The anti-antisemitism that actually promotes Jew-hating

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Siobhain McDonagh

The right wing Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh recently castigated the “hard left” for their strident opposition to capitalism. She told Radio 4 presenter, John Humphrys that “anti-capitalist politics are at the root of antisemitism.” Humphrys is no friend of the Left, but was taken aback. He asked her whether she believed that “to be anti-capitalist you have to be antisemitic.” Astonishingly, she replied, ”Yes”.

It was an appalling slur by a Labour politician on everyone who is consciously fighting poverty, austerity, homelessness, and zero hours contracts in capitalist Britain, to label them antisemitic, but it also revealed the ignorant and harmful stereotypes that are actually shared by right-wingers about Jews, even those that think of themselves as pro-Jewish. McDonagh thinks all Jews are rich capitalists.

More traditional right-wingers go further. They portray Jews as money-obsessed individuals who not only flaunt their wealth but use it to control the media and governments. But in the planet’s largest capitalist empire, it was an avaricious Episcopalian Christian capitalist who moulded these ideas into a Jewish conspiracy theory in the 1920s. Henry Ford, founder of a global car-industry, spread this poison through his widely read publication, Dearborn Independent. He blamed the First World War on an international plot by Jewish bankers and heavily promoted the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a document forged by the secret police in Tsarist Russia in which Jewish financiers and revolutionaries allegedly plot world domination.

Ford’s chief admirer in Europe, Adolf Hitler, denounced left-wing political enemies as “Judeo-Bolsheviks”. His Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels declared that “Yiddish is the secret language of Bolshevism.”

McDonagh could defend her comments though, by citing Jews who themselves identify the Jewish community in general with capitalism, property and banking, and cast the left as anti-capitalist antisemites.

Richard Mather, who writes for several Jewish and Israeli publications, argued in the Jerusalem Post (June 2017) that: “the British Labour Party’s call for the seizure of property,” was “part and parcel of the antisemitic class warfare politics …increasingly prevalent in England.”

The chief perpetrator, though, is former Daily Express leader writer, Stephen Pollard,

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Stephen Pollard, who at least demolishes the stereotype of the “cerebral Jewish intellectual”

editor of the Jewish Chronicle since 2008.

Last September, Jeremy Corbyn released a video with a tweet: “Ten years ago today the financial crash began. The people who caused it now call me a threat. They’re right. Labour is a threat to a damaging and failed system rigged for the few.”

Pollard tweeted in response: “I keep thinking it can’t be, surely it can’t be. But the more I think about It, the more it seems it really is. This is ‘nudge, nudge, you know who I’m talking about don’t you?’ And yes I do. It’s appalling”

I tweeted “Stephen Pollard and Jeremy Corbyn. One of them seems to think all bankers are Jews. Clue: it is not Jeremy Corbyn.”

Two weeks later the Jewish Chronicle published an article with the extraordinary title: “The thought of Jeremy Corbyn as PM has Jewish investors running for the hills”. It was written by Alex Brummer, a frequent contributor to the Daily Mail. The Mail supported Mosley and Hitler in the 1930s, and, in 2013 expressed its own “nudge, nudge” antisemitism by excoriating Labour leader Ed Miliband’s dead father, as an unpatriotic east European refugee from the Nazis insufficiently grateful to Britain for giving him sanctuary.

In my 61 years I’ve never met a Jewish banker. I’ve met unemployed Jews, Jewish decorators, post-office workers, van drivers, taxi drivers, shopworkers, social workers, secretaries, teachers, pharmacists, and several comedians. One Jewish comedian Arnold Brown, from an impoverished Glasgow family, remembered school pupils who sneered at him and told him all Jews have loads of money. He said “I went home and started lifting up the floorboards.”

More seriously, the stereotype of Jews, money, and financial control are crucial to the far-right, who flood the internet with world Jewish conspiracy theories, as they try to divert anger among those who suffer the brutal injustices of capitalism, not against the capitalist class as a whole, but against individual Jewish representatives of that system, whether Rothschild, Goldman Sachs, or George Soros. From populist right wing regimes in Poland and Hungary through to Donald Trump, the Hungarian Jew George Soros has been accused of using his money to support migrants and refugees and finance anti-government demonstrations.

