Syrian Girl is a vlogger whom I’ve followed for some years. She’s part of a network of news dissidents. Here she talks about AIPAC – The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, self described as “a bipartisan organization of U.S. citizens committed solely to strengthening, protecting and promoting the U.S.-Israel relationship. “, and about Ilhan Omar a young congresswoman
Ilhan on 10 February responded to a tweet by journalist Glenn Greenwald that reads, “GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy threatens punishment for @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib over their criticisms of Israel. It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.”She replied, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,”
‘Benjamins’ is American slang for money but it was characterised as being an antisemitic reference, a ‘trope’ as some like to say, indicating the control of the American political system by ‘Jewish’ money. Ilhan apologised for the unintended ‘trope’ but reaffirmed her concerns about the role of lobbyists in American politics.
Racism of any kind is wrong and utterly stupid. As a form of racism, antisemitism is wrong and stupid. Any notion that any ethnic group can be characterised on the basis of the behaviour some of its members is logically flawed and the notion that individual members of that group should then be judged on the basis of that logically flawed characterisation is doubly absurd.
I believe that we are socially conditioned to accept the absurdities of racism and may other absurdities and that this often distorts our ability to think in a way that is logically coherent.
Antisemitism exists to a greater or lesser degree in all populations and it will exist to some degree in the population of Labour Party members. I do not know if it exists to a greater or lesser degree than anti black, anti Muslim, anti Asian or indeed anti white sentiment but since we are talking about a group of people it would be absurd to maintain that it, and all of those other sentiments do not exist to any degree. What I will say however is that because of its socialist, humanitarian and compassionate underpinnings I would expect all of these sentiments to exist in the Labour Party membership to a far lesser degree than in the general population. My experience as a Black member of the Labour party has not disabused me of this notion.
At the same time, because the Labour Party is a party of social justice, I would expect, and hope, that there is greater willingness among party members to condemn injustice wherever they find it, at home or abroad, without fear or favour and with a greater willingness to stand shoulder to shoulder with the oppressed. It is right that the regime in Israel should be condemned for its racist behaviour and apalling treatment of the Palestinians. Israel is by no means a unique locus of evil. We should have no hesitation in condemning the behaviour of other states such as Saudi Arabia for their disgusting treatment of women, religious minorities and sexual minorities, or certain African states for wars and oppressions based on tribalism, or India for the perpetuation of caste based prejudice or the US for the slavery that still exists in its prison system. Israel is not uniquely evil but it should be called out for its unique or commonplace evils.
The Labour party has a history of being a pro Israel party, but growing awareness and dissatisfaction with Israeli oppression is leading to strong opposition towards Israeli policies and actions. Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters are seen as being at the forefront of this shift. It is hardly surprising that they should be attacked by the Israeli government and its supporters inside and outside the Labour Party. To exaggerate the issue of antisemitism and to extend its definitions to cover any criticism of Israel and its supporters is clearly a strategem that is being used with the utmost cynicism and dishonesty. I do not believe that Israel is the sole source of these attacks I believe that Corbyn is also seen as a threat to neoliberal interests and to the interests of Western imperialism and that theses interests too are supporting the wholly unsubstantiated myth of widespread antisemitism in the Labour Party.
It is right that we all recognise what it going on and that antisemitism is being used as a deliberate tool by those who wish to maintain power. We should be angry but never in our anger be unfair or irrational. We should never when charged with antisemitism respond by becoming in any way genuinely antisemitic. The struggle is not against Jewish people and there should be no presentation or expression that is or can reasonably be taken to be antisemitic. I say this because for the first time in an online forum, today, I saw a cartoon which represented a Jewish caricature figure as being behind the antisemitism slurs. This pained me because over the past few years it has becen obvious that Jewish people of all stations have been among the bravest and most active in opposing these slurs and they have been among those paying the highest price for their courage and honesty. It is essential that we do not allow the ‘Goebellian liars’ (to borrow Galloway’s apt phrase) to make us irrationally fearful or irrationally angry or push us towards the ranks of the haters. We should speak the truth without fear and without resentment. We should never be afraid to debate or to be wrong and to be corrected if we are wrong. It is liars who personalise the battle and run away from examination and fearing the light of open debate seek to close it down. It is the liars and the haters who are careless with accusations and resort to invective and force rather than reason. We are not that, we are not haters and anyone who becomes a hater excludes themselves from what we are.
