A first step against antisemitism

Submitted by cathy n on 12 August, 2019 - 12:25 Author: Dale Street
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Dale Street reviews the Labour's Party's training materials on antisemitism.

The Labour Party training materials on antisemitism first promised in April of last year have now been produced and circulated to party members. Potentially, they could help to start a meaningful process of political discussion and education.

A leaflet entitled “No Place for Antisemitism” condemns conspiracy theories which portray “capitalism and imperialism as the product of plots by a small shadowy elite.” These are “just one step away from myths about Jewish bankers and a secret Jewish plot for world domination.”

Some of these conspiracy theories, the leaflet recognises, “substitute Israel or Zionists for Jews, presenting Israel as controlling the world’s media and finances” and “ascribe to Israel an influence on world events far beyond any objective analysis.”

Zionism is variously defined as “Jewish national self-determination in a Jewish state” and “the maintenance of that state”. Zionism, says the leaflet, is not monolithic: “There are many forms of Zionism.” And for many Jews “Zionism represents national liberation.”

Jewish people, the leaflet continues, “have the same right to self-determination as any other people.” Many Jews “view calls for Israel to cease to exist as calls for expulsion or genocide.” And opposition to the Israeli government “must never use antisemitic ideas”, such as “comparing Israel to the Nazis.”

Israel, Zion and Jerusalem “run deeply in Jewish religion, identity, culture,” explains the leaflet. Most British Jews “feel connected to some extent to Israel.” Therefore, “the sensitivities around these concepts (such as Israel and Zionism) should be considered before using them.”

Other materials on the “new antisemitism minisite” include some video-clips containing the same political content as the leaflet, a 2018 article by Corbyn promising to ban antisemitism from the Labour Party, and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition and examples of antisemitism.

Plus a link to register for a course entitled “Facing Antisemitism: Politics, Culture, History” at the University of London’s Birkbeck College - £350 for three two-hour sessions.

Given the length of time these training materials have been ‘in the pipeline’, the “antisemitism minisite” is strikingly sparse in terms of what it has to offer. Maybe more materials will be added over time.

But there are also more basic problems with the training materials.

They are inconsistent in defining what constitutes the problem of antisemitism in the Labour Party (and broader labour movement) and in defining the extent to which it constitutes a problem.

One the one hand, the problem is correctly presented, albeit not always explicitly, as certain ideas about Zionism and Israel which incorporate antisemitic ways of thinking and which inevitably give rise to an antagonistic attitude towards most Jews in Britain (and the world).

But, on the other hand, the specific examples of antisemitism in the Labour Party which are provided in the training materials do not relate to those conceptualisations of Zionism and Israel.

Instead, they are examples of what everyone – even the misnamed Jewish Voice for Labour and Labour Against the Witch-hunt campaigns – can happily agree constitutes antisemitism:

“Holocaust denial, crude Jewish-banker stereotypes, conspiracy theories blaming Israel for 9/11 or every war on the Rothschild family, and even one member who appeared to believe that Hitler had been misunderstood.”

This then leads into the ‘few bad apples’ argument: Antisemitism in the labour movement is not a fairly broadly held set of political ideas about Zionism and Israel but just the off-the-wall views of a few individuals.

According to Corbyn’s 2018 article: “We must face the uncomfortable fact that a small number of our members and supporters hold antisemitic views and attitudes They may be few – the number of cases over the past three years represents less than 0.1% of Labour’s membership – but one is too many.”

And according to the “No Place for Antisemitism” leaflet: “We must face up to the unsettling truth that a small number of Labour members hold antisemitic views.” (Although this is then qualified by: “… and a much larger number who don’t recognise antisemitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories.”)

The training materials also suffer from a lack of political clarity, sloppy political formulations, and misplaced diplomatic attempts to say something to please everyone.

Antizionism, says the leaflet, “is not in itself racism.” True, antizionism is not necessarily racism. But the dominant form in which antisemitism expresses itself today is that of ‘antizionism’, in which traditional antisemitic tropes are ‘translated’ into ‘antizionism’.

In fact, the logic of the leaflet is that antizionism actually is racism.

The leaflet defines Zionism as “Jewish national self-determination in a Jewish state.” It says that Jewish people “have the same right to self-determination as any other people.”

By that logic, to be antizionist is to be an opponent of Jewish people having the same right to self-determination as any other people. And that, in reality, is the substance of the bulk of contemporary antizionism.

“Arguing for one state with rights for all Israelis and Palestinians is not antisemitic,” the leaflet continues, “but calling for the removal of Jews from the region is.”

But given that – like any other people – the Jewish population of Israel will not voluntarily surrender statehood and collapse into a larger state in which they would be a national minority, it is impossible to see how “one state” could be achieved without the military conquest and ethnic cleansing which the leaflet condemns.

The leaflet also sidesteps the fact that the traditional formulation of the call for “one state” has been “a democratic secular state.”

This formulation denies Jewish national rights (by treating Jewishness as a religion rather than a national identity), is a coded call for no minority rights (in the sense that democracy is the will of the majority), and, with the rise of the very anti-secular Hamas and Hezbollah, has no grip on reality.

The educational value of the training materials is further undermined by their failure to relate the general statements which they contain about Zionism, Israel and conspiracy theories to specific contemporary issues.

Most obviously: Ken Livingstone’s hobbyhorse of Zionist-Nazi ‘collaboration’ in Germany in the 1930s; the Skawkbox campaign to ‘expose’ accusations of antisemitism as a Zionist conspiracy against Corbyn; and the broader labour movement campaign for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel.

The same criticism also applies to references in the training materials to conspiracy theories which portray “capitalism and imperialism as the product of plots by a small shadowy elite” and which are “only one step away” from traditional antisemitic tropes.

Did it not occur to anyone involved in the production of the training materials to think through the implications of that for the now standard Labour references to “the rigged system”, “greedy bankers”, “vested interests and the cosy cartels” and “speculators and gamblers who crashed our economy”?

The training materials are like a jigsaw puzzle in which half the pieces are missing, the pieces which have been provided don’t fit always together properly, and there is no picture on the box to explain what the final product is meant to look like.

But you can certainly make a start with what has been provided – even if a lot more pieces need to be added in order to achieve what it says on the box: “No Place for Antisemitism – Understanding Antisemitism to Defeat It”.

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