Left antisemitism and its rejection: Credit where credit's due/blame where blame's due
Reuben at Third Estate describes this as a good week for the anti-racist left. Item 1, the Guardian published (both in print and Comment is Free) an article against left-wing antisemitism, by blogger Andy Newman of Socialist Unity.
Like my Shirazite comrades, I have been critical here in the past of Andy and his blog, but in general he has been forthright in condemning left antisemitism, both because racism is bad in itself and because its presence in the anti-Zionist camp besmirches the cause of Palestinian solidarity. Credit is due to him for raising this issue in a mainstream left-liberal outlet.
Andy uses a number of examples to show the current threat level of left antisemitism, including a new book by Gilad Atzmon (more on that below), the paranoia-porn of Zeitgeist: the Movie, and the promotion in the pages of the internet rag CounterPunch (Newman bizarrely calls it a "respected American leftist publication") of wacko blood libel conspiracy theories from Alison Weir.
Predictably, the good liberals below the line at Comment Is Free went nuts with Andy, and the Graun had to close the thread quite quickly. CiFWatch often seem a little hysterical about these things to me, but here they present an enormous weight of evidence for the scale of the Jew-hating there. And, sadly, the Guardian gave a platform to Atzmon to disingenuously and dishonestly reply to Andy too, and publishing former Graun journalist Jonathan Cook has written a similarly dishonest and disingenuous defence.
Shamefully, the Guardian not only gave Weir right to reply, but direct readers to it prominently on the web page of Andy's article. (I don't recall them giving David Duke or Nick Griffin right of reply when their writers attack them.) I was saddened to see Weir validating her crackpot theories with a quote from Nancy Scheper-Hughes, an anthropologist who has written some extraordinary books about Brazil and other places. "Israel is at the top. It has tentacles reaching out worldwide." The language here (the source is a CNN interview) is reminiscent of antisemitic imagery. But looking at Scheper-Hughes' talks and writings on the organ trade, I feel Weir has snipped it out of context, and really emphasised one element of her work and ignored others.
At any rate, Andy's key point is not that Weir talks about Israel's role in organ theft, but that she links it explicitly to Medieval myths and allegations about Jews consuming gentile blood, myths which Weir claims are at least based in truth. Andy, as a Catholic by background, is well attuned to this. For background, read Adam Holland on Alison Weir and her blood libel.
Bizarrely, and to my dissappointment, Weir found a defender in former anti-fascist Tony Greenstein. I was surprised, because Greenstein (along with Roland Rance, Mark Elf and Michael Rosen) have been among the most consistent critics of Gilad Atzmon (who I'll turn to in a minute) and his followers and friends Paul Eisen and Mary Rizzo, so it was odd to see Tony supporting another of this ilk.
Gilad Atzmon and Zero Books
Item 2 in Reuben's good week is a group of left-wing authors who have come out strongly against the publication of an antisemitic book by jazz musician and raciologist Gilad Atzmon. Atzmon's book, The Wondering Who, has just been published by Zero Books, a small UK-based independent publisher.
A number of people have objected to them publishing the rabid antisemitic rantings of such a poisonous person. They fail to get it at all. More here from Sarah.
It is greatly to the credit of some of Zero Books' leftie authors - including Robin Carmody, Dominic Fox, Owen Hatherley, Douglas Murphy, Alex Niven, Mark Olden, Laurie Penny, Nina Power, Richard Seymour & Kit Withnail - that they have taken a firm stand against the publication. Seymour publishes the statement on his blog. He's another one I can't say I see eye to eye with, but to be fair he has consistently seen Atzmon's racism long before a lot of other people.
I think it was Reuben at the impeccably leftist if contrarian and heterodox Third Estate who first (or at least very early) raised the cry about Zero Books publishing Atzmon. Read Reuben's more recent response here.
Harry's Place, of course, has reams of posts on Atzmon, including Alan A on Atzmon, Salman Rushdie and Reem Kelani (recommended for jazz fans), Edmund Standing on Nazi apologetics, etc etc.
Gilad Atzmon and John Mearsheimer
I've already reported one of the twists in this saga, "Israel Lobby" apostle John Mearsheimer endorsing Atzmon's book, although I don't think I've mentioned his colleague Stephen Walt defending him. David Bernstein, previously a defender of Mearsheimer, probably most clearly sets out what's wrong with Gilad Atzmon, a good starting place for the un-initiated. If you want more, presents a huge amount of evidence. Joseph W shows why Walt and Mearsheimer have got it so wrong and then does so again. As does Adam Holland. Another interesting take on John Mearsheimer by the excellent A Jay Adler - highly recommended.