There is so much wrong with this article that it is difficult to know where to start or where to stop, but I’ll take just this passage about Derrick Hatton’s allegedly antisemitic tweet:
She said that she voted Green and had never agreed with Derek Hatton but, as a supporter of the Palestinians, she couldn’t see what was wrong with his tweet. Had she read it? “A summary of it, yes.”
The original wasn’t long. It stated: “Jewish people with any sense of humanity need to start speaking out publicly against the ruthless murdering being carried out by Israel!”
Essentially, Hatton did what the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance defines as a concrete example of antisemitism: “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.”
His tweet rendered them guilty until proven innocent. If they didn’t condemn Israel, they had no humanity. And what happens in history when we strip a minority of its humanity?
A few points:
Stating that Jews need to speak out about Israel’s actions IS NOT the same as holding Jews collectively responsible for for Israel’s actions. If I said to anyone that them need to speak out against a particular evil it does not equate to them being responsible in the sense of being culpable for that evil.
Hatton’s statement DOES suggest that Jews have a particular responsibility for speaking up against the particular abuses perpetrated by the state of Israel. I do not accept that Jews have such a responsibility because they are Jews. I believe that we all have equal responsibility in this matter because we are equally human and rational beings. It is true however that Jewish groups such as JVL and JVP appear to come together on the premise that they, as Jews, have a particular role to play in opposing the abuses. It is also true that Muslims are often urged to take responsibility in the sense of speaking out against and identifying Islamist terrorism and ‘radicalisation’. Indeed there are government programmes that seek to engage Muslims in such activity. If Hatton had tweeted (after seeing an Isis beheading) “Muslim people with any sense of humanity need to start speaking out publicly against the ruthless murdering being carried out by Isis and other Jihadist groups” I might, for the reasons I gave above, question that formulation but I would not say that he was Islamophobic because of it. Hatton would be equally wrong in saying this but I suspect that he would not receive the same degree of censure.
Saying that Jews with ‘any sense of humanity’ ought to speak out against the brutal acts of Israel does not imply that those who do not speak out against such acts have no sense of humanity much less that they have no humanity. It may be argued that Hatton meant this to be inferred but this is not logically implicit in what he said.
In conclusion while I consider statements like Hatton’s to be flawed because they incorrectly assign responsibility for moral action to people on the basis of their belonging to a particular group rather than on the basis of them being rational beings, I understand that this as a matter of erroneous (though common) speech rather than antisemetic or racist intent.
Is the Labour Party now the party of Witchfinders and Inquisitions? I think that the last three years make this a reasonable question.
Jon Lansman says:
“I do think we have a major problem and it always seems to me that we underestimate the scale of it.
“I think it is a widespread problem. It’s now obvious we have a much larger number of people with hardcore antisemitic opinions which, unfortunately, is polluting the atmosphere in a lot of constituency parties and, in particular, online.
“We have to deal with those people and I think it’s a responsibility of everyone in the Labour Party, from the top to the bottom, to report cases.”
453 members (out of approximately 550,000 — so around 0.08 per cent) who had expressed views concerning Jews that were judged as requiring further investigation and disciplinary action.
Some received suspensions, others formal/written warnings about their behaviour, while just 12 were expelled.
Without even taking into consideration the fact that some of the expressions ‘requiring further investigation’ must have been found to not require disiplinary action it does not seem to me that the ‘expressed views’ of 0.08% of the membership of the party can be taken to constitute the general culture of the party or can be considered a ‘major problem’.