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Bundist rally on International Workers’ Day, Warsaw 1933

When McDonagh, Mather and Pollard repeat stereotypes of Jews as capitalists, they not only feed these conspiracy theories, but also erase an outstanding tradition of Jewish anti-capitalism. People know the famous Jewish revolutionaries, like Marx, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemberg, Emma Goldman, but it was in mass Jewish workers’ movements such as the Bund, and among the Jews so numerous in socialist and communist parties over the last 120 years, that anti-capitalism was ingrained. In 1902, a Russian Jewish bookbinder, Semyon Ansky, wrote a Yiddish song to honour the Bund’s struggles for social justice. The movement adopted it as its anthem. One powerful verse translates as:

“We swear to the heavens a bloody hatred against those who murder and rob the working class. The Tsar, the rulers, the capitalists – we swear that they will all be devastated and destroyed. An oath, an oath, of life and death.”

Today, I will march and speak for the Jewish Socialists’ Group on the national demonstration in London against racism and fascism. We will protest against all racism including the antisemitism that has resurfaced menacingly, especially in central and eastern Europe, but also, as last September’s Pittsburgh synagogue massacre demonstrated, in Trump’s America.

At street level, far right organisations concentrate physical attacks more frequently on Muslims, Roma, migrants and refugees, but when they want to explain to their supporters who they believe holds power in the world they fall back on Jewish conspiracy theories as surely today as they did in the 1930s. The fight against antisemitism, Islamophobia and anti-migrant propaganda are absolutely linked and we must combat them together.

This article was published in the Morning Star 16th March 2019

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Now, who has got a problem with discrimination?

Yesterday, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, a body created by the Labour Party, when in government, announced that it is following up dossiers of complaints about antisemitism in the Labour Party submitted by the self-styled “Campaign Against Antisemitism” (CAA) and the Labour Party affiliate, the Jewish Labour Movement, and may launch a formal investigation to see if Labour has discriminated against people because of their ethnicity and religious beliefs.

CAA sound plausible by their name. Let’s hope the EHRC carries out due diligence on them though before going any further. To get a flavour of what CAA are about, EHRC may wish to investigate CAA’s petition launched last August which started life as “Jeremy Corbyn is an antisemite and must go”. They were compelled to change it to “…antisemite and the Labour Party must act.” They also edited the original text supporting their  original petition which contained the libelous claim that Corbyn had been “seeking out and giving his backing to Holocaust deniers” since he became Party Leader.

CAASNevertheless the petition attracted a large number of signatures including many from Israel and America. Signatories were also invited to leave comments. I would strongly recommend that the EHRC ask the CAA for a full list of the comments that were originally published on the petition and were left there by the CAA for several days before they were forced to remove them, after people protested and complained to the Charity Commissioners.

Here is a small sample of some of the comments that were left there by this body that is accusing others of discrimination that I gathered in a short perusal of them:

“corbyn is a danger to the uk he hates the uk and white men he is skum”

“He is disgrace to the people actually born and bred in this country”

“We are an island and cannot take any more migrants, and he would welcome a million more”

“Corbyn is a communist and terrorist supporter, he is persecuting the Jews who are peaceful people unlike the immigrants he wants to flood the country with”

“This pond scum should not be allowed to be a public figure”

“This man is a treasonous snake who is of grave danger to our country”

“Jeremy is a cunt”

“Corbyn is a dirty nazi”

“It would not surprise me if he had Mein Kampf by the side of his bed.”

“This piece of terrorist loving anti-Semite scum is poison.”

“Let’s get this bastard!”

“I would prefer for someone to shoot him”

Given the racist abuse and death threats that the CAA accepted and tolerated on its petition until it was forced to remove the comments page , is the CAA the kind of organisation the EHRC really wants to cooperate with?

And is the Jewish Labour Movement, currently playing a game of brinkmanship with the Labour Party, over whether it might disaffiliate, proud of its association with CAA in this approach to the EHRC, given the kinds of views that CAA published on its petition?

From one hostile environment to another

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

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Lukov march 16 February 2019

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

 

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Violeta Yakova memorial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Angela Smith at the launch

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Far right footprints?

IMG_8048My anti-fascist antennae were twitching today. Before heading back to London from a few days break in Stow in the Wold, we took a short diversion to visit to Moreton in Marsh, a small market town at the head of the Evenlode valley, just a few miles a way.  We found a good parking spot on the High Street, opposite a pub – a 17th century coaching inn –  with a George cross flag: the Redesdale Arms.

Now that was a familiar name. “Family connection with Oswald Mosley. Lord Redesdale. Big-time antisemite!” I muttered to my partner.

034769_0b84a3dbWe didn’t go in there but took a little walk round the town. Many of the buildings on the High Street, were of similar age to the inn. As we returned to the car we stopped by a plaque on the side of a large impressive building that stood a paved area in the middle of the High Street. It was Redesdale Hall. The plaque helped me to piece together the connection. The building was put up by the 1st Baron Redesdale the Lord of the Manor in Moreton in Marsh, whose name was Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford.

