Against antisemitism: politics, not gags

Submitted by AWL on 10 November, 2020 - 7:34 Author: Keith Road
Mear one

Jeremy Corbyn initially defended this antisemitic mural

The March 2019 advice from Jennie Formby that local Labour Parties and other Labour Party bodies cannot discuss individual suspensions is being severely tested in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension.

Some CLPs pressed on with those discussions under Formby as General Secretary, but the combination of the new General Secretary (who has reiterated Formby’s instruction), the Starmer leadership, and the high-profile Corbyn suspension has changed all this into a different gear.

Solidarity agrees that Corbyn’s suspension should be rescinded. The priority is a real political fight about the shameful fact that the Labour Party has been indicted for antisemitism in a legal finding that Labour dare not challenge in court. Corbyn’s statement did show an “absolute blindspot”, but the bureaucratic manoeuvre, on charges which have still not been specified, impedes the political fight.

It requires a primarily political rather than procedural battle. Labour has to face up to that fact. The left should lead the charge to deal with the politics of the issue.

Some on the Labour right evidently want to create a group of martyrs by pushing for ever more expulsions. Conversely, a section of the left has seen the problem of antisemitism essentially as being one of “optics” and public relations. Antisemitism should be confronted, but only enough to stop it from becoming an embarrassment.

But we have to face up to and confront the deep roots antisemitism has within the left. A layer of older activists, active in the Labour or wider left in the 1980s and 1970s, rejoined under Corbyn, and often became some of the most active within local parties. They brought with them addled and curdled versions of ideological legacies and spillovers from Stalinism.

As we said in an article in 2019: “Across the world antisemitism has become ‘anti-Zionism’. The left has inherited and developed the Stalinist ‘anti-Zionist’ antisemitism of the years 1949-53 (some of which can be traced to Stalinist ideas in the 1930s). Events and the passage of time have moved the ostensible left onto strange new ground.”

In their younger days those people saw themselves as being positively for Palestinian rights and probably for something like a (single) “secular democratic state” in Israel-Palestine. Now the “secular, democratic” enthusiasm has faded, and what remains is the wish to do away with Israel. Back then they would surely have baulked at uncritical sharing of Rothschild conspiracy theories or the questioning of established histories of the Holocaust. Social media have allowed the left antisemitism which they bring and which Corbyn fails to grasp to meld with older antisemitisms of hostility to Jews as Jews.

The singling out of Israel, the denial of Israeli national rights, the exaggeration of Israel’s power, all now feed into a mixture where older and cruder antisemitic discourses. It is our job to disentangle, confront, explain, and educate rather than to evade or to allow discussion to continue to be gagged.

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