.

6. Antisemitism is indicative of a failure of democracy. Victims of antisemitic regimes and movements are not only Jews but also people in whose name antisemitic movements and regimes purport to speak. In Muslim-majority countries the first victims of antisemitic movements are more often than not other Muslims, especially antiracist Muslims. The Labour Party ought to oppose antisemitism in order to defend the rights of Jews and non-Jews attacked and vilified by antisemitic movements.

7. In the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict, combating antisemitism is not an alternative to seeking justice for Palestinians but a pivotal part of the larger picture. These aims are inter-dependent. Antisemitism does no favour either to Jews or to the cause of justice for Palestinians. The Labour Party should not condone antisemitism within Hamas and Hezbollah any more than it tolerates anti-Arab racism within the right wing of Israeli society. A merely sanctimonious defence of Palestinians that leaves them in the same place it finds them is neither developmental nor challenging and offers no solidarity with Palestinian antiracists.

8. The Labour Party should not dismiss concerns over antisemitism on the spurious grounds that they restrict the freedom to be critical of Israel. Criticism of any country can be but does not have to be racist, Islamophobic, xenophobic or in other ways prejudiced. Similarly criticism of Israel can be but does not have to be antisemitic. Legitimate debate and criticism of Israeli politics and society – over its occupation of Palestinian land, the human rights abuses that flow from occupation, anti-Arab racism in the Israeli polity and civil society, discriminatory policies toward Palestinian citizens of Israel, military responses to aggression, etc. – does not remove responsibility to abstain from and repudiate antisemitic criticism of Israel.

9. The Labour Party should recognise that it is unacceptable to disparage through the use of derogatory language – like ‘manufactured outrage’, ‘fake outrage’, ‘casting slurs’, ‘insinuating’, ‘dredging up’, and ‘smearing’ – those who express concerns about antisemitism. Such abusive language would not be acceptable in relation to those who raise concerns over other forms of racism and is harmful at a number of levels: for example, it deters people from raising their concerns; it casts the claims of the Labour Party to consistent antiracism in a bad light; and it makes it more probable that antisemitism will be unrecognised and tolerated.

10. The Labour Party should resist any temptation to assume that the individuals and groups who raise concerns about antisemitism do so opportunistically and for illicit ends, such as destabilising the leadership of the party, protecting ‘Israel’ from critical scrutiny or merely pursuing private interests. Concerns over antisemitism and other forms of racism can of course be instrumentalised for other ends, but their misuse in particular cases does not invalidate the concerns themselves and does not mean that those who raise them are collectively guilty of misuse. The Labour Party should make it clear that it would be discriminatory to treat concerns about antisemitism differently from concerns about other forms of racism.

11. The Labour Party should not condone the tendency to dismiss concerns about antisemitism through the device of redefining what antisemitism is. It should not agree, with those who have refused to engage with the European Union Monitoring Commission Working Definition of Antisemitism on the grounds that it included in its definition antisemitic forms of ‘criticism of Israel’, like holding all Jews responsible for the actions of the state, or not recognising the distinction between state and civil society, or judging Israel by standards not applied to other states. The Labour Party should support cooperative efforts in Europe and the UK to define what antisemitism is, keep the definition of antisemitism open to rational debate and revision in the light of circumstances, entertain the views of those who raise concerns about antisemitism, and involve a wide range of representative organisations of a pluralistically conceived Jewish community.

12. The Labour Party should not accept justifications of antisemitism based on the grounds that it contains a rational kernel of truth about the way ‘the Jews’ or many Jews are. Just as it is not acceptable to hold people of colour responsible for causing the racism of which they are victims, so too it is not acceptable to hold Jews responsible for causing antisemitism. If the Labour Party does not accept justification of anti-Black or anti-Arab racism because of the alleged or real misdeeds of African and Arab rulers, or Islamophobia because of the actions of groups claiming to speak in the name of Islam,so too it should not accept antisemitism because of the alleged or real misdeeds of the Israeli government.

13. The Labour Party has a good record of Holocaust commemoration and education, but in some quarters it is regularly maintained that memory of the Holocaust is being ‘used’ to legitimate the actions of the Israeli government. Memory of the historical suffering of any people can be ‘used’ for particular ideological ends but this is not a reason to withdraw compassion from the victims, or blot out a crucial part of the history of European barbarism, or dismiss present-day fears that the genocidal impulse toward Jews remains intact. The Labour Party should recognise that it would be discriminatory to treat Holocaust memory as peculiarly manufactured and self-serving, or as the paradigm case of victims becoming victimisers, or as the sign under which a victimised people claims ethical immunity for all its own misdeeds.

14. It would be discriminatory to impose on Jewish organisations in the Labour Party a more restrictive autonomy than on other parallel organisations. If an organisation like the Jewish Labour Movement (founded in 2004 as the successor to Poale Zion founded in 1905) chooses to affiliate to the ‘World Zionist Movement’, as is currently alleged, this is its right. It does not necessarily indicate, as is being alleged in some quarters, enthusiastic support of many Israeli government actions. It may not represent those Jews who see themselves as ‘antizionist’, but this is a question of democracy within the movement. No single Jewish organisation could or should be expected to represent the plurality of all Jews.

15. The temptation to practice an economy of compassion that puts all compassion on the side of Palestinians and all culpability on the side of Israel is bad politics and bad history. It supposes inter alia that the genocidal antisemitism that once infused the European continent simply vanished once Nazism was defeated. The dearth within the Labour Party of intellectual, ethical and political leadership on the issue of antisemitism stems in part at least from a failure to recognise and a willingness to tolerate antisemitism among enemies of ‘Israel’.

16. The Labour Party should recognise that if it is not to be discriminatory, the ethic of conviction that declares that Israel must cease to be a ‘Jewish democratic’ state and must become a secular state should a) be coupled with the analogous ethic of conviction in relation to ‘Arab’ and ‘Muslim’ states; and b) be compared with other states in relation to their respective record of democracy, human rights and treatment of minorities. Finally, it should be recognised that any ethic of conviction concerning what a state ought ideally to be should be tempered by an ethic of responsibility concerning the actual forces capable of bringing about this ideal – forces that may be neither secular nor democratic and that may profess antisemitic and other racist ideologies.

Robert Fine (Emeritus Professor, University of Warwick and member of the Labour Party since 1975)

Christine Achinger (Associate Professor, University of Warwick)

BICOM’s submission to the Chakrabarti Inquiry – written by Alan Johnson

Follow this link for Alan Johnson’s submission to the LP inquiry, on the BICOM website.

