Over the last year or so Jackie Walker has campaigned to present Labour politics as a drama centred on the alleged "lynching" of herself.
In May 2016 she was suspended from the Labour Party for allegedly antisemitic comments on Facebook. She was reinstated, and then suspended again in October 2016 for new comments (in public) found to be prejudicial by Jewish Labour members. Despite talk about the issue being "free speech on Israel", none of those comments were about Israel, still less were any of them statements of support for Palestinian rights.
Like many, she remains suspended without a clear date for a hearing. We have come out against her expulsion, and we argue for expeditious and prompt processes; but also indicted the unmistakable antisemitism around the counter-campaign by Walker and her friends.
Walker has a busy weekend ahead of her in Berlin on 9-10 February. On Friday she takes part in a Q&A session organised by Die Linke Internationals Group (non-Germans living in Berlin who are members or sympathisers of Die Linke political party). On Sunday she stars in her one-person play, “The Lynching”, in a performance organised by “Jewish Antifa and other organisations”.
On the Saturday (10 February) she is a platform speaker at an event entitled “In the Age of the Slanderers – An Ideological-Critical Intervention against the Instrumentalisation of Jews, Jewishness and the Jewish Catastrophe”, organised by the Project Critical Enlightenment (PKA).
The PKA, created in July of last year, describes itself as “a merger of Marxist left-wingers from Germany and Israel … a counter-reaction to pro-imperialist tendencies and other leanings towards right-opportunism, above all on the German left.”
The project is “particularly concerned about the anti-emancipatory endeavours, the ongoing betrayal of critical enlightenment, and the decay of political culture within left-wing movements, parties and the media.”
The “decisive factor” in this degeneration, according to the PKA, was “the collapse of real socialism in 1989/90”. This resulted in “the left, en masse, going from the side of the oppressed class to that of the oppressor class.”
This collapse of “real socialism” allowed the ruling classes to instrumentalise the Holocaust, in order to justify imperialist adventures: “Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Syria, the Gaza Strip, and perhaps Iran tomorrow, must be bombed not in spite of Auschwitz but because of it.”
Instrumentalisation of the Holocaust and of (allegations of) antisemitism has been used not just as a pretext for imperialist adventures abroad but also as an excuse for political repression at home:
“Critical Jews are subject to the wildest attacks. … The grotesque definition of antisemitism adopted by the German government in September (2017) is aimed at criminalising Jewish Marxists and other left-wingers critical of capitalism.”
For the PKA, Ulrike Meinhof’s “gloomy vision” of 1967 – “The new German fascism has learnt from its old mistakes. The route to victory for anti-communism is not to be against the Jews but to be with them.” – has “long become reality.”
(Meinhof was a left-wing journalist who ended up as an urban terrorist. She was no authority on antisemitism. In 1972 she hailed the murder of Israeli athletes in the Olympic Games in Munich and argued that the Nazis’ genocidal antisemitism was “anti-capitalist in nature”.)
Saturday’s event constitutes a kind of concentrated expression of the PKA’s politics.
It purports to explore how the ruling classes (especially in Israel, Germany and Britain) have instrumentalised “Jews, Jewishness and the Jewish Catastrophe” in order to pursue their own goals at home and abroad, with a section of the left falling in behind them.
The “slanderers” referred to in the title of the event are:
“Right-wing opportunists in left-wing and formerly left-wing parties, organisations and the media, who dance to the tune of western – and especially German – imperialism and promise themselves economic benefits and fat careers from doing so.”
Those who are “slandered” are:
“Marxist and other anti-capitalist left-wingers who, by their mere existence, constitute a counterpoint to these people. They hold up a mirror to them and show them that their betrayal and sell-out of emancipation and enlightenment is ugly and pathetic.”
Left-wing Jews are the foremost targets of the “slanderers”:
“Jewish left-wingers who hold firm to Marx and Engels’ postulate of transforming the world, and who conclude that the catastrophe which their collective suffered requires the struggle for a free society, have, of course, a particular moral authority. That is why the slanderers want to completely silence them with the dirtiest of methods.”
It is sure to be an event at which Jackie Walker – along with Moshe Machover (also speaking at it) and Ken Loach (sending solidarity greetings) – will feel in her element.
In the publicity for the event Jackie Walker portrays herself as one of “thousands” of Labour Party members suspended or expelled because of bogus accusations of antisemitism:
“How can supporters of the Palestinians get our message across when access to the media and the political arena is becoming increasingly blocked? Thousands have been expelled and suspended from the Labour Party using false allegations of antisemitism, including Ken Livingstone and myself.”
In his contribution to the publicity for the event Moshe Machover dismisses the very suggestion that a current of contemporary ‘anti-Zionism’ constitutes a form of antisemitism. Such an allegation is simply part of a Zionist conspiracy:
“The Zionist colonisation project and its settler state, Israel, are facing growing revulsion in progressive and left-wing public opinion. The Israeli propaganda machine is fighting back, and fighting dirty. It has invented a concept of ‘New Antisemitism’, which is directed against the left. … It targets non-Jews, particularly Germans.”
