By Heiner Flassbeck. This article was first published on Flassbeck Economics.
Characteristically, reasonable people deal with reasonable, relevant problems in reasonable ways. They use the body of accumulated knowledge and scientific methods to explain the world. They feel much less inclined to deal with nonsense, ideology, falsehoods, distortions, human meanness and stupidity. Indeed, we choose to protect ourselves from it. Unfortunately, ignorance and meanness are often more potent forces than knowledge and reason. They reproduce the system ideologically. Examples of this can be found everywhere. Last week, Social Europe published an article by Stephen Pogany, Where Left Meets Right: Anti-Semitism in Europe. Pogany is currently visiting professor at the Central European University of Budapest. His article is neither stupid nor mean. It has some correct points. It is, however, scandalously one-sided and often blatantly wrong. It deals, in large part, with the non-existing problem of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. The sub-text is clear: the prevalence of anti-Semitism in Labour proves that Corbyn does not have his supporters under control.
Pogany will of course disagree, otherwise he has to admit that his article has no basis. But it is simple. The UK, as most other countries, has laws against inciting racial hatred and discrimination. So far (as far as I know), no one took even one Labour party member to court for inciting anti-Semitism. How is this possible if anti-Semitism is so prevalent in the Labour Party? For many months now, the right wing of the party created as much mayhem as possible. A lot of political currency could be made from some court cases. The media, who are all against Corbyn, would love to jump on it. There is not one single case. As for the disciplinary actions within Labour, I will come back to it below, but for those who cannot bear the suspense, Pogany writes that no less than fifty people have been suspended by Labour, as if this is supposed to make an impression. Fifty out of 700.000, that is not less than a full 0.000071%. If that doesn’t prove that anti-Semitism is a significant problem within Labour, what does?
If the argument is that there is anti-Semitic resentment, but that it is not strong enough for judicial action, this is never clarified. Let me be clear. I hate – and this is the right word – all anti-Semitism, all xenophobia, all racism. Let us be realistic and fair. Since the Brexit annex latest coup against Corbyn – not that the machinations and manipulations ever stop – the Labour Party gained some 200.000 new members. The Labour party is now not only the biggest party in the UK, it has more members than all other parties together. With so many flocking to Labour, it is unfortunately inevitable that there will be some ‘who do not like’ Jews, just as there will be some ‘who do not like’ Muslims or Polish people, Irish people, black people or, indeed, themselves. What is to be done about it? The party has rules that forbid members to express racist views. As I documented, a significant number has been suspended in the meantime. A political party is not a police state. It is not possible to control every tweet and Jeremy Corbyn is not responsible for every comment on social media from a Labour party member. This blame game is fundamentally dishonest. As long as the party was in the hands of the Blairite neoliberals, no one spoke about anti-Semitism in Labour. The ‘Jewish question’ in Labour has been fabricated, as so much else, to keep a guy, who has in the meantime become the most popular politician in the UK, from gaining power. That is behind the anti-Semitism smearing campaign, not anti-Semitism.
- The bad, bad Left
Let’s deal with the “evidence.” Pogany starts by giving some examples: “The Jews are rallying!’ wrote Naz Shah in an infamous (?) Facebook post just months before she was elected Labour MP (…) ‘Your school education system only tells you about Anne Frank and the six million Zionists (his emphasis) that were killed by Hitler,’ declared Khadim Hussain, then a Labour Party councillor and formerly Lord Mayor of Bradford. ‘Many people know about who was behind 9/11 and also who is behind Isis. I have nothing against Jews, just sharing it,’ declared Beinazir Lasharie, a Labour councillor in London (…) Most notoriously (?), Ken Livingstone (…) claimed (…) that Hitler had been a supporter of Zionism before he ‘went mad and ended up killing six million Jews’” (see here).
Is that all you can come up with? Some tweets, some comments on Facebook, an interview in which Livingstone said something stupid? Wouldn’t you also want to look at the Right?
He then writes: “The statements by Shah, Hussain, Lasharie and Livingstone – along with numerous other allegedly (my emphasis) racist, anti-Semitic or inflammatory comments by individuals associated with Labour – have led to fifty suspensions from the Party’’(see here).
Some years ago, I met a lecturer from a University in London – he stayed at our house for a couple of days. He had been educated at one of England’s private schools. One day, I took him for a drive and innocently pointed out an old ruin from the days of the Irish Famine. It turned out that he did not know anything about the Famine. He did not know that Cromwell had ever been to Ireland. Is Khadim Hussain wrong? He may be. Did Pogany look into the English school books to see what they say about English imperialism, the Second World War and Israel? If someone raises a concern and you disagree, it is your job to look into it and to produce arguments, not to call people racist, allegedly or not.
