Monthly Archives: September 2008

Reporting the Green Conference resolution on antisemitism

There are some things to clear up about Anshel Pfeffer’s Jewish Chronicle piece.

“The original motion said that antisemitism also included elements of anti-Zionism and called for the Greens to adopt the European Union’s definition of antisemitism.”

The original motion C15 can be found on the Agenda (PDF – see p22). C15 was more qualified and pragmatic than the article suggests. The signs were that it would have been futile to call for the Greens to “adopt” the EUMC definition of antisemitism – instead C15 required that it be “considered”. And C15 did not claim that antisemitism includes anti-Zionism, because this is not always the case and because giving the impression that it was always the case would have jeopardised the motion.

Despite our efforts to raise awareness of a phenomenon without trying to bolt down either the phenomenon or conversation about it, the motion proved too controversial and was pared away to something toothless – well-meaning but not equal to the job.

The article also missed out the very important requirement that Green representatives should condemn antisemitism in the event of unavoidable platform-sharing with antisemitic organisations. Platform-sharing is sometimes inevitable but the Green Party has policy to put clear political distance between us and, say, the BNP. Nevertheless Caroline Lucas has a record of sharing-platforms with Hamas speakers, and of supposing concerns about antisemitism to really have a pro-Israeli purpose.

Lastly, the dreadful fringe on anti-Zionism was off-programme – the conference organising committee had attempted to merge it with another fringe raising awareness about antisemitism but both fringe organisers objected. As a result official status wasn’t offered to either.

Palestinians reject Israel boycott campaign

Last month the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions and the Israeli equivalent Histadrut signed an agreement calling for “fraternity and coexistence between the two peoples.”

And yet the Green Party conference was awash with leaflets urging us to boycott Israel. We have a pro-boycott leader and a futile and simplistic resolution to impose total boycott, divestment and sanctions stands.

Now the PGFTU has indicated again that it does not support general BDS.

“We did consider the option, if it could pressure the Israeli government to obey United Nations resolutions and respect human rights”, said Mr Nasser “but we do not see it as effective. Instead we think there should be boycotts only of companies directly involved in building settlements and the apartheid wall.”

This makes much more sense (stupid apartheid comparison notwithstanding) because it is specific, bounded, related to its aims, and targeted at the occupation.

Trade Union Friends of Israel said of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign of Conference delegates:

“Three years ago they stripped our stand of all the leaflets,” said volunteer Ian Sternberg, “this year the stand is opposite that of the PSC and things are quite friendly.”

James Caspell hasn’t quite achieved the required u-turn.

Green Left conference fringe on ‘Anti-Zionism – a Jewish Perspective’

For more on the historical election of Caroline Lucas as the Greens’ first elected leader see the report on the Green Party site.

Shortly before this announcement, there was a Green Left off-programme Fringe ‘Anti-Zionism: a Jewish Perspective‘. I did some leafleting (for our fringe meeting about antisemitism) but it turned out that most of the recipients were non-Greens from the anti-Zionist circuit. There were also a few interested members of the public, but very few Greens. At any rate, when a member of identity politics group Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods started off with “I’m only sorry there are so few Greens here – ” you got the impression she knew most of the faces in the audience. The turnout was a shade over 30, including the Green Party members who joined us after their more pressing engagements (the fringe was off-programme). I got the impression practically everybody was anti-Zionist.

The Chair Joseph Healey gave some necessary background. He explained that the fringe had been suggested because of the height of feeling about the Green boycott of Israel and the subsequent allegations of antisemitism. He didn’t explain why one of its organisers advertised it with a dodgy cartoon. It was strange too that the two speakers were both anti-Zionists. There is, after all, a Jewish consensus on anti-Zionism – namely that it is just an inappropriate response to a very sticky conflict. This omission was a problem – the prevalent ‘Jewish perspective’ was caricatured over the course of the evening with nobody to explain it.

During his presentation Tony Greenstein didn’t define ‘Zionism’ and neither did Simon Lynn who spoke next. It functioned as a code-word for something heinous, yet two examples of anti-Zionism cited by Greenstein – Trotsky’s biographer Isaac Deutscher and the Jewish worker’s movement The Bund – gave up their anti-Zionism in the aftermath of the Holocaust and supported the creation of a Jewish state. The reasons are obvious. Zionism (my basic definition of this is ‘the movement for a Jewish state’) seems to be something past: the Jewish state has been established and exists. Nobody defined Zionism adequately for the present day.  I don’t know of any anti-Zionist who is not for ending the existence of Israel – either by merging it with Palestine or by opening its borders to a critical mass of Palestinians. For these reasons I’m inclined to use ‘anti-Israel’ rather than the obfuscating code term ‘anti-Zionist’.

