In early 2016, an intense media offensive was launched claiming that the Labour Party was rife with antisemitism. Since then, after a wave of summary suspensions, costly investigations and many successful appeals, it is clear that the vast majority of the members disciplined were on the Left of the Party and were opponents of Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights who had no hostility to Jews as Jews.
Even after Corbyn’s transformatory 2017 general election campaign the offensive, led by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), Labour Friends of Israel and other pro-Israel lobby groups has not abated. Some of the groups receive direct finance from Israel, as revealed in the Al Jazeera investigation The Lobby, televised in January 2017. It made clear the hostility of Labour’s pro-Israel Right to the left-wing leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, a known supporter of Palestinian rights.
The Guardian has commissioned an article, Let’s be clear – antisemitism is a hate apart, from Howard Jacobson.In his attempt to show that anti-Zionism is really a modern form of an ancient plaint, anti-Semitism, Jacobson’s literary talents seem to desert him.His arguments are wooden and stilted as his hackneyed phrases betray a poverty of imagination.
How can one write about Israel without once mentioning the Palestinians?Israel is a state that receives the largest amount of aid of any country, despite its small population, from the United States.It is a state armed to the teeth, with nuclear weaponry, whose military has ruled over 4.5 million people for 50 years.Palestinians live in the same territory as 600,000 settlers, yet unlike them they are subject to a different legal system of Military Law.By any definition this is Apartheid.At the hundreds of checkpoints that cover the West Bank there are separate entrances for Jewish settlers and Palestinians,yet Jacobson has convinced himself that our reasons for opposing Israeli Apartheid is because of anti-Semitism!
Jacobson may be a distinguished novelist but there is nothing original in what he writes about anti-Semitism and Zionism.Jacobson offers us no special insights that cannot be gained from Israeli hasbara (propaganda).For Jacobson, criticism of the Israeli state can be explained by the fact that ‘in the matter of the existence of the State of Israel… all the ancient superstitions about Jews find a point of confluence.’Apparently criticism of Israel and Zionism has nothing to do with land discrimination and theft, the underfunding of the Arab education sector, the Judaisation of areas of Israel where there are not enough Jews, extra-judicial executions, torture of children or house demolitions.It’s all because we are anti-Semitic!
Howard Jacobson made his name as a comic novelist.It is a genre that he should have stuck to because there is little that is amusing or revealing in his discursions into anti-Semitism.Jacobson pronounces that the Chakrabarti Report into racism and anti-Semitism in the Labour Party was ‘a soft inquiry’ and ‘was stillborn’.Instead of explaining what it is he disagreed with in the Report he insinuates that the elevation of Shami Chakrabarti to the House of Lords was the payment of a bribe.The Chakrabarti Report was a serious attempt to investigate the spurious anti-Semitism allegations of the Labour Right, the Tory press, and the Zionist movement.Chakrabarti found that the Labour Party was not overrun by anti-Semitism.
Indeed it is one of the curious aspects of the anti-Semitism allegations that no hard evidence has ever been produced.The one serious attempt to investigate these allegations by Asa Winstanley How Israel lobby manufactured UK Labour Party’s anti-Semitism crisis showed that the evidence for the allegations was spurious, fabricated and in the specific case of Oxford University Labour Club, set in motion by a former intern, Alex Chalmers, for BICOM, Britain’s main Israeli propaganda organisation.
Howard Jacobson’s theme is anything but novel.It is that anti-Semitism is ‘unlike other racisms’.It ‘exists outside time and place and doesn’t even require the presence of Jews.’In response to the Russian pogroms of 1881, Leo Pinsker, the founder of the Lovers of Zion, likewise wrote that ‘Judaephobia is then a mental disease, and as a mental disease it is hereditary, and having been inherited for 2,000 years, it is incurable. [Pinsker, Autoemancipation, Berlin 1882 p.5.]
The logical conclusion is that if anti-Semitism cannot be explained then it cannot be fought.It doesn’t even require Jews.It exists in the realm of the metaphysical like all those other racial myths.After all ‘when Marlowe and Shakespeare responded to an appetite for anti-Jewish feeling in Elizabethan England, there had been no Jews in the country for 300 years.’Jacobson is wrong, there were Jews in England but the memory of the Jews and the roles they performed in society had not disappeared.It is all too easy to characterise Marlowe and Shakespeare’s productions as anti-Semitic when they simply reflected not only popular perceptions but the actual role that Jews played in medieval society.
