Thursday, August 27, 2015

Strange alliances: Jeremy Corbyn and the Holocaust deniers



Jeremy Corbyn's candidacy for leadership of the Labour Party continues to arouse strong emotions. There has been a lot of focus on the company he keeps. On the one hand, critics (including many sympathetic to his domestic political agenda) have raised concerns about his continued association with antisemites within and beyond the anti-Israel movement. On the other hand, supporters have argued that these charges represents guilt by association, that Corbyn couldn't have known about the antisemitism of those he has associated with, or that they were only slightly antisemitic anyway.

Nobody serious has suggested that Corbyn himself has an ideological commitment to Judeophobia or that he is personally prejudiced against Jews. But even among Corbyn's more serious supporters, there is an acknowledgement that there is something to be concerned about. Owen Jones, for example, has a very good piece in the Guardian about the need to confront antisemitism in this milieu. Corbyn supporter Jane Carnall links to a Tumblr called "How to criticize Israel without being anti-semitic", which goes through some of the issues.

Sarah Brown suggests that even Jones' clear denunciation still seems to suggest that those calling out Corbyn's associations are doing so in bad faith (as a "convenient means to undermine political opponents", as Jones puts it), which means not taking antisemitism seriously. And David Paxton takes on the "guilt by association" argument, showing that it is failure to root out the prevalent antisemitism in the anti-Israel and pro-Corbyn scenes that is the issue.

Eisen and Atzmon

Yesterday, I posted on Jeremy Corbyn's connections with the LaRouche movement. Today, I turn to a second allegation: that he has repeatedly endorsed a small group of Holocaust deniers who have attached themselves to the Palestine solidarity movement. At the centre of this group is an organisation called Deir Yassin Remembered, its organiser Paul Eisen, and Paul Eisen's associate Gilad Atzmon.

I mentioned Paul Eisen frequently on this blog in its early days in 2005. In 2004, he was arguing that "Jewish power" is destroying the world. Late in 2004 he began flirting with Holocaust denial. In 2005, he became a supporter of Holocaust revisionist and Hitler fan Ernst Zundel.

Deir Yassin Remembered was founded by the American Daniel McGowan, a retired professor and Holocaust denier. Also connected to DYR and Eisen is Israel Shamir, a Swedish Holocaust denier now based in Moscow. Their supporter Gilad Atzmon is a jazz musician who in 2004 told SOAS students that burning synagogues is rational and has been circulating antisemitic conspiracy theories for the last decade or more. All of these people are regularly published by fascists such as David Duke.

From 2007, here is Tony Greenstein on Eisen and DYR:
The British Director of DYR, Paul Eisen, has penned three essays - Jewish Power,The Holocaust Wars (a tribute to Nazi apologist and Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel who was sentenced last week to five years in a German prison for inciting racial hatred and defaming the memory of the dead) and In Clear Sight of Yad Vashem.

The latter essay argues ...

Over the last 50 years, revisionist scholars have amassed a formidable body of substantial evidence, which runs in direct opposition to the traditional Holocaust narrative. "Where is the evidence," they say, "for this alleged gargantuan mass-murder? Where are the documents? Where are the traces and remains? Where are the weapons of murder?"
Eisen's views regarding Holocaust denial are quite clear. Among DYR's supporters is Gilad Atzmon, a musician whose album, Exile, won the BBC Jazz Album of the Year in 2003. In an email to me of June 6, 2005, he described Eisen's Holocaust Wars as a "great text".

Atzmon, although not himself a Holocaust denier, is certainly a believer in the world Jewish conspiracy theory. In his web article, On Anti-semitism he wrote: "We must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously." After attention was drawn to this quote, Atzmon changed "Jewish people" to "Zionists" but the in the context of his argument the meaning is clearly the same.

This was why, when the Socialist Workers Party first invited Atzmon to give a talk at their Bookmarks bookshop in London in June 2005, a large picket was organised by Jews Against Zionism.
In fact, when Atzmon spoke to the SWP in 2004, many members noticed he was dodgy (Richard Seymour called him a disgraceful crank). The SWP, however, continued its association with Atzmon until 2010, due to his friendship with its secretary Martin Smith

The Corbyn link

Corbyn's connection to these people is a bit hard to disentangle. Louise Mensch puts the prosecution case in the second part of this post, building on the Daily Mail's attack. It seems that Corbyn associated with Eisen in 2005, when it was just emerging that Eisen was a Holocaust denier, and again in 2013, by which time the mainstream Palestine solidarity movement had long severed all links with him. Gilad Atzmon performed at the 2005 event organised by Eisen which Corbyn attended; again, this was at the time when it was becoming clear Atzmon was antisemitic. It seems that attending the event is the only connection between Atzmon and Corbyn.

