The 2005 NATFHE (college and newer universities lecturers’ union) conference passed a motion — written by a member of the Socialist Workers Party — which declared, “to criticise Israeli policy or institutions is not anti-semitic.”
But many of the criticisms of Israel are anti-semitic. That the conference did not recognise this is one indication of the disease of “left” anti-semitism that currently exists in the union. Rather than oppose the motion, general secretary Paul Mackney (a former member of the SWP, then called IS), “interpreted” the clause to mean, “to criticise Israeli government policy or institutions is not automatically anti-semitic”. That was in clear breach of the rules of the English language!
Another relevant experience. When I arrived at the Saturday 18 March London Regional Council, a discussion was taking place about the Region’s delegation to national NATFHE conference. Various speakers objected to one proposed delegate, Ronnie Frazer. Ronnie is a religious Jew and does not attend Saturday meetings, although he is a delegate to the Region from his branch.
Pete Green (ex-SWP) from Kingsway College said Ronnie should not be a delegate because he was a “Zionist and a racist.” I interrupted, saying that calling Ronnie Frazer a racist was a disgrace, and that the remark should be withdrawn.
Eventually Pete Green did “withdraw” the remark but in such a way that the allegation was both withdrawn and re-stated: Pete Green declared that Ronnie Frazer was not a racist, but that Zionists are racists and that Ronnie Frazer is a Zionist.
Although Pete Green’s remark was awful, at least he was being honest: others were trying to edge “the Jew” out on technical reasons of about his attendance — apparently a cover for political hostility.
The meeting discussed and defeated two amendments which I proposed to two dreadful conference motions (see the box opposite for one of these motions/amendments).
The nature of “the debate” is important. It seemed impossible to make clear and direct points in this discussion. For example, no-one denied my characterisation of Hamas as profoundly reactionary, anti-working class, anti-semitic, anti-women and anti-gay, but the meeting still rejected the written criticisms of Hamas; objections to the demonisation of Israel were met with “the Palestinians are oppressed.” Clearly the Palestinians are oppressed, but this is no answer to the point.
Following the meeting I wrote to members of NATFHE’s executive committee asking how this culture of “left” anti-semitism could be dealt with. I got these replies:
Maire Daley: “I think you are wrong on almost everything you say.” Since this is no kind of reply, I asked her to positively state her views. She answered, “No, you may not have clarification — I have responded to you and now have no more time to discuss matters further.”
Andrew Price wrote: “I find the contents and tone of your original communication offensive... The policy of the Israeli Government has caused a lot of suffering to the Palestinian people. Zionism is a form of nationalism which, as a socialist, I oppose. To equate either of these statements with anti-Semitism, a form of racism, is a slur which I resent.”
Again, he avoids the point. I hadn’t objected to Zionism being characterised as a form of nationalism (I think it is), but as racism (which is stupid and offensive).
Mick Jardine wrote: “If there is a way of condemning Israeli government policy on any matter while remaining strongly supportive of a flourishing Israel and not anti-semitic, please advise.”
These three replies are typical of a particular strand of union opinion: short, flippant remarks which fail to answer any point that has been made, but which slot into the lazy, “common sense” “left” view in the union.
Steve Cushion wrote to say that he “supports a complete boycott of Israel. Israel is a colonial settler state and, as such, is built upon racist foundations.”
And, “To criticise Zionism and Israel is not to be anti-semitic, but rather it is criticism of a political philosophy that many of us believe is a blind alley for the Jewish people. The Zionist state’s reprehensible behaviour in the occupied territories has caused an increase rather than a decrease in anti-Jewish feeling in this world… A two state solution in Palestine institutionalises a racist divide in the region and is a bar to peace. The only possible solution is for a secular socialist state from the river to the sea.”
Andrew Price writes, “May I remind you as politely as possible that as an elected member of the Executive I am accountable to my constituency, FE members in Wales, which does not include you… In my view differences between Jews and Arabs have historically been fostered by imperialism. This in no way condones the state terrorism promoted by the Israeli Government against the oppressed people of Palestine. I also believe that the material resources exist in the Middle East to provide a decent life for all. Unfortunately what stands in the way of this is private ownership of the means of production. I therefore support a socialist federation of the Middle East.
“If you want to know more please study either the writings of Leon Trotsky on the Jewish question or contact my party, the Socialist Party. You may be unaware of the fact that as a lay activist I do not have the luxury of time to debate with you.”
Prior to the Socialist Federation of the Middle East, do Zionist Jews have to put up with being denounced as racists? And what about Hamas? Again Andrew Price simply avoids the issues, using a stream of gibberish rote-learnt in the Labour Party Young Socialists 25 years ago (and ignoring what Trotsky actually wrote on the Jewish question!)