In 1936, two days after the Battle of Cable Street, Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British220px-Diana_Mitford_Photo Union of Fascists, was in Berlin to get married for the second time. It was a small ceremony away from the attention of the press, in the House of the Goebbels family. Goebbels was chief Propaganda Officer for the Nazis at the time. Hitler was there as Guest of Honour. Mosley’s wife to be was Diana Guinness, who had previously been married to the aristocrat and brewing heir, Bryan Guinness. They divorced when after she started an affair with Oswald Mosley. Her maiden name though was Diana Mitford. she was one of the four Mitford sisters (Diana, Jessica, Unity, Nancy), and a first cousin, incidentally, of Clementine Churchill, Winston Churchill’s wife. Winston Churchill was one of a group of four political figures who were close friends spending many hours at clubs in the late 1920s and early 1930s discussing economics and politics. The other three were Harold Nicholson, John Maynard Keynes and Oswald Mosley.

After Diana’s divorce from Bryan Guinness in 1932, she moved into a flat in Belgravia round the corner to Oswald Mosley, but he was still married to his ailing first wife, Cynthia Curzon, daughter of Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India. Cynthia died in 1933, and Oswald wouldn’t leave her before then to live with his lover, Diana.

The first Baron Redesdale,  who paid for the Hall to be built in Moreton in Marsh was Diana’s grandfather. Her father, Algernon’s second son, David Freeman-Mitford, second Baron Redesdale, was the one I had remembered encountering in my researches for my book, Battle for the East End, published in 2011.

I’m glad I recognised the name today because it added other pieces to the jigsaw, as I looked up further information on Diana’s father. He was a hereditary member of the House of Lords, who attended the House conscientiously. Through the 1930s, both he and his wife Sydney, had developed a strong liking for fascism, and he became known more widely for his far right views and especially his open antisemitism.

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Lord Redesdale, 2nd Baron Redesdale

The 2nd Baron Redesdale was initially scornful of his daughter Diana’s enthusiasm for Hitler. As a British ultra-nationalist and xenophobe he was known to be dismissive of, and insulting about, both French and German people, describing them as “frogs” and “huns”. His wife Sydney, Diana’s mother, shared Diana’s enthusiasm for the Führer. After they all went to a Nuremburg rally in 1938 they were of one mind in their admiration for Hitler.

In the late 1930s, Lord Redesdale was a member of several far right bodies populated especially by the upper classes, such as the Link, the Anglo-German Fellowship and the Right Club. The latter had been formed by the Tory politician and antisemitic obsessive, Captain Archibald Ramsey, described by the Daily Worker as Britain’s “number one Jew-baiter”.

One more piece of the jigsaw. Oswald Mosley worked hard to build four large fascist branches in the East End. Two of the biggest were in Shoreditch and Bethnal Green, where a layer of the working class lapped up Mosley’s increasingly strong antisemitism. More than 30 years earlier, though, much of the groundwork had already been laid by a populist right-wing anti-immigrant body called the British Brothers’ League. Their number one target was Jewish immigration.

One of their key figures who spoke at their largest local rallies was Major William Evans-british-brothers-league-posterGordon, a former Army captain in India, who later served as a diplomat in the British Raj. In 1900 he became the Tory MP for Stepney, in London’s East End. Evans-Gordon was a powerful lobbyist for the Aliens Bill, Britain’s first modern immigration law, passed by Lord Balfour’s government in 1905. A year before that act was passed Evans-Gordon’s niece,  Sydney Bowles, married Lord Redesdale, 2nd Baron Redesdale.

Facing up to antisemitism – real, denied and invented

Paper presented at an international symposium on the “Resurgence of Antisemitism: Realities, Fictions and Uses”, Brussels 12/13 December 2018

I want to start with some personal biography. My grandparents came to Britain as Jewish child immigrants from Poland and Ukraine in the early 1900s. I grew up in an economically struggling Jewish family in inner London, that gradually became more comfortable.

My extended family were mostly Labour voters, plus some communist-supporting relatives. My family were traditional; not very religious, not actively Zionist. They had no family in Israel, but sympathised with Israel at a general level.,

I became involved in socialist politics and antifascist activism when I was around 16 years old. My first demonstration was against the National Front, a group formed in Britain in 1967 by convinced Nazis, who recruited a wider layer of supporters from all classes, by condemning black immigration and promoting British nationalism.

