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Antisemitism and Zionism: a reply to Jon Lansman

Star of David, blue sky, zionismJohn Rees, co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition, responds to Jon Lansman’s post, Why the Left must stop talking about ‘Zionism’

My previous relationship with Jon Lansman has been perfectly comradely. So it’s a little surprising that he should choose to attack me as part of an article devoted to trying to convince the left to abandon the term Zionism, at least in the UK. I have made no comment on this idea and so my inclusion as the only named opponent in the article is even more surprising. I have no wish to debate the issue here, mainly because there is no chance the mainstream pro-Palestine and anti-war movement will ever relinquish the hard won right to accurately criticise the state of Israel which this terminological shift would represent.

But I do want to refute one direct lie and a number of misrepresentations of my views. Jon’s entire reason for attacking me is a Facebook post of 116 words. Here is the post in full:

Was rung up this evening by some semi-educated BBC producer asking if I’d come on and debate a troll on the issue of ‘Is the left anti-Semitic?’ I said that as a follower of the most famous political Jew of the 19th century and the most famous political Jew of the 20th century, and as someone who learnt my anti-Zionist politics from a Palestinian Jew called Ygael Gluckstein, it was an insult to even ask me that question. And that as someone who has opposed the fascists, especially when their main target was Jews not, as it is now, Muslims I’m not participating in a debate whose purpose is to demonise the left.”

Jon asserts that I posted this on the Facebook page of the Young Jewish Left, insinuating some provocative intention on my part. That is a lie. I posted this in one place and one place only: my own Facebook wall. It has been liked 850 times and shared more than 240 times so it has no doubt reappeared in a number of places. But not by my hand.

The Facebook post was not, of course, my first or main response to the charge of anti-semitism against the left. My first response was to post on Facebook the excellent Jewish Socialist Group statement which entirely accords with my views (and not with Jon’s). I then ensured that this statement was reposted on Counterfire, giving it wider circulation.

More serious than the lie about where it was posted is the accusations that the words in my Facebook post are an example that ‘people on the left may demonstrate some prejudice of their own‘. Quite how a declaration of commitment to a political tradition committed to opposing anti-semitism can be twisted into evidence of prejudice is difficult to follow. But Jon’s point seems to be that simply saying that you are part of a tradition that opposes anti-semitism doesn’t mean that you, presumably individually, don’t hold prejudiced views.

Yet without any evidence to the contrary there are no grounds for Jon’s slur against me. There is no evidence that I or any significant number of revolutionary socialists in my tradition (or his on the Labour left for that matter) are part of that minority of people who belong to a tradition committed of opposing anti-semitism but who, totally illogically, hold prejudiced views.

Such individuals do exist, and when they do they should be subject to disciplinary procedure. But this doesn’t alter the fact that the tradition is an anti-racist one and that the overwhelming majority of people in it, now and historically, have been the backbone of resistance to anti-semitism and all forms of racism.

In my case and others in my tradition this is not a mere question of words, either spoken or written. We have long been active participants in fighting racists of all kinds, including anti-semites. So if adhering to a political tradition (which is vastly different to having a few friends who are Jews, which, as a matter of fact I do also have) and being an active anti-racist in word and deed is not enough to be spared Jon’s accusations it’s hard to see what would be. But this kind of baseless accusation is a dangerous road to travel. What would there be, under these rules, to stop, say, a Palestinian from accusing Jon Lansman of prejudice. It would not, under Jon’s own procedures, do him any good to protest that he had written in favour of, or been active in, the Palestinian cause. He might, for all we know, still harbour prejudices. Of course this would be a ridiculous accusation if made against Jon, as ridiculous as Jon’s accusation against me.

Of course Jon’s real reason for attacking me is plain: he is giving ground in front of the right wing onslaught in the Labour Party. What follows logically is that those who refuse to retreat along with him are to be attacked. But if Jon wants to abandon the long held positions of the Palestine solidarity movement he will need more than a Facebook post by me to win his new line. The arguments in support of the Palestinians are rigorous and logical. My answers to those who accuse the movement of anti-semitism (as in this Sky interview ) are equally clear. Jon’s views are incoherent and muddied by misrepresentation. I doubt they will have much traction. But if they did we would see more disastrous decisions like that at UCLA which has now banned anti-Zionist activity from its campus (a move opposed effectively here by Rabbi Brant Rosen). And we will also see more press stories, like the one in the Independent, crowing over Jon’s article and bolstering demands for further retreats.

Image Copyright: joruba / 123RF Stock Photo

29 Comments

  1. Jon Lansman says:

    Firstly, in relation to what John calls a “direct lie“, namely that I said he “posted this on the Facebook page of the Young Jewish Left, insinuating some provocative intention on my part”. I did in fact originally say “So consider this by John Rees of Stop the War who shared on the Young Jewish Left closed Facebook page …” which as soon as he pointed out this error was changed to “So consider this by John Rees of Stop the War whose comment was shared on the Young Jewish Left closed Facebook page …”. I did not intend to imply that he did this as some provocative act and apologise if this was how it was understood in the relatively short time that the piece contained the original wording. I had in fact taken both John’s comment and that of Julia Bard which I quote next from her Facebook feed but unfortunately in place of her words “this piece … was shared”, I introduced an inaccuracy.

