Corbynistas prefer denouncing critics to engaging with criticism – David Hirsh

This piece by David Hirsh is in the Jerusalem Post and on Jpost.comd

Jeremy Corbyn looks like he might win the contest for the leadership of the Labour Party in the UK, making him Labour’s candidate for prime minister at the next general election. Corbyn is very English in manner; softly spoken, self-effacing, a kind of left-wing Hugh Grant but without the charm. Unlike his losing predecessor Ed Miliband, he will never appear “too clever by half” but neither does he have anything of the blue collar about him.

He’s like the guy who assigns allotments for the local council; and he can’t be bought.

His rhetoric centers on opposing what he calls “austerity” and he is surfing a growing wave of radical energy and excitement.

This is in one sense surprising because he seems to be very austere in his personal life.

Nobody suspected Corbyn of over-claiming his expenses; he is the last person to be worried about the Ashley Madison leak; he is said to buy his clothes at a charity shop.

Corbyn wants the rich to be made to suffer the austerity which the recession and the Conservatives have already forced on the low paid and on social security claimants; slightly different from austerity which he and his supporters already embraced as a life-style choice. He says that instead of cutting public spending the government should borrow more money, invest in people, skills, jobs, infrastructure and kick-start the economy. He says that he will grow the economy, expand the tax base, give generous benefits to the needy and nobody will have to suffer. Except perhaps the greedy, the bankers and other moral failures.

Well good, this is a Keynesian social democratic politics which should be offered to the British people as an option. Tony Blair’s New Labour, the only kind of Labour to have won a general election in the era of color TV (he won three), was famously “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”

The problem, however, is that these current challengers of the Thatcher/Reagan economic consensus appear to be intensely relaxed about anti-democratic politics, so long as it is anti-American; anti-Semitism so long as it is anti-Israel; and jihadi Islamism, which is seen as a defensive response to the real enemy, imperialism.

Pictures of Corbyn arm in arm with Hugo Chavez have been published. Corbyn has called for a warmer British relationship with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Youtube videos have emerged of Corbyn hosting a show on Press TV, the propaganda channel of the Iranian regime. Tweets have been published in which he commends Russia Today, the Russian equivalent.

Corbyn has come under criticism for hosting spokespeople for Hamas and Hezbollah in Parliament, people he addressed as “friends.” When challenged, he claims that this was just diplomatic language, he wants to encourage peace negotiations he says, even with Hamas. But he does not host Likudniks in Parliament and he does not refer to them as friends. In truth, Corbyn says that Hamas and Hezbollah are “dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people.” He says that they are dedicated to “bringing about long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region.” He presents himself as a democratic supporter of a two-state solution but actually he supports and embraces those in Palestine who oppose peace with all the resources of their Iranian paymasters.

Corbyn does not understand the distinction between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, and the distinction does not seem to interest him.

His political support for anti-Semitic movements leads him into a series of encounters with anti-Semitic individuals.

He says he is being smeared by association, a backbencher is busy, anyone who supports liberation movements meets some strange people along the way. But his associations with anti-Semites are not random accidents.

Raed Salah is a Palestinian Islamist who visited the UK. The Jewish community warned that Salah had a record of employing medieval blood libel to incite against Jews. Corbyn leapt to Salah’s defense, saying that he was “far from a dangerous man.”

Steven Sizer is a vicar with a record of pushing anti-Zionist conspiracy theory who was finally banned by the Church of England from social media after sharing an anti-Semitic article claiming: “9/11: Israel did it.” Corbyn had also jumped to Sizer’s defense, saying that Sizer was under attack by a “pro-Israel smear campaign.”

Corbyn recently pulled out of a meeting where he was due to appear on a platform with Latuff, second prize winner in Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust Denial cartoon contest, and Azzam Tamimi, a London defender of Hamas who says that suicide bombing is a “noble cause” and he would do it if he had the opportunity.

Corbyn is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, an organization dedicated to fighting for a boycott of Israel and which has a record of tolerating anti-Semitism within its ranks. Corbyn supported Deir Yassin Remembered for years after it had become clear that its founder Paul Eisen was an open Holocaust denier.

