What is populism? David Hirsh

              This piece, by David Hirsh, first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle.

              David Hirsh


              In politics, being popular is good but populism is something different, and it threatens our democracy. Left and right wing populism have a lot in common and they are both part of the same danger. Extremist ideas like racism, xenophobia and antisemitism have returned to the mainstream.

              Populism splits everything into good and bad: ‘the people’ and ‘enemies of the people’. ‘The people’ is an idea, the opposite of the material diversity of flesh and blood human beings.

              Politics is about representing people, with different tastes, opinions, values and dreams; people from different classes, genders and origins; with different interests, talents, and problems. Democracy as a whole, including Parliament, the rule of law, civil society organisations, international co-operation, democratic freedoms and cultures, is how we negotiate our differences and find ways of living together.

              Our democracy is not perfect, but it is a huge achievement nevertheless and we should build on it, not devalue it.

              But ‘the people’, as conceived by populism, has one interest, one appetite and one resentful fury. Because ‘the people’ is really an abstract idea, it cannot articulate anything; it needs a leader to understand its eternal soul and to speak with its voice.

              Populism begins with the feeling that nothing that exists now is of any value and it is driven by sentimental nostalgia for a past which never really existed.

              The populisms of the left and of the right agree that the real enemy is the ‘liberal establishment’ which is portrayed as only cunning and selfish. It is accused of pretending that society is based on freedom and democracy but secretly running everything according to its own secret self-interest.

              News, according to the populists, is lies, concocted so that we will vote how ‘the establishment’ wants us to. Politics, for the populists, is a racket, in which a ‘political class’ only pretends to look out for the good of the country.

              Populism treats science and expertise as mortally corrupted by power. Even the principle of human equality, the populists think, is sneakily transformed by those with power into a way of keeping us unequal.

              The referendum of 2016 made one day holy. An election gives representation even to the losers but a referendum sets up a new timeless truth and it prevents ongoing debate. The demagogues took ownership of the referendum result and they appropriated the right to interpret what it meant.

              Populism is utopian. Johnson does not promise to make Britain a little better but to make it the best country in the world. Corbyn does not promise to make Britain a little fairer but to abolish injustice. Populism has contempt for the rational policies that might improve things. Instead, it thunders that it will rip everything down rebuild a new world out of the ashes.

              It is easier to destroy than to create. Populism will never deliver what it promises. That is why the idea of the ‘enemy of the people’ is so important. Failure will be blamed on the cosmopolitans, the liberal elite, the people of nowhere, the people ‘without roots in the community’, the people with no culture, those who are only interested in money and in ‘the one per cent’.

              Antisemitism has evolved through many distinct species to become a ready-made emotional framework for imagining all of these enemies in one potent vision of evil.

              We have seen antisemitism emerge into the mainstream left. In its appearance as ‘criticism of Israel’ it is still plausibly, to some, deniable; yet antisemitism is ‘educating’ a whole layer of left activists that ‘Zionism’ and ‘right wing Jews’ stand between ‘us’ and socialism.

              Right populism is also structurally similar to antisemitism and it is creating fertile conditions for the emergence of its own antisemitic movement. Brexit can only be ‘betrayed’ since any Brexit which may be delivered would fall short of the fantasy.

              It will lead to crisis, people losing their jobs and to a new and deeper ‘austerity’. Right populists will look for somebody to blame. They will find ‘enemies of the people’ and some of them will picture the enemy with a big nose and a grasping cunning.

              Both of the big parties have been killed, hollowed out, and animated by hostile populist factions. This is not a crisis of the left or the right but of both. There could be no Corbyn without Brexit and there could be no Johnson without Corbyn.

              Voters will think of supporting one populist leader for fear of the other but the price of that would be to strengthen the populist culture as a whole.

              The alternative is to vote for anti-populist candidates, to maximise opposition to populism in Parliament, and to build a movement tough enough and smart enough to defend liberal democracy.

              This piece, by David Hirsh, first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle.

              To live is to fight. How the Jewish tradition prepares us to respond to the recent deadly attack on a German Synagogue – Robert Ogman

              * This article, by Robert Ogman, was first published in German in Jungle World 44/2019.

              Robert Ogman

              Just days before the deadly attack outside the Halle synagogue, bracketed between the Jewish New Year celebration Rosh Hashanah and the Day of Atonement Yom Kippur, a friend of mine wrote to me what’s become a popular motto to summarize Jewish holidays: “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!” The self-parodying motto, widely known in Jewish communities, refers to the triad of historical experience and social practice: doom, salvation, and affirmation of life. It recalls succinctly and humorously the permanent state of threat, the miracle of survival, and the necessity of rejoice. No holiday better encapsulates this triad as Pesach, when the story of slavery under the Pharaoh and exodus from Egypt is retold, and liberation is rejoiced over a large feast and four glasses of wine.

              Yet just days later, when a heavily-armed neo-Nazi attacked a Halle synagogue on Yom Kippur, we were quickly reminded that the motto does not refer to closed historical events of the past which we have left behind. Wie Brecht schon sagte, “Der Scho? ist fruchtbar noch, aus dem das kroch.” When in today’s ‘post-national’ Germany, 25% of the population can imagine that something like the Holocaust could repeat itself here, then we – the main Feindbild – know that the triad danger-resilience-and affirmation of life refers equally to our current reality which we have to navigate in our own times. From this, there appears no simple and final redemption – not liberal cosmopolitanism, socialist internationalism, or even Jewish self-determination.

