Hunt v Johnson: Battle for the grubbiest corner in the moral basement

I’m not that interested in the Tory leadership race in itself. Two wealthy, over-privileged, servants of the ruling class, both educated well beyond their intelligence, battling each other over who can offer more tax breaks to their friends.
 
10045527Though, until yesterday, I would have said that Jeremy Hunt would be hard pushed to make a statement as cynical, as inhuman, and as abusive of the experiences of ethnic minorities as anything Boris Johnson has managed.

Obviously I underestimated him. This is what Hunt told the Jewish News in an interview:
 
“When I went to Auschwitz I rather complacently said to myself, ‘thank goodness we don’t have to worry about that kind of thing happening in the UK’ and now I find myself faced with the leader of the Labour Party who has opened the door to antisemitism in a way that is truly frightening.”
 
What kind of a person could requisition and abuse the memory of the million + women, men and children gassed to death then reduced to ash in furnaces in Auschwitz Birkenau to score the very cheapest and grubbiest of political points?
 
I suppose one answer might be: a representative of a government that is allied with someScreen Shot 2019-07-03 at 12.29.42 of the most antisemitic, Islamophobic, homophobic and anti-refugee governments in the world; a government that created its own scandalous hostile environment, complete with “Go-Home” vans, that had such a devastating impact, especially on the Caribbean community in Britain, and continues to blight the lives of migrants.
 
I happen to know that Jeremy Corbyn visited Auschwitz before he became Labour leader (and has visited Theresienstadt since becoming leader). He did so to bear witness, to learn, to absorb its lessons for humanity; lessons that he has used in his continuing, decades-long, campaigns against all racism and injustice.
 
What a contrast.
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A cure for the summertime blues

Last summer was Labour’s most difficult one since Jeremy Corbyn got elected leader. Politics had been paralysed by Brexit. That paralysis was a deliberate Tory strategy to diffuse the energy and passion of the insurgency through which Labour won back millions of voters in the 2017 election campaign. The Tories used that Brexit-focused paralysis to stifle debate of any other contentious issues. Corbyn’s “centrist”, ie right wing, opponents within the party played along to weaken Corbyn’s position. In spring 2018, a “crisis” around accusations of historical antisemitism deliberately timed and engineered by a diverse range of pro-Tory and pro-Zionist  forces, drew in various anti-Corbyn elements ,

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Defector Berger

(especially Luciana Berger who has since defected, having inflicted maximum damage). This limited the impact Labour could make in the local elections in May 2018. Gains that they made nationally were offset against relatively poor results in a small number of councils and particular wards. These were repeatedly attributed by mainstream media to Labour’s “failure” to stamp out antisemitism.

Once those elections were done, the accusations magically started to fade. Newspapers who apparently had no trouble finding several “antisemitism” stories a week to generate screaming front page headlines in the run up to those elections, were running out of material by June and were just recycling tired, old accusations. Labour were lulled into thinking they were over the worst for the moment.

Far from it. Their opponents used June and July 2018 to store up potential cases, just as they are surely doing right now. When last year’s summer recess came, the Tories breathed a sigh of relief. They were still standing, battered and disunited, but without excessive scrutiny of their lack of progress on key domestic issues as well as Brexit. And whilst the antisemitism allegations were almost entirely focused on social media posts, attributed shutterstock_1086217508to Labour or Corbyn fans (often without proof), the Windrush scandal which surfaced in early April, and claimed Amber Rudd’s scalp, was all but drowned out. This scandal was so much bigger than loose or OTT language in a tweet that could be labelled as “antisemitism”. Windrush reflected cruel government policies over several years, the Hostile Environment, centrally implicating Theresa May, which had devastating and dehumanising real life impacts especially on Britain’s longstanding Caribbean community.

No doubt Labour was looking forward to getting out and about during last summer and creating a stir in the marginal seats, exposing the government ‘s failures and putting forward its own clear and costed transformative policies. But it didn’t work out like that.

Tory politicians went off for their holidays but left a key task for the Tory-friendly media: to find and publish as many new smears around Labour and antisemitism as possible. The national newspaper headlines and the BBC radio headlines were dominated almost every day through the summer recess by distorted and invented slurs against the Labour Party viz-a-viz Jews, which in most cases had little substance, but spread the poison.

This summer it is essential that Labour is well prepared for a similar onslaught, has a strategy to manage that inevitable attack, and finds a way to get its own positive agenda and radical policies into the headlines. At the same time it needs to re-invigorate its younger constituency, whose energy and commitment has been sapped by the stifling effect of the stalemate over Brexit and the failure of Labour to articulate its complex but principled policy in relation to Brexit in a convincing and positive way.

Labour needs to be confident about quickly identifying and dealing with real antisemitic incidents (there are some), while also being confident about condemning the cynical way that its opponents are trivialising it by using it as a factional political weapon.

Labour needs to call their bluff.  It needs to show that whilst the Labour Party has been speaking out against racist and fascist tendencies nationally and internationally, antisemitism in society has grown on Theresa May’s watch as have much more frequent instances of racism against Muslim communities and several other minorities. It needs to seize the moral high-ground and say this is hardly surprising given the alliances the Tory Party has with Trump and with very right wing antisemitic and Islamophobic parties in Europe. The Labour Party needs to emphasise that they wish to work with the Jewish community and other minority communities in tackling the threat of the Far Right together. And if the self-proclaimed “leaders” of the Jewish community are so blinkered and prejudiced that they refuse to play ball, then Labour should not plead with them, but go over their heads and build links with grassroots Jewish bodies who will.

