Don’t play Tommy’s game

Last week saw a vibrant and united anti-racist and anti-fascist march through London. It was cross-generational and multicultural. It had a big turnout from several trade unions and a bigger Labour Party representation than I can remember over many years. It was built through blocs representing different sections, interests, identities, each of whom gave their segment of the march its own character. And it was internationalist -– personified by the large bloc of Brazilians (which included  a separate women’s section) and supporters of the Brazilian left in the wake of Bolsonaro’s frightening victory.

IMG_7453What we witnessed last week were signs of a renewed confidence within a movement that any honest participant or observer would recognise has gone through difficult times in the last year, in the wake of global developments, but has begun to wake up to the urgent need to broaden its reach. Unfortunately, it has been the far-right in Britain, boosted by the advances it has made in America, and in Western and Eastern  Europe, that has had a spring in its step. Although individual, centralist, far-right UK organisations remain small, their ability to mobilise huge numbers of atomised cross-class forces around common racist and nationalist themes, and around a figurehead, has shown their strength and potential.

18-Tommy-Robinson-GetThat figurehead – Tommy Robinson – has been ridiculed as a “poundshop Enoch Powell”. From a platform at one of our recent anti-fascist mobilisations I called him “the lummox from Luton” and a “two-bob Oswald Mosley”. Intellectually, that is probably true, but he is dangerous. And the people especially in the USA and Canada, that have been pouring money into his account are banking on him becoming a lot more dangerous.

This week, though, he has been given a huge boost by the actions of two seemingly diametrically opposed movements. One is UKIP, which has been taken step by step on a journey to the very far right under the caretaker-leadership of Gerard Batten. The other is a movement which ostensibly includes people from the centre-left to the far left – Another Europe is Possible.

Robinson is not just some populist pub-brawler, but is a convinced racist and fascist. He Screen Shot 2018-11-25 at 09.14.22is a former BNP member and EDL leader, who poses as a martyr to free speech, as a representative of the left behind (white) working-class, and a bulwark against a mythical Muslim takeover of British society. From his EDL days he was seeking to create division between Muslims and Jews by handing out Israeli flags on their demonstrations, while at the same time hob-nobbing with convinced Nazi antisemites with swastikas tattooed on their chest, and with anti-Jewish conspiracy theorists.

UKIP’s “temporary” leader, meanwhile, has kept very close to Robinson, and has been converting UKIP from a sanctuary mainly for disgruntled, hyper-nationalist but traditional, imperialist, Tories, which operates as a particular kind of protest vote at the ballot box, into a more openly cross-class movement. And most significantly, he has taken it on the streets to blend with largely working class far-right street protesters, many supplied by Islamophobic football firms.

Of course Brexit has been a major driver of that movement, but what drives their attachment to Brexit has been less a concern to maintain British independence from Brussels bureaucrats than an increasingly open racism, mainly expressed through Islamophobia but also a hardening of vicious anti-refugee sentiment, and under Batten’s leadership a sentiment against those he calls the “globalists” and “elites” who he believes are fostering multiculturalism and undermining the nation. More longstanding anti-fascists don’t need help decoding these antisemitic tropes.

DbPNcfbX4AAa45WBatten has met resistance within UKIP from more traditional Tories to his desire to bring Tommy Robinson into the fold, as a fully-fledged UKIP member, so he has by-passed that section of the membership this week by employing Robinson as an advisor (on grooming gangs and prison reform). Batten has pledged to work with him in a street mobilisation called for 9th December opportunistically railing against what they call the “Brexit Betrayal” represented by the chaotic “deal” being put together by Theresa May and her shrinking band of loyal followers. Brexit will be the slogan but the themes for this Robinson and Batten-led march and rally that will assert themselves will be open and blatant Islamophobia, coded antisemitism, vicious anti-left rhetoric and selective anti-establishment posturing.

The same forces that organised last week’s successful and positive march have called a counter-protest to Robinson and Batten’s plans. We will need as many people as possible who turned out on last week’s anti-racist and anti-fascist unity march to provide a solid opposition to them that will prevent them taking over the streets as they did in June and July.

The strength of that mobilisation last week was its ability to unite left wing Leave and Remain voters in a common cause. But Another Europe is Possible have called a separate protest which ties their opposition to the Far Right explicitly with anti-Brexit politics and a people’s vote, simultaneously splitting the anti-Robinson forces into Remainers and Leavers, while crowning Robinson the King of the Leave cause.

There is no doubt that, at the time of the referendum, those pushing the left’s scepticism about the capitalist club that comprises the EU barely got a look in. Hard right racists seized the initiative in gathering the Leave vote, and there was certainly a spike in racist attacks after the Leave victory in the referendum, by emboldened racists. But the reality was always more complicated and has become more so.

Leave also picked up a lot of votes for reasons other than racism. There are not 17 million hard-right racists in Britain, but there is a growth in far right racist forces right now. There are many trade unionists who are fighting for a more equal society, and who are anti-racist, but are thoroughly unimpressed with the EU, and voted Leave. Last week they turned out in big numbers on our march and were united with Remainers in their unions and in wider society. They can see the danger signs of a renewed far right. It would be disastrous if we let our forces be split on this basis, and if we gave people the impression that the natural leaders of the Leave movement are the likes of Tommy Robinson.

In the face of immense pressure from the right wing of the Labour Party and the pro-corbyn-refugeesAARemain establishment media, Jeremy Corbyn has steered a difficult path to keep on board those Labour members and voters who voted in either direction. He has sought to prioritise discussions of housing and homelessness, foodbanks, poverty, education cuts, trade union rights, the need for greater public ownership, and the threat from the growing far right in Britain and across Europe. Corbyn has been assiduously maintaining close connections with socialists in Europe, and pushing for an early General Election here as the means for social transformation.

I was a reluctant Remain voter, who, like others, saw what the EU did to Greece. I have witnessed the far-right and right-wing populist forces getting stronger across Europe and fear that the next European Elections will strengthen the most reactionary, authoritarian and racist forces within the EU. I also fear the potential for the far right to become much bigger here. This is not at all the time to split our forces on the question of racism and fascism, so I appeal to Another Europe is Possible to join a united effort to stop Batten and Robinson’s street movement in its tracks.

Whether there can be any coordination on the day with the forces around Antifa including the Feminist Anti-Fascist bloc and Plan C, who held a successful, separate mobilisation against the Democratic Football Lads Alliance, remains to be seen but they will surely turn out in numbers and won’t allow themselves to be divided on questions of Leave/Remain.

4906429_origOn 7 December, it will be the 80th anniversary of the return of the British Battalion that fought against Franco’s fascists in Spain. They docked at Newhaven, then came by train to Victoria Station where they were welcomed by huge numbers of anti-fascists and and were greeted by prominent political personalities including Clement Atlee. 1657923_orig

They then went by bus to a dinner at the Cooperative Society in London’s East End, where the fight against fascism in Britain had been at its sharpest through the 1930s. Let’s honour the memory of those who fought in Spain with a united mobilisation against racism and fascism on 9 December. And let’s turn the popular slogan in the Spanish Civil War, “No Pasaran”, into a reality on the streets of London!

 

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Sadness and rage: Auschwitz 2018

IMG_7378We placed chairs in a circle and waited to see who would come. Half an hour earlier our group of 60 anti-racists and trade unionists had returned from a day visiting Auschwitz and the remnants of the vast expanse of crumbling barracks, cut through by a railway line, that had been the death camp of Birkenau.

