Labour’s Zionism Problem

The idea that opposition to Israeli settler-colonialism or the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people is anti-Semitic is a well-established propaganda weapon, which Israel and its supporters have wielded to great effect for many years.  In recent weeks a number of Labour MPs and Labour supporters have picked it up once again to argue that the Labour Party is riddled with anti-Semitism and that Jeremy Corbyn is tacitly supporting or turning a  blind eye to it.

The incident which triggered the latest outburst seems to have stemmed from a decision last month by the Oxford University Labour Club to support Israeli Apartheid Week, in order to demonstrate its opposition to what it called Israel’s ‘ongoing settler-colonial project and apartheid policies over the Palestinian people’.    In response, OULC’s co-chairman Alex Chalmers resigned, claiming that many of its members had ‘some kind of problem with Jews.’

Chalmers did not make clear what that problem was, beyond condemning his club’s decision ‘ to  endorse a movement with a history of targeting and harassing Jewish students and inviting antisemitic speakers to campuses, despite the concerns of Jewish students.’

As scandals go, this is pretty thin gruel, yet a number of Labour MPs reacted as though OULC members had been handing out copies of the Elders of Zion in the Cornmarket, and called on Jeremy Corbyn to carry out an investigation into Chalmers’s allegations.

No one will be surprised that this chorus of outrage included MPs like Louise Ellman, a member of the Labour Friends of Israel, who accused Corbyn of not doing enough to stop the spread of anti-Semitism  Or John Mann, an MP who loathes Corbyn and has been trying to undermine him in various ways ever since he won the Labour leadership contest last summer.

By the end of the month, such accusations had transformed OULC’s ‘Jewish problem’ into a ‘Labour Party problem’, or more specifically ‘Corbyn’s Labour Party problem. ‘  Thus Blair’s former bagman Lord Levy joined in,  threatening to leave the party if Corbyn didn’t get to grips with the problem of anti-Semitism within the party.  Levy declared himself ‘ horrified and disgusted’ by the comments of two Labour Party members who had been excluded and suspended even before he made his threat.

The fact that these two members had been excluded and suspended might suggest that the Labour Party was not as passive as Levy suggested, but the ‘Corbyn tolerates anti-Semitism’ singalong was only just getting started.  Naturally there was a classic smear piece by the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland, suggesting that Corbyn was not anti-Semtic but….

Then there was  Tom Harris, another Corbyn critic and member of Labour Friends of Israel, writing in that well-known Labour outlet the Telegraph that ‘ hatred of Israel – real, blind, vicious, hatred – is felt most keenly and most loudly by those on the extreme Left, many of them Trotskyites.’

Shock horror indeed.   Then Ellman threw another ingredient into the mix, claiming that Labour Party members and supporters ‘are being allowed to get away with posting anti-Semitic comments in their tweets and on their website.’   And now Sadiq Khan, a hollow careerist politician who will say whatever he thinks he needs to say to get himself elected, has declared himself ‘ embarrassed, I’m sorrowful about anti-Semitism in my party’ and claimed that Jeremy Corbyn needs to be ‘trained about what anti-Semtism is.’

Not from a miserable jerk like Khan he doesn’t.  .And I hope Corbyn won’t take any lessons from Jonathan Arkush, president of the Jewish Board of Deputies who has denounced ‘ a stream of clear cut cases of antisemitism in the Labour party, which can’t just be fobbed off as differences over Israel’ and claimed that ‘ Most of the Jewish community, numerous Labour MPs, Labour peers, and Labour’s London mayoral candidate are crying out for the leader to take action on antisemitism.’

Arkush is particularly concerned by Corbyn’s response to the following tweet from his brother, Piers Corbyn on Louise Ellman’s accusations:

[stextbox id=”alert”]“All #Corbyns are committed #AntiNazi. #Zionists cant cope with anyone supporting rights for #Palestine”[/stextbox]

Jeremy Corbyn said his brother was “not wrong” and that “My brother has his point of view, I have mine and we actually fundamentally agree – we are a family that were brought up fighting racism from the day we were born.’  Personally,  I don’t anything wrong with either the tweet or Corbyn’s response, nevertheless Arkush insists that ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s defence of his brother’s belittling of the problem of antisemitism is deeply disturbing.’

