Guardian

Jews, Israel, & the Atavistic British Left: A response to Bob from Brockley


A guest post by Hadar Sela

During the three weeks since I wrote my CiF Watch essay about Andy Newman’s CiF piece about Gilad Atzmon, Bob from Brockley has published a couple of pieces, at his blog, in reply which I think raise points necessitating some broader discussion, mainly because they appear to me to be symptomatic of the syndrome currently plaguing the British Left.

It is, of course, possible to discuss the ins and outs of various Socialist theories on the subjects of Zionism and anti-Semitism. It is also possible to dissect the assorted anti-Zionist tributaries and differing shades of anti-Semitism, but little of that seems to lead to honest examination of the real and very pressing question of why the British Left collaborates with and promotes racists and bigots and how that both effects British society as a whole and renders a much-needed Left increasingly irrelevant.

That examination obviously needs to be executed by British Leftists themselves; some have tried to plough the first furrows, but come up largely against stony ground. What is still sorely lacking is honest discussion based on the understanding that whilst Socialist theory has its place, its real test comes with practice. Unless human beings can be introduced successfully into the theoretical equations, the theory is surely of no use to those of us who regard Socialism as a moral concept rather than merely the inevitable outcome of the class struggle.

Anti-Zionism

In the first of his pieces on the subject, Bob from Brockley attempted to differentiate between different forms of anti-Zionism.

“… it seems to me that anti-Zionism that also takes a consistent opposition to all nationalisms (including Palestinian nationalism) is not antisemitic; Jewish religious anti-Zionism such as that of the Satmer Hasidim is not antisemitic; Jewish anti-Zionism which rejects the Zionist solution to the questions of Jewish survival and continuity (such as the position of the Jewish Socialist Group or others in the tradition of the Bund, folkism and other diasporist traditions) is not antisemitic; anti-Zionism from the perspective of Israeli citizens (Jewish or Arab) who want to see Israel as a democratic state for all its citizens (rather than a Jewish state) is not antisemitic; finally anti-Zionism which sees Zionism as a form of imperialism and takes a consistent opposition to all imperialisms without singling out Zionism as unique is wrong-headed, but not in itself antisemitic.”

Let’s take these one by one, with the easiest first. The fringe phenomenon of Jewish religious opposition to the modern State of Israel is, I believe, better described as ‘non-Zionism’ rather than anti-Zionism. The quibble here is not about the what, but about the when and by whom: the moment they perceive the religious conditions as being ripe the Satmars will be on the first plane to Tel Aviv too. Apart from a very small handful of much paraded extremists, few religious non-Zionists actually do anything to undermine existing Jewish self-determination and therefore cannot be described as anti-Semitic.

The other categories however are a different kettle of fish because whilst in theory Bob may well be correct, the all-important practice presents a different picture. Many of those supposedly opposing Jewish nationalism on principle are at the same time campaigning vigorously for Palestinian nationalism and any calls for the dissolution of other nation states (apart from the Jewish one) are either non-existent or dismissed as cranky. We (fortunately) witnessed no demonstrations by the far Left in London opposing the recent creation of the world’s newest state in Southern Sudan.

The Jewish Socialist Group style of anti-Zionism could possibly be seen as legitimate at a personal level (and indeed on a par with religious non-Zionism) but when advocated on a national scale it is ultimately a phenomenon proved anachronistic by history – one which promotes failed solutions and negates the right to Jewish self-determination.

The ‘anti-Imperialist’ style of anti-Zionism is, as Bob points out, wrong-headed from its foundations, but also must be called out for the fact that it is for the most part not consistent. The Jewish state appears to be able to incur an intensity of wrath in a manner which genuine imperialist or colonial projects (especially those conducted by non-white people – e.g. the take-over of Lebanon by an Iranian proxy militia) largely do not. Demanding of the Jewish state things which are not required from other countries (i.e. the application of double standards) is, of course, anti-Semitic.

Anti-Zionism within Israel itself is a more complicated subject and one which requires dividing into two parts. Jewish post-Zionism is a form of negation of self-determination. Arab anti-Zionism is for the most part a stepping stone to another version of both nationalism and imperialism.

The common denominator between all these forms of anti-Zionism is the rejection of the Jewish right to self-determination. Some may appear less malicious than others, but the bottom line in practical terms is that they all employ some kind of Socialist-related theory in the attempt to take from Jews a basic right afforded to other nations. Interestingly, we do not see Socialist theory being employed in order to promote the revoking of the emancipatory achievements of other minorities. One cannot, I hope, imagine a world in which Socialists would be found advocating the re-criminalisation of homosexuality or the repeal of equal rights for women or people of colour, but for some reason we do hear Socialist voices promoting the idea of the abolition of Jewish self- determination. That is undeniably racist.

No less importantly, the right which anti-Zionists attempt to deny Jews is not some theoretical one, but a right already exercised today by over half the Jewish nation and one which the majority of Jews want and support. Does the British Left really see the annulment of hard-won rights by an ethnic minority as part of its agenda? If not, it cannot condone anti-Zionism in any of its forms, however eccentric.

That fact in itself should perhaps prompt decent Socialist thinkers to take a less blasé attitude towards the anti-Semitic roots of anti-Zionism in all its different hues. But in addition, it should also be taken into account that the Jewish people have – within living memory – already experienced the trauma of having their hard-won rights and emancipation revoked by a supposedly enlightened Western society into which they were assimilated and with which they totally identified. It is easy to demand of Jews that they exercise a “sense of proportion” when criticising anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, but it is also vital to remember that what may be perceived as over-sensitivity by some has its roots in bitter experience rather than “hysteria” or “paranoia”. Jews have earned at a terrible price the right, the ability and also the obligation to call out anti-Semitism wherever we encounter it.

