Monday, March 26, 2018

The writing on the wall

Here we go again. Another incident, this time about a mural. The Jewish Chronicle wrote about it back in November of 2015, but it's been ignored until now. I'm not surprised at all. This was always going to come back to bite Corbyn and is why I opposed his leadership from the moment his candidacy was announced. I never liked the pool he swam in. Srebenica denial, Press TV, unsavoury Islamists, and much more made him a representative of a tendency Orwell described in Notes on Nationalism:
... a minority of intellectual pacifists whose real though unadmitted motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism. ... All in all it is difficult not to feel that pacifism, as it appears among a section of the intelligentsia, is secretly inspired by an admiration for power and successful cruelty.
It's an old phenomenon, obviously given that Orwell was writing about it. I have also come across it in the 19th century and have touched on it in my book and subsequent published essays. It's most apparent today in an anti-Zionist movement, whose virulent hatred for Israel drove me out of pro-Palestinian activity. There was no room for anyone who argued that both national movements had equal legitimacy and that mutual recognition had to be the basis for peace. Crucially, anti-Zionism had become an excuse for the expression of older hatreds. Covert anti-Semitism was becoming more overt and violent in its language.

This too has long been part of the left. It's a permanent flaw. But it's also anti-socialist in its essence. It explains exploitation not in terms of class or an impersonal system, but as the result of the plotting of a malevolent race. It takes many forms, the bankers' conspiracy is pretty common at the moment - the Rothschild conspiracy theory is everywhere. Again, I've seen plenty of 19th century examples too. There is also a very long history of what David Nirenberg called "Anti-Judaism." This is where Judaism is seen as a cypher for something wicked. At the moment, Zionism (often used interchangeably with Judaism) is portrayed as imperialism or apartheid, echoing post-war anti-colonial struggles. It's a facile comparison and stands in the way of a clear understanding of the conflict. It's also a perfect example of what Nirenberg was writing about. And, given that it tends to express itself using classic anti-Semitic tropes, it merges with the conspiratorial world view of the committed Jew hater. Anti-Semitism is always with us, morphing into different forms, and needs confronting consistently and vigorously.

Corbyn swallowed much of this throughout his political career. His apologetics for anti-Western oppressive regimes and movements displayed a lack of judgement that should have disqualified him from the leadership. (Little did I know how significant his Euroscepticism would be as well). But what about the response to the latest row?

The true believers are doubling down and digging deeper. Sycophants have produced a range of excuses that are simply creepy. Some of the people who were aware of his failings but were tempted by the prospect of the left in power are recovering their principles. But the overwhelming response is a sense of bewilderment. How is this anti-Semitic? I'm not sure that Corbyn understands it either. There are many who say that they have never seen or heard any anti-Semitism in the party over decades. I actually believe them. It's not because it didn't' exist, its because it's unrecognised. The new anti-Semitism has changed its clothes.

Anti-Semitism has been treated as a heritage issue by some of the left. The warmest glow of self-satisfaction comes from sanctifying the memory of Cable Street, the greatest condemnation is of the Holocaust, and the favourite slogan is "never again." Anti-Semitism wears a Nazi uniform. The trouble is, it doesn't any more. It parades in different colours and it's easy to miss it, especially when blinded by partisanship. If you want an analogy, look back to the 1960s and 70s. Think of the misogyny and racial stereotyping on TV, remember (unfortunately I can) how you laughed at cringe making jokes. Now think of why they are no longer acceptable. It isn't because of "political correctness gone mad," it's because of hard work to raise consciousness and counter discrimination. We were taught what prejudice meant by the best teachers possible, its victims.

We didn't think as much about anti-Semitism, after all the Nazis had gone and we had defeated them. But it was still there. It lurked around in the extremes. It was there on the right, and as this superb essay by Eric K. Ward makes clear, is the genocidal belief that animates white supremacism. On the left it masqueraded as anti-Zionism. And it is encroaching from the wings to centre stage. The task today is the same one faced decades ago by feminists, anti-racists, gay rights activists and the like. People need to be taught how to see it. They need to be able to disentangle it from legitimate political campaigns. It will be hard work. It's now deep-rooted. The only way is to listen to the Jewish voices who are telling us, enough is enough.

Corbyn is a genuine opponent of heritage anti-Semitism, but he has failed to recognise its latest manifestation. He's tolerated and shared platforms with anti-Semites, while his initial response to the latest affair was indignant and unconvincing. However, this maybe a moment of hope. It could be the crisis point from which people can learn and push prejudice back into the margins. Maybe it's a moment of realisation and education. Perhaps in the future we will be able to look back in shame and astonishment at sentiments we once shared. If not, if the party makes token statements and hopes it goes away, the soul of the left may be lost, but please remember it's Jews who will pay the highest price.

No comments: