So, the time has come not to renew membership of the Green Party [2011]

This is a guest post by Toby Green

This is something that gives me no pleasure at all. When I joined the Green Party ten years ago, I did so in the genuine belief that it might offer an alternative to the place-seeking politics that have come to characterise so much of Western democracy. To discover that the Green Party is no different is a saddening moment, though of course it should come as no surprise. Its members are human beings, after all. But how did this come about, and why does it matter?

The crisis in the party is caused by several factors. The first is that the active membership is really very small - definitely less than 1000 people. In this situation, it is very easy for a relatively small interest group to hijack it for its own ends. This is what has happened with GreenLeft. I have nothing against the Left, and indeed consider myself Left, in the sense that it is clear that most of the sadness and misery of the world today is caused by inequalities. But GreenLeft is mainly simply a rehashing of old Trotskyite views in a new environmental clothing. The problem with this being that Trotskyism never accepted that while Marx´s critique of capitalism was broadly accurate, the solution was an utter disaster (and indeed, unGreen - viz Soviet Union); one of the tragedies of the 20th century being that in spite of the violence and destructiveness of capitalism, in the Cold War the better ideology won. GreenLeft is, in general, populated by angry people whose personal ties - or lack thereof - allow them plenty of time to devote to meetings, email lists, and entryism. As they have more time than most GP members, GreenLeft members have taken over many of the administrative posts in the party and their positions are increasingly the default policy options of the party.

Why does this matter in Britain? It matters because of the peculiarly rabid anti-religiousness of the British Left. This is the intellectual critique which has followed the likes of Dawkins, Dennett, and others, who fail to recognize that secular ideologies in the 20th century proved even more violent than religious ones. They blame the violence of human societies on religion, rather than on humans. In Britain, almost more than in any other country, this position has become the default one of most leftist intellectuals, filtering through to groups such as GreenLeft. However, there are many problems with such a stance, not least the fact that the majority of human beings are deeply religious - and it is therefore extremely presumptuous of people to claim to act for "the people" when they despise the ideology of a large part of "the people".

How has this affected the toleration and indeed covert abetting of anti-semitism within the UK Green Party? The key lies in John Gray´s masterful 2007 book Black Mass, where Gray noted the tendency in secular liberal society for the emergence of repressed religious manifestations, and put this down to secularism´s repression of what is in fact a deep human need, the belief in myth. To take a leaf out of Freud, where deep emotional needs are repressed, they return. If, in a Christian society, religion is repressed, the deep human need for myth may emerge in a secular form: Christianity´s long-standing difficult relationship with Judaism and Jerusalem means that this manifests itself in a hatred of the secular form of Judaism, the political state of Israel, and in a repressed form of anti-semitism that dare not speak its name.

This has become abundantly apparent in the Green Party´s abject failure to address clear anti-semitism (and indeed other forms of prejudice) within the party. There appears to be a crass and touchingly self-congratulatory view that if someone is a member of the Green Party, they therefore can´t be prejudiced. This sort of self-regarding drivel is a symbol of one of the worst aspects of the party, which is that all too many members of the party belong because they want to feel good about themselves, not because of what they might achieve. Take the example of fair trade: a recent edition of Green World held what was essentially a two-page advertorial for a fair trade company. Fair trade is on the rise, more available in British stores than in other countries. Why? Because British leftist consumers like to feel good about themselves. Kit Kats are labelled Fairtrade in Britain but not in many other countries for instance. Fair trade is of course better than slave labour, but it does not address the fundamental issue that siphoning off agricultural surpluses from poor countries for the economies of the developed world can do very little to help redress global economic inequities; this was indeed a cycle which began with the Atlantic slave trade, when African societies had agricultural surpluses requisitioned to feed slaves on the middle passage.

Essentially, much of the membership of the party is therefore grounded in a sort of superior bad faith. And so of course, members of the Green Party can´t be prejudiced. If they accuse members called "Levy" of being Israeli academics in disguise defending Israel, they can´t be rehashing old Jewish conspiracy theories. If they circulate emails from David Duke, a key figure in the Klu Klux Klan, on how "Jewish Zionists" are shaping American policy in Israel in alliance with Obama (thereby rehashing not only anti-semitic myths but also an alliance of this with anti-Black racism), they can still work in Caroline Lucas´s office and be on the list for the European elections. If they circulate emails accusing Jewish members of parliament of double loyalty (to Israel and the UK), there´s no need to suppose that they are re-hashing the anti-Catholic discourse which surrounded JF Kennedy´s run for office in 1960. If they talk of the "squealing zionists", there´s no reason for them not to be respected party figures.