Eisen has claimed that Corbyn stood by Eisen during the period when the Palestine solidarity movement was ostracising him, but there is no evidence of that beside his words. Charlie Pottins, who was there at the time, gives a clear account of how Eisen's toxicity became clear at this time, but questions whether Corbyn had any continued association with the man.

2005

The first issue then is the extent to which Corbyn should have been aware of Eisen or Atzmon's racism at this time, April 2005.

My view is that he probably should have been becoming aware. The Palestine solidarity movement, Jews Against Zionism, LabourNet and others were starting to raise the issue at exactly this time. But it was only a month or two later that these criticisms were really gaining momentum and the full scale of Eisen's toxicity became clear. For example, if we look at Joel Finkel's response to Eisen's "Jewish Power", written in early 2005, he is starting to raise the problems of the metaphysical, raciological vision of Jews at the heart of Eisen's worldview, but it is only in a June 2005 postscript that he notes that Eisen has gone full fascist. This account by Mark Elf from June 2005 lays out the timeline, showing that people were noticing Eisen's racism but that the full extent of it was only becoming clear.

My verdict, then, is that Corbyn should have listened more carefully at that time to those who were raising alarm bells, but that there was not yet a strong case being made in April 2005 - so this does not constitute a serious error of judgement.

Corbyn at 2013 DYR event
2013

I agree that Corbyn could have put more effort into weeding these kinds of people out of the Palestine solidarity movement. But Tony Greenstein reports that Corbyn supported the moves to expel DYR supporter, Francis Clarke-Lowes, from PSC at the 2012 AGM for holocaust denial. And one of Eisen's posts claiming association with Corbyn that Mensch cites is actually bemoaning Corbyn's support for John Mann's EDM implicitly criticising of Paul Flynn for being antisemitic about the British ambassador to Israel. In short, I don't think this part of the case against Corbyn is particularly strong if taken alone.

If the 2005 part of the story was all there was, then, I'd say we need to chill out. But the problem is Corbyn seems to have gone back to a Deir Yassin Remembered event in 2013 (along with Labour MP Gerald Kaufman) - see Express, Jewish Chronicle, DYR website.

That Corbyn should be associating with DYR six years after the PSC formally severed links with DYR because of Holocaust denial does not mean Corbyn is an antisemite (and noone serious is saying so). But it does seem really worrying. Just four months earlier Eisen had written a blogpost “How I became a Holocaust denier”. Corbyn should have abided by the PSC decision and kept well away from them. That he didn't says something very depressing about him - either that he doesn't believe serious anti-racists when they talk about Holocaust denial, or he doesn't care.

What about the Tories?

Jane Carnell's criticism of Mensch's take on this spends a lot of time on some of the parallel associations others have had with Holocaust deniers. She spends time in particular on Tory links with Polish right-wing politician Michal Kaminski, to which Louise Mensch has never objected and which Stephen Pollard has defended.

I wrote about this at the time, and linked to several pieces attacking the Kaminski link, including several by those who are attacking Corbyn now. Consistent opponents of antisemitism were right to raise the alarm against Kaminski; they are right to raise the alarm against Corbyn now. Just because Tories have dodgy links does not mean we should let Corbyn off the hook for his dodgy links.



Further reading:

11 comments:

Rebecca said...

Given that it was well-known two years ago that Paul Eisen is a Holocaust denier and that DYR is run by a Holocaust denier (Daniel A. McGowan), why would Corbyn want to go to an event sponsored by DYR? What is the advantage to him in doing so? If he's trying to show his pro-Palestinian bonafides, why go to that event in particular?

I am also very curious to know who the other attendees were. I looked at photos from the event on the DYR website, but since I'm an American, I didn't recognize anyone else. Do you have any idea of who they were?

bob said...

Rebecca, it is mystifying to me what's in it for Corbyn to associate with Holocaust deniers. He really doesn't need to do anything to show his pro-Pal credentials. It could be (as Eisen claims) that they have a personal connection. It could be that he willfully closes his ears when people talk about antisemitism and Holocaust denial in the anti-Zionist scene. It's hard to come up with a sympathetic explanation.

