The Immorality of Corbynism

By Rob Francis

This is a cross post from the author’s Medium blog, reproduced with kind permission. This post is Part 1 of a series by the author.

In May 1987, eight members of the Provisional IRA launched an attack on the police station in Loughgall, County Armagh. Three men drove a digger through the perimeter fence with a Semtex bomb in the bucket, while the rest arrived in a van and opened fire. However, the British Army had received a tip-off about the plans, and ambushed the IRA unit, killing all eight men.

In London, a short while later, Jeremy Corbyn joined others in a minute’s silence for those killed whilst trying to murder police officers. He explained that he was “happy to commemorate all those who died fighting for an independent Ireland”.

The next couple of months will see a Labour leadership election which will test Jeremy Corbyn’s support in the party. My expectation is that he will win in September and remain in post; however, I very much hope for him to be defeated.

As I write, the news is covering Owen Smith, one of the potential candidates. Smith is discussing Corbyn in terms familiar to anyone who follows Labour politics; that Jeremy is a decent man, but he is not meeting expectations as leader and so must be replaced.

I suspect that it ultimately will be his performance that denies him his leadership of the party, either via the members deciding he isn’t up to taking the fight to the Tories, or by a crushing general election defeat. And in the second part of this piece, I will set out why I believe Corbyn will not be electorally successful.

But to focus on electability, as Smith does, is to sidestep a very serious conversation that Labour and the left need to be having. In this blog I will argue that it is his politics that should preclude him from leading the Labour movement. That Corbynism is an immoral politics, which the left should wholly reject. That Jeremy Corbyn is not the “decent man” he is often professed to be.

As with almost everything in contemporary Labour politics, it goes back to the Iraq war. Part of Jeremy Corbyn’s rise is undoubtedly due to his uncompromising opposition to the invasion, and already, his supporters are making much capital out of comparing Corbyn’s supposedly prescient stance against the war with Angela Eagle’s support.

I opposed the war. Yet I also recognise that the decision facing Blair and Bush in 2003 was a choice between two terrible scenarios. The brutal crimes of Saddam Hussein’s regime are well documented. To not go to war was to acquiesce in leaving Iraq in the hands of a monstrous tyrant.

None of this seems to trouble Corbyn or his acolytes; for them, the war was wrong and that’s it. Jeremy Corbyn has no answer as to what the world should do about future Saddam Husseins, nor does he seem to care.

Still, any decent person who opposed the Iraq war should, at the least, have hoped for a quick end to the fighting, a rapid overthrow of Saddam, minimal casualties, and a successful transition to a stable, democratic Iraq. Regardless of your position, you should surely hope for the best possible outcome to the situation, the least bloodshed.

But in 2004, the Stop The War Coalition, of which Jeremy Corbyn was a founder and one of its leading members, said

“The StWC reaffirms its call for an end to the occupation, the return of all British troops in Iraq to this country and recognises once more the legitimacy of the struggle of Iraqis, by whatever means they find necessary, to secure such ends”

Jeremy Corbyn in 1987 held a minute’s silence for people whose aim was to slaughter police officers. Jeremy Corbyn in 2004 was part of an organisation which urged jihadists to kill British soldiers. Why?

To unpick Corbynism, it needs to be understood that everything is viewed through an anti-western prism. The “West”, typically America, Britain and Israel, are seen to be at fault for all that goes wrong in the world, the source of all problems. Everything else is subservient to this premise.

This explains why Corbyn so often forms alliances with toxic people. For him, anti-western politics is the focus of his energies; the character, words or actions of any allies he makes in the struggle become secondary or unimportant.

This is why, despite professing to be a staunch defender of human rights, he can be paid to appear on Iranian state television, on a channel that filmed the torture of an Iranian journalist, and which acts as a mouthpiece for a regime that executes gay people.

This is why he speaks at Cuba Solidarity events, in support of a regime that has an appalling human rights record, one with a long history of jailing gay people and trade unionists.

