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.

SSredesdale

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.

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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.

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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

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?

Stephen Pollard’s crocodile tears about the threats to Jews

The Jewish Chronicle editor, STEPHEN POLLARD, portrays himself as a great defender of the Jewish community against all antisemitism. He has shown a sharp eye  for any antisemitism that he can try to link in some way to the Labour Party and its twice elected leader, Jeremy Corbyn. On Friday 27th July he was especially proud that three Jewish newspapers, of which his was the biggest partner (though with a significantly declining circulation), all published the same front page leader claiming that a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn would pose an “existential threat to Jewish life in this country” in their print and online editions. I presume that as the senior partner in this venture, these words are his.

How would it look if an example came to light of a member of the Jewish community who faced a real existential threat from neo-Nazis, and the actions of Stephen Pollard increased the danger to him and his family, rather than acting to protect them?
What if the evidence showed that he had been privately asked by that family to take one small action that would mitigate this threat, and he refused point blank to do so?


I know of such a case. It happened to our family. It was one of our sons who faced death threats from neo-Nazis. We did not go public at the time because we were worried that doing so would place our son at greater risk. In the light of Pollard’s claims about an ‘existential threat to Jews”, our son has decided to make this public in the last few days.

This is his testimony

“Back in 2011 the Jewish Chronicle ran a piece on me, which also included mention of my parents and their politics, and my childhood and education, none of which had any bearing whatsoever on the story. One of the consequences of them running this piece is that my parents and I were profiled by far right racists and fascists. Some fascists got hold of my parents’ address, and some details about all of us were shared on extreme far right forums like Stormfront. I received death threats, while my parents had to find ways to secure their home. In all cases these threats were explicitly linked to us being identified as Jewish, by far-right antisemites. At the time my parents and I wrote to the editor, Stephen Pollard, and requested, given these grave antisemitic threats, that the article be removed from the Jewish Chronicle website (it had already gone out in a print edition.) He refused and the article remained online.
So excuse me when I can’t quite believe my ears, when you protest there is an ‘existential threat’ to Jews. The one time in my life I was profiled and violently threatened by known antisemites because I was Jewish, you refused to help. It turns out safety should only be guaranteed to the ‘right’ sort of Jews, and only when it serves your political agenda.”

Commentary: It was the Jewish Chronicle‘s editorial decision to report this case in such a way that it gratuitously provided details of other family members and their left-wing political views.  It was the decision of the editor, Stephen Pollard to leave the report online, after it became apparent that neo-Nazis were using it to make threats and incite acts of violence against us. In an email dated 14th August 2011 we wrote to Stephen Pollard, copied to two members of the Board of the Jewish Chronicle (Richard Burton and Jennifer Lipman), which said “under the circumstances we would request that you urgently remove the article from your website”. On neo-Nazi websites they had published photos of our son with the crosshairs of a target superimposed on his face. We had also pointed out factual inaccuracies in the Chronicle‘s report. Pollard fixed these and wrote an email back to us on 15th August saying: “You do not point to any other inaccuracies in our piece and I see no reason to remove it.” Neither of the Board members copied in responded to us.

Just a few weeks before this incident, a Norwegian neo-Nazi, Anders Breivik had massacred 77 people, mostly children at a socialist summer camp, having been inspired by online hate material. Pollard’s argument for keeping the material there was that it was factually accurate. And yet by doing so once he was aware of the threats, he was increasing the danger to us.

As a left-wing Jewish family, we knew that we were definitely not at one with Pollard politically. In 2006 he had written that in the “battle to preserve western civilisation” , the “Left, in any recognisable form, is now the enemy” (https://archive.li/Vp7Sr). We were aware that in the late 1990s and early 2000s he was a leader writer for the Daily Express and wrote sometimes for the Daily Mail at a time when both newspapers were being heavily criticised by anti-racists for repeated scaremongering stories against immigrants and refugees. Nevertheless we were and still are very shocked that the editor of the leading community newspaper could have behaved like this in response to a clear case of a murderous antisemitic threat against a member of the Jewish community.