Corbyn is the national chairman of Stop the War, the organization which selectively opposes Britain, Israel and America in any war in which they are involved. Corbyn, for example, opposed the Royal Air Force playing what turned out to be a pivotal role in saving Kobani and the Yazidis from Islamic State.

Corbyn was pictured hosting spokespeople for the IRA days after that organization had tried to kill prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the Brighton bombing. Pictures have emerged of Corbyn sitting next to Dyou Abou Jahjah on a platform, a man who says that the “death of every British soldier is a victory.”

How can it be that hundreds of thousands of socialists, greens, trade unionists and peace activists are so excited by the Corbyn candidacy? Diane Abbot, a prominent left-wing Labour MP angrily dismissed criticism of Corbyn. She claimed that these are all smear tactics mobilized by the “political class” which is terrified of this new wind blowing.

Rather disarmingly, Corbyn calmly announces that he “doesn’t do personal” and he isn’t going to respond to these vulgar personal attacks. He is for peace. He is against war. He is for the underdog. He opposes imperialist wars against oppressed peoples. He promises to issue an apology on behalf of the Labour Party for going to war against Saddam Hussein and the Taliban.

Corbyn’s claim not to indulge in personal abuse deserves closer examination. The Corbyn campaign tends not engage directly with the examples, evidence and argument which its opponents raise. It prefers to respond with a counter-charge of bad faith, saying that people who make these wicked accusations are enemies of the progressive; they have hidden political motives. The worry is not only that the Corbynistas fail to recognize and to oppose totalitarian politics around the world. The worry is also that in their response to mounting criticism here in Britain, the Corbyn campaign is happiest denouncing its critics – as Tories, neo-liberals, Zionists or Blairites. It prefers to de-legitimize opponents than to relate rationally to their criticism.

In other words Corbyn’s supporters are tempted by totalitarian methods and practices, as well as alliances and worldviews.

Some Labour activists believe that if Corbyn wins then this will condemn Britain to decades more Tory government. They imagine the dismal fate of a Labour candidate in a general election who is associated with people who hope for the death of British soldiers, with anti-Semites, with homophobes and with woman-haters. But we should not entirely discount a more troubling possibility. Perhaps Corbyn could be successful in knitting together the resentments and the prejudices of those who feel all at sea in today’s frightening world: those who are anti-European Union, anti “Westminster elite,” isolationist, anti-banker, anti-Zionist, anti-American, anti-democracy and pro-conspiracy theory.

David Hirsh is a sociology lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London

This piece by David Hirsh is in the Jerusalem Post and on

Matisyahu fails Rototom’s political test on Jews – updated

Matisyahu is not Israeli but he got boycotted anyway, after deciding not to perform politically correct views about Israel for the organisers of a reggae festival in Spain. Here’s what that feels like.

Sarah’s piece on Harry’s Place is aptly titled ‘BDS inflation‘.

Update: The Rototom organisers changed their minds – Matisyahu has been re-invited. They have posted a no-nonsense apology which you can translate, attributing their decision to bully tactics from a Valencia BDS outfit which threatened to disrupt the event. I’m not sure what made them change their minds – hopefully it was some kind of realisation rather than a bigger threat of disruption. The BDS outfit have their own ill-tempered statement in which they distance themselves from the PACBI BDS call to boycott institutions not individuals. It’s an ominous turn of events when PACBI comes off looking moderate. Still, the lesson is, show signs of life and you may just be able to shake off some antisemites. Vox has a good explainer

A statement to sign on antisemitism

Shalom Lappin, Brian Bix, Eve Garrard, Matthew Kramer, Hillel Steiner and Stephen De Wijze have a wide-ranging statement on contemporary European antisemitism which they invite you to sign.

It begins by summarising the the recent increase in antisemitism. It then highlights the complacency of those who don’t recognise how antisemitism interferes with the lives of Jews, especially those who participate in organised Jewish life or as Jews in wider public life.

