Far-Left Press Coverage of the 2016 Anti-Semitism Row in the Labour Party and other Leftist Groups

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“When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

April 28, 2016 at 8:50 in the morning, Ken Livingstone, former mayor of London and prominent figure in the Labour Party for several decades made the baffling statement quoted above on Leading Britain’s Conversation (LBC) radio. Supposedly he was defending MP Naz Shah1. She had reposted a meme on facebook in 2014, suggesting Israeli Jews should relocate from Israel to the US. This was made public in April 2016 and led to the suspension of Shah from the Labour party, because the posting was seen as anti-Semitic. Livingstone, asked to comment on it, said ‘her remarks were over the top. But she’s not antisemitic. And I’ve been in the party for 47 years. I’ve never heard anyone say anything antisemitic’.

While Shah made a concerted effort to minimise the damage to herself and the party and swiftly issued a number of apparently genuine apologies (and eventually got reinstated), Livingstone’s radio comments made the whole thing turn into a proper scandal and a gift to the right wing press and the Tory party, since the local elections were only a week away.

Livingstone was swiftly suspended from Labour and sacked by LBC, where he had hosted a show with former Tory minister David Mellor for 8 years. He remained unapologetic, quoting the book by Lenni Brenner, Zionism in the Age of Dictators, which tries to posit a collaboration and similarity of intention between Zionists and Nazis. This is not supported by serious historians. Hitler himself left absolutely no doubt that he detested Zionism. In Mein Kampf he dismissed the conflicts between liberal Jews and Zionists as mock fights, in his opinion the ‘inner togetherness’ of all Jews was beyond doubt.
Hitler’s professed anti-Semitism explicitly included anti-Zionism.2

What did Livingstone want to achieve with his idiotic statements? The Weekly Worker wrote in 2004 ‘Livingstone is an accomplished political operator, with a near genius for manipulation and backroom freewheeling’ whose ‘further ambitions (…) no doubt stretch to No10 Downing Street’, adding ‘Livingstone himself cheerfully admits: “I love meetings and plotting. I didn’t get where I am today without plotting”‘.3

What was he plotting this time? Was he trying to plunge Labour into a crisis a week before the elections? Perhaps he’s not so close to Corbyn after all? Or is he just a loose cannon — or more than that — a liability?

And what did the far left say about these incidents? Let’s look at a few examples.

On May 6, 2016, an article in The New Worker was titled: So Much for Free Speech. The article, by Daphne Liddle, a leading member of the New Communist Party (NCP), began like this: ‘THE GOVERNMENT and the media are hounding various old and new members of Labour with spurious accusations of ant-Semitism [sic] for remarks that, when seen in full context, are nothing of the kind, in order to undermine support for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour in the run-up to the local elections’.

Rather than elaborating on the charges – and perhaps trying to refute them – the article goes on to describe how the government ‘is planning new “anti-terrorist” measures that add up to a major crackdown on free speech and can truly be described as creeping fascism’. The connection? ‘(…) when the Government starts to redefine the meaning of “hate speech” we begin to understand where it is all leading and how it ties in with the current ruling class-backed campaign to paint Labour supporters and campaigners for rights for Palestinians as anti-Semites’.

Somehow Liddle then manages to jump to the claim that while the government ‘is channelling tax-payers’ money into the Ukraine (…) to support an illegal government in Kiev that includes self-confessed Nazi-supporters (…) [it] has the gall to accuse life-long anti-fascist activists like Ken Livingstone and Gerry Downing of being anti-Semites (…)’.

The last quarter of the front page article is then taken up by quotes from a statement of the Jewish Socialist Group (JSG) expressing their view that they see ‘the current fearmongering about anti-Semitism in the Labour party for what it is – a conscious and concerted effort by right-wing political forces to undermine the growing support among Jews and non-Jews alike for the Labour Party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, and a measure of the desperation of his opponents. We stand against anti-Semitism, against racism and fascism and in support of refugees. We stand for free speech and open debate on Israel, Palestine and Zionism’. This is illustrated with the only photograph on the front page: David Rosenberg of the JSG holding the group’s banner at the May Day march a few days earlier.