              Yes, the Jews may have given the world the bible, broke out of the cyclical view of time, affirmed self- and societal development rather than obeying and mimicking nature – ideas taken up successively by all the monotheistic religions and secular culture alike – but for these gifts, the world has filled its libraries with lies against them.

              Society permanently updates its assault with new rationalizations: first the Jews were the Christ killers, then the poisoners of wells, next the bringers of the bubonic plague and black death, afterward the destroyers of society with money and abstract value, then the undertakers of traditional culture with the assertion of universal equality, then blamed for colonialism and “the Middle East conflict”. A broken record always adapted to the times. In the fantasy world of the murderer in a Pittsburgh synagogue one year ago, south American migrants are not fleeing poverty, war, and oppression to seek better lives in the U.S., but instead are simply pawns manipulated by Jewish conspirators to demographically and culturally undermine the white Christian majority in the U.S. for their own interests. This ideology was mimicked in the manifesto of the Halle attacker Stephan B. According to his warped mind, the Syrian and Afghani exodus from their war-torn countries is not the flight of real people seeking security and better lives. No, instead these individuals lack agency and are mere “golems” – just dust brought to life by Jewish mystics through alchemical transformation, and brought to Europe with the devious aim of displacing German Christians and installing Jewish domination. For this reason he decided against attacking a Mosque, and sought instead to “cut off the head” of the supposed “plot”, and attack Jews.

              So after we prayed, each in our own religious or secular ways, that the terror in Halle would end quickly and without any deaths or injuries, we screamed out in fury at the fascist danger. We criticized the ideology of that supposed lone wolf Stephan B., and the thousands of armed neo-Nazis throughout German society, which has infiltrated the police and security forces. We raged against the cuts to anti-racism education programs and right-wing extremism prevention projects. We criticized the intellectual instigators, the far-Right “Alternative for Germany” party, which have been called the “political wing of right-wing terrorism”. And we damned the authorities for minimizing our security concerns.

              But yet, as loud as the “Never Again!” proclamations were in the media, social media, and at public vigils, so extremely silent were the people around me. So few were the phone calls or messages from friends, colleagues, acquaintances, or self-described “comrades” in the days after the attack. So easy it was to post something stupid banner on Facebook – so difficult they must have found it to reach out and ask, “how are you holding up?” How formally correct, and how socially and emotionally removed at the same time! This too is this state of Germany amid the “outrage” after Halle.

              At our vigils we mourned the senseless loss of life, and we said the mourner’s kaddish for Jana L. and Kevin S. during services. Political commentators quarreled about whether the attack was of an antisemitic character, or directed instead against “society as a whole”. What a stupid exercise. I am reminded of Hannah Arendt’s prescient observation that totalitarianism makes all human life superfluous, and at the same time, that it has deep, critical differentiations which cannot be smoothed over – a contradictory truth we should try to keep in mind. The two unique individuals who did not belong to the Jewish community, but were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, were reduced by the fascist mind to nothing but superfluous matter, disposable objects in the mission to rid the world of Jews.

              And while mourning the senseless loss of life, we also marveled at the narrow avoidance of a massacre – yes this contradiction could not cover up the miracle of survival. Yes, they tried to kill us (again) … and yet we survived! A remnant always does. We marveled at the wonder of a simple wooden door to stop evil, to stop a massacre in the unprotected Halle synagogue.

              On the way to the hospital to be treated for shock – death narrowly escaped – the congregations’ survivors danced, and sang out “The Jewish people live on!” Upon nightfall, they congregated in the hospital cafeteria, completed the holiday prayers, blew the Shofar (the ram’s horn) signaling the end of Yom Kippur. They broke their Yom Kippur fast and drank beer.

              The struggle against antisemitism is simply the fight against the reduction of life to mere matter, to an impoverished conception of ‘nature’, ‘race’, blood, labor, and force. And so this very cause must too defend the autonomy of life over all external causes. Hence after doom and salvation, we affirm life. We reject the objectivization and projections by anti-Semites, and also those by well-meaning ‘antifascists’ alike, and assert ourselves as subjects within history, through the renewal of our traditions. This is why it made sense, following the “Tree of Life” synagoge shooting in the United States, to call “all out for Shabbat!” For it is this creative interruption of time and space – the disruption of everyday life and labor, the halt to practices that change the world (through utilization and instrumentalization), and instead the uncompromising and simple affirmation of life – which may be a necessary part of the efforts to repair the world, of Tikkun Olam, or if secular terms are preferred, to “make it whole”, in the words of Ernst Bloch. That a similar call was not made in Germany may say much about the different political cultures in these two countries, but it doesn’t call for simple mimicry. There is much to be changed, but there is also much to be disrupted and affirmed – so we proclaim and sanctify life, for to live is our struggle, so let’s eat!


              * This article, by Robert Ogman,g was first published in German in Jungle World 44/2019.

              David Hirsh in Germany – November 2019

              David Hirsh will be speaking on antisemitism, Brexit and populism.
              Follow the links for details; more details will appear here when we have them.