 

Antisemitic anti-Zionism: the root of Labour’s crisis

Professor Alan Johnson is Senior Research Fellow at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), founder and editor of Fathom: for a deeper understanding of Israel and the region, and a registered Labour Party supporter (Unite).

Introduction

Everything depends on the Labour Party understanding what it is dealing with: almost never old-fashioned Jew hatred, almost always modern antisemitic anti-Zionism – a programme to abolish Israel, a movement to boycott Israel and discourse to demonise Israel. To combat it, the party needs to understand the historical roots, ideological tributaries, contemporary modes and forms of expressions of antisemitic anti-Zionism.

Antisemitism is the most protean of hatreds and it has shape-shifted again (Gidley 2011). Labour does not have a neo-Nazi problem. It does, however, have a problem with a modern anti-Zionism of a particularly excessive, obsessive, and demonising kind, which has co-mingled with an older set of classical antisemitic tropes, images and assumptions to create antisemitic anti-Zionism (Wistrich 1984, 1991, 2004, 2009, 2012; Johnson 2015a, 2016). Antisemitic anti-Zionism bends the meaning of Israel and Zionism out of shape until both become receptacles for those tropes, images and ideas.

In short, that which the demonological Jew once was in older forms of antisemitism, demonological Israel now is in contemporary anti-Semitic anti-Zionism: uniquely malevolent, full of blood lust, all-controlling, the hidden hand, tricksy, always acting in bad faith, the obstacle to a better, purer, more spiritual world, uniquely deserving of punishment, and so on (Johnson 2015b, Hirsh 2007, 2013b).

Antisemitism’s core motif is that the Jews, collectively and in their essence, are not just Other but also malign. However, the content of this perceived malignity changes with the times and with the needs of the anti-Semites. ‘God-killers,’ ‘aliens,’ ‘cosmopolitans,’ ‘sub-humans’ and now ‘Zionists’ have all served as code words to mark the Jew for destruction.

 

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Follow this link for Alan Johnson’s submission to the LP inquiry, on the BICOM website.

Submission to the Labour Party Enquiry on Anti-Semitism and other forms of Racism. By Richard Gold, Member Bury South CLP

1. There have been many instances of antisemitism in the Labour Party over the years. People have complained about them, people have warned about them but nothing has ever been done until recently. People who have dared to raise the issue of antisemitism in the Party have been accused of being apologists for the Israeli government who are intent on closing down criticism of Israel. Alternatively it has been claimed that examples of antisemitism are really few and far between, and hence there is no need for any kind of action. While these antisemitic episodes have taken place within the discourse of the Palestine / Israel conflict, they have seldom actually been criticisms of Israel in themselves. They have included anti-Semitic tropes such as the idea of Jewish control, the “Zionist” lobby and dual loyalties. Some of the most obvious past examples are as listed below – it’s a striking fact that none of them are criticisms of Israel or Israeli government policy. (The 2010 comments by Kaufman and Linton were made at a Labour Friends of Palestine meeting.) Hopefully the current incidents of antisemitism in the current Labour Party will be acted upon in a more effective way than these examples were at the time. The more they are ignored or ineffectually dealt with by the leadership, the more they will multiply.

Tam Dalyell:
2003: In an interview in Vanity Fair, Dalyell said with reference to Tony Blair that he was unduly influenced by a “cabal of Jewish advisers”.

Paul Flynn:
2011: After Matthew Gould, who is Jewish, became the British Ambassador to Israel Flynn told Sir Gus O’Donnell that the post of ambassador to Israel should go to “someone with roots in the UK”.

Gerald Kaufman :
2010 “Just as Lord Ashcroft owns most of the Conservative Party, right-wing Jewish millionaires own the rest.”
2011 When his Labour colleague Louise Ellman got up to speak in the Commons he said “here we are, the Jews again”,

Martin Linton :
2010 “There are long tentacles of Israel in this country who are funding election campaigns and putting money into the British political system for their own ends.”

2. So there’s always been antisemitism in the Labour Party. Some people say that this is not a big deal, the incidence of genuine antisemitism in the Party is very low; and suggestion that it’s serious is actually a conspiracy by the right wing press and the “Israeli Lobby” to bring about the downfall of Jeremy Corbyn, with his well-known support for Palestinians. Examples of this kind of response are listed below.

Len McCluskey :
“This is nothing more than a cynical attempt to manipulate anti-Semitism for political aims because this is all about constantly challenging Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.”

Jewish Socialist Group:
“Accusations of antisemitism are currently being weaponised to attack the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party with claims that Labour has a “problem” of antisemitism. This is despite Corbyn’s longstanding record of actively opposing fascism and all forms of racism, and being a firm supporter of the rights of refugees and of human rights globally.”

Michael White
“Will someone point out to the idiots that the latest anti Semitism row was launched by Tory blogger, Guido Fawkes & promoted by Mail on Sunday”

Jeremy Corbyn
After his brother tweeted “#Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for #Palestine”, (with regard to Louise Elman’s comments about antisemitism in the Labour Party) Jeremy Corbyn when asked if he thought his brother’s tweet was wrong went on to agree with his brother saying: “No my brother isn’t wrong. My brother has his point of view, I have mine. We actually fundamentally agree – we are a family that has been fighting racism from the day we were born. My mother was at Cable Street.”

This kind of response to worries about antisemitism amounts to an accusation that people who raise such worries do so purely in order to silence others, and so the charges they make are false, they are deliberately manufacturing them. This response is deeply insulting to the vast majority of Jews in the UK.

3. The current wave of antisemitic comments take place within the discourse of the Palestine / Israel debate but the criticisms are not in fact criticisms of Israel or Israeli government policy. Nobody can seriously believe that the following quotations are really criticisms of Israel.

Khadim Hussain, a Labour councillor and a former Lord Mayor of Bradford : “Your school education system only tells you about Anne Frank and the six million Zionists that were killed by Hitler.”

Vicki Kirby, a Labour Parliamentary candidate tweeted that “Jews have big noses” and also asked why Isis was not attacking the real oppressor, Israel.

Gerry Downing, previously expelled from the Labour Party and then re-admitted, talked about his belief that there is a “Jewish Question” which needs to be discussed.“Why Marxists must address the Jewish Question concretely today”, his publication talks about “the world ‘Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie’
Jacqueline Walker: Walker is a Vice Chair of Momentum and talked about many Jews being the chief financiers of the sugar trade and the slave trade.

