Challenging anti-Semitism on Gaza demonstrations

Submitted by AWL on 28 July, 2014 - 12:44 Author: Daniel Randall

On the 26 July London demonstration against Israel's assault on Gaza, I confronted a man who was carrying a placard which read “Research: The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion”, with an image of a Star of David, dripping blood, with “666” in the centre.

The Protocols are an anti-Semitic forgery dating from Tsarist Russia, which purport to expose a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world. They were used in their time, and have been used since, to whip up racist hatred, often violent, against Jews.

I told the man that racism had no place on the demonstration, that his presence harmed the Palestinian cause, and that the document he was promoting was a racist hoax. In the course of what was probably a not very coherent tirade from me, I mentioned that I was Jewish.

“Well, you're blinded by your bias because you're a Jew”, he said. “Only Jews make the arguments you're making.”

Thereafter the “discussion” became more heated, and several onlookers were drawn in. Several people backed me up, but several defended him.

Their defences ranged from, “he's opposing Zionists, not Jews”, to “he's not racist, Zionism is racist!”, to the perhaps more honest “Jews are the problem. If you're a Jew, you're racist, you're what we're demonstrating against.” One man, topless, but wearing a balaclava, said “fuck off, unless you want your fucking head kicked in.”

I walked away, angry and upset. I returned a short while later to find the placard-holder embracing two young men, before leaving. When me and some comrades challenged them, they told us he wasn't anti-Semitic, merely anti-Zionist. “Look, it says 'Zion'”, not 'Jews'. 'Zion' means Zionists”, one helpfully informed us.

Explicit anti-Jewish racism of the kind displayed on the man's placard has been rare on Palestine solidarity demonstrations in Britain. But the fact that it was present at all, and that it could find even a handful of defenders in a crowd of other demonstrators, is deeply worrying. Pointing to its rarity, and dismissing the problem as restricted solely to fringe elements, would be to bury one's head in the sand. As recent events in France and Germany have shown, it is an undeniable fact that there are anti-Semites in the global Palestine solidarity movement, and ones prepared to violently express their anti-Semitism. That must not be allowed to infect the movement in Britain.

I don't know how easy a ride the man and his placard had on the demonstration before myself and others confronted him. Had official stewards of the march seen the placard, and challenged him? Perhaps he'd spent all day under attack from other demonstrators; I hope so. But when I found him, he was perfectly at his ease, and, as it turned out, surrounded by friends. That is a disappointment. If people with such politics want to attend solidarity demonstrations to peddle them, they should find themselves isolated, and face constant harangue. They shouldn't be entitled to a moment's peace.

While outward displays of “classical” anti-Semitism are rare, subtler themes are more common. Placards and banners comparing the Israeli state to Nazism, and its occupation of Palestine to the Holocaust, and images melding or replacing the Star of David with swastikas, are, while far from universal, relatively commonplace. The politics of this imagery, too, has an anti-Semitic logic.

Nazism and the Holocaust – an experience of attempted industrialised genocide, just two generations distant – left deep scars on Jewish identity and collective cultural memory and consciousness, wounds that will take a long time to heal. As others have written recently, no other ethno-cultural group has the most traumatic experience in its history exploited in this way. “Zionism = Nazism”, “Star of David = Swastika”, and “The Occupation = The Holocaust” all use collective cultural trauma as a weapon to attack Jews. The fact that those who take such placards on demonstrations intend only to target the Israeli government, and not Jews in general, is no defence or excuse. The barbarism of Israeli state policy does not make the Jewishness of its government fair game, any more than Barack Obama's imperialism excuses racist attacks on him.

To describe the Palestinian solidarity movement, as such, as “anti-Semitic” would be a calumny. Cynics and right-wingers have attempted to use incidents of anti-Semitism to extrapolate conclusions about the politics of all marchers, or to imply that any support for the Palestinians at all is somehow anti-Semitic. Such cynical extrapolations are not my intention with this article. Undoubtedly, the vast majority of marchers attended because they want to oppose Israel's current assault on Gaza. The movement includes many Jews (and not just the theocratic reactionaries of Neturei Karta, but secular-progressive Jews too), and many sincere anti-racists. But a situation where anyone thinks it appropriate to carry such a placard, where he can find supporters, and where such people can openly racially abuse Jewish demonstrators who challenge them, is not tolerable and must be addressed.

