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Oh Jeremy Corbyn, Oh Jeremy Corbyn

The next Prime Minister?

David Hirsh on Contemporary Left Antisemitism

In Contemporary Left Antisemitism David Hirsh extends and consolidates more than a decade’s pioneering work on this topic.  He offers a powerful critique of antisemitism on the left, focusing in particular on recent events in the Labour Party, the academic boycott saga, and the relationship between antisemitism and antizionism.

In the prologue he captures one of the strangest aspects of antisemitism, its ability to shapeshift, to reflect quite opposed prejudices.  Antisemitism can strike a chord with those who despise tradition – or with those who fear the new.   Jews are blamed for being outsiders – and for assimilating too successfully. Over time opposition motivated by religious difference shifted into hatred based on race. Most recently antisemitism has often manifested itself through hostility to Israel, and may be disguised with an antiracist veneer:

Some people who love London’s relaxed, diverse antiracism look for an ‘other’ against which to define themselves. They find Israel. (xvi)

Israel/Zionism inherits the role played by Jews in more traditional conspiracy theories, and is credited with a quite disproportionate power and influence in the world, as well as an exaggerated malignity. Hostility to Israel becomes a marker of identity, a ‘progressive’ badge of honour.

The opening chapter deals with the ‘Livingstone formulation’, a term coined by Hirsh to describe the way in which Ken Livingstone, and others, answer accusations of antisemitism with the countercharge that the accuser is weaponising this serious issue order to stifle criticism of Israel.  Like most readers of Harry’s Place I’m familiar with much of the ground Hirsh covers, at least in outline.  However as I read, I was repeatedly struck by the crispness and clarity with which he summed up key arguments.  Here, for example, he demonstrates the perversity of those seeking to align Zionism with Nazism, whether by accusing Israelis of Nazi-like policies, or (like Ken Livingstone) by finding some philosophical affinity or alliance between them.

But politically, the gulf between trying to make Germany Jew-free by finding places to deport them to, on the one hand, and ‘supporting Zionism’, on the other, is unbridgeable. (p. 18)

And here’s his trenchant judgement on Jenny Tonge:

Her defence against a charge that she has employed antisemitic conspiracy theory is to rely on antisemitic conspiracy theory: the claim that there is a hugely powerful singular lobby which mobilizes Jewish victim-power ruthlessly against her and other ‘critics’ in the interests of the state of Israel. (p. 22)

Hirsh offers several explanations for the odd way in which some on the left, most of whom will insist that they strongly oppose antisemitism, fall prey to it.  Ironically the very horror of the Holocaust may be one factor.  The overwhelming evil of the Nazi genocide made antisemitism such a taboo that it became more difficult to acknowledge (and thus deal with) milder forms of prejudice, allowing it to gain a stronger foothold (p. 27).  In a further irony, this means that those who recognize and condemn antisemitism are likely to be cast as the real villains, not the antisemites themselves.

In our time, a person who raises the issue of antisemitism is more clearly recognizable as belonging to the wrong crowd than a person who stumbles into actual antisemitism. (p. 52)

With this problem in mind, Hirsh later reminds the reader that antisemitism certainly does not always manifest itself as conscious murderous hatred:

Hatred may be a sufficient condition for antisemitism, but it is not at all a necessary one: antisemitism is also, and primarily, a matter of what people do and of what consequences their actions have. (p. 138)

The academic boycott is just one example of an action which may be deemed (though not of course by all) as antisemitic even when driven by good intentions.  I found the chapter on the legal case brought by Ronnie Fraser against the UCU particularly compelling; Hirsh charts a whole series of incidents and complaints that the tribunal, which found against Ronnie Fraser, seemed to brush aside. He identifies an apparent inconsistency between the tribunal’s insistence they weren’t in the business of defining antisemitism, and the rather less neutral implications of their verdict, in particular their accusation of bad faith:

The tribunal meant that saying that the boycott campaign brought with it a culture of antisemitism was in fact a bad-faith attempt to silence criticism of Israel. The tribunal responded with a legally binding Livingstone Formulation. (p. 155)

One of the most serious aspects of the case was the role played by Bongani Masuku, given a platform at a UCU event despite his hate speech against South Africa’s Jewish community. It’s good to note that this well-earned judgement against Masuku has recently been upheld by South Africa’s Equality Court.

