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Tuesday, 5 February 2008

How Indymedia UK Lost Its Way and became a safe haven for Anti-Semitism

Indymedia UK [IM] boasts that it is ‘a network of individuals, independent and alternative media activists and organisations, offering grassroots, non-corporate, non-commercial coverage of important social and political issues.’

When the issue of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism arose in October 2007, IM demonstrated that far from being an alternative, grassroots way of doing things, it behaved in exactly the same undemocratic, manipulative and bureaucratic way of the corporations that it criticises. In its Editorial Guidelines, there is a category ‘Hierarchy’ which states that ‘The newswire is designed to generate a news resource, not a notice-board for political parties or any other hierarchically structured organizations...’

It echoed the old criticism of anarchism and the tyranny of structurelessness IN Jo Freeman’s famous essay which originated in a debate in the women’s movement about structures. It aimed to show that every group has structures and hierarchies and those which pretend otherwise simply have informal structures, usually less democratic than those where there is an openly defined structure, where power would move to an elite without any controls or accountability. It is a good way to describe the anarcho-libertarian group IM.

Although I was unaware of it at the time, there had been at least 2 trial runs over the issue of anti-Semitism and holocaust denial in March and April 2007. When an Atzmon article ‘From Esther to Aipac’ was posted it provoked debate amongst the moderators, all of whom seemed unable to see what the fuss was about with Yossarian describing it as a ‘positive contribution’ The article is still there.
In April another IM moderator ftp (Roy Bard) defended holocaust denier Kurt Nimmo who had stated that the gas chambers at Auschwitz were ‘discredited’. A fellow moderator, Nim Chimpsky complained that ‘What has been becoming increasingly problematic is that not only are the offending posts allowed to stand, but any complaints will be hidden.’ The whole debate can be seen here And a defence of Nimmo can be seen here.
Reading through the debates in April 2007 one gets a curious sense of déjà vu. The same use of ‘guidelines’ to ‘hide’ criticism of holocaust deniers and anti-Semites. It works something like this. FTP puts up an anti-Semitic post from Gilad Atzmon, someone complains and their article is hidden because complaints about the actions of Moderators are hidden. This is covered by the rule that ‘Concerns about editorial guidelines or queries about moderation are dealt with on the imc-uk-features list. These issues are not dealt with through the newswire, and newswire posts on these topics will be hidden.’ So if you disagree with the decision to put up a racist article the anti-racist response will always be hidden!!

But this is very like the way the Police enforce the law. Those laws they like, e.g. ancient bylaws which prevent an EDO camp in Brighton in the summer are enforced. However anti-fox hunting laws, or the Protection from Eviction Act are ignored. In this case the guideline under discrimination which states that posts using language, imagery, or other forms of communication promoting racism, fascism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia or any other form of discrimination’ may be hidden is simply ignored. Repeatedly anti-Semitic and racist articles have been posted on the grounds of ‘free speech’ whereas responses have routinely been hidden.

Through the Atzmon affair, this guideline has never even been referred to by the moderators. I was first alerted to an article on IM by Gilad Atzmon, ‘saying no to the hunters of Goliath’ by an Israeli anti-Zionist, Moshe Machover. In an e-mail of 17.10.07 he wrote that most of Atzmon’s article, about 2006 Lebanon war, was unobjectionable but hardly new either but that::
‘GA… packages it with his usual barely hidden anti-semitism... he tells us that "Within the Judaic worldview, history and ethics are often reduced into a banal single binary opposition principle." This is a typical stereotypical generalization -- as if there is such a thing as a ‘Judaic worldview’, apparently unchanging over centuries. Further; "The tendency to personalise and concretise history is rather common amongst Jews." Really? But a real gem follows: "... the Jewish state and the sons of Israel are at least as unpopular in the Middle East as their grandparents were in Europe just six decades ago. Seemingly, it is the personification of WW2 and the Holocaust that blinded the Israelis and their supporters from internalising the real meaning of the conditions and the events that led towards their destruction in the first place. Would the Zionists understand the real meaning of their Holocaust, the contemporary Israelite may be able to prevent the destruction that may be awaiting them in the future."
Please read this carefully. He is comparing here the – perfectly justified -- present hatred for Israel in the Middle East, with the "unpopularity" (!!!) from which European Jews suffered in the 1940s!
You, I and GA agree that if a destruction awaits Israel in the future, it will be a consequence of its present actions. What he is implying here is that the same is also true of the destruction of European Jewry six decades ago. This is not Holocaust denial; it is rather Holocaust justification! Or, at the very least, partly blaming it on the victims. Like Zionist propaganda, GA conflates anti-Zionism with Jew-baiting. Zionist propaganda does it in order to de-legitimize anti-Zionism; GA does it in order to legitimize his Judeophobia.’