But The New Worker is not engaging in open debate; in the editorial on page two, after dutifully distancing itself from the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion-type anti-Semitism, it cunningly wheels out Bishop Desmond Tutu, who has a habit of comparing Israel with apartheid-era South Africa.
Instead of open debate, the NCP supports the ‘Boycott, Disinvest [sic!] and Sanction (BDS) campaign’ and claims: ‘This is why the agencies of the Israeli state are doing their best to undermine and discredit supporters of BDS and Palestinian rights by tarnishing them as anti-Semites’, and in addition to government, media, the Israeli state, there are also ‘Zionist supporters – not all of whom are Jewish – within the right wing of the Labour Party who have still not reconciled themselves to Corbyn’s leadership and are trying to undermine it by splitting Corbyn from some of his longest and most loyal supporters with the taint of anti-Semitism’.
A dangerous world!

Thankfully the New Worker knows a place in the world where things are a lot better: in the ‘People’s Korea’. The center spread of the same issue is made up of a report of a ‘delegation from the Association for the Study of Songun Politics UK (ASSPUK) and the Juche Idea Study Group of England (JISGE) which is singing the praises of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the ‘dear respected Marshal Kim Jong Un’ in the most sycophantic ways. Fancy hotel, full shops (with ‘plenty of cola’!), palatial Metro system, new high rises and boulevards! In fact the visitor was able to see ‘the massive new Sci-Tech complex on Ssuk Islet. It is eco-friendly, using geothermal power and natural light. I saw rows and rows of DPRK-made computers. It will only be a matter of time before the DPRK overtakes the declining and decadent West in terms of technology and science’. Social problems? No: ‘We could see no “human rights” problem, only ordinary Korean people enjoying a good life’. Presumably there is also no problem regarding free speech, because in the DPRK there’s no Tory government, right wing media, right wing Labour or other Zionist supporters who are responsible for the dire situation of free speech in the UK.

Why, one might ask, deal with the opinions of apparent or obvious cranks such as the unreconstructed Stalinists and Kim Jong Un supporters from the NCP? While they may not command much public support or direct influence, it should be mentioned that they are still affiliated with the Labour Representation Committee and as such have a more direct connection to the Corbyn wing of the Labour party beyond just calling for support and votes.

Within the Labour party is the group publishing the paper The Red Flag. This group was formerly know as Workers Power, the British section of the League for the Fifth International. Workers Power originated as a spin-off from the International Socialists (who later became the Socialist Workers Party) when their faction was excluded from the IS in 1974.

In late 2015 the group decided to dissolve itself into the Labour Party, publishing The Red Flag with the intention of turning Labour into a ‘socialist party with a programme for revolutionary change in society’.

This may be less bonkers than looking towards the DPRK for progress and guidance, but only slightly. Anyone who knows anything about the history of the Labour Party, which includes the editors of The Red Flag, should know that it never was and never will be a revolutionary party.

And what does The Red Flag have to say about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party? It mirrors the shuffle to reassure everybody, including themselves, that ‘Anti-Zionism is not antisemitism’, instead we are witnessing ‘A cynical campaign (…) in full swing to destabilize the Labour leadership’, consisting of ‘allegations which are as exaggerated as they are self serving’, a ‘campaign by Labour’s right wing which is clever, carefully orchestrated and utterly unprincipled’.

What at least sets The Red Flag apart from most others is that they concede that such a thing as anti-Semitism in Labour (and presumably the wider left) can actually exist, only to stress that it is at the most a tiny marginal phenomenon. But even Ken Livingstone admitted that there may be ‘three or four’ anti-Semites among the hundreds of thousands of party members…

The Red Flag group at least implicitly maintain that if someone says ‘Zionist’ instead of ‘Jews’ they cannot be anti-Semitic, that a truly left wing person cannot be anti-Semitic, and that a Jewish person cannot be anti-Semitic.

Of course like this no real discussion can be had about the issue. The responses are tailored towards damage control, playing things down, and sometimes blatant denial.

The Red Flag: ‘Socialists and supporters of Jeremy Corbyn must uphold the clearest possible distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. The first is a form of racism, the second is a challenge to it.
But it is in the interests of antisemites and Zionists to systematically confuse these two phenomena. Antisemites do this so that they can direct anger at Israel’ policies against Jewish people as a whole, a classic tactic of racists. Zionists do it so that they can construe all criticism of their project and crimes as being antisemitic and therefore impermissible. They both do it to silence challenges to racism’.4

But again, whatever the contortions are, the bottom line is that it is ‘sabotage’, a ‘witch hunt’, an orchestrated provocation by the Israel-loving right wing of the party.

