angrysampoetry

the foundations of oppression can't be plucked up without the anger of a multitude

Weighing into the disingenuous anti-anti-Semitism debate…

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What could possibly have united the hundred or so people who turned out at the end of March in Parliament Square for what was probably the most reported-on British demonstration in recent years? The crowd’s constituents formed an unusual alliance, including MPs from both the Labour and the Conservative Party. It was, wrote Hadley Freeman, “a polite protest seething with rage”.enough is enough

It was, of course, against “anti-Semitism in our political culture” and against a particular individual who is, said Jonathan Goldstein of the so called Jewish Leadership Council, “rightly or wrongly, … now the figurehead of anti-Semitic political culture”.[1]

That ‘rightly or wrongly’ is an important hedge of Goldstein’s accusation against Jeremy Corbyn (for it is he). No one really cares if Corbyn is in fact anti-Semitic. More important is that he appears to be so. The protestors at this rally included notable anti-racist Norman ‘Tebbitt-Test’ Tebbitt, Tory deputy chairmJohn Mannan, Tom ‘Leave Means Leave’ Cleverly, and Labour MPs such as Chair of All-Party Chairman Group Against Anti-Semitism and self-promotion artist John Mann MP. Mann is a man so manfully obsessed with destroying Corbyn and his faction that he has developed a persecution complex so deep that even Jewish people should be impressed. Among the list of evidence he included in an impassioned parliamentary speech about the suffering he and his family have met by standing up against his party’s anti-Semitism ‘problem’, was the arrival of a dead bird in the post to his house. This decomposing ornithological specimen, he told the Commons was “sent by a Labour Marxist anti-Semite” Momentum member because, Mann had stood “in solidarity with our Jewish colleagues and the Jewish community.” There was a dead bird, and it was posted in 2012 to his wife, Labour councillor, Jo White, but it was not sent by a Momentum member because Momentum was not set up until 2015. In fact, the culprit was found: one Roger Dyas-Eliott, who explained in his trial at Worksop Magistrates Court that he had stuffed that jiffy bag with dead pigeon because he felt bitter that his “application to run as a Labour councillor was declined … due to his ‘unkempt appearance’.”[2] In the mind of Mann and other man like him, however, Momentum’s pernicious influence is so great that it can send offensiveRoger Dyas-Elliott looking unkempt mail packages back in time, through the medium of disgruntled local Labour Party members.

Facts, however, are not of much interest to the self-appointed defenders of the Jews. The most recent controversy started from an open letter from the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD, or Bored of Deputies, as Jewdas calls them. More on Jewdas later). In it, they told Corbyn (and the world) that the “mainstream majority of British Jews, and their concerns, are ignored by him and those he leads.” The descriptor ‘mainstream’ came up three times in their ten paragraph letter and has been repeated so often, that it almost seems to have become a sect of Judaism.

They – The Bored (as I shall call them in solidarity with the wits at Jewdas) – said they had hated Corbyn from the start. And, not adverse to a conspiracy theory or a slander themselves, blamed Corbyn’s “far left worldview”, his “form of politics” and the “far left’s obsessive hatred of Zionism, Zionists and Israel”. He might not be anti-Semitic himself (they could not find any allegations against him directly) but, “rightly or wrongly” (that phrase again), leftist anti-Semites “regard Jeremy Corbyn as their figurehead.”

A spectre, one suspects, haunts the fearful brains of The BoD’s leadership. This same spectre haunts Tebbitt, Cleverly and Mann. Corbyn’s far-out views on Palestine-Israel were fine as long as he remained a largely isolated and unimportant backbench MP. Now, through whatever strange mockery the Almighty has wrought for British politics by way of the machinations of a dead-in-the-water Labour Party looking to gather some attention for their leadership election, Corbyn has become the leader of the second largest party in Westminster and his presence as leader has made that party, in terms of numbers of members, the biggest political party in Europe. However trite you may consider his slogan, he is in fact a leader for ‘many’ not the silent, mainstream ‘few’. Does not the spirit of the latter’s protest as Freeman described it locate the demonstration as one defending, not Jews, but class interests? What could better sum up bourgeois manners than “politely seething with rage”, an image that conjures up someone shaking your hand and asking how-you-do while barely hiding the “palpable fury beneath the politeness”?