I posted two responses to this article on 18th and 19th October, which unleashed a barrage abuse by Atzmon’s holocaust denier friend Knuckles aka Edna Spennato. The only sane posting was by a Tim Vanhoof: ‘Atzmon is a notorious anti-Semite. It is a mark of utter political confusion to not have deleted this racist crap immediately!’ However that was the last thing that a group of IM moderators, led by ftp wanted.

On 24th October I wrote to the IM collective, forwarding the e-mail from MM. I asked that the post be taken down and commented that whilst ‘On most occasions accusations of anti-Semitism, especially by Zionists against those supporting the Palestinians are a form of defamation. In this case they are unfortunately true.’

I cited an article from Atzmon that Knuckles posted. Atzmon wrote:
‘I clearly identify a line of ugliness that is stretched between Zionism, Neocons, and the Bund, a line of racially orientated discourse that is stretched between Jaz … and ADL . And what is Jewish identity?… it has nothing to do with racial category … but rather with racially-orientated politics.

I am suggesting that the only way to internalise the meaning of the Jewish Holocaust is to teach Jews how to start looking in the mirror, to teach Jews to ask themselves why conflicts with others happen to them time after time. Rather than blaming the Goyim, the Germans, the Muslims, the Arabs, it is about time the Jewish subject learns to ask the 6 million $ question: "why do they pick on me?"

I received no reply and posted a reminder. This triggered off a heated debate among the moderators with others joining in. One mod, Startx, who called for the hiding of Atzmon’s post has now resigned. So has another mod, Yossarian, who a month previously had defended the Esther article as ‘a controversial article, which is somewhat on the edge but seemingly meant as a positive contribution.’ Having now read some of Atzmon’s other writings, not least his Wikipedia entry on Jewish conspiracy, on how it is ‘rational’ to blow up synagogues and how in comparison with the Nazis it is the Israelis who win the championship for ruthlessness, Yossarian did an about-turn and called for his post to be hidden.

However some of the mods, such as Chris Osmond, a Brighton Palestine solidarity activist, demonstrated that they still didn’t understand what racism is. ‘i've had a look at this briefly and it seems like the complaint against this post is more about the writers (Gilad Atzmon's) reputation than the post's content.’

On 30th October ‘freethepeeps’ ftp, entered the fray. ‘There are clear difficulties in calling someone who has served in the Israeli army an anti-semite’ whereas the opposite should surely be the case! And further, ‘I do not believe that Atzmon hates all Jews because they are Jewish.’ Which is certainly reassuring. Phunkee then intervened to say that ‘I don't perceive it as anti-semitic as such, more provocative than anything else, but i'm no expert on these things.’ ftp replied to a further post by startx saying that anti-Semitism is ‘a device to stifle criticism of Israel(1), (and now it seems critics of anti-zionist jews.’ demonstrating a complete confusion between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Replying to ftp’s call for a network meeting, startx said that ‘i do not need a network meeting to call political bullshit what it is.’ Ftp countered by saying I wanted ‘censorship’, even though that is what the guidelines say should happen to racist posts! The irony is that ftp has proved the best censor of all!

The discussion continued into November. On November 2nd ftp demonstrated where his sympathies lay. Referring Atzmon’s essay ‘on anti-Semitism’ about how Jews control the US foreign policy, ftp stated that Atzmon ‘does back up his claims about control of foreign policy’ citing a list of Jews the Clinton government. Demonstrating his own total confusion, peeps asks rhetorically, concering Atzmon’s definition of 3 categories of Jew that ‘the 3 conclusions that you highlight, are conclusions about Zionism, not about Jews. I am sure it is not your claim that zionism is an embodiement of Jewishness. Atzmon most certainly is not.’

But this is exactly Atzmon’s argument. To fail to understand it is to fail to understand why Atzmon is anti-Semitic. He believes that any declaration that one is Jewish means that one is automatically a Zionist and this especially applies to anti-Zionist Jews. But the Zionists also argue that to be anti-Zionist is to be anti-Semitic because they consider being Jewish and Zionist is one and the same. For all his long-winded sophistry, Atzmon is merely repeating the arguments that Zionists make when accusing their opponents of anti-Semitism.

If ftp had read the essay, Not in my name he would learn that Atzmon make no distinction between anti-Zionist and Zionist Jews, apart from orthodox Jews and ex-Jews like himself. He makes this explicitly clear in other essays such as Dialectic of the Negation , and The 3rd Category and the Palestinian Solidarity Movement:
'it is actually the sporadic rebels who criticise Zionism in the name of their Jewish secular identity who affirm the Zionist ‘totalitarian’ agenda…. Bizarrely enough, it is the Jewish Left which turns Zionism into the official voice of the Jewish people. … by fighting Zionism in the name of their Jewish identity they approve Zionism…. To resist Zionism as a secular Jew involves an acceptance of basic Zionist terminology, that is to say, a surrendering to Jewish racist and nationalist philosophy…. Jews cannot criticise Zionism in the name of their ethnic belonging because such an act is in itself an approval of Zionism… It is the ‘self-hater’ who serves as an inside enemy. It is he who will convert (to Zionism) in the next anti-Semitic wave.

