From one hostile environment to another

Last weekend far-right, identitarian and neo Nazi activists from several European  countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and Sweden, descended on the Bulgarian capital Sofia. They were joining their local Bulgarian counterparts, who included Kruv i Chest (Blood and Honour), National Resistance and Byal Front (White Front) for the annual “Lukov March”. This march commemorates  Hristo Lukov leader of a pro-Nazi Bulgarian legion, who was assassinated by two Bulgarian anti-fascist partisans in February 1943.

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Lukov march 16 February 2019

The two partisans were Ivan Burudzhiev, who fired the first shot, and Violeta Yakova, a Sephardic Jewish communist who fired two more shots and killed him after the wounded Lukov fought back and shot Burudzhiev. Yakova was later hunted down by the Bulgarian security forces (she had also assassinated the pro-Nazi chief of the Bulgarian police). In June 1944, she was captured, tortured and killed in the city of Radomir. After the war she was recognised as a “national heroine” and a memorial statue stands in Radomir today

 

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Violeta Yakova memorial

There were hundreds of counter-protesters to the Lukov march this year, organised through Antifa Sofia. They confirm that alongside openly Nazi parties there were participants from IMRO – the Bulgarian National Movement, who are part of the United Patriots alliance that is a partner in the Bulgarian government.  More significantly for anti-racists and anti-fascists in Britain, IMRO are members of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group of the European Parliament that is dominated by Britain’s Conservative Party and the Polish Law and Justice Party – a party that has antagonised Jews within and beyond Poland with its Holocaust revisionism and outlawing of narratives that suggest there was collaboration by some Poles with the Nazis as they exterminated Jews. The Bulgarian IMRO have helped to mobilise for the Lukov march, alongside other ultra-nationalists and open antisemites, for several years running, yet they  were welcomed into the Conservative Party’s European-group in 2014 by David Cameron.

Since Theresa May became leader in 2016, she has not questioned the participation of IMRO in the Conservatives’ Euro group, but has the gall to throw cheap accusations at the Labour Party, with regard to antisemitism, despite the Labour Party’s long record of involvement in anti-racist and anti-fascist causes.

The number of far-right and openly Nazi groups participating in the Sofia march last weekend (some of whom are banned in their own countries) is testimony to the alarming growth of Islamophobic, anti-Roma and antisemitic forces across Europe. All of them were boosted by Donald Trump’s election in America, and they benefit too from Trump’s former advisor, Steve Bannon’s, growing operations in Europe.

Statistics from surveys across Europe have shown a rise in antisemitic incidents ranging from physical threats and violent assaults, daubings of synagogues and cemeteries, to verbal abuse and incitement on social media. In pretty much every country concern about this is expressed first and foremost towards the governing party in each country. They are the people with the power to take action internally against far right groups, to promote educational work, and exert a positive influence on the national atmosphere towards one that promotes respect for minorities.

It is absolutely astounding that in Britain, where antisemitic incidents have been growing year on year recently under the watch of a Tory government, infamous for the hostile environment it has operated towards migrants and refugees, aided and abetted by the pro-Tory press, that undoubtedly boost the rhetoric of Far Right ideologues, that the fire has been misdirected away from the Tory Party and towards the Labour Party. It was misdirected there again yesterday, as one of the excuses for their door-slamming exercise by the Independent 7 who have splintered from the Labour Party.

They began to plan their departures in 2015 when Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader, a

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Angela Smith at the launch

democratic decision that they refused to accept then, and again in 2016 when he was emphatically elected again by the membership. And while they were busy denouncing the party they have just left, as “institutionally racist and antisemitic” at their somewhat shambolic launch, one of their number, Angela Smith, made a disgraceful racist comment. Equally disgracefully, the figure among the 7 who has made the biggest noise around antisemitism (Luciana Berger), has not even commented on her colleagues’ remark, which was broadcast live yesterday.

That is not to say there are no incidents connected with Labour Party members. There have been many allegations, though 40% of the incidents reported to the Labour Party since April last year, for which Labour members were being blamed, were found to have nothing to do with any Labour Party members, and in a further 20% of cases the investigations found no evidence of a case to answer. In the remaining 40% of cases, mostly to do with social media comments, including hyperbolic comments about the Israeli government and military’s racist and repressive actions, there have been a range of sanctions and 12 members were expelled.