This is why he finds friends amongst people such as Raed Salah (jailed for inciting anti-Jewish violence in Israel, and found by a British judge to have used the blood libel), Stephen Sizer (a vicar who shared an article on social media entitled “9/11: Israel Did It”), Paul Eisen (Holocaust denier), and of course, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Is it any wonder that the Israeli Labour Party is extremely concerned? Do we not owe our solidarity to them, as our sister party? Do we not owe our solidarity to gay people facing persecution in Iran, or trade unionists in Cuba? Why would anyone on the left seek to side with their oppressors instead? These alliances are made because Corbyn places anti-western ideology above all else. His enemy’s enemy has become his friend.

So, is Jeremy Corbyn a decent man?

One way out of the above could be to argue that he is not bad, but instead hopelessly naive; a foolish man who romanticises revolutionaries. That should in itself be enough to prevent him holding any real authority, but let’s take some recent examples to test the decency claim.

Following the launch of Shami Chakrabarti’s report into Labour antisemitism, Marc Wadsworth, a Momentum activist, stood up and accused Ruth Smeeth, a Jewish Labour MP, of colluding with the media. Wadsworth says he didn’t know Smeeth was Jewish. Perhaps not. But Jeremy Corbyn did. And accusing Jewish people of controlling the media is a classic antisemitic trope. So, confronted with this, what did Jeremy Corbyn do? He stood there and said nothing.

Except it was worse than saying nothing. Because later, Corbyn was caught on camera apologising to Wadsworth, and saying that he’d sent him a text message. Smeeth now understandably believes Corbyn has made Labour an unsafe place for Jews.

As a further example, consider his actions at the recent NEC meeting, which was to decide whether Corbyn needed MPs’ nominations in order to stand in the leadership election. Some committee members pleaded for the vote to be conducted in secret. One member was in tears as she explained her fears of intimidation, bullying and worse. Ignoring the distress of members, Corbyn voted against a secret ballot. He was not prepared to intervene to protect his colleagues.

After the NEC decision, Jeremy Corbyn went to a rally, and shared a stage with people who referred to senior members of the party as “fucking useless”, a “disgrace to Wales”, and told Labour MPs to leave the party. Corbyn said nothing, save for some laughable platitudes about being against abuse.

Every time, Corbyn puts himself and his ideology above people that he owed a duty of care to. Wadsworth was a comrade, an ally, so Corbyn had texted him before he’d even left the building. No such treatment for Ruth Smeeth. On the NEC, Corbyn’s priority was getting on the ballot, and he was happy to put other committee members in harm’s way to get there. Jeremy Corbyn saw no need to defend his MPs from the abuse at the rally. It was enough for him to disown abuse in general terms. His hands were clean.

Is he a decent man? Is this how decent people behave?

The problem of placing abstract ideology above real people is a facet of not just Corbyn but Corbynism. Witness Diane Abbott explaining how Chairman Mao is revered because “on balance, he did more good than harm”. Or George Galloway’s consistent support for tyrants. Or John McDonnell supporting theIRA bombing campaign. So committed was McDonnell, in fact, that during the negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Fein had to ask Tony Blair to keep him quiet, as he was discouraging hardliners from accepting a deal.

The Labour Party Rule Book is explicit; we are committed to deliver people from the tyranny of prejudice, and to work with international bodies to secure peace and freedom for all.

If your allies execute homosexuals, or imprison trade unionists, or bomb shopping centres, or murder people who dissent, or hold deeply antisemitic conspiracy theories, I don’t see how you can claim to be upholding these aims. If you say nothing whilst members of the party you lead are insulted in public, are you living by the Labour values of solidarity, tolerance and respect?

None of this is a left I want to be a part of.

