Apple sauce with your Arendt: the Eichmann Show

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The Eichmann Show is on BBC iplayer just now, with Martin Freeman and Anthony LaPaglia playing two Jewish TV producers who travel from the US to Jerusalem to film the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1962.

It’s definitely worth watching. LaPaglia is believable as a US victim of the blacklist, trying to make sense of Eichmann and the country in which he finds himself. There are other moments too: a scene with a cameraman forced to confront his own memories, which I thought was nicely done. As I’ll try to show, the filmmakers were engaging with big ideas. When people do that, you always want to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Overall, it doesn’t quite succeed though as a conventional drama – Freeman feels like he’s trying too hard not to be Bilbo Baggins, quite a lot of the plot (especially the first 15 minutes) comes over as utter contrivance, and at any moment when people doubt what they’re doing there is a survivor just super-conveniently on hand to convince the cast of their own righteousness.

All of that said, the writers had clearly read Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, and as this is one of the great books of the postwar world, it’s worth seeing the film through it, and thinking through how they use the medium of film to convey and simplify Arendt’s text.

Arendt had three main things to say about the trial. The first was that, as an anti-Zionist Jew, she was horrified by the nationalism of the prosecutor, Hausner, who tried to use the trial to prove that the world had been hostile to the Jews, had been continuously and consistently so, ever since the days of the Old Testament. So that what was on trial in 1962 was not Eichmann but (in Hasner’s words) “antisemitism. throughout history”. If it really was true, Arendt countered, that anti-Zewish racism had been at a continuous pitch for three thousand years, then what moral authority was there for picking our and prosecuting and executing Eichmann who was logically, just another antisemite, among millions, in a continuous history of equal and unbroken horror?

The film turns this critique into art by the device of just making Hasner’s opening speech very slow and boring, so that the film-makers suffer the prospect of their world-historic spectacle turning into a dud with its own audience. Now, this idea has compelling for an instant. Imagine: a Hollywood film about no-one watching Hollywood films… But the writers only hold this idea for a few seconds or so before rushing to the answer: that what rescued the trial, as a TV spectacle, was the compelling nature of the survivors’ testimony.

Reading Arendt today it is striking how radically unimpressed she was by the survivors’ testimony. She certainly gave examples of people who she thought spoke well and plainly and to the point. Of survivors who described the help they had received from non-jews. Of instances of rebellion. But what she describes is (as so often with memory) of people crowding around trauma to make themselves central. Of people abstracting from their circumstances. She is especially critical of one famous writer who, given a chance to address the world on what he experienced, instead speechified at inordinate length, then, when the judge begged him to answer the prosecutor’s questions, fainted and collapsed. The makers of the Eichmann show take this same incident, elevate it, make the witness appear heroic, then berate one of their own central characters for missing his fall, and wrongly – broodingly – focussing on the mute witness Eichmann.

Arendt’s book was subtitled The Banality of Evil, by which she was trying to convey, I suppose, several specific things: first that (on her reading of his evidence, which she accepted) Eichmann was not an ideological Nazi but someone who had joined the NSDAP late and been swept up by it, that he was a “normal person” (in her words) “neither feeble-minded nor indocrinated”, that knowing he would be responsible for Jewish affairs, he had picked up some Hebrew, learned to read Yiddish, read Zionist literature, and that the key quotes used by the prosecution to justify his execution were instances of him “bragging” and exaggerating the part he had played, which had not been to make the policy of killing, but to administer the movement of people for it.

The film takes this superficially simple idea “banality” and does to it exactly, I suppose, what Arendt complained the survivor’s testimony did wrong – ie. abstract it, ie. separate it from its strict historical context and treat it as some general concept, and misunderstand it.

In the film, Eichmann’s banality is mute: he neither speaks, not gestures, nor even really moves. He sits still and silent while LaPaglia yells at him to do something. His banality is turned into film as an inability to speak whereas, as I hope I’ve just shown, he was in the real-life trial, loqacious, determined to justify himself, speaking readily, even as he in fact taught his listeners nothing.

Finally, why was Arendt so insistent on Eichmann’s banality? As I’ve indicated, the only heroism she could imagine was the rejection of those putting themselves in the way of history, whether that meant the victims refused to be herded to their death, or the non-Jewish people in Poland helping them to escape. She had a very similar sense of refusal in relation to the state of Israel and the national myths on which that country was founding itself: antisemitism had not been a continuous feature of world history, Eichmann could not play the part the regime reserved to him, of the planner and instituter of the Holocaust. The introduction to the Penguin edition of her book is titled, ‘The Excommunication of Hannah Arendt’, to reflect the very considerable hostility with which it was received in the mainstream Jewish press. Her book was, in its awkwardness, an act of bravery.

Compared to this original, the Eichmann show means well – but falls someway short of the original.

Labour’s Antisemitism Crisis: reviews

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Reviews of my book have started appearing. They include Liz Davies in Socialist Lawyer. Hers concludes: “…Renton also calls for a kinder, more appropriate complaints and disciplinary process. The factionalism which pervades Labour’s complaints system has been well documented, most noticeably in the infamous “leaked report”. Renton makes the point that a calmer atmosphere surrounding the complaints process would distinguish between antisemitic statements that cannot be tolerated, and a more nuanced approach to other more ambiguous statements, asking whether the maker had understood its offensiveness, would be prepared to withdraw it etc. Such a distinction is impossible, Renton says, when there are thousands of people staring at the disciplinary process, loudly declaring their own moral righteousness and their contempt for anyone who disagreed with them. Renton’s book speaks truth to the left. That is not an easy thing to do, or to read, but, for any principled socialist, it is absolutely necessary”.

The socialist magician Ian Saville also has kind words for the book at Labour Hub: “Renton singles out some individuals on the left who have made statements which clearly contain elements of antisemitism, and he demolishes the arguments they present with clarity and precision. But the bigger and most important charge is about many of us on the left who failed to challenge such arguments. It seems we were blinded by the transparent attempt by the right to use the issue to attack and destabilise the left. By ‘rallying round’ our friends in these circumstances, doubling down on supporting an ahistorical account of the Holocaust from Ken Livingstone, or of Jewish involvement in the slave trade from Jackie Walker, we gave ammunition to the right, further alienating many who could have been our allies.”

Keith Kahn-Harris, who had of course published his own superb book on the subject (Strange Hate) has reviewed mine for the Times Literary Supplement and Jewthink. In the latter, he calls my book “elegiac” and says, “I hope that David Renton’s book encourages open self-criticism on the Labour left regarding antisemitism.”

One of the most unexpected notes of welcome came from Philip Mendes at the Australia-Israel Labor-Dialog site. He sets out the many places at which he and I dsagree, while saying that mine is far better than those which have preceded it from other anti-Zionist sources,” and ends his piece with two question for me, and the anti-Zionist left more generally.

Jeremy Green’s review for his own website was reprinted by Socialist Against Antisemitism. Again, he’s very positive, concluding, “I’ve never met David Renton, though I’ve enjoyed reading his blog posts. We’ve exchanged a few messages via Facebook, mainly me telling him that I’ve appreciated something he’s written. But I wish I’d known him during the period that his book covers; it might have made it easier to live through the misery.”