At the heart of the statement is a rebuke to “many who flatteringly present themselves as liberals, human rights advocates, and progressives” who recognise and react sharply to the antisemitic threat of the white nativist far right, but are prepared to accept bigoted positions on Jews coming from the Islamist far right. Turning to politics about the Middle East, the statement gives several cases of exceptional treatment of Israel’s conduct and exceptional treatment of Jews in relation to Israel. It sets out and counters the defences most often made by progressives charged with being soft on antisemitism, before concluding with advice against fragmented discreet appeals to the authorities and a call to people committed to liberal democratic values not to treat antisemitism as a Jewish issue but to include it in a universal fight against racism and bigotry.

I think the statement is a good, needed rallying point, and a benchmark, which is why I signed. To sign yourself, click on the About link at the top and scroll to the green button.

Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy

Here are two responses, from Sarah Brown and Eve Garrard.

Although at first he seemed very much the outsider candidate, it is now being predicted that Jeremy Corbyn may do well in the first round of the Labour leadership elections.

Readers here will probably already be familiar with the reasons not to vote for Corbyn. His support for the Palestinian cause has led him to consider elements of Hamas and Hezbollah his ‘friends’ and welcome Raed Salah, who promotes the blood libel and other hateful views, to tea at Westminster:

“About Salah, Corbyn has said ‘He is far from a dangerous man. He is a very honoured citizen, he represents his people extremely well, and his is a voice that must be heard.’ Corbyn added, ‘I look forward to giving you tea on the terrace because you deserve it!’ “

Although there have been reasoned and eloquent critiques of Corbyn from the left, some other Labour supporters have a blind spot on such issues. This article on Left Futures invokes Realpolitik in order to defend Corbyn’s record and associations.

“Corbyn is socialist and the others are not, Corbyn is secularist and the others are not, Corbyn is a steadfast defender of LGBT rights and the others are certainly not. Corbyn also understands that peace can only be achieved through mutual respect and diplomacy.”

But it is surely possible to have official dealings with objectionable people to further peace and diplomacy without calling them ‘friends’ or inviting them to tea.

It is depressingly difficult to disagree with Nick Cohen here:

“If Corbyn apologized for neo-Nazis with near identical views to Raed Salah, or some kind of Ku Klux Klan-style militia that matched Hezbollah goose step for goose step, the left would excommunicate him. As it is, in Britain, Europe, and by the look of it the States too you can be an admired leftist, while going along with every vile and murderous movement.”

Whereas some indignantly defend Corbyn, others admit a problem but claim it is outweighed by the positives.  Here a link to some of his more unsavoury positions is hidden away in a throwaway line in the middle of an otherwise enthusiastic piece.

“He’s not a perfect figure by any means, but you take your breaks as you find them.”

Many Labour members aren’t avid followers of blogs and rely for their information on more mainstream media. It is therefore likely that they are aware of Corbyn’s views on issues such as austerity and the unions, but perhaps know little of his more controversial positions. It’s a pity that this quite informative short piece was run in the Daily Express, a paper most on the left avoid. There’s no mention of Hamas, Hezbollah or Salah in this gushing profile in the Guardian, or in this editorial, also from the Guardian.

This apparent indifference or tolerance towards Corbyn’s less defensible views is well described in this extremely informative recent article on his candidacy by Jake Wallis Simons.

“As one Labour insider put it, “the attitude is, ‘that’s just Jeremy being Jeremy.’”

In some ways the debates echo those we heard when Ken Livingstone was standing for Mayor.   Many were torn between a wish to support a Labour candidate and an unwillingness to support someone who, to quote Jonathan Freedland, ‘doesn’t care what hurt he causes Jews.’

If you look up “Jeremy Corbyn” together with “Hamas” in Google most of the top hits are links to right wing sites or sites which regularly cover the topic of antisemitism. It seems likely, thanks to the willingness of some on the left to excuse or gloss over Corbyn’s associations with extremists, that many voting for him as leader won’t be aware of his past form on these issues.