It couldn’t be clearer. Atzmon asks ‘Why is this issue a major concern?’ And he answers his own question thus:
I frequently hear complaints that it is the Jewish Left which dominates the ‘Palestinian solidarity campaign’. …. A few days ago I attended a Palestinian solidarity event in London. It was pretty depressing to find that Hebrew was the most noticeable language in the theatre…. I learn from Palestinians and other supporters of the Palestinian cause that it is the Jewish and Israeli Left which defines the boundaries of the discussion. It is Jewish Left which decides what is right and what is wrong…. Jews and Zionists do not constitute a binary opposition. If anything they are complimentary categories. If left-wing Jews are genuine in their fight against Zionism, they should completely avoid the usage of Jewish identity as the pillar of their arguments. If they remain hidden behind their Jewish identity we must then suspect their call to be a form of a mild left-wing Zionism.
For Atzmon being Jewish is to be a Zionist and the more anti-Zionist one is the more Zionist one becomes! Yossarian replied that ‘Like I said, I find it creepy that this guy recapitulated every classic anti-semitic slur’ and others like Guidoreport agreed, writing that
'Much of the the stuff being banded around in this discussion could have been directly drawn from "Mind Benders" a book written by Nick Griffen a few years ago.’ Mish raised ftp’s threat to ‘block’ the majority of other moderators who cleaerly disagreed with his position.

Ftp, as the leading opponent of hiding Atzmon’s articles moved nearer to an explicitly anti-Semitic position. He describes Jeff Blankfort, the US Director of the Deir Yassin Remembered organisation, a small anti-Semitic organisation within the Palestine solidarity movement that the PSC Executive has proscribed, as ‘an anti-zionist who argues that the left's tendency to ignore the power of the Israel lobby, is one of the reasons for the failure of the anti-war movement’
'Perhaps it is doe to the awful gatekeeping around this issue, that the views of progressives such as Blankfort are not more widely known.'

Jeff Blankfort however is an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist of the first rank. In an e-mail to me of 17.6.05., he tells me that
'What kept me from examining the history of the Holocaust as I would any other period of history… was that I considered those challenging the official narrative as loathsome creatures, classic anti-semites who, in their efforts to whitewash Hitler and the 3rd Reich, were denying one of the most enormous crimes in human history.
It wasn't until about four or five years ago… that I started reading the writings of Robert Faurisson, one of those loathsome creatures, on the internet, and found, to my displeasure, that some of the issues he raised had some merit or at least warranted discussion and further investigation, such as whether "The Final Solution" to the Jewish problem was mass extermination of the Jews. Had this, in fact, been the plan, it seemed, there would have been few, if any survivors, and as we know, there were many.
However, if one is only measuring the Holocaust by whether the Germans were successful in carrying out their plans, if those were indeed their plans… it would have to be explained why, according to an Israeli government report in 1997, there were between 834,000 and 960,000 survivors still alive.

Which is one of the classic arguments of holocaust deniers. When Yossarian replied asking Ftp a question he has consistently avoided, viz. ‘Are you endorsing the existence of a global Zionist conspiracy for world domination as posited by Atzmon (among others)? Or not? You do tend to ignore questions like this one, so please answer it straight.’ ftp of course ignored the question. Instead he announced that he was prepared to block the majority to protect Atzmon.
Despite the support of other moderators such as Ana, Guidoreports, Mick Fuzz and Ulla ftp was able to impose a block until the balance among the mods changed. Yoss meanwhile resigned. On November 8th I posted a response to Atzmon and Ftp, the great opponent of censorship, promptly hid it!

On 13th November, after his monkey Rizzo had posted to no good effect, the organ grinder himself posted. Atzmon lost no time in explaining where he stood:
I think that you are now having a close range opportunity to learn about the world of aggressive Zionist lobbying. You are a subject to some major assault led by ethnic campaigner Mr. Tony Greenstein….
They did it to Jeff Blankfort, one of the prominent American Palestinian Solidarity activists,.. they did it to Paul Eisen and Israel Shamir, these people have managed to crush DYR, probably the most successful Palestinian gathering in this country. These people had tried to divert the Palestinian solidarity movement and to turn it into a Judeo centric witch-hunt crusade.’

