Anti-Semitism in the left: an open letter to the ISG

This statement has been agreed by Jewish members of NCAFC in an informal caucus. NCAFC has a policy of encouraging open debate, and if the members of the ISG want to respond, we will publish them here.

We are writing this as Jewish supporters of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and as Jewish left-wing activists. We’ll be clear from the outset that we’re not accusing the ISG of being an anti-Semitic organisation but anti-Semitism is real and pervasive and we believe there are questions that need to be answered. Anti-Semitism is, of course, unacceptable and wrong under all circumstances but we find it particularly odious from self-proclaimed Socialists and anti-racists.

On the 29th of November, the ISG posted this cartoon on their Communiqué page:
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The image was taken down as soon it started to receive criticism, and the following apology was posted
 
“Our most sincere apologies for the brief appearance of inappropriate content on this page earlier today. Members of the public unaligned with Communique uploaded the image at a workstation where one of our admins had been working and had unfortunately forgotten to log off.

 

We take this opportunity to reiterate that there is not and will never be any space in the Communique project for racism of any variety.”

Put bluntly, we think this is transparent nonsense and we don’t want to spend time saying why. We do believe, though, that the image and the apology demonstrate clearly the existence of anti-Semitism within the ISG and the attitude towards ‘left-wing’ anti-Semitism from sections of the Left more generally.

Anti-Semitism from the Left, particularly when discussing Palestine, isn’t new or unique to the ISG. Clare Solomon, former president of the University of London Union and prominent in the 2010 surge in student activism, notoriously claimed that “the view that Jews have been persecuted all throughout history” had been fabricated. These comments are often excused or dismissed – as Clare excused her comments – as misunderstandings arising from careless wording but that, just like the ISG’s apology, says a lot.
We think that careless politics breeds anti-Semitism; poor, shallow understandings of the dynamics of the Israel-Palestine conflict in particular and Imperialism more broadly. Carelessness isn’t an excuse; be more careful. It is profoundly irresponsible to take the political short-cuts that allow people to easily confuse Zionists with Jews and the onus is on the ISG to ensure that their members don’t do this.
Lastly, the frankly laughable apology the ISG offered and the force with which they defended it belie a a real sense of not taking anti-Semitism seriously – one member said on Facebook that he didn’t want to see a witch-hunt for “an honest mistake” and in the aftermath of that image being posted, dozens of non-Jewish members of the ISG lined up to say that they had never experienced anti-Semitism in left-wing activism or activism around Palestine. If this had been a homophobic cartoon, the idea of a series of straight people jumping in to say that it wasn’t so bad because they’d not experienced homophobia in meetings would be farcical.
The delegitimisation of the experience of Jewish left-wing activists and the lazy politics that gives rise to anti-Semitism within our movement is a serious problem that the Left and the ISG must grapple with if they want to be taken seriously.

Comments

  1. ” If this had been a homophobic cartoon, the idea of a series of straight people jumping in to say that it wasn’t so bad because they’d not experienced homophobia in meetings would be farcical.” – it would be farcical but it happens.

    I think we all sometimes attempt to mentally work bigotry and racism/homophobia/anti-semiticism/misogyny out through analogies like these. The problem is, that as people outraged by this cartoon, or homophobia, or misogyny, we would think it ridiculous, yet time and again we have seen it. We see it with every single liberation group, with the treatment of Jewish students (remember the UJS stall incident?), of women in the movement, trans* activists and more. What we need to do is instead go,

    “Hang on, those rather white rich middle class bearded boys over there are saying that they have never experienced sexism in the left. When that happened to me, as a Jewish student, I was outraged… hang on a minute!”, because that’s how we build solidarity.

    Also, the “someone logged in and then left it like that and a random member of the general public had heard of our tiny tiny group, sifted through his facebook and uploaded some vile anti-semiticism but it wasn’t us honest” is worse than “the dog ate my homework”.