Sarah Brown

It is sometimes suggested that Jewish left-wingers who refuse to support Corbyn out of concern about his antisemitic friendships are selfishly putting the (putative) interests of Jews ahead of the interests of the poor and the working class, for whom Corbyn speaks. Jews should, it could be said, rise above their narrow sectional concerns, and support the candidate who will work for the down-trodden and impoverished. Leave aside the question of whether Corbyn would, were he to become Leader of the Labour Party, actually improve the lot of the downtrodden any better than the other candidates. Let’s focus on the charge of sectional selfishness levelled at Jews who have doubts about supporting Corbyn. To see its implications, consider the following situation:

A candidate for the leadership emerges whose politics in general are very similar to Corbyn’s, being impeccably left-wing on all issues to do with class and economics. However this candidate has in the past, and is in the present, very supportive of the Ku Klux Klan in America. He regards that organisation as an objectively progressive force, and its leaders as friends – he attends some of their meetings, and is pleased and proud to share a public platform with them when the opportunity arises. Many persons of colour in the Labour Party are horrified at this, and declare their intention to vote for any other candidate in preference to this Corbyn-equivalent, on the grounds that they can’t possibly support a person who has links with some extraordinarily racist forces, whose views about black people are hideously prejudiced, insulting, and oppressive.

In such a situation, would those persons of colour be regarded as acting selfishly? Would they be criticised for putting the interests of black citizens ahead of the general good? Or would they rather be seen as women and men of principle, who refuse to collaborate with bigotry and racism towards themselves and their people, whatever its source on the political spectrum? The questions practically answer themselves.

So too for Jews who feel that they cannot support Corbyn in any circumstances. They too are women and men of principle, an anti-racist principle well worth defending by Jews and non-Jews alike.

Eve Garrard

From Fathom: Antisemitism and Oren Ben-Dor

Before the University of Southampton’s conference on Israel and international law was cancelled/postponed, a petition was set up insisting that this controversial topic was a legitimate subject for discussion and debate.

We affirm, as academics from various disciplines and institutions of higher education, that the themes of the conference, such as the relationship of international law to the historic and ongoing political violence in Palestine/Israel, and critical reflections on nationality and self-determination, are entirely legitimate subjects for debate and inquiry.
We are very concerned that partisan attempts are being made to silence dissenting analyses of the topic in question.
Many who disliked the conference’s stance still supported its right to go ahead, and cautioned against an illiberal or counterproductive overreaction.  Ben Gidley, for example, argued that we should challenge opposing views, not seek to ban them.
I am sure that I would strongly disagree with the views expressed by many of the speakers at the conference. It may be that some speakers may contribute to a climate in which antisemitism is not taken seriously. These positions, however, should be challenged through argument, and not by banning an event.
I agree with this evaluation of the conference.  However, the spotlight on Southampton made many look more closely at the views of one of the conference organisers, Oren Ben-Dor.  I would be interested to know how those who supported the agenda of the conference (not simply its right to go ahead) respond to his published views on ‘Zionism, Anti-Zionism and the Jewish Prison’.  You can read my own response to this abhorrent piece here on Fathom.

For the record – Israel matters at UCU Congress 2015

There’s always a hostile special interest taken in Israel at UCU Congress and this year was no different. I wasn’t there but followed the #ucu15 Twitter hashtag – eyewitnesses, feel free to flesh out the details.

There was a motion from the University of Brighton to confirm the boycott of Israel and circulate the PACBI guidance.

43  UCU and BDS campaign

University of Brighton Grand Parade

Congress notes:

1.     the achievements of the global BDS campaign, particularly in North America;

2.     the overwhelming adoption by Congress (2009 and 2010), after four years’ careful reflection, of a general pro-boycott policy directed at Israeli products and institutions, including academic institutions;

3.     Congress decision (2009) that all colleagues be urged, in the light of UCU policy, to consider whether cooperation with Israeli institutions is morally or politically defensible;

4.     that unions have no mechanisms to impose a boycott, and implementation is only encouragement of individuals to reflect, hence legal anti-implementation cautions are irrelevant;

5.     advice to some members from UCU, and some public information about UCU’s position, have been misleading or inconsistent with policy.

Congress reaffirms its pro-BDS policy.

Congress resolves:

a. all members will be contacted individually, in a dedicated e-mail, reminding them of policy on Israel, and with a link to the PACBI guidelines;

b. any misrepresentations of UCU’s policy will be corrected publicly.