              31? Berlin

              1? Kassel
              2? Düsseldorf
              3? Münster
              4? Darmstadt
              5? Tübingen
              6? Konstanz
              7? Bamberg
              8? Munich
              9? Passau

              Follow this link for David Hirsh’s Goldsmiths homepage

              Follow this link for ‘Contemporary Left Antisemitism’



              Pete Willsman and the Al Jazeera ‘documentary’ that he gets his information from – David Hirsh

              From the Guardian:

              Pete Willsman, an ally of Jeremy Corbyn, … said the Jewish state was behind some of the antisemitism allegations – which he described as “total lies” – that have engulfed the party.

              In a recording first disclosed?by the radio station LBC, Willsman said: “It’s almost certain who is behind all this antisemitism against Jeremy: almost certainly, it was the Israeli embassy.

              “They caught somebody in the Labour party who it turns out is an agent in the embassy.”

              Last year 68 rabbis from different religious and political traditions made a joint statement that they were worried about Labour’s antisemitism problem. Willsman responded furiously, in a speech to Labour’s National Executive Committee, in front of the leaders of the Party, including Jeremy Corbyn.

              He demanded that the rabbis provide evidence, implying that there was no evidence of Labour antisemitism, and saying that he had never seen any. He then said that some of the people in the Jewish community who are concerned about antisemitism in Labour are ‘Trump fanatics’. And then he said: ‘I am not going to be lectured to by Trump fanatics making up duff information without any evidence at all.’

              When Willsman slips these three claims slip into each other, you are left with the allegation that people within the Labour Party who are worried about antisemitism have no evidence, because there is no antisemitism, and they are only saying there is because they’re Trump fanatics.

              This is classic Livingstone Formulation. People, mainly Jews, raise the issue of antisemitism as a dirty and dishonest way of trying to silence criticism of Israel and trying to smear the left because it criticises Israel.

              That is how Labour Jews get drummed out of the Party, politically and then physically; they are accused of being hostile to the left and agents of the right and of Israel.

              On 4 September 2018, when Willsman returned to Labour HQ from his token suspension, he was cheered into the building.

              The source of his latest claims, that Labour people who worry about antisemitism are in fact doing the bidding of the Israeli embassy is an Al Jazeera documentary which was? called ‘The Lobby’.

              This was my own account, written in January 2017, of being secretly spied on by the people making that Al Jazeera film.

              The film is being relied on right across the Labour party today as justification for what Willsman said. It is being referred to in every Labour forum.

              The Al Jazeera spy introduced himself to me as “Robin Harrow”. I met him in the House of Commons as I was leaving the Labour Friends of Israel event at which I had spoken, following the release of the Chakrabarti Inquiry, and on the same day as Jeremy Corbyn’s appearance at the Select Committee inquiry into antisemitism.

              I was with my wife, who speaks German and who knows Germany. He said he had studied at the Freie Universitat Berlin. She asked if he’d known a friend of hers who had taken Jewish Studies there. He didn’t think so.

              I sent him links to my work to read. He wrote back later saying he was particularly impressed by the “Livingstone Concept”. He wrote that it was an “eye opener”.

              He asked if we could have dinner or lunch. I told him that I would be away most of the summer. He came back to me in September and asked for a meeting. I invited him to Goldsmiths. He said he wanted to talk about setting up a youth wing of Labour Friends of Israel.

              In December, a friend of mine who works in one of the institutions of the Jewish community emailed me to tell me that “Harrow” was a spy. Initially I didn’t even remember who he was. I looked on my calendar and my email and vaguely remembered.

              I hadn’t been alert, I hadn’t been suspicious. It isn’t unusual that somebody wants to meet me to talk about my work on antisemitism and its relationship to hostility to Israel.

              I couldn’t remember what I had said to him. I remember asking him if he had come from an ‘anti-Deutsch’ political tradition – quite a few people I know who are serious about opposing contemporary antisemitism are German and come, broadly, from that kind of politics.

              When I was told he was a spy, I couldn’t remember what I had said to him. I was anxious. When I write, I am careful to express myself precisely and unambiguously. When I am chatting with somebody I trust, over coffee, I’m likely to slip into shorthand, which is possible because there are shared understandings and shared meanings. I was trying to remember if I had been showing off, making bad jokes or using shorthand; if I had said anything which would look stupid or bad from the outside if it was taken out of context. I still don’t know. I’m glad I didn’t appear in the film. I was nervous about what might emerge. As it turned out, nearly everybody who was portrayed in the film had not done or said anything wrong at all. But there was still an attempt to make them look menacing.

              He asked me about the connections between lobbying groups and Israel. I think, from memory, that I told him that Israel isn’t very good at fighting antisemitism in the diaspora; that it doesn’t prioritize it, that it isn’t good at understanding it and that what it does is largely counter productive; and that it ought to do much more to fight antisemitism and it ought to do it much better. Fighting antisemitism is one of the purposes for which Israel exists.

              I think I told him that his project of setting up a youth LFI was a hugely difficult project – that we are anyway always accused of ‘lobbying for Israel’ – and that that accusation itself often constituted an antisemitic allegation of conspiracy. I told him that it would be difficult to attract young people to such a project.

              I think I probably told him to find out if there was a danger of conflict between LFI and the Jewish Labour Movement – that he should talk to both. In any case, this would not have helped Al Jazeera to portray all the organisations as a single lobby organised by a foreign power.