As a mere purveyor of solidarity greetings, Ken Loach has not been given an opportunity to add a statement of his own to publicity for the event.
This has deprived him of the opportunity of highlighting his own record of ‘combating’ the ‘instrumentalisation’ of antisemitism – from his endorsement of Jim Allen’s antisemitic play “Perdition” in 1987 to his refusal to condemn Holocaust denial in 2017 (only to say that his comments had, of course, been misrepresented).
The contributions from Walker, Machover and Loach will certainly be in tune with the event’s politics. Other speakers include:
- Ali Abunimah: Runs the Electronic Intifada website. Author of “One Country – A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse”.
- Avishai Ehrlich: Like Machover, a former member of Matzpen. Same politics as well: “They (‘the Zionists’) conflate antisemitism with anti-Zionism. Their definition of antisemitism is always subordinated to political expedience and they have no qualms about collaborating with racists, fascists, or even Nazis.”
- Moshe Zuckermann: Author of “Anti-Semite! An Accusation as an Instrument of Control”: “Never before has the construction of a connection between Zionism, Israel, Shoah, antisemitism and the Middle East been so fully instrumentalised, perfidiously enjoyed, and shamefully misused.”
- Rolf Becker: German equivalent of Ken Loach. Always available to support worthy causes, including the International Committee in Defence of Slobodan Milosevic and campaigns about Ukraine which make no mention of Russian aggression.
(Becker, who laments the collapse of “the socialist states”, also rejects the possibility of resurgent fascism in Germany. As he explained in an interview of 2012: “After Stalingrad, they (German fascists) won’t be marching again. Defeated peoples are good learners.” Clearly a man with a lot to offer by way of “critical enlightenment”.)
But what best sums up the event’s politics is the poem which the PKA has chosen to include in the event’s title – “In the Age of the Slanderers” – and the politics of the author of that poem.
“In the Age of the Slanderers was written by the Austrian Jew Erich Fried in the early 1980s. Along with other poems by the same author, it has enjoyed a veritable renaissance among the German ‘anti-Zionist’ left in recent years.
When “anti-nationals” and “anti-Germans” (a strange current on the German Left, with no equivalent in Britain) protested against a pro-Palestine event in Frankfurt last June, for example, a solidarity statement was prefaced by the full poem.
The statement was issued in support of the meeting and its main speaker, Moshe Zimmermann, by Rolf Becker and Esther Bejarano. The latter is also sending a message of solidarity to this Saturday’s event, at which Zuckermann and Becker are speaking.
Apart from being a permanent fixture on a number of German ‘anti-Zionist’ websites and blogs, the poem has also been deliberately selected by the PKA for inclusion in the title of Saturday’s event:
“As early as the beginning of the 1980s the poet Erich Fried complained about the stigmatisation of Jewish left-wingers as ‘red antisemites’ by ‘spokespersons for the West’. He described his times, characterised by the first stages of neo-liberal radicalised capitalism, as ‘the age of the slanderers’.
What began at that time as angry polemics has now become a complex of character assassination and bans, initiated by the established political parties and the (far-right) AfD, neo-conservative ‘anti-Germans’ and ‘anti-nationals’, and Christian fundamentalists, and propagated by the hegemonic media.”
In his poem Fried bemoaned the fact that an undefined “they” denounce him as “a Jewish antisemite” and a “traitor to his people”. All he had done, he lamented, was to have criticised Israel’s repression of Palestinians and to have spoken out against Jews who had remained silent.
But the accusations levelled against Fried had a basis in reality: In his later years Fried consistently equated Israel with Nazi Germany, Zionism with Nazism, and Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians with the Holocaust.
According to Fried, Theodor Herzl’s “The Jewish State” provided the model for Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”. Zionists, he wrote, “imitate Nazi patterns of behaviour”. What distinguished “the Israelis” from the Nazis was that the former “had not yet built any gas chambers”.
Zionists were responsible for the growth of antisemitism: “The mixing up of antisemitism and anti-Zionism is the fault of the Zionists. … They themselves generate antisemitism in parts of Asia, the Americas and Africa where there has never been antisemitism.”
Fried also shared Loach’s enthusiasm for “Perdition”. He was quoted in the letter Loach sent to the “Guardian” in defence of the play: “The writer Erich Fried, many of whose family were murdered by the Nazis, wrote: ‘I am envious I have not written this play myself. To accuse the play of faking history or anti-Jewish bias is monstrous.’”
According to Fried’s poem “Zionist Terror in Palestine”, Zionists were “Swastika apprentices”. “The Star of David on your flags” was morphing ever more quickly into “the cursed sign with the four feet, which you do not want to see, but whose path you are following today.”