Right-wingers in the Jewish community will use instances of anti-Semitism to discredit the Palestinian cause, and dissuade Jews from acting to support it. On this, instrumental, level, anti-Semitism harms the Palestinians. But racism should have no place in any solidarity movement, not because it's bad PR, but because the politics of solidarity should be anathema to any form of racism.

It is now common in the left-wing blogosphere for articles which contain potentially traumatic content to carry “trigger warnings”, alerting those who have experienced particular traumas that something in the article might trigger painful memories of their experience. To attend a demonstration where Nazism and the Holocaust, the worst and most traumatic of Jewish collective experience, is used as a cheap propaganda tool, and openly anti-Semitic placards are carried and defended, while those challenging them are racially abused, must surely be “triggering” for many Jews. But we can't put trigger warnings on demonstrations, or on life. All we can do is work to win hegemony for a political culture where such things are confronted and stamped out.

Finally, a “historical” note on placards on Palestine solidarity demonstrations. In 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, some Workers' Liberty members in Sheffield (three of us, incidentally, Jewish) took placards on a demonstration against the assault which, amongst other things, said “No to IDF, no to Hamas.” As it happens, I now think, for various reasons, that our slogan was misjudged. But no-one attempted to engage us in debate or discussion about it; we were simply screamed at, called (variously) “scabs” and “Zionists”, and told we must immediately leave the demo (we didn't). Our placards were ripped out of our hands and torn to pieces.

As I say, I don't know how many people had challenged the racist placard on the 2014 London demonstration before me; several, I hope. But the political atmosphere on the demo was evidently not such that the man carrying it felt unwelcome – and, indeed, when he was challenged, many people leapt to his defence.

I don't make the comparison in order to express a wish that what happened to us in 2009 had happened to him in 2014. I wouldn't particularly advocate physically destroying the man's placard, or attempting to physically drive him and his supporters off the demonstration. But a movement in which “no to IDF, no to Hamas” is considered beyond the pale even for debate and discussion, and must be violently confronted, but a placard promoting The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion can be carried without challenge, even for a moment, and its carrier find numerous defenders, needs to change its political culture.


Submitted by AWL on Mon, 28/07/2014 - 13:31

The Harry's Place blog features a picture of a protester carrying a sign saying "Hitler you were right" on one of the recent Gaza demonstrations in London.

We oppose the politics of Harry's Place, but so far we can see no evidence to suggest that the picture is not real and the description accurate.

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 28/07/2014 - 14:41

In November 2011 we came across the Protocols being sold on a Morning Star bookstall: see here.

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 28/07/2014 - 16:58

Submitted by AWL on Wed, 30/07/2014 - 11:14

Thanks for the comments; there's a lot to respond to here, but for now a note on political terminology.

1. Anti-semitism

I think it's pretty clear that "anti-semitism" means "anti-Jewish racism or bigotry". I don't think the fact Arabs are also semitic is of much relevance as people know what the term means. The Israeli government and its defenders are perfectly capable of branding people (justly and unjustly) as anti-Jewish whether or not the term "anti-semitism" is used. The only thing I'd add is that "anti-semitism" has some advantages as it covers both racism and less straightforwardly racist but still bigoted attitudes to Jews and Judaism - in somewhat the same way that one can talk about anti-Muslim racism and also anti-Islamic bigotry or Islamophobia. But fundamentally anti-semitism = anti-Jewish racism.

2. Anti-Zionism

The vast majority of Israelis call themselves Zionists - from the leaders of the regime waging war on Gaza to many of those jailed for refusing to serve against the Palestinians. The same goes for a very big proportion, maybe a majority, of the world's Jewish people, again with a huge range of views on Israeli government policy. So the label doesn't tell you much. And "anti-Zionist" is used to blur between opposition to the policies and actions of the Israeli state and the right of an Israeli nation to exist as an independent state if a majority of its people want (which they clearly do).

I'm against Zionism because I'm against nationalism, not because I think Israeli nationalism is uniquely evil.

Better to say "anti-Israeli nationalism", "anti-Israel imperialism", "against the oppression of the Palestinians" and so on. Unless of course you think Israel has no right to exist, but then make that argument!