Not half as disturbing as the vicious racism that is openly coursing through Israeli society nowadays.   Like justice minister Ayelet Shaked’s Facebook call for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to ‘little snakes.’  Or Habayit Hayehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich.tweets on his pregnant wife’s reluctance to share a hospital with Arabs on the grounds that:

[stextbox id=”alert”]My wife isn’t a racist, but after giving birth, she wanted rest, not the mass haflot that are common among the families of Arab women who give birth[/stextbox]

And:

[stextbox id=”alert”]It’s natural that my wife wouldn’t want to lie next to someone who just gave birth to a baby who might want to murder her baby in another 20 years”[/stextbox]

A recent poll by an Israeli tv station found that more than half of Israelis supported the soldier who shot dead a wounded Palestinian in Hebron last month who had tried and failed to carry out a knife attack.   Haaretz’s Gideon Levy, one of the most courageous voices in Israel, lamented his country’s transformation  into a ‘  monster – and no one is going to stop it.’

As Levy observed:

‘There are toxic seeds which, once planted, cannot be stopped from sprouting. There are plagues that cannot be stopped from spreading. We are there. When the execution of a wounded Palestinian becomes a value, all other values and hopes disappear. A new people has been created, between the ultranationalist and religious right on one side and the apathetic majority on the other.’

Too right. But the likes of Levy, Mann, and Ellman aren’t interested in any of this, and if they are disturbed by these developments, they haven’t said.   Are there anti-Semites within the Labour Party? Certainly, and when they raise their heads above the parapet they need to be rooted out.   But these are marginal figures, compared with the far more powerful historic influence of Zionism within the party.

Some of those who have attacked Corbyn in recent weeks belong to this tradition. For these Labour friends of Israel, ‘friendship’ requires uncritically following every propaganda talking point laid down by the Israeli state in response to the increasing success of the BDS movement.

Others are clearly combining this agenda with their opposition to Corbynism, and are willing to say and do anything  to undermine and discredit Corbyn. Smearing him with spurious accusations of tolerating anti-Semitism is just one more tool in the toolbox.  There are also those, like Tom Harris, who combine support for Israel and anti-Cobynism with opposition to the left in general.

Such hostility undoubtedly explains why a lifelong anti-racist, socialist and anti-Zionist like Tony Greenstein has been suspended from the party for supposedly anti-Semitic comments – a grotesque suggestion to anyone familiar with Greenstein’s principled activism.

Last but not least, there is Sadiq Khan, who just wants to be mayor of London and perhaps something even more than that in the future.

So there is really nothing very noble or decent or well-meaning about this at all, and whatever problem the Labour Party may have with anti-Semitism, it is nothing compared to Labour’s Zionism problem, which has too often led Israel’s ‘friends’ within the PLP to remain silent about the ongoing oppression and dispossession of the Palestinians, and Israel’s own headlong descent into the racist vortex.

Stand Up to Racism Tomorrow

Tomorrow Stand Up To Racism is staging a national demonstration in London to coincide with UN Anti-Racism Day, which commemorates the 1960 Sharpeville massacre when 69 peaceful demonstrators were shot by police in South Africa.  Tomorrow’s demonstration takes place at a critical period  in European history, when racism, xenophobia, and hatred towards foreigners and refugees are coursing through the continent.

This is why we have scenes like this:

And this:

And from the political mainstream, we have politicians who stigmatize and dehumanize migrants in a cynical attempt to distract attention from their own failings:

Meanwhile men, women, and children fleeing war and conflict drown virtually every week, and those who succeed in crossing Europe’s maritime borders are greeted by riot police, tear gas and truncheons:

 

Many years ago the Auschwitz survivor Rabbi Hugo Gryn wrote:

“Asylum issues are an index of our moral and spiritual civilisation. How you are with the one to whom you owe nothing, that is a grave test … and I hope and pray that it is a test we shall not fail. “

Increasingly, Europe is failing that test.  We now have a continent in which governments are confiscating money and jewelry from men and women who have already lost their homes in order to make them pay for their upkeep.    Of  the 160,000 refugees who the European Union agreed to relocate last year, less than one thousand have actually been relocated.   This week the European Union is attempting to complete a sordid and shameful deal that will result in the richest trading bloc in the world carrying out collective pushbacks of refugees into Turkey.

These exclusionary policies have contributed to what UNHCR has called a ‘crisis of Europe’s own making’.  Failed and disastrous militarist adventures; selfish national self-interest; economic insecurity and inequality; the brutal con-trick of austerity – all these factors are transforming the utopian peace project of the European Union into a seedbed for fascism, in which migrants and refugees are becoming scapegoats and fair game for persecution.

Now, more than ever, European civil society must step up to oppose these sinister developments.   Millions of people across the continent have been genuinely distressed and horrified by the events of the last year, and have not given into the fascist temptation. We need to win them over to a different kind of politics.  We need to show that we are not the people the Camerons and the fascists think we are – or would like us to be.

We need to be in the streets to make our voices heard.  Because if we can’t find out a way out of the increasingly dire trajectory that Europe is currently embarked on,  then we are lost, and we will find ourselves engulfed by the poisonous shoots that are popping up across the continent.

That’s why I’m going to London tomorrow.   I hope to see you there.

Details available here.

 

 

Learn English! The Vicious Idiocy of David Cameron

I have to admit that when I hear the word ‘integration’ coming from politicians nowadays, it makes me want to reach for my revolver.   By integration, I don’t mean the term that British Home Secretary Roy Jenkins famously defined back in 1966 when he said:

‘ Integration is perhaps a loose word. I do not regard it as meaning the loss, by immigrants, of their own characteristics and culture. I do not think we need in this country a “melting pot”, which will turn everybody out in a common mould, as one would a series of carbon copies of someone’s misplaced version of the stereotyped Englishness. I define integration, therefore, not as a flattening process of assimilation but as equal opportunity, accompanied by cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance.’

Wise and sensible words, but they couldn’t be further removed from the arrogant and condescending demands emanating from our government and so many others, to the effect that immigrants must integrate with ‘us’ or leave the country.

Such demands are often accompanied by accusations that certain groups of immigrants are deliberately refusing to integrate and that their refusal to do so is a sign of cultural hostility or incompatibility. Take the issue of learning English.   Anyone who has ever lived in another country knows that it’s sensible and even essential to learn the language of the country you are living in. Without that ability, a whole range of everyday activities and interactions become difficult or even impossible, and you are never going to be able to fully engage with the society you are living in.

As a former language learner and a language teacher, both inside and outside the UK, I know that learning a language takes time, patience and – for most of us anyway – a certain amount of instruction that you will usually have to receive when you aren’t working.

It makes sense therefore, for an immigrant-receiving country to provide such instruction and facilitate the language learning process for the mutual benefit of new arrivals,  and the country they have come to live in.  But that kind of thinking is entirely alien to the purse-lipped buffoons that the British public has chosen – for reasons known only to itself – to place in government.

For Lord Snooty and His Pals, it isn’t a question of helping immigrants to learn English; they want to make them learn it and punish and exclude them when they don’t.

His Lordship has been banging on for some time now that immigrants must learn English or leave – a demand that always carries the implicit suggestion that these nefarious intruders are willfully spurning the language that gave us Shakespeare and Tennyson and the locals who speak it, all of whom are just waiting with open arms to integrate them and join in choral recitations of Hamlet’s soliloquy or simply a good rousing version of Kumbaya.

Of course making these demands is far more useful politically than actually helping migrants to learn English.  Last year the government cut £45 million from ESOL Plus Mandation (English for speakers of other languages), thereby denying some 16,000 adult learners across the country the opportunity to learn English.