(Fried’s ‘anti-Zionist’ ‘poetry’ was so crass that it loses nothing in the translation.)
In another poem (“A Jew to the Zionist Fighters”) Fried asked Zionists whether they really wanted to be “the new Gestapo, the new Wehrmacht, the new SA and SS, making Palestinians into the new Jews.” “Fascist murderers” (i.e. Zionists) were “murdering Palestinians just as Jews were murdered at that time.”
“In the Age of the Slanderers” was written in the same vein. In its closing lines Fried looked forward to a time when Israel had been defeated. As had been the case with Germans after the defeat of Nazi Germany, “the Jews left over after this madness” would look for Jews who “did not co-operate but who warned.”
“More importantly”, the poem continued: “Would any Jews still be living in Palestine, escapees from the extermination, which they themselves helped bring about, through their injustice, in my age?”
Fried’s irreconcilable opposition to ‘Zionists’ (which effortlessly elided into hostility to “the Israelis” and “Jews”) contrasted with his conciliatory attitude towards contemporary neo-Nazis.
When Michael Kuhnen, Germany’s then leading neo-Nazi (although the prefix “neo-“ is largely superfluous), was awaiting trial in 1985, Fried visited him in prison and offered to appear in court as a character witness for him.
Kuhnen, wrote Fried, had made “a positive impression” on him. He had spoken up “in support of the SA but not in support of the SS.” It was “inconceivable that he should be branded a criminal.” Kuhnen “understood himself, at least subjectively, to be a social revolutionary.”
Fried enthusiastically reported that Kuhnen had accepted that it was “possible” that mass murder had been in the Nazi concentration camps. He was equally enthusiastic about the nuanced approach to antisemitic graffiti taken by Kuhnen’s organisation:
“Its members are banned from daubing swastikas on graves and places of worship. But in the case of synagogues, an exception is made for that part of the synagogue which is not the place of worship but the meeting room. Graffiti on the walls there is permitted.”
In an interview after his release from prison, when he was again busy building neo-Nazi organisations, Kuhnen recalled his meeting with Fried:
“I had a very high opinion of him, because he was fair and decent. An exception-Jew (“Ausnahmejude”). For me, he was convincing as a Jew just as much as an anti-Zionist. He significantly corrected the hatred towards Jews in our movement.
We spoke about the Jewish question. About what had happened to his grandmother in the camp. Whether she had simply died or been gassed. We talked for hours.”
In the same interview this person who had made such a “positive impression” on Fried said:
“When we celebrate the 100th birthday of Adolf Hitler on 20th April 1989, we will bestow new glory on this clothing [i.e. uniforms]: the same material, the same brown as at that time. …
The basic principles of life should never be forgotten: Struggle, Selection, Power. … We are not tolerant. National socialism excludes all other ideas. It is the only life-affirming philosophy.
Germans and Jews were at war with one another, because Jewry was just as much a world power intent on war. If that were to be finally and honestly accepted, then peace talks could be started and a just peace be concluded.
But as long as Jewry insists that it was an innocently persecuted religious community, there will be no reconciliation. Who is the victim, who is the perpetrator?”
Fried defined himself as “a better Jew than those chauvinists and Zionists.”
But his critics disagreed: he began a sentence with the words “as a Jew” only for the purpose of distancing himself from other Jews; he was “an alibi-Jew” and a “bonus-Jew”; and the leitmotif of his later ‘poetry’ was the forerunner of contemporary antisemitic tropes.
Choosing an ‘anti-Zionist’ poem by Erich Fried – and singling out his “In the Age of Slanderers” – for the title of this Saturday’s event therefore makes perfect sense: The politics of the poem and its author sum up the politics of the event.
Just specifically on Ken Loach, if you watch the interview referred to you will see that he was ambushed with the (as it turned out false) accusation that there had been holocaust denial at a meeting he hadn't attended and he essentially declined to comment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLXgOCIb0XQ
"Perdition" meanwhile, was inspired specifically by the Kasztner case. Kasztner was actually assassinated by right wing Zionists in 1957 on the grounds that he had collaborated with the Nazis in Hungary by sending some Jews to the camps even while enabling others to escape to Palestine. I haven't seen or read the play and I'm fairly sure neither have most of the people commenting on it. Ken Loach's son-in-law Elliot Levey, who is Jewish, put on a production in 1999 and says it's pro-Jewish. Taking it as read that it's "anti-Semitic" therefore seems an assumption too far.
I know nothing of Erich Fried or of the RAF's line on the holocaust; I wonder if there's cherrypicking and distortion going on there too? While it certainly is valuable to identify and call out anti-Semitism on the left, which demonstrably does exist, AWL's choice of targets, and ungenerous interpretation of others' arguments, often strikes me as sectarian and unhelpful.