It is a pity that some Muslims have picked up on European anti-Semitic tropes, perhaps on the basis of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. This is counterproductive to the Palestinian cause, as it gives the Israeli government yet another stick to beat them with. It can also tend to alienate the many Jews worldwide who support the Palestinians in their struggle.
That an element of anti-Semitism has been taken up by some is not all that surprising - after all, an enemy being fought has always tended to be demonised and racially denigrated. It is regrettable and undesirable, though not perhaps as undesirable as dropping a shell into a group of children running along a beach or making a national hero of a medic (a medic?) who shoots dead a wounded and unarmed prisoner.
But the bar is now set exceptionally low for someone to be charged with anti-Semitism, as Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has discovered. After all, according to chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, “Zionism is a belief in the right to Jewish self-determination in a land that has been at the centre of the Jewish world for more than 3,000 years. One can no more separate it from Judaism than separate the City of London from Great Britain” (The Daily Telegraph May 3 2016).
In response a letter to The Guardian, signed by 88 British Jews, pointed out that opposition to Zionism was not anti-Semitism. Zionism is a political position, not an attribute of Jewish identity: “Rabbi Mirvis attacks the Labour Party by launching a defence of Zionism, which turns it from a political ideology (that can be supported or opposed) into a religion that is beyond question. We British Jews reject this categorically” (May 10 2016).
But in the Jewish Chronicle it is constantly argued that Zionism and support for the state of Israel are part of being a Jew. For instance, Josh Jackman (October 10 2016) quotes Marie van der Zyl, then BoD vice-president, who claims, “For the vast majority of British Jews, political, cultural and religious affiliation with the state of Israel is a fundamental part of their Jewish identity.”
So Zionism is just another name for Judaism and anti-Zionism is just another name for anti-Semitism? This is nonsense. Zionism is, now at least, the assertion that Jews are entitled to take and live in the lands previously known as Palestine. It is a political assertion and as such there is no reason whatsoever why it should not be opposed without such opposition effectively being labelled ‘immoral’.
And then there is the report of the Home Affairs Committee’s ‘anti-Semitism inquiry’. According to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, “The report states what should be obvious, but sadly is not - that the starting point for any discussion on anti-Semitism should be what the Jewish community and Jews themselves feel is anti-Semitic” (Ha’aretz October 16 2016).
This seems to be based on a perverse reading of the Macpherson report, which held that the police should investigate an incident as racist if the victim thought it was. But it is ridiculous to go on from there to accept all such accusations as true.
Using the same logic, the starting point for any discussion as to whether any action or words addressed to or about a Palestinian is racist should be what the Palestinian community and Palestinians themselves feel is racist - at least “in western political discourse” anyway. And Marc Wadsworth should perhaps call out his expulsion from Labour as “racism”: if he says it is, how can anybody deny it?
Zionism was never, over centuries, a part of being a Jew: there are now strenuous efforts to make it so, largely on account of widespread opposition to the policies of the state of Israel - no-one should be surprised that the history of this venture has called forth anti-Zionism. However, it is absurd to say that the wish to take over Palestine is essential to being a Jew. There can be lots of reasons why calls for a ‘homeland’ might be opposed, but such opposition cannot be defined in itself as ‘racist’ - and neither can political opposition to Zionism be called anti-Semitic.
Jonathan Freedland wrote an article published in The Guardian on April 30 2016, most of which I thought was nonsense. There was an eloquent response a few days later from professor Kamel Hawwash, which covered many of my objections, but made no comment on this paragraph in the middle of Freedland’s article:
“As for the notion that Israel’s right to exist is voided by the fact that it was born in what Palestinians mourn as the Naqba - their dispossession in 1948 - one does not have to be in denial of that fact to point out that the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile and countless others were hardly born through acts of immaculate conception. Those nations were forged in great bloodshed. Yet Israel alone is deemed to have its right to exist nullified by the circumstances of its birth” (May 2 2016).
This to me adds insult to injury. Freedland must be aware that these countries were indeed “forged in great bloodshed”, largely between two and five centuries ago, by Europeans who saw the native inhabitants as savage, uncivilised, brutish and pagan: they were, in other words, inferior beings in every respect and therefore had no rights - indeed any attempt at self-defence only proved their lack of ‘civilisation’. The indigenous populations of many of these countries were wiped out, in large part by the diseases the Europeans brought with them, but also through massacre and overwork.
