Monday, March 09, 2009

Steve Cohen z''l

I was shocked to read this morning at DST4W of the death of Steve Cohen. I first came across him in the very early years of my political development, when I was given a copy of his 1984 pamphlet That's Funny You Don't Look Anti-Semitic, a brilliantly written account of British left antisemitism, tracking it from its early days in Hyndman's day to the vicious debates of the 1970s and 1980s campus left. This was the period of the Sunderland Poly JSoc ban and of the Perdition controversy, and I had my first experiences of versions of left antisemitism in the anti-fascist and student movements I was involved in. Steve's booklet put its finger on what was wrong with the left in a way that instantly made sense, and provided the resources to challenge it. When Engage re-published it in 2005, it seemed incredibly timely.

Steve was also involved in No One Is Illegal, the campaign against immigration controls. (The phrase was taken from Elie Weisel, speaking to members of the Sanctuary movement in Arizona.) NOII exposed the connections between immigration controls and fascist politics in Britain, since at least 1905:
Immigration controls are not fascism. Detention centres are not extermination camps. However, immigration laws are different from other laws in one other significant way. They are the result, at least in part, of organised fascist activity. This countryÊs first controls were contained in the 1905 Aliens Act and were directed at Jewish refugees fleeing anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe and Russia. A major, perhaps the major, reason for the implementation of this legislation was the agitation of the British Brothers League. This was a proto-fascistic organisation formed in 1901 specifically around the demand for controls, which organized major demonstrations in London's East End and which can legitimately be viewed as the main force behind the legislation.
Although in 1984 Steve was a Bundist, he became increasingly critical of all nationalisms. For this reason, he called himself an "anti-Zionist Zionist", a term I like:
I have started to assume the somewhat novel self-description of being an “anti-zionist Zionist”. I am an anti-zionist like no other (maybe I exaggerate) in that I refuse to accept anti-zionist myths and untruths. I am a Zionist unlike no other (here I don’t exaggerate) in that I am opposed to the state of Israel.”
Tributes from Hak Mao, from Jim at Shiraz Socialist, from David at Engage, from Ben at Z-Word, from Andy at Socialist Unity; from Ionnek at Indymedia London; and from TNC. The comments at all these posts give you some sense of Steve's importance, despite his relatively low profile. In particular, David Rosenberg of Jewish Socialist contributes some words here.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

British left anti-Semitism and anti-Israel belief long precede the 1980s . I remember as a student in the late 1960s attending a political meeting where the Communist faction heckled "no, not another Jew" when some speaker rose to make his point. Communist party members and the New Left at that time were already propagating the dogma that "...the Palestinians were being made to pay for the crimes of the Germans...". And there was always a token Jew or two in the anti-Israel camp, serving as their fig-leaf. Fortunately, though, pro-Israel Jews were not intimidated from speaking out in their own cause, and in the Middle East the Palestinians were and are being made to pay for Palestinian crimes. The Germans of course have never and probably never will be made to pay a just price for German crimes, least of all for their crimes against the Jews.

It is a mitzvah not to speak ill of the dead, but that does not oblige one to speak well of them. May God forgive Steve Cohen for being opposed to Israel, and for the aid and succour that he thereby gave to the enemies of the Jewish people.

Will said...

That last comment is why you Bob will be taken off the blogroll at my own place and the dstpfw.

You attract wierdos and are far too fond of national chauvinist scum like the cuntentious one.

Bye bye.

bob said...

Anonymous,

Of course left antisemitism (which is very different from, if overlapping with, left anti-Israel belief) started long before the 1980s, as Steve's That's Funny You Don't Look Anti-Semitic very carefully shows.

A glorification of what you disgustingly call "making the Palestinians pay for Palestinian crimes" is exactly the sort of politics Steve stood against. But Steve gave no succor to the enemies of the Jewish people. He consistently fought antisemitism, alongside all forms of racism.

Jeff said...

Anonymous, Will,

Steve was a good man, a good comrade. He loved the Jewish people, the Palestinian people, and people in general. Don't besmirch this appreciation by carrying out your disputes here: take them elsewhere.

The Contentious Centrist said...

