Richard Seymour and Labour’s Antisemitism Affair –straddling both sides of the fence
Richard Seymour is undoubtedly a gifted and capable writer. He was, until the 2013 rape crisis, a member of the Socialist Workers Party when he led the resistance on his Leninology blog to the attempts by the leadership and Alex Callinicos to cover up what had happened. Since then he has drifted politically, writing a couple of books, becoming immersed in intersectionality and flirting with Left Unity. Seymour’s latest article in Jacobin suggests he is wandering aimlessly across the left, dragged in the undertow of conflicting political currents without neither ballast or firm conviction.
Seymour is mired in the swamp of identity politics and this is causing him to lose his political bearings. After all a Jewish identity based around Israel and Zionism, suitably dressed up as a concern with anti-Semitism, is equally as valid as a Palestinian identity based on ethnic cleansing. If Jews can claim that they are oppressed because of hostility to Israel who is going to countermand this? When class and race are removed from the equation who is to decide who is oppressed and who is the oppressor? Everything is subjective and personal. All identities are equally valid, albeit some are more equal than others. By what criteria can one say that an identity based on Zionism is reactionary if one does not have an analysis based on class and imperialism?
Seymour’s latest article Labour’s Antisemitism Affair on Labour’s media manufactured anti-Semitism crisis proves the maxim that those who leave the SWP invariably drift to the right. In Seymour’s case this involves a wholesale abandonment of class politics in favour of subjectivism and a crude empiricism.
Seymour’s article is a deep disappointment as he tries to bridge the gap between the two sides of what he calls Labour’s Anti-Semitism Affair. Seymour’s purpose is blindingly obvious. He wants to find something innovative to say. He wants to put new wine into old bottles and thus he imagines he’s being daring and brave in seeking to break the mould of the politics of anti-Semitism. Like those who have tried this feat of political acrobacy before him, he ends up satisfying no one. It is a tilt to the Right and an abandonment of the Left. It stands in marked contrast to the subsequent article Corbyn Under Fire in Jacobin by Daniel Finn.
One of the hallmarks of socialist or left-wing writers is their commitment to the overthrow of the system we live under. They employ their talents on our behalf not just their own. There should be no room to doubt where they stand on the major issues of the day. They are against the mainstream. People such as John Pilger, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein and Tariq Ali have demonstrated their commitment under fire. However the Left is also plagued by opportunists and turncoats, fair weather friends and erstwhile socialists like Owen Jones, the Guardian’s resident leftist and friend of the Israeli Labour Party/JLM. Others, like Nick Cohen, simply jack-knifed to the right. American neo-conservatism is littered with the bodies of ex-leftists such as Nathan Glazer, James Burnham and Irving Kristol. See The Neoconservative Counterrevolution
|Gilad Atzmon, the anti-semitic jazz player who the SWP was associated with through the years when Richard Seymour was a member|
I would have expected Richard Seymour to have put into some kind of context, in the course of his 5000+ word article, from where and why he thought that Labour’s ‘anti-Semitism’ crisis arose. Or was the ‘anti-Semitism’ controversy a spontaneous eruption when the prospect of a Corbyn leadership of the Labour Party materialised? A narrative of ‘anti-Semitism’ that is espoused by every right-wing newspaper in Britain – from the Daily Mail and Sun to the Guardian surely demands some explanation as to its origins?
I find it wholly dishonest that when describing the fabricated anti-Semitism controversy at Oxford University Labour Club in January 2016, Seymour referred to the central villain, the Chair of the Club, Alex Chalmers, as “a former intern at the pro-Israel group BICOM.”
|I wrote an article for Jacobin nearly 2 years ago|
Chalmer’s resignation as Chair sparked the crisis and led to the Royall Report which in turn led to the Chakrabarti Report. The information about his links to BICOM was discovered by Asa Winstanley, a researcher and writers for Electronic Intifada, whose articles How Israel lobby manufactured UK Labour Party’s anti-Semitism crisis and Instigator of anti-Semitism scam kicked out of Labour are indispensable to anyone seeking to make sense of what was happening. Yet although purloining the fruits of Asa’s investigative work, Seymour deigned to give him credit. The Guardian and other papers get frequent references but the writings of a journalist on our side is simply ignored.