The left now needs to decide what it stands for. An anti-western, anti-American, self-righteous strand of thinking, nurtured by the Iraq war, is gripping the party ever tighter. We cannot let the Labour Party fall prey to people who believe that every brutal dictator who opposes America is to be venerated. We cannot let the terrible errors of Iraq turn us away from supporting those who suffer at the hands of tyrants; this road leads to Srebrenica and Nyarubuye.

There is an internationalist left, which does not rely on knee-jerk anti-westernism. Which believes in alliances with other liberal democracies and showing solidarity with those being persecuted rather than their oppressors. There is also a left which genuinely believes in those values of solidarity, tolerance and respect; not just in the abstract or in platitude, but in how we conduct ourselves, and the examples we set for others.

The Labour leadership election isn’t just about whether Jeremy Corbyn can beat the Tories. It’s about salvaging a morality that has gone desperately missing.

 

Owen Jones’ choice

By Saul Freeman and Jake Wilde

Over the last week we have written an article each on Owen Jones. Although Owen and us are “of the left”, it’s fair to say that Owen occupies a different section to us two most of the time. We are variously described as Red Tories, Blue Labour, Blairites, liberal interventionists and neocons. Owen is none of those things. However Owen wrote an article on 15 March where he stated “anti-Semitism is a menace”. Condemnation of anti-Semitism is a binary choice and you either do or you don’t. So Owen’s condemnation was to be welcomed and here was something that we thought would unite Owen and us..

But when we read his article we, independently of each other, found things that made us nervous. One week on and we have decided to write this conclusion to the discussion jointly.

In 2004/5 Owen Jones was a student at Oxford. Although he describes his time at Oxford as a period where he didn’t really get involved in party politics he did take the time to edit Wikipedia entries on Israel, Hamas & Palestine.  He has written today about those entries and sought to provide context, the main one being that he was very young (19) at the time.

In these entries Owen did some of the following:

  • He identified other contributors as Zionists and used this as the basis to refute the value of their contributions on the subject of Israel.
  • He proclaimed that Jews were not an ethnic group, referring to “the notion of Jewish ethnicity” as “a lie” and used this as a device to undermine the case for Israel as the Jewish state, representing Jewish self-determination.
  • He dismissed reference to Hamas suicide bombings as “West-centric”.
  • He removed reference to Hamas war crimes as “unnecessary and out of place”.
  • He stated that the main reason Israel’s boundaries are disputed is down to the occupation of the West Bank & (as it was then) Gaza, with no reference to other more structural causes from neighbouring states.
  • He stated that “The Israeli occupation is one of THE most important issues of this period. Historians in the future will simply not understand the modern era without referring to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Arab nationalism, Muslim-West hostility, Islamophobia, September 11th, Islamic terrorism, the “war on terror”, both Gulf Wars, the Afghan war – all of these issues which dominate our time cannot be understood without reference to the occupation of Palestine.”

In these posts, edits and commentaries, we think Owen exhibited just about every one of the views and behaviours associated with the anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic Left. You can read Owen’s version of events and decide for yourself though it is unclear from his piece today whether he does or does not hold these views any more.

However it seems that Owen’s general view, as expressed today, of these Wikipedia entries is that, because they were over ten years ago, they have no relevance today and discussion of them is a sign of “grudge”. Now at face value that might be a reasonable (if dismissive) approach.  

So let us get closer to the present day. Owen claims to have impeccable credentials and points to his articles and writings since his Oxford days as evidence of him having put clear blue water between himself and the elements of the UK Left that propagate an anti-Israel agenda. An agenda that has helped land us where we are today – a UK Left riven by anti-Semitism.

There are some problems with his claims. Owen says he has never campaigned for BDS but in March 2015 he is billed on a panel to deliver “workshops on building powerful BDS campaigns”. His recent article on the government’s’ proposed ban on boycotts specifically mentioned BDS. He made the effort to denounce anti-Semitism but then rather spoiled it all by quoting Barnaby Raine, an issue addressed in more detail here.