4. The suspensions of several councillors, the suspension of an NEC member, the suspension of activists show that this problem is now a serious one. It can no longer be argued that it is just a few mistaken people. Many of those suspended carried a lot of influence – in their local parties, in their particular factions. While there are many supporters of the Labour Party there are not as many activists (ask anybody trying to get volunteers to do leaflet runs or supporters out during the last local elections), so activists are important and influential people.

5. The most worrying thing for the Jewish community, and there is a very large consensus over this, is that the problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party cannot be solved unless it tackles the problem with Jeremy Corbyn’s views. The Jewish community to a very large extent believes that Jeremy Corbyn is a supporter of Hamas, is happy to campaign and give support to antisemites, supports the boycott of Israel and does not believe that there is actually a serious problem with antisemitism in the party. Corbyn claims not to be a supporter of Hamas, he claims to not be a supporter of antisemites, he claims that he only referred to Hamas as friends in order to be diplomatic and that he simply wants to bring the two sides of the conflict together. The Jewish community to a large extent simply doesn’t believe this, and based on what he says I think their refusal to believe Corbyn’s defence is correct. Corbyn has said that he doesn’t believe that Hamas should be labelled as terrorists by the UK government and he believes that they are a force for good. He has said it is an honour to host Hamas and Hezbollah. With regard to Raed Saleh, the antisemite who believes that Jews use Christian blood to make bread, Corbyn has described him as someone who must be heard and that he looks forward to giving him tea on the terrace of the Commons because he deserves it.

In order for this enquiry to have any effect it needs to press Corbyn on the above. Corbyn has shown no remorse, he has never apologised for supporting people who want to kill Jews (not just Israeli Jews). Corbyn is a role model for many of the new members and supporters of the Labour Party. His influence is massive and so far his reaction to the problem of antisemitism in the party has been very poor. He has said that it isn’t a serious problem, he’s said that there are mechanisms in place and when it occurs it will be dealt with (he seems to think that because his family marched against Mosley he has no responsibility for what is happening in the party which he leads 70 years or more later. Compare this to John McDonnell who has said that people guilty of antisemitism in the Labour Party should be banned for life. Compare it to Tom Watson who has said that he is ashamed about antisemitism in the party and that “he would “fight to ensure that Britain’s Jews always feel safe as a key part of this country and my party. I will fight to ensure that Zionism is not used as a term of abuse. Or as a code word for Jews. I will fight to ensure that the right to Jewish national self-determination is preserved and respected.”

6. It’s good to criticise Israel and its government when it gets things wrong, in the same way that it’s good to criticise any country for its misdeeds. But it isn’t good to single Israel out, it isn’t good to demonise it, it’s wrong to run a boycott campaign which while doing nothing for Palestinians is a campaign against a 2-states solution. This is what the Palestine Solidairty Campaign does, it’s what the boycott movement does. The Labour Party needs to show commitment to a real 2-states settlement. This is an anathema to the boycott campaign and anti-Zionists in the Party. Israel is seen by them as evil, supporters of Zionism (a Jewish national state with self-determination) are seen as supporting evil (you can be a Zionist without supporting any Israeli government). This results in the demonization of the Jewish community rather than legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy. This leads to antisemitic comments even when there is no conscious antisemitic intent. It’s important to realise that people don’t have to be antisemitic – that is, to have antisemitic feelings – to make antisemitic comments. If the comments unfairly discriminate against Jews, then they amount to antisemitic behaviour, whatever the intentions or feelings of the commenter are. Too often the boycott campaign and anti-Zionism slip into conventional antisemitic tropes, and this means an attack on what most Jews believe.

7. I’ve picked up a new theme which has emerged. It’s used by people who probably recognise the problem but are reluctant to admit it. It’s the “I wouldn’t put it like that myself but it’s not antisemitic” excuse. As though being unpleasant to Jews (e.g the behaviour of the Jew-baiter Ken Livingstone) should be excused or minimised, treated merely as rudeness or bad manners, rather than racist behaviour.

8. Many previous supporters of the Labour Party in the Jewish community (some for all their adult life) now feel unable to vote Labour due to the problem of antisemitism and the track record of Jeremy Corbyn with regard to his hostility to Israel, his support for antisemites, etc. The choice is to either vote for a Party which has an antisemitism problem or to vote Tory. What a horrible choice to make – antisemitism or welfare cuts, antisemitism or benefit cuts, antisemitism or cuts in the NHS ? Support for the Labour Party in the Jewish community is at an all-time low. I myself am embarrassed to be a member of a party that is becoming more and more off bounds for the Jewish community.

9. I’m worried about the ability of this enquiry to reach a conclusion which is satisfactory to many Jewish Labour Party members and to the wider Jewish community. I hope I’m wrong but if the conclusion of the enquiry is that while there is antisemitism it’s not widespread, that it’s all about being civilised to each other on debates and it’s about a range of legitimate views, then this enquiry will be at best ineffective. This is not about a debate between two even sides, it’s a debate about antisemitism: about those who indulge in or tolerate antisemitism against the Jewish community and those who want to fight against it.

10. Writing this report is demeaning, it feels as if I have to grovel to simply play a part in getting the Labour Party to combat the problem of anti-Semitism. This shouldn’t be needed, Jews shouldn’t have to feel like this, in the Labour Party of 2016.

Richard Gold, member of Bury South CLP.

Preliminary response to the Chakrabarti Inquiry into antisemitism in the Labour Party – David Hirsh

This piece, by David Hirsh, is from theJC.com.  

What Shami Chakrabarti failed to do in this report was to explain how to recognise contemporary left wing antisemitism. She failed to describe it, how it operates, how it is sometimes hidden, and what its key

David Hirsh

David Hirsh

tropes are. She had every opportunity to do this in a way which could be easily understood because her inquiry was precipitated by a number of examples of left wing antisemitism. She could have gone through them and explained why they were antisemitic. She did no such thing. Indeed there were two incidents which happened at her very launch which illustrate precisely the kind of antisemitism which requires explaining and opposing.

The Chakrabarti report does some good things but it does not address the key problem that it needed to address, which is the rise of political antisemitism within the Labour Party and within wider left wing and radical culture.

In my submission to the Chakrabarti Inquiry, I wrote:

A bad apple theory will not do as an explanation for the current phenomenon of antisemitism on the left. We need to understand what the problem is with the barrel which has allowed so many apples to turn bad.

