By Stan Crooke
“Antisemitism Accusations – An Attempt to Smear Anti-Zionists into Silence” declares one of the headlines in this week’s Socialist Worker. The article in question deals with a parliamentary report on anti-semitism published earlier this month.
The headline chosen by Norman Finkelstein, author of “The Holocaust Industry” and “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Antisemitism and the Abuse of History”, for an article on his website about the same report went one stage further: “Kill Arabs, Cry Antisemitism.”
On the pro-SWP blog “Lenin’s Tomb” an article posted under the headline “The Star and the Crescent: How a Report on Anti-semitism Produced Anti-semitism” described the report as “a work of malicious, calculated anti-semitism” which “purported” to be an expose of contemporary anti-semitism.
The report in question was produced by the All-Parliamentary Group Against Anti-semitism. And, as one would expect of a report produced by such an august body (including five Rt. Hons. and one Lady), it’s a pretty bland 60 pages.
The introduction and mainly historical background to the report take up six pages. The increasing number of attacks on Jews and Jewish synagogues and cemeteries is covered in nine pages.
Anti-semitic discourse (including Holocaust denial, conspiracy theories, and ‘dual loyalty’) gets eight pages, while sources of contemporary anti-semitism (including the Far Right, Islamist extremists and anti-semitism on the left) are covered in 14 pages.
After five pages about anti-semitism on university campuses, the remainder of the report (17 pages) is given over to proposals and recommendations for addressing anti-semitism, plus a list of individuals who submitted evidence to the enquiry.
Typical recommendations of this “work of malicious, calculated anti-semitism” which “attempts to smear anti-Zionists into silence” are: “richer statistics”; a “cross-departmental government task force” to combat anti-semitism; increased government funding to “promote good community relations projects”; “more effective policing and prosecution”; and more “interfaith dialogue”, including “bi-annual meetings between the leaders of all the major faith communities.”
Clearly, there are aspects the report with which the SWP and their fellow travellers disagree, such as elements of the definition of anti-semitism used in the report, and references to manifestations of anti-semitism on Stop the War demonstrations.
But those aspects certainly do not define the nature of the report as a whole. In fact, the authors of the report are generally guarded in their language and often tentative in their conclusions.
The dividing line between anti-semitism and criticism of Israel or Zionism, for example, is described by the report’s authors as “one of the most difficult and contentious issues about which we have received evidence.”
It is perfectly possible, says the report, “to be critical of the policies and actions of the government of Israel without being anti-semitic.” Similarly, “criticism of Zionism is not in itself anti-semitic.” Anti-Israel discourse and anti-Zionist discourse can, however, “be polluted with anti-semitic themes.” But, the report concludes, “we do not believe that the vast majority of discussion surrounding the Israel-Palestinian conflict is inherently anti-semitic.”
In dealing with Islamist anti-semitism the report’s authors fall over themselves to stress that this is confined to “fringe and extremist Islamists in the UK”, and that “it is not our intention to accuse British Muslims of anti-semitism.” On the contrary, British Muslim communities are themselves “the victims of a serious and growing Islamophobia.”
In addressing anti-semitism on the left, the report’s authors write: “Many on the left are firm in their condemnation of racism and would almost certainly not accept that they were guilty of anti-semitic discourse.” By way of contrast, in addressing anti-semitism on the far right, the report’s authors write: “Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories remain core elements of far right ideology.”
The report does not address its subject-matter in any detail. It sometimes makes statements without providing examples to back them up. It fails to address counter-arguments where it is dealing with what it knows to be contentious issues.
The report looks primarily to state institutions and bureaucracies to tackle anti-semitism (and other forms of racism). It equates integration into British society with security from racism and prejudice — ignoring the racism endemic in British society itself. And, doubtless, it suffers from a multitude of other inadequacies as well.
But the denunciations of the report by Finkelstein and by the SWP and their fellow “anti-Zionist” travellers do not focus on such inadequacies. On the contrary, the criticisms constitute a prime example of left anti-semitism in the guise of “anti-Zionism”.