Owen has also contributed articles for, and shared stages with, the Stop the War Coalition, who have a sickeningly long and very current history of publishing anti-Semitic articles and, on occasion, bad poetry. These recently deleted gems can be found at http://therealstopthewar.wordpress.com

He has also published a condemnation of Israel for killing a child and then refused to retract it when independent evidence proved his mistake.

And he has indulged in the modern version of the blood libel with an obsessive reference to Palestinian children injured or killed by Israel during the 2014 conflict with Hamas yet makes no reference to the thousands of Jewish Israelis (many, of course children) targeted by Hamas rockets during the same period.

We worry that such behaviour looks like tolerance of anti-Semitism. Yet if Owen understands anything about the nature of current Left wing anti-Semitism he will appreciate that his student Wikipedia posts are almost a textbook example of how we have got here. Owen’s place in the cycle is clear. At Oxford Owen was also a member of the Oxford University Labour Club, currently the subject of an investigation by the Labour Party into allegations of systemic anti-Semitic bullying and abuse. He is neither the root cause of nor to blame for OULC’s descent into the anti-Semitic pit. But if Owen cares about eliminating Left wing anti-Semitism he could use a public disavowal and forensic demolition of his “former” views as a once in a lifetime opportunity to lay bare the roots of this left-wing disease, and try to break the cycle.

The alternative is that, in ten years’ time, the “new Owen Jones” will write an article condemning anti-Semitism on the left without being able to locate it, and will dismiss evidence of their previous anti-Semitism as “naïve ramblings” while simultaneously sharing platforms with anti-Semites.

Let us be clear. This is not about extracting an apology from Owen. It’s about grasping this opportunity to break the seemingly endless loop of left-wing antisemitism. Not about using smoke and mirrors to deflect criticism away from Jeremy Corbyn. Not about introducing false equivalence with Islamophobia, as Corbyn himself also did today.  The anti-Semitic left have denounced Owen leaving him with a clear choice to make. Either he follows through on his denunciation of anti-Semitism and refuses to have anything to do with those who indulge in it, or he provides cover for them. We hope he will choose the former and we will support him for it, whatever our differences on other issues.

 

Owen Jones’ 3 problems

 

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:

0.75%

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.

A letter to The Tricycle Theatre

from @frangelina and others

By email

Indhu Rubasingham
Tricycle Centre
269 Kilburn High Rd
London
NW6 7JR

11 August 2014

Dear Ms Rubasingham

We are writing to you to express our deep disappointment that the Tricycle Theatre has required the UK Jewish Film Festival to return funding to the Israeli Embassy, or to find another venue. This has forced the Festival to seek another home for the first time in eight years.

You say you wish the Tricycle Theatre to be a non-political venue and not to take sides in any conflict. As the UKJFF’s name suggests, it is a celebration of Jewish culture, Israeli or otherwise. Jews around the world have a wide range of views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and many Palestinian-sympathetic films have been screened by the UKJFF in the past.

More fundamentally, we cannot understand your decision to equate the State of Israel with the current Israeli Government. The distinction between state and government is well understood in the arts world: the Tricycle itself has received £761,289 in 2014/15 funding from the Arts Council, a UK state body. We are sure you would confirm this funding has no influence on your programming. Israel, like other liberal democracies, supports cultural endeavour without trying to control its content.

In asking the UKJFF to return funding, far from remaining apolitical, the Tricycle is thus taking a political stand. In effect, it is labelling the State of Israel so beyond the pale, so unacceptable to right-thinking people, that its funding would taint the institution – and that the UKJFF should, on behalf of British Jews, dissociate itself. Whatever the intention, that is the inference which many will draw. Many already have.

