Monthly Archives: April 2016

LABOUR JEWS ASSERT – THE PARTY DOES NOT HAVE A “PROBLEM WITH JEWS”

Jewish labour and trade union activists, members of a range of groups campaigning in solidarity with the people of Palestine, have produced a statement intended for use in the fightback against the witch hunt targeting the pro-Palestinian Left in the Labour Party. 

Labour movement and human rights organisations, including PSC branches, can use it to generate informed debate and send a message to the political establishment that we will not allow campaigners for justice for Palestine to be smeared with allegations of antisemitism.

As the Jewish Socialist Group has stated on its website:

“A very small number of such cases seem to be real instances of antisemitism. Others represent genuine criticism of Israeli policy and support for Palestinian rights, but expressed in clumsy and ambiguous language, which may unknowingly cross a line into antisemitism. Further cases are simply forthright expressions of support for Palestinian rights, which condemn Israeli government policy and aspects of Zionist ideology, and have nothing whatsoever to do with antisemitism. “                            

LABOUR DOES NOT HAVE A “PROBLEM WITH JEWS”

We are witnessing a wave of hysteria over claims that the Labour Party is rife with antisemitism and has a “problem with Jews.” We know this is not true. But there is indeed a problem.  It is a problem with people – Jewish and otherwise, inside and outside the party –  who wield antisemitism allegations as a stick to beat the Corbyn leadership, regardless of the damage caused.

Jeremy Corbyn and others have done their best to respond, rightly asserting their impeccable anti-racist credentials, treating specific allegations of antisemitism seriously, investigating them and taking appropriate measures. This is no more and no less than should happen with allegations of racism or discrimination of any kind.

But this has not satisfied those sections of the pro-Israel lobby orchestrating the attacks.

They have targeted Malia Bouattia, the first Muslim woman to be elected president of the National Union of Students, on the thinnest of pretexts and despite her consistently principled stance. Another victim has been Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) founder member and lifelong anti-racist Tony Greenstein, suspended from the Labour Party without even being informed of the charges against him. Now Naz Shah MP has been suspended on the basis of a few inappropriate social media posts which she evidently regrets – swiftly followed by Ken Livingstone because of his ill-chosen remarks in defending her.

Make no mistake – this campaign of vilification is intended to undermine Labour’s new leaders, because of their commendable record of supporting justice for Palestine. The wider aim is to crush support for the solidarity movement which is working to achieve for Palestinians basic rights that are endorsed by international legal bodies.

As Labour and Trade Union activists, we need to resist this witch hunt and assert the right to campaign in solidarity with all oppressed people, including Palestinians.

We urge labour movement organisations to:

 – Reiterate our strong commitment to combating all forms of racism and to defending those who are subjected to it. We actively oppose Islamophobia, prejudice against migrants and racism against ethnic and religious minorities, including anti-Jewish racism.

 – Reject the suggestion that questioning the Zionist ideology of the Israeli state and its supporters – both Jews and non-Jews – entails antisemitic prejudice. On the contrary, campaigning to end the injustices inflicted by Israel on the Palestinian people is in the very best traditions of the British Labour movement.

– Urge the Labour Party establishment to

  • listen to the many Jews who are outraged by the lie that Jews are not safe in the Labour Party;
  • cease victimising those who work for justice for Palestine;
  • adhere to fair practice and transparency when investigating charges against members;
  • call to order Labour Party members who bring the party into disrepute by spreading calumnies about widespread antisemitism in the party.
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Antisemitism smear campaign – our fightback begins

Jewish groups in solidarity with Palestine are getting together with other activists to fight back against the Zionist-led smear campaign alleging that questioning the state of Israel is antisemitic.

One result has been publication in the Independent Online of a letter with mainly Jewish signatories under the following headline:

First Muslim woman to lead UK’s students welcomed by Jewish community

Why has the new National Union of Students (NUS) President been targeted by “anti-Semitism” accusations, without any evidence? As a consistent opponent of all forms of racism including anti-Semitism, Malia Bouattia opposes Israel’s racist, illegal occupation of Palestine and supports effective campaigns to end it.

Her accusers have cited her negative comment about the University of Birmingham as “a Zionist outpost”, which is a political category like any other – and so irrelevant to religion or anti-Semitism. Indeed, the false equation ‘Jewish = Zionist’ comes from Israel’s supporters, not from the Palestine solidarity movement.

Malia Bouattia’s election as the first Muslim woman to head the NUS should be celebrated for bringing together resistance to class, racial, religious, gender and neocolonial oppression. Instead, she has been subjected to attacks that mirror those made against the Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader.

