Live at the witch trials
Starmer’s ‘advisory board’ is part of a wider push to eliminate all opposition to Israel, says Paul Demarty
To the complete lack of surprise of everyone, the Labour Party’s new ‘advisory board’ on anti-Semitism looks rather like it will only be giving out very particular sorts of ‘advice’.
Its membership, published last week, reads like a who’s who of witch-hunting creeps:
- Mike Katz of the Jewish Labour Movement, the British sister organisation of the Israeli Labor Party;
- Marie van der Zyl of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, whose recent exploits include attempting to get Ken Loach cancelled;
- Margaret Hodge MP, who will take time out from demanding the internet is banned to call some more people “fucking anti-Semites”, we suppose;
- various other Jewish ‘community leaders’ rigorously handpicked from those ‘community organisations’ devoted to Zionism;
- and Doreen Lawrence (mother of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, who was murdered in 1993), presumably to give the whole thing the skimpiest fig leaf of respectability in the mind of genuine anti-racists.
What we have is a star chamber, whose sole purpose will be to grind what remains of fairness and natural justice in Labour’s internal politics to a gory paste, via the use of relentless defamation and oceans of crocodile tears. The only good thing about the composition of this committee is that its purpose is so transparent: it demonstrates that the Labour right and other supporters of Zionism no longer attempt to conceal their activities under the appearance of due process and political debate. Hard as it may be to see today, with the left in such total disarray, this is in fact a sign of weakness - ideas that must be defended by bureaucratic force and spurious hysteria are not ideas with much rigour or confidence behind them.
The left, still, is in a weak spot - which is not to say the fight is over: merely that it is a very difficult one. All its toeholds in the apparatus are gone. After four years of capitulation after capitulation to the very ghouls about to start dispensing their ‘advice’, all in the name of being elected into government, the leaders of the Labour left either went over to the other side or were reduced to impotent silence. After all, had they not endlessly repeated the big lie that Labour was riddled with anti-Semitism? If what Ken Livingstone said in 2016 was so unacceptable, why not what Jeremy Corbyn said in 2020?
Beyond the marquee names of Corbynism though (and the diseased likes of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty), there has always been a considerable mass of outrage at the sheer cynicism of the ‘anti-Semitism’ defamation campaign. The Labour Party doubled in size during and after Corbyn’s leadership campaign, and most of those who came in - so far as they had a ‘line’ on Israel-Palestine - were firmly in favour of the oppressed Palestinian Arabs, and outraged by the crimes committed against them by Israel. It is the task of Keir Starmer, general secretary David Evans and their friends to get rid of all these disreputable types; and many will fight back, and indeed are fighting back.
That is one reason why those who will take this latest intensification of the witch-hunts and purges as a pretext for abandoning work in the Labour Party, or for calling on others to do so, are misguided. It is to leave people in the lurch. It may very well be the case that their struggle will be defeated, indeed that the Labour left has already lost due to the aforementioned errors on the part of its treacherous misleaders. If we want that process to result in something other than generalised despair, then we who call ourselves Marxists, and by implication claim the clearest view of the line of march and so on, had better dedicate some of our energy to fighting for the future allegiance of those politically activated or reactivated by the Corbyn moment.
The other reason is simply that, unfortunately, the witch-hunt against anti-Zionism is hardly limited to the Labour Party. Comrades will encounter the same wrecking actions in the trade unions, especially if the right makes a serious effort to regain Unite and similar unions - are we to abandon ship there as well?
Even if we did, we would not escape. Wider civil society is increasingly terrorised by witch-hunters. This week saw the firing of the American journalist, Nathan J Robinson, from The Guardian, on account of a sarcastic tweet concerning the way the US Congress managed to agree $500 million in military aid to Israel, at the same time as grinding to a halt over Covid relief. Robinson is perhaps better known as the ultra-preppy editor of Current Affairs - a more dapper Jacobin - and one rather suspects that the pressure to sack him came down from London. He is, of course, guilty of no crime other than opposition to the current pro-Israel sentiments of the establishment.
We mentioned van der Zyl’s attempt to knife Ken Loach, which is only part of the severe pressure being put on universities, along with the campaign to sign institutions up to the notorious International Holocaust Remembrance Association ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism, which openly conflates the latter with anti-Zionism. (With the usual two-facedness of Tory education ministers, Gavin Williamson simultaneously proposes ‘free speech’ measures that will allow ‘controversial’ speakers the right to sue universities for ‘no-platforming’ them, and therefore have a chilling effect on the right to protest.)
It seems an awful lot of fuss over what is, at the end of the day, a settler-colony of less than 10 million people, founded (if one looks too closely) on the sort of fin-de-siècle racial nationalism that has generally aged very badly in the years since World War II. Why should the great and the good strain reason well past breaking point in its defence? Anti-Semites - that is, real ones, who have by no means disappeared - have an answer: it is the ‘world Jewish conspiracy’. Marxists look elsewhere, and start, as always, with the question: cui bono?