There is a relationship between a broad culture of emotional, disproportional and irrational hostility to Israel which is accepted as legitimate in much of left politics, and the specific examples of Jew-baiting by Labour people which were the catalyst for setting up this inquiry.

The Inquiry report does not touch on this key relationship.

In my submission I described the ways in which political antisemitism had been moving into the mainstream, saying:

Previous Labour leaders have rejected one-sided hostility to Israel and they opposed the boycott movement. They embraced the consensus of the Jewish community and of democratic politics in favour of peace, a two state solution and in rejection of the demonization of Israel and its associated antisemitism.

The current leader has been intentionally ambivalent on these questions. He has said he is in favour of peace and he has said he opposes antisemitism; yet he has also been hosted a number of times by Hamas in Gaza and he has articulated clear political support for Hamas; he has jumped to the defence of antisemites like Raed Salah, saying that they are victims of Zionist smears; he has acted as a figurehead for Stop the War, which has advocated war against Israel, and he has implied, for example in his response to Lord Levy, that the current antisemitism crisis is manufactured; he has been a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which is dedicated to the politics of demonization and of boycott; he has worked for the Iranian state propaganda machine.

However, there is nothing about the current political leadership of the Labour Party in the report and in particular, not a word about the way it has embraced and defended antisemitic movements, antisemitic individuals and antisemitic ways of thinking.

The report does make clear that that the word “Zio” should be understood as a racial epithet and should not be used; it is analogous to “Paki”. The report also says that “Zionist”, when used as a form of abuse is not acceptable.

It makes clear that Nazi analogies and talk about Hitler in relation to the Israel/Palestine conflict is “incendiary”, is “intended to be incendiary”, “brings the Party into disrepute” and “undermines the cause of peace”. But it does does not say that it is antisemitic.

But in my submission I argued that:

It is crucial .. that the inquiry recognizes and describes why certain examples before it are not only vulgar, ignorant, rude, uncivil, but are specifically antisemitic. It must not be tempted to find cases guilty, but of a lesser charge. This would have the effect of bolstering those who insist that nothing in the antiracist movement is ever antisemitic.

The report modernizes disciplinary procedure within the Party, which is urgently needed. But what Chakrabarti and her team have completely failed to do is to discuss why these antisemitic incidents have been bubbling up to the surface; what it is about contemporary political culture on the left, and in the leadership of the Party, which relates to these incidents and which makes them possible.

In my submission I described the process by which people who raise the issue of antisemitism are often accused of doing so in bad faith in order to try to silence criticism of Israel: the Livingstone Formulation. There is nothing in the report concerning accusations of bad faith and other counter-accusations made against people who are concerned about antisemitism.

The key conclusion of my submission was that antisemitism is a political problem, not one which could be addressed administratively. I wrote:

The party must be clear in its choice to embrace a politics of peace, reconciliation and engagement and to reject the politics of the demonization of Israel.

The politics of peace forms a virtuous circle: it mutually reinforces democratic movements on all sides of the conflict; it takes the wind out of the sails of those who seek to mobilize hatred, racism and war.

This inquiry can and should recommend practical actions to educate the membership on the issue of antisemitism and to clamp down on people who refuse to accept the boundaries of democratic and antiracist politics. But political change is key.

If the party leadership cannot move Labour back into the mainstream democratic consensus on Israel and on antisemitism then this issue will continue to throw up crisis after crisis and it will continue to alienate most of the Jewish community; no doubt it will alienate many swing voters too.

The Chakrabarti Inquiry has not addressed the key issue that it needed to address; it has addressed some issues of process, some issues of education and some symptomatic issues.

This inquiry was supposed to address the problem of antisemitism within the Labour Party. But two incidents happened at its very launch which illustrated how the problem is not being addressed.

First, Jeremy Corbyn spoke. He wanted to show that he now understood the problem of antisemitism, that he had dealt with it, and that the Party could now move on. He said: “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those various self-styled Islamic states or organisations.”

This is an analogy between the State of Israel and its government with the most antisemitic and fascistic gang of political murderers on the planet. This claim itself, violates the spirit of the Chakrabarti report. The report recommends that “Labour members resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons…”. Corbyn did not compare Israel to Hitler and to the Nazis, but to their closest possible Jew-killing contemporary facsimiles.

And there was a second incident at the launch which illustrates very precisely another key aspect of the problem which is not being addressed by this process. Ruth Smeeth, a brilliant young Labour MP, was verbally attacked by an activist who accused her of colluding with the right wing press. In the context of the Corbynite left, this should be understood as an accusation that when Smeeth raises the issue of antisemitism, she is really doing it to harm the left and to harm the party; that she is not genuinely part of the left; that she is secretly anti-left. It is an accusation of “Zionist” disloyalty. Ruth evidently felt this as bullying; she left the room in tears.

David Hirsh
Sociology Lecturer
Goldsmiths, University of London

David Hirsh’s Submission to the Labour Party Inquiry into Antisemitism

The Chakrabarti Inquiry into antisemitism in the Labour Party is due to report tomorrow.  This is David Hirsh’s submission to that inquiry. 

David Hirsh – Submission to the Labour Party Inquiry into antisemitism [pdf] 

Submission to the Labour Party Inquiry into antisemitism
David Hirsh

Lecturer in Sociology
Goldsmiths, University of London
New Cross
London SE14 6NW

17 May 2016

I have tried to keep this submission short, descriptive and clear. If the inquiry would like me to expand on anything, to clarify any points, to provide examples or evidence, then I would be happy to do so.

1. There is antisemitism on the left

There is nothing alien or surprising about the existence of antisemitism on the left. It has dogged our movement since the beginning.

Antisemitism on the left is not only a reflection of the general prejudice that occurs throughout society, there is a specifically left wing tradition of antisemitism. It is a premise of the left that the world could be better and left wing thought seeks to find what is stopping the world from being better. Some on the left have always been tempted by the proposition that ‘the Jews’ stand between us and the good life; Jewish tribal selfishness is portrayed as the block to things being better for everybody. The notion that the Jews prevent universal redemption has a specific Christian heritage. The notion that the Jews are at the centre of all that is wrong with the world is common to all historical antisemitisms.

The temptation to define left wing antisemitism out of existence should be resisted. Some say that the left is, by definition, opposed to antisemitism. It seems to follow that if there is antisemitism it cannot really be on the left or that if it is on the left then it cannot really be antisemitism. But taking left antisemitism seriously requires us to rely on political judgment of what is actually going on, not on definitional sophistry.