To be fair, after all of this, the party did recognise that there was an issue. A report commissioned by the Green Party Regional Council (GPRC - a powerful decision-making body in the decentralisd power structure of the party), and written by two non-Jewish members, said that these were examples of a toleration of low-level anti-semitism, and that therefore a working party on anti-semitism was recommended to be established. Although kicked into the long grass at first, it started work when a senior figure recommended an article by a known holocaust denier on his blog. But the working party was quickly an impossibility. I should know: I was the chair, a position I only adopted when no one else was prepared to. Replies to very calm, polite emails asking for input came there none. Ever. Weeks would go by without any discussion, and if I as chair then asked for input this was always slack. One member only ever sent one email to the group. Eventually, a crisis came when a new GP member posted emails to a list confirming that the epithet of "squealing zionist" was justified. Since this was one of the phrases criticised in the original report to the GPRC, I brought this to the attention of the group - at which point one member resigned.

This should perhaps not be surprising, since the member who resigned was the very same member who had first used this phrase. The fact that the Green Party put him on the group at his own request (total membership: just 6) speaks volumes for their attitude to it. Especially since, in a subsequent email which this member circulated, he said he had long told the party that the group would be used as a means to change the party´s policy on Israel. That is, this member never had any intention of supporting the work of the group, and people in the party hierarchy knew this.

So where did this leave the situation? The Working Party was dissolved. Members of the GPRC said they would come up with their own recommendations, and recommended the adoption of the EUMC definition of anti-semitism. This created uproar, and the decision was revoked by the GPRC through a process that was specially expedited outside the ordinary parameters of the functioning of the council. The GPRC instead adopted a policy that they would not develop a policy on anti-semitism, in spite of their own report. Thus, GPRC has accepted that there is a problem, and decided to do nothing about it.

In the midst of all this farce, a wild card entered the process, which was the joining of the party of a Jewish member who was a leading light in Jews for Justice for Palestinians. This member took to making violent ad hominem attacks on Jewish and non-Jewish party members who were concerned at anti-semitism. In what would seem to me to be clear instances of projections of their own obsessions, they expressed surprise that there could be non-Jewish members who had these concerns, and accused people of having no interest in global politics except Israel (and defending the Israeli position). As someone who has always tried to find a balance between twin unacceptables - Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories and anti-semitism - and who moreover had repeatedly voiced elements of criticism of Israel on public email lists in the party, this simplistic drivelling verbal violence was hard to take. I remained in the party. However, this individual then launched a formal complaint against a Jewish party member who has been prominent in condemning the toleration of anti-semitism in the party, accusing them of entryism - even though in the accuser´s own emails it has become clear that this is what they themselves are guilty of, since they talk of how before joining the party they had been told by people how the "Zionist lobby" was "infiltrating" the party; that is, their joining the party appears to be a clear decision to enter it to fight what they perceive as wrong.

So, what was the attitude of GPRC to this accusation? Although their own report has accepted that there is a problem with anti-semitism, and although anyone looking at these email lists can see the violence of this member´s almost daily tirades, the accusation has not been thrown out as trivial. Instead, a full tribunal of inquiry has been established. The idea put around by this new member is that, as a Jew, they can see through the anti-semitic myths. But what is lacking in this whole debate is an understanding of Jewish culture. Jews are notorious for disagreeing with each other - there are four synagogues in Gibraltar alone. And Jews are loud. Just because (a very small minority) of Jews disagree about what constitutes anti-semitism in this case, it doesn´t therefore mean the whole issue should be dismissed.