Woman-and-man-at-Windrush-protest-1024x683Such hyperbolic comments, sometimes mixed in with antisemitic tropes, are undoubtedly hurtful and need to be exposed and challenged. They also taint rather than help the Palestinian cause they allegedly support, but can anyone seriously suggest that such social media comments compare in any way with the Tory Party’s openly hostile policies towards the Windrush generation and a range of migrants and refugees, that have seen them lose their livelihoods, become destitute and face forcible deportation? Or can unpleasant social media posts really compare with the Tory Party’s verifiable links and collaboration since 2014 with a party that has participated with neo-Nazis  marching in Sofia not just last weekend but for several years in a row. We need to call out antisemitism wherever it appears, but we also need some perspective about where the real boost to the antisemites, racists and fascists in Britain and the wider world is coming from in 2019.

 

 

 

 

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Not my hero

When John McDonnell was asked for a snap response to the question, “Winston Churchill: hero or villain?” He replied:

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Coffins of two workers from Llanelli killed by troops sent by Churchill, 1911

“Tonypandy. Villain”, recalling that when Churchill was Home Secretary he ordered troops to combine with police forces in repressing striking miners. Churchill’s actions there resulted in a long- enduring resentment towards him in that district, and among wider layers of trade unionists. It was not a one-off, either.  At Llanelli a year later, two people were killed by troops deployed by Churchill during a strike by railway workers.

He has also been labelled a racist and a “White supremacist”, though he demonstrated that he could mistreat whites whom he considered inferior or less deserving of rights. As Colonial Secretary in the 1920s, he ordered the vicious “Black and Tans” to repress Irish Catholics.

His more straightforward racism/white supremacism was shown in relation to Arab peoples.  When Iraqi Kurds rebelled against British rule, Churchill said, “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.” In the 1930s he described Palestinian Arabs as “barbarian hordes who ate little but camel dung”.

He freely admitted that he hated Indians describing them as “a beastly people with a beastly religion”. He cast black natives of Africa as “barbarous” and applied the term “savages” to the Sudanese people he encountered in his own military service.

He showed an iron consistency in his racist, imperialist views in a statement to the Palestine Commission in 1937 that upheld Britain’s role in deciding the fate of Palestine, and downgraded the rights of indigenous Palestinians in favour of settlers favoured by European powers. He compared Palestinian Arabs with the victims of other acts of what he considered racial/eugenic progress, telling the commission: “I do not admit… that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly-wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”

His enthusiastic support for “nationalist Jews”, favoured by European imperialism, was fundamentally at odds though with his attitude towards internationalist Jews. Here is an extract from my book Battle for the East End (Five Leaves  Publications, 2011):

“The notion of an international Jewish communist conspiracy had become a popular antisemitic myth following the First World War, having evolved from an earlier notion of a Jewish conspiracy outlined in the notorious Czarist forgery, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.

Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 18.45.58“Some prominent politicians lent credence to these theories. Winston Churchill, writing in the Illustrated Sunday Herald in 1920, praised Zionist Jewish efforts in Palestine and contrasted them with the allegedly malign influence of ‘international’ and ‘atheistic’ Jews whom he believed were part of: “…this worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization and the reconstruction of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality”. He added:

‘This movement amongst the Jews is not new… It has been the mainspring of every subversive movement during the 19th Century; and now at last this band of extraordinary personalities has gripped the Russian people by the hair of their heads and have become practically the undisputed masters of that enormous empire. There is no need to exaggerate the part played in the creation of Bolshevism and in the actual bringing about of the Russian Revolution, by these international and for the most part atheistic Jews, it is certainly a very great one; it probably outweighs all others. With the notable exception of Lenin, the majority of the leading figures are Jews.’

51xrljjcUBL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_“In this extraordinary article Churchill acknowledged a debt to Nesta Webster who had written a series of articles for the Morning Post illuminating an alleged Jewish–Bolshevik conspiracy. The previous year the Morning Post had claimed that Jews controlled the Russian government.”

During World War 2 many people pleaded with Churchill to bomb the railway lines to the death camps. He never gave that order.

My verdict on Churchill? I agree with the Shadow Chancellor.

 

 

 

What do the Wavertree members want and what do they need?

Liverpool is a red city. A real Labour stronghold. Whenever Corbyn or McDonnell appear there, they attract huge enthusiastic crowds, but some of its MPs are out of kilter with that mood. Not least the right wing Labour MP Luciana Berger, parachuted into Liverpool Wavertree by Tony Blair against the local party’s wishes.

She has made no effort to accommodate to that mood. In a recent radio interview Berger was asked 10 times if she would welcome a Corbyn-led Labour Government. She kept evading the question, saying ‘well, Brexit”, finally mumbling through her political constipation that she would prefer a Labour government to a Conservative government, but without saying his dreaded name.

