Last night JW3 hosted a screening of Whitewashed, a film about antisemitism in the Labour Party; this was followed by a fascinating discussion between David Hirsh and Howard Jacobson.
The film, produced by Judith Ornstein, presented by David Hirsh, and made by J-TV, was prompted by the many failings of the Chakrabarti report. It draws on submissions to the report, submissions which contributors felt had been brushed aside.
One point emphasised in Whitewashed, particularly by Eve Garrard, was the way in which policies relating to Zionism have more impact at home than in Israel, with Jews sometimes feeling they have to denounce Israel in order to be accepted.
Another strand was the way in which people fail to deal with antisemitism not, or not only, because of a lack of understanding, but because of an unwillingness to understand.
You can watch the film here, and here’s just one brief example of the problem, in case you need a reminder; it’s taken from Richard Gold’s submission:
After his brother tweeted “#Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for #Palestine”, (with regard to Louise Elman’s comments about antisemitism in the Labour Party) Jeremy Corbyn when asked if he thought his brother’s tweet was wrong went on to agree with his brother saying: “No my brother isn’t wrong. My brother has his point of view, I have mine. We actually fundamentally agree – we are a family that has been fighting racism from the day we were born. My mother was at Cable Street.”
The lively debate which followed the screening highlighted the difficulties experienced by many traditional Labour voters in the current climate. Some in the audience had felt that it was worth supporting a Labour moderate, as Corbyn couldn’t possibly become PM, and the moderate would continue to fight Corbyn.
That reasoning was treated with some wryness, particularly by Howard Jacobson who compared some former anti-Corbyn figures in Labour to dogs rolling over to concede abject defeat.
However Joan Ryan, Louise Ellman and Jeremy Newmark received a warm response – and John Mann brought the house down with his impassioned speech urging Labour supporters to stay on and fight rather than give up.
Although there seemed a strong consensus in the audience that there was a problem, opinion was divided as to its precise nature and extent. Some saw the antisemitism issue as an active attraction for some – perhaps many – Labour supporters. Others emphasised the many positive reasons people might have for voting Labour.
I agreed with David Hirsh when he asserted that people can be antisemitic, or articulate/approve antisemitic sentiments, while sincerely believing they oppose antisemitism. If they look inside themselves and don’t see a problem – that, for them, is the end of the discussion. They can’t be at fault. In conceding the good faith of many of his opponents Hirsh is more generous than those who wield the Livingstone formulation, accusing those who raise concerns about antisemitism of duplicitous motives.
One theme running through the conversation was the sense that antisemitism is the only acceptable form of racism. Recent events in Chicago would seem to support that contention. At a ‘Dyke March’, one element in the city’s Gay Pride festivities, Jewish marchers bore a rainbow flag superimposed with a Star of David.
By analogy, Imaan supporters also choose to highlight their double identity as gay Muslims.
Sometimes a Star of David is just a Star of David – but apparently for some it represents a monstrous threat. Here’s the organiser’s attempt to excuse the antisemitic exclusion of Jewish symbols.
“Yesterday during the rally we saw three individuals carrying Israeli flags super imposed on rainbow flags. Some folks say they are Jewish Pride flags. But as a Collective we are very much pro-Palestine, and when we see these flags we know a lot of folks who are under attack by Israel see the visuals of the flag as a threat, so we don’t want anything in the [Dyke March] space that can inadvertently or advertently express Zionism,” she said. “So we asked the folks to please leave. We told them people in the space were feeling threatened.”
Last night at JW3 we heard how antisemites always assume Jews are ‘up to something’. This is exactly the dynamic of the Chicago debacle:
If you’re a Jew, and you’re open about it, the presumption is you must be an agent of Israeli hasbara unless you engage in public self-flagellation demonstrating the contrary. A Star of David suffices to show you’re in on the plot. A Star of David with a rainbow is enough to infer your true objectives. What else could you possibly be doing at a gay pride parade other than serving as an agent of a foreign power?
For some further analysis of this shameful incident, here’s Jamie Kirchick’s article in The Tablet.
The JW3 discussion was recorded so do watch out for when it becomes available – it was an excellent event.