    Moving on to what I regard as a more serious ambiguity. The sentence prior to my reference to John’s quote was as follows:

    Unfortunately, we will not be able to have a rational debate about how to change the terms of the current debate unless we are also able to open our minds to the possibility, regardless of who points it out or their motive for doing so, that people on the left may also demonstrate some prejudice of their own.

    My intention was to use John’s comment and Julia’s response to illustrate the problem of the Left opening its collective mind to the possibility that there may be prejudice on the Left rather than to the existence of prejudice on the Left. What I was suggesting was that John was too closed to this possibility rather than that he himself has prejudices.

    Again, I apologise if that was insufficiently clear and also make absolutely clear that I do not believe that John Rees possesses any form of prejudice against Jews. However, I do think that the claims that “Some of my best friends are Jews” to which Julia refers or that one is influenced by three very well known Jews are problematic not because they illustrate prejudice but because they illustrate a blind spot to prejudice.

    John goes on to attack my motives for his supposed slur. I can forgive John’s supposition that I was making an uncomradely attack on him because of the possible ambiguities in my words but I am not willing to accept an impugning of my motives for which he presents no evidence.

    He claims I am “giving ground in front of the right wing onslaught in the Labour Party“. I do no such thing. The quotation marks in the headline to my original piece are crucial. I was talking about language and presentation. I do not wish in any way to prevent debate about either actual oppression or ideology. I merely wish that debate to be conducted in a way which is accessible to as many people as possible and, in the words I used previously:

    one that expresses our views about Israel, about the policies and actions of its government and about the rights of Palestinians without alienating any of those who might agree with us. It is not necessary to abandon any non-racist criticisms of Israel, however robust they may be, in order to do so.

  2. Karl Stewart says:

    I’m a big admirer of Jon Rees. I’ve heard him speak on many occaisions, read a lot of articles by him and also recently met him.

    So with respect, I would want to ask why it’s so important to defend the use of a term of phrase, which, for the overwhelming majority of people who haven’t studied this in any detail, is considered as simply another word for ‘jew’ and is considered a derogatory word for ‘jew’.

    There are very few Jewish people in the UK and most people, certainly outside of north London, are highly likely not to know any.

    So there really is an enormous amount of lack of knowledge about ‘zionism’, what it actually means and what a ‘zionist’ actually is.

    People generally only hear it either from left-wing people as a shorthand for criticism of Israel, or perhaps if they ever encounter hard-right neo-nazi propaganda and talk of ‘zios’ or ‘zionist conspiracy’ or ‘protocols of zionism’.

    I don’t think the term should be ‘banned’. Of course not. But I do think people should take some care with its use.

    1. Baal says:

      There is no rational basis for the argument that criticism of the state of Israel and the political ideology of Zionism is anti‑Semitic, just as it makes no sense to consider criticizing apartheid South Africa’s racist policies toward blacks as evidence of racism toward whites, or that criticism of Nazi policies toward the Jews should not be allowed because it is evidence of racism against Germans.

      Similarly, if you criticize American policy toward the Iraq war and torture at Abu Ghraib Prison, or the Jim Crow laws that institutionalized discrimination against blacks in the southern states, that you are racist against Americans. This argument is obviously absurd and should not even require a response.

      In a free society, one has a basic right to evaluate and criticize a political ideology or movement and to review and criticize a state’s policies. A critique should be evaluated on the basis of the truthfulness of the facts and the logic of the arguments presented. One also has a right to present alternative facts and engage in debate. When one side wants to avoid debate, divert the discussion or suppress the topic and launches personal attacks against its opponents, it is almost certain that it is hiding some uncomfortable truths.

      Palestinians are, however, charged with anti-Semitism if they complain about the destruction of their villages; the ethnic cleansing of their cities; the loss of their country and rights to citizenship, and then not being allowed to return to their homes in contravention of international law; or the discriminatory policies of the Jewish National Fund; the inequities of the Jewish Law of Return; house demolitions; discrimination against Muslims and Christian Palestinians; illegal Jewish-only settlements; the more than 600 Israeli military checkpoints in the West Bank; the years of military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank; the well-documented cases of torture; the imprisonment of more than 11,000 Palestinians, including women and children, many held without charge under what is called Administrative Detention; or the recent slaughter in Gaza.

    1. Owen Holland says:

      Time for leading figures in Momentum to intervene to put a stop to this, no?

      1. John Walsh says:

        Unfortunately, leading Momentum figures have no say in what Compliance do. Presumably, rather than coming from the Corbyn camp (given Jackie Walker’s Momentum work), Walker’s suspension is an example of the Compliance Unit being opportunistic – using the current anti-Semitism witch-hunt to ‘get’ long-term targets. What nice people, lovely being a member of the Labour Party isn’t it?

  3. David Pavett says:

    Jon Lansman’s main argument is swept aside with an assertion: “there is no chance the mainstream pro-Palestine and anti-war movement will ever relinquish the hard won right to accurately criticise the state of Israel which this terminological shift would represent”. No argument for this view is presented.

    The rest of John Rees’s piece is a squabble about who posted what when and with what intention. Jon has apologised for some mistakes and cleared up some ambiguities so that should be the end of that.

    What we are not told in the article is why generally avoiding the term “Zionism” would mean relinquishing the right “to accurately criticise the state of Israel”. Can so much depend on a word?