One of the more self-referential things about this motion is the muddling of ‘achievements’ in getting institutions to boycott Israel with the actual or probably ‘achievements’ for Palestinians which amount to none that I know of – but boycotters don’t bother themselves about that because the boycott mostly exists for their own aggrandisement. For an organisation which finds it increasingly hard to stand up to its own bosses it often seems that nothing better restores its sense of potency than standing up to Israel and the UK Jewish establishment. That the motion contains no mention of Palestinian needs or wishes adds to the impression of gross narcissism.

The PACBI guidelines for boycotters used to be along the lines of rant followed by directives, but lacked support for its adherents who, it turned out, were potentially legally exposed. As a campaign against Israel, one party in a conflict which is not one-sided, it would be partisan and hostile for UCU to circulate the PACBI guidance without including other viewpoints. Note that since July 2014 the guidance now emphasises that boycotting Israel doesn’t mean ostracising individual Israelis. Because of the antisemitic and Israeli-hating prejudices the boycott attracts, many Israelis have been personally targets of obviously racist boycott activism, hence this new aspect to the guidance is badly needed and long overdue. I’d be surprised if UCU boycotters discussed these developments, or are even aware of them. As far as I know the issue wasn’t raised and nobody proposed an amendment protecting the rights of Israeli academics. This is in keeping with UCU’s double standards on rights for Israeli academics compared to other academics. Note that motion 10 on overseas campuses called on UCU’s National Executive Committee to connect with democratic trade unions in other countries – however, this conflicts with policy from 2010 when UCU decided to sever all relations with Israel’s equivalent of the TUC (motion 31).

Thanks to Sarah Annes Brown‘s willingness to oppose the motion (update: for details see her comment below), a moderate number of people felt able to vote against it. The motion passed but was immediately voided because of longstanding legal advice sought by UCU trustees which casts doubt on the legality of boycott campaigning. Like UKIP and the Conservative right, UCU boycotters find their style is cramped by anti-discrimination legislation.

Another Israel-related motion concerned the cancelled Southampton Conference.

HE31 Composite: Conference cancellation and academic freedom

Leeds Beckett University, University of Winchester, London South Bank University.

Conference notes:

1.     the University of Southampton’s cancellation of the International Law and the State of Israel conference following political pressure;

2.     the official ‘health and safety’ reason was belied by the assurances of peaceful protest from pro-Zionist groups, and police assurances on security;

3.     this academic conference had a normal CfP, invitations to Israelis, and scholars with divergent views;

4.     6,000 signatories in 24 hours signed a petition condemning the University decision.

Conference believes the management decision was related to nature of the conference, not health or safety concerns; constitutes a surrender to political pressure; and is an unprecedented assault on academic freedom.

Conference instructs the HEC, in the absence of an appropriate apology, and in response to any such request from the University of Southampton UCU, to commence ‘greylisting’ of the University of Southampton unless satisfactory assurances on academic freedom are forthcoming from University of Southampton management, including in appointments, course design and staff research.

The Southampton Conference was organised by Israel boycott campaigners. It included a very small number of presenters who could be said to have dissenting views, sufficient only for a foil. I should say here that those people do not consider themselves foils, and would have put their arguments trenchantly. I’m not sure that the conference’s open call for participation was in place from the start – in any case, the obvious thrust of the meeting would have deterred everyone but the toughest dissenter from the majority anti-Israel line. For all but a tiny number of Israelis holding exceptional views, this conference would have been ‘about us without us’. The absurdity of discussing one country’s legitimacy without including the full range of views is what marks this conference out as a campaign meeting.  One of the organisers holds hateful racialised opinions of Jews which should have sounded alarm bells for an anti-racist trade union. None of this relates to Southampton’s security reasons for cancelling the conference, but it is important to the debate.

Moreover the cancellation was upheld in the High Court and deserves to be taken seriously even if, like several Engage contributors (though not me), you protest Southampton’s decision to move the conference off-campus. Instead we have a rush to allege that sinister overwhelming power has been brought to bear (subtext: by Jews). What is particularly galling is that these fulsome campaigners for academic freedom are totally quiet about an important precedent. Less than a year ago and for what seem to be the same reasons inept Palestine campaigning led Southampton University to prevent an individual Israeli academic, Mark Auslender, from presenting there. And unlike the anti-Israel conference, Auslender didn’t get offered support to present elsewhere. So perhaps if the Southampton conference campaigners had taken risk assessment as seriously as those of the QUB conference on Charlie Hebdo, they might have managed to pull off their conference.