As Abram Leon, the Trotskyist leader who died in Auschwitz observed:
‘Zionism transposes modern anti-Semitism to all of history and saves itself the trouble of studying the various forms of anti-Semitism and their evolution.’.. [Abram Leon, The Jewish Question – A Marxist Interpretation, p. 245. Pathfinder, New York, 1970]
Anti-Semitism was seen by Zionism as a permanent feature of Jewish relations with non-Jews, an immutable fact beyond history and time itself.In June 1895, barely six months after the framing of the French Jewish Captain Alfred Dreyfuss for treason, Theodor Herzl, the founder of Political Zionism wrote that ‘In Paris …I achieved a freer attitude towards anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all I recognise the emptiness and futility of trying to ‘combat’ anti-Semitism.Since anti-Semitism was a natural phenomenon, it could not be fought.You might as well fight the tides.
Jacobson’s claim that anti-Semitism is a unique form of racism is a truism.All forms of racism have unique characteristics but anti-Semitism is not a unique form of racism.There has always been racism against groups who were seen as better off and prosperous, be it the Huguenots, the Biafrans, the East African Asians or Koreans in the United States.The Chinese of South-East Asia were known as the ‘Jews of the East’.Racism against the Roma is just as persistent and deadly as anti-Semitism if not more so. Continue reading “The Guardian and Howard Jacobson’s blindness to racism”
It is really unbelievable. Who does the Guardian choose to write an article commemorating the Battle of Cable Street, one of the most famous days in the annals of the British Labour Movement when up to quarter of a million workers, including thousands of Jewish workers, sent the fascists packing? The PR man for Netanyahu and now Israel’s Liar-in-Chief in Britain, Mark Regev. The man who night after night justified on TV the murderous bombing of Gaza two years ago when 2,200 Palestinian refugees were murdered, including 551 children.
The man whose career was spent justifying every last racist measure of Netanyahu – from banning the commemoration of the Nakba in 1948, the massacre and expulsion of ¾ million Palestinians to the exclusion of Arabs from Jewish towns under the Access to Communities legislation.
It is a sign of the deep sickness at the ‘liberal’ Guardian that they could even think of carrying an article which tries blatantly to rewrite history. The Board of Deputies of British Jews vehemently opposed the march. It had a box printed in the Jewish Chronicle warning Jews to stay away from the march. The Zionists had effectively taken over the Board of Deputies by 1933 as Neville Laski made his peace with the Zionists.
This is an example of how even the most radical moments in our history are co-opted by the ruling class in order to blunt their political message. In the process they allow the passage of time to dim our memory so that the real lessons, the need to fight against all forms of racism, are lost.
According to Regev’s rewriting of history, the Zionist movement, which had worked hand in hand with the precursor of Oswald Moseley’s BUF, the British Brothers League, was somehow in the vanguard of opposition to the fascists. The Zionists played no part in building opposition to the march. That was the job of Jewish communists and socialists. The Jewish Peoples Council contained a few dissident Zionists but to pretend that a handful of Zionist individuals constituted an alliance between the Labour movement and the Zionists is a shameless rewriting of history.
What the Guardian could have done, was to run this piece by Bill Fishman, the late and great historian of East End Jewry that was printed in the Docklands and East London Advertiser ten years ago on the 70th anniversary of Cable Street.
By 1936, Oswald Mosley’s party had been waging a hate campaign against Jews, communists and the Irish in the East End for more than two years, writes Bill Fishman.
Accusing Jews of taking ‘English’ jobs, Mosley’s elite bodyguard—the Blackshirts—terrorised Jewish stallholders in Petticoat Lane market, beat up Jews going home after synagogue and covered walls with anti-Semitic graffiti.
“Perish Judah” and “Death to the Jews” were scrawled all over the East End.
Copying the militaristic style of the fascist regimes in Germany, Italy and Spain, they carried out a reign of terror.
At that time, I was a member of the Labour Youth League and we heard that Mosley was planning a big rally in the East End on that Sunday in 1936, on October 4. We were told to get down to Gardiner’s Corner on the edge of the City.
It seemed like an act of solidarity because, on the same day, the Republicans in Spain were also preparing to defend Madrid against General Franco’s fascist nationalist forces.
I got off the 53 tram just after noon and there were already people marching and carrying banners proclaiming ‘No Pasaran’—the slogan we took from the Spanish Republicans which meant ‘They shall not pass.’
People were coming in from the side streets, marching towards Aldgate. There were so many that it took me about 25 minutes to get there.
I remember standing on the steps of the Whitechapel Art Gallery, watching Mosley arrive in a black open-top sports car. He was a playboy aristocrat and as glamorous as ever.