(“Anti-Zionism” is used here more or less in the sense in which the report itself defines it: a supposed critique of a supposed Zionism in which “traditional anti-semitic notions of Jewish conspiratorial power, manipulation and subversion are transferred from Jews (a racial or religious group) on to Zionism (a political movement). This is at the core of the “new anti-semitism” on which so much has been written.”)
According to Finkelstein’s article — advertised on “Lenin’s Tomb” as a “good review” of the report – whenever Israel faces a public relations disaster, its apologists “sound the alarm that a ‘new anti-semitism’ is upon us.” Thus, just after Israel’s “murderous destruction of Lebanon”, a parliamentary group led by “Israel-firster Denis MacShane MP” has produced “yet another report alleging a resurgence of anti-semitism.”
But the inquiry which produced the report was set up in September of last year, following on from a decision of an international conference on anti-semitism held in Berlin in 2004 – all well before Israel’s invasion of the Lebanon.
Finkelstein pours scorn on the definition of an anti-racist incident used by the report – the definition contained in the Macpherson Report of the Steven Lawrence Inquiry. He describes it as “a new threshold in idiocy” and “the dream philosophy of a paranoid.”
He omits to mention, however, that the actual statistics on anti-semitic incidents contained in the report are based on a different definition of what constitutes an anti-semitic incident: not one which is based on perception, but one in which there is a clear indication, such as language or graffiti, of an anti-semitic element. In fact, Finkelstein makes no reference at all to the report’s examples of attacks on Jews and Jewish property.
References in the report to anti-semitic discourse are dismissed by Finkelstein with the comment: “The new anti-semitism business must be going seriously awry when British Conservatives start sounding like Lacan.”
Various examples which the report gives of the impact of anti-semitism on university campuses are reduced by Finelstein to an appeal for Israeli goods not to be boycotted because kosher food would not be available on campus.
“Much time and money could have been saved had the report just been contracted out to the Israeli Foreign Ministry,” concludes Finkelstein. Does that mean that “Israel-firster” Denis MacShane MP and Lady Sylvia Hermon MP are simply the dupes of the Israeli government – or are they perhaps their agents?
In its article headed “Muddying the Waters on Antisemitism”, Socialist Worker lags far behind the bile spewed out by Finkelstein, but certainly equals him in terms of idiocy, misrepresentation and evasion.
The article begins by attempting to undermine the findings of the report by questioning its status and the credentials of its authors.
“The report itself admits”, says the article, that its investigation held no official powers and was not covered by parliamentary privilege. (But don’t people usually “admit” to things like murder — rather than to not being covered by parliamentary privilege?)
Moreover, the article continues, the Parliamentary Committee Against Anti-semitism “has no official status either.” But when did the SWP become so concerned with arcane parliamentary rules? And what “official status” does “Socialist Worker” have for its pronouncements on anti-semitism?
Not one of the report’s authors, stresses the article, voted against the invasion of Iraq in 2003. “Given this,” the article continues, “it should not be a surprise that the report goes out of its way to link the anti-war movement to anti-semitism.” The report is condemned for saying that Stop the War demonstrations “were tainted by anti-Jewish rhetoric and imagery.”
The report does not “go out of its way” to link the antiwar movement to anti-semitism. If the SWP wants to deny that Stop the War demonstrations have been “tainted” (a rather restrained expression on the part of the report’s authors) with anti-semitism, then it needs to explain why chants like “Palestine Must Be Free – From Arabia to the Sea” and placards equating the Star of David with the Nazi swastika are not anti-semitic.
(On a more recent note, it could also address the chanting of “We Are All Hizbullah” on demonstrations against Israel’s invasion of the Lebanon. That’s the same Hizbullah whose broadcasting centre broadcast a television series amounting to a dramatisation of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, and put into circulation the lie that Jews were told not to turn up for work at the World Trade Centre on 9/11.)
The article goes on to criticise the report’s claim that the Respect Bethnal Green and Bow election campaign in 2005 was “marred by anti-semitic campaigning on the part of some of its supporters.” The article criticises the report for failing to provide any examples to back up this accusation.
This is a valid criticism. Such an accusation should be backed up with specific examples. They would hardly be unlikely to find. Not long after his election the successful Respect candidate did a meeting in Liverpool where he described a local (Jewish) MP as “Israel’s MP on Merseyside” – a textbook example of the ‘dual loyalty’ element of anti-semitism (i.e. that Jews are loyal, nowadays, to Israel rather than to their own country).