    I once read that Napoleon said that “No man is indispensable or if he is then he is up to no good”. We could transfer that thought to our use of words. If we cannot manage without a given word then it is almost certainly acting as a block to thought rather than promoting it.

    What can’t be said without the word “Zionist”? Not using it, as far as I can see, precludes nothing. Sometimes not being able to rely on it as a shorthand for something on which we all have a common understanding means the word has to be replaced by longer descriptions and paraphrases but that is all.

    So as to JL’s main point I can’t see that John Rees has mounted any sort of counter argument.

    1. Owen Holland says:

      If you have some spare time on yours hands, why not try putting that argument into practice on some Wikipedia pages? You could start here, for example:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_Israel

      I’ll look forward to seeing the results.

      1. David Pavett says:

        I said the word should generally be avoided in political discourse. I would use it in describing the views of, say, Herzl, while explaining what I believe it means in that connection. In general political debate, however, the word has become worse than useless because of its constant use for very different purposes and the very different ideas people have of what it means. (It is not the first word to suffer this fate and it won’t be the last.) This was Jon Lansman’s simple point. Your response doesn’t address it.

        1. So every conversation with someone calling him/herself a Zionist is going to be like a not very abridged version of War and Peace.

          And how are we ever going to get through the coming Zionism month ?

          1. David Pavett says:

            If you want to treat the person you engage with as a fool then there is not much point in engaging.

            The principle is not difficult. If I think that someone believes that Israel has a right to colonise Palestinian land acquired through war then I say so. This is much more informative that simply labelling someone a “Zionist” and you can even find people who think of themselves as Zionists agreeing with you. No War and Peace is involved.

  4. John Penney says:

    Sorry, but it’s hard not to simply laugh out loud at the sheer brass neck of John Reese’s self-serving article.

    All this self righteous guff from the man who led the SWP (with Lindsey German) into some very dodgy (“eyes closed – ask no questions about their actual politics”) unprincipled alliances with Muslim Brotherhood affiliated and other, Islamic fundamentalist , openly ( or not really trying too hard to conceal it from gullible Lefties) anti-Semitic, groups during both Iraq Wars onwards.

    It was the SWP who in Socialist Worker utterly uncritically “hailed the Iraqi resistance” composed of course mainly of the clerico-fascist islamicists who unfortunately dominated the battles with the US led occupiers and their Iraqi allies .

    It was the John Reese – led SWP which led the chants on London Demos over the Middle East conflict with the stirring slogan of “We are all Hezbollah Now ! ” , ie we are all supposedly now a bunch of totalitarian, clerico-fascist, openly anti Jewish , women oppressors !

    It is this same John Reese who helps front up the extremely dodgy “Cage” group of serial apologists and media spinners for Islamic fundamentalist prisoners like the mass murdering Daesh torturer and claimed “lovely boy” , known popularly as “Jihadi John” ? I think it is .

    No, John Reese, you are almost certainly not in any personal way “anti-Semitic” , but your antediluvian (ironically for a neo-Trot, Stalinist USSR-sourced) simplistic views on “Imperialism” and “”Zionism” have led you and your co-thinkers on the ultraLeft into some extraordinarily reactionary and unwise alliances and political positions over the years – from support for the mass murdering tyrant Milosovic in the Yugoslav tragedy, apologists for Saddam Hussein, and a one-eyed , grossly simplistic analysis of the Israel/Palestine tragedy, which has led to political bedfellows who discredit the entire Left.

    And of course, as a leading light in the hopelessly simplistic “US Imperialism is the ONLY villain” Stop the War Movement. John Reese and his fellow leading lights’ politics have led the STWC to turn an utter blind eye for
    years (until very, very recently, when it simply became too embarrassing to maintain ) to the overwhelming responsibility of the Assad regime for the mass killings in Syria, and the responsibility of Daesh for the majority of the rest – and of course simply ignoring the plight of the Syrian Kurds (who have the misfortune for the ultraleft to be allied tactically with the US.

    So spare us the sanctimonious whitewash of your politics and past roles, John – your politics and hands are very dirty indeed.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      ….what a bizzarre and way, way off-topic rant. And you can’t even spell his name.

      So the hundreds of thousands, over a million of us who marched against the Iraq War were all Saddam supporters were we?

      What a steaming pile of shite.

      1. David Pavett says:

        We find in these two posts “sheer brass neck”, “self-serving article”, “self righteous guff”, “sanctimonious whitewash” and then a response that says it is all “a steaming pile of shite”.

        Come on guys, this is no way to discuss serious political matters.

        Point 2 of the Comments Policy on Left Futures includes “Be nice. Don’t make personal attacks on other commenters, Left Futures’ bloggers or the subjects of posts on the site. By all means challenge the things people say or do, but don’t be personal and keep it civil.”

        I understand that these issue arouse strong feelings but that’s exactly why it is important to stick to the Comments policy. Failure to do so puts others of participating.

      2. John Penney says:

        err, yes, John Rees’s name was accidentally spelt wrong – I did notice, but that’s the problem with the lack of an edit function on this site. But the rest of the critique of John Rees’s dire political record ? Where is your refutation of that ? Nowhere.

