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.
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