“Berlin repeatedly represents England as a liberal and tolerant society in which Jews could feel themselves equal to all other citizens. Nevertheless, the realities of English anti-Semitism should make us wonder … Berlin resembles the assimilating Jews he describes in "Jewish Slavery and Emancipation," who for survival's sake had "to make themselves familiar with the habits and modes of behaviour" of Gentile society, to "get this right" and "not miscalculate." … Berlin’s remark, so incongruous with his long and happy existence at the pinnacle of English society, that Marilyn Berger reports in her New York Times obituary for him. "... one has to behave particularly well ... [or] they won't like us." When.. "it was suggested to him that he was surely the exception ... he had an immediate response: 'Nevertheless, I'm not an Englishman, and if I behave badly...'"

“Individuality, Nationality, and the Jewish Question” (Joan Cocks)

_______

I have to wonder why it is "disgusting" to counter the truly disgusting dogma that:

"...the Palestinians were being made to pay for the crimes of the Germans...".

by pointing out that
"in the Middle East the Palestinians were and are being made to pay for Palestinian crimes."

What ugly principle is being glorified by pointing out that Palestinians have been making such egregious choices (like opting for extreme violence when they could settle for a fair compromise, on a few occasions in the last hundred years) that their suffering today is a direct consequence of those choices and not necessarily the myth that Palestinians are as much the victims of Germans as Jews were, if not more so.

That was Edward Said's position which he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams to perpetuate. Not only has he entrenched this view but somehow managed to convey the impression that to be the victims of Jewish victims is exponentially to be more victims than the Jews in the Holocaust.

That is why we see all over today the tendency to use the Holocaust to bludgeon Jews who are not easily intimidated for their support of Israel.

bob said...

Following Jeff, I am uncomfortable about continuing this conversation here, and am thinking about deleting this whole comments thread. I'm sure Steve wouldn't mind though.

My reading of what anonymous is saying is not exactly yours, Noga, although maybe I am misreading.

1. The crimes of the Germans
Even if the Goldhagen thesis is correct, that responsibility for the Holocaust was extremely widely distributed in German society, I do not think that "the Germans" should be "made to pay" for the crimes of the Nazis. What is a "just price"? Yes, in the literal sense, the German state should be funding reparations and so on. But such financial recompense can never make up for what happened, just as reparations for slavery will never touch the damage done by the triangular trade and the plantation system: no monetary price is high enough. But beyond that, the idea of collective responsibility, even unto the whatever generation, seems wrong to me.

2. The Palestinians paying for the crimes of the Germans
This idea, I know, is deeply entrenched in anti-Zionist thought, partly due to Said's influence, as well as the more prosaic work of Lenni Brenner, Jim Allen, Norman Finkelstein and more recently Jacqueline Rose. It is a logically flawed and politically dangerous connection, and anonymous is right to respond to it. But:

3. The Palestinians paying for Palestinian crimes
Undoubtedly, Palestinians have committed crimes against Israel. But have "the" (all) Palestinians? Should "the" (all) Palestinians be "punished" for the crimes of those who make egregious choices? Are "the" (all) Israelis (or "the" (all) Jews) be made to pay for what IZL and LHI did at Deir Yassin, for the IDF allowing the massacre at Sabra and Shatila, for the surgical strikes that fell a little off target during Defensive Shield and Cast Lead and destroyed schools and clinics? No, the logic of collective punishment is just wrong. The two sides are not symmetrical, but neither has the monopoly on egregious choices, on taking the opportunity to miss an opportunity.

The Contentious Centrist said...

I think you are over reading anonymous's comment. Overspinning, too. In Israel's case, and only in Israel's case, popular opinion has turned war into an assault by a state, Israel (a collectivity of Jews) on individual, mostly innocent Palestinians.

It's an insufferable position, which Sharansky describes very aptly here:

http://natansharansky.org/2009/02/22/modern-day-anti-semitism-live-and-be-hated-die-and-be-loved/

The only reason I ever delete a comment is when it publishes or may lead to a discovery of personal information.

Gibson Block said...

I've always hated eulogies that deny any of the person's shortcomings.

When someone dies it is a chance to review a life.

If this fellow is being praised to the skies and someone thought he was terribly wrong about something, why not mention it.

The tone might be different than in other forums, that's all.

After all, he was a man of ideas and was against religious sanctification of them.