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by AWL on Wed, 30/07/2014 - 13:20

In line with our editorial policy on this website - "We operate no political censorship, but we reserve the usual editorial right to delete or cut comments which are racist or sexist; advertising; abusive; excessive in volume; or otherwise inappropriate." - we have deleted the comment above praising the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Submitted by Barry Finger on Wed, 30/07/2014 - 21:19

Are you against Zionism, Sacha, simply because you are against all nationalisms? Or are you against Zionism, for the additional reason that Zionism advances a program of Judeo-ethni
c hegemony in a binational context? Yes, of course, there are a huge variety of differences in how Zionists orient to this or that Israeli government, this or that policy and this or that war. Some favor a social-democratic economy, some capitalism. Some favor a soft liberal approach, making concessions to accommodate Palestinian rights where possible, some prefer the cudgel. Some Zionists would favor making Palestinian life more bearable; some would pressure them to “voluntarily” depart.

But no version of Zionism, left or right, that I am aware of offers the Palestinians of Israel the prospects for full national equality and political integration. Zionists who seek such justice eventually break with Zionism. Some emerge as nonZionists such as Uri Avnery; some as revolutionary anti-zionists such as Matzpen.

This is indicative of the fact that Zionism is not merely a form of nationalism, but a specifically reactionary form of Israeli nationalism. It is a form that never has or will have any traction with Israeli Arabs. The AWL admirably distinguishes itself on the far left by its unique sensitivity to Jewish history and its appreciation for the understandable desire of Israeli Jews to be the masters of their fate. But this should not divert us from insisting that this desire be balanced and harmonized with the democratic demand for equal rights and justice for the other national constituency of Israel.

In every other regard the AWL implicitly realizes this. It rightfully calls for Arab-Jewish unity and for a two-state approach to reconciliation. It sees the larger picture, but evades its reflection in the Israeli microcosm. 20% of Israel’s population is Arab and that population is consigned to second-class status, both as individuals and as a national community. All Israeli workers are, of course, exploited. But Jewish workers enjoy national privileges that afford them material benefits. Embedded within the Israeli class structure is a Zionist caste system. Palestinians cannot be realistically expected to sign on to a class-struggle program that does not address the specific communal grievances that are baked into that system. That is why they gravitate to their own national parties and to the Communists. They are excluded from that Zionist consensus by design.

Zionism, therefore, requires a far more critical evaluation than Sacha’s statements seem willing to go.

Let us by all means defend Israel’s right to exist. But let’s do so without shrugging our shoulders at Jewish chauvinism. They are separable and it is our democratic obligation to point out why.

Submitted by AWL on Wed, 30/07/2014 - 21:23

Hi Barry,

Is there any nationalism which is not on some level chauvinist or which does not have chauvinistic tendencies? It must be so historically unusual, certainly unusual in today's world, as to justify the statement above you query.

Let me be clear (and repeat): I am against Zionism, because I am against nationalism. One reason I am against nationalism is that every nationalism will in the right circumstances develop chauvinist and ethnically exclusivist tendencies.

Of course, as we do for all countries, we should advocate that all citizens of Israel have equality of citizenship, and that the state is institutionally a state of its citizens, not of one ethnic group. Given the composition of Israel's population this is obviously very important, and implies a sort of binational state, Jewish and Arab.

(And of course I am not "equally against" eg Zionism and Palestinian nationalism. But that distinction between oppressor and oppressed nationalisms is surely a different issue from the one we're discussing.)

Let me know where you think we disagree.


Submitted by AWL on Thu, 31/07/2014 - 00:47

Hi Alex,


Firstly, thank you for also confronting anti-Semitism on the demo. I am really very glad that you and others joined in with me. I'm also glad that you've read my article in the spirit it was intended - i.e., one of concern for the political health of the Palestine solidarity movement because I want there to be a large, vibrant, assertive, movement in solidarity with the Palestinian cause, in which Jewish people can also participate and feel welcome.


I'm sure you're right that many of the people who defended the guy did so out of ignorance rather than because they were conscious anti-Semites. As you say, that's why it's necessary to challenge and confront instances of anti-Semitism, and to write and circulate articles like this, and I'm glad you were able to engage with those folks a bit more on Saturday. Your experience, it seems to me, shows why it's worthwhile actually challenging and confronting this stuff when we see it, and hopefully you've helped educate some people in quite a meaningful and direct way.