As people will know, I was one of the major casualties of this crisis. I was suspended on March 18th 2016 and expelled on February 18th 2018. I have detailed the various stages of my suspension from my Investigation Hearing to my successful application for an Injunction against the Labour Party on my blog. I have tried to put what has happened to me into a wider context, for example detailing the suspension of people like Jackie Walker.
I find it difficult to empathise with so-called intellectuals who divorce themselves from that which they write about. People who prize themselves on their detachment from the struggle and who adopt an aloof and condescending attitude to those who are involved in political battles are destined not to hang around for too long. People like Richard Seymour believe themselves equipped to offer their advice from on high without ever getting their hands dirty.
I don't doubt that Seymour can sometimes write interesting and insightful articles but he can also be extremely arrogant. Although he has escaped from their clutches Seymour has nonetheless retained the mentality and psychology of the SWP where everything is subordinate to building the party. Perhaps having kept aloof from left sectarian politics I find myself irritated at the cynicism of a group from which I was expelled at the tender age of 19. To repeat all its mistakes over and over again, without ever learning from those mistakes and to operate in the same way as you have always done, with front organisations which garner less and less support, merely proves Einstein's maxim that the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result.
There is no attempt in Richard’s article to explain the origins of Labour’s 'antisemitism' campaign. It apparently appeared as if by magic. The idea of a deliberately co-ordinated plan to destabilise Labour doesn't even seem to have occurred to Seymour. The possibility of state interference and involvement completely escapes him. Seymour begins with the minutae of the latest incidents of 'anti-semitism' from Jewdas, to the famous mural by Mear One, which he automatically assumes is antisemitic, to Christine Shawcroft. Seymour concludes that 'There is, clearly, a problem somewhere. Unfortunately, the way in which allegations of antisemitism have been used for party-political purposes, has tended to obscure the need to address it.'
|An article in Haaretz by Gary Spedding supporting the bogus anti-semitism campaign|
This is the key defect of Seymour’s article. He accepts that ‘There is, clearly, a problem somewhere.’
Seymour’s article provides justification for the statement by Momentum that was issued in the wake of the latest episode of ‘anti-Semitism’. It bears the imprint of Jon Lansman, a left Zionist who is the head of Momentum. Lansman has consistently refused to mobilise Momentum in the fight against the witch-hunt in the Labour Party still less to counter the activities of the Jewish Labour Movement, the Israeli state’s representatives inside Labour. The statement reads:
Momentum’s NCG believes that accusations of antisemitism should not and cannot be dismissed simply as right wing smears nor as the result of conspiracies. Current examples of antisemitism within the Labour Party are not only a problem of a few, extreme ‘bad apples’ but also of unconscious bias which manifests itself in varied, nuanced and subtle ways and is more widespread in the Labour Party than many of us had understood even a few months ago.
It is possible to accept that antisemitism is a problem in parts of the left and needs to be loudly denounced whilst also accepting that some of Jeremy Corbyn’s political opponents are opportunistically using this issue as a way to undermine his leadership.
There is nothing in the above statement that Seymour could disagree with.
It does not seem to have occurred to Seymour that the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the second major party in the US’s closest ally in Europe, someone who was both anti-Nato and anti-US imperialism, could not but help provoke panic in the security establishment. If the CIA and all the other spooks at the US Embassy were not discussing what to do when Corbyn appeared to be winning the Labour leadership contest they weren't doing their job.
Perhaps Seymour believes that whilst the CIA has no compunction in destabilising governments and parties in Latin America they wouldn’t do such a thing in Britain? Maybe he hasn’t heard of Operation Gladio. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Seymour that the Labour Party is being destabilised via the United State’s chosen friend Israel. It is as if the Al Jazeera undercover programmes The Lobby had not been shown and Shai Masot, the Israeli agent had never existed.