Antisemitism

However, in his second article, Bob from Brockley writes the following:

“One thing I am sure of is that there are lots of different antisemitisms, including lots of different left antisemitisms, and they are not all as bad as each other or equivalent to each other, and they are not all genocidal in their logic. We need a sense of proportion and more calmness in approaching them. We hurt only ourselves through hysteria and paranoia.”

This is a worrying statement coming from the anti-racist Left. One must ponder who exactly gets to define what is ‘bad’ or ‘not so bad’ anti-Semitism (in much the same way as some of us are asking ourselves who gets to define anti-Semitism as a whole) as well as wondering if the same yard-stick is to be applied to other kinds of racism and bigotry. Is there also bad homophobia and not so bad homophobia?

Whilst there are indeed forms of anti-Semitism and other types of racism which are not “genocidal in their logic”, surely the point should be that today we know that the path to genocide starts with small, often seemingly inconsequential, steps. Stereotyping and prejudice create a climate conducive to discrimination. Discrimination leads to scapegoating and then to violence and hate crime – an escalation which, in the 20th century, represented a path to genocide.

Whilst I am not for a moment suggesting that Britain is about to commit full-blown genocide of its Jewish population, I do think that there is every reason for British Socialists to be very concerned (and ashamed) about the fact that their nation has over the past thirty years or so climbed steadily up the pyramid of hate.  Jewish self-determination is used as a scapegoat to explain away terrorism and conflict.  Violence and hate crime against Jews are far from unheard of. And it is a casual or hesitant approach to anti-Semitism in all its forms – including the seemingly trivial – which facilitates these phenomena from the base.

No less important is the effect of Britain’s failure to deal with its expressions of anti-Semitism in the modern world of instant communications. Those elements in the Middle East which are of a genocidal bent are strengthened by the fact that the Jewish right to self-determination has once again become an acceptable subject for discussion in London living rooms.  The same elements are enabled by the decisions of editors of Western media outlets such as the Guardian to provide their leaders and supporters with a legitimising platform despite the fact that those same leaders are responsible for actions which clearly contravene the UN convention on genocide.  And of course they are also encouraged by the type of ‘we are all Hizballah/Hamas now’ parade which has become synonymous with the predominantly Left-led so-called pro-Palestinian movement in the UK.

So, rather than continuing to fail to comprehensively address the issue of anti-Semitism in the ranks of the far Left, rather than engaging in the type of mental gymnastics which deal with such nit-picking questions as to whether Gilad Atzmon comes from the Right or the Left or what kinds of anti-Semitism are not so bad after all, maybe it is actually the Left itself which needs to find a “sense of proportion” – mainly for its own sake.

As a first step, the Left surely needs to ask itself why its reactions to anti-Jewish racism (and Jewish objections to it) differ from its reactions to racism of other kinds. The uncomfortable fact is that if there is one group which stands as a constant reminder to the Left of its failure to make racism and discrimination a thing of the past, it is the Jews. Anti-Semitism is the hatred which will not go away; it continues to raise its ugly head time after time both on an individual and a national scale. In both cases, the response of the Left has all too often been to advocate assimilation, either as individual Jews or as a nation, by adopting the anti-Zionist stance which denies Jews their collective right to self-determination.

The fact is that the debate on whether Israel should exist or not is one which should not be given a platform by Leftists who believe in Socialism as a moral concept. Israel already exists, and to contemplate the annulment of the right of the Jewish nation to self-determination should be an atavistic concept in the Socialist world.

Unfortunately for modern Socialism, it isn’t. Indeed this is a path which Socialism has been down before with shameful results, as the writings of Nachman Syrkin as long ago as 1898 serve to remind.

“Socialist principles and theory are opposed to any denial of Jewish rights; yet it often happens that, for tactical and opportunistic reasons, socialist parties adopt passive attitudes or even abet attacks on the Jews. No matter how diametrically opposed the Social Democratic Party of Germany is to anti-Semitism in principle, there were numerous political occasions when the party rejoiced in anti-Semitism, or, at least, failed to attack it. Recent political history offers a number of examples to illustrate the character of the socialist parties. A case in point is the attitude of the French socialists toward the ‘Dreyfus Affair’. Just as the opportunism of the German Social-Democratic Party sometimes led it in a direction opposite to the basic principles of socialism, so, too, because of opportunism, the French Party excluded the Jews from its devotion to absolute justice.”

It is often said that history has shown that ‘what begins with the Jews doesn’t end with the Jews’ and it is that aspect of the British Left’s flirtation with racist and discriminatory elements which should also prompt it to urgently get its house in order. Jews are far from being the only ones currently being sold out by the Left’s inability to stick to the principle of Socialism as a moral concept based on universal human rights and it is that inability which is rendering the Left more irrelevant by the day.

32 replies »

  1. “One cannot, I hope, imagine a world in which Socialists would be found advocating the re-criminalisation of homosexuality or the repeal of equal rights for women or people of colour, but for some reason we do hear Socialist voices promoting the idea of the abolition of Jewish self- determination. That is undeniably racist.”

    head shot

  2. Lovely article Hadar Sela.

    Whilst I am not for a moment suggesting that Britain is about to commit full-blown genocide of its Jewish population, I do think that there is every reason for British Socialists to be very concerned (and ashamed) about the fact that their nation has over the past thirty years or so climbed steadily up the pyramid of hate. Jewish self-determination is used as a scapegoat to explain away terrorism and conflict. Violence and hate crime against Jews are far from unheard of. And it is a casual or hesitant approach to anti-Semitism in all its forms – including the seemingly trivial – which facilitates these phenomena from the base.

