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Corbyn and Munich

It’s interesting to map the different flavours of Corbyn supporter onto Damian Counsell’s handy field guide:

Owen Jones’ response was first of all to tweet non-stop about Boris Johnson and then insist that any left wing leader would attract a simila media onslaught – in other words, it would seem that he thinks this latest story is either some kind of fabrication or simply not important.

What’s been entirely absent – so far as I can see – is any reasoned counterargument to the Daily Mail’s original story.  Instead we get responses such as this, from the Labour press team:

In case you missed it here’s a transcript of the latest interview with Corbyn:

When I first saw quotes from this statement I assumed they were satirical, so weak, evasive and plain absurd were Corbyn’s responses, drawing inevitable parallels with other weaselly prevarications:

Hat Tip: Thanks to Daniel Sugarman for the transcript



Are Guardian columnist Owen Jones’ views on Israel and Hamas shaped by “racism = prejudice + power”?

This is a cross-post by Adam Levick from UK Media Watch

Jeremy Corbyn supporter Owen Jones took to the pages of the Guardian on Friday to argue that the UK is complicit in the killing of Palestinian civilians by the IDF by virtue of the country’s arms sales to Israel and, in so doing, provided a good example of the convoluted moral logic used by the radical left to obfuscate Hamas’s role in perpetuating the conflict.

Though most of his op-ed focuses on UK ties to Riyadh in light of a recent Saudi-led coalition airstrike that hit a bus in Yemen’s Houthi rebel-held north, killing 29 children, he weaves in Israel by the fifth paragraph:

Consider another horror unfolding with direct western involvement. On Wednesday night a pregnant woman and her 18-month-old daughter were killed in Gaza by an Israeli airstrike. It is being framed as a conflict between Hamas and Israel, as though an equivalence can be drawn between an open-air prison camp and a regional military superpower. Every death – Palestinian or Israeli – is a tragedy, every attack on a civilian by either Hamas or Israel indefensible. Yet, the human rights NGO B’Tselem reports, 9,456 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces – with western complicity – in the past 18 years, compared with 1,237 Israeli security force personnel and civilians killed by Palestinians. Of the Palestinian fatalities, 2,025 were children. Other estimates put the Palestinian death toll over the same period at up to 9,730. It is perverse to suggest this “conflict” is anything other than overwhelmingly one-sided. And yet as the slaughter continues, British arms sales to Israel are at a record high.

First, Jones erases the context of the attack which resulted in the deaths of two Palestinians by failing to note the Hamas rockets fired at Israeli communities that precipitated the latest round of violence. He also omits the inconvenient fact that thousands of such attacks occurred after Israel withdrew every last Jew from the coastal enclave – terror visited upon Israeli communities in the Gaza envelope which necessitated Israel’s (legal) blockade of weaponry to the proscribed extremist movement.

Moreover, Jones’ immediate rush to judgment regarding the deaths of the Palestinian mother and her child mirrors similar accusations he made regarding Israeli “massacres of children” before all the facts were in.  In 2012, on BBC’s Question Time, he leveled such a charge in relation to the death in Gaza of 11-month old Omar Mishrawi, son of a BBC journalist, and never apologised when a UN report concluded that a Hamas rocket was likely to blame for the boy’s death.

However, what’s especially worth exploring is the peculiar moral logic Jones uses in suggesting that the mere fact that more Palestinians than Israelis have been killed in the history of the conflict suggests that the former are more deserving of our sympathy than the latter.  Such reasoning could of course just as easily be used to root for the Taliban due to the disproportionate death toll during the course of the US-led war in Afghanistan.  Such facile thinking also obscures the fact that the failure of Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups to kill more Israelis certainty isn’t due to a lack of will.  Hamas’s desire to annihilate Israel and murder as many Jews as possible is made clear in their founding antisemitic charter (which has never been revoked) and in the words of their leaders, and is only stymied by the determined efforts of the IDF to prevent such an outcome.

But, there’s also subtext in Jones’ argument that evokes the argument increasingly popular within far-left circles, suggesting that we only need to concern ourselves with the bigotry expressed by those in positions of power over others – a definition of racismas “prejudice plus power”

Do read the rest of Adam’s post here


Watching The Americans

I’ve recently finished watching the sixth and final series of The Americans. This award-winning show focuses on Soviet sleeper agents, Philip and Elizabeth, who live an ostensibly normal suburban life in 1980s Washington DC with their teenage children Paige and Henry. Elizabeth is, broadly, a regime loyalist. Philip is a bit more ambivalent – and even something of an Americanophile.

