October 25, 2016

Book Review: The Left's Jewish Problem by Dave Rich

I was asked to review Dave Rich's book for an academic website.  I was asked to take it seriously and write about it as befits a scholarly work.  I found that impossible and wrote the following instead.  Now read on.....

The Left's Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism by Dave Rich

I suspect the book is timed to cash in on Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to the leadership of the UK Labour Party as Corbyn seems something of an afterthought for its author, Dave Rich.  Dave is a committed Zionist so no doubt he also wanted to play his part in undermining a left Labour leader who has a high profile in the Palestine solidarity movement.

The book has lots of Zionist staples like the Jewish right to national self-determination. There are lots of stretches of people’s meaning and out of context quotes to portray Israel’s opponents and even victims as being antisemitic.  The holocaust is instrumentalised to justify Israel’s existence without the author realising that this undermines the idea of Jews being a standard case for national self-determination which is supposed to accrue to communities with territorial contiguity and raises the idea that, instead, Jews are a special case.

Dave avoids analysis or even definitions of terms.  He avoids analysis of what Zionism means to its victims.  He avoids saying what it means to or for its Jewish beneficiaries except to say that this ideological choice is an integral part of their identity.  He avoids details around implementation of the Zionist project and he mostly avoids the various imperial supports the project has received and without which Israel couldn’t exist.

Remarkably for a book supposedly about antisemitism, Dave fails even to define that. He doesn’t mention, for example, the so-called EUMC working definition which his employers at the Community Security Trust learned to love.  He certainly uses parts of the definition.  For example, when Israel is compared to the Nazis, this is offered by Dave as an example of antisemitism.  His failure to analyse Zionism or Nazism or refer to the racism essential and common to both enables this given.

Dave’s only mention of Israel’s founding war on the Arabs is plain wrong. Dave claims “five Arab armies had invaded their new Jewish neighbour”.  Arab armies have never invaded Israel. The Zionist movement had already ethnically cleansed 300,000 Palestinians by the time Arab armies mobilised against an already expanding Israel.

He fails to consider the Eurocentrism that would allow for the Labour Party to propose in 1944 the “transfer”, ie the ethnic cleansing, of all of Palestine’s Arabs.  For Dave, the labour movement was all cloth caps, trade unions and Poale Zion (now calling itself the Jewish Labour Movement, JLM).  And somewhere between the old days and the rise of the new left, the youth wing of the Liberal Party, the Young Liberals, decided to call Israel out as a state not significantly different from the apartheid regime of the Republic of South Africa.  Without analysing either Zionism or liberalism, Dave doesn’t have to consider the glaringly illiberal tenets of the former to see how repugnant they are to the young activists of the latter.

And so to the new left whose ideas and genealogy get mangled by Dave.  Where he quotes work, he doesn’t seem to understand it.  Abram Leon for example, is chastised by Dave, of all people, for mostly ignoring Palestine.  But Leon was explaining the Jewish identity, hostility to Jews and the ahistorical nationalism of the Zionist movement. So why mention Leon? Because his book is called The Jewish Question and an idiot called Gerry Downing claims that global affairs are run by what he calls “the Jewish question”. If Downing claims inspiration from Leon then, like Dave, he hasn’t understood him.  Contrary to Dave’s claim, we do not have to read Leon to understand Downing. But the spurious linkage is made because Downing was suspended from the Labour Party during Corbyn’s time as leader even though he survived Kinnock, Blair, Brown and Miliband.

The new left was hostile to Stalinism but not for Dave.  The anti-Zionism that was coming to the fore as Israel’s atrocities became more widely known, is attributable, according to Dave, to the failure of the new left to rid itself of an important tenet of Stalinism: anti-Zionism, itself an aspect of Stalin’s antisemitism. 

The new left together with mass immigration ushered in the rise of identity politics.  For Dave the new left likes identity politics like children used to like playing cowboys and Indians.  New leftists like to be the Indians, then they can wear keffiyehs and run around upsetting cowboys like Dave.  Dave doesn’t consider the various issues arising out of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural working class and how the leftist demand for equality means more than simple bread and butter issues.  He doesn’t dismiss identity politics out of hand.  He even admits that Zionists have played identity politics themselves and even got away with it for a while which is presumably why they are now trying it on again.  The problem here is that for Zionists it is a game of pretending that ideology is identity and that’s too absurd to sustain.

For Dave, organisations, like ideologies, become identities.  There’s a whole chapter on When Anti-Racists Ban Jews.  Back in the late 1970s some university Jewish societies were banned over their affiliation to the World Zionist Organisation and Congress.  The ban was under students’ union’s “no platform for racists” policy, it wasn’t the banning of Jews as Jews. There were leftists who opposed the ban because they claimed that it was wrong tactically. Dave seems to have tried but could not find a former supporter of the no platforming of Jewish societies who would now say that the policy was actually antisemitic.

Dave’s Conclusion doesn’t actually conclude.  It’s anecdotes about events since he wrote the book.  Among others, there’s Jackie Walker’s hacked facebook conversation with a Zionist friend about Jewish involvement in the slave trade. Dave attributes this to the influence of an antisemitic Farakhan disciple rather than a clumsily and privately expressed statement of fact.  He then berates her for saying that she was being targeted for her support for the Palestinians. There was a clue in that she was hacked by the Israel Advocacy Movement.  But to add to his omissions, Dave doesn’t do detective work.

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