Before the Referendum, her opposition to him was a simple Right/Left matter. It was compounded, though, by her holding a leading position in the pro-Zionist, Blairite-dominated, Jewish Labour Movement, antagonistic to Corbyn for his known pro-Palestinian views (though some JLM members would surely have acknowledged his longstanding commitment to anti-racist causes).

Corbyn himself held out an olive branch to Berger when he was first elected leader. He offered her the significant Shadow Cabinet portfolio of Mental Health. She did it for five minutes then spat it back at him when she resigned her post to join the chicken coup plotters attempting to force Corbyn out undemocratically. The right wing of the PLP attempted to overturn a decisive vote by the membership. So Berger is no stranger to using very undemocratic ways and means.

Last week she let the Observer know that she and two other named Labour MPs and three unnamed Labour MPs were seriously considering leaving Labour to form a new “centrist” party in the near future.

She doesn’t have to be a personal fan of Corbyn to assure her local members that she will work tirelessly to return a Labour government but it seems she can’t even do that. In these circumstances what is wrong with local members putting forward a vote of no confidence. If she is right that this is simply the action of a few unhappy local members, then she has nothing to fear. But of course Berger does fear the outcome. So she and some supporters in the PLP, and compliant media, throw accusations of antisemitism into the mix.

Let me be clear. The JLM, of which Berger is chair, regularly accuse political opponents within Labour/the left of being antisemites/soft on antisemitism, “antisemitism enablers” and “antisemitism deniers”. She has been a victim of horrible antisemitic abuse, principally from far right sources, though she has made unsubstantiated claims that this has come too from left wing Labour members. (I have tweeted her in the past to enquire how many LP members she has reported for antisemitic abuse – and she has not replied).
I stand with any politician, against racist abuse including antisemitism. I recognise that antisemitism within society is growing alongside other hatreds, and that not everyone on the left is as aware as they need to be about this.

That, however, has nothing to do with the right of her local members to question her performance as a Labour Party representative, in a similar way to local members asking questions of non-Jewish Labour MPs such as Chris Leslie, John Mann, Chuka Umunna etc. who also, it seems, constantly attempt to undermine Corbyn,

Berger’s own attempts to raise concerns about antisemitism within such arguments, are compromised by her selective attitude to anti-racism and the alliances she makes with people tolerating racism and seeking to undermine Labour.

She was the leading Labour voice at the “Enough is Enough” demonstration in Parliament Square in March 2018, fronted by self-defined Jewish “leaders”, the most prominent being the then president of the Board of Deputies, the Tory, Jonathan Arkush. Many Tory politicians were present including Norman “Cricket Test” Tebbitt , DUP MPs such as Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley Junior, and others who had not distinguished themselves in the fight against racism.

This protest took place shortly after the then Tory Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, had warmly welcomed Orban’s election in Hungary. Orban’s campaign there centred largely on attacking the Hungarian Jewish figure George Soros in unmistakably antisemitic terms. A few weeks earlier the Tories principal partner in their European Parliament group, the Polish Law and Justice Party, outlawed commentary on the Holocaust that implicated Polish individuals.

Many of the contested charges against Labour and Corbyn on antisemitism related to historical cases. The timing of this event on Parliament Square, a few weeks before local government elections, was transparently about damaging Corbyn in particular and Labour in general just weeks before those local elections.

How do you think Labour members in Wavertee felt when they witnessed their MPs most prominent contribution to Labour’s local election campaign being an attempt to sabotage it? Given the number of historical allegations involved, there was nothing to stop Berger waiting a few weeks until after these elections (and after more anti-racist Labour councillors were hopefully elected) to raise these matters, nothing except her clear desire to damage the Labour Party while Corbyn is at the helm.

Berger’s uncritical collusion with Tory racists continued the following month. The Tories had cynically called a Commons debate on antisemitism unrelated to any motion. It was aimed at piling pressure on Corbyn, even closer to local election day.

By now, though, the Tories were reeling from the Windrush Scandal. The day before the antisemitism debate, David Lammy made his powerful speech about the victims of the Tories’ hostile environment and the “national day of shame”. After that intervention, we may have expected any Labour members participating in the antisemitism debate, called by the Tories, to at least question the Tories’ double standards on racism whether it was Windrush or dodgy alliances in Europe.

Berger had ample time to make all her points. She was warmly cheered by the Tories after a speech which contained not a word about hostile Tory policies and alliances. It focused on the abuse she had suffered, and directed blame for it towards Corbyn and his supporters.

Her tunnel vision and hypocrisy on these matters is abundantly clear, and really her contempt for her local members should not be indulged by those who know better.