On Reacting to Owen Jones: Antisemitism is a poison – the left must take leadership against it.
Paris: January 2014. Anti-Semites at far right Jour de colère (Day of Rage).
Owen Jones writes in the Guardian.
“A Labour activist has been suspended, reinstated and suspended again after claims she made antisemitic remarks. The left must speak out ever more loudly in solidarity with Britain’s Jews.”
Owen writes about the case of Vicki Kirby, although we could extend this to the groupuscule of recently suspended Labour members Gerry Downing’s Socialist Fight. They have extended their group to Ian Donovan who broadcasts a “theory” of a “pan-national Jewish bourgeoisie” which makes up the vanguard of the global ruling class.
In this context Owen’s intervention is to be broadly welcomed.
How can we deal with anti-Semitism?
…there are a number of things Labour as a party should do. Firstly, change the rules so that anyone found guilty of antisemitism – or any other form of racism – is expelled from the party. Their readmission should only happen when they have demonstrably been shown to have been re-educated.
The first difficulty with the initial proposal is that racism is an extremely wide term. At what point does the widespread hostility towards migrants shade into dislike, then into hatred, then into xenophobia, and then into racism? Given that roughly half the country entertains at least some feelings of antagonism towards members of different ethnic/national groups disentangling this from racism is going to be a mighty task. Apart from anti-foreigner views, there are thorny issues of inter-religious hatred, which are again hard to separate from racism, and intra-religious hatred.
The second difficulty is how to think of any form of “re-eduction” that would work – even if one accepted the rebarbative word. The wars in Syria and Iraq and the activities of the genocidal Islamist racists have led the government to offer a controversial Prevent programme as a solution to home-grown ‘radicalisation’. It is not demonstratively effective. It has shaky premises in the promotion of ‘British values’. ’ Even without this kind of approach the idea that people have to show that they have “acceptable” ideas leads to all kinds of problems about defining what is and what is not right. Making Labour an island safe from these views is not simple.
Who would be in charge of this ‘re-education’ and what would definition of anti-racism would it consist of?
The third difficulty is that, as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty point out, at present Labour suspends and expels people (as in the two cases cited above) through the decisions of the Compliance Unit. They state, “The unelected “Compliance Unit” cannot be allowed to be the plaintiff, judge, and jury of Labour Party membership. It should be abolished.” (Against anti-semitism, for due process).
‘Due process’ for excluding individuals and organised groups who promote anti-semitism and other forms of racism has to take these issues on board.
Can Owen answer this criticism?
Owen also writes,
Secondly, set up two commissions: one on antisemitism, the other on anti-Muslim prejudice, respectively headed by a leading Jewish and a Muslim figure. Both forms of bigotry are on the rise in Britain, and both exist within progressive circles and the Labour party. The commissions could issue a series of recommendations, both for dealing with it when it arises within Labour, and also in wider society too.
It is a step forward form an anti-racist standpoint that Owen uses the term “anti-Muslim prejudice” – that is hatred against people who have a Muslim background or belief – rather than the highly ambiguous ‘Islamophobia’ – which refers to the fear or dislike of a religious belief.
It is not nevertheless clear why these bodies should be headed by ‘leading Jewish and Muslim’ figures – the status of anybody as a “leading” Jewish figure (for whom?) is not clear, let alone whether, in the current climate of inter-Islamic conflict, the credentials of anybody to represent ‘Muslims’ is going to be uncontested.
Owen’s conclusion is a valuable one.
It is incumbent on the progressively minded to take antisemitism seriously. We wouldn’t belittle the seriousness of other forms of bigotry, or seek to deflect from it. It is possible to passionately oppose antisemitism on the one hand, and on the other oppose the policies of Israel’s government and support Palestinian national self-determination. Both these issues have to be completely disentangled: a discussion about serious antisemitism should not be a launchpad into a debate about Israel. It cannot be acceptable that Jewish people feel uncomfortable in Labour, or indeed in Britain. The left should speak out ever more loudly about antisemitism as an act of solidarity with Britain’s Jews. After all, socialism is about the emancipation of humanity from all forms of oppression, or it is nothing.
Unraveling these issues, given the example already cited of Socialist Fight, and, more widely, the kind of ‘anti-Zionism’ illustrated in the photo above of the French far-right, up to many other forms of ‘anti-Zionism’ such as the Indigènes de la République, fashionable on parts of the left, including the oddly named US publication Jacobin, accused of anti-semitism, is not going to be easy. (1) But few would deny that the UK has a miniscule problem compared to that posed by the French far-right – traditional or Islamist – and the “political confusionism” that reins there in some – still limited – quarters.