Thursday, 16 August 2018

OK, I’ll come right out of the closet: I am a pro-semite and have been for many years. There, I’ve said it, now condemn me. As for anti-semites, there are plenty around, but I don’t think Corbyn is one, he’s just a chap who doesn’t seem to have grown up much (and there are plenty around just like him)

Looking at the list of countries in which live those who have visited this blog recently live, the chances are that some reading this haven’t heard of the troubles the Labour Party here in Britain is having with accusations of anti-semitism. British readers most certainly will have done so. The most recent twist is in the whole affair is that the party’s leader, one Jeremy ‘Jezza’ Corbyn, many years ago laid a wreath at a memorial in Tunisia to - I hope I’ve got this right - Palestinian freedom fighters/terrorists (delete as applicable to your personal bias/prejudices/principles/political beliefs - again, delete as applicable).

I’m not about to come down on one side or the other wholesale on whether some in the Labour Party are anti-semitic or whether it is just - as some suggest - simply a Tory plot to discredit Jeremy Corby. But I have to add that I have and often do come across anti-semitism generally, and it isn’t necessarily anything one might expect it to be.

At it’s most obvious in a civilised country like Britain, it is straightforward and often quite marked unpleasantness about and towards Jews. For example, here in St Breward lives a, now elderly, couple who were originally from either then then Southern Rhodesia or South Africa. I know them only very vaguely through my stepmother (the middle-classes like to stick together down here), but about 15 years ago and out of the blue, the husband rang me up to invite me to supper. I was very surprised.

It turned out that he, who had been a businessman in South Africa before retiring to North Cornwall, felt that the local parish council, and especially its finances, were very badly run and he wanted to get himself elected to shake it all up. The invitation to supper was intended to enlist my support, though that in itself was a bit of a mystery as I have no clout over anyone at all and my one vote would not have swung it for him.

To get to the point: in that original phone call inviting me to supper he made a reference - why I didn’t understand then and still can’t recall 15 years later - to some businessman he had known in South Africa, describing him to me along the lines of ‘you know the sort, a Jew, always looking for a fast buck, you know the sort’. Well, I don’t know the sort, and to this day I regret not telling him to stick his supper invitation up his arse.

That is the kind of overt anti-semitism which is quite obvious. But there are more invidious kinds. There will be the off-colour jokes about Jews that might be told, the throwaway remarks which involve an expression like ‘well, he’s Jewish, of course, so what can you expect?’, the subtle nudge-nudge, wink-wink from those who realise that these days the have to watch their step in such matters but, you know, nudge-nudge, wink-wink, ‘he’s Jewish, know what I mean?’ There’s even the very odd remark you might occasionally hear that ‘of course I’m not anti-semitic, why some of my good friends are Jewish’, which fact, of course, absolves you of all suspicion.

. . .

I must come out straight and confess that I am truly baffled by anti-semitism. I don’t mean that in the sense that I am baffled by how people can be so coarse and unfriendly as to be anti-semitic, but I am baffled in the sense that were a Chinese man to come up to me and address me in Chinese, I would be equally baffled. I would have no idea what he wanted or what he was saying. I find anti-semitism as incomprehensible as I would that Chinese man.

I realise I am in danger of seeming to be trying to polish a halo, so please accept what I say in the previous paragraph as a simple statement of fact. I shall add, though, that I have a definite liking for much that is Jewish, not least their wit and humour. That is not too say that I expect all Jews to be witty and funny, because I have also met some real bores. But there is something about their - German word alert! - Weltanschauung which speaks to me quietly and resonates with mine. I couldn’t and can’t tell you why. (As it happens the same is true of the Italians, but I don’t want create confusion here.) As we are talking of anti-semitism and anti-semites here, you might as well put me down as a pro-semite.

. . .

Take a cross-section of any group and compare it with a similar number of any other group, and if your samples are big enough, I suspect you are bound to come across pretty similar proportions of boring people, witty people, left-handed people, dull people, stingy people, spendthrifts and so on. And were you to take at random, say, 1,000 Tory supporters, 1,000 Labour supporters and 1,000 Lib Dem supporters, you are very likely to find an equal number of anti-semites in all three samples. What would be notable, though, is that given the suggestion by Labour and Lib Dem supporters that they are always and quite naturally on the side of the angels and always hold the moral high ground, and that Tories are the spawn of Satan, you might suspect that they would disown anti-semitism with abhorrence. Well, that’s the theory. In Labour, it seems, the practice is rather different.