You must realise the UKJFF could never have made such a statement of dissociation from Israel. It would be hugely divisive, cut across any attempt to display diversity of views and negate the idea of cultural subsidies as distinct from political advocacy. It is no excuse to say that the Tricycle Theatre offered to replace the funding. However well-intentioned, it could never have been accepted, and the Tricycle has effectively told British Jews that the promotion of Jewish culture is not welcome.

Worse still, the initial request to ‘vet’ the content of the festival’s films amounted to censorship – in the service, presumably, of predetermined political boundaries relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Admittedly, you recognised this when challenged, but the point should never have needed to be explained.

The Tricycle Theatre says it delivers work ‘reflecting the exceptional diversity of its local community.’ We wholeheartedly support that aim. To achieve it, the Tricycle needs to understand the cultural sensitivities of all different groups in society and to respect them wherever possible, subject always to the free expression necessary in any arts venue.

In the case of the Jewish community, you must understand both the unique significance Israel has for most Jews and the deep sensitivity to suggestions of boycott, of delegitimisation and of being made to ‘prove’ their own acceptability. This absolutely does not preclude trenchant and forthright criticism of Israel. It does require a more nuanced approach than equating funding from the embassy of a democratic state with funding from Hamas – a political party designated as a terrorist organisation, with a racist Charter, which explicitly states it wants to ‘drive Jews into the sea’ – as you did in your interview with the Evening Standard.

If the Tricycle had a consistent policy of rejecting projects funded by foreign governments, or even foreign governments involved in ethnic, religious or national conflict, we might have more understanding of its position. But it has been happy to host the Asian Film Festival, part-funded by the Indian Government: it seems that India’s record in Kashmir was not beyond the pale. Israel alone is judged unacceptable. We feel that this is dangerous hypocrisy.

With no distinction drawn between Israel’s state, society and government, no attempt made to understand why this is so hurtful to Jewish people in Britain and, further, with no policy given to suggest anything other than a unique targeting of Israel, we can only see this as an unjustified act. Its effect is discriminatory against Jews, whatever the original reasoning.

This cannot have been the intention of a venue which was founded to be inclusive, and we are very sorry to find ourselves at such a pass. When we see attacks on synagogues in Paris, anti-Semitic chants in Berlin referencing the gas chambers and an Israeli play in Edinburgh being effectively forced off the stage, inclusiveness is more important than ever. Sadly, the Tricycle Theatre has not delivered it.

There is still time for the Tricycle to undo this damage, and reach out to the UKJFF. Mistakes, even serious mistakes, can be undone.

We would welcome a full reply.

Yours sincerely

Francesca O’Neill

Douglas Dowell

Andrew O’Neill

Stephen Lewis

Erica Lewis

Andrew Block

Ann Block

Adrian Lewis

Iancu Pesate

Nelly Pesate

Iain Dowell

Gabby Gold

Gideon Gold

David Graham

Robert Olford

and 11 others

The Battle of Hastings, part two

by Tom Doran (@portraitinflesh)

Twitter can be a very useful thing. Like many of you, I’ve met all sorts of people I never would have otherwise, and among them is James Vaughan, a fellow Welshman and a historian specializing in the Britain-Israel relationship. He regularly posts fascinating snippets from the archives as his work unearths them, but today, he’s surpassed himself. Found among the private papers of forgotten Labour legend – and passionate Zionist – Peter Shore MP was this clipping of a Max Hastings column, originally published in the Evening Standard on August 6th, 1980. Click the link or image below for the full-sized version, which is quite legible despite its age.

Meet the old Hastings, same as the new Hastings.

Those of you who read my last post should find all this very familiar. So much so, in fact, that my rebuttal to Hastings’ 2014 Israel-bashing applies almost in its entirety to the 1980 version, so I shan’t repeat myself. Suffice it to say that this discovery… complicates Hastings’ claim to be a stalwart ally of the Jewish state, only driven to harsh words by events. In fact, the Hastings of 1980 minces his words much less than his older self. I’d like, in particular, to draw your attention to two phrases that occur in the above clipping.