Our terrifying experience tells us that Stephen Pollard, despite publicly claiming to be in the front line today of the fight against antisemitism, will only act to defend certain Jews, and he is prepared to leave others endangered. There are very few possible answers to the question of why he acted in this way towards members of his own community, and none of them are very edifying.

I really haven’t got the words to describe this cynical and inhumane attitude and his behaviour over this case, but perhaps those people who read this testimony will treat his utterances now with the contempt they deserve.

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!

 

Chief labeller and libeller

When will the mainstream media stop treating Britain’s Chief Rabbi (Ephriam Mirvis) as a neutral political commentator in the argument about the Labour Party, antisemitism and the controversial IHRA document?

He nailed his political colours to the mast, and simultaneously displayed an appallingly narrow and selective attitude to anti-racism, back in May 2016, just before the London Mayoral election.

ShowImageThe story about that election for anyone concerned with racism was the disgraceful dog-whistle Islamophobic campaign run by the Tories for Zac Goldsmith against Sadiq Khan. It included repeated inferences about Khan’s alleged links to Islamic terrorists and extremists, and leaflets were distributed by Goldsmith’s campaign targeting Hindu voters warning of a plan by Khan to tax jewellery. Some mainstream commentators even compared it to the infamous  racist Tory campaign of the 1960s, scaremongering about “coloured neigbours”, that unexpectedly unseated Patrick Gordon Walker.

On the day before the mayoral vote, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis was handed space on the front page of the Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph. He penned an unbridled assault on Labour under Corbyn, attacking the left in general for opposition to Zionism and criticism of Israel. Mirvis made the fatuous claim that Zionism (a political ideology)  was an intrinsic part of Judaism, and managed to label and libel all opponents of Zionism as antisemites. Of the Tories’ racist innuendo against Sadiq Khan in the mayoral race, the Chief Rabbi uttered not one single word.

The Telegraph received a letter signed by more than 50 Jews (at very short notice) condemning the Chief Rabbi’s “party political intervention”, which was “selective in its anti-racism”. It accused him of adding to the “sensationalist allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party, where the headlines’ decibel level is in inverse proportion to the evidence to back them up”, and utterly condemned his silence both about “the disgusting dog-whistle campaign by Zac Goldsmith’s Tory team against a Labour candidate of Asian Muslim background” and recalled the “callous, racist and bigoted comments of Tory politicians, calling refugees ‘a swarm’ and ‘a bunch of migrants’”.

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Bundist slogan

It concluded with a pertinent piece of history, reminding the Chief Rabbi that, “The vast majority of Jews who perished in the Holocaust were indifferent to Zionism and many opposed it. In the last municipal elections in Europe’s largest Jewish community, in Poland, just before World War 2, Poland’s Jews voted overwhelmingly for the secular, anti-Zionist, socialists of the Bund, while Zionist parties got derisory votes.” (The religious parties’ vote also declined significantly from previous elections). The letter concluded by asking: “Is Rabbi Mirvis recasting those victims of the Holocaust posthumously as enemies of Judaism and therefore as antisemites?”

I don’t know if Chief Rabbi Mirvis ever read it. He never responded. The Telegraph refused to publish it, though the Guardian printed a version of the letter a few days later (signed by even more Jews – though no doubt the “wrong” kind of Jews).  The specious claim that opposition to Zionism was antisemitic, effectively libelled all Palestinians dispossessed by Zionism as antisemites, simply for seeking redress for their injustice. That point was made succinctly by the respected Palestinian academic Dr Kamel Hawwash. The Telegraph refused to print his letter too.

The current attack on the Labour Code of Conduct, made simultaneously today, by three Jewish newspapers makes the same fatuous claim that anti-Zionism is “political antisemitism”, that Rabbi Mirvis made two years ago. It was wrong then. It is still wrong today.

 

 

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!”