              I was interested in him, and how he had come to want to engage in this kind of politics. I told him about my mum, who had been born in Germany and had to leave in 1938. He told me about his English dad and his German mum – and how they had met, I can’t remember where, somewhere outside Germany.

              So, I was left with fear. Perhaps I had said something stupid, something indiscreet, something which would make me look bad; perhaps it could cause me trouble in my job or perhaps it could harm my reputation. I don’t mean to suggest that I say or think something different in private from what I say in public. I don’t. But I think one may express oneself differently according to what one’s audience knows and understands.

              The fear still lingers. Probably, I didn’t say anything stupid; because I’m not stupid; but I doubt myself. Compare with Donald Trump, who insisted that it is impossible for Putin to have anything compromising on him because he has never said or done anything compromising. My own response is to fear, and to doubt myself and to be anxious.

              I am also angry. This man who posed as somebody who had read, understood and liked my work, this man who said he wanted to learn from me, at my university, was actually an antisemite who was hoping to portray me in an antisemitic way as part of an antisemtic project. Of course it is likely that he doesn’t understand himself as an antisemite at all. He understands himself as a hero of the Palestinian revolution. Or whatever. But he had read my work. He should know better.

              He wanted to smoke after we had coffee, so we went to sit outside, at the front of the main building at Goldsmiths. Some of the covert photography in the film was done with a long lens from afar in public places. So this little antisemitic spy, or his collaborators, or his handlers, probably had a camera crew across the road or in a car with a lens pointed at me.

              In the end, this guy was a very small guy and this project was a very small and ineffective project – and they did not get anything from me at all – so far as I know. Good. But the feeling of being lied to by an antisemite over coffee lingers.

              And that he was German grates a little too. Perhaps it shouldn’t. But my family and my wife’s family – and pretty well every Jewish person I know’s family – has been profoundly impacted by German antisemites. As I said, a large proportion of the people who oppose contemporary antisemitsm are German – but this guy didn’t oppose it, he was part of it.

              David Hirsh

              Defending democracy will always mean opposing antisemitism – David Hirsh

              This piece, by David Hirsh, is from Jewish News.

              Politics in our time is about defending democracy against an arrayed series of related attacks that we might call ‘populist’. Each populism is at heart an irrational conspiracy fantasy. Each insists that democracy is fake and each populism blames some group of our fellow citizens for all our troubles, demonising them as ‘enemy of the people’.

              It is not accidental that antisemitism is making a comeback as populism elbows its way back into mainstream politics. This fact is hugely consequential, not only for Jews but for anybody who wants to participate in the defence of democratic life.

              Similarly, anti-Zionism constructs the ‘Israel’ that it positions it as being central to, or symbolic of, they key evils on the planet.

              If that is right, then it follows that the defence against populism will also have to be a defence against antisemitism. Antisemitism is not a parochial issue about one small group of people. Opposing antisemitism is not to take one side in the Israel-Palestine conflict, a local conflict far away which we could choose to stay out of.

              Antisemitism is the form of appearance of antidemocratic politics, not far away but here, not only concerning Jews but concerning us all.

              Let me be clearer about what I mean by ‘populism’. The Corbyn, Trump and Brexit movements have quite a lot in common. There are many similar movements around the world: AfD in Germany, the Front National in France, the ruling parties in Italy, Austria, Turkey, Brazil, Russia, Hungary and Poland.

              These are not yet totalitarian movements but they share a number of the characteristics by which philosopher Hannah Arendt defined twentieth century totalitarianism. They are proto-totalitarian movements; precursors to totalitarianism; movements which prepare the culture for the real thing. Jihadi Islamist movements fit in here too.

              These movements are contemptuous of what exists and they see nothing of value in the democratic state as it is. There is no critique of Westminster, Brussels or Washington politics, no constructive thinking about how to improve life, only the promise to tear it all down and start again from zero.

              Populism hates the democratic balance between liberty and community. It builds an atmosphere of fervour in which individuals rationalise their own happiness as the price payable for eventual Utopia. Populism does not struggle for specific improvements; it is only interested in the sunlit uplands of tomorrow.

              Populist movements harness the politics of resentment to the advancement of those who assume the right to speak for ‘the people’. Anybody in the way is treated as ‘enemy of the people’. They build personality cults around leaders who act as empty ciphers into which every individual can pour their own dreams. The leaders offer us revenge against those who we can blame for our own feelings of inadequacy.

              The populist demagogues construct communities of the good and they cast out those who do not fit. The Corbynites call the bad people, the ‘one per cent’, the Zionists, the bankers or the elites. The Brexiters call them betrayers of the will of the people or they denounce those who side with foreign nations and bureaucrats against ‘us’. There is much contempt for the ‘liberal elite’, cosmopolitans, globalists and citizens of nowhere. Populism embraces nostalgic nationalism but it has one eye on a more radical project for the whole of humanity.

              Populism tends to explain inconvenient facts by reference to ‘fake news’, conspiracies which are said dishonestly to manufacture the consent of ordinary folk to their own subordination. It is contemptuous of science and expertise; only the charismatic leader?knows. Witness President Trump’s recent advice on technical issues to the Paris fire service.

              The populists do not understand markets and they are itching to repeat the disastrous economic policies of 1930s style protectionism and economic nationalism.