At Philosophy Football, Mark Perryman has been perhaps the kindest of all reviewers, calling my book, “the definitive work for me on this most vexatious of subjects … Definitive in scope, politics and writing style this is a hugely impressive piece of writing and puts the Keir Starmer era Labour Party’s own pitiful efforts at antisemitism training to shame. Sadly the same Labour regime in all likelihood will ban David from speaking at Labour meetings on the subject because he doesn’t appear on some approved list to do so.  In the face of all that David’s book demands the widest possible platforms and readership, what a disappointment then it has come out from an academic publisher with their usual unimaginative cover and high price. No criticism of Routledge intended, well done for publishing it, but this book’s audience stretches way beyond academia, hopefully a more attractively packaged and reasonably priced second edition will be on its way soonest, in the meantime readers should grab a copy soon as they can.”

I will surprise no-one by mentioning that the good folks at Jewish Voice for Labour has also reviewed the book. At the centre of their review is a plea to the left that we must not give up on the idea that Labour’s difficulties were solely caused by the “Israel lobby”. Yes, the people who could see no evil in anything Chris Williamson, Ken Livingstone or Jackie Walker said have at last found something that offends them. I imagine that other reviews of a similar character will follow theirs.

EDITED to add (1.11.21). More reviews coming in; including Jonah ben Avraham for New Politics. He’s probably the first reviewer to have spotted that my book isn’t only about antisemitism, but is shaped by wider experiences of having to deal with selfish and destructive behaviour by people on the left. Ben Avraham concludes: “Renton’s book doesn’t have all the answers. His at times rosy optimism that what Labourites like Livingstone and Walker needed was a comrade in their ear, and not a boot out the door, is more a philosophy of changing hearts and minds than a strategy. Still, it is a philosophy that is despairingly rare on a left that has responded to repeated calls for accountability, from #MeToo to efforts addressing racial harm in left-wing spaces, first and foremost with the same kind of legalism and defensiveness at play in the antisemitism crisis. Labour’s Antisemitism Crisis points activists in a new, transformative direction for the next struggle.”

Fascism and anti-fascism in Britain – ten novels

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May be an image of ‎book and ‎text that says "‎CHILDREN of the ه SUN Max Schae The Rotters Club ALAN GIBBONS JONATHAN COE STREET OF TALL PEOPLE JO BLOOM NN RIDLEY ROAD October Day HenryWillamson Tarkathe Otternais elSpa Frank Griffin Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Editions MODERN CLASSICS Tariq ehmood While There is Light The Wardrobe Mistress PATRICK McGRATH End at Your Feet Farrukh Dhondy AFTER the PARTY CRESSIDA CONNOLLY HEARTLANI ANTHONY CARTWRIGHT‎"‎‎

With Ridley Road now on the BBC iplayer, I thought I’d post a list here of what I reckon are the ten best novels written about fascism and anti-fascism in Britain:

(10) Farrukh Dhondy, East End At Your Feet

More a short story collection than a novel; in the fifth story “KBW” [Keep Britain White] a neighbouring family is attacked by a gang of 20 racists.

(9) Patrick McGrath, The Wardrobe Mistress

On the death of veteran actor Charles Grice in 1947, his wife Joan learns that he was a fascist and a street-corner antisemite. Will she take revenge on the movement that corrupted him?

(8) Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Girls fall madly in love with glamorous and manipulative teacher. But it’s 1933 and the teacher has a crush on Mussolini and Hitler.

(7) Cressida Connolly, After the Party

Glamorous socialite Phyllis Forrester returns to England. She follows her sister Nina into a world of fascist summer camps, and wartime internment

(6) Tariq Mehmood, While There is Light

England and back. An account of the events leading up to the rest of the Bradford 12 in 1981: rude, funny, full of righteous fire.

(5) Anthony Cartwright, Heartland

Cartwright, the novelist-historian of work, Thatcherism and the East Midlands, returns to home territory for a story of the World Cup, local elections and a Sunday-league football game pitting two Tipton teams together, one of them a stooge for the BNP.

(4) Max Schaefer, Children of the Sun

In 2003, gay left-wing screenwriter James becomes obsessed 1980s-ers neo-Nazi Nicky Crane, following his career and friends through the archives and in real life. Perhaps the only ever book to have been praised by both China Mieville and Nick Griffin.

(3) Jonathan Coe, The Rotters Club

It’s Birmingham in 1976, with glam rock, the IRA and teenage Nazi Harding is doing his best A. K. Chesterton impersonation in the school elections. Ben Trotter and his friends meanwhile are exploring sex, London, and Rock Against Racism.

(2) Frank Griffin, October Day

The events of 4 October 1936 – Cable Street – shown Dos-Passos-style through such characters as the winnable but anti-political worker Joe, the policeman Harold Thurgood and a wealthy fascist with who he carries on an affair, Lady Stroud.

(1) Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

Because we’ve all got a little part of Stevens in us, whether we like it or not – that loyalty to the present, to things as they are, which stops us from changing them.

With honourable mentions for the following: Alan Gibbons, Street of Tall People, PH Wodehouse, Code of the Woosters, Richmal Compton, William the Dictator, the screenplay of Young Soul Rebels (which is published as a book), Anders Lustgarten’s play A Day at the Racists (ditto), and (yes) Jo Bloom’s Ridley Road.

Ridley Road and the real Vivien Epstein

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I’ve been fascinated by the BBC series, Ridley Road, and the way in which it uses the history of anti-fascism. I haven’t read the novel behind the series, by Jo Bloom, but if there is any consistency at all between the two versions of the story then plainly she was trying to do something interesting with the history, something a historian could never do. Here I’ll try to explain what.

The starting point is that there is, essentially, no good history of the 62 Group. There were a series of interviews written up by Steve Silver (here). There is an account of the same period seen through the eyes of the NSM in Paul Jackson’s biography of Colin Jordan (here). And you can pick up bits from Nigel Copsey and Dave Hann’s histories of anti-fascism in Britain.

Bloom plainly raided Silver’s work as her main source, and so you get a line of dialogue in one of the episodes describing Solly (Eddie Marsan) as owning London’s largest black cab firm. Check that against the Silver manuscript, and you’ll see that (so far) Solly is based on the real life figure of Wally Levy – an ally of the 62 Group, but by no means its key player.

I suspect the idea was to mix Levy with a more important figure in the group Harry Bidney, who had been prosecuted at various times in the 1950s for being in a gaming house, dealing in black market cigarettes, receiving stolen alcohol, and for allowing a room to be used for betting, and for prostitution. There’s probably some of Cyril Paskin and Baron Moss there too.

The series doesn’t really explain why Ridley Road was such a key site for fascist (and therefore antifascist) organising; essentially it was the border line between gentile Hackney in the borough’s south and the Jewish district in the north. In 1947-8, it saw the most intense fascist organising of any district in London between 1945 and the 1970s.

There are problems with the drama – the first episode strains for contemporary resonances, and makes Jordan seems a bigger and better-connected threat than he was. The biggest weakness, for me, reflects the shift from a novel to the small screen. In the former, it makes sense for political organising to be the work of really 2-3 key people who really gras[ everything. The real life 43 and 62 groups were larger, more democtatic – and more chaotic – than that.

By far the most interesting thing Bloom does with the story is that she raids the better-known history of the 43 Group – and takes a key episode from that and makes it the centre of her drama. To recap, what everyone knows about the 43 Group is that they were a set of Jewish ex-servicemen willing to fight a physical battle with the fascists. Through intelligence, and a willing to out-violence their opponents, they knocked over fascist platforms and drove them from the streets.

Now, this narrative is mythic in certain respects – it exaggerates the group’s success rate (which was high in 46 and spring and summer 47 then tailed off, as the fascists grew). It also ignores one or two dark episodes.