Labour has to speak loudly and directly about the problems directly facing young people ZeroHoursImage– knife crime, zero-hours contracts, student fees, housing problems, and tap into the militancy they are showing especially around climate change. Labour’s positive statements towards the school students striking over the climate emergency, and their determination to lead a green industrial revolution have shown the way to go.

Labour has developed a set of great policies in the last three years, but hasn’t always promoted them as sharply as they could. These have to be promoted in ways that play up the fundamental class divides in British society, that illustrate the real fault lines which are much bigger and more significant than Leave/Remain. Labour needs to be controversial. Corbyn got a brilliant response when he talked before the 2017 election about the “rigged system” and how he would refuse to “play by the rules”. He got a similar response when he said more recently that the bankers are right to be scared of him. We need so much more of this, and not from Corbyn alone.

In this respect the likely coronation of a blunder-prone, racist liar, right wing populist and fan of Trump, as leader of the Tory Party, opens new opportunities to challenge forcefully his cutting and privatising agenda around the NHS, education, social care, youth provision, the environment, workers’ rights, council housing, legal aid, public ownership etc as well as challenging his racism head on and promoting a range of serious plans on equalities issues.

But, if Johnson wins, it also creates new dynamics around the Labour strategy re Brexit. We are in the endgame now, faced with an opponent who is actively seeking a “No-Deal Brexit” that will inflict enormous damage on ordinary people’s livelihoods. Labour has to champion those people. Its challenge is to do so in a way that enthuses, energises and draws in enough support across the Remain/Leave divide, while sidelining the purists, the “ultras”, on either side who stereotype their opponents but offer no solutions. And it must fully

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Laura Pidcock

utilise the most powerful emerging talents such as Rebecca Long -Bailey, Laura Pidcock, Richard Burgon and Dan Carden, alongside stalwarts such as Dianne Abbott and John McDonnell in doing so.

If Hunt wins the Tory race, and tries to show he is more moderate and less personally obnoxious than Johnson, much of this still stands. Hunt represents class privilege and a privatising agenda too, but the key now, whoever Labour face, is to sharpen up Labour’s messages and take them out to the public, especially in the key Tory/Labour marginals in the Midlands and the North of England. This time, there is a cure at hand for the summertime blues, and the prize will be a government of social justice sooner rather than later.

 

 

 

Never forget – except when it comes to Trump?

US President Donald Trump arrived in London today. Labour politicians, such as Jeremy Screen Shot 2019-06-03 at 12.00.18Corbyn, Diane Abbott, Emily Thornberry and Sadiq Khan have led the way in decrying this invitation to him on the basis of his record of racist statements and actions.

Leading figures from minority communities have spoken out, but there is a strange silence from those who regard themselves, and are treated by the government and media, as Jewish community leaders.

These include organisations who show a special interest in digging out antisemitic material posted on social media, and Facebook posts, tweets and memes in relation to Israel (often contested) that they regard as antisemitic.

Do they not remember the social media behaviour of the US President in the run up to the vote that elected him?

trump meme clinton star of davidHave they forgotten the meme he used from a far-right/white supremacist site showing Hilary Clinton against a backdrop of dollar bills with the comment “most corrupt candidate ever” encased in a 6-pointed Star of David?

Have they forgotten that in November 2017 he was retweeting Islamophobic tweets from Britain First – a fascist group that splintered from the BNP, not to mention the several times he retweeted from far-right neo-Nazi accounts such as @WhiteGenocideTM, whose profile locates the account holder in “Jewmerica”?

Have they blanked out of their minds his astonishing comment about “very fine people” at the Charlottesville protests, where alongside anti-black racism, hundreds of marchers were chanting “Jews will not replace us”?

Do they not recall one of the last videos that Trump put out just before the presidential Screen Shot 2019-06-03 at 11.50.27election that fingered three wealthy Jews — George Soros, Janet Yellen and Lloyd Blankfein – in which he railed against “those who control the levers of power in Washington”, the “global special interests” who “do not have your good in mind”?

The silence of the Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council, the Chief Rabbi, and the Campaign Against Antisemitism over Donald Trump’s visit is absolutely shameful.

“…like me, a little bit controversial, but that’s okay.”

Ahead of Donald Trump’s state visit to Britain, I gave a speech to an event hosted by Stand up to Racism and Unite Against Fascism, called:How can we stop Trump and the far right across Europe?”

In order to talk about Trump I want to link back to the discussion about the populist right in Europe. Six weeks ago I was in Poland, and have been several times in recent years. In Poland the Law and Justice Party is in power and they were strengthened through the European elections. They are an authoritarian, national-conservative, racist party, whose rule, like Trump’s America has given permission to far right forces to come in from the margins. While some Law and Justice politicians had involvement with far-right groups in their youth, they keep a distance from out and out Nazis – though they swim in some of the same ideological waters pushing antisemitic, Islamophobic, anti-Roma themes.