Personally, I think – it is my opinion – that the educational curriculum in history, politics and economics has been failing society for generations. It is de-schooling society. People are not given insight, they are taught about an imaginary world, according to the lines of our world views and the interests of those who dominate us. We educate people, who end up in powerful positions without knowing who Napoleon was. This sort of ‘education’ does not deny truth, it makes it impossible to interpret it as such. It is, all by all, not that much different than those who ‘know’ (of course) who brought down the twin towers on 9/11 – yet another result of inequality, deprivation, intellectual disorientation and, at the basis of it all, a failing school system and a society which is breaking apart. According to a recent study, in Manchester 620.000 people, including 180.000 children, live in deprivation (see here). One on five lives on the bread line (see here). 180.000 people leave school without any qualification. One third of boys cannot speak one full sentence by the time they start school (see here). They start life with an enormous handicap. On the other side, there are the well-educated who do not know about the Irish famine and what else not. This looks like the basis of a rational society. Or is the point that there is no ideological reproduction in education?
“On other hand,” writes Pogani, “(…) even highly critical statements about Israel or Zionism, however provocative or historically ill-informed, are not anti-Semitic per se.” This sounds good, until you read what follows: “As several commentators have pointed out, there is a growing tendency on the Left to disregard basic and important distinctions between such categories as Jews, ‘Zionists’ and citizens of the state of Israel.” This sentence remains unreferenced. The next one refers to an article in the Guardian of Jonathan Freedland, who ‘observes’ that “the term ‘Zionism’ has become ‘a codeword’ in the rhetoric of the Left (…) hinting at the age-old, anti-semitic notion of a shadowy, global power, operating behind the scenes’” (see here). Now it is time for an explanation. According to Pogany, this occurs because of a chronic and incurable mental disease that Leftist ‘radicals’ inevitably suffer from: after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the retreat of ‘Marxist socialism,’ the radicals needed to redirect their anger towards someone else, so they just became anti-Semites and anti-Zionists. This is not to be taken serious.
This time there is a source: Simon Schama. Schama was critical of a call by British novelist John Berger for an academic boycott of Israel over its policies towards the Palestinians. Writing in The Guardian in an article co-authored with lawyer Anthony Julius, Schama compared Berger’s academic boycott to policies adopted by Nazi Germany, noting: “This is not the first boycott call directed at Jews. On 1 April 1933, only weeks after he came to power, Hitler ordered a boycott of Jewish shops, banks, offices and department stores” (see here).
Note the fundamental conflation, undoubtedly on purpose, between an academic boycott of Israel and a boycott of Jews. Pogany cites another source: an article in the New York Times. Mind you, no scientific sources here. In this article, Kenan Malik, points contends that “many on the Left now reject universalist human rights ideology in favour of multiculturalism and identity politics, ‘celebrating a world divided into distinct cultures, each with its own ideas, beliefs and values’” (see here).
Ah, the bad, bad Left, how fundamentally rotten. And it’s not only the Left, it’s Muslims too: “Although the comments of Naz Shah, Khadim Hussain and Beinazir Lasharie (…) have been widely portrayed as examples of left-wing anti-Semitism, no doubt because of the politicians’ association with the Labour Party, it is at least equally plausible to see their comments as a reflection of strong religio-cultural attitudes within Muslim communities in the UK and abroad” (see here). Yes, this is certainly plausible, just not ‘equally.’ There is little doubt that there is Anti-Semitism – hatred towards Jews – in Muslim communities. How much? Is there no anti-Muslim resentment in Jewish communities? How much? How does it all work out?
It gets much worse. After citing a study that claims that Jews in France have been the target of 40% of all racist crimes and 49% of racist violent acts in 2015, the point is that, happily, neither ‘left-wing anti-Semitism’ nor ‘Islamist anti-Semitism’ pose a serious threat to Jews in Eastern and Central Europe. This is, in part, because of the marginalisation of left-wing political parties and of left-wing ideas in countries such as Poland and Hungary (see here). This no longer deserves a serious response.
It would surely all be much better if all Jewish people, and everyone else, would elect right wing parties. Still, ever the contrarian, if I were a Jew, I would much more prefer to live in France than in Poland or in Hungary and I would vote for a left-wing party, but perhaps I would be a self-hating Jew then – another typical abusive ideological circus stunt: if you have no arguments, diagnose the opponent. Criticise actions of the state of Israel and you are an anti-Semite. Criticise actions of the state of Israel as a Jew and you are in need to mental health care. Anyway, mental disease or not, I would prefer to not live in the Ukraine, where swastika lovers ream the streets screaming ‘Death to the Jews’ – or are those disillusioned Leftist intellectuals too? They look like it. Who supports the regime in the Ukraine? Is it the Left?