    All it needs is for good people to remain silent.

  3. Thanks very much Hadar for taking me seriously enough to reply like this. I am starting to read it through and hope to return with a reply in due course. In the meantime, on the first part of your post, on when anti-Zionism is not antisemitism, readers might be interested in three places where the same debate has been percolating: Volokh Conspiracy (thanks Adam for alerting me to that) http://volokh.com/2011/10/04/anti-zionism-and-anti-semitism/ then at my place http://brockley.blogspot.com/2011/10/when-is-anti-zionism-not-antisemitic.html and then at Contested Terrain http://contested-terrain.net/anti-zionism-and-antisemitism/

    Back later!

  4. First part of an answer…

    It feels odd to be taken as representative or exemplary of “the Left” or “British Socialism”, even if of the “decent” variety. While broadly speaking a person of the left, I don’t feel that I can speak for the left as a whole, and share several of the criticisms of the left made here. It is also worth pointing the two posts under discussion are two from a large number dealing with Gilad Atzmon in particular http://brockley.blogspot.com/search/label/AtzmonWatch , left antisemitism in general http://brockley.blogspot.com/search/label/left%20antisemitism and in fact antisemitism in general http://brockley.blogspot.com/search/label/Jew-haters . If the two posts you mention were my only posts on the topic, you would be more than justified in thinking that I was taking the left off the hook, sophistry and navel-gazing, but it makes a difference to see them as reflective moments in a several years long project of exposing and combating left antisemitism (admittedly to a tiny audience!).

    The first part of your post is about when anti-Zionism is not antisemitic. You dismiss religious anti-Zionism quickly as non-Zionist rather than anti-Zionist, but at least the Satmar, Toldos Aharon, and Neturei Karta are explicitly anti-Zionist, founding their rejection of Jewish self-determination in the Three Oaths set out in the Talmudic Ketubot 111a. I agree that “few religious non-Zionists actually do anything to undermine existing Jewish self-determination and therefore cannot be described as anti-Semitic”; but I also think that even those that do undermine the state of Israel are not antisemitic. But I think we can agree that all these groups are pretty marginal to our concerns, so I’ll move on.

    “Many of those supposedly opposing Jewish nationalism on principle are at the same time campaigning vigorously for Palestinian nationalism and any calls for the dissolution of other nation states (apart from the Jewish one) are either non-existent or dismissed as cranky.” Yes, but these cases are exactly what I’m not talking about. My bottom line is that supporting national self-determination but denying it to Jews is antisemitic. But what about those groups on the left that who oppose Jewish nationalism along with all other nationalisms, as with most anarchists and as with left communists in the tradition of Rosa Luxemburg? Of course these are a smaller fraction of the left than Leninists who believe in national self-determination, but they are out there, and to claim they are antisemitism because they are anti-Zionist is just plain wrong.

    The Bundist/Jewish Socialist Group position may or may not be anachronistic and irrelevant, but again my argument is that it cannot a priori dismissed as antisemitic. The Jewish Socialist Group, at least until recently, was the most consistent and honest voice against left antisemitism in Britain. They don’t deny the Jewish right to self-determination; they argue that Israel, and certainly not an ethnically exclusive Israel, is not the best way to fulfil right.

    I agree that actually existing anti-imperialism tends to reserve a unique amount of vitriol for Israel, and that this is antisemitic. But I also think that anti-imperialism which does not reserve a unique amount of vitriol for Israel is perfectly possible. I fleshed out my argument in my comment here http://contested-terrain.net/anti-zionism-and-antisemitism/ . To give an example, I was thinking of Bill Weinberg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Weinberg World War 4 Report and New Jewish Resistance.

    Within Israel/Palestine, you say Arab anti-Zionism “is for the most part a stepping stone to another version of both nationalism and imperialism.” That might be true, but what about those Arabs simply want Israel to be a state for all its citizens and not just for the Jews. Whether you agree with it or not, is that an a priori antisemitic demand? And are their post-Zionist Jewish supporters also a priori antisemitic because they want a non-ethnically exclusive Israel, i.e. an Israel more like other modern western liberal democracies, such as the UK?

  5. A political commentator in 1820 might say, “The Greeks once had a state, but we cannot turn the clock back, for then the world would become a madhouse.” He might say, “Five years ago we had a Congress at Vienna where the danger of nationalism—as unleashed by Napoleon—was to be contained. To give Greece independence would negate that very goal.” But what that commentator could not do, or at any rate could not do without being a hypocrite, was to append to those arguments the words, “But I assure you, I have nothing against the Greek people.”

    Pragmatic, reasonable-looking, moral-sounding though they might have been, those arguments were anti-Greek. Pragmatic, reasonable-looking, moral-sounding though they may be, anti-Zionist arguments are anti-Jewish. This is by their very nature: Oppose self-determination for any [real] nation X, for whatever reason, and you are automatically anti-X.

    Of the truth that anti-Zionism is, with many anti-Zionists, part of a consistent general anti-nationalism: That does not negate that point. If they say, “I am opposed to the idea of a Jewish state just as I am opposed to the idea of, say, a Dutch state, therefore I am not anti-Jewish,” the reply should be that they are anti-Jewish just as surely as they are anti-Dutch. It would be right for the Dutch to be concerned about those anti-Dutch people, and it is our right as Jews to be concerned about them as anti-Jewish. General anti-nationalism doesn’t make the particular cases of it justified.