There seems to be a friendly competition going on between Poland’s Law and Justice party and Victor Orban’s governing Fidesz party in Hungary as to which can be more right wing and authoritarian.

Which brings us back to Trump.

800x-1Just a couple of weeks ago, Orban was Trump’s guest of honour in Washington. Trump was very happy to put the official welcome event for Orban on the web. He said: “It’s a great honour to have with us the Prime Minister of Hungary… Viktor Orbán has done a tremendous job in so many different ways.  Highly respected.  Respected all over Europe.  Probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that’s okay… You’ve done a good job and you’ve kept your country safe.”

Let’s unpick this: safe from whom? I think this is a reference to Orban’s Islamophobic and anti-refugee stances.

Respected by whom? Not by the workers in Hungary who have taken to the streets to protest the new Labour Law (or “Slavery Law” they call it, which forces them to do hundreds of hours of overtime. Not by civil liberties campaigners fighting authoritarianism. Not by progressive students at universities where Orban has shut down women’s studies courses,

When Trump says “A bit controversial – but that’s OK” – what exactly is OK?

Is it Orban’s classic antisemitism expressed about the Hungarian Jew, George Sof67592c1b92044db850d41d0b405fd26_18ros?
“We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money”

Orban replied to Trump’s welcome: “… I would like to express that we are proud to stand together with the United States on fighting against illegal migration, on terrorism, and to protect and help the Christian communities all around the world.

Again – protect Christian communities from whom? Trump responded: “You have been great with respect to Christian communities, you have really put a block up. And we appreciate that very much.”

In Hungary, Poland and other neighbouring states where right wing populists rule, defence of the Christian family coupled with attacks on women’s equality are playing out very well among working class voters, as well as more economically comfortable supporters.

Trump is also constantly trying to please his ultra-right-wing Christian fundamentalist supporters.

As anti-racists and anti-fascists we have to broaden our scope to acknowledge how important these themes are alongside more obvious racism, and reflect that on our platforms, in our campaigning literature, and in the broad alliances we seek to build.

Trump-worship-1-750x400Trump’s warmongering foreign policy, his devotion to the most right wing elements in Israel,  and his attempts to inflame and undermine Palestinians, owe as much, and probably more, to lobbying from Christian evangelical fundamentalists as they do to the hard-right Zionist segment of the American Jewish community.

The Jewish community in the US voted overwhelmingly against Trump. It is on Trump’s watch that we have had murderous neo-Nazi attacks on American synagogues, and marchers in Charlottesville combining their open anti-black racism with chants of “Jews will not replace us”. These are the violent, hardcore fascists that Trump included when he spoke about “good people”

Jewish organisations must certainly be included in broad-based coalitions against Trump along with the other groups he has spoken and acted against: (in alphabetical order) Blacks, climate change activists, human rights campaigners, Latinos,  LGBT, migrant children, migrant workers, Muslims, refugees, women… and more.

In terms of the work we do here in Britain, it is really important to expose all aspects of Trump’s ideas and actions and to understand the direct connections he has here, and the relationships he is building. His strongest links are with Farage. They are natural allies on several key issues. In my view, it is wrong to describe either Trump or Farage as “fascists”, though they both benefit the fascists, and give them more space and more air to breathe in.

It interests me that Trump is more keen on Farage and Boris Johnson, than on TommyScreen Shot 2019-06-01 at 18.57.54 Robinson and Gerard Batten, who have flirted more openly with fascist street movements. Though this might just be a smokescreen masking a division of labour. Trump’s former close aide, Steve Bannon, the alt-right, white supremacist and antisemite who didn’t want his girls attending a school which had Jewish girls in it, is working more closely with Robinson and Batten

Trump and Farage are fundamentally free-marketeers dedicated to making the rich richer. They are both deeply racist, and openly share conspiracy theories with regard to what they call in code: the “globalists” or “global elite”, personified for them by people like the Hungarian Jew George Soros, a financier of many progressive migrant/refugee/social projects.

Like Trump, Farage is a great admirer of Orban. And Trump is now also strengthening his connections with Boris Johnson, another racist free marketeer.

What is crucial for us is to understand is the attraction that Farage and Trump (and, to some extent, Johnson) have among people whose economic interests they absolutely do not represent. And that is where we need to consider clever and effective ways of campaigning involving face to face conversations, and not just think in terms of large rallies. In our heads we can conjure up all kinds of abusive words to describe Trump and Farage but simply calling people “racists” doesn’t change one mind.

in the conversations we need to have, we need to get inside the hearts and minds, and recognise the day-to-day material problems and fears of those who are being seduced by wealthy right wing nationalists and racist populists: the first-time Brexit Party voters. We need to talk with them in ways that will win them away from that thinking, and develop the kinds of campaigns around  local as well as national issues that can shift their perspective.

All out against Trumps’s visit: Assemble 11am, Trafalgar Square, 4th June

Lib-Dems – worth a punt?

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Lord Balfour

In 1905 A Tory government, led by Lord Balfour, passed the Aliens Act – Britain’s first major modern day Immigration law in peacetime – principally directed against Jews fleeing pogroms and discrimination in the Tsarist Russian empire. The opposition party – the Liberals – had, it seemed, taken a principled position during the debates around this in 1905 strenuously opposing this racist and discriminatory legislation, aimed at impoverished Jewish migrants.