        No, Karl the million who marched against the Iraq War were not “Saddam Supporters” (though of course a small minority were, in such a broad popular front campaign) . They were there for a huge range of different motivations – from outright unconditional pacifism , to all manner of Left “anti imperialist politics. It was a classic broad popular front movement .

        The ever-present danger of all popular fronts throughout history is that the Left completely surrender their progressive politics to concede to the political narrative of reactionary elements within the popular front. This the STWC, and its then SWP controlling organisation did constantly ,( and the STWC current leadership ,still do today), in relation to a simplistic bogus Soviet-era -sourced narrative on “Imperialism”, which blames only US Imperialism for every crime, and completely absolves murderous dictatorships such as Saddam Hussein’s or Assad’s or the Iranian theocracy, or Gaddafi’s of their local imperialisms and oppressions.

        The SWP,(under Rees and German’s leadership – prior to their expulsion ) and the STWC, also made unprincipled alliances with fundamentalist Islamic groups, completely retreating from the Left’s vital responsibility to distance themselves from the anti-Semitic, women oppressing, anti democratic , objectives of the strange cleric-fascist “bedfellows” allied with during the various Middle East crisis campaigns of the last few decades.

        Get of your high horse of indignation , Karl, The numerous anti war demonstrations were a great mass phenomena – but what a pity too many on the Left allowed themselves also to provide political cover for the most reactionary political forces in the Muslim communities, and abandoned our responsibility to denounce murderous dictatorial regimes in the Middle East, whose crimes have been ignored for decades by the Far Left under the ludicrous let out that they are part of an anti Imperialist “Axis of Resistance” .

        1. Karl Stewart says:

          These are just your own, lonely, sectarian obsessions – I’ve got absolutely zero interest in this nonsense.

          1. John Penney says:

            And definitely no interest in actually challenging the very well documented issues referred to, eh Karl.

            Sadly it is your tiny rump of co-thinkers in the ever diminishing empty slogan-ridden “Far Left bubble” who are utterly isolated from the overwhelming mass of public opinion – particularly mainstream Labour voting public opinion.

        2. Baal says:

          You are dismissing any account of US imperialism as support for dictators; a common dog-whistle tactic used to attach the left. Presumably you marvel at the fruits of disposing of those dictators, whom I might add, were very good friends with the west before they outlived their usefulness. US imperialism is a behemoth not seen in human history. Saddam, Assad, Hezbollah, and anyone else you mentioned only ever had regional aims/capabilities, so it is right to apportion more time on critiques of the US empire.

          Criticism of geo strategic aims, such as the breakup of Yugoslavia, the toppling of Assad, and the invasion of Iraq, does not imply support of dictators per se, it is a recognition that regardless of who was in charge, their was an explicit pre-existing plan and desire for regime change, which has been a catastrophe for every country subject to it.

          Israel and its American lobby are not only given much greater political commitment and influence in the overall scope of US empire — which shouldn’t be a difficult contention, unless you think all US client states have equally subordinate roles and there is no difference between their relative power and influence — it is also given much greater PR.

          The ideology behind that PR uses many of the same bullshit assumptions given by the posters above, including the notion that Zionism is a “national liberation movement” rather than a settler-colonial campaign bent on the denial of national liberation; that anti-Semitism is an always-existing racist threat rather than a form of racism that exists within specific contexts like most other forms of racism; that Zionism can have “liberal” elements; and that any criticism of Israel that goes beyond an arbitrary line is “racist” (i.e. don’t say anything about the Mossad, don’t say anything about the Israel Lobby, etc).

          I do not believe that exaggerating opposition to Israel, including things like conspiracy theories about the Israeli intelligence agency or giving the pro-Israel lobby in Britain/USA more influence than it has — which is already an incredible amount relative to other regimes — is proof of “racism”. It is proof of rejecting a racist regime and its attendant institutions, and that should be expected among people that genuinely reject racism and can see the extent to which American and European colonialism have sought to single out Israel by whitewashing its current policies, history, and institutions.

          Much has and will be written by the left, pointing out the odious double standards of the right wing of the Labour Party (and the Tories, obviously), who went around carpet bombing millions of foreigners yet are now suspending people for a racist meme. The people who brought us racist mug and “British Jobs for British workers” seem to have a new-found interest in not being a bunch of dog whistling arseholes, if there’s an opportunity to stick it to the left.

          The spurious claims you make about supporting dictators if you are against imperialism, is a stick frequently used to beat the left. The left should not help by handing them those sticks. In tolerating and capitulating to any and all charges of antisemitism, Labour is breaking one of the first rules of politics and of life: never give a cunt a chance

  5. John Rees says:

    I’m grateful to Jon Lansman for hosting my reply and for his comradely remarks which have done all that is required in correcting the passages to which I objected in his original article. We clearly do have a continuing tactical difference over how best to deal with the current onslaught from the right but I am happy that this discussion has now returned to the realm of fraternal discussion. My original facebook post was what I said to a particular BBC producer on this issue, not all that I would want to say to comrades like Jon and Karl Stewart about how, when and in what language we should address these issues. That discussion is one I hope we will continue to have because it makes us all more effective.