While it may be that the Hamas charter called for the expulsion of Jews from Palestine, this was not a realistic policy back in the day, never mind now. There is a Jewish entity in Israel (perhaps an Israeli Jewish nation), which has put down roots. But it is not the only such entity - in the struggle against Israel, Palestine has become a nation too. Yes, greater crimes are committed by other countries of the world, but Israel not only displays a 19th century imperial arrogance, but also tries to claim some kind of moral authority for its crimes.
Its main claim is, of course, the holocaust: nothing else could even come close to excusing the crimes committed against the Palestinian people. But how could massive hurt grant the right to hurt others? Whatever the mufti of Jerusalem may or may not have done in World War II, the Palestinians were not responsible for the holocaust. Even some of the survivors were opposed to the use of the suffering of themselves and their fellows for narrow political ends.
There are many Jews who are anti-Zionist: some of the most orthodox see the ‘return’ by force of arms, rather than through the messiah, as blasphemy. But the most virulent and eloquent - in the English language anyway - opponents of the Israeli state and of Zionism are American, British and Israeli Jews. They are clearly not anti-Semitic, so they have earned the even more ridiculous label of ‘self-hating Jews’ - itself an anti-Semitic jibe. I must admit that in my reading about the holocaust, Israel, Palestine and American politics - in books by respected Jewish and non-Jewish, Zionist and non-Zionist, historians and other commentators - I have come across several such ‘self-hating Jews’ and I can only admire their courage.
So what is this ‘anti-Semitism in the Labour Party’ all about? Despite being the only nuclear power, having the most effective armed forces in the region and having the world’s ‘super-power’ covering their back, it seems that Israel is facing an existential threat due to boycott, divestment and sanctions. The Israeli political elite is afraid of what they call ‘delegitimation’ - its main thrust internationally being the BDS movement. But it is also afraid that the Labour Party, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, might move away from the US foreign policy umbrella into support for the rights of Palestinians. Hence all this ‘anti-Semitism in the Labour Party’ nonsense.
The real movement of socialists, and many democrats, worldwide is for the state of Israel and its Zionist supporters to treat Palestinians as fellow human beings. Those socialists and democrats are anti-Zionist, but also anti-anti-Semites. By contrast the Zionists now have a White House team led by pro-Zionists who are also largely anti-Semitic.
The Zionists feel that Israel is the natural ‘home’ of the Jewish people everywhere, but the question must be asked, ‘What about the Palestinians?’ But the answer of the state of Israel, the Zionists and the rightwing Christian nutters in the US is, “What about the Palestinians?”
And these racists have the nerve to call us anti-Semites.
The wording of recent pre-disciplinary warning letters being sent to Labour Party members from Sophie Goodyear - “head of complaints” at Labour’s HQ in Southside - shows that the witch-hunt of socialists in the party continues unabated, albeit in a modified form. It is directed particularly against those who forthrightly challenge the racism inherent in Zionist ideology and Israel’s apartheid laws and practices.
Iain McNicol’s notorious “complaints unit” appears to have been replaced, under Jennie Formby and legal guru Gordon Nardell, by a “national complaints team” - but the stench of hypocrisy reminds us that a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet. Healthy discussion of political issues is still being blocked by chilling complaints, which are all too often taken seriously. Instead of debating the content of differences, the right make complaints about the manner of expression. Instead of stating their views openly in the press, on social media and in party meetings, the right make cowardly complaints to party officials.
The good news is that automatic exclusions and disciplinary action before due process appear to have ended - one of the key demands of Labour Against the Witchhunt at its formation in October 2017. At least in some cases, suspension from membership is no longer the first resort of the party’s apparatchiks.
Suspension normally involves removal from all posts. This not only removes the rights of the suspended member, but also directly negates the democratic rights of the party members who elected them to those posts. It also involves a ban on attending party meetings, thereby removing the best form of education and re-education - discussion of a member’s issues with their peers, their comrades in their local branch and constituency party.
The previous “head of disputes”, Sam Matthews, used to suspend you on the basis of “serious allegations”, which had not yet been investigated. Sophie Goodyear, while not suspending you, nevertheless finds you guilty (presumably using comrade Nardell’s prescribed nostrums), as displayed in this exquisite example of ‘safe spaces’ double-think:
“It has been brought to the attention of the national complaints team that you have posted offensive comments on your social media - copies of these are included in this letter. These comments have caused offence.
“The Labour Party should be the home of lively debate, of new ideas and of campaigns to change society and we appreciate that this does lead to discussions where those involved hold differing opinions. For a fair debate to take place, people must be able to air their views in a safe space and an atmosphere of respect. Abuse of any kind - whether direct attacks or pejorative language, which may cause offence - is not acceptable and will not be tolerated in our party. Language that may be perceived as provocative, insensitive or offensive falls short of the standards expected of us as party members.
