Friday, 6 December 2019

I remember Boris Johnson marching with us

I remember you Boris Johnson marching with us when we marched to Plashet Grove Jewish Cemetery
I remember you Boris Johnson when you marched with us when we marched in Welling
I remember you there when we tried to stop the BNP from holding a meeting in our school
I remember you at the great concert against the Nazis in Victoria Park.
I remember you on a platform to defend mutliculturalism after Cameron's attack
I remember you working in your spare time to produce a leaflet on Holocaust Denial that we distributed all over the country
I remember you in Whitechapel with us when the EDL said they were going to march down the Whitechapel Road but they didn't and we stopped them.
I remember you there with us.

Actually I don't.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Twittering convo with Lee Harpin and Dan Hodges

People might be interested in an interchange that took place on twitter this afternoon between the Daily Mail columnist Dan Hodges and me.

Some background:

1. The conversation came just as I was having another with the Jewish Chronicle journalist Lee Harpin who has been found to have written many untruths in relation to what one of the Liverpool branches of the Labour party has been doing, in particular in relation to Audrey White. The press watchdog has delivered a judgement which is remarkable in how condemnatory it is.

2. Dan Hodges has used the phrase of Jewish leftwing supporters of Corbyn that they (we) are 'useful Jewish idiots'. I and others have asked him to withdraw this and have described the phrase as antisemitic. This has zero effect on Dan, who acts in public with a very large following as if he is a self-appointed prosecutor, judge and jury on Labour.

3. Lee is also interesting in that he accused me of being a 'cheerleader for Soros' - an obscure but significant insult as it's taken from the new Right's phrasebook.

4. Put these together and we have two high priests of the anti-Corbyn movement both using antisemitic phrases.

Anyway, below is a twitter conversation with Hodges. (Apols if I've left out links but it's rather hard to put these together after they've flown by!)

It begins with my comments to Lee Harpin:


I condemn all antisemitism, left, right, centre. I condemn double standards on this matter, judging left antisemitism to be more important than right antisemitism, and judging left antisemitism to be more important than Islamophobia and persecution of people of colour

I also condemn the fact that you should have used an antisemitic phrase of abuse, taken out of the alt right copy book against a Jew (me). You have been shown in public to have betrayed the basic tenets of journalism.

NOTE: AT this point someone asked me if I was making Lee 'squirm'

There's nothing I can say that can make Lee squirm like the public and official dressing-down that Lee has received from the Press watchdog. It's is the greatest shame that can be heaped on a journalist in this country.

Wouldn't your time be more usefully spent attacking the New Statesman Michael...

I just did but as I'm a 'useful Jewish idiot' (a great Hodges' bon mot, there) it's amazing that I managed, really.
Free pass for Mr Hodges, please!
He fights antisemitism with antisemitism.
Free pass for Mr Hodges!


Michael: calling them 'useful Jewish idiots'. I'm Jewish, Dan. You're not.

"I'm Jewish, Dan. You're not". Correct. And?

I wondered if you might have difficulty with that one. It's because the phrase 'useful Jewish idiots' is hurtful to Jews and not to you. It's how slurs work, Dan. They are directed down the racialised hierarchy, Dan.

Ah. But not charities set up by Holocaust Deniers. Or wreaths laid to honour people who murder Jews. Or murals depicting Jews as hooked-nosed bankers getting rich off the backs of the poor. None of that is part of your racialised hierarchy Michael...

It's not 'my racialised hierarchy' Dan. It's our racialised hierarchy.. You're on it, having positioned yourself above me with your slur 'useful Jewish idiots'. You're on it, and have never once acknowledged how or why you've positioned yourself on it.

Fine. Our racialised hierarchy. I'm still waiting patiently for you to explain why Holocaust denial, murals of hooked-nose Jews and wreaths for people who murder Jews aren't a part of it. [Although I think we both know the answer don't we Michael]

You've just done it again, Dan. I don't want to hear that horrible phrase about noses. I don't acknowledge it as a description. Repeating it is insulting. There are screeds and screeds of debate about each of these incidents and Corbyn has replied to them.

[NOTE: At this point Dan said I was 'deflecting' and not answering his questions. Can't find the tweet for the moment.]

Michael :
I am not answerable to you on these matters. Again, from your position in the hierarchy, you behave as if you can summon me to give evidence in your court. Not so. You're still stuck on the higher step. I don't answer to your snap of the fingers.

When we can have a level playing field in which we can compare the relative gravity of the words/actions of Corbyn, Johnson, the Labour Party and the Tory Party, and we don't have participants like you levering themselves up the hierarchy with antisemitic taunts, we can talk.