Every key principle enshrining racism and discrimination, and the inhuman attitudes towards and treatment of migrants encouraged through such laws, is right there in that Act, that came into effect in 1906. It created Immigration officers, including medical officers who could turn back migrants on medical grounds. One of the first to be turned back was a 9-year-old Russian Jewish girl in January 1906, because she was deaf and mute and therefore thought likely to be a burden on the rates.
It divided migrants seeking entry into the categories “Desirable ” and “Undesirable” – as every piece of British immigration legislation has continued to do. And it provided powers of deportation. Even if a migrant had been allowed entry, if they were found wandering the streets six months or more after entry, without any visible means of support, they could be rounded up and summarily deported. More than 1,000 such Jewish migrants were deported on those grounds in the first four years of the Act.Only, by then, Balfour’s Tories were no longer in power. The Liberals defeated them, forgot about their previous opposition to such horrible legislation and set about implementing it themselves, not wanting to be seen as “soft on migrants” or accused of “letting them all in”.

If this hasn’t rung any bells yet with the behaviour of the Liberal Democrats today it 1181652e Politics Coalitioncertainly should have done. Theresa May, as Home Secretary, announced her shameful and cruel “Hostile Environment” policies  in 2012 – two years into the Tory-Lib-Dem coalition (or the Con-Dem nation as it came to be called). The Tories knew that they could absolutely count on the Lib–Dems for support.

In May 2013, Theresa May spoke proudly at Tory Conference proudly of her modus operandi: “Deport first and hear appeals later”. That same year saw the first of the despicable “Go-Home-Vans” appearing on the streets of areas with significant migrant populations.

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 12.30.48We now know with absolute clarity the terrible human cost of such policies as played out through the Windrush Scandal. The government’s junior partners cannot escape their culpability for this. They knew of every inhuman act that was being done by the Home Secretary that impacted on migrants and refugees. Today we are still learning of the further devastating impact it had on longstanding British citizens who were born overseas but came to live here as children.

Even before the Windrush Scandal broke politicians of all parties were aware of how Theresa May’s Hostile Environment was translating into street-based racial abuse and assaults. Yet the Lib-Dems chose to continue propping up that government, so they could continue to play some part in government, and delude themselves that they had influence, whatever the cost to those who were marginalised and made more vulnerable by such inhuman policies. Their collusion was scandalous.

There is a real threat that the even more blatant racists Tommy Robinson, Nigel Farage, Gerard Batten, are going to make advances this week in the European elections. I have met decent people who seem to have quickly forgotten the Lib-Dems support for the devastating cuts to welfare and social care enacted by the Tory-dominated coalition government, their u-turn on tuition fees, and every act that deepened austerity and suffering. But I would hope that any principled anti-racists would not seriously entertain voting for the Lib-Dems this week to express some kind of disappointment, disagreement or protest over Labour’s complex approach to the Tory/UKIP created mess that is Brexit.

 

No to antisemitism and all racism, and no to hypocrisy

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), rightly supports Palestinians facing daily racism and every repressive and deliberately humiliating facet of occupation. It supports the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the land from which they were ethnically cleansed. It has occasionally had to deal with so-called supporters who have joined the organisation as a cover for their antisemitic worldview. And it has acted against them.

Just coincidentally, in the run-up to a national Palestine demonstration this weekend (assembling at Portland Place 12 noon), that bastion of anti-racism, the Evening Standard, has investigated the output of PSC’s local branches and claims to have uncovered antisemitism expressed by some members or supporters of PSC.

On the face of it some of these claims are regrettably true, others are instead crudely expressed opposition to Zionism/Israeli repression rather than antisemitism. But as regards the real cases it would have been better if they had been challenged and dealt with when they occurred. Hopefully they will be dealt with now.

afif_headshotAfif Safieh, the PLO representative in London during the 1990s, who set about building close relations with Jewish supporters of human rights, always condemned antisemitism in the clearest terms, and repeatedly told Palestinians and their supporters that antisemites are no friends of the Palestinians or the Jews. PSC would be well advised to act decisively, as it has done in the past, against individuals trying to piggy-back their just struggle for antisemitic purposes.

The Board of Deputies,  are nothing if not predictable. As well as condemning PSC, they are calling on Jeremy Corbyn to dissociate himself from the organisation. Corbyn has supported PSC for decades precisely because of their opposition to racism and because of their advocacy of human rights and equality. He supports PSC for the very same reasons that his Conservative political opponents, with their longstanding record of friendship with racist regimes, largely do not support Palestinians, any more than they supported black victims of South African apartheid.

As for the Board of Deputies, well, we know they are anti-racists… (the sentence is not finished yet)… when it suits them. They will condemn most antisemitism, but not the institutional racism in Israel against Ethiopian and Mizrachi Jews. They say nothing when Netanyahu-supporters here tell left-wing Jews to “go back to Auschwitz” or call them “kapos”. They treat with kid-gloves the antisemitism expressed by Netanyahu’s closest allies in central and Eastern Europe.