I can’t actually remember when the whole row over ‘anti-semitism in the Labour Party’ began and I don’t give any credence at all to the claim that it is all a plot by the Tories to smear the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, for the simple reason that a number of - Jewish - Labour MPs and prominent Labour supporters, notably MPs Margaret Hodge, and Luciana Berger are equally concerned by what the - Jews - regard as growing anti-semitism. Ms Berger has even been receiving anti-semitic hate email. I don’t doubt that in this whole fuss the more shit Corbyn finds himself in, the more the Tories like it. Christ, they are only human after all, but I don’t buy that they are behind it all? What, are they secretly training up Labour supporters in anti-semitism simply to discredit Corbyn?

Corbyn supporters now claim that the row over anti-semitism in Labour is also bieng fostered by anti-Corbyn elements in the party as a way to oust Corbyn. There’s not doubting at all that a great many Labour MPs feel Corbyn and his leadership are a catastrophe waiting to happen, but the claim falls very short on logic: certainly they believe that Corbyn’s brand of pie-in-the-sky socialism will only ensure Labour doesn’t get the electoral support it might otherwise get, and that a more centrist set of policies would be far more acceptable to would-be Labour voters. But even they will draw the line at doing anything to ensure the Tories are returned to power.

. . .

As for those Corbyn supporters, well, they are a rum bunch. Corbyn has many, made up of starry-eyed and, presumably, so far non-taxpaying youngsters, who often treat him like a rock start (sic), to the standard gaggle of old lefties who might well trot out such sagacities as ‘that bitch Thatcher, eh, I would have strangled her myself if I had had half the chance’. The point is, though, that a group called Momentum (here and here) which in a sense is now the power behind the throne, is attempting to take over the Labour Party or, to be fair, as they might see it to ensure that Labour begins to follow a path more likely to bring about a socialist Britain if they get to power. And Momentum are no slouches and have studied their Leninist tactics well.

So, for example, they are doing their best to make sure each constituency has an election candidate who supports Jeremy Corbyn and his policies and that if a constituency doesn’t, they do their best to becoming the ruling voice in that constituency so that the MP can be deselected and replaced with a candidate in tune with their thinking.

I can’t fault them on that tactic at all: if I were in charge of Momentum, I would do exactly the same. However, I am not and I agree - though I am not a Labour supporter (or for that matter a Tory or Lib Dem supporter - with the moderate Labour MPs who fear for their party’s future and don’t think Labour has a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting enough electoral support to form a new government if Jeremy Corbyn is in charge.

. . .

It is among this gaggle of Momentum activists and Corbyn supporters that rather too many anti-semites are turning up. The immediate impetus for this blog entry, though, is an ongoing spat I am having with a Facebook friend, a college friend from 50 years ago and an out-an-out Corbyn supporter. I went to visit him a few months ago, and apart from seeing each other last winter when a friend of his and his wife who have settled in the US came to Britain and we all met up, I hadn’t seen him in years.

On my visit to his home on the Kent coast, it became obvious to me that when discussing particular issues, we pretty much agreed. Where we differed was in how we might got about tackling the myriad inequities in British society. I like to think - I stress ‘I like to think’ because we can all kid ourselves on - that I am far more aware of the complexities of political life and how something might be achieved than he is. He, on the other hand, thinks the sun shines out of Corbyn’s arse and - I have to say this even though he is a year older than me and if not yet 70, is most certainly pushing 70 - strikes me as having a distressingly adolescent political mindset.

The Facebook spat has been ongoing for over a year. He is a great one for ‘sharing’ the posts of this or that left-of-centre to far-left pressure group and I am a great one for pointing out how utterly simplistic their take on political and social problems are. A while ago, I even suggested that given the venal nature of Facebook - venal as it is only in it for the money, despite all cuddly ‘sharing’ bull - he might well spend some time going into the background of these, very slick, Facebook groups whose posts he shares and discovering whether their motives are indeed pure and sincere. With some of them I do doubt it, as in the more posts that are shared, the more money is made. Sharing rings the tills why Facebook is incessantly trying to get us to share.

One of our major points of disagreement is Israel and its - I have to say appalling - responses to attacks by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. As far as he is concerned - and he seems to be quite serious about this - Israel is well on its way to becoming a ‘fascist state’. I point out that any comparison between Israel, even under its current Netanyahu government, to Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Italy is utterly ludicrous and - see above - almost verges on anti-semitism. Nonsense! he says, it is not ‘anti-semitic’ to condemn Netanyahu and Zionism

Well, of course, it isn’t, but then that isn’t quite what is going on. Why, I asked recently, is his outrage, publicly expressed by often sharing’ this or that post about Israel, restricted to that one issue? Why, I asked him, has he not expressed outrage (as in hasn’t bothered posting on Facebook about it) by the genocide of the Rohingyas in Myanmar (once Burma) or the treatment of the Uighurs in western China by the Han Chinese?