The best case scenario is that he saw names other than Eisen's on the invite and assumed Eisen was not involved any more. To be honest, I am not sure if he was directly involved in the event, although he certainly remained involved in DYR (as, I think, did McGowan, Jeff Blankfort, Israel Shamir - at least they remained listed on the website as advisors). Here is a little background on the people who organised the 2013 event:
http://www.jewishnews.co.uk/18806/
http://www.thejc.com/arts/theatre-reviews/review-go-to-gaza-drink-the-sea
http://elderofziyon.blogspot.co.il/2012/07/switched-at-birth-in-gaza.html#.VeXKbvlViko


Who else went in 2013? Gerald Kaufman - an ageing, increasingly cranky, stridently anti-Zionist, not particularly left-wing Jewish Labour MP. Apart from that, I'm not sure. I feel I should know who is the glamorous lady in the bottom pic but I can't bring it to mind.

david gehrig said...

I've been watching the Eisen/Corbyn bit closely from here in the US, and was surprised and happy to find, at the bottom of your excellent article, a link to my own from 2008 or so.

The comments to my posting that you kindly linked to are a master class in the absolute granite-headedness of someone absolutely fixed in pure adamant refusal to refuse to consider the antisemitism of Eisen's writings, offering up bogus distractions as a way to spin it into a tale of persecuted anti-Zionism while failing to address Atzmon's clear role in promoting Holocaust denial.

I think this says a lot about why Corbyn keeps having this problem. There are those who feel that acknowledging even the slightest sliver of antisemitism on the left in a *specific* way - rather than a generic hand-wave of the form "bad things are bad, of course, but don't make me name names" - is somehow to hand Netanyahu a victory. Anything short of shouting "Jews to the gas" isn't *really* antisemitism to them, and anyone bothered by e.g. Atzmon passing around a Holocaust denial essay is to be dismissed as just a hasbara shill "trying to change the subject." In such an environment, the Atzmons and Eisens thrive.

It took the publication of Atzmon's book, and the documentation of the various antisemitic and Holocaust denial links on PSC branch sites, to shock most of the pro-Palestine movement out of their complacency. But "most" is not "all" and the isolation of Atzmon and Eisen and such has, obviously, not been total.

What Corbyn's appearance at the 2013 DYR event shows is that neither he nor anyone who has his ear cares very much, in any active way, about antisemitism. He'll issue the perfunctory declamation about how "bad things are bad," but will fail to internalize the meaning and force of the Jewish concerns.

Jeff Blankfort said...

Just for the record I have had no connection with Deir Yassin Remembered since I resigned from its board when it began to embrace Ernst Zundel and holocaust deniers. I met Paul Eisen 10 years ago and told him that while I thought jailing or fining anyone for questioning the holocaust or any other historical occurrence was flat out wrong, I opposed linking a campaign to defend them to the fight for justice in Palestine, that if he wanted to defend Ernst Zundel, fine, but don't do it while wearing the garb of a campaigner for Palestinian rights.

I have since become convinced that he cares nothing for Palestinian rights and that his embrace of the Nazis and National Socialism is more of a sign of mental illness and conflicts at home in his childhood than anything else.

That all being said, as abhorrent as holocaust denial might be, it is nothing compared to what Israel has been doing to the Palestinians for the last 67 years of which the massacre of Deir Yassin is emblematic and while I have never attended a DYR event I suspect that there would be nothing on the agenda advocating holocaust denial. If there were, it would have been published far and wide.

I am sure that Jeremy Corbyn has been shocked as would any person with a sense of decency and concern for one's fellow humans by the oppressive treatment of the Palestinians by Israel over a span of nearly seven decades and even more so when one realizes that his treatment has had the blessings and financial and political support of your government which is even much more the case in the US.

That is what distinguishes the situation in occupied Palestine from other areas in the world where people are suffering under even worse conditions; no one suggests that in any other global conflict is the aggressor openly embraced by the governments of the US and the UK and by the same token, no other aggressor maintains lobbies in either the UK or US that largely exist to enforce endorsement of its aggression by its elected politicians.
,
That, of course, does not seem to bother Jeremy Corbyn's critics in Britain's Jewish establishment whose support for Israel's siege and wars on Gaza and for its continuing occupation and settlement of Palestinian land makes the statements of holocaust deniers and apologists for the Third Reich 70 years later, as disgusting as they are, appear to be what they actually are, of little consequence.

Unknown said...

I find it interesting that you are both unable and unwilling to deal with what I actually said in the series of blogposts I wrote in response to Louise Mensch's Corbyn smears.

Jane Carnall
Smearing by Mensch: conclusion

bob said...

Jane,

I thought that this post did deal with what you said in your second blogpost, to which it linked. I made my own assessment of Mensch's claim, and after looking at the chronology I agree with you that in April 2005 Corbyn can be given the benefit of the doubt for not knowing about Eisen, even though it was already starting to become clear to other pro-Palestinian activists before then.

