Tony Greenstein explains why Socialist Fight must be excluded from Labour Against the Witchhunt
This article first appeared in the Weekly Worker.
On December 2 a Labour Against the Witchhunt meeting was effectively ambushed by a small Trotskyist grouping, Socialist Fight. A series of close votes was taken, the result of which meant that the previous decision of the steering committee, that Socialist Fight should no longer participate in meetings of LAW, was overturned.
Stan Keable, the secretary of LAW, had written to inform SF that it was no longer welcome at our meetings, but despite this their comrades turned up. For various reasons – not least that most people were unaware of the full extent of the anti-Semitic positions of Socialist Fight – those present voted against the steering committee position.
It is now incumbent upon LAW to demonstrate clearly and unambiguously that it wants to have nothing to do with Socialist Fight. Not only because its positions are anti-Semitic, but because a campaign whose purpose is to reject the false anti-Semitism campaign of Iain McNicol, the compliance unit and the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement cannot retain any credibility if it includes a group whose positions are anti-Semitic.
I was not aware, at the time of the last meeting, that Ian Donovan – a ‘left’ supporter of the overtly anti-Semitic Gilad Atzmon – had penned an obnoxious and anti-Semitic article the day before, entitled ‘Third-camp Stalinoids bring witchhunt into Labour Against the Witchhunt’.
There is no future for Labour Against the Witchhunt if Socialist Fight and its members remain an integral part of the organisation. For that reason I believe that it is essential that the next meeting, on January 6 should overturn the previous decision. If my views do not prevail, then I will resign from the organisation – as I believe will Jackie Walker and Marc Wadsworth of Grassroots Black Left.
It may seem incongruous to have an anti-witchhunt group itself excluding people, but we have no choice. It is a fact that the Labour Party’s witchhunt primarily takes the form of the weaponisation of anti-Semitism – the smearing of people as anti-Semitic for no other reason than their support for the Palestinians and opposition to Zionism.
It therefore flows, as night follows day, that LAW cannot include in its ranks people who advocate politics which are anti-Semitic. To include Socialist Fight or its members within LAW, given their stated policies, would be to concede that the Zionist attack on the left as anti-Semitic has some substance. It would be political suicide.
It is extremely unfortunate that a socialist group believes that in the age of modern capitalism the Jewish question survives. It was primarily a question of the social and economic role in the feudal era of Jews as what Abram Leon termed a “people-class”. It only survived politically in the capitalist era as a result of the memory of that role, combined with the delayed and arrested development of capitalism in eastern Europe.
It is noticeable that even today in countries like Poland and Hungary there is still considerable anti-Semitism because of their underdevelopment compared to western Europe. The Pew global attitudes survey shows the difference in anti-Semitic attitudes very clearly between western Europe and eastern Europe (leaving aside Greece and Italy). In France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and Britain, anti-Semitic attitudes can be found in 10% or less of the population.
I want to make a few comments regarding Ian Donovan’s allegations.
- I am not a member of the CPGB and cannot answer for its political positions. Yes, it is true that I disagree with Jack Conrad over the question of whether there is an Israeli Jewish nation and whether a right of self-determination can exist for that ‘nation’. However, there is no disagreement between us over anti-Semitism.
- Ian Donovan asks: “if ‘leftwing anti-Semitism’ is a ‘myth’, how come Socialist Fight is being excluded on the basis of the same myth?” The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty posits the idea that opposition to Israel as a Jewish state is exceptional; that, whereas we support all other nations’ right to self-determination, we make an exception for the Jewish nation because of left anti-Semitism. Naturally I disagree, because there is no Jewish nation, but, even if there were an Israeli Jewish nation, then an oppressor nation does not have such a right. The right to national self-determination simply means the right to be free from national oppression and to form a state thereby. The Israeli settler nation is not oppressed: it is an oppressor. There is therefore nothing exceptional about opposing Israeli Jewish statehood and there is nothing that is anti-Semitic about such a position.
However, individuals and small groups may be on the left, but have anti-Semitic politics. People often have contradictory ideas residing inside their heads. SF is a good example, but there is no general phenomenon of left anti-Semitism, as the Zionists and AWL suggest.
- Ian Donovan speaks of the CPGB’s “anathema against our analysis of the role of Jewish bourgeois in the diaspora in bolstering Israel’s strength in the older imperialist countries …” The very concept of a Jewish bourgeoisie is itself anti-Semitic. The western bourgeoisie is not divided by religion, caste or ethnicity.