              What does all this contempt for democratic culture, norms and politics have to do with antisemitism?

              Antisemitism was at the very centre of Stalinist Communism and Nazism. These movements, by which people who felt powerless aspired to world domination, required a global, powerful and cunning ‘other’. Antisemitism is always projection. If you want to know what antisemites dream about, listen carefully to what they accuse Jews of doing.

              The antisemitic construction of ‘the Jew’ has been forged over centuries by a succession of distinct antisemitic movements, each adding to the narrative and emotional vocabulary of the other. It sits there in our culture and we think it is a thing of the past, too vulgar and awful to constitute a contemporary threat. But antisemitic ways of thinking are nevertheless entrenched in our subconscious and are tempting resources for anti-democratic movements because they give material shape to unendurable, abstract, fear and fury.

              Conspiracy fantasy is not always antisemitic but it is always ripe for it. The bad news is that we are all going to have to educate ourselves in the stealthy vileness of antisemitism. We cannot leave it to the Jews because it is not only about them. But we are resistant to this bad news. Nobody wants to be seen as the pro-Jew party, we prefer a universal message.

              We cannot understand contemporary populism without understanding its relationship to antisemitism; but if we make that understanding explicit, then people will recoil against it and the message will be lost.

              Of course it is far from true that every Labour supporter, Trump supporter or Brexiter is antisemitic. Indeed all of these movements have Jewish support, people who mobilise their own identities politically and publicly in an effort to protect their movements from such accusations. The angry denials of antisemitism are plausible because they are genuine. People are not aware of the antisemitism in their own movements, whether it is explicit, whether it is hidden and difficult to interpret, or whether, so far, their ideologies are only similar in shape and content to antisemitic ones.

              What is true is that populist movements animate conspiracy fantasy and they denigrate ordinary democratic processes, cultures and ways of thinking. And where that is allowed to happen, antisemitism becomes hugely attractive, and it finds fertile ground, while opposition to antisemitism looks like special pleading and Jewish tribalism.

              David Hirsh

              What do we need to build, to save democracy? – David Hirsh

              Maybe this is a mad, frightened question. I hope so. But I am frightened. I don’t share the complacency of those who ridicule ‘operation fear’.

              There is an array of populist movements which trade on a cynical contempt for the democratic state: Corbyn, Trump, Brexit, Jihadi Islamism, Le Pen and the Gilets Jaunes, AfD, parties in government in Italy, Austria, Hungary and Poland; Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Putin.

              Populist leaders set up ‘the people’ as strong and good but oppressed and duped; they set up ‘enemies of the people’ who are the real power, secretly pulling the strings of fake democracy; and then they set themselves up as the voice of the people.

              Populist movements, that is proto-totalitarian movements, are conspiracy fantasies. Brexit imagines that Britain’s real problems are caused by foreigners and EU bureaucrats and their unseen controllers, the cosmopolitan elite. Corbyn speaks for the 99% which he thinks is controlled by a 1% conspiracy of bankers cosmopolitans and capitalists; and he speaks for the people worldwide who he imagines are oppressed by Zionism and imperialism.

              As conspiracy fantasy, populism is similar in structure to antisemitism and antisemitism is a constant temptation to it. Democratic people will not have the luxury of being able to ignore or to sidestep the dirty and disgusting battle against antisemitism.

              Antisemitism is the form of appearance of anti-democratic politics.

              So we need to build a movement for democratic life; a movement which knows how to take on populism; a movement which can persuade people that utopia is snake oil and that democratic life is worth fighting for.

              Labour MPs are being targeted for deselection by the bullies and there isn’t a movement which can save them. Antisemites are getting legitmized by the Corbynites and there isn’t a movement which can de-legitimize them.

              In the Tory Party too, the rational democratic people are being defeated, humiliated and driven out by the populists.

              Streams of the politically homeless have nowhere to go.

              What we need is a hard centre: which can win against Corbynites in the student union bar; against Brexiters in Colchester and Stoke; against Jihadis in Finsbury Park and Bradford; against antizionist Jews in North London.

              We need to attract, educate and to then to harden hundreds and thousands of young women and men to ensure that democratic life will be possible for them and their families.

              In Germany in the 30s the Communists and the Nazis were hard and organised; they agreed that the democratic state was a sham and they agreed that Weimar was responsible for its own collapse; and they had armed people on the streets. And the liberals and the social democrats were wiped out by them.

              We need to build a social and a political movement that knows what it’s about, that’s exciting to be around, that has some answers, that wins some victories, that wants to build and to defend, not to sneer and to tear everything down.

              David Hirsh

              A straightforward and practical resource for understanding Labour’s antisemitism problem – David Hirsh

              This web page, and the many links contained within it, is a resource for political people who will increasingly find that they need to understand contemporary antisemitism. Please bookmark it and come back to it when you need it. And I’m sorry to tell you that you will need it.

              Antisemitism always positions its own image of ‘The Jews’ at the centre of all this that is bad in the world. It is a terrible irony that in our time not the Jews but antisemitism is implicit within most of what is threatening to democracy.

              Antisemitism is not interesting and thinking about it is not what democratic people would like to spend their time doing. But we have no choice. The populist, that is the proto-totalitarian assaults on democracy which are mushrooming into mainstream politics are fundamentally conspiracy fantasies. And conspiracy fantasies are always pregnant with antisemitism, whether the fantasists know it or not.