Although it’s received a great deal of praise I’ve been struck by a surprising lack of analysis of the show’s political leanings in  most reviews. Some might argue that this is because the real concern of The Americans is marriage, the family and personal relationships. There’s some truth in this – but it still seems curious that mainstream reviewers didn’t have more to say the way the show chose to negotiate the clash between two competing ideologies.

Digging a little further, I did find some more politically inflected commentary.  However it was interestingly contradictory.  Here’s Brent Bozell’s rather bludgeoning take:

“The Americans” isn’t about Americans. It’s about heroic defenders of expansionist communist tyranny. The “heroes” are those who killed tens of millions. That’s morally sick. But at FX, sickness sells.

This doesn’t do justice to the show’s nuance, to put it mildly. However I didn’t think he was completely wrong. Elizabeth seems sincere in her belief that the Soviet Union is morally in the right, and her fears over US aggression appear genuine.  There did seem an opening – I’d put it no more strongly – for a starry eyed social justice warrior to decide Philip and Elizabeth were on the right side of history.

However here’s one left wing take on the show which reaches just the opposite conclusion; Sonny Bunch argues that the show blurs the lines between Soviet interests and civil rights movements in order to smear the latter.

This was an interesting perspective – but there are elements in The Americans which seem to work against this. For example one charged plot line hinged on the US’s involvement with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. This could easily be read as a swipe at the inconsistencies – or short-sightedness – of US foreign policy, or simply as a kind of ironic, Heraclitean reflection.

By contrast with Bunch, John Carl Baker at Jacobin found the show quite sympathetic to 1980s communists – yet, rather oddly, identified a more subtle problem – a subliminal pro-austerity message.

And here’s another quite different perspective, this time from an enthusiastic reviewer over on The American Conservative (do take note of its spoiler alerts). The writer thought the show was ‘terrific’ and, rather than fearing, like Bozell, that it glorified the Soviet Union, thought its true hero was Stan Beeman, the genial FBI agent.

It’s not surprising people have read The Americans in different ways. It makes almost everyone – the central couple, the Reagan-supporting FBI agent who lives next door, the various KGB agents, broadly sympathetic. They may do or think things that we think are very bad indeed, but there are comparatively few of those little pointers (of the kind so common in fiction but less so in life) warning us that we should be particularly wary of anyone or steering us to dislike them.  This makes it disconcertingly easy to bounce back into sympathy with the central characters even after they have brutally disposed of an enemy agent or two.

Rather than wearing its heart on its sleeve the show presents us with a lot of information – quite subtle and complex information – and lets us process it for ourselves, and decide on our own emphases and interpretations in accordance (probably) with our own world view.


Claire Fox on Boris Johnson and free speech

This article by Claire Fox seems a useful starting point for some reflections on the burka row.  First a quick note on my own reaction to Johnson’s comments.  They slotted in quite neatly to some distinctions around discussions of this topic which I briefly sketched in a recent piece on anti-Muslim bigotry:

Vulgar and harsh comments about what an individual woman is wearing, assumptions about her views and motives, are one thing – but a reasoned critique of modesty codes (and some of those writing these will be Muslim women themselves) quite another

Clearly Johnson’s comparisons with letterboxes and bank robbers were by no means at the crudest and most abusive end of the spectrum – but they seemed to me to a cross a line, and I supported the response of Theresa May and Brandon Lewis.

Although her piece is thought-provoking, I think Fox errs in over-emphasising the free speech element of the controversy. As Barrister Blogger pointed out:

She begins:

Religious freedom is one of the core principles of any modern liberal society. As a secularist, I defend the right of religious people to send their children to faith schools, have their children circumcised, or wear the burqa, This does not mean I approve of any of these practices; they should be permissible but not protected from criticism. We should be free to ridicule, lampoon, chastise, critique, etc. every aspect of religious belief that we tolerate.

I agree with the final statement here – and yet if a Labour MP were to make some sneering remarks about male circumcision – even while defending parents’ right to have the procedure carried out – I might start to check their previous form and reflect on their motives – and take note of exactly who was cheering them on.

Fox goes on to reinforce the point that one must be able to defend someone’s right to exercise a freedom without in any way indicating approval for that choice.  But it is easily possible to express concerns about the niqab/burka – concerns relating to security, integration, coercion, Islamist ideology etc – without using language which seems calculated to inflame and divide. (And it’s really telling that Johnson won’t apologise – if he genuinely wanted to make a constructive contribution to the debate he should have done.)

There a small but interesting disjunct between the first and second sentences in this section of the article:

But should all political comment on religion have to pass an offense test to be allowed? I am pretty sure that my two aunts – who are Catholic nuns – would be pretty offended if they heard my atheist mates’ denouncing as backward mumbo-jumbo a religion that believes the host and wine is literally the body and blood of Christ.