The very idea that you with your 'useful jewish idiots' epithet think you can summon me and demand that I comment on those incidents that you choose to select, is laughable. You're mired in your own racialised assumptions about yourself and me.


Dan is trying to understand how this phrase 'useful jewish idiots' was a way of positioning himself higher up than me on the racialised hierarchy. He's just said that it's my racialised hierarchy. I've just pointed out to him, it's ours.

Michael to Dan:
I told you very carefully the terms in which a discussion with anybody (not necessarily an antisemite who pretends he isn't, as you do) might take place. You chose to ignore it. Of course you did. You're higher up the hierarchy and were looking beyond me.

Michael :
You're still doing it. Having done the antisemitic insult, having done the summons, having demanded to be replied to from a higher place in the racialised hierarchy, you're now telling me about my incapacities.

You don't even recognise how you did it. That's how entitlement works. You give an example and demand that others (me, in this case) respond as if you have rights over me.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Apologise Now

'Apologise Corbyn!' 
'I did already.' 
'Apologise again!' 
'I apologise!' 
'Now apologise for taking so long to apologise!'

To Slur with Love by Danny Finkelstein

The key issue of the politics around  'antisemitism in the Labour Party' is whether all incidents in public political life are - or are not -  being judged by the same standards. 

The idea bandied about by political philosophers is that the law and politics treats people equally. Once a principle has been founded, then that principle is supposed to be applied fairly. The same standards are supposed to be used to judge a pauper or a prince (ahem ahem). 

We are entitled to ask, are the same standards being used to judge 'antisemitism in the Labour Party' as with all other examples of antisemitism in other political parties? We are entitled to ask, are the same standards being used to judge 'antisemitism in the Labour Party' as with all other examples of racism in other political parties?

That's what it comes down to: are the same standards being applied? 

I can answer this. I don't think they are. I think that the antisemitism, Islamophobia, discrimination and persecution that has gone on around the Tory Party are not being judged by the same standards.

One example: most people in the media judge Corbyn's actions in 'the mural case' to have been antisemitic. As that's the public judgement, let's go with that for the moment: public piece of art, Corbyn approved of it.

Now let's do the same with the recent unveiling of the statue for Nancy Astor. Astor was an, anti-Catholic antisemite: public piece of art, most politicians approved of it.

In case A, Corbyn is an antisemite. In case B, the politicians are given a free pass. 

A much greyer area is around so-called slurs. These are the use of stereotypes and 'tropes' that often have long histories. Some people use these deliberately, some unconsciously. If we were in less contentious times, we would all be helping each other with these. Anyone, like me, who has read oodles of English Literature or grown up in the 50s, has been surrounded with these since birth! I can remember my dad coming back from a meeting at the teacher training college he taught at, and told us how someone started talking  about a 'nasty little Jew'. We said, 'What did you say?' and he said, 'I said, "Are there any other kinds of little Jew you know?"' 

He was quick like that.

So: slurs. Let's have a bit of slur-equality. For example, Lord Finkelstein, amiable son of Holocaust survivors who has migrated from the SDP to the Tory Party, is very keen to point out on twitter that I am 'atypical' (ie not typical) in my political views in comparison to other Jews. He did this in between expressing great affection (love, almost) for my work. 

Break that down: if I'm not 'atypical' there must be a 'typical'. Really? Is there really a 'typical Jewish view of politics'? Really? 

Just imagine if I put that out on social media, that there's a 'typical Jewish view of politics'! Or Corbyn? Can you imagine the shitstorm? 

This is a perfect example of the 'not by the same standards' rule doing the rounds at the moment. 

One person's slur is another person's observation. 

There are no Jewish Labour candidates. Er...actually there are. Vote for Margaret Hodge!

One of the curious features of the run-in to election day has been the strange invisibility of Labour's Jewish candidates. Obviously, there have been strenuous efforts to give the impression that the Labour Party as a whole has persecuted its Jewish MPs and Jewish members so that there are none left. Or: OK there are a few left but the only ones still hanging in there are, as Melanie Phillips described them as "bad, treacherous, disloyal, ignorant, malevolent and often psychologically damaged Jews". (Excuse me, Melanie! 'Treacherous Jews'? 'Malevolent Jews'? 'Disloyal Jews?' Hmmm sounds like a bit of classic Jew-baiting to me from the good Melanie.)

So, to talk of Labour hollowing out its Jewish membership and candidates gives a kind of whiff of what the Nazis tried to do: create 'Jewish-free' areas and ultimately a 'Jewish-free' Europe. Labour = Nazi. Gettit? 

This can be amplified by suggesting that hardly any Jews will vote Labour. Or indeed, thanks to the Chief Rabbi, we must think that Jews (or anyone who likes or supports Jews) should not vote Labour. Why this act of communalist politics wasn't greeted with horror by the commentariat is a mystery. Or not. I may be wrong, but even in the face of repeated, persistent and deliberate Islamophobia in the Tory Party, the bodies that represent Muslims don't seem to have said, 'Don't vote Tory!'. Wasn't Peston, Freedland, Cohen just a teeny bit uncomfortable that a religious leader was so politically partisan? It was certainly a concern of Howard Cooper, a Reform Rabbi in Finchley, North London when Rabbi Romain had issued a few weeks earlier, the same kind of politico-religious warning as the Chief Rabbi had. Cooper was concerned that further down the road this kind of intervention by a religious leader can invite hostility.  Oh well, no matter. I guess the gloves are off now. If any Muslim, Methodist, Buddhist, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Hindu, Catholic leader says, 'Don't vote for X', we should think that'd be OK. No one will say, 'How dare that religious person tell their congregation how to vote!' Hmmm. Interfaith wars, anyone? 

We shall see.

Of course, the Chief Rabbi didn't say, 'Vote Tory!' Good man. But then he didn't need to. With a first past the post election system, it's a two-horse race. Don't vote Labour = victory to the Tories. He knows that. The media know that. We know that. But, hey, let's kid ourselves and pretend that his intervention was merely a warning about rising antisemitism, where he sees it. As I've said before, this kind of conjuring asks of us to believe that it really isn't necessary for the Chief Rabbi or the Antisemitism Tsar or the commentariat to 'notice' the persistent antisemitic sneers of Rees-Mogg, the jibes of Patel, Toby Young, Crispin Blunt and the more sinister frothing of Dominic Cummings. 

But something else: the Chief Rabbi chose not to mention Islamophobia, Windrush or the 'hostile environment' or indeed how austerity has impacted disproportionately hard on people of colour and recent migrants. These are the policies of the Conservatives. So, in saying, 'Don't vote Labour' (which in effect means - let the Tories in) and in not mentioning Islamophobia, the hostile environment and the persistent discrimination against people of colour and migrants all caused by the Tories, the Chief Rabbi was in effect passing on the appalling message: 'Hey fellow-Jews,  discrimination against Muslims, people of colour and migrants doesn't matter as much as antisemitism.' 

Of course, he didn't say that. Of course he wouldn't. However, if he had wanted to eliminate even half a sniff of such a thing, he could easily have given a speech in which he made all his warnings about antisemitism in the Labour Party - which is what he believes - alongside condemnation of Islamophobia, racism against people of colour and xenophobia. That way, he would have eliminated any suggestion that he was doing something dangerous: suggesting that one kind of racism matters more than another. 

This is all based on the fact that we are in a two-horse race and that there are of course Jews in the Labour Party, there are Jewish voters and there are of course of course of course (!), Jewish Labour candidates.

How interesting that the media have been so silent about this. There's Margaret Hodge who only a few months ago was often on TV and radio railing against Corbyn and the antisemites. She frequently made the point that she was on the verge of leaving the Labour Party. I made bad jokes about it. But she has chosen to stay, even as Ellman and Berger have left. 

Repeat: it's a two-horse race. I don't know, but let's take it at face-value, Margaret Hodge has weighed things up and decided that of the two, Labour is better than Tory. The very opposite of what the Chief Rabbi said. The very opposite of what, according to the oft-cited survey says, 87% of Jews say. 

Isn't this news? That the high-profile Margaret Hodge hasn't gone with what they claim is the flow? 

Clearly not. What Margaret Hodge has done is what we call in the biz, 'counter-factual'. It doesn't 'fit the narrative'. So, one moment, Margaret Hodge can be front page news and the next - when she's counter-factual - she isn't. Amazing, isn't it? And the media assume we don't notice. 

But for those of us supporting Labour it means something a bit different. It means that we support Margaret Hodge. For Labour-supporting people under the lash of Margaret's tongue - and of course that includes Corbyn himself - this might seem a bitter pill to swallow. To which, I say, so be it. We are down to the moment of the binary choice - whatever we think of that. Whatever we say and do, should be ruthlessly narrowed down to asking of ourselves, - just as, I suspect the Chief Rabbi did, - 'who does this help?' Or 'Does this thing I am saying, undermine Labour? In which case the racist class-warrior Tories will be helped.'

This is how 'unity in action' works. It's not to ask of us to agree with everything that everybody in the Labour Party says or does. (I'm not even in the Labour Party!). It's to accept that this is the political moment we are in. 