  6. Charli says:

    Many of the words we use are our jargon and obviously they cause problems with explaining views to new and inexperienced people, so we need to address this. But I would not exclude jargon in communication. If I were to replace “Zionist/ism” I would need to put in some clumsy circumlocution like “people who have a vested interest in maintaining and promoting the Israeli state, its government and its policies by stating the opinion that any criticism of that state, government, or policies is in itself inherently racist against not the Israeli state, or even Israelis (who may or may not agree with their own state) but racist against the entire Jewish population of the planet, even those that agree with opposition to Israel, the state, government, or policies” and I’m sure that even that circumlocution of 77 words doesn’t cover everything that the word Zionist encompasses. And my audience would have fallen well asleep by the time I’d circumlocuted around Zionism three times

  7. The curse of Islamo-Trotskyism
    John Rees, the noted Islamo-Trotskyist, has some most peculiar views.
    He called Saudi Arabia Islamophobic, of all things!
    His grounds? The Saudis backed Sisi’s coup against the MB in 2013. This seems to indicate that Rees supports the obscurantist, neo-mediaevalist MB. Just like Obama. They think this is the force that will modernise Islam.
    Malarkey.
    Then in Egypt, as now in Turkey, the Islamists, once firmly settled in power, allied with Islamic terrorists to establish a totalitarian theocracy.
    President Morsi of Egypt appointed as governor of Luxor the Gama’a Islamiyya terrorist boss who had organized the Luxor massacre of 1997, that killed about 60 people, mostly tourists. After the atrocity, some female victims were found disemboweled with quotes from the Qur’an inserted in their respective abdominal cavities.
    It seems these progressive Muslims are somewhat unpredictable. In one comical rant he used awkward formulations like ”the wave of Islamophobia that set in right about the time of 9-11”, thus tacitly acknowledging that ill-feeling toward Moslems is largely motivated by resentment for the religious-political violence they commit, while not breaching the speech code that relentlessly insists that “Islamophobia” is an incurable wasting disease of Western Civ.
    My critique of Rees is formulated within the framework defined in “The Anti-Imperialism of Fools”, by Phil Burton-Cartledge.
    http://www.leftfutures.org/2015/12/the-anti-imperialism-of-fools/

  8. Richard Tiffin says:

    I am not about to become involved in the spat above other than to talk of tactics.

    I agree with Jon Lansman in respect of use of the word Zionism. If it is being used by the far right as a proxy for Jew then why would the left make the mistake of using it IF an alternative concept is available and just as appropriate? However, If the concept Zionist unambiguously fits the bill, use it.

    The point being made of the tactical retreat however seems true to me. Just today at peak voting time the Jewish Chronicle promote a sponsored, (i.e. Paid for) post on Facebook regarding a poll that suggests that just 8.5% of British Jews will be voting labour. If this is not designed to harm Labour at the polling booths then what weird timing.

    The same wth the timing to write an article regarding the use of the word Zionism, right in the middle of a furore completely disproportionate to the scale of the problem in the Labour Party and quite obviously a politically manufactured crisis.

    Why now Mr Lansman? What pressure are you responding to that means you feel that the left need to be chastised as incorrect at this moment in time when we are under such an onslaught?

    Of course there is a plausible deniability here, there always will be, but I see an unjustified retreat in the face of the lobbying and other methods supporters and promoters of the state of Israel are using. A great deal of money and effort is being expended to undermine Corbyn just now, which is undoubtably being driven by the right of the party, but with a great deal of help.

    Unfortunately, if this view of events gains credibility then the fears of the Jewish Socialist comrades that this will do damage to the fight against anti Semitism may prove correct. What is more, should Corbyn survive and form a government the state of Israel will lose sympathy because of the action of their sympathisers in this affair. Though Britain is a small player compared to the US, this may still cause Israel harm as comrades are likely to redouble their efforts in relation to BDS.

    1. Baal says:

      The intention is clear – discredit Corbyn and therefore the left because it poses a mortal threat to the interests of warmongers, blood thirsty murderers and the arms industry. Legitimate criticism of the illegal and repugnant actions of the state of Israel and the role of the British State in promoting violence in the Middle East and around the world simply must be silenced, so everyone who opposes war and racism must be cast as a foaming anti-semite.

      These deeply cynical maneuverings have taken a not unsurprising turn in the last few weeks, when it became clear that Muslim women in public life were being specifically targeted. The first Muslim President of the NUS, Malia Bouattia, was instantly branded an “ISIS sympathiser” following a disgusting campaign by the media… and of course also branded an anti-Semite. Naz Shah, the Labour MP suspended for sharing a meme which suggested Israel should be relocated to America, before she was elected to Parliament, managed to escape being criticised during the previous Labour leadership of Ed Miliband, who was Jewish, yet a week before the council and mayoral elections, the right suddenly care about racism… unless there are Syrian weans fleeing war, in which case, they absolutely don’t.

  9. Chris says:

    We shouldn’t even be having a debate on this issue.

    We should be devoting all our energy to a relentless defence of Ken Livingstone.

    Arguably, members should threaten to quit the party en masse if he is expelled.

  10. Jim Denham says:

    Rees is that remarkable specimine: an ex-SWP’er whose politics are a degeneration (into chemically– pure Stalinism) from the organisation that booted him out.
    No serious labour movement organisation should engage with Rees or his foul, neo-Stalinist “Counterfire” outfit: certainly not Momentum.