His answers - as far as I am concerned - have been disingenuous to the point of nonsense. He is outraged about what is going on in Israel, he says, because Britain - i.e. his country - had a part in the creation of the state and the displacement of Palestinians, and there is no such connection of that kind with Myanmar or the Uighurs. On another occasions he insisted that you can’t concern yourselves with all the evils in the world and you have to be selective. So why is it always Israel, I ask?

This is what he wrote:

‘In the end - and we’ve had this discussion before - there are only so many things one can take on board in this very imperfect but wonderful world. I am drawn to what is closest to me and what is perhaps most obvious to me. Brexit, Trump and, coming out of my support for Corbyn - you say naive, I say not yet as terminally cynical as some others - and the attacks on him using anti-Semitism. This leads inevitably to an examination of what these attacks arise from - so Israel, the Palestinians and the more one looks at it, the ghastly unsolvability (is that a word?) if that situation, which leaves Israel with only a very fascist-seeming approach.’

Today, and this was the immediate impulse to write this blog entry, he posted a picture (this one) of Margaret
Thatcher shaking hands with Menachem Begin, a former prime minister of Israel and before that a former commander of the freedom fighters/terrorist group (see above) Irgun.

When, I asked, was murder not murder? How, I asked did the terror acts of the IRA from the early 1970s until the Good Friday Agreement (which claimed many lives) differ from what Irgun had done?

And given the terror acts of the IRA, how did he square his abhorrence of Margaret Thatcher shaking hands with Menachem Begin with Jeremy Corbyn’s enthusiastic and very public support of Gerry Adams (both pictured below) when Adams was a commander of the IRA?

In response someone else, presumably one of his one Facebook friends, gave this very silly and wholly hollow response. (NB Confusingly my comments and subsequent responses wereattached to another anti-Israel post, one which reproduced a letter written in 1948 declaring that Israel was well on its way to becoming a fascist state) She again somehow tried to insist that concentrating on what was going on in Israel was acceptable:

‘There are many open sores in the world of human rights. Talking about one at a time is practical, not romantic.

I pointed out that it was notable that the ‘one’ on which it was practical to concentrate always seemed to be the troubles in Israel. I then asked this woman:

‘Tell me exactly when one murder is acceptable and another isn't. Were, say IRA murders acceptable (in as far as they were fighting for an Irish 'homeland' without British rule) but Irgun murders unacceptable (even though they were fighting for a Jewish 'homeland' without British rule)? Was in your view the Enniskillen bombing acceptable? Was the bombing in Deal acceptable? Were the bombings in Birmingham acceptable? And if the IRA were murderers (whatever the cause) what distinguishes Jeremy Corbyn meeting Gerry Adams from Thatcher meeting Begin? Do tell me, I might be enlightened. Or is it a question of one rule for some, one rule for others? A little intellectual honesty never goes amiss.’

I got this fatuous response, something of a non-response:

‘You are attempting to reframe the discussion to suit yourself. I refuse to be drawn into such a hostile, futile domain.’

Forgive me for being so longwinded and reproducing these response verbatim, but I do want to try to show just how slippery some are in debate.

. . .

My main point? I am appalled at how Netanyahu is responding to Hamas, how Arabs are now being given lesser rights, and how settlers are going anywhere they choose. But I am not in the slightest convinced that the condemnation from some on the left is merely an expression of their equal horror. Sadly, I am rather persuaded that for many - though they might not know it and would certainly deny it - their attitude to Israel - the sole democracy in that neck of the woods, with the rule of law, and independent judiciary and regular elections (oh, and their prime minister, one Benjamin Netanyahu, currently being investigated by the police on suspicion of corruption - is at heart nothing but tacit anti-semitism.

. . .

Oh, I cannot but admire how Israel built up its country, turning parts of a scrappy, scrubby land into productive, green country. I admire how it defends itself in the face of out-and-out aggression. I don’t admire some of the measures it takes, especially recent measures, but I think we should always remind ourselves that the stated aim of the - authoritarian regime in the Islamic Republic of Iran is to wipe Israel from the face of the Earth.

I don’t blame the Israelis in the slightest in refusing to countenance a debate with Iran (not that one has been offered) on just how far off the face of the Earth it is acceptable to wipe Israel.

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