December 11, 2008

The "Livingstone Formulation" and a protest against Israel - how are they related?

I keep seeing this expression used by Harry's Place and Engage. It's quite a funny thing. It seems to have been coined by Dr David Hirsh, the main man at Engage. The reason I'm writing about it now is because according to Engage, the "well known Christian peace campaigner, veteran of CND and "Stop the War", Bruce Kent uses the Livingstone Formulation. So what's it all about on this occasion?
Bruce Kent defends the "alternative carol service" which was put on in St James's Church in London this Christmas. The Carols were re-worded to combine the demonization which is characteristic of "new antisemitism" with the Christian iconography characteristic of an older antisemitism.

When challenged, Bruce Kent said to The Times: "Anyone who speaks against Zionist policies is labelled anti-Semitic."
Uh, yeah? What's wrong with that? It happens all the time. What's that got to do with Livingstone and his formulation?

Ok hold on a sec. What's the whole thing about? Let's take a look at what the zionists are saying is antisemitic. Any meaningful criticism of Israel. That is the right answer but I mean in this specific instance. What's all this about a carol service? It was the thing put on by Deborah Fink et al at St James's Church in Piccadilly. Apparently it was quite a successful event involving singing carols with the words changed to describe various things going on in what is known to so many as the "Holy Land". Do you see? Carols are about Jesus being born in Bethlehem and all that. Well the performers at St James's changed the words to make them still about in and around Bethlehem, because said "Holy Land" is currently occupied by the racist war criminals of the zionist movement. It was a legitimate way of drawing attention to racist war crimes being committed en masse against an entire people.

I may have gone too far there. As far as I know, the carols people are campaigning, not against zionist rule in general but against the occupation that began in 1967.

Deborah Fink has a background in the moderate campaigning group, Jews for Justice for Palestinians. She was thrown out at the suggestion of Dr David Hirsh when she posted a comment on this blog saying that because Israel's behaviour was so despicable it was more satanic than Jewish and should be called a satanic rather than a Jewish state. Personally I don't see what's so bad about that but I said they're kind of, well moderate. Too accommodating of zionists in my view but then I'm not a member or signatory and they have chalked up some remarkable achievements.

So here we have a protest against Israel in a church and one that has drawn far more attention than has been the case with meetings at, for example, Conway Hall. So what's antisemitic about that? Dr Hirsh again:
the portrayal of Israel as a unique evil, the new apartheid state, a bloodthirsty child-killing state, etc - in this case also portraying Israel as a Jewish tyranny like the one which Christian antisemites have always held responsible for threatening the baby Jesus in Bethlehem and for finally murdering him on the cross.
Now Dr Hirsh has provided no evidence from the lyrics of the carols or the lessons from the evening but Israel is uniquely structured. It is a state not based on the people of the territory it rules but on ethnicity and religion. It is a state of constant population transfer: Jews in, Arabs out. Jews are invited by law and financial inducements and Arabs are forced out by war, mostly on civilians, and legislative and economic means. To describe it as a "unique evil" isn't such a stretch if one is happy with applying the word "evil" to anything in politics we can certainly apply it to Israel and if we do that we can certainly say that there is a certain uniqueness to Israel's brand of "evil". I know, most people, most activists anyway, aren't happy with the word "evil" but the point here is that Israel's system does stand out for being an on-going breach of human rights. It is uniquely horrid, uniquely not nice, uniquely condemnable.

At this point of course, the zionists usually play the holocaust card made for them by the late Isaac Deutscher. They claim that Israel exists because of the holocaust. This takes the view that the mass killer, Stalin, was swayed to the zionist idea, by feeling sorry for Jews. It's a crock, as they say. All the other major powers of the world were supporting the zionist project since 1919, according to the then UK foreign secretary, Lord Balfour.

Sorry, so much to explain sometimes. But what did the carols or the "lessons" (the event consisted of re-worded carols and "lessons") actually say that was antisemitic?
By conflating criticism with demonization Kent avoids confronting the difficult questions associated with the event. Instead, he bounces the allegation back, in effect accusing "the Zionists" of making the charge of antisemitism in bad faith in order to de-legitimize criticism of Israeli policy in a cynical and dishonest way.
But nowhere is Dr Hirsh saying what was actually said at this meeting. All we know is that there was a campaign event against Israel, zionism and/or the occupation. Aside from the fact that demonisation of a state is not racist against the people the state claims to represent, Hirsh hasn't said what was said. He is saying that a) to run a campaign event against Israel in a church is "demonisation" and b) that demonisation of a state, in this case, Israel, is racist against its people, in this case, antisemitic. That's tosh. I'm sure Engage has run a cartoon showing Ahmadinejad in the shape of a swastika. Was that racist against Iranians? Was it islamophobic? Or is only Israel to be uniquely protected from demonisation?