- Ian Donovan states that “The reverse side” of the CPGB’s “reluctance to defend the democratic rights of Arabs and Muslims oppressed by imperialism” is “their indulgence of Jewish sensibilities and ‘left’ forms of Jewish communalism”. To speak of an “indulgence of Jewish sensibilities” is anti-Semitic. There is no collective Jew except in the minds of Zionism.
- Ian Donovan writes:
The CPGB’s bloc with Bundist-influenced Jewish socialists such as Tony Greenstein and Moshé Machover, who have played initiating or supporting roles in various Jews-only political campaigns, such as Jews Against Zionism, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-Big), etc, only underlines this philo-Semitic, Islamophobic bias … by emphasising their Jewishness, to ‘kosher’ the Palestinian solidarity movement and parry the inevitable smears of anti-Semitism that Zionists throw at it.These groups … tacitly accept a key Zionist notion that is hegemonic in today’s racist society: the notion of Jewish moral superiority; that anyone who opposes Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians is guilty of anti-Semitism until proven innocent.
Leave aside the nonsense about “Bundist-influenced” – yes, the Bund is an example of Jewish workers’ struggle against fascism and anti-Semitism, and Ian is following the example of Gilad Atzmon in his attacks on them. Jews Against Zionism/J-Big exist in order that the Zionist lie that all Jews support Zionism is negated. Palestinians welcome Jewish support for their struggle and I am happy about that. There is nothing “philo-Semitic” about such groups.
The idea that we are Islamophobic is rubbish. Ian Donovan combines anti-Semitism with a straightforward lie. To speak about “Jewish moral superiority” is to ape the language of the National Front and the fascists. Certainly Zionism, like all colonial movements, believes that Jews are racially superior to the Palestinians, but to attribute this to all Jews is outrageous. The suggestion that I or any other Jewish anti-Zionist comrade accepts that “anyone who opposes Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians is guilty of anti-Semitism until proven innocent” is also a lie. All of us work with non-Jewish comrades as equals.
- Ian Donovan writes:
It is factually demonstrable that there exists a Jewish component within the ruling classes of western countries that exceeds by many times over the proportion of Jews in the general population, and that this part of the ruling class is overwhelmingly loyal to Israel. This does not determine the bare existence of a western alliance with Israel.What it does, however, is play an important role in transforming what would otherwise be a ‘normal’ relationship, similar to that of the US, UK, Germany, etc with each other as Nato allies, into a servile relationship …
Again this is anti-Semitic. Yes, Jews are, for historical reasons, a privileged section of the white community in both the USA and Britain, but there are reasons for this. William Rubinstein, a past president of the Jewish Historical Society, wrote 35 years ago that London Jewry is
arguably more bourgeois now than at any time since the mid-19th century, and it is certainly more conservative … The Jewish proletariat virtually disappeared in the post-war period and since the 1950s western Jewry has, as a whole, risen into the upper-middle class. (W Rubinstein The left, the right and the Jews New York 1982, p51)
Yes, Jews have climbed the socio-economic ladder. But there is no “Jewish component” of the ruling class. Jews do not operate hegemonically or as an identifiable component separate from non-Jews. ID says that they do not determine the “bare alliance with Israel”, but they “play an important role” in creating a “servile relationship”. In other words, the US is servile to Israel. That certainly is anti-Semitic. It is also completely unMarxist.
The United States support for Israel has nothing to do with Jews. It is no accident that the most anti-Semitic administration in the United States in modern times – that of Donald Trump – has also been the most pro-Zionist. It has had in it Breitbart anti-Semites like Steve Bannon who do not like “whining Jewish brats”.
- Ian Donovan informs us that this Jewish component of the ruling class “also gives Zionism a social power to persecute critics of Israel in western societies not possessed by any other allied state. Including in the British Labour Party …” Really this is utter rubbish. If anything it is cynical non-Jews – the Theresa Mays and Eric Pickles – who use people’s sensitivities over anti-Semitism to accuse opponents of Zionism of exactly that. Jews are the alibi for western imperialism and its interests, Israel included, in the Middle East. The same Pickles incidentally supported the Tories’ link-up with the anti-Semitic Michał Kamiński of Poland. Today the genuine anti-Semites are quite open about what they call white Zionism. Ian Donovan needs to get real about anti-Semitism and Zionism and their relationship.