Seymour takes certain facts and ignores others, for example the attack on Corbyn even before he became leader as a holocaust denier. He lacks any perspective, making empiricism into a fine art. Indeed the ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign is all our fault. ‘If you walk straight into the constantly whirring propellers of a hostile media with eyes wide shut, then what is the use of complaining about the “Israel Lobby”?’ So the false anti-Semitism campaign has nothing to do with the media or those who own them. The blame lies rather with the victims of the press.
Seymour’s factual grasp leaves a lot to be desired. When talking about Ken Livingstone’s remark that Hitler supported Zionism, Seymour says of Ha'avara, the Transfer Agreement between the Jewish Agency in Palestine and the Nazi state, that: ‘Hitler was not “supporting” Zionism so much as using every expedient to expel Jews from Germany.’
This is simply not true. The Nazi government made it clear that they did support the German Zionist movement vs their non-Zionist German counterparts. David Cesarani wrote describing how ‘The efforts of the Gestapo are oriented to promoting Zionism as much as possible and lending support to its efforts to further emigration.” (my emphasis) [The Final Solution (p.96)] Lucy Dawidowicz, another Zionist historian described how, on 28th January 1935, Reinhardt Heydrich issued a directive stating that
‘the activity of the Zionist-oriented youth organizations ... prior to their emigration to Palestine lies in the interest of the National Socialist state’s leadership.’ These organisations therefore ‘are not to be treated with that strictness that it is necessary to apply to the members of the so-called German-Jewish organizations (assimilationists)’. [Lucy Dawidowicz, War Against the Jews, pp.118]
Francis Nicosia writes of how Berl Katznelson, a founder of the Israeli Labour Party Mapai and editor of its paper Davar saw the rise of Hitler as “an opportunity to build and flourish like none we have ever had or ever will have”. [Zionism and Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany, p.91, CUP, 2008.] Ben Gurion’s attitude to the Holocaust is best described by his official biographer, Shabtai Teveth: ‘If there was a line in Ben-Gurion’s mind between the beneficial disaster and an all-destroying
catastrophe, it must have been a very fine one.’ [The Burning Ground 1886-1948, p.851, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1987].
Ha'avara was not set up in order to help Jews emigrate from Germany. The Jews it helped were amongst the richest, those who could take £1,000 capital out (which enabled them to enter Palestine without an immigration certificate). They could have left anyway. Ha'avara’s purpose, from the Nazi’s point of view was to undermine the International Jewish Boycott of Nazi Germany which was destroying the German export economy. From the point of view of the Zionist Organisation, Ha'avara was the sole way of bringing into Palestine the maximum amount of German Jewish capital. [Jewish Chronicle, 13th December 1935] According to Edwin Black [Ha’avara – The Transfer Agreement, Brookline Books, 1999, pp. 257-8), Ha'avara’s main purpose was ‘saving the wealth’ of German Jewry and ‘rescuing the capital from Nazi Germany.’ The Jews themselves were a secondary matter.
Baruch Vladech, Chair of the American Jewish Labour Committee and Editor of the Yiddish Daily Forward, described Ha'avara’s purpose as 'not to rescue the Jews from Germany but to strengthen various institutions in Palestine.' He observed that whilst
the whole organized labor movement and the progressive world are waging a fight against Hitler through the boycott. The Transfer Agreement scabs on that fight.’[Lenni Brenner, pp. 92-93, 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis’, Barricade Books, 1972].
Seymour's criticisms of Jackie Walker, the Black-Jewish activist who was Vice-Chair of Momentum, are even more off beam. By attending the ‘training session’ of the Jewish Labour Movement on anti-Semitism, she was waging a ‘factional war’. Seymour describes her comment that Holocaust Day was not “open to all people who experienced a holocaust.” as wrong. It wasn’t, the African & Belgian Congo holocausts are absent. The extermination of the Disabled and Roma are classified under ‘Persecution’ rather than ‘Holocaust’ on the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.
Seymour describes Jackie’s behaviour as ‘tendentious’ and that ‘she was splitting hairs, belittling antisemitism’. Seymour describes his ignorance of the subject. Jackie was challenging the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism which conflates anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. The IHRA is at the centre of the debate over false allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’. If Seymour is so unaware of the ramifications of the IHRA then he should read the criticism of it in London Review of Books May 2017 by former Court of Appeal Judge Sir Stephen Sedley. [Defining Anti-Semitism].
Seymour concludes by saying that ‘Walker’s tactical misadventure inadvertently damaged her own cause’ implying that it was her own fault that ‘she was drummed out of the Momentum leadership.’ What kind of socialist blames the defeat of workers on their own mistakes as a means of making a rhetorical point? It is noteworthy that Seymour has nothing to say about the Momentum leadership.
Seymour says that precisely 56 individuals have been suspended because of allegations of anti-Semitism citing Thomas Jones’ Labour and Anti-Semitism. The only problem with this is that this article was written in May 2016. We are nearly two years down the road and the numbers are far greater. We had thousands of suspensions in the summer of 2016 during the leadership election, many of which were based on ‘anti-Semitism’.
Seymour is right when he says that Israel has become a ‘totem issue...a displacement for other issues.’ and that this is one of the reasons for the false anti-Semitism campaign. It is because Israel has become symbolic of the divide between right and left that we have to confront Labour’s role in supporting the world’s only apartheid state not allow ourselves to be bogged down in refuting the false allegations of anti-Semitism. Unfortunately Seymour proposes the opposite course, namely that we should take serious that which he describes as a displacement issue.
In the section on Jewish Anti-Zionists Seymour writes that the reaction to what he calls anti antisemitism ‘has many sources, and some of it, as Momentum suggests, might be rooted in shades and variations of unconscious antisemitism. ' Momentum’s own statement speaks of an ‘unconscious bias which manifests itself in varied, nuanced and subtle ways and is more widespread... than many of us had understood.’
Racism if it is unconscious it’s not worth the candle. At a time when the government is stripping Black people who came here in the Windrush of their citizenship rights, when we face the continuing issue of Black deaths in custody at the hands of a racist police force and the incarceration of refugees, to talk about an invisible or ‘unconscious’ racism that is deployed on behalf of White privileged people is obscene and racist in itself.
Momentum’s statement calls for ‘unconscious bias training... awareness trainings’. As Virou Srilangarajah wrote in an obituary for the legendary anti-racist writer and activist, Ambalavaner Sivanandan, who died earlier this year, ‘racism awareness training’, removed state and institutional responsibility for racism, instead turning it into a ‘natural’ social phenomenon independent of material conditions, a ‘white disease’.
Racial awareness training, which Chakrabarti opposed but which the Labour Party has ignored, is based on the idea that racism exists inside one’s head not in society. It reaches its apotheosis in the absurdity of the Jewish Labour Movement, the ‘sister party’ of the racist Israeli Labour Party, a party that supports the segregation of Jew and Arab and which Netanyahu’s deportation of 40,000 Black African refugees from Israel, running training sessions on ‘anti-Semitism’. You might as well have the Yorkshire Ripper give a lecture on violence against women. This is the nonsense that Seymour is subscribing to.
If what Seymour (and Lansman) argue is correct, the false allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ have nothing to do with labelling all criticism of Zionism as ‘anti-Semitic’. They have nothing to do with the Right’s use of the issue as a means of attacking Corbyn on other issues, it’s all down to the unconscious mind. I just hope that if Seymour decides to abandon writing for a career that he doesn’t choose psycho analysis or psychiatry as his chosen profession. Freud undoubtedly has a lot to answer for but surely not the vacuity of Richard Seymour.
There is, of course, a simpler explanation. Momentum has resolutely avoided opposing the anti-Semitism witchhunt. This nonsense about 'unconscious antisemitism' is intended to explain why there are so few genuine examples of anti-semitism to be found.
Seymour’s description of Jewish Voice for Labour, Free Speech on Israel and Jewdas as anti-Zionist is simply wrong. None of the groups say that they are anti-Zionist. Although Seymour is right about the decline of left-wing Zionism I fail to understand his analogy with Wallace baiting Truman. Seymour describes he doesn't analyse.
Seymour’s section The Limits of Anti-Anti-Antisemitism suggests that anti-Zionists in the Labour Party are posturing as being politically tough. He tells us that ' it is not helpful for the Left to adopt this attitude, or the performative political “toughness” that often comes with it. Defensiveness has to give way to reflexivity.' This demonstrates the superficiality of this article and also how far removed Seymour is from that which he writes about. We are in a midst of a war, waged by the Right using anti-Semitism as a weapon and all Seymour can suggest is that we should be 'reflexive'.
What Seymour really means is that we should accept that there is some factual basis to the allegations of anti-Semitism. Seymour uncritically quotes from a survey by the far-Right Zionist Campaign Against Antisemitism without asking any deeper questions such as whether the survey was flawed, whether it was designed to produce certain outcomes or indeed anything about the CAA itself.
In the CAA’s survey people are asked different questions relating to Jews (for example do Jews chase money) and because nearly half of the population answer positively to one of the questions they conclude that we are in the middle of a wave of anti-Semitism and that nearly half of the British people are anti-Semitic. Seymour goes along with this.
Dave Rich, the Deputy Director of the Zionist Community Security Trust, with whom I agree on virtually nothing, observed that
‘This latest poll showed something else that is interesting... that people who believe antisemitic things about Jews rarely think of themselves as antisemitic.... It is as if antisemitic ideas circulate in society and influence the stereotypes people believe about Jews, but this does not affect how people imagine they relate to actual, living Jews who they know or might meet.... Even people who believe there is a global Jewish conspiracy or deny the Holocaust are affronted by the notion they might be antisemitic.
The normally restrained Institute for Jewish Policy Research found that the CAA’s “barometer” report was “littered with flaws” and the group’s work “may even be rather irresponsible.” The IJPR criticized the way that the Campaign Against Antisemitism had used data to make the
“rather sensationalist claim that almost half of all British adults harbor some sort of anti-Semitic view… a far more accurate and honest read” of the data would “highlight the fact that between 75 percent and 90 percent of people in Britain either do not hold anti-Semitic views or have no particular view of Jews either way, and only about 4 percent to 5 percent of people can be characterized as clearly anti-Semitic.”
The CAA also claimed that more than half of British Jews felt that anti-Semitism echoed that of the 1930s. Anshel Pfeffer witheringly observed in Ha’aretz that if the CAA “actually believe that, then it’s hard to take anything they say about contemporary anti-Semitism in their home country seriously.” Pfeffer noted, regarding the statement that Jews talk about the Holocaust too much in order to gain sympathy “too many Jews … are often too quick to bring up the Holocaust in order to make a point. … Holding that opinion doesn’t necessarily make you an anti-Semite.”
According to the respected Pew Research Centre’s 2016 Global Survey of Attitudes just 7% of British people are anti-Semitic. Compare this to 28% in the case of Islamaphobia and a 45% in the case of anti-Roma racism.
The problem with Seymour is that he is still faithful to the SWP notion that all forms of racism are equal, even when anti-Semitism is a marginal prejudice that doesn't involve power relations within capitalist society, state racism or economic discrimination. Instead of researching the subject, Seymour reaches for Google Search and takes what the CAA says at face value without any attempt to find out what their motives might be.
It would also appear that Seymour has adopted or rather swallowed the concept of ‘left anti-Semitism’ that is normally associated with the pro-imperialist Alliance for Workers Liberty. He describes the self-publicising narcissist Gary Spedding as a ‘Jewish left-winger’ citing his article in Ha’aretz We in the Palestinian Solidarity Movement Have a Problem With anti-Semitism. Whatever else Spedding is, he is certainly not Jewish (nor is he left-wing) although that doesn't prevent him telling Jews just what is and is not antisemitic.
