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Sue Blackwell Speaks Out Against Antisemitism
Added by David Hirsh on February 04, 2006 07:53:28 PM.
Sue Blackwell Speaks Out Against AntisemitismSue Blackwell, one of the best known figures behind the campaign to blacklist Israeli scientists, academics, teachers, students, musicians and artists, has written a piece in the Cairo weekly Al-Ahram on antisemitism.

She says that one reason that she visited Auschwitz last year was so that she would be able to confront Holocaust deniers with the response, “I've been there, I've seen the evidence and it's overwhelming.” Not because she ever entertained any doubts herself, but because

...increasingly these days I find myself having acrimonious exchanges, usually by email, with people whose messages start by expressing their support for my stand on Palestine and then continue with ‘I think you ought to read this.’

‘This’ often consists of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which for a document over a hundred years old has weathered remarkably well. It crops up everywhere on the internet, including the weblogs of people who claim to be campaigners for Palestinian rights. I had a graduate student in my office not long ago, a highly intelligent young man who is a member of a socialist party in the UK. He told me in all seriousness that I really ought to read this incredible exposé of a world Jewish conspiracy, which was apparently new to him.

The Times of London discredited this document as a forgery as long ago as August 1921, yet it continues to enjoy a wide circulation. I'm told that its Arabic translation is particularly popular, and I recall that it featured prominently in "Horseman without a Horse" screened on Egyptian television in 2002.

Hitler was a great fan of the Protocols, and so are those today who think he got a bad press, such as Ernst Zèndel who is currently facing trial in Germany for Holocaust denial. Worryingly, some of my correspondents don't see anything wrong with promoting the writings and websites of people like Zèndel or fellow Holocaust deniers David Irving or Paul Eisen. "My enemy's enemy is my friend" seems to be the reasoning: and so these Asian and Arab activists, with no apparent sense of irony let alone shame, send me links to sites with names like "Stormfront" which preach "White Power". And because the Holocaust is used as justification for Jewish emigration to Israel, those who detest what Israel represents feel that justification cannot be allowed to stand....

At [David Irving’s] failed libel case against Deborah Lipstadt, the judge, Justice Gray, concluded that Irving had "deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence". Irving is now facing trial himself in Austria for two speeches he made in 1989, during which he allegedly claimed there had been no gas chambers at Auschwitz. Well, Mr Irving, if you go there you can stand in one and take a look around. I suggest you do so once they let you out. And while you're at it, please take the president of Iran with you.

Sue doesn’t mention the Hamas Covenant, which claims that the Protocols are true, but I guess she probably wrote this piece before Hamas won the election in Palestine.

She confirms one thing that we all knew but that anti-Zionist activists have routinely denied: that there is a serious problem of open antisemitism within the broad Palestine Solidarity movement. Michael Neumann, an anti-Zionist philosophy professor from Canada, wrote in Counterpunch “I think we should almost never take antisemitism seriously, and maybe we should have some fun with it.” The standard response to anyone that raises the question of antisemitism in the Palestine Solidarity Movement is to denounce the questioner as a “Zionist” and to claim that “Zionism” uses the charge of antisemitism to silence criticism of Israeli policy.

So it is important that Sue has chosen to confront this open antisemitism rather than to avert her eyes. In doing so she is also bearing witness to its existence and to the fact that it is a growing problem. And she has chosen to do so in an Egyptian newspaper and has thereby challenged not only the open antisemitism within her own movement but also the open antisemitism that is common in the Middle East.

Last year, a number of anti-Zionists in the UK attempted to draw a line in the sand. Sue Blackwell, Tony Greenstein, Stephen Marks and Roland Rance opposed the ‘Socialist Workers Party’ when it embraced the open antisemite Gilad Atzmon. They also opposed Paul Eisen, who had been running an apparently respectable anti-Zionist campaign called ‘Deir Yassin Remembered’ when he turned out to be an open antisemite.

In this article, Sue is recognizing the fact that her brand of ‘antiracist’ anti-Zionism lives in a world where there are also a number of antisemitic anti-Zionisms. And she is confirming the fact that the boundaries between these different but adjacent movements are sometimes fuzzy and are sometimes porous. Political alliances across those boundaries are looking increasingly tempting to many anti-Zionists.

The question that follows from Sue’s new piece is what kind of political responsibility she is now prepared to accept for these worrying developments. What does the fact that some of her own rhetoric is very similar to some of the rhetoric of the antisemites tell her? How does she explain the fact that antisemites assume that she is one of them? How does she explain the fact that a highly intelligent postgrad student, a member of an anti-Zionist socialist party, knocks on her door all over-excited at having discovered in the Protocols evidence for a global Jewish conspiracy? Why are anti-Zionists, who go out of their way to intervene in Israeli and Palestinian affairs, so often unwilling to educate themselves and their recruits in the history and themes of antisemitism?

The problem is that much of the rhetoric that is employed by Sue Blackwell and the other ‘antiracist’ anti-Zionists mirrors a number of contemporary and older themes of antisemitism. Much of what the ‘antiracist’ anti-Zionists say is interchangeable with much of what the racist anti-Zionists say.

For example, having visited Auschwitz, having seen the gas chambers, having been moved by the huge piles of shoes taken from murdered Jews, is Sue Blackwell still comfortable with the “Zionism-Nazism” identity? She knows perfectly well that there are no Israeli gas chambers and that there have been no Israeli Einsatzgruppen and that there has been no Israeli genocide. Yet it is standard practice for ‘antiracist’ anti-Zionists to insist on the truth of “Zionism=Nazism”. And the effect of this characterisation is to license people, some of whom Sue admits might increasingly be open antisemites, to relate to Jews, on campus for example, as though they were Nazis.