Casual conversations with your mates are distinct from ‘political comment’. (And mocking a specific belief isn’t quite the same as saying niqabi women look like bank robbers.)  Within political discourse it’s absolutely vital to argue in favour of policies, such as abortion rights, which go against religious belief, although probably not necessary to target transubstantiation.

Here I thought Fox was setting up a straw man.

Are Boris’s critics demanding respect for all religious practices regardless of whether they consider them backward, wrong-headed, or oppressive? Should we bite our lip in case we offend? We seem to have forgotten that we once all declared #JeSuisCharlie – a brief but inspiringly unapologetic defense of free speech after cartoonists for the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were brutally butchered in Paris for daring to publish cartoons deemed offensive to Islam. Should they have shut up until they learned to become more tactful?

Many of those joining in the criticisms of Johnson have no liking for face veils, and are certainly not ‘demanding respect’ for the garment.  It is entirely consistent to be actively and trenchantly opposed to religious extremism, and yet agree with calls for Johnson to apologise. As well as being concerned that his remarks may embolden bigots, causing yet more problems for Muslim women, I worry that this furore may strengthen the hand of Islamists.

Fox continues:

Naturally, cheap sectarian Tory-bashing has driven some of the outrage. Supporters of the Labour Party, recently afflicted by an anti-Semitism scandal that is still rumbling on, were quick to denounce the “gross Islamophobia” in the article,

I’m wary at attempts to label the outrage ‘sectarian’ – I accept it’s present at some level, but I’m sure many Labour supporters are perfectly sincere in opposing Johnson, just as there will be many Conservatives who are quite properly concerned about antisemitism in Labour .

(Incidentally, I did enjoy this little dig at Owen Jones from Tell MAMA.)

Despite having various reservations about the article I did agree with Fox about Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Like her, I was surprised to note that YAB strongly disliked Johnson’s article as she doesn’t hold back in her criticism of the niqab – comparing the women who wear them to ‘angry bats’.

Towards the end of the essay Claire Fox warns of a slippery slope which would end with us not being able to make any criticism of any Islamic belief or individual Muslim:

If questioning a fringe religious practice is assumed as evidence of bigotry against all Muslims, surely that implies that any and all Islamic practices and beliefs should be surrounded by a ‘do-not-criticise’ barrier? More broadly, the risk is that the moral of the Boris story will be that any criticism of anyone who happens to be a Muslim, regardless of their behaviour, is verboten.

By contrast my own view is that it’s important to recognize that there’s a complex spectrum of ways of discussing Islam (and other contentious topics) and to acknowledge minor infractions, while at the same time acknowledging that tipping over in the other direction – into apologism for extremists such as we more usually see on the left for example – is at least equally problematic.


Ben Jamal is a Liar

A couple of months ago at a meeting entitled Jeremy Corbyn, Antisemitism and Justice for Palestine the director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign stood up and said the following:

“We stand resolutely against antisemitism and I have no truck with anybody who says “well I have never encountered antisemitism within the Palestine Solidarity movement broadly” because I have and there are those at the fringes of our movement who wish to articulate the cause for Palestinian rights through anti-Semitic narratives, through engaging in nonsense about Holocaust denial, or engaging in conspiracies about Israel’s power that draw on anti-Semitic tropes and we need to be clear that there is no place for you within our movement.”

Watch him saying it here:

You can watch the full event here.

Do these social media posts by PSC Director Tapash Abu Shaim count as “nonsense about Holocaust denial, or engaging in conspiracies about Israel’s power that draw on anti-Semitic tropes”?

There are more posts in David Collier’s PSC report .

40 minutes after Ben Jamal made his statement Jonathan Rosenhead, of Jewish voice for Labour, engaged in Holocaust revisionism:

Rosenhead responded to the coverage of his comments in the Jewish Chronicle on the JVL website. He said:

“The article is selective, vindictive and distorted. It was sent to me by email at 2pm on Wednesday May 2nd, with an invitation to comment within such a tight and arbitrary time window (I was on a train to Leeds when it arrived) as to provide no opportunity at all. This was treating a serious matter – an effective imputation of antisemitism – as a handy political football.”

He was on a train to Leeds to give another talk (and we all know it’s just impossible to respond to an email when you’re on a train…) where instead of retracting his comments he doubled down on them:

Ben Jamal says he’ll root out antisemitism.

Ben Jamal is a liar.


Jeremy Corbyn and the 9/11 Conspiracy Theories of a “Very Honoured Citizen”

In one of his bids to escape the antisemitism crisis engulfing the Labour party, last Friday Jeremy Corbyn offered this line in The Guardian:

Labour staff have seen examples of Holocaust denial, crude stereotypes of Jewish bankers, conspiracy theories blaming 9/11 on Israel, and even one individual who appeared to believe that Hitler had been misunderstood.