What role does Israel play in geopolitics? We must start with its location: the ancient strategic crossroads of the eastern Mediterranean, close to the northern end of the Red Sea (and occasionally on it, depending on the state of relations with Egypt).
The great powers of the world need friends in that region. Russia was drawn to prop up Bashar al-Assad’s regime in order to retain naval access to the Mediterranean. The foremost world power, the United States, is no different, and indeed has many friends in the region. Most of them are the reactionary Arab monarchies, which barely need to be listed - Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Emirates, and so on. The Egyptian military regime is another, of a different type. Yet none can boast the level of US military aid that Israel can - not even the Saudis, whose genocidal intervention in the Yemeni conflict is quite unsustainable without ongoing material support from outside the region. Why?
The reason is simple: all the aforementioned Arab regimes are unreliable, fundamentally because their alliance with the US is unpopular - a dirty matter that is politely brushed under the carpet. The position of Israel, however, is unique. It is, as noted, a settler colony - the telos of settler-colonialism is the final displacement or extermination of the ‘natives’, but that has proven impossible. It thus needs permanent military superiority against the combined forces of its neighbours - as demonstrated half a century ago in the wars of 1967 and 1973. This makes it entirely dependent on outside aid. It is a modern equivalent of the ‘crusader states’ set up by western Christian invaders in the Middle Ages. If the tap is ever turned off, Israel is toast.
The Israelis need the Americans; America needs Israel, its unsinkable aircraft carrier, to keep its strategic opponents in the region bottled up. That is not to say there is never friction (see prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s insubordination towards Barack Obama and near-open favouritism towards Donald Trump); but even Bibi will only ever go so far. The US, meanwhile, cannot do without Israel unless it finds a replacement that it can arm to the teeth with jet-fighters and nukes; and the world hegemon’s obvious inability to construct order even in countries it occupies makes that look rather unlikely.
Another state in hock to the US is, of course, the UK. Its role in world affairs was once rather grand, but the glory days are gone, and British imperialists carry on like the last scion of an old aristocratic family - trading on the old glamour, but barely keeping the roof on our country pile. Brexit has further reduced their strategic wriggle-room, and so termination of current friendly relations with their Israeli step-sibling would be to their great disadvantage. The ideological offensive against anti-Zionism stems from the foreign office and British state interests; it takes the absurd, hysterical form it does simply because the conduct of the Israeli state, in which the UK colludes, is transparently indefensible except in the most warped moral universe.
The Labour Party is not riddled with anti-Semitism, but it certainly is riddled with anti-Zionism, and that, in the end, is the problem. This has to be stressed. There is, for comparison, pervasive evidence of bigotry against Muslims and majority-Muslim ethnic groups in the ranks and hierarchy of the Tory Party, but the latter is not generally considered unfit to govern on account of it, or subject to relentless hostile campaigns in the press, or bullied into forming ‘advisory boards’ staffed by Islamist ideologues disguised as humble ‘community representatives’. (Neither, for that matter, is the extensive presence of Hindutva ideologues in certain local Labour organisations apparently a matter of any great concern.) The reason is merely that there is no strategic imperative on the part of the British state that demands such action.
We need to see things on that wider canvas of geopolitics and strategy to understand two pertinent political failures of the left.
The first - the belief in the need to construct a left-centre alliance against the Labour right to compete for government under the existing constitutional arrangements - is the essential failure of the Corbyn movement: the prehistory to Starmer’s star chamber. This failed not because the left was not crafty enough in its tactics in relation to the centre, but because the centre is loyal to the state, and the state demands reliable imperialist functionaries for its governments. Starmer’s dalliance with Pabloites in the 80s notwithstanding, he proved his loyalty long ago, not least by colluding in the securocracy’s dirty work as attorney general. Corbyn was not reliable, never mind the hundreds of thousands who backed him with firmly anti-imperialist and/or pro-Palestinian sympathies.
The second failure is the tendency for the left to equivocate on the question of free speech. This is dealt with elsewhere in this issue, but we must highlight one question: to oppose free speech for particular undesirables - usually fascists and racists - is by definition to accept the state’s right to determine who is and is not a racist or a fascist, and therefore subject to infringements on their freedoms. The disastrous logic of this is most plain in the anti-Semitism smear campaign. The left is full of racists! It is full of the same opinions that occasioned the very worst crimes of fascism!
Since we shall be subjected to more and more intrusive policing on these grounds in the near future, now would be a good time to abandon these two, closely linked errors. We must, instead, delegitimise state loyalty, and denounce all restrictions on free speech (including those dishonestly cloaked as pro-free speech measures, like Gavin Williamson’s universities policy).