Israel is no longer believed when denying responsibility for its crimes against Palestinians, so now its supporters resort to silencing opposition to those crimes with blanket allegations of anti-Semitism. In both the NUS and Labour Party, the right wing loses its control over an organisation and then attempts to destabilise it, regardless of the damage done.

As mainly Jewish signatories, we congratulate Malia on her election.

Mike Cushman, Tony Greenstein, Deborah Fink, Les Levidow, Jenny Hardacre, Eleanor Kilroy, Richard Kuper, Leah Levane, Rachel Lever, Helen Marks, Jonathan Rosenhead, Ian Saville, Amanda Sebestyen, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi 

Two further letters from members of J-BIG appeared in the Guardian.

The comment by the president of Birmingham University Jewish Society that “when someone attacks Zionism they’re indirectly attacking Judaism as a religion, because the two go hand in hand” (Jewish students call for apology from head of NUS for ‘past rhetoric’, 22 April) makes a totally invalid equation. Zionism is a political project that indeed has the support of many Jews and some, particularly evangelical, Christians. But it has to be recognised as a political project and therefore must be open to criticism and opposition by both Jews and others. It cannot be regarded as beyond reproach. Such an approach would place it in a position similar to Communism within China: a state shibboleth that you risk prison to criticise.

It is also a mistake to believe that we cannot criticise Judaism as a religion. All religions must be open to scrutiny if they buttress patriarchy, homophobia, gross inequality, child exploitation or racism – as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and all others have been known to do.

Mike Cushman
Convenor, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods

The election of the first black woman as president of the NUS should be a matter for celebration, not recrimination. The fact that she is a secular, anti-racist Muslim should be an extra cause for joy.

It is a matter of regret that some Jewish students have put themselves alongside the tabloid press in their attacks on Malia Bouattia. I say some Jewish students, because those who are not Zionists or supporters of the Israeli state will not have signed their open letter.

Newspapers like the Mail and Express, which campaigned against the admittance of Jewish refugees in the 1930s, are now to the fore in attacking Malia. Their reasons are just as specious as when they were attacking the Jewish radicals of the East End in the last century. Malia stands, though she may not realise it, in the tradition of Rudolph Rocker, Aron Lieberman and the Jewish anarchists.

Malia has nothing to apologise for. Zionism is a political not a racial or ethnic category. That is why Jews have always been in the forefront of opposing this racist ideology. Her reference to Birmingham University being a “Zionist outpost” is no different than if someone was to refer to Sussex University as a radical or socialist outpost.

Let us hope that the Guardian can find it in it to welcome her election rather than joining in with the tabloid hue and cry.
Tony Greenstein

Antisemitism – The weapon of choice in the war on Labour’s Left

The last few months have seen the British establishment waging an hysterical witch hunt against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership and the pro-Palestinian movement. Their weapon of choice has been the charge that antisemitism – and support for terrorism – are rife on the Left, that Labour “has a problem with Jews,” that Jewish LP members are  frequently subjected to racist abuse and that the new Labour leadership has allowed intolerant Jew-haters to flood into the party.

The response from Corbyn’s team has been defensive and apologetic. They rightly assert their own anti-racist credentials, insist that antisemitism is a vile prejudice that is not permitted in the Labour Party and pledge to expel anyone found guilty of it. So far so good. But they have not hit back at the pro-Zionist lobby – Jewish and non-Jewish – which deliberately and maliciously seeks to associate Jew-hatred with criticism of Israel in the public mind. This feeble approach has to change.

Tony G

 J-BIG stalwart Tony Greenstein, Brighton-based socialist, anti-racist and anti-Zionist, has won an apology (they call it a “clarification”) from the Daily Telegraph for “implying” that he was an antisemite. Labour’s Compliance Unit has suspended him from membership without giving any reason, but apparently shared the information with the Telegraph. Tony explores the charges against him on his blog.

 

Jewish pro-Palestinian groups in London are currently working on a strategy to help stem the tide. Both at grass roots level and within the Labour hierarchy, there is a huge need for political education to communicate the following key points.

Genuine antisemitism exists and must be condemned, as we would any form of racism.

Zionists have worked so hard to damn any criticism of Israel as antisemitic, it’s tempting to reject such charges out of hand. But amidst the crazed pillorying of Corbyn’s team in the Mail Online, for example, there are some instances of actual expressions of racism against Jews by Labour supporters. These must be tackled with as much vigour as hatred of Blacks, migrants or Muslims – so comprehensively ignored by the pro-Israel lobby.

