Safe space for Zionism

The left should and will reject Rebecca Tuck’s report into ‘anti-Semitism’ - but our own errors make it hard to fight back, argues Paul Demarty

So barrister Rebecca Tuck has published her ‘independent’ report into anti-Semitism in the National Union of Students, and it will surprise no reader of this paper to hear that it is a dog’s dinner of smears, innuendo and intellectual sleight of hand.

One could go into great detail on the various allegations bandied about, but it would be pointless. Tuck’s report is essentially a victory lap for the Conservative government, the Union of Jewish Students (for all practical purposes a Zionist pressure group, despite its misleading name), and the witch-hunters of the Labour Party. The report was commissioned last year, after the latest in an endless series of utterly bogus moral panics about ‘campus anti-Semitism’, whose intensity has been on the rise more or less since 2016 (although, of course, they have a longer history). The immediate result last year was the ousting of Shaima Dallali, elected NUS president and a pro-Palestinian Muslim, amid threats from the government to cut off NUS funding - a move that the union freely admitted would have essentially ended its existence.

Under such circumstances, the NUS agreed to implement the recommendations of this report in full before a word had been written - before its author had been commissioned, even. Its terms of reference were set almost entirely by the various witch-hunters, and boy does it show.

Readers might want to turn directly to the recommendations at the end. Much of this is blandly bureaucratic, but perhaps with a sting in the tail - Tuck recommends a much longer period of data retention to ease retrospective “investigations”, which may seem pretty banal, but - depending on who gets hold of this data - could amount to a ‘canceller’s charter’ which would permit curtain-twitching rightwingers in the NUS to stop people they deem ‘problematic’ from climbing any further up the political greasy pole from their sabbatical positions.

In other cases, the problems are more obvious - she mandates that ‘anti-Semitism training’, administered by the UJS(!), continues, and demands that the bureaucracy trawl through NUS candidates’ social media histories (it was one such posting from Dallali - 10 years old when it was discovered - that led to her ouster, and presumably this can be taken as a retrospective authorisation for the cowardly and disproportionate action taken in her case).


Beyond that, worth highlighting is the section on the relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism - Tuck notes that the question is controversial, before reproducing several extremely long quotations from Zionist academics and writers (including a certain Daniel Randall, of the pseudo-left, pro-imperialist scab outfit, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty), concluding:

Criticism of the Israeli government, its actions and policies will be the subject of student activism - as has been the case for decades. This must, however, take place within NUS in a manner which recognises that Jewish students are a welcomed and valued group, and that many of them may well be Zionist, and that there is no place for anti-Semitism.1

At first blush this is so bland as to be meaningless, but the implication is clear: for Tuck, the fact that some Jewish students are Zionist implies that an environment where Zionists are unwelcome is an environment where Jews are unwelcome. This is tantamount to arguing that, because some white people are white nationalists, campuses are unsafe for white people, thanks to their endless, pious, anti-fascist activities; or, for that matter, that because some black people adhere to anti-Semitic forms of black nationalism, Rebecca Tuck is making campuses unsafe for black people. Fortunately for everyone concerned, the logic is utterly bogus; only by wilfully conflating Jewish identity with Israeli nationalism, as more or less all her long quotes do, can it even appear to make sense.

The question arises as to how this conflation - false on its face - can be made to stick. Perhaps it is easier to approach from the opposite angle: on what grounds do I suppose it to be false? I take as axiomatic that oppression is an objective phenomenon. Supposing that somebody makes a claim to have been the victim of racist behaviour, it should be possible to present evidence that can be inspected by observers not directly party to the dispute. That would have to be evidence of genuine injustice: that somebody missed out on what was due to them by some shared standard. If someone misses out on a job because they have a ‘black-sounding’ name, it is possible in principle to establish that this is what has happened, and that - by the standards of contemporary bourgeois society, and fortunately so - it is unjust.

Suppose we reject this condition. Instead then, should we accept the testimony of the purported victim, simply because it is the testimony of a purported victim (coupled with the knowledge that there is a pre-existing preponderance of oppressive behaviour against the victim qua member of some class)? Then it becomes conceivable that we would simply take at their word a series of individuals who claimed that campaigns for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel made them feel ‘unsafe’. At this point, it is enough to demonstrate the existence of some link between Jewish identity in Britain and the state of Israel, and suddenly the ‘unsafe’ Zionist becomes a representative of British Jews as a whole. And, of course, it is easy to demonstrate such a link, because the British state actively intervenes on behalf of the pro-Israeli elements of the Jewish community in Britain.

One hand tied

This is, of course, how we discuss the relationship of Zionism and anti-Semitism in this country, as elsewhere. Obviously dubious allegations of racism are allowed to flourish because bourgeois society - to be blunt - gives not a shit about whether what it claims is true or not.

That ought to be a benefit to the left, but, of course, we ourselves have accepted this kind of reasoning. Indeed, a striking example was provided by the case of Jackie Walker - a comrade long in the Labour Party, who was witch-hunted out on trumped-up charges of anti-Semitism years ago. There can be no doubt that she was treated contemptibly - not only by the Labour machine, but by many elements of the Labour left. Walker, however, claimed all along that this was ultimately a matter of anti-black racism. This was always an extraordinary claim, given that Labour members of all races were likewise hounded out of the party on the same pretext.

There were - again - principled objections to how she was treated per se. There was not a sniff of natural justice in the whole thing. She had no reasonable opportunity to defend herself. In presenting it as a question of racism, comrade Walker was trying to drag her case into the same logical world as the ‘unsafe’ Zionist - that an attack on her politics was in fact an attack on a whole community of people who might not share them. It was quite as false an inference in her case as in the case of the various weepy UJS snowflakes interviewed by Tuck. In her case, however, it was objectively unbelievable as well as false, because the state does not back pro-Palestinian socialists, unlike Zionists, and therefore it was her word against the foreign office, the mainstream media, and whoever else you like.

I pick out Jackie Walker as a pertinent example, not an especially egregious one. This subjectivist approach to the question of special oppression is almost universally accepted on the left today and this has all kinds of pathological effects. It leaves comrades vulnerable to grifters and wishful thinking. In some cases, it leaves them irretrievably polarised between two competing claims of victimhood.

So far as the Palestinian cause goes, it leaves us unable to do what courage and common sense demand - simply dismiss the whole question of ‘campus anti-Semitism’ as, for all practical purposes, a mirage. One can find examples, of course - one can always find examples. Some small number of students are neo-Nazis or rightwing conspiracy theorists. A larger number these days, perhaps, are radical Islamists. Both contingents are prone to anti-Semitic rhetoric. But it makes no more sense to generalise from this the idea that there is an anti-Semitism crisis at universities than to suppose that anti-Christian rhetoric by some fringe Islamists amounts to a new persecution of the church.

It is notable that statements from the Palestine Solidarity Committee, Jewish Voice for Labour and the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine - helpfully collected on JVL’s website2 - do not do this. They all stress, in their own ways, that anti-Semitism is a real problem in British universities, and lament the total focus on Palestinian activists in the report, that every quote apart from one is from a pro-Israel person, and so on. But they cannot say what screams out to be noticed - that the whole thing is a scam, manufactured by means of logic-chopping and anecdata. They are still hostage to the testimonial model of dealing with oppression, and therefore fighting with one hand tied behind their backs.

Between equal rights, force decides - and the preponderance of force, sad to say, is on the other side.


  1. assets.nationbuilder.com/nus/pages/108/attachments/original/1673471780/Independent_Investigation_into_Antisemitism_Report_NUS_12_January_2023.pdf.↩︎

  2. www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/article/tuck-report-unfit.↩︎