By this time, it was about 3.30pm. You could see Mosley—black-shirted himself—marching in front of about 3,000 Blackshirts and a sea of Union Jacks. It was as though he was the commander-in-chief of the army, with the Blackshirts in columns and a mass of police to protect them.
I had already seen him at a public meeting some months before. He had been standing on the back of a lorry parked outside the Salmon & Ball pub in Bethnal Green.
But at Gardiner’s Corner, Mosley encountered his first setback, thanks to a lone tram driver. I saw a tram pull up in the middle of the junction about 50 yards away from me—blocking the Blackshirts’ route. Then the driver got out and walked off. I found out later he was a member of the Communist Party.
I remember that, in contrast to the ugliness to come, the weather was beautiful, like a summer day. By mid-afternoon, the crowds had quickly swelled to more than 250,000, with some reports later suggesting that up to 500,000 people gathered there.
As the tension rose, we began chanting “1, 2, 3, 4, 5! We want Mosley—dead or alive!” and “They shall not pass!”
I was moved to tears to see bearded Jews and Irish Catholic dockers standing up to stop Mosley and shall never forget that as long as I live—how working-class people could get together to oppose the evil of fascism.
In a bid to keep the crowd away from the fascists, around 10,000 police officers, virtually every spare policeman in London and the South East, had been drafted in.
The police decided when the tram stopped and blocked the way to charge the crowd to disperse us. They were waving their truncheons, but we were so packed together, there was nowhere for us to go.
I could see police horses going up in the air because some kids in front of me were throwing marbles under their hooves. That made the police more hostile and they spent the next hour charging into us. Then, suddenly, people were waving to us from the back of the crowd.
The Communist Party had a system of loudspeaker vans and a command post with a phone and team of messengers from which to co-ordinate the action.
But they also had a secret weapon—a spy named Michael Faulkner, who was a medical student and communist sympathiser. Faulkner had infiltrated the Blackshirts.
When Mosley was halted at Gardiner’s Corner (today’s crossroads of Commercial Street, Whitechapel High Street and Commercial Road), police chief Sir Philip Game told him that the fascists could go another way, south through Royal Mint Street and Cable Street.
As Mosley was passing on instructions, Faulkner rushed to a phone kiosk near Aldgate Underground station and rang Phil Piratin, the Communist leader. Piratin told those in the loudspeaker vans to transmit the message—“Get down to Cable Street!”
The sheer weight of numbers meant it was a slow procession, but I got there in time to watch the battle.
I was young and afraid of what was basically a fight between the police and us, because we couldn’t get near the Blackshirts.
Cable Street is very narrow and there were three and four-storey houses where Irish dockers lived who quickly erected barricades of lorries piled with old mattresses and furniture.
Women in the houses hurled rotten vegetables, muck from chamber-pots and rubbish onto the police, who were struggling to dismantle some of the barricades.
Things escalated again when the police sent ‘snatch squads’ into the crowd to nab supposed ringleaders. Organised groups of dockers hit back with stones and sticks, while making several ‘arrests’ themselves!
Indeed, there are some families in the East End who still have police helmets and batons as souvenirs!
Finally, with the area in turmoil and the protesters at fever pitch, Sir Philip Game told Mosley that he would have to abandon the march, fearing too much bloodshed. He ordered Mosley to turn back and march through the deserted City of London.
When the news filtered through, people went mad and what had been a wild protest became a massive victory party, with thousands of people dancing in the streets.
Once the dust settled, it was found that 150 protesters had been arrested, with some of them being severely beaten once in custody. In all, there were around 100 injuries, including police officers.
Oswald Mosley’s popularity began to wane, after his setback in Cable Street.
The Government hurried through laws banning political parties from wearing military-style uniforms, depriving them of both menace and allure.
Stanley Baldwin’s Tory government passed the Public Order Act, which gave the police the power to ban ‘provocative’ marches.
Then, during the Second World War, Mosley and his wife Lady Diana Mitford were interned as a threat to national security. Years in the political wilderness followed before his death in 1980.
Although a lot of fascists still lived in the East End following the Cable Street victory, never again would the ideology be so popular.
Jews, communists, Irish and English men and women rose up simply because they did not want extremism.
Years later, during my first teaching job in Bethnal Green, a parent came up and said: “My son speaks very highly of you. I have to apologise, I was a fascist and supported Mosley. Now I realise how wrong you can be.”
There was redemption in that and it moved me. It made me realise how much things were changing even then.
I have sent a letter into the Guardian but I suspect that they will prefer to pass silently over this shameful episode.
On 2nd October 1936, the Board placed a warning notice in the Jewish Chronicle entitled ‘Urgent Warning – Keep Away’. It read ‘Jews are urgently warned to keep away from the route of the Blackshirt march’.