That the BoD’s interest was not to protect Jews as such, became clear when in a brilliant plot twist, Corbyn attended a Passover Seder run by anarchist, diaspora Jewish, vegan satirists, Jewdas, and the Daily Mail ran a double page shock-story about it. Andrew Pierce, the headline told us thrillingly, “reconstructs Jeremy Corbyn’s four-hour meeting with hate-filled group that mocks Judaism”. Jewdas are, he reported, “a fringe group calling for Israel to be abolished and for our Queen to be replaced by a Communist state.” No ‘Jewish leader’ stepped in to defend them against these classic Jewish-Communist slurs, positing the ‘fringe’ minority as a threat to ‘our Queen’, an alien fifth-column in our midst. It was nonsense of course, because it wasn’t a meeting, there was undoubtedly a lot of exuberant joy and very little hate going on and anyway Jewdas are anarchists and don’t believe in a state, communist or otherwise.

The Reds-under-the-bed scare focused on the singular image of how Jewdas members “raised a beetroot in the air and shouted fuck capitalism”. We are supposed to be afraid of the violence of anti-capitalist politics, but notice what they raised in the air was a purple root vegetable, not a Kalashnikov.

Jewdas had a lovely time with it. Having gone overnight from 2000 to 20000 Twitter followers, they asked The Bored whether in fact Jewdas were now ‘mainstream’ and the BoD now ‘fringe’. They pointed out that they were being attacked for anti-parliamentary, anti-monarchy politics by a far-right commentator, called Paul Staines, whose ‘news’ and public pronouncements come out under the pseudonym, ‘Guido Fawkes’. They started an auction on ebay of the anti-capitalist beetroot, and were only thwarted in the plan to give the money to a charity funding English lessons for migrants by the website’s algorithms, which, in a small victory for AI supporters in the battle of human-versus-computer Daily Mail beetrootintelligence, thought once the sale price reached above £50,000 the whole thing must be a joke. Jewdas could never track down the mysterious beetroot benefactor and are now raising money for the same charity by the more conventional means of crowd-funding.

The point is that the protest is, to turn the Right’s standard accusation back on themselves, a political-ideological one. Jewdas, Passover’s wicked child, were not considered worthy to be saved by the defenders of the race. Corbyn’s record as an anti-racist is second to none among British politicians, not least because, as he wrote in his reply to the BoD, he opposes “the continuing dispossession of the Palestinian people.”[3] You would have to have paid workers digging through records of all his past meetings and his social media accounts to find places where he has slipped in his language, his associations, or in comments made, for example, to an artist he did not know on a Facebook group in 2012. Believe me, speaking as a Jewish person, it is impossible to go through life without associating with someone with a racial theory about the Jews, whether that’s random strangers, work colleagues, or ‘friends’ on Facebook. Of course, in the whole mass of the Labour Party, there are plenty of people with anti-Semitic views. But what has Corbyn done about it? is the cry. Well, he took it seriously enough to commission a review of the Labour Party, involving some quite serious people. Not good enough, say his enemies, when they did not like the conclusions.

One un-predicted consequence of this ‘scandal’, such as it is, was that it provided an opportunity for the wags and wits of social media, the blogosphere and the DIY news sites to bring up some Tory party scandals from recent years to pose against the supposed Labour one. It was a great opportunity to remind ourselves of the time Anne Whatshername, MP for Newton Abbott, said in a parliamentary meeting that not getting a deal over withdrawal from the EU was “the real nigger in the woodpile”. Or when one-time Tory minister and key architect of the Tory party anti-terror agenda, Patrick Mercer told the following amusing anecdote to a man he did not know was an undercover Panarama reporter about trying to get into an Israeli ‘intelligence establishment’ and being stopped by a female soldier at the door, whose appearance he did not like:

Patrick Mercer: “Who the fuck are you?”

Israeli soldier: “I’m a soldier.”

PM: “You don’t look like a soldier to me, you look like a bloody Jew.”