              We do not choose to be interested in antisemitism; antisemitism chooses us. Antisemitism is never only a problem for Jews, it is always also an indicator of a wider sickness of democratic politics within any space where it is tolerated. Anybody who fights for democratic politics and against populism will find themselves forced onto this terrain. And they need to know how to deal with it.

              I have resigned from the Labour Party after fighting antisemitism on the left for three decades. For years I refused to be pushed out by antisemites or to acquiesce to my political homelessness. I respect those who still resist; as I respect those who never understood why I stubbornly remained.

              I am on the same side as opponents of antisemitism no matter what party they’re in at the moment. People who disagree on strategy are not the problem. The problem is the antisemites: people who thrill at the ‘blasphemy’ of upsetting Jews; people who close their ears to the experiences of Jews; people who look the other way when they are shown the evidence; and people who insist that the issue of antisemitism is a conspiracy to silence criticism of Israel and to smear the left.

              dang ky tai khoan nhan tien cuoc mien phi

              Follow this link for Eve Garrard’s piece about the pleasures of antisemitism

              1. Criticism of Israel and antisemitism

              When people used to rail against Jewish bankers or Jewish pornographers, Jewish child-murderers or ‘cultural Marxism’, or the real power behind the politicians, this was not criticism of capitalist banking, pornography, murder, Marxism or democratic politics; it was antisemitism. When people ask why Hilary Clinton stood by her man or when they focus on Angela Merkel’s dress sense, that is not criticism but sexism.

              There is much to love about Israel and being protective of Israel is a democratic imperative; Israel is a life-raft for the undead Jews of Europe and for their descendants; and for the Jews ethnically cleansed from the great cosmopolitan cities of the Middle East; and for the Jews who escaped the horrors of Russian Tsarism and then Communism.

              Today, about half of the world’s Jews live in Israel and about half in the United States of America, give or take small communities in Britain, France, Germany, South Africa and Australia, and smaller communities elsewhere. A hundred and twenty years ago they lived almost wholly in eastern and central Europe, Russia, north Africa and the middle east. To nurse only an angry hostility to Israel within yourself is to refuse to feel the joy of Jewish survival and renaissance.

              Some people are more critical than others of the ways in which Israel relates to its neighbours, and that is fine. There are real conflicts between Jews and Palestinians, and between Jews and the huge and largely hostile region which surrounds them. Of course it is important for people to critically and politically engage with Israeli policies and political culture, as it is important to engage with Palestinian and wider Arab and Islamist politics.

              But antisemitism is not criticism of Israel.

              The problem is when actual events come to be thought of in antisemitic ways. Yes, people under eighteen are killed in the conflict, no Israel does not set out to murder children. Yes, Israel and Jews fight politically for people to see things their way, no there is no Zionist control of the ‘mainstream media’. Yes, there is racism in Israel, no Israel is not in essence a racist endeavour. Yes, Jews sometimes worry too much about antisemitism, no they do not raise the issue, ‘weaponise it’, in a dirty conspiracy to silence the Palestinians.

              Antisemitism, and the anger, hostility and demonization of Israel with which it comes packaged, is not the same thing as rational criticism of this or that Israeli policy or this or that aspect of Israeli culture.

              Follow this link to Norman Geras’ piece on ‘Alibi Antisemitism’

              Follow this link for David Hirsh’s ‘Open Democracy’ piece: ‘Stop accusing Jews of conspiring against the community of the left’

              1. The Livingstone Formulation.

              The standard way, since the Macpherson Inquiry, of responding to somebody who says they have experienced racism or sexism is to begin with the assumption that they might well be right.

              The standard way of responding to Jews who say they have experienced antisemitism is to assume they might be lying in an effort to smear or to silence.

              My experience of raising the issue of antisemitism is precisely that. I was not treated as somebody who has something important to say, I was treated as somebody who means the left harm, somebody who is really from outside, an imposter, an alien, somebody who is spinning a malicious falsehood at the behest of a foreign state.

              Follow this link for my description of being spied on by Al Jazeera

              Populist politics tends not to engage rationally with what people say. Rather, it tends to define communities of those who are on the side of ‘the people’ in fixed opposition to those who are defined as being necessarily ‘enemies of the people’. Those who raise the issue of antisemitism get cast out of the ‘community of the good’ and treated as hostile; they are excluded from the universe of people who should be debated with and they are put into the universe of people who may be vilified as enemies. This is what happens to Jews on the contemporary left, those anyway who refuse to disavow Israel and to whitewash antisemitism.

              The Livingstone Formulation is a refusal to engage with the issue of antisemitism; it is a refusal to look at the argument or the evidence; instead it reflects back an instant and angry counter-accusation that the Jew is the aggressor and that the antisemite is the victim.

              Antisemites have always presented themselves as victims of the Jews.

              Antisemitism is a weapon aimed at Jews; it is not ‘weaponized’ by Jews against antisemites.

              Antisemitism silences Jews, it does not silence antisemites.