    To conclude: If they say, “I am against all nation-states; I think humanity needs to evolve beyond ethnic divisions,” the answer as a Zionist, a Jewish nationalist, should be, “Your pipe-dreams are very interesting, but you have no right to implement them on the Jewish nation.” Anti-Zionists tend to hold the Jews and their state to different standards, but even when they hold us to the same antagonistic standards as others, they are not justified in doing so. To say Israel needs to become a multicultural free-for-all Proposition Nation because Britain has become such is hardly a justification, for Britain itself should never have become a multicultural free-for-all Proposition Nation—such a transformation effectively makes the members of the original nation stateless in their own state!

    • Ziontruth, I had some sympathy for your argument until I got to your final sentence, unless I misunderstand your use of the term Proposition Nation, a term I have only seen used by racists before. If Britain insisted on being a nation-state only for the ethnic British (whoever on earth they are, in these mongrel islands, where mixing and mingling by invasion and settlement has been the norm since the dawn of history), then what would have become of the quarter million or so Jewish refugees who came here fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe?

      As for the anti-Dutch argument, a consistent anti-nationalist is anti-everybody in your view, which seems unlikely. But why your analogy is wrong is that only a people is not the same as a “nation” and a nation is not the same as a nationalist movement.

      • “…the term Proposition Nation, a term I have only seen used by racists before.”

        Guilt by association won’t work with me. While some who use that term view the world through the prism of race, I do not—I cannot, for the definition of “Jew” is an irracial one (the option of joining the Jewish nation through religious conversion decouples Jewishness from genetics).

        As a preamble to my following words, let me emphasize that they are my opinion, as a private poster here on CiFWatch, and not representative of CiFWatch itself. Here goes:

        How a nation is determined is up to the members of the nation to reach by consensus. If by race then by race. If by language (like the Arab nation) then by language. If by biological descent plus the option of joining by way of the religion, as the Jewish nation has it, then so be it. What matters is that the nation needs to have something real and distinct to show for its being a nation. (That’s why I don’t regard the Arab colonists in Palestine as a nation.) Once a nation has reached an agreement as to what makes it a nation, it is entitled to a state where it enjoys safety and security from demographic encroachment by means of exclusive rights. While this idea in itself is enough to excite calls of “Racism” and “Supremacism” from the anti-nationalist Marxist Left, it isn’t racism but merely sane nationalism, and it isn’t supremacism, because I believe every nation has that right.

        Having multiple nations (note again: Nations, not races) under the same political roof has not worked well. In more benign cases, such as Belgium, the members of the nations just exhibit contempt for one another; in the worse, such Lebanon, Yugoslavia and Iraq, the multicultural state erupts into civil war once there is no tyrannical hand to keep the lid on the differences.

        The Proposition Nation is the idea that the nation is the sum of all the residents of a particular political entity. It puts the state first, then the nation. The traditional ethnic nation-state is a state that exists to serve and protect the nation residing on it; and that nation is defined by intrinsic criteria (see above), not by mere residence. The traditional, sane nation-state is in contrast not only to multiculturalism, which has the original nation stateless in its own land (underflow), but also to imperialism, which has a nation possess the lands of other nations (overflow). Thus, the comparisons of ethnic nationalism to German imperialism a.k.a. Nazism are invalid.

        My view does not stem from any theory of superiority or any such kind of thing; it stems only from reading history and rejecting what has been found, time and again, not to work. To be perfectly sure, I believe every nation has the right to choose even multiculturalist suicide. But since the anti-Zionists rail against the Zionist insistence that Israel be the Jewish State as “atavistic racism that has no place in the 21st century,” I make it clear that I do not specially plead for the Jewish case here—I hold that all other nations have the same right.

        You ask:

        “…then what would have become of the quarter million or so Jewish refugees who came here fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe?”

        Temporary asylum is something else. In any case, the best solution is the very one that exists now: That the Jews have their own state. In like manner, I propose—but only as an idea, not as a call for action, for that is not my affair to meddle in—that the plight of Christian communities in the Islamic world be solved by carving exclusive Christian states for them out of the huge mass of land the Muslims possess.

        Again, I wish to remind readers that those are my own opinions and not of CiFWatch officialdom.

          • Thanks you, Bob from Brockley, for your willingness to listen. I apologize for my long-form replies, but they were necessary because my points couldn’t be conveyed in soundbites.

            • Wonderful as always, ziontruth but are you aware that the very horrible state of affairs that is current in Britain is the fault of Jews – according to neo-Nazis and other unspeakables?

              • “…but are you aware that the very horrible state of affairs that is current in Britain is the fault of Jews – according to neo-Nazis and other unspeakables?”

                Yes, I know. I don’t lose sleep over that, because I know it’s useless to reason with those who are beyond reason. There’s a joke about that:

                JEW-HATER: I blame the Jews for this economic crisis.

                JEW: I blame the Jews and the bicyclists.

                JEW-HATER: Why the bicyclists?

                JEW: Why the Jews?

                It’s the only fitting commentary.