These are not random members of local branches of the party, they are key Conservative decision makers and actual MPs. Their attitudes are pure, unreconstructed 1930’s type racism. “I have no doubt,” Mercer went on, captured on a secret camera, “if I’d come up with the wrong answer I’d have had my head blown off”, but sadly the punishment for speaking like this was much more mild. The Devonian brexiter had the whip withdrawn for a while, but is now back as an MP with full rights, while the other bloke, the military one, was eventually forced out, not for his misogyny nor his anti-Semitism, but because he had been caught on that same secret camera accepting a bribe to ask a question in parliament. The only crime that exists in parliamentary politics, on any side, is getting caught.

The racism of my friends who think Jews might have bit too much influence in the media is less worrying to me than the racism of politicians who are responsible for choosing which groups to put under surveillance. The BoD quite rightly put out a statement expressing their “concern” about the recent election campaign of Viktor Orbán as his Fidesz party increased its majority in the Hungarian parliament. The BoD were worried about “his comments about ‘Muslim invaders’ and calling migrants ‘poison’” and naturally enough about the “antisemitic undertones in the relentless campaign that Fidesz waged against George Soros”, whom Orbán accused of being part of a race with a shadowy influence controlling all the money. The BoD expressed their “hope that he intends to move on from this divisive campaign in a manner that unites all of Hungary’s communities, including Roma, Muslims and Jews.” This is indeed a rather hopeful position, given that the man has been steadily ramping up this sort of thing, in alliance with even-further-right party Jobbik, for the last eight years. But this is how the BoD  ‘hopes’ to defend the Jewish people. Rather more effective in dealing with violent anti-Semitism were the residents of London’s East End in the 1936 who blockaded the streets, rained down missiles and fought with Oswald Moseley’s blackshirts and the police who protected them  when the British Union of Fascists attempted a provocative and power-grabbing march through the streets that were home to large numbers of Jewish people.  At the time the BoD notoriously advised Jews to stay at home and ‘hoped’ the BUF would change their mind about Judaism.

At the 80th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Cable Street anniversary I attended in 2016, there were no representatives of the BoD in sight. There were speakers from trade unions, Jewish socialist groups, Bengali community groups and one politician, Jeremy Corbyn MP. who talked of how his mother was on the march “because she wanted to live in a world free from xenophobia and free from hate”.  Yet, says the BoD, “again and again, Jeremy Corbyn has sided with anti-Semites rather than Jews.” In contrast, W2hen Boris Johnson tweeted his uncritical congratulations to Orbán, the BoD, were noticeable in their silence. Orbán, who now exerts almost total power over a mid-sized European country, declared that “now we are sending home uncle Gyuri [a nickname for “George”] together with his network. We ask you to go back to America, make the Americans happy, not us!”[4]

Any serious anti-racist should be very concerned with the political situation in central Europe right now. Orbán’s election campaign was unusually criticised by OSCE international monitors for “intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric, media bias and opaque campaign financing”. Johnson, in contrast, enthused his “Congratulations to Fidesz and Viktor Orbán on winning the elections in Hungary. We look forward to working with our Hungarian friends to further develop our close partnership.” Theresa May’s first meeting as Prime Minister was with the Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawieck, who had just ended the independence of the Polish judiciary much to the chagrin of the European parliament, who, said a spokesperson, only censured the ironically named Law and Justice party because “we don’t want to accept Muslim migrants, as we care for the security of Poles”[5]. Law and Justice had already done the same with the media because it was in the hands of too many foreign shareholders and needed “”re-Polonizing”[6].  On the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz death camp in a small town on the outskirts of Kraków, the Polish government passed a law making it illegal to blame Polish people for playing any part in the European holocaust. May signed a new defence and security agreement and announced, “There could be no clearer expression of the closeness of the UK’s relationship with Poland.”[7]

With friends like Johnson and May, who’d have thought British Jews needed enemies? But an enemy some Jews are determined to make. Graffiti ‘artist’, Mear One’s mural that Mear one muralwas the catalyst for the scandal was indeed problematic. Worse than its anti-Semitism for me was its simple-minded critique of capitalism that sees the global order as controlled by a small group of evil beings, with resistance characterised as a single lone hero who looks suspiciously like the artist’s self-portrait. The black people in the picture are a helpless, passive-looking mother and child and the faceless, characterless brown people holding up the evil men’s table. Victims or Slaves. Evil Plotters. Superheroes. If this is socialism, it is, as Corbyn put it in his reply to the BoD, quoting German Social-Democrats of the late 19th / early 20th century ‘a socialism of fools’.