I went to that demonstration with several Jewish friends from a Zionist youth group. I had illusions then about Israel/Palestine that I discarded long ago. Perhaps only one or two of those  Jewish friends I attended the demonstration with, would define themselves as Zionist now. People can be persuaded to rethink by convincing arguments and evidence. Today though, many leftists are better at condemning and proclaiming than persuading.

I broke with Zionism as a result of my deepening involvement in anti-racist and anti-fascist politics, alongside a more serious engagement with the realities in Israel/Palestine.

Today, there is little involvement of left-wing or liberal Zionists within the anti-racist and anti-fascist movement in Britain. Debates around Zionism and antisemitism have become more toxic within the left. Many Jews claim that the left does not take antisemitism seriously, that it trivialises the existence of antisemitism; or dismisses it as a few cranks holding old prejudices. Many leftists insist it cannot be compared with the institutional racism that blacks, Muslims, migrant workers, and refugees suffer every day. There is some truth in all these assertions but we cannot generalise. Many left-wing Zionists are quick to label people antisemites who make genuine observations about the impacts of different kinds of racism.

brick-lane-black-white-unite-2In the 1970s I was inspired by slogans: “Black and white, unite and fight”, “self-defence is no offence”, and especially by: “here to stay – here to fight!”, which argued that the struggle was not only against discrimination, but it was also a positive assertion of the right of minorities to live as equals and develop their distinctive identities and cultures.

Another slogan from that time disturbed me: “Yesterday the Jews, today the blacks”. at street level, the National Front targeted Caribbean and Asian communities, but fascists do not replace targets: they accumulate them. Antisemitism still played a significant role for the fascists then and now. Two publications from that period explained this well: Racism, Fascism and the Politics of the National Front: a pamphlet, by David Edgar, a left wing playwright; and a book called Fascists: by Michael Billig, a social-psychologist, based on interviews with middle-rank National Front activists.

Edgar argued that although most fascists surface campaigning directed itself against non-white immigrants, the ideology shared by the movement’s inner-core said immigrants themselves were merely pawns of more powerful forces who promoted multiculturalism to undermine the white race. Who were these forces? The Jews. Billig’s book showed that the higher up the movement you moved, the more you were exposed to “world Jewish conspiracy” ideas of classic Nazi antisemitism.

the-43-groupMany people assume that, in Britain, you have to go back to the 1930s to find Jews in the front line at street level from fascists. You don’t. Just after the war, between 1946 and 1950 fascist groups re-emerged promoting antisemitism, but were beaten back by a physical anti-fascist campaign organised mainly by Jewish ex-army  servicemen and women called the 43 Group.

In the 1960s, thousands of anti-fascists broke up a rally where the platform had a banner across it saying “Free Britain from Jewish control”. In the early 1960s protests fringe far-right groups in Britain held banners proclaiming “Hitler was Right”. Those banners disappeared from view for nearly 50 years, as fascists began to use code-words to express antisemitism. But in the last few years similar banners have reappeared.

hitlerwas rightIn America, and especially in central and eastern Europe, antisemitism is still the glue that holds  neo-Nazis’ worldview together, that explains global economics and politics.

Racism against black and brown minorities in Britain has deep roots in Britain’s imperial and colonial past. Negative stereotypes of inferiority sustained themselves long after the Empire collapsed. They are still woven through institutions such as police, the criminal justice system and the education system.

Antisemitism has other deep roots in Britain society. Sometimes it has overlapped with more familiar anti-immigrant racism, but more often it stereotypes Jews not as inferior but as an intelligent, alien clique conspiring to undermine the nation

The mass immigration of Jews to Britain took place mainly between 1881 and 1905. In00aliensA2 1905, the Government passed the Aliens Act, which dramatically reduced Jewish immigration. The  Prime Minister who pushed it through was Lord Balfour, who, 12 years later, promised Palestine to the Jews. Balfour was responding to grassroots campaigning from organisations such as the British Brothers League, whose activists were from struggling working class communities bordering Jewish enclaves.

People whose work was precarious, and whose housing conditions were poor, were convinced by the League’s middle-class leaders, such as Major William Evans-Gordon, that all their problems were caused by immigrants. Some politicians and many newspapers described Jews as dirty, diseased, parasitic, culturally inferior, alien, as well as being criminals and anarchists.

Both Evans-Gordon and Balfour were personal friends of a young Zionist called Chaim Weizman, who later became the first President of Israel. Evans-Gordon and Balfour were Christian Zionists and imperialists in foreign policy but antisemites domestically.