“I am therefore writing to you to remind you that comments such as those below are not what we would expect from members of the party and ask that you refrain from making comments of this nature in future. Please be aware that any repeat of this conduct may lead to formal disciplinary action.”
Being found guilty without due process and threatened with future disciplinary action chills the heart of the accused, but leaves them none the wiser as to what exactly is deemed unacceptable in what they have said. Attaching copies of one’s “social media comments” still leaves one guessing, afraid and silenced.
What remedy is available to those who receive such a letter? I suggest: (a) publish the warning letter; (b) write a reply complaining of being found guilty without due process, asking who complained and precisely which words the complainant found unacceptable and why; (c) raise the issue in your party branch or constituency meeting.
Not so unique
In his report (September 6) on my talk, ‘Labour theory of value for the 21st century’, at Communist University 2018, comrade Danny Hammill complains that I made things difficult for the audience “by the way [I] used terms and concepts in [my] own unique way. For example, comrade Machover uses the words value and abstract labour in such a general way that value and abstract labour have always existed and will continue to exist under communism” (‘From Trump to quantum’, September 6).
While Emmanuel Farjoun and I explicitly depart in our work from Marx’s version of the labour theory of value in several respects, the way I used the words mentioned by Danny is not one of them, and is most certainly not unique to me. This issue came up in an exchange of letters between Karl Marx and his friend, Ludwig Kugelmann. Marx deals with it in a letter dated July 11 1868. He stresses that the value of a product - the amount of labour needed to produce it - is a concept that applies under any form of social organisation. The letter is worth reading in full, but here is a key excerpt:
“And every child knows, too, that the amounts of products corresponding to the differing amounts of needs demand differing and quantitatively determined amounts of society’s aggregate labour. It is self-evident that this necessity of the distribution of social labour in specific proportions is certainly not abolished by the specific form of social production: it can only change its form of manifestation. Natural laws cannot be abolished at all.
“The only thing that can change, under historically differing conditions, is the form in which those laws assert themselves. And the form in which this proportional distribution of labour asserts itself, in a state of society in which the interconnection of social labour expresses itself as the private exchange of the individual products of labour, is precisely the exchange value of these products” (all emphases in the original).
There were a couple of editing mistakes in my article on the Public and Commercial Services union, ‘Left in disunity’ (September 6).
It is not the case that Socialist Caucus (forerunner of today’s PCS faction, Independent Left) stood against current general secretary Mark Serwotka in his first election in 2000. The Socialist Caucus were the ones actually leading and pushing Mark’s candidature against PCS Left Unity’s favoured candidate at the time, Hugh Lanning (a Blairite full-timer), in order for members to have a socialist candidate to vote for. Mark got the support of activists and duly won.
When I mentioned that those in the Socialist Party today (Fran Heathcote, Kevin McHugh) were arguing in their ‘Socialist View’ bulletin (the grouping supporting Janice for assistant general secretary against current incumbent Chris Baugh) why Mark Serwotka favoured a merger of PCS with Unite, they were saying what the Socialist Party line was at that time. Although still in the SP today, they are backing fellow SP member Janice Godrich against their official party candidate, Chris Baugh, for the 2019 AGS election. There should be a lot of expulsions from the SP for this, but there seem to be so many long-serving SP activists backing Janice that if they did expel them all for breaking the party line they’d surely lose control of the only union they dominate.
Since my article I have been reminded of a rumour that Mark Serwotka, having been allowed back into the Labour Party, is seeking to become an MP and so wants president Janice Godrich to take over from him; and the easiest way to do that is to get Chris Baugh out and Janice in as AGS, ready for that eventuality. I cannot prove this, but it would explain why Mark is ready to cause so much disunity amongst the left over one full-time elected senior officer position. Mark is welcome to deny this in the Weekly Worker, of course.
The SP also did not tell us, when reporting that Chris and Janice both had ample time to argue their candidatures before the SP made their decision, what Janice’s platform was, what criticisms, if any, she had of Chris and what Chris had to say for himself. Shouldn’t we all be told before we cast our vote? I understand that the tiny PCS Democrats - part of the Democratic Alliance electoral pact for the national executive with Left Unity - has not taken sides, as they will be doomed if they back the losing candidate. However, they may be condemned by both candidates’ supporters for not backing either, when it comes to the NEC elections in May 2019.
I will certainly miss all this when I retire in November after 37 years as a union activist.