This was my third consecutive year on the organising team of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) for this visit. We usually encourage people to share their reflections on our return to the hotel, but that is voluntary. Some prefer to be alone immediately afterwards. Others just want to lie down in their rooms, and let the experience wash over them. This year the circle was full, and we had to add more chairs.

I wrote some prompts on a sheet: What surprised you? What made this different from reading books about the Holocaust? What emotions did you feel? What will you take back into your normal life…?

The participants began to unpick and analyse the shattering experience they had just been through. Two main emotions predominated: deep sadness but also rage and anger that the world could let such a thing happen. That people in power had failed to heed credible reports of what was unfolding, or intervene by bombing railway lines to the camps or the gas chambers, even though they had aerial photographs of them.

Our group included people with strong personal ties to this history. One participant’s mother and grandmother arrived together in 1944 in a crammed cattle truck. As they disembarked, her mother, Esther, just 16, was advised by another transportee to lie about her age. She said she was 18 and was put in a line for slave labourers. Esther’s mother could not hide her age, and probably looked even older than her 44 years, having endured starvation in the Lodz Ghetto. She was placed in the line for immediate extermination.

Esther survived, just. She was transported to a slave labour camp in Germany. As the war was ending, the Nazis force-marched the remaining slaves to the notorious Bergen-Belsen camp. There, Esther contracted typhus and shared a bunk with three other young women in a similar condition. She slept right through the day of liberation and then awoke next to three corpses.

The traumatised father of another group member was in a British army unit that helped liberate Belsen. The only Jewish member of his unit, he witnessed the piled up corpses and was tasked with guarding the captured SS men who remained at the camp.

The connections were not only with the victims. Another group member of had grown up very close to her Austrian relatives who were unrepentant Nazis.

The nearest major city to Auschwitz is Krakow – the base for our visit. Only a small proportion of Krakow’s pre-war Jewish population of 68,000 (26% of Krakow’s residents) were sent to Auschwitz. Most were deported to Belzec, 190 miles away.  The Nazis tried to to hide the reality of extermination from the local population, but they did not hide their brutal policies of separation, discrimination, and ghettoisation of the Jewish residents of various cities under occupation. Some Catholic Poles benefited materially from the Nazis’ antisemitic policies in the short term, though they too would ultimately suffer huge losses. The walls of one block in Auschwitz 1 camp – converted into a museum – are lined with photos of mainly non-Jewish Polish political prisoners who perished there.IMG_4108

In several cities Jews had formed an even larger proportion of the population than Krakow, such as the textile town, Lodz, and the capital, Warsaw. In both, Jews comprised a third of the pre-war population. Warsaw had been a cosmopolitan, multicultural city, and Yiddish was one of eight main languages you could hear on the streets. Not so today. Poland’s menacing far right groups try to induce paranoia about migrants, refugees and “Muslim invaders”, among the white, mainly Catholic, Poles who make up 96% of the national population.

Auschwitz attracts thousands of visitors every day, both educational groups and tourist day-trippers. In our reflections we discussed the merits of short visits. Some questioned the motives of day-trippers –horror as entertainment – or thought their experience could only be superficial, but others felt that even such superficial exposure would have a significant impact on them.

What makes UAF’s trip outstanding, though, is the painstaking attempt to provide crucial context in the 36 hours before we visit Auschwitz, and follow-up sessions to deepen reflection on the experience and focus on Europe’s growing far right today, not least in Poland.

I gave the opening talk – on Jewish life, death and resistance in Poland – tracing moments in the 1,000-year history of Jews in Poland, but focusing most on antisemitic policies and the growth of far right movements in the 1920s and ‘30s, and the resistance both before and during the Nazi occupation. I highlighted the courageous role of Bundists (Jewish Socialist) resisters and described the incredible bravery of the few hundred fighters aged 13-40 who led the three-week Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943.

The next day, Mary Brodbin led the group on a walk around the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, where synagogues hundreds of years old survive intact. The Nazis did not bomb Krakow because they planned to turn it into a German city. Mary took us over the river to the walled ghetto where the Nazis forced Krakow’ Jews to resettle. Fragments of the ghetto wall – shaped by the Nazis to mimic Jewish gravestones – survive to this day. IMG_4077We saw the poignant artistic monument created at the Umschlagplatz (where Jews were assembled for deportation) of 70 large wooden chairs across this square, each one symbolising 1,000 pre-war Krakow Jews, who died in death camps, in the Krakow ghetto, or at the nearby slave labour camp. The walk ended at a museum on the site of Oskar Schindler’s factory, telling the detailed story of how the Nazis subjugated and separated Krakow’s population and ghettoised the Jews before deporting them for extermination. That evening, a further talk by Donny Gluckstein, dissected the economics and politics of 1930s Europe, to analyse how the Holocaust could have been possible.

The most harrowing material evidence of mass murder is displayed at Auschwitz 1, but it is in the bleakness of Birkenau that the sheer scale of the industrial slaughter hits home. Beyond the railway line is a monument with the same inscription on stones in more than 20 languages, representing the nations from which Jews were transferred. We gathered by the stone inscribed in Yiddish, the language of most deportees, and collectively sang the Hymn of the Partisans written by Hirsh Glik who was murdered aged 22 years old. It ends with the words, “Mir zaynen do!” – We are here!

Our post-Auschwitz reflection session was followed the next morning by Lorna Brunstein, telling her mother’s life story. Esther Brunstein survived Auschwitz and Belsen but died in 2017. Lorna showed film clips of her mother re-living her traumas to educate young people about her experiences, through Anti-Nazi League events, school visits and TV interviews. Our final session in the early evening brought the past into the present. UAF’s Co-Convener, Weyman Bennett, was joined by Robert Ferguson, whose Jewish Hungarian mother survived the war but lost several relatives in 1944 at the hands of the Nazis assisted by Hungarian authorities. Together they illustrated the continuities in the way antisemitic ideology is weaponised, and the newer forces organising particularly around Islamophobia.

During that day news was filtering through from Warsaw about the planned nationalist march to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Polish independence, sponsored by the ruling PiS (Law and Justice) Party, a populist right wing party that has itself inflamed Islamophobic, antisemitic, anti-Roma and anti-refugee sentiments while also opposing gay rights and women’s rights.

In recent years, Independence Day marches have attracted a growing far right presence. Many municipalities are controlled though, by Civic Platform, a liberal-conservative opposition formation. Warsaw’s Mayor sought to ban far-right bodies and neo-Nazi-banners. This was overturned by the High Court. The PiS – the principal partner of Britain’s Conservative Party in its European Parliament group – then negotiated with the far-right’s representatives over their presence on the march. Government officials led the march and were separated by ranks of military police from the far-right groups including the National Radical Camp – who have revived the name of a virulently antisemitic organisation of the late 1930s – and All-Polish Youth, who combine ultra-nationalism especially with homophobia.

Contingents from the Italian Forza Nueva marched alongside them, as did Generation Identity activists from Britain, and a group wearing hi-vis jackets sporting the slogan “Free Tommy”. Young Polish soldiers were pictured marching close to the Polish Far Right contingents, as more than 200,000 people took to the streets. But the spirit of anti-45862146_2154956614569013_320453179311390720_ofascist resistance was also present in Warsaw as progressives held an alternative march and anti-fascist rave. This march was led by two banners in Yiddish and Polish held side by side, translating to “For your and our freedom”. This slogan was first used in a Polish rising against the Tsarist Empire in 1831, then revived in the Spanish Civil War by the Botwin Company of the Dombrowski Battalion, and later by Bundists in the Warsaw Ghetto resistance.