Roland cutely entitles his post on this "Andrew Sullivan’s Favorite Jew Disparager Stumps for Well Know Anti-Semite". Sullivan had a couple of weeks ago been lauding Mearsheimer as "a man subjected to a vicious smear campaign because of his resistance to the Greater Israel Lobby". (Resistance? Like the Settlers have actually invaded Chicago now?) It took him a while to half-heartedly realise Mearsheimer might have stepped out of the pale now, and then finally the penny dropped even for Sullivan. (See also It strikes me that, whatever true facts such organisations [If Americans Knew and the Council for National Interest] may put out, they're aimed at American Patriots who want to ditch the alliance with Israel.So they carry quite a lot of material about such topics such as the “Liberty Belle” Incident, allegations of Israeli industrial espionage against the USA, Aipac members who are Israeli agents etc. In other words, they support of US Imperialism, but want to realign its foreign policy along another track." The Council for National Interest was founded by former Congressmen Paul Findley (R-IL) and Pete McCloskey (R-CA) and former CIA officer Philip Giraldi is Executive Director. Findley is also a Board member of If Americans Knew, which carries an endoresement from Republican politician Tom Campbell. Weir is regularly published by the pseudo-leftist CounterPunch (along with paleocons, ultra-libertarians, Paulistas and Reaganistes like Paul Craig Roberts, William Lind, Sheldon Richman and Anthony Gregory), but also by the far right paleoconservative Antiwar.com. In other words, these are right of centre, Republican organisations, preaching (like Mearsheimer) an isolationist, America First version of American national interest.
The fact that Weir and Mearsheimer are right-wingers, though, raises a question. Why is the left so enamoured of them? Why is it the left that promotes their crackpot theories?
To return to where I started, I wanted to say a few words about Socialist Unity. Andy Newman, its main writer, is generally sound on issues of fascism and racism. As an ex-member, he is also pretty vituperative about the SWP sometimes, which is fine by me. I worry at the Stalinist drift of the site, for instance its adulation of China, its support for Third Worldist forms of state socialism, including Nasserite Arab nationalism. I think it gives an extraordinarily undue prominence to the Israel/Palestine conflict, to the detriment of coverage of other global issues, from Mauritania to Sri Lanka to Belarus. I also think it has a wacky, and very Popular Frontist, idea of what "progressive" means, and it has an unhealthy regard for populist reactionaries like Ken Livingstone, George Galloway, Selma Yaqoob. In this, I sometimes feel it is in the tradition of HM Hyndman or Robert Blatchford, a populist, right-leaning, nationalist socialism, despite its leftist "anti-imperialist veneer". I could live with all of that. I do have a problem with is the quantity of borderline antisemitism that appears in comment threads. This mirrors the Islamophobia below the line at Harry's Place. But HP does not moderate comments while SU does. And SU deletes a lot of comments. For instance, it has permanently banned Jim Denham, a person of very high integrity, for "racism". And it has John Wight as another major editor, who seems to promote this kind of borderline antisemitism. This vicious post by Wight, with its completely undeserved nastiness towards Sarah AB, is something that SU should never be publishing, although it gives a good indication of how devalued the word "progressive" has become. Wight and his clones below the line at SU reflect a deep sickness on the left, a sickness carried by the anti-Zionist movement.
Left antisemites - or left antisemitism
One final thing, even though I've said it before. It's interesting how all the apologists say something like "I'm not antisemitic", "I'm not a Holocaust denier", "Some of my best friends are Jews", "Anyone who knows him knows he wouldn't hurt a fly", etc. It seems to me irrelevant and unnecessary to argue if John Wight or Alison Weir or John Mearsheimer are really antisemites. What is important is the language, logic, structure and effect of what they say and what they do. Forget about whether they're antisemites, and concentrate on fighting antisemitism.
The best resource on the web on left antisemitism is without doubt Contested Terrain, which you should all bookmark and visit regularly. At the top right you'll see brief news items, and the main body carries analysis of left-wing antisemitism from a radical, anti-capitalist perspective.
See also Marxist Humanist Initiative on left antisemitism (via Contested Terrain). See also A Drunk Man Looks at the Israeli Flag at Shiraz Socialist.