The Israel-Hizbollah war and left-wing anti-semitism now

Submitted by cathy n on 18 September, 2006 - 4:12

Anti-semitism in Britain is at its worst for decades: attacks on Jews, on the streets and on college campuses, have become endemic. Ninety-two such attacks were reported in July.....The role of the kitsch-left is creating the culture in which anti-semitism is now beginning to thrive, has been recorded over many years in “Solidarity”
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Anti-semitism in Britain is at its worst for decades: attacks on Jews, on the streets and on college campuses, have become endemic. Ninety-two such attacks were reported in July, after the recent war started. (The Times 2-9-'06) July was the third worst month for such attacks since records began, in1984.

The war will have stimulated this irruption. However, the Times reports, attacks were already between 10 and 30 incidents a month as far back as 2,000. Abuse has recently been scrawled on synagogues in Edinburgh and Glasgow, etc, etc. The role of the kitsch-left is creating the culture in which anti-semitism is now beginning to thrive, has been recorded over many years in “Solidarity” and its predecessor, “Socialist Organiser.”

The following discussion of some of the issues involved are extracts from two letters which Sean Matgamna recently sent to a supporter of Israel in the recent war.

20-8-06
.... The only bases from which Israel could have been supported is either out and out Israeli chauvinism, native or adoptive, or that of the "neo-con crusade". Islamic fundamentalism has, I believe, been strengthened throughout the Middle East, and, indeed, beyond. Iran is placed in a better position, Israel is diminished.

The only "good" thing that just might come out of it is that the EU will be spurred to fight Bush over the torn-up "Roadmap"... Probably not.

The editorial in the last Solidarity said that Israel was US proxy in the war, but I don't understand that to mean either that it was a mere US stooge, or only a US proxy. As you say, Israel has its own interests (interests that in the medium and long term, cut across those of the US in the region). Even so, there was, I think, an element of the proxy war in Israel's war (and things, as far as I can judge, went against the US...).

Surely the point about the old Israeli peace-movement is that the ground was cut from under them by events. By the collapse of the peace talks in 2000, by the intifada, by the suicide-bombings, and by the gigantic fact that, for Israel, the Oslo Agreement had led only to the Palestinians having a better base from which to launch attacks on Israel.

I think it is radically to mislead yourself if you describe the Islamist loonies as just "hating Jews". Yes they do; yes they make general anti-semitic propaganda, etc, etc. But the immediate drive to it comes from, or anyway can't be separated from, Israel's crimes against the Palestinians, and such things as the recent treatment of Lebanon. Again and again, I have the image suggested to me by Israel's treatment of Lebanon, and Palestine, of a half-berserk giant upending toy houses...

Practically and morally, it is hard to distinguish what Israel has just done to vast numbers of Lebanese civilians from what the Islamic terrorists do to Israelis and others. There is a difference between deliberate slaughter, deliberate slaughter as an aim and a means to an end, and recklessness such as Israel has just manifested. But it is in practice a thin one; and morally, it is very thin indeed.

Israel was not driven by the exigencies of a desperate self-defence to do what it has just done; nothing like it. You will know of Seymour Hersh's contention, that Israel's action was discussed with the Americans months ago... I don't know, but it is plausible, and he is plausible.

The outcome of the Israeli action, the political strengthening of Hizbollah, and, I think, of Iran, shows once more just how senseless are the methods used by the strong powers against political Islam, judged even in terms of efficacy.

The Islamists are a great deal stronger now than they were three years ago. Aren't they? Predictably (although the bunglings of Bush are in their detail and all-embracing character, simply astonishing!). Solidarity "predicted" it, in the sense of listing that likely outcome as one of the reasons why the war had to be opposed.

That didn't stop us hoping for a better outcome (some sort of self-sustaining bourgeois-democracy in Iraq, at least); but we had enough sense (and socialist political principle!) to keep our political independence, and our political distance, from them.

The idea that our support (or yours!) for them could to any degree affect what happened in Iraq was foolish and ridiculous — Walter, and Walta, Mitty stuff! It was to make yourself the equivalent to the neo-cons of what the most idiotic "Pabloites" [pro-Stalinist "Orthodox Trotskyists in the 1950s] were to international Stalinism.

I think that our principle here – advocacy of socialist and working class political independence - has served us well. And you? Feather in the political winds!

It is not just that you grossly misunderstood what the US could and could not, was likely or unlikely, to do. It is that you identified entirely with the US and Blair, and that you defended and justified everything they did, rendering yourselves politically indistinguishable from them.

You seem now to be an Israeli nationalist. Leave aside the rights and wrongs of what Israel does. If, as seems probable, a big new drive is made by the pseudo-"anti-war" people, the friends and admirers of Islamic clerical fascism, for a vigorous boycott-Israel movement, it will be impossible to oppose it with wavering people from an uncritical pro-Israel position. From a consistent and honest Two States position, condemning Israel where commitment to full national rights for the oppressed Palestinians, demands it — yes. But not from any sort of Israeli chauvinism.

We in AWL disagree with you also on the nature of "left wing anti-semitism". For instance, with your assertion that left wing anti-semitism (LWA-S) is simply "racist". It isn't, neither in doctrine nor in motives for action. Much LWA-S starts from opposition to what Israel does. It is then caught up and moulded to their own malignant projects and obsessions by the political fuckwits, such as the SWP and the Mandelite ISG.

The specific, the distinctive, form taken by anti-semitism on the left is the advocacy of the destruction of the Jewish state. I think that is the truth of it, and the truth is important. And as a political artefact, it has the advantage of getting away from necessarily murky discussions about people's private motives and drives. It focuses on the objective, and on the political.