(As an aside, though, speaking as a secular-atheist Jew, I'd be wary about seeing too much positivity in the "True Jews" stuff - the implication of that, it seems to me, is that self-proclaimed "Torah True" Jews like e.g. Neturei Karta are okay, but the rest of us are under suspicion. I actually think the way Neturei Karta are fetishised and fawned over in the movement is also hugely problematic, and in a weird way also has some anti-Semitic implications; I'd reccommend my comrade Tom's article about that, here.)


Your "hunch", about people adopting potentially-anti-Semitic slogans or imagery as some kind of act of defiance against the Israeli state's sometimes-cynical use of accusations of anti-Semitism to attempt to silence their critics, may well be right. But while this may explain it, it doesn't excuse it (not to imply that you were excusing it, of course), and I think we need to delve a bit deeper to explore why anti-Semitic, or potentially anti-Semitic, tropes, images, and political ideas do surface on Palestine solidarity demos. Why is it that anti-Semitic themes and images are seen by anyone as an acceptable form of "defiance"? What are the politics that encourage that? I'll try and go into my thoughts on that a bit later on.


People like "Placard Man" are probably marginal cranks, and it's tempting to dismiss them on that basis. Frankly, even if they are only that, I'm still in favour of challenging and confronting them - when else do socialists, or progressive people, see instances of racism and respond by saying "oh, they're just a marginal crank, don't make a fuss?" (Alex, I don't think you're saying that, but there is something in the comment from Charli above yours which suggests some of that attitude.) Even marginal instances of racism from "nutters", to use Charli's term, need to be confronted.


So, Alex, if you're still reading, thanks for confronting "Placard Man" on the demo, and thanks for challenging and engaging with some of the people who backed him up. Thanks for your thoughtful comment above, and hopefully you'll read the rest of this in the same spirit you read my original article.


Moving on from a direct reply to Alex, I wanted to make some wider points (partially in response to Charli, but also just because I'm thinking things through) about these issues. I actually think to dismiss anti-Semitism in the movement as the sole preserve of "nutters" would be to misidentify the problem. As I pointed out in the article, there is other political imagery which is more widespread (e.g. "Israel = Nazis") which I think also has anti-Semitic implications, even if they're not consciously thought through by the people using it.


But beyond this, and I realise this is probably more contentious, I think there's a deeper-seated problem. I think some of the fairly widely-accepted political common sense of the movement, while not anti-Semitic in the sense of straightforward anti-Jewish racism, at the very least implies an "exceptionalising" (is that a word? Hopefully it's clear what I mean by it; "making an exception of") attitude to Israel, Israeli-Jews, and, often, because of the quite complex position Israel occupies in the ethno-cultural identity of many (perhaps most) Jews worldwide, to Jews in general.


I don't mean to imply by this that, because most Jews in the world "support Israel" in some sense (ranging from people who are rabidly-nationalist supporters of its government through to people who despise its government but believe in the existence of an Israeli-Jewish state in some form), any criticism of Israel is necessarily anti-Semitic. Even if 100% of the world's Jews were 100% for the war on Gaza, the war would obviously still be wrong and opposition to it wouldn't become anti-Semitic on that basis.


But I feel the discourse and rhetoric of some Palestine solidarity politics (I'm talking in the first instance about the discourse shaped by the revolutionary left) "exceptionalises" Israel by treating it in a way no other contemporary state is really treated; it is not the only state in the world engaged in a brutal colonial subjugation of another nation, nor is it the only one doing so with US/UK backing and money. The Israeli-Jewish nation, which is a "nation" by any Marxist understanding of the term (in the sense of being a people bound by common identities, language, shared cultural and historical experience, etc., as well, crucially, as being internally class-differentiated) and not just a narrow "settler caste" like the white South Africans or the French in Algeria, is the only nation for whom the left advocates that the principle of national self-determination should not apply.


Israel's colonial project in Palestine is barbaric and illegitimate, but the discourse of the left, which in many ways shapes the general political culture of the Palestinian solidarity movement goes beyond this, and sees as essentially historically-illegitimate the entire Israeli-Jewish presence in the region, regarding it as an exclusively settler presence, which elides the reality that a substantial Jewish population in historic Palestine was created not by colonial settlers emigrating to exploit "the natives", but by refugees from genocide who often had literally nowhere else to go and who had the doors of many other countries shut in their faces. Israel is a "settler state" in one sense, but in another, it is what Isaac Deutscher called a "life-raft state" for refugees from Nazism.