The darkest of these concerned a female infiltrator Wendy Turner. She wasn’t Jewish (unlike most people in the 43 Group) but agreed to spent a year of her life passing on intelligence on key fascist leaders – getting close to the point of danger, in order to pass back information. Like “Vivien” in Ridley Road she slept with leading fascists (not Jordan but a Mosley’s lieutenant, Jeffrey Hamm).

Ultimately, Turner suffered a mental health breakdown and was hospitalised and remained there for 30 years. There, she described her life as being “penned inside a mile of corridors, surrounded by sick, twisted, deformed, insane people; doing nothing, going nowhere, only longing with every cell of my body and mind and spirit for death.”

It is incredibly hard trying to find out what happened to Turner. I remember in the 1990s when I interviewed half a dozen members of the 43 Group – few if any were willing to speak about her. But friends of theirs would tell you stories, for example that Turner was hospitalised because she had gone into the fascists, been caught there, and beaten, and the injuries had caused the decades of ill-health that followed.

Daniel Sonnabend gives a different (and even more troubling) version of who attacked her.

What Ridley Road does, it seems to me, is take that story about Turner, turn it into myth, and cure her suffering through the medium of fiction. It presents Turner as having (well – I can’t go on without spoiling the ending) but you get the point. It takes her defeat in real life and makes her heroic.

Knowing that there were real life counterparts to the Vivien character who were there, and didn’t get out – and never got out – that’s the real story.

On Ken Loach; or why the fight against antisemitism deserves better than these authoritarian expulsions

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If I was going to write about Ken Loach’s expulsion from the Labour Party here are some of the things I’d say:

These are more notes and parentheses than a finished article, but they’ll give you a sense of what’s been troubling me.

(1) That what put Ken Loach in line for expulsion was that he has spoken on the platforms of what is now a proscribed organisation, Labour Against the Witch-hunt. For the time being, Labour seems to have accepted they could not expel him for this: he spoke prior to those groups’ proscription and was never a member.

It may be that Loach’s public platform gave him a protection which other members of the party have been denied. Others have been threatened with expulsion for behaviour which was permitted and within the rules when they did it.

(2) He was actually expelled for refusing to denounce other members of that group: “I will not disown those already expelled”)

(3) This has also been the pattern in several other high-profile expulsions (eg the Israeli exile Moche Machover), that members are being suspended/expelled not for anything they themselves said but because they have attended meetings with people in the audience who Labour had previously expelled.

The Machover case is especially depressing. The Party invoked against him a clause in its Code of Conduct, which states that “Those who consistently abuse and spread hate should be shunned and not engaged with in a way that ignores this behaviour”

This sentence was treated as if it contained two potential breaches of the Labour Party Code, either a) a positive act of encouraging former members in their antisemitism, or b) an omission of failing to shun them.

Among the many fallacies here is that it makes an expulsion offence for another member of the Labour Party in good standing was to approach an expelled member, talk to them, remind them of their previous behaviour, and seek to challenge it consistently, over time, as might befit a former member whose behaviour had been at different times both comradely and objectionable. The punishment has the consequence of making antisemitism a greater offence from the perspective of the Labour Party than any crime is in the sight of the British state. For we have in our society all sorts of people whose roles are to engage with former offenders, to educate them and reintegrate them into society after their punishment has ended. Criminals are human beings, and capable of redemption. Labour deems the antisemite, by contrast, uniquely incapable of ever changing and entitled to no further contact.

(4) That what Labour’s compliance officers are doing is what lawyers call “satellite litigation”, i.e they are not disciplining people for actual online racism, rather they are looking for something else, an activity before or after that or to its side, which can be presented to a friendly press as evidence that Labour is dealing with anti-Jewish racism. Non-lawyers might call it a displacement activity.

(5) That Labour does have a problem with antisemitism, especially online

I have just written a 100,000 word book, on this issue, it excoriates some of those guilty of behaviour that either was racist or was within touching distance of racism. Those guilty of it included MPs, the Vice-Chair of Momentum, and a former Mayor of London an elected politician with the largest constituency of anyone in Britain. Unlike many people on the Labour left, I do not believe for example that the EHRC report exaggerated the scale of anti-Jewish racism, my sense is that it and other key documents tended to understate the problem.

(6) But this method of expelling people for vague associations with people with whom they have had little contact, is misconceived, to anyone watching it seems high-handed and offensive and discredits the idea of fighting racism

(7) That what the EHRC report required the party do was actually confront racism – ie explain to people which behaviour crossed the line, why it was wrong, and (in less serious cases) giving the people concerned a chance to learn and change their former behaviour and reject it.

One of the ways the EHRC did this was by saying that the party should, “Make sure that all members found to have engaged in antisemitic conduct (apart from those who are expelled) undertake an educational course on identifying and tackling antisemitism, regardless of the level of sanction applied.” That proposal makes no sense if the Party now adopts a position that all those guilty of antisemitism, or guilty of having given an interview to an organisation which went on to be proscribed, or guilty of attending a meeting an which an expelled person was present, etc, should be expelled, rather than (if they are accused of antisemitism) remain in membership and attend training.

(8) That Labour has dodged the task of educating its members on why antisemitism is wrong. Instead of which Labour has concentrated on trying to generate figures of large numbers of expulsions in order to give the impression of taking the issue seriously

(9) Rather than fighting a battle against racism, it is simply trying to push the problem elsewhere. I and other Jewish socialists are part of the online left and this is much broader than the Labour Party. When Labour expels people not for antisemitism but for tangentially-related behaviour (membership of a proscribed organisation, attending a meeting at which an expelled person was present, etc) it does not reduce the number of racists in the world by one person. All it does is turn people against the idea that antisemitism is worth fighting. It invites the left to rebuild itself around a shared myth that there was never any antisemitism in the party. It turns some people who said unpleasant things into victims. It makes other people more likely to adopt an antagonistic relationship towards me and other Jews.

(10) There is a fight to be had against anti-Jewish racism. For all the mistakes he made, Jeremy Corbyn was an ally in that battle. By contrast, Keir Starmer and his supporters have never shown the least interest in helping people like me.

Labour’s crisis; why the expulsions divide Jewish opinion and fail to challenge racism

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Labour’s antisemitism crisis may feel like yesterday’s news, but the issue is about to return. Next month will see the anniversary of Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension from Labour membership (later reduced, to removal of the whip, a process intended to make it impossible for him to stand as a Labour candidate in the next general election). In July, the party advertised 50 “case handler” positions to work through its backlog of unresolved membership complaints. These staff members are to be sourced thorough an agency and on temporary contracts and are expected to recommend a large number of expulsions. While, undoubtedly, there will be many Jewish members of the party who welcome this news – there will also be a number who view it with fear, worrying that they will be among those being investigated.

To understand both reactions we need to recall the events which accompanied Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the 2015 leadership elections. After 2015, there was an increase in openly anti-Jewish language used by supporters, especially online. Labour Candidates for Parliament shared posts speaking of “Zionist Masters”, or spoke of Jewish MPs as having “Zionist sympathies”. One candidate for election as a local councillor reposted material on social media which referred to the Holocaust as a “hoax”. Parties need to have disciplinary processes; left-wing parties are entitled to expel members who discredit their own organisations.

However, bound up with this process has been something else – a dynamic in which a mere taking of sides against the party’s present leadership has become grounds for investigation. To say, for example, that several allegations of antisemitism were misplaced or exaggerated became itself a ground for investigation.

By the end of 2019, 220 members of the Labour Party had been investigated for antisemitism. The pro-Corbyn group Jewish Voice for Labour reported that 25 of those investigated by that stage, or just less than one in eight, were Jews. All of this 25, we may assume, were anti-Zionist Jews. But Jews only made up one in every 250 people living in Britain. Assuming that the Jewish proportion of party membership was the same as the Jewish proportion of British society, it would follow that a Jewish member of the party was 30 times more likely to be investigated by Labour than a non-Jew.