Far from it. After four years of this charade, it has become clear that the Green Party is institutionally anti-semitic. Its institutions have not dealt with clear evidence of anti-semitism. They show no evidence of wanting to, and indeed now seem to have decided to target perceived "problem" members of the party who have raised this issue. This is fundamentally a political decision: the Green party has decided that it is increasingly a hard left party, allied with enemies of Western capitalism. Rightly, it thinks that Islamophobia is one of the more dangerous phenomena to have arisen since 9/11, and in reaction against this it turns a blind eye to discrimination against perceived enemies of Islamic peoples, Israel, and the Jews. This is a classic case of projection: horrified at their own government´s attitudes towards Islamic countries, and wanting no part in it, this mentality projects this violence onto a scapegoat - Israel and Jews.

Fundamentally, therefore, not only is the Green Party institutionally anti-semitic, but for deep-seated political and emotional reasons it is incapable of dealing with this. Projection, bad faith, repression of basic belief structures needed by the human psyche, unthinking reaction, and anger to political forces of the 21st century: this is a potent, unhealthy and toxic mix which leads to bad policies, bad decisions, and a party which no thinking person can belong to any more. Certainly it cannot bring about a greater peace and stability in the world, which is one of the core things that the Green Party is supposed to stand for.


bob said…
I have lots to say on this, but am so busy this week I may not say it. Most of the discussion has gotten so circular that it's not worth continuing, but there are a few things I don't want to let lie.

This is one of them: "Also, having said that antisemitism needs special treatment, he is now using quotes on institutional racism by people who clearly were not referring to antisemitism." Where have I said a/s requires special treatment? I believe exactly the opposite. It is a form of racism, and needs to be treated as such.
levi9909 said…
Bob - time is precious to all of us but if you are running short then you can always always stop playing games. Much of the circularity has been by you and by commentators you haven't threatened with deletion.

The main argument here has been for the Green Party to establish a policy specifically on antisemitism as distinct from other forms of racism. You have supported that and, before claiming that you were not actually promoting the working definition you were promoting it.

I am not wasting my time looking for your exact wording but if you are now saying that you are happy with the Greens not to adopt a specific and separate policy on antisemitism that's fine but it is a flat contradiction of many of your comments but then you have contradicted yourself many times in this thread.

I'm done here but if you and your associates were more honest in your arguments a lot of time could have been saved all round.
bob said…
"Imagine if the issue were not antisemitism in the Green Party but rather Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and someone claimed that there is no need to investigate because it is all in the minds of the Muslim members, who have bullied the leadership into investigating. That response would immediately be condemned by anti-racists."

"Imagine if disabled party members or Muslim party members or lesbian party members reported discrimination and harassment and were told there would be no party policy because their issues were “no more important or prevalent” than any other discrimination."

"Imagine if a similar refusal to do anything took place with serious multiple allegations of anti-black or anti-Muslim racism in the party."

I think I'm being pretty clear that antisemitism is not a special case, but that it is treated differently by people who call themselves anti-racist. It shouldn't be treated differently.

Nonetheless, as with all other forms of racism, we need rigorous analysis and definitions that identify the specificities and commonalties, enabling us to act effectively against all of them.
bob said…
Btw, a "specific" policy on antisemitism is different from a "separate" policy. If there were allegations of persistent Islamophobia in the party, especially if these were disputed, I would expect the Party to adopt a specific policy on this.
bob said…
This is another thing that has particularly irked me:
Some anti-semitism appears as attacks on Israel , does not mean that we need to think that the priority when considering fundamental political criticisms of Israel is to see how they can be claimed as racist rather than thinking about whether they are true.

This seems to me the dominant narrative on the left, including in the Green Party, when it comes to allegations of antisemitism. And it is completely wide of the mark.

When making criticisms of Israeli policy, the priority should indeed be whether they are true. There should be no need to ask whether the criticisms are racist, because most sensible and sane people would simply not make racist criticisms of Israel. Once racist criticisms of Israel are made, however, it is perfectly legitimate to point out that they are racist. This should be completely obvious and straightforward to any anti-racist. To actively deny this is something only a racist or someone deeply in denial would do.

The constant "stifling debate about Israel" cry is absurd, given how easily accessible that cry is in the public sphere, issued again and again by the Caroline Lucases, Ken Livingstones, Jenny Tonges, Rupert Reads and so on of this world. It's a bit like the Daily Mail commentators who keep saying "We're not allowed to talk about immigration because we get accused of racism".
Anonymous said…
Not so, the belief that God promised the Jews a homeland in Israel is part of their faith., and without a homeland Jews will always be vulnerable to genocide.
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