Whether or not people buy this kind of slur on Corbyn, I’m not sure. Looking into British political parties and institutional racism, is perhaps one factor in the surprise eruption of a long-overdue scandal on the violence of the British immigration system. The ‘Windrush generation’ scandal has opened people’s eyes a little to the incredible inhumanity of British immigration policy. For those of us who have been pointing this out for some time now, the policy of a ‘hostile environment’ for all those who look like they might not legally have a right to be here, the deport-first-appeal-later policy, the refusal to take Syrian refugees, the indefinite detention without trial, the chartered deportation flights, the requirements of doctors, teachers, landlords, driving instructors to become border guards, the funding of concentration camps on the edges of Europe, the criminalisation of solidarity with migrants are all deeply worrying. To say that Labour started this is fair enough, as it was Labour under Tony Blair who began this current anti-asylum seeker rhetoric, who sacrificed civil liberties to the War on Terror, who institutionalised Islamophobia in a flurry of ‘emergencies’ post September 11th 2001. However, you cannot both criticise Blairite New Labour for their authoritarian turn and criticise Corbyn for being a far-left loony who has broken with the party’s centre.

Racist policies are time and again justified by the fact that the public want politicians to be tough on immigration. The question for me is which comes first, ‘white working class’ racism, or racist politics. Whether it was Jack Straw’s criticism of the niqab, saying in 2006 he was “uneasy talking to someone he could not see”[8] or Amber Rudd ten years later introducing a £140 million ‘controlling migration fund’ because foreign workers should not be able to “take jobs that British people should do”[9], this kind of rhetoric misinforms the public and is as much a part of creating popular racism as it is a response to it. What the outrage and sympathy provoked by the current flurry of stories about grandparents being deported, refused treatment or sacked from jobs has shown is that, fed a different narrative, the tradition of solidarity and compassion is still very much alive in Britain, despite the poisonous discourse in our media and politics.

Purim in Stamford HillAll people from ethnic minorities in Britain face racism from time to time. Jews are no exception. Living near Stamford Hill, the site of a large and visible Haredi Jewish population, I hear a lot of grumblings about Jews. Sometimes it’s because the Haredim get special treatment with their own ambulances and police force (the latter is a myth). Sometimes it’s envy for a community that runs its own businesses AND shops in them (I also see quite a lot of Jews in Morrisons). Sometimes it’s medieval non-facts about Jews keeping money under their hats or their payot (sidelocks) being instruments for angels to pull them up to heaven. Quite often, when people find out about my heritage, I am asked what I think about Israel. However, I do not get stopped and searched on the street, I am not asked ‘where I come from’, I am not told to ‘go home’, am not denied jobs, nor do I fear random violence for what I look like or the religion I do no follow.

There are people who believe that Jews are protected much more than other ethnic minorities, that you can get away with anti-black or anti-Muslim racism, but even a whiff of a public figure saying something anti-Semitic will be jumped on heavily by the establishment. Some people put this down to undue Jewish influence in media, finance or politics. The BoD’s pursuit of Corbyn is hardly helping to dispel that myth.

Those at a loss to explain the relatively high numbers of rich or important Jews might well be swayed by a malicious and cynical exploitation of anti-Semitism by a man like Viktor Orbán with (non-Jewish) money, power and influence. His description of Soros is chilling to those of us whose childhood dreams were traumatised by inherited memories of the Nazis:

our opponent is different than we are. Not straightforward, but hiding, not direct but crafty, not honest but base, not national but international, doesn’t believe in labour rather speculates with money, has no country of its own because he feels the world is his in its entirety.”[10]