But now this week, in a display of gimlet-eyed idiocy that is egregious even by his own standards,  His Lordship has suggested that immigrants will be tested on their English after two and a half years, and that those who haven’t attained the required level of fluency ‘ …can’t guarantee they will be able to stay, because under our rules you have to be able to speak a basic level of English to come into the country as a husband or wife. We made that change already, and we are now going to toughen that up, so halfway through the five-year spousal settlement there will be another opportunity to make sure your English is improving. You can’t guarantee you can stay if you are not improving your language.’

These new demands appear to be aimed primarily at Muslim women.  Plucking statistics out of a hat with his usual deft sleight-of-hand,  Cameron says than 38,000 Muslim women can’t speak English and 190,000 have only limited skills in the language.   His Lordship thinks that this could be because ‘some of these people have come from quite patriarchal societies and perhaps the menfolk haven’t wanted them to speak English.’

So Lord Snooty – in full on white savior mode – has come up with the brilliant idea of threatening to deport women who don’t speak English in order to save them from their backward husbands!   Don’t say that isn’t neatly done.

But if you thought that was clever, that was only His Lordship’s first trick.  In addition to prying Muslim women out of their backwardness, he has also discovered that not learning English may constitute a terrorist threat.  Ever the deep thinker His Lordship recognizes that there is no ‘causal link’ between ‘radicalization and language skills.’

Nevertheless he has concluded that ‘ If you’re not able to speak English, not able to integrate, you may find therefore you have challenges understanding what your identity is and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message coming from Daesh.’

Now that, my friends, is joined-up thinking in action.   In Lord Snooty’s world, to prevent radicalization and promote integration and save women from patriarchal enslavement, you make them learn English and threaten them with removal if they don’t.  And all this is to be financed with a £20 million grant to fund ESOL classes for women, even though it’s still only half of the £45 million the government cut from ESOL last year, and a fraction of the £160 million cuts in ESOL funding overall since 2008.

It’s all for a good cause though, because His Lordship insists that

‘We will never truly build One Nation unless we are more assertive about our liberal values, more clear about the expectations we place on those who come to live here and build our country together, and are more creative and generous in the work we do to break down barriers.’

Just to repeat: this concept of integration is nothing to do with what Roy Jenkins’s use of the term.  There is no ‘mutual tolerance’ here, let alone creativity and generosity.  There is only an aggressive policy of assimilation which stigmatises immigrants in general and certain groups of immigrants in particular, as ungrateful and dangerous interlopers, who in Jenkins’s phrase must be ‘flattened out’

And what Cameron has done, with a stunning combination of ineptitude and sheer viciousness,  is turn a perfectly sensible idea – that immigrants should be encouraged and helped to learn  English – into yet another piece of red meat to feed the ‘concerns’ of those who would really prefer that there weren’t any foreigners in the country at all.

Murder in the City of Light

Let’s get one thing straight: the responsibility for last night’s disgusting massacre in Paris belongs to the shrunken specimens of humanity that carried them out and the organization that sent them to do it.  The attacks are yet more evidence – if any were needed – that Daesh/ISIS is one of the most vicious and repugnant gangs of mass murderers in history, and differs from its more prolific predecessors only in terms of what they are able to achieve, rather than from any moral or ethical scruples regarding who they have the right to kill.

Consider these words from today’s statement claiming responsibility for the ‘miracle’ that took place last night.  Beginning with an invocation to the ‘all merciful Allah’ – truly an oxymoron in the mouths of these dim fanatics, the statement goes on to gloat and exult in the murder of more than a hundred peaceful citizens in the following terms:

‘Eight brothers wearing explosive belts and assault weapons targeted areas carefully chosen in the heart of the French capital. The French stadium, during a match of two crusaders countries French and Germany where the imbecile of France Francois Hollande was present, the bataclan where hundreds of idolaters participating in a party of perversity were assembled, in addition to other targets in the 10, 11 and 18 arrondissement- all simultaneously.’

Yes, what an amazing achievement for these righteous executioners to have killed  ‘hundreds of idolaters participating in a party of perversity’ in the ‘foul smelling streets of Paris’ without ever realizing that they were the ones who really stank.