In the second paragraph, Menachem Begin is already being accused of “play[ing] the Holocaust card”. The problem here, I should stress, is not that Begin’s frequently-made analogies to Nazism, and those of the Israeli right in general, should be unchallenged. Here is Amos Oz eloquently responding to Begin on this point, and here is Leon Wieselter doing the same to his successors, twenty years later. This is all very much within the bounds of permissible debate.

What is not, and never can be, is the phrase “playing the Holocaust card”. Rather than being a critique of any specific invocation of the Nazi era, this instead sweepingly categorizes all such analogies as illegitimate and cheap. Look at those Jews, bringing up the Holocaust again, so typical… But why, on a moment’s reflection, should Israeli statesmen never mention the Shoah? Israel is one nation for which “existential threat” is not an abstract cliche, but simply a memory. It is never far from the minds of Israeli leaders, and with good reason.

This reality leads many observers of Israel to another well-meant but wrongheaded conclusion: that the behaviour they deplore in Israelis is somehow the result of collective Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In this narrative, whose seductive simplicity is warning enough, the battered, beleaguered survivors of genocide find their promised land in 1948, but are so damaged by their experiences that they almost immediately start taking it out on the poor Arabs. “Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return”, as Auden put it, just as wrongly.

Not only is this pop-psychological approach insulting and analytically lazy, it misunderstands Zionism and its history on the most fundamental level. For one thing, the Zionist presence in the Holy Land predates the rise of Hitler by the better part of a century. Rather than spurring the creation of Israel, the Holocaust instead proved all its founders’ worst fears correct in the most horrific way imaginable. The true relevance of the Shoah to the Zionist project is best embodied, I think, by this short video:

Still images of the jets over Auschwitz adorn the office walls of many an Israeli general or politician, I am reliably informed, and the reason has nothing to do with bitterness or revenge. Put simply, Zionism is founded not, as its critics claim, on the embrace of victimhood, but its rejection. Hounded from country to country, expropriated, beaten, humiliated and killed in their thousands and millions, the Jewish people finally said, in as many words, “OK, we get it. You don’t want us, and you won’t protect us. In that case, we’ll simply have to do it ourselves”.

And so they did, and will never be forgiven for it. These are the graves you are skipping on when you throw around pat phrases like “playing the Holocaust card”. Thinking deeply and carefully before engaging in debates about Zionism and the Holocaust is the very least we owe the six million, but to Hastings and too many like him, this engagement is limited to “there they go again”. The Shoah will recede from political debate as soon as Jewish survival is no longer in question, so I shouldn’t hold my breath.

The second, much more shocking phrase occurs in the second paragraph from the end. Here we learn that the American government is “too hypnotised by its own Jewish vote” to act decisively against Israel. Yes, “hypnotised”. Anyone with the faintest knowledge of antisemitism – which apparently doesn’t include Max Hastings – should instinctively recoil from the choice of verb alone. Hypnosis, in one form or another, is precisely what Jews have long been accused of inflicting on the majority, the central indictment of Jew-hatred.

Antisemites, you see, are faced with an obvious problem in making their case: how can it be that “the Jews” so dominate human civilization when they very much appear to be a tiny and despised minority? It’s a tricky one, but resolved easily enough. Jews must somehow possess special powers of deception by which they trick Gentiles into doing their bidding. This is not always put in terms of “hypnosis”, but often has been, the most notorious example being George du Maurier’s 1894 novel Trilby (from which we derive the term “svengali”, not incidentally). My late colleague George Orwell has more on this, if you’re interested.

But the calamitous – at best – wording is only the start. Jews comprise, depending on how you count, between 1 and 3% of the population of the United States. This isn’t to say they never count in elections – just try throwing a brick in Florida without hitting an aspiring presidential candidate with an Israeli-flag pin in their lapel and a hopeful, hungry grin on their face – but this is ordinary, all-American ethnic politics. Not content with accusing the “Jewish vote” – as if that were one, monolithic thing – of hypnosis, Hastings backs it up with the ancient and familiar implication that Jews, once allowed the benefits of citizenship, will always use them to exert an excessive and unsavoury influence.

