Slurs, lies, innuendos
Defend Malia Bouattia and Naz Shah, urges Tony Greenstein
You might think that the election of the first black woman president of the National Union of Students would be a cause for celebration. After all, it is evidence of Britain’s anti-racist society.
Instead Malia Bouattia, a refugee from Algeria and secular Muslim, has been subject to the usual vicious lies of Britain’s tabloid press. The Daily Mail, the paper which supported Hitler and warned against the evils of Jewish immigration from Nazi Germany, reported Malia’s election thus: “NUS elects president who refuses to condemn Isis and calls Birmingham University a ‘Zionist outpost’.”1
Malia’s real crime is her support of the Palestinians and her opposition to Zionism. As the NUS’s black student officer for two years, she has been a consistent anti-imperialist. The lie that Malia supports Islamic State has been repeated ad nauseum by the gutter press, yet, as she explained,
I delayed a national executive council motion condemning Isis - but that was because of its wording, not because of its intent. Its language appeared to condemn all Muslims, not just the terror group. Once it was worded correctly, I proposed and wholly supported the motion. Yet newspaper reports this week still depict me as a young Muslim who supports Isis. This is simply not true.2
The other lie is to accuse Malia of anti-Semitism. This is just part and parcel of the anti-Muslim racism of the media and the Zionist lobby, which holds that to be a Muslim is to be anti-Semitic. This campaign aligns very neatly with the Zionist and rightwing attack on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party - also on the grounds of alleged ‘anti-Semitism’.
Malia’s main crime is to have described Birmingham University, with its large Jewish Society, as a “Zionist outpost”. This is apparently anti-Semitic. Of course, if you believe that being a Zionist is no different from being Jewish, then you have a point. It is a standard anti-Semitic trope that Jews and Zionists are one and the same. When fascists use the term ‘Zionist’ they usually mean ‘Jew’. Likewise it is a Zionist axiom that Zionism is an integral part of being Jewish. It is another example of how Zionism and anti-Semitism can converge ideologically.
It is clear that Malia was not using the term ‘Zionist’ in any other way than its actual dictionary definition. Zionism is a political movement which aimed at creating a Jewish settler colonial state, based on Jewish racial supremacy and the expulsion of the indigenous population. To therefore refer to such a university as a Zionist outpost is no different from referring to Cambridge as a Tory outpost. It is a political, not a religious or racial, reference.
At the same time as Zionist propagandists argue that blaming Jews for the actions of Israel is anti-Semitic, they are busy claiming that Israel represents and acts on behalf of all Jews! It is a classic example of cognitive dissonance - the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in one’s head at the same time.
The attacks on Malia have been led by the Union of Jewish Students. The UJS is not a Jewish student organisation that is open and welcoming to all Jews, but, as an affiliate to the Zionist Federation, is specifically Zionist. Non-Zionist or anti-Zionist Jewish students have no place in it. University Jewish societies wishing to affiliate to the UJS are required to have advocacy for Israel written into their rules and objectives. When Jewish students at Edinburgh and elsewhere have tried to remove this requirement, leaving advocacy for Israel to a separate Israel Society, they have been threatened with disaffiliation and withdrawal of funding.3
The latest smears are part of an overall campaign being waged by Zionist groups, the Tories and the Labour right. We see this most clearly in the Labour Party, where I (and one other person I know of) have been suspended over allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’.
Every day there are new charges and only this week Naz Shah was forced to resign as John McDonnell’s aide because of a 2014 post she forwarded about Israel’s attack on Gaza during ‘Operation Protective Edge’, when over 2,000 Palestinians, including 550 children were killed. The post, suggesting that Israel’s Jews be transferred to the United States, was certainly written in jest - although no doubt it reflected the anger of many at the attack on Gaza, supported by around 95% of Israel’s settler Jews. There is nothing anti-Semitic in this.