- Anti-Semitism and Zionism
With Labour, these accusations have turned out to be false – with one exception. As Elisa Hendrick notes, the only even potential source of anti-Semitism – i.e., anti-Jewish racism – is assumed to be anti-racist activists who support Palestinian rights. Criticise Israel’s policy – not the state itself, not its inhabitants, not its culture, religion or anything else – just address the position of the Palestinians and you will be hallmarked an anti-Semite, even if you completely oppose any racism, which is the reason to oppose these policies to start with. Hendrick makes a lot more good and crucial points, which I cannot reproduce, but you can read her article here. My point is also not that there is no anti-Semitism at all within the Left. There unfortunately is. There are bigots everywhere.
Hendrick writes – and this is absolutely true and essential – that Zionist organisations present themselves as the sole legitimate representatives of all Jewish people everywhere. They have always done this, since the time they were a marginal political force. Zionism remained a fringe movement for a long time. Before World War II, the majority of Jews in Europe did not belong to Zionism. The great majority of the Jewish proletariat – which was the great majority of Jewish people everywhere – belonged to the Bund. The Bund was a socialist and truly heroic and emancipatory and global organisation, all over Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia and all over the world – it even had a (Yiddish) newspaper in China. The political program of the Bund was to work towards equal rights for Jewish workers and for all other workers worldwide, oppose all discrimination, create a political, social and economic system which would not be characterised by the merciless exploitation of labour and in which people’s ‘ethnicity’ (sic) and religious beliefs would no longer make a difference – exactly has it should be.
After the war, several members of the Bund found a place in European social-democracy (see here). The 1955 3rd World Conference of the Bund decided that the creation of the Jewish state was an important event in Jewish history that might play a positive role in Jewish life. However, the members of the conference demanded that: a) the authorities of Israel should treat the state as property of the Jews in the world; b) the affairs of the Jewish community in Israel should be subordinate to those of world Jewry; c) the policy of the state of Israel would be the same toward all citizens regardless of their nationalities; Israel should foster peace with the Arabs. This required halting territorial expansion and resolving the Palestinian refugee problem and e) Yiddish should be taught at all educational institutions and would be promoted in public life (see here and here (article has a large bibliography) for more on the Bund; here for more on Jewish politics and the Left; see here for Hannah Arendt’s views on Zionism and the necessity of a ‘binational state’ – a collection of great articles; here for my PhD on Arendt; here for a case study: the Jewish proletariat in Paris).
What do we see now? When the representatives of Zionist groups present themselves as Jewish community leaders, no one asks when and where they were elected or to whom they are accountable. Do these ‘leaders’ who appear in the media as representatives of the Jewish community ever stood for election? As Hendrick rightfully writes, it does not matter how the community feels about these ‘representatives’, for they have no means of sacking them (see here). Here then is the fundamental conflation: Israel is presented as ‘the state of the Jewish people’ rather than as that of the Zionist movement. This is considered to be self-evident. We learn it at school. But this can only be self-evident by propagating the tacit view that Jews everywhere are politically monolithic and intrinsically connected to a state other than their state of birth and residence. And this is ideological manipulation. In much the same way, the state of Israel, which claims to represent all Jews everywhere does not give most Jews – who do not live there – any say in the country’s policies. Why not, if it is the Jewish state?
It is textbook ideology. Let me tell you about the beautiful north of Belgium, which I know well. For decades, the extreme right nationalists – who are in power now – have been fabricating a discourse in which all Dutch speaking Belgians either belong to the mythological Flemish Volk or else they are renegades. The nationalists in Flanders have been speaking out for decades in favour of austerity and wage cuts and against unions, the welfare state, immigration, asylum, etc. and those who do not agree are not considered opponents but traitors of Flemish blood and soil.
The main difference with the Zionists outside Israel is, unfortunately, that the Flemish nationalists have been elected, so there is, at least formally, some link there with ‘democracy,’ or rather with the confusion of the populace at a time of economic diminishing returns and abysmal government policies, right wing government policies – ‘more pain is yet to come,’ ‘wages are too high,’ ‘unions are an anachronism,’ ‘the budget deficit has to decrease,’ ‘there is no money for anything,’ etc., nothing else. But at least, and undoubtedly to their great comfort, some have the ‘luxury’ to belong to their Volk, which seems to be their ultimate aspiration. Often enough, it is also their greatest accomplishment.