Once again, it is entirely possible Hastings intends none of this, and is simply woefully ignorant of what his words convey. But he has no excuse to be, not least as a prolific historian in his own right. This was true in 1980 and even more so today. The debate over Israel and its future is one that non-Jews can and should engage in, but not before doing our homework. Tread softly, for you tread on their ashes.

The Battle of Hastings

by Tom Doran (@portraitinflesh)

A society of laws: the Supreme Court of Israel, Jerusalem.

People like me know the script when it comes to defending Israel against its outright haters, the people currently attacking synagogues all over Europe in the name of Palestine. They are unhinged, implacable, terrifying… But for this very reason, a known quantity. We’ve been here before, again and again. We have Seen This Movie.

But there is another category of anti-Semitic discourse that is much harder to pin down, in large part because it doesn’t know it’s anti-Semitic. This we might call the MISTIA tendency – “more in sorrow than in anger” – which seems appropriate, since it is an idea swathed in a pseudo-intellectual haze.

It goes roughly like this: “We love Jews, we really do. Christ, Spinoza, Einstein… Ten out of ten all round. But as your friends, we must sorrowfully – nay, ruefully – be brutally honest: you’re not living up to our expectations. The rest of us are counting on you to be nice and enlightened and harmless, but there you go, blowing up innocent Arabs just because you feel like it. It’s a tragedy, I tell you.”

I’ve certainly been guilty of this myself, in the past. I am an unabashed philo-Semite, and this has occasionally led me to moralise excessively, as if I were somehow owed Jewish virtue. But as I’ve spent more and more time learning and thinking and talking about the Middle East, and especially since visiting Israel, I have painstakingly sought to train myself out of it. I don’t always succeed.

But at least, as many a British journalist has sighed in relief, I’m not Max Hastings. Here I should say that I respect the man enormously. His works on military history have been commended to me by people who know, and his breadth of knowledge and intellect are evident in his writing.

But not for nothing did Private Eye dub him – unfairly, but still truthfully – “The World’s Worst Columnist”. When he’s on form, he can be quite astute, but when he gets it wrong, he really gets it wrong. His recent Daily Mail column is a textbook example, and is – if only by implication – one of the most anti-Semitic things I have ever read in a British newspaper, and I read the Guardian.

To be absolutely clear: there’s no doubt in my mind that Hastings is wholly innocent of any conscious anti-Jewish bias. Indeed, it’s apparent from the piece that he sincerely considers himself a friend and ally of the state of Israel, and to a large extent this is probably the case. But this only makes the implications of his argument all the more disturbing.

The central accusation – that Israel is employing wildly excessive force in Gaza to the end of punishing innocent Palestinians – can quickly be dispensed with. The disingenuous “proportionality” argument has already been demolished by better writers than me; I direct you in particular to this pointed rebuttal from Israeli parliamentarian Hilik Bar and this longer meditation by Shany Mor. Suffice it to say, those making the claim simply don’t take into account Israel’s real choices, nor do they care to.

The rest of the column makes an argument, or observation, that I happen to agree with in its broadest outlines. Israeli politics and society have indeed experienced a noticeable – but often exaggerated – extremist drift in the past couple of decades, and it is intensely worrying to many of us.

But you know who else worries about it? Israelis. Constantly. The coarsening, brutalising effects of endless war are, like everything else in the Jewish state, a hotly disputed topic. Even solidly right-wing Israelis will, as a rule, acknowledge the problems posed by the growing strength of the nationalist far-right and the ultra-Orthodox community. A senior aide to Benjamin Netanyahu did so to me in person.

