A number of you must be wondering why tolerance of antisemitism, and in some cases antisemitism itself, has found so ready a home within a section of the British Left, and why there is so little effort within mainstream progressive institutions to confront this germ of racism, and to root it out.
Many of you will have come up with theories that seek to answer that question. Here are some of mine.
1. The rise of “Palestinian solidarity” politics on the Left has resulted in a need to deny antisemitism (and also homophobia). It would simply be unacceptable to show solidarity and to assist political parties which were murderously homophobic and genocidally antisemitic. Accordingly, Nelsonian blindness is the attitude to hate preachers and terrorist movements, and huge energy has been put into attacking anybody who points this out.
Livingstone’s Qaradawi Dossier is a prime example of that, as is the conduct of The Guardian over the Raed Salah affair.
2. The “Durban Strategy” of 2001’s World Conference Against Racism has been deployed, successfully, against Israelis: who have become contemporary Afrikaaners, in the eyes of many: though not all.
The strategy has bled sideways. Jews, who overwhelmingly support the continued existence of Israel, where half the surviving Jewish population of the world now lives, are identified as proto-Israelis. It has also evolved. Jews are now thought to be the ‘new Nazis’ who ‘learnt from their oppressors’. The logic that the Durban Strategy would have you accept is this: Apartheid states must be destroyed, and Nazis must be eliminated.
3. Most people, including self-described ‘progressives’ have no understanding of antisemitism, its history, its forms, and how deeply it is embedded in our culture. Many don’t even recognise it. There are many people, for example, who would think that the notion that Jews control the media, governments, and the financial system was simply a statement of fact, rather than a wicked canard.
The same is true, incidentally, of homophobia. We have seen how quickly the mask slips.
The consequence of this failure of recognition is that homophobia and antisemitism is belittled, and indeed tolerated, within an aspect of ‘progressive’ culture.
4. As Palestinian solidarity activists have become embedded within the Left, the ‘habit’ of accusing Jews who object to genocidal antisemitism, or gays who are concerned about a rise in homophobic hatred, of lying about their concerns has entered the mainstream. There are peers, MPs and even Labour Shadow Ministers who are active in a movement which routinely dismisses and belittles concerns about hatred. This is a ‘progressive’ position.
5. Activists from Islamist political parties – including very extreme ones, such as the IFE – have become the backbone of a number of anti-racism and anti-Islamophobia campaigns. This network is very strong. It includes, for example, London Citizens.
To some degree, there has been governmental encouragement of alliances with Islamist organisations. As we know, the former police spy Bob Lambert was a much respected advocate of this policy.
Similarly, as is well known, a number of tiny far Left political parties run a range of progressive organisations, in which the exercise executive authority and exert a general gravitational pull on the politics of these organisations.
6. Why, you might ask, has there been so little opposition to this nasty turn of events. The answer is structural.
Once mainstream organisations have adopted this politics, activists within them have three options:
– to make a fuss about it
– to stay quiet
– to attack those criticising the organisation as racists, hatemongers, Islamophobes, Zionists, and liars.
Some, to their credit, have made a fuss about alliances with Islamists, or the tolerance of racism. A few of those have had their careers or reputations wrecked, as a result.
Most who disapprove, therefore stay silent. The trouble is, you can’t admit that your own organisation’s political allies – particularly in ‘the fight against racism’ – are themselves fanatical bigots and extremists, or their trusty allies. So, as a result, we’re seeing a deliberate, institutionalised, closing of the eyes to racism against Jews and in some cases, to homophobia.
7. The fear of being thought a racist or a right winger means that nobody organises or agitates around the issue. Other, really, than some Jewish organisations (pretty discretely) and a number of outspoken Muslims, Christians and Atheists, there has been a resounding silence. Anti-racist organisations which should really have been at the forefront of confronting the pushing of hatred have, by and large, stayed silent.
8. In the main, Jewish organisations will not make a fuss about antisemitism. This is not necessarily a silly position to take. Jews are perceived to be griping about antisemitism all the time, and so Jewish organisations are inclined not to feed the myth, by doing so loudly. Jews have learnt that complaining about antisemitism makes more enemies than friends. This is so, particularly as they know that they’ll be accused of lying when they do raise concerns.
Instead, they pursue quietism. The greater the hatred and incitement, the quieter they get. The energy shifts to building partnerships with government, to provide for security measures to protect Jewish schools from massacres.
By contrast, Jews who are members of organisations which deny antisemitism are very active and vocal.
A small but passionate number of Christians, Muslims and Atheists (and other religious groups, too) are genuinely opposed to antisemitism, and are horrified by what racism is doing to progressive politics, and to the country. They’re treated with suspicion and significantly ignored: by Jewish organisations.
9. The emergence of Muslim electoral blocs in cities that must be courted, has also resulted in a tolerance of extremism, homophobia and antisemitism. I don’t think that this is by any means a decisive element, but has some influence on national trends. It is one of a number of factors.
Again, to object to such a sectarian politics is to be attacked, in return, as a racist. That it is not criticised means that well meaning politicians, dignitaries and public figures end up on platforms with Holocaust denying hatemongers or get pictured shaking hands with clerics who preach that captured women can be taken as concubines, while gays have to be thrown off walls. Once these alliances are forged, they’re almost impossible to break. Nobody lightly admits that they have made an error of judgement.
The important exception to this pattern is, of course, the reasonably widespread understanding of the problem of Ken Livingstone’s dodgy views and his dodgier mates. So, the question will be: do such alliances bring a net electoral benefit? Put simply, will you win more votes being pictured with a man who calls for female genital mutilation than you will speaking out against him? We will soon find out.
10. Finally: we do not have a dominant self-confident liberal culture. It means that we don’t challenge racism and hatred and, worse still, we don’t offer an attractive alternative to pessimism and bigotry. But we can, and we should.
All of this could be turned around. The problem is organisational. We got to where we are because our opponents worked harder.
What do you think?