In contrast to the feeble reaction of the Labour left around Momentum to the smear campaign, the Jewish anti-Zionist left has been active. This week a letter from an ad hoc group was published in The Independent,4 while Mike Cushman of Jews for Boycotting Israeli and myself had letters in The Guardian.5 During the summer a number of similar letters were published in the Guardian, Independent and Jewish Chronicle by Jewish groups in defence of Jeremy Corbyn.6
But Momentum is marked by its silence - indeed by its inability to even comprehend what is happening. I have had a long conversation and increasingly acerbic correspondence with Jon Lansman, Momentum’s chair. Jon is a member of the non-Zionist Jewish Socialists Group. Yet his reaction to the allegations that anti-Semitism is rife in the Labour Party is not to challenge this Zionist narrative, but to accept it wholesale.
In what is a truly pathetic acceptance of such slurs, Lansman writes that anti Semitism has “always been there at least in a latent form, but it has been exposed by a pro-Tory campaign and we cannot ignore it or deny its existence”. What does this mean in practice? That there is an organised anti-Semitic faction within the Labour Party? Hardly. That some people may harbour anti-Semitic prejudices? Possibly. It would not be surprising, given the deliberate conflation of Zionism and Jewishness, if some people therefore blame Jews for the barbarism of the Israeli state.
To those like Lansman, however, racism is not about power relations in society and economic deprivation: it is about words and prejudice. Lansman told me: “I do not understand why you think the Labour Party should be immune from genuine anti-Semitism, which exists in British civil society - albeit at a lower level than in most of the last century.” This encapsulates the problem of liberal social democrats. For them racism is a virus - a disease which spreads, regardless of the social, economic or political climate. And for some it is endemic in non-Jews, which suggests it cannot be cured. This is really a variant of the Zionist myth of eternal anti-Semitism, which itself is a mirror image of the Nazi view of the ‘eternal Jew’.
Racism is not words or imagery disconnected from reality. Racism means economic exploitation of a section of the working class, such as the Irish, which is particularly oppressed. It means physical attacks by racist hoodlums and the scapegoating of a particular group as an exploiter. Jews in Britain suffer from none of this. Jews are not economically exploited, they are not subject to the attentions of fascist gangs, they are not at the mercy of a racist police force or the object of institutionalised state racism. In short, Jews are not oppressed.
Groups like the Zionist Community Security Trust earn their living by playing to the fears of Jews about a past era of anti-Semitic violence. When pro-Zionist students speak about anti-Semitism, it is often because they are uncomfortable that their identity is being challenged. Giving offence, however, is not the same as anti-Semitism. While Zionism in British society and on campuses poses a direct threat to freedom of speech, in general this is an age in which ‘anti-Semitism’ has to be manufactured.
William Rubinstein, the former president of the Jewish Historical Society, wrote of “the rise of western Jewry to unparalleled affluence and high status”, which “has led to the near-disappearance of a Jewish proletariat of any size; indeed, the Jews may become the first ethnic group in history without a working class of any size.”7
It is because of the lack of anti-Semitism that the Zionists are forced to manufacture it. The silly comments of a Vicki Kirby about “Jewish noses” do not hurt a single Jew, unlike the bricks and bottles of Moseley’s British Union of Fascists. I have written extensively on Gilad Atzmon, the anti-Semitic jazz musician, but Atzmon does not pose a threat to the safety of a single British Jew.8 In so far as anti-Semitism exists at all, it is because of the actions of the Israeli state against the Palestinians. When people hear that 12-year-old children are jailed and subject to beatings and worse, then they are understandably angry; and, when British Jewish organisations proudly take responsibility for these outrages, it is no wonder that some people take them at their word.
When the fascists were on the march in the East End of London, the advice of the Board of Deputies and British Zionism was for Jews to stay indoors and ignore all provocations. Jewish people in 1936 preferred to ignore the advice of the Zionists and Jewish bourgeoisie at the Battle of Cable Street. When Jews were predominantly working class they voted overwhelmingly for the Labour Party. Indeed in 1945 one of only two communist MPs elected was Phil Piratin in the constituency of Mile End in London’s East End. It is estimated that half of his vote came from British Jews. The decline in Jewish support for the Labour Party today has nothing to do with Israel and everything to do with the economic position of British Jewry.
3. Thanks to Stephen Marks (email April 2016).
6. See, for example, www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/20/jeremy-corbyn-and-antisemitism-claims.
7. WD Rubinstein The left, the right and the Jews London 1982, p51.
8. See ‘The seamy side of solidarity’: www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/feb/19/greenstein.