This is because, for all this, Israel is still a modern, self-critical democracy. If you’ve ever spoken to an Israeli soldier or politician – again, an effort very few critics of Israel bother to make – you know that each and every military action they take is agonisingly weighed against its potential consequences to an extent most Western powers barely aspire to. Hastings himself is conscientious enough to quote some of these figures in his column, thus dynamiting a central pillar of his own case.

I should also note, in passing, that the piece abounds in the most basic of factual errors. Barack Obama, to cite a representative example, is called “the only recent US president to try to persuade Jerusalem to moderate its policies”. This would be news to most Israelis, since pleas for Israeli moderation have been made, in public and private, by every American president since Eisenhower.

But all this falls within the bounds of reasonable disagreement and basic incompetence. What does not, and what gives this article an unmistakably sinister dimension, is the sentiment expressed in the following sentence, third paragraph from the top:

[T]he Jewish people have been historic standard-bearers for civilisation.

Hastings, somewhat evasively, puts this in the mouth of “much of the world”, but it’s clear from the rest of the article that this reflects his personal feelings. In a rhetorical tic characteristic of the new anti-Semitism, he keeps citing Jewish people who agree with him as if this somehow bolstered his argument. “A historian friend, himself a Jew”, “a team of Israeli documentary-makers” and “many other Jews” are all conscripted to form a kind of Hebrew phalanx around Hastings’ own words.

For those of us steeped in the Israel/Palestine debate, this itself is an enormous, honking klaxon warning. If your criticism of Israel is legitimate, then why do you feel the need to prove it by stressing the Jewishness of your citations? When criticising the government of, say, Venezuela, does anyone feel the need to keep inserting variations on “…as many Venezuelans will concede”? Of course not, because Venezuelans, unlike Jews, are seen as individuals.

Here we get to the heart of the matter. Look again, and closely, at the sentence extracted above. On its face, it’s a sentiment I share to a large extent: Jews have indeed laid more than their share of asphalt on the road to modernity. But in this context, the implication is unmistakable: Jews, more than any other people, are expected to uphold “civilisation” on behalf of the rest of humanity.

Think about that for a moment. “[S]tandard-bearers for civilisation”; this is a much different claim than “many great historical figures have been Jewish”. Who exactly asked to bear this standard, and in what sense could they have spoken for the Jewish people as a whole? When did they – all 14 or so million of them – apply for this job?

In this way, in the guise of friendship and solidarity, the Jews are collectively made to bear the moral burdens of all humanity. This is not a new demand, to put it mildly. That Jews are uniquely obliged to be paragons is merely a sick inversion of the ancient Christ-killing slander, even if meant benignly.

My country, the United Kingdom, spent 30 years fighting a violent insurgency based in its sovereign territory. Thousands of civilians, in Northern Ireland and the mainland, lost their lives to terrorism. This was a profound test of the British state, and this test was not passed with flying colours. We locked hundreds of people up without charge or trial, shot innocent civil rights protesters and too often allowed brutality to run unchecked among our fighting men.

We should be ashamed of all of this. But when most British people consider our record in Northern Ireland, they do so in cognisance of the full historical context. They acknowledge the toll random attacks on civilians take on a society, the impossible choices asymmetric warfare forces on governments, and that the behaviour of many, even most British officials was exemplary.

When it comes to Israel, this considered approach is jettisoned. If Palestinian children are dying, it must be because Israelis want them dead, or simply don’t care. Defenders of Israel are so bored with saying this we could cry, but one more time: no nation on Earth would tolerate the deliberate targeting of its civilians – however ineffective – with equanimity, and without resorting to decisive force.

To Max Hastings and others who would be critical allies of the Jewish state, I say this: the Jews are not an example, or a lesson, or a tragedy. They do not exist for your moral edification, nor to uphold an abstract thing called “civilisation” on your behalf. They are, in fact, human beings, with all that implies.

This post originally appeared on Tom Doran’s blog at the Independent.