Another example from Sue Blackwell’s own response to her defeat within the Association of University Teachers on the question of boycotting Israel, which is still on her own website:

Naturally my remarks that the boycott was defeated following a "well-funded campaign by the Zionist lobby" have been met with the usual hysteria. Please note: I said "Zionist lobby" not "Jewish lobby".

But now we know that she understands and takes seriously the threat of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (“Zion” not “Jewry”), can she not see any danger in the use of such rhetoric? There must be more, surely, to opposing antisemitism than simply replacing the word “Jew” by the word “Zionist”.

And if Sue has been reading up on the Protocols, we can assume that she has also been reading up on the history of the blood libels. Will she now recognise that rhetoric that accuses Israel of orchestrating a campaign to murder non-Jewish children, or images that show the blood of non-Jews polluting Jaffa oranges, or images that portray Israeli universities as having committed sins as red as blood, also have a provenance and a resonance that should set off the same alarm bells that her postgrad student did not possess?

And will she also recognise that there is a problem with the way that Israel is singled out as the only ‘illegitimate state’ in the world; the only ‘racist’ state in the world; the greatest human rights abuser in the world; the state that is the single greatest threat to world peace?

The AUT, for a few weeks last year, had a policy that punished Israeli academics for the actions of their state, but did not hold any other academics in the world similarly accountable.

The term 'Zionist' has become a term of abuse to be thrown at Jews who think that Israel has the right to exist. Sue Blackwell is centrally involved in a movement whose aim has been to make the loathing of Israel and Israelis respectable and normal.

Sue says to her Egyptian readership that “there is a surprising number of non-Zionist Jews in the world, but you are not likely to be welcomed by them and work with them if you set out by denying that Hitler murdered their relatives.”

I myself am one of those non-Zionist Jews. And this is quite right; I would not feel comfortable working alongside people that deny the Holocaust. But neither would I be comfortable working politically alongside someone that singles out the Jewish state from all states in the world for absolute existential condemnation and demonization; neither would I be comfortable working alongside someone that refuses to work with fellow academics simply because they live in Israel; neither would I be comfortable working with someone that thinks that when her colleagues decide that she is wrong, this can be explained away by reference to a shadowy conspiracy of Zionist power.

“Amongst Jews,” writes Sue Blackwell, “there is a long and honourable alternative current to Zionism: namely, socialism”. This was once true. Before the Holocaust, there was a significant, dynamic, lively, mainly Yiddish speaking, socialist movement in Europe that opposed the ‘national liberation’ strategy for dealing with antisemitism and that fought for a more universalistic (and realistic) strategy within Europe. The Nazis killed this movement and they killed most of the human beings that made it up. The Nazis attempted to sweep Europe clean of Jews.

Anti-Zionists like Sue Blackwell seek to portray themselves unproblematically as the inheritors of the Jewish pre-war anti-Zionist tradition, but they live in a profoundly different world.

What Sue Blackwell demonizes as “Zionism” is not any longer a political programme or a social movement as it was in pre-war Europe. Israel is a state, not an idea. It exists in the same way that other states exist. I do not, here, ‘use’ the Holocaust instrumentally to justify anything. The fact of Israel does not require moral justification. I simply say that the Holocaust hugely transformed the material existence of European Jewry and played a key role in transforming the idea of Zionism into the reality of Israel.

Socialism is about relating to the world as it exists, not as socialists at the beginning of the last century hoped it would turn out. Socialists should be in favour of finding a solution to the terrible conflict between Israel and Palestine, not of defining one as essentially evil and the other as nothing but a passive victim of evil. And everybody knows what a peace between Israel and Palestine would look like: a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and a deal done on Jerusalem, the ‘holy’ places and the Palestinian refugees. The opportunity for such a deal was allowed to slip through the fingers of Israelis and Palestinians in the late 90s through the stupidity and cowardice of their leaders. Things are tougher now, but there is no other peace to be made. Sue also airbrushes out of history the entire tradition of Socialist Zionism, presumably on the basis that being Zionist, it definitionally could not be understood as socialist.

Sue Blackwell has broken the silence on the increasing influence of open antisemitism in the anti-Zionist movement and in the Middle East and she has done what she can to oppose it. But her own politics and worldview are not innocent. The fact that antisemites are increasingly being allowed to operate openly in the Palestine Solidarity Movement is partly explicable by the nature of the movement itself and by the nature of the ideas that it actualizes.

If you demonise Israel, Israelis and Jews that think Israel has the right to exist, then you will build a movement that is comfortable for antisemites; you set yourself up for a fight with Jews. If you fail to educate people in that movement about antisemitism, then do not be surprised if you end up with a movement that does not know how to recognise antisemitism.

The danger is that the careful ‘antiracists’ that currently lead anti-Zionism in the UK will be swept away by people that understand the politics that they push more clearly than they do themselves. The naivety of this leadership, that does not recognise, for example MPACUK as threatening to Jews, or that is surprised when the Socialist Workers Party embraces an open antisemite, or that fails to notice the threat contained within the “Zionism=Nazism” claim, is startling.

It is a leadership ripe for take-over by those that see the potential of antisemitism as an organising principle and are hungry for the rewards that silence on antisemitism offers in the making of political alliances.

Sue Blackwell’s opposition to open antisemitism, combined with her embracing of a politics and a world-view that lays the foundations for it, is beginning to look a little old fashioned. The ‘antiracist’ leadership, politically formed in the 1970s and 80s, is now beginning to think about trying to close the stable door. But they don’t know how to do it because they don’t understand how their own actions opened the door in the first place. And the horse is ready to bolt.
David Hirsh
Lecturer in Sociology
Golsmiths College, University of London
Editor of Engage