2. There is antisemitism without conscious hatred of Jews

We are accustomed to the concepts of institutional and cultural racism. We are used to the idea that there can be racist ways of thinking, racist outcomes, racist norms and practices, discrimination and structural power imbalances in the absence of conscious or specifically race-motivated hatred. Racism is not only a subjective emotion inside people’s heads, it is also an external and objective social phenomenon. We need to get used to the idea that antisemitism is like other racisms in this respect.
If somebody says or does something antisemitic, if they share antisemitic ways of thinking and if they participate in antisemitic norms and practices, they are not absolved from political responsibility by the fact that they feel no subjective hatred towards Jews, or that they think of themselves as opponents of antisemitism.
Antisemitism is recognized by what is said and done, not by the purity of a person’s soul.

3. Bad apples or a problem with the barrel?

A bad apple theory will not do as an explanation for the current phenomenon of antisemitism on the left. We need to understand what the problem is with the barrel which has allowed so many apples to turn bad.

I do not suggest that the whole left is antisemitic or that the left is necessarily antisemitic; on the contrary, there have always been strong democratic left traditions which have understood and opposed antisemitism.

There is a relationship between a broad culture of emotional, disproportional and irrational hostility to Israel which is accepted as legitimate in much of left politics, and the specific examples of Jew-baiting by Labour people which were the catalyst for setting up this inquiry.

The examples which most people can recognise as being problematic are symptoms of the broader culture, which many people cannot recognise as being problematic. This broader culture is increasingly strong and self-confident but it is by no means uncontested.

4. The distinction between criticism of Israel and antisemitism

Everybody agrees that there is a distinction between criticism of Israel and antisemitism. The problem is that this truism is often interpreted such that everything is judged to be criticism and nothing is judged to be antisemitism.

Another way of articulating the principle is that there is a distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel (which we may judge to be justified or not) and demonizing or antisemitic criticism of Israel.

We are well used to judging the distinction between criticism and bigotry in other contexts. For example one may well want to make political criticisms of Hilary Clinton or Margaret Thatcher. But we know that when they are criticized for their bossiness or their masculinity, or when there is endless discussion of what they wear, or when Hilary is criticized for standing by her man, that something else is at play.

Given the long history of different antisemitisms in our culture, and specifically in left wing and radical political culture, and given the campaign to fuel an emotional anger with Israel, it would be extraordinary if antisemitic or demonizing criticism did not appear in our debates.

If some things are recognised as legitimate criticism and others are recognised as demonizing or antisemitic, then we are brought back into the democratic realm of rational politics. The task then is by debate and discussion to find consensus on how to draw the boundaries.

If, on the other hand, some people in practice insist that every example brought before them is legitimate criticism; while others insist that every example is antisemitic; then we remain outside the world of democratic and rational politics.

It is crucial, therefore, that the inquiry recognizes and describes why certain examples before it are not only vulgar, ignorant, rude, uncivil, but are specifically antisemitic. It must not be tempted to find cases guilty, but of a lesser charge. This would have the effect of bolstering those who insist that nothing in the antiracist movement is ever antisemitic.

Those who insist that nothing is antisemitic, that everything is just ‘criticism’, tend to try to construct the whole problem as a battle between supporters of Israel and supporters of Palestine. They want us to take sides with the ‘oppressed’ in this battle and against the ‘oppressors’.

Some on the edges of the trouble looking in are tempted to see it as a bad tempered and un-civil struggle, between two sets of angry ‘foreigners’ within our movement. This is tempting because it assigns blame in a seemingly balanced way on all sides while also absolving the poor old Brits who have to try to ensure fair play and comradely good manners.

Incidentally, we see an analogous problem in judging what is criticism of Islam, what is opposition to Islamism and what is Islamophobia. Islamophobes love to declare that all they are doing is criticising Islam; Islamists enjoy portraying genuine criticism of their politics as Islamophobic.

5. It is possible for racist discourse to be made up of legitimate elements

Sometimes the quantity of hostility to Israel manifests itself qualitatively in easy to recognise antisemitic tropes. For example, when people use the ostensibly antiracist vocabulary of the ‘Israel lobby’ to do antisemitic conspiracy theory; or when people move from concern about under-age Palestinians dying in the conflict to allegations that Israel is a child-murdering, blood-thirsty, state.

But there is a further complication. Sometimes individual claims which may be entirely legitimate on their own can swirl together into antisemitic discourse. In order to judge what is antisemitic and what is legitimate criticism it is necessary to judge the politics of a situation as a whole, taking into account the context.

If a newspaper reports street crime and rape by black men, day after day, with menacing pictures of perpetrators and bruised white innocent victims, it may well produce a racist discourse, even if every element, in itself, is not only legitimate but also true. It is not only the elements of discourse which may or may not be racist, but the way in which it all swirls together to make a whole.

For example, some might say that the analogy of Israel with apartheid South Africa is antisemitic while others might say that it is legitimate. The problem is that it could easily be either. It could be a serious and rational debate about similarities and differences; on the other hand a Jewish society on campus might be harassed, banned and isolated over a period of time as apartheid, racist and supremacist; this could constitute an antisemitic way of relating to Jewish students. The apartheid analogy is often deployed in a way which encourages people to think less rather than more, in the campaign to exclude Israelis from the global community.

6. The construction of the ‘Jewish Question’

We have seen it said often that the claim that Labour has an antisemitism problem is invented by Zionists, Tories and Blairites to damage the Corbyn faction and the Party.

Some say that there is an antisemitism problem; others respond that there is a Jewish problem; at least a problem concerning the overwhelming majority of Jews, including Labour Jews, who are defined in a hostile way as ‘Zionist’ or apologists for Israel.

There is a long history of antisemites trying to make a ‘Jewish Question’ part of public debate; antiracists have always responded by insisting that the ‘Jewish Question’ is a racist question and the real problem is a problem of antisemitism.

Is there a woman problem or a problem of sexism?
Is there a black problem or a problem of racism?
Is there a gay problem or a problem of homophobia?
Is there a Muslim problem or a problem of Islamophobia?

The conclusions of this inquiry cannot be neutral between the claim that there is a Jewish problem and the claim that there is an antisemitism problem. Between these two claims there is no room for compromise or balance.