Perhaps Landsman is cognisant of the contradiction between his assertion that there is a ‘major problem’ and the statistics that suggest otherwise. Perhaps that is why he has ‘called on Labour to be more “proactive in going out and seeking cases” of antisemitism within the party’.
We know what Landsman does think: “I do think we have a major problem” and “I think it is a widespread problem” but we have no idea why he and Luciana Berger and Chuka Umunna and Jess Phillips and Uncle Tom Watson and all think these things. Landsman’s call for ‘Labour’ to be “proactive in going out and seeking cases” chilled me and then filled me with revulsion. Two words came to mind and I looked up the Wikipedia articles on them:
The first word is ‘Witchfinder General’.
Matthew Hopkins (c. 1620 – 12 August 1647) was an English witch-hunter whose career flourished during the English Civil War. He claimed to hold the office of Witchfinder General, although that title was never bestowed by Parliament. His witch-hunts mainly took place in East Anglia.
Hopkins’ witch-finding career began in March 1644 and lasted until his retirement in 1647. He and his associates were responsible for more people being hanged for witchcraft than in the previous 100 years, and were solely responsible for the increase in witch trials during those years. He is believed to have been responsible for the executions of 300 alleged witches between the years 1644 and 1646.
The second word is ‘Inquisition’.
The Wikipedia article notes that:
The Inquisition was a group of institutions within the government system of the Catholic Church whose aim was to combat heresy. It started in 12th-century France to combat religious dissent
But the passage I found most interesting was this:
The 1578 edition of the Directorium Inquisitorum (a standard Inquisitorial manual) spelled out the purpose of inquisitorial penalties: … quoniam punitio non refertur primo & per se in correctionem & bonum eius qui punitur, sed in bonum publicum ut alij terreantur, & a malis committendis avocentur (translation: “… for punishment does not take place primarily and per se for the correction and good of the person punished, but for the public good in order that others may become terrified and weaned away from the evils they would commit”).
Is the Labour Party now the party of Witchfinders and Inquisitions? I think that the last three years make this a reasonable question. I very much like Jeremy Corbyn and his project but I understand that that project is considered heretical and dangerous among sections of his party. I understand that they are determined to end that heresy even at the cost of gravely damaging their own party and the future of their country. Chuka Umanna talks of wanting to establish an ‘evidence based’ party as an alternative to Labour but his assertions regarding antisemitism and those of his fellow travellers have been remarkable in having no evidential basis. I very much want Labour to be the party of evidence and reason as well as compassion. The Conservatives are not, Umanna’s party is not, nor are the LibDems. But to be a party of reason and evidence Labour it must give far less weight to its grand panjandrums and doctrinal orthodoxies and much more to evidence, reason and open conversation with and between ordinary members.
At a time when the Labour party is, absurdly, being accused of being antisemitic and individual members such as Ken Livingstone are being hounded for objecting to hounding, it’s important to feel that we are able to speak freely; not dishonestly or unkindly but freely on any subject we wish including the subject of Israel.
This talk by Gilad Atzmon is really interesting. Atzmon is commonly condemned as being antisemitic and a ‘self hating Jew’. I think he makes clear here that he is neither of those things but he does make clear that he thinks that there is a problem with what he sees as ‘political Jewishness’ and ‘Jewish identity’ as opposed to Judaism or being a Jew. He associates Jewish identity with the concept of ‘chosenness’ and ‘political Jewishness’ with support for Israel as a Jewish state. Atzmon considers these two identifications as inherently racist and he is opposed to them. He is also opposed to the political correctness that presents this opposition to a particular racism as being in itself racist. Atzmon quips that he is not antisemitic, that he hates everyone equally. Of course this is not true, Atzmon is a deeply empathetic person but I think he may well hate all racial identification equally. At over 90 minutes this is a long watch but I found it worth the time.