This statement is an example of the kind of language that gives language a bad name;- it belongs purely to the category of maledicta – words of hate, intended to reduce certain categories of human beings into vile objects worthy only of virtuous extermination.  But the executioners of Daesh/ISIS are the ones who are truly vile, and they have demonstrated their vileness again and again,  in Mosul, Raqqa, and Kobane, in Ankara, and Beirut, and so many other places.

I don’t know why it’s so difficult for some sections of ‘the left’ to recognize these qualities.  Instead I look on Facebook and elsewhere in the Internet to find angry and evidence-free references to the involvement of ‘Isra-hell’, or NATO in last night’s killings.  Armchair military experts ask knowingly how a group of armed men could manage to attack a major city with automatic weapons.

The answer is, very easily.  In fact not that difficult at all – especially if you expect to be killed yourself.

But there are those for whom evil acts are only evil if it can be shown that they are directly perpetrated or facilitated by NATO/Israel/Neocons, and that reactionary Muslim religious supremacists/bigots who have severed their connections to humanity and all the moral and ethical codes with which human beings have tried, however imperfectly, to establish limits on war and violence, can only be puppets whose strings are being pulled.

Such narratives also indirectly diminish the humanity of their victims, creating categories of worthy victims that mirror those they often criticize.  Of course it is true that Western governments rarely show the same level of universal outrage when Palestinians are shot by Israeli soldiers, or when Iraqi, Yemeni or Pakistani civilians are coolly dispatched by the more ‘rational’ practices of high-tech violence practiced in the name of ‘counter-terror.’

No, Obama did not describe the Daesh/ISIS massacre at Ankara or the carbombs in Beirut earlier this week as  ‘crimes against humanity’.   No one talked about attacks on ‘freedom’ or ‘our values’ then.

But criticizing such moral selectivity should not lead those who denounce it to adopt a selectivity of their own.   Because what took place last night was indeed a crime against humanity, that now takes its place in the dreadful continuum of terrorism and endless war that is slowly but remorselessly grinding our world into moral pulp.

I used to believe that talk of the ‘European civil war’ was a rightwing fantasy, like ‘Eurabia’, that Islamophobes used to whip up antipathy and hatred towards immigrants and Muslim immigrants in particular.  I still do, but it is also becoming increasingly clear that these fantasies are not limited to the Breiviks of this world, and that if things carry on the way they are our collective future in this continent will be darker than we imagine.

Already the Paris massacres are being seized upon to justify all kinds of agendas that have nothing to do with Daesh.  Take this statement from the Polish  European affairs ministe Konrad Szymanski today:.

‘The European council’s decisions, which we criticized, on the relocation of refugees and immigrants to all EU countries are part of European law.  After the tragic events of Paris we do not see the political possibility of respecting them.’

Forget the fact that many of the Syrians and Iraqis who came to Europe have fled from the same organization that perpetrated these ‘tragic events’ – many of whom are in the Calais ‘jungle’ which CRS police have been attacking with tear gas and stun grenades for more than three nights now.

There is likely to be a lot more – and worse – where this came from. The takfiri/jihadist terrorists who carried out last night’s massacre are at best indiffirent to the poisonous seeds their acts are sowing across the continent, and probably welcome any negative consequences.  For them, any racist backlash against Muslims,  and any further turning of the national security screw would – they hope – work in their favour by providing more recruits for their wretched ‘Caliphate.’

That is one more reason why we must deprive them of that hope.   We must not allow these acts to polarize and divide us.  We must oppose attempts to give into the temptation of authoritarianism, persecution and scapegoating.   We must hold on to the possibility of a common European home that is the sum of all its parts.   We must mobilize civil society against the mutually-reinforcing dynamic of endless war and endless terror.

If we don’t or can’t do this, the ‘European civil war’ scenarios may become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  But it won’t be a civil war, but an unfolding and deepening process of persecutions, expulsions, ghettoization, racism and xenophobia and a tit-for-tat pattern of state and non-state violence that will leave the rest of us as nothing more than gaping horrified spectators of our reversion to barbarism.

We can be better than that, and we have to be.  Because otherwise the ‘brothers’ who struck last night will win, and we may not find our way out of the deep hole into which we just keep on sinking.