To help people understand, we need to explain the historical reasons for Jewish wealth. Throughout the medieval period, European Jews were outside of the feudal system and in many cases were direct property of the local Prince. The majority were, like everyone else, peasants. However, feudalism had a special role for some of them. Money lending with interest was officially illegal for Christians, so Jews were given the job. When the Prince’s debts became too much, he would start up a hue-and-cry about evil blood-drinking Jews and arrange a pogrom that would destroy Jewish homes, exile Jewish people, kill Jewish people and incidentally, wipe out his troublesome debt in the process. No doubt in India, China, East or North Africa or the Middle East we had our troubles too, but nowhere else did we receive such regular and vicious ostracism and persecution as in Europe. Like the other large and distinct European minority, the Roma, we were kicked out of pretty much every country at one point or another. The Roma survived by becoming itinerant, doing jobs that made themselves useful such as tinkering or music. When capitalism came in the 16th century and onward, it turned out that fixing pots and pans was a lot less profitable than loaning money. The Rothschild family took advantage of their family connection to work in many countries across the continent and extracted from European powers, in return for massive loans to fight their wars, banking rights that guaranteed their power up until this day. But of course, the Rothschilds were the exception, not the rule. The majority of European Jews remained poor and two-thirds of them were murdered in the holocaust.

Jewish literacy in a civilisation that preached that uneducated, unquestioning belief without understanding was holy, meant some Jews might occupy slightly higher positions in the feudal system, being able to work as stewards or accountants for the aristocracy, to whom they remained tied, and with whom they fell when the nation-state formed in the 19th century and bourgeois industrialism finally triumphed over aristocratic-led peasant farming, and brought with it the nationalism and theories of race that sent us to the gas chambers.

In Britain, those who arrived, like my great-grandparents, at the end of the 19th or start of the 20th century, found themselves, by and large, in the rougher parts of the big cities. That, after 50 – 100 years, many made it out and into solid middle-class positions was in part due to the timing of their arrival at a period of huge growth (one Jewish Hackney market stall holder became Tesco, for example, and an ancestor Jewish east endon my mother’s side, a small scale bed manufacturer in Vauxhall became Myer’s Beds. The Asian grocers or Turkish-run grocers in my area are unlikely to follow that same fate now that Tesco’s and etc already have become the megaliths that they are). In part, we prospered because of the relatively open immigration laws of the time (taking back ‘control of our borders’ makes no sense given that the first ‘Aliens Act’ was introduced to a borderless world in 1905), the strength that all immigrants have in cross-class community solidarity, perhaps also because we could ‘pass’ as white and perhaps because of a cultural emphasis on education and intellectual discussion.

There is no escaping the fact, however, that we have always been used by a Christian establishment, as a kind of pet minority. Except in the borough of Barnett, where 15% of the population is Jewish, we are not a community with enough members to decide an election. To me, this pro-Semite discourse looks a lot like coded Islamophobia. Vote for Corbyn, the rhetoric seems to imply, and you are voting for a pro-Palestinian, ‘friends with Hamas’ politician who is the kind of metropolitan liberal elitist who will allow in Muslims because of a naïve multi-culturalism / deliberate desire to weaken the white race. You think I’m exaggerating, then look again at our man Mann’s speech again. Starting on anti-Semitism, he asks rhetorically, where does this end, and then answers his own question, “Where this stuff ends is what happened in Copenhagen, is what happened in Brussels and in France repeatedly”. Or Leave.Eu’s theory about it: “Is it any wonder that Labour can’t be bothered to deal with the disgusting antisemitism in their party when they are so reliant on the votes of Britain’s exploding Muslim population? It’s a question of maths for these people, not justice!” Anti-Israel talk will make us pro-Muslim and we all know what that means.

If only there were a politician with principles who was willing to make a case for treating people equally and standing up against racism.

 

 

[1] https://news.sky.com/story/jeremy-corbyn-figurehead-of-anti-semitic-culture-jewish-leaders-11304618

[2] https://www.retfordtoday.co.uk/news/politics/restraining-order-after-dead-bird-sent-in-post-1-4798348

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-43540795

[4] https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/viktor-orban-george-soros-speech-anti-semitism/

[5] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/poland-rule-of-law-article-7-authoritarianism-independence-of-judiciary-a8120196.html

[6] https://news.vice.com/article/polands-right-wing-government-scares-europe-by-going-after-the-media

[7] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/theresa-may-poland-visit-authoritarian-eu-sanctions-council-ministers-warsaw-right-wing-government-a8122771.html

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2006/oct/06/politics.uk

[9] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/oct/04/rudd-announces-crackdown-on-overseas-students-and-new-work-visas

[10] https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/viktor-orban-george-soros-speech-anti-semitism/

Written by angrysampoetry

April 29, 2018 at 4:52 pm

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