              For more about the Livingstone Formulation, follow this link

              For more on the way Jews get expelled from Corbyn’s ‘community of the good’ follow this link

              1. People who are most responsible for Labour antisemitism believe themselves to be the most consistent opponents of antisemitism

              Is Jeremy Corbyn an antisemite? He is a man who for decades has embraced antisemitic politics; he has a long record of defending antisemites against Jews; he supports Hamas and Hezbollah; he participated in a wreath laying ceremony for the Munich Olympic murders of Jews; he treats Israel as a key evil on the planet; under his leadership antisemitism in the Labour Party has blossomed; he is so wedded to his way of thinking that he has been willing to endanger his whole project rather than deal with the problem; one of his key advisors said that the issue of defining antisemitism was a hill that he was prepared to die on.

              Yes, but is Jeremy Corby an antisemite? My answer to that is, it depends on what you mean by the word. I am interested in what he says and what he does, not in the moral cleanliness of his own inner soul.

              In our time, racism is not only, and not even mostly, about hatred. Racism is about social structures and fixed ways of thinking which seem like common sense and which exclude and discriminate against people.

              Antisemitism is the same. People who defend antisemitic ways of thinking and exclusions are often quite convinced that they are doing the opposite. They look into their own heads and find themselves morally blameless; so they then look at the accusers and angrily accuse them of acting in bad faith.

              But fighting antisemitism is not only about finding and expelling individuals. Antisemitism is a social phenomenon, external to any particular person; it exists objectively, irrespective of somebody’s subjective feelings about themselves or about Jews. The carriers of today’s antisemitism think of themselves as good people and as antiracists.

              But if you, like Pete Willsman, a member of Labour’s NEC, say that those raising the issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party are ‘Trump fanatics’; or if you, like a former vice chair of Momentum Jackie Walker, try to make people think of Jews as ‘the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade’; or if, like Ken Livingstone, you say that ‘Hitler was supporting Zionism… before he went mad’; of if you, like Jeremy Corbyn, present programmes for the propaganda outlets of the Iranian regime; then you are doing antisemitic things, even if that is not how you feel about yourself.

              This is one of the difficult things about challenging contemporary antisemitism. People who say antisemitic things genuinely have no understanding of why people think they are antisemitic. And they are not open to thinking about the issue in an ordinary way.

              But there is an issue of institutional antisemitism in the Labour Party because it is tolerated and licensed by the leadership – by its politics – and by the institutions of the Party even when they deny that this is the case.

              In 2003 to 2011 we saw the University and College Union being infected by institutional antisemitism when it began to embrace the boycott campaign.? One of the forms this takes is a demand for secrecy. Institutional racism requires a tightly closed boundary around the institution. This facilitates ways of thinking becoming normal within the secret boundary that outside are looked upon as being entirely inappropriate. If there is nothing to hide then there is no reason why people should not be able to say in public what is happening.

              It is noticeable that when institutionally racist institutions come under external pressure, they tend to enforce the boundaries ever more stringently, and punish those disloyal enough to talk in public about what happens within the institution.

              For a detailed explanation of over a hundred specific instances of Labour antisemitism, follow this link

              For submissions to the Chakrabarti Inquiry on Labour antisemitism, follow this link

              For the full story of what happened in the University and College Union, follow this link

              For Paul Bogdanor’s claim by claim critique of Livingstone’s cod history follow this link

              1. Antizionism and campaigns to boycott Israelis bring with them antisemitism into any social space in which they are treated as legitimate

              Antizionism tends to make an ‘-ism’, a worldview, out of hostility to Israel. Antisemitism has always put Jews at the centre of all that is bad in the world; antizionism can’t resist the temptation to put Israel at the centre of all that is bad in the world.

              At the beginning of the 20th Century, Zionism was a movement which held that Jews could only defend themselves against antisemitism by creating a nation state; there were other competing movements, like Bundism, which said that Jews should find a new non-religious way of being Jewish and should defend themselves where they already lived; and there was Bolshevism, which said that Jews should combine with all the other workers of the world and should shed their Judaism and build a new world in which everybody would be unique. Antizionism, at this time, was an opposition to an idea, and it was fundamentally a Jewish critique; and it was a legitimate critique.

              But all three antiracist movements were defeated by Nazism; none of them could save the Jews of Europe. After the Holocaust, and after the creation of the state of Israel, Zionism was no longer a set of ideas but it became a material reality.

              Antizionists like to talk about Israel as though it is an idea, because if it is an idea, it can be a bad idea. That is why they like to deny that Israel is a nation state, because if it is a nation state, it just is; it cannot be good or bad; and it cannot be undone. Being against the existence of Israel today means siding with those who would destroy it.

              We have learnt many times, and most recently from the experiences of the Yazidis, that minorities in the Middle East which cannot defend themselves are at grave existential risk.

              For a progressive case for Israel, follow this link

              For my debate with Israeli antizionist Ilan Pappé, follow this link

              1. The campaign to boycott Israel is an antizionist campaign which aims to create such a hostility to Israelis that people will feel justified in excluding them from the global community of scholarship, arts, sport and business. We know from experience that anywhere that the BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) campaign takes hold, antisemitism follows.

              For David Hirsh’s reasons that BDS is antisemitic, follow this link

              For Alan Johnson’s critique of the claim that Israel is like apartheid South Africa, follow this link

              For Robert Fine’s response to Desmond Tutu, follow this link

              And for more debate on the apartheid analogy, follow this link

              For Cambridge Scientist Michael Yudkin’s argument against the academic boycott of Israel, follow this link

              For the myth of the ‘institutional boycott’ follow this link

              Follow this link for some suggestions as what a genuinely left of egalitarian alternative to BDS might look like.

