antisemitism

Clare Solomon: Time to Go

Clare Solomon spent four years in the Socialist Workers Party until she was expelled last year. She is a 37 year old mature student and President of the University of London Union. She has been making her name as a militant leader of the recent student demonstrations. This has given her a high profile including an interview with Jeremy Paxman where she blamed government policy for the student rioting.

On Facebook she has made antisemitic comments:

The view that Jews have been persecuted all throughout history is one that has been fabricated in the last 100 or so years to justify the persecution of Palestinians.

To paint the picture that all Jews have always had to flee persecution is just plainly inaccurate.

The first statement contains within it, an accusation that the historical record of antisemitism is a Jewish Lie, and specifically one which has been forged with the intention of using it as the basis for an attack on Palestinians. That is, without doubt, a racist statement. It is akin to Holocaust denial – it implicitly covers the same ground as that great lie – but much broader in its scope.

Here is her response:

Ms Solomon, who was raised as a Mormon, declined to comment when contacted by The Mail on Sunday but told the Jewish Chronicle newspaper: ‘This badly worded comment was something that I wrote in haste on Facebook. I’m sorry for any misunderstandings.’

There are three possibilities: either she has deliberately lied,  she is stupid, or she is both stupid and a liar. In any case, her comments are unacceptable and she should resign her post. If she does not resign, I assume there is a mechanism by members of ULU to see that she is removed from her post. This should be exercised.

In the remainder of this post, I’d like to consider Solomon’s second statement, and consider why it is that a Marxist, and particularly a Socialist Workers’ Party activist, might come to express such remarkably antisemitic sentiments.

For long stretches of time since the first Jewish-Roman War of 66-70 CE/AD, Jews have been relatively free from the sort of active persecution that has endangered their lives of prompted them to flee. What is notable, is that “golden ages” of Jewish civilisation have typically given way to persecution. The flourishing of Spanish Jewish culture under the Almoravids came to an end when the Almohads came to power and offered Maimonides and all other Jews, the choice of expulsion, conversion or death. During the brief period until the 18th century when Poland, for reasons of geopolitical accident, became the most religiously free country in the world, Jewish life also flourished – but that was ended for many when Poland was carved up. And, of course, there is the history of the Jews of Germany and those surrounding countries, where many had led blameless and integrated bourgeois and working class lives.

Jews tend not to stress the roots of antisemitism, because they implicate some very deeply held and otherwise perfectly respectable religious beliefs. But here goes.

Christianity became antisemitic gradually, and has retreated from antisemitism sharply in the wake of the Holocaust. Jesus can not have but been deeply affected, if not involved, in the politics of first century Judea, which ultimately ended in the First Jewish War. His brother, James, undoubtably was: as his execution came a few years before that War, and he died as a result of a tussle with the very senior Temple authorities who were ultimately overthrown as a prelude to the declaration of independence from Rome. However, by the time of the Second Jewish War, Christians – and particularly those Christians who had not originally been Jews – were at pains to ensure that they would not be mistaken for Jews. It is at this point that some of the most antisemitic parts of the Gospels were written: in particular by the author of John.

Nothing has done so much damage as Matthew 27:25.

Antisemitism is Islam has two sources. First of all, a certain amount of anti-Jewish theorising is inherited from Christianity: in particular the notion that Jews have somehow forfeited God’s favour by their wickedness, and have been replaced with a new People. Secondly, Mohammed had various run ins with Jewish tribes and individuals, resulting in the claimed massacre of the Banu Qurayzah.

Within both Christianity and Islam, clerics and theologians – often horrified by the manifestation of anti-Jewish hatred – have worked to contextualise, limit, reinterpret, or seek more perfectly to understand the problematic material in their faiths. Condemnations of Jews in the texts are restricted to particular Jewish groups, at particular moments, and the message of universal and eternal hatred is actively opposed. However, the dominant trend within a number of Muslim sects is still strongly antisemitic.

So, how does this relate to Clare Solomon?

Solomon has spent years as an activist in the Socialist Workers Party, an organisation which regards itself as anti-racist, and which controls the supposedly anti-racist organisation, Unite Against Fascism. Accordingly, activists in the Socialist Workers Party unquestioningly believe that they are not racists themselves. However, through RESPECT and the Stop the War Coalition, Socialist Workers Party activists work closely with activists in various Islamist political parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami, who are most certainly antisemites. Moreover, they are required to applaud an explicitly genocidal and antisemitic organisation, Hamas. When this is pointed out to them, they deny that their allies and associates are antisemites. How could they do otherwise? Were they not to do so, they would have to admit their hypocrisy.

More generally, there is a polite ignoring of antisemitism. For example, there is material on the website of the Luton Islamic Centre which plainly constitutes an incitement to racial and religious hatred: and not only against Jews. However it is considered very poor form to point this out. It would be unthinkable that they might receive a police warning, let alone be prosecuted over it.  Instead, such institutions must be praised as champions of community cohesion.

That, then, is the political milieu in which Clare Solomon was raised. Well, that and Mormonism.

There is, however, another ideological component. Marxists tend to be atheists. Like many atheists, they have a certain difficulty in understanding that religious people do understand the world through the prism of their sacred texts. Therefore, when encountering a recent convert to Islam, or a man of South Asian origin expressing the vilest racist beliefs about Jews, tying them in to age-old conspiracy theories and religious texts, they assume that they’re simply “upset about Israel”. It doesn’t occur to them that a religious person might start with a particular understanding of those sacred texts, into which they have shoehorned current events. Neither does it occur to them that certain religious institutions may operate as campaigning racist organisations, which are actively encouraging their members to adopt religiously-sanctioned antisemitic views. Because God doesn’t exist, to them, and matters still less, the history and legacy of 2000 years of racism is invisible. They are not even aware of the legacy of racism in their own “post-religious” culture.

Marxists, or at least Socialist Workers Party activists, are in a slightly worse position than normal people in this respect. SWP cadre  will typically seek to ‘understand’ racism as a product of capitalism and imperialism, first and foremost. Therefore, many of them tend to see antisemitism as something specific to German fascism, that was somehow required in order to sustain it: just as they argue that Islamophobia and hatred of Muslims has been pushed by capitalists to justify an imperialist war. Antisemitism, by contrast, appears to play no role in their grand determinist theory of the world, so again, they are blind to it. But not only are they blind: they need actively to deny it, as Solomon has done. Many do so by toying with conspiracy theories about Jews, which abound in the juncture between the far Left and Islamist politics. In any case, many do believe Jews to be incredibly rich and powerful: the Capitalist personified, so to speak.

There was a time when anyone who made such comments as Solomon has made on Facebook would be shunned and ridiculed. To the great credit of RESPECT, when racist comments – which were casual rather than deeply ideological – were made by one of their senior activists, he was quickly expelled. However, the usual response from those on the Left, nowadays, is to deny the accusation of racism.

I suspect that I will be attacked for suggesting that Solomon must go. And it is this that is the tragedy of the left.

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