They will condemn Islamophobia in British society but will not go as far as supporting Muslim organisations who have rightly called for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Tory Party. They will tread ever so carefully when it comes to questioning the Tory Party’s real and verifiable links and alliances with right wing and far right antisemitic parties in Europe, and often choose to say nothing at all.

And who can forget how the Board’s previous president, Jonathan Arkush, rushed to tryScreen Shot 2019-05-08 at 19.38.07 and be first to congratulate Donald Trump on becoming US President, despite his open Islamophobia, anti-Mexican racism, anti-refugee rhetoric and actions, a lifetime of hanging out with white supremacists and his frequent use of the White Power hand signal.

Many Jews will be joining the march on Saturday for Palestinian rights too, or expressing solidarity with the marchers – not because they are antisemites – but because for them, racism is absolutely indivisible. Any kind of racism is wrong, whether expressed against Jews or any minorities, including those who profess to support progressive causes. It is also  wrong when it is expressed by the Israeli Government against Palestinians through the Apartheid Jewish Nation State law, or in the repeated acts of incitement and violence by settlers against Palestinians.

Do take a minute to recall who was the guest of honour in Israel on the day that the execrable  Nation State law was passed – the antisemitic and Islamophobic Prime Minister of Hungary, Victor Orban,. And he will be Donald Trump’s guest next Monday. Despite Pittsburgh, despite the synagogue shooting in San Diego, both carried out by far right white supremacists, despite Trump and Orban’s shared conspiracy theories about the Hungarian Jew George Soros, don’t hold your breath waiting for the Board of Deputies to speak out.

Hope for a different future on Warsaw’s streets

IMG_9396Warsaw 19th April, 2019, 12 noon. Crowds gather either side of the 11 metres high Ghetto Fighters’ monument made of granite that, ironically, was sourced by the Nazis. They intended to build a monument to mark their victory in Warsaw. They never did. Warsaw was a city of resistance. They would have had to build it on rubble in any case. Their only way of suppressing the people of Warsaw, ultimately, was by destroying large sections of it. They ghettoised the Jews who had made up a third of the city’s pre-war population, and deported most of them to the death camp at Treblinka. They put down a remarkable, three-week long guerrilla campaign by hundreds of barely-trained fighters aged from 13-40 years of age. They terrorised Warsaw’s non-Jews, defeating the uprising they led 16 months later. Small numbers of Jews who survived the burning of the ghetto in 1943 were hidden but emerged to fight in the ’44 city uprising.

Sirens blast out for one minute, during which we are united in silence, but the ceremonies on either side of the memorial are remarkably different.

On one side, armed soldiers, uniformed choirs, and the national flags of Poland and Israel, two countries whose current governments are themselves part of a tide of ultra-nationalism that threatens to bring back the dark days of the 1930s.

On our side of the memorial, the hope for a different future manifests itself. A bright IMG_9418pink/purple banner has the slogan “We will outlive them!” in several languages including Yiddish – the mother tongue of Warsaw’s Jews that Hitler’s forces tried to to bury with the Jews. But on this day, nearly 75 years after Hitler died, Yiddish words are again sung on Warsaw’s streets.

Our flags and banners are internationalist and anti-nationalist. Red flags with the symbols of the Jewish Socialist Bund, who fought for better lives for oppressed workers from their inception in 1897, and who, together with other left-wing currents, were the backbone of IMG_9414resistance in Nazi-occupied Poland. Alongside the Bund flags is one with the International Brigade colours celebrating those who left Poland to fight Franco’s fascists in Spain. One side of the banner is in Yiddish – underlining the role played by internationalist Jews in the Naftali Botwin company of the Dombrowski Battalion.

I am there myself as part of a contingent of the Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG) in Britain acting to express international solidarity and to strengthen our own links to the Bundist past and present. We have spent a study week in Warsaw, choosing this particular week so that on the Friday we could be part of this alternative ceremony.

After a short initial speech from Zuzanna Hertzberg – one of the key organisers – a choir IMG_9417 (1) from a Warsaw school that emphasises its multicultural curriculum, sings resistance songs in Yiddish. Few, if any of them, are Jewish but their diction is perfect and their identification with the meaning of what they sing shines through. Some songs are familiar, others new to us. We had spent the previous evening  with  “Warszawianka” – a revolutionary choir who led a workshop with us in the working class district of Praga.

Britain’s Jewish establishment disdain Yiddish in favour of Hebrew, representing Israel’s national culture as “Jewish culture” in the diaspora too. They help to repress the fighting history of the Bund in favour of “heroic” Zionist narratives. But we return to Britain with new Yiddish songs, learned in Poland from the revolutionary choir and the school choir.

In contrast to the strict and militaristic order being maintained by the more static “official” commemoration, ours is free-flowing. When we move, it is like a gently moving wave, which flows outwards then together again along our route to several stopping points. People, young and old, are wearing ordinary clothes. Friends greet each other warmly. Our own improvised JSG placards, made an hour before the ceremony, attract lots of positive attention.