The everyday racism Jews suffered at this time, though, was largely from white workers who saw them as rivals for scarce resources. It was very similar to the xenophobic prejudices later experienced by Caribbean and Asian immigrants,

Oswald MosleyA more ideologically articulated antisemitism emerged in the 1930s. The British Union of Fascists, formed by Sir Oswald Mosley in 1932, portrayed working class Jews as rivals for the indigenous working class, but focused more on alleged machinations of wealthier Jews. It portrayed them as immensely powerful, accused them of controlling the economy, the media, and the political system. From autumn 1934 Mosley made antisemitism the central plank of his fascist ideology, defining a battle between “the cleansing spirit of fascism” and Jews as “an unclean, alien influence in our national and imperial life”.

Mosley preferred Mussolini to Hitler, at first, but in early 1936 his movement became the British Union of Fascists and National Socialists, and embraced Hitlerite antisemitism. Street-corner speakers for the movement still cast Jews as criminals, bad landlords, and rivals for jobs and homes, but they also described Jews as “rats and vermin”, “subhumans”, a “pestilence”, or a “cancer” that had to be removed,

Antisemitism proved popular among sections of all classes in the population. The fascists had 500 branches around the country including 20 branches at  fee-paying schools for the wealthy. This helped to sustain an antisemitic mind-set among sections of the upper and upper-middle classes after World War 2, as they reached adulthood.

I sense that antisemitism in Britain is rising today together with other hatreds. That subjective perception is supported by the principal organisation collecting data on antisemitism – the Community Security Trust (CST) – a mainstream Jewish body that work closely with the police. They also work closely with the main institution claiming to represent the Jewish community – the Board of Deputies of British Jews – but are independent from it.

In political terms CST personnel comprise right-wing Labourites and mild Conservatives. They are pro-Zionist, and defensive about Israel, but not Netanyahu supporters. However, they are an increasingly reliable source of information on the kinds of incidents that occur and the profiles of the perpetrators. Mostly now, they differentiate between politically motivated abuse relating to Israel and Zionism and antisemitic abuse. They reject claims by Jews of antisemitic incidents which do not show a clear antisemitic intention. Their end of year report for 2017 recorded more than 1,300 incidents but left out several hundred more where anti-Jewish motives could not be proven.

Their facts indicate a significant, and gradually increasing level of attacks on Jewish individuals, sometimes on groups (such as schoolchildren), and on Jewish institutions such as  synagogues and cemeteries. A  typical attack involves verbal abuse, threatening behaviour and sometimes physical assault.  Victims of assaults are often ultra-orthodox Jews, attacked for how they dress. Muslim girls and women wearing the hijab face similar street harassment.

The language used in many attacks frequently references the Holocaust and Hitler. Jewish communal leaders claim that the principal threat to Jews in Britain comes from the Left, but where the CST can identify perpetrators, the majority are white far-right. However, increasing numbers of incidents are perpetrated by other minorities, who themselves experience racism. These perpetrators often utilise the same Hitler and Holocaust tropes.

The far right have flooded the internet with poisonous antisemitic ideas, alleging Jewishjacob-rothschild conspiracies by “Rothschild bankers”/”Rothschild Zionists”. These powerful conspiracy theories are entering mainstream and minority cultures.  Sometimes, they are unwittingly shared by Leftists who think they are sharing anti-capitalist or pro-Palestinian material. They are tainting both of these just struggles.

Jewish establishment responses to antisemitism and the far right, and to racism in general in Britain, have long been inadequate but have also undergone significant historical shifts.

Today the Board of Deputies seem to see antisemitism everywhere. Yet in the 1930 when working class Jews faced sustained abuse and assaults from organised fascists, the Board of Deputies and the principle Jewish establishment newspaper, the Jewish Chronicle, dismissed the fascist threat as exaggerated, and treated the perpetrators merely as “Hitler copy-cats”.

They refused to believe that antisemitism could flourish in a country they characterised as fair, decent and tolerant. When that movement terrorised Jewish communities and threatened to march through the Jewish working class heartland, the Deputies and the Jewish Chronicle advised Jews to stay indoors and avoid protest actions that might lead to disorder. The community completely ignored them and inflicted a peoples’ defeat on the fascists through mass street action, in October 1936 in what became known as the “Battle of Cable Street”. Soon after that, Jewish leaders began to argue that Jewish behaviour was provoking antisemitism.

In the 1970s and early 1980s when the National Front were mainly targeting blacks and Asians – though antisemitism had not disappeared –  Jewish “leaders” acknowledged the problems were principally caused by the far right, but they trusted the same state authorities who were frequently mistreating immigrant communities to deal with it.