We came back from our visit determined to share the knowledge we had gained, and play a greater role in actively opposing racists and fascists, starting with the national unity march against racism and fascism in London today. Our discussions affirmed that we need to operate on an international level and also broaden the ways in which we challenge the far-right, recognising they don’t rely purely on street activity but are recruiting many adherents through online platforms. During the visit we formed a WhatsApp group to share reflections. On the day we departed, one participant who came with her son, messaged: “Thank you so much for an unforgettable experience… so well organised. Hope that Saturday is so big that we won’t bump into any of you.”

This article was also published in the Morning Star 17th November

It is not only on racism that the far right are mobilising

My speech at the first plenary session of yesterday’s international conference at Friends House, London: “How do we defeat the rise of fascism and racism?” 

Here is a quote:

“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; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world. They are not generous but vengeful, and always attack the heart.”

It sounds like classic 1930s Hitler antisemitism.

It is from an election campaign in March this year in Hungary. That was Victor Orban whose party Fidesz won the election, talking about Georg Soros a Hungarian Jew, successful businessman and supporter of human rights, especially pro-refugee campaigns. When Orban won the election Boris Johnson sent a gushing tweet of congratulation.

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Poland, 2018

The same antisemitic anti-Soros themes are spreading in Poland, country where last November 60,000 ultra nationalists took to the streets with slogans calling for a “jew Free Poland” alongside those saying “Pray for Islamic holocaust”.

Our government meanwhile has very good relations with the governments of Poland and Hungary. The Tory’s main partner in their European Parliament group is the ultra nationalist Polish Law and Justice party.

When the European Parliament recently passed a motion against Hungary over several issues including antisemitism – Europe’s main far right parties supported Hungary. As did Tory MEPs and their newest recruits to the Tory-led group – the far right Swedish Democrats

In February this year Theresa May’s former close advisor Nick Timothy wrote a column in the Telegraph accusing Soros of leading a plot to stop Brexit.

More recently, Donald Trump claimed that protesters against his dubious Supreme Court nominee were paid by Soros.

For far right groups, antisemitism is still the glue that holds their economic world view together. It’s becoming more brazen. Our solidarity between Jews and Muslims facing racism, often from the same sources, and with Jews and Muslims, must be total.

People in Britain today agonise about our future relationship with Europe. The far right meanwhile just get on with it, building links, visiting each other, sharing ideas. We need to catch up. In Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Roma prejudice and anti-refugee sentiment all ride in tandem. So do other forms of bigotry – especially homophobia and misogyny. Each of these countries has a big attack on women’s rights and they promote defence of the “Christian family”.

Orban in Hungary has recently been moving to close down Gender Studies in

macaristanda-halkin-ofke-gunu,DvdKdHYmgUSUp217l_XFLA

Anti-orban protesters, Budapest

universities. These forms of bigotry are being used just as surely to garner working class support as racism and anti-refugee themes.

The far right grows in times of economic crisis but in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic there is no crisis. Something more deeply ideological is happening and we need some new thinking.

In each of these countries union membership is very low, and also some unions support their right wing governments. We are fortunate here that union membership is higher and closely aligned to a Labour party led by the left.

The unions and the Labour Party must both be part of broadening and deepening of our movement here against racism and fascism, because they are organised in every part of the country. Whatever stunts the far right pull in big city centres, their real goal is to build a base in local areas. That’s where we need to build.

Last week we saw only a segment of the far right – DFLA. In June we saw the more frightening alliance that is forming.

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Gerard Batten speking up for Tommy Robinson

Remnants of small hard-core Nazi groups, large groups of Islamophobic football thugs, some Polish fascists and UKIP. UKIP’s Gerard Batten makes speeches indistinguishable from the BNP. There were also sharply-dressed young men from the American Alt-Right and the European based Generation Identity movement – educated middle class fascists. Far right politicians from Euro from Holland and Belgium were there too. They had hi-tech equipment – flash screens, powerful PA systems – all bankrolled by the American white supremacist Steve Bannon.

I want to finish with a comment about the Jewish community and antisemitism. We know antisemitism is growing, that it cannot be fought on its own but is part of the fight against all racism, and it’s the left that has that understanding and that capacity.

But those who self-define as leaders of the Jewish community, egged on by the right wing press, have taken increasingly anti-left positions. They look at antisemitism through the prism of Israel and Palestine, but Netanyahu’s government is best mates with Donald Trump and the antisemitic and Islamophobic regimes in central and eastern Europe.

In the 1930s the Board of Deputies told Jews to stay indoors when Mosley was invading the East End in the 1930s. Thankfully people ignored them, and joined with non-Jewish allies in standing up against antisemitism and fascism. We need to ignore those voices now, and concentrate on building alliances on the ground with ordinary Jewish people and grassroots Jewish groups in fighting our common enemies and in building an anti-racist and anti-fascist majority in society.

No Pasaran!

The conference was organised by Stand Up To racism

Staying close to our friends?

While the mainstream newspapers have tried to fill every space in the last few weeks with false and ever more ridiculous allegations against Jeremy Corbyn, and claims that he is an existential threat to Jews(!) , there is another story about racism that can’t help but push its way back into the crevices between some of those headlines, one that they can’t put a lid on because it is based on shocking truths, and it is about people who have faced, and continue to face a real existential threat.

A few days ago we read that 18 members of the Windrush generation will be receiving formal letters of apology from Home Secretary Sajid Javid for being “removed” (deported), “detained” (in the appalling network of detention centres that have a high suicide rate), or stopped (humiliated) at the border after returning from a visit abroad. Most of these 18 cases occurred under Theresa May’s racist hostile environment.

Read a little further beneath the headlines and you find these are merely the 18 clearest cases out of 164 that have been identified and are being seriously investigated at present. There are many more potential cases arising from complaints yet to be properly investigated.

The deep racism of Theresa May’s deliberately hostile environment is of course completely of a piece with the growing number of blatant cases of Islamophobia emerging from the Tory Party. But Boris Johnson’s hateful burqa remarks were only news because of who said it; many statements of this sort and worse have been said by  ordinary members of the Tory Party, including several candidates who were suspended just before the May local council elections. Yet every call for an investigation into Islamophobia in the Tory Party, whether from large Muslim organisations, lists of imams, or prominent Muslim personalities within the party, such as Baroness Warsi, has been swiftly rejected. May and her gang know they can get away with it. There is hardly going to be a daily media storm about it from the overwhelmingly pro-Tory press.

Marie-Boris-2-300x300

Marie Van der Zyl and friend

When pressure was building up around this earlier this year, I tweeted Marie Van Der Zyl, who had just been elected (by its members, not the wider community) as the new President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, asking if she will be adding the BoD’s name to those organisations demanding such an investigation. No reply. No action. That in itself was a very clear message.

I was thinking about this especially this week, as now that Van der Zyl has fully settled into the her post, she felt confident enough to give an interview to the i24 Israeli news channel, and was asked some searching questions about British political parties. Apart from saying the most disgraceful, slanderous things about Jeremy Corbyn (without resorting to any hard evidence), she answered one question by saying: “The Tories have always shown themselves to be friends to the Jewish community”. (My emphasis)

It was an outstanding display of either utter ignorance or historical amnesia. After all, was it not the same Tory Party who passed the Aliens Act to keep Jews out of Britain when they were fleeing pogroms and persecution in Tsarist Russia? The same Tories whose harsh immigration and refugee policies stopped many German and Austrian refugees from Nazism getting sanctuary in the 1930s, and deported those who did not have the papers to prove their entitlement, with the same ugly determination as shown toward the Windrush victims? The same Tory Party whose backbenchers’ contribution to a debate about violence between fascists and anti-fascists in the 1930s was to say: “is it not a fact that 90% of those accused of attacking fascists rejoice in fine old British names such s Ziff, Kerstein and Minsky?”