A recurring theme in the book is the problem of defining antisemitism. Its relationship with antizionism lies at the heart of most debates on this topic. Few would deny that there is some intersection between the two, but whereas antizionists tend to paint antisemitism as a marginal problem within their networks, others (not surprisingly including many Zionists) tend to see limited scope for an antizionism which is free of antisemitism.  Hirsh identifies some of the many different ways in which antizionism may slide into racism:

Hostility to the idea, existence and policies of Israel comes from various sources, and it is not the same as hostility to Jews. Some manifestations of this hostility can nevertheless throw up a politics and a set of practices which create common-sense notions of Israel as a unique evil in the world; they can thereby set people up for a fight with the Jews – those Jews, anyway, who prefer not to disavow Israel by defining themselves as antizionist. (p. 185)

It’s certainly possible to draw a distinction between antisemitic and antiracist antizionism; however that boundary is not always well policed. Hirsh reminds the reader that it took some time for many on the left to see a problem with Gilad Atzmon, and also invokes the bizarre case of Michael Neumann, a philosophy professor at Trent University in Canada. Within anti-Israel circles the problem of indifferent carelessness is as significant as active antisemitism. However few articulate that indifference as explicitly as Neumann:

If Arab antisemitism persists after a peace agreement, we can all get together and cluck about it. But it still won’t do Jews much actual harm . . . . Israel has committed war crimes. It has implicated Jews generally in these crimes, and Jews generally have hastened to implicate themselves.This has provoked hatred against Jews. Why not? Some of this hatred is racist, some isn’t, but who cares? Why should we pay any attention to this issue at all? (p. 188)

I assume many antizionists would see a problem here too.  However, as Hirsh points out, there are still traps one may fall into unwittingly.  One of these relates to the circulation of antisemitic tropes. Hirsh offers a careful account of what processes may be at work in the creation and propagation of an image depicting a Jaffa orange from which blood is dripping:

The combination of Jews, food and non-Jewish blood creates a graphic, emotive and powerful image. If you eat the Jaffa oranges that the Zionists are trying to sell you, you will metaphorically be drinking the blood of their victims. (p. 207)

Hirsh finds it difficult to accept that the echoes of the blood libel are a simple coincidence. However he thinks it unlikely that those spreading, even creating, this meme are purposefully invoking an antisemitic conspiracy theory. Here is his own explanation:

The third possible kind of explanation is that there is some sense in which antisemitic themes are deeply embedded in the culture, and elements present themselves unconsciously to people looking for emotive images which can drive us to act against Israel. The mechanism of this cultural unconscious, how and why it works, how and why it is so often repeated, is one element of the relationship between hostility to Israel and antisemitism which requires further research and thought. But many antizionists are not prepared to think it through. Frequently, the response to the observation that some of their imagery mirrors old antisemitic themes is disdainful denial followed by a counter-allegation of bad faith. (p. 207)

Yet again it’s the accusation of antisemitism which is seen as truly offensive.

Contemporary Left Antisemitism is a hugely useful resource for anyone interested in this topic; it’s powerfully and passionately argued – but it’s also forensic and precise. Here Hirsh comments on the complexities involved when trying to draw the line between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism

The border between rational criticism and irrational claim is contested and difficult to define; sometimes, the same claim may be either a rational criticism or a blunt weapon, depending on how it is mobilized and in what combination; sometimes, rational criticisms and irrational libels combine in toxic, angry swirls which are difficult to de-couple and which have emergent properties which were not present before their release and combination.  (p. 270)

In the final chapter, David Hirsh reflects on his personal involvement with this issue – his family history, his experiences as an academic researcher, and as a campaigner.  To conclude on a similarly personal note, I was very grateful to discover Engage, and have the opportunity to learn from David Hirsh, Mira Vogel and other contributors, when I began to ask questions about the academic boycott of Israel getting on for ten years ago.

Dealing with Speech at UC Berkeley

Berkeley has been the front line of recent “free speech” battles raging across universities around the country, but it appears the university administration is finally getting serious about its approach to dealing with controversial speakers on campus. Ben Shaprio, conservative columnist and pundit, was invited by the College Republicans to speak but was told by the university that the school was “unable to identify an available campus venue.” This announcement followed a year of troubled events on campus. Following a riot before Milo Yiannopoulos’ presentation last spring, the university canceled other events set up by the student group to host Ann Coulter and David Horowitz.  Understandably, many on the left and right criticized the university for being unwilling or unable to host controversial speakers on campus.  Peter Beinart argued a sentiment echoed by many.

Universities should establish rules for how they treat speakers that student organizations invite. And they should not alter those rules depending on the ideas those speakers espouse, even if their ideas are hateful.  (And yes, I’d apply that not merely to Milo but to a neo-Nazi like Richard Spencer). At Berkeley, the rules say that student organizations get to host their speakers at the Student Union for free….