IMG_2856When a mass and broad-based anti-fascist movement – the Anti-Nazi League – was created by leftists in 1978, the Jewish establishment tried to dissuade young Jews from joining it, claiming that some ANL leaders were known for anti-Zionist activism. I believe that the Jewish establishment was less worried about Israel than the prospect of young Jews associating with militant leftists.

The Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG) –a radical fringe group – openly challenged communal leaders  and helped recruit Jews to the Anti-Nazi League. A bigger confrontation with the Deputies came in the early 1980s. The JSG obtained and released information kept under wraps by the Board of Deputies about an increasing number of serious antisemitic incidents in London perpetrated by the far-right. Jewish leaders attempted to hide this from the community, because it might have alarmed the community or encouraged Jews to make common cause with other minorities. They preferred to deal with it privately in close cooperation with state authorities.

Contrast that with recent years where Britain’s Jewish leaders see antisemitism everywhere including where it is not present at all. This has coincided with their adopting a much more strident and explicit anti-left agenda, especially after Jeremy Corbyn, a pro-Palestinian radical socialist, became leader of the Labour Party. There is another paper at the conference on this so I won’t intrude on that, but just make a few observations.

The left, in its many organisations, have been the strongest and most militant fighters against racism and fascism in Britain, but they have not always recognised the continuing presence and significance of antisemitism.

Some elements of the left for whom Palestinian concerns are very important, who recognise that antisemitism provides the self-justification for Zionism, mistakenly believe that giving attention to antisemitism weakens their support for Palestinians. It doesn’t. Jewish communities are increasingly  polarising over Israel/Palestine and Zionism. Every reliable survey of Jewish community opinion in Britain shows a decline in self-identification with the term “Zionist” – down from more than 70% to 59% in the last decade. Increasing numbers of Jews speak out for Palestinian rights. Those numbers would be greater still if Jews felt that those speaking up for Palestine also consistently denounced antisemitism.

Jewish community leaders speak and act as if there is rampant antisemitism on the left. They cynically conflate opposition to Israeli policy, and critiquing of Zionism, with antisemitism. They promote the lie that Zionism is an intrinsic and eternal part of Jewish identity rather than it being one of several political ideologies that were vying for support among Jews at the end of the 19th century

There are two errors frequently made on the left that make it open to criticism from Zionists. Leftists often refer to Israel when mean the Israeli government or the Israeli

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Israeli anti-government protesters

military, or Israeli settlers. This homogenises Israeli Jews and erases the internal opposition. There are growing numbers of brave but harassed oppositionists within Israel – who are a mixture of anti-Zionists, non-Zionists, and left-wing Zionists. How they define themselves is less important than what they do. The left in Britain and elsewhere in Europe should recognise and broadcast what Israel’s internal opposition is doing.

The other error is to frequently make analogies between Israeli state practice and Nazism. This accusation seems more intended to wound rather than enlighten. It reveals a lack of historical understanding or empathy with Jews under Nazism. Racist discriminatory aspects of Israeli government policy are certainly similar to practices in the very early years of Nazism, but there are perhaps closer similarities with other racist, ultra-nationalist regimes, or with ethnic cleansers, for example, during the Yugoslav wars.

Why are we obsessed with making analogies? We can find all the arguments and evidence for promoting Palestinian justice in the practices of Israeli governments and institutions that are about dispossession, exclusion, discrimination and oppression. We don’t need to invoke Hitler.

Despite these errors, it is the left that consistently exposes and combats those who genuinely threaten the future well-being of minorities in Britain today. Leaders of the Jewish community highlight any perceived antisemitism on the Left even if the evidence is flimsy, yet they are silent on  regimes in central and Eastern Europe where antisemitism rides in tandem with Islamophobia, anti-Roma prejudice and other forms of bigotry,  where such regimes are friends with Benjamin Netanyahu.

We are entering a dangerous period with regard to the growth of the British far-right where the traditional alliance between the Left and the Jewish community has broken down. We urgently need to fix this.

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.

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 19.29.27

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

He didn’t get to first base

October 1934: The British Union of Fascists celebrated the launch of their first branch in London’s East End. Oswald Mosley, writing in The Blackshirt could barely contain his excitement:

Thursday October 4th… The Blackshirts marched in procession from Bow Branch premises … into Stepney Green, where a large crowd … had gathered which later increased to well over 1,500. The Blackshirts had a very noisy reception as the larger part of the audience were aliens who resented British people holding a meeting in what they considered to be their own territory… October 4th will go down in Blackshirt history as a memorable day

But October 4th became our memorable day. Two years later it fell on a Sunday. By then the British Union of Fascists (BUF) had four well organised branches in the East End, with Shoreditch, Bethnal Green and Limehouse augmenting its Bow branch. Together they formed a horseshoe around the 60,000 strong, beleaguered Jewish community of Whitechapel, which bore the brunt of sickening verbal abuse from BUF street orators and physical violence from those they incited. Half the BUF’s national membership was in those four East End branches.