Could it be the same Tories whose former Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, complained when Mrs Thatcher elevated three Jews to her Cabinet, that there were more old Estonians than old Etonians? The same Tory Party where an aspiring Jewish member, and later Home Secretary, called Michael Howard (original family name Hecht), had to traipse around 40 local Tory branches up and down the country, before he could find a branch (Folkestone and Hythe), that did not object to being represented in parliament by a Jew?

Was it the same Tory Party, whose members were giggling along with the Daily Mail’s BRITAIN-POLITICS-VOTE-ODD-CAMERONantisemitic jibes about Ed Miliband’s clumsy incident with a bacon roll, an incident referenced in the run-up to the 2015 General Election with a posed photo of David Cameron eating a hot-dog with a knife and fork?  Or, indeed, to bring things right up to date, could it be the same Tories who remain very closely allied through the European Conservatives and Reformists Group to the antisemitic and Islamophobic Law and Justice Party in Poland, and the Fatherland and Freedom Party in Latvia who enthusiastically support an annual parade to commemorate the Latvian Waffen SS members who lost their lives fighting for Hitler in world War 2?

Extraordinary. But also very disturbing. Many Jews I grew up knowing, and not just political contacts, had a hard-wired sense of affinity with other minority ethnic groups in this country, interested in their experiences and their wellbeing, and expressing their solidarity by a disproportionate Jewish involvement in anti-racist campaigning, and also in professional work as inner-city teachers, social workers, and immigration lawyers. The idea that the President of the Board of Deputies, who holds a pivotal place in the eyes of key political and media movers and shakers (even if we know their claims to “represent Jews” are extremely dubious), can state such a thing about the Tory Party and the Jewish community without any qualification regarding the treatment they dish out to other minorities, and to view this apparent friendliness, while others are clearly being treated so badly, as so unquestionably a good thing, is quite chilling.

At what stage did our “official” representatives become so insular, so unfeeling, and so forgetful? Has Conservative support for Israel (with everything that Israel has become under Netanyahu, and the seriously unpleasant political friendships it has consolidated with populist right-wing leaders in central and eastern Europe and in America), so powerfully trumped the affiliated Jewish community’s longstanding historical and psychological links of empathy with other minority communities? If so, that is not only very sad, but they truly are on a dangerous path.

A counterweight, though, is growing, especially among layers of younger Jews, who are finding ways to fight for social justice and support refugees and homeless people. Perhaps it is time for the more liberal, less insular Jews to really step up our practical work with other minorities and other struggling communities against the real threats, not the phantom threats, that ought to unite us in Brtiain today, and in a wider world where the likes of Trump, Orban and Netanyahu are making the running.

 

Speech: at Arise Festival workshop on uniting against racism and fascism 28.7.18

Last November I helped to lead an educational visit to Krakow for 50 anti-racists and trade unionists, through Unite Against Fascism, which included a day at Auschwitz. We were trying to understand what happened in Europe in the 1930s and ’40s to bring that awareness into the present.

Just days before we landed, 60,000 ultra nationalists had a riotous Independence Day rts1jhv4-e1510599172201march through Warsaw. Marchers on this day have largely been right wing conservatives but more recently the fascist presence has grown substantially. Last November fascist groups were the most active mobilisers, with flags, banners, flares, chanting slogans. One banner said “Pray for Islamic Holocaust”.  Groups were chanting “Jew-free Poland”. The fascists welcomed  overseas visitors including Tommy Robinson.

A taste of things to come here, in Britain, where fascist groups have risen then fallen, beaten back by strong anti-fascists resistance, aided by the incompetence of the fascists groups themselves. For several years now they have mustered little more than a few hundred on the streets, but last month that changed.

5b1c05fbdda4c8915e8b457915,000 marched and rioted through central London in support of Tommy Robinson, vastly outnumbering less than 300 anti-fascists. Remnants of every small deeply ideological Nazi group from the last 30 years were there, joined by large groups of Islamophobic football thugs,  Polish fascists and UKIP. UKIP’s temporary leader Gerard Batten makes speeches indistinguishable from the BNP – weaving together crude Islamophobia, anti-refugee sentiment with more subtle antisemitism.

They had hi-tech equipment – flash screens, powerful PA systems. Among the bonehead thugs were sharply-dressed, educated young men from the European-based Generation Identity movement and the American Alt-Right who were bankrolling it. Far right politicians were there from Holland and Belgium and a speech from American white supremacist Steve Bannon conveyed on screen.

A real step change – a new, threatening coming together of the far right in bigger numbers than anything we faced in the NF marches in the 1970s.

What has changed to help bring this about? The election of Donald Trump and the ascendancy of populist far-right movements and parties in several central and East European countries. Events in Britain are ripples from that wider international movement plus austerity and neglect.

Such movements normally arise during an economic crisis, although in Hungary, Czech Republic, and Poland there is no economic crisis; quite the opposite. Those movements have considerable working class support. There is something more deeply ideological happening. Islamophobia, antisemitism, anti-Roma racism are rife. So are homophobia, attacks on women’s rights, and defence of the Christian family. Fascists are increasingly versatile. They can switching their main targets, or attack several targets at once. We have to be just as versatile in the forces we bring in and unite together

We need to improve our our analysis and rethink our strategies.

Back in the 1980s I worked in the East End with Revd Ken Leech an Anglo-Catholic priest on the Marxist/anarchist spectrum and a great anti-racist activist. He wrote:

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Ken Leech

“The battle against racism and fascism cannot be won by outsiders who march into an area, chant slogans, and then march out again; it can only be won by the most dedicated, rooted and persistent commitment to undermine and destroy the injustice and neglect on which such movements thrive.”

Which is where Labour comes in. Only Labour is organised in every locality, can change people’s lives around, and combat injustice and neglect. It is not enough to moralise and say racism is evil. We need to embed the fight against racism in our struggles for better housing, health, employment, education for all. We also need to mix politics and culture. The most successful anti-fascist initiatives of the 1970s and ’80s mixed politics with culture.

We were taken by surprise in June partly because of another situation that emerged in April/May this year around the scandalously treated Windrush generation, victims of Theresa May’s deliberately hostile environment. They had also been neglected by the anti-racist movement who took more notice of the frequent attacks on Muslim communities. We have to be sensitive to how each group experiences racism but always keep the big picture in mind. Alongside Islamophobia, deep racism against communities of Caribbean heritage continues.

As we organised with, and in support of the Windrush generation, we found enormous sympathy across society. Minorities instinctively support each other but suddenly it felt like the majority were on our side.

So the opposite movement around Tommy Robinson was a serious reality check.

Another reality check for anti-racists: problems we thought had disappeared but haven’t: I became active in the mid-1970s, animated by slogans such as “black and white unite and fight”, “self-defence is no offence”, “here to stay here to fight”, but one slogan bothered me then: “Yesterday the Jews today the Blacks’, because I instinctively knew then what I am much surer about today– that antisemitism is a very light sleeper. Every so often it awakes with a real jolt. The idea of world Jewish conspiracy that explains the economic system and politics remains crucial to the ideology of fascist groups today.

