By Saul Freeman
I’ll keep this brief. Partly – actually almost completely – because I’m tired. Tired of having to explain and justify. Tired of having to confront. Tired of having to witness.
Tired of being a canary.
And I’m not the only one who’s tired. When Soupy tells you he/she is tired of the toxic brew of hate, you know we’re in trouble.
Those of you who – like me – spend too much time existing in one little corner of Twitter may have noticed that in the current climate of (welcome) interest in the long-standing phenomena of (very unwelcome) Left wing anti-Semitism, I have been an insistent voice calling out Owen Jones.
I’m not alone in this, but I am in a very small minority. Many other campaigners and voices from the anti-totalitarian Left accept Owen at his word. And Owen is good with words and has many of them to spare. After all, he is a writer.
I am not a writer; I’m just a father deeply concerned about his Jewish son.
So when Owen Jones writes (another) article on the evils of contemporary Left wing anti-Semitism, why exactly do I heckle (probably muted on Owen’s timeline) from the side-lines? Why do I not have the good grace to be thankful and to commend Owen on his well-crafted words? I don’t owe Owen an explanation, but perhaps I owe others some clarity.
Well, it’s about this thing called “responsibility”. And about another thing called “honesty”. These are not complex categories of political philosophy or post-structuralist discourse. But I do believe they are fundamental to what most of us (despite all the evidence) desire from our political agents. And Owen is a political agent.
When Owen declares that anti-Semitism has no place on the Left and should be hunted down and cast out, isn’t it a bit odd that he can’t actually locate its existence anywhere or in any person, other than those seemingly random and hapless individuals who (each week it seems) go too far and actually use the J word?
And the word “random” is important here. For Owen, there is no complex and long history of anti-Semitism on the Left, going back to the days of Kautsky and reaching on to the Workers Revolutionary Party and then the SWP and the many other factions, splinter groups and lone wolf operators of the organised hard Left. No setting out of the Jew hate of seminal Labour Party figures like Bevin. Even if we put aside Owen’s lack of historical knowledge of a subject he professes to understand and abhor, isn’t it more than a little odd that he can’t actually locate where it lives today? Right now. Here. Right in front of him.
In very close proximity to him, in fact. Up close and personal. Because Owen was one of the prime cheerleaders of a campaign that handed over the keys of the Labour Party to the Chair of the Stop the War Coalition and his associates. And if you cannot locate the phenomena of contemporary left-wing anti-Semitism in some of the individuals, groups and actions of those that make up this loose coalition of the politically mad and the morally bad, then really – what contribution can you possibly have to make on the subject?
Stop the War has of course deleted from its website many of its more toxic statements and contributions. But you can find some of them out there at therealstopthewar.wordpress.com
And you’ll find that this is an organisation that published a commentary on the 1973 massacre of Jewish Israelis at Munich by Alison Weir – a well documented full frontal Jew hater with links to both the racist Right in America and the European hard left.
You’ll also find at least 2 (very poor) poems by Heathcote Williams that both invoke the blood-libel. That’s the thing about Jews killing gentiles (children if at all possible).
But what you’ll also find is that as an organisation Stop the War is committed to the elimination of Israel as the world’s only Jewish State. It makes no secret of this. Indeed, it has been the secret of its success as the key nexus in the alignment of the hard Left and Islamist revolutionary cadres. It works. I’ve lost track of the number of articles and comments, demos and meetings in which Stop the War sets out this stall very, very clearly.
Now, here is not the place for a detailed exploration of the relationship between Jews and the State of Israel. Like I said – I’m tired of having to explain, to justify. But it won’t have to use up too much of my depleted reserves to point out that by any (and I mean ANY) survey, poll, analysis etc. there’s a simple equation at play. Here’s the thing:
The overwhelming majority of UK Jews are Zionists.
And Zionism is nothing more – and certainly nothing less – than the expression of the Jewish people’s right to political self-determination. You know, like everyone else.
That means (and it only means) that to (most) Jews, Israel is a part of what it means to be Jewish. We want it to be there. It’ s important that Israel is there. Those of us who go to shul (synagogue) will open a siddur (prayer book) and find reference to the land of Israel all over it. You’ll not get a detailed theology from me, but even I can grasp the meaning. And I’m half Cornish.
We want, we need Israel to exist. Right now, Jews across Europe need Israel to exist more than ever. Even if you dispense with the theology (and I do) it’s easily understood. It’s our history. It’s a lifeboat. A “get out of jail” card. A pass to a future when some wish otherwise on Jews. That’s why it’s there, folks.
We don’t want Stop the War’s “solution” thank you very much. We want Israel. And most of us by the way also want a democratic and peaceable (no, not pacified) Palestinian State living alongside. In mutual peace and prosperity.
How complicated is any of this really? I’m a simple bloke and I get it.
So Owen has at least 3 problems on his hands when he wants Jews like me to be grateful for his words on the subject of Left wing anti-Semitism and to accept that they have real meaning.
Firstly, he refuses to locate the thing. And as we see above, it ain’t hard to do. Look to your own house Owen and own your part in enabling those who propagate it to thrive. And don’t think I’m going to waste any energy on the “J word” versus the “Z word” thing. See above re Israel & Jews.