However, as I said above, I am less comfortable with the fact that Mensch does seem to be correct in pointing out that he did not have the same excuses in 2013, when he attended a DYR event, even though some of the most hardcore anti-Zionists (e.g. Jeff Blankfort) had long severed links with it and PSC actively condemning it. I don't think your post adequately addresses that, except basically to say lots of other people were there too. Yes, lots of other people were there too (just as Corbyn was not alone in speaking to the LaRouche cult), but those lots of other people are not bookies' favourites to become leader of what remains the largest opposition party in the UK, the party which I would hope to defeat the Tories in 2020.

(If Mensch says anyone who commemorates Deir Yassin is an antisemite, she is obviously wrong about that.)

On Atzmon, it completely baffles me why you feel the need to read lots of his work to decide if he's an antisemite or not. You just have to look at one or two of his tweets - see e.g. http://bobfrombrockley.tumblr.com/post/128635107226/gilad-atzmon-tweets-5-september-2015. You could claim that in April 2005 not many people knew this, but I don't get why you keep on insisting

Also, in your conclusion you say "I would note that people who want to identify Israeli-born Jews as anti-Semitic “self-hating Jews”, aren’t helped by the fact that any Israeli-born Jew who criticises Israeli policy towards the Palestinians will invariably be attacked as a self-hating Jew". But in some cases it just might be true. Atzmon himself has actually called himself "a proud self-hating Jew" (google it if you don't believe me) and in recent years doesn't even see himself as Jewish (see link in previous paragraph).

Meanwhile, I find it interesting that you don't deal with Paul Canning's very carefully detailed allegations about Corbyn's Putin attitude, which you call a "smear" but which you don't seem to want to actually engage with.

In conclusion, you may be right that Mensch is simply using allegations of antisemitism as a political game: she wants to attack Jeremy Corbyn, and this is a convenient excuse (although her defence of Naz Shah at least suggests that party politics don't always dictate her obsessions) - but for my part (and Jim Denham's and Paul Canning's) I care about Corbyn's associations because I care about the state of left-wing anti-austerity anti-Tory politics and I care about racism, including racism against Jews.

david gehrig said...

Another example of how DYR was abandoned by activists repelled by the antisemitism and Holocaust denial of the DYR leadership as early in 2005:

http://www.sue.be/pal/Halper_DYR.html

That's Sue Blackwell's page; nobody's likely to mistake her for a Zionist, nor is Jeff Halper a member of the Netanyahu fan club.

The stench of antisemitism at DYR was real and pronounced, widely denounced in 2005. That Corbyn as still going to DYR events as late as 2013 suggests the man simply has no nose.

Disillusioned marxist said...

Is the fact he has shit politics really such a surprise given he has been a serving labour mp for 32 years?

Unknown said...

(If Mensch says anyone who commemorates Deir Yassin is an antisemite, she is obviously wrong about that.)

And yet, you're saying just that, too: anyone who goes to a Deir Yassin memorial event is an anti-Semite. Anyone. Any Deir Yassin memorial event.

Meanwhile, I find it interesting that you don't deal with Paul Canning's very carefully detailed allegations about Corbyn's Putin attitude, which you call a "smear" but which you don't seem to want to actually engage with.

No, I don't really want to deal with Paul Canning's rubbish. I'll give Louise Mensch credit: while she lied and distorted, she was dealing with things that had actually happened. It was therefore possible to deconstruct the claims she made in her blogpost.

Paul Canning is clearly desperate to get the same kind of attention. But as his blog is entirely based on his interpretation of things Corbyn has said, there's nothing to deconstruct. Canning doesn't like Corbyn and puts the worst possible interpretation on everything he's said: that's not something one can deconstruct, just note.

I am delighted Jeremy Corbyn is now Leader of the Opposition.

Jane Carnall
EdinburghEye

bob said...

Re Deir Yassin: I don't see how I'm saying that. I'm talking specifically about DYR as an organisation, which is utterly compromised by its engagement with hardcore antisemites and holocaust deniers. If the 2013 event was organised by a different organisation than I've misunderstood and I have no problem with it. But I categorically have no problem with commemorating the massacre as such.

Canning infers Corbyn's attitude to Russia and to Ukraine from... what Corbyn says. That is exactly what makes it not a smear. It is carefully documented.

Paul Canning said...

What Bob said.

A Louise Mensch wannabee. That's one for the ages (also, original) :]