Spedding bases his experience of ‘anti-Semitism’ on being told at a Palestine solidarity meeting that the term ‘anti-Semitism’ applies equally to Arabs, since they too are anti-Semites. This is a common fallacy which is quite easily corrected. Words and phrases take on a certain meanings over time. There are no such things as ‘Semites’, which are the product of Wilhelm Marr’s attempt to racialise anti-Jewish hatred in 1879.
|An example of the Palestine solidarity movement's very own Walter Mitthy|
Spedding is not a Palestine solidarity activist. His claim to having spent 10 years fighting anti-Semitism in the Palestine solidarity movement is a lie. When the fight against the influence of Gilad Atzmon and Israel Shamir were at their height Spedding was nowhere to be seen. It was people like Ali Abunimah, the editor of Electronic Intifada, whom Spedding has gratuitously abused, who dealt a lethal blow to Shamir and Atzmon with the issuing of a declaration Granting No Quarter: A Call for the Disavowal of the Racism and Antisemitism of Gilad Atzmon, signed by over 20 prominent Palestinians and Arabs which destroyed Atzmon’s reputation. It was at my urging that JVL expelled Spedding.
Another example of ‘anti-Semitism’ that Seymour asserts is Annie Kehune of Jewdas who ‘writes of being “fed up of having to follow ‘I’m Jewish’ with ‘but I’m not a Zionist’ in left-wing circles. It may well annoy Annie but unfortunately the leadership of the British Jewish community claim that all Jews support Israel and its actions against the Palestinians. It is no surprise therefore that people associate being Jewish with being a Zionist. I see nothing wrong with Jewish people making their position clear just as one would have expected White opponents of Apartheid in South Africa to have made their views clear.
Seymour quite unbelievably concludes by arguing that 'However, while every claim has to be evaluated carefully, a precondition for that is that they should be taken seriously in and of themselves, and not merely and a priori as a manifestation of the “Israel Lobby.” Why, when these allegations are made maliciously, should we take them seriously? If allegations of anti-Semitism are made to deflect from support for the Palestinians then they should be seen for what they are. So when Jonathan Arkush of the Board of Deputies claims that Jewdas are a “source of virulent antisemitism” and goes on to claim that their members “are not all Jewish” should we investigate such matters? Perhaps we should take a blood test just in order that the matter can be resolved conclusively!
Like most SWP exiles Seymour is trying to find a progressive space between the politics he once espoused and their right-wing critics today. He doesn't even like talk of the Israel Lobby and would prefer if we would simply turn a blind eye to the activities of the JLM and Labour Friends of Israel.
Seymour ends in true SWP fashion that 'At a time when nascent far-right movements are surfacing, with antisemitic tendencies linked to state power in Hungary and the United States, the Left has a particular responsibility to lead on this issue.' Yes indeed and who is it, in the USA and in Hungary, who is hand in hand with these anti-semites if not the Zionist movement? I can only presume that Seymour in his ivory tower is unaware that the founder of the alt-Right himself, the neo-Nazi Richard Spencer has declared himself a White Zionist. Or that Jonathan Arkush, one of the main players in the false ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign welcomed Donald Trump’s election with all its anti-Semitic dog whistles?
The last thing we should do is to be diverted into every alleyway that the Zionists want us to go down. What Seymour is really proposing is that the Zionists be allowed to set the agenda.
Seymour is isolated from the movement he writes about which is why he thinks Spedding is representative. Yes of course antisemitic nonsense should be countered. However it endangers not a single Jew because racism against Jews is a matter of prejudice, not of life and death. As I wrote over a decade ago, opposition to anti-Semitism has become the "anti-racism" of the political right.’ No one has died from a tweet or social media post.
The irony is that it was the SWP itself, when Seymour was a member, which was allied with Gilad Atzmon. In June 2005 Jews Against Zionism picketed a meeting of the SWP at Bookmarks where Atzmon was giving a talk on Otto Weininger. I wrote Blind eye to anti-semitism attacking the SWP’s support for Atzmon. Although Richard was not happy about their position he wasn’t exactly outspoken either and tellingly he chose to remain a member of the SWP. It is not for Richard Seymour to now lecture us on the evils of anti-Semitism.
I was surprised that Jacobin had published Seymour’s article but reassured that the current editor Bhaskar has responded to me that he completely disagreed with the thrust of the article. The previous editor, Max Ajl told me that he would never have published ‘such a Shoddy piece!’ I still find it puzzling why Jacobin thought it worthy of publication when there are so many right-wing sites would have welcomed what they would consider a repentant sinner!