Mr Corbyn should know all about 9/11 conspiracy bunkum. He has been an enthusiastic champion of Raed Salah, one of the notable peddlers.

Raed Salah is the leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. It is close to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Salah visited the UK in 2011, planning to speak alongside MPs as part of his tour, including Mr Corbyn.

Salah had been flagged and then banned from the country before embarking, but border officers at Heathrow missed him and he slipped through. A furore followed. No wonder, as Salah has a long history of malicious antisemitic agitation.

9/11 is part of the story. Mr Salah was not fooled by American accounts of the atrocities, you see:

Raed Salah wrote in Saut Al-Haqq Wa-Al-Hurriyya, “A suitable way was found to warn the 4,000 Jews who work every day at the Twin Towers to be absent from their work on September 11, 2001, and this is really what happened! Were 4,000 Jewish clerks absent [from their jobs] by chance, or was there another reason? At the same time, no such warning reached the 2,000 Muslims who worked every day in the Twin Towers, and therefore there were hundreds of Muslim victims.”

For the ”unique mover” was at work:

“The unique mover wanted to carry out the bombings in Washington and New York in order to provide the Israeli establishment with a way out of its entanglements, and in order to divert the attention of the media towards the American continent. This would allow the Israeli establishment to deal with our Palestinian people without [outside interference], and would give the Jewish extremists a rare opportunity to work towards destroying the Al-Aqsa mosque.”

A decade on, when Osama bin Laden was killed by US forces in 2011, Salah’s movement spoke up for the “sheikh” and “martyr” who was the mastermind of 9/11:

We in the Islamic Movement condemn the assassination operation against the sheikh, the martyr Osama Bin Laden, if [reports are] true, at the hands of the American security arms. The assassination, if true, proves collusion of mercenaries who have sold their consciences to cursed Satan.

All of this was known and widely discussed in the summer of 2011. As the controversy escalated, this blog was in the thick of it, but so were the BBC, the Jewish Chronicle, and the broadsheets. The coverage included reports on Salah’s 9/11 conspiracy poison.

Furthermore, the procession of admiring visitors to Mr Salah when he was held under house arrest in London was quite instructive by itself. Here he is with George Galloway, inveterate champion of the worst antisemites.

Here Azzam “Kaboom” Tamimi, suicide bomber manqué and one of Britain’s most notorious Hamasniks, pays his respects to Salah.

The obligatory Jewish fig leaf makes an appearance – the tiny and weird Neturei Karta sect.

Here is Stephen Sizer, plainly pleased to meet Mr Salah. Sizer is the disgraced antisemitic vicar who has a taste of his own for 9/11 conspiracy theories. Mr Corbyn defended Sizer when he too was obviously a man of hatred, not faith.

In a moment of liberty, Salah visited the Finsbury Park Mosque and its leader, Mohammed Kozbar. This mosque is Mr Corbyn’s Islington heartland and is closely linked to Hamas.

Salah also visited the Noor mosque in Acton, a dark home for jihadi preaching.

Mr Corbyn was not disturbed by all this. On the contrary. It drew him in. In fact, he was so keen on Salah that he too went to visit him in London.

A year on from that contentious summer, after so much had been revealed, Mr Corbyn was very much on message. Here you will see him calling Raed Salah “a very honoured citizen” whose voice “must be heard”. Corbyn proceeds to look forward to taking “tea on the terrace” at Parliament with Salah.

To Corbyn’s right in the video is Daud Abdullah of Middle East Monitor (MEMO), a Hamasnik propaganda operation which helped to organise Mr Salah’s ill-fated UK tour. Abdullah’s deputy at MEMO is the fundamentalist and Hamas servant Ibrahim Hewitt, a “very good friend” of Mr Corbyn.

Further down the road, C4’s Cathy Newman asked Corbyn about Raed Salah in 2015. Corbyn resorted to a strange defence – Israel didn’t stop him from leaving Israel. If it had, naturally Mr Corbyn would have been the first to bewail Israeli “repression”. Oh, and of course Salah did not say anything antisemitic to Corbyn. So that’s OK then.

Let’s not forget that Mr Corbyn himself engages in conspiracy talk. In a conversation with the Iranian propaganda channel and conspiracy repository Press TV, he suspected the “hand of Israel” in a terrorist attack on Egyptian police officers. He has also backed Russian propaganda about chemical attacks in Syria.

Today, Mr Corbyn seems to think criticising 9/11 conspiracists will burnish his tarnished image. In light of his record, this is only another measure of his delusion.


