Rally the left to combat anti-semitism: Don't demonise Israel!

Submitted by Anon on 26 November, 2003 - 11:55

On Sunday 15 November two synagogues in Istanbul were car-bombed, killing 23 people and injuring about 300. The same day, buildings of a Jewish boys' school in Gagny, near Paris, were burned down.

The day before, Germany's main conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union, finally voted to expel one of its MPs for an anti-semitic speech he had made on 3 October. A German army general had already been sacked from his post for backing the MP.
The German government reports 1594 anti-semitic incidents - about five a day, mostly cemetery desecrations or Nazi graffiti - in Germany in 2002. The frequency of such incidents is increasing across Europe.

All these are further indices of the dangerous revival of the far right internationally. They are part of the picture in which racist attacks and brutal rejection of asylum seekers are becoming more and more common.

The French left organisation LCR (Ligue communiste révolutionnaire, a partner in a revolutionary-socialist alliance for next year's Euro-elections which has scored up to 31% in opinion polls) quickly rushed out a statement denouncing the school fire and the synagogue bombing.

The statement was angry, and without a doubt sincere. Yet there was something strange about its first sentence. "The imperialist war against Iraq, and the criminal policy of the Sharon government in Palestine, continue to cause tragedies...."

Israel should withdraw from the Occupied Territories and allow the Palestinians to form an independent state of their own. On that we think the same as the LCR.

But Sharon's policies no more "caused" the attacks on Turkish synagogues and the French school than al-Qaida's atrocities, or Saddam Hussein's brutalities, "caused" anti-Arab racism in the West.

And the USA's and UK's war in Iraq? How does that "cause" anti-semitic outrages? Does the LCR really mean to say that Jewish worshippers in Turkey, or Jewish schoolboys in France, are to blame not only for the Israeli government's policy, but also for the US government's?

That the left detests the far right is beyond doubt. But on the question of anti-semitism, and on no other, the response of much of the left is equivocal and ambivalent.

The LCR is not particularly bad in this respect. On the contrary. It rejects the idea that Israel must be destroyed because it is "Zionist". Its press carries articles on anti-semitism in France which do not preface condemnation by explanation that the trouble is, first of all, "caused" by Israel.

In other left-wing groups, the idea that Jews should not be attacked, but "the Zionists" deserve all they get, is allowed to run riot.

Consider a recent incident in Britain. On 11 November David Landau, Richard Kuper, Mike Marqusee and a number of other Jewish socialists sent a letter to the Stop The War Coalition complaining about the organisation of the recent demonstration against the US occupation in Iraq. (See page 12)

They had asked for the demonstration to be moved from 27 September to another date, because that was the Jewish New Year. But they received neither an explanation, nor an expression of regret, but a brusque dismissal. "We have heard it said", they write, "that the only complaints or concerns about the clash of dates came from 'Zionists'."

Evidently, for those who run the Stop The War Coalition, notably the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), "anyone for whom Jewish identity [is] important must be a 'Zionist', and de facto a supporter of Bush, Blair and Sharon".

None of the Jewish socialists concerned would call themselves "Zionists". And many Zionists oppose Bush, Blair and Sharon. One hundred thousand Israelis, the great majority "Zionist" in one way or another, recently demonstrated in Tel Aviv for Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.

And if people who support the Islamists and Ba'thists in Iraq were accommodated on the 27 September demonstration - and they certainly were - by what logic should even those Zionists who do support Sharon be shunned?

The idea must be that right-wing Jews are worse than any other sort of right-winger, and, moreover, are the "defining" Jews, "the" Zionists.

It is not too far from the traditional far-right idea that Jewish capitalists are worse than other capitalists, and the "defining" Jews. Or an upside-down version of the German CDU's anti-semitic MP, Martin Hohmann. In the speech which got him expelled he defined Jews as a "guilty people" because of his hostility to Trotsky and other Jewish Bolsheviks. He sees them as worse than other Bolsheviks, and as the "defining" Jews.

No number of sincere protests against far-right anti-Jewish outrages can cancel out the deadly logic of defining "Zionism" as the arch-imperialism - the mad dog pulling along Uncle Sam, as the cover picture of the SWP's pamphlet on Israel has it - and "the Zionists", therefore, as guilty world-wide.

That sort of logic is widespread in vague-left and third-worldist circles in many countries, as well as in the far right.

In the liberal German weekly Die Zeit on 13 November, Josef Joffe noted that overt anti-Jewish sentiments are still taboo in Germany.

However, "for at least a quarter of a century now", and "world-wide", there is a "neo-anti-semitism", which "mostly has an anti-Israeli face".

"This is not only a German problem. It is manifest on every anti-globalisation event, every demonstration against the USA. For example, on t-shirts at Porto Alegre [the World Social Forum] in 2003, that showed a Star of David turning into a swastika..."

A bourgeois liberal trying to smear the radical left? Turn to the Netherlands.

A Dutch anarchist group which works primarily to help refugees and immigrants, De Fabel van de illegaal, describes one demonstration in Amsterdam in April 2002, backed by the left and supposedly pro-Palestinian, as the Netherlands' "biggest manifestation of anti-semitism since 1945". The main theme of the placards and chants was Sharon = Hitler, Zionist = Nazi. Other slogans included "Palestine for the Palestinians, Sharon back to Poland".

Leftists in the Netherlands and neighbouring Belgium have allied with, and even sought to make an electoral alliance with, the Arab European League, a group which sees itself as speaking for "the Arab nation and the Muslim community" in struggle against "globalisation". For the AEL, comments De Fabel, "the summit of 'globalisation', its most violent form, is obviously Jewish nationalism: Zionism... In the end the Jews are the biggest problem".

On the anti-war marches in the Netherlands: "The massive oppression and slaughter by Saddam Hussein was seldom mentioned, let alone his anti-semitism... Of the once 120,000 Jews who lived in Iraq, some 50 are left today. The rest of them have been driven out... or murdered". Yet all the speakers mentioned Sharon, and one "managed to mention Iraq not even once, as if the anti-war demonstration was really against Israel".

In France, one revolutionary activist, Yves Coleman, reports that when distributing a leaflet denouncing Saddam on the biggest anti-war demonstration, he faced "the crudest anti-Americanism and the most violent hostility to Sharon and Israel". His leaflet did not mention Israel. So why the response? Because of the idea that "Zionism" is the arch-imperialism, the imperialism of imperialisms.

Where in France Yves Coleman could find the activist left "more balanced" in its response to his leaflet than the broader crowd - and some of its slogans positively good, like Lutte Ouvrière's "No to American intervention, no to the Iraqi dictatorship" - in Britain the opposite is true.

In Britain it is the biggest activist left organisation, the SWP, which sets the pace for the demonisation of Israel and of "Zionists". It was the SWP which denounced our "No to war, no to Saddam" leaflets on the anti-war demonstrations, while the broader crowd was sympathetic.

It is the SWP that campaigns for "no compromise with Zionism", and shouts "Two states solution, no solution!", or "Palestine shall be free - from the river to the sea".

The denunciation of abstract, distant "imperialism" is easy. But as it becomes more and more evident that the actual living people, vulnerable and ready to hand, who bear the brunt, are "the Zionists", it is high time for the left to clarify its ideas.

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