This dynamic is one which lawyers term “indirect discrimination”. In an of itself, it does not mean a process unfair or illegal. But the diffeerence of treatment requires justification, with a heavy burden of the discriminator to justify what they are doing.

The party would say that this disparity is not caused by its officers. They do not search out Jewish members; they focus only on complaints. If it is true that Jews are more prone to express themselves in offensive terms about Israeli or Jewish politicians than other members of the party – it is their own fault if they are investigated.

Its critics respond that the fault is with their party. Labour has increasingly seen its role as being to forestall any criticisms of Israeli policy, and to drive out Jewish voices which reject majoritarian Jewish opinions of Labour’s crisis. But Israeli policy towards Palestine is condemned in many places, not least in Israel and by Jews. The point where Israeli left-wing opinions meets British left-wing opinion – among Jewish members of the Labour Party – is where you would expect criticisms of Israel to be made.

The split nature of Jewish opinion under Corbyn was reflected in the existence of two rival groups, the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), an organisation of between 1,000 and 2,000 people, many of whom were critical of the Corbyn leadership, and Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), a body founded in 2017 to support Corbyn and which had around 400 Jewish members. Often members of the former organisation will point to status as an approved affiliate of the Labour Party (unlike JVL), their much larger support among Jewish circles, and say that they are the largest body of Jewish opinion within Labour. They are the majority, and they alone can stand as representative of Jewish opinion as a whole.

JVL was widely cited in the media, and treated as the representative body of pro-Corbyn Jewish opinion within the party. The split however went deeper than just JLM against JVL.

There were large numbers of pro-Corbyn Jews who steered clear of Jewish Voice for Labour, and several played prominent roles within the party. Probably the most visible Jewish figure within Labour’s crisis was Jon Lansman, founder of the pro-Corbyn campaign group Momentum. Lansman was interviewed in Jewish newspapers, spoke at Jewish cultural events, and supported the exclusion of individuals whose behaviour had crossed the line. As a longstanding Jewish socialist you might have expected Lansman to work with JVL; he did not. Rather, he accused that group of denying Labour’s difficulties and antagonising Jewish members The effect of the crisis in other was not merely to polarise Jewish opinion but also to deepen divisions within and splinter the pro-Corbyn left.

It is often said that all the offensive behaviour came from Labour’s left. But this assumption better reflects press commentary on the crisis than the actual and rancorous debate we have seen in Britain over the past five years. In 2015-9, the children’s author Michael Rosen spoke up often for Jeremy Corbyn. “To say these things has invited Jews and non-Jews on Twitter to call me a ‘kapo’, a ‘used Jew’ … someone who ‘dons the cloak of Jewishness’ … one of the ‘useful Jewish idiots’ [and] ‘a cheerleader for Soros’.” Rosen named the people who had criticised him, who included broadcasters and high-profile print journalists. Seemingly, none of the individuals named by him have ever been investigated by Labour.

Supporters of the leadership might accept that Rosen’s treatment was unjustifiable. They insist however that we need to have a sense of the crisis as a whole, inside which the majority of abusive language has come from Corbyn supporters. In 2016, one Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth was challenged at a press conference launching a Labour report on anti-Semitism. After that incident, Smeeth received 25,000 items of hate mail. And this was just a single instance, early in the crisis. Other Jewish MPs, including Luciana Berger, who was blamed by much of the left for the story’s return to the headlines in 2018, was treated even worse.

For the party’s present leadership, the way to restore Jewish confidence in Labour has been to inform the press that it is carrying out the maximum number of expulsions, in order to prove that the phenomenon of antisemitism has been silenced, and that anti-Jewish racists have been placed outside the Labour Party where they cannot do any harm.

Yet if you read the paperwork generated by Labour Party complaints, a different picture emerges. The people subject to investigation are suspended for months and sometimes years, and are subject to shifting allegations as their social media comments are searched often far into the past. No-one properly explains to the members why their behaviour was offensive.

Investigators decline to give any consideration to change. This is, arguably, the most egregious fault with the process. Those who constructed it have no idea of using investigation as a way of changing how people think. If we compare investigations to the legal processes which are closest to it, in them, judges ask repeatedly is a person accused of wrongdoing apologetic for what they said or did? Do they grasp how their words were offensive? Can they give any sort of undertaking they will not be repeated?

Inside Labour, these questions are never asked. Even to suggest that they should be is seen as a sign of wavering in the face of the more important task of proving to the media Labour’s commitment to dealing with the issue at last.

While the problems within Labour are not reducible to the persistence of prejudice in wider British society, they do to some extent reflect it. According to polls conducted in 2014, one in ten people here would be unhappy if a relative married a Jewish person, and one in six believe that Jews have too much power in the media. Those figures would that tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of Labour members held at least some anti-Jewish views.

Everyone agrees that members should be educated; but such education as has been provided has been defensive, seemingly planned and certainly received along existing factional lines with the focus always on providing boundaries rather than explaining them.

Challenging racism on the scale required is going to require a more active process of explaining antisemitism and encouraging people in all parts of the party to speak out against it than the mere recruitment of 50 temporary case handlers. And it isn’t something which the leadership shows any desire or ability to do.

If you enjoyed this piece, it reflects the arguments of my book, Labour’s Antisemitism Crisis What the Left Got Wrong and How to Learn From It, which was published by Routledge in August.

On socialists and Jews; or, how to turn down the tension

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The news that Labour has been recruiting fifty temporary agency workers to address its backlog of complaints about members is likely to fill many members of that party with dread. The primary targets for investigation are likely to include not just members of the left-wing factions now excluded from membership by Labour’s National Executive, but also office-holders who previously allowed their constituency to discuss motions in support of Jeremy Corbyn.

Some complaints will be investigated under Labour’s antisemitism policy which means, no doubt, that several instances of unmistakeably racist conduct will be punished. The next few months will also witness, however, a ratcheting up of the pressure on Labour’s Jewish members, including above all anti-Zionist Jews.

For example, in 2018, Diana Neslen posted on Facebook that the Holocaust had not merely led to the creation of Israel, it had also seen the destruction of a different Jewish culture, which had rejected the nationalism of that country. “All lives are worthy and since the Israelis learnt the wrong lesson their baubles no longer have any currency.” She was investigated and received a letter from the party, telling her, “These comments have caused offence.”

Stephen Solley, a former chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee, responded to a campaign by a member of Jewish Labour Movement asking for people to vote for her as a Jew and someone who “face[s] antisemitism every day”. Solley believed that her words were hyperbolic. He wrote back, “The Jewish Labour Movement is, in my opinion, a force for ill and something of a con in that it is destructive of socialism. It is a pro-Israel, anti-Palestine group.” Complaints were made to his chambers, the Bar Standards Board, and the Labour Party. Cleared by the first two, he remained suspended from the Party ten months later.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi was accused of telling a meeting of her Chingford Constituency Labour Party that “The cynical manipulation of Jewish fears and concerns is unforgivable and undermines all our work against racism of all kinds.”Many other examples could be given. By the end of 2019, some 220 members of the Labour Party had been investigated for antisemitism.

According to David Rosenberg of Jewish Voice for Labour (which had acted as the main defence campaign for those suspended), at least 25 of those investigated by that stage, or one in eight, were Jews. That is a significantly higher proportion of that party than Jews constitute within Britain as a whole.

