A guest post by Hadar Sela, an Anglo-Israeli freelance writer
I have a problem – or rather several of them – with both the Guardian’s decision to commission the recent ‘Comment is Free’ article by Andy Newman on the subject of Gilad Atzmon and his new book and some of the subsequent reactions in the blogosphere, as well as with the article itself.
Several commentators on what I would call the sane centre-ish Left (which is also where I place myself politically) have welcomed Newman’s ‘outing’ of Atzmon as an anti-Semite and his supposed drawing of attention to anti-Semitism within the ranks of the far-Left.
At Harry’s Place, Alan A wrote:
“Although his politics on many issues are just terrible – as a search through the archives of Harry’s Place will confirm – Andy Newman is clearly and rightly concerned about the rise of antisemitism, particularly on the Left. This is not the first time that Newman has spoken up on this issue, and not the first time that Socialist Unity has called out Atzmon as the Nazi that he is.”
Bob from Brockley arrived at a similar conclusion:
“Like my Shirazite comrades, I have been critical here in the past of Andy and his blog, but in general he has been forthright in condemning left antisemitism, both because racism is bad in itself and because its presence in the anti-Zionist camp besmirches the cause of Palestinian solidarity. Credit is due to him for raising this issue in a mainstream left-liberal outlet.”
But is that the whole story, or are these reactions somewhat myopic? First, let’s consider the dynamics of the publication of the article itself.
Gilad Atzmon is clearly a very extreme case; one would have to be either terminally intellectually challenged or willfully blind in order to not recognize his anti-Semitism and yet Andy Newman is now feted in Left-liberal circles for stating the in-your-face obvious. Why?
The second question is why Andy Newman? The man is something of a political butterfly, having flitted between various sub-factions of the far-Left including the Socialist Workers Party and George Galloway’s Respect before most recently ending up in the Labour Party. He is a prominent member of the Swindon branch of the Stop the War Coalition – an organization which regularly collaborates with Islamist fascists on projects such as ‘Al Quds Day’ and itself has a despicable history of promoting anti-Semites. On October 8th it will be holding a rally in central London at which known supporters of the anti-Semitic (and proscribed) terrorist organization Hamas such as Anas Altikriti and Mohammed Sawalha are billed to appear.
In other words, inviting Andy Newman to rubber-stamp Gilad Atzmon’s anti-Semitism is a bit like asking Nick Griffin to write an article denouncing Combat 18.
So what was the point of Newman’s article? Well, the conclusion we must reach is that Gilad Atzmon is simply such an egregious example of a crude and blatant anti-Semite that he has become an embarrassment even to the sections of the far Left which promoted him for so many years. Atzmon went too far, and the far-Left is now in damage-control mode because it cannot afford to be associated with someone who has torn the fig-leaf of ‘anti-Zionism’ into tiny pieces. But in denouncing Atzmon for what he clearly is, Newman aims to achieve a secondary gain; in effect he is trying to recreate the smoke screen between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism which Atzmon destroyed.
This brings us to another, but related, subject. Who gets to define anti-Semitism? Why did the Guardian appear to think that Andy Newman could give a more authoritative opinion on the subject than, say, a representative of an organization such as the CST which deals with anti-Semitism day in and day out?
There’s a problem here which I believe is, to a certain extent, of our own making. Thinking back to my active days in the British Feminist movement of the 1970s, I am struck by one very obvious fact: we never fell into the trap of allowing men or those annoying Babycham-sipping women in pink, who sat in designated areas of the pub declaring “Of course I’m not a feminist” whilst furiously batting their curled eyelashes, to define what was or wasn’t sexist. Surely we cannot accept that white people should have a monopoly on deciding what is racist or that straight people alone should get to decide what is homophobic. So how did we get to the current situation in which, by and large, a non-Jewish opinion on what is or is not anti-Semitic carries infinitely more weight?
I would suggest that we got there because we have been too polite and too reasonable. We have, in our millennia-old efforts to survive as a minority, outsourced the thorny issue of anti-Semitism because somewhere down the line we came to the conclusion (perhaps correctly) that we could not fight it alone. The downside of that outsourcing is that we are no longer the majority stakeholder on the issue and so we believe that we should be grateful when someone such as Andy Newman – with his terrible record and associations – throws us a crumb.