We stop on the corner of the square that holds the Fighters’ Monument, for more songsIMG_9412 before we move over to the sculpture of a shattered world to represent the courageous Bundist, Szmul Zygielbojm who committed suicide in London as a political act, having read of the final destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the allies’ failure at the Bermuda Conference to propose drastic rescue action. This monument is particularly poignant for us, as it was our group working together with Bundist survivors, who established a plaque for Zygielbojm in London in the 1990s. Here the cracks in the shattered world are soon crammed with daffodils, the flower resembling the Yellow star in bloom, which Nazis made Jews wear in Germany, and some other lands under Hitler’s regime. The Bundist, Marek Edelman, the last surviving member of the command group that led the Ghetto Uprising, brought daffodils to such ceremonies until he died in 2009

There are poems and readings in Polish. A young choir performs “Es brent” – “It is burning”: a call to arms, written by the Krakowian songwriter, carpenter and socialist, Mordkhe Gebirtig, in the wake of pogroms committed by Poland’s National Radical Camp in  the 1930s. Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party is today working to rehabilitate the reputation of the National Radical Camp of the 1930s. And here by Zygielbojm’s monument the authorities have placed the flags of Poland and Israel. Zygielbojm was as fierce a critic and opponent of Jewish nationalism as he was of Polish nationalism. He would be turning in his grave if he could see them.

From there we move towards the stark monument on a small hill at Mila 18, where most of the exhausted and hungry survivors from nearly three weeks of battles with the most powerful of armies, were trapped in a bunker surrounded by the Nazis. They did not let the Nazis have the pleasure of killing them: they killed themselves, but a group led by IMG_9229Marek Edelman dissented and sought to escape through the sewers. As we walked towards Mila 18 we were found among the crowd by Hania Szmalenberg,  who earlier in the week walked us through the memorials and showed us how she had re-landscaped the original memorial and and added one in English, Polish and Yiddish closer to the road.

Here, the choir sing Zog nisht keynmol as du geyst dem leytstn veg, (Never say you are going down the last road), and powerful poems and readings are performed. The crowd probably some 400 or 500 strong by now winds round into Stawski Street and ends its walk where thousands upon thousands of ghetto Jews of 1942 were forced to assemble – at the deportation point, the Umshlagplatz – whose beautiful memorial was also designed by Hania. More songs and meaningful words fill the air, including a recording of Marek Edelman reading Zygielbojm’s suicide note, before the crowd gradually disperse.

It had been the most incredibly powerful act of remembrance, empathy and solidarity. To see the symbols of the Bund on flags and t-shirts and hear the words of Bundists sung and spoken by a new generation of activists, 70 years after they finally disbanded their organisation in Poland under pressure from its new rulers, was truly moving and uplifting. As one of our placards read: Zol lebn der Bund! Long live the Bund!
IMG_9391IMG_9389 (1)

Speak for yourself, not for us

It is bad enough that the “Jewish Labour Movement” (JLM) falsely proclaims itself the sole representative of Jews in the Labour Party. Most of the many Jews I know in the Labour Party are not members of JLM and disagree with them on many issues. But if its AGM today is anything to go by, its delusions of grandeur are becoming  even bigger, even as the size of its AGMs get smaller (I noticed that one of its votes was carried by 81-67. OK some may have abstained but that’s barely 150 people form an organisation claiming to have 2,000 members). One of its resolutions declared that “a Labour Government led by him (Jeremy Corbyn) would not be in the interests of British Jews.”

So we all have one common set of interests now? That’s interesting. And the JLM knows what it is, so it says.

Of course they are not the only ones who make such claims. In official figures the BritishScreen Shot 2019-04-07 at 20.25.32  Jewish community, mainly based on synagogues and involvement in official Jewish institutions, plus guestimates, comprises around 290,000 people. Unofficially it is surely bigger, but the Jewish Chronicle regularly proclaims what “the Jewish community ” thinks, wants, or condemns. Yet it is in serious decline from a circulation of 80,000+ less than 20 years ago, its 2018 circulation were little more than 21,000 and a third of those were free copies.

At a basic political level the JLM might speak for pro-Zionist and increasingly right-wing  Jews in the Labour Party, at a time when the party has swung to the left, but it certainly doesn’t speak for the many non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish Labour Party members I know. And by the relative absence of the JLM from most anti-racist and anti-fascist mobilisations in recent years, it certainly doesn’t “represent” those Jews most actively engaged in this area of work. I have far more frequently seen Jewish Voice for Labour members on such mobilisations, or Labour members who are also members of the Jewish Socialists’ Group, both marching and speaking on platforms.

I would not presume to proclaim what is in the interests of “the Jews”, but I really cannot imagine that the person who drafted this resolution had any real experience of meeting unemployed Jews, Jewish pensioners and single mothers just scraping by, or Jews who are struggling as they use under-resourced mental health services. I have known many of them.

48D7973A00000578-5347705-image-a-4_1517664725238Would it really be accurate to describe a Corbyn-led Labour government as not in the interests of many Jews who work in the NHS, social work or social care sectors, or the education services, where all such workers have been struggling with the double whammy of Tory cuts and privatisation. And what about self-employed Jewish shopkeepers  struggling to keep their businesses afloat under a government that favours big capital over small?

It strikes me also as the arrogant kind of statement made by someone who actually accepts the antisemites’ stereotypes that all Jews are rich.