  11. Jim Denham says:

    Although this article doesn’t deal directly with Mr Rees and his filthy politics, it does deal with Rees’s co-thinker Mr Livingstone:

    This article also appears in the present issue of Solidarity and the Workers Liberty website.
    By Sean Matgamna

    On one level the sudden media outcry about Ken Livingstone’s anti-semitism is being used and fed by the Labour right, especially the stupid part of the right — and, of course, the Tories — to sabotage the Labour Party in the London mayoral and other local government elections and to discredit Jeremy Corbyn.

    Livingstone has been what he is now for decades. He was the same Livingstone when the Blairite right took him back into the Labour Party, in 2004, after his 2000-4 term as London mayor. The bigger truth, however, is that, whatever their motives, those who cry out against Livingstone’s vicious nonsense about Hitler supporting Zionism and wanting to send Jews to Israel in 1932 (he said Israel, not Palestine) are right to do so. If the enemies of the Labour Party and of the left have found a soft target, it is a legitimate target. A big part of the pseudo-left believe or assert that “Zionists” (that is, for practical purposes, most Jews) are historically tainted by Nazism. That “the Zionists” “collaborated” with the Nazis in making the Holocaust and share responsibility for it; that “the Zionists” manipulated even the Nazis during World War 2 and especially share responsibility for the Nazi murder of one million Hungarian Jews in 1944-5. That in their “racism” — that is, in first their wanting a Jewish state and then in their Israeli nationalism — they run parallel to Nazism. That Israel, in that sense, is a continuation of Nazism.

    This bizarre “story” originates in the Stalinist anti-semitic campaign against “Zionism” of the late 1940s and the first half of the 1950s. The fact that it is a tissue of contrived and vicious nonsense does not discredit it: one reason why it survives is that it is rarely expressed as a coherent story, as it is here. It is the thesis of the play ‘Perdition’, written by Jim Allen and produced by Ken Loach, and based on Lenni Brenner’s grossly biased and distorting book which Livingstone says he will submit to the Labour Party inquiry into his statements.

    Politically inexperienced young people, justly indignant at Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and Gaza and moved to side with the Palestinians, are easily led into accepting some or all of these ideas. A petrol bomb, or Molotov cocktail, consists of soapy water and petrol in a bottle, and “works”, after the glass container is shattered, by way of the soapy water spreading the burning petrol. Righteous indignation at the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is the soapy water here, spreading a lethal anti-semitism disguised as “anti-Zionism” — what someone called “absolute anti-Zionism”. It has been spread on anti-war demonstrations, for example, by way of placards and chants equating Israeli prime ministers with Hitler, identifying Zionism and Nazism, coupling the Star of David and the swastika, and proclamations of the need to destroy (in real-world terms, conquer) Israel. Young people indignant at Israeli government policies and actions against the Palestinians are miseducated to believe that support for the Palestinians against Israel demands not an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel, but the destruction of Israel.

    Least of all does this vicious claptrap help the Palestinians. Even leaving aside the question of the national rights of the Hebrew nation in Palestine, this attitude implies indefinite postponement of a settlement, until Israel can be conquered. It rules out emancipation for the Palestinians in any foreseeable future. Its devotees actively campaign against the only real solution: an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel.

    They “use” the plight of the Palestinians to float Arab-chauvinist, Islamic-chauvinist, “anti-imperialist” hostility to Israel. They are functionally indifferent to the living Palestinian people. The terrible truth is that the pseudo-left, and most so the “revolutionary” pseudo-left”, is a cesspool of an “absolute anti-Zionism” which is anti-semitism because it condemns — as “Zionists”, as criminals, as racists — Jews who refuse to agree that Israel should be abolished.

    In the not-so-distant past, student Jewish societies have been banned for refusing to support this. Livingstone’s comments were only a small and half-sanitised version of that politics, that attitude, and that mindset. It is a historical fact that some anti-semites — for instance, Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Fein — did say they found Zionism acceptable. It would if successful remove the Jews they hated to a distant land. For decades such facts as the talks between Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, and the minister of the anti-semitic Tsarist government, von Plehve, or the “Transfer Agreement” made by the Jewish Agency in Palestine with Hitler’s government in August 1933, allowing Jews who fled Germany to Palestine to keep some of their property, were setpieces in Stalinist anti-Zionist agitation. But Livingstone wasn’t just referring to such things in the past and “construing” them. It is plain from the way he spoke that he was jeering, baiting, just as he did in 2005 when he called a Jewish journalist “like a concentration camp guard”.

    “Hitler supported Zionism”. He wanted Jews to go “to Israel”. The Holocaust was not a logical development in war conditions of Nazi policies, but a matter of Hitler, previously a Zionist, “going mad and killing millions of Jews”. Slight pauses in his speech indicated that Livingstone was being careful with his words. He reaffirmed his statements in three separate interviews on 28 April, and has refused to retract them since. With Livingstone, the cesspool of pseudo-left “absolute anti-Zionism”, that is anti-semitism, overflowed into mainstream politics. It gave the right and the Tories an easy target and an opportunity to bring the scandal out into the open. It needs to be out in the open. It needs to be discussed. It needs to be purged politically — and the labour movement needs to purge itself of the unteachables like Livingstone.