Why the Nazi Analogy and Holocaust Inversion are Antisemitic

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The following is an excerpt from Antisemitism in the Guise of Anti-Nazism: Holocaust Inversion in the United Kingdom during Operation Protective Edge’, a chapter that will appear in Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: The Dynamics of Delegitimization, ed. Alvin H. Rosenfeld (Indiana University Press, forthcoming).The editor and publisher have kindly agreed to the advance publication of this excerpt in light of its topicality. The UK Labour Party is debating whether to incorporate the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, including all its accompanying examples, into its own statutes. This part of my chapter sets out why the use of the Nazi analogy to attack Jews, Israelis and ‘Zionists’ should be considered antisemitic, not least because, understanding more deeply the way racism actually works, the best anti-racist scholarship and practice has long abandoned the notion that for racism to be present, a racist subjectivity and motivation, provable to boot, must be co-present. As well as being cut by two-thirds, the chapter has been edited in a couple of places to help the reader. Thanks to Alvin Rosenfeld for making this possible. (Alan Johnson)

The Nazi analogy and Holocaust inversion, which involves ‘the portrayal of Israel, Israelis and Jews as modern-day Nazis, and Palestinians as the new Holocaust-era Jews’, is a moral disease.The meaning of the analogy and the inversion —specifically, whether it is antisemitic—is contested. A locus of the dispute was the contrasting submissions of two academics, David Feldman and Ben Gidley, to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism’s inquiry into antisemitism in the United Kingdom during the Gaza conflict in the summer of 2014. The final report of the inquiry noted delicately that ‘there was some debate between those from whom we took expert testimony regarding the nuances of the definition of antisemitism when it comes to Nazi comparison.’  In short, Gidley defined examples of Holocaust inversion as antisemitic discourse, but Feldman, director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck University, did not, arguing that ‘the fact that they are wrong and hurtful does not render them anti-Semitic.’

Feldman advanced two reasons to deny that Holocaust inversion is antisemitic discourse. First, the inversion is banal (my word, not his)—that is, it is a ‘much used rhetorical device,’ a common rhetorical trope used in many arguments about many subjects, often light-mindedly, lacking any specifically antisemitic content. Feldman cited attacks on the UK Independence Party as Nazis as one example of banality and Israel’s leaders calling its enemies Nazis as another. Second, Feldman pointed out that the inversion is not motivated by an anti-Jewish subjectivity. The target, he points out, was Israel, not Jews; therefore, the inversion cannot be antisemitic. Only when discourse ‘endorse[s] Nazi persecution of Jews’ (e.g., brandishing a ‘Hitler Was Right!’ placard on the high street, as at least one protestor did in 2014) did Feldman consider it antisemitic.

However, both of Feldman’s arguments—(the presence of) banality and (the absence of) individual subjectivity—risk putting beyond our understanding much that is constitutive of contemporary antisemitism. READ MORE


Cloaking Hatred, Building Anger

“Thomas Mair is a hero! Death is just what Jo Cox deserved!”

A man who had said this about the murderer of Jo Cox MP would be a rather unlikely star turn at a “Counter Terrorism Conference”, don’t you think?

Especially, one must hope, if he was there to bestow an “award” on police officers, in the company of another MP. It is an absurd scenario, no matter how many other “positive” elements might be found in the Mair fan’s story.

Well, swap the assassinated Pakistani politician Salman Taseer for Jo Cox and try inexcusably sordid British reality.

Last month the Pakistani preacher Muhammad Hassan Haseeb ur-Rehman was the big name at a “Counter Terrorism Conference” in Manchester, organized by Mohammed Shafiq’s Ramadhan Foundation. Ur-Rehman gave an “award” to two Greater Manchester Police (GMP) officers at the conference. Here they are on the left. Ur-Rehman is in the middle. Mohammed Shafiq and Labour MP Afzal Khan are on the right.

Ur-Rehman is an enthusiastic supporter of Mumtaz Qadri, the crazed fanatic who shot Salman Taseer dead in 2011 in the name of Islam because Taseer dared to speak up against Pakistan’s benighted “blasphemy” laws. Ur-Rehman should have no place on any platform featuring British police officers and politicians.

“Interfaith” worthies were also at the Manchester event. They have been apprised of what is happening by Sara Khan, the Commissioner for Countering Extremism:

Too often those promoting anti Ahmadiyya hatred wear a face of respectability and legitimacy. Last week I raised concerns about Sheikh Hassan Haseeb ur Rehman, a prominent Muslim preacher in Pakistan who visited the UK to talk about countering terrorism and interfaith dialogue.

However behind these fine words, he has a history of promoting hatred and intolerance. He described Mumtaz Qadri who murdered Pakistani Governor, Salman Taseer who challenged the country’s blasphemy laws as a “martyr” and “holy warrior.” The same laws that are used to persecute the Ahmadiyya.