(It should also be noted that the report does not accuse Galloway of running an antisemitic campaign. It says that his campaign was “marred” by some of his supporters engaging in such campaigning.)
The concluding section of the article was written by someone who has either not read the report, or has failed to understand the report, or has decided to deliberately misrepresent the report.
According to the article, the report belongs to a right-wing tradition of “redefining anti-semitism to encompass opposition to Zionism” and of claiming that there is a “new anti-semitism” (inverted commas in the original) which “takes the form of criticism of the state of Israel.” Anti-semitism and anti-Zionism are thereby wrongly “lumped together.”
The report says what is says. It says, time and time again, that criticising Israel and/or Zionism is not necessarily anti-semitic. But the “Socialist Worker” article ignores this. Instead, it misrepresents the report as “an attempt to smear anti-Zionists into silence.”
A second, longer, article in the same issue of “Socialist Worker” follows the same approach, albeit in a more convoluted and less coherent fashion.
“Michael Rosen takes issue with a new report that labels anti-Zionism as anti-semitic” explains the introduction to the article. The report, of course, does not “label anti-Zionism as anti-semitic.” And Rosen does not take issue with the report. His article largely ignores the contents of the report.
Rosen begins with a series of definitions. “Plenty of non-Jews are Zionists (such as members of Western governments) in the sense that they are in favour of Israel being this (Jewish) homeland,” writes Rosen. That means, of course, that not just some “members of Western governments” are Zionists, but the overwhelming majority of the world’s population.
Anti-Zionism is defined by Rosen as “the political creed opposed to those who created and now run the state of Israel.” This sounds quite reasonable. The problem is that Rosen is being disingenuous in two respects.
Firstly, Rosen’s anti-Zionism is not a creed “opposed to those who created and run the state of Israel.” It is a creed opposed to the very existence of the state of Israel. As Rosen writes later in his article: “The Jews have every right to self-determination, but not if it is at the expense of others (as is the case with Israel).”
Secondly, Rosen fails to acknowledge the difference between anti-Zionism (a rational critique of Zionism as a historical movement) and the ‘anti-Zionism’ of the SWP, Respect (of which he is a member), and sections of the broader ‘anti-war’ movement.
That ‘anti-Zionism’ is one which demonises Zionism and incorporates traditional antisemitic themes. Some prime examples of that ‘anti-Zionism’ are provided by contributions to the discussion on “Lenin’s Tomb” about the same report.
Zionism, they claim, is “an ugly disgusting representation of all that is oppressive.” It is “hell bent on destroying a people.” It is “flying in the face of all documented historic evidence to deny that the Zionist movement wanted to exterminate all that is indigenous.” Zionism and the Zionist state are “a cancer on humanity.”
Rosen attacks the report for using the definition of antisemitism adopted by the EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia. In fact, he ignores the bulk of the Monitoring Centre’s definition – which runs to a full page – and homes in on just one sentence: “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of Israel is a racist endeavour.”
“The message is clear,” continues Rosen, “anti-Zionists, beware. Criticism of Israeli government policies will be permitted, but if you attack the core creed of Zionism, then we’ll call in the law.”
(Rosen’s fear of a dawn raid by the police is less than consistent with what the report actually says: “It is important to clarify that none of those who gave evidence wished to see the right to free speech eroded in order to curtail racist or anti-semitic discourse. …
“… Only in extreme circumstances would we advocate legal intervention, namely where such speech can be used to incite others to violent action or hatred. In all other cases, we advocate heightened awareness and sensitivity as to the offence that can be caused.”)
But if “claiming that the existence of Israel is a racist endeavour” is “attacking the core creed of Zionism”, then Zionism itself must be a form of racism. And yet when Rosen defined Zionism at the outset of his article, he referred to it simply as “a political creed that created the nation state of Israel”, not as a form of racism.
Rosen goes on to criticise “the claim that people are using criticism of Israel as a cover for their hatred of Jews.” According to Rosen, “the two main groups who come under suspicion for this are liberal or left-wing groupings and some Muslims.” The claim is entirely bogus, concludes Rosen, because “if people both hate Jews and the state of Israel, then they say so.”