7. The Livingstone Formulation:

A standard response to anyone who raises the issue of antisemitism on the left is the counter-accusation that this is a bad-faith smear, mobilized to silence criticism of Israel; a playing of the antisemitism card; an attempt to mobilize Jewish victimhood to Jewish or ‘Zionist’ advantage.

Miners may have an interest in making the case against nuclear power but the case itself still needs to be judged on its merits.

Jews may have good reason for raising the issue of antisemitism, as black people have for raising the issue of racism and as women do for raising the issue of sexism. Indeed if people who have a long and intense memory of antisemitism racism or sexism occasionally recognise something as threatening which others may judge is not, the authentic Labour way is to relate with epathy rather than with defensive or aggressive accusations of bad faith.

Indeed people whose primary concern is to support Israel may still have good reason to raise the issue of antisemitism; they may feel that Israel was and is necessary because of antisemitism; they may feel that Israel is threatened by antisemitic movements amongst its neighbours; they may feel that the construction of Israel as the pariah nation is analogous to the construction of the Jews as the pariah people; they may feel that talk about the decisive power of the ‘Israel lobby’ reflects older the older trope of Jewish power.

There are four problems with the Livingstone Formulation as a response to concern about antisemitism:

a. It is a way of avoiding discussion of the actual issue of antisemitism which has been raised by deflecting attention onto the imputed motive for raising it.

b. It often functions as a form of antisemitic conspiracy theory in itself. It does not accuse Jews of being wrong – they could all be wrong independently and there is no shame in being wrong; but it accuses them of acting dishonestly, following a common, secret plan to try to help Israel in this disgraceful way.

c. It is a key mode of bullying. When a Jewish person raises the issue of antisemitism, instead of being heard respectfully, they are often themselves accused of acting dishonestly, as an agent of a foreign power, as an agent of a foreign faction or as an agent of a foreign party.

d. It trains our youth to recognise a claim of antisemitism as an indicator of Zionist dishonesty. It acts as a barrier to the education of our youth in recognising and understanding antisemitism.

The Macpherson principle does not state that somebody reporting an experience of racism is necessarily right. The principle is that it should be assumed that they could be right; that they should be listened to seriously in the process of coming to a judgment as to whether or not they are right.

The Livingstone Formulation is a clear and explicit violation of the Macpherson principle.

8. The relationship between the politics of hostility to Israel and antisemitism

The committee is faced with a formidable political problem. The problem is a profound and an established one within our broad movement and with our thinking. Solutions are far from straightforward.

There is a widespread assumption that antisemitism, when it is related to hostility to Israel, is the defensive violence of the oppressed against the oppressors. The socialism of fools, as Bebel called it, is still felt to be some form of socialism, it is felt to be something from within the family of the left. The ‘Zionists’, by contrast, are often situated as existing outside of the community of the oppressed and therefore outside of the community of the progressive.

Antizionism and its allied campaigns to dismantle and to boycott Israel form the intellectual and the emotional underpinnings of the culture in which antisemitic speech and actions are tolerated.

Antizionism is not simply criticism of this or that policy or characteristic or Israel. It is a political movement which takes hostility to one particular state and it makes it into an “-ism”, a worldview; one which has a tendency to position the Jewish state as being central to all that is wrong with the world.

Everything bad that happens in Israel is constructed, within this ideology, as the necessary result of the supposedly racist essence of Zionism.

The aspiration to dismantle the state of Israel, against the will of its citizens, leaving them defenceless against military and political forces which threaten their lives, is part of the antisemitism problem.

Politically, the analogies of Zionism with Nazism, apartheid, colonialism and racism are weaponized, not to clarify understanding but to prevent it. This encourages and licences people to relate to Jews, anyway those Jews who refuse to disavow Israel, as one would relate to Nazis, apologists for apartheid and colonialism, and racists. Relating to Jews and Jewish collectivities in this way is to relate to them in an antisemitic way.

Empirically it is demonstrable that where antizionism and the boycott campaign take hold, antisemitic discourse, exclusions and bullying follow.

A significant number of people involved in left wing and radical politics and thought in Britain today will not come close to agreeing with the description of the problem that I have offered here. That is another way of saying that there is a problem of discursive and institutional antisemitism on the British left.

Denial (the Livingstone Formulation) and expulsions (the bad apple theory) are tempting responses to the antisemitism crisis. But they will not solve the problem.

9. The democratic consensus on the issue of antisemitism

There is a clear consensus within the Jewish community on the issue of contemporary antisemitism. Jewish intellectuals, writers and leaders, as well as the institutions of the Jewish community, agree that:

a. There is a relationship between hostility to Israel and antisemitism and

b. The claim that they themselves are involved in a conspiracy to smear is part of the problem, not a helpful response to it.
There is a parallel consensus in the Jewish community in favour of a politics of peace between Israel and Palestine and a rejection of a politics of demonizing the other.

This Jewish consensus is mirrored in democratic discourse in Britain as a whole.

The place where it is not mirrored in in parts of the radical left, parts of the trade union movement, amongst some intellectuals, and within parts of the Labour Party. This is an elite section of society, small, but influential.

There is a small minority of Jews which strongly rejects the consensus in favour of a position which accuses the mainstream community of mobilizing an accusation of antisemitism in order to smear the left and silence those who support the Palestinians. That there are a few Jews outside of the democratic consensus should not be taken as evidence that broad consensus does not exist.

There is another wing of the Jewish community which has a keen eye for antisemitism but which slides off the democratic consensus into its own demonizing and Islamophobic understanding of Arabs and Muslims. Labour, and in particular Labour Jews, oppose this tendency.

The key institutions of the Jewish community – CST (Community Security Trust), UJS (Union of Jewish Students), BICOM (British Israel Communications and Research Centre), The Board of Deputies of British Jews, The Chief Rabbi, the leaders of all mainstream religious movements, the Jewish Leadership council, the Jewish Chronicle – are all solidly within the democratic consensus. They broadly agree on how to recognise antisemitism and they broadly agree with the perspective that Israel should aspire to find a way to end the occupation and to welcome the creation of a Palestinian state willing to live in peace with its neighbour.

10. The antisemitism crisis is due to the mainstreaming of formerly marginal politics

Antisemitism, as I have described it, has been a minority phenomenon on the cranky corners of the British left. Since 2001, however, it has been moving into the mainstream, and that process of mainstreaming is the cause of the current crisis.

a. Previous Labour leaders have rejected one-sided hostility to Israel and they opposed the boycott movement. They embraced the consensus of the Jewish community and of democratic politics in favour of peace, a two state solution and in rejection of the demonization of Israel and its associated antisemitism.