Not only are we christ-killers but witch-hunters too. But his tribute to the holy trinity of Blankfort, Eisen and Shamir speaks volumes. Eisen is a clear and open holocaust denier. He has written that:
‘'the evidence for the use of homicidal gas-chambers is not good at all. The evidence against it is much, much stronger.'
and ‘In Clear Sight of Yad Vashem’ article makes his position explicitly clear:
‘Over the last fifty years, revisionist scholars have amassed a formidable body of substantial evidence, which runs in direct opposition to the traditional Holocaust narrative. "Where is the evidence," they say, "for this alleged gargantuan mass-murder? Where are the documents? Where are the traces and remains? Where are the weapons of murder?"

Shamir too makes it clear what his views of Auschwitz are:
The camp was an internment facility, attended by the Red Cross (as opposed to the US internment centre in Guantanamo).… This idea of "bombing Auschwitz" makes sense only if one accepts the vision of "industrial extermination factory", and it was formed only well after the war. Who Needs Holocaust?
These are Atzmon’s anti-Zionists!

Only Jackslusid agreed with ftp: ‘I am in agreement with and in awe of the words of GA et al.’
But those moderators who were opposed to Atzmon were overwhelmed by the whole debate and the fact that ftp was by now part of the Rizzo/Atzmon anti-Semitic block and thus more organised and determined than them. Tiring of the debate the others agreed to shunt the whole debate onto a 'wiki' page where it would be allowed to die.

In response I wrote an article There are no gatekeepers – just anti-racists citing Atzmon’s belief that ‘all Jewish left activity is in practice not more than a form of left Zionism.’ I remarked that it ‘is a strange argument that says if Jewish people stand up and say they oppose Zionism, because they are Jews, they are actually Zionists!’ I also noted the contradiction with what Atzmon had himself written in viz. that
If Israel is the state of the Jewish people and the Jewish people themselves do not stand up collectively against the crimes that are committed on their behalf, then every Jewish person, Jewish symbol and Jewish object becomes an Israeli interest and a potential terrorist target. It is up to the Jewish people to take a stand against their Jewish state and to disassociate themselves from their zealous national movement.

If you stand up as a Jew to oppose Zionism that proves you are a Zionist but if Jews didn’t ‘disassociate themselves from their zealous national movement’ then you were a legitimate target for attack. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t! Atzmon’s whole argument about ‘racial, ethnic activists’ is not only illogical and incoherent it says, that Jews are Zionists whatever they may feel and say, just as the Nazis held that Christians with two Jewish grandparents were racially Jewish.

IM set up a couple of blogs, where the anti-Atzmon case and the pro-Atzmon case, run by ftp are situated. The purpose of this was in essence to allow the rest of the moderators, who were unable to implement what was previously a nigh unanimous concensus to hide Atzmon’s articles, to evade further discussion of the issue.

In January the debate briefly flared up again on the threads when ftp, now clearly having outmanouvred or got rid of those moderators who disagreed with him hid an article I had written exposing Atzmon as a full-blown holocaust denier . His pretexts changed continuously: the article was a repeat (as were Atzmon’s of course, being posted to numerous conspiracy sites), that it was ‘inaccurate’, and ftp is the judge of accuracy, and it linked to far-right sites.

The latter involved a wonderful piece of Orwellian logic, almost kafkaesque. If in proving that Atzmon is a holocaust denier one refers to what fascists say about him on their sites then the article will be banned for linking to far-right sites! But hiding Atzmon would be outrageous censorship. But given the low political consciousness and demoralisation of his fellow mods and the fact that they have run the white flag up, ftp is now able to get away with the most outrageous positions without being challenged.

So we now have a situation on IM that whereas someone who is openly anti-Semitic and a holocaust denier is able to post articles without let or hindrance, if you should deign to criticise what he argues for then whatever you post will be censored!!

This is not the place to go into the reason for this state of affairs. Ten or fifteen years ago there was a higher level of political consciousness and very few of those who considered themselves on the left couldn’t distinguish between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. It is also a product of the lack of theory among anarchists and libertarians generally. But above all it is a tribute to the Zionist movement. For years Zionists have gone around labelling anyone they disagreed with as anti-Semitic. This has had the effect as Antony Lerman, of the Institute of Jewish Policy Research said, of ‘draining anti-Semitism of all meaning’.

Even grassroots, direct-action type anarcho sites like IM are increasingly falling for anti-Semitic and similar conspiracy theories. Of course if you reject a Marxist or socialist analysis of society then sooner or later you end up with the idea that small groups of people, hidden away and sharing certain common charactertistics like their Jewishness, are responsible for the ills of society. They used to say that anti-Semitism was the socialism of fools. Today it is the anti-capitalism of idiots.

Tony Greenstein

1 comment:

azvsas said...

forgot to add the url