Tony Greenstein gave a standard presentation, thin on facts, full on polemic, which boils down to (in bold with my comments in normal weight)

  • Anti-Zionism is a specifically Jewish phenomenon; Zionism is alien to Jews
    But what about Hamas, for example?
  • It is the suppression of dissent in the Jewish community which prevents anti-Zionism from gaining ground
    Is everybody really dishonestly trying to suppress the anti-Zionists  – or is it more that their analysis is bad?
  • The minute anti-Zionist minority excepted, Jews require and welcome antisemitism because it makes their claim to Israel seem more reasonable.
    This amounts to a charge of collective Jewish dishonesty.
  • Antisemitism is used as “ideological political terrorism”
    He said this quite blandly. I can’t remember anybody providing a single example to substantiate this very serious allegation – one Caroline Lucas is has also made, claiming without substantiation, that “Israel has been able to act with relative immunity, hiding behind its incendiary claim that all who criticise its policies are anti Semitic.” Who? When? What did they say?
  • A real antisemite must also be a Zionist (because antisemites want to be rid of Jews – thus the BNP are rebranding as Zionist).
    This isn’t right but at any rate it doesn’t follow that an anti-Zionist can’t be antisemitic – oh hang on:
  • “…if you are anti-Zionist you cannot be antisemitic”
    Does anybody find this convincing? Or even logical? I fear they do. This is why we decided to name our fringe ‘Criticism of Israel Can be Antisemitic’.

And also, coming out in the questions:

  • The only reason Israeli Jews didn’t get rid of the Palestinians “like the Nazis” were to do with political conditions
  • There is something wrong with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which contains the kind of people who have antisemitic attitudes. We should oppose them because… they help the Zionists!
  • The Green Conference motion raising concerns about antisemitism is strange because antisemitism isn’t a problem – after all, Tony has never experienced it. And after all, Jewish children aren’t getting their heads kicked in on the street.

Tony Greenstein lives in a parallel world to most Jews – one in which history isn’t full of warnings and one in which Israel is a pantomime villain. He didn’t acknowledge any of the threats to Jews in Israel today. He was a poor panellist who moved us no further in this debate. We’re less serious if we take on his analysis or values.

Simon Lynn’s presentation can be sketched as follows:

  • Being anti-Zionist is a matter of conscience
    For me, finding out what is actually going on in Israel, Palestine and the wider region before deciding on action and policy is a matter of conscience – in the absence of that then at least engage with the views of the majority of the population, even if you think you disagree.
  • Many Jews privilege Israel
    Many Jews have a complex relationship with Israel, and many have relatives there. Many of those relatives were refugees, or the descendants of refugees. Jews (not all, but many and probably most) with a sense of history are prone to feel somewhat perched in the countries where they live, and identify Israel as a life raft state, or bolt-hole. You can’t wish this away.
  • Zionism implies Jews can’t live equally with others
    This is a strange claim – can British people live equally with others where they have converged in Andalucia, or should they renounce British citizenship and call for the dismantling of the UK first? Israeli Jews have no other home than Israel, and Israel exists in a region where antisemitism is tolerated and even encouraged. The Hamas Covenant is one example. Anti-nationalism doesn’t look nice when it’s selective.
  • Pro-Israeli activists are trying to scare the anti-Israeli ones
    For pete’s sake. Who? Me? How?
  • Motion 15 is flawed because it suppresses dissent
    There is nothing in that motion which suppresses dissent. It is highly qualified.
  • Motion 15 is flawed because it pre-empts Palestinians and Jews opting for one state
    It doesn’t, there’s an amendment which makes this interpretation even less justified – and speaking for myself I don’t mind if they do. Pressuring them in this direction (by boycotting Israel without realistic objectives, for example) would be unjustifiable and counter to the current wishes according to every poll. Few other than the expansionist Israelis and Palestinians want one state.
  • Israel uses and abuses solidarity for its own means
    More than likely, but there is nevertheless a clear Jewish interest in supporting Israel against those who are trying to cancel it.
  • It is wrong that Jews have the right to return to Israel and Palestinians don’t.
    Under the current negotiated peace plans – Palestinians would have the right to return to Palestine, and Jews to Israel. Negotiations about compensating displaced Palestinians and Mizrahi Jews notwithstanding, like it or not this is a normal way to go about things – my neighbours are here on a Heritage Visa.
  • We must reject hierarchies of oppression
    Agreed but ironic considering it is quite often that pro-Palestine activists subscribe to hierarchies of oppression. Tony Greenstein saying that antisemitism “isn’t a problem” but racism against Palestinians should be our central concern, and that it is impossible to worry about both, is one example. Simon Lynn was somewhat better at acknowledging antisemitism than Tony – but he did not here acknowledge it on the left, perhaps because he considers it to be incontrovertably virtuous.