All the ridiculous mainstream media headlines about antisemitism try bizarrely to pin it on the left and Jeremy Corbyn. Make no mistake, antisemitism is alive and kicking – on the far right of politics. The far right have flooded the internet with Jewish conspiracy material (some of it thinly disguised as opposition to bankers, some of it thinly disguised as pro-Palestine). Unfortunately some on the left are sharing it. We cannot allow any space for antisemitism, we cannot allow antisemites to taint the Palestinians’ cause

When the Tories goad Corbyn about antisemitism in the Labour Party and paint themselves as friends of the Jews, we need to hit back hard and show how the Tory Party is directly linked through the Conservative and Reformists groups in the European Parliament to openly antisemitic, Islamophobic, anti-Roma, anti-refugee , homophobic parties in Poland, Latvia, Bulgaria, Denmark and others.

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Jacob Rees Mogg at a TBG dinner

We need to expose Tory-led groups here like the Traditional Britain Group – thoroughly racist, friendly to Holocaust deniers, and recommending Mosley’s books.

I want to finish where I started – with the group of anti-racists and trade unionists visiting Poland. In those few days we uncovered the processes through which the situation of minorities worsened until anything could be done to them: labelling, scapegoating, discriminating, dehumanising, isolating… and so on. We can recognise aspects of these in our society today against different minorities.

But these stages are not inevitable. They can be challenged and interrupted. In the 1930s many people enthusiastically joined the oppressors, others just went along with it –  as by-standers. Too few resisted. Don’t be a by-stander, be an up-stander!

 

Stand down Margaret

Not content with calling Jeremy Corbyn a “fucking antisemite and racist”, and treating herself as the victim when the Labour Party threatened to act on a third party complaint about her use of outrageous and abusive language against a fellow Labour MP whom she has known for several decades, and is the leader of the Labour Party, Margaret Hodge has had the chutzpah to compare her fight against Corbyn’s alleged antisemitism with her fight in her Barking constituency against the British National Party (BNP). She has cynically drawn on her family’s direct experience of the Holocaust to bolster her special right to pronounce on the subject.Strategic Framework for English Tourism launch

The usual suspects who regularly target their venom at Corbyn instead of the Tory Party, (and happen, coincidentally, to be members of Labour Friends of Israel), Ruth Smeeth, Luciana Berger, Jess Philips, Chuka Umunna and others, have all lined up to defend Hodge’s comments and have praised to the hilt her proclaimed brave and courageous fight against the BNP.

Let’s unpick this a little. In 2006, the BNP certainly pulled off a political surprise in the council elections when they won 12 seats in Barking and Dagenham, where the local MPs were Jon Cruddas and Margaret Hodge. Labour paid the price of taking votes for granted and not doing the work on the ground to counter the narratives of the BNP. The BNP replaced Labour councillors and former Labour voters provided most of the new voting strength of the BNP. Nine out of those twelve new councillors were in the brave and courageous and effective anti-racist, Margaret Hodge’s constituency. It was certainly a failure of that Labour council but equally her failure. Maybe even more her personal failure. The singer and writer, Billy Bragg, who grew up in Barking, and still has family there, pointed out that she didn’t even have an office in the constituency until after those 12 BNP councillors were elected. She had effectively made a deal with the local Labour councillors that they look after the constituency and she will concentrate on her role at Westminster.

But it gets worse the more you dig. In the run-up to the elections of 2006 Hodge claimed that eight out of ten white working class people were thinking of voting BNP. For the BNP activists this was manna from heaven. Those who were leaning towards the BNP’s policies but couldn’t necessarily see the point in voting, as Labour always got in, were suddenly very motivated to vote. Small wonder that the BNP sent Margaret Hodge a bunch of flowers to thank her.

A year later, what do we find this brave and courageous anti-racist doing? She is busy advocating a housing policy which explicitly talks of privileging “the legitimate sense of entitlement felt by indigenous families” over the “legitimate needs demonstrated by new migrants.” Not exactly the words of an anti-racist champion who is entitled to casually throw accusations of racism at others.

She was widely accused, not least by the Refugee Council and several other anti-racist bodies, of legitimising the BNP’s arguments, competing with the BNP on the territory they were establishing by absolutely conceding to their arguments. Not surprisingly the BNP’s then-leader, Nick Griffin, saw Margaret Hodge’s seat as vulnerable to a far right challenge at the next General Election. It is just a tad embarrassing and tasteless even that a politician who wields her family’s Holocaust history as a weapon to give her license to say what she likes in arguments with fellow Labour MPs, was being criticised then by leading refugee bodies for bolstering the racism of a party whose roots were in classical Nazism.

Britain Refugee MarchWhat was Jeremy Corbyn in the same period? The same as he has always done – taking on the racists and fascists within his own and other constituencies, in tireless door to door work, on public platforms and on the streets, supporting grassroots anti-racist and anti-fascist activists and always advocating principled arguments that gave no ground at all to racism, and helping to make Islington a borough that was proud to welcome refugees.

Hodge’s close pals on the right wing of the Labour Party talk of her “crushing the BNP in Barking”. Thankfully the fascists were defeated, but Hodge was part of the problem not the solution. It was the round the clock efforts of local left-wing Labour activists, trade unionists, and local and national anti-racist and anti-fascist organisations who were responsible for seeing off the BNP councillors and Nick Griffin’s parliamentary challenge in 2010.

IMG_5737.jpgIt was an extraordinary effort. In every council seat the total number of voters went up, but the BNP vote went down. I did the easy bit with my fellow trade unionists – we put anti-racist and anti-fascist literature through the letter boxes of every home in Barking and Dagenham. Billy Bragg, though, returned to Barking and spent a month knocking on doors to have the face-to-face arguments with first time BNP voters, and to try to convince them to see things from a different perspective. We did a bit of joint personal work. I interviewed Bragg for the West Ham football fanzine. it was published about six  weeks before the election. We discussed football and his feelings about the area he grew up in and its current social and economic problems, knowing that the cross section of people buying that fanzine would have included a significant number of first time BNP voters. He gave sophisticated arguments for them not to vote BNP, without talking down to the voters or dismissing their sense of disenfranchisement and neglect.

In this, and in his work on the doorstep I am sure Billy Bragg was much more effective than Hodge who had simply ended up boosting the BNP’s arguments in a typically unprincipled right-wing Blairite attempt at triangulation.

Billy Bragg who, like Corbyn, has impeccable anti-racist credentials, has also commented in recent days on the controversy around the IHRA definition of antisemitism. He is very supportive of those who have raised perfectly legitimate criticisms of it and in particular has praised and promoted the arguments of the Jewish academic Brian Klug, who in turn argued that what Corbyn and the NEC have done is a significant attempt at improving the IHRA document and making it fit to challenge antisemitism and protect free speech and comment about Israel, Palestine and Zionism. If Hodge was consistent she would have a go at Billy Bragg, but she sees Corbyn as a more suitable target because this is not really about antisemitism but is a battle to defeat the left of the Labour Party and defend Israel from criticism.

5300If Hodge and her sisters in struggle, Smeeth and Berger, were not craven opportunists and selective anti-racists and defenders of human rights, they might have been speaking out more, or even at all, about the disgusting and openly racist Nation-State bill that the Israeli  government has just approved while Netanyahu was simultaneously hosting a visit from the Hungarian PM Victor Orban – a political leader who is pushing antisemitic, anti-Roma and Islamophobic themes at every opportunity.