This misses the point about left anti-semitism. Left anti-semitism is not a matter of hating Jews, in the manner of hardened racists. It is a matter of the systematic misrepresentation of Zionism and of the nature of the state of Israel, and of using (or, at a minimum, turning a blind eye to the use of) classic anti-semitic themes to criticise Israel and Zionism. More recently, it is also a matter of allying with individuals and organisations who, by anyone’s standards, deserve to be branded as anti-semitic.
Rosen concludes by arguing that there is “an old European-style anti-semitism” and another kind which “comes out of the Middle East.” We have to fight, says Rosen, “the merging of these very different kinds of racism.”
It is not clear what Rosen means when he refers to an anti-Semitism which “comes out of the Middle East.” Nor does he explain why he thinks that it is “very different” from traditional European anti-semitism.” (Modern Middle Eastern anti-semitism has been decisively shaped by European anti-semitism, and especially so by Nazi anti-semitism.)
And Rosen’s attack on the report for attempting to “merge these very different kinds of racism” is particularly baffling. Rosen himself argues that there is a European anti-semitism, and also an anti-semitism which “comes out of the Middle East.” They are both, he says, “kinds of racism.” Surely it is only to be expected that a report about anti-semitism would address all forms of anti-semitism?
The article on “Lenin’s Tomb” which purports to be a critique of the report is notable only for its total irrationality and inability to grasp the simplest of ideas.
According to “Lenin’s Tomb”, the report argues that “to support the Palestinian struggle against Zionism as such, one has to be an anti-semite.” The report “effaces with breathtaking haste the distinction between Zionism and Jews.” The report’s methods are “typical of conspiratorial racist propaganda.” The report is an “obvious attempt to disarm anti-racists on the question of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism.”
“How convenient,” concludes “Lenin’s Tomb” in a final spasm of irrationality, “ for this report to blame Israel on the ‘Jewish people’, and how ingenious to assert this as if it was really intended as a defence of the rights of those people, and a rebuke to anti-semitism.”
“Lenin’s Tomb” accuses the report of “incoherence” for stating that “criticism of Zionism is not in itself anti-semitic” whilst simultaneously stating that on occasion and in a certain form ‘anti-Zionism’ can be a form of anti-semitism. What the report is saying is perfectly clear. The incoherence, in this case, is in the mind of the reader.
“Lenin’s Tomb” similarly condemns the report for its “pathetically weak” understanding of anti-semitism: by referring to anti-semitism as a “constantly mutating virus” which has “evolved over the centuries”, the report is guilty of being “highly reductionist”.
In referring to the evolution of anti-semitism (although, in this context, Judeophobia would be a better term), the report is simply registering a matter of historical fact, i.e. that anti-semitism has found different expressions in different periods of history: Jews as Christ-killers; Jews as the embodiment of capitalism; and Jews as a distinct race (the classical anti-semitism of the late nineteenth century).
Today Israel plays the role in anti-semitism formerly occupied by the Rothschild bankers. Was it necessarily anti-semitic to criticise the Rothschild bankers in the nineteenth century? No. But was a significant element of criticism – including from socialists of the time – anti-semitic? It very clearly was.
The parliamentary inquiry’s report is not an attempt to “smear anti-Zionists into silence.” The real smears in this matter are to be found in the refusal of the SWP and their fellow-travellers to engage with the actual contents of the report, and in their systematic misrepresentation of what the report says.
In relation to anti-semitism, sections of the British Left are now where the bulk of the German Left was around the end of the 1960s and early 1970s: so mesmerised and overwhelmed by a spurious ‘anti-imperialism’ that it has failed to notice the extent to which it has begun to accommodate to, and embrace, a form of anti-semitism.
And now, when a dozen British parliamentarians produce a short report on anti-semitism which gives over a few pages to left anti-semitism, their response is hysterical denunciation of what the report does not say, coupled with allegations of a right-wing plot to smear ‘anti-Zionists’ into silence and have them arrested.
Could it be that the cause of such frenzied hostility lies not in any inaccuracies contained in the report, but rather in the fact that it has identified a real problem?