A few months ago I was privileged to attend a book launch in the East End where the author had interviewed several elderly locals about their experience as women in the East End in the 1930s and ’40s. Most of the women who spoke at the event were Jews who had lived in the East End all their lives. It was very clear from their presentations what their values and concerns were. What kept them awake at night was not an over-the-top social media tweet or Facebook post someone had written about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, but whether they will get the repairs they need to their council accommodation, whether they can expect to continue getting the same level of NHS support, whether they could afford to keep up with the cost of living – in other words the same set of concerns that their non-Jewish working class neighbours were facing.

Of course they had some additional concerns. Those who lived there through the 1930s and the terror brought by Mosley’s movement are aware that the far-right are becoming a growing menace again. They certainly know that they won’t find the answers to that on the right-wing of British politics. For them Labour has always been the party of equality. But why doesn’t the JLM care about them?

Jeremy Corbyn and the people around him have already created a revolution in the Labour Party, moulding it into a consciously anti-austerity force, trebling its membership and putting equality, health, education, housing, workers’ rights and anti-racism at the very centre of the Labour Party’s concerns. They are not satisfied to be just a little nicer than the Nasty Party. The gap between the parties has widened under Corbyn’s leadership, and it is surely Labour that is clearly on the side of the people most in need of economic security and social support. That may not include every Jew – probably not Jewish Tory-supporters, or the very comfortably off such as Lord Levy or Alan Sugar – but it includes a hell of a lot of other ordinary Jews.

Some other Jews have made it very clear they do not welcome a Corbyn-led government; MMB5JI4WKWTTSXH437BOthose such as Luciana Berger, who have turned their backs on Labour, joined with those who voted for austerity, and work explicitly against Labour now. Is it any wonder that at the same JLM conference where they showed such contempt for working class interests, that they praised the turncoat Luciana Berger?

The Tories’ days are numbered. They are split and severely weakened. Labour has won several parliamentary victories over them. This is the time for maximum Labour Party and Labour Movement unity and for all who want a better and fairer society after years of austerity, to keep our eyes on the prize. Maybe nobody told the JLM. Unfortunately their antics will simply produce a couple of days of more anti-Corbyn headlines to take the heat off the Tories. It won’t be those who need a better and fairer society, including many Jews, who will be thanking them.

 

 

 

 

Let’s learn our histories and reclaim this city

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Ash Sarkar. Photo: Neda Radulovic-Viswanatha

In her foreword to the new edition of my book Rebel Footprints, Ash Sarkar, senior editor at Novara Media, writes that “London has always been a city of thieves… but of collective struggle too. Our city belongs to the tailors and bakers, the matchwomen, rioters and rent strikers – and perhaps if we draw inspiration from these repertoires of organising and insurrection, it could belong to us too.”

She elaborated on these themes at the official launch of the book in the Brockway Room at Conway Hall, a room named after a radical socialist, humanist, pacifist campaigner, who himself features in two of the chapters. it was fitting, given the many stories of women organising for equality that the book covers, that the room itself was decorated with an exhibition of feminist posters from the struggles of recent decades.

Four years ago, when the first edition was launched, the then longstanding backbench

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photo: Neda Radulovic-Viswanatha

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, who has a great enthusiasm for radical history, spoke eloquently about the importance of learning from those “peoples’ histories”. Three months later he threw his name into the hat to contest the Labour leadership.

His busy diary has become even more busy in those last four years but he once again gave such a passionate speech recalling the Chartists’ armed uprising in Newport and  rent strikes in Glasgow, emphasising how important it is that these histories are known about especially by younger campaigners, and how every gain that has been made has been achieved through struggle.

The new edition has two brand new chapters with maps and annotated walks. I read excerpts from both. One of the new chapters “Writers and rioters in the Fleet Street precinct” discusses the birth of the innocuously named London Corresponding Society (LCS) in the repressive decade of the 1790s that followed the French Revolution and the role of the right-wing press (with its echoes in the present):

“Encouraged by government ministers, the right-wing press attacked the LCS as ‘a motley crew of pickpockets, seditionists, modern reformers, housebreakers, and revolutionists’.
Newspaper cartoonists ridiculed them in the press and incited violence against their leaders. Hardy’s heavily pregnant wife escaped a baying mob by climbing awkwardly out of a back exit of their home when it was surrounded. Her child was stillborn.

I spoke about an open air meeting they held in Copenhagen Fields, Islington in 1795 attended by many tens of thousands.

“The chair of the meeting, John Binns, spoke of threats and insults to the society’s members and the cruel and unjust treatment they had received, but he urged ‘every true and sincere friend of liberty’ to ‘boldly deliver his real sentiments’. He warned: ‘When the citizens of Britain become careless and indifferent about the preservations of their rights, or the choice of their representatives . . . arbitrary power is essentially introduced, and the utter extinction of individual liberty and the establishment of general despotism are inevitable.’

I also read from the other new chapter about housing struggles in Shoreditch and Bethnal Green from the 1880s to the 1930s. Two early campaigners were Charles Mowbray and Frank Kitz, who both lived in the Old Nichol, considered one of London’s worst slums. They established a cooperative “printery” there. Its furnishing and resourcing was described beautifully by Kitz:

Our seating accommodation was made of packing cases. A paving stone was our marking up stone and ink slab combined. Candles stuck in the composing cases was our lighting installation, and a roller handpress our machinery…
Mowbray and Kitz raised money for printing materials through
concerts and lotteries. Additional materials, Kitz recalled, ‘were supplied by involuntary contributions from printing firms where some of our members were employed . . . a well known firm of
government printers furnished us with some excellent ink, paper and other requisites for printing our revolutionary manifestos and addresses.'”