This is an important part of the story of extremism in 2018. Extremists deliberately misuse the language of rights and freedom to cloak their hate in respectability or “justice” when it is anything but.

Khan had unambiguous words for the Sunday Times as well when it covered this story:

Sara Khan, the lead commissioner for countering extremism, said: “Rehman attended and spoke at the funeral of Qadri and described him as a martyr. There is no defence or justification for celebrating an ideologically motivated assassination.”

It seems that the GMP did not know about this record. As the Sunday Times reported:

Greater Manchester police said: “The Sunday Times has now brought to our attention some concerns about one of the speakers, which we will now consider.”

Contacted by the newspaper, Mohammed Shafiq opted for ridiculous denial:

Shafiq said: “He is not a supporter of terrorism. He is an opponent of terrorism. Any insinuation that he is an extremist is frankly absurd and an insult.”

As for the Labour MP Afzal Khan, comment came there none when he was asked about his participation in the Manchester conference. This is perhaps not surprising – Khan has some form when it comes to helping extremists.

To make it all worse, ur-Rehman was openly and explictly criticized during similar UK tours in 2016 and 2017. In 2016, some of the strongest words came from two of Salman Taseer’s children. All to no avail – his critics were simply ignored or overlooked this summer, once again.

Many people across the UK are angry about ignorance, incompetence and double standards when it comes to dealing with extremists. How can the most threadbare of cloaks, easily cast aside with a simple Google search, be enough to fool those who should know better? For those who do know the truth, how red must the lines be? Is supporting political assassination in the name of Allah really no problem?

This is folly, at best, not noble work for “social cohesion”. If you fall for the cloaking of hatred, or, worse, know it is right in front of you and just carry merrily on, you will only help anger to build, not subside.


What Mehdi No Solidarity for the Jews?

Cross-posted from my criminally underused blog Marc’s Words

It hasn’t been a great weekend for Jeremy Corbyn or his Labour Party. Deputy Leader Tom Watson said:

“This is one of those moments when we have to take a long, hard look at ourselves, stand up for what is right and present the party as fit to lead the nation – or disappear into a vortex of eternal shame and embarrassment,”

In the same article they reported Watson’s comments in The Guardian dropped yet another bombshell:

“Watson’s intervention came as Corbyn was forced to “entirely disassociate” himself from an organisation whose website lists him as a member of its international advisory panel and which openly supported a prominent writer convicted of Holocaust denial”

In an article for Haaretz entitled ‘Dial Down the Hysteria on anti-Semitism in Corbyn’s Labour’ Mehdi Hasan lectures Jews to ignore Corbyn and pay attention to racists outside the UK instead:

“Don’t lose sight of the bigger threat. How can Jews feel safe in a Europe in which the far right is on the march? Go to Poland, where the government has passed a law denying any Polish complicity in the Holocaust; or go to Austria, where there is a proposal to force Jews to obtain permits to buy kosher meat. In Germany, police statistics attributed nine out of 10 anti-Semitic crimes in 2017 to “members of far-right or neo-Nazi groups.”"

To be honest this is the kind of obfuscation that brought the tiny Jewish community and the Labour Party to a crisis in the first place:

“you can commit to both defeating anti-Semitism and electing a Corbyn-led government. You can strive to protect both Jews and criticism of Israel.” He adds.

He fails to explain why we can’t be against both Corbyn’s brand of antisemitism in Labour and the Austrian Far Right at the same time.

Antisemitism emanating from Islamist sources didn’t warrant even a mention in Hasan’s article just as it doesn’t warrant a mention in Corbyn’s non-apology to the Jewish community.  Corbyn has surrounded himself with Islamist antisemites for years.

Mehdi says (to the readers of Haaretz):

“Stop conflating Jews and Israel. This point applies as much to defenders of the Jewish state as it does to anti-Semitic bigots. The joint editorial in those three papers lambasted Labour for making a (false) distinction between “racial anti-Semitism” and “political anti-Semitism targeting Israel.” This is positively Orwellian: political criticism of a state or ideology cannot be compared to or equated with racial or religious abuse. “

But what do we do when advocates for Palestinian rights are antisemitic? Or when antisemites couch their hatred for Jews in anti-Zionist rhetoric?

Mahmoud Abbas himself could only bring himself to recognise that the Holocaust happened the way the history books say it did in 2014:

Mr. Abbas has been vilified as a Holocaust denier because in his doctoral dissertation, published as a book in 1983, he challenged the number of Jewish victims and argued that Zionists had collaborated with Nazis to propel more people to what would become Israel.

(At some point you’ll stop thinking about Abbas and start pondering which university awards doctorates for theses that deny the fact of the attempted genocide of the Jews).