  6. Second (final) part of an answer…

    You further say that all these forms of anti-Zionism have “anti-Semitic roots”. I don’t know if I’m misunderstanding you, but I completely disagree that the Talmudic roots of haredi anti-Zionism, the Marxist roots of Rosa Luxemburg’s anti-nationalism, the diasporist roots of Bundist anti-Zionism, the anti-colonial roots of anti-imperialism, the liberal democratic desire for a multi-ethnic Israel, or the Palestinian desire for self-determination are in any way intrinsically antisemitic, even if the journey some of these currents have taken has ended in antisemitic places.

    You say: “The common denominator between all these forms of anti-Zionism is the rejection of the Jewish right to self-determination. Some may appear less malicious than others, but the bottom line in practical terms is that they all employ some kind of Socialist-related theory in the attempt to take from Jews a basic right afforded to other nations.” Where national self-determination is supported for others and not for Jews, that’s antisemitism. We agree on that. To reiterate, my point is that those who deny the right to all nations including the Jews, that extend an anti-imperialist critique to all “imperialist” states and so on, are not intrinsically antisemitic.

    You say: “Interestingly, we do not see Socialist theory being employed in order to promote the revoking of the emancipatory achievements of other minorities. One cannot, I hope, imagine a world in which Socialists would be found advocating the re-criminalisation of homosexuality or the repeal of equal rights for women or people of colour, but for some reason we do hear Socialist voices promoting the idea of the abolition of Jewish self- determination. That is undeniably racist.”

    To start with, lots of leftists do employ universalist or anti-nationalist theories against other minorities’ nationalisms. While most of the left were kneejerk supporters of Irish Republicanism, a significant current of socialist thought has opposed it – e.g. the Socialist Party of Great Britain, the oldest socialist party in the UK http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/subject/irish-republicanism . Anarchists and Trotskyists have been harsh critics of the ANC. Rosa Luxemburg was as passionately opposed to Polish nationalism as to Jewish nationalism. Just because most of today’s left is focused on Israel does not mean that all anti-nationalist criticisms of Israel are antisemitic.

    Besides, there is no comparison between opposing the Zionist state and “advocating the re-criminalisation of homosexuality or the repeal of equal rights for women or people of colour”. If a state for homosexuals, and only for homosexuals, was brought into being, which gave second class status to heterosexuals, most on the left would oppose this, even if it served as a haven for the homosexuals viciously persecuted in African and Middle Eastern countries. While socialists support equal rights for people of colour, only a small number of socialists have supported any notion of an independent black nation-state in America, displacing the non-black residents.

    Moving on to the second part, where you address my argument that not all antisemitisms are the same, you say: “Is there also bad homophobia and not so bad homophobia? Well, yes. A metrosexual youngster drunk in a nightclub jokingly saying “Your mum’s so gay” to his mate is probably not so bad homophobia compared to dragging someone behind a pick-up truck for being gay. The same with all prejudices. If the word racist applies equally to Gillian Duffy and David Duke and there is no sense that their prejudices are of an utterly incomparable order, then the word means nothing. There are varying degrees of malice in the intent and there are varying degrees of damage in the effect. If we collapse all of them together as essentially the same, we’ve lost the game in advance.

  7. Sorry, I said part two was the final part of my answer, but I remembered something I also wanted to say. (I read my kids’ bedtime stories between writing part one and part two, so lost track!)

    Near the end of your piece, you quote an eloquent and incisive passage from the great Nachman Syrkin. However, re-reading it, it struck me that he is arguing something completely different from you. He says “Socialist principles and theory are opposed to any denial of Jewish rights” and yet actually existing socialism has often been in practice antisemitic. You argue that socialist antisemitism is not a deviation from socialism, but in fact deeply rooted in it. These are different points aren’t they? Because Syrkin did not stop being a socialist because of the antisemitism of some actually existing socialists being antisemitic.

    It is also worth remembering that, while some socialists, as Syrkin said, took up antisemitic positions in the Dreyfus affair, other socialists (and anarchists) were at the forefront of Dreyfus’ defence – just as French conservatives were found on both sides of the affair.

  8. zionruth: all your various definitions of nationhood are, frankly, daft, Nations are acts of social and historical imagination, nothing more and nothing less. the Jews are a nation because they believe themselves to be so and have imposed that belief on their enemies. The Palestinians are a nation because they believe themselves to be so and are attempting to do the same.

    • “…all your various definitions of nationhood are, frankly, daft,…”

      The argument by bare assertion of personal taste. Always convincing.

      I’ll say just one thing on this issue: Those sample definitions I gave aren’t mine. You’re not slighting my ideas, as I am not their originator.

      “The [Arab settler-colonists in Palestine] are a nation because they believe themselves to be so and are attempting to do the same.”

      No. If every group of people called itself a nation on the basis of some grievance with or contradistinction to another group—or any kind of negative trait—the world would become a madhouse. To some extent, that’s exactly what’s happened. The Arab colonists in Palestine only called themselves a nation when their propagandists realized that, for some odd reason, the idea of the Arab nation, possessor of a score of states on a huge mass of land, fighting against the existence of one tiny nation-state of one single nation, the Jewish nation, didn’t wash with opinion outside the Arab world. The ruse was cooked up to invert the truth of the Jewish David vs. Arab Goliath on its head.

  9. Bob wrt this

    “If a state for homosexuals, and only for homosexuals, was brought into being, which gave second class status to heterosexuals, most on the left would oppose this, even if it served as a haven for the homosexuals viciously persecuted in African and Middle Eastern countries. While socialists support equal rights for people of colour, only a small number of socialists have supported any notion of an independent black nation-state in America, displacing the non-black residents.”

    As you well know, Bob, Israeli Arabs are equal before the law in Israel. Of course they are also discriminated against as well. The same goes for national minorities in a load of countries that no one suggests should be abolished.