…Conservative students have the right to bring obnoxious bigots to speak on campus and other students have a right to protest. But universities should not let the protesters shut them down.

It appears the university administration is getting serious about protecting student rights to invite speakers to the campus.

Campus administration announced Thursday it is “confident” it will be able to provide Berkeley College Republicans a venue for Ben Shapiro to address the campus Sept. 14, according to an emailed statement from campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

According to the statement, BCR — which had originally requested a venue to host an audience of 500 people for the event — is open to accepting additional smaller on-campus locations to hold the address. Campus officials also announced it is willing to underwrite BCR’s potential rental costs to offer the group venues “usually not available free of charge to students” for its planned event, according to an emailed statement.

Our public institutions should not be bullied and antagonized into stopping its students from holding events. As long as the most belligerent activists are allowed to hold a veto over who is allowed to speak, our public universities will continue to be seen by many as an establishment hostile to extensive swaths of society. Hopefully, this change in tone and policy is the first step towards helping remedy a problem UC Berkeley helped create.

The Norman Geras Reader

A collection of writings by our much-missed friend Norm Geras has been published by Manchester University Press.

I was fortunate to meet Norm when he visited Washington, DC, some years ago, and I was among the Harry’s Place authors honored with one of his profiles.

Trump surrenders to Putin on Syria

After the regime of Bashar al-Assad began its brutal and murderous repression of the largely peaceful Syrian uprising, I was very critical of then-president Barack Obama’s half-hearted and mismanaged efforts to aid non-extremist rebels in their struggle against the regime. But it was symbolically important that the US was doing something to help the more secular and democratic anti-Assad forces in Syria.

No more.

I was somewhat encouraged when President Trump approved a cruise missile attack on a Syrian airbase in retaliation for a sarin gas attack on civilians

But now Trump has ended the covert CIA program to arm Syrian rebels.

Anti-Trump conservatives are the great truth-tellers of our new era. Writing at The Washington Post, one of them, Michael Gerson, is justly outraged:

[O]nce again, President Trump — after extended personal contact with Vladimir Putin and the complete surrender to Russian interests in Syria — acts precisely as though he has been bought and sold by a strategic rival. The ignoble cutoff of aid to American proxies means that “Putin won in Syria,” as an administration official was quoted by The Post. Concessions without reciprocation, made against the better judgment of foreign policy advisers, smack more of payoff than outreach. If this is what Trump’s version of “winning” looks like, what might further victory entail? The re- creation of the Warsaw Pact? The reversion of Alaska to Russian control?

…. Trump is the Henry Wallace of the populist right (which more than occasionally finds common cause with the populist left). “We should recognize,” Wallace argued following World War II, “that we have no more business in the political affairs of Eastern Europe than Russia has in the political affairs of Latin America, Western Europe and the United States.” The difference now is that Russia has made the political affairs of the United States very much its business. With almost no serious American response. Russian interference in America’s self-defining civic ritual has been almost costless.

… It now seems that the Russians — by meddling in a presidential election and by playing down such aggression — have achieved an intelligence coup beyond the dreams of the Soviet era. The result is an America strategically and morally disarmed.

No Common Ground? Abuse on the left

I just want to pick out one rather odd, but somehow telling, detail from debates on this topic.  Sarah Ditum’s thoughtful and wide ranging  article on this issue touches on the dangers of legitimising ‘punching up’.

Embedded in the idea of justified abuse (which is then categorised as non-abusive, because justified) is the idea of “punching up”: aggression aimed at someone deemed “privileged” in comparison to the aggressor is seen as a legitimate expression of class fury. But not every oppressed class gets the same dispensation. As Phoebe Maltz Bovy has noted in her book The Perils of “Privilege”, both Jews and women – despite what one might think was incontrovertible evidence of oppression experienced by both groups over millennia – are seen as characterised by advantage, not disadvantage, in contemporary leftist discourse.

She also singles out for criticism the arguments used by Suze Marsupial, who argues that power dynamics completely change the significance of Corbynista-style abuse:

The asymmetries of power in the context of speech is a much more lucid framework for assessing rudeness vs abuse, name-calling vs slurs. It is the uneven power relations of the common ground of political communication, and the extent to which speakers construct them with reference to broader structural dynamics, that create real differences between ‘melt’ and ‘bitch’, between ‘slug’ as spoken to a politician, and ‘cockroach’ as said of millions of refugees. It is difficult to successfully argue this point in public, particularly when it is assumed that the left will always treat language for its own nefarious authoritarian purpose. It is noteworthy that the Corbynite slang is remarkably unproblematic in its derivation. Despite the irreverent laddishness of much of the current electoral left meme culture, these insults are neither gendered, racist, nor homophobic. What that might reveal about the power relations expressed in this new language has gone totally ignored.