    The immediate suspension of Livingstone from the Labour Party and the setting-up of an investigation into his statements overlaps with the distinct and separate question of the rights of Labour Party members and the continuing waves of expulsions of leftists. “Progress” and other Labour right-wingers are campaigning to make expulsions even easier, and for anyone adjudged by a Labour Party official as guilty of “anti-semitism, racism, or Islamophobia” to be summarily banned from membership for life. Livingstone and his supporters try to present Livingstone’s suspension as one more unjustified reprisal against the left. They try to amalgamate the issues. Serious socialists should not let them do that.

    Livingstone is not a typical victim of Labour’s expulsion-freaks. There is a mystery here. What does Livingstone think he is doing? He is a calculating man. He is a Livingstone-serving opportunist, not a principled politician who will stand by his version of the truth, irrespective of consequences. His saying what he said and refusing to retreat from it is uncharacteristic behaviour. He knows perfectly well that he is helping the Labour right and the Tories, sabotaging Labour’s election campaign. He wants to do that? Why?

    The explanation may lie in Livingstone’s dual character. Inside this supremely self-centred, manipulative politician Dr Jekyll-Livingstone there is imprisoned a contrary, irrational, egotist, Mr Hyde-Livingstone, who sometimes takes over.

    The Labour right offensive targets not only Livingstone but Corbyn. Prominent has been John Mann MP. Mann is something of a rent-a-gob, an MP in a symbiotic partnership with busy journalists who need an immediate response, a comment, a quote. That gives the MP a spurious prominence and the journalists usable copy. In his rent-a-gob role, when it became plain in the middle of the 2015 Labour leadership contest that Corbyn would win, Mann made the preposterous proposal that the election be called off, thus branding himself as not only a right-winger but also as a notable dimwit. But Mann has for long been an open opponent of “left-wing” anti-semitism. He is entitled to have a go at Livingstone, even though, characteristically, he did it with wild hyperbole. Whatever the motives of those attacking Livingstone, the issue of pseudo-left anti-semitism must be tackled on its merits.

    For the serious left to ally with Livingstone, and to let opposition to the expulsions regime in the Labour Party prejudice us in favour of Livingstone, pushing aside the political question in this case, would be a suicidal mistake. “Left” anti-semitism is no small thing. The future of the labour movement depends on it being opposed, combated, and uprooted. The Labour leadership had a right to suspend Livingstone and open an investigation, and they were right to exercise it. The alternative would have been to show themselves numb, indifferent, or collusive to anti-semitism and the anti-semites. Livingstone will have the chance to argue at the investigation all his claims to have been unfairly or unjustly treated.

    There is a plain danger that the politics of the issue will be buried in the churning mud of denunciations and counter-denunciations. Typical left “absolute anti-Zionists” are not racists. They most likely share all the horror of decent people at racism. Their mental furniture includes denunciations of Hitler’s and Stalin’s anti-semitism, loathing of the Tsarist Black Hundred anti-Jewish pogromists, and so on. The central problem with the “absolute anti-Zionists” is that they don’t see the connection between the anti-semitism and the racism they loathe, and their own politics now on Israel. They see themselves only as champions of the Palestinians oppressed by Israel, and their hostility to Israel only as a just and necessary part of that. Such people are typically not racists against Jews. The dividing line is not on racism, but in the politics of the Middle East. It is not between critics of Israel and its uncritical defenders, but on the political answers subscribed to. The dividing line is between those who want to change and reform Israel, and have an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel — and those who deny Israel’s right to exist at all, who see Israel as an illegitimate political formation, a mistake, a crime of history that must be undone by the elimination of the whole Israeli polity.

    Everything anti-semitic specific to the left is rooted in that divide. It is impossible to draw a line saying which degrees and kinds of criticism of Israel are to be licensed. Who should decide what is untrue or true, too severe or merely just, preconceived or a legitimate response to reality? It is a hopeless task. Such a Labour Party regime could not but be arbitrary and capricious, and, in current conditions, driven by a hysteria invoked for the occasion by the Labour right.

    On the one side there will be people inclined to see any serious criticism of Israel as anti-semitism; on the other, those inclined to see any defence or justification of Israel as “Zionist apologetics”. The political dividing line, both true to the reality and serviceable in practice, is between critics of Israeli policy and action who want to improve things, and those whose often just criticism carries the demand that Israel be destroyed, that the Hebrew nation be deprived of self-determination — who back armed action by such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and by Arab or Islamic states, to put Israel out of existence.

    It is important in all this not to lose sight of the Palestinians held in the stifling grasp of Israeli occupation, outmatched militarily and more or less helpless in the face of Israeli military might. The Palestinian demand for their own independent state, alongside Israel, deserves the support of every socialist and honest democrat.

    1. John Penney says:

      Yes , Jim, an excellent article, that anyone really interested in seeking a route out of the Israel/Palestinian tragedy should read – but of course instantly dismissed by too many on the Far Left with all those peculiar language formulations, like “social imperialists” or “Left Zionist”. Any old dodgy euphemisms to avoid confronting the actual solid critique the article you quote raises so intelligently and carefully.

    2. Baal says:

      It sounds like your asking the left to accept the unacceptable, or be a target for every self-righteous accusation of racism/antisemitism?

