We need a union campaign against anti-semitism

Submitted by Matthew on 8 June, 2011 - 10:31

If the British National Party were tomorrow to issue a report saying that Israeli Jews were responsible for the “ritual slaughter” of a Christian priest — as part of an effort to ethnically cleanse Palestine of Christians — we’d probably not be shocked. The BNP are, after all, the legitimate heirs of the British Union of Fascists.

If the ultra-right party of Jean Marie La Pen in France were to denounce the European Union Monitoring Commission's (EUMC) definition of anti-semitism – because it implicated them as racists — we’d expect that of them. Much of what La Pen has said over the years puts him well within the EUMC definition of an anti-semite.

And if the former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Dukes, were to allege that Jews engaged in organ harvesting, deliberately killing non-Jews and then selling their organs — well, that would hardly be surprising. Dukes is notorious Holocaust denier, an honored guest in Tehran. We expect nothing less of him.

But if trade unions were to say any of these things, we might be a bit alarmed.

And trade unions have said all three recently.

Some unions in their rush to support the Palestinian cause have crossed red lines and adopted traditional anti-semitic images and messages.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions recently published a report of a delegation from NIPSA, the public sector union in Northern Ireland, to Israel and Palestine. The report is full of anti-Israel references, which was to be expected. But the report also includes, in passing, this account of the murder of a priest:

“He had been murdered with an axe in a ‘ritualistic’ manner on 16 November 1979 by Zionist settlers who wanted to cleanse the area of any trace of Christianity. Murdered whilst performing vespers, his eyes were plucked out and three of his fingers were cut off — the ones with which he made the sign of the Cross.” (The report neglects to mention that no one was actually arrested, let alone convicted, of this crime.)

The charge of ritual murder of Christians by Jews has deeply concerned the small Jewish community in Ireland.

Last week, the University and College Union conference and passed its usual resolution denouncing the Jewish state and calling for a boycott of Israel. But having come under fire in recent years for becoming a place where fewer and fewer Jewish academics felt comfortable, the UCU decided to do something about the allegations of anti-semitism.

It decided that it didn’t like the widely-accepted EUMC definition of anti-semitism and voted to reject it. This was replaced by… nothing. The union has basically said that anti-semitism doesn’t exist. That's how it coped with the allegations.

Jewish leaders issued a public call on the union not to take this course. Their call was ignored.

In Sweden, the trade unions own a daily newspaper, Aftonbladet, which ran a two-page feature article alleging that Israeli soldiers harvest organs from dead Palestinians. And the newspaper linked this horrific allegation to arrests in the New York area of some rabbis which involved the sale of a kidney.

Israelis were shocked, and so was the Swedish ambassador to the country, who denounced the article. But the unions that own Aftonbladet said nothing.

Is there a pattern emerging here?

It is one thing to be critical of this or that Israeli policy. One can call for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, or speak out against the separation barrier, or denounce the Israeli blockade of Gaza — and all of that is legitimate criticism of the Jewish state.

But when you start talking about Jewish ritual murders of Christian priests, or organ-harvesting by the Israeli army, or deny the very existence of anti-semitism — you’ve crossed a red line. Trade unions in Europe, including in the UK, are increasingly crossing that line.

It’s not enough that the Jewish community has spoken out on this. Trade unionists must speak out and say that enough is enough — that anti-semitism has no place in our movement and should be outcast.

It’s time for a trade union campaign against anti-semitism in the UK and Ireland.

Eric Lee


Submitted by Matthew on Wed, 15/06/2011 - 18:13

"Why on Earth is it anti-Semitic to mention this event [the murder of a priest in 1979]?" asks De Selby.

In itself it may not be but you've got to ask why a report from a delegation of Northern Irish trade unionists to Israel/Palestine in 2011 mentions it if it is not to whip up general hostilty to Israeli Jews by evoking mediaeval anti-semitic images.

"how is reporting this [allegations that the Israeli military have taken organs from dead Palestinians] anti-semitism?" asks Tom.

Again, in itself it may not be but it does seem to be intended to feed into the same mediaeval anti-semitic images. And there is also the question of exceptionalism here. If allegations of removing organs from dead Palestinians justifies denouncing the existence of Israel and calling for a boycott, why isn't the same call being made by these people for a boycott of China given the proven removal of organs that takes place in its prison system?

Submitted by DB on Wed, 15/06/2011 - 22:52

Matthew: "In itself it may not be but you've got to ask why a report from a delegation of Northern Irish trade unionists to Israel/Palestine in 2011 mentions it if it is not to whip up general hostilty to Israeli Jews by evoking mediaeval anti-semitic images."

That's not so much answering the question posed above as simply repeating Eric Lee's point again. And it appears to contain quite an assumption: that to even mention such reports is, in Eric Lee's words, to adopt "traditional anti-semitic images and messages". But the key issue, obviously, is what evidence there is to suggest that the incident actually happened. All that Lee has to say on this point is that "the report neglects to mention that no one was actually arrested, let alone convicted, of this crime." Is this intended as a criticism of the Israeli authorities for not taking such matters seriously, or is it implying that if a racially motivated crime doesn't lead to arrest or conviction, it must never have happened? As far as I'm aware (or have read online), the murder did happen. (I would happily stand corrected if someone provided further info. on it.) It's not good enough to simply assume (if anybody is) that because the "ritualistic" elements sound similar to anti-Semitic myths that they probably never happened, or should never be spoken of because they appear like anti-Semitic myths. Would Workers Liberty take the same approach towards reports of alleged crimes by Islamic fundamentalists if those reports happened to coincide with "medieval" stereotypes about Muslims?

As for why the Irish Congress of Trade Unions may wish to resurrect such matters, I haven't read the report so I don't know the context in which the quote appeared, but it is well known that the violent behaviour of some settlers is driven partially by the deeply reactionary strain of (fundamentalist) Judaism to which they subscribe. Given that the settlements themselves only exist on the basis of the Israeli state's awesome military power, I'd say it was pretty obvious why the Israeli ruling class bears responsibility and should therefore become the focus of criticism by socialists and trade unionists if such incidents take place -- especially when no arrests or convictions follow. As an example of racially/religiously motivated hatred, by settlers whose status and territory is defended and whose ideology and actions are tolerated by the Israeli authorities, it stands as a particularly brutal example of what the occupation entails. If it overlaps in any way with anti-Semitic myths, we shouldn't hesitate to distance ourselves from those who wish to appropriate such crimes for an anti-Semitic purposes, while pointing out that it is not necessarily anti-Semitic to raise such matters and condemn them.

Throwing accusations of anti-Semitism around is never helpful and smacks of petty moral/political point-scoring. Ironically, the position on anti-Semitism promoted by articles like this is almost identical to the SWP's position on Islamophobia, which is to make it so wide-ranging and all-encompassing as to be practically applicable to everything, regardless of context.


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