Now, none of that in any sense justifies, or mitigates the horror, of the Israeli state's brutalisation of the Palestinians. But I think the elision of that history, and its complete collapsing into narratives of "colonial settlement" (which were only one dynamic in the history of Jewish migration to Palestine and the foundation of the state of Israel) displays, at the very least, an insensitivity towards the specificities of Jewish experience and identity.


Is it "anti-Semitism"? Not in the sense of conscious anti-Jewish racism, no. But those exceptionalising and ahistorical attitudes do, in my opinion, create a political atmosphere in which opposition to Israel can very easily bleed into more generalised hostility to Jews. I think Charli's anecdote about having to talk people down from an enthusiasm to boycott, or otherwise mobilise against, "Jewish shops" is a good example of that. Because if a politics based on that level of exceptionalisation and ahistorical elision is your starting point, and then you look around you and see the manifest reality that many, perhaps most, Jews do seem to have some degree of support for Israel, even if that support isn't a political support for Israeli government policy, I imagine it doesn't require a massive ideological leap to start thinking that Jews in general - rather than simply "Zionists", or, more accurately, supporters of the Israeli government - are basically fair game. That's not the same as racist hatred of Jews, but I think it is a subtle form of anti-Semitism. In that context, while "Placard Man" himself might remain a crank, there is a certain wider atmosphere in which harder forms of anti-Semitism might, if left unchecked, take root and spread.


I'm not saying that anyone who wants there to be a single-state solution/settlement in Israel/Palestine is borderline-anti-Semitic. There are versions of single-state formulas which are sensitive to Jewish history/experience, and accept the legitimacy of Israeli-Jewish presence in historic Palestine, or at least the impossibility and undesirability of rewinding it. I think Edward Said held a version of this position, advocating a binational Jewish-Arab state in the whole of historic Palestine. That view is obviously not anti-Semitic, and in fact it's one I have some instinctive sympathy with; I just think it's utopian. But that is not the version of one-state politics which dominates the political terrain of Palestine solidarity in Britain, and certainly not the version that is held by many left groups.


One might argue, and perhaps understandably so, that this is all "overthinking" things. The vast majority of marchers don't consciously carry in their heads the programmatic perspectives of, say, the SWP on Israel/Palestine. One might also argue that I'm overstating the influence of e.g. the SWP in shaping the culture of the movement, and eliding other elements (e.g. people from Muslim communities, who, given the left's lack of a base in those communities, may never have come in contact with far-left politics.) I have no doubt whatsoever that a large proportion of people on the demo simply when because, on the level of basic human solidarity and compassion, they are outraged and appalled by what an immensely powerful nation is doing to an immiserated and brutalised people, and want to do something active to express their outrage. They're right to do so. And it's probably also worth saying that whenever I've explained our (AWL's) views on Israel/Palestine - for a two-states settlement, for workers' unity, etc. - to "ordinary" folks, from Muslim backgrounds and others, who haven't necessarily been mobilised by the far left, I've very rarely encountered the kind of holy terror one often gets if you tell an SWPer, or someone influenced by them, that you're for two states.


But I think it's an undeniable fact that the Palestine solidarity movement in the UK as a "political space", so to speak, is hegemonised by e.g. the SWP, and others with a similar perspective (i.e., a particular version of one-state politics based on an elision of Israeli-Jewish history into a solely "colonial settler" narrative, exceptionalisation of Israel, etc.), so to a large extent those perspectives do define what's in the political ether of the movement.


A large part of the problem, in fact, is that these politics are often not spelled out explicitly, and are indeed subsumed into a general "anti-Israel clamour", to use Charli's phrase, which I think also helps some quite unsavoury politics fester and grow within that "clamour". Less "clamour" and more political clarity would be a big step forward, and would help us really get to the bottom of whether anti-Semitism in the movement is just coming from cranks who can easily be marginalised and driven off, or is at least on some level incubated or enabled by dynamics within a more widespread politics.


None of this should obscure the central dynamic in Israel/Palestine itself: the colonial subjugation of the Palestinians by the Israeli state. But ultimately, if the Palestine solidarity movement exists to do anything, it's to help end that subjugation. So the questions of how it can be ended, and what might come after it, are of immediate political significance.