It is absolutely logically inconsistent and fundamentally dishonest to attack anti-Semites – and of course all their nasty fabulations and stupid nonsense are absolutely unacceptable, there is not the slightest discussion about that – while at the same time construing a conception of the Jewish people as one big homogeneous block that stands right behind Israel in everything it does, to consider all Jews everywhere responsible for the actions of this country and to produce the point that the policies of this state are in the interest of all Jews worldwide.
I am certain that Pogani is wrong, although I cannot prove it – so it is again my opinion – that the great majority of people on the Left are not anti-Semitic at all, not even the insane Marxists. He certainly has no proof whatsoever for his assertion. I am sure that the great majority of people are intelligent enough to make essential distinctions between Jewish people and the actions of Israel, but the problem is that some do not. And so the Left should – and in the great majority of cases does – work to safeguard the equal rights of Jewish people, just as it works to safeguard the rights of others – there should be no discrimination anywhere. Is there proof to the contrary? But as to the question why the Left should support Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, the answer is that it should not. And this has nothing to do with anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism, it has to do with equal human rights. All else is ideology.
If we need to talk about bedfellows – Pogany’s negative of his radical Leftists without a cause who became racists – one name?, anyone? – one can, and, perhaps must, point towards utterly despicable people such as the right-wing Polish holocaust denier Michal Kaminski or John Hagee of Christians United for Israel. These are people to stay away from as far as possible. They are, however, not considered anti-Semitic by Zionists, simple because of their support for Israel. Supporters of human rights on the other hand are by definition irredeemably anti-Semitic, no matter how great their commitment to fighting racism against Jews and everyone else. It suffices to utter the P-word.
- Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party
A full 0.000071% of the Labour membership has been suspended because of anti-Semitic views. This impressive number is still off the mark. It is still too big. David Watson was suspended for referring to Zionism as a racist ideology and to Israel as committing genocide against the Palestinians. It should be noted that, regardless whether one agrees or disagrees with him, nothing in Watson’s remarks is directed at Jews. As for the rest, I can write a long article, as can everybody else, documenting, explaining, putting in context, giving an historical overview, using sources as, for example here (United Nations resolutions concerning Israel and Palestine) here and here, here, here Security Council), here and here (Amnesty International), here and here (Human Rights Watch), here – Mads Gilbert, this includes a long list of publications), Noam Chomsky at the UN (here). Thousands of other reliable sources can be found – no ‘radical’ Leftists, no insane Marxists, no haters, no sick racists, no intifada, no Palestinian sources, no BDS campaign. But I will refrain myself. The case is clear.
Certainly, some remarks of MP Naz Shah were far from brilliant. What Livingstone said is objectionable. However, the reaction to these unintelligent remarks has been completely disproportional. To compare Shah to Eichmann is ridiculous and beyond all decency. Shah posted a tweet on Twitter. Eichmann was a mass murderer. Hitler did not support Zionism, he exploited it. Livingstone’s attribution of the Nazi genocide to Hitler ‘going mad’ is incorrect. The Nazis did not shift from expulsion to extermination because Hitler ‘went mad’ – they abandoned expulsion because of the ever increasing violence within the totalitarian state and because their wars made expulsion impossible. But is it anti-Semitism? Is it ‘hatred of the Jews as a people’?
I remember Marcel Liebman’s answer to a student at the University of Brussels many years ago. Liebman wrote Born Jewish, a beautiful, intimate and heartbreaking account about a poor Jewish family in Brussels. Both his parents and his brother perished in Auschwitz. At that time, Pieter Menten, a Dutch war criminal had been arrested in the Netherlands. As a SS member, he had been responsible for hunting down Dutch Jews and transporting them to the transit camp of Westerbork. He also murdered Polish Jews in Galicia. A student asked Liebman what he thought about it. Liebman was a good human being, soft spoken but extremely principled. ‘I don’t give a shit about Menten,’ (‘Je m’en fou totalement’) he said. ‘The only thing I’m interested in is that none of this happens ever again anywhere.’
The challenge is to make conditions so that people like Menten do not get a chance. The world has to be made into a place where all people can live without being driven of their lands, out of their homes, a place where they have prospects, a future, where there is education, respect for their personal integrity and culture, where there are elementary services such as water, food and health care, a place where there this is work and were they are not getting abused, bombed and massacred. It is absolutely irrelevant who suffers and who creates the violence. The sole issue is that it has to stop.