Hadar Sela on the socialism of fools
OK, as you'll know by now, Socialist Unity editor Andy Newman wrote a piece for the Guardian on left antisemitism, using Gilad Atzmon as one example. Hadar Sela had an article published at CiFWatch entitled "Andy Newman’s socialism of fools: The remarkable staying power of leftist antisemitism". She starts by noting that the "the sane centre-ish Left", including Harry's Place and me welcomed his comments, but were perhaps myopic in doing so. She correctly notes that "Gilad Atzmon is clearly a very extreme case; one would have to be either terminally intellectually challenged or willfully blind in order to not recognize his anti-Semitism." She suggests that, by concentrating on the extreme case, he (and his ilk) are trying to throw a smokescreen over the intimacy between "normal" anti-Zionism and antisemitism.
Sela seems to think that the Guardian commissioned Newman to write this, and deliberately chose him because of his socialist credentials, whereas I don't see that we have any evidence that Newman did anything other than act off his own back because of anger at left antisemitism.
Sela makes a lot of Newman's involvement with the local Swindon branch of Stop the War, and from that condemns him because of national StW's links with Islamists. I agree (and have regularly argued here) that StW is tainted by its association with far right Islamists. "On October 8th it will be holding a rally in central London at which known supporters of the anti-Semitic (and proscribed) terrorist organization Hamas such as Anas Altikriti and Mohammed Sawalha are billed to appear." Actually, I'm not sure they spoke; I think they just pledged to attend, along with Peter Tatchell. But even so, I'm not convinced it is fair to blame this on the Swindon branch. At any rate, and even if it was fair to indict him for links with Islamism, it seems like a pretty big jump from there to "In other words, inviting Andy Newman to rubber-stamp [?] Gilad Atzmon’s anti-Semitism is a bit like asking Nick Griffin to write an article denouncing Combat 18." That kind of excessive rhetoric devalues accusations of antisemitism.
A smaller quibble is that Sela focuses on Newman's attack on Atzmon, when of course Atzmon was simply an example of a trend; he also cited Alison Weir and the Zeitgeist movie. He left it up for debate where to draw the line. Sela also makes a lot of the words "far right" (she puts it in bold font) in this sentence: "“It is incumbent upon the left and the Palestinian solidarity movement to both be aware of the conscious effort of far-right antisemites to infiltrate the movement…”Newman has stated that the Guardian editors inserted this, which would confirm a lot of CiFWatch analysis, but she has not amended this. It seems to me, though, that there is nothing particularly left-wing about Atzmon or about Weir or Zeitgeist.
More interestingly, another point Sela makes is that left antisemitism is not new or rising. It is of course correct that it is not new, although it feels like it is rising to me, which is why we need resources like CiFWatch now. She gives Lenin as an example of the age-old antisemitism of the left.
From its very beginnings Socialism advocated the assimilation of Jews as an ‘answer’ to anti-Semitism rather than dealing with the problem itself. The only scenario under which a Jew could liberate himself from racist persecution was, according to Lenin, “when the non-native sections cease to be alien and blend with the general mass of the population”. In other words, Jews could only avoid anti-Semitism if they stopped being Jews.This simplifies left antisemitism, by ignoring the "socialism of the fools" variety of antisemitic opposition to finance capital, a more significant form of left antisemitism than ortho-Marxist "red assimilationism". (Arguably, even as it rightly battled red assimilationism, Zionism historically absorbed some of the stereotypes of the socialism of fools, with its critique of the diaspora luftmensch and desire for muscular, productive, blood-and-soil Jews.)
And it simplifies Lenin's position, which was richer and more complex, and included unambiguous opposition to antisemitism. He believed (wrongly) that antisemitism would die with the birth of socialism, but (unlike some of his Jewish Bolshevik comrades) did not think that meant socialists could afford not to fight it in the meantime.
I think we need a more subtle understanding of left antisemitism. Lenin is relevant to understanding the SWP's position, but not to understanding the forms of antisemitism being normalised (via people like Atzmon) in the anti-Zionist movement. Atzmon (and for that matter Hamas) bring right-wing, Nazi antisemitism, not left-wing antisemitism, into the anti-Zionist movement.
What happened next 1: Trolling
When CiFWatch's Adam Levik left a comment at Socialist Unity kindly informing them of Sela's article, Andy Newman deleted it, wrote "right-wing troll deleted" over it, and added this comment:
You need to be a special type of idiot to think that my article is evidence that I am equivalent of Nick Griffin. You also concentrate on the words “far right” that I have already explained was inserted by the Guardian editors. And clearly in your book ALL solidarity with the Palestinians or political disagreement with Zionism is anti-semitic; making you a zealot of the most extremist stripeWhat an excessive, hysterical reaction, to not even allow the link to appear on the comment thread! If anti-Zionists can't talk handle people talking like this without this sort of response, then they can't claim much credibility.
What happened next 2: The Guardian bookshop
A rather bizarre exchange occurred on the CiFWatch comment thread. My friend Keith Kahn-Harris left this comment:
...the Guardian bookstore also stocks books by Melanie Phillips, Alan Dershowitz and Anthony Julius. It clearly stocks thousands of works and is not as ‘careful’ and ‘handpicked’ in its selection as it claims. Amazon and other sites also sell Atzmon etc. There is clearly a debate to be had as to whether all online bookstores should stop selling racist/antisemitic works (and by the way I include Atzmon in the latter category). However this is not an issue that is best raised by focusing on the Guardian online bookstore alone – it is rather an issue about the value-neutrality of all online bookselling.Keith also pointed out that the description from the website, the bit about the explosive unique global influence, is not the Guardian's text but appears wherever it is sold on-line. This means that the illiteracy is presumably the responsibility of the publisher, which is also worrying.
For a very subtle and interesting take on some of the varieties of left antisemitism around, read this excellent piece by A Jay Adler on antisemitism as the Ur hatred, following on from his (also excellent) “The Uncanny John Mearsheimer”. It is a very good account of the mechanics of Jew-hatred today. Half-way through, we are introduced to the bizarre figure of Ross Vachon, sender of an unambiguously antisemitic e-mail to AJA. It is worth noting that Vachon is a CounterPunch contributor...