You have chosen a side Margaret. It is the wrong one. As The Beat sang about another Margaret, “Stand Down Margaret, Stand Down Please!”

 

Anti-fascists must face the present with honesty and imagination

“There were those who said: ‘Bash the fascists wherever you see them’. Others among us asked ourselves: How was Mosley able to recruit Stepney workers? This, in spite of our propaganda exposing the fascists. If they saw in the fascists the answer to their problems, why? What were the problems? Did we, in our propaganda, offer a solution? Was propaganda itself sufficient? Was there more that ought to be done?”

“The battle against racism and fascism cannot be won by outsiders who march into an area, chant slogans, and then march out again; it can only be won by the most dedicated, rooted and persistent commitment to undermine and destroy the injustice and neglect on which such movements thrive.”

Two very honest quotes from different moments of the 20th century encounter with fascism which still ought to speak to us today, just after thousands of jubilant far-right supporters of Tommy Robinson, including the  Democratic Football Lads’ Alliance (DFLA) marched and rampaged around London with only a tiny number of anti-racists bravely opposing them.

The first quote was written in the 1940s by a Jewish communist, Phil Piratin, about the 1930s, when the threat came from Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. The second was a comment  by Ken Leech, a very left-wing Anglo-Catholic priest. He was writing in 1980 about events just two years earlier, when the National Front were successfully recruiting from all classes of the population and terrorising local immigrant communities. I was privileged to work professionally with Ken in the East End in the late 1980s.

In both the 1930s and the 1970s, though, anti-fascists were ultimately successful in creating energetic, creative and courageous mass movements to push back the fascists. Both eras had their iconic moments: the Battle of Cable Street 1936, the Battle of Brick Lane 1978, whose significance cannot be under-estimated, but neither should they be over-estimated.

There is a difference between a battle and a war. The war against fascism in both those decades was not won on a single day with one huge mobilisation, but through a variety of means, by developing grassroots alliances, using a diverse range of tactics, and also through making mistakes, discussing and reflecting on them and building more sophisticated responses.

The victory at Cable Street was cemented by the solid day to day work over the following three years, by the Stepney Tenants Defence League, a very imaginative housing campaign established by anti-fascists who understood the need to connect the fight against antisemitism with the fight for better living conditions for all.  The Communist Party, in which Phil Piratin played a prominent role, was at the heart of London’s anti-fascist movement. It had 550 members in the East End but had a strategy for spreading its influence by addressing the concerns and immediate needs of all working class people.  The Stepney Tenants Defence League (STDL) was led by Communist and Labour activists and had 11,000 members by 1939, many of whom had taken part in successful rent strikes in that period after Cable Street. In one famous case the STDL saved two working class fascist families from eviction after they fell behind with their rent. After being helped they tore up their membership cards of Mosley’s fascist party. The STDL leafleted many estates about this victory as a demonstration of what united working class communities could achieve.

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Rent strike, Langdale Mansions, East End 1939

The battles that were won in Brick Lane in 1978  owed much to day to day local self-organisation by young people in the community most under attack, who were supported by trade unionists, left wingers, radical church people (like Ken Leech) but also by a national movement, the Anti-Nazi League, which won the endorsement and active participation of people well beyond a small far-left bubble. And this movement was intimately tied to a brilliant and energetic cultural initiative, Rock Against Racism, which brought large swathes of young people of all backgrounds into contact with anti-racist politics, and gave those people the space to shape that initiative.

Many were shocked by the events of last weekend in central London. I felt frustration and paralysis more than shock. The writing has been on the wall for a while, but the organisations that have been doing most to warn us what we will soon be facing, showed us both their strengths and their weaknesses.

A variety of circumstances prevented me from being there. A fall two days before, which left me nursing very painful ribs, meant I was in no fit state to attend a demo that was bound to be physically demanding. I absolutely admire the courage of those who went and stood their ground, while being so overwhelmingly outnumbered.

In the immediate aftermath, the highest estimate I heard for our side was 400; the highest for theirs, 30,000. More reliable estimates I have obtained since place the DFLA numbers at 12-15,000, but put our side’s numbers as little more than 200. And even if they were 400, this could only be a token, symbolic response. And their side, unlike ours, has serious money and organisation backing their foot-soldiers, most likely from both the American and European Far Right/identitarian forces they are clearly working closely with.

To their credit, the largely overlapping bodies Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) have been trying to explain to a wider audience, over the last year, the serious danger presented by the Football Lads Alliance (and its larger splinter – the DFLA). At first , many dismissed the FLA as a flash in the pan outburst from a motley collection of thugs. But UAF/SUTR, have kept a close eye on developments in continental Europe,  noting how quickly the street movement Pegida  mushroomed and then gave birth to Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD). They also noted how a new generation of fascists are cooperating and strengthening each other between eastern and western Europe.

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Panel at West Mids TUC/SUTR conference 2nd June 2018

Both UAF and SUTR and have tried to generate greater awareness and support. I have been part of this – speaking at local and national meetings and mobilisations called under their umbrella, most recently an excellent discussion event in Birmingham on 2 June co-organised with West Mids TUC. I have played a significant part in their very worthwhile educational initiatives to take anti-racists and trade union activists to Auschwitz, and will continue to do so, but in the face of the forces we are confronted with, there needs to be a serious and honest reckoning with reality. This applies not just to UAF and SUTR,  but to everyone who is committed to understanding the conditions and range of factors that are feeding the growth of the far right in order to take effective action to challenge them. Street confrontations matter, but they can only succeed if we can draw people from beyond the existing pool of active anti-racists and anti-fascists. That also means seeking to persuade and win over those who are being attracted by simple, hate-filled, inhuman explanations for the deepening problems and inequalities that confront them every day.

It is quite a few years since any counter-demonstrations by anti-fascists have numbered more than a few hundred.  With a very fractured far right who could frequently fail to reach three figures themselves that was sufficient. But not now. SUTR and UAF have organised considerably larger numbers at rallies called on their own terms, but have  often counted feet rather than heads in the attendance claimed. Inflating the size of our demonstrations for PR reasons does us no favours. And as we are discovering now, when we urgently need real numbers, it is a political liability. These inflated claims may raise the profile of our organisations but they don’t give us an accurate picture of where we are or what we can do next.

No one can doubt their efforts to mobilise in strength, but turning out numbers consistently and at short notice is very difficult. It is very simple to blame those sections of the broader left movement that weren’t there, call for numbers and for “unity” and claim we would have swept our opponents off the streets if only….  I’ve heard it all week on Facebook. It is harder to ask ourselves to account more objectively for why other forces weren’t there when they were needed – like last weekend. But if we don’t ask that question with honesty and listen to people’s genuine answers, then we are all in trouble.

The day after the far right march last Saturday, I went to Poland for a short visit, a country where the conventional right wing is lurching further rightwards, and becoming more authoritarian; where far right forces who openly express antisemitism, Islamophobia and anti-Roma racism, are growing in confidence, and maintain contact with our far right, . Our conversation with Polish leftists, who are numerically weak, showed us that that they understood the variety of reasons why large numbers of working-class Poles were voting for the right and some supporting the out and out fascists. They also understood that challenging and undermining the right does not mean responding to every provocation but it does mean doing patient grassroots work on their own terms to generate real gains for working people and offer alternative perspectives.