The Hamas charter says:

But even if the links have become distant from each other, and even if the obstacles erected by those who revolve in the Zionist orbit, aiming at obstructing the road before the Jihad fighters, have rendered the pursuance of Jihad impossible; nevertheless, the Hamas has been looking forward to implement Allah’s promise whatever time it might take. The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said:

The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him! This will not apply to the Gharqad, which is a Jewish tree (cited by Bukhari and Muslim).

The supposed “conflation” Mehdi talks about is a fact of the Israeli Arab conflict. It’s also a factor of the discourse surrounding the conflict and the way that supporters of Palestine relate to it, just listen to Corbyn’s own excuse:

“In the past, in pursuit of justice for the Palestinian people and peace in Israel/Palestine, I have on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject. I apologise for the concerns and anxiety that this has caused.”

Apparently it’s not possible for him to campaign for Palestine without appearing on platforms with people who hate Jews.

In practise many of those who advocate for Palestine and Palestinian rights have been shown to espouse antisemitic conspiracy theories, holocaust denial and blatant Jew hatred. When it was pointed out by David Collier that activists, including one of the directors of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, were sharing antisemitic material on Facebook the PSC ignored him almost entirely. The only action they took was to post a bland message on their Facebook page.

Jeremy Corbyn was the patron of the PSC when Collier’s report came out. He is still the patron of PSC and he has done just as much to rid the PSC of antisemitism as he has to rid the Labour Party of it.

Jews are never going to be able to relate to a political party led by a man with an affinity for sharing platforms with members of terrorist movements sworn to kill them. They can’t be a part of a party composed of activists who deny the Holocaust and regard it as their solemn duty to make sure everyone knows that the Rothschilds together with Israel are taking over the world. Mehdi writes:

Has he been slow to take action against a handful of anti-Semites inside his party? Yes. Does he suffer from an “unconscious bias” on the left that doesn’t take allegations of anti-Semitism as seriously as it takes allegations of, say, Islamophobia? Probably. Could he have been more forceful and proactive in denouncing left-wing anti-Semitism much earlier on? Definitely. But does a Corbyn-led Labour government pose a threat to the very existence of British Jewry? Don’t. Be. Silly.

The connections with the Holocaust denier Paul Eisen, the invitation of Raed Salah the blood libeller to tea, the platform he shared with antisemite Abou Jahjah. The list is endless…and missing from the issues he presumes Jews might have with Corbyn. Hasan even admits that:

Earlier this week, a recording emerged of Peter Willsman, a Corbyn ally and member of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), angrily accusing Jewish “Trump fanatics” of fabricating evidence of anti-Semitism.

Willsman is hardly the only Corbyn ally to expose an antisemitic nerve. Former head of the disciplinary committee Christine Shawcroft decided to ignore Holocaust denial in the ranks of the party and did so with the full backing of the rest of the NEC. Even when this was all brought to light the Shadow Chancellor argued she should retain her seat on the NEC. The Times has just exposed the Party compliance unit of colluding with those who had shared antisemitic imagery online to ensure they escape punishment:

Those with close links to the leadership have been exonerated because party bosses claim they cannot find evidence that they are party members, a claim it is difficult for Corbyn’s critics to contest.

Harry’s Place was busy pointing out Michael Calderbank’s comments back in February but when he was reported to the Labour Party The Times says that:

Labour’s compliance unit replied: “We have been unable to identify the individual as a member of the Labour Party.”

This is surprising since in posts for Labour Briefing last year, Calderbank billed himself as “secretary of Brent Central constituency Labour Party”. Calderbank also used to work for John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, and has a Commons pass sponsored by Ian Lavery, the party chairman. He is also co-editor of the left-wing magazine Red Pepper and is listed in the register of MPs’ staff as a researcher for five trade unions.

This is the Party Mehdi argues Jews should vote for?

What I thought he would do was use his Haaretz platform to call for solidarity with Jews in the UK. What I was hoping he would say was that as a Muslim who knows what it’s like to suffer racism from the very people who are elected to protect him he calls for solidarity with British Jewry in their moment of need.

What I was hoping he would say was Enough is Enough.

But when it comes to Jews there’s not much going around in the way of solidarity from the left.

I guess they’re too busy protesting against the Far Right in Austria. Except that they’re not doing that either.