But instead of using this post to tell a familiar story of left-wing victimhood, which may be psychologically gratifying, but wouldn’t change anything, I’m more interested in what the Labour left could have done differently.

I am focussing on the Corbyn left because this is my part of the movement. I could give any advice you like to Keir Starmer or Stephen Pollard but they won’t listen.

In thinking about what we should have done I am not imagining that anti-Corbyn commentators were serious / intelligent / willing to play by the rules or stick rigorously in the truth. (For many of them, especially those who covered the story for the tabloids, it appears to have been quite the opposite). My point is rather that in a political battle where the left was always likely to be on the defensive, what was the best that could have been done, or more to the point, what was the best that was actually done.

In particular I want to remind friends of two occasions when the hostility between Labour’s socialist and socialist democratic Jewish supporters was diminished – when people broke through what has too often seemed an unresolvable conflict between socialists and Jews. This happened at several points in 2015-19, principally when socialists found a way of talking of mainstream Jewish opinion as if it was something not to be denounced but courted.

My examples derive from events in January 2016 and in April 2018. In the first of them, Jon Lansman, a prominent Jewish supporter of the Corbyn project, made an attempt at explaining the politics of the new leader to readers of the Jewish Chronicle.

Jon Lansman had come into left politics through his rejection of antisemitism and had been thinking about the issues for years. Right at the start of Corbyn’s leadership, he gave an interview to the Jewish Chronicle, the nearest thing there is to an official paper of the Jewish community. He described going to Israel after the 1973 war to stay with relatives. Lansman emphasised his Jewish heritage and described how his pro-Palestinian perspective had come about not from ignorance of the region but from the time he had spent in Israel: “I worked on a kibbutz in the Negev and my aunt lived in Beersheva. It was actually a very politicising experience. When I did my barmitzvah I saw myself as a Zionist and I think after I went there, I felt it less.” Lansman tried to signal to readers of the paper that there was a space for them in Corbyn’s Labour and that they should think about the party sympathetically.

In the second example, Corbyn attended a “third night” Passover Seder held by Jewdas, a group of young Jewish leftists. (The idea of a Third Seder emerged in the 1920s among Yiddish-speaking migrants from eastern European, and their descendants. Many such Jews wanted to preserve vestiges of the major holydays that most of their grandparents had observed in Europe; and they reimagined those customs in secular and often irreligious terms). He was criticised for being there – only for the other attendees to rush to his defence, and to win a significant portion of mainstream Jewish opinion behind them.

Jewdas was an organisation of Communist and anti-Zionist Jews. Its core demographic was several decades younger than the more visible pro-Corbyn campaign Jewish Voice for Labour. Compared to JVL, a much higher proportion of its members were religious and attended or even led synagogues. Unlike JVL, or indeed Jon Lansman, it did not make a fetish of membership of the Labour Party, it did not set itself up as a participant within Labour’s factional wars.

Jewdas was seemingly a much more flippant organisation than JVL: its Twitter account was fractious, and its literature often satirical. This veneer concealed the reality that Jewdas was much more serious than Jewish Voice for Labour about combating antisemitism. Three months before Ed Miliband resigned as leader of the Labour Party, and long before Corbyn had decided to run for the Labour leadership, it made a first attempt to set out its own definition of antisemitism, one which was intended to keep the issue as simple as possible: “Antisemitism is racism. It’s just a word for anti-Jewish racism, hatred of Jews because they are Jews, equivalent to hating people because they are black, Asian, Irish or whatever.”

(I have quoted this definition elsewhere and readers have complained that it is too simple – antisemitism does not require hate, any more than sexism requires misogyny. Part of antisemitism’s distinctive appeal has been the way that people employ it both against those who they believe are privileged and those who they believe are not. Antisemitism plays a distinctive role, and a uniquely troubling one in the way that it can overlap with redistributive instincts. I accept that argument to some extent although, I am also quite sceptical that this idea is unique to antisemitism. There have been other forms of prejudice which have equipped people who believed they were at the bottom of society to attack those seemingly just above them. And, if you read the whole Jewdas piece, they saw the point about “punching upwards” too).

Like much of what would become the Corbynite left, Jewdas rejected the idea that criticisms of Israel were automatically antisemitic. “Israel is a state. You can’t really be racist against a state. There is no position on Israel that is per se antisemitic – although you can express views on it in a racist way.”

Unlike others on the left, the group acknowledged that blaming Israeli acts on its Jewish population might well cross the line: “[B]laming policies of the Israel government on ‘The Jews’? Yep, that’s racist. Blaming them on ‘the Zionists’? I’m afraid that, most of the time, that’s racist too – ‘Zionist’ has long been a synonym for ‘Jew’ in much racist discourse.”

This early acknowledgment of the possibility of antisemitism on the left equipped the group well for the crisis that would follow. In 2018, for example, when Corbyn was criticised for his support for the mural “Freedom for Humanity” and its artist Mear One, Jewdas was able to remind its readers that it had criticised antisemitism on the left. They refused to justify the mural or make excuses for Corbyn’s support of it: “There is no question that the mural was antisemitic … Six years ago, that mural got taken down. At the time, Jeremy Corbyn consoled the artist who drew it. Inconsiderate? Definitely. Dodgy? Yeah. Racist? Maybe.”That acknowledged, they went on to say that Corbyn’s reaction did not justify the anger now being directed at him: “[I]s it a communal crisis that the leader of the Labour Party posted an unthinking comment on a Facebook post six years ago? Only if you’re a hired troll whose job it is to dig up dirt on left-wing politicians to force them out of office.”

In choosing to sit down with Jewdas, Corbyn was making time for people who had a coherent idea of what needed to be done, and one which was different from his or his allies’.

The Daily Mail journalist Andrew Pierce attended the Seder. The story Pierce told his readers was that Jewdas was not a group of Jews at all, but really gentiles parodying and insult Jewish traditions as part of their sinister mission of offending and humiliating Jews. Several subtle steps all came together to demonstrate that Jewdas were not the Jews they pretended to be. In contrast to real Jews, many members of Jewdas were self-declared anti-Zionists. Unlike British Jews, they did not eat meat. Jewdas had chosen to hold their Seder in a Christian church. They were extremely critical of self-declared Jewish leaderships. They had put on a largely secular service. Worst of all, Jewdas replaced traditional Seder prayers with greetings of their own: “They raised a beetroot in the air and shouted f*** capitalism.”

In an interview for Sky News, the President of the Board of Deputies Jonathan Arkush denounced Jewdas for breaking what had until then been a shared communal wall excluding Corbyn. Arkush insisted that the Mail was right, Jewdas were not Jews. The only thing which held Jewdas together, he insisted was antisemitism, “They are lifelong campaigners against the Jewish community to whom they show the utmost disregard and contempt.”

However, as the story continued, more and more public voices confessed to having been if anything heartened that Corbyn should spent his time at a meeting with young Jews, even ones with views different from their parents’ generation.

The Jewish Chronicle ran a first piece criticising Jewdas. Later the same afternoon, itran a second piece by Charlotte Nicholls (a Labour Party member who had attended the Seder). “Jewdas has also been absolutely steadfast in addressing antisemitism on the left, particularly in pro-Palestine circles, including producing one of the most useful resources around on the distinction between antisemitism and criticism of Israel.”

Jewdas was being criticised when, Nicholls insisted, it was simply a meeting of left-wing Jews. “While some communal bodies lay claim to speaking on behalf of the whole community, as though we are some monolithic bloc that speak with one collective voice, Jewdas is a place for disagreement, debate and where there are very few taboos.