The anti-fascist mobilisation was organised by Jewish communists and socialists and the Jewish Peoples Council. The Zionists played no part in the mobilisation. The idea that English Zionism, which had allied with the anti-Semitic opponents of Jewish immigration in the Conservative Party, would support physical opposition to the BUF is laughable.
Mark Regev stands in opposition to everything the demonstrators at Cable Street represented. He is Ambassador for the most racist regime in the world, a state that maintains a brutal military occupation in the West Bank, which bombs refugees in Gaza and which demonises Israel’s own Palestinian citizens.
The lessons we should remember are those of the historian of East End Jewry, William Fishman who wrote that:
‘“We were all side by side. I was moved to tears to see bearded Jews and Irish Catholic dockers standing up to stop Mosley. I shall never forget that for as long as I live, how working-class people could stand together to oppose the evil of racism.” [East London Advertiser 4.10.06]
Jewish critics of the JLM have told The Electronic Intifada that JLM’s link to the Israeli embassy should disqualify it from leading Labour Party trainings on anti-Semitism.
The Israeli government and its allied organizations around the world have a long-standing policy of deliberately conflating criticisms of Israel with anti-Semitism.
The JLM has drawn criticism from non-Zionist Jewish members of Labour for its pro-Israel tendencies. Jews who do not follow Zionism, Israel’s state ideology, have told The Electronic Intifada that JLM excludes them.
Danny Finkelstein asks in the Jewish Chronicle ‘Is our Corbyn Strategy Working?’ The JC notes that Finkelstein is associate editor of the Times; it does not note that he is a Tory peer. So who is the ‘our’ in ‘our strategy’? Is it the Tory Party, is it the Zionist community, is it Tory Zionists? The article does not directly tell us so we have to infer ownership from the content.
Finkelstein gives three examples of alleged ‘antisemitism’; each one related to Israel and not British Jewry. He goes on to write:
For years, anti-Israel feeling has been growing on the left and it has slowly been changing into an antisemitic theory about Zionism as the ideology of worldwide imperialist occupation. By this means, every act of Western foreign policy has been linked to Israel and to Jews.
This starts from a valid premise: the left, but not only the left, has grown increasingly critical of the actions of the Israeli state. It is also true, but not noted, that it is becoming increasingly common for people who pay attention to Palestine/Israel to identify the criminality of the state to be organically linked to the Zionist ideology that led to the founding of the state and is used by it to justify its actions. However, Finkelstein then makes a daring leap into fantasy by not only identifying criticism of Zionism as an ‘antisemitic theory’ but claiming that Zionism is seen as the ideology of imperialism and that everything is blamed on the Jews. Because he is preaching to the gallery he sees no need to provide any evidence for this claim; fortunate for him as such evidence is scant or non-existent.
What is true is that Zionism sits easily with western imperialism. It is a settler-colonial project that is only legitimate within an imperialist view of the world. A view that any territory, anywhere can be alienated from its long term inhabitants for the benefit of militarily superior invaders. It is also true that Israel has geo-political interests in the Middle East and that they lobby the US and other Governments to take action that would advance Israel’s interests. A recent inconvertible example of this was Israel’s intensive lobbying to try to derail the deal to end Iran’s nuclear adventures.
None of this remotely supports the contention that ‘every act of Western foreign policy has been linked to Israel’. It is possible that somewhere on Twitter you can find a seriously misinformed, or seriously malevolent, individual who has alleged Israeli or Zionist or Jewish involvement each time a Western state has acted badly. However, Finkelstein’s claim is not about an individual misusing their keyboard: it is a claim that the mass of those challenging Zionism believe ‘it is all the fault of the Jews’. A serious but false and unsubstantiated charge.
Finkelstein declares ‘these very same people jeer when obvious examples of antisemitism are raised’. He can only write this because he cannot accept that with very few, if any, exceptions there is no obvious antisemitism once the exaggerations, misquotations and downright deceits are exposed. The jeering is for the cynical exploitation of Jewish fears not for any victim of abuse. The groans are for yet another instance of portraying the aggressor as the victim.
So who are the owners of ‘our strategy’. It is those who fear, correctly, that a Corbyn led Labour Party will challenge inequality and exploitation in the UK as well seeking the end of British exculpation of Israel’s crimes. The strategy is for the benefit of the wealthy and privileged and for the architects of Israeli apartheid. It is deeply regrettable that so many Labour Party MPs have signed up to a strategy at such sharp variance with Labour Party ideals and of such great assistance to the enemies of the Party and those it defends.