    As regards displacement, every state on the continent of America is based on genocide and displacement and nobody finds that a problem. The same goes for many, many other states; Ireland’s independence form the UK saw the displacement of many Anglo Irish Protestants who felt their identity and culture was not respected in the new RC state for an RC people.

    One could go on and on ….

    There is no original starting place in history when all were in their proper place and there was a proper place for all.

  10. ziontruth

    Of the truth that anti-Zionism is, with many anti-Zionists, part of a consistent general anti-nationalism: That does not negate that point. If they say, “I am opposed to the idea of a Jewish state just as I am opposed to the idea of, say, a Dutch state, therefore I am not anti-Jewish,”

    That would be acceptable. The problem is that CiFfalists and of their ilk, are opposed to the idea of a Jewish state yet support a Palestinian, (ie – Muslim) state. This exposes them rightly to derision.

    I suspect that their ‘problem’ is an amalgamation of antisemitism and rank anti Americanism. As has been pointed out on other posts here, the radical left has always wanted Jews assimilated into mainstream (non-Jewish) society. Not quite the same as the Catholic based antisemitism.

    What I feel is new today, is that the radical left are quite prepared to shout their demands out load from Jews in the form of anti Zionism and, much much worse, rubbing shoulders with rank antisemites. Without shame. While forgetting other ‘pillars of the LEFT’ like equality for the sexes etc. They give platforms to extreme Islamists. (Islamists who used to be their political opposites), Islamists who, if they had the power, would hang these radical LEFTIES from the nearest crane.

    That is the irony of it for the radical LEFT.

    Yet they persist. They are beyond help. And beyond belief.

    The ‘power’ of Hadar Sela’s article is that it explains so well the crooked connections of the radical LEFT’s mental activity. (Which is very low and mainly parroting what another member has managed to verbalize through a haze of all consuming hate).

  11. Bob.

    “The same with all prejudices. If the word racist applies equally to Gillian Duffy and David Duke and there is no sense that their prejudices are of an utterly incomparable order, then the word means nothing.”

    Wasn’t it the case that David Duke was a guest in Tehran for the Holocaust denial circus? But most on the left choose to ignore this reality (and many other inconvenient truths – including the Hamas covenant) because it doesn’t fit the anti-Zionist narrative. In this way they do indeed devalue the true meaning of prejudice and oppression when it comes to contemporary manifestations of eliminationist anti-Semitism, and so become complicit in a form of racism that they bend over backwards to deny even exists. An aberration, they believe, that was vanquished with the defeat of Nazi Germany.

  12. Zionism is atavistic. Jews were indeed a nation before the expulsion. However, through assimilation and adoption of the traditions of the countries of their births, Jews ceased to be a distinct nation. Zionism is a minority sport among Jews. Israel speaks for Israelis, not Jews.

    • “Zionism is atavistic.”

      Zionism is simply a nationalism—the national movement of a particular nation. If you think nationalism in general is atavistic, well, I won’t argue with your personal choice to live under a Big Brotherhood of Man or other Imagine-ary paradise, but you have no right to impose your perverted vision on the Jewish nation.

      “However, through assimilation and adoption of the traditions of the countries of their births, Jews ceased to be a distinct nation.”

      Jews never assimilated, and they only adopted the traditions of their host countries as far as required for being good guests (because Jewish Law, unlike Islamic law, says the Jews in exile are to abide by the laws of their host countries). The Jews have never ceased to be a nation, except for those individuals who willingly jettisoned themselves out of the Jewish collective.

      “Israel speaks for Israelis, not Jews.”

      There is no Israeli nation. An Israeli is a resident of the state of Israel, but his nationality is Jewish or Arab or something else.

    • Islamofascism is a majority sport among Muslims.

      Hence, 9/11, Londons 7/7/05, Halabja, 8 year Iraq/Iran war, beheading, murder of infidels, FGM, Pan Am 103, family honor killings, hanging of gays in iran, Beltway sniper, Fort Hood, near nuclear war between Pakistan and India, genocidal threats by Iran, using civilians as human shields, bombing embassies in Africa…

  13. There are two completely different arguments at stake here. The first is whether any of the anti-Zionist arguments are correct or not; the second is whether all of them are by definition antisemitic. I am not here to argue for any of the anti-Zionist positions I mentioned. I have considerable sympathy for the anti-nationalist position and for the Bundist position (note: these are incompatible with each other, and the fierce polemics between Rosa Luxemburg and the Bund show that well); I have no sympathy at all with religious anti-Zionism or anti-imperialism. So, I have no stake in refuting Eamonn’s arguments.

    (I do, however, profoundly disagree with Ziontruth, as I see nothing intrinsic that makes ethnicities into nations, apart from (as Eamonn says) that they imagine themselves as such. Nations are not traditional but modern. There is no natural limit to the possible proliferation of the new nations. And the main reason multi-national states don’t work is because of the murderousness of nationalisms.)

    What I am here to argue is that we cannot dismiss all forms of anti-Zionism as a priori antisemitic, and I don’t think any of counter-arguments put forward so far are convincing me otherwise. Some of the counter-arguments rest on a false analogy between anti-Zionism and, for example, anti-Dutchness. This is false because Zionism is not analogous to Dutchness, but rather to Dutch national self-determination.

    • “Nations are not traditional but modern.”