Lansman’s article was a relatively small incident in Labour’s antisemitism crisis, but the underlying politics of it were the right ones for a left that was serious about finding a principled way through. It was a significantly sharper reaction than those on the left who responded with allegations of treachery against him.

Lansman was speaking to an audience of people who, he understood, needed to be persuaded of Corbyn’s good faith. The paper gave the interview a friendly title, ‘Ex-kibbutznik who is Corbyn’s left-hand man.’ Other Jewish newspapers responded to it in guarded or emollient tones. “Even some critics concede that Lansman’s intentions are sincere,” wrote Jewish Notes. This was as good as the Labour left was likely to get at the time, and a long way from the open conflict of three years later.

Similarly, after the Jewdas dinner, David Baddiel wrote, “They are just Jews who disagree with other Jews. Which means Jews … To make out that it’s somehow antisemitic for him to spend Seder with them just because they’re far left is balls.” Writer and comic actor David Schneider presented the Mail’sposition as: “‘Boo! Corbyn needs to get out and meet some Jews!’ (Corbyn spends Passover with some Jews at Jewdas) ‘Boo! Not those Jews!’”

It has been one of the bitter ironies of the past five years that policies intended to protect Jewish members of the party have turned out to be used extensively against left-wing Jews. That conflict was not inevitable. But responding to it required empathy, a realisation of quite how strident and hostile the left was capable of seeming. What we needed to be was both principled in our politics and much more sophisticated in how we argued them.

Three years later, that remains the left’s task.

This piece is loosely based on material from my new book, Labour’s Antisemitism Crisis What the Left Got Wrong and How to Learn From It, which has just been published by Routledge.

Courts and counter-insurgency

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When I saw the cover of this book, my starting assumption was that this was one of those studies you sometimes come across in which the author tries to think about the law as a means towards revolution, maybe drawing on such traditions as those of the barefooted lawyers who advised the early workers’ movement, or the Wobblies, or the likes of the Chicago 7 and their attempts at breaking judicial power in the 1960s.

Such a book would have its purposes, but Ledwidge’s is something very different, almost the exact opposite. A former barrister and former military intelligence officer, he is writing for the benefit of occupiers, imperialists and those employed in the counter-insurgency sector. He is trying to explain to technologists of counter-revolution how to do their job.Ledwidge’s real interest is in empire.

The secrets to making British or US power work, he argues, are a) a certain strategic caution, and a refusal to apply authoritarian strategies openly (a key instance, alluded to in the book but not really set out is the failure of internment in Ireland in the 1920s and 1970s), and b) the active promotion of courts and judges. Occupation works best when imperial powers encourage the existence of courts which can hear people’s ordinary disputes (about crimes, the distribution of resources, etc.) and those courts acquire a reputation for a minimum robust fairness.

Chapters deal with such topics as the creation of Dail courts by Irish rebels in the 1920s, attempts at justice in revolutionary Latin America, courts under ISIS. But I have been reading Ledwidge’s book more because of what he has to say about Afghanistan, where he served in Helmand with the brief of establishing a court system.

On his account, at no point did UK ministers, civil servants, or military officers have any knowledge of the country they were ruling, nor did many speak its languages, nor did they have any interest in the people they ruled. As they saw it, they had no choice but to support a government which was widely despised, and its courts although they were notorious for delays, and for the openness of the judges to bribery.

Alongside petty crime, Ledwidge argues, and the widespread abuse of women, the primary grievance of ordinary Afghanis concerned laws, still on the statute book but dating back to the period of Communist rule, permitting the distribution of land, which had been used by the government and its allies to expropriate the land of ordinary Afghani peasants. As far as most people were concerned, there was simply no prospect of using the existing US- and UK-backed courts, to get their land back.

On the other hand, the country also had – right through the period of US occupation – a fully-functioning shadow system of Islamic courts, backed up by Taliban guns. Some of the most interesting parts of the book concern how those courts have been used, often by people with no ideological interest in the Taliban programme, to obtain justice.

As an example, Ledwidge describes a dispute which began when a woman accused her son in law of marrying her daughter without paying the bridal price. The woman said that the man had had sex with her daughter without a lawful service, i.e. had raped her. (He had in fact paid the dowry). She took the matter to the US-backed authorities. The local police officer accepted a bribe and therefore arrested the man, punishing him by beating and raping him. Shortly afterwards, Taliban supporters murdered the corrupt police officer. In the affected community, this was widely perceived as a step towards justice.

The Taliban, he argues, wanted to maintain their relationship for moral purity. The judges were therefore spied on by a religious police force with a mandate to prevent corruption, principally bribery. I am not suggesting that this system sounds humane or in any way desirable, only saying that it is a plausible if partial explanation of how the Taliban were able to remain an institution in Afghan life, despite 20 years of formal exclusion from power.

The defeat of Corbynism has been a setback for Palestinian rights. It’s time to change course

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Between summer 2015 and the end of 2019, the British Labour Party was caught in a seemingly unending antisemitism crisis. According to one study, the UK press published 6,000 articles about antisemitism in the Labour Party in four years; and for each article, there were of course many further pieces on other news sites, in the international press, etc.

Labour’s difficulties could not be reduced to the Middle East – the allegations were much broader than that. And yet, when you look with care at the individual stories, it feels as if Israel and Palestine were never far from view. Take for example, the moment when former London Mayor Ken Livingstone told a radio interview that “When Hitler won his election in 1932 … he was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

People often forget why Livingstone was being interviewed, which was to defend a recently elected Labour MP Naz Shah, who had shared on social media a picture of Israel superimposed over the United States, suggesting that the clash between Israel and Palestine could be solved if only the Jewish population of the former chose to relocate to the latter country: “Problem solved and save you bank charges for the £3bn you transfer yearly.”

Shah had urged her followers to vote in an online poll asking whether Israel had committed war crimes. When a large vote could be seen against that finding, Shah urged her followers to vote the other way, warning that, “The Jews are rallying to the poll.” (Shah grasped that the phrase “the Jews…” was likely to cause offence and apologised for her comments. It was Livingstone who turned a minor press story into a permanent crisis).

Many other examples could be given of commentary supposedly in support of Palestinian rights which either tested the boundary with antisemitism, or which provided the opportunity for people to make antisemitic comments. Think for example of those Labour leftists who blamed Corbyn’s isolation on “Zionist agents” and “Israeli funds”. Or the Liverpool music promoter and long-time anti-racist Philip Hayes who confronted right-wing Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger. He told her that Benjamin Netanyahu was “your Prime Minister”. So far, so pro-Palestinian (he could have told himself). But then added, “I fucking hate Jewish people … All Jewish people have money”.

For pro-Palestinian activists, episodes such as these raise the familiar question of when to let certain language pass, and when to stop, to point out the danger of certain expressions and the risk of falling into racist discourse. If there was anything the British left learned in 2015-19 it was that we missed the signs, and tended to respond late.

Arguably the best activist document published in Britain in the last ten years was written before the crisis broke. Published by Jewdas, an organisation of anti-Zionist Jews which contained anarchists and Marxists as well as Labour leftists, “Antisemitism is racism,” the author wrote. “It’s just a word for anti-Jewish racism, hatred of Jews because they are Jews, equivalent to hating people because they are black, Asian, Irish or whatever.”

How, then, could anyone avoid doing antisemitic, or speaking anti-Jewish words? “You treat people as individuals. If you meet a new person you don’t assume you know anything about them from a group that they may be connected to. When they do something, be it good or bad in your eyes, you don’t connect those actions with any group – the actions are purely the responsibility of the individual in question. You don’t generalise about groups of people – you allow individuals to define themselves in their own terms.”