You can read that piece here. This is part of Ditum’s response.

The fact that “slug” and “melt” sound essentially silly is a benefit: you’ve already got the jump on your opponent if they have to start out by trying to wrestle the conversation into seriousness. As Sartre wrote of anti-Semitism: “Never believe that anti‐Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti‐Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.”

Suze Marsupial mentions neither antisemitism nor Jews in her article.  In the light of this omission – and given how central antisemitism has been to discussions of abuse on the left – it’s interesting to pause on one of her headings in the article.

Does that common Ground include me or is it just a sound?

This is a direct quotation from Lou Reed’s ‘Good Evening Mr Waldheim’, a powerful denunciation of antisemitism, including the antisemitism of Jesse Jackson and Farrakhan as well as of former Nazis. Suze Marsupial’s twitter account reveals an active concern with antisemitism, but there is something jarring to me about coopting the words of this song within a piece which makes no reference to Jews, and which implies that (perceived) power dynamics may shift the significance of abusive language, when one of the particular characteristics of antisemitism is the fact that (sometimes) it frames Jews as a group with overwhelming power. Lou Reed himself implies the difficulty involved in ‘punching down’, the way in which certain groups and individuals will be scrutinised more readily and searchingly (at least by those on the liberal/left).

Jesse you say Common Ground
Does that include the PLO?

If I ran for President
And once was a member of the Klan
Wouldn’t you call me on it
The way I call you on Farrakhan

It’s important not to forget, to quote Reed again, that ‘there are fears which still reverberate’.

Two years ago

A seminal moment.

I was absolutely sure this would kill Trump’s chances of winning the Republican nomination in 2016, not to mention the presidency of the United States.

I was wrong. And the rest, as they say…

Max Blumenthal on Fox News

Oh great.

Following in the footsteps of Stephen Cohen and Dennis Kucinich, Israel-hater-bordering-on-antisemite Max Blumenthal is the latest “progressive” Putin apologist to sit for a sympathetic interview with a rightwing Fox News host.

And when Tucker isn’t agreeing with antisemitic Putin apologists, he’s engaging in anti-Roma scare-mongering.

The East London Mosque – Surrealist Politics

Islam is unethical, immoral, and unhealthy. It should be hidden from society.
Let’s say a large and controversial East London Christian group invited a foreign preacher to address the congregation. In this thought experiment, the preacher is already on video record rejecting Islam with these blunt words:

This is a lifestyle and an action that we think is unethical. That it is immoral. That it is unhealthy for a society, especially to publicise.

Muslims worshipping secretly is “one thing”. Mosques, though, will be in a great deal of trouble if the Christian preacher’s vision is realised:

It’s one thing to do it behind closed doors. Nobody knows about it. It’s another thing to show it to an entire society and to embrace it and to allow people to come into it. And that is something we will publicly say, without any embarrassment, that this is not healthy, it is not moral, it is not good, it is not wholesome. It is harmful to society, to family, to our children, even to ourselves. It’s simply not good for the soul.

The same preacher can also be seen on video comparing those who feel called to Islam with people who have undesirable urges. Married men who want to have an affair, for example. Or kleptomaniacs who can’t stop stealing. Or alcoholics having another drink. Or even, going for the offensive jugular, so to speak, those who want to commit mass murder.

“Don’t do it”, the preacher says, adding that the best solution for someone attracted to Islam is to choose Christianity instead. If he or she can’t do that, then remain faithless.

As the preacher’s visit loomed, there would surely be outrage in East London.

Let’s turn from experiment to reality. The above words are among the pearls of the American Islamist preacher Yasir Qadhi, speaking about homosexuality.

Gay Muslim men, you see, should just marry a woman. Why ruin only one life when you can wreck two?

Here he is in another talk, pining for the old “disgust” days when homosexuals could be openly denigrated. Imagine his visible disgust turned towards Islam by the Christian preacher in our thought experiment.

The “track record”
Mr Qadhi visits East London fairly often. He is always welcome at the East London Mosque, where he delivers sermons.

This is what makes the latest news from East London so surreal:

Muslim leaders have lodged a formal complaint with the organisers of London’s Pride festival after placards allegedly bearing Islamophobic messages were spotted at the event.

A secularist group of former Muslims were seen carrying a series of controversial signs during the march through the capital last weekend.

Banners bearing slogans such as “Allah is gay”, “F*** Islamic homophobia” and “East London Mosque incites murder of LGBTs” were carried at the event by members of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB), who were a participating group listed on Pride’s website.

But leaders from the Muslim community wrote to the event’s organisers to raise concerns the messages incited hatred.

The mosque weighed in:

East London Mosque spokesman Salman Farsi told the Standard: “We’ve raised a complaint with the co-chairs of the event that the group was inciting hatred against Muslims, and in particular [in relation] to our good name, based on absolutely groundless reasons.

“Our track record for challenging homophobia in East London is quite well known,” he added, citing campaigns to condemn “gay-hate” stickers that sprung up around Tower Hamlets several years ago and the mosque’s public condemnations of attacks on LGBT people.

Oh yes, the mosque certainly does have a “track record” in homophobia.

Since we live in an age of addled double standards, let’s continue with the experiment.

Islam is based on nothing more than dangerous “feelings” and will lead to “chaos”
Another preacher coming to see the Christian group had said following Islam is based on nothing more than a “whim” and “feelings” given undue free rein. This is “scary” and “insane”. It is particularly awful that qualified counsellors and psychiatrists can’t tell those attracted to Islam that it is not a good thing. You might as well tell an agitated teenage boy that yes, he can slap people whenever he wants. This is the way society falls into “utter chaos”.

In reality, that is East London Mosque Friday sermon man Nouman Ali Khan speaking about homosexuality.

Islam heralds the End Times
Be warned, oh Christians! The spread of Islam heralds nothing less than the End Times.

Ah, that’s Jamal Badawi, another preacher welcome in the East London Mosque, assigning apocalyptic significance to the acceptance of homosexuality.

Muslims are “worse than animals” and make us “nauseous”
There’s more. Muslims are “worse than animals”, another preacher says. He also recounts that his “nausea” was so intense when he was seated next to a Muslim on an airliner that he wanted to change seats. The congregation titters but is admonished – no, this is “something to cry about”.

In reality, that’s Ismail Menk speaking about homosexuals. He’s another preacher welcome in the East London Mosque.

School lessons about Islam? No way.
The East London congregation is also very vexed by lessons about Islam in schools. In a series of heated sessions, the schools are denounced. Withdraw your kids from the lessons, get angry, place Christians on school boards, make it stop, now!

In the real world, that’s Yusuf Patel at the East London Mosque, decrying school lessons presenting homosexuality as “normalised” when it is simply “unacceptable”.

Kill them for God
What about the Crusades? Oh, lovely, is the congregation’s view. Muslims are best killed really, so let’s do it again!

Yes, the East London Mosque is a place where the very worst have been welcomed. Preachers who have advocated “severe” punishments for homosexuality and still been allowed in over the years include Salim al-Amry, Haitham al-Haddad, Assim al-Hakeem, Muhammad Alshareef, Yusuf Chambers, Yusuf Estes, Abdur Raheem Green, Ibrahim Hewitt, Murtaza Khan, Bilal Philips, Abdullah Hakim Quick, Hamza Tzortzis, and Khalid Yasin.

Challenged, normally preachers such as these insist murdering homosexuals is a matter for an “ideal Islamic State” and not individuals.

As we know, of course, a band of individuals in the Middle East did organise an Islamic State, with help from many British Muslims. Happy days.

Here’s Maajid Nawaz’s take on the CEMB protest:

Maajid accepts that “these posters are provocative” but argues that this “is not Islamaphobia.”

He said “I wouldn’t want to hold up those banners, you may not want to hold up those banners, but it’s their right to hold up those banners. It’s like complaining about The Book of Mormon or The Life of Brian.”

The LBC host said that the East London Mosque were using the Islamaphobia as a “shield to prevent people from critiquing the religion of Islam itself.”

He went on to say the only signs that could be considered Islamophobic were those that encourgaed hatred and violence towards Islamic people and none of the signs reached that criteria. He said that a poster saying “‘Allah is gay’ that isn’t telling anyone to go and target a Muslim.”

Yes, that’s pretty much where I stand.

The East London Mosque’s record is far, far more “provocative”. And we’re helping to pay for it all – the mosque has raked in public sector grants totalling £3.2 mn over the last decade. This includes grants for “community cohesion” (£325,000 in total). No, really.

The mosque’s surreal “track record” stance will be backed by the malignant and the deluded, of course. They are sadly numerous in East London.

For those with eyes to see, though, yet more scales should fall now.

“Lie after lie after lie”

What George Orwell was to the Stalinoid Left of his day, Shepard Smith is to the Fox News Right.

And not for the first time.