      This is Marxist historical revisionism. When nationalism was reasserted in the 18th century, it awoke from the dormancy of the Middle Ages—it was not born. Nationalism was the norm in Antiquity. In the Middle Ages in Europe, the feudal system did away with centralized power and therefore also national cohesion. Even so, national feeling began to play a role in the Hundred Years War between England and France, another strong indicator that nationalism was only dormant.

      “There is no natural limit to the possible proliferation of the new nations.”

      I’m not going to give credence to the Arab imperialist narrative. As I said in my reply to Eamonn, it is there only to cover the truth of a patently unjust ambition.

      “And the main reason multi-national states don’t work is because of the murderousness of nationalisms.”

      Nonsense. Czechoslovakia became a region of national calm (the relations with the Soviet Union are a different matter) once the Sudeten Germans were expelled after 1945. Yugoslavia, a powder keg immediately after its breakup, is now a collection of peaceful nation-states, now that each of the nations in former Yugoslavia has its own enclosed space. Nationalism is not murderous in and of itself; nations deprived of an enclosed political space of their own usually become murderous. (Two exceptions are the Druzes and the Jews, both of whom have it in their law not to go against their host nations.)

      “What I am here to argue is that we cannot dismiss all forms of anti-Zionism as a priori antisemitic,…”

      And I am here to argue that anti-Zionism does not have to be Jew-hatred in order to be illegitimate. It deserves eradication just on the merit of being opposition to Jewish self-determination.

      “Some of the counter-arguments rest on a false analogy between anti-Zionism and, for example, anti-Dutchness. This is false because Zionism is not analogous to Dutchness, but rather to Dutch national self-determination.”

      That wasn’t my analogy. My analogy was that anti-Zionism is de facto anti-Jewish just as being against Dutch national self-determination is de facto anti-Dutch.

  14. I’ve also been thinking about the stages of genocide and the pyramid of hate. I agree that stereotyping is a step to discrimination and that symbolization is a step towards dehumanization and so on. I agree that in this sense all racisms, including antisemitism, do have a genocidal logic, contrary to what I said. And I agree that the left – and everyone – should be aware and ashamed of how many steps we have taken. But as George Stanton makes clear, there is no inevitability about stepping from one stage to the next.

    Lots of groups are classified and symbolized, stereotyped and discriminated in the UK – Muslims, Gypsies, lesbians, white working class people, Jews and so on. Jews have been the victims of genocide in living memory, so we are right to be aware that when Jews are stereotyped there is in some sense an ultimately genocidal logic at work if this proceeds to the next step, and right to be vigilant. But it would be as alarmist to think that with Jews, any more than with Muslims, Gypsies, etc, the danger of moving to the higher steps of the ladder is really an imminent danger right now.

    I think we need to be aware of which sorts of racism, including which sorts of antisemitism, are nudging up the ladder, which we should concentrate our energies on, and not dissipate our energies chasing after threats that are effectively negligible right now.

  15. This has been a very interesting discussion, about both the original and secondary themes. Bob, I think, part of the miscommunication between you and some who disagree is your overlooked use of the term a priori, which, if you did not actually use prior to this comment (I’m not going back to look), has certainly been implied. I agree that some of those anti-Zionisms are not a priori antisemitism. But many outspoken, activist contemporary adherents of them are a posteriori – effectively – antisemitic. It’s Stalin who kills you, not Marx, and we can argue about the relation for another century.

    On the matter of nationalism, there is no neat definition or account of it, which is what allows for this ceaseless debate about it. But while I suspect I disagree with Ziontruth about many things, I agree with him that nations – the sense of nationhood – is largely a self-affirming construct, though one that draws significantly on nature and history. For every account of nationality one offers, another can find an exception, but this, too, supports the exceptions. It is very often the antisemite arguing against the validity of Jewish nationhood who tries to do so by appealing to some incoherence in the notion of it compared to other nationalities. But the exceptions prove their own rule. The U.S. is a proposition nation, though, indeed, a racist and antisemite like Pat Buchanan, has argued that it is not. That is, indeed, something exceptional about it, and, by my lights, by both common definitions of the term. But that is not to universalize its form of nationalism. It is rooted in a very particular history. What is needed is the common self-affirmation – every person who truly understand what America is has to believe that – which, if that sounds easily thrown together, we know from experience is a claim that will face daunting objections and tests. Jews, and Israel, have more than passed that test, and those who devote any special attention to denying or undoing Jewish nationhood have a very high bar to reach to overcome rightful suspicion.

  16. Hi Bob,

    Thank you for taking the time to read this and make such detailed and considered replies.

    However, I must admit to feeling a little frustrated because once more the theory appears to be taking priority over the practice and that is giving me flashbacks to 1970s student parties in Leeds with the Marxists monopolising the stereo and the Trots hogging the beer in the kitchen!

    Perhaps I didn’t make the point sufficiently well in the article above, but to my mind, what really matters are the end results – the practicalities – of the stance currently taken by members of the British Left on the subject of Zionism and Israel. In my view it doesn’t really matter if some particular group can be exonerated from accusations of antisemitism by invoking specific terms and conditions. What matters to me is that they are at best staying silent about the Left’s collusion with Islamist fascists and at worst marching side by side with them through central London on Al Quds day.

    Actually, I think that Nachman Syrkin (who of course was not a Marxist) was saying exactly what I’m trying to say now: that too often Socialists have sold out or circumvented their own principles when it comes to Jewish-related questions. That didn’t stop Syrkin being a Socialist, (he is of course buried alongside many of the other great founders of Socialist Zionism at Kinneret), but he did feel it his obligation to point out that Socialism and antisemitism cannot be compatible precisely because of the underlying principle of universal human rights.