I back Margaret Hodge! Vote for Margaret! 

The Silence of the Manns: Lord John Mann and his selective commenting on antisemitism

Lord John Mann is a public servant, hired by the government to be what the Times called the 'Antisemitism Tsar'. Wags have commented that for the press to call this job a 'Tsar' is at the very least mildly offensive to most Ashkenazi Jews in the UK whose presence in the UK mostly derives from persecution by...the Tsars. It would have been kinda nice if Lord John Mann had perhaps acknowledged this gaffe. He didn't.

Lord John Mann has been given a serious and important job: to investigate and report on antisemitism. This is antisemitism everywhere and anywhere. Some might quibble on why create a post to deal with one form of racism? After all, the government who has hired him has serious questions to answer on what the Conservative supporter and former minister Sayeeda Warsi has described as persistent Islamophobia. We are still waiting for the party's enquiry into its Islamophobia, promised by Sajid Javid and Michael Gove. Not much alarm on that from the mass media. Free pass for Tory Islamophobia then.

Meanwhile, lawyers and public figures have pointed out that the Conservative Party's handling of British citizens from the Caribbean (the so-called Windrush scandal) is a form of racist discrimination and persecution. Reminder: we are not talking here about 'slurs' or contested interpretations of history. This is about the livelihoods and very existence of British citizens of colour, persecuted by their own government - still ongoing.

Leaving all this aside, (though we shouldn't!) we might imagine that Lord John Mann would indeed by pursuing his task with relentless non-partisanship, showing to us all that his target was antisemitism and not, say, antisemitism in the Labour Party or antisemitism on the Left.

Over several weeks, I tweeted at Lord John Mann, the accruing examples of antisemitic jibes and slurs emerging from high profile Conservatives. I mentioned to him the persistence of Jacob Rees-Mogg's comments, in addition to those of Suella Braverman, Crispin Blunt, Toby Young and Priti Patel. These have all been commented on by people other than me including by the British Board of Deputies. Even more serious to my mind has been the comments by Dominic Cummings - not a Tory Party member, but a hired adviser by the Prime Minister's office - who has talked of 'the likes of Goldman Sachs' and in a deposition to a House of Commons committee railed against Goldman Sachs having fingers in every pie in the EU for their own benefit in the 'cess pit' of corruption that is the EU. His singling out of Goldman Sachs (founded by a Jewish family) seems irrationally fervid. He also seems part of the trope which proposes a clean, national alternative to what is perceived as the international corruption of Goldman Sachs. If this isn't a classic Hitlerian trope, what is? (To spell it out, Hitler posed a national, Jew-free economy. This is the antisemitic dream - if you remove Jews from your sphere - or the world, the world would be a better place. At times this has been a form of left-wing antisemitism (e.g. in France prior to the Dreyfus case) but it is in the present era a plank of people like Orban in Hungary and there are strains of it running through the alt Right and Steve Bannon.)

The people who have cried the loudest about antisemitism in the Labour Party are people who know about this new Right agenda but are mostly strangely quiet about it. Now, as I am saying here, Cummings is clearly informed by it and, I would argue so is Rees-Mogg when he describes one of his Jewish colleagues as one of the 'illuminati' (secret cabal) and uses the Soros jibe to imply dirty stuff going on in the Remain camp. (Soros is Jewish and a frequent butt for eastern European antisemites.)

So what about Lord John Mann? Surely he would be mightily concerned about this. After all, neither Corbyn nor any of the other alleged left wing antisemites are in power. Whatever threat to Jews that the Antisemitism Tsar has imagined that Corbyn and the Left pose, it surely doesn't come anywhere near what can be wielded by those at the heart of the government - Rees-Mogg, Cummings, Patel and formerly, Braverman.

On October 10 this year, John Mann MP (as he was then) wrote to me on twitter via Direct Message. I treated it as a confidential message, even though Mann hadn't requested that. (I'll explain why I don't think it's confidential any more in a moment.) In this message he wrote:

"As indep advisor I will not be giving a running commentary on Corbyn, Williamson, Rees Mogg or anyone else."

Fair enough. Perhaps. I thought, maybe John was preparing a dossier on these public figures who I and others were telling him about. Then on Nov 15 on John's time line on twitter he did in fact comment on an individual case: that of a Tory candidate he deemed to be antisemitic. (That's why I've gone public on this.) So now we can ask if John was prepared to comment on n individual case like this, why the silence about Rees-Mogg et al?

I'll say that again, why the silence about Rees-Mogg et al?

What's going on?