              1. Antisemitism takes an especially vicious form against Jewish women

              Women Labour members, such as Luciana Berger, Ruth Smeeth, Margaret Hodge, Louise Ellman; and non-Jewish allies in the fight against antisemitism such as Joan Ryan, have had to endure specifically misogynist antisemitic abuse. There is something about a strong and articulate woman that antisemites find completely intolerable.

              For a video link to Luciana Berger describing her experience, follow this link

              For more on the intersection of misogyny and antisemitism follow this link

              1. Antisemitism tends to construct Jews such that don’t fit into the normal categories of understanding of social life.

              ?It constructs them as being outside of nation, outside of race, outside of class, and it constructs them as having a special relationship to gender.

              Jews are targeted by white supremacists who believe them to pollute the ‘white race’. But Jews are also targeted by many antiracists, who believe them to be ‘white’ and then ‘privileged’ and then ‘white supremacist’.

              Jews are targeted by antisemites who say that Jews are bourgeois, particularly involved in banking and finance capital, that they work for the capitalists; and that they play a special role in global imperialism. Jews are portrayed as part of a liberal elite and they are said to have more loyalty to those of their own kind around the world than to members of their own local, national or class communities.

              Jews are also targeted as being Bolsheviks and ‘cultural Marxists’; and Marxists are targeted as being Jewish.

              Jews are targeted when they have no nation of their own, as ‘cosmopolitans’; and they are targeted when they have a nation of their own, as ethnic nationalists.

              1. There are a few Jews who fight hard for antisemitic politics

              There is an overwhelming and strong consensus against Labour antisemitism in the Jewish community. There is a consensus as to what antisemitism is and as to how it manifests itself.

              This letter, from 68 diverse rabbis is a clear expression of the consensus

              But there is a small minority of Jews for whom hatred of Israel is an all-consuming passion. Many Jews are especially concerned with Israel. Some are especially concerned, and then obsessive, about its shortcomings. Antizionist Jews parade their Jewish identities, they speak ‘asaJew’, in order to try and portray the Jewish community as divided.

              In truth, the institutions and individuals of the Jewish community are not divided: the Union of Jewish Students, the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Holocaust Education Trust, the Community Security Trust, the synagogue movements, the Jewish Labour Movement, the list goes on… they know antisemitism when they see it.

              But antizionist Jews do immense damage by trying to give Jewish legitimacy to politics which is dangerous to Jews.

              If I were not Jewish, and I discovered that I had been taught antisemitic ways of thinking by my Jewish friends or comrades, I would be furious.

              For more on Jewish antizionism, follow this link

              Follow this link for a piece on “Jewdas”, who tried to give Jewish cover to Jeremy Corbyn when he was under criticism of presiding over an antisemitic party.?

              1. Antisemitism and left and right wing populism.

              We have learnt that it is possible to be antisemitic even if you appear only to be concerned with the evils of Israel.

              But we have also learnt, from people like Donald Trump and President Orban of Hungary, that some people who appear to be friends of Israel can also support antisemitic politics, and seek alliances with it.

              On the left, antisemitism is often treated as a cry of the oppressed, while opposition to antisemitism is often treated as a discourse of power, trying to silence the oppressed.

              On the right, xenophobia and racism are often treated as the cry of the oppressed, the ‘white working class’ or the ‘left behinds’, while opposition to racism is often treated as a discourse of power, a sly tool employed by those who wish to defend the status quo.

              There is emerging a right wing Islamophobia in America, in Britain and in Europe which is analogous to left antisemitism in some ways; which is gaining the kind of apparent legitimacy in mainstream politics which five years ago it could only have dreamed about.

              On the right, conspiracy fantasy about globalism, cosmopolitans, citizens of nowhere and the shadowy power behind politics, approaches closer and closer to antisemitic discourse.

              Left and right populists both tend to see antisemitism and racism only in the other’s political family. “No, the real problem is over there!” they say, pointing at each other. In this way they license and legitimize the antisemitism or other forms of racism within their own political families.

              For a simple explanation: “What is populism?”

              For more on antisemitism and left and right populism in Britain follow this link

              For a piece about why populism will always be open to antisemitism, follow this link.?

              Some more Links

              Read Dave Rich’s book, The left’s Jewish problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and anti-Semitism

              Read Philip Spencer and Robert Fine’s book, Antisemitism and the left: on the return of the Jewish Question

              Read these two pieces by Robert Fine: On doing the sociology of Antisemitism and on Marx and his approach to the critique of left antisemitism.

              Read David Hirsh’s book, Contemporary Left Antiemitism

              Watch a thirty minute video made by people who felt the Chakrabarti Inquiry had not listened to them: Whitewashed

              Follow this link for David Hirsh’s Jewish Chronicle pieces which chart the progress of the problem of Labour antisemitism

              Follow this link for David Hirsh’s Jewish News pieces on Labour antisemitism

              Follow this link for Izabella Tabarovsky’s piece on the Soviet roots of contemporary left antisemitism


              David Hirsh

              Author of ‘Contemporary Left Antisemitism’

              Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London

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