What is interesting though is the following aspect: The Corbyn leadership has fairly quickly responded to the anti-Semitic statements of Naz Shah, Ken Livingstone and others by suspending them at least temporarily from party functions.

Most of the left press has nothing better to do than to deny their statements were anti-Semitic. But that means they imply that Corbyn has done the wrong thing. Why? Is the whole thing seen as a Zionist conspiracy that even Corbyn has to play along, because they are so powerful?

Socialist Worker, the weekly paper of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) obviously felt a particular need to cover the issue without addressing it.
In it’s issue 2502 (4-10 May 2016) it titled: Tories’ Racist Shame in big letters to elaborate in the short and poor text that ‘In reality the left has always been at the centre of fighting all forms of racism, including antisemitism. The Tories are the real racists.’ On page two this is followed with an article titled ‘Tories have a long, nasty history of antisemitism’. Fine. That is true and should of course be exposed, but in this instance the agenda of the article is a different one. Each paragraph describes anti-Semitic statements or incidents in and around the Conservative Party, except for one paragraph: ‘Much of the current digging around in the internet history of Labour figures has been done by Paul Staines’s right wing Guido Fawkes blog. He got his step up in politics with the fanatically right wing David Hart.’ A supposed connection of Staines with Tory anti-Semitism is then established by the fact that he apparently ‘went for a consolation drink’ with Tory MP Aidan Burley who in turn had once hired a Nazi uniform for some stupid stag party. It’s certainly telling and disgraceful that it seems fairly popular in conservative right wing circles and even within the royal family to pose in Nazi uniforms at costume parties. But to use the fact that Staines had a drink with Burley as a tool to stain him with an indirect anti-Semitism allegation is pretty poor journalism to say the least.

In the ‘News & Comments’ section of the same issue there are several more articles on the topic which show a baffling degree of ignorance and denial, or – perhaps more likely – an ideologically motivated extreme simplification of the issues.
It is claimed that ‘Zionism is based on the idea that Jewish people cannot live peacefully alongside non-Jews’. This insinuates that Zionist Jews just don’t want to live with ‘non-Jews’ (somehow implying a racist component of Zionism), when it is quite the other way round: Zionism is based on the experience of anti-Semitic persecution. The Zionist argument – whether one agrees with it or not – is that Jews need their own armed state to prevent falling victim to pogroms or a continuation or repeat of the holocaust.

Socialist Worker further claims that Israel was set up ‘in alliance with western imperialism’. Not a word about the fact that the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries also supported the foundation of Israel. What happened then, according to the Socialist Worker, is that ‘Israeli settlers forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, forcing them into refugee camps where many remain’. Not a word about the fact that it was the combined forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria with additional troops from Iraq who – instead of accepting the UN partition plan and help set up a Palestinian state – invaded the newly declared state of Israel with the aim to ‘sweep them into the sea’. Not only that – the troops of the Arab Legion under the command of King Abdullah of Jordan were trained and commanded by British officers. It was weapons from socialist Czechoslovakia that ensured the survival of the Jewish state and its inhabitants.

The ensuing refugee crisis indeed led to the scandal that a sizeable number of the originally ca. 700’000 displaced Palestinian Arabs are still in refugee camps. But what is too complex for the likes of Socialist Worker is that one crucial reason for this scandal to persist is the refusal of the surrounding regimes to integrate the Palestinian population. They instead decided to let them languish in camps to use them as pawns in their own imperialist games against Israel. (Imagine, after 1945, Germany had refused to integrate the 12-14 million German refugees from the formerly German territories now situated in Poland and the Russian Federation, and insisted on a ‘right to return’!).

It is also not mentioned that roughly the same number of Jewish refugees made their way to Israel from various Arab countries as well as Iran. Rather than let them languish in camps they were given citizenship and integrated into society.

The article also states that those ‘Palestinians who’ve managed to remain live under occupation or siege in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza’ following an ‘ethnic cleansing after the Second World War’. This completely leaves out the fact that over 20% of the Israeli population are Palestinian Arabs (ca. 1.66 million), who are citizens and have representatives in the Knesset (parliament), serve in the IDF (army) up to the rank of a general and even on the Supreme Court of Israel.