In common with much of the non-Jewish left, Jewdas had a keen idea of acts which were not antisemitic but were wrongly portrayed as racist. “Israel is a state. You can’t really be racist against a state.” Unlike much of the left, though, Jewdas did not stop there but accepted that criticisms of Israel might cross the line into racism: “[B]laming policies of the Israel government on ‘The Jews’? Yep, that’s racist. Blaming them on ‘the Zionists’? I’m afraid that, most of the time, that’s racist too – ‘Zionist’ has long been a synonym for ‘Jew’ in much racist discourse.”

Jewdas were back in the news by spring 2018 – when Jeremy Corbyn visited their third night seder. Criticised by the Daily Mail for holding their event in a Christian church. Putting on a secular service and replacing Seder prayers with greetings of their own: (“They raised a beetroot in the air and shouted f*** capitalism”), the organisation pushed back against press efforts to label them as antisemites – they were able to say, in good faith, that they had been warning against the risks of left-wing antisemitism for longer than anyone.

Activists in Britain are not the first to have been tested in this way. Over the years, many Palestinians have grasped the tendency for Jewish opinion of Israel to polarise, and for a significant minority to oppose that state. This, for example, is Edward Said, writing in 1997, after the Oslo process had run aground: “We need to remind ourselves that political struggles are always contests of will, in which one side attempts to persuade the other side to give up, to lose the will to resist and fight on. This is not a military but a political and moral matter.”

Said’s strategic perspective – of trying to woo, and split, Jewish opinion – had, in turn, implications for how Palestinians should see Jews and the history of Jewish suffering: “We must recognise the realities of the Holocaust not as a blank check for Israelis to abuse us, but as a sign of our humanity, our ability to understand history, our requirement that our suffering be mutually acknowledged.”

Said was an exiled Palestinian, who had been forced to leave the country in 1948 aged just 13. He campaigned for the right of Palestinian refugees to return, even during the Oslo peace process, in which Israel and the United States pressed for a “peace” which would have forever signed away the rights of his generation. He belonged to an irreconcilable wing of Palestinian activists. If even a figure who had suffered a lifetime of exile at Israeli hands was capable of grasping that “the Jews” were not a single bloc of people but divided by class, generation and opinion, then there was no excuse for British activists to pretend that an attitude of causing gratuitous offence was somehow “pro-Palestinian”.

Six years after Corbyn’s election, Palestinian activists are left with memories of a time when it seemed as if their demands were being taken up by hundreds of thousands of people. In the 2017 general election, Labour’s vote share rose faster than at any time since 1945. At the 2018 Labour party conference, delegates waved Palestinian flags.

By 2021, however, organising for Palestinian solidarity seems to face more obstacles than ever: around 30 British universities have adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism. When, this summer, schoolchildren put up posters calling for Palestinian solidarity, teachers tore them down. A discourse had been allowed to take hold in which acts of solidarity had been reimagined as something hateful and wrong. 

One of the tragedies of Labour’s antisemitism crisis was that for all the rhetorical support given to Palestinians, desperately few attempts were made to explain what is at stake in that conflict. It is precisely because the pro-Corbyn left was committed to a peace which removed Israel’s racial laws and provided justice for Palestine that we needed (and still need) to reject any defence of the Palestinians expressed in antisemitic terms.

If you enjoyed this piece, my book, Labour’s Antisemitism Crisis What the Left Got Wrong and How to Learn From It, was published earlier this week by Routledge.

Antisemitism rose worldwide because of Trump – not Corbyn

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To coincide with the publication of my new book, Labour’s Antisemitism Crisis What the Left Got Wrong and How to Learn From It, which is published today, I’m running an extract from it on this blog. Today’s piece explores how the increase in antisemitism throughout the anglophone world began in 2015-16 with Trump’s run for the Presidency. This, far more than events in Britain, inspired emulators in other countries. Moreover, Trumpism has had a permanent effect on the Republican right in the United States, making antisemitism a plank of that party’s thinking. That process has continued, despite Trump’s electoral defeat at the end of last year.

During the 2016 election, Trump repeatedly employed antisemitic myths. He counterposed his message of America First to the risks posed by the “global” power structure, manifested in the “international banks” who he accused of holding covert meetings with Hillary Clinton. Trump also used anti-Jewish symbols, for example, by tweeting images of Hillary Clinton with a pile of money, the words “Most Corrupt Candidate ever,” and a six-pointed Jewish star. He claimed to be standing against the “global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class”, words illustrated with an image of the Jewish CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein.

The effect of Trump’s success in that election can be traced in the growing popularity of antisemitic online memes and messages, and in antisemitic actions off-line. So, for example, on Twitter; the Anti-Defamation League found that 2.6 million anti-Jewish tweets were sent between summer 2015 and summer 2016. The ADL was especially concerned with tweets directed at anti-Trump or pro-Democrat journalists, who were accused of being unpatriotic Jews. Some 800 journalists were targeted in this way, and 45 million people read the antisemitic messages directed at them. Indeed between 2016 and 2017, the Anti-Defamation League found, the total number of antisemitic tweets rose again – by more than 50 percent.

Indeed, if we look beyond Twitter, the picture is the same. Fascists and antisemites were able to build up an audience under his patronage, and at an extraordinary speed. So, for example, James Allsup was a member of the far-right Identity Evropa group. In 2016, he first came to the attention of the press when he was a student Republican at Washington State University and a vocal supporter of Donald Trump. Together with fewer than a dozen other people who supported him, Allsup put up a “Trump Wall” at WSU. He later invited Milo Yiannopoulos to speak. Both events were widely covered in Trump-supporting Republican media and helped to create an image of Allsup as a young, contrarian, boldly standing up to political correctness in all its forms. Prior to November 2015 and Trump’s rise, he had no visible presence on YouTube or on other social media. In August 2019 YouTube closed his account. By that point, his films had been watched 73 million times.

Events such as the use of antisemitic slogans by far-right activists at Charlottesville in summer 2017 (“Jews will not replace us”), or the defence of those protesters by Trump (“very fine people on both sides”), showed that, after years in which antisemitism had been marginal to American politics it was tolerated by one of the country’s two main parties.

Moreover, Trump’s philosemitism was not merely a personal affectation but played to a part of his voting base: Evangelicals who see the restoration of the Jewish people to statehood in Israel as a prerequisite the speeding up of the millennium. These fantasies offer Jews little long-term benefit. The Book of Romans envisages that with the arrival of end-times the Jews will all be converted to Christianity – and cease to exist as Jews.

Some readers may object to the ideas of Trump as a key figure in the global spread of antisemitism. He has a Jewish daughter; he has promoted the interests of Israel. Trump has spoken at Jewish events. All these characteristics are said to prove that Trump is no antisemite.

It is true that Trump has used language which sounds, on its own terms, pro-Jewish. But we need to dig a little deeper. As so often happens where people express their admiration for Jews, the kinds of behaviour he fixed on were ones which are unlike how most Jewish people live, and which many Jews would find uncomfortable. So, on 8 December 2019, Trump addressed the Israeli American Council National Summit: “A lot of you are in the real estate business because I know you very well. You’re brutal killers. Not nice people at all. But you have to vote for me; you have no choice. You’re not going to vote for the wealth tax.”

Trump pretended to make a joke of Jewish disdain for him, saying it was reciprocated. But commercial interests, he argued, would bind his audience to him: “Even if you don’t like me; some of you don’t. Some of you I don’t like at all, actually. And you’re going to be my biggest supporters because you’ll be out of business in about 15 minutes, if [the Democrats] get in.”