Go to Bookmarks. Buy a Book, by Alan Johnson

But what were even gold and silver, precious stones and clockwork, to the bookshops, whence a pleasant smell of paper freshly pressed came issuing forth, awakening instant recollections of some new grammar had at school, long time ago, with ‘Master Pinch, Grove House Academy’, inscribed in faultless writing on the fly-leaf! That whiff of Russia leather, too, and all those rows on rows of volumes, neatly ranged within – what happiness did they suggest! And in the window were the spick-and-span new works from London, with the title-pages, and sometimes even the first page of the first chapter, laid wide open: tempting unwary men to begin to read the book, and then, in the impossibility of turning over, to rush blindly in, and buy it! ― Charles Dickens

‘Keep this klaxon horn under your chair. If the fascists come in, give it a squeeze and we’ll be out in a flash,’ Martin Spence said to me. He was the gentle bearded Anarchist who ran the Days of Hope socialist bookshop in Newcastle and I was the teenage volunteer. It was the late 1970s, the North East was on its knees (little did we know the worst was yet to come) and I was fresh from a fateful encounter with Paul Foot’s Why You Should Be A Socialist.

Unsure what Martin was capable of should the NF – quite a thing at the time – storm in, I remember I kept a set of Yale keys on a chain in my pocket. Slipped through the fingers of a fist, so the schoolyard talk went, they were the poor person’s improvised device. As it turned out, excitement was limited to Hilary Wainwright buying up half the shop from time to time (I exaggerate only slightly) and whirlwind visits from SWP organiser Andy Strouthous who would drop off copies of Socialist Worker, talk about local strikes and, if he could, gently abuse Martin. (I remember the staff would poke their heads out of the tiny back shop and ask ‘Has “Struggle Brothers” gone yet?)

And there were the shoplifters, of course. They would carry their stolen trophies – Deutscher’s biography of Trotsky, perhaps, or maybe one of Harold Heslop’s socialist realist mining novels that I’d buy for my Mam for Christmas– over to the second hand shop on the opposite side of Westgate Road. My memory is that we would trudge over – and I am always cold and trudging through dirty sleet when I think of those years – and buy the stolen books back.

But I loved Days of Hope. It was the size of a front room (think of the bookshop in the film Pride but smaller) but to me it contained worlds. And for a bibliophile – which I was beginning to suspect was the deeper me than the footballer – it was very heaven. On a slow weekday afternoon, when hours went by with few customers, I had the run of the shop.

Talking to (actually, mostly listening to) socialist intellectuals was an education in itself. Martin the Anarchist was a contributor to Capital and Class, a Green when very few socialists were, and someone who could talk expertly about the record of the Bolsheviks, and about his pantheon of Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman and Ida Mett. There was the writer Andy McSmith, then in the International Marxist Group, later to be a fine journalist at The Independent and, later still, an aide to the Labour leader John Smith. And back then Alan Milburn was not advising capitalists how to privatise the NHS. He was a restless young man talking excitedly about the wave of sit-ins and occupations, about the potential for workers democratic planning and for taking over the factories of the ailing local multinationals.

And there, in a great long line lapping towards me like waves, were all the socialist newspapers. After plunging in many times, I decided Socialist Organiser (later the AWL), made the most sense. And so, as Jackson Browne puts it, on the brave and crazy wings of youth I went flying around in the rain. I joined Socialist Organiser (which became the AWL) on the day I arrived at Manchester University. Clive Bradley recruited me. Clive was a lovely man who was then my model of an intellectual – he would routinely best Paul Mason of Workers Power in debate, as well as introducing me to dope cake and the Doors. (He is now an exceptionally talented writer, most recently the scriptwriter for the splendid BBC series Trapped, set in Iceland.)

My reverie is prompted by an event in London on Saturday.

A group of Nazi and racist thugs attacked the SWP’s Bookmarks socialist bookshop in central London. 12 of them marched in, shouted far right slogans, began intimidating staff and trashed the shop.

So I have an appeal to make. Please consider going to Bookmarks and buying a book (or as I did recently, a bust of Rosa Luxemburg, a second hand book about the history of the Central Labour College and Don Watson’s book about the National Unemployed Workers Movement in the North East, 1920-1940). Whatever takes your fancy: as Dickens says, just rush blindly in, and buy it! Those outside London could buy something online. One of the best bookshops in London, with a great second hand section, Bookmarks is five minutes from Tottenham Court Road Tube.

Look, if you don’t fancy Cliff’s four-volume study of Lenin, which I am guessing is not top of the must-read list for too many Harry’s Placers, then buy a novel, or perhaps pick up my own little book, co-authored for the TUC with Abdullah Muhsin, Hadi Never Died: Hadi Saleh and the Iraqi Trade Unions. It used to be just to the right of the till in the Trade Union section.

It is a time for elementary solidarity in the face of a Fascist attack. And it’s about books, and the monsters who would burn or trash them. Tomorrow, we can argue with the SWP (perhaps by offering a timely reminder that its members should stop trashing the bookstalls of other leftwing groups). Today, buy a book please.