Two major parliamentary debates on antisemitic terror in the East End took place in 1936.  MPs detailed the wave of attacks on their Jewish constituents, but the only response Home Secretary John Simon could muster was to call for “all sides” to behave reasonably. Pathetic, though perhaps better than the sniggering of Tory backbenchers in the House in 1934 after violence erupted at a 15,000-strong fascist rally at Olympia in June that year.

The rally audience included 150 MPs looking for political inspiration, while some Tory

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Captain Ramsey – Tory antisemite

House of Lords members turned up in black shirts. The violence at Olympia was one way. Eighty anti-fascists needed medical treatment, yet Tory MPs parroted the BUF line that anti-fascists had attacked Mosley’s thugs. William Greene, Conservative MP for Worcester asked in the House: “Is it not a fact that 90 per cent of those accused of attacking Fascists rejoice in fine old British names such as Ziff, Kerstein and Minsky?” Frederick MacQuisten, Conservative MP for Argyll enquired: “Were some of them called Feigenbaum, Goldstein and Rigotsky and other good old Highland names?” A fellow Tory MP, Captain Archibald Ramsey frequently railed against what he called the “Jewish imperium in Imperio (empire within an empire),” claiming that the correct term for “antisemite” was “Jew-wise”.

On October 4th 1936, Mosley planned to show that his movement could dominate any Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 07.56.47streets they wished. Beyond the Jewish enclave Mosley supporters set up four platforms where their triumphant leader would make successive speeches after his invasion. The following week Mosley was due in Berlin for his second marriage, this time in the home of Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, with Hitler an invited guest. Mosley relished the prospect of boasting to the Fuhrer how he had invaded fearful Jewish streets.

He didn’t get to first base. The anti-fascist majority of Eastenders turned up in force to repel the Blackshirts. They blockaded Gardiners Corner at Aldgate, built barricades in Cable Street and engaged in hand-to-hand combat at Tower Hill where Mosley’s troops assembled and police were more thinly deployed. The fascists had tried hard to mobilise Irish Catholics against the Jews, but on the day, dockers and railway workers came from the Irish end of Cable Street to assist Jews building barricades at their end.

The front ranks of those blockading Gardiners Corner endured savage beatings from the mounted police but held firm. In Cable Street, police eventually dislodged the first barricade (an overturned truck), and ran through to check it was safe for the fascists. They were halted at a second barricade where they endured resistance on the ground and an aerial barrage of kitchen implements and slops including the contents of chamber pots thrown by women in the flats above Cable Street’s shops. The police had to retreat.

People came from beyond the East End to support local anti-fascists. The Independent Labour Party published a pamphlet: 300,000 workers say no to Mosley. They and the Communist Party, could take most credit for the mobilisation, but the Labour League of Youth (at odds with Labour Party elders), and a local grassroots movement – the Jewish People’s Council against Fascism and Antisemitism (JPC) – played a huge part too.

It was the JPC that attracted nearly 100,000 signatures (Jews and non-Jews) that week on a petition demanding that the Home Secretary ban Mosley’s invasion. Local people’s desire to be free from fear was counterposed to Mosley’s “right” to invade an immigrant area, threaten, abuse and intimidate its population – in the name of his free speech and movement. The Tory government privileged Mosley’s rights, and sent 7,000 police, including every mounted policeman in London to uphold those “rights”. The JPC produced a further leaflet, addressed to “Citizens of London”, declaring “This march must not take place.” If the government refused to ban it then the people would, through force of numbers, which they did. Eighty four demonstrators were arrested, 79 of them anti-fascists, of whom 13 were women. Many were fined. Charlie Goodman and Jackie Shukman served custodial sentences, but then went to Spain to join the International Brigades fighting Franco’s forces after being released.

Facing overwhelming resistance, Mosley was eventually ordered by the police to turn round, march his troops in the opposite direction, and disperse. He condemned the Government for surrendering “to Red violence and Jewish corruption.” The Blackshirt newspaper said “Jewry had humiliated Britain for a few short hours.”  The BUF swore revenge, and promised to rid the country of the ”unclean influence of alien contamination.”