    (btw, you’re right that Jaures did support Dreyfus, but it was the Guesde anti-Dreyfus stance which won the support of the 1904 International Socialist Congress in Amsterdam.)

    So, my claim is that even if a person or group takes an anti-Zionist stance on the grounds of principles which are arguably not necessarily antisemitic, the practical end result – if they got their way – would constitute antisemitism because it would revoke the Jewish right to self-determination (and place 7.7 million people in danger of becoming refugees) and that alone should be enough for Socialists to reject the anti-Zionist stance.

    But what I would really like to see is an honest conversation among the ranks of the Left as to why they co-operate and collaborate with people who are so obviously opposed to Socialist principles of equality and freedom. There is something deeply disturbing about watching British Leftists lending their voices in support of the aims of a brutal theocratic fascist dictatorship which terrorises gays and religious minorities and which, since violently seizing control of the Gaza Strip has eroded women’s rights in an unprecedented manner.

    My Socialist principles say that I should be supporting the one country in the Middle East in which women and religious or ethnic minorities have equal rights, in which gays are not discriminated against (let alone hung) and where freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are protected by law. Unfortunately, too often I see fellow Socialists in the UK trying to destroy that.

    Perhaps even worse, I also see them disturbingly silent on subjects such as ‘honour killings’, forced marriages, FGM and many other issues in their own country. I see them condemning (by their silence) even some of their own fellow citizens to a second class status devoid of some of the most basic rights and I want to know why.

  17. Apologies for lack of responses to the thoughtful comments of Hadar, AJA and Ziontruth. I am away travelling for work, so have frustratingly little internet time. Will digest and reply on return (if anyone is still interested!)

  18. I don’t know if anyone is still going to be following this comment thread, but I realised I never pasted in this response which I wrote off line on a long train journey!

    On the issue of nations, I know I take quite an extreme position and so it is probably not worth arguing that too much, so I’ll confine myself to responding to Ziontruth’s Yugoslavia example, which aimed to show that nationalism is not the problem but nations being denied lebensraum. Saying that once Yugoslavia was partitioned into cleansed nations solved the problem is like saying that forcing women into nunneries solves the problem of rape. Serbia’s genocidal aggression (like that of Sudan’s ruling ethnicity, Turkish nationalism in 1915, not to mention the Nazis’ final solution) suggests to me that it is not, or at least not just, when nations are thwarted in their self-determination that they turn murderous, but that nations can be at their most murderous when they have more than enough space of their own.

    However, on the issue of left antisemitism, where we started, there is really not that big a difference between my position and that of Hadar or other commenters, as far as I can tell. I totally accept that anti-Zionism is in practice and de facto often antisemitic, that the left is terribly afflicted with Jew-hatred, that anti-Zionism serves as a vector for spreading the disease, and that the problem exists alongside (and is related to) other problems, such as anti-Americanism and tolerance for theocratic Islamism. Indeed, campaigning on those issues has been one of the main reasons I’ve been blogging these past years, and takes up a large (perhaps even disproportionate) amount of space on my blog. And, in fact, the passage quoted from me above here, under the “Anti-Zionism” subheading, went on to say that these forms of anti-Zionism may not be necessarily antisemitic, but they are in practice.

    I also agree that it is vitally important to understand left antisemitism, and I appreciate Hadar’s analysis in her previous post, which looked at Lenin’s attitude towards assimilation; it was a far deeper analysis of left antisemitism than is usual from a broadly Zionist perspective. However, if we are serious about wanting to understand left antisemitism, rather than just denounce it, I think we need to carefully distinguish between its different forms, some of which are compatible, others of which are not.

    Thus, for example, in her first post, Hadar spoke about what the left Zionists used to call “red assimilationism”, the assimilationism implicit in orthodox Marxist universalism (echoed by JerusalemMite, who says “the radical left has always wanted Jews assimilated into mainstream (non-Jewish) society”). But, today, lots of radical leftist anti-Zionists, deeply committed to multiculturalism and its opposition to universalism, are into Klezmer and Yiddish culture and Ladino culture, and don’t want Jews to assimilate at all; lots of radical leftist anti-Zionists are philosemites as well as antisemites. And so on.

    Then there’s another questions, which is how much of the left is infected with the disease. Lots of CiFWatch regulars (see e.g. JerusalemMite above) seem to think more or less the whole left can now be written off as Jew-haters and Islamist-appeasers. Hadar says: “they are at best staying silent about the Left’s collusion with Islamist fascists and at worst marching side by side with them through central London on Al Quds day.” I agree that this describes the mainstream (which is why it is encouraging that Andy Newman or Richard Seymour break with the consensus to attack Atzmon), but the dissenting current is not completely insignificant. The New Statesman carried an article “The new black” on the PSC and left antisemitism by a Labour Party activist last week. The parliamentary movement against antisemitism is led by socialists like Denis McShane, John Mann and Jim Murphy. Engage provides a voice for the trade union left against Israel-bashing, and includes some important Marxist academics. Eric Lee is well-respected in the trade union movement. Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti has spoken out against dinner party antisemitism. Other British left-wing voices against anti-Zionist antisemitism include left-wing columnists like Nick Cohen, Jonathan Freedland and Joan Smith; Trotskyist bloggers like Shiraz Socialist, Third Estate, Andrew Coates and Though Cowards Flinch; the Alliance for Workers Liberty, probably now the third biggest fish in the Trotskyist pond; and plenty more. True, this is not the mainstream, but it is not negligible.