When the complainant is committed Zionist Louise Ellman MP, one can sympathise with Piers Corbyn (brother of Jeremy) who reportedly tweeted: “#Zionists cant cope with any-one supporting rights for #Palestine.” Never a truer word! But it gave ammunition for the Evening Standard to use in publicising charges from Labour’s conflicted candidate for Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. From a Muslim family, with a record of supporting causes such as the campaign to release Shaker Amer from detention in Guantanamo, and having been supported by Corbyn and leftwing former Mayor Ken Livingstone in his campaign for the candidacy, Khan now says he wears “a badge of shame” about antisemitism in the party and the leadership needs to be “trained on what antisemitism is.”

cityam.com sadiq khan

Credit: cityam.com

Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate in next month’s vote for Mayor of London, has publicly taken the side of pro-Israel Tories in alleging antisemitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party.

 

 

 

The Palestine solidarity movement has learned to its cost that it must be vigilant against antisemitism among its members. In a recent story in Haaretz about a defender of Holocaust deniers who has been  rejected by her local Labour Party, the paper referred to her as “the former secretary of the Camden branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.” Haaretz neglected to say that the person in question was dismissed from that position precisely because her views were incompatible with PSC’s anti-racist ethos.

Charges of antisemitism are very often designed to protect Israel from criticism, harm legitimate campaigns for Palestinian rights, especially Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), and undermine Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party under his leadership

Jonathan Arkush of the Board of Deputies (BoD) of British Jews has been vocal in accusing Corbyn of tolerating antisemitism, referring to “a stream of clear cut cases of antisemitism in the Labour party, which can’t just be fobbed off as differences over Israel.”

The stream is actually more of a trickle of cases, many referring to events in the distant past and many being far from clear cut. Most cases have attitudes to Israel and Zionism at their heart.

The Mail Online piece mixes some apparently nasty instances of genuine antisemitism with the staging in York of Caryl Churchill’s play Seven Jewish Children (“horrifically anti-Israel” according to the BoD), a Facebook post complaining that ‘leading Zionists’ were trying to take over a student Union and links with the website of Friends of Al-Aqsa – a respected part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

 

The increasingly high-profile, non-violent BDS campaign is a major priority for antisemitic branding by those determined to defend Israel. Jonathan Neumann of the so-called Jewish Human Rights Watch, writing in the Daily Telegraph in February, alleged that BDS is just a precursor to ISIS-style beheadings: “The anti-Semitic campaign to shun Israeli goods embodies the radicalism that threatens everyone .”

Then there is the oft-quoted example of the Oxford University Labour Club where co-chairman Alex Chalmers, who is not Jewish, resigned in February claiming that a ‘large proportion’ of the party’s undergraduate members have ‘some kind of problem with Jews’.

The most comprehensive statement of the club’s “problem with Jews” appeared after Chalmers resignation on the Twitter feed of the Oxford Jewish Society (JSoc).

Oxford JSoc antisemitism

If the statement is true, it does indicate there may have been some questionable behaviour and some ham-fisted attempts by pro-Palestine supporters to explain what they thought was, or was not, antisemitic. But the JSoc clearly doesn’t know what antisemitism is either, claiming that the word ‘Zio’ – frequently tossed around between Jewish anti-Zionist activists – belongs on neo-nazi websites and that Jenny Tonge – kicked off the Liberal Democrat front bench for expressing understanding for Palestinian militants – was expelled for antisemitism. This is a circular argument in which people conflating antisemitism with anti-Zionism denounce supporters of Palestine for having been previously denounced for antisemitism! It all goes back to Arkush’s “differences over Israel”.

There is substantial opposition among Jews to this cynical campaign. 

Jews are not an undifferentiated mass of pro-Israel supporters, nor have they ever been. Today they are certainly not united behind the witch-hunt again the pro-Palestinian Labour Left and the BDS movement.

Clear evidence for this appeared on the Guardian letters page after  Jonathan Freedland published a long piece retelling the story of a British Left riddled with anti-Jewish racism.

Leading Jewish pro-Palestine campaigners queued up to refute his allegations.

As one said: “…it is a betrayal of every Jew in history who fought for human rights and against oppression, and every Jew ever persecuted for being a Jew, to sling allegations of antisemitism every time anyone tries to stand up for Palestinian rights.”

Zionist beliefs are not the preserve of Jews alone.

There is a whole other story to tell about the origins of the Jewish Zionist movement in the second half of the 19th century, the attachment of many leading Christian intellectuals and politicians to the idea of Zionism and the relationship of both to antisemitism.

Today’s most vocal British Zionists include Justice Secretary Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles and Business Secretary Sajid Javid. Not a Jew among them.

In the USA the most ardent supporters of Israel are to be found not among the Democrat-voting Jews of the East Coast but among the millions of evangelical Christians in the South who believe all Jews must gather in Zion to usher in the Second Coming of Christ.

See elsewhere on this website for a briefing about Zionism and Antisemitism.

There is treasure trove of valuable background information on the website of Jews for Justice for Palestinians.