But they were not the only people who were humiliated that day. Leaders of mainstream political parties who told people to stay indoors and let the fascists pass, were shamed for their cowardice. Apart from the fascists, though, none suffered greater humiliation than the arrogant, right-wing “leaders” of the Jewish Community. From the relative comfort of the West End, the Board of Deputies sent messages to be read out in synagogues the day before the fascist invasion, instructing the East End’s working class Jews to stay off the streets.

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 08.27.07Their echo chamber, the Jewish Chronicle, published an “URGENT WARNING” advising Jews to “KEEP AWAY” from the Blackshirt march. Those who “become involved in any possible disorders”, it said, “will be actively helping anti-Semitism and Jew-baiting.” Middle-class leaders of Jewish youth clubs put on extra football matches that Sunday to divert Jewish youth from the counter-protest but the young people preferred to tackle fascists that day instead of each other. When the Board and the Jewish Chronicle finally roused themselves in the weeks following the people’s victory over the fascists, they directed most of their energy to attempting to undermine the Jewish People’s Council who had played such a crucial role in mobilising Jews and allying with non-Jews to defeat their opponents.

As recent political interventions have shown the “advice” offered to the Jewish community from its self-defined “leaders” has not improved in the decades since. The current Board of Deputies president, Marie Van der Zyl displayed either political ignorance or amnesia when she told an Israeli news channel recently that the Conservative Party have “always been friends of the Jewish community”. Meanwhile, anti-fascists must face up to the renewed threat to minorities, not just here, but elsewhere in Europe and America. We still have much to learn from those who united in resistance and built an anti-fascist majority in their communities in 1936.
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Who is stepping over a line?

Last night I was outraged by Margaret Hodge’s disgusting abuse of the Jewish experience in the Holocaust to shield her appalling behaviour over a political difference with labour leader jeremy Corbyn on how the Labour Party combats antisemitism.

Today I’ve been getting more and more wound up by her outrageous assertion in the same interview (or rather “platform” – because in an interview you might be challenged), that there is “a very thin line” between supporting Palestinian rights and antisemitism.

Margaret-Hodge-Jeremy-Corbyn-1004616She claimed that Jeremy Corbyn had crossed that line ( slandering him again as an antisemite, with the same lack of evidence but more self-control).

What an insult to the Palestinian people, living as refugees in exile or under occupation for so many decades, to believe that their assertion of their rights and their campaigning for human dignity might, at any moment, tip into antisemitism.

What a clear example of how the dubious IHRA examples will work in the Labour Party should they be accepted – any open campaigning for Palestinian human rights among Labour members will be forensically scrutinised, and have to continually prove that it wasn’t antisemitic. Guilty until proved innocent.

The only line connecting support for Palestinian rights and antisemitism should be a linewest-bankpalestinian-woman-israeli-soldiersrtr23635 of solidarity – for one, and against the other – as the fight against antisemitism and for Palestinian rights are actually part of the same fight… if you believe in equality.

But then again, I’m not convinced that advocates of Labour Friends of Israel such as Hodge and her backing vocalists Berger, Smeeth and Austin, and their transparent propaganda to defend the indefensible actions of the Israeli military under both Labour and Likud governments, have any conception of equal rights for Palestinians.

The Holocaust clearly features high in Margaret Hodge’s consciousness. It must do  because she keeps mentioning it in her political squabbles. I wonder, then, if she has heard of Marek Edelman, Jewish socialist, internationalist and anti-Zionist, second in command in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising?

He fought against fascist hooligans in Poland before the war, was incarcerated by the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, fought in the guerilla battles of the Uprising for three weeks, escaped through the sewers after the Nazis burnt the ghetto to the ground, and hid with non-Jewish Polish socialists in Warsaw until the end of the war.

He came out of hiding to fight alongside other ghetto survivors and with fellow socialist Poles in the ’44 Warsaw Uprising.

Staying in Poland after the war Edelman held fast to his principles of equality and internationalism and was a fighter for human rights not jsut for Jews but for all, for freedom and dignity for all peoples, until he died in 2009.

And he absolutely detested Zionism – what it did to the Palestinians and how it continued to oppress them. He made contact with Palestinian students in Poland, and through his professional life (as a cardiologist) with Mustapha Barghouti, a prominent Palestinian doctor and human rights activist in the Occupied Territories.

edlemanEdelman saw no distinction and no contradiction at all between fighting for peace with justice and full equality for Palestinians, and fighting to his last breath against any expression of antisemitism. He did both courageously to the best of his ability at every stage of his life.

His motto for Jews was “Always with the oppressed. Never with the oppressors”.

I wonder if Hodge would have dared to suggest to this Holocaust fighter and survivor that his support for Palestinians might at any moment cross “a very thin line” into antisemitism?