I have also furnished Lord John Mann with lower profile cases e.g. on Lee Harpin (who appears to be the disgraced Jewish Chronicle 'journalist', who has just been found by the Press watchdog in a long judgement, to have written untruthful things about a Corbyn supporter).

Lee, rather oddly, suddenly accused me a few weeks ago of being a 'cheerleader for Soros'. This is more bizarre than offensive, and yet the phrase is straight out of the alt Right phrase book. Again, Soros is a kind of cipher for the antisemitic idea of the 'rich, international finagler standing in the way of 'economic nationalism''. What Lee - who is Jewish - thinks he is doing playing around with antisemitic tropes like this, is anyone's guess. I don't expect Lee to answer me about that. He has enough troubles on his hands having been so publicly disgraced by the Press watchdog. It's amazing that the Jewish Chronicle, a journal that aspires to respectability and high status, hasn't junked him - if indeed he is the 'journalist' - mentioned over and over again in the watchdog's ruling.

So Lord John Mann has plenty of information to be working on. He is indeed commenting on individual cases but is strangely silent about the ones I've mentioned here. We are in the middle of an election. On 'Newsnight' last night, they showed a woman coming to the door to a Labour canvasser and talking about 'antisemitism in the Labour Party' as if it was a ring-fenced problem for Labour and nowhere else (or indeed that the racisms of other parties was not a problem either). Needless to say, this was repeated by Emily Maitlis in the studio. This ring-fencing only has traction because public figures like Lord John Mann don't put out there the stuff that I'm writing about here. The phrase 'antisemitism in the Tory Party' doesn't even exist. The fact that Boris Johnson edited 'Taki', the ever-so-witty playboy, churning out haha upperclass antisemitic jokes, in the 'Spectator' some years ago, is never mentioned.

I suspect that in the end Lord John Mann will make some public comments about Rees-Mogg et al. Yes, I think he will. Butonly after the election. (I hope I'm wrong about this. If he reads this, perhaps it will move him to change his mind.) In the meantime, I'll say that I think he is part of the process that is ushering in the racist class warriors of a Johnson government.

We are paying Lord John Mann's salary.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

A member of the New North London Synagogue writes:

[I'm reproducing this letter with the permission of its author Jack Shamash, who had posted it on Facebook.]

I've just written this letter to my rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg at the NNLS ( New North London Synagogue). He's actually a very nice man and very genuine. Anyway, this is what I wrote.

Dear Jonathan, I hope all is well.

I have never discussed politics with you - deliberately. As a rabbi it must be hard to retain neutrality in such issues and to reconcile the widely different views of the congregants. I didn't see any point in trying to elicit your political viewpoint.

However I am deeply upset by recent events. As a Jew in Southgate Labour party I have never been made to feel uncomfortable. I have never heard any antisemitic expressions. But as a labour supporter in NNLS I feel very uncomfortable.

Even by the figures produced by the Jewish community, there is almost no antisemitism in this country. (check out the annual reports of the CST) In 2017 and 2018 there was only one serious antisemitic incident in which a jewish person was nearly beaten up - that's all! Yet the chief rabbi - who only represents a small proportion of Jews - is trying to scare his own community and trying to put the blame on the Labour party. I think this is a very dangerous game and entirely irresponsible.

If he succeeds in swaying a large number of Jews, there will almost certainly be a backlash which will affect the community. Rabbi Mirvis, who you suggest is a fine and compassionate man, has claimed that Corbyn supports people who kill Jews. It would just as true to suggest that Mirvis and the Jewish community support people who kill Palestinians and other Arabs. It would even be true to suggest that Mirvis and the Rabbinate idolise people such as Menachem Begin who murdered British soldiers. It seems utterly foolish for a Jewish leader to embark on this conversation.

I was deeply upset to hear one of your younger rabbis, denouncing labour antisemitism in his sermon on shabbat. I attended the meeting at the synagogue when a young member of the labour party burst into tears claiming that he was victimised by labour members. He never told us who had said these bad things or what had been said. I have never heard of an incident of a labour MP saying anything antisemitic. By contrast we have Boris Johnson talking about arabs looking like pillar boxes, black people being picannnies and tank topped bumboys. And unlike Mr Corbyn, he has never apologised for any hurt he has caused. Maybe your rabbis should show more solidarity with the 'picanninies, bumboys and letter boxes'.

I realise that in your letter on facebook site, you have tried to retain a sense of perspective. But unless you take a stronger stance on these matters, it will be very difficult to heal the divisions and make NNLS - once again - welcoming to all sections of society and Jews of all political viewpoints.

yours sincerely

Jack Shamash