In this video Matt Damon reads from Howard Zinn’s 1970 speech on Civil Obedience. The speech is as relevant today as it was in 1970, perhaps more so. Below is a transcript of Damon’s reading. For transcript of the full speech use this link: The Problem is Civil Obedience.
I start from the supposition that the world is topsy-turvy, that things are all wrong, that the wrong people are in jail and the wrong people are out of jail, that the wrong people are in power and the wrong people are out of power, that the wealth is distributed in this country and the world in such a way as not simply to require small reform but to require a drastic reallocation of wealth. I start from the supposition that we don’t have to say too much about this because all we have to do is think about the state of the world today and realize that things are all upside down…
If you don’t think, if you just listen to TV and read scholarly things, you actually begin to think that things are not so bad, or that just little things are wrong. But you have to get a little detached, and then come back and look at the world, and you are horrified. So we have to start from that supposition-that things are really topsy-turvy…
And our topic is topsy-turvy: civil disobedience. As soon as you say the topic is civil disobedience, you are saying our problem is civil disobedience. That is not our problem…. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience…
We recognize this for Nazi Germany. We know that the problem there was obedience, that the people obeyed Hitler. People obeyed; that was wrong. They should have challenged, and they should have resisted; and if we were only there, we would have showed them. Even in Stalin’s Russia we can understand that; people are obedient, all these herdlike people….
Remember those bad old days when people were exploited by feudalism? Everything was terrible in the Middle Ages-but now we have Western civilization, the rule of law. The rule of law has regularized and maximized the injustice that existed before the rule of law, that is what the rule of law has done….
When in all the nations of the world the rule of law is the darling of the leaders and the plague of the people, we ought to begin to recognize this. We have to transcend these national boundaries in our thinking. Nixon and Brezhnev have much more in common with one another than – we have with Nixon. J. Edgar Hoover has far more in common with the head of the Soviet secret police than he has with us. It’s the international dedication to law and order that binds the leaders of all countries in a comradely bond. That’s why we are always surprised when they get together — they smile, they shake hands, they smoke cigars, they really like one another no matter what they say…..
What we are trying to do, I assume, is really to get back to the principles and aims and spirit of the Declaration of Independence. This spirit is resistance to illegitimate authority and to forces that deprive people of their life and liberty and right to pursue happiness, and therefore under these conditions, it urges the right to alter or abolish their current form of government-and the stress had been on abolish. But to establish the principles of the Declaration of Independence, we are going to need to go outside the law, to stop obeying the laws that demand killing or that allocate wealth the way it has been done, or that put people in jail for petty technical offenses and keep other people out of jail for enormous crimes. My hope is that this kind of spirit will take place not just in this country but in other countries because they all need it. People in all countries need the spirit of disobedience to the state, which is not a metaphysical thing but a thing of force and wealth. And we need a kind of declaration of interdependence among people in all countries of the world who are striving for the same thing.
Our problem lies not only in our obedience to government it lies in our obedience to what we see as authority and consensus and our cultural and social conditioning. It is accepting the premise that we are ‘small’ and inadequate and have no business questioning the system and ‘our betters’ who run it. We do not know enough about medicine to challenge what the doctors and the pharmaceutical industry say, we do not know enough about education to challenge the education system, about economics to question the economic system or about international affairs to challenge the government’s foreign policy. The major news and information providers are owned by the rich few and speak in support of a status quo that maintains their position. Our conceptual universe pushes us to obedience so that even our resistance and supposed disobedience is within a certain framework of thought. In order to break free from the framework or matrix of thought we have to be able to look at it, understand it and then start thinking outside of that framework.
This story illustrates how the political and media establishment in the West suppress dissent. Concert pianist Valentina Lisitsa questioned the prevailing narrative about Ukraine and was banned from preforming with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Questioning the establishment line about Ukraine, Russia, Iran and the Middle East puts the questioner beyond the pale alongside those who dare to question the 9/11 narrative. If the establishment has nothing to hide it has nothing to fear from dissenters.