When I spoke at the Birmingham SUTR/West Mids TUC conference, one participant asked me to comment on the relative success of German anti-fascists who had mobilised 72,000 people recently. I responded that the German anti-fasicst movement has always been more diverse politically and in its tactics. I also pointed out that the largest portion of the 72,000 were mobilised through an initiative that mixed music with politics

Which  brings me back to those quotes at the beginning. We can’t only be reactive, and go chasing round the country at great speed and in ever decreasing numbers to where the DFLA or other far right forces are marching, at the expense of doing work in our own communities – that “dedicated, rooted and persistent work” that Ken Leech talked about.

We have to find ways to intervene that address the reasons why struggling working class people are getting drawn to groups like the DFLA and offer them potential ways of changing those circumstances. That is done best through local campaigns. It may sound heretical but what the DFLA/other pro-Tommy Robinson forces get up to in central London may be less significant than what they attempt to do in local communities. We also need to continually highlight their international connections and make our own international anti-fascist connections

img_1427One of the great successes of the Anti-Nazi League when it was launched in 1977, was winning the endorsement of figures in sport, music and film who were influential in the lives of many young people. I would urge my comrades in UAF and SUTR to use their resources and experience and collaborate in building a bigger and broader national umbrella for national anti-racist and anti-fascist activity. But it is our ability to do patient work in our localities, that continually links and embeds the fight against racism and fascism with the fight for better lives for all – at work, in schools, in housing, in health – that will be decisive. Time is running out.

 

 

 

Enough is Enough: What would Mandela have said?

A towering clay figure stands in the North Western corner of Parliament Square – Nelson Mandela – whose statue was unveiled in 2007. I was there when it was unveiled, feeling a personal as well as political connection. The Anti-Apartheid Movement was the first political organisation I joined. Many years later, as a primary school teacher, I taught an 8-year-old boy called Levi, who was immensely proud of his grandfather, Ian Walters, who made the statue. Levi brought in a framed photo of the unveiling to show off to his classmates.

Nelson-Mandela-statue-in-Parliament-square-by-Prioryman-on-Wikimedia-CommonsMandela, 89 at the time of the unveiling, was typically modest. He said: “The history of the struggle in South Africa is rich with the stories of heroes and heroines… All of them deserve to be remembered. We thank the British people once again for their relentless efforts in supporting us during the dark years.”

It was a very generous comment.  Although the Anti-Apartheid movement won enormous support from the British public – hundreds of thousands took part in protest marches and rallies, and millions boycotted South African goods – among the mainstream political parties, only Labour and the Liberals emerge with credit. The Tories, under successive leaders, and especially Thatcher, argued forcefully against sanctions on this brutal racist regime, which murdered children protesting on the streets. Her husband, like many other leading Tories, had investments in South Africa.  In that final decade before the fall of apartheid, while those Tories were busy guarding their investments, and a section of the Young Tories were producing posters and t-shirts saying “Hang Nelson Mandela”, many Labour politicians were present in the front ranks of demonstration activity, especially the newly elected member for Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn, who was arrested for his efforts.

Britain was also home to exiled South Africans, who continued to contribute to the struggle politically from Britain, such as the Jewish ANC activist Ben Turok, born to to Russian Bundists (anti-Zionist Jewish socialists) in South Africa in 1927. Turok stood with Mandela, Oliver Tambo and others in the Treason Trial from 1956-60. He later served three years in Pretoria Prison, on at least one occasion alongside Mandela. When I interviewed him in 1986, he told me that although he felt very attached to Yiddish culture (he showed me a poem in Yiddish his mother sent him when he was imprisoned with Mandela), he and  other Jewish activists felt compelled to choose between the Jewish community and the liberation struggle.

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Ben Turok

Politically, the Jewish community was closely policed by the South African Board of Deputies. In a literal sense. While the main government-supporting Afrikaans press were producing classic antisemitic cartoons about Jewish financiers, Turok told me that the Board of Deputies were busy informing on Jewish anti-apartheid activists to the SA authorities, handing over personal details.

Turok had a private meeting with Gus Seron, leader of the SA Board of Deputies, encouraging the Board to at least give some indication of support for democratic and anti-racist positions: “We wanted the Jewish Board to give some recognition to the fact that the Black people of South Africa had legitimate aspirations. We were not asking them to get guns and fight. We were asking them to make some gesture of recognition. They refused to do that.”

Our own Board of Deputies are little better. Their appalling record in the 1930s, when they seemed to spend more time criticising Jewish anti-fascists than combating Oswald Mosley’s hooligans, and famously advised Jews to stay indoors and pull down the shutters rather than confront the fascists at the Battle of Cable street, is well known. Thankfully the Jewish public ignored them then. Grassroots activists explained the reason why: they regarded the Board as the old establishment and thoroughly unrepresentative.

Always a socially conservative force in the Jewish community, they continue today to be led and dominated by supporters of the Tory Party that defended apartheid South Africa. They still pursue a relentless anti-left agenda, and frequently identify internationalist left movements as antisemites. Mandela’s statue must have thought he was in an “Alice in Wonderland” world as he stared down at the current Board of Deputies president, Jonathan Arkush, addressing a crowd of several hundred Jews who welcomed into their ranks that evening non-Jewish guests, such as DUP luminaries, Nigel Dodds, Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley jr, the veteran far right Tory Norman Tebbit who famously talked of a “cricket test” for immigrants to show how patriotically British they were, and Zac Goldsmith who ran the most appallingly Islamophobic campaign for Mayor against Sadiq Khan in 2016. In the name of anti-racism, and especially the fight against antisemitism, Arkush was ranting against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose record on anti-racism and on support for human rights, among the current crop of parliamentarians, is second to none.

Anti-racism is not a pick and choose activity. And nor is support for human rights. Jeremy Corbyn knows that. Arkush, however, has never criticised the terrible human rights record of the Israeli Government towards the Palestinians. He is a firm supporter of the most right-wing, racist and pro-settler government Israel has ever had. The Board of Deputies, and their co-sponsors of Monday’s demonstration, the self-proclaimed Jewish Leadership Council, had not a word of criticism for Zac Goldsmith’s dog-whistle mayoral campaign.

Antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of racism rise in tandem, as we have seen in Donald Trump’s America, and are seeing today in central and eastern Europe, where far right forces are growing in strength and entering government. Most  commentators would have little difficulty in making the connection between government policies in these countries and the very congenial atmosphere that they have engendered for racists, white supremacists and fascists.  Just this week it was reported that here in Britain, there was a 28% increase in referrals to the Government’s Prevent programme of young people influenced by far right ideology. This is happening on the watch of Prime Minister Theresa May. Jewish bodies report a significant increase in antisemitic abuse and attacks in 2017. Where the perpetrators and their moitives have been identified, most of these incidents are connected with far right ideology. Again on the watch of Theresa May. And yet, bizarrely, Jewish leaders are trying to damn Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, the very party responsible for practically every piece of anti-discrimination law in Britain, laws which were first put in place while many Tories were investing in apartheid South Africa and condemning anti-apartheid activists as communists and extremists.

If the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, and their bigoted DUP friends, want to belatedly take a stand against all racism, they might want to look instead at the groups attached to the Conservative party who are developing ever closer relations with the Alt-Right and Identitarian Movement, and who are promoting white supremacism, opposition to multiculturalism, and state-assisted repatriation of immigrants to their “natural homelands”, such as the Traditional Britain Group (TBG). This group was founded by Tory Party member Gregory Lauder Frost (currently its Vice-President), and presided over by Tory peer Lord Sudeley.