And on Corbyn – aside from his erstwhile role as Chair of the Stop the War Coalition – I’m only going on the evidence. There is of course NO evidence that Corbyn is an anti-Semite. There is a mountain of evidence that Corbyn has a lot of tolerance for those who are, or cannot see them when they are in front of him. Sometimes when they are chanting about a free Palestine “from the River to the Sea.” For those who are not clear, the State of Israel is the bit in-between.
Secondly, Owen has long campaigned for BDS against Israel. As in supporting a (extraordinarily successful and long sighted) political project to de-legitimise and penalise the State of the Jewish people. Not in Israel – but here. In the West. In Europe. In the US. Here in the UK.
Ask Owen what the (very clearly) stated objectives of BDS are and he’ll know. He may not tell you, but he’ll know. Put it this way – they are very closely related to the river and the sea thing above. Sure, there are different versions of the BDS “narrative” used at different times for different audiences. And that is of course part of its recipe for success. But 3 minutes with Google and the name Omar Barghouti will tell you what you need to know. How many of the core BDS campaign objectives Owen shares I can’t really say.
Owen Jones decries left-wing anti-Semitism yet publicly endorses a campaign whose objectives strike right at the heart of what it means to be a Jew in the UK in 2016. Not an Israeli Jew – a British Jew. BDS does not affect Jewish Israelis. It’s not designed to. No one but a madman would believe that BDS could bring the Israeli economy clattering to a halt. It’s a political, cultural and discursive tool designed to operate outside Israel and to reduce the ability of governments and civil society to align with Israel. It actually represents the type of far horizon, patient, incremental political action that few are capable of sustaining these days. It’s something to study and learn from.
But what it isn’t is something to endorse, support (even only in part) and then present back to UK Jews clutched in a hand extended in apparent understanding and empathy. It doesn’t work like that Owen.
And here we come to problem number three facing Owen.
Owen simply will not accept what I and a majority of UK Jews tell him on this. When Jews tell him that a climate of hostility (obsessive, exceptional) hostility to the Jewish State as manifested in the BDS campaign makes us feel isolated and threatened he simply will not listen. He will not allow a minority of 0.3% of the UK population (hey, I love my quant these days) to set out the nature, scope and scale of the racism that they experience. We apparently need it to be defined for them by Owen and other non-Jews. And that’s a whole other piece to write when I have more appetite for explaining myself.
But Owen has an ace up his sleeve. He’s got me stumped. I’m beat. Game over.
For Owen has found an anti-Zionist Jew who supports BDS. Who is disgusted by the very existence of Israel as it represents an aberration. An aberration from the path to Universalist emancipation through the mechanism of historical materialism for all workers of the world. An aberration of nationalist exceptionalism that denies the opportunity of Jews to rise above their category of capitalist agents and to assimilate into the great revolutionary movement.
Yep, Owen has found a teenage Trot, clutching a copy of What is to Be Done and the collected works of Yigael Gluckstein – that’s SWP founder Tony Cliff to most of you.
In his Guardian piece last month defending the BDS campaign against the outrageous slander that it might be an intrinsic element of contemporary Left wing anti-Semitism, Owen tells it as it is and puts our minds at rest:
“The government argues such boycotts promote anti-Semitism. If that were true, we would all be gravely concerned.…..
Here it is also worth listening to Barnaby Raine from Jewish Students for Justice in Palestine. “We have to be so, so clear about Israel and Jews being separate,” he says, decrying those who suggest otherwise, ranging from Islamist fundamentalists to the far right to hardline defenders of Israeli government policies.”
Now young Barnaby (hey, I was a teenage member of the CPGB – I’m empathising) is a signatory/member of a grouping (Jews for Justice in Palestine) that represents a gathering of a massive proportion of British Jews. “How many Jews?” you ask. “Tell us the answer,” you cry. I’m a nice man so I’ll tell you:
Yep – that’s 0.75% of the 0.3% of the UK population that are Jews. Seems like a pretty firm foundation on which to base the ethics of your argument if you are trying to persuade both UK Jews and the wider populace of the justness of your political position to support a campaign that seeks to eliminate the State of Israel as the Jewish State. I’ll buy that. Who wouldn’t?
Ok – let’s scale the figure up to allow for those UK Jews who, whilst not actually having signed up to it, may actually support the likes of Barnaby & his friends. Let’s be wildly generous, scale it up by a factor of 10 (hell, let’s go mad and multiply it by 20) and you end up with around 15%. Go crazy and then double it and you might reach 30%. Not founded in any reality but hey – I’m here to be the helpful canary, apparently.
So Owen finds a Jewish voice that represents somewhere between 0-30% of UK Jews (in reality less than 10% at most) and bases his position on that and uses it to tell Jews that he is not part of a problem? (By the way, here you might want to look up the “good Jew/bad Jew” trope).
On what moral, ethical and evidential planet are we now living on Owen? I may be a canary but I’m not a birdbrain.
So if you seek to be a credible voice in the zeitgiesty discourse around contemporary Left wing anti-Semitism, don’t come out with at least 3 glaring, huge, stinking problems around your position and expect me to take you at face value.
Responsibility and honesty, Owen.
This canary won’t settle for less.