But what has all this got to do with Ken (for it is he) Livingstone? Well according to an article by Dr Hirsh that appears on the Z-word..oh hang on again. Another little explanation is in order here. The "Z" in Z-word appears to be for "zionism" which is curious as Dr Hirsh, in common with increasing numbers of people who seem to support all the basic tenets of zionism, claims to be a non-zionist. I suppose the "N-Z-word" didn't have the same ring to it.

Anyway, according to Hirsh:
The Livingstone Formulation has become an absolutely standard response to a charge of antisemitism. It is a rhetorical device which enables the user to refuse to think about antisemitism. It is a mirror which bounces back an accusation, magnified, against anybody who makes it. It sends back a charge of dishonest Jewish conspiracy in answer to a concern about antisemitism.
Zionists in media and government have for a long time now used the false allegation of antisemitism to smear Israel's critics. That's a fact. It's undeniable and even some zionists have been embarrassed by the false allegation's gung-ho deployment. So why is it Livingstone's formulation? Surely Ken wasn't the first to notice that since there's no case for Israel, zionists and those non-zionists who support and condemn everything that zionists support and condemn have to smear the opponents of Israel or lie about Israel's true nature.

Israel has always been more powerful than the combined forces of the front-line states but now it's a full blown regional superpower. Many ordinary people have been outraged by Israel's deployment of lethal force out of all proportion to any threat that it might face. In spite of well resourced wall to wall propaganda for Israel in the western media, more and more people have seen Israel degenerate into something akin to a cult of violence, racist violence. This has led to quite a recent thing and that is a delving into Israel's past. There has been a mini-industry in books and articles on where, when and how Israel lost its "innocence" but by and large the game is up in propaganda terms. All the zionists have left now is the ability to make noise in the media to drown or crowd out the truth. That and the antisemitism smear. So what's that got to do with Ken:
Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, wrote: ‘for far too long the accusation of antisemitism has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government'.1 The Livingstone Formulation does two things.

Firstly, it denies that there is a distinction between criticism of Israel and demonization of Israel. Criticism of Israeli human rights abuses is not only legitimate, it is entirely appropriate. Demonization, for example, which singles out Israel for unique loathing, or which claims that Israel is apartheid or Nazi or essentially racist, or which characterizes Israel as a child-killing state, or a state which is responsible for wars around the world, or a state which is central to global imperialism, is not the same thing as criticism of Israeli government policies.

Woah! Hold it, hold it, hold it. "Criticism of Israeli human rights abuses is not only legitimate, it is entirely appropriate." Thank you Dr. But "Demonization, for example, which singles out Israel for unique loathing, or which claims that Israel is apartheid or Nazi or essentially racist". But Israel is constituted as a state specially for Jews and not a state for all of its people. It is a state based on ethnic cleansing. The denial of people's right to return to their homeland is a breach of the human rights. Dr Hirsh has given is permission to criticise Israel's human rights abuses and ethnic cleansing is their worse one. Without the ethnic cleansing Israel wouldn't exist. And what "about claims that Israel is apartheid or Nazi or essentially racist"? How can a state that names the mostly inborn identity group that it purports to exist for be anything other than racist? The idea that some people have the right to expel others based on their birthright is racist, essentially racist. Conceivably, Israel could be non-racist but a state specifically for Jews cannot be anything but. The apartheid tag is a fair one too. Is it demonisation? Who cares? It's fair comment. Israel is a segregationist state, segregation is English for apartheid.

Israel's main difference with South Africa is that Jews are the majority but that is thanks to the ethnic cleansing. So Israel is guilty of both segregation and ethnic cleansing. That places it beyond apartheid and on the way towards nazi. Why would anyone sincerely interested in condemning Israel's human rights abuses want to people for saying that? And again, what's it got to do with Ken Livingstone?

The fact is that Ken Livingstone was among the first politicians to enter the mainstream who had a public beef with zionism. The antisemitism tag has followed him around since the 1980s. He threw a drunken insult at a Jewish journalist and the zionists went into a feed frenzy over it. Whatever the specifics of that spat, the idea that zionists (and their non-zionist allies) use the antisemitism charge in bad faith is not an antisemitic conspiracy theory, it's a fact and well known one at that. And Ken Livingstone wasn't the first to notice it. Livingstone formulation indeed. Oh honestly!

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