- Ian Donovan speaks of the support of “Israeli dissidents like the late Israel Shahak, and more recently Gilad Atzmon, to Marxists like ourselves, to … Norman Finkelstein … Even Charles Windsor once noticed it.” Israel Shahak, who was a liberal anti-Zionist in Israel, was never a supporter of the idea that rich Jews had an influence over US foreign policy. It is noticeable that Ian Donovan, a supporter of the overtly anti-Semitic Gilad Atzmon, elides Atzmon in with Shahak and Norman Finkelstein. The same Atzmon who is on record as saying, “I despise the Jew in me (whatever is left) and I absolutely detest the Jew in you.” A man who believes that a Jewish conspiracy controls the world and that Zionism is the logical outcome of being Jewish. How any socialist worthy of the name can quote from this ‘dissident’ is beyond me. And, yes, Prince Charles’ comments were also anti-Semitic – which is what one expects of the royals.
- I find the statement that “Jews are the one people in the imperialist epoch that have comprehensively escaped from systematic oppression and joined the ranks of oppressor peoples in the imperialist world order” amazing. It treats all Jews as one amalgam. All of us – not those in Israel, where it would be appropriate – but all Jews in the diaspora are now amongst the “oppressor peoples”. I suppose that includes all the supporters of Jewish Voices for Peace in the USA – over 100,000 of them – who have signed up to an organisation that is for boycott, divestment and sanctions. At the very time that increasing number of Jews in the USA in particular are breaking from Zionism, Ian Donovan and SF are intent on pushing them back towards Zionism. Most Jews are middle class professionals. They are no more an “oppressor people” – even if they did not belong to the British or French nation – than any other religious minority.
- It is not quite true that “at the October 21 meeting of Labour Against the Witchhunt, he and others voted down our amendment that would have had LAW define anti-Semitism as ‘racist hostility to Jews as Jews’”. I opposed the idea that anti-Semitism was simply hostility based on race. People can be hostile to Jews as Jews on the basis of their religion, their customs, etc. It is not necessarily racial.
- Ian Donovan says that “Greenstein is right that criticism of a state is not racist. Nor is criticism of a ruling class.” True but Ian Donovan is not criticising a ruling class: he is differentiating between Jewish and non-Jewish members of the ruling class. That is certainly impermissible.
- Ian Donovan absurdly claims that “The Jewish-Zionist component of the US and other western ruling classes can be identified as having a material interest in the Israeli state by virtue of the Israeli Law of Return, which gives them citizenship rights in Israel.” Here you see the utter bankruptcy of Ian Donovan’s grandly titled ‘theses’. Their claim to have any connection with Marxism is entirely spurious. Apparently the materialist basis of the separate Jewish-Zionist component of the US/western ruling classes is the Israeli ‘right of return’.
Perhaps I am also a member of this ruling class then. Every Jewish person has the ‘right of return’ – and not only every Jewish person, but the spouse or the children of a Jewish person. That is the basis of the racist nature of the Israeli settler-colonial state. Israel seeks Jewish settlers, just as South Africa used to seek white settlers. But this right is not a “materialist interest”. If you are a member of the bourgeoisie, Jewish or non-Jewish, you will normally be able to access the citizenship of any state by virtue of your wealth and power. Many members of the ruling class – like Lord Ashcroft, who is a Belize citizen – do indeed take up foreign citizenship for purposes of tax avoidance. Israel is not a tax haven.
- Ian Donovan says that I concede that
the Zionist movement as it originated in the diaspora was an ethno-nationalist movement. Why then is it such a leap to describe the diaspora western Jewish bourgeoisie that benefits from Israel’s Law of Return, and identifies with Israel, as driven by the same ethno-nationalism?
Ian Donovan demonstrates he understands little of the nature of Zionism. In the diaspora Zionism arose by virtue of anti-Semitism. It was a separatist reaction. In the Pale of Russia it was not an “ethno-nationalist” reaction, but a response – a reactionary response – to anti-Semitism. It was in Palestine that it became an ethno-nationalist movement. Quite obviously Jews outside Israel are not a separate ethno-nationalist group, but members of their own nations. Once again this is anti-Semitic.
Anyone who seriously believes that Socialist Fight can be part of Labour Against Witchhunt prioritises the rights of Socialist Fight above the fight against the witchhunt. If that is the case then Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth and myself will all be forced to walk away from LAW. It will not be of any help to our cases to be associated with Socialist Fight, however indirectly.
3. W Rubinstein The left, the right and the Jews New York 1982, p51.