  2. Or how about the UAF (labelled at the bottom ‘SWP initiated’) petition circulated in 2008 which discovered the Jew-free Holocaust. Their petition reads: “The BNP deny the holocaust where thousands of LGBT people, trade unionists, and disabled people were slaughtered.” That’s the end of it. No mention of the Jews.
    Of course this is another ‘mistake’. No doubt the writer, typesetter, printers and the political full-timer that presumably agreed to publish this petition don’t actually approve of Hitler’s murder of 6 million Jews. It is just that they failed to spot the omission. Which is a political problem, which has political roots in the demonisation of ‘Zionism’ on the left.
    You can find the leaflet here:
    http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2008/08/18/has-swp-discovered-jew-free-holocaust

    Incidentally, the fulltimer in charge of the SWP work at the demonstration at which the petition was circulated? Martin Smith.
    Martin Smith has only one loud defender at the moment: Gilad Atzmon, the deranged anti-semite (and Jazz musician), who Martin Smith gave a platform to, performing benefit gigs for SWP front organisations.

  3. it’s not antisemitic, it’s the truth, deal with it!

  4. There are undeniably elements of racism, homophobia and sexism in the left in general, definitely not excluding ISG. It was disgusting that that cartoon came up on the ISG facebook page all that time ago, but I think the premise of the criticism comes from a hypothesis or the desire for the explanation to be a lie. Judging by the ISG Facebook page’s past and current posts, it is unlikely that they would have posted that cartoon. It seems to me that they post events, articles or photos. If it was indeed an ISG member gone AWOL, that is despicable. As it is any member of the public gone AWOL. But this article seems to be pretty unfounded in their focus on the ISG. Why use Clare Solomon as an example when she has nothing to do with the ISG (as far as this post explains)? I agree with the sentiment that it is necessary to purge anti-semitism, racism in general, homophobia and definitely sexism from all elements of left-wing groups, but I don’t think this is the way to go about it. This just seems factional, which is bizarre because from what I can understand of the founding of NCAFC it is to be a more effective and encompassing group for people against the cuts.

    And I’m not showing my support for ISG or saying this as an ISG member, I’m saying it as someone who is seriously disillusioned with the state of left wing political groups particularly here in Scotland and in Edinburgh. That cartoon was disgusting and offensive on every level. The ISG can do no more than what they did, which was to immediately take it down and write an apology. Whether that apology is deemed to be unsatisfactory is a different story, because we can’t know how it got up. As I said before, it does not fit with the facebook page’s past posts. My issue with this post is how vague it is, how there is seemingly no real basis for what is said even though there definitely are different cases of anti-semitism and racism in the left that could be looked at, and how this post has the potential for giving a real analysis of these problems and ways in which we could resolve them, but doesn’t.

    It’s a shame because I wanted to read an interesting article about the shortcomings of the left and how we can overcome them, particularly with the SWP case coming out so recently. But this just seems to be factionalism. Which is a very debilitating shortcoming of the left. I wonder if I have a good enough understanding of the ‘dynamics’ of the Israel-Palestine ‘conflict’ to be able to express myself as firmly anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist, and whether I would then be accepted into NCAFC.

  5. cherry: Granted, the image describes actual Israeli policies. What makes it antisemitic is that it connects them to the antisemitic stereotype of ‘the Jew’, complete with kaftan, hat, Star of David, beard and hooked nose. It’s a ubiquitous image in antisemitic propaganda and found plenty of use by the Nazis (e.g. “Der ewige Jude”). We’re right to criticise Israel, but that is not at all the same as attacking ‘the Jews’.

  6. Hope Liebersohn says:

    Of course there is truth in the text: the original article should have made clear that the problem is successive Israeli governments’ policies. Many Israelis who oppose these policies have left Israel and many have stayed, some active, some feeling powerless (as in Britain). The extremists and settlers in Israel are boosted by Americans (including the nefarious anti-Arab Mr. Bennett, whose party expects to do well on Tuesday), both Jews and fundamentalist Christians. The U.S. is the last country in the world to start waking up to the reality of Israeli policies, but the US Campaign to End the Occupation is doing very well, armed with truth against the still-powerful Israeli lobby, which manages to censor politicians and the news media. Obama shows no sign of wanting to grapple with the Israeli government this term, though.

  7. The Zionist movement was founded in reaction to antisemitism. Anti-Zionists, and pro-Palestinian activists that succumb to antisemitism, are part of the problem, not part of the solution

  8. Hi Reem. OK, how can we explain, for example, the SWP giving a platform to an open anti-semite, Gilad Atzmon?
    Not anti-semetic? Read this: http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/sax-offender-vs-progressive-rapists.html

    The argument really is this: the far left’s obsessive hatred of Israel, and their political alliances with Islamists, are not only wrong but miseducate and disorient some individual members of these groups to such an extent that they fail to spot explicit, open anti-semitism.

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