So I guess it comes down to this: Charli says "the most important thing" is "adding to the anti-Israeli clamour." Well, I simply don't agree. I'm a revolutionary socialist; I don't want some politically undifferentiated "anti-Israel clamour", I want a movement of internationalist solidarity with the Palestinians against Israeli occupation, on a political basis that can actually have an impact and hope to advance a better alternative. I do not think the exceptionalising and ahistorical politics which see any expression of Israeli-Jewish self-determination as uniquely reactionary can possibly aid a progressive outcome. A working-class internationalism, sensitive to the specificities of Jewish history, which acknowledges the national rights of both the Israeli-Jewish and the Palestinian-Arab nations, and sees workers' unity as the path to a settlement that can ultimately supersede both "one-state" and "two-state" formulas, perhaps can.


That's a long post. I've tried to go into a bit of detail because I want to make myself understood. To reiterate, I do not think the Palestine solidarity movement, as such, is "anti-Semitic", that most marchers are, or (least of all) that supporting the Palestinians is in some sense anti-Semitic by default. I also hope that people who disagree with me and AWL in programmatic terms about the issue would agree that any expression of anti-Semitism, however formulated and whatever its roots, needs to be explicitly challenged. I know many of them do. But if we're going to discuss these issues seriously, as I think we should, then we should take the time to spell out what we actually think, which I've tried to do here.




PS: Barry, I'd like to reply to you on Zionism here too, but I feel I've already gone on too long! We'll continue by email, maybe.


PPS: Sorry for doing this weird thing and separating my paragraphs with hyphens; I can't get the HTML coding to work for some reason, so when I posted the comment it showed up as continuous text with no paragraph breaks, and this was the only way I could find of actually breaking it up to make it (hopefully, marginally) more readable.

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 31/07/2014 - 10:32

See here. (Its thumbnail image is the far-right Jewish fundamentalists Neturei Karta, whose politics are summed up by the recent action in London in support of Hungarian fascist Jobbik's "anti-Zionist" campaign.)

Submitted by davidosler on Thu, 31/07/2014 - 18:14

Sacha, are you/the AWL 'against all nationalism'? Don't you make the traditional distinction between the nationalism of the oppressor and the nationalism of the oppressed? Do you reject the idea that sometimes common cause is possible between revolutionary
socialists and revolutionary nationalists?

Submitted by AWL on Thu, 31/07/2014 - 20:02

Hi Dave,

Above I wrote:

"And of course I am not "equally against" eg Zionism and Palestinian nationalism. But that distinction between oppressor and oppressed nationalisms is surely a different issue from the one we're discussing."

I do think there is a difference between the nationalism of the oppressed and the nationalism of the oppressor - though Israeli nationalism is an odd oppressor nationalism (given the history I can understand more why its people feel attachment than eg British nationalism) the basic point still holds to some extent. And yes I do think socialists can ally with revolutionary nationalists while remaining strictly independent. The independence bit probably implies that the revolutionary nationalists are at least to a degree secular and democratic.


Submitted by John D on Mon, 18/08/2014 - 09:51

It is always saddens me when I listen to the nonesense people come out with about the origins of Zionism. They (you?) really don't get it.

The origin of it all is the recognition by a large portion of the Jewish nation in eastern Europe around the 1880's that it was all over. You convert, you join the revolution, you get up and leave, or you die. A few converted, a few more joined and made the revolution*, some died and lots and lots just shifted. And those that shifted moved mostly to the west, as far west as they could.
(* Common in-joke: What is the first task of the Revolution once power has been successfully seized? You purge the Jews of the Central Committee, then the party, then the country.)

Herzl saw that saving the people required creating a Jewish state, and that could not be done based on a tiny tiny minority of young romantic agricultural enthusiasts. Among the many options being discussed, mostly under the heading "Anywhere, anywhere we can" he saw that only by including the Eastern European Jewish nation's love, familiarty and knowledge of Zion had he a chance of creating a national movement dedicated to that option. Hence, not Argentina, but Zion. Not Germany, France, Britain and the USA, but Zion. Not Uganda, but Zion. It was a choice among options. Zionism was a plea to the nation's religious feelings.

If you truly want to attack the Zionist entity, you will have to go to it's source - the relationship between Jews and their religion, including the religion's books on which the attachment to Zion is based, it's practices, it's narrative and sense of community.