My perspective:

  • The anti-Zionism I encountered tonight is a highly self-absorbed and sectarian movement which is destined to remain marginal because it proposes no viable, attainable, reasonable solutions to the conflict
  • The internecine quarrels between Jewish anti-Zionists at the meeting and the open antisemites in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign are very important, but the mutual commiserations looked strange.
  • There are plenty of critics of a two state solution – such as former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Meron Benvenisti  – and no end of Jewish dissenters who are not excluded. In the absence of any examples from the two panelists, my theory is if these people feel marginalised in the Jewish community it is that the Jewish community got tired of being told it was racist, Hitlerian, dishonest, affront to civil rights etc and told them where to go.
  • The absence of any examples of Jews dishonestly invoking antisemitism leaves the people who make that claim on very flimsy ground.
  • I think this is a hideously complicated conflict. I would not want to undermine pro-Palestine activism, and thankfully most of the effective work is going on doggedly without us. The way the case against Israel was made tonight was highly ideological, practically evidence-free, unrelated to the actual circumstances and consequently inadequate as activism.

CST report on antisemitic discourse in the UK

The Community Security Trust has produced its first report on antisemitic discourse in the UK. The report examines language, rhetoric and imagery used about Jews and Jewish issues in 2007. This report is intended to complement the CST’s existing work on actual antisemitic incidents and hate crimes.

And a short illustrated overview, with reference to discourse of the C20th, from CST Communications Director Mark Gardner.

Green Left responds to a motion on antisemitism with an anti-Zionist fringe advertised with an antisemitic cartoon

A group of people who are worried about antisemitism in general, and particularly within the Green Party, submitted a motion to the Green Party Autumn Conference 2008. The text of the motion C15 is available on p22 of the final agenda PDF. The clauses relevant to this particular post below are:

  • “Contemporary antisemitism often uses the language of antizionism.”
  • “The actions and policies of any State may be criticised, provided such criticism is not framed in racist or anti-Semitic terms.”
  • “The EU’s working definition of antisemitism shall be considered when determining what counts as antisemitism.”
  • “Representatives of the Party should condemn antisemitism when obliged to share a platform with (a) individuals who express antisemitic views, and (b) representatives of organisations that endorse antisemitism, and that such sharing of platforms should be discouraged.”

This is not a motion which restricts any freedoms. However, some Green Party members felt very threatened by this motion. They submitted a motion of their own (C16) which includes the following sentence:

“Whilst reaffirming the need to engage with other groups, especially Islamic groups, and supporting Green Party members who do this, the Green Party dissociates itself from any wider agenda. Specifically it rejects any implication of antisemitism.”

No “implication” is provided in this motion. How can we in good conscience consent to reject “any implication of antisemitism”? Any implication, that is – in other words, a hypothetical implication? This doesn’t make sense. It looks very much as if the proposers of this motion hope to innoculate themselves against antisemitism simply by insisting that “It couldn’t happen here”.

Green Left felt it necessary to go even further – “in view of the various motions on anti-Semitism etc” – and so they organised an off-programme fringe titled ‘Anti-Zionism – a Jewish Perspective’ by way of response.

Presenting anti-Zionism from a Jewish perspective, as if that automatically confers immunity from antisemitism, was lame even before one of its organisers, James Caspell, decided to advertise the fringe on his blog with a highly revealing choice of cartoon.

The cartoon (filename: Misuse_of_anti_Semitism_by_Latuff2.jpg) depicts a dismayed man wearing a Free Palestine bandana. Two hands – with a US cuff on one and an Israeli one on the other – are placing a gag over the man’s mouth. On the gag is written the word ‘Anti-semitism’. The cartoonist is Carlos Latuff, runner-up of the revolting Iranian Holocaust Cartoon Competition in 2006 (Ahmedinejad kicking the cat – his idea of payback for the Danish publication of Mohammed cartoons in 2006). In 2004 Latuff had contrived to blame Israel for the death of homeless people in Sao Paulo. He also draws equivalences between Israelis and Nazis and insists that Israelis will not tolerate Palestinians despite a critical mass of Israelis being for an end to the occupation and for two states. How could anybody assert without discussion or reassurance that accusations of antisemitism against him are baseless? To do so would demonstrate political irresponsibility to the extreme.

The point of the cartoon above is that accusations of antisemitism are a coordinated tactic carried out in bad faith to silence the expression of Palestine solidarity; it is the graphical version of the Livingstone formulation. Green Left uses an antisemitic cartoonist to accuse fellow Green Party members who are trying to take action against antisemitism of bad faith.

This is dangerous because it strengthens a growing current of opinion in this country that allegations of antisemitism – specifically allegations of political antisemitism which take more work and more historical awareness to understand than the street antisemitism of a desecrated gravestone or open talk of Jewish degeneracy – should be recognised as a tactic to prevent Palestinian self-determination. This is groundless and damaging. Palestinian self-determination is an urgent cause in itself – but antisemitism can and does attach itself to that cause. The job of any Palestine solidarity campaigner is to fight for Palestinian rights without undermining the relatively recent well-being and relative security of Jews by permitting political antisemitism to attach itself to their campaign.

Mira Vogel and Raphael Levy.

Green concerns (Eve Garrard on normblog)

Readers of my occasional postings at normblog might be forgiven for forming the view that the main locus of concern about liberal/left anti-Semitism in this country is the University and College Union (UCU). Sadly this is not the case: some other organizations are giving as much cause for concern, most notably at the moment the Green Party.

Read the rest here.