Plainly, in Trump’s mind, he is a Jew-lover, but what is it about Jews that he admires? He loves the “fact” that Jews are businessmen and hate taxes. He believes that Jews place their own interests above other people, that Jews are clannish and insular, that Jews formulate plans to advance their own interests, and that Jews have a power which is international. All these ideas make him an antisemite, no matter how many Jews he speaks to.

Under Trump and since, a number of Republican Congressmen including Kevin McCarthy, Louie Gohmert, Steve King, and Paul Gosar have spread conspiracy theories in which prominent Jews, such as the financier and Democrat-donor George Soros, are blamed for any setback suffered by their party.

The reason the politicians have done so, is that this faction of the American centre-right (along with President Trump) understands American politics as a struggle between “globalists” who would sell out America to her foreign rival China and to various other international institutions which are perceived to have escaped from American control and “economic nationalists” who would defend US interests aggressively.

Once you have split up politics between nationalists and internationalists, it is an easy next step to see Jews not as a group of people who agree or disagree with one in the way that black people or white people do, but as an ideological category – supporters of multi-national institutions such as the IMF or WHO or World Bank, advocates of liberal policies such as freer migration, and an obstacle in the path of right-wing victory.

Trump-style antisemitism spread beyond US borders. If you want a good example of it, think of the Soros myth, in other words the idea that all liberal, left, anti-fascist and pro-migrant sentiment in the world is financed by a single shadowy Jewish financier, George Soros. Here are some examples of how that idea spread into parts of the new nationalist right: in Hungary in 2018, the ruling Fidesz party stood for reelection on the slogan, “Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh!” The posters were then covered almost everywhere with grafitti identifying Soros as a Jew.

Italians started talking about Soros-financed immigrant boats arriving on the shores. In the US, some people suspected Soros was behind the migrant caravan entering from Central America. A Polish member of parliament called Soros the “most dangerous man in the world.” In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair published a cartoon showing Soros as the puppet master controlling first shape-shifting lizards, then Illuminati, and then finally a triad of anti-corruption activists, journalists and left-wing politicians. In Britain, a range of nationalist-mindeed conservatives have one on record to support the myth: Roger Scruton, and the MPs Sally-Ann Hart and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

In emphasising that the Donald Trump campaign was the moment when antisemitism became a significant force in global politics, after thirty years in which it had been at the margins – I am not minimising the mistakes of the left, or saying that there was any high wall preventing ideas which had begun at one point on the political spectrum from then reppearing at another. There were also places where antisemitism came into the UK left – even moments where you can trace the transmission from the US right to the left here:

The Mear One mural. The story of antisemitism in the Labour Party became front-page news in March 2018, when Jeremy Corbyn was asked about his support for an American artist Mear One who had painted a street mural in east London, ‘Freedom for Humanity’. If you look at the mural for any length of time, it clearly embodies any number of antisemitic visual messages. Corbyn had seen the photograph and posted a quick, mis-spelled message of support for the artist. For this, he was widely and rightly criticised. Mear One, had been a street artist in the hip hop scene of 1980s Los Angeles and had contributed to anti-war art tours before being invited to paint his mural. In Mear One’s account the design was simply the transportation to Britain of the politics of the Occupy movement: “I had just gone through the cypher of Occupy LA 2011 … my experiences helped to crystallise my post 9/11 thinking on global politics and the economic slave system, deepening my knowledge of fractional-reserve lending and other banking schemes that led to the collapse of the markets in 2008.” Mear thought he was on the left, but in reality he had been radicalised to the right by Occupy and by coming across right-libertarians there, and believing their criticisms of capitalism in which the problems of the latter were blamed on banking, finance and (just beneath the surface) the Jews. Asked to explain what the criticisms of the mural were about, he said, “Some of the older white Jewish folk in the local community had an issue with me portraying their beloved #Rothschild or #Warburg etc. as the demons they are.” Mear gave an interview to DavidIcke.com. “I thank David Icke and Gareth Icke and their team” Mear One wrote, “for allowing me this opportunity to offer my side of the story, uncut and uncensored, for those who are awoken.”

The Campaign against Luciana Berger. This began in 2014, the US far-right website Daily Stormer website developed an obsession with Berger, and published about 40 articles about her, denouncing her for being Jewish. At one point Berger was receiving hate messages at the rate of 800 *a day*. Between 2014 and 2018 three supporters of the far right were jailed for threatening her. (A fourth case began with emails sent by a fascist to her, although the sender was convicted and jailed for other, terrorism, offences). From early on Berger seemed to be a particular target also for some people on the left – with rational criticisms of her (she was on the right of the party, she had a long record of pro-Israel advocacy, she had been parachuted into a left-wing Labour seat…) spilling over into something strange and unpleasant and unjustifiable. Leftwing music promoter and anti-racist activist Philip Hayes was convicted after abusing her when he was drunk (“I fucking hate Jewish people”). In March 2018, another supporter of the Labour left received a suspended sentence after sending her hatemail. By 2018, when Berger was blamed for the Mear One story making it into the press, she received abuse at an extraordinary rate.

At the fringes of the antiwar movement. In 2019, the pro-Corbyn MP Chris Williamson toured the Labour Party and the UK, putting his anti-war and left of centre politics to every audience he could find. He then promoted the social media presence of the people who had hosted or spoken alongside him. Among the individuals he boosted where Gilad Atzmon (“Hands off Gilad Atzmon – Sign the Petition”) and Vannessa Beeley (“a privilege to hear her speak”), each of whom have been able to build significant social media presences by appealing to an anti-American milieu on the edges of – and just outside – the ordinary antiwar movement. Atzmon will be familiar to many readers of this blog for his long record of Holocaust Denial and antisemitism. While, as for Beeley, she has denounced the Syrian medical defenders the White Helmets (“are #WhiteHelmets not ready to come out of the Zionist closet just yet?”), Jimmy Wales the founder of Wikipedia (“#Zionist apologist”), Palestine Solidarity campaigners who support an uprising against the Assad regime (“Zionist agenda in #Syria”), and politicians in France (“a Zionist apologist”) and UK (“Zionist agenda”). Individuals in this pro-dictator, antisemitic milieu are able to build an audience in part because in the US, unlike in Britain, the antiwar movement has largely broken its relationship to the organised left, and its supported by parts of the libertarian right, and key blogs such as antiwar.com, are funded by the right.

In conclusion – often people talk about antisemitism as if it is a permanent fixture in life – always present, and always at the same intensity. But that’s wrong. It used to be part of the wisdom of the US centre-right that anti-Jewish racism was as a disaster for them. The things the right was trying to do – enable capital moving freely, spread a right-wing version of open borders – did not connect well to antisemitic ideas or conspiracy theories. With the right’s turn to nationalism, the vision has grown of a different way you could run an economy, as a series of national fortresses – this creates a space for antisemitism to revive.

It used to be part of the collective wisdom of the centre-right that in order to grow they needed to keep antisemites and conspiracy theorists out. Think for example of what happened to former Klan leader David Duke when he ran for US Senate in Louisiana in 1990. Criticised almost as much by Republicans by Democrats, the GOP surrendered the primacy to incumbent Democratic senator J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., rather than having a racist and antisemite elected on their ticket. Looking back on that moment, it feels like it is not thirty but a hundred years ago – so much has changed.

Since 2016, a racist view of the world has become integrated into mainstream centre-right thinking. It will continue to do harm even now that Trump removed from the White House. And in a world connected online, where ideas move freely, and can cross ideological lines – the left needs to be much better than we have been at identifying antisemitism when it is near to hand, and opposing it.