The current leader has been intentionally ambivalent on these questions. He has said he is in favour of peace and he has said he opposes antisemitism; yet he has also been hosted a number of times by Hamas in Gaza and he has articulated clear political support for Hamas; he has jumped to the defence of antisemites like Raed Salah, saying that they are victims of Zionist smears; he has acted as a figurehead for Stop the War, which has advocated war against Israel, and he has implied, for example in his response to Lord Levy, that the current antisemitism crisis is manufactured; he has been a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which is dedicated to the politics of demonization and of boycott; he has worked for the Iranian state propaganda machine.

b. Len McCluskey, General Secretary of the biggest union in Britain, blames the crisis not on antisemitism but on a campaign to smear Labour. He is a denier.

c. Malia Bouattia, while not narrowly Labour, is now the President of the most significant youth organisation in Britain, NUS, and as such she is an influential leader of the left in Britain. She openly opposes the politics of peace and she advocates that we support the politics of what she calls ‘resistance’; meaning terrorism against Jewish civilians in Israel.

These three leaders are not the cause of the problem of antisemitism but they are symptomatic of its going mainstream.

11. Antisemitism is a political problem, not one of administration.

The key solution to the problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party is political leadership.
The party must be clear in its choice to embrace a politics of peace, reconciliation and engagement and to reject the politics of the demonization of Israel.

Israelis and Palestinians have both been caught in the global sweep of 20th and 21st Century events. Neither are villains, neither are a global players. Both nations contain people who should be Labour allies in the struggle for democracy and others of whom we should be critical, and who struggle against democratic values.

The politics of peace forms a virtuous circle: it mutually reinforces democratic movements on all sides of the conflict; it takes the wind out of the sails of those who seek to mobilize hatred, racism and war.

This inquiry can and should recommend practical actions to educate the membership on the issue of antisemitism and to clamp down on people who refuse to accept the boundaries of democratic and antiracist politics. But political change is key.

If the party leadership cannot move Labour back into the mainstream democratic consensus on Israel and on antisemitism then this issue will continue to throw up crisis after crisis and it will continue to alienate most of the Jewish community; no doubt it will alienate many swing voters too.

12. Muslim antisemitism

Another space where antisemitism is over-represented the Muslim community. It should not need saying that the Muslim community is diverse and contains people of all political outlooks, including people who understand the history and the threat of antisemitism.

Labour must avoid situating the problem of antisemitism as a problem of Muslims, immigrants or foreigners; equally it must avoid a racism of low expectations which fails to take Muslim antisemitism seriously and fails to require that Labour Muslims embrace democratic and antiracist politics.

There is a striking difference between the way in which Naz Shah responded to the issue of antisemitism and the way, for example, Shah Hussain responded. She apologized openly and honestly; she resolved to take steps to understand what she had done, why she had done it, and how she was going to rectify the situation. Shah Hussain, by contrast, appeared on television stony faced, denying all guilt, repeating meaningless formulations and mobilizing embarrassing counter accusations of Islamophobia.

Of course Shah Hussain must not be infantilized; he is responsible for the politics he chooses to embrace and to articulate in public, in his capacity as an elected Labour councillor. But it is also true that there is a wider, non-Muslim, left-wing, scholarly and even Jewish political culture which offers sophisticated underpinnings for his attitude. The left needs to learn the lessons taught most explicitly by the experience of ‘Respect’, the Trotskyist-Islamist alliance against Israel, imperialism and democracy, which did so much to mis-educate radical young people, both Muslim and not Muslim.

Naz Shah and Sadiq Khan both appear absolutely clear in their opposition to antisemitism and their willingness to engage seriously with the crisis. They are acting as leaders, fighting for a democratic politics, both within the Muslim and also the Labour communities.

The apparently delicate course Labour needs to navigate, both within and outside the Muslim community, can be defined in terms of democratic norms and values. Labour must recognise and oppose antisemitism; Labour must recognise and oppose Islamophobia; Labour must fight poverty and economic exclusion, issues which impact Muslims in particular ways.

Labour must also fight anti-democratic Islamist politics; it should seek to create a pole of attraction for young people away from totalitarian resentments and towards constructive democratic ideas. It must defend the state against the totalitarian threat; and it must also defend Muslim secularists, socialists, women, lesbians and gays and dissenters against that threat.

And it is with the same democratic and egalitarian values that Labour, led by Muslim Labour members, can be at the forefront of opposing antisemitism within the Muslim communitie.

13. The FRA Working Definition of antisemitism

The Working Definition is not a machine for judging what is antisemitic and what is not, it cannot substitute for political judgment; but it is a set of guidelines which can help us make informed and careful political judgments. I would recommend its explicit adoption, not as legislation but as summary and a guide of what the relevant issues are in recognising antisemitism.

14. Antisemitism is an indicator of a retreat from democratic and rational politics

Antisemitism is a danger to Jews but it is also a danger to the Labour Party and to any other space in which it is tolerated.

There is a danger of Labour’s antisemitism problem becoming a wider British antisemitism problem. At the moment, the presence of antisemitism in the party is a vote loser. We would worry even more if it became a vote-winner.

Antisemitism weakens our solidarity with those Palestinians who strive to build a democratic and free Palestinian state.

***

Having tried to be precise and analytical in this submission, I will finish with something else.

I took my mum to vote the other day in the mayoral election. She is 86 and Jewish; she left Hitler’s Germany in 1938, aged eight. She considers herself British. She is not politically sophisticated but she is no fool. As she went to vote, she said to me that she hated Jeremy Corbyn but that she was afraid that if Labour did badly then people would blame the Jews for making all that fuss about him.

I remember my dad telling me that when he was brought up in the East End, nobody, but nobody, in the Jewish community voted Tory. Everybody was Labour.

This is the context in which allegations that the Jewish community is trying to hurt the left by manufacturing dishonest allegations of antisemitism are particularly painful.

David Hirsh

Lecturer in Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London.

Reply to Seth J Frantzman, ‘Hannah Arendt, White Supremacist’ – Robert Fine

Seth J Frantzman published a piece in Jpost saying that Hannah Arendt was a white supremacist:

It’s time to admit that through Arendt’s writing runs a thread of European white supremacy. She was very much a product of the 1920s. It was by accident that she was Jewish, and not German, because she was closest intellectually to the Nazi academics who she associated with.

How did a woman with such racist views, such a hateful disdain for “dark continents,” “savages,” “scum” and “orientals” come to be seen as “progressive”? Mostly because of the careful work of other racist false progressives to keep her in the pantheon and to deceive Jews with liberal inclinations. Just as Karl Marx and many other writers are not subjected to proper critique for their racist views, so Arendt gets a free pass. It’s time to close the book on Arendt. She’s no hero. She’s a villain and represents a tragic point in European Jewish history where some Jews embraced white supremacy in order to fit in to the European context. They should have embraced the “orientals,” she derided.

Robert Fine wrote a reply, but Jpost cut it down and edited it into a letter.  Here is the full text of his response.

Robert Fine

Robert Fine

 

The apartheid state, an image of which adorns Seth Frantzman’s opinion piece, was undoubtedly white supremacist. Now in addition to all past indictments of Hannah Arendt as a self-hating and Nazi-excusing Jew, she is accused by this author of being just like the apartheid state. Is there no bottom to her alleged crimes? It is extraordinary what rodomontade a little knowledge and a fast read can engender.

Frantzman declares himself dissatisfied with received wisdom and claims contrary to Arendt’s uncritical academic sycophants to have read what the great lady actually wrote. He says that she combined a belief in white European superiority with a toxic view of the world that derided the whole African continent as savage; that she represented all that was wrong with German Jews who embraced European concepts of racial supremacy; that she had a racialised view of the world characteristic of German nationalism and treated ‘race’ as a fundamental political principle; that she was in favour of colonialism and thought that the extermination of native peoples was in keeping with the traditions of colonized peoples; and that in America she defended segregation just as back in Germany she had flirted with Nazi intellectuals like Heidegger. The writer concludes that the ignoring of her racism, like that of Karl Marx and other ‘false progressives’, works only to ‘deceive Jews with liberal inclinations’.

I urge your readers not to believe a word of this and to read Arendt’s inspiring texts for themselves. It’s almost funny how Arendt, whose whole intellectual and political life was oriented to understanding and resisting the temptations of totalitarianism in the modern age, has been turned on her head. In the third and final section of The Origins of Totalitarianism she took apart both the workings of totalitarian domination, including the death and labour camps, and the strange appeal of totalitarian ideas to radical intellectuals. In the first two sections of the book on antisemitism and imperialism her work was devoted above all to understanding the contribution of racism in its various forms – against Jews, colonized peoples, former slaves, other Europeans – to the growth of totalitarian terror. Not exactly the stuff of ‘white supremacism’.

Arendt described ‘expansion for expansion’s sake’ as the central political idea of imperialism. She characterized it as a ‘destructive principle that will not stop until there is nothing left to violate’. She held that its logical consequence was ‘the destruction of all living communities’. She argued that the ‘totalitarian successors’ of imperialism took the principle of imperialism to its limit when it set out to destroy not only ‘the Jews’ to the last man and woman but also ‘all politically stabilized structures’. I cite this argument to indicate that, far from defending the extermination of native peoples, Arendt maintained that it was the precursor of the extermination of those designated alien within Europe itself. Her aim was to look afresh at connections between unlimited capital accumulation, the pathological growth of antisemitism, racism and imperialism in the nineteenth century, and the destructive energies released by totalitarian movements in the twentieth. Hardly the stuff of ‘white supremacism’.

The methodological problem lies in searching for an apparently damaging quotation from Arendt’s texts that is ripped out of context and read as a statement of Arendt’s own views. This method is to pay no heed to what Arendt was attempting to do in her writing. So Frantzman quotes Arendt’s depiction of the race consciousness of late nineteenth century Boers, who thought of themselves as escaping civilisation for a ‘dark continent’ populated by ‘native savages’, as if it were Arendt herself who thought of Africa in these terms. What Arendt actually argued was that ‘race was the emergency explanation of human beings … whose humanity so frightened and humiliated the immigrants [Europeans] that they no longer cared to belong to the same human species’. And then again: ‘the Boers were never able to forget their first horrible fright before a species of men whom human pride and the sense of human dignity could not allow them to accept as fellow-men… when European men massacred them, they somehow were not aware they had committed murder’. Is this the stuff of white supremacism?

Frantzman writes that Arendt praised colonialism and thought that exterminating native peoples was fine because it was ‘in keeping with the traditions of these tribes themselves’.  What Arendt actually wrote was that ‘this answer [“Exterminate all brutes”] resulted in the most terrible massacres’ that reduced an indigenous population from 40 to 20 million. Frantzman does not seem to realize that the term ‘Dark Continent’ was drawn from Conrad’s magnificent and terrible Heart of Darkness. Arendt compared the archetypal colonial adventurer with the character of Kurtz from that novel: ‘hollow to the core, reckless without hardihood, greedy without audacity, cruel without courage’.  Arendt’s comment on the extermination of hostile tribes in African native wars, illustrated by the murder of ‘only’ a million or so members of other tribes by Zulus, was meant to contrast with the magnitude of the colonial experience and bring to light the senselessness that may help explain why human destruction is so often ‘not remembered by human history’. White supremacism? Surely not.

Finally, Arendt’s alleged ‘defence’ of segregation in her 1957 essay Reflections on Little Rock (an essay she disavowed soon after) was not a ‘defence’ at all but an expression of concern about the ways in which segregation was being fought: in particular the exposure of black children to the rage of white racists, the subordination of rights to association in all their contingency and potential bigotry to the demands of public authority, and the civil rights movement’s downplaying of its opposition to marriage laws prohibiting ‘intermarriage’ and ‘miscegenation’. Arendt’s political concerns were even according to her own account only partially justified, but they had nothing to do with ‘defending segregation’. As she wrote in her ‘preliminary remarks’ on the much postponed publication of the original text, ‘Since what 1 wrote may shock good people and be misused by bad ones, 1 should like to make it clear that as a Jew I take my sympathy for the cause of the Negroes as for all oppressed and underprivileged peoples for granted and should appreciate it the reader did likewise.’ ‘Tis a pity the author of this opinion piece did not heed the advice.

One last word. Of course Arendt was a creature of her place and time and not immune to the prejudices that accompanied them, but like Kant and Marx, two philosophers she greatly admired, what made her special was the profound self-critique of European civilisation to which she opened both herself and her readers.

Robert Fine

Professor Emeritus, Warwick University

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