In the 1990s Lauder Frost happily shared a platform with Holocaust revisionists and deniers such as David Irving and Ernst Zundel. He has described the Nuremberg trials as a “farce”, and said he was opposed to Britain declaring war on Nazi Germany. Much more recently he was taped by an undercover reporter calling Stephen Lawrence’s mother, Baroness Lawrence, a “nigger”, and radio presenter Vanessa Feltz, a “fat Jewish slag”.  Of Nelson’s Mandela’s continent, Lauder Frost says: “we owe Africa nothing. it owes us… for lifting it out of barbarism.”

Tory MP Jacob Rees Mogg gave a talk to the Traditional Britain Group in 2011 and

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Jacob Rees Mogg and Gregory Lauder Frost at a meeting of the Traditional Britain Group

chatted amiably with Lauder Frost who was sitting next to him at the event. In 2013 the TBG gave a platform to key figures from the Alt-right/White supremacist movement internationally such as Richard Spencer from America, and also to Alex Kurtagic, a far right identitarian. Last year TBG welcomed Dr Thomas Hubner from the extreme right Austrian Freedom Party which has now entered a coalition government there, and Bruno Gollnisch an MEP of the French National Front

The TBG is determined to educate its members in its ideology. Its “recommended reading” on its website includes My Life, the autobiography of Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, Revolt against the Modern World, by Julius Evola who is regarded as an inspirational philosophical thinker by many fascists, Heredity and Humanity, the work of the “race scientist” Roger Pearson, a retired British anthropologist, and fierce defender of “Aryan” racial superiority, who has maintained ties to numerous neo-Nazi groups and individuals. And, to bring us back to southern Africa, the TBG also encourages you to sample The Great Betrayal, by Ian Smith about the apartheid country he governed, then called Rhodesia.

The Traditional Britain Group, led by Tory members,  have called for the  removal of one monument from Parliament Square – the statue of the great anti-racist fighter and leader Nelson Mandela. Why am I not surprised?

 

Shout-out to Warsaw anti-racists

My speech Whitehall at the March Against Racism, London 17th March 2018, as part of the UN Day Against Racism

Greetings to anti-racist London and a special shout-out to our comrades marching in

speaking at March v Racism 2018

David Rosenberg speaking. Photo: Julia Bard

Warsaw today. Next month is the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising when 220 Jewish fighters, the youngest just 13 years old, resisted the armed might of Nazi occupiers for three weeks.

But any commemorations in Poland this year are overshadowed by the current Polish government’s disgraceful attempt to rewrite Holocaust history and deny any Polish involvement. These actions give more confidence to Poland’s ultra nationalists and neo-Nazis, who don’t need any encouragement.

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Protesters on the march from the Polish organisation KOD

When the Polish Far right held a 60,000 strong march through Warsaw Last November, they shouted for a “Jew-free Poland”. Their banners said “Pray for Islamic Holocaust”. In Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, racists are targeting Muslims, Roma and Refugees as well as Jews.

The last surviving leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Marek Edelman, said: “to be a Jew means always being with the oppressed never with the oppressors”. The Jewish Socialists Group completely agree. Wherever people face oppression, live under violent occupation, suffer racial, sexual or homophobic discrimination and violence, their struggle is our struggle. As Jews, we stand unconditionally with our sisters and brothers in Muslim, Roma and Refugee communities.

In early May, there is another anniversary that is very meaningful for us. The 40th anniversary of the racist murder of Altab Ali, a young Bengali immigrant clothing worker in the East End, who lived and worked in the same streets where our families lived in the 1930s, when they were fighting poverty and Mosley’s fascists.

Altab Ali was stabbed to death in 1978, as he walked home from work. Killed by three teenagers whose minds had been poisoned by racism. Those teenagers werealtabalimetpoliceappeal not born racists. They learnt it from National Front propagandists, from mainstream newspaper editors who constantly wrote anti-immigrant, anti-refugee headlines, from police who ignored racial violence, and from overnments who treated immigrants as a problem, as an irritant, to be controlled or removed.

And those teenagers bought into the idea of nationalism, that spuriously divides people, that thinks majorities are superior and should have more rights than minorities, that offers the poor and exploited “White pride” Instead of jobs, houses, and social services.

As anti-racists we fight for a true multiculturalism that supports our languages, our identities our cultures, but also unites all our communities against poverty and exploitation. Nationalism can never be our friend. Nationalism can never be the answer.

A reckoning with the past and present: Auschwitz 2017

tracksI’m feeling physically drained but mentally uplifted and energised having just returned today from the 2017 Unite Against Fascism visit to Auschwitz/Krakow. It was an immensely powerful, life-affirming experience that provided a chastening reckoning with the past and a confrontation with racism and fascism in the present. Just a few days before our visit 60,000 ultra nationalist Poles, with neo-Nazi groups and their special visitors from abroad in the forefront, had marched and rallied in Warsaw.

We were based in Kraków, where, before the Holocaust, 26% of the city’s population were Jews, and where synagogues and other buildings in the Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz remain intact and a community is gradually and successfully renewing itself (the same is happening in more than a dozen other Polish cities).

We were a cross-generational, multicultural group of 48 anti-racists and trade unionists, from those in their teens to those in their mid-70s; from Caribbean, African, Asian, Scottish, Brazilian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Muslim, Christian, and other backgrounds. Among the Jewish participants were children, grandchildren and relatives of both Holocaust victims and survivors.

The richness of the casual, friendly conversations across these backgrounds and affiliations, and in responses to the organised educational programme of talks, discussions and walks, is impossible to convey. Just to say that many hugs, tears but also moments of laughter were shared every day of the trip.

barracksOn the third day, we visited Auschwitz 1 camp – whose solid brick buildings have been turned into an excellent but horrifying museum – and then the much bigger expanse that was Birkenau, where gruesome ‘selections’ were made every time trainloads of deportees arrived. Most were selected for imminent death in the gas chambers located within this complex, while a minority were selected for work within the camp, and others temporarily housed in the indescribable conditions of the camp barracks before being transported to slave Labour camps in Poland and Germany.

This was my third visit – my second as one of the group ‘leaders’ – and each time I learn much that is new to me. This time I was able to gain new information and insights about the lives of those selected for slave labour, and reflect on their circumstances. Between the longstanding slavery of Africans and their descendants in the Caribbean which ended in the 19th century, and the story of contemporary slavery currently keeping around 30 million people globally in bondage (despite every country declaring it illegal), there is the slave-labour story principally but not exclusively of Jews during the Nazi period, which remains to be examined and told in more depth – with the potential to be linked more closely to both historical and contemporary examples in our understanding and campaigning today.

At every stage in the trip the past was living in the present as we talked of modern daybirkenau processes of stereotyping, labeling, discrimination, exclusion, and dehumanisation of various communities – and also resistance then and now.  We recognised some of the key continuities too, such as with antisemitism. It was refreshing to hear participants from a range of ethnic/cultural backgrounds perceive and condemn the current growth in antisemitic conspiracy and Holocaust denial propaganda and say how dangerous it is.  It was even more refreshing to see that those activists calling it out felt no need to qualify their condemnation of antisemitism with statements about the separate issue of Israel/Palestine.

IMG_0243Equally welcome was the recognition of the role of culture in resistance to the Nazis in the 1940s. Many participants remarked how moved they were, in Auschwitz Birkenau, when we stopped by a stone plaque in Yiddish that was part of a monument and members of the Jewish Socialists’ Group sang “Zog nisht keynmol” – the Yiddish hymn of the partisan resistance fighters – whose first and last verse ends with the defiant words of struggle: “Mir zaynen do” – “We are here”.