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Robb Johnson. Photo: Neda Radulovic-Viswanatha

The launch event also featured singer/songwriter Robb Johnson, who finished with a rousing version of his rebellious song Be Reasonable and Demand the Impossible Now.

In addition to the new chapters all the existing chapters have had some reworking but the book retains an important theme from the first edition of highlighting especially, the role that transnational migrants have played in the struggles for equality for all. In the concluding chapter I quote the London-born Cypriot poet and writer Anthony Anaxagorou who says: ‘Rebellion is when you look society in the face and say I understand who you want me to be, but I’m going to show you who I actually am.’ I comment that Anaxgorou “captures the spirit of defiance, the refusal to accept second-class status, and the drive for change that has animated movements for better lives in London over the last 200 years.”

Copies of the new edition of Rebel Footprints will be in the shops this week. You can also order it directly from Pluto Press on this link: https://www.plutobooks.com/9780745338552/rebel-footprints-second-edition/

 

 

 

 

The silence has got to end

Less than 24 hours after it emerged that leading Tory Brexiteers “jokingly” refer to themselves as “Grand Wizards” – a term borrowed from the Ku Klux Klan, the former Tory Undersecretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Suella Braverman, told a meeting in London this morning: “We are engaged in a war against cultural marxism. We’re engaged in a battle against socialism”.

That Tory politicians think the Ku Klux Klan is a subject for puerile humour tells us just how little Black people’s lives matter for them. Klan members, of course, also propagate Nazi-style antisemitism.

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Suella Braverman

As for “Cultural Marxism” this is a term popularised by far right, white supremacist, antisemitic, conspiracy theorists, directed initially at the mainly Jewish Frankfurt School Marxists whom they accused of undermining the Western world. It was a term liberally used by Anders Breivik, the neo-Nazi who massacred 69 young socialists at a youth camp in Norway in July 2011 and eight others in a separate car-bombing two hours earlier.

If this doesn’t persuade those spokespersons who claim to lead the Jewish community to pause their all-out war on Jeremy Corbyn – a politician whose anti-racism pulses through his veins – and to look at the kind of ideological world that the right-wing of the the Conservative Party now inhabits, then perhaps nothing will.

Some mainstream Jewish and Israeli newspapers have at least picked up on the “Cultural Marxism” references but from the Board of Deputies of British Jews there is silence on this matter. It is not that they are taking a day off today they have been busy tweeting away. Because today is a special day for them, almost ranking as a new Jewish holiday.

One year ago today, the Board of Deputies (BoD), then led by the Donald Trump admirer,  Jonathan Arkush, had his finest hour. He was teaming up with the Jewish Leadership Council, Tory Politicians, and the then Labour politician, Luciana Berger, to organise the “Enough is Enough” anti-Corbyn demonstration in Trafalgar Square. Given that part of their rhetoric was to allege that Corbyn has shared platforms with people of very questionable views, Arkush and Co seemed intensely relaxed at taking support on that demonstration from Norman ‘cricket-test’ Tebbit and a host of bigoted DUP MPs.

At the time I drew attention to the “stench of hypocrisy” surrounding this event welcomed so wholeheartedly by the Tory Party and the Tory-supporting press, given the direct and verifiable links of the Tory Party with antisemitic and Islamophobic parties and governments in Europe, such as Orban’ Fidesz party in Hungary, Law and Justice in Poland, the Sweden Democrats, not to mention the National Alliance in Latvia whose members recently supported the annual parade of Latvian Waffen SS veterans. The Board of Deputies has registered little more than a murmur of concern regarding Orban. In Europe antisemitism and Islamophobia ride in tandem yet the BoD refuse to support the calls of Baroness Warsi and a host of Muslim organisations for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Tory Party. They seem to regard anti-racism as a “pick and choose” activity. It is not.

But beyond the so-called “jokes” about the murderous KKK, and the casual antisemitism in fhostile-environmentar right tropes about “cultural marxism”, there is the brutality of the Hostile Environment for black and brown minorities in Britain, invented by Theresa May and renewed just as viciously by Sajid Javid, with May’s approval.

We are one year on from the “Enough is Enough” demonstration. We are also just over a year on from when the Windrush Scandal was exposed. Antisemitism is growing in British society alongside other racist hatreds and bigotry. All of this is happening on the watch of the Tory Party. But the only media focus on racism is on allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party – an issue inflated by false allegations parroted by a compliant media. (Of Margaret Hodge’s recently submitted 200 cases only 20 involved Labour Party members).  Recent statistics released by the Labour Party’s General Secretary revealed that they involved less than 0.1% of the members of the Labour Party. However small it is that must be addressed, but any objective analyst would conclude what is going on in the Tory Party right now, and with the power and influence they and their racist allies have in several nations, is far more serious.

The silence from the Board of Deputies and their allies has got to end. Anti-racist Jews are saying loud and clear: open your eyes, open your ears to what the Tories, who you think are your friends, are actually saying and doing.  You need to tell them: “Enough is Enough!”