Letters

Submitted by AWL on 20 June, 2019 - 10:27

I’d like to comment on Martin Thomas’s tale of contrasted autistic students in his maths class (interview with Judy Singer, Solidarity 510).

For sure, the autistic students he describes are very different from each other — there is a significant contrast between Student A who needs just a little adjustment in order to participate, and Student B who does not participate but knits and occasionally shouts. But it is a leap of logic to automatically conclude from this that Student B is impaired.

Student B is certainly a lot more divergent than Student A: a lot more different from typical students. Classroom education is not working for Student B, and this will not be solved by a few adjustment. But wider divergence is not the same as impairment. It may be that this student is not suited to the teaching format or maybe to the classroom environment. It may be that s/he would learn well in a very different set-up — perhaps one-to-one, perhaps an element of self-teaching, perhaps being allowed to drive their learning through their own interests and habits (there is surely scope for learning maths via knitting?). Or it may be that this student is impaired.

My point is that we don’t know for sure just from observing that Student B is more divergent than Student A.

Janine Booth, Hackney

• In this actual case, Student B worked in the school’s Special Education Unit most of the time, and went to only a few regular classes. B was supposed to have a teacher aide from the SEU working with him when in regular classes: it just so happened that the teacher aide (when he turned up) chose to work with other students instead. More on the broader issues in next issue. MT

Who to be expelled?

This letter follows up on my previous one in Solidarity 510, on the “Willsman affair” in the Labour Party.

In an open letter to Jeremy Corbyn (Solidarity 497), Sean Matgamna advocated that, as well as political education, “the party should declare advocacy of the destruction of Israel … incompatible with membership of the Labour Party.

“Encoded versions of that policy — via ‘right of return’ for example — should not be tolerated in the labour movement. Advocacy of measures that are code for driving Israel out of existence — ‘right of return’, ‘from the river to the sea’, etc. — should not be tolerated in a healthy labour movement.”

He fleshes this out with caveats: “Holocaust mitigation, the idea that the Holocaust happened but it should be treated as if it is of no consequence in history, especially for understanding how Israel came into existence”, is common currency amongst “absolute anti-Zionists”.

“But things like that do not lend themselves to political warfare measures. Specific criticisms of Israel only become lethal and should be impermissible when they are used (as they too often are) to justify the conclusion that therefore Israel should not exist and that ‘we’ should side with Arab and Islamic states that try to put it out of existence.”

That is, not all antisemitism, or not all ideas descended from antisemitism, are grounds for expulsion – agreed. There are many ideas and actions that should not be tolerated, but for which we would not advocate expulsion, or other bureaucratic discipline.

It seems clear, however, that Sean was advocating expelling some “absolute anti-Zionists” from the Labour party. Aiming to clarify exactly where he thinks the line is, I had a useful and interesting discussion with him. As Sean reiterated to me, such ideas are linked to wider, widespread antisemitism, ideas of “good” and “bad” peoples, and it is all very blurry — hence the centrality of education.

“Left” anti-semites bring poison into our movement, making it less welcoming to Jews, undermining serious solidarity with the Palestinian people, and impeding the fight against capitalism. We must drive “left” antisemitism out of our movement, fight ideas tainted by it uncompromisingly. But beyond occasional individuals, this must be done through political education, and fostering an open atmosphere of debate that bureaucratic measures cut against.

Sean maintains that, while the line must be clear, he doesn’t advocate — unlike what you might reasonably interpret from his earlier open letter — that advocating the “right of return” or for a “single secular democratic state” are in themselves grounds for expulsion. I agree, such a bar would be too high.

Such ideas, in whatever form, are unfortunately widely supported on the far-left and Labour. But those that unknowingly transmit previously-encoded versions of “destroy Israel” should be treated qualitatively different from those who knowingly and consciously advocate it. Is Sean, then, advocating that everyone who clearly and openly advocates “destroy Israel”, inscribes it in plain text on their banners, be expelled?

In principle, yes. But, he continued, we don’t need answers for all of the fine details, all of the exact practicality. Responding to my concerns about bureaucratic responses to political issues, he observes that everything the Labour Party as it currently exists does will be bureaucratic. We aim to transform that, to bring about much wider changes, deeper democratic and political cultures. We need not take responsibility for the fine details of how the Really Existing Labour Party manages individual cases, absent any broader changes. More on other issues raised in another letter, next issue.

Mike Zubrowski, Bristol

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