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“Neverthelessing”

So, I’ve been arguing against the politics of a number of Islamist groups for a few years, now. The Muslim Brotherhood. Jamaat-e-Islami. Hizb ut Tahrir. I don’t think I’ve been getting far enough, fast enough. What can I do, to shift popular opposition to these Islamist parties into top gear? 

I can see that the far Right has had a certain degree of success by bashing Muslims. The BNP is poised to win 4, 5 seats perhaps in the European Elections: and they’ve done so by conflating popular xenophobia and anti-immigrant prejudice while claiming that British Muslims are conspirators in a plot to rape our women, steal our jobs, and take our homes. 

I know this strategy works. It is a lot easier to play on racist fears, than it is to make the rather wonkish and somewhat aesoteric  case: that a pluralist culture needs to defend liberal democracy.

So, should we do it? Should we enlist anti-Muslim bigotry in the struggle against Islamist politics?

No of course we fucking shouldn’t. And what an utter disgrace it would be, if we did. 

We’ve done the converse, in fact. We’ve challenged the tropes of anti-Muslim bigotry:  in posts and in comments. We’ve argued against the “taqqyiah” slur. We’ve challenged the essentialist view of Islam that is peddled by Islamists and anti-Muslim bigots alike. We’ve supported liberal and democratic political movements in countries with majority Muslim populations. 

As Norman Geras points out, the very opposite of all this has been taking place in the anti-Zionist camp:

Those of us who have been pointing out the logical compatibility between ‘Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic’ and ‘Some critical attitudes towards Israel nonetheless are anti-Semitic’ have perhaps rather too much taken it for granted that emphasis on this latter thought might put anti-racist liberals and leftists on their guard – on their guard against countenancing, associating themselves with, giving a free pass to, attitudes towards Israel of an anti-Semitic kind. It would seem to be an important concern for anti-racist liberals and other people of progressive outlook to have, for reasons of a quite general kind which I hope I don’t need to explain. Yet this may have been a naïve and too sanguine expectation on our part.

For there is a third proposition that increasingly captures, I will not say the spirit of the times, but the spirit of a significant sector of contemporary opinion. This third proposition may be formulated as follows:

It doesn’t matter if criticism of and attitudes to Israel are anti-Semitic, so long as they are also anti-Zionist. 

In other words, racist animus against Israel is getting an easy ride from more and more commentators just on condition that it chimes in with the narrative of Israel as a usurper-colonialist and racist state. It’s as if the taint of anti-Semitic racism isn’t strong enough to worry the easy-riders (much less to put a question in their minds about anti-Zionism itself); instead the ‘truths’ of anti-Zionism are taken as, so to say, cleansing in their effects, so that Jew-hatred is not allowed to deflect anyone from the proper business of denouncing Israel.

He’s right. A good number of mainstream anti-Zionists have co-opted – deliberately or recklessly – antisemitism and antisemites to their cause. 

The argument is always the same. Yes, this movement, or that politician may appear to be pushing Holocaust denial and genocide incitement.  Nevertheless we must understand what he says in its cultural and political context, nevertheless we should acknowledge that there is an important truth at the heart of his argument, nevertheless we should accept that omelettes cannot be made without a few eggshells being crushed. 

Norm gives a few contemporary examples: Jacques, Karmi and Milne for example (and lets not forget Adrian Hamilton, in the Indie). He adds the choice of the Guardian to provide a soapbox to members and supporters of Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood, and its decision to stage a version of Caryl Churchill’s play, Seven Jewish Children: a piece of agitprop that recycles various familiar anti-semitic themes. 

“Neverthelessing” is not a new phenomenon. It was most clearly explained and advocated by an anti-Zionist activist of Jewish origin, Professor Michael Neumann. In his famous correspondence with the neo Nazi website “Jewish Tribal Review”, he argued:

“If an effective strategy means that some truths about the Jews don’t come to light, I don’t care. If an effective strategy [of helping the Palestinians] means encouraging reasonable anti-Semitism, or reasonable hostility to Jews, I also don’t care. If it means encouraging vicious, racist anti-Semitism, or the destruction of the state of Israel, I still don’t care.”

This is not just the attitude of a lunatic fringe. It is the standard modus operandi of an important sector of mainstream anti-Zionism. That is why the Stop the War Coalition promotes Hamas and Hezbollah activists at all its rallies. That is why Jews are routinely taunted with accusations of Nazism. That is why Conflicts Forum is regarded as a serious think tank, rather than a shonky gang of  fascist apologists and enablers. 

“Neverthelessing” may have started on the extreme Left. Depressingly, it has now become the standard tactic of the anti-Zionist centre ground. And it has had a very real effect: antisemitism, done in the right way, is now completely acceptable. The antisemite, Gilad Atzmon achieved prominence thanks to the midwifery of the Socialist Workers’ Party, but now is invited to speak on antisemitism at the The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival.

We oppose anti-Muslim bigotry at Harry’s Place because we are anti-racists, social democrats and liberal pluralists. That is why we oppose Islamist politics. To embrace racism and bigotry to promote our opposition to Jamaat-e-Islami or Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood would be utterly self defeating.

There are some who are prominent within anti-Zionism who are also opponents of anti-semitism. Andy Newman, and even George Galloway, have been fierce in their condemnation of anti-Jewish racism. Yet, when it comes to the crunch, they’re enthusiastic “neverthelessers”. You can’t cheer on Hamas – hand money over to Hamas, even – but either ignore or attempt to explain away their genocidal antisemitism, and still claim to be an anti-racist. 

This, incidentally, is why a new anti-racist politics – one that will never, ever tolerate strategic racism – is more vital now, than ever.