The aim here is not to try and accurately describe, let alone present a plan to solve the complexities surrounding the conflicts in the Middle East. What I am pointing out though is that papers such as Socialist Worker are wilfully misrepresenting what Zionism is, how the state of Israel was set up, the situation of Palestinian Arabs inside Israel, as well as many other aspects with the aim of vilifying, demonizing and delegitimizing Israel.

Sadly similar sentiments or contortions persist in most of the ‘far left’ press in Britain, and one could also analyse the Morning Star, the Weekly Worker, News Line, and other papers and find positions that would only slightly differ. One reason for this is that these papers are in most cases the voice pieces of political organisations who, although in constant competition with one another, share a rather narrow terrain of Marxism-Leninism, some of the Trotskyite variation, others of a Stalinist or post-Stalinist persuasion.

One remarkable exception is the Alliance for Workers Liberty and their paper Solidarity. A third camp5 Trotskyist group, the AWL embraces a two state solution for Israel/Palestine and is prepared to acknowledge what is the obvious: ‘[Anti-Zionism and anti-semitism are] not necessarily the same; but quite often they are. The anti-Zionists who carry placards equating Israel with Nazi Germany are anti-semitic. The anti-Zionists who oppose Israel by picketing “Jewish” shops like Marks and Spencers are anti-semitic. The anti-Zionists who complain about Zionist-led media are anti-semitic. And the anti-Zionists who pick on Israeli Jews –uniquely – as a people without the right to a state are a species of anti-semite’ (Solidarity No.403, 4 May 2016). In the same issue Sean Matgamna writes: ‘With Livingstone, the cesspool of pseudo-left “absolute anti-Zionism” that is anti-semitism, overflowed into mainstream politics. It gave the right and the Tories an easy target and an opportunity to bring the scandal out into the open.
It needs to be out in the open. It needs to be discussed. It needs to be purged politically – and the labour movement needs to purge itself from unteachables like Livingstone’. Later in the same article Matgamna stresses: ‘”Left” anti-semitism is no small thing. The future of the labour movement depends on it being opposed, combated and uprooted’.

Matgamna stresses in the same article that it ‘is important in all this not to lose sight of the Palestinians held in the stifling grasp of Israeli occupation, outmatched militarily and more or less helpless’ and that ‘every socialist and honest democrat’ should support the ‘Palestinian demand for their own state, alongside Israel’.

Despite this – or because of it – the AWL (who share many of the other groups’ illusions about the Labour Party) often gets under attack. Most prominent attackers are a tiny group with the grandiose name Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee) whose main activity is publishing the Weekly Worker. They allege that the AWL is ‘social imperialist’. This bizarre slur has its root in Maoist China, who called the Soviet Union ‘social imperialist’, and in Hoxhaist Albania, who first joined the Chinese in their opposition towards the SU, but then even turned the invective against China itself!

Sectarian bickering apart, and to get back to the starting point:

Looking at this kind of ‘far left’ press one has to wonder what they want. On the one hand these groups want to make ‘politics’. Critical thinking, balanced assessments and accurate depiction of history are often suspended in favour of ideologised and simplified fronts as well as unprincipled u-turns and zig zags.

Most of them don’t seem to do Corbyn a favour by denying rather obvious problems and rather justifying certain attacks from the right than fending them off.

The ‘socialism’ that Corbyn & co stand for is simply Keynesianism and as such a strategy to rescue capitalism from its crisis. It is quite far removed from an even reformist ‘Marxist’ perspective – if such a thing is even possible in the current political constellation – let alone from a revolutionary one.

Corbyn wants to win the next general election. He may well have second thoughts about which foe will be of help in this project and which ‘friend’ might prove to be an obstacle.

 

Notes

1 Shah had won the seat for Bradford West, beating George Galloway in 2015. Galloway of course is an arch-’anti-Zionist’ who had declared Bradford an ‘Israel-free zone’.

2 Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf, 213./217. Edition, Munich 1936. (First edition 1925/1927) p.60/61

3 Eddie Ford: Ken Livingstone: A man for all seasons, Weekly Worker 548, 14 October 2004

4 redflagonline.org 29-04-2016, last retrieved February 2017.

5 Third camp Trotskyism saw both world powers and economic systems as its enemies: free market capitalism in the West and state capitalism in the East. In contrast to this, conventional Trotskyism kept up support for the Soviet Union which supposedly was already a ‘workers state’, but had merely ‘degenerated’ into a bureaucratic dictatorship.

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