You will need to attack circumcision (as child abuse?), kosher food (via cruelty to animals), the folk festivals (Passover) and most of all, individual and community self-respect.

The big one, which the left, in collaboration with the Muslim communities, is enthusiastically targeted at - breaking the link between the Jewish Communities and the sense of Zion.

Which, of course, is what the left, among others, is doing again right now.

In Britain in just the last few weeks, look at the situations which the left has supported, encouraged and participated in, and most importantly - not opposed:

George Galloway (no Israelis in Bradford)
Attacks on ASDA and Sainsbury's in Belfast
Refusal of Israel's acts in the Edinburgh Festival
Humiliation of the Jewish Film Festival at the Tricycle Theatre
Removal of Kosher food from Sainsbury's Holborn
Union boycotting of Israel Unions
Student Unions forcing Jewish Student Societies to lower their profiles, and frequent attempts to purge them as such
Huge street demos in favour opf Gaza, with dubious posters
An unending stream of anti-Israel articles in the Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, London Review of Books, Economist, the Lancet.
Palestinian flags in Glasgow
And of course the general corruption of language (proportionate - as though it refers to relative numbers of casualties)

And there will be more.

These are not separate occurences. They are a syndrome.

Honestly, do you really think most Jews are stupid? Do you really think they can't join the dots?

Where stands AWL?

Submitted by AWL on Tue, 19/08/2014 - 12:33

Is Zionism just supporting Israel's right to exist? In that case I am a Zionist and a Palestinian nationalist too (while seeing Palestinian nationalism as the nationalism of an oppressed people). In fact as a socialist I see myself as an internationalist not a nationalist of any kind.

Was "Zionism actually started with the intention of building a single state where Jews and Arabs could live in harmony"? For sure that was the thought of some Zionists. But there were others who were more hostile to the Arabs, and others more indifferent, no? I oppose demonisation of Zionism, and demonising versions of its history, but I think perhaps you have bent the stick too far the other way.

"The origin of it all is the recognition by a large portion of the Jewish nation in eastern Europe around the 1880's that it was all over." In fact, wasn't the turning point the 1930s, when the revolutionary movements of post-WW1 and the 20s (which didn't just involve a few!) had failed and the rise of anti-semitic movements including Nazism quite understandably pushed the majority of Europe's Jews decisively into the Zionist camp?

"Common in-joke: What is the first task of the Revolution once power has been successfully seized? You purge the Jews of the Central Committee, then the party, then the country." Stalinist states were for sure anti-semitic. Do you think this was true of the Bolshevik revolution? I think you'd be hard pushed to make that argument!

Beyond that, John, you seem - sorry if I'm misunderstanding - to be saying the left can't criticise anything connected to Jewish religion or cultural practices. Eg I for one would criticise circumcising boys! I think it is *possible* to do that while fighting anti-semitism, just as it is possible to criticise cultural practices in Muslim communities while fighting anti-Muslim racism.

As you've noted elsewhere, the AWL has spoken out loudly about the rising stream of anti-semitism.

Lastly: "Student Unions forcing Jewish Student Societies to lower their profiles, and frequent attempts to purge them as such." Do you have specific examples in mind, from now rather than the 80s? If so it would be good to know so we can campaign against this.

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by John D on Tue, 19/08/2014 - 14:25

Thank you Sacha for your considered reply. In order not to take up too much space, I hope that you will permit splitting up some points for reply.

On the in-joke. Jokes do not describe reality. They are a wry take on the world, very often with exageration to make a point. As an example, just look at Robin Williams doing the Scotsman and golf. But you raise it as a point. Very well. It was a joke I remember my dad telling me. And just to name-drop a little, to set the scene, my old man went out winching with John Maclean's daughter! Before, that is, my mother grabbed him!
So: here is a quote - albeit from Wikipedia - which slowly, slowly is getting better. Not the total joke it once was.