And a crumb it most certainly is. Anti-Semitism has blighted the far Left for decades; there is nothing new or ‘rising’ about it at all. From its very beginnings Socialism advocated the assimilation of Jews as an ‘answer’ to anti-Semitism rather than dealing with the problem itself. The only scenario under which a Jew could liberate himself from racist persecution was, according to Lenin, “when the non-native sections cease to be alien and blend with the general mass of the population”. In other words, Jews could only avoid anti-Semitism if they stopped being Jews.
Not only has this theory been proved drastically wrong both in fascist Nazi Germany and – more relevantly – in the Soviet bloc, but it is difficult to imagine a modern-day socialist exhorting other groups to free themselves of prejudice and discrimination by becoming what they are not. Is the answer to sexism for women to become men? Is the answer to homophobia for Gays to repress their sexual orientation? Should black people suffering from racism just have done with it and become white? Obviously, we now enter the realms of the ridiculous, but Socialist attitudes on the far Left have remained trapped in this anachronistic way of thinking when it comes to Jews.
The progress made over the past half-century or so on the issues of equal rights for groups such as women, Gays and people of colour has been the result of liberation campaigns organized, defined and led by those groups themselves, together with (usually later coming) support from liberal thinkers. Zionism is the Jewish liberation movement; its foundations lie in the recognition of the need for Jewish self-determination because history has proved beyond all doubt that Jews could ultimately never rely on the will of the majority in their host countries to either tackle the issue of anti-Semitism effectively or afford protection from it. That – unfortunately – is still true, even in the most ‘enlightened’ of countries.
Many years ago I had a T-shirt which stated on the front that “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings”. The same applies to Zionism; it is the (still, for some) ‘radical’ notion that Jews are equals and that as such they are, like any other nation, entitled to dictate their own destiny through self-determination. A Left which is anti-Zionist is a Left which denies the right of Jews to that equality, and therefore racist.
So when Andy Newman and others of his anti-Zionist ilk begin defining anti-Semitism as something as patently extreme and obnoxious as Gilad Atzmon and his latest bid for fame as the producer of a modern version of the ‘Protocols of Zion’, I become suspicious. Not only am I in no need whatsoever of Newman’s guidance or endorsement in order to be able to identify anti-Semitism for myself, but what worries me more is the fact that the Andy Newman Guardian-approved version of anti-Semitism in fact opens the back door to far worse abuses because, in confining anti-Semitism to such an extremist as Atzmon, it actually removes other forms of anti-Semitism – such as those practiced by anti-Zionists – from the debate.
Both the strap-line and the final two paragraphs of Newman’s article stress the same point: “the cause of the Palestinians is hindered, not helped, by association with anti-Semitism”. In other words, Newman does not, as some bloggers have claimed, oppose anti-Semitism because it is just plain morally wrong, but because – politically speaking – it harms his real cause. He goes on to state that:
“It is incumbent upon the left and the Palestinian solidarity movement to both be aware of the conscious effort of far-right antisemites to infiltrate the movement…” [emphasis added]
This indicates that Newman – like many others – is in a state of denial as regards the anti-Semitism of the far-Left and its popular manifestation as anti-Zionism. That should be a cause of deep concern for all the authentic Left liberals who have showered him with their congratulations for this article: a man who does PR for Hamas like Newman in the above video is not ‘concerned’ about anti-Semitism. His state of denial should also, of course, disqualify Newman and others with similar records from being considered authorities on or definers of anti-Semitism.
If those of us on the liberal Left really do wish to ensure that the Jewish liberation movement is more than a passing phenomenon then we must take responsibility for it and ownership of it. We must stop being nice, polite and passive: gratefully scurrying around to catch the opportunistic crumbs tossed by those such as Andy Newman. He and the far Left in general have not been brought to some Damascene moment of repent by Gilad Atzmon; they merely need to remove him from their sphere of activity for pragmatic reasons.
It is time to say assertively that the anti-Zionism of the far Left – although much less flamboyant than Atzmon’s crude anti-Semitism – is no less racist, no less offensive and to bring to public attention the fact that it should be an anathema to all those who truly believe in the liberal principles of universal human rights and equality.
- Jew hatred as liberal commentary: Guardian provides platform to vicious antisemite, Gilad Atzmon (cifwatch.com)
- CiF piece critical of Gilad Atzmon elicits storm of antisemitic reader comments, including organ theft libels (cifwatch.com)
- Legitimizing antisemitism: Guardian provides platform to Alison Wier, blood libel promoter (cifwatch.com)