      Not accepting the legitimacy of the Israeli state is a legitimate stance to take, it does not imply the unrealistic desire to see Israel destroyed. Russia’s annexation of Crimea, notwithstanding historical claims to the region, is not recognised by western countries at least, so why is it incumbent on the left to recognise Israel’s legitimacy when they continue aggressive acts of annexation piece-by-bloody-piece on a daily basis? The right to self-determination does not imply that lands should be taken by force, in order to exercise that right, since it denies the self-determination of another nation. It’s not rational to think that Israel can be destroyed, this rarely happens to a nation.

      The currently furore has all the characteristics of a witch-hunt, Corbyn’s hand has been forced, and the public are left with the impression that a few incidents of antisemitism reflect the views of millions of labour voters/members.

      Have the tory’s been subjected to the same inquisition, when they express their latent bigotry? What would an army of trolls find on tory facebook pages if they cared to look, a deluge of racist/bigoted filth.

      Those rightists who are bleating about Labour’s antisemitism are of course rank hypocrites: they are happy to use racism in the London mayoral election; laughed off the racism of Boris Johnson; and seemed relaxed about using an anti-Semitic dog-whistle in some attacks upon Ed Miliband. But this is only to be expected. The right will use any stick to beat the left. The left should not help by handing them those sticks. In tolerating even the slightest whiff of antisemitism, Labour is breaking one of the first rules of politics and of life: never give a cunt a chance.

      In the last few months, we’ve seen a complete vindication of important leftist ideas. Capitalism is not just inefficient, but rapacious. And state institutions are not neutral public servants but corrupt partisans in a class war. But what has been the lead story on the BBC news this morning? Labour’s antisemitism.

  12. Jim Denham says:

    Soloman Highes in today’s Morng Star: of of significance because the Stalinists started all this “Zionism+ Nazism” nonsense. Hughes begins by denouncing a fake story about Hamas supporting Corbyn, before making much the same points as Matgamna’s, albeit in more constrained, “diplomatic” language:
    ***

    […]

    The absolute absurdity of the “Corbyn loves those who hate Jewish people” brigade stood out particularly strongly for me in the “Hamas welcomes Corbyn” story. Hamas apparently suddenly piped up, in time for local British elections, to declare it welcomed Jeremy Corbyn as a “painful hit” against the “zionist enemy.”

    Corbyn dealing with Hamas because he wants to help solve the Palestinian conflict is one thing. But actual political support from a group that is free with anti-semitic rhetoric is another. Except the story came covered with flashing lights and warning sirens.

    […]

    So there is a real enthusiasm in the press for totally hyped or faked “Labour anti-semitism” stories. And some on Labour’s right want to use this as a way of weakening Corbyn. It’s quite irresponsible. There is no need to be crying anti-semitic wolf when there really are some pretty vicious anti-Jewish animals out there.

    But your enemies do sometimes find your weakness. There is still a fair bit of anti–Jewish racism in the

    world, and while polls register Labour voters as the least prejudiced of all party followers, anti-semitism can still emerge — particularly over arguments about Israel. All the old reactionary racism about Jewish people — the arguments about Jewish money funding secret Jewish “lobbies” and so on — can surface. You need to make an effort to avoid it.

    The Holocaust was a very dark moment in our history, and there are still racist murders of Jewish people. So on the whole, it’s best not to start going on about Hitler like Ken Livingstone did. At very best it shows a lack of sensitivity over anti-Jewish hatred.

    Ken’s remarks were simply wrong. Hitler was not a “zionist” — he hated Jewish people and was explicitly against zionism, as he makes clear in Mein Kampf. Some nazis toyed with zionists as a cover for their intention to expel Jews from Germany. Some zionists tried to do deals with the nazis in the 1930s — arguably they thought dealing with the devil might save some of their people.

    Cheap remarks like Ken’s look just like the “Swastika = Star of David” posters: the person holding the poster might think they are pointing to some Israeli hypocrisy, but to the crowd it just looks like they are belittling the Holocaust — or worse, celebrating it.

    People within the Jewish tradition, from Hannah Arendt to Norman Finkelstein, have measured Israel’s actions against fascist Germany.

    But you need to be very careful about doing that from the outside. It’s a matter of respect and good manners if nothing else. It’s a bit like white people who go on about “Uncle Toms” or “house negroes.”

    Jewish people aren’t the only people to turn to zionism in the face of racism. Think of Marcus Garvey’s once powerful back-to-Africa movement. But before the Holocaust zionism was the minority response, where most European Jewish people preferred socialism, communism or liberalism. The failure of socialism or communism or liberalism to stop the Holocaust shifted that balance, leading to much active, and even more passive, support for Israel.

    This in turn led to the dispossession of the Palestinian people, but a concern for their rights and suffering can’t mean forgetting the reason zionism became so popular.

    Sometimes people compare Israel’s bad treatment of Palestinians with South African apartheid. That’s a lot better than the “nazi” comparisons. I remember the anti-apartheid campaigns. The National Party types said white rule was necessary or “the blacks “ would murder them all in their beds. But we on the anti-apartheid side said this wasn’t true.

    We certainly didn’t talk about all the white people being transported out of South Africa. We didn’t talk about whether South Africa had a “right to exist.” We called for a just South Africa, without racial rule, for both black and white citizens.

    Calling for a just settlement for Palestinian people is very important, and most emphatically not anti-semitic. But carelessly talking about “existence” is a very bad idea, when the nazis really did try and stop Jewish people existing at all. We should be calling for the creation of something better in the Middle East, not for “destruction.”

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