"On the eve of the February Revolution, in 1917, the Bolshevik party had about 23,000 members, of whom 364 were known to be ethnic Jews.[14][20] Between 1917 and 1919, Jewish Bolshevik party leaders included Grigory Zinoviev, Moisei Uritsky, Lev Kamenev, Yakov Sverdlov, Grigory Sokolnikov, and Leon Trotsky. Lev Kamenev was of mixed ethnic Russian and Jewish parentage.[21][22] Trotsky was also a member (or "Narkom") of the ruling Council of People's Commissars.[23] Among the 23 Narkoms between 1923 and 1930, five were Jewish.[21]

Conditions in Russia (1924) A Census - Bolsheviks by Ethnicity
According to the 1922 party census, there were 19,564 Jewish Bolsheviks, comprising 5.21% of the total.[21] Jews made up 7.1% of members who had joined before October 1917.[23]

Among members of the Central Executive Committee of the Congress of Soviets in 1929, there were 402 ethnic Russians, 95 Ukrainians, 55 Jews, 26 Latvians, 13 Poles, and 12 Germans – Jewish representation had declined from 60 members in 1927.[24] With regards to Jewish representation in the ruling Politburo, it waned very rapidly starting in 1918. It began with the assassination of Moisei Uritsky, the most radical member of the Politburo, in August 1918. Then Yakov Sverdlov died of disease in March 1919 and Sokolnikov was shunted aside. Three years later in 1922, Jewish members in the Central Committee, the Politburo's new name, had shrunk to a minority of three: Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev.

Submitted by AWL on Tue, 19/08/2014 - 14:50

Hi John,

My point is that there is a distinction between the Bolshevik party and the revolution it led, which generally had an honorable record on Jewish rights and anti-semitism, and various Stalinist states and movements, which often had a poor or even shameful record.

The Bolsheviks' record isn't reducible to the number of Jewish members they had, but the figures you cite seem to bear out my argument. Jewish representation and leadership in the Bolshevik party declined as it ceased to be a vibrant social movement and became part of an increasingly bureaucratised state setup. No coincidence if Jews were better represented among the various opposition leaders (eg Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev) than in the dominant Stalinist trend - which is why even in the 20s the Stalinists surreptitiously used anti-semitism against their opponents.

This until a qualitative worsening with the Stalinist counter-revolution: "Between 1936 and 1940, during the Great Purge, Yezhovshchina and after the rapprochement with Nazi Germany, Stalin had largely eliminated Jews from senior party, government, diplomatic, security and military positions" - and of course also whipped up anti-semitism as part of a revived Russian nationalism and imperialism.


Submitted by John D on Tue, 19/08/2014 - 15:32

Thank you for your forbearance.

It is a risky endeavour to take issue with you, but, in this case, I will.

"In fact, wasn't the turning point the 1930s, when the revolutionary movements of post-WW1 and the 20s (which didn't just involve a few!) had failed and the rise of anti-semitic movements including Nazism quite understandably pushed the majority of Europe's Jews decisively into the Zionist camp?"

However, in order to understand the present, and work for the future, a fairly accurate picture of how we got here, successes and blemishes, is necessary.

So no, it wasn't. Zionism was called thus in self-definition as opposed to Uganda-ism and Argentina-ism and anywhere but here-ism. Its background was conditions in Russia and the Ukraine in the 1880's, when the Jewish people broke under the horrors of life there. It was always a small minority movement, hopelessly romantic and physically doable only by very young, fit idealistic youngsters. Herzl's contribution (late 1890's) was to turn a romantic beyond-the-fringe thread into a modern political fringe movement. And that he could only do by (reluctantly and against strong opposition) bringing in some representatives of the religious stream.

Zionism never appealed to the main body of European Jewry. In general, the more religiously committed a person or community was, the less Zionism appealed. The more observant, the more anti-Zionist. To no small extent, that is still true today. America was the ideal of choice.

It is true that this writer or that intellectual noted something about the Arabs of the Levant, but the main appeal, thought and energy of these youngsters was a total rejection of the life-style of Eastern European Jewry. They were rebuilding themselves.

Politically, the idealogical framework of Zionism and many of its institutions were in place by the early 20's. It was enormously influenced by the various socialist and nationalist currents of the early years of the century. (Historical aside: to the extent that some kibbutznikim even went back to the Ukraine to set up kibbutzim there. And of course they failed, fatally).

The small dribble of immigrants that came in up to the middle 30's came to and were absorbed into an already vibrant complete society. The middle to late 30's immigrants added a different middle class / middle European colour to the mosaic ("mosaic" joke - ha ha), but by then it was a done deal. They were not Zionists, just refugees running in panic and desperation to anywhere that would take them. They whole enterprise was so desperate that the "yishuv" accepted the British recommendations of the Peel report. A country about the size of Aberystwyth! Even Jabotinsky accepted it!

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