But facts seem to slide off UCU Congress when it comes to Israel and so they voted to greylist Southampton. The only UCU greylisting policy I can find (correct me if necessary) is from 2007 – it relates to international activity but I can’t imagine the principles would differ much. It says that greylisting is supposed to be carefully thought through with a view to understanding the purpose and outcomes, and be capable of having an effect or creating an acceptable result. Greylisting also isn’t supposed to happen unless Southampton members trigger it, but Southampton wasn’t involved in this motion and when the motion came up for debate, I understand it was remitted from the Higher Education meeting because Southamption members didn’t support the greylisting. However, it came up again in a different session and was carried.

There was another Israel-related motion in support of Steven Salaita, an academic whose contract was terminated for the nature of his response to Israel’s last major military action in Gaza. The following motion was carried and Salaita’s reward for tweeting aggressively about Jews, Zionists and Israel and making some students feel unsafe on campus was to escape any criticism and be given a symbolic donation of £100 to help with his legal campaign.

46  Support for Steven Salaita (academic freedom) – London Metropolitan University North

Congress notes the University of Illinois’ revocation (in 2014) of the decision to appoint the Muslim-American scholar Steven Salaita just three weeks before his scheduled classes were due to begin.

Prof. Salaita, whose parents are Palestinians, had been a vociferous critic of Israel’s assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014. University officials justified his firing on the basis that his many tweets on the subject were considered ‘uncivil’. A freedom of information request revealed that the university had come under pressure from many, predominantly pro-Israel, alumni and donors.


condemns the firing of Professor Salaita as a blatant violation of his academic freedom

calls on the general secretary to issue a statement in support of Professor Salaita on behalf of UCU

authorises a payment of $100 to be made to support Professor Salaita’s legal challenge against the University of Illinois.

As a force in higher education UCU isn’t very influential. Several other motions were to do with union democracy and are indicative of a democratic deficit. UCU has been characterised as domineering activists and a correspondingly inert membership, both easily dismissed by sector policy makers. An important thing to know is that, when given a chance to have their say on boycotting Israel, even though the activists are pushing it the members reject it. The motions, the back-turning, and the double standards on academic freedom are the sorts of postures weak unions strike. The solution can only be for members to get involved and active.

Letter sent to the Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University by Robert Fine and David Seymour

This letter was sent to the Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University, Professor Don Nutbeam, by Robert Fine, Emeritus Professor of Sociology University of Warwick and Dr David Seymour, Senior Lecturer In Law, City University London. It is published with their permission.

A request to revisit your decision to cancel the conference on International Law and the State of Israel

Dear Professor Don Nutbeam,

We are writing to urge you to reconsider the cancellation of the conference on International Law and the State of Israel. We have a long track record of opposing the academic boycott movement, opposing BDS, opposing the delegitimation of Israel, and opposing antisemitism in all its forms. We have also spoken out in defence of academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of criticism. We recognize that there is much in this conference with which we would profoundly disagree, and that the participation of our Israeli academic colleagues has probably been limited both by the particular political character of this conference and by the general atmosphere created by those who would exclude them from the global community of scholars. That said, it is vital for the work of all those who look to the development of rational and open debate on issues surrounding the Israel / Palestine dispute, and on the forms of racism and antisemitism that sometimes take the place of such debate, that academic conferences such as this one can go ahead. We are more than capable of arguing our various positions and we do not want to encourage either the reality or appearance of stifling debate. So we urge you, with due consideration of the security issues at stake, to allow the conference to go ahead. While we respect the grounds of your decision, our judgment is that it is wrong in principle and will create an unwelcome precedent.
Best wishes,
Robert Fine and David M. Seymour
Robert Fine
Emeritus Professor of Sociology University of Warwick

Dr David M. Seymour
Senior Lecturer In Law,
City University London


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