It frees us from the nonsense of insisting with confused young people that they are racist, that they subscribe to ideas of "race". etc, which they know themselves not to subscribe to, to which, indeed, to the best of their understanding and ability, they are bare-knuckle hostile.

It is only by way of a convoluted stretching and construing of words and meanings that someone feeling outraged with such things as the recent war, and misled by the pro-Islamic war “anti war movement” into demonising Israel, can be said to be "racist". I know what you mean; youngsters who think a “secular democratic state” in all of pre-1948 Palestine would do justice to everybody, wouldn’t.

Nothing politically useful or desirable is achieved; extra barriers to talking to such young people, are erected. Saying they are anti-semites is accurate, precise; and it says everything sensible calling them "racists" would say.

The barriers erected in calling them "anti-semites" are formidable too, but it has the advantage of being accurate (and in our experience the way the clued-up, and politically tooled-up "anti-Zionists" evade discussing what we say is by accusing us of calling them "racists".)The bottom line is that few even of the SWP are racists, even when they are anti-semitic..
S. M.

21-8-06
In principle, Israel does, of course, have the right to defend itself; and therefore in principle it has the right, other things being equal, to make a pre-emptive strike. That's what the Six-Day War was. So was the bombing of Iraq's nascent nuclear capacity in the 90s.

But to read off support for a particular "pre-emptive action" from the principle that Israel has a right to defend itself, including, in principle, the right to take pre-emptive action, is utterly specious. It depends on the circumstances, and how one judges them! I discussed this in Solidarity. To surrender all such judgement to the calculations of the Israeli Government or General Staff is one mark of Israeli chauvinism. (It is also another risible parallel with "Orthodox Trotskyists" and the USSR — unconditional defence, comrade!)

onsidering what the Israeli war did to the Lebanese — and by policy, not from urgent or inadvertent military necessity — the only point of view, I repeat, from which Israel's war can be supported is that of out-and-out Israeli chauvinism.

The likely consequences of Israel's relative failure are, indeed, an important part of the balance sheet. But one didn't have to wait for that to know that it would be counter-productive (The longer version of the Solidarity editorial, which went up on our web site a few days into the war, said that).

Palestine is central to the wave of anti-semitism, in two senses at least. In the sense that it concern not a mythical ("Jews ritually kill children"; "all Jews are capitalist exploiters", etc, etc) but a real issue, in which "the Jews" are in the wrong in holding the Palestinians in captivity. The issue rouses people against Israel who aren’t loonies.

And, flowing from that, in the sense that the conflict in Palestine is and has been the medium for spreading anti-semitism — playing the role in spreading it that soapy water in a Molotov cocktail plays in spreading the burning petrol.

Plainly all Jews, or all Israelis, are not responsible for what the Israeli government does. And yet Jews outside Israel, except a handful of religious anti-Zionists on one side an, on the other, revolutionary socialists — many of them incorrigible political fuckwits! —will be reluctant to distance themselves from Israel by criticising an Israeli action, let alone denounce Israel. It is Understandable. And the more the pressure of events pushes toward, demands, condemnation of an Israeli action, the more the reluctance to join in the condemnation. Again, understandably; and in the way things are, you might even say, rightly. It would be understandable even if the kitsch-left and their Islamist allies did not, as they do, combine valid criticism of Israel with the politics of seeking its destruction, to fuel their Arab and Islamic chauvinist, "destroy Israel" politics. We too feel that inhibiting pressure against criticising or attacking Israel; comparatively, we do little of that.

The "defend Israel" role AWL, as, earlier, SO, plays here would indeed be the scandal the kitschies make it out to be in any political context but the one the kitsch-left itself creates, with its destroy-the-Israeli-Jewish-nation agitation and propaganda. Without that context — if propaganda for destroying Israel did not loom so large, if it were not so inextricably mixed in with the agitation around specific Israeli oppressions of the Palestinians — then we would be able to throw everything we have into support work for the Palestinians.

None of this is to say that anti-semitism will not take on a momentum independent of the conflict of the Jewish state with the Palestinians; or that it hasn't. Someone wanting to debunk the left — in, let us say, the form of a ridiculous manifesto, which they will name after a railway station — has a vast accumulation of bourgeois rubbish to draw on. Anti-semites have the cesspits of two thousand years of anti-Jewish propaganda and agitation to trawl in: whatever stimulates the revival, it can easily take off, autonomous, acquiring its own momentum.

But now, Palestine is central. Without Palestine the kitsch left’s agitation could not have anything like the power it already has. That is one reason why it is important accurately to identify and define what is specific to the left, what its "hard" anti-semitism is comprised of - the demand for the abolition and destruction of the Jewish state.

How great a potential for spreading has anti-semitism now? Many of the barriers, which the memory of the Holocaust for decades presented to anti-semitism, are down; anti-semitism is again becoming respectable, now as "anti-Zionism" and "anti-imperialism."

And not only with political people: at a wedding in Manchester recently, I met a woman, a long ago friend I hadn't seen for decades, M. who is in origin a Catholic from Fermanagh. Thoughtful, sensible-seeming woman, she said to me: "The Jews scare me!" Not only Israel and Israelis, she explained, Jews here too. "I just don't like them!" The war was her legitimisation for this sentiment, and licensed her to express it to me...

S. M

Comments

Submitted by davidosler on Mon, 04/09/2006 - 21:31

Sean

Why do you classify Israeli aggression as simply 'recklessness' and not 'deliberate slaughter as an aim and a means to an end'?You need to justify that contention.

I wasn't able to follow events closely this summer, being in a country with a heavily censored press that took an automatic anti-Israel line.

But nothing I have read about the conflict leads me to anything other than the conclusion that what occured can fairly be branded state terrorism,purposely instigated by the state of Israel. Convince me I'm wrong.

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