Examples of antisemitism, unawareness and denial

On Harry’s Place, David T responds to Martin Shaw’s request for proof that there is a problem with antisemitism in the Palestine solidarity movement with reference to the national chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

This is further to an important debate between Martin Shaw (an anti-boycotter who thinks that antisemitism has been vastly exaggerated), David Hirsh (who thinks that antisemitism is a very important current which is poisoning the left) and Norman Geras (who is broadly of the same view as David Hirsh) which is worth reading in full. It is an important debate because Martin Shaw is authoritative, influential, and against racism. If at the same time he is unaware of antisemitism, prepared to suppose that references to antisemitism are  “conjectures, suppositions and hypotheses“, and therefore prepared to accuse David Hirsh of fabrication then this is a real setback. It raises the worry that no example or case could convince him – or worse, that he might not only fail to recognise antisemitism in the examples provided, but he might actually consider the examples of antisemitism as not antisemitism but sound, reasonable analysis.

I have been wondering for weeks whether there exists a silver bullet which would cause Martin Shaw to suddenly say “Oh right, I see”. I think David T has got about as close as you can get. After reading this, Martin Shaw will be obliged to confront the extent of antisemitism on the left*.

David T quotes the former national chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Francis Clark-Lowes, at some length. David assumes, as indeed we should be able to, that his readers understand the values encapsulated in the notion of Jewish Power. However, I’m not confident that everybody intelligent does understand this any longer and consequently I think that ways of recognising antisemitic tropes need to be regularly restated.

So, when Clark-Lowes says:

“Every group needs power – indeed the raison d’etre of a group is that it can exercise power. The problem with Jewish power at present is that it has made itself immune from criticism and control by using the accusation of antisemitism to crush anyone who attempts to criticise it or control it.

I ask myself a simple question: ‘Do I believe a resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict is possible without radical change in the way Jewishness is understood and privileged?’ I answer with a definitive no. The brilliant Zionist narrative, and its supporting Jewish narratives about Jewish identity, Jewish history and antisemitism, if unchallenged, will continue to provide a cast-iron case for Israeli behaviour. That is why Jewish power needs to be challenged.”

perhaps this needs explaining lest somebody – admittedly somebody very uncouth – should entertain the idea that Jewish power, being effectively Zionist power or at least complicit with it, is a bit like Nazi power or apartheid Afrikaaner power – and we know the Nazis and apartheid Afrikaaners were hell-bent on taking and keeping power so why should we suddenly be required to be unnecessarily skeptical about the Jews?

The reason the notion of “Jewish power” is racist is that it assumes power accrued for reasons instrinsic and common to the character of Jews as an ethnicity, culture or religion, rather than for sociological reasons to do with drive (e.g. for personal security) and/or merit (e.g. high educational achievement, inherited high IQ**) within a system which favours these things. It also assumes that power is wielded in the name of ethnicity, culture or religion, an assumption which echos age-old conspiracy theories about an almost supernaturally coherent, marshalled and well-obscured Jewish shared purpose. This is a classic piece of diversity denial – imagine talking about a Black shared purpose to defend Mugabe in such a way which cut across all material circumstances, backgrounds, affinities and national boundaries. As well as failing to explain – except as deceitfulness on a fearsome scale – the wide and vociferous diversity of opinion in Israeli and Jewish society, this idea of Jewish power also evokes newer conspiracy accusations like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion which some people – including those David T identifies who are close to Clark-Lowes in the PSC – are actively entertaining as true. Lastly the notion of Jewish power assumes that ‘Jewish narratives’ about Jewish identity, history and antisemitism “provide a cast-iron case for Israeli behaviour” only as a consequence of being false, calculated narratives which need to be “challenged”. This way of thinking rules out the possibility that narratives about Jewish identity, history and antisemitism may indeed explain and even justify some of Israel’s policies. It is also is ironic considering that the PSC and wider left frequently justifies the violent acts of Palestinians with respect to their oppression.

For a more affirming view of Jews with power – namely in the form of national sovereignty after a period of fatal powerlessness – see Anthony Julius.

Everybody who has involved themselves in the debate with Martin Shaw deserves a lot of credit – David T, Norm and principally David Hirsh.

*Denial is a distinct possibility.

** I know this is controversial but it is an example of an alternative, and morally neutral analysis to the one about intent advanced by Clark-Lowes.

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8 thoughts on “Examples of antisemitism, unawareness and denial

  1. I don’t think Martin Shaw needs a lecture in what constitutes antisemitism. He is simply saying that the allegation that the campaign to boycott Israel is not antisemitic. It’s telling that those who claim to only be opposed to the boycott want to present a version of history that exonerates Israel of its many crimes from its founding to the present. And they seek to smear Israel’s serious and genuine critics as being antisemitic. By the way, before someone invokes the “Livingstone formulation” Livingstone wasn’t actually the first person to notice that zionists use the antisemitism smear against Israel critics.

    David Hirsh, David Toube, Norman Geras and now you have alluded to a handful of openly anti-Jewish individuals and then sought to project their anti-Jewishness onto a large movement whose motivation is Israel’s serial and structural human rights abuses. And this anti-Jewish Clarke-Lowes chap hasn;t been the national chair of PSC since 2001 and the quotes attributed to him come from 2008. You’re (or rather David Toube of Harrys Place is) scraping the barrel looking for strawmen.

    David Toube on Harry’s Place even claims that Hamas, Hizbullah and Ahmadinejad are all motivated by antisemitism. It seems plain to most that they are motivated by what Israel has done to Palestine and the Palestinians and to Lebanon and the Lebanese and what it has threatened against Iran. Hamas has of course expressed itself in the language of old-style European antisemitism. As far as I know the only quotes attributed to Hizbullah’s leader, Nasrallah, have been discredited. But even if they were genuine, to call a Lebanese resistance group that only came into being following Israel’s genocidal invasion of Lebanon in 1982, motivated by antisemitism, and not by the desire to defend its community and to show solidarity with the Palestinians, is downright dishonest, especially whilst simultaneously ignoring the racist state structure of Israel and its many war crimes against the natives and neighbours of Palestine.

  2. “I don’t think Martin Shaw needs a lecture in what constitutes antisemitism.”

    I do. In this debate, Mark Shaw only recognises attitudinal antisemitism. That’s very individualistic. You are too – I agree with you that he is serious and genuine but all this means is that we take him in good faith. Doesn’t mean he’s right, does it.

    I am not one of your regular readers at Jews Without Boundaries, but whenever I do go there you are banging on about dishonesty. I recommend listening to David Runciman’s RSA podcast on political hypocrisy, or buying his book. Both George Bush and Tony Blair both put enormous stock in personal honesty. Politically, this didn’t signify.

    Word of advice for you Mark. Your priorities are all wrong. Honesty is merely the cherry on the top of the pudding of righteousness. You need to concentrate more on the pudding.

  3. As someone who worked with Francis Clark Lowes at Sussex University in the Centre for German Jewish Studies I am deeply appalled to discover that Francis holds such anti-semetic or shall we say anti-Jewish sentiments. The betrayal on a human level, to discover this hidden life of his, has been huge , but my private sentiments aside Clark Lowes’s fighting rhetoric that echoes the Protocols of Zion is offensive and dangerous to not just Jews but to people of all creed and all nationalities. The only way Clark Lowes can amend for his behaviour, which in Germany would be a prisonable offense today, is to profoundly apologise for his words to all those people who have had the misfortune to read and hear them and profoundly apologise to the PSC and other peace movements whose attempts to mediate a wise and peaceful dialogue and resolution have been seriously put into disrepute. I completely agree with Flesh is Grass’s succint conclusion regarding Clark Lowes Jewish power theory. It is ridiculous! As Flesh is Grass points out it is like accusing all blacks for the crimes Mugabe has committed in his country, there is no great intellectual merit to this theory, it is nonsense but one I am sure Clark Lowes will cling to. However, if all Jews are according to Clark Lowes in his recent fire and brimstone article, ‘The tip of the iceberg’ complicit in the crimes committed in Israel then as I have personally suggested to him, he should ensure that to avoid having his hands tainted he should from now on boycott all things Jewish which apart from not eating a lunch at Marks and Spencer would also entail banning certain medical advances, parts of his computer and his mobile phone! When the next time I have my car smashed up in my school by Moslem children who do not know better and think that all Jews should be killed because all Jews commit crimes in Israel, I will send the bill to Clark Lowes for I now hold him accountable for spreading hatred.

  4. Les, you were the victim of a hate crime because you were Jewish? I am so sorry! I guess you know that the Community Security Trust is keeping records of such attacks – if you could report it to them as well as to the police, they will be able to have a better sense of the lie of the land. Once again my deepest sympathy – this must be such a blow. And I too am appalled by the PSC’s political irresponsibility and borderline incitement.

  5. Thank you for your kind words. Yes, I was a victim of a hate crime in fact two in the past two years;yes I am Jewish not religiously but culturally my father is a holocaust survivor, I have a Jewish name that Muslim children identified as being Jewish and yes I did report the smashing up of my car and pictures of Hitler in my classroom saying, ‘We would like to arrange a party for you with Hitler’ to the CST, they were exceptionally supportive, one person I knew made no comment…

    Many years ago Clark Lowes had a book sale and I bought in German his copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy. When I read his recent article titled ‘The tip of the iceberg’ for some strange reason I suddenly remembered that book and remembered the chapter on the ninth circle, the circle which is in a lake of ice. You check out for yourself who is in that circle but in the light of what has been revealed there is a dreadful irony to all of this particularly if Lowes was not aware of the connection he had made. The hell that Clark Lowes feels others is creating is one that he tragically sits in himself and multiplies with his diatribes and supposed power lectures. To abuse his knowledge and priveledge in the manner that he has done is Judas in the true meaning of the name. It will take myself and others who knew him as a friend a long time to recover from his betrayal. Words have great power, the tragedy of it all is that people who should know better very often never do. Energy and time should be used to find solutions not to express hate. And some may now say why do I now bother exposing Francis Clark Lowes and the reason is the same as why other social activists have done the same about friends they realised had a very hidden life. Francis Clark Lowes through his doctoral title and academic connections wields in certain circles power, he influences people who trust him because they believe that the mild mannered ‘peace keeper’ standing infront of them is wise , is learned and has perhaps answers that will help. It is clear from his words that he does not have answers. People like Clark Lowes who incite others to hate never bring about solutions but only create more hell. Perhaps it is time for Francis to read Dante one more time?

  6. One of the most painful things about finding that your friends have irrationally negative and weirdly intense feelings about Israel is that it makes you worry about your other friends.

    The PSC really is the pits. Bunch of windbags with no positive programme, populated by new stalinists and the cobweb left. That it can pass for